Feeling Funky

2017:5-15

I told you I wasn’t kidding about the goats…

This time of year tend to be what I like to call “funky.” School’s coming to a close, a lot of celebrations and showcases are happening, and summer and all its activities are right around the corner. I, for better or for worse, am a person of routine, which makes this time of year, strangely, really stressful. My classes are at different times or canceled, events are being planned and scheduled one night after another and change at the last minute, and although I have more free time than normal, I don’t significantly feel any more relaxed.

The past few months I’ve really realized how much I rely on consistency and routine (which, funnily enough, is lot like my brother). I like knowing what to expect, I mean, who doesn’t! This past month, however, has been pretty all over the place, with a lot of fun things, as well as a lot of stressful things. It’s a pretty mixed bag. It started with APs, then the SAT, then prom, then new students to tutor (more money yay), yoga with baby goats (I’m not kidding), a CS showcase for STEM achievements this year, and lastly, end of year projects, essays, and finals. I know this sounds like a lot, but it’s been spread out over the month so don’t feel too bad for me. Actually, because of APs, half my classes at school are done.

The hard part for me about all this is not exactly that it’s a large quantity of events, it’s that I need to prep myself for new situations almost every day. Managing my anxiety at this point consists mostly of knowing what to expect, making a “game plan,” and praying about it to prep myself for any potential stressor. I realize, however, that I cannot function as a hermit, only staying within my comfort zone, in fact, I want to try new and exciting things, but my body isn’t a huge fan. It takes a lot of energy to prep myself, but I’m okay with that, because it’s always worth it. The down side, however, is that I’m exhausted. Which leads to funkiness.

I define funkiness as not really being present, kind of tired, a little lonely, scatter-brained, and really wanting to take a nap. It’s not depression, not even close, but it’s not pleasant either. I find myself daydreaming a lot, not very focused, and not really knowing what to do with myself despite the fact I have all these things going on. Whenever this happens, I tend to brush it off as “I’m just exhausted” and tell myself “It’ll end in a few days/weeks,” but it happens often enough to where it’s started to impede on my wellbeing.

I’ve realized that in my prepping for events and trying to manage my anxiety, I seldom rely on and trust God. Instead, I rely on my own knowledge and strength, and I think by now we all know where that gets me…

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
-Proverbs 3:5-6

In dealing with this recent funkiness, I’ve realized I’ve needed to take a step back from my own plans and let God take control. My understanding of things are often not entirely accurate — how could they? I don’t know the future! I spend so much unnecessary time stressing over the future when all I really need to do is trust God, and He will show me where to go. Obviously easier said than done, but it’s a start.

With Love,
Emma

One Year Later…

One year later…

Look at the nations and watch — and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.
– Habakkuk 1:5

It’s amazing how much one year can make a difference.

Last year today I was discharged from treatment. I didn’t have many expectations and had no idea of what I would do with the life that six weeks prior I was ready to throw away. I wasn’t sure of much, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to complete the semester, but I had confidence that whatever happened, as long as I had God by my side, I could move mountains.

Since that day, I’ve done so many things I never could have imagined.

In the past year I’ve seen my first snow, danced my heart out despite my dad moves, graduated from my sophomore year of high school, been to my first professional and high school sports games, seen an engineering marvel, started a blog, met and reunited with too many friends to count, travel to Vancouver to serve the community, bowled more gutter balls than I’ve ever thought possible, played violin at Elevate for a second time, won a raffle for the first time, had a big girl birthday party, gone on my first family vacation that was actually a vacation, climbed inside the statue of liberty, gotten my driver’s license, started learning the ukulele, coded a bubble shooter game, got invited to a worldwide robotics competition, seen many dear friends get baptized, and these are just the things I remember off the top of my head.

But imagine if this year didn’t happen for me. I think of what I could have missed, all the joy as well as the trials, and that really would have been a shame. I thank God for this third chance at life and this extra year I got on this earth. Happy. Healthy. Definitely stumbling, but undeniably holding on.

With Love,
Emma

To the little girls who like robots

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So you like building things, huh? The excitement, the innovation, the challenge, the joy of when it works, I completely get it. I grew up constantly building paper structures and lego cities, and Cyberchase on the PBS kids network was by far my favorite show. Once I was old enough to know what programming was, my parent signed me up for a class through girl scouts and soon enough, when I started 7th grade, I joined my school’s robotics team and never looked back.

