Why Mental Health Is About More Than Just Self-Care

If you’re struggling, reach out. There is help. There is hope. [insert number for crisis text line]

I’ve seen this kind of message shared in droves over the last couple of years, and admittedly I used to do so whenever I would hear of a prominent celebrity passing away. The intentions are good, but the wording reeks of privilege and implies that society should only do the bare minimum in order to address a widespread crisis. The reality is that verbally disclosing that kind of struggle, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or any kind of mental illness, as not as simple as most PSA’s imply. It’s hard when you’re directly in the midst of a dark moment/season, one that is so emotionally paralyzing that you can’t find the words to articulate what you’re going through. It’s hard when you don’t know how someone will react, and telling them could possibly hurt the relationship and make you feel even smaller than you already do. And it’s hard when you don’t want to be a burden or an inconvenience, and then have it held against you later on.

I read and hear a lot about self-care, and the fluffiness behind it all. Yet, I feel like we should be doing more: we need to take care of each other too.

But how do we do that in a world prides itself in individualism and a “do it yourself” mentality?

How do we do that when everyone seems to keep score of who reaches out to whom, and then holds a grudge if you go a long time without talking?

It starts with one question: How are you today?

If the person says that they’re struggling, you could ask the following: What do you need? How can I support you?

Maybe they need to just get out of the prison that is their own head. Maybe they need to get something off their chest so that it has less power. Maybe they just need to be affirmed that it’s okay to not be okay all the time. Maybe they need help, and have no idea what help looks like or how to get it.

The important thing is to simply hold space, for whatever it is in that moment; no problem solving or preaching about being positive.  Do not assume that they want or need advice unless explicitly asked. Yes, it is unbelievably difficult to see someone in pain. It might seem impossible to listen to anybody try to explain the intensity of their experiences without wanting to run or cover our ears. But it’s not about you, or your comfort. This is about demonstrating love in action through empathy and allowing people to just be who they are, where they are.

Village Care, as I’ve come to call it, doesn’t only have to involve sharing and being vulnerable. It could be offering to help find a therapist or treatment program, driving people to and from appointments, or offering to babysit if they have kids. When I was going to a support group for my eating disorder, I very much appreciated when family members or friends would go with me. It showed me that they wanted to learn about what I was dealing with, and how they could love me and walk with me in my recovery.

Having been both the listener and the talker, there should always be boundaries. I do not keep my phone on at night unless specifically asked, and I don’t have the energy to keep my DM’s open all the time. A child, regardless of age, should not have to play a role bigger than themselves in their parents’ crumbling marriage. In dating relationships, a significant other should not pay the price or be the solution to their boyfriend/girlfriend’s previous relational pain. If a loved one knows they need professional help, yet continues to expect you to act as such instead of seeking it, it’s okay to draw a line. I care about you and I support you, but this is beyond what I’m able to do for you. Can I help you find someone more qualified?

Setting boundaries might feel like abandonment at first, but no relationship is worth compromising your emotional and physical health over. You’re not leaving them as much as you’re recognizing that you cannot save them, and they have to do their part too.

And sometimes, there are seasons where we just don’t have the energy or stamina to be there for someone in the way that we’d like to. It might be too painful, too triggering, and end up setting us back in our own journey. There is absolutely no shame in that, but the response should always be with love and compassion.

Lord knows I have failed at empathy many times, and I am still learning. It is never too late to learn how to do something, especially if what you learn might help save someone’s life.

We say that we are not alone, and I believe that. But it’s about time we stop saying it to merely pay lip service, and start making an effort to make it a reality.

Be Brave enough to go first. Set your pride, ego, or whatever it is aside and go to them. And then keep checking in.

You are wanted and you are needed. Probably more than you know.

Something To Ponder

I’ve only been a college graduate for a month, and yet I feel like so much has happened already. Maybe not in the way of a job offer or other particular “Real World” milestones, but definitely a lot where I have grown and have a lot to be grateful for. 

My grandmother took this picture during the ceremony; I have never actually seen my eyes so full of light and wonder. Leading up to the end of the semester I was incredibly down and depressed, and the very thought of closing this chapter seemed unthinkable. I practically burst into tears every time somebody brought it up. It’s a big change and I can’t say how I’ll feel once I move out of my apartment for good. But in those two and a half hours, it was like things were coming together. Thus far, I have never felt more proud and blessed than I did during that commencement. It was truly a celebration and a victory. 

As I continue the transition, I find myself wanting (and ultimately experiencing) more joy. I’ve talked about happiness versus joy before, but not so much the other emotions that factor in when we tend to least expect them. How do you lean into or acknowledge something without wallowing in it? Growing up, it seemed like you always had to be on one side or the other. You were either extremely happy or in pain, and the former was obviously better than the latter. 

But now I know that it isn’t that cut and dry, mostly because you can’t predict what will happen or how you’ll react to it at first.  In other words, the choice isn’t what to feel, but what to embrace. I don’t believe that anybody is happy all the time as much as I believe that they’re good at keeping their struggles under wraps. Thankfully I no longer subscribe to constant happiness, because happiness isn’t constant. 

Instead, I find it more important to be anchored. 

Like it or not, bad things do happen, and you can’t get around that. You’re going to walk through fire or experience some kind of storm and most likely you won’t be able to control anything about it. And when you do, the best place to be is grounded in something greater than yourself. For me, that is my faith. I don’t always know what that looks like, but I desperately need it. 

When looking at it from a broad perspective, our culture is the way it is because we live in fear; in fact, we’re practically enraptured by it. Almost every article I come across has something to do with a list of what’s bad and why. There’s always a negative or cynical connotation to it, with little to no counter argument. The headline might as well read “How to Avoid Actually Living Life: (insert subject here) Edition. Even faith, love, and connection, which I consider some of the most wonderful aspect of any stage or chapter, seem to operate out of fear. 

