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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How To Have Happy Holidays When You’re Sad

by: Alicia M. Blanco

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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 Ripil Effect – NEW APP!

by: Alicia M. Blanco

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Remember that one time when you gave up your seat so that someone else could sit down? Or the time you were feeling really generous and left a generous tip for your server?

Surely you can think back to the time you went out of your way to extend a helping hand for your neighbor or when you gave someone a really nice compliment, just because.

If you’re like me, you’ve often wondered how the rest of their day went after what you did for them. Sometimes I find myself thinking, “I really hope they had a great day today and that my small gesture turned things around for them. I wonder if they paid it forward…”

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Similarly, I know that when someone does something nice for me I always hope they know what a difference they made in my day. I want to encourage more behavior like that- and it makes me want to do the same for someone else.

This is why I am SO excited that The Wave now has its very own app that will be able to answer these very questions instantly with your smart phone. You can literally track your kindness across the country and all over the world. Instant gratification!

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Creator Charley Johnson:

“The Ripil app was born from an idea of wanting to make kindness an everyday thing for billions of people and in a way was that easily accessible for this generation. The app is still very much in the early stages of development so we appreciate as much feedback as possible as we look to expand it and watch it grow! We get our news from Twitter, we connect with family and friends on Facebook, and with Ripil we wanted to create a platform that spread kindness and inspired more good in people throughout the world with the click of a button. With the app you can plug in what you did for someone, or what someone did for you and then track it throughout the day and over the course of time. The more people who have it, the more interactive it will be! A wave starts off with a small ripple in the water, and it builds over time. This is what we want to see happen with KINDNESS.  It may start off small like a ripple, but the more people who catch on and participate will be part of a massive movement, like a WAVE. Imagine if your random act of kindness landed in the life of someone contemplating taking his or her own life…We believe kindness is something that needs way more attention and focus and we know Alicia and The Wave agree with us.  Having an inner beauty blogger like Alicia whose main focus is to make people feel good on the INSIDE, along with her Miss Inner Beauty pageant, her passion to help more people conquer depression and her desire to see more random acts of kindness performed each day showed us what a great collaboration we will have working together towards a kinder world.”

“Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you know is fighting some sort of battle.”

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!