It’s Ok to Not Be Ok

Do suicides go to heaven?

I was four the first time I saw a dead body. It was my great aunt. My great uncle picked me up at her open-casket funeral, placed his hand on her arm, looked at me with tears in his eyes, and said: “She’s in Heaven now.”

Do suicides go to heaven?

Heaven. I learned that Heaven is a place people go when their bodies are cold; they look slightly different: like at any moment they could come back alive—suspended animation—toeing the line between there and not there. Like at any moment they could start breathing again.

Breathing again. Am I ever going to learn how to breathe again?

Every funeral I’ve been to since, the passage of time has been spent counting the number of breaths not taken for every breath I took. Wondering how it would feel if I too had a crest-fallen chest.

Why won’t they breathe? Why can’t I breathe?

Trauma has this way of sneaking up on you, camouflaged in the shadows of okayness. One minute you’re laughing and smiling and singing in the shower. The next minute it feels like a tree is being pulled out of your chest, unaided

by sedation, burning, screaming, God take the pain away.

Is this what drowning feels like?

It’s easier to believe God doesn’t exist when you’ve experienced hurt or pain. It’s almost easier to believe God doesn’t exist. Because if He did exist, if an ever-loving God exists in an imperfect world, why, why do bad things happen? Why does He allow bad things to happen? Why?

You’re moving forward. Stepping out of your shame, owning your story, living your story.

But maybe those are the wrong questions to ask. Maybe it’s not why do bad things happen? Maybe it’s what do I do when these bad things happen? Maybe it’s how do I move forward? What is my purpose within all this?

You know, somewhere deep down, I feel like this is all my fault. Somewhere, deep down, I feel like I don’t deserve to be here. I can’t remember a time when I wanted to be alive.

You see, trauma sucks. And sometimes, I still blame myself for all that has happened in my life. I feel like, maybe, if I had done something different, none of this would have happened: I wouldn’t have been raped, gotten pregnant, had a miscarriage, had a mental breakdown.

How can I want to die but still be doing everything I can to live?

If none of that had happened, I might not have been diagnosed with anxiety, OCD, and Depression. Things I’ve struggled with my whole life but made worse by life—chemical imbalances exacerbated by circumstances. I would have spent my whole life wanting to die without ever getting the help to fight it.

It’s ok not to be ok.

I’m learning how to be ok with not always being ok. Trauma is not a prerequisite for mental illness. I had one long before the trauma, and I’ll have one long after the trauma is worked through. But it doesn’t define me. I am more than my past, more than my present, more than the battle raging inside my head.

I am suicidal. And for so long I tried to hide that, until I couldn’t any more. I just have to make the part of me that wants to live louder.

I thought being baptized was going to fix me. It did not. It just gave the negative voice in my head I call Gertrude more fodder: you aren’t worthy of being a child of God. You’re a terrible person who will never get to Heaven because of what happened to you.

Do suicides go to heaven?

Could my purpose be to write about God and mental illness? Because there’s still a taboo about not reading my Bible enough, not praying enough, not having faith enough. Do you know how many Bible verses I quote throughout the day just to keep me going? How each day is one continuous “God help me” prayer? How much faith it requires for me just to put one step in front of the other?

Dying is easy. Living is hard.

It’s so hard to live when every fiber in your body is telling you to die, every memory in your brain is telling you that God made a mistake. But God didn’t make mistakes—He doesn’t make mistakes. Every day I choose hope, but hope really isn’t a choice any more than your heart beating is a choice. Hope is inherent in all of us: our body tries so hard to keep us alive. Our wounds heal themselves; our cells regenerate; our DNA multiplies and divides to keep us living. Having hope is easy. What’s not easy is stepping out of shame into hope.

Do suicides go to heaven?

What about all those people who keep on living even when they want to die? I spent so much time wanting to die, I forgot how to live.

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Sister, You’re Going to Kenya

Dear Sister, 

I know that “we” don’t do sappy, but I do. I do. I feel. I worry. You’re going to Kenya. With Bible Quizzers, which are your favorite group of people on this planet.  And I’m so excited for you! But I’m oh so very nervous. 

