Written by Whitney Borruano
My mental health struggles ultimately began almost eight years ago when I suffered a sudden and tremendous tragic loss. From that day on, I had silently struggled and gone through life believing it was just my burden to bear and mine alone.
In 2019, my sister, Chelsea, was launching her nonprofit, the You Aren’t Alone Project; helping to raise awareness and increase resources for mental health so that no one ever has to feel alone. That same year, she also found a travel company called For the Love of Travel.
For me, those two paths would end up colliding in a very profound way.
So in 2019, my sister and I were turning 30 and we booked a trip of a lifetime to see the Northern Lights in Lapland through FTLO Travel. I distinctly remember it was on that trip that I posted a picture of myself and someone commented, “Happiness looks amazing on you!”
I didn’t know it in that moment but looking back, eight years ago, I truly did not know or believe that I could feel true happiness again. Yes, I’ve been happy, I’ve felt joy and I’ve experienced exciting moments, but true happiness comes from within and, once lost, seems almost impossible to truly find again. And eight years ago, I also thought that meant finding happiness again with someone else. I now know that what I was longing for was happiness within myself. I found that happiness through the love of travel.
I owe that life changing moment, that epiphany - that heart, soul and mind opening experience to FTLO Travel. They changed my life at a time when I didn’t even know I needed it. The things I’ve experienced and the people I have met through these trips have helped shape me and transform me into a better version of myself.
I have a found that light again inside myself that I truly never thought would return. A light that tragedy stole but FTLO Travel returned to me. I don’t know where I’d be now had I not found this company, my new lifelong friends and most importantly, myself.
I owe so much to FTLO, more than they will ever know. Thinking about it brings tears to my eyes because I know just how rare it is to find something that makes you feel so alive. I am so blessed and will forever owe my sincerest gratitude to FTLO and the beautiful gift they’ve given me and will continue to give me with each trip I book.
I’ll end with a small glimpse into what it's like to experience FTLO Travel.
Picture this: You’ve arrived on your first FTLO trip, at a no doubt beautiful location. You check in, get settled and await the first meet and greet with your new travel companions. You walk down to the meeting spot and see a group of amazing people, all around your age and all eager to experience a new place, new culture and new adventures with you. You’re nervous and excited but rest assured everyone there is feeling a bit nervous as well. That feeling quickly passes with each new person you meet and story you hear. You introduce yourself, learn more about your travel mates and prepare for the best week of your life as your FTLO trip leader tells you all about FTLO and what to expect for the next few days. And the rest, well, you’ll have to experience that on your own but every moment will inevitably top the next and you will leave with a sense of fulfillment that not many other experiences can top.
And that’s the true magic of travel, that’s the magic of travel with FTLO.
Learn more about how you can win a trip with FTLO while supporting You Aren't Alone Project initiatives.
This past week I was asked to speak on mental health at a candlelight vigil for someone lost far too soon to suicide.
This is what I shared.
Depression is a liar.
I’ve never considered suicide. Not because I thought there was hope or that things would get better. No, when I was at my lowest point and the depression had taken over, my inherent fear of dying is what kept me alive. But that’s the thing about depression. It engulfs you until all that’s left are negative emotions. It replaces hope with despair, happiness with emptiness, and love with loneliness. Because depression is a liar. It will poke and prod until you can no longer see the good things about yourself or the world, and, without help, it will continue to eat away at you until there is nothing left but darkness.
And postpartum depression is the cruelest of them all. The same body, your body, that created a beautiful being, that brought new life into this world, it can turn on you in an instant. You’ve spent your whole life learning to accept and trust yourself, and now what? Your very being is telling you that you’re not enough. But, depression is a cold-hearted liar.
Suicide prevention stresses us to “look for the signs.” And then, we inevitably blame ourselves when we didn’t know, when we couldn’t save them. The thing is, the signs, the withdrawal or acting out, or recklessness, those are valid, but they’re also more often seen in teenagers. See, as adults, we’ve become so adept at masking our emotions, at building up our defenses, our walls, that even those closest to us, especially those closest to us, we make certain that they don’t see anything at all. We’re trained to spare others our pain.
So, how can we fight against the darkness? And trust me, for those of us who suffer everyday, it is an ongoing fight for survival. But has a battle ever been won with just one? No. The battle against depression cannot be won solely within. Because depression has already convinced us that we will never win. But, depression is a liar.
