Depression doesn’t get to win. 

My earliest memories of depression were in middle school. I didn’t know that’s what it was at that time, but I knew that these recurring bad feelings didn’t go away. I didn’t have many friends and felt awkward. I didn’t know what to do with myself. If anyone has suggested it, I would have ignored it. But one thing I did know: I always had a problem.

High school came and depression continued, without me really knowing or acknowledging it. I just thought I was a high schooler, and the angst came with it. The word came up a few times: depression. But I scoffed and said that anyone who was depressed was making it all up in their head and that there was no way it was a chemical thing. People did suggest that maybe I was depressed. But I still ignored it. What I did know: I needed people too much.

I have very specific memories of going to high school football games and standing on the outskirts of my friend group, silent, depressed, hoping someone would notice. But no one ever did.

My junior year marked when the depression started to persist more. I maybe toyed with the idea that I had depression, but I felt like I needed to just get over it. I had nothing to be depressed about.

But my friend group was the key to my happiness. So when they, who were all a year older than me, left for college, I got very depressed. I started having suicidal thoughts. I thought my life wasn’t worth living and everyone would be better off if I were gone. At this point I knew I struggled with depression, but it wasn’t a possibility to me that I could get help. I just had to deal with it. I wasn’t super comfortable with it. I started making plans of how I would do it. But even then, I didn’t want to do it. But I felt alone, scared, everything was too much to handle, I had no support system.

In April of my senior year, I was very depressed. I questioned if I even believed in God. I wondered if life was worth living if I didn’t have my faith. I told that to my best friend at the time, and she asked if I was suicidal. I stared at my phone for probably ten minutes debating what to say, feeling dizzy, feeling like I could barely breathe. Do I tell her the truth? Or do I just lie? I wondered. I told her the truth. I said I was thinking about it but I wouldn’t act on it. A few days later, she told someone at my church who made me tell my parents. It could not have come at a more hectic time, but I’m alive because of it.

That’s what I refer to as my first suicidal period. There have been two in my life.

***

If I had to think of one sentence to summarize my life message, that includes what I’m all about and what I’ve gone through, this is what it would be: Depression doesn’t get to win.

That is the question that Dear World poses: what would you say? What’s your story? Then you write that message on your body and they take portraits.

I stumbled upon an event, that Student Involvement was hosting Dear World, through an email we get every week about what’s going on at Nebraska. I thought it was really cool. I wondered, what I would say? Although I didn’t know the exact message, I knew it would be about depression. I had two different messages in mind, but the day of, I knew which one I wanted.

***

I thought I worked through the depression. Things got better that summer. I went to college and it came back. I dealt with it the best I could, but I still didn’t think it was a possibility to treat it. The summer after my freshman year I met some people who were open about their struggle, who were Christians but still took medication and went to therapy. I started to open myself up to the idea of it, and decided when I got back to campus I would try it. I went to the school counseling center and they paired me with a male counselor. It was super awkward for me so I stopped going after three sessions. I was feeling better, after all.

But depression came back.

Around January of my sophomore year of college, I started thinking about antidepressants. I had been trying so hard to fight depression and it was still there, so maybe it was chemical. I felt relieved at that thought. I talked to some friends to see if I was making the right decision and one of them had found a counselor for me. So I started seeing her.

So started a new season of my life, of healing, but it sure didn’t seem like it at first. Because I started becoming aware of all of the faulty thought patterns and bad habits I had.

***

Why that phrase? I thought through “Depression won’t win,” and thoughts alike. There are so many times I thought depression would win. There are so many times where I felt so beaten up, so empty, so weakened by depression. There are so many times I’ve asked myself, Will I ever beat depression? There were times of uncertainty about whether I wanted to live. There were times of so much doubt in myself, of so much weakness.

But I made it through the really rough patches. Through the hard work I did in therapy I learned to fight. I also learned that the fight is harder at some times, and that sometimes I can only muster a tiny amount of fight. But that is enough.

I learned that depression is a big bully that makes you feel really small. It makes you feel like no one cares about you, and it tricks you into thinking that no one would care if you were gone. It transforms your thinking, envelops you in lies, so much so that you think the lies are actually truth.

***

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***

In the newest season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Kimmy starts therapy. She tells her landlord and roommate before her first session, “Take a good look at me! The next time you see me, I’ll be totally normal!”

I have to admit, I laughed a lot at that. I wish it were that way. I think we all do. The truth is, therapy doesn’t work like that. In fact, I felt like I was making absolutely no progress for about the first few months, and I was only growing more frustrated. What was really going on was that I was beginning to see and understand my thought patterns. My therapist told me that awareness is the first step.

Apart from that, I can’t tell you any certain milestones. I remember for a while, my therapist would tell me in every session that it’s okay that I’m not okay, that it’s a process. Slowly, I began to start changing those thought patterns. It was only in really little ways. I would say something and my therapist would point out how that was different than what I would normally think. She would celebrate the victories, sometimes more than me.

***

It was not a quick process. I have been in therapy for over three years, and I’m still working. I still fall victim to faulty thought patterns. It has been a process full of stumbles and scrapes, and times where depression still had a large influence on me. But depression has not won, because I am still alive.

There is no way I can summarize three years of therapy and my life in a (comparatively) short blog post. The process has been really long. It has been really frustrating at times. It’s been a lot of back and forth, and definitely not linear.

But depression doesn’t get to win. It doesn’t get to win because, although I still may feel depressed sometimes, it doesn’t take away my will to live. I want to be alive now. Before in the really dark time of my sophomore year of college, I couldn’t say that. It doesn’t get to win because I won’t let it win. Because I’m not giving up. I have made so much progress through therapy and I continue to.

