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New year, new me: Align.

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I recently shared a brag post on Facebook about having a 4.0 in my doctorate program. I am extremely proud that I have managed good grades while juggling the different aspects of my life (3 jobs, husband, son, house chores, budgeting, meal planning, volunteering, key spouse duties, community initiatives, etc *this list could go on and on*) so I shared the post without hesitation. A friend of the family commented something along the lines of how amazed she was at how I juggled so many things. And just like that WHAM- I realized how pretty my life looks from the outside looking in. From the outside I am truly the woman I always hoped to be- the one who can do it all. She is a go-getter. She is doting towards her family. She can seamlessly handle and master the various roles she has placed herself into.

But this isn’t always accurate. 

When you’re outside looking in everything can look polished. Perfect. Amazing.

But when you’re inside things are not always pretty. They can be messy.

Especially when the woman who can do it all has suffered with depression and anxiety throughout her lifetime.

This year, 2018, I made it my resolution to say yes to life.

And I did.

I was sick and tired of sitting on the sidelines and being too afraid to say yes to life.

So I went for it.

2018 brought several new, wonderful things into my life.

However, saying yes to life proved to be a bit overwhelming.

You should see my day planner.

It’s exhausting.

Saying yes to life made my life look pretty looking outside in.

But it made things difficult.

Feeling overwhelmed is never a happy place to be.

I somehow took in this mindset that I needed to be busy every single day to be successful. To be worthy. To be happy.

For 2019, I want to say yes to life but also say no.

I want to say I can’t.

I want to say this is not healthy for me.

I want to say I am barely hanging on.

I want to be vulnerable.

I want to say I know this is confusing but some nights I cry myself to sleep. Some nights I feel like I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do everything anymore. I need help.

I want to say that if you’re outside looking in and you feel amazed at how well I juggle things please know that this is not always accurate.

Picture perfect.

Status perfect.

Brag post perfect.

These are not accurate.

For 2019 I want to rest.

I want to recover.

I want to reflect.

So, new year, new me: say yes to life but also say no.

I want to “destroy the idea that you have to be constantly working or grinding in order to be successful”.

I want to “embrace the concept that rest, recovery, and reflection are essential parts of the progress towards a successful and ultimately happy life.”- anonymous

HUSTLE 

ALIGN

 

 

 

We are survivors and we will survive.

Today is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.

I have the great honor of sharing my testimony at a candlelight vigil today at 2 PM.

But I wanted to take it step further so that I could reach more people with my testimony…

So here I am, posting my story on my blog- in hopes that someone who is hurting and feels all alone can know that I am standing with them. We are survivors and we will survive.

So here it goes:

Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide, knows that it forever changes your life. It rocks your world in a way that no other death can. It can leave you feeling helpless, hopeless, and completely lost. The emotions can be overwhelming and the “whys” and “what if’s” can consume you. You can become overcome with anger as you question how the person you loved could have left you here. Grief after a suicide is complicated.

It has been 15 years since my father died by suicide. I was 15 years old when he hooked up a hose to the exhaust of his truck and connected the hose to his bedroom window. His truck ran all night as he fell asleep in a bedroom filled with carbon monoxide. I was a young, naive teenager when I became a suicide survivor. Losing a father to suicide quickly began to define who I was. I was filled with turmoil and unanswered questions  and I quickly began turning to the wrong comforts. I dabbled with alcohol and drug use for a few years of my early 20’s while living with the heavy weight of depression. I seemed to have forgotten the man my father was during my childhood and defined him by his suicide. I was quick to call him selfish. A coward. A disappointing father. I was hurt and not coping well. I think this pattern of self-hatred, guilt, and shame is easy to get wrapped up in when you’re a survivor of suicide.

For suicide survivors, after the initial shock of learning of the death, the “whys” begin- terrible, unending “whys” that we play over and over in our head. The first being “why did he do it?” followed by “why did I not see this coming”. They can spiral from there to “What if’s”- “What if I had called him” … “What if I had seen the signs?”