And I know I shouldn’t worry, but I’m a worrier. I worry about anything and everything, and I always jump to the worst case scenarios. But I’m not going to jump this time, because you’ll be fine. 

You’ll be more than fine. You’ll be great, spectacular. 

But just in case, you know, because you’ll be there and not here where I can make sure you’re safe, and because it’ll make me feel better, I’m going to give you some advice (not that you need it, but I need it because I’ve done a missions trip before, and it’s my job to teach you).

So, here’s what I know, what I hope you learn. 

When you wake up one morning and feel like you can’t do this, like you can’t minister to people, and trust me, you will wake up one morning on this trip and feel like it’s all too much, I hope you remember that while leading people to Christ is important–it’s our duty as Christians–sometimes giving people what they need in that exact moment is just as important. If you can lead even one person to Christ, good. If you can give one person what they need in that moment–a listening ear, a friend, food, water, clothes–even better. 

God works in mysterious ways. And sometimes one simple act of kindness is all you need to open the door. 

Your comfort zone is being left an ocean away, but I hope that by the time this trip is done your comfort zone will have expanded to include the ocean. Because the most amazing, life-changing, heart-wrenching moments happen when we step out of our comfort zones and let God do what God does. And I hope God does some amazing things in your life and on this trip.

If you can do this, you can do anything. And you’ve already done so much–overcome so much. I hope you’re proud of that. 
I hope you hold on to every feeling you have, every emotion you feel during this trip. Embrace the fears, the sadnesses, the happiness, the triumphs. Wrap them up. Put them in the pocket of your favorite jeans. Pull them out when you need a reminder of who God is, what He’s capable of. Pull them out when you want to reminisce. When you want to remember the first time you really challenged yourself. 

Because this trip will challenge you in ways I can’t even possibly begin to describe. And I hope it changes you. I hope it leaves you on fire for God, for His kingdom, for spreading the news that we are all one under Him, for showing his love.

When people ask me if I’d do a Missions Trip again, I say yes. And when they ask, why, I respond, “because of the people I’ll meet along the way.”

The people you meet will change you. I hope they have as much of an impact on you as you do on them. I hope the mark they leave on you will last a lifetime. 
Because it’s so easy to forget that we’re not the only ones in the world. You know, you and me, we’re pretty privileged here. So many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are not, even the ones who live here. 

I hope you don’t forget the people you meet, both those who are in Kenya and those who are going with you. I hope you don’t forget they way they challenge you, inspire you. I hope you learn their stories, help them shoulder their burdens. I hope you share your story, too. 

We all have a story. Nobody’s is unimportant. 

I hope you going into this asking yourself, “What can I learn?” Instead of “What can I teach them?”

They will teach you more about yourself than staying here ever could. They will teach you more about God than you ever thought possible–even if they don’t believe in God, God will work through them like He will work through you.

I hope you remember what they teach you. I hope you leave a small part of yourself in Kenya when you leave, so you remember to pray for them when you return. Because it’s so easy to come back and return to everyday life, forgetting everything that just happened, and return to normal.

I hope the life you live when you come back is anything but normal. Not in a bad way, but in a way that inspires you to change the world, to have an impact, to create a mark, to leave the world a little bit more beautiful than it was when you entered. 

And when you come back and begin college, I hope the skills you learned while in Kenya you carry with you while at college. 

There will be people there who challenge you, whose beliefs don’t line up with what you believe (yes, even at Roberts). Listen to them. Learn from them. Expand your worldview. Believe what you believe because it’s what YOU believe, not because it’s what you grew up believing. 

Go into all of these new experiences with an open mind, allow God to work, allow your views to change if that’s what needs to happen.

Don’t let what you believe stop you from seeing other people’s beliefs.

Don’t let what you see stop you from seeing what other people see. There is more than one way to view the world, and each person has only a very limited scope made up of lenses of their experiences and where they live. Sometimes understanding means putting down your scope and picking up someone else’s, trying to see the world through the eyes of someone else. 

I hope your time in Kenya changes the way you see the world, the way you see God, the way you see yourself. 

But most importantly, I hope this trip leaves you energized, hungry for God, eager to change the world. 

