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.

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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

Poetry

     I've been writing a lot more poetry these past few years; almost everything I write revolves around my mental health and its effects on me. In 2015, after I finished the final draft of The Commodious Life of Cecily Charn, I reached a patch of at least a year where I couldn't write. I was so, so sick. I didn't have any concentration. People would look at me, be speaking to me, and their words seemed like a foreign language. My brain wasn't processing the world correctly, and even if I finally reached a place of understanding, it was such a delayed response that it hardly mattered anymore. I was also so tired I could hardly stand up most days. I felt faint all the time; I would become very dizzy and blackout for twenty seconds at a time. I wasn't (mentally especially, but also physically) in any shape to write. 

     As I've mentioned before, my body had extremely adverse reactions to antidepressants (it still does), which, combined with malnourishment and stress, caused these symptoms. Once I went off the antidepressants that were putting my life in danger and stopped losing weight so rapidly, I would have very brief bursts of clarity and the energy needed to quickly write down my thoughts. I wrote my first poem because I was frustrated, and emotional, and I needed to type it all out. I couldn't write something long, though, so the thoughts wove themselves into a poem. From then, I was hooked. It felt so nice to be able to write, even if I was also plagued with guilt for not doing something "more productive." (As I've mentioned before, I have some issues with the fine line between productivity and overworking oneself.) 

     I stopped writing again for a long time after, when even poems were too much. Just recently, I started writing again. All the time, I get these ideas. I have thoughts for when I finally start editing the book I finished the first draft of in October of 2016. I catch snippets of lines that would be perfect for a new book, or a certain scene, or a new idea for a poem. I always get them at the most random times, which means I now have a pile of index cards and sticky notes all over the place. As I was typing some of these completed works into my laptop for safekeeping, I couldn't help but look back at my old poems—it had been so long since I'd read any of them. 

     It was strange. I couldn't necessarily remember when I wrote each piece, because many of them were written late at night during a short burst of semi-clear thinking before the brain fog settled back down like a heavy curtain over my mind. I felt torn, though, like half of me was transported back to those dark nights while the rest of me was in the present, sitting in the summer sun of my backyard. The poems were dark. They weren't necessarily scary, because I always knew that no matter what kinds of thoughts I had, no matter how much I wanted to simply stop existing, I would never take my own life. 

     I have the thought that suicide doesn't end suffering—it simply transfers it. And the thought of passing on my pain to my mom, or my brother, or my dad, or anyone near me who would wonder if they missed something, if things could have been different... That thought is scarier than reliving my worst day over and over. And trust me, just thinking of living like that makes my throat close up and my skin turn red and my heart speed up. It seems unthinkable. It seems impossible. It seems like Hell on Earth. And sometimes, just living feels that scary. Another one of my thoughts, though, is that we can always keep going. People often say that they can't do something. The thing is, though, that they probably can. We can keep moving and keep conquering the "impossible" until we meet the thing that kills us, as blunt as that may sound. And seeing as I've no idea what will eventually kill me, my philosophy is that God will always give me the strength to do the things I am far to weak to do on my own. All I have to do is push through and come face-to-face with them, even if I'm trembling as I confront my worst fears. 

     If you just read my poems, though, and you didn't know that, you would be worried. My first thought was fear that someone would find them one day and think that they were recent, and that I was suicidal, because I don't want to scare someone like that. The world has tried everything it can to get rid of me, but I'm still here, and I plan on sticking around as long as God intends me to. 

     As I read the poems, it was almost like a gothic rainbow. Mainly, they started out as the darkest color known to man. As they progressed, though, they slowly became lighter, even if they're yet to near anything resembling a bright hue.  It was nice be reminded that even if things aren't good, they aren't at their worst, and that's something. I'm usually hesitant to share that I've improved from whatever my past predicament was, because we're used to a world of black and white, healthy and sick, and I live in a world of chronic illness and the terms "healthier" and "regression." I wrote a poem about it, and I wanted to share it, because it explains a bit of what it's like for me, though I truly do enjoy and appreciate people's kind words, when those around me underestimate what I'm still going through just because I'm better than I previously was. I titled the poem "Relatively."

