Finding Mental Health Care.

I am 27 years old and still ask my mom to schedule doctor's appointments for me. She now refuses to help me, so I have been forced to overcome the fear and anxiety that comes with being the most adultiest of adults and calling a doctors office. What I have learned is that it is a whole lot easier than we think and yet so many people don't want how to do it. They don't know how to find someone to talk to. Let's figure this thing out together...

If you have insurance-

Find your insurance card: it may be online or a physical copy, just check with your employer or the person who is the primary on your insurance. There should be a phone number or (in the best case) a website on the back that says something along the lines of "to access your plan, review coverage, or find a provider... call or go here." That is your jackpot. All of the insurance providers that I have worked with have a website that allows you to search for a doctor. Maybe you need a specific type of mental health care provider or would rather work with a male doctor- simple check the boxes and viola! Next comes the scary part... call and see if the doctor is accepting new patients. You don't have to tell them all the details of your life, you don't have to worry about an invasion of privacy. Just schedule an appointment and off you go!

If you don't have insurance-

It doesn't mean that you can't get help. I was without insurance for a little while when I was between jobs and it is really daunting not knowing how to afford care, but there are so many options. First, check out healthcare.gov to see if you are eligible for Medicare/Medicaid. There are a variety of things that can make you eligible for government assistance and there. is. no. shame. If you are not eligible, look for a free clinic often know as a "community health center". In my community, we have New Horizons Health that provides free/reduced cost dental, medical, and mental health care. A quick Google search can help you find what is available in your community.

There are also a variety of freeeeee services offered by phone or text, if you would like to talk to someone immediately. I have listed a couple of resources below. Please know that getting mental health care is not impossible. It is not difficult. It is not scary. You can do this. Simply having the chance to talk to someone about what your are feeling or experiencing can change your life. 

National Alliance on Mental Health 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line (Text NAMI to) 741-741

But I Can't.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at the Northeast Greek Leadership Association's annual conference and afterwards, a young lady came up to me with tears in her eyes and quietly asked for my card. I could tell that she needed to talk, but knew that she wasn't yet ready. I hoped and prayed that she would email me or call me or send me smoke signals. Anything. 

Fortunately, she did. We have been exchanging emails back and forth, talking about being over-programmed, over-whelmed, and unsupported. These are the conversations that I live for... to be able to swap stories, explore our own potential for happiness, and share in vulnerability. One of my most used phrases (both in writing and conversation) is "I want to challenge you..." I love the idea of being able to present opportunities for others. It feels like getting a quest or mission, like your Zelda or Frodo or Inigo Montoya. Is my nerd showing yet?

During my conversation with my new friend, we came to the topic of seeking out time with a counselor or therapist. This is always a tricky conversation- there is such a stigma around mental health that seeking help from a professional is scary or shameful, when it definitely shouldn't be. One of the excuses that I have heard- and myself used- the most is "I am already so busy. Adding counseling to my schedule will just bring me more stress!" 

Let's unpack this one, friends. If you had a cavity in your tooth, would you wait and hope that it would fix itself? If you broke your arm, would you still go into work with a bone sticking through the skin. I really, really hope that you said no. Why should taking care of our mental health be any different? We have got to stop making excuses for why we can't see a mental health professional. Your health- physical, spiritual, and mental- is so important.

I'm gonna challenge you real quick- make a list of everything that you have going on in your life. Job, partner, leadership position, volunteering, pets, school, family, church. List it all. Then, I want you to rank everything from least to most important to YOU. No ties! Now look at the thing that you ranked last. Would you be okay with giving that up for an hour so that you can go see a counselor or therapist? Do it. Find the time to take care of yourself. You deserve it.

Challenge Day.

Today, I spent 6 hours participating in a "Challenge Day" with roughly 100 high school students. I realized something really, really important...

Kids today aren't "snowflakes". They are just aware of the fact that people come from all other backgrounds and that the things that make us different should be respected.

