dust is mostly made of human skin —
remember how to blow dust away.
depression is just letting dust stay.
(settling, settling)

maybe happiness is clean and tidy like
effort. like joy. or messy bright maybe
like Holi and gardening
but not dusty. never covered
in a fine layer of human skin.

look everyone in the eye
think of anything to say
on a sign
to hold high.
read more than headlines.
don’t listen to music on the radio.

you can’t just let everything
good
be.

you have to fight
clean
instead.
— Annie Berman
Posted on July 6, 2017 .

The Difference : Some Words on Depression and Anxiety (Part 3)

Although, I cannot let myself dream. Because this is my reality.

This life of just making it through the day, every day. A life where my potential has shifted from becoming a scholar or a Juilliard musician; now, if I can get out of bed to shower and brush my teeth, that is an accomplished day for me.

I live like a broken record. Every day the same feelings plague me in almost everything that I do. This vicious thought cycle that I spend so much time and effort attempting to dissolve obstructs me from ever being able to be my best self or the kind of person I want to be to others. This disease continues to eat away at everything in my life and my ability to even function as a productive member in society.

 But all that most people care to see is the girl who always has her headphones in, doesn't care about much, and always seems to be in an off mood.

Deep down I know that is not my identity. It’s hard to remember that when your brain tries to make you feel like the whole world is against you. And I’m here to say that it's not.

If you read this and it sounds like you, I'm begging you to reach out. Don’t wait as long as I did to get help. It won't make you any stronger, it only means that you're getting worse when you could be getting better.

I know too many men also who are struggling yet refuse to accept any outside help. It breaks my heart to know that the hyper-masculinity standards pushed onto our boys keeps them from seeking the attention they need for the sake of their mental health.

Furthermore, the toxic mindset of "everyone has problems, just wait for it to pass" has cost far too many lives, as well. It’s not something that can simply go away with sheer willpower and positive thinking. Eating well and staying hydrated doesn't reverse the chemical reactions in your brain. You can't expect to pray the depression away, either. (Please remember that. Don't let it add to your guilt that you blame yourself because you think you're being punished for something.) Those things help a great deal, but they're not a permanent solution.

This is the truth. This is real. Depression is inside of 1 out of every 8 teenagers. It’s happening, every day, all around us, with a national average of 5,240 suicide attempts occurring in teens EVERY DAY. 5,240 HUMAN BEINGS who are someone's child, someone's sibling, someone's best friend. 

            Everybody is somebody else's everything.

When you break your arm, you need a cast. When you become depressed, you need to get help. It’s as simple as that.

The hard truth is that your family and friends won't always feel supportive. This isn't the case for everyone, but it's a very real possibility. I say "feel" because the majority of this initial concern is just another cognitive distortion: worrying you'll "annoy" your loved ones with your burdens. But despite what your illness tries to convince you, this does not mean you are alone. There is alwayshelp; someone is always more than willing to talk with you, and there is always someone out there who is able to understand and empathize with what you're going through.

It took over a year and a lot of stress at home for my parents to accept that what I was dealing with was serious, but now they do, and we are able to work together and create solutions for me to improve. Just know that most of the time, your loved ones are doing the best that they can, and they show it in different ways that might not make that feel obvious at first. Be gracious towards them as they learn to understand all of this, too.

The only "support" I received from my friends for a long time was them telling me how entitled or dramatic I am. I still have "friends" who do this. I won't lie, it's hurtful. It’s deflating to put effort into a friendship with someone who doesn't give what you're going through a second thought. But please don't assume that all of your friends will respond that way.

I don’t say all of this to discourage you, but because I want you to know that the harsh reality is that not everyone will care enough to want to help. In the same way you might have to focus on self care before others sometimes, some people need to focus on themselves, too. Others aren't psychologically or emotionally mature enough to be able to help you in the way you need. And it's sad, but sometimes many are just plain insensitive. But you cannot concentrate on those types of people or blame yourself for the way they treat you, because it's impossible to build a healthy relationship with someone else who fundamentally doesn't care about your well-being. That’s a reflection of the person they are, not of you.

No matter how long you've known them, how close you are, if they're your family - your value doesn't depreciate just because somebody else can't see it.

The important relationships are with the ones who are happy to talk to you and make an effort to help in any way they can. Even if there are only a couple people in your life like that right now, at the end of the day, those are the only ones that matter. You have to be careful not to depend on them, but always be sure to keep in mind that they love you in a way that you can't love yourself in this time.

And no matter what people tell you, you know better than anyone else what you're going through. Push through and seek help anyways, because, I’ll say it again, it is ALWAYS out there. And if you're having trouble finding it, then come talk to me. I mean it.

Because living with depression and anxiety is swimming underwater in an upstream river, medication are the goggles that help you navigate until you can reach the shore, and seeing a counselor and other forms of therapy teaches you how to swim. (My first step was talking to my school counselor and getting some resources. their job is to help you, and they're more than happy to. that'd be a good place to start.)

Now, too often high school feels like a competition of who's the most miserable. So if you read this and this isn't you, on behalf of everyone who relates to this, don't romanticize any of it, or feel inferior or jealous that you're not as "damaged". Just be grateful. Be grateful because there's millions out there who would kill to have your happiness. Treasure that happiness. Treasure the friends you have who are sensitive and supportive. Be grateful because there is nothing idyllic about "living" with the life sucked out of you. There is no allure in the scars on someone's skin. It is CERTAINLY no poetic gesture in someone committing suicide.

And even if you've read this far and you still can't understand, that's okay. It IS something you have to go through to understand, (and I hope you never do), but in the meantime, just be sensitive. Smile to everybody you know and as many strangers as possible. Don’t judge anyone for the way they deal with their demons - whether it be depression, anxiety, OCD, social anxiety, death, any of it - because you cannot trivialize somebody else's pain if you've never had to endure it on your own.

Saying things like, "Why don't you choose to be happy, it's that simple," or, "Just change your mindset, don't be so negative," not only invalidates someone's pain, but could potentially be adding to their stress of somebody who already has to go home to parents who say their problems aren't real, whose friends don't support them, or have no way of getting help. What they hear is: "Your problems aren't concrete like mine, therefore they are trivial. You are weak for not being able to deal with your thoughts as easily as I can."

Frankly, don't talk like that because it's not the truth.

Now, I don't necessarily speak on behalf of everyone dealing with a mental illness. Some people have it easier than me, some have it worse, everyone's walk with a mental illness is a different story. Somebody else having it worse doesn't mean that you aren't entitled to feel your problems. By that logic, everybody would have to take turns being the sole person in the world who's allowed to feel sad about their life compared to everyone else's. It'd be like saying, "You're not allowed to be happy because somebody else might have things better".

And "mental health" doesn't equate to being happy all the time; that's just repression. Fully experience your emotions. Let them flow through you, no matter how scary it feels at first, because that is how you can begin to achieve emotional independence and stability.

Even though I am not freed from this yet, I know that I am more than my illnesses. I may not have accomplished everything that I've wanted to at this point, but that's because that's not yet where I'm intended to go. Maybe someday I won't be playing a solo concert in a symphony hall in Europe or off somewhere curing cancer. But maybe someday I'm able to offer words of encouragement to someone in my shoes and save a life. Maybe I'll make a career out of that kind of impact. Or maybe someday, I can look at my past and stop wincing at the pain, but rather stand taller knowing what I have overcome.

Because here, there is no finish line. Depression and anxiety don't just disappear, but you don't have to feel 100% depressed or anxious 100% of the time, either. They become manageable as you learn how to live with them.

                So I'm working for a new normal. I'm striving every day to take back charge of my life. There is so much more I have yet to do, even if I can't imagine it in this state. Despite my heart and my mind trying to tell me otherwise, I know in my soul that this won't last forever.

Originally I intended for this to be more for the "7 out of 8" teenagers; so they could "understand" more. Really, I think I just wanted to validate what I was feeling because of the attitude that I’ve been surrounded with.

So as for my fellow 1 in 8'ers, I hear you. I am with you. These feelings are so hard and all of them are valid. You are important. You deserve the world, and someday you'll have it. Not only does life get better, but so will your coping skills. These teenage terrors won't last forever. It doesn't feel like it now, but it's true, so keep reminding yourself of that until it becomes your reality.

And if you really feel like you can't go on anymore, then carry on for the people who love you. Keep living for their sake, and eventually when things get better, you'll see how it all comes together. That moment could be hours, days, weeks, months away - but it's coming. Live for that moment, because when it comes, you'll overwhelmed by how glad you are that you decided to stay. That I can promise you.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story. Really. This hasn't been easy to write, but being able to make an impact on people is what's starting to make all of this feel worth it.

I am recovering to that point with perfect timing; exactly where I need to be in every season of my life.

And so are you. Happy healing, my friends.

~

If reaching out to a friend, family member, or counselor feels uncomfortable at first, come talk to me. I know far too well how painful it is to go through these things along with the added sting of feeling like no one cares enough to talk to you about it. I want to hear you. I wrote this for you. I've basically put my whole life story on the internet, so I won't judge you for opening up about anything personal (not that I would anyways, but you know what I mean). I understand. I REALLY do. Wherever you start, just don't stop reaching out until you can get the help you need. I’m right here.

