I am rainbow, hear me roar.

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Photo by: Dallas Clayton

Six years ago at the start of my freshman year of college I met a girl living a few dorms down from me who identified as “bi-curious.” I had no idea what it meant but I was intrigued.

“It means I’m straight but also interested in women,” she said.

Okay, I thought to myself. At that point in my life I had never dated…anyone. Sure I had crushes on boys throughout middle and high school, but once I hit high school I wasn’t exactly what you would call “dating material.” I was 25+ pounds overweight, hiding my body and my extremely low self-esteem behind baggy clothes and jackets and a “straight-A-student/know-it-all” persona in the classroom. I wasn’t an outcast but I wasn’t really popular either, I was just kind of there.

Needless to say, no one was really knocking down my door.

For my entire life (leading up to that conversation in September of 2010), I had always assumed that gender and sexuality were black and white. You were either gay or straight, male or female, etc etc. There was no in-between. After all, everyone in my family and circle of friends was cisgendered, and either gay or straight (although mostly straight). “Bi-curious” or “bisexual” were terms that lived in the far-off undiscovered territory of my brain, and despite my lack of exploration in the dating department I had always assumed that I would like boys.

I believed that being straight was “the norm” and what everyone expected me to be, despite my mom telling me more than once that she would “be fine with it” if I weren’t.

In middle school I had crushed on this one particular guy hard, and for about two years. My first kiss was with a guy. I had an easier time talking to girls and felt self-conscious around guys, which had to be a sign, right?

But then there would be moments when I was 16 and my friends would go on about so-and-so hot male celebrity and I found that I had to force myself to feel “attracted” to him, and pretend to be all gaga over a picture or movie. Even still today, it’s rare that I see a picture of someone and feel an immediate “connection” or whatever (unless it’s Tina Fey, but I digress). I had dreams where I would be in a relationship with a guy, but then the next night with a girl. The first relationship I was ever in was with a guy, at 19 years old, and I started second-guessing it about a month in. I felt jealous of people in relationships who seemed to have their sexuality “all figured out.”

I was confused, but I didn’t realize it.

Needless to say that conversation my freshman year of college blasted me off into reflection, self-education, and a new way of thinking; that it was entirely possible that I could be attracted to two genders (and that the first guy I dated just…wasn’t the right guy).

Five years ago, I realized I was bi. 

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Since then the journey to figure out who I “really am” has been both liberating and exhausting at the same time; liberating in the sense that I’ve become aware that sexuality is fluid, and just because society wants to place me in a box does not mean that a box is where I belong, but exhausting in that…

…I’ve realized, for me, coming out is not and will never be a “one and done” type of deal. Adopting the identity of a bisexual woman will affect me one way or another for the rest of my life. 

In my dating life. In the way people perceive me once they learn this information (and it then becomes my “obligation” to explain it to them). In my family life. In my religious life.

This year, I think, has been the most defining for me as a member of the LGBT+ community. I came out to all of my closest friends, and to my parents. I began to feel comfortable texting my best friend not only every time I saw an attractive guy, but girl too. I changed my Facebook information to publicly say that I was into both men and women (minor, I know, but nonetheless a step forward). I referred to myself as bi in my online writing.

Then the PULSE night club shooting happened in Orlando last June. Guns in general have always frightened me, and I have never wanted to be near one or in possession of one, but this time, after hearing that a man with a gun deliberately attacked people because of who they were and who they loved scared the hell out of me. Because for the first time I realized it could have been my two gay relatives. It could have been one of my former students. It could have been me.

I no longer felt liberated; instead, I wanted desperately to erase all of the progress I had made in my journey of coming out. I felt like there was this part of me that, no matter how much I loved and embraced it, would never be safe in this world. I have only ever (publicly) dated men—three men total—and never once felt afraid to hold their hand in public; at dinner, on the beach, at church. But what if that partner had been a woman? Would we have felt just as comfortable with PDA, or would we ignite a rage so intense that someone would feel justified in killing us? I don’t know. I will never know, and that terrifies me.

After Orlando, I had a family member to whom I am not out say to me:

“I don’t care if someone is gay, just don’t do it in front of me. They shove it in your face. I don’t like that.”

In that moment I felt like I could never trust them with who I really was, and wondered if they said that to all of their straight friends and family too.

