Heavy and Light

 

I drove to Los Angeles by myself to attend Heavy and Light, To Write Love On Her Arms. It was by far an incredible experience.
I stood in a room full of stories, music and other people that have suffered or struggled like I have.
I overcame a fear, I learned a lot, and I can honestly say how proud I am of myself to have come this far.

Growing up as a teenager, I was scared to be alone, and go places alone. I thought the word “alone” meant “lonely”. Only until the last few years have I learned that there is a major difference between the two. After having two kids, one at the age of 18 and the other at 21 and my husband working swing shift every night, it taught me to grow up. I had to learn to live in our house alone, go to sleep alone, I had to learn how to cook and take care of the kids and the house when he wasn’t home. I was terrified in the beginning, we just bought a brand new house when I was 20 years old, it was about 45 minutes away from family, in a town in the middle of nowhere. I remember the first few weeks I would call the cops every time I heard a noise. It was awful, I had never been alone, I didn’t know what to do.

On January 15th of this month, I made the decision to drive by myself to L.A. and visit the House of Blues for the Heavy and Light show by To Write Love On Her Arms. I got my own hotel, walked around L.A. by myself, went to the show, then the next morning I took a drive to Santa Monica (I’ve never been there before) and walked around with my headphones in along the ocean and had a nice lunch to myself on the pier. The weather was 75 and sunny, couldn’t have picked a better time to go. It was the most empowering experience I’ve ever had. I had moments of anxiety, but I pushed forward and did something I had always wanted to do. A lot of people told me, “Wow I could never do that, I could never travel somewhere alone.” It made me feel proud, and brave. I did it and the best part was, I can’t wait to do it again. Below are some pictures of my trip. 🙂

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We’re Alive, Please Be Gentle

We’re Alive, Please Be Gentle

  • Posted on: 18 December 2014
  • By: Brit Barkholtz

I recently attended a friend’s wedding in Seattle. Though I’ve been to Seattle before, it had been at least ten years since I was last there, so I took some time to be a typical tourist and enjoy the city. While browsing a museum gift shop, I noticed some small plants on a shelf—miniature plants, about half the size of my palm.  A small sign was perched in front of them, reading, “We’re alive, please be gentle.” My initial thought was that it was a smart sign: I had assumed the plants were fake—which was apparently a common misconception. But as I continued to browse the store, the sign stuck in my mind.

“We’re alive, please be gentle.”

To apply this sign to people might seem like a pretty simple concept, but I wonder how often we end up forgetting it. It only takes about five minutes of watching the news to realize we do not live in a gentle world. Wars and violent conflict make headlines across the globe. People around the world are oppressed for any number of reasons—their gender identity, their race, their religion, their sexual orientation, or their economic status. We see national and global corporations earning a profit off marginalized people seeking better options. Greed and corruption permeate the social and political spectrums, leaving many people struggling to get by.  I wish I could somehow remind people all across the world: “We’re alive, please be gentle.”

To think so large-scale might be unrealistic, so I want to bring this message a little closer to home. A recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration found that one in five Americans are living with some type of mental health condition. This means the odds are good that you know someone affected by mental illness, or maybe you, yourself, have experience living with mental illness. Mental health conversations are often met with stigma rather than compassion, judgment rather than gentleness. So how do we push back against that reality in our own relationships?

When it comes to being gentle with others, I think it’s most important to never underestimate the power of listening. If someone is struggling and opens up to you, they probably aren’t looking for you to have all the answers. People want to be heard, and they want to know that their voice, their story, has value. Affirm the worries and fears, the hopes and dreams of the people around you. I find it to be quite humbling and a great honor when someone opens up to me and shares their life with me. It takes so much courage for most of us to share those pieces of ourselves, and we should be proud of every single person who does it. It’s also important to encourage and support each other and not get frustrated about bumps along the way. Remember: Love, support, and kindness are not things you only give to others when everything is going well for them.

