Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Dam Worth It: Taylor Ricci

September is National Suicide Prevention month. If you know me and have been around for a while, you know I am passionate about mental health. I am also passionate about suicide prevention. For my internship, I was at the local crisis hotline and had the opportunity to talk to multiple people who were experiencing suicidal ideation. I have also become passionate about suicide prevention efforts with athletes and would love to incorporate it into my future work as a social worker. Tyler Hilinski, former quarterback of Washington State University died by suicide in January of 2018. His death inspired my goal of working with college athletes and supporting their mental health. In honor of National Suicide Prevention month, I have asked a few friends and advocates to share their stories.

We are going to kick things off with an amazing woman I met at an Oregon State football game (Go Beavs!) at an information booth for the Dam Worth It campaign she is going to tell you about. I'm so super thankful for Taylor's willingness to share her heart with us and I'm excited to share it with you!

Introduce yourself: who are you? What are you passionate about?

My name is Taylor Ricci, I am originally from Vancouver, BC Canada and was an Oregon State Gymnast from 2013-2017. I came to Oregon State University on an athletic scholarship and graduated in 2018 with my Bachelor of Science majoring in Exercise Sports Science, minoring in Chemistry and Medical Humanities. My most prominent and significant passions to date are the sport of gymnastics and a career in medicine. Attending Oregon State University allowed me to pursue both of those passions. I am now a retired Division I Gymnast and currently studying at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine pursuing a future career as a physician.

You are an advocate for suicide prevention and stopping the stigma around mental health. What brought you to this point?

During my senior year at Oregon State University I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease followed by losing a teammate to suicide. The compound effects of these experiences resulted in me dealing with my own personal mental health struggles, and perhaps the most prominent aspect of this was breaking down my own stigmas that I associated with mental health. I was on a full-ride scholarship, had a nearly 4.0 GPA, was team captain. All of these factors painted a picture that I was okay when I was not. My personal experiences along with the experiences of former Men’s Soccer Player Nathan Braaten lead to the creation of the Dam Worth It Campaign that was designed to advocate for sucicde prevention and end the stigma surrounding mental health.

After losing someone to suicide, what questions come to your mind?

What could I have done more? How did I not know? How am I ever going to get past this?

These questions come into my mind every single day. I think that these are common questions that accompany people who lose ones that they love to suicide. Mental health is a hidden epidemic, a lot of the times we cannot see the symptoms that lead to tragedy and I think that this can be the most difficult aspects of sucide.

Now the question I ask myself is, “How can I make sure that every single person knows that they are Dam Worth It?”

Tell me about the Dam Worth It campaign. How did it come together? What are you doing now? What are the long-term goals?

Dam Worth It came together in a coffee shop after Oregon State lost two student-athletes in under one year. Nathan Braaten and I met one-on-one for the first time and asked each other, “what can we do about this?”

Dam Worth It is a mental health campaign that is BY students FOR students. The goal of Dam Worth It is to open up the conversation and increase awareness around mental health by utilizing the platform of sport in partnership with the university. Our ultimate mission is to ​end the stigma​ around mental health. Our vision is to have every student group at Oregon State University represented within the Dam Worth It Campaign. Along with this, we envision that Dam Worth It and Oregon State University will become the gold standard for creating a positive culture of mental health awareness and stigma reduction.

Through our inclusive, representative, and relatable approach to mental health, Dam Worth It normalizes, destigmatize, and spreads awareness about the epidemic of mental health in the college environment. Ultimately, the power behind this campaign comes from the peer-to-peer model that makes every student (regardless of demographic background) know that they are Dam Worth It.

What progress have you seen on college campuses surrounding the topic of suicide? What still needs to be done?

Over the last academic year, Nathan and I have traveled to 12 college campuses, and two national conventions to present about Dam Worth It. As a result, there have been multiple campuses who have started a version of Dam Worth It on their own campus. We hope for many more!

The conversation has started on most campuses and this is important because it is the first step. The conversations need to be matched with adequate resources and that will be the big step most institutions will need to take.

If a friend comes to you and says they are struggling with suicidal ideation, what does that conversation look like?

Disclaimer: I am not a clinical psychologist.

When it comes to friends or people in your life who are struggling I always try to be a listening ear for that person, a shoulder to lean on. I don’t always have something to say but I try and create a comfortable and vulnerable environment where my friends feel that they can open up to me about their struggles, and from there I can help them access the people or the resources that they need.

How can we help with the Dam Worth It campaign?

