“Crazy” Criminals

As the story of the Pennsylvania young men murdered by a peer continues to develop, I wanted to point out an important aspect of the crime that may lead to more harm than good.

So the fact that somebody would even consider committing this crime is atrocious. It is a violent, cruel, and unnecessary act. Homicide, then body mutilation. What provokes people to do these things?

A common answer to that question is mental illness. People with severe cases of psychosis, schizophrenia, and other personality disorders are categorized by the select few who make national headlines. The more often we associate those with severe mental illness as criminals, people to be put away in prisons and institutions and pretend their lives don’t matter or, worse, cause nothing but harm to the rest of the population.

In lies where myths and misconceptions begin to bubble to the surface. We let our fears take control, assume a single face to a problem to make it easier to comprehend, and end up painting mental illness as a demon to slay. We cannot expect crime to disappear if we misattribute its cause.

So what are the real statistics associating mental illness with crime rates? According to the Washington Post, mentally ill people are actually disproportionately victimized by violent crime. But many complex factors play into how severe mental illness may develop and turn to crime. Substance abuse and unemployment are the top offenders, and when we leave mental illness untreated, each reason turns into a vicious cycle. Substance abuse is an illness in of itself, creating dependence upon alcohol and/or drugs, while mentally ill people often face difficulties keeping jobs and being hired in the first place.

TIME Magazine also found information about this subject. Only about 4% of interpersonal violence in the United States can be attributed to mental illness, yet close to 40% of news stories about mental illness connect it to violent behavior that harms other people. And while it is an honorable mission to improve the country’s mental health treatment sector, doing so with the intentions of lessening violence furthers the stigma.

The constant media attention mental illness receives is backed by our stigma, not evidence. And when we try to isolate mental illness as the sole reason for crime, we ignore the other areas of society that need improvement and provoke mental illness and the stigma to flourish in the first place. Schizophrenia and psychosis become the “others,” the ugly enemies that threaten our way of life. It’s an attribution bias that, from a psychological perspective, makes the world simplified.

The fact is, mental illness is complicated. It’s a messy topic for those discussing it and those that live with it every day. We cannot expect to lock every suspected mentally ill person in prison and expect them to magically heal. It’s just a more dangerous situation. With a stigma running rampant, the mentally ill are huge targets for discrimination, isolation and violence when incarcerated.

How can we break the bonds between mental illness and crime? It starts with compassion. Providing more mental health resources may look expensive, but in the long run, we would be saving lives in countless ways. We should not see problems solved from locking up mentally ill people for nonviolent crimes. Today, in 44 states and the District of Columbia, the largest prison or jail holds more people with serious mental illness than the largest psychiatric hospital.

Law enforcement is not healthcare. There’s a reason why they are separate. People simply cycled through the prison system miss the opportunity to receive actual treatment and support, limiting them from potentially setting themselves on the right path in life. There is already an overflow of people incarcerated, let alone conditions that might take care of people’s well-beings.

Now back to this particular headlining story of the four missing young men expecting to make a drug deal and ending up buried twelve feet underground in a mass grave. Reports say the perpetrator suffers from schizophrenia. Does that mean this disease directly leads to violence? NO. Most people with schizophrenia are not violent, and even if they do exude violent tendencies, they are more likely caused from childhood conduct problems and other disorders rather than schizophrenia itself. We must distinguish the clear differences between rage or aggression, and psychosis or an intense state of fear.

Hallucinations and delusions that come with psychosis and schizophrenia, whether they be visual and/or auditory, can be very scary for the one experiencing them. And they might go without medication or any treatment to avoid the stereotypes assumed from these symptoms, that they will become the monster news outlets paint them into. It is society’s responsibility to show compassion and empathy. We must separate what a criminal looks like from a person suffering from mental illness because chances are, they look very different. No longer can we clump together a hodgepodge of assumptions into a single prison system. We must put faces and lives behind the orange jumpsuits and help them in whatever way we can, whether that’s rehabilitation behind bars or treatment in a mental health facility.

Before we rely upon a single catchy headline to define what violence looks like in America, let’s educate ourselves as to what our words and actions mean and the repercussions they have on a significant portion of people. People deserving of love and respect.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Just the Right Time

Here’s a quick little story for this end-of-the-week post.

As my mom and I were going on a walk along my city’s bike trail (which, might I add, they should have clear lanes of traffic or something), and since we were on a busier section of the trail, we came across many different people. With the townspeople as nice as they are, they often will greet us with a smile or a “good morning” as we pass.

However, one person we came across was more than a passing exchange of few words. Along the river, I saw coming up an older woman pushing a covered mesh stroller. I was slightly giddy wondering if she was pushing a dog in there. While there wasn’t a dog, she was actually pushing her cat.

The cat had apparently undergone some less than favorable experiences recently. She only had three legs because a cancer had spread through the fourth one and had to be amputated. The woman cares so much for this cat and knowing she liked to walk outside, she traded a leash for a stroller.

