A few weeks ago, someone close to me tried to deny me my feelings because of my age. As a child, I was emotionally assaulted for years. But when, as a twenty-year-old woman, I owned that hurt, the hurt I felt for years and still feel, I was told that I was being ridiculous: “You’re an adult now,” I was told.

As if age makes me a completely different person.

When I was fundraising for Invisible Children last semester, I was asked why the LRA cause was so important to me. I had to think about it; why does this cause, of all the causes in the world, hold my heart so firmly? One reason, I realized, is because I believe that every human being has the right to a childhood. The thought of Joseph Kony stealing childhoods all over central Africa broke/breaks my heart.

I can’t overstate the value I put on childhood. There are pure, simple reasons I fight for it: it’s fun, happy, creative, innocent. There are more complex reasons, also: childhood is the beginning of life, and it plays a huge role on the middle and end of life. A family I babysit for displays an awesome sign in their home that reads, “Babies are an awesome way to start people.” It’s true: childhood is maybe the most beautiful part of human life; it’s also, perhaps, the most significant.

But here’s the thing: our culture tends to differentiate between children and adults as if they’re of different species, as if human growth and development is a metamorphosis of sorts. Children aren’t larvae; adults aren’t butterflies. We don’t grow out of childhood; we grow through it. I began my life on March 3rd, 1994, as Ellen Elizabeth Orr. Twenty years later, I am still the exact same person. My person has not changed or metamorphosed. I have grown, but I am still me. And no matter how many years pass, my experiences and emotions will always be wholly mine.

We forget that we used to rely entirely on others. We forget that, when we were born, people celebrated. We forget that we’ve been loved since Day One. 

Sierra DeMulder, in this gorgeous spoken-word poem, reminds us that we used to sleep in the arms of strangers. She says in that one line everything I’ve written in this impromptu blog post. (What an editor; what a poet.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lV-gqLaipW4

(This blog post starts with a sub-plot recap from “Law & Order: SVU,” so you know it’s going to be good.)

In Season 15 (the one on-air currently) of “SVU,” Detective Olivia Benson incurs severe trauma at the hands of a perpetrator. She starts seeing a therapist to deal with it. This isn’t the first time in the series she’s seen a therapist, but despite that, she has trouble making herself go to sessions. She quickly gets back into the swing of things, though, and sees/feels the progress she’s making. Not long after, she sees that two of her fellow detectives are struggling with their own issues, but they’re not seeing counselors: one is going to “Anonymous” meetings, and the other is speaking to his pastor. She urges them to consider seeing a counselor, but they both blow her off, insisting that therapy wouldn’t “work” for them, or that they don’t “need to pay someone to listen to” them.

 

Personally, I love shrinks. I do! I don’t know anyone who couldn’t benefit from seeing a licensed professional counselor at least once in his/her life. I myself have been in therapy for the last six or so years, on and off (more on than off, and I shouldn’t have ever been off, really). And I’ve experienced the same backlash Olivia Benson received: “I’m glad it works for you, but therapy doesn’t/wouldn’t work for me”—as if they’re so special that proven-effective methods work on the rest of the world but not them. Besides demonstrating serious egotism, this excuse also assumes that there’s one type of counseling. To me, saying you don’t like therapy (or that therapy doesn’t/wouldn’t work for you) is like saying you don’t like cookies when you’ve only ever tasted ginger snaps. Maybe ginger isn’t your thing, but Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip? I’ll pass you the tray.

 

The first counselor I ever saw was my high school’s counselor, who had one of the toughest jobs and was gracious and graceful in doing it. In the few brief times I talked to her, she demonstrated for me a high standard: I quickly knew what good professional help looked like, sounded like, and felt like. I have had three incredible counselors since. The first ended up leaving her practice for various reasons, but even so, she corresponded with me via email until I got set up with someone new. The second one I still keep in touch with—she is a bit older and has an old Nokia phone (with actual buttons!), and yet she texts me to check up on me, even though it’s obviously not her preferred method of communication, because she knows I’m more likely to text back than I am to answer the phone. The only reason I had to find a third therapist is because I left home to go to college, so I needed someone here in Shreveport. And he is just as wise and wonderful as the others.

