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Monday, March 13, 2017

#MentalHealthMonday: Advocates I Admire, Demi Lovato & This is My Brave

Never in a million years did I ever think I'd share my mental health issues in public. When I became a television reporter, my parents always warned me to keep my mental illness a secret. They feared I'd be treated differently, or fired. They had good reason to worry. People hear mental illness and they think you're a walking time bomb, or worse people fear you are dangerous. I started blogging and vlogging (I share my mental health journey on my YouTube channel) last year. It was scary at first, then it was liberating. I found so much freedom sharing the highs and lows of living with severe depression. I also found comfort in the stories of others. My social media reach is small, but I've had the most amazing connections with people also living with mental illnesses. I know hope to become a mental health advocate and help others tell their stories as well. 

On this week's #MentalHealthMonday, I'd like to honor the advocates that have motivated me to keep telling my story.


My first memory of Demi Lovato is when she was thrust into the headlines for some very bad behavior on the Jonas Brother tour back in 2010. I remember reading tabloid magazines about her downward spiral. At the time I thought she was another Disney kid gone bad. What I didn't know was at the time Lovato was struggling with drug addiction, self harm, an eating disorder, and mental illness. She eventually left the Jonas Brothers tour and checked into rehab. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Bipolar Disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood energy, and activity. Click here for more details on the disorder from the NIMH .

Since rehab Demi has been sober, healthy, and a strong advocate for mental health. She has spoke in front of Congress, and held public speeches about mental health. Seeing a beautiful, successful star like Demi bravely share her story is so incredibly encouraging. It shows me that I CAN LIVE WITH MY DEPRESSION and IT DOES NOT DEFINE ME. Demi has gone on to be in healthy romantic relationships, lead a successful music career, juggle a stressful job all while having Bipolar Disorder. She also shows just how important is to get ask for help. Some people are afraid to go to a therapist or take medication for their disorders. There is so much shame associated with it. But, advocates like Demi prove getting help allows us to live our best lives in spite of our mental health conditions. Her story makes me feel like I can conquer my dreams as well.  Demi works with a non-profit called Be Vocal that encourages people to share their mental health victories, and helps them get help.
I also love how Demi has shares her triumph and pains in her music. One of my favorite songs from her is called ' My Old Ways' When I hear it I think of all the old ways I used to deal with my depression; isolation, fear, self harm, and shame. 

I also LOVE her song Skyscraper. 

A friend introduced me to a 'This is My Brave' last year. I was just coming out of a dark depression and I felt like no one understand me. She told me about an organization that helps people with mental illness share their stories. The way they help people tell their stories is incredible. 'This is My Brave' travels the country and host live shows were people can share their mental health journeys through song, spoken word, and poetry. People share their stories on a stage inspiring others that they can live with mental illness.

Listen to Co-Founder and Executive Director Jennifer Marshall talk about how the power of storytelling is saving lives.

Reading the stories of people living with their mental illness gives me hope that I can do the same. If you feel alone, or uncertain about how you can endure the hardships of a mental illness I encourage you to read the stories on 'This is My Brave'. 

If you are interested in sharing your story on the Good Girl Chronicles blog email me at Sharing your story can set you free!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

#WomenWhoSlay: My Little Miss Sunshine

#WomenWhoSlay: My Little Miss Sunshine

On Wednesdays, I like to profile amazing women on my blog. Today I want to feature one of the strongest, sweetest, enduring, funny, beautiful, and courageous women I know; my very own "Little Miss Sunshine." There are not enough positive adjectives to describe how I feel about this woman or enough pages to measure the love I feel for her. Instead, I will write this little blog about how God brought me my very own "Little Miss Sunshine" and in turn taught me so many things about grace, healing, forgiveness, and friendship.

When I was a television reporter, I loved starting my morning off with a strong cup of joe. Most mornings I brewed my own, but on occasion I had the money and the time to pay for a special bold blend from my favorite coffee shop. I knew it was kind of a waste of money to be paying so much money on a cup of bold roast that I could easily make at home. But, it was more than just how amazing the bold roast tasted from this place. I loved the coziness of the cafe area, the selection of pastries, and most importantly the super nice baristas. 