I have identified as a Christian long before I ever identified as bi. I was baptized into the Churches of Christ at age 15, without any family with me or ever having gone as a child. Technically, it was “my choice.” It never occurred to me that I would or should have to choose between my sexuality or being part of a church community. But in the nine years since then I’ve had people ask me:

“Why did you join the church if you knew they believe marriage is only between a man and a woman?” (I didn’t necessarily “know” this but let’s also remember that at 15 I’d barely explored my sexuality and assumed I’d be straight. Also a good number of Christians support same-sex marriage, accept that it’s not a choice, etc.).

[Insert question from church here that presumes I can speak for all LGBT+ people]

Did this mean my place at the table with Jesus suddenly became conditional because of who I might love?

Conversely, I’ve had LGBT+ people ask me how I can identify as Christian when [all] Christians are so “hateful,” meanwhile I know that’s not true. It’s a constant “one foot in one door one foot in another” situation that really came to light four months ago, and I will admit I’m still struggling to reconcile.

Like I said, coming out as bisexual has not been a “one and done” type of deal for me. There are so many steps forward that I feel like I made this year, only to be shoved halfway back down the mountain. But it’s a process, and if I could have only one goal it would be to make sure that every single person going through this process knows how brave they are.

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It’s not a phase, and it’s not a choice. You are who you are; beautiful, and brave, and a motherf***ing warrior.

And for all of you lovely non-LGBT+ people out there, my advice to you: be a positive, supportive, and safe presence in our lives. Accept and love us for who we are, unconditionally. Create spaces that empower. We appreciate it, more than you know.

We are rainbows, hear us roar.

Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than this. – Mark 12:31

We exist all around you.

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I’ve been thinking long and hard about how I wanted to address Orlando. I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but this is all I got.

**trigger warning**
homophobia, gun violence.

I remember the last time I had a major panic attack, openly, in a public space. It was last December, and a friend and I were eating dinner at the Culver City In-N-Out when suddenly, the restaurant (and a few neighboring buildings) lost power. It was clear right away that no one, including the employees, had any idea what was going on, or why it had happened. There hadn’t been an earthquake, and let’s be real, when was the last time weather made the power go out in Los Angeles?

At first, after the building darkened and the whirr of potato peelers and deep fryers quieted, I felt little elementary school Erin come out, thinking “how fun this is! We can all take out our phone flashlights and play one big game of hide and seek!”

Unfortunately that feeling only lasted about ten seconds. I looked around me: people were muttering concernedly, employees were struggling to unlock the side door (which had automatically locked us in when the power went out), the block was dark. My heart began to race; it’s beginning to race thinking about it now. My palms began to sweat. Tears stung the backs of my eyes. This was no longer fun for me, and not just because of my Generalized Anxiety Disorder and intimate relationship with panic attacks.

This was no longer fun for me because this is the United States of America, the only First World country where there are more mass shootings in a year than there are days.

History has proven time and time again that no place is safe, no place is exempt from these tragedies, and thus we have all been taught—however unconsciously—to always be prepared for the worst. Lockdown drills at school. Safety drills at work in case someone walks into our writing lab with a gun. Think twice before attending a large-scale event. Don’t walk alone at night, or during the day for that matter. This is our reality.

“We have to get out of here,” I said to my friend that night at dinner. “I have to get out of here.”

Poor guy. I could tell he knew I was about to spin out, but didn’t know how to comfort me. There was no calming me down, no telling me that NO ONE in that restaurant had a gun and was about to open fire.

Lucky for us, no one did. But that’s just it. We were lucky. Anything could have happened that night, and it was lucky that all it was was an electricity fluke down the block. And now I sit here tonight, heartbroken because 20 hours ago, 103 people at PULSE nightclub in Orlando, Florida could not be so lucky.

As President Obama said a few years—and probably a couple hundred shootings—ago, “we don’t have to live this way,” and I for one am tired of living this way. I am f**king tired of watching my fellow Americans take these tragedies with a grain of salt, furious but helpless, immediately resigning to the idea that this will just keep happening and there’s nothing we can do about it. That our government—the very people who are supposed to protect us—will never do anything about it, because there are people out there in positions of power who value their guns and an out-of-context Second Amendment more than an actual human life.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, my heart is in pieces. What a beautiful and resilient community, where all anyone wants is to be seen and heard, and to love each other. Although I am bisexual, I recognize my privilege in that I haven’t been on the receiving end of an extreme amount of direct hatred, “merely” microaggressions; still, I ache for those who have. I ache that there’s not more I can do to stop it. I ache that there are people out there who would actively want my friends (or, hell, even me) dead just because of who they (or I) love, and arguably could have an “easy” means to make that happen.

