From Miss Arizona to Misunderstood

By: Alicia M. Blanco

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Lately I’ve been doing a lot of traveling for work which I find to be extremely fulfilling and rejuvenating. (Refer back to my blog “Why Traveling is Good for your Mental Health” from last year.) In fact, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t blogged in almost a year!! But traveling is such an awesome part of life that I feel everyone should try to do more of. YOU MEET SO MANY PEOPLE, and these people from all around the world help to teach you more about yourself.

My newest “discovery” that I’ve acquired from my travels is that being misunderstood reeeeeallllllly sucks. Like, REALLY, REALLY SUCKS. Whether it’s an actual language barrier where you struggle to understand what the frack someone is saying and therefore preventing you from having a conversation of substance, or even being able to order a high-maintenance coffee (I like an iced, dirty venti chai tea latte with coconut milk and extra chai and two shots..and light ice. Because I’m a diva.) And you can forget trying to order a grande double shot vanilla bean frappuccino with exxxxxtra caramel inside the cup and on top with light whip cream…I guess it’s way too complicated of an order.

And then there are the cultural differences. Different people from different parts of the world will interact, speak, react, and even drive differently. Tempers are different. Attitudes are different. Levels of patience are different. EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT! (…and thank GOD for that because we would be so bored if everyone was the same, wouldn’t we!?)

But I would gladly take on annnnnny language barrier/misunderstanding in the world over being misunderstood for who I am on the inside.

Recently I’ve had a few experiences while traveling where my heart, my integrity and my character was misunderstood- and it absolutely wrecked me.

But I learned that even the crappy things that happen to us serve a huge purpose in our lives.

Being misunderstood taught me 3 things:

  1. I love my family and friends like CRAZY and need to show it more when I’m HOME!! – I always knew I loved them, but after so much traveling and several different time zones, I learned just how much I value their opinions– and only their opinions. “People who mind don’t matter and people who matter, don’t mind.” Knowing I have an amazing group of people to come home to whenever I’m gone for extended periods of time gets me through. While I am so inspired by all the people I am meeting while traveling, I had to learn to reject opinions from people who don’t fully know me. It took me a long time to do this but once I did, it was extremely liberating. You cannot let the opinions of others define you, or worse, hurt you. And you certainly shouldn’t let opinions change who you are. #ohhayyyllno “Lions don’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep.” I definitely need to show more appreciation for the people I love when I’m home. Whenever I’m gone I find myself swearing I’m going to be better about calling my mama and sister every single day since it’s hard to do when traveling. I need their opinions. I need to hear their voices.
  2. Stereotypes still exist.. um, what the heck!? – Whenever I personally encounter being stereotyped for being a pageant girl, it hurts! I can’t tell you how many times people assume I have a competitive spirit in every aspect of my life… or they assume I’m nothing but makeup and hair full time and that I’m putting up a façade. In the social media crazed world we live in today, it’s impossible to avoid being judged. You can sit behind a computer screen (or on your phone) for hours just scrolling through someone’s profile and judging them without even realizing it!  WE ARE ALL GUILTY OF THIS. Ladies, you should NEVER have to explain who you are to anyone! Stay true to who you are, even if the world has stereotypes surrounding the way you look, dress, speak and carry yourself, just keep your chin up otherwise your crown may slip. Besides, going to Miss USA is a one of the greatest accomplishments of my whole life and I’m so proud of it! I shouldn’t have to defend it or adapt to others in order to be understood or accepted. (Side note: the irony about ever being called a “pageant girl” in a negative way, is that I wasn’t raised in the industry. I was dared into my first pageant in my early 20s. So I can’t help but to laugh whenever people think I was born and bred to COMPETE…as if that’s a bad thing anyway?!)
  3. KINDNESS is key. – The whole entire purpose of my blog is to promote kindness and paying it forward! While traveling, it just comes natural to me to stay true to myself and be kind, always – even when someone is being completely unkind towards me. One of my favorite scriptures says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so you heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 2:19-21 – Whenever I come across someone who is being difficult at the airport or on my flights or in my hotels, I overcome it by being extra nice. I always get such a priceless look on their faces.

