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How My Faith Shapes My Politics

CommentaryHannah DrakeComment

I started this post earlier this year. I typed out a bunch of jumbled thoughts and nervously sent it to Luke to read it through before I posted. (I rarely do this, but he’s always helpful.) He rightfully pointed out that I didn’t really have a point. Where was I going with all of this? I was way off topic and went on too many tangents. He suggested I rework it and tighten it up a bit, and it’s been sitting in my drafts ever since. I kept pushing it back a month or so at a time before I finally realised that maybe I should just save it for peak election season.

So here we are. The election is four weeks from tomorrow! Unless you live in Alaska or Rhode Island, which closed yesterday, voter registration is still open across the country. But register today, because registration closes in all but 14 of the remaining 48 states in the next week, with 5 more states closing on the 16th, and Arkansas closing today. (You can find information about voting in your state here.)

I started this post after a lengthy conversation with two Brits last year around Christmas. One had political beliefs that more closely align with mine. The other had quite a few different viewpoints on politics. We all go to the same church and we all believe in Christ as our Saviour. The conversation was thoughtful and was in fact a conversation, not an argument. In fact, I was the one closest to toeing that line. I'll be the first to admit that I have a hot head and sometimes have a difficult time remaining calm and even-keeled about things I feel very passionately about. It got me thinking about Christianity and politics--especially in the current political climate of the US--and how we as Christians reconcile our political beliefs. I’ve thought about this conversation often over the last ten months and it’s made me determined to be more articulate and less hot-headed when it comes to talking with someone from the other side of the aisle.

Four years ago, I went on a few casual dates with a guy I met at church. I had recently been dumped--for a number of reasons, including our differing political beliefs--by the first actively Christian guy I had ever dated. On a second date with this other guy, if I remember correctly, we went to a Christmas concert at the University of Colorado that my aunt and uncle had given me tickets to. As we were walking out, we had a conversation that went something like this:

Him: It was really interesting to hear so many religious songs at such a liberal school like CU.
Me: Well, it is Christmas.
Him: I just thought they would do more secular Christmas songs, not so many religious songs.
Me: Well, liberals can be Christians too.
Him: [Some other comment continuing his same line of thought.]
Me: Yes, but liberals can be Christians too.
Him: [More of the same.]
Me: Okay, I'm a Christian and a liberal.
Him: What do you mean by liberal?
Me: I believe in universal healthcare and that gay marriage and abortion should be legal.

We had plans to go to dinner after the concert and we continued to have the same conversation for the rest of the evening, over dinner and then over drinks. Later, we sat in my car, parked next to his car, we continued the conversation. In the end, he suggested we should just be friends as it was important to him, understandably, to have similar beliefs with his wife, so why pursue a woman he already knows doesn't fit that qualification. We're now both married to other people obviously, but we've remained good friends over the years.

At this period in my life, I was just returning to the Church. I was making it a priority for the first time since probably high school and surrounding myself with more Christians than I ever had before. I had never considered how tightly interwoven conservatism and Christianity were in America until this point in my life and, while it was shocking and upsetting to be “dumped” because my political views didn’t match theirs, it was incredibly eye opening towards what was going on in the country and even in my own community.

I became more involved in the community in that church over the next few years as the country inched closer to the 2016 Presidential Election and I was truly shocked to see that most of the pro-Trump Facebook posts in my feed were coming from people I knew through this church. (Which, by the way, did not include the guy I mentioned above.) After the election, I was at church that Thursday talking to a friend who was interning at the time who mentioned that she was only one of a handful of staff members upset about the results and most seemed relatively indifferent, while some seemed happy. I was really surprised and honestly a bit disappointed.

I can't speak for all of American history, but it's strange to me that Christianity has become so intrinsically linked with the Republican Party. So much so that it's apparently slightly jarring to discover a regular church-goer who's also a registered Democrat. Or at least more centre. Over the last two years, it has surprised me even more that Christians continue to hitch their wagon to the Republican Party, so much so that 80% of white evangelists voted for Trump in 2016 and 16% voting for Clinton (down from 20% voting for Obama in 2012). 