This was NOT an isolated tragedy. This happened in a space that is ~supposed~ to be inclusive and safe for us. This is the direct result of the homophobic statements, comments, and “jokes” that go by unchallenged, and create a mentality of “otherness” or “us vs. them” between queer folks and non. Exhibit A: “no homo.”

So when you’re sending out your ‪#‎ThoughtsAndPrayers‬ to Orlando, Florida, you make for damn sure you know WHO you’re sending them out to and say it OUT LOUD, because we’re here. We exist all around you. We work with you. We’re sitting in your pews at church. By ignoring us, and the profound effect this has had on us, you invalidate us, and perpetuate this cycle of hatred.

Don’t be that person. Think twice before you speak, think twice before you act, and think twice before you hop to your computer screen to tell me your Second Amendment rights trump my right to live freely. THEIR right to live freely.

I stand in complete solidarity with you, Orlando. Much love. SO much love.

Patience.

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Recently, I was told that transparency can be a good thing, so here goes.

For me, learning to have patience is, I think, the toughest aspect of living with anxiety, because that learning process forces me to evaluate a lot of things aka. issues aka. problems in my life that I’d rather ignore. For example this evening I left work with the worst dizzy-spell-turned-tension-headache not because I had had a bad day, but because I spend SO much time staring at a computer screen both in my work and home life. Then on the drive home I started thinking about WHY I spend so much time staring at electronic screens (especially during my free time), and I realized it’s because I get home and don’t have the energy to do much else.

Here’s where the lack of patience (paired with a touch of anger and self-loathing) comes in. Depression sucks the life out of you, and the will to BE or DO just about anything:

Finish that puzzle you started a month ago.

Go on a hike.

Text your best friends.

Read a chapter in your bible daily like you promised to do on January 1st.

Eat dinner.

Eat anything period.

And these are just a few examples. Meanwhile anxiety is over there in the corner like HELLO why aren’t you excelling at all of these things when a) you said you would do them and b) some of these things are completely necessary to begin with.

I want to feel the way I feel at 3 in the afternoon when I’m laughing at a funny joke at the office.

I want to come home and cook a three course meal.

I want to feel like I have energy, and stop beating myself up when I don’t.

So many “wants.” It’s a constant battle between wanting to have patience, and not wanting to think about any of those “bad” things at all, because then you’re forced to admit that you STILL don’t have it all together. There’s so much tragedy in the world that we can’t control, so why can’t we control the one thing we’d think would be obvious–our own bodies? One day we WILL look at ourselves and say we feel GOOD, and mean it. Sometimes it’s just like man, why can’t that day be today?

But we got this, peeps.

Finding my way back.

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As soon as I read this quote, it struck a cord because honestly, today was a really, really bad anxiety day. Extreme emotional highs, and then extreme emotional lows (like, “crying to Mom over the phone that I’m just so TIRED of feeling this way ALL the time” “I THOUGHT 2016 WAS SUPPOSED TO BE BETTER LOL #newyearnewme” emotional lows. It happens, folks).

Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly low, I find myself trying to remember what my life was like before I could put a definition to why I acted the way I acted, or felt the way I felt. Was I happier? Was I a better problem solver? Was I less lonely? Was I less afraid to drive a car? I don’t know. All I know is that–today especially–it’s exhausting to overanalyze why you overanalyze.

But that’s okay, because we get through it. Nothing is permanent. I may feel like my depression and anxiety threw me so far away from who I am, but maybe that means I get to find myself all over again.

2016: Love myself.

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2015 was a year full of lessons and learning the true meaning of trust.

However, dealing with rough emotional situations, as well as a difficult mental health diagnosis did not give me much space to love myself this year. More often than not I felt UNloveable, and even worse, like I was unable to give love the way I wanted, to those people in my life who I felt truly deserved it. I equated loving myself with being “selfish,” when really I was just in the process of learning that if I didn’t recognize my own self worth, if I hated myself, it’s (near) impossible to really love anyone else.