They don't need "Safe Spaces" because they are too weak or sensitive. They want to protect themselves and their friends from the bigotry, prejudice, and ignorance in our world.

It isn't that they "can't take a joke". They are just aware that racism, homophobia, sexism, etc. aren't funny. They refuse to laugh at oppression just to make small men feel better about themselves.

They aren't "ruined by their smartphones." They communicate constantly in a way that shows depth and complexity. They share their feelings and thoughts via social media, group texts, and memes.

They know that they can't physically show their feelings because, as a generation, they have been ridiculed, belittled, and invalidated for showing even an iota of emotion.

They are powerful. Their voices will be heard. They will change this world in incredible ways. Thank you to the Elimination of Prejudice Foundation, Pi Lambda Phi International Fraternity, and Challenge Day for an amazing experience. 

Stay Afloat.

I am angry. I am scared. I am frustrated. I am upset. These are real and valid emotions. I wish I had a way to make them go away. I wish I had a way to fix everything. But I don't. I don't have a solution to the world's problems. This isn't about about a solution. It is about survival. 

It feels like you can't turn on the TV or scroll through a newsfeed without seeing something shocking, devastating, or crazy. I have struggled finding the balance between wanting to be aware of what is going on in the world and keeping my own mental well-being in tact. There is this pressure to be a social justice warrior, to take on the ugliness that is permeating through our society, to simply be in the loop. With all of the negativity pushing in from all directions, I am sometimes caught off guard by intense feelings of hopelessness. As someone who struggles with depression on a daily basis, these feelings can trigger really scary thoughts. 

What to do? How do you do it all- stay aware, keep fighting, and retain your sanity?  

When the world feels like it is crashing down around you, it is okay to take a break from everything and focus on yourself. It doesn't make you less 'woke', it doesn't mean you don't care. Quite the contrary- it means that you are taking the necessary steps so that you can be the best version of yourself. There is no shame, no guilt in taking care of yourself. 

So take the break that you need to process these emotions. Turn off the notifications on your phone, step away from social media, and dedicate time doing what brings you peace. Take care of yourself because we need you. Give yourself the space, the grace to stay afloat. 

Imposter Syndrome.

If you have never felt Imposter Syndrome, I can best describe it as being quite similar to the feeling that you get when you are leaving a store, but have not purchased anything. You know the feeling. It makes you nervous, you keep telling yourself to act normal, and you want to turn around and yell "I'M NOT STEALING ANYTHING. Y'ALL JUST DIDN'T HAVE ANYTHING I WANTED TO BUY. I'M NOT A CRIMINAL." You know that you haven't stolen anything, but you fear that people are giving you sideward glances and must assume that you are shoplifting.

That is how it feels to have Imposter Syndrome. It is this omnipresent feeling that someone is going to call you out and let everyone know that you are a fake and you don't belong. This feeling is most readily associated with women in the workplace- something that I totally understand and feel regularly as one of the few women in my field. However, I think that Imposter Syndrome is often felt by people who struggle with mental illness. 

One of the things I hear most often when talking about anxiety, depression, and the like is that people are afraid their feelings won't be taken seriously. Sound familiar? Imposter Syndrome within in context of mental illness can cause us to keep how we feel to ourselves, to downplay our struggles, and avoid seeking help. A loop starts to play in our heads: "maybe I'm not depressed, maybe I'm just being dramatic, maybe my feelings aren't as bad as other peoples, maybe I won't be taken seriously." I have often found myself getting sucked into this thought pattern. There is this fear that my depression and anxiety is a figment of my imagination. 

But I know it is not. My feelings and your feelings are valid. They are real. Imposter Syndrome distorts reality- whether it makes you feel like you aren't good enough to be doing something or it makes you believe that you're a fraud or your feelings aren't real. The first step in combatting Imposter Syndrome is acknowledging it is there. Only then can you start to work on validating your feelings and constructing YOUR reality. 

You is smart. You is kind. You is not an imposter.

