Replacing Apologies With Gratitude

Often, people don’t know how to tell you things aren’t your fault. They don’t understand where the toxic roots come from, and they don’t understand how to comfort you when you feel the way that you do.

“Thank You” is the new “I’m Sorry.”

This article was originally published for The Odyssey on April 4, 2017.

When I was younger, I was a sounding board for many of my friends who felt they didn’t have anyone else to talk to. I heard stories of depression, anxiety, suicide and anything else you can imagine teenagers between the ages of fourteen and sixteen have to say. It was a really demanding and heavy job; I often felt that I had no where to release my own feelings and began to absorb others’ on top of my own. Soon, I found myself in a toxic environment where I was doing everything wrong and so I began apologizing for everything, even when there was nothing to apologize for.

Being in a toxic environment is like suffocating; being surrounded by several toxic people at once is like drowning. It’s heavy, it’s debilitating and you always feel guilty and shameful. Toxic relationships have a way of bringing you down, as if you were shackled to a wall inside a tornado. Manipulative people take your fears and insecurities and their own insecurities and demons, and your life becomes a whirlwind of darkness. You feel as if everything is your fault, because they make it seem like you’re to blame. You’re not, and sometimes you know you’re not, and that’s what makes everything harder.

Leaving a toxic relationship of any kind is stressful and scary; you’re never quite sure if you’ll make it out alive. The first few steps of freedom are light and airy, and you wish you had done it earlier, if only you had known you were being manipulated. The bad times don’t stop there though. After leaving a relationship like that, sometimes you take those habits with you long after the fact.

Always feeling as though things are your fault is a common habit that follows you and weaves its way into your other relationships. The roots a toxic person digs into you are so deep, even when you thought you had severed the last of them, there are still seeds hiding underneath your memories.

Often, people don’t know how to tell you things aren’t your fault. They don’t understand where the toxic roots come from, and they don’t understand how to comfort you when you feel the way that you do. They often say something like, “Oh my god! Stop apologizing!” or “It’s not your fault.” Well, we all know it’s not your fault, but it’s become a habit to feel like it’s your fault, so you speak that feeling.

The best way for both parties to decrease the amount of apologizing and animosity toward the constant apologizing is this: simply replace the word ‘sorry’ with ‘thank you’.

When someone is speaking to you about something that is bothering them, do not apologize. Instead try saying, “Thank you for confiding in me.” When someone is apologizing for something that isn’t their fault, try saying, “Thank you for listening to me.” or “Thank you for your concern.”

The thank-you-replacement can go for other situations, too.

Instead of apologizing for being late, try saying, “Thank you for waiting for me.” Instead of apologizing for speaking your mind, or expressing your feelings, try, “Thank you for understanding and comforting me.”

Stop apologizing for everything. It’s easier said than done, of course, but it’s pretty simple to replace an apology with an expression of gratitude. You will begin to feel less heavy with guilt, and the roots of that toxic relationship will eventually dissolve as you become more thankful for your surroundings.

When I was a junior in high school, and I found myself surrounded by toxicity, I found the clearest way out of the situation and rode the solo wave for a while. It was difficult to repel the signs of red flags I saw in other people; I was always on my guard so that I wouldn’t be in a similar situation again. I was so scared of being sucked back into the darkness that I didn’t know how to immerse myself in meaningful relationships again.

When I began replacing my apologies with gratitude, it was like I had opened an entirely new door to my future. There is so much beauty in the world, and we take advantage of it every day. Expressing gratitude for my friendships, my family and myself became something I would try to build on in the future, and attempt to gain more of as I grew older. The remnants of guilt and heaviness from my previous toxic experiences soon faded away and dissolved into my past.

I am still triggered by some things relating to those relationships today, but I no longer let them weight me down long term. I remember to thank my lucky stars for what I have in present time, and what those toxic relationships have provided me with since. Gratitude in place of apology has opened my eyes up to the little things, the little bits of beauty we forget to remember.

I am thankful for the light I have discovered outside of the toxic relationships I once had. There was a time when I thought I’d never see the beauty I have. Getting away from toxicity is difficult, but it is not impossible. Know that gratitude will always be waiting for you to embrace it, even when you think there is nothing to be thankful for. There will always be something to be grateful for, and unlike guilt, gratitude is never apologetic.

It’s Not Giving Up, It’s Stepping Back

Know that even if someone important to you does depart, that they may return. If they don’t, however, know that you’ll be just fine because you can stand on your own two feet.

