Mental/Emotional Health · Personal Experiences · To Do

To Do: March

Nine days into March, I suppose it’s as good a time as any to outline some goals I have for the month.

March, in the past, has always been a difficult month for me. It’s a month where depression either tries to sink it’s claws in deeper following some January and February lows or it’s a month where I start to climb out of January and February funk only to fall back down harder. Thus, I’m trying to be as proactive as I can at the moment. Staying on top of things. Avoiding triggers. Not stressing too much. Taking steps back from things. Focusing on healthy habits. So on. So forth.

Thus some goals I’ve set for myself in 5 key areas are as follows:

Health

I’ve let myself get lax with my walking and general physicality thanks to 1. winter and 2. emotional health. So I’m currently in the middle of a 2 week restart, getting myself back up to walking 10,000 steps (at least) a day. I’m doing this by using this guide from MyFitnessPal. I’m utilizing the off-the-couch one since even though I used to be able to walk/jog 3 miles a day, my body quite literally feels like it’s back to square one so I’m just going to ease into is as if I am. Today was day 5, so I walked 5,000 steps today! Half way there! But, boy, oh boy, was it a doozy. I don’t work in at a place where I feel comfortable getting up and walking (although many of my coworkers do so maybe a later goal is to deal with my insecurity in this respect), so finding a way to squeeze in more and more steps has been a challenge. If the weather were nicer, it would be no problem, as I can walk a nearby trail after work. So I’m thinking I’ll need to readjust my typical daily schedule to fit in logging some minutes on the treadmill – which is a bonus since I’ve been trying to get myself to use it more!

Spirituality

I’m not Catholic, but I during this season of Lent – and thanks to the inspiration of Simoa – I am trying to spend my Friday’s separating myself from the things that I tend to give too much time to or fixate on which for me is negative media (like social media, news, etc.) and writing fanfiction. The latter one may sound silly, but I sometimes find myself writing 10,000+ words a week and latching onto unhealthy behaviors with it (like writing instead of sleeping, not wanting to do work around the house because I’m writing, obsessing over updating, not focusing on my own original stuff which would probably be of more merit, etc.). While fanfiction is an outlet for me to let the pent up creative energy flow, sometimes I need to reel it in or find multiple ways to release that energy instead of “stemming” so much with it.  On Fridays throughout this season, I will be spending as much of the day as I can focusing on prayer, meditation, etc. I feel like this is especially needed right now as I’ve been so disengaged spiritually due to fatigue from the election and my ongoing break away from Evangelicalism.

Social

This is a huge trigger point for me so I’m simply trying to stay positive and not put any undue pressure on myself. Updating this blog alone is quite the exercise in itself. My goal is pretty much the same as it always is: engaging without getting stuck inside my head. I typically engage and then stress out over it after it’s done or stress out prior to engaging or stress out when it feels like nobody wants to engage with me.

Self-Improvement

I really do want/need to start working on my own original fiction writing again. So even if I have to pull a few teeth in the process, my goal is to write at least 5000 words, be it a short story,  a few short stories, some outlines or something of a greater work. 5000 words. If only I knew where to begin. Sigh. I have another post about this topic coming soon.

Interests/Hobbies

I haven’t been reading much lately and I really want to get back in the habit of it. So I may pick up a few quick (guilty pleasure, campy) reads from the Amazon Kindle store to read this month which will also get me back on track with my Goodreads goal for 2017!

Identity · Personal Experiences

What’s In A Name?

My stomach fluttered with nervous energy as I waited in line to order my grande white hot chocolate. When the time came I gave the desired drink order with well-practiced ease, but took a deep breath in as I awaited the barista’s inevitable question: What is the name for the order? For the first time in my entire history of going to Starbucks I didn’t talk myself out of giving a fake name. And to my delight I got a positive response of, “Oh, what a pretty name.” For a few short moments I was able to be the person I’ve always wanted to be – that is, someone with a different name.

Now, this is no uncommon thing for people to do at a Starbucks. You get all sorts of funny or outlandish stories regarding fake names given out, such as character names or the recent hullabaloo of people giving out the name of the current U.S. President. But for me, and for others who have been in my position, it’s about something more than just a little fun. It’s genuinely about identity.

