Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 21, 2009: Five Years Later

Dear readers, friends, and family,

Some of you I have known my whole life, some I've known for a few weeks. Some of you I have never met. But each of you has played a special role in my life.

October 21, 2009 was like any other day. I went to college classes, had a meeting and then taught a class. But when everybody least expected it, it became what should have been my last day here on earth. According to me, not God. Trust me, He made it very clear.

I'd like to say that from that day on, life became easy, but it did not. The weeks following, I was put on medications, particularly one, that I would find out almost 5 years later became the initial cause of my misdiagnosis of schizophrenia and the reason I dealt with paranoia for 5 years (unnecessarily). I have been put on over 15 medications, of which I am allergic to about 80%.

In the past 5 years, I graduated at the top of my class in college with honors, won multiple awards and was set to get paid to get a PhD in Biomedical Engineering. But the symptoms of paranoia got worse in graduate school. However, I graduated with a Masters degree.

However hard life is, it is days like this, my 5 year anniversary of what definitely should have been my last day, that we take "inventory" of the blessings of God in our lives. Whether or not you believe in God, we are all blessed in this life. I know what some of you are thinking because I have thought it myself. "How can you say I'm blessed when I have nothing left, whether materialistically, emotionally, physically, etc? I am exhausted, worn out, etc."

I have been there, not just 5 years ago, but multiple times in my life.

As I write this, there are wartorn countries, countries in Africa that are burying at least 50 people a day, and people in financial crisis and dying from hunger or cancer, etc. The list goes on because this world is filled with both good and evil. But I will share something that has kept me going.


After my "fall" of 30-40 feet in 2009, I took a medical leave and went home. I found a group that helped me a lot and one of the women in the group gave me a necklace with a ring on it that said "HOPE" 3 times. The day I received it, I put it on and didn't take it off unless I was hospitalized. I have been hospitalized 8 times in the past 5 years. However, one of the hospital nurses last year took my hospital bracelet off (on which the ring was taped) and it was lost forever. At the time, I was catatonic due to the meds and could not talk. I couldn't tell her that the ring was on the bracelet she just cut off.

Oh well. Just because we lose a material thing(s) that means a lot to us does not mean we lose hope. Yes, the ring reminded me constantly of hope, but now it is so engrained in my mind and heart that I do not need a necklace.

Hope is what keeps me waking up every morning, no matter how difficult I think "tomorrow" will be. Faith is trusting that God will carry me through whatever is placed in front of me. Because I look at all He has carried me through and I say "Wow" in a deep, meaningful, humble way.

I woke up on the ground that night in 2009 and remember all the details. I remember being told that I fractured several vertebrae. I remember them asking me if I could feel my feet or any tingling anywhere in my legs. Vertebrae surround the spinal cord and my vertebrae in my thoracic and lumbar regions were basically shattered, and yet somehow, the shattering did nothing to my spinal cord. I saw the scans of my back and still have that image forever engrained in my mind.

That night will always be in my memory. In a way I am thankful for those memories, because as I train for my first Half Marathon next Spring, I don't take running for granted. I don't take walking for granted. And most importantly, I do not take life for granted. I feel blessed beyond belief. While I may not always be "happy" when I still deal with bipolar and severe PTSD, I do honestly feel content. Yeah, things are tough. But that's life. Contentedness comes not from everything being perfect (because it won't be here on earth), but from our attitudes towards life, God, our circumstances, etc. I may not always find joy in every moment of life, but when I do, I relish in it.

Because I should have died 5 years ago.

How do I know? The EMTs told my mom that I hit a tree and it saved my life.

How do I know that God cares deeply about me (and you)? Because He preserved my ability to run. Running has been so critical in my recovery from mental illness. It helps me feel free, strong, and reminds me of how capable I am of moving forward. I feel God when I run. It also is a physical representation of truly getting back up from a fall.

This life is a journey, with its ups and downs. But always, always, always hold on to hope and joy. Do not let the dark valleys and pits overtake you. For God is there with you, helping you up the ladder or motivating you to get "unstuck."

May the God of love, who is love, bring you all through whatever you are going through today, tomorrow and the days, months, and years to come. May we all remember to hold onto hope.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Spreading Love and Hope

"You have gone through more than anyone I have ever met."
"I have never heard of someone going through so much as you have."
The list goes on of similar things I have heard from people all throughout my life.

I am not out for pity. I am not quite sure if I am even out for empathy, but definitely not sympathy.