I hope you share your stories of your time in Kenya. I hope you hold close the most precious moments. 

When you become weary of the future, I hope this trip serves as a reminder that you can do anything if you let go and you let God do what He does.

 
I hope I can remember the same. 

So, go in peace, go with joy, go with eagerness. Go with the hope of a life-changing encounter with God. 

I’ll be here. We’ll all be here, praying for you the whole way. 

Open Letter to My Cousin and Every Other Young Girl on the Verge of Womanhood

We celebrated your 14th birthday last night, and after dinner had been eaten, presents opened, candles blown out, and cake devoured, you made a few comments that caused me to worry.

I need to lose some of this (referring to your barely existent stomach).

I can’t fit into last year’s jeans.

I feel bloated.

My butt is too big.

I know these phrases. I’ve heard these phrases. I’ve said these phrases. These phrases became my worst enemy. They ate away at my self-image until I refused to eat.

I thought that in order to be beautiful, I had to look a certain way. I knew I never would look this way because it’s not in my DNA, but I tried to anyway.

I tried to make myself smaller to fit in the box labelled ‘Perfection.’

I was willing to give up my individuality, what makes me me, to gain a definition of beauty that I realize now I don’t want to fit.

And I’m not saying you’re going to be like this.

I’m not saying you’ll struggle with an eating disorder. I’m hoping you don’t. But I’m saying to you, watch out. Eating disorders are uncomfortably common in society today, and it’s easier to fall into their trap than you think it is.

I never thought it would happen to me.

Unfortunately, it did. I started to believe the whispers in my head that told me I wasn’t beautiful enough.

It starts with a whisper, and then it escalates to a scream in your head that you’re not beautiful enough.

And not everybody develops eating disorders, but everybody compares themselves to others.

If I had her legs, her face, her hips, her hair, maybe I’d be beautiful.

It starts with comparing, but it can escalate from there, which can be extremely dangerous.

So, when I hear you make comments like this, I have to respond.

I need to lose some of this (referring to your barely existent stomach).

I can’t fit into last year’s jeans (it’s called “growing up”).

I feel bloated (did you know your weight can change from day-to-day?).

My butt is too big (it’s not too big. You’re getting hips. You’re a woman, not a 2×4).

One day, you’re a girl. The next day, you’re on the verge of womanhood. And society is so quick to rush the process along, we forget to teach you that it’s ok to take your time. It’s ok to not look like everybody else.

It starts with that wonderful (but not-so-secretly terrible) gift that Mother Nature gives us every month. Then it moves to developing breasts and hips. Your clothes stop fitting the way they used to. You’re becoming a woman, and it’s terrifying.

You move from child to woman overnight, and suddenly you’re wearing adult clothes. One day, you wake up, look in the mirror, and see your mother. When did this happen?

You see all these magazines and movies with women who don’t look like you. And that’s ok. We can’t all look the same.

You’re beautiful anyway.

You’re beautiful despite your insecurities (and it’s ok to be insecure. We all are at times).

You’re beautiful despite, and because of, your imperfections.

You may have a bigger butt than you like. Your hips may be wider than you like. You may be too tall, too short, too fat, too thin. You may have too many curves or none at all.

That’s ok.

You’re a woman, not a 2×4.

I need you to know this now before you become like me and enter your Freshman year at college and realize you can’t remember the last time you ate a full meal or three times a day.

I need you to know this now before you lose yourself trying to become like other people.

I need you to know this now because it’s harder to unlearn poor body image later. It’s harder to unlearn your insecurities than it is to learn what you like about yourself.

I need you to know this now because you’re beautiful. And maybe looking in the mirrors some days is painful. You don’t have to look. The mirror can’t tell you how other people see you. The mirror can’t tell you how smart you are, how funny you are, how athletic you are, how musical, how bright your future is.

I know society teaches us that beauty is important, but it shouldn’t be the most important thing.

I’m telling you to be more than pretty. Be pretty amazing, pretty smart, pretty kind, pretty funny, pretty eager to change the world.

A five letter word does not describe you.

Late Night Thoughts: I’ll Be Ok

The most common question I get is, “What you were wearing?” As if that makes a difference. I was in 8th grade, and my whole life I had been taught that, as a woman, I have to be careful what I wear because it could be distracting to boys.

