Living Like You Believe It

Hi friends,

How’re we doing this week? This week has been a whirlwind for me, filled with so many good things. I came home from a soul-filling trip to visit family and friends we don’t get to see often. I got to take my siblings to see our favorite musician, Noah Gundersen. I got to see one of my dearest friends at the show.

This week was also when the world celebrates Valentine’s Day and the Church celebrates the first day of Lent. Though we don’t typically celebrate Valentine’s Day, my boyfriend surprised me at work with beautiful roses and delicious chocolates. Fresh flowers are one of my favorite things in the whole world and those roses have brightened my week tremendously.

I have never traditionally celebrated Lent, at least not the intentional way I am this year. I ordered the All Good Things Collective Lenten Experience Cards, and though we are only a few days in, I am already seeing the fruit. I chose this method for Lent because I’m already doing an in-depth Bible study with my mama and little sister.  Each day has a different card and each card has a verse to study and a conversation starter.

The first conversation starter was to share your biggest prayer request with friends. Currently, mine is to find a spiritual mentor and accountability partner.

Today’s focus was on repentance. As I read through the day’s scripture and though back over my week, I realized that I don’t always go through my days as though I believe that God is who he says he is. I don’t trust him to do the things he says he will do, the things he has already done. One of the scripture passages I studied this week was Matthew 11:28-30.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light”

That’s the New King James version. Some versions say all you who are weary and burdened.  I have had a busy, busy month. I have struggled with fatigue recently in ways that I haven’t struggled in years. I am so weary. I feel so burdened. I have tried every solution I could think of – except to go to God first. Often, in this situation, Jesus is my last resort. I don’t think “Hey! I’m weary, let me go to God with this and rest in him.” I am human, and I have fallen short of the glory of God. I do it every day, we all do. That’s why grace exists, but we can’t let that grace keep us complacent. I can’t use grace as an excuse to not take things to Jesus when I am aware that I’m not seeking him first.

Do I believe that God is who he says he is? Then why am I not living like it?

The Depression Slide

I haven’t been posting as much lately, for a few reasons. Partly because of a flare up with my physical symptoms.  For me, the spiral of physical symptoms leads to the spiral of mental symptoms and vice-versa.  I haven’t written much because I’ve been trying to hold my head above water.

I sat in my therapist office last week as we discussed the weird in-between weeks of depression.  I’m not currently in a depressive episode, but I’m in what I like to call “the slide.”  For me, this is the time in-between the good times and the bad times, the period in which I can try and take the steps I know will help, or I can watch myself slide right into a full-blown (physical) flare up. The flare-ups of my physical illness will lead to a flare up of my mental illness and a classic depressive episode.

This is where all those coping mechanisms I learned in therapy get put into action.

Here are the top five things I have to do on a regular basis to maintain my best self (physically and mentally):

  • Be in the word. For me, this means regular bible reading/prayer/small group/church attendance. Lately, I’ve been going through the Val Marie Paper Fresh Start Prayer Devotion + Journal, using the All Good Things Collective Daily Remain Journal, and Priscilla Shirer’s Discerning the Voice of God study.  I truly believe that my depression is best managed with a fully holistic approach, and for me that includes not just diet, medication, and therapy,  but also spiritual nourishment and warfare.

 

  • Eat good food + drink water + exercise.  This is nothing new for most of us to hear, but I need constant reminders. I have to stay on a gluten-free, low dairy diet for my best self. This is hard and I have been tempted by cake ALL WEEK, but I made it through and it has been worth it. I end up cooking at home as much as I can and taking leftovers for work (check back soon for my favorite recipe). I eat cheerios + almond milk for breakfast, only drink my coffee black, and try to avoid soda or sugar heavy drinks. I suck at drinking enough water, but I try!  Again, not anything new, but something I am not super motivated about. I know that regular exercise helps me sleep better and feel better overall, which helps to keep a flare-up away. I shoot for in person, hour-long yoga classes two-three times a week and use Yoga With Adriene videos if I miss a class.

 

  • Therapy + Medication. I know, I never shut up about therapy. I never stop talking about therapy because it changed my life. Seriously,  the list of things that changed my life goes like this: Jesus, my people, books, therapy, and coffee. I go at least twice a month, and often more. Never less. Even when I think I don’t need it, therapy helps me in my day-to-day so much. It helps me stay afloat, to not slide into the pit of despair.  It took me a long time to find a therapist that works with me, and for me, and fits into my budget.  Also, medication is a thing that helps me function in a way that a lot of other things didn’t. I tried just therapy for a while, then therapy and meds, then just therapy again. I learned that I function best with medication to help balance out the chemicals in my brain.  I know that there is a lot of stigma around anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, but friends – I am here to tell you, if you think you need medication, just talk to your doctor. There is no shame in taking medication for depression. Would you refuse a cast if your arm was broken? Would you refuse pain medications after surgery or medications to help manage your blood pressure? Mental illness can and should be treated like a physical illness. Your brain can get sick just like your heart or your liver, and not just from cancer. I fully recommend therapy and medications, as I don’t think medication alone is the best option. It will help chemicals, but it won’t help you understand and learn to cope with your medication.

 

  • Spend Time With My People. I am an introvert and a loner. My depression makes me withdraw and my physical fatigue makes me want to do nothing besides go to sleep when I get home from work. I know that I have to have intentional interaction with my people to stay healthy. This isn’t every day, or just in passing. I have to be intentional about scheduling time with my boyfriend, my family, and my friends on a regular basis. I need to communicate with them on a daily basis, even if it’s just to check in or discuss something that’s not serious – I just need the connection.

