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Mental Health

Have you ever had someone say, “have you prayed about it,” and in that moment you want to reach across the table and punch them right in the face? It’s not that you don’t believe in the power of prayer or even if you don’t, it’s not that you want to bash on that person’s beliefs. It’s that we live in this world where people think mental health is something that can be fixed or cured by changing our views. They say “have you thiught about the things you have to be thankful for?” Or “maybe you’re just living in the past and you should start focusing on the now.” I don’t think people intentionally say these things to hurt us, even if it feels like that. For me, my depression isn’t something that can be “cured” with a simple change of view. My depression is a lack of serotonin in my brain. It’s my body’s inability to produce the happy gene on its own. Somedays I feel more than overjoyed and ecstatic about life. Other days I cry nonstop and can’t function. I take meds, I exercise, I pray, I eat healthy, I journal, see counselors, and talk about my past to try and overcome the skeletons. It doesn’t seem like I get better and that’s okay. I’ve found ways to cope and deal with the suicidal thoughts. Mental health doesn’t have to have a stigma and it’s okay to not know what to say to someone who suffers from a mental health disorder. Ask them how you can help instead of assuming things about them or the disorder. Pray for them if that’s what you believe in or wish them good karma… but please don’t make them feel worse about their mental health or their inability to “get over it.”

Lou & Leela: Our Parents Bought a Camper

My husband and I travel for a living and decided to a buy a camper for our adventures about a year ago. If you ask us, we would much rather have a stationary home, BUT it is very beautiful & works for the time being.

However, as we patiently wait for a life that doesn’t consist of traveling so often, many millennials and retired couples (and others) buy a camper to travel the world! Or they sell their home to become minimalist and have a smaller space (sort of like tiny houses). They take on this journey and end up LOVING it! My sister and her husband happen to be one of those amazing people who can rock the small-living. They bought their camper around the same time as Sam and I, however, they don’t travel for work–they chose to buy a camper to just live-in! CRAZY! They’ve lived in this camper (which is BEAUTIFUL) for almost a year with their two beagles, Lou & Leela. They both work from home–so they spend almost every hour together (also, I think this is CRAZY, but so happy it works for them).

Since I have read about tons of people buying campers/RVs to live in full-time, I decided to do a Q&A with Mattie and David about their tiny home.

1) Why live in a camper? (Instead of a house/apartment/condo)

Mattie: “Ive always been drawn to smaller spaces and tried to convince David to live in a tiny house for years. When I was looking at tiny houses, I knew I couldn’t get David on board [due to prices]. So I started to look outside the box, which led me to campers. There’s such an incredible community out there for people of all ages, but especially those under forty, full-timing in their campers. I was sold… I just had to get David on board.”

*Side note: David is super easy going and I knew as soon as Mattie had this idea in her head, she could convince him to take on the adventure with her.*

“People tend to think I’m a little crazy for wanting to live small, but it allows us the freedom to put what’s most important first. We’re not tied down to anything right now, we don’t have a large house payment and we both are able to work from home, which is something I am incredibly grateful for. This lifestyle allowed me to focus on my dreams and business and take things to places I wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s been a blessing.”

David: “I was drawn to the idea of downsizing and it gives you the opportunity to be closer to the ones you love. You can also pick up and move anytime. You can live at the beach for a month and move to the mountains the next”

2) Did you plan to remodel your camper when you purchased it?

Both: “Yes! We both knew going in that we would have to make it feel like home for us. I can’t live in a world of beige and everything in the camper was beige when we bought it.”

3) What did you struggle with while remodeling?

Mattie: “Painting! But really, it was tedious. I paint every new place I move into and I didn’t think the camper would be such a challenge because the space is so small. Cue the laughter, it just created more nooks and crannies and oh so many cabinets to paint. I was covered in paint for weeks while I finished everything. I still have some touching up to do, which I’m dreading.”

David: “Getting our queen bed in, we had to full take it apart and put it back together in the camper. We’re not looking forward to taking it back out.”

4) What was the most daring makeover?

Mattie: “The biggest wall in the camper I painted black. I remember David coming home, the paint still wet and looking at me like I was nuts. But I think we both love it now. I would love to seethe new owners add a gallery wall, I think it would be gorgeous!”

David: “Pulling up the carpet, but really Mattie did most of the work, so whatever she says.”

5) What would you still like to change in your camper?

Mattie: “I would love to put vinyl flooring in the slide to get rid of all the carpet and put in new industrial style lights, but I’m not sure we will get there before we sell. Hopefully the new owners will love our style and won’t have to change much.”

David: “If we were living here longer, I would build a portable deck for grilling.”

*Side note: They LOVE their camper and don’t want to move out or sell it, but life happens and there will be more about that further in the blog*

6) What do you like most about the camper?

Mattie: “I really love our bedroom. We love watching moves in bed with our pups, it just feels so cozy since we remodeled. I found this great removable wall paper from Target too which adds such a warm touch and my books are just above the bed so I can easily see them all.”

David: “The fireplace, it puts off so much heat which is great in the colder months.”

Mattie: “I also agree! It feels so cozy watching the snow fall around you and having the fireplace on. We will need to get one for our new home. I also love all our windows, it lets in so much light during the day, helping the space feel even bigger.”

7) What’s something surprising about the camper life?

Mattie: “We don’t need nearly as much stuff as we thought! I had filled the camper to the max when we moved in and I’m constantly purging things each week now. We actually have an empty cabinet or two. It’s funny how little we truly need to live and to feel fulfilled. Material things are just that, i would rather have adventures with my loved ones than something new I don’t even need.”