Find Your Ocean.

Have you ever watched a penguin walk... okay, walk is too kind... waddle across land? They are awkward and ungainly with their non-existent legs and chubby bellies. They almost appear as if they were made by mistake- a cruel joke by universe.

Until you see them in water.

There they turn into graceful and beautiful creatures who swim at incredibly speeds and with tremendous agility. Recently, I was able to see African penguins in their natural habitat and was totally awe-struck at how quickly the flightless birds can switch from awkward floofs into sleek fishing-machines. 

There are a lot of days that can make us feel like a penguin on land- totally out of our element. Things feel impossible to accomplish, the world feels like it is out to get us, success feels a million miles away. It is so easy to feel like you are the problem... that you aren't good enough or that you are a failure. What if it isn't you, but your environment that is holding you back? Like a penguin on land, maybe you just need to find the ocean to be at your best.

When I think back to the times that I've felt totally paralyzed by anxiety and the endless cycle of hopeless thoughts, there tends to be one common theme- I was engulfed by the negativity of my environment. Being isolated from other people or surrounded by mess, noise, and chaos, can make me feel like a penguin on land. I am uncomfortable and unproductive. It is easy to blame oneself for those feelings but take a step back, survey your environment, and see what may be holding you back. You may just need to physically leave the space you are in or maybe distance yourself from the people (or other penguins) that aren't positively contributing to your wellbeing. Whether we like it or not, our environment has a huge impact on us, but fortunately we have control over it.

Go find your ocean. 

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New Website, Who Dis?

It has been a while. The last few months have been insane- I have been adjusting to a new job, got married, went on an amazing honeymoon to South Africa, started a major lifestyle change, and finally... GOT A NEW WEBSITE. Over the last year and a half since I started sharing my story, this project- to live as authentically as possible in spite of my depression- has evolved. When I first started creating videos, writing posts, and speaking publicly, I was beyond nervous about how people would perceive me so I hid behind my personal mantra of "curiosity, courage, cake". I still believe fully in this mantra and the idea that "a little bit of curiosity can change your entire life, a whole lot of courage is necessary to take on your dreams, and there is nothing that can’t be made a little bit better with cake!" But I am ready to stand on my own two feet... to be more than just a tagline.

So welcome to the next evolution of this project. I took the last several months off in order to practice what I preach and find some self-care. I changed my diet, traveled thousands of miles, spent more time with friends and family, read a ton, climbed a couple mountains, and tried new recipes.  I meditated more and started to understand my anxiety better. I asked myself if I was doing things out of fear, prestige, spite, anger, depression, etc. and forced myself to seek out the positive. I reflected on every aspect of my life.

And this is where it all led me- invigorated, itching to write... ready to live my best life. Welcome.

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Shout out to my sorority sister, Maggie Pendergrass with M. Blair Creative for creating this amazing website for me. If you are looking for website design, marketing help, a great conversation- Maggie is your gal.

Before the "Moment".

Thank you to TJ Sullivan (@intentionalTJS‏) for helping me brainstorm the idea of "the moment"!

Big changes to the website coming soon! With moving, switching jobs, and changing marital status all in one year, a website change-up seems rather fitting :)

Transitioning & Sadness.

This time of the year is filled with transition for so many people- teenagers graduating from high school, college students going home for the summer, graduates taking the first steps into the 'real world'. Summer is a time of change and with that change can come so many emotions, good and bad. Walking away from what is comfortable and familiar can be scary, heartbreaking, and sad. Often, during times of transition, we are told to focus on the positive outcomes... "but you are starting the best years of your life" or "just wait to see what the future holds for you!" That can make it feel wrong to be sad or scared. Those emotions can make us feel guilty for not appreciating the good things that may be coming.

But it is okay to be sad. Transition means leaving something behind. No matter how grand the new venture may be, there is still something that will remain in the past. Something that doesn't come with you.

