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  1. Please Help Me Make This Christmas A Special One For My Mom

    December 3, 2013 by April Smith

    My Mom (and only parent) has recently been diagnosed with Cervical Cancer and has already had major surgery in hopes to remove all Cancer but with no luck of doing so. My mother, Sue, will unfortunately begin chemo and radiation treatments in a couple of weeks and will be stuck at home or in the hospital for much of the time between now and into the following year. As you all can imagine, beginning the first rounds of chemotherapy just one week before Christmas would be trying for anyone.

    In addition to normal Christmas gifts from our family, I thought I would try to do something extra special for my Mom this year to help her get through this difficult time. I would like to invite all of you to send my Mom a Christmas card (or note, whatever!) to help make this holiday a bearable one for her. I truly think she would appreciate receiving thoughtful cards with words of inspiration from people she knows (or doesn’t know). My idea is to collect the cards before Christmas and hand them to her on Christmas day to open. For those who have met my Mom, I’m sure that they would agree that she is an incredibly sweet woman who always goes out of her way to make others smile and laugh. For those who have not met my Mom, I guarantee you that you would love her. She is a kind, warm and strong woman who has been dealt an unfortunate card. Thankfully, though, I now have an opportunity to give to her (as she has to many others) when she needs it the most so I’m hoping that you will join me in this effort to make this holiday a special one for my Mom.

    If ANYONE would like my mailing address to send my Mom a card, please email me at ( japrilsmith @ gmail . com) and I will send it to you.  Please use Subject Line “A Merry Christmas for Sue” when emailing me so that I can get back to you as soon as I can. If possible, I would LOVE to hand my Mom a big stack of Christmas/Get Well cards for her to go through on Christmas day. I truly think this would brighten her day… and even month!

    Again, thanks to EVERYONE who has been so supportive and caring throughout all of this. It means a lot to me especially since I have already lost my father from Cancer in 2007. I have an army of supporters behind my Mom and I in this battle with Cancer and we are determined to beat it!

     

    My Mom and I on Thanksgiving day. My Mom has recently been diagnosed with Cervial Cancer and begins chemo treatment one week before Christmas.

    My Mom and I on Thanksgiving day. My Mom has recently been diagnosed with Cervial Cancer and begins chemo treatment one week before Christmas.

    **PLEASE feel free to share this post on Twitter, Facebook or in emails to coworkers, family, friends, etc. but please DO NOT share it with my Mom if you know her. It’s a SURPRISE! It would be so amazing if my Mom received cards from people that she has never met but have taken the time out of their day to make her feel like she is not alone in this scary fight against Cancer.**

    Thank you in advance for your kindness.

    With much appreciation,
    April Smith


  2. How To Successfully Create a Presence on Twitter

    March 21, 2013 by April Smith

    I have been a Twitter user for almost 4 years now and have benefited greatly from being active on the network, professionally and personally. In honor of Twitter’s 7th Anniversary today (Yes, SEVEN!), I have decided to devote some time to explaining a few techniques to help you create a successful  presence for your business on Twitter. (These tips could relate to your actual business account or your personal account that you use to make professional connections.)

     

    Who To Follow

    • Figuring out which people to follow on Twitter will always be an ongoing process. As a golden rule, it is certainly best to follow any legitimate Twitter users who mention you (either directly or indirectly). If someone is purposefully talking about your business you should without a doubt be following them.
    • Follow local journalists, news anchors, and other people of importance in your city. Chances are that once you start following these people, they will remember your business name, look at your Twitter bio profile which could lead them to your website or a mutual follow.
    • Follow anyone who may be interested in your service or business. Don’t be afraid to snoop a bit on Twitter for people who have the same interests as yours. If you come across someone’s bio who mentions they love food and you own a cupcake shop, the chances of them having an interest in your business are pretty high! There is also the possibility that this Twitter user has heard of your business before or has even done business with you but had no idea that you were on Twitter until now. Score!