~

I’d also like to mention my good friends Lauren Cook, Reina Lee, and Mitchell Mrozek. Lauren has been my rock for all of high school. She’s supported me in some of my loneliest times, and provided me with powerful insight in my most hopeless states. Reina is so selfless and has helped me out with some really hard decisions. Even though she lives in a different time zone, I feel like she's one of the people I’m closest to because she understands me so well, and for that fellowship I am so grateful. And Mitchell was the person that I called at my lowest point. He goes above and beyond (even brings me fast food without me asking what a guy) and is the best reminder that there are good people out there who still care about me. 

You all mean the world to me. There’s nothing I can do to repay all you've done, so I’m saying thank you publicly for being so amazing. Thank you to everyone who's waved at me in the hallways and talked to me when I was alone. I literally would not be on this earth today without you guys. Thank you so much.
~
        Grohol, John M., Psy.D. "15 Common Cognitive Distortions." Psych Central. Psych Central, 17 July 2016. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.

        "Medical Integrative Neuro Diagnostics." Medical Integrative Neuro Diagnostics. M.I.N.D., 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

        "The Biochemistry of Anxiety." The Biochemistry of Anxiety. Calm Clinic, 2009. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

        "Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan." PET Scan of the Brain for Depression - Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

        "All About Depression: Causes." All About Depression: Causes. All About Self Help, LLC, 2013. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

         "Youth Suicide Statistics - Parent Resource Program." Parent Resource Program. Jason Foundation Inc., 2016. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.

Posted on June 14, 2017 .

The Difference : Some Words on Depression and Anxiety (Part 2

[TRIGGER WARNING: in-depth talk about panic attacks for next 8 paragraphs]

I began having anxiety attacks when I was in second grade. At seven years old, a wave of panic would come over me at random times and I didn't know how to deal with it other than to go to the school nurse and let it pass. By the time I reached fifth grade, I felt panicked at the mere thought of leaving the house, a fear called "agoraphobia". Of course, I had no idea what was wrong back then, I thought they were "stomachaches". In fact, I didn't even figure any of this out until no more than a couple of years ago. I lived for more than ten years dealing with these emotions with almost no tools to cope with them.

Even though the cause of a panic attack is rarely ever rational, it's still one of the most acute experiences that a person can have. It's like you're in a different dimension. A panic attack is described as a severe sense of doom; feeling as if you are losing control or even dying. (Some people even check themselves into the hospital because of this intensity.) Your heart speeds up, you can't catch your breath, you're sweating bullets. You're dizzy, trembling, sick to your stomach. Wave after wave of utter panic. I can only list symptoms because I honest to God cannot put that kind of surreal despair into words.

To put it into more perspective, I sometimes attempt to calm myself down from a panic attack by thinking about my problems with school. I am so desperate to replace that intensity, that the thought of being stressed about work and grades feels like a paradise.

My body has always coped with panic attacks by vomiting. It's my only defense because it's the only sense of relief I have in that situation, in which I sleep holding a plastic grocery store bag in my arms in case I wake up in sometime in the middle of the night and have to throwing up uncontrollably all over again for a reason I sometimes don't even know why.

So there you sit. Lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. You realize it's been days since you've showered, because it either takes too much energy, or feels physically impossible to move without needing to vomit. You can barely move or shift positions where you're laying without the whole thing starting over again. With literally any move you make, any anxious or intruding thought, you risk another wave of terror over you, resetting everything you've tried to get past this nightmare of a mind game.

And with panic disorder, all of this repeats: sometimes weeks apart, sometimes months apart, in severe cases sometimes days or even just hours apart. Every single day is a war, as you battle being "on the verge" of a panic attack before you lose control.

This was my life at ten years old. While all the other kids were off making memories with their friends or at birthday parties, I was at home hovering over my toilet wondering when it'd all stop.

I went to see my pediatrician about these frequent "stomachaches". He told me that I should eat more protein.

I’ve been diagnosed by several different doctors with severe anxiety, along with panic disorder, some social anxiety, and even a touch of OCD (it's a party in my head). After a prolonged cycle of this constant emotional exhaustion (even from too much stress), a person begins to experience a deep emotional depletion, otherwise known as depression.

The best way I can describe depression is that your entire body feels like room temperature Diet Coke. A completely numb pain that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Your chest is an anchor, your feet like anvils, your body utterly bleak and dismal, exerting itself to try and make it to the end of whatever this is versus a mind that wants to die.

            Beyond a chemical imbalance, depression can stem from many other factors: stress, hormonal imbalances, etc. It's a very real thing, a physical malfunction of the brain, as you can see above. Click here to read about some of the chemistry behind it.

The reason a depressed or anxious person is so tired, irritable, or sluggish, is because we spend a ridiculous amount of time mentally preparing for small tasks that are essential to the bare minimum of survival. The most commonplace example being getting out of bed in the morning - a challenge we all face some mornings, with a mental illness or not - but in this case to a much further extent, sometimes resulting in missing parts of daily obligations, even work or school.

The challenge of starting the day for a depressed person goes far deeper than just feeling tired. It’s not only physical exhaustion that daunts us, it's the weight of starting another day. Some days you wake up, already in pain. You already know that the day ahead is going to be a fight. That there’ll be more trials, more demons to face, and getting out of bed means you're vulnerable to all of it.

Yet, like I said, everybody experiences mornings when they don't want to get out of bed, so to a healthy person, this appears as laziness. Frankly, existing with depression in a higher functioning environment is a lot like you're drowning and the sentiment offered to you is to “just stop being so lazy”.

Although it's not necessarily their fault; it's just one of those things you have to experience to be able to fully understand. To a healthy person, healthy is all they know. You hear "it's all in your head" (like, yeah, because your brain produces every thought and emotion, way to go).

That’s precisely the issue, though - learning to cope with feelings that seep into every aspect of our life.

Depression and anxiety can come from traumatic events and external factors, and in the same way that anxiety can lead to depression, certain aspects of depression cause a person to have anxiety. (That’s why people often say that they go "hand-in-hand".)

The unseen danger is when they stem from chemical imbalances and genetic dispositions. My circumstances don't weigh on my feelings of depression and anxiety; frankly, it's the opposite.

Some nights, I used to be able to tackle hours of homework with ease, and others I'd have to miss parts of school the next day because the added stress of studying for one simple quiz or test along with my pre-existing overwhelmed and anxious emotions felt like too much to bear to even function. This eventually turned into a pattern of tremendous effort to complete very simple tasks on a day-to-day basis. It goes beyond the comprehension of an assignment for school or the drive to complete a task or chore. When I cared too much about what I was doing, it felt like I was drowning (think of the Yerkes/Dodson graph). So in order to cope, I stopped letting myself care at all.

You can reach a point of such deep depression, such indifference about your life, that you really don't care what happens to you. You begin to stop taking care of yourself.

It starts off slowly. Maybe one night you're too tired to brush your teeth. Then the clothes begin to pile up, neglected on the floor. Picking them up takes too much energy. Then the work keeps coming. Responsibilities become very overwhelming very quickly. Not enough motivation to face them. Then habits change. The grades start to slip. What’s the point? Then you feel even less in control. The anxiety builds. But you can't find the energy to do anything about it. Then relationships start to fade. Alienation from friends and family. So much focus is put on survival and self-protection, that there isn't any left for others. Now that cozy fog that's been surrounding your thoughts in a void is immersed. You’re so dissociated from reality, that you have no sense of anything anymore. You look in the mirror and have no idea who is staring back at you, and you don't even care. No matter how much you want to care, it's too far gone. You are empty.

Imagine haunting your house while you're still alive. Passing through your day to day activities, all those faces passing you by, and you're invisible. None of them notice how you're crying out on the inside: "Why can't you see me? I'm drowning! Somebody help me!"

Because, of course, depression IS a ghost. Haunting every aspect of your life. Seeping into every little thing you do all day. Creeping into every thought, every action, and every relationship. They call it "the silent killer": it’s like a horror movie where you have to watch yourself slowly rot from the inside out.

You can feel depressed to the point that renders physical symptoms. It hurts to move, your appetite is shot, your whole torso is in knots. Your only defense is to sleep the pain away.

I used to never be able to even begin to understand what drove people to self harm, but I think I have found the answer: that even for just a moment, you are in control of what you are feeling. These persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, despair, never seem to fade. Not for long enough, at least. So you slit your wrists or thighs or wherever is the least noticeable or feels "right", to generate a distraction. No longer are you focused on those feelings, because it's a natural reaction that the physical pain becomes the focus in your mind, and it stops whenever you let it. In that moment, pain stops. The desperation is quenched for that moment. No matter how short, how painful, how scarring.

A certain technique allows these scars to eventually fade, but I still carry those wounds in a heavy heart. I don't quite remember a lot of things that happened to me because I either blocked out those memories or was living in complete fog, but I remember how they felt. I remember trying to slash my wrists in a high school bathroom stall with a bobby pin on Leap Day. I remember desperation like I've never felt when I felt so trapped by the circumstances of my home life that I could barely breathe, using every ounce of my energy not to rip apart my bed sheets or punch a hole in my wall. I remember sobbing over my toilet one night in August, begging God to let me throw up so I wouldn't have to go to something as harmless as a marching band rehearsal the next day, and how it was my favorite place to be and my favorite thing to do just a couple of years before. Before all this happened, of course. How difficult it was some days to drive to my destination instead of acting on the urge inside of me that wanted to just drive straight into a brick wall and get it over with. How surreal it was after so much speculation to be finally holding a bottle of pills in one hand, and writing a suicide note in the other.