What to realize when someone “leaves you” due to your mental illness.

This article was originally published for the The Odyssey on March 6, 2017.

We’ve all seen that picture that circulates the internet with a few words written on a photograph that reads, “Please don’t leave,” or “Please don’t leave me.” I’ve heard many people relay those same words to me as they beg me not to ‘leave them behind’ due to their mental illness. I wish they would realize that I’m not leaving them behind; I’m simply taking a breather. When someone ‘leaves’ you for reasons surrounding your mental illness, understand that they’re not giving up on you; they’re simply taking a step back.

Mental illness can be a very powerful and draining thing. Enduring it alone is difficult and many people believe they cannot survive without the support of others. This is true in some cases. The problem is that there will almost always be someone who ‘leaves’ due to the circumstances surrounding your mental illness, and you can’t give up just because that person is no longer around.

I don’t really like to use the word ‘leave’ or ‘leaves’ because I think that usually correlates with someone disappearing. Generally, you leave a place, not a person. You are not an object. You are not an island and your mental illness isn’t shark infested waters. A better word for your situation is likely ‘step back’ or ‘give in’. Giving up and leaving are generally not what a person does when they can no longer bear the weight of your mental illness.

Your demons are dark, no matter what kind they are and no matter where they originate from. They are dark and heavy on your soul. They try to eat you alive. That’s what creates depression, anxiety, and other types of mental illness. When a friend or family member that was once close to you decides to remove themselves from your life due to a circumstance surrounding your mental illness, it is not your fault. Let me repeat that: it is not your responsibility to keep someone from taking a step back.

Friendship is fluid. Family can even be fluid, though many don’t think so. Demons are scary and powerful. They will try to drag anyone and everything down with them into the pits of darkness. They are incredibly toxic. When someone close to you forfeits their relationship with you, it’s because they’re trying to get as far away from those evil demons as they can.

Many of us shoulder our own demons, and if someone takes a step back from their relationship with you, it’s likely due to the fact that they cannot handle both your demons and their own.

It feels personal, but I promise, in a real friendship or a real, genuine relationship, it isn’t. Friends are not generally equipped to handle those types of things. They aren’t registered therapists or psychiatrists, and no matter how many times they lend you an ear, they simply aren’t trained to help you in the way you require.

Understand that those who can no longer face your demons are not giving up, they’re taking a step back. In the bargain that is their mental health and your relationship, they will and should put their mental health first. Just as you aren’t to blame for your mental illness, you’re not to blame for your friends departing.

As long as you have not hurt those friends or family members on purpose, or manipulated them in any way to get what you wanted, you are not the problem. If you genuinely did not hurt someone and they step back, it is not personal. Know that, however, if there was manipulation and ill-feelings involved, that your relationship may not return, and sometimes that’s for the better. It is not someone else’s job to fix you. It is their job to hold your hand while you fix yourself.

Think of your relationships as one of those bridges that lifts up its ends to allow the ships to pass through. The ships represent time. You and that person are just lifting up your sides of the bridge. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to, the bridges cannot pass through if you do not lift your side up. Many ships will pass through. Sometimes, even after the ships have passed, your friend may not wish to put their side of the bridge back down. That’s okay, too. Sometimes it’s not meant to be.

After realizing the reason for your relationship’s hiatus, you have to remember that you are not alone, no matter how lonely you feel. Everyone has to put their mental health first, but that doesn’t mean that yours no longer matters. Your mental health and mental illness are just as important as anyone else’s. Know that you cannot give up just because someone you care about took a step back. You have to take a stand up for yourself and fight tooth and nail for your life. If life was meant to be easy, we’d all live forever.

You have to learn to be your own anchor. You have to prop yourself up and fight against all the negativity coming at you. Be your own ray of sunshine, and perhaps you’ll be a ray of sunshine for others too. You are meant to be here. You have a purpose even if you haven’t realized it just yet. If you weren’t meant to be on this Earth, the Universe would have picked you off long ago.

You are meant to be here to change the world, even if it’s someone’s world. Realizing that will help you in your process of healing. Know that even if someone important to you does depart, that they may return. If they don’t, however, know that you’ll be just fine because you can stand on your own two feet. You are strong. You will always be strong. Continue to be strong, if not for anyone but yourself. No one can drag you down but you, remember that. You are your own anchor.

To All The Perfectionist-Procrastinators

I am my own worst enemy. I am the worst perfectionist procrastinator you will ever meet.

Are you your own worst enemy? Me too.

This article was originally published for The Odyssey on January 16, 2017.

