Hey Babe: Don’t Run Away.


img_1013Hey babe.

Sometimes it feels like the world should just stop turning.

I left work today, wondering how we all do it. How do we get up and go back to work, answer phone calls and drink old coffee and sit through five o’clock traffic, when it seems the world is crashing down all around us? How do we murmur prayers ceiling-ward when it feels like so much more is wrong than what could ever be right again? How does the world continue turning when there’s so much hurt, so much horror happening in this world? How do we gulp back the tears when we know the 8-year-olds today are being sent to school with warnings that we’d never imagined when we were their age?  How do we not press the ‘pause’ button, mourn in the streets and lay it all down for a day? Some days it feels like I’m numb to it all until I make myself click on that article–make myself look at the pictures. Even the pictures with warning labels, I make myself look at because I don’t want to be numb to it. I never want to be numb to this. I read their stories. I don’t give evil its platform–evil has had its time on the platform. I want to see their faces–the beautiful, honest faces of people who were just trying to live their best life in and out, every day.

The news is rattled with disaster after disaster, telling us story after story of how America is more divided than ever, natural disasters, politicized groups of people stacked against each other, each screaming louder to be heard. But the worst of it always hits us where we least expect it–in churches and school rooms and night clubs and concerts. Places where groups of people meet to worship, learn, and enjoy their lives. And the worst of it is I know there are people out there asking why? Why? What did I do to deserve this? There are still people from previous tragedies asking the same questions, searching for the same answers. I just want to cup faces and hold tight and whisper over and over until they believe me, “It wasn’t about you; it was never about you. I don’t know why. I just don’t know why.”

But, hey, babe? I’m young. I don’t know it all and I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. Something in me (and I think in all of us) wants desperately to shout the truth so effectively it silences all the fear, all the evil. For good. I want to step onto a platform in front of the entire world and just say, “Hey! Remember when we believed it could be good? We can believe that again. We can fight for it to be good again.”

But I think this is the part where we dig in when we want to run and hide away. I think this is the part where we find our strength in clasping hands, loving louder, and unraveling the ties that seem to bind us. This is the part where we say no to the darkness–that no matter how bad it gets, it doesn’t get to write the ending because we will fight it to its very core. This is the part where we find common ground and fight for it, choose kindness, bravery, and compassion over anything fear and anger have to offer. We will hold the late-night intercessions and have the uncomfortable conversations. We’ll keep watching the news and doing the research and fighting to effect change.

This is not about any differences that we might have.

This–right here and right now–is not about anything overly politicized by mass and social medias. This is not a Facebook thread or a Thanksgiving dinner conversation gone wrong. This is about people. It has to be about people from here on out or we’ll lose every single time. We need to reframe how we see people and we need to reframe the way we handle tragedies–this is not the time to run, turn numb, point fingers, or skim over rootless reasoning. This is the time to stay, to dig in, to have the conversations.

And maybe we’re just little lights in the dark. Maybe the only thing we’ll ever accomplish is chipping away at our own darkness in our corner of the world. But you know what? There’s always more room for stars to light the sky and if we choose to be lights–even if we are just little lights in the dark and even if we feel like we’re standing by ourselves sometimes–those little lights in the dark are infinitely more important than anything the darkness can hurl because we’re always there: living, breathing, pulsating hope on fire. Nothing can stamp out hope.

In honor of all the work that still is yet to be done, I’ve found a few ways we can all help victims of some of the most-recent tragedies along with a few nonprofits that are working alongside some serious issues and could always use more support. I’ve also included some local charities that I’ve been a part of over the past few years:

 

Coffee Date: Therapy and God.


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(I started meeting you here for coffee every month the end of last year, courtesy of my brilliant friend, Erin, who is one of the beautiful minds behind Coffee Dates. As always, please feel free to write your own Coffee Date or email me here. I’m always here and the coffee’s always on at my place. So come on in, love.)

Hey Coffee Date. It’s been awhile. I’ve still got stories of February and Atlanta and lessons learned the hard way, but for now let’s just be real with each other. Just for a minute. I still worry that I do this coffee date thing wrong–did I ever tell you that? It’s one of the biggest fears when I click that publish button–I’m always worried I wasn’t what you needed for a coffee date. The beauty, though, of coffee dates is you can say anything, let down all the masks, hand it all over for a few minutes to be real and raw. I don’t know about you, but I could use a little more of that.

But…uh…hey, coffee date? Before we go in, I need to clear the air.

*deep breath*

I am Amanda Russell and…I like pumpkin spice lattes. Cliche, frothy, sticky, other-worldly delicious pumpkin spice lattes. As in, I would GLADLY wear PTL for PSL t-shirts–in fact, I should set up a booth.

But it gets worse. I get ventis. I’ve tried pumpkin spice at every coffee shop I frequent and I can tell you with zero uncertainty who makes the best pumpkin spice lattes and who makes the worst. I even have pumpkin spice latte inside jokes from that one year my bestie and I were hyped up on life (because what kind of university makes sophomore/juniors sit through chapel services for an hour and a half right AFTER summer ends? It was torture.) and I walked right up to a Starbucks barista and asked for a pumpkin sposs latte. I still haven’t lived that down…

So, yeah, today if we were on a coffee date…

We’d be at Starbucks.

I’d swing open the door at 5:30, wearing the same holey jeans that saw me through a catastrophic spring and a foggy summer. “We did say 5:30, right?” I’d ask, draping my bag over the chair.

I use matte lipstick now–but not too bright because I’m not there yet. I arrange my hair in the mirror before looking anyone in the eye, brush it firm when you’re not looking because oh no, oh no, oh no my anxiety scars are showing these days–days and nights of job hunting and pulling added up until I finally chopped off brunette locks when I didn’t know what else to do but something needed to be done. Even in this, God gives me grace.