But what if we focus the lens even closer? How often do we take the time to think about how to be gentle with ourselves? If you are anything like me, this is the toughest one. I get mad at myself for setbacks, frustrated and impatient with my own limitations, and ashamed of myself for my struggles. I say hateful, hurtful things to and about myself that I would never say to or about anyone else. I am my own toughest critic and worst cheerleader. I can turn a small misstep into a self-hate spiral in record time.

And then I remember: “We’re alive, please be gentle.”

Be gentle with yourself. Be patient with yourself as you live and learn and grow. You’re going to make mistakes—we all do. But forgive yourself for them. Try not to get frustrated with the pace of whatever journey you’re on. Meet yourself where you are. Don’t give up on yourself. Treat yourself when you need a pick-me-up, and give yourself permission to rest when you need a break. Congratulate yourself on progress, big or small, and don’t tear yourself apart for stalls or setbacks. Speak words of kindness to yourself—if you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, don’t say it to yourself. Encourage yourself, affirm yourself. And if you need help with any of it, ask! Remind yourself that you deserve to be happy and healthy. Remind yourself that your story matters, that you matter, and that you are irreplaceable. Love yourself, because you are important and worthy of love.

And on the days when it feels just a little too dark, remember: “We’re alive, please be gentle.”

The Glorification of Busy

 

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  • Posted on: 3 November 2014
  • By: Molly Walter

My campus minister recently shared a photo on her Facebook page that said, “Stop the glorification of busy.” I told her how much I loved that phrase, as it is something I have struggled with throughout college. She agreed and went on to comment on the many people who work 50+ hours a week and get so burned out on what they do, causing them to hate something that was once their passion. She said she didn’t want that to happen to her, so she had decided to no longer bring work with her on her days off. If it didn’t get done, it was OK, she realized. People would still show up.

There’s a lie that says we have to have it all figured out. I think that, by glorifying the idea of being busy, we’re feeding into that lie. We’re told we have to work at least 40 hours a week, volunteer, and be involved in all sorts of extra-curricular activities and hobbies. By staying busy, we appear to have it all figured out. If we can do it all, people will look up to us, we think. Whether it concerns work, school, family, friends, obligations, or volunteering, we all find ways to fill our time, often down to every second of the day – and if you don’t, it’s assumed you might be seen as lazy or unaccomplished. It can be very stigmatizing to not be busy every moment of the week.

I have always secretly liked being busy for this exact reason. It made me feel important and self-reliant. It made me feel like I could do anything. I told myself that one day down the line or after college, I would have time to relax. I would be able to tell my children I had done it all. I worked full-time in college and paid my own way. I led a TWLOHA UChapter and was deeply involved. I took care of myself.

I also really hated being that busy though. I hated working the amount that I did. I was tired. Many people can relate to this; I think most people feel swamped in their time and feel like they don’t have space to do the things they love. There may even be days when you feel like you don’t even have room to breathe. I know I’ve had many days like that.

When I started college, I had no respect for my own time. I had a timeline in front of me of how my college years were going to go. I learned very quickly it was not going to work that way. My first college professor and mentor told me I did too much. She told me to slow down and make time for myself; I did not listen to her. My second year of college was worse. I had my own apartment and was working even more. Although she moved to a different university, my former professor and I would keep in contact. She continued to tell me to step back. She told me to talk with my advisor when I was stressed, so I began scheduling in mental recesses where I could go into the advisor’s office and let go of my stress. Gradually, I began to realize both of these mentors were right: I needed to slow down.

Now that I am in my fourth year of college, I have taken that advice. Of course, I am still busy. I still have the same amount of work on my plate. But I no longer pride myself on that busyness. I am learning, daily, to ask for help from people. I am learning to say no to things I do not have time to do. I am learning to trim back the hours I work, to make time for myself. Some days that means not going out, staying in, listening to music, and being alone. Some days, though, that means getting ice cream with friends. It means saying I’m not doing homework today, because I’m going to watch a movie with my roommates first. It means finding the balance between getting things done and making time for myself. It’s a hard balance to find, and it is a process, but I’ve learned it is incredibly important.