I’m proud to say that I’m a believer in Jesus as well as a registered Democrat. I’m not interested in bashing the other side, but today I want to explain how my religious beliefs inform my voting record and the candidates and policies I support.

PROTECTING WOMEN’S HEALTH

Republicans have exploited this one issue and turned so many voters into one-issue voters. Abortion is now--pun not intended--a trump card for so many Christian voters. It doesn't matter if they want to save the environment. It doesn't matter if economic policies, like this new tax bill passed at the end of 2017, hurt them. Sometimes it seems like nothing else matters because...dead babies. Let me make something quite clear: I do not believe abortion is a good thing. I don't know that anyone inherently believes abortion is a good thing. It's not. It's an awful thing. But sometimes abortion saves lives or saves a baby from an awful state of life. 

The Bible never explicitly addresses abortion, but yes, it does speak to God's creation of life from a mother's womb. (Psalm 139:13-16) I believe God has a hand in creating each human life from the beginning. But, as my friend put it in the conversation that sparked this post last December, digging up a planted seed isn't cutting down a tree.

I believe that a woman has the right to make decisions for her own body. If someone asked me for advice about abortion, I could talk until I'm blue in the face about how I don't think she should do it, but at the end of the day, she's going to make her own decision, a decision that she alone can answer for. I feel that it's my responsibility as a Christian, as an American, as a human, to do what I can to make sure that procedure is as safe as possible if that's what she chooses to do. That means keeping the procedure legal so it's medically safe and so that there is support readily available, because no one walks out of an abortion clinic unscathed emotionally. It is not possible.

I support politicians who will make birth control more accessible. I have no problem telling you that the Affordable Care Act saved me a lot of money since its passage in 2009 with my birth control pills (which I went on for medical reasons) going from about $8-$10 a month to $0 and later an IUD costing me $0 at Planned Parenthood in 2016, which could have been $1,500. The abortion rate was in 2017, about 8 years after the Affordable Care Act was implemented, the lowest on record since 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade. The harsh reality, which truly breaks my heart, is that women were having abortions before Roe v. Wade, have continued to do so, and will continue to do so, even if it's made illegal again. In my opinion, it makes sense to support candidates who will fight to make women's health and maternity rights better to keep abortion rates low. If kids are taught how to use birth control and still taught abstinence is the only 100% guarantee to not get pregnant, if birth control is free and accessible to anyone who wants it, if women can take paid time off after giving birth (without delaying their retirement age or dipping into their retirement funds), and there are childcare subsidies, we're supporting women from before they even choose to have sex through after they've given birth and statistics show that contributes to lower birth rates both in our country and abroad. To me, that seems pro life.

As a Christian, yes, it would be ideal if everyone waited until marriage to have sex and those who chose not to marry chose a life of celibacy, but the reality is, that's not happening right now, just like it wasn't happening in Biblical times. It's then our responsibility to protect people from disease and unwanted pregnancy, to support young or single mothers, and stop claiming to have our hands tied, especially in instances of rape, incest, and the mother's health. All sins are equal in God's eyes, we are all sinners in our own ways, and forgiveness is available to everyone if we seek it out from God. We don’t have to answer for someone else’s sins and it’s not our responsibility to judge someone because their sin looks different than ours.

RESPECT FOR ALL HUMANITY

There is a lot one can say about Trump’s personal transgressions standing in stark contrast to Biblical teachings. It’s no secret the things he has been accused of (sexual harassment to rape by 19 women, paying off a porn star and a Playboy Bunny to silence them about affairs) and the things he has freely admitted in public (supporting someone credibly accused of paedophilia, mocking victims of sexual assault, bragging about grabbing women by the pussy). He frequently makes degrading comments toward women to commenting how women who work for him dress to saying a reporter is “shocked” he called on her for a question. But as Union Theological Seminary tweeted earlier this year, “The Bible isn't primarily concerned with personal morality. Too often it's commandments are reduced to “how one can live a moral life," when, really, Scripture is far more concerned with how a society cares for the most vulnerable. It's not "What do I do," but "What do we do."“ And many policies from him and his administration do not embrace the Christian ideology of “what do we do”.