“Your hair will grow back,” my therapist is my newest voice of reason–she gives me goals for stopping my hair-pulling, but gives me permission to blow it. And I need that, coffee date. I think we all need permission to blow it sometimes–a verbal permission slip to make our mistakes and go on from there. I see her weekly, unpack emotions, make sense of them, pick up my bag for the week ahead, thank her endlessly for talking with me. I’m here—but not remember-I’m-not-a-burden-to-my-therapist here, if you know what I’m saying. But therapy is like a lighthouse I settle into once a week–one of the biggest forms of grace God’s given me. I’m not drowning anymore–I’m learning to swim.

I see my own anxiety these days, coffee date. I view it as a meter now and when I feel it go beyond a 6, I stop. I adjust. I take care of myself. I write myself a little note sometimes or press my wrists under cold water or use an essential oil–breathe deep.

This is where I am, coffee date, and I’m proud of me. I really am. This is good–this is beautiful. But, before you go? Let’s do a speed round to catch me up on where you’ve been while I’ve been out:

  1. Where were you for the eclipse? And did you see the ground snakes they talked about because I didn’t see ANYTHING and I was so freaking mad.
  2. HAVE YOU HEARD TAYLOR SWIFT’S NEW MUSIC? I am all the way here for her new era, Coffee Date.
  3. How’s your fall starting out? Busy? Colorful? Good? I want all the thoughts.
  4. Have you seen this? I’m late to the scene on this but it’s so good. Go watch it. Be good to yourself, coffee date.
  5. What are you reading/listening to? I’m currently working through The Ocean At The End of The Lane and I’ve been on a podcast binge from the church I’ve been tiptoeing around for a year and a half. Okay, okay…and also my go-to fall song is All Too Well by Taylor Swift. No judgments!
  6. How are you taking care of yourself these days? I’ve been journaling and watching Gilmore Girls like there’s no tomorrow. #teamlukeandlorelai
  7. How are you holding up during hurricane season? If there’s any needs you know of, I’d love for you to leave them below in the comments because I’ve been trying to help as much as I can.
  8. I want you to comment below with three things that are going good for you. Go, go, go!
  9. If we were really on a coffee date, what’s your poison? Are you into chai or pumpkin spice these days?
  10. Finally, coffee date, before I head out of here–what can I do for you? Do you need encouragement? Email me and I’ll send you as much encouragement as I can pack into one little page.

 

Hey Babe: When You Feel Unseen


 

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Hey Babe,

In the thick of my mental health struggles, for some reason, I always wanted someone to randomly come into wherever I was, sit down beside me, and say, “Hey babe–what’s wrong?” (Kind of like the aunt in Ramona and Beezus. Because umm…who wouldn’t want an aunt like that?)  With that, those two words have been swirling around in my head for the past couple months, so here I am, saying them to you. This newest thread of Not Your Average Coffee Bean is meant to be a hand-holder in the darkness–to encourage, uplift, and show love to anyone who needs these words. If you’re reading, the biggest thing I want you to take away from these little rambling notes is that you matter infinitely more than you know.

I couldn’t even look at her.

Twenty-one years old and face-to-face with the story I would mostly keep to myself (when, you know, I wasn’t using it as a bit to poke fun at myself because they ALL could see how much of a mess I was anyway so why not join in?).  It was a breezy day in March when I ran into the guy I’d had a crush on for MONTHS with his girlfriend during an afternoon walk. I’d been carrying my dog across the sidewalk near the lake, pulling at my blue shorts every ten seconds and regretting walking the half a mile from my house when I saw them. Me and him–we were friends, so of course I stopped and said hello, trying to act normal when in reality I was red-faced and feeling awkward.

In that moment, one of the things that sticks out in my memory is that I found myself unable to look at his girlfriend because I didn’t want to see if she was beautiful. Because what if she had something that I didn’t? What if she was better than I was? Don’t we do silly things to ourselves, infringe silly lies upon ourselves? 

The conversation was short–awkward on both ends before they turned and walked away, leaving me staring after them in disbelief at what had just happened. It would be five minutes before I called my friends and had them crying laughing, asking the infamous, “What are the odds?!” It would be ten minutes before I shot a text to my sister and asked her to please, please, PLEASE pick me up. But in that initial moment, I remember simply turning around and slowly sinking onto a nearby bench, letting Lucy wander around for a minute.

Unseen. That was the heartbeat that followed me after that day at the lake. Unseen, unwanted, unheard, repeat, repeat, repeat. And with every disappointment that came afterwards, it chipped away at any hope I had left that anyone really saw me or cared what happened to me. It’s taken years to see that lie, let alone begin to untangle myself from its grasp. Never buy stock into even one lie because it will set up camp, loves. It will stay as long as it can and steal as much as it can, leaving you empty and wondering how it took so much of you away.

The even lesser-known part of the story, however, comes an hour and a half after leaving the lake. I was listening to Pandora (it was cool back then, okay, kids?!) when a song that I’d never heard before started. In that moment, I tell you…it was like God sent me a lullaby because the words in that song spoke directly to every part of my aching, angsty, twentysomething heart.

“These are the scars,
Deep in your heart,
This is the place you were born,
This is the hole,
Where most of your soul,
Comes ripping out,
From the places you’ve been torn,
And it is always yours,
But I am always yours.” –Always, Switchfoot

I break my own heart from reaching for something that wasn’t supposed to be mine and God sends me a lullaby. I mean…TAKE A HINT, RUSSELL. You’re seen by the only one who really cares–and you out there, reading this? He sees you too. You matter to Him. You’re very much seen, wanted, and heard. He sees the good moments, the bad moments, and all the little moments in-between. He crafted your laugh. He stitched together every part about you. He picks you up and dusts you off. He’s got your names etched into his hands–He cannot, will not let you go. Ever. He sees. I promise.

He went on to graduate the same year as me and start a life. But I went on too. I went on to learn insane lessons from crazy after-college jobs and wipe away pumpkin from team members’ clothes and learn to laugh wild-crazy and write the book and push my body to its limit and embrace variety over a black and white lifestyle.

