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L A B E L S
Model: Byron Hunt; Photography by me

Model: Byron Hunt; Photography by me


When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief or nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.
— Jiddu Krishnamurti

Would you agree with me that we typically feel compelled to label: people, items, emotions, experiences, ideas…pretty much everything!

Sure, there’s value in labeling. That’s how we’re able to know what the hell we’re referencing. Otherwise, our convos would take twice as long trying to describe what we’re referring to, and it’d all be one continuous scene of The Little Mermaid (“Whozits and whatzits galore. You want thingamabobs? I’ve got 20!”). Obnoxious and frustrating to the max.

Labels are part of our culture - in every sense of the word (personal, professional, legislative, judicial, pop culture, music, etc). They contribute to the infrastructure upon which society is built, upon which laws are passed, upon which food is sorted and Netflix is categorized. When I’m browsing for new jams, I don’t want to have to scroll through a shi* ton of random opera ballads to get to my preferred music.

Labels make our lives easier and more efficient. They allow our brains and bodies to navigate through life more effectively amid the onslaught of information we’re blasted with every second of every day. They help us make sense of the world, with all of its complexities.

They also can bestow us with a common purpose. It can offer a sense of belonging/pride/commonality/community, particularly in the case of nationality/cultural identity/etc. It can provide a cause/entity to cheer for, a common point to rally around. They give us traditions, and opportunities to connect with other similar people.

However…

These benefits (efficiency, simplicity, community, pride, etc), can come at a price.

It can become problematic/limiting/divisive/misleading/self-defeating when we apply this labeling compulsion with no consciousness, awareness, flexibility, or fluidity. When we tattoo those labels, so to speak, making them costly, painful, and time-intensive to remove (I really took that tattoo metaphor and ran with it, didn’t I?). Labels can also mask our universal commonalities and pit us against the “outsiders.”

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Society values clarity and decisiveness. We’re prompted to label people as good or bad, right or wrong, successful or non; same goes for ideas, etc.

This dichotomous and limited way of thinking doesn’t account for complexities: within individuals, within groups, within the world in general. People do good things. People do bad things. Life isn’t always black and white.

And I want to live in a world where people’s gender/race/skin color are irrelevant. Just because I may be regarded as a privileged white woman doesn’t mean I’m not allowed an opinion or a say or a hope for a more inclusive world.

Furthermore, it limits our growth and happiness, and clouds our view, when we apply labels to ourselves! Particularly regarding our identities. We’re conditioned to establish our identities on factors such as our skin color, our profession, our IQ level, our prevailing temperament, our body type, our gender, our music taste, our religion, our political affiliation. Lawd help us if we step outside our established identity: a straight male shaking it at Zumba, a Republican voting for a Democrat, a bodybuilder loving the ballet, a grandma digging Metallica.

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It’s easy to feel locked into a label and feel pressured to maintain that image. For example, men in certain cultures (looking at you, ‘Murica) are typically discouraged from expressing emotion - especially in the military. To cry is considered weak and “sissy la la.” What kind of bullshit is that?! Think about it: They are discouraged from expressing HUMAN EMOTION.

I’ve previously discussed the dangers of emotion repression, and the takeaway is: it ain’t good. Those emotions don’t just disappear into the ether - they fester and make their way out eventually and demand to be addressed.

Former Army Special Forces Green Beret Greg Stube acknowledges this in his stellar book, Conquer Anything: A Green Beret’s Guide to Building Your A-Team. He was fully indoctrinated in the masculine military, “rub some dirt on it” (he actually uses those words) mentality…until he almost died in Operation Medusa in Afghanistan in 2006. He was finally forced to grapple with what it means to be human, to be complete, and to be truly strong: mentally, physically, and emotionally. Having repressed that facet of being human for so long, he was knocked for a total loop when he was blown to smithereens by an IED (improvised explosive device) and forced to accept a very different reality, one in which he couldn’t just rub some dirt on it and soldier on. Through soul searching, reflection, and personal “come to Jesus” talks, he came out on top - and acknowledged the importance of transcending certain labels to embrace and cultivate what it means to be human, and what it means to be truly strong.