The Dam Worth It Campaign is relaunching as a university-wide campaign this fall! It will consist of 15 very passionate and talented students and student-athletes along with many ambassadors from across the campus. This group will be organizing Dam Worth It Games for all athletic teams, university club events, and more! I encourage everyone to support the campaign by attending these events and following the campaign on social media! (@DamWorthIt_Campaign)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Grief is Weird

Grief is weird. It’s debilitating. The whole world has stopped, yet somehow it continues to go on. People pass by and continue to be happy. Some days it takes all of my strength to get out of bed to even go to the grocery store, and sometimes I can make it to the store but by the time I get home, I can’t muster the strength to cook the food. So I don’t. An apple with almond butter will do. Or maybe just a bowl of cereal. Some days I can keep myself busy with all the things, but by the time bed comes and my brain slows down, I’m just left with the grief. Those are the hardest days.

I’ve been trying to muster up the courage to write this for weeks. In fact, it is the one task in my bullet journal for this week, but here I am waiting until Friday to start it. I have a week off of class, so I knew it would be the best time to do it.

To be fair to myself, I have a concussion so that plays into why it’s taken me so long. I can pretty much only pray that there aren’t too many typos. I’m not supposed to be looking at the screen too much so I’m trusting my typing skills.

But if I’m really honest, I didn’t want to write this post. I still don’t. But I promised myself and my counselor I would put into words what I don’t want to talk about out loud. It seems like putting my thoughts into words makes everything too final. I don’t know if I’m ready for that. I know I’m not. Grief is weird.

It's Tuesday now. I hardly had a chance or any emotional energy to work on this over the weekend so here I am, days later. I should be working on my homework but 1. I left it at home and 2. I can only read for about 10 pages before my brain fog comes (thanks concussion).

This year is not what I had wanted, not what I had planned, not what I had imagined. At all.

I never imagined a world without two of the most important people to me in it. I have never experienced this amount or level of grief, and frankly don't know what to do with it.

My grandma was the most amazing woman. She taught me faith. She taught me the value of hard work. But I remember the moment I figured out she wasn't perfect. I don't know how old I was (numbers are not my thing) but I remember being at her house and looking outside because I couldn't find her. I saw her through the window smoking and I was devastated! I don't know why I'm sharing this right now, except that was the moment I had to come to terms with the fact that even the people I love the most aren't perfect.

But still when I think of my grandma, I see her as close to perfect. She was a great listener and she loved greatly. She and I played this little clapping game, and it always brought me the most joy, even as an adult. My grandma always had Dreyers French Vanilla ice cream in the freezer (ok maybe it was Breyers...and sometimes it was the real vanilla but it was the good stuff). It was also a very good idea to check the milk before pouring it into cereal ...which was almost always Kix and a banana. Grandma made the best creamed onions for holidays, and always cooked up the gizzards 🤮. Our late nights were spent playing cards. No one can play cards like my grandma. We played a lot of Rummy, Kings Corners, and the occasional game of cribbage (but really Rummy was OUR game). In fact, the summer I lived with Nolan, Dana and Mike, Grandma and I had a running score pad.

Grandma and I liked to watch Shirley Temple movies and Touched By An Angel. Mostly, we liked to spend time together. Any time. Doing anything. My grandma was my biggest fan and my favorite person.

Thirty-two weeks ago I drove up to Washington. I was a mess. I kind of took my time. I stopped a few times because I was hungry or sleepy. Then I finally made it. In my head I knew it would be the last time I saw her. I knew she was put on hospice. I knew she was just old. I knew I was coming up to say goodbye. What I didn't know is that she would choose me. My dad and Michelle were on their way up from the beach. It was kinda dark in the room but the big light was so bright so Dana ran home to get a lamp and some dinner for us. So then it was just us. Me and my grandma. Just how we liked it. I told her about my boyfriend and told her I wished he could have met her. She seemed happy about that. I told her about my new internship I would be starting. She was always so proud of me. And then I could tell she was struggling a bit so we prayed and read from Isaiah. Then, we sang a hymn. It was sacred, it was beautiful. And it was in that moment that her breath started to fade and the nurses came in to be with me for her last. She chose that last moment - her first moments with Jesus - to share with me. I cherish that fact. It's made grieving easier, but I miss her every day and long for the day I'm going to see her again.

For the past eight years, I have been a caregiver for the sweetest boy. He and his family stole my heart. They became my family and accepted me as one of their own. I learned so much about myself, about love, and about faith in these eight years. I have grown and learned to love a child as if he were my own. I have learned how much a nonverbal, wheelchair bound child can love and teach me about loving and living. Honestly, I'm not quite ready to even put all of this into words, so I'm just going to keep it real and keep it short right now.

Sweet Charlie ran into the arms of Jesus on August 1st. While the sorrow and pain is still great, I am at peace knowing he is doing all the things he was never able to do earth-bound. Charlie and I also just liked to be together. We loved to go on walks (sometimes we even ran), we loved being outside and reading. We loved to play with the dog and of course watch TV. Our favorite though was football. Football on TV, football practice, or his brother's games. We just loved it all. And my very favorite thing was seeing Charlie so happy. I miss his smile and laughter most of all. In the past month I've watched more old videos on my phone than I ever have in my life (thank you Google).