David: “Ditto”

8) What’s a misconception people have about living in a camper?

Mattie: “Oh my goodness, there are so many! That we must hate being so close to each other is the biggest one I get. While we are forced to be closer, we do have our own space. We both work from home full-time and so we each pick a room for eight hours and then meet for dinner in the kitchen. I typically don’t hear David while he’s working, he’s a pretty quiet person, so I suppose that helps.”

David: “People seem to think we live this lifestyle because we can’t afford something else. Which is always funny seeing their reactions when they see what the inside looks like and how much space we actually have. Everyone is surprised we have surround sound in the camper.”

9) What is your favorite thing about living small?

Mattie: “Being close to my husband and downsizing. David was active duty military at the beginning of our marriage and while it was hard being apart so much, i did look forward to eating my favorite foods for dinner and having the TV remote all to myself for a few weeks at a time. Now that we’ve been in the camper almost a year, we’ve grown a lot closer as we’re kind of forced to be together more.”

David: “I would agree with Mattie, it’s shown us how much we can truly tolerate each other. HA! But in all seriousness, it has been nice being close to my family again.”

10) Why are you selling?

Mattie: “We love our camper and I’ll probably cry the day we sell it, but it’s served it’s purpose for us.For me the biggest reason to sell is because we want to adopt and that’s not something we can do from the camper.”

David: “We’re ready to start our family and having somewhere a little more permanent to settle down will be nice.”

If any of you know Mattie and David, you know they will probably buy a camper to travel the world in later down the road. They love adventures and not having ‘roots’ to tie them down. However, I am very excited that my baby will have her Aunt and Uncle close by when she arrives AND hopefully some new cousins eventually too. Mattie is an extremely talented and artistic person and I’m sure she would love to answer any questions or give advice on remodeling to anyone out there. Just shoot me a question and I will relay it to her. Below I have some before and after photos of the camper–which they will be selling. You can also ask me about the price if you decide you can’t live without this dreamy home!

*Side note: the formatting of this blog keeps correcting itself and since I am using an iPad, I haven’t been able to fix some of the things that are really bothering me–please don’t judge the format 🙂 *

Being a Motherless Daughter

“When a daughter loses a mother, the intervals between grief responses lengthen over time, but her longing never disappears. It always hovers at the edge of her awareness, prepared to surface at any time, in any place, in the least expected ways.” Hope Edelman (Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss)

I became a motherless daughter when I was sixteen years old. This was almost 11 years ago… I lost her to cancer. As I have aged and gone through different phases and stages of life the “longing” for her has come like rapid fire emerging out of nowhere. While other times it is subtle and more like a pinched nerve that only hurts when I move a certain way. Being pregnant without my mom has definitely felt like that pinched nerve at certain moments and other moments it’s like I’m reliving her death and that gasping-for-air-grief all over again.

During my first trimester when I was hospitalized multiple times due to being dehydrated and so sick, I wondered what her pregnancies were like and if she was sick too. I laid up in my mother-in-law’s house for weeks, puking every 20-40 minutes, dry heaving even 12+ hours after I attempted to eat. I laid there everyday so thankful I had this wonderful lady who took care of me like she was my mom, but I also laid there feeling guilty and sad.

As I progressed into the second trimester and started feeling Geneveive kick, I wanted to talk to my mom about those wonderful flutters. I wanted to ask her about stretch marks and how much weight she gained. Now, in my third trimester, I long for her to know her first grand-baby. To have her in the room with me during labor, to call and cry to her when I’m having an anxiety attack because I don’t feel prepared, to simply talk to her about this new journey. Some days it’s in the back of my mind and others it is a blazing forest fire ripping through me.

I want my mom here and that is selfish because I know heaven is beyond anything I could imagine. I feel guilty because I have been blessed with different motherly figures throughout my adulthood and it’s a fine line between letting them love me like their own and feeling like I’m leaving my mom behind. There are so many emotions (some irrational) that come with grief and loss. I feel heartbroken because my daughter will never know this amazing woman who I called my mom. I feel ashamed when I think about all the ‘fill-in’ grandma’s my daughter will have because what if that hurts my mom? I know it’s probably irrational to think that way because God gave me these incredible women to talk to and love me–but it does not make the thoughts go away.

There are times when her death lays on my chest like an elephant suffocating me… I wonder if I am allowed to be loved by other motherly figures. It is okay to have these second families that I spend my time, holidays, etc with? Does it make me a bad daughter to not mourn her at all times? I feel it becomes harder to accept love from others–that I should return the love, gifts, favors, advice with another gift or money. I know God did not take my mom as punishment, but I find myself wanting to punish myself for letting other people in.

I know as I grow older, the longing for her will still not fade. There will always be a need for my mom–questions I have, stories I want to share, other babies I want her to meet… I was blessed to have my mother for sixteen years and I am so thankful for our time, but it was not enough.

Side Note: losing my mother so young did create a special bond between my siblings and I. My little brother has blossomed into this amazing young man who is wise beyond his years. My older sister is a role model, a take-charge and keep us in-line beautiful soul who consistently reminds us the value and importance of family. She is so much like like my mom and it is wonderful having her around to keep that memory even more vibrant. God works in mysterious ways that we don’t always understand, but I know our relationship was a small part of his bigger plan.

Baby G

For the past five years I have wanted nothing more than to be around children. I LOVE kids. I love watching them make sense of the world; ask questions that are completely ridiculous but really wanting to know the answer; learning something new every single moment and being so amazed at the smallest things. Kids are brave, resilient, fearless, (sometimes) dramatic, loving, and generally kind. They believe in the greater good and are so quick to let anyone in–it is truly inspiring.

