The ups, and the downs…

The reason for me starting this blog was to share my truth with others. In more recent years, I have found that sharing my thoughts and feelings with others has been very therapeutic for me. Not only does it get everything out in the open, rather than me bottling everything up inside until I explode, but it also helps me to realize that I am not alone, and that I do have others there for me. The support I receive when sharing my truth is amazing, and I couldn’t possibly trade it for the world. Everyone knows that I will love and support them forever, so having that same support and love reciprocated to me is an amazing feeling.

In honor of mental health awareness month, I wanted to share an experience with others that not everyone may know about. It was a hard hitting moment for me, one that will continue to hide out in the shadows and spook me from time to time. One of those things that you learn and grow from, but never truly forget about. I am going to tell you about the robbery.

I was about seventeen years old. I was working at a small privately owned pharmacy right near my old house. I had just informed my boss the day prior that I was moving and we were making settlement on our house in Jersey soon. I was giving him five weeks notice to find another employee. (That didn’t last very long). He gave me a hug, congratulated me, and wished me the best.

It was a chilly November Tuesday evening. It was just starting to get dark out around 5pm, so it had to be sometime around 6pm. The store was quite slow, only having had a few customers come in and see if they could get their scripts filled, others picking up. The pharmacist and I were standing, waiting for the clock to hit 7:00 so that we could start cleaning up for the night and lock up. Time was ticking by so slowly, as if the shift was dragging due to the extremely low volume in the store. That quickly changed.

The bell went off to let us know a customer was entering the store. A stack of papers in filing bins was in front of me, so I had to move to the left to see the customer coming in. Only I couldn’t see them. I heard footsteps, but not just from one person. Soon revealed were two men in black masks, lurking up the two center aisles, one with a gun pointed directly at me. The pharmacist dove to the floor, and I followed. During that time, my first immediate thought was to open the cabinet where all of the narcotics were. I could only assume they were coming to steal those. They had leaped over the counter, presumably, and came behind to where we were lying on the floor. They grabbed two reusable bags that the other pharmacist kept handy off of one of the shelves, and immediately started cleaning out the narcotic cabinet.

The one with the gun kept it pointed at me, and I can’t particularly remember if I was staring at it or him or just in space because I suddenly felt like my life was slowly flashing before my eyes. I had immediately thought of every single person in my life that meant something to me in an instant. I thought about how all of them would be if I were gone… if this was my way to go. I know my family would be devastated. I know my friends would be devastated. Anyone who knew me would probably be devastated, that I was gone so soon and so suddenly.

The one man without the gun was more aggressive; he grabbed duct tape and wrapped our hands together above our heads. He also felt our pockets to see if we had any other valuables in there that he could take. He demanded for our purses, money, etc. We said we didn’t have them (mine was in the back hidden). My phone was still up on the counter. The other man with the gun (still pointed at me) told us that they didn’t want to cause any harm, they just wanted they wanted. He told us to have a good Christmas. He then asked me if that was my phone. I said yes. He said he was going to leave it there, but the other man insisted that they take it. He slipped it into his pocket. That was the last time I saw that phone.

After cleaning out the narcotic cabinet, taking any of the money that was in there, swiping off the shelves all of the cough medicine, and taking a bunch of lottery scratch offs, they fled on foot. No one had come into the store at all. The pharmacist and I sat in silence for what felt like forever. I waited for her to get up. The tape wasn’t as tight around her wrists, so she was able to grab scissors and cut them off. Mine were tightly bound around my wrists, and I couldn’t seem to wriggle them out. I said, through a quivering voice and shaky hands, “Please, get it off.” The cops arrived shortly after. He was trying to ask what happened, but it then seemed as if it was all catching up to me what just happened. I was unable to process it all. I was holding onto my stomach because I couldn’t catch my breath. The world was getting smaller and smaller and shrinking further and further away from me. I felt like my chest was on fire. I could barely croak words out. I had to regain my composure. That’s when the pharmacist hugged me. I sobbed into her shoulder and couldn’t stop shaking.

Shortly after, other police officers and detectives showed up. It had become a crime scene, and we had to sit there and be questioned for hours, telling the same narrative over and over. I was wondering if anyone was trying to get ahold of me. Wondering if my parents were trying to call and check in. I was completely disconnected from the outside world for a good two hours. I was able to use the pharmacist’s cell phone, which somehow wasn’t spotted by the robbers. I called my dad and told him what happened. He profusely apologized for that having happened to me, and asked if I wanted him to come up to be with me. I told him no, and that I would be home soon. I explained to my boss that I couldn’t continue working there. I no longer felt safe and knew that I would be trembling in fear every time that I heard the door open.