We always called Charlie the greatest secret keeper. Living his whole life nonverbally, he heard everyone's secrets. We always told him that when he learns to talk we are all going to be in trouble because he is going to spill everything. But I like to think that because he couldn't talk to us, his relationship and communication with Jesus was even sweeter. That he could hear and discern the voice of God better than any of us. That his communication with God was so intimate and sweet that he said everything he wanted to say to us to him. I can imagine the reunion, and know he was greeted with a "well done."

I went to counseling soon after Charlie passed away. My counselor asked me about the pain I was feeling and also respected that I didn't really know what to say or how to say it. She also asked me about the differences with my grandma's passing and Charlie's. It comes down to this for me. My grandma lived a long life. Charlie had so much life, and we desired for so much more time. It seems unfair and in this, it's what I've struggled with the most.

So if you see me soon, I most likely won't be wearing makeup, and I may randomly start crying. But that's just grief. It's weird. But it's also beautiful when you know you're grieving over someone who is being taken care of by the best. I saw somewhere the other day the best definition of grief. It was something along the lines of grief being all the love we want to give to those we miss the most.

I like to think that Charlie was not only greeted by Jesus and his family before him, but also by my grandma. My grandma never met him, but she knew him. I talked about him and showed her pictures of him all the time. She knew him and I like to think she was there when he arrived.

Charlie, I miss you more than words can even say. Grandma, I will always love you more. Take care of that sweet boy for me.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Nope, It Definitely Wasn't My Stomach.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you just KNOW God's presence is real? I think sometimes we miss His presence daily. We are so busy. We have so much going on. We are so distracted. There have been times when I've left five minutes late, only to approach an accident that had clearly happened in that five minutes. I have tried to be intentional about noticing God in moments like these. He is there and His protection over us is so real and evident.

Today, my lovely friend Heather shared her birthday with me. It had been WAY too long since we had seen each other so we were so excited to go on a hike and catch up in Corvallis (because Corvallis is amazing). We knew it had to potential to be rainy, so we intentionally picked a hike with gravel and even paved paths. It was also just outside of a neighborhood and gave us an opportunity to get some good exercise safely.

We get to the trailhead, park and use the amazingly clean port-a-potty before getting Heather's dog Brody's leash on and getting started. It was beautiful and very fally. After about a quarter of a mile, Brody started acting a little funny. He stopped, looked toward the edge of the trail and then looked to the other side of the trail. He didn't really know where to look, but I noticed a dear standing completely still, staring at us. Brody's harness jingled a little and the deer continued to stare, motionless. It was truly a deer in the headlights look. Looking at the picture now, it seems a little eerie, knowing the rest of the story.

We hear a growl and I look over at Heather.
"What was that?" I ask her, trying not to show her I'm a little nervous about what I think it may be.
"That wasn't your stomach?" Evidently when I asked her what it was, I had a funny little smile on my face - I smile and laugh when I'm nervous and I was pretty sure I knew what I heard.
"Nope, it definitely wasn't my stomach."

We just kind of looked at each other and knew we needed to get safely back to the car. Neither of us carry a weapon and I had forgotten my pepper spray. I kept looking back to make sure we weren't being stalked by whatever kind of cat we heard (likely a cougar). We made it back to the car and immediately erupted in nervous laughter.

God's presence was definitely with us today. I'm thankful for Brody's alertness and warning. We talked about how, if we hadn't heard the growl, we could have been trapped on the trail on the way back, and recognized the overwhelming protection of our Father.

I encourage you to find those moments of protection. Times where you feel "lucky" to have "just missed" something that could have been tragic. Acknowledge God's love and presence. He is good. All the time. Even when we are not.

Also, if you're ever in Corvallis and in need of a pit stop, the port-a-potty at Bald Hill is a great choice.

As always, love fiercely and love boldly.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

It's okay to not be okay. It's not okay to be a bully.

I don't remember the context. But I clearly remember the words spoken to me and even where I was standing in middle school. “Maybe you should try Slim Fast.” It wasn’t helpful, but said with malice. It's been fifteen years and I've never told that story. Not even to my best friend. I don’t think I’ve ever even told my journal. Even now, I hesitate to tell it. As the years have gone on, I haven't thought about how powerful those words were in shaping my already fragile self image. But there are times, usually when I'm already struggling with feelings of self-doubt, when those words come back to me. They make me question how people really see me, and if it's how they have always seen me. Thankfully I now know my worth and my health are not measured by a number on a scale. My health is measured by the lifestyle I live - the choices I make daily to eat food that will fuel my body and allow it to function properly, daily exercise and yoga, slowly changing out my cleaning products for oil based natural products. My worth is based on the fact that I am a child of God, and honestly just because I am a human.

