Life from Ashes – A Response to World Suicide Prevention Day

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My messy story is something I have largely shielded from the public eye, but I figured there is no time more appropriate to speak up than today, which is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Anxiety and OCD are mental illnesses I have struggled with for my whole life. That is no secret. I will tell anyone willing to listen in order to end the stigma and break down the stereotypical “face” of mental illness. But the past year, I have largely held back. I have written this post in my head over and over again, but have been too afraid to post it because of stigma and fear. Today I am facing that and saying that my story is worth posting. Is worth hearing. That being said, take caution. Trigger warning, if you will. This story is raw and talks about mental illness a lot.

A year ago today, I wrote a poem about the beauty of life. I do so every year on September 10th, but last year, the prose read as a persuasive essay to myself. That life was worth living. Last September, I entered my first major depressive episode. I quite honestly did not recognize myself. It was during that time that I understood the power of depression as a real illness. My brain and heart were at war every day for life, and it brought me down to a low place that I had never been before. I was in constant denial that such a thing was happening to me. Depression was something that happened to other people, not me. I helped walk people through depressive episodes, but was at a loss when it came to guiding myself through it. I secluded and isolated myself from community, and lost many friends in the process. If you know my extroverted self, this characteristic was completely unlike me. And though I was writing poems and posts encouraging people that life is worth living, I didn’t even truly believe it myself.

After opening up to some concerned friends that I still had and family about what was going on in my head, I went to a routine therapy appointment and broke down. I thought I had hit rock bottom before, but I was wrong. This was rock bottom. I begged for help because I wanted to live a happy and productive life but my mind did not. My brain doesn’t produce neurotransmitters like a normal brain does, and during this time, I was cognitive that something was physically wrong. After discussing options, my therapist and I agreed that admitting myself to a hospital was the best decision for me to get immediate help – which is what I needed. I fought the idea for a long while, thinking I can’t possibly be THAT bad. That day, I chose to do what was best for me, in order to get to a point that I fell in love with life again.

After navigating the tricky and troubling triage of mental hospitals in California, we decided that an outpatient program was best for me. This way, I could continue with school, though I would have to rearrange my schedule. For 4 months from October to February, I was a patient who attending 4 hours of intensive outpatient group therapy, education courses, individual therapy, and psychiatrist appointments, 3 days a week. Taking care of my mental health was a full time job for me, and during those 4 months I learned more about myself and the mental health system and stigma more than ever before.

I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and was in group therapy with those that were in a program for all mental illnesses and chemical dependency. I gathered with people who have been written off by the public as crazy, weak, and lost causes. I met their defeated selves with my own defeated self multiple times a week. I went in with biases and walls that I am not proud of. But through 4 months of sharing, listening, and crying with these people, I learned arguably the most important lesson of all – though stigma puts a scary mask on people, we are not scary people. Every human being is worthy of love, and every person has dignity and worth. I made friends with people in the program that I still keep in touch with, and I have never in my life met people with the amount of strength they had and hope they carried. The people in the program, who have always been told they are weak, fight every single day for life and worked diligently to make the fight easier. I was humbled to sit amongst such admirable people.

I graduated many months ago with a passion for the mental health community, which is a population I am studying to serve in social work. I can happily say that through it all, I was able to stay in school and graduate a year early, just a few weeks ago. I have since started graduate school to follow my heart in social work. Through continuous self-care and being real, I am incredibly excited to share that I am the happiest I have been in a very long time.  I am a story still going, and there has been life that has risen from what could have been ashes. I consider every day to be a miracle, and I like to live like it.

I could not be here alive and thriving today without the support of my family and friends. I also am thankful for my therapist, social worker, and community from my time in the hospital. Ultimately, it is not by my strength, but by the strength of the Lord that I am here today.

If you feel as though you are heading towards rock bottom, please reach out to someone you trust and see a therapist. If you feel as though you hit rock bottom, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 for support. I promise recovery is possible and worth it. No matter how hopeless the situation may seem, there is hope, and you make today better.

We need you here.

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Last week, after encouragement from my amazing community of friends and coworkers, I did something slightly uncomfortable and really vulnerable. I signed up to perform in a poetry slam. Poetry has been an expressive outlet for me for a few years now. It is not simply a type of writing to me; it’s a form of expression, coping, a safe haven, processing, reflection, healing, extreme vulnerability, and altogether a truly remarkable art. Don’t get me wrong, I am no Maya Angelou, Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot, or Emily Dickenson. But when I signed up for the poetry slam, someone told me that you can’t compare one person’s art to another. Sometimes I can’t find my words, and sometimes they aren’t very good, but they matter.

