0117: Black Excellence

"Black Excellence," Jack Nesmith


Black Excellence- Motivating Black Success

Ever since I was a child, the importance of success as a person of color was a life motivator to make a positive difference in society. When I was seven years old, I wrote on a sheet of paper “I want to go to college and graduate as the first member of my family” and use that as an inspiration to reach new levels of success in my life that I’ve never dreamed of achieving.

As a young Black Male, I have been able to reflect on the experiences that developed my identity and why my race is important to me as a person. Learning about black culture was inspiring to learn about people that I identified with overcome huddles and obstacles in America while being some of the best minds in society as well. Even with the hardships and historical setbacks to the African American community, I was proud of to learn of the rich history and accomplishments of black leaders. As a first-generation graduate with my Bachelors and Masters degrees, the importance of education as a black man was a motivate to overcome the odds and reach new heights of success. 

As a kid, I admired Dr. Martin Luther King as one of my favorite heroes who used an extreme amount of courage, peace, and wisdom to deal with some of worst social issues in our country. Despite Dr. King’s amazing message given to people of all backgrounds and the strides of diversity in our nation, the issue of attacks on social justice, racism, and negativity are still in effect for people of color within the United States.

For this piece, I wanted to reflect on the importance of Black Excellence and how African-Americans are making strides and positive impacts in the world. To have positive mentors, peers, and role models of color in media, education, and other forms of leadership around the world. Seeing the such of those amazing people can inspire others that feel trapped by the burdens of ignorance and hatred in life. 

Social Justice Awareness 

As recent events have affected our country, being a person of color is a society filled with racism, hate crimes, and a resist to accept diversity can be draining. When I hear the news of a black person attacked by the criminal justice system or false accused of a crime, I tell myself “not this again” and cringe at the negative aftermath on social media.

As every hashtag became a lost life of a black male, the cold reality of every step forward for myself, society was taking ten steps backwards. Despite how upsetting this can be for many African-Americans, these actions inspire me to reach out to other men and women of color and support them. From my friends in college, graduate school, and even as a professional, it’s awesome to see how far many of them have come in life.

Seeing fellow peers of color of all background creating positive change despite the negative barriers and stereotypes in society is refreshing. Even having peers that are not people of color being supportive and aware of these issues provide a bit of hope to hopefully put an end to all forms of hatred and spread knowledge to others to make a difference.

Why Black Excellence Matters?

In a time where negative actions towards people of color, I always enjoy seeing stories of men and women (and those who don’t identity with gender folx’s) doing well in life. Hearing about powerful leaders of color giving back to their hometowns, finding the cure to disease, going into government, and getting into institutions of higher education is one of the biggest forms of Black Excellence that I enjoy seeing. The stereotypes that are given to African-American’s in society are some that still cause pain, frustration, and setbacks can be disheartening however, I try to use it as a motivational drive to keep doing well and overcoming issues that are given by racial prejudice and racism in the country.

An example of black excellence recently was the powerful success of actors and actresses of color in television and movies. Seeing people of color of all backgrounds achieve success for their shows and efforts in arts was positive as some of my favorites reached new levels of acknowledge.

My favorite rapper and actor Donald Glover took home two awards at the event and had an amazing show called Atlanta (which is amazing and you should watch season 1 asap) about black culture in Atlanta. As a fan of Glover, his success outside of acting with movies like Spider-man Homecoming, Star Wars, and more of his own projects is a great of black excellence from a young person of color. Watching his rise of success from Mystery Team to big picture movies made him one of the people that inspires me to keep moving forward in life. 

For myself, I am a person that came from a low-income area and learned from the public-school system that I am proud of and feel made me a better person. To reflect on humble beings to where I am now helped me learn how to work for everything I wanted in life and help other succeed which is why people like Donald Glover, Derek Jeter, Serena Williams, and other people of color inspire me to make a difference because of who they are as a person.

hey are not only proud to be black, they also believe in standing up for justice, helping others in their community, and encouraging people to live their dreams as young black people. All of them faced hardships in their lives from racial discrimination to shortcomings that made them the amazing people they are today.

Even as a passionate wrestling fan, this pass year, wrestlers like The New Day, Sasha Banks, Cedric Alexander, Rich Swann, and more overcome obstacles to inspire all fans including black ones to believe in their dreams. The #blackexcellence photo they took was inspiring to see five black champions in a company that was predominately white for many years and took ages for a black champion to succeed even during “progressive” times. 

Paying It Forward 

As I finish this piece, I want to share my goal of helping the future generation of leaders of color make a difference in the world. As a student affairs professional, I want to inspire everyone regardless of your race, gender orientation, status, or belief to beat the odds and keep being amazing. Being Black is something I love and is a part of who I am as a young person, scholar, and person of color in America. Despite the issues in our society, I aspire to keep my dream of helping others and hope to see more people of color dream, succeed, and overcome any personal setbacks in life.


