Hey Single: to the boys that broke and built me.


img_0180Hey single:
I think a lot of times we’re mistaken for indifferent when it comes to finding love. I think a lot of times we’re mistaken for not having a lot of feelings or being the ones left behind in the dust. But none of it’s true. Because the fact is we do have our own stories. We do have our own hurts, disappointments, and insecurities. We’re not always YOLOing our lives away. And for the love of all that’s good and holy, Eat, Pray, Love is not the anthem to singlehood or finding yourself. In fact, it’s a very rare anthem. Being single has a rhythm all its own and it’s different for everyone.

This is not a post I’d planned for the week, but something in me knew it was time to tell these stories. For better or worse, these are the stories of some of the guys who both broke me down and built me up and taught me a little more about life and what I wanted out of it.

Without them, I wouldn’t be able to take myself out on my own ice cream dates or know what I’m looking for or finally be comfortable in my own skin.

Part I— To the boy who took me on my first date:

It wasn’t a big deal. I acted like it wasn’t a big deal, but oh, to me it was. It wasn’t actually a date and I knew that. Because in reality, I’d crushed on you since the summer I was sixteen and you were my brother’s friend who probably had no idea. Because in reality I’d wanted to ask you to the dating outing flat-out, but I was so scared that you’d say no that I randomly brought it up one day while we were both in a group of friends and said I wanted to go with a friend. It was only because another friend pointed at you and asked, “What about him?” that I was even able to muster up the courage to ask, “Would you?” You shrugged and said, “Sure.”

But on that November day, you showed up when I’d been pacing around the house all day, mentally preparing myself for you not to show up. Because who’d actually go to a dating outing with their friend’s awkward sister? But you did. You showed up on time and came up to the door. You waded through the awkward moments where I was shaking so bad, I could barely mumble, “So how was work?” You made the conversation easy when my heart was pounding in my chest.

Then when it came time for the pumpkin carving contest, you just examined our very basic pumpkin and said, “No, we can do better than this.” So we made it into a Frankenstein pumpkin and won. Like the nineteen-year-old bosses we obviously were.

And so, to the boy who took me on my first date: you offered me your jacket and talked about how much you loved your sister. You taught me what respect for other human beings looks like. You taught me what kindness looks like. And most importantly, you shattered the illusion that guys have to be detached, indifferent, or cocky—that whether feelings are involved or not for his side, there are guys who will still be kind and still show up. You set the standard and I’m thankful you did.

Part II—To the boy who kind of knew:
I remember the day she told me I’d have to work with you one-on-one and I told her no. I asked if there was a way around it because I was always so awkward around guys and I didn’t want the awkward encounters. There was no way around it. My friends all laughed at me because lord above, they knew how single I was and that you were one of the popular ones. I remember the first time we started working together, how you had this look in your eyes like you were picking up on all the nonverbal cues being passed around between me and my friends. But despite myself, you became my friend too and I found myself hoping that I would be the one to change your mind about staying single for the rest of your life. But that simply wasn’t my role.

I also remember the day you walked out for Christmas break, how you never said goodbye. I remember how I felt when I realized you weren’t ever coming back. And I remember when I ran into you and the girlfriend I didn’t know you had, how I, at 21, stopped believing that anything good would ever happen to me.

So to you— the boy who taught me about sarcasm and not caring about other people’s opinions: you were my friend. You listened when I spoke and shook your head, saying, “Of course you did,” when I told you about accidentally finding out about my surprise birthday party. You taught me about not taking life too seriously. And lastly, you showed me that even when I feel a connection to someone, it doesn’t make it real. It makes it a dream.

Part III—To the guy who drove me cross-country:
Most people don’t do stuff like what I did—23 and accepting a temporary traveling job where all the videographers are packed into one hotel room, strangers or not. They wouldn’t have said yes despite all the red flags, despite the fact that the first and only travel job involved traveling 13 hours with and staying in the same hotel room as a stranger they’d only met twice. They wouldn’t go out and have their first beer with two men they barely knew just to look cool. But I was so determined to travel, so determined to be seen as cool, so determined to be detached from my good girl roots that I said yes even though everything in me said, “No, no, no.” I simply packed my pepper spray and texted the tag number to my parents and got in the car, driving into Louisiana that November night. The next morning, over orange juice, we sat in sullen silence and I watched a bible study from a few tables away, realizing at that moment that I was directly opposite to everything I’d ever been in my life. I followed you out of that cafe, holding onto my bag and feeling like a fake.

The weekend couldn’t have gone worse as far as work goes. It was my training weekend and you were the only one there to show me the ropes, but the venue was large enough that we needed a team of five but there was only you and me. On our way back from Houston, we were both stressed out and mad at each other. But you bought me Subway and listened as all the anxiety-ridden stories flowed out and I blabbed at least half-way back to South Carolina. You told me about your past and I told you about mine. You taught me how to grow up but you taught me a couple other important things:
1. Grab the keys. Empower yourself. Push yourself to learn.
2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be so afraid to get something wrong that you freeze up on the job.
3. People are much more complex than they typically let on.
4. Even if it turns out fine and you learn a lot, don’t ignore red flags. Don’t say yes to things you’re actually uncomfortable with.

Part IV—To Mike from LA:
I don’t even think I’ve told my mama about you, but you were my virtual flirtationship. (Sidenote for the readers: Yes. 22-year-old me had what would be referred to as a flirtationship. You should know I’ve pled the blood and washed my walls with holy water. Jesus, take the wheel.)

If you had to know anything, you should know that I got the app out of loneliness. You should know that I only ever wanted to talk to someone. I got the app because I was so tired of never having anything interesting happen that I downloaded it just to see what would happen. And you were the only one I ever messaged with who was actually a kind person. Sure, you might not have been who you said you were and you might have just been a troll but I didn’t mind. I never had to block you because you never asked for pictures. I never had to hide who I actually was because you just built me up and said things like, “You seem like the kind of person who has the determination to lose the weight. But I bet you’re beautiful,” and “If you lived in LA, I’d take you out.”

(Another sidenote: No, I didn’t have to hide who I was. At that point, it was PURELY recreational.)

At that moment, I really, really wanted to live in LA. Because no one likes being 22 and alone. But you were good with my standards and happy just to talk to me, even if it took me days to reply sometimes. And it was me who said goodbye to the whole friendship after scrolling through the messages and realizing how dead it was—after realizing I didn’t actually know you and it wasn’t actually real. But you respected my decision and taught me that even strangers on the internet can be a positive thing and I’ve never let go of that lesson.

And also, I would’ve gone on that date. One hundred percent.

Part V—Finally, to the guy I met on Bumble.
You didn’t know this, but I’d never been formally asked out. You didn’t know that I was a 23-year-old kid who was just trying to figure out if there was a space in the dating scene for me. You didn’t know that I was more or less just looking for a friend. You didn’t know that I didn’t actually believe I’d meet someone for me on that app. And, lastly, you didn’t know that at the time I’d lost 20 pounds and was actually pretty proud of myself.