Yes, I have been through a lot in my 25 years. But more than that, I have been blessed 10 fold. It may not seem that way but nearly 5 years ago, I nearly took my last breath. The doctors said I hit a tree, which broke my fall. My back was broken and several of my vertebrae were shattered. They took multiple MRI scans to make sure I did not require surgery. I walked two days later, once they created my body cast that I would wear for the next 3 months. I was not supposed to walk or ever run again. And I will repeat, I was not even supposed to be alive.

But I am...

Getting up from that fall was difficult, but it was somewhat of a turning point in my life. I walked at my college graduation, with a GPA of 3.736, one of the highest, Magna Cum Laude in the Honors Program. I received numerous awards. I had a full ride, full salary position to get my PhD, straight from my Bachelors, which is somewhat unheard of.

But things in this life are not perfect. I received my Masters last December and am currently not working due to mental health issues. But that is absolutely no reason to pity me. Some days are hard, some days are easier. But who of us cannot say that about their own lives? So why would you pity me?

Instead I want to spread hope, hence the title of this blog, which I chose over a year ago. Hope is what carries us through whatever we are going through, whether it be a breakup, a hospitalization, a difficult professor, or even the loss of a loved one. To me, there are not levels of pain. We all experience pain and to compare is to try to minimize our own situation instead of allowing ourselves to feel what we need to feel and express what we need to express.

I understand that some people say "well, at least I'm not as bad off as them." "Them" may be people living in third world countries or wartorn countries. Whoever "them" is to you (if you do this), let me ask you a question. What are you grateful for? What brings you hope? And now an even deeper question which I have pondered many times... Instead of sitting around wondering about the people around the world who are "worse off" than you, what can you do for them? (And trust me, you can).

With the internet growing at nearly impossible speeds, we have access to change the world for the better, instead of getting stuck in our own little worlds (which I have done myself- I know the term "pity party"). Our society (primarily Western culture) is absorbed with immediate answers and pleasures (a.k.a. me, me, me all the time!).

And what I'm saying about changing the world does not even have to be limited to third world countries. Saying a kind word to a stranger or even a loved one can lift their spirits. Opening a non-automatic door for a woman pushing a stroller may make her day and make her feel cared for, even only for an instant. Calling an elderly woman or visiting a nursing home can help people feel loved and cared for.

I used to volunteer on a prayer line. I was so terrified my first time someone called me (in the comfort of my own home, no less). But I had prayed for the Holy Spirit to speak through me for 10 minutes prior. People cried and said what I prayed was beautiful but it was not me.

No matter what religion or non-religion you believe/non-believe, we are in this world to not just tolerate each other but to love each other. That is what all of the most well-known prophets throughout our history have taught. Love.

So what is my main point for this post? I started off with my own story of struggle to success (me, me, me) and then I expanded the idea that all of us go through times of struggle (none larger than the rest mentality) and ended with how we can be grateful for our lives and spread hope throughout every corner of this world. If you've turned on the news in the past few weeks, you know we need to do this more than ever.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Flame of Hope