I still stumble sometimes, of course. Just yesterday I was in a certain panic mode, feeling depressed, because I wasn’t far enough on a project. I didn’t handle it the best way. But the important thing is that I handled it. I got through it.

***

I believe there is an incredibly unhealthy stigma around depression. It is harmful. It tells people that they’re weird or defective if they struggle with depression, or any other mental illness. It tells people that it’s not okay to ask for help. Because of this, people hide their struggle, and many go on to commit suicide.

I was almost one of those people. I was a victim to this stigma. I have imposed it on myself many times, and sometimes I still do.

It’s because of this that I knew that I would write something about depression on my arms. I am open about my depression because I don’t want others to feel the stigma that I’ve felt. I want people to know that it will get better, although I know that when you’re in the middle of depression, it doesn’t feel like it. But it’s worth it to keep fighting, and to not let depression win, because it doesn’t get to win.

***

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My therapy anniversary

Today, three years ago, I had my first session with my therapist in Charleston. It may seem like a silly thing to celebrate, but for me, this marked the beginning of a life-changing relationship and time in my life. And so, to mark the occasion, I decided to write about it, as I like to do, in order to reflect and to give some tidbits of advice or whatever comes out.

Depression runs in my family. I remember being depressed as early as middle school, although at that time I didn’t know what it was. I knew that I always had a problem, and I struggled with wondering if I was important to my friends. As time went on, it got worse. High school, apart from the defaultly angsty time that it is, I saw it get worse at some points. The lowest point was my senior year; all of my good friends were a year ahead of me, and so they were all starting college when I was a senior. I got very depressed and wondered about my worth as a person. It was consuming. At one point, I was suicidal. I said something that tipped off one of my best friends at the time, and she confronted me. What followed was a chain of telling people to get it out in the open. She made me tell people, which I really disliked. I was actually super mad at her. But it saved my life.

The depression went away for a while, and then it came back in college. I fought it, but I could never get a handle on it. In the winter of 2013, my sophomore year, I started considering going on medication. At this point, I felt, if I couldn’t get a handle on depression and I was fighting it as many ways as I knew how, then surely there was a biological component. Doing counseling wasn’t even on my mind. I talked to certain people in my life, asking for counsel, because I didn’t want to rush into a decision like this. As God would have it, one of my friends had been in contact with a therapist in Charleston that she wanted me to see, and made me call her right after she told me, to make sure I would. I am so glad she did.

This is the backstory of what got me to therapy. I’m sharing it here because I don’t know if I’ve ever shared the whole thing. (Now, this is a very simplified version, and you’ll have to ask me if you want more details). But, I find comfort in logic and coherency. Little did I know that starting that therapeutic relationship three years ago would, as dramatic as it sounds, change my life.

I also wanted to write what about what therapy is like, because we all know the stereotype of laying on a couch and “Tell me how you feel…” while the therapist takes notes, and, while it is sort of like that, I never laid on her couch (although there was one) and she never took notes. Every session started with talking about my week, and evolved from there into other issues we needed to talk about or that my week contributed to. Sometimes we wouldn’t finish talking about a subject fully and would revisit it the next week. But that’s mostly how it went every week.

Therapy wasn’t something where I could consistently see leaps and bounds; I would argue the opposite. It was a very gradual process, full of ups and downs, and periodically I would “look back” and realize that things were changing, just not in overtly obvious ways. I remember, probably a year/a year and a half into counseling, one session, where she told me, “I wish I could sit the Jocelyn from a year ago next to you and we could compare the differences.” I made progress. But, just as the patterns of thinking I had developed over the years were subtle, so were the changes.

The biggest thing I got from therapy was a toolbox (read: a metaphorical toolbox). Through the years we worked on learning different tools I could use to help regulate my moods, to help handle my depression. By far the biggest was journaling, but the second biggest was speaking truth to myself, often through note cards that I would write things down on and try to read every day. I learned that I stuffed a lot of my negative emotions, and I learned how to express them. I learned how to communicate better with my family and friends, to vocalize what I need. I learned techniques like mindfulness and deep-breathing. I still even have a sticky note on my wall by my desk with a list of things I can do to take care of myself.

Overall, I can’t give you a quantitative assessment of what I gained from therapy; I can only attest to the fact that it changed my life; for one, it saved my life. About a month into therapy, we decided it was time to also try antidepressants. I talked to my doctor and got on one, but it wasn’t the correct dose. Consequently, I felt more depressed and more suicidal. There was a point where my therapist and I had an informal safety plan (i.e., if I was planning on acting on my thoughts, I would call her). I don’t say that to brag or incur pity, only to offer the reality of how dark that time was for me. In a time where I was working through issues and it felt as if nobody understood me, she did. And that mattered, a lot. Looking back, my faith and therapy are the reasons I’m alive. I can see how God orchestrated it, because if I had just gone on medicine like my plan was, I would not have survived those two months.

I am so indescribably grateful to my therapist. As I was reflecting on the incoming life transition I would soon experience over the past summer, and I was reflecting about leaving my therapist, this analogy occurred to me. Before therapy, I was in a room with a ton of junk in it, in pitch darkness. I was bumping into things and getting mad at myself that I just couldn’t stop. My therapist came in, turned the light on, helped me sort through the stuff, and gave me a toolbox that we filled together. That analogy is so poignant for me, because it perfectly describes what those 2.75 years of therapy with her were to me.