I didn’t get what I wanted in that situation—I got someone who made me cry instead. I got someone who called me obese and said I wasn’t pretty enough to be picky. And all because I told you I didn’t want to go to your house after a ten minute conversation.

You taught me two things:
1. You made me think. Anyone who has that high of a standard for someone else, must believe they live up to that standard themselves. When they fall from that standard, they lose everything about themselves that they feel is important—they lose identity. I learned I’d much rather be comfortable in my own skin than struggling to live up to an ideal. So thank you.
2. You taught me compassion for anyone who’s struggling with appearance because I’d never been fully rejected by someone based on my own appearance. It had only been a fear of mine, to be rejected. So thank you. You showed me that I could live with a full rejection and be perfectly fine. And I hope you find some compassion for your own self too.

Psst– hey, single? Before I leave you with these, you should know that these are the stories I’ve kept locked away for a long, long time. I don’t know if any resonate with you or not—this was just what I knew I needed to say tonight, to you. I’m sitting here at 2 am and I don’t know if you can remember a time where you wanted to speak up but didn’t or if you fell hard for someone who chose someone else or if you ignored red flags and went anyway or if you had a little thing with someone only to realize it wasn’t real or right. But if you have ignored the warnings or stayed silent or gotten hurt, you’re not alone in it. Your feelings are valid and you have full permission to mourn the loss of a dream or the loss of a friend.

But you don’t have permission to stay alone because you believe that’s the only way for you. Don’t be afraid to get back up, love. Don’t be afraid to fall again. And don’t be afraid to just see if there’s anything there. Because maybe, maybe not, but you’ll always wonder if you never go for it.

And for lord’s sake, don’t be ashamed of your own story, even if it did result in getting hurt or, even worse, regret. Your story matters. It matters so much because it matters to you. 

 

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What I Did Instead of Date.


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“I would do anything for you, sir. Anything that was right.” -Jane Eyre

 

I. Part one: where I’ve been.

Pink and white checkered shirt, short-sleeved. Sunday night. Twelve years old. I’m standing there in front of my mom’s mirror, studying my own body and pressing on my waist like maybe if I applied enough pressure the excess fat would magically go away.

I think I could have a figure,” I thought, “…if all this would go away.

(Thirteen years later. )

“What’s wrong with how you look right now?”

Wednesday nights are my therapy nights. My therapist always looks directly at me, like she’s noting the way I speak, the way I look off into the distance when the words won’t come, the way I rake fingers through my hair when I’m nervous. She’s one of two people who’s ever asked me that question specifically, asking me to dig deep inside my own thoughts and figure out why I don’t feel beautiful right here, in my own skin.

I hear my own voice speak, slow, “Well…it’s not beautiful.”

“Why?” she doesn’t negate what I say or head into motivational-speech time, just keeps eyes on me, waiting patiently.

“Uh…” I trail off, waiting for the lightbulb moment, “I…don’t know.” It just always had been that way, since the moment family members started noting the unusual weight gain at eleven and the way I’d watched my friends slip into the junior section like it was nothing at all, while I was headed into this in-between where I didn’t know what would fit me. Since the church elder told my dad that my sister and I wouldn’t marry more than Ingles bag boys if we didn’t slim down. Since the brown-eyed boy who’d offered me his jacket that night and partly because I’d been afraid it wouldn’t fit, I declined. Since the boy who looked like Peter Pan all grown up ended up with someone who was everything I wasn’t when I wanted him to be different–when I thought I needed him to see me.

“Why don’t you think about that this week?” my therapist suggests. “Why is having more fat on your body something that takes away from your beauty?”

And she leaves me with, “I wish you’d have more compassion on yourself.” It’s a shock to the system when she tells me things like that because no one ever tells us to be kind to ourselves, especially not in a world where Facebook threads are on full-alert and nothing is ever said without the political edge.  

II. Part two: what I’ve done instead of date.

Being in a relationship would have ruined me. 

This realization is one that’s come slow, like a deep breath you don’t want to take before plunging into deep waters. But once you take it, you realize it’s good and right and life-giving. For a long time, I blamed how I looked for why I was so alone. Nothing was right–not my hair, not my thighs, not my stomach, not my slouched-over appearance from trying too hard not to look like a giant in the crowd. I felt huge. I felt ugly. I felt unloveable. But you know what? I know now that I couldn’t have been further from the truth. I know now…had I gotten what I wanted, I never would’ve had what I have now.

When my dream world came crumbling down in 2014, it made all the difference in my life. At 22, I’d finally learned that no one was going to do anything for me and I started doing the things I wanted to do.

I went to the state fair. I got a henna tattoo. I rode a camel because I wanted to.

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I got a pixie cut. And I looked the boy who made me so sad directly in the eye for the first time.

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I made amazing friendships and got to be there for them in ways I never would’ve been able to had I been in a relationship.

I graduated with my friends, road-tripped, took a traveling job and went to Houston with a stranger (note: I’m not saying I was the brightest bulb, but here we are anyway. BLESS.) I volunteered with a nonprofit I was passionate about, found other talents I didn’t know I had, started taking long drives just because, found my own voice, and started the book. I learned to date myself. I learned that I liked rom-coms more than any other movie genre ever. Give me McConaughey or Hanks over De Niro any day. I learned that It’s A Wonderful Life is better in July. I learned that red lipstick is my thing…or at least the thing that I want to be my thing. I learned that red hair is not. I learned that I could do things I never thought I could.  I learned that men’s pajamas are way better than women’s.  I learned how to ignore the trolls that want more than you’re willing to give. I learned how to laugh at the guys who take themselves too seriously. I learned how to be alone. I’m not the least bit afraid of being alone. And I’m not going to give someone the time of day if the only reason I’m with them is to avoid being alone.

Forget. That. 

And finally, finally–I learned I actually liked myself, even when I was having an ugly moment. I learned I liked being in the skin I’m in.

Also, yes I got that cat. And she’s adorable. A little weird, but you know…consider the source, people.

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Most importantly, though, I got to know my sister, my brother, my mom, and my dad better than had I just shot off into whatever relationship I thought would bring me the ultimate happiness. I’m so grateful for getting to know them better.

 

So, hey, babe? Here’s the deal:

  1. You’re going to have a lot of feelings about being single. You’re going to be lonely sometimes. You’re going to be tempted to shoot a message to that jerk on Tinder. Maybe you’re even going to want to backtrack to the last relationship you had and beg for a do-over. The single best piece of advice I can give you is simply: if you find yourself misplacing your value, put it back where it belongs. Your value is yours. It was given to you long before you ever took a first step. Don’t forget it’s there because of something  somebody else said.
  2.  You’re going to be given a lot of advice as a single person. Don’t necessarily listen to all the advice that’s thrown at you. Don’t listen to the people who tell you you’re running out of time or ask you personal questions about how you live as a single person. Don’t even pay much attention to the people who tell you, “Hey, he’ll come along one day. Don’t give up on your prince charming.” BLAH.
  3. He/She might not show up, love. You might not find someone. I might not find someone. But do you know what? I’m still going to get up every morning. I’m still going to write books. I’m still going to show up for friends’ birthdays with cracker candy galore and coffee mugs because THIS IS HOW I SHOW AFFECTION. I’m still going to love every aspect of journalism. I’m still going to be passionate about making a difference and the destigmatization of mental health issues.  I’m still going to send out Christmas cards in mass and dance around my kitchen to Lorde. I’m still going to be me. I’m still a package deal, including all the bits and pieces that no one else will ever know about. And you get to be who you are too. He/She might not come along, but you still get to be here. You get to live out purpose no matter what. That, my friend, is everything.

