Exciting Update!

Despite my unfortunate end to the first leg of my 2017 Grand Adventure, I have exciting news!

Over the past 14 years, I have traveled to 33 different countries and taken over 70,000 photos (insane right?) Now that I have free time (yay graduating from University! And also, not say yay, but I had a ton of free time lying in bed sick in Colombia….), I’ve been going through all my photos. I realize, why keep so many beautiful photos alone on my computer? So I decided to post them for all to see!

In honor of my birthday this week, I have posted a series of photos to SmugMug – a photo selling website: https://gingerwithoutborders.smugmug.com/

If you want an awesome photo for your wall, or if you want to give me a little ‘birthday present’ – check out some of my photos! (My favorites are from Hawaii or the Galapagos).

These are not (by far) all my photos (I still have 55,000 more to go through…) But these are some of my favorites from the past 4 years! And over the next month, I’ll be posting new ones each week on Monday.
One last thing: If you really like a photo but are interested in some changes to it, let me know! I am happy to edit them to fit your needs/preferences!

An Unfortunate End to My Colombia Trip

As of May 24th:

To my (extreme) dismay, for the first time in my life I may actually have to leave a trip early due to a medical illness  After an amazing weekend in Cartagena, I unfortunately contracted a pretty severe ear infection where I lost the hearing in my left ear, which led to a series of visits to Clinica del Country (one of the best hospitals in Colombia) and more visits to two different specialists. We were hoping that after a procedure with the second specialist, my ear infection would get better – and it did, for a short period of time before I caught a pretty terrible cold that now is giving me inner-ear vertigo while my original ear infection is starting to get worse again

Summary: Unfortunately I won’t be making it to NYC for the UN conference I had planned on attending, and it’s very possible I will have to fly back to the US this weekend… Not the best outcome (I was really looking forward to spending my 24th birthday in Cartagena!) but like I always say: ‘Nothing is good or bad, as long as there is a story’ and ya’ll – I got some INSANE stories out of this whole experience.

As of May 25th:

When I was treated by the specialist on Monday, we agreed that my hearing should return to normal by Friday. Unfortunately, it is thursday night and my hearing is still impaired… So today I made the difficult decision to return back to the US tomorrow to seek further medical treatment with the doctor who has previously treated my ear infections. Which really sucks because I’ve barely been able to see Colombia

I would like to point out two things though. First of all – I am forever grateful to the amazing doctors here in Colombia who have gone above and beyond to help me (one doctor even opened his office at 9am on a Sunday just for me; you would never see a doctor in the US or Canada do that for someone  ) It is a common misconception that developing nations have poor medical systems, and that is true in some countries, but Colombia is not one of them.

Second – I really don’t want people to think that because I got sick somehow Colombia is a dirty or dangerous country. Honestly everyone I have met here has been super kind, and this is a freak infection (if anything you could say the Hilton is a dirty place, since I got an infection at one of their resorts. But again, it was a freak infection.) And once I am well (and have the money to return), I am definitely coming back to explore more! Everyone else should too – this country is freakin’ beautiful.

Summary: My trip is getting cut short… but the Colombian doctors who have treated me have been incredible, the people here are amazing, and everyone should visit Colombia! I definitely will again!

 

A Preventable Death Sanctioned by the US Health System

A few weeks ago, one of my close family friends, a woman I view as a second mother, lost her husband. Why? Because the American health system didn’t bother to test him for cancer in the beginning, and only found the cancer when it was stage 4 and he had little to no hope left.

It all started when he went to the doctor complaining of shoulder pain. The doctor took a look, and sent him off to the physiotherapist assuming it was just a muscle strain. When it didn’t get better, he went back to the doctor again – and again the doctor believed it to be nothing and again sent him off to the physiotherapist without running further tests. Finally, the pain became too hard to bear, and my family friend had to check himself into the hospital (which, by the way, is exponentially more expensive for both taxpayers and  insurance companies than simply running the diagnostic tests that other nations run.) Only in the hospital did the doctors take him seriously. Only in the hospital did they run the diagnostic tests they should have in the first place. And only in the hospital did they find the worst of news – he had stage 4 lung cancer. He needed chemotherapy immediately to treat it. But despite the immediate treatment, he unfortunately lost his battle, devastating a family I hold very close to my heart.

