My Journey

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Author’s Note: While I have been inspired by the powerful and courageous stories from the #MeToo movement to share my own experience with trauma, I am not a survivor of sexual assualt, and do not pretend to be. I have chosen not to share the details of a traumatic event in my life because I want to stay focused on raising awareness about trauma and mental health issues and not so much on the traumatic incident itself. If you or a loved one are going through a traumatic life experience or battling mental illness, I encourage you to seek out professional help and take a peek at some resources I have found helpful in my own journey below. Peace, Sarah

—————————————————————————————————————————————–I’ve been trying to rewrite my story so many different times now, but tonight I am finally sitting down and doing it.

For the past 5 years I have battled with anxiety and post-traumatic stress due to a traumatic event in my life. For so long I didn’t realize the health issues I was facing were linked to trauma. I couldn’t even acknowledge the fact that what I had experienced was indeed traumatic, much less speak about my experience.

Generally speaking, I think most people think of PTSD survivors as veterans, which is true but doesn’t get the whole picture. This article on the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) explains it well.

According to the Sidran Institute, about 8 percent of all adults, or 1 in 13 people in this country, will develop PTSD during their lifetime. Women are twice as more likely to develop it than men.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have had great support around me to heal. My family and friends mean the world to me and even when they haven’t fully understood what I’m facing, they truly have stood by me and listened. EMDR, a therapy treatment using eye movement and creative reprocessing, has helped me immensely. It was recognized in 2016 by the VA as a successful form of treatment for post-traumatic stress which I was thrilled to learn. I wouldn’t be myself again without the incredible therapists who have walked with me every step of the way.

I wanted others to know and understand a bit more of what it’s like when you are living with mental illness. So, I submitted a short entry to an organization called “Make it OK” that is doing great work to reduce the stigmatization surrounding mental health. Click here on My Story.

People who have experienced psychological trauma do not always develop a mental illness, but they do have a greater likelihood of developing one. There are direct links to communities that have higher levels of povery and violence and those that experience PTSD. Historical and psychological trauma are real. As Clincial psychologist Inger E. Burnett, an assistant professor at Northwestern University, writes:

“Trauma is more than a buzzword – the symptoms are real and have a profound impact on human lives. Until we recognize the fully realize the cyclical effects of neighborhood disorder, violence and its after effects, the open wounds in our communities cannot fully heal.”

For my fellow survivors:

We are the aftermath, the broken pieces, the wounded left behind to fight on our own. We have lived through car accidents, sexual assualt, abuse. We are people who have seen their families torn apart from mental illness, incarceration, divorce. The list goes on.

Trauma lives in the bones of our nation.

I think of the trauma mothers, spouses and 3 year old daughters in pulled over cars have to endure in seeing their loves, their role models, or fathers have life taken away for no other reason than “driving while being black”; I think of all the women coming forward saying “enough”, speaking their stories in spite of reliving the pain of their diginity being violated; I think of all of the migrants here in this country newly-arrived and those who have called this country home long before settlers arrived fighting to make a better life for themselves and their families while trying to fend off the nightmares of the past and the fear of our police state taking all of that away from them.

Some people wonder who those are who battle with mental illness. Some call us “psychos” or “crazies”. Most people just don’t have any idea what it’s like to be battling mental illness.

Everyone and anyone who faces mental illness day in and day out and continues to live the best they can, to put one foot in front of the other and keep going, is truly incredible. I think we all would be a lot better off if we tried to learn from those who are facing mental illness and walk beside them instead of making jokes about their everyday battles.

They are heroes and sheroes. They are warriors. And, I hope we can start seeing them as the incredible people they are.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–Resources:  *Will be added soon!

 

The power of hope

First signs of spring 2016

There is a lot of solace to be found in the simple act of writing. This Holy week I have been reflecting on the power of Hope. Each of us, whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jew or atheist, can understand the incredible capacity of people who despite all adversities maintain a spirit of hope, confident that a better way is possible. Even amidst the constant threats of violence, injustice and death, Hope remains alive.

I see it everyday.

I see it in the determined faces of the adult refugees I work with; I see it in the enduring friendships I’ve had that have carried me through tough times; I see it the trees and flowers wanting to make everything come back to life. Hope is palpable.