About the art:

Jack is one of the best dudes I've never met. He's always supportive of people in our student affairs community, our wrestling community, and seemingly toward everyone in his life. And I love that. It's a trait that I admire very much in him.

I was glad that he was willing to share his story with us for this project because he always shares a wonderful perspective as a Black man in those communities.

Jack knew exactly what he wanted me to paint as well, which made this pretty cut and dry. He wanted a black and grey rendering of the Captain America shield. So I gave it my perspective and had fun mapping out the circles. For the largest circle I used a 10" vinyl record, the middle circle was an old jukebox 45 record, and the smallest circle is from the lid of a peanut butter container. Got real creative with those circles!

I suck at making stars look decent, so I hoped the rendering of this as a little more worn and dirty would give me a little bit of a break in terms of the form of the shape.

Alas, I think this piece looks cool and I'm stoked that it will go to Jack soon, as he begins his new job - fresh off the job search, just as I was exactly one year ago this week! Best of luck and thanks again, Jack!

- Craig.


0112: Feel Peace

Content warning: The following story contains references to a survivor's experiences with anorexia nervosa, suicidal ideation, and self-harm, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Feel Peace," Becca Meyers

During my first year of college I developed an eating disorder. I had no idea that's what it was for the first few months, until I was finally diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at the end of the school year. I was destroying myself in order to attempt to have control and fit into a mold that I felt was forced upon me. But attempting to have control over my body and food only made me lose myself. I was put into a partial hospitalization treatment program at the end of the summer, and that was where I took the first baby steps in my journey to healing.

I took a year off from school, once I admitted I needed the time to focus on myself and my recovery. That year had its ups and downs, and my personal relationships were tested as well because of the changes I was trying to make and the struggles I encountered. Luckily I had a nutritionist and a therapist helping me along the way, and I learned so much about myself and the nature of my eating disorder.

The following year I transferred to Lesley University in Cambridge, MA to study art therapy, which I had first discovered through eating disorder treatment the previous year. I struggled with body image and self-esteem on and off throughout that year. At the beginning things were rocky; I was treated poorly by my first roommate and felt personally attacked and unable to maintain my recovery, which led to an overnight hospitalization due to suicidal ideation. I was able to get back on my feet thanks to my family and the friends I had made, and got a roommate switch which was a much safer and more fun environment.

However, I still had many demons inside that continued to haunt me and make me feel worthless. That winter, I made myself throw up for the first time, and started self-harming as well. Once again I felt like I had no control over anything, and the only way to cope was by controlling what went in and out of my body. I developed bulimia, and I lied about it and hid it from everyone. I was lying to my therapist, and to the school's health services nurses about all the eating disorder behaviors I was using. I was ashamed, but I couldn't stop. What I remember most is the feeling of hating my body so much, all the time, no matter what I did to try and control it. When I finally confessed to a few close friends a couple months later they helped me get rid of my self-harm materials, and continued to support me in trying to seek help. But right before the end of the school year I reached my breaking point. The eating disorder was out of control, and contributed to my depression and worsening suicidal ideation.

I felt hopeless and full of only self-hatred. I was brought to a psychiatric unit briefly, before being transferred to an inpatient treatment center. I was there for a week, and one of only 3 people on the unit with an eating disorder. My mental health was focused on and treated, but the eating disorder side of things was barely addressed. I could have gotten away with a lot of behaviors while I was there, but I resisted. Some part of me was determined to fight the eating disorder.

After being at the inpatient unit for a week I stepped down to the partial hospitalization program back where I had been in treatment the very first time. However, this time felt different than before - I think I was more determined to recover, and I was stronger mentally.

This time I was ready to really fight back. I still had a difficult time at first, and struggled to stop using behaviors for a couple weeks, and gave into the urge sometimes - until I used a behavior for the last time shortly after I had gotten out of treatment. I was so mad at myself that day for making myself throw up, after all my hard work. But I didn't let it take me spiraling downwards that time. After that last bout of treatment and that last behavior, I worked each day to just make it through just one day at a time without using an eating disorder behavior. I treated each day as a new opportunity, I reached out for help, I surrounded myself with the help and positivity I needed to combat the negative body image and eating disorder. I got farther and farther from that dark and miserable place, and the further I got, the more I realized that speaking about my experiences and being an advocate was another way to fight the eating disorder and make me stronger in recovery. 