At the heart of it, fear and worry are ways of trying to control what isn’t ours to control in the first place. This is especially true when another person(s) is involved. I’m not going to argue against the fear of trusting too much too soon. The fear of being taken advantage of. The fear of looking back and berating ourselves over what could have been done differently, wondering if the risk was even worth it. I understand that we all have different experiences and to different degrees. For me, the prospect of missing out on something (or someone) great because of what might go wrong far outweighs the prospect of getting hurt in the end. 

It’s natural (and normal) to wonder about the possibilities. But what if there was another way, aside from being weighed down by what has already been or what has yet to be?

Be cautious in order to be aware and fully present in whatever you’re doing. 

Take your time so that you can appreciate the process of getting to know people and hearing their 

Don’t protect your heart for the sake of not letting someone else in. Let God be the one to guide it, and trust that He will heal it in seasons of pain or sadness. 

Allow yourself to be happy, even if the reason is temporary. Let that joy radiate, even it in means looking childish and goofy to the rest of the world. I would have saved myself a lot of stress had I just embraced that side of myself early on, particularly as a teenager. 

Looking back on these last four years, I didn’t just get an education, but an experience. My advice to anyone and everyone is this: whatever you do in life, be all in. It may only be for a season, but there’s always a chance of your life changing in the best way possible because of it. Be in the present moment. Take a chance. 

Don’t worry about getting everything you want. Rather, focus on becoming everything you want. 

While I still have room for improvement, I’m humbled to say that I did that. 

And I’m glad.

When You’re Eighteen

(A couple of weeks after the start of freshman year, right outside my dorm room) 

When you’re eighteen, you think that college is the perfect time to start over; you can leave your old town and your old self behind. You think that you’ll never get lonely when you’re surrounded by all these new friends almost all the time. You don’t want to admit to Mom and Dad that it’s harder than you anticipated, and that this phase in your life does not happen with John Mayer’s “No Such Thing” playing in the background. And as a side note, you’ll analyze that song for a presentation

When you’re eighteen, you think that making friends will be easy because everyone is supposedly more mature. You do meet many of your closest friends at time: in your dorm room, in the middle of the cafeteria, at a church visit, and surprisingly what turns out to be a pretty fun class. Not everyone accepts who you are (at least until later) and that’s hard. But these six or seven people will stick with you when others seem to be going in and out.

When you’re eighteen, you discover that you like alcohol and party animals, but sororities don’t like you. It’s hard to understand why at first, but down the road you’ll see that not being “in” with either crowd was a blessing in disguise.

When you’re eighteen, you think that you can predict what’s ahead, but you have absolutely no clue how much you’ll change.

(It keeps reverting sideways and I’m not sure why. But I did like that top).

When you’re twenty, you’ll discover that you are physically and sexually attractive. Men will see it in you and you will see it in yourself. You like being wanted and pursued, but it’s also confusing and terrifying because you sense that they don’t care about whether or not you feel safe.  And you feel like it’s your fault, because to a certain extent that’s what you were brought up to believe. 

When you’re twenty, you will realize that when multiple people tell you not to do something, it’s best to listen to them. And while it’s OK to always try and see the best in people, it doesn’t have to warrant trying to be their hero. 

When you’re twenty, you will learn to love country music again. It represents three aspects of your life that you cherish the most: faith, family, and friends. And you’ll realize that you do need your parents, regardless of how old you get.

When you’re twenty, you’ll begin to understand that friends do come and go from your life, but God always keeps the best ones close. You might have times where you’re apart for a little while, but you’ll always come back together somehow. 

(Celebrating my 22nd birthday with a little glam!)

By the time you’re twenty-two, you will have kissed a little and drank a lot, and that culture will start to get old after a while. At the same time, it’s hard to get out of because there are times where you want to feel anything but hurt or pain.What you do appreciate about those wild nights, it will be because your closest friends had your back the entire time. They’ll never judge you, but they will you call you out when you don’t stay true to yourself. 

When you’re twenty-two, you will be more self-aware than you ever have been. It’s a blessing because you know how to stay grounded, but a curse because you resort to beating yourself up a lot. By this time, you will have been in therapy for three years and it will be one of the healthiest decisions you’ve made in college. Remember that you’re a human being and that you do not have to be perfect in order to be loved. 

When you’re twenty-two, your eyes will be opened in terms of what it means to love and truly accept people for who they are. You will learn a lot about change and loss, and that there just isn’t time to invest deeply in every person you meet. There will be times when it seems like your circumstances (especially those related to your past) are hell-bent on destroying you. But your faith is going to keep your anchored, and you will become closer to your Creator than you’ve been since you were in middle school.

When you’re twenty-two, you will look back and be able to genuinely say that these last four years have most the most pivotal years of your life, at least thus far. You’ll know that sometimes it’s OK to do things simply because you want to, and you don’t need a reason beyond that. You’ll accomplish a number of things, including staying up all night raising money for cancer,getting into one of the top creative writing programs in the country,  running in a 5K, doing a bar crawl, and the list goes on. You wish that you had been more assertive and and less concerned about the opinions of others, but everything has a time and purpose. 

But the best part is that this journey is yours. You have very few regrets, because at one time it was something that you wanted, and it led you to where you need to be. As your mom told you, have gained so much more than a college education, and you have so much to give because of that. Keep walking. Keep growing. And keep loving. 

Iowa, Forevermore. 

I’m taking a bit of a break from blogging for a couple of weeks; I need some time to process this transition in my life and to spend time with friends and family, but I’ll still be updating my Facebook and Twitter pages if you want to connect through there. See you all real soon!

Who I Am and Where I’m At

(nearing the finish line at my first 5K race)

In a way, this is a continuation of the post that I wrote regarding how I’ve lived with Cerebral Palsy for the last ten years. There was something that I genuinely wanted to touch on, but I couldn’t do it without making the piece longer than it was, or completely veering off the original topic. But this is something that I felt the need to write about, because it doesn’t just relate to what I have. It’s for everybody who feels small and scared a lot of the time. It’s for those who know how to dream but aren’t sure how to dare. And it’s for everybody, because everybody does it, whether they choose to acknowledge it or not.