The woman, who happened to have a European accent I couldn’t quite place, asked my mom and I directions for a certain strip mall nearby. The woman didn’t seem to have a phone or anything else with her, so it made sense she needed some help.

It turned out that was she new to the city. She was originally living in Florida, but she didn’t say her reasons for moving north. My mom and I were probably with this woman for about ten minutes as she opened up to us about her struggles of being in a completely new environment. Besides her cat’s ailing health, she has been trying to find a job that would suit her credentials and has come up empty. Even with an advanced degree in cosmetology, younger and less qualified applicants had been chosen over her.

She also became teary eyed as she admitted how lonely she felt. As a single woman living in an apartment, she had not reached out much to anybody nearby and, in general, felt very lost. She was stressed, concerned about her and her cat’s well-being, and trying to find the determination to keep moving forward.

But let me tell you, being around her was a comforting experience. She discussed how much she loved being in nature. In fact, whenever she walks, she picks up pieces of littered plastic along the way, sticking it in a little compartment on the cat stroller. She had even stopped driving to pick up a littered street, warning others who planned to go in that direction. One time when picking up litter, she stopped to see a yellow-chested bird sitting calmly on a bench, seeming to be singing a sweet song to her before flying away, a little sign of hope.

While we weren’t able to exchange any names or phone numbers, my mom and I empathized and comforted this woman as she opened up, even suggesting calling the suicide hotline for some support. She refused to think about trying medication that might mess with her body, a completely understandable opinion, but we suggested the options that were available.

What was meant to be a simple walk through some city parks turned into an experience that felt almost surreal. When you feel like you were truly meant to be somewhere at that exact moment, to cross paths with certain people. It’s a reminder of how incredible life is and the impact we can each have, even if that impact is subtle.

Because, let’s face it, we’ve all been in this woman’s shoes. Obviously not the exact same situation, but there comes a time when we are overwhelmed, that we feel like we’re drowning in an endless sea. We ask God or the universe, “What more am I supposed to bear? What else can go wrong?”

No matter what we are facing, there always is and will be hope. And when we lose sight of that, we must rely upon our resources to revive our spirits and remind us of this simple fact. Amidst all of the cacophony, we are distracted from that little bird singing its sweet song. We should not feel ashamed for admitting when we need that push, whether that is self-care, reaching out to loved ones, or utilizing therapy and medication.

I don’t think I’ll ever see that woman again. And if I do, I know that it will again be for a reason. From simple moments come life’s greatest lessons. We reach out to those who may need our words and actions and vice versa. I will never doubt that there are some people in this world who angels without wings, bearing our souls and testing us in ways we might not expect.

If I can communicate just a smidgen of my experience on the bike trail last week, I want everyone to know that vulnerability can be a lifeline that we must cherish. We should view each person we may come across, whether that’s a best friend or stranger passing by, as an opportunity to spread love and compassion. We must realize our shared burden of hardship in life, a universal trait of humanity, and know that support is always within reach.

So life may be full of hardship, but it’s full of these tidbits that make every hardship worth it.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Aid Comes First

How I stumbled upon this topic is an interesting tale in of itself. My family likes to watch Jeopardy! every afternoon, a little tradition of shouting answers at the TV.

But halfway through when Alex Trebek talks to each contestant, one person mentioned that wherever she travels, she takes along a stuffed koala bear. My gut reaction, as with most things, is to be critical of what sense that makes. At least until she explained what that koala bear represented.

His name is Algee, named after an acronym used for an action plan utilized in Mental Health First Aid training. For as much as I research about everything mental health-related, this is one program I had not heard about until then.

Mental Health First Aid was created in 2001 by Betty Kitchener, a nurse specializing in health education, and Anthony Jorm, a mental health literacy professor. Kitchener and Jorm run Mental Health First Aid Australia, a national non-profit health promotion charity focused on training and research. The United States is just one of the many countries that have adapted the program from Australia.

The program consists of an eight-hour course that teaches you how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The training gives you the skills you need to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis. The target audience is more geared toward the common person with a basic understanding of mental health so everyone can have the skills necessary to help others.

According to its website, the premise behind the training is to make a mental health crisis equivalent to that of any other physical ailment. Most of us would know how to help if we saw someone having a heart attack—we’d start CPR, or at the very least, call 911. But too few of us would know how to respond if we saw someone having a panic attack or if we were concerned that a friend or co-worker might be showing signs of alcoholism. Mental Health First Aid takes the fear and hesitation out of starting conversations about mental health and substance use problems by improving understanding and providing an action plan that teaches people to safely and responsibly identify and address a potential mental illness or substance use disorder.

The action plan mentioned above form that ALGEE. Assess the risk for suicide and/or harm. Listen nonjudgmentally. Give reassurance and information. Encourage appropriate professional help. Encourage self-help and other coping strategies.