It has now been more than 2 1/2 years since I have engaged in an eating disorder behavior, and I have gained many more skills in my tool belt for a healthy and happy life. For some time now, the eating disorder part of my life has felt less relevant, and far less inhibiting. Food really isn't an issue for me anymore, and my triggers around food and body image have decreased significantly. I started a graduate program this fall for art therapy and counseling, and in one class I chose to do a project surrounding how I treat myself and my body, and worked on ways to be more loving and gentle with myself. I actually have noticed more positive outcomes than I thought possible. Even though I have been in recovery for a few years, I am still growing and learning how to be kind to myself and love myself as I am. I have worked hard to get to where I am now, and that hard work and determination has helped me stay in recovery. I have had some wonderful professionals work with me, and incredible friends and family who share my values and keep me motivated and supported. 

I am really proud and happy to be where I am now, and to finally have a more loving relationship with my body and with myself. The hard work and the struggles have been worth it, because my life is so much richer and I am stronger because of those struggles; and having known those difficulties, I believe I can better help others struggling with similar issues.

Now I can say to myself with confidence that I am enough, I am worthy, and I am more than my looks or my eating disorder. I am beautiful and healthy and strong, and worthy of my own love and the love of others.

If you are struggling, I encourage you to seek help, because you deserve it; if you are in the helping profession, you play an important role in many peoples' lives and I hope you continue to make a difference; for everyone out there, you matter and you are beautiful and valuable exactly as you are.

May we all be happy,
May we all be safe, 
May we all feel peace.


About the art:

I was really excited that one of our artists, Becca, was willing to open up about her experiences with an eating disorder this month. I wanted to create a peace that had lots of warm colors, to mirror my experiences with Becca while she was at Lesley. She's such a warm, loving human, so I wanted to capture that in the colors. Juxtaposing this, I wanted lots of white to mirror the chaos of living with the anxiety of an eating disorder. Having one, myself, I sort of understand to a degree how Becca may have felt, or does feel about living with theirs.

I chose the quote, "May we all feel peace," because it seemed to fit most as a piece of standalone art AND because it captures the essence of what Becca was portraying throughout this story. The black creeping from the right side is to symbolize the ever-present existence of our insecurities that may still pop in and out of our lives while we seek this peace, while we seek some form of comfort. It's a tough balance, but I applaud Becca for working hard to accomplish it.

- Craig.

098: Break the Silence

Content warning: The following post contains references to sexual assault, abuse, self-harm, and depression, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Break the Silence," Javier Negrete

Hello. I want to share something very personal in hopes that if you or someone you know has struggled as I have, may you find hope as I did. This is my story. 

I am 22 years old. And I am a survivor of sexual abuse.

When I was seven years old, I was sexually abused by another male. The abuser was around his mid-teens at the time and was a friend of the family. A complete stranger to me, but to the rest who knew him; he was a son, a brother, a friend, probably trustworthy, and just a kid. It all began at what should have been a fun day at the pool, but I left confused and afraid.

He said, "This has to be our secret if you tell anyone, I will hurt your family.” I was really afraid, what would happen to me if I lost my family. I was afraid of being sent away. He also said, "If you don't do what I say, I will do it to to your little brother."

I thought I was safe when we finally left his house. Until him and his family showed up at every gathering my grandparents (dad's side) threw at their house. It continued for that whole terrifying summer of 2001. Something I would have to live with the rest of my life. I told no one. Summer was over and the new school year began and I never saw him again.

I started 2nd grade at my new school where I began with what appeared to be school phobia. I began to worry every Sunday night worried having to go to school or, at least, that is what I said at the time; I just remember being afraid. After a few months of this, I was taken to therapy and I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and were apparently it was not caught that I had been abused though I did learn breathing exercises to help control the "anxiety". I still shared nothing of the abuse and continued my third, fourth and fifth grade without further incidence.

I culminated from elementary and started middle school where I was in the Magnet program; I joined drama and other school activities. I completed 8th grade and started high school in Fall of 2008.

In high school magnet program, I busied myself with Link Crew and Student Government, organized the Blood Drive, Homecoming, and joined in the AIDS Walk in my Junior year to name a few activities. In my Senior year, I was voted School Secretary where I was part of daily school announcements crew, helped with fundraisers, helped with planning Homecoming to name a few school activities. I was a regular happy, outgoing, fun-loving teen with thoughts of graduation and enrolling in a local college with the regular thoughts and fears of what will happen after I leave high school and join the "real" world. 

I enrolled in college and started the semester with some minor anxiety. All my classes were on campus. As the semesters passed, a few memories of my abuse would pop up here and there but I'd brush it off. I think that at some point, I made myself believe that it did not happen; because men do not get raped. I do not remember any boys or men for that matter around me ever sharing anything like this.

Around the age of 20, a slideshow of images began emerging in my mind. I began to feel nervous, worried, concerned and constantly looking over my shoulder. The anxiety crept up again and the feeling that I was not safe lingered. In the back of my mind, I knew this person was still out there, and still, I told no one. I began to distant myself away from everyone. I only remembered the face of his younger self, I did not know what he would like all grown up. Could he be the man serving my food, could he be the older student sitting next to me, the mail carrier, or the Uber driver.