This is a story of a preventable death. Had the US system been focused more on prevention than treatment, my second-mother would not be facing every wife’s worst nightmare. The American health care system already dooms people to die. This man, one of the sweetest people I have ever met, could have been saved. But he wasn’t. And that is on the American health care system, the American government, and the politicians (and the citizens who voted for them) who think the right to survive treatable diseases is only for those who can pay for it.

There are so many issues with this new health care bill on the Senate floor. If this new healthcare bill becomes law, had my family friend survived and tried to change insurance companies – the companies should charge him more or even deny him because ‘cancer is a pre-existing condition’. The current US government has ignored the calls of the people – many of whom support the ACA (as of April 4th, 2017, Gallup reports the ACA has a 55% approval rating) – and instead insists on repealing it to ‘meet campaign promises’.

Rather than focusing on how to remove health care from 24 million people, the US government needs to focus on how to reform health care so that this preventable death and others like this will not happen. Because in a land that purports to be the ‘greatest nation in the world’, no one should die of a preventable disease. No wife should have to face what my second mother has. It’s immoral, unjust, and a testament to the failures of the ‘land of the free’.

A Secret That Eats You From the Inside Out

I was twelve years old when my ‘best friend’ at the time looked me straight in the eyes and said, “the world would be a better place without you in it, why don’t you just kill yourself already?”

It wasn’t my first encounter with bullying, and not even the first encounter with bullying by someone close to me. Close friends in elementary school would act like my best friend forever one second, then be avoiding me as if I were a disease the next. It didn’t help that I was nine years old when the first volcanic bump destroyed my once perfect complexion. And only a short time later the bee stings on my chest grew into full grown oranges. The first to reach puberty, I was a prime target. What was worse – I had always been a tomboy, actively avoiding the norm, categorically opposed to anything that could be seen as conforming to my fellow students. Who better to tease than the outcast?

It honestly wasn’t even the first time I faced the concept of suicide. That same friend and I had met a year before, in 6th grade, and had become fast friends due to our shared childhood depression. At the age of 10, both of us had already considered ending our lives – who even knew a child so young could be so sad? But it happens. And at twelve and a half, after the ‘best friend’ stole a song I had written about my struggles with depression and the abusive friendship I had fallen into, I gave up on life for the first time, beaten down so hard that I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sitting in the hospital that first time. I still remember thinking “How am I here?” I was too young, the hospital was forced to put me into the teenage wing with people who struggled with anger and bipolar disorders. My roommate was cruel. Like the bullies in my classes, she criticized me and made me feel like nothing. I swore to myself – I will never come back to a place like this. I will use this experience to scare myself away from another suicide attempt. I must stay happy. I cannot return here.

And it worked. Until it didn’t anymore.

Sixteen years old. Fighting with my family. Struggling with who I was. Struggling with the definition of beautiful, the definition of family, what a friend really was, how to exist in a world that kept throwing me curveballs meant to knock me out. I met a boy. He made me feel like I was on the top of the world. He even asked me to spend the rest of my life with him. It was stupid, but it seemed like the universe had finally thrown out a buoy to help keep my head above water.

There were signs, friends had told me he was a bad guy, but to a confused 16year old, he was the light at the end of my tunnel. Until one day his eyes moved from me to my best friend, and my light extinguished, sending me falling full speed back into the deep dark tunnel of depression which I had faced all those years before. And again I was consumed, feeling so dark inside that I truly believed the words that have forever haunted me – “The world would be a better place without you in it.”

