happy and sad at the same time

“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad at the same time, and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.” -The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I’ve been running at 150% lately. This is not even a secret; I am doing all of the things. Charity events and celebrate nights and designing custom margaritas and spending good time with friends. If you watch anything I do on social media, you see all of these lively, fun things that I’m getting to be in the middle of – and I’m so thankful that life has hit such vitality. And none of the things are bad. They are all actively contributing to my happiness. They’re good things, with good people, and I’m loving them.

And then, to couple doing #allthethings, I am doing ALL of the self care. I have my lil prayer quiet time morning on my back porch, with my giant breakfast every morning. I jam out to all my worship favorites. I’ve even started scheduling naps. Friend things are even restorative in and of themselves.

And even so, the thing I am forgetting is that – it’s June. June is when I always hit a funk. June is when I get drained faster, by things that normally would not put a dent in me. June is when I’m fine one second, but then hit an unexpected wall, because June is the month that we lost Maggie three years ago. Some days, all of the self care in the world can’t touch that.

I threw a dinner party a couple of weeks ago. It was #celebratemode to honor some friends who made it to their third year of medical school. Some of my favorite people in the planet gathered around my dining room table and we laughed and told stories and drank half of my bar. It was total jubilance to every square inch of every moment.

We watched the sunset. And then everyone left, and I just got really sad.
It wasn’t a total breakdown moment, though those still happen.
I was feeling all the happiness from the evening, and the thought that stopped me in my tracks was, “She should be here for this.”

I crawled into bed. It was 1am. I only knew this because I was setting an alarm for 6am and felt excited to be getting 5 whole hours of sleep. “It’s like talking to an ER doctor,” my friend Kristen said the other day.

I shot out some texts and calls, knowing that all of my people were sound asleep,

The next night, I got a call from my friend Stephanie.
“I am so sorry that I wasn’t there for you the other night.”
“Oh, it’s okay.”
“Hey, stop that, because it’s not.”

I have no trouble talking to you about my resolved things. My old depression stories, my bout with suicidality. No trouble at all. But the present darkness? That is something I mostly keep to myself; I don’t like to totally lean on people, because I am scared that my things are too heavy. Y’all know by now that things are really tough when I am not talking to you about current hard things.

I tend to white-knuckle it.

“It is a really big deal when you reach out. It is a really big deal when you are ready to talk about this. And so you do not have to make it easier for us. You tell other people that all the time. You are dealing with some things that are truly hard, and you have trouble feeling them because you were in some relationships that made you push that off, but stop it. If you miss her, then miss her. Be where you are. Don’t clean it up.

And the thing is, I do. I do miss her. It doesn’t come and go in waves. I miss her all the time.

Right before that dinner party, three of my best friends in town took me out get pizza. They asked me what I needed, and I spat out, “I just don’t want this year to be like last year.” Last year, I was with someone who planned a huge barbeque on Maggie Day. My best friends were there, but there were also some new people, so I was doing the thing where I felt like I had to hold it together. Wine was also there, so eventually the “fake it til you make it” stunt stopped working and I ended up having a full-on emotional breakdown. Probably my worst one of all time, if we leave out the actual day I found out that Maggie died. I’m talking hyperventilating, wailing and ugly-crying, almost to the point where there was chatter on if I needed to go to the ER for sedation.

And these three girls were the ones holding me while I sobbed, and I think they could see the shame in my eyes as I ran back through the memory of that night, because one of them, who had also lost a best friend unexpectedly, chimed in with, “And I’m gonna stop you right there.”

“That night, that breakdown that you are so ashamed of and embarrassed by? That’s what taught me that it was okay to still feel such strong grief, even years out. That’s what taught me that I don’t have to put my feelings in a box and pretend like they’re not there. You’re telling that story like it was this awful, weak moment for you, but I have never seen such strength in my life.”

This is a hard one for me, but my friend was right. There is such strength in claiming grief. It is such a hard thing. You want it to resolve, to get better, to be more presentable, even. But it just changes as you change.

I am happier than I have ever been in my life. Truly. There are so many good and beautiful things – things, opportunities, relationships – that have have appeared over the last six months or so. I am not, by any means, sadder than I have ever been, but the sad is still there. The happy and sad can hold hands, and I have never really been so happy and still so sad at the same time. It is a new dance I am learning.

And so, since I have caught myself throwing myself into my calendar. So, I have scheduled the majority of this week for feeling my feelings. It gets a special color in my iCal. For writing. For processing. For being “off” and doing things that are centering, in her honor, so I can keep loving people well in her honor.

I turned down an opportunity to go to the NAMI National Convention this week. I know, I know. I would have had to be gone on her day, on the anniversary of the day we lost her. Many opinions were thrown around on whether or not getting on a plane talking to Senators and networking would be the best way to honor her or not. And it might be, but it’s not the way I’m choosing. I’m choosing to just be still, and leave space.

There is not a race to get over it. If it hurts forever, we will deal with it forever. And when it hurts, I will give my permission to feel that. And then when it is time to celebrate, I’ll be all about that, but I will not try to white-knuckle and pretend when the sad hits. The 28th is the day. The 28th is the day that the sad is really going to get me, I am afraid.

The girls from pizza night were ready for this.
And so let’s go for a walk on the Swamp Rabbit, like you guys used to in Boone.
We’ll drink champagne!
And Blue Moon, too!
“And watch the sunset.”
It’s like they know here, even though they never met her.

And of all the gifts I have been given this year, this is the most incredible one.

 

"13 Reasons Why" is a Keg in an AA Meeting


I am all of the mixed feelings about 13 Reasons Why.

If you live under a rock, 13 Reasons Why is a Netflix series that, in a nutshell, walks you through a high school girl’s revenge suicide plan, ending in her actual suicide, which they show. It has made so many of you angry for so many reasons, and so many of you have also been motivated by it to treat people with more kindness -- there are positive and negative things to sift through.  

Suicide is something I take very seriously. My expertise in this is two-prong. Yes, I have my own experience with suicidal feelings (which you can read about here), and I am also a counselor. I have lived this, and I have worked to resolve it (as much as is responsible to claim -- you never know what will trigger you), and then I have led people through it in therapy. I can, albeit with limitations, see both sides of this thing.