After years of silence. I've begun to fall apart little by little. Everyone around me knew something was wrong before I even knew myself. But I managed to put up a smile and say I was "fine.”

How can I share what I've hidden for 15 years? Would anyone believe me after such a long time of silence? The moment I finally shared with my mom was a huge blessing. No judgment. No blame. Just love. She persuaded me that therapy was the best option. I felt I did not need it, but I went anyway. The first session helped me understand I was not at fault. The only person to blame was my abuser. He took advantage of everyone.

With help from therapy, I was given the advice to share with the family. So I could know who the monster was and continue with a police report. I had the courage to tell my family but still had a fear of how each would react. Everyone was very supportive and made it clear to me that they will have my back no matter what. I shared with the family what I remembered. And we discovered who it was. With the support from my family, I was ready to make a police report ―
which I did. I felt better knowing the police knew and was ready to get my justice.

Now, for the hard part ― waiting.
It was a struggle.

I finally received a call Thursday afternoon in February. My heart racing and fingers crossed for great news. Sadly, the detective said they could not pursue with any charges. Why? The monster denied my truth. My stomach fell to the ground. Feeling defeated. Did he win? Not yet. I will continue to fight. I broke his sick minded agreement when he told me not to share our "secret". Well, the cats out of the bag. I no longer will be silent. This is just the beginning of my story. I am a survivor.

If you have been abused, please don't be afraid to speak out. Regardless of your gender. It can happen to anyone.

As you read my story, think of how you would protect yourself and your loved ones. Think about how you supervise your kids, nieces, nephews or grandkids. 
Break the silence. Let's end it.


About the art:

Javier submitted this story to us MONTHS AGO! And after some miscommunications with who was making the art for it, I stepped up and made sure that his powerful story was shared with our project.

Javier told me he wasn't particular about colors for the piece, so I went with something brighter in hopes that it would bring some vibrance to his situation.

I chose the lines, "I am a survivor - Break the silence," because they not only appear in the story, but they align perfectly with our mission as a nonprofit and I'm so glad we're able to have this piece representative of our project.

Thank you for your bravery in sharing this story, Javier, and for being able to process such a challenging portion of your life.

- Craig

096: Black Sheep

Content warning: The following post contains references to bullying, self-harm, depression, and anxiety, which may be triggering for some readers.

“Black Sheep,” Zack Scheibner

Ever since I was old enough to speak, I have been tormented, publicly ridiculed, and laughed at. For some awful reason, I developed a speech impediment at a very young age, and 24 years into my life later, it hasn't gotten even remotely better. 

Ever since then, I have experienced emotionally the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. The first time in my life that I remember it being a problem was the 4th grade. My nickname was "Professor Quirrell", the professor in Harry Potter that infamously stuttered. Little did I know that this would affect me for the rest of my life to this point.

I am just like most every other decent citizen of the world; I try to be the kindest I can be to everyone, and I accept everyone for who they are. While growing up, it felt like nobody understood me (speech impediments like mine weren't exactly common), and I felt like an outcast from the rest of society. The lowest point that I reached was in the 9th grade, I would get thrown into a garbage can at my high school literally every single day. I just learned to try to accept it.

After the 9th grade, I moved to Redmond, OR which people were a LOT more accepting of me, despite my faults. It was a breath of fresh of air. From an outside look, I had no more excuses to be as self-conscious as I was about my speech. 

I kept thinking, "Wow..everyone is so nice here. Why does my speech keep slipping up?" While the overall experience was positive, it felt like I was constantly afraid of getting bullied or teased again. My speech continued to affect my way of thinking. It was taking over my mind.

I have had many highs in my life--I graduated high school and college, I have fallen in and out of love, and I've gotten to see and experience many cool things, but only one thing in my life stayed constant, and that was music. Ever since high school, music has spoken to me in ways that nothing else could. 

For 20 years, I have been at war with my brain. To the day that I type this, every single day is an individual battle, and I'm afraid that at some point, my brain is going to win. 

In the 9th grade (in the midst of all of the bullying and being trash-canned), I started to cut myself. It was nothing serious--suicide never crossed my mind. I just felt that experiencing physical pain would make me much better off than the mental pain that I have been experiencing every day of my life. I continued to do this until I discovered August Burns Red.

I am a huge fan of modern metal music, and August Burns Red is the only group that I have been able to relate to, and they have helped me through the entire process.

In August Burns Red's "Black Sheep", the lyrics state: "Pain must exist in order for healing to survive, neither one will serve their purpose alone". This message has stuck with me for a very long time. 