Know this: Your time is important. So spend it on things you are passionate about. Of course, some of your time will inevitably go toward things that are unpleasant; you will spend some time worrying, working, freaking out, crying, and screaming. But you will also spend your time loving, laughing, and having conversations that may change your entire life.

Make time for yourself. Make time to do things you love and be with those you love. Don’t feel bad if you aren’t working 50 hours a week just to get everything done. Don’t feel bad if things take time. Don’t feel bad for putting things off when you feel that you need to. Find your balance. Rather than glorifying busy, begin by simply valuing your time.

It’s OK to be OK

LETTING MYSELF LET GO

Posted on: 2 September 2014

By: Jessica Cooney

“Two years ago, had you asked me if I wanted to be happy, I would’ve told you that I would do anything for a light at the end of the seemingly endless tunnel that was depression. I thought that as soon as I saw the light I would run toward it, and I would leave behind the darkest parts of me without ever looking back. So I fought, and I put the work in, and I waited for the light to peek through.

Then one day, the light was there. And yet for some reason, it scared me. I found myself stalled; I was in a much healthier place than I had been, but I still wasn’t living the life I knew I could.

In many ways, this was even harder to admit to than depression. Who would understand a fear of what was undeniably better? I convinced myself that I was singlehandedly embodying the myths associated with depression. Maybe I was seeking attention. Maybe Iwas lazy. Maybe I needed to just get over it.

In reality, though, that wasn’t the case. After a lot of reflection, I started to grasp what made that light so scary. I was so used to depression that it felt safe. My methods of coping, while undeniably unhealthy, were easy. And staying at rock bottom felt easier than climbing and falling again and again. I had grown so accustomed to the struggling version of myself that I wasn’t quite sure who I was when I was healthy. Surely this meant my healthy self was even more forgettable and insignificant than I imagined.

Eventually, and without me even realizing it was happening, a lot of factors came together that helped me let go and leave behind that darkness. A new project gave me a sense of purpose. A friendship formed that was based on positivity rather than mutual pain. These things helped me realize that most of my fears were unfounded.

Still, I needed to be convinced that letting go of the past was OK.

It’s OK to not be OK” is a message I believe wholeheartedly. It’s a phrase I’ve heard a thousand times and will say a thousand more. We don’t talk about the opposite message as often because it seems so obvious, but I think it’s equally important: It’s OK to be OK.

It’s been over a year since I started to embrace the light at the end of the tunnel, and once in a while I still need to remind myself that being content isn’t a synonym for “waiting to sink again.”

Finding safety in the familiar doesn’t mean you’re seeking attention or choosing to be depressed. The unfamiliar can be scary, even when it is undoubtedly healthier, happier, and freer. Healing doesn’t mean admitting that none of your struggles mattered. It doesn’t mean you are leaving behind the people who are still hurting. It doesn’t mean that you no longer have permission to hurt or ask for help. It doesn’t mean that you are setting yourself up for a fall.

I have spent so much time reflecting on and reliving my hardest moments.

But starting now, I am embracing this “OK-ness.”

I am OK, and I am grateful for the journey that got me here.

I am OK, and I matter just as much as when I wasn’t.

I am OK, and I am still allowed to have bad days and ask for help.

I am OK, and that makes me excited for the future instead of fearful.

I am no longer spending my days desperately searching for the light at the end of the tunnel or wishing for the comforts of the past. This is an entirely new chapter in a long story, but I finally believe that where I am right now is exactly where I am supposed to be.

Wherever you are in your journey, OK, not OK, or somewhere in between – you matter, you’re living an important story, and however you feel is OK.”

– Jessica Cooney, TWLOHA Fall 2013

The Part You Play Is Sacred

The Part You Play Is Sacred

  • Posted on: 27 August 2014
  • By: Claire Biggs

NO ONE ELSE CAN PLAY YOUR PART

“This story is a tragedy at times, a comedy some days, a drama safe to say. You will find things and you will lose things in this life. There will be awesome starts and awful endings, but do keep going, because the part you play is sacred. You are something priceless, you and all your fears and dreams. This story seems impossible at times, but there is still some time to be surprised, still some time to live surprises. 