Since this desire to be around children popped up, my now husband has been really supportive in encouraging me to find a career that centers around children. I worked as a lead teacher at a daycare for a while and then eventually moved on to Nanny three of the cutest and greatest kids I have ever known. They have taught me a love I didn’t know could exist, sacrificing my own needs, needing a break from them–but missing them the second I leave, my food is never off limits, and kids keep you humble. I have watched them grow from these tiny little humans who could barely speak into these beautiful little nuggets that have opinions, wants, requests, likes, hates, etc. They have changed my heart and really prepared me for motherhood. Which is a good thing because in a few short months I will have my own baby girl–baby G.

Reading and hearing about pregnancy, prior to be pregnant, was all this magnificent dream that I could not wait to endure. I was READY to be a mom and every month that I got the monthly reminder I wasn’t, made me sad and honestly a little scared. I just believed it would happen so quickly–I mean it couldn’t be that hard, could it? I was wrong… it was months of not preventing, expecting a positive test, being sad and resentful, and wondering if something was wrong me. (I know this is ridiculous, but I also know tons of women out there who expect it to happen in the snap of a finger). Eventually I had to stop wanting control over something completely out of my control and put my trust in God. We did become pregnant and I found out in late February–I was only 3 weeks and 5 days at the time. My pregnancy test came back positive really early on–which is was AWESOME, but also lead to even more fear.

The first couple weeks of pregnancy weren’t too bad, I was exhausted and trying to keep a secret from my family while I waited for week 12 to finally arrive, but overall I was excited. Then day 1 of week 6 hit–which also meant my morning sickness hit. Let me tell you all something: MORNING SICKNESS IS A GIANT LIE. It doesn’t just happen in the morning and it isn’t just a few rounds of vomiting and you’re back to feeling completely normal. Morning sickness, for lots of women, is an all day event that leaves you overly fatigued, emotionally and physically drained, and honestly kind of mad that a tiny little seed can wreck such havoc on your body that early in his/her life. My morning sickness quickly went from horrible to heinous. Week 7 I was throwing up every 10-20 minutes (mostly dry-heaving) and had to go to the hospital for fluids. Week 8 and 9 were the same. Week 10-14 were the worst. I would try to stand up and immediately start my vomiting cycle. I would eat a piece of toast in attempt to settle my stomach, but it would come right back up. I would try to brush my teeth only to dry-heave for 30 minutes straight. I could not drink a drop of water without an hour of my stomach sharing it’s anger at me. I was in the hospital a total of 9 times. I was throwing up blood, staying 1-2 days at a time in the hospital and CONSISTENTLY puking. I lost over 10 pounds in 6 days. I was empty, hurting, and frightened. Being pregnant adds this extra fear that something horrific is going to happen to your baby who you finally were able to create and carry. Being that sick on top of it left me a nervous wreck. I was afraid something would happen to my child or to me. I was living in this constant state of fear on top of feeling like I was the walking dead.

However, every night when I would lay down, I would thank God for giving me the opportunity to feel the way I was feeling–to give me this child that I was going to raise and hold in a few short months. If I threw up only 50 times that day, I would thank God it wasn’t 60 like the day before. I found ways to find the silver lining in that sickness. I know my first trimester was worse than some women, but I also know there are women out there who beg God every single day to let them feel that way. I am so fortunate and blessed to be able to carry my own child–even if it meant feeling like I was going to die in the process of getting to where I am now. I wish I could say God answers all our prayers or that there are reasons some of us are able to conceive naturally or at all, but I don’t have those answers. I just pray that when you or someone you know is struggling through the first trimester–you/they know it is okay to feel horrible and dreadful, but it is also such a miracle. (I hated hearing this at first too because I was definitely in the mindset of ‘how in the hell do people have multiple kids’). My relationship with God was strengthened and deepened throughout my first trimester. I was worried my mental health would take a toll (I suffer with chronic depression) but it didn’t. I was generally happy even in the sickness.

I am now 22 weeks (YAY) and we found out we are having a baby girl, Genevieve. She is expected to arrive in November. I still have a couple days a week where I wake up super nauseous, but for the most part I am on the mend. I wanted to share this story because I know there are tons of women–like myself–who read about pregnancy and other people’s pregnancy journeys and expect theirs to be spot on. The second we read something that isn’t similar to our own, we freak out. For instance, the first 4-6 weeks of knowing I was pregnant my cramps were INTENSE. I thought I was 11 years-old again and going through my first period. You read about cramps on the internet and they say “mild cramping.” So of course your brain turns to the worst. All of our bodies are different and pregnancy is going to look different on everyone. People will give you advice, share their own stories, and try to help you feel better (all out of kindness), but try to not let yourself get caught up in their story. This is YOUR story, YOUR body, and YOUR baby. If you are concerned, call your doctor–not google. If you keep getting unwanted advice, ask them nicely to listen without sharing their own story. All of us mothers have to stick together and sometimes that means shutting up and being there for one another.

I also wanted to share this story because I am lucky. I am lucky to be able to have a child with my husband. I might have complained throughout this pregnancy, but I hope that never made another woman who is unable to carry feel like I wasn’t grateful. I am beyond grateful and thankful and I don’t know what it is like to not be able to feel my child kicking… But I am praying for you. I am praying God answers your prayers–whether that is exactly what you asked for or him answering your prayers in an unexpected way. I am praying that you get to be a mommy–in whatever way God makes that appear in your life. I am praying that we are all able to be on the journey of motherhood together–even though the rollercoaster ride to get there isn’t the same. God is so good and I hope we can all remember that… especially when it seems he isn’t listening.

