I’m Supposed to Be Happy by Kelsey Hoeper

Maybe you’ve been out of college for a while. Let’s say you landed your first “big girl” job, a nice apartment that’s somewhat cheap, and you’ve arrived to this moment in your life when you can afford HBO and organic fruit. Or perhaps you’re a senior in high school—you have a solid GPA, you’ve been accepted into a college of your choice, you work part-time, and you also happen to be a contributing player on the varsity track and field team. You’re the first person in your family to go to college and everyone tells you how proud they are. In both scenarios, you’re extremely happy. How could you not be? But you’re not.

You can be grateful for all the things you have, but still feel that something is missing or gnawing away at you. You may feel nothing when you’re meant to feel great. From the outside, you appear to have everything. Or you’ve worked so incredibly hard to get to where you’re at that it would be a disservice to let anyone see the pain you’re in. Maybe you’ve compared yourself to someone who’s told you they would kill to be in your shoes. But you’re genuinely unhappy and you choose to suffer in silence with no one to see. Why? Because you’re supposed to be happy. At the height of my depression, I was told that it would pass like anything else. I was also told I didn’t have anything to be depressed about.

Whether anyone’s diminished your feelings—your very valid feelings—there is no shame in admitting there’s something stirring within you. Troubles and worries are felt deeply, and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. We don’t, and shouldn’t, suffer alone or in isolation. Harboring feelings of guilt is not a plan for escape. You may fly under the radar for a little while, but there’s no hiding from yourself. Whatever you feel, it’s real and it’s worthy of your time.

Kelsey photo

Kelsey Hoeper, Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer

Let me first start by listing a few things I’ve seen/heard/read in the last 24 hours:

•More than 2,300 shootings took place in the city of Chicago in the last year.
•In anger, a man intentionally lit an apartment complex on fire, killing three young girls and leaving behind a devastated mother and father.
•Funding continues to dwindle for much-needed services in the areas of substance abuse, domestic violence, adequate housing, homelessness, sexual assault and more.
•Campus sexual assault cases continue to rise—especially during what reporters have been calling “the red zone”—the time between the start of the semester through Thanksgiving break, with freshmen women being particularly vulnerable.
•A friend posted on his Facebook wall with this one sentence: “I look around me and I don’t know where I am anymore…..”

We live in a chaotic world. Nothing is promised to us, nothing can be predicted. We see these images on our televisions and phone screens, of grieving mothers, abandoned children, black and smoky skies. We feel the initial sting. We empathize as much as we can, but then we are transported back into the center of our lives: sipping our lattes, doing homework, paying the bills, grocery shopping for our families, having sleepovers with our friends. I don’t blame them. I do it, too. In fact, we all do. We live for normalcy, even if it lasts for only a few moments. Nevertheless, we often feel hopeless. We think about our futures, and the futures of our children. It is not surprising that people of all ages feel this weight, and we are left wondering, what can we do? What can we do to ease the strain?

Get involved
You can find incredible fulfilment in helping others, whether it’s through tutoring, mentoring, or simply taking time out of your day to spend time with someone. At the end of the day, every single one of us wants to feel worthwhile, valuable and a part of something bigger than ourselves. We need love and acceptance. We need to know that others care for us.

Be “going somewhere”
Find a path that speaks to you. Follow a vision that leads. This path doesn’t need to go straight. There can be changes along the way. Embrace the journey.

Be thankful
Take the time to count your blessings, no matter how small they are.

Take care of yourself
Self-care is the best thing you can do for yourself. It keeps you clear-headed, alert and motivated. You can do more for others when you pay attention to your personal well-being.

Challenge yourself
If you’re upset and angry, channel that into something good. Find a cause that speaks to you. Help change laws; change what needs to be changed. Move outside of yourself.

Be with and be for those around you
We need each other. We are all that we have. You are all you will ever be.

Kelsey Hoeper, Elyssa's Mission Volunteer

Kelsey Hoeper,
Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer

Kelsey Hoeper is an Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer. Kelsey explores the wisdom that she would share with her younger self if she were there to coach her. Her beautiful and sensitive insight moves us to consider changing the story we tell ourselves to a more positive and loving one.

If only we could actually do this—travel back in time to meet our younger selves. We would be able to warn ourselves about the boy who would break our heart, decide against dropping $100 on something we don’t need and stepping in the way of someone headed for self-destruction. Maybe even keep someone’s secret (about a crush) longer than a week because when you’re 10 years old, two weeks can be an eternity.