 

  • Schedule Time For Myself. This is super simple, in theory. One night a week, at least, I block off time for myself. I make no plans, and tell everyone I am unavailable. I spend time reading, writing, catching up on shows, or even just resting or going to bed early. I intentionally do not let myself do chores or anything that I have to do – this time is strictly for rest and renewal.

 

 

So far, I’m doing all of these at about 90%. I slept in Saturday and didn’t go to yoga, but I did make it Monday after work. This morning I overslept and didn’t get my quiet time in before I left the house, but I found a pocket of time before starting work to fit it in. Another part of managing depression is grace. You won’t cope perfectly everytime, but that’s okay. Sometimes you won’t be able to catch it before you slide into that pit. But it is worth the extra work when you can manage to take care of yourself before it gets bad.

What about you? What’s in your tool box? Your top 5? I’m always looking for new ideas. If you don’t know the answer to this question, take a few minutes and make a list of a few things that make you feel good and try to do those each day.

Managing Mental Health with Professional Help

If you’ve known me for more than 3 minutes, you’ve probably heard me talk about how I think every single person on the planet should go to therapy. Therapy has saved my life, a dozen times over.  I am about 8 or so years into regular therapy. I’ve taken a few breaks here and there when I was moving or just in a particular season that made it harder to regularly attend therapy.

Early in my undergraduate days, it was suggested that I experience what’s called Dysthymia – sort of double depression.  It’s also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder.  Dysthymia is characterized by a consistent and underlying low mood occurring for 2 or more years that is experienced in addition to regular episodes of regular depressive disorder.  That’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo that boils down to this: I’m naturally a more pessimistic person whose regular mood leans toward sadness or discontentment.  When something triggers a depressive episode, I experience that a little more strongly than people who just deal with regular depression because my mood and outlook are already darker.

For me, this means that my mental health is something I have to stay on top of every day. If I let my therapy, medication, or self-care routines slide, my mental health slowly deteriorates and affects every other area of my life. It sounds dramatic than it probably is, but I just wanted to give you a picture of what my experience is so that you understand where I come from when I talk about treatment options. This is something I have experienced and want to help you take the first steps to finding help.

We’ve already discussed self-care routines and how that plays into managing mental health. The two other major game changers for me are regular talk therapy and regular medication. I have tried to manage my mental health both on medication and off it. I ultimately decided that the best option for me is to use medication as one of many tools to help me maintain good mental health.

While I don’t believe medication is the right answer for everyone, I do believe everyone can benefit from talk therapy.  Regardless of your budget, there are many options available. I’m going to highlight some options for those of us who have a bit of a tighter budget.

If you are an on-campus student of an undergraduate or graduate program, even part-time, go talk to your student services office. Most programs offer free counseling for students, as the fee is often built into your student fees. This is how I did my first four years of therapy, and where I made my initial progress – including the discussion of dysthymia and trying medication for the first time.  If you aren’t a student but live near a university, inquire about graduate psychology program. Often they will offer some sort of community counseling for zero or low-cost, provided by grad students who are learning the art of professional counseling. I know the major public university near me offers something similar with counseling offered by grad students but supervised by trained and certified counselors.

One of the first things I always suggest is to check with your insurance provider.  Some providers will cover therapy, some will offer discounts, some won’t cover it. The worst they can say is no, but they might provide a list of counselors they will cover completely or partially. Also, if you have any of that HRA spending money that applies to medications/appointments, etc – this also applies to therapy.

If you’ve checked with your insurance provider and don’t have any options there, my next suggestion is to shop around your area for a therapist who will work with you on a sliding scale payment plan. Don’t be afraid to ask about the fee, and about what wiggle room there is within that fee. The worst they can say is that they have a firm price, and you can move on to the next on your list. I’ve seen several therapists in the last 8 to 10 years and all but two were willing to work on a sliding scale plan. The two who weren’t were employed by private  Christian offices, which typically have higher fees and fewer insurance options.

Two easy ways to find practicing therapist in your area are the 211 phone number and the Psychology Today online therapist finder. The 211 phone line is an assistance line that helps you locate aid organizations in your area and covers everything from housing assistance to physical and mental health resources. Find out more about that resource here.

The therapist finder on the Psychology Today website is a great resource to start your search off. You can enter your zip code and find a list of certified practicing counselors in your area. You can find all the helpful information you need in each listing, including where they practice, a description of their education and services, what insurance they accept, and if they are willing to operate on a sliding scale payment plan. Here’s a link to my counselor’s Psychology Today profile!

If traditional therapy isn’t something your ready for, but you need to talk to someone immediately, check out IMAlive. The online, chat-based network allows you to reach out to a trained and certified crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day. You don’t have to dial a number or talk to anyone in person.  IMAlive originally formed out of a need seen by To Write Love On Her Arms, a non-profit that helps bring hope and help to those of us who struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide, or addiction.  TWLOHA has been responsible for renewing my hope countless times and for encouraging me to reach and get help for my depression all those many years ago.

 

Please know that you are not alone in your struggle. Please know that it doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad Christian if you seek help, in any form, but especially medication. I know there are some stigmas surrounding mental health in the Christian community, but I need you to know that God did not intend for you to suffer alone. He specifically called many of his children to become counselors or study medication that would help his people continue to live fulfilling lives.  Personally, I know that I can not fulfill the calling God has placed on my life to further glorify him if I am not taking care of my mental health by using the resources he has given me access to.