Nothing Fancy, Just LOVE!

My husband and I eloped on May 27, 2017. We told only a select amount of people before we traveled to Lake of Ozark’s and tied the knot. It was one of the best days of our lives and I am so incredibly thankful we chose to elope instead of have a big traditional wedding. I have a list of many reasons we eloped and a list of a few things we would have done differently.

We eloped because:

-So many people had opinions on what our wedding should have/shouldn’t have looked like

-We both come from extremely large families, but we also have a handful of friends we consider family and choosing a wedding party would have been a nightmare and tons of feelings probably would have been hurt

-There were a lot of opinions on who should or should not be in our wedding party

-MONEY!!! Sam, unfortunately, married into my HUGE sum of student loan debt and thinking about spending $10+grand on a wedding instead of debt just seemed unrealistic and wasteful of our resources

-I suffer from anxiety and the thought of trying to plan a party that hundreds of people will attend, as well as knowing it would have been one of the biggest days of my life seemed overwhelming (to say the least)

-My mom. My mom died when I was sixteen and even though I had always dreamed of my wedding day and the details that would make it the fairytale Sam wanted for me, it didn’t feel like I could do it without her. As a little girl and even as you get closer to the age of marriage, many women (including myself) imagine their mom helping them with the dress; looking at their mom during the ceremony and seeing the tears of happiness; knowing your mom doesn’t think your husband is good enough but accepting him because she knows how happy he makes you; and knowing that your mom would do everything in her power to make your fairytale wedding come true. I miss my mom daily and there are so many things I wish she could be on Earth for (I know this is selfish because Heaven is a million times better), but missing her on a day that hundreds of other people would have been at just did not feel right with me. It would have made a happy day a lot harder…

-It was about us. Our wedding night will be remembered as a day that was about our love and what we felt for each other. It was simple, elegant, and imperfect. I did not wake up that morning and worry about if I had ordered enough food for all the guests or if the DJ was going to play something too inappropriate for some of our family. I woke up that morning wondering if the storm would pass so we could elope outside or if we would do the ceremony inside. I woke up feeling nervous, but not because I was fearful something would happen or go wrong at our ceremony, but because I was about to marry my best friend. I didn’t have to think about the guests, details, or anything else. I had to wake up and show up and that alone was enough of a reason for us to elope. (Not everyone worries about those things in a big wedding, but anxious/pleaser-Erica does)

A little back story about how we decided to elope before I say the things we wish we would have done differently:

About a week before Memorial Day Weekend, Sam and I were discussing getting engaged. We had talked about our engagement numerous times as well as when our wedding would be. I had always wanted a winter wedding (winter wonderland with snow, Christmas trees, lights, etc), but we had a lot of other, yet wonderful, events happening in the 2017 year that would have prevented us from having a short engagement. I was planning to visit Sam in Texas that weekend because I had a long weekend and Sam was unsure if he could get off. And because I am impatient and quite frankly, because I’m the move-maker in this relationship, I said “Hey, why don’t we elope this weekend?” Sam had heard me talk about elopement on other occasions, but he knew I was serious this time and so he said “if you’re sure, let’s do it!”

We then spent about two days trying to find somewhere to elope Memorial Day Weekend near Texas/New Mexico. Guess what? NOTHING was available because it was a holiday weekend (duh, Erica). I then started researching places in Missouri to elope and I fell upon Old Kinderhook at Lake of the Ozark’s. I emailed the lady with my questions and she said they had 1 hotel room left for the weekend and no other weddings going on. They had an elopement package, originally $1000+, but because they had nothing else going on, she let us have it for $250. This included her coordination, the Minister, and all the other minor details of the day that she would setup for us. The only thing this wedding package did not include was a photographer. Lucky for me, I have an AMAZINGLY talented sister who happens to also take THE BEST photos (find her at greensparrowphotography.net). We knew we had to have photos of the day, so we asked Mattie and of course she said yes. All of these things happened on the Tuesday before our elopement (which happened Saturday).

I also had to make sure we could get our marriage license. I emailed the Boone County office and the wonderful woman there said she would meet us on Saturday morning to get our license to us. At this point, I know God had his hand in this because all of the things that we should have planned months in advance were happening in such a short amount of time. Did I mention about a week before we decided to do this, the lady I had working on altering my mother’s wedding dress for my future wedding (I know, I know, I jumped the gun before I was even engaged) was moving and couldn’t finish the dress? I was devastated because I had waited to find the perfect person for the job and when I did, she wasn’t able to complete it. I had mixed feelings on whether or not the elopement was the best idea, but when things kept falling into place, I was comforted by God and Sam knowing that this was the right move for us. Even though I was unable to wear my mom’s dress on my big day, I found one at Jc Penny’s on sale for $60 with NO alterations needed 🙂 (SCORE)

I had to call my hair stylist and also find someone to help with make-up and lucky for me, I was able to get both Saturday morning within 1 hour of each other. I used Shannon Orton at The Trove for my hair and a lady at Dermistique for my make-up. They were both excited to be in on our secret as well as supportive and encouraging that the horrible storm brewing that day would pass during our ceremony. After my make-up was finished, I had to rush home and grab the rest of my things before meeting up with Mattie to drive to the Lake. Mattie had eloped five years prior to this and because she knew what things she wished she would have had at her own ceremony, she went above and beyond to make the day even more memorable for us. Mattie ordered me a bouquet and a cake, had Mr&Mrs signs for our chairs, added little photos of our families on Sam’s boutonnière and my bouquet (so our families could be with us that day), and also had a box of ’emergency supplies.’ I cannot thank her enough for all she did to make our day perfect.