I’ve loved STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) all my life, but here’s the thing I want you to be aware of: people will tell you you’re not good enough, that the robot kits are just “boy toys” and dolls are just “girl toys”. People will be surprised by your knowledge in STEM fields and try to prove they know more. People won’t always give you the credit you deserve and assume you “tag along for the boys,” but not because they’re jerks, they’re just not used to seeing girls like you being so excited about these things. After all, when was the last time you saw a female programmer on Disney channel?

Despite what these people tell you, I want you to know something: You are just as good and worthy as the other boys. You can achieve whatever you set your mind to, and no, boys are not smarter, they’re just often told that they are. You may need to work harder, but you will be made stronger and better prepared for whatever’s next. The people who underestimate you will often find themselves eating their words, so try not to let them get the better of you.

So please, be unapologetic about your passions, because little girls like you grow up to do amazing things. Ada Lovelace. Grace Hopper. Sally Ride. Rosalind Franklin. Edith Clarke. Literally every programmer on the first missions to space. You bring a different perspective to the table, one that companies desperately need, and they’re just starting to realize that (and I’m so excited).

You belong in this field just as much as any other boy, even when it doesn’t always seem that way. I dream of the day where you can confidently walk into a competition, classroom, meeting, etc. and feel like you have nothing more to prove than your peers do. Until then, keep doing what you’re doing. Take advantage of every opportunity you find. Be patient and persevere. You are going to do amazing things. I’d say good luck, but you don’t need it 😉

With Love,
Emma

Not-So-Great Expectations

 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. – Luke 6:36

Like most of my friends and family know, I have a lot of ~issues~ (with society and other people), so it’s no great surprise that I have a lot of expectations. Most of the time they serve me well and ensure that my needs are met and motivate me to do my best, but taken too far, they can be really harmful.

This past year, I’ve realized just how hard on myself I am. I expect myself to succeed in my classes, have a decent robotics season, be mentally sound, be spiritually well, have certain types of friendships, I even expect myself to have semi-clear skin. These expectations have mostly served me well in terms of motivation and having standards, but I rarely cut myself the slack I need to achieve these things and ultimately function. Having a “normal”, “perfect” life is so incredibly unreasonable, and I’ve been learning how to afford myself some grace, after all, that’s what God does (see Luke 6:36 above).

Sure, I don’t always get my homework done on time, the robot breaks down just about every week, I still get panic attacks, I doubt God, I don’t have/can’t handle a ton of close friends, and I have very little control over my skin, but I still get by and do well most of the time, and I guess that’s “good enough” for me.

Unfortunately, this idea of cutting myself slack has not exactly translated to other people. I put a lot of expectations on others around me. I get really frustrated when they don’t react a certain way, express love/appreciation when I want them to, change the moment I express hurt, or just generally don’t read my mind. Again, these are all so grossly unreasonable and are rarely met, which leads to a lot of disappointment and bitterness. When any expectation isn’t met, I tend to make assumptions and judgments about the person that almost always boil down to “they don’t care about me,” which, now that I think about it, is very untrue in almost any situation. Nonetheless, I am often let-down, and get easily irritable, frustrated, disappointed, and hurt.

By writing this, I’m not at all asking people to change to meet my gross expectations. I am creating my own problems. I need to afford those around me the grace that God has afforded me. I need to express when I feel hurt, ignored, not cared for, or when my needs are not being met, or else I will forever be a person with lots of ~issues~ (which, I have to admit, is very exhausting).

Since this is New Year’s Resolution-making season, I guess my goal for 2017 is to speak up when my needs are not met. I have a lot of fears (go figure), but the biggest one is that I won’t be taken seriously; however, I can’t make that assumption without giving you all a chance. Here goes nothing!

To a new year of faith, growth, and perseverance!

With love,
Emma

17 things for 17 years

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Blocking out the negativity

You are the dancing queeeeeen, young and sweeeeeeet, only seventeeeeeeeeeeen

I’m seventeen!!! I’m absolutely floored to think that I’ve made it this far in life. It’s funny how seventeen years feels like such a long time and not very much at all. Anyway, to celebrate this monumental occasion, here are seventeen things I’ve learned over the past seventeen years I’ve had on this Earth so far.