Not every barista was super friendly. Sometimes I could feel their exhaustion from mean customers and a busy morning rush. But, there was always on barista who without a doubt was ALWAYS a ray of sunshine. Her bright smile and sweet hello always made me feel welcome. She'd often rub my hand when I placed the money down on the counter to pay. A pat that somehow symbolized, "Thank you for spending your hard earned money on this over priced cup of joe." After a while I started to call her 'Little Miss Sunshine' in my head every time I saw her. I remember the days I'd come in to the coffee shop and ask myself, "Is 'Little Miss Sunshine here? Damn it, she isn't." When Little Miss Sunshine was behind the counter I knew my drink would always be made right, I'd get that beautiful warm smile, a good greeting, and a warm feeling of acceptance. I never asked her name or offered anything about my self to her, I just loved her energy.

That was the extent of my relationship with 'Little Miss Sunshine' for almost two years. Seasons changed, and times passed. Then one day I saw "Little Miss Sunshine" out in real life, outside of the coffee shop, and something in me couldn't resist introducing myself. We were at Ulta, and "Little Miss Sunshine" was gazing at a display of eyeliners. I placed my hand on her shoulder, and went in for the hello.

"Hey aren't you that lady from the coffee shop," I said eagerly. 'Little Miss Sunshine' jumped, and turned towards me with a surprised look on her face.

"It's me. I come to your coffee shop all the time." Of the hundreds of people she sees all day I'm not sure why I expected her to remember me.

"Oh, yeah?," she said somewhat nervously.

"I just wanted to tell you I always enjoy when you're at the cafe. You always make me feel so special." She smiled. For thirty minutes we walked around the store discussing our love of certain makeup brands, and the sales. It should have ended there, but 'Little Miss Sunshine' didn't want the moment to end.

"Hey, you hungry? I'd starving. Let's get lunch!" At the moment 'Little Miss Sunshine did not know I was homeless, sleeping under a desk in my office, and broke. She also didn't know if I was a serial killer. We went to Jason's Deli and she graciously paid. Over the course of two hours 'Little Miss Sunshine' revealed to me one of the most heartbreaking stories I've heard about her life. She literally faced death in the face, lost her entire world in an instant, and yet you'd never know by meeting her. We cried, laughed, and spoke about the journeys we were both taking in our faiths. Next we to Virginia Beach Town Center ( a swanky area with restaurants, boutiques, and stores in Virginia Beach, VA). Then we shopping for feminine products, and finished the night with bad fast food.

I met 'Little Miss Sunshine' in a season of abandonment and loneliness. Her comfort, her laughs, her kind ability to listen made me feel so loved. It was the kind of love I wanted from my own mother at the moment, but couldn't get. As a woman of faith, I feel God knew I needed a woman like 'Little Miss Sunshine'.

Thank you 'Little Miss Sunshine' for teaching me how healing and fulfilling friendship can be. Thanks for letting me tag along on your Lynchburg trip, all those afternoon at Golden Corral, and loving me when I didn't think anyone else could I adore you.

Monday, March 6, 2017

#MentalHealthMondays: My Recovery/Blog Annviversary

#MentalHealthMondays: A Year of Recovery

I was posting a new vlog to my Youtube Page last night and I realized it's been a year since my last major depressive episode. WON'T HE DO IT! I SURVIVED!  February 2016, I decided to blog and vlog about my life post depression. I am so incredibly grateful to everyone who has visited this blog ( even those who didn't like me sharing my story). Your comments, prayers, and encouragement inspire me to keep telling my story. 

I slipped into the worse depression I've ever known May 2014, and I didn't come out til early 2016. I spent two years in isolation, empty, lonely, and suicidal. 2016 - -- with the help of therapy, anti-depressants, and God intervening in my life, the darkness slowly lifted. And I'm so grateful to say I SURVIVED!

