He is here: Easter reflections on depression and faith

Today is Easter. In my faith, it's a day created for celebration. Celebration of a death meant to save, and celebration of a resurrection. It's an important day; without Easter, there's really no Christianity. Because without Easter, without Christ's resurrection, well...his movement dies, as does our belief. So today, today is a day for celebrating. And the weather here in New York played nice: it's glorious and warm and clear blue skies and simply ideal.

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It's a beautiful day on a hundred different levels. I should be rejoicing. I should be dancing, laughing, smiling until my cheeks are sore.

Instead I'm sitting on my couch in semi-darkness, wondering where my happiness got chased off to. Wondering where my celebrating spirit is hiding.

It's not that I don't believe, don't have faith. I do, honestly and truly, as wild as it might seem, believe that 2,000 years ago a man died on a cross, and that man was God, and that man rose from the dead, and his sacrifice eradicates sin from me and confirms me to an eternity of heavenly celebration.

I believe that somehow, for some reason, God created me, fashioned me with his power, and smiled upon me, loving what He had made. In the core, secretest part of my heart, I do believe that I am loved by a powerful, eternal being who created all.

And yet. And yet that belief, the knowledge of that love, it doesn't erase my suffering. It doesn't cancel out my depression. My faith is incredible and sustaining on so many levels; yet it doesn't cure my mind of this disease that ravages it.

And so on this day of celebration, I grieve. I grieve not because I have any reason to, not because there is anything lacking in my life or faith; I merely grieve because that is how my brain is wired.

I grieve because sorrow feels ever-present, choking hope from me. As much of a stubborn optimist as I naturally am, depression seeks to cancel that out, seeks to strangle me into a pessimistic person, and sometimes succeeds. So no matter what, I don't have hope for this life.

If you're getting down to the meat of it, it's this: I don't see a way into lasting happiness. I can't imagine a future in which this weariness doesn't claw at my throat, in which the certainty of failure doesn't hold my hand and match me step for step. I struggle to believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel, mortally speaking.

In recent days, I've reminded myself, time and again, of the meaning of my tattoo: that He is here. That His presence is undeniable. It doesn't mean He's here to walk me out of the darkness, necessarily. It simply means He is with me in the waiting, in the torment, in the grieving.

At a Good Friday service at my church, Hillsong NYC, our pastor Carl Lentz spoke for just a few minutes about the six hours between Christ's nailing to the cross and the moment He gave up His life. He reminded us that for those six hours, Jesus hung in an agony of physical pain and probably mental anguish and doubt. But he persevered. At any moment he could have given it up, shrugged and used His power to get off the cross.

But He didn't.

He hung there for those six torturous hours.

I'm in my own six hours. They've lasted months if not years and I don't see an end anytime soon. That doesn't mean there is no end; relief could come tomorrow for all I know, and I could be released from this depressive episode's clutches.

Or not. Or the six hours could be the rest of my life on Earth.

And that thought...it sucks. It really sucks. It's a reason to grieve, and so I'm grieving, because I have little sense of hope of ever being released from this torture that is depression; from this craving to cut, this desire for death.

At the same time...He is here. He is with me. He hung on for six agonizing hours. And he is with me in this darkness.

I was taught growing up that Christ was tempted in all the ways we are, that He suffered all the ways we do. I take comfort in choosing to believe that maybe this means he also despaired. He lost hope. He lost the light.

But He didn't lose his mission, his faith, his belief in His Father's presence.

I'm gonna strive to live like that. Live like Christ did for those six hours, even if that's the rest of my life.

Depression eats hope. And faith, faith takes your hand and walks you through the tunnel.

He is here. With me, in depression.

Thank God.

I will always fight for journalism

After 23 years of making pronouncements and then changing my mind, I know a little better than to say, "I'll never be a journalist." Because I also said, "I'll never not be a journalist," and, well, my pizza-slinging uniform begs to differ on that count. 10405327_10152565449759884_2885326472995272677_n

However, as things stand right now, it looks like journalism isn't my calling. For personal reasons — like my intense need to be loved, my desire to just write building-up pieces and my severe depression — and professional ones — like the fact that I'm actually not the greatest at in-depth reporting and would rather write positive stories anyway — I'm not sure I could be a good journalist.

Or at least, not the journalist I'd want to be; see, I'd want to be an investigative or political reporter, someone who is a watchdog for government and holds powerful people accountable.

But I'm not great at that. So I'm moving on to exploring other communication fields, like running social media or doing PR or just writing novels and slinging pizza on the side.

That doesn't mean that I don't think journalism is one of the most important things for the world right now. And it doesn't mean I won't fight, tooth, nail and foot-to-the-groin for freedom of the press and for journalistic respect.

In today's New York Times, Helene Cooper wrote this sentence in her front-page article:

What appeared to rattle people the most about Mr. Trump’s news conference on Thursday were his attacks on members of the news media assembled before him. Several diplomats said they worried that Mr. Trump was trying to discredit a tenet of American democracy — a free press — and in so doing, might embolden despots around the world into further challenges to freedom of the press.

"Trump Aides Try to Reassure Europe, but Many Are Wary"

That's telling. It means it's not just reporters (or j-school sort-of students) who believe in the importance of the press; literal world leaders are terrified because they've seen what happens to democracies when the press is muzzled.

There's a reason the First Amendment was the first to be amended, you know? Because it's so vitally important.

I may sound like I'm writing a j-school application essay (which I wrote so many of, you guys...so many) when I say that a free press is fundamental — fundamental, people — to a free country.