  1. One step in front of the other. Don’t look at the last step when you haven’t even seen where the second step is. The whole” big picture” thing is God’s job, not yours 🙂
  2. School isn’t everything. Intellect is only valuable if you are also kind, and academic success isn’t the only admirable quality one could have. You can be generous, honest, trustworthy, resilient, courageous, forgiving, etc. Being smart is not a prerequisite for any of these things.
  3. The idea of one being “normal” is a social construct and therefore does not apply to you nor anyone else you will ever come in contact with. There is no normal life, normal family, normal brother, or normal childhood. We all have ~stuff~, big or small, and comparing that ~stuff~ won’t really get you anywhere meaningful.
  4. Mental health is not a shameful topic. Friends want to know what’s happening in your life, the good and the ugly, and if they don’t, they’re not your friend.
  5. Eat vegetables. Try to live relatively healthily. It’ll make you feel better, or something like that. Just do it.
  6. While we’re on the topic of physical health, go in for your yearly physical. Also, if your stomach frequently hurts, go see a doctor; don’t wait three months. Your body will thank you later.
  7. Writing is not the enemy.
  8. I repeat, writing is not the enemy.
  9. Go to sleep for goodness sake! I promise, it will not be the end of the world if you turn your homework in late. Believe it or not, THIS is why you’re getting sick so often, so sleep!
  10. If you think you need to start therapy again, you need to start therapy again.
  11. What are you waiting for?!? Make an appointment!!!
  12. Frustration and anger are valid emotions. So are sadness, fear, and grief. They stink, but (unfortunately) they’re valid — treat them as such.
  13. Being busy isn’t always a good thing. Having nothing to do is definitely not a good thing. You need balance, and it’s okay if it takes awhile to find that.
  14. THIS is how you incorporate the word “however” into a sentence because ~apparently~ you can’t start a sentence with that word??!?: I like to eat cheese; however, I am allergic to milk. Go figure. #thanksEnglish
  15. Write down everything — what you have to do, your ideas, things you need to buy at CVS, your emotions, a moment of inspiration, everything — because you know that within 15 minutes you’re going to forget, and you will spend the entire day trying to remember, and that is something you have neither the time nor the energy for.
  16. Trust may not be build overnight, but communication can be changed in an instant, and that’s a start.
  17. Love will always be greater than fear (1 John 4:18). Okay fine, I haven’t exactly accepted this one juuuust yet. I’m close though! Check in with me in a year or so 😉

With Love,
Emma

Learning to Love Myself

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WHY IS IT SO HARD?!?!!?!

Like pretty much every person on earth, I frequently find it hard *cough* impossible to love myself. Whether it’s looking in the mirror and wondering, “Wow I look terrible; do I always look like this?” or sitting in class learning a difficult lesson and internally thinking, “This is it. I’m dumb. I’ve officially failed at life.” For a very long time, I would try and try time and again to stop thinking these things, and usually the thoughts improve to a point, but I can never seem to fully get rid of the negativity and self-hatred. The fact that I will probably forever struggle with my perception of my looks and intelligence was/is extremely frustrating, and it can very well send me into a spiral of depression if I think about it too much.

News Flash: Loving myself is hard. Society tells us that pretty much only two things about ourselves matter: our intelligence and our looks, yet it also tells us to love ourselves the way we are made. Talk about confusing! But what I think I’ve been learning more and more is that loving myself is so much more than just believing that I’m pretty or intelligent.

When I think of a person I love, I don’t think, “Oh my gosh, I love this person so much! They’re a genius and might as well be a model; they’re just the best!” No! I think about their patience, selflessness, trustworthiness, their ability to listen, how much fun I have around them, the list goes on and on, yet not one of the things I think about is if he or she is smart or good looking. If I value other people for so much more than surface-y traits like being intelligent or attractive, why do I evaluate myself on only those two things?

Even God tells us that our looks and intelligence don’t matter!
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
-Matthew 5:3-10

Where does it say “Blessed are the smart, for they will win at life” or “Blessed are the good looking, for they will be loved”? Nowhere! God cares about my heart, my character, my faith, my actions, not things that are fleeting and can’t help being.

Like I said before, loving myself is hard. It’s a constant struggle, but putting my value in things that aren’t up for debate makes it whole lot easier.

With love,
Emma

Coping Skills!

2016:8-7

Goodbye summer, see you next year 😦

I’m making this list because school’s starting. And every teenager who has experienced any degree of a mental health issue knows that 99.99% of the time, school only makes problems worse (Hey teachers, pls fix this).

But! This year is different than the last 3 (at least that’s what I’m telling myself)! I have dealt with seemingly the majority of the things that needed to be dealt with, and I have ~realistic(er) expectations~ for myself. I have multiple backup plans for if things get stressful or anxiety decides to have a field day, so in theory, I should be set. I also have a God that will carry (or drag) me through this year and keep me in one piece because let’s be real: Life could not possibly get worse than last year. I can only go up!