I love that 13 Reasons Why has catapulted us into having such a dynamic conversation about suicide, but I hate that it has done it in a way that is so unsafe for so many people. And what’s more – I am seeing a lot of talking, and not a lot of doing. The people who are hurting, people who are experiencing suicidal feelings, they need us to be just as much talk with even more action. Where is the action? Yes, it starts the conversation, but it really leaves you hanging if you are in a place where you are not ready for its contents.

Simply put, the release was irresponsible, and the triggering nature of some of the scenes is reckless. It should have been shepherded -- a guided watch. 

You do not take a keg to an AA meeting to try and accomplish healing, and if you do, you can't throw your hands up and act like you didn't know it was gonna trigger some people. This is just the flat-out, unregulated truth. YES, this series is getting people talking about suicide, and every piece of my heart says HOORAY to that. BUT – and hang with me here – this show being released into the wild on Netflix is the exact same thing as me walking into a halfway house and leaving them with unlimited beer and a barrel of hypodermic needles. We have to realize that some people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts do not have the proper supports in place to keep them safe. This show is a catalyst in some good ways and some bad ways. We have started a conversation, but we have also put a lot of people at risk at the same time.

I have heard from well over 100 people with personal narratives on how this show is a trigger for them in some way. Here are some of the things that you brave people have shared with me:

“I have severe depression and anxiety and that show messed with me. I've never had suicidal thoughts but that show made it look like a pretty easy alternative.”

“I had a situation with my mom last year and the ending brought back a lot of feelings that I wasn't prepared for.”

And if I may be more direct about it…
“If I had watched this show at that age (high school, college, freshly graduated), it would have put the gun in my hand. I was so angry, and so vengeful. if I had seen the beautiful Hannah Baker slit her wrists in gorgeous lighting, with sweet music in the background, and watched all her enemies suffer her revenge, I would have pulled the trigger. I know that isn’t the point of the books, but the show executes it so melodramatically, and with such… style, that it would have been irresistible. I was sick.”

 

This is actual, valid, ethnographic research. These are reactions from people.

I will say that the producers did some CYA and made a follow-up documentary.
It’s called “13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons” and it actually pops up right beside the show when you search the title. But I don’t think anyone is watching it, especially the people/teenagers/whoever who are struggling with suicide. I watched it….and I don’t know, I still think it doesn’t fix the whole shock factor they seemed to be going for. And I do think their intentions were so good here. Why? Because Selena Gomez was on the production team. I love her for being so open and honest with her own struggle with mental health…and for that reason, am very surprised that she signed off on such a triggering portrayal of a person's story. 

So, let me say it again: I think that the stir this show has caused will actually cause more suicides if we do not steward this conversation well on a national level, so I am going to focus my attention on that part. This is not just because the show is a trigger; it is because of some of the vocal reactions to the show. Some of you have suggested that the things Hannah Baker experienced in the show are "not worth killing yourself over." Hear me very clearly here: it is NOT YOUR JOB to make that call. I think it may just be more correct that you can't reconcile why all of the things Hannah went through would leave her with the desire to commit suicide -- this is FINE. To someone in Hannah's shoes, it was a real solution to real distress. That is so hard to wrap your mind around if you haven't struggled there.

Another thing that is going to make all of our hearts expand here is that we cannot ostracize people who haven't dealt with this from the discussion, as if this is a secret society. We have GOT TO explain our experiences to the "other side" It is one thing to yell instructions at someone who is in the bottom of a dark hole. It is another to jump down and teach them how to build a ladder because you've had to before, and you know how from experience. Both are extremely valuable. One is perhaps more helpful in times of acute distress. However, there are ladders you can build that I can't. And vice versa. It's why we all need to be in on the same conversation--it's a huge team effort.

I, and others who have experienced suicidal thoughts, think the depiction of the protagonist's journey is very accurate; I have heard some say it seems "overdramatic" -- but lots of individual experiences are like this, if not worse. I never counted the number of stories like this I heard in my two years as a high school counselor, but I wish I had. In that way, it can be very helpful when trying to help those who do not have first-hand experience here garner understanding for those who struggle with suicide, but with a high cost in other ways. It's a both/and. And we have to follow both of those trails.

Another comment I have heard in the wake of this show's release is that “people need to figure this stuff out for themselves," but guess what? "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps" was not a therapeutic model they taught me in either one of the nationally accredited Counseling Master's degree programs I have been a member of. NO, vulnerable populations, such as those who are suicidal, do not need baseline encouragement; they need real tools, and ANCHORS. THIS SHOW IS NOT AN ANCHOR. This show will tie an anchor to a suicidal person and drag them to the bottom of the ocean, where they will actually drown if they do not have the supports they need to resurface.

Here’s the thing: Netflix did not listen to the panel of psychologists who told them to not include certain things, so they are not going to listen to me. It’s out there. It’s been released into the wild. It just is.

 

But here’s the good news. This is one of my favorite side hustles because suicide is 100% preventable. This is a mountain I am willing to die on. Mine was prevented because Kaitlin Bailey sat on my bed during my sophomore year of college, and when I told her what was going on in my head, and why and how I wanted it to be over, she escorted me over to Health Services real quick and then my butt was on a medical leave of absence from Wofford – so I could recover. Hear me say this, loud and freaking clear: I am still alive today because someone gave me the permission, which was lacking from society-at-large, to go get help. This has everything to do with the presence of mental health stigma.

This is the boring part where I could throw a lot of statistics at you, but if you would like to review my research findings, with citations, because I read REAL JOURNALS, click here.

Basically, what I discovered is that there is an empirically-backed way to reduce stigma and get rid of the barriers that prevent people from getting help. And, it is not just talking about it. It is talking about it A CERTAIN WAY.

You have to get all of these things in the discussion:
A) the rock bottom part of the story
B) a resilience-building story from rock bottom, even if it does not “end” in “recovery”
C) available resources, whether global or specific to a community

My problem with 13 Reasons Why is that it literally only does Part A. It starts the conversation, gives you all of this dark – but real!!! – but still dark stuff, and then Season One is over. But here we are. It is on Netflix, and I can guarantee you that there is not a dang thing that we can do about that. So, because of this reality, we have to finish the rest of the arc I talked about.

