Grand Teton National Park

I found myself itching to get on the road last week and had the privilege of adventuring to Grand Teton National Park. This was my first solo trip since my drive from Long Island to Montana in May and it felt damn good to be back out there. I debated in my mind for quite a few days on whether I should go to Glacier or the Tetons. Admittedly, the thought of going to Glacier National Park alone was a bit intimidating. So, Grand Teton it was!

I hopped in the car after work around 5pm. I was feeling antsy all day; the urge to get on the road is always there, especially when I am stagnant for too long. The route I took was super cool because I got to drive through Yellowstone to get to Grand Teton. This was the first time ever that I’ve been apprehensive while hitting the road alone. The thought of grizzly bears, mountain lions and getting lost on a dirt road with no service was in the back of my mind. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is one of the only areas in the lower 48 with grizzlies and this makes me uneasy at times, especially having grown up in the suburbs of New York City. I reminded myself that I am knowledgeable enough, I am capable enough and before I knew it, the Tetons were in view. I said, out loud, “HOLY SHIT!”

I arrived at a campsite in the Bridger-Teton National forest at dusk. I have been using, where you can camp on BLM land and in national forests. The campgrounds in the park are a bit pricey and I wanted to be away from the crowds. When I got to the site, there was no longer any room. A few people let me pitch my tent in-between their two sites which was really cool. To the right of me were a group of girls that had just graduated college and were doing a cross-country trip, hitting National Parks along the way. They came all the way from Alabama and were getting ready to backpack in Grand Teton. To the left was a father and his teenage son. They came all the way from southern California and were on their way to Yellowstone and the Badlands after Grand Teton! I thought this was such a cool father son trip. I apologized for being partially on their site and the father smiled and told me this land is for everyone to share. The outdoor community has been super welcoming, helpful and just always looking out for one another.

I woke up the next morning, made some tea and stared out at the mountains in silence for who knows how long. These moments are what I live for; on my own watch, allowing myself to be alone with my thoughts and zero distractions.

I went for a hike and came back to the site. A man came up to me and asked for jumper cables. He said he had been there for a few days and just couldn’t bring himself to leave and after leaving his lights on, his car battery died. I feel that. Some places just pull you in; its like you’re homesick for somewhere you aren’t even sure exists but when you arrive, everything starts to make sense.

The next morning, I woke up to the sound of wolves howling. This had me feeling some type of way. I broke down camp and drove to the park as the sun was rising. I got to the trail and was the only car in the parking lot, thank goodness. I was hoping to see some wildlife but only saw one deer. I also did not see any humans until I was finishing the loop around a few lakes.

My time spent on the road alone has been life altering. At times, there are moments of extreme discomfort but I’m learning to lean in and sit with things. I read something recently that the need to always be busy or with people can be a distraction from what you’d be forced to deal with if you slowed down in solitude. So, I’m grateful. I’m grateful to find comfort in the discomfort, I’m grateful to be exploring this wild country of ours and I’m grateful that I’ve taken this idea and ran with it. I’ve never felt so free.

Toxic Masculinity

It’s 2004 and I’m twelve-years-old, staring in the mirror for probably the tenth time this week. You see, I’m not a little girl anymore and I’ve begun to read magazines and watch more “grown up” television. The magazine’s are full of women looking a certain way, of tips on how to become more desirable to a man, step by step directions on how to achieve a thigh gap. I pinch the little bit of fat on my arms, I glance at my legs and see things that simply are not there. However, the media has brainwashed me to aim for a certain look, to objectify myself. I will be happy, I will be worthy if I just lose 20 pounds. Once I look a certain way, the tears will no longer come. I’m not even a teenager yet; no longer a little girl yet still years away from becoming a woman.

The boys have been rather mean lately. Boys will be boys, they say. They like you, act flattered. Just smile, they tell me. I become weary when boys are nice to me. I’m too young to understand the depth of my discomfort.

The years slowly progress. I begin to grow boobs, hips and a butt. The men catcall me as they drive past. I am blind to the smug looks on their faces. I smile and am flattered. They don’t even know my name, I’m an object to them. I begin to go to parties and purchase a push-up bra. I think to myself, more of the men will like me this way. Finally, the validation I have been seeking is there. But not for long.

Throughout my teens and early twenties, I begin to notice a pattern. I hear talks at parties and men bragging about how many women they’ve been with. They receive pats on the back yet don’t even know our names. I am a rest stop to confirm their manhood. But don’t act angry, don’t speak up. Men can act angry, but I can not. Men are applauded for showing anger, yet I am considered crazy if I do. I remind myself to smile.

My weight fluctuates throughout the years. Every single time I diet, I never think of myself. I lose weight for the men. I diet and cry in the mirror until more of them pay attention to me. Do they know my name? Do they know my story?

I begin to date a man who is older than me. I get pretty for him, I smile for him. I mention something that made me uncomfortable and he gets on the defense. He can’t react calmly or even acknowledge his actions. See, his entire life, he’s been told to “man up.” And me speaking up, me calling him out on his inappropriate behavior is now a threat to his manhood. As a child, he’d cry and be put down. For his entire existence, he has been culturally conditioned to suppress any emotion. Unless it’s anger. Anger is ok.

I begin to notice men talking over me. I tell myself they are just excited to speak with me. Just be quiet, be submissive and listen. But I start to see this pattern all too often. These young boys are brainwashed to portray their dominance in the world. So I let them talk over me. I neglect my intelligence and am glad they notice me.

I’m at the bar with my best friend. We are having a great night, catching up and laughing. She comes up to me, points at three men who are smirking and tells me one of them slapped her butt. This has happened to me as well, it’s happened to many women. In the past, I’d act flattered. That’s cool, a man notices that I’ve been doing my squats and eating right. At 26-years-old, I’ve had enough. I approach the three men and ask which of them slapped her butt. They stare at me like I have five heads. I laugh. I say, “Ok, I get it. You guys are attractive and can touch any stranger you’d like without anyone speaking up; me doing so is shocking.” It’s interesting to me that these men that embody toxic masculinity like to play all big, bad and tough; yet turn into cowards when confronted. As women, we’ve been conditioned to turn a blind eye to this. I’ve been told to be quiet and reprimanded to not speak out against this. “You’re going to make him angry, just let it go.” Nah. Not anymore. Welcome to 2019.