Tomorrow, I am leaving my first professional job- the job that I have had for three long years. I am leaving the coworkers that have become family, the students that have shaped me, the office that has felt like home. I am turning three years of work over to someone else to do what they want with it- to build upon it or tear it apart for something new. Although I knew that this transition was coming and I am leaving to chasing an exciting new path in my career, I can't help but feel sad.

This isn't my depression. This isn't something to be fought or overcome. These are natural feelings to be embraced, feelings that will go away with time. When you live with depression, you become hyper-aware of your feelings or moods. The first hint of sadness is usually accompanied with an "oh-no" because it is often followed by depression's choke-hold.

Yet sometimes, sadness is just sadness. It is natural. It is okay. Transitions aren't easy and saying goodbye is the worst. Embrace the feelings that come with transition. Temper them with the hope that the future holds something wonderful, but don't push them aside or run from them. Let that sadness remind you of the good that has come thus far. Hold onto it and when you are ready, let it go.

The Masks We Wear.

Recently, my fiancé and I started pre-marital counseling, which has been an odd transition for me after 8-plus years of seeing counselors individually. We are supposed to work through things like "how will you raise your kids" or "what is your approach to money management"; yet, our conversations haven't been able to address those topics quite yet. We have had to talk to death a challenge we are currently facing. While a necessary part of the couples counseling process, it has been painful and unpleasant. But it has also led to some pretty astounding revelations. Last night, my crippling fear of masks was the revelation of the hour.

Not masks like Halloween masks- albeit I will be the first to tell you that I am truly terrified of costumes that cover peoples faces- but the masks that we create and wear to protect ourselves from other people, from hurt, from ourselves. For years, I wore a mask. Every day, I worked tirelessly to make sure that no one would see the real me- the girl struggling with depression and anxiety, who felt like she couldn't keep herself glued together no matter how much primping took place. I wanted to be the perfect daughter, sister, student, sorority woman, employee, friend, sweetheart. Mental illness isn't perfect; it is messy. My mask covered that mess.

Until January 28th, 2016, when I decided to publicly take off my mask and toss it aside. That day, I promised that I would be authentic and real. I committed myself to sharing stories in order to help others see that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. I gave up the mask and it was scary and painful, but so worth it. Yet now, over a year later, I have found myself wearing a mask once again... pretending to be someone I am not. I find this mask suffocating and cruel. I want to fight it. Everything in my body is telling me to rip it off and throw it away with spite and anger.

But I can't. Because this mask isn't for me. It is for someone else. Sometimes we are asked to wear a mask in order to help others... like when visiting a sick friend and bringing cheer and smiles when all we want to do is cry. It may sound counterintuitive, but there are times when pretending is the best way to be authentic. Deep, meaningful love and tremendous care for others may mean gently settling into a part, a role, a place, a mask. It may be uncomfortable. It can bring great sadness.

That is the gamble that comes from sharing your life with others. There are days when you must wear a mask for someone else... to ease their suffering or to make their life better. But that doesn't mean that you lose yourself behind that mask. My revelation was that, although I hate wearing a mask, there is so much freedom in being able to decide when and where I will wear it. You have the control to decide the fate of your story, to decide who get to be apart of it and who gets to know it. That freedom is liberating. It is cleansing. While we all must wear masks from time to time, know that the decision to embrace that mask is yours alone.

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” -Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter

Say Its Name.

Language has so much power. While in college, I had to take a linguistic anthropology class, which was as boring as the name suggests and seemed like a tremendous waste of my time. I admit that I was a terrible student in that class and spent 90% of my time on Facebook or reading pointless articles, thus I probably missed many profound moments with that specific professor... until the very last day of class. On that day, I had actually forgotten my laptop at home and was forced to pay attention to the knowledge being dropped upon the class- I feel very fortunate that I did. My professor ended the course with a quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein... "The limits of my language means the limit of my world."