It’s hard to put into words how gratifying it is to be kind when someone deserves it the least. I am always so hopeful that it will change the direction of their day, reboot their mindset altogether and maybe even lead to them taking on a different attitude and paying it forward for the rest of their day. And even if it doesn’t, I still walk away feeling good! Besides, everyone you meet is fighting something that you know NOTHING about. Always give the benefit of the doubt. Always be the advocate for someone who isn’t around to defend themselves. Take the high road. Speak words of encouragement. You never know how profoundly it can impact someone for the better!

Still, we are human and we are going to get hurt. The more I travel the more I’ve come to appreciate how drastically different we all handle being hurt. I think it’s a beautiful thing to learn from other people and it’s something I take seriously with every trip I take.

Anyways, just had to get this off my chest. Excited to be back in the blogsphere! I’m sure I will have lots to say in the coming months but no matter what, I’ll always stay true to myself no matter where I go in the world.

XO

A Year Without Robin Williams

By: Alicia M. Blanco

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On August 11th, 2014 I was flying home from a weekend in Arizona. When I landed and connected back to social media, the first thing I saw was “RIP Robin Williams”.. “actor commits suicide” all over my Facebook and Instagram feed. My body went numb. I was in total shock and disbelief.

Like many of you, I felt like I lost a close friend. I grew up watching and loving him and all the beloved characters he brought to life. It was devastating news to come home to, to say the least. Equally devastating is how mental health and suicide is treated and talked about in society. It isn’t until a celebrity commits suicide that society gives this topic any real attention. This needs to change.

It was on that day last year as I was driving home from the airport that I knew I wanted (and needed) to start my blog and dedicate it entirely to mental health, research, awareness and advocacy. I wanted all of the Robin Williamses of the world to know that they were not alone. It was my hope that by reading stories and articles from other people who have similar FEELINGS and experiences with depression (either personally or within their families) that people could begin to feel a sense of community and belonging. I want them to feel acknowledged, seen and heard. I desired my blog to be a place of hope where people could relate, with no filters, no stories of perfection – just pure and raw honesty.

I could sit here and list off all of the numerical statistics that show you how much suicide has increased over the years. But let me just cut to the chase. IT’S BAD. And every year it’s getting worse. Suicide has no specific victim- no group is “safe” from the impulse.  What’s worse, is that although many people give subtle “signs” that they are contemplating suicide, many people leave no sign at all.

The death of Robin Williams greatly impacted us because on the outside it would seem like he was a relatively happy person. (With a sense of humor like his, it seemed impossible not to be happy.) He also had a dream career, lots of money, fame and the respect and admiration of his fans around the world. This is the part that scares me the most – the amount of people living today who seem like happy people on the outside, but who are really deeply in serious trouble. Earlier in the year I reposted the story about Madison Holleran, a girl who appeared to have it all, (based on her social media, that is.) She ended up committing suicide, despite the utterly happily filtered Instagram life she portrayed to the world.

Depression is a silent killer. Unlike other illnesses that are physically visible, depression is something that builds up on the inside of a person’s mind and body and takes over control. It’s manipulative and even has the power to give off the illusion that everything is fine on the outside. It can also trick its victim into being insecure about sharing how they are feeling with someone.

It’s so heartbreaking, even one year later on the anniversary of his death, to accept that he was suffering so deeply, and quietly…And that’s what breaks my heart: Suicide is preventable – and the responsibility is entirely ours. Together we can each participate in changing these statistics. Enough is enough. Suicidal thoughts and attempts wreck the lives of millions every single day, and over 40,000 die from suicide every single year! Robin Williams’ death was just one of the hundreds who took their own lives on that day. What have we done since then?

We need to take a good hard look at the way we treat people. Our actions and our words matter. When we ask someone “how are you doing?” how many of us are genuinely interested in the response? Do we really care how someone is really, truly doing? Do we really believe someone is as happy as their Facebook or Instagram feed suggests? Are we participating in random acts of kindness for our family, friends and even strangers? Are we ourselves slipping into episodes of depression because of how much we compare ourselves to the “picture perfect” lives of others?

We are so “plugged-in” to our phones and computers these days that we have completely disconnected from community and heartfelt communication.

The way we talk about depression and mental health research & advocacy can re-shape the future. It can be as simple as changing the way we use our words; The words we use to talk about suicide; The words used in media to broadcast it; The words used to build someone up, or tear them down; The amount of time we spend using words of affirmation and encouragement. Bullying. Cyber bullying. Racism. Hate. Addressing depression. Make no mistake about it – the words we use matter.