    Listen

    • This cannot be stressed enough: The most powerful and advantageous use of Twitter is LISTENING. I can’t tell you how many times I have impressed my client’s customers with a simple and quick response to an issue or compliment all because I was taking the time to listen to their customers online. The open API of Twitter makes it incredibly easy (and cool) to be able to see all tweets that mention a certain topic or keywords.
    • Within Twitter, you should be able to search for tweets that include your business title. Also, Hootsuite, a social media management tool, will even allow you to create certain streams where you can listen in on ALL tweets that include keywords at all times. For example, if your bakery is named Charlotte Cupcakes, it would be wise to create a stream that you monitor daily for those keywords and respond to those talking about your business, whether it is good or bad.
    • If you own a brick and mortar store, Twitter is also a great way to keep an eye on people who are checking in to your business via FourSquare, Yelp, or other geo-location services and then are sending those check-ins to Twitter.

    Tweet Regularly

    • Twitter today has over 200 million active users and more than 400 million tweets are sent out every day so needless to say, it could be very easy for your tweets and presence to get buried in all of the noise. Keeping a steady flow of tweets will remind Twitter users that you are there to stay and that you can be reached through the outlet whenever they have a question or even want to praise your business.
    • One way that Twitter is superior to Facebook is that every single tweet can be seen by your followers (as long as they are checking their stream). Facebook’s algorithm changes constantly and prevents 100% of their users from seeing 100% of posts from pages they follow. With Twitter, your posts will be seen by more of the people who are  following you so be sure to take advantage of that by tweeting daily.

    Get To Know and Reward Your Loyal Customers/Followers

    • I think this is the #1 Twitter technique that most business owners ignore. If you notice the same few people eagerly tweeting about your business, you should be doing several things:
    1. Thank them for being so vocal and passionate about your business! With every positive tweet you receive, you should always respond with a ‘Thank you!’ or ‘We always appreciate your business.’, etc.
    2. Reward the people who are the most passionate about your business by offering them a special discount for their next service or visit. You could even send out a public tweet telling your other followers how awesome this person is because they support your business. People on Twitter especially love when they get special shout-outs or praise.
    3. And of course, make sure that you are following the people who frequently mention your business. It would mean a lot to them to know that your Twitter relationship is mutual.

    Talk Like A Person

    • People on Twitter feel like they can relate to business Twitter accounts that talk just like they do. For example, Taco Bell, as big of a brand as it is, will sometimes respond to random tweets mentioning them and they also send out really funny tweets that remind you that they’re going for personality. The exchange below was between a random follower and the Taco Bell brand today. Pretty neat, huh?

    • Furthermore, It would be a good idea to respond to people who you follow even when the tweets do not pertain to your business or industry at all. Usually if someone asks a question on Twitter that I know the answer to, I will answer it from my client’s account. This more often than not will result in a ‘Thank you!’, re-tweet or an instant follow if they weren’t already following. Win win.
    • Don’t afraid to be creative! Show that your brand has personality and sense of humor by going out of your way to interact. One day a  few months ago I saw that a loyal customer of one of my clients tweeted “Someone remind me later to get bread and milk.” I sent him a tweet a couple hours later reminding him of his to-buy list and he was ecstatic. He re-tweeted my client’s response and I’m sure that also gained my client some cool points as well. It pays to be be human online.

     

    Although Twitter is such a fast-moving stream, there are so many ways to be heard by your loyal customers and new brand advocates as well. Don’t be afraid to be creative and think of how you would personally want a brand to respond to you online. If you make the effort, eventually you will gain a vast Twitter following and create a channel where your customers will want to chat with you on a frequent basis. Good luck out there and Happy Anniversary to Twitter!

     


  3. 6 Ideas To Keep Your Business Facebook Page Fresh

    March 12, 2013 by April Smith

    social ape fb page

    Creating a Facebook Page for your business is simple enough but attracting new fans to your page and keeping them tuned in to your content is another challenge in itself. In this post, I’ll share some brief ideas of how to keep your Facebook page content fresh so that your fans will look forward to your updates and will hopefully turn to you when they need your service or product.

     

    Behind-The-Scenes Photos

    People love to see behind-the-scenes action of brands and business. These type of posts make fans feel like they have the inside scoop on your business,which in turn makes your business seem more trusting and open.

    • If you own a restaurant, post pictures of your staff before their shift smiling and ready to go before the dinner rush.
    • If you own a retail store, snap photos of new inventory being loaded off of a truck. Peak curiosity by asking your fans to stay tuned to see the new merchandise
    • If you run a B2B company, post photos of your staff outings or any cool happenings at the office. It would also be a good idea to snap pictures taken at any community or charity events your company has participated in

    Trivia Questions

    For some reason, people really like to answer Trivia questions and more importantly, they like being the FIRST person to answer correctly! If possible, designate a day each week (Trivia Thursday for example) to ask a trivia question that is in line with your industry or indicative of current events at the time.

