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When the Depression Hits…

March 10
Dana Sauro

I have never seen a therapist for my depression, but I do take medicine prescribed by my general practitioner for what she deemed “anxiety with depressive symptoms”.  The further I advance in my college career, the further it seems that my depression advances as well.

Some days I just have an underlying sadness that I can’t quite figure out why it is there. Other days, it is hard for me to get out of bed. I feel like I am worthless, that none of my friends truly love me, and that all the hard work and dedication I put into my passions to make the world a better place does absolutely nothing.

Some days, hanging out with my friends is enough to pull me out of the rut, at least temporarily. But some days, or even weeks, I seclude myself and lay in bed most days feeling depressed and lonely. During these times, it takes a lot more willpower to pull me out of my depressive episodes.

Even though it doesn’t always feel that way, what brings me out of even my worst rut is the incredible support network and love that I have from the people in my life.

I have an extremely close family where I can call them up anytime and just hear their voices, instantly improving my mood. I am lucky to have sisters that go out of their way to make me feel better when they know I am feeling down, like when my mom and sisters delivered a bag of gifts to me after I broke up with my first serious boyfriend. Not only do I have my family (and my pets), but I have an amazing small group of friends that I know I could tell anything to. They understand more so than my family that I can be sad or depressed and have no “reason” for the sadness. They know when I need my space, or when I need a girl’s night or a dinner off campus to lift my spirits.

One thing that really helps me out of my depressive ruts is involving myself with the most incredible group of individuals at my school that I have the privilege of knowing. As the president of Active Minds at Loyola University, I get the opportunity to meet so many stigma fighters and mental health advocates on my campus that work to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health. Specifically, my leadership team for active minds are the kindness, most thoughtful, loving, and understanding people at my school.

They instantly lift my mood with their positive affect and heartwarming commitment to making the world a better place for those with mental illness. When I am in the deepest of ruts because of my depression, these are the people that remind me of why I was put on this earth, what my passion is, and what I was destined to do.

Giving a voice to those around me who don’t have the strength or courage to find theirs is the greatest coping mechanisms I have found for my depression.

My advice to my fellow stigma fighters who struggle with depression is to talk to others about it. Let them know what you need and when you need it. Tell them how you feel so that when you are feeling that way, they can help you out of your rut.

But most importantly, find your passion. Find what gives you the greatest joy and purpose in the world, and hold on to that in the deepest moments of your depression. Remember why you are here, and all the people you are helping by just living. And remember, fight like hell.

What is Your Defining Quality?

January 22
Dana Sauro

As the student of a Jesuit institution, the art of discernment is not lost on me. When asked “what does it mean to be you” or “what is your defining quality”, there are many things that come to mind. But after thinking through these other characteristics, there is always one characteristic that is at the center of my other favorite personal qualities: kindness.

I will be the first to admit that earlier on in my life, I wasn’t the kindest person I knew. In middle school, I was a completely different person than I am today. Unrecognizable to those who know me now. Even after all the repressed memories from that time in my life, I still remember the person I was, and I refuse to become even a little like I was back then. I changed for the better after my middle school and high school days. In late middle school and early high school, I fell in with a great group of friends who taught me what real friendship was like.

Unfortunately, after losing one of these friends who was bullied and harassed for so long, most of my other friendships fell apart as well. But one thing that I will never forget from my late friend is her kindness. She is the reason that I fight so hard for things like mental health awareness and anti-bullying efforts. She is the reason why I work to be kind to everyone I meet, whether they deserve it or not. She is why I believe that kindness is my defining quality.

When you look up the definition of kindness, you might find something like “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate”. But kindness is so much more than something that can be read off a page. Kindness is something that you emulate. Something that you feel in your heart and in your soul. Kindness is often unforgettable. Kindness is a saving grace, and can change someone’s life.

For me, kindness is a way of life, not just a definition or a quality that someone may have. It is a trait that connects me to my friend who died because of all the hate that was sent her way. Kindness is a connecting force: something that makes me feel coupled to another individual. But overall, kindness is a gift that I try to give to every individual that I encounter.

Whether that be going out of my way to help someone out, giving a smile to someone who has temporarily lost theirs, or complimenting strangers who look as if they could use some uplifting words, kindness is a rebellion to the hate and exclusivity that we see too often in our world. Be a rebel. Spread kindness. And always remember, no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

The Truth Behind Suffering

January 19
Justin Davis
Overcoming Challenges

There I was… I sat in the cinema and watched The Magnificent Seven. I sat and watched in awe, but also in terror.

The glamorizing gunshots, explosions, and loud cries kept my eyes and brain glued to the screen; yet there was a part of me that was terrified.

It was the part of me that was in the exact same cinema on July 20, 2012, watching the Dark Knight Rises, in awe of the violence being committed on screen, as it was then unfolding into cries and panicked screams right before my eyes.

Even though there was chaos, confusion, and agony that surrounded me in this moment, it fell silent and shattered my heart.

Before I continue, I would like to give some backstory into who I am. Currently, I am at the age of 20 years old. I was born and raised into a Christian household, so my beliefs and convictions align with the teachings of Jesus Christ and the truth of the Bible.

Yes, most of which that I will be writing about, comes from a place of God in my heart and the experiences that I have faced with Him. But I hope you know that I am not here to preach at you about God, rather, I am here to share a little part of the larger story that He has written for me since the beginning of time. This story is of truth, hope, love, and redemption.