In fact, I got this idea quite a while back from a forum of people discussing adult name changes. Someone suggested using Starbucks as a tool (just one of many, mind you) to help a person considering a name change, in that he or she can give the desired name when asked and then hear what it sounds like/feels like when called. Seeing as I have a short list of different names I would love to find the nerve to legally change to, I thought why not? Only, I chickened out far too many times prior to the experience described above.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I won’t be heading to the local courts Monday morning now that I’ve finally managed to give a fake name at Starbucks, but it was definitely an enjoyable moment of “what if” while it also gave me quite a bit to reflect on.

The biggest thing is that the name I gave was immediately deemed pretty by the barista. I can guarantee you that this has never, ever once happened to me with my real name and I’m not entirely sure it’s a common thing at all, really. Which is precisely one of the reasons I’m not sure I’d change my name to my most desired name if given the chance.

On the one hand I fully recognize that my desired name would probably be considered pretentious by others since it’s not common for women, to my knowledge, of my age group and since it would be a legal name change to said name, making it seem like I was trying to brand myself as something I’m not (in this case, elegant or pretty). On the other hand, I fully recognize that all of my desired names have been chosen to some extent because, thanks to ingrained social cues, they sound more elegant or pretty to my ears and I do long to have that sort of pride in my name – which in turn could mean I’m just inherently pretentious and that criticism is valid. (That’s not to say that I don’t consider a lot of names, some others deem plain, pretty because I do!)

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other would still smell as sweet.

But is it true? Artists change their names – even if not legally – on a regular basis so as to stand out or to be brand-able. Even writers face the daunting task of selecting pen names that will give them a boost in the market. Consider Potentilla, also known as Cinquefoil, which is part of the rose family. You don’t hear a lot of children with either of those names, but you do hear Rose. You don’t buy a dozen Potentilla for Valentine’s Day. You don’t stop and smell the cinquefoils. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do those things, for what it’s worth, but we generally accept that Rose is the pretty name of a pretty flower that we give to our lovely little girls.

The fact is, names seem to be quite powerful things once given. If they weren’t people wouldn’t have the need to care one way or another. We wouldn’t link names to gender for one thing, and for another we wouldn’t make rash judgments based on names. If the way society-at-large viewed names was as simply markers for people to know us formally by then a barista wouldn’t even make comment one way or another on the prettiness of a name nor would we be talking about the Oscar prospects of Meryl Streep rather of Mary Streep.

So, no, I don’t think it’s true. Should it be true? Probably. But be it given names, chosen names, nicknames or else, names are a big part of our society and culture. And we seem to make a very big deal about them in general beyond just how they roll off the tongue, how they’re spelled, etc.

We tell daughters they should automatically take the last name of their father and then husband later if they should marry a man. We tell sons they should take their father’s last name to pass along to his wife/children. In fact, in modern Western society, all of us are given names at birth 1. without any choice in the matter and 2. before anything is known about us and whether or not we do, we are at least expected to hold onto those names as an identity for the rest of our lives regardless of if they’re practical, professional, or otherwise. Consider that even in cases of adoption, parents often change their child’s name, further emphasizing the purpose of names as an identity given to us from our parents.

I’m not saying necessarily that this is a bad thing or that we should just call children by their social security numbers until they’re old enough to have some say in the matter. I’d go as far as to say I doubt most people even share my sort of fixation, or complex, on this matter. And those who do typically seem to have similar negative experiences with their name that stem from childhood. That said, it may be better if we weren’t so rigid with names.

The reason I haven’t changed my name legally is because I’ve met with resistance. I’ve met with the likes of: Wouldn’t that be weird? How do your parents feel about that? I’d hate it if my child changed his/her name after the time I put into picking it. I like your name, why don’t you? It’s just a name.

It’s just a name and yet we make such a big deal about it if someone decides it’s really just a name and thus changes it. It’s just a name and yet artists change their names so that we’ll notice them better. It’s just a name and yet one is considered plain, another is considered old-fashioned, and then some are considered trendy. It’s just a name and yet we say some are suited for biological males and others for biological females. Then, to muddy the waters further, we designate some as unisex even if we don’t actually reserve them for intersex children the way we try to reserve boy names for boys and girl names for girls (ignoring feminism-based trends of calling girls with traditionally male names like James, John, Mike, Pat, etc.).

It’s just a name and yet a barista at Starbucks was struck enough by one to offer me an undue compliment over it.

