December 19, 2017

the girl i used to be

Once, I met someone who reminded me of the person I used to be. She was bubbly, kind, sweet, and fun to be around... She remembered little details about myself even though we hardly knew each other, and she was talkative and outgoing. Whenever she mentioned something rough she was going through, she was quick to add that of course God was still in control and that she was trusting in Him. I loved being around her, but I also felt a pang of guilt. She reminded me of the myself three years ago, and it was easy for me to see that the girl I was in 2014 is not the person who I am today.

A lot has happened in the past three years - good things, rough things, hard things, frustrating things, and beautiful things. I was in a long distance relationship with my now-husband and learning how to communicate with each other is something that we are still working on. Being long distance wasn't extremely hard at first, but as we grew closer and closer, it became harder and harder. We struggled with whether or not we would be able to have children. I came to terms with the fact that my mental health is not always at its best. I also finally realized that I was in a situation where I was being taken advantage of. As they say, "hindsight is the best sight" - looking back, I can clearly see how I had been manipulated and hurt. Today I'm still bitter about it. More recently, I struggled to distinguish myself as the person I am now versus the person I used to be. Not everyone was willing to see that I had changed.

The other day, I asked J, "Is it bad that I'm not that person anymore?" What I really meant was: should I feel guilty because I don't feel obligated to speak Christianese every time I open my mouth? Should I feel guilty that I am not bubbly, optimistic, and naive anymore? Should I feel guilty because sometimes I am depressed and anxious and I have come to terms with this? Should I feel guilty because I have changed?

The answer is: no. We aren't made to stay the same. That's why we grow up. That's why children become adults. That's why friendships grow stronger and relationships grow deeper. Life is ever-changing, and we are ever-changing, whether we realize it or not. The fact that I am not the girl I used to be is just a fact of life.

Sometimes I feel like I am broken now, like I can't be fixed, and if only I went back to who I used to be, everything would be okay. But that's not true, because even though I may feel broken now, one day that brokenness will be changed into something else, something beautiful. Though I may be bitter now, one day that bitterness will be changed into forgiveness. Though I may struggle with my mental health right now, one day all of that will be gone.

The girl I used to be and the woman I am now are not the same person.

And that's okay.

December 5, 2017

twelve days of love

Hello, dear friends!

Twelve Days of Letter Writing...
 
I just wanted to share an amazing opportunity with you. Last fall, I learned about an organization called, "The World Needs More Love Letters." Their mission is to "make love famous" by writing positive and encouraging notes to strangers. Each month, new letter requests are posted on their website. These requests are stories of people who are in need of love and encouragement. From December 4-15, TWNMLL is doing something special - they are featuring 12 nominees over the course of 12 days! If you would like, you can check out their website (click here) and learn more about this awesome movement, learn how to write a love letter, and read some testimonials of people who have received bundles of letters! 

I would also love to share a few reasons why TWNMLL is so near and dear to my heart.

I Love TWNMLL Because...
 
First of all, I have always loved letter writing! There is something special about taking the time to hand write (or type) a letter to someone that a text or e-mail could never replace. Plus, writing letters gives me a chance to use some of my stationery and washi tape... I think my hubby finds my collection a little excessive. :)

Secondly, I struggle with anxiety and depression. Even though I love being around other people, sometimes I'm not up for going out or inviting someone over. Other times, my social anxiety gets the best of me, and I just don't want to leave the house. Writing love letters gives me a chance to connect with people without feeling like I'm "bothering" anyone. Plus, whenever I am feeling down, I have discovered that oftentimes, showing love to someone else helps me to stop thinking about myself and more about others.

Lastly, I have seen first-hand how amazing receiving a love letter bundle can be! Earlier this year, I nominated one of my friends for a love letter bundle, and my friend was chosen! I was the facilitator for the love letter bundle, which meant I received all the letters, read through them, and was given the opportunity to present them to my friend! Watching love show up on my doorstep (or in my mailbox) is something I will never forget. Beautiful letters poured in - people sharing their stories, their vulnerabilities, and their hearts. I was able to see how just one person - one letter writer! - can encourage someone and how working together can create such a powerful movement. People truly showed up for my friend and me, and that was truly something incredible. In our fast-paced world where everyone is always so busy and it seems like there is always something depressing or sad in the news, it was truly refreshing to see how a piece of paper and a few words, something so simple, could be so powerful.