My boss walked me to the back where my car was parked. As I was racing to my car, a person that worked at the beer distributor next door appeared out of the shadows and said, “Are you okay?” I jumped what felt like a hundred feet in the air. I was so on edge, anything could have scared me then. I mumbled, “Yeah I’m fine,” and got into my car as fast as I could. I drove home as fast as possible, considering the speed limits. I was sobbing and hyperventilating the whole way home. I ran up to my house and into my front door. My sister was sitting on the couch and immediately asked what was wrong. I tried to choke out that the pharmacy got robbed, but I couldn’t get the words out into a proper sentence. I spit out what I could. She immediately jumped up and hugged me. She held me as I cried and tried to get control of my breathing again. My mom came downstairs shortly after, asking why I was crying but not realizing the severity of the situation. I told her the pharmacy got robbed and I was held at gunpoint, and she shrieked, “What!” and dropped to her knees in front of me. She held onto me, very closely and tightly. My dad came in moments later, and we all sat and talked about it. Sometime after, I eventually made my way up to my bed. I didn’t sleep at all that night. The nightmares of what had just occurred, and the thoughts of what could happen next kept me alert and anxious all night.

For the next couple of months, I was a different person. I couldn’t go outside, to a store, or in any sort of parking lot or garage without feeling fear. Was I going to get jumped? Was I going to get car jacked? Kidnapped? Robbed? What could possibly happen to me now? I went around my house multiple times, making sure that all of the doors and windows were locked. I kept my car doors locked while I was driving. Upon entering a store, I would check my surroundings of anything that may seem suspicious. I was completely aware of what was going on, and trusted any of the vibes that I may have caught. That was only when I actually did go outside, though. A majority of my time, I spent locked up in my room, either packing for the move or in my bed. I was far too afraid to do anything, or to go anywhere. The world was out to get me, and I wouldn’t dare allow it to take control by throwing myself into situations where I could get hurt. In the months to follow, I experienced a lot of post traumatic stress that could set me off in an instant.

Eventually, I wasn’t as anal about making sure everything was locked, refusing to leave my bed due to safety reasons, etc. I was able to go back into the world, get another job, and not spend my days worrying as much. My dad said something to me that night that still, to this day, resonates with me. He told me that yes, though what had happened was a tragic event and he was so sorry that it did happen to me, it was almost a blessing in disguise. These sorts of situations that we are put in, though they are terrible situations to be put in, can be ways to make us stronger as people. These situations are lessons for learning, for being forced to be become much wiser and more aware than before. For instance, the things that I do now are totally involuntary, and I do them without even realizing. I am always aware of my surroundings when I go places. I still go around the house and make sure everything is locked. I still drive with all doors locked. Though that situation was such a horror to me, a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from, it also ended up teaching me things I could have never known before. I wish I didn’t have to go through it, and wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. However, I have really learned to count my blessings, and consider myself lucky to have lived through that and come out stronger on the other end.

Transparently, Court

To find some resources on PTSD, you can visit this link: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Posttraumatic-Stress-Disorder/Support

My Volunteer Mission

It was this time, last year that I decided to make a bold choice and fly across the world. For those who didn’t know (which, I’m sure at this point if you follow me on all social media pages, you probably do know) I had signed myself up for a volunteer mission. I was to fly across the world to Cambodia to help build a house for a family of eight, and then from there, I was to travel over to Thailand to help take care of rescued elephants in a small village. I was taking a swan dive right out of my comfort zone, and into a world completely unknown. I had become acquainted with two of the other members attending, and even traveled with one of them (love you Cara!) But I was leaving behind my safe space, my home, my family and friends, and traveling to a place that I knew nothing about.

This was something that I always wanted to do. As early as sixteen, I tried to look into other charities and volunteer projects, such as the Peace Corps, but nothing ever stuck. I didn’t give up, though. I knew there had to be something that I could do.

It wasn’t until I was sitting in my Music Appreciation college class that a fellow student presented a video to us about a non-profit charity called Reach Out Volunteers. In this video, it showed exactly what I went over to do last May… help build a house for a family in Cambodia and help take care of elephants in Thailand. If destiny or fate was believed to be real, this was a sign that I had to go. I had been waiting for this for a long time. I immediately jumped at the opportunity.