So may we live an honest story and may we meet each other in the questions, in the aches and broken places. May we know that it’s okay to ask for help, okay to stop and rest, okay to start again. 

Life seems to be a story of holding on and letting go, learning which is which and when. You were made for love and knowing. No one else can play your part.”

TWLOHA.com

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

SELF-CARE ISN’T SELFISH

  • Posted on: 25 August 2014
  • By: Tiffany Keesey

“You know those moments where someone perfectly puts words to something you’ve been feeling but haven’t named?

That moment happened for me when I was sitting in the conference room at Invisible Children three years ago and a guest speaker was talking about insecurity. It wasn’t even his main point, but I will never forget when he off-handedly said, “You can’t invest in others if you don’t invest in yourself.”

It struck me. It felt as if he had just given me permission to embrace something that I had felt stirring within me. At that point, I had been working for the organization for 5 years, and I was exhausted. I loved my job and the organization, believed in the mission, and was surrounded by the most incredible community, but I was worn down. I couldn’t understand why I felt continually tired and overwhelmed when I knew I was doing the job I was supposed to be doing.

And here’s what it came down to: I was putting myself last. The tendency in the nonprofit world is to always put the cause above ourselves. It’s easy to forget to prioritize self-care when you are doing something you feel is more important. I had been working crazy hours and pouring most of my energy into my job, and I was doing it without putting much thought into what was fueling me.

I know this is not just true in the nonprofit world. My friends that are new parents struggle to find any time for themselves when their kids demand all their attention, and students are taught to achieve in order to get into college or to land a good job, often forgetting to take care of themselves. Somehow, as a culture, we’ve come to view rest as weakness and self-care as selfish and unnecessary.

None of that is wrong. Working for a cause, working hard in school, and being there for your child are all wonderful things. But I believe it is time for a shift in our mentality. When we take time for ourselves, when we prioritize balance, and when we cultivate other interests, we are better for it.

Studies show that we are 20 percent more productive when we work from a happy state of mind, as opposed to a negative, stressed, or even neutral state. When we are energized, we are equipped to tackle the game-changing tasks instead of just checking our inbox. We’re better prepared to solve problems, to overcome obstacles, to make the hard decisions, and to innovate.

Every now and then, let’s trade practicality for play and work for balance. Think of it as preparation for the next season in life where your life or your family or your job demands a lot from you. You need to be your best in those times. You need to show up. So, for now, let’s free ourselves of the guilt of having to always be busy because busyness just masquerades as productivity.

It doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Here’s where you can start:

1. Go back to the basics. Feed your mind and body with nutritious food. Stay hydrated and get enough sleep. Get outside for a few minutes if you’re stuck in an office all day. Be active, even if that just means choosing the stairs over the elevator.

2. Incorporate a daily ritual. We all can find an extra 15 minutes a day to invest into ourselves, whether that means waking up a little earlier, cutting out some wasted time at work, or getting off Instagram for a little bit. Begin or end your day with something that energizes you – maybe it’s journaling, taking a brisk walk, reading poetry, practicing yoga, or just making coffee and letting your mind be still.

3. Find time to cultivate larger interests outside of work. If you don’t know where to start, go back to what you loved when you were young. If you were a bookworm like me, join a book club. If you miss sports, join a kickball league. These activities remind us who we are.

4. Learn how to say no. This was the hardest thing for me, as a recovering people pleaser living with FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I challenge you to think of your time to recharge as sacred. Put it on your calendar if you need to, and don’t allow it to get pushed to the bottom of your priority list.

Repeat after me: I will be a better [student / friend / leader / spouse / professional / parent] if I take care of myself.

Great. Now go be amazing.”

To Write Love On Her Arms

twloha.com