---

They beam when they see me. 
“You’re so healthy!”
“You’re doing so great!”
“I’m so glad you’re better!”
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the comments;
It’s not that there isn’t a bit of truth in their words.
I’m healthier than I was, relatively speaking.
I’m doing better than I was, relatively speaking.
But I’m not healthy. I’m not better. 
I never will be, in all likeliness,
Unless I'm granted a miracle. 
People don’t like it when I say that,
That I won’t get better.
The thought makes them uncomfortable;
It’s not a situation they’re used to dealing with.
In a world full of “Get Well Soon!” cards
And fast-acting treatments,
They think I’ve given up hope, sometimes.
I haven’t. 
It’s hard for them to realize that I’m okay with
Just being okay,
Because it’s all I know. 
I don’t know what it’s like to be healthy,
Live freely,
And feel vibrant—to feel alive.
I don’t know what a true childhood is like, 
What a healthy one would be like,
Even in a world where no one goes without adversary. 
I’m okay with a life of ups and downs,
And I’m thankful I’m having an “up” right now.
It hurts when people diminish the health problems I still face
Every single day, though.
It still hurts when people pretend I haven’t
Gone through a single tough experience in my life.
It hurts when I have to hide every day, 
When I have to put on an act daily.
That was the hardest part about leaving the hospital,
Even though being there was far harder.
I still pretended there, sometimes. 
I didn’t always show how upset I was.
I could openly talk about my feelings, though,
And my symptoms, 
And things I was facing,
If I needed. 
Even if the responses weren’t always what I wanted them to be,
I at least knew they were coming from an educated place,
Even if my case isn’t always textbook. 
In the real world, no one knows,
And no one cares. 
They want me to just be better already, 
Or put on a smiling face so they can pretend I am.
So yes.
Relative to where I was,
I’m better. I’m healthier. 
But I still live with pain and anguish every day,
And I never know what the next day will bring.
Will it be better, relatively?
Will it be worse, relatively?
It’s a game of comparisons, but
The world sees it as black and white. 

---

I don't know if that helps clarify or condense my feelings at all; it does to me, but they're my thoughts, so I'm a bit too familiar with them to truly tell :) . I changed the poem a bit from its first draft; I added in the part about a miracle later on. Not all prayers are answered, because not all prayers are God's will. Some people don't quite understand that, and they pushed me to pray for a miracle with my whole heart (which I feel no resentment for, as they had good intentions). And when I've listened and prayed for miracles in the past, truly believed in what I was praying for, I've been met with heartbreak. It hurts. It hurts so badly to pour yourself into the belief of something only for it to fall through. That hurt more than thinking about life continuing as it's proceeded thus far for me, and it was hard on my relationship with God. I know now that though I shouldn't condone myself to a life of illness, I'm not wrong for being okay with it, and I will always be thankful for God's support and love, no matter what His plan for my life. I don't always get a whole lot of support from those outside of my family and my God, but their never-ending love and compassion are a gift I'm so very thankful for, and it makes me even more thankful when I receive sweet words from more unexpected sources. 

New School (Take Two)

 (For those of you who don't know about my first school change or my second one, I would recommend reading those posts first so this one makes a bit more sense.)

     I spent a good thirty minutes trying all different ways of approaching this topic, but in the end, I think it's best to just jump right into it. I am changing schools again next year, because I am still not healthy enough to attend full-time, traditional school.

     Last year, I got accepted to the magnet school in our area after 10 long years of praying and waiting. The year wasn't what I expected it to be by any means, whether that's only being able to attend one full semester before I spent the vast majority of my second semester in the hospital or even just the environment of the school. I'm so thankful for my time at last year's school, though. I met so many wonderful and incredibly kind people and got the privilege of experiencing some of the quirky and unique traditions of the school. My year wasn't all sunshine, of course; I struggled with managing homework, a required sport, and friendships as I dealt with my rapidly declining health. However, I will always treasure the fact that I got to go to this school, even if it wasn't for very long. 