You don’t have to raise your hand, you certainly can if you want. How many people here have had feelings of immense emptiness? How many mothers have been engulfed in worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy? How many of us have thought, even for a moment, that maybe it would be easier to just not exist at all?
At 28 years old, I had been fighting all my life against the darkness, and I was so, so tired. It wasn’t until my therapist pulled me out of its depths that I felt like I could continue the fight, that I started to hope and dream and do again. I am certain I could not have gotten through that time without help. Looking back, depression took a lot from me. And I often wonder what could have been different had I gotten help sooner. But honestly, I didn’t know. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to feel the way I did. I thought it was something I had to live with, and far too often, so do those who can no longer endure the fight.
If I had heard me here today, back then, just maybe, I would’ve reached out for help before 28. We’ve come a long way in normalizing mental health, but, if today tells us anything, it's that we haven’t made it far enough. We still have work to do.
So, I implore you. Talk to each other. Be vulnerable. Ask for help. Reach out to your strong friends. And, be bold in your conversations about mental health.
You are so, so very not alone.
- Chelsea Borruano
We know the holidays aren't always the happiest. And today, as wishes of joy fill the air, we want you to know that whatever you're feeling is valid and you are so very not alone. We want you to find peace and hope in the smallest moments, but we also know that this season can come with sadness and pain, especially as we close out a year of immeasurable loss.
As we ring in a new year, socially distant from a world we once knew, it may be hard to find a reason to celebrate. And if you choose not to, that's ok too. But you are still here, and it can totally be enough to just celebrate you.
We've compiled some resources to hopefully make wherever you are on your journey a little bit easier.
Wishing you safety, peace, and a bit of hope this holiday season.
written by: Becca Ames
we compare our pain as if there is only a certain amount in this world to be given. rank our suffering, use it to give or deny ourselves the permission to feel. there are people who are sick, dying, losing their jobs, people who never had them to begin with. people who are hungry. who are you to be experiencing anything but gratitude?
I am overwhelmed by my sadness, the strength to which my feelings can overtake me in a matter of seconds, dragging me to the depths of despair as I sit comfortably in an air-conditioned apartment with a fridge that is full and a fluffy little creature nestled at my toes. you are not worthy of sadness today, the voices say.
my disorder thrives in these lonely moments, feeding on the guilt and shame of asking for too much from a world that is - for all intents and purposes - tapped out. I berate myself for the messiness of my feelings, shave away the excess so I too can fit in the box of all that is ‘just right’.
I live in constant fear that the bigness of what is happening inside of me is wrong, that my taking of space will overwhelm the people I love and force them to disappear.
but there is something freeing in this quiet, a knowing emerging from its hiding place. I am confronted each day by a shadow that used to dance behind all that is life beyond this. I ran from its darkness, its silhouette stretching thin in my wake until disintegrating into nothing at all.
but now, the shadow stands just slightly taller than myself, cast from a light that is close by.
I am here, it seems to say, announcing my existence.
I am learning to be alone. and maybe it’s because I didn’t bring this upon myself that it feels lighter than it would in another time, a purposeful act of being alone that is not representative of an absence of love but perhaps even a surplus of it.
maybe I am not a mess. maybe I am just a person who feels deeply in a messy world. and maybe there are others who feel this way - completely and without hesitation, others who read what I write and feel the pressure release. others who feel the weight of this loneliness lifting.
maybe we’re not overreacting. maybe we’re not broken.
maybe we’re just paying attention.
I've been hesitant to write about what I've been dealing with these past couple weeks. Mostly because it's not exactly positive or uplifting. As the founder of the project, I know that people are looking to me to offer something, anything, during this time. I believe we've done a lot as an organization by sharing resources and hosting giveaways and virtual meetups, and I'm proud of that. But I also started this project with the intention of being bold in our conversations about mental health and that starts with me. That starts with honesty and vulnerability.
When I was 28, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). I've talked a lot about how that diagnosis, and subsequent treatment, has changed my life and brought me to where I am today. What I want, or rather need to talk about now is how incredibly triggering this pandemic has been for my GAD and MDD symptoms.
For the past three or so years, I've kept these issues in check. I've taken on a lot of what would be considered stressors and prevailed because of the tools I've learned along the way.