As I look back on my college journey, especially in the beginning, I wish that I would have been more assertive and more honest about what I wanted. I may not have gotten it, but I definitely wouldn’t have wasted so much time and energy tip-toeing around people that probably didn’t care one way or the other. Granted, when you’re in a new place and those are the only people you know, it’s hard to see beyond that. I didn’t want to end up alone and have to see them every day, because I was already feeling isolated on some level. But I did meet other people. I found a place of belonging. Maybe not in the way I expected or wanted at first, but I did. 

It took me a very long time to understand this, and often had to do so the hard way. I wouldn’t go so far as to say don’t pay any attention to what anyone thinks about you. I think people should care about whether or not their words and actions impact their relationships, particularly if someone ends up deeply hurt because of them. People should want to do their best in whatever situation or circumstances they find themselves in. But life is precious, and realistically there isn’t time to dwell on whether or not your peers or colleagues love you, let alone like you. 

It’s not about giving the world the cold shoulder, but recognizing that you won’t always mesh or find common ground with every person you meet. It’s about realizing that intention does not necessarily affect perception; that just because you portray yourself one way, that does not guarantee that others will look at you with the same eyes. And that’s OK. There’s being somebody, but there’s also being somebody for the right reasons. 

Much of this chapter in my life has been centered on my identity, and trying to beyond many of the things that I’d been labeled over the last decade. Admittedly, I’ve spent a lot of time defining myself based on who I’m not or what I can’t do. It’s as though I’ve tried to reassure people, “well I’m not this, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a good person. It’s great to be authentic and I certainly don’t want to put myself on a pedestal, but when I think about it, I don’t want to be compared to anyone else either. Even though I’m referring to myself, it’s a way of highlighting my flaws more than my strengths. 

It all comes down to being able to own who you are. And if for whatever reason that’s not possible, at least own where you’re at. 

These days I try my best not to make it complicated. I am simply a child of God. I am a human being. And I also have a big heart, and one that has a lot to give at that. I’m learning to not be ashamed of the way I love, and am slowly learning to incorporate that into how I live. 

That being said, I don’t really regret any of the detours that occurred along the way, some which were set in front of me and others I made by my own choices. In hindsight many of them were not good for me, but now I understand that just because something is a popular cultural choice, that doesn’t necessarily make it the right choice. It ultimately led me to where I am today, a strong person who’s grown and become more mature because of what I’ve been through. 

This transition is bittersweet, and it won’t be easy. If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that I no longer want to be a project, whether it be out of my own motivation or others trying to convince me that I need to change. I’m all for growth and self-improvement, but more so because something is dragging me down rather than because it’s what or who I’m supposed to be at this point. It’s amazing what happens when you allow yourself to just be changed instead of trying to force it, especially for the purpose of making others feel satisfied.

So often I tried to follow bits and pieces of advice in order to feel better. But honestly, that happened when I stopped trying to hold myself together and started letting people in. Yet, as I go out into the real world, maybe it’s no longer about finding a place where most, if not everyone gets it. It’s natural to want to be part of a community that makes you feel safe and unashamed, and even more so to actively seek that out. But as I begin to close this particular chapter and go on to another, I have to wonder if it’s really less about waiting to find a safe haven, and more so learning about learning to live by your own values and convictions, regardless if others agree or disagree. 

It’s a process, and I’m getting there.

When Words Wear Me Out

I wholeheartedly believe in vulnerability; without it, real relationships and connections would not survive, at least not for very long. Yet since returning from spring break I’ve discovered something new about myself:

When I’m going through a rough patch, there are times where I just don’t want to talk about it. It could last anywhere from a couple of days to more than that, depending on the circumstances and who or what surrounds them. But yes, despite my love of words and the fact that I have a passion for sharing my heart, I do have moments where it feels better to keep to myself then to open up the floodgates and become an emotional waterfall.

On the surface it looks like I’m shutting people out, but that is not my intention at all. When I get really angry or upset about a specific situation, I run the risk of desperately venting and therefore saying things that I would not be able to take back. As much as I don’t like giving in to anger, it does run in my family and it’s often coupled with the fear of becoming a doormat and being taken advantage of. So instead of walking a fine line of doing major damage, I would rather process it in writing or in prayer first before I say it out loud.

The other aspect is that if I talk about a particular matter a lot, there’s also a chance that my emotional well-being will still snowball: by talking about it, I end up thinking about it. And when I think too much, it becomes so overwhelming where my mind starts to go numb because I can’t take it anymore. Then I get tired of sitting there and not being able to do anything, which makes me irritated that I’m wasting time sitting in what I can’t change. Eventually, it becomes a tug of war between wanting to embracing where I am and shoving all of this garbage aside.

I don’t want to constantly be saturated in negative emotions when I could be experiencing happiness and joy. I don’t want every conversation and every interaction to be centered on the stress and/or bullshit going on in our lives. I want to make memories filled with laughter, beauty, and being in the present moment. In other words, spending quality time with those that bring a smile to my face (and vice versa) often make the burden so much lighter than crying on somebody’s shoulder more often than not. I’m not saying ignore reality and pretend that it isn’t happening, but at what point does a person let go and focus his or her energy elsewhere? I’d like to think that it comes in waves, but there’s a difference between being hit by a wave and actively swimming in it.

Being vulnerable in whatever context can be exhausting. And I do have a limit where I get tired of being tired. That’s why I choose not to blog every single day or even every week. It’s why I’m not heavily involved in social causes or am majoring in psychology; it’s difficult to emotionally separate myself from that kind of stuff.  Being angry, sad, etc becomes draining. I’m trying to develop a filter, a way of letting various things go in one ear and out the other. But I feel rather deeply, and my heart does break for people and matters that I’m passionate about. It’s the way I am and I’ve given up trying to deny that.

On the other side of the matter, I’m well aware of the consequences in terms of trying to always hold myself together and be strong on a regular basis. I have self-medicated with alcohol, men that weren’t good for me, and overall denial. I convinced myself that my feelings didn’t matter. When putting it perspective I can recognize how big of a lie that really is, but sometimes I slip back into old patterns. This is especially true when something triggers an automatic reaction; generally speaking, being smacked in the face by reality.