However, just because I’m recovered doesn’t mean I won’t have my moments from time to time, so here’s a list to remind myself (and whoever else that might need it) of what to do when these moments happen:

1. Pray. “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” -Psalm 94:19. Prayer is literally the only thing that can calm me down from the worst of my panic attacks or flashbacks, and by prayer, I’m not talking about those nice prayers you say before you eat your meal. I’m talking about those super honest, frankly ugly, prayers where all the emotions spill out at once (Psalm 13, 69, and 102 are prime examples). The crazy thing is, by the time I finish the prayer, like with the Psalms that I mentioned above, my perspective shifts. I am less “in my head” and more reasonable. 10/10 would recommend.

2. Go for a jog. Outside. Like Nike said, “Just do it.” Seriously, this is one of the first things I do when I get anxious. It helps get the extra energy out my system that the adrenaline oh so inconveniently provides, and it forces me to breathe (not breathing is typically the first sign that I’m anxious). It also helps reset my brain. I don’t know the science behind it, if there even is any, but it just does. Being outside is really important because I need to feel like I’m making progress and going somewhere, and being on a treadmill is boring. Also, the alternative of not running and keeping the energy in is that I get tired and crash. Crashing = depression. And that’s something no one wants.

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3. Breathe. I really hate this one. The last thing I want to do when I’m panicking is sit still. This is why I like running more, but when I’m taking a test and I’m having a moment, I can’t exactly bolt out of the room, so this is the next best thing. There are many types of breathing patterns, but the one I like to do is: breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4 and then repeat. I try to imagine a square, each side being one of the “steps,” and I follow along around the border (see picture above).

4. This is kind of like prayer, but talk or write about what’s happening. This has been so helpful because it gives the anxiety less power over me. Putting into words what I’m worrying about stops the thoughts from ruminating and circling around in my head and helps me realize that a lot of my worries don’t make much sense, and I’m usually able to walk my mind out of the irrational thoughts.

5. Hold ice. This one is more for if there are thoughts of self harm. It gives a physical sensation, which can satisfy the feeling of needing to do something, and it snaps me right back into the present. I’ll admit, this one’s pretty inconvenient, but so is anxiety, so it’s okay. If that still doesn’t work, dunk your head in a bowl of ice water. Ice bucket challenge 2.0.

6. Put your head down, listen to music, and sip some hot tea. This one is specifically if the anxiety is from sensory overload; in other words: everything that’s going on around you, is just tooooooooo much. It’s being overwhelmed by your environment. Anxiety is feeling a loss of control, so by putting my head down (sight), listening to music (hearing), and making/drinking hot tea (touch, smell, taste), I’m controlling what’s happening to all 5 of my senses. Just make sure the music doesn’t have distressing lyrics and that the tea is non-caffeinated ;).

7. Say nice things to yourself (This alone could make up an entirely different post). When I’m anxious, the majority of reasons behind any given episode is that I came to the conclusion that if x, y, and/or z happens, I am/will be a failure. By tweaking the things I say to myself and talk to myself the way I would talk to a friend, my brain slowly starts to go towards those positive thoughts instead of the negative thoughts. It’s like reprogramming and debugging the brain!

This type of strategy of dealing with anxiety is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and if it seems like something you’re interested in doing, I recommend researching it and possibly finding a therapist that uses the technique. The whole thing relates a lot to Philippians 4:8 —

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Calling myself a failure is by no means any of these things. Changing the brain’s “default” position of negative thoughts is definitely a long term thing, and results can be slow, but it’s made such a difference in my life and countless of lives around me.

I wish all you fellow students a good school year! Remember, no matter how much homework you have or how bad your grades may be, your health needs to come first.

With love,

Emma

HYC Vancouver: What I Learned

Hey y’all! I’m back! The past few weeks have been a whirlwind, but I’ve (for the most part) recovered. For those who don’t know, I was in Vancouver, BC, Canada from August 1-11 serving the homeless through a program called “HOPE Youth Corps” (HYC). Our particular track partnered with an organization called “The Lookout Society,” which provides services for the homeless such as shelter/housing, food, and harm reduction. I’ve learned so much about myself and God through this experience, so I thought I’d share it with y’all!

1. Homelessness is not that far out of reach

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One of the first things we did was organize a gazillion clothes and fitted sheets and put them into boxes. BTW the girl in the picture is my lovely friend, Jade.

