Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

As the ALS #IceBucketChallenge geared up last week, I thought about writing a reminder on social media about other diseases and charities, such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). But I didn’t want to distract from a good cause, such as fighting ALS or any other disease.

Hearing about Robin Williams’ death was a bit of a punch in the gut. Like many people, I thought about how sad it is, how difficult of a battle he must have been fighting, how brilliant of a soul the world had just lost. I think it’s opened up a new conversation about mental illness and the struggle with depression, anxiety and a whole host of other diseases faced by so many people. I’ve seen quite a few insightful posts and articles in the last couple of days…but I’ve also seen some that made me draw my breath sharply and shake my head.

I waited a couple of days to write this, even though it has been tugging at my heart all week.

GregThis hits close to home for me.

My close friend of more than ten years took his own life in April of 2013. Greg was a brilliant, sweet, kind young man who seemingly had everything the world could offer.

I will never forget that phone call from his sister. Of course, part of it was the realization that I would never get to see him or give him a hug or laugh with him again. But part of it was because Greg’s family was so open about what he had been going through and they wanted people to know what had caused his death.

Greg had recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Before you begin thinking, “He didn’t try hard enough to fight it” or “Depression and anxiety get better,” let me just point out a couple of things.

Would you ever say about someone who died of cancer, “He or she didn’t try hard enough” to fight the disease?

Or someone with schizophrenia, for example?

Chances are, you would feel bad for them and recognize that sometimes, you do what you can to fight it…but the disease does the rest.

You don’t choose mental illness, the same way you don’t choose cancer or any other disease.

I’ve also heard people say that those who suffer from it must not believe in God or religion.

My God can heal anyone. I firmly believe that. But the fact is, people die all the time from various diseases. My grandfather died of cancer. I’ve seen many, many people die from other things. Accidents, car wrecks, diseases. I believe He is capable of healing beyond what any of us can imagine. I’ve seen it. But I also see people die from other causes all the time.

To think that someone “wasn’t trying hard enough” — I don’t think that’s a good representation of how depression affects you.

I’ve dealt with crushing anxiety and mild depression before, for most of my adult life. I say “mild” because I have never gotten to the point of considering suicide as my “only option.” Ever feel sad before? Ever feel hopeless? Imagine feeling that constantly. Imagine feeling like your own brain has betrayed you and that you can’t be sure from one moment to the next what your own head is going to throw at you. That’s terrifying to think about for even five minutes. Imagine it happening all the time. It doesn’t always “get better.”

Robin Williams “had it all,” that’s for sure. Brilliant actor and comedian…Academy Awards. Emmy Awards. Golden Globes. Possibly one of the most renowned and funniest people the world has ever known. I’m sure he was incredibly wealthy too.

My friend Greg “had it all,” too, by many standards. He was an exceptional athlete and even a marathon runner. He went to MIT, where he was also a tutor for high school kids on top of all his college work. He was involved in tons of community outreach, did Teach for America, worked in D.C. for a think tank and did economic research. He was the type of “smart” many of us can’t even comprehend.

When I last saw him, several months before his death, he was getting ready to begin a doctorate program in Michigan. When I last spoke to him, about a month before his death, he had changed his mind and decided to keep working in D.C. for the time being.

He was 25 years old when he died.

I’ve heard people say, myself included, when someone dies from suicide: “What a waste.” A waste of potential, a waste of the person’s unique gifts, a waste of the time he or she could have spent here on this earth…cut short.

But if someone has gotten to that point, gripped by depression, where suicide is the only option…it’s not a choice anymore. It’s what he or she feels is the ONLY option.

It doesn’t mean you haven’t tried. It doesn’t mean you want to leave family and friends behind and let them suffer. It means you have tried with all your might to “fix” yourself or “fix” your life and you cannot see any way to continue. It’s an utterly hopeless and horrible situation in which to be, and it happens to so many people. Silently, because mental illness is stigmatized and even those who suffer from it frequently don’t want to talk about it.

I don’t know what Robin Williams’ last days were like, or the battle he was fighting. I don’t know what Greg’s battle was like. I don’t know what Brad, a coworker of mine who committed suicide in college, was thinking. I hope they knew people cared for them and that they weren’t alone.

I do know how I’ve felt in my most hopeless moments.

I do know that I’ve been blessed with family and friends who hear me out and are there for me in my darkest moments. Not everyone has that.

If you struggle with depression, anxiety or any other mental illness…know you aren’t alone. Reach out to someone. Talk to someone, whether it’s a friend or family member or a complete stranger or someone on a hotline.

During my junior year at Cornell, there were several suicide deaths in a very short period of time. Our University President put out a statement to the Cornell community and he wrote a line that has stuck with me to this day.

“If you learn anything at Cornell, please learn to ask for help. It is a sign of wisdom and strength.”

This week, and going forward, while we are raising awareness for another absolutely debilitating disease, and while we are mourning the loss of a brilliant actor and comedian, please keep mental illness in your mind.

Remember that sometimes illness is not something you can see when you look at a person from the outside.

#itstime

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Butternut squash + turkey hash

Butternut squash for 59 cents at Aldi?! Clearly, fall is here!

Butternut squash + turkey hash

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  • butternut squash
  • ~3 oz lean ground turkey (mine is 93/7)
  • oil (I used both EVOO and canola)
  • onion
  • spinach
  • cinnamon, salt, any other seasonings optional
  1. Cut butternut squash into large chunks and microwave face down with a small amount of water to steam. I overcooked mine…best idea is to do it for 4-5 minutes so it’s not completely cooked, then cut into bite-size chunks.
  2. Coat a pan with EVOO on medium heat, sauteeing diced onion and butternut squash until the onion is mostly translucent.
  3. Add the rest of your oil (here’s where I used canola), throw in the turkey (crumbled up) and spinach until the turkey is cooked through and the spinach is wilted.
  4. Turn heat up to medium to crisp it up a little and add a couple big shakes of cinnamon and salt to taste.