While I see a tremendous benefit in educating people on the basics of mental illness, I do think that other sources of information are necessary for a fuller perspective of how to view mental illness. From the videos I’ve seen on the program’s website, the symptoms of certain mental illnesses, especially those labeled as “psychosis” tend to be very stereotyped in the typical behaviors to look out for and how to address them. I appreciate the goal to make the training as common as CPR training, but we have to realize that there’s a reason why we stigmatize mental illness: it’s very complex and hard to understand without doing so. Seeing someone having a heart attack is fairly straightforward. A panic attack or any other mental crisis could vary greatly from person to person.

But having a program like Mental Health First Aid is a great starting point, don’t get me wrong there. It’s a launchpad for so much more, especially when it’s targeted toward everybody, regardless of your background or education. And with the outreach it has already made, the website boasting over a million Americans certified, I think we could go the next step forward.

With the knowledge of how to address a mental illness crisis, how can we learn more about how a person might have a reached a point of concern? How can we prevent that from happening in the first place? Prevention should come from both the individuals who fall under the mental illness umbrella and those who are simply offering support. How does society’s view toward mental illness spur on more concerns? What subtle signs and symptoms might we overlook that lead up to needing first aid?

Inevitably, this is me trying to fit a very large problem into something reasonable and compact for anybody to consider. I feel that’s the only way we can actually approach it, as an “average joe.” But you shouldn’t have to be a psychological professional to at least care enough to inform yourself about mental health. We cannot downplay the potential of each of us to make a lasting difference in others’ lives.

Do I think you need a fancy class and certification to address mental illness? Certainly not. If that was the case, I’ve been wasting lots of time writing the past year. Our most powerful resources are not just trained instructors, but our neighbors and friends who have firsthand experience. It’s other advocacy organizations like NAMI dedicated to fighting the stigma. We should be equipping ourselves with as many tools as we can grasp. There is then no limit as to how much progress we could make.

And if a cute little koala gets to be a spokesperson for it all, that helps, too.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Vying for Victimhood

Poor me. Why me?! Woe is me.

Ah, the good ol’ pity game. I used to be a champion of that one. Seeing yourself as an isolated enemy that the world is entirely against. That nothing goes your way. That your own hardship is of a unique and extreme caliber compared to others. 

Sometimes we just like feeling the sense that we are taken care of. We don’t want to take responsibility of the struggles we go through. We look to outside sources that are throwing us off kilter. 

And since people are how they are, we respond to victimhood with pity. We pay special attention to those who face wrongdoing, give them a shoulder to cry on. We want the people we care about to feel loved and cared for.

But when looking at victimhood from that perspective, doesn’t it feel just a little manipulative? Like the boy who cried wolf. You keep playing the same cards, and the people who started out answering to your every beck and call now resent the relationship.

It’s draining having to reassure someone constantly if they sound like a broken record. I am more attentive to that in others now, especially when I know myself how the mindless game works. When in the thick depths of mental illness, I didn’t want to acknowledge that my own mental state was at fault. It must be something else, right? Bad luck? A curse on everything I do? A demon swinging my emotions around like a pendulum, surely.

As difficult as it may be, we cannot cower away from our problems and expect others to mediate everything for us. We have to face obstacles head-on and be responsible for our actions and emotions.

As cliche as the Pinterest-esque quotes sound, we truly as the protagonists of our own stories. We have to be our own hero. We cannot depend on others to do so for us. If we do not have the resilience and willpower to handle life as it is, then we need a reevaluation of ourselves.

Living as our own hero is a true form of self-care. Let me tell you, as someone who used to strictly be the world’s punching bag, knowing that I have led the life I have makes me proud. I don’t see myself as a victim, but as a warrior. And we are each warriors overcoming our own battles and, in one way or another, will end up victorious if we move forward with the right attitude.

As always, it is about our perspective. And others can only influence us so much. You shouldn’t expect others to do it, either. When you know what it’s like from both sides, you realize that in reality, all of our daily annoyances, our lifelong battles, and everything in between: they’re unavoidable. The least we can do is accept everything as it comes and move forward. Stopping to mope over regrets and what “could be” is just wasting precious time.

Regardless of what we see as our biggest problem, chances are that somebody will be facing worse circumstances. The world is full of hunger, poverty, disease, and disability. We cannot help but look at our own lives and be grateful. Feel blessed for the people in your life, the simple conveniences of living in a modern developed society, your health and body and capable mind.

Admittedly, I will still at some point fall into the self-pity trap. People I encounter will also speak of themselves and their own lives as a giant travesty. I mean, the internet is full of people ranting about their lives and “ironically” calling themselves out. It’s your choice if you want to partake. Just because everyone else lie on the floor after tripping, you can still get up and keep walking.

