Even though I moved to Athens three weeks ago, a part of my heart is still in Mason, Ohio. I spent my whole life growing up there, experiencing everything from far-too-early morning announcements, to stressing out over AP exams, to cheering on the Comets in the Black Hole on a crisp Friday night until my voice was hoarse. For the longest time, I assumed everyone was experiencing the same thing I was at Mason High School. I was very, very wrong.
When I heard a sophomore–a friend of my sister’s, even–took his own life, I felt a heaviness that I haven’t been able to shake. Depression is a real disease that is sometimes impossible to detect and it makes me so sad that he felt so alone that he thought death was his only option. It’s been said time and time again: we need to love each other and treat each other with respect. Every person should feel valued and important.
Then, just as I was coming to grips with this extremely heartbreaking news, I saw another upsetting story regarding a Mason graduate in my class. Bryson White, a football player who was known for making nasty and sexually suggestive comments to girls I knew, was recently charged in Michigan with accused robbery and and home invasion. If that’s not bad enough, his past began to be dredged up and some terrible things were discovered: four sexual assault charges, including gang raping a female with a gun to her head with two other members of the football team. This happened behind a Catholic church in the city I call home.
It makes me sick that Bryson White not only got away with raping and sexually assaulting girls in high school without consequences, but was able to play football at the collegiate level. I’m extremely angry that he continued this disrespectful and illegal pattern in college, but glad he will finally learn the lesson that it is never okay to violate a woman in any way and he can’t depend on his athletic skills to protect him. He is not a football player who made a few mistakes. He’s a rapist who happens to be good at football. There is no excuse for that sort of behavior.
So Mason, I am sorry. I am sorry to all of you who lost a classmate and a friend. I am sorry to all the women who have been violated by Bryson or anyone else, physically or verbally. I am sorry that there is so much pain in my hometown and I cannot be there to grieve with you.
I’m not saying I have the solutions, Mason. I’m just saying that I am sorry and my heart goes out to you this week and always.
(I would like to thank all the girls who did the post-it note encouragements this week to lift the spirits of Mason students. This is what love is. Keep spreading it, MHS.)
As many of you know, I’m not a sports person by any means, but like any American, I enjoy cheering on my country during the Olympics. But this year, however, I noticed a very upsetting trend in the coverage…
As a journalist, I understand that our job is to be inclusive of an entire population. I’m not asking for Olympic reporters to push any sort of feminist agenda or incorporate bias of any kind; I simply want a holistic portrait the achievements of all American athletes.
The coverage of the Olympics is not only just so apparently sexist, but is a reflection on American society and values, especially highlighted in this global competition.
A few days ago, someone made a comment to me implying I could not be both Christian and liberal.
He began to explain: overall, Republican policies align with Christian morals. Despite his rationale, I was taken aback and severely offended by the implications of my faith and political beliefs.
No, I’m not going to sit here and bash the Republican party, because I am mindful and respectful of everyone’s opinions. Instead, I want to acknowledge that there are good Christian people in all political parties. Also good Muslim people, good Jewish people, etcetera. There are good people in every religion, culture, demographic, and political party.
But more specifically, I’d like to outline why I am both a Christian and a liberal, and why that’s okay.
I believe in protecting the world God gifted us with.
If you’ve ever stepped foot outside, God’s grandeur is evident. The problem is, humans are destroying our planet. God only gave us one Earthly home and it’s wasting away from pollution, development, global warming, fracking, oil drilling…just to name a few. I do believe Jesus will return before we destroy our home forever, but it’s not about just surviving. It’s about preserving His incredible gift to humanity for not just our enjoyment, but for generations to come. I back government funded environmental agencies and laws that limit corporations and protect our world.
A friend of mine from Florida told me about how the ocean in her area is green. In the past, farmers’ pesticides and other chemicals would run down and pass through the Everglades, where the vegetation would filter out harmful chemicals and other pollutants before reaching the ocean. Unfortunately, wealthy sugar cane farmers set up shop in the Everglades and persuaded politicians to help redirect the pollution straight into the ocean so their crops would survive. As a result, algae bloom destroyed sea shores and thousands of animals (dolphins, fish, etcetera) died. Not only did the environment suffer, but so did the economy. Small towns where fishing and tourism were the main industries took a huge hit because the fish were gone and no tourists wanted to come see an ugly green ocean.
