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.

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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.

Love in the Time of High-Functioning Anxiety.

Remember those moments (that we all have) where you think you are going to be forever alone or that no one would ever be crazy enough to want to marry you?

Welcome to LITERALLY EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE… until recently.

Somehow, the most amazing, brilliant, hilarious, driven, romantic human being on earth fell in (or was tricked into- still up for debate) love with me and has asked me to be his wife. I’m engaged, y’all. His proposal was such a surprise, but not at all unexpected. In true crazy girlfriend fashion, I told him that I was going to marry him after we had dated for about 3 weeks. A little over a year later, I finally got to say “I told you so”.

With this joyous, exciting time comes a spike in anxiety… I am planning on moving to a new town, searching for the “next step” in my career, and wedding planning all at the same time. I wouldn’t change a thing about the last month but as I reflect back on it, I can’t help but laugh at the predictability of my actions as they have been dictated by my anxiety. On the day that we were engaged, I told my fiancé that I wanted to wait at least 2 weeks before starting wedding planning so that we could just enjoy being engaged. That lasted less than 2 days.

Within a month of getting engaged, we have our date, venue, colors, theme, vendors, and my wedding dress all lined up. Other than a few details, our wedding is about 70% planned and ready. This is the product of my high-functioning anxiety. When I start to get anxious, I feel the need to start attacking what is making me anxious in the most frenzied way possible. The idea of a wedding stresses me out, so what do I do? Do all of the planning as soon as possible.

Although this is AWESOME and I feel far less stressed, I can’t help but feel a small twinge of frustration. I wish I could take a step back and relax instead of taking this on this challenge like a rabid lion. Wouldn’t it be nice just to be engaged a little while? I guess we will find out now since I have so little left to plan. Take a back seat, anxiety. It’s time to chill and enjoy the simply being engaged to my best friend.

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