And hey, babe? Maybe that’s the best part of the story: we all go on. And we’re all seen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

|Mid-August|Be Here.



I run my hands down my own waist, catch at the curve, arms akimbo. I wear shirts that match my eyes, but it’s not enough to hide what I thought would never happen to me again. Six months ago this space was beginning to take shape, beginning to not be the first thing someone noticed about me. 

Gone.

I pass blue, wonder about so-and-so. Six months ago, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and shoot a text. 

Gone.

Scroll through my email, pass over the spaces social media apps used to take up on my phone.  

Gone.

Pass over places we used to go, use the wallet she bought me for my birthday. Listen to music we used to listen to, think about the nights of emotional breakdowns and believing lies–remember the fallout, the angry tears, the Facebook deleting and overreacting. 

Gone.

They call me Amanda here. They don’t know any different because I never asked them to know any different. When I’m honest with myself, I know how weird it feels to be called Amanda but I know I can’t be Mandie. Not here. What no one told me about branding myself as the funny, self-deprecating, please-affirm-my-existence girl is that people hold you to it. They start spurting out half sentences like, “I know you, Mandie.” They brand you with words of their own. No one tells you it hurts. No one tells you that you won’t sprout iron nerves just because you want it. Eventually you have to close your doors. Eventually you have to stop going to the same wells of affirmation and find it in the worth you already have. It doesn’t make them bad; it doesn’t make you weak. It means things have to grow to survive.

But the good thing about a nickname–physically or metaphorically– is you can always go back to your roots. You can always go back to your original self and grow it. Never be afraid to grow yourself.

I dress in business casual these days. I stick a temp badge with a bad, non-smiling photo of me to the door and it lets me in. I keep the badge pinned to my pants–flipping the card face-down again and again throughout the day. There’s a guarded-faced security man who I already want to figure out–the guarded faces always tip me off to fascinating stories and broken hearts. We nod to each other occasionally, say hello. I like to think we’re both respecting the others’ privacy–I see you, but I won’t ask you to tell me what you’re hiding hauled-up in that heart of yours. I’ll be passing right by every morning if you ever need me.

I’m sitting in class, glass-faced–trying to absorb as much information as I can. “Sorry,” the bearded guy says to me, munching on a snack. He always talks to himself during training, always asks me if I want chips or a cookie or a piece of gum.

“For what?”

“Talking so much. I get the feeling you don’t like to talk much.”

I smile, say, “You’re fine.” For the first time, I’m not scared of being the quiet girl–I’m not scared of being mislabeled. Maybe growing up means growing into old fears and realizing they never were a thing to begin with–you can still be seen and be the quiet girl. You can be the quiet girl and still find places to call your own. And so, I sit. I do what I’ve always done in classrooms: I pick up on the annoyed looks the trainers give each other when that kid in the back won’t shut up and note the nonverbal communication buzzing all over the room and pick out the people who struggle with anxiety. Including myself, the tally is up to 4.

I’ve had two borderline panic attacks in this building–pressed up against the bathroom stall, crying my eyes out and envisioning God grasping me by my two shoulders, whispering, “Shh. Shh. Shh.

My mom says, “You have to figure out how to calm yourself down in those situations.”

And my dad pauses, says, “I don’t know the answer to that,” when I ask him the hard questions.

I hold broccoli and cheese soup addictions–bread in the bag, to-go please. And…how much is water? Free? I’ll have twelve, please.

I listen to songs I know will make me cry–when I’m in my car at lunch–because I know that’s the only time to let everything out. Because when we break for lunch, the knot in my stomach disperses for a moment and rebuilds over the hour.

Me and my anxiety–we’re pals now. I know it’s my brain’s way of trying to stay in control of all the internal/external stimuli it’s processing–we’re learning to work in the same space and get along. It tells me when something’s frightening me and I push back, make notes, take deep breaths, refuse to give in. Not here, not now. Not here, not now. It’s like emotional weight-lifting and I know I’m getting stronger: I just keep going. It’s simple, but don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy; don’t let anyone say you won’t feel the pains of getting stronger even when you’re on your couch, sipping coffee. And so I tell my anxiety stories. I talk to myself, write notes to myself, say the words I’d breathe to anyone else:

Hey babe. Your responsibility is to learn. You’re here to absorb and apply–ask questions as you go. It’s okay. You’re okay. Just sit down. That’s all you have to do in this minute.  Look right at me, hon. Right at me.

I sit at a desk. My name is placed on the wall, typed on a piece of paper like it’s been waiting for me to arrive. My office buddy is an I-something personality type and saves my butt exactly 100,000 times per hour. I tap him on the shoulder, ask where the mute button is. In the moments I most feel like an idiot, I almost blurt out, “I’m a writer and right-brained and I’m sorry!” but then I bite my tongue, fight the old ways of wanting to be known and understood.  I try to contain the drops of Stress Away when I’m just trying to breathe through the nerves, try to pace my questions and cringe when he says, “You got it, Amanda?” Because we both know I don’t. But we have a system: I get flustered and do something stupid and he raises an eyebrow and locks my computer when I forget for the tenth time.

After work I sit in her office some Wednesday evenings, settled right around the corner from the building I want to turn into a bookstore and half a mile from ghost lane. I breathe deep and let go. I explain, let my side be known in hushed corners–hushed tones, colors and hues that remind me of fall and being at ease. She tells me she doesn’t want to fix me, that I already have all I need to do everything I want to do. She takes notes while I talk, looking for themes and interjecting on occasion for clarity. I tell her about dandelions and childhood and legalism and boys who never looked twice when I just wanted them to stay. She tells me about the research that indicates how every memory is different each time we remember it–even if just a little bit–and she tells me she wants to hear how I remember things happening because that’s what I’ve been carrying emotionally.

I breathe. I unpack. I leave empowered and hopeful.

I’m still hashing out Charlie’s story. I’m writing fear in as a character, but I will not give him a face. Fear doesn’t get a face.

