I recently turned 24 and was once again reminded of all the beautiful people and blessings I have in my life. In this season, I clearly see the progress I am making in academics, I am aware of the continual strengthening of my family, I am reminded that I am loved and cherished, I wake up knowing that regardless of the obstacles I face, I am strong enough to face them. But I wasn’t always like this.

Minutes before midnight, when I would celebrate another year, a friend asked me what I had learned about life in my 23 years. I stated things like, “I understand now that many heartbreaks are blessings in disguise” and “Friends will come and go, but in trying times, few will stay” and “Not everyone knows how to love you in the way you need to be loved, but someone will” and the cliche, “It goes on”. All of these things were true and even spiritual to me. Each statement represented countless stories and journeys that I had traveled, and thankfully, learned from. But with all these romanticized sayings, there was still a nagging in my brain to share what I had really learned after all these years– I needed help.

The past year or so of my life was a challenging one. I graduated from college, and like so many others, moved back to my small town, worked a job I tolerated, and had an existential crisis. Thousands of dollars spent on courses and books, hours of blood, sweat, and tears over late night papers, and the dizzying amount of pressure I placed on my shoulders seemed to only follow me, getting me nowhere. Nights were spent in conversation with Worry and Doubt propped on the end of my bed. “Can I please just sleep?”, I would beg. “No, no,” they cooed, “just a few more hours of disaster preparedness planning. Would you like to cover ‘possible stock market crash’ or ‘dead-end job opportunities’?”

Then, I moved. This was absolutely a necessary step in my life, and I was wild about packing my life up and beginning again across the country, starting graduate school, and moving forward. However, Worry and Doubt were not entirely on board with this venture. In fact, for two weeks before I left they kept me up talking all night long. Sometimes when I refused to listen Worry would sit on my chest and crush me, while Doubt paced the room, at times even unpacking some of my moving boxes.

But I pushed through. Sleep deprived and aching I pushed through. And one day I received a strange phone call from home. Worry and Doubt hovered over my shoulder in the most suffocating way listening in on the conversation. The phone call ended and I closed my eyes waiting for their comments. They came in rips and tears, slashes and wallops, a pounding head and a heavy chest. The only thing worse than preparing for a disaster with these two, is experiencing the disaster itself. I spent days and weeks feeling like a shell of a human propped up by my personal crutches, Worry and Doubt.

This is not the part of the story where I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and moved on. This is not the point of the story where someone picked me up, brushed me off, and sent me in the right direction. And this is not the moment where I found my inner strength and let go of all this heaviness. This is the part of the story where I gave up.

I have struggled with anxiety my entire life. I have woken up with stomach aches, being sickly nervous over something I could not even name. I have hosted debates in my mind that lasted for years at a time and would not let me sleep. I have worried I had heart defects that I found were actually esophageal spasms (common symptom of PTSD). In 23 years of life, I wished, hoped, and prayed for it, but never understood how anyone could wake up–happy. That was a foreign concept to me! I had been told I did not know how to relax, that I had fear of commitment, that I worked too hard, that I was compulsive, that I was a perfectionist.  I tried to reconcile all these messages from my body, my brain, and others and spent so much time trying to figure out what I was– when really all I was, was sick.

Not ‘sick’ in the stigmatized way everyone thinks about it. But I was sick, as in my lumbar system was continually and excessively firing off neurons to my brain–fight or flight messages. I had anxiety. My body was providing too much of something and therefore I was not able to function to the best of my ability.

When a person has allergies, doctors suggest a medicine that will combat a reaction. When someone breaks an arm, we cover and protect the arm with pretty colored casts and even sign it in homage. When someone suffers from migraines there are many treatments offered including medicines, oils, procedures, etc. But as soon as someone admits to having a mental health issue, the treatments stop. I have heard people say that if you are a true Christian you should never be depressed, that it’s not something wrong with you it’s just that you’re not trying hard enough. I have seen people be alienated from friend groups for admitting that they are struggling with their mental health. I have had friends of my own warn me of the dangers of even seeking a doctor regarding anxiety because those drugs ‘make you someone else’. Good thing I didn’t listen to them.

The most valuable step I took in my 23rd year was seeking help through my doctor and being prescribed anti-anxiety medication.

My friends were right about one thing. These drugs have ‘made me someone else’. They’ve made me someone whose stomach is not constantly in knots. They’ve made me someone who sleeps through the night, and wakes up feeling, if not happy, at least capable of facing each day. They’ve made me someone who enjoys going out more, who is more willing to try new things, who doesn’t feel like any move she makes could be a social downfall. They’ve made me someone with a clearer mind–one with only a few tasks and conversations bouncing around instead of an antagonizing buzz of worries. They’ve made me someone who is capable of stopping, having a conversation with a friend, and laughing at a joke in the midst of a stressful day. They have made me someone who does not drag through each day because I am debilitated by fear and stress, and frazzled by the worry and doubt, and crippled by imagined guilt and shame, and hurting from the a bar that I feel I will never measure up to. I am a new person. I am a whole person. I am the best version of myself.