After talking it over with my parents, they thought it would be a great opportunity for me. Over the course of about five to six months, I accepted donations as well as saved up my own money to pay for the trip itself (close to 3k… but so worth it!!) When my dad and sister drove Cara and I to the airport, it still didn’t fully set in what I was about to do. It wasn’t until we were on the fifteen hour flight to China that I think it actually started to set in. I was going somewhere far, far away from home. Growing up, I was always a home body. I would get anxiety staying at a friends house and would end up calling my parents to come get me in the middle of the night. Taking this chance, (and hoping that it would be worth leaving home), was a way to prove to myself that I could go out on my own in the world. If I was able to do this, I could do anything. I could go anywhere. I could challenge my anxiety, and conquer it.

The first two days were all about adjusting to the time zone. I spent two days waking up at between three and five AM, and took multiple naps throughout the day. It was a tough adjustment, especially because we would have to wake up early everyday and work outside all day. And boy… was it HOT! Cambodia was either close to or right on 100 degrees fahrenheit everyday. Working outside in the direct sunlight in conditions that you are not used to can be quite challenging. I was overheated, sweating, doing manual labor that I was definitely not used to doing. Having activities to do after the long work days could be challenging as well. While everyone wanted to go out and explore the sights and sounds of Siem Reap, I wanted to take a nap. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and yet I was way too exhausted to do anything.

But being able to see the change that we were making… seeing the excitement and pure joy of the people residing in this village. Seeing the family that we were helping engage in wanting to help with us, and watching them see their house turn into a home, was the most rewarding feeling in the world. It made all of the exhaustion, all of the long days in the sun, all of the hard work well worth it. In addition to meeting the wonderful people in the village, I also met such a great group of individuals who all had the same intentions of wanting to help others. We came from all different parts of the world, and came together to help make a dream for a family, a reality. Ironically enough, we became a family, too.

Siem Reap was such a fun town to explore. There were various restaurants with numerous food items to choose from. There were many stores to buy souvenirs, clothes, shoes, etc. There were great bars with fun music and a variety of mixed drinks to choose from. Visiting the temples, such as Angkor Wat, and visiting Kulen Mountain was a cool experience. Later that night, we went to a bar called Yolo bar, where I had a little bit too much to drink and ended up dancing on the bar three times. Nonetheless, a lot of fun, and a lot of great memories!

The next day we traveled over to a small village in Thailand. It took an entire day to drive to the border of Cambodia and Thailand, then to travel to the small village. We pulled up to the main site where some would be staying, and where we would have breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday. The village was COMPLETELY different from Siem Reap. It was a very remote location in the middle of nowhere, with not much to do to keep ourselves occupied.

Getting to see the elephants was an experience in itself. I had never been up close and personal with an elephant, so to be able to feed them and walk with them everyday was such a cool thing. After helping with the elephants, we would go back to the school and help out with anything they may have needed there. Whether it be playing with the kids, painting the bathrooms, or picking up elephant manure to help fertilize the plants in the garden (YUCK), we were always helping out at the school.

I would say, above all of the things I experienced and learned on this trip, I learned the most about myself. I took some time to reflect on my life back home. I was doing really well with my physical health, as I was constantly in the gym. But that was just the thing… I was focusing a little bit too much on my physical appearance. I always had body issues, as well as body dysmorphia issues. However, I was allowing the opinions of others to dictate whether or not I looked good. I may have *felt* good, but I needed that validation. Whether it be posting pictures of myself on social media, or hearing personally how good they think that I look, I was in constant need of that attention. In addition, I felt as though I was being taken advantage of by someone that I truly adored. I felt as though I was able to see the value of myself, and of others while on this trip, and I needed to ensure I was being valued the same. (Worry not, he did see that value in me. 🙂 )

Most of all, I realized just how much I took for granted. All of the small worries and insignificant dramas back at home were just that… small and insignificant. I came into this world, where the people were so kind and so happy with what they had, and didn’t expect anything in return, and realized that this is the sort of energy that needed to be put out in the world. This is the value that we should all hold on a daily basis. Life can get tough at times, and the world may feel like it is out to get you. But it is very important to never forget just how blessed you are, and all of the wonderful things that our lives have to offer. This volunteer mission taught me that life is worth living, despite any of the hardships we may face, and to always be grateful for what you have. It could all be very, very different.

To donate, or to look into going on your own expedition, this non-profit organization, follow this link!: https://www.rovolunteers.com/

Transparently, Court.

