Flash Flood Warning- A Poem

It’s 4:30 am, and my alarm goes off—

A cruel irony, really.

I haven’t yet slept.

I watched the clock turn Midnight, then 1,2,3,4.

And with each minute that passed, my mind raced faster and faster—

A mile a minute;

A thousand thoughts a second—

A race against time with no clear winner.

“If I fall asleep now, I can get 5 hours of sleep…

5…4…3…2…1…

It’s raining.

Lightning.”

It’s been raining all night, and I’ve been awake to hear it.

You’d think after all this time, the tear ducts of Heaven would be all dried up.

(fantasy is often better than reality.)

My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty. . .

. . . there’s nothing my God cannot do.  

Apparently, God is so big that his tear ducts draw from a never-ending well.

Well, well,well…

It’s raining; it’s pouring, the Old Man is snoring…

Wait, nope. That’s just my Dad.

It’s been raining so long and so hard a flash flood warning was issued early this morning while the world was sleeping.

I was awake and read the warning along with the 15 text messages from Twitter.

It’s 4:30 am, and I didn’t need my alarm today.

I watched the numbers on my clock change, counting down the minutes until I need to get out of bed, their faces glowing red as if laughing.

My life isn’t a Cosmic joke.

I only get one [life], and I don’t want to screw it up,

But I’m afraid I already have.

There are no do-overs, no re-runs; I sure could use one.

I don’t know how God is running things up there,

But it seems kind of Laissez-faire.

Divine intervention would be nice right about now—

The future is big, and I’m rather small,

And this whole “I don’t know what I’m doing in life” is getting kind of old.

There was a flash flood warning, and I’m right in the way.

They always tell you:

“In case of a flood, find high ground.

Low places will probably be the hardest hit.”

I’m in a low place right now, and the flood waters are coming.

At least I know how to swim.

Of course, my swimming skills will be about as helpful as the levees of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

It’s a nice thought, but practically, it leaves a lot to be desired.

At least it’s the thought that counts.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m a 7. . .

. . . microwaves (which weigh less than 7 elephants).

I’ll take what I can get.

And yet, somehow, despite this weight on my chest, I’m still standing tall.

Right now, I feel as though my world is collapsing around me.

I won’t always feel this way.

Depression is like a Great Flood:

It happens slowly and then all at once.

(They disappear the same way).

It’s 4:30 am; it’s raining, and I haven’t slept.

Sleep makes you feel better when you get it and worse when you don’t.

(it’s kind of like rain that way.)

Last night, when I couldn’t sleep, my thoughts were racing a mile a minute.

“What if…”

“Why…”

“How about…”

When the darkness creeps in, that’s when the enemy line starts firing.

Under cover of darkness, it’s easy to be a brave coward.

Last night I was having deep existential thoughts about life and happiness.

The first thought that entered my mind when I got out of the shower this morning was

“Should I do my hair today, or not?

The rain’s just going to ruin it.” (I did; it might’ve.)

But like, the state of my hair is what I should be concerned with…

NOT…

Superficiality is only skin-deep; and I want to change the world.

It’s raining here.

There are wildfires out west.

So, tell me how life is fair.  

And there’s no peace in the Middle East.

I don’t know how to change the world, but I think love is a good place to start.

Love your enemies, those who disagree with you, those from an opposing political party.

Love your neighbors, those who come into this country to find a better life. We all want a better life in a way.

Love those who are different from you, those whose way of life you may not agree with.

Love them anyway.

Love yourself anyway.

Sometimes you can love too much, and sometimes love is not enough.

But between war and peace, I’ll take my chances with love.

Love makes the world go round in the circle of life,

Everything has a cycle, including water.

Hence, the rain.

I love the rain because it begets life,

And it can make you clean if you just let it.

We could all use a clean slate once in a while.

There was a flash flood warning, and it’s still running, and I’m doing my best to keep smiling.

My Lit Teacher asked the class to list things that die.

I started, “People, animals, plants, hopes, and dreams.”

It’s easy to die.

It’s not always easy to live.

I learned that once.

Because one time I tried to set myself on fire (figuratively, but literally with pills)—

I was a metaphorical Girl on Fire, trying to make myself someone new.

Out of the ashes and with the rain came beauty.

