#ThankYouAvengers

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Content warning: this post deals with mental health, major depressive disorder, anxiety, psychiatric medication, and suicidal ideation. If you are triggered by or otherwise in an unsafe space to read about these topics, please click away. Your health and safety are more important than a blog post.

#ThankYouAvengers.

A hashtag that started circulated in the wake of the Endgame premiere, and I scrolled through for hours with the warmest and fullest heart as I read tweet after tweet of grateful fans shouting their love for the twenty-two film series that has carried us all through the last eleven years. When I started composing my own contribution, I found myself struggling. I couldn’t find words that adequately expressed everything that I wanted to say within Twitter’s restrictive 240-character limit.

So, naturally, here I am - taking the tag to blog-o-sphere.

Now, like the Avengers did in Endgame, let’s travel back in time.

It’s 2012. I’m a college freshman, rising sophomore, coming off one of the most challenging years of my life. Like most students, I’m struggling to balance schoolwork, a social life, and family commitments in a delicate and difficult juggling act.

I’m also suicidal.

In another two years, I would be formally diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder and begin the long and arduous process of healing - through medication that helped to balance the chemicals in my brain and cognitive behavioral therapy that continues to teach me how to manage and live with my symptoms. But back then, in 2012, I was drifting in a sea of uncertainty. I was tired, and I was unmotivated, and I felt guilty for being both of those things when I had a good life and so many opportunities at my fingertips. Nothing really sparked my interest. I would cancel plans with friends because I didn’t see the point in going out, or didn’t think I deserved to. It took me hours to write papers that should’ve been finished in thirty minutes. I turned on the TV but couldn’t focus on the shows, cracked open books only to have to words go fuzzy. I wasn’t living so much as I was just….not quite surviving, but sort of floating through each day and waiting for it to be over.

Around came early May, the end of finals week, and a text from a friend-

Do you want to go see The Avengers?

She’d looked up movie times at the local cinema, a small little multiplex that showed four films at a time at $7 a pop. I read and re-read the text, debating. She’d recently gotten home from her college update, and I hadn’t seen her in a while. I’d just finished my finals, and though I was as exhausted as I had been for months, a movie didn’t really require much effort beyond buying a ticket and eating some popcorn. Why not go? I said yes, and a few hours later we were in a dark theater, The Avengers theme pouring through over sized speakers and a blue light flickering across the screen.

Something happened in that theater. For the first time in a long time, the emptiness inside me started to fill - not a lot, but enough that I felt something. For 143 minutes, I got to live somewhere else. I was a bystander in a world where superheroes were real and aliens invaded New York. I was excited. I was invested in the story, and as the credits started to roll, I felt the closest thing to happy as I had in a while.

I’d been a Marvel fan before, but that movie reminded me just how much how I loved that world - that far-away universe where Tony Stark builds high tech suits and Captain America is real, where SHIELD works behind the scenes to keep the public safe from monsters whose existence they doubt until they’re tearing down skyscrapers. My friend and I spent an hour after the film, talking about all the Easter eggs from older movies and about our favorite characters. We spent the summer re-watching Iron Man and Captain America and Thor. We looked up the next movies and made plans to see them together on school breaks.

I saw The Avengers six times in theaters, and watched it every night for two weeks straight after buying the DVD. You’d think I’d get sick of it, but no. Every re-watch took me back to that first time, in that first theater.

Ever since then, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has offered me a safe space.

It’s been a constant, always giving me something to look forward to. It’s been an ally, giving me characters who struggle with their own mental health (for all the mess in Iron Man 3, I’ll always be grateful that it showed Tony Stark - my favorite hero - expressing and coping with genuine symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress; when JARVIS scanned his body and told him he was having a panic attack, I saw myself in him - I saw a character I loved going through what I went through nearly every day, and it made me feel validated. It also gave me something to point to when someone told me was “being dramatic” when my anxiety was high.)

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy on my 21st birthday, caught a last-minute screening of Thor: Ragnarok the day I graduated from college. I watched Infinity War after my first LSAT. In a lot of ways, I came of age with these movies. I still pull them out when I’m stressed or upset or just need an escape. They ground me, in a way. They remind me of where I was when I first fell in love with them, and how far I’ve come since then.