     Next year, I'm attending a program at the community college in our area where I will simultaneously be a high school student and a college student. I'll take all my classes through the college and work towards my high school diploma and my associate's degree at the same time. I will still attend school five days a week, but I'll only have two classes a day Monday-Thursday, and I will only be at the college for an hour or so on Fridays. This significantly shorter school day will help accommodate my doctor's appointments and hopefully keep my fatigue from getting quite as severe. 

     This was such a hard decision for my family and me to make. We deliberated over it for months; we tried to think of every possible scenario that could occur at either school (which, of course, is impossible) and every possible way we could make things work at our current school. In the end, though, it came down to what's realistically best for my health (or even possible), and that isn't the school I attended last year. 

     Starting over is hard. Having to learn a new school is hard. Change is hard. This is necessary change, though, and I'm trying to combat the anxiety that it presents with hope that this will be a good school year. I know there will be times where I terribly miss my old school. I know there are times I wonder what things would be like had things been different. Just knowing those things, though, is invaluable to combating them. This new school is a great opportunity in so many ways: it's a chance to accommodate my health, earn my associate's degree two years faster than I would in traditional school, and learn to navigate college while still having support from the program I'm attending college through. I'm hopeful that I'll enjoy my time at this new school, meet more fantastic people, and continue to grow academically. 

13 Weeks

     I've been wanting to publish this blog post for a long time. The hardest part was finding the time and motivation to sit down and write. It's been weeks since I wrapped up my first draft, though, and I still haven't hit that button that says "save and publish." I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I'm nervous; being vulnerable is still hard, even all these blog posts later. Maybe it's because I'm a perfectionist who always feels there's something more to be fine-tuned in my work. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, though, and I feel that posting this during that time means something to me. So, seeing as it's May 31, I'm quickly running out of time. Just like with my two books, I've come to the point in creation of a written work where I have to share it with the world as is, even if that state is far from perfection. 

     Mental health is something near and dear to my heart, because it's something near to my everyday life. Mental illness is not my friend, but it's my constant companion. I was born with mental illness, and I'll die with it. That doesn't mean the years between need to be lived as a resigned slave, though, or that I can't live days where I almost forget about the illnesses I have. I'll have great times and terrible ones and everything in between. (Which, even if my emotions might carry more extremes than some people's, this isn't too different from everyone's lives!) My life has been a constant fight against mental and physical health issues. Each year I think I can't take much more, and every time God shows me that I can and I will withstand whatever comes my way. The pattern these past 16 years has been much the same: when one thing gets better, another gets worse. When I get a good month, the worse one that follows is even more horrible. When I find people, friends, or places that I begin to feel at home in, my health always tears me away from them.

     For the past 13 weeks, my health has taken me from school and put me in various hospitalization programs. For 10 weeks, I was in a partial hospitalization program. From 8-2:30 each day, I was at Rogers Memorial Health. I spent my days doing CBT, exposures, interoceptives, and all sorts of things I'd love to further explain in a future blog post. For now, I'll just give a short description of CBT, the kind of therapy Rogers operates on. CBT stands for cognitive behavioral therapy, and since Rogers uses a form of this therapy called ERP (exposure response prevention), it involves performing exposures. Exposures are based on things you're terrified of. You work with a therapist trained to perform CBT to find things that cause you anxiety, interfere with your daily life, or your mental illness makes frightening due to distorted thoughts. Then, you perform that action over and over, all the time recording what your anxiety is as you begin and end each trial (one trial is one performance of the fearful activity, while five trials make up an exposure). While doing this, you're supposed to avoid coping skills (such as rationalizing the fear, telling yourself you're not in any real danger, etc.) and instead make the situation as bad as possible. (For example, let's say your fear was your family dying in a car crash. To make the exposure as effective as possible, you might tell yourself that you're unsure where your family members are and that it's storming badly outside; you might even run through what life would be like without them, or imagine the pain they would be in if they were injured.) The goal is that with enough repetition, the situation won't be as terrifying, and it therefore won't interrupt your daily activities when you imagine or encounter those fears. Rogers also takes some fears and creates more extreme exposures that probably won't apply to real life situations (for example, if you had contamination fears, they might have you eat off of a toilet seat); however, their reasoning behind this is that if you've gone to extremes, even if you regress a bit after treatment ends, you'll still be able to function more normally. Finally, interoceptives are activities that are supposed to mimic the effects of a panic attack so that people who get them can learn to work through them in a safe environment. Some interoceptives are breathing through a coffee stirrer, having yourself breathe as fast and deeply as possible, holding your breath, frantically shaking your head, running up and down stairs, and being spun around in a chair. 