I currently work as a grief counselor and recently worked with a young girl whose father died by suicide. When the topic of “whys” came up she had a particularly brilliant answer. She said “you know, all we have is our best guess, and our best guess might be wrong”. Our best guess might be wrong- yet; we spend such a great deal of time pondering over these questions. If only we could approach it like this 9-year-old girl.

I spent about a year in counseling working through the shame and guilt I had taken on. I had to work through an abundance of negative self-talk including things like “no one will love me- not even my Dad did” and “I’ll never be good enough- my Dad didn’t think I was worth living for”. I worked through the “What if’s”. Like the self-blame I internalized for not calling him the night he killed himself. The night my Dad killed himself I had picked up the phone with the intention of telling him about me ordering my class ring that day. However, when I picked up the phone my boyfriend was there. The phone didn’t ring. Just coincidence. Remember how that could happen with landlines? I forgot to call my Dad back and the next day I found out he was dead.

I never imagined that I would be standing here- telling my story 15 years later. At some points of my life I wasn’t sure that I would even exist 15 years later.

Now, I can stand proudly and share my story of being a suicide survivor. For I no longer feel ashamed that I am the daughter of a man who killed himself. I now have a new understanding of suicidal ideation and mental illness. I have my master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling and have worked as a grief counselor for the last few years. I now know that those who die by suicide are not selfish, nor a coward. They are amazing, wonderfully loved people who see no other way. They are sick and hopeless. When I explain suicide to a young child I may tell them that suicide happens because of a brain attack- much like a heart attack. It’s very physical. The brain is very, very sick and can not see any other way to survive.

My father had a brain attack. He was a warm, funny man who was an amazing Dad. His name was Buddy and he was only 35 years young when he died by suicide. I’ve had time to reflect on the amazing father he was since healing through my grief journey. We would sing karaoke together in my brother’s bedroom. We played hide and go seek and shot a bb gun in the woods behind our house. He scratched my back when I was sick and held my hand when I was scared. He was quick-witted and made me laugh until I cried. He was very intelligent and worked as an electrical engineer. He had a wonderful set of parents and a brother and a sister who loved him dearly. He didn’t live a charmed life by any means. He was divorced three times and suffered from chronic pain for most of his adult life. I don’t remember him being depressed. I was shocked by the suicide and still am to this day. There were no signs we could have seen. There was nothing I could have done.

Unless you have lost someone to suicide, you have no idea what survivors are going through. The degree of hurt, abandonment, betrayal, and confusion we are left with is indescribable. For me, going to counseling and talking about my feelings and hurts and disappointments helped me heal.

Another way I have found healing through my grief journey is by turning my pain into a purpose. I use my struggles to help others however I can. I can’t go back in time and save my Daddy but I can do everything in my power to let other people know that it is okay to ask for help. This outreach ranges from me posting bits of my personal journey on social networking sites to presenting at conferences to help other counselors know how to best work with suicide survivors. I find that my personal experiences have fueled my passion for suicide prevention and awareness and will continue forward with my efforts for as long as I’m able. I encourage you to find a way to turn your pain into a purpose. I’ve known people who do this through blogging, through checking in on friends, or just sharing a suicide hotline on their social media sites. You can do this by smiling at strangers or giving a meal to homeless person. The ways you can utilize your struggles is endless. I also encourage you to tell your story. Memorialize the person that is no longer with us today. Tell stories about them. Don’t let the shame, guilt, and unanswered questions stop you from remembering what you loved about the person. I believe we suicide survivors are strong.

If you are listening to me talk today and wondering how it is possible that I am all better after losing my Dad- let me clear things up. I’m not cured. I am better. But I will always grieve. Grief is not an event in time. Grief is like love. It is a life-long, ever-changing experience. It evolves. It expands. It changes in depth. Volume. Intensity. But it never fades. It changes us. My grief will always be a part of me. Because grief is love. Someone I love died and my life will always be different because of it. But my grief looks different now. My grief encourages me to help others. I have decided to allow my grief to encourage me. What will you do with your grief? It’s up to you.

“Bad things happen. How I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have: life itself”

-Walter Anderson

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Embrace the wait.

success

I want it all.

Don’t you?