Tuesday Tales: Crash the Chatterbox

When lies are not confronted, callings are not fulfilled.” – Steven  Furtick

I didn’t know what to expect from this book. I’d never heard of it, but I put it on hold at the suggestion of a friend and I am so glad I did. I am only about 15 pages in, but I have already found so many relevant bits of wisdom.

Furtick’s premise in this book is that we all have a chatterbox, a representation of the lies we believe that keep us from hearing God’s voice.

The book is built around four confessions:

Confession 1:  God says I am – Overpowering the lies of the Enemy in your insecurities

Confession 2God says he will –Overpowering the lies of the enemy in your fears

Confession 3God says He has – Overpowering the lies of the Enemy in your condemnation

Confession 4God says I can – Overpowering the lies of the Enemy in your discouragement

The book has a section dedicated to each of these confessions, with a portion of the section explaining the confession and then a section dedicated to the practical application in our lives.

Normally, I underline and take notes in my books – this is a library book so I can’t do that, but I’m making notes on post-its and I can’t wait to see how many I end up with once I finish!

 

Have you read Crash the Chatterbox? Let me know your thoughts!

Managing Your Mental Health In The New Year (Part Two)

 

So yesterday’s post might not be what you expected when you saw the title, but I want to assure you that setting and maintaining realistic goals for myself is incredibly important when it comes to managing my mental + physical health. I am a goal-oriented person, I need to have something to strive for and build on each day. In the past, I’ve let this sort of take over my life and I frequently set unrealistic goals for myself and then got frustrated when I couldn’t achieve them. For me, this frequently led to a depressive episode, especially in college. When I was an undergraduate student, I was also at the most difficult time with my health, both physical and mental. Setting unrealistic goals, like not being late to class or completing all of my assignments both on time and to the perfect grade, set me up for failure. The Powersheets prep work helped me make sure I was focusing on realistic goals that will help me focus on maintaining my mental + physical health, my faith, my finances, and my relationships with the people I love. I would encourage you to think about setting some realistic goals for the New Year, and remember that good things grow slow! Your goal doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s and it can be a simple as making your bed or drinking a full glass of water as soon as you get up each morning.

One of the goals I set for myself for the New Year was to cultivate my self-care. For me, that means to maintain the practices I put in place last year and to continue to figure out what self-care means to me. Self-care plays a huge role in maintaining my mental health, and other than the new medications I started last year and regular therapy over the years, I would say that maintaining a regular self-care practice has been the most helpful in my journey with depression. My self-care routine may not look anything at all like yours, and that is okay. In fact, that’s the point. While I encourage you to try one of the things on my list if it interests you, your routine should be full of things that refresh you and not everyone functions the same in this area.

For me, the things I’ve found to add to my routine are a mix of boring, free, exciting, and an investment. There are a few things that I decided to work into my monthly budget and while I could be using that money elsewhere, I have decided that it is more than worth it to invest in these practices. One of these investments is a weekly 30-minute massage, and if it is within your means, I highly suggest giving it a try. Before I committed to weekly massages, I would get them every few months and while they were nice, they didn’t do a lot for me long term. Massage works best when practiced regularly. It took about a year for me to find a masseuse who was the perfect fit for me financially, geographically, and comfort level wise. Committing to giving myself 30 minutes each week has done wonders for my mental health and my physical pain levels. In addition to massages, I get regular chiropractic adjustments and this was a game changer for me. It does more for my physical pain than my depression, but when I physically feel better my depression is easier to manage.

I include my regular therapy sessions as a part of my self-care as well. The frequency in which I meet with my therapist changes, depending on where I’m at and what I’m dealing with at the time. Also, budget occasionally influences how often I see her, but I’ve made a commitment in the last few months to decide how many times I want to see her that month and budget that money out so that unless I have a significant emergency, my therapy isn’t affected.  I also include super boring things in the self-care category like taking your meds on time, drinking enough water, working out (for me, this is mostly yoga),  and eating healthy (ish).

For me, self-care also includes regular quiet time with my bible and prayer journal, and regular time set aside for alone time. I am an introvert through and through and I go absolutely insane if I don’t get time to myself on a regular basis. It makes me short tempered and cranky and I hate how I begin to treat my people and myself. When I don’t schedule regular alone time, I get overwhelmed and overbooked which creates cracks in my defenses that depression easily slips into. Three tools I’m using this year to maintain my quiet time and create margin for myself are the Holy Bible YouVersion app, with a plan to read the bible in one year, the Write the Word Journal (created by Lara Casey who also does Powersheets), and the Simplified Planner by Emily Ley.

The Write the Word Journal comes in several versions that all focus on a different topic. The choices are Cultivate Joy (which is the one I’m starting with), Cultivate Faith, Cultivate Gratitude, Cultivate Hope, and Cultivate Renewal. Each new entry gives you a verse to copy out in your own handwriting and then a page to record notes or prayers.

The Simplified Planner was created by Emily Ley, a designer and mama who couldn’t find a planner that suited her needs so she created her own. It’s my dream planner, honestly. If you’ve known me for longer than 6 months, you know that I’m a big fan of planners but can never ever find one I like enough to use more than a few months. I used one of the daily editions last year for a few months and this year I’ve got a weekly that I am so thrilled with, I think I might actually use this one all year!