It's Your Turn!
 
I think it is often easy to grow weary in doing good. As I am preparing for a life of ministry (my husband is studying to become a pastor at the moment), I think that often we can get so caught up in doing big things that we forget that small things - paying it forward, holding the door for someone, being kind to someone you don't know, or even writing a letter to a stranger - can change the world, too. Being a part of the More Love Letters community has helped me in more ways than I can describe - it has taught me that when you do something kind for someone, even something little, it makes a difference!

In the busyness of this holiday season, I challenge you to stop for a few minutes. Put aside thoughts of the gifts you need to buy, your list of things to do, your treats you need to bake. For just a few minutes, take out a pen (or open a Word document) and write a message of love and encouragement. Your words do not have to be eloquent; your message does not have to be long. I ask only that in your letter, however long, short, messy, beautiful, artistic, plain... I ask only that you LOVE. After all, isn't love what Christmas is all about? We have been given the best gift ever - eternal life and a relationship with a loving God! This might be a chance for you to pass a little of that love on.

If you would like to join me in the 12 Days of Love Letter Writing, check out today's request below!

December 5
 
PATTY & MEREDITH

Patty and Meredith are a mother/daughter duo in need of encouragement + love as they face memories of loss during this holiday season. Their friend shared their story with us:

"I have been friends with Meredith since first grade - for fourteen years now. Meredith hasn't had the easiest life. In first grade, her sister died. Even though a tragedy like this has the power to destroy any family, Meredith and her parents - John and Patty - became closer than ever. I was always struck with the amount of joy and love that they were able to have and I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with this beautiful family.

Our junior year of high school, tragedy struck again. Meredith's dad, John, was diagnosed with glioblastoma - a brain cancer. This was devastating, but their family still stayed strong and didn't let it get in the way of their love for each other. However, last year John died a week before Thanksgiving and near Patty's birthday. In his last moments, Meredith played his favorite song on the violin and he went peacefully. Although John is gone, he is always with us in Meredith. Her snarky demeanor and humor is all John, and I'm sure he is more proud of her than words can describe. John always taught Meredith to be a kind woman, and to go through life living it to the fullest. I would love to give Meredith and Patty the gift of words, and not just my own. The holidays are coming up and I know there are some dark days to come for them."

Please join us as we write Patty + Meredith and let them know that they are not alone.

PLEASE MAIL ALL LOVE LETTERS BY DECEMBER 20 TO:
 
Meredith and Patty's Bundle
c/o Isabella J.
915 W 23rd St
Austin, TX  78705
USA

October 11, 2017

why ed sheeran's new album means so much to me

I have always loved music. When I was a little kid, my mom taught me to sing hymns; there's a home video of toddler me singing "Holy, Holy, Holy." For a long time, I only listened to Christian or instrumental music. Eventually I fell in love with movie soundtracks and musicals and Josh Groban's voice. Now I listen to all of the above, with a few additions such as Ed Sheeran or Vance Joy. I am almost always singing or humming...sometimes in tune, sometimes a little sharp or flat. Though I am first and foremost an author, I always tell people that though writing is my love, musicals are my passion. The best part of being home alone is that I can turn on karaoke tracks and (attempt to) belt all of my favorite show tunes without fear of anyone's judgment. 

The only thing I regret about my love of music is something that I can't really help. Most people, when they listen to a song, are brought back to the time when they first heard it - but this is particularly poignant for me. For example, I listened to a certain musical throughout my junior year of high school. Now, whenever I hear that musical, it is hard for me to enjoy the songs as part of a story, because all I can think of while listening to the album is my junior year of high school. 