 

That’s not to say I’ve only dealt with fabulous mental health professionals. When they sent me to stay at Brentwood in high school, I had to sit through group sessions with this therapist who obviously disregarded everything I had to say because of my background. And another time, I “tried” a counselor in Texarkana who told my parents that self-injury was nothing but a high school social fad—a way to rebel, sort of like how kids drink alcohol or smoke pot (don’t even get me started). So I get it: some counselors suck (Can I get a #duh?).

 

But the benefits of seeing and talking to and listening to good, smart, wise counselors outweigh the injuries of the bad ones a million to one. Therapy with a trained professional (with whom you “fit”) is an invaluable experience. Quickly, here are my top three reasons why:

 

1)   They know what they’re doing. They’ve spent years learning and figuring this stuff out. They know things about psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and more, and you could stand to learn how these things are relevant to your life, and to the lives of people around you. Besides that, if you go in with a problem, chances are they know how to help. They’ve been educated and trained to do it.

2)   It’s proactive. Most people go to counselors after something bad has happened (myself included), which makes sense. But think about all the additional bad things that have been prevented by good therapy. And imagine what tragedies could be prevented if we stopped waiting until last straws broke. It’s the reason we (are supposed to) get check-ups with our MDs—because we want to stay physically healthy instead of regaining health after illness. Therapy can and does function in that way as well.

3)   Good, smart, wise counselors are, at the end of the day, good, smart, wise people—and any chance you get to talk to good, smart, wise people you should take. I may go into my counselor’s office with a specific problem on my mind, and when I leave, I may or may not have a solid solution, depending on the problem. But I don’t ever leave a session without a new piece of wisdom in my back pocket.

 

If you are truly benefiting from your AA meetings or chats with your pastor, or if you’re currently excelling out in the world by yourself, that’s great! But if not, consider making the courageous choice of seeing an LPC. It’s not easy: after I came back from Christmas break, I knew I should make an appointment, but I put it off for weeks—because it’s easier to just go through the motions of day-to-day life, self-medicating (with food, media, alcohol, whatever). But it’s healthiest, smartest, and bravest to talk to a professional. If you need help finding one and you’re a student, I highly recommend contacting your school’s counseling services office (Centenary students, I can personally vouch that they’ll give you an awesome list of local professionals and help you figure out who on the list would be best for you). You could also ask your regular doctor for recommendations.

 

I mean, at the end of the day, nobody wants to be stubborn Amanda or know-it-all Amaro; we all wanna be brave, fierce, smart-as-a-whip Olivia Benson. Follow her lead: get help if you need it.

 

*steps off soapbox*

Once, I was interviewing a pageant director for a human interest piece. She kept telling me I should enter a pageant, and I kept politely declining, but she kept pushing, so finally I told her I thought the swimwear/fitnesswear portions were objectifying and ridiculous. “Oh! Those are so you can show the judges how physically fit you are! Pageant queens have to be in very good shape because they travel so much.”

. . . 

I thought that was BS then, and I think it’s BS now: you can’t tell how fit a person is based on the way she looks in a bikini or a sports bra. I will give her a little credit, though: you do have to be in good shape if you want to travel—or at least if you want to travel well.

Traveling is in the cards for me this year: this summer I’ll be spending two weeks in Greece on a school trip, ten or so days in Israel with my grandpa, and nine days in Uganda with Invisible Children. And I’m hoping/planning for many weekend excursions throughout the year.

But for me, traveling well means walking the cities, rafting the waters, eating good foods, being entirely uninhibited, and learning my surroundings before the days begin—by going on morning runs.

I stay in decent shape all the time, so walking, rafting, and the like are always doable for me. But eating well and living freely? Those are harder for me, as I have a historically abusive relationship with food, and I’ve always (since I can remember) struggled with self-image and all that gross emotional doubt stuff that means worrying about how fat my thighs look instead of fully realizing my surroundings. 