    • Before Easter post a question regarding the holiday
    • For a Travel company, ask your fans questions about the most popular vacation spots
    • For a local boutique store, ask your fans of the exact date the store opened or how the name was created

    Offer Exclusivity

    Facebook fans love to feel special and what better way to do that than by offering an exclusive deal to them only? Post a coupon or announcement to your Facebook page and be sure to clarify that the promotion is for Facebook fans ONLY.  (Also be aware of Facebook promotion and contest guidelines so that you aren’t putting your page in danger of being deleted. More info on that here.)

    • For a restaurant, offer a free appetizer with the purchase of an entree to all Facebook fans for one day
    • For a lawn care service, offer a discount on any one service during the summer for loyal Facebook fans
    • If you own a B2B company, create a coupon for 20% off your first service to the company or business owner

    DON’T Talk About Your Business

    There is nothing more annoying than a Facebook Business page that markets all day to their fans by only talking about their business. Try to include content that isn’t just about you and your company but rather figure out ways that you can make your company sound selfless.

    • Post about current events
    • Share content that is relevant to your industry but may not come directly from your site
    • Share content that will make people smile, laugh or think!

    Ask Questions

    If you ask, they will answer. Sounds simple enough but the opportunities are actually endless. This is also a good way to ask your fans questions about the service of your company and even your progress in your social media efforts.

    • Post photos of your product (every now and then) with a question that will get your most loyal fans talking  ”We love our new iPhone cover! Which color would you want yours to be?”
    • Ask “How are we doing here? Tell us what you guys, our most awesome fans, would like to see more or less of from us on Facebook”
    • Poll questions are great for engaging fans and customers online. “Let’s settle this debate for good… Hardwood or Carpeted floors for your home?”

    Be Original

    There is no absolute wrong or right way to do social media marketing for any business. Technologies come and go and regulations and fads change as well. Try not to stay inside the box too much and  be sure to stay ahead of your competition by trying new things. If they fail, you can just move on to the next idea.

     

     

     

     


  4. 12 Ways to Cure A Bad Day

    March 11, 2013 by April Smith

    folly beach

    Everyone has bad days. They are either destined to be that way before your feet even hit the floor in the morning or somehow morph into a crazy storm of unfortunate happenings that leave you reaching for the closest bottle of wine. Either way, this list will give you strength to push through to the other side when you just want to crawl back into bed forever. (Inspiration from Thought Catalog article “23 Ways To Feel Better Instantly”.)

    1. Probably the most important: Go outside. When you’re down it’s almost too easy to stay inside your house and wallow but getting fresh air and breathing in deeply, observing nature, and even people-watching, can help to get your mind off of things and help you to see that life is bigger than just your problems alone.
    2. Get moving. Even if you don’t regularly work out or have a gym membership, you can find ways to get active to release those feel-good endorphins. Take a walk, go for a jog or bike ride, skip down the street; do whatever you have to do to get your blood circulating. You’ll be grateful that you did afterwards.
    3. Go to the beach. That’s what I do! The beach is my “happy place”. (See above photo.)
    4. Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while. There’s this thing; it’s called a ‘Texter’ and it also makes phone calls. Use it! I sometimes do this because I get satisfaction from making others feel special. If you haven’t talked to a friend in months, surprise them with a phone call or voice mail letting them know that you were just thinking about them. Speaking to them just may make you forget about your crappy day and remember some awesome memories.
    5. Eat pizza or chocolate. It always works for me…
    6. Shop. (This could be more for women rather than men.) If you have a pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing, splurge for once and finally buy them for yourself. Then you’ll have something to look forward to while you wait for your awesome package to come in the mail!
    7. Go see a movie by yourself. If you’ve never done this before, I highly recommend it. The first movie I saw by myself was “Magic Mike”. It wasn’t because I was having a bad day but because I was an idiot. (I still want my $10 back, Bow Tie Cinemas.) Turn off your phone and treat yourself to hopefully what is a good flick and relish in the fact that no one can reach you or make your day worse. You’ll walk out of the theater feeling rejuvenated once you’ve forgotten about your problems for a couple hours.
    8. Babies and pets. Babies and animals are so naive and cute that they never have bad days like us. How could you not be happy in their presence?! (Unless of course THEY are the actual reason for your terrible day… In that case, refer to #4.)
    9. Time Travel. Not really, but go back in time through your old Facebook, Twitter, Instagram posts, etc. to help you realize how far you’ve come in life. More often than not, most people tend to move up and forward as they get older and learn from mistakes as they grow. Seeing a status update of yours from a year ago saying “SO awesome I got to ride the bull at Whiskey River last night!!” will undoubtedly make you thankful you are at least smarter than that now.
    10. Do something nice for someone else. Go out of your way to help a stranger or buy food/coffee for someone that you don’t know. Knowing that you’ve made someone else’s day brighter can do the same for yours.
    11. Be thankful. Write a list of the things that you’re thankful for whether it be your family, best friend, the newest Ryan Gosling flick, etc. Having to stop and think of what makes you happy and what you’re appreciative of may have you wondering why you were so despondent in the first place.
    12. Smile. As much as you don’t want to do it on days when you hate everyone, it will make you feel better even to fake it. Smiles are contagious and the others that you bestow your beautiful smile upon will be thankful as well.