What I love so much about Emily and the Simplified Planner is that, like Lara Casey and the Powersheets, the focus is on simplifying your days down to what is absolutely most important. Emily is a big proponent of giving yourself margin, or what she calls white space – the spaces in your planner pages that aren’t filled, so that you have time to spend with your family and friends and time to schedule in your self-care.

Both of these women have taught me a lot about living a slow-paced life that allows for focus on the most important, rather than creating a life filled with tasks, events, and meetings.  Towards the end of last year, I sat down and figured out what my non-negotiables were and what I could let go of in my life to give myself more white space. This has allowed me to have more time to myself, more time for my self-care routine, and more time to spend with my people.

 

What about you? Do you know what your self-care toolbox contains? What tools are you using to manage your mental health in 2018? Do you know what your non-negotiables are?

Managing Your Mental Health In The New Year (Part One)

Hi friends!

Please forgive my absence lately, the holidays were a busy time and I tried to soak in all the time with my people. I also spent this time thinking about how I wanted to spend my days in 2018, what I wanted to dedicate my time, money, and energy to.  It’s taken me a long time and a lot of work to get to a healthy normal with my mental and physical health and in this new year, I want to continue to maintain that level, and possibly grow it!

The first thing I did was take this entire week off, for a staycation of sorts. I traditionally spend the days surrounding New Year’s Eve with a group of friends – we rent a cabin together and catch up since we all live in different areas now. It’s always so much fun, but also a little overwhelming for an introvert such as myself. I didn’t want to come home from that trip and be immediately thrown back into work, so I took some time off to refresh and start the new year off in a way I want to continue: slow, intentional, and focused. I know this isn’t an option for everyone, but since I had extra vacation time that I wasn’t likely to use, I thought I’d give it a go!

There are a few tools I used to sort out what I wanted my year to look like and what habits I wanted to build in order to manage my mental and physical health this year. This is a brief overview, but I’d be happy to answer any questions that I didn’t cover here! (Also, I’m not getting paid to talk about any of these things, I just am really excited about them!)

For Christmas I asked for a set of 2018 Powersheets from Lara Casey. You can find them at cultivatewhatmatters.com, though the yearly sets are sold out. She does have 6 month sets still available, and has a very in-depth and easy to follow blog series on how to go through this goal setting process with just a regular notebook! Check out that series at laracasey.com/blog. Here are a few quick snap shots of my Powersheets prep work:

The prep work takes you through so many fantastic activities to help you figure out what you want to focus on for the coming year. The pictures above are of my favorite pages, a review of what worked for you last year and what didn’t. As you can see, some of my good things were regular therapy, yoga practice, new medication, more sleep, talking about the hard things, girls nights, reading more, and QUITTING GRAD SCHOOL. You may be surprised about seeing that on my list of good things for last year, but it was honestly the most healthy decision I could have made for myself. I was overloading myself, stressed out, falling prey to my depression more regularly, and not focusing on my mental or physical health enough because I was trying to do graduate school online while working full time.

Once you get through the Powersheets Prep, you get to set up to 10 goals and flesh out an action plan to help you actually achieve these goals. I chose to set 7 goals, thought the first one is the most important, and the one I feel like will feed each goal as the year goes on, otherwise they are in no particular order.

Here are my goals for 2018:

  • Cultivate my Faith: focus on my spiritual growth
  • Cultivate my Finances: changing my money mindset/working towards financial freedom
  • Cultivate my Writing: flesh out this calling to use my talent for words to help others struggling with similar issues
  • Cultivate my Work: Specifically, my job as a Children’s Librarian
  • Cultivate Self-Care: Re-Creation // Take care of myself so that I can take care of my people
  • Cultivate my Relationships: Specifically with my boyfriend, friends, and siblings
  • Cultivate my Health: Focus on fitness and nutrition

If these seem intimidating or broad, never fear! The action plan pages help you break them down into manageable steps. For example, on my action pages for cultivating my faith I determined the following things to help me achieve the goal: start my mornings with Jesus (I do this with the YouVersion Holy Bible app and a plan to read the Bible in one year), be intentional about church/bible study attendance (I’ll be helping in the nursery this Sunday, but my Women’s Bible Study group starts next Wednesday), and to pray first (I’ve got a prayer journal set up and in addition to focusing more on prayer in general, I’m hoping to create a habit of praying first when I face any challenges, rather than going to social media, friends, etc). Once you finish your goal setting and action pages, each month has a section that includes a tending list. This page can be torn out and taped up somewhere you will see it, or kept in your planner (which is what I’m doing). The tending list lets you pick monthly/weekly/daily goals and has a place to check off when you’ve done them.

My absolute favorite thing about this entire process is the constant encouragement and reminder to get messy, to prioritize progress over perfection, and that it’s okay to grow slow!

That’s a good reminder for all us this year, but especially those who struggle with mental illness: It is okay to grow slow!

I had originally planned to put all of my tools in one post, but I just gushed too much about the first one! Check back tomorrow for part two!

 

What are some of your goals for the new year, mental health related or not? If your not sure, take some time to think about the good things that happened last year and what things were more challenging. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

On Strength, Self Care, and Labyrinth Lost

In August, I made a spontaneous decision to enroll in one online grad class despite having originally decided to wait until the Spring 2018 semester. Long story short: even one class was still too stressful and time consuming while working full time and trying to maintain my health. I pushed through midterm and slaved away as long as I could. I was overscheduled, overwhelmed, and not at all taking care of myself. I was trying, but I honestly just did not have the energy. Recently, I quit. I dropped out of grad school (for the second time this year) and I was so relieved. I felt guilty for about five minutes, only because I had paid for this semester out of pocket and that was a chunk of money I won’t get back.

