The Random Act of Kindness That Saved My Life

by: Anonymous Author

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An act of kindness saved my life. I realize how bold this statement is, but it’s entirely true. Three years ago today I had planned to end my life after school.

I was lonely, angry and bitter after spending so many years feeling unseen. I spent most of my high school years as an outcast who nobody wanted anything to do with. I never went to any dances. I never went to any high school football games and I always sat by myself at lunch. It wasn’t entirely the fault of my peers. I just never felt comfortable in large crowds because of severe anxiety, so I shut down.  I was socially awkward and didn’t want to put myself in uncomfortable settings where I would be forced to talk. So I “protected” myself from that entirely and avoided people altogether. It started my freshman year and by my junior year nothing had changed.  Time moved so quickly and I had single handily placed myself so deeply into this “protective” space that I closed off any real chance of friendship. And by then, everyone already had their set “cliques” established on campus leaving no more room for a new friend.

At home my life was also falling apart. My parents were going through a divorce, and everyday was filled with yelling, fights, and one or both of them slamming doors — or leaving. So that’s what I wanted to do — to leave. Forever.

I wanted it to be quick and easy. I planned to overdose on a ton of pills that night and hopefully just die in my sleep. But I still wanted to finish off the week at school and say my “goodbyes” in my head: Goodbye to sitting alone; Goodbye to walking alone; Goodbye to the school hallways that overflowed with students and teachers, but was empty of awareness and kindness.

So the next day at school I followed through with my routine. I walked the same exact way that I always did to each class. I sat in the same exact desk in all my classes. And I planned to walk home the same way I walked everyday for three years.

But today was different. I decided to walk home a different way. I don’t know why I decided to take the longer route but it’s a decision that impacted my story profoundly.

As I turned the corner into my neighborhood a dog came running up to me and started to playfully attack me. The dog was pretty big so he startled me and my books fell to the ground as he jumped up to greet me, eye to eye.  Just then, the dogs owner came running behind him. “Sit, Kermit! Sit!” I smirked as I started to pick up my books but Kermit’s owner stopped me. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry! Let me get those for you! Sorry! Kermit’s just a big puppy and very playful. Did he ruin anything? I feel so bad! He didn’t scratch you did he? Are you cool? OMG I love your shoes by the way.  And your orange backpack too, orange is my favorite color.”

No one had ever asked me that many questions in a row, let alone cared, or looked at me while talking to me. I didn’t know what to do.

“I’m fine. I’m ok. Thank you. And cute dog.” That was all I could think to say as I turned to walk away.

“Wait! Whats your name? Kermit obviously really likes you! I’m Samantha or Sammy – just call me Sammy. Do you go to Desert Ridge High?”

Again, I was shocked. I told her my name. She told me how she stayed home from school that day because she wasn’t feeling good. And before I knew it we had spent like 20 minutes talking… and even laughing. We had never seen each other at school before (though I wasn’t really surprised that she never saw me- because no one did right?) Regardless, she kept asking me more and more questions and seemed genuinely interested in anything and everything I had to say. We ended up getting each others phone numbers and she actually text me that night to apologize again for Kermit running up and startling. Little did she know that I would secretly always love that dog for running up to me on that day. Of all days!!

It felt so cool to be texting with someone my age — a new friend. That night I didn’t take the pills like I planned to. I was too busy texting with Sammy. Something so simple that most teenagers do obsessively, but I had never truly done before, with a friend.

Sammy and I had lunch together the next day at school. And the next day after that too. Her friends became my friends and before long, we were hanging out all the time and I felt like I belonged, for the first time in my life.

Things at home still sucked. Mom and dad finalized their divorce by the end of the school year, but for some reason, I knew it would be ok. I had a new sense of belonging and security with my new friends, my first real friends, and all because Sammy put in the extra effort to talk to me that day.

Even today, Sam doesn’t know the state of mind I had on that day. She has no idea that i was ever depressed or suicidal – and I don’t know that I will ever tell her. But her kindness literally saved my life and I will forever be grateful to any kind hearted person I meet. I consider kind people with kind hearts to be angels. I mean, she didn’t have to engage in conversation with me. She could’ve easily grabbed her dog, apologized to me, and then walked away. But she didn’t. And because she didn’t, I didn’t follow through with my plans to end my life that night. Simple as that.

Today, I’m an entirely different person. College is going great and I have the confidence to be around people unlike I was in high school. In fact, I have the passion to be around people because I am aware that there is a dire need for socialization and interaction – simply because you never know who is out there feeling lost and alone like I was. I try to be the same way Sammy was with me three years ago. I make it a point to put in the extra effort to be kind to everyone I meet, because it just might be a game changer or a life saver to them like it was for me. Paying it forward and being kind has become my passion and purpose in life and I pray that anyone who is reading this story and can relate, has the courage to share their story and help this wave grow even bigger.

3 Ways To Cope

by: Carolina Guzman

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It’s normal to feel anxious on occasion. That’s just a part of life. Maybe we have an upcoming event we are in charge of, an important deadline, or we’re anxious to hear back from a potential employer after an interview. But imagine feeling anxious most of the time out of your day… or out of your life. That’s what most of my life has consisted of.

I remember one of the very first times my anxiety started bothering me. I was 7. I remember sitting down in my room and thinking “what’s going to happen when I die? Who will take care of my stuff? Can I come back to visit?”  It seems innocent enough to have an imagination like this as a child, but I clearly remember feeling excruciating tension in my muscles and shortness of breath from these thoughts.