The masses addressing toxic masculinity is not an attack on all men. It is a conversation that has been a long time coming. We are not mad at men as individuals, we are mad that this system is failing us. I know plenty of males who have treated me with respect. I’ve had male friends that came to me with raw emotions, emotions that they could not reveal to anyone else in fear of being judged, in fear of being considered weak. Many male friends have had my back when noticing a man crossing his boundaries or making me uncomfortable. I know men who will call out out toxic behavior, without feeling less of a man. I know men that speak out against these issues. They realize that there is no disconnect. They realize that while we can be fired up about r Kelly, Kavanagh, Brock Turner, its also their friends, uncles, team mates, professors that need to be called out. However, society teaches men that speaking up is weak. And it’s not easy. This is not an easy matter to discuss. The strongest and most admirable men I know are the ones who confront this issue, that own up to their past actions due to societal conditioning. They don’t shy away from this issue or hop on the defense immediately. And I’m grateful. I’m grateful to have these men in my life. They are proving that the narrative will change. The system will be dismantled.


Untreated: The Word Missing From the Rhetoric Surrounding Mass Shootings

Mass shootings have become so common that peoples reactions are lackluster and this sense of shock among us has faded, they becomes less and less spoken of. I’ve tried hard to separate myself from the notion of this. I think of future generations who could potentially wind up going to school and places of worship with armed guards. This is supposed to be the safest country in the world and that is the best we can do? I am calling bullshit. We can not allow the cultural normalization of mass murder.

Are mass shootings due to a mental health issue? Yes, absolutely. However, blaming mass shootings solely on the mentally ill while using language that enables shame and stigma is dangerous. It is interesting to me, because I know plenty of people, including myself who have gone through major mental health issues and would never commit such a heinous act. The real issue here, the issue that is not being addressed? Mental illness going untreated.

Every year, the organization Mental Health America does a study on the state of mental health in the United States. In 2017, the results showed that 1 in 5 adults have a mental health condition, youth mental health is worsening and that most Americans lack access to care. In addition, the organizations research shows that there is a severe shortage of mental health professionals. This results in increased incarceration and crime. Deaths by suicide and overdose are skyrocketing. We are talking a mental health crisis. I have witnessed professionally and personally the long waitlists, care not being provided by your insurance, incredibly high cost of medications (call your pharmacy and see if a generic version is available, it is often way cheaper), and know firsthand that the further mental illness goes untreated, the more difficult recovery and a healthy, successful life becomes.

Schizophrenia. The disease with symptoms that the perpetrator of a mass shooting most closely mirrors. Although a very complex illness, the most common symptoms of an individual with schizophrenia include hallucinations, delusions and paranoia. When left untreated, or during an active psychotic episode, an individual with schizophrenia may not understand that they are sick, and will have trouble identifying and understanding what is real from what is imagined. When patients have active schizophrenia symptoms, they truly believe in their delusions and hallucinations. Many may think the public is out to get them, hence committing an act of mass murder. I remember my recovery, being in the psychiatric hospital and a guy diagnosed with schizophrenia telling me he was a vigilante who had a paranoia of the publicpublic and was planning on saving New York City. I saw how out of touch with reality he was and it was incredibly difficult to witness. Another individual with the illness didn’t believe I was real- he asked to look at my bracelet everyday to see my birth date. Early intervention and treatment is crucial in those living with schizophrenia, as it is believed that with every major episode, increased damage is done to the brain. In my professional life, I have worked with clients that had a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The severity of the illness is not to be undermined, but I’ve witnessed firsthand with clients that with the right treatment, recovery and a healthy life is attainable.

Another issue I would like to bring to the surface is people not seeking treatment because of stigma. A mass shooting occurs and the response turns to labeling shooters savage sickos, maniacs, and so forth. Do you think someone suffering in silence wants to be associated with those terms? Absolutely not. We need to be providing mental health education in schools the same way we educate on physical health. If there is more of an understanding among the public of mental illness, more people will be likely to seek treatment.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have very supportive family that found the right treatment for me and I have been able to afford it. However, what about the children born into opposite circumstances? If a child is not in an environment in which they can reach optimum health, we need to create that environment for them. We need to be intervening at a very young age in school districts with the most vulnerable children. Many public schools have only a few social workers or psychologists to hundreds of students. I’ve met hundreds of individuals over the last few years that have inspired me to believe we are fully equipped to handle this. And not just mental health professionals- lawyers, educators, political representatives, students and so forth.

At the end my days, I am tired. I am tired of those in power deeming mass shootings a “mental health issue”, yet none of them addressing how we can fix this mental health issue. The answer is there and if they are not going to provide it, we will. I think of future generations and realize we must fight for them.

Our education and expertise are our armor.


Privileged Is Not An Insult

Being called privileged is not an insult. It is not an attack on your character or who you are as a person. I know, because as a woman that grew up in a predominantly white, middle class neighborhood on Long Island, I myself am privileged.

Many of the campuses we visited this tour were rather diverse. Although difficult, I used it as opportunity to speak with black and Hispanic students on racism, hate and harassment. Every student i spoke with was not only super open to this conversation but also had stories. I knew I must learn and educate myself on this, as someone who indeed never has had to experience it, and never will. It was difficult hearing these stories at rimes, which shows even more how huge of an issue this is.

We do not choose what circumstances we born into. There is absolutely nothing I did to be born into a loving family, in a safe community where I simply do not have to worry about the horrors that these others students had to. We are by no means wealthy, but as a child, I never had to wonder where my next meal would come from, learn what to do when hearing gunshots, or worry if our heat would be on this upcoming winter.