And honestly, I am scared that this is just a fad.
This is a sexy Hollywood show with lots of pretty people in it. Is it still going to even be on our radar in 6 months? What are we going to tell all of the people whose struggles have been brought to the surface when this stuff is gone from our social media feeds, but they are still hurting? What are we going to do for those people? To protect and support them? Are we going to take their hands and find them supports, or are we going to get upset and make a statement, and then move on with our lives? We have a very huge opportunity right in front of us, y’all.

I’m gonna do the first one, and you should jump on that bandwagon with me REAL hard.
You can suggest ideas, and take actions – both are important, and the second one is faster.

1. If you are in GVL, come to this event. White Hot Party – it’s a benefit that I’m helping an event planner throw, and proceeds benefit NAMI Greenville. That might sound boring. We modeled it after Diddy’s white party, and the money from tickets goes straight to helping people in GVL with their mental health support. Your city probably has one, too. Find it. Ask them what they need.
Find your chapter here. 

2. Come to therapy. I now, as of a week ago, work for a counseling practice that specializes in trauma and PTSD. Some of you have asked when I can take on clients. I talked to my mentor, and she says the answer is NOW. Send me all of your hurting people. My email address is helloamandaphillips@gmail.com. Or you can just email me if you have a curiosity. You have to physically be in South Carolina for me to be your therapist. If you are not, I will find you another one of me. Or the Internet can. It could take some work to find one who is a good fit for what you need, but this is step one. Find one close to you. 

3. If this has you wanting to share your story, please  make sure you are ready to do that. I didn't share mine until I'd been through therapy and was in a safe place to yield questions from people, and possible adverse reactions from people who didn't quite understand my experience. I have lots more to say on that. There is so much power in sharing, but you have to make sure you are protected.

And then I'm gonna go figure out how to win the TED Prize, which would give me a million dollars to implement some sort of speaking/guided paradigm to implement mental health education in the schools -- because why not?

Basically, find out what the people around you need. There are ways you can do this pouring out of our ears, and they do not have to have a mental illness to be struggling -- it is our job to actually change the thing about the world that makes us feel like we cannot talk about things openly. Life is not Instagram. You do not actually have to put a pretty bow on all of the things -- we actually need each other to be real. After all, we belong to each other. 

"We are all just walking each other home." -Ram Das

Additional resources:
There are LOTS OF ARTICLES and responses to this show that pick it apart and name the problematic or beneficial elements much more in-depth. That was not my goal here; my aim was to make a call to action.

"13 Reasons Why": Tips for Viewing and Discussing (The Jed Foundation)

"13 Reasons Why" and Its Unintended Consequences  (Brooke Fox, LCSW)

Netflix Series "13 Reasons Why Glorifies Suicide -- The Experts Speak (NBC News)

"13 Reasons Why" Scares the Shit Out Of Me -- And It Should Scare You, Too (The Establishment)

6 Reasons Why I'm Not A Fan of '13 Reasons Why' (The Mighty)

alone is better than The Wrong Thing: an escape from abuse

 

“All I could say was, "I don't know what to do." I remember her taking me by the shoulders and looking me in the eye with a calm smile and saying simply, "Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

I never wanted to write this story. I wanted to move on from this part of my life, you know? Forget about it entirely, if I am being honest. That is usually an indicator that it is a part of life that needs to be written about.

I handed my business card to a Chamber of Commerce member the other day. I looked at it, and the words “truth-teller” stood out to me in white text, on green cardstock. That is something I have claimed as my identity.  So, I guess that settles it. “Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.”

I shared a thing about mirrors with you last week.

I was in a terrible relationship a few years ago. It fell apart, as things do, thankfully. After it was over, I was left alone in my house with a bunch of pieces of my life that I didn’t really recognize anymore. I told you that it took me years of sitting there at night, alone, with my thoughts, to not twitch with loneliness, and then to not pick apart the woman I saw in the mirror when I walked around the next morning after the sun came up. It took me a long time to be kind to her. There are seventeen mirrors in my house, not counting the tiniest one in my Marc Jacobs blush compact. It took me all those years to see that actually doing the work of figuring out who I am, what I love, what I was put on this planet to do, all of that, was the only thing that could actually release me back into my own life.

But I struggle here, at times, with the woman in the mirrors. And not for the reasons that it seems a lot of other people do.

Last night, I came home, and I looked in the mirror, and I saw a woman there. I love her. I feel so much love for her. And I respect her, because she did all that hard, identity-claiming work. She knows who she is, and she knows how to stand in her purpose. But I told her, “It might just be us. It might just be us in this house at night.” This both terrifies and comforts me, and I will tell you why.

Coming home, and it just being me and who I see in the mirror doesn’t all the way terrify me. It gets quiet, and lonely, but coming home to silence and solitude beats the hell out of coming home to the wrong thing.

For a year and a half, I was in this wrong thing, with G. And then for another year, more recently, I was in Another Wrong Thing, which I am not ready to talk about yet. I have spent every moment of my serious relationship life knowing that I was in The Wrong Thing, but telling myself to stay and pour more of myself into trying to make it work.

G was subtle at first. Our relationship began the day I found out that Maggie died. I don’t know if I need to explain that any further; I was completely untethered. He was an incredible support in the immediacy of such a hellacious loss, but when I regrew a backbone, and my stability, he balked. Hard.

“There’s a big world to live in, but you’re only interested in the volume of your own skull. You’re as stubborn as a mule and selfish like a child,” he said. Well, yelled. And then he stormed out of the Starbucks we were sitting in. I was frozen. A stranger came and asked if I was alright. I called an Uber.

I stood up to him later. That made it worse.

“I mean, you now have the excuse you’ve been waiting for to blow me off but were too much of a stupid little girl to do so on your own. You loved the attention from that stranger. That’s what you’re all about, right? Capitalizing off of distress? I mean, that’s all your dumb blog is about. It’s not like you live off any of that bullshit. You just like people to fawn on you. Too bad your god is fake or you could use your ‘relationship’ with it to ask for relief. Go blow some millionaire motherfucker. We both know you want to because of his money. You wouldn’t know what to without it, you dumb bitch. Your issues are what keep you warm. You could have more, but you’re too in love with yourself for that. Pure narcissism.”