I was wearing jeans and an extra-large hoodie if you must know.

The second most common question I am asked is, “what did you do to provoke him?” Nothing. Unless you count him asking me out and me saying, “no,” because he was a jerk who slammed my locker shut every day, who used to pull my hair because he liked the way it curled.

Now before you say, Boys will be boys, or, that’s how he shows you he likes you, let me tell you that I grew up hearing that if a guy is mean to you, he likes you.

“He’s pulling my hair.” He likes you.

“He stole my ball.” He likes you.

I took that to mean that if someone is mean to you, they must like you.

“He beat his wife for years.” He loved her too much.

“Why didn’t she leave?” She loved him too much.

For years, I was mean to my body: I cut myself open. I watched myself bleed. I starved myself. I belittled myself because I believed that in order to love my body, my being, I had to first be mean.

Meanness, I thought, was the way people showed love: Love is born out of hatred; Abuse is a symbol of love.

How messed up is that?

“Why did you do this to yourself?” I was trying to love myself.

“Why didn’t you leave?” Trust me, I tried. But something pulled me back.

You’ll be ok.

People like to believe that most sexual assaults and rapes are committed by strangers. However, that’s not the case. (Trust me, I’ve done the research. I know the statistics. 1 in 5. 1 in 7. I wrote a 12-page paper on the prevalence of rape in society and the way society treats the victims and the perpetrators. Sometimes, society doesn’t get it right).

I knew the guys who did this to me. I went to school with them. I saw them every day before and after until they dropped out. Win for me.

I graduated High School. They didn’t.

I am going to graduate from College soon. I’ve come a long way.

The things they called me, the things they told me, still echo in my ear.

Slut.

Bitch.

You’re asking for this.

You’ll never amount to anything.

Nobody will ever love you.

 

Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s not.

But I love me. It’s taken me years to get to this point. It’s taken me years to realize how beautiful I am I have the advantage of knowing where I’ve been and can compare it to where I am now. And with all these facts laid out before me, how can I not love me?

There are days when I want to go back in time and say to my 13-year old self, It’s ok. You’ll be ok. It will get better. I want to take her by the hand and show her the people she’ll touch, the people she’ll meet, the lives she’ll change. I want to tell her the story of her 19-year old self going to Guatemala, sharing her testimony with a group of Junior High students, and leading a young Guatemalan teenager to Christ because of her story. I want to tell her about the hard days and the sad days and the in-between days. I want to remind her that one day the sun will come out, and she’ll feel better. I want to tell her that despite the cyclic nature of Depression, she can get through this.

I’ve learned life is beautiful, and I want her to remember this.

I want to tell her that one day she’ll learn about the power of words, how writing can change a life. When she discovers this, she will have found what she wants to do with her life.

I guess those guys must have been wrong about me then.

My 13- year old self would love me.

My current self loves me.

God loves me.

He’s the One who called me back that day.

You’ll be ok.

Some days I have to remind myself of this, especially on the days when the weight of the world is on my shoulders.

God loves me anyway, and I’ll be ok.

Me of 2014, Here’s to You: A Year in Review

At the conclusion of every year, I like to make a mental list of things I’ve learned throughout the year. This year, I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve also written a lot. So instead of making a mental list, I decided to write what I’ve learned down. What I’ve learned turned into a list summarizing what I’ve written about, what I’ve talked about with friends, and what I’ve thought about late at night. It turned into a list echoing a letter, partially inspired by a wonderful friend I went to Guatemala with. Do with this list what you will, but I’ve discovered the importance of reflecting on how much a year can change you, on how much you grow over the course of twelve months. Without further adieu, what I’ve learned in 2014.