The Pinterest home.

The career others envy.

The title of Doctor.

A lifelong marriage.

An award-winning novel.

To be known as the woman who can do it all.

But I want it now.

I don’t want to wait.

Success and accomplishment often accompany waiting.

The dreaded wait.

One foot in front of the other. Day in and day out.

You know what they say- easy come, easy go.

And I don’t know about you but I don’t want the easy go- I want real, lasting results.

And lasting results take perseverance.

We must persevere through the tough and mundane days to receive lasting results.

Endless paperwork to secure a dream job.

Late nights of research and coffee and writing papers to earn that degree.

The monotonous work weeks that builds routine in a marriage.

The circling and crossing out of book ideas.

Those are the kind of things we must persevere through to gain the success.

To truly have it all we must endure.

There is no quick fix.

Easy route.

Rainbow trail or gumdrop pass.

There’s just through.

Perseverance can be such an ugly word.

It is accompanied by patience, fortitude, and forbearance.

Gross.

We don’t want the setbacks.

The failures.

The monotony.

We want it now.

But maybe struggle and setbacks don’t have to drain your motivation.

Maybe we just need the right mindset.

Embrace the struggle.

Learn from our setbacks.

Own your story.

Persevere.

Brene Brown puts it beautifully:

“When we have the courage to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending. And when we don’t own our stories of failure, setbacks, and hurt- they own us.”

When we hear about successful people we often hear about their achievements.

Their wins.

Their accomplishments.

Not about the mistakes they made or the setbacks they encountered.

However, history shows us that people who succeed have lots of failures.

But they have the right mindset.

Failure isn’t a stumbling block.

It’s a stepping stone.

If you want it all- you’ll have the wait.

Embrace the wait.

Good vibrations.

energy

Like energy attracts like energy.

It’s physics.

What are you attracting?

I’ve spent an upwards of thirty years combating compliments, feeding myself doubt, and allowing myself to attract unwanted circumstances.

Like energy attracts like energy.

My negativity.

My depression.

My anger.

That energy I possessed attracted like energy.

I attracted people who pulled me deeper under.

I flunked out of classes even though I had all of the potential in the universe.

I had no future.

My car would break down.

My bills would be past due.

My energy attracted like energy.

And I just spiraled from there.

What are you attracting?

What is your vibrational energy level?

Mine has heightened.

My energy attracts like energy.

I succeed in school.

My mind is clearer.

I attract good, trustworthy friends.

My bills are paid on time. With extra tucked away.

I have a future.

People who are happy have good lives.

The vibration of your thoughts help create your life.

What are you feeding yourself?

How are you fueling your energy?

Are you exercising? Are you doing things you love? Are you keeping your house clean? Are you drinking water? Are you grateful for life?

Or are you angry? Depressed? Talking ugly to yourself?

Take care of yourself.

Put out good energy into the world.

Like energy attracts like energy.

It’s physics.

What are you attracting?

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Grief is not an event in time

me and dad

Today marks 14 years since my father died by suicide. It seems like an eternity ago and as if it were yesterday at the same time. This is the tricky thing about grief. It bobs along in the past and guts you in the present. No matter how much time passes by these notions still ring true.

Grief is not an event in time.

Grief is like love.

It is a life-long, ever-changing experience.

It evolves.

It expands.

It changes in depth.

Volume.

Intensity.

But it never fades.

It changes us.

For always.

Forever.

14 years ago when I heard the words fumble from my Mom’s mouth that my Daddy was dead, I was forever tied to this grief.

Anchored to its weight.

Bounded by its presence.

For always.

Forever.

It is both the past and the present.

Moments of gut-wrenching intensity bring me to inconsolable tears even 14 years later.

Today consisted of a few of those moments.

Seeing his photo grace my social media timeline today (even though he didn’t live to see Facebook- or Instagram- or my blog) brought me to tears.

His brown eyes reflecting back at me in the mirror brought me to tears.

Even though I see these eyes every day.

Explaining to an audience full of grievers that my son’s middle name carries on my Dad’s legacy brought me to a drive home with tear-streaked cheeks.

Grief is in the present.