I started listening to Ed Sheeran music a few years ago, because one of my close friends is a die-hard fan, and I wanted a way to connect with her. I also play a little bit of guitar, so it was fun to be able to pick out the guitar chords and notes in his music. But at the same time, I was also struggling with depression, afraid to tell anyone or confide in anyone. The only person I could talk to was my then boyfriend (now husband) J. Since we were in a long distance relationship, communication was challenging and being able to talk to him whenever I felt anxious or scared was not an option. So during that time, I wasn't really in the best place mentally. I couldn't stand to be around people after a long day at work dealing with customers, so I would disappear to my room and not come out until the next morning. The only thing I let in my room was Ed Sheeran's music. 

Now, I'm happy to say that I'm in a better place. The ongoing story of my journey towards mental health is a long one that I won't go into detail here, but I eventually confided in my parents; they helped me find a therapist who changed my life. I still struggle with depression and anxiety, and I think it would be unrealistic to believe I've "conquered" it or "won." But I am in a better place now, with tools to help me and truths in my mind and heart. So although I'm not "cured" and probably never will be, I now find hope in looking towards the future and making the decisions that are best for my mental health.
 
Unfortunately about two years ago, I realized I couldn't listen to Ed Sheeran anymore. Though I loved his music, it conjured up images of long nights spent alone in my room, surrounded by feelings of hopelessness and self-hate and despairing thoughts. I could listen to his music on occasion, but if I was in any way already feeling "down," the music would trigger a depressive episode. I was heartbroken because I loved his music and it had been my friend when I would not let anyone else in. 
 
But, if you are a Sheeran fan like I am, you will know that earlier this year, Ed Sheeran released a new album - Divide. This album has touched my life deeply, because it serves as the soundtrack for my recovery. These new songs from an artist that I enjoy so deeply don't remind me of a time in my life that I'd rather forget. Instead, they propel me forward, encouraging me, gently reminding me of where I've come, but more importantly where I'm going.

I'm married now - for the first time in my life I have a roommate! - so J and I have to make compromises about which songs play when. I can still belt out karaoke tunes when I'm home alone, but now we live in an apartment complex; although I'm sure my neighbors wouldn't mind, I'm not so sure they wouldn't judge. But when I have control of the speakers, you can bet that I play Ed Sheeran's new album. Right now, his music doesn't remind me of anything - I can simply enjoy the songs. But I know many years from now, when I listen to his album, it won't remind me of being sad - it will remind me of getting better.

So before I save someone else, I've got to save myself
And before I blame someone else, I've got to save myself
And before I love someone else, I've got to love myself 
 
"Save Myself" - Ed Sheeran 

September 9, 2017

home

I just want to go home. 

Why am I no longer "home," you might ask?

Well, on May 20 I married my best friend on one of the loveliest days of my life. I woke up that morning and had a leisurely breakfast with two of my dear friends. Then I spent the morning and early afternoon getting ready with my two maids of honor, three bridesmaids, and awesome flower girl. We stuffed my big, poofy dress into a Honda and drove to a nearby park that we'd practiced driving to multiple times so that we wouldn't get lost. It was raining, so I put on my bright red rain boots instead of my turquoise heels. I and my sweet photographer trekked through the muddy grass until we reached my future husband, looking handsome in a grey suit and turned away from me. I came up behind him and we had the "big reveal" -- then we stood there, looking at each other, giggling like children.

The ceremony went off without any major hitches. I walked down the aisle to the opener of one of my favorite anime, arranged for cello, violin, and piano. Our pastor shared the gospel as part of our wedding, which had been our most important request. We shared an awkward kiss (not our first, but awkward enough that people asked if it was!) and left the church as Mr. and Mrs.

The reception was a grand party of Hobbiton proportions - I am quite the introvert, and surprised myself by actually enjoying the music and dancing and staying longer than we'd originally intended. Eventually we exited to a flurry of glow sticks. We honeymooned in the Wisconsin Dells in off-season, which served as a pleasant getaway and a chance for us to spend some alone time. After we returned, J started his internship and I continued working. At the end of the summer, we packed away or packed up most of our things, climbed into a pickup truck (betta fish included) and drove to a big city 500 miles away so that J can finish school. 