Hi, my name is Casey (Hi Casey) and I am my own worst enemy. I spend most of my time bullying myself, pressuring myself and trying to make sure I don’t disappoint my worst enemy: me. My parents were never particularly strict with me when it came to my grades or my future, so I guess someone had to take the job. I guess that someone is me. It’s a tiring and difficult job but I just can’t seem to let myself go.

I am my own worst enemy. I am the worst perfectionist procrastinator you will ever meet. I know when I can procrastinate and when I can’t and then I still find a way to work even when I procrastinate off-schedule. It’s a work in progress. Progress that I’ll end up procrastinating. It’s a system I’m working on.

In high school, I was particularly terrible at this system, waiting until two or three in the morning to print out a paper due the same day, approximately six hours later. I would stay up entirely too late for a student who had to wake up at 7 a.m. at the very latest each morning to assure my punctuality. I was still late sometimes. I took a two-hour nap every day after school when I didn’t have to stay after and when I did have to stay after, it was until late because I was a theater kid.

Theater was a fun way of procrastinating. It still is, but it’s not as effective, because, in college, theater doesn’t really take a day off. In high school, there were times when we would go to rehearsal but there would be nothing to do. In college, there really isn’t ever a time when you have nothing to do, both in and outside of theatrical activities.

College is pretty great because you make your own schedule and you have your own time to delegate your priorities. If you have priorities, you are probably very good at organizing them. If you’re like me, however, you probably try to do everything at once and then end up stressing out and only taking a break every few hours to cry. While this isn’t healthy and I know it isn’t healthy, I keep doing it.

My name is Casey and I am my own worst enemy. What kind of person makes it harder for themselves just because they don’t feel like doing the work? I am the slacker in a group for a project that determines your final grade and the group is made up of the one, the only, procrastinating perfectionist, me.

I know that perfection isn’t attainable, but I’m gonna pretend I didn’t hear myself say that. Maybe I’m just picky, maybe I just like things to be organized. Then why is my room so messy? It’s not a priority. Why are my priorities so messy? Great question. Anyone else have any questions I won’t be answering anytime soon?

If you’re like me, you will push yourself to the edge and then spend most of your break recuperating, because you had to single-handedly lift yourself back up the ledge. If you’re like me, you will spend hours and hours working on a small task so you don’t have to fry your brain working on a larger task. If you’re like me, you’ll wait until the last minute and then have several breakdowns and gain anxiety from the anxiety you caused yourself.

Why are we like this? I don’t know. I can’t seem to fire myself from this job. I can’t even lay myself off, it’s like I’m feeding off of my own pressure. Maybe I work well under pressure? I think there’s a line between pressure and too much pressure, though. Why can’t I see the line?

My name is Casey and I am my own worst enemy. I know when to recognize improvement and I know when I’ve exceeded my expectations that I’ve done some good work. The only problem is that my expectations are pretty high, even when I swear I’m just trying to do my best. E for Effort, more like Me for Mess.

It’s not just with grades and schooling either, I find myself having to do the absolute most in my workplace, in my extracurricular activities and even my sleep schedule. Why aren’t I sleeping enough? Well because you’re not doing anything in an organized matter? Not good enough.

It’s never good enough and I can’t seem to figure out why. The only person I’m trying to impress is myself. Why am I so impossible? How can I strive to be better than me?

I like to think I have a strong desire for improvement. I feel like you can never stop improving. You’ll never be the best. Even when you’re the best at one thing, you still have other areas to improve in. If you’re with me so far, you’ve probably got a similar mindset. Who are you willing to impress if not yourself?

If you are your own worst enemy, know that you are not alone. You are not dumb, you are not ‘OCD’, you are not sick. You are a human being who wants to improve themselves and while your methods may not be the healthiest, at least you never give up.

If you are your own worst enemy, join us. Tell us your name, your problem and we will welcome you. You will achieve improvement and greatness. You will see a better you. Know that you must accept the you found in the mirror first. Accept the mess on your floor, the frizz in your hair and the clutter in your backpack.

Know that you will improve anything that you put your mind to. Remember that you deserve a break, though and remember to take that break. Remember to embrace relaxation and don’t forget this work ethic. Work often but reward more often. You can be your own worst enemy as long as you are your own best friend too.

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You Are Your Own Galaxy

Your future isn’t a ticking time bomb.

The only person who can define your success is you.

This article was originally published for The Odyssey on January 3, 2017.

