she cared + she loved


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“What it all comes down to, Is that everything’s going to be fine, fine, fine, ‘Cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket, And the other one is giving a high five.” -Alanis Morissette 

She’s the sort of person who would hop on board immediately after even just a short description of what it is I wanted to do with this project I’m working on—where my goal is to interview 100 people and ask them virtually the same things about their lives. The questions are open-ended and point to the true answer I’m seeking: tell me who you are and tell me why you’re here. And, reader, I’ve thought through what this project should be called and have thought up a couple different themes or titles but in my gut I know this project isn’t something I’m naming, but rather it is constantly being named and renamed by the people who are brave enough to let me into their worlds. So this project is called, simply: The Anonymous

It’s an hour and a half until her grad-level stats course and I find her in the middle of a Starbucks with her head bent over her work. I approach the table and she looks up, a smile on her face, and suddenly the attention has shifted from work. I extend the greeting and take my end at the opposite end of the table, asking her if she’d like to grab a table outside where there’s less noise. She agrees and grabs her book-bag, following me to a table under some war-torn umbrellas.

I explain the process, confirm the anonymity of this interview, snap a photo of her hands, promise we can take some more pictures at the end of the interview after we both frown at the results, and press the record button. Prior to the interview, I’d asked for her favorite lyrics but she hadn’t been able to make up her mind. “Okay,” I say easily, “What did you listen to last?” And the song was an older one, sung by Alanis Morissette, called Hand In My Pocket. She tells me she loves the first verse because it represents how your physical state doesn’t have to affect your emotional state, that you can still hold out your hand even when you’re going through tough times. As the interview unravels, she shows her full self to be someone who is both creative and curious, both intelligent and kind, while holding a determination to leave a mark on this world she’s proud of.

Her childhood was split into three parts, she explains. She was born in Kentucky and then moved with her family to Illinois, finally landing in Missouri where she lived until her early teenage years. With those childhood days, she equates freedom and a lack of expectations–something she believes is difficult to bring into adult life. “When you’re an adult, everyone expects you to be something,” she says, “When you’re a child, other kids just expect you to be you and so when you meet up with another little kid to go play they’re just like, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’ and after that everything is accepted. You know, as an adult everyone expects something of everyone else. You come in with preconceptions, you know, they’ve already locked you in a box before you even started talking. ” Expectations, she says, are something that’s difficult to not deal with as an adult, oftentimes feeling the pressure to achieve.

These days she lives in Greenville, South Carolina with her husband and cats–three of her personal favorites. She works as a registered behavior technician, working with children on the autism spectrum to help improve their quality of life. On top of maintaining a work life and a home life, she spends her evenings taking courses for her masters degree in Psychology with a concentration on applied behavioral analysis, which she intends on completing in early 2020. Outside of school and work, some of her favorite things are spending time with her husband, when the fall weather becomes cool enough for her to bring out her sweaters, and grabbing coffee with friends. But her favorite place to be is with her own thoughts, holding a deep love of music and expanding her knowledge as much as she can. Being alone and processing her own thoughts, she explains, is how she recharges so she can be present with her loved ones and give them her full attention.

We get through the basics, with her explaining her work and me jotting down notes and writing in numbers from the recording to go back to and direct quote. I ask her what she’s here, on this planet, to do.

“What am I on this planet to do?” she repeats the question to me, allowing a brief second to think. “Help people.”

“In what ways?” I ask, looking up from my notes. She looks off towards the parking lot when she answers questions, like she’s searching for the words to articulate exactly what she believes.

She expands, “Help people to heal, [be] loved, and cared for and when I come in a room I want people to feel like it’s good to be there with me. And I want to help improve quality of life. Like if I were to just disappear off the planet I would like people to think that their lives were better because I touched them in some way.”

But the road to being someone who helps others isn’t an easy one. Working 8-10 hour days in the presence of extreme emotion can be emotionally draining at times, she says, explaining what it’s like to need to be the calm during those moments when emotions and behaviors can become extreme. “When someone’s in crisis mode, the tiniest bit of extra chaos is going to send them to a whole other level of chaos. So you have to make sure that you are the antithesis of chaos –you are placid, you are a calm lake to their storm because the minute you bring that calm it’s going to deescalate the behavior immediately.”

And what is one thing she wishes she didn’t have to deal with? I ask the question, leafing over my notes and glancing up carefully. She tells me that she wishes she didn’t have to deal with the ignorance of others, either personally or professionally. For an example, she tells me a story of a man who approached her and a client at McDonald’s. “What’s that kid’s problem?” the man had asked, leaving her unsure of what to say so she just walked away. “That level of ignorance about people and how they’re different and how even if they’re different they can mean something in this world, really gets to me and personally, when people don’t understand the differences of others–we all look different, we all sound different, we all act different and when people don’t understand that and expect everyone to fit in a box it bothers me.”

Despite the frustration, she is still on a mission to leave this world better than she found it. Education, she believes, is the way to a kinder, more understanding world. One of the things she’d love to do with her time on earth is to help educate people on the variance of other people around them. “I feel like if people were more educated on diversity, I feel like everyone would be a little more kind to one another. There would be more understanding. And kindness and love are the two biggest things, I feel like, for someone to have,” she explains, emphasizing the importance of kindness in a world full of diversity. She believes judging other people based off of perspectives can’t be done because every person comes from such different cultural, neurological backgrounds.