I can think of many things I wish I could have done differently. Things I wish I would have said and otherwise kept to myself. But most of all, I wish I could have taught myself to think differently. I wish I had told myself repeatedly that I was smart, talented, creative and strong. That I was worthy of good things and that people would grow to love me if I let them. Instead I told myself I was ugly, too short, not skinny enough, friendless and painfully awkward. This wasn’t always my thought pattern, but it certainly dominated a lot of my self-talk. I wish 24-year-old me could get ice cream with my 11-year old self. We wouldn’t talk about calories; we would just enjoy the living earth, wind and fire out of our whipped cream and hot fudge. I wish we could go swimming together and pretend we were mermaids. I’d tell younger me that I was a natural-born swimmer; that the water could be a sanctuary when I wanted to escape. We wouldn’t talk about my body in a swimsuit. We would just play. Own it, girl. Every day.

Well, we can’t go back in time. None of us. Our younger selves are now just past versions of us. A book in the making, an unfinished painting. But luckily for us, those pieces of our former selves are still with us. We grew from those versions. We’re here because of them. So please do yourself a favor: tell yourself how worthy you are. If you’re going by a scale, you’re at a 10. No—a 20! Please tell yourself that you deserve good things. You deserve to join the rest of us, and you have the power to go your own way. Fight for what you want. Settle and fall into peace with this current version of you. Make positive changes. Try new things. Explore the version of you that’s ready to burst onto the scene.

Kelsey Hoeper, Elyssa's Mission Volunteer

Kelsey Hoeper,
Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer

Kelsey Hoeper is an Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer. Kelsey shares her moving account on the loss of her friend who died by suicide. She provides powerful and sensitive insight on the important roles that education and awareness play in the prevention of suicide.

“I love and miss you so much. It pains me to know I can’t drive over or call you on the phone. Multiple times a day I stop what I’m doing, desperately wishing you were with me. I love you. I’ll always need you. Keep me close, my dear. I keep you close.” 

A friend of mine, I’ll refer to him as “David,” was last seen with some of his friends and co-workers at his favorite local bar. He had a gorgeous smile. The kind of smile that radiates, entering into his eyes. Forged by fire, softened by his gentle manner. It was easy to see why so many people loved him.

The night of his death, David’s mother called friends and family members letting them know the kind of news humans can hardly bear to hear. I’ve heard it’s a wave of emptiness, a hollow feeling that replaces large quantities of the “you” that was there only seconds beforehand. I’ve heard others feel it in their chests. Others feel it behind their eyes—shifting lenses. (I pray you never have to feel this way.)

That night, one of my friends called me. She was crying and saying his name over and over. She disclosed she never detected the level of his depression, the sheer height of his pain. I helped her disperse her self-guilt. I told her that guilt isn’t meant to pool inside you. Loving someone so fiercely, it feels holy. I told my friend, because you loved him, there is no reason for guilt.

The same night of David’s death, his Facebook page became a shrine. Friends and family members let their pain and love be known. Many of David’s closest friends did not know the depth of his pain and anxiety. From the outside, you would have met a vibrant young man with talent and spark. Upon closer look, you might have seen a side of him that was stoic, contemplative and internally bound. He could be outgoing and loud, and also settle down into himself. A young man who had a talent with words. An artist in his own right. There was so much left for him to give. So many places he had yet to tap into it and swim around.

It’s been less than a year since David’s death. We don’t dare to use the words “moving on.” It’s still too fresh for many people. I will never be one to negate the feelings of others or put mine in comparison to those of a mother, a father, a son, a grandmother. I do not have the eyes of a mother. I do not harbor the special moments living inside David’s parents and best friends. I have no right to access them. Those belong to certain people—the luckiest of people.

We are unable to stay in one place—there is too much around us, too many people that need us and love us. For that reason, “moving on” is something we say to others and something we often hope for ourselves. David’s Facebook page is an example of people moving on while taking David with them. They acknowledge his presence without him being there. They tell David about their job promotion, a new baby, a new house. How amazing. There is a before and there is an after, and we live and exist in both.