A conversation that stuck with me in particular was with a male student at ESU. He had such a warm, welcoming way about him. This student told me about the time him and another black friend were driving through a rich white neighborhood, they had just gotten food. A white cop pulled him over- no reckless driving, no alcohol or drugs. I am talking an all honors student, was elected to the student government, spends his Sundays volunteering, and is incredibly well-spoken. The cop walked over and immediately was aggressive. The male student told me he was indeed very nervous, as the cop had his hand on his gun. The cop then illegally searched his dashboard, only to find cheese its (my dude). The student has the entire thing on video but won’t submit it to authorities because he knows it won’t be taken seriously. A wave of disgust comes over me as I think of if a black male cop was to pull over a white teenage male and do this. The white supremacists would be infuriated in their selfish rage.

Who is raising these white males to fear all black people? We are brainwashed to associate black people with violence and crime. I know, because I am one of them. I have to admit that as a child, I very rarely interacted with people outside of my ethnicity. I, too, grew to fear black people. I remember the first time seeing a black person in my town and I was afraid. I do not come from a racist family and I was raised to treat all with respect – but the system does not operate this way. When you hear of another white cop shooting a black human being and your immediate response is, “but let’s try and think about what the cop was feeling. ” My thoughts go to, but we need to challenge the system that raises fearful white children to becoming conditioned adults.

This brings me to one of my recent reads, “The Hate U Give”. It is the story of Starr Carter, who was in the car when a white cop shot her childhood friend (multiple times- because you know, even if someone is an actual threat shooting them just once as they fall to the ground isn’t enough) to his death. When Starr and her friend, Khalil, were pulled over, there had been no reckless driving at the time. No drugs or alcohol.

What people come back with is that Khalil was a drug dealer. Starr tells the story that yes, he was. For Khalil, it was either sell drugs or let his family starve. The system left him with no choice. I say this because like I mentioned earlier, this is something he was born into. He didn’t choose that. May I not mention, the school districts in some of these communities are the absolute worst in the country. My supervisor showed me a video on Hempstead School District, a large basis of our clientele go there. Teachers are not listened, the schools are terrible dirty, dangerous conditions, lack of teaching materials and social workers. Nothing those children did put them there. They were born into it, and being set up for failure. The gradation rate is under 10%.

As Starr testified, authrities questioned her. It was like she and Khalil were on trial, not the man that killed him. Starr speaks of times a white female friend called her a nigger and made other racist jokes in front her her. Starr stood her ground and her friend told her to get over and was then on the defense, playing the victim. As time went on it became evident between Starr and a Chinese friend that this white female friend was also making racist comments towards her. What is conditioning us to believe that this is ok?

Adventuring with Airbnb

I remember my first time staying in an airbnb while studying abroad, on a weekend trip in Scotland. A group of friends and I rented a few bedrooms in a couples apartment. They were super cool and let us use their kitchen, and we had some pretty deep conversations after our nights out in Edinburgh. When I returned to the states, the travel bug consumed me. Post study abroad depression is totally real, and I knew I had to do something about it. It was then that I realized you don’t need to hop on a plane to Europe in order to have a cool travel experience. A journey of self- discovery began and I lost the need to find someone to travel with. I decided to embark on weekend trips and from there it’s been one hell of a journey! I’ve now stayed in more airbnbs than I can count on two hands.

It all started with Karenville. I have now been to Karenville a handful of times, during all four seasons. It is a village compromised of tiny homes, built by a woman named Karen on her beautiful land in the finger lakes region of New York. Her family has owned the land for nearly a century. Karen established a hobby of building tiny victorian homes, and eventually decided to rent them out. The village is completely off grid- no running water, electricity, or WiFi. During my first visit, I stayed in “A Tiny Hotel”, which is the only building with heat on the property, other than Karen’s cabin (which she also rents out).

I was amazed at how wonderful simple living can feel. I thoroughly enjoyed pumping fresh spring water from the well and taking a primitive shower with boiled rain water. The rain water feels so much different on your body, I had never felt so pure and connected to the earth as my body absorbed the minerals. There are many animals- goats, chickens, hamsters, deers, and coyotes howling at night in the near distance. Initially, the sound of the coyotes terrified me but now I find myself yearning to hear those howls almost every day.

I then returned to Karenville over the summer and stayed in a tiny Hobbit Hut down in the woods among the Hickory trees.

Hundreds of fireflies lit up the Danby State Forest as I gazed out of my window at night. The hut is set off in the woods, away from the rest of the village. I laugh now as I remember Karen saying she is impressed by city folk who decide to stay down there alone. My third visit to Karenville, I stayed in Kokopellis Playhouse, a tiny log cabin.

I love log cabins and front porches but I especially love tiny log cabins with front porches. I enjoyed a few IPAs with a book in hand as the sunset. Karen’s property is set right off the Danby State Forest and the Finger Lakes Trail, so I enjoy getting to hike while I’m there as well. I was the first person that Karen ever rented Kokopellis playhouse out to and it was magical. We went on a stroll to her apple trees and I took in the fall foliage. It is always cool getting to know Karen’s other guests around the fire at night or while cooking in the kitchen.

Once fall was coming to an end, I came across a tipi rental on Airbnb and contemplated going alone but then decided to take my dad as an early Christmas gift. As the weekend was approaching, we saw it was going to be 20 degrees. I asked my dad if we should wait till the following weekend when it would be 15 degrees warmer. He said, “Nope, let’s go this weekend. It’ll be an adventure!” My dad went out and made sure we had really good sleeping bags and what not. We left early on a nice (very cold) Saturday morning and hit the road for the Catskills.

After checking the tipi out and getting situated, we went to explore Kaaterskill Falls.

We got back to camp and my dad showed me his ways- got the fire started inside the tipi before sunset and we cooked some chicken sausage on the outdoor fire pit.

As the sun began to set, the temperature seemed to drop quicker and quicker. We were pretty cozy in the tipi with the fire going and sleeping bags rated for 30 degrees. It was a pretty sweet father-daughter experience and I was glad to get my dad back in the woods, especially in cold weather since he used to go backpacking during the winter. Once an outdoorsman, always an outdoorsman.