 
This is where I’ve been. It’s gotten easier since I first wrote this. This season I’m in is stretching me in every way possible. It’s growing me. But it’s beautiful. I’m here, beginning again and breathing slow. Always slow.

Coffee Date: What You Want.


19142196_10213791228679801_788207019_n“When we first dropped our bags on apartment floors, Took our broken hearts and put them in a drawer, Everybody here was someone else before.” -Welcome To New York

Hi, loves. Coffee dates happen every single month over at erinsalmonwrites.com and she writes so well about Jesus and life. So if we were on a coffee date. . .here’s what would happen.

I swing open the door to Starbucks and look around until I spot you. I’m in boyfriend-cut jeans, with a hole in one knee and a slight tear on the upper thigh of the other leg. They seem to mirror each other, each leg rolled up one, two times. The anklet is still there, loose around my left ankle and green-beaded. I’m probably in a black v-neck because all my other clothes are in a studio apartment in Atlanta, waiting for my return. My things are scattered across two states at the moment, torn between house-sitting for my brother and trying to be here for Father’s Day for my dad–this incessant need to run and stay. I’m like a runaway train that keeps making all its stops– stop, go, stop, go. I’ve got a type-writer in my sister’s car, poetry strewn across my mind and my car and the suitcase on the concrete floor of his apartment, cd’s loose in the car I can barely afford where I keep 1989 on repeat, a toothbrush on the edge of the porcelain sink that may or may not be here when I get back. Everything’s up in the air these days. But I’ll pack my little bag and be off again.

I’m only here for a couple of days, I tell you, play with the ends of my hair, mind sitting on the trip back to Atlanta that I’ve never driven before. My nails are black, chipped–the classic artist look. My mind is running a million miles a minute and I probably slathered on that essential oil roller, labeled with a make a wave sticker because it makes me happy. If I lean in for a hug, you can probably smell the faint aroma of orange and peppermint, dancing to wellness with me. It’s a crazy game. I barely know the plays. Some days I feel more like a pawn than a player, but I’m in it to win it.

Today I’m needing something comforting. It will probably take the form of a white chocolate mocha, Venti please. I’ll make small talk, ask how you are. How’s life? What are you working towards? How are your people? How’s your mental health doing these days? Do you need a break? Do you need a hug? How can I be present for you?

If we were on a coffee date…I’d tell you about the city that I’m exploring and how I missed the fireflies in Tennessee again. We’d talk summer bucket lists. I’m about to cross off “Go somewhere by myself” and my sister just crossed off “Messy Twister.” Do you have a bucket list this summer? What are your goals for summer? Are you going anywhere? AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WILL YOU GO SEE THOSE DARN FIREFLIES WITH ME NEXT SUMMER?

If we were on a coffee date…I’d tell you how I watched Dear John last night only to realize it was a mistake because I’ve never known what it would be like to have someone like John–whose main question was simply, “Why didn’t you call me? Why didn’t you give me a chance to change your mind?” I kind of want someone like that. What are you looking for? Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, none of this, “Hmm…brown eyes, good sense of humor,” nonsense. What do you want? I want someone who wants to be with me on a Tuesday night. I want someone who wants to tag along for my drives to see where I go, what songs I listen to on repeat. I want someone who stops mid-sentence because they realize I hadn’t finished what I was saying. I want someone who wants to read my book, who wants to know how I came up with the idea and where the characters come from. I want someone I’d marry in December, on the darkest, coldest night.

If we were on a coffee date… I’d ask you who you want to be. We always talk about what we expect of our significant others, but what do you want from you? Who do you want to be to your significant other? I want to be kind and generous and raw. I want to be good in my own skin. I want to live loved and do what I was created to do. I want to go into the mess that is this world and be a light.

If we were on a coffee date…we’d talk mental health. I’ve realized in the past few weeks that I love pouring out to other people, particularly through my words. I love words and my essential oil business, but I came to the conclusion yesterday that I was trying to pour out to other people when I was running on empty myself. Do you ever do that too? I think it’s more common than we know. Sometimes, coffee date, you just need to take a step back. If you’re in a hard season–if you’re in the wilderness–just let it be. Don’t be hard on yourself. What are you doing to keep yourself from burn out? Me? I’m doing the necessary things and not much more. I’m making the appointments and keeping in touch with the people who need me and giving myself a bit of space. I’m ranting when I need to.

If we were on a coffee date…I’d ask about your Netflix. What are you watching? I’ve rediscovered New Girl, Gilmore Girls, and just discovered The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. IT’S BOMB, guys.

If we were on a coffee date…I’d ask what you’re listening to lately. Here’s my list–NO LAUGHING. 😉

Playlist:

  1. Wonderland by Taylor Swift
  2. You Are In Love by Taylor Swift
  3. Welcome To New York by Taylor Swift
  4. Handclap by Fitz and the Tantrums
  5. Follow You Down by Gin Blossoms
  6. My Sharona by The Knack
  7. Migraine by Twenty One Pilots
  8. Kitchen Sink by Twenty One Pilots
  9. Old Time Rock N’ Roll by Bob Seger
  10. Better Man by Little Big Town
  11. The Middle by Jimmy Eat World (CLASSIC)
  12. Riptide by Vance Joy
  13. Green Light (Yes, still…) by Lorde
  14. Hungry Eyes by Eric Carmen
  15. It Ain’t Me by Kygo with Selena Gomez

If we were on a coffee date…I’d ask you what you think about the name Scherbatsky for a cat because…I kind of like it. Schmidt was named after a New Girl character and SHE NEEDS A FRIEND NAMED AFTER THE LAST NAME OF A HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER CHARACTER. It would be the cutest thing…

If we were on a coffee date…I’d ask you if you saw Katy Perry’s therapy session. IT WAS FASCINATING. And don’t you think it’s sad that everyone’s hating on her for it? I think it’s awesome that she was that real in front of the world. What do you think about the flack other people get when they choose to be real on social media? Is it brave or needy? Does it help or hinder? This is something I’ve been giving a lot of thought, especially as a writer.