And if you feel like someone in your life is in this category of mentalities, let them know. Or, if you’re the rash type, let them go. You deserve to feel uplifted, not obligated to reassure and babysit somebody who is questioning and doubting everything. It definitely comes with time and it’s not always easy, but I can say it is well worth it. 

You capable of confidence and strong self-esteem. Maybe not right now, but soon. Keep moving forward. Find the light poking through the fog. Life is a lot of doubt, fear, discomfort, and stress. But nothing in life is too difficult to not overcome. So own up to it. Victomhood or victory: the choice is yours.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Be All There

I want to make a general observation of certain behaviors I see in others. And, chances are, especially pertinent to what I’ll say, they might be things that they aren’t aware of. I know any of us can get into this sort of head space, but it’s all about realizing it.

I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t appreciate my life and the setting around me. While yes, I do move physically and mentally at a speedy pace, I never want to feel like I’m not looking around me and noticing what is going on beyond my own life. The world is just a big place. Things are always going on, and sometimes it’s the most obvious things that can go overlooked.

So I keep myself informed about current events. I make sure to reach out to people regularly to see how things are going in their lives. I try to live intentionally, making habit of activities that make me feel productive and fulfilled. That’s why I consistently come back here to write about the racing thoughts in my head, why I subject myself to online classes during the summer, why I seek out the opportunities that probably require extra work but that I feel will ultimately pay off.

I am by no means telling others how to live their lives. You do you. But I don’t think it’s healthy to live in such a way that is partly blind, or doesn’t put on glasses when they need them. This can be both intentional or not, but either way I find it very harmful to not only yourself but to everyone else around you.

Let’s see if I can actually explain what I mean. It’s living life without being in the present moment. Maybe your head is off somewhere else while you go about your daily tasks. You don’t notice how you’re treating your body. You neglect how the others around you are feeling. You lose touch with those who matter most. It’s gliding around on a cloud without paying attention to the people and landscape below. They look ant-like, too small to be concerned with.

And hey, I’ve been there. Anybody who has gone through a deep phase of depression or any other lower mood has been there, when life becomes a dull shade of some indeterminable color. Nothing much matters at all. I completely empathize with being stuck in a cloudy space without any light breaking through.

But this can even happen without mental illness in the way. Sometimes people just choose to ignore the obvious, especially if it’s uncomfortable. They focus upon certain things and end up forgetting other things. You have to judge what the difference for yourself.

Because ultimately, if you notice yourself in a daze, stuck in a rut of habitual functioning, then hey, that’s the first step. Now it’s time to address it.

Now if it’s mental health related, take care of yourself. Too often depression can turn into victim-hood, its sufferers as martyrs for some unknown cause. With all of the resources available, we don’t have to sit idly by and let ourselves completely succumb to unhealthy tendencies. We can seek help in others, in therapy, in medication, in just simple steps that can make a world of difference. Take the time to slow down and accept your mental health, but don’t let it become a security blanket. That’s a mistake I’ve made many a time, and it only ends up backfiring and losing precious moments. Progress may look like baby steps, but it’s at least getting somewhere.

If you’re in a general rut, try new things. Get outside of your comfort zone. Reach out to friends or family you might have lost touch with. Or even just reach out to people right beside you. Search out new information, challenge your body and mind and spirit. I could go on with vague advice for days, but I am a mere observer of what I see in others that bothers me. It bothers me that people don’t think about simple things like doing a task without being asked or talking to a loved one or not knowing what is happening in the world and, in knowing that much, not doing anything that particularly fuels their passions or somehow makes a difference in their life and that of others.

Does this sound like I’m being too critical? That I’m just complaining over nothing? Life is too short to let days pass by without feeling like you accomplished just one thing that is meaningful to you. We aren’t meant to be living in a senseless funk, but in a kaleidoscopic world full of vibrant colors and events. Especially in the things that are just under our noses, are right in our vicinity, we don’t have much of an excuse of seeing past it.

Maybe it’s uncomfortable, but we cannot leave on blinders and expect to live a full life, to be completely present. If you aren’t willing to change and take charge and responsibility for your life, actions and intentions, then realize that the sentiment isn’t isolated, but affects whoever wants nothing more than for you to be there and aware. It’s an observation that is made from a place of love. You do you, but I hope what you’re doing is rich and meaningful.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

How “To-Do”

In the past month, my mom and I have beginning to sporadically read a small devotional that somehow always seems relevant to the current situation. It’s crazy how much a few simple words can speak to you.

Last week, one little tidbit talked about the importance of slowing down and prioritizing what truly matters in life. Rather than feeling held down by a daily to-do list, we should spend our precious time appreciating each moment we have. After all, there’s a reason we only have twenty-four hours each day, and not each hour is meant to be used for productivity. Even robots have to recharge their batteries at some point.