     If you're anything like me, you're probably reading this and thinking something along the lines of Wow, okay, that's definitely not legal. Or safe. Or humane. Should we call the authorities or something? To that, my response is that I was you. To be honest, I still am you a lot of the time. When I first heard about CBT, I was in the third grade. The therapy was mentioned when my family was first needing to find more serious treatments for my mental health. As I heard about CBT, and later read about it, I kind of just sat there in frozen disgust and declared, "Nope!" anytime the therapy was mentioned. I "managed" for the next seven or so years. (When you grow up with mental health issues, "managing" is sometimes a keyword for "feeling absolutely miserable more often than not.") Last year, my mom and I heard of Rogers Memorial Health; the program had just opened up a new branch in Nashville, and it was a revolutionary program to us! However, with the emphasis of their treatment on OCD, we were wary. My OCD has always impacted my life—sometimes more than I realize—but it has never been nearly as bad as it was when I was in the third and fourth grade. Back then, it was debilitating. Every bit of every day was consumed by my OCD. So, all these years later, I felt that the program had come years too late. 

     Most of my life, my mental health has declined (spare my first couple of years of life and my fifth grade to sixth grade years). Sometimes it declines faster than other times, though. While some times I can feel myself slipping down a slight slope, the past few years have been a full-speed tumble down a hill. My parents brought up Rogers again last February, and for the sake of honesty, I was very uncertain. I'd been sent away from so, so many professionals. I'd sought help from so many places only to leave them worse than I'd entered them. Once I realized Rogers was inevitable, I asked if we could wait until summer for the sake of school. One thing that my mom said to me was that she wouldn't wait to get me treatment if I had a broken bone, needed my tonsils removed, etc. The first time I heard this, I stopped. I actually, physically stopped what I was doing. I talk about advocation for mental health so much. I try my best to educate others on mental health conditions and their effects. However, I wanted to delay my own treatment due to school. I don't think that was wrong, as I go to a very competitive and fairly fast-paced school. As well, when you have chronic illnesses, you can't take a break from life every time you aren't feeling well. If you did so, you would never leave your house; you learn to deal with things that wouldn't be manageable under normal circumstances. Finally, mental health often takes longer to aid than physical health. Whereas I would have gotten a cast and been back at school in a day if I'd broken a bone, most mental illnesses take months to improve even a bit, and even once things improve, they're often not perfect. Maintaining mental health to the best of your abilities is a lifelong process that takes a lot of time and dedication, and we live in a world that is used to quick fixes. 

     Going to Rogers was difficult. It was (and is) really, really hard. I was finally enjoying school a bit more when I had to leave yet again. I became isolated from my peers. I had to give up the few, precious activities I had left, such a playing and learning instruments. I had to prioritize treatment (which is every weekday from 8 to 2:30, is located about 40-60 minutes from home, and comes with about 2 hours of homework every night of the week) while still completing all my schoolwork. Due to my low weight, I was put in the eating disorder program at Rogers instead of the OCD one. It took the staff a couple of weeks to get to know me and my story and confirm that my weight loss was actually due to medication side effects, not an eating disorder. Even once that happened, since I'm in the ED program, I still have to abide by the same rules as the other patients.