This story is an important one because detection isn’t always easy or on the surface. It can go unnoticed, and not because you are a bad parent or a bad friend. It goes unnoticed because some of those who internally struggle are the valedictorians. The star athletes. The vibrant, outgoing class clowns. Mental illness does not know age, income, the level of education, where you live. It can live inside someone like David. Someone everyone knew and loved. This is why Elyssa’s Mission is so crucial. The education and awareness offered by the Mission might be the very thing needed to bring someone back from their own depths. To bring them to the surface once again.

Kelsey Hoeper,  Elyssa's Mission Volunteer

Kelsey Hoeper,
Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer

Kelsey Hoeper is an Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer. Kelsey shares her struggles with anorexia and exercise bulimia. Her moving story provides hope and inspiration to those undergoing similar struggles.

When I was first diagnosed with anorexia and exercise bulimia at the age of 19, my depression was at its worst. My days were centered and planned around when I would exercise, how long I would exercise for, and what I would consume—and not consume. My eating disorder had completely taken over my life. I could not go a single hour without obsessively thinking about my weight. If I had to miss a workout, I remember shaking with anxiety; my mind hijacked with thoughts about how I would make up for this lost time. A lost workout. An extra spoonful of dinner my mother made me eat in front of her. I wasn’t able to recognize it at the peak of my diagnosis, but looking back, I had completely forgotten what it was like to enjoy a day. Enjoy the calm, the quiet, the beautiful. I was rattled; I tormented myself on a daily basis. I was dying in front of my family and I could see the pain in their eyes. I wanted it all to be over and I considered taking my own life many times. But at the same time, as sickening as it sounds, I felt compelled to finish what I had started.

The start of it went almost undetected. After losing 15 pounds, many people positively commented on my new physique. My primary physician said I looked great. Then it was 20 pounds. 30 pounds. 40 pounds. You can see the pattern. I was venturing down a destructive path. In a matter of a few weeks I was caught up in a cycle; I was an observer of my own deteriorating body; finding no power within myself to stop. There were many times when I didn’t even want that kind of power. I imagined myself as an entirely different being. I was no longer Kelsey. I was Phantom Kelsey. I was floating. Floating in a trance and a starve-driven high to continue. I was chipping away at myself—a kind of suicide I have yet to create a word for. But the pressure I put on myself to continue with my strict workout and eating regimen may have been the exact reason why I never took a moment or a series of moments to end it all. Here’s why: during the darkest times I convinced myself I had to continue what I started. And the end goal? I still don’t know. Maybe that I would make myself so small, then one day—poof—Phantom Kelsey would become someone new. I didn’t know who I was trying to become.

One afternoon, about 4 months after I started following my strict eating and workout plan, my mother took me to a meeting with a therapist who specialized in treating men and women with eating disorders. I felt I had been basically dragged there, and the therapist could see my apprehension and frustration. She looked at my face, formed a tiny smile while tilting her head to the side and said, “You look exhausted.” The answer, clearly a “yes,” never made it out of my mouth. Yes, I was so tired.  And I cried. I cried harder than I ever had in my life. My sorrow blew out all the remaining candles. I was all smoke; there was no fire left in me. After I cried for a few minutes, my therapist took my hand in hers and told me I would die if I didn’t make a change and start the recovery process. She handed me a granola bar and asked me how I was feeling. Terrified. Angry. Disgusted. She said to me, “Now change that way of thinking and tell yourself this instead: this piece of food will give you the energy to do a cartwheel in the park, or run into the arms of an old friend you haven’t seen in years. Wouldn’t you much rather feel that?”

The chipping away at my own self, the deadly regime I adhered to so religiously, started to fade and lessen over time. Instead of dying by my own hand, I was fueling up. I was relighting the candles that once burned themselves down to a stub. I no longer felt like an observer; a phantom clinging on and tapping away—annoying and scheming. I started to feel present again. I started to feel whole again. The empty spaces in my body started to fill up again.

Five years later and I consider myself to have been one of the lucky ones. There are cases upon cases of men and women struggling with eating disorders who go untreated. Lack of accessible and affordable treatment and fear of talking about their disorders are the strongest reasons why people don’t seek treatment. It’s tragic, because as months and years go by, the cycle only becomes that much harder to escape. I was lucky in that my family encouraged—no, forced—me to get help in the beginning stages of my disease. I thank them every day for standing up to me. I thank them for saving my life. With that strong support from family, friends and teammates, I felt earthbound once again. I could hear the calm.