Once I arrived at Old Kinderhook and checked in, the wedding coordinator and I discussed the ceremony details and where we would have it while it rained. We had planned to have it overlooking the golf-course near a waterfall, but it did not seem like the storm was going to let up, so we moved the plans around to have it on the patio where we would be shielded by an awning. Sam arrived shortly after I did (we did not see each other until the ceremony) as well as the few friends we asked to come stand with us. Up until this point, only five people knew we were eloping and two of them did not find out until 2 hours before the event. We had really debated on telling our immediate family to meet us, but were afraid only some could come and others would but upset they could not be there. Our ceremony was set to happen around 6:45PM because the sun would be setting, as I was getting ready to go hide before I walked to meet my groom, the storm let up and we were able to move the wedding to our original spot–outside. (Another God thing). I walked out around 6:45 and saw the best looking man I know standing there underneath gray skies waiting for me…

And now the things we wish we would have done differently or wish we would have known prior to eloping:

-Told our families prior to the elopement (looking back, it was unnecessary for us to keep it a secret from them anyway and could have been even more wonderful to let them see us as we got ready)

-Being honest with people when they gave their opinions or ‘advise’ for what our wedding day should have been like

-Go in expecting the hurt feelings of others to also cause us hurt feelings

-Knowing that eventually everyone will get past their hurt feelings and be happy for us

-No matter what option you chose, someone is bound to be upset and also tell you about it

-There are always things we wish we would have done differently (example: telling our families)

Our wedding day was perfect for us. Of course, as I mentioned, there are things we would done differently, but life is short and we cannot dwell on those things. We did what was best for us and our marriage. I LOVE big weddings and I hope that if you are one of those people who want to have a big wedding, you do! They are just as wonderful as any other wedding. Do what makes YOU happy and what YOU want. It is YOUR wedding, not anyone else’s.

Hiatus

I’ve sat down in a restaurant and I look over and see two people staring at their phones instead of looking at one another. I always think to myself, “wow, they can’t put their phones down for 5 whole minutes.” I then look away with disgust and pick up my own phone and scroll through Instagram or Facebook. I’m a critic of something I find myself doing constantly. So I took a social media hiatus… I am nearing the end of week three.

A break from social media has been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I’m not on instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat. My blog is connected to Facebook (so it appears I’m still on) and I have Facebook messenger because my brother is deployed and it’s our only form of communication. So you might say I’ve ended my relationship with MOST of social media. At first, it was really challenging. I almost felt a sense of loss and contemplated what to do with all my free time. I actually had to pay attention at stoplights and look at the road while I drive (I know phones and driving are bad but we all do it). I had to make real conversation with people that didn’t begin with “did you see what BillyBob wrote on Facebook” or “did you see what Helen Keller tagged George Washington in?” I had to think of my very own topics and use my intellect instead of the gossip I read about (sigh).

At the start of week two I noticed that I was reading more, using my phone less–my battery actually lasted a whole day–my marriage communication seemed to really improve, and I wasn’t constantly holding something in my hands. I made a New Years resolution to gossip less and I think ridding myself of a constant blast of people’s lives is getting me closer to that goal.

I’m not saying Social Media is bad or that I am giving it up forever, but I do think taking breaks is something I’ll have to consistently do. I’m the type of person who will compare my life, my body, my marriage, etc with the snippets of others’ lives that are portrayed so perfectly online. Rational Erica knows there is more to my friends and family than the picture they posted, but crazy Erica strives to be more like that perfection. I also think I’m becoming more empathetic and compassionate. I don’t immediately assume something just from one post or photo. I have to make an effort to reach out to my friends and family and ask them what is going on in their life. I don’t just look on Facebook and assume everything is going great. I find myself with a lot more free time and at first I was kind of bored because all the other free time went into staring at the screen. But then I started being active and doing those things I kept saying “I don’t have time for.”

My husband is not a social media person, he has Snapchat, but that is it. When he comes home from work, I get excited to see him and ask him about his day. I listen actively and not half-heartedly like before. I don’t have a phone in one hand and pretend to be engaged by looking up every now and again. I literally listen without being distracted. This has been AMAZING for my marriage. I hear my husband when he compliments me and I believe him because I’m looking at him when he says it. I can hold his hand in the car because I don’t have a phone in my hand. At night (he always falls asleep first) I can snuggle him and say our good nights without worrying about what is happening on my phone. I feel like our communication has improved tremendously and all because I had an obsession with social media I was missing out on so much.

I tend to take a lot of photos and put them online. I LOVE photos. But I’ve found myself taking more photos of everyday life and not trying to retake it a million times to get the ‘best’ one for social media. Instead I laugh at the blur in the photo or the fact half the people have their eyes closed. I take photos of my nanny kiddos while they’re doing the most ridiculous and hilarious things and I don’t obsess over if they’re smiling or not. Life isn’t about perfection and our memories aren’t filled with only picture perfect smiles and laughs. Our memories are sad, beautiful, imperfect, filled with pain, love, joy, and all the emotions in between. And I am learning that although social media is a great tool and resource to stay in touch and post our favorite things, I cannot strive to fit the lives of the people I follow on there. They have sad memories too and that’s what makes us all human.