Fast forward twelve years. I’m in a relationship with someone who says he wants to marry me. Five months into our relationship, he tells me he cheated on me twice. He also tells me that he was only sharing the info because he was very drunk at the time. He asked me to yell at him and get mad but to never bring it up again. I didn’t. I didn’t yell. I didn’t get mad. I was devastated but I kept going, kept loving him and worked on forgiving him. All I asked was that he would stop drinking. He didn’t. He told me that if he couldn’t have alcohol and porn, he would cheat again. The last nine months of that relationship were about as fun as that moment. Some of this I’ve shared, but some I’ve kept to myself. I couldn’t cry without getting yelled at. I couldn’t even talk to or hang out with my friends without being questioned. I wasn’t allowed to think for myself or have opinions that were even slightly different than his. I was constantly being controlled from 2,000 miles away. I knew it was wrong. I knew I was hardening. But I stayed. I stayed because he told me how much he loved God. I stayed because I wanted to help him be better. I stayed because I wanted to prove that maybe the old adage of “Once a cheater, always a cheater” could be changed. I stayed because I had this inner battle that went back to that day in middle school. I believed if I didn’t stay, no one else would ever love me. My view of my self-worth was changed in that moment, and I allowed it to get worse through the daily emotional abuse I faced. It took a conversation with my dad for me to leave. My dad knew nothing about this bully. He didn’t know how many nights I cried myself to sleep because I had been hung up on, yelled at or just had it communicated with me that I was not worth much. But my dad saw a problem. He saw I was planning to stay with the guy who lived with his mom (who he hated), had a child in another state, but no job. He realized I would need to move there, with no job or support system. He was (rightfully) concerned for me and the ability to succeed with so little. I actually think my brother would have stopped me if I hadn’t broken up with him when I did. I could tell that he could see right through him and that he could see through me and my projected happiness. I also know I had a little fairy friend working with him planning motorcycle roadtrips to beat him up if needed, but that’s beside the point.

I wish I could say the abuse stopped when we broke up. But for the next few months, I would get texts from him, telling me how he was going to kill himself because I broke up with him. He would tell me how I made him so depressed and how if he died, it would be my fault. I would encourage him to get help, to talk to his friends and that he was not handling his emotions in a healthy way. Then I would get cussed out, yelled at some more and be left alone for a few more weeks. Even in our breakup, I was being emotionally abused. I was being bullied.

Bullying has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve seen those close to me being bullied, I’ve seen the effects of bullying and I’ve witnessed it on national television. I think we need to remember exactly what bullying is. Let’s look at a couple definitions:

Bully (noun): a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker

Victim (noun): one that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent; one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment

Simply, bullying is using superior strength or power to intimidate or hurt people who are seemingly inferior. Bullies have the ability to find their victim’s perceived weakness - whether it is an image issue, a physical weakness, an emotional weakness or a psychological/intellectual weakness. They are the things the person is most self-conscious about. An “A” student might be bullied for a failed test. A star quarterback may be bullied for a fumble that cost the team the game. A kid bouncing around foster homes may be bullied because he has holes in his shoes and bags under his eyes. A man may be bullied because he kneels for the flag in a peaceful protest of police brutality among the African American community. Sexual assault victims may be bullied for not speaking up right away, causing other women to be afraid or ashamed to come forward with their own sexual assault stories. I could go on. You get the point. It's not okay to be a bully.

So what do we do about this? What do we do when bullies are able to see the parts we are most self conscious about? What do we do when bullying is not something that ends in high school, but is evident in the highest parts of our government? I can tell you one thing. Posters don’t work. You know the ones. The ones where there are paragraphs of small print explaining how bad bullying is (it is) and how you’re supposed to go to teachers, coaches, your boss, the authorities or whoever is in charge and tell them. They are well-meaning but they don’t work. They get ignored. Sometimes the authority figure does nothing about the bullying because there is no proof. Sometimes the authority figure is the one doing the bullying so there is no one else to tell.

I don’t have an answer. But I know the conversation needs to begin way earlier than it does. It needs to begin in elementary school. It needs to continue in middle school and high school. It needs to extend into the home. It needs to extend into the workplace. Because we have a major problem. In the past month, I know of four kids who have died by suicide in the Salem area. Four. High school and under. One of the kids was twelve. She was the friend of one of my girls in the youth group. This particular girl (the one in my group) told me she was doing fine after the suicide because God must have let her die since her family is stronger now. I don’t know where this lie came from but I can tell you that God never wants suicide. Never. I’ll say it again. God NEVER wants suicide. It’s not His desire. It’s not His plan. He hates it. He can use suicide to bring people to Him, but He never wants someone to choose to end their own life.