So much has happened in recent years that have brought hateful and racist beliefs into mainstream politics. A lot has been said that shows me there isn’t a general respect for all humanity and a belief that we’re all created equal in the current administration, from “rapists and murderers” to “shithole countries” to demonising an entire race in the name of ISIS or MS-13. But the biggest disregard for human life is the crisis happening at our southern border, locking people in cages, separating children from their parents, bussing them to unknown locations in the middle of the night. I’ve seen heartbreaking videos amidst this crisis from a four year old boy who doesn’t speak English made to represent himself in a court proceeding to a mother reunited with her toddler who no longer recognises her and fought to get away. There is no excuse for what’s going on. No one is being held accountable. Deadlines are not being met. And we’ve seemingly let this crisis fall out of the headlines to make way for a new outrageous story every day. This is not who we should be as Americans and it is absolutely not who we are called to be as Christians. Ignoring, downplaying, or arguing for the treatment of human beings seeking refuge in America is in direct opposition to God’s calling for us and how we treat refugees and immigrants throughout the Bible, specifically in Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:9-10, Deuteronomy 10:18-19, Job 31:32, Malachi 3:5, Matthew 25:25-36, Luke 10:29-37, and Galatians 5:14.

It’s been a year since the #MeToo Movement began and we’ve seen countless headlines alleging various sexual misconduct from powerful men in the public eye, including politics. Most recently, a Supreme Court nominee was credibly accused of attempted sexual assault, among other allegations, but still confirmed nonetheless. It seems that these latest allegations against the back drop of #MeToo and #TimesUp have culminated in some fearing for their sons, brothers, husbands, and male friends and relatives that they may be falsely accused of rape, sexual assault, or sexual misconduct. While there are false accusations levelled against some (it’s estimated between 2 and 10 percent of total accusations [BBC]), they are often sensationalised and fit a recognisable pattern. That still leaves an overwhelming majority of claims being true and the fact that one in six women in America has been the victim of rape or attempted rape. The Bible calls us to care for the most vulnerable among us and I believe sexual assault survivors are in fact some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Politicians who claim accusations are a political play or an orchestrated hit job discount the pain that a victim has experienced from the moment of the assault. Implying women come forward for fame or money in an attempt to silence someone’s voice is refusing to see them standing in their power that they’ve struggled to hold on to from the moment of the assault. Mocking the bravery and vulnerability it takes to come forward to cheers and laughter is not caring for the most vulnerable and shows more about your own character than that of the victim.

Treating healthcare as a human right and guaranteeing healthcare for all falls under the umbrella of caring and respecting everyone. I cannot even being to wrap my head around the idea of denying someone healthcare, limiting the scope of healthcare, and allowing citizens to go bankrupt and enter financial ruin for the health care they need. The Bible speaks often about caring for the sick and Jesus himself performed many miracles to heal the sick. I believe that the development of modern science is a gift from God and a way to take care of ourselves until Christ returns. If Jesus wouldn’t pass by someone on the street who was sick because of their economic status, race, or gender, what right do we have to deny anyone the basic healthcare that they need?

RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE EARTH

I believe that Climate Change is real, that humans are accelerating natural Climate Change, and I believe that it's our responsibility to take necessary actions to slow the damage that we're doing to the earth. In only the 26th verse of the entire Bible, God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26) "Dominion" can be twisted to mean that it's our world and we can do what we please, but in reality, the original text is better translated to the English word "responsibility". So if God calls mankind to take responsibility for the earth and everything on it upon our creation, why aren't churches talking more about Climate Change?

I don't agree with leaving the Paris Climate Accord and I find it embarrassing that we are now the only country not taking part, including Nicaragua and Syria who both joined since it was announced that the US would pull out. It wasn't a trick to ruin American mining jobs and even the coal industry has said that investing in the industry will bring about machines, not bring back jobs. We had the freedom to set our own goals and make changes that we wanted to see take place, no one was telling us what to do. And on top of that, the current administration has increased import tax on solar energy, which will continue to restrict a growing industry in the States. So instead of setting an example for the rest of the world, they're all moving on without us. Recently, the White House admitted that the global temperature will rise by 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 but continues to offer no solutions or counter efforts and instead purges the EPA, silences experts, and hides information from all of us.