Happy fall! :)

Salmon rosti

I have a GIANT bag of potatoes in my kitchen that I’m trying to keep from going bad. I love shredding them for hash browns and just frying a couple eggs to go on top, but that meal is starting to get boring, so tonight for dinner I decided to mix it up…

Salmon rosti (fish cakes)

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  • about 1/3 cup of canned salmon (mine is wild pink salmon)
  • 1 cup shredded potatoes
  • 1 egg
  • Dijon mustard, salt, pepper
  • oil or fat of choice (I used canola oil with a pat of butter)
  • ketchup (optional)
  1. In a bowl, mix the potatoes and salmon together and crack in an egg to bind the whole thing into a batter.
  2. Add in a generous squirt of Dijon and salt and pepper (you can err on the side of seasoning too little because you can always add more when it’s cooked).
  3. Heat a pan on medium and add in oil/butter, then add potato/salmon/egg mixture.
  4. Let it cook until edges are browned and you can flip it in small sections to create several little cakes.
  5. Once the other side is browned, you’re good to go!
  6. Serve with ketchup if you want. I also steamed some broccoli on the side and added salt and pepper to everything.

Dijon bacon + beans

I make a huge pot of dried beans every week to eat in my lunches and dinners. Endless possibilities, but sometimes I get in a rut and just eat the beans straight along with corn tortillas (another staple for me). Today, since I’m off from work, I stepped up my game a little…

Dijon bacon + beans

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  • 1/2 cup cooked pinto beans (I used cooked dried ones but canned are fine)
  • 2 handfuls of baby spinach
  • 2 tbsp of crumbled or chopped bacon (probably equivalent of 1 strip)
  • Dijon mustard
  • 2 corn tortillas (optional)
  1. Microwave or heat in a pan: beans, spinach and bacon.
  2. Add in a squirt of Dijon and heat again til warm. Stir it all together.
  3. Serve with corn tortillas on the side!

Super, super easy and tasty. Another great idea would be to add a little brown sugar or maple syrup to make these more “baked beans” flavor. The bacon I used was already crumbled so it had a little brown sugar in it. And while I am an advocate of bacon in everything, it can easily be left out if you don’t eat or like bacon!

Coconut mug cake + PB “frosting”

I’ve been super into “cake in a mug” recipes lately. It’s easy, quick, microwaveable and it means there’s no way I’ll accidentally eat a whole cake! Plus, since I don’t really eat gluten anymore, I don’t think a whole gluten-free cake would be that appealing. So I give you tonight’s creation…

Coconut mug cake + PB “frosting”

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  • 3 T coconut flour
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • shake of baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • couple splashes of almond milk
  • 2 tsp peanut butter
  • 2 tsp cream cheese
  • spoonful of maple syrup
  1. Mix coconut flour, sugar, baking powder, egg and milk in a small bowl.
  2. Grease or spray a small mug or jar and pour batter in. Microwave on full power for about 1:30-2:00.
  3. Slide it out of container and onto a plate–there’s your cake part!
  4. In a separate container, mix the peanut butter, cream cheese and maple syrup. You could also use Greek yogurt! That’s your frosting. :)

Zucchini pancake + eggs

Came home from work feeling super hungry and very unmotivated to cook. I even told my dad on the phone that I thought making eggs sounded like too much work! He asked if I had any zucchini, which I did. I’ve been eating it raw all week (it’s one of the veggies that makes me gag if I eat too much of it raw). His suggestion…

Zucchini Pancake + Eggs

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  • zucchini (I used about 2/3 of a normal-sized one)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2-3 T flour (I used gluten-free, but normal works fine too!)
  • salt, pepper
  • baking powder
  • oil or butter (or both)
  1. Grate zucchini into a bowl (probably about 2/3 cup, but any amount will do.)
  2. Add salt, pepper, a small amount (1/2 tsp?) baking powder, ONE of the eggs, and the flour. Stir into a batter.
  3. Pour a small amount of oil or butter into the pan (I used canola to coat the pan and a pat of butter for flavor). Add zucchini pancake batter. Cook on medium-high. Edges will start to brown.
  4. Eventually, once it’s solid enough that you can run your spatula under the edges, flip one end of the pancake onto the other — like folding an omelet. In the empty space, add another pat of butter and crack in your second egg. Let both cook on medium heat until done.
  5. Pop ’em onto a plate, add ketchup or whatever…and eat!

Ideally, I would have added in some Romano or Parmesan cheese to the pancake batter, but I didn’t have any. Cheddar or a strong cheese would be great too, or even Gruyere…but let’s be honest, ain’t nobody got money for that. ;)

I’m a birderer…

I killed a giant bird today with my car. I think it was a turkey buzzard. I was driving up OH-93 toward Jackson County about 9:30 a.m. to cover a story up there, and I saw this big bird struggling to take off on the right shoulder. I swerved a little to my left and hit the brakes, but I still connected with him. HUGE thud. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the bird fall into the middle of the road, with feathers floating everywhere. I was stunned and felt so terrible! Sorry, Bird. :( Luckily, Lauren made me laugh when I told the story back at the station and said I probably saved a small dog or cat from being eaten by the buzzard. Still…I’m a bird murderer. A birderer.