Mental Illnesses Aren't Adjectives: Schizophrenia

Hi! If you’re new here, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health This post is part of a series called “Mental Illnesses Aren’t Adjectives,” so if you haven’t read my introductory post, click here to do so. The first installment, which talks about OCD, can be read here. The second installment on bipolar disorder can be found here. If you have already read those posts, let’s jump right into it!

“What a Schizo!”

This Expression vs. What Schizophrenia Really Is

Schizophrenia is a more severe mental disorder than some of the others I’ve discussed. There are three types of schizophrenia symptoms: positive, cognitive, and negative. The use of the word “positive” is a bit misleading at first. “Positive” means that a person has a psychotic behavior that isn’t usually seen in those without the disorder. As a side note, I’d like to take a moment to define what psychosis is, because I feel like this word has a lot of stigma attached to it as well. The National Institute of Mental Health defines psychosis as “… conditions that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality.” Some of these positive symptoms are hallucinations and delusions.

Negative symptoms are the type of symptoms described for most conditions. Some of these symptoms are struggling to enjoy everyday activities and not showing emotions through facial expressions or tone. Cognitive symptoms include difficulty making decisions or paying attention.

Schizophrenia is a heavily stigmatized condition. There are many misconceptions about the illness, but one very common and very damaging ones is that people with schizophrenia are dangerous. According to Harvard Health, a 2006 study revealed that a whopping 60% of people believed this myth. Data from 1973 through 2006 showed that 5.1% of the general population was convicted of a violent crime while 8.5% of those with schizophrenia were. However, it’s also very important tot remember that those with a severe mental illness are actually ten times more likely to be the victims of a violent crime than commit one themselves.

Now, you might still be looking at the slight increase in crime likelihood and wondering why that is and wonder why that is the case. Those with schizophrenia are often able to live fulfilling and majorly “normal” lives with treatment. However, there can be significant barriers to treatment. One of the positive symptoms is that many people become convinced that their medication is actually poison instead of treatment. It is important to remember that this is an absolute truth to the person; it doesn’t seem like a delusion at all. So, some people struggle to stay on their medications. This can be very dangerous for themselves, and in some cases, those around them. As well, finding access to mental health care can be difficult. Many people don’t have the resources, time, or money.

The idea that people are acting “schizo” reinforces that those with schizophrenia are crazy, deranged, or out of touch with reality. It goes back to the idea that many people view those with schizophrenia as their symptoms instead of a person with symptoms, and it forgets the idea that living a fulfilling life is possible!

What to Say Instead

Calling someone “schizo” or “crazy” is a pretty judgmental observation, so I would suggest people try to be aware of that and stay away from that language altogether. Maybe you feel like your friend is acting irrational by latching on to one thing you said in a conversation. You might feel like your coworker lets their emotions take over too often. Whatever the issue, using direct and precise language is the best way to share your concerns with others. Even if you’re just venting to a friend, telling them what is going on will help them sympathize much more than just using vague and inaccurate terms to describe someone. It’s a win-win for you and the fight against stigma!

Want to Learn More?

I recommend going here to learn more about schizophrenia.

Mental Illnesses Aren't Adjectives: Bipolar Disorder

Hi! If you’re new here, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health This post is part of a series called “Mental Illnesses Aren’t Adjectives,” so if you haven’t read my introductory post, click here to do so. The first installment, which talks about OCD, can be read here. If you have already read those posts, let’s jump right into it!

“You’re being so bipolar.”

“This weather is seriously bipolar.”

These Expressions vs. What Bipolar Disorder Really Is

Bipolar disorder causes people to go through periods of mania and periods of depression. Mania is a state where the person is very hyper. This might sound appealing at first glance, but it isn’t a normal upbeat mood. When someone is in mania, they tend to get more reckless, make impulse decisions, and take risks they usually wouldn’t. This could range from making small impulse decisions, like buying a new necklace at the store that you don’t need, or something that can truly derail someone’s life, like quitting your job. Whereas someone would usually recognize the danger in their actions, mania takes that ability to make rational decisions away.

Depression has many symptoms. Hopelessness and sadness are well-known symptoms. Many people also experience difficulty concentrating, severe fatigue, poor or increased appetite, and insomnia.

There are four types of bipolar disorder. The difference in the types has to do with variables like how long someone is typically in mania vs. depression, how fast they cycle through these states, and how severe their mania gets. Many people who experience short or less severe instances of mania are actually misdiagnosed as just having depression. This can be devastating. While bipolar disorder can be really well managed with proper treatment, the medications for bipolar disorder and depression are very different, so taking an antidepressant will often not help symptoms.

When people use the word “bipolar” to describe the way they quickly change their mind, unpredictable weather patterns, or a sudden change in a person’s attitude, this diminishes the actual meaning of the disorder. Now, you might be thinking that this issue isn’t as clear cut as the misuse of OCD. The latter phrase is directly using the full illness’ name. “Bipolar” is technically a word on its own. But when you hear others use the world bipolar, or use it yourself, are you thinking of the actual dictionary definition? Most people aren’t.

Mania is already very misunderstood by the general population. People think of someone who is completely out of control, or someone who is simply extra happy. Many people don’t realize that bipolar disorder consists of high highs and low lows. It is a grave injustice to reduce the gravity of this disorder to trivial matters like quickly changing weather.

What to Say Instead

There are many non-stigmatizing phrases that can replace the ones mentioned above. If you’re changing your mind a lot, simply say so. If the weather is going haywire, try saying things like, “This weather is so unpredictable!” If you live in Tennessee like I do, where the weather never stays the same for long, there are probably a million terms directly related to the state that you can use. “That’s Tennessee weather for you,” is one that I use weekly!

Want to Learn More?

If you are interested in the symptoms and treatment of this disorder, want to learn more about mania vs. depression, or are curious about the different types of bipolar disorder, I recommend this Nami article.

Mental Illnesses Aren't Adjectives: OCD

Hi! If you’re new here, thank you for taking an interest in mental health. Taking time out of your day to learn more about mental health and help beat the stigma surrounding it is amazing. This post is part of a series called “Mental Illnesses Aren’t Adjectives,” so if you haven’t read my introductory post, click here to do so. If you have read that post, let’s jump right into it!

“I’m so OCD.”

This Expression vs. What OCD Really Is

I started with this phrase because I hear it so often. People commonly say that they have OCD when they enjoy cleaning, like the whiteboard to not have any Expo marker residue on it, or like to have neat handwriting. This is not OCD. OCD is a complicated disorder with many different symptoms. Some people do have obsessions with cleanliness, but there are also many different things someone with OCD can be concerned about, such as having to repeatedly tap their foot in counts of three.

The broadest thing I can say as a differentiating factor between normal actions and OCD is that if you enjoy doing something, it isn’t OCD. I believe the easiest way to understand this is to view it as a real-life scenario. Let’s take two people who want neat handwriting and are taking notes in class. In this scenario, person A doesn’t have OCD while person B does.

Person A might take care to make their letters straight and uniform. They might momentarily fall behind if they need to erase and rewrite something, or they might leave a mistake and go back to fix it later. They might rewrite their notes in uniform handwriting at home as a study tool. But when they look at their writing, it makes them happy. If something came up and they couldn’t rewrite their notes, they might be disappointed, but they could move on with their day.

Person B would likely fall very behind in their notes because they were constantly having to rewrite words. They might not be able to leave an imperfect letter, because the entire time they’re writing, all they can focus on is that one imperfection. They might tear through their papers a lot from all the erasing, which then causes them to need to start all over. They might go home to rewrite their notes, but they would keep writing the same notes over and over until they got it “just right,” and they would feel the need to do this even if they didn’t need to study the material anymore.

What To Say Instead

So, what are some phrases you can use instead? “I’m really type A” is probably the most direct replacement! This is what people mean to say when they say they are “so OCD,” so it’s a great place to start. Of course, you can also just explain yourself in specific terms if you feel the situation needs a comment. “It really bugs me when the teacher doesn’t erase the whole board” or “It makes me happy to see all my pens look like a rainbow” are perfectly reasonable explanations. All I, and millions of others affected by OCD, ask is that you please don’t use OCD as an explanation for your preferences.