If you had asked me when I started therapy, I would not have anticipated how much it would mean to me. At that point in time I didn’t even think not being depressed was a possibility in life. I didn’t think I’d get better. I wasn’t even totally sure that I really wanted to change at the beginning. But my therapist was someone who had faith in me, who gently helped me work through my issues and revealed to me thought patterns and unhealthy habits that I had acquired over the years. She continually showed me love and grace, and she showed God’s love to me as well. Probably the things she said to me the most were, “This is a process, and that’s okay,” and “give yourself grace” at first. Later on it was the same things but with an added, “the process ebbs and flows.” I am so stubborn with that…my perfectionism hates that it’s a process. I can’t stand it. I see who I want to be, and I want to be that already.

I miss my therapist dearly. And that’s okay. I will always have a special place in my heart for her. I am learning to deal with these contradictory feelings, of missing her but also being okay with that. But she wasn’t meant to walk alongside me for my entire life, although that’s hard to think about. Overall, I am so grateful for the time (and hundreds of sessions, probably) that we had together.

Why am I writing about this? First of all, I’m sentimental, and this is how I process. Second of all, I believe that one of the gifts God gave me is openness, that my story is not only for me to keep, but to tell. And if this could help someone on the fence about therapy, or someone who is considering but is unsure, then so be it. This is a big part of my life and I don’t think I’ve written such a detailed post about this. Guys, therapy is great. Everyone could use therapy. Third of all, to dispel the stigma. There is an incredible stigma surrounding mental health which is extremely unfortunate. I always say that getting help doesn’t mean you’re weak; in fact, I think it shows that you are strong. Getting help is wise. It’s acknowledging that you can’t do it on your own. And everyone needs help. Having trouble with your mind doesn’t make you crazy, it makes you normal! Therapy is a great resource to get some tools to help you help yourself. (Side note: therapy also doesn’t have to be something you shout from the rooftops if you don’t want it to be; it’s completely up to you if you choose to revel to people whether or not you go to therapy). I am a huge proponent of therapy.

I’ll leave you with a picture I posted on Instagram after my last session with this therapist. It is a fitting end. (I am all about symbolism and analogies and what have you). Suffice it to say, I would not be where I am (or alive!) if I hadn’t taken that brave step into my therapist’s office three years ago today.

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(See a couple other posts about my journey with depression here and here).

hello from nebraska 

Cool manhole that I saw.

Friends, family, some random person I’ve never met but yet who’s reading this:

I’m really sorry I haven’t written anything for so long. Life has been hectic and a bit difficult. Case in point is that I’ve been meaning to write and publish this for over two weeks. So it’s time for another “this hasn’t turned out as I expected but that’s okay” posts (I had one when I was in Spain, too).

Grad school is not what I expected, to be honest. I kind of wish someone had told me that it would be hard. I figured…it’s an extension of what I studied in undergrad, what I’m good at, so it’ll be easy, right? Ha. Nope. It’s not to say that it’s not worth it though. In the moments I don’t feel overwhelmed, it’s energizing.

I definitely underestimated how difficult this transition would be. I figured I was in a good place this summer, and I was so ready for the change. It would be new. It would be exciting. I definitely idealized it. I was going to leave Illinois! Finally! To go to the very metropolitan state of…Nebraska? I would be at a giant university, in a city that was a lot bigger than Charleston. So, I’ll detail some of the things that have surprised me and what I’ve been up to.

First: Lincoln is “big,” but it’s actually a small town. Population wise it’s big. But it’s not the thriving metropolis I had imagined. Which is totally okay. I didn’t want to go to a city like Chicago. It’s kind of the happy medium: it’s bigger than Charleston (i.e. it has multiple Targets, Paneras, Noodles and Co., Chipotle, etc). But it’s a big town disguised as a small town, with the exception of Memorial Stadium, that is…

They release tons of these balloons when the Huskers score their first touchdown.

Second: Husker Nation, man. Go Big Red! They’re crazy about football here. It makes sense. This definitely surpassed my expectations. I eagerly purchased season tickets and I wasn’t disappointed. Husker football games are one of a kind. You could go not liking football and get excited at the sheer atmosphere. I guess 90,000 people, most of them Husker fans in attendance cheering will do that to you. Definitely unique. They have sold out every single game since 1962. Dang. 

One little person in a sea of red..

Third: big universities breed big resources. The UHC (University Health Center) is way better than EIU’s Health Services (sorry, EIU.) they have massage therapy available to students! They have little café’s in almost every building. Their vending machines take debit cards. It doesn’t take much to impress me, I know. It’s so different than EIU.

Love Library

Fourth: Nebraska Nice. It’s a real thing. Everyone I’ve met has been super welcoming and I definitely appreciate it. It was one of the things that impressed me when I visited and swayed me towards attending here. I’m glad I did, even though not everything is going as expected.

Downtown, in the Haymarket.

I definitely did not think that moving to a new city where I didn’t know anyone would be so hard. On the surface that sounds kind of dumb. But it’s the truth. I have gone through so many transitions in my life and I think this one is the hardest yet, because it’s so many transitions all at once. I moved to a new city in a new state. I am living in an apartment for the first time. I am cooking (mostly) regularly for the first time. I changed therapists. I changed medication. I changed schools. I changed churches. Everything has changed. And let me tell you, it’s been disorienting.

I am no longer the Jocelyn I was at EIU. I can’t be, because circumstances have changed. I am moving into a different stage of life. One that is not as simple as undergrad life was (whose simpleness I did not realize until it was no longer that way) but one that is a whole lot more complicated…

Who am I now? That’s the harder question. I am so thankful for my time at EIU. It has changed my life in so many ways. But I’m not the same person I was just 6 months ago. I don’t completely know who I am, but that’s okay. I am finding my place here. I am thankful for friends who tell me that I belong, because a lot of times my insecurity yells at me that I don’t belong. I don’t know completely who I am. I know who I want to be…a successful academic and Spanish teacher. Right now I seem to be a struggling grad student.