It got a lot worse. I’ve blocked a lot of it from memory; the above is just what I have screenshots of. I don’t have screenshots of the yelling, of the tone of voice, of the facial expressions and hand gestures and the general disdain for my existence that was communicated. Of the way all of that made me feel.

He told me a couple of months later that he wanted to marry me.

This is what emotional abuse looks like, by the way. We stayed together for another year.
It wasn’t love, even though I tried to tell the woman in the mirror that it was over and over again that yes it was, yes it was, yes it was.

The part that terrifies me is that it found me again, a year ago, through another vessel.

I heard, “You’re being too much,” almost daily, and told myself that I deserved it.

I tolerated gaslighting, and had my reality continuously repainted before my eyes, and told myself that I deserved it.

I heard that I was crazy, that my anxiety wasn’t real. That my voice was too loud, that my story was too raw, that “there are just some things you shouldn’t share.” To be quieter, softer, smaller.

I had my identity taken out of my hands, and then torn apart piece by piece, and he narrated the whole process to make it sound like he was doing me a favor.

When I vented to friends, it got back to him somehow and made him mad: “You have all these degrees; how can you not understand something as simple as keeping your mouth shut?” And I told myself that I deserved it.

I told myself that I deserved being hit. And even if I didn’t, that he didn’t mean it, because he was drunk. It didn’t count if he didn’t remember. And besides, it was only the one time. I tried to talk to him about it the next day anyway.

“That didn’t happen.
And if it did, it wasn’t that bad.
And if it was, it’s not a big deal.
And if it is, it’s not my fault.
And if it was, I didn’t mean it.
And if I did, you deserved it.”

That’s the voice I bought as truth. And y’all wanna know why I’m afraid of going on a date.

I don’t remember why, or how, but I kicked it to the curb one day. Cold turkey. I realized it one morning in January. I was getting ready for a photoshoot. The woman in the mirror looked back and said, “Well, it’s about damn time.”

So, I come home alone at night, and I look in the mirror. And I see a woman who feels lonely at times, but she is also fierce. She has fought her way back up from rock bottom, from dark places. I see such strength in her. She is my hero, even though she is scared.

I have an amazing life. I get to do a lot of really incredible stuff. People tell me wonderful things about my self every day, and I believe those things. I get to be the fun, funny PR girl who is always at an event or always doing something interesting. This season has me in a constant state of disbelief.

But then the sun goes down, and I come home. And it’s just me. And at my core, I am afraid that all I will ever be is the funny PR girl. Not someone that anyone will want something real with. That is my deepest fear, and it is very difficult and disorienting to type it out for someone else to read.

Because I do love my life, and I do love this season. I feel abundant and happy. I have strong friendships and feel like part of the family everywhere I go. I am in a good place. A true, good place, for the first time in my life. I am terrified of losing my footing. It is hard not to be. It is hard to not wait for the other shoe to drop.

Anytime I ever told the whole story about The Wrong Thing to someone, they told me to leave. And I didn't know how to do that. So I stopped telling the whole story. My mother would tell me, "there is a good season coming for you; I can feel it," and I didn't believe her because every time I got in the car and left her behind in Virginia, I was driving back to The Wrong Thing that I didn’t see a way out of. Telling her the whole story back then would have been so hard for her, so I didn’t. The same with Another Wrong Thing. So, I kept things from her and everyone else, and let them hurt just me.

I wish I’d had the courage to leave, rather than exist in a world where I took whatever I could get and accepted that I was merely tolerable instead of exquisite and radiant and unstoppable, which are all things I only realized that I am after he left and I had to come home to a quiet house and look in the mirror again.

His house was cold; his heart was even worse. There were no mirrors on the walls there, though. I couldn’t see the strong woman in the mirror. I wonder at times if this was intentional.

I can see her seventeen times on the same lap through my house now. Eighteen if I open the Marc Jacobs blush. I don’t see as much sadness in her eyes, which is good, because she has been though some things. I struggle believing that this many difficulties can happen to a person and she still be happy. But, this seems to be the overwhelming victor.

"There is a good season coming for you; I can feel it," as her mama said.

That sentiment -- deserving a good thing. It no longer makes her uncomfortable She knows that she deserves something good, someone good. And that it is all coming as fast as it can. She is in no hurry; the loneliness is annoying, but she is never really alone. Struggling beautifully, comfortable in her own skin, sure of her place in the world. Finally out of The Wrong Thing. Now she just has to figure out how to, one day, be in A Good Thing with someone.

My favorite part, though, is that she is having an easier time believing that she will be someone’s Best Thing.

 

why I stopped caring about my Bible

It took not getting into Harvard for me to…like…care about Jesus.

I’m sitting on my porch, eating a fried egg, drinking coffee with almond milk, and reading my Bible. Let me explain. I usually scramble my eggs, but I wandered off for a little bit while I was cooking them, and came back just before official burning of the eggs happened, and there you have it. Fried eggs. And I usually sugar that coffee up somehow, but I have reached the point in my life where SUGAR TASTES BAD TO ME? I don’t know what this means. I don’t want to think about it.
 

Now, about the Bible. I haven’t like read the thing in a while.  We’ll go ahead and call it a year. Ish. I honestly don’t even know. I’m flipping through it now, and all of the highlights and underlines and things are from college, at least.

College. Woooo, child. Yesterday was March 31, which is the however-many-year anniversary of the day I didn’t get into Harvard. I was “supposed” to get into Harvard. It was quite obnoxious. They came to my hometown and followed me around for a day, and put the whole adventure, which involved a lot of me being snooty, and wearing a pea coat, and talking about AP Chemistry in their newspaper. (Clich here, and go to :40 – DON’T SAY I NEVER DID ANYTHING FOR YOU).

Anyway, I didn’t get in, and this shocked the world, and tore mine apart. People treated me like my life was over. I skipped a week of school and just sat in my room, until my Young Life leader, Laura, dragged my sorry butt out of bed and had a conversation with how I could not base my whole identity in something that was going to fall out from under me. This was the first time I ever really listened to her about the whole Jesus thing. At graduation, she gave me a little Bible. She said that she’d always been gifted one at the threshold of life changes, and this was the first time little old me was embarking in life without the thought that I could do things on my own; I needed Jesus. And now I had this Bible, full of teachings and things that would help.