Ask yourself this question and be truthful about the answer. What has been the greatest challenge in life for you to overcome? Now, if you think that you haven’t had to overcome any plight, or if you think that your quarrel was compared to nothing, I would ask you to rethink your reasonings.

The great thing about this question, is that everyone will have a different answer. There is no right or wrong way to navigate this question. We all have different walks of life. This is what makes us unique. Some people are faced with moral dilemmas, some are faced with overcoming injuries, and others with pain and suffering. To each his own.

The greatest challenge I had to overcome was July 20, 2012: The Aurora Theater Shooting.

One man open fired in an auditorium full of human beings, killing 12 and injuring 60. This is not including those who had and still are suffering from various forms of mental illness.

My pain and suffering came in the form of internal stresses. According to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) and my Counselor, I met the criteria for PTSD and Delayed Response, which include depression and anxiety due to the events of that night.

Three months after the shooting, I was in shock. I was going from one thing to the next, without taking the time to stop and ponder what had happened that night. One day, as I was snowshoeing in the silent mountains of Colorado, I felt a boulder drop on me. Not a literal boulder, but an emotional one.

The images, sounds, screams, and smells from that night; It all came rushing through like a tidal wave. I felt guilt instantly and it spoke to me saying, “You got out alive yet there is a little girl who lost her life, and you stood in shock and did nothing to help.” This was every day when I awoke from bed and when I fell to sleep. I put on a façade of happiness when I went to school, but inside I was desperate and crying for help.

Friends and family would ask how I was doing and my response would simply be a complete lie; “I’m fine.”

I then began to think to myself about how I could fix all these internal struggles. How is a 16-year-old supposed to deal and cope with such a trauma? My time as a child and life prior to the event told me to run to Jesus, but there was another part of me, the part of me that is now living this pain and suffering, that told me to run away. So I ran.

How can I run to a God who let such events happen? So, I began to run to worldly pleasures, thinking that they would bring me comfort and fulfillment, but I was naïve, lost, and wrong. This way of thinking and “healing”, ended up bringing me further down the rabbit hole of depression.

Growing up in the church, I always heard that suffering was valuable. It creates perseverance and reliance upon God. I truly believed this, until I experienced it for myself. The only time I would actually call upon God was when I wanted Him to deliver me from these challenges. I was too scared to face the reality of what I was dealing with. So I continued to run from my internal struggles and bottled them up. Eventually… I popped.

I attended counseling for seven months to try and change the way that I thought about that night.

To see it in such a way that is positive, rather than negative. Not every session was great, but not every session was terrible. Progress was happening and change was enacting in my thoughts, but not in my heart. During these times, It was crazy for me to experience the phenomenon of my head and my heart feeling like they were a million miles apart.

My head would say one thing, but my heart would speak another. In my thoughts I knew the truths about God and pain and suffering, but my heart didn’t want to believe it. Depression dug down deep. Lies, anger, and bitterness towards life were tenants who rented out my heart and whose payment was in the form of hate.

I began to ask myself what I wanted to do. It seemed like no matter what I did, I would still feel empty inside. Nothing could fill this shattered, yet naïve heart. Thoughts of suicide began rushing into my head and at one point, I thought it was all I had left. But to escape this suffering by the way of death didn’t seem right to me.

There was this minute piece of light within me that told me there was more to life than pain and suffering. That one day, my life would impact someone.

From the wise words of Friedrich Nietzsche, “He who has a Why to live for, can bear almost any How.”

The truth hit me: the reason for my empty, broken, and desperate heart, was having a lack of purpose to live for.

From the novel, Man’s Search For Meaning, By Viktor E. Frankl, this man attempts to find reason in his pain and suffering, while he endures unnecessary acts of evil during the times of the Holocaust. While I read his experiences in detail, I began to see that pain and suffering is a way of life and that we are promised to cross roads with it.

In Acts 14:22 Luke writes, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom.” I don’t want to speak for Viktor, but something tells me he knew this truth. So I began to constitute that, even though I am guaranteed to suffer in life, the only thing that I can do, is change how I see it. James 1:2-4 began to have new meaning for me, “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

For far too long I chose to only see my current situation, which was agony and pain. I didn’t have a purpose to live, because I wasn’t living for anything except the depression that was killing me. I didn’t look beyond my current situation to see the glory and joy that would come.

Thus began the slow transformation of my heart and the way in which I thought. One of the biggest lies that I believe we as a human race have believed for far too long, is that pain and suffering is the end and there is no moving forward.

I lived this lie for four years too long. As God began to work in my heart over the summer of 2016, he allowed me to experience what positive things can come from pain and suffering.

From the life of Job, this man went through innumerable amounts of pain and suffering, yet at the end of the story, “… the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12). He experienced death and loss from his wife, children, and livestock, but after, God blessed him with more than what he had before. This isn’t the only truth that stands out to me, but there is one more that comes from verse five, chapter 42, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you…” What Job is saying is that he never experienced God in a true and intimate way for himself, but because of his pain and suffering, he was able to.

Job began to see God in a new way. His eyes were opened to who God is. Our God that is full of love, glory, majesty, joy, compassion, power, grace, and many more characteristics that my mind cannot fathom. Job experienced this. “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

Like Job and his life before pain and suffering, I too had only heard of God. Even after my trauma, I believed that I was worthless, unloveable, foolish, and weak. I believed that I was beyond saving, that I could not come back from this.