Make the move. Go for the coffee date. Date around, make friends, don’t think too much, live your life. But don’t settle until it’s right. Don’t settle until you find the one who’s good to you. Find the person who makes you laugh harder than anyone else and sees you for you, even on your crummiest days. But for now? Be yourself. That’s your one and only job: to do what’s right for you in this moment and be present in your own life, with your crazy, loud friends and the cat who definitely loves milk and lounging on the roof more than you.

III. Part three: where it all ties together.

And you know what else? It’s been about a month since I was first asked to define beauty. Nearly a week ago, my therapist asked me to finish some sentences for her.

She started, “I am…”

Immediately, a word popped into my head and I found myself frowning, tilting my head to one side. That can’t be right, I thought. 

I looked at her, “Does it have to be the first word?”

“That’s preferable, but you don’t absolutely have to.”

“It’s just…” I shook my head, “I don’t know where it came from. I don’t think it’s accurate.”

“What was it?”

Sheepish smile, I said, “Beautiful.”

She nods, once, smiling, “I like that.”

 If you asked me what I’ve done, in conclusion, instead of date, I’d tell you simply: I lived. I found my own beauty. But, hey, babe? If you don’t know where your beauty is at the moment, give it some time. You’ll find it. I promise you’ll find it. 

 

Coffee Date: When God Doesn’t Email Back.


img_1060(I started meeting you here for coffee every month the end of last year, courtesy of my brilliant friend, Erin, who is one of the beautiful minds behind Coffee Dates. As always, please feel free to write your own Coffee Date or email me here. I’m always here and the coffee’s always on at my place. So come on in, love.)

Hey babe, let’s do coffee. I hope so much that you meet me here.

Me: Hey, Mom, if we were on a coffee date, where would we go?

Mom: Not Starbucks. 

So, coffee date, if we were on a coffee date, we’d be at Atlanta Bread Company (although if I’m honest, I’m currently sipping a pumpkin spice latte. From Starbucks.) One with a fireplace. And one of us would have to get hot chocolate. Mom’s orders, but she’s probably 100% right. As always, you can meet me in the comment section or the email. I’m always, always there.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask if you’ve ever read If You Find This Letter. This book, guys. GAH. With as long as I’ve followed Hannah Brencher, it’s a shame I just got around to reading her inspiring memoir, but I think sometimes we put off reading the things that will move us the most. I still have a few pages left, but it’s got me wanting to leave love letters all over this city of mine. I’ve already left a few in the hands of close friends and family to let them know I see them, but I’m craving more love letter writing. My mom got me these greeting cards for my birthday and I’m planning on using every, single one of them to redeem that start to 25. Sometimes God does that, doesn’t He? He provides little things to redeem big issues.

PS, coffee date? Do you need a love letter? Shoot me an email. I’ll respond. Tell me what you need, coffee date. I’m italicizing and bolding because I want to know how I can write to you. Any day, any time, coffee date. 

If we were on a coffee date, there would be zero pause before I told you about my emails to God. In fact, even when I’m praising that book I’m itching to talk about the emails. Because as I was reading Hannah Brencher’s beautiful words, I found where she started an email address to God–one that only she and God could ever see–and just started shooting off emails as a tangible way to reach out when she felt alone. It took me approximately four seconds to decide I wanted that too. I needed a space to just go crazy, wild and say all the things I’ve never said or almost said. I needed an action with my words and pressing that send button was everything. I think I’ve sent five. I ask God about the things that were spoken over my life, I ask God about last spring, I ask God why the person I thought would be here by now isn’t here yet.

If we were on a coffee date, we’d get real personal for a minute, coffee date. Because I think I need to. And maybe you do too. In these emails, sometimes I get really angry at God. When I even think to send them, it’s not pretty. I’m whiny. I’m angry. I’m messy. I’m not devout or full of grace or love or compassion. I’m nitty-gritty, why-do-You-let-this-happen–zero black and white, just questions full of colors. But I never invite God to a coffee date. I forget He’s more than a checklist. I forget God doesn’t exist to make everything better. I forget that there’s no secret message in Hebrews that I can decode to read, “Amanda. On this day you will fall in love and on this day you will finish the book and on this day you’ll get published and on this day your words will spring forth into the world and everything will be fine. Go get yourself some coffee, girl, and work on your autograph.” And you know what, coffee date? Sometimes it hurts when–not only does He not send answers to my immediate situation, a lot of times He gets really, really quiet. The sort of quiet where He’s looking right at you, but not saying anything. It hurts because I know He could–but you know what? He always reveals why He doesn’t turn things around. It’s quiet, on time, and a carefully constructed response. He doesn’t lower Himself to meet my emotions, yes, but neither am I left hanging. I still don’t know about the dreams I’ve experienced or the things that have been spoken over my life or the feelings about specific people I just can’t shake, but I do know about God. And He’s got me. Somehow, some way He’s got me.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask the Erin sort of questions. I have this friend who fills my life with lots of laughter, tacos, and adventures every time she’s around and is hands-down one of my favorite people. A few weeks ago she sent me a text and said, “How are you doing? In all honesty.” She wanted the brave, the bold, the messy, the honest truth. And so, coffee date, in all honesty–how are you, babe? How’s life? Is it all falling apart? Because that’s okay. Falling apart is okay. Falling down is okay. But staying down? That’s not part of the deal. You have permission to fail, permission to be breakable, but zero permission to throw in the towel and stay out of the game. 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d tell you I’m learning to be brave. I’m learning to be really, really brave because it counts. Being brave doesn’t equate perfection; it simply means you don’t sit at home when you know you have work to do. You don’t let fear get a say in whether you go in to work or not or whether you go live on Facebook or not.  If you don’t leave the battle, don’t go home when you want to, it will get better.

So, babe, real talk. What are you afraid of? I mean, really. What’s stopping you from doing the thing you know you should do?

If we were on a coffee date, I’d tell you to do the damn thing. You know what it is: the gym, the to-do list, the budget cuts, the meal prep, the emptying of the cat litter, that one, stupid conversation you’ve been putting off, the studying, the book you’re elbow-deep into writing or reading or editing. Just do it. Make it smaller, then take out the task.