It is vital that we have a body of people dedicated to overseeing government's actions. Just this week we had a beautiful example of what happens when the press does its job. Michael Flynn literally resigned because The Washington Post made it clear that he was lying and it was being covered up, and President T. was no longer able to keep lying.

The work the Post did was absolutely essential. Importantly, it was done in service of the American public — a.k.a., not the work of the "enemy" of the American people, as President T. tried to say the press was.

You know who thinks the press is the enemy? People who have something to hide. You know who can't be trusted? People who have something to hide.

So yes, I might not be a journalist myself in the future. But my years as a student journalist and my most-of-a master's degree in the field have done nothing but reinforce in my mind the idea that this is a very important field; a necessary career; a calling for many.

And I'm standing here to say: I support the press. I'll do everything in my power to make sure it stays free and accessible. Yesterday, that meant financially supporting the New York Times.

That link takes you to a donation page that's a nice, double-edged sword: gives money to the newspaper and provides a young'un with a subscription, so they can stay informed and we can raise up a new generation to value and respect the press.

Most days I can't give money; so I tweet links and spread the news. I follow journalists and know their names because they deserve that small ounce of respect. And I won't stand by silently if President T. tries to do anything — anything — to diminish the freedom of the press.

Because it's so doggone important, guys.

A promise to keep on

11231036_10206439186115425_7479951697701760541_n-2 For so long, I wanted nothing more than to go to grad school for journalism in New York City.

I worked my butt off to perfect my applications so I would get accepted to Columbia, CUNY or NYU. I took my personal essays and rewrote them tons of times, each time filled with even more dread and anxiety.

And then I waited for several months, heart in my throat, for the response. I vacillated between certainty that I would get in and the absolute knowledge that I would be rejected from every single one of my dream schools.

Until the emails started coming in: CUNY, yes; NYU, yes; Columbia, yes.

I cried. My dreams were coming true. Within a few months, I accepted NYU's offer of admission, packed my belongings into a bunch of boxes and drove from South Carolina to New York City.

My dream was coming true.

And now I don't know how to go forward.

Because I don't know if I can do this, after all. I don't know how to be unafraid, how to go after a story like a hound dog and not care who gets in the way.

I'm terrified, every night, of failing. I'm filled with anxiety, wondering if this is really what I'm supposed to do with my life. Perhaps I'm better suited to a simpler life, a life with fewer hardships and less angst.

I got into journalism because I wanted to tell stories. OK, that's not exactly true. I got into journalism because I liked writing and wanted another avenue; and the more I learned about it, the more I got into it, the more I discovered the possibilities. Journalism offers a chance to tell people's stories when they can't do it themselves, to give hope sometimes and yes, to uncover injustice and lies and generally bad things.

The longer I spent studying journalism, the more passionate I became. My first "real-world" work experience was at the Sochi Winter Olympics, when I spent nine days putting together video packages with other students. As hard as that experience was, as many blisters as I got and as many late nights as I lived through, I would have stayed for weeks and weeks longer.

Then I did a summer internship, and that just set my passion into stone. I got to cover events and tell stories of incredible people and that's when I knew, that's when I knew for sure, that I was going to pursue this for the rest of my life.

And now I don't know. Now I'm living my dream and facing the prospect of that all coming to naught. Because what if my fear is going to keep me from doing this job? What if my instinct to believe people when they say what they're doing is good will actually keep me from being great at the job I've dreamed of for so many years?

What if I'm standing in my own way?

Maybe I should have just kept to creative writing. I shouldn't have gotten into such a demanding, high-pressure field.

Maybe this is why The New York Times keeps rejecting my internship applications: they sense, in the way that I can't, that I'm not suited for this career. They've seen through the facade and understand that I'm not going to add anything to their newsroom, because I have nothing to add.

I'm in the midst of an identity crisis. For the past four years, I've been a journalist. Sometimes a student journalist, sometimes an intern and sometimes a freelance journalist, but always a journalist. I don't know who I am if I'm not that anymore.

More importantly, I don't want to give it up. This is what I'm passionate about. I mean, I've dreamed of this for such a long time! I want nothing more than to be a successful journalist living in New York City.

I know the field is hard, and the city is hard, and the person I am today is too weak and untested to survive either.

But I'm not willing to give up my dream just yet. I'm not willing to let a few blows knock me out completely.

I will keep pursuing this career as long as I can, until I'm bloody on the ground and unable to get back up. I will fight to be Karis Rogerson, journalist extraordinaire. Nothing can keep me down.

This is my dream. I'm scared of continuing to pursue it, but for once in my life, I'm not going to let my fears keep me down.

Resolute in 2016

Despite myself, I've fallen into the belief that today marks the beginning of a grand new life, of a great adventure, a brilliant re-imagining of myself. By Dec. 31, 2016, I'll be a new woman, an accomplished woman, an everything-is-right-in-the-world woman. 22940364744_f22f58c216_o

There's this part of me that believes that and this part of me that doesn't. But today, on the first day of the new year, I'm letting the part of me that believes take over. I'm writing resolutions and swearing to follow them through and hoping that in 365 days, I will be everything I am not today.

Most of my resolutions are writing-based, because as great as 2015 was for my journalistic career (getting into grad school, having my first full-time internship, becoming a freelancer at The Mix and blogging for I Am Second), I still have so many unfulfilled writing dreams.

I mean, I want to be a [published] novelist! I want to be a [published] poet! I want to be a [prolific] essayist! And I want an internship in New York City for this summer.