Think about that one for a minute. Have you ever tried to explain something to a toddler? At times, it can feel impossible because the scope of their language feels so small and limits how you can describe, explain, and teach them. Language has so much power over our way of understanding, our way of defining the world around us. That is why it is critical to start using the right words when tackling mental illness. There is so much power, so much freedom in language.

For example, I recently found myself wedged in the middle of a conflict between someone close to me and their parents. I like to think that I know the person quite well and am able to have open, genuine conversations with them. They know my story... they helped me find the confidence and vulnerability to share it with others. I know that they sometimes struggle with depression as well. We can talk about our good days and our bad days... mental illness is a conversation topic we do not shy away from. Yet the same cannot be said about my friend's relationship with their parents. The word 'depression' is somewhat taboo. Instead, they refer to feelings and behaviors as "moodiness".

I get it. Sometimes depression can manifest itself in ways that others may perceive as "being moody". Sometimes I describe myself as moody AF, a result of my lingering teenage angst coupled with a ongoing love for My Chemical Romance and Panic at the Disco. But reducing depression to simply moodiness creates a host of problems that can cause great harm to the sufferer. When people complain that someone is moody, they may tell them to change their attitude or (if you are a woman) they may ask you if it is 'that time of the month'. Depression is an illness, not an attitude choice. It can seriously impair daily life and should not simply be reduced to PMS or moodiness or having a gloomy outlook.

For when we use the wrong language, we transform the power to get better into stigma and shame. Instead of being able to seek help for a treatable mental illness, sufferers may become hard on themselves, feel embarrassment, and exacerbate an already difficult situation. As my professor once explained, language can limit our world... but it can also liberate us. Say its name- depression.

Forgiving Self-Care.

How many times have you been told that self-care is the best care? For me, I think I am somewhere around the million mark for how many times I have heard that I need to take care of myself. Yet when it comes to "taking care of ourselves", we can often find that there is not enough time in the day to do it all.

Sometimes taking care of yourself means saying no... to yourself, to loved ones, to employers, to friends. Albeit this sounds easy in theory, there is a major hurdle that we sometimes don't think about when it comes to carving our time for ourselves by saying no to others: guilt. With each no, a little bit of guilt may creep in. I am THE WORST at saying no to others. I am a super woman until I am knee deep in 'have to dos' and stretched so thin that I am barely human, let alone super woman. When I do say no, I find myself feeling tremendously guilty or fighting a hefty dose of FOMO.

I see this same cycle of yes, yes, yes, breakdown, yes yes yes, breakdown a thousand times over when working with college students and young adults. It is ingrained in our generation to take on each opportunity with gusto. However, in most cases, that is doing more harm that good. We need to say no. We need self-care. Without it, we turn into miserable zombies drifting from one half-assed project to the next.

That's why I took a break from this blog. I needed to say no to something. The guilt of not writing has slipped into my subconscious a million and a half times since March 19th when I last posted. Each time, I tucked that guilt away and remembered one of my favorite adages: you cannot pour from an empty cup. My cup has been drained by travel, job-searching, moving, wedding planning, and a million other things. The guilt will have to wait. My cup needed some filling. It needed some self-care.

So what are you going to say no to next time you need to make time for self-care? How are you going to tell the guilt to GTFO? If you can answer these two questions, you are well on your way to a full cup.

Goodbye, Armor.

Next week, I start the process of moving for the 2nd time since July... 9th time since 2008. By this point, I have mastered the art of moving to a new home- I know the best ways to package dishes, how to transition my cat to a new place, and the list goes on. This time is a little bit different though. This time, I am moving into the house that my fiance and I purchased together. There are a million things that I am freaking out about. This will be my first time with a roommate since college. We are buying a FREAKING HOUSE. We will have a mortgage and lawn and things to fix all on our own. I feel like I am able to jump into the ride of my life. I will write more about the process as we tackle each obstacle, starting today.

Today, I took on a massive challenge. Today, I downsized my closet.