Want to Learn More?

If you’d like to learn more about OCD, I recommend clicking here to go to IOCDF’s page on OCD! You can learn more about what exactly obsessions and compulsions are, common obsessions, treatment options, different causes for the condition, and more!

Mental Illnesses Aren't Adjectives

Welcome to my first blog post during Mental Health Awareness Month! Like I mentioned on my Instagram, this month is incredibly important to me, and I have some really fun blog posts coming up. As you probably know, one of my biggest passions is helping reduce mental health stigma. I believe this is best done through education. Helping people understand what it actually means to have a certain mental illness does wonders for disproving all of the misinformation about mental illnesses that is out there.

That being said, I wanted to offer you an easy way to help. One way to stop contributing to stigma is to stop using mental illnesses as adjectives. It’s that simple!

How many times have you heard someone say that they were “so OCD” after arranging their pens in a specific order at school? How often have you heard, or maybe even said, that you were “super bipolar” when you couldn’t make a decision or kept changing your mind? It can be tempting to use these phrases when everyone around us tends to. By misusing these illnesses, though, it reinforces that they are not actual medical conditions. It takes away from the fact that these are real conditions that people suffer from. I also know from firsthand experience how isolating and painful it can be to hear your condition used as a joke.

So, I want to provide you with a list of some commonly used expressions that demean those with mental health issues, explain what stigma this reinforces and give a very brief explanation of what the condition actually is, and offer some alternative phrases. I will be doing this in a serious of blog posts over the next few weeks. My first post will even be going up today! You can read it here. I hope you join me in making this small change to your everyday speech that will truly mean so much to those experiencing a mental illness.

5 Tips for Students with Brain Fog

Being a student is hard. Experiencing brain fog is hard. Being a student with brain fog is exhausting, frustrating, and at times, disheartening. It's the kind of difficult that is hard to describe unless you've been through it yourself. If you have, hi! I don't know what you're going through, but knowing my own experiences, I can understand a bit of what you're facing. Being a student while being ill is hard, but it's not impossible, and there are some things you can do to try and make things easier. 

Tip #1: Take a learning style assessment

You’ve probably taken learning style assessment before, whether it was assigned for work or school or you were naturally curious. They are great (and can be fun!), but it’s important to keep in mind that a lot can change when your brain has changed. Maybe you were never a kinetic learner before, but now, being able to perform the action you’re learning about makes a better connection than just fuzzily scanning the pages of your textbook in a desperate bid for knowledge. For me, I was always a visual learner, but reading became almost impossible when my brain fog struck. I tried audiobooks and found that as long as I kept my hands busy or paced while listening, I could actually understand the story!

Tip #2: Try incorporating multiple learning styles

On a similar note, try using multiple learning styles at the same time. Sometimes, I have to listen to an audiobook and follow along with a written copy to understand what I’m reading. Sometimes, I read aloud and act like I’m teaching to an imaginary classroom. Learning the material different ways, and multiple ways at once, can help the information stick.

Tip #3: If one subject isn’t working for you, move on

This one is tricky. You can’t always put off that English essay or delay doing your math homework, but you won’t do yourself any good by wasting your time and energy staring at an assignment like it’s written in gibberish. Sometimes, a certain subject or topic will work better than another, and life as a student with brain fog is all about working with what you have at the moment.

Tip #4: Try to diminish fatigue

Brain fog is fierce. Brain fog and fatigue are fiercer yet. Whether it’s a fatigue that sleep can help or one it doesn’t touch (I’m looking at you, chronic fatigue), there are some things you can do to try and diminish that sleepiness so that you’re only dealing with one mental processing issue. If your body tolerates it, try some caffeinated teas or coffees. Sometimes, even just a placebo affect can make a difference. Some people respond well to smelling peppermint essential oil for a wake-up call. Also, figure our what kind of naps work best for you! Some people feel worse after an hour-long nap while others awake refreshed. You might do well with thirty minute naps, two hour naps, or no naps at all, so figure out what works best for you.

Tip #5: Take breaks

Remember to give yourself brain breaks. Studying is hard on anyone, and rest is a necessity! Even taking fifteen minutes to mindlessly scroll on your phone, walk outside, or stretch can help you focus a bit better when it’s time to get back to work.

Above all, try to give yourself grace. It can be hard to appreciate all that your mind is doing for you when all the things it is failing to do seem more prominent. It can be hard, but try to take note of all your accomplishments big and small. Finally, know that you are not alone, and that there are others out there cheering you on. I know I’m one of them!

2019 Verse of the Year

At the beginning of each year, I choose a word for the year and a corresponding verse. It helps me connect with my faith to look back at the year I just had and come up with a mantra for the new one. I’m so excited about 2019’s word, but each and every word I’ve had over the years still holds a special place in my heart.

For more than a couple years, my word was “hope.” I lived without it for so many years that I needed to continuously pray I would find it again.

Then, my word became “strength.” I was going into almost two years of a painful, complicated weight restoration. I didn’t know it yet, but it would be the year I spent 14 weeks in the hospital. My verse was Psalm 119:28. It says, “My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to Your word.” I was still so hopeless, but I was also feeling a lot of negative emotions. For a long time, my depression left me very numb, and the few emotions I could feel were negative. When my word was “strength,” I felt those awful, horrible emotions all of the time. I was tired of fighting to stay alive. I was distraught that I had spent so many years trying to get back to a healthy weight. I was broken. I begged that spending time with Him and in His word would give me strength. By His grace, I have made it through.

The next year, I had a phrase instead of a word. I wanted to focus on “moving on from the past.” While I am so thankful that my hospital stay saved my life, it left me with a lot of trauma I hadn’t anticipated. My verse was Isaiah 43:18, which says, “Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to things of old. Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” I wanted to be able to let go of all of the pain that I kept reliving and have faith that the new year would be better. I wasn’t able to embrace this verse as much as I would have loved to, but I am making slow and steady progress, which is an achievement. I can never escape from my past hurts, and I would never want to, but I can work on not letting them keep me from living in the present and having hope in the future. I wholeheartedly believe that there is a purpose for each and every thing I have been through, even the events I haven’t seen a reason for quite yet. I pray that I can continue to use my experiences to help others and bring glory to God, and I’m so thankful that He has brought me to where I am today.

This year, my word is “expectant,” and my verse is Psalm 5:3. It says, “In the morning, Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to You and watch expectantly.” I wasn’t always excited for 2019. Even as late as the fall of 2018, I was having a lot of passive suicidal thoughts. I have a list of things I am excited for in the future, and for about a year I have usually been able to receive some hope of better days by running through the list when things are difficult. This fall, I felt nothing as I imagined a bright future. I had no doubt that I would reach that place one day, but I really didn’t care enough to stay around to reach it. I was very apathetic. As the year reached its end, though, I began to feel excitement. It started to feel more real that I have been accepted to my dream school. I finished all of my high school requirements and found out I am only six hours away from finishing my associate’s degree. I started to be able to feel excitement for all of the things I want out of my future.

2019 will be a year of change. My family will be moving to a new town in the spring or summer. I will be starting a new school in August. And even though all of these changes are scary, they’re also exciting. I am so thankful that I started feeling such excitement about 2019, even if there was also fear. I began to feel a peace and assuredness I have never experienced. I felt this reassurance, almost a promise, that important things would be happening this year. I felt confident that a lot of my prayers would be answered.

When I now look at my list of things I have been praying about for years, I feel like they are close to being answered. It’s a scary thought, because I worry about getting my hopes up for the outcomes I desire. But I know that whatever happens is the best possible solution. I love this quote by Timothy Keller that says, “God will either give us what we ask for in prayer or give us what we would have asked for if we knew everything he knows.” I’m praying for the outcomes I desire, but I’m also praying that His will be done. I’m expecting beautiful outcomes, whether they are what I expected or not.

I also want to work on praying more this year. I want to grow my faith more in 2019 than I could ever imagine at this point in time, and I think that this verse also captures that desire. So far, in twelve short days, I have felt the Lord’s presence with me and have prayed more than I have in a while. I’ve already seen blessings in the first days of this new year, and I have faith that 2019 will be filled with many more.