Time isn’t real. Okay, let me rephrase. Time, regarding how long it should take to complete a task, doesn’t really exist. We learn from a young age that certain tasks take a certain maximum amount of time, but this just isn’t correct. Writing a paragraph may take some people five minutes, while it may take other people ten. It depends on the person, the topic and the paragraph. Writing a paper may take an hour, or several. It depends. Just like menial tasks don’t have time limits, your success doesn’t either. Your path, your possibilities and your future successes are infinite; you are your own clock, you are your own galaxy.

Your future isn’t a ticking time bomb. It isn’t going to explode in a year, ten years or twenty. Anything is possible at any age, any time, any day and any year. Do not ever let anyone else define a time-period for your success. Your success is infinite and will never expire. Your productivity, your passion and your inability to complete certain tasks do not limit future you. You are your own galaxy, you abide by your own rules, your own system of time and your own governing.

Some people know exactly how they want to spend the rest of their lives the minute they accept their high school diploma. Some people don’t. Some people won’t find out for several years. Some people never find out. All of these things are OK and perfectly acceptable. Some people have one major, some people have two, some people have five. Some people have none. Still acceptable. Some people finish college in two years, some finish in five, some finish in ten. Some never attend college. All of these people are human. You do not become less of a person because you don’t have your life situated a certain way.

Your success will never abide by a time limit, no matter how many parents, teachers or people on the internet tell you that you’re not in the right place. Know that you are in your own place and what’s right or wrong can only be decided by one person: you.

Just because other people surrounding you have completed something faster or slower than you does not mean they are wrong. It simply means they are abiding by their own time, their own potential and their own possibilities. It does not make that person any less intelligent, any less potent or any less successful.

No matter how many people try to commandeer your future and your success, that little piece of paper does not define your worth. You are not measured in grade point averages. You will never be measured in grade point averages.

If college isn’t your setting, no worries. Your advancement in the business world does not define your success. The only person in the entire world who can define your worth, your success and your intelligence is you. Moving at your own pace? Fantastic. Moving faster? Awesome. Taking a break from moving? Treat yourself. Not moving at all? Perfectly acceptable.

People are destined to have different paths in life. If we were all heading down the same path, life would be pretty boring. We aren’t all meant to be doctors or lawyers or business executives. We’re also not meant to not be doctors, lawyers or business executives, either. There is a huge need for every occupation out there. Anything is possible. Your potential will never expire.

Age is just a number. You can go back to school, you can get a new job, you can start again, funds permitting. Life does not slow down for anyone.

When you or someone you know is not completing a task according to whoever’s allotted time expectancy, do not shame or be ashamed. Allotted time isn’t real. Our successes are not measured in seconds, minutes or hours. Our successes are not limited by a clock. Our successes are infinite, our futures are infinite, our potential, infinite.

You are your own amazing galaxy. You are vast and beautiful and it’s OK if you haven’t discovered everything out there yet. You may never discover everything out there and that’s OK, too. You are wonderful and curious and you will find your way. Your success cannot be measured by other galaxies, because you are your own galaxy. You have different methods practiced in order to obtain different outcomes. Your possibilities are endless. You are a gracious and ground-breaking galaxy and your success will be abundant.

Do not give up and recoil because you are not meeting someone else’s requirements. You are on your own path to success and will not be swayed by other’s attempts at discouragement. Know that you are a worldly wonder and you will find your way, no matter which direction you head in.

You are your own galaxy. Shine like the star you want to be.

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Your Worth Is Not Defined By Your Final Grades

You’re stressed, you’re tired, you’re feeling disoriented and out-of-place.

Your worth has never been measured in numbers. Why start now?

This article was originally published for The Odyssey on December 12, 2016.

Somehow the fall semester has flown past us and it is now time for finals season, once again. Tensions are high as we all finish up learning what we can in our classes and begin to cram. Stress is our new best friend, along with coffee, sleep and oh, don’t forget, anxiety. Remember that your worth is not measured in points. Your self-esteem should not be measured in letter grades. You are worth so much more than your GPA.

College is all about pushing yourself and challenging yourself. That does not mean you should push yourself to the ledge. Yes, the curriculum and the assignments are stressful and difficult. Yes, you will not get a healthy amount of sleep. Yes, even with prioritizing your work, finals week will provoke exhaustion that you never knew you had.

You’re stressed, you’re tired, you’re feeling disoriented and out-of-place. For as many calories you consume drinking coffee after coffee, try to equal that same amount in cups of water. Take naps, and showers. Please take a break from working so you don’t shut down.