So any way you view it, my life is far from perfect. But I never said it was. I embrace my mess, because Jesus embraced the mess of being human, and he embraces my mess. And if he does it, then why not me? So, there it is: I am having a hard time with grad school.

What surprises me is the fact that I love teaching. This was very unexpected. I had so many anxieties about having to lead my own class when I had never had any explicit teaching experience. But the good thing for me is that it comes more naturally than I would have thought. (And I do think that a lot of that comes from the leadership experienced I gained from being a student manager for Panther Dining). I totally thought I would be bored teaching Spanish 101 because, well, it’s Spanish 101. But it’s quite the contrary. I am excited about it because learning a second language is very beneficial, because learning a second language is so different than any other thing: it’s not just learning new words; it’s learning a new culture, taking on a new persona. And that’s cool and very useful. Now, my students don’t really share my enthusiasm…but that’s okay. I have good days and bad ones, and I learn from both. I already know how I’m going to do things differently for next semester. Teaching has been quite the adventure, but it’s encouraging to me that I have this passion.

Officially official! On the directory board.

The grad classes part, on the other hand, is significantly harder. So. Much. Work. I seriously assumed that it would be easy because I’ve always been a good student and because undergrad was easy. Obviously, I’m having to adjust my expectations. I think these next several years are going to be the hardest years so far. But I hear they’re rewarding. Well, I know it’ll be rewarding when I get to teach all the time about what I love. In the mean time, I have a mountain of projects to do and hopefully somewhere in this process I’ll figure out how to manage my time better.

Consequently, I’ll be stepping off Facebook until the semester is done. Life is too crazy to worry about Facebook.

Campus from the 11th floor with the view of the Capitol behind it.

gratitude and endings

There has been a lot on my mind lately, so I decided that maybe I should write a post. It’ll probably be all jumbled and really long, but read along if you want.


I am smack dab in the middle of a huge transition. I have finally left Charleston, and I am waiting to move to Nebraska. I was thinking today about how crazy it is that in less than two weeks I will be moving my life–literally everything of mine–to a new state. The baby is leaving the metaphorical nest–if all of Illinois (or just Rockton and Charleston) is the nest. It’s insane. And exciting. I am so pumped to go. But I am sad to leave at the same time. But this big move is almost unfathomable to me, it’s hard to comprehend. But if it’s anything like going to Spain was, it won’t hit me until I’m there. But even that provides comfort: I went to Spain by myself for four months and thrived, so how hard is going to a new state?

Although they are similar, they’re also very different: I am moving to this new state for I’m not sure how long but probably the next six years, and I’ll need to establish roots in many different places. This is scary and exciting for me. As an introvert, it’s challenging to put myself in new and unfamiliar situations. But I’ve learned to be more extroverted, which probably has accompanied my process of recovery from depression (I say process because I don’t think I will be fully recovered, and although I am better, what does it mean to be “all better?”).

The scariest place to put myself in, at least right now, is church. I experienced fantastic community at Christian Campus House (CCH) at Eastern. My time there over the past year really helped in the healing process–both for me personally and in relation to me going to church (or not going, really). My sophomore and junior years, when I was dealing with more depression than I am now (again, I won’t ever be immune from it), I didn’t really go to church much. Church is not an easy place for most people with mental health issues…I would have so much anxiety about going to church alone that if no one could go with me, physically walk in and sit with me, I wouldn’t go. The thought of walking into a church where I could possibly not see anyone I knew was really scary. The thought of having superficial conversations with acquaintances was really exhausting to me at that point in time because it meant putting up a facade and saying I’m doing okay when I really wasn’t. And my aching especially in that time was to be seen and loved. So for a long time, I didn’t go to church much. And then last summer I went to CCH Bible studies and met some people. So in the fall, I went there and met even more people. I went on fall retreat and connected with so many people that after that, I no longer had any anxiety about walking into church by myself because I knew I would see people that I knew. However, CCH doesn’t hold Sunday services in the summer so I faced the choice: would I go to church somewhere this summer, or just not? One big lesson I’ve learned over my senior year is that you get out of community what you put into it, and I think that if I had gotten involved in community sooner, I would have gotten “better” faster…that is a regret of mine. I knew that I needed to commit to going somewhere, because I’ll have to do that in Nebraska, so if I can’t do that in Charleston, what makes me think I could do it in Nebraska? So I went to The Fields Church in Mattoon every Sunday I could, and almost every time I went I as alone. It’s scary, because I didn’t know anyone, and if I had had more time, I would have tried to connect more than I did. But me simply going proved to myself that I can do it to a deeper extent in Nebraska.


It’s been interesting to see my fears dissolve…the thought of getting involved at a new church in NE was scary at the beginning of the summer. But I know it’s not impossible to do and it’ll help me get settled, and that’s dissolved away to almost nothing. I was probably more excited than scared and sad about moving, but for most of this summer it has seemed the other way around. Honestly, I think a lot of that was sadness knowing that I was in Charleston but would have to say goodbye soon. I said goodbye. It was bittersweet. (More on that later). So that’s dissolved. I got an apartment. I signed the lease. I’m packing. As my departure date nears closer, the excitement builds.