So then what do you do when choosing when one side or the other doesn’t work? Where’s the middle ground?

As much as I enjoy self-expression through writing, I know deep down that just sharing a blog through social media and hoping someone will figure it out is not a good way to communicate. That and texting is a poor substitute for real conversation, where you look somebody in the eye and get to actually connect with them. But when I don’t know how to describe what exactly it is that I’m going through, it’s better for me to be given a hug.

To be blunt about it…damn it, I just want to be held.

Next to quality time, physical touch is very important to me. Within churches and various books, these concepts are commonly referred to as Love Languages. When my friend passed away last summer, I wanted someone to just put their arms around me and let me bawl my eyes out, because I was not able to verbally grieve or reminisce right when it happened. I finally had the opportunity with the most unlikely person, but I hated feeling so far away from my closest friends. I was scared to tell them what I needed because I didn’t want to be told no, as had been done when a family member on my Dad’s side passed away during my freshman year. Now I know that not everybody is like that, but it’s one of those moments that has stayed with me to this very day. That’s how I’ve learned just how important it is to ask instead of assume, on both ends. When you think you can’t do a whole lot for the other person, chances are you’re doing more than enough. The smallest of gestures are what often leave the biggest footprints.

When all is said and done, I don’t want or expect anybody to hold my hand. It would just be nice to be reassured, “hey, we’re with you in this…till the end.”

Right now I’m going through two transitions at once, both which have a profound impact on me. I have my own life to live, and I realize that it’s not my responsibility to ensure that shit doesn’t hit the fan, especially where my family is concerned. But the shame still surfaces at times. I’m still learning what it means to be independent without being totally self-reliant. To put my identity in my Creator while still letting friends and loved ones be there when I’m struggling or in pain. More than anything, I’m learning how to just put my armor down and simply be who I am, not who I think I should be. Even if some don’t agree with it.

I am so grateful for those that have held me up and supported me through all of this; for those that talked and prayed with me over the phone, ultimately calming me down and helping me to gain a broader perspective. For those who were patient with me when I lashed out or focused on not being pushed around instead of being loving. For those willing to let me break down and cry in front of them, while encouraging me to start seeing my therapist again and even sit with me through a session if needed. For those willing to take care of me and stick up for me when I feel like I’ve been backed into a corner.  And also, for those who continue to speak truth into my life, even when it’s hard to hear.

And thank you Lord, for helping me grow.

photo credit: ValetheKid via photopin cc

Finding The (Invisible) Line: Ten Years And Counting

Many are already aware of the fact that I don’t talk (or even write) about having Cerebral Palsy very much. I’ve told myself that I don’t want to be the postergirl for the handicapped, nor do I want it to be the main thing that defines who I am. I kept convincing myself that for that reason, there was no need to bring it up and openly discuss it. But after reading an article on The Huffington Post, I began to realize that when it comes to disabilities (whether they’re physical or otherwise), the media often shows only one side of the story: sometimes it’s completely cast it a negative light, and other times it’s dripping with optimism and a happy-go-lucky vibe. And while I’m all for being positive, I find it troublesome when that’s all that gets highlighted because it doesn’t tell the whole story. Granted, not all news articles and segments have time for the big picture, but I think it would be more helpful in public understanding if both sides of the coin were displayed.

This is not a public service announcement. This is not a pity-party. This is me realizing that while I refuse to lean on having a handicap as a crutch, it has and still does affect me. This is true in both good ways and bad ways. But rather than write this as a laundry list, my hope is that this might encourage and educate people about celebrating differences and doing the absolute best that you can in whatever obstacles or setbacks that you have to face.

I say ten years because it was around the age of eleven or twelve that I became fully aware that I wasn’t exactly like my peers. Before then I had a pretty idyllic childhood,where life consisted of Disney movies, hanging out with friends and family, and just being happy. Then very slowly, reality began to creep in, and it was a tough adjustment.

It was a chain of events, and many of them from that time I can’t recall in specific detail. What I do remember was how it felt; like a black cloud settling over my head, especially when I started to learn that the world (and the people in it) are not always kind. I heard the word “confidence” a lot while having absolutely no idea what it meant.  I couldn’t understand the point of riding a separate bus when I physically had no problems in terms of getting on and off of it. It was all new and strange and I was completely naive throughout all of it.

Back then, I desperately wished to be valued and validated, and to be reassured that I was enough. My mother once explained to me not too long ago that she was never angry or frustrated with me, per say, but more so that she couldn’t do anything to make it all better. And while on the surface it looked like I was begging for it, I just wanted to be told that it was OK to feel hurt, sad, and/or lonely. On the other side of the fence, it’s easy to sit next to your child, friend, etc and automatically want to solve whatever problem they’re dealing with. It’s natural to want to take the pain away. The toughest part is that you can’t. You can only support them and be open to what they need. That might look like putting your arms around them and letting them vent, regardless of how ridiculous they sound or how trivial the situation is. it’s not about being strong or being a hero; it’s about being there.

For those who believe that self esteem doesn’t exist, think about what it would be like to have your peers, probably strangers who don’t even know you, call you a variety of nasty names or tell you that your legs need to be fixed. Imagine the hopelessness inside of you when you feel the urge to take a razor blade to your wrist or pop a bunch of pills because there seems to be no end in sight. Feel the sting when you’re repeatedly told or shown (whether it be on purpose or not) that you’re unlovable. And all you can muster is a barely audible “what did I do wrong? I never meant to hurt anybody.” And this is all happening when you’re just thirteen.

Though I often took it for granted, there were a lot of people who took care of me throughout middle school and high school. My brother stood up for me a lot and I had a number of friends who were willing to hand out an ass kicking or a shoulder to lean on if need be. For where I was at in my life, my church family was amazing, and many are still guiding me today. Allowing a space for a sense of faith and spiritual nourishment has proven to be necessary, though it would take me almost nine years to grasp what that all meant. My teachers and mentors were all very encouraging.