At thirteen, I had my first real anxiety attack.

I completely broke down. I felt so much fear and did not know why and as a result, my breathing became more and more difficult and my body felt out of control. It was one of the most traumatic nights of my life.

A few months later, I started suffering from OCD and feeling the need to organize things a certain way and touch certain things before leaving a room, (or else everything would fall apart!) In my mind, this was reality.

At one point I was given homeopathic medication, which helped, but only temporarily. The OCD went away, but the anxiety always remained. Knowing it could surface at any random moment in time also gave me anxiety too! What a trap.

Finally, as an adult, I sought out professional help and even went to a few workshops addressing mental health, illness and disorders in hopes of getting some more answers. It was there that I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and was given options to take prescribed medications.

But by now I had suffered enough and been under the control of my mental illness. The last thing I wanted was to develop a dependency on medication and be under its control too. Right then and there I committed to change my lifestyle and see if I could take my control back on my own. (Note: I am NOT against taking medicine with mental illnesses especially. I just knew that for ME and my illness, I wanted to control it myself if i could.) It was my one last shot.

Here are the 3 ways I naturally gained control of my anxiety and decreased the amount of anxiety attacks I suffered from:

1) Working out regularly. – This should come as no surprise. When you exercise regularly, your body releases endorphins which interact with the receptors in your brain and reduces pain, stress and anxiety levels. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, too. The more positive I became, the less I felt compelled to over analyze and worry… this meant less and less anxiety attacks!

2) Eating healthier/changing my diet. – Once I started working out, my diet changed too. I began feeling so much happier as I sought out different diets to follow and recipes to try. I largely contribute using my brain creatively and with so much excitement to the infrequent amounts of episodes I suffered with.

3) A change of music. – “Music…can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.”  – Martin Luther  “Music can change the world because it can change people.” – Bono  “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” – Bob Marley

I began listening to more soothing and tranquil music regularly. It really helped me to pause and relax my mind and body more frequently throughout the day.

During this journey, I decided to compete in a pageant. It was hard preparing for it. Some days my mindset was very positive, and other days it would bring me down. People have no idea about the days I used to spend crying and contemplating death. I had come so far and wanted to use the illness to shape me into a better woman that I could showcase proudly. This was hard for me to write, but I hope it can inspire others to not let anxiety get the best of them either.

People associate anxiety and depression with being crazy. I’m not crazy. I may have severe anxiety, but I have accomplished a lot at my 25 years. My advice for anyone going through any sort of mental illness like mine is to know that there are ways to cope with it NATURALLY and medicinally that are incredibly effective. These are the ways that helped me, so I encourage you to find what soothes and elevates you. Seek a hobby that gets your mind off of it, read a new book, be responsible with your health regime.. and remember, there is nothing wrong with being different.

8 Things I Learned From Bruce Jenner

by: Alicia M. Blanco

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17 million people watched the two hour interview with Diane Sawyer – many with fascination and curiosity, others with disgust and confusion. I’m know I’m late, but I just watched it myself and I wanted to share my thoughts.  As most of you know, I am a Christian woman, however, my thoughts on this matter may not align with Christianity at all. In fact, most of my opinions on controversial issues don’t really line up with Christianity, but thats a different topic for a different day.

Here are 8 things I learned from the Bruce Jenner interview:

1. ) God makes no mistakes. –  I realize how controversial this statement is, concerning his big reveal, (and en lieu of Christianity and all) but I firmly believe Bruce was designed by our creator for this VERY unique and specific purpose. We all are. I think his purpose was to open our hearts and minds. It’s to shock us. Can we still be the loving and accepting human beings we claim to be to someone if they live a completely different lifestyle than we are ‘comfortable’ with? Will we gossip and complain behind the backs of others who live differently than us? God is very intentional and we are all placed in this world with tremendous purpose. Even the tough stuff is meant to shape us and inspire others.

2.) This interview was bigger than the Olympics. – “I was very proud of you when you stood at that podium in Montreal. I never thought I could be more proud of you, but I’m learning I can be.” These are the words of Bruce’s mother following the news of his decision to come out with his secret. His son Brandon was quoted saying, “I saw a sense of bravery that, for all your previous accomplishments, I think far exceeds all of them.” He was referencing his fathers Olympic success in 1976 but made it clear that it’s his bravery to be honest that deserves our respect and admiration even more. He was America’s superhero then, and i’m hoping he can be treated just the same today.

3.) Kanye West doesn’t suck all the time. – Let’s face it. Kanye isn’t exactly everybody’s cup of tea. But I caught myself smiling with his thoughts on the matter. “He said to Kim, ‘Look, I can be married to the most beautiful woman in the world, and I am. I can have the most beautiful little daughter in the world; I have that. But I’m nothing if I can’t be me.” FACT. WE ARE NOTHING IF WE CAN’T BE TRUE TO OURSELVES- no matter how annoying or controversial that person might be. Cough.

4.) Suicide is a very REAL consideration for many… and that’s scary as hell. – As he looked back at his many encounters with the paparazzi he revealed how he contemplated suicide very recently. We live in a world where suicide seems like the only way out of humiliation, insecurity, confusion, anger, pain and everything else in between. This is why it’s SO imperative to always be kind to everyone you encounter. You never know what someone is going through and how one more thing can push them over the edge and trigger suicide.  “Fix society, please.” These were the closing words in an transgender teen’s suicide note she left just before taking her life.