I know, that sounds absolutely ridiculous. How can getting rid of clothes be so hard? Isn't that the most first-world, stereotypical woman thing you've ever heard? Let me explain...

Getting rid of clothes is impossibly hard for me. Over the last 10 years, I have worked so hard to keep an imagine- the girl that is well-dressed, pulled together, and perfect in every way. By wearing this armor of pretty clothes, I kept people from knowing my secret. By looking the part, I thought I could trick people into believing that I was okay... maybe, I could trick even myself. Clothes protected me from the stigma associated with mental illness. They disguised my depression. They fed my anxiety.

Now that I am on the road to becoming myself- the person I am choosing to be beyond the mental illness- I am ready to start leaving that armor behind. Staring at me from across the room are 7 boxes of clothes ready to find a new home. This time, they are no longer armor. They are just clothes. This is one little battle, but it feels amazing to win nonetheless.

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What Chrissy Teigen Taught Me.

Recently, Chrissy Teigen- the glorious queen of clapbacks and Twitter gold standard comedy- shared her struggle with postpartum depression with the world and experienced something that so many people who share their stories about mental health face.... a change in the way people perceive and treat us. Capture

When I first saw her tweet, I nearly fell out of my chair from clapping wildly and screaming "YASSS GIRL" like a madwoman. I kept my struggle with depression and anxiety a secret from the world for YEARS because I was so worried about how people would treat me differently. Turns out, this is not uncommon at all- even celebrities experience the stigma associated with mental illness- and may cause people to avoid seeking help.

Let's have a moment of real talk, here... the best thing that you can do for someone struggling with mental illness is ask them what they need from you. Then, shower them with all the love, understanding, support, and french fries that they may need. Tell your sympathies or pity to take a back seat, as that look in your eyes feels so draining and can bring forth shame. Not cool.

The stigma is so real, y'all. So how are you? Not how arrrrrre you.

Finding a Therapist.

Recently, I started sharing my story (and my phone number) with college students across the country as I have really started pursuing a new adventure as a college speaker. One of the things that always blows me away is how willing some people are to be vulnerable- if they are simply asked the right questions. Often times, I think we get so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget to stop and truly listen to the conversations that we have with others. One moment can change everything. So what happens when we stop, we listen, and we ask the right questions? Recently, I was at a conference with thousands of college students and had the chance to really be "in the moment". After facilitating a session, a young man approached me and told me his story. I listened, intently. I was surprised at what he told me. He was struggling to find himself- the person he wants to be- beyond depression. We exchanged numbers and I was thrilled to hear back from him the next day. His vulnerability was inspiring.

The conversation with the young man led to me sending him some of my favorite books on learning to love yourself. It also taught me that I had been missing a big part of asking the right questions. Whenever I speak to college students, I always ask "how are you, no really, how are you?" and tell them that it is okay not to be okay. The question that usually follows hours later via text message is "how do I do that?" Time and time again, I have found that the stigma of depression, counseling, mental illness can stop people from getting help, but there can sometimes be one other huge roadblock- they don't know how to seek help.

Seeing a counselor or therapist isn't what you see in the movies- no couches to lay on or ancient clipboards or ugly sweater-vests. It isn't necessarily prying into your childhood or digging into your subconscious. It is a conversation centered around seeking hope. You get to be the guide as you work together to find solutions to what you are feeling.

Finding a therapist is sometimes a process- you want to make sure that you have the same goals, are compatible, and you feel comfortable talking to them- but it is not difficult. If you are a college student, check to see if your school has a counseling center. If you are working through an insurance provider, see who they cover via their website. If you are seeking a child, adolescent, or young adult counselor, I suggest the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy's "Locate A Therapist" database- that is actually the tool that I used to find my current doctor.

There are so many resources out there. What are some of the ones that you have used?

The Day After The Day About Love.