I had been physically defying the odds since the day I was born, but my senior year of high school was a turning point. When I expressed interest in going to Iowa, most of them thought I was crazy. You’re not going to last a semester, some said. You’re going to get lost and will be a number, argued others. Yet I had spent the last eighteen years being told what I was and wasn’t capable of, and I was ready to go in a different direction. Plus I just had this peculiar feeling that it was a place that was meant for me, which I now know is true

Leaving home my freshman year was like breaking out of a cage; I had both my independence and the opportunity to be somebody completely different then in the past. Walking around campus took some getting used to, where my legs would ache from the mileage and I’d remind myself that I was getting “sexy calf muscles.” On top of that I hardly got any sleep due to not  want to miss out on any of the excitement. The first two weeks of school,  kept going and going until I was literally sick from physical exhaustion. I’d only opened up to a few people about what I had and why, though others were starting to notice that something was going on.

Over the years, I would repeatedly run into a brick wall whenever I failed to take care of myself.  When I did Dance Marathon sophomore year, I physically passed out because my body couldn’t handle being in motion (let alone being awake) for twenty-four hours straight. I have no idea how I was able to go out almost every weekend after I turned twenty-one, and more so drink as much as I did without getting alcohol poisoning. Being stubborn has been a trait of mine since infancy; if I’m that determined to do something, I won’t stop until I accomplish it. That being said, if I feel that I’m not ready, I won’t let anyone convince me otherwise.

 Navigating the party culture was another obstacle. In the beginning (and for part of junior year) I wanted to run around and be wild. I was curious, hungry to do everything and feel everything. Yet there were a lot of assumptions made (again) regarding my ability to handle it, and that created some tension between my new friends and I for a while. There were those who didn’t get it, and instead of not caring about what people thought or said, I felt like I had something to prove. While I have some natural independence and have always been a bit of a fighter, I did adopt somewhat of a tough girl, you-don’t-mess-with-me attitude. I didn’t want acquaintances to assume that just because I looked sweet and friendly on the outside meant that I could be easily taken advantage of. In other respects I started to get defensive about my thoughts and feelings, sometimes doing whatever I could to keep that part of me hidden. I wasn’t trying to be someone that I wasn’t, I just hated wrestling with one side versus the other.

I used to think that I was angry at God for making me the way that I am, both physically and emotionally. Had I not been born prematurely, maybe things would be different; I might have had more experience in certain regards, especially with relationships. I would be able to give as much as I take and not feel useless when it comes to helping others. As I’ve gotten older, I see that it’s it’s not God that I get pissed off at, but the ignorance of the culture that we live in. There are more opportunities now than there ever have been to go out and educate yourself, whether it be by research or just talking to someone that has to cope with whatever you don’t understand. And yet it seems like hardly anyone does. I know this because I constantly run into strangers where the first thing out of their mouths is “oh my god you’re so short!” Sometimes I ask why being petite is such a big deal, and sometimes I try to explain that it’s because I was born prematurely. Feel free to chalk it up to not having a filter (or being drunk) but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

I’ve found that the best way to live in spite of all that is to learn how to truly value myself as my own person. I’ve wrestled with self-love for the last decade because I thought it meant becoming narcissistic or acting like I was better than others. I don’t like the idea of making a list of traits or qualities because those things are always changing or evolving. My strengths, weaknesses, and passions may not be the same tomorrow as they are today. It was not a question of what to do, but how to go about doing it.

And then just recently, I came across something from a friend that put it in perspective.He’s a good person who is very genuine and has a good heart. This was not directed at me personally, but it had such a profound effect that it moved me to tears:

Remember God your creator thinks of you as his masterpiece and has great plans and purposes for your life, even today. Live this day with confidence knowing that! As we encounter people in our lives today, help us to look beyond their outward appearance. Help us to love and believe the best about them. 

I don’t know why it brought out so much emotion in me; perhaps it has to do with something so cliche being presented in a way that’s so simple and yet still very beautiful. Love does not have to involve a million different reasons. Value does not have to involve a million dollars. Identity does not have to be about a million different opinions. It all boils down to being human, but also being a creation of God. And in the moments when even those don’t seem convincing, sometimes loving yourself might just be the act of taking a step backward and to stop trying so hard, at least beyond what you know you’re capable of. The bare definition of self-love is self-compassion.

As I’m just a few months away from graduation, I’m now coming to another crossroads, which is both scary and overwhelming. When you’re on the edge of what truly is the rest of your life, you realize that your decisions do have consequences, and what you decide can either set the course or ruin it. There is no specific set of circumstances that allow you to start over, such as going to high school or college. You have to be the one to make things happen for yourself and create your own opportunities. God does have a hand in it, but that doesn’t mean you have to become a sitting duck and let amazing possibilities pass you by. Ask, seek, and be proactive.

I’m not overly worried about the future or am trying to plan this next chapter out to the letter. However, I have witnessed friends and family make second choice decisions because they were either afraid of getting hurt or believed that they were doing the right thing. I’m not in their shoes so I’m not going to fault them, but I see the unhappiness and I see the regret. I don’t want to look back five years to a decade from now and experience those feelings, which is why I have to be honest with myself about how having CP will play a role as I go out into the real world. In college it’s one thing to brush it aside because people are so close together and can lend a hand if I need any help. Outside of that, it’s a different story. 

As much as I’d like to believe otherwise, my physical circumstances will partially determine what kind of job I’ll have and where I’ll end up living. It has and continues to help shape my standards for relationships and what goes on in the context of those relationships. I need people around me who will encourage me to be the best that I can be, but also who will understand that I do get frustrated and am critical of myself at times. It definitely relates to how much time and energy I can put into projects or commitments. To clarify, none of this is about fear or taking the easy way out. It’s about being self-aware and pursuing what I truly want, while also being realistic. And it’s not just solely about what I want, but what I need as well.

Which is why I try not to dwell on being an inspiration; I’m not going to proclaim whether or not I’m a role model  because I can’t control how people see me. I do still wrestle with depression, though I now accept that I’m allowed to have both good days and bad days. Sometimes I wish that I could conceal my emotions better or not be so sensitive. What I’ve been through on the outside does correlate with how I treat others and how I react to specific circumstances.