I don't agree with slashing national parks and protected land because I don't believe that somehow corporate greed won't move in on those lands and use them for their resources and property value. I can't even begin to wrap my head around the idea that reports are being hidden, federal employees are being silenced, and words are being banned to try to hide the truth about Climate Change and justify the these actions. I want my children and their children to have a world to see. I want them to fall in love with the landscape of our country and our world they way I have. I want them to see the beautiful mountains that I grew up looking at every day. I want to do my part to protect that, as God has called me to do.

REVEALING HEART THROUGH TREASURE

I prioritise Jesus' teachings over any one else's from the Bible, including Paul, and Jesus spoke more about money than anything else. While I haven't managed my personal funds perfectly all the time, I do believe it's my responsibility to use my time, talents, and treasure (money) to further his kingdom, as I was called to do in the Great Commission. I do not believe that a person's wealth is a reflection of their faith, but that "Where your treasure is, your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21) Take the story Jesus told in Mark 12:41-44:

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

History has shown us that trickle down economics doesn't work and that's because humans are greedy. I don't believe that someone who makes $1,000,000 a year works 4,000% harder than someone who earns $25,000 a year and is therefore more deserving of a tax break. And I think it is unacceptable and despicable to trick someone into buying into a tax reform bill that will increase their take-home income up to 3% over 7 years and suddenly decrease it by 3.2% the following year and continue to do so. To me, that's not meaningful tax reform and that's what will actually happen to someone earning my most recent US salary. When 400 people now have more wealth than 204 million Americans combined (Forbes), I do not believe that the solution is to continue to pad their pockets, especially if the motivation is to keep the cash flow coming in via political donations, which quickly proven to be a victory for Republicans after the passing of their bill. Everyone is greedy to some extent, that's a part of us being imperfect and sinful. But these kind of economic policies are not supported by anything in the Bible, especially Jesus's teachings. In fact, I believe Jesus’s teachings more closely align with socialism.

Everyone is, of course, entitled to their own opinions (but not their own facts!) and I 2016 exit polls show that I'm among the minority of American Christians. It's hard to argue with someone about religion and politics when both sides are citing the Bible to back up their beliefs since people interpret God's word differently. This is how I've chosen to interpret it based on my understanding of Jesus's teachings. Jesus taught us that the second greatest commandment is to love one another and I try to do so through my politics as well. I think it's been proven that people won't come to Christ by restricting their freedoms in the name of Christ and ultimately we all have our own sins to answer for. I try to live my life in a way that shows people who have been so hurt by religion and Christianity that what hurt them didn't come from Christ, though I fall admittedly short. I'm not without sin, so I cannot cast stones at others. And I've read enough about what it looks like to rule a country with religion and it never ends well, so I strongly support a separation of Church and State, the way our Founding Fathers intended our country to be run.

I’ll leave you with another quote that Union Theological Seminary tweeted earlier this year because I couldn’t have said it better myself:

The biblical message is clear: End economic exploitation of poor people, liberate captives, heal the sick, welcome strangers. It's why Amos decries leaders who "sell the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals." It's why Isaiah declares:

"The Lord enters into judgement
against the elders and leaders of his people:
'It is you who have ruined my vineyard;
the plunder from the poor is in your houses.'" (Isaiah 3:14)

It's why we find clear commands to treat citizens and non-citizens equally, why we're asked to cleanse all debt in Jubilee every seventh year, why God's gravest condemnation is generally reserved for tyrants who oppress the people they're meant to serve. It's why, in Jesus' first sermon, he says he's sent "to proclaim good news to the poor...freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free." And, it's why Jesus was executed for opposing an empire that subjugated his people. … Christians should also be outraged by policy that violates Christ. It's a sin to deprive people of healthcare. It's a travesty to steal from poor people to line rich pockets. It's abominable to lock migrants in cages, to rip their babies from their arms. When Christians can't see this, it's because they haven't been taught the gospel.

God promises more radical salvation than a mansion in the sky. God talks of swords turned to ploughshares, spears to pruning hooks; God promises that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first; God dreams of a world in which all have enough—and all have a place. That's the other part of the Christian witness absent: We don't have to wait until we die to start building God's kingdom. We can pass policy that guarantees healthcare for everyone. We can ensure no one goes hungry. We can open our borders to all who need asylum. Because, if the gospel means anything, it calls us to work together to bring God's future just a little bit closer.

