It Takes A Village: On Finding Support & Community

It takes a village.

This is a common theme I believe in and swear by and state often.

I would not be where I am today (feeling healthy and whole and happy) without my village. It’s a village made of home group members, family, baristas, climbers, coworkers, and bloggers. It’s a village of wonderful folks who have cheered me on and invested in my mental health and spoken kind words to me.

Here’s what I believe:

I believe a community of supporters and cheerleaders can empower and enlighten and encourage you. I believe in the importance of lifting each other up, not tearing each other down. I believe comparison is nasty and individualism is beautiful. I believe loving others helps you learn to love yourself.

It took me a while to find my village.

The first few months and even year or so back in Dallas were lonely and isolating. I was struggling with severe depression and I kept to myself. I was insecure and anxious and devastated. I didn’t practice self-care and I didn’t pursue friendships.

It was awful.

A couple years in I found a new church community, invested in climbing gear and a membership, and attended a blogger meetup. All of a sudden I was surrounded by like-minded believer, encouraging athletes, and inspirational creatives. It was a drastic change for the better.

The right village always stands behind your mental health and well-being.

This weekend I had plans of a night out on the town with my girl gang. We planned to dress up and eat fancy food and drink fancy drinks and listen to live music.

But I decided not to go. It was a hard decision and I genuinely wanted to see my friends, but the past few weeks have been stressful and packed and wild, and I just needed time to myself.

So I stayed home, cuddled my dog, and got dumplings delivered to my door. I took a nap and I still went to bed early. I listened to music and watched Kim’s Convenience. It was a restful, easy, peaceful night. It was exactly what I needed.

And instead of shaming me, instead of calling me a flake or talking down to me, my friends encouraged me and offered to pray for me. They affirmed me in taking care of myself and they offered a listening ear and virtual hugs.

My village is amazing. They are kind and encouraging and supportive. They listen well and pray hard. They dream big for me, they hug me, they cry with me. They celebrate and rejoice with me. They mourn and grieve with me.

Do you have a village like that? Because if you don’t, I encourage you to find one. I encourage you to pursue the right people and right relationships. You won’t regret it, I guarantee.

The Monthly Update: May

It is hard to believe it’s June!

Though some days seem long, the month flew by for me, and so has 2020 in general. Let’s go ahead and hop into this month’s update.

May highlights:

  • Celebrating Mother’s Day with my family was great. I got to see my cutie-pie nephews, and sitting around the kitchen table and eating lunch with the people I love was just nice.
  • Summit, the climbing gym I work at, re-opened this month! It has been so nice reuniting with the climbing community. And I was promoted to Assistant Manager. Nervous-excited about this new opportunity.

May lowlights:

  • Now that the gym is open and I have returned to work, my pup Jack and I are trying to get used to being apart. He definitely feels some separation anxiety, but we are working through it.

This month, I was filled by:

  • Now that things are starting to open up, I have been meeting friends for park dates. They’re exactly what they sound like, usually with Jack in tow, we hang out with a friend at a park, just catching up and enjoying each other’s company.
  • My home group has been meeting virtually since social distancing started. It has been encouraging to have that solid community during such odd times.

This month, I was emptied by:

  • The news of George Floyd has been devastating and heart-wrenching for me. I opened up a bit on my Instagram about scripture that encourages me during this time, and where I am starting as I seek to support my black friends and community.

In June, I am looking forward to:

  • My nephew turns two this month! It is hard to believe Mason has been with us for two years. He is a whirlwind of joy and giggles and mischief. I am excited to celebrate him.

Four Years Of Bipolar: On Hope + Expectation

Commissary

I was diagnosed with bipolar four years ago.

Four years!! That is four years of all sorts of mood swings, all sorts of both valley and mountaintop moments. That is four years of on-and-off depression and mostly-off manic moments (phew!).

My mental health journey has certainly been that: a journey.

Years and years ago, a mentor of mine Claire told me that my life is like a tapestry, this wonderful, brilliant, beautiful grandeur of a thing. She said that the hardest moments, the moments of doubt and weakness and trial, will only be a blip, a small stitching within an incredible, grandiose piece of artwork.

And she was right.

When I was first diagnosed, I thought my life was over.

I was afraid I would struggle with severe, debilitating depression the rest of my life. I was afraid of losing friendships and loved ones because they would not understand, they would not be able to empathize with my darkest lows.

I was afraid I would have to give up on my dreams, that the reality of bipolar would just keep me in the pits. I was afraid I would never fall in love, because who could love someone who was so unstable?

My fears were unfounded.

Yes, I have struggled with depression on and off and on again, but the past couple years have been surprisingly and wonderfully magnificent, practically depression-free. Most of my friendships have only strengthened as dear ones have stepped into my sadness with me, coming alongside me in the valley.