Psalm 5:3.JPG

Struggling with New Year's Diet Commercials?

It’s one of my favorite times of the year! Having the end of another semester, Christmas, and my birthday all in one month makes December a sweet time of year. I may not appreciate the frigid cold mornings, but I love the feeling of joy that surrounds this season. That doesn’t mean that this time of year is easy for me. I am still depressed, and anxious, and physically ill. My OCD has been acting up the past few weeks. I’m tired, and I’m depressed. But I also feel such a sense of joy, even though it’s also hard in many ways to think of facing a whole other year that is coming up fast. Even though I am so excited for all the things 2019 is bringing, both the things I’m expecting and the ones I’m yet to discover, it can still be hard to not be overwhelmed by facing another year.

There’s one thing that only makes the New Year harder. Today, I was sitting on my couch, watching a Hallmark Movie (don’t judge!), when I saw it. A commercial for “the best way to lose weight fast.” As the New Year approaches, it’s that time of year where viewers are bombarded with diet commercials. 
    

I rolled my eyes and joked about how dumb the commercial was with my mom, but I also felt a swirl of emotions rise up inside me. I mostly felt upset and sad. Upset that dangerous diets are allowed to be promoted. Upset about how these commercials contribute to the idea that you need to eat less and you need to weigh less, and that you need to attain these goals at any cost. Angry that these commercials convince people that being skinny automatically means being more healthy, and that being skinny is the only way to be beautiful or handsome.

These dangerous ideas are what lead to disordered eating, body image issues, and full-blown eating disorders. These are dangerous conditions that kill. Even if people don’t develop mental health issues related to these commercials that directly and direly impact their health, they still impact the way we view ourselves and our health. I think of all the times my friends have felt like before they can eat in front of others, they have to announce that they didn’t eat the meal before, as though they have to have deprived themselves to deserve food. I think of all the times my friends have felt ugly and absolutely hated looking at their own reflections for no reason other than their weight. I think of the conversations I overhear at school, where classmates are talking about the new teas and supplements they’re taking to make themselves skinner. Not healthier, but skinnier. Some don’t know that these teas are not healthy and can have long-term, negative effects on your health (especially your digestive system’s ability to function normally). Some know, but they don’t care. Their whole lives, they’ve been led to believe that if they could only be that one weight—often a dangerous weight that’s incompatible with a healthy body—everything would be better. And then, when they reach that weight, they realize it’s not all that they thought it would be. But they’ve been taught that looking a certain way is the key to everything they’ve ever wanted, the key to finally loving themselves and feeling confident in their own skin. So they use more tactics to lose more weight. Dangerous tactics. I think of all the ways each and every one of us has been impacted by these dangerous products and diets. I think of how they have hurt my friends, my family, my classmates, millions of people I will never even know the struggles of, and myself.

Some of these dangerous weight-loss tactics are the ones we see on TV. Fasting, depriving yourself of food, excessive exercise, etc. Sometimes, we see more subtle ads on TV. Sometimes, people start on a diet, and it spins into disordered eating. They use the diet to start depriving themselves of food. Using it as a way to avoid fear foods. Being terrified to eat certain foods, and ashamed when they eat these foods. Sometimes, people will start an intense exercise regimen that focuses too much on looks instead of becoming stronger and healthier. They don’t see the results they want, but they’re told that they are just around the corner if they only work a little harder. So they start exercising more, and more, and more. It takes over their lives. It becomes unhealthy. They feel extreme guilt if they skip a day. They feel like if they are going to allow themselves to eat, they have to do a certain amount of exercise to justify the food that their body so desperately needs.

Lots of times, people will deprive themselves of food for a period of time. They eat too little and exercise too much. They take supplements that make them lose water weight. And for a while, even though it is in a very unhealthy and temporary way, they lose weight. Then, their bodies rebel. They have been starving themselves and working too hard, and so their body forces them to eat. They usually go back to their original weight, or even gain weight, and they fall deeper into the feeling of hatred towards their bodies. They feel like their bodies failed them, when they were really just trying to keep them alive.

When all you see are these ads, you might think that these are healthy ways to live. When you only see articles about losing weight, you might think that you have to lose weight, too. And if you do, and if the New Year is a period of doubting yourself, you aren’t alone. If the New Year is a period of self-loathing, you’re not alone. If the New Year is a period of aggravation at being bombarded with exercise and diet commercials, you are not alone. I wanted to leave you with a few reminders to carry with you if this season is hard for you, or to share with those you love who are struggling.

  1. YOU ARE PERFECT JUST AS YOU ARE. There is no flaw in you. No matter your weight, body shape, etc., you are wonderfully made.

  2. YOU NEED FOOD. No matter what anyone says, you need to properly feed yourself to be healthy. This is true regardless of your weight. To be your healthiest self, you need to eat enough to fuel your body.

  3. YOU DESERVE FOOD. You need food, and there is no shame in eating food. Even if you overate yesterday, you still need and deserve food today. Even if those around you are depriving themselves of yummy treats you are craving, you deserve those foods. Remember that everything is healthy in moderation. There really is no “bad” food. Which leads me to reminder number four…

  4. THERE IS NO “BAD” FOOD. There is no merit to claims about the supposed morality of food. Now, to be your healthiest self, you probably don’t want to eat nothing but cake for every meal. You would probably feel sluggish and tired from not getting all the nutrients you need. But cake is not bad! Eating cake is not bad for you. Eating cookies is not bad for you. Eating your favorite holiday treats is not bad for you. Anything is good in moderation. Depriving yourself does nothing but make you unhappy and hurt your mental health. If you are at a Christmas party and see your favorite Christmas cookie, and you are craving one, let yourself eat the cookie!

  5. DIET COMPANIES DO NOT CARE ABOUT YOU. Now, I know that some diets truly do care about the people following them. For example, if you follow a gluten free diet because you have an allergy, intolerance, or Celiac Disease, this diet was made to help you. If you follow an AIP or GAPS for chronic inflammatory conditions, these are to help your illness hopefully go into remission and help your body heal. Pretty much any other diet, though? They couldn’t care less about you. They are counting on the hope that you have been taught to despise your body so much that they can make money off of that hatred. They are not creating products to make you healthier—they are making products that will just lead to more self-hatred.

  6. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I know I’ve already said this, but I cannot say it enough. If you are struggling with your body image or eating habits, you are not alone. If you are struggling by seeing all of these advertisements, you are not alone. There are people around you who are also struggling, and there are people who can help. If you feel like you might need to see someone about your eating behaviors or body image, need someone to talk to, or are looking for support systems, click here to go to the National Eating Disorders Association’s resource page.

Writing in My Bible, John 11, and When God Is Far Away

    One of the best things I’ve done is start writing in my Bible. For years, I never wrote in my Bible. I felt like it was sacrilegious, almost, like I wasn’t allowed to write in such an important text. I felt like I didn’t have a right to actively be involved in the word of God that way. Then, a year or so ago, I started highlighting verses. I still remember highlighting my first verse. I feel like it was 1 Peter 5:7, because that’s always been a special verse to me, but I don’t actually remember which verse it was. I just remember the feeling. I was tense. Anxious. I looked at my wobbly highlighter lines and the way they disrupted the page and bled through to the next one. There was a small part of me that was pleased, though. That verse had left a mark on me, and now I’d left a mark on it. It solidified my relationship to the verse and all it had done for me. I’ve started highlighting lots of verses since then, and even though it still causes anxious regret from time to time, it’s also been a great way to record my favorite verses.

     Last night, I was listening to a podcast from The Porch called “When God is Late.” You guys, this podcast took my breath away. It was one in the morning. My insomnia was running rampant. I’d decided to do some sort of Bible study, because I’ve been neglecting that lately, but I didn’t know what to do. Things have been rough, lately, and I’ve let Bible study fall to the side. When you are a believer and are sick for a bit, you often go right to God. You cling to Him and pray. And you do the same thing, even more intensely, when you’re chronically ill, because each day is a battle of begging for strength and having faith you’ll be given just enough to get through the day. Sometimes, though, it gets exhausting. You pray, and you pray, and you don’t feel anything. And when you don’t feel anything, and it’s taking up a lot of your limited energy to pray, you sometimes stop. 