The tipi adventure sort of sparked the idea to return to Karenville in the winter. I camped out in a hut in the woods for two nights. It was about 18 degrees both nights but I had the right gear and made it through.

I remember saying out loud to myself as I climbed into my sleeping bag at night, “Whose idea was this? Oh right, yours. Idiot.” The next morning was incredibly cold but I remember feeling so very safe in the world as I looked out at the frost on the window as the sun rose beyond the hickory trees.

About a month later, I stayed in a small cabin on the same property as the tipi. This was pretty spontaneous- it was a Friday night and I just had an urge to get to the mountains. I opened the Airbnb app, booked the cabin, packed my hiking gear and some food and was out.

Within the next month or so, I landed the job as a Tour Coordinator with Active Minds. This job would have me traveling across the country and exploring all different sorts of rentals. After our first full day on the road, we arrived at a rustic cabin in Sparta, Tennessee in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. The cabin had a back deck and after cooking dinner, I made a cup of tea and journaled outside. There was so much fog sprawling out across the lake, I felt like in was in a movie. It was so mystical. I am a sucker for any sort of stormy skies.

The owners of the Airbnb came by the next morning, an older couple. They wanted to make sure we arrived safely. “Do y’all know where the space heaters and extra blankets are? The grocery store is right down the street and we can shown y’all the way if you’d like.” This was my first moment of experiencing southern hospitality and it just kept happening from that point on.

My time in the South continued as we made our way to Auburn University in Alabama. I came across a treehouse listing and decided to book it. Sleep in a hammock up in a tree house? Ummm, YES. Please.

The treehouse was in the backyard of a families house in a nice rural community. The man had built the treehouse for his daughter when she was little and now that she is older, he rents it out. I met the entire family and they were so nice. I arrived the day before Easter and was feeling pretty homesick, but didn’t let on to it. They invited me to Easter brunch the next day, asked about my mission, and we shared several stories with one another. In a sense, they reminded me on my own family and suddenly, I didn’t feel so homesick anymore. They also have a tiny house on their property which I hung out in to read and get some work done.

In St Augustine, Florida, Alexa and I stayed on a boat. It was super cool and the sunrise was epic.

After a few weeks in the South, our journey across the country to California began. The second I step foot in the truck on this drive, my mind was on getting to Yosemite. After four straight days of 12+ hours on the road, we arrived in Fresno, about 2 hours South of the southern gate to Yosemite. I slept for 5 hours and then hopped in the truck and drived north with zero clue of where I would sleep that night. I arrived in Oakhurst, which I guess you could say is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. I knew camping was not an option since you have to obtain permits or book a campsite months ahead of time, so I opened up the Airbnb app, yet again. Initially, I had inquired about an airstream but the owners never got back to me so I accidentally stumbled upon the Leaping Lizards Creekhouse and I sure am glad that I did. I rented a room in Eddie and Judi’s quirky house and immediately felt at home.

Eddie and Judi greeted me with huge smiles and cold water. We enjoyed a lot of laughs by the fire, the sort of laughs that hurt so much and then nothing is funny other than the sound of one another’s laughter. They reminded me of my parents and took me right under their wing. Judi had egg sandwiches and coffee for me in the morning before I sought out hiking. I enjoyed their company so much that I kept making the drive up whenever I could, the place kept calling me back!

On my birthday, Judi and Eddie took Alexia and I out for dinner at an amazing Mexican restaurant. We drank margaritas, laughed and it was just so nice. Judi and i also went to explore a local Sequoia Grove near their home, since Mariposa Grove in Yosemite was not open yet (the drive into Yosemite valley is also TERRIFYING and this chick was TIRED). Judi and Eddie are currently driving cross country in their RV along with their dogs. I can NOT wait to see them on the east coast!

When we were in the desert, I stayed in a tiny “dollhouse” on a property with wild donkeys. The husband and wife warned me about rattlesnakes and as he had his classic rock playing while doing yard work, told me to just yell for him if I saw one. Alrighty then.

My sister Ashley and I decided to explore Joshua Tree National Park one weekend and stayed in “The Magical Psychic Tower” of Morongo Valley in the high desert. The high desert I guess can be considered the mountains of the desert, at elevations over 2,000 feet. We had a pretty sweet view of Mount San Jacinto.

I so badly wanted to see a mountain lion or coyote but all we saw was dozens of rabbits at night- it was SO odd. I remember how strong the sun was in the desert and how drastic the change in temperature was once the sun went down. We spoke with the owner who also lived on the property. Her eyes lit up as she spoke of the desert. While it was beautiful, you will absolutely never find me living in the desert. Oh, hell no.

The following weekend, I decided to make my way back up to the Sierras, this time visiting Kings Canyon National Park. I rented a room in a beautiful house. There was a bottle of wine on the bed upon my arrival, with a cutely lit room.

The house had a beautiful backyard and I so enjoyed hanging out with fellow travelers. A group of guys were traveling to Colorado from southern Camifornia. The owners gave me recommendations on how to approach Kings Canyon as a solo female traveler. The kindness of strangers has been super cool and it’s always nice to be around others who understand the need to be on the road, the necessity of belonging to more than one place.

One of my most recent stays was at a house on Cape Cod. My partner Eric and I rented a few bedrooms in a man’s house, who lost his wife a few years ago. This man, Bill, thought about selling the house but his grandkids convinced him to start an Airbnb instead. It has been a healing mechanism for him, if you will.

We arrived pretty late and Bill had freshly baked snicker doodle cookies and juice for us. He also made us sandwiches after hearing we had yet to eat dinner. “No, thank you” is not an option in Bills home. Bill also had breakfast and coffee for us each morning.