This post turned into something much bigger than I intended. But I feel so thankful for those who reached out to me to offer a celebratory ‘happy birthday’, that I wanted to reach back and maybe help someone have more ‘happy everydays’. Mental health issues are often shoved under the rug; I was the queen of sweeping them under there for 23 years! But most of my life, I thought people were liars when they said they  woke up happy. As a person who woke up with a cloud looming over (or in, I suppose) their skull, I did not believe it would ever be possible for me to wake up happy. But it is. And I am.

I thought that my anxiety was a personality trait. That I would simply have to deal with the health hazards my whole life because I wasn’t strong enough to fix my anxiety on my own. But the truth was, all those years, my body was just asking me for help. Now, I feel stronger, and healthier than ever. If your body is sending you messages like these, you are not alone, you are not weak, your body is functioning properly in the sense that it is asking for help.

Seek help. Be strong. Be brave. Be healthy. Be the best you, you can be. And don’t give a damn what other people have to say about it.

How do you know?

For years, I remember asking my mother, friends, and role models the one question that plagues many of us since middle school. “How do you know?” Of course I was talking about boys, men, the one. How do you know? As a girl I watched many of my friends fall easily into one relationship and another. They seemed to have no problem letting people in and considering the prospect of forever with whomever, whenever. However, I was a different breed. I had interests, for sure, intrigued by this boy or that. But these interests lasted for short periods, and then I was happy to be by myself again. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to actually consider someone being there forever.

The truth was I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. I was never relaxed, never at ease, never at peace with where I was. I wanted to run, I wanted to fly, I had so many things I wanted to accomplish and that I needed to prove. I was plagued by the comments of others, “You’re too sensitive, too picky, too ambitious.” I craved an attention I had never known. I was misunderstood, “That was dramatic,” they’d say. Really? I just thought I was standing up for what I believe. I was told to fit into a box, but to handle duties outside the lines of my makeup. I was asked to behave, to be brave, but not too vocal. I was conflicted, confused, and hurting.

I never needed a man and I always knew that to be true. But my entire life I yearned for someone. Someone, anyone, who would see me for who I was. I wanted to be recognized as not being sensitive, but loving justice. I wanted to be known as discerning, not as picky. I wanted to be judged, not as dramatic, but as passionate and bright. I wanted my ambition to be buzzing, attractive, striking, and adored. I wanted the scars of my childhood to show and needed, them to be given the attention and care they never received. I craved an apology for all the times one was withheld from me. And I desired forgiveness, even for that which I did not deserve.

Still I was patient, or simply naiive. I did not anxiously await, nor really believe, that someone would come along that could fulfill this role. How could one calm the anxieties in me that no one else could see? How could they quiet the phantom insecurities? How could they mend the faded scars in me?

So child,
let me give you the answer that no one else could satisfy. How do you know? You know when the conversation turns toward a subject you regularly avoid, but instead you say your piece, and he gently takes your hand. You know when stories of your past unearth, and instead of trying to decorate, rationalize, or excuse them, you let them sit, cross-legged before you on the floor, and he picks them up, dusts them off, and gently folds them into place. You know when he satisfies your questioning, when he laughs at the jokes no one understood, when he traces invisible scars, when he listens to unspoken words, when he loves the misunderstood, critiqued, ugly, damaged, scarred parts of you. Because to him, you are understood, validated, beautiful, whole, and strong.

These were the things you’ve always known you were. And that’s how you know, when he knows too.

Dear Child,

Boys, do not date until your are ready to have every action made and every word spoken be out of love, trust, respect, encouragement, and protection. Do not act out of selfish gain, or lash out spitefully when hurt. But instead love, not naively, but openly, knowing that she could say goodbye, and you must graciously hold open the door for her.
Girls, don’t date the man you want to ‘get’. Soon your fickle heart will just want to ‘get rid’ of him. Instead, love because of character and passion and how often he makes you laugh. Lead, often by example, the nonnegotiables of mutual respect, sensitivity to other’s needs, trust and faithfulness. And call them up from being boys to being men.

In a world so often full of selfishness, deceitfulness, insensitivity, and mistrust, carry the above. Don’t be someone’s reason why it’s oh, so hard to love.

Discontented Heart

I was born with a discontented heart
Not that I despise my house and deny my home
But that I know I am not meant for this place in which I live
I am always reaching out, imploring to be carried away from here
Always second guessing, always questioning
Is this the life I am meant to live?
Are these four walls all there is?
I was born with a discontented heart
Not that I cannot love because the aptitude to love is present of course
But that the tendency to doubt is all the more
I am always feeling trapped, always feeling stuck
I cannot know for sure, but these questions haunt me
Is love to only feel like suffocating?
Is love always so quickly fading?
I was born with a discontented heart
Not that I smile not and laugh disingenuously
But that I yearn for the next moment of abandoned joy instead of making it my own
I am always looking out, looking past what I have here and now
The world is not always gray, but more than often I make it that way
So quick to forget the friends I have
So quick to displace the trust I lack
I was born with a discontented heart
Not that I believe I am here by mistake
But at times I query my God on his timing and placement
I am always falling under, always lacking faith
So I turn to the universe to question my fate
Is this all there is?
Is this lot all I’m given?
I was born with a discontented heart
I pray you, dear God, your pitiful servant do not depart

Fight or Flight

I’m sitting down to write this blog post after an emotionally draining week, and I have to admit that I don’t know entirely what it’s about. And then I think, exactly. The truth is I don’t know what it’s all about.