Life post depression

I know it sounds strange, but once I came out of my depression I felt like I was born again.  Life felt like a new activity I had never experienced before. I found myself giddy talking to strangers, going outside, wearing revealing clothes, and dating. Everything felt incredibly new. In the depths of my depressions there were some weekends I'd lock myself in my room without food or water and sleep the days away. Post depression I had word vomit, because it felt so freeing to be heard again. It was such an exciting time. Dating, kissing, traveling, trying on new clothes, reconnecting with old friends it all felt so good. My second chance at life was so overwhelming. In hindsight I made some major missteps in who I confided in, who I chose to love, and who I trusted. It was like being a teenager all over again.

Once of the newness of living wore off, I desperately wanted to go back to the old me; rejoin the television world as if nothing happened, jump back into old friendships like I never left. I thought everyone would understand my depression. But they didn't... and I learned some hard truths about who my real friends were and weren't. I learned some of my longest enduring childhood friends couldn't endure the new me. Surviving depression, and suicide changed me. God gave me a second chance at life, and the things the old me tolerated I could not longer stand. Post depression I became bold in standing up for myself, adventurous, a bit of a potty mouth, and less willing to put up with bull shit. I can never be the person I was before. 

I will always live with severe depression, and surviving it has made me almost hyper aware of the things that trigger it. 2014, I was burned out, and scared of losing my job daily. There were so many unhealthy things happening in my life that I wasn't dealing with, before long it consumed me. I was in love with someone who didn't love me, overworking myself, lost, and too afraid to tell anyone how I felt. So post depression I was bitter about finding real love, loving the new strength I had, and feeling like for the first time I had a chance to live for me; not my parents, a boyfriend, or a news outlet. It felt so incredibly liberating.  My old friends were not used to the new me and I've had to break ties with a lot of them because of it. I did not always say the right things or make the right choices in this season of life and for that I am sorry. Please know to everyone I had to part with during this time, I forgive you. My hope is you have forgiven me for any missteps I made during this time. No matter what I am grateful for the seasons of friendship we had.

Telling My Story
As I said last #MentalHealthMonday I have hid my depression/anxiety for as long as I can remember. I never imagined I'd share such a private battle so publicly. There is a scripture in the book of John that says , "The truth will set you free." Sharing my mental health journey on this blog and Youtube has freed me of so much shame and guilt I've felt for so long. Last year I gave 4 public speeches on surviving suicide and depression. And, this year I hope to become a Peer Specialist with the state helping other people overcome depression. Sharing my story has allowed me to pray with people, cry loved ones who lost family suicide,
Speaker at Suicide Prevention Walk
 in Gloucester
speak to a crowded auditorium in Virginia Beach about how God is helping me overcome. As much as I feared sharing this part of this life it has healed me, and connected me to people all over the world. So please know from the bottom of my heart if you are reading this blog it means the world to me. I am working on my first Good Girl Chronicles memoir. 

My Amazing Post Depression Victories
As hard as last year was... I had some amazing moments that I don't think I applaud myself enough for. 

*Dating- even with all my heartbreak, being 100 pounds overweight, and awkward I ventured into the dating world again last year. I deserve an award for that alone. I didn't always make the best choices, but I found myself again; my sexuality, my desires, and even with all my mistakes I finally feel I deserve a good man.

*Socializing- I used to dread being in public. I know that is so odd to say because I was a television reporter, but I developed an almost crippling social anxiety during my last depressive episode. It got so bad I literally just stopped working. The thought of being in a reality store around people gave me anxiety attacks. 2016 I socialized in a major way. I started power walking at the
Grand Opening of BiConnect an amazing business organization
I joined last year
mall, networking a HUGE events where I had to speak. I'm super proud of myself for getting back out there.

*Acceptance: I can't tell you how many times I said," I live with depression and anxiety also. I understand." I got so used to saying it, I told strangers. Accepting my depression was so hard in my twenties especially when I was a reporter. I stopped taking my medication when I thought I had beat depression, and felt so much anger when it came back. Swallowing that little pill every morning, going to a psychiatrist, therapist, and monitoring my triggers all came with acceptance. No matter what the world thinks of people with mental illness, I will not let depression/anxiety define me. I have and will do incredible things with this illness. ( I hate calling it an illness)

*Standing Tall: When I was a teenager I never stuck up for myself. I let everyone walk on me; bullies, bad girlfriends, boyfriends.. you name it they walked on me. Post depression I've become brave enough to fight back. I can tell people when they have hurt me and I try not cower. I can express my anger, forgive, and move on. That feels damn good. I've finally cut off toxic people I've always been afraid to live without.