It is the now.

Grief is for always.

Forever.

Grief is the price we pay for love.

These gut-wrenching moments are because I love my Dad.

Because I hurt that he hurt so badly and no one rescued him.

Because I didn’t rescue him.

Because I love him.

No matter the years that pass by my grief will never be in the past.

Not completely.

This grief. This love. Is a part of me.

It’s who I am.

It’s the best of me.

The worst of me.

My brightest light of hope.

My darkest depression.

This grief is me.

This grief is present.

For always.

Forever.

If you are missing someone you love and wondering why your grief is in the present and not the past- don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong.

Because you aren’t.

Grief is not an event in time.

It is the present and the past.

It is a lifelong, ever-changing experience.

Just take it one day at a time.

For always.

Forever.

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Guarded by a Fortress.

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I’ve been told I’m difficult to get to know more times than I can count.

I wish I could give better first impressions.

But the real me is guarded.

Protected.

Locked up tight.

The keys to my castle are hidden in the depths of my mind.

He who shall enter be warned.

It isn’t always pretty.

I put on a good show.

Hair, makeup, nails, clothes, education, employment, dinner, dessert.

But it’s all a show.

Who am I?

He who shall enter be warned.

It isn’t always pretty.

When I was in fifth grade some girls in my class cornered me. They made fun of my beat up gym shoes and my frizzy strands. They bestowed upon me the presidential title for the IBTC. All fellow girls cringe at that committee. No one wants to be President. But what those girls didn’t know is I didn’t care. My walls were higher than their words could go.

Before fifth grade I built my castle walls. In the streetlight lit room of my childhood I built a fortress around myself.

I realized at a young age the importance of protecting myself. From the monsters. From the mean girls. From the frigid air of our unheated home.

Protecting myself meant that no one could hurt me. It gave me power. Control. Safety.

All the things I didn’t have as a girl who grew up in chaos.

Taller and taller the walls went following each night in my pale pink room filled with snow made of baby powder.

All I needed was a key and I swallowed it whole.

Although this fortress protected me over the years, I’m afraid that I’ve blocked out too much.

Too much possibility. Too much hope. Too much Brandy.

I want to let her shine but I fear the mean girls.

I fear the rejection

I don’t fear the monster because I could take him down if I wanted to.

I don’t fear the chaos because I now have power. Control. Safety.

Should I remove a brick?

Will you remove a brick?

Will you know me?

I swallowed the key. Can you find it?

He who shall enter be warned.

It isn’t always pretty.

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I slaughtered her.

Do you ever scroll through old Facebook updates and cringe at the utter embarrassment you used to be?

Because I have.

On a daily basis I am able to capture a narrow glimpse at the person I used to be.

you've changed

It’s no wonder I don’t have lifelong friends.

I changed.

I grew.

I stood on that alternate Brandy’s shoulders and claimed the territory.

I slaughtered her.

I grew anew.

Updates like a lost car that was never lost or declarations of being on house arrest because of my troublesome behavior and my parents attempting to salvage my reputation and mental health are plastered across my memory page on Facebook.

In the past I allowed myself to cringe.

But not anymore. I have new eyes to see these updates with.

Although it is still slightly embarrassing to remember the person I used to be….

It’s actually reassuring at the same time.

It assures me of the capability and possibility of change in each and every human.

My hope for humanity is, oftentimes, restored amongst the feelings of shame buried deep inside of me.

For who we are now took a journey.

And on my journey to myself I’ve been so many people.

Along the way I have nurtured my soul.

I have attempted to the best of my abilities to feed and fuel myself with grace and care.

Although the slaughtered alternate Brandy still lives somewhere deep inside of me. She is kept at bay. She is the roots of this Brandy. The very beginning of her transformation begins with a drunk night and a lost car. With declarations of being on house arrest after a night full of secrets.

Do not cringe at who you once were.

Remember your roots began there.

Fuel your soul. Allow yourself grace.

Water your roots, for they may grow into flowers.

 

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I was drowning in my grief rather than sitting in it.

More and more each day I am realizing that our society is the cheer up society.

cheer up

The idea of sadness terrifies us.