But the memory that feels the most pungent is that overbearing cloud of dread that walked the halls after school with me every day. I was wholly perfused with the bitter greyness that took over my body; the dismal pit in my torso that ran all the way through my toes and my fingertips. Most of the time, it was there for no reason at all, other than making it through another day.

Because that's the prominent theme here, isn't it? Desperation. Living in survival mode.

But in this state, am I really even living?

It pains me to write all of this, because even though I've learned through my experiences, I can't help but feel that I've lost my youth to depression and anxiety. My chest grows heavy when remember how I've had to live like this for so, so, long. To think of those "carefree" teenage and childhood years that I'll never be able to get back.

I used to be someone with great potential. I was smart. I was talented. around middle school, my anxiety got the best of my study habits and started to affect my work habits, which, I can assure you, has been on a SHARP decline ever since. I came into high school winning first chair French horn in band right off the bat. That audition was one of the last things I ever played to my full potential. I think of the musician I could be if I never had to deal with this. The titles. The opportunities. How, this year, I no longer had it in me to even get out of bed and practice for things that used to mean the world to me. I mean, hell, if I'd kept up with music the way I did before high school, I might even be on my way to Julliard right now.

Posted on May 31, 2017 .

The Difference : Some Words on Depression and Anxiety (Part 1)

Getting stressed out about homework.

Feeling tired during the school day.

Drama with friends and fighting with your parents.

Those pesky hormones. All things that we think of as completely typical, minuscule, "teenager issues".

Bursting out in tears, and not because of too much homework, but because no matter how badly the work needs to get done or how much you may want to do it, the idea of beginning makes you feel so anxious that it's as if you're drowning. You can't even bring yourself to pick up a pencil.

Going through the day in "survival mode". All of your energy is channeled into making it to the end of the day, so even though you may not have done much or anything at all in school or at work, you feel completely drained by the time you get home.

Constant paranoia in your relationships with even your closest friends that they don't REALLY care about you. That it's all some big sham, even if they try to convince you otherwise.

Sobbing on the bathroom floor, tearing clothes, and attempting to shred your own skin because they just don't want to understand.

This is the difference.

As high schoolers of the 21st century, we face challenges which didn't exist in former generations. Social media its infinite impact. The expectations, competition, and financial aspect of college constantly looming over us. A job market that's already nearly impossible to get into, and will only grow more competitive by the time we are ready to go out and pursue what we so arduously put massive amounts of time and work into. Many factors contribute to what may be the most stressed-out generation of high schoolers yet.

But the thing is, that kind of stress on our shoulders over grades or preparation for our future is, for the most part, related circumstantially.

I guess what I want to stress here is the difference between a mentally ill person and a mentally healthy or "normal" person is that a healthy person's burdens come with what obstacles they face, while a depressed or anxious person can feel that same way, if not worse, when almost nothing or nothing at all is wrong.

I don't want to sound as if I think I or anyone else in my shoes has it "worse" than somebody who doesn't experience these feelings. My goal here is to simply explain what it's really like for a mentally ill person to go through life; especially in high school.

Let's first talk about the difference between stress and anxiety. I’m going to start off by recognizing that stress is NOT easy to deal with. I marvel at the kids who are able to juggle good grades in multiple AP classes on top of their extracirriculars and other responsibilities. Every day, we all see, (and probably know very well personally), the long term effects of stress all around us. There are even serious health issues that can arise due to too much stress; it's a very real thing that most everybody experiences in their day to day life.

Stress is our body's natural response to difficult tasks or situations. It’s something that (when managed well) generally disappears in a day or two; a come-and-go feeling that relies on the weight of a circumstance. While it is a recurring feeling, as soon as that deadline or event passes, the pressure is off.

Now imagine experiencing those same feelings, but from completely ordinary activities throughout the day or from a minor inconvenience. That’s what anxiety is: a persistent strain that exists regardless of circumstance.

Your body is responding to irrational thoughts through what are called "cognitive distortions". Some of these include: jumping to conclusions (or assuming you can "read someone's mind" and know what they are thinking / feeling about you), catastrophizing (expecting the worst to happen OR exaggerating a personal failure), "filtering" out positives and only reflecting on negatives, etc. If you'd like to read more about cognitive distortions, click here for a brief description of the different types and what they can look like.

And for the science people, click here for some of the chemical breakdown behind anxiety.

Sure, everybody experiences feelings of anxiety at some points, but there's something called "generalized anxiety disorder" (which is usually what people are talking about when they says they "have anxiety"). This means that a person generates feelings of anxiety at an unhealthy rate, even in menial, everyday settings.

This can look like many things. Everybody deals with anxiety differently - some people feel nervous, some get angry because they feel out of control in a situation, some have to keep moving and others get very tense. There countless other habits that people have which may seem a little odd on the outside, but make sense once you understand their feelings happening inside.

That being said, "stress" means an entirely different thing to a person who already exists with a high amount of anxiety.

This is the Yerkes/Dodson "Inverse U" graph, which represents how anxiety interferes with success. The minimal bottom left point in the graph, which is complete indifference towards the task at hand, yields no motivation and therefore no progress. The left side of the curve produces more and more success as the person's drive increases, until it approaches the very top. At the top is the best type of initiative we can have: caring the healthiest amount about a task. Once we get past that point; though, our success begins to plummet. We have TOO much stress, worry TOO much, therefore the result is not longer as productive. It's not because someone is lazy or making excuses for themselves, but because they have to deal with a higher amount of anxiety and fight harder in order to yield the same outcomes as a "normal" person can.

You know when you have SO much to do that you're too stressed to even begin, so you give in and turn on Netflix? Well, the reason an anxious appears "lazy" to some is because they reach this amount of anxiety and give in much sooner than a "normal" person would. They land on the right half of the curve, while the same circumstances may only cause someone else enough stress to end up further left.

It’s not an issue of completing the work, rather the thoughts about the work. Like, "if I can't get this concept am I gonna fail the test? Am I going to fall behind in this class beyond repair? What if my work continues like this through college? How can I ever be successful like that?" The mind spirals down that rabbit hole of worry. Soon enough, it's so clouded with these type of thoughts, whatever the concerns may be, however small or irrational, that the brain is physically unable function at an adequate level, sometimes too anxious to even begin.

Aside from GAD, there are other branches of anxiety disorders: obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and my old friend, panic disorder.

(To be continued)

Posted on May 24, 2017 .

Feel good about yourself

I’ve always felt self-conscious about my body.

You hear the term “skinny-shaming” and think, “there’s no way someone is being ridiculed for how small they are”. But think about it, in both real life and in movies you hear people being called “small fry” or “shrimp”. For me, it’s about the size of my middle, not my height.

Going to a private school, I wore uniforms every day for 12 out of 13 years there. Give or take a few weeks for out of uniform days across that period. Having a uniform meant I didn’t have to really learn how to dress my body or what shape my body would be. My closet was significantly emptier than friends who went to a public school. I had my uniforms, dresses for going to the theater or out to dinner or church, pants for the same, and a lot of t-shirts and shorts. Of course there’s a little more than just that, but I don’t think I would describe it as a full wardrobe. I didn’t ever learn what the shape of my body was or what fit me best or why; I didn’t quite learn to accept or know my body.

Wearing that uniform was my security. It was boxy on everyone; for the longest time they were a heavy wool/polyester navy jumper. My freshman year of high school we changed to a lighter plaid fabric for the jumpers, and they were definitely more form fitting and feminine-cut. As I grew vertically I didn’t grow much horizontally. My mom was a smaller lady, my sister is small too, so was my mom’s grandmother. I was used to the size of my body. But once we switched to those new jumpers, we were all growing differently and more noticeably. A few friends would comment on the size of my waist. “You look anorexic. Are you anorexic? Eat, Madelon, eat!” Well, I was eating. I was always eating. However, I wasn’t eating full meals, I was eating snacks periodically throughout the day. A granola bar between classes, a “full” lunch at the cafeteria, another granola bar before sports practice, a “dinner” with mom at home. Small portions, but I would eat throughout the day.

 

For a long time in Fort Worth, teenagers and the college girls have been wearing t-shirts that are a size too large for their body. I was wearing large t-shirts when my body was barely a medium. The reasonings you’d hear were always along the lines of “it’s comfortable.” It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I really realized I wasn’t wearing these large t-shirts because of that reason. Don’t get me wrong, it was comfortable, but just as I had bought a jumper for high school that was a size too large, I bought t-shirts that were too large. All to hide the smallness of my waist. I was hiding to avoid the “are you eating enough?” questions or the comments like “man I wish I was your size.”

I decided I had enough by sophomore year of college. I really saw myself in a mirror for the first time and had the revelation that it really looked like I was wearing a bag on my body. My body did look like I wasn’t eating enough in comparison to how large this t-shirt that enveloped me was. I realized my self-worth that I hadn’t before. I was starting to get comfortable in my own skin and accept myself for who I was.

I had spent the majority of high school accepting myself for who I was psychologically that I didn’t pay attention to my outer self. Of course I was self conscious of acne, but I knew that was normal, teenage stuff. I had been at the Excel center here in Fort Worth for two or three weeks of my senior year of high school working on who I was mentally and getting my depression in check. I had been posting in this social hub of mental wellness I created since I left the Excel center, trying to help others be confident in themselves.