Side note: unless it’s giving your cat a flea bath. I give you full permission to procrastinate on that.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d tell you to find someone that writes into your story. I’ve always been in love with the idea of being written to because sometimes–if I’m honest–as a writer it feels like I spend all my time writing to other people. But when I sit back and think about it, I am being written to in unique and beautiful ways. Little cards from distant friends, little ‘this made me think of you’s’, friends asking if I want to head out to coffee, random texts, and the list goes on. Find your people, babe. Find people who will eat Taco Bell with you in random parking lots and go for coffee every Sunday night and But don’t expect the way they write into your life to look like what you’ve imagined in your own head. Let people be. Let them love you the best way they know how.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask about your end of the year. Is it going okay? How are you adjusting to these darker nights? We’ve got three months left of 2017, babe. Get out there and enjoy it while it’s here.

Last but not least, if we were on a coffee date I’d ask what your fall bucket list is. Don’t have one? Just give me three things you have to do for it to be fall. Give me the traditions, the baking recipes, and the scarf/legging combos. Go, go, go.

Hey Babe: Don’t Run Away.


img_1013Hey babe.

Sometimes it feels like the world should just stop turning.

I left work today, wondering how we all do it. How do we get up and go back to work, answer phone calls and drink old coffee and sit through five o’clock traffic, when it seems the world is crashing down all around us? How do we murmur prayers ceiling-ward when it feels like so much more is wrong than what could ever be right again? How does the world continue turning when there’s so much hurt, so much horror happening in this world? How do we gulp back the tears when we know the 8-year-olds today are being sent to school with warnings that we’d never imagined when we were their age?  How do we not press the ‘pause’ button, mourn in the streets and lay it all down for a day? Some days it feels like I’m numb to it all until I make myself click on that article–make myself look at the pictures. Even the pictures with warning labels, I make myself look at because I don’t want to be numb to it. I never want to be numb to this. I read their stories. I don’t give evil its platform–evil has had its time on the platform. I want to see their faces–the beautiful, honest faces of people who were just trying to live their best life in and out, every day.

The news is rattled with disaster after disaster, telling us story after story of how America is more divided than ever, natural disasters, politicized groups of people stacked against each other, each screaming louder to be heard. But the worst of it always hits us where we least expect it–in churches and school rooms and night clubs and concerts. Places where groups of people meet to worship, learn, and enjoy their lives. And the worst of it is I know there are people out there asking why? Why? What did I do to deserve this? There are still people from previous tragedies asking the same questions, searching for the same answers. I just want to cup faces and hold tight and whisper over and over until they believe me, “It wasn’t about you; it was never about you. I don’t know why. I just don’t know why.”

But, hey, babe? I’m young. I don’t know it all and I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. Something in me (and I think in all of us) wants desperately to shout the truth so effectively it silences all the fear, all the evil. For good. I want to step onto a platform in front of the entire world and just say, “Hey! Remember when we believed it could be good? We can believe that again. We can fight for it to be good again.”

But I think this is the part where we dig in when we want to run and hide away. I think this is the part where we find our strength in clasping hands, loving louder, and unraveling the ties that seem to bind us. This is the part where we say no to the darkness–that no matter how bad it gets, it doesn’t get to write the ending because we will fight it to its very core. This is the part where we find common ground and fight for it, choose kindness, bravery, and compassion over anything fear and anger have to offer. We will hold the late-night intercessions and have the uncomfortable conversations. We’ll keep watching the news and doing the research and fighting to effect change.

This is not about any differences that we might have.

This–right here and right now–is not about anything overly politicized by mass and social medias. This is not a Facebook thread or a Thanksgiving dinner conversation gone wrong. This is about people. It has to be about people from here on out or we’ll lose every single time. We need to reframe how we see people and we need to reframe the way we handle tragedies–this is not the time to run, turn numb, point fingers, or skim over rootless reasoning. This is the time to stay, to dig in, to have the conversations.

And maybe we’re just little lights in the dark. Maybe the only thing we’ll ever accomplish is chipping away at our own darkness in our corner of the world. But you know what? There’s always more room for stars to light the sky and if we choose to be lights–even if we are just little lights in the dark and even if we feel like we’re standing by ourselves sometimes–those little lights in the dark are infinitely more important than anything the darkness can hurl because we’re always there: living, breathing, pulsating hope on fire. Nothing can stamp out hope.

In honor of all the work that still is yet to be done, I’ve found a few ways we can all help victims of some of the most-recent tragedies along with a few nonprofits that are working alongside some serious issues and could always use more support. I’ve also included some local charities that I’ve been a part of over the past few years:

 

Coffee Date: Therapy and God.


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(I started meeting you here for coffee every month the end of last year, courtesy of my brilliant friend, Erin, who is one of the beautiful minds behind Coffee Dates. As always, please feel free to write your own Coffee Date or email me here. I’m always here and the coffee’s always on at my place. So come on in, love.)

Hey Coffee Date. It’s been awhile. I’ve still got stories of February and Atlanta and lessons learned the hard way, but for now let’s just be real with each other. Just for a minute. I still worry that I do this coffee date thing wrong–did I ever tell you that? It’s one of the biggest fears when I click that publish button–I’m always worried I wasn’t what you needed for a coffee date. The beauty, though, of coffee dates is you can say anything, let down all the masks, hand it all over for a few minutes to be real and raw. I don’t know about you, but I could use a little more of that.

But…uh…hey, coffee date? Before we go in, I need to clear the air.

*deep breath*

I am Amanda Russell and…I like pumpkin spice lattes. Cliche, frothy, sticky, other-worldly delicious pumpkin spice lattes. As in, I would GLADLY wear PTL for PSL t-shirts–in fact, I should set up a booth.

But it gets worse. I get ventis. I’ve tried pumpkin spice at every coffee shop I frequent and I can tell you with zero uncertainty who makes the best pumpkin spice lattes and who makes the worst. I even have pumpkin spice latte inside jokes from that one year my bestie and I were hyped up on life (because what kind of university makes sophomore/juniors sit through chapel services for an hour and a half right AFTER summer ends? It was torture.) and I walked right up to a Starbucks barista and asked for a pumpkin sposs latte. I still haven’t lived that down…

So, yeah, today if we were on a coffee date…

We’d be at Starbucks.

I’d swing open the door at 5:30, wearing the same holey jeans that saw me through a catastrophic spring and a foggy summer. “We did say 5:30, right?” I’d ask, draping my bag over the chair.

I use matte lipstick now–but not too bright because I’m not there yet. I arrange my hair in the mirror before looking anyone in the eye, brush it firm when you’re not looking because oh no, oh no, oh no my anxiety scars are showing these days–days and nights of job hunting and pulling added up until I finally chopped off brunette locks when I didn’t know what else to do but something needed to be done. Even in this, God gives me grace.

“Your hair will grow back,” my therapist is my newest voice of reason–she gives me goals for stopping my hair-pulling, but gives me permission to blow it. And I need that, coffee date. I think we all need permission to blow it sometimes–a verbal permission slip to make our mistakes and go on from there. I see her weekly, unpack emotions, make sense of them, pick up my bag for the week ahead, thank her endlessly for talking with me. I’m here—but not remember-I’m-not-a-burden-to-my-therapist here, if you know what I’m saying. But therapy is like a lighthouse I settle into once a week–one of the biggest forms of grace God’s given me. I’m not drowning anymore–I’m learning to swim.