Dear Me of January 1, 2014,

In 2014, you will:

  • be challenged, step out of your comfort zone, learn so much, cry, laugh, heal, celebrate, and mourn.
  • experience the healing power of forgiveness without expecting an apology.
  • be pushed to the breaking point (again) with one of the most physically and mentally exhausting semesters. You will learn from this and follow it up with one of your easier semesters. Thank yourself for this.
  • receive an unexpected apology.
  • experience God in new ways: through the first sunny day after a long, dark winter; through the cuddles of a toddler on Friday mornings; through the strength you find to get out of bed in the morning.
  • deepen old relationships, discover new ones, and cut ties with toxic people.
  • celebrate milestones marking things you’ve overcome.
  • rediscover yourself, redefine yourself, learn to love yourself.
  • make it through another year. Sometimes you’ll fight an uphill battle; sometimes you’ll walk on solid ground.
  • be knocked down, knocked down, knocked down, but you’ll get back up over and over and over again.
  • stop writing your book after a long period of self-doubt, and then you’ll start writing again after revamping and reorganizing because you have so many stories churning inside that sometimes you can’t sleep at night because the words inside your head won’t stop screaming until you give them live. And you learned a long time ago about the power of words–how they should not be silenced.

In 2014, you will:

  • realize it’s ok to ask for help, to be vulnerable, to let people in. You should not be ashamed of your past.
  • learn more about the world, and in doing so, your views and beliefs will be challenged, but in the process you will become more open-minded. What you believe may not line up with what those around you believe. Embrace this. The world in not black and white; it’s a complex amalgamation of issues that cannot clearly be defined. Life is not a math equation, no matter how many people try to define it as such.
  • learn that you don’t agree with the way everyone lives their lives. That is ok. Some people don’t have the same beliefs as you. Don’t push yours on them. Love is more important.
  • learn to appreciate the little things.
  • have a hard time getting out of bed somedays, but you will anyway. Although it may not be until after you have an argument with yourself in which you way the pros and cons: it’s safer here, but you won’t get to see your friends. It’s warm and I’m tired, but you won’t get to learn. You will learn to have faith that the floor will hold your weight, and when you feel like the burdens of this world are too heavy for your legs, God will carry you through it.

In 2014, you will:

  • come face-to-face with the ignorance of people. You will be forced to validate your existence to people who make jokes about your past. Look them in the eyes as you ask them to explain how the joke is funny. Watch them squirm as their face turns red. Do not apologize for embarrassing them. Do not accept their apology for cracking that joke. How else will they learn? Somethings are not meant to be joked about.
  • learn that some professors wil make insensitive comments. Next time you hand in a journal about a depressing poem, compare the poem to your own life.
  • learn that some professors are the most caring people on the planet and give so much time to their students. They will stop you on the sidewalk because they know you are having a hard time. You will pour your heart out to them. Tell these professors how much they are appreciated. Don’t take them for granted.
  • encounter people who make you feel insignificant. Don’t speak softly. Assert yourself. Make your presence known. Do not apologize for existing.
  • call people out on their behavior.
  • realize opinions and beliefs you previously held were wrong. That’s ok, because now you know better. You have matured and learned.
  • learn that people are the worst and the best. You will be horrified at the way people treat others, but in the midst of it all, you will realize the good of humanity: out of darkness comes light. Embrace the good. Learn from the bad.

In 2014, you will want to change the world. You will find strength you didn’t know you had. You will start fighting. You will continue fighting.

For 2015, promise yourself you won’t stop. Life is too beautiful to give up.

In 2015, you will:

  • graduate from college.
  • find a job.
  • learn to love yourself more.
  • ?

It’s a blank book, a blank slate. Embrace it. You’ve come so far in 2014, and 2015 holds so much more promise despite the unknown.

“How do you prepare yourself for another 365 days of uncertainty?”

  • pray
  • hope
  • trust.

Sincerely,

The You of December 31, 2014.

Survivor’s Paradigm

How do you define yourself is a question I have always had difficulty answering. To outsiders, it would be easy to define me this way: human, female, daughter, sister, friend. But from the inside, it’s not that easy.  It’s easier to define somebody when you don’t know their past, when you’re not inside their head, hearing their thoughts, walking their paths. It is a whole lot harder defining yourself when every thought you have is telling you that you’re not worth defining.

. . .

After I was sexually assaulted, I viewed myself differently. I looked in the mirror, and I saw somebody who was broken, impure, unworthy, unlovable, dirty, ugly. The mirror has never been my friend, but now it became my worst enemy.