I am not saying farewell to social media, but I am saying goodbye for now. I am just one of those people who needs a reminder of the reality of life through lenses that aren’t half discolored. Please don’t assume I am saying social media is bad and you all suck for using it. I am not. It is a wonderful thing, but for me it became a little less wonderful and caused me to stumble a lot more than I need.

Domestic Violence

My name is Erica Chapin and I am a survivor of Domestic Violence. It took me a long time to believe those words and here I am, saying them aloud. I used to hear the term Domestic Violence and think only physical abuse. I thought that people who were treated poorly, but were never physically assaulted were just in a shitty relationship. It was not until my Junior Year of College when I took a Domestic Violence Course that I was able to fully comprehend what Domestic Violence means.

According to the United States Department of Justice’s Office, the definition of domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain control over another intimate partner. Many forms of abuse are included in this definition: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse, psychological abuse, threats, stalking, and cyberstalking. Victims can include anyone regardless of socioeconomic background, educational level, race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender.

After taking the course in college, I really thought I would be prepared and able to identify an abusive relationship within my social groups and definitely within my own relationships. But, like the definition says, it does not discriminate and a year later I found myself dating a perpetrator.

His name was A and he was seven years older than I. We started dating very seriously right away; seeing each other almost every single day. A had a child and I quickly took on the roll as a stepmother as well. He told me he loved me only two weeks after we started dating. I thought this was how a mature relationship worked and I became infatuated by him. He would tell me how beautiful I was, that I was the greatest thing that ever happened to him, that his ex was a horrible person and I was nothing like her, and that he had never felt this way before. His compliments were laid on thick and I believed every word of them.

About three months into dating, A and I went to the St. Louis Zoo with his son and my family. It was a busy day due to the drive, walking around, and my family showing up late. On the drive back to Columbia, I could tell A was agitated, but I left it alone. In Columbia, a few of my roommates had some friends over to play washers and hang out. A took his son home and came back… He decided that he had enough of me and decided I was a “dirty whore” and that I could “go fuck myself” as he then left and walked home. A few hours later he came back with an apology and tons of excuses about being tired and not meaning what he said. I forgave him almost instantly and put that day behind me, as this was not his typical behavior, I thought.

The next couple of months went by quickly, I was finishing classes at MU for the semester and A was transitioning into a new job. His new job required a lot of road-time, so I did not see him nearly as often. When we were together, his family and son usually surrounded us, so things were decently smooth. That summer I decided to move to Iowa to be with A while he worked on an eight-month long job. I would travel back to Columbia every other week to pick up A’s son and bring him with me to Iowa. We started sharing a bank account and all the money coming in was from A, as I was unable to work while I took care of his child every other week. A made sure I knew the money wasn’t mine. He would scream at me almost every week about money and bills and that I was useless because I wasn’t bringing any money in. After a fight, he would cry and beg for my forgiveness… I would quickly forgive and move on.

The first time A used physical force was at my cousin’s wedding, that same summer. My Uncle and A had gotten into it over something and A decided this situation was my fault. He came up to me after I had asked him to dance and said “you’re a fucking whore and I hate you, I am leaving you here” as he grabbed my arm and squeezed until the last words left his mouth, so he could push me out of the way. He then took my car and drove back to my father’s house, where he then called my phone multiple times leaving me voicemails saying the same things, saying he threw all my stuff in the yard and was driving back to Columbia. My father and his wife, at the time, then drove me home. I walked into the house and found A crying… once again, begging me to forgive him. I forgave him and we moved on.

Nine months after we started dating, A proposed. I accepted and we started planning our wedding. He had since moved back to Columbia and we were living together while I finished school. The fights were happening more frequently and he would often go out in public with me, just to leave me so I would have to find a ride home. He would call my phone and leave voicemails when he left me places about how much he hated me. And after every fight, he would cry and beg for forgiveness. Eventually, I joined a gym and became friends with a different group of people that A did not know. We would have social outings that A often times decided he did not want to come to. One night, I went out with a bunch of my girlfriends and did not make it home. I ended up waking up at a friend’s house around 6am and started walking home because I knew I was going to be in trouble. My phone had died around 12AM that night and I did not call A to let him know where I was… I walk into the house to see A sleeping on the couch. He woke up almost immediately and I tried to play it off as if it wasn’t a big deal… He started pushing me and throwing things around the house; throwing things at me while I cried on the floor and begged him to stop. I told him my phone had died and while I understood his concern for me not coming home, he knew whom I was with and how to get in contact with them. After this event, A started tracking me on his phone.

We went on a date a few days later and on the way home, A and I got into a fight over something. I fell into fetal position as he threw the ottoman my way, screaming that I was a whore and how much he hated me, that he wished I would fucking die, that I didn’t even love him, that I didn’t care about him or his son, and how horrible of a person I was. I cried, begged, and pleaded for him to stop… He said he was leaving, but I decided I was going to leave since both vehicles were mine. I got into the car and turned my phone off so he could not find me. Eventually I had to come home… and I found A crying and begging for forgiveness. I forgave him…

A and I tried to go to counseling after a few more escalated fights, fights that ended with him telling me to kill myself; or him leaving me somewhere after causing a very public scene. A told me that he did not want to be this way and that he was sorry and was hoping he could get help. The counselor gave us some tips, but nothing changed. The fights became more frequent; the name-calling almost a constant in our relationship, throwing things seemed to be a normal for A. We eventually had to move out of our apartment and decided we wanted to live in a bigger house. After we moved in, I started working three jobs to make-up for lost income due to leaving my job so I could fit more classes into my schedule. I had the summer left at MU and had an internship a few days a week as well. I was only sleeping a few hours a day; which meant I rarely saw A. I didn’t see A very much, so our relationship seemed to level out and things were finally looking up again.