This is just one example of how industry can destroy our planet. These companies need to be held accountable for their actions and this is made possible through government agencies and legislature. God trusted us with this magnificent earth. I want us to take care of it.
For more information on environmental stewardship and God’s word, click here.
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” -Psalm 24:1
I believe in giving aid to the less fortunate.
An important part of being a Christian is giving assistance to those who need it. There are those who argue that this assistance should only be given privately or independently, but the fact of the matter is that a majority of those in poverty will never have someone reach out to them in a way that will affect them long-term. Mission trips and charitable donations are so important, but there needs to be more. Financial aid to those who are impoverished need to be dispersed by the government for basic human necessities, such as food and a decent living space. Not everyone living in poverty, unfortunately, will be touched by a charitable donation or benefit from the generosity of those on a mission trip. It’s just not possible. But, in my opinion, they can be helped by government funds.
In the book I am currently reading, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, the author mentions a proverb Haitian peasants have: “Bondye konn bay, men li pa konn separe,” literally translated to, “God gives but doesn’t share.” They are saying that God provides all we need, but it is our job to disperse the wealth and resources amongst ourselves.
God tells us repeatedly to help those in need. Since the government ensures the pursuit of happiness, surely food and other basic human rights are included in that statement.
“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” -Hebrews 13:16
I believe everyone is welcome at God’s table.
I mean more than tolerance. I’m talking acceptance of everyone. That means gay men, lesbian women, transgenders, Muslims, Atheists, everyone.
So often I hear the argument, “Gay marriage is a sin and our country shouldn’t allow that.” Well, aside from the whole separation of church and state thing, Jesus asks us, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). It is not our place to judge others and the way they live their lives, but rather it is our own responsibility to live in honor of God and keep ourselves (and our own sins) in check.
Rather than pushing away the LGBT community, we, as Christians, should be embracing them. They are children of God, just like us. We should love them and bring them to church and introduce them to Jesus and get them excited about faith; the same way we would for any of our other friends. I have several gay friends who have told me they are intimidated by the church. Friends, this is so sad! We need to not be judgmental, not be condescending, not be exclusive, but be wholeheartedly accepting of every person, no matter their background.
This does not just pertain to the LGBT community, but to those of all faiths and cultures. We need to love Muslims, love Syrians, love Palestinians, love Mexicans, love everyone.
No matter who we are, where we come from, what our sexual identity is, what color our skin is, we all share one common factor: God loves us.
“God is love.” -1 John 4:8
I believe in giving a voice to the oppressed.
So many people harbor hate in their hearts. This can be seen through unnecessary police brutality towards African-Americans, talks of prohibiting Muslims from civil-war ridden countries and dangerous situations from entering the U.S., hate crimes against gay citizens, the list goes on.
The minorities do not always have a platform to speak and advocate, and it is our responsibility to do it for them and make sure everyone gets treated not only like a human being, but as a child of God.
“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” -Psalm 9:9
I hope I was able to provide some insight to those who share the misconception that Christians cannot be liberal. Again, these are my personal opinions and while I know they might not be 100 percent shared, I know they will be respected. I feel blessed to live in a country where I can share my beliefs safely.
Excruciating sunburns, aggravating bug bites, and blistering heat may not seem the most appealing way to spend eight days, but it was my reality.
From July 11-18, I was blessed with the most incredible opportunity to go sea kayaking in the beautiful Sounds of the Outer Banks thanks to the generosity of the Cutler Scholars Program at Ohio University. In addition to a full academic scholarship, my wonderful benefactor, Ms. Joan Wood, funded my trip to North Carolina where I would participate in the most physically and mentally challenging week of my life. Despite all my challenges, it was deeply rewarding.
Throughout my journey, I kept a journal. Here are the chronicles of my adventure:
Day 1: Monday, July 11
Lots of firsts today: flying alone, layovers, sea kayaking, wet exiting a kayak, etc.