Deciding to end it all is not so much a conscious decision as it is the loss of the ability to decide anything anymore. That part of your soul that tells you everything will be okay disappears. It disappears, consumed by the darkness that manifests in the pain you feel by perceived difficulties.  You break, not just with reality but with your soul. With the part of you which makes you ‘you’. Part of you tries to say ‘Look at all the people suffering in the world! Your life is so much better than theirs! You shouldn’t feel sad, feel happy you have it better!’ But comparing one struggle with another does not make the darkness disappear, it only amplifies the black hole consuming your soul. It bends the well meaning comparison, instead making you feel worse because you are so sad – ‘How can you be so selfish? How can you feel like your life is so bad when their’s is so much worse?’

Two days in the hospital, pieces of my soul began to scratch and claw their way far enough out of the deep dark hole for me to realize what I had done. But I was still in the hole; I still struggled to see the light. I threw myself into my studies. I resigned myself to the fact that this was not a one time battle. Depression doesn’t just disappear because you are too afraid to return to the hospital. Depression is a monster you cannot attack alone. You need help. You need an army. You need therapy. And you need to take it seriously this time. And if that means taking medicine, you are no less of a person by admitting you cannot fight this battle alone.

My army was my family. My therapist. My friends from group therapy. A daily regiment of antidepressants. But the head of my arm was my Carma. She had a sixth sense – if I was sad she knew I needed her. When I failed chemistry first year of university, she saved me – keeping me so distracted playing with her that I couldn’t spiral back into the deep hole I knew I would return to. When she got sick, a part of me died.  The hole approached again, this time darker than ever. But she trained me well – I went to the doctor, I asked for help, I knew it made me no less of a person to acknowledge that I cannot fight the monster that is depression alone.

When she died, I nearly broke again. But this time I had my army. This time I had the techniques I learned. This time I knew how to slay the monster. This time I knew how to ask for help.

Depression is not a one time battle, it is an epic which continues every second of every day. Those fighting the battle constantly worry – am I lesser of a person? What if people find out? How will their opinion change? If I speak out, will it affect my ability to get a job? To get into school? To make friends? And honestly, thats why I’ve never said anything. But here is the reality: depression cannot be found behind closed doors. It cannot be closeted; you cannot deny it exists for fear that people will see you differently because of it.

In a battle alone, the monster will overwhelm you. It will beat you down, crush you into a million pieces until you can no longer recognize yourself in the mirror. Alone, the battle is near impossible to win. But with the help of friends, of doctors, of medicine, of an army of your own – the monster loses all its power. It shrinks, diminished by the light emitted from the love of friends and family, by the neurological benefits of antidepressants. It loses its control, and while it never goes away completely – it becomes a tiny portion of your daily struggle.

Yesterday the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would make my struggle – and all the others who battle extreme depression every day – a pre-existing condition, one worthy enough for insurance companies to charge us higher premiums. This move means people who struggle every day to convince themselves life is worth living will now also struggle with the reality that their disease means they must pay thousands more for healthcare premiums than under the ACA. This is essentially telling everyone suffering from severe depression: ‘Hey, you are sick? You are struggling? Well, too bad. On top of forcing yourself to get out of bed every day, you now have to worry about finding thousands of dollars more to be insured. You want that medicine that keeps you sane? You want to be covered for those doctors visits? Well, you gotta pay!” And if you don’t think this is going to be the push that drives people off the cliff, you are sorely mistaken.

No one should have to worry about whether they can go to the doctor. No one with a mental disease should have to worry whether they can afford the very medicine that keeps them off the cliff. No one should have to pay more because their body chemistry makes them different than ‘normal’ people. What the House has done is atrocious – and it will mean the loss of lives if this passes the Senate too. Many more lives than they currently expect.

I have always struggled with telling people about my disease. I know people will look at me differently; I know it will change how people see my pretty-much-painted-on-smile (which is a coping mechanism, for those who may not know). But I am tired of the US Congress throwing around policies that severely affect people like me. I am tired of people assuming things they do not understand about those with depression. I am tired of everything – and I’m ready to speak out.