I gave up on God, therefore I gave up on life, but do you want to know what the funny thing is? God didn’t give up on me.

Even after running from him for four years, never truly knowing him before my suffering, and living in constant sin; He still loved and wanted me.

I saw and experienced His relentless pursuit and commitment of love and grace for my heart. I finally SAW the truth that God is love and He wants good things for me. Therefore, I stopped asking God to take away the pain and suffering and instead, I asked him to help me see it in a new way and to walk with me through it.

I came to this conclusion that, it didn’t matter what I expected from God or this crazy thing called life, but rather what God and life expected of me. To be in an intimate relationship with Him and to live my life as a light to those who are in a dark place.

Now it all comes back to the question I had asked earlier in my writing, “what has been the greatest challenge for you to overcome?”

By this time, I’m sure you have an answer, but I want to add a little more to this question… “and how did you overcome this?” Some of your answers may be like mine where you chose to let it defeat you, for others it may be that you whizzed on by with no problem, but for the rest, you haven’t faced it.

God has allowed me to experience such a trauma that I would have never dreamt of facing, but through this, I have come out on the other side as a testament to God’s faithfulness and to the truth that pain and suffering is a gift… because I now see the beauty in life and God.

The hope of my writing and experience is to illustrate that when pain and suffering comes, you shouldn’t run away out of fear or let it defeat you like I did. Rather, you should run head on toward the challenge and face it.

To quote Viktor Frankl once more, “Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.” Now, while you run head on into pain and suffering, know that God is with you every step of the way and that this momentary affliction, is no match for the glory that will follow.

“Sometimes the only way around suffering is to go straight through it.” -Anonymous

Life With ADD Taught Me to Have a Good Work Ethic

January 1
Eliza Zachary

My whole life I’ve been told to pay attention.  I was told that I would never do well in school because I couldn’t stay focused. It wasn’t until much later that I realized I had ADD.

When I was four, I learned how to tie my shoe laces. About a week afterwards, I completely forgot how. I sat on the stairs of my childhood home, completely baffled with myself.

At the time, I never understood why I couldn’t remember; my parents just thought I was being a typical four-year-old who constantly forgot things.

Once I started school, things got worse.  I would come home from school and my mom would ask me how my day went and I would just reply with a simple, “Good.” The honest truth was that there were parts of my day I couldn’t even remember.

%tags Health

Me and my family.

This resulted in me almost failing kindergarten. Yes, kindergarten. The place where all you do is learn about shapes, basic words, and numbers.

My mom pleaded with my teacher to let me pass if I got my reading and math skills up.

Every night after school, I had to sit at the table with my mom and go through everything I learned at school that day.

This would take hours. We would sit at the kitchen table from when I got home to when I went to bed. The rules consisted of no playing with friends, watching TV, or playing sports until my reading and math levels went up.

I was so frustrated with myself that I couldn’t remember simple things. This routine continued on for about four years. My parents tried everything: from having me stay after school with teachers, to my grandma (who is a retired teacher) tutoring me, to even enrolling me in an after-school learning program. Even with all their efforts, none of it worked.

It wasn’t until the fourth grade that I was tested for a learning disability.

Come to find out I had something called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). This basically means that I struggle with focusing on one thing.

Think of it like focusing on five things at once, all day every day. Then when your brain says I’ve had enough, it “shuts down.”

From the outside, it appears like you are daydreaming, but on the inside, you are actually fighting to get out of this state of aimlessly staring at something irrelevant for a countless amount of time.

%tags Health

Me and my teammate after winning a volleyball competition.

After I was diagnosed, I was put in special education classes because I was behind in reading and math by two grades. I hated it.

They made me feel stupid, as if I wasn’t as smart as everyone else. From that point forward, I vowed to myself that I was going to do whatever it took to get out of these classes.

By the time I reached middle school, my reading and math levels were up to a sixth grade level. I believe this did not happen because I was in special education classes; this happened because of my determination to make myself better.

I worked hard every single day. When I got home, I sat in my room and re-taught myself everything we went over in class. Once I was caught up in school, my parents finally allowed me to pick a sport I wanted to play. I chose volleyball and absolutely loved it.

ADD had shown me at a young age what determination and a good work ethic look like. During middle school and high school, I got all As and Bs and never went back to a special education class.

In high school, I even took a couple honors courses. I never told my teachers about my disability; I always wanted to be treated like a normal student. I hate special treatment.

When my mom told my teachers about it at the end of the year, they were always dumbstruck because it never seemed like I had any issues with paying attention. Most of my friends didn’t even notice until I told them about it.

I kept it as my little secret because I never wanted anyone to treat me like I was stupid or slow because of it.

Having ADD is a part of who I am as a person.  It has taught me a lot about how strong and determined I am.

Not only did it help me excel in school, but it also helped me become a great volleyball player. Turns out, having ADD is great for volleyball, I can focus on five things at once and not be overwhelmed and still get the job done.

I blame ADD for making me a self-determined person. I would not be a D1 volleyball player at Georgia State University without it. It has shown me so much about my personal strength and how I can do anything I put my mind to.

God gave me ADD for a reason; He gave me this challenge because I was strong enough to overcome it. I no longer see my ADD as a disability. Instead, I see it as a gift.

My Abusive Relationship Hurt Me in So Many Ways

December 25
Alex Terry
Overcoming Challenges

I stared blankly at the screen. The silver reflection from the message lit up my face. It took a moment, and then I gave in to panic. My abusive relationship was following me.

