Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Almost Done Moving!

Moving is a lot of work, friends. A LOT of work. Although I had a moving company help me with my furniture and some boxes of things, they didn't move most of my other stuff, like everything in the kitchen and bathroom and random stuff left in the bedroom that I really can only categorize as junk. Yesterday I spent all day hauling baskets and bags of the remaining stuff to my car, DEEP cleaning and scrubbing and disinfecting and vacuuming pretty much everything in my old apartment, and dragging huge bags of trash to the Dumpster. Today, I am moving all of those same baskets and bags up two flights of stairs (no elevator here) and into my new place and taking a break now to write this post. So, needless to say, I am giving myself a free pass to not work out for both yesterday and today, although I will probably go running tonight anyway because I am dying to use my new running app I just got that tracks my mileage (smart phones are an amazing thing).

But even though these past two days have not been particularly fun, the good part is that I am basically done moving in now and no longer have to keep going back and forth over and over between my old place and here. Just in general, I have driven back and forth between those two cities what feels like about 1,000 times over the past year and a half for various things, and I am so glad that I just LIVE here now and don't have to go on a huge drive every time I need or want to do something here. It is such a great feeling. It's also a really great feeling to know that, at least in terms of my living space, the transition has more or less been made already. I just have a few things left to unpack and put away, but we're starting to get pictures on the walls and real dishes in the cabinets and magnets on the fridge and it actually looks like I live here now. It will be good to get fully settled in with the living situation because the next big transition is starting work on Monday and taking a stab at developing a social life/ making friends, which means I need to be getting some suits dry cleaned, getting my nails done, and just generally getting myself ready to go. I feel like if I'm not together for my first day, I may never be together for my new job, so I need to get my ducks in a row now!

Over the weekend I went down to Florida to visit Catherine and her husband Craig, and we had such a good time. I got to see their beautiful new home and we just had a great, low-key weekend. One thing I love about that friendship is that we don't have to do a lot of stuff or spend hardly any money to have a good time. Some of our most fun times together in law school involved simply going running together or making dinner together and watching movies. Our Friday night involved making brownies and playing chess and a marathon Scrabble game, and we spent most of the day Saturday going to thrift stores. So it was a lot of fun, and now I'm back and enjoying a few final days of relaxing before the big day on Monday. I'll let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

It's High Time for Christians to Stop Demonizing Mental Illness

Today, I decided it was time to finally join the 21st century and get an iPhone. This is my first smart phone ever, and I knew I had to get one now because it's just expected in the work force. It's not an excuse to be like, "I'm sorry, I didn't get your email yet because I was in court with no Internet access for three hours." That's like saying to your boss, "I'm sorry, I can't type up that memo because I don't have a computer." Well then get one and figure it out, because it's expected of you. So I got one. And I really like my new phone. It's lime green (just like my car). But I digress.

Christian at the Apple store helped me get the phone all set up. He was really cute and nice and I was secretly hoping I might walk out of the store with a phone and a date. We had a lot of down time waiting for my contacts to get imported and for AT&T to run a credit check on me and so forth, so Christian and I started talking about Robin Williams' suicide yesterday. I told him that I hope the good that might come out of this is to raise awareness about how big of a deal mental illness and depression really are, and how misunderstood they tend to be in our society. Then this afternoon, I read this article by Matt Walsh and it made me mad. I am not trying to attack Matt Walsh because he has written a lot of articles before that make me want to say, "Thank you for speaking truth when no one else would dare to do so!" And I'm more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he wrote this article from a well-meaning place. But what he actually wrote? It does nothing but shame people--Christians in particular--who suffer from depression and mental illness (and this blog post is going to focus on depression primarily as it affects Christians). Frankly, it's this sort of ignorant, condescending junk that makes many Christians so afraid to seek treatment for mental illness or to even admit to others that they think they might be struggling with it. And I don't normally say things like that, but this needs to be said. For all my fellow Christians out there reading, we all need to sit down together, pour ourselves some after-dinner coffee, and have a long chat about this topic. It's high time.