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So what happens when something happens and the label no longer fits?

We get fired. We go bankrupt. We get voted out. We get sick. We flunk a test. We gain/lose weight. We experience an existential criss that triggers re-evaluation of our priorities/affiliations/beliefs.

Like Greg Stube experienced, it can be devastating, if your identity is tethered to that label. Suddenly you start wondering who you really are, if not your label(s). If I’m not a high-powered lawyer/straight-A brainiac/size 0/Christian/president/husband/etc, who am I? What’s my place in the world? What do I have to offer? Am I still worth loving? So many of us feel conditionally loved, whether we realize it or not. We’re led to think (sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally) that we are accepted/loved because of those labels: doctor/Mormon/star athlete/parent/do-it-yourselfer/subject matte expert.

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This also applies to emotions. Let’s say you’re known as the carefree, happy, optimistic one. The one who sprinkles sunshine wherever you go and elevates the mood in any situation. You’ve learned to effectively play this role. But what happens when you have a bad day? Or even a bad year? Are you supposed to deny yourself feeling those “negative” emotions?


When you welcome your emotions as teachers, every emotion brings good news, even the ones that are painful.
— Gary Zukav

What you resist, persists.


Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.
— Pema Chodron

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Which leads us to emotion labeling. Emotions aren’t positive or negative; emotions are emotions. Emotions are natural and wide-ranging, and most importantly: emotions are messengers. They come and they go, so we should let them move through us, view them with curiosity and no attachment, and discern their message. By denying/ignoring/repressing them, you are stunting your growth, preventing your freedom, and blocking true happiness.


Feel the feeling but don’t become the emotion. Witness it. Allow it. Release it.
— Crystal Andrus

Ultimately, as the opening quote indicates, labels separate: us from each other, us from ourselves (our true essences). While they do serve a purpose, it is crucial for us to be aware of them and fluid in our allegiance to them. As long as we interpret them loosely and keep an open mind, we’ll all be better off.

xx,

-w-


Once you label me, you negate me.
— Soren Kierkegaard

L O V E yaself
Images shot by Abbey Armstrong Photography  Edited by Brooke Richardson Photography

Images shot by Abbey Armstrong Photography

Edited by Brooke Richardson Photography

The only cure I have ever known for fear and doubt and loneliness is an immense love of self.
— Alison Malee

I think I’m awesome.

Please don’t be put off by that. I want Y O U to feel the same about yourself.

And you can!

Do I think I’m awesome 100% of the time? Don’t get it twisted: I have my moments of discouragement/frustration/etc, but overall - I always LOVE myself, which is especially important during those moments of discouragement and frustration. I think I’m a rad chick.

You owe yourself the love you so freely give to other people.
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I had to work hard to get to that point. That unconditional self love.

BUT YOU CAN TOO!

You too can create an abiding self love, independent of your moods/feelings/triggers/experiences/environments.

It requires practice and awareness. It requires facing your shadows. Feeling - not repressing - your emotions. Reserving judgment and extending grace. Being honest and not feeding yourself stories just to make yourself feel better (this only feeds the ego and creates a faux, insecure self love). It also requires a touch of tough love, and calling yourself out when necessary, to live into your potential/cease the false narrative/incorporate the discipline.

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Comparison is an act of violence against the self.

It’s not easy at first, but once you get a taste of true self love - YOU SEE IT’S WORTH IT. You realize how powerful, necessary, liberating, and impactful it is.

Self love is imperative. Not like, “Gee, it’d be ideal if you loved yourself, but it’s whatevs.”

Nah. IT’S NOT WHATEVS.

It’s absolutely c r u c i a l not only to your ultimate wellbeing and happiness, but also to the wellbeing and happiness of your inner circle, of your outer circle, and of the whole entire world.

I know, I know, you’re likely thinking, “Okay, dramatic much?”