Let me tell you, those tools got nothin' on the coronavirus.
I have this pressure in my chest constantly that no breathing exercise seems to touch. My anxiety is affecting my ability to do my job and succeed in my master's program, in mental health counseling of all things. I'm starting to feel like some sort of poser. How can I help people as a counselor if I can't even help myself? When I got help all those years ago, I did it because I couldn't eat and I couldn't leave my house due to my depression. I've been having flashbacks of that time of extreme isolation and am finding myself being drawn to the safety of shutting out the world. A friend shared an article that could not have explained my fears any better--“On the one hand, I am concerned that this will not only exacerbate things for those who are already isolated and lonely, but also might be a triggering point for others to now get into habits of connecting less...(read more).”
I have been exploring ways to deal. One thing that seems to help me is looking at time differently. When I feel anxious about anything--work, this nonprofit, my classes, getting sick--I remind myself that time is relative right now. I actually have the full 24 hours to spread things out in a way that works best for my mental wellness. Right now, my mental health has to be more important than being hyper available from 8-5:30 Mon-Fri and basically anytime in between. I take a break when my anxiety gets bad and do something mindless, like watch a quick episode of a sitcom, and then I get back to whatever I'm working on. On the flipside, I seem to have more energy around 8 pm or so, so I use that time and energy to wrap up anything that my anxiety kept me from getting to during the day. I also spend time outside, drink tea, paint and call or facetime friends and family. Sometimes, I just wish I could disconnect from it all, but I also have to remind myself that the responsibilities are still there, and I can't hide from them because of my anxiety.
I know other people have it so much worse and I feel guilty for "complaining." I know "our grandparents went to war and all we have to do is stay home." I know that SO many people are sacrificing SO much for me and it physically hurts me that I will never be able to do anything to repay them. I hurt for people who have lost someone to this virus or who can't say their last goodbye to a dying loved one for fear of spreading the virus and who can't be at the funeral because that would be more than 10 people in a room. I just lost someone very close to me. I can't imagine not being with them when they were suffering and not having the chance to say goodbye. I know my issues are minuscule compared to other people. What I also know is that my anxiety and depression have never been rational. Facts and figures aren't going to ease the pressure in my chest or keep the tears from streaming down my face. One thing is for sure. I'm going to hug my family and friends so dang hard when this is all over (with their consent of course).
I know I'll be okay. Maybe not today. Maybe not for a couple of months. And that's okay.
Because I'm alive, and I may be isolated, but I AM NOT ALONE. You aren't alone. We're all in this together. Let's talk about it and just be there for each other.
Written by: Chelsea Borruano
It's national suicide prevention week. As this project has evolved, I've gotten a lot of questions about losing someone to suicide. What are the signs? What could I have done differently? How do I get past the guilt? The short answer, I honestly don't know. The long answer, well, there are warning signs but they're usually minute, if they show outwardly at all. I believe it starts with being open and bold in our conversations about mental health, depression, suicide, self-harm, addiction, etc.
The guilt question is the hardest for me to address. I think, as human beings, we're wired for it; and someone you love taking their own life will leave you with more questions than answers. The more uncertainty we face, the easier it is to look inward and blame ourselves. All I can offer is this, depression is a disease and for some, it's a losing battle. You don't blame yourself for the person you love getting cancer so why do we think we can take on the weight of depression? The hope I have is that, while cancer is more or less in the hands of science and skilled medical professionals, mental health support isn't. We have resources, and they're growing everyday. We're having the right conversations. We're erasing stigmas. We're making medical advancements in treatment. And we're not doing it alone anymore.
So, to you, whoever you are, wherever you are, You Aren't Alone. We are better together and the world is a better place with YOU in it. Please don't take that away. Today, choose to stay.
For more information and resources, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
If you think someone is thinking about suicide, assume you are the only one who will reach out. Here’s how to talk to someone who may be struggling with their mental health.
This week, Betty Mujica-Milano, president of our board of directors, and I, stood in front of a gymnasium full of hundreds of high school students, slightly terrified I must admit, and poured our hearts out about the project. We walked into that gym having flashbacks to high school and wondering what the heck we had gotten ourselves into, but let me tell you, we walked out with, well, hope.
