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

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My OPINIONS on DONALD TRUMP & MISS USA

by: Alicia M. Blanco

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I waited to write this post until after the preliminary competition of the Miss USA pageant last night, because I wanted to gage the energy of the ladies after all that has transpired since Donald Trump shared his opinions on Mexicans and illegal immigration.

In case you didn’t know, allow me to update you

In what I believe to be an aptly timed and choreographed publicity stunt, Donald Trump made his remarks on illegal immigration and Mexicans very clear when he said, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” 

Like a ripple effect, these comments resulted in a massive wave of sponsors ending their business relationship with Trump, and therefore dramatically impacting the Miss USA pageant as we know and love it. Univision, NBC, and Macy’s are just a few of the very first who cut ties. Since then, the pageant lost both of its hosts, correspondents, entertainers, networks, along with several judges and pageant sponsors as well. (Mind you, this is all happening as the girls are arriving in Baton Rouge for registration where they’ve been for the last two weeks leading up to the pageant.)

Meanwhile, Trump is boldly standing by his radical opinions of Mexicans in his attempt to take a seat in the Oval Office. Just a few days ago he even called his reigning Miss Universe (who happens to be Latina) a “hypocrite” for being offended by what he said but yet still wanting to keep her crown anyway.

LET ME BE CLEAR WITH YOU ON MY STANCE ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: of course there is a problem in the system. Anything illegal is a problem that I do not condone! This BEAUTIFUL country I am proud to live in is made up of immigrants who came here legally. That’s what makes it beautiful – it’s a melting pot of diversity. Its just the ILLEGAL immigration that I am fully aware is problematic to the well-being of this great country. Further, it is also my opinion that it’s the perception of illegal immigration that truly is the problem here – because often times (not ALL the time) the majority of immigrants do not just “hop” a border and start making a mess of things, but instead have overextended their VISA’s. But those stories don’t make the headlines, do they? It’s the bad guys who do, not the ones contributing to the growth or prosperity to our beloved country. Not the hardworking mom working minimal wage or the kid trying to get a descent education here, or the hardworking dad laboring over jobs no one else wants just so that he can send money back home to his wife and children, but it’s the guy committing crimes that we will see on the nightly news. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT THE NEWS IS FOR.

But equally, if not more-so problematic (in my opinion) is racism, racial profiling, stereotyping and hate.

To GENERALIZE that all Mexicans (specifically) who are coming into this country are rapists and drug dealers, is just wrong- And it’s going to piss a lot of people off too.

What if I said all men who styled their hair like Donald Trump were racists? That would be such a terrible generalization. Besides, ain’t NOBODY trying to style their hair like that on purpose besides Trump. But that’s neither here nor there.

All this to say:

To the girls competing this weekend: I want you to know that at first I felt REALLY bad for you all. I will never forget how amazing I felt back when I competed in 2009.  We were treated like celebrities from the moment we arrived to Vegas, in every way.  I was honored to have my family and friends there watching it all happen. And for my family and friends who couldn’t be there, I loved knowing they could be at home watching the telecast nationally, live on NBC. So when NBC pulled the plug and announced they wouldn’t be affiliated with Trump anymore (as well as several other sponsors you sadly won’t get to experience as the rest of us in the Miss USA formers club have) I was devastated for you girls. But now, I realize you all are actually so completely blessed with this opportunity to be in the class of 2015!

WHY?

Here’s one reason why: because it will be the most memorable year since 2009 when Carrie and I had terrible answers when we were in the top 5 together!! (I still owe Carrie dinner for her answer on gay marriage…otherwise I would’ve been the most talked about ‘beauty pageant fail’ that year for not answering my question about universal healthcare AND throwing words around like ‘integrity’ and ‘conviction’ like fricken glitter in an attempt to save my ass.) So yeah, as I was saying, this simply is the most memorable year since then! So, OWN IT. Own it with integrity and conviction ladies!! (see… I knew I would get to use those two together again! Drops the mic…)

Another reason why you’re blessed to be in the class of 2015?