I started the morning at 2:30 (yes, a.m.) and was accompanied by my parents to the airport. Considering the last time I flew I was four, I was, of course, nervous and scared to fly alone. After my parents waved goodbye, I felt emotional and immediately petrified…But then an emotion overcame me I haven’t ever felt: excitement for the unknown. I felt giddy and light. The entire flight I just stared out the window at the sunrise, completely happy and in aweof God’s beautiful world. After airports and layovers, we got to the course and it is beautiful. We took the kayak out to a nearby shore and had to practice wet exits, which was kind of terrible and kind of fun. The instructors flip you over and you have to escape the splash skirts and the kayak underwater. We then learned proper rowing techniques and to be honest, it’s hard work. I feel like I won’t be strong enough for the expedition. I’m very excited (and nervous) for what lies ahead.
I saw three dolphins
Day 2: Tuesday, July 12
Today was hard. I got so wrecked. We bused out to Harker’s Island and learned how to pack the kayak (which is hard, by the way, and makes the kayaks extremely heavy). Then, the kayaking itself. It was very difficult for me to row. Strength is not my strong suit for sure. Then, we had to unpack the kayaks and “put them to bed” (raccoon-proof them, cover them, lift and move them on shore) then carry all of our gear and take a short hike to our campsite. That hike killed me. For some reason, it was my breaking point lugging all of that weight after such an exhausting day at sea. We set up the tent and then split off for about ten minutes to be alone with our thoughts. It felt cooler on the beach and the waves were beautiful and I started crying. My spirit felt broke. I was hot, sweaty, exhausted, and somehow sunburnt (despite the eight reapplications). The top of my hands are fried (tomorrow will not be fun paddling). I couldn’t escape my feeling of despair and cried out to God. I was sobbing. I missed my family and my home.
I pleaded for God to give me strength and courage and almost immediately I felt peace as the waves swelled. If God created such a beautiful, intricate world, surely He can take care of me. I have faith, but I don’t know how I will repeat this for another six days. On the bright side, the sat by the ocean for a long time and just marveled. SO BEAUTIFUL.
The sunset was incredible. I still feel physically and mentally exhausted, but I trust Him and thank Him for the opportunity to grow both in myself and in my faith.
Shackleford Banks (tonight’s campsite) used to be home to many, including early settlers and Native Americans. This is due to the Maritime forests, a rare ecosystem that grows because of its protection from the salt by the sand dunes. But, once a major hurricane rolled in and split Shackleford and the Core Banks, many people lost their homes and the rest picked up and left. As a result, there are wild horses that roam Shackleford Banks. I saw a mom and baby horse today. Very cute!
God’s unconditional love for me
the waves and the ocean
good group of people
physical healing of sunburn, dehydration, heat exhaustion, etc.
Day 3: Wednesday, July 13
God is GOOD. I am writing this as I sit in the sand amongst colorful and large seashells overlooking the beach. My prayers worked. Yes, today was hard and hot and challenging, but my attitude and stamina were better. I was in a tandem (a two person kayak) today, which was much better. It was nice to have someone helping with the paddling, as well as someone to have a conversation with. We went about the same distance, but it honestly felt shorter. Instead of crossing a big expanse of sea like yesterday, we wrapped around a few islands and peninsulas to end up on another part of Shackleford Banks. After we unloaded the boats, we went back out and learned some new paddle strokes. After that, I’ll admit, I started to feel tired and the feeling of hopelessness struck me again. I noticed that hits me around five while unpacking the bags and setting up camp, but our camp is closer to the beach tonight, so there’s a better breeze.
Mother Nature is really kicking my butt. First of all, a crazy thunderstorm rolled in at about two in the morning. I used to find storms soothing–that is, until I was in a flimsy tent on the beach. Secondly, THE SUN IS MY WORST ENEMY. I applied sunscreen 12 times (yes, I counted), and I’m still burnt. There are splotches all over my legs and my hands are still awful. The long-sleeve Columbia shirt did aid my arms. Tomorrow, I will break out the gloves to protect my hands.
This trip is really testing me to adapt and go way outside my comfort zone (I will definitely have a newfound appreciation for toilets and plumbing when I get home!). I know that’s a good thing, but oftentimes I feel hopeless and sad and lonely and just can’t wait to go home. But this moment right now–seated beneath the cotton candy sunset, the scent of salt striking my nose, sand pressed against my legs–this moment is perfect: something I would never give up.
One third of the way finished!