The Dark Side of Social Media

CommentaryHannah DrakeComment

Oy. Social Media. Where do I even begin?

Like most people these days, I absolutely have a love-hate relationship with the apps on my phone that seem to suck up so much of my time and energy. I have a hard time finding balance. I have a hard time unplugging. And sometimes I just want to delete them all.

I haven't because I truly believe social media allows for genuine connections with people who are coming to the table for the same reason. In the last two months alone, I've met two wonderful women in real life that I wouldn't know if it weren't for Instagram. I'm inspired and encouraged by people I follow on social media and I don't want to lose that.

But of course sometimes it's a bad place with a dark side and I think we've all experienced to some extent. At the very least, we have a false sense of community with people we know in real life. We feel that because we see what our friends are up to online, we're caught up in their lives and don't need actually keep in touch very well. I have absolutely fallen victim to this falsehood, and even more so now that I live far away from the vast majority of my Facebook friends.

At the very worst, social media can be incredibly damaging to our mental health, our perspective of our own life, our priorities and aspirations, and our sense of reality. A lot more people are open to talking about this dark side of the apps most of us use on a daily basis and that's really great, but the issues still remain the same and I think it manifests itself the worst on Instagram. 

When you scroll through Instagram, it's really easy to lose sight of reality. Instagram is a photo-focused app that prioritises pretty photos. Unless you're a celebrity, you can't get away with posting blurry, grainy, dark photos if you want all the followers and likes. So people are more inclined to post beautiful photos, which often results in creating a highlight real of life or sometimes just a staged version of real life. It's easy to forget that people are only sharing the beautiful things they have, the exciting things they do, the awesome places they visit, and the wonderful relationships they cultivate, but behind the scenes, they have struggles and pain and insecurities as well. There are people have gone into debt to "keep up with the Joneses" with what they see on social media, especially when it comes to the materialism of fashion bloggers and influencers. There are people who never put their phone down to enjoy the moment because they're too busy trying to capture the perfect shot or live streaming every experience. There are people who portray a picture-perfect relationship and hide mess and the troubles of their real relationship. It's all toxic and it's all hurting us.

In recent months, I've tried to be more real and honest about life and my struggles and insecurities here on my blog and on my social media platforms. Even though it may be accompanied by a pretty picture on Instagram, I'll talk about the mess in my house, the mess in my life, the mess in my heart. And I've seen a lot of people doing that too. I've seen a lot of people gently remind their followers that these are the highlights and their lives are far from perfect. Those are the people who I'm more inclined to follow because I don't need the temptation of someone who portrays a perfect life or who is always showing off new things that I could never afford.

A few years ago, I followed countless fashion bloggers on Instagram who were always posting brand new outfits and convincing me that I too needed new clothes in my closet. I had no idea that some of these people were tucking the tags into their clothes only to return them after they've been photographed or even racking up thousands of dollars in debt to always have new clothes. (Or worse yet, posting from the changing room at Nordstrom and never even taking the clothes they're sharing and linking to out of the store!) Now, when it comes to fashion, I follow far fewer accounts and try to follow people who focus on capsule wardrobes, recycling pieces, rewearing outfits, and live by the idea that less is more. I know myself and I know how easy it is for me to fall into the idea of keeping up with trends and suddenly I've convinced my shirt that I need another, slightly different white shirt or something.

I've tried to be more conscious of who I'm choosing to follow, even though it's taken a while. I've unfollowed a lot of people that I found only added negativity to my life, either directly or indirectly. If I feel jealous and envious of their social media personas, or it's clear they're not being real, I usually unfollow because I don't want to succumb to comparing my lows to someone else's highs. When I'm having a bad day, I don't need to see someone on social media showing off for the purposes of showing off. There are no rules on who you have to follow and even though we all have people who we "probably should" follow, most social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram, allow for you to mute someone to hide them from your feed. It's easier than ever to be empowered to create your own experience online and surround yourself only with people and accounts who inspire you, encourage you, and make you feel good about yourself and your life.