This post is partially adapted from my personal statement for my law school applications - a fact that is wild to me because, when I first saw The Avengers, I was about ready to drop out of college and give up on academics as a whole. These heroes got me here. Or, at least, they helped in a really huge way.

I don’t know where I’d be without Marvel.

I’m not trying to be dramatic. I mean this genuinely. The Avengers gave me that first spark of feelings I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. I looked the plans for Phases 2-4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and knew I had to see each and every movie - which meant that even when I wanted nothing more than to just stop existing, I pushed through the feeling. Maybe superhero movies seem like something silly to stick around for, but hey, they kept me going - and there’s nothing silly about staying alive.

So, that’s my story.

A text. A movie. An era. A life that I’m not sure I’d have without it all.

Thank you to everyone who made these movies possible. Thank you to Stan Lee for building the groundwork, to Kevin Feige for taking the first gamble, to every actor and director and writer and set designer and costumer and crew member who worked their tails off to bring this universe to life.

You all gave me hope when I had none, and I’ll forever be grateful for that.

Thank you, Avengers.

A Note on Digital Burnout

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Hey.

It’s your friendly neighborhood blogger/indie author/book reviewer who sometimes disappears from the digital sphere for months at a time, leaving only a smattering of tweets and the occasional Instagram photo letting you know they’re still around.

It’s been a while.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been working with a new(er?) therapist for the past year or so, and with her have been making some long and much needed strides in managing my depression and anxiety. It’s been a lot of work. It’s been draining. It’s required me to be extraordinarily in tune with myself- with my emotions, with my habits, with my symptoms. We’ve made a lot of connections I was not yet in a position to make with previous therapists earlier in my mental health journey. It’s great! And it’s helping me realize…well, a lot.

One of the things I’ve realized is how affected I am by social media.

This has become increasingly apparent to me over the last year.

Back in 2017, I decided on whim that I would delete all social media apps from my phone. I don’t know what it was that made me do this, but one day I just said, “What the hell?” and got rid of them all. I kept only the most mobile heavy- aka: Instagram -and Facebook Messenger, which is really just an alternate to texting rather than an actual social platform. While it took some getting used to, and while I occasionally cheated by using Safari to access my accounts, it really helped me balance my time spent online.

Then we renovated our house in April of 2018, which meant losing access to our home WiFi for a few days. I re-downloaded my social media apps so that I could use data to access them in the interim. I justified by telling myself that I would A) only use them to keep my business accounts active and B) delete them again once our router was up and running again.

I kept promise A, but promise B fell by the wayside as I got sucked into the convenience of the apps. Then I started using my personal accounts on my phone. Things snowballed. I got frustrated, took some time away from social media for the holidays, then got back on again in January. Things snowballed again.

I made a post on Twitter last week about taking some time away from social media. I’m sticking to that. I deleted Twitter from my phone right after making that post, and deleted Facebook today. I’m stepping back again, because I’m recognizing a need for some distance.

I’ve always struggled with both wanting to limit social media use and needing to stay active for work. Not just for my writing, although social media has become a major part of self-marketing my work, but for my freelance work and day jobs as well. I can’t get away from social media. It’s part of how I earn a living, at least for now. It’s also introduced me to and helped me create wonderful communities with like-minded people I never would have known without the magic of the world wide web. All of this is contributing to a bit of digital burnout that’s wearing on me more and more each day.

Lately, all I’ve wanted to do was log out of every account I have- social media and email accounts and everything in between -and get away. Because for all the gratitude I have for growing up in the digital era, especially as a writer and freelancer whose work thrives on visibility and connectedness, I’m just…tired. I want to escape, and not in the digital sense. I want to leave my phone on the kitchen counter and wander off somewhere where no one can reach me. I want to remember who I am without the constant pressure to perform in some way, or to be available to people constantly.

I’ve always said that I don’t believe that human beings were made to be plugged in 24/7. We were not made to be “on call”, to be present in some way at all hours of the day.

I’ve known people who got pissed if I didn’t answer a text quickly enough, or who thought I was mad at them because I didn’t “like” a Facebook photo they posted. Things like this create stress that I don’t need, and that I shouldn’t have to tote around.

I’m seeking balance.

One thing that my therapist and I have been working on is the recognition that I have far more control over things than I think. Sure, I can’t change the fact that my job requires some level of digital commitment, but I can control how much time I devote to that commitment. I can make small changes to make a healthier environment for myself to both live and create in.