*NEVER GIVING UP - Post depression was no cake walk. I had to sell the first home I ever owned, leave my family, spend months homeless, broken hearted, and alone. So many days I wanted to throw in the towel, go back to that dark place, maybe end it all. BUT - I CHOICE to LIVE daily! Everyday I tried so hard to live, not carry my sorrows on my face, be blessing to someone else, and work towards a place of peace. I am so incredibly proud of myself for continuing to live even when it looked like I had nothing to live for.

*FINDING FAITH - When the world took everything, Father you were all I had. I am thankful I know you. One of my favorite scriptures says, "Delight thyself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of you heart." (Psalms 37:4) I have delighted in you, in ways I never knew I could. I called on you on the days I had joy, and the days I didn't. Your word comforted me in ways no man could. You kept me safe those cold nights sleeping in my car, couch surfing with strangers, walking the streets, and feeling hopeless. You kept me hopefully. The book of John changed me Father. I am nothing without you. And, when you restore me, I promise to testify about this long wilderness I've been in, the comfort you gave, the people you sent, and the manna from heaven. Delighting in you has been my greatest lesson post depression. Here's to another year....

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Forgiveness: A Bitter Pill - (An Open Letter to People I Left Behind)

I had not planned to write a blog on forgiveness, but an ex-best friend of mine inspired me to write this blog. Even though I've cut her out of my life almost a year ago she tries so hard to keep hurting me. And, yet I forgive her. 

I also write this blog in honor of my amazing Aunt Doris. I had no idea the rifts the hurt, and betrayal that she felt from the people she loved most in the last years of her life. She handled it with such grace and discretion. And, even though it pained her that her flesh and blood hurt her so deeply, she forgave...each and every one of them. 

I thought about forgiveness a lot last night when I was writing this blog, and I had an incredible dream about my Aunt Doris. We met on plane and when I told her I was finally happy again. She smiled, and said, "That is what forgiveness does it sets you free to make room for the happy again."Before she died, Aunt Doris asked me to keep living, keep dreaming, and keeping chasing God's love. So a jagged a little pill like forgiveness isn't going to get in the way of honoring that request. I plan to love and live Aunt Doris wildly, madly, deeply.
Our last picture together.
Rest in heaven Aunt

Like you Aunt Doris, I have am forgiving my family, my friends, the people who walked away when I needed them most.  Our relationships will never be the same, but I am set from from the bondage bitterness brings. 

This blog is also for everyone I am learning to forgive and move on from. Every moment I do not return my hurt with an angry response, every moment I remember the good in our relationships and not the bad, every moment I continue to grow in spite of the hurt you caused me --- I FORGIVE!

Since my blog took a more intimate turn last year (blogging about my mental health, leaving my t.v. career, the rifts in my family, my homelessness, my pain) I've endured a lot of  hurt and consequentially had to cut off a lot of people in my life.  Now that I am finally in a place of peace I can write this letter to every single person I've had to let go of. 

To The People I Had to Leave,

Forgiveness is one of the hardest things pills we HAVE swallow in life. It's completely against human nature. We live in a world where there are consequences for actions, where we expect justice to be served, wrongs to be righted. But, forgiveness doesn't work that way. A wise cousin once told me, "Faith is not fair." I don't believe forgiveness is either.

In earthly terms forgiveness, doesn't make sense. I like so many others I too struggle with forgiving those who have wronged me. My brains says, "These people who hurt you should feel your pain! BE pissed! Be mad! You are entitled to it." But, because I know a graceful God I will always move to a place of forgiveness. ALWAYS. Last year, I hit rock bottom in ways I never imagined, and the people I needed were the greatest sources of my pain. Even now I look back on that time and I can't believe the things I endured at the hands of people I loved the most. There were hard lessons about how man can fail you. So many days I sat around bitter, crying, wounded, and abandoned.