     A few years ago, when my health problems first started to go downhill, I called out to God and felt nothing. It wasn’t that I heard a reply to wait. It wasn’t that I felt His presence but not His action. It felt like He wasn’t there. Like He didn’t care. That, combined with some false words about faith and illness from leaders in my church, wrecked my faith. I didn’t know if God existed. Even if He was real, I wasn’t sure if He was a good God. Looking back, though, I’m thankful for this trial. I see that He stayed away and let this happen for a reason. I’m thankful I’ve grappled with my faith, because it has made it stronger. I’m thankful, because it forced me to find answers on why I believe instead of just accepting Christianity since I grew up as a Christian. It not only strengthened my faith, but I think it will also allow me to better share the gospel with others. I pray it will allow me to help others and bring glory to the Lord. 

     So, like any rational person, I googled “best Christian podcasts,” stumbled across The Porch, and was scrolled through titles until one, “When Jesus Is Late,” caught my eye. This podcast was the story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection like I’d never heard it before. The Lord heard that Lazarus was dying. Jesus loved Lazarus, not just as Jesus loves everyone, but as His earthly friend. This was a close companion of Jesus’, but when He heard Lazarus was dying, Jesus chose to stay where He was for two more days. He chose to stay away. John 11:14 then says, “So Jesus then told them [His disciples] plainly, ‘Lazarus has died. I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe. But let’s go to him.’ ”

    At first glance, this almost seems cruel. Jesus is glad His friend died? He is glad for Lazarus’ suffering, and the suffering of his sisters (also close friends of Jesus’)? Though Jesus had already told his disciples that He planned on raising Lazarus from the dead, He still allowed suffering He could have stopped. The thing is, though, that Jesus wanted to strengthen the faith of all those affected. He wanted them to believe that He not only could aid anyone, but that He would help them specifically. That He not only could work, but He’d choose to work in their lives. I think He was building trust, too. It’s easy to believe in the goodness of God when your life is good. It’s much harder when you are suffering. 

     When Jesus arrives and Martha (one of Lazarus’ sisters and a friend of Jesus) comes to meet Him, she is heartbroken and angry. She knows Jesus could have stopped this and doesn’t understand why He didn’t. I love the next few verses (John 11: 23-27). Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again, and Martha is like, “Yah, yah, I know, He is alive in Heaven.” She still has faith, but she isn’t believing Jesus would bring back her brother. Then, Jesus tells her He will actually bring her brother from death and back to earth. He asks her if she believes this, and she says that He is the Messiah. That He’s all powerful and can do anything. By her tone, though, you can tell that she still believes, but she isn’t really believing in that moment. She is grieving and angry and believing all at once. She is saying all of the things a good Christian is supposed to say even though she isn’t at the strongest point in her faith at that moment. 

     Then, Mary comes to meet Jesus. She is just sad. She is destroyed by the death of her brother. And as God is with His friends, He knows Lazarus will be with them soon, but He’s also seeing the suffering of His friends in this moment. He seemed detached earlier as He stayed away, but now He is right there with them, mourning with them. And Jesus weeps. It’s the shortest verse in the entire Bible. John 11:35 just says, “Jesus wept.” On one hand, what else is there to say? These words are so powerful on their own. But there is so much behind them. The personal love of a Savior who cries when His people are hurting is so evident here. Jesus is so involved in our lives. He is always right there with us, going through every moment with us. Even when He allows bad things to happen for eventual good, He is upset that we are going through hardships. Even if no one else can understand our pain, He knows. Even if we can never express exactly what we’re going through to anyone else, He knows without us feebly trying to explain a hurt that words don’t exist for. He knows, and He cares, and He weeps there with us. 

     As funny as it seems, these parts of the story are the important parts to me. When I heard this story in church, all that was talked about was how Jesus brought Lazarus back. Which, granted, is a huge part of the story! And it is this act that shows the power of God, that He could bring back someone who had been dead for four entire days. The part that touched my heart the most was all of John 11 leading up to this, though. A story just like mine, where God was gone. He wasn’t there when his friends cried out to Him. But He had a purpose for it, and He wasn’t detached from the situation. This is the part of the story that changed me when I heard it. People have told me that God is always there, and yes, this is true. But they invalidated that I cried out to Him and felt nothing. I know He was there, but I did not feel Him, no matter what I did. And I’ve had church members say this doesn’t happen. That if you cry out to Him, you will immediately feel His presence. But that just isn’t biblical, and I’m so thankful for this story for letting me know I am not alone. Besides helping me feel less alone, it also helped me become even more thankful for my trials. 

     I grabbed my Bible about halfway through the podcast. I looked around for the right pen, my heart speeding up. None of my favorite pens were upstairs. I considered sneaking downstairs to find a pen worthy of writing on the word of God. I debated not writing anything in my Bible at all. But I wanted to remember this sermon and remember this story. So I grabbed a mediocre pen and stared annotating my text. I didn’t just highlight a few verses or write a heart or date by something. I full-out annotated the text. I didn’t get to write everything I wanted to. I didn’t write it the way I wanted to. My handwriting was atrocious. I had to mark words out where I wrote them incorrectly and left smudge marks in my wake. And it stressed me out. Looking back at this once pristine page in an absolutely gorgeous Bible, I felt anxiety at all the imperfection I’d put on the page. Thank goodness God doesn’t want or need perfection. Thank goodness that those imperfect words will be there when I need some encouragement and am so blinded by sorrow that I can’t remember what once made this passage so special to me. Thank goodness the Lord wrote a book for us to have and read as encouragement and guidance. Thank goodness it is full of stories of people experiencing heartbreak just like mine and redemption just like I hope for.

Crying Out

Today has been an awful day. I’m feeling hopeless. My stomach issues have me at the end of my rope. I spent more time today than I care to admit crying in a Panera, and then in the car, and then at home before I pulled myself together, covered my face in foundation in a desperate attempt to hide my blotchy skin, and went to class with a fake smile on my face.

I kept thinking that maybe this is how God will bring me closer to Him like I always pray for. I wanted to obey and cry out to Him, but I felt so tired and alone and hopeless. I made myself ask for help, but He felt so distant. I felt distant from myself. I wanted to escape my body, leave it behind if only I could have a second without the anguish that threatens to smother me.

On the ride home and on the way to school, I cried out to Him a few more times. I just kept saying, “Please, Lord. Please help, Lord, please.”

I decided I wouldn’t retreat into myself like I so often do. It’s hard to trust in the Lord when you’ve been hurting for so long. When you don’t think you can take much more, and then things just keep getting worse. Even when I see how He is acting in my life, it’s hard not to doubt. It’s hard to have hope. I decided, though, that I will trust in Him.

I like to get to my classes early and spend a few minutes on YouVersion before my professor arrives. I did not feel like being in class this afternoon. I felt like sitting in my car and sobbing. I felt like driving around, blasting music, and trying to drown everything out for even a few moments. I made myself sit in my seat, though, and spend some time with God. Right before the screen loaded, I asked for an encouraging verse. Even for something so small, I was scared to ask and not receive, because I’ve been denied so many times. I’ve been on my knees, crying out to God for help. For strength. Maybe, just maybe, for healing. I had a bad experience with this topic in the past that you can read about here, and my heart is still so wounded from it that I never asked for healing for years. A few weeks ago, though, I started praying for healing for my stomach. I was so desperate for healing. I felt such confidence in the Lord’s ability to heal me. And so I’ve been praying. And so here I am, feeling worse.

I still believe that the Lord can heal me. I don’t understand why He doesn’t. I understand why He’s had me go through so much pain, but I don’t understand why it has to be so prolonged. Don’t I understand the lesson? Haven’t I become closer to Him? Haven’t I been given the tools to help others in similar situations, even if I wake up tomorrow and am healed? And why do I have to feel so many different types of pain all at once?

I don’t have the answers. I’m content knowing that I may never have the answers while I’m here on Earth. I’m so thankful that I can trust that He has a purpose, though, even if that knowledge doesn’t make things better. Even as I am crying out to God for the strength to get through each day, I know He has a reason. Even as I desperately beg for hope. Even as I am curled in a ball, asking again and again that I feel His presence and know I am not alone.