 I would much rather be an example of love, kindness, and putting good back into the world than what I’m able to accomplish with physical strength or perseverance. I know that I am a light, but hopefully not an idol or an expectation to live up to. But ultimately if my words and my actions push or motivate somebody, then so be it. As long as it has a positive impact, then that’s what matters the most.

One of the biggest blessings to come out of the last ten years is that I’ve become very intuitive and self-aware. I love that I’m quirky and still look at life with childlike wonder, but have the ability to retain a lot of wisdom and have grown in maturity because of that. I definitely pay attention to detail and and have begun to stop caring about how cheesy it is to be able to remember the most random things. A lot of that has come from having to watch what goes on instead of actively participating, especially as a kid. It all made my feel isolated for a long time, but I’ve come to appreciate it in the long run.

I’ve come a long way, but there is so much more to do. I am beyond grateful for the people that have helped me get to where I am in this moment, the friends and family who’ve seen past the surface and just let me be “Al.” I feel more connected to my parents, particularly my mom, who I haven’t always seen eye to eye with. I don’t know what this next chapter in my story, but I plan on going into it with my eyes, arms, and heart wide open. 

I won’t say that I’m lucky, because I don’t really believe in luck. Rather, I’m blessed; my life is a gift, and I don’t intend on wasting it.

photo credit: happykiddo via photopin cc

The Cape

I do enjoy making New Years resolutions; though I keep hearing that it’s perfectly feasible to “start over” the very next day, there’s just something about a brand new year that makes it seem more…empowering, I suppose. The celebration and turning of the clock make it feel natural, like a breath of fresh air, rather than something that’s forced. And like many others, I’m choosing to focus on one, although as time progresses it may become an umbrella term or statement for other things.

It didn’t take a whole lot of time to figure out, given the way 2013 unfolded: there were heaps of accompanied by worry, most of which went unwarranted. Not because of the notion that everything works out in the end or that it wasn’t as bad as originally anticipated.  But realistically, there was nothing that I could do to make those situations easier or better. Though I intended to try to make some kind of difference, the choices I made almost destroyed me in the process. With that being said, I did take some time to think and pray about what I really wanted to work on this year, although deep down I’ve been aware of it all along:

I need to stop trying to take care of other people so much and start actually taking care of myself.

But before anyone pegs me as selfish or narcissistic, let me go back and provide some insight into how this came about.

A part of me has always felt that I grew up a little too fast, especially as I became more aware of the world around me and various aspects of it. I was constantly praised for being “mature” and “wise beyond my years” by teachers and other adults in my life. Somewhere between fifteen and eighteen, a relative would tell me that I was the rock of the family and that I helped everybody else stay grounded. It was meant to be a compliment, to build me up whenever my self-esteem started to sink. But I heard it enough times where I started to believe it, and worked myself into what I call “firstborn syndrome.” Some may also refer to it as being the third parent (or at least taking on some parental role). When it comes to being the oldest, you’re the next in command: you hold yourself together when the others are going nuts. You take care of the younger ones when necessary. You hold the fort down when all hell breaks loose. And everyone else’s needs come before your own.

I didn’t start to feel the weight of it until I came home from college for breaks; winter break of freshman year was the first time I admitted to myself that things weren’t OK; the overall atmosphere was thick with tension and there was no telling who would get upset or why. So I took it upon myself to help out as much as possible; I wasn’t always good at it, but I did my best. I figured that if I didn’t try to create some sort of harmony, no one else would.

This is a bit off subject here, but that’s part of the reason why I went off on a bit of a bender after I turned twenty-one: Trying to fit into this particular role of being “the good girl” “the easy child” or “the strong one” was becoming exhausting, and I needed to grab the reins for myself. I don’t blame my parents or anyone else for my choices or my line of thinking. But there were a lot of expectations (both self-imposed and put on me by others) that made navigating my identity a lot harder than it needed to be.

At the time, I thought that a lot of the decisions I made during sophomore and even junior year  were acts of selflessness: I thought I could help a childhood friend heal by moving in with her. I spent a night chasing after two friends from out of town to keep them out of trouble, despite putting myself in danger of being sexually assaulted (or worse). I held onto a toxic relationship because I felt indebted to him for taking care of me when we first met. The summer  following junior year, I dragged a drunk friend back to his apartment because I didn’t want him to hurt himself. I kind of started acting like a Mom for a little while, always warning people to be careful and checking in on them the next day.

 My heart had good intentions, but deep down it was more about this ridiculous desire for someone else to need me; I’ve been told that I help others in more ways than I know, but I wanted to be helpful in ways that I was fully aware of. The funny thing is that no one ever came to me and outright asked for anything; I assumed that they were struggling or in trouble, and that as a friend I could help take on whatever burdens they were carrying. It’s one matter to take on the weight of a person’s world when they recognize where they’re headed and what they’re doing to themselves. But it’s entirely different when they accept an ugly side as part of who they are, and either they look the other way or don’t really care what happens. That’s when I was in over my head.

Fast forward a little over a year and my mindset is starting to change. I question how the terms “selfless” and “selfish” are tossed around aimlessly, particularly in churches and faith-centered groups. I can’t say that I completely agree with the whole “I am third” mentality; not because of how God fits into it, but because I find it hard to do things for others if you don’t have the capability of doing the same for yourself. The biggest issue is that not many people know how to make the distinction between what is selfless, what is selfish, and what is just pure insanity. A lot of it is based on circumstances and the motivation behind the choices that we make. 

That’s not to say that I’m going to just stop caring about people; it’s in my nature to want to lend a helping hand, and I’m always going to do my best to be a good friend, to listen, and give advice/feedback when appropriate. I also believe in at least voicing my concern when I feel that someone is making a bad decision that may hurt them or others in the long run. However, I’m finally beginning to understand that I’m only a human being, and can only do so much when it comes to another’s well being. I can’t keep certain friends from becoming alcoholics or getting into bad relationships. I can’t be a buffer for my parents or my family. But I can paint my own picture, and I can create my own future.