My words matter and yours do too. This poetry slam was part of my school’s “Dream Big” series, which revolved around a tribute to MLK. I stood up on a stage in front of a theater full of people of different ages, backgrounds, political views, religions, races, sexualities, and stories. That evening was one of the truest embodiments of unity that I have ever seen. I hugged strangers of all kinds and the theater erupted with support, giving merit and worth to the words and stories of those who were brave enough to stand up and let us into such a vulnerable state. The truth is, we really are not all that different. Whatever story you have, no matter what race, religion, sexuality, or story you hold, you are a human being who was put on this earth for a reason. Your story holds great worth. Your words have power. Your feelings, no matter what they may be, have merit. I learned what speaking up and speaking out means. I am learning to use my voice (loud one at that) to tell my story and quiet my voice to listen to others’ stories.

I was asked to share another poem at the final Dream Big event this Thursday. Though sharing such vulnerability is difficult, I am honored to stand up and share my story in hopes that I touch someone in the audience. I hope to use my story to help others, because all of us are on some sort of path to healing. Your story, like mine, could bring healing and help to someone who is hurting. Vulnerability is so difficult sometimes, but as a great woman Brené Brown once said, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

So whoever you are or wherever you come from, we need you here. Your story has purpose and power.

Whether you are hurting or thriving – we need you here.

Whether you are black, white, Asian – wherever you come from and wherever you are going – we need you here.

Whether you are rich or poor – we need you here.

Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, Independent – we need you here.

Whether you are straight, gay, transgender – however you define yourself – we need you here.

Whatever you wear, think, like, dislike – we need you here.

If your past is full of hurt and the present is difficult and the future seems dark – we need you here.

Friends, there is a seat at the table just for you. Come as you are, bring what you have. You are loved and are worthy of belonging.

love always, Madds

 

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For the past year, I toyed with the idea of starting a blog. I absolutely despise journaling, and the only writing I do that does not somehow relate to school is poetry.

A few months ago, I received a call that changed my world. One of my best friends, Maddie unexpectedly passed away while studying abroad in Spain. This sent me into the most difficult and painful season of my life, as I have spent the past few months grieving such a sudden loss of someone I loved deeply. I have spent hours with friends, family, and her family crying, reflecting, sitting, sifting through photos, videos, journals, mementos, paintings, drawings, anything. I hold onto everything I have left of her because I know that the memories we made have become finite. It gave me comfort to read through her old notes… handwritten words in her unique jargon that somehow breathed life into a painful situation. One of the closing lines of a note she wrote to me read, “love always, Madds”. This line serves as a reminder of our bond and also as a command. She loved everyone she met and shared a love that was so full of joy and humility that it served to share her testimony. She truly radiated the love of Christ because He had filled her with His love and compassion. These words, in her handwriting, are now permanently tattoed on my foot and remind me every day to love like she did.

You are probably wondering what the heck this has to do with a blog. Well, through this hard season, I have also realized the importance of writing. Journaling, blogging, whatever it may be, I decided to start this blog to share things that are happening in my life, but focus on the lessons that each experience brings. I am not a writer, and I am not an artist. These are probably fairly evident through my blog posts and the layout of this minimalist site. I did not create this to impress anyone or for class or to flaunt my wisdom (because you cannot flaunt what you, too are seeking to gain). I am simply a human being that wants a medium to share the things I learn along the way. This blog is for friends and family to see what’s been going on in my life. I have received a couple of amazing opportunities this coming year and would like to use this site for weekly updates.

I named this site “sporadic selah” for more than the appealing alliteration. The word “Selah” is a term found in the Bible, quite frequently in Psalms. Though the exact meaning of this word is unknown, many believe it was used as a musical direction or related to praise. Though there are many interpretations, the Amplified Bible translates the word “Selah” as “pause, and think of that”. Many other interpretations link the words “Selah” and “pause”. Along with difficult, this past season in my life has been busy. I juggled many trips home, grieving, a funeral, 18 units of schoolwork, 2 jobs, many job applications and interviews, and so much more. This past semester went without many pauses, which was not helpful for my physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Pausing and resting is necessary for life. To reflect, to grow, and simply to enjoy some silence sometimes.

May this serve as a catalyst for a sporadic selah in your life. I know it already has for me. I pray you find some quiet in your day or your week for a sporadic selah. Thank you for your interest and investment in my life. I plan to post weekly or bi-weekly. Sometimes more, sometimes less. A sporadic selah.

This blog is dedicated to my best friend Maddie “Madds” Elliott. She taught me what love and joy look like, and what full reliance on the Lord truly is. She taught me what truly matters in life. Dance freely, my amaryllis.