My Heart and My Hope are in Texas

Hope doesn’t always come in the form that you would expect; it is not hidden in the tone of a speech or written in the drafting of a bill. It’s not going to come swooping out of the sky wearing a cape and decreeing justice for all. True hope comes from simple gestures and an innate sense of compassion. It comes in moments of desperation and defeat, it comes without warning, without prompting, and without demands. It comes from us and the choices that we make. It comes in the way we see one another, the value we place on the lives of people we will never truly know. It comes in a moment of need, it comes with arms wide open and heart full.

It is no secret that we have divided, that the chasms we have created go far too deep for simple sutures to heal. It is no secret that the issues we have rumbling to the surface are ones that will take years to address with any degree of accomplishment. And yet this week it didn’t matter. This week brought the sad reminder of what gives me hope in our country. It is in the simple fact that we have spent months grinding our heels into the dirt staring at one another defiantly; and yet people are still quick to jump up out of their fight stance and help when the need arises.

This week my heart is with Texas. It is with the friends I know and the strangers I do not. It is with the pain and the devastation, and the hope that we will not relive Katrina all over again. I’ll admit that it scares me; the fact that I haven’t heard from some of my friends makes me nervous. Watching the devastation on the news breaks my heart and leaves me at a loss. Mother Nature doesn’t care about your political stance or the color of your skin. She doesn’t care about your gender, your age, or your economic stability. She strikes where she pleases and she reminds us mere mortals of what we truly are.

And yet, out of this devastation, something has risen; something profoundly beautiful in its simplicity. People are helping each other again. They aren’t fighting, they don’t care what you look like or what you believe; they are showing up and giving everything they have to give. They are giving hope.

Today I was able to watch a truck driver be rescued as the reporter tried not to cry. I watched boats manned by both professionals and laymen float through neighborhoods in search of anyone who needed help, anyone who needed out. People with the needed equipment drove hours to show up and assist those they have never met. I’ve heard stories of people who have opened their homes to those who were displaced. Some souls have taken to social media to let loved ones know that their friend or family member is safe. A man who owns a furniture and mattress store opened his doors to anyone in need of shelter, ushering people in saying he had plenty of beds and chairs. He even offered up all of the food they had available at the restaurant his business had inside. People are giving selflessly because there is need. Calls for help are being sounded, and brave souls are going out of their way to respond. News reporters who don’t generally wind up on the side being reported came forward and helped those in need while on the scene; they rescued elderly people trapped in their homes, they directed rescue crews to those they encountered who were trapped, they reminded us of what is important.

It wasn’t about the story or the ratings; it was about that moment of pure humanity and compassion. This right here- this is what we are about; this is the empathy we forget sometimes. This is the hope that will get us through.

When someone is in need, it doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from; their cry should be answered. And right now- people are responding with loud, resonating voices. They are stepping forward, they are doing everything they can with what they have. With the deepest of wounds comes a reminder for hope. Don’t forget the good, no matter how much the bad begs to be seen. Watch these unexpected heroes who simply showed up when they were needed. They are what this country is all about. They are the ones we need to emulate.

My heart is with Texas tonight; all of ours are. Tonight my wishes are simple; I hope that these people find safety, compassion, and help. I hope that we never stop answering that call. I hope we remember the wounds of our past and use them to improve our present. I hope we can remember what a brighter world looks like and how deeply important it is for each and every one of us to look out for each other. Our differences don’t matter right now. Helping one another; that is the key. I hope we never forget.

If you wish to assist, contact The Red Cross at 1-800 RED CROSS, or visit their website at redcross.org. You can also text the word HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation. There are other organizations also accepting donations to the relief effort, but please do your research prior to donating to ensure that your time/items/money will be used appropriately.

Keeping the Darkness at Bay: My Battle with Depression

If I could have changed things I would have. Don’t think that this was all something that I wanted. I could not escape the prison I had created and I was slowly suffocating. It was like pounding on a brick wall, no matter how bloody my fists got, I couldn’t just give up. But we all have our point of no return. We can only bend so far before we break, and I shattered into a million pieces. I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough, I’m so damn sorry you are paying for my mistakes now. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen.  You were always my world, and it destroys me to know I could be hurting you. But you’re tough, you’ll do just fine. I know you- you will do more than just survive; you will thrive. You were always so much stronger than I was. And one day you will look back on me as nothing more than a distant memory, far removed from whatever amazing life you have led. You’ll realize I was meant to be nothing more than a minor detour. You’ll be better on your own. I promise. But I’ll always be here, watching over you. Like a moth to a flame, I’ve never been able to resist you. So take comfort- what I couldn’t do in life, I shall do in death. I’ll be your angel now, guarding you from any harm this world may dare to bestow on you. I love you, now and forever. And I am so sorry. I’ll make sure you’ll be okay.