5.) Being a transgender does not mean you have a mental illness. –  Many people link homosexuality, bisexuality, and the entire trans-community with mental illness. I find this incredibly ignorant and offensive. I can’t stand it when people try to belittle or disesteem different lifestyles as an illness.

6.) Be yourself – and do it ASAP. – Bruce spent six decades covering up his secret because he didn’t want to disappoint anyone. Imagine how miserable that must’ve been! To live a dark, private and tortured life is not really living at all. I am happy for him now that he can start living his life as he truly desires, but mannnnnn, (no pun intended)… I can’t imagine spending over sixty years with such a consuming secret- and all out of fear of what others will think. I think that says a lot about the judgmental world we live in- that someone would rather spend most of their life in secrecy and misery than to be themselves out of fear of being judged. That’s tragic. How can we change that?

7.) Open hearts and open minds can change lives. – Bruce asked that people have “open minds and open hearts” as they hear his story. Have compassion and embrace change with an open and receptive spirit.  Ex-wife, Linda Thompson Instagrammed images of her ex-husband after the interview premiere along with the caption, “Once a champion of Olympian magnitude…now a champion for those who share the struggle to just be who they are. #compassion #acceptance #tolerance #education #evolution #kindness #inclusion #freedom #peace.” It’s incredibly admirable and courageous to open up on such a large stage and equally admirable and courageous to have an open heart and open mind in a world full of haterade.

8.) Kindness is vital for one’s health. –  Being kind to yourself is just as important as it is to exhibit kindness onto others. Bruce’s story proves that by not being kind to yourself, it’s basically like slowly killing yourself. I truly feel that kindness has tremendous power. It’s like magic. It can make things disappear, like hatred, insecurity, and even suicide. I believe good energy can also help cancel out problems in medical statistics too. The kinder we are, the better this world will be..and the healthier this world will be, too. I envision a world where people are living their authentic lives. Happier people. Less fear, more courage. Less lying, more honesty. Less judgement, more acceptance.  Physically I just feel better when I am being a better person and contributing to society. And I know for damn sure that I feel like a million bucks when people are kind to me, too. Life is just so much more pleasant and runs more smoothly as I attract and manifest this goodness. I have so much more energy to do things (like work out) and it doesn’t feel like I have to force myself to get going everyday. It’s pretty amazing how much kindness can truly change everything.

Congrats Bruzer! In all my years of watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians (guilty pleasure) I never knew it was you who had the best “reality TV” story of them all. You go girl.

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Living with Bipolar Disorder

by: Anonymous author

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I was 8 years old when my mom first sat me down and told me she had bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. It’s when a person experiences grandiose delusions, restlessness, hallucinations, fits of rage and paranoia. i didn’t fully understand everything she said but over time I experienced it all. I was 10 when I started helping my dad take care of her when she had her episodes and needed to stay in a mental hospital because she kept throwing away her medicine and running away from home. I was fifteen the first time she had to stay in the hospital for over two months while they tried to balance out her meds and protect her from committing suicide. My mom became her illness for so long, so I was quite literally living with bipolar disorder.

Today I’m a 29 year old woman and I still feel like I have so much more to learn about mental illness, despite having so much first hand experience with my mom’s severe case.

She missed my high school graduation, was sick during my sweet sixteen, was heavily medicated when my fiancé organized his proposal to me, and got sick when I went into labor with my first child.  So many milestones in my life have been ruined because of this disorder and I grew up resentful. I hated bipolar disorder. I hated my mom.

And then there are the rumors. The secrets. The lies. The threats of divorce and separation when I was a teenager because their marriage was falling apart. The whispers as my mom walks by at a family function. There is so much ignorance about the illness that I’ve had to stop myself from getting into fights with relatives who were talking poorly about my mom, even though I hated living with bipolar disorder, aka my mom.

The thing about her illness, is that most of the time she is perfectly fine. In fact, a lot of people don’t even know she’s sick because we’ve done such a good job of covering it up, as if we are ashamed of it or something. Even now I know I can’t say her name, or even my name within the context of this article because “they’re not ready” to talk about it. That makes me sick. I’m not ready to talk about it either but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t. This is a release for me to open up and share my personal story about mental illness-  the topic no one wants to talk about unless it’s behind someone’s back.

It’s in the news all the time whenever a celebrity “goes crazy” or commits suicide. Those are the stories that hit way too close to home for me. It’s headlining news when it happens and the world stops in shock because they didn’t see it coming. Family and friends will cry about how they had no idea he or she was suffering in that way because they seemed so happy on the outside.

Makes me think of my mom. To the people who have no idea of her chemical imbalance, my mom seems 100% “normal” – whatever that means. She smiles, interacts with others, has a full time job, does normal mom things. But when she starts to slip into an episode every few years, she becomes an entirely different human being. She secretly spends money, talks about things that make absolutely no sense, slips into her depression, disappears and even talks about suicide.

It’s scary as shit. And we’re expected to keep it between us. We don’t want “the wrong people to find out and cause us more problems.”  Because that’s what’s happened before. Mom almost lost her job because her “friend” at work started talking about how weird my mom was.

But thats the world we live in.  Shame, gossip, fear, illness, stereotypes. Where is the kindness we should be pouring out instead? I’m guilty of not being as kind and compassionate as I should’ve been to my mom all those years. The bitterness and resentment took over my life for so long. The only thing that made it better was talking about it more instead of keeping it inside. There is so much power in opening up and not pretending like everything is ok.  I hate the filters people put over their lives these days. Perfection is not relatable. There are so many people who try to portray perfection and happiness to the world when in reality they are in pain and suffering. Fuck filters! Be real! You’d be surprised with how many people can actually relate to the truth.