It’s never easy to admit our struggles. So I didn’t admit that I hated absolutely everything about who I was. I didn’t admit that I was broken, self-harming, starving. I didn’t admit that I was so depressed I wanted to die. I didn’t admit that I tried.

I was scared.

I was scared of being defined by what happened to me. I didn’t want to be defined by an act done to me, the scars on my skin, the calories I deprived myself of. I didn’t want to be defined by my Mental Illness. I didn’t want to be defined by my own worst enemy: my thoughts and inner demons.

Sometimes, I’m still scared.

When I tell my story I’m scared that the first thing out of somebody’s mouth will be what were you wearing? Because what I was wearing has no bearing on how much my rape has affected me. I’m scared that the first things someone will tell me about my depression is just snap out of it. Because, oh, honey, I would if I could. But it’s not that easy. Depression is to the mind what cancer is to the body. It attacks, and it’s aggressive, and some people don’t make it out alive. But I’m lucky to have made it this far.

There’s a stigma in society about Mental Illness and Rape, and I tell my story anyway because I want people to know these things do not define me. They play a part of who I am, but I am so much more than what goes on in my head. I am so much more than an act committed against me.

Sometimes, I still have to remind myself of that fact. It’s like a broken record, playing the same stupid motivational tape on repeat: Your past does not define you. Your past does not define you. Your past does not define you. Repeat ad nauseum.

You see, I spent so long concerned with how society would define me, I forgot how God defines me. I looked in the mirror, and I saw a broken girl, unworthy of being loved. But when God looks at me, He sees a girl who is pure, clean, so worthy of being loved that He sent his Son so I could live.

I am the Daughter of the King, a Princess, an Inheritor of the Kingdom. My body is a Temple, but it was turned into a Den of rapists and demons. I tried to tear it down, and God built it back up. He turned my red back to white.

I’m learning how to see myself as God views me: whole, pure, worthy, lovable, clean, beautiful.

No longer broken, I’ve been glued together one piece of shattered glass at a time. Society would say I’m missing something, as a rape victim, I’m no longer as worthy as I once was.

I beg to differ.

My value is not determined by my past, by actions done to me, by actions done to myself.

I’m shifting the paradigm, shifting the mirror, shifting the way I view myself, but, boy, is it heavy.

I could turn around and face the other way, but sometimes my feet are glued to the floor. Depression does this.

And though my past does not define me, it does not mean it won’t affect me. Because it will. I will be fighting a battle against depression for probably the rest of my life.

Some days I’m winning; some days I can’t get out of bed. And that’s ok.

Because I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.

I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I think I am.

I’ve learned to find joy in the little things because sometimes the little things are what get me through the day.

I’ve learned that healing is painful. It’s about burning yourself to the ground and starting over again. It’s about accepting where you’ve been and discovering where you want to go. It’s about accepting every part of yourself–flaws and all–rising out of the ashes, and making yourself new.

I’ve learned to thank God for every day I wake up because life is a gift, and who knows where I’ll be tomorrow.

How do you define yourself?

I don’t know.

I’m defining myself one day at a time: who I am today is different than who I will be tomorrow. All I can hope is that as time goes on, and as my finite line of time approaches zero, my definition will have reached its maximum height.

And if it doesn’t, at least I tried.

Therefore, no one can criticize me.

A Mile is Forever

A little over 4.5 years ago, I attempted suicide. I was young, broken, hopeless. There was a stigma attached to Mental Illness and Suicide. We, as a society, have gotten better at talking about it, on addressing it, on treating it. But this stigma is still prevalent, still attached to depression and suicide the way conjoined twins are joined at the hip. 

This has been a hard week. Robin Williams’ suicide has drawn a lot of attention, spurring media coverage and blog posts fueled with speculation and judgement, fact and fiction, horror and sadness. And for people like me, people who are battling depression and suicidal thoughts, this has been an emotional and triggering time. 