So, I ask you, my readers, where do you see hope in your everyday life?

As a daughter, I find hope in my mother’s relentless kindness, courage and sense of fun she exudes amidst the challenges she faces.

As a friend and partner, I find hope in the late night ice cream runs, road trips and the defiant phone calls )instead of texts) detemined to prove hearing your friend’s voice, both the laughter and pain filled moments, are always better than emojis.

As a woman, I find hope in friendships with older women, the mentors, in my life who never cease to amaze me with their well-lived but not weary, “let’s get down to work” spirit.

As a Christian, I find hope in the resurrection Christ brings.

Hope is in all of this.

Wherever you are on your life journey or spiritual path:  May this season of hope bring you a greater awareness of the new life that is found in the here and now.

Be Your Authentic Self

Check out my podcast on Sound Cloud! I will be bringing you personal reflections, stories and poems to inspire, encourage and empower. Stay tuned for my first Podcast Series about The Power of Voice.

Yearning to Breathe Free: A Poem

This is a poem I wrote back in 2013 that was originally published on this website. However, I felt it is just as timely now as ever.

Yearning to Breathe Free

Not like the formidable frontera that seems to travel in an endless expanse

Marked only by its trails of decay, misery and death

There stands a new, yet strangely familiar figure

Her hands are weathered from holding the torch that beckoned so many to her safe harbors

Yet her feet are firm; she has stood the test of time

Deliverance has made its home at her gates, welcoming strangers with her warm gaze and arms stretched out as if in a warm embrace

Huddled masses relentlessly pounding upon her breast, seeking a place of comfort and rest

But, through the night of standing watch

She was disarmed

With alarming fright

By people supposed to protect her

Land-dwellers. People from the left and the right,

One did not need to look far to the shore to see the abundance of florescent light,

Blindly pressing onward with their backs to the past

Like the Israelites of old forgetting stories of deliverance from the hand of an oppressor

The flame upon her torch slowly became a flicker, and then an ember until it was no more

Her gift of guidance had been cast aside in pursuit of a greater treasure, those who once cried mercy only called out for the “American Dream,” letting their new life be built upon the sweat, blood, and strife of those seeking deliverance of their own

This stolen light was a beacon of hope in a stormy night to the huddled masses that arrived at her feet pleading for freedom, for safety, for rest at the feet of the Virgin, more than just a statue, but a Mother Divine

This Mother of Exiles pleaded for a match, anything, with which to light the charred embers that served to remind the huddled masses what had been before the night… and why she must not give up the fight

From the land cries filled the night sky,

“We do not have enough to share with all of you, so go back to where you came from!”

Perplexed and distraught but never dismayed,

The huddled masses gathered the hand-carved crosses, religious figurines and old story cloths they kept as faint reminders of where they once came as a humble offering to reignite the untamed fires of freedom

Some of those on the shore already jumped away, into the vast abyss between the Lady and the land to return, as if on a pilgrimage to where their forefathers and mothers began

A sacred moment; A holy communion, some might say of meek and powerful reclaiming the stories of old, of the sweat, blood and pain that it took them to reach

A holy communion marked by the strength and sacrifice of a Mother who wouldn’t turn away those who came with hopes and dreams in their scarred hands

The fire is ablaze. The flame has been rekindled.

This light cannot be contained.

Its light spreads to even the farthest corners where traveling familias pray to the Virgen as they cross the Rio Grande, where children sit waiting for a sign of blue sky as visions of life beyond the bars of the refugee camp flash before their eyes, where parents weep asking why they left it all behind to find they were still at the bottom of the heap, where undocumented youth are told they must “get to the back of the line” where no line remains when they committed no crime but must daily endure the shame of being called “illegal,” without a name

Erupting into the night sky, the Mother Divine cries once more like she did at her birth with silent lips, “These tired, weary masses have come to breathe free, leaving their life behind to be crucified with only a vision of what might be. Woe to you who have shown little mercy, little hospitality, and little hope to your own. Your hearts they grew bitter and fear did replace that child-like wonder when you first saw my face. Now you have lived here two, three or four generations long, but I beseech you, I plead you, I beg you, do not forget where you came from

Remember that those weary hands were once your grandfather’s who struggled to provide a humble home laying bricks that would become the foundation for towers so high no one could imagine they could reach up to the sky

Remember that those tired feet were once your mother’s as she stood all night and day enduring the terrifying shrieks of the monstrous machines in a room suppressing her own hopes and dreams, just so her children could finally learn how to breathe, becoming the CEOs of a company she once worked, locked in a tower on the 30th floor sweating away.