No, no, no, no, no, I thought. I began to hyperventilate, and my chest felt like it was being crushed. This time, the panic attack was brought on by Mike. No surprise there.

By the time summer had started, I finally understood what he was doing to me. When he said if I stopped talking to him he wouldn’t love me anymore, I was rattled.

I needed him. He was everything. And that’s exactly how he wanted it.

The funny thing about being in an abusive relationship is you begin to accept the dysfunction. Soon you thrive off it. When he’s mad at you, your life ends and the only way to resuscitate it is to get back in his good graces, no matter what that entails.

When he mocks you until you cry, on some level you’re satisfied because you know you deserved it. When he grips your wrists so hard you can trace the shape of his hand days later, it thrills you. When he hits you for not wanting to kiss him, you understand.

I was defined by the toxicity of my relationship with him. He became the nucleus of my life. The moment I put my guard down for him, he became the puppeteer and I begged for him to take the strings.

I knew something was wrong exactly two days after I agreed to date him.

We didn’t speak for the entire day. I had a panic attack because he didn’t talk to me for the first day in months, but was using social media.

I had to claw at my arms until I calmed down, which was documented by the sharp red lines that graced my forearms the next day. In that moment I was aware I was getting myself into something I wouldn’t be able to handle.

But even before the first kiss, the first violation, or the first tear he had me in the palm of his hands. He was my first kiss and, in that same week he convinced me to go to third base with him, even though I begged for us to take it slow.

He convinced me if he didn’t finish, it wasn’t sex, it was just testing how it felt. After it was over, I sat in his bed shaking so hard I couldn’t re-hook my bra. Three weeks later, he took my virginity. I didn’t want to have sex.

A little over a week after that, he raped me for the first time.

I said ‘no’ multiple times, and he just told me to close my eyes until it was over. I was crying the whole time. I don’t remember the rest of what happened, it was blurry from that point on. After it was over, I went upstairs to throw up.

I knew it was rape. I looked up rape laws and different religious views and various cultural definitions of rape. It met every single definition. I didn’t even consider leaving him.

The next time it happened, I made it stop halfway through, and curled up in a corner across the room, chest heaving with despair. It happened countless occasions after, but after a while they all blended together. It would take too long to document the games and manipulation and psychological wars he waged.

In the beginning, it felt too good to be true. It moved at a pace too fast for me to handle, and it made me feel like something was wrong with me.

Every problem I had with myself, with life, and with people he promised to rectify. And it seemed he did. I was depressed, so he made me happy beyond belief. I had no self-esteem, so he made me feel like I deserved to be on top of the world. I had trust issues, so he proved he could be dependable.

Then he drained me for all I was worth, and I became an extension of him. He hurt me but it felt like true love. I was an easy target.

I’ve had anxiety as long as I can remember, having panic attacks that would engulf me since I was in kindergarten. I’m not sure when the depression started. I was always a serious, sensitive person. I had a habit of looking at things from a jaded perspective and feeling things too intensely, even if the situation didn’t command such a response.

The world always affected me too much and life was out of my control. I didn’t understand why I was wired the way I was, why my mind didn’t work the same as everyone else’s. Somewhere around sixth grade I went numb emotionally.

Seventh grade was when I first planned my suicide.

I opted for hanging, it seemed the least complicated. The idea flew out of my head quick enough. Seventh grade is also when I started getting harassed by my classmates for two years over my looks. That’s what led to the eating disorder.

I eventually got better, but only because I replaced binging and purging with only binging. And also because I started cutting. There was a certain addictive quality to mutilation of self. Every time I stuck my fingers down my throat, cut myself, and refused to eat for days I felt something.

For someone who was numb and drained and cold, being a masochist was the greatest thing that could ever happen. Every laugh was hollow, every conversation meaningless, every day spent in bed, physically moving was difficult beyond words, my body had a ten-ton weight on it perpetually.

But when I hurt myself, I was excited, it was exhilarating. I felt alive. I had an abusive relationship with Mike and myself.

It was dangerous and harmful and I didn’t care because that was the only time I felt something. And that lasted for years.

Every time I thought I might get better, I got worse again. I never asked for help; I was comfortable. My shell of anxiety and depression was my home. I knew how it worked. I was familiar with it. I was scared.

If I tried to get better and I failed, then that meant I couldn’t be better, and the prospect of that revelation was worse than living with my demons. And if I got better, if I knew what it was like to be happy and stable and normal, but got worse again… Well, that would make it all the more devastating. To know what it’s like to be on the other side, but to be stuck in the same place is a unique hell.

So, when Mike stumbled across me it was like hitting the jackpot.

Insecure, depressed, jaded, anxious, empty, desperate to feel something, to be something. He had his perfect doll to play with.

He once told me how his mother bought him a collection of amethyst, but, on the way to the car, he dropped them and all that was left were the shattered remains. Our relationship was like that, he said. Once it broke it could never be brought to the original state of beauty again.

I disagree about the beauty, but he was right about it breaking. Some relationships are not like that. Some are living and breathing and mold themselves as time and circumstance change into something strong and beautiful and resilient.

That wasn’t us. When he dropped me, he shattered me and us. It could not be repaired, nor would it ever be. That is because when he met me I wasn’t living.

My second plan for suicide was the summer I received that text. We had broken up, but I still based every moment of my day off him. He let me.