I have pursued my dreams harder and fiercer than I ever did before: chasing after this law school goal, taking the LSAT, actually following through with applications. I even fell for a guy who in turn fell for me for most of 2019. It was the most delightful surprise, and though we moved on, I am still abundantly thankful for what it was when it was.

I guess one of the biggest takeaways is this: goodness always lies ahead.

I have a lot of hope and expectation for the future. I have a lot of eagerness and readiness for what is to come. I know Jesus Man is good to me even during the darkest times, and I know His Father will surprise me with the best of things time and time again.

I know there are plot twists and turns and trials coming, too. I know the valleys loom ahead even though I don’t want them to — no one wants them to, after all. I know there will be moments of doubt and fear and weakness and mourning.

But there will also be times of joy and gladness and radiance. There will also be times of gratefulness and a heart that is overwhelmed with love and grace and utter peace. There will also be delight in its purest form as I give thanks to God Above as I am wrapped up in His merciful kindness.

So my friends, be encouraged.

Be encouraged that no matter what trials and tribulations you face, they are but a small blip in the grand tapestry that is your life. It may not feel like it now, but this too shall pass.

Be encouraged that you are not alone in your hardships or suffering, but instead remember you have a village of friends and loved ones who care for you, ones who will gladly come alongside you in the valley.

And lastly, be encouraged that good times and a hopeful future do lie ahead, no matter what your life may look like now: up, down, or in-between.

Come Together: On Loneliness & Connection

I had a lonely childhood.

Not necessarily physically or even when it came down to friendships. I was reasonably social, making friends at school and church. I was involved in extracurricular programs and my youth ministry. But emotionally, I felt distant and alone in many ways.

I think the source of most of this loneliness was some serious perfectionism that made me feel isolated and detached. I always thought I had to prove something to my parents, my teachers, and even my friends. I felt pressure to perform, to excel, to make a name for myself.

This perfectionism made me feel like I could not show any flaws, I could not seek any help. It made me feel trapped and emotionally stunted. I had to always be happy, to always have a smile on my face. People could not know any doubts or fears or insecurities I had. That would make me look weak and broken. And I was neither of those things.

I’m a recovering perfectionist.

It was not until my twenties and my bipolar diagnosis that I started to come to terms with my perfectionism, isolation, and anxiety. My sweet therapist, Chelsey, and I broke down some walls that I spent my whole life building. We discussed how I refuse to feel, refused to admit that it was okay to not be okay (a new, profound realization).

During our sessions we discussed my lonely childhood and how it impacted me, how it instilled some damaging thoughts and habits in my present-day self. We worked on addressing my feelings and allowing myself to “sit” in them–to fully feel in the moment, no matter the emotion.

“Loneliness is cured by connection.”

That is what I heard in Brene Brown’s podcast the other day. It really hit home for me, because I know it to be true.

I felt awfully lonely when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I had just moved back to Dallas after studying in Waco, and I felt like I didn’t know a soul. And on top of that, I was still wrestling with some perfectionist tendencies.

But these days, I feel awfully loved. I have a community of supporters, a village of kind folks who love and encourage and push me. They are here when I am sad, here when I am happy, and here for every feeling in-between.

These days, I reach out to someone when I feel like I’m isolating.

It is a new habit that’s taken plenty of practice and time to accustom myself to. And it can be very humbling asking for help, prayer, or guidance. But it is so good for my soul to connect with others to prevent feelings of loneliness.

Here is my call to action:

If you are ever feeling lonely, I encourage you to ask yourself why and where it comes from. Acknowledge your feeling and tell yourself it is okay, it is human to feel this way.

Then reach out to a friend, family member, or loved one and ask for exactly what you need: their presence, their prayer, etc. Don’t be afraid to seek outside help, don’t be afraid to look weak–loneliness is not a symptom of weakness, but a by product of humanity.

It Takes A Village: On The Value Of Deeply-Rooted Community

I used to feel awfully alone.

When I first returned to Dallas from Nashville, I felt awfully alone. Not the kind of loneliness that comes and goes with varying moods or circumstances, but the kind of isolation and desertion that leaves you feeling empty and saddened.

Only a handful of my hometown and college friends were also living in Dallas at the time. As I struggled with severe depression and anxiety, the symptoms of shame and false guilt caused me to withdraw even further away from people who loved me.

But these days, I feel awfully loved.

After three+ years of living in Dallas, I feel awfully loved. Not the kind of vague kindness between civil acquaintances, but the kind of radical and reckless and over-the-moon compassion that makes you feel full and thrilled.