Remember that those enduring spirits were once your parents as they labored each day hoping neither for fortune nor fame, but for a chance to give you a vision they never could have seen for themselves. One track laid upon the other through their unrelenting spirit paved the way for a railroad that would be used across the nation, stretching as far as if it were the Golden Gate bridge leading you home

Remember these longing souls were once your fore fathers and mothers willing to lay down their own lives so they could see the day when you would be free, not to further oppress or divide but to join the huddled masses to cry out for something better, for a hopeful future to all who might make their home in a place of better tomorrows than today.

Remember, remember…”

Her last words ring out as a voice of a prophet calling her people back from the wilderness, to a place of unity instead of divide, to a place of courage instead of fear and to a place of hope instead of despair

Shining brighter than ever, her torch still guides those who seek comfort, safety and rest

Like a queen leading a magnificent parade

This procession becomes a triumphant song of divine welcome

For all who may be yearning to breathe free.

Open letter to President-elect Trump

Dear President-elect Donald Trump,

I am writing to you to express my warmest welcome as Commander-in-Chief of our country.

While I fully detest and oppose your tactics used throughout your campaign that have incited violence, bigotry and hate of the worst kind, I must thank you. Thank you, really? You might ask, why? Let me tell you:  you being elected has been a reality check, an awakening of sorts, a timely reality check I needed.

We live in a society dominated and controlled by white and male supremacy, of which xenophobia, Islamophobia and homophobia all stem from. I, being a white straight woman, can go on most days without thinking so much as twice of this reality.  This isn’t to say I haven’t been involved or dedicated my time to the fight against these injustices, but I just really had no reason to confront them day in and day out.

Since your election I have been hit smack in the face with a blinding reality, reminding me that my safety, my self-worth, and rights can easily be denied, mocked or taken away.  I finally feel a sliver of the fear my friends, former colleagues, and neighbors who are people of color, immigrants, LGBTQIA+ and Muslim, have been facing all along.

But you know what? This could just be what saves White america from itself.

Now, that you are president we will look back on the days of having a highly-qualified diplomatic, thoughtful and inclusive leader in sweet reminiscence. Thank you for ensuring that President Obama will be the most revered, beloved president of our generation.

Now, that you are president our youth will learn just how important they are and how much we adults need their voices. They will be our reminders of hope, that better days are yet to come.

Now that you are president we won’t be able to forget the past–that our nation was built by slaves, grown by immigrants and fed by women. All who fought back, so it could be run by a Black president, created by Tawainese, French, Latin American immigrant inventors,  and shaken up by a group of women riveters who still cry out today “we can do it!”.

We (White people) need our black and brown, our asian and native, refugee and undocumented neighbors as never before. And, you know what? They need us too…we just haven’t been showing up for them in the ways that we need to. Well, now is the time for that to end.

So, in some strange way, I am thankful for you, Donald, because this nation, and most certainly YOU, are due for a huge reality check.

Now,  President-elect, the choice is right in your face:  side with white, male supremacy OR side with the historically disenfranchised, the oppressed counterparts in our nation.

The choice is yours.

Sincerely your annoyingly loud and proud feminist constituent,

Sarah M. Northrup

_________________________________________________________________

I have talked to some friends who face much, much greater threats and daily risks for just being who they are than me, and now that fear and anxiety is only heightened.

To my dear friends, family, former colleagues, and past students whom are undocumented, living in the shadows or DACA recipients; those whom just recently were able to get married in all 50 states and celebrate the unity of marriage with whomever they love; those whom have been harassed, interrogated for “driving while black” or face the threat of police brutality on a daily basis; those whom are the subjects of contempt, bigotry and hatred for the hijab they wear or the way they choose to practice their faith:   You matter. You are loved. You are not alone.