I don’t know why some people are born with mental illnesses but I do know we need to talk about it more often. There are way too many silent sufferers in the world and I’m so tired of seeing the topic go ignored. I used to feel like I could snap at any moment with how alone and afraid I felt. But once I stopped pretending everything was okay, I began finding friends who could relate to me. And I began to heal.

My mom can’t help what she was born with but we as a society can help by showing more compassion and kindness to perfect strangers. You just never know what can trigger someone to hurt themselves or slip deeper into their illness. “We should always be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle.”

What’s Hott and What’s Not

by: Rikayah Crawford

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The girl that you see to your left in the picture was a bit chubby, insecure, and did not understand her inner beauty. That’s the girl who tried to take her own life.

The confident young woman you see to the right is the exact opposite. In that picture I understand that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I now understand the love I have for myself from within overflows into my outward appearance. Loving yourself is what’s hot. But obsessing over your appearance is not.

The world we live in today has shattered the authentic meaning of self-esteem and confidence. It has been dismantled by the misconceptions from the media, peers, celebrities (and really good filters.) The theory of “what’s hot and what’s not” has invaded the impressionable minds of young girls. As a result, many young women have referred to self-esteem as “feeling good” about themselves while others equate esteem to arrogance, conceit and egotism.  Damned if we do and damned if we don’t take a selfie!

Often times we embody the reflections and opinions of those around us.  It’d be nice if there was an instruction manual for how to overcome the tough times and judgments of others. In my life I’ve had lots of those tough times- hardships in my relationships, insecurities around other women, and ultimately the contemplation of committing suicide.

There was a moment in my life when I hit rock bottom due to the overwhelming insecurities I felt about the way I looked and interacted with others.  I had allowed the opinions of others about me to become my reality. Worst of all, I had blamed every problem and insecurity on myself. I was so hard on myself. Every day I struggled to look in the mirror.

It was the morning after the night I attempted to take my own life that I realized that I wanted more for my life than so much attention to be on my physical reflection.  And it was clear I survived that dark night for a purpose.

If I wanted to be successful, it had to begin with the renewing of my mind and making changes from within rather than analyzing so much about my exterior.

My parents always told me, “Rikayah, every gift that God has blessed you with and everything that you go through is not only for you but for you to share with someone else.” I didn’t see it at the time, but now I see how my story can help other women who might be able to relate to body image, depression and suicide.

By surrounding myself around positive and uplifting people and focusing on my inner beauty it enabled me to pick myself back up and begin again. As a result of focusing on my inner self, the rest of me started to transform, too. Today I love the skin i’m in, without a filter, without comparing myself to others, and truthfully without giving a damn about what others think.

Even though I have endured some heavy stuff in the short time God has granted me, I know I have a purpose and I plan to live out. If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please encourage them to seek help TODAY. It’s never too late to transform your mind.

Finding Beauty in the Pain

by: Cierra Jackson

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“Consider it PURE JOY, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James1:2-4

“Really Jesus?! You demand me to deviate from anything other than joy as I sit in the emergency room screaming at the top of my lungs in excruciating pain?   You require me to ‘rejoice in your name ALWAYS?’ Even in the midst of my torment?”

There is no doubt that I have had an extraordinary life full of God’s favor;  this thought has crossed my mind on a weekly basis since I was an adolescent.  As I reflect on my life, I am overwhelmed with the amount of challenges I have faced; anguish, hopelessness, worry, fear, depression, loneliness.  Although there are a multitude of experiences that left me feeling forsaken by God, the center of every problem has always been illness/sickness.

I was born with Sickle Cell Disease, a blood disorder in which red blood cells are crescent shaped.  Due to the lack of oxygenation and the ‘sickle’ shape of my cells; they get caught in my veins and organs which causes ‘crisis’ (agonizing pain.)  These pain crisis’ are usually very erratic and can sneak up at any moment.  My entire life has been surrounded and interrupted by these pain episodes.  My eyes would often times be extremely jaundice and while in elementary school the kids called me ‘green-eyed gremlin’ Not only did I have to endure teasing for the way I looked on the outside at times; but I was constantly missing school due to frequent hospitalizations.  Life with Sickle Cell was burdensome and there was nothing more I wanted in life except to be rid of this horrible awful disease.

Now I could tell story after story about the many times I have pleaded with God to take this pain away.  Everyday for four years I have ingested a chemotherapy drug that has slowed down the hospitalizations and damaging effects of the SCD, however January 2014 I hit a wall and began experiencing life threatening side effects from the drug.  After many conferences with my medical team we decided that Bone Marrow Transplantation would be the best option for me.  Between January and April the psychological preparation began for me to enter the hospital for 3-4 months to undergo 17 rounds of chemotherapy to kill my marrow and to give me a new marrow that would produce healthy cells.  The doctors explained that during this process I would develop mouth sores, various forms of GVH (the body rejecting the marrow), infertility, skin discoloration, and many other problems that could occur.   It was finally April 8, the day of check in; and my mom and I held our breath as I signed the admission papers to my new temporary home.  I was terrified of what the outcome would be but I was also elated.  This was the game changer, THE pivotal moment of my life. “Yes Lord, I am finally going to be FREE from pain, I will get this transplant and receive that clean bill of health in 5 years.”  (One isn’t declared healed until 5 years post transplant)

On this day, I went into surgery, the doctors placed the Hickman catheter in my chest and then I went to receive an exchange transfusion (when 80% of my own blood is taken out and replaced with new blood.)  As I was having blood pumped out of my body, the team of doctors, nurses, and social workers walked in and said, “Cierra, we are so sorry, but there seems to be some problems with the insurance company and you will not be receiving the transplant at this time.” I WAS DEVASTATED.  Here I was with no home because I moved out of my apartment, no job because I took an extended leave of absence, and now NO TRANSPLANT after 4 months of emotional/physical/spiritual preparation.  How was I going to explain this to all my family and friends?  My family in Texas and Illinois was preparing to come to LA to help my mom, individuals from every corner of my life had gathered to wish me well and I felt like a fool.