But it’s true. If you want to change the world, start with yourself. The ripple effect starts with you. Happy people radiate and perpetuate bliss and good vibes. It’s all about energy, man. It’s the currency of the universe. Your energy introduces you before you even speak. Once you get right with yourself and start riding those high vibes, you’ll be amazed how it affects the space/people around you (I discuss this in my latest episode with Izzy Ramirez). That’s not just Hippie Whitney talking. That’s science. Physics. Your thoughts/actions carry energy, and people/life around you responds according to the frequency you emit.

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Be the type of energy that no matter where you go, you always add value to the spaces and lives around you.

Don’t believe me? Think about a time you were feeling great/okay, and encountered someone in a less-than-stellar mood. Even if you manage to stay on that high vibe, you’re still affected to an extent by the negativity. And don’t even get me started with consistently toxic people.

Self love makes you happy. Happiness gives you energy, drive, stamina, compassion. (Plus, as Elle Woods rightfully noted, it fights crime and preserves marriages because “happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.”)

Shoutout to all the people out there trying to love themselves in a world that’s constantly telling them not to.

And ESPECIALLY if you have kids in your life, modeling self love yourself is key in developing their own. Particularly regarding body image. Society already demands they contort themselves to meet impossible and elusive ideals. Set your kids up for success and mitigate societal damage by expressing self love, especially during those impressionable younger years.

Daring to love yourself is an act of rebellion in this world. LET’S REBEL TOGETHER.

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How sad is it that society has taught us to view people’s expression of self love as arrogance. Self absorption. Narcissism. When we see someone celebrate their win, or acknowledge their skill, or comment, “Hey, I look smokin’!” we tend to dismiss them is “sooo into themselves.”

SAD.

That should be our baseline. We should allow ourselves and others the space to embrace our awesomeness. Our beauty and smarts. Our talent and skill. Sure, we don’t want to get obnoxious about it and go on and on about how ahhhmaaaze we are.

There’s a distinction between self love and insecurity. When you’re solid in yourself and truly love yourself, you’re secure - and have the mental and emotional bandwidth to love and care about others. When you’re insecure, you tend to overcompensate. You feel compelled to seek validation externally. When you love yourself, you internally validate yourself.

So DECIDE RIGHT NOW to win yourself over. Commit to falling in love with yourself and watch your life absolutely TRANSFORM.

xx,

-w-

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let's GET fired UP
Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.
— Vince Lombardi

Are you 100% motivated 100% of the time, and/or are surrounded by people who are also motivated every second of every day, to do every single thing needing to be done?

No?

AWESOME. First of all, welcome to the club of ALL HUMANS (even Beyonce!). Second of all, this post will hopefully help, instead of being a giant waste of your obnoxiously perpetually-motivated time. Love you mean it.

I consider myself a consistently motivated individual, and I know many of you are too (I’ve seen you in action!). However, there are times where I realllly gotta pep talk myself, especially when it comes to something that’s not enjoyable/easy for me to do.

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Awhile ago, I read a fantastic book called Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg. Yes, I recommend it. Unless you wanna be dumber, slower, and worse. Then, you know - do ya thang. To each their own.

(PS the following words of wisdom can be applied to motivate yourself AND others. SCORE!) YOU get motivation and YOU get motivation and YOU get…you get it.

We are motivated by the need for autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Per Duhigg, the first step in creating drive is offering people/yourself choices to provide a sense of autonomy and self determination. The key is to present them as decisions rather than commands.

Ask yourself if what you’re doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow.

Furthermore, if you can link something hard to a choice you care about, it makes the task easier. For example, let’s say you reallllly don’t wanna workout, but you reallllly do wanna stay healthy for your family for years to come, so you can witness major moments and be fit enough to play with your kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews/etc. Keep reminding yourself of that whenever you feel that fire dying. And if it helps, gives yourself options: group workout vs. solo workout, cardio vs. strength, etc. Some people this helps, some people this inhibits, so know yourself and adjust accordingly. For many with minimal motivation, it’s more beneficial to show up to a workout class where an instructor tells you what to do and fellow exercisers push and keep you accountable.