I promise to be the best ally I can be. To stand with you and for you. To listen to you, to learn from you and to follow your lead.   I will make mistakes, and have shortcomings, but I promise to fight by your side.

This is my promise.

“If there is no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to one another”~Mother Teresa

The Beautiful Game: A Poem

Last days of school are always bittersweet. And, this past one definitely was as well.

The last day of summer school right now is fresh on my mind and in my heart. So many words can be used to describe that last day. Unfortunately, I can’t share pictures of that day on this website due to legal privacy issues with showing photos of students that I would like to respect. If you want to see a few, just ask and I’ll share them with you not on my website.

Instead, Here’s a few photos I found of refugee  women playingimage     image

I played “the beautiful game” aka soccer with my 7th and 8th grade young women for roughly an hour…and was completely shown up by their talent, skill and persistence 🙂 Here’s a few photos I found of refugee young women playing the game all across the world!

My female students and I actually didn’t even plan on playing soccer together. It was one of the moments that you look back on and wish you could let them stand still in time forever. We were all outside for “field day” and the gentlemen decided they just wanted to play a game of soccer. Instead of sitting on the sidelines or having to deal with the frustration of not getting passed the ball, these ladies took the reins to make it a game of their own.

Most of the students I worked with were Karen, a minority ethnic group originally from Myanmar (Burma) who have been heavily persecuted. Many of my Karen students grew up in a refugee camp or had spent significant time living in a refugee camp in Thailand. This poem is for them.

~The Beautiful Game~

Dribble, pass, shoot.

It was a beautiful day to play a beautiful game.

And, so they decided it was their day too.

To make the plays; to call the shots; to sweat; to not let the fast rhythm of their breath stop them make the next step; to be proud of what they had done.

Dribble, pass, shoot.

Thinking back to the days they used to watch and pray. Behind closed walls, where noises were like thunder, cries of longing told it all.

Dribble, steal, shoot.

Back to the times when they would sit with their mothers and their sisters and dream like babies without vision of the things that kept them trapped.

Block, trap, dribble, pass.

Trying to stop the memories from flooding in all at once of terror and of triumph over a thread of tranquility…that was real at one time.

Shouts, “Pass it, center field, I’m open.”

It is not the fear of hunger, of the killers, of the other, that keeps you alive. It is the constant rhythm of life; the beauty of a dance at night, the celebrations that won’t ever stop, it is the sound of your heart as you breathe in and out in the same beat, overcoming all the memories of how far you have traveled and what your eyes too young have seen.

Pass, cross it, head it, you made it.

It is that moment when your heart dances to the rhythm of  your feet that reminds you life, with all its suffocating spaces, is still beautiful.

Goal.

Dear Mr. Donald Trump

Trump Photo 1

Dear Mr. Donald Trump,

You inspire me in countless ways.  Some of which would be:

To avoid actually engaging in dialogue with people who have different opinions from myself.

To never EVER apologize or take any credit for derogatory statements towards millions of people I make.

To bring people together in the name of “Making America Great” again while doing everything possible to polarize the constituents you claim you will stand for.

To accept child-like remarks about my body and ensure me that any man, especially one who is a billionaire, can insult any powerful woman on national television with ease.

Lastly, you inspire me to forget.

To forget the sweat, blood and tears of people who have actually made this country great, who brought all that they had to this place they call home asking for only their dignity in return. To forget what the beads of sweat on Sojourner Truth’s brow looked like after she courageously asked “Ain’t I a woman?”; to forget the blood that was spilled as those brave men and women—both black and white, male and female, Christian and Jew—as they walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on that fateful Sunday; to forget the tears of joy and sadness as DREAMers, undocumented youth, embraced their mothers for the first time in 6 years whispering promises of unity through the slits in a wall built upon fear.

These memories, this history, these stories, these people ARE the United States of America.

This is what inspires me.  And, Mr. Donald Trump this is what you fail to lose.

The choice is yours.

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OUR United States of America is not one that will be built on hate, fear or lies but by the power of the blood, sweat, and tears of those brave enough and willing to stand up against injustices to make this country a country we are proud to continuously help shape. The hate stops here!