What it came down to is that I would rather have my sanity, and more sleep. I’ve been trying to be better about self care, and for me that means creating a life that is full of peace and slow, intentional days. It’s not going to happen overnight, but I’m getting there.

One of the main ways I recharge is through reading – this is not a new revelation for anyone reading this blog, I know. The last few months have left me very, very little time to read for pleasure and I discovered just how much I need that to function. I know it might sound dramatic, but it’s true. I’m not happy when I’m not reading. I’m frustrated, cranky, and stuck in my head. I’m honestly just a better person when I’m reading, and a much more pleasant one to be around.

I’d check out Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova at the beginning of October for something spooky and magical to read during this time of year. I was still in class at this point and managed to only get 1/3 of the way through for most of the month. I finally got to pick it up again sometime last week and got about halfway through it. Last night, I decided that I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything after work, especially since I didn’t get off til 8 and had started early that morning. So, when I got home I sat on my couch, got comfortable, and didn’t move until I finished the book.

It was great. Brilliant. Both the book itself and the time I spent reading it. There were several times while reading the last half of the story that I responded to it out loud, like most totally normal book worms do. I loved this book, y’all. It is full of wonder, adventure, and diversity. It is so enchanting.

  

Labyrinth Lost is the story of Alejandra, Alex for short, who just wants to live as a normal teenage girl. Alex is out of luck though, she is one of the most powerful brujas (Spanish for witch) in a generation. She has magic running through her veins, magic that she hates. Magic that she thinks tore apart her family and caused every bad thing that’s ever happened to her.  As Alex’s Deathday celebration, the day in which her family will bestow Alex with her family’s blessing, she forms a plan to reject her power. Instead, she banishes her family to the realm of Los Lagos, the dark and Wonderland like land of between. Alex is left alone with only Nova, an unfamiliar brujo boy she neither knows nor trusts.

Alex’s adventure to find her family is the majority of the story. Along the way she finds the true meaning of family, and the importance of their bond. She discovers that she is capable and fierce, even without her magic. Cordova weaves strands of magic into everyday teenage struggles and lessons, especially the knowledge that evil is not always in the form of monsters and that everyone makes mistakes. The cast of characters, in addition to Alex and Nova, include Alex’s mother, sisters, extended family, and her best friend Rishi. Honestly, one of my very favorite aspects of this story was Rishi and her undying devotion and love for Alex. She has not the slightest inkling of Alex’s magic or family history, but she jumps in the portal after Alex to make sure everything is okay. When Rishi finally does learn of the magic running through Alex’s bruja veins, it only strengthens the love she has for Alex. Their friendship is strong, devoted, and sincere. It grows throughout their adventure into a fierce and loyal love for one another, despite Nova’s own attempts to woo Alex.

This book is full of rich characters, genuine relationships, and glorious diversity. The foundation of Alex and Nova’s culture is built on the Latin American cultures and religion, especially the concept of Deathday celebrations, which Cordova pulled from the Day of the Dead and Santeria traditions. In addition, we also get a peak into Rishi’s culture and her family practice of Buddhism. In addition to a cast full of teens of color, there is also the bi-sexual love triangle which is written so well that it doesn’t make you want to stab your eyes out like most YA love triangles. Alex is simply in the position of experiencing feelings for both Rishi and Alex, whose feelings are mutual. While there is romance in this story, it is not even close to the main story line and I appreciated that so much.

The story of Alejandra’s adventures are inspiring, creative, and full of magic (of both the literal and figurative sort). Towards the end of the story, Alex says “Right now, I’m just a girl and there is also magic in that.” I loved this line so much, it’s possible I teared up over it. Alex is strong, fierce, and determined – regardless of her magic. The most obvious take away from Labyrinth Lost, at least for me, was the unrelenting knowledge that girls are magic, all of us, regardless of talent, skill, or circumstance. We all have the power to be our true self and to fulfill our destiny.

When I considered dropping out of grad school a few weeks ago, it was with the weighted knowledge that I didn’t know when or if I will return. I have lived my entire life thinking my destiny was to go as far into academia as I could get, to never stop learning. Until this year, I confined learning to the structure of academia. I know now that it is so much more to life and to learning. I learned so reading this novel – about new cultures and about myself. Another quote in the story I love is “We all get scared and want to turn away, but it isn’t always strength that makes you stay. Strength is also making the decision to change your destiny.”  It is so true. There have been so many times I wanted to let go of this graduate school idea, but I thought that I was just turning away, just quitting and that seemed weak and stupid in my head – in reality, I was simply changing my destiny. At least for the next year or so!

Anyways, I implore you to go to your nearest library or bookstore and pick up Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova. If you liked Shadowhunters, you’ll love this. If you haven’t read Shadowhunters, pick that one up too. It already has a sequel out and they’ll keep you occupied until the second installment of the Brooklyn Brujas comes out next summer!

P.S. Follow Cordova on Twitter @zlikeinzorro, she’s a gem.

Tuesday Tales: The Princess Saves Herself In This One

For this Tuesday Tales, I’m bringing over a post from my previous blog. In an earlier post last week I mentioned my favorite non-fiction reads from this year and one of those was a poetry collection from Amanda Lovelace. I’ve read this collection several times this year, and purchased a copy to donate to my library. Below you’ll find both a review of the book and an interview with Amanda!