For those of us who were lucky enough to have teenage love in all its fiery downfall, we experienced a sureness, a confidence, a blind and damning hope beyond all odds that love was what it was all about. Of course, life progressed and our naivety, at best, faded, and at worst, crashed and burned into oblivion. We then spend most of our lives searching for that utter confidence in someone, something, anything. Something that we will hold to in every circumstance, something that will not fail us, something that we see in every projection of our future, but that is something illusive and impossible. In this world there is no constant, no promise that things will remain the same. In fact, the mere seasons, ushered in by angry winds, guarantee us change. Loved ones leave, or worse, are taken from us, dreams fail, plans collapse, even relying on our own physical being condemns us. We live in a chaotic, ever-changing world.

This is where I must remind myself that my God is bigger than the chaos of this world. And that I do believe with all my might that no minute detail of our pain is lost or meaningless, but is instead, somehow, working for God’s glory. I say that I believe that with all my might because that is what it takes. It takes a physical and mental strength to put my hope and trust in God. And tonight I’m not feeling as strong.

When faced with a new and potentially dangerous situation, it is said that our body has two mechanical responses: fight or flight. I have come to find that my instinctual response is flight. In fact, my brain has convinced itself that in “flighting” I am actually fighting for myself, protecting myself. I don’t think I believe that anymore. As a declaration of my shift from flight to fight I’d like to tell you just what it is I plan on fighting for.

I want a quiet, confident, clarity and a swollen heart.

Friends are like flowers.. Buds.

I was thinking again of how blessed I am by the friendships I share around the globe. Each one is different, special, and often, specifically designed for a particular period in my life. However, a recent event made me ponder what exactly friendship is. And while it is not a composite definition, I have two analogies that encompass much of what I believe to be the definition of true friendship.

1. Happy Despite
I watched, this past, brisk Saturday morning, as the community youth soccer league held its kindergarten game. A stampede of miniatures clumped from this end of the field to that. There was a point, however, when one little girl broke away from the pack, and ran full force to the opposing goal. Living in this small town, I happened to know the little girl and the goalie that she was coming up against. They are the best of friends. Hannah, we’ll call her, was running, unopposed, toward her best friend Emily in goal. This is one of those difficult situations for young friends. I’ve seen numerous parents giving pep talks and coaching lessons to tear streaked faces after situations just like this. How do you handle being on opposing teams gracefully and fairly? But I believe that these two girls have a wisdom and a bond beyond their years. As Hannah sprinted toward Emily in the goal, Emily was overcome with happiness for her dear friend. Elated, she stepped out of the goalie box and yelled, “Go, Hannah! Go!” Her hands moving from her cheeks to her knees and back again. She watched, overjoyed, as her friend scored against not just her team, but herself. Friendship is being happy for your friend, despite any penalty to self.

2. Loving in Sadness.
The second is a personal example, and comes with a bit of a spoiler alert. This past fall I went to see the Mockingjay movie, the second installment of The Hunger Games novels. I am an extreme fan of the novels, and have read each book at least twice. My friend, Kristen, had not read the books, but had seen the first movie. Here is where the spoiler alert comes in. If you haven’t read the books or seen the movies, uh, go, read, see, and also stop reading this point in the blog, bookmark, and don’t come back until you do. But really, this is my, both hands waving above head frantically, warning that I’m giving away some of the storyline. Kristen and I, having seen the first movie together, both had our favorite characters, and hers was Cinna, Katniss’ designer. Going into the Mockingjay movie, I did not want to spoil anything for Kristen, but knew the time was coming when Cinna would be beaten to death. At that point I reached over and gently squeezed my friend’s hand. From the corner of my eye I saw her glance over at me and whisper, “No.” I had already faced the sadness that was coming, and knew there was nothing I could do to stop it from reaching my friend. Instead, I sat quietly in the dark, hand in hand with my friend, and confronted the sadness with her.

While these examples are not ground breaking, earth shattering, life changing tales. They are, I believe, beautiful analogies of what selfless friendship can be. And I am thankful to bare witness to these accounts and many more.

The time that one guy thought it was funny to pick me up and set me in a trash can.

I hate it when boys shove you or grab you or put you in a head lock and try to act like it’s some sort of joke. If you need to portray physical dominance over me, let me say first of all that you probably have an inferiority complex. But secondly, don’t expect me to accept it kindly, and don’t you dare call me a “bitch” for standing up for myself. Physical dominance is a weak man’s crutch. And it is time for women to recognize and discourage such behavior, and men, to hold themselves to higher standards of how they treat all people.