I see my own anxiety these days, coffee date. I view it as a meter now and when I feel it go beyond a 6, I stop. I adjust. I take care of myself. I write myself a little note sometimes or press my wrists under cold water or use an essential oil–breathe deep.

This is where I am, coffee date, and I’m proud of me. I really am. This is good–this is beautiful. But, before you go? Let’s do a speed round to catch me up on where you’ve been while I’ve been out:

  1. Where were you for the eclipse? And did you see the ground snakes they talked about because I didn’t see ANYTHING and I was so freaking mad.
  2. HAVE YOU HEARD TAYLOR SWIFT’S NEW MUSIC? I am all the way here for her new era, Coffee Date.
  3. How’s your fall starting out? Busy? Colorful? Good? I want all the thoughts.
  4. Have you seen this? I’m late to the scene on this but it’s so good. Go watch it. Be good to yourself, coffee date.
  5. What are you reading/listening to? I’m currently working through The Ocean At The End of The Lane and I’ve been on a podcast binge from the church I’ve been tiptoeing around for a year and a half. Okay, okay…and also my go-to fall song is All Too Well by Taylor Swift. No judgments!
  6. How are you taking care of yourself these days? I’ve been journaling and watching Gilmore Girls like there’s no tomorrow. #teamlukeandlorelai
  7. How are you holding up during hurricane season? If there’s any needs you know of, I’d love for you to leave them below in the comments because I’ve been trying to help as much as I can.
  8. I want you to comment below with three things that are going good for you. Go, go, go!
  9. If we were really on a coffee date, what’s your poison? Are you into chai or pumpkin spice these days?
  10. Finally, coffee date, before I head out of here–what can I do for you? Do you need encouragement? Email me and I’ll send you as much encouragement as I can pack into one little page.

 

Hey Babe: When You Feel Unseen


 

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Hey Babe,

In the thick of my mental health struggles, for some reason, I always wanted someone to randomly come into wherever I was, sit down beside me, and say, “Hey babe–what’s wrong?” (Kind of like the aunt in Ramona and Beezus. Because umm…who wouldn’t want an aunt like that?)  With that, those two words have been swirling around in my head for the past couple months, so here I am, saying them to you. This newest thread of Not Your Average Coffee Bean is meant to be a hand-holder in the darkness–to encourage, uplift, and show love to anyone who needs these words. If you’re reading, the biggest thing I want you to take away from these little rambling notes is that you matter infinitely more than you know.

I couldn’t even look at her.

Twenty-one years old and face-to-face with the story I would mostly keep to myself (when, you know, I wasn’t using it as a bit to poke fun at myself because they ALL could see how much of a mess I was anyway so why not join in?).  It was a breezy day in March when I ran into the guy I’d had a crush on for MONTHS with his girlfriend during an afternoon walk. I’d been carrying my dog across the sidewalk near the lake, pulling at my blue shorts every ten seconds and regretting walking the half a mile from my house when I saw them. Me and him–we were friends, so of course I stopped and said hello, trying to act normal when in reality I was red-faced and feeling awkward.

In that moment, one of the things that sticks out in my memory is that I found myself unable to look at his girlfriend because I didn’t want to see if she was beautiful. Because what if she had something that I didn’t? What if she was better than I was? Don’t we do silly things to ourselves, infringe silly lies upon ourselves? 

The conversation was short–awkward on both ends before they turned and walked away, leaving me staring after them in disbelief at what had just happened. It would be five minutes before I called my friends and had them crying laughing, asking the infamous, “What are the odds?!” It would be ten minutes before I shot a text to my sister and asked her to please, please, PLEASE pick me up. But in that initial moment, I remember simply turning around and slowly sinking onto a nearby bench, letting Lucy wander around for a minute.

Unseen. That was the heartbeat that followed me after that day at the lake. Unseen, unwanted, unheard, repeat, repeat, repeat. And with every disappointment that came afterwards, it chipped away at any hope I had left that anyone really saw me or cared what happened to me. It’s taken years to see that lie, let alone begin to untangle myself from its grasp. Never buy stock into even one lie because it will set up camp, loves. It will stay as long as it can and steal as much as it can, leaving you empty and wondering how it took so much of you away.

The even lesser-known part of the story, however, comes an hour and a half after leaving the lake. I was listening to Pandora (it was cool back then, okay, kids?!) when a song that I’d never heard before started. In that moment, I tell you…it was like God sent me a lullaby because the words in that song spoke directly to every part of my aching, angsty, twentysomething heart.

“These are the scars,
Deep in your heart,
This is the place you were born,
This is the hole,
Where most of your soul,
Comes ripping out,
From the places you’ve been torn,
And it is always yours,
But I am always yours.” –Always, Switchfoot

I break my own heart from reaching for something that wasn’t supposed to be mine and God sends me a lullaby. I mean…TAKE A HINT, RUSSELL. You’re seen by the only one who really cares–and you out there, reading this? He sees you too. You matter to Him. You’re very much seen, wanted, and heard. He sees the good moments, the bad moments, and all the little moments in-between. He crafted your laugh. He stitched together every part about you. He picks you up and dusts you off. He’s got your names etched into his hands–He cannot, will not let you go. Ever. He sees. I promise.

He went on to graduate the same year as me and start a life. But I went on too. I went on to learn insane lessons from crazy after-college jobs and wipe away pumpkin from team members’ clothes and learn to laugh wild-crazy and write the book and push my body to its limit and embrace variety over a black and white lifestyle.

And hey, babe? Maybe that’s the best part of the story: we all go on. And we’re all seen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

|Mid-August|Be Here.



I run my hands down my own waist, catch at the curve, arms akimbo. I wear shirts that match my eyes, but it’s not enough to hide what I thought would never happen to me again. Six months ago this space was beginning to take shape, beginning to not be the first thing someone noticed about me. 

Gone.

I pass blue, wonder about so-and-so. Six months ago, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and shoot a text. 

Gone.

Scroll through my email, pass over the spaces social media apps used to take up on my phone.  

Gone.

Pass over places we used to go, use the wallet she bought me for my birthday. Listen to music we used to listen to, think about the nights of emotional breakdowns and believing lies–remember the fallout, the angry tears, the Facebook deleting and overreacting. 

Gone.

They call me Amanda here. They don’t know any different because I never asked them to know any different. When I’m honest with myself, I know how weird it feels to be called Amanda but I know I can’t be Mandie. Not here. What no one told me about branding myself as the funny, self-deprecating, please-affirm-my-existence girl is that people hold you to it. They start spurting out half sentences like, “I know you, Mandie.” They brand you with words of their own. No one tells you it hurts. No one tells you that you won’t sprout iron nerves just because you want it. Eventually you have to close your doors. Eventually you have to stop going to the same wells of affirmation and find it in the worth you already have. It doesn’t make them bad; it doesn’t make you weak. It means things have to grow to survive.