As I said before, we all have the capability to do great things; I just don’t think that “saving” someone is one of them. By trying to do that, you end up putting your emotions in that person’s hands (i.e. basing your happiness on whether or not that person is happy). And that doesn’t work, at least after a while. 

I’m a hard worker and a fighter, and I’m willing to put my whole heart into what I’m passionate about. But I’m not anybody’s hero; at the end of the day, I’m simply Alyx, a child of God who’s own strength is not enough. That’s why I think it’s time to hang up the cape, at least in the sense of being realistic about what I can and cannot do. 

Yes, Wonder Woman has left the building.

photo credit: Loving Earth via photopin cc

Stepping in Different Directions


What was the biggest decision that you made this year? How has it affected you?

On the outside, it didn’t look like that big of a deal because it was informal and we rarely ever talked at that point. But in my heart, cutting my first love completely out of my life was by far one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do; perhaps not as a whole, but definitely this year. I didn’t want to, but there wasn’t much of a choice because everything involving him was starting to become unhealthy. Adding to that, it wasn’t fair to put my fears and insecurities onto others; if I was going to get past all of those, he needed to be out of the picture for good. There were no words exchanged, just deleting his number and making sure he could no longer see my Facebook profile. It was a relief, but also just flat-out-weird; I had no idea what to do afterward, and ended up going on a bit of an adventure for the next six months in trying to figure it out. I prayed, wrote, kissed, dated, drank, talked, and cried. Not only was I letting go of a special person, but the person whom I believed I would marry one day. 

Looking back on it almost a year later, I fully understand that it was for the best. It’s a pain in the heart when you’ve invested in somebody for almost eight years, but our relationship had become one-sided. I didn’t really know him anymore and I’m willing to admit that I might not have known him at all. But I wouldn’t trade any of the time we spent together for the world. 

Not many people are aware of this, but the whole reason we got so close in the first place was because I was going through a very rough time. My self-esteem was a roller-coaster in the midst of changing friends and distant family members, especially my parents. I should have gone to a pastor or another adult at my church that I was attending, but I didn’t trust adults back then. He supported me without judgment and ultimately helped me survive. He was the first person who ever told me that God loved me, and convinced me that cutting my wrists and popping pills wasn’t the answer, among other issues. I know there were those that looked at us with raised eyebrows, but the idea of having to explain that stuff to anyone else was unbearable. 

That’s why I choose not to be angry or hold a grudge; he took care of me in ways that I needed to be, but I had no idea how to articulate. I am not ashamed to say that it’s nice to be taken care of, regardless of all the crap out there involving self-reliance or what the true nature of a relationship is. While God should always be one’s true foundation, we weren’t put on this earth with others to walk through life alone. It took me a long time to get that, and I’m still learning. 

I did go through and grow from a season of dating, but also made the decision to take a step back from that for the time being. Most of the dates were fine and I appreciated the experience, but a lot of the guys weren’t the type that I genuinely want to be with. I totally support giving chances when appropriate, but when your instincts are telling you that it’s not going to work, it’s best to listen to them. I often had a “down the road” mentality, where I thought I would find a reason to like a guy once I got to know him better. And while I believe that can and does happen, the chances are slim when hardly any of your values line up. But the subject of dating in itself is for another post. 

I’m not going to say that I don’t miss him at times, but more so I miss the affection and the sense of intimacy that we had. However, not having him around has been like a breath of fresh air: I have standards for a relationship that go beyond just being nice and the willingness to accept me as I am. And it’s not just about deserving better, but actually needing better. By looking at the bigger picture, I understand that I need so much more than what I thought I did at thirteen or fourteen. 

Knowing what I know now, I wish I hadn’t taken him for granted. But despite all that has happened, I think it all turned out the way it was supposed to. Just because something or someone isn’t forever doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. He does and will probably always have a place in my heart: not in hope or wishful thinking, but in gratitude. And that’s why I’m writing this; I choose not to be cynical, but instead thank God for that particular blessing and that special time. It doesn’t always make moving forward easy, but it makes it doable.

photo credit: letmebeyourswearword via photopin cc

Quote of The Year


What quote resonated with you in 2013? 

“There are a lot of things in life that are going to break your heart, but you should never let them break your spirit!” 

I’m not sure when or where exactly I came up with these words; I think I was writing in my journal one summer morning and all of the sudden it just popped into my head. It has been very much a reflection of this year as a whole, at least in terms of how I’ve felt about about it. On one hand, there has been a lot of pain, mostly in regards of the big moments. There were days where I would just lay in my bed at home or sit on my couch at my apartment and cry or stare into space. I felt so hallow on the inside, like I was in between a nightmare and reality. It was pretty much like being in The Twilight Zone. 

Everyone has a different way of mourning; there’s no one right method of expressing pain, anger, etc. But there comes a point for me when it becomes exhausting. If I’m like that all the time, I start to wonder if it’s actually doing more harm than good. I believe that when bad things happen or tragedy strikes, you should allow yourself to feel and process all that’s going on. But at what point do you begin to accept your new normal? At what point do you risk being destroyed by what you can’t change? 

I’m not saying lock it in a closet and pretend it never happened. There are always going to be certain events, words, and/or periods of time that are going to stay with you forever, no matter how much time goes by. But that doesn’t mean you can’t let yourself have moments of bliss or happiness. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be happy, while still being aware of the fact that you’ve got a broken heart. 

And that’s the thing: awareness of one thing but still allowing yourself to feel another if it comes on. I can’t base my happiness on whether or not the people around me are happy, though it does affect me to an extent. I don’t want to miss out on so many other blessings because I could only focus on the negatives. 

Don’t try to find the balance; rather, maintain it.

photo credit: seyed mostafa zamani via photopin cc

The Edge of Hurt and Grief


What did you grieve for this year? What did you lose? (Prompt credit: Kat Mcnally)

I’ve written so much about specific losses and pain this year that I almost can’t bear to do a summary of it again. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything left to say on the subject, at least from a general standpoint.

