I felt as though I had lost my innocence, like I had sinned. I was wrong and dirty. I could never be loved.
I was five when it started. Too young to fully understand what was happening, and old enough to feel violated. As a little girl, there’s no way I could have known it wasn’t my fault. There was no one there to tell me. Yet, the little girl still inside my soul, hiding back in the corner afraid of another attack, doesn’t know it’s not her fault.
I had fallen deep into this hole and it took me a while to remember why, but when I did, it was like a flood.
“Shh, I’ve got you.”
“No, don’t tell.”
“This is love.”
I fell deeper into my depression, a hole so deep and dark nothing could grow. Not my heart, not my love, and not the reality I would make it out alive. I became so fed up with the little girl I used to be. I pushed my problems back in the corner where she was hiding.
I have my own life to live now. How can I carry around the burden of being a victim when that little girl I used to be felt like an entirely different person? She was weak. She wasn’t even brave enough to open her mouth to make it stop. She has caused me so much pain and agony. She is why I’m here in this place; this place of distress and confusion; of fear that I’ll never make it out.
That little girl I used to be is why I’m still here. Because she kept fighting against the odds. Because, for over 19 years she has never given up no matter how deep the pain, no matter how many tears I shed, no matter how many times he whispered, “Shh, it’s okay.”
No matter how deep and dark it got, we worked together to survive. I grew up convinced no one would help me, so I learned to help myself.
I stand today, not as a victim of circumstance, not as a victim of child abuse, not as a victim of a sad story people cringe to, but as a survivor.
Because I am a survivor.
No one else can write the story of your life, except you.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl. And this little girl believed that she could do anything. That she could be anything. Perhaps it was an astronaut, or a veterinarian, or a singer. To this little girl, the world was her playground.
Now once upon a time, this little girl grew into a young woman and doubts and insecurities began to cloud her mind. Her self-image and worth shattered and she fell into a stark depression that she feared she would never crawl out of.
Once upon a time, not too long ago, this young woman left the U.S. and traveled to her hearts content. She learned how to laugh, love, and find joy all over again. And when she returned, she held something new; something she didn’t have before.
This young woman returned home with her true self.
Someone who is unapologetically weird. Someone who is not afraid to break outside her comfort zone. Someone who finds utter joy dancing in the street and falling in love over and over again with every person she meets.
She became someone who understands her issues and makes conscious decisions to move past them.
She became a heck of a lot more selfish; and honestly loves every minute of it.
She became someone who is finally growing into herself; and is trying her absolute hardest to embrace every bit of life’s joy.
This young woman is me. And I am her.
I’ve been told that I tend to take myself way too seriously. But hey, who else is going to take me seriously if I don’t? Life for me is a constant battle of deciding whether I feel more myself with or without the various antidepressants I take. In the grand scheme of things, I realize my problems do not hold much weight. There are plenty of wonderful individuals out there who have been dealt a far worse hand than I.
But you see, I already know I am blessed. For all that I have dealt with, there is always someone who has it worse. But the thing is, my problems matter too. Everything that we feel in this life makes us all the more human. Never apologize for what you feel. Accept it, learn to understand it, and find ways to work through it and better yourself.
When I first started going to therapy, I told my therapist that I felt like I shouldn’t feel what I was feeling; that my problems didn’t really matter. She stopped me there and asked me ‘why’. She told me to get rid of the word ‘should’ because it is an evil term that implicates how society wants you to dictate your life. There is no rhyme or reason to the word ‘should’.
She told me to take care of myself and that it was okay to put myself first and be selfish every now and again. What I was and am going through is not inadequate, or silly, or unimportant. Yes, it is different than what those less fortunate are going through. But that’s just it. It’s different, but it still matters in my life. I know that now. And it’s with this knowledge that I work on being kind and gentle with myself every day. And I strongly believe that everyone else should do the same.
We really are our own harshest critic.
When I left for England, it wasn’t just Georgia I was leaving behind. It was my past self.
I left behind the girl who was too afraid to speak out about her struggles with anorexia and depression. I left behind the girl who fell into relationships that held too much toxicity. The one who let the demands of others dictate her life without thinking about what it was she actually desired-what she felt she needed to continue on in this world.
I left behind the girl who was the mold of only what her parents wanted.
It was then that I finally started to feel at home in my own body. I finally understood that I’m not fully ready to love someone else because I haven’t had enough time to really love myself; but I’m getting there.
Yet, growth will always walk hand-in-hand with resistance. Change is not universally pleasant. Not everyone is going to like the person I become, but I’ve come to realize that it’s okay. At the end of the day, the only person that is with you until the end is yourself. When we die, we die alone. But I don’t see that as a morbid thought. Instead, I see it as more of an incentive to continuously work on loving the life I have created.