A liked to brush his teeth in the shower. He would often misplace his toothbrush on the sink after getting in the shower and have to jump out to grab it. One afternoon, A misplaced his toothbrush, but did not want to look for it himself. He started yelling for me…, which then became yelling at me… which escalated into coming after me… I ran into our room and moved the dresser in front of the door so he could not touch me. I stayed this way for hours, buying my time. Once I finally came out, A pretended he had no idea I was hiding behind the door and dresser and thought I was just taking a nap. He acted like nothing had happened at all. He was getting very good at making me feel like I was making things up; like the fights had never happened.

A and I eventually split up when he left me 3 hours from our home. He left me a voicemail almost every single minute for the entire 3 hours he drove back to Columbia without me. My dad decided I could no longer see A and drove me back to Columbia to get my things. I went to the house and A acted as if he was devastated and begged me to stay, but I told him I could not. I told him we could still date, but I needed to move out while he figured things out. I moved in with a former coworker and talked to A almost daily while I was gone. I was horribly sad and did not know what to do. I started seeing a counselor and became more open with a dear friend about my relationship. One night I went to my old house to get another load of my things and A was acting very strange. He seemed almost euphoric. He started asking me questions about my whereabouts; what I had been up to the last few weeks. He asked me if I had slept with anyone else and I stood dumbfounded as he asked me if I could tell him a story about sleeping with another man. He said it turned him on. A grabbed my arm and pulled me back into his room, where he laid on top of me as he masturbated on me. He kept saying that he would be so turned on if I had sex with someone else and he watched… Once A finished, I left. I drove my car up and down a road contemplating how fast I would need to go to kill myself.

My life with A ended a few months after the masturbation situation, but the feelings did not just vanish. I felt guilty. I felt ashamed. I felt sad. I felt guilty that I left A. I felt like he needed me and I left him when he was at his worst. I thought that maybe if I would have kept his toothbrush in the shower or if I would have ditched my friends to be with him all the time, that maybe he wouldn’t have reacted the way he did. I thought that if I could have been a better girlfriend, then he wouldn’t have had to be the way he was. BUT that is what abusers do. They tear us down to make us feel like we deserve to be treated horribly and inhumanely. They tear us down and take away all the feelings of self-worth we ever had. They use their tears and fake apologies to get us to stay and feel sorry for them, just so they can turn around and do it all over again. They make us think we are crazy and make us fear telling anyone what is happening. They take us away from our families and our friends and make us dependent on their money and housing. They make us feel ashamed to tell anyone, that we are overreacting and making the abuse a bigger deal than it is. They rip us to pieces so they can gain more control over who we are. People who use power to gain control over someone else do NOT love. They do not love you, they do not love me, they do not love anyone. They love power and control. No matter how often A told me he loved me or how many tears he cried, it was NOT love. He would wake up in the middle of the night and try taking my clothes off while I was sleeping; saying he was just dreaming about sex and didn’t realize he was taking my clothes off. THIS IS NOT LOVE. THIS IS ABUSE.

I am sure some of you think it didn’t take long for me to get to this place, that maybe I overcame this trauma quickly because I am can blog about this only 5 years later. But, I want you to know that I am not over it. I still have nightmares about him. I still hear the word “whore” or “slut” and the hair on the back of my neck sticks up. I get into an argument with my husband and I am afraid to state my opinion because what happens if he doesn’t like it and decides to hit me? What happens if I don’t have sex with my husband whenever he wants, will he try raping me? I fear that I am now happy and it’s all going to come crashing down because I am unworthy of that happiness. I have to see a counselor every month because I still have PTSD. I still feel guilt. I still feel unworthy… But I am get stronger every single day.

Everyday I get another chance of healing. I have really worked on extending grace and forgiveness to A. I know that I might sound strange, but God has given me grace and has forgiven me over and over, even though I will never be deserving of it. For me, if I do not extend that same grace and forgiveness to A, I will never be able to heal fully.

Today I am not angry or mad at A, I am sad for A. I am sad that he is a broken person who does not know God, a sinner who will not admit his own sins, and a child of God who has turned his back on the only person who can truly renew him. If I stayed angry, I would still be giving A the power and control over me. Only I have the power to forgive him and he cannot take that away from me. He will not take that away from me. I hope that sharing my story has opened the doors for others to share theirs. I hope that if you are in a relationship that is based on power, that you know YOU ARE NOT ALONE. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. YOU DO NOT DESERVE TO BE TREATED LIKE THAT. There are organizations, people, friends, family, and a God who will meet you where you are and help you get out of it. It is not going to be easy, it is not going to be stress-free, and it is certainly going to come with a lot of tears, fear, and heartache. BUT I believe we can live in a world that does not promote male violence or power over women. We have to stick together and raise awareness and eliminate stigmas. We have to raise our children to know what a healthy relationship is, and we have to teach our children how to get out when it’s not.