True, a name is not the end-all of an identity, and I would hazard that I have a lot of other identity issues to work through that wouldn’t be fixed by the superficial change of what I’m legally allowed to call myself, but I quite seriously question that we have no right to consider the role our name does play in our identity and in how that identity is received by other people. In a perfect world we could name a son Rebecca and a daughter Joseph and they would never have to face any kind of backlash or undue scrutiny regarding their character.We just don’t live in that perfect world yet.

Faith · Mental/Emotional Health · Personal Experiences

Unsocial(ized)

Very recently a good friend I met online several years back was giving me advice and in phrasing it said, loosely, “I don’t know what your circle is like” in regards to the people I have in my everyday face-to-face life whom I’ve known for a while and/or am comfortable with. It was met with tunnel vision and an audible: oh.

Mind you, it’s nothing I haven’t been aware of before this point, it’s a sore spot actually, but it’s not something I allow myself to think really hard about for several reasons. The ‘oh’ was in that I’m usually met with the assumption that I at least have someone I trust I can turn to when the subject comes up – and that turns me off of the conversation and hits the sore spot harder than it did in this case. The ‘oh’ moment was in that by phrasing it in such a way, that was respectful of not making assumptions, and given the conversation on a whole, that maybe I should look a little closer at my isolation or how will the sore spot ever heal?

Here is a rundown of my usual day. I go to work. I go home. On the weekend I may go shopping.

Now here’s a breakdown of my socialization within that very narrow framework:

At work I interact with a select few while I’m largely on the outside of the rest (there’s the high school airs of ‘you don’t really belong in this crowd’ or ‘I’m gracing you with my presence by talking to you right now, but I’d prefer it if you went back to your little corner’ – how much of that is my imagination and how much is reality I can’t precisely tell you). And while those who I have been fortunate enough to make friends with at my current place of employment are absolutely wonderful people I’m glad to have met and love speaking to (and 3 out of 5 of them are women of color, each of whom I’ve been able to connect with and discuss things with in different capacities which has absolutely enriched my life!), it’s not something that provides an answer to the conundrum presented by the conversation with my online friend. These people are not people I have yet to meet with outside of work, or really converse with now that I’ve taken the next step with them by connecting on Facebook.

I’m currently living with my parents and a younger sibling so once I leave my job, the fullness of my close contact with other people is with these family members (ignoring interaction with people in public places, like Starbucks obviously). And within that sphere, my sibling is the one I interact with the most, would say I’m closest to and most comfortable with. But even then I don’t feel safe in expressing myself completely to my sibling any more than I’m sure my sibling feels safe expressing everything to me (because of our upbringing, different personalities, interests, etc.).

The bulk of my interaction from day-to-day then is done in the virtual world. I have wonderful friends I’ve met online. And I have the friends (though mostly now acquaintances) I’ve met in my real life over the years that I keep in touch with on Facebook – some of whom I would like to see every now and then, but can’t because of distance. Similarly, I have a few relatives I text or talk to on Facebook regularly and visit with semi-regularly when life permits.

To put it in perspective the last time I made time to go out with a close, non-family member was in 2014. To put it further in perspective, the last time I visited with a close family member more than once over a short period of time I was quite literally questioned about it.

So that leads me to my next point on the subject, and it’s the idea that really struck me when my friend brought up the topic.

Am I unsocial? Or am I unsocialized?

Note: I say unsocial, because I’m not antisocial. I like socializing to the extent that feels right for me at any given time and am an ambivert that skews either way depending on my mental/emotional/physical health and other factors, like atmosphere. But I am currently living in an unsocial way, not socializing regularly regardless of any desire to.

The fact of the matter is I cannot, and do not, blame others for not going out of their way to socialize with me first. Sure, selfishly, it smarts when they don’t. It smarts when you feel outside of the crowd. It smarts when you don’t feel like you’re as valuable to others that they would go out of their way to talk to you, invite you to do things, etc. But it’s a two-way street and I’m guilty of not going out of my way in turn. Maybe one of my friends is in a state of mind that wishes I would go out of my way to show I’m invested in the relationship. Maybe my friends and family members who are more social eventually got tired of my saying no when they invited me to things.