On our first day of service, we had an orientation about who we were serving, what to expect, and safety precautions. It was here when I learned about just how close I could have been to homelessness. The typical demographic of people who are homeless struggle with at least one of the following: mental health disorders, medical problems, traumatic experiences (ex: war veterans, domestic violence), lack of familial support, and/or addiction. The fact that I could “check off” at least one of these boxes was extremely humbling, let alone multiple. If my dad lost his job, I was born into a not as supportive family, my family didn’t have a good insurance plan, or I had attempted to self-medicate, I could have very easily ended up on the streets. I already knew that those who experience homelessness aren’t all that different from those who don’t, but this realization took it to a whole new level. I was so humbled by how much I could relate to these people, and my empathy for them grew so much. I am still in awe that I was the one serving and not being served, and I am so grateful that God has blessed me so much.

2. I seriously need to check my pride, shut up, and just listen

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This cool cat, Marin, taught me a lot about humility and being a good listener.

Pride is one of those sins that pretty much everyone and their mom struggles with. I think because it’s so widespread, it can be hard for me to take this sin seriously and have Godly sorrow towards it (2 Corinthians 7:10). During HYC, we talked about pride/humility a lot, and what I’ve been realizing more and more is that it’s still a huge problem in my life.

Confession time: I am a terrible listener. When hearing a friend talk about their life, I tend to start to think about what I would say after they finish, or what wisdom I may impart on them to make their life exponentially better. In reality, I have no idea what I’m talking about, and even if I do, it doesn’t mean I’m going to help them in any way. How does this relate to pride? By doing this, I put my thoughts at a higher importance than my peers’: I know best and therefore my thoughts matter more. Looking back, I think I just need to shut up and listen completely to what my friends have to say.

I think mostly everyone who has any sort of friendship with me knows that my memory is worse than that of a fish, and I have valid reasons as to why it’s like that, but not listening definitely does not help with not being able to remember what my friend said an hour ago. During this HYC, I had the opportunity to have many many many deep conversations with those that I lived with, and to be honest, it was really challenging at times to just listen, and I failed A LOT. However, I was able to learn so much by just listening, and I plan to continually work on it now that I’m back in the states. As Proverbs 3:34 and James 4:6 say, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

3. God can actually work through me, not just around me

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SO MANY AWESOME PEOPLE IN ONE PICTURE!!! GAH!!!

Throughout the past six months, I have seen God work in amazing ways in my life. For starters, it’s miraculous that the bulk of my recovery was done in about three months. It’s important to recognize that recovery is ongoing, and I will forever have stuff to work through, but what some people never recover from, I was able to do in three months. Now, let me make this clear: It was all God. I honestly don’t even know how my recovery was this quick. Yes, I put in the work, but God and His Word allowed me to gain so much peace that otherwise, I would not have had.

Even though I have seen God work in my life and through other people, I forget that He can also work through me. After all, I do have the Holy Spirit, so I have that power in me already (Romans 8:11). During this HYC, I was really able to see how much I can do with God working in me. Since before we even got to Vancouver, all of us were praying that we could make an impact, and although we weren’t able to see if/how our work affected the homeless population in Vancouver, we were able to see how it affected the staff at The Lookout Society. We were quite a loud group of teenagers and young adults, so when we’d come in each morning to a different location, the staff were rightfully skeptical; however, by lunch time they were beaming with joy at the work we’d do. Even when we felt like we weren’t doing much, like scrubbing the same patch of graffiti in a bathroom for an hour, they’d be so happy. Quite a few staff member were even interested in visiting the Vancouver church and finding out who God is. It really shows how much God can work through us when we let Him.

Another time I was really able to see God work through me was when our group would interact with the Vancouver church. Seeing how encouraged the campus and teen ministries were by us just being in Vancouver, before they even met us, was really awesome. There was one day where I was especially tired and sick, and there were blisters on the bottom of my feet. It was our “break day” after a week of serving, so we went to the Olympic stadium and played volleyball, but because of all my ailment, on top of potential trauma responses, I decided it wasn’t a good idea for me to play. Another girl in the Vancouver teen ministry sat with me, and I was able to tell her about my struggles with mental health and how God helped me through them. Turns out, she struggled with similar stuff. It seemed like sharing my story with her helped her a lot and gave her hope that God could carry her through anything that Satan threw her way, and it was really cool for me to see that some good could come out of my hardships. God really showed me that He can do so much through me, and that I can make a difference.