So I cried out for help. Like I have a million times before, I cried out for help. For strength. For hope. To be able to cling to Him and his promises when I wanted to give up.

My app finally loaded. My verse was Psalms 145-18.

“The Lord is near all who call out to him, all who call out to him with integrity.”

He hears me.

Memories of Autumns Past

Fall is finally here! Fall has always been my favorite season. I love winter because of Christmas, I love spring because it signals the end of freezing cold weather, and I love summer because, if you know anything about me, you know how much I adore swimming. Fall reigns supreme, though. I love the temperature and how the leaves change colors. All year, I look forward to that first day when you walk outside and everything is painted in shades of gold, and it’s just cold enough that you need go back inside for a light sweater. It actually felt like fall this morning, which was a stark contrast from the usual sweltering heat. Knowing Tennessee weather, it’ll probably be back in the 90’s by next week, but I still got so much happiness from walking outside and not feeling like I’d walked into a sauna.

Fall is also a really hard season for me, though. My life has been full of ups and downs in my mental and physical health, and both good and bad milestones have occurred during every season. Some of the really, really nasty moments, though, have happened during the fall. The moments where everything fell apart. Where things would go downhill, and get worse and worse without improvement for years.

When the antidepressant I had been on for two years suddenly stopped working, it was fall. That fall was the first time my depression was truly overwhelming and debilitating and overpowering.

When I first realized that my body was no longer responding to any antidepressants, it was fall. My mental health was getting worse, and so was my physical health as my body experienced all the possible side effects of the medicines I tried.

When my psychiatrist sent me away, with nowhere to go, because she had exhausted all routes and didn’t know what else to do, it was fall.

I don’t remember the first time I truly didn’t want to be alive anymore. I do know that the feeling lasted for years, and I know it started in earnest one fall.

The fall of my freshman year, I was so sick that I had to attend an online school. It was a stark contrast from how I’d been attending school and how I’d imagined my freshman year would be.

It was fall when I first started treatment for my endometriosis and started a new antidepressant. My body rebelled. I’ve told part of the story here before, and it’s still so painful to talk about. It’s painful to think about, and I think about it every single day. I lost a dangerous amount of weight, and no matter what I did, it continued dropping. I spent almost two years fighting to gain back the weight. Two excruciatingly painful years that still haunt me.

It was fall when the trauma of my 14 week hospitalization finally got to me. It’s still not something I can bring myself to write about in detail. I’ve tried, and I’m just not there yet.

Fall has also been a season of beautiful things, though. I have so many wonderful memories of visiting pumpkin patches with my family, playing outside with my brother, and being curled up outside with a book for hours. I remember so many Halloween parties at school and nights of trick-or-treating. I’ve finished the first draft of every book I’ve written in the fall. Last fall, when I started at my new school, was one of the best. It was the first time I truly loved school. Of course, my health was still a struggle, but I was able to go to school and hang out with friends and feel like an actual teenager.

So far, this fall has been difficult. Really difficult. My mental and physical health have been poor. My stomach pain has been worse than I could ever describe, and it’s made my mental health plummet. I’m dealing with a lot of loneliness. And as terrifying as it is to put the words in writing, my weight has dropped since I was weight restored in the summer of 2017. It feels like no matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, no matter how hard I work, I can never get where I want to be. I don’t even have any grand ideas of total healing and a life of wellness. I just want to be okay. I just want to feel stable. But no matter what I do, I am either just alright or on the edge of something awful. That’s as good as it seems to get.

And yet, I still have hope. To think of the hope I now have in contrast to the complete absence of it not long ago is enough to bring me to tears. It’s a story I love to share and am excited to write about one day. It’s a praise to Jesus for sustaining me through the darkest times. It’s thankfulness that even when everything is horrible, I never have to walk through it alone. One of the things I struggle with is that no matter how carefully I choose my words, I can never fully articulate my experiences to someone else. He knows, though. He knows every detail of my life exactly as I’ve experienced it. It’s the faith that God will strengthen me and give me everything I need, because I am not strong enough to get through this life I’ve been chosen to live on my own. It’s the excitement I have for the future even in the face of a bleak present. It’s the thrill I get every day when I think and pray about my future husband. It’s the joy I get when I think of being a mom one day. It’s how excited I am to have a career I love.

Right now, I’m eagerly (and a bit impatiently) waiting to see if I got into my dream college. I am so excited to hopefully be a bison and get to start the next half of my college career next fall. I’m extra excited, though, for what that acceptance letter symbolizes. It’s the start of the future. It’s the first page of a new chapter. The beginning of a college career, adulthood (although college might be better classified as junior adulthood. An adulthood apprenticeship? Adulthood Jr.?), and whenever the Lord sees fit, marriage and a family. It’s the start of all these things I didn’t think I would got to a few years ago. Things I didn’t want to live to see. And now, I’m so hopeful for them.

Hopefully, this fall, I will receive my acceptance letter, and it will be the start to all of that. Even though this fall is off to a rough start, I have hope it can turn into one I remember for all the blessings I receive and milestones I reach.

I Hate the Way Brain Fog Makes Me Write

As you can probably tell by this post’s title, I’m getting right to the point today. I’ve written a lot about how brain fog negatively impacts my life. I’ve written about how it impacts my ability to perform even normal functions, nonetheless study challenging material or do the creative things that bring me joy. Besides its impact on my ease of learning and perceived intelligence in school (which I wrote a bit about here), I hate the way it makes me write. I hate that writing in and of itself is an impossible task many days, and even when it is possible, it is a fight. I hate how my writing reads after I force the stubborn words out. It feels clumsy and poorly written. It seems average at best, but not great. It doesn’t feel unique. It feels like it is missing a deeper meaning, that is is missing the use of some of my favorite literary elements that truly paint a picture and tell a story.

Even with school, whatever I write is just a typical paper. It’s well-researched, but it’s nothing special. It’s not poorly written, but it’s not great. It’s not as powerful a piece as it could be. I feel like the ability to really drive my point home is just beyond my reach, and it’s frustrating.

My limitations from brain fog present a dilemma. I cannot write, which hurts. It hurts to not do the things I love, and it can be isolating to keep my experiences to myself. But it is also hard to read my writing when I despise the words I see. It’s hard enough to sit down and try and get my brain to work, but to then not enjoy the fruits of that labor is exacting. It’s even harder if I’m trying to share a really important event through writing or address a difficult topic. I can’t find the words to truly express what I’m feeling, or what I was going through at the time, or why something affected me like it did. I have the drafts of a couple stories that feel like they’re eating me up inside, but I don’t feel like I can share them, because they don’t truly describe the experiences.

There’s no perfect choice, and the better decision has changed at different times in my life. I talked with my Mom about all of this last night, and after getting it all out, I think it might be better to tell my stories, as bland as they may seem to me. I hope that even though my writing may not be what I wish it was, it can still help someone. I pray that these ordinary words can be used for extraordinary good.

Book Review: TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN

I'll get right to the point; Turtles All the Way Down is fantastic. This book is something I'm thankful for—I'm thankful it exists, and I'm thankful it was published when it was, and I'm thankful it had a book tour that I was able to go to. 

Without spoiling any major plot points, Turtles All the Way Down is a story about a teenager named Aza. She's a girl who is pretty absorbed in her own world, because she is constantly focused on the never-ending thoughts her OCD presents, but she still has a best friend named Daisy who is able to recognize when Aza is stuck in her "thought spirals" and offer brief distractions. Daisy finds out that the owner of a huge corporation in town disappeared overnight right before the FBI raided his house. She's automatically interested in the monetary reward for anyone who can offer information on his whereabouts. When Daisy remembers that Aza went to summer camp with the son, Davis, of the missing businessman, and that the two were close as little kids, she insists she and Aza go to his house in search of evidence on the property that the police might have missed. As Aza's connection to Davis reforms, though, and her mental health continues to decline, solving the case becomes more and more complicated.