Death by suicide is preventable. Depression is treatable. It’s not weird. It doesn’t make you crazy. It’s more common than most people think. Depression may be caused by an imbalance of hormones, genetic factors, biological factors, psychological factors or the environment. The biggest thing is that it can be treated through medicine and/or therapy. It can also be regulated through being intentional about self care. Self care is essential. Exercise, realistic and attainable goal setting, spending time with loved ones, taking your time when making big decisions, learning to be patient with yourself, etc. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be afraid of the feelings you have. It’s vital to reach out. It’s also vital to know your friends well enough to notice when things are off. When things seem like they might not be ok. Because sometimes, while self care is essential, self care is unattainable. It seems selfish and impossible because life is hard and depression sucks. Check in with your friends and seek them out even more when things get off. Seek them out to do the things they like and just spend time with them. You might not be able to heal them of their depression, but I can tell you that being supported and loved helps a lot in those times.

There is a stigma surrounding suicide and mental health. A stigma I talk about a lot. A stigma that needs to not exist. Mental health needs to be a normal conversation. Suicide prevention needs to be a normal conversation. Bringing it to light allows others to share their stories, feel less alone and may just save a life.

In January, Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski died by suicide. It was a shock to everyone who knew him. He seemed happy. He always had a smile on his face. He always brought a smile to everyone else’s face. Out of his death, the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation was created. Hilinski’s Hope works to destigmatize mental health and bring mental health to light alongside the other illnesses and injuries student athletes face. I had the honor of meeting Tyler’s mother and aunt last week at the Beaver game and I am so thankful for the work they are doing. I’m thankful for the Dam Worth It campaign at Oregon State, which has the same mission of working with student athletes to encourage them to seek the help they need and destigmatize mental health. It's focusing on reminding people that they are "Dam worth it" simply because they are. They were recently awarded a grant from the Pac-12 and will begin to travel to other Pac-12 schools with the hopes of bringing this kind of a program to all the schools in the conference.

I’m sorry this is so scatter-brained and long. I’ve been trying to write this for days, weeks even. Last month was suicide prevention month, Today was Salem’s Out of the Darkness walk in honor of those who died by suicide, survivors of suicide and those left behind. I wasn’t able to attend this year but it’s a powerful event and it’s been on my mind all day. I finally had to just sit down and write. Even if my thoughts are all over the place.

I’m broken for all the hurting and even more thankful for a God who hears. I’m thankful for the boldness of the students in our youth group. We went on a retreat this weekend and three kids put their faith in Christ. We thought. Two days after the retreat, another kid sent our pastor a message telling him he had just been too scared to say anything there, but he also put his faith in Christ. Wednesday night another kid trusted Christ. We also heard stories about two of our new brothers in Christ sharing the message of salvation with their friends. One led a friend to Christ and the other talked to seven kids about Him. When we asked him how many he thought believed the message, he nonchalantly answered five. These kids inspire me to be better. So many kids are hurting but I’m reminded that God is still working in their lives. He’s still changing lives. He’s still bringing people into the eternal truth of His love. He’s not going to leave us or forsake us. These are the truths I cling to. I pray you cling to them as well.

If you are one of the hurting, please reach out. To me, to a friend, to anyone. Sometimes it seems harder to talk to those you love, so know there is always someone available to talk. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

As always, love fiercely and love boldly.

Friday, September 7, 2018

"Yep. That's What You Think It Is"

Today I started a study in Proverbs. I'm reading through it with the practice of lectio divina or divine reading. I was inspired by this podcast I've been listening to (insert shameless plug here): Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Basically, the practice includes reading and figuring out what is literally happening, drawing parallels to the world or life, reflecting on what the text calls us to do and ending in prayer - specifically prayer based on the text. I wanted to write more about the reflection of my faith or even on the passage from today. I actually also wanted to write about the Kaepernick/Nike deal. But, today the focus is not going to be on either of those. Today's focus is going to be on practical, every-day wisdom.

I've been driving for Uber for the last couple months. I love talking to people and it's a super fun way to make a little extra money while getting to know places in Salem I have never been.

I love picking up the people who have had a little (or a lot) too much to drink. It always makes for good entertainment at the least but sometimes even just good conversation. I had one guy who tried to buy my sunglasses off of me and a girl who pretended to puke in my car.

When I started, I decided I would try the deliveries. But let me tell you. I'm over it. And thankfully with the new Uber driver app I can turn off the delivery calls. For the most part the deliveries aren't awful. It's just typically fast food, which makes my car smell disgusting.

One night, I was only one minute away from the food pick-up so I decided to just take it. It was a taco stand and the tacos weren't ready. I was chatting with the guy running the stand when a couple drunk girls showed up (it was a food truck so I was just standing outside the truck waiting). She wanted a drink and picked a bottled coke. She proceeds to reach into the back of her shirt, searching for her money (or so I thought). Next thing I know, she pulls out a MACHETE and places it on the counter of the taco truck. Now, I'm not most educated on weapons but I googled it and was able to see that yes, indeed it was a machete.