 

Every Christmas, my parents gave my sister and I three gifts on Christmas Eve after we would get come from the 11:00 service at church. Three gifts because that’s what Jesus got. But instead of gold, frankincense and myrrh, we received an ornament, pajamas and a book. The Christmas of my senior year, my mom gave me a book titled You’re Already Amazing: Embracing Who You Are, Becoming All God Created You to Be by Holley Gerth. This book made me realize that my insecurities with myself were definitely showing. Of course your mom knows you better than anyone, but it made me really look at myself and think about how I was treating myself. A change was needed. I stopped wearing these oversized t-shirts because all along I had been lying to myself about why I was wearing them to cover up an underlying problem. It was a long time coming, but it really took some introspection and learning about myself to realize how long it had been happening.

Feel good about yourself. Learn about yourself. Spend time with yourself. The more you learn about yourself, the better you’ll be able to take care of yourself.

Madelon.png
Posted on May 11, 2017 .

Jordan Made Everything Better

To commemorate Jordan's life 5 years after her death, we have been posting a series of blogs every day for the past few days. This 11th piece was written by Adam, Jordan's uncle. 

Every Thanksgiving we organize activities (like sudoku sprints and the cousins catastrophe circus), and if there is no snow, touch football. Jordan was always a key organizational force and leader of activities.

I remember one Thanksgiving when the Cirincione's were in Boston celebrating at cousin Vinny's, so we invited them to Krasnow field in Newton, for an epic battle.  Jordan kicked us into gear with headbands, armbands and a fight song, and we lined up, chanting along the driveway like warriors as our cousins rolled in. It was awesome.

A simple example but my point is this - Jordan made everything better.

- Adam Grossman

Posted on April 4, 2017 .

j

To commemorate Jordan's life 5 years after her death, we have been posting a series of blogs every day for the past few days. This 10th piece was written by Will, Jordan's friend. 

jordan. i can’t believe it’s been five years. the other night candice asked me what gift i felt you had given me. i told her, but i realized that i have never told you. and i want to tell you.

i spent almost every night sleeping in candice’s bed the month after you died. in the mornings i would walk downstairs and find strangers cooking breakfast in the kitchen. people i didn’t know planting seeds in the garden. seeds you planted, still growing today. some strangers offered words that i still carry with me today, like the ones exchanged at your memorial. that place where i finally saw your tree, clear as day. other acts were wordless. unspoken sentiments that reverberated in our souls. 

this time reminded me of when i was seventeen and my family and i got lost in switzerland. an older woman named judy took a train across the country to help us get where we were going. she told us that she loved americans because her husband was american, that they spent some of the best years of her life with him so she always wanted to give back to americans when she could. it was then i decided to get that j tattooed on my arm, to always be reminded of this time. 

the day after graduation, i left our friends and moved to new york. in those months that followed i felt you everywhere. every sunny day. every smile on a stranger’s face. you were with me wherever i went. then one day, on your next birthday, i was talking to candice and poonam on the phone. candice relayed a theory she had heard on her travels about how we must see each other as teachers, and each act a lesson. that your dying too was a lesson for each of us, even if we did not understand it yet. immediately i thought of those seeds. the letter j. 

i stopped feeling you after that. i did not feel you in the sunny days, nor the strangers on the street. you were gone. the only place i could properly process this was in a small yoga studio on north sixth street in brooklyn. at the end of every class my teacher played a song that spoke of you. i cried every time it played. at my last practice there, you came to me in a vision. i saw you dancing, with ranges of mountains around you, and a vast night sky of stars. you were laughing, and you told me that you were okay. i cried and cried on the wooden floor. that was the last time i saw you. shortly after, my studio closed. i never did find out the name of that song, though i would chase it in studios around new york for years.

at the beginning of this year, i found myself in a time of unprecedented anxiety. everything was changing, time passing so quickly, and i was paralyzed by constant fear. fear of death. a fear i later realized was rooted in not feeling that i was living my life the way i wanted to. so i decided to go on a yoga retreat in guatemala. with thirteen people, most of whom i had never met. it was the scariest thing i have ever done, but something told me that i needed to go. at the end of my first practice on our trip, in this place of impossible beauty, i lay my head down on the mat, and it finally happened. i heard your song. my heart immediately began to swell. i felt you again. i felt you everywhere on that trip, finding myself being taken care of by strangers once again—strangers who helped me overcome my fears. i found myself surrounded by a view of mountains and a starry night sky—the same as in my last vision of you.

i do not believe that everything happens for a reason. i do not believe you had to die. but, as ajooni put it so well, i do believe that we can find reason in everything that happens. i believe that this is why we are here. to find the lessons. to find faith. and that’s what you gave me, jordan: you gave me faith. faith in people. in the power we have to heal. the capacity to love unconditionally, even those we have never met. the strength that comes with knowing that wherever we go, we will always be taken care of. most of all, you gave me the understanding that we are all just teachers and students. here to learn. even from the most difficult events life has to offer. it’s a lesson i’ve learned again and again in these years since you left us. i suspect it’s one i will be learning for the rest of my life. 

- Will Defebaugh

Posted on April 3, 2017 .

El Girasol

To commemorate Jordan's life 5 years after her death, we have been posting a series of blogs every day for the past few days. This 9th piece was written by Claire, Jordan's friend. 

"El Girasol" means sunflower in Spanish. Jordan & I talked about how much we loved that word because, translated literally, it means "turn toward the sun." We talked about trying to find the beauty in the mundane, focusing on the things in our lives that gave us hope and strength. Every time someone asks me about the tattoo on my foot, I think of her. I think about whether I have time to explain what it means, and whether I want to. Some days it's easier just to say it means sunflower and allow myself to be written off as a girl with a dumb tattoo. Other days I take the time to explain that it's for her.

As much as I hate to admit it, Jordan's death has become the first thing I think of when I think of her. Those first few minutes after finding out what happened remain as vivid in my memory as ever, and I still feel sick every time I think back to that day five years ago. One of the ways I've found meaning in this experience has been by learning more about suicide & doing my best to educate those around me. But today I don't want to think about her suicide. I want to think about Jordan. Because I still miss her, and it feels good to look back & remember my friend. Over the last few days of working on this post, I've been going through old photos, videos, gchats, and voicemails. These are the things I remember about Jordan:

1. Jordan & I talked about snacks. A lot.

  • 11:12 AM Jordan: ooh wowie. where?
  •  me: 4154 LSA
  •   wanna go w/ me? THERE ARE SNACKS
  • 11:13 AM Jordan: well, i was gonna say no, but now i say hell yeah
  •   also, idealist grad school fair
  •   onnn..
  • 11:14 AM me: they're hammering in the kitchen
  •  Jordan: get in on that action, baby
  •   mon oct 3 from 5 to 8
  •   in the union
  •   i'll tell you again when it's closer if you wanna come
  •   THERE MIGHT BE SNACKS
  • 11:15 AM me: yes i wanna come :)
  •   absoFRUITLY
  • 11:16 AM Jordan: bueno Bueno

2. Jordan exuded this calm, subtle confidence that I always admired. I listen to the recording of "Sea of Love" she & I made in the BunDun living room one afternoon, and there's such a wisdom and gravitas in her voice. I remember what it felt like to be around her when I listen to that song. Like swimming in a cup of hot chocolate (she would've liked that analogy!)  

 

 

 

3. Jordan was a good friend, and a good roommate. She always found loving & hilarious ways to remind us about our roommate responsibilities.

Exhibit A:

4. I miss her. I always will. Jordan taught me what it means to be brave, to care deeply & relentlessly, even when it hurts. She taught me about yoga, how to make pickles, and about the wonders of marshmallow fluff. I feel lucky to have known her. I'm so proud of the work that her friends and family have done in the wake of her death to destigmatize mental illness & suicide & fund depression research. And I feel confident that she left an impact on the world. She certainly left an impact on me.

-Claire Baker

Posted on April 3, 2017 .

To commemorate Jordan's life 5 years after her death, we have been posting a series of blogs every day for the past few days. This 8th piece was written by Poonam, Jordan's friend. 

When I read through the utterly beautiful words written by everyone in memory of Jordan, all thoughts and pre-formulated stories leave my body, and I’m entirely filled with complex, often contradictory and nameless emotions. 

Gravity feels heavier and I am dense and raw and a blackhole when I let myself truly go back to the day 5 years ago when Jordan died. Opening the door to the BunDun, hearing Stephanie scream (scream isn’t the right word) as she ran down the stairs after getting the call from Jordan’s Mom, running up the stairs, and all our bodies melting together, one person’s tears and anguish indistinct from another’s, piling on the floor outside Candice and Ajooni’s rooms, reaching for each other and a version of reality that no longer existed, where Jordan was alive. The intensity is so acute, that I don’t often let myself feel this, though the gravity of Jordan is always with me.

Even this week, I allowed my life to fill with mundane crap that “HAS TO GET DONE” – but the truth is, I sometimes avoid the intensity, and I’m learning to stretch my capacity to feel and be with what’s there. 

This teaching has been one of the most precious gifts of my life, and I have Jordan and all of you who love so deeply to thank. In her life, Jordan expanded my ability to feel joy, connection, and love, and in her death, Jordan expanded my ability to feel joy, connection, and love. I’ve been crying for the last decade, either from laughing so hard I also pee my pants, or from deep sadness (and everything in between) – Jordan has taught me that life is whole and to experience the pinnacle of exaltation requires feeling it all.  

I am a rich woman, covered in jewels of people I love – dead and living. It’s so damn easy to forget this sometimes.