     


  5. What Advice Would You Give to New Business Owners?

    December 18, 2012 by April Smith

    As my new business, Social Ape Marketing, continues to grow and evolve, I find myself encountering new obstacles each day that are exciting and often times terrifying as well. One day, while extremely frustrated and overwhelmed, I asked this question on Facebook and wanted to share with you the results that a few experienced business owners offered:

    “As a business owner, what is the one piece of advice you would offer to a new business owner?” 

    •  Business plan. Make sure you get the necessary permits/licensing to run your business (don’t skimp on this). LLC. Get an accounting software (if you’re doing it yourself) or talk to an accountant to make sure you have your books set-up to go (nothing like prepping for taxes year-end w/o good records) etc.
    • Re-invest all the money you can in your company.
    • Don’t spend more than you make.
    • Beer solves everything.
    • Work harder and smarter than your competition and never discount good customer service.
    • If you are opening a retail biz… the 3 keys are location, location, location. On the web a good domain name with great site SEO would be the equivalent.
    • Create a business based on your passion or happiness in running it. The best piece of advice I got was make good friends with a banker, lawyer, and accountant. The can all make or break you.
    • Don’t take anything personal. you can’t make everyone happy. Business is business.
    • Plan your work and work your plan. Also, manage your time well. Lastly and most importantly closing business is the number one priority.
    • Market, market market and work seven days a week for at least the first 15 years…. It has to be your life.
    • There are no hours… Generate revenue in all aspects.
    • Build a team where each employee you have is better at what they are doing for you than you are at doing it yourself. That way you don’t have to work the rest of your life away.
    • Keep expenses as low as possible. Do not do any free consulting.
    • Pay your quarterly taxes and keep immaculate records.
    • Hire good marketing reps that will set you far and above your competition

    I’ve also added a few tidbits that I’ve learned throughout my own entrepreneurial venture:

    • Choose your clients wisely.
    • Make your clients feel appreciated by you and your company.
    • Go above and beyond.
    • Work as often as is possible and enjoy your work enough that it doesn’t seem like work when you’re doing it (most of the time).
    • Stay ahead of others in your industry by constantly learning.
    • Always be prepared to tell others about your company at any time (elevator pitch, business cards, etc.) as people always ask.
    • Be sure to constantly prove to your clients that your services are beneficial, if not imperative, to their business.

    What advice would you give to new business owners? Post them in the comments below!

     


  6. How To (Seriously) Find a Job Using LinkedIn

    October 5, 2012 by April Smith

     

    We all know how difficult it is to find a job in an economy as tough as ours today. Applying blindly to jobs online will most likely get a job-searcher nowhere considering 100-300 people are applying for a typical position. To set yourself apart from the rest, use LinkedIn as an additional resource in your job search. Below are some ways that will get you noticed and perhaps land you that interview that you’ve been craving.

     

    Contact people on LinkedIn who have the job that you want. I’m not suggesting that you bother