My time in the psych ward

In third grade someone invited me to do something I wasn’t ready to do. My innocence was stolen. That year I tried to throw myself down a flight of stairs to kill myself. Fast-forward through a few counseling sessions and made-up lies, I hit 7th grade. We wrote these letters to ourselves that we got to open our senior year of high school. Mine talked about how I didn’t deserve to live and as long as I was doing things for others or sacrificing myself for others happiness then that was all that mattered. Sophomore year of high school I would pop a bunch of pills and drink a ton of alcohol in hopes the two would mix and I could die. My friend caught on and told my parents. My parents were sad (of course) and sent me back to counseling. This time it got real. I lost a bunch of weight, stopped eating, quit doing life. I was miserable… But my mom was dying and how could I be miserable over something so dumb while she was literally miserable because she was given a death sentence. I was put on meds and given a person to discuss my issues with. This lady didn’t really dig too deep, so it was easy to surface level my life and give her what she wanted. I watched my mom breathe her last breath. I pushed those feelings inside and kept living. Freshmen year of college and my high-school boy dumps me. I was crushed. I became an obsessive person who worked out too much, didn’t eat, stopped going to classes and cried myself to sleep every night. Sophomore year and I meet a guy who changes my world. Taught me about racism, diversity, and how the world wasn’t as smooth as I thought. I got drunk at a friend’s birthday and had sex with my then best guy friend. Cheated. The desire of dying had never been so real. Every night I would call my boyfriend and tell him how sorry I was while I held a knife in my hand. Or I would dump out all my pills and try to take them while he screamed at me to stop. I couldn’t forgive myself. I became this person I was more than devastated to be. And like the person that I am, I didn’t deal with my issues and I stuffed them away. College boy and me broke up. I met someone else. He wrecked me. All the fears and irrational thoughts I had before came flying at me. I was a whore. I was a bad person. I didn’t deserve to be alive. He hoped I would die. I wanted to die. I was left and tormented. And I deserved it. I would beg for forgiveness and ask him to stop, but nothing could calm the rage inside. Nothing could stop that storm and it only intensified the fire inside of me. I was burning from the inside out and I didn’t know what could extinguish me. About a year later I found Jesus and a hope I didn’t have before began to burn inside of me instead of self-hatred. I found friends and happiness that wasn’t fake. I found a peace that I didn’t know existed. I started working at a dental office and I thought life was finally going to be on track… then one day I had a panic attack. I started to be irrational and the tears came and just kept coming. I couldn’t stop them. I wanted to die. It was an urge I didn’t have before. I’ve always wanted to die, but not like this. I wanted to leave work and grab a knife and slit my wrists. Before I imagined popping pills or swallowing bleach and slipping away in my sleep. But this day it came full force and I had to leave to go home and slit my wrists. I drove myself to the ER in hopes they’d give me some Xanax and I could calm my nerves and be on my way. (I still had my hope then and Jesus was definitely on my side). But the ER didn’t do what I wanted. Instead they stripped me down into a red paper suit. Paper pants and paper shirt–bright red. The whole hospital knew where I was going. They had a police officer escort my paper-ness and hunched-over blubbering mess into the psych ward. They took my belongings, my phone, my clothes, my purse, everything and locked it up in this closet after they searched my body for weapons. They brought me upstairs to the crazy house (I can say this because I’ve been there) and had me room with someone who thought she was my mom. I spent two nights there before my boyfriend forced them to let me leave. You see, when you get locked up in the looney-bin they put a 96 hour hold on you. But I wasn’t going to make it 96 hours. The floor was relatively nice. The nurses and doctors had their shit together. But the patients did not. I was surrounded by people who didn’t know who they were, patients who were super violent and physical, and people who were forced to come by the law. I didn’t talk to a doctor until my final day there, even though they promised me a doctor/counselor after my first night. She told me she thought I was faking my mental instability and depression and that she loved diagnosing people with this disorder. (I can’t remember the name). She immediately went into diagnosis instead of listening to me. She wasn’t helpful. I wasn’t getting help. I was having a mental breakdown in the worst possible place. I finally got out. I started counseling (again) and more medication. I wish I could say I’m healed now, but I’m not. Just last week I cried myself to sleep while I held all my pills in my hands and thought about meeting my maker. I didn’t sleep for two days so I had to bust out the good ole sleeping pills. My depression has never found an ending. My thoughts have never vanished forever. Every single day and every single minute I fight against the urge to throw myself in front of a moving car or to drown myself in pills and booze. I have a wonderful life and I finally have HOPE but it doesn’t change the little person inside my brain. I wish I could say he was gone. And I wish I could say my time in the psych ward cured me. It didn’t. I’ve tried yoga, mediation, medication, running, exercise, counseling, church, talking to people, blogging, writing, crying, home-remedies, etc. I haven’t found a way to turn off the little man. But it is easier now to want to live. I have dreams and hopes. I want to be a mom. I want to see my nanny kiddos grow up. I want to keep my siblings from burying me. And I want to see what God has in store for me. I didn’t write this blog to get sympathy–my life is actually pretty solid. I wanted to write this because it’s fucking okay. It’s okay to feel like you aren’t going to make it. That one more thing might actually crush you. It’s okay to let your emotions get clogged up and then burst when it makes zero sense to other people. It’s okay to have to use the psych ward to prevent yourself from ending your life. And it’s really okay to feel like you want to die. BUT DO NOT DO IT. People around you, physicians, boyfriends/girlfriends/lovers, friends, everyday citizens may not understand it. And they might tell you to just get over it. But you know what, I UNDERSTAND. and MILLIONS of other people have felt like this and they get it. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Don’t be afraid to spend 3 miserable days in the psych ward if that’s what keeps you alive. Just remember, no matter how hard it gets, it can get better. It won’t be easy. And it sure as hell won’t be over night, but it can get better. I promise. We are still so behind in the medical world when it comes to mental illness. Doctors mean the best and the psych ward isn’t made to make you feel the way I felt. But there are too many people and so many disorders. Give it a chance. And don’t be afraid to talk to someone. Even if it’s a stranger. Our lives aren’t meant to be cut short by our own doing