I ask her what kindness would look like, how it would affect the world we live in.

“Kindness, I view as kind of a form of love,” she explains, “Kindness is loving someone no matter how they’re acting and responding in a way that even if you don’t understand them completely, you’re putting forth your best effort to understand.”

We chat a bit more about her ideas and the importance of a kind world, but with my final question I ask her what she would have as her epitaph, if she could choose it, and she thinks for a minute, looking back out towards the road like she’s accumulating all the thoughts she’s ever had into a simple sentence. It’s a hard question to answer, asking someone to summarize everything they want out of this life, but she comes up with her answer fairly quickly.

Her answer is simple, but profound:

“She cared,” she says, pausing briefly. “She cared and she loved.”

yellow bookcases, lemon crepes, + the art of waking up


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 “Even in my worst times you could see the best in me/ Flashback to my mistakes, my rebounds, my earthquakes/ Even in my worst lies, you saw the truth in me/ And I woke up just in time.” -Dress, Taylor Swift

You know, reader, you really are too freaking good to me. I can take a blog hiatus and still know you’ll meet me here. I can post a 4 AM ranty, insecure status and know that I’ve still got people who love me and are rooting for me. I can work on a project and it fail and I know I can still come back with better, more intentional work. It’s not something I ever want to take for granted, that I’ve been built up and loved on and rooted for. There are some people who don’t like what I say or the way I say it and I’m becoming fine with that because I’d rather create work that’s meaningful to me and a handful of other people rather than creating something based on what everyone else wants to hear. I’m grateful for the path. I’m grateful for the work. And I’m grateful for the people who reminded me that I have a blog that means a lot to a lot of different people when I fall down and get hurt.

And so, every time I come back from a hiatus (fancy wording for someone with SUCH an inconsistent batting average. Get it together, Russell.), I like to do a post that feels more like taking a map and zooming in on a trail. To me, hearing about what someone’s been doing in their day-to-day sets the scene for everything to follow. It’s true that I usually prefer telling the stories of my past because I’m still figuring that part of my life out, but for today I’m going to tell a different story: the story of where I am.  And so, reader, welcome to it. 

There are three things I’m finding some happiness in lately: the color yellow–like the bookcase I smeared with the brightest, happiest yellow I could find right before I moved out this July–lemon crepes, and the art of waking up. It is an art, ladies and gentlemen, and for a long time I didn’t think I could wake up but here I am. When I say wake up, I mean live my life on my own terms and not on auto-pilot.

It’s been 12 months now. 12 months of doing brave and uncomfortable things and conquering them and moving onto the next thing. It doesn’t feel like this is what I’ve been doing, but it is–I know it because when I sit down and think about where I was a year ago, it feels like I was that person years ago rather than simply months ago. Personal growth is a slow and grueling process and I may be the only one who sees it, but…I’m proud of me, reader.

It’s been 18 months since I’ve been paid to wipe down tables and wear a button-up blue shirt for a living–18 months since I’ve been required to wipe down the counters in the bathroom when I happened to be in there…and yet, here I am wiping down the counters in the bathroom again like I know I don’t have to any more. I take an extra paper towel and it’s a side-to-side sort of motion–cathartic, almost. Some things don’t change. Some parts of you stay with you, including the expectations placed on you.

And so, I push open the bathroom door. It’s a Wednesday and I’m 25 and the month is August. It’s the mid-afternoon feel–where you’ve had your two coffees and the center is all quiet, the monosyllabic feel of keypads being typed away at and agents talking in low tones. Will the lights flicker off for three seconds like they did the day before? Or will the members all suddenly call in at the same time? It’s 2 pm and no one knows what will happen in the interim between the quiet hour and 5 o’clock. I plop down at the large, leather swivel chair I finally traded up for, taking it from an empty desk near mine when no one was looking, and swing myself back to the two computer screens in front of me. I pause, looking at the screensaver for today–it’s a waterfall, redwood trees framing the photo. They seem sky bound, reaching up as far into the blue sky as they can. I click the screen, type in my password and reach for my headset. It’s quieter today, than what it’s been lately–armies of members climbing into our queue, demanding answers day-in and day-out. We are the policy guards, the keepers of the rules, the mediators.

I secure my headset and reach for my mint-green chapstick in my desk, apply it with an easy stroke and rub my lips together. I lean back in the chair and wait, stare up at the ceiling. The cord runs from the headset, stretched across the arm of my chair and connects to the phone on my desk. I’ve got my microphone pushed up, away from my mouth while I wait. One minute, two minutes, three minutes, seven. The phone rings and then beeps in my ear and I bring the microphone down to my mouth, breathe in,  and say in my perfected professional tone, “Thank you for calling—-. This is Amanda. Are you calling as an active or retired member today?” I press the mute button to clear my throat and then respond, “Okay, thank you.” I’m at work immediately on my case, copy-pasting information from one screen to the next while I confirm information with the members. “And, ma’am, how do you spell that last name?” I wait, my fingers hovering just above the keyboard. She clarifies and I nod, typing along. In this job, I’ve heard more “V as in Victor, P as in Paul, N as in Nancy” than I’d ever expected to hear.

The week pulls us along. I spend my evenings running from being alone with myself, eating dinner at my parents’ house, working on a new project, and swapping memes with my friends. I get home late, climb up weary stairs and try to stay out of everyone’s way. I charge the watch that emits electric shocks each morning to wake me up and toggle between episodes of The Office and Gilmore Girls to pass the time. We hit Friday with a sigh of relief. I look over at my desk-buddy and she says, “Just a few more hours,” with a laugh. I laugh with her–the joke is: it’s 8 AM. I sip at my latte and lean back in my chair, ready as I’ll ever be for a Friday. I daydream about all the apple picking and lemon-crepe eating I plan to do and wait for my first member of the day.

The next day, I pull into my therapist’s office, early Saturday morning when all the locals are out brunching or sleeping in. I find a spot on the gravel lot and pull out my makeup bag, my hair still damp from the 12 minute shower 20 minutes ago. Friday night was an Ihop night, hanging with friends over pancakes and coffee. The night before that was for storming out of my parent’s house and crying my eyes out in a Publix parking lot.  The weekend before was a night of burying my worries in unhealthy ways and lashing out. This life is a process–an amalgamation of dealing with past hurts while looking forward with both eyes open this time.

I walk up the gravel drive and push open the framed white door into my therapist’s building, climbing the stairs loudly. My dad always said I was like a bull in a china shop. As always, my flamingo mug is in place at the Keurig and a deep sense of belonging hits me as I dig through K-cups until I find my usual: Starbucks’ Breakfast Blend. I pop it in and press start. Three creams and I drizzle sugar into the blend, stirring it with a plastic spoon as I ease onto the couch.

“Well, I am glad to have you back,” she chuckles, asking me what happened with the other therapists she’d referred me to for exposure therapy. It had been my idea, getting help with the deep fears that grip me, but here I am sitting on her couch like we both knew I would be.  I explain the insurance situation, joking about how I have extensive plans of exposing myself to my own fears. We chat about everything–work, family, relationships, goals, self-worth. I head back down the stairs at the end of the session, after shaking the residue from the kinetic sand off my hands and grabbing my bag, and confirm the appointment for two weeks from now. We’re working through expectations and doing brave things.

You should know, reader, that I’m not perfect. Man. I’m so not perfect it’s insane. If I’d had it my way, I would live a yellow bookcases and lemon crepes sort of life–the sort of life you dream about growing up, all the while not knowing that the very same things you’re living is your life. That’s it. The moments that collect dust in the background while you’re reaching for more is your life. It’s not all daisies, man. It’s grueling at times. It’s heart-breaking. It’s traumatizing, even. But it’s yours, right? So it matters?

So, hello there, Coffee Beans. It’s just like me to come back to something in September, isn’t it? This month is all mine, this blog is all mine, and this life is my gift to sort through, build up, tear down, build up again, and give back.

 

Hey Babe: When You’re Drowning.


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“Sensitive people like you and me, we have stimuli constantly being funneled into our brains. We lead different lives, but interesting ones.” -my therapist

Twofoursevenfourteennineteentwentyonetwentyfivetwentyfivetwentyseventhirtythirtyfivethirtyninethirtyninefortyonefiftyfivefiftyfive. I’m counting street signs in the back of my mind, picturing myself somewhere different, somewhere I’m seen. 

Hands tap against the wheel to the rhythm, picturing myself somewhere else, doing other things. Red light. Can I turn right? No they’re too close. Oh no I’m making the guy behind me mad because we both know I could’ve made it. Please don’t honk at me. Oh no he looks mad. Oh no oh no they’re still too close. Tap, tap, tap. Okay, I can go. Okay, I made it. Oh no oh no, speed up or you’ll make him mad. No one likes a grandma driver. Music, loud. Stop thinking, stop thinking, stop thinking–please stop thinking. 

“Where you at, babe?”

Twenty-five, gripping the steering wheel, listening to music that fit the rhythm and speeding down a highway like I can outrun the ever-turning wheel that is my own mind. As if maybe I can outrun the stories, the words, the ever-present anxiety, the constant whir of emotions that comes along with being Amanda Russell. Anxiety is part of the small print that I must have overlooked when non-existent me was like, “Yeah, God, I’ll take the Amanda Russell package for nine hundred.” Because obviously I signed up for this. I mean like…GOOD GOING NON-EXISTENT ME; YOU LITERALLY HAD ONE JOB.

“Where you at, babe?” I’m finding my own self, lost in the dark of my own mind. Some days I feel like a teacher wandering down old, empty hallways, looking for the weeping child in the corner of the hall who can’t find her way back to the room. Some days I feel like I’m having to untangle myself from my own nerves, self-soothe my own self back to the light.

“Where you at, babe?” It’s the thought I think to myself when I’m having a moment or experiencing a deep emotion that I can’t get my grip on. Getting ahold of your own emotions is kind of like cleaning out a pumpkin sometimes: it seems like there’s always more and it seems like there’s always something to get your hands around, but it’s stringy. It’s messy. And you can never grab a handful of the pulp to save your life. Guaranteed.

There are days I wish I could just turn off my mind and think about nothing. See, if I could describe the sound my mind makes it would be simply: static. Echoes of lost sound scattering everywhere and I can’t find the mute button. I’m on my hands and knees wandering around in the dark, but I can’t find that mute button. It’s constant and my mind is constantly weaving stories, weaving words, thinking, rebuilding, counting, stumbling over itself. There is never a minute I’m not thinking, creating, or worrying over something I said, did, or didn’t do. There is never a minute I’m not feeling something and sometimes I’m like a stranger in my own mind, wondering myself what’s going on. And some days my mind is so fast-paced and feelings are so high (because…LIFE) that I can barely keep up. Those are the days I need support. Those are the days I need safe spaces and safe people. Those are the days I put my hands up, take a step back.

That picture at the top of this post? This was my moment for the day, sitting in a parking lot and letting a few tears stream down my face as I texted a novel to my therapist. Today was stressful. Today I was tired and over-caffeinated. Today I had too much on my mind. Today I ripped at the seams a little bit. Today I had to practice some self-care, some kind words for my own self.

Mental health is one of the most stigmatized issues in today’s society and moments like what I had earlier would be seen as weak and deduced to simply the sum of an overly emotional mind. This attitude towards sensitive people and individuals struggling with mental health is something serious and I believe it goes hand-in-hand with the presence of social media. The attitude of  indifference is what’s in and perceived as normal while everything else is considered weak, emotional, or attention-seeking.  And God help you if you genuinely struggle with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or so on. Even cynicism is on its own platform that we call sarcasm or just being real. It’s not being real–it’s being afraid of dealing with emotions.We don’t know how to deal with emotions anymore or engage in honest community and we don’t know how to fix the problem, so we brush it under the rug. As a result, society is weeding out the dreamers, the sensitive, the kind-hearted and the honest. We’re placing more pressure on people to be perfect and that’s funneling directly into mental health issues and exacerbating the problem. We’re replacing real and honest conversations with filtered-over lives and isolated people who find fulfillment from a screen.

If you’re like me and a little tired of social media’s magic tricks where it turns real into fake and if you’re like me and ready to tackle some of these issues head-on, here’s what I do, how I take care of myself, and how I interact with others.

How I Deal:

Safe spaces\\ When it gets tough, I go somewhere beautiful. I want to feel fully at peace and fully surrounded by something bigger than myself. I go for a drive. I walk around the lake. And, of course, Gilmore Girls and a large cup of peppermint tea doesn’t hurt either.

Safe people\\On the days when it gets hard, I reach out. I used to go to anyone with a pulse who would listen and affirm me, but that turned out to just be more damaging because they didn’t know the heart of what I was telling them had to do with my mental health struggles. To be honest, I didn’t even know. But now that I’ve ripped the mask off of anxiety and look it straight in the eye, I know better. I know how it feels. I know the signs. I know where I’m at on the anxiety meter. I have better coping skills and I have a better understanding of what’s happening.

These days I have two contacts I know I can reach out to at any time, but even with them I do it sparingly because I’m aware of co-dependency and I acknowledge that’s not what I want for my life. I acknowledge depending on others for my own fulfillment is not part of the game plan. These two people are the only ones I trust with all the ugly, messy emotions and both of these people I trust explicitly with my feelings because a.) I know they’ll never give up on me or make me feel shame for the way I’m feeling and b.) I know they love me unconditionally and want to see me happy and healthy and c.) I connect with both of them in a way I don’t always connect with other people.

Kind words\\ I think one of the biggest issues with having someone in your life who struggles is not knowing what to say. Not knowing what to say is okay. Trying to get to a point of compassion and understanding is okay. Sarcasm, cynicism, or patronization is not okay. Invalidating someone’s emotions is not okay.

Here’s what we need from others:

  1. I love you.
  2. What do you need?
  3. You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay.
  4. I’m here. I’m on your side. You’re not crazy.
  5. You may be feeling kind of crummy, but that doesn’t take away your value. You are loved. You are wanted here. You know that, right?
  6. I’m hearing you say this one thing–what do you think you mean by that?

Here’s what we need from ourselves:

  1. I’m feeling _________________.
  2. I’m feeling this way because ____________________.
  3. The root of this feeling is ____________________.

Make it gold\\ LastlyI turn it into something productive. I write it into an Instagram post. I blog about it. I weave it into part of my language when interacting with those around me. I’m not saying I have it down or I’m good at saying the right thing at the right time, but anxiety (for better or for worse) has made me into a better, more-compassionate person.

So hey, babe? I don’t know where you’re at. But your feelings are valid. Your mental health is important. It’s okay if you’re caught in a spiral right now because you don’t have to stay there. Reach out. Get help if you need it. Even if you’re not struggling with mental health per se, you still need to take care of yourself. You still need to find people who will always have your backs. If  you have reached out or gotten help and you still feel like something is off, don’t be afraid to go a different route. Find people who will take care of you. Find people who don’t view your emotions as a burden or make you feel like you’re too much. You’re never too much and people who can help you become the best version of yourself do exist. Keep reaching out, keep speaking up, and keep building on community. 

Because at the end of the day, we need to take care of each other. At the end of the day, right now, the only people you have for certain are the people around you. And at the end of the day, we all matter significantly more than what we know. 

Hey Single: to the boys that broke and built me.


img_0180Hey single:
I think a lot of times we’re mistaken for indifferent when it comes to finding love. I think a lot of times we’re mistaken for not having a lot of feelings or being the ones left behind in the dust. But none of it’s true. Because the fact is we do have our own stories. We do have our own hurts, disappointments, and insecurities. We’re not always YOLOing our lives away. And for the love of all that’s good and holy, Eat, Pray, Love is not the anthem to singlehood or finding yourself. In fact, it’s a very rare anthem. Being single has a rhythm all its own and it’s different for everyone.

This is not a post I’d planned for the week, but something in me knew it was time to tell these stories. For better or worse, these are the stories of some of the guys who both broke me down and built me up and taught me a little more about life and what I wanted out of it.

Without them, I wouldn’t be able to take myself out on my own ice cream dates or know what I’m looking for or finally be comfortable in my own skin.

Part I— To the boy who took me on my first date:

It wasn’t a big deal. I acted like it wasn’t a big deal, but oh, to me it was. It wasn’t actually a date and I knew that. Because in reality, I’d crushed on you since the summer I was sixteen and you were my brother’s friend who probably had no idea. Because in reality I’d wanted to ask you to the dating outing flat-out, but I was so scared that you’d say no that I randomly brought it up one day while we were both in a group of friends and said I wanted to go with a friend. It was only because another friend pointed at you and asked, “What about him?” that I was even able to muster up the courage to ask, “Would you?” You shrugged and said, “Sure.”

But on that November day, you showed up when I’d been pacing around the house all day, mentally preparing myself for you not to show up. Because who’d actually go to a dating outing with their friend’s awkward sister? But you did. You showed up on time and came up to the door. You waded through the awkward moments where I was shaking so bad, I could barely mumble, “So how was work?” You made the conversation easy when my heart was pounding in my chest.

Then when it came time for the pumpkin carving contest, you just examined our very basic pumpkin and said, “No, we can do better than this.” So we made it into a Frankenstein pumpkin and won. Like the nineteen-year-old bosses we obviously were.

And so, to the boy who took me on my first date: you offered me your jacket and talked about how much you loved your sister. You taught me what respect for other human beings looks like. You taught me what kindness looks like. And most importantly, you shattered the illusion that guys have to be detached, indifferent, or cocky—that whether feelings are involved or not for his side, there are guys who will still be kind and still show up. You set the standard and I’m thankful you did.

Part II—To the boy who kind of knew:
I remember the day she told me I’d have to work with you one-on-one and I told her no. I asked if there was a way around it because I was always so awkward around guys and I didn’t want the awkward encounters. There was no way around it. My friends all laughed at me because lord above, they knew how single I was and that you were one of the popular ones. I remember the first time we started working together, how you had this look in your eyes like you were picking up on all the nonverbal cues being passed around between me and my friends. But despite myself, you became my friend too and I found myself hoping that I would be the one to change your mind about staying single for the rest of your life. But that simply wasn’t my role.

I also remember the day you walked out for Christmas break, how you never said goodbye. I remember how I felt when I realized you weren’t ever coming back. And I remember when I ran into you and the girlfriend I didn’t know you had, how I, at 21, stopped believing that anything good would ever happen to me.

So to you— the boy who taught me about sarcasm and not caring about other people’s opinions: you were my friend. You listened when I spoke and shook your head, saying, “Of course you did,” when I told you about accidentally finding out about my surprise birthday party. You taught me about not taking life too seriously. And lastly, you showed me that even when I feel a connection to someone, it doesn’t make it real. It makes it a dream.

Part III—To the guy who drove me cross-country:
Most people don’t do stuff like what I did—23 and accepting a temporary traveling job where all the videographers are packed into one hotel room, strangers or not. They wouldn’t have said yes despite all the red flags, despite the fact that the first and only travel job involved traveling 13 hours with and staying in the same hotel room as a stranger they’d only met twice. They wouldn’t go out and have their first beer with two men they barely knew just to look cool. But I was so determined to travel, so determined to be seen as cool, so determined to be detached from my good girl roots that I said yes even though everything in me said, “No, no, no.” I simply packed my pepper spray and texted the tag number to my parents and got in the car, driving into Louisiana that November night. The next morning, over orange juice, we sat in sullen silence and I watched a bible study from a few tables away, realizing at that moment that I was directly opposite to everything I’d ever been in my life. I followed you out of that cafe, holding onto my bag and feeling like a fake.

The weekend couldn’t have gone worse as far as work goes. It was my training weekend and you were the only one there to show me the ropes, but the venue was large enough that we needed a team of five but there was only you and me. On our way back from Houston, we were both stressed out and mad at each other. But you bought me Subway and listened as all the anxiety-ridden stories flowed out and I blabbed at least half-way back to South Carolina. You told me about your past and I told you about mine. You taught me how to grow up but you taught me a couple other important things:
1. Grab the keys. Empower yourself. Push yourself to learn.
2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be so afraid to get something wrong that you freeze up on the job.
3. People are much more complex than they typically let on.
4. Even if it turns out fine and you learn a lot, don’t ignore red flags. Don’t say yes to things you’re actually uncomfortable with.

Part IV—To Mike from LA:
I don’t even think I’ve told my mama about you, but you were my virtual flirtationship. (Sidenote for the readers: Yes. 22-year-old me had what would be referred to as a flirtationship. You should know I’ve pled the blood and washed my walls with holy water. Jesus, take the wheel.)

If you had to know anything, you should know that I got the app out of loneliness. You should know that I only ever wanted to talk to someone. I got the app because I was so tired of never having anything interesting happen that I downloaded it just to see what would happen. And you were the only one I ever messaged with who was actually a kind person. Sure, you might not have been who you said you were and you might have just been a troll but I didn’t mind. I never had to block you because you never asked for pictures. I never had to hide who I actually was because you just built me up and said things like, “You seem like the kind of person who has the determination to lose the weight. But I bet you’re beautiful,” and “If you lived in LA, I’d take you out.”

(Another sidenote: No, I didn’t have to hide who I was. At that point, it was PURELY recreational.)

At that moment, I really, really wanted to live in LA. Because no one likes being 22 and alone. But you were good with my standards and happy just to talk to me, even if it took me days to reply sometimes. And it was me who said goodbye to the whole friendship after scrolling through the messages and realizing how dead it was—after realizing I didn’t actually know you and it wasn’t actually real. But you respected my decision and taught me that even strangers on the internet can be a positive thing and I’ve never let go of that lesson.

And also, I would’ve gone on that date. One hundred percent.

Part V—Finally, to the guy I met on Bumble.
You didn’t know this, but I’d never been formally asked out. You didn’t know that I was a 23-year-old kid who was just trying to figure out if there was a space in the dating scene for me. You didn’t know that I was more or less just looking for a friend. You didn’t know that I didn’t actually believe I’d meet someone for me on that app. And, lastly, you didn’t know that at the time I’d lost 20 pounds and was actually pretty proud of myself.

I didn’t get what I wanted in that situation—I got someone who made me cry instead. I got someone who called me obese and said I wasn’t pretty enough to be picky. And all because I told you I didn’t want to go to your house after a ten minute conversation.

You taught me two things:
1. You made me think. Anyone who has that high of a standard for someone else, must believe they live up to that standard themselves. When they fall from that standard, they lose everything about themselves that they feel is important—they lose identity. I learned I’d much rather be comfortable in my own skin than struggling to live up to an ideal. So thank you.
2. You taught me compassion for anyone who’s struggling with appearance because I’d never been fully rejected by someone based on my own appearance. It had only been a fear of mine, to be rejected. So thank you. You showed me that I could live with a full rejection and be perfectly fine. And I hope you find some compassion for your own self too.

Psst– hey, single? Before I leave you with these, you should know that these are the stories I’ve kept locked away for a long, long time. I don’t know if any resonate with you or not—this was just what I knew I needed to say tonight, to you. I’m sitting here at 2 am and I don’t know if you can remember a time where you wanted to speak up but didn’t or if you fell hard for someone who chose someone else or if you ignored red flags and went anyway or if you had a little thing with someone only to realize it wasn’t real or right. But if you have ignored the warnings or stayed silent or gotten hurt, you’re not alone in it. Your feelings are valid and you have full permission to mourn the loss of a dream or the loss of a friend.

But you don’t have permission to stay alone because you believe that’s the only way for you. Don’t be afraid to get back up, love. Don’t be afraid to fall again. And don’t be afraid to just see if there’s anything there. Because maybe, maybe not, but you’ll always wonder if you never go for it.

And for lord’s sake, don’t be ashamed of your own story, even if it did result in getting hurt or, even worse, regret. Your story matters. It matters so much because it matters to you. 

 

What I Did Instead of Date.


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“I would do anything for you, sir. Anything that was right.” -Jane Eyre

 

I. Part one: where I’ve been.

Pink and white checkered shirt, short-sleeved. Sunday night. Twelve years old. I’m standing there in front of my mom’s mirror, studying my own body and pressing on my waist like maybe if I applied enough pressure the excess fat would magically go away.

I think I could have a figure,” I thought, “…if all this would go away.

(Thirteen years later. )

“What’s wrong with how you look right now?”

Wednesday nights are my therapy nights. My therapist always looks directly at me, like she’s noting the way I speak, the way I look off into the distance when the words won’t come, the way I rake fingers through my hair when I’m nervous. She’s one of two people who’s ever asked me that question specifically, asking me to dig deep inside my own thoughts and figure out why I don’t feel beautiful right here, in my own skin.

I hear my own voice speak, slow, “Well…it’s not beautiful.”

“Why?” she doesn’t negate what I say or head into motivational-speech time, just keeps eyes on me, waiting patiently.

“Uh…” I trail off, waiting for the lightbulb moment, “I…don’t know.” It just always had been that way, since the moment family members started noting the unusual weight gain at eleven and the way I’d watched my friends slip into the junior section like it was nothing at all, while I was headed into this in-between where I didn’t know what would fit me. Since the church elder told my dad that my sister and I wouldn’t marry more than Ingles bag boys if we didn’t slim down. Since the brown-eyed boy who’d offered me his jacket that night and partly because I’d been afraid it wouldn’t fit, I declined. Since the boy who looked like Peter Pan all grown up ended up with someone who was everything I wasn’t when I wanted him to be different–when I thought I needed him to see me.

“Why don’t you think about that this week?” my therapist suggests. “Why is having more fat on your body something that takes away from your beauty?”

And she leaves me with, “I wish you’d have more compassion on yourself.” It’s a shock to the system when she tells me things like that because no one ever tells us to be kind to ourselves, especially not in a world where Facebook threads are on full-alert and nothing is ever said without the political edge.  

II. Part two: what I’ve done instead of date.

Being in a relationship would have ruined me. 

This realization is one that’s come slow, like a deep breath you don’t want to take before plunging into deep waters. But once you take it, you realize it’s good and right and life-giving. For a long time, I blamed how I looked for why I was so alone. Nothing was right–not my hair, not my thighs, not my stomach, not my slouched-over appearance from trying too hard not to look like a giant in the crowd. I felt huge. I felt ugly. I felt unloveable. But you know what? I know now that I couldn’t have been further from the truth. I know now…had I gotten what I wanted, I never would’ve had what I have now.

When my dream world came crumbling down in 2014, it made all the difference in my life. At 22, I’d finally learned that no one was going to do anything for me and I started doing the things I wanted to do.

I went to the state fair. I got a henna tattoo. I rode a camel because I wanted to.

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I got a pixie cut. And I looked the boy who made me so sad directly in the eye for the first time.

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I made amazing friendships and got to be there for them in ways I never would’ve been able to had I been in a relationship.

I graduated with my friends, road-tripped, took a traveling job and went to Houston with a stranger (note: I’m not saying I was the brightest bulb, but here we are anyway. BLESS.) I volunteered with a nonprofit I was passionate about, found other talents I didn’t know I had, started taking long drives just because, found my own voice, and started the book. I learned to date myself. I learned that I liked rom-coms more than any other movie genre ever. Give me McConaughey or Hanks over De Niro any day. I learned that It’s A Wonderful Life is better in July. I learned that red lipstick is my thing…or at least the thing that I want to be my thing. I learned that red hair is not. I learned that I could do things I never thought I could.  I learned that men’s pajamas are way better than women’s.  I learned how to ignore the trolls that want more than you’re willing to give. I learned how to laugh at the guys who take themselves too seriously. I learned how to be alone. I’m not the least bit afraid of being alone. And I’m not going to give someone the time of day if the only reason I’m with them is to avoid being alone.

Forget. That. 

And finally, finally–I learned I actually liked myself, even when I was having an ugly moment. I learned I liked being in the skin I’m in.

Also, yes I got that cat. And she’s adorable. A little weird, but you know…consider the source, people.

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Most importantly, though, I got to know my sister, my brother, my mom, and my dad better than had I just shot off into whatever relationship I thought would bring me the ultimate happiness. I’m so grateful for getting to know them better.

 

So, hey, babe? Here’s the deal:

  1. You’re going to have a lot of feelings about being single. You’re going to be lonely sometimes. You’re going to be tempted to shoot a message to that jerk on Tinder. Maybe you’re even going to want to backtrack to the last relationship you had and beg for a do-over. The single best piece of advice I can give you is simply: if you find yourself misplacing your value, put it back where it belongs. Your value is yours. It was given to you long before you ever took a first step. Don’t forget it’s there because of something  somebody else said.
  2.  You’re going to be given a lot of advice as a single person. Don’t necessarily listen to all the advice that’s thrown at you. Don’t listen to the people who tell you you’re running out of time or ask you personal questions about how you live as a single person. Don’t even pay much attention to the people who tell you, “Hey, he’ll come along one day. Don’t give up on your prince charming.” BLAH.
  3. He/She might not show up, love. You might not find someone. I might not find someone. But do you know what? I’m still going to get up every morning. I’m still going to write books. I’m still going to show up for friends’ birthdays with cracker candy galore and coffee mugs because THIS IS HOW I SHOW AFFECTION. I’m still going to love every aspect of journalism. I’m still going to be passionate about making a difference and the destigmatization of mental health issues.  I’m still going to send out Christmas cards in mass and dance around my kitchen to Lorde. I’m still going to be me. I’m still a package deal, including all the bits and pieces that no one else will ever know about. And you get to be who you are too. He/She might not come along, but you still get to be here. You get to live out purpose no matter what. That, my friend, is everything.

Make the move. Go for the coffee date. Date around, make friends, don’t think too much, live your life. But don’t settle until it’s right. Don’t settle until you find the one who’s good to you. Find the person who makes you laugh harder than anyone else and sees you for you, even on your crummiest days. But for now? Be yourself. That’s your one and only job: to do what’s right for you in this moment and be present in your own life, with your crazy, loud friends and the cat who definitely loves milk and lounging on the roof more than you.

III. Part three: where it all ties together.

And you know what else? It’s been about a month since I was first asked to define beauty. Nearly a week ago, my therapist asked me to finish some sentences for her.

She started, “I am…”

Immediately, a word popped into my head and I found myself frowning, tilting my head to one side. That can’t be right, I thought. 

I looked at her, “Does it have to be the first word?”

“That’s preferable, but you don’t absolutely have to.”

“It’s just…” I shook my head, “I don’t know where it came from. I don’t think it’s accurate.”

“What was it?”

Sheepish smile, I said, “Beautiful.”

She nods, once, smiling, “I like that.”

 If you asked me what I’ve done, in conclusion, instead of date, I’d tell you simply: I lived. I found my own beauty. But, hey, babe? If you don’t know where your beauty is at the moment, give it some time. You’ll find it. I promise you’ll find it. 

 

Coffee Date: When God Doesn’t Email Back.


img_1060(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 babe, let’s do coffee. I hope so much that you meet me here.

Me: Hey, Mom, if we were on a coffee date, where would we go?

Mom: Not Starbucks. 

So, coffee date, if we were on a coffee date, we’d be at Atlanta Bread Company (although if I’m honest, I’m currently sipping a pumpkin spice latte. From Starbucks.) One with a fireplace. And one of us would have to get hot chocolate. Mom’s orders, but she’s probably 100% right. As always, you can meet me in the comment section or the email. I’m always, always there.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask if you’ve ever read If You Find This Letter. This book, guys. GAH. With as long as I’ve followed Hannah Brencher, it’s a shame I just got around to reading her inspiring memoir, but I think sometimes we put off reading the things that will move us the most. I still have a few pages left, but it’s got me wanting to leave love letters all over this city of mine. I’ve already left a few in the hands of close friends and family to let them know I see them, but I’m craving more love letter writing. My mom got me these greeting cards for my birthday and I’m planning on using every, single one of them to redeem that start to 25. Sometimes God does that, doesn’t He? He provides little things to redeem big issues.

PS, coffee date? Do you need a love letter? Shoot me an email. I’ll respond. Tell me what you need, coffee date. I’m italicizing and bolding because I want to know how I can write to you. Any day, any time, coffee date. 

If we were on a coffee date, there would be zero pause before I told you about my emails to God. In fact, even when I’m praising that book I’m itching to talk about the emails. Because as I was reading Hannah Brencher’s beautiful words, I found where she started an email address to God–one that only she and God could ever see–and just started shooting off emails as a tangible way to reach out when she felt alone. It took me approximately four seconds to decide I wanted that too. I needed a space to just go crazy, wild and say all the things I’ve never said or almost said. I needed an action with my words and pressing that send button was everything. I think I’ve sent five. I ask God about the things that were spoken over my life, I ask God about last spring, I ask God why the person I thought would be here by now isn’t here yet.

If we were on a coffee date, we’d get real personal for a minute, coffee date. Because I think I need to. And maybe you do too. In these emails, sometimes I get really angry at God. When I even think to send them, it’s not pretty. I’m whiny. I’m angry. I’m messy. I’m not devout or full of grace or love or compassion. I’m nitty-gritty, why-do-You-let-this-happen–zero black and white, just questions full of colors. But I never invite God to a coffee date. I forget He’s more than a checklist. I forget God doesn’t exist to make everything better. I forget that there’s no secret message in Hebrews that I can decode to read, “Amanda. On this day you will fall in love and on this day you will finish the book and on this day you’ll get published and on this day your words will spring forth into the world and everything will be fine. Go get yourself some coffee, girl, and work on your autograph.” And you know what, coffee date? Sometimes it hurts when–not only does He not send answers to my immediate situation, a lot of times He gets really, really quiet. The sort of quiet where He’s looking right at you, but not saying anything. It hurts because I know He could–but you know what? He always reveals why He doesn’t turn things around. It’s quiet, on time, and a carefully constructed response. He doesn’t lower Himself to meet my emotions, yes, but neither am I left hanging. I still don’t know about the dreams I’ve experienced or the things that have been spoken over my life or the feelings about specific people I just can’t shake, but I do know about God. And He’s got me. Somehow, some way He’s got me.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask the Erin sort of questions. I have this friend who fills my life with lots of laughter, tacos, and adventures every time she’s around and is hands-down one of my favorite people. A few weeks ago she sent me a text and said, “How are you doing? In all honesty.” She wanted the brave, the bold, the messy, the honest truth. And so, coffee date, in all honesty–how are you, babe? How’s life? Is it all falling apart? Because that’s okay. Falling apart is okay. Falling down is okay. But staying down? That’s not part of the deal. You have permission to fail, permission to be breakable, but zero permission to throw in the towel and stay out of the game. 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d tell you I’m learning to be brave. I’m learning to be really, really brave because it counts. Being brave doesn’t equate perfection; it simply means you don’t sit at home when you know you have work to do. You don’t let fear get a say in whether you go in to work or not or whether you go live on Facebook or not.  If you don’t leave the battle, don’t go home when you want to, it will get better.

So, babe, real talk. What are you afraid of? I mean, really. What’s stopping you from doing the thing you know you should do?

If we were on a coffee date, I’d tell you to do the damn thing. You know what it is: the gym, the to-do list, the budget cuts, the meal prep, the emptying of the cat litter, that one, stupid conversation you’ve been putting off, the studying, the book you’re elbow-deep into writing or reading or editing. Just do it. Make it smaller, then take out the task.

Side note: unless it’s giving your cat a flea bath. I give you full permission to procrastinate on that.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d tell you to find someone that writes into your story. I’ve always been in love with the idea of being written to because sometimes–if I’m honest–as a writer it feels like I spend all my time writing to other people. But when I sit back and think about it, I am being written to in unique and beautiful ways. Little cards from distant friends, little ‘this made me think of you’s’, friends asking if I want to head out to coffee, random texts, and the list goes on. Find your people, babe. Find people who will eat Taco Bell with you in random parking lots and go for coffee every Sunday night and But don’t expect the way they write into your life to look like what you’ve imagined in your own head. Let people be. Let them love you the best way they know how.

If we were on a coffee date, I’d ask about your end of the year. Is it going okay? How are you adjusting to these darker nights? We’ve got three months left of 2017, babe. Get out there and enjoy it while it’s here.

Last but not least, if we were on a coffee date I’d ask what your fall bucket list is. Don’t have one? Just give me three things you have to do for it to be fall. Give me the traditions, the baking recipes, and the scarf/legging combos. Go, go, go.

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.