However, I do want to make the distinction of the intentions behind completing certain tasks. Nothing can quite match that feeling of accomplishing a large task or something you’ve really been meaning to do. I don’t think we should feel guilty for having busier days that equate to an endlessly scurrying mouse. Or the other phrase involving a chicken with no head, but I like my chickens still clucking.

Anyways. As someone who prides herself on being hard-working and ambitious, I’m a huge proponent for having goals and constantly evolving yourself to meet them. I always want to feel like I’m moving forward at a decent pace and not slowed down for anything not for the greater good.

Obviously you cannot always be running at full speed. Whether it’s your body, mind, or circumstances, when we get too lost in the fog of work, sometimes we have to run into a wall to actually notice that we’re tired and require rest.

As much as I critique how society strives for instant gratification, quick perfection and benefits at every given moment, there is a very good aspect to finding joy in your work. After all, why would we want to get anything done if there wasn’t a purpose for doing so?

The devotion mentioned earlier was on that frame of mind. We shouldn’t feel compelled to have every inch of lives tidy for the sake of others’ approval. Peer pressure and social media shouldn’t be the driving force in getting us to go certain places or buy certain products just so you don’t feel left out or behind.

At the end of the day, we each are living our own individual lives. Nobody can accurately tell us how to reach a certain caliber or make it better than anybody else’s. We are in the driver’s seat, and only through our spiritual and emotional inquiries do we realize how to lead the best life for ourselves, regardless of how that looks to others.

There is a clear distinction between being young, not helping yourself to at least prepare for what tasks might come ahead, and being open to what life might bring while still doing the best you can at this present moment. The work you do should be to bring joy and fulfillment into your life so you can feel confident about utilizing each day.

And that work could just be taking care of yourself. It could be cleaning your living space for a (probably placebo) effect of feeling rejuvenated. It could be pursuing a passion, finishing a class assignment, or taking steps forward in a certain career. Whatever work may look like to you each day, I really value those who feel that inner drive to not just sit idly by or work simply for the facade of productivity, but to take charge of their own happiness.

College days, constantly changing majors and juggling multiple responsibilities at once like a sideshow carnival act, is certainly a setting that can turn work into a chore. Inevitably, we must all get chores done that we would much rather not be doing or we feel are required of us to do. But this also an ideal time to discover for yourself what work sparks satisfaction and doing it often.

The second we step outside of a college campus, are days will turn into ones devoted to the work force. So if young people aren’t going forward without some solid inclination of supporting themselves from one day to the next, where do they find any drive? How will they feed a hunger for more if they don’t know how to tap into it?

When in doubt, introspection. Ask yourself what makes you happy and how to incorporate that now for the future. Find appreciation in the little moments that we might overlook if it’s just a task to check off the list. Admittedly, I actually really enjoy doing errands, grocery shopping, and general cleaning. And I also enjoy writing for this blog five days a week. And I enjoy finding new opportunities to grow and expand my horizons in a way that can form the foundation for whatever the future might bring. And I enjoy making goals for myself that get me in the head space to prioritize and appreciate.

In having the goals I do, some might think I’m just speeding through life too quickly, and to that, I can occasionally agree that I can be hard on myself. But nonetheless, by leading the life I do, performing what might look like work, I feel I can attract more personal joy that translates into joy in everything else I do. I can be a nicer person. I can welcome people who value the same things with open arms and lots of love.

So if your daily tasks are just endless to-do lists that end up being just busy work, nothing listed that exercises your mind and passion, then it’s time to reevaluate. It’s time to look beyond just mundane and inject joy. While I don’t expect the normal, healthy population to walk as quickly as I do, I think we should adjust how we view productivity. It’s an individual analysis, not a group survey. We must pinpoint what is best for us, and that means not just seeing a future just beyond our sight, but in doing so, examining how to make the most of the present.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Don’t Think, Just Go

Spontaneity comes easily to some, not so much for others. Some can just hop in a car at a second’s notice and are ready for any sort of possibility out there. Others need some pre-planning and a full-out schedule to put into their agendas.

I can easily admit I fall in the latter category. With anxiety, social and general, going with the flow at every moment can feel daunting. I get caught up in my head of what times and places and situations work best, regardless of how rational my reasoning is. I’m not keen on dropping everything I’m doing at a moment’s notice to go do something.

While a part of me is just generally aware of timing and wants to be as organized as possible, mental health can also be a valid aspect of myself that I fear can hold myself back. It’s a difficult line to cross. Certain things have gotten easier with time, but it’s not in my nature to go into a situation without a plan.

When you’re reading this, I will actually be preparing to leave on a weekend in Virginia to see my brother, a decision that truly was spontaneous, a quick question and online search for airline tickets. And, I must say, I am beyond excited for this little adventure.

As much as I love having a clear path of what I’m doing, I can see the thrilling appeal of just going out into the world without a distinct destination, just going and seeing what might happen. Of course you strive for some sense of balance between the two extremes, but you have to start somewhere, right?