Your UNIQUE year at Miss USA gave the world an opportunity to rally together and start the #SaveTheSash campaign demanding a network to pick up the telecast and air it anyway. We are witnesses to how the world can seriously accomplish some pretty amazing things if we can just come together in unity, love and with purpose. In record time, pageant fans around the world came together and illustrated the power of social media – and the power of pageants altogether. All it took was one person’s brilliant idea to start this project and it grew and grew!! Shout out to Travis Stanton and Jason Smith…and really everyone else who helped save the sash by calling, tweeting, writing, signing and throwing a tantrum like Toddlers and Tiaras.  IT TOTALLY WORKED. Thank you Reelz for picking it up and airing the telecast, for reals. (See what I did there?) 

I am mainly impressed by the resilience and fortitude I’ve seen since the first bomb dropped. If last night at prelims was any indication of how you’re all handling everything, then I am incredibly inspired. Standing on that stage is an honor to be able to showcase your confident beauty, hard work ethic, perseverance, and most of all DIVERSITY. 

No two women are exactly alike up there (which is AWESOME, and sort of the point isn’t it…?) Every girl is different and beautiful in her own unique way. For 6 of the contestants who are Latina this year, they have such a unique opportunity to negate and shut down Trumps hurtful comments and prove just how powerful and accomplished the Latino community is. So, thanks Mr. Trump for giving us an even BIGGER stage this year. Click here to read about how this years LATINA contestants are handling everything and why they aren’t backing out of the competition.

People ask me if I would back out if I was competing this year and my answer is HAAYYYYLLLL to the NO! I would absolutely still move forward with even MORE pride.

To the ladies competing, keep it up! I am proud of each and every single one of you for remaining so beautiful on the inside out amidst so much madness surrounding you. You have the unique opportunity to prove that your INNER beauty needs to be on POINT during all of this too… because you really can’t fake resilience and happiness under so much pressure. If you can, you should get into politics.

And to Donald, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from you it’s that everyone is entitled to their own opinions in this life. For that, I encourage you to respect the opinions others have that you’ve gone completely mad, especially some of your ex-business partners who stand by their opinions that ending their business relationships with you is the best thing to do, you know, for business. You’re a business man after all, so you of all people should understand. No one likes being fired, but you’ve made a career out of firing people on national TV.  Now, the shoe is on the other foot… so go ahead and take a walk in it.

God bless America.  Bendiciones a Mexico. God bless anyone who has ever been a victim to racism or hate.  And, seriously, God bless your silly hair stylist.

Click here to watch my interview from channel 12.

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I just can’t help but wonder if the Trumpster thought I was plotting to rape him right there in his office or start up a drug war amongst all the girls while I was at Miss USA. Or, at the very least, if he pondered who it was in my family tree who must’ve come here illegally.

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Barrett-Jackson 2015

by: Alicia M. Blanco

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I finally got back to LA on Monday after my week in Scottsdale, AZ working my 7th year as a “block model” for Barrett-Jackson. Barrett-Jackson is a luxurious auto auction known around the world for their grand production, classic cars, charities and big spending. Here are some pics from Barrett-Jackson past.

Throwback to Barrett-Jackson in 2009 - my first year!

Throwback to Barrett-Jackson in 2009 – my first year!

Nia Sanchez (Miss USA 2014), Nicole Smith, me, Rosalie Michaels (the boss mama!)

Nia Sanchez (Miss USA 2014), Nicole Smith, me, Rosalie Michaels (the boss mama!)

This year, over 1600 cars were sold for over $130 million dollars. It’s a huge event which is why being a block model is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. We are required to maintain a beaming smile all day long (sometimes 10 hours a day), walk back and forth with each and every single car on the block, interact with bidders and attendees and smile through the pain that we may feel in our necks, backs and feet. (I think this is why most of the models hired are pageant girls, because we know how to smile through all the butt glue, high heels and other major discomforts.) And although my feet and neck are indeed still numb and sore, my heart is overflowing with excitement for the story I’m about to tell.

We started off on Tuesday of last week and worked tirelessly until the final day which was Sunday. On Saturday I was asked by one of the auctioneers whom I adore, to attend chapel on Sunday morning in our break room before the auction got started. I agreed to attend even though it meant getting to work a few hours before I was scheduled.