“JESUS ARE YOU KIDDING?  Did I really just spend 4 months of my life preparing for a period of hell to get rid of my existing hell? Is this really happening to me?  God, these doctors have already cut me open, and taken me through the emotional roller coaster of this transplant.  This is definitely some sort of sick twisted disgusting joke.”

I could go on and on and on about the 26 years of pain that I have endured because of this Sickle Cell. I could tell you how I took Benadryl everyday to sleep the days away after this happened.   It was horrible, it was embarrassing, and it was a hopeless situation. My heart physically hurt; it felt like someone ripped it out and squeezed it to death.  My body was alive yet lifeless…I couldn’t breathe…I couldn’t think…all I could do was cry…literally.  I sobbed day and night.  This hurt…this was the ultimate rejection…the grand scheme the enemy planted in my mind to further propel my insecurities, inadequacy, and unworthiness.  I felt like I was back at square one, back to worrying about the quality of my life.

After a month or two of self-sabotage I decided it was time to get help.  I had allowed over a decade of problems accumulate in my life and the transplant situation exacerbated everything else.  Working with a therapist significantly helped, however, it wasn’t until I began to go back to my roots with Jesus is when I began to truly heal.  One of my favorite singers, Vicki Yohe, has a song entitled “In the Waiting.”  The very first line of that song is “Pain, the gift nobody longs for still it comes.”  I have been listening to that song since I was fourteen years old but one day as I was in my room listening to that song I broke down weeping.  I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit and suddenly I understood.

 “Cierra, PAIN IS YOUR GIFT.  Sickness is not of me, but I have allowed you to go through these things because this is how you will touch others.  As you continue to live your life, individuals will see the ‘handicaps’ and the ‘roadblocks’ and they will wonder how in the world you do what you do with what you have.  And the answer won’t have anything to do with you but EVERYTHING to do with me.”

The only way that that I get through life now is to know that pain is a gift from the Lord.  It absolutely sucks when we are being beaten down by the hardships of this world but the only way to surpass it is to know that Christ is using these things to strengthen you.  It is way too easy to love Him when things are going great.  It is simple to walk around joyfully serving others when you have complete health, dependable family members, loyal friends, success, popularity, and money in the bank.

C.S Lewis, a great author said, “We can ignore even pleasure.  But pain insists upon being attended to.  God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Growing up I always heard my mom and elders in the church reiterate that our problems are not for ourselves; that they are for someone else’s benefit.  That always sounded religious and kind of dumb to me.  It irritated me that others would validate my suffering for someone else.  In the last ten months I have finally stopped praying “Why God?” “Please take this away God.”  Instead my prayer is “How do you want me to use this to benefit you Lord” “What do you need me to do Jesus?”  When I ‘face trials of many kinds’ I truly have JOY, because I know that God is working.  I know that He will NEVER give me more than I can bear and I appreciate that He trusts ME to do the work. So I stopped praying for the pain to go away.

Perhaps you’re depressed, perhaps your mom and dad have abandoned you, perhaps you have cancer, or maybe you keep facing rejection in your career…all of these things cause pain.  BUT how will you use your turmoil to help someone else?  Your pain and your heartache will be the leverage God gives you to help someone.  Sometimes He even allows you to go through things just to prove to you how much He loves you and how much others value you.  I have not arrived, but I am so excited for the doors God has been opening and I know that the ‘seemingly grievous times’ are BLESSINGS.  I take PURE JOY in the struggles because I know those overlooked gifts will bring the most value to God’s kingdom.

I compete for the title of Miss California USA this upcoming weekend. I cannot wait to stand  on that stage and showcase inner beauty and resiliance. i feel so beautiful on the inside after overcoming so much with my health, and that’s what I hope people see in me.

The Inner Beauty of Healing

by: Zera McMahon

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Living with an eating disorder hardly qualifies as ‘living’ at all in my mind. It’s a torturous state of existence that torments your mind, body and soul. Anyone who is familiar with the agony of an ED, is very familiar with the privation of life surrounding them. Unfortunately it can be a lifelong battle fought only in private silence. At least that is what I have experienced during my struggle with anorexia, which began in the 7th grade.

I am now 27 years old, and sharing my story for the first time.

Before now, anorexia has been a part of my existence that I have greatly attempted to shield and draw a curtain over. It was an extremely dark and painful time in my life, and I was always so ashamed to ever reach out to anyone about it.  It wasn’t easy to admit that so much of my focus was on outer beauty and the way I wanted others to see me.

However, my experience with anorexia wasn’t JUST the desire to be skinny. Of course, I wanted to be thin…I wanted to be painfully thin,  yet the reasoning behind this disease went much deeper than the hunger to be thin, and ultimately I do feel that it could have been prevented. These deep-rooted issues encompass a range of concerns I believe many people are faced with on a daily basis, such as media, social and peer pressures. Additionally, the lack of kindness and compassion in this world also serves as a huge trigger for many.