    My time at Rogers has been one of the worst times of my life, but it's also shown me so much. It's shown me another level of strength I didn't know I had. It's shown me another level of perseverance I didn't know I possessed. I've shared a bit about my experiences with weight restoration. It's one of the worst things I have ever had to do. It is more painful than I could ever describe. It has been a year-and-a-half long process that has been of misery, tears, and setbacks; just the sheer length of my weight restoration journey (due to inaccurate medical information, and being hypermetabolic) has meant I've been worn thin by the process. (No pun intended, though I'll admit I did smirk when I caught this phrase during editing!) It has pushed me to my limits and then some. It has been full of people underestimating how excruciatingly painful it is, physically and mentally, to spend your entire day eating. This has been my life every day for so long now. With help from Rogers, though, the pain is paying off. A few weeks ago, I officially found out that I'm weight restored. My activity level is being able to be increased, and my meal plan is slowly decreasing. It's been a slow process. It's been a terrible one. It's worth it, though. Life isn't meant to be lived sedentary so that you can't do any of the activities you enjoy. Life isn't meant to be lived constantly twisting and turning in chairs, baths, and even plush couches, because there's nothing to prevent your bones from digging into the surfaces. Life isn't meant to be lived constantly trying to regain feeling in your fingers, toes, and hips, because you can't feel them for most of the winter. Life isn't meant to be lived where you're so weak you can hardly hold your schoolbooks. Life isn't meant to be lived with brittle hair and nails and painfully dry skin. You shouldn't have to resort to the children's section, because even the smallest teenage and adult clothes swallow you whole. Life was miserable when I was dangerously underweight, and even though the path to becoming healthy hasn't been easy, I don't have a single doubt that my life is so much better because of it. 

     The same goes for my treatment for OCD, clinical depression, GAD, and tics. When I first went to Rogers, things got a lot worse in all these categories, and for the sake of honesty, they stayed worse for quite a while before improving. Mainly, my depression and anxiety were terrible, and that's coming from someone who has lived with those disorders for years. I felt upset and isolated. I spent almost every afternoon for weeks and weeks in tears because of how much I hated treatment, how upset I was at the increasing severity of my already debilitating conditions, and agitated that I had to leave my school and peers for treatment when I wanted to wait until summer. I've spent years trying to alleviate the strain of mental illness. I've done everything: therapy, numerous medications and dozens of doses, seen many specialists, and done all the things that can sometimes alleviate mental health issues a bit (like exercising when I was healthier, making myself do the things my depression makes me want to avoid, etc.). It's upsetting to not know what it's like to be healthy. It's discouraging when specialists send you away with nowhere to go because they don't know what else to try. It's isolating when people don't understand what it's like to live with mental illness, or they underestimate it. That's all I knew, and it made me wary of sacrificing so much when I wasn't convinced it would help at all. Treatment has helped, though. I'm not cured. I don't feel miraculously better. I see small improvements every day, though, and I'm trying to enjoy each and every one of them. 

     On week eleven, my treatment was finally downgraded. Whereas I was in a partial hospitalization program (PHP) for 10 weeks, May 15 was my first day in an intensive outpatient program (IOP). This means I now only attend Rogers from 11-2 every day. This change is exciting, but it's also nerve-racking. Changes have always been hard for me, even when they're really good ones. I just keep trying to tell myself that this is perfect practice for the real world (as I so affectionately refer to life outside of hospital walls). With any luck, I'll be out of Rogers in 4-6 weeks from that May 15 date. The rest of the summer will be dedicated to finishing up the school year and getting ready for the one ahead. I'll still have therapy every week, of course. My mental illnesses aren't the kind that are typically cured in the way many people associate the word with (where the afflicted never suffers from the illness again). Life will be more normal, though, and more manageable. I've been just getting by for the past 16 years, and that's not something I should have to deal with for the duration of my life. My family's hopes were that this investment of a few months at Rogers would reap a lifetime of benefits. I can't attest to that, of course (I'm not even through with treatment yet!), but I can say that I've seen improvement thanks to the supportive and skilled team at Rogers and the support from my family and friends (the other kids I've met at Rogers have been absolute lifesavers these past 13 weeks). For that, I'm thankful. 