With that in mind, here is a snippet of my 2016 writing resolutions — I'm posting publicly to be held accountable publicly. Let's keep our fingers crossed for a prolific, writing-filled, exciting 2016!

  1. Write one poem every day. So far, I'm batting 100 on this one. That's right, it might only be partway through Jan. 1, but I've already logged one poem for 2016. It can only get better from here!
  2. Write one short essay every week In my Personal Essay class last semester, we did these 20-minute writing exercises that resulted in three fairly well-developed pieces I'm trying to publish. My goal is to do that every week this year: sit down with an idea and a timer set for 20 minutes, and just write. By the end, I should have 52 short essays I can try to publish!
  3. Write one long essay per month Again in said class, we worked on longer, reported essays. They were written in the first person and I got to add my personal flair to them, but they involved research and a whole lot of thought. I want to write one of these essays per month. ***This will most likely be the toughest resolution to stick to, so I'm counting on you to help me! I want to get started within the first three days of every month, so badger me about it!
  4. Finish two novels and do NaNoWriMo This sounds like a handful, but remember, I'm already 100 pages into one of the novels I'm planning on writing — The Langone Five — so I just have to finish it during the semester, write another one during the summer, and then do NaNo in November. Piece of cake, am I right? *laughs wildly, then cries*
  5. GET AN AGENT This is the big one. This is the one that's partially out of my control. THIS IS THE ONE I DESPERATELY, DESPERATELY WANT TO SEE COME TO FRUITION. I've been dreaming of getting a literary agent since July 2014, and I've been querying and writing and revising and querying and waiting and praying and hoping and — you get the picture. I really need an agent to pursue my dream of being a published novelist. 

So there you have it. Five writing goals for 2016. Oh, and meanwhile, I'll finish grad school, work part-time, intern and be involved at church. It's gonna be a crazy year, guys, but it's gonna be great. I'm so excited to see what comes of it!

Here's hoping 2016 is full of nothing but good things and dreams come true. I'm letting myself go wild and fully believe that today can be the beginning of a new phase — the start of something new, if you will.


My three month-aversary with #NYC

Three months ago today, I sat in the back of my parents' car and drove into New York City. My stomach was in knots, and I couldn't get rid of the nagging thought that demanded, What the heck do you think you're doing? For the first time since mid-2014, when I started planning my applications to grad schools in New York, I was petrified. What if this was a mistake?

We pulled up to my new home and I jumped out of the car, running up the front steps to grab my key. And the picture happened.

I've used this photo before ... but oh, well. Photo by Becky Rogerson.

The first 24 hours seemed to last forever. But here I am, suddenly, three months later, and I'm not sure where the time went.

Oh, of course, I could think about it and figure it out.

On a visit to Photoville early in the semester. Photo by Liz Arakelian.

The time passed with dinner cruises with fellow NYU students, with first projects and tears and victories, with visits to Photoville and walks across the Brooklyn Bridge. It passed with constant dreaming and some nightmares.

The time passed with a week-long hospital stay and a weekend in Baltimore. It passed with evenings with classmates and church friends. It passed with making friends and a life for myself.

Time passed with starting a new job tutoring second graders and getting published by Seventeen.

Time passed.

And here I am, three months later, and it wasn't what I expected. Every day hasn't been filled with Instagram-worthy moments of city perfection. Of course there have been some — fall in the city is breathtaking, and even way out in residential Queens the red, yellow and orange of the leaves have been glorious. But there have also been a lot of evenings spent at home with Netflix and pizza.

I thought I would be partying every night, in the city with friends and constant excitement. I thought my life would be like "Friends." "How I Met Your Mother" and "Castle," full of quirky incidents, opportunities and cute guys.

It hasn't been like that. It's been so much more chill. Of course there have been opportunities. I never would have gotten an article published by Seventeen if I hadn't been at NYU. I wouldn't have gotten to go to Baltimore to write about community women doing leadership.

All this to say — my dreams came true. I moved to New York, and I've been here for three months. It's not what I expected; it's better.

When getting published is no piece of cake

It's almost been a year since I started sending queries for Red Rain Boots to agents. And yet here I am, still as woefully un-agented and book deal free as I was before I finished my first novel. That's not the way I thought things would pan out.

You see, I thought I would get an agent within my first 10 queries. I thought it would be my dream agent, someone who believed so powerfully in my book that she just had to represent it. I thought her excitement would infect an editor and a publisher and that I would be on my way to being a published author.

Instead here I am. 

Don't get me wrong - a ton of my dreams have come true over the past year. I got into grad school for journalism, won some awards for student journalism, had my first full-time internship at a newspaper and moved to New York. There have been some ups and some downs. But at the end of the day, I'm happy with where my life is.

I really, really wish I could get a book deal. I wish I could get an internship for next spring and next summer in journalism. I wish I could skyrocket to success without barely having to lift a finger.

But that's not how it works. I realized several years ago, and have to realize anew every day, that opportunity doesn't come knocking, sit down for a cuppa tea and offer to make all your dreams come true. Opportunity is the white rabbit that led Alice down the hole. It tries to run, it tries to hide, it only knocks when you've finally trapped it and it's trying to escape again.

Opportunity is hard to come by. It's slippery and slidey and you have to work really hard to get to it. You have to sit down and diligently write your novel. You have to mercilessly edit it, eradicating everything poorly written or weakly plotted. And you have to be persistent and persuasive in trying to convince someone to sign your book.

  I'm a lazy person. It's (one of) the thorns in my flesh. It's hard for me to start writing, editing or persuading.