Her friend, obviously seeing the shock on my face, said to me “Yep, that's what you think it is.” LIKE IT WAS NORMAL TO CARRY A MACHETE AROUND. Guys. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think it's not normal.

I will say, I was thankful she pulled her machete out before she started making racial slurs to both the man at the stand and a guy from the bar she was talking to her friend about. I normally would have spoken up about her blatant rudeness. However, I think the pepper spray in my car would not have been a suitable match for the machete. Thankfully, she found almost enough money for her soda and grabbed her machete to leave, but not before giving my bum a coach pat.

I honestly was so shocked it took me a little while to actually realize what had happened. I was also a little puzzled (I'm still actually puzzled) because she proudly announced she was not wearing a bra as she was pulling the machete out. Like….not only WHY...but WHERE?! Debriefing with my dad the next day, I could only laugh and remind myself why I don't go to Lancaster at night. Or really any time. This was one of those stories I didn't tell my mom. She already doesn't love the fact that I drive Uber so I withheld this story from her. (Sorry Mom.)

Until next time, love fiercely and love boldy.

And please leave your machete at home.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Harry Potter And The Story That Shaped Me

Currently on Facebook, people are posting about seven books for seven days, highlighting the books that shaped them in some way, without any explanation. In honor of that, my list is as follows:

The Bible, God
The Harry Potter series, JK Rowling
Love Does, Bob Goff
Small Great Things, Jodi Picoult
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, CS Lewis

Let's be real for a minute. I had a REALLY hard time picking the last three. I felt like I was dishonoring other books by only picking these seven. A Child Called “It”, Night, The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter, Horton Hears A Who, and all those Alice in Bibleland books. I love reading. I love getting engaged in a book and its characters. I love escaping to another world. Sometimes I think I might get too engaged. I was NOT ok for days after reading My Sister’s Keeper. There was a commercial that had something to do with bone marrow and I would sob as soon as it came on, and when I went to see the movie, I remember walking out and just being so MAD because they completely changed the ending.

But today isn't about My Sister's Keeper. And it's not about my list.
It is, however, about seven of the books that shaped me. Seven of the most important books in my life. Seven books encompassing one story. I was seven when the first book was published. My mom would read each of the books to me after they came out. It was one of my favorite things. Since then, I can't even tell you how many times I have read through the series, but I think this may be the first summer in a long time I haven't. Silly grad school.

The magic of Harry Potter isn't found in an 11-inch stick with the feather of a phoenix at its core. It's not found in an invisibility cloak or a time turner. It's not found in Veritaserum or Amortentia. It's not found in Thestrals, giant spiders or even House Elves.

The magic of Harry Potter is found in friendship. Friendship is a common theme throughout the entire series. Harry, Ron and Hermione show us the value of friendship. They show us that sometimes, friends get angry, sad and lonely. They show us the value of loyalty in friendship, especially through trials. How friends stand up for each other and true friendship is not easily broken. How the best friends share with each other in joy, sadness and everything in between. The trio taught us the value in being open to others and allowing room for other friendships. Stepping aside from just those three, Neville taught us the importance of standing up for what you believe in, even when it means standing up to your friend and getting petrified. Moony, Padfoot and Prongs taught us that friends will do anything to be together (I know, I know, technically Wormtail also illegally made himself an animagus but that is beside the point. I can't get over his betrayal - which is, unfortunately, also sometimes part of friendship). Also, side note. I am NOT endorsing any illegal or malicious activity to be with your friends. Silly and maybe a little mischievous at times, sure! But never illegal or malicious. Hedwig and Dobby taught us the power of loyalty in friendship. That's all I can say about them because I'm still completely broken, after all this time.

The magic of Harry Potter is found in overcoming prejudice. I was actually inspired to write this blog post because of this, and how it is displayed in the fourth book. If you know me much at all, you know I'm a huge fan. I'm a huge fan of inclusion, diversity and loving everyone no matter what. I'm a big fan of treating everyone as a child of God. No matter what their beliefs, no matter where they come from, no matter what their ability is and no matter what they have done. While most of this attitude I have toward people is rooted in the Bible and my faith, I cannot dismiss the lessons I learned from Harry Potter about the importance of unity in diversity. In the Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore says, “You place too much importance, and you always have done, on the so-called purity of blood! You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be!" Sometimes it's hard to see past a person's outward appearance or where they came from to see who they truly are. We are too focused on the fact that they are a giant and that giants have a history of being vicious to notice that, while he is a giant, he wouldn't hurt a fly. He may, however, try and nurse a fly back to life. We are too focused on the fact that she is muggle born to notice her strengths. Dumbledore always tried to see the best in people. He always took those least likely to be noticed and appreciated and allowed them to thrive to their full potential.