I spent my summers from then on holed up at Young Life camps, being poured into, using words from the Bible to shape my worldview. I didn’t know a lot about church and stuff, so friends in college went with me to Easter Sunday and explained it all to me. And then things got weird. I had lived my life being praised for my brain and for academics, so I just took the Bible and intellectualized the hell out of it. I was super legalistic for a while; I didn’t drink until I was 21, and I judged the hell out of anyone who did. After I took my medical leave, I came back and changed my major to Religion and learned a lot about other religions, and my friend Peter was a little scared that I was going to convert to Buddhism for a minute. I learned a million things about ways different people interpret Biblical text, and what that led them to believe about God. I dropped a philosophy class on the second day because the professor and I got into an argument about how the presence of evil and the benevolence of God could not coexist. I was offended; I had not learned how to be objectively offended yet.

I had to learn a lot of things the hard way, is what I’m getting at. God really leveled with me, and I learned what grace was, and that I was actually an idiot for thinking I was better than anyone else for any reason at all. I was so much more concerned with knowing things about God than I was with knowing God.

And then life after college is when the shit really hit the fan, y’all. If you don’t know the rap sheet, in the span of two years, my best friend was murdered, I was sexually assaulted twice in one year, and was in back-to-back abusive relationships.

[*Side note: some people seem to think that gaslighting and emotional abuse are not “real” abuse. Do not get me started.]

That Bible sat on the dang shelf. Saying it was a hard season is the understatement of my life. I could not, for the life of me, get back to a place where I thought the word of God was at all sweet. I tried to go to church and small groups, and those sweet people there tried to comfort me the best ways they knew how. Hearing that God loved me, and had good plans for me, all of that used to shoot me into gratitude tears, but all of a sudden it sent me into full-on defense attorney mode with a full itemized list of how I knew that God did not actually give a crap. When your actual life is falling apart, it is very disorienting to hear that God is good, and that He loves you. Every now and then, I lost my shit.

Oh, God loves me? Okay, well, if God really loved me, somebody explain what happened to Maggie. He has good things in store? Then why is it that the men who have said they love me slowly stripped my identity away from me and made it sound like they were a favor? If God is a strong tower and a fortress and all of that, if He is watching over me and protecting me, somebody better explain the whole rape thing.”

I came in guns blazing. I had picked holes in the foundation of where I had built my identity and just decided to go back to handling life myself, thank you very much. I stopped picking up my Bible because it was just so much easier to ignore the dang thing. 

People know that as a result of this season, I have had bad experiences with the church, and with other Christians. People know those things because I have been vocal about them. But I don’t want to give the impression that I have given up on church, or Christianity. I have been wounded by them, certainly. And I know that other people have been, too. My Bumble profile used to say, "I love Jesus, but I'm not an asshole" because I felt like it was necessary to include that caveat. When you claim Christianity, it has been my experience that people assume things about you and your life, and they are not always positive. It can be isolating. But I don’t want to give the impression that I have traipsed into a way of thinking where I believe that my opinion is gospel. 

Last year was a year where I pretty much did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to. Spiritual leaders called my entire faith paradigm into question, and critics chimed in to point out how much I was living in sin; to all of them, I simply said, “Thank you for sharing.” I put my life up for public comment a long time ago, and it's because I thought it might help some people. I was struggling, with a lot, and quietly. Struggling quietly is not a thing that I really believe in or support, because it tricks us into thinking that our struggle is too deep and too messy to be brought to the table where the people in our support environments can help us sort through it all and take steps toward seeking freedom, and throw out the bits that are lies. I wasn’t doing that. I was drinking a lot, and this is the part where this conversation stops being PG-rated, and my mom reads this.

Hi, mom. I love you. Thank you for teaching me that grace is always a thing that is available. She usually helped me see that over tea. I have a history of being very stubborn. The tea helped immensely. Everything else you did for me did, too.

In college, I thought I was better than everyone else because I “sinned less” - as if that is even a thing – and then more recently I kind of threw out the whole rule book and decided that my actions didn’t have consequences if I didn’t want them to.

I don't know what you call the middle. I just…needed a minute. I just needed a minute. I don’t really know what I accomplished, per se, but I’m on my back porch with my physical Bible open, like not the app, listening to a song that makes me feel like Jesus is sitting right beside me, and we are having a chat. We haven’t really had a chat in a while. In the past, I have felt like I am like a puppy with my tail tucked between my legs. I peed on the rug, I need to be disciplined.

That’s not how it is today. I am in the presence of God, and I feel totally calm about it. I am not nervous. He knows all the crap I’ve done already. It was a lot of stupid stuff, too. He knew it would happen, and he signed on for me anyway. Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard? So we have just done the white as snow thing on all of that transgression stuff and we are having such a nice chat about my dreams. I am finally in tune with them again. I am curled up in my papasan chair with a baggy Anthro cardigan that I have stretched out beyond recognition – it will never go back to regular cardigan size – eating the strawberries off of my oatmeal. I can’t see Him, but there are lots of chairs out here and y’all know that God has access to really good snacks.

I hear Him say that He loves me; that He always has and He always will, even when I did not and do not feel love for Him. He says that Maggie says hello, and that she is happy, and that she and her dad are shooting some hoops before the big game tonight. I know that the whole God and Jesus things are not everyone’s cup of tea, but oh man. Totally my cup of tea.

I made you guys something, in case you need some songs. When I can’t do the whole Bible thing, I start with the songs.

They are songs that Mesha sang to us at that student-led worship thing we did at Wofford, called United, where I would just pray up a storm on that microphone. One is a song that I heard at a church that met in a movie theater here in Greenville. They are songs that, if I am being completely honest, and I must be, kept me alive in the first weeks after we lost Maggie. They are songs that remind me that I am doing alright. 