Hi y'all! Yes, I still have somewhat of a "Southern drawl"  even after being back in the Northeast for 10 months after only being in the South for a year and a half. Or maybe I just like saying "y'all" instead of saying "you", which in the English language means both singular and plural. Well that is enough English lessons for today.
How have y'all been? Thanks to all of those who have reached out to me in the past few months that this blog has stayed dormant. My sincere apologies, but I have not been in a state to share what has happened and I still may not be but that is not what this post is about. This post is about more than that, something deeper.
I will quickly explain, though, what has happened over the last few months and years. The brief explanation is that I was put on medications that caused me to have every single possible symptom of schizophrenia. I was put on medication after medication since October 2009 and never seemed to get better. In fact, it got to the point that I could not even leave my house. I would sit on a chair in my room and stare into space for hours, only to look at the clock and realize it was time to go to bed. I was too scared to go outside. I hallucinated cop cars and I thought I heard people when there was nobody even close to me. I heard noises in my head like sirens. I remember all of it. And these are just the past few months. I dealt with extreme paraoia in graduate school, to the point that I almost did not graduate but I did.
So where am I at now? Am I angry? Absolutely. Is it bad to be angry if you are a Christian, as I am? No. Everybody pictures the scene when Jesus got angry at the temple. It is human to be angry. But it goes deeper than that. I feel that there is a deeper meaning to why I dealt with schizophrenia when I did not even have it. I understand what it is like to have it because I experienced it. I lived it. It's not just a term in my psychology textbook. It has given me an empathetic attitude towards those who are in that darkness, the terror, the voices, the hallucinations.
I believe the way we look at things is based on how we choose which lens we want to look through. I could spend the rest of my life being miserable, feeling angry at the endless doctors and hospitals. Or I can thank God that I "only" have to deal with bipolar and PTSD. I say "only" because I find that people minimize their situations if they hear someone else's story that they assume is worse than theirs. Whatever situation you are going through that makes you feel down, upset or is just plain difficult, you are entitled to feel those feelings and express them (positively). You are entitled to have a voice. This life ain't easy. If it was, then what would be the point? Why would people go to churches, temples, and mosques? Why would they try searching for deeper meaning, something larger than themselves?
Well, that is what brings me to my fingernails. Yes, change in subject but bear with me. Below is a picture of how my fingernails currently look. I painted them yesterday.
I have had a rough few weeks. More flashbacks than usual, more than in a long time. But something that has given me hope lately is that my fingernails are growing, almost signifying the growth within my soul. I have chewed my nails all my life until a few months ago. I had an idea to start to use them to express myself.
The anger and frustration I have been feeling lately wanted me to buy black nail color. But in the past three days, I have felt something tell me not to. Well, not exactly. A quote that has gone through my head a lot lately is "light in the darkness." So I was going to paint my nails black and then have a flame of yellow on top, to signify the light. Except ShopRite didn't carry yellow, only orange. Oh well.
I got home and painted my nails, as you can see above. The circles of orange did not come out exactly as I wanted them to. I was frustrated at first but I said to myself, sometimes the light is faint. Sometimes it is blurry. Sometimes it is unclear. But within each of us, there is a flame that keeps us going. Not a flame of anger. But a flame of hope.
Always hang on to that flame. Always hope.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Powerful God Moment

About an hour ago, I had one of the most powerful God moments in my life.

I left my friends' house to go home and it looked like it was going to rain. It started drizzling, so I thought it was fine. I kept walking and halfway around the lake, there was torrential rain. The trees were swaying as if it were a hurricane. The rain hit hard against every part of my body. The water in the lake became waves due to the powerful winds.

I took this very short video...


At this time, I had my phone playing Chris Tomlin's "Glory in the Highest." It was one of the most powerful moments in my life because I felt everything around me and I saw the glory and power and might of God. I praised God through the wind and the rain.

I kept walking and I got around a corner and all of a sudden, it was calm. It was peaceful. The sky opened up to blue sky once again. This past week, as many of you know, was one of the most tough in the past few years. I had to deal with a lot of paranoia and anxiety. I thought I might have to go into the hospital, but this whole situation of nature reminded me that if you just keep going around the corner, if you keep looking past your current situation, you will keep moving forward into the life that God has laid out for you.

Here is a photo I took a few minutes after the video was taken.

Holy God, we thank you for the moments through which you remind us of how powerful You are. Thank you for being with us through all the moments of our lives. We are in awe of your wondrous works throughout nature and our daily lives. We ask that you please bless us and help us to keep going around the corner, keep moving forward and help us to find You even in the most difficult of circumstances. Amen.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Never Give In...

I think it's been a few months since I last posted. But through that time, there have been points where I wanted to blog but didn't know what to say. I don't know when my next post will be but I had some stuff to say...

Currently I am not working because I am still mentally ill. I am sick. One of the first questions I get from people is where I work. I don't always know what to say so I just say I'm sick and not able to work. Someone I talked to the other day said "Well you don't look sick." I left it at that although I wanted to tell the person that mental illness is often invisible. When I'm paranoid or psychotic and I know it, I try not to let other people in on it. Sometimes for fear that they may make fun of me and make it worse.

Not too long ago, I celebrated my 13 month anniversary of being out of the hospital. This past week has been one of the most difficult weeks in a long time. I've been more paranoid and anxious than normal. Some personal things came up that I have to sort through. But I am very happy to have been able to stay out of the hospital. The one thing I have learned the most through being mentally ill is that you never should give up. Often I write about motivational things and I don't always know what to say to motivate others except to say that you should look at how God has carried you through the difficult times in your life.