PARENTAL HACK! If you can make a chore into a meaningful decision, self motivation will likely emerge. Let your kids have a say in what chores they have (you may need to assert some authority here, depending on the track that conversation takes!) and explain why they have the chores in the first place. For example, explain you’re teaching them life lessons to kick booty later in life. They’ll be so much further ahead than many whose parents coddled them and then released them into the “wild” without any self-sustaining skills. Let them know how much you value and rely on their contributions to keep the house running smoothly. Acknowledge the control and autonomy they have. Let them know how much they MATTER.

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Once we start asking ourselves why, those small tasks become pieces of a larger constellation of meaningful projects, goals, and values. We start to recognize how small chores can have outsized emotional rewards because they prove to ourselves we are making meaningful choices, that we are genuinely in control of our own lives.

That’s when motivation flourishes.

Motivation is, in other words, a choice we make because it is part of something bigger and more emotionally rewarding than the immediate task requiring completion.

xx,

-w-




32 L E S S O N S
Images by Abbey Armstrong Photography   Edited by Brooke Richardson Photography

Images by Abbey Armstrong Photography

Edited by Brooke Richardson Photography

Age is irrelevant. Ask me how many sunsets I’ve seen, hearts I’ve loved, trips I’ve taken, or concerts I’ve been to. That’s how old I am.
— Joelle

Coming up on 32 trips around the sun. Thirty-freaking-two. That shit’s bananas, yo.

Absolutely W I L D.

I’m not old. I’ve just been young for a very long time.

I am fully committed to improving with age. Learning and evolving and polishing and refining myself in every single way - and ACCEPTING myself in the process. Loving myself through the evolution. That last part is key, yeah??

It’s about not resenting your current status/situation. Not bullying yourself through it. Not wishing it were otherwise. Just simply telling yourself, “Okay cool, this is where we are. I recognize that. I accept that. And I know I have so much more to give. So LET’S DO DIS.” Basically…”I see where I am, but I know where I’m going.” High five?! HIGH FIVE.

In honor of my 32nd birthday (or princess day, as I like to call it, because everyone should feel like royalty on their birthday) I’m sharing 32 lessons I’ve learned thus far.

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  1. Too much discipline can be as harmful as not enough.

  2. Gratitude is THE BEST way to get back to good when you’re stressed/sad/pissed/bitter/anxious/uncertain. It’s a magical salve!

  3. Love is an infinite resource. There is always more where that came from, so keep tapping into that resource and sprinkling that shiz everywhere.

  4. People care more about how you make them feel than how many degrees/talents/accolades/achievements/possessions you have.

  5. You don’t have to explain yourself.

  6. Let your intuition reign supreme. Save yourself time and regret and don’t ignore it/silence it/intellectualize it. Especially when it comes to the next point, which is:

  7. When it comes to relationships, someone’s potential is irrelevant if they’re not pursuing it. And as previously stated, honor your intuition.

  8. A messy start trumps no start.

  9. Minimalism is undervalued, in pretty much all areas of your life. This plays into the next lesson:

  10. Quality over quantity. With clothes. With friends. With business ventures. With home decor. With exercise hours.

  11. Your body is significantly more intelligent than you can even imagine. Don’t try to outsmart it. Which corresponds with the next few lessons:

  12. Your biography becomes your biology. Your body reflects your stresses/traumas/life choices.

  13. Adopt a holistic approach when healing your body.

  14. Get on the same team as your body. Don’t try to resist/fight/shame/bully it into submission. No matter how you abuse it, it still strives to keep you alive every second of every day, with every heartbeat. Now that’s love! Recognizing its loyalty to you is a game changer. Instead of wishing for a thigh gap, express thanks for those strong quads.

  15. Live intuitively, particularly regarding your health. Your body instinctively knows what it needs. Once you learn to tune into it, you’re set. Try not to intellectualize your fitness and nutrition. Don’t follow a certain regimen just because it’s the latest fad, or because a social media guru recommended it, or because your bestie glowed up with it, or because you want to look a certain way. Every body is different (what works for me might not work for you), and your body’s requirements fluctuate daily. So try to clean your palate (minimize the processed foods in favor of foods in their natural form), pay attention to what your body tells you after a meal/workout, and adjust accordingly. Once you vibe with your body, you’ll be blown away by its intelligence. Whether you listen or not, it’s constantly communicating what it needs for you to look and feel your best. Let it be the boss.