Regardless of how you do on that paper, that exam or that presentation, you are worth so much more than your college GPA. You are not that number, letter, or pass/fail mark. You are not your effort, no matter how much or how little there is. You are not measured in papers, presentations or exams.

You are measured in love, in liveliness and in hope. You are measured in generosity, in positivity and in perseverance. No matter how you spend your time this finals week, know that no matter what, the sun will rise tomorrow. It will rise again the next day, and the next. Tomorrow is another day, and while your routine may blur time together, remember that this too shall pass.

If you find yourself in an environment that does not view your worth in this way, escape it. No one deserves to feel as though their life is measured by how well they do in college. College is not for everyone and that is totally OK. Someone once said, “Everybody is a genius but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it’ll live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

You are not stupid, regardless of how you perform in college. Life has many paths for you, and if the sun doesn’t appear to be coming out on your end, seek another path. Know that you are invincible, that you will not stop until you find your calling and that you know yourself better than anyone else.

So, as we all embark on finals week, whether you’ve been here before, or this is your first, remember this: breathe. All you can give is your absolute very best. If that is not enough, so be it. You will not crash and burn if you do not pass a class this semester. You will not combust, you will not shut down, you will rise above it. You will get back on the horse. You will stand on your own two feet once more.

Your life, your dignity and your self-worth have never been measured in numbers. Why start now?

When The Phrase “I Love Myself” Becomes Foreign To You

It’s not easy, it never will be easy, until you figure out a way to speak for yourself.

Self-love isn’t easy, but it’s worth the fight.

This article was originally published for The Odyssey on October 25, 2016.

I have never looked at myself in the mirror and thought that I am beautiful. I have never seen myself in a reflection and thought that I was a prized possession. I cope with jokes about self-hate and acting like I don’t care, but the truth is, self-love has never been easy for me. I know I’m not alone when I say this. I know there are millions of other people who don’t see their own worth, and that blindness we direct toward ourselves can be detrimental to our health and our futures. When the phrase “I love myself” becomes foreign to you, know that you are not alone.

We live in a world where body image isn’t always presented in a positive way. Both females and males are pressured to look a certain way, depending on what is portrayed in magazines, in Hollywood, on television, in movies, and in everyday life. Lacking confidence when it comes to your personal image can begin at a very young age. All it takes is someone more attractive than you to waltz down the school hallway, and that one thought that speaks, “I wish I could be like them.”

I recognized my lack in confidence early in the middle school years when I was never the one that boys were flocking to. So many girls had boyfriends and first kisses already, and I was the weird girl that was too loud for her own good and had literally no sense of fashion. Any guy I ever had a crush on always had a crush on my best friend, whoever it was at that time. I wasn’t even a second or third choice, it was like I wasn’t even considerable enough to be a choice. I still feel that way sometimes.

It’s when we recognize these flaws or mistakes, as some consider them to be, and we let them control us, that we enter the danger zone. We see there is a problem that we cannot fix and do not know where to turn. Some of us resort to self-harm, some of us resort to self-medicating and some of us resort to something much worse. The narrative surrounding self-worth becomes the only topic we’re ever thinking about. We begin comparing ourselves to just about anyone we can. We beat ourselves down and tell ourselves there’s no point.

Insecurities aren’t easy to discuss. You’re basically telling someone, “Hey, I don’t like this about myself, and I think that damages my self-worth.” It’s embarrassing. Especially because that person will either tell you that you’re wrong, you’re crazy or they’ll take pity on you. Allowing your insecurities to control your self-worth opens the door for other people to start preying on your insecurities and your vulnerability. The bullies get what they want and you’re left feeling empty inside because you aren’t what you consider perfect.

Sometimes support isn’t easy to come by. Your family looks down on you, your friends aren’t equipped to handle that level of self-hate yet and you certainly don’t know how to ask for outside help. How can you continue to go on living when you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin? How can you go on living if you feel like a stranger inside your own body?

You reach out and take a hand. Any hand that you can reach and grasp, you take and you take it hard. It’s not easy, it never will be easy, until you figure out a way to speak for yourself. Do not let your insecurities win. Fight for yourself, fight for the self you aspire to be. You deserve to love yourself. You deserve to accept yourself. You deserve to be someone you’re proud of.

When you own up to your insecurities, the first thing anyone ever says is, “Well why don’t you just change yourself then?” While it may be easy for some people to make a change about who they are and escape their insecurities, this is not the case for everyone. It can be difficult to untangle yourself from the roots your demons have instilled in you. That’s when you need to fight as hard as you can to get what you want.