I remember middle school being a very volatile stage growing up. School for me was never enjoyable, socially nor academically. One of my biggest struggles was feeling so inherently different from my peers. I was born with clubbed feet and musculature issues that prevented me from participating in school athletic programs, which gave students the motive to label me as ‘weird’. I desperately wanted to look beautiful, to be the A student, to be the girl who was asked to school dances, to compete in sports, etc. The list goes on. Middle school was a time when the cliques of friends were being established, girls got their periods, and school dances were unfortunately (for me) a reality! I did not have many friends and the few I did have I quickly lost to my eating disorder. Anorexia was after all, the only friend I had grown to want or need. At first, it was my little secret, and that was thrilling to me to have something no one else knew about or to my knowledge, had.

The first time I remember making the decision to restrict food was at school lunch. There was a girl who sat at the lunch table with me who thought she was doing me a favor by advising I lose just a few pounds. How kind. Since I was unable to compete in sports, I thought the quickest way for me to lose the weight I so clearly needed to lose, was to starve myself. When this vicious cycle began, I restricted my food intake to only one meal a day…dinner. I chose this one meal as dinner, because it was the one meal I ate in front of my family. Because this was my secret, it was imperative that no one find out. Mind you, while making the conscious decision to restrict my food intake, I never once considered myself anorexic. That is, until I decided to restrict my food intake even more. After a couple weeks of being on my new “diet” of eating only once a day, I had begun to lose a couple pounds. Not enough pounds, though, for anyone to take notice.

So, I ramped it up a bit and began going an entire day without any food. At home, I’d be completely panic stricken about the notion of eating dinner in front of my family. Hours in school that should have been spent studying, I spent obsessively fabricating excuses to avoid eating dinner. My family eventually caught on to my behaviors, and began using threats to get me to eat. Nonetheless, I refused my body of any food. This rapidly became my addiction, and I consistently wanted more and more. Fundamentally what I was really displaying was my desire to exist less and less. One day without food quickly doubled, and soon I was surviving off of a menial amount of food every three days. By the third day, I would feel incredibly weak and dehydrated, to the point where I would begin black out in class just sitting at my desk. This occurred more than once throughout middle school and high school. I’d have to feel my way out of the classroom and then lay on my back along the side of the hallway. When the bell would ring, it was if no one noticed me and students would rush around the hall to get to their classes, while I just laid there unable to stand up. Finally, a teacher came to get me with a wheel chair and took me to the office to phone my parents. Sometimes I wonder how different my story might have been if a random act of kindness was gifted to me on those dark days. It could’ve changed my direction and story completely.

Unfortunately, this mental and physical addition went on for years and years. I felt completely detached from my parents as they continuously buried their fears and avoided the major issue at hand. The family dynamics in my household were unbalanced, and mental abuse was a part of my day-to-day existence. I was left feeling inadequate, and without the tools to love and respect myself as an individual. Seeking constant fulfillment from my family and peers at school was my way of determining my own self-worth.

In the middle of the night during the summer of my 9th grade, by some miracle I had a sort of epiphany, and suddenly knew that if I continued to choose anorexia as the most important part of myself, then I would undoubtedly die. My life had become a pathetic state of existence, and it was in fact, really void of any life at all. Even though I was so incredibly ill both mentally and physically, I knew I had to put an end to this. I wanted anorexia to get the fuck out of me! In order to heal the fragile skeleton everyone saw me as, I had to work from the inside out, from the core of my being.

Anorexia has not only robbed five years of my life, taken my friends away when I needed them most, damaged my health to the point of near liver failure, but also robbed me of my identity. With the help of two incredible psychologists and a nutritionist, I have been able to recapture and embrace this gift of life. I feel truly blessed to have been able to separate my own mind from the death grip of the ED. Recovery from anorexia has been a long and challenging process, and will require a lifetime commitment from me. The ED is always lingering in the background, waiting to swoop in again…but I refuse to give it any power. It takes great courage to really own your life, without letting media and peer pressures dictate your self-worth.

A good friend once said to me, “acting with self-love is never selfish”. This is such a profound statement to me, because it signifies my evolution from violent self-hatred to self-love and fulfillment. This miraculous transformation has given me confidence to recognize and nurture the talent and beauty within myself rather than seeking OUTER BEAUTY.

As I’ve grown with such mindfulness, I have been able to cultivate my own passions instead of focusing on the perfect body image. As a result, I’ve learned aspects of fashion and design which I have embraced and evolved into my own business. ZERA Couture celebrates the inner beauty of women with luxurious headpieces and accessories, focusing on the adornment of the head-space inside and out. The creation of these headpieces was born from the realization that women should be revered as the strong and beautiful individuals that we positively are. This business is fueled and Inspired by my journey towards healing – and i’ve never felt more beautiful on the INSIDE because of it.

If I were to say just one thing to someone struggling with an ED, it would be this…FOCUS on your INNER BEAUTY – not on what you’ll wear or how your makeup matches up to all the tutorials you see online everyday or how your body compares to your friends. Focus on the things in this world that truly matter and offer fulfillment. If you do, you will be the most beautiful and powerful true self that you could ever hope for.