All right, coffee dates. I’m off for the month to be still, write, figure out my next move, explore a city, and learn to pray. Do you need any prayer from me? What can I help with, friends?

Much  love,

Amanda or Mandie OR WHATEVER IT IS YOU CALL ME.

PS: Listed below are the questions I asked in this post. I’d love, love, L-O-V-E to hear from you either in the comments or at manderssss22@gmail.com. I’m always there.

 

1. What’s your coffee order? How’s life? What are you working towards?

2. Any bucket lists for the summer? Any plans? Any destinations? Any goals?

3. Who are you looking for?

4. Who do you want to be? What do you expect from yourself?

5. Tell me what your Netflix/Spotify playlists are.

6. Is being real and honest on social media brave or needy? Is there any compromise?

7. What do you do to maintain mental health? What do you do to keep from burning out too quickly?

8. What do you need prayer for?

 

Summer 2017 Bucket List


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I’m doing a fun thing today! Writing, for me, is such an emotional thing and I’ve always struggled with how to write about happy things because writing has always been the release of anything negative I feel. Anything positive I feel is released in moments spent with other people so I don’t have a need to write about it. AND SO I’m changing it up a bit today. For some reason, 25 seems a little daunting to me and I’m realizing all the things I’ve wanted to do but never did. I turn 25 September 28th, so I put all the things I’ve always wanted to do in a bucket list

For the next 16 weeks, I’m doing one thing that I’ve never done before or haven’t done in a really long time and then every Friday I’m going to write about it. I would love it if anyone wants to join or add suggestions! I would love it even more if you came up with your own bucket lists for the summer and tell me what they are!

  1. Get a cartilage piercing
  2. Go tubing down a river
  3. Go on a road trip by myself
  4. Go to Tennessee to see the fireflies
  5. Cliff jump
  6. Learn how to surf
  7. Learn enough pottery to make a mug because THIS IS ALL I WANT OUT OF LIFE.
  8. Read 10 books (Quiet, If You Find This Letter, Wild and Free, Uninvited, The Shack, Jane Eyre, Broken Way, Chasing Fireflies, Yes Please, Girls In White Dresses)
  9. Go to a concert
  10. Hike alone
  11. Go swing dancing
  12. Camp on a beach
  13. Fly somewhere
  14. Go fishing
  15. Fly a kite
  16. Learn how to juggle
  17. Learn how to dive

This is what depression looks like.


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(Disclaimer: I hold no counseling license or degree in psychology. This post is my story with the intent to raise awareness about depression, self-care, and getting help if you need it.)

Over the past two months, my life took a completely different turn and in the process was dumped upside down. I’m still living in the aftermath, still healing, still fighting to get better because I was almost better when I got pushed back down. And over the past two days, I’ve stared at this most-recent picture of myself again and again as it slowly hit me: this is what depression looks like. This is the face I wear before going off with friends, before slipping unnoticed into family reunions, before someone snaps a picture. This is the I’m okay face, but it’s a lie. I wear it to make people feel comfortable around me, to not be too much . To act like I’m doing just fine, but right now–I’m not. In reality, I’m terrified of the future and unmotivated and overwhelmed and lonely and hopeless and anxious about everything all at once. And you know what? It’s okay to not be okay sometimes. Unfortunately we live in a society that likes to put on a good face and not do the hard talking because…THEY CAN’T EVEN. But you know what? That’s on them. You and me, we’re the real MVP’s because we’re dealing with our baggage and fighting the battles and being the best we can be. Even if we’re not okay, but getting there.

We were eating peanut butter pie when it suddenly hit and I was left, staring at a wall and wishing I could sink into nothing. They were talking about their lives when suddenly I just didn’t want to be there anymore. I wanted to go home and bury myself in a book where I could submerse myself in a better story where I was just a few page-turns away from finding they all lived happily ever after. Suddenly I just wanted to be alone.

Loves…that’s not me. If you knew me, you’d know. That’s not who I am.

I got up, slid my chair back, and zombied (Can we please make this an official verb? Because it’s a thing.) into the bathroom, closing myself into one of the stalls. I stayed a few minutes before taking a deep breath, wiping at my tears, and finding my place again at the table.

They ask what’s wrong, press for what’s wrong, but I don’t know what to say. I didn’t want to talk about it–I don’t want to talk about it. After a long pause, I tell them it’s just too much sometimes to hear about their lives when mine is in pieces. It’s suddenly too much again and I leave again, this back and forth between almost okay and not okay at all.

I close myself completely in the stall once more. The stall door held a pinkish hue and was chipped away at, scrawled over, and it seemed to match me, line for line. I pressed my palms against the door, carefully noting via the crack in the door whether or not there was another occupant in the room. Tears slid down my face. How could it have gone so wrong? How is a girl who just wanted to be a journalist, just wanted to be loved, just wanted to write into people’s hearts–have gotten it so wrong? And what do they have that I didn’t? 24-year-old post-grads aren’t supposed to be jealous of their 21-year-old college student sisters simply because at least they’re headed in a direction. 24-year-old post-grads are supposed to at least have a job, at least have a roommate, at least have loved and lost once.

The door opens and she slips in, “Hey, you okay?”

I peek out the door, nod slowly. She gives me a hug and I cry quietly into her shoulder–she knew what happened. “You know it’s funny because we were talking about how sucky our lives are,” she eyes me, “But I know you’d rather have that.”

I nod vigorously. There aren’t words to say. I wipe more tears and tell her I’ll be right out.

What most people miss is that depression doesn’t look like crying all the time. It doesn’t look like moping around. It doesn’t look dramatic. It looks like less, to be honest with you. Less interest in old activities. Less interest in interactions with friends. Less opening up. Less emotion. It looks more like staring at blank walls than crying into them, to be perfectly honest. It looks more like apologizing, saying, “I’m kind of in a funk, sorry guys.” It looks like pushing yourself to show up when in reality you really aren’t there yet.