Maybe I won’t be as spontaneous as some people are, and I cannot compare my personality with others. But as I make those baby steps to get just an inch outside of my comfort zone, I feel a sense of freedom and gratification that makes me proud of myself, of the progress I’ve made. Of course I still have a nature that gravitates toward a sense of structure and direction, but sometimes it’s important to go against your own grains for the sake of personal growth.

And, of course, life is not short of spontaneity. We cannot by our own limited knowledge predict and plan every detail of our lives, our next steps, the outcomes to our actions. We constantly must adapt to changes out of our control and refer back to the plans B-Z. It takes a degree of grace and understanding to fully accept that life is mysterious and complex, and too much time spent trying to envision it years or even months down the road deters from the now.

We must decide for ourselves what risks are worth taking. When we must really dig deep and research on what the best plan is to make. Or when we just need to take a moment’s notice of our gut instinct and roll with the punches. And somehow distinguishing one from the other is a whole other predicament that I by no means have mastered. I expect to continue trying to bob and weave my way through planning and risks for the rest of my time here on earth.

A big aspect that has helped me in accepting the spontaneous, especially when it comes to twisty turns of events (people who drop in at a moment’s notice still push my buttons), is faith. Personally, knowing that God is in the driver’s seat and I’m a passenger, having somewhat of a hold on what roads we travel but ultimately relying upon the knowledgeable driver to at least have a map or some GPS device handy. In many instances, I don’t know why things happen as they do. No matter how much I had a vision in my head and prepared accordingly, everything can completely fall through in the blink of an eye.

But what feels like a random occurrence, a spontaneous and unplanned phenomenon, is actually part of a larger plan, one that I don’t have right at my disposal. In my own free will, I choose to accept this lack of control in what my purpose is in life and how I get there. The fear I feel when thinking of going into a situation without a plan is, to an extent, a human instinct neglecting my trust and faith that God will take care of me, that things will work out as they should, no matter how shocking or difficult or crazy they feel right now.

So, long story short, I’m a work in progress. I know I could improve upon my willingness to try new experiences, even if I didn’t have it pictured out in advance. The same might go for someone who refuses to use an agenda or think ahead after they graduate from school or make a next step in their lives. As long as I have a foundation of a clear mindset, a healthy body, and an assurance that the universe will guide me if I stumble, I think I can do just fine. And if I can sneak in a quick trip to a new destination? That’s just icing on the cake.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Troubling Triggers

The word “trigger” is one that has been thrown around much more often than it should. It’s just one of those “cool” phrases to use online to turn mental illness into a glamorous state of being.

But contrary to the overuse of the term, I do think it’s important to address this concept as it pertains to mental health. For those of us volatile to dips in mental health with a history of any difficulties, there can be certain situations that can be a tipping point for a relapse.

Understandably, moods are bound to change regardless of our surroundings, but even if you’re in a good place, certain things can just be uncomfortable or downright dangerous.

This topic came to mind after seeing a news story of how two girls completed suicide. However, it turns out that both girls had watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why before doing so. Obviously the families of these girls, with the one piece of tangible reasoning they can grasp, are placing blame on the video streaming site.

Putting blame entirely on Netflix is as bad as blaming every circumstance other than mental illness for suicide. However, I do think that the show was a trigger to young people already facing plenty of issues themselves. A confirmation that following through with their dangerous thoughts was a sensible choice.

For most people, triggers don’t come from television shows, but these shows could easily portray concepts that cause anxiety, that allow depressive thoughts to resurface.

A common misconception is that if we are exposed to our triggers more often, they are easier to manage. That we become used to how we feel and “overcome” our hesitation. Rarely is this true. Phobias and triggers are not synonymous. You should feel no obligation to face your triggers if you don’t feel comfortable.

Instead of devaluing someone for avoiding what is harmful to them, we should applaud the fact they’re aware of what disrupts their mental well-being and taking care of themselves accordingly. Nothing is more empowering than having insight into our health and making the best choices for ourselves. And if doing so doesn’t limit our lives or hurt others, nobody should judge however that self-care may look.

You’re probably wondering, do I have triggers? Of course. There’s a reason why I don’t wear a FitBit, weigh myself, or go out often to loud, crowded places without a valid reason. I know that by being proactive, I can prevent myself from having to deal with what I know might drive me to some unhealthy behaviors.

Is this a form of avoidance? That by not addressing these triggers head-on, I’m not actively seeking recovery? I don’t think so. You shouldn’t feel guilty for making your life as nontoxic as possible. You are the one living your life, and if that means that you don’t associate yourself with certain people or don’t partake in certain activities, then that’s okay.

It’s been a new thing these days for certain people to critique how often we might label a certain social media post or program with a “trigger warning.” But why is this any different from other health conditions? You wouldn’t ask a diabetic person to eat a ton of desserts to raise their blood sugar through the roof, nor would you put a jar of peanut butter in somebody’s face who has a food-borne allergy, expecting them to adapt to that situation and become more resilient.

