Saturday, October 10, 2015

Purpose - Finding a reason to live.

Remember that post, the one from forever ago about moving on? Well, here's your third installment. I do apologize for the long delay between postings. I'm currently trying to finish my doctoral degree, teach full time, obtain teacher certification through a transition to teaching program, start up a new business, and hang out with you all on the blog - all at the same time! It makes today's post on finding your purpose extremely timely.

Finding purpose is arguably the most important component of the healing journey. Particularly for those of us who have struggled with depression, suicide, and anxiety, purpose can be the thing that keeps us going when those rough days roll back around. And they will roll back around.

But how do you find purpose?
Purpose needs to be something that will get you out of bed in the morning. Something that will help you see the light at the end of the tunnel. Something to remind yourself of on those hard days, when nothing seems right.

As you begin to contemplate your purpose, let me offer a few cautions:
1. Your purpose is not a person. In this broken world, people leave, people die, people hurt us, in short, people are imperfect and they will not be consistent enough to serve as your purpose.
2. Your purpose is not a job. Now, hear me on this - there is a difference between a job and a calling. Your purpose is not to obtain that promotion or to get any job that makes enough money. Your purpose could then be fulfilled at some point and you would have no reason to continue.
3. Your purpose is not material. The next iPhone, bigger TV, or fastest car is not your purpose. Again, once you obtain the material thing, then what?

Your purpose must be more. It must be positive. It must drive you. Consider what you get excited about, what lights a fire in you? I discovered my purpose when I began to realize that I got excited, angry, and upset the most quickly when discussing how people were treating other people. Therefore, my purpose is to help others and to facilitate treating others well, to make the world a nicer, friendlier place.

But what happens on those days when your purpose isn't working out? For me, it's the days when I see my students relentlessly picking on one another. That's where the reason behind your purpose has to come into play. For me, that reason is my faith. After all, the most important command for Christians is "Love your neighbor as yourself." More than that, though, I remind myself that not everything is awful, and that God has promised good to me (and to you!).

What's your purpose? Comment below or shoot me a message. I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Counseling - Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How

Welcome back, y'all! (Okay, so I know it's me who's been gone. Sorry!) The school year has started up again, and so I've neglected the blog for a bit. But I'm back!

Last time, we talked about moving on. If you missed it, just click here! There's even a fun video.

Today, we address the first thing on the list for moving on: counseling.

I know it can be tempting to think that talking to your trusted friends is good enough. And for some of you, that may be true. However, please consider the following before deciding to rely solely on friends for counseling.

  • Confessing your deepest darkest secrets to your friends might feel good for you, but it can take a toll on them, too. Especially things that were scary or painful for you. Sometimes, those things are even more painful for them, because they don't know how to help.
  • Some things, especially trauma, require someone with training. These are complex issues and, tempting as it may be to try to untangle them on your own or with friends, most trauma really does require expert help.

Once you've decided that you need someone more than your friends, who do you go to? To be honest, I lucked out and found my counselor by simply Googling for counselors in my city. Do be sure to read reviews, though. While not completely reliable, too many bad reviews of a particular counselor could be a red flag. If faith is important to you, simply add the name of your faith to the search. Also, check with your insurance company to make sure the counselor is covered.

When you call to schedule your appointment, you can request a specific counselor, let the receptionist know which gender of counselor you prefer, or just ask to try whichever counselor has the first opening. You can always change counselors, so look at the first appointment as a trial run.

So you've found a counselor to try and called to set up the appointment. Now what?

Waiting and trying to imagine what the appointment will be like can be anxiety-inducing. But relax. Honestly, I went into my first appointment with a million and one things I thought I wanted to tell the counselor or that I thought he would ask of me. I probably caused myself more worry thinking about it than necessary.

In reality, the first appointment will usually consist of the counselor asking you to tell him/her about yourself and why you decided to enter counseling. After that, the route of the counseling will vary based on your needs, your counselor's preferences, and the purpose of the counseling. Mine often consisted of anxiety techniques, trauma debriefing, self-defense strategies, and just talking about life and what was going on. It was not overwhelming or intimidating, and I always felt better when I left.

Putting off counseling out of fear is easy to do. I tried counseling once, with devastating results (I cannot emphasize switching counselors until you find one that is right for you), and then put off counseling again until I attempted suicide and my friend forced me to attend counseling.

If you are reading this and considering counseling, the answer is now. You are considering it for a reason. You owe yourself the chance.

In small towns, counseling can be a little scary. What if you run into someone you know? What if your friend sees your car there? I solved this problem by simply parking in the back, but also, don't be afraid to explore nearby towns, just don't find a counselor so far away that you'll be tempted to skip appointments.

I've had friends tell me that they had considered counseling, but didn't feel that they had a good enough reason. The truth is, if you're considering counseling, you probably need it. Counseling is helpful for a variety of issues, from feeling overwhelmingly stressed out by school to considering suicide. If you're thinking about it, you owe yourself a trial run.