“Our words are the ground note. Words are the least expensive, most valuable tool we have to educate, to turn the tides of public opinion, to affect real change. Let’s stop conversations that destroy lives, start conversations that save lives, and redirect conversations that distract us from what really matters.” – Dese’Rae Stage

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If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, please call 1-800-784-2433 or visit save.org

Mental Illness Doesn’t Have To Be A Terrible Thing

by: Anonymous Author

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A few months ago I read the article “Living With Bipolar Disorder” and it hit so close to home. It encouraged me to write this and share my own story. It has taken me a few months to write it (well, more like 28 years and a few months) but, I am finally ready.

I grew up without a dad. It’s not that he died or anything, but he just never really existed in my life. I have no memory of him other than that I hated him for not being there. I hated him for not being normal. Dad has suffered with alcohol and substance abuse since before I was even born.

It has consumed his entire life. There were stints of “sobriety” here and there, but never long enough for me to remember any positive memories.  My only memories are of my mom crying so much when I was little. She was so alone and angry with him but she never put him down. She would only ever say things like, “he’s really sick” or “he’s not well” and her favorite “mental illness is a terrible thing.”

And it was a terrible thing. It was terrible not knowing if he was roaming the streets or if he was even alive. It was terrible not having any traditions with him. It was terrible feeling anger and resentment for someone I hardly knew. But most of all, it was terrible whenever the phone rang from the mental hospital letting us know dad was there. I never wanted to go see him.

Every birthday and every holiday gone by was another reason to hate him even more. I hated the excuse of mental illness – because thats all it was to me, an excuse.

I made it a point to roll my eyes at my mom every time she said the words “mental illness”. We would have fights about it because I couldn’t believe it was an illness. To me it was a choice to pick drugs and alcohol over me and my mom.

I spent the majority of my life with this unwavering opinion. This opinion and this hatred was like an illness in itself. I was sick of feeling so trapped by these feelings of bitterness, so the last time we got the call, I decided to go see him— and it changed everything for me.

I walked into the Behavioral Institute or “mental hospital” where dad was currently residing. I brought a list with me of things to say while I was there. Questions, complaints, regrets. But when I saw him, the list disappeared. He looked so sad and lost amongst his peers of mentally ill patients in the room. He looked so ashamed and embarrassed to be there. But most of all, he looked helpless. I knew the last thing he needed was a list of topics to discuss. I don’t know what came over my heart in the moment but I just declared to show him love. I was kind, loving, patient, interested in everything he had to say, I listened to him, smiled with him, and started to create memories – our first.  I acted as though we were the best of friends and not strangers. I realized that I didn’t know if this could possibly be the last time I saw him, and if it was, I didn’t want it to be a terrible thing.   I had had enough terrible things. This meeting wasn’t going to be one of them.

Instead, I wanted this to be a good thing – and it was.

Once I made the choice to be kind and loving instead of bitter and angry, I was set free. I only wished he could have the feeling of being set free too. Mental illness can hold you captive and hostage for years until you seek recovery…and sometimes even then you’re still never fully free from your addictions and demons.

The look on his face was of light and also of shock. I’ll bet he was ready for me to scold him and cry about my lifetime without a dad. And so when I didn’t, something wonderful happened inside of him.

It was the greatest gift I could ever give to this perfect stranger. And I’m thankful I have at least this one good memory with my father.

As of today, I don’t know where my dad is. He checked himself out of the hospital (because the mental healthcare system is f%$ked up and it happens everyday) so there is no way of knowing where he is. I have to wait for the call from the hospital the next time he surfaces.

But while I wait, (like I waited all my life)… at least now I can say I have a happy memory with him. It’s as much of a healing process for me as the one he needs to experience for himself on a deeper level. I just have to keep the faith that someday, he will.

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.

A Random Act of Kindness That Made Me Cry

by: Alicia M. Blanco

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Last night while I was scrolling through Facebook before going to sleep, I came across my friend’s status and I need to share it with you:

“I just seen a kid about 18 or 19 with no shoes on that came up to me at the gas station. I’m thinking he was coming over to bum money. He said, ‘that’s a really nice car, I just wanted to tell you that.’ I said thanks. He had a sign hanging from his neck that read ‘hungry’… So I offered him cash to get food and he said, ‘no thanks but I will take one of those bags of chips you have on your seat if you don’t mind.’ I said in my head, wow that’s never happened…So I asked him, ‘where are your shoes?’ and he said, ‘my dad has to wear them to work because it’s the only pair we have.’ For some reason in that very moment I didn’t even think twice and I took off my new Olympic Retro 6s and gave them to him. He was in shock and started to tear up. I told him thank you. Because its people like you that makes me see the world in a different light.”