But here’s the reality: my life right now is made up of a ton of endings. My undergraduate career has ended. My undergraduate job has ended. I’ve had to say goodbye to professors and friends, employers and coworkers. No goodbye is easy. No goodbye to someone you have a significant relationship with is easy. One of the last things one of the cooks at my (former) job said to me was, “have a very, very good life, Jocelyn.” He said it in such a sincere way, it just sticks out to me even now. It’s possible that I may never see some of these people again, and though I may dramatically say “oh my gosh that’s so sad” when someone tells me to have a good life, it’s the reality. Now social media has changed this to an extent, and a lot of these people I can keep up with via Facebook and vice versa. But still…goodbyes are hard, because we are wired for relationships. In an ideal world we would never have to say goodbye…but it’s not an ideal world. The fact that we get sad about relationships ending shows that they are a worthy pursuit. So there’s some bittersweet sentiment in that, that the fact that we’re sad over goodbyes is actually a good thing. What higher calling is there than to walk through life alongside people?

I don’t like these kinds of endings. These kinds of endings are painful. Nevertheless, as I’m facing all these endings, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. I’m filled with excitement and hope as I walk into this new chapter of life. There is much to be thankful for (I think I just read that line in If You Feel Too Much…). I am thankful for my time at Eastern and all of the people I met there and the things I experienced. I’ve probably said these things in other blog posts or instagrams, but it’s true…

I love looking back and seeing ripple effects. I can say that because I went to Eastern, I impacted people’s lives and people’s lives impacted me. In my mind I have the image of throwing a pebble in a lake and seeing the ripples: the ripples change things. I had no idea what going to Eastern would entail when I moved in, but probably the biggest surprise is that I’ve impacted people in being there. In my life, I’ve been really aware of how people impacted me. But I never thought I had influence on anyone else.


My time at Eastern has shaped who I am today; that’s undeniable, because I went through a ton while I was at Eastern. And I can look back and see how everything fit together, and it is awesome. It makes me so thankful. I have so much gratitude for everything that’s happened the past four years because it has so profoundly shaped who I am. I can look back and see how God used certain relationships and circumstances to grow me. I am not the same person that I was starting my freshman year; I’m a better person, I’m a more whole person.

Something I realized as I was processing leaving Charleston is that my time there served a purpose. I can see what that purpose was, to grow me, and everything that Charleston was meant to do, is done. As hard as it was to leave, as sad as I am, I know that I can’t stay there. I have to move on. Staying would only stunt my growth. That was a hard realization, because I wanted to stay there with all of my friends and basically just repeat everything. But it’s a good thing, to have to leave. It’s sad, but it’s good. I think the sadness comes from knowing the significance of the place and everything that happened, and also the familiarity of life there. Leaving means going into the unknown, unpredictable, uncontrollable. We want control and will do whatever it takes to get it, which is futile because we’re not meant to have control. But having a sense of control reorients us…it gives us something to cling to, to know that things are okay.

I am grateful for Charleston. I am grateful for the people I met there. I’m grateful for the things that I went through, even the bad things. I’m grateful for what i’ve learned. I’m grateful for life. I’m grateful for God.

I’m grateful for the professors I’ve had that have influenced me for the better. And I know–I want to be like them. I want to have influence on my students. I want to inspire passion. I want to walk alongside them for a little while and help if I can. I want to expose them to foreign literature, helping them open their perspectives. I want to help mold them. I know that if I can be like these professors I have in mind, then I’ll be great.


I want to live life as authentically as possible. I strive to be open, because I know that not only does openness foster authenticity, but it encourages others to be honest. When I take off my mask, others can take off theirs. And most of the things we hide from others, ironically enough, are common struggles that we all face.

I have been reading books that sing along to this tune. Some good ones are:

Scary Close by Donald Miller
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (well, all of her books, let’s be honest…)
Carry on Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton
If You Feel Too Much by Jamie Tworkowski
-Let’s All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs (currently reading this)

The common theme about all of these is that it involves vulnerability. I have found in my life that if you take that brave step to be vulnerable, it encourages others to do so, and good things happen. We all want to be known. We are built for community. I was reminded of this as I celebrated the wedding of a dear friend. I looked around the reception hall and realized, this old tradition proves this point: the newly married people will throw a party right after to celebrate this huge life event with family and friends. Weddings are meant to be celebrated with other people. Life is worth living with other people. Having good community makes all the difference. I got a taste of that this past school year, and I am eager to start the process once again, because it is worth it. On a human level, we are meant to connect with people.


When I look back on my life, I can say without a doubt that God gives me a purpose in life. When I was at my most hopeless, I was in despair because I felt like life had no point. I need God because he gives me meaning. I have clung to that and other truths through dark times. Although I have to say that using the verb cling probably isn’t entirely correct, because it wasn’t me hanging on. It was God. I am so prone to run away, but something I can take comfort in is that God is always holding on to me and he will never let me go, though I try to let him go all the time. I find it hard to sing the line of a worship song that says “through every storm, I will hold to you,” because I know that I do not hold on to him when i need to. But life doesn’t make sense without him.

I’ve also learned that I have these standards about what my relationship with God should look like. But my relationship with him doesn’t look like I think it should. And that’s okay, because I can hang on to the fact that no matter how many times I doubt my relationship with him, I am still his. Nothing I do can make him love me any less–nothing I do can make him love me any more. I don’t have to earn his love; I can’t earn his love.

One thing I am learning is this: I think God is honored when we feel our emotions fully. Because he made emotions. And we’re so good at suppressing emotions. So i think when we are willing to fully feel them–not shy away from them–that honors him. Because it’s not easy to do. It’s courageous. It’s easier to shield ourselves with unhealthy coping mechanisms. But choosing to feel them fully is saying, “I am choosing feeling the full extent of this sadness (or whatever other emotion) right now instead of numbing myself with _____.” Because it’s not only acknowledging our unhealthy coping mechanisms, it’s heading into uncontrollable territory–into battle. It’s choosing to not avoid it, like is our natural tendency. It’s essentially embracing pain–something that is often overwhelming. It’s something that can overwhelm us, something that can win. But I think it honors God because it’s living authentically. It leads to a wholehearted life. This process transforms us and in turn transforms others if we are willing to be vulnerable. And it’s acknowledging that you can’t do anything to fix it other than to feel it. God’s grace is sufficient for us in our weakness. He will bring us through.