         

 

I first stumbled upon Amanda’s poetry a few years ago, when she was still self-published. I had purchased a copy for my Kindle, and immediately regretted it. I began to read it Princess on a family road trip and I didn’t look up once until I finished, and then I started over and re-read it.

The Princess Saves Herself In This One is an autobiograpical collection of poetry by Amanda Lovelace that is divided into four parts. The first three parts depict her life: The Princess, The Damsel, The Queen, while the last part is for You, her reader. Amanda’s collection of poetry was recently published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, and it was during the re-edit that she added around 40 new poems. Princess  is an emotional collection, and one so needed. The work explores topics such as love, loss, grief, and is filled with inspiration on conquering your demons. Amanda’s fierce and unwavering feminism shines through – as you can see in the image of my favorite poem from the collection above, women are some kind of magic.

After finally getting my hands on the print version of Princess, and devouring the poems in the collection, old and new, I immediately knew it would forever remain one of my favorite collections of modern poetry. That’s another thing I love about Amanda and her work – she does not let others depict her style or content. She fully embraces the style of modern poetry that embraces free verse and focuses on content rather than style. The poems in this collection will not reflect the poetry you were made to read in school, but they will evoke so much emotion in you.

The Princess Saves Herself in This One was the winner of the 2016 Good Reads Choice award and is available in both print and digital book. Currently, Amazon is running a sale on it, so be sure to pick up your copy!

You can follow Amanda on twitter and instagram –  @ladybookmad 

Q & A with Amanda Lovelace

 

TfB: When you first started writing/sharing you work, did you ever think you’d see your book in stores?

AL: Never. Until very recently the poetry scene was pretty dead in terms of the publishing side of things. The open mic/spoken word scene has been flourishing for years, especially since it’s so accessible online, but expecting to sell books of said poetry? Too grand of an idea. I’m forever grateful that poetry publishing has been revitalized by talented modern poets, most of whom gave it a jumpstart on social media. It’s because of them I get to be a professional poet and live the seemingly farfetched dreams I had as a creative teen.

 

TfB: I love seeing all your re-tweets of readers photos/bookstore sightings – did you expect this response when you first published?

AL: God, no. I didn’t expect this response whatsoever. Going in, I had hope, of course, but no expectations. It’s been almost four months since princess hit shelves as a traditionally published book (it was self-published for about eight months before that) and I still fangirl every time I’m tagged in a bookstore sighting!

 

TfB: You’ve been inspiring a lot of poets with your prompts on social media lately – what gave you that idea?

AL: One of my goals with princess was to inspire other young people to write their stories, but that can only get them so far. I wanted a way to actively inspire my readers to write in their daily lives. I wasn’t so sure a month of poetry prompts would work since that’s a long and dedicated commitment, but every day I’m incredibly impressed with the number of responses. It turns out my readers are talented writers, even if they were hesitant at first.

 

TfB: You’re working on your second installment of poetry, a follow up to Princess, correct? What’s that like?  Has it been easier or more difficult? From what I’ve gathered, this work will be more bold (if possible) than Princess, was that a hard decision to make?

AL: Yes, I just recently finished writing the witch doesn’t burn in this one, the second installment in the “women are some kind of magic” series, which is due out sometime early next year. It’s not so much a direct sequel to the princess saves herself in this one as a companion collection with similar themes woven throughout. I wish I could say writing it wasn’t a difficult experience, but that wasn’t the case. Expectations for a book and the reality of a book when you actually sit down to write it are two very different things. I went into witch expecting the words to flow out of me as easily as they did when I was writing princess, but it was a struggle most days. I think that was partially due to my fear of second book syndrome (which refers to the pattern where the second book an author puts out never quite matches up to the quality of the first), but it was also partially due to the risks I took with witch.

I might be a little biased here, but I’d say witch is much more bold a collection than princess. princess is my life story and, admittedly, my safe and fluffy—and perhaps even trendy—feminist book, while witch is all anger and bite and justice. I’ve taken a liking to calling it my “angry girl power book.” Without giving too much away, it’s essentially about the oppression of women under this unequal patriarchal structure, much of it revolving around rape culture.

While I was writing witch, I was hyperaware of how much a departure it was from princess. It’s still a story with a clear narrative arc told in four parts, but it tells a much darker, grittier story. I thought about dialing down the tone of the book from time to time, but I think that would make me a dishonest writer. The stories within witch are stories that society has a reputation for ignoring, and they’re stories that need to be told even if they make some people uncomfortable. In my opinion, art should make people uncomfortable if it’s telling any kind of truth about our society. Prior to our current political atmosphere, women were already in tremendous pain and the progress we were making towards equality was slow, sometimes even standstill. But now? That tiny bit of progress is reversing with each morning’s headlines, and I refuse to insert my head into the clouds and ignore the anguished cries—not just as a woman, which already makes me marginalized, but also a woman with several other marginalizations. We have every right to be unapologetically angry right now, and we had every right to be angry before, too. But how do we use this widespread anger? witch, I hope, answers that question, even if the overarching story is ultimately a fantasy one.

 

TfB: What’s your writing process like? Do you have a system/routine?