That’s all I wanted, and I’m trying my best not to screw up, to make the most of this second chance at life even when the going gets tough.

There was a flash flood warning.

Warning:

Beware:

Caution:

This flood won’t stop me.

Because it’s all too easy to drown in an ocean of tears, and sometimes we forget we can float in salt water.

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Is Happiness Inherited?: The Fault in Our Happy Gene

When was the first moment you realized you were different? Was it in 6th grade when you cried so hard about going to school, you made yourself sick, and your dad let you stay home because giving up was easier than fighting? Was it in Kindergarten when your teacher called your parents asking if you had an ‘attitude problem,’ and your parents had to respond that, no, you did not have an attitude problem, you just didn’t like to talk?

I’ve always thought I was depressed because I was sexually assaulted, but now I think that maybe I’ve always been depressed in a way. Having something to blame it on is easier than admitting we have a fault in our genes. Are we born depressed? Is there a fault in our ‘happiness Gene’ that makes us predisposed to Depression? Or, do we somehow grow to be depressed along the way?

When I was in Elementary school, my parents sent me to a counselor because I didn’t talk to people, not even my relatives. Before my 1st sister was born, while I was the only grandchild on my Mother’s side, I would point to what I wanted; if I wanted milk, I would grab someone’s hand, drag them to the kitchen, and point. I knew how to talk; I just didn’t. My parents taught me sign language so I could communicate from my High Chair: ‘more, food, drink, down, please.’

After Sister 1, and especially after Sister 2, I started talking a little, but I still didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted. I would set up a Board game on my Grandparents’ table and just sit there, waiting for someone to ask if I wanted to play a game. And then I would nod, and all would be right with the world.

So my parents and my doctor sent me to a counselor to help me out of my shell. But the thing is, I liked my shell: it kept me safe; it was my own personal sanctuary of the mind, where I could be some where else, and be someone else, and I didn’t have to deal with being me. I know other kids didn’t like me much, but did I ever like me much? Was I just super shy, or was I unsatisfied with myself? Did I not talk because I didn’t want to, or because I felt as though I wasn’t important enough, as if my thoughts weren’t valuable enough to be vocalized?

Because sometimes I feel that way now. There are so many things I want to tell people, things I’m thinking, opinions I have, but I keep them to myself. And I think, I think… I do this for two reasons: 1. I know I talk too fast and am hard to understand. It’s easier to remain silent than for me to have to repeat myself. I saw a speech therapist for a while; it didn’t really help. 2. I think I’m scared of rejection. Not the “No, I won’t go out with you” Rejection either. I’m terrified of the “Your Thoughts Aren’t Valuable” type of rejection.

Sometimes, I don’t think my thoughts are valuable, which is why I write. There’s no awkward silences, no unnecessary “ummmms…” while I try to figure out the exact right words for what I’m trying to say. When I write my thoughts, I don’t have to share until they’re perfect. When I speak, I’m not assertive; I don’t know how to make people listen. I’ve never been good at standing up for myself (but I’m getting better). When I write, it doesn’t matter because the people who are reading are the ones who want to.

So back to the question, “Are we born depressed and somehow grow into it along the way, or do we wake up one day and realize we can’t get out of bed?” Was born depressed? Did wake up one morning and decide I wasn’t beautiful? Or have I never felt comfortable in my own skin? I’ve always enjoyed playing dress-up. Did become depressed all at once, or have I become depressed slowly over my life? Because if I was born with a fault in my happy gene, that would explain a lot.

Like why I read so much as a child, choosing to read rather than engaging with the world around me. I’d get five books out of the library and have them all read by the next night. Reading is an escape for so many, and I was no exception. I would be the characters in those books. I’d be going on their adventures, and for a little while, I wouldn’t be me.

It would also explain why I didn’t talk, why I didn’t let people get to know me, why sometimes I still don’t–there wasn’t/isn’t anything worth getting to know.

It would explain the way I’ve always dealt with anxiety: picking at scabs until they bleed, turning a bug bite into a scab–self-harm before I knew what self-harm is. I remember one time when I was little, and my anxiety had gotten a little out of hand. My mom walked into my room at midnight because my light was on, and I was crying. I had 7 bleeding scabs that night, and all I could do was mumble, “I need help.” I need help. Three words I never uttered before, because I was too ashamed to admit I needed help. I used to always try so hard to be perfect.