This book wasn't the perfect novel by common definition. What does that even mean? Most people use it to mean a book without any flaws, but if that's their definition of "perfect," then the ideal novel doesn't exist. I prefer the term "perfect" to be relative. How did I feel as I made my way through this story? What did I think of the plot and characters, and the achievement of the author's main goal? What feeling was I left with when I closed the novel? I think that I could read a book at one point in my life and read it years later, and while it may be perfect one of those times, it wouldn't always have that same effect. I think that a book can miss a few marks and still be the perfect read for you, wherever you are at that moment. That's what this novel was for me.

I've never been well, of course, but I was going through a particularly rough patch around last October (when I read this book), and it was such a relief to feel even a bit of relation to someone, fictional or not. And here's the thing: I didn't entirely relate to Aza, and that's a good thing. Aza isn't supposed to represent everyone with OCD. She's just supposed to be a character with OCD, and her OCD affects her in a specific way, just like with any other real or fictitious person. I related to a lot of Aza's experiences, but I didn't relate to everything, and that's wonderful, because that is real life. I got to feel connected to someone, albeit a fictional character, through our similar experiences. The keyword, however, is "similar,"  and it's a word I quite like. It elaborates both on the common links between humanity that breed empathy and on the divides that we will be the sole ones to experience (but that we don't need to experience entirely alone).

I'm thankful this book was published when it was. I'm glad it was created during a unique time where I wasn't flooded with schoolwork. (Or, for the sake of honesty, I could afford to postpone working on assignments in order to read, because they weren't due immediately.) I'm thankful my brain fog cooperated enough that I was able to actually read again, and that even though there were a handful of times I found myself re-reading the same line, I was able to work past it. 

I'm thankful I was able to go to the book tour for Turtles All the Way Down. Books about mental illness are either wonderful and relatable and help me feel less isolated, or I find them triggering and inaccurate and isolating. There is no in-between. I feel that this novel could have easily gone the other way, the more negative one, if I hadn't gotten to go to its tour. I love book tours. I love hearing authors speak. I love the camaraderie of so many nerds together in one place. I especially loved that this tour contained a lot of humor and a lot of seriousness. It talked about mental illness, and it talked about what John and Hank Green would do if they were turned into hamsters for a day, and it talked about hopelessness, and it included a sing along to "All Star." I can't express how great a balance there was between the topics that I so desperately wanted to be discussed, but that can be hard to handle when discusses for long periods of time, and the lighthearted moments I will never forget. 

The background that the tour offered to the novel was what was key for me, though. John Green told the audience that he didn't want to write a novel solely about a girl and her OCD; he wanted to write a book where the protagonist has OCD, and where its effects on her are mentioned, but where the illness isn't the sole plot of the novel. The topic of mental health is almost always there in this novel, but it isn't all that's there. I also learned the Green utilized a lot of metaphors and symbols to describe mental illness, because pain is so abstract that it is incredibly difficult to describe using language. Knowing what Green's goals were in writing this novel and getting some insight into his writing methods and the small details he incorporated that I was able to look for while reading the story gave me insight I really needed when reading this novel. It helped me see just how great a job Green did at achieving the type of novel he was aiming for. (I mean, this is John Green we're talking about, but still.)

This is definitely a book I would recommend. As with any book about mental health, I would advice anyone with a mental illness to be cautious while reading just in case anything in the novel addresses a sensitive topic, but it truly is a great read if it doesn't cause any increased anxiety. Like I've said far too many times, this book was relatable in many ways while also being incredibly different from my own experiences with OCD and anxiety, which is one of my favorite qualities in books about mental health. This book served its topic justice, and that's pretty perfect to me. 

When Your Identity Changes

     Growing up, I was a voracious reader. I was constantly checking out books at the library, Barnes and Noble was my happy place, and school book fairs were one of the best parts of the year. Everyone knew me as a bookworm and the student who excelled in English class. I also loved storytelling. I can remember writing so many short stories over the years and filling journal after journal with tales, story ideas, and diary entries. I also did really well in school. I remember coming home and eagerly starting on my homework before doing anything else. I worked hard, but the information also clicked really easily. I never had to struggle too hard to learn the information, and even for a tough concept, I would understand it with a bit of time dedicated to studying and practicing. For years, I staked my identity in being good at school, picking up material quickly, being a reader, and being a writer. Then, when my brain fog got bad, that all changed. In sixth grade, I would easily finish 500 page books in a week. When things went downhill the fall of my seventh grade year, I couldn't read for fun, nonetheless breeze through textbook readings and assignments. With lots of hard work, I was able to keep my grades, but it wasn't as effortless and I didn't learn the material as well. I would sit at my laptop and try to write, for fun or for school, but the words wouldn't come. I'd make myself type, and everything that came out was rubbish. I still think it's pretty awful most of the time. I didn't feel the slightest bit smart or creative. Every time someone would ask (or asks) if I'm working on any new books or comments on how I'm a bookworm, my heart aches a bit. When they ask what books I've been reading, my mind goes to the long list of books I've wanted to read for so long but just can't quite yet. When they compliment my intelligence because of my grades, I can't help but think how hard I fought to get them and feel inferior because of it. 

     I've always struggled with no longer being able to do the things I love and enjoy, but lately, the identity part of it has been a big issue in my life. People still consider me the bookworm and writer. And those are the things I want to be again, but I can't help but feel I don't get to hold those titles anymore, even though I know that isn't true. I finally vocalized my turmoil one night and talked to my mom about it. She knew how much of a struggle it was to get my brain to cooperate, but I told her about my struggle with who I was without the things I thought made me who I am. And as I spoke, six words came to me: "I am a daughter of Christ." I felt like everything went still for a moment, like it was just me and those words. When I went to bed that night, I got out my prayer journal (with my brain fog, it's easy to lose my train of thought while praying traditionally, so writing out my prayers helps) and wrote the letters in big words at the top of my journal. It was so late at night that I almost didn't do it, but something told me this was important. So, in my I-am-so-tired-and-ready-for-bed scrawl, I wrote the words and a couple sentences below it about how I'd had those words come to me in the midst of an identity struggle. I was so ready for bed that I could hardly keep my eyes open, but I hadn't done my devotional (Closer to God Each Day by Joyce Meyers on YouVersion) yet that day, and I felt like I needed to read it. I'm so, so glad I did, because the Lord provided the most perfect devotional for me that night.

 

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     The only identity that I will always have undoubtably is being a daughter of Christ. That is the only description I can depend on to never leave, and it is so much more than I deserve. It's my greatest title and an honor to hold. I absolutely love being a daughter, sister, and student, but they all pale in comparison to being a child of God. Because of that title, I'm able to hold all the other ones that I love, have been able to hold the titles I feel are out of my reach right now, and will one day get to claim all the new ones out there waiting for me that I'm so excited for. But through it all, this one remains.

Learning To Drive With An Anxiety Disorder

     Learning to drive is anxiety provoking under the best of circumstances. When your baseline anxiety level is already sky-high, the experience can be even tougher to manage. One of my friends began telling me about her anxiety surrounding learning to drive the other day, and beyond making me feel a bit less alone in the experience, I realized some of the things that helped me overcome my anxiety and get to the point where I can drive myself to school each day without a problem. When I realized that others are probably experiencing this same exact fear, I wanted to share what helped me (or I wish I'd done) in the hopes it will benefit some other anxious drivers out there.

— If possible, start driving with the car you'll be using. This isn't always possible, but if you will be driving a specific relative's car or have already purchased the car you'll be driving, begin practicing with that one from the get-go. All cars are a little bit different in how sensitive the gas and breaks are and where the buttons to operate the caution lights, AC, et cetera are. By learning on the car you'll be using, you won't have to worry about relearning the way your new ride works.

— Start off driving in a large, empty parking lot. If you live in the South like I do, drive to your nearest mega church on a Tuesday afternoon and get used to the gas and brakes in your car. Drive in circles a few times. Practice using your turn signals and stopping at stop signs. Above all, give yourself mercy if you speed up too fast or slam on the brakes at first, because you are learning!

— Next, try driving through your neighborhood! The speed limits are usually low, and you can get used to driving around people without being surrounded by other cars. When I would run errands with my mom, I'd drive us to the end of the neighborhood and switch with her, and then we would switch again once we were heading home. Practice in your neighborhood until it feels relatively comfortable! You will likely never feel completely at ease, but when you begin to feel confident in your ability to make it to the end of your neighborhood without issue, you're on the right track. 