We try so hard to fill our lives with happy things, things that will (hopefully) try to help us forget all the pain, sadness, and despair we are feeling. We have to consciously focus our thoughts and energies on keeping us alive: life is no longer about thriving; it’s about surviving. It becomes a race against time, because we’re all going to die someday. But for some of us, the road to death is filled with shortcuts. Life is no longer “How many more years do I have before I reach the average life expectancy?” LIfe is now “How many more times can I pull myself back from the brink before I’m out of strength?”

And we don’t want life to be this way. I firmly believe that life is a gift, and as such, it’s to be enjoyed. For some of us, that’s harder than for others. I would like nothing more than to believe that all people are good, life is always beautiful, nothing will ever hurt, and love will always win. But, I can’t. I’m not that naive. I’ve seen enough news, been through enough pain, experienced enough of life to know that people aren’t always good, life isn’t always beautiful, things will hurt, and love isn’t always enough.

But I still try to enjoy life. Some people are good, and some people are bad. Life is beautiful, and life is ugly. Things will hurt, but some things can heal. Love is powerful and beautiful, and it can win some battles, but it’s not always enough to win the war. Yet, I still want to fall in love, with life, with a person. I want to enjoy life and put 110% into everything I do with what time I have left. I have hopes and dreams. I have great friends, a great family, and a strong relationship with God.

I had all these things 4.5 years ago, too, and it wasn’t enough to stop me from swallowing pills. The love pulling me to earth wasn’t enough to counter-act the need I felt to be free. Love isn’t a fix-all solution. Boy, do I wish it was. It would solve so many problems, and it would have caused my life to play out so much differently. 

If love were the answer, I would have never gotten to my darkest point. I would have never had to force myself to consciously think about what I was doing: using scissors was dangerous, taking medicine was dangerous, walking to the store was dangerous, going up high was dangerous. I discovered it’s all to easy to not think and put yourself in harm’s way. Which is how I ended up taking pills and slicing my wrist. I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing; it wasn’t a choice I made. I stopped thinking for a moment, I momentarily stopped plugging the holes in the dam, the guards stopped forcing the drawbridge close, and the darkness attacked. The flood-gates opened, and every thought of inadequacy, hopelessness, and fear–the very thoughts I had been trying to surpress–came back all at once. 

I was drowning even though I was standing on solid ground, and all I wanted was to breathe again. So I took the pills, and I sliced my wrist. Time seemed to slow down; it was a race agaisnt the clock, and I was running out of time. You’ll be ok. I got up. Threw up the pills. Bandaged my wrist. And continued on with life as if nothing happened.  But it did happen. And I couldn’t pretend that it didn’t. 

It didn’t kill me. And I was angry. I was angry because fighting every thought that comes into your head is exhausting, and no amount of sleep will help fight the tiredness I feel. I was angry because I felt too weak to fight, and I’ve never liked the idea of being tortured. I was angry, but I was also scared.

I was scared that I’d let my guard down again and be back to that place of inescapable hopelessness and darkness. Fear is a powerful motivator, just like love.

If love were the answer, I would have never gotten to my darkest points. But then I would have never gotten to my heights, either. I would have never felt the joy of leading a child in Guatemala to Christ. I would have never felt the relief of breaking the surface of the waves and coming up for air; I’ve learned that no matter how hopeless I feel now, I won’t feel this way forever. I would have never be able to find happiness in the little things; sometimes the little things are the big things.

 

Next week, I start my Senior year of College. I never thought I would make it this far, and I’m terrified. But that’s ok. Because 4.5 years ago, I had one dream. Today, I have another. I’m still young, still healing, and sometimes I still feel hopeless. But I took that step forward, and now I’m looking behind me at all the shattered dreams, shattered hopes, shattered innocence left scattered in my past’s path, and I feel a sense of hope. 

Because, yes, life is still rough. My soul is still fractured to its deepest corners; depression is still my constant companion. And right now, it hurts more than ever because healing means getting up and moving, and sometimes moving hurts more than just lying there. Life is pain, and I’d rather take it standing up than sitting down, moving forward than lying down. 

And I hope you do the same, whatever’s happened in your life. I hope you take comfort in the fact that even on the darkest night, your eyes can still see the flame of a single candle a mile away. Right now, a mile may seem like forever, but I’ve learned that even the smallest steps are progress. 

 

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.

Hey, A&E. What are you doing?