We had so many laughs. Bill never ran out of stories to tell. We got to talking about Ireland and were both overflowing with joy as we spoke of the country that we each have a strong connection to. Bill told me about his experience renting a car in Ireland, and how he found himself on the completely wrong side of a roundabout. People were honking and he had no idea what to do. At this point, I was laughing uncontrollably. I asked him to please stop speaking as I thought I would pee myself. He wound up crashing the car and when he did an impersonation of the woman’s reaction at the car rental place, I couldn’t help but to spit my coffee out. He also got lost trying to find his Airbnb there and wound up drinking tea with the Airbnb owners neighbors. When I asked Bill where I should hike, he told me that he didn’t want me taking the truck and took me instead as we stopped at some historic places along the way. I asked a few times, “but are you sure? ” He told me he’d he offended if I kept asking that, so I shut up. We talked along the way about books, history and also just enjoyed the silence.

We got pulled over by an undercover cop at a crosswalk for not stopping completely at the crosswalk. Bill looks at me and goes, “I’ve seen undercover cops for drug busts but at a crosswalk? Can you believe this, Courtney? ” I was laughing so hard and fighting back tears as the cop took Bills license.

Bill insisted that night that Eric and I be his test subjects on bacon and cheese cornbread. I was not complaining. It was difficult saying goodbye to Bill as I left for Jersey. Something tells me our paths will cross again.

As I signed his guest book, I read a quote, “there is still no word for old friends who have just met.” I’m not sure if there is a phrase that will more accurately describe my experience on the road than this. What a journey this has been, and something tells me it is only the beginning.

The Rise Of The Mental Health Movement

I remember speaking with a few people my age at a gathering. We were talking about ambitions, careers and goals. I always say I want to wake up with a fire within me. Often times, I have heard the response “but does anyone?” And at one point, I felt the same way. But being part of Send Silence Packing while on the road ignited a flame within me. When this happens, you learn to fan that flame until your entire being is burning, burning for something larger than yourself. Although some mornings it is the tiniest of flames, I am so grateful to wake up every single day on fire and for those that fuel this fire. I simply will not let this flame burn out.

I have returned to my home base and reflect back on the tour. 14 college campuses and a whole lot of action. What we witness is simply the rawest of human emotions and I am incredibly grateful for this experience. The most common thread is that we all have been effected by suicide to some extent, and we ALL go through spouts of depression, anxiety or the mind not being at ease. Over and over again I hear, “this is not spoken of enough.” The display is a safe space for each and every one of us to share our stories. It is a space for everyone to regain their power, to break free from what we have been conditioned to believe.

Many of the backpacks contain personal stories of those who lost the fight, submitted by family and friends. I carry hundreds of faces with me, every second of every day. At times, the weight of the work can be overbearing, yet I see their faces and they push me forward. Donating a backpack can be a healing mechanism for many and a way to let their loved one live on. We have had a number of donations this year and a few in which the family attended. At Robert Morris University, parents came to donate their sons backpack. They hung out all day and we talked like old friends. We even discussed ways to collaborate throughout this movement. A memorial service was held in which his friend sang hallujah and a song he wrote himself on overcoming the darkness. I found myself fighting back tears but also felt an overwhelming sense of hope as the day went on. I’ve never before experienced so much kindness- so many people coming together and strangers having one anothers backs.

Moments throughout the day are just too much, so I’ll give myself breaks to walk around campus, focus on my breath and ground myself. I love soaking in a campus, as each is different.

While I can relate to every single story on the backpacks, some really stick with me in particular. This is the due to the fact that there are a vast amount of similarities between myself and the individual. I can’t help to imagine us being very good friends and somehow, connected in a way that can’t be put into words. Several times, Jay’s backpack has been the first one I’ve pulled out during set-up of the display.

A sketch book has gone on the road with Send Silence Packing for the last ten years. Students write down messages of hope.

A common narrative on display days is conversations that consist of how far kindness goes. Too often we hold back exactly what a human needs to hear and I don’t know why. Give that stranger the compliment thats on your mind, smile at the person in the elevator, be kind to those making your coffee. Be the light in a too often dim world. A group of students at the University of Delaware started a club, “Kindness Counts.” The student who came up with the idea told me a few years ago, she was having a terrible day and it was down pouring. She was rushing to class when another student, whom she did not know, stopped and gave her a flower and told her to have a great day. She told me that this simple action made all the difference and from that point on, she wanted to pay it forward and encourage others to do the same. The organization can be found hereher

I thoroughly enjoy the openness and vulnerability shared on display days. In vulnerability, there is strength. Let this message be known. I had a conversation at a display during clean up with a male student. Initially, we were talking about our childhoods and how we have both struggled with anxiety. He then opened up about living with autism, and how difficult this was growing up. When conversations like this become the norm, you know change is coming.

There are over 450 Active Minds chapters at college campuses across the country. It is no easy feat to have Send Silence Packing at your school and at each display, I am at a loss of words for how this next generation of students is taking the lead with the mental health movement. These students are powerhouses and have incredible leadership skills that I admire so greatly. They are innovative, collaborative, and as warm as they are smart. I feel privileged to have met so many wonderful people over these past two tours and can say with confidence that we are in good hands.

The solidarity among hundreds of students, professors, mental health professionals and advocates all across the country gives me the chills. I used to be so bitter and felt hopeless with the world but Send Silence packing has opened my eyes to the change that is coming. This time we are living in will be know of for years to come as the turning point. A world without stigma and shame is coming and now that we have our voices, we shall not keep quiet. We are the vanguard. Onward.

A Scary Time For Young Men

It is a very scary time for young men in this country, according to our president. I’ve been trying to articulate the words on my reaction to this, to everything that’s been going on.

I decided to clear my head and go on a quick early evening walk in the woods. I already know what you’re thinking-that I shouldn’t be doing that as a woman. But this Airbnb I’m staying at is a working farm with acres of woods and farmland that leads to a river. And I’m supposed to not go out and explore that? It’s one of those things on the never ending list of rules women need to follow in order to prevent being assaulted. Don’t go into wooded areas alone and ESPECIALLY do not go into wooded areas alone at night. Thanks for the concern, but I’m probably going to do it anyway.