Introduction

*TRIGGER WARNING: The post below features some sensitive content that could potentially be a trigger warning to those dealing with similar situations. Reader discretion is advised.

Never thought that I would ever actually make a blog… I am not the type to want to share my thoughts, or expose myself personally in anyway. Over the years, I have gotten much better at it. I had to share my thoughts in various places and situations… such as therapy, group therapy in an outpatient day program, as well as group therapy in an inpatient psychiatric ward. We’ll get to that soon though.

I suppose it would be kind of me to formally introduce myself! My name is Courtney. I am 21 years of age. I am a full time college student in a college in New Jersey. I have a very smart mom, a very jokester dad, and a good-at-everything sister. I also have a very cute and cuddly pup named Cali, and a grumpy but sweet old man cat named Bert. I have an insanely sweet, kind, and handsome boyfriend named Zach. He is definitely a source of sunshine for me, as well as my family and friends. I love sunflowers, photography, poetry, reading books, visiting the beach, and going to the city.

Great, now that we’re a little bit more acquainted, might as well jump right into the nitty gritty. From the time that I was young, up until now, I have had really bad anxiety. I mean, it was to the point where I was throwing myself on the ground screaming crying because my mom signed me up for soccer. It was always seen as just me being, “really shy,” but it wasn’t until I got older that I realized that I had been experiencing anxiety the whole time. I used to get physically sick staying out at friend’s houses because I was so nervous to be away from home. Any social situation freaked me out beyond belief… and I was only between 8-10 years old. I remember being 11 years old and experiencing depressive episodes. I would be looking out my window at night, praying that I could be on that plane flying above my house and fly far away. I remember feeling ugly for the first time when I was 10 years old. I remember thinking that I was fat for the first time when I was 12. My low self esteem carried over into my teen years, and my mental health only plummeted.

By the time I had hit 14, I had a whole slew of issues weighing me down. I was extremely depressed, suffered from panic attacks every day, constantly starving myself and/or making myself throw up, and self harming on a regular basis. I had lost all hope in myself, and in the life that I wanted to live. After doing two outpatient day programs, I eventually committed myself to the psychiatric ward. I woke up one day and told my dad that I wanted to die, and if I stayed home, I would kill myself. I told the doctors upon intake that if I had stayed at home, I would be a danger to myself. I was then transported to a psychiatric ward via ambulance for intake. Once I was all checked in, I realized that maybe going in there was a mistake. They had to take the laces from my shoes, the strings from my hoodie and sweatpants, and I was on total lockdown from the outside world. I had never cried more in my life than I did in the week that I spent there. I also never spoke to a higher power as much as I did during my week there. As a 15 year old naive girl, I had learned so much in the brief time I was there.

Now, this doesn’t go to say that it was all peaches and cream. I was still struggling for a long time after. I may have stopped harming myself, but I still had eating disorder tendencies. I may have stopped staring at the wall for hours upon end, but I was still quite depressed at times. I may have stopped feeling like the world was going to crash down all around me, but I still suffered severely from anxiety. Despite all of this, I still surprised myself, finding more and different ways to overall improve myself.

Back in 2017, I decided that I was tired of looking at the stick thin, skinny girl in the mirror. I was tired of feeling sorry for myself. I decided to start going to the gym. At first, I went in with no real plan. I was just going to go and do what I knew. Summer hit and I was off social media, working 5 days a week and I was committed to the gym. I was truly thriving in my own skin, such an unfamiliar but welcoming feeling. My confidence was flying sky high, and I felt like I could conquer the world.

Flash forward to Summer of 2018, and I backtracked a little bit. I had just got back from my trip to Cambodia/Thailand (which will be discussed in another post coming soon), and something was off with my body. I was really sick, losing a lot of weight fast and losing motivation with it. I was out of a job, constantly home, and couldn’t find the drive that once driven me to work out. Similar feelings of hopelessness started to seep back into my life…

Flash forward to now. I am a lot happier, a lot healthier, and am finally starting to feel a little bit more like myself again. It was a long road, a path that I had to fight to get myself back onto. I still have struggles from time to time. My depression still creeps in, and my anxiety still hits me like a ton of bricks. I still wish away all of my sadness and worrying. But rather than running from it, I am choosing to learn from it. To cope with it. To move THROUGH it. I want to find new and healthy ways to express myself, and my thoughts. So, here it goes. The kick off of my blog. I hope you all enjoy.

Transparently, Court

P.S. I am here for anyone who needs a listening ear, a comforting shoulder to cry on, or even just a friend. 🙂