I stare at the screen and watch Friends, I get distracted reading other books, I turn over and take a nap ... anything to keep from working.

But if I want to be published - and oh, how I want to be published - I'm going to have to get off my butt and work.

"Spotlight," or, the movie that explains my passion for journalism

I was only 8 when the events of the movie "Spotlight," set for general release this Friday, took place, which explains why I have no memory of a world in which the Catholic church's sexual abuse scandal was not common knowledge. Lots of people do, and they can appreciate their actions even more.  For those of you who don't know, "Spotlight" is based on the true story of the team of Boston Globe reporters who broke the news that some Catholic priests were sexually abusing children, while others were hiding that truth. I, and the rest of NYU's journalism students, was invited to a special free screening of the movie this evening. And this isn't a review of the movie; I don't know enough to accurately do that. This is a story about how that movie exemplifies everything that I want out of journalism.

I laughed, cried, clenched my fists and occasionally went into spasms of excitement during the movie because there, on the big screen, my people were being depicted as heroes. For once, entertainment showed reporters as good guys, and that was exhilarating. (I will never understand the man in the row in front of me who snored his way through that thrilling depiction of journalistic prowess. I don't know who you are, sleeping dude, but know that you do not have my respect.)

I got into journalism because I realized that there are people in the world, people in power, who want to do bad things and hide them. 

There are people hurting other people and getting away with it, and that is. Not. Ok. With me. 

The reporting done by the Boston Globe team, Spotlight, (a special group of investigative reporters the size of the entire staff at my summer internship paper) is the kind I dream of doing. The kind I do in the far reaches of my mind, where I am far braver and more assertive than I am in real life. 

Specifically, Mark Ruffalo (dearest Bruce Banner, of course), whose character, Mike of the last name I can't spell, who isn't afraid to make a nuisance of himself in order to get someone to talk to him.

You see, I long to someday storm into someone's office, tell them what's going on, and not be afraid that they won't like me. But I'm such a people pleaser. I haven't managed to overcome the mental block that having people like me is the highest goal.

It isn't. Telling the truth and being true to the calling God has placed on my life are far higher goals. It doesn't matter if I'm telling the story of a minor gas leak or a titanic scandal like this one - I must endeavor to research, report, dig deep and uncover the truth. I owe it to people to do that. 

I've always loved that journalists can be "voices for the voiceless," because we have the skills and the ability to tell someone's story when they can't tell it themselves. I think it's one of the most important things we can do.

But it takes courage to do that, a fearlessness that I haven't yet developed. Before moving to New York, I didn't realize how much of a scaredy cat I am. I thought that because I'd fought my school administration, talked to Madisonville's mayor and mastered the art of "man on the street" at Asbury, I'd become brave.

I was wrong. I'm filled with terror every time I have to do a story. But I'm doing the stories. I'm gathering my courage, and I'm not giving up, because someday I want to do for the world what Spotlight did: I want to change it.

I said when I came to this city that I did it because I had no other choice; that's true as well of why I'm pursuing journalism. Watching this movie, I felt compelled to go out there and chase the stories, uncover the secrets, tell the truth. It terrified me to think of doing what those characters were doing. But it terrified me even more to think of not doing it.

Of course it would be nice someday to win a Pulitzer, like the Boston Globe journalists did, to have Rachel McAdams play me in a movie and the world acknowledge what I did. It would be even nicer, though, to know I did right, that I helped others and was right.

It's about thriving, not surviving: reflections from a hospital

Let's start off by getting the white elephant out of the room: last week, I spent not one, not two, but seven nights (and six days) at NYU Langone Medical Center. More precisely, I lived in HCC-10: the psychiatric ward. That's right. After a gruesome experience on a psych unit nearly three years ago in Kentucky, I went back for round two.

Round two kicked round one's butt, if I'm being honest ... which I almost always try to be. Hence the purpose of this post.

I didn't want to go to the hospital. In fact I argued (valiantly, I like to think) with the psychiatrist who suggested sending me there. It was the cost, you see. The seclusion. The falling behind in school. Most importantly, it was the fear that people would swoop in like mama eagles and gather me away, pull me out of school, empty my apartment and drag me away from the life I've dreamed of living for the past three years.

The psychiatrist countered all my arguments simply and effectively by asking whether all of that was worth my life. Whether my parents would value saving money over having me with them. Whether I was willing to permanently give up my dreams in order to keep living them temporarily.

In the end the answer to all of those questions was no. No, my fears were not worth my life.

So I went to the hospital. Shaking, heart palpitating, chewing my lips and worrying about insurance, I went to the hospital. Begrudgingly, I voluntarily checked myself in.

You meet the best, most interesting people in a hospital. Because being thrown together in a unit like HCC-10 strips away the performance, the acting, the lies.

There's no need to pretend you didn't feel suicidal last night, because the people you're with understand. There's no need to try and explain exactly how debilitating your depression can be, how paralyzing, because they've been there too. And there's no need to worry that you'll overwhelm them with your pain and drive them away because they've felt it too.

In the hospital, we were ourselves. We made friends. We played games - well, they played endless games of Scrabble, and I joined in when they turned to Catchphrase. We ate decently disgusting food, watched old movies on VHS and gathered at the nurses' station to take our meds. We commiserated over how hot, and then cold, the unit was, over sleepless nights, over worried futures. We all hugged when someone left and said not to cry — things on the outside are scary, but it's the only way to live a life.

That's what I learned from the hospital.