But the good thing about a nickname–physically or metaphorically– is you can always go back to your roots. You can always go back to your original self and grow it. Never be afraid to grow yourself.

I dress in business casual these days. I stick a temp badge with a bad, non-smiling photo of me to the door and it lets me in. I keep the badge pinned to my pants–flipping the card face-down again and again throughout the day. There’s a guarded-faced security man who I already want to figure out–the guarded faces always tip me off to fascinating stories and broken hearts. We nod to each other occasionally, say hello. I like to think we’re both respecting the others’ privacy–I see you, but I won’t ask you to tell me what you’re hiding hauled-up in that heart of yours. I’ll be passing right by every morning if you ever need me.

I’m sitting in class, glass-faced–trying to absorb as much information as I can. “Sorry,” the bearded guy says to me, munching on a snack. He always talks to himself during training, always asks me if I want chips or a cookie or a piece of gum.

“For what?”

“Talking so much. I get the feeling you don’t like to talk much.”

I smile, say, “You’re fine.” For the first time, I’m not scared of being the quiet girl–I’m not scared of being mislabeled. Maybe growing up means growing into old fears and realizing they never were a thing to begin with–you can still be seen and be the quiet girl. You can be the quiet girl and still find places to call your own. And so, I sit. I do what I’ve always done in classrooms: I pick up on the annoyed looks the trainers give each other when that kid in the back won’t shut up and note the nonverbal communication buzzing all over the room and pick out the people who struggle with anxiety. Including myself, the tally is up to 4.

I’ve had two borderline panic attacks in this building–pressed up against the bathroom stall, crying my eyes out and envisioning God grasping me by my two shoulders, whispering, “Shh. Shh. Shh.

My mom says, “You have to figure out how to calm yourself down in those situations.”

And my dad pauses, says, “I don’t know the answer to that,” when I ask him the hard questions.

I hold broccoli and cheese soup addictions–bread in the bag, to-go please. And…how much is water? Free? I’ll have twelve, please.

I listen to songs I know will make me cry–when I’m in my car at lunch–because I know that’s the only time to let everything out. Because when we break for lunch, the knot in my stomach disperses for a moment and rebuilds over the hour.

Me and my anxiety–we’re pals now. I know it’s my brain’s way of trying to stay in control of all the internal/external stimuli it’s processing–we’re learning to work in the same space and get along. It tells me when something’s frightening me and I push back, make notes, take deep breaths, refuse to give in. Not here, not now. Not here, not now. It’s like emotional weight-lifting and I know I’m getting stronger: I just keep going. It’s simple, but don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy; don’t let anyone say you won’t feel the pains of getting stronger even when you’re on your couch, sipping coffee. And so I tell my anxiety stories. I talk to myself, write notes to myself, say the words I’d breathe to anyone else:

Hey babe. Your responsibility is to learn. You’re here to absorb and apply–ask questions as you go. It’s okay. You’re okay. Just sit down. That’s all you have to do in this minute.  Look right at me, hon. Right at me.

I sit at a desk. My name is placed on the wall, typed on a piece of paper like it’s been waiting for me to arrive. My office buddy is an I-something personality type and saves my butt exactly 100,000 times per hour. I tap him on the shoulder, ask where the mute button is. In the moments I most feel like an idiot, I almost blurt out, “I’m a writer and right-brained and I’m sorry!” but then I bite my tongue, fight the old ways of wanting to be known and understood.  I try to contain the drops of Stress Away when I’m just trying to breathe through the nerves, try to pace my questions and cringe when he says, “You got it, Amanda?” Because we both know I don’t. But we have a system: I get flustered and do something stupid and he raises an eyebrow and locks my computer when I forget for the tenth time.

After work I sit in her office some Wednesday evenings, settled right around the corner from the building I want to turn into a bookstore and half a mile from ghost lane. I breathe deep and let go. I explain, let my side be known in hushed corners–hushed tones, colors and hues that remind me of fall and being at ease. She tells me she doesn’t want to fix me, that I already have all I need to do everything I want to do. She takes notes while I talk, looking for themes and interjecting on occasion for clarity. I tell her about dandelions and childhood and legalism and boys who never looked twice when I just wanted them to stay. She tells me about the research that indicates how every memory is different each time we remember it–even if just a little bit–and she tells me she wants to hear how I remember things happening because that’s what I’ve been carrying emotionally.

I breathe. I unpack. I leave empowered and hopeful.

I’m still hashing out Charlie’s story. I’m writing fear in as a character, but I will not give him a face. Fear doesn’t get a face.

 
This is where I’ve been. It’s gotten easier since I first wrote this. This season I’m in is stretching me in every way possible. It’s growing me. But it’s beautiful. I’m here, beginning again and breathing slow. Always slow.

Coffee Date: What You Want.


19142196_10213791228679801_788207019_n“When we first dropped our bags on apartment floors, Took our broken hearts and put them in a drawer, Everybody here was someone else before.” -Welcome To New York

Hi, loves. Coffee dates happen every single month over at erinsalmonwrites.com and she writes so well about Jesus and life. So if we were on a coffee date. . .here’s what would happen.

I swing open the door to Starbucks and look around until I spot you. I’m in boyfriend-cut jeans, with a hole in one knee and a slight tear on the upper thigh of the other leg. They seem to mirror each other, each leg rolled up one, two times. The anklet is still there, loose around my left ankle and green-beaded. I’m probably in a black v-neck because all my other clothes are in a studio apartment in Atlanta, waiting for my return. My things are scattered across two states at the moment, torn between house-sitting for my brother and trying to be here for Father’s Day for my dad–this incessant need to run and stay. I’m like a runaway train that keeps making all its stops– stop, go, stop, go. I’ve got a type-writer in my sister’s car, poetry strewn across my mind and my car and the suitcase on the concrete floor of his apartment, cd’s loose in the car I can barely afford where I keep 1989 on repeat, a toothbrush on the edge of the porcelain sink that may or may not be here when I get back. Everything’s up in the air these days. But I’ll pack my little bag and be off again.

I’m only here for a couple of days, I tell you, play with the ends of my hair, mind sitting on the trip back to Atlanta that I’ve never driven before. My nails are black, chipped–the classic artist look. My mind is running a million miles a minute and I probably slathered on that essential oil roller, labeled with a make a wave sticker because it makes me happy. If I lean in for a hug, you can probably smell the faint aroma of orange and peppermint, dancing to wellness with me. It’s a crazy game. I barely know the plays. Some days I feel more like a pawn than a player, but I’m in it to win it.

Today I’m needing something comforting. It will probably take the form of a white chocolate mocha, Venti please. I’ll make small talk, ask how you are. How’s life? What are you working towards? How are your people? How’s your mental health doing these days? Do you need a break? Do you need a hug? How can I be present for you?