Reflect on these powerful images, videos and photos of the stories I described above. Click on the links:

“Ain’t I a Woman” by Sojourner Truth

DREAMers meeting their mothers at the U.S.-Mexico Border

President Obama and Civil Rights Leaders of the ’60’s walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge

“Glory” performed by Common & John Legend at the Oscar’s

Tribute to a home

Throwback time! Wanted to share a poem I wrote last year because it seemed fitting today with my move to Minneapolis, as well as all you other fellow movers out there. Enjoy 🙂

Home

There is a sign that you can see if you look past the forlorn vacancies:

“Home is any place that Life takes you”*

Well, Life has taken me on a ride, gasping for more air at the

climb and in awe of the beauty that’s been brought to me

Life has brought me more challenges than I thought I could face

And more love than I thought I could find

See Life is not a map or a game or some kind of gamble you can win with bribes—No, it is not something to be trivialized or denied no matter how many detours we might take

And its home is not the structures—it’s not the number of missing kitchen tiles nor the chipped blue paint next to the welcome sign; it’s not the steep staircase that nobody wants to climb nor the railing that looks more like a melting popsicle ready to fall off

No, Home is the laughter that fills you and leaves no space or time for the “why?”, Home is the taste of foods from far away, unfamiliar yet unrelenting in its affections for you, Home is the empty lot turned into a world ruled by kids and their imaginations, Home is the sweet smells rising to the windows gasping for cool air to find aromas you can’t name, Home is the smile of J.J. pleading to play “just one more game”, Home is the soccer games in the backyard and the lessons with Grandma Pepe teaching you the gift of listening, Home is the sounds of Norteño music rising up steadily with the smoke from the elotes on the grill, Home is the first floor washing machine standing still silenced and broken and the never-ending hoots and hollers from houses and street corners brimming with people lacking in age but not in experiences. Home is the look, the sound, the smell, the Life that was given and received all in one place.

Home is being born again and again calling out to us with a look of curiosity and care from that pesky kid next door  “Don’t you wanna come play with me? It’s just one game!”

And as you may already know, Life that finds a home will not take “No” for an answer.

 

*http://artifynow.wordpress.com/  (quote taken from  a project to create community-created art in foreclosed buildings in an effort to reclaim and restore and to preserve the art of “place-making” along University Avenue in Hamline-Midway area)

Top 5 things I learned from my first year teaching

Top 5 most important lessons I learned from my first-year teaching:

1.  Take care of yourself!

I always think of the episode in Parks & Rec where Tom and Donna have what they call a “Treat Yo’ Self” day. As teachers, and in any profession that is demanding of your emotional, physical and mental well-being it is SO important to learn how to take care of yourself. As a first year teacher I probably learned this lesson a tad too late, aka when the year was pretty much over. However, it’s NEVER too late to learn this lesson. Take half a day on Sunday or Saturday to just go by yourself on a bike ride or read a book for fun (no, reading a book about teaching diverse classrooms does not count–believe me, I’ve tried!!). Do something that will fill you up, replenish you, and sustain you so you can keep doing the much needed work in the trenches! This one is definitely a “still-in-the-works” one for me, but I am definitely getting there 🙂

2. Never give up–and never let your students either!

“Si se puede”, “Yes, I can”. Cesar Chavez said it first and the school I worked at last year took it on as their school pledge as well. When times get tough, as they will most often times around conferences or when a parent calls or you have to do one more home visit right before spring break, just remember why you do what you do. Having quotes on my desk as little reminders and student work or cards they gave to me reminded me that the work I do is important–incredibly important–no matter how much (or maybe how little) we get paid as teachers we have the MOST important, incredible job probably in the world (Okay, maybe that was a mild exaggeration). I can’t begin to say how many times last year I really asked myself “Am I doing the right thing?” “Am I really even making a difference?” “Is this really the most impactful thing I can do in a young adults’ life?” Even though I asked myself this as I was looking for jobs this whole summer too, so far this school year the answer has been a resounding “YES”–teachers do really make a difference. So, don’t give up–and use your stories of struggle to share with your students so they don’t give up either!