Lastly, if you know someone who is suffering with some form of addiction, don’t ignore them. Don’t allow them to sit in the hallways and feel unseen. A random act of kindness in showing that you give a damn can go a long way. Sometimes though, you don’t always know who is silently suffering with their own forms of depression and loneliness which is why being kind should become a way of life. If we all pay it forward when something kind happens for us, we have the chance to start a huge wave of change in the world. Make it part of your daily routine to do something kind for a stranger starting today. You never know what that person is going through. You may have just changed the direction of their story…

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How To Have Happy Holidays When You’re Sad

by: Alicia M. Blanco

elf

I’ve been receiving several messages lately from people who want to know how I stay so happy during this time of year. It’s supposed to be a season of celebration and joy but in reality, it’s a season of heightened depression for many.

At first I was confused how anyone could RESIST happiness during this time of year because Christmas (and this entire season in general) is when I’m in total bliss. I’m like a big kid; I’ve had my Michael Buble Christmas CD playing in my car since October (I know…), I get giddy when the mall starts to decorate and set up for Santa, and even though I don’t drink coffee, I get excited knowing Starbucks is in the season of their famous red cups and holiday themed drinks. I can go on and on but I think you get it- I am obsessed with this time of year. The only thing I find depressing is that I have to wait a whole year for it again as soon as it’s all over.

But as more and more messages came in asking me for advice on how to “endure” the season, I started to really think about why people might feel so anxious or unhappy when the holidays come around.

First off, the media bombardment of smiling family and friends can be overwhelming and annoying.  I get it! Nonstop commercials on TV are showcasing these perfect happy model looking families and groups of good looking friends going shopping and spending money without a care in the world.

While we all know these are entirely staged productions intended to attract consumer spending, some people may start to compare their lives to the lives of others- even more so on social media. They begin to question the relationships in their lives as well as their financial situation. It’s a huge stressor! They also might reflect on another year coming to an end and think about what they DON’T have.

One individual who wrote me said the reason she struggles with staying happy during the holidays is because she never had a father figure in her life and her mother struggled immensely to afford the basic necessities.  She grew up really resenting the process of exchanging gifts and even associates the holidays with guilt for receiving anything.

Its even been said that suicide rates and mood disorders increase in this season due to triggers of loneliness, financial stress, inadequacy, and lack of belonging.  How can we fix this?

If you’re feeling down about the holidays, here are 8 ways I stay happy through them:

1. DON’T COMPARE: I am as guilty as anybody for comparing what I have to what others have, but the less I do this, the happier I am. Keep in mind what you see on TV is not real and what you see on social media is just the same. I came across a great quote the other day – “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” – Steven Furtick – Super true.

2. I CATER TO THE 5 SENSES- I decorate my home beautifully so what I SEE is visually appealing and stimulating. I eat want I want – it’s not bikini season, it’s cookies and milk season! Treat yourself to eating what you know TASTES amazing. You earned it! Also, my home SMELLS like vanilla cookies, cake and pumpkin spice – anything that’s reverent of the season. Next, I almost always have music on that makes me feel good to HEAR. It doesn’t have to be Christmas music, (mine is) but I’m such a lover of music year-round and even fall asleep to a playlist.

3. BE A KID AGAIN- I embrace an intense sense of childlike wonder and dive into the season as if I were a little girl again. In fact, I need to get myself to Disneyland ASAP. Rafael if you’re reading this, let’s go.

4. I strive to make new MEMORIES – this one would be especially helpful for those of you who associate the season with a bad memory. Clean those up and replace them with new and uplifting ones starting today!

5. BUILD TRADITIONS – make those memories you created truly last by establishing them as rock solid TRADITIONS. This should be something you know you’ll eagerly anticipate year round whether it’s shopping for a Christmas tree with your nephew or decorating the house with your boyfriend with your favorite movie on – set something up in stone as “yours” and “ours.” Ever since I was a little girl, all the women in my family get together a week or so before Christmas and make dozens (and dozens) of tamales. We laugh, cry, joke around with each other, have deep conversations, and have mariachi music playing in the background while we work because that’s what my Nana likes – It’s something we all look forward to every year. It’s messy and hilarious. It’s tradition.

6. I’M AROUND THE ONES I LOVE- you really should do this all year round but during this season it’s all the more imperative. My boyfriend and I will be spending two weeks in Arizona in a couple weeks with my family and I couldn’t be more thrilled about that. Being around the ones I love and who love us means the world to me…

7. On that same note, pay attention to people. FOCUS ON OTHERS more than yourself. By now you know I’m a huge advocate of random acts of kindness in hopes that it will impact someone who might be struggling with depression or just having a bad day – so I really step it up even more during this time of year and in return, I’m happier for it.

I find that the less I focus on myself, like what I have or don’t have, and instead use all of that time and energy for others, the happier I am. I have no time to get sad about my circumstances if I’m more focused on improving the circumstances of others. I’m distracted in the best way possible.  I strive to demolish statistics in depression and suicide by being kinder – especially during this time of year when people might need it the most. Try it!

I encourage you to keep in mind that although the year is coming to an end, it’s your opportunity for a new beginning. If you really struggle to embrace the season, ask yourself why. Recognize the root of any issues you are having with this time of year and completely release it all. Give the negativity zero power.

If all else fails, “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing loud for all to hear!” Elf is on TV right now as I’m writing this, so I had to do that. Cheesy me!

And I’m taking my puppy Romeo to go visit Santa at the mall this week too… yes I am.

Happy Holidays!

The Suicide Letter From My Past

by: Dominique Garrett

DC

Dear Dominique, 16, a mess,

Its been a while now…since you sat on that kitchen floor wanting to end your life.