Mike controlled me with haphazard effort at that point. I was off the deep end. I slept two hours a night, maybe. I stopped eating. I mentally broke myself, using every opportunity to make myself feel as worthless as I knew I was, as he reminded me I was. I took breaks at work in my car, where I would have panic attacks that were building up throughout my shift.

Whenever someone touched me I jumped, so I stopped letting people touch me. My stability rested on a house of cards. My parents watched me crumble. They begged me to tell them what was wrong. I didn’t tell them about Mike, but I finally began to acknowledge to myself that he raped me and was emotionally and physically abusive.

And with that came another wave of trouble. One day was particularly bad, as I hadn’t been able to fall asleep the night before.

Mike was annoyed at me because I didn’t come to see him that week. He spent the morning reminding me of my worthlessness as a person, so I spent the morning crying.

I had to drive my sister somewhere, and as I began to back out of the driveway, she yelled for me to stop because a car was coming. I put the car in park and proceeded to sob and feel my throat constrict. I repeated “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over. She told me to go inside, and that she would drive herself.

I went inside and the anxiety began to control me. I was out of my body; my emotions were a tsunami that extended beyond my control. The waves of adrenaline, emotion, and hate hit me relentlessly and I wanted to die, I wanted it to stop.

I sat in my bathroom and took a pair of nail clippers and went to work on my forearm. It hurt more than I expected it to, and took off distinct rectangular patches of skin. My arm was a dizzying mix of scarlet and flushed flesh. I went into my kitchen and picked the sharpest knife I could find.

I sat curled in a little ball on the oak floors, considering slitting my throat. I imagined my family finding me.

I saw the blood, I felt the release that would come, and how much better everyone would be without me. I was scared about how it would hurt, and how much pressure I would need to get it done on the first try.

I tested part of my leg, and winced at the dull searing. Lots of pressure would be needed. I spent minutes trying to work up the courage, but it never came, since my sister came home.

Later that day I was driving alone on a winding road, with no traffic around. I was tired, so tired. I wanted to sleep forever. Just sleep and never wake up. So, I closed my eyes and doubled the speed limit. Finally, this was it. But, I got scared and at the last moment opened my eyes, just in time to avoid colliding head on with a bridge.

And then, something curious happened. In the beginning of my senior year of high school, I realized I liked one of my friends.

Matt had feelings for me for over a year, and waited for me through Mike. Matt was respectful, kind, understood me and my depression, and tried to help me.

He valued me for myself, and made me believe that I was really worthy of self-respect, love, and happiness. I’d never known that. Before we began dating I tried to fix myself, because I finally realized someone should not make you feel unworthy of life.

He convinced me to talk to my parents about my problems and to see a therapist. I started eating on a regular pattern, I went for runs, I slept for a healthy seven hours instead of alternating between sleepless nights and not leaving my room for days.

I forced myself to stop talking down to myself. I didn’t cut. I stopped talking to Mike. I stopped doing things I didn’t want to do that were harmful to me, and started doing good things because I deserved it. I stopped drowning in my thoughts and anxieties and worthlessness.

I finally had a reason to care about myself. I believed I was worth something. I was worth love.

While we dated I was the most stable I’d been in my entire life up to that point, and I really wish that was an exaggeration. For the first time in years I went for months without hurting myself in some way. I saw life as a good thing.

I felt emotions, I finally wasn’t numb. I stopped flinching when people touched me, and began to trust people’s intentions again. I stopped hating myself. My body was no longer heavy, no longer a prison, and I felt free, I felt light. I was lifted.

I started loving myself because of me, not because he loved me. He saw me as this beautiful, exquisite person, who was more precious than anything. He worked so hard, so so hard to make me believe it was true.

At first, when he treated me like I deserved, I didn’t know how to respond, because I’d never been exposed to a respect like that before.

It has been said that when a man violates a woman, he cuts off her wings, robs her of the ability to fly. The woman is grounded, trapped from the world she knows and loves by this horrible offense done to her. It begins to define how she lives.

The core of abuse is that the abused has a very free, very real choice of either remaining grounded and wingless, and abusing others, continuing the hate that was injected in her the first time he hurt her, or she can build her own wings and choose to overcome and learn to be open, loving and self-respecting.

I was dead and numb and Mike was dangerous and exciting and I felt adrenaline and fear and excitement. When you’ve been dehumanized, the world has a surreal quality, it’s as though you’re there but you don’t belong. Being scarred, dead, and barren in a thriving, breathing, growing environment is an extraordinarily twisted torture.

There is no coming to consciousness without pain. My chest was a hollow cave of crushed ribs and a numb heart. And my best friend gave me the tools to heal myself.

Matt showed me what happiness was, and how to feel it for myself. He became respect and patience, and was unwavering in his devotion to teaching me how to respect myself.

He was the first person who took the time to unravel the intricate nature of my darkness, understanding me and why I am the way I am, and how my past affected me. He taught me how to illuminate every crevice and corner, dusting the dirtiest parts of me and making them whole again.

I was damaged at best before I met Mike, but after him I was deflated, left hollow and empty and dead. When someone teaches you how to love yourself, there is no way to repay them. The greatest lesson to learn is how to live with yourself.

I always felt dirty in my own skin, like somehow I tarnished my body simply by housing my soul in it. I treated myself like such and Mike only confirmed this belief I held.