— Now comes driving on a real road... but don't worry! If possible, try to find a less populated road to start on. You might be surprised when your reach the end of the road and want to keep driving, but if not, celebrate the victory of however long your drove! On a road! With other drivers! 

— Next, try driving to the places you usually go and will need to drive yourself! This might be school, work, the grocery, your favorite coffee shop, or any other location you can usually be found at.  Every time you're going to the store with your family, ask if you can be the one to drive. After driving to one location a few times, try driving to another!

— Revel in your new driving ability! The key is to just keep driving. Every once in a while, you're going to be nervous, especially when you need to drive somewhere you haven't been yet. But with a little faith in yourself (and a GPS app), you'll be ready to tackle driving anywhere.

 

Book Review: FAR FROM THE TREE

     First off, I'd like to mention that reviewing books without spoiling them is not a walk in the park. I'm getting better at it, but it's still a work in progress, so I'd appreciate some grace. Second, this book is SO GOOD. My brain fog has been less than usual lately, and the combination of that and summer break means I've been able to read! I'm so thankful that my venture back into literature was marked with a book as well-crafted as Robin Benway's Far From the Tree. (Just so you know, if you buy the book through this Amazon link, I receive a small portion of the sale!)

     This book is told from three points of view. The book starts off from the point of view of Grace, a sixteen year old who just gave up her baby, who she nicknamed Peach, for adoption. She knows that Peach is in a home that can provide for her better than she can, but she's still heartbroken. She lost her boyfriend, her friends, and her old relationship with her parents during her pregnancy, and she feels so empty and lost in a world where she can't go back to her old life but can't live as Peach's mother. Grace begins to wonder whether her own birthmother felt these emotions when she gave her up for adoption, and she decides to start looking for her. What she finds instead, though, is that she has two siblings. While her younger sister, Maya, was also adopted as a baby, her older brother, Joaquin, is still in the foster care system. All three siblings have had their struggles in life, and they only make navigating forming new familial relationships harder. 

     This book is beautifully told. I color-code highlighted my copy like crazy, because the symbolism and recurring themes are out of this world. The story is also very realistic. The siblings don't break down in tears the first time they see each other, instantly have an inseparable bond, and immediately become best friends. They don't instantaneously open up to one another about the realities of the lives they're living. Like any relationship, things take time, and I loved to see that bit of reality in this novel and watch their relationship evolve. This book is serious without being heavy; there's humor and relatability that make this read fun as well as important. I do think that this is an important book, because it addresses a lot of topics, such as alcoholism, teen pregnancy, and ethnicity. It also makes note of correct terms to use when referring to adoptions (such as not calling the birthmother someone's "real mother").

     Another thing I loved about this novel is that Joaquin is in therapy, and it's treated as a normal thing. His relationship with his therapist is very accurate to the kind of relationship a lot of teens have with their therapists. He's not treated as someone who's broken and crazy and is therefore doomed to see a therapist. Therapy isn't some scary thing where you lie on a couch and a psychologist asks you how you feel, and this book gets that. I absolutely loved this part of the novel. Joaquin's time in therapy isn't a major component of the book, but it's mentioned just enough and handled in such a way that it really contributes to the sheer awesomeness of this book. 

     If you couldn't already tell, I'm a huge fan of this book and recommend it to anyone looking for a new realistic fiction read. It has a fantastic storyline and realistically relatable characters. Plus, if you're a nerd like me, it's also a fun read for literature analysis. (But even if you aren't, please don't let the word "analysis" scare you away—I pinky promise it's nothing like the eighteenth century classics you're forced to study in school.)

 

Trust

     Trust. It's a pretty simply word: five letters, one vowel, four consonants, one syllable, and rooted in Old Norse. It's a lot harder to enact, though. I've been working on my trust in God a lot lately. I'm at the stage of life where I'm having to make a lot of important decisions, like where to go to college, what to major in, what extra classes to take, and what career field I want to enter. I have things narrowed down, but my interests are still far and wide, and it can be frustrating to not have all the answers right when I want them. It's not that I don't trust the Lord! I wholeheartedly believe that He always has my best interests at heart. I know He is leading me step by step to the future He has in store for me even though I don't know what it is, and I believe He will reveal that future to me at exactly the right time. I'm filled with such humility, peace, and thankfulness when I think that when God created everything in existence, He thought the world needed me. Not only did He create me just as I am, but he also hand-crafted the tale of my life and gave me a future full of hope and joy. I'm so, so thankful for this knowledge, but I do have to make a conscious effort to recall these facts. The human side of me is constantly trying to take over. It wants to grab the reins and know exactly what I'm working towards and how to get there in the most efficient way.

     There have been many times I let this voice take over for far longer than I'd like to admit. It never gets me anywhere. All I do is worry (more like panic) and waste energy running in circles, looking over the same articles about careers and making the same pros and cons lists in my mind that I've created a million times before. I never get any closer to an answer. There is no epiphany, because it is not my time to know my path yet. Despite this, with the time to apply to colleges upon me, I've still been extra stressed about the future. I've also been conscious of this worldly fear, though, and have been working to combat it. I pray that I trust in the Lord's timing and know I am exactly where I'm supposed to be. I'm constantly looking up my favorite verses about trust and using them as mantras to combat my fear. I'm spending time in the Word each day with Bible plans from YouVersion about trust. (I'm reading through this one right now, and it's been great so far!)

     Sometimes, prayer doesn't work. Sometimes, my worldly side wins, and I feel just as lost and stressed as I did before taking time to speak with the Lord. Lately, though, I've felt comfort past explanation. While I'm praying, I feel an indescribable peace. When I'm reading my devotional, the verses are resonating with my soul. I'm catching all the little reminders the Lord presents that He is there, listening to me and caring for me. Right after I prayed about trusting Him and my fear for the future, I got an ad on Instagram (social media, bringing followers closer to Christ since 2018) that said something along the lines of, "Do you have fear for the future? Check out this devotional and remember 1 John 4:18!" I did check out 1 John 4:18 and 19, and those verses say, "There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears is not complete in love. We love because He first loved us." Here's the thing— I don't take all of the verses like this 100% seriously. I have an anxiety disorder, so of course I'm going to worry! Worrying doesn't mean I don't love God! But the less worry and fear I strive to have, the closer I am to God, and I think that is how verses like this should be interpreted.

     That is just one example of the countless times the Lord has spoken to me through verses, the people around me, and a million other things I encounter everyday to let me know He hears me and loves me and is leading me to the perfect future He has prepared. I wanted to end this post with a few verses that I've encountered that give me a lot of reassurance and peace to read. We may not know what the future holds, but the Lord knows everything. As nerve-wracking as it is to go against our instincts and trust in His plan over our planning, it's so, so worth it.

  •  1 Corinthians 13:12-13: For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love— but the greatest of these is love.

First of all, I want to recommend reading all of 1 Corinthians 13. It's pretty short, but definitely worth the read. Second, we only see the part of life we are in now, but the Lord knows everything about us. Nothing is a mystery to Him! Finally, we're called to have faith, hope, and love, but to especially treasure love. How great is it that we are unconditionally loved by the God of the universe, the Creator of everything? How fantastic is it that He loves us despite our worst moments and our greatest mistakes? How wonderful is it that nothing can separate us from this awe-inspiring love (Romans 8: 38-39)?

  • Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know Him, and He will make your paths straight.

I think the power of this verse goes without saying! Our own knowledge is limited and flawed, but God's is perfectly complete. All we have to do is trust in Him, and He will lead us to a future that is better than we could ever imagine and more picture-perfect than we could ever strive for.

  • Romans 8:28: We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. 

Repeat after me: everything is going to be okay. I know that this is much easier said than believed, but as Christians, we know that everything will eventually be okay. No matter what happens, the Lord is always right there with us. There's nothing we face that we go through alone. And in Heaven, things will be more than just okay; they will be better than anything we can ever imagine. 

  • Isaiah 12:2: Indeed, God is my salvation; I will trust in Him and not be afraid, for the Lord, the Lord Himself, is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation.