I learned that living in an enclosed unit with nurses and doctors constantly fluttering can feel like a warm cocoon. It feels safe. You don't have to worry about shaving your legs or putting on makeup or anything else; you don't even have to worry about putting up a facade.

But after a while, safe becomes claustrophobic. Sure, there's something so simple about only having to choose between hanging out in the bedroom or the day room. But eventually simple becomes mind-numbing and infuriating, honestly. Sure, it was super exciting when I found out that there were menus and I could choose what I wanted to eat. But after a few days my choices felt limited and, yes, claustrophobic. And sure, it was great that I could actually catch a glimpse of the skyline out the window. But after long enough, I wanted to be a part of the skyline. I wanted to walk the streets, feel wind on my face, complain about how hot the sun was and breathe in that not-so-fresh air.

What the hospital taught me is that you can't live life between four white walls. You can't rely on a bunch of doctors to make your decisions for you. You can't hide from the scary things — from the crowds, insecurity, loneliness and stress that are the makeup of life. Because those very things that terrify you are the ones that energize you.

Life is about more than just surviving, sliding from Wednesday to Thursday to Friday.

It's about thriving, about making the most of every experience and grasping at every opportunity for joy, about submerging yourself fully in Wednesday, leaping to Thursday, crashing into Friday.

Joy = being released from the hospital and feeling like there is hope to life.

I felt joy in the hospital for the first time in several weeks. I felt like I could joke and not be covering up a scar, like I could laugh and not want to cry, like I could say "I'm fine" and actually mean it.

But I had to let that joy take me out of the hospital. I had to let it set me free — metaphorically, from the overwhelming depression, and literally, from the locked doors of HCC-10.

So I left. Scared, wondering what would come next, I left. Worried about not having the strength to forge a future for myself, I left.

And I am ever so glad I did.

The anti-suicide manifesto

It's not a secret that I struggle with depression. Or that I was diagnosed as bipolar. What is, I assume, a secret, is how much those two things affect me on a daily basis. How often I am incapacitated by my emotions. How many times I retreat into my prison cell of a mind and torture myself with thoughts of how little worth I have, how insignificant I am, how things would be better without me... Even in New York, in grad school, in this world of journalism, I fall victim to my own insecurities and self-hatred. I thought coming here would change everything, but I've realized ... I can't be changed by a place, a career or a person. No outside influence is going to swoop down and rescue me.

There will be days when I truly believe I can't go on. And my salvation has to come from the inside.

A while ago I developed a mantra, a life motto if you will:

But that wasn't enough. I still flirted with the idea of ending my life. I still felt agonizingly alone. I still wondered if I had what it took to survive.

Until a few days ago. I was on the train, ricocheting on the tracks, and I wondered what would happen if the train detailed. If I died. What would people say? What would they feel?

And if I died through my own will?

And that's when I promised myself that wouldn't happen. That wouldn't be my story.

Because I'm a writer, I wrote. I wrote a manifesto explaining exactly why that wouldn't happen.

It was supposed to just be for me, to keep on my desktop and remind me of my pledge. But I'm also an oversharer with an intense need to be known and understood. So I'm doing the same thing I did a few months ago with my definition of success: I'm sharing.

Below, for the world to see and hold me accountable to, is my anti-suicide manifesto.

I am not someone who died too young. I am not full of unrealized potential. I am not a sad obituary of one snatched away too soon. I will not be published and celebrated posthumously. My funeral will not be filled with hundreds of peers who can't believe I'm gone so early. My life will not be snuffed out in its prime.

There will be no tears of disbelief, no sobs, no anger at me or God. My parents will not witness my demise.

I am no cautionary tale.

I will be someone who chose life always, no matter what. No matter how many scars litter my arms, no matter how many tears scald my cheeks, no matter how many days pass without the sun. Rain, shine, hurricane, tornado. Fall, winter, spring, summer. In my 20s, my 30s, my 60s and 80s: as long as it is in my power, I will choose life.

I am not a statistic, a number, a blip on a police scanner. I am not a memory, a ghost or "somebody that you used to know."

I will not be the granddaughter, niece, cousin, friend you refuse to speak of. Some days I might be the granddaughter, niece, cousin, friend you refuse to speak to. But I will be there.

I will be at every birthday party, in every family photo, part of every wedding.

Holidays will not be sad because they remind you of me. They will be joyous because I will be there to make you laugh.

Through everything, I will remember: He. Is. Here. He is life, He is here, and so am I.

I am not death. I am filled with life.

This is the closest thing to a suicide note I will ever write. It is my anti-suicide note.

That is my promise, my vow, my oath.

When the story doesn't pan out, and the value of reader trust

The 89th annual feast of San Gennaro is currently taking place in Little Italy. As a pseudo-Italian myself, I knew I wanted to at the very least make an appearance. And because one of my grad school assignments involves weekly stories based off of New York City events, I decided to combine my two loves and write a story about the feast.

The entrance to the feast, on Mulberry Street.

So on Thursday after class, my friend Leann and I headed downtown and spent two hours wandering the streets of Little Italy, talking to vendors and residents and, in Leann's case, attracting the interest of all the eager Italian boys.

The sign welcoming visitors to the feast.

I spoke to 10 different people and gathered a hodgepodge of views on the festival as well as Little Italy itself. I thought it was going to be a great story, one that highlighted how gentrification had changed the culture of the once-tightknit community and even altered people's perceptions of the feast. There was just one problem: the residents and vendors who spoke negatively of the area refused to give me their names.

I guess they were scared. I get that. And in my eagerness to write the story, I forgot one important rule: we can only quote anonymous sources under mitigating circumstances.

So I wrote my story and sent it to my professor.

It didn't go over well. The story, it turned out, was a flop. Worse: there was no story, not without someone being willing to come forward and put their name to their words.

There's something terribly discouraging about realizing that you've failed in your reporting. Not that I think there was anything more I could have done — I bartered with my sources, but both refused to give full names, and nobody else seemed willing to speak disparagingly of the event. But it's still a disappointment to feel like you have a story at your fingertips and have to let it go.

But I understand why that's what had to happen. It's one of the basic rules of journalism: honesty and transparency. If I don't let my readers know where my facts are coming from, how can they trust that I'm not just making them up?

Earlier this week, I spent a long time researching Jayson Blair, the New York Times reporter who was fired in 2003 for fabricating quotes and stories. What he did was wrong not just because he failed his employers, but because he failed his readers. He presented as truth something that was, in fact, falsehood.

As journalists, all we have is the perception that our word is good, that it's worth something. If we lose that, well ... we have nothing.

So as hard as it was to let go of my story, I knew I had to do it. Not just because my professor told me to (although of course I do like to follow my teachers' instructions, on account of them being smarter than me and all that), but because I don't want to start my journalism career on unstable ground.

I want to be the kind of journalist that people trust.

I want to be someone sources have no fear entrusting their names to, knowing that I have great respect for the privilege they are affording me and that I will do everything in my power to protect them.

But I also want to be someone readers believe in, someone whose words matter. I want to be the kind of reporter who is so honest and open about where my information comes from that, if I ever do have to hide a source, people will know it's for a good reason, and believe that what I say is truth.

As I've mentioned before, I'm incredibly passionate about the role of journalism in society. I honestly think it's one of those things that has to exist, because people need to be able to trust someone to tell them the truth no matter what. And I don't want to do anything to jeopardize having that future.

It's a bit of an ego-killer to not get a story published, especially after my first story turned out well. It feels like I'm slipping backwards instead of surging forward. But it made me realize I have to decide what I value more: getting published, or being trustworthy.

I think I'll choose the latter.

I'm officially a graduate student

Well, I had my first class as a grad student this week! On Thursday I woke up bright and early and caught an 8 a.m. train downtown. And because I'm me, I checked my watch approximately 5,000 times on the way, terrified that I was going to be late. When the time came to transfer trains, I elbowed my way through the crowd, oblivious to who I was throwing out of my way, and jumped onto the "6" train just in time.

Taisha Henry took this creeper shot of the class.

To my great pleasure, the class, "First Amendment Law," is comprised entirely of fellow "Reporting the Nation/New York" students. It looks like it's shaping up to be a lively discussion-based class, which of course is super exciting. And don't let the name fool you; apparently, we'll be discussing journalism ethics as much as anything else. And don't let the picture fool you — we won't be having our computers open very often.

And again, because I'm me, when class ended I found myself disappointed that I don't class again until next Tuesday. This has been, by far, the strangest first week of classes I've ever had. It's been positively relaxing, and I'm not entirely sure how to handle that.

After class, a group (12 out of the 14) of us went out to lunch together. That's when I decided that this whole grad school thing is pretty grand. I mean, I get to spend all of my time focusing on the field I'm passionate about, and I get to do so alongside other people who share my interests. What's not to like?

Lunch was also when my happiness in having chosen NYU over CUNY and Columbia was solidified. There's something incredibly awesome about the — buzzword coming — community you get to form when you're a part of a small group of people working together a lot.

Of course I hope to make friends outside of my concentration and even my school. But that doesn't mean I'm mad about the fact that I have an essentially built-in group of people to hang out with and go through this crazy experience with.

And don't let this week fool you — the rest of my time at NYU will be far from relaxing, believe me. Once classes really get rolling, once I start working on my outside-of-class reporting assignments, once I have my first day of work, things will get a little more insane. And I'm anything but mad about that.

For now, though, I guess I can relax in this Labor Day weekend and wait for the madness to truly begin.

Surviving the one week mark

Can you believe it? I know I can't. I've been living in New York for over a week. That's right. I've spent eight nights in my new home, I've attended church, I've met up with college friends who live in the city, I've made new friends from my program during an orientation program we decided to skip out on and I've been on several solo adventuring trips. I've worked nearly 10 hours for my job, experienced multiple subway incidents, and have a bag that smells like tea because I spilled water in it and the teabag started seeping. I've walked, on average, 4.5 miles every day, I've done laundry in a real live laundromat and I've gone grocery shopping by myself.

In short, I've settled in. Or started to, at least. I still haven't fully settled into my morning routine and I do have to walk the streets with my handy-dandy arm extension, Citymapper, turned on at all times. But I'm getting there. Show me a subway station for the "A," "M," "R," or "J" and I can get myself home just fine, thank you very much. I've even memorized the last few stops on my journey home!

I still haven't made friends with the people at the grocery or the pharmacy — in fact, due to an incompetent employee's screw-up, I am the farthest thing from "friends" with my local Rite Aid — but I have had the opportunity to blow off one entire evening talking and laughing with my roommate while spending another one walking Battery City Park with one of my first Asbury friends.

My worlds are colliding. This dream city is becoming home. It's becoming — dare I say it? — almost mundane.

Ok, mundane it isn't. It will never be guilty of that...

I just laughed at myself for calling New York "mundane." I take that back. It's still a foreign world to me. But it's a world I'm slowly acclimating to, one that, I hope, is beginning to accept me.

I'm no longer one of those people on the ferry bubbling about all the things I want to see and do in my three days in town; I want to see and do the same things, but I have so many more days available.

I don't know how long it will take for me to be able to consider myself a "New Yorker." I'm thinking by the time graduation rolls around I might have earned that moniker? But today, I'm a definite "New York-liver." I most definitely live in this city.

My new friends!

I'm thrilled beyond words. On Wednesday I woke up and cried, feeling lonely. Since then, I've met three people from my program and have plans to meet up with them tomorrow and again on Monday to hang out, explore and get started on this adventure called grad school.

After a full week in New York City, I finally feel like I've made it home. And I'm going to be okay.

10 Things that happen when you move to NYC alone at 22

  1. You marvel at the sheer number of people populating the streets. You've lived in cities before, but never one quite like this.
  2.   You search for an ATM because half the stores only accept cash, get lost, get angry, then find a lovely park where you settle down to have lunch and pretend you don't need money.
  3. You cram all of your laundry into one washing machine, without separating, because one load costs $1.75 and despite your earlier blissful ignorance you know you do, after all, need money. Sorry not sorry, mom.
  5. You watch "Friends" on a loop and wait for the six of them to enter your life so you're not always alone.
  6. You cry in bed on your fifth morning in the city because you're so lonely and you didn't think it would be this way.
  7. You wait anxiously for classes to start so you can be surrounded by people again and have a purpose.
  8. You hope classes never start because what if you're not cut out for this big life you dreamed of? What if you fail and have to go home in shame?
  9. You remind yourself why you made this crazy move: because the only way to land on the moon is to fly toward it, ignoring whatever scrapes and bruises the meteors you run into on the way will give you.
  10. You realize that it will be okay because you were called here for a reason and there is no failure in doing God's will, whether you land on the moon or thud back to Earth.
  11. BONUS: you remember that the Earth is pretty doggone awesome so if the moon doesn't work out, well, there's always that.
  12. DOUBLE BONUS: you wait for Taylor Swift to come back from tour do the two of you can be besties.

A tale of 24 hours in New York City

Holding the keys to my first apartment! We arrived at 10:30, driving through a tree-lined residential neighborhood to the building that is my new home. As I ran up the front steps to gather the keys, my mother prepared herself: it was photo-taking time. Obviously we took one with my new keys. I am so excited to be here.

Then we moved boxes from the car into my small bedroom. When I say small, I mean it's just about the perfect size for me. Just about.

After an hour of that, my parents and I boarded the "J" train from Jamaica Avenue and rode about 45 minutes into Manhattan — yeah, my neighborhood is pretty far from downtown. But the train ride is mostly elevated, and I've got a great view and some fun podcasts/books/news articles to entertain myself with, so I'm not worried.

We stopped by 20 Cooper Square, otherwise known as the home of NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, otherwise known as my home away from home. There, I interviewed with Prof. Mitchell Stephens to see if he would let me help him do research for a biography he's writing — I know, I thought it sounded perfect, too!

The interview lasted an hour, and the whole time I couldn't figure out how it was going. I can usually tell, can usually read people, but this job that I wanted so much was proving itself to be somewhat difficult. In the end, I was given a stack of papers and told to fact-check. I'm pretty excited, not gonna lie. Total nerd alert.

Nerd alert No, 2

And then I picked up my NYU ID card!

We had a delicious lunch at Katz's Delicatessen, which is an experience in itself. We walked into a large room filled with people where a brusque man handed us a pink ticket with the warning that if we lost it, we would be forced to pay a $50 fine. Yikes. Another man, who called my mother "baby," which totally threw me off, showed us to our table. I ordered a reuben sandwich and am planning on eating the second half for lunch today. Cause it was absolutely huge.

Afterwards, we rode home and spent the evening unpacking. We've made a ton or progress. All the boxes are empty and what remains to be done involves personalizing the place — curtains, shelves of knickknacks, and a bookshelf.

I was in bed by 9:15 p.m. I have definitely mastered the NYC party life ;)

I'm not going to lie; when I went to bed last night I was feeling incredibly unsure of myself. During the drive up, I sent this text to a friend:

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 09.54.54

And while I knew that the second part was true, I was really feeling the first part. It didn't hit me until we drove into the city that I'm really doing this, this thing that I've dreamed about for three years. I'm moving to New York City. I'm going to grad school for journalism. I'm staking everything on the hope that this will work out and be my future.

The fear that I'm wrong is overwhelming. So going to bed last night, I was filled with unease and worry.

I woke up at peace and contented. I looked around my room and thought, "This is home." I went for a walk around the neighborhood, where I forgot for a second that I'm in New York and I smiled at a stranger.

He did not respond in kind. Lesson learned.

I also got lost, but refused to pull out my GPS and managed to make my way back home. In doing so, I've gained an understanding of the layout of this place, and I feel even more at home.

I honestly can't believe this is my life right now. And as scared as I am, I know that if I hadn't taken this step, I would regret it forever. I would spend every day wishing I were here, wishing I were stepping out into the blind and praying for God to catch me on the way down.

And yet I feel so okay. Because no matter what happens, God will catch me. I might live in this city for the rest of my life — I hope that's what happens. But I might not. Either way, it will be alright.

I've been in the city for 24 hours now. I can't wait for the thousands of hours to come.

How I survive depression because of a dream

The anticipation is nearly stifling me. I've waited so long — so very, very long — to move to New York City. And honestly, throughout the three years that I've held firm to this dream, there have been times that I didn't think it was possible. It's not just that I didn't know if I would be good enough to get into grad school, get a book published or find a job (and only one of those things has happened, by the way). It's not just that I didn't know if I could survive living with eight million other people in a city that TV shows like Castle and Gossip Girl have shown me can be more than cruel — because to balance that I had shows like Friends and, yes, Castle, that showed me how great it can be. It's not just that my days in Kentucky felt eternal, like I was caught in a perpetual whirlwind of college that I wasn't 100 percent anxious to leave.

It's that there were days when I didn't know if would make it. I wasn't sure if my physical body would survive the war my mind waged inside of me.

Visual representation of said scars and one of the reasons I'm alive today.

If you know me, you'll know that I was hospitalized for intense depression two-and-a-half years ago. If you know me better, you'll know that I was diagnosed with a mild form of bipolar disorder last January. And if you know me best, you'll know that the scars on my arms aren't just cutting scars; they're visible records of times I tried to take my life.

There were days when I didn't think I would see the next hour, much less a moment when my dreams would come true.

So to be here now, five days away from moving to pursue my dream of being a journalist in New York City ... that is an amazing feeling. To know that I have written two novels that I fully intend to publish and have at least six others marinating in my brain is empowering. To even let the idea cross my mind that someday I can be happy — that I even deserve to be happy — is a feeling I never thought I would have.

Yes, I made it to Sochi, and yes, it was so very worth it.

Interestingly, the dreams that I'm now about to live out are the very ones that saved me. Two-and-a-half years ago, if I hadn't dreamed of visiting New York, wished to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi and aspired to be an editor on my school newspaper, I wouldn't have made it out of that hospital.

There was this moment when I was curled up on my paper bed in the place I had nightmares about for months that I looked at a picture of a beautiful landscape. The thought crossed my mind that I would love to someday stand in that very spot and soak in that beauty.

And that was it. That tiny picture sparked something in me, a desire to live. A desire not just to exist in this world, but to be a part of it, to be woven into the tapestry of others' life in such a way that my time on earth could be as rich as possible.

I don't doubt for a second that it was God who put those dreams in my heart and gave me the strength to move forward. And I don't doubt that those dreams are the reason I'm sitting here today, in a hotel room in Florida, getting ready to watch my cousin get married to the girl of his dreams.

There are so many, many layers of depth to how incredible this moment is. I'm about to be a witness to the happiest day of my cousin's life less than a week from moving to study what I love in a city that seems to promise everything. I'm tearing up just sitting here thinking about it.

And this subject is too important for me to be subtle with the moral of this story: if you're going through anything at all that makes you wonder what there is to life, allow yourself to dream. You don't have to plan out your ideal future; you can just decide you want to visit Yellowstone National Park, get a tattoo, lose a few pounds, give some food to a homeless person ... whatever allows you to recognize that your life is precious and so very worth living.

I don't know if anyone is going to read this and take me up on this offer, but I want to say it nonetheless: I'm a safe person to talk to about all the hard things you're struggling with. I'm a sympathetic crier with the ability to imagine myself into every scenario and feel pursuant emotions deeply. So if you need help — let me be there for you. Let me help you forge a dream, a series of a dreams, a reason to live.

First week fly-by: I still love journalism

It's over! The first week of my first full-time internship is over. How? It's possible it doesn't feel like a full work-week because, well, it wasn't. I started Tuesday. Which when I think about it was a great thing, because I'm not used to working full-time and I've been exhausted every single night. On Thursday, I accidentally took a three-hour nap in the evening. Whoops.

A screenshot of an article I wrote, featuring the picture I took!

Those four days were a total whirlwind. By Friday, I had written six articles (five of which have been published and one of which comes out tomorrow, in the Sunday paper!), been sent to take pictures at an elementary school, cover a civic club meeting and interview a local resident at the Genealogical Society in town. I have been to the police station twice to write up reports, figured out at least 1/4 of the confusing one-way streets in this tiny town and received my very own key, computer and cubicle-like-area in the newsroom.

More importantly, I've had every single article I've written ripped apart and put back together way better than it originally was.

Obviously that wasn't my favorite part, but it's also an incredibly important part of the learning process. It's been four days and I feel like I should have perfected the art of writing for The Messenger, but it hasn't happened yet. I'm still putting dates before times and writing weak ledes.

To my chagrin and eternal gratitude, the other reporters have taken the time to read over my articles and reform them into something better, all while allowing me to keep my name on the article. (Disclaimer: they're not completely re-writing the articles, don't get me wrong. About 85-90 percent of it is still 100 percent mine). They've corrected petty grammar errors, fixed style issues that are unique to The Messenger--and informed me what these rules are--and generally made sure that the article sounds as good as it can. Without completely rewriting it, that is.

These four days have been packed with interviews, technological issues and a whole lot of learning. I already feel better than I did when I started.

And one of the things I was worried about, that I would hate it and completely regret my dedication to journalism and decision to attend J-School, has proved to be a moot point: I still love it.

Yes, despite the moments when my knees are shaking as I cross in front of a stadium full of children to snap a photo; despite the feelings of insufficiency that fill me when my articles get edited; despite the fact that I am incredibly aware of my young age and inexperience; despite all of that, I love it.

Because journalism, guys. Because anything can happen once I roll up to the newsroom; because I get to tell stories (and get paid for them!); because I love the camaraderie between the reporters and want to one day be a part of that; because of all the other things I can't find the words for, I love it.

I can't wait to see what the next nine weeks bring to the table, and I'm speechlessly excited for what will come after that.