The magic of Harry Potter is found in overcoming barriers to succeed. Although it was always a given that love would win over hate throughout the series, it never came easy. 1. The OG escape room: Fluffy, Devil's Snare, keys, a life-sized version of wizard's chess, potions and facing Voldemort for the first time. 2. Ginny stolen and a giant snake, plus murdering Tom Riddle’s diary. 3. Sirius. Helping Sirius escape. Stupid Wormtail. 4. The graveyard and Cedric. 5. The ministry. Sirius. I'm still not ok. 6. Finally fighting horcruxes. Dumbledore. 7. Every. Single. Scene. So many barriers. So much death. So much sadness. All to fight for good. All to see love win. The barriers aren't always an extreme battle or death. More often the barriers are fear and insecurity - the fear of judgment, of being alone or failure and the insecurities surrounding the thought of “I'm not good enough, not strong enough, not powerful enough, not enough.” We all face these barriers in our own lives, every day. Harry Potter shows us that we don't have to be afraid to take risks to succeed. As Christians we can apply this and be like Peter in the Bible and step out of the boat in order to walk on water, because we have faith that Jesus is standing there with us.

The magic of Harry Potter is found in learning. “When in doubt, go to the library.” Hermione is a girl after my own heart. With a fire for learning, she seeks out knowledge and loves books. Without Hermione and her endless knowledge, many of the battles would have been unsuccessful. Book knowledge is not the only type of learning we see. We see the desire to learn the truth. We see the that learning the truth can bring pain, because sometimes the truth distorts the positive way a role model is seen. It can bring pain in knowing you finally have a place to call home, but it’s gone before you can even blink. Knowledge of the truth can bring joy when you find out people loved you. They loved you enough to die for you and you just never knew it. I hope to never stop learning - in my faith, in my knowledge and about myself.

The magic of Harry Potter is found in family. It teaches us that family is not always blood. Family is simply the people who will never leave. Sirius wasn’t family to Harry by blood, but they sure loved each other like they were. Mrs. Weasley embraced Harry as her son and Hermione as her daughter, before they even married into the family. She loved them as if they were her own, took care of them as if they were her own and fought beside them as if they were her own. Harry Potter taught us that family fights for each other, sticks together and takes risks for one another. It shows us how family can hurt us, and friends can become family.

The magic of Harry Potter is found in individuality. Oh Luna. She is one of my favorite characters in the entire series because she doesn’t let anyone tell her who she should be. She is faced with criticism every day, and even known as Loony Luna. She never lets it get to her. She remains loyal and unique. She fights for truth, justice and love without wavering who she is. I desire to be like Luna in this. I have found myself so many times wanting to change who I am to please other people. I have found myself holding back and resisting being who I really am out of fear of judgment and persecution. I desire to be me. Entirely me. God made me this way, with intense emotion, compassion and passion. I desire to embrace that and just be me. I can be weird and I can be awkward but I’m me. Harry potter taught me to embrace the uniqueness in other people and look for their strengths. Dumbledore’s Army was full of people from different strengths, backgrounds and personalities. Each one individual and unique, but each one essential to the purpose and mission.

The magic of Harry Potter ultimately, is found in love. It is found in the realization that the power of love exceeds anything the imagination could come up with. It is found in self love and acceptance. It is found in sacrificial love, loving through the hurt and everlasting love. It is found in the knowledge that ultimately, love conquers evil and nothing can stop it.

Happee birthdae Harry, and happy birthday to JK Rowling, the woman who made the magic alive for me.

As always, love fiercely and love boldly.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Crushed It

May was Mental Health Awareness month. And for all of May, I had planned to write this blog. For those of you who know me, mental health and mental health awareness is very important to me. I'm a big advocate of complete wellness, and this year my focus for myself is on taking care of my health holistically - spiritual, physical and mental.

I've been involved in the program to obtain my Master's in Social Work with a focus on trauma for about nine months and in that time I have learned even more about mental health care and advocating for mental health. Yesterday we learned that Kate Spade died in an apparent suicide. This news (as with anytime I hear of a suicide) was heartbreaking to me and reminded me once again that I need to be an advocate for mental health. So, before I get into what I've been trying to blog about all month, don't be afraid to seek help. It's ok to not be ok. But talk to someone about it. And if you are struggling with depressive thoughts and aren't ready to talk to someone you know, please reach out and call the Suicide Prevention Hotline 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255

One of the biggest takeaways in my program so far is something I think our world needs quite a bit more of: empathy and emotional intelligence. Let me just clear something up and let you know that empathy is not the same thing as sympathy. Sympathy is defined as the feeling of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune. Empathy takes it a step deeper. Instead of just feeling sorry for someone when they are in a bad place, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. I taught about this in Fusion a month or so ago. Empathy allows a person to sit in their emotion and truly feel it. If you've seen the movie Inside Out, Joy and Sadness give the perfect example of empathy here 👇🏼