First of all, I am tired of the church acting like people who have depression have spiritual problems, have inadequate spiritual lives, or just need to have more of the joy of the Lord in their lives because "joy and depression can't coexist." It doesn't exactly work that way, and it's called clinical depression for a reason--because it is a DISEASE. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain, not a sign that you are a spiritual failure. And ultimately, what is the purpose of us getting on our high horses and being like, "Well, so-and-so has a spiritual issue or he wouldn't be so sad" or "So-and-so needs to have more joy in her heart"? This makes Christians who are depressed feel like they are failing spiritually in addition to the mental and emotional pain they already feel, and it probably makes them want to say, "Thanks a lot for making me feel even worse!" It is incredibly painful when fellow Christians call your faith into question or act like you are doing things all wrong in your walk with the Lord, or when they act like your spiritual shortcomings are the cause of your problems. That hurts, and why would we want to pile more pain onto Christians who are already knee-deep in the darkness of clinical depression? It's beyond me.

And maybe we wouldn't be so quick to make these stupid snap judgments about people with mental illness if we 1) had actually experienced it ourselves, or 2) had watched a loved one or friend experience it. It is so easy to speak from your place of having a healthy mind, "Suicide is a choice. Depression is a choice. If so-and-so really wanted to, he/ she could get better." Right. I understand that for people who hurt or kill themselves because of depression, no one makes them cut themselves, or overdose on the pills, or engage in any other act that brings about self-harm. And in all cases, it is tragic. But do we really believe that people who decide that life is so empty and meaningless and painful that they want to kill themselves are capable of rational decision-making about the acts of self-harm or suicide? I don't think so. It's too easy to say that suicide is a "choice" that someone should never make. But I believe that when mental illness reaches certain levels, it can lead people to do things that, in the moment, are not really their "choices" and do not emerge from a rational, thought-out decision. This is just another way to shame people with mental illness, and guess what? It is exactly this sort of demonizing of mental illness in the Church that makes so many Christians afraid to even admit to others that maybe, just maybe, they need help. For those who have never experienced the depths of mental illness, there is simply no way for them to understand what people go through who have suffered from it.

Along those lines, we need to stop saying that suicide is selfish. I've heard this my entire life, and I understand where this is coming from--it's easy to assume that someone who decides to end their life, leaving those who love them to grieve, is making a selfish choice. But again, I don't believe it's really a "choice" to someone with severe mental illness, at least not in the way mentally healthy people define "choices," and I think we are sorely mistaken to assume that suicidal or deeply depressed individuals go to the extremes they may go to because they're being "selfish." They just want their pain to stop. If you were in unrelenting physical pain, you would probably do just about anything to make it stop, wouldn't you? How would you feel if people told you, "You're being selfish by wanting to make this pain stop?" Is it really that different when people suffer from the constant emotional pain of mental illness? Most of us don't have any clue what it would be like to wake up morning after morning, for months and years at a time, feeling like life was meaningless and devoid of any pleasure and joy--yet this is exactly what many clinically depressed people experience. Who are we to say they are selfish for wanting to make their pain stop? But for the grace of God any one of us could be in that boat at any time. And I am not trying to say that people who are contemplating suicide have no options--I'm just trying to say that for most people in that situation, it probably doesn't really feel like they have a "choice." They don't need the world to be on their case about being selfish--they need help.

The church also must stop acting as if depressed people just need to pray about their condition or be prayed for. I am a huge believer in the power of prayer. Prayer is not a last resort. It is a first resort. As long as you can pray, you will never be in a situation where you are "powerless" to do anything, because you can pray. With all that said, I don't believe that prayer was ever meant to be a be-all and end-all that gets us off the hook from taking action to solve problems. Prayer was never meant to be an excuse to sit back and do nothing; it was never meant to be a spiritual Band-Aid that we slap on someone's gaping emotional wound; and it was never meant as a free pass to not take actions to help ourselves. And many times God clearly shows us courses of action that can help us "answer our own prayers," in a way. Let me give you an example to show what I mean by that--praying about my finances or for God to provide for my needs is not a free pass for me not to have a budget and save some of my money each paycheck. And in this context, the answer to prayers for mentally ill people is very often going to be medication, therapy, or both. Prayer by itself is not the same as treatment. Prayer was never intended to be a substitute for practical solutions. Can you pray about being physically healthy? Of course, but if you expect those prayers to be effective, you're going to need to eat right and exercise too. So we as a Church need to stop acting as if depressed people just need to "pray" about their condition more. Prayer is a wonderful thing, but God sometimes provides us with the answers to our own prayers in the form of treatment, and it's ok to use it! It's not like saying that you don't believe prayer is powerful enough or that you don't trust God to heal you.