We all know what it’s like to experience pain and suffering, as well as the fear of allowing someone in during that tough time. A lot of us also know what it’s like to be on the outside, to watch another person cry out to God or anybody for that matter, begging to close the wound. Though I’ve experienced most of the former this year, I’ve actually gained a lot of insight about holding others up when they’ve practically doubled over. I thought I would share some of it in the form of a letter. And for the sake of clarification, I say “outsider” because he or she may not have been in that hurting person’s shoes before.

Dear Outsider, 

A friend of yours has basically told you that their heart is broken: a loved one might have passed away unexpectedly. Their parents or parent-figures might be choosing to separate or divorce. A significant other ended that relationship. It could be a number of circumstances, but one thing is for sure; he or she is devastated and going through a period of mourning. They might not outright say that they need you, but it’s apparent in their voice, their eyes, or the way they go from full of life to utterly lifeless. 

Now here you might be feeling like you can’t do or say much, especially if you haven’t been in their shoes. But trust me when I tell you that that line of thinking is probably the worst way to go about it. No one in this world is ever without something to offer, regardless of what roads they’ve walked or what they’ve been taught. Let me repeat that again: there is always something to give, whether it be big or small. The key is the will to step out of what makes you feel comfortable and step into the role of a supporter, confidant, and friend. Keep in mind that this is not about you, this is about the person who is looking at you with pain written across their face, and is trying to tell you that they’re going through some level of hell

It’s natural to approach any situation as a problem that needs to be solved; we live in a society that’s constantly busy, going from one thing to the next. At best, we rattle off a list of do’s and don’ts and how-to’s. At worst, we serve a course of “suck it up and move on” or “stop crying and be an adult.” We rely on gender norms in order to cope. The reality is that this may not be a problem to solve or even a pain that you can take away. This may be something that they have to deal with for the rest of their life. 

One way to go about it is to ask the question, “what do you need?” You’re not making assumptions and you’re not acting like you have the answers (in which it’s OK if you don’t). Your friend’s response could vary, but many people simply want someone they can pour their heart out to without fear of being condemned or criticized. Another way of putting it would be that they just want you to listen; I’ve found that in order to become a good listener, you must learn how to be silent and give them their space until they’re finished. Or at least do so until he/she invites you into the conversation, either by asking what your opinion is on the situation, or how they should go about moving forward (which I’ll get to momentarily). If you don’t understand something or need clarification, ask questions to keep the conversation going. The best response might be “I may not have been in your shoes, but I respect where you’re coming from.” 

Another important aspect is acknowledgment that you’re there; making eye contact and keeping it affirms that you’re giving them full attention and that their words aren’t just going in one ear and out the other. I can’t speak for everyone, but physical touch has always been a way for me to connect with others. Sometimes it’s just touching their shoulder or taking their hand at some point. Other times it’s putting my arm around them or giving a hug/holding them afterward. This can be tricky because there are those who are not touch-oriented; be aware of those boundaries and respect them if they’ve been set. Yet, I can say from personal experience that a hug is the best way to reassure someone that they’re not alone, especially if you don’t know what to say. There are circumstances where actions speak louder than words, because words are not always needed. 

Out of everything, what you want to communicate the most is this: I hear you, I see you, and I respect that’s how you feel. 

That being said, there will be times when something is beyond what you know or are able to do. Your friend might need a therapist or counselor who can give more feedback and insight than you alone. However, communicating this is not the easiest thing to do; choose your words carefully because it can come off in a way that you didn’t intend. Affirm that you care about the person and that you will be with them through this tough time, but along with that, it’s a good idea for them to seek professional help. You’re not walking away, but you’re not taking on something heavier than what you can handle. 

It doesn’t necessarily have to end after one conversation: call them, text them, encourage them. The best messages are often the ones that simply let somebody know that you’re thinking about them; this is especially true if you know that something is going on but the other person hasn’t or may not want to bring it up. 

I’m not writing this to give you crap, and I understand that a lot of this is easier said than done. What’s the point of trying to take on the weight of somebody’s world if you can’t carry it? Here’s the thing though: despite what you’re told, you don’t have to go big or go home in order to make a difference in the life of another person. That’s what love in action is all about; being able to do the small things with a big heart. 

Instead of being one who complains about the lack of good in the world or how unfair life is, be one who makes a point of putting good back in it. 

With Sincerity and Compassion,

The other side
I have learned and come to understand a lot about grief and loss in this last year alone. As stated in the letter, it doesn’t just have to only involve the passing of a loved one. It could be a broken relationship that’s beyond repair. A separation or change in family dynamic. Realizing that one chapter is closing and that a particular stage of life is over. Yes, this is all encompassed in grief; and I know this because I’ve been through it or am currently experiencing it right now. 

I cannot describe how alone I’ve felt during these times, and how that isolation still fills me every so often. June is, and probably always will be a very difficult month. A couple of weeks from now will mark an anniversary of a loss that I still feel to this day. I never said goodbye, nor did I mourn with a community. I’m not sure if I’ll ever fully get over that. 

And for that reason, I became resentful of the people I felt like should have been there more than anybody. I felt emotionally distant from my family. I explained to friends who were on the outside that I had very simple yet specific needs, and yet they still felt like they couldn’t help. Damn it that hurt…a lot. 

Grief isn’t measurable; everyone is hurting, regardless of how close they were to the person. So for people to tell me that I needed to be strong and stop dwelling on it is complete bullshit. I still think about it. I still cry when certain songs come on the radio. There’s no expectation for anyone to wake up one day and suddenly not feel the sadness ever again. It’s always there, if only a dull ache that beats against your chest when something triggers a memory. 

I’m in a place right now where I need to do what feels healthy for me. It may look selfish and/or stupid, but quite frankly I’m tired of hiding. I don’t expect everybody to understand or agree with it, and that’s OK. What’s important is that I do what is best to ultimately be a better daughter, sister, and friend. It’s not about making people understand, but learning how to live whole-heartedly despite the fact that some don’t. 

That’s all right with me.
photo credit: seyed mostafa zamani via photopin cc