But how do you pay for counseling? After all, it can get expensive. I can't say that I have all of the answers, but here are the ways I managed to make it affordable on a grad student budget.

  • Insurance - Grad student insurance sucked, but it did still cut down the cost some. I paid about $25-30 per visit.
  • Student Counseling - My university offered free counseling. I did not stay there because I saw an overtaxed system and knew I could afford to pay for counseling to free up space for students who could not. Check your university; if you are faculty/staff/student, they likely offer some sort of free or cheap counseling.
  • Counselors in Training - My last, and best, counselor was completing his clinical hours toward his master's degree. He was not covered by insurance until he completed those hours, and so the clinic he worked with only charged a total of $30 per hour. It's a long shot, but when calling counseling centers, you can always ask if they have anyone in a similar situation. 

The bottom line is this: If you are considering counseling, try it. Even if it is a little pricey, it could quite literally save your life. You can't put a price tag on that.

Stay healthy, friends, and feel free to sound off in the comments if you have any tips or tricks for finding and affording the right counselor!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

How Do I Move On?

At some point, you'll look up from the aftermath of your abuse, self-injury, suicide attempt, or whatever your difficult life circumstance is and wonder: Where do I go from here? How do I move on? How do I get better?

First, know that these are important questions to ask, and a sure sign of healing. You don't start to ask these questions until you feel that you are out of immediate danger. You, my friend, have successfully transitioned from survival to healing. Take a moment to celebrate that! (I am not responsible for any injuries sustained by trying to match these slick dance moves.)

Feels good, right?! Now, let's get down to business. You're ready to move on, but where, exactly, do you move to? Here are my top four suggestions, which I'll expand on in my next few posts. Stay tuned!
  1. Counseling - Professional is best, but other trusted advisors will do in a pinch. More on locating the right counselor (and affording counseling) soon.
  2. Purpose - Find a reason to live, something that drives you and inspires you. Again, ideas coming if you lack a place to start. 
  3. Community - As someone with social anxiety, I understand that this can be difficult, but the fact of the matter is: people need people. Find a loving, accepting, healthy community to plug into.
  4. Grace - Offer grace to yourself, first and foremost, but also to others. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Go. Live.

I just got home from my first ever graduation as a high school teacher. I hope that letting them go gets easier, but I have a sneaking suspicion it won't. My students quickly become my kids, so goodbye will always be hard.

This year's seniors put together a video of their photos and memories as a class. Part of the music was One Republic's "I Swear I Lived." I'd been hearing snippets of the song as they worked on the video, but as I listened today, I realized it was one of the most inspiring songs I've ever heard. This song encompasses everything I wish for these seniors: strength, love, pain with purpose, healing, living life to the fullest every single day.

More than just my seniors, I want these things for myself and everyone I know and love (including you). At the end of my life, I want to be able to say, "I did it all. I owned every second that this world could give. I saw so many places, the things that I did. With every broken bone, I swear I lived." I want to do what their graduation speaker advised: "Once you find what you're passionate about, do such a good job at it that people know you're passionate about it."

I want to live. 

Those of you who have been following me for awhile will know that those four words are the most important, most revolutionary words I've ever said, and I would not have said them two years ago. So thank you, seniors, students, colleagues, friends, family, and boyfriend, for helping me to start over and for teaching me not only how to live, but that living is a worthwhile pursuit.

Now, seniors: Go. Live.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

On Difficult Conversations

Anxiety has a funny way of making every conversation difficult. While many of my friends, family, and colleagues can easily pick up the phone to order pizza or call to tell their parents that they've met someone, I struggle to even send a Facebook message. Then, when I've put off that conversation for too long, I worry that the person I need to talk to will be angry that I've put it off, so I put it off again in hopes of avoiding the confrontation. (See the vicious cycle?)

I'd be lying if I said I've learned how to break the vicious cycle completely. There are still things I haven't told my parents that I really want/need to. But I have found some baby steps that help. For one, I call my parents more often now. I vent about work. I ask for their help and advice. I'm making clear attempts to open up lines of communication. I even mention my depression and anxiety when it's relevant to a story. To be honest, I'm hoping that this will eventually prompt them to ask me questions about my life so that I don't have to just say it on my own.... but even if they don't, it will hopefully feel less awkward when I finally open up.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


When I first got divorced, my farm girl instincts kicked in. I wanted to be home. I grew up tied to the land and, in times of stress, I want to go back to the land I remember so fondly. (Un)fortunately, I couldn't go home after the divorce. I found a job at a tiny rural school, though, and decided that would have to be close enough for now. Still, I had my sights set on returning home, eventually.  As I close in on the one year anniversary of accepting this job at a school that (at the time) seemed so far from home, I've come to realize a lot about the meaning of the word "home."