And then morning runs? Ha! I am so out of shape right now that a few miles is a HUGE deal, a real energy- and time-drainer, and it’s just zero fun.

So here’s the plan: for the next 16 weeks, I’m going to focus on my health. I’m going to run, and I’m going to build muscle, and I’m going to eat lots of good food. And when I board my first international flight of the year (to Greece), the only baggage I’ll have will be the kind that you check (although, let’s be real: good packers only carry on) and will include running shoes.

 

In 2014, I’m going to eat, sleep, learn, read, write, laugh, and run in four different countries and at least five different states. Let’s. Go.

This has been one of the hardest semesters of my life. Also one of the most rewarding. Let me explain.

I have been up to my eyeballs in coursework, most of it non-English coursework. As new editor-in-chief, I’ve revived the school newspaper and led my staff to produce what’s been said is the best paper the college has had in recent history. I’ve been a student ambassador, always trying to recruit potential students. And I’ve worked really, really, really hard to fundraise for Invisible Children’s latest campaign, #zeroLRA: I’ve tutored (both with Centenary and a private agency), babysat (for numerous families in Shreveport), held raffles, and sold cookies, all in exchange for donations. And, as of now—December 3rd, 2013, 6:00pm CST—I’ve raised $12,257 (245% of my original goal), which makes me the sixth top fundraiser worldwide.

I’ve raised this money for so many different reasons, the first of them being that I truly believe in the work that’s being done. The money funds on-the-ground programs that have been proven effective in rescuing and rehabilitating child soldiers and child sex slaves in central Africa and then reuniting them with their families. I believe so much in the cause. Children are my life, my passion, and I long for a world in which all children are free to be just that—children. That’s why I babysit, tutor, aspire to be a teacher, and, yes, fundraise for Invisible Children’s life-saving programs.

But that passion alone hasn’t fueled me to raise over $12k (and counting) in less than five months. I have also been motivated constantly by Invisible Children staff members as well as fellow attendees of the 2013 Fourth Estate Summit, an IC leadership conference I attended back in August. The Fourth Estate is a group of individuals who believe in the interconnectedness of this world and of justice and of liberty. We believe that a threat to any person’s liberty is a threat to every person’s liberty. And we believe that, as citizens of the world, we all belong to each other. And the Fourth Estate members I know have really exemplified that to me this year.

Even before the Summit, early this summer, 4E members kept me afloat. We had all joined a Facebook group to get acquainted before the event. And when, in May, my whole family (except for me) was hit by a texting driver and my little brother was airlifted to the nearest children’s hospital with severe spinal injuries, I turned to that group. And y’all, they showed up. They were thinking about us, praying for us, sending us good vibes, messaging me to ask for updates and to offer kind words. All during his recovery, they had me and my family on their minds and hearts.

And then, when my friend Maggie passed away suddenly in September, so many of them saw my posts on social media or saw my blog, and they offered condolences freely. I received messages with links to comforting poems. I received text messages asking if I was okay. I received virtual hugs out the wazoo. These people knew what I was dealing with, and they were there to share my burden. I cried for days on end, but these people helped me pull myself together when most everyone else in my life was too affected by the tragedy to lend the support I needed. And even now, I’m working on a fundraiser for the Maggie Minter Scholarship Fund, and a 4E friend is helping with the design work. Because she cares about me, and because she knows I’d do the same for her.

I know this is ramble-y; I just can’t help it. Here’s what I’m trying to say: I live my life for children. I am passionate about childhood, education, and empowerment, and these values are the core of IC. And just as I support IC, IC supports me. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without Invisible Children and the Fourth Estate this semester. #zeroLRA has been my life for the last 20-something weeks. This campaign—and this organization and these people—have my heart and soul.

Now, the relevance: yesterday, a clock started—a clock that will run for two weeks (until Monday, December 16th). Whoever has raised the most money during this timeframe will win a trip to Uganda with Invisible Children’s management team to see the programs  we’ve been funding on-the-ground. As of right now, I am in the lead, with a little over $6,000.