I’ve always had an issue with my weight. I’ve tried exercising, I’ve tried body positivity, I’ve tried to stop caring. Someone told me to ‘fake it ’til you make it’ and that didn’t really work either. I got to a point where I was tired of hating myself. I didn’t have the capacity to hate myself anymore. I didn’t have the time to dwell on self-pity. So I stopped. It wasn’t easy and I still don’t love myself, but I don’t hate myself anymore. Maybe this is what acceptance is like?

I recently saw a video from The Scene, a news platform that reports on fashion, food, culture, and comedy across the world, that inspired me to write this article. Two best friends write down their insecurities about their bodies, then say them to one another and direct them to one another. The video not only made me tear up, but also made me want to immediately share it with my friends whom I know also struggle with insecurities.

When you are saying all those terrible things about yourself, all those hateful things your insecurities drive you to project onto yourself, imagine you are saying it a best friend. Alternatively, I once saw a campaign that asked you to imagine you were telling your younger self all the things you hate about yourself.

I think ultimately the best way to tackle a positive personal image is to treat yourself like you would someone else. Be a best friend to yourself. Be a positive role model for yourself. All in all, take it day by day. Embrace yourself whenever possible. Celebrate the way your body looks, even when it changes. Erase the word ‘perfect’ from your vocabulary. Become someone you’ll be proud of, and become that person for yourself, not for anyone else. Love parts of yourself, even if you can’t enjoy the whole thing. Take it step by step.

Maybe today we don’t like ourselves, and maybe tomorrow we won’t like ourselves either. When we do finally get to the day where we can drop that L word to the mirror, it’ll be a mountain climbed and conquered. We’ll know it was well-worth the trek.

We’ll get to that comfortable place someday, and we’ll get there together, as long as you continue to reach out and grab that hand. Fight for yourself and your future. When the phrase “I love myself” becomes foreign to you, know that it won’t be like that forever. It may take time, it may take space and self-love, but there will come a day when you’ll feel comfortable in your own skin.

When the phrase “I love myself” becomes foreign to you, remember that it will become familiar again. Remember that you deserve the right to love yourself. Remember there are always people willing to support and love you, every step of the journey.


Let’s Talk About Suicide

At the end of the day, we need to all stand together to help prevent suicide.

September is Suicide Awareness month. It’s time we speak up.

This article was originally published for The Odyssey on September 12, 2016.

Sometimes, it seems easier to avoid talking about scary subjects. It seems harmless to ignore the tragedies that happen in the world and this country every second, every minute, day, week, month and year. Most people shade their eyes, cover their ears and pretend they live in a perfect world. Among other things, this is unhealthy and delusional. It’s time to talk about those scary subjects. It’s time to inform our children of what is out there. It’s time to open our hearts to those asking so desperately for help. It’s time to stand up and speak out. Let’s talk about an S-word. Suicide. This year, September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

Suicide. Even just sounding it out can sound threatening. Those seven letters are laced with so many negative ideas and feelings. Many people don’t even utilize this word in their vocabulary. It’s easier to pretend it doesn’t exist; that it doesn’t plague our country, nonetheless the world. Stop taking the easy way out.

Suicide can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, sexuality, or background. For the sake of conciseness, I’m only going to highlight the troubles we face in America regarding suicide. I am not disregarding any other countries or downplaying how serious the suicide epidemic can be. I simply want to adjust the focal point so that my audience will realize the harsh circumstances surrounding them daily.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people. In 2014, youth aged 15 to 24 had the third highest suicide rate of 11.6, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or AFSP. People ages 45 to 64 had a rate of 19.2, the second highest and ages 85 and up have a rate of 19.3, the highest rate of suicide in America. Each year, 45,773 people die of suicide in America and for every successful suicide, there are 25 attempts. There are 117 suicides per day. Females are more likely to attempt three times more, and three times more often, but males are four times more likely to die by suicide.

So why does it happen? Why do so many people die from such a preventable premise? Why are so many people, so many communities, and so many worlds completely shook up, damaged and changed by this horrific tragedy? An easy answer will tell us that it’s our fault or society’s fault. We don’t talk about it enough, we stigmatize it too much, or we don’t take action enough. While I could pull up statistics about each of those ideas and tell you that some reign true, it’s not our fault. At the end of the day, we can’t save everyone. Even in a perfect world where we educate people about the dangers of suicide, it would still exist. Depression still exists. Mental Illness would still exist. Death would still exist.