It’s crazy to think that all this learning happened in just 11 days. Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible and supporting all my crazy endeavors.

With love,
Emma

Fear and Vulnerability

The last few posts were easier to write: I was (for the most part) on the other side of the struggles. This one though, is a lot harder. Fear still plays a fairly consistent role in my life, and I struggle immensely with it. According to my therapist, I may forever struggle with it to some degree, which is kind of depressing, but it’s becoming a little more manageable each day.

My biggest fear is getting hurt. Specifically, of getting hurt again, that the things in my life that have happened will repeat. It’s to the point where I can’t look at the news anymore because I start to get paranoid.

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I just realized that I’m three posts into this blog and haven’t supplied a picture of my brother, so here it is! Despite all the things we’ve been through, I love him very much.

It’s not surprising that I’m so scared though. Like I’ve mentioned before, my brother would get violent during a good amount of the time he was living in our house. From the ages of maybe six or seven up until I was just a few weeks shy of my 16th birthday, I was in fear of being hit by my brother. That’s not including the months (maybe years) after his move, which happened in November 2015, that I’ll struggle to overcome this fear. An example: One thing that people find out very quickly about me is that I cannot be surprised. Popping out of closets, jumping on my back when I’m not looking, even giving me a really fast high five can make me scream and bolt.

Physical hurt is definitely a huge fear of mine; however, I’m also afraid of emotional hurt, maybe even more. My mom had a very hard time coping with my brother’s diagnosis of autism, which resulted in a lot of anger. She would often yell at me or my dad without warning for trivial things, and I felt like I had to walk on eggshells around her for a lot of my childhood. I don’t actually remember anything she has said to me, but I remember how they made me feel: inadequate, not good enough, and scared. My mom has since gotten help for her anger, and we’ve been continually resolving the hurts and wounds. She’s actually one of the closest people to me, and we can relate to each other a lot, and that’s completely because of God; however, the fears are still there. I cannot handle people yelling at me, even if it isn’t critical or all that hurtful, out of the fear that I did something wrong and they’ll be unpredictable. I completely shut down.

For a very long time, the way I coped with these fears was to just close off any opportunity for me to get hurt. I would be occasionally be “open” in my relationships, but I wasn’t “vulnerable.” The difference? Being open means sharing what’s going on; being vulnerable means sharing how it affects me and how I feel. Being vulnerable is showing people exactly how to hurt me and trusting that they won’t. If you’re still confused, listen to “Unpack Your Heart” by Phillip Phillips (the lyrics are #friendshipgoals). According to my therapist, this fear of getting hurt is probably why I have yet to have my first crush, even though I’m almost 17, and she’s probably right. Somewhere deep inside my heart, I am half-convinced that opening myself up to another person will put me in the same position I was in a few years ago.

I will say though, it’s a lonely world being the only one to know my secrets. Thankfully, God has consistently put people in my life that help bring me closer and closer to having real, honest, and vulnerable relationships that are essential to good emotional health.

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This is Naomi. She’s pretty much the bomb dot com.

One of these people is Naomi. She’s the friend that is in the trenches with me on my worst days and slides down rainbows with me on my best days. We’ve each independently gone through quite a bit of life, if you catch my drift, so we relate to each other a lot, but our personalities are also quite different, so we have different perspectives that help us build one another up. She’s one of the only friends that has physically been there at every stage of my life. We were raised as best friends, and although we’ve had our fall outs, we always end up closer in the end.

Recently, during our church’s North American conference in St. Louis, I was having a really rough day. It was one of those days where everything is really overwhelming, and I was bombarded with triggers that entire day (which is, by the way, no one’s fault). I had been fighting (unsuccessfully) all day to fight off a flashback, and that Saturday evening, it all came crashing down. For those who don’t know, a flashback is “a sudden and disturbing vivid memory of an event in the past, typically as the result of psychological trauma” (thanks Google). I bolted into the lobby of our hotel at midnight terrified, looking for someone to pray with me, hold my hand, and tell me I was safe. Pretty much immediately, Naomi saw me, and I must have looked absolutely terrified because she came out of nowhere and said right off the bat, “Do you want to talk?” She took me to a quiet (ish) hallway where there weren’t very many people, but I honestly didn’t even care who saw me. I was so distressed I could barely think. Just being with her helped me feel so much safer. She prayed with me and brought me back to God. Her actions and being there for me are the reasons I was able to sleep that night.

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These people are crazy. All of them. And I love them for it <3.