I wrote this when I was sixteen; this was one of the many snippets of the many letters that I started and stopped. At the time I found myself trapped in a very dark place; I was mired down in that pit for a long time- years even. Chronic depression- that’s what they would have call it- if I had ever told anyone how I felt. But I didn’t. Every day I painted on a plastic smile and went about my regular activities, I played pretend and acted like nothing was wrong. When someone would ask questions I would laugh and brush the comment away with a generic reply. No one could know about the darkness that had invaded my soul and taken up residence. No one could find out what I was inside. I was supposed to be a golden girl, anything less than perfection was not acceptable. I was not the kind of girl that stumbled, I was not the kind of girl that fell. And I sure as hell wasn’t the kind of girl to ask for help. I was stronger than that. I didn’t talk about it. Instead I wrote every feeling out and hid the pages away in a notebook.

I’ve been going back and forth on whether I should even write this post; these are deeply personal moments in my life that very few people know about. Should I really take something this sensitive and toss it out there for anyone to find? Am I really at a stage in my life where I am confident enough to own the darkness that I held? Am I brave enough to stand here and proclaim for all to hear that I used to think these things? That I was a breath away from acting on those thoughts? I am terrified; mainly because even after all this time, I am still afraid of hurting the people close to me, I am afraid of letting them see this side of me that I hid for so long. But if there’s anything that life has taught me, it’s that when you have an opportunity to help someone else, you grasp it with both hands and you don’t let go. Today is National Suicide Prevention Day. And so, it seems only right that I take today to show you a piece of my soul that rarely sees the light of day.

I wish I could say that there was one culminating moment that led me to this path; but there wasn’t. There was a multitude of different things, some large, some small; but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter. No, it’s not about what led me to the road that I travelled, it’s about what happened when I was on it. It’s about being able to recognize the signs within yourself and those around you. That kind of darkness can swallow you whole, and no one is immune. I was a ‘good girl,’ which was perhaps a part of the problem. I was not the kind of girl who was sad or angry- not on the outside.

Every day was a game of masks; I would paint on my plastic smile every morning with an expert hand, making sure I looked as bright and shiny as the world wanted me to be. I laughed, I joked, I said all the right things at exactly the right time. But it meant nothing. At the end of the day I was empty. I just wanted the pain to stop, I just wanted a reprieve. I prayed to a God I wasn’t sure I believed in to make it stop. And then one day, I got what what I asked for. It only proved that you should be careful what you wish for. The tears may have been gone, but I was numb inside. 

You see, there is something that people don’t always know about depression; there is a point beyond the pain, something that is even more terrifying that the daily anguish in your soul. You reach a point where your body and mind cannot physically process it anymore; that’s when the numbness sets in. It sounds like it would be a relief, finally an end to the pain. But it isn’t. You see, there’s something wholly unhuman about the numbness, something scary and incomplete. When you are in pain then at least you are feeling; and when you are feeling, that means you are still alive. That means there is something inside of you that is still fighting to survive. But the numbness is all-encompassing. It makes you feel like you are already dead inside. There is an eerie calm to it, one that still sets my soul on edge. I will take a river of tears over blank stares any day. If there a destructive behavior that I could try; then I did- if only to force myself to feel something, anything- that would convince me I still had something to fight for. I was a shell, I would give anything to feel again.

I mentioned earlier that I was hesitant to even post this because of the people in my life and how it would impact them. People don’t fully comprehend the conflicting emotions you feel for your loved ones when you are lost in the depths of depression. I love the people in my life with a fierce passion; if you know someone fighting this battle, know that it isn’t about you and how you love them. I knew on a fundamental level that my friends and my family loved me; and I felt an immense amount of guilt over my own self-loathing. It was never that I didn’t love them enough, it was that I didn’t love myself enough. They were collateral damage; it was about me and how I could live my life. I worried about them, but when I was lost in that maze, I genuinely believed that they would be better off without me. It didn’t matter what they said, I didn’t know how to view myself as a worthwhile human being. Your self-perception becomes skewed, you can convince yourself that the whole world would be better off without you. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love them with every fiber of your being. It just means that you don’t know how to love and protect yourself the same way. They are two distinct ideas.