Moving is always a big change. Growing up in a military family, I've moved several times growing up. But this time, it's different. I left my best friends and my coworkers/second family. I left my mom and dad. For the first time, I'm alone in the house when J is at school. I don't have a job now, and I'm no longer doing school. I knew it would be hard, but I didn't know it would be like this - wandering around Wal-Mart searching for a toilet plunger because you know that when you need it, you'll need it (we never did find one), feeling like I’m in a completely different culture because people are ready to run you over with their shopping carts and their cars, and trying to make dinner realizing too late that I didn't put a can opener on the wedding registry. 

For someone who hates change and experiences intense anxiety, it's been mostly a nightmare. I thought getting a job might help, but I've procrastinated doing that because I can always find an excuse why I should just wait “until tomorrow.” I've met people who I know will be very special friends in the future, but right now, I feel like time is not on my side. I thought getting a pet would help - perhaps knowing that a life depended on me and loved me would help me get out of bed in the morning. But that idea was crushed, and I'm back where I started from. 
There's a saying - "Time changes everything." Time can heal almost anything, too. But right now, I feel like time is not on my side, because a person that lives with anxiety can only see the present. Right now, I just want to go home.

May 12, 2017

a letter to my s/o

Fall 2016

My greatest fear is not that you'll cheat on me. I may have trust issues, and I may struggle to tell you everything, even though we promised complete honesty. But I know your character, and I know your heart. You would never do anything to hurt me. I also know I can trust you because you are a man of your word, and that once you put your mind to something you don't give it up (a nicer term than "stubborn butthead").

My greatest fear is not that you'll cease loving me. Although sometimes I doubt your love (through no fault of your own), and sometimes I think you don't know what you're getting into, deep-down I do believe you when you say that you love me. I believe you when you say you'll always love me. I believe you when you say our love is forever.

My greatest fear is not that you'll change. You will grow - you'll be a stronger person, you'll draw closer to the Lord, and you'll learn new things. You will become even more independent than you already are as we establish ourselves as a couple living on our own. Through the years to come you will gain wisdom and knowledge. But your intrinsic character won't change - your sense of humor, your bluntness, your logic, your honesty, your nerdiness, and your determination will remain.

My greatest fear is not that you'll stop calling me beautiful. You have destroyed my definitions of beauty - I used to wonder who could love someone like me, with too many scars to count, a disabled body, and muscles that don't really exist. But you told me my scars were beautiful, and that you loved me, all of me, even my [big] butt. And over time I have learned to believe you.

My greatest fear is not that I'll cheat on you. I love you with all my heart. I would never do anything to hurt you, and I would never want to be with anyone other than you.

My greatest fear is not that I'll stop loving you. Although in the past I have told you that I don't know how to love, I try to love you to the best of my ability. 

My greatest fear is not that I'll change. The past year has been a hard year for both of us, but you have supported me through it. Although sometimes I fear for the person I might become, I know that my faith, your love, and the support of others will guide me back to the person I am truly meant to be, no matter how far I might stray.

My greatest fear is not that I'll stop believing you are the cutest guy on the planet. :) Benedict Cumberbatch might have some nice cheekbones, but I will always prefer you. When we first began our relationship and I was sitting at the counter top with Mom discussing courtship, she mentioned that physical attraction was an important, though not the primary, element. I assured her that it was no problem, and that has not changed. There are still times when seeing you makes my heart leap unexpectedly, and the familiar butterflies return to my stomach. No, my greatest fear is not that I will cease calling you handsome.

My greatest fear is not that we'll lose interest in each other, that we'll stop loving each other, that we'll change, or that we'll cease being attracted to each another. 