I’ve already started purging my phone again, and I intend to keep it that way.

I’ve set time limits for the few apps that I’m keeping (Apple’s decision to include a “Screen Time” function in Settings is a godsend, by the way) and am using Hootsuite to keep my accounts from going radio silent while I take time for myself. It’s been a week so far, and while the changes I’m making are little, I can already see them making a big difference.

So…that’s where I’ve been. Taking care of myself. Managing my digital burnout. Learning coping skills.

It’s all positive, friends. I thank you all for your patience with me, and hope that even a small piece of this resonates with someone who may be feeling similar signs of burnout. Please know that it's always okay to take time for yourself, to make changes that will make you happier, and to log out once in a while.

The digital world keeps turning, but the real one does, too. It’s all about finding a balance between them.

A Letter to Stan Lee

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A letter to Stan Lee:

You don’t know me, but I know you. Not in the sense that we’ve met. We’ve never shook hands or sat opposite each other at a dinner table. We’ve never chatted over coffee. We’ve never even been in the same room on the same day at the same time. I know you in a difference sense - in the sense that you spilled your heart across comic panel pages for me, and hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of others, to pick up.

You built safe places to run to and heroes who hurt and bled and cried and who I could, without even having to squint, see myself in. You fought for these make believe people and their make believe worlds, pushed and pushed against all the stubborn boulders in your way. You said yes when an entire industry told you no, and then you held that industry in the palm of your hand and said, “I told you so”.

You worked endlessly, tirelessly, relentlessly to give breath and voice and life to little paper people on glossy comic book spreads and you stood beside them when they leapt up onto the big screen. And you never stopped. Not once. You kept creating, kept building, kept making people out of paper and ink and gifting them to a world they could belong to. You never put the pen down, and because of you, I’ll never let go of mine.

You don’t know me, but you saved me. Over and over again, you saved me. You saved me, and you inspired me, and you taught me. To tell the truth, you saved and inspired and taught so many people, and I think if we all tried to thank you at once the sound of our gratitude would ring so loud that they would hear it in the space station. And you know what? I think that they when they heard us, they’d join in and thank you, too.

You have changed and shaped the lives of so many people. You have spread so much light in the world that you could be your own sun - and maybe that’s what you are now: one great big star warming some far away planet. Maybe you are out there somewhere shedding golden light over a land your own creations might inhabit, and maybe they’re all cheering and basking in your glow, all of them so incredibly grateful to see you again and to welcome you home.

I will never get to thank you in person. I will always regret never having that chance (no matter how far fetched it might have been even before you left). But I’d like to thank you now. So, thank you. Thank you for showing this weird little big-dreaming writer that the underdog can win, and that if you believe in something, the whole world might start to believe in it, too.

Rest easy. You will be missed.

Excelsior.

Let's Talk (Again)

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I’ve been in the self publishing world for two years now.

In that time, I’ve put out a poetry collection unveiling my battle with depression, a short fiction collection not-so-subtly inspired by own anxiety, and a novella born from experiences with loss and the grief that always follows. I have also had the pleasure of being interviewed for wonderful blogs and lit magazines, had my work published in an anthology dedicated to mental health awareness, and been featured in an online journal. I’ve hosted two events at a local indie bookstore and have been able to raise funds for National Novel Writing Month, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and for a family affected by the rare genetic disorder SMARD.

I’m grateful. I’m elated. I’m blessed. Self publishing has gifted me the freedom and power to create on my own terms. It has helped to amplify my voice, build my confidence, and put me on a path I’ve dreamed of since I was a child.

However, I still live with the depression whose first assault inspired my first book. I still struggle with anxiety on a daily basis. I’m still mentally ill, and this year has done a great deal to remind me of that.

I’ve felt bogged down. I’ve felt pulled back. I’ve felt small, and weak, and frustrated because I know I am neither but the imbalance of my brain makes me doubt what I know. I’ve discussed this before, and I’ll likely discuss it again. It is part of the reason why Fictitious - my fourth book, my fourth venture, has yet to greet the world.