If you aren’t convinced, watch this:    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMe8Nil2i20

3.Be in your students’ lives in a real way

This past year when I went home from school I took my work with me. I don’t just mean I took home papers to grades or scope and sequences to write, I mean when I got home I’d get out of my car and see a third-grader from my class playing the down street. Almost every day in the spring she was call out, “Hey Miss N, wanna play?!”. A few times I took her up on the offer. Let me advise you though, piggy-back rides everyday right after 8 hours of teaching in 8 different classes with over-hyped kids was a bit of a stretch–so make it just a once a week thing! 😉 In all sincerity, having one of my students and getting to know her family was one of the biggest blessings in my first year teaching.

Angel was just about as spunky as they come as far as 3rd graders go, even though often times she had to act much older than a 3rd grader to take care of her family. Even if it was just seeing her outside or inviting her to one of the bonfires we had with neighbors, she knew I cared about her in and outside of school and for students who often get overlooked or under-served the smallest actions can make the significant difference. She hadn’t had much consistency with her school or in her home life with her grandma taking care of 5 kids and a newborn baby. I tried to offer rides as much as I could to school events and let them know I was there. In school, I would do everything I could to try to bring what I knew of her and her family into my lessons to keep her going. It definitely felt like an uphill battle in the classroom as she often tried to say she was “sick” to get out of our activities that involved reading and writing, two things that felt like scaling a mountain.

A few weeks before school ended I found she had moved when I stopped seeing her outside everyday after school. I was pretty bummed, I didn’t have any way to keep in contact with her. Then, about a month after school ended she showed up outside my door, with a huge smile and a big hug. Although I’m not sure when or if I’ll see her again, but I hope she’ll be able to look back at that one year we lived on the same block and tell someone how it made a difference in her life–because I know it definitely did for me!

 

4.  Celebrate the victories, even if they may seem small.

Sometimes, as a teacher at the end of the day it’s too easy to be too hard on yourself. It’s too easy to think about the kids who still “don’t get it” and beating yourself up about the things you did or didn’t do or could have done to help them. Something I didn’t start learning until the very end of the first-year (and am still trying to learn this second year) is how to celebrate the small victories. When I say small, I  mean small. For example, a kid remembering his pencil for the first time or a student who usually is disengaged getting really excited about something you are learning. It’s remembering these small victories that really do keep you going after a long day.

One of my favorite victories I had this past year had to do with a pen pal project I started with another EL teacher friend and her students. We would write letters back and forth with the group of 3rd graders I worked with. After the first time of getting letters from the EL students at my friends’ school the students kept asking, “But, when do we get to meet them Miss N?!”. This got my friend Tanya and I to thinking, what if we actually did plan a trip to one of our two schools and hosted them at one, how cool would that be?! So, we started planning a few months down the road and decided to host the Pen Pal Visit day at our school, with a pizza party and all .

Throughout my class there was always one 3rd grader named Elver who teachers would say just “always” had a grumpy face like an old man. He would often times get frustrated and refuse to do assignments, BUT he never failed to write to his pen pal. He kept saying that they weren’t really going to visit us. So, when they showed up in March after 4 months of writing he was beyond belief thrilled to see his pen pal in real life–I don’t think I ever saw Elver quite so happy before!! It definitely felt like a victory that day.

 

5.   “People may feel forget what you said, but they will never forget the way you made them feel”

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how many things we might do to try to get new vocabulary words or academic language drilled into our kids’ minds. What does truly matter is our actions–and how much love we put into our actions for our students. This past year, I had a lot to be proud of as a first-year teacher—building an entire EL department at a school that had not seen much structure before. Despite all the efforts I put into building the EL program at my last school, the greatest accomplishment I felt was knowing that my students knew I cared about them and would fight for them.

One day a 6th grader who usually gave me a hard time actually refuted a comment from another student about teachers’ work ethics saying in so quietly it almost was a whisper, “Teachers are really the hardest workers I’ve ever seen”. Students notice when teachers care–and it effects them probably more at this time in their lives than at any other time. Right now when there is so much that needs to be changed within our educational system and how it works, these small things can be the difference between a student choosing to give up on themselves and school or to keep going. At the end of it all, by being a positive light we can together create a circle of hope, of encouragement, and of love for children and young adults all over the country. And, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? 🙂

**All student names were changed to respect privacy**

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