There hasn't been a day in 20 years where I haven't been completely humiliated by my speech. It is mentally taxing and has taken its tole on my anxiety.  My speech gets worse because of my anxiety..my anxiety is worse because I'm afraid my speech is going to slip up. 

It is an endless cycle every single day, but those lyrics from August Burns Red have helped me get through a lot of the struggle. If you are experiencing something along any of these lines, I can honestly say that you need to do literally what EVER makes you happy. I have come to terms that my speech impediment may never go away, but as long as I continue to enjoy life in every way I can and enjoy the company around me who accepts me for who I am, it will just make it more and more tolerable.

As August Burns Red also said in "Composure", "Life can be overwhelming, but don't turn your back on the strongest crutch you've ever had". 

For me, this crutch is happiness through friendship, music, and overall positive life experiences.

Every single day, I think about where I would possibly be in life if I would be able to speak normally. I have gotten very bad social anxiety because of all of this, and I am doing my absolute best every single day to combat this. I am terrified to speak publicly to people (including my friends), but in the end, I know that it's all going to be okay. 

I know that it's all going to be okay because without pain, there is no healing. I have learned that you can't ever reach an all time high if you haven't reached an all time low, first. 

Every single day, I think to myself, "Why do I do this? I know exactly what I want to say, but why can't I say it? And why do people tease me for it?"

Through pain, there is always recovery. August Burns Red taught me this, and this band is one of the main reasons that I'm able to stay afloat the way that I do. 

I could have chosen to give up at any point, but I have always chosen to keep fighting,

I am at war every single day with my mind, but I have found things in life that have made me happy, and I combat my social anxiety with personal happiness which has improved my life so much. Whenever I have doubts, I always think about those lyrics and what truly makes me happy, and that alone motivates me to just keep fighting.


About the art:

I actually met Zack during his first week as a first-year at Oregon State University. He was wearing an August Burns Red shirt, and since I was in a metal band, I made sure to introduce myself to him. We chatted a bit about music, and then connected on Facebook.

We would cross paths every now and again on the OSU campus and some shows, but never too much else. So when he reached out to share this story, I was pretty excited to see that he had something to share. But in reading his story, I hated to learn that he has struggled with some pretty painful experiences.

I wanted to do something outside of the norm for me for this project. So I went to doodle something for Zack. I went off of the album art for August Burns Red's album, Messengers, which contains both songs referenced above. The cover is pretty iconic in the metal scene these days, so it was cool to put my own spin on it.

I used a couple black pens to complete this piece and some watercolor reds to give it a splash of color. It was a lot of fun to explore with this drawing.

And interestingly enough, Zack initially reached out to share his story back in July. And i made this piece almost immediately since my drawings often take me FAR longer than my paintings do. But this one flowed so quickly and I got it done pretty fast. So he has had this piece of art for a couple of months already.

Incredibly thankful for having Zack's as our first story for the month of October. I hope it helps someone heal in some way. Thank you, Zack.

- Craig Bidiman.

092: The Rebellion of Loving Yourself

Content warning: The following piece contains references to self-harm and suicidality, which might be triggering to some readers.

“The Rebellion of Loving Yourself,” Craig Bidiman

This is my first personal entry for my own nonprofit movement.

Last month I tried to write about my struggles with living with an addictive personality, but the piece got away from me after about 2,000 words. So I gave up. I might revisit that in the future—but for now, here we are.

I wanted my first piece to be something pretty personal.

So I wanted to share about the concept of self-love as someone who lives with depression and suicidality.

This month, we have shared so many powerful new stories, and some from previous months, that all focus on the struggles and triumphs of living with self-harming tendencies and suicidality.

One trope is common—living with these issues is very hard. It’s hard because our brains are at constant war with our body. In spite of that, I am here to shed light on something that which took me YEARS to become comfortable.

Historically, the conversation on self-harm has been centered on the idea that those who harm are selfish, simply looking for attention, or acting out. And that’s ridiculous.

Many individuals use self-harm as a way to get the release they need from their own anxieties, and I would never think to accuse a self-harming person of being selfish. Because living with an inclination to self-harm is not a joyous circumstance. People don’t wake up with the desire to just hurt themselves. It is brought on by any number of environmental, physical, mental, and psychological aspects.

None of which, in my opinion, are selfish.

I live with suicidality. [Note: I've written about this before, here.]

I have a history of cutting, drowning, bulimia, and starvation in order to harm myself. My self-harm stems from a number of things—depression, anxiety, body image issues, being an alienating ADHD kid growing up/also as an adult, and from being queer.

It’s not an easy life whatsoever. But it is my life.

I often felt like an outcast among my friends growing up and even though they were nice to me, I never truly felt like I was accepted by any of them. My depression as a teen led me to attempting to take my own life, and I survived. Obviously.

I now have a tattoo covering the scars from the first attempt.