Another part is the changes being made to my current means of publication. Ever since November of 2016, I’ve published via Amazon’s independent publishing platform CreateSpace. As I was gearing up to finally (finally, finally, finally!) putting the finishing touches on my sophomore poetry collection, I got an email from the company. The email was lengthy, but the gist was this: Amazon is changing it’s self publishing . It is, for all intents and purposes, ditching CreateSpace in favor of its newer platform, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

I’m no stranger to KDP. My very first book, Ready Aim Fire, exists in Kindle edition through this service. I have not, however, used its print-on-demand services. In the early stages of my journey, I made a conscious choice not to publish with KDP given its lower royalties and higher printing costs when compared to CreateSpace. While Amazon is currently encouraging authors to move their titles and proceed with business as usual with Kindle Direct, I’m left anxious and unsure.

I’ve had a difficult time putting into words exactly what I’m feeling. As an author, that’s mildly embarrassing. As an anxiety sufferer, it’s commonplace. And so, I’ve been doing what years of therapy have taught me to do: I’m taking deep breaths, stepping back, and analyzing with some distance between myself and everyone’s favorite corporate giant. I’ve been taking some time to research KDP, as well as other avenues of self- and traditional publishing.

Does this mean I’ll stop self-publishing? No. It just means I’m weighing my options.

I’m doing my best to take in the whole picture and make the best decision for both myself and my work. Unfortunately, and frustratingly for myself, this does leave Fictitious and other works-in-progress in a state of limbo. I feel badly about posting yet another apology blog about yet another publication delay. I’m frustrated by it, anxious about it, and generally feeling down. But I’m not going to let these feelings stop me from putting my work into the world. I’m going to do my best to use them to get my work to you in the best way possible.

I want to thank you all for your continued patience and support. I’ve met such wonderful people in my two years of self-publishing, and I could not be more thankful for the kindness I’ve received from fellow authors and readers alike.

This has been a difficult year for me mental health-wise, and the ups and downs have left me exhausted. The Fictitious situation has fluctuated between a source of comfort (through working on the book) and a source of stress (through delays, delays, delays). While Amazon’s change feels like yet another wrench in my plans, I’m glad to say I feel ready to take it on.

I’m not quite sure what’s next for me and my books, but I’m so grateful to have you all along for the ride. I hope to share more with you soon. Until then, thank you - for your patience and understanding, for your love and support, for your kindness, for everything. Living with depression often makes me feel isolated and alone, but the swell of support I receive from this community is a pretty strong weapon against that. You’re all amazing, and I’m truly lucky to have you.

The Importance of Being Authentic

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A few years ago, I signed up for a college creative writing course.

I didn't know what to expect. I had been out of school for a year, having taken time off to manage my mental health. When I considered returning to the classroom it was my mom who suggested that I take something I was genuinely interested in- forget the gen eds, forget the major courses. Just dip a toe into something familiar. I browsed the course catalog and found a Sunday morning creative writing class. I registered. 

On the first day of class, the professor handed out a list of writing prompts.

These prompts weren't like any I'd been given before. They weren't first lines, or settings for stories, or a challenge to write a poem with five obscure words that should never fit together. These were deeper. They were more intimate. They were letters to people who hurt us and admissions of high school embarrassments; they were designed to dredge up the darkest things inside of us and make us splatter-paint them on the page.

Each week, the professor would assign one of the prompts, and we would spend an hour  responding to it. Then, it would be time to share.

Now, this professor didn't put anybody on the spot. All sharing was done voluntarily. If you didn't want to read aloud, you didn't have to. But he did want someone to read. And in that first class, no one seemed to want to. The personal nature of the topics didn't  help anyone's first-class, public speaking jitters. We sat in silence after the professor's invitation to share. Everyone stared at their desks, fidgeted with their pens. We all avoided the professor's gaze.

And that's when he said something that's stuck with me ever since. He folded his hands on his desk and he said, "What you write doesn't have to be great."

That got everyone's attention.

We looked up, wary of what would come next, and the professor went on to tell us that we weren't here to write the next great American classic. We weren't here to turn ourselves into NYT Bestsellers.

We were here to hone our craft. We were here to practice, and to learn, and to grow. He told us that he understood that we were nervous to share, and that those nerves were good. It meant that we had created something real. We had written something authentic, and if our writing should be anything, it should be authentic. Our writing should be our blood, our tears, our breath. It should be us.