Now, now I am at peace with myself.

I may never be a bright, cheery person. I am serious and dark and lovely, and I am still learning. I’m still learning how to respect myself, and I’ve made mistakes learning. Because of this I’ve hurt Matt. And when you can’t love someone the way he deserves to be loved, you have to let him go.

So, when my third suicidal episode rolled around, I was surprised that he was the one to save me. This time it was cold and dark and the three a.m. sky was dull and lifeless. My hands shook as I unscrewed the screw holding the window screen to the frame.

When I finally got it loose I watched as the screen fell five stories, landing calmly on the frozen ground. That doesn’t look so bad, I thought. I sat on the windowsill, my legs dangling outside. I pictured myself falling, I wondered which way would make it hurt the least.

It wasn’t as scary as my other ideas. It was quick, easy, clean, guaranteed to work. It was probably a forty-foot freefall. I’m scared of heights, but the adrenaline rush of dread that came with being up high wasn’t there that night. Instead, there was only curiosity of what would happen next.

We were talking while this was happening, and Matt realized that something was wrong, so he called me. I was in such a frenzy I don’t remember most of our conversation, but he stayed on the phone with me for hours, and I fell asleep and woke up with him still on the line.

After that, things for me got better.

Every day is hard, and some days it still takes time for me to be able to get out of bed. I still am learning to manage my anxiety, fight my depression, and understand how to live with myself. Including all of this, and my past, I love myself, I love the skin I’m in, I’m happy and I really believe life is a good thing.

Matt is one of those rare people, the kind who never loses respect for someone, even after he stops loving them. The kind that cares for everyone, the kind that will do things just because it’s the right thing to do. It’s this gentle, sensitive nature which understands life isn’t always gentle which made him the perfect person to teach me how to be okay.

Letting go of someone you love just for them to be happy is never a light ordeal. We don’t talk anymore, and that’s okay. Because he taught me how to live, and when people you love leave, you have to hold them to all the good they’ve done for you.

I’m delicate, yet strong, I’m dark, but lovely. Sometimes, no matter what has tortured you in the past, or how dark life seems, all you need is a single person to teach you how to see the good in you.

That is was he taught me, because for the time we were together, he was the first that saw a light in me I didn’t know was there.

This is New

December 19
Matthew Rossi
Creative Outlets

It’s 4 am. The sinews

in my legs are on fire and

my chest feels like it’s caving


Like I’m being





Like I’m being interrogated

as a witch, when I know full well

that the witchcraft

doing this to me is coming


from somewhere buried deep within

and I don’t want to afflict

anyone else

with It.








Why does It even begin?

The walls twist and spin, my heart races,

and my mind is the only thing

that outpaces it.


And   I.   Can’t.   Seem.   To.   Fucking.   Breathe.


My sick, slobbering, staccato mind wrings the muscles

in my abdomen, in my thorax,

in my gastrocnemii, (to put it medically)

while my vision wavers

and blurs.


I force myself to move, to stretch, to push

out anything deeper than the shallow breath held

in my lungs with each passing second.


I scroll through my instagram feed

searching for an escape.

Pretty landscapes, Pretty people,



Something prettier than this,

prettier than me.

Something whole or


Something that at least has the visage

of wholeness,

of put-togetherness,


because right now I feel



This is new.

This poem is about my experiences dealing with Anxiety and Panic Attacks. They’re very new to me. Up until last semester, I had never had a panic attack, never felt what it was like to have crippling doubt about if I was normal, if this was normal, if I could control something like this. With the help of my friends, family, and the love of my life—my sweet and supportive girlfriend—I’ve been able to keep myself in a good place. Some days, it still hits me for no discernible reason. Some nights I wake up with cramps and attacks out of nowhere, like I described in this poem. I hope that by sharing my story, other people dealing with anxiety, especially those who are just finding out what it entails, can find comfort in knowing that someone else knows what they are going through. Anxiety doesn’t define you. There is always a way to combat your anxiety and you should never stop searching for what it is that makes you feel grounded and safe!

Thank you so much to Emily Covais, Dana Sauro, and Kyle Marchuk for your efforts in partnership with Active Minds Loyola, Maryland Chapter.

How my Vision for Mental Health Became Reality

December 3
Kyle Marchuck
Inspirational People

What’s your vision for next week? The next semester? The next year? For your life? All of these questions were posed to me while in attendance at the LeaderShape Institute retreat in the 2013 summer with 64 other Auburn University students. These were difficult questions for me to answer at the time, but now I have a vision for my life. 

Originally from Roswell, Georgia, I attended a small Catholic high school called Blessed Trinity. Being a private school kid almost my whole life, I had the wonderful blessing of going from 1st grade to high school knowing about 80% of the same people.

Naturally a tight knit community, you know everyone’s story, what their weekend plans are, and all too much about their entire family. In hindsight, I think it is what made my childhood and teenager years unique in a good way. Despite knowing too much sometimes, we all had each other’s backs.

We were a geographic community, a religious community, and one big family. I still think to this day it is part of the reason why I fell in love with my soon-to-be alma mater – Auburn University.

I bought into the concept of “The Auburn Family” and what it means to look at your classmate on your left and on your right and give a simple look, smile, or nod that meant you had their back because we all believe in this university and what it stands for. Many argue it’s a marketing ploy, and I will argue against that until the day I die. It’s real and it’s so difficult to explain without experiencing it for yourself.