These days, I’m all about the idea of “fresh starts”. As corny as it sounds, there’s something so refreshing abut a new school, a new job, or even just a new haircut. So with yet another new start, as I begin my time at here UNC Chapel Hill, I’ve decided to go by Elle. It’s a play on words with my initials and a semblance of my middle name. Call me Lindsey if that is how you know me; but as of now, I have never felt more myself.
Tattoos, chopped hair, new-named rebellion and all.
No this is not a phase. I don’t believe in such a term. The word ‘phase’ comes with the implication that you will grow out of whomever you are now. But to me, I see it more as growing into the person you were always meant to be. Your life is a novel filled with many different chapters. Just because you read on into a different chapter, doesn’t make the prior pages any less a part of your story.
No, I am definitely not the same. And honestly, I thank the heavens for that every day. Because I am finally living for me. Finally seeking my own happiness. And with that, my good days finally begin to outnumber the dark.
“Find the love you seek, by first finding the love within yourself. Learn to rest in that place within you. That is your true home.” – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
I am a college student dealing with my daily depression and social anxiety.
I have a constant internal struggle because I suffer from loneliness, but having social anxiety makes me afraid to put myself out there to new people. I want to build connections, but I’m too afraid of being rejected. So, I stay at home, often alone. At first, I chalked it up to just being annoyed by daily occurrences, but then I wanted to be alone too often. I would find comfort behind a closed door in silence, but knowing the need to progress, I knew I needed to make a change.
She was the cutest and sweetest kitten I ever met. Her head was way too big for her body, and the way she always looked lost and confused warmed my heart. I hadn’t been much of an animal lover. Even when my mother bought me a puppy for my sixteenth birthday I said, “Mom, I don’t even like dogs.” This time though, it was different. I took her home from the shelter and I began to spend even more time at home, but this time, I wasn’t alone. Cali was with me.
People laugh when I say that I love Cali, but I do (probably too much). She keeps me company when I’m lonely. She gives me space when I need it. She loves cuddling in the morning (which I am not too fond of because I’m not a morning person), but no matter what my day has been like, she is always there for me; no questions asked. I don’t have to explain myself to her, or feel inadequate when I say the wrong thing.
She took a lonely suicidal college student, and gave me piece of mind and love. Of course, human interaction is still a necessary treatment to loneliness, but with Cali, I have more confidence to meet new people. She’s taught me how to love unconditionally, even when she wakes me up at 4am by sitting on my face, or when she scratches holes in new t-shirts. Cali has also taught me how to love myself. She’s taught me that I am good enough.
It may seem as though I saved Cali when I brought her home from the shelter that day, but actually, she saved me.
In April of my junior year of high school, I was a midfielder for my high school lacrosse team.
For our cancer awareness game, Coach Dan Kaplan informed us that a 10-year-old named Lily Anderson, who was currently battling cancer, would be singing our national anthem. Little did I know, this girl would end up making a permanent impact on my life.
After Lily sang the national anthem, she sat on the bench of our sideline throughout the game. I remember it was baking hot and the sun was beating down. I had been knocked around a couple times and when I came off the field, I was drenched in sweat and looked pretty rough.
Although I sat down next to Lily, I was intimidated to speak to her. For some reason, I assumed a little girl battling cancer would be somewhat timid or fragile…Boy was I wrong. Lily looked me right in the face and said “Holy COW you are SOO sweaty!!!!”
I busted out laughing and was completely sold from that moment on. Lily was absolutely hilarious from the get-go and said whatever was on her mind. I really appreciated this because I am the exact same way.
As our season went on, our team “adopted” Lily as an honorary teammate. We all viewed her as a baby sister and I constantly thought about how awesome it would be to see her play lacrosse one day.
Her favorite colors were lime green and bright pink so of course, our team began to wear lime green and pink in any way possible to show her our support. I remember us all putting pink and green tape on our sticks, ribbons in our hair and shoelaces in our cleats in order to be “Lily-styled.”
We loved Lily and her spunk so much and I began to think about her bravery and strength whenever I wanted to quit or give up on a ball or cheat my way in a sprint during practice. Lily motivated me to push myself further. In the winter of my senior year in high school, Lily became very sick.
By this time, she was 11 years old and our team was fully in love with her. I remember one night, Mrs. Jennifer Anderson, Lily’s mom, was gracious enough to let us come visit Lily at her house. You can imagine an entire team of high school girls crammed in a living room with Lily in the center keeping us all entertained.
I know at her age, I was petrified to even look someone in the eye. But Lily wasn’t shy at all and we hung out with this spunky little 11-year-old, who had the most contagious laugh, until it was dark out and time to go. I don’t even think it was a week later that I woke up to a message in the team’s group chat. Lily had passed away in the night.
Dread washed over me. I ran upstairs to my parents and I guess they already knew because they just grabbed me in a group hug while I cried. I remember saying over and over “This isn’t fair. This shouldn’t be happening to kids like Lily. Why do I get to be a normal teenager and Lily doesn’t?”