BEAUTY and MAJESTY of His world
the cool breeze
some overcast to help a little with the sun
hydration (I drank more than a gallon…much better than yesterday, which helped me feel a lot better)
enjoy the present
Day 4: Thursday, July 14
PRAISE THE LORD!!! By far, this was my best day. Now that I’m somewhat used to this, it wasn’t terrible at all. I woke up an hour early and watched the ocean. It’s mesmerizing. Then we ate and packed up the boats and set out. It wasn’t hot–thank goodness–due to the wind. I felt good. The wind, however, was a huge disadvantage. We had to cross a huge channel from the Shackleford to the Core Banks. The currents were working against us too. In addition, wind was 15 to 20 knots in the opposite direction (which is awful for kayaking, especially without any cover from land). We had to stop right before crossing and wait there for an hour with lunch because of the weather and the general attitude of the group wasn’t so good (people were feeling sick, upset, etc.). We came up with a game plan to stick close together and began to cross. We had to continuously paddle nonstop. It was tiring as we overcame extremely choppy waves. The water splashed everywhere. I was soaked. The waves shook us and it was incredibly difficult, but dare I say…FUN. It was the most fun I had on the whole trip. I felt so successful when I finished.
We are camped tonight by the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. There are trees (the first shade we’ve had in days)!!! We are camping in the woods. There are others nearby (our first human contact outside of our crew) camping and they have the most adorable chocolate lab puppy I got to play with. There was also a freshwater outside shower. It was the most refreshing feeling I have ever felt. Cold(ish) water that was salt-free! I felt brad new. We had a chance to fill up our water bladders for the group for the next few days and even use real bathrooms. There was even a pavilion we could use for eating. It was a rewarding night for a difficult day. I am joking around with the crew and laughing and finally feeling like myself. Yay!
The Outer Banks is referred to as “The Graveyard of the Atlantic”. Thousands of shipwrecks litter the area as a result of the shifting sandbars and shallow waters. The Cape Lookout Lighthouse was created to help combat the problem.
group safety during the crossing
freshwater showers (no soap, but still!)
safety in the heat
experience the present instead of rushing it
Day 5: Friday, July 15
Sand everywhere. Normally, this would drive me crazy, but not today.
This morning, I woke up with a splinter completely lodged in my foot (which I got while going to the bathroom in the middle of the night and no, there were no tweezers), an extreme rash (from walking around in wet clothes all day), and a swollen lower lip twice my size (from saltwater, sun…basically everything I’ve been exposed to all week). We were falling apart, so the instructor threw us a lifeline. We stayed by the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. We started the morning with breakfast. I made some delicious hashbrowns. We then headed to the lighthouse. Since our arms had been working out all week thanks to the paddling, it was our legs’ turn (216 steps straight up). The view was totally worth it. It was breezy and beautiful. On one side, I could see the breathtaking Atlantic and on the other, I could actually trace the path we paddled through the Sounds. I felt accomplished. After lunch under the shelter (shade!!!), we took the kayaks on the water to practice rescues and have fun. I stood up in a sea kayak in choppy waves and 10 knot winds! Very cool. I got to relax in the water and rinse off again in the showers. Our instructors decided we were getting a little too comfortable with the facilities, so it was time to head back into the wilderness. Let me tell you, trekking across an island with a heavy pack, two gallons of water, and a tent in the blistering heat is not fun, so my 5 o’clock sickness struck me again. Luckily, clouds rolled in and covered the sun and I was able to eat.
Okay, back to the sand. I’m on solo time now: a 12+ hour stretch of being completely alone and sleeping in the sand dunes (not in a tent, just under the sky). I had my little sleeping mat and sleeping bag set up and was seated by the beach in the soft, white sand. I was praying and suddenly burst into tears at completely amazement in God’s power. That’s never happened to me before. I could not believe that He created the tiniest grain of sand stuck to my skin to the magnificent ocean crashing white-capped waves on the shore. I was filled with total, awe-struck wonder. Then some bad clouds rolled in promising a terrible storm. The instructors raced down the beach telling us to go back to our tents. I was so upset. I wanted to stay there forever. I never felt closer to God than I did in that moment. I prayed for it to pass so I could just experience Him and sure enough, I’m back sitting on the beach, slathered in sand and happy about it.
I’m glad to be in this moment. He gifted me this incredible opportunity. Instead of thinking to the end of it–praying for showers, cold water, etc.–I should be happy in this moment. To be alone and not lonely is a wonderful feeling.