If you're like me, you've noticed God's fingerprint even in the most difficult of circumstances. God has guided me, held my hand and been there through everything, even when I am at my sickest. When I was in the hospital last year, even in my worst paranoid thinking, I recited the Lord's Prayer. Looking back on that, I know it was God getting through to me even in the darkest times, letting me know He was there with me.

I am really excited about something that is happening in my life. My brother and I are beginning to train for a Half Marathon next year and then hopefully doing the NYC Marathon the next year. This has been a dream of mine ever since I was a little kid. There is something about running 26.2 miles that motivates the mind. There are times when running that you want to give up. You want to give in to your tired muscles. You're completely out of breath. You just want to stop but then you get a runner's high and you keep going, even through the darkest moments of the race.

And I believe that's what God wants for each of us in this thing we call life. He wants each of us to keep going, to not give up, to fight until the end, to keep going despite the bad voices...

Sunday, March 9, 2014

All About Respect

Some of you reading this may know that the Paralympic Winter games are going on. But many of you probably do not. Let me explain.

Last night, my friends and I watched the games. For 3 hours, we watched sled hockey and sitting/standing biathlon. In the middle of these games, there were very brief results of a few other sports, including wheelchair curling and skiing, a sport in which I would have liked to see all of it.

In sled hockey, there were people who were missing a leg or both legs or paralyzed or other disabilities that confine the players to wheelchairs or the use of a prosthetic. But that does not matter and is beside the point. The game was USA vs. Italy and it was as action packed, if not more so, as the normal Olympic games.For the full hour of showing, my friends and I were on the edge of our seats, screaming at the TV, just like we did while watching the Olympics.

To tell you the truth, I have been excited for the Paralympic games for the past two weeks or so, since I finished watching the Olympic games. My friends and I agree that we prefer the Paralympic games.

I have to say I am thoroughly upset by the almost nonexistent coverage of the Paralympic games. There is barely anything about the games on national news. There is no coverage on the Today Show, as there was during the Olympics. There is no OlympicZone on NBC. No interviews with Paralympians, as I would love to see. The only thing shown on NBC, a main national channel, was a severely shortened version of the Opening Ceremony. I say "severely shortened" because they only showed an hour of the ceremony, missing most of it. It is almost like they are saying that disabled athletes are not important enough to be on national news. Granted, they are actually showing some of the Paralympics.

Now let me explain why this is so important to me.

Ever since I was a little child, I have known people with mental and physical disabilities. In fact, I have worked with hundreds of kids and adults with special needs. My first memory of working with someone was a blind boy who I taught how to hula hoop. I have volunteered at schools and a camp. At the camp, I helped campers do activities they never thought they could do, like mountain climbing. I have a passion for helping people with disabilities achieve their dreams.

I, myself, have an almost invisible disability. It is not as apparent as most. But that does not matter.

I believe disabled people can do anything they put their mind to, with modifications.

And disabled athletes are just as important as "normal athletes."

I also believe that this lack of national coverage is awful and discriminatory. It is like saying that people with disabilities are not as important as those without disabilities, "normal" athletes. And that is wrong.

No wonder we have so much discrimination. No wonder people with disabilities are not treated correctly. No wonder there are people who park in disabled parking spots who are not disabled. No wonder people with disabilities are stared at or laughed at.

The respect is not there.

And one other thing. Most of the people in the Paralympics are veterans. These people put their lives on the line for our country and most of them lost a limb or multiple limbs while fighting. Veterans and nonveterans alike have overcome incredible odds to be in the Paralympics. The least we can do is pay attention and watch the games.

It is all about respect.

The Paralymipcs are mainly covered on the NBCSN channel, so if you receive this channel, take some time and watch.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

To Share or Not to Share

"In a pioneering study, psychologist and University of Texas professor James Pennebaker and his colleagues studied what happened when trauma survivors- specifically rape and incest survivors- kept their experiences secret. The research team found that the act of not discussing a traumatic event or confiding it to another person could be more damaging than the actual event. Conversely, when people shared their stories and experiences, their physical health improved, their doctor's visits decreased and they showed significant decreases in their stress hormones."
-Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Wow. Does any of this surprise you?

Many people wonder why I am so vocal about the abuse I survived as a child. Some say that I should not share what I've been through. But this research shows that people who have been abused should share what they've been through.

It is healthy to share...

Sometimes it's scary to share your story but it is a huge relief when others understand what you've been through or they can relate. It's a huge relief when people take the time to understand and listen. It helps a ton actually. Knowing that you're not alone in the fight makes the fight all the more worth it.