Another on that list that comes to mind is to never use highway rest areas. Well, with the nature of the work I am currently doing, that’s not really an option for me. On the drive across the country this past spring, we stopped at a huge highway rest area in the south one night. I didn’t feel safe walking back to the lot for oversized trucks with just Alexia, especially with it being dark out. Yes, the thought of being kidnapped, raped or murdered crossed my mind real quick (undermine me and tell me times are difficult for young men, though). I noticed a cop filling his gas tank and asked if he’d come with us to the truck. He smiled and said, “I’ll take care of y’all.” This kind man drove beside us as we walked to the truck. But remember, now is a VERY scary time for young men.

I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a childhood friends post bringing awareness to an event that occurred to her at the mall. She was shopping and noticed a man lurking a bit. When she got in line, he got in line behind her. Knowing something was off, she told the sales associate at the register. The sales associate got her manager who told this childhood friend to wait at the counter. The man made his purchase and did NOT leave the store. He eventually did and the manager walked her out to her car. I found this to be so brave what she did- trusted her intuition on a man that was very likely a predator. It gives me the chills knowing that this man will just set out to find another target. But remember, times are scary for young men.

I can’t imagine putting myself through what Christine Blasey Ford is going through. Why go through all of this if it wasn’t true? The death threats, the safety of her family, the mockery from the president and his supporters, the harassment. Women don’t report assault for many reasons but if the man who assaulted me was going to be sworn into the Supreme Court, that’s about the time I’d speak up as well. Why can’t you remember it? Where was the house? Now, Dr. Ford is a psychologist (a special breed), so she knows more than anyone that when someone experiences trauma, the brain can push it away and essentially erase the memory of it, in order to survive the pain. Which brings me to my conversation with a female Uber driver I had a few weeks ago.

I had went to get dinner and took an Uber back to the hotel. My driver was an ER nurse and doing Uber as a second income. We got to talking about empathy, agreeing that it takes a certain level of it within someone to go into the nursing or mental health field. There was this understanding between us, the understanding between two people that see people at their most vulnerable and assist in their healing, whether it be physically or mentally (or both). She quickly opened up about her husband who nearly killed her last year. He left her for dead and took their two children. If it wasn’t for her neighbor who heard her children screaming, she’d be gone and I wouldn’t have this story to pass on. What’s crazy about this, is this man isn’t in jail. Her brother taught her to shoot and she keeps a gun in the house to protect herself and her kids. Is now a scary time for women or are we just not going to talk about all of this? There is an order of protection and another court date coming up. She told me the family court has been against her, questioning her, and telling her “but you stayed with him so long.” She then told me she doesn’t see herself as a victim anymore, she sees herself as a survivor. I told her how badass she is and thanked her for sharing her story with me.

I am now thinking of the 150+ women that testified against Larry Nassar, a US Olympic team doctor. All of these women remaining silent for years after he abused them as CHILDREN. I remember watching videos of those women testifying, one after another after another, and thinking how brave they are. But also, how did we let this happen? How did this go on for years? The fact that our president did not have ONE public statement on this. Arguably the largest case of pedophilia in United States history yet our president views now as a very scary time for young men.

EVERY women you know has been sexually, physically, or verbally assaulted. I myself have never been sexually or physically assaulted but my heart is with every woman who has. Who has hidden this and not said a word, because in our culture, chances are they won’t believe her. Who have witnessed a man crying to you after he put his hands on you, manipulating you to believe it was your fault. Who had to grow up much sooner than you should have because of a man taking advantage of your youth, knowing he’d get away with it. I am holding space for all of you. I believe you. Whether we are good friends or barely talk, you are safe with me. You are far more badass than you know and inspire the hell out of me.

We allow this to happen, over and over again. It has become systematic. We allow it in the workplace. We allow it at college parties. Endless reports of a good male friend or acquaintance raping a woman they knew, a woman that trusted them. We allow it at bars when you see a dude that is clearly making a woman uncomfortable but don’t say anything because she’s just a stranger to you. And it always turn to, but he was an amazing man, he has a good job, he’s a college athlete, how do you think his family is doing? WOAH. A wave of disgust comes over me, or maybe something that I don’t really have a word for. I feel like crying but nothing will come out. I think of all the teenage girl clients I worked with that had a diagnosis of PTSD due to being assaulted. I think of the woman that came to me at a display and told me about the sexual harassment she was receiving. She hadn’t ever spoke of it before and broke down crying to me, saying she didn’t know what to do. I feel the pain of so many women right now who have stated they are hopeless, whose act of being a survivor continues to go unnoticed.

We have been conditioned to smile and be polite when a man oversteps his boundaries, or act flattered that we are desired. Those days are over. I agree, times are scary for young men. Because this next generation of young women is about to raise some hell and terrify them, scare the living daylight out of them. Solidarity, sisters.

Reflections on a Morning Spent with a Muslim Woman

Yesterday, at our Cape Cop Community College exhibit, one of the volunteers was a young woman from Pakistan. Have you ever met someone and instantly knew they were a genuine, kindhearted person? She had the warmest look in her eyes and a smile on her face as she introduced herself. We got to know each other a bit as the morning went on. One of my favorite aspects of being on the road is meeting people from all different walks of life, religions and cultures.

As we became more comfortable with each other, I asked how long she has been here and what drove her family to move to the United States. She stated her father was looking to relocate for work, and her parents simply wanted the family to be safe. I then asked if she has experienced any discrimination, racism or hate. Without any hesitation she smiled and said, “of course I have. Even as a teenage girl when I first came here.” We then spoke on and off for the next hour or so and her stories had my heart aching.