(Those 7 bleeding scabs and the 3 words that followed are why I think I live my life at a 7.) Eventually, I started cutting and then stopped. Eventually, I stopped eating and then started again. But I haven’t quite learned how to stop picking, picking my scabs as the nagging voices of my anxiety are picking away at my self-esteem. It’s like an old, itchy sweater of bad habits that was once too big and is now too small to take off.

One day I’ll figure out how to stop this, too, but it’s like a security blanket for my anxiety; it’s how my Dad knows I’m in over my head and can’t handle Finals Week. I’ve been finding I do it less, which must mean I’m learning how to deal with my feelings.

I wish I could blame my Depression on my past situations, because placing blame is always easier than accepting the fact that we have a character flaw because of a fault in our genes. But I don’t think there’s blame to be placed. I thought about disappearing many times when I was little, years before I attempted suicide. I’ve never felt ‘normal.’ I don’t even think I’d recognize Normal if he ran into me at Starbucks, causing me to spill my coffee all over his jeans and t-shirt. I don’t think I’d recognize Normal if he was the hottest guy on my college campus.

So was I born depressed and felt it slowly and then all at once? Or did it happen all of a sudden? I don’t know. But I do know that normal is overrated. Normal makes life boring. And I’m beginning to accept and love myself: Depression, Flaws, and all.

Entropy, Empathy, Engineering, and English*

*alternately titled, “Why I’m an English Engineer”

When I tell people I’m an English major, the first question out of their mouth is more often than not, “So, you want to be a teacher?” I don’t know how to tell them that, no, I don’t want to be a teacher; I want to be a writer, an Engineer of words if you will. That was my plan originally, anyway. I went through all of High School planning on being an Engineer: I loaded up on Science, Math, and Tech classes. I took Physics, Calculus, Electricity and Electronics, trying to achieve a strong base of knowledge for college. It wasn’t until I applied, and was accepted into, the 3-2 engineering program that I realized I did not want to be an Engineer. It seemed Engineering and I would not play well together as we got closer: we’d be like the couple who get married after knowing each other for six months; who, as they find out more about each other, decide they are no longer compatible; and who get a divorce shortly after being married, but still remain friends.

Divorces are costly (so I’m told); college is costly, too. I didn’t want to graduate college in debt, with a degree I don’t like even though jobs are available. Now I’m graduating college in debt, with a degree I love even though fewer jobs are waiting (or so those who don’t know better tell me).

And that’s ok. Science and I may have broken up, but we’re still friends. In fact, in a lot of my writing, I use scientific terms and concepts to help explain what I’m trying to say. One of my favorite ideas to use is entropy.

Three-quarters of the way through my Senior Year of High School, when I told my parents I no longer wanted to be an Engineer, they were surprised. In their minds, I had spent my whole life preparing to be one: I was constantly taking things apart and putting them back together—pens, cameras, computers, pens, pens, pens, anything I could get my hands on; I was always coming up with ideas on ways to improve products consumers buy, especially washers and dryers; for my 6th grade science fair project, I built a radio out of a Quaker Oatmeal can and some wires. My parents saw an Engineer; I did not.

Some people have famous last words:

John Adams, when dying, muttered: “Thomas Jefferson…still survives.” Jefferson had died a few hours earlier.

Louisa May Alcott said, “Is it not meningitis?” …. It wasn’t.

Jane Austen, when asked by her sister if she wanted anything, replied: “I want nothing but death.”

Marie Antoinette, after stepping on the foot of her executioner, muttered: “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur. Je ne l’ai pas fait exprès. “(Pardon me, Sir. I did not do it on purpose.)

I don’t know what my last words will be, but I know what my (rumored) first words were. My parents tell me I looked underneath my car seat while playing on the floor, and they swear they heard me say, “How’s it work?” I’ve spent all 20 years of my life answering that question. All of the jobs I’ve wanted to have for as long as I can remember have had something to do with answering that question. Engineers take things apart, figure out the processes of the inner mechanics, and put them back together. Before an engineer, I wanted to be a doctor. Doctors do the same thing, except they use the human body. And now I want to be a writer, an editor, a publisher. It’s taken me a while to find the connection to the Great Question of my life: “How’s it work?” Hint: It has to do with stories.