My second attempt came after a rough breakup during my third year of college.

My attempts did not make feel any better about my circumstances, if anything I felt worse. And if I was trying to get attention, it didn’t work because I still felt sad and alone.

However, I found myself able to push through the darkness to continue through my days and surely I would feel better and better. But even on my best days, the darkness creeps in and I break down. I have no idea how many plans I’ve had to cancel because my depression or anxiety was acting up.

Living with suicidality means confronting the darkness every day. I have to constantly repress the feelings of sadness and the inclination to hurt myself in various ways.

One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is through practicing self-love.

Now, there is no Self Love Awareness Day, but I would argue that every day SHOULD be Self-Love Awareness Day.

Finding ways to promote self-love in your daily life is an important goal in which to strive. LifeHack has a wonderful piece on 30 ways to practice self-love and be good to yourself, in which the author writes, “Practicing self-love can be challenging for many of us, especially in times when we face serious challenges. It’s not about being self-absorbed or narcissistic, it’s about getting in touch with ourselves, our well-being and our happiness.”

Again, this is not about selfishness, it’s about literally taking care of yourself. Taking care of your happiness and wellbeing. To me, that’s the most important aspect of alleviating feelings of self-harm. Self-love is as simple as leaving yourself positive messages in your lunch box, or removing yourself from toxic mindsets of comparison and/or competition with others.

Much self-harm resonates from places of comparison and it is imperative for your health to focus on being the best you instead of trying to compare to anyone around you.

Our society often fuels these comparisons—you aren’t sexy enough (so buy this makeup, or get this surgery, or lose that weight), smart or motivated enough (so put yourself in debt with college, or buy a house), or cool enough (so buy these Beats headphones, or this BMW), or man enough (so get jacked, or takes these supplements)!

Photo:  Katy Weaver Photography.  From when I had far less tattoos.

Photo: Katy Weaver Photography.
From when I had far less tattoos.

In a world constantly telling us that we aren’t enough, being proud of ourselves is revolutionary. Truly, self-love is an act of rebellion. To embrace our imperfections and inconsistencies as beauty is courageous and vulnerable. And vulnerability is a strength, never let anyone tell you otherwise.

I have had the hardest time with comparison and jealousy throughout my life—constantly comparing my life to the lives of my friends, never feeling like I truly fit in or fit anywhere. I was constantly lost, searching for some sort of answer to why I hurt so much inside, even as I would mask this hurt with seemingly unceasing happiness and exuberance.

But that’s exactly what it was—a mask.
The mask is now off and I rebel against my feelings of self-harm by loving myself.

In removing this mask, I have learned many things that are central to how I take care of myself and promote self-love in my every day life—

As much as I say “yes!” to life in many regards, I have learned to say, “no” more often. I have learned that taking time for myself is important. Saying, “no” is so empowering—try it!

I have prioritized eating tasty and healthy foods that don’t bog my down every day. I stay away from sugar and caffeine, and focus more on fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

That doesn’t mean I’m perfect by any means, because my issues with food are long-standing and even a current struggle today. But I try to maintain an optimistic outlook on my diet, even when I’m not completely happy with how I look and feel everyday. I’m forever a work in progress.

I paint and make music, which are two ways that I am able to exercise my brain instead of constantly thinking of self-harm. Art has been so impactful for my mental health that I don’t believe I’d still be alive if it weren’t for my art. I get out a lot of my frustration and anger in my music, and it’s very therapeutic.

I make time to appreciate myself. Looking in the mirror is hard for me. But sometimes I do it just to give myself a pep talk. Like, “hey Craig—I know you’re not particularly happy with your appearance today, but you’re here. You’re alive. And you’re a fucking badass.”

And then, I can take a step back and think, “You’re right, I am a fucking badass.”

Only you can take care of you, but sometimes it is important to reach out for support. Which is why I also suggest making time to be present and vulnerable with your friends and loved ones. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it—chances are that you’ll find more love than rejection if you are honest about your situation.

You are enough. I am enough. We’re all in this together.


About the art:

Craig had me read his story, and work on this piece while he was gone at a concert. I wasn't really able to brainstorm with him, which gave me some silly creative freedom. Since we live together, I get to see the struggles Craig deals with on a daily basis.

I know he really struggles with his body image, and it was great to hear him talk a bit about what he does to stay positive when it comes to looking at himself in the mirror. I wanted to do something happy, cute and simple. I researched some self-love art pieces, and found something similar to this that inspired me to create a version of Craig giving himself positive affirmations.

His tattoos were a little too complicated to fit the aesthetic, so I just lightly drew some of them. I sent it to him, and his immediate response was laughter. I'm glad it was something that could make him smile and put something else positive in the force against his struggles.