Whoever wins this trip will be deserving and worthy. I sure would love for it to be me, but I will be pleased regardless; I know I’ll get to Uganda someday, and I don’t need to see the efforts with my own eyes to know that they’re worthy and working. Still, this is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I’d be lying if I said I weren’t wishing and hoping for “victory.” :)

SO, if you would like to see me go to Uganda to witness firsthand what I’ve been working for all semester (and, on-and-off, for the last six years of my life), you can donate to my fundraising page here.

During the summer of 2011, a friend and I went to Costa Rica. We hung out in a slum called La Carpio for a few days and worked with the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation to serve that community. La Carpio's population is made up of immigrants from Nicaragua who have fled the dictatorship of their homeland. La Carpio is the poorest place I've ever been or seen. One day in La Carpio, we made (from rocks lying around), hand-mixed, and laid concrete flooring in a local artisan's house (Sidenote: we did all of this as local men watched and said—in Spanish, as if we didn't know the language—that we women should get into the kitchen. Ha!). Another day, we built and delivered (on foot) bunk beds to homes that had only one mattress for the entire family. On our last day in La Carpio, some of the women who work at a CRHF kindergarten-ish school cooked us lunch and fed us, and then they let us play with the kids. We loved playing with the kids for so many reasons: we were a bunch of teenage girls who all loved babysitting and the like, and we all wanted to learn more Spanish (and there's no better or less-embarrassing way to learn a language than by hanging out with young native speakers). Most of the kids were happy to entertain us, but one little girl wouldn't speak or even hold eye contact. Her nickname was Yelly, and her shy self wasn't excited to hang out with strangers. She kept putting her head on the table or in her arms. Being myself, all I wanted to do was play with Yelly. So I talked to her in broken Spanish. I made silly faces. I made exaggerated sad faces. I tried to respect her space by talking to other kids, too, but I always came back to Yelly. I was persistent. Everyone else had left the table where the kids had been eating and were playing with puzzles or dolls, but Yelly and I remained at the tiny table. She eventually and slowly started coming out of her shell—giggling at my bad Spanish or looking me in my eyes for more than a split-second. Soon, I had her up and playing. She corrected my vocabulary a lot, with a smile on her face; how fun would it be to finally be the teacher? And by the time I had to leave, she was hugging my neck. That night, back at our temporary home, our group (eight high school girls + two post-grad leaders) ate dessert and talked about the day. One of the group leaders—Lauren—who'd been with a different group at the same school a few weeks before, told me something that would stay with me forever: the last group had noticed shy Yelly, too, and some of them had tried to get her out of her shell, but they'd failed. Everyone had assumed that she was actually mute. But I had gotten in. I had gotten Yelly to not only talk but to interact. To giggle and teach and play and hug. And that was the moment that I knew without any doubt that I would be a teacher.

Yesterday, my friend died.

We got to know each other our sophomore year. We had English class together, and for some reason, she always wanted to talk to me, which I actually thought was kind of odd, because we ran in very different circles, and we at least seemed like very different people. But she was so fun, and funny, and kind, and we became fast friends. Soon, we were integral parts of each others’ lives. I knew just about everything there was to know about her, and she knew so much about me, too. That was a time in my life when I was really struggling with mental health issues, and Maggie was fighting some demons, too. We held hands and walked through those storms together.

Image

We stayed close through our third year of high school. We took Mr. Zach’s AP US History class together, sat side-by-side every day, studied for every test together.

We went to football games together, or if the stands were packed, we’d listen to the game on the radio in the car.

When she got heavy into church, I was at a church event at least once a week, not as an attendee but as Maggie’s cheerleader or photographer or plain old friend. She knew I was an atheist, and once she even defended my atheism to a mutual friend, who was appalled at the idea.

Image

Image

Maggie even played soccer for a while, and after practice every day, we’d go play racquetball at Texarkana College. And then usually we’d go eat somewhere. If it was a Thursday, of course, we’d go to Applebee’s for Karaoke Night (well, until the karaoke guy moved to Buffalo Wild Wings). Maggie and I’d sing a duet from “Grease” (she was always Danny, because she was such a hoot) or we’d badly belt out “Don’t Stop Believing.” Some of my best memories are from Karaoke Nights with Maggs.

