Feature Friday: Brooke

Brooke and I went to high school together. She was a little quieter (and now I know more of why from her story), but was always super nice and smiley. Her story is just another confirmation to me that we truly have no idea what could be going on under the surface.
Brooke was born and raised in beautiful Utah, USA. She loves skiing, working out, and thinks having fun every day is a must. She has schizoaffective disorder but is choosing to learn how to deal with it better all the time. She loves her family, friends, dog, and yes she even loves you! “Let’s be kind, be real, and be there for each other today.”


I was very humbled when I got asked to share my story of battling mental illness. I know that there are so many stories out there and so many priorities in life you have going on. If you choose not to take the time to read my story, I am not offended. It is long, probably too long, seriously sorry about that. But if anything just know that YOU are LOVED, you are WORTH and DESERVE every bit of love there is. If you need HELP, please please reach out to a professional, friend, or me. We can and WILL get through this together. Please DON’T GIVE UP. Don’t let your battle win, we will WIN, together we can through HIM.

I am just a normal girl, born and raised in Utah. I was oh so very shy growing up. I was timid talking to adults, I had a couple of best friends, but never really valued myself. I worshiped and envied people’s confidence, looks, and personalities. I grew up in a strict upbringing, which actually made me enjoy the different easy-going, fun, relaxed home styles my friends grew up in. (I love my family with all my heart, not trying to say I am not grateful for them, I did, however, struggle with some things in mine. No family is perfect right?) I am telling you this backstory to let you know for me my mental illness started young, there were many factors that affect who I would become and how my mental illness would develop. I’ll spare you most of the details, and try to keep it short. Just know, I have been the girl that seemed like she had a lot going for her. In reality, I had a track scholarship but was so hard on myself for feeling like I didn’t fit in with the team, and did not keep up at practice. I got asked to and went to I think every dance in high school, would research conversation topics to talk about, but I had crippling anxiety I wouldn’t even talk to my date. I seemed to have a lot of friends, but didn’t actually have any close friends at times, got jealous of my friends being better friends with other friends, and ate lunch alone often. Attended almost every church meeting and event, but still didn’t understand that God’s love was a choice and should bring joy. Instead, I couldn’t let go that I was not as “perfect” as I thought I should be.

A fast summary through college, I was relieved to be away from my strict upbringing but started making choices I knew weren’t the way I was taught and have affected me to this day. Thank goodness for the Atonement. I sucked at track, never ran my potential, but learned life lessons that I am so grateful for. I pushed away my family, tried to find value in relationships that devalued who I really was and let my studies be my last priority. My life definitely WAS NOT all negative, I had a blast at dance parties, being with roommates, and fun random “adventures” (yes I am a typical white girl, proud of it. Where my Instagram husband at ;)) I developed self-confidence, felt pretty for the first time in my life, and discovered what it felt like to get noticed. I am just trying to let you know both sides of reality, what really happened and what influenced the person I have become.

I decided to serve an LDS mission, there were so many reasons I was not ready to go. I realize those reasons now, but then decided to move forward with faith, and leave without being healthy personally, emotionally, physically, etc. I absolutely had good desires to serve the Lord, and find out who He wanted me to be, and I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. Long story short I came home early multiple times, ended up in a psych ward and eating disorder facility. I have to say, I am so grateful for these trials that lead me to the help and knowledge I have now. At the time, however, I was absolutely devastated. I was living in fear, not trusting anyone, not trusting God. I developed psychosis and my anxiety acted up like never before. I turned inward and didn’t realize other people were struggling worse than I. I was told I needed to be on medication but thought I didn’t need it. I got frustrated going to counselors, felt like I didn’t have anything to talk about, or thought it wasn’t helping. I tried for four years to live a normal life, in denial of my mental illness and feeling bitter for the way my life had gone. I was depressed, felt alone, turned my back on the Savior, and questioned the purpose of life.

There is a saying that sometimes when we have trials and hardships they can either turn us toward the Savior or make us bitter. I am so grateful that the last time I hit rock bottom I made the choice to turn to the Savior. In the last two months, I have been to the hospital with the desire to get better. I finally accepted and saw my mental illness as something real and I knew I needed help. I have been transparent and honest with my family, friends, and doctors, so that I can be trusted and trust that they can help me. I have started to make choices to keep covenants I have made with the Savior and to take care of my body, mind, and soul. For the first time in a long time, I feel HOPE. I have started to let myself care more about others than myself, and want to genuinely care. I am going back to school, I feel like I have a second chance. I am blessed, I have a loving family, friends, and support system. I have had a change of heart.

Others, sometimes aren’t as lucky. It completely breaks my heart to see so much hurt and pain on the news. Too many deaths, too much violence, too many misunderstandings, and way too many suicides. My heart goes out to the loved ones of victims, and to well everyone because I know everyone is dealing with pain one way or another. We need to help. We need to help each other, love like He did. You don’t know who needs a smile today, maybe someone with a disability, someone who doesn’t have friends, someone you are jealous of because they seem to have a better life or someone who is happier than you. You REALLY don’t know what anyone is going through. Okay, I’ll get off my darn soapbox, and just hope that this helps someone in some way. I am seriously sorry for oversharing my story, sorry to those I have hurt because of my choices and not understanding my illness. But I hope this helps in some way, and whether we ever actually meet or talk, just know that I love you. More importantly, the Savior loves you. However you are, broken and beautiful, please DON’T GIVE UP. We need YOU to STAY. Have HOPE, you are not alone my friend. We are going to make it, let’s reach out and help each other today.