I remember later that day, I had an award ceremony at my high school for something irrelevant. I wore pink and green for Lily and could barely keep tears from springing up. My teammates, Marisa and Dakota, were there, and when we saw each other, we collided in a group hug and let the tears run freely.
We agreed that we were going to make the upcoming season all about playing our hearts out for Lily. By the time the season started, Coach Kaplan had decided that we would use our #11 jersey to honor Lily since she was 11 years old.
Each week, he picked someone to wear the jersey and a recording of Lily’s voice sang our national anthem before each game. I can still remember listening to it on the field and getting chills.
In addition to this, Lily’s mom and little sister, Audrey, came to all of our games. Just a side note here: Mrs. Jennifer Anderson is quite possibly the strongest and sweetest woman in the entire universe and is the best hugger EVER!
And of course, we were always all sporting some kind of lime green and pink attire. It was simply a must that we all be stylish. It’s what Lily would have wanted. Our motto for the season was “LILYSTRONG” and we strived to embody her character in the way we played.
The really amazing thing about Lily is the way she turned my team into a family. Throughout my senior season, I noticed so many changes in West Forsyth’s Women’s Lacrosse Team.
We stopped yelling at each other when frustrated. Instead, I watched my teammates pick each other up and say “It’s okay. We’ll get ‘em next time.” I heard team chants change from “Let’s Win!” to “Let’s Do It For Lily!”
I noticed myself caring less and less about the numbers on the scoreboard and more about the teammates sharing the field with me and how I’d do anything for them. Whoever said sports bring people together might be right.
At the end of the day, the scoreboard will never really matter. Sports are, after all, just a game. What really matters is playing with heart and enjoying the moment you’re in surrounded by parents, coaches, and friends that you love.
People that are truly inspirational don’t have to try to inspire people. Lily didn’t try to influence us, yet she changed our lives. We all wanted to be just like her. She was and still is our hero.
For our cancer awareness game of senior season, Coach Kaplan surprised us with PINK uniforms to wear in honor of Lily. And I’m not talkin’ our regular navy uniforms with a pink number. These things were cotton candy pink from head to toe.
We were anxious all day because the weather looked awful and it was supposed to pour. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to honor Lily in this special way. But when game time rolled around, it still hadn’t rained.
We lined up on the field and listened to Lily’s voice sing our national anthem and the strangest thing happened. A breeze swept across the field and the clouds started to drift away. It was almost as if Lily herself told Mother Nature to back off for a couple hours.
I don’t remember who we played in that game or if I even scored. Memory is a funny thing. Irrelevant details like that are forgotten. But I do know we won that game and were all so excited that we had the chance to make Lily proud.
I wondered if Lily could see us and if she was proud of us. After the game, while we were down on the field and all the parents were snapping pictures of us, one of the moms froze in her tracks and looked at us all. “You guys…” she said, “It’s the 11th day of the month.”
We looked at each other in shock. Lucky number 11. Then another person said, “Oh my gosh…We scored 11 goals in this game! Lily’s number again!” I got chills. We were stunned. One of my teammate’s jaw dropped and she screamed, “There’s ELEVEN seniors!” We were all speechless.
That was Lily saying hello to us in a way only she could and in a way only we would recognize; with the number 11. I have never been more positive that Heaven and angels are real than in that moment. And I can say with certainty that Lily Anderson is the most stylish, sparkly and sassy angel of them all.
Shortly after that game ended, the skies opened up and it poured. I remember the whole ride home being absolutely at peace and I knew Lily had held the rain off and had been there on the field with us. Right now as I type this, I have chills. I think that memory will always give me chills.
Today, as a junior at the University of Georgia, I serve on the Executive Board of Relay For Life. I have met the most amazing people and made incredible friends. I am touched daily by the stories I hear from other people affected by cancer.
All of this has stemmed from wanting to impact others the way Lily impacted me. I am such a tiny part of her story, but she will always be a big part of mine.
Lily’s family has a motto based on her personality and attitude towards things. They say, “Live a YES life like Lily did.” Mrs. Jennifer even gave our team these beautiful bracelets that are shaped like the word “YES.”
Here’s the meaning behind the motto: When life hands you a bad card, you can choose to see the worst or you can say YES to seeing the positive. Choose to say YES to all life can offer you and love every minute of it. That’s what Lily did.
Like I said, you would never know this kid had cancer. She didn’t let it keep her down. She was fun, giggly, and added sparkle wherever she went. Lily was literally personified glitter.
Most importantly, Lily was personified love. She LOVED life. And she LOVED everyone around her.
A common thing people ask you when you’re in college is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I used to think, “Graphic Designer, Artist, Marketing Director…” And these are all great goals. But those are things I want to DO. Not who I want to BE.
I’ve come to realize that when I grow up, I want to BE just like Lily Anderson: loving, happy, positive and always willing to say YES to the best things this life has to offer.