You see, a couple of weeks ago, I got an email from an English teacher at Dutchtown High who sponsors a new club the students there put together called "Be the Change" with the goal of creating a more positive school environment and enriching the well-being of the students. This club planned an incredible (and completely voluntary) event called Commitment to Change where students and volunteers, like myself and Betty, could openly talk about mental health and wellness.
And that we did. Ya'll, that fear we had going in immediately dissipated the moment these students started opening up about what they're going through. We talked through some coping mechanisms; we talked at length about the power of having a trusted adult to talk through your problems with; we talked about the importance of having at least one friend you could pour your heart out to and, in turn, be there for. We talked about self-care and vulnerability and support. We talked about real pain. And then we watched a group of teens, from freshmen to seniors, sit in a circle on the floor surrounding one of their fellow classmates, but ultimately a stranger among a sea of 2400 students, to comfort her as she expressed her pain and anger. We saw them cry together, we witnessed them be vulnerable about what they've gone through, and we heard them make an oath to meet up the next morning. And then we watched as they took the first steps in the planning process with one of their teachers to start a peer support group. And ya'll THIS, this is what the project is all about.
When we arrived, we were given a sheet of paper with questions the students had submitted that we could use to guide the discussion. As I left, I realized that we didn't touch on some of these so I'd like to do that now. As I told the students honestly, I am not a mental health professional. I'm just a girl who's been through some shit (ok, I didn't use the word shit) but I made it out the other side and I didn't do it alone. And you don't have to either. So these are strictly my opinions based on my own experience. Please, if you have anything to add, do so in the comments. The goal of this blog is to serve as a discussion board for support and hope. To crowd-source that help and that hope and provide resources to our community.
What's the best way to manage or prevent stress?
I think we can all relate to this and it's no different for high school students. If anything, I think students today have even more pressure on them to be something they may never be able to live up to. (And yes, social media has a lot to do with that.) So, here's my advice, set boundaries for yourself. Don't be afraid to say no to helping plan another school event or going to that party. It's ok to take some time for yourself, actually it's not just ok, its necessary for our survival. And be honest about why you're saying no. "I'm feeling overwhelmed and I would rather take the time to recharge so I can come back stronger than to commit to something I can't give 100% to right now." "I do want to hang out but I'm feeling anxiety and stress and I think I need a day to myself." Preventing stress is impossible. We're wired for it. And sometimes we can strive in stressful situations. We just have to keep our well-being top of mind, be honest about what we need, and reach out for help when we can't do it alone anymore.
Some of my friends have told me that the relationship I'm in isn't healthy. How do I know if I'm in a toxic relationship? What should I do if I am? Where can I go for help or who should I talk to?
This is something I unfortunately can relate to all too well. I don't talk about the details because I've chosen not to hurt the people who hurt me and truthfully, I still care deeply about them. But, I was in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship in high school which led me down a dangerous path of emotionally abusive boyfriends until I was 28 years old.
First, if your friends think your relationship isn't healthy, they are probably right. And you will likely hate them for it, at first.
Secondly, if you have to ask, you are likely in a toxic relationship. You should never feel afraid or less than the person you are dating. You should never let another person make you question your own self-worth. Mental abuse can lead you to think the worst about yourself and, the longer to stay, the more you will believe it. Which will just lead you down a dangerous cycle of more abuse, trust me.
If there is any violence AT ALL, whether thats "just when they're drunk" or because "they had a bad day," that's NOT OK. If you're having to make excuses for them, you're not in a healthy relationship. If you are experiencing any sort of violence, get out immediately and tell someone, right NOW. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL ITS TOO LATE.
That doesn't mean that the person you care about, and probably even love, is a bad person. That doesn't even mean that you don't love them. Like I mentioned, I still care deeply about the people I dated that hurt me. But it does mean that they need the kind of help that you are not capable of giving. Talking to a trusted adult about both your situation and theirs can help you both. It's not an easy thing to admit. And confronting the person you're with is not the answer. They will likely be combative and again, you are not capable of providing them the help they need. YOU HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF BEFORE YOU CAN BE THERE FOR ANYONE ELSE.
There are a host of counselors and therapists in the area that are trained to handle abusive or toxic relationships, especially in teens. So, ask for help and I promise you, you (and they) will be better for it.
Wow, ok. I still have 12 more questions to go but I will end this post here and pick up where I left off another day. I hope this helps. I hope you know you're not alone. And I hope you know that there are people you can turn to for help.
