Man, this year was TOUGH. Honestly, it's been the hardest year that I can remember. A rocky start followed by a deep fall into depression, brought up challenges I already thought I had conquered, which had me questioning everything.

As most of you know, I come from a challenged past riddled with anxiety, depression, battles with drugs, alcohol, self-harm, and, not to mention, a whole slew of health issues. I am the classic picture of what is called a Wounded Healer: a person who grows more and more compassionate and empathetic with every trial they face and boy do they face a lot of trials. I have chosen to use this empathy and all the lessons I've learned to reach out and help others, either in my career or with my voice. After losing my cousin to suicide, I vowed to no longer suffer in silence, to share my own hardships and struggles, hoping that my vulnerability might help just one person. However, I am very careful with what I share. I don't want to open up without a silver lining, without a perspective I've developed, without a message. So, sometimes this blog gets quiet, like this year, and that's usually a sign that I'm working through something big and am learning how to approach it.

See, after my time in California, I got a little cocky. I thought I had seen and survived the worst and that I forever would be able to meet every challenge with confidence and ability. To me, I thought depression and anxiety was something I could master, something I could fix. And that's true, to a degree, but what I didn't want to admit was that those challenges would be apart of me my whole life. That realization knocked me on my ass.

So began one of the worst depressions I've EVER experienced and it challenged me down to my very core. Who am I? What am I doing? What do I believe? Why me? How the hell do I move forward? At one point, I thought I had all the answers and then all of sudden I had none. At one point, I felt a strong connection to God and my spiritual practice, then I felt alone, completely alone. At one point, I felt I had suffered so much for a distinct purpose that I was proud to be apart of: helping others, then I felt it was all so pointless and there was nothing I could do to help. At one point, I felt I had a strong hold on who I was and what my future looked like, then nothing felt right. I was, and admittedly still am, lost as f*ck.

There were some dark days, very dark days. I'd be lying if I told you suicide never crossed my mind, but it did, more than I care to admit. That alarmed me more than anything because, surely, SURELY, I had at least graduated passed that 'stage.' Then I once again made the decision to fight, to find a way out, and to not let the hopelessness consume me. I did the only thing I could think of, which was spend a lot of money on something that excited me, something I could look forward to. One thing that was different than my past is that I didn't take my suicidal thoughts seriously. They annoyed me more than anything because it felt like a stupid distraction instead of focusing on a solution. So, as a giant f*ck you to my own suicidal mind, I dropped $400 on a dinner at one of my favorite chef's restaurants in Chicago 4 weeks away and then bought a plane ticket to Thailand in February. This was my insurance and it worked.

Suicidal thoughts are a state of mind, that even though it feels like it'll last forever, it won't. Just like everything, it's temporary. If you allow yourself the time, it will shift. So, in an act of desperation, I literally bought myself that time. And slowly (felt like eons), I began to wrestle my way out. I stopped drinking almost completely, because lord knows that doesn't help me, I went back to therapy, I began cooking and eating really well, and, most importantly, I began meditating again. I somehow allowed myself to believe I didn't need all the things that I worked at in order to get me happy and healthy and I got lost, very lost. That's what I've been working on the last few months, reconnecting to myself and doing all the things it takes to take care of myself.

I keep going back to this one question: why did this happen? And I've realized that it was not one thing that derailed me, but thousands of little and not so little things that pushed me to this point. I lost both my grandmas in a year, I watched my sister get married as my love life fell apart, I felt more and more disconnected from the people around me, I found myself single and alone watching all my friends begin families, when I so desperately wanted to be doing the same, I turned thirty and was nowhere near where I thought I'd be, I watched in horror as our country took a political turn that scares the living hell out of me, I felt spiritually lost and abandoned, and I felt a million miles away from people like me, people who get that suicidal thoughts come up every once and awhile, people who can joke and laugh about anxiety and depression because it, too, is a huge part of their lives. I missed the people I went to group therapy with and that deep feeling of being understood that comes with being surrounded by people fighting the same fight.

So, yeah, it was a big year. It may not have been my favorite year, but it was still chalk full of good memories, friendships, and intense and important life lessons. And I know I'm not alone. So many people have been met with huge challenges this year and 2016 took the wind out of many people's sails. Even though it was tough, this year has taught me is that I'm am strong and capable, I am not alone, and I will always fight for better. This year kicked my ass, but it allowed me to realize that anxiety and depression aren't going away and it's time for me to befriend them and acknowledge their existence so that I never walk away from the lifestyle I need to manage them. It's pushed me to accept who I am and acknowledge that, yeah I may be different and may require a lifestyle different from my peers, but that's ok.

Self-care is more important to me than ever and so is my spiritual practice. It, too, is a relationship that needs nurturing and I can't expect to feel connected when I've neglected my practice completely. And adventure. Adventure, unlike anything else, pushes me outside my head and into the world to live freely in the moment. So, Thailand, I'll be seeing you soon and I can't wait for all that I'll learn and see and do. And, Future, you may be uncertain, but I'm learning to be okay with that, too. Life, the ultimate adventure.

May 2017 bring you love, happiness, life lessons, unforgettable experiences, laughter, tears, and all the things.

And to those of you who struggle with anxiety and depression. I know what you're going through. I also know that our society and the stigma surrounding mental health makes it hard to get the help you need. I want you to know that you have options beyond therapy and medication. Medication and therapy are very powerful tools, but there are a ton of lifestyle things you can and should be doing as well that will help you manage your anxiety and depression. One of the most powerful tools is connection. Anxiety and depression is extremely isolating. Please feel free to reach out to me, if you're having a hard time within your peer group. Reach out to someone. Always.

There is always the Suicide Hotline, too. There are a ton of emergency numbers to call for help, so don't be afraid to. The way I look at it is, if you're already contemplating the worst thing that could happen, why not do something out of your comfort zone to try something new. If it doesn't work, try something else. Keep trying. Lots of love to you!