Here’s the thing. You have permission to to cry it out. You have permission to take time for yourself. You have permission to hurt. Struggling isn’t a dirty word–it’s just a human thing that sometimes takes all our attention, that’s all. When you’re struggling, don’t be ashamed or beat yourself up, just take everything one day at a time. Know yourself, know your triggers, know the problem, know the action steps you’re going to take to get better, and press into the healing process.

A week from today will be my two-year anniversary from graduating with my BA degree in Journalism. In four days, I’m going back to that campus to watch my little sister graduate with her associate’s and, despite my happiness for her, I know that I’m going to be flooded with memories, regret, and reminders of all the places I thought I’d be by now. But you know what? I’m going to take baby steps. I’m going to take care of myself, physically, emotionally, and mentally. If wearing makeup is too much, I won’t do it. If  questions about job-hunting from friends and family become too much, I’ll politely decline answering. If tears start to flow, I’ll have a tissue and a piece of chocolate ready.  That morning, I’ll eat well, drink my coffee, and try to squeeze in a workout. I’ll water my plants, pet my cat, write out anything I need to say, do whatever I need to do to take care of myself.

It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. And you know what else? You can still show up for important things, even if you have to take the back-burner for yourself.  If people ask questions about why you’ve changed, you don’t have to engage. I firmly believe there are times where you’re allowed to simply let yourself be, take steps back, and just worry about breathing.

I didn’t want to end this without talking about self-care, so here are a few action steps for you.

  1. Talk to a therapist. The good thing about therapy is it’s an objective individual whose sole concern is how you’re doing, what’s really going on emotionally/mentally, and working to find action steps to get better and prevent mental health issues from getting worse. While your friends and family are always there for you, they don’t always know the best way to help you.
  2. Do what your doctor says. If you’re starting to notice a shift in your mentality, go to your doctor. See what they recommend–then do it. I wish I could get down on eye level with you because this is so, so important and I want you to hear me: Mental health is one of the most underrated health issues, if not the most underrated issue, and it’s easy to believe the lie that you’re weak or not doing enough, but you’re not weak and you are doing enough. You know when you’re in pain and you know when something’s off–listen to yourself and do what your doctor says.
  3.  Take care of your body. Take your vitamins, detox your body, stay active, and eat foods that help you rather than hurt you. That jar of Nutella doesn’t do much past your taste buds, so put. it. down. Take it from someone who knows–binge-eating only makes you feel worse about yourself. There’s tons and tons of natural things to benefit your mental health. Get outside and grab some Vitamin D!
  4. Talk it out. This one is key because depression aims to isolate you and make you believe you’re alone in this. But the truth is, you’re not. You’re so, so loved and depression is a liar. So if you’re struggling with something and someone hits an emotional trigger, walk away if you need to, but don’t shut down. Tell your people what you need from them. If you’re going through a break-up, it’s okay to sit out the relationship discussions. It’s okay to sit out the girls nights if they’re just too hard. It’s okay if you need to take a step back, but talk it out and don’t leave your people hanging. If you need to take a step back, explain to them what you’re doing and why. And you know what? If they don’t understand or make it into an issue, that’s on them. Find people who love you enough to let you take time to yourself.
  5.  Find the thing. You know the thing–it’s buried down deep, under years of growing up and shoving things aside that you once used to love. It’s the Jessie doll under your bed, if you will. For me, it’s books and singing and climbing trees and imagining wild and beautiful things and laughing loud. For you it might be ballet or soccer or piano or pottery–only you know what it is and only you can bring it back to life. Dedicate 15 minutes every day to doing one thing you love to do. It doesn’t have to be big, love. It just has to sing back an old song you used to know and love.

Lastly, if you know someone who you suspect is struggling, here are a couple action steps for you. Every person needs a support system, especially if they’re struggling, and these are things that should be used in friendships anyway.

  1. Listen. Don’t interrupt, minimize what they’re struggling with, or try to make it funny. It’s as serious as they’re telling you it is and if they’re willing to talk, be willing to listen.
  2.  Check in on them. Depression is out to isolate and degrade. Don’t let it happen on your watch–send a text, a card, or invite that friend to coffee. The most important thing is to be there. You don’t have to be perfect–you just have to show up and be a friend.
  3. Encourage them to seek help. Show them that getting professional help and taking care of yourself is healthy, not showing an area of weakness.
  4. Do your homework. Being educated in mental health and self care is so incredibly important.

Coffee Date: I’ll Come Get My Things.


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“‘Cause honey I’ll come get my things, but I can’t let go/I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it/ Oh, I wish I could get my things and just let go/I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it. “-Lorde

Dear Coffee Date,

I missed March. It was too hard, so I took a step back because I knew that I had nothing positive to say. I knew that at the end of the day, I couldn’t look you in the eye and say, “I’m okay.” I wasn’t.

I’m better now, so let’s do coffee. Let’s talk life. Today is beautiful, so let’s grab the keys.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d say let’s grab the coffee and go. Anywhere. Name the place. Let’s just get out of this town, or at least out of this county. Let’s go sit by the lake and flesh out all these old wounds. Let’s go the back way and have a good cry.

Oh and also, I’d grab a Venti Flat White with skim milk because life. Starbucks is bae.

If we were on a coffee date, we’d have very short playlist as I’ve been obsessed with like two songs and just re-discovered Relient K. It would go as follows:

  1. Green Light by Lorde–“I wish I could pack my bags and just let go.” WHAT.
  2. Avalanche by FLETCHER– “Everybody wants their shot, but you’re bulletproof.”
  3. My Own Worst Enemy by Casting Crowns– “God help me get away, Break these chains and set me free.”
  4. Million Reasons by Lady Gaga– “I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away, But baby I just need one reason to stay.”
  5. How Do You Like Me Now by Toby Keith– “I only wanted to catch your attention, But you overlooked me somehow.”
  6. Forget and Not Slow Down by Relient K–“How many times can I push it aside? Is it time I befriended all the ghosts of all the things that haunt me most? So they leave me alone.”
  7. Big Girls Cry by Sia– “And I don’t care if I don’t look pretty, Big girls cry when their hearts are breaking.”