Moving onward, freshman year was overwhelming. New place, new people, and new culture. Being on campus and finding my niche within my new home was exhausting. Perseverance is what kept me in the game.

Perseverance to work hard at everything I do and push myself to be a better man in Christ and a better man in society. My practice of this “attitude” has helped me be who I am today. I had the vision to work hard and be a better man. However, that vision I had for myself at Auburn took a bit of a turn at the conclusion of my freshman year.

Eluding to my earlier reference of a tight community at home, it was always (and still is) very common practice for me to get together with my high school friends every time I went back home. Whether it be a long break or just a weekend, we became our little family all over again.

However, our “family” took a big blow at the end of freshman year. One of our close friends, Keller, took his own life his first year at LSU.

Questions swirled in the air and the solutions weren’t obvious. It was an unexpected blow after a difficult freshman year. Our little family back home moved on after awhile, but I was still confused and lost for answers. Towards the end of sophomore year I begin to do some research on student-led mental health organizations at college campuses.

%tags Inspirational People

Me advertising for Active Minds

An organization catches my eye: Active Minds Inc. For those who do not know, Active Minds Inc. is an international non-profit organization that works to “utilize the student voice to change the conversation about mental health on college campuses.”

A light bulb went off in my head, Auburn needed this…heck, every campus needed something like this! How difficult would this be to get set up? *cue LeaderShape Institute logo*

LeaderShape is a one-week leadership development retreat that gives young leaders the opportunity to learn more about themselves and other leaders at their respective universities. LeaderShape changed my perspective leadership and the students that make up Auburn.

After attending the retreat and personally reflecting I knew what I had to focus on.

I was going to start an Active Minds chapter at Auburn to raise mental health awareness.

So right there the work and the vision began. The chapter officially launched in September 2013. The vision had finally become a reality. The sense of confidence and pride I had knowing my hard work and determination had turned into something tangible was incredible.

I am proud to say that our Active Minds chapter is now two years strong. We’ve made name for ourselves on campus through fundraisers, walks, outreach events, information meetings, and working with university officials to help others and even save lives by providing hope to those who may not know where to find it.

Starting an organization was not something my freshman-self thought I could do, but it gave me an insight into what I could do in the future. As Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

I love this quote because I think it says a lot to the importance of establishing goals, dreams, and your vision for your life. Yes, your vision may take a few modifications, or it might even change completely by tomorrow. If you set up a vision for success no one can hold you back.

Make that reality one of hope, happiness, and kindness. I’ve been more conscious of trying to do this every day and I believe the quality of my life has improved because of it. Wake up and set your vision for the day and ask how can I make this vision a reality.

I’ve been blessed with many opportunities in my life and I’ve had my fair share of failures too. Active Minds was an opportunity and a vision for me and I am forever grateful to have been able to serve the university through it.

Now it’s about time for me to start focusing on my vision for post-grad life. I’m not sure what it may hold just yet, but I’m ready to take on life’s challenges to the best of my ability and I hope you do the same. So ask yourself, what is your vision for tomorrow?

My Struggle in Battling Bipolar Disorder

November 23
Justin Mercer

I am an avid gamer, I love video games, and for a while video games were the only thing I had going for me. Skyrim, Dark Souls, Civilization, all of these games can be set to varying degrees of difficulty. Most games start you out on a “standard” mode. If my life were a video game, I would have been started on Hard Mode.

In April 2013, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. In February 2015, my diagnoses was changed to Bipolar Disorder. No matter the label, I have been living with my mental illness since I was at least twelve years old.

I don’t entirely remember when it started, I just remember family and friends telling me to “stop being so negative all the time.”

My story really begins at the end of sixth grade. My parents and I decided that it was okay for me to skip seventh grade and go straight into 8th grade so I could go to a prestigious private high school in my hometown. It seemed like a good idea at the time. At this private school, 8th grade is part of high school, so here I was, a twelve year old going into high school. I was pretty excited for this new chapter in life.

Turns out being the youngest, most naïve, and physically weak member of your class isn’t good for your social life. I was awkward as I was just hitting my growth spurt. I was socially awkward because I was always socially awkward. Needless to say I wasn’t in the popular crowd. In fact I wasn’t in a crowd at all. I was alone.

Loneliness sucks, especially when people go out of their way to make your life absolute hell. Every chance they got, insults were hurled at me. Never fists, only insults. I scurried around the school, frightened of the next verbal assault. It got so bad that I refused to change for gym in the boy’s locker room, as I couldn’t stand being in a tightly packed room with my bullies able to hurl their insults at will.

I eventually got fed up and reported my bullies to the school. It worked, the insults stopped, however I was shunned by the majority of my class for getting the ringleader of the bullies suspended.

I was just as alone as ever.

Fast forward to senior year of high school. I now had friends, I had a few girlfriends in the intervening years, life was supposed to be going well, but it wasn’t. I was always negative, always “in a funk” I was always the one that killed the happy mood.

My negativity made it hard to keep friends around, though thankfully a few stuck with me. After senior year I went to college at Auburn University. It was not my first choice school, but it was the only one I received a scholarship for. It was the Army ROTC scholarship. I hoped Auburn would see me turn over a new leaf, that in the promised land of college, I would finally hit my stride and flourish socially and academically. That new leaf didn’t turn.

Early in the semester my new roommate and I had a physical altercation. The fight centered around him waking me by urinating on me while he was drunk. I may or may not have hit him… I was considered at fault by the University, so they gave me my own room. I would have no roommates. I was alone.