Ajooni and I saw a 5 hour opera shortly after Jordan died. Einstein on the Beach. I think of this line from it often, if not every day:

Everything must end, except my love for you.

- Poonam Dagli

This was the morning after one of our epic BunDun parties. I licked her face :p

This was the morning after one of our epic BunDun parties. I licked her face :p

Posted on April 1, 2017 .

Poem as Raft / Texting the Ether

To commemorate Jordan's life 5 years after her death, we have been posting a series of blogs every day for the past few days. This 7th piece was written by Dyar, Jordan's friend. 

A few months after Jordan’s death I found this poem, December 4th, by Anne Sexton. Suspended as I was, in a kind of numb stasis, submerged a few feet underwater in the silty depths which constituted my resulting depression, this poem, like a harpoon, pierced right through me and yanked me to the surface, tears and toxins billowing out around me. I could breathe again.

December 4th

And where did we meet?
Was it in London on Carnaby Street?
Was it in Paris on the Left Bank?
That there that I can thank?

No. It was Harvard Square
at the kiosk with both of us crying.
I can thank that there—
the day Jack Kennedy was dying.

And one hour later he was dead.
The brains fell out of his dazzling head.
And we cried and drank our whiskey straight
and the world remembers the date, the date.

And we both wrote poems we couldn’t write
and cried together the whole long night
and fell in love with a delicate breath
on the eve that great men call for death.

-Anne Sexton

Sifting through all the fantastic memories and experiences together for their origin; personifying and actually thanking a place for containing the beginning of your lives together; finding comfort in witnessing a bit of a companion’s darkness that maybe mirrors your own…I could go on and on about how this poem spoke to me. I came across it haphazardly, flipping to a random page in Sexton’s Complete Poems, yet it became for me a mantra and a life raft which I clung to, an arrangement of words that contained within it the full, tumultuous range of sadness and joy which flooded me when thinking of her, when before I had been unable to create that for myself.

We were never romantic, but I loved Jordan, and it was after high school especially that our relationship came to mean so much more to me. Wherein, sadly, many of my other close friendships among my high school class faded away, Jordan and I joined forces many winter, spring, and summer breaks for wild escapades to Austin for New Years, to a beach house on the coast for a late summer week, or traipsing giddily around our very own hometown suburb like we were lighter than air.

In these times I saw a comforting equal, someone also from my home now growing up just as fast and turbulent as me, equally with a whole set of new, completely different friends we couldn’t imagine meeting just years ago. And equally, I saw someone with new burdens, or shadows about them at times. The handful of direct, cathartic discussions we had about the new things troubling and shaming us during this period of growth were vital to my then mental health. And knowing that we could talk together about the depression we sometimes felt, and how comforting it was for me to do so, makes it all the harder to know, during the last time I saw Jordan, only a couple weeks before she took her life, that she was so consumed by and lost in the disease that she couldn’t reveal to me the truth of why she was home early from school that semester.

At the end of that difficult year I went to a New Year’s party at a friend’s cabin on some land in the country, and was pleasantly surprised to find that Matt, Jordan’s little brother, had come as well. Late that night, well after the clock had struck midnight ringing in the new year, I was sitting alone off to the side on the high porch overlooking the property, and I watched Matt having fun with his friends, in that moment seemingly as giddy and silly and carefree as any college kid surrounded by his buds, and I missed Jordan so intensely then that I (fueled a bit perhaps by alcohol) called her number on my cell phone.

I heard some strange beeps, a digital hesitation of sorts, and then a ringing, as if the call were going through. It shocked me, sent my pulse racing, but I quickly realized it was different than the standard ringback tone. It was a slightly higher tone, I think, at longer intervals. Must have been some weird middle ground between the phone losing service and the number being deactivated, I never investigated further. It went on and on. I sat there, I don’t know how long, just letting this eerie ringback hum go and go and go. For some reason it was comforting. Like a simultaneous confirmation that she was truly gone but that I had really reached out to her right then. After hanging up whenever I did, I sent her phone number some texts as well. I texted that Matt was being silly and that she’d have loved it. And I texted her a few memorized lines from the poem above. This was the first Jo grief session of mine after which I felt...pretty ok.

- Dyar Bentz, Program Director of Light the Trail

(Prom ’08. Wow, look at that dress. Ignore idiot in joke tux.)

(Prom ’08. Wow, look at that dress. Ignore idiot in joke tux.)

Posted on March 31, 2017 .

Her Legacy Lives On

To commemorate Jordan's life 5 years after her death, we have been posting a series of blogs every day for the past few days. This 6th piece was written by Krista, Jordan's friend. 

It’s been 5 years, and I am still at a loss for words. I still don’t know how to talk about what happened 5 years ago and what it’s been like (and is like) to have her missing from my life.  It’s still hard for me to talk about her and what the world lost that day. What I can say is that Jordan taught me so much while she was here (and since she’s been gone) and that I miss her each and every day. She taught me to be creative, to love life and everyone in it, to never apologize for being ambitious, to see the best in people and to make sure I left room in my life for the little things. Jordan and I went to high school together. We were in all the same classes, played basketball together, joined the track team together and were on the same spirit squad that forced us to wear ridiculous red jumpsuits that we couldn’t get enough of because we thought we were just that cool. We grew up together in those 4 years, and I know, without a doubt, she is a huge influence on who I am today.  When I’m having a particularly dark day missing her, it brings me comfort to remember all the sleepovers, pool parties, basketball tournaments and all of the ridiculous, silly memories we had together.

Unfortunately, I can't help but feel that I took our 7 years of friendship for granted, and it’s one of my biggest regrets.  I want nothing more than just a little more time with her. I had planned on having her in my life forever. I never doubted that we’d travel the world together, be in each other's weddings and make 100,000 more memories together.  After high school, we talked less as we both went off to college. We’d still get together on college breaks without missing a beat, but we lost touch with each other’s day-to-day lives.  Today, it's painful to think about all the things that I missed and all the times I should have been there to laugh, cry, and celebrate with her. She came to visit me in college, but she passed before I had the chance to visit her at Michigan. However, I did get the chance to visit after the funeral and had the opportunity to meet her amazing family of friends at school. They welcomed me, a complete stranger, with nothing but unconditional love. I left Michigan incredibly sad, but overwhelmingly inspired.  Jordan was still connecting and bringing people together in ways I couldn’t imagine. Her love and spirit had spread like wildfire amongst her friends, and I knew she’d been living with and been cared for by the best people imaginable. But I still regret not being there sooner and getting a little more time to live in her new world.  While our time with her was cut short, she left a legacy that none of us will forget. She loved harder than anyone I’ve ever known. Everyone who had the privilege of meeting Jordan knows what a force she was. Her legacy lives in all of us. She taught all of us how to love a little harder and laugh a little more. To bear witness to the incredible person she was, all you need to do is meet her family, friends and all of the people in her life.  She left her mark on each us, each one unique, vivid and bright.

While I don’t always know what to say about Jordan’s departure, I know I’ll always feel her love (which I’ll cling to forever). And I’m blessed to witness it in each of these posts and in her family and friends. Even as Jordan was suffering with depression she was focused on spreading love and helping others. So I’ll end by sharing something she wrote shortly before she passed. I read it everyday for months after she passed because it reminded me so much of who she was (smart, inspiring, goofy, selfless) and how much love she had to spread.

I want to write a children’s book about depression. There will be brain-sweeping elves involved. There will be golden rings of light. There will be mind horses, little ones, and there will be black gook. It is a sticky, stagnant gook. A gook that is not easily de-gooked. But thanks to Persistence, Perseverance, Positivity, People who love us it will be peeled away to reveal the pure plenty of love and light which exists in life. (Gook will always be gook, but it will not always be grande).

Quote by Jordan Harris

Post by Krista Whitaker

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Posted on March 31, 2017 .

Remembering her love

To commemorate Jordan's life 5 years after her death, we have been posting a series of blogs every day for the past few days. This 5th piece was written by Stephanie, Jordan's friend. 

It's hard for me to separate my "college experience" at the University of Michigan from my "Jordan experience". Jordan was my closest friend, confidant, ally, and roommate for a very wild four years of my life. Granted, I think if you throw 7 girls in a house, it probably always ends up wild in some form or another.

Now, instead of looking back at my college years as that wild, crazy time of life where I shared a throw-up bucket with Poonam and watched Ajooni use her waste-long hair to create a Hagrid beard and flew high in the sky on the legs of Candice as a human airplane in the law quad and watched Jordan create questionably sanitary sangria in a giant tub for a house party... I instead jump to the dark times. The head-in-the-sand let's-forget-about-this times. The crying on the floor times and the how is this happening times and the oh my god, was she saying goodbye to me when she said that times.

There is some sort of interesting human phenomenon where we tend to vaguely remember all the goodness in our lives and hone in on the bad stuff like a black dot on an otherwise pristinely white page. Even as a resident now, if an attending physician gives me 19 good comments and 1 bad one, you better believe I tuned out the 19 good things. Five years after Jordan died I am more aware of this phenomenon than ever before. Now that the initial stabbing pain is gone and more of a dull aching throb has set in, I strive SO hard to remember all of the good things with Jordan. I want the simple joyous moments. I even want the simple run of the mill moments, like telling Jordan to pick up her clothes for the twenty zillionth time and her laughing and shrugging and probably doing it later but maybe not. I want the back massage memories, the strumming the guitar memories, the "are we really doing tequila tonight" memories. But somehow, when I close my eyes, I go back to that same day.