If we were on a coffee date, I’d unload the story. Nearly two months ago, I was let go from my position and the past two months have been the most difficult of my life. It wasn’t anything I’d done or anything I really could’ve predicted or prevented because they wanted to part ways to let me follow my passion. Small problem, though, in that…my passion isn’t exactly paying at the moment. So I’m looking for work. And I’m trying to pick up the pieces of a life that seems to get more complicated the further I go. But the thing is, coffee date? I never thought it could hurt so bad. I never thought it could make me feel so worthless and purposeless…but…I have to admit that I really believe that God is going to use this hard thing to create a turning point in my life. I really believe hope is still alive.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d unload the story part two. Two weeks ago, I saw that the church I’ve been going to holds intercessory prayer meetings every two weeks. I felt this tugging, so I very reluctantly went with the thought that I was going for my family. I was wrong–I was supposed to go for me. It was incredible. Holy Spirit showed up and these women spoke words of life over me and I cried basically the whole time.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d talk about Charlie. Charlie is the main character/narrator in my book and I’m having the best time creating who he is. It’s crazy how attached you can get to characters, whether you’re reading about them or creating them for others to read but…it’s wild. And especially what this character is meant to represent…I’m just…in love completely with this book I’m working on.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask you what you’ve been reading lately. I’m currently working through two: Without Rival by Lisa Bevere and I just started The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Without Rival is incredible and all about self-worth, so if you still don’t know who you are go get a copy.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask about your season of life. Where are you at? Where are you going? And who are your people? Are they taking care of you? If not, I’d tell you to find new ones. Find the people who get you. Find the people who stay up with you until 4:30 over coffee. Find the people who see a status and text you, “So which McDonald’s are we going to?” Find the people who will go see Beauty and the Beast ten times in theater with you. And hey, coffee date? You deserve to find your people. You’re worth it. Go get ’em.

Much love, coffee date.

-Amanda

 

Hey You: To The Girl Losing the Comparison Game


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“I’m not gonna care if I sing off key/I find myself in my melodies/I sing for love, I sing for me/I shout it out like a bird set free,” -Sia, Bird Set Free

“I’m stupid,” the six year old in front of me says, tongue-in-cheek. I’m not her mother and I’m not her aunt, but I know a lie when I hear one. These lies start young, seep in wherever they can, whenever they can. And they’re out to take your joy, your life, and your purpose.

The lie is one that I know so well, I stop immediately, get on eye level and ask, “Hey, would you say that about someone else?”

“No,” she says carefully.

“Then why would you say that about yourself?”

“I don’t know.”

“Here’s what we’re going to do. I want you to name three things that you like about yourself.”

She thinks for a second, “I’m smart, nice, and pretty…”

“Beautiful,” I prompt.

She smiles and agrees, “Beautiful.”

The picture above? It’s mine. My name is pressed into everything about it. But it wasn’t perfect, so I destroyed it. I do that sometimes. I think we all do sometimes. I don’t know about you, but some days I just can’t take another reminder hanging on my wall that represents everything I’m not. The truth? I don’t like limitations. I don’t like being told I can’t do something or a dream isn’t realistic. It’s in the moments and spaces where I collide with limitations that I get defensive and upset.

Truth be told, my heart has been so steeped in the lie that nothing I do will ever be enough that it’s become the perspective I operate out of. You would know if you stepped too close to it–this heart murmur of mine–because it’s in the moments I overreact, start to cry, or get really quiet because you just stepped on faith wound central. In those moments, I just want you to leave. Say hello to the ghosts on the way out, but get out. Don’t get too close.

I don’t even like sharing this picture. I never want to look at it again, to be honest with you. Yes, it’s mine. No, I’m not an artist BY ANY MEANS. It was supposed to be a dandelion and it was supposed to be pretty. I was okay with the result, happy with the work–until it got down to the little details I didn’t know how to paint. It wasn’t enough that I’d never been taught or had any practice–because she could have done it without practice. They could have done it. It’s like a broken record that plays over and over until there’s nothing left of me.

She could have done better,” it’s a whisper on a mission, the lie that curls around me until it’s all I see. It’s the lie that causes me to put the brush down, put away the paint, rip apart the canvas, drop everything and grab the keys, do what I do best–run. I’m always running because if I sit down with the lie that tells me I’m not enough–what I do isn’t enough–I might actually find out it was truth the whole time. I might actually find out that I really am not special or worthy or beautiful. If I face the lie, fight the lie, I might lose.

I think about grades. I think about social status. I think about relationship status. I think about appearance. I think about talent. I think about intuition. I think about wages. I think about purpose. I think  about pictures on social media. But mostly, I think about how I’ll never compare–never compete. It all wells up until I don’t know what else to do but get angry that I’m not special like her, that I’m special like me and somehow it’s not enough.

The thing about lies is that they’re fueled by fear. As long as fear is involved, the lies win. We never fight for what truth says about us when fear keeps us believing that the lies define us. Too curvy. Too skinny. Too dark. Too light. Too curly-headed. Too thin-haired. Too much. Too little. Too unintelligent. Too intelligent. Too loud. Too quiet. Too unlovable. But really what we’re scared of is that we’re too broken to ever be of any value. Really…what we’re scared of is someone else’s purpose actually does matter more. 

But the other thing about lies is that all they’re out to do is steal. They don’t just leave casualties–they’re out to annihilate everything about you that’s meant to do good in this world. When I look back on all that the lies have stolen from me, the cost is steep. I’ve been spending all my time sitting on the sidelines, making excuses, because I believed I wasn’t good enough to get in the game. This whole time my job really was to show people who Amanda Russell is by developing my own strengths and playing them to the best of my ability: my writing abilities, my humor, my social skills, my love for adventure, my love for life, my love for people.