My Alaska Hope Youth Corp is another group that has really helped me work past my fears of getting hurt. I don’t know what it was about these people, but it was so easy to be vulnerable with them, specifically the guys. Somewhere alone the line in my development, I got this idea in my head that I can’t trust men (outside my dad). I don’t exactly know where it came from, but I thought that they wouldn’t understand, make fun of me, be judgmental, or just be weirded out by my experiences in life. All six of the guys on my youth corp proved me wrong. Very wrong. When I told them about my brother, past and present struggles, and my fears, they were respectful and empathetic. When I told them I couldn’t handle them popping out of nowhere and scaring me, they respected that and didn’t give me any pushback. Instead, they tried to understand. I credit them with the fact that I actually have close friends that are guys now.

The girls on my youth corp were also really helpful. I kept this part short because if I wrote any more, it would take up the entire post. Basically, a lot of us related to each others’ lives a scary amount, the majority of us going through very similar experiences. There was no judgment from anyone, only love and empathy. They showed me I’m not alone and that there’s value in being vulnerable, even if I don’t know the people I’m talking to very well. I still keep up with a lot of them, and we pray for each other constantly.

Having such a positive response from sharing my life with then complete strangers helped pave the way for me to be able to share my story so openly with everyone now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still absolutely terrified of getting hurt, but these people made it a little less scary, which made all the difference.

Like I said before, fear still plays a big role in my life. Even while I was writing this post I had to take breaks so that I didn’t go into flashback-fighting mode. Despite all this, one thing that has really helped me work through this fear is God’s Word, specifically 1 John 4:18 —
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
The only thing that can drive out fear is love — perfect love, which is only in God. Just knowing that there’s a more powerful force than fear gives me hope that I can be set free. It’s a constant battle, but I’m more than willing to fight.

With love,
Emma

3 Lessons Learned in Rehab

Before I get started, let me clarify: I went to rehab for depression, anxiety, and trauma. I did not go because I needed to kick my heroin addiction. I have never taken any sort of drugs in my life besides the ones approved by my doctors. Now, some people at my treatment center were in fact there for their drug issues; however, when it comes down to it, we were all there for the same reasons. We just used different coping mechanisms.

Okay, now I can start. When going to rehab, one does not leave the facility without learning something (so long they put in the work). I for one, learned many things, such as how to sneak tweezers into your room so that you didn’t have to get it from staff every morning, and how to slide bad tasting food off your plate in a way that didn’t offend the cook; however, I also learned some more important things that have helped me tremendously in my recovery. Here are three of them.

1. My feelings are valid

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I wrote this phrase on the side of my arm for about a month straight. So far I haven’t gotten cancer from the ink.

While I was growing up, I got this idea in my head that I should only feel “good” emotions, like happiness, love, and hope. Because of this, I repressed a lot of feelings, from sadness to anger,  fear to grief. This idea probably came about subconsciously through a multitude of experiences that I could talk about for daaaaaayyys, but one realization really solidified this idea.

When I was maybe 7 or 8, I started to realize just how different my brother, Mason, was from the other kids. I was told many times as a child that he had “moderate to severe autism,” so I knew something was off, but I didn’t really understand the magnitude of this until it started to affect me and my relationship with him: My friends and their siblings could talk to each other, we couldn’t; my friends could tell their siblings their secrets that they didn’t want their parents to know, we couldn’t; my friends would fight and get into arguments with their siblings, we couldn’t. It was also around this time that I started to realize that he wasn’t going to get better. I guess it was here where I started to grieve the loss of a “typical” sibling. I say “I guess” because I didn’t ever complete the grieving process. I got stuck in the first step of grief — denial. The grief that comes with having a sibling with autism or any similar disability is very complicated. The best way I can describe it is that it’s like having a close friend die, but my brother is alive and well, so the feeling lingers and comes back in waves. Grief that large is waaaaaay too much emotion for a seven or eight year old to handle, so to cope, I stuffed it down. Deny, deny, deny.

Unpacking all these emotions, especially the grief and loss, was extremely hard, and I experienced hurt like I never felt before. An analogy that we were told ALL. THE .TIME. while in rehab was that emotions are like a volcano (cue the rolling of the eyes of everyone that was in treatment with me): If you put a cork on it, it’ll work for some time, but eventually the pressure is too large for the cork to work anymore, and the volcano erupts with more velocity and destruction than if you just let the steam out as it came.