 

why I sing on the treadmill

I had dinner with a good friend of mine last night. We went to my favorite restaurant, downtown, where everyone knows me and our conversation was peppered with people walking by and saying hello, catching up briefly. Smiling, laughing, eating good food and telling good stories. I stopped by my favorite bar right after to say hello, and it was more hugs and hellos; genuine but quick check-ins, as I had to get home and get some rest – “I’m running a race in the morning.” I turned around to leave, and saw a dinner table full of even more of my favorite people, who I’d be running that race with the next day. More hellos, more hugs, more laughing. I went downstairs – more friends. In a one-block radius of downtown during a span of a few hours, I ran into upwards of 20 good people, good friends, humans I feel lucky to know.

Before I knew it, it was 1:00 in the morning, and I was still downstairs, sipping on a glass of water, still murmuring about needing to leave, needing to rest, that I had that race. It was “just” a 5K – which I used to be able to pound out no problem, and some people can do without breaking a sweat, which must be nice and thank you for sharing. But I stayed at the bar, and I kept drinking water, and then things got really quiet. I was sitting at a table with a handful of people who I love to be around, but I could not stop thinking about that race.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the race, and I could not understand why I felt so alone in the downstairs of my favorite bar, on a night when I was so surrounded by people who are important to me, who love me well, but I couldn’t feel that. All I could feel was that I was missing my most important person. I didn’t feel surrounded. I knew that I was, in my head, but I could not access that. I looked -- stared -- at their faces, and I hoped I was making the face for “good listener” instead of “terrified”; but there came a point where I could not hear a damn word that any of them were saying because all I could hear was how silent my mind had gone. It was deafening. “I have to run a race in a few hours,” I kept repeating to myself.

“I have to run a race.”

The last time I ran a race, it was a half marathon that I ran a few months after Maggie’s murder. Most of you know about sweet Mags, but if you don’t, all you really need to know is that she was my person and she was every bit of magic to the square inch that God has ever packed into a human being.

That half marathon was the second worst day of my life. I didn’t want to run it. Not because I don’t like running, but because running without Maggie is painful for me. Maggie is who taught me to love running, how to find peace from shoes hitting pavement. She ran for the same reason I write – to center herself, to clear her mind, to find out what she really thought and wanted. The first time she took me on a run, she did this really nice thing where she let us walk the whole time. I knew this drove her crazy, but you’d never be able to tell. She also came to spin classes with me even though I knew she hated things that were not running. (She got extra jewels on her crown in heaven for all of this, I am sure.)

So, since she walked for me, I decided to run for her. It was not pretty, and I whined a lot. We’d go to this one trail in Boone called The Greenway, and man, I hated it. She ran without music, which sort of led me to believe that she was a witch. But the good kind, like in The Wizard of Oz.

She could literally run circles around me, but she stayed with me and helped me learn my pace and stride. The girl was a marathon runner, but she always made me feel like we were equal. When I could do the trail without walking, I was so slow, but she still stayed. I never understood at first why she did that; I told her to go on without me, that I’d turn around with her on her way back, that I knew I was driving her crazy, that I knew she was dying to run fast. “Manda, NO!” she’d always yell, in her loud voice. “It doesn’t matter how fast you go just as long as you keep going.”

So I kept running with her. We bought real running shoes instead of cute Nikes. Mine were bright blue. She’d knock on the door of my apartment after we got home from class, and I’d lace up the blue shoes. And we’d run. And I loved it. I loved that she made me feel like I could do anything in life; even things I didn’t think I could ever do. She made me feel like a great runner. She used to sing to me on the trail. She was tone deaf, so it was so bad, but I loved it. And I’d sing with her. Dumb things, like pop songs, but we’d sing at the top of our lungs, and we’d run. Even when I moved to South Carolina and we spent an unbearable six months living in different cities, she’d call me from Hickory and tell me to go for a run and I’d lace up my blue shoes. I’d run my neighborhood, and she ran around her whole dang down. When I hit a hill or wanted to stop, I’d just go slow, and I’d sing one of our dumb running songs.

After she was gone, after she died, I remember lying in bed for the first time and just feeling…silence. And knowing that from now on, for the rest of my life, that the songs were just gonna be me now. That I wouldn’t have her right beside me anymore, whether we were running or driving around, or laying in my bed talking until 2:00 in the morning. She was gone, her voice was gone, the way it used to soothe me, it was all gone. And all I had was silence.

I tanked hard. I refused to make friends with anyone for a solid year and a half. I stopped running. I went to a lot of therapy, but the loss was as real as the day I found out every session, just as raw as the months went by. I stopped a lot of things. I was very depressed, and felt very alone. If you were in my life for this season, you are an angel for holding something so broken, so well.

A few months later I found a video of her singing. “Just Give Me A Reason” by Pink. This was one of the songs in music trivia last week. I ended up winning.

Mags ran a half marathon every year in Hickory called the Charity Chase. I signed up for it, but I didn’t train. At all. The race was a little less than a year after she died, and though I didn’t feel like a runner anymore, I am nothing if not a natural shower-upper. I carbo-loaded at Olive Garden with the others who were running, and sweet Rachael, one of Maggie’s former students, talked me back into actually running the race. Mind you, one does not usually run a half marathon on a whim, but hello, it’s me.

Again, second worst day of my life. I’d lost my strength and endurance, I couldn’t get a good pace, and by Mile 10, my feet were bleeding through my blue shoes. I got in the back of a police car and demanded to be taken back to the expo plaza.

“Ma’am, we are not a transport vehicle,” the officer said, confused.

“Okay, well, I will sit until you call one,” I said back.

They gave me a medal anyway, even though I did not finish. They knew what had happened, who I was, who Maggie was. Everyone in the group waited on me at the finish line; I was so embarrassed, and swore that I was done running forever.

But I ran a 5K this morning.

And for the last couple of months, I’ve been running on treadmills next to people who have become fast friends, and even family. Today, I ran a race among a huge pack of strangers, some in tutus. We were all in white t-shirts, all covered in color powder. I found some of those people I’ve been running next to on those treadmills, and one of them stopped to introduce herself to me personally, Jennifer, and encouraged me to keep going. I swear to you, some of Maggie’s spirit was in that woman, and so I kept running. Even though it was slow, I just kept running.

I sobbed the entire way home. No one could tell, because of all the sweat and color powder.