I wrote my first story when I was in 1st grade. It was a short horror story that got passed around to all the teachers in my elementary school. They all told me I would be a famous writer someday. I didn’t believe them; I still don’t. That first story, which gave me the confidence to write, has been misplaced, and is sitting, waiting to be rediscovered, somewhere among all the notebooks and loose papers in my room. I started my first novel when I was 8. It was going to be the diary of an 8 year old orphan girl who lost her parents to the influenza epidemic. I never finished, nor did I get past the 4th diary entry. Since then, I’ve written numerous poems, journal entries, blog posts, sentences and paragraphs I hope one day to use somewhere. I guess we’ll have to see where life takes me.

What I’m getting at, I think, is how does my life question of “How’s it work?” connect to stories? I write to figure things out, to deal with my struggles in a healthy way. As someone who has been living with depression for as long as I can remember, every day is a battle. I’ve never been very good at communicating my feelings out loud, but on paper, it all seems to click; my life makes sense: the chaos in my mind becomes ordered. At its base, entropy is a theory of chaos and disorder. The only way to produce order out of chaos is by increasing entropy: order becomes chaos by expanding and producing energy. My chaotic mind becomes ordered when I put in the effort and energy to sort it all out.

Our minds are microcosms of the universe; each person’s mind contains a universe, and we’re all struggling to make sense of this chaotic world. A mind, at its core, is just the universe trying to understand itself, and I don’t think we’re doing a good job of understanding, connecting, and feeling. That’s why I read and write: to try to understand what I don’t know. I only have this one life and only get to experience what I live. By reading, though, I can imagine what it’s like to be a child soldier, and maybe, then, I can try to understand what they feel, how their experiences shape the way they view the world. I don’t know what it’s like to be Anne Frank or Maya Angelou, but I can read their words, put myself in their shoes, empathize with and understand their plight. The experiences we face shape our worldview. In order to understand what others feel, we must walk a mile in their shoes.

That’s all life is: entropy and empathy.

Being a reader has helped me understand the world better. I can see the big picture, but I don’t lose sight of each individual pixel. I’m less quick to judge. I understand what I believe, and I know what my neighbor believes, and we don’t always understand each other, nor do we always agree, but arguing won’t get us anywhere. We won’t accomplish change by making our opinions louder (or in this social media age, more visible) than other people’s. Change will happen when we actively listen, and try to understand, what our opponent is saying. We listen with our ears, but we hear with our hearts.

We all want to be heard. That’s why I’m a writer. I want to give a voice to those who do not have one, or don’t know how to use it. We all have a story. Every culture since the dawn of time has told stories. Stories are the best way I can think of to connect to other people. So tell me your story, because hardly any issue in this world is black or white, and I know where I stand and why I stand there, and if you don’t stand with me, I want to know why. This world is chaos and I want to empathize.

I’m 20 years old, and I don’t know much, comparatively in the grand scheme of things. But I do know we don’t have all the answers, none of us do. We’re all people doing our best to make order out of chaos. So, “How does it work?” I have no idea, but as an English major, I know how to dissect a text, find the main idea, put it back together in my own words, and learn something from what I’ve read. I know how to take what I’m feeling and put it into words so others can understand what I’m feeling, too. I want to understand where you come from also. Because this world is entropy and empathy, and I don’t know how it works.

I only get one life, and I’m trying not to screw it up. I want to leave the world more beautiful than it was when I arrived. And I’m doing my best, one story at a time, but it’s a big world, and compared to the universe, we’re all rather small. But we all contain universes inside of us. We all can make order out of chaos and empathize.

“How’s it work?”

I imagine it works best together.

Eggs and Elephants

I was told once that I should be happy because when I was sexually assaulted, I wasn’t actually “raped”, whatever that means.

Who are you to tell me to be thankful that “the act wasn’t completed” if you know what I mean? How dare you. There’s no scale on sexual violation. It’s not “on a scale from 1 to 10, how raped were you?” To think otherwise is to perpetuate the idea that reporting a rape can ruin a man’s life. Politicians today are arguing about what constitutes rape and all these other things. My experience is not greater, nor is it less than, anybody else’s.