(Okay, random side note: I just moved up to my sleeping bag and found a ghost crab–a small, white crab that roams Carolian beaches at night–on my mat.)
Tomorrow will be hard. A 10 mile expedition, according to the navigators: our longest yet. But I’m not worried. God said it best: “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34).
I’ve struggled with anxiety and worrying constantly about what lies ahead and I know God is using this trip to teach me that He will take care of me and I am stronger than I think.
Day 6: Saturday, July 16
Today was extremely eventful. Here’s why:
Sleeping outside may seem like a good idea, that is, until the bugs decide to make an appearance.
Despite the bug net I wrapped myself in, I have, no exaggeration, at least 500 bug bites. When I get bit, not only does my skin turn bright red, but it swells immensely. Some have even combined into one giant, softball sized lump. Yay!
A thunderstorm rolled in at about 3 a.m. I sat straight up on my lightning mat wrapped in a rain tarp, praying not to be electrocuted.
I got to see a beautiful sunrise with lightning strikes behind the clouds.
Someone was sent home. The instructors believed he was posing a danger to us by being negative and disrespectful. He took a ferry off the island.
Another crew member got sick and had to go back to base camp.
With two people down, our group felt a little discouraged. The clouds began rolling in and the winds were bad.
The storm passed, luckily, and we began our longest trek.
Conveniently, my rudder was broken, so steering was a pain.
We finally stuck together as a group. Smooth sailing!
We boated through marsh today instead of beach. Nice change of scenery, but it was very muddy.
Since we docked the boats, we didn’t have to lift and move them. Yay!
Tomorrow is final expedition. We plan our route to base camp and execute it with no instructor help.
One more day!
good weather for the four mile channel crossing
Day 7: Sunday, July 17
Today was perfect.
4:30 a.m. wake up, which was hard, especially with the no-see-ums (or as we coined them: the tiny bugs from Hell). They were everywhere and they swarmed us. I was going crazy. I am covered in so many red bumps. We were efficient in getting the boats packed and quickly eating breakfast. We were on the water by 6:15.
We got to see the sunrise on the water. Since it was so early, the water was so still and reflected the rising sun like a mirror. That meant easy paddling. The channel crossing wasn’t difficult at all. We finished at 8, which was super impressive for my team. The instructors said it usually takes a crew until about 2-4 p.m. to finish on final expedition. This meant we had plenty of time to enjoy the day. After we cleaned the gear for a few hours, we got to take a SHOWER!!!!!! I never knew a tent, a hose, and some soap could make me so happy. I felt clean and content. It was an amazing feeling. I even broke out a fresh outfit!
Since there was plenty of time, they drove us from Marshallsberg to Beaufort. We visited a nice little museum all about the Outer Banks. I liked seeing the route we travelled on the map and being able to learn more about the environment. There was a film about Blackbeard, whose ship was wrecked in the Outer Banks. Interesting history. We walked alongside a marina to a small post-office-turned-visitor-center. It honestly felt weird to be a part of civilization again. And the air conditioning was cold! I had gotten used to the heat (which, by the found, I found out this was the hottest week of the summer with a heat index of over 100 degrees every day…) Then our instructors bought us all ice cream, our first cold food in a week and it tasted so good.
Back at base camp, we had it made. They set up lawn chairs (a luxury so we didn’t have to sit on the ground), and made us a dinner as a celebration. We spent the night laughing and talking and having a great time. We ended the night by driving out to a beachside patch of grass and circled up for our final evening meeting. We discussed how meaningful the trip was. We hen presented each other with our course completion awards. Finally, we picked up an Outward Bound pin and picked a moment that we’ll carry with us forever. It was touching.
I am sitting in my tent contemplating the trip. I will miss these people. I will miss the ocean. I will miss this experience.
Thank you, God for this.
Day 8: Monday, July 18
Final morning waking up in a hot, buggy tent in North Carolina. We ate breakfast and did some paperwork. After that, one of our instructors did a reading of an essay about what we’ll take home with us. We hugged the instructors goodbye and loaded the van.
Turning on my phone felt weird. I was suddenly connected again. I loved being able to call and text my parents, but there are some sad aspects of being back on the grid. I saw news reports of a major terrorist attack in France, political turmoil in Turkey, etc. It’s odd you can be gone and it feels like the world is different from your perspective but it’s the same and nothing’s changed. Well, that’s not true. I’ve changed.