AL: My writing process can be very disjointed and unpredictable. I usually take a few days to gather bits of inspiration in the Notes app on my phone and then sit down at the computer to try to pull it all together into something readable. It’s almost impossible for me to write a poem unless I’m already feeling inspired in some way, so I don’t write every day. There are times I’ll go weeks—sometimes even months—without writing something. Then it seems like all my inspiration comes to me at once and suddenly I can’t stop writing.

 

TfB: Do you have any tips for struggling writers?

AL:Whenever I struggle with my writing, it’s usually due to one of two things: 1) it’s not the right project for me, or 2) it’s the right project for me, but it’s not the right time. It’s okay to walk away from projects, whether it’s permanent or temporary. Step away, regroup, and come back with those two things in mind. Don’t come to a decision until you’ve tried everything you can.

 

TfB: You recently wrote a piece for TWLOHA’s blog. I’ve followed them for years and was thrilled to see your name as the author of that post. What was that experience like? Was the organization new to you?

AL: Yes, I did! Sometimes it’s nice to walk away from your art so you can just simply talk to the world about your experiences, and collaborating with a group like TWLOHA, whose self-love message aligns so closely with mine, is nothing short of an honor. The hopeful message of their organization contributed to my recovery from self-injury as a teen.

 

TfB: Your writing is so inspiring and honest, focusing on a lot of difficult experiences. It’s clear readers relate to it so much. Was it hard for you to share so much of your personal self when publishing?

AL: Writing princess was rough at times. My mind hid a lot of my traumatic experiences from me over the years, so I found myself having to wade through murky waters to find exactly what I was looking for, the experience of which was messy, devastating, but also liberating. I’m an extremely private person, which I realize now can be amounted to a result of trauma, at least in part, but it was worth it in order to free myself and other victims and survivors of abuse. I also felt the need to hide the book from my family for as long as I could in fear of how they would react to certain truths, but, for the most part, they ended up being very open-minded and understanding. Not everyone’s reaction was ideal—which can be expected with the publication of any book, non-fiction or otherwise—but I feel like I can be myself now, which I hadn’t been able to do my whole life, and there’s tremendous beauty in that. Every sacrifice I made was worth being able to be where I am now.

 

TfB: You seem like a big supporter of self-care – what’s that look like for you? Any tips you’d share for readers stuck on implementing that in their own life?

AL: In my own life, self-care means so many things. Sometimes self-care is picking mental health over other priorities, but sometimes it’s picking priorities over mental health, knowing it will better my mental health in the long run. But it’s also listening to music, reading a book, watching a favorite TV show, taking a hike, drinking water, staying in bed for a few hours more than usual, taking a long shower, playing the Sims, writing a new poem, or putting on a facemask before bedtime. Self-care is extremely individual, but at the very least it should help you feel more grounded and human.

 

TfB: Your dedication in Princessis “For the boy who lived,” a clear Harry Potter What did/does Rowling’s story and writing mean to you?

AL: Harry Potter is an exceptionally important character to me. As someone who grew up in an abusive home just as Harry did, the series was sometimes the only escape I had from my daily trauma. Unlike me, Harry had the chance to live a second, much more magical life, but he always left me with the hope that I was destined for something better. It felt wrong to dedicate the story of my own abuse to anyone else. It was always going to be Harry.

witch, like princess, is dedicated to another fictional hero of mine, albeit for very different reasons… *zips lips*.

 

TfB: What inspires your writing and creative process?

AL: I’m inspired by my own experiences and memories, of course, but a large chunk of my inspiration also comes from books—mostly fiction, and within that, mostly fantasy. I knew I couldn’t possibly write a book without making it fantasy related in some way—my tie to it is just too strong—even if that’s not *usually* the norm for modern poetry. princess and witch are both inspired by some of my favorite fictional badasses, and book #3 will be, too.

 

TfB: Your fiance is a poet as well – what’s it like to have a partner who is a poet too?

AL: He is! I feel extremely lucky. Whenever I’m stuck or unsure about something, we work through it together, and I try to do the same for him. Our writing is very collaborative and much better for it.

 

TfB: I seem to recall mention that your upcoming wedding (congratulations, by the way!!) is going to be Six of Crows  That is so cool – how did you two decide on that?

AL: Thank you! Before my fiancé and I become a couple, the end of our abusive relationships brought us together in friendship, and a large part of that bonding experience revolved around books and reading. He was never much of a reader, but I was always an avid one, so he tried for me. Luckily, with the right books, he learned to share my love of reading, which deepened the bonds of our relationship tenfold. I introduced him to so many of my beloved fictional worlds, including the ones created by Leigh Bardugo, and Six of Crows quickly turned into our mutual favorite. It’s a dark, fast paced story with extremely color characters that just speaks to our souls. So yes, our wedding is a testament to the masterfully written Grishaverse, but it’s also a testament to those fictional worlds that brought us closer together in the first place. We owe so much to worlds like the one Bardugo created.

 

TfB: Are you working on anything besides the next installment of Princess?

AL: Yes! I’m still editing witch and probably will be for a while, but I’m also working on book #3 of the “women are some kind of magic” series, which will likely be the last book in the series . . . but who knows? After that, I do have other projects lined up—some poetry related, some not so much.

 

TfB: What are you reading right now, or what have you read lately that you loved?

AL: I’m currently reading When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, a contemporary YA book about two young Indian people whose families try to set them up in attempt to arrange their future marriage. But one of the protagonists isn’t totally on board with this idea, so a string of chaotic events follow. It sounds like a serious book, but it’s actually a very cute and funny story with some important commentary, and I highly recommend it.