I want to marry you. I want to have children with you and grow old with you. But I fear that somewhere along the way, we will slowly fall out of love with each other. Not the kind of disinterest that results in cheating or separation or divorce. Not the kind of disinterest that causes major marital difficulties. Not the kind of disinterest that friends or family or even our children could really notice. It will be a gradual process as our love that was once passionate, instead of maturing into something even more beautiful, slowly dulls and fades. It will be so subtle that we will not even notice - it will perhaps just be a small niggling at the back of our minds that something is different, that something is wrong. But it will never be enough to cause more than a small discomfort.

My greatest fear is not that we will slowly fall out of love with each other.

My greatest is fear is that we will slowly fall out of love with each other and that
 
we won't even notice.

April 19, 2017

3 Reasons Why You Might Not Want to Watch 13 Reasons Why

I just finished watching the popular Netflix series, "13 Reasons Why." The episodes are based on the book (which I have not read yet) about a girl named Hannah Baker, who died by suicide. Before she died, she recorded 13 cassette tapes explaining the reasons behind her decision. Each of the tapes name a person who she claims caused her to make her choice. The story follows Hannah's friend named Clay Jensen as he listens to the tapes, interspersed with flashbacks from Hannah's life.

When my coworker told me about the show, I knew right away that I wanted to watch it due to my interest in mental illness and my hope to become a cognitive behavioral therapist someday. Unlike my coworker, I didn't binge watch the entire series in one night, so I apologize that this post is a bit late in coming.

The story is powerful - though the first few episodes seem a little slow, the story picks up and builds into the climax. The show is emotional and intense to say the least. It doesn't shy away from sensitive issues, including rape. It definitely got me thinking, and kudos to my fiancé for listening to my many rants.

This isn't really a review of the show, because you can find many of those on the internet already. These are simply my personal observations as someone who is an advocate for raising awareness of mental illness and someone who struggles with depression and anxiety. 

First of all, I think the show's producers, actors, etc. made 13 Reasons Why for the best of reasons. The show even offers a suicide hotline. When I watched "Beyond the Reasons," a bonus feature offered on Netflix, it seems that everyone involved in the show is well meaning and really wants to help teens (and anyone, really) struggling with suicide. It seems that they truly desire the show's viewers to find hope through the show. But I'm not sure if 13 Reasons Why achieved its goal.

1. I'm really concerned about the show's popularity. I understand that this isn't exactly the fault of the show per se, but I heard several of my coworkers (one young adult, one teenager) talking about the show (and how they also watched it in one night). But the show wasn't opening up conversations for them to talk about each other's mental health. They were simply saying, "Hey, did you watch 13 Reasons Why? It's such a good show!" and that's all. I'm really scared that people will just watch the show because it's popular (and because it's a decent drama), but as they watch it, they will see suicide sensationalized. Hannah's onscreen suicide is horrible to watch, and it's meant to be. I admit that the first time, I couldn't watch it and skipped the scene. But even though I don't think people will watch the scene and suddenly decide to kill themselves, I'm worried that instead of furthering mental health, the show will do the complete opposite.

You see, Hannah's suicide is the basis of the whole story, but that shouldn't be all that it is. Suicide is not just a story element in a Netflix drama - it's a tragic choice that 121 Americans make each day. I foresee the emotional impact the show will make on its viewers - for a few weeks or perhaps months after watching 13 Reasons Why, teenagers and young adults will repost and share posts about mental health and how there is hope for those struggling with depression and anxiety. But after a while, the emotion will fade away, and so will the posts and photos. The viewers will then move on, searching for the next tragedy to become emotional about.

2. I'm concerned that the show's storyline might form misconceptions about suicide. Even though the show claims that Hannah died of a "broken soul", the storyline and first several episodes seem to give the impression that she dies by suicide to get revenge on those who have hurt her. This is similar to my concern about The Fault in Our Stars, where girls read the book and thought they knew all about what it was like to have cancer. Not everyone with suicidal ideation thinks and acts exactly like Hannah Baker. Not everyone who dies by suicide dies out of revenge - in fact, I have never heard of anyone doing so.