I will not reveal her name as to respect her privacy. When she first moved here, she worked with her Uncle at a local 711. One instance that stuck with her in particular was a customer coming in one day as she was working the cash register. When the customer reached the front of the line, he started yelling at her that he refused to buy from a Muslim and would like to speak with the owner. She said to me, “see Courtney, I didn’t understand because I was only a teenager. My family has always been kind and accepting with all.” The man proceeded to yell at her and hit the counter. She stated to him, “the owner here is also Muslim.” I listened with tears in my eyes as I tried to comprehend this situation. She then told me she has been taught to remain silent in these situations as she believes they are looking for a rise out of her. I apologized to her, I stated I am sorry that I never have and never will have to fear my own existence as I am simply trying to get through a work day. White privilege is real and if you can’t acknowledge this, you are part of the problem.

She then told me she rarely wears her scarf out in public due to being shouted at on the streets of Massachusetts over and over again. This young woman has even had objects thrown at her. Can you imagine this? Can you imagine not being able to wear that sacred cross of yours around your neck in fear of being verbally and physically harassed? Once again, I apologized for the way people from my race treat her. I apologized that she has to remove herself from her very own culture because of racism, ignorance and hate. Not once in any Muslim texts does it say all Americans and Christians should be killed. Nope, that is Al Qaeda and ISIS misinterpreting the religious texts. You know, sort of like the KKK and Catholicism. And you know what else? Her family fears the Muslim extremists as much as Americans do.

She then brought to my attention an atrocity that occurred in the United Kingdom this spring called, “Punish a Muslim Day.” This consisted of a point system for white people in which they would gain a certain amount of points for things such as verbally abusing a Muslim or pulling a head scarf off a Muslim woman. (For the record, her father and the non-extremist Muslim men do not force women to wear these scarves. It is more of a sacred object, an item of prayer).

Lastly, I spoke with her on a book I recently read- “I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.” Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education and human rights. Once thing that stuck with me was when she United States military “accidentally” bombed her home town. Soon after, the US apologized and made an agreement to not go near her hometown again. Two weeks later, bombs were again dropped on her hometown. I remember reading that Malala said, “From that point forward, it was clear the United States would do whatever they wanted with no regard for the innocent.” Malala began fighting for female education and opening up secret schools at such a young age. She did not care that this could result in her death. I remember thinking to myself, “Oh my goodness, Court. All the times you complained about waking up for school, or said this material was pointless” .. as I then read that Malala was shot in the HEAD for the very thing us entitled white people take forgranted.

The young Pakistani woman I met yesterday smiled with me as she said there are extremists on all sides and she does not resent white people. She left for a few hours and then came back with a dozen donuts for everyone- just so, so kind. I urge all of you who fear Muslims to actually sit down and talk with one.

Lastly, white privilege has absolutely nothing to do with who you are as a person. It has everything to do with the systematic reality of the country we live in, in which white people are indeed given a head start. Minority communities are stuck in some of the most corrupt, poorest school districts in which children are being set up for failure. Suicide rates are highest among marginalized groups. Acknowledging white privilege promotes a shift in our culture, ignoring it keeps minorities in this never ending cycle of despair.

When you look in the eyes of someone whose ancestors have been oppressed, you see the pain, you feel their pain. And pain patterns are passed down in their DNA. We must dismantle this corrupt system- because it was built this way from day one.

In solidarity with all those who experience hate and racism on the regular- I am behind you.

Skydiving With Grandpa

A few months ago, the world lost Alexis Zayas to a skydiving accident. She was a free spirit in its purest form. Since then, many people have said they will never go skydiving. Hell, I briefly said that, even after wanting to go for years. But I can just picture Alexis laughing at us, pestering me till I just shut up and did it. Her passing is teaching me that time is something we can’t get back, to deliberately throw myself into situations out of my comfort zone and let go of fear.

I think we all find ourselves not following through with plans or bucket list experiences. We are too busy, or tired, or simply “not ready.” A  few weeks ago, I called my grandpa and he goes, “hey Court, weren’t we supposed to jump out of a plane?” Alexis’ tragedy occurred and I said to myself,  “alright, grandpa is in incredible shape. But he is 82, and things happen. Car accidents happen. Sudden illnesses happen. Life can pass us by.” So I kept an eye on the forecast each weekend and when I saw Saturday morning would be clear, I booked it. I called my grandpa to tell him the news and without any hesitation, he said, “alright! See you at 6am on Saturday!” Which brings me to my grandpa. 

He will be 83 in less than a month. He is what many would describe as batshit crazy. The good crazy, of course. He has been driving solo across the country for the last 5 or 6 years, which inspired me to drive cross country myself. He served in the army in the Vietnam war. He goes night fishing and kicks my ass hiking because sprinting up the mountain is his only way. He exercises and lifts weights regularly- yes, he could put people my age to shame. He collects rainwater to conserve (difficult times are coming, he’s been telling me for over a decade) and has a sweet sword collection and always reminds me to carry pepper spray. In his case, dog spray- “it works on the two legged dogs too, Court.” He rode his bike to my house from Queens, 60 miles round trip, the day after skydiving. My grandpa truly embodies the whole, “be ready for anything” mentality. He knows his time here could be cut off at any moment. 


So yesterday morning, the day of our jump, we got in the car and all I could think of was how terrified I was. My grandpa laughed and did not show even the slightest amount of fear. He reminded me to focus on my breathing. We both enjoy being on the road so despite how nervous I was, the ride was peaceful. I gazed out the window as the sun rose, took a breath and smiled. Ahh, I was at ease.

While filling out paperwork, I did some people watching and saw the look of anticipation on everyone’s faces. Is it too late to back out? We watched a video and got all geared up. Everything from there seemed to go by incredibly quick. It was as if time was nothing but a concept for the next 30 minutes. 

Next thing I know the dude I’m going tandem with is rushing me to the plane. I frantically ask for my grandpa and I’m told he’s already boarded. I get on the plane and look at my grandpa. The  82-year-old is grinning ear to ear and I’m panicking. All of the sudden we are taking off and my  thoughts begin to race. I remind myself to focus on my breathing and remember that fear is an external force. If I go within, fear can not overtake me. If I go within, fear does not continue to exist.