It’s more understandable to make these comparisons, but mental health triggers can be much more complicated. As with mental and physical illness, the latter tends to be much more visible, more black-and-white. Mental health thrives in the grey area. The mental triggers, as with physical ones, can be mild or severe. They can come from anywhere that has some emotional ties. Most people wouldn’t even question eating certain foods or discussing certain topics, but who knows what goes through somebody else’s head doing the same thing. Triggers require others to be flexible and aware. They are not the outright cause of mental illness, but they are catalysts for trouble.

While not every single word or image we see or hear should require listing out every possible reason that it could offend someone else, but we ourselves should notice whatever signs we know are associated with our personal triggers and treating them accordingly. Nobody else has to be involved in disclosing every single detail we might encounter, but the people around us should act simply as moral support. They might not fully understand why a simple TV show or social situation might cause full-out panic or depression, but they can acknowledge that you might do things differently than others, and that’s okay.

Whether you have triggers or not, be mindful and empathetic of those who do have them, who may need your emotional support to simply live a full life. And these triggers are not glamorous. It’s not some new trend to say you have social anxiety or are depressed. Triggers have and will drive some people over the edge. Once we actually start taking that threat seriously, we can continue moving forward as a cognizant society.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Get Messy

If there is one thing I feel like I end up perpetually doing, it’s making mistakes. Through trials and errors galore, I’m surprised I’m still able to stand upright after how many times I’ve tripped and have been kicked while still face-down on the ground.

But from all of the seeming “failures” that I have under my belt, I can say that I’m a better person from it all. For someone who strives for perfection, you wouldn’t expect me to be so calm about my pitfalls. I embrace them.

So I sound like a walking contradiction, but what’s new there? As a society, as individuals looking upon ourselves and others, we scour at the idea of being sub-par. Or, dare I say, make a complete and utter mistake. The accompanying shame, guilt, and sense of defeat are enough to keep us “in line,” making sure we perform at our optimal performance in everything we do.

Maybe I’m too critical about the capitalistic mindset, but now more than ever we expect every aspect of our lives to be done perfectly, quickly, effortlessly. We don’t leave much margin for error, and if something does malfunction, if someone doesn’t live up to our high expectations, we exude frustration that reverts the cycle again back to our immediate gratification.

In these moments, we forget our humanity. Our essence that makes us who we are. The word “failure” has a negative connotation that leaves an acrid taste in our mouths. We shun those who fail. We look down upon them as if we are somehow better, that we are of a greater caliber ourselves that wouldn’t dream of “stooping so low.”

Except nobody is better. No amount of success, money, or fame makes one person better than the other. Again, we forget our humanity. We champion those who are invincible, that appear as if they can do no wrong. But for those who exude perfection, what do we learn from them?

No matter how hard we try, we aren’t robots. We cannot always act impartially, without any sense of emotion. We bring different perspectives and experiences to the table, and from that vast array of variance, we inevitably see those who may thrive in certain areas and those face more struggles. But we only values those who end up with “positive” results. We label success and failure as black and white, a strict divide that includes “appropriate” reactions for each that maintain the status quo.

We need to set aside these misconceptions. We must discourage the fear associated with making mistakes in whatever we may do in life, whether it’s a job, school, or any situation we face. We aren’t going to say and do the right thing at every given moment. Nobody is capable of such a feat. Even if someone could theoretically live life perfectly, what does that even mean? How do we define a failure- and mistake-free existence? And from that existence, what would one gain from it?

When we admire those who have seemed to achieve so much in their lifetimes, do we realize that they would not have earned prestige without faults? Best-selling authors who have been rejected by many publishers. World leaders who have faced scrutiny and notoriety. Inspirational figures who use their past struggles as a foundation for their words. The path to fulfilling their purposes came from their flaws.

We need mistakes. Imperfection is a tool for growth. By facing an obstacle, no matter the end result, we are making progress for ourselves. What feels like a step backward acts as an archery bow propelling us to whatever our next target may be. Taking our mistakes in stride, accepting them and utilizing their lessons, is one of the greatest choices we can make.

Admittedly, mistakes are uncomfortable. I’ve had enough of those for a few lifetimes. And while yes, it’s still difficult to accept those flaws without it making me slightly cringe, I have learned that the mistakes are just as, if not more so, than my successes. I am a patchwork of moments, good and bad, interwoven with the takeaway messages and lessons they have taught me. Even when I feel like I’m weighed down by a multitude of difficult challenges, of painful moments, of hardships, that heaviness keeps me grounded and allows me to empathize more with others. It has developed my voice into one now especially honed in on doing good and helping whoever I can.