In essence, I cannot blame anyone other than myself for not taking the initiative to go out and connect with people,or reconnect with people as it may be. For example, I am not active in my current church; I cannot even tell you more than two people’s names! And I’m not actively looking for a different church where I might find my views more in line with others so as to connect with people better there than where I’m at currently. I simply cannot go, “woe is me! why does nobody like me?” if I’m not willing to put myself out there a little more to find out if that’s really true or a symptom of my isolationism.

What I can do, and have done since that conversation, is ask if there are other things that can be blamed for why I don’t take the initiative rather than solely blaming myself and getting stuck in the cycle of self-loathing where this subject is concerned. In layman’s terms, I can ask: Am I someone who has not been socialized? The answer, I believe, is yes.

Let me preface my conclusion by saying, I’ve read a lot in the way of experiences leaving various fundamental Evangelical denominations and life after the fact. I’ve read all about Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) and in all of this I’ve recognized some of the very same characteristics I’ve noticed in myself as well as struggles I’ve faced in the past and am facing presently. But, as I’ve stated before, I’m in a strange middle ground in that I was fortunate enough to have escaped the most extreme experiences you can read from ex-fundamentalists yet also raised in a strict, tumultuous home where one parent – at least at that time – would have likely preferred we lived an even stricter and extreme fundamentalist life. Said parent did everything possible to promote piety by way of restriction and obedience to the law, typically via periods where we’d do things such as “clean the house” of unholy things, wake up super early to spend in time of prayer and worship, and so on – only to for things to get a little lax again.

In terms of socialization this means I feel like I had a middle ground experience in my childhood to somewhat prepare me for adulthood. I went to public school, I went to Christian private school, and I was home schooled (with Christian curriculum). I also went to a mainstream sort of church that was still legalistic and extremely Evangelical, but not one that promoted closing ourselves off from the world or all things secular (I could write an entire post on the hypocrisy and confusion of my childhood church). So, basically, I learned how to socialize with other people to, I suppose you could call it, a functioning degree. Although I’m very inept, behind, etc. and find that to be more and more so as I near the end of my twenties (and am starting to feel some of the extreme symptoms of possible RTS I’m at least able to hold my own, to some extent, in social settings and I’m able to understand how life works “in the world” so that I can navigate it for the most part in spite of my social awkwardness and sort of “other-ness”. Also I believe the middle ground has allowed me to at least have a little more autonomy than those who grew up in even stricter and/or closed off environments. I’m also able to see some of the positives in some of the boundaries that were set in place: I’m comfortable and semi-privileged, if not well-lived/traveled/etc. and I realize an environment of no boundaries can lead to damage in people’s lives too (I make this generalized statement based on the three styles of parenting, which I learned about in one of my child psychology classes in college).

But on the flip side of that socialization was the continued expectations that were set upon me as early as I can remember. I was expected to be as little “of the world” as humanly possible regardless of if I was at school, with family, or even in kid’s church! [Spoiler alert: I failed regularly as a child and I fail now.] I could have friends, but only to an extent and with approval in some cases and extreme amounts of regular questioning for the extent of the friendship in other cases. I didn’t participate in many extracurricular activities, especially those that would involve me going away (school camping trips, sports games away, etc.). I slept over at friends’ houses on three occasions in my teenage years (one I had to trick my parent into and promise not to watch Saturday Night Live – specifically – while there; it was a Friday night for the record) and I even had to fight to participate in sleepovers in a Christian context (e.g. at a youth leader’s house, at a youth group lock-in event, at church camp, etc.).

I was socialized, but socially inept.

Even with friends in my youth group, those of whom their parents didn’t take the authoritarian or legalistic teachings of our faith as seriously or whom didn’t attend church at all, I was met with the constant struggle of not being able to talk about things or relate to them because I wasn’t allowed to watch the same things, listen to the same things, read the same things, have the same experiences. They could actually read Harry Potter? Even though the pastor spent an entire October on its demonic influence? So I was sheltered on the one hand and on the other expected to do always do the right thing in light of all the temptation of interacting with peers, because if my parents didn’t know God always did and as was often quoted in my house: “Obedience is better than sacrifice” (which I’m still not sure what that even meant out of context, other than as an alternate verse to “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” to get me to please God with my obedience to my parents’ rules or desires for me).