I’ve been sitting in the small New Bern airport for about 6 hours now. I’m an hour away from my flight. The rest of my group filtered out. We mustered our final goodbyes and headed our separate ways forever. We all have a shared experience though.
No, I can’t take home the boats or the ocean or the beach. It may seem I’m arriving back in Cincinnati with only sunburns, bug bites, and an Outward Bound pin to show for my experience, but in reality, I’m bringing back so much more. I am taking with me some less tangible things: confidence in myself, compassion for other, mental resilience, teamwork, and so much more.
Thank you, God (and Ohio University!) for this life-changing experience.
Click on an image below to enlarge and view in slideshow mode.
Last year, I wrote an article in the school newspaper about police perception in light of a horrific event (the most timely at that point: Baltimore and Freddie Gray). When interviewing a Officer Andrew Herrlinger of the Mason PD, one quote stood out to me: “Are there bad apples? Absolutely…We’re just people…This career field is no different than any other field.”
And here we are, one year later, dealing with scarily similar events. Two innocent citizens murdered within a day of each other at the hands of the policemen because of the color of their skin. Now, I’m not going to post a long-winded explanation of why we should respect the police despite all this and not let the few “bad apples” be indicative of the entire force because frankly, I shouldn’t have to. Every law-abiding citizen should have no reason to fear the police; most of them are here to help us.
I respect law enforcement and of course we can not judge the entire police force based on the actions of a few. But, if that is going to be your argument, you must acknowledge there are bad seeds in any group of people that do not represent the entire demographic. That goes for Muslims (whose entire religion is often condemned because of terrorists–who aren’t even any kind of representation of Islam, but that’s a different discussion), Christians, Atheists, Democrats, Republicans, white people, black people, etc. You can’t use the argument that police officers are mostly good, minus the few bad ones, and not also give other groups more credit than the terrible things you’re seeing on the news.
Unfortunately, there will always be certain people with the inclination to do evil. The best we can do as emphatic citizens is not attack each other out of anger and fear.
On my most recent trip to the Smoky Mountains, I was enjoying a hot day of leisure splashing around in a refreshingly cold river when I decided it was time for an adventure. Now, I’m not a big thrill-seeker or much of a risk-taker in general, but after watching a group of reckless teenagers repeatedly tumble over a waterfall injury-free, I was ready to do something a little crazy. I wasn’t by any means prepared to topple over a drop off like that, but I was planning to take a ride through the rapids at the bottom of the waterfall. Cautiously sliding off a mossy rock, I was whisked away by the churning water. I swam back to my starting point, laughing as my brother followed my lead. My confidence and sense of bravery soared as I decided to take the plunge again.
The second time was torturous. I got swept away, unprepared and afraid as my head was thrashing around the depths of the river. I opened my eyes in a panic, attempting to find my way to the surface, but instead I only saw a terrifying kaleidoscope of blue hues and bubbles. The rapids consumed me as I lost control of my body and had an overwhelming sense that this would never end.
“This is how I’m going to die,” I thought.
My head popped back up after what felt like ages only to be greeted by my concerned looking brother and my sister with her hand clamped over her mouth. Relief flooded over me as I hurriedly swam back to the big rock where my siblings were standing as they repeatedly asked me if I was okay. Their words became a hodgepodge of “I couldn’t see your head for a long time” and “I was so afraid” and “Don’t do that again”. My parents, seated from afar called out to me with looks of terror plastered on their faces, unable to comprehend what had just happened. Trying to fight back tears of shock and utter dread, I assured them that I was fine, though my entire body was shaking and I felt completely out of control.
That’s what anxiety feels like.
I was diagnosed last summer with obsessive compulsive disorder, severe anxiety, and depression. The words sound foreign on my tongue, so fresh and so terrifying as I rarely speak them aloud, but make perfect sense, like a discovery of myself that I have struggled so long to try to comprehend. The past two years of my life has been riddled with unexplained and volatile panic attacks and a generalized feeling of anxiety at all times, no matter what I’m doing. I knew that something wasn’t right when I would sit in my bedroom late at night shaking and crying uncontrollably over things that I shouldn’t be so worried about. I knew that there was something extremely wrong when I couldn’t drag myself out of bed, feeling so hopeless and empty on the inside. I knew I had problems when I’d restlessly lie beneath the sheets at night for hours on end, anxious thoughts provoking me with every attempt I made to get some rest.