So even though I've cleaned out my feed and tried to create a space that inspires me and brings me positivity, I still struggle, especially with Instagram. It's so easy to compare. It's so easy to think that more followers means more opportunities, more exposure, more security, more happiness, whatever it is. To be completely honest, sometimes I look at people's accounts and think "my photos are better than hers, why does she have 10x the followers?" At the end of the day, the number of my Instagram followers isn't going to be in my obituary, this isn't that one episode of Black Mirror with Bryce Dallas Howard, so it shouldn't matter, but it does. And it's hard to even articulate why it does. One of the girls I follow recently hit 10k followers and she talked honestly about how she didn't wake up feeling any different when she hit 10k. She didn't suddenly have more money, she wasn't happier, it doesn't really change anything. She didn't want people to look at her account and think she was happy and perfect and successful based solely off a number next to your picture. It's just a number and it doesn't define who we are. The hard part is just remembering that.

The important thing to remember is that everyone has problems, even if they have 1 million followers on Instagram. Everyone struggles with things and everyone feels the pressure to put their best foot forward. Of course no one wants to read about all the bad things in your life all the time (we get that enough from our high school classmates on Facebook, amirite?), but it's okay to be honest with people about what your real life looks like. It's shocking how many people can relate when you are vulnerable about something you're going through on the internet. And it's really encouraging to read that you're not alone. The number of people who follow us on any social media platform doesn't determine if we're good or bad people. It doesn't count what's in your heart. It doesn't know what your dreams are. It doesn't consider the hard work you've put in to get to where you are. It's just a silly number and at the end of the day, it doesn't define you and it doesn't matter.

The internet can be a lot of things. It can be a scary place, a dangerous place. But it can also bring you a lot of amazing opportunities and introduce you to a lot of incredible people. The space you take up online is what you make of it. If you want it to be a positive place that makes you feel good about yourself, you can create that. And when you need a break, take one. Get realigned with what truly matters in life. Step away and take a breath. No one is going to die if you miss a day posting on Instagram or take a break from your blog. It'll all still be there when you come back to it, if you come back to it. And it'll all be okay.

My Struggle with Mental Health

CommentaryHannah Drake8 Comments

Last month was Mental Health Awareness Month, as it has been every May since 1949. 

Last week, two individuals in the public eye died by suicide. Kate Spade, a fashion designer and businesswoman, was found dead in New York on 5 June. Anthony Bourdain, a chef, author, explorer, and television personality, was found dead in France on 8 June. 

A lot of people I know or follow on social media shared the number for the suicide hotline, links to various articles, strategies for dealing with mental health and reaching out to those who might be fighting the battle, and of course their condolences for both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain and their families. A number of people also drew attention to the fact that these two people weren't the only two who died by suicide that week--or even that day.

Did you know that each year, nearly 45,000 Americans die by suicide? (via American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)

Did you know that suicide rates are climbing, up 25% since 1999? (via Center for Disease Control)

Did you know that suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds and 2nd for 24 to 35-year-olds? (via Do Something)

Did you know that in 2015, 54% of people who died by suicide had no known mental health condition? (via Center for Disease Control)

Did you know that on average, 1 person dies by suicide every 16.2 minutes? (via Do Something)

Did you know that for every 1 suicide, there are 25 attempts? (via American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)

I've had a public online presence since 2009 via blogs and social media and there have been many times when I've considered writing this post and then decided my story doesn't matter and it isn't worth sharing. Today, I've decided that it does and it is.

I was in middle school when I first started having suicidal thoughts. I was completely immersed in a world of cyber bullying and mean girl cliques. And I was on both sides as the victim and the bully. Self worth and self esteem came from what my friends and boys thought of me. And no one is meaner than middle school girls, so it was rough for all of us. I don't remember ever telling anyone what I considered, but the thoughts came and went. The political tides in our social circle were always turning and in a few days, there would be a new target for ridicule and the cycle would continue.

In high school, those thoughts periodically came back. I continued to struggle with friends. I was sometimes bullied, but more often just simply left out, which I often found more hurtful. I still considered my value to be whatever someone decided it would be, whether that was an individual--a friend or a guy--or a group of people. High school, like middle school, was often lonely. Things did get better my junior and senior year when I fell into a really great group of friends, but I over time learned that the group of girls I knew from church weren't immune to drama and even mean girl tactics, even though it wasn't as hard with them.