I didn’t think I would live to 17, I didn’t expect that I would walk with my class in graduation or find a regular Monday through Friday job. Inside I secretly hoped for some kind of accident, that way my family could believe that I hadn’t wanted it. They could be comforted in their image of who I was, and no one would ever have to know that it was the fate I wanted at the time. Looking back now, at 27, I am amazed to see how far I have come. I couldn’t picture my life at this stage, when I tried there was just a blank void staring back at me. I thought I would be a statistic, one of those sad stories that people only thought of fleetingly during their high school reunion ‘Oh, do you remembe her? How tragic, it makes you really wonder who she’d be today.’

I don’t know what changed, much like how it started, there was no definitive ‘end.’ I didn’t have a eureka moment when I realized that I was suddenly happy. I didn’t wake up one day to birds chirping while the sun danced through my window and proudly proclaim that life was suddenly worth living. It was so gradual, I didn’t even notice. And even today I am afraid to believe it. I was lost in that world for so long, and something like that leaves a mark on the soul. I am not ashamed of my experiences, no, they are my red badge of courage. But I am always afraid that these past couple years were just a reprieve and I will slip again. I am always aware of my emotions, I am always in tune with those moments where I need to step back and take a break from my life. It was lifting your head above the water line when you thought you were drowning. It was a battle I fought every day. I had to stand up for myself, take a deep look inside and discover who I was and who I wanted to be. I had to fill that blank future with something to give me hope. I had to change.

I don’t think there is a human in existence that hasn’t felt the pull of the darkness. I don’t think there is a single soul out there that hasn’t felt the icy touch of depression on their heart. We all know what it feels like, but we don’t talk about it. Everyone’s answer to escape is different. For me, it was all about self-reflection. I wrote constantly, I bled the poison out of my system one word at a time. I found things to keep me busy, to make me proud. I discovered the art of zen living. I found something in myself worth saving, something that I had all along and never realized.

If you know of someone who you even just fleetingly suspect might be going through this; reach out. You don’t have to say anything profound or deep, you don’t have to confront them even- in fact it’s best if you don’t. Just talk to them. I remember one really bad day where I was very seriously considering giving in to a bad outcome. And then the phone rang. It was one of my friends- we hadn’t been as close, but she still called. Just to say hi, just to talk on a rainy Saturday. That was all it took to pull me back from the ledge. Just a simple ‘hello.’ I have never told her that she probably saved my life that day with just one word. This wasn’t ever a subject we discussed. Perhaps I will someday.

So please, if there is nothing else that you take from this, just pay attention to one another. Show each other kindness, because you never know what monsters someone may be facing. I was a golden girl; and while I wasn’t popular or anything like that; I was the last person you would expect to be dealing with these demons. And I dealt with them for about four years. That’s a long time to feel like you are in hell. That’s a long time to be pushing that boulder up a hill. That’s a long time to hurt silently. So smile, say hi, ask someone how they are doing and listen to the answer. If someone is sad- don’t search for the reason why, there is a good chance that even they don’t know. Just be there. Even if it’s only to watch a movie in silence. Show compassion. Take off your mask so that they can take off theirs.

There is one death by suicide in the world every 40 seconds. In the US alone there is a death by suicide every 12.3 minutes. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages. To put that into perspective, murder is ranked #17. This means that we are more likely to harm ourselves than for someone else to harm us. For 15-24 year olds (the age I was when I dealt with my darkest days), it is the 2nd leading cause of death. An estimated quarter million people every year become suicide survivors. That’s a lot of pain, that’s a lot of sadness.

We need to look out for one another, and in the process, we cannot ignore ourselves. I know that it is a lot to ask- to convince someone to ask for help, but trust me, it is worth it. I didn’t believe that I could ever be truly happy. I didn’t believe that I would live past 17. I didn’t believe in a lot of things that I have now. I was forged through fire; because of my sadness, I can appreciate my happiness now. And it wasn’t a single event that changed everything; you don’t need a miracle. Sometimes it just happens, it changes inside of you, slowly building up day by day; but you have to be open to the change. Don’t give up. I am 27, I have a good life- it isn’t perfect, but I’m happy. I have lived through some amazing experieces because I didn’t give up when everything in my soul wanted to. Life is not what I expected; but eventually, the sun does come out, no matter how long you’ve weathered the storm. Don’t give up, don’t be afraid. Most of us have felt the pain, and no one will think any less of you for trying to help yourself. I wish I had. I could have saved myself years of pain. Life is a beautiful mess, never be too afraid to live it.