- Katy

055: The Liberation of Queerness

Content warning: The following story tells of a survivor's experience of what it was like to come out as queer, there is sexual content, suicidal ideation, and the word, "dorm," which might be triggering for some readers.

"The Liberation of Queerness," Kaitlin Winters

I was 17. I lived 17 years of my life internalizing a feeling of “I’m not normal” and asking myself the questions, “why do I have crushes on girls?” and “what does gay even mean?” It wasn’t until 17 that I decided to gradually come out and explore my sexuality.

Before we get started, a brief history of my life.

I had crushes on girls since I could remember, even in kindergarten. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school I just suppressed the feelings I had towards girls. I didn’t say anything to anyone and I covered it up by “going out” (I use this term lightly because it wasn’t something I was a fan of) with boys. I suffered from severe depression in high school following the flooding of my family’s house in Hurricane Ivan and my mom being hospitalized for a few years. My depression followed me as I transitioned to college. I was 17 when I entered my first semester (at a school in the middle of Mississippi) and was a student athlete and lived in an all-female dorm (bring on all the stereotypes).

When I got to college there was a girl on the soccer team I was super into and I disclosed that to one of her teammates. Before I knew it, I was intertwined into a circle of gossip. People kept coming up to me and asking, “are you gay?” I had built up the courage to tell someone and I ended up being lead on, manipulated, and used by many individuals I called my “friends.” On top of that, some family problems were occurring at the same time and my depression skyrocketed. I stopped caring about school, I quit the golf team, and I was unmotivated about everything.

The week of finals, I contemplated suicide and ended up harming myself for the first time. I was sent home and had to reschedule the rest of my exams. Home wasn’t much better. My mom was in the hospital and I was miserable. I couldn’t stop thinking about telling my parents about the semester, particularly coming out. However, I hated being home so I decided to leave a day early to go back to school. I didn’t want to go back, but I didn’t want to stay there either. The night I left I wrote a note to my parents saying I was gay and then ran out of the house in tears. My parents had no idea what was going on and I just told them to read the letter that was in my room. I got in my car and drove. After reading the note, they called and told me they loved me and that they didn’t care if I was gay, they just wanted me to be safe.

I went back to school, but was still unmotivated to do anything. After a couple of weeks, I stopped going to class. I would get ready in the morning, wait outside the classroom, but then I just wouldn’t go. I took naps a lot and my eating habits changed drastically. I told myself I needed to start going to class or go home. I knew things weren’t going to get any better if I stayed so I decided to go home. I did a medical withdrawal and took the semester off. It sucked, but it had to be done.

Before I left to go home I decided to come out to my friends via a Facebook note (such a millennial, I know). I had some supportive friends, and some, not so much. I had friends tell me they couldn’t be my friend anymore or that it’s a sin to be gay. I was being judged for something I couldn’t control. 

After I got home I started reapplying to schools. It was a horrible time. I was doing nothing and I was still depressed. All of my true friends from high school were off at college, except for me. I was also still navigating feelings about my identity and was unsure about everything. 

When I transferred to the University of West Florida, I decided I wasn’t going to come out to anyone. I didn’t want to face the judgement all over again. The first year I struggled with the idea of being accepted in my church as a gay individual. Before I came out, my faith was extremely important to me so I was in a stage of self-exploration. As I entered my sophomore year, I found a great group of humans who I still call my family. I knew they accepted me for me. The second semester of my sophomore year I ended up coming out to them and nothing changed. It wasn’t a big deal. They still loved and supported me just as much as they did before I came out. 

The rest of my undergraduate experience was extremely amazing. I became a support person for so many of my peers who were LGBT and were still in the closet or in the process of coming out. I also continued to explore my gender identity and expression throughout the years. My senior year of college is when I started wearing suits and ties to events instead of dresses. It was the most liberating feeling because I finally felt like myself.

Today, I am proud to be a queer, masculine of center, tattooed person. My parents are super loving and supportive and over the years they have met most of my girlfriends. Coming out isn’t easy and timing does matter. But I am forever grateful for the people who stood by my side through my darkest days. I look back at the experiences I have had and realize they truly made me who I am today. 

About the art:

My fellow tattooed Student Affairs colleague, Kaitlin Winters, and I at the NASPA National Conference in New Orleans in March 2015. So glad Kaitlin shared their story.

My fellow tattooed Student Affairs colleague, Kaitlin Winters, and I at the NASPA National Conference in New Orleans in March 2015. So glad Kaitlin shared their story.

So, I absolutely ADORE the hell out of Kaitlin Winters. I actually reached out to Kaitlin to share their story because I knew she would have a powerful and thoughtful story. And I wasn't wrong!

I loved reading through Kaitlin's story, and it inspired me to go a different route with her painting. I wanted to be a little more intentional with how I laid out the colors, and the words. And to be perfectly honest, I have been getting bored with my art, even though a lot of people have come to expect a specific style from me.