The people I run with on those treadmills sing with me. They sing with me while I run. Abby and Zoe and Jenn, especially, and goodness we are going to get kicked out of class for that one day, but I don’t care. Because people run beside me and sing with me again. And even though it’s not Maggie anymore, and it’ll never be Maggie again, I can feel her when my feet are pounding on that treadmill belt. I can hear her singing voice when someone is rapping Nicki Minaj right beside me.

I can feel her again. Not all the time. It comes and goes, and when it goes, I feel so lost and it is so hard there. The loss of her, the hole she left is still so real and so painful, and I worry that it will always be. But when I’m running, and when we’re all singing, I can feel her again.

This is the greatest gift to me. It’s not Maggie beside me on that Orangetheory treadmill, but even though she’s gone, she is still up there in Heaven finding ways to tell me to keep going, even if it’s slow and even if it’s hard and even when I want to stop. In running, in life, in all of it.

I can feel her again.
I ran a 5K this morning, and when I closed my eyes, I swear to you, it was like she was right beside me.
And it’s because she was.

 

my peep on the election

I have a friend who calls me in the odd hours of the morning when he cannot sleep. We got into a conversation one evening downtown when I overheard him telling a group of people that he was the smartest man in the room. “And the most humble,” I interjected. He is successful in his field, but could use some, well, grounding. I have since become something of a sounding board for when he is restless and needs someone to spar with.

Most recently, when my phone rang at 2:00AM, I was tempted not to answer. But I did.
“I need to know what you think about the election,” he said. “I’m conflicted, and I don’t know who to vote for, and I have trouble believing that the world is not about to end.”

I interrupted him mid-teardown of the Electoral College.
“I don’t really know if I’m who you want to talk to about this one,” I said.

I am no expert on politics, I explained. I am no expert on anything, if I am being truthful, except perhaps on how my own heart works, and how my heart is connected to God. Those are the two things I use as my compass on most things. Some things are easy, and do not require a consultation of the heart, like if I want a burrito, or if I should to return the dress I impulse-bought a few days ago. Yes, and yes.

My friend on the phone at 2AM pressed me to share my thoughts anyway. “You have a good heart, and a good God. I trust that combination.”

I told him that I do not lose sleep over who wins the election. I know this sounds horrible, but bear with me for a moment. I certainly do have an opinion on who I think should be our next President. I do. I am invested in this whole process; I am not a bystander. I am not as vocal as some people are, or as other people would like me to be.

“Here is what it comes down to for me,” I told him.

“No matter who is President, I will still be able to love my little microcosm of the world.”
This is all I’ve really ever wanted, to impact the people in my reach with great amounts of love and care. Whether it is Hillary, or Donald, or Gary, or Jill, or the meteor (I have seen the stickers), my heart will still work the same on the evening of November 8th as it did before any ballots were cast. I will still be able to love the people in my world no matter who is President. If I am being honest, the biggest thing on my radar right now is that my roommate’s divorce is final this week, and I want to make sure she feels safe and held and loved and valuable. There is also, yes, the election.  

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are things about both of the prominent candidates that make me turn my head to the side and wonder about them as human beings. There are things Hillary has done that make me wince as someone who values honesty, and there are things that Donald has said that offend me deeply as a survivor of sexual assault and as a woman whose loved ones are members of minority populations. There are people who think that Donald should be our next President and can cite sources on why, and there are people who can do the same thing with Hillary. And the meteor, probably. I have always been one to try and examine both sides but there are, admittedly, gaps in my knowledge.

But, I am not as concerned with these issues as I am with how to be the best ambassador of love and grace and support to the people in my life. For example, I used to be against abortion. I really did. I thought it was an awful idea. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could bear the thought of aborting a fetus. I really could not—until a woman I loved and respected and valued very much sat with me in my kitchen one morning and told me that she had initiated an abortion a few days ago. She told me horrible stories. She told me that some of her closest friends had alienated her, claiming that she was going to hell, that she was a murderer, that she was an abomination. These friends also claimed to love Jesus. This was a point of confusion to me. I will never really understand how a person can claim to be an emulator of Christ and also throw such shame on a person in the same breath.

Anyway, I realized that I had a decision to make. I could make her feel like crap, like all of these other people in her life were, or I could love her well where she was. I could pick up a pitchfork and join the angry masses, or I could tell her that there was plenty of love and grace and forgiveness available to her. If she was deciding if she should have an abortion or not, I would have wanted her to know that she would not be alone if she decided to keep the baby and the father wanted nothing to do with it. I would want her to know that I would be there for her every step of the way during her pregnancy, and that I would adopt the baby if no one else would. I would have helped her explore her options. And if the option she decided was best for her life was abortion, I would love her through that, too. I got this from one of my heroes, Glennon Doyle Melton, and I trust the way her heart works.

So, I woke early a few days later and drove my friend to her abortion follow-up appointment. We made a day out of it. I cannot really tell you about it, so as to protect her identity here, but just know that we had good food and fun and we laughed, even though we cried some, too. I like to think that it eased the pain somewhat. It turns out that I was not so much against abortion as I was for my own experience. I always appreciate it when God gives me an opportunity for my heart to stretch and expand.

The issues in this election matter to me. They do. But making sure that people feel like they are worthy of love and acceptance and grace and forgiveness is more important.  Caring for the marginalized is one of my favorite pastimes, and it looks like I will have a lot of that on my plate no matter who becomes our next President.

Is this a cop-out? Some people will think that. Thank you for sharing. All I’m saying is that we will be able to love our microcosms well no matter what happens next week, and this is sort of my anchor and safe haven right now. 

you are worth it, and here is how I know

 

Well, I don’t know who I am writing this letter to, except that it is for me and basically everyone else, too. And full disclosure – I have no outline or plan for this. It might not even make sense. Am willing to risk it. Here we go.

Most of what I do in life is talk to people. People on the street, people at the restaurants I frequent, people at work, people online…old friends, strangers, my own family members. I just love talking to people. I cannot get enough of your stories. When I win the lottery, I will just take all of you to coffee all the time and listen to your stories. Alas, student loans and necessary employment.