By focusing on my lack of artistic skills, I’m going nowhere. 

We need to learn how to speak kindly to ourselves. In my heart of hearts, I know that healing is a Jesus-thing and nothing less. Only He can fill you up again. We need to learn to see ourselves as He sees us: worthy, loved, beautiful, purposed. You weren’t placed on a shelf. You were placed in a story. You have a say and you have a story and if you were to go or decide to sit on the sideline, the world would never recover from the loss. You might be sitting there and thinking that’s a pretty radical statement, but I’m standing by it. If there was no you, the whole world would miss out on the things only you can create.   We need you to be you.

So here’s what I’m thinking, babe. How about I root for you and you root for me? How about we build each other up? How about we help each other face the lies? How about we point out the things that make each other unique? How about we make conversations empowering and supportive? Because this lie is powerful and it’s out for blood. It’s out to take away everything good and beautiful about you. It might take going back to the very root of the comparison lie and digging it up. It might take killing it with hard and specific conversations about where you’re at on the self-worth scale.

But you know what?

It definitely takes us looking out for the lies in other people. It takes us getting down on eye level and saying specifically, “Why would you say that about yourself?” If we do this for six year olds, we need to do this for ourselves and for each other. We have to stop the competition. The guy you’re both going for isn’t worth it. The promotion you’re both shooting for isn’t worth it. The beauty contest isn’t a thing. Nothing that requires stepping over other people or stepping all over yourself is worth it.

At the end of the day, be the best you can be and drop the rest at the door. Let it go.

So here’s what we’re going to do. I want you to repost this and name 3 beautiful things about yourself that you like. I’ll go first:

1.) I like that I’m kind.

2.) I like that I’m real with people.

3.) I like that I’m funny.

the cat story.


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Hi there! I need a laugh. Do you need a laugh?

WELL COME ON IN, FERNANDO. IT’S A TUESDAY.

(Quick sidenote: I’m giving you a name because I need a visual. It’s part of my process. So, shh. No more questions, Matilda.)

I digress.

(Another sidenote: It truly bothers me that I tend to write quick, quirky sentences rather than paragraphs. But like…THERE REALLY AREN’T ANY OTHER WORDS. I CANNOT DEAL. My old English teachers are dropping like flies over these life decisions. I mean, isn’t it bad enough that I dependent clause the heck out of everything I do–WHY THE MADNESS. IT’S BEYOND EVEN AN ARTISTIC STRETCH AT THIS POINT. When is enough enough? I know these were the questions you had, Beatrice, so have no fear–I’ve asked them. Rest your soul.)

So story time. Once upon a time, there was a little teeny-bopper named Mandie. And let’s face it, she was an idiot. An overbearing, crazy, pee-your-pants-laughing sort of 20-year old. (Yes, she was 20 at the time of this story–a fact not overlooked by the MUCH OLDER/WISER version of the 20-year-old-in-a-onesie. This current 24-year-old is merely a name-bearer–a new and improved version of the crazy child– who has gone to extreme PR measures to leave all traces of 20-year-old Mandie in 2013 WHERE THEY BELONG. We don’t need that kind of negativity here, 2017.)

So the NEWLY turned–might I add–20 year old had this onesie. It had sock monkeys for feet and SOMEHOW WE ALL THOUGHT IT WOULD TURN OUT OKAY. One cold January night the girl was in a homework-evading mood and thought it would be fun to shove, quite literally, her cat into the onesie and zip her in. You know how 8 year olds shove baby dolls up their shirts and walk around like, “MAMA, I’m having a baaaaby.” Yep. That’s what was occurring at much higher levels of creativity, hyper-activity, and pure stupidity.

Poor Marshmallow.

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Her life has never been easy.

Unfortunately, the 20-year-old onesie-loving, cat-loving freak didn’t think about slippage. Yep. The cat began to slip slowly down the leg of the onesie, which the 20-year-old thought was HILARIOUS. So the 20-year-old, cat in semi-tow, hobbled out to the living room where her parents were casually watching the news and started laughing so hard, trying to tell them what the sitch was that all they knew to do was stare in confusion and start counting regrets like WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL ME, CHILD, AND WHAT IS THE BULGE IN YOUR PANT LEG. AND ALSO, IS THAT A ONESIE.

(Before I go any further, I must admit that this 20-year-old had experienced small issues with bladder control in situations where laughter is present…yeah…she’d peed in almost every house of every friend she’d ever had…because…yeah…this one was a laugher. And EVERYTHING was funny.)

Before any coherent sentence could be formed, the 20-year-old–who had been laughing UNBELIEVABLY hard about such an UNBELIEVABLY stupid situation that she couldn’t even stop the urge–there was NOTHING to be done. The floodgates were unleashed.

And Marshmallow, still in the leg of the onesie, was absolutely DRENCHED. In…you know.

YET SOMEHOW THE LAUGHTER CONTINUED. And the girl now is hobbling to the bathroom, drenched cat in tow, leaving a trail of YOU KNOW WHAT behind. Marshmallow was wiped down with a bunch of Wet Ones and the zipper on the sock monkey onesie soon-after came into a little accident, which I’m pretty sure was God’s nice way of saying, “Girl…no. I do this with love.”

And now, I tell this story to friends who are having bad days or to prove to people who THINK they’re awkward that uhm…I’VE HAD THIS TERRITORY DOWN FOR YEARS. Don’t even mess with me. I came to play.

(Final sidenote: Yes, the cat is fine. The trauma wore off years ago and she even now lets me pet her sometimes, but any move toward torso-level AND SHE IS GONE.)

So to all you kids out there, it’s all fun and games with your sock monkey onesie until someone throws a cat in and zips it up. WHEN THAT HAPPENS, DROP EVERYTHING AND RUN TO A SAFE SPACE.