College was truly the worst of it. I made all new friends and our hobbies were meeting guys and partying. And those two things usually went hand-in-hand. In the spring semester of my freshman year, I dated a guy I had liked most of the year, but our relationship was rocky at best. When he ended things for the second time, it was really difficult for me. That weekend, before I went out to yet another party with my friends, I took a few painkillers for a headache, but then just kept taking them. And I started drinking. They weren't what I would consider serious painkillers, you could find them in any medicine cabinet, but a few hours later, after I don't even know how many pills or drinks, I wasn't feeling well. My friends panicked and called an ambulance to come get me from our dorm. I was taken to the hospital and given activated charcoal to counter the pills and alcohol. I was sent home that night and, while I had to meet with my RA at least once that I can remember, I was back in class on Monday like everything was fine. However, during my stay in the ER, the doctor--whether he was an MD or a psychiatrist, I don't remember--asked me multiple times if I had taken any other painkillers, emphasising that one of them that I might have easy access too (again, found in most medicine cabinets) is particularly dangerous.

A few months later, my whole world kind of collapsed. I had just started my sophomore year. I was living at home, about 20 minutes from campus and had scheduled my classes so poorly. I didn't have a break all day and my classes were scattered across campus making it difficult to get there in just 10 minutes. But mainly, I was completely abandoned by my friends. There had been a minor incident at the fraternity house where we hung out all the time. If I remember correctly, I think I had slipped on the roof, but wasn't anywhere close to falling. So when my friends and I were getting ready to go to a party at that frat, I got a text from a friend who was both in the frat and dating one of my friends that the new president didn't want me hanging around the house anymore because I was a liability or something. Even though my friends were really kind at first, somehow things got out of control quickly. My friends were forced to choose between their boyfriends and their whole social circle and me. They didn't choose me. And some of them turned on me viciously. I remember being in class quietly sobbing as I got bullied by two different people via text. It was really difficult. And while I have some perspective now, as a 19 year old, my life seemed like it was over.

So I decided to take things into my own hands. A few weeks before, I had fainted at my on-campus job and hit my head, so the doctor suggested I take the painkiller that I had been grilled about in the ER a few months before, even though I had avoided it ever since learning how dangerous it could be. I bought a bottle of that painkiller and took it as the doctor prescribed for a few days. One night, I just didn't stop taking them. I fell asleep and woke up the next morning feeling awful. I stumbled into my mom's bedroom and told her what I had done. She rushed me to the ER and I was told that if I had come in any later, there wouldn't have been much they could do for me. I spent a few days in the hospital before the doctor recommend I be admitted to the psychiatric ward.

There were a handful of other patients there, we had a lot of free time and a lot of counselling. I ordered quesadillas for most of my meals and they always came with a purple tropical flower. I wasn't allowed to have sweat pants or sweat shirts with strings. My family could visit and I think I read a lot and played a lot of Scrabble. I spent a week there and I remember feeling more at peace than I had for a while. When I got discharged, my roommate gave me a Siamese cat that she had made before I got there. I still have that little clay cat and it continues to serve as a reminder of that time of healing.

I feel I need to pause here to say that there were a lot of factors at play that lead to me making the choices that I made. After nearly a decade, it's hard to remember the thoughts I had and the lies I told myself that also contributed to my choices. Maybe that's for the best. What remains now are these monumental shifts and events in my life, particularly my social life, that I can pinpoint as sort of a cause and effect, but that wasn't the whole story in my head at the time. I didn't make these decisions solely because a few people left me out or left me behind. I didn't make these decisions solely because a few (or more than a few) mean things were said to me. I made these decisions because everything piled up and it felt like it was too much to sift through anymore.

I had been in and out of therapy for years. I had been on anti-depressants for a while. And while I'm not doing either of those things anymore and it's been over eight years since that last visit to the hospital, there hasn't been a quick fix for me at all. There have been stretches of time when I could barely get out of bed, when I could barely eat. There have been days when I daydreamed about a time when I was "more courageous" to at least try to take matters into my own hands and wanted to do it again.