This strange middle-ground,  where I could kind of be out there in the world, left me with a seriously internalized feeling of always being on the outside looking in, which is why I said above I never know how much of how I perceive other people’s acceptance of me is my imagination and how much is reality. (Weird by Hanson has been a song I’ve related to since the moment it came out. It has always captured the feeling I’ve had. I just didn’t understand why it made me cry on the special occasions I was allowed to listen to it as a child; I wasn’t allowed to own their albums obviously.)

So upon analysis, I believe there are other serious repercussions of that middle-ground that have affected me in a unique way throughout my life (although not super unique, since they fall pretty in line with RTS if the manifestation in itself is unique). My upbringing was strict enough to damage my ability to make friends and keep them, but all the while the temptation of companionship was dangled in front of me like a carrot that I got a small nibble of every now and then. I can’t tell you how many times I would get so upset at a friend for giving into sexual temptation that they should know better than to do and quite literally SCREAM AT THEM they were going to go to hell, end up losing the friendship (if only for a short while before they ‘sorta came back to the fold’ and I ‘sorta got my head on straight’ after the initial fearful and aggressive reaction had cooled), and then cry and blame myself for being such an ugly person who acts so weirdly over the top (subconsciously I realized my behavior wasn’t acceptable) while simultaneously blaming myself for their falling away from Christ while simultaneously lamenting the loss of another friend and how I was doomed to live a lonely life. Do you see how damaging and complex this is? I’m sure you do.

And after talking to my friend, I realize, oh. I’m definitely still dealing with those repercussions. I’m an adult now, have matured beyond that fragile girl who screamed at her friends, and should be able to make friends and live my own life. But I don’t. Looking at my post-high school life it’s not hard to see why I’ve never been able to get past this particular part of my upbringing.

You see, after high school I couldn’t rely on the friends I made in my youth to always be around – obviously part of being and adult is you have to work harder to make it work. And, quite honestly, the reason for my disconnect from the friends of my youth is that even into early adulthood – when by normal societal standards I should have been an adult able to make my own choices – there was the deeply ingrained sense of: Sorry, I’m not allowed to do that. So eventually they all moved on with their lives, did their own things, and ultimately I wasn’t able to tag along rather just watch from the outskirts (aka Facebook) even more than before. For example, I couldn’t meet up for a girl’s night out because there might be alcohol and lasciviousness (and it was unfair for them to always make exceptions for me just to include me). I couldn’t go out and do things with any of the people I met in college (because, hell, I wasn’t even able to move away from home for college to have that kind of freedom to test my wings without my parents always right there to know) or those I met at work. Dating was still frowned upon. My mother’s words were, “My prayer is that you never have to date, and that God brings you the right man the first time.” (Okay, mom.) Even if I had gone out and done things, there was fear of judgment – more from God or from my parents I’ll never know because my conscience is an entangled mess. And then to top things off my parents left my childhood church and church-hopped a little. So I had to start over and while I got to know some people during that time, I was met again with the “chill out, yo” attitude and still didn’t become active enough to really make friends. (I recall my mom even being confronted by a father at one of these church’s for being so strict and not allowing me the right to live and grow as a person even if it means making my own mistakes, after I -a young adult- said something to his teenage daughter about what I wasn’t allowed to do and she went to him in concern that it didn’t seem right, asked questions as to why that would be, etc. I recall being secretly pleased by this all the while she told me, “But I don’t agree with him at all. You shouldn’t have to make mistakes.”)

Conclusion: Life was a party I wasn’t invited to, and to want to be invited spoke of a sinful nature within me that I needed to always resist. I wasn’t supposed to make mistakes.

Thus, what happened after high school is my spirit was crushed. I was faced more and more by the real world – one where cognitive dissonance could no longer be ignored. I ended up isolating myself ever further from real life friendships because it was just easier. They didn’t understand what I was going through – though a few tried – and I didn’t understand what they were going through. It hurt too much to keep trying while also trying to hold onto my piety, or at least my obedience to my parents, out of fear of worse repercussions than losing friends. And even though I did other things in secret that would have been labeled sin and gotten me in bad graces with my family, at least they were mine alone to know about and at least I wasn’t out there broadcasting my sinful nature where my parents would find out. (Yes, these are the thoughts that go through your head in a hypocritical vicious cycle; and all the while they went through mine I punished myself harshly for giving into my sinful nature even in secret.)

It was in this way that the majority of my social life moved to online spaces where I could join communities and make friends with other people who didn’t know me, but in a profound way could get to know me better than those who have for years. Only it has also been a double-edged sword.