Cue the tears.

I couldn’t hold them back when I saw this! It’s the stories like THIS that make me see the world in a different light…

My faith in humanity is restored more and more everyday.

This is the perfect example of how a Random Act of Kindness can change someone’s life. And by the looks of it, it seems like both lives were changed through this.

My friend Bobby who posted this story is a great guy. And after reading about his random act of kindness, my respect for him has certainly increased.

I started The Random Act of Kindness Challenge (#TRAKchallenge #trakCHANGE) two weeks ago and I’m so moved by stories like this that are surfacing— and the feeling I have in my heart about lives changing around us is truly indescribable.

When I started The Wave, it was my mission to conquer depression and promote a massive movement in the way we treat one another. I believe with all my heart that all it takes is one person to do something nice for someone else, and from there it will start a huge wave of people paying it forward and spreading the kindness that was bestowed upon them…

Before you know it, the wave will land on someone who is spiritually barefoot, feeling numb, alone, depressed, even suicidal. Your kindess can literally save a life.

So go out today and do something extra beautiful for someone else. You’ll begin to feel so much joy and beauty from within.

My WAVE Hello!!

by: Alicia M. Blanco

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I just wanted to WAVE hello to you! Bienvenidos to my brand new blog! This is my very first blog ever for The Wave and I couldn’t possibly be more nervous and scared and excited and encouraged and and and…

Soooo many emotions that I’m hoping I’ll be able to clearly articulate to you on something very near and dear to my heart.

So I know you’ve heard of the concept behind random acts of kindness right? It’s when you do something super kind and sweet out of the blue for someone- maybe someone you know and even for someone you don’t. There are so many websites and blogs promoting random acts of kindness, and those have always been my absolute FAVORITE to read. So I decided I want to start a huge WAVE of them.

Waves are powerful moving forces. When you think of a wave you may think of waving hello or goodbye, or the waves in the ocean, or doing “the wave” in an arena at a basketball game or football games. And it only takes ONE person to start it. It may start off small, but then it builds and grows magnificently. By definition, “wave” also means “any surging or progressing movement”…”a widespread feeling, opinion, tendency”… and “a mass movement.” And that’s exactly what I hope to accomplish here- a MASS movement in the way we treat others. By doing our part to put forth MORE effort in increasing the kindness we put out into the world, I believe we’ll come closer and closer to conquering depression, having breakthroughs in mental illness that science can’t and ultimately healing addiction.

You never know when your small and random act can completely change the direction of someone’s day. Ideally, the recipient of your random act of kindness will feel compelled to pay it foward. It’s quite contagious. Eventually your good deeds will land in the life of someone having a really bad day, or a bad week, or horrible year. Just think about that for a moment. Your spontaneous and “small” act of kindness easily can cause a huge wave of more and more people being kind and pouring love onto perfect strangers who could be suffering silently, feeling alone, unheard, unseen, and unloved.

All it takes is one act of kindness today. You can do anything!

Suggestions:
– Buy coffee for the person behind you in the drive-thru at Starbucks. That’ll make their day!
– Leave behind a noticeably larger tip than usual at a restaurant for that young college kid.
– Anonymously leave a bouquet of flowers with a note that says “have a great day” on someone’s doorstep. Doesn’t have to be someone you know.
– Put gas in someone’s car.
-Pick up the tab for the kid behind you in the check out line at the grocery store.
– Extend a helping hand for the older woman loading her groceries into her car in the parking lot.
– Call a grandparent. That’ll make their day.
– Buy lunch and a haircut for the homeless guy on the street corner AND have an actual conversation with him.

For your viewing pleasure, check out 50 Unbelieveable Acts of Kindness That Remind Us There’s Still Good People In This World.

Imagine each and every recipient of these acts passing it on to a stranger. Eventually it will land on someone in DIRE need! And THOSE are the types of people that inspire me to do this…

You never really know what someone else is going through. There are too many silent sufferers in the world and it’s our duty to help them out.

So get creative! This should be FUN.

Let’s start a HUGE wave.

Ready, set, go!