Sadness is a hallmark symptom of grief. It is the ultimate consequence of losing something or someone we care about. I consider sadness and love ultimately linked.

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hallow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” -Jamie Anderson

Grief is love.

But yet, we spend a significant amount of time trying to cheer people up.

Because we consider that being sad is bad.

smile

However, I want to challenge you today to consider the idea that being sad isn’t bad.

It’s love.

I spent the first seven years of my grief drowning.

I was in the middle of an ocean of grief- desperately trying to keep my head above water.

My legs were concrete. My arms were large rocks.

I was tired.

Exhausted.

Consumed with my struggle.

I was drowning in my grief rather than sitting in it.

Everyone around me tried to comfort me. Tried to save me. Tried to cheer me up.

“He’s in a better place,”

“God will never give you more than you can handle,”

“He wouldn’t want you to be sad.”

These attempts to comfort me failed miserably. I didn’t need to be comforted. I needed to sit in my grief. I needed the permission to feel sad. I needed permission to feel.

In this clip from Inside Out you see Bing Bong lose something he loved.

Joy attempts to cheer him up. And fails.

Sadness sits with him. Sits with his grief. She empathizes with him.

This is what I needed. When I was drowning. I needed to sit in my grief.

If you know someone who has lost someone or something they love. Maybe something in their life has changed, sit with them. Sit with them even through the uncomfortableness of sadness. Encourage them to feel. Give them the permission they may need.

And remember- you are loved. And sad is not bad.

Grief is love with no place to go.

Grief lasts as long as love lasts- forever.

Somehow, I hope that love becomes light in all of our darknesses of grief.

 

 

When I’m a Mom, I’ll never…

Three years ago I was seriously contemplating not having children.

I was thrilled with my work, my marriage, and my free time to do things I enjoyed. And then we had Greyson. Our 99th percentile baby boy.

Becoming a parent changes you. Your priorities change. And before you know it, you’re doing every single thing you SWORE you’d never do.

I said I would never let my living room become the play area. MY child would keep their toys in their room. Neat. Tidy. Orderly.

living room

Yet, this is how my living room looks daily. We seem to reset it 100 times a day, only to let Greyson bring us back to this.

I said I would never let my child get messy for meals. MY child would be civilized and I would teach him to eat properly (go ahead and laugh at that one). He would also NEVER eat fatty foods like bread and pasta. And he would certainly NEVER have mac n’ cheese, HA!

messy

However, we now just go ahead and strip him for meals because the mess is inevitable plus it’s part of the fun (sensory development, am I right?).

I also said I would keep a clean house. A child keep me from cleaning? What?!

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Yet now I don’t even bother sweeping up his crumbs because I have learned the pasta (that he would NEVER eat) will get dried up and easier to sweep in the morning.

This list of “the things I would never let MY child do” could go on and on and on but you get the point, right?

All these things do is bring on the Mom guilt.

There’s always some Mom doing things better than you.

Their kid only eats vegetables. Their kid uses a spoon at 7 months. Their kid only plays in their room. Their kids sleeps all night. Their kid shows no sign of teething. Their kid naps on a schedule and always, always lets them catch up on their shows. Their kid absolutely does not bite them with their newly developed teeth.

All of these things bring the guilt on.

It can make you feel CRAZY.

And I’ve been there. I went a little crazy for a bit.

I tried, relentlessly, to keep our house clean. To keep Greyson on the world’s most perfect schedule.

But it didn’t work. I continuously fell short because I kept doing all the things I said I would never do. And all the things other Mom’s said they were not doing.

And I was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression. The diagnosis I said I would never get because I would be the best Mom. The most researched Mom. The do-it-all Mom.

But I got help. I got on medication. I handled business.

Some days are still tough. I feel overwhelmed. I cry in parking lots. I’m only human. But some days I feel like SUPER MOM. I vacuum the house. I do my homework. I get Greyson to giggle for 5 minutes straight. I “do-it-all”.

And I’m done saying never. Who knows what I’ll be letting Greyson do next month. It changes daily- for survival. Can I get an Amen?