But okay, here’s the thing. Most of your stories, our stories, have this common thread, and that common thread is pain. You feel pain, or you see pain somewhere else. There’s a lot of it. Your significant other hurt you or left you. Your sweet mama died. You’re watching the news about these shootings. Someone has used you, or abused you, or told you that you’re not any good. Or you think you’re good, but you’re not really sure. And you feel stuck. You feel stuck there. You have dreams and a vision for your life, or at least you did at one point, but you’ve kind of accepted that the pain is your new normal.

And you feel like you are holding your breath under water.
There’s a moment where you’re like, “Well, this is fine. I can do this.”
But the thing about that is you literally cannot hold your breath forever.
If you stay in that place, if you keep doing that, your thinking turns into panic.
“If I stay here, I’m gonna die.”
You have to come up for air.


I cannot get past it. I really just can’t.

So there is some truth I feel like we all just need to hear, and I want to speak it over all of us. I wish we could all be in my living room for this, but it is not a very big room, and my couch only seats 6 to probably 12 people if we all got really snuggly, but I hear that this is not everyone’s jam, so the Internet will do.

So just listen to these words.


You are worth everything now. Right this second.

I know. That’s audacious of me to say. Who am I to declare something like that? Something you need to know about me is that I believe in God. I mean, I believe in Him. And I believe that He speaks value over everyone – whether they believe in Him or not. I feel very good about telling you, then, about the immensity of your value. It is literally the most expansive thing in the universe, and whatever the thing is that is bigger than the universe. Do not know much about the solar system. It is fine.

So, anyway, I don’t really care who in your life has told you that you are a mess, or that you are stained, or worthless, or not thin or thick or tall or short or smart or pretty or talented or whatever enough. I really do not. It could have been your parent or your teacher, your mentor, some stranger on the Internet, some celebrity, and really it could have been you. I really don’t care. I care about them, and I will not pretend to know why they said that to you. It could have been out of love, and always listen for the love, but really it could have been out of delusion or defecit. The sad thing is that we may never really know, and may need to accept an apology we know we are never going to receive.

 

I asked God if this was an okay system, and He said, “Yes. I’ve never really thought of it that way. Good call.” (He probably has thought of it that way, but he knows I need a good pat on the back sometimes.)

So, as it turns out, you can declare freedom from those words, those non-truths. You have that power in your own life. You may be fourteen miles down a path of shame and heaviness and feel like it’s too late to turn around, but the thing about paths is that anything can be a path, and so you can just hop right off the one you’re on and start a brand new one. These are the rules. You can come up with some of your own, if you want. This may require a lot of work and therapy, maybe some good people to come alongside you, but you really can get off the bad path. You can leave the abusive relationship. You can go after that dream. You can call a therapist and talk about the grief that’s been eating away at your heart. You can put that bottle down and go to a meeting. You may need a friend to go with you, and that is fine. You may not have a friend, and if that’s holding you back, well, I will be your friend, and if I can’t, I will find you one. Find-A-Friend. This could be my thing.

Your pain, or whatever is keeping you on that path, actually does not have to cripple you, or keep you holding your breath under water until you die. Your pain can actually be your greatest teacher, if you let it. You can keep holding your breath, if you want. But you can also come up for air. They take the same amount of work. The things that you feel like have stained you – well, they might not be what you think they are. The thing about stains is that they can be used, and they can be removed. Sometimes this is the same thing.

Remember that time I was raped? This is a thing that happened. If this is the first time you are reading that news, I am so sorry for the blunt delivery. But the thing is, that event has no power over me anymore. For about five or six months, I held my breath about it. It kept me in shadows, in shame, in shackles, suffocating. I did a lot of work, and went to a lot of therapy, and accepted a lot of love, and then I spoke up about it – and it lost its power. And now I am walking so many sweet girls through the aftermaths of their rape, and this is not something I would have had the ability to do without it happening to me. My rape was not a death sentence. As a matter of fact, I have been able to bring more good into the world because of it, and I believe that is because God has equipped me to do that.

 

Every morning when I wake up, God says to me, “Good. You’re up. We have work to do.”

 

So hear me say this, with the entire reserve of His love and integrity and power to back me up:

You are worth everything now. It is time to believe it. It really is time. You can start your whole life over tomorrow. You can do it today, if you want. The people who told you that you were no good did not have the power to do that, and I am so sorry that they thought they did. I know you may feel scared, and that is okay. I was scared, too. You have to remember that your feelings are real, because you are feeling them, but they are not facts. Neither are other peoples’ opinions. This is good news.

I want you to take hold of your own authority. No one in the world has access to your thoughts and experiences and feelings. That is a you thing. No one can tell you how you feel. I cannot tell you that you are not scared when you are actually terrified and holding your breath under water feels very safe, thank you very much. I cannot pull you up to the surface. That is a you thing. I am just here to cheer you on and remind you that there is actually another way to live.

 

Please get up. Please come up for air. Please do not let your pain hold you back for one more minute, even. By all means, for the love, do what you need to do to heal and respond to your pain. This is important. It is holy work, and it is yours to do.

And here’s the other thing. I believe you. I believe that I trust that you know your pain better than anyone else. And I also believe in you. I believe in your ability to do the work and get to the healing. I know that everything hurts, but you need to know that everything can be healed. I don’t care who told you that it couldn’t. That is adorable of that person, that they think they have that much power. I love the enthusiasm, but I am just throwing it in the garbage right now, y’all. I will not have another second of us shutting each other down. There is just not time for that. We have so many better things to spend our time on, really.

 

I also love you guys. Not in like the cute Southern way, like in the actual “I want to know your story and know how I can help” way. I know it’s not sustainable, but I happen to think that efficient and sustainable are dirty words when it comes to love. My mom thinks I am a bit of a nut on this one, but the joke is on her, because she is where I learned it.

I’m going to stop talking now, because if I don’t, I will just go on forever. Just please believe me on this one. You are worthy of love and belonging. I think you need to hear that. You are worthy of them right now, even though you may feel like a lost mess. You do not have to get all cleaned up and figured out to be worthy of love and belonging. I think you have been scared that you are not worthy of those things, but you freaking are, and the truth is that you actually need them to survive. And that is an okay thing to admit. So let’s find that for you. Can this be my job? Can I start a GoFundMe? I will get back to y’all on this. Until then, I will just keep telling you true things.