Feature Friday: Aly

I met Aly at a dinner event with Munchin’ with Moguls. She made a comment about her job and blog and so after the dinner was over I asked her if she’d be willing to share her story here, and she said yes! Her blog and Instagram account are amazing. She radiates beauty, on the inside and the outside. Plus she seems perfect for the job she has, she goes into more detail below.

Aly is a 23-year-old Brigham Young University graduate who currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. She enjoys cooking, traveling, spending time with family and friends, and being adventurous. She works as a Recreational Therapist and is also the creator of Build Your Beautiful— a blog focused on self-love and holistic health.

Hi! My name is Aly. I’m a health fanatic, a recreational therapist, and a blogger.

My three titles have something in common. I became these three things after a difficult challenge I faced in high school. I’ll get into the details here in just a moment.

First and foremost, I’ll tell you about therapeutic recreation. Therapeutic recreation is a holistic process that uses recreation and leisure of all different kinds to bring about a positive change, emotionally, physically, intellectually, spiritually, and socially in an effort to maintain and improve quality of life. I currently work with children and teens ages 6-18 in a behavioral health facility. Most of the patients I work with suffer from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, chemical dependency, or intermittent explosive disorder. Although these are the most common diagnoses, I do work with patients who have other challenges as well.

As a recreational therapist, I facilitate group therapy sessions to teach patients skills they can use to improve their lives. For instance, sometimes I do activities based on social skills to teach my patients how to interact appropriately with others. Sometimes I do activities involving physical sports to teach patients appropriate ways to use their leisure time. Other times I do activities based on mindfulness to help patients recognize their personal feelings and emotions.

I love my job and feel so blessed to do something that has the potential to literally change the lives of others. I decided to become a recreational therapist after I used therapy and recreational activities to help me through one of the most challenging times of my life. This is where the “health fanatic” and “blogger” titles come into play.

My story goes like this:

After a difficult experience in high school, I began to see myself as everything I was not instead of everything I was. At the time, I thought “I should do something about my challenge… something to make me feel better about myself.”

This “something” turned into eating healthier, exercising more, and focusing on myself. Seems great, right? It was great until it went too far and I became obsessed with accomplishing those goals. It all went downhill from there.

My obsession turned into an eating disorder. I suffered from anorexia nervosa for years.

What most people don’t understand about an eating disorder is that the disorder is about so much more than just food. Yes, the disorder manifests itself through food, but it’s not like someone can just start eating more and POOF they’re all better. I only wish it were that easy.

I suffered physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Some of these consequences are completely out of my control and may haunt me forever. I had an extremely low self-esteem, I had a disturbed body-image, and I was constantly self-conscious. I isolated myself from the world, I felt undeserving of love and acceptance, and I completely rejected myself. I was irritable, anxious, and terribly confused.

I used to prove my worth by the amount of food I ate and the number of calories I burned. I used to prove my worth by my jean size and the number on the scale. I’m here to tell you something I wished someone had told me long ago… those numbers DO NOT reflect your worth!

Abandon the bull crap you’ve been brainwashed to believe about perfection and beauty. Thick eyebrows and a thigh gap cannot buy the freedom that comes when you embrace who you are and your own imperfect journey.

Those strong legs allow you to run, jump, carry heavy things, and explore the world. Those freckles on your skin came from your grandma who also gave you your bright eyes and zest for life. Those intense emotions you feel allow you to connect with other individuals and show how powerful experiences can be.

You can focus on what the world thinks of you, or you can focus on what YOU think of you. The percentage of your time you spend worrying about what the world thinks of you is time wasted. The way you feel about yourself is what matters most.

Though I have come a long way, those unhealthy habits and tendencies haven’t completely vanished. I still feel obligated to check the nutritional information on everything I eat; I still feel guilty sometimes when I eat because I’m hungry instead of at my “scheduled” times; I still feel self-conscious some days when I look in the mirror. Though these things are not innately negative, they can become negative if they are taken too far. I’m working to find that balance in my everyday life.

As a society, we rarely talk about the things that hold us back from becoming the person we want to be. The person I constantly strive to be is someone who is kind, loving, generous, healthy, energetic, and joyful. Keeping my challenge bottled up inside of me helps absolutely no one. It doesn’t help me obtain these desired attributes and it certainly doesn’t help anyone else fight through similar battles to become who they want to be.

It has taken me YEARS to get to the point I’m at now. Looking back, I can honestly say I’m glad I’ve had this experience. I’ve met so many wonderful and inspiring individuals through my struggle. I’ve found who I am and who I want to be. I’ve grown stronger and more confident. I’ve learned how to listen to my body and address my personal needs in a healthy way. I’ve learned how to express myself in positive ways; this blog is one of those ways.

The reason I created my blog, Build Your Beautiful, is to encourage others who have a negative view of themselves to have a more positive self-esteem. I know some of you may feel like that goal is impossible, but I’m living proof it is possible. If you feel like you can’t do it alone, reach out to someone you can trust. I’m always willing to talk to anyone who reaches out to me! Transparency is what has helped me the most through my journey. The moment I started sharing my story, three years ago, is the moment I started making progress.

I know that we each have been given unique gifts in this life. I know that we often face challenges to help us recognize those gifts. While challenges are not easy and trials are not fun, we can learn and grow an extraordinary amount through these processes. One of my biggest challenges has also become one of my biggest blessings. Trust in your own process and be patient with yourself. Sometimes those painful experiences teach us things we never thought we would need to know.