Things have been better the last few years. For almost two years before I moved, I had a job I really loved that truly fulfilled me. I've met some really incredible people, particularly through church, in the last few years that have changed my life. I met an incredible man who has agreed to meet me where I'm at--wherever that may be--and has chosen to love me. And even though my professional life isn't where I'd like it to be right now, things are mostly better. But the last year has been difficult as well. I was unemployed for six months and there were days when I didn't want to get off the couch or couldn't change out of my pajamas. There have been days since I moved when I didn't want to make friends here. There have been days since I moved when I felt my life had no purpose.

Yes, it feels like I'm in a much better place most days, but I'm always aware that things could change at any time. I've realised that I have anxiety and that's another thing I need to work on. I'm trying to become habitual in things that make me feel good, but there are still days when I just can't do something that I know will shift my perspective. I'm getting comfortable with my emotions. I check in with the most basic emotions (sadness, anger, fear, excitement, joy, tenderness, shame, peace, hope, gratitude) and track how I'm feeling everyday. I'm proud of the fact that I've learned to recognise them and have more control over them, but I'm at least more accepting of them, even if they're "negative". I try not to let other people determine my worth, but that's an everyday battle. I'm also terrified that if the day ever comes, I'll get severe postpartum depression.

In the last week, a lot of people have been sharing the suicide hotline--and that's not a bad thing to share. In the US, you can call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. But I recently saw a tweet from Chrissy Teigen that I could completely understand.

Sometimes people will seek out help on their own via friends, family, or lifelines. Sometimes people need you to wade into their darkness with them to pull them out.

I want to share the bullet points from an article from HuffPost called How To Talk About Suicide In A Way That's Actually Helpful.

  • Realise that self-harm can happen to someone you know.

  • Know that bringing it up isn’t going to make things worse.

  • Talk about the topic of suicide like you would any other health condition.

  • Open up about any difficult experiences you might be going through.

  • Really listen when someone is talking during the discussion.

  • Ask direct, pointed questions.

  • Check any bias at the door.

  • Accept that you will feel uncomfortable — and that’s OK.

  • Don’t downplay the issue.

  • Speak up over staying silent.

If you're surprised to read my story, consider it a valuable lesson. People can put on a face both in public and online. They can hide behind what's really going on in their hearts and in their minds. Pay attention to how people act, to what people post on social media and reach out if something doesn't seem right. Be kind to people you know and strangers you encounter. Practice random acts of kindness whenever you can, no matter how small or big the gesture. Don't discount the kindness and love you spread because you never know what impact it has on someone's life in that moment or going forward. Be a part of the change in how we talk about mental health so people know it's okay to ask for help and they don't need to be ashamed of what they're feeling or afraid of what people will think.

If you've struggled with thoughts of suicide in the past, tell someone you can trust. Let them know that this has been on your mind before and might come up again. Be honest with them about what to look for and tell them how they might help you. Even if you're feeling better right now. I truly hope you'll seek the help you need. That help might look different for everyone, whether it be therapy, medication, or something else. I encourage you to build a routine of things that make you happy into your everyday life--no matter how simple or small or short. I encourage you to hold on to things that are worth fighting for, things that are worth living for. No matter what it is, hold on to it. There was a time when I seriously thought "I cannot die without knowing how Harry Potter ends." I clung to that until I didn't feel like I had to grip so tightly. 

I have decided to donate 50% of the proceeds from my online store, Shop Joy42, to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention from today through 30 June. Creativity has been a fantastic outlet and release for me, as well as being incredibly therapeutic at times. In my INSPIRE collection, I set out to create prints that I would want hanging in my home to serve as an everyday reminder of my worth, my strength, and my capabilities, like the ENOUGH print and the GRACE print. I hope that you'll help my make a difference for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

I heard on a podcast the other day "Living a vibrant and meaningful life is supposed to be messy." (via The Goal Digger Podcast, episode 160) That really resonated with me as I thought about the journey I've been on with my mental health. But I want to leave you with this today:

Your story matters.

And so does mine. It took me a long time to realise that--and some days I still don't even believe it--but it matters. 

Your story matters. You matter.