I was looking at a chandelier and was impressed by the detail. And since I’ve been thinking in metaphors and analogies lately, it made me think of how detailed God is, how he crafts our life through all the things we go through. Everything that happens to us is a part of his masterpiece. I was thankful for the things that I’ve gone through so far because I can look back and see the general purpose of it all. I want to be a chandelier. i want to show God’s glory through what he’s done in my life. I want to love people like he has loved me.


So that’s a bit of what’s been on my mind. I’ve been reflecting a lot. It’s kind of fragmented, but that’s because I have so many thoughts. Even though there have been a lot of endings lately, I am excited for what’s to come. It’ll be an adventure.

The tension

I am a recovering perfectionist. I used to believe that if I could do everything perfectly, then my problems would go away and the weight would lift off my back. But the thing with perfectionism is, it’s unattainable. The standard keeps rising and rising. You’re so nit-picky of everything and you draw your self worth out of your success, or, conversely, failure. To be a perfectionist you have to adapt an attitude of right or wrong; black or white; there is no grey.

But life is full of grey. Almost everything, if not everything, is grey. I’m not talking grey as in sad, I’m talking grey as not an absolute; it’s a little of both. We see this in many areas of our lives or in any thing of which people can have varied opinions. 

I would love it if everything were black and white. My perfectionism would love it. But it’s not.

I say recovering perfectionist because I am trying to get out of those ways. My life was infinitely more stressful as a full on perfectionist. Perfectionism tells you it will be easier if you’re perfect, but it’s actually harder; you’re never good enough because the mythical point of contentment is elusive (because it doesn’t actually exist).

As much as I have loosened my reign on perfectionism, (or vise versa?) there are still remnants. I’m not completely changed. In a lot of areas, I still get unreasonably frustrated at myself because I don’t think I’m doing well enough. Although I see more grey now, sometimes I default to black and white. That usually happens in areas that relate to my progress/mental health.

I am leaving Charleston in four days for good. I am flooded with all kinds of emotions. As I’m starting to say my goodbyes, I am sad. I am grieving the end of a period of my life. I sad to leave, yet excited at the same time. I know that it’s good that I’m moving and I can’t stay here forever, but the sadness kind of tackles that line of reasoning.

And I fall into the trap of black or white. Somewhere regarding this particular issue, I fell into the lie that I have to be either happy OR sad. Not both.

But life is complex. It is both. I can be both. Me leaving is happy and sad. I can grieve the transitioning of certain relationships and I can celebrate the start of a new period with new relationships. I think to feel both at the same time feels like betrayal. Or it’s just hard to feel both. I want to feel one or the other.

This is the tension. This is life. Life is so complex.

This is the tension of this point in my life. I am grieving the changing or loss of relationships. But I know this is a good, healthy thing and I am excited.

I hate tension. Tension just wants to be resolved, like a leading tone. But right now, it’s not resolving. It won’t for a while. And that’s okay.

That’s life. Life is complicated. It’s grey. There’s tension. And hopefully, I can start seeing that as a good thing.

This is my mushy reflective post about college

On Saturday night, I drove out to Neoga to go stargazing with a friend. I got back to Charleston around 1:15AM. As I entered town, the roads were empty so I looked around the town I will soon be leaving. I remember back to my childhood, when going to Charleston seemed like an exotic trip. I would be glued to the window as we entered town, looking at the “sights.” I would marvel at Old Main and all of the other college buildings. I loved being able to come here, as if Charleston were some bigger city than the one I lived in (or rather, near: i.e. Rockford). As I grew up, I lost that wonder. I might have had it on move-in day my freshman year. But I went to college here and got used to my surroundings. I wouldn’t even look out the window until we were at whatever residence hall I was staying in.

Life is a series of transitions. Soon I will have this wonder for another city–and a much bigger one: Lincoln, Nebraska. I already have that wonder; I had it when my dad and I visited in March. I wanted to see everything. And I’m sure, as my stay there will be much longer than my stay in Charleston, that I’ll lose my sense of wonder to my adaptation of the environment.

Graduation season is a time of reflection, and not only for the graduates. But, as I did graduate this year, I am reflective and sentimental as my time in Charleston nears its end. This town has been my home for the past four years, and a “second home” the years before college. But I can say that I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t attended EIU. EIU is a part of me. Before I get even more sentimental, I’ll start with a picture:

2011-08-18_15-17-38_773

This was taken on August 18, 2011: move-in day for my freshman year of college. I’m sure anything I had in mind that I would experience in college was completely wrong. My four years at Eastern have been some of the most challenging, yet most rewarding in my life so far. And so comes the *reflective post* about it. There’s really no avoiding this cliche, so if you care to read about some of my college experiences and lessons learned, read on.

Although I decided to come to EIU because I have a (half) family history there and had gone to Eastern Music Camp every summer I could, what made my experience great was so much more than those two things. College is definitely about discovering yourself, as cliche as that sounds. It was my first *extended* time away from home, and though I wasn’t fully independent, I was still on my own. I made good choices, and I made bad choices. But here I am, alive.

I fully believe that my time at Eastern provided opportunities that I wouldn’t have had elsewhere, although I can’t know that for certain. What I do know for certain is: the people I met, friends I made, community I shared, and professors I had all influenced my life and shaped it for the better. I believe that EIU’s size aided in this; I doubt I would have the opportunity to have a couple professors that I would call mentors if I were at a giant school like U of I, for example. I think my time at a small state school has been a great start, and has prepared me to “move up” to a bigger university for my graduate studies. I have loved my time at EIU, and I’m sure I’ll love my time at UNL as well.