Valentine's Day is weird. Nearly everyone falls into two camps when it comes to feelings about the day- you either adore it and spend all day wrapped in bliss or you hate it and spend all day lamenting about how awful love is. For ten years, I thought that the only boyfriend that would ever stick around would be depression; we had a horribly unhealthy relationship, but he always stuck around even when I tried to date someone else. When I was ready to take (yet another) break from dating, I just happened to match with a smooth talker who convinced me that he deserved a chance. On one of our first dates, I could not stop myself from spilling every detail of my struggle with mental illness with this introverted, quiet man that had no idea what to expect from the loud redhead that he met through online dating. For some insane reason, he asked me out again and again and again- even after that embarrassing lack of constraint on that date.

About three months later, I woke up with high anxiety and knew that I was close to a breakdown. He could tell something was wrong just by looking at my face and soon found himself holding me as wrapped myself in a blanket burrito and sobbed uncontrollably. With a tear streaked face, I asked him if he thought I was crazy and if he still wanted to be with me. I had been through this before- meet a man, start to fall for him, and then the depression and anxiety scares him away. But this time proved to be different; he pushed the hair out of my face and said “I have been waiting for this. I want to see the real you- all of you. The perfectly imperfect you.”

I fell in love with someone who sees my mental illness as just another thing that makes me unique and wonderful. On the days that feel impossibly hard, he encourages me to try to take one step- get out of bed- and then another- make coffee- and another, until I feel confidently enough to take on the day. He reminds me to take my medication every day- he is a pharmacist after all- and tells me to focus on breathing when I feel an anxiety attack creeping in. I brought my mental illness to this relationship, but that doesn’t mean that it has control over us. My mental illness is a challenge that we embrace together, every day.

In October, we are getting married. My anxiety tends to be a party crasher and will probably show up without RSVPing, but we are ready. In life and love, there is nothing that is impossible when you have the hope and fight in you to keep pushing on.

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PS Check out Ryan & Alyssa Photography! They took this amazing picture of us.

Little Women with Big Voices.

The last month has been impossibly hard. Each day, I wake up afraid of what horrible thing that I will see in the media or what outrageous thing has happened in our world. I have felt scared, alone, angry, and useless. I am a worrier- it is in my blood. Living in a Trump presidency feel impossible because there is so much unpredictability that my brain can't help but think of the worst in every situation. Repeal ACA? My anxious brain tells me that I am going to lose my health insurance and not be able to afford my medications. Turn public education into a private money-maker? I am worried about my students, my job, my future children. I hope that my fear is irrational, but I cannot help but worry.

With all of this fear, worry, anxiety sitting on my chest, how could I possibly think about writing this blog, seeking opportunities to further advocate for mental health and wellness, or even contemplate continuing to tell the stories that are buried within me? My voice feels so small compared to the chaos in our world. So I fell silent.

And then, I had a realization... silence is my safety blanket. From the day I was diagnosed until the day I put this video into the world, I had used silence to protect myself from the harsh reality that people may see me differently if they know that I live with a mental illness. For so long I had let being silent keep me safe from judgement, but in doing so had pushed people away, lied to those that I love, and fought my battle alone. In silence, there is comfort laced with ignorance. Staying comfortable means nothing changes.

That is my challenge- in this time of uncertainty and fear, find your voice and use it. Whatever ignites your soul, share it with others. That is the only way we will ever overcome that challenges that lie in front of us.

In Honor of Carrie.

Mental health is messy. It is not glamorous, it is not fun. It makes people uncomfortable, so much so that those who share their stories are often told that they are oversharing or coming across as entirely disordered. That's what made Carrie Fisher such an amazing woman- she is the epitome of bravery. In spite of the big Hollywood expectations that surrounded her, she allowed her true, messy self to be seen. She made it okay to share our stories. She gave a big middle finger to the stigma that is associated with mental illness and lived so courageously. She will always be an icon in American cinematic history, but what I truly hope she is remembered for is her mental health advocacy. "At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.” -Carrie Fisher

In honor of Carrie, I will continue to be seen as messy- to share my story, authentically and vulnerably. Because I believe that one day, people who struggle with mental illness will no longer face stigma and instead, will be supported and loved during their pursuit of overcoming their illness. I will live like the Princess, like the General in order to help others.