From then on I lead a miserable existence. The depressive part of bipolar disorder consumed me. I felt that my very soul was being tortured by this depression. I quit ROTC because I couldn’t handle it mentally and as a result, I lost my scholarship.

I had no friends within a hundred miles, and my pervasive horribly negative and fatalistic mood was pushing away the ones that were already far away. I hated life, I could barely drag myself out of bed, my grades plummeted, and I thought my family believed I was a failure. They didn’t, but nothing would get through my depression. At this time I didn’t know anything was wrong with me. I just thought that this was part of life. It isn’t.

Reader, if you identify with anything I have said please tell someone, I didn’t and I almost died for it.

One Friday in the April of 2013, I decided to end my life. It wasn’t the first time I had this thought, it had been a daily thought since September 2012. I was finally ready. I went home to Birmingham that weekend, my parents and little sister had left the house that night. I was alone.

I got my handgun, which was my 18th birthday present a few months earlier, I loaded it, and placed it against my head. I put my favorite song on full volume. I gave myself the run time of the song to pull the trigger. In hindsight it seems dramatic, but it seemed appropriate at the time. If you’re interested the song is “Explorers” by Muse. Well the song finished, and I couldn’t pull the trigger. The next day I started my road to recovery.

When I told my parents what I had tried seriously to do, they quickly got me psychological help. I was put on medication to control depression. It worked slightly, but was not fully effective as I am Bipolar and not depressed, but I wouldn’t know that for a year or so. Yet, I was slowly getting better.

In the fall of 2013, I rushed Alpha Phi Omega-National Service Fraternity and gained some of my closest friends. In October of 2014, I published my first book, “Hell Has No Stars” which is about my struggle with depression.

I wanted to use my story to help others, and thankfully I found an outlet for that.

My psychologist knew of my desire to help people and set me up to give a speech on my story to Active Minds at Auburn University. Active Minds is a college group dedicated to spreading mental health awareness and ending the stigma around mental health. I was drawn to the group and became a member.

Now, almost two years to the day that I tried to kill myself, I am so glad I did not. They changed my diagnoses to Bipolar Disorder after I had a documented manic episode earlier this year, but I did not let that deter me. Now I am Vice President of my chapter of Alpha Phi Omega. Active Minds just elected me to be the Vice President of the chapter for next year. I will graduate college on time with a degree in History. I have friends. Life has improved so much since my darker days.

I can say now that I love life. I am not alone. I may still be playing life on hard mode, but the game has gotten a little easier.

Let Me Tell You the Story of Elle

November 7
Lindsey Kehres
Overcoming Challenges

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

My Struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder

October 31
Erika Evans
Overcoming Challenges

My name is Erika Evans. I am 22 years old. I have been attending college for 4 years now, yet still have the academic standing of a freshman. I have made bad choices. I love dogs. And I have Borderline Personality Disorder.

The last part is something I recently discovered about myself. Or at least the proper noun for what it was I was feeling. I was diagnosed almost a year ago after a bad night where I took a knife to my wrist and cried myself to sleep in my closet over an ex-boyfriend. BPD is essentially bipolar, depression, extreme emotional responses, and a dash of instability when it comes to relationships.

“Treatment” is not what I would call whatever has happened in the last year. I tried therapy and didn’t like it. When I am at rest, I know how to logically handle situations, but when I am all caught up, the only thing I know how to do is make an irrational decision based on emotion. So, when my therapist was just giving me logical advise, my answer was “no shit.” Probably another sign of my BPD.

With the diagnosis came a lot of answers to certain things I was feeling and a lot of questions about everything else.

What does it mean? Is there a cure? Will medication turn me into a different person? Can I afford to treat this mental illness for the rest of my life? And so the anxiety ridden person is thrown another load of anxiety with the diagnosis.

Then summer began and I stopped going to therapy. Probably not my best move. Instead I spent a summer full of erratic behavior that included working every day and blacking out every night. And during those blackouts came eating various late-night calzones and going home with random boys. One of my friends compared it to masturbation just with another human-being instead of your own hand. There was no feelings, even though I tried to stir some up just to see if I could feel something. Nada.

Fall semester was much of the same, although I did try therapy again which included adding another medication to my Prozac that would help treat the depression as well as the anxiety. My parents announced that they would be getting a divorce, and my mom ran away to Iowa for a few months to try and figure out her own mental illness. And the guiltless spending continued on food, alcohol, and uber.

It was taking so much energy to be normal, and I think I finally got tired. So here I am now.

Withdrawn from school and looking for another path. I keep waiting for some kind of ah-ha moment. Some kind of moment of clarity for an answer to just appear to me. Still nothing. I’ve taken long showers, gone for a long drive in the country, taken walks- anything that your typical movie scene moment would include. Except for the life-altering decision to be made.

I’m stuck. But the main thing that I keep reminding myself is that I’m not the only one stuck. Whether you’re about to graduate from college with no idea what career your future holds, you’re changing majors, or you’ve decided that school is all too much like me, there are so many other people struggling with you. And maybe it’s a fucked up thing to say that we’re all clueless as to what we’re doing. But I feel comforted by the fact that there are so many of us aimlessly wandering to figure out the answers in life. And I suppose that’s why I feel the need to write and share my deepest secrets here. So that maybe you won’t feel alone either.

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