These are my #newyearsresolutions: to get to know myself a little bit more. To value others but put my own wants and needs first, to listen to my body and stop fighting my anxiety.

To fully trust God and His plan for me. To look for the blessings in disguise–for example, 2015 blessed me with some of the best kiddos a 6th grade tutor/teacher/mentor could have asked for–and to not set my expectations too high but still focus on the good.

Happy 2016, everyone! 🎉

Keep breathing;

**trigger warning**

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A few months ago I told myself (and the world…) that I would make it a priority to talk about my experience living with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Well, what I quickly realized is that that is a lot harder than it sounds.

Last October when I had the tattoo of the sun my mom drew put on my lower back, I also had this phrase drawn on my upper left arm. I just haven’t been ready to share it until now (I’m still not 100% sure I am, actually, but if there’s one thing I’ve felt over the past couple of months it’s been God pushing me to confront the things I’m most afraid of). Inspired by my favorite Ingrid Michaelson song, these lyrics have kept me afloat many, many times over the past eight years since I first heard them.

Keep breathing.

It seems like the simplest of tasks, really. But there have been times when, deep in my depression and in my own head, “keep breathing” was something I had to constantly remind myself to do. And I’m certain I’m not alone in that experience.

1 in 5 women engage–or have engaged–in self-injurious behavior as a result of depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, the list goes on. A statistic so devastatingly common yet rarely discussed. I was, off-and-on for six years, one of those women.

This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever shared with anyone, let alone the internet. When a favorite author of mine documented in a book her experience coming out as bisexual, the two words that stuck with me the most were: “tell someone.” Still, several panic attacks ensued and prayers were sent up while drafting this post. Am I posting this for the right reasons? Will this really help anyone? In the midst of it all I realized I could learn to do it “afraid;” this is so much bigger than fear, and bigger than myself. People will ALWAYS think or feel differently than you now matter how hard you try to make them see your point of view. Society wants you to think that mental illness is either a “childhood phase,” or “the life of an adult,” but it’s not. It’s so not, and you don’t have to accept that. People say hurtful things because they don’t understand. And it’s up to me to remember that, and just keep doing what I can to spread awareness. I’m not proud of all the things I’ve said and done because of my illness, but I’ve decided not to be ashamed anymore either, because I’m not broken.

Time and time again I’ve been too afraid to ask for help, which is why I got this tattoo the way that I did. Each letter was contributed by someone who has either knowingly or unknowingly helped me through my darkest times; a gentle reminder that help is always there even when you can’t see it. The semicolon at the end is in my own writing–thanks to Project Semicolon–because my story isn’t over yet, and even if you have to do it “afraid,” yours shouldn’t be either.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Isaiah 41:10

Forward is forward.

1506651_10153323284630939_1204047443123328635_nSo this week I stumbled across a little blog on Instagram called Anxiety Support and fell in love with it in about five seconds — basically the length of time it took me to read: “Silence isn’t always golden.”

This photo pretty much sums up where I’m at right now. But part of ending the stigma of mental health means that just because we’re not in the best place doesn’t mean we stop talking. I’ve been seeing the same therapist weekly (yes, weekly) for 13 months and yesterday morning was the first time I let myself cry in front of her. Work has become my safe haven, in part because our loving, very deserving little nonprofit (826LA) is currently in a campaign to win a $100k grant, but also because at home my energy plummets to zero. Talking to even my closest friends has been difficult. Pulling myself out of bed to go to CHURCH has been next to impossible the past few weeks, which if you know me you’d know how frustrating that is. 

I don’t mean for this to be an oh-woe-is-me post; rather I just want to highlight the ups and downs that come with depression. Depression makes you feel like you don’t care at all. Anxiety makes you feel like you care too much. Having both is like a constant battle in your brain where it’s like bad guy vs. bad guy and the good guy is just on the sidelines like wait… BUT, on a more positive note, I have a surprise that I will be announcing to you all on next week’s #FeelWhateverYouWantThursday! Also, the iPhone updated so now we have 150+ new emojis.

Hang in there, peeps. Slow and steady wins the race 🐢💕

Keep on keepin’ on.