This one is my absolute favorite. The Lord has saved me. He has strengthened me. He has given me hope when I had none. Because of Him, I have faith in the future He has in store for me. I can't say that I've always looked forward to the future. Thinking back on the times I didn't want to keep living, and thinking about much joy and hope I now have in my future, I can't do anything but thank the Lord that by trusting Him when I couldn't see what was ahead, I know just how good He is. I know that trusting in the Lord is never in vain; it always leads to beautiful things.

Mental Health Awareness Month

     It's May, and based on the title of this post, you probably know what that means! May is mental health awareness month, and in case you've never met me, I'm just a bit passionate about this topic :). As someone who has lived with mental illness for her whole life, I know firsthand how damaging stigma and ignorance can be to someone suffering. It is already so, so hard to cope with mental illness(es). To experience a lack of support and understanding, and to constantly be surrounded by harmful statements from others (such as misusing a mental illness, suggestion some kill themselves as a "joke," etc.) only exasperates this pain. I truly think that education is the key to eliminating stigma and creating sympathy, and I'm so thankful I've been able to play even a small role in this important process. 

     Being a full-time student (I'm taking 20 hours this semester!) and being significantly impacted by mental and physical health issues doesn't make writing easy, but I want to take this month and write a few, short blog posts with some facts about mental illness. For example, many people think mental illnesses are entirely in the mind. While this thinking is harmful for many reasons, such as perpetuating the thought that an illness of the brain isn't a true illness or that they are made up or self-inflicted, it is also simply untrue. Mental illnesses cause many debilitating physical symptoms, and they can also interfere with pre- or coexisting physical illnesses. Here are just a few physical symptoms of common mental illnesses:

— Inability to think/ brain fog. I have had brain fog so severe that my parents have been speaking to me, but I haven't been able to understand what they're saying. No matter how hard I try to focus, it's as though they are speaking gibberish. This also translates to being unable to read and write. While this has affected my personal happiness, it also makes schoolwork a bit of a challenge!

— Fatigue. I'm not talking about being a bit tired after a long day or a poor night's sleep. This is fatigue that does not go away no matter how long you sleep. This is fatigue that makes your body feel as though it is made out of concrete. This is fatigue that makes you so tired, you feel as though you're unable to even open your mouth to speak.

— Trouble sleeping. Even with the extreme fatigue mentioned above, many people struggle to sleep. I've gone over a month without proper sleep before, where even though I'm exhausted, I cannot get my mind to shut off enough to sleep (or cannot stay asleep for more than an hour at a time). With brain fog added in, it's not even that my mind is racing with great, complex thoughts. Sometimes, it's like there's a current of white noise and static keeping you awake.

     Even though my mind is a bit fuzzy and I'm in the midst of finals week, I couldn't let the first day of Mental Health Awareness Month pass without posting something, even if it isn't necessarily the finest piece I've ever written. Letting go of perfection is something that being ill has taught me. I don't have to write the perfect article, story, essay, book, etc. every time. I feel blessed when I can write anything at all, just like I've been able to today. For now, that's more than enough. 

A SEMI-DEFINITIVE LIST OF WORST NIGHTMARES

     I'll get right to it; A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland is a quirky book about the Solar family, who have been cursed by Death himself to have one great fear that will lead to their demise, and it's an absolutely fantastic book! The book is told from the point of view of Esther, a 17-year-old who wears costumes instead of normal clothing, is best friends with her twin brother (who is petrified of the dark) and someone she genuinely thought was a ghost until others began acknowledging her when they started school, and keeps a list of anything that she thinks could even possibly become her one great fear. Anything that makes the long, long list is avoided from there on out. Lobsters? Nope. Moths? Don't even talk about them! Thunderstorms? That's a strong "no." She religiously adds to her list until one day, while waiting for the bus, her childhood crush reappears and swindles her out of her phone, money, Fruit Roll-Up, and list. Then, when she may or may not encounter said crush later that day at a very illegal party, the adventure begins. One by one, they begin conquering her fears by having her address them headfirst (kind of like a very informal, more fun version of an exposure) in an attempt to lure Death and get him to remove the curse from her family. 

     This book is wild. I flew through it in less than two days. The writing style was stunning, the parallels were beautiful, and the dialogue was hilarious enough to make me laugh aloud at some parts. The book would border on the supernatural and then snap right back to reality, leaving you scrambling to figure out if curses and magic were real and where the lines between reality and the magical air surrounding the Solars lays. Anyone who has been following my blog for a while now knows that I've had intense brain fog for the majority of four years now; it's hard enough to do essential tasks like homework, so elective ones such as reading... or blogging... have been nearly impossible. It's still painful, even years later, but it's easier than it was when it first started, and I'm even more thankful when I have a good couple of days that allow me experiences like getting to read A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares. It's a story I'm planning on rereading sometime soon, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new book!

     (The only thing I would like to mention is that the topic of mental illness and suicide is approached at some point within the novel, so for anyone who is extra sensitive to those topics, it's definitely something to be aware of before putting this book on your to-read list.)

The New Year

     Well, 2017 tried its best to kill me, which kind of sucks. It also failed to do so, though, which is considerably less sucky. It's actually kind of unbelievable, actually, in the way something seemingly impossible appears inexplicably magical and miraculous when it succeeds. A lot of years have been rough, but 2017 was definitely up there. It never gets easier, either, going through year after year of struggle. You learn to cope fantastically well, of course, and appear more high-functioning than you were at the beginning of your journey. It never gets easier, though; it just gets harder. It gets harder to face a new year, and it gets harder to uphold hope.

     The new year is a really conflicting time for me. Instead of the celebration of making it to the end of another year, as if the years were just items on a long to-do list, and marking each one off was a satisfactory task, it's facing the beginning of another uncertain year. I always have hope that the new year will be better than the last, but for the past few years, that hasn't been the case. This is where the hope part comes into play. It's daunting to have a whole new year in front of you. You start to wonder how you're going to make it through if you have to go through anything similar to the past year ever again. I have two things I try to tell myself when I'm fearing for the future or experiencing post traumatic stress from the past: the first is that I never have to redo a past year, and the second is that God can and will get me through anything. I've written before about my faith that the strength God provides us is powerful enough to get us through whatever we're facing, even if it seems impossible, because He makes the unbearable bearable. Even when I'm terrified of thinking even an hour ahead, I have the faith that He has gotten me through 17 years so far, and that He is never going to abandon me for even a moment in the years to come.

     This attitude admittedly brings up another problem: I don't want to just go through life taking things one day at a time, gritting my teeth and bearing whatever comes. Sometimes, that's what you have to do to get by. When possible, though, I want to live life to the fullest extent! I want to be so, so full of joy and hope. I want to be the best version of myself for my friends and family and be able to use my talents to honor God, the one who gave me anything good that I offer to this world. It just takes so much energy, though, and it's energy I don't often possess. I used to beat myself up over not being able to accomplish everything I want to. I still do, to be honest. I'm getting better at giving myself grace, though, and embracing whatever period of life I'm in. Sometimes, living is just getting through the day while curled up on the couch in a little ball from all the pain I'm experiencing. Other times, it's crying from laughter while hanging out with friends, getting to write pieces that I'm truly proud of, feeling closer to God than I ever have before, and goofing around with my family. Whatever life throws at me this year, I'm ready to face it, the good days and the bad ones. I'm ready to embrace hope even when it's scary, because even though it can be heartbreaking to hope for something and see it fall through, I know that the hope I place in my God and His plan for me is never misguided, and that's something I can hold onto year after year. 

Ways to Buy my Books!!!

That's right, folks; I've already used three exclamation points, and I haven't even finished my first sentence. That's because my books just became ebooks on both Nook and Kindle, which means there are now three different ways for people to read them! I'm so excited to finally offer them as ebooks, because no paper equals a greatly reduced price, and who doesn't love that?! Below, I've included links to each of the ways you can purchase my novels. As always, thank you so much for your support in reading my blog and/or novels!

In Print

Wrong

The Commodious Life of Cecily Charn

Nook ebook

Wrong

The Commodious Life of Cecily Charn

Kindle ebook

Wrong

The Commodious Life of Cecily Charn