Now, we are halfway up and the man I’m going tandem with asks how I’m feeling. I’m about to jump out of a plane 2 miles high in the air, im f***** terrified. Am I SUPPOSED to feel any other way? He begins attaching everything to my back and tells me to put my goggles on. The door is opening. He goes over the motions I’m supposed to follow one last time. Time stops. 

Did I really just fall out of a plane? I don’t feel like I’m falling. In fact, everything feels still. A meditative state. I have zero fear. I look out and as far as my eye can see, there is lush, green farmland and the Long Island Sound. The lands I call home. I had never felt so free.

I land and look up as my grandpa descends to the ground. People are cheering him on and I still can not fathom what is happening. The agreement had been for him to jump first but I was given no choice with the way we boarded the plane. I glance up at grandpa and just think about how this is happiness in its purest form. 

The man I went tandem with gave me his business card, which had a picture of him diving with Anthony Bourdain. I found this to be ironic as the last thing he asked me before jumping was what my semicolon tattoo symbolized. I quickly explained Project Semicolon- that an author uses a semicolon when they could’ve ended their sentence but chose not to. You are the author, the sentence is your life. He commented on how powerful this was. And then we were flying.


Anthony Bourdain- another free soul that constantly sought adventure and sparked the inner seeker in others as well. A mind that was engulfed in darkness and lost the will to fight. Receiving the business card with the picture of Bourdain made me realize something, it helped me to recall a thought I had while taking off on the plane. I remembered thinking to myself while we ascended that for a few years I too, felt I could not go on. Suicidal ideations were prevalent. I was fixating on the paperwork I had signed, which acknowledged what I was about to do could result in my death. I shed a few tears real quick as I thought of something potentially going wrong. I remembered a time when I wanted nothing more than to die. Yet there I was, wanting nothing more than to live.

And so I kept living- by seeking experiences that make me come the most alive. I lost fear and gained my whole life.

For the memory of Alexis, who gave me the courage to do this. For my grandpa who inspires people day in and day out. And for Anthony Bourdain- who magically became a beautiful reminder for me on Saturday.

Your story isn’t over yet.

The Road Behind Me

I sit in the foothills of the Sierras, looking out at the mountains in the distance while reflecting on this tour that is now behind me. 18 displays. Hundreds of conversations that shook me, that made me feel everything at once. Countless amounts of individuals whose tireless effort is the fuel that keeps this mental health movement going.

I look the other way and see the freeway out in the distance, a road that goes crosses the entire country. The country we drove across to raise awareness and hope. Nearly three months on the road. A road that has brought some of the most powerful interactions and experiences of my life. It has been both an awakening, while exhausting at the same time. People ask us how we do this, how we carry forth with such heavy work. My answer? It needs to be done. And with anything in life- you just keep going.

Display days were emotionally raw and left an impact that can not be fully put into words. I look around at the backpacks and think to myself, there should not have to be a display for this. This epidemic should not exist. Mental health needs to be made a priority, we must do better. However sad it may be, displays spark an overwhelming sense of solidarity among students, professors, mental health professionals, and so forth. We are in this together and will not keep quiet. Silence is not an option. On these days, you just know everyone feels welcome. I’ve listened to people speak of things they haven’t talked about in years- or ever for that matter. A safe space for all.

There was Justin’s Uncle Jim who came to see his nephews backpack. He was such a kind man and expressed so much gratitude towards the exhibit. Jim stuck around for hours. I watched him from a distance as he read the backpacks and smiled at strangers. We talked as if we were old friends- we laughed together, we talked about how valuable life is, we reflected together. Jim took every single resource and seemed to be at peace when he left. He mentioned that all of these backpacks have a common narrative- that those who lost the fight were well-liked, empathetic, caring, and so forth. A few displays later, Justin’s best friend came after she heard how much of an impact it left on his Uncle. I held space for her as she brought Justin’s memory to life.



At another display, a family came to donate a backpack, and a ceremony was held for the young woman that had lost the fight. Her parents, sister, and best friend all attended the ceremony. I felt their pain as tears were shed, but there was also an overwhelming sense of hope. When I looked at her backpack, I immediately saw the light radiating off of her picture. Her sister stated that she was beautiful, both inside and out.

A young man, Matt, came to us in California and opened up about having suicidal ideations. He hadn’t told anyone as he was ashamed and afraid of the judgment that may come with disclosing this. Minute by minute, I sensed Matt felt more at ease. When he told me I imparted a new way of thinking for himself by sharing my story, I knew every second was worth it. Matt left grinning ear to ear and assured me he would use the tools for healing, that he now knew the road to recovery was possible.

In Tennessee, my Uber driver was curious as to what the nature of my work was while traveling across the country. After explaining Send Silence Packing, this man opened up about losing his brother to suicide when they were teenagers. He stated that he does not speak of this much, that his family has been ashamed for decades. His brother was in the military and didn’t want to admit to his weaknesses. We need to stop with this macho bullshit, as suicide is the second leading cause of death among men ages 18-30 in the United States.

Fast forward a few days. I sit in the truck while we drive through the plains of Nebraska. The west behind me, the east ahead of me. This is a bittersweet moment as I am yearning for the comfort of home, my family and familiar faces. There have been moments on this tour where I have felt alone, especially these last few weeks. Being on the road every few days, picking up and leaving places that my soul has felt a calling to, not having the comfort of familiar faces week by week, it has been trying at times. I don’t fight this or suppress any emotion, I allow myself to feel it and I am free. At the same time, my heart is heavy leaving so many people and places behind. I know I will one day return and until then, this road will never fail me. 

The Send Silence Packing tour will stay with me for as long as I live. At every display, I looked around and thought to myself that I could have very well been a face on one of those backpacks- but I am still here. Recovery is a choice and it is one of the strongest decisions you will ever make. There is not enough recognition for those who have conquered mental illness and came out on top, but I am here to say I see you. I applaud you, no matter where you’re at on your journey.

I crawled around in the darkness for so long, but today I can say I’ve never felt so hopeful. There is a war to be won and this is only the beginning.

In solidarity, today and every single day.