I woke up Sunday morning feeling butterflies in my stomach. I had no idea why.  I was only asked to attend the small gathering. But I made sure I read my bible that morning to help me relax and get rid of those butterflies.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19

 I thought it was ironic that this was the scripture I stumbled upon considering I was working an event centered around spending massive amounts of money and collecting cars. I would like to point out that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having hobbies and passions such as these- I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t enjoy the heck out of wearing such lavish gowns and jewelry for the week and seeing stunning cars sell for millions of dollars. But it’s important not to lose focus on what’s more important in life.

The scripture stood out to me because I felt so blessed to be around the people who “got it”- the people who understood that none of those extravagant things matter if you have a rotten core. The people who, despite being physically drained and tired, still made time to honor God on Sunday morning because they knew that no matter how much money you have or how famous you are or how much beauty you see on the outside, is so insignificant without God. Inner beauty matters. Loving and serving others matters.

Once I got to the bible study, I felt confident, relaxed and was so humbled when I was actually asked to share my testimony about the importance of inner beauty and kindness that morning. Ironically, I was hired to be a model who smiles all day, dressed glamorously from head to toe in over $70K of sponsored jewelry, and yet there I was, standing in front of this family of mine, talking about inner beauty instead. It was SO awesome! Of course, I was crying. I spoke about my trip to Israel with all the beauty queens back in September, and how it felt like home for us to be there. I told them how we felt the most beautiful on that trip compared to the nights we all won our respective “worldly crowns”; I talked about how I never felt more beautiful than when I developed a real relationship with God; How even though as block models we are hired to be aesthetically beautiful and smile all day long, that I feel the most beautiful on the inside, which matters most.  I shared with them how four years prior when I worked the event, I was going through a painful and embarrassing break-up of my engagement and yet I still had to smile on stage as if everything was ok, just like many people in the world do every single day.

The best part was the rest of the day having people come up to thank me for sharing my story and askng to pray with me. It was such a high all day long and I felt compelled to share just a piece of it with you. My week at Barrett-Jackson 2015 was a healthy reminder of how important it is pay close attention to where your “treasure” is, because that’s also where your heart is too.

Barrett-Jackson 2014

Barrett-Jackson 2014

Nicole Smith and I //2015

Nicole Smith and I //2015

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Just hanging out with CeeLo Green

Just hanging out with CeeLo Green

The 3 Resolutions You Should Make for 2015

by: Alicia M. Blanco

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New Year’s Resolutions have sort of lost their appeal don’t you think? I’ve noticed over the years that a lot of people have gotten really lazy about making them and even worse about keeping them- myself included.  On one hand I fully understand why people aren’t as pumped about making a new year’s resolution anymore – it’s because after so many years of broken and unmet resolutions, we don’t want yet another opportunity to let ourselves down again by not following through with fulfilling our set goals.

So I made a little list that will hopefully make keeping your resolutions more organized, concise and most importantly: attainable. I feel like these three resolutions below encompass a range of the typical resolutions we tend to make year after year, but in a more meaningful way. Hopefully this will make them easier to remember and stick to. If we can commit to these three things below, I think we’ll see how all of our other more specific resolutions (i.e. work out more, help out more around the house, eat less junk food, etc.) flow from these three.

In 2015, I will:

1) Love and Honor God more. – I am not the type of person to force my beliefs onto others. It’s just not something I feel comfortable doing. All I can do is live my life and if anyone ever asks me about God, I tell them what I believe. For me, I find that when I love and honor God more, great things happen in all areas of my life. My relationships improve, my opportunities increase, and my problems seem to disappear. When I spend more time with Him in ways such as journaling, attending Bible studies and church regularly and surrounding myself with solid company, my life just seems to have a more steady yet exciting tone to it. It’s as if I have something bigger to look forward to every single day. I am kinder, more relaxed and certainly more loving. I feel like I give better advice when I’m doing things God’s way and exhibit way more patience. I also find that I can refer to scripture to solve my problems. So much significance stems from this single resolution so I really I want to strengthen and build my relationship with God and believe that when I do, many more doors will open in 2015 because all good things come from Him.