  16. How you feel matters far more than how you look.

  17. Confidence is K E Y. If you OWN it, it doesn’t matter what you look like, or how much you know, or how talented you are. And since we’re all works in progress, let confidence bridge the gap from where you are and where you want to be (with your body, your business, etc). Fake it ‘til you make it, if necessary, which leads to:

  18. Your thoughts are mind-blowingly powerful. Like the quote says, if you knew how truly powerful your thoughts are, you’d never think a negative thought. So get on those daily affirmations: “You is kind, you is smahhht, you is impohhhtant.”

  19. Nature is the best therapy. Instant energy re-charger and soul restorer.

  20. Energy rules the universe. It all comes down to energy. This isn’t hippie talk, y’all. Don’t believe me?! Even Albert Einstein says so: “Everything is energy and that's all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics.”

  21. Your biggest act of kindness to the world is getting right with yourself. When you’re at peace and solid in who you are, it’s a ripple effect: you radiate love and acceptance. And this world desperately needs more love and acceptance.

  22. It’s always worth an ask. Whether you’re asking for a date, a promotion, or an extra side of hot sauce - you’d be amazed what you can get if you just dare to ask.

  23. Save yourself time and sanity and don’t try to do it all (STILL learning this). Your time and energy are worth money and are finite resources. Know when it’s worth it to DIY, and when it’s better to outsource. This plays into:

  24. Stop the glorification of busy. Stop considering an impossibly-packed schedule a badge of honor. The truly successful people know how to best invest their time and energy to maximize their strengths and yield the greatest results. They also understand:

  25. Re-charging and reflection are essential, for your productivity, sanity, health, and creativity. Inspiration usually strikes not when you’re actively/aggressively luring it, but when you’re taking a breather.

  26. Normalcy is an illusion. Everyone is “weird” so own your weirdness. Your uniqueness is your superpower.

  27. Feel your emotions, don’t repress them. What you resist, persists. If you ignore/deny/shove them down, they’ll just fester and pop up eventually - in magnified form. The trick is to feel them and let them move through your body without wallowing. Emotions are emotions - they’re not good, they’re not bad. They just…are.

  28. You can appreciate others’ beauty without diminishing your own.

  29. There are multiple types of intelligence; don’t judge your intelligence or others’ by one definition. Some people are masterful musicians (sound smart), or brilliant logisticians/mathematicians (number/reasoning smart), or natural athletes (bodily-kinesthetic smart), or gifted linguists (word smart), or…the list goes on. So the next time you feel tempted to judge someone for mistaking you/you’re, consider how you’d feel if someone assessed your intelligence solely on your calculus skillz. Appreciate and play to your strengths, and honor and acknowledge others’.

  30. Everybody has a story to tell. Stay interested in others.

  31. You never know what life has in store. Do your best to enjoy the ride. Celebrate the highs. Cherish the “minor” moments. Appreciate the tough times for the lessons they teach and the strength they impart. Stay jazzed on life and never ever become numb to its beauty.

  32. Balance is the key to life.

Let’s never stop learning.

xx,

-w-

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There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.
— Sophia Loren














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Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

Suicide. What a heavy topic. Heavy but utterly N E C E S S A R Y to discuss.

This is becoming increasingly so, as we lose more and more beautiful souls to this tragic end.

A note about suicide, depression, and mental health in general: mental health is non-discriminatory and its prey comes from all walks of life. Just because you’re of a certain socioeconomic status, or have a specific number of friends, does not mean one is immune.

And it’s important to recognize and remember the role mental illness plays. It is said how selfish it is to take one’s life, considering the wake of devastation it leaves for the survivors. I can understand how some may feel like this - having someone take their own life is deeply heartbreaking - but think how desperate and hopeless that person must have felt to be driven to such an action?