In an attempt to answer the question in one way, I’ve researched some reasons why people want to kill themselves. In a study completed by Psychology Today, a site that opens with the search bar ‘Find a Therapist’, and seeks to help the mentally ill by informing them of news and connecting them to the help they require, researchers studied several suicide notes and tried to deduct the reasoning behind each of them. Half of the notes they studied were authored by people who attempted, while the other half were successful completions. They found that each note seemed to be based on one of five ideas: senses of burden, emotional pain, escaping negativity, a change in the social world and hopelessness.

In the end, they found that the majority of the notes composed by people who succeeded, were based not on pain, but the sense of burden. Let’s think about that. The majority of people in this study, who succeeded at committing suicide, decided to take their own lives because they truly believed that they were worthless, no one would miss them and their existence was nothing but a burden to others. If that doesn’t scare the shit out of you, I don’t know what will. There are people that work with us, that go to school with us, that walk beside us on the street, who honestly believe their existence is meaningless. If you think this idea is barbaric and absolutely impossible, you’ve been living with your eyes closed.

Millions of people, suicidal or not, either feel this way or have felt this way in the past ten years. That’s terrifying. How do you convince someone that their existence isn’t meaningless? They’ve already convinced themselves that there is no way out except suicide. How do you fix this? How do you fix them? How do you prevent such a terrible thing from happening?

This is why we need to discuss suicide. Many people don’t know the answers to these questions. I know that I’m not quite sure either. I know that attempting to fix the problem listed above can be exhausting because it’s like talking to a wall. Once someone is in that state of mind, that state of worthlessness, they are almost impossible to reconcile. So how does this end? Is suicide an endless cycle we will never escape?

Listen to me very carefully. The key to stopping the cycle, is literally, to start spreading awareness. That sounds kind of crazy right, especially since I said earlier that spreading awareness isn’t going to save everyone, right? If you look at a problem, any problem that you have in this life, and think “Hm. I could take a measure or two or help some part of the problem. Or I could just do nothing instead because we’re never going to fix everything,” you are already a part of the problem. If everyone thought this way, we would have no advancements in modern medicine, especially concerning cancer. Think about that. If you can fix even just one aspect of a certain problem, and save some lives in the meantime, wouldn’t you want to take that chance?

First things first, let’s talk about why you don’t want to talk about suicide. It’s not just because you think it would be easier not to. It’s not just because of fear. Another S-word we should mention here is stigma. There is a huge stigma with suicide, depression and mental illness in general. People refuse to talk about these things because it’s unheard of. It’s wrong. It’s a secret. It’s embarrassing. No matter what reason it is, that makes you cower when suicide is mentioned, you need to find a way to kill it with fire.

It’s okay to be afraid of something. It’s okay to be afraid of suicide and mental illness. What’s not okay, is not talking about it or speaking up about your fears because you don’t want to be judged, or you don’t want people to see you discussing such a thing. Suicide happens every 40 seconds. It’s real. It’s more real than it’s ever been. Suicide is treated like a disease, and while it is an epidemic, you won’t catch it by speaking about it. Yet people hide behind the stigma because they’re afraid of what may happen after discussing suicide. Sure, it’s hard to talk about, but it’s necessary. More necessary than it’s ever been.

As Marisa Lancione of The Mighty reports, “There’s no easy way of talking about suicide because it’s hard to explain why someone would think killing themselves is a viable solution to their problems. As someone who has seriously thought about numerous ways to die, suicide is still hard to articulate. It’s a complex and confusing issue because it goes against one of our most basic instincts: self-preservation.” She mentions that even though this fear can easily cloud your judgment, it shouldn’t be something that stops you from opening your mouth.

What about your fear of being judged? Suicide and mental illness are discussed with a load of ignorance most of the time. People talk about which ways they would want to go out if the need should ever arise. They say people commit suicide for attention. They judge people for attempting and not succeeding and then turn around and judge the same people who succeeded. You can’t win.

Mental illness is an illness, just like cancer, just like dementia, just like any other illness you’d be treated for in a conventional hospital. It should be treated as a regular illness. Just like those people who did not cause their own cancer, mentally ill people did not create their illness. This is where the stigma should slip away. Once you realize that mentally ill people are just as sick and stuck in their sickness as someone with a rare disease is, you’ll realize that they shouldn’t be treated any differently. Would you tell a cancer patient that their disease is a misconception they made up in their mind? Would you tell a person with Alzheimer’s that they are just asking for attention and pretending to feel this way? No, you wouldn’t. So you shouldn’t say that to mentally ill people either.