In some ways it’s acted as a wonderful safety net or even a cocoon in which I’ve been able to survive and grow. As depressed and lonely as I was at one point, I don’t know where I’d be as a person right now if I hadn’t gone searching for connections elsewhere and found them. I never want to lose that fully, and hope to stay connected with the people I’ve met. Only now that the butterfly is starting to leave her other cocoon (the one imposed on her), the conversation with my friend has brought up a glaring point that I just can’t keep ignoring: I’m still sadly short of people in my life face-to-face life whom I feel safe turning to for support, on a wide spectrum of things not just faith, and I’m still rather ill-equipped as is in knowing how to change that.

But that’s okay. I’m glad it was brought up. I’m glad that I took the time to really consider it. I’m even glad that I had to acknowledge the pain and loneliness, even if it hurts to put it into words as little as I’ve done here. I’m glad because it means I’ve reached another point in my journey. It’s a scary one, but understanding is half the battle.

I understand now that I have choices to start making. I can either go on not putting myself out there because of rules that shouldn’t apply to me anymore or I can start looking for small, proactive steps towards literal freedom and not just longing for it from a distance (e.g. actively finding my own church, going to more work functions, being the one to touch base with friends to see if there’s any interest still there, etc.). I don’t expect this to be easy, in fact from all that I’ve read it may be the hardest step yet and one I’d rather not do without any support at all, but I do think it’s the next step and one far too long in coming.

Personal Experiences

Why I’m Hopeful for 2017

I, and many, have indulged in the sensationalism of going on and on about how 2016 was a terrible year. “Only in 2016” and other variations has basically become the equivalent of lingo regarding the 90s. As in, in the 90s it was common to hear: “It’s the 90s.” or “What do you expect, it’s 199x” as if existing in the 90s was some sort of bubble of time where things that had never happened before were happening. And while that’s certainly true for a lot of things – technology progressed, various civil rights’ issues were coming to the forefront, etc – it’s also entirely false. Just a look at a catalogue of pre-Code Hollywood film will show that. There is nothing new under the sun.

So, yes, while I indulge in the memes of saying good riddance to 2016 – which was certainly a year full of horrible events outside of anyone’s political ideologies (the horrific and too-quickly-forgotten tragedy in Orlando, for one example) – there are those who have been saying good riddance to every year in hopes that the next will be better. I know I have been one. I can look back and see a history of Facebook statuses or tweets or blog entries elsewhere that tells me all that I’m feeling now has been felt before.

For some 2016 is a way of life. In some places of the world time still runs together and it’s not measured by the media. They don’t bemoan the ills on Twitter or Facebook or anywhere else. For some people, and for varying reasons, 2010 was horrible as was 2011 as was 2012… so of course 2016 was too.

Yes, I indulge in the memes, but while seriously dwelling on my goals and hopes and prayers for the new year as well as reflecting on the past one I’ve come to have a sense of conviction that even if I had my own valid struggles (e.g. depression, family strife, uncertainty about the next chapter in my life, shaken faith, etc.) or had my own valid concerns about the future of the world as a whole, the lives of my friends, the lives of people I’ve never met but feel compassion for at the end of the day I have been indulging in sensationalism. It’s December 31, 2016 and I still have a roof over my head, a job, food to eat my fill and then some of, a car, access to clean water, an excess of access to media and entertainment and knowledge, family and friends to turn to, and a stockpile of materialistic possessions that are meaningless in the grand scheme of things.So at the end of the year I’m blessed regardless of what the future holds and it would be careless to lose sight of that just because the same bad things that have been happening for centuries have somehow been magnified for many this year by the fact that we have near-instant access to these bad things in addition to platforms to discuss and dissent as we please.

That’s not to say that no one is right to really feel down about 2016. It had horrific moments. There were events that left much of the world divided. There were things that made us take good long looks in the mirror and realize maybe battle lines will be drawn and maybe we will eventually need to pick a side. There were reminders that we are all still very bound by the human condition and that love, mercy, brotherhood, and compassion are still very radical ideas.

What I do think, however, is that may of us going on and on about 2016 are doing so from an outsider’s POV. For example: “NODAPL!” we cry (or if we’re a celebrity go get a photo-op with in the name of solidarity and, I’m sure genuine, concern for the struggles of others), while going about our day and taking our clean water for granted. I’m not saying we can all up and go rush out to a protest site realistically. But THAT is the point.