Today I am overwhelmingly cherished by a community of family, friends, churchgoers, climbers, baristas, and more. These are people who show me kindness when I am anything but. These are people who sit and weep with me when I am down. These are people who jump and scream with me when I am up.

It takes a village.

They say, “It takes a village.” I don’t know exactly who “they” are, but it’s a common saying I have heard time and time again, and now I know it to be true.

It takes a village to make me feel loved and supported and welcomed and accepted. It takes a village to make others feel needed and cherished and wanted and treasured. It takes a village for each of us to do this thing called life, and to do it well.

Here are some thoughts on the value of a deeply-rooted village:

  1. Community is worth it. It’s worth the trouble, it’s worth the search. Community is important and it may be hard to find, but I promise if you try hard enough and do discover one, your life will be better.
  2. Community is hard. It’s not easy to be vulnerable and transparent, which are two keys to building a deeply-rooted community. It’s not easy to see someone you love hurting or in need, but I promise if you stick with your community, when your hurts eventually heal, you will have a body of cheerleaders to celebrate with you!
  3.  Community is life changing. When you find people who love you, with heart and soul and in every possible way, your world is entirely rocked. You will never be the same — and I mean this is the best way!

To Forgive & Forget: On Grace

One of my oldest friends is named Grace.

She is possibly one of the most sincere, most joyful people I’ve been blessed to do life with. She lived with my family for a bit when both she and I were facing tough times with respective mental health issues. A few months after, she married the love of her life on the most beautiful day in January there ever was in Texas.

Grace knows how to give and receive grace. She knows how to love and be loved in this generous, radical way that can only come from Above. While she lived with us, I was closed off, empty, cold. I didn’t talk much, I rarely interacted. I slept through saying a farewell to her when she moved out.

But she gave me grace. She saw me in my darkest (most depressive) hour. She knew my hurt at a personal level. She acknowledged that I was created by God, for God, and made sure my suffering did not damage our friendship.

I love God’s grace — but I rarely ask to receive it.

In Matthew 7, Christ says, “Knock and the door will be open to you.” He implies that when we ask for righteous things inspired by God and intended to spread goodness, He responds to our requests with a delight to give.

I struggle with perfectionism — you might not think this is an actual issue, that it’s a good thing to be driven and to have goals, but it’s different for me. It’s more than ambition and excelling others’ expectations.

It’s a constant need to please man over God. It’s an intense craving to receive affirmation from those I most respect. It’s an addiction to approval, acceptance and awards — at work, at home and in everyday life. It’s a desire to be the Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Serena Williams of everything I do — what I wear, say, eat and think.

It’s impossible for me to give grace when I cannot accept it as a gift.

Lately, I am broken to pieces — several friendships ripped me apart from the inside-out. People called me mean things, so I said them back. People didn’t accept me as I am, so I returned the favor. Ultimately, people did not want to be my friend, so I ran — I shut down, I fled, I holed myself up in my room for days at a time.

I wept. On my knees. In my room. In the dark. Alone.

I mourned people I once thought I knew, people I treasured, people who loved me. I felt physical aches — in my head, because of my confusion, in my heart, because of the weight of my suffering. I let tears fall from my eyes, roll onto my shoulders, stain my prayer journal. It was a dark, lonely hour.

God calls me to forgive, He begs me to forget.

Christ entered the world to reconcile sinful, dark, self-absorbed people to a righteous, selfless God full of Light. He came, died and rose so we measly men can experience the fullness of peace that transcends all understanding {Phil. 4:7}.

How wonderful, how radical, how amazing is He — He that would give up all that He has so that people who deserve nothing can receive everything?

When I harbor bitterness, resent and contempt in my heart toward God’s children, I do not reflect the Love of the Savior — I emulate the wrong that others have done against me. I side with the Betrayer, fueling my will into a weapon against the Kingdom.

When I offer my heart to give forth unconditional love, utter kindness, ever faithfulness, I reflect the Great Redeemer who is the very best friend anyone can have. God sent His son to redeem — to make right — the darkness of our nature, the deceit we innately live in.

I pray to receive grace, and I pray to give grace.

It is humbling to say, “Father, I need you. Father, I sinned. Father, I am nothing without you — give me grace,” at the end of the day. To lay my sins bare as if I physically kneel before my Savior on the cross. To accept Christ’s atonement for my daily wanderings from righteousness.

It is heart-wrenching to approach a friend and say, “Friend, I love you. Friend, you wronged me. Friend, I cannot be me without you. Here is grace,” whenever they wrong me. To see their utter remorse, to listen to their apologies, to mutually grieve our unkind actions.

It isn’t easy. It isn’t natural. And honestly, I still don’t fully understand how to do either. But God calls me to do both. He says, “You are a creature made to love and be loved. You crave to be known. You are known by me, known by others and you are able to know my children in return.”