Dear A&E,

What the heck are you doing? First of all, it must be noted that I’m not a political person. Politics don’t interest me, and I don’t really care enough to figure out what on earth is going on. However, I do know two things. I do know everything’s a mess, and consequently, 50% of the country is mad 100% of the time. But, this isn’t about politics, except for the fact that it has everything to do with politics.\

I know you all have an image to uphold. But let me tell you, this is one of the best shows on Television. I’d much rather have my young cousins watch Duck Dynasty than Teen Mom, Toddlers and Tiaras, or any other of those reality shows.

I don’t watch the show religiously, because it’s not on Netflix, and I don’t have cable, nor do I have the time. But I know many friends who do. My Dad watches the show sometimes at work, and let me tell you, that man always draws connections back to that show. “This reminds me of that one episode of Duck Dynasty…”

What I do with books and episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, he does with Duck Dynasty. And honestly, I’m not complaining. It’s a good show. It’s hilarious, and it’s wholesome for the whole family. So let me just say…

Second of all, let me emphasis this question: WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING?

Phil Robertson is suspended indefinitely from your show after expressing an opinion based on his personal beliefs. How dare he. How dare he have opinions. How dare he express said opinions. Am I right?

Wrong.

How dare you. You released a statement that read, “We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series ‘Duck Dynasty,'”- read more

I repeat: What?

They’re Southern Christians, and y’all knew that when you gave them a TV show. Do you even watch the show? If you did, you’d see that his personal beliefs are reflected in the show. Maybe they’re not so quite glaringly obvious, but they’re there nonetheless. Yes, I agree he could have phrased his opinions better, but sometimes what you want to say doesn’t come out like you want it to. And it’s not like you can grab them once they’re said.

This is almost exactly like what happened when Chick-fil-A came out as opposing gay marriage. Wasn’t that a shock? Not for me. News Flash: They’re closed on Sundays! And it’s not just because they can be.

So, why are we surprised here? I don’t know, because I’m not. News Flash: They’re Southern Christians.

By taking Phil Robertson off the air, you’re punishing him for having his own opinions, for believing in the Bible. This is not North Korea.

Third of all, there is a difference between thinking a way of life is wrong, and hating people who live that way. Phil is saying that he thinks being gay is a sin, not that he hates people who are gay. There’s a difference, and if you can’t understand that, let me say it in a way that might make more sense.

I think eating salad all the time is wrong. That does not mean I hate vegetarians. And I hope vegetarians don’t hate me because I prefer a steak over a salad.

If you still don’t understand, consider parents. Teens go through a rebellious phase, and while parents may not agree with everything their teen does during this phase, they love the teen anyway.

Fourth of all, you can’t open the can of worms and then get offended if a long, hairy one crawls out. That’s like diving into shark infested water with a large, bloody cut, and then getting mad when the sharks bite you.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think taking Phil off the show will solve anything. He is Duck Dynasty. He started Duck Dynasty, and taking him off the show will not make more people watch the show. If you’re people don’t get mad at you for expressing opinions, you either don’t share them, or you don’t have any.

I don’t like offending people, so I try to keep my comments to myself (unless it’s night class, and I’m too tired to care). But the lack of sharing does not mean I’m not opinionated, because if you could hear my inner sarcastic commentary, you’d understand. If you need sarcastic comments, I’m your man… or, woman (don’t want to offend anyone).

If you are able to share your opinions on controversial topics without offending anyone, that means you’re telling two different things to two different groups. In High School, we had a term for people like you, “two-faced.”

So, yes. I applaud Phil. I applaud Phil for saying what he believes. I applaud Phil for sticking to his Christian vales, even if he creates backlash.

And I hope you, A&E, have learned three things.

1. This is America. We have Freedom of Speech. We should be able to express our opinions without people trying to silence us. You know what we get when that gets taken away? We get North Korea. I’m content with not living in North Korea.

2. There’s a difference between thinking a way of life is wrong, and hating a person who lives that way. I hate eating salad. I don’t hate people who eat salad.

3. If you don’t like worms, don’t open the can of worms. If you don’t want to be eaten by a shark, don’t dive in shark infested waters.