SO I TRIED SOMETHING NEW for one of my favorite people int he universe. And went with some watercolors to create a wispy rainbow effect across this canvas. I wanted the lines to mirror a combination of flames and waves. I really like that juxtaposition. I think it shows up here pretty well. I had a lot of fun doing this style.

I chose the quote after trying to seek out something that I felt truly encapsulated Kaitlin's story. This quote, "Far from who I once was, but not yet who I'm going to be" felt perfect because it mirrors Kaitlin's existence as a queer human. She has gone through many evolutions to finally find a version of herself that feels right, that feels comfortable. And I admire the hell out of that. Because that sort of self-discovery is hard to accomplish.

And I feel the second half of the quote really hits hard, too. Because there is always time for more growth, more evolving as a person. And Kaitlin is exactly the person to never stay content with one form of existence. I expect there is much more in store for her.

Thanks again, Kaitlin! I can't wait to cross paths again soon.

- Craig.

051: How Ab[out] Now?

Content Warning: This post contains information about a survivor's experience as a black queer woman, so those with similar experiences may find some of this content triggering.

"How Ab[out] Now?" Anonymous

Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.

I seem to find myself spiraling when that question comes to mind… how about now? Is today going to be the day that I shout from the rooftops what everyone has been waiting to hear? 

How about NO?

There is something about the use of “out and proud” that makes me cringe. Is being OUT really worth the risk? Am I not PROUD of myself because I don’t yet know how to explain to the people in my life that I’m queer or what that means to me?

From the sidelines, it felt great to be that supportive voice for my friends and family, and let them know that I would always be there, standing by them in the crowd of voices who want to tell them they’re not good enough.

When I think about the crowd of voices that surround me, I find myself unable to overpower them.

I’ve survived the worst already, I try to tell myself. There’s no way you won’t be loved for who you are.

I never imagined it would be so difficult to reconcile all of my identities. I get anxious thinking about every time I’ve had to omit information in a conversation, to avoid feeling pressured to admit that maybe I’m starting to believe what the voices have told me.

There’s no worse feeling than being used as a weapon. In a given moment, I am too headstrong but also too weak to defend myself, I am too unable to focus but still too fixated, I am too soft but all the while too sharp…

I remember the first time I was told that the world is threatened by queer black women. The world seeks to weaponize them, to demonize them, to set them aside from the norm… to tell them they are not soft enough, not beautiful enough, not focused enough, not feminine enough… 

The world wants queer black women to feel like they do not deserve their lives, that their bodies are a privilege and not their right…

If I could learn to love my body as my own, love my curves, love my skin, I would be proud.

If I could close my eyes and imagine myself doing everything I’ve ever dreamed of without being told I didn’t work for it, I would be proud.

If I could love any person I choose without fear of being told my love and my existence is a sin in the eyes of God, I would be proud.

Someone told me that to truly heal, you must abandon the idea that you are able to control everything. I’ve not yet learned how to shake the feeling that I am responsible for where I stand today. I carry the guilt like an over-sized suitcase.

As a young girl, I told my parents I wanted God to love me the way he does all of my friends. They reassured me that he would always love me, the way they do. Unconditionally.

As an adult, I struggle to understand that love because I have never been able to fit society’s criteria of lovability.

Too feminine.
Not feminine enough.
Too black.
Not black enough.
Too depressed.
Too anxious.

How could anyone love me? More importantly, why should I love me?

I carry that guilt, knowing that I’m not the first to feel this way. 


No one ever tells you about the struggle. The first time you get choked up because someone who says they would always support you unknowingly tears you down, in front of your face. The first time you muster the courage to tell someone you care about, with your mind fearfully running with the thought of them disclosing to others. The first time you’re told that you don’t have the love or support of someone you care about.

I want to wake up one morning and be proud of all of myself.

I don’t want to be “out and proud”. I simply want to be proud of myself, a queer black woman. I want to hold my queerness, my blackness, and my womanhood close to my heart with no doubts in my mind.

I want to love myself unconditionally.

I want to have faith in that love.

I don’t need a flag or a parade. I don’t need to shout it from the rooftops. I don’t need to provide the world with an explanation.

I don’t need out.

I need liberation.

I need space to breathe, to live, and to love alongside my community.


About the art:

I was super excited when this survivor gave me a pretty open idea of self-love as a curvy queer black woman. I absolutely love pin-ups, as you can see with some of my photography - so I took reference from a couple of photos, and created this piece. 

I used rainbow paint in the dress to symbolize her queer identity, and left out the outline to symbolize the freedom that comes with loving yourself as you are and sharing yourself. I had a lot of fun creating this piece, and I'm so happy I was able to create something for her that can symbolize self-love.

- Katy