I went home with those words ringing in my head. The next week, when I went to class, I volunteered to read. And I volunteered every week after that. My classmates did, too, to the point were class would run an extra ten minutes just to squeeze everyone in. We spilled our hearts to each other, reliving our best and worst moments with a room full of strangers. From the trans girl who wrote stand-up routines about coming out to her family, to the girl who grew up in foster care and the boy who was kicked out of his house at seventeen; the eighteen year old who hadn't picked their major yet, thirty year old who was still finding herself, the girl who was abused by her mother, and everyone in between. We talked about the crushes we had in second grade and the scariest moments of our lives. We weren't trying to impress each other. We didn't need to. We were being authentic, being ourselves, and it was incredible. It was liberating.

I've kept that thought in the back of my head. It fueled my first book, and then my second. 

This isn't to say that authenticity was ever missing from my writing. This has been my outlet for such a long time, my means of release, that it wouldn't be possible not to let my own thoughts and feelings spill through the cracks. But after that class, I broke those cracks wide open. I poured everything I am and everything that I had into them. I made art out of them.

Because I'm not here to impress anyone. I don't exist to wow other people. 

I exist to be myself. I exist to share myself. And ever since I embraced that - ever since this professor encouraged an entire room of young writers to embrace that - I've felt myself improve. Not in drastic leaps, but in small ways. In my manipulation of language and use of symbols. Everything has more meaning, because every last thing is rooted to something inside of me.

I have been trying to bring this into other areas of my life. Into my conversations. Into my actions. I am trying to break out of the shell I've crafted bit by bit. To be true to myself. To honor myself. Because authenticity is the most powerful thing I have to offer.

I am the most powerful thing I have to give.

Let's Talk

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I've been absent lately. Absent from this blog, from social media; absent from this whole writer's networking game. And while I have touched on the reason why in a recent Twitter thread, I wanted to talk a moment to talk about it here as well. 

From previous posts, many of you may already know that I've struggled with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder since 2011. I was formally diagnosed in 2014, when I was prescribed medication and began talk therapy. I have continued to manage my symptoms through these means, and began to feel stable around 2016. In 2017, I cut my therapy sessions down to every other week, then as-needed, then stopped all together. I was doing well. Really, really well. And then...I wasn't.

We often expect mental illness recovery to be linear. We want it to be linear. And why wouldn't we? A straight shot from the worst feeling you can imagine to being happier than you've ever felt is ideal, no matter how long it takes to draw that line. When you start to feel like yourself again, when you have the energy to do the things you love again after months or years in a fog, you think you're in the clear. You should be out of the woods, right? You feel better, so you should be better.

Mental illness doesn't work like that. Recovery looks more like rolling hills than one straight line. You hit some peaks, and you slide down into some valleys. And over the last couple of months, I've been deep in one of those valleys. 

What started as a couple of bad days turned into a few bad weeks, and now it's been over a month and I feel like I'm stuck on a plateau. Nothing in front. Nothing behind. Just flat, and empty, and endless. I've had to force myself to do the most basic of tasks. I've felt overwhelmed by things that usually excite me. I've been irritable and exhausted. It's frustrating on a lot of levels. I was so proud of myself, and I felt like people around me were proud, for doing well for such a long time. I graduated college in December, I'm preparing for the LSAT in June, I've published three books with a forth on the way. Everything is going well! So why am I suddenly so unhappy again? Why do I suddenly feel something so akin to what was my lowest low? It makes me want to burrow into the ground and never come back out. But I won't. 

Recovery may not be linear, but the rolling hills it makes get smaller as you go. That's something I've learned over the five years I've been in treatment. It doesn't get easier, per say, but it does get more manageable. You learn coping mechanisms, and you figure out what to do. I've taken steps to get out of this rut that would have been impossible for me to take or even think about five years ago, or four years ago, or even just two years ago. 

I've pushed myself out of my comfort zone and started going volunteer work. I tried out a new gym. I've started going to more formal yoga classes, and I scheduled an appointment with a brand new therapist. These things aren't easy to do by any means, and I've had more anxiety attacks than I can count over each and every one, but I know that they'll be worth it in the long haul. They'll help get me where I need to be. They'll help get me up to the next peak, and when I get there I'll have even more experience and skills to tackle the next valley with, too. 

That's the reality of recovery. Absolutely none of it is easy. Absolutely none of it is simple. It's hard work, and it's every day, and it's draining and frustrating and full of twists and turns you never asked to take. But each time you push through something hard, you're equipped to handle the next step. The valleys get shorter, and the peaks last longer. You get stronger. It may not feel like it - I certainly don't feel strong right now - but it happens with time, and with patience, and with perseverance. 