We cannot grow from flawlessness. Perfection translates into tunnel-vision, a blindness to the reality of living a full and challenging life. Just as perfectionism toward ourselves ultimately holds us back, the same goes for expecting an entirely clean slate from others. Making mistakes shows that we’re trying, that we’re putting in effort and growing from it. Embracing pitfalls means we can wear them on our tool belts with whatever challenge we may face.

We cannot avoid mistakes. We cannot let mistakes hold us down and discourage us from risky, challenging ventures. The more mistakes we make, the more opportunities for us to reflect and grow. Our brain neurologically pays more attention to mistakes. We are more aware of our actions, enabling us to spark more learning. But our greatest mistake as a society? Breeding the mentality that mistakes are not valuable, that they require punishment.

I remember one Pinterest quote asking what we would do if we knew we couldn’t fail. Because we can truly do anything we set our minds to if realize it’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to stumble and accept defeat. It’s okay if things don’t work out just as they should. The final product is not the sole display of our work and character; it’s the effort and the process. If we choose to see struggle as productive and not debilitating, then yes, we can truly accomplish anything.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Where We’ve Come

Today is nothing poignant necessarily. Nothing too crazy. It’s just crazy for me, and hopefully others can relate.

When you’ve been through a lot, have had a whirlwind of obstacles and challenges come across your path, it’s weird to even imagine a point where those obstacles become manageable. As if you just got a pair of glasses after years of blurry vision and finally seeing the world as it is for the first time.

That’s how I feel. This has been the longest period I have ever felt this…normal. At a mental state where I have some sense of stability. For me, that is something I honestly never thought I’d find.

Maybe it’s just me trying to block everything out of my memory, but it’s hard for me to go back and think about my past mental states, my self-destructive thoughts. So many days of my short life have been spent covered in a blindfold.

I realize that I’m now trudging in unfamiliar territory. I don’t know what life is like without extra weight dragging me down. It’s weird to not always feel dull, or not have my mind racing to different random scenarios in my head, or not counting every crumb I’ve consumed in a day. With all of the extra head space, I almost feel guilty for not immediately going to do more. Pursuing so many different things I would have never dreamed of before.

No matter how awful mental illness is, when you begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel, you almost feel naked. Mental illness has been an everyday battle for me, and even on days that I felt better than normal, it became an easy crutch and excuse to rely upon. If I’m nervous about stepping outside of my comfort zone, even if I know deep down I can handle it, it’s too easy to just call out depression or anxiety and avoid it all.

But there’s no hiding now. I’m more aware of myself than I ever have been. In fact, it’s as if I am now truly embodying my personality. That can lead to new anxieties, of not being good enough even when I’m present. That I am a lost soul meandering into nothing, no end in sight, because my formative years were spent in fog. It’s scary to realize that vulnerability. It presents an unknown, a potential for relapsing back into my lower moods, a world that I don’t know I can fit into.

I also must realize that some aspects of myself are just me, not my mental illness. No amount of therapy or medication can make me care less about having my life especially clean and organized. I’m naturally very critical of myself. I still desire some sense of control over what I encounter in life. As I continue making progress, it’s all about learning about myself, finding out something new every day to better take care of myself.

Yes, the hesitations are real. I cannot deny those. However, with every fear that crosses my mind, an exponential number of benefits outnumber them all. They often arise in very mundane, normal situations, things that most other people wouldn’t think twice about. Like actually wearing shorts in the summer instead of hiding in long pants, even on the hottest of days. Like completing a school assignment without dazing off every few minutes. Like genuinely smiling and feeling emotions.

This journey is one I know I will travel the rest of my life. My genetics don’t allow for those dangerous tendencies to completely dissipate. But that realization doesn’t deter me from still working every day to be my best self, however that may look each passing day. Some mornings will be easier, and others not. If anything, knowing the potential of those easier mornings is more encouragement to remain hopeful and optimistic because normality and happiness are possible. They aren’t just cheesy motivational quotes.

My normal won’t look like yours or anybody else’s. What is a success for me might be a simple task for everybody else, and that is okay. And by no means am I saying that you can just put on a happy face when you’re depressed and you’ll be cured. Trust me, I know the burden of chronic mental illness.

I hope you realize that no matter your struggles in life, if you’ve come out the other side, you are strong. You are capable of facing anything thrown your way. And if you’re in the midst of the battle, keep going. The storm does pass. The rain and wind will batter against the windows and shake your foundation, but if you’re willing to weather it all, willing to accept help when necessary and patch up any damage, then you will be rewarded.

There’s point in not being hopeful. I know there have been times when I couldn’t imagine anything else or was so blind to my own suffering. But knowing that I am sitting here, feeling like I am, accomplishing all that I have thus far, it’s slightly unbelievable. I don’t know if it will ever really sink in, but if I can do anything with this present moment, I want to encourage others. I want to open the blinds so everyone can see the sunshine. Because the clouds cannot stick around forever.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie