Monday, June 8, 2015


"I just wanted to make the apartment reflect me," I told my friend as I gave her a tour, stopping at the half-painted mural along one wall. "I wanted my art on the walls, not just white."

She glanced around the small living room and laughed.

"You say that you want your art on the walls, but it already is!" she grinned.

I looked around. She was right. My sketches, my writings, my travels are plastered everywhere, and I grin too.

Isn't funny how a sentence from the right person can change your perspective? I try to be that person to every kid I work with, but I know that my messages don't always hit home. But when they do, I see it. I see their eyes light up, their mouths open in surprise. It is as though for the first time, something makes sense. And that's when the questions start.

They ask each other about their views, about their experiences. They ask me about mine. They think and think and think, and try to imagine what other people see. It's incredible, seeing it in teenagers.

Sometimes, if I'm lucky, they'll write me a letter before they leave, thanking me. Once, a girl mailed me one (to the hospital, of course) a few months after her discharge, telling me she was doing well, that I had helped her. I teared up to think that she still remembered me, and that she thought that I had forgotten her.

I do forget names. I'm very bad with names. But I never forget a face. And always, I try to remember to take a look through their perspectives as well. It changes things.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day

Every Memorial Weekend, my family goes camping in this incredible camp with fishing, swimming, boating, archery, and more. It's so much fun, and this is the first year I didn't get to go. I had to work instead.

I was sad at first, sad and stressed. Fri-Mon, I worked 40 hours total, and needless to say, I'm exhausted. BUT.

Oh God, BUT.

We talked about self-injury, we talked about addiction, we talked about PTSD and depression and anxiety and relationships and how to deal with all of it and how it's okay to ask for help and it's okay, really, truly okay, to not BE okay. I watched teenagers' eyes light up. I watched them show their scars, share their stories, cry and laugh together and encourage one another. I watched them start to see things from other points of view, and I watched hope start to form.

When I go back in a few days, most of these kids will be gone, back into the world. But before I left today, I had three of them tell me that I changed them, that what we talked about gave them hope and made them think maybe there was more to this world, to this life, than what they had known so far. It choked me up, and I'm getting a little teary-eyed just writing this.

Memorial Day is for remembering soldiers and battles. I think from now on, I'm going to use it as a day to remember the children I have been honored to challenge and learn from, because they're soldiers too, and their battle is life.

And I like to believe that they are going to win that war.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Hello all! Sorry I haven't posted as of late; I have been overwhelmed with work and school. Today I started taking Adderall for ADHD. I'm only going to be taking it on days that I have school, to help me focus, but today was my day off so I took one today to see how the dose affected me. As the meds were starting to wear off, I wrote a little blurb about it, and I thought maybe y'all would be interested. I hope you enjoy! Hoping to go back to regular updates soon!

I feel like my world is beginning to fracture. All day, I was vaguely aware of stimuli that normally would have been neigh unbearable to me: the whirring of my cat's toy mouse, a honking car horn, bright colors in windows that I pass on the street. All distractions, all set aside without any real difficulty. For the first time in my life, I could focus on one task and one task only. It was surreal and almost terrifying. The world felt flat and boring. The world has never seemed boring to me before.

But the medication is starting to wear off now. I catch myself tilting my head more, the temptations to open a new tab, start a new conversation, try out a new project, are getting stronger. My impulses are starting to flare up in protest at being dampened down all day. Even writing this is a compulsion I have patiently ignored and now have finally given in to. I should be working on my final essay. But this seems important. My first time coming off the meds. My first day of being on medication. The amount of focus I have had for most of the day has been incredible. I have never felt like that before.

I'm becoming more aware of sounds now. The hum of my refrigerator, the clicking of my laptop's keys, the shifting and settling of ice in the freezer. The scrape of my toenails against the hardwood as I curl them up in thought. All things I had not really paid any mind to today, when yesterday they would have driven me to distraction. My awareness to them is slowly returning.

And the colors. They are so much more interesting now than they've been all day. More and more, I find myself distracted by the burnt-out bulb in the ceiling light above me; I've been meaning to replace it for months and every time I think of it, another thought pops up and the concept of lighting is dismissed. But now it's becoming bigger in my mind. It wasn't even an issue today beyond a gentle dismissal earlier. I think I'll have to run to Target to buy more bulbs before this night is over.

See? They're coming back. It was so nice to sit for hours and work on my paper without a million extra tabs open, without music playing, without my brain jumping from task to task like a little wild thing. It has been at peace all day, sleepy. But it's waking now, and demanding to know why it has not been stuffed full of the stimulation that it normally gorges itself on. I do not have an answer to please it.

I can see why people think the world is boring. If I thought like this, if my perspective was like it was today all the time, I would probably be the same way: hardworking, careful, determined to succeed. But I'm not. My mind loves beauty, and it finds beauty everywhere. Adventures are easy to find, easy to conquer. Magic seems a reasonable possibility and the amount of wonder in my day-to-day life, something I take so much for granted, is faded today. Oh, I can still enjoy the pleasantness of a warm breeze, but I cannot hear its whispers. I can still smile at a cloudless sky, but the wonder of its sheer vastness does not overwhelm me today. The world is flat. Flat and boring.

I'm glad I'm not normal.

I am very, very glad my parents did not put me on Adderall as a child.

I am glad these small blue pills only last so long, and soon I will be able to take part in wonder again.

But hopefully I can finish my paper first.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Boots and the Wings

I feel like it's time for another story. . .things have been pretty stressful for me lately, and soon I'll try to update all of you on it, but for now, enjoy this small tale a very good friend of mine has written. She calls it "The Boots and the Wings."

I believe it will make you think.

Once, many years ago, there lived a girl. She was average in just about everything, and just like everyone else, she was born with certain gifts and abilities. She wasn't very smart, but she was intelligent, wise even, and she knew it. Sometimes she wondered that if in the knowing, it made her gift untrue, but people seemed to appreciate her insight and often sought her advice, and so she decided maybe it was true after all. These were her boots, and she walked a long way in them down the path of life, for they kept her grounded and focused on her goals.
But this girl had another gift: creativity. She could sit in an empty room and fill it with voices, people, cities, histories even. When she dreamed, she was rarely herself, so vast was her imagination. And she rather liked that. Sometimes she used her creativity as a channel for her wisdom, but usually she used it for her own amusement. And for a while, that was enough.
But creativity grew within her so strongly that it could not be contained. Gradually, long, slender feathers arched from either side of her spine, forming small wings that grew larger and larger as she utilized her creativity more and more. These wings began to flap, straining upward, but the girl's feet were firmly planted on the ground, shod as they were in her boots of wisdom and intelligence.
At first, the strain was nothing much, just a little tug now and then that could be ignored. But as the girl continued to walk down her path, the wings beat harder and harder, and she could feel her body beginning to ache and strain, and she knew that she would have to choose between her creativity or her intelligence before she was torn in two.
The girl looked down the path she walked. She could see wonderful things there, far off but no less true for the journey. She looked at her family, her friends, the people she cared about. They all walked along this path in boots of their own, and many of them had achieved great and marvelous things. Many of them were happy, many of them had no regrets. But she could see the wings that had once been their creativity dragging along in the dirt behind them, out of strength. Oh, some of them still beat at the air a bit, displaying bits of musical or artistic talent in an otherwise wholesome and practical life, but for the most part, the life had faded from them, and this made her sad. She did not know if she wanted to be like that; the thought of a life with only bits and pieces of creativity within it scared her.
The girl looked up at the sky. Grey clouds gathered above her; it was empty up there, empty and unknown. She was afraid of that too; she did not want to spend her life alone in the sky while everyone she loved and cared about walked along the earth far below.
The wings on the girl's back strained harder the more she thought, and she could feel their desire throughout her whole body. She looked down at her boots. She had walked in them for a long time; they were comfortable, well-worn, certain and steady and long-lasting. She knew they would carry her far. But she could feel where they began to rub at her feet, creating small blisters, and she wasn't sure if her feet would adjust or if that pain would always be there. But her wings were new, untried and uncertain; she had no idea if they would even carry her weight. Her boots were what she had known, and the unknowing of the wings scared her.
Still, they strained, but she could feel them growing weaker, for she was pinned down to the earth by her boots. She knew that if she didn't decide soon, then her wings would lose their life forever.
And so she kicked off her boots.
Instantly she shot upward, ping-ponging off trees, mountains, even walls. It hurt, but after a while she was able to get a feel of flying and looked down at the people she loved. They called out to her, begging her to come back, to return to safety and convention. “You can help so many more people this way!” they cried. “You have so much potential—you can do great things!”
The girl looked past them, down at the path that she once walked in her boots, and it was true, there were many wonderful things along it. Success, happiness, peace and joy. All this, her boots would lead her to, and it was very wonderful indeed.
But the girl's wings pulled her up through the clouds even as she looked down at the path far below her and, curious, the girl looked up.

And she saw the stars.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


It is rare for us to have patients stay longer than a week. Usually, they stay and leave so quickly you barely have time to remember their names. Some will return days, weeks, months later, and be wounded that you don't remember them. “In the time since you've left, I've worked with hundreds of kids,” I want to tell them, but I don't. I just pretend to remember their face, not their name. And they laugh at how forgetful I am.

I wish I could remember all the kids I worked with in inpatient. I still remember the ones I cared for in residential, and I pray for them by name daily. I knew those kids, their likes and dislikes, their quirks and thoughts. In inpatient, you're lucky if you know whether they are on good terms with their parents or not (usually not).

Sometimes, the kids will write me notes or draw me pictures thanking me. Those are the ones I remember. I put them up on my cupboards and I smile every time I see them. It's a reminder to me that even though I may not remember all of their names, I have made some small difference in their lives. Those notes and pictures, they represent to me all of those who I have worked with and cared for in just a small moment of their long lives.

I know I am just one person. I know that I cannot make much of a difference in anyone's life. But I also know that I can look back in my own life, point to one person, and say “There. He is the one who changed me. He is the one who gave me hope. He is why I am who I am today.”

And maybe it's vain, but I want to be that person too.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentine's Day

Yesterday was Valentine's Day.

I'll admit, for all my love of stories, I am not an incredibly romantic person. Sure, I appreciate little gestures of affection, the occasional bouquet of flowers or a nice dinner, but I am far more easily wooed by a new book. But I remember being 16 and feeling incredibly lonely when my friends showed off their gifts from their boyfriends, and I did not want that for the girls I work with. So I stole a page from a friend's book, who in turn had stolen elementary school's book.

I had the girls in my group make little boxes, decorating them with stickers and glitter and paper hearts and markers and paint. They took hours, carefully writing their names, adding cute designs. And then I had them make valentines for every girl in that group, and distribute them in each other's boxes.

There was so much laughter. I saw smiles all around, and over and over I heard a girl proclaim "This is the best Valentine's Day I've had in a long time--I can't believe I'm in a psych ward!"

The most touching part was that they all made me a valentine as well. Reading their little notes, colorfully decorated, I felt a little choked up. I wanted to do something special for them, something that would lighten their sorrow. Instead, they filled me up with love.

And all involved had a lovely Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 8, 2015


I am really beginning to love working with teenage girls.

When I first started working with girls instead of boys, I was somewhat resentful. I liked boys--they were easy to understand, uncomplicated and open. Girls are trickier. They are more deceitful, more suspicious. I've had days where they will simply glare at me.


Recently I've been learning how to talk to them. Being a woman, once a teenager, you'd think this would be somewhat easy, but girls are suspicious of adults, and honestly, rightfully so. Adults have taught them to judge themselves and each other. Adults tell them that they shouldn't wear revealing clothing if they want to have any respect. Adults tell them to act like ladies and to hide their feelings. Adults tell them to grow up, then get angry when they make decisions that those same adults think are infantile. Adults, for teenage girls, are really kind of terrible people.

Of course, that isn't always true. But it is true a lot of the time. And I won't lie, I've heard those same judgments cast from the mouths of my coworkers, and once I did the same. As children, as teenagers, we were taught that that is what adults do. We are supposed to judge.

I see girls walk in with push up bras, with leggings and high heels and tops that leave nothing to the imagination. I see the way they flaunt their bodies at the boys across the way, and I sigh and navigate them back to their groups, where we talk about self-respect and the importance of acceptance.

"I dress like that because it's the only time I feel good about myself--I'm proud of my body," a girl said not long ago. "But my mom says I look like a slut."

"People should be allowed to dress how they choose," I say. "But if the only time you feel good about yourself is when you're dressed in a specific way, that tells me that your perception of yourself is not a good one. People who are truly comfortable in their own skin are not the ones who look in the mirror and think that they are beautiful. They are the ones who forget that the mirror is even there."

A few murmurs. This is not what they have been taught. It is not what I have been taught. But it is what I have learned, as an adult, as a woman.

Adults will tell kids that everyone is beautiful. Adults will tell kids that there is no one standard of beauty, that each person perceives it differently. And the kids hear it and roll their eyes. They know that's not true. I take so much issue with that lesson, because the focus is still on beauty.

So I try to teach them something better: that beauty doesn't matter.

Because it doesn't.

What matters is strength. Strength to ignore standards, strength to lift up your chin and keep working, keep moving forward, keep climbing. Strength to be comfortable in your own skin, to not care if the way you dress or talk or carry yourself makes you stand out, makes people judge you. Strength to make dreams, strength to carry them out. Strength to realize that sometimes, you will never make it, and strength to realize that that's okay. Strength to cry, to be honest, to smile and laugh and dance and revel in the wonder that is life.

And that matters more than the shell that is beauty ever will.