That hurt burned me so bad. I will never understand why those you said the things you said, why you threw away years of friendship, why you denied your kin. I know now it is not for me to understand. I forgive you for everything. I am letting it all go. I can't hold it anymore. Some days are harder than others. I've lashed out in anger and pain. But I believe forgiveness is something we do daily. Every time I respond to your hurt with love I am practicing forgiveness. I am slowly getting better at that. I am practice forgiveness because in the valley that has been my life, God has shown me everyday how graceful and merciful He is to me. 

It is because of the love God has shown me I can NEVER harbor anger toward any of you. If my merciful God can forgive me with my mistakes, my brokeness, and my sin I must extend the same favor to you. If Jesus tells His children to try to walk in his image, I have to forgive you. Because, the world hated Jesus, and all He did was meet them love.

 Reading the book of John brought me so much peace, and introduced me to Christ in a way I never knew Him. The story of the woman at the well brought me so much hope, peace, and salvation. A woman that everyone judged, and torn down Jesus met with love. It didn't matter what she did prior to meeting Jesus at that well. He still presented her with everlasting water, a love that knew no condition. It comforted me in a way no one ever has. 

Also, it is because I am learning what love, honor, and respect looks like in Christ is why I can not continue on this journey of life with you. The words says we are supposed to sharpen one another, build each other up, and if I left you last year it is because our relationship didn't foster the kind of sharpening I need in life. 

God teaches us that forgiveness is necessary to free our hearts of anger, but that doesn't mean we have to be walking doormats for toxic people. Sometimes we outgrow people, sometimes the offenses don't stop, and then it's simply time to move on. I am moving on. I am sad sometimes that I couldn't take certain people or certain relationships with me in this new season of my life, but I'll never regret the time we shared. Thank you.

Some of the deepest wounds have come from my family. While I no longer feel it's beneficial to have them in my life; I will never regret the family God placed me. There was once a time we knew real love. We are different people, with different views on what real love means now. And, I sincerely wish each of you well. Now that the anger is gone, I am praying for God to take the pain away. And, I pray in time you find peace too.

Love You, Love God More

Lauren Hope

For anyone reading this blog, struggling with forgiveness.
Trust me, the forgiveness is for you. This is easier said than done. Forgiveness burns. Our flesh wants to hold onto the hurt it feels it deserves to own, the justice it feels it was denied. I only reached my place of forgiveness, because of God. For days I begged to Him to help me understand why people hurt me, I asked Him to comfort me in my abandonment. And just like His word said, "Joy came in the morning." (Psalms 30:5) I also woke up feeling some relief. And, each day it got easier and easier. 

I am more free than I have ever been because I'm letting go of the pain inflicted on me. Forgiveness did not fix the relationships. It was not like a magic wand, but over time it changed something in me. I asked God to soften the hearts of my enemies, and I found my heart softening as well. And, some miraculous things have happened in some of those broken relationships. I found strength over pain, and joy over heartache. It is hard in the beginning, but the more you let it go, the more God blesses you. For ever person I had to walk away from last year God brought someone EVEN MORE AMAZING; people who have loved me when I had no money, no home, and nothing to offer. Forgiveness sets you free, and opens you up to peace, love, and happiness. I know this to be true.

While life isn't perfect I'm finally in a really good happy, healthy place. I know in my heart God's restoration is going to be amazing. He is already sent me so many beautiful angels to love me through this valley. It is with their love and God's grace I AM

OVERCOMING abandonment, betrayal, jealously, anger, all those ugly things that make forgiveness so hard. God has  restored my faith in friendship and restored my faith in myself. He has sent amazing prayer warriors, strangers, and new friends to love me through this valley. And, I grateful for all of you especially Shirley, Shantee, Constance, Dennis.. my new roomies.. thank you

When I think of the past year and moving toward forgiveness I think of two amazing Christina Aguilera songs "Fighter" & "Singing My Song. And that girl has seen some hurt in her day. ( a broken home and a abusive dad but found peace in forgiveness. I hear you sista)

"I never wanna dwell on the pain again. There is no use is reliving the hell from back then...." Here's to singing my song this new year ...."