3. 13 Reasons Why is rated TV-MA and includes viewer discretion notices before certain episodes. I am still concerned, however, that for people who might be struggling with suicidal ideation, that this show will be triggering. Also, not everyone can watch graphic depictions of suicide and rape, and that's okay - there are other ways to educate yourself about those issues, such as reading articles or books. 

I'm not saying that it's a bad show or that you shouldn't watch it, but before you go and binge watch 13 Reasons Why because your friend told you "it's such a great show," please consider your own mental health and the reasons why you want to watch the show. And if you've already seen it, hopefully these observations will be helpful to you, or at least give you something to think on. 

March 21, 2017

I hate it when I'm right.

I'm not competitive, but I do like to win an argument. I like to be right, whether it's defending the Oxford comma, explaining the rules of a game, or knowing the correct words to a song. But sometimes, I hate it when I'm right.

Anxiety is when you worry about things that might happen. One of the ways to conquer anxiety is to realize that the things that might happen probably won't happen and recognize those "what-if's" as anxiety, not reality.

But occasionally, my anxiety is right.

On Friday, January 22, 2016, I finally began a study-at-home schooling program that I had been meaning to start nearly two years prior. My parents had told me that if J and I were going to get married, that I would have to work hard on my school so that I would be able to have a job. So shortly after he returned to school, I began studying. I still worked 30-40 hours a week, so I studied when I got home and on my days off. Sometimes I studied eight hours a day. Sometimes it was challenging. Sometimes it was frustrating. There were countless occasions when I cried in frustration and said I wanted to quit. But I didn't quit.

December 02, 2016. Nearly a year later, I'd finally finished almost 400 pages of schoolwork. I printed it off to mail it in to be graded and...it was a disaster. The margins were screwed up and I had to pay to have all 400 pages reprinted. I finally sent it in and posted a victorious photo on Instagram with the caption, "Mailed in this baby today!" The congratulatory comments flooded in. Though the day had been frustrating, it was finally done!

December 08, 2016 was the day I received the phone call saying that I did not pass my course. I had to redo the first third. I had to go to work, so I had to keep it together for most of the day. Then I came home and sat in my mom's lap and cried. I had been told there were too many typos and that they were careless typos. But I'd proofread it at least three times, so I was confused as to how I could've missed so many typos.

March 07, 2017 - Sitting on a sofa across from my therapist, I said I was scared that I wouldn't pass my school, but I acknowledged I "assumed" a lot. I admitted that I would probably pass.

March 15, 2017 - The day that my anxiety triumphed and said, "I was right. You should've listened to me. I was right." The phone rang, and I waited for the magical words that said I passed and could continue on to the next section. Those words never came. Instead I was told how I was given a second chance, how I'd blown it, and how I would have to quit the program. "Bad" was the word used to describe my work. My pages and pages of work, the countless hours, the 10 months of my life, the nights I stayed up until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning studying... "bad." I'm not saying that it wasn't "bad." I obviously am not any good at it, so perhaps "bad" is the correct term. But I wish I could've heard something else... "I'm sorry, but I don't think this is the job for you" or, "This job just isn't the right fit for you." I know that there are many people who have worked much harder than me and I'm not sharing this information to try to show off or compare. I'm not trying to say that my work was worth anything at all.

It's not that I hate it when I'm right.

I hate it when my anxiety is right.

March 16, 2017. I have no clue what to do. I know that every experience is worth something, regardless of the results. But there's a pile of textbooks lying on my floor and 400 pages of worthless, handwritten worksheets that tell a different story. There's the fear that I won't have a job now, that I'll have to look for a job and that I might not be able to find one. There's the panic at the thought of being helpless, jobless, if somehow I can't find a job. I know it's my anxiety talking. But what if my anxiety isn't lying to me? What if it's right?

March 25, 2017. I'm burning my schoolwork. I just want it gone. Out of my room. Out of my life.

It's not because I'm bitter.

Just disappointed.

Or maybe destroyed is a better word.

But from this failure, perhaps new opportunities will arise. Or perhaps they won't. Maybe my optimism will prevail. Or maybe my anxiety will be right again.