If we were on a coffee date…I’d tell you about the city that I’m exploring and how I missed the fireflies in Tennessee again. We’d talk summer bucket lists. I’m about to cross off “Go somewhere by myself” and my sister just crossed off “Messy Twister.” Do you have a bucket list this summer? What are your goals for summer? Are you going anywhere? AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WILL YOU GO SEE THOSE DARN FIREFLIES WITH ME NEXT SUMMER?

If we were on a coffee date…I’d tell you how I watched Dear John last night only to realize it was a mistake because I’ve never known what it would be like to have someone like John–whose main question was simply, “Why didn’t you call me? Why didn’t you give me a chance to change your mind?” I kind of want someone like that. What are you looking for? Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, none of this, “Hmm…brown eyes, good sense of humor,” nonsense. What do you want? I want someone who wants to be with me on a Tuesday night. I want someone who wants to tag along for my drives to see where I go, what songs I listen to on repeat. I want someone who stops mid-sentence because they realize I hadn’t finished what I was saying. I want someone who wants to read my book, who wants to know how I came up with the idea and where the characters come from. I want someone I’d marry in December, on the darkest, coldest night.

If we were on a coffee date… I’d ask you who you want to be. We always talk about what we expect of our significant others, but what do you want from you? Who do you want to be to your significant other? I want to be kind and generous and raw. I want to be good in my own skin. I want to live loved and do what I was created to do. I want to go into the mess that is this world and be a light.

If we were on a coffee date…we’d talk mental health. I’ve realized in the past few weeks that I love pouring out to other people, particularly through my words. I love words and my essential oil business, but I came to the conclusion yesterday that I was trying to pour out to other people when I was running on empty myself. Do you ever do that too? I think it’s more common than we know. Sometimes, coffee date, you just need to take a step back. If you’re in a hard season–if you’re in the wilderness–just let it be. Don’t be hard on yourself. What are you doing to keep yourself from burn out? Me? I’m doing the necessary things and not much more. I’m making the appointments and keeping in touch with the people who need me and giving myself a bit of space. I’m ranting when I need to.

If we were on a coffee date…I’d ask about your Netflix. What are you watching? I’ve rediscovered New Girl, Gilmore Girls, and just discovered The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. IT’S BOMB, guys.

If we were on a coffee date…I’d ask what you’re listening to lately. Here’s my list–NO LAUGHING. 😉

Playlist:

  1. Wonderland by Taylor Swift
  2. You Are In Love by Taylor Swift
  3. Welcome To New York by Taylor Swift
  4. Handclap by Fitz and the Tantrums
  5. Follow You Down by Gin Blossoms
  6. My Sharona by The Knack
  7. Migraine by Twenty One Pilots
  8. Kitchen Sink by Twenty One Pilots
  9. Old Time Rock N’ Roll by Bob Seger
  10. Better Man by Little Big Town
  11. The Middle by Jimmy Eat World (CLASSIC)
  12. Riptide by Vance Joy
  13. Green Light (Yes, still…) by Lorde
  14. Hungry Eyes by Eric Carmen
  15. It Ain’t Me by Kygo with Selena Gomez

If we were on a coffee date…I’d ask you what you think about the name Scherbatsky for a cat because…I kind of like it. Schmidt was named after a New Girl character and SHE NEEDS A FRIEND NAMED AFTER THE LAST NAME OF A HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER CHARACTER. It would be the cutest thing…

If we were on a coffee date…I’d ask you if you saw Katy Perry’s therapy session. IT WAS FASCINATING. And don’t you think it’s sad that everyone’s hating on her for it? I think it’s awesome that she was that real in front of the world. What do you think about the flack other people get when they choose to be real on social media? Is it brave or needy? Does it help or hinder? This is something I’ve been giving a lot of thought, especially as a writer.

All right, coffee dates. I’m off for the month to be still, write, figure out my next move, explore a city, and learn to pray. Do you need any prayer from me? What can I help with, friends?

Much  love,

Amanda or Mandie OR WHATEVER IT IS YOU CALL ME.

PS: Listed below are the questions I asked in this post. I’d love, love, L-O-V-E to hear from you either in the comments or at manderssss22@gmail.com. I’m always there.

 

1. What’s your coffee order? How’s life? What are you working towards?

2. Any bucket lists for the summer? Any plans? Any destinations? Any goals?

3. Who are you looking for?

4. Who do you want to be? What do you expect from yourself?

5. Tell me what your Netflix/Spotify playlists are.

6. Is being real and honest on social media brave or needy? Is there any compromise?

7. What do you do to maintain mental health? What do you do to keep from burning out too quickly?

8. What do you need prayer for?

 

Summer 2017 Bucket List


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I’m doing a fun thing today! Writing, for me, is such an emotional thing and I’ve always struggled with how to write about happy things because writing has always been the release of anything negative I feel. Anything positive I feel is released in moments spent with other people so I don’t have a need to write about it. AND SO I’m changing it up a bit today. For some reason, 25 seems a little daunting to me and I’m realizing all the things I’ve wanted to do but never did. I turn 25 September 28th, so I put all the things I’ve always wanted to do in a bucket list

For the next 16 weeks, I’m doing one thing that I’ve never done before or haven’t done in a really long time and then every Friday I’m going to write about it. I would love it if anyone wants to join or add suggestions! I would love it even more if you came up with your own bucket lists for the summer and tell me what they are!

  1. Get a cartilage piercing
  2. Go tubing down a river
  3. Go on a road trip by myself
  4. Go to Tennessee to see the fireflies
  5. Cliff jump
  6. Learn how to surf
  7. Learn enough pottery to make a mug because THIS IS ALL I WANT OUT OF LIFE.
  8. Read 10 books (Quiet, If You Find This Letter, Wild and Free, Uninvited, The Shack, Jane Eyre, Broken Way, Chasing Fireflies, Yes Please, Girls In White Dresses)
  9. Go to a concert
  10. Hike alone
  11. Go swing dancing
  12. Camp on a beach
  13. Fly somewhere
  14. Go fishing
  15. Fly a kite
  16. Learn how to juggle
  17. Learn how to dive

This is what depression looks like.


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(Disclaimer: I hold no counseling license or degree in psychology. This post is my story with the intent to raise awareness about depression, self-care, and getting help if you need it.)

Over the past two months, my life took a completely different turn and in the process was dumped upside down. I’m still living in the aftermath, still healing, still fighting to get better because I was almost better when I got pushed back down. And over the past two days, I’ve stared at this most-recent picture of myself again and again as it slowly hit me: this is what depression looks like. This is the face I wear before going off with friends, before slipping unnoticed into family reunions, before someone snaps a picture. This is the I’m okay face, but it’s a lie. I wear it to make people feel comfortable around me, to not be too much . To act like I’m doing just fine, but right now–I’m not. In reality, I’m terrified of the future and unmotivated and overwhelmed and lonely and hopeless and anxious about everything all at once. And you know what? It’s okay to not be okay sometimes. Unfortunately we live in a society that likes to put on a good face and not do the hard talking because…THEY CAN’T EVEN. But you know what? That’s on them. You and me, we’re the real MVP’s because we’re dealing with our baggage and fighting the battles and being the best we can be. Even if we’re not okay, but getting there.