The other day, someone I care about very deeply challenged me to open myself up to possibilities - including the possibility of someday moving even farther from home. My first reaction was an immediate, harsh, resounding "NO!" Within the next few days, I was feeling homesick and decided to plant my garden. As I was digging my hands into the dark clay, it occurred to me that I have made my home in multiple places. Why, then, am I so set on living as close to my original home as possible? As I worked the soil at my new(ish) home, I realized that I could be at home anywhere, so long as I was able to live in a place with some space and get my hands dirty.

See, home is not a place. As much as it pains my farm girl heart to say so, home has no connection to land. Home is not even another person, as I've seen so many young romantics post lately. Home is where you are, because if you are happy, if you are content with yourself and can appreciate the good things in any location, then you are home. And I am very happy to say that, finally, I am home.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

5 Keys to Healing: Two Years Later

It's hard to believe that it's been two years since I chose life. (Click here if you want to read the story of that day.) Over the past two years, I've learned, grown, hurt, been to therapy, gotten a divorce, taken a new job, made new friends....long story short, it's been a busy two years. I've made many mistakes, but that's how people learn. Now, in the hopes of helping you to skip at least some of the painful learning, here are the most important things I've learned over two year journey to health and happiness.

1. You need to be a little selfish. I'm not advocating self-centeredness as a lifestyle, but you need to carve out time for yourself. That could mean making time to work out, or paint, or write, or whatever hobby you're into. You might also need to let yourself make that education- or work-related decision that's best for you, no matter what others might think. You have to be selfish sometimes to maintain your mental, physical, and spiritual health.

2. Decide for yourself what the little things are and then refuse to allow them to stress you out. As someone with anxiety, this was the most difficult task and took me the longest. I had to decide that what people thought of me, how my hair looked, and whether or not I was in a relationship just didn't matter. I was enough as I was, on my own.

3. Get moving! Although I was reluctant to admit it, my physical health directly impacted my mental and spiritual health. I am much healthier in all aspects when I am running regularly. Not only is my body functioning better, which improves mental health, but I have that alone time to think, work through things, pray, etc. 

4. Make a list (but don't overwhelm yourself). I find that listing everything I need to do is helpful in keeping me functioning, even on my most depressed days. However, if something doesn't need to be done immediately, I either put it way far down on the list or leave it off for the moment. This way, I can easily see what needs done and keep moving. This also allows me to easily switch tasks when I get bored or just need a shift. Bonus tip: If you're unmotivated and can't get moving, pick something that you think you can do in one minute or less and do it. After all, an object in motion stays in motion!

5. Be honest. Clearly, this is a good rule regardless, but specifically, be honest with a few key people who are around you every day about what you are going through. This will allow them to step in when someone else says or does something that could be triggering or just plain unhelpful. For instance, I work with middle school and high school students. The boys, especially, like to sneak up behind you and scare you. For various reasons, this can (and often does) send me into a panic attack. By telling a few key people about my healing process, I ensure that someone can take over and reassure the students if I do have a panic attack due to a (typically) harmless prank. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Roaring Like a Lion

Recently, I've been fighting to get myself healthier - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I'll write more about this process later, as I know it's a common goal, particularly for those of us who struggle with mental illness. For now, a little on the struggle for spiritual health.

As often happens to us when we're busy, mildly depressed, and just not feeling connected, I drifted away from church. Now, don't misunderstand me. Going to church makes you spiritually healthy about as well as standing in the produce section makes you physically healthy. You can't just attend, you have to do something. So, while I'm in church, I write. I absorb what's being said around me, but I don't actually process it in a useful way unless I write. I knew a guy once who doodled all through the sermon, but by the end actually knew what had been said. You find your own way, but realize that you must do something with what you hear there. (Even if you disagree.)

So, I went back to church. Below are some notes I wrote up after church recently. I thought these were interesting, so I decided to share with you.

"My God's not dead, He's surely alive. He's livin' on the inside, roarin' like a lion." From "God's Not Dead" by The Newsboys

If you haven't heard the song I took that quote from, click play. Seriously worth your time.

When I heard God compared to a lion, as I have my whole life, I guess I assumed it was because he was King and ferocious and such. Then, for some reason, the speaker's mention of The Newsboys' song made me wonder - why does a lion roar? Turns out, lions don't generally roar in anger or to intimidate, though I'm sure it's happened. Rather, lions roar to proclaim their territory and to gather straying members of the pride back to them. So, when my God is a lion, he is not only an able fighter, but also a territorial, compassionate leader. Although Satan rules the earth now, one day, God will roar, and the sound will reach the whole earth. Satan will hear and know that God is claiming his territory. All of the inhabitants of the earth will hear and believe in Him. We will gather 'round our father, the lion of Judah, God Almighty. Until then, let Him roar in me.

To be frank, the above writing had nothing to do with the speaker's message that day. But it was a rabbit trail off of something he said, and an important one for me. As someone seeking to regain spiritual health, I needed to hear that God will roar, God will claim his territory (you and I included), and so my efforts to regain spiritual health are not in vain.

I hope that some of you needed to hear this as well. I apologize for taking so long, dear followers, but I promise to make a concerted effort to be around more consistently!