Inside Out

This is one of the most powerful scenes of the movie. Bing Bong realizes that losing the rocket means Riley is on the way to forgetting him completely. He watches it go and is immediately hit with the emotion of all the fun they had. Joy tries so hard here to distract Bing Bong and get him to move on. She offers her sympathy and condolences (“It’s gonna be ok”) but immediately tries to cheer him up. In her offering of sympathy, she doesn't really allow him to feel the emotion he is being flooded with. Then Sadness comes in. She recognizes and acknowledges the emotion Bing Bong is feeling. She even summarizes and repeats what he is saying about his emotion while allowing him to elaborate (classic psychology move). Joy is frustrated with this, but she sees the effect it has on Bing Bong and his ability to move forward. This is probably my favorite example of empathy and of emotional intelligence. The feelings and emotions Bing Bong is experiencing are recognized and validated. While she does say she’s sorry, Sadness doesn't come across in a way that she is feeling sorry for him. She lets him feel and sit in his emotion in a way that allows him to move forward.

So what is emotional intelligence? It's this new, hot way of saying that a person has the ability to understand and manage their own emotions as well as the emotions of others. This article lays out 13 signs of high emotional intelligence. They are good enough to share, but also good enough to read more about and the article explains them well!
1. You think about feelings.
2. You pause
3. You strive to control your thoughts (this one is hard for me)
4. You benefit from criticism
5. You show authenticity
6. You demonstrate empathy
7. You praise others
8. You give helpful feedback
9. You apologize
10. You forgive and forget (forgetting doesn't mean that the action is lost to your memory, it just means that the action doesn't cause you to think of the offending party any differently)
11. You keep your commitments
12. You help others
13. You protect yourself from emotional sabotage
Y'all know I love every single one of these. I'd encourage you to do some research on emotional intelligence to see where you are at. There are tests but the good ones are expensive so do a self evaluation. How are you doing? How can you improve?

It's fitting that the theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness month is Fitness #4mind4body because I decided to participate in my first ever round of Whole30. I completed my round yesterday and it totally changed my relationship with food. For those of you who think you don't have a relationship with food, check out the previous paragraph. Do some self evaluation. Check your emotional intelligence. Because you're lying to yourself.

For me, the Whole30 was truly life changing. It forced me to evaluate what I was eating, why I was eating and if I really needed to be eating. I think I was successful with the program because I allowed myself to make it work for me. While the template doesn't allow snacks, I allowed some compliant snacks. I am awake so many hours and active quite a bit throughout the day so I needed a little extra. Even though I made it my own I was still completely compliant and I am happy with the results I've seen! I am down 15 pounds, I have gained muscle and I have lost about 13 pounds of body fat (since January). #crushedit Today is my first day of reintroduction and so far I've still stuck to Whole30 compliant except for the 1 gram of sugar that is in the kimchi I accidentally bought (wrong brand, oops). I love eating this way. For me, this way of eating has been much more beneficial for me than before when I did Take Shape For Life. For those of you who have followed my journey or have known me for a while know that I had great success with TSFL. I even coached for a while. And I think what I learned during that time really helped me in making my Whole30 successful. That being said, it is so much more freeing to me to be able to cook all my meals, and to cook them in a healthy way. In fact, I love eating this way so much I have decided to transition into a “mostly Paleo” way of life. While Whole30 is good for 30 days, it's not realistic forever. However after doing some research, Paleo seems like a good option for me. It allows me to eat amazing food but also offers more freedom (I mean have you had Paleo ice cream?). My “mostly” part of this new way of life is going to be my food freedom talked about in the Whole30. Because, if I am having a run day or something, I would like to be able to have some carbs to keep me full and energized throughout. If everyone is going to get ice cream, I have the freedom to have a bowl and not feel guilty. I plan to do another round of Whole30 at some point. I love a good challenge, especially when it forces me to cook creatively.

One more thing, I promise. As I mentioned,this year is dedicated to my health. I've taken this month to reevaluate my physical health and reset my nutrition. I started counseling last fall just to work on my mental health. Though I've had times so far this year in my spiritual health where I have felt distant from God, I have also been overwhelmed by knowing He is here. He is with me. He is constant in my life. In fact, He ties all of these things together. He gives me the greatest example of empathy to look to. And even though at times I've been distant from Him, He has been growing me. He has been reminding me that Satan is going to try anything to get me distant from God. His schemes are clever and crafty. He butts in right where it hurts and tries to get at our most vulnerable states. My heart hurts sometimes because he is so crafty that he maneuvers his way into my self talk and feeds me these thoughts about myself and those around me. I've seen with certainty that I can't allow those lies to define who I am and how I think or act. My strength comes from Christ. John 10:10 talks about how Satan comes to kill, steal and to destroy but Jesus came so that we can have abundant life through Him. My prayer is that every day I would trust in Him and His plans and have the strength to say boldly “NOT TODAY SATAN!”. My prayer is that you would have the strength to say the same.

As always, love fiercely and love boldly.