-Chelsea Borruano, Founder | Executive Director
Traumatic events left untended that grow into demons that become almost unbearable to face.
Don't let it get to you, you'll be fine, just push through it.
I made it through the rest of my shift fine, laughing and joking around per usual, but when I left that night, I crumbled.
I would sit on whoever’s floor, and I would sob, begging my friends to help me because I was tired of fighting alone.
That became my norm. Drunk everyday after shift, crying alone, but smiling in front of my friends and co workers so that know one would know I was slowly dying.
When I was 21 I had an episode that I can only describe as some sort of psychosis where I was having constant panic attacks for 3 days straight and couldn’t distinguish between reality and dreams.
My story actually started on this day, six years ago and along with it so came my daily struggle with anxiety and depression.
I believed that the sadness started on the day that my husband left me.
I had a son roughly 7 months ago. He is my third child, my second son. By around a week we knew he had issues, but by 3 weeks, I knew something was wrong with me. I am the 1 in 7. I had PPD.
My mom who is the best mom anyone could ever hope for doesn’t understand depression. She just did not understand what was wrong with me.
I have flashbacks of that day sometimes, hearing people laughing and having the time of our lives, feeling the sun beating down and the slight breeze from the water, all the while having no inclination of the tragedy that we would soon have to endure.
At times my depression felt like it danced with my trauma but stepped on my soul in glass shattering steps.
Funny how someone else's PTSD and depression basically triggered my own.
The days, months and years to follow have been a constant struggle between wanting to live for him and not being able to live without him, wanting to tell my story but also not wanting to be defined by it and more deeply feeling the constant anxiety of losing those closest to me.
I couldn’t simply feel better. I couldn’t say…didn’t know how to articulate… that the sadness was growing.
Living in a dark hole of fear and sadness is so foreign to them, but to those of us who live with it daily, it's an all too real prison.
What if…I mean what if…I don’t notice that the semi in front of me stopped for railway tracks? The other driver would be okay. And I wouldn’t have to feel this growing thing inside me anymore.
I will never forget where I was when I literally wanted to jerk my car off the road into a telephone post.
What does PPD look like? It knows no bounds. It does not discriminate on the basis of age or race. It doesn't care what your religion is or how you were brought up. It doesn't care how much you love your children, how hard it was for you to have them, how you got there, or how long you waited and prayed for them. 1 in 7.
The longest journey of my life (a 10 year process) was looking at the scars and acknowledging the depression flowing inside my body.
As she writes, she realizes that the end of her life as a child sex slave, was the beginning of a beautiful life (foreordained by her loving Father in heaven), which she could have never imagined possible.
My name is Dianna Pippins and I am a US Army female Veteran that suffers from PTSD and anxiety due to Military Sexual Trauma while serving my country. Everyday is a challenge and it very hard to just live. I and others like me have suffered in silence for way too long.
I had the overwhelming fear that the people I loved would be taken from me and it was a fear I thought I had to live with, I thought it was my burden to bear until I woke up one morning and decided to get help.
Hope saved me in the same likeness like when a wildfire is finally tamed and controlled.
Food can truly change someone’s life and often makes me wonder who else is suffering because of the food we consume.
I found a therapist the following week. I vomited the Darkness in front of him as brutal as I could stomach. His response, “You’re not always going to feel like this.”
I didn’t get help until I was standing on a desolate plain behind the remnants of bombarded walls.
It was honestly a hundred little things that helped me survive. It was baby ducks coming up to me by the LSU lakes, it was laughter and connection, it was deciding that I wanted more from life, and it was acknowledging that I could be resilient despite all the trauma and darkness.
Other’s transparency about their own mental health struggles helped me feel like I wasn’t alone.
Nothing feels more comforting than realizing that what you face every day, and what seems insurmountable, is not unique to you; you really are not alone.
I AM FREE. And to think IT all had to do with diet. I am truly convinced I am not alone in this food thing.
I could learn to live with myself, and not let my PTSD and depression be the definition of my life. I don't know that she'll ever know it, but that counselor saved my life.
Depression and anxiety are very real and though some forms come from experiences such as mine and others from chemical imbalances, the most important thing to know is that YOU AREN'T ALONE and I'm not alone. We are all in this together.