Its been a while since you thought there was no way out. I wish I could’ve held you tight on those nights when at just 16 years old you believed life couldn’t get any better. I wish I could’ve put my hand on your chest and stopped the pain and depression that you carried.

I know that a history of mistreatment, both physically and emotionally, has left you scared, but…please hold on. Right now you don’t understand. Right now you’re looking for answers, but if told you it will take some time…would you hold on?

I promise that I will be waiting for you…and you will smile again!

I know right now in this very moment you can’t comprehend certain things – like why your brother gets more love and attention than you, or why everyone in the world tells you that you’re so strong, but they really have no idea…I promise you I get it.

You wish that for once someone would wrap their arms around you and say it’ll be ok, cause right now you’re 16 and you don’t know all the answers.  You’ve had to grow up so fast because being a kid just wasn’t in your cards.  You raised yourself emotionally…and yet you did it wrong, but its ok.

I am here to tell you that you will be ok one day soon…and that even though you feel like ending it right now, it will get better, so please don’t let go right now!

Life never moves forward without leaving behind a lesson.

When doubt fills your mind remember that you are going through this to build you UP, not to break you down. One day you won’t need anyone’s validation. One day the past will only be that…the past.

So just close your eyes and trust in your future… you will be a light for others.

I promise to always keep that light on for you…even now in this moment I am trying to be a light in a dark place.

You’re stronger than you think.

With love,

Dominique, 27 years old, a message

Enough

by: Brittany Winston

enough

“Brittany get up, you need to go run.” This is how most of my mornings started off at 5:15am when my mother would wake me up and make me go for a run before school. On the weekends it was 5:00am to go hiking. Being a child and teenager, I would grumble in my head and be so exasperated at these early morning wakeups, but it was more than the early wakeup times that upset me.

The reason she woke me up so early everyday was so that I wouldn’t become “fat”.

I was always told that I had a predisposition to be heavy and if I didn’t “stay on top of it” I would be overweight. From the moment I hit puberty I developed hips, thighs and a booty even though I was a runner and extremely active. I was taught that my curves weren’t beautiful and that I shouldn’t want to have a big butt or hips. So much focus was on my appearance.

When I was in high school I didn’t realize the effect my “outer beauty” was having on my confidence and personality. I retreated more and more into a shell of self-doubt and low self-esteem because of my curves. I never felt that I was enough; pretty enough, thin enough, tall enough (all I was focusing on what my outer beauty traits.) And when it came to boys, it was even worse. Anytime I received any attention from a guy I always thought
to myself, “why me, what does he SEE?”

I didn’t stop to think of the other non-physical attributes and traits I had to offer someone.

I made poor decisions on how far I went with a boy because I thought it was the only way to keep him around. I told myself, “he can’t really want me. I’m not skinny and I’m not that pretty. If I don’t do this, he will leave me.”

I was constantly starving for physical attention and outer acceptance.

When I started college it got even worse because I started to get a lot of consistent attention for my outer “looks and figure”, and it hit me like a ton of bricks in the worst way. I didn’t know what was going on. I still had the internal feeling of “why me, I’m not enough.”

Yet still, I flourished in a totally superficial way.

I dated men with money and status, I partied and I made it appear as though I was thoroughly and genuinely enjoying my life. I looked happy from the outside, but I was empty and depressed on the inside. There were so many times I cried myself to sleep at night but then would go to work and school with a smile on my face pretending I was okay.

Actually, I even started losing weight because the depression stopped me from mustering up the energy to eat!

I didn’t run anymore because I associated it with punishment, I drank too much and when I did eat, I ate like crap. Plain and simple, I wasn’t happy and everywhere that I was looking for happiness was on the OUTSIDE – and it was superficial and empty, no matter how much attention I received.

Desperate for a cure to my depression, I made an abrupt move across the country and changed my surroundings entirely. But still, the depression continued to haunt me.

I considered ending my life.

But then my moment of clarity came when I realized I didn’t care what people thought about the way I LOOKED, and that my INNER BEAUTY was more than enough to deserve all this love and attention.

I realized I had a lot to love from within! I love that I have an awesome sense of humor, I’m quirky, I love to read and travel the world – and I can think of no better place to spend a warm day than outside soaking in the sun and enjoying nature. I think these are just a few of the many things that make me pretty darn amazing on the INSIDE, and that’s where it counts.

Through first mastering the art of self-acceptance and inner healing, I began to embrace, accept and LOVE my outer beauty too! Living in the south helped me appreciate my body type, so I even began to do plus size modeling! I love being a plus size model because I pray some little girl or woman will see me and realize there is more than one type of physical beauty. I hope it helps lead others to healing and loving themselves just as they are and not comparing themselves to images in magazines and billboards. It is so disheartening to see what society and media does to little girls from an early age… just like it did to me. So much is based on OUTER BEAUTY and it’s an unattainable standard of beauty and body image. It makes me want to cry.

Naturally, I still need to remind myself every now and then that there’s so much more to life than having the “perfect body.” Beauty fades and no two women are just alike on the outside anyways. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Depression has no stereotype on who it attacks. And despite working in a stereotypically “superficial industry”, I’ve learned so much about self-love and self-worth from so many women I’ve encountered.

We should all be a team and help one another to remember what’s most important in life – and that’s inner happiness and inner beauty.

“A woman’s beauty should be that of [her] inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” Peter 3:4

Today, I know that I am ENOUGH. And that’s worth being alive for.