We were eating peanut butter pie when it suddenly hit and I was left, staring at a wall and wishing I could sink into nothing. They were talking about their lives when suddenly I just didn’t want to be there anymore. I wanted to go home and bury myself in a book where I could submerse myself in a better story where I was just a few page-turns away from finding they all lived happily ever after. Suddenly I just wanted to be alone.

Loves…that’s not me. If you knew me, you’d know. That’s not who I am.

I got up, slid my chair back, and zombied (Can we please make this an official verb? Because it’s a thing.) into the bathroom, closing myself into one of the stalls. I stayed a few minutes before taking a deep breath, wiping at my tears, and finding my place again at the table.

They ask what’s wrong, press for what’s wrong, but I don’t know what to say. I didn’t want to talk about it–I don’t want to talk about it. After a long pause, I tell them it’s just too much sometimes to hear about their lives when mine is in pieces. It’s suddenly too much again and I leave again, this back and forth between almost okay and not okay at all.

I close myself completely in the stall once more. The stall door held a pinkish hue and was chipped away at, scrawled over, and it seemed to match me, line for line. I pressed my palms against the door, carefully noting via the crack in the door whether or not there was another occupant in the room. Tears slid down my face. How could it have gone so wrong? How is a girl who just wanted to be a journalist, just wanted to be loved, just wanted to write into people’s hearts–have gotten it so wrong? And what do they have that I didn’t? 24-year-old post-grads aren’t supposed to be jealous of their 21-year-old college student sisters simply because at least they’re headed in a direction. 24-year-old post-grads are supposed to at least have a job, at least have a roommate, at least have loved and lost once.

The door opens and she slips in, “Hey, you okay?”

I peek out the door, nod slowly. She gives me a hug and I cry quietly into her shoulder–she knew what happened. “You know it’s funny because we were talking about how sucky our lives are,” she eyes me, “But I know you’d rather have that.”

I nod vigorously. There aren’t words to say. I wipe more tears and tell her I’ll be right out.

What most people miss is that depression doesn’t look like crying all the time. It doesn’t look like moping around. It doesn’t look dramatic. It looks like less, to be honest with you. Less interest in old activities. Less interest in interactions with friends. Less opening up. Less emotion. It looks more like staring at blank walls than crying into them, to be perfectly honest. It looks more like apologizing, saying, “I’m kind of in a funk, sorry guys.” It looks like pushing yourself to show up when in reality you really aren’t there yet.

Here’s the thing. You have permission to to cry it out. You have permission to take time for yourself. You have permission to hurt. Struggling isn’t a dirty word–it’s just a human thing that sometimes takes all our attention, that’s all. When you’re struggling, don’t be ashamed or beat yourself up, just take everything one day at a time. Know yourself, know your triggers, know the problem, know the action steps you’re going to take to get better, and press into the healing process.

A week from today will be my two-year anniversary from graduating with my BA degree in Journalism. In four days, I’m going back to that campus to watch my little sister graduate with her associate’s and, despite my happiness for her, I know that I’m going to be flooded with memories, regret, and reminders of all the places I thought I’d be by now. But you know what? I’m going to take baby steps. I’m going to take care of myself, physically, emotionally, and mentally. If wearing makeup is too much, I won’t do it. If  questions about job-hunting from friends and family become too much, I’ll politely decline answering. If tears start to flow, I’ll have a tissue and a piece of chocolate ready.  That morning, I’ll eat well, drink my coffee, and try to squeeze in a workout. I’ll water my plants, pet my cat, write out anything I need to say, do whatever I need to do to take care of myself.

It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. And you know what else? You can still show up for important things, even if you have to take the back-burner for yourself.  If people ask questions about why you’ve changed, you don’t have to engage. I firmly believe there are times where you’re allowed to simply let yourself be, take steps back, and just worry about breathing.

I didn’t want to end this without talking about self-care, so here are a few action steps for you.

  1. Talk to a therapist. The good thing about therapy is it’s an objective individual whose sole concern is how you’re doing, what’s really going on emotionally/mentally, and working to find action steps to get better and prevent mental health issues from getting worse. While your friends and family are always there for you, they don’t always know the best way to help you.
  2. Do what your doctor says. If you’re starting to notice a shift in your mentality, go to your doctor. See what they recommend–then do it. I wish I could get down on eye level with you because this is so, so important and I want you to hear me: Mental health is one of the most underrated health issues, if not the most underrated issue, and it’s easy to believe the lie that you’re weak or not doing enough, but you’re not weak and you are doing enough. You know when you’re in pain and you know when something’s off–listen to yourself and do what your doctor says.
  3.  Take care of your body. Take your vitamins, detox your body, stay active, and eat foods that help you rather than hurt you. That jar of Nutella doesn’t do much past your taste buds, so put. it. down. Take it from someone who knows–binge-eating only makes you feel worse about yourself. There’s tons and tons of natural things to benefit your mental health. Get outside and grab some Vitamin D!
  4. Talk it out. This one is key because depression aims to isolate you and make you believe you’re alone in this. But the truth is, you’re not. You’re so, so loved and depression is a liar. So if you’re struggling with something and someone hits an emotional trigger, walk away if you need to, but don’t shut down. Tell your people what you need from them. If you’re going through a break-up, it’s okay to sit out the relationship discussions. It’s okay to sit out the girls nights if they’re just too hard. It’s okay if you need to take a step back, but talk it out and don’t leave your people hanging. If you need to take a step back, explain to them what you’re doing and why. And you know what? If they don’t understand or make it into an issue, that’s on them. Find people who love you enough to let you take time to yourself.
  5.  Find the thing. You know the thing–it’s buried down deep, under years of growing up and shoving things aside that you once used to love. It’s the Jessie doll under your bed, if you will. For me, it’s books and singing and climbing trees and imagining wild and beautiful things and laughing loud. For you it might be ballet or soccer or piano or pottery–only you know what it is and only you can bring it back to life. Dedicate 15 minutes every day to doing one thing you love to do. It doesn’t have to be big, love. It just has to sing back an old song you used to know and love.

Lastly, if you know someone who you suspect is struggling, here are a couple action steps for you. Every person needs a support system, especially if they’re struggling, and these are things that should be used in friendships anyway.

  1. Listen. Don’t interrupt, minimize what they’re struggling with, or try to make it funny. It’s as serious as they’re telling you it is and if they’re willing to talk, be willing to listen.
  2.  Check in on them. Depression is out to isolate and degrade. Don’t let it happen on your watch–send a text, a card, or invite that friend to coffee. The most important thing is to be there. You don’t have to be perfect–you just have to show up and be a friend.
  3. Encourage them to seek help. Show them that getting professional help and taking care of yourself is healthy, not showing an area of weakness.
  4. Do your homework. Being educated in mental health and self care is so incredibly important.