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I’m sure most - if not all - of us have been touched by suicide at some point in our lives, some of us multiple times, via a relative/friend/acquaintance/idol/etc. Hearing the news of an occurrence has a way of robbing your breath and halting you in your tracks. You immediately contemplate warning signs and contributing factors. You wonder how it could have been prevented and (depending on your relation to the victim) if there’s something you could have done.

That last part can be particularly brutal, depending on your closeness to the victim, literally/figuratively. Often, no matter how close you were, your mind feasts on what ifs. "What if I had reached out more often?” “What if I had been more patient?” “What if I had been more observant?” “What if I had been more generous with my time?” “What if I had been more empathetic/understanding?” And on and on and ON. Down the rabbit hole you go. Gnarly stuff.

I remember one person whose suicide I really took personally was of a guy who had expressed interest in dating me. He was unbelievably sweet and such a great guy, but there was no interest on my part, unfortunately. I did my best to break this as gently as possible, and then limited my contact with him so as not to lead him on. I was unable to emotionally provide what he wanted: a romantic relationship. The feelings just weren’t there for me.

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As is common with tragedy, my memory blocked the details, but I vaguely recall suddenly thinking of him, whether through a dream or just a passing thought. It turns out, at the time he was crossing my mind, he was also taking his life.

I was shattered. I was wrecked with such a profound sense of guilt for not being there for him. Did I truly handle it the best way possible? Did my actions drive his loneliness over the edge, to the point he saw no use in living? Should I have been there more for him? What could I have done to prevent it? How selfish and awful am I?!!

Eventually I realized there are multiple contributing factors. Carrying that entire burden and regarding myself as the sole cause of his suicide was, in reality, self-absorbed. I was not the center of his universe, and I alone did not cause the outcome. Who knows what effect our interactions had on him, but I had to accept I did the best I could under the circumstances.

That sense of guilt and pressure lingered far after that event. Whether it was a friend, a boyfriend, or someone I was trying to help (especially if that someone wanted to leave the friend zone) it was considerably hard for me to draw those boundary lines (specifically if I knew they weren’t in the best headspace). Even if I effectively did set the boundaries, it resulted in countless nightmares and sleepless nights, with me worrying about them and stressing over their wellbeing.

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I’m not sharing this to evoke a pity response. Not even. I tell my story to: 1) demonstrate suicide’s ripple effect; 2) relate to those of you with similar situations; 3) alleviate the burden you may place on yourself; and 4) raise awareness and provoke conversations on this crucial topic.

Some of you may relate to the yearning to help “heal” people. This is a beautiful intention and calling, but boundaries are essential. As I discussed in my 09.15.2018 post on boundaries, they are essential for true compassion (watch for an upcoming post on empathy).

Be kind, for you know not of the battles people face.

All we can do is our best. Our best to be kind to one another, to be considerate of each other, and to be there for one another. We must do our best to watch for red flags, and to regularly check in with loved ones. We all deal with our own daily thoughts/ideas/responsibilities whirling around in our heads, so this is a reminder for us all to step outside of our mental/emotional bubbles and stay keyed in to those around us: friends/relatives/acquaintances…even strangers. Just letting someone know you care is significant. A simple smile to a stranger can have a profound effect. Just acknowledging to people that you S E E them can make all the difference.

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Please, tell me.

I cannot help you fight the enemy

If you do not tell me about the enemy,

The enemy that is trying to kill you.

Do not trust your suicidal thoughts.

They are not rational.

They are a symptom, a sign, a cry from inside.

Something inside you needs healing.

Healing, not killing.
— Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW; Letter from a Therapist to a Suicidal Person

Read full version of Letter from a Therapist to a Suicidal Person at:

http://www.speakingofsuicide.com/2014/05/01/letter/


RESOURCES

24/7 suicide hotline

  • Text GO to 741741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor

  • Call 1-800-273-8255 (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)

    • Also online chat option

Veterans Crisis Line

  • Call 1-800-273-8255 (same number)

    • Also online chat option

  • Text 838255