As part of it all, I'm working to get back on track with this blog and with my social media. Networking with the writing and reading community is something I genuinely enjoy, and something I'm eager to take back after spending this time feeling bogged down and scared. I want to thank you all for your patience with me. I'm eager and excited to create some fresh new content for you. 

If you have any questions about my experience with mental illness and recovery, please feel free to reach out at lexivranick.com/contact. I'm happy to chat with you. Please note that I am not a mental health professional and can only speak from my personal experiences. If you are struggling with mental illness, please know that you are not alone. If you do not feel that you can speak to someone close to you, know that there are hotlines available by phone, text, and online. 

Mental Health & The Mind Poetry Project

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Once upon a time, my mental illnesses were thought personality flaws.

Depression was sadness, and sometimes laziness, and sometimes lack of sleep. Anxiety was a combination of student stress and an overactive imagination. They were fleeting feelings that would pass. They were emotions in my control, emotions that could be managed by deep breathing and time management skills. I didn’t have to worry, I just needed to get my act together.

I started experiencing mental illness symptoms in 2012. At that time, I thought I had enough to reason to brush off the feelings with a simple, “This, too, shall pass”. I was eighteen years old and bridging the cultural gap between high school and college. I was balancing a seventeen-credit schedule with a part time job and commuting forty-five minutes each way to my university four days a week. I was more stressed than I’d ever been, so why shouldn’t I feel sad and nervous and tired and overwhelmed?

One question I got this week was: When did you know that something was wrong?

It wasn’t until 2014, when these feelings had yet to go away and became increasingly coupled with a lack of interest in essentially anything I previously enjoyed (and a lack of energy and motivation to do those things, anyway) that my mom asked: “Are you depressed?”

I hadn’t thought about mental illness before that moment. I hadn’t considered that maybe what was happening to me wasn’t my fault, but was instead the result of something chemically wrong inside of me. I went to the doctor, an appointment which me forced me to face the reality of my suicidal ideation, a symptom which I had been nervously pushing aside since the thoughts first crept into my head, a symptom which made me terrified of myself.

My primary care physician provided me with a prescription to act as a fire extinguisher for my anxiety and negative thoughts and referred me to a psychiatric nurse practitioner, who he felt would be able to give me more adequate care considering the severity of my symptoms at that point and who diagnosed me with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I still see her to this day, and she has been incredible in working with me to find the proper medications to alleviate my symptoms.

This brings me to a second question: Did you experience side effects with any medications?

Side effects are truly difficult to escape from. When I began my first anti-depressant, I had to take at night to try to sleep through the nausea it caused for the first few weeks of taking it. I also had a sleep aid which worked so well the drowsiness it caused stretched far into my mornings, which made me often skip taking it on nights when I had to work early just to be sure I wouldn’t sleep through my alarm. About a year into being on these medications, I mentioned a return of negative thinking to my nurse practitioner. She added an anti-anxiety medication to my regimen to help counteract these affects, and although this helped for a few months, I found myself in the emergency room with suicidal ideation in 2015.

After this, I was switched to another anti-depressant. Although I experienced the same nausea that I did on my first medication, this one has made an incredible difference in alleviating my symptoms, decreasing negative thinking, and overall improving my quality of life. I remain on this medication to this day, though in the last six to twelve months I’ve began decreasing my doses in the hopes to eventually wean off it entirely.

I can go more in-depth into my experiences. I can talk for hours about how isolated I felt living with, or who high my anxiety got when I realized my initial therapist wasn’t helping and that I would have to start all over again with someone new. I could tell you about the days I spent fighting to get out of bed, or how it every step forward felt like trudging through molasses. In fact, I’ve written about all of these things in poetry and prose.

But for the PLEASE HEAR WHAT I’M NOT SAYING anthology, I wanted to offer hope. I wanted to peel back the shadows and show the light at the end of the tunnel. I wanted to share how opening up about my struggles made me feel empowered, and I hope that this might help others who are suffering feel a little empowered, too.

“Concept” is a piece that reflects back on my thoughts during my first turn-around during therapy, the first time in my treatment that I felt like I could get better, and that I felt like this illness could somehow make me a stronger person. First published to my Tumblr page last year, I’m both honored and delighted to have it included in this anthology to benefit the UK-based mental health charity, Mind.