5627db8d1400002a00c7a7eaPhoto from the Huffington Post's amazing piece on the OG mental health hero.

A Reflection of Honesty.

It has taken me over a week to work up the courage to post this, but I think it is really important to draw attention to issues that need change. I hope that this blog post is seen as such- a call to action- and not a piece rooted in judgement or malice.  

Every December, fraternity and sorority life professionals gather together to share new ideas, network with other professionals, and challenge the future of the fraternal movement. That week is one of the most draining, inspiring, challenging, and straight-up difficult of my year. After attending four previous annual meetings, I thought that I had gotten this conference hustle down pat- attending sessions, meeting up with old friends, making new connections. However, this annual meeting was different and I am leaving with a hint of frustration mixed in with my feelings of exhaustion and hope.

I have always been hyper-aware of my identity and how others may perceive the different layers that make me the person I am. This was the first year that my identity within the profession has changed. It was last year’s annual meeting that pushed me to start evaluating the front that I had used to protect myself from other’s judgment. Unfortunately, within my profession, there is a silent fog of hypocrisy that always rolls over our annual meeting. As educators, we teach authenticity, vulnerability, and compassion to our students; yet at our own yearly gathering, we often fail to check our own unpleasant actions and behaviors. We dress to the nines and celebrate the “fashion show” while slipping side eye towards those that don’t look the part. We build these inner circles and slip individuals up onto pedestals to create our own internal hierarchy that ostracizes many. We gossip and shame and judge and generate insincere personalities that are not reflective of our true selves. Of course, this is a broad generalization and not all fall prey to it, but it is something that many of my peers have complained about.

I will be the first to admit that I have played into this game for many years- I have my idols within the profession and have strategically saved up to buy all new clothes for each meeting and have yearned to wiggle my way into the elite inner circle of association celebrities. But I’ve grown tired of trying to be someone that I am not. Last year was my turning point- I left our meeting tired, unfulfilled, and disappointed. That was the catalyst to spark my own self-discovery that has led me on this new journey. How could I possibly be an advocate for authenticity, vulnerability, and compassion if I wasn’t living that life myself? I needed to look in the mirror.

That is one reason why I decided to start sharing my story. This professional woman with new clothes, a big smile, and compliment for everyone was not what she appeared to be. Beneath the red lipstick and Kate Spade bags was crippling anxiety, depression, self-loathing, and a little voice reminding me that I would never be good enough. I got tired of being two people. It was time to start sharing my story and embracing the person I was at my core, not just in my heels. In doing so, I deeply wove vulnerability into my identity- to be authentic is to be vulnerable. That has become a part of who I am.

Which made this meeting extraordinarily hard. Although I have surrounded myself with amazing friends and colleagues who are so supportive of what I am doing- sharing my personal story and working towards become a mental health advocate- I still experienced some of negative effects of my new identity. People I have known for years treated me differently- softer, like I was a fragile doll. When walking by a conversation, I caught the shifty eyes of someone who was caught talking about me. I had not anticipated this… in a hotel full of colleagues who believe in values congruence and building people up, I felt stripped down, alienated, and (once again) like I was not good enough.

So this is my call to action. One year ago, the annual meeting of my profession caused me to reevaluate the life I had been living and set me on an amazing path towards finding myself. This year, I am going to focus on how our systems, organizations, relationships can be made better by stripping down to the core of who we are, how we treat people, and intersectionality of the two.  What would our annual meeting look like if we could be real, like really real, with one another? What would our world look like? What changes could we make?

Next time you sit in front of a mirror, ask yourself “am I living a life that is reflective of who I truly am and who I strive to be?”  If the answer is no, change it. If the answer is yes, go forth and ask someone else the same questions. That is our challenge.