My therapist believes this began when my mother passed away; I suffered from post traumatic stress as a three-year-old. That extreme event carried over into habitual anxious behaviors that strengthened over time, which ultimately lead to my lifelong OCD and issues sleeping. I fixate on perfection with my every action, no matter how small. This past year brought all sorts of social and academic pressure to me and for the first time in my life, I couldn’t handle it. I cracked. My chemical balance changed; I was in a constant state of heightened nerves and mental stress, sporadically spurring on panic attacks, and I felt a sort of sadness, emptiness, and loneliness I’d never experienced before.
Most people would be surprised to hear that I am depressed. Oftentimes, I am complimented on my cheery personality and optimistic view on life. This is why I’m writing this article: to change the stigmas associated with mental disorders.
It took me a long time to write this. Shaky fingers drafted this over and over, unsure of what to say or how to say it. What will people think? Will they think I’m weird or unstable? What am I even trying to accomplish? It wasn’t until I stumbled upon the series Going Off by New York Times writer Diana Spechler that I realized that this was bigger than me. I can use my writing to not only release myself, but bring forth an important, yet touchy subject that is slowly coming to the forefront of current social issues.
The problem becomes that when you hide it, the situation worsens. I know this all too well. When I began to have panic attacks early last year, I kept them hidden from my parents for quite some time. Of course, having the burden of a secret that large only increased my anxious feelings and ultimately ostracized me even further, creating the illusion that I truly was on my own.
I’m here to address those so crippled by what society thinks that they’re too afraid to get the release and closure they need. You are not alone. I am still fooled by those notion every now and then, but I promise it’s not true. If just my saying it isn’t enough to sell you, look at simple statistics. 40 million adults in the United States are affected by an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Also, according to ADAA, “Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder”.
My mind is flustered by the idea that 18 percent of the U.S. population is suffering from such a severe disorder, yet it’s still such an ill-addressed topic. The solution seems simple: get people talking. It’s such a taboo; we know it’s there and we know it’s getting worse but we don’t want to feel uncomfortable so we just won’t talk about it.
One of the inaccurate stigmas behind mental disorders is that if you simply try hard enough, you can make yourself happy. Let me be the first to inform these confused individuals: it doesn’t work that way. I can’t even keep track of how many nights I’ve tried to force a smile upon my face and think about how grand life is. The reality is, the brain is very complex and delicate, leaving plenty of room for the errors of chemical and hormonal imbalances. Serotonin re-uptake can occur too much and too often at an unhealthy level, depleting people with depression of their happiness. The New York Times reported in 2013 that one in 10 Americans are currently taking anti-depressant medication.
As someone who takes anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication in an attempt to calm my nerves and balance my hormones, as someone who attends doctors appointments routinely, as someone who sits on an over-sized leather couch as a psychologist analyzes me regularly, let me tell you that despite my lengthy analysis of mental illness, it can be summed up in two harsh, blatantly honest words: it sucks.
I wish I could say that in the end, everything will be perfect and this is just a bump in the road, but I know firsthand that it feels like more than a bump. It feels like a roadblock. Having anxiety and depression is like standing on the edge of a jagged crevasse, gazing over at what life could be like, but instead you’re trapped for what seems like forever. I’m not going to be one of the people who will tell you to just “get over it and move on”.
My personal account isn’t about the triumph or the resilience of the human spirit. Actually, it’s quite the contrary. I’m trying to say that it’s okay not be perfect. It’s okay to be human. It’s okay to be broken. It’s okay to feel emotions and cry and not smile every second of your life. I want to start a conversation about how people battling a mental disorder are not damaged goods and we shouldn’t have to be ashamed of who we are.
I am exposing my deepest, darkest secret, describing the inner-workings of my brain, and sharing this to spark conversations about the taboos of mental illnesses in today’s society. We need to start changing the way people view psychological disorders in order to move forward and help those suffering.
If you’re feeling caught in the rapids the way I do, remember that you’re not alone. Everyone is battling something. No matter who you are, there is someone that cares about you beyond belief. See 1 Peter 5:7 for details.
“The pain that you’ve been feeling, can’t compare to the joy that’s coming.” ~Romans 8:18