True struggle takes us beyond what should be realistic because we see the need as far more important than practicality. While we’re not all going to be history makers, there is a reason the history makers usually have stories with a connecting theme of: they did it even when it didn’t make sense and/or the whole world was against them. And there is a reason people complain about armchair activists. If you never move beyond a point of realizing the truth to doing something that puts the truth into tangible action then you’re not doing much in the grand scheme of things. Getting discussions going is great. Talking at length about the ills of the world in the hopes of teaching is great. And none of us are going to be perfect “allies” because there is always room for growth, correction, reflection, and so on. But radical change requires action.

So here is why I’m hopeful for 2017, personally.

Superficially, I’m hopeful for the same reason I was hopeful for 2016 (and other years before it). The sensationalism of “NEW” dictates that we can make a fresh start. We are obsessed with new chapters, and new adventures, and new beginnings. Not because we really want change, many of us are actually afraid of it, but because it offers hope that we can overcome something (maybe a shortcoming or a bad situation) or end up somewhere better than where we were before. We start our new diets on Monday, while usually getting in the last little bit over the weekend before starting. We send off bachelorhood with bawdy celebrations. We celebrate birthdays as if the books of our lives are divided into chapters by age. So, of course, there is a siren call to be heard in the ringing in of a new calendar year. It’s a chance to inspire ourselves. It’s a reminder that hope springs eternal.

After reflection I’m also hopeful because if 2016 taught me anything, it’s that I have much more to learn and that this life will always be an up and down, unpredictable journey that requires us to move and dare and dream and give and so much more in order to get the most out of it. Not doing so is like buying a bare garden or farm only to do nothing with it. Or like the parable of planting a seed and then doing nothing to tend its growth.

I’m hopeful because it occurred to me that 2017 isn’t only about planting new seeds. It’s about tending the seeds planted in 2016 that are ready to sprout. It’s about tending to the seeds planted in years past that are now a little more grown and require new techniques to promote stronger growth. It’s even about evaluating what seeds are not yielding good crops and finding out why. It’s looking for weeds and plucking them out. It’s about so many things more than just saying goodbye to one year with a, “Well, that sucked!” and pretending like things will change if start over fresh with the same formula as before.

I’m hopeful for 2017 not because I think the world-at-large will drastically change. It very well may get worse. But I’m hopeful that the good seeds sewn that I couldn’t see in 2016 will sprout to life in 2017. I’m hopeful that next year the garden of my life will be more beautiful than in years past. And if I have one goal it’s to take this newfound awareness that life doesn’t exist in the span of a year and become more active in tending to my garden so that it may flourish. I also hope to invite others in to help me tend it as well as doing what I can to more actively help tend  the gardens of those who’ve trusted me to help them and the garden of the world-at-large.

I will leave you with this song from the film La La Land which contains the following lyrics, that capture the feeling of hope I have going into 2017:

She told me: A bit of madness is key to give us new colors to see.
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that’s why they need us.
So bring on the rebels, the ripples from pebbles, the painters, and poets, and plays.

If 2017 is better it’ll be because we answered the call. It needs you and it needs me. It needs ripples and pebbles and seeds and painters and poets and activists and people who laugh and people who cry and people who dream in the midst of the hardships and division and heartaches and mistakes.

So here’s to the hearts that broke in 2016. Here’s to the people who dreamed and kept dreaming. And, yes, here’s to even the messes that were made; may they inspire us to keep moving forward. Here’s to 2017.

Bonus inspirational songs going into the new year for me include:
I Am Moana (from Disney’s Moana)
Dare (by Daya)

Faith · Mental/Emotional Health · Personal Experiences

Pressed: Battling Depression in an Evangelical Home

As of today, I am a depression survivor.

This is no small thing, and it is an ongoing thing. I woke up this morning. I’m living my life in spite of my urge to give in to the depression – if not to the point of suicide, at least to the point of allowing it to completely destroy my life (my job, relationships, etc.) by no longer trying. Because I’m still pressing on, I count myself as a survivor even as I cope with the very real, daily symptoms and struggles and emotions caused by my depression.