2) Love and Honor Myself More. – Of course this includes committing to working out more, eating right, and drinking more water throughout the day. But loving and honoring SELF also means appreciating who you are right in this very moment and giving yourself some more credit. Caring less about what people think, letting go of grudges, forgiving others more quickly; all of these things will SERVE you.  Loving yourself also means accepting yourself as you are. Be confident! It means seeing yourself in the way God see’s you (or the people who love you see you.)  It means saying “thank you” when you receive a compliment rather than disregarding it. Own it! Loving yourself also means not comparing yourself to others, because sitting and scrolling through social media can drive anyone crazy. You’ll start to wonder why you don’t look a certain way or have the lavish lifestyle someone else has or why your partner isn’t as fill-in-the-blank as your friends’ partners are. The list goes on. All of that is destructive and leads to self-pity and unhappiness. That is no way to love yourself. And when it comes to honoring yourself it means learning how to say NO sometimes. It’s ok to stay in more, drink less, have more alone time and partake in some R&R. You don’t have to attend every single party or night out or work event. You’ll wear yourself out if you don’t honor yourself by saying no and letting go of the fear of missing out. (FOMO) Besides, missing out isn’t thaaat bad.

3) Love and Honor Others More. – Well this is my whole mission with this blog – to encourage more kindness onto others in hopes that it can change the direction of someone’s story and maybe even their life. (Specifically the lives of people who are really struggling with their life.)

I’ll never forget this one time when I was in Vegas with my girlfriends and we were out to eat to celebrate our friend winning Miss Nevada USA. Our server brought out the wrong pizza and it took him forever to come back to our table so that we could tell him. We probably sat there for a solid 20 minutes before anyone came over to our table. I am really big on customer service, so I got a really bad attitude and decided that we should not only eat the wrong pizza anyway, but that I would also complain to the manager so that we wouldn’t have to pay for it AND that they would still bring us out a brand new pizza too. Boom. I felt so big and bad for like five minutes as I listed off my demands in an angry tone. Once I did this though, I felt really dark inside. I felt so bad knowing that our server was probably being scolded in the back. What if this was his only job and he has kids at home depending on him? What if this guy was having the worst day ever and was just waiting for just one more thing to go wrong for him to snap? What if, what if, what it. I started to imagine the worst. It sounds small but it really tore me up inside. I couldn’t enjoy my meal or leave the restaurant until I apologized to the server and complimented him in front of his manager.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we should let people be lazy or walk all over us, but I am saying we should be more careful with our words and attitudes.  We can still get our points across in a kinder way. Surely you’ve heard Mother Teresa’s quote, “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone is fighting some sort of battle.” …And there are so many people who are suffering silently with their various battles. Whether it’s mental illnesses, depression, addictions or other forms of abuse, there is clearly a dire need for more love and kindness to be poured onto OTHERS, just because. You just NEVER know what someone is enduring or facing alone. One act of love and kindness can be a game changer.  I know I’ll never forget that waiter’s face.

Hopefully, in many of the articles that people have shared on my blog, you can see how all of them have this point in common. We live in a world where so much focus is given to beauty, image, money, fame, followers… all such insignificant things.  Inner beauty is what matters. How we treat people is what matters. How we serve and encourage others is what matters. When I put more energy into making someone’s day, my day gets better and brighter too.  A few suggestions to make someone’s day:

Give out more compliments.

Complain less.

Invite someone eating alone to sit with you. No one should have to eat alone.

Ask someone, “are you ok?”

Avoid gossip.

Buy the coffee for the person behind you at Starbucks.

Leave a nice tip for your server.

Be patient with your server.

Write a thank you card.

Have a conversation with a homeless person.

Smile at someone.

Be more LOVING, period!  And if you need a quick reminder of what love is, here you go:  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Thanks, Corinthians!

All of these are such easy gestures of basic love and kindness that can move mountains if they spread. I believe we have the power to save lives with this. Since starting this blog I’ve heard too many stories of people who reveal that it was a total stranger who made them feel “seen” or a kind gesture that made them rethink poor decisions. I’ve received messages from people who say it was a single pleasant and unexpected phone call that completely changed the direction of their day or a simple handwritten thank you note that helped them see people differently in the world.  The “pay it forward” campaigns all around the world are onto something. It doesn’t take much to love and honor others more and I hope you’ll make this part of your new year’s resolution too.

So go out and love and honor God, yourself and others (in that order) and everything else will fall into place.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! 2015 IS GOING TO BE AMAZING!!! Thank you for being part of my blog and supporting this mission. 2014 will always be special to me because of it.