I made a lot of choices while at EIU. Some have been very influential in shaping the person I am today. I’m not going to give you a chronology of my four years here, because for one my memory is not that good, and it’d probably bore you. And we both know that neither of us have time for that. These choices I made formed my path through college, so I’ll talk about them, and any advice I could give (*sarcasm* since I’m so wise at 22 years old).

Obviously, one of my choices was to come to EIU.

Another choice I made was to pursue a music minor. I came in knowing that I still wanted to be involved in music, but I didn’t want to major in it, so I picked up a music minor. That’s why I did it. I had to take three semesters of music theory (which I remember none of), one semester of music history (I chose the classical/romantic periods), one gen ed (I took Survey of American Music), four semesters of applied lessons and playing in an ensemble (which I exceeded because I was in lessons and orchestra my entire time here, except for when I was in Spain). I think my overall experience would have been extremely different if I hadn’t done my music minor.

I could write an entire research paper about the benefits of playing an instrument (and I did, in high school) and I won’t lecture the point to death, but I will say that I have seen the benefits of playing the oboe in my various ensembles throughout the years, and especially playing in the Eastern Symphony Orchestra (ESO). I have seen my own musicianship grow throughout my time in ESO, and it has been so wonderful to be a part of an ensemble that makes music out of notes on a page. I’ve loved being able to play some “big name” music–like Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5, Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, to name a few. In Spring 2013, the second semester of my sophomore year, we played Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (listen to O Fortuna for a few seconds). It’s a massive piece with 26 movements. The entire concert was just that piece, I believe. And the feeling I had when we finished and were greeted with a standing ovation was amazing. I was going through a dark period of depression that semester, and that concerts was one of the highlights, exemplifying why I love playing music.

There were some 200 of us on stage.

(photo credit)

I took oboe lessons every semester I was at Eastern even though I only had to take 4 semesters’ worth. It was one of the more rewarding things I’ve done at Eastern, because I learned a lot, and not just about music. I had the opportunity to form a close connection with my oboe teacher, Dr. Sullivan (shout out!). I’m not sure if a non-music major would even be able to take applied lessons at a bigger university, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity. I’m not even sure what I could say except that I love that I had the opportunity to connect with teachers that genuinely care about you. Even if that caring means that I spend half the lesson talking about whatever was going on in my life, or that I come to her office hours for advice about which grad school to pick, or just talking the entire lesson. She already knows how much I appreciate her, so I’ll just say that I’m really going to miss her! And that staying involved with oboe during my undergrad was one of the best choices I made.

Photo May 09, 1 59 51 PMAnother choice I made was to change my major to Spanish. Believe it or not, I was a journalism major coming into college with a concentration in photojournalism. I started taking pictures right away for the Daily Eastern News, but in October of my freshman year, I realized that I did photography for fun and didn’t like the pressure to get a perfect picture. I wasn’t sure what I should change to, and eventually I decided on Spanish. I talked with my Spanish teacher at the time, Dr. Routt, and she expressed confidence that I could be successful going into Spanish. So I decided to do it, just Spanish, no teacher certification or anything, unsure of what I would do after I graduated. But as I continued in my studies, I realized that I loved studying Hispanic literature.

One of the most important choices I made was to get help. I’ve struggled with depression since high school. I tried to manage it the best I could, but it wasn’t working. Spring of my sophomore year (2013) I started counseling, and about a month after that, I talked to my doctor about medication and started taking some. It’s been a long road, some semesters being harder than others, but if I hadn’t sought help I would have killed myself. That’s pretty heavy but it’s real. It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to get help. It doesn’t make you weak; I think it actually makes you stronger. Depression is hard. I’ve had to do a lot of hard work to change negative thought patterns. But I am alive, and I’m so thankful. There were times where I didn’t think I would make it. But I had a good group of friends that helped me through and loved me even when I was a jerk to them. There is hope. Things will get better. It takes hard work, and it’s not immediate, but things do get better.

My choice to study abroad gave me clarity about what I was going to do after graduation. I had ruled studying abroad because I didn’t think I could afford it, but I figured out I could. So studying abroad was another influential choice, and I would say the most influential choice. I had never been out of the country, but I boarded a plane on July 31, 2013, and flew halfway across the world by myself. I know it’s so cliché, but studying abroad was the most amazing experience of my life (so far). Although I had some crappy things happen while I was in Spain, and things weren’t always easy, I can look back and say that still. I am really glad I went by myself, too. I think doing it by myself grew my independence. I went on trips by myself. I went to Madrid for four days by myself. It was amazing–I learned to rely on myself. When bad things happened, I handled it. It’s really just hard to describe my study abroad experience in a short paragraph, but if you look back on this blogs, I have posts that I wrote while I was in Spain.

I realized when I was in Spain that I loved Spanish: I loved the art, the history, the language, the culture, the literature. And I had a tiny thought in my brain: maybe I could go to grad school and get a MA and study Hispanic Literature. I loved talking about literature. The idea grew in my head as I thought about how I could teach Hispanic literature at the college level. I wasn’t sure, but when I said goodbye to my teachers in Spain, a few of them mentioned that I could do it and be successful. I came back to America with two ideas: I could possibly go to grad school and I should do Departmental Honors. A couple weeks after I got back, I went down to Charleston to visit, because I had some school-related things I needed to take care of. I stopped by Dr. Routt’s office and we chatted for a while. I told her about these ideas and she once again expressed confidence that I could do them and be successful at them. It finally felt like my life was piecing together, that I could see a future for myself.

