My first post for I Am Second

I mentioned a few days ago that I'd be changing things up on the blog. This is the first of the short announcements I'm going to be making here: I've begun writing for I Am Second. I was approached by their editor after I had my article published by Seventeen about the possibility of writing some blog posts about depression for them. Of course, I said yes.

I've never wanted to have a career in Christian publication, but I also always said that if I had the opportunity to do something on the side, to write from a faith perspective for an established publication, I would take that opportunity.

So when I Am Second approached me with this opportunity, of course I said yes.

Here you can find the first in a series of articles I'm writing about depression for them. I'm super excited about this opportunity and can't wait to write more for them and see where it goes!

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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.

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.

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.

Why taking down the Confederate flag was the right move

Ah yes, the Civil War. What a time of great solidarity and love for the United States. A time we can all look back on with pride as we remember what a great, united nation we are. Oh, wait, is that wrong? Is that not what the Civil War represents? Does it actually represent approximately 620,000 lives lost — almost as many as all other American wars combined? Does it bring us back to a time of great divisiveness, not only between the races but within them as well, between slave holders and abolitionists, Northern industrialists and Southern farmers?

I’ve taken enough history classes to know that the Civil War did not occur because Southerners are bad slave holders and Northerners the great rescuers of African-Americans. There were a large number of more intricate and political reasons, but the fact remains that the Civil War remains as a marker in history for issues of race. The 1860s just as much as the 1960s are inextricably tied to race fights.

And the Confederate flag…the symbol of the South’s failed secession from the Union. There are two main thoughts that I have for why the legislature was right to take down the flag.

  1. A prevailing argument for not removing flag is that it is a symbol of Southern heritage and pride. Well, you know what’s a symbol of German heritage? The Nazi flag. Yet no government buildings fly it proudly and very few people publicly declare their support for it. The South in the Civil War did not come close to the atrocities the German committed during World War II. But I think there’s a lesson for Southerners in the thought that this country was able to recognize that their ancestors had done wrong. They are able to feel shame at the thought of what their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents allowed to happen to others. They allowed fellow humans to be degraded, dehumanized, forced into slave labor and killed…kind of like what our Southern ancestors did. For me, bringing down the flag is not just a matter of being politically correct. It is a matter of humility. It is a chance for America to admit that this country is not infallible, that we have done some terrible things, and we are not proud of them. I believe we would be stronger than ever if we could just admit we had faults.
  2. Another reason I think the flag should have been taken down is simple: our black fellow citizens are asking us to. Now I know not all black people want the flag to come down; some are fine with it, and have come to terms with having it flying about state houses. But so many people view it as a reminder of the horrors their ancestors had to go through. Again, parallels with Germany: would we consider Jews ridiculous for asking that a swastika be removed? No. Because we are able to recognize that what was done to them was inhumane and definitely nothing to be proud of. This insistence on keeping the flag up implies that we think our ancestors did nothing wrong; that keeping another human being as a forced laborer is fine and dandy. It’s not. It’s unthinkable. If we want to be one nation, one that can truly call itself the “United States” we must allow that there will be differences of opinion. Sometimes, the right thing to do is honor a brother or sister’s wishes and take down an offensive symbol. Maybe it’s not offensive to you, young white man who grew up in the South with the flag hanging over your bed. But to a young black man who grew up in a poor neighborhood, still feeling the effects of lingering racism, it is. So take it down.

As a clarification, I don’t think we should take down all memories of the Civil War. I don’t think they should be removed from museums or hidden in basements. We need to remember what happened. It is imperative that we remember what happened.

We just need to stop being proud of it.

A Dab of Positivity: People Are Awesome

I'm not usually as positive as I should be, but today I'll make an exception and be an optimistic, positive little flower and say that people are amazing.

Yeah, I know, I know, "when I read the news all I see is war and death and horror, because humanity is inherently evil." Whatever. There is good in us, and I can prove it to you. There are three people who have done amazing things for me this week, and I want the world to know how awesome they are.

  1. My dear friend Taryn Albright. Taryn is a freelance editor, author, and all around superstar. I mean, what can't she do? She swims, she lifts weights, and she generally kicks butt. I went to school with Taryn for a few years, and we became friends through our creative writing classes. When the time came and I started querying agents, I was too scared to send my query to her for a critique. So she yelled at me. I sent her my query, and she's spent this week helping me revise. It was kind of terrifying having her look over it, but she's given me great feedback and been really cool about it. So the world at large might be evil, but Taryn is pretty cool. And hey, if you've written a book or are writing a book or are interested in having someone help you with your book, you should check out her website.
  2. My Creative Writing professor, Dr. Hurlow The things Dr. Hurlow has done to help my writing career over the past three and a half years are countless. She has taught me in class, of course. But she has also met with me outside of class to give feedback on application essays, to help me choose poems to submit to magazines, to just talk with me and be my "loco parentis" while my parents are in Italy. She took the time to read and critique my 245-page novel last semester (shoutout to Katie, Kale, Claire, and Maeghan for doing that, too...y'all are rockstars). I could never pay Dr. Hurlow back for how amazing and helpful she has been, so instead I'm going to brag about her here: she's literally the very best.
  3. My roommate's Aunt Trudy. Late Thursday night, Rebeca and I decided that we should take a road trip over the long weekend afforded by Monday's MLK Day. We were trying to figure out where to go and what to do, and we stumbled across the idea of coming to her family's farm. We made her mom call the family and Trudy welcomed us with open arms. We've been here less than 24 hours, but already she's showered us with love. She greeted us with big hugs when we stumbled in at 1 a.m. this morning, fed us, housed us, sat and talked with us, and overall treated us like queens. The rest of the world might be cold and unfeeling, but Trudy is loving and wonderful and very special.

There are a ton more amazing people in my life. I could honestly write a blog post highlighting three of them every day and I would never run out of inspiration. But this week, these are the people who have gone above and beyond the call of duty and really shown me love.

Thus ends the sappiest blog post I've ever written. You're welcome.