I’m also slowly making my way through the Wonder Woman comics—the New 52 line—and I’m in love!

Next I’m likely to pick up an adult mystery novel. Those are my favorite to read in the summer when things are moving slower and I’m finally calm enough to wrap my head around the story’s intricacies. Last summer my favorite mystery read was The Fever by Megan Abbott, which is a phenomenal story that does take some suspension of belief but has something very important to say about the way we raise our daughters.

Thursday Tunes: Zach Williams

In addition to books, I find so much hope in music. Songs tell stories that we need to hear and they have the capability to reach so many people. Jamie Tworkowski of  To Write Love On Her Arms once said “Songs are brave things, bold enough to sing when all they know is darkness.”  I think that is so beautiful and so true. We find power in music, in songs that make us feel heard and recognized and not alone.  Each Thursday, I’ll post about a song or album or artist that I love and think you might as well.

This week, I’d like to tell you about a man named Zach Williams. The other day, as I was scanning the radio for something to listen to other than ads or static, I landed on a semi-local Christian radio station. I don’t typically listen to Christian radio stations, or a lot of Christian music in general. I landed on “Old Church Choir” by Zach Williams and it was so fun and so powerful at the same time that I couldn’t help but look Williams up when I got home. “Old Church Choir” is the single off of Zach’s debut album, Chainbreaker. It is infectious and so encouraging but vulnerable at the same time, exactly like the entirety of the album. If you are a fan of David Crowder or old gospel music, I think you will love this as much as I do. It’s gospel music with a little bit of edge and a whole lot of honesty.

 

Every song on the album is powerful, with the title track reflecting William’s own story. William’s lyrics are full of lines that I want to write on post-it notes and place all over my house so I can remember them when I need a little extra Jesus. My absolute favorite track on the album is “Fear Is a Liar.” I’ve been listening to it several times a day, unintentionally.

If you’e got a few extra minutes, especially if you need a little extra encouragement today, I have a suggestion. Find a quiet place and some head phones. Plug those head phones in and close your eyes while you listen to this song and let the truth wash over you.

 

Cast your fears in the fire, my friends. He is a liar.

Tuesday Tales: Nothing To Prove

A few weeks ago I was asked to think about what I am truly passionate about. The obvious things came to mind: my people, music, coffee, books, my dog. For some reason, I stopped before I began to say any of those things and a thought hit me – the thing I am absolutely passionate about? Stories. In whatever format they come, fictional or not. I love a good story, especially a good redemption story. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I love to see people realize that they have a story and that their individual story is significant and should be treasured. I hope that every person who does not want to keep living their story will read just one more sentence, one more page, and give that story another chance.

I knew when I started this blog that the underlining theme would be about stories. Tales From A Bibliophile is an outlet for me to share how Jesus is redeeming my story, and a part of my own story is rooted deeply in books. I was practically raised in a library and am now a Children’s Librarian. Stories, and their power to remind us that we are not alone, played a huge role in shaping my life. That being said, one of the regular posts you can expect from me will be a new book update every Tuesday. Somedays it will be what I’m reading, or what I’m excited to read, and others it will be a review of a book I’ve finished and think you should read.

Today, I want to share with you a book that has made more of a difference in my life more than any other book I’ve read this year. A few months ago, I tried to put Nothing To Prove by Jennie Allen on hold through my library, but it was too new so I either had to wait or purchase it. I am trying so hard to not buy books unless they are absolutely something I want to keep, so I decided to wait. I put it on hold again recently and just finished the library copy week before last. It took every thing in me to not highlight that book and write in the margin, God spoke to me so much through this book. I restrained from highlighting the library copy, but I did immediately go purchase a copy. It came today and I’ve already marked my favorite passages. I am not exaggerating when I say that I am about to read this book, cover to cover, again this week.

Here’s a quick video of Jennie talking about her book. Honestly, I can tell you all about it, but I wanted you to hear the honesty and trembling in her voice when she talks.

 

In case you hadn’t noticed, I talk a lot about light and darkness. I have had many days where I thought I might drown in the darkness. Hearing Jennie talk about the light and darkness in this video was so refreshing, so reaffirming to the things God has been telling me about my depression, about the darkness I have experienced.

Jennie’s book is so honest. She knows what it is like to be exhausted, to constantly try to be everything we feel like we should be The constant message of her book is that we are not enough, but that’s okay because Jesus is enough and he is all we need. After the initial introduction section, each chapter starts with a story from the book of John. Several of you will be familiar with many of the stories, Jennie used the story of the woman at the well, the feeding of the 5,000, and the death and resurrection of Lazarus. The stories are short and written from the perspective of the main character in the story and it really pulls you into what is happening. The stories from John tie into the rest of the chapter, and at the end Jennie has an experience guide. This guide includes a relevant scripture passage, and four sections to reflect on how the chapter topic relates to your life. Each of these sections are a different level of complexity, and include  Step Into the Stream, Wade in Deeper, Quench Your Thirst, and The Overflow. There are also various prompts throughout the chapters to reflect on specific questions. This is a really good book to sit down and work your way through with a pen and highlighter, which is why I needed to purchase my own copy.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Nothing To Prove:

“Jesus has a plan for our suffering, but that cannot be accomplished if we keep trying to push it into a safe, tidy place in our closet. His plans in us are accomplished as we move into the pain. We can face the suffering because Jesus is there in the midst of it.”  –Jennie Allen