What’s next? Speaking up. Marisa from The Mighty talks about how to approach speaking about suicide. She says, “So it’s not that we shouldn’t talk about suicide because we’re afraid it’ll be contagious, but we need to know how to talk about it. We need to be sensitive to our audience. We need to be considerate of other people’s experiences. We need to be kind and understanding.” Talking about suicide won’t increase suicide. It won’t make you suicidal. It won’t make your children suicidal. Making adjustments to how we approach suicide and stigma relating to stigma, can only help the problem.

Every time I mention suicide or something related to it, I become very emotional. For those of you who read my articles regarding Emotional Triggers and Trigger Warnings, you know why I feel so deeply attached to this subject. I know it’s scary to speak up about your personal experiences, but I also know that if I don’t speak up, my trigger won’t be doing anything but hurting me, when it could be put forth to help spread awareness. So here goes nothing.

I, like many other people in this world, have been personally affected by suicide. I have been there, where I felt there was no way to escape my pain and suffering except to end it all. Though I reached out to someone before actually acting on my feelings, I know that some aren’t half as lucky, to realize the fault in their feelings like so. Growing up, I was that friend that people always went to when they felt hopeless, and like there was nothing left for them in this world. It was emotionally and physically exhausting to have to be at everyone’s beck and call, just to make sure that they wouldn’t kill themselves overnight because then I would be to blame. Most of my friendships regarding this type of relationship became toxic for me and ultimately ended up contributing to my triggers, which now mostly focus around the idea of suicide.

Looking back, there was never a time in which I did not have a friend who had either attempted or thought about attempting suicide. Out of all the people I have ever known, almost all of them have been plagued with these thoughts and ideas. It wasn’t shocking to me in that moment because I thought that it was just the times. I thought, well, in these days, people are suicidal and depressed and that’s life. Now that I’m in college, I only surround myself with positive people, so that I am not sucked into the black hole that suicide becomes for anyone and everyone who becomes involved with it. No matter how much distance I put between myself and it, suicide still affects me. It still plagues me, taking the form of a debilitating trigger.

I have lost people. I fear I may lose more. Even those I did not personally know still shake me up inside because I’ve been there. I’ve seen suicide at all the angles it can possibly manifest. It terrifies me. I do not think there will ever come a day when it does not terrify me. That will not stop me from talking about it. My fear will not stop me from spreading awareness and it certainly won’t stop me from speaking up about it.

I, personally, fight for gun control often. Though I am tired of seeing the deaths at the hands of other people holding firearms, I am mostly fighting for gun control reform because of suicide. Firearms account for 50% of all suicides. I truly believe that gun control reform will help to decrease that statistic. Will it save everyone? No. Even if it just saves one life, I think that would be a success.

Suicide is a tough subject. Like I’ve mentioned, it can be hard to approach, and hard to help. Prevention is possible. If we all work together, and realize that this is a disease much like many others, it will be a step in the right direction.

If you know someone who is dealing with some struggles of suicide, whether it be them personally, or them dealing with the loss of a friend, the best thing you can do, at first, is be there for them. There are not many ways you can fix this problem. As Marisa Lancione states in her article from earlier, “Other than being there for them, listening to them and giving them a hug if they want it, there’s no real way to console a friend or family member who is dealing with this type of loss.”

If the problem exceeds your expertise, encourage the person to call a helpline to talk. These helplines will be located at the bottom of this article. If you are the person dealing with these issues, there are helplines and online chats filled with people willing to listen and help you with your feelings. You can survive this.

In general and in lower circuits, you can help to prevent suicide by creating safe spaces. In high school, a friend of mine and I created a Facebook group where people could vent about their problems and seek help and advice from others in the school with zero judgment. If you’re going to create this type of group, make sure to fill it with positive people, and if a problem persists, like a person being rude or uncalled for, you must delete them and block them from the group. I’ve seen several other schools do this and have the group run as an efficient safe space for teens to voice their struggles.

In higher circuits, you can donate your time and money to organizations such as The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, National Alliance of Mental Illness, Yellow Ribbon, or several other organizations listed here and here.

At the end of the day, we need to all stand together to help prevent suicide. It’s time to speak up, reach out, and stand tall. Tell people your story. Talk to your children. Talk to your friends and family. We can take steps forward, together. You are never alone.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Text the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741

Receive online help instantly via Live Chat

Also, head here for a list of Crisis Centers around the world.