What do we as believers have to gain by demonizing mental illness in other believers? Does it help make people who suffer feel better? Or does it just allow some people to feel all high and mighty from a place of, "Thank God I've never suffered from that"? These attitudes have gone on long enough and they need to stop. In fact, they have to stop if we want to see change on the way the Church handles mental illness. I desperately want to see that change. I want to see it in my lifetime. I'd love to see it now! Have you ever wondered why our churches often tend to have such a high percentage of people in the most dire stages of mental illness? Maybe it's because these people should have sought treatment long ago, and could have improved their condition by doing so, but never did because they were terrified that, on top of everything else, they'd get marked as a "bad Christian" if they did. I'm over it. Let's end these damaging attitudes. Where is the grace to be found in heaping judgment and shame on people who experience a private pain that many of us will never begin to understand? And I think we're called to be a people of grace.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

2-Week Staycation Starting Now!

Well, I got back from my three days of being a beach bum on Tybee Island a couple days ago and it was amazing. I feel like all I did was swim, walk on the beach, sleep, do my pleasure reading (I am reading The Associate by John Grisham right now and it is SO good), and eat, especially the excellent gelato sold at this little shop right by the beach. This is probably my favorite vacation spot of all, and I always come back so renewed/ refreshed. I've also been feeling so refreshed in general because I have slept better in the last 10 days than I have all summer--no more staying awake till 3am unable to stop thinking, or waking up at 5am from yet another crazy dream, as was the case on a number of nights this summer.

Then bright and early on Thursday morning, I officially got all my furniture and most of my other things moved into my new apartment. I have a few things left to pack up plus I need to clean (and I have a feeling that will take WAY longer than I think--you probably know how that goes), but once it's done, I can turn in my old keys and officially turn over my new leaf. Honestly, I was getting kind of scared as the moving guys loaded all my furniture onto the truck and as I followed them to my new place on Thursday--because moving for me is taking an unequivocal step toward a new life. It's like jumping into the deep end and hoping you'll be able to stay afloat, because there's no going back. It's getting rid of the safety net and just moving forward in faith that you're doing the right thing, even if it freaks you out.

But I really love my new apartment (not least because this is the first place I've ever lived in that I've actually chosen for myself) and I am now in the process of getting settled in. I have all the furniture where I want it and am hanging pictures, unpacking boxes and bags, getting some actual food in my fridge, etc. I will post pictures when everything is more or less in its place. I got the Internet set up yesterday, and I love how 1) it actually works reliably, and 2) I have wireless in every room in the apartment, including my bedroom, so I can write this blog post while laying in my bed on a relaxing Saturday morning. At my old place, the Internet went out all the time and was never available in any room except the living room, so I couldn't write or get work done in the bedroom if I so chose. I am loving that, and that there's a gym and pool right here, and that I can drive five minutes down the road and be at the mall if I want to be. I only go to that mall to window shop because I can't afford anything there, and even if I could, I am one of those people who still can't imagine paying for a designer purse/ designer clothes/ designer anything, but it's still really fun to look.

The gym here is nice and I'm sure I'll use it sometimes, but I'm also going to look into getting a gym membership somewhere so I can have access to more machines and equipment and also go to fitness classes. I'm getting ready to start getting short "trial memberships" at different gyms and going to a couple of free classes to see which ones I like best. There's a few gyms here that offer kettlebell classes, and I really want to try one because I read about them in Women's Health and they sound like a great workout. I haven't really been eating great or exercising too often over this summer with studying and all, so I am really ready to jump back into a healthier lifestyle.

And now, I still have two weeks off because I don't start work till the 25th. I can't remember the last time I had this much time off--probably in college sometime--so I'm excited about having time to get refreshed, to explore and get used to things here, to decorate, to read, to work out, etc. I know that new associate life is very demanding and I'll be grateful for the time of refreshment beforehand as soon as I get started! Next weekend I am going to Florida for "Lauren and Catherine do Tallahassee." (Which should be very interesting . . . my law school BFF and I can always find an adventure).