Image

Image

We grew apart when I went off to college after junior year. I hate that we did, but just because we weren’t close these past few years doesn’t mean that I loved her any less, that she loved me any less, or that our two years of inseparability mean any less—and we both knew that. We were an unlikely duo, but man oh man did we care for each other. Last week, she posted on Instagram a photo of us for #throwbackthursday. She said she missed me. I “liked” it as an “I miss you too.” I wish I had called her instead.

Maggie Catherine Minter made me step up, get out of my box, be a big girl, and have a little fun. She showed me what it means to love people 100%, all the way. She showed me loyalty. She showed me vulnerability. I am having a really hard time dealing with her passing; we all are. I am angry at the world for taking her like that. I am angry at myself for not picking up my phone and calling her (she put her number in my phone as “Maggie<3sEllen :))” a long time ago, and it remains that way). But mainly, I just really miss her. And I really miss that time we had. I miss having her as a friend. What I wouldn’t do to have her friendship right now.

 

I love you, Maggie. Rest well, sweet friend. You will always have a hold on me like nobody else.

I won’t outline every moment of every day of the Fourth Estate Leadership Summit 2013. I could, but I won’t. I will tell you that we heard from some of the most esteemed and devoted members of the human race (new U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power for one; Jay Naidoo, Sophia Bush, and 1500 fellow attendees for a few more). 

 

The Summit is an annual event hosted by Invisible Children. It is a gathering of activists of all ages, though most of us were 20-something-ish. The event itself is three and a half days long and is part-TED talks, part-film festival, part-concert series. It’s unbelievable.

 

This was my first year in attendance. Beforehand, I was excited but also very nervous that I wouldn’t make friends. I’m really bad at getting to know people in such situations. I was freaked. I shouldn’t have been. The Fourth Estate is the nicest group of people ever. I’d made friends before I’d left the airport.

 

So by the time I left on Sunday morning, I was hugging folks and sad to be leaving and utterly exhausted and unable to process it all (because you can’t fit so much mind-blowing into three days unless you get very limited sleep). All I wanted to do was cry; I was just so overwhelmed and sad and confused.

 

Now that I’ve processed a little, I’m going to process more: by typing out my thoughts/feelings.

 

The event motivated everyone to be active, get back to work, end the LRA for good. It made us all want to raise more cash, take trips to Central Africa, work for Invisible Children, and devote ourselves entirely to justice for all. But, um, hello: I’m about to be in school again. And work again. And, oh yeah, I’m the new Editor-in-Chief for the school paper and I have no staff and I’m freaking out and OH YEAH ALL OF THAT. When can I raise money and run the IC chapter I’ve inherited by default and save the world when I’ll be too busy editing sports stories and reading Faulkner? And oh gosh I would love to intern with IC or move to Uganda when I graduate, but wait: gradschoolteachingjobhusbandbabiesherbgarden401k WHEN IS THERE TIME?

 

I know in my heart that the world needs people who’re doing what they love and what they’re good at. And I know in my heart that there is exactly enough time for all of the important things. But the idea of going back to a world of short-term, small-scale stresses and successes makes me want to cry/die/quit everything. At this point in my life, the easy way out is to give up at the little stuff and devote all I’ve got to ending Africa’s longest-running war. If I were to do that, I’d do a lot of good. But I’ll do way more good by:

 

working hard in school

being an awesome student ambassador, recruiting great students for a great institution

recreating a gorgeous school newspaper

taking care of myself

devoting only what I have to devote to the LRA cause

 

This is sustainable. This is proactive and balanced and for the best, I have no doubt. It’s just hard to handle the idea of it after a weekend that was so energized and unbalanced (such beauty could never be balanced) and life-destroying (in the best way possible).

 

It’s a struggle I happily endure, though I’d rather endure it with your words of wisdom in my back pocket. Leave them in the comments, or email me at ellenorr@mac.com, if you prefer.

 

Love love love.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 880 other followers