I also recognize that I was lucky in the kind of support I received. I know there are many men and women out there who aren’t so fortunate. I knew a young woman close to my age who struggled with anorexia for years. She never went to social gatherings. She grew anxious at the thought of going to a restaurant with other people. People would see her at the gym and stare. Only stare. When she would go to the front desk to scan her ID card, I could almost hear the sales associates whispering in their heads, wanting to tell her to go home and rest. To go home and eat. When she wasn’t at the gym, she was either at home or at a weekly group therapy session. She was too sick to hold down a job. I recall her telling me how useless the group therapy sessions were. She admitted she skipped meetings all the time. Her mother never asked, and from what I remember, her parents were distant and they rarely followed up with her. They say attention is the first and final display of love. And this beautiful girl didn’t receive the fierce attention that she wanted and needed. It makes my chest cave in with sadness when I think about her now.

One day, I read something that changed my way of thinking. It was from an advice column. Keep in mind these are not my own words: “Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away, eat it away, or starve it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. Therapists and friends and other people can help you along the way, but the healing—the genuine healing—is entirely and absolutely up to you.”

Support is all around you. Even in strangers. Friendly voices who make it their mission to connect and reach out to others. I cannot stress the importance of being around people who know exactly what you are going through. Your feelings of anxiety, depression and a longing for escape are felt by so many people around you. I can feel you. This connection is vital. But perhaps even more important is the way you can create a self-made plan to heal. It is entirely possible. Nothing about healing is impossible.


Kelsey Hoeper,  Elyssa's Mission Volunteer

Kelsey Hoeper,
Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer

Kelsey Hoeper is an Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer. Kelsey shares her journey of discovering how reflecting on the “thousands of things” around her helps her to feel more connected and grounded.

The morning was dreary. And I was alone. I wrapped myself in a large scarf to cover the parts of my face that I thought could disclose anything; hiding myself inside a large sweater. Unfeeling and numb? Yes. But I also felt everything.

My college roommates all had plans that Saturday. Camille was with her sorority sisters at a charity event. Mickey was at a movie with her boyfriend. And Emmi was partying with her friends from her study group. I loved them all, but I needed to be away.

I boarded a train to the next town over with only a vague idea of where I was going. I would get a coffee. No cream and no sugar. Maybe go shopping. Neither thing happened. Instead I wandered. After what only seemed like a few steps, I sat on a bench for a long time watching the express trains fly past me. And I wondered what it would feel like to leave this world at the hands of a metal train. Quick contact. And it would be over. The thought terrified me, and it comforted me. Then, the comfort terrified me more. My body did not leave that bench until I decided to stand on the edge. There was no one else on the platform. I saw a train in the distance. The horn echoed quietly and shuttered through the buildings around me. The eye of the headlights spotted me. I did not move, stepping back only when an older woman appeared nearby and eyed me curiously. I thanked this woman in my head. I thanked her a thousand times.

This was not the first time. Two weeks before I poured a handful of pills into my open mouth. Let them soften inside my cheeks before I spit everything out. Some time later, I poured Advil onto the face of my desk. I gazed over them, felt them; but I left them there. Emmi came into the room and fell silent. She asked me about the pills. And I thanked her, silently, a thousand times over.

How many times I thanked someone and something: countless. Mom, dad, best friend, coach. I thanked the bed I slept in; it held me in my discomfort. I thanked the trees outside my window. They whistled at me in the springtime to come outside and breathe the air. These were the moments of clarity, and they arrived like that train I wanted to put directly in my way—right in front of me and through me. See, they arrived by distance—but then speeding up to meet me. I realized that time alone couldn’t offer what I so greatly desired. Time helped, of course. It always does. But I was looking for someone to reach through to me. An easy visual, yes. But I pushed people away. I was skeptical. I felt like I couldn’t escape the gnawing, yet oddly quiet being that used to guide me. There were days when I asked myself, “Who am I? I used to be an adventurous, carefree child. I played pretend. I painted. I had two parents who love me. There were people in my life that cared—and still care for me. How? When?” Nothing has changed, I told myself. Nothing has changed. And yet, everything was different. A thousand changes. Beautiful changes. Small changes and big changes. How gorgeous. How amazing.

When you are feeling alone, count the thousands of things around you. They will hold you and they will ground you. When you are punctured with sadness, count the thousands of reasons why you are the most important person you know. And align yourself with the stars.

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