More to come soon!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

6 Things My Generation Needs to Get MUCH Better At Doing

Some straight talk with 20-somethings . . .

1) Learning the difference between being adventurous and being irresponsible.

20-somethings crave adventure. I get it. So do I. I want to travel, see the world, explore, and try new things as much as anyone. But all too often I see my peers acting like certain behaviors are "adventurous" when what they really are is flat-out irresponsible. As an adult, barring unforeseen exigent circumstances, you're responsible for providing for yourself, paying your rent, holding down a job, etc. You shouldn't get a free pass out of these responsibilities just because you want to have an adventure. For example: it's one thing to get a job in another state and fly across the country to take that job, not knowing a soul in your new place or what will happen when you get there. It's quite another to do what some people I know did this summer: they moved across the country to certain cities, with no jobs lined up and not sure if they were eligible to even get licensed as attorneys in those states, just because they "always wanted to live in X city." And now their significant others are supporting them because, as I said, they don't have a job. Sorry to say it, but that's not adventurous--it's irresponsible.

2) Allowing others to have a different opinion about hot-button issues.

I've written about this about 50 times before, so I won't elaborate on the point too much here. But let me just say this: my generation prides itself on being open-minded, but we are SO NOT open-minded. We attack other people who hold different opinions and, instead of respecting them, we play the "ignorance" card with anyone who doesn't agree with us. I have a classmate who has a drastically different view of the death penalty than I do. Anyone who disagrees with her on that issue gets summarily shut down with the charge that they are "living in blissful ignorance." You know what that makes me do? Tune her out. Insulting my intelligence isn't exactly the way to get me to agree with you. The worst part is that it seems like most of my peers agree with and even encourage these forceful, rude, close-minded techniques of pulling other people onto your side of an issue.

3) Dating without losing yourself. Dating without losing yourself. Dating without losing yourself.

Do I need to say it again? It makes me sad that people my age don't seem to know how to be in relationships that don't consume their whole lives. Here's a newsflash: you DON'T have to move in with your boyfriend! You DON'T have to go on vacation with him after dating for three weeks! You DON'T have to pretend to fall in love with all of the activities he likes! It goes the other way around, too, although I will say women tend to have more trouble with this than men do. I've seen girls change their lifestyles, their "favorite activities," and even their diets just to make them conform more to whatever their guy happens to like, be, and do. If that guy is worth it at all, he wants you to be like YOU, not like him.

4) Being alone.

We live in a culture obsessed with finding the right person. And some people can't lay off the obsession long enough to just live their lives a little. Sometimes, my peers need to just chill with the dating websites, cancel the Tinder accounts, etc., and just stop looking for Mr. Right for five minutes. He's not going to evaporate into thin air because you decide to take six months, or a year, to be independent and learn about what you want. Also, we need to get more comfortable with the idea that sometimes we stop looking for a guy for the sake of taking a break from the search, not just because we're clinging for dear life to the tired cliche that "as soon as you stop looking for him, you'll find him!"

5) Having real hobbies and an idea of fun that doesn't involve a drop of alcohol.

Seriously. Sometimes I just want to practically yell at people, "Is going out and getting drunk really the only way you know to have fun?" You are an extremely boring person if that is the case. It just gets old, y'all. It gets so old, and I'm tired of being pressured to go out and drink regularly and being made to feel like I'm lame/ not a fun person if I just don't want to do that yet again. Seriously, I would swoon if I met a guy who had hobbies--who liked hiking or photography or wanted to take me out to the symphony or to a painting class and then out for Moroccan food, instead of "Let's go grab a drink" for about the 50th time. There's nothing wrong with that, and yes, I do drink on occasion. But I'm just so tired of it being the only thing people my age ever seem to want to do.

6) Ditching the "welcome to the real world, it sucks" attitude.