My family always told me I had a pretty lousy memory. There are whole family vacations we took when I was in middle school that I apparently just wasn't mentally present for (turns out, I have been to St. Louis!).  Even now almost a year out of medical school I am amazed by the amount that I used to know just a few years ago that I have to frantically look up now. That being said, when it comes to Jordan's death and the events surrounding it, I have a picture-perfect, movie-esque memory. I can easily replay every earth shattering moment from the phone call from Jordan's mother, running downstairs to Candice's room, and the absolute mayhem that followed. I remember people taking turns sitting in Jordan's room absorbing her ambience. I remember at first feeling like a ghost had come to live with me, then remembering that Jordan was gone and running into her closet to just smell her again. The rush to get flights to Texas, the desire to make a eulogy worth Jordan's beauty but the realization of the utter impossibility of that task. The feeling of looking Jordan's mother in the eye for the first time. And the second time. And the third time after Jordan's death. Seeing Jordan's body, so strangely alive appearing in the casket. All of it feels like yesterday.

But it was five years ago. FIVE YEARS! Candice said to me recently (and in her blog post) that Jordan has been dead longer than we knew her alive. For some reason that concept seems wrong to me. Jordan is more than a person I knew and loved, she is a large chapter in my life that shaped me into who I am today. The way my memory distorts the past, it seems like Jordan is less of a person and more of a horrible tragedy in my life- and I don't like that distorted view. I am working hard to change my memory, sharpen it, make it reflect what I know was the truth- that Jordan shaped me into who I am because of the four years that I knew her, not because she died.

So now, when I close my eyes and think about Jordan, I am working on actively taking my mind away from the end of senior year and backwards to other moments. I can picture Jordan and her mom decorating her wall after she moved in at welcome week (my snap judgment was that I thought she looked pretty and therefore probably popular and therefore we probably wouldn't be friends). I can picture exploring Main Street in Ann Arbor for the first time with Jordan and Candice- we went into a small trinkets shop and they were both super in to the tea cups and other very hippy items, and I thought maybe I'm not cool enough for these people. I remember being made fun of for ordering fries at a vegan restaurant because it was the only thing on the menu I knew I would eat. I remember moving in to our first shared dorm together sophomore year in East quad and deciding we wanted beds side by side because bunk beds seemed weird and isolating. I remember her favorite Pandora station, the invention of "shower shots" (yes, even in the group showers in the dorms, we made it work). Harmonizing to the lion king. Many wogs (walk/jogs) around campus contemplating love and life. Jordan's first real snowfall. Sledding on cafeteria trays. Forcing myself to try kale then promising her I would never eat kale again. Lying on the sand staring at the starry sky in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Dancing. Singing. Loving.

It's a work in progress, but my memory is coming along. I don't remember what we talked about on those long jogs in the gardens, but I do remember our last conversation in person about what I thought her funeral might look like. Jordan had flown back to Ann Arbor from Texas during our last semester of school (she had taken a semester off because of her depression) for my 22nd birthday celebration. After a weekend of celebrating, I calmly drove her to the airport completely wrapped up in my own life and oblivious that this would be the last time I would see her alive. After talking about her upcoming summer plans to return to school and finish up her degree and mindless chatter about the weekend, she turned to me and asked about her funeral, and asked me point blank what I thought her funeral would be like. I told her that she would be 95 and that we would have co-caskets and our friends and family members would be drinking vodka cranberries over our graves toasting our long and happy lives. She laughed. I told her that she would have friends lined up around the block of the funeral home waiting to come in and pay their respects. I told her that of anyone else I knew, she had more friends and people that loved her than I had ever seen. A lot of what I told her was true.  I may not fully remember how it felt to hug her, but I am trying to remember how it felt to be loved by her... and I think it's working. Five years later, and I think it's finally working.

- Stephanie Garbarino

Posted on March 30, 2017 .

Warped time

To commemorate Jordan's life 5 years after her death, we have been posting a series of blogs every day for the past few days. This 4th piece was written by Candice, Jordan's friend. 

I’ve never ventured into writing something personal for this blog, like others bravely have. I hadn’t even thought about it until I realized this year would mark five years since Jordan died. 

Jordan is clearly the spark for the foundation, as she was in life. She was bright and funny and punny beyond belief. She was/is my favorite person. Tenses are a funny thing now. 

For a bit of context, Jordan was my college friend, housemate, and mutually-dubbed “platonic soulmate” - we thought that if we were in a romantic relationship as fantastic as our friendship, we could be sure we’d found "the one." 

At my only NYC meeting for survivors of suicide (people who have lost someone they love to suicide), one woman who had lost her son burst into tears admitting that she feels at fault. She spent her life as a social worker, keeping others mentally healthy, but she was unable to see the pain her son was going through. I mentioned this weird thing that had been happening with me since Jordan died. I’ve started to imagine that Jordan never existed - that maybe she was just a figment of my imagination. A woman in the group who had lost her husband of 30+ years looked up at me and said that she’d felt the same way but hadn’t put it in words before. 

I don’t think I consciously thought suicide was an option for Jordan, mostly because she told me years before her depression took over how deeply a child's death had and would effect her parents. It was also a terrifying thought my conscious mind would rather keep far away. When her mom called us to ask if we’d known where she was and I re-read her last text to me that I (annoyingly still) received a couple hours after she sent it due to a basement classroom, I suddenly knew that she’d attempted suicide and all I could hope was that it just didn’t work. And in the flurry of emotions when I found out, I remember feeling confused and frustrated that I couldn’t turn back time just a few hours. 

Time is weird. Jordan has been dead longer than I knew her alive. 5 years feels like 50 years (a timeframe I don’t even know) and it feels like 5 days. 

5 years after Jordan took her own life, I miss her. 5 years after Jordan took her own life, I’m mad that we’re not living together in New York like we’d talked about, jointly experiencing the absurd, gross and magical things this city has to offer wide-eyed 20-something-year-olds. I’m mad that I don’t get to be the godmother to any of the 3-5 kids she would have liked to have. I’m mad that she’s the only person I know who would spontaneously cook up these “miracle” Japanese noodles that are only made out of digestible fiber and think they tasted OK enough to eat (with the rightly spiced sauces, of course). I’m mad because so many good things have been born because of Jordan and continue to be born because of her, but she will never see them (from this perspective, at least). 5 years after Jordan took her own life, I’m semi-relieved that I can still find the playfulness and humor she so delightfully and effortlessly pulled out of me. 5 years after Jordan took her own life, I really, so deeply wish she was sitting right here, next to me, making me laugh-cry with the story of whatever hilarious shenanigan she’d gotten herself into this time.

One of our other good friends mentioned that I was a thick pillar of sadness in the weeks after Jordan died. I think my grief looks more like a purse I can carry now and sometimes even forget I have on! Until I remember it and its ripple effects. The shift feels like this beautiful illustration by Mari Andrew.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQZ_hhWg13q/?taken-by=bymariandrew&hl=en

Time becomes even more distorted when I can still look back at Facebook messages and emails we wrote to each other. They became one sided after she died. I wrote this on her Facebook wall, knowing there'd be no response:

dearest dear my dear jordan, 
poonam says we should let your spirit fly instead of holding on so tight. and ajooni says we should be so thankful for you. and steph says we should associate your name with all the unconditional love and happiness and life and smiles and laughs in the world. and will says we should feel. and i love you i love you i love you. and i’ll try. 
love,
cando

It holds true today. I’m still trying 5 days / 5 years / 50 years later.

-Candice Ammori 

Posted on March 30, 2017 .

Shifting Priorities

To commemorate Jordan's life 5 years after her death, we have been posting a series of blogs every day for the past few days. This 3rd piece was written by Matthew, Jordan's brother. 

It’s amazing how your priorities change when you lose a loved one.

The little, petty things you’ve been holding onto fall out of your head like they weren’t even there. All of those unremitting disagreements become irrelevant. It’s hard to care about couch stains or fantasy football when you’ve just lost one of the most important people in the world to you.

And yet, everyone handles tragedy in a different way. Some become closed off, while others need to surround themselves with family. Some cry uncontrollably, others are overflowing with rage. Everyone has their own painful snowflake of a reaction, but there’s one emotion that tends to rear its ugly head when you lose someone in as sudden and devastating a way as suicide, and that’s guilt. 

There was nothing you could have done about it.”
“You did everything you could.”
“It’s not your fault.

We hear these phrases over and over. We repeat them to ourselves to help them sink in. But no matter what, on some level, we blame ourselves for not doing more. The guilt eats away at you slowly, and coming to terms with the fact that you couldn’t have done anything to prevent what happened, that depression is a terrible monster that your loved one couldn’t escape, is an incredibly difficult thing to do. 

But once you are able to accept this, your mindset starts to shift a little. 

It’s still okay to be sad, but the sadness will start to make your memories of your loved one that much happier. You can get mad about your loss, but that anger can be harnessed to motivate you to help those who are still suffering. Your heart will never be fully recovered, but your loss can make your love for others even stronger. 

I feel like I covered most of the emotional spectrum after we lost Jordan four years ago. The initial sorrow and anger gave way to gratitude for the outpouring of support for my family. Unfortunately, that quickly faded into helplessness as I wondered how I was supposed to move on after this life-altering event. Then came guilt, along with a very real fear that depression might one day envelope me like it did her. The list goes on, but I am thankful for those that helped get me through the lowest point of my life to a state where I am happier, more motivated to help others, and able to love deeper.