Here is a picture of the book responsible for spurring these thoughts:
Photo May 24, 4 25 50 PMOne of my teachers, while I was in Spain, recommended this book. I went and bought it and read it and thought it was genius. I couldn’t stop talking about it. So this book was a catalyst for that.

My choice to do Departmental Honors was influential. I had the opportunity to work one-on-one with Dr. Routt, doing extra projects for a couple classes, and then I got to work with her on my thesis. My thesis was a beast. Throughout the semester, though, I didn’t think I would actually finish it. And it resulted that I had to work my butt off at the end of the semester, but I finished it. And I’m proud of that! It was a really fun project to do, and only served to reaffirm that I can be successful going into my post-graduate studies, but also that I’m going into the right field because doing research and reading literature for this project was really energizing. It was an amazing feeling, finishing that thesis. I also had the opportunity to present a section of it at NCUR, the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Cheney, Washington, this past April.

Another really influential choice that I almost overlooked was getting a job with Panther Dining. Actually, today three years ago I found out that I got the job. It’s not a hard job to get, but it was my second “real” job. When I started working at Tower Dining, I did not think I would become a student manager. But I did! And my job both as a student worker and student manager have taught me skills that I’ll carry with me into my graduate career. The student manager job in particular has grown me a lot. I have gained valuable leadership skills. Not only that, but through this job I have met a bunch of people! Working at Tower Dining definitely shaped my time at EIU. In less than two months, I will finish working here, and I’m sad about that, because I honestly love this job.

Going to school at EIU has been an incredible experience. It’s starting to sink in that I will be leaving soon, and I’m getting really sad about that. But I know I’ll carry the memories I’ve made, the lessons I’ve learned, and the friendships I’ve made as I make my big move to Nebraska. This is what I would advise current college students: take risks! Be in community because relationships are important to your spiritual and emotional wellbeing; people need other people. College is what you make of it, so make it count!

And that has sounded sufficiently corny, so I’ll leave you with some pictures.

God is still good

How funny that my next post is also on a night that I am having to stay up all night. I should be working on my homework, but I need a break and needed to write here.

I’ll be honest, this semester has been rough. Winter tends to hit me harder–perhaps I have a seasonal component to depression, although I’m not completely sure. Last semester, for the most part, was really good. I was able to manage my stress well and I stayed pretty level in terms of my mood. I coped with my challenges in a healthy way. This semester has been different. At first, the semester was going alright, but in dealing with the stress of school and the additional stress of getting applications for grad school done and planning and writing my thesis, it was harder to cope in a healthy way. Winter sucks, and there was a period of probably a month and a half where depression hit me hard; the only motivation I had was to lay in bed and avoid homework and people. It wasn’t fun, although it was familiar; I saw myself act in ways that I hadn’t for a while.

I was taking a lower dose of my antidepressant until about a month ago when I switched back to the higher dose. This was a huge struggle for me. I had this plan of going off my medication completely this semester, and it felt like I was moving the opposite direction. Up to this point, I felt like I had this great story about how I had been depressed but got help, and people told me that my story was beautiful. I could see through my story how God has worked in me and it was a good feeling. Since I had this story, it was even harder for me to admit to others that I was struggling. Maybe that’s because I tend to fall into the line of thinking that I can conquer depression once and for all, and then I’ll never struggle with it again. But I know that I will deal with depression for the rest of my life.

When my counselor told me she thought it would be good for me to go back up to my higher dose, I was simultaneously relieved and depressed. I felt like a failure. I thought, this is the opposite direction that I had anticipated. But I was relieved because I knew that the past few months, I wasn’t me. I felt like a failure because as I mentioned before, I had this story that people admired, and would it be that anymore if I went in the opposite direction with my medication? I was perpetuating the stigma–the stigma that I hate so much–onto myself. I was frustrated at myself, that I couldn’t just get it together, believing that I shouldn’t need the medication, that needing it made me weak. But that was my mind being dumb, because none of that was true. As I had multiple friends tell me, medicine is just one tool that God has provided for me, and utilizing it doesn’t make me a failure. As much as I felt like a failure, I knew that switching to the higher dose would help.

And it has. I feel like myself again. It was only when I started to feel like myself that I realized that I had been so weighed down the past few months. Probably the one thing I’ve learned throughout all this is that God is still good. Even though my story has changed and I’ve lost some friends, God is still good. He still has plans for my life–not only that, but this is a part of his plan. He’s not looking at me thinking that I’m a failure for having to change my medication. I’m re-learning that it’s okay to struggle. And it’s good to open up and be honest with people about it, because they never respond the way I make myself think that they would. I think being open about our struggles makes us more authentic, something we desperately need in this day and age. A jar with broken pieces glued together lets the light out better than a perfectly in tact jar. God works through our weaknesses. Not only that, but being aware of our own weaknesses makes us more aware of how much we need God. My hope is not in some inspiring story, but in God, who will work all things for good, even if they’re bad things or things that I would prefer not happen.

So here I am, saying that even though my story has gone a different direction than I anticipated, that’s not bad, and it doesn’t make me a failure. Maybe my brain will always need this dosage to feel like myself. Even if I have to take it for the rest of my life, that’s okay with me, because not only does it help me feel like myself, but it reminds me that throughout it all, God is still good.

I heard this song by Jason Grey called The Best Days of my Life, and some lyrics hit this point home: “But if my heart hadn’t broke in two, I never would’ve run to you, where you loved me in my loneliness and I found I was never alone … But in my broken places I discovered how good your grace is, as you picked up the pieces, thank you Jesus for making me whole again.”