Sometimes, we just need to stop complaining! I get that life is hard right now for my generation (more about this in a post to come). I get it. People are unemployed, struggling under crippling student loans, etc. But I feel like it's become very commonplace for people our age to embrace this very depressing philosophy that nothing ever gets better . . . go to your dead-end job, try to pay your bills, go home, go out and get drunk on weekend nights (see #5), repeat the depressing cycle. We need to get over the notion that the real world just sucks. Guess what? There are definitely things about adulthood that suck, but where would you rather be? In high school again? I sure wouldn't. And moreover, it's your life. You can't just stop being an adult, and you're not going to just stop having to go to work and pay bills, so you might as well find a way to have some joy in it. And if it's truly that horrible, no one is stopping you from looking for another job. Besides, having to pay bills means you are independent, and I can't think of too many things I'd rather be than that.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Getting Back to Normal Life

I am DONE WITH THE BAR EXAM, and it sure does feel good to feel somewhat normal again. And to be able to wake up in the morning and do . . . whatever I want, instead of having to study basically 24/7. It will take me some time to decompress and debrief, because I am physically and mentally exhausted from the last two and a half months, but I don't start work till August 25th, so hopefully I will have time to do just that. The test itself was ok--I felt great about the essay day and pretty badly about the multiple choice day, but everyone I talked to felt the same way, so hopefully it will all even itself out. (Well, more accurately, I about had a little meltdown during the multiple choice . . . an "I don't know the answers to hardly any of these because I can't choose between choice C and choice D and don't know what to do" meltdown. But I stopped myself with the thought that I wouldn't want to be, now and forevermore, "that girl who started crying during the bar." Although I surely would not be the first.)

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering like I was before taking it, it's not like some super-secret future attorney hazing that you're never allowed to talk about goes down in that exam room. The bar was always covered in a shroud of secrecy from what older friends told me, but I realized that it's just another standardized test . . . and it's not as strict as I thought, either. The monitors don't even check your bags for "prohibited items" (although you do have to carry everything in a clear Ziploc bag), and all the ones I interacted with were very nice/ supportive. Several of the justices of the Supreme Court of Georgia came down on Tuesday morning to support us, which I thought was an incredibly nice thing to do. About 1,300 of us took it in a HUGE room in tables where we were seated in pairs (I feel like I have shared a life experience with my table mate, Courtney, after sitting next to her for two days).

Even though it's done, it's hard not to worry about it, because I have to wait until October 24th to get results and don't really feel like "celebrating" anything unless and until I get good results, even though everyone is telling me I should celebrate just being done. I'm definitely happy to be done, but I'll feel a whole lot more "done" if and when I get good results in a few months. I have definitely not felt great about it the last few days, but I expected as much since I normally don't feel so good after finishing even my law school finals; it's stress about results combined with exhaustion and a "letdown effect" of sorts . . . after you've worked as hard as you can for something, suddenly you don't have to work anymore for that thing, and you're left wondering what to do with yourself.

Yesterday I woke up wanting to relax on my first day home after the bar, so I lounged around in my pajamas for a couple hours, but then I just started wanting to get out of town. Like, right away. So I loaded up my car and an air mattress and drove up to my new apartment without telling anyone where I was going. (That in itself was liberating . . . sometimes it's just nice when no one knows where you are and you can just be alone and process things). I don't really know what my problem was, but I just did not want to be in my law school town or around law school people anymore right then. I just needed to get away from my law school life and start getting settled into what will become my working professional life, at least a little bit. So even though my apartment here has no furniture and almost none of my stuff and no Internet (writing this at a coffee shop), I just wanted to start getting settled in up here. I've been driving around a lot to teach myself how to get around, and I went to Trader Joe's for a few basic groceries and got a county library card this morning and checked out a bunch of books. I've picked up some apartment basics at Target, and am about to go find a Redbox so I can get some scary movies for my evening to have with my Trader Joe's coconut shrimp. I'm also glad to have a chance to pray over every room in my apartment even before the movers come with my stuff. That may sound weird, but I always do that when I get started at a new place . . . I pray that every single person who ever comes through the door would immediately sense the love of Christ, and that I would be protected and blessed while I live there. I was planning to go back today, but I want to go to church up here tomorrow, so I'll go back tomorrow afternoon.

And on Monday, it's time for Lauren's Annual Beach Retreat! So excited. I am going to the Georgia coast until Wednesday and want to do nothing during that time but walk on the beach, watch the sunrise, take beach photos, read John Grisham books, journal, go bike riding, etc. Then probably the next week I will be heading to Tallahassee to visit Catherine, and then coming back here to get the ball rolling on meeting people in my new city and getting truly settled in. Here's to some new beginnings and a lot of changes.