 I’m sad that Jordan won’t be there when I get married in three months. But I’m happy that Jordan’s words of wisdom about women led me to the love of my life. I’m happy that, despite going through such a painful experience, it caused me to grow up enough that I am ready to take on the responsibilities of being a husband. 

I’m sad that when Claire and I have kids, they won’t get to meet their Auntie Jo, but I’m happy that someday, I’ll be able to talk to them about mental health and tell them about the meaningful work done in Jordan’s name. Everything Jo did was to help others and bring happiness to the world. It’s only fitting that the work done in her name would have the same mission.

(In the time since I originally wrote this post this past July, I married Claire and think of the things Jordan has taught me, in her life and death alike, daily.)

- Matthew Harris

 

Posted on March 29, 2017 .

Thoughts about Jordan from her Dad

The second post in a series of blogs commemorating the 5 year anniversary of Jordan's death.

On this 5th anniversary of Jordan Elizabeth’s passing I find myself wondering where the time has gone since that very sad day when she left us. In my mind it seems like it was yesterday when our collective hearts were broken and we found ourselves searching for answers as to why something bad like this could happen…. Particularly to such a wonderful, loving and caring human being. Needless to say there are countless questions beyond that which will never be answered, at least not in this life. Our lives on this earth speed by as we get older for some reason, perhaps we tend to load up on way too many issues that clog our minds with information overload. Perhaps this condition of losing track of time gets in the way of us really slowing down and thinking about what’s important.
 
I think of Jordan daily when I wake up, when I’m in the kitchen each morning and I see her picture on the counter, when I get to work and see that same picture on my credenza, when I’m on my bike, when I’m working on JEH Foundation activities, when I’m having dinner, when I see University of Michigan sports teams on TV, when I drive by Richland High School, when I’m with her friends, when I jump in bed at night….. I think of my special girl a lot. Sometimes I think I’m being selfish because those thoughts detract from others in my life who deserve that same attention. To all of those who I care so much about, forgive me if I ever allowed that to happen too much.
 
The hole in my gut is still there, but thankfully has grown smaller over time. The sadness has turned mostly into joy as I think of Jordan times that include…
 
Jordan laughing so hard at the dinner table with her family that milk sprayed out of her nose after she took a gulp, her participating with me at the Falmouth Sprint Triathlon (she beat me of course, but I fixed her flat tire), her riding piggy back as a baby as I was on my all fours, her beautiful black curly hair as a toddler,  her HS valedictorian speech, playing basketball as Captain of the HS team, her crazy times as a Johnny Reb spirit squad member, her throwing the shot put in a HS track meet (she was hysterically terrible), her snowboarding down the hill with all of us in Tahoe and so many more great memories.
 
In the end, Jordan brought joy, comfort and laughter to more people in her 22 years on earth than most folks do in a lifetime and for that I am thankful. She was truly a blessing to many….. I still love her from here to the moon and back a trillion times….and I will forever.
- Tom Harris

Posted on March 28, 2017 .

Optimism > Pessimism

Today marks the 5 year anniversary of Jordan's death. To commemorate her life, we'll post a series of blogs every day for the next few days. This first one was written by Elisha, Jordan's younger sister. 

I think everyone that has gone through some tragic, life-altering event can agree that it had the potential to turn them into a somewhat pessimistic person. For me, it took a while to begin to see the world in a more positive light again. 
 
My older sister, Jordan, suffered from severe depression the last six months of her life and ultimately died by suicide at the age of 22. Today marks the 5 year anniversary of her death and the word ‘Why’ has never seemed to escape my thoughts. Why Jordan? Why me? Why did I have to lose my older sister, my life mentor, my role model, my best friend? Why have my parents, two of the most incredible human beings you will ever meet, been made to suffer through the death of not one, but two children? Why did Jordan, the light of so many people’s lives, have to suffer from such a debilitating mental illness? Why did she have to be so overcome with darkness that her only escape was death? I could go on for hours with these questions that swirl through my mind.
 
I have a dry-erase board hanging on the wall in my apartment that my roommate and I write or draw whatever is inspiring us at any given moment. It can range anywhere from movie quotes and song lyrics, to drawings of Christmas trees and leprechauns. At the start of the year, we listed out our 2017 New Year’s resolutions. Most of mine were your typical cliché resolutions – eat out less, read more books, visit one country I’ve never been to, etc. But there was one that I’ve really been pushing myself to be consistent about, and it reads “Optimism > Pessimism.”
 
I don’t consider myself to be a negative person, and I don’t believe the people who are closest to me would describe me as one either. However, there are some things I can’t help but be negative or mad or sad about after losing my sister. In the last 5 years since Jordan’s death, I’ve thought a lot about the things that I’ll never be able to do again. I also constantly think about what the future looks like for me and one of my immediate thoughts is that Jordan will never be there. I’ve slowly come to realize that these negative thoughts don’t particularly benefit my mental stability. I know for a fact that Jordan would not want me to live my life like this and dwell on these thoughts. She would spin every pessimistic thought that enters my mind and turn it into an optimistic one, that’s just the type of person she was. She always wanted the best for me despite anything she was going through.
 
So, I’ve been trying my best to implement the mantra of “Optimism > Pessimism” into my life, not only when it comes to thoughts of Jordan, but in all aspects of my life. Below are some pessimistic thoughts I’ve had related to Jordan, followed by a more positive outlook, similar to how Jo would have spun them.

  1. She’ll never be able to visit me in whatever city I’m living in (Chicago, currently) and I’ll never visit her in whatever awesome city she might have been living today (Detroit, NYC, Buenos Aires, etc.) -- I’d like to think her incredible sense of adventure rubbed off on me and has given me the courage to travel to places like Cape Town, South Africa by myself or leave my hometown and move to a brand new city. I also like to think that part of what drew me to move to Chicago was a mutual love for the Midwest (Jordan attended the University of Michigan). Or maybe we were both just dying to escape the brutal Texas heat. 
  2. A more obvious thought that has entered my mind and others who have lost a loved one to suicide: is there anything I could have done to prevent this? -- As much as Jordan’s death has pained me and so many others, there has been an enormous amount of good that has resulted from her passing. My family formed the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation two years after her death to help erase the stigma surrounding mental illness and lower the suicide rates in this country. The Foundation has made tremendous progress on helping to prevent more deaths by suicide, including funding a team that helped to intervene on a group of 16 high school students who signed a suicide pact. The Foundation is also currently in the process of planning a cross-country bike ride to educate communities outside of Dallas-Ft. Worth about depression and suicide awareness. (Learn about Light the Trail HERE)
  3. My new friends, my future husband, and my children will never know the loving, silly, encouraging, free-spirited person that Jordan was -- If I’m being honest, there’s not really a positive way to spin this that I can think of. As hard as I try to describe her to people, my descriptions never do justice to the type of person she was.   

The reality of the situation is there are some days where my grief is a black hole that I cannot dig myself out of. My sister is gone and I have come to realize that it’s 100% ok for me to be sad or pissed off about that. There are some thoughts that I am still trying to find a positive outlook on, and I think my search for this positivity is all a part of my grieving process. These thoughts include things like not being able to pick up the phone and call Jordan to talk about all of the current events in our own lives, whether it be talking about the parties we went to the weekend before or obsessing over a new song by Florence + the Machine. We also frequently talked about how we would be each other’s Maid of Honor at our weddings; Jordan won’t be standing by my side on that special day. 

There’s a void in my being that is forever present, an empty hole that only Jordan was able to fill. This emptiness inside me has become less noticeable over the last 5 years, it’s no longer a 50-ton boulder on my shoulders like it once felt like. Time has been a friend and has helped me to heal. Life continues on, even when one of the people most dear to me has left this Earth. Though, I know that Jordan’s spirit is always with me; she has some of the most clever and silly ways of letting me know that. Whether it be a random person walking past me on the sidewalk wearing a University of Michigan hoodie, or driving somewhere with my entire family and seeing her very first car, a 1998 white Toyota Rav-4, turn onto the same street we’re driving on. Signs like these help to keep me a pretty optimistic person.
 
Grief is complicated. Just when I start feeling like myself, it comes out of nowhere and hits me like a high-speed train. But when the world feels like an inescapable darkness, I try my best to dig deep and seek out the light and turn those pessimistic thoughts into optimistic ones. In the words of my wonderful mother, “Life can be tough, but it can also be beautiful.” I’m learning every day how to let more of that beauty in.

- Elisha Harris

Posted on March 27, 2017 .

27 and Single

It's less than three years until I'm 30.I’m at that age where everyone I know is engaged, already married, or at least in serious relationships that are expected to lead to engagement as soon as whatever is holding them back passes. I didn’t date in high school. A friend of mine and I visited the conversation multiple times but we kept coming back to two specific things that were vitally important to both of us that we disagreed on and respected each other too much to expect one to compromise. Other things, I’m sure we could've have worked around but these two specific things were not in question.  I’ve only been in two relationships since then and neither lead in positive directions for either party involved.

And now I’m 27 years old and still single.

Since before graduating college I’ve been in that stage of life where every few weeks or months someone else was getting engaged or married. And now I’m in that stage where many of them are starting to have children. In an age when many are waiting longer to marry and start families I realized recently that I am one of the last of my group of friends to be married or at least in a serious relationship that could potentially lead in that direction.