We are the same.

Lots of things in life have scales. The weight of how much I was raped is not one. My burden of being a victim weighs the same on my shoulders as everybody else’s.
When I went to the hospital for my appendectomy, I was asked to rate my pain on a scale from 1-10. I said 7 every time.

When people ask me how I am, I reply with “good.” The people who know me best ask me, “on a scale from 1-10, how much does it hurt today?” I live my life at a 7. My number is 7, but the effect this 7 has on me changes. The number is constant; the weight of the number changes.

Confused? Yeah, I know. It’s confusing.

But, imagine this: 7 bowling balls are heavier than 7 eggs. 7 microwaves are heavier than 7 bowling balls. 7 elephants are heavier than 7 microwaves.

Some days I’m 7 elephants. Some days I’m 7 eggs.

That is the scale of Depression: eggs to elephants, not 1 to 10.

Right now, I’m about 7 eggs. I’ve been 7 eggs for a while now, which is good. But, I’m cautiously optimistic, because I know one day (maybe soon; maybe later) I will be 7 elephants, again. The weight of 7 elephants is a lot harder to deal with than that of 7 eggs. Elephants poop a lot; the only problem with eggs is if it put them all in one basket.

That’s why I haven’t been writing a lot lately. The weight of 7 eggs doesn’t weigh heavy enough on my chest to make the words flow. I write my best work when the pain of 7 elephants is unbearable.

My friend messaged me the other day. She told me she was horribly depressed and angry at herself because she has every single reason in the world to be happy.

I told her, happiness isn’t a choice. People say it is, but it’s really hard to be happy when you feel like you’re drowning on solid ground. I can choose to put a smile on my face, but my inside isn’t getting any happier, because inside I feel like I’m dying. When people say happiness is a choice, I ask them if they have a remedy for that. Because Jesus is supposed to fix this hole in my heart, but even with all this prayer I feel like I’m bleeding out. So don’t tell me Christians aren’t depressed, because Jesus was human once, so I know He understands pain. And I know He loves me despite all of this.

I told her, it’s not her fault if she’s depressed. She didn’t do anything wrong.

She asked me, but isn’t there a way to manage it? I’ve had it for a very long time, but there were times when I was happy and satisfied with life, when things that I enjoyed filled me, and now I just feel empty. Is it just that we go through phases?

I told her, phases. It’s like a spiral. Life is like an ocean filled with waves of Depression. Some people are Michael Phelps: they swim through life easily, breathing in-and-out expertly as they keep their heads above water. You and me, we aren’t Michael Phelps. We struggle day-in and day-out to keep our heads above water. Some days we are thrown a life preserver or other flotation devices. Some days we aren’t. And we have to do the best with what we have, with what we’ve been given.

She asked, can the waves come on sporadically, not from a certain situation?

I responded, yep. Those are the worst, because you can’t figure out what’s triggering you, so you can’t find a way to stop. But, one day you’ll wake up and realize it’s easier to get out of bed than it was the day before. The ground fills firmer beneath your feet. And you’ll feel this way for a while, until you don’t. Over time as the cycles continue, you’ll be able to recognize the signs, and deal with the feelings better.

With 7 eggs, I give pretty good advice.

Recently, I turned 20, which is a huge milestone. I survived my teenage years.

I attempted suicide before my 16th birthday. I didn’t think I’d make it to 20. But I have, and despite everything I’ve been through, I’m stronger than ever.

I was asked recently what I would do if I had a time machine. Would I go back and change the past? Would I stop my sexual assault, which would have bit the cutting and anorexia flower in the bud before it happened?

Honestly, no. I wouldn’t. There was a time when I would, but standing here and knowing where I am now, I would not.

I am who I am today because of my past. I’ve met some wonderful people because of what I’ve been through. I’ve formed friendships with people I might not have otherwise. My story has helped others from the United States to Guatemala. From Romania to Australia. And that’s all I want out of life: to help others.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the weight of 7 elephants isn’t so bad when you have people around you, supporting you, and helping you carry that weight.

If a group of ants can make light work of a potato chip, a group of people can lift elephants. (Really, we have machines that can do that now.)

Faith can move mountains (or mole hills that seem like mountains).

All we need to remember is that we’re not alone.