     Most people can never understand the mental and physical toll mental illness takes on a person, and that's hard to come to terms with. I want to help bridge the gap, though. That's why I've used this blog to share some of my story, even though it terrifies me to do so. Knowledge leads to understanding, and understanding leads to sympathy, and sympathy leads to less suffering for those who are already in so much pain.

Book Review: WHAT LIGHT

     I celebrated a birthday this past December, and one of my gifts was a ParnassusNext subscription. This subscription service sends a beautifully packaged, signed, first-edition copy of a newly released young adult novel each month. My mom and I had curiously kept an eye on the subscription service since it first launched, but we weren't sure if having such a variety of books would be a fun adventure or a bad fit for me. I was so excited when I found December's subscription wrapped up for me, though, and I immediately began reading Jay Asher's What Light. 

     To start off, I've never read one of Asher's novels before. I bought a copy of what's largely considered his most famous book, Thirteen Reasons Why, from Parnassus a year ago, but I haven't tackled the book quite yet. Another important point to consider when reading my thoughts is that I've never been overly drawn to books that revolve around a romance. If I'm choosing my own book, I can nearly guarantee I won't come home with one that's a romance unless it's also science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, etc. However, I'm always willing to expand my range of genres!

     The novel revolves around Sierra, a 16-year-old whose parents own a Christmas tree farm. Her family lives in Oregon, where the grow their trees, but they annually spend a month (Thanksgiving to Christmas) in California while they sell their trees during the holiday season. Sierra is used to spending the season with her best friend in California, Heather, while still keeping in touch with her friends back home in between helping her parents run the family business. Just after Heather pleads for Sierra to find someone special so the friends can double-date over the holiday season, Caleb enters the narrative in the form of a customer at Sierra's family's farm, and Sierra instantly finds him swoon-worthy. Heather is clearly against the relationship, though, due to ubiquitous rumors on the darker parts of Caleb's past. Sierra can't help being drawn to the stranger, though, and finds herself struggling to discover who Caleb truly is while looking past the constant warnings she's receiving about Caleb from around every corner. 

     I could tell by the first couple of pages that the writing style wasn't going to be the saving grace of this book, and I knew the plot itself would need to carry the book for it to be a real page-turner. The sentences are overly simple, and the characters are the typical, cliché teenage girls we've all read about. Still, I had hope for the novel as I continued.

     Sierra, the novel's main character, is a likable protagonist. She's a fitting balance between a novel's usual teenage star and someone with a bit of moxie. Caleb, who quickly becomes the potential love interest, is just about as enchanting as you can get. Though I didn't find myself tearing at the pages like a madwoman to see their relationship blossom, their connection made for an interesting read. 

     To quote the book's official synopsis, "By reputation, Caleb is not your perfect guy: years ago, he made an enormous mistake and has been paying for it ever since." While I won't be the person to spoil what this error was (this is a spoiler-free zone!), I will say it was a main component of the story, and rightfully so. Without that component, the novel would have been nothing more than a predictable and drab love story. However, with that being said, I do wish the fault was a bit better developed. Though a lot of time is dedicated to elaborating on the events before, after, and during the event, some of the reasoning was a bit shaky. Regardless, I still enjoyed the concepts of forgiveness and the long-lasting effects of a short lapse in judgement, because I think they're topics many people grapple with in real life. 

     Finally, one thing I loved about this novel was that though it was a romance, it wasn't solely based on physical affection. More often than not, fictional teen romances are nothing more than three hundred pages of passionate kisses and implied sex (because, for some reason, it's just too much for authors—especially young adult authors—to actually inscribe the word "sex"). This novel had a very well paced romance, especially for a story that took place over a month. Caleb and Sierra's relationship revolved far more around talking and spending time together than making out, and that's something I can always support. 

     All in all, I would rate What Light three stars out of five. I enjoyed the characters and approach to a romance even though the writing style was mediocre at best and some of the characters were brimming with banality. Though I didn't find myself awed by the story, and I wasn't left drooling over it far after I'd read the last page, it was one of the better romances I've encountered.