Continue reading “Pressed: Battling Depression in an Evangelical Home”

Faith · Personal Experiences · Politics

The right not to vote in America can be a liberating one.

Voting is a big deal. I want to say that up front. Some countries don’t have the right to vote as those in the United States do. Many in the United States had to fight for the right to vote too. So it’s a big deal and not voting can be seen as a slap in the face to that right.

But there’s more nuance to it than that for a person like me, with my background.

Voting is a big deal. Already covered that. Now magnify it.

For example, celebrities are big proponents of voting. They’re major lobbyists. They make videos and commercials and speak at conventions. Now. Imagine every single celebrity in Hollywood spamming your Twitter feed day in and day out with the message: IF YOU DON’T VOTE YOU ARE ESSENTIALLY A DISAPPOINTMENT.

That’s essentially what it feels like this time of year (and a little earlier) to live in a ‘politically active’ fundamentalist-influenced and/or non-denominational Evangelical home. Christian-based new sources, pastors on television, pastors in churches, etc. all emphasize the need for a Christian to vote in order to determine the fate of the nation, to try and save it through the political right we’ve been given.

In fact, this is why I literally cringe when I see a celebrity blasting me on Twitter to vote or trying to push out the vote with other techniques. I get that it’s important. I do. But it feels abrasive, because of my upbringing, and makes me want to vote even less because I’ve gotten that enough from people who are supposed to care about me (e.g. family, the church) so why should I listen to spoiled, rich people who don’t really care about me screaming the same thing? Because let’s be 100 percent honest here. The kinds of Christians screaming at me to vote usually mean: VOTE REPUBLICAN OR YOU’RE A DISAPPOINTMENT TO THE CHURCH. While the kinds of celebrities screaming at me to vote usually mean: VOTE DEMOCRAT OR ELSE YOU’RE A DISAPPOINTMENT TO THIS NATION. Two sides of the same coin as far as I can tell. A coin blindly dependent on the honesty of a candidate/party.

The point I’m trying to make here is it can be just as liberating to fight for your right not to vote. Which is essentially what I’ve had to do, especially this current election which has given me two candidates I want absolutely nothing to do with. (And, no, I did not want anything to do with any of the others on either side of the fence.)

After doing some research and thinking, and since I’m still a believer – praying, about the matter I came to the conclusion that I shouldn’t vote this election as far as presidential candidates are concerned. I still intend to vote for the best candidates at the state/congressional levels so far, but I’m still researching some.

I then made the mistake of expressing this decision. I have since been faced with disbelief, opposition, an attempt to manipulate or strong arm me into reconsidering, etc. I’ve had to defend my right so many times and each of those times has led to strife. I’m talking full on anxiety attack, pain in my chest kind of strife. It’s suffocating. And it’s unfair.

But no matter the different pastors telling me it’s vital to vote as a Christian. No matter my family’s opinion. No matter the celebrities trying to pull me to their side. I’m digging my heels in. And that’s why I think it can be a liberating thing for someone raised in this atmosphere to simply not vote.

Ramifications on this nation aside – it’s a mostly harmless thing that is a freedom afforded to all citizens of this country, but that isn’t felt by all. It’s like Cinderella calling foul when the proclamation says ‘every eligible young maiden’ and yet her stepmother refuses her that right – either outright or through manipulating the situation, depending on the adaptation. To stand up for that right, especially if you feel it as a conviction, shouldn’t be a thing. I shouldn’t have to prove my stance with fifteen Bible verses and a PowerPoint and beleaguering my point of view every time the election is mentioned. And yet it is a thing. And those in even stricter fundamentalist and/or Evangelical homes can’t even get as far or vocal as I have (the Quiver movement is all about restructuring of the political scene).

The past several months fighting for my right has shown me a lot of things. It’s shown me that I can stand up for my beliefs; that I’m strong enough to do so. But it’s also shown me that I’m not wrong to expect opposition of a disheartening amount. If certain members of my family aren’t happy about this… well… But somehow knowing that too is liberating. I hope some how I’m still wrong, but if I’m not I won’t be blindsided.

I don’t mind if people disagree with me that not voting is okay or good or liberating. I know there are those who’ve already been liberated who would disagree wholeheartedly. But, for me, and I’m sure for others, any chance to stop and evaluate why you’re doing something, especially if you realize you don’t really want to (or vice versa), and then to make a declaration can be a very good thing.