I’m also at that age when everyone asks why you are still single or if there is a boy in my life. The answer to the first is long and complicated, and the answer the second is no. When I answer these questions, I have never had anyone directly express their disapproval but many of you are not as good about hiding your “something must be wrong with you” faces.

I am not single because I want to be. I long for the day when I have someone special to share my life with and build a family with.

I am single, because right now, I have to be.

I am single because I have high expectations and things I’m unwilling to compromise on just to be in a relationship. I’ve had many tell me to lower my expectations, and then others who remind me that to settle is not to live fully who I am meant to be. That is not to say that any of my friends have, but to say that I haven’t found the person who helps bring the best out in me.

I am single because I am extremely passionate, about EVERYTHING. I am ALWAYS needing deep conversation. I recognize that not everyone can live with someone who is constantly on a mission. Whoever I end up sharing my life with will have to be ok with the fact that I’m probably going to call people out when they are not showing love.

I am single because I haven’t found my ability to fully trust another. As much as I’ve shared, not a single person knows the severity of the emotional pain.

I am single because my social life is almost virtually nonexistent because I’m either babysitting, studying, or have been too overstimulated by the amount of social interaction I have had from work or babysitting that I’m left too exhausted to communicate with my friends other than text because I can respond when I feel like it.

I am single because I haven’t accepted that I am worthy of being loved. A few weeks ago, a friend asked why I was so stressed out, and I responded lots of things. He asked me to expand. I finally gave him a laundry list of things, and for the first time, I finally verbalized that insecurity. I’d thought it many times in other ways. I’d remembered the mistakes I’d made and wondered if I was worthy of redemption. I’ve spent my life reminding those I love that they are worthy and are loved. I’ve defended those who have harmed me the most, saying that even those who do the most harm deserve love, too, but never in my life have I believed it about myself. In my head, I know it. In my heart, I don’t believe it.

I know the list is longer than this but this are the ones I can pinpoint off the top of my head.

Being single at 27 sucks. There are days when I don’t want anything to do with my friends who are in happy relationships or marriages. I’m not naïve enough to think that every moment is perfect, but there are days that I’m more discouraged than others.

So, as I am now 27, I am nowhere near where I thought my life would be right now. So, I’m going to use this time to learn how to love myself, so that one day, I might be able to accept someone else’s.

Posted on March 21, 2017 .

Lee to Rachel, 8 years later

Every year on the anniversary of Lee's sister's suicide, she writes a post on Facebook. This is her post this year:

I'm at a loss. It's February 26, 2017. Eight years ago, my sister, my only sibling, my friend Rachel killed herself when she could no longer take the unrelenting pain and pressure of her mental diseases. Eight years. Every year on this day, I take to Facebook to memorialize her and to plead with you all to change the dialog that surrounds mental diseases in this country. And there are changes. They are happening slowly, but they are happening.

But I realized this year that Rachel is only a name to most of you. Most of you didn't have the privilege of knowing her. There are some of you who did, and you assure me that you will never forget her. But most of you don't know her. And I'm at a loss as to how to explain her to you.

Her smile that could split her face and that ALWAYS reached her eyes.

Her roar of laughter.

Her insistence of doing things the right way (or her over-insistence on perfectionism, depending on my mood and how I choose to describe it).

Her hugely caring heart that made her bring homemade pie and bourbon to friends in need.

Her insecurity that she wasn't doing enough. Enough for her friends. Enough for her family. Enough for this world.

Her love of her nieces and her wonder in their compact perfection.

Her unmitigated deviousness on the soccer field. (Woe be unto the person who tried to run her over. She would bide her time and then take that person DOWN.)

Her heartbreaking self-doubt that she would try to hide from the world.

Her utter inability to carry her liquor.

Her stubbornness.

Her determination.

Her courage.

Rachel would have been amazed at how her death and her absence in our lives have affected those of us who were fortunate enough to have known her. She never realized how truly loved she was.

As I do every year on this day, I urge you to reach out to someone who you know is struggling. Don't judge. Don't try to "fix" things. Just hug them and tell them that you love them. Even if you are at odds with that person, do it. Do it now. Go on. I'll wait for you.

Posted on March 16, 2017 .

Tim Ferriss on Surviving Depression

Maria Popova at Brainpickings.org writes about Tim Ferriss's autobiographical account of an attempted suicide and living with depression. The entire article is worth reading, and here are a few highlights.

He has a few recommendations to deal with depression.

One is to make a “non-suicide vow” with a friend. He writes:

As silly as it might sound, it’s sometimes easier to focus on keeping your word, and avoiding hurting someone, than preserving your own life. And that’s totally okay. Use what works first, and you can fix the rest later. If you need to disguise a vow out of embarrassment … make it a “mutual non-self-hurt” vow with a friend who beats himself or herself up.
— https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/12/08/tim-ferriss-tools-of-titans-depression/

Another is to. "Go to the gym and move for at least 30 minutes. For me, this is 80% of the battle."

And finally:

If you can’t seem to make yourself happy, do little things to make other people happy. This is a very effective magic trick. Focus on others instead of yourself. Buy coffee for the person behind you in line (I do this a lot), compliment a stranger, volunteer at a soup kitchen, help a classroom on DonorsChoose.org, buy a round of drinks for the line cooks and servers at your favorite restaurant, etc. The little things have a big emotional payback, and guess what? Chances are, at least one person you make smile is on the front lines with you, quietly battling something nearly identical.
— https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/12/08/tim-ferriss-tools-of-titans-depression/

While he knows he will deal with depressive episodes throughout his life, he believes the key is building "fires - the routines, habits, relationships, and coping mechanisms you build - to help you to look at the rain and see fertilizer instead of a flood. If you want the lushest green of life (and you do), the gray is part of the natural cycle."

Posted on February 23, 2017 .

Introducing Mary Katherine

I remember when I was in preschool, at Kinderplatz, in the music room gathered on the rug around the books with the rest of my class waiting for school to start.  I was wearing a red turtleneck with a navy jumper, and a big red bow.  I had just sad down to my friend and next thing I knew, another girl shoved me aside and said “You can’t sit with us because we’re wearing pink.”  I had a real life Mean Girls moment in preschool.  Both my friend and this other girl were wearing pink dresses with colorful snaps down the front.  That was the first time I remember feeling small and unwanted.

When I was in kindergarten, I was in a half day kindergarten, so I began my mornings at daycare.  I remember one afternoon, upon arriving at school, I was crying uncontrollably for no apparent reason.  Not only did I want my mom, we had a substitute that day so my day was already a bit thrown off.

When I was in fifth grade, my best friend and I were playing house, and we always liked to dress up.  I started to develop sooner and my friend made the comment one day that I could no longer wear cute clothes.  I was devastated.

At the end of fifth grade, I remember crying randomly about having to make the change to middle school.  Sixth and seventh grade were ok, but eighth grade was miserable.  I missed many days of first and second period.  My teacher thought I was just skipping, but in reality, I was waking up every morning with severe nausea from stress.

When I started high-school I went through a period of time when I cried myself to sleep every night.  I remember one day sophomore year, standing in the choir room with tears streaming down my face.  It was the Monday after spring break.  Every time I tried to open my mouth to sing my eyes flooded with tears.

By junior year of high school I agreed to go to a psychiatrist.  I was diagnosed with depression.  This was no surprise because of my family history.  My mom suffered from depression, and my maternal grandmother ended her own life when she was only twenty nine years old. Depression runs in my genes.

I still was not ready to admit that I needed counseling so my doctor prescribed me an antidepressant and I went about my day to day.  When I started college I visited the campus psychiatrist who continued to prescribe me my antidepressant as long as I would see a counselor.  I still wasn’t ready, so I no longer had my antidepressant.

My first senior year of college, I finally got tested for a learning difference.  We learned I am mildly OCD, and have ADHD and minimal short term memory in addition to my depression and general anxiety.  I went to another psychiatrist who gave me medicine for ADHD and that seemed to also help with my mood.

And then more change happened.

I was finally ready to admit that I needed help.  I began seeing an on campus counselor once I started graduate school, switched to a pastoral care counselor, then to a short term counselor, and then to a long term counselor.  My psychiatrist and I continued to try different medication combinations until we finally found one that worked.

But even the perfect concoction isn’t perfect.  I was taking a sleep medication that helped with my insomnia, but I couldn’t wake up or function normally unless I got twelve hours of sleep.  I’m lucky if I have eight hours straight to sleep.  So yet again, we are on the search for a medicine combination that works.

It might seem odd for me to share such a personal medical history, but I’m sharing it because I think people need to be aware.  Mental illness is often seen in a negative light.  I went to seminary with a girl who said that people with insomnia are crazy and she didn’t want to be involved with anyone with it.  We don’t hang out anymore.  Part of that is my own doing, and the other part is her.  It’s hard to be friends with someone who thinks less of you.

I have struggled with depression my entire life, and will continue to struggle with it for the rest of my life.  But it does not define me.  Sometimes I let it, but a mentor and friend of mine told me that bad days are just when you’re depression is lying to you.  That’s a good way for me to look at it.  It keeps me from letting myself be defined by my depression.  It keeps me from living in it daily.  Yes, there are days that my depression is harder to live through than others, but I know that come the next day or the next day or the next day this feeling will be gone, and I’ll be my true self again.

Posted on February 9, 2017 .