Long story short, my volcano erupted. Big time. For the 45 days that I was in treatment, I wrote the affirmation, “MY FEELINGS ARE VALID” on my arm to remind me to let myself feel. If you asked me, “What the scariest thing you’ve done?” I’d first say signing up for drivers’ ed (cause let’s be real, a car is a massive moving weapon that I have zero confidence in being able to stay alive in). After that, I’d say facing my emotions. The first one took a scripture (1 John 4:18) and a 10 minute prayer, the second one will take a lifetime, and each day I’m becoming more okay with that.

2. Journaling saves lives

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This is the journal that my rehab facility gave me on my first day of treatment. During my “welcome group,” multiple clients gave me the advice of journaling. I thought they were crazy…

Before my stint in rehab, I thought journaling was for people who were too sentimental and had too much time on their hands, because let’s be real: Who has the time to write about their feelings everyday? Plus, I hated writing. If I was Harry Potter, writing was Voldemort and Umbridge put together. My worst panic attacks were ones where I had to write something, so the idea of journaling and writing willingly sounded ridiculous. Well, little did I know, I would journal every day, if fact, multiple times a day, while I was away. I wrote day and night in my journal like my life depended on it. I’d say I wrote at a pace comparable to Alexander Hamilton during that month and a half.

Why the change of heart? On the day my family pulled into the driveway of my temporary home, the clients and staff held a “welcome group” for me. A welcome group is exactly what it sounds like. It is when a new client is welcomed into the group. *gAsP*!!! Everyone went around the circle and introduced themselves, then we asked each other questions. I asked the group if they had any advice for me, and to my surprise, multiple people recommended to journal because it helped them process their thoughts and find clarity. I was skeptical, but at this point, I would have done almost anything to start feeling better, so I figured writing in a journal every day wouldn’t hurt.

The strange thing was, I actually felt better. The thing about trying to avoid anger, grief, and guilt all my life is that when I finally let myself feel it without resisting, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I would literally spend hours laying on the ground outside the front door of the rehab facility, staring up at the sky with my headphones on contemplating how strange and awful it was to be feeling emotions. So emo, I know. It was almost like the five year old me had to have her screaming and crying fits before I could move on. Now it is not exactly appropriate for a sixteen year old to have temper tantrums, so I would let myself have them, but on paper. I would write until my hand would cramp and then write some more. I actually gained a lot of hand strength by the end of the 45 days. By writing everything out, I could process all my thoughts and experience them in a way that was healthy.

Added bonus: If, for whatever reason, someone needs to clone me, I’m pretty sure they could just mash my journal into someone else’s brain. That’s how much I wrote in it.

3. It’s okay if I think about dying sometimes

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During this rough time in my life, I marked scriptures in my Bible that encouraged me to keep trusting God. I still use these tabs from time to time even today.

This by far was the most surprising thing I learned. Let me be real for a hot second: 5 months ago I wanted to die. If you’re sensitive to this topic, skip the rest of this paragraph. I don’t mean I wanted to die in the “I have a test next period and I haven’t studied, kill me now” sense. I mean in the sense that I looked longingly down the edges of balconies, eyed at busy streets full of fast and oblivious drivers, and had staring contests with bottles of expired medication. I never acted on my impulses because I knew that God didn’t want me to cut my life short, but still. I prayed that God would let me go to sleep and just not wake up.

I thought that being suicidal meant that I was a bad Christian and that I wasn’t trusting God enough, when even Jesus went through a point in his life where he didn’t want to feel pain and wanted to escape. When Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, knowing that in just a few hours he would be betrayed and abandoned by his friends, be put through emotional and physical abuse, and die on a cross, he said to his friends, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He then prayed three times that God would prevent these events from happening.

I forgot who shared this with me, but this dramatically changed how I approached God with my struggles and scary thoughts. It didn’t matter in terms of my spirituality that I felt like giving up. When I read Jesus’ words, I can’t help but see his desperation and hopelessness. If Jesus struggled to continue on with God’s will, then it was okay for me to struggle too. All that mattered was if, in the end, I surrendered all my fears to God and let Him be in control of my life.

There are sooooo many more lessons I wish I could share with y’all, but I think these three are the big ones.

I don’t exactly know how to end this, so I guess I’ll just leave these words from a wise woman:

“There’s always gonna be another mountain,
I’m always gonna wanna make it move,
Always gonna be an uphill battle,
Somebody’s gonna have to lose,
Ain’t about how fast I get there,
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side,
It’s the climb”
Miley Cyrus

With love,
Emma