PLEASE HEAR WHAT I’M NOT SAYING is set to release on February 8, 2018.

Rest in Peace, Chester Bennington

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I was at work when I found out Chester had passed.

I didn't know it was him at first - I looked down to check my Twitter feed, saw a tweet referencing an artists' suicide, and then someone asked me a question. I put the phone down, tweet forgotten. It wasn't until I got home and saw my entire feed flooded with the hashtag #RIPChesterBennington, every other post quoting Linkin Park lyrics and linking suicide hotlines. 

It's hard for me, even as a writer, to put into words exactly how I felt - how I feel  - about Chester's suicide. I spent a large part of my childhood with Linkin Park. I adored them in middle school. I knew every word to every song, and I can't count the number of lined paper journals I filled with poetry while listening to their albums on loop. I can't say I was know-all-the-members'-names obsessed, but I loved their music, and so I loved them.

From that perspective, I'm absolutely heartbroken. 

From another perspective, the perspective of a person who has struggled with major depressive disorder and all the baggage it drags, the perspective of a person who has had suicidal thoughts circling my head, the perspective of a person who has mapped my survival through art, I'm torn apart. 

And I think what hurts more is knowing that, although now my entire Twitter feed is packed with get help and open a conversation posts right now, those sentiments will fizzle out. Just like they did after Chris Cornell. Just like they did after Robin Williams. The conversation dies, and people go back to their lives, and then another person takes their own life. The cycle goes on. It goes on because we let it. It goes on because we let the conversation drip into nothing, evaporate, and let the gray-cloud stigma of mental illness linger until it bursts over another person. 

The stigma is so strong that people like Chester Benngington, who have support systems at their backs and resources at their fingertips, don't feel safe enough, secure enough, confident enough to ask for help. 

The first time I told someone I was suicidal I was in my general practitioner's office, finally seeking help for my then-undiagnosed depression. My doctor asked if I had ever had suicidal thoughts. My mom was sitting in the corner, watching me, and I couldn't bear to look at her when I said, "Yes."

And honestly? If my mom hadn't have taken me to the doctor that day, I'm not sure if I would be here right now, mourning Chester's loss and writing this. I wouldn't be me, at least - not this me that's self-published books and is finishing college, even considering graduate and, God, post-graduate programs.

I might not be me today because back then the stigma of mental illness was cloaked around me. I was a college student, right? Life was supposed to be hard, right? There was supposed to be stress. There were supposed to be bad days. I was supposed to deal with it. If I couldn't, then I was somehow defective: I was weak; I wasn't smart enough; I was whiny; I wasn't good enough; I wasn't trying hard enough. Anything that went wrong was my fault. If I was depressed? It was my fault. It was because I did something wrong. I never considered the possibility that I was actually sick until my psychiatrist explained that the brain gets sick just like every other organ, and that it wasn't my fault I had depression any more than it was an asthmatic's fault that their airway inflames. I can't control it, but I can treat it, and I can make it better.

I don't know Chester's situation. I don't know who he might have sought help from, if he did at all. I don't know if anyone around him saw the signs, or if he hid them so well that no one had the chance to. I know that he struggled with addiction. I know that he was open about that. I know that he wanted to get better, and to be better, and that he used his experiences to fuel his art. I don't know if he even saw this coming. The signs don't seem to add up - he was having a great year. He seemed happy, positive, bursting with excitement, bursting with life. 

Maybe he was holding his feelings so close to his heart that they shattered it.

Regardless of all of this, it's utterly heartbreaking to know that he found this world so overwhelming, so full of hurt, that he couldn't bear to be in it anymore.

And I also know that he has offered us to chance to try to help people like him. People like Chris Cornell, and Robin Williams, and people like me, too. But we can't let the conversation die. We can't cast this net out to sea and let sink, and drown, and die. We can't let the stigma brew hurricanes over our heads. 

Talk about mental illness, because the people suffering from it might not know how. Talk about resources. Talk about hotlines, and online services, and local services. Be open. Break down walls. Do it for Chester, because it in the end it does matter; in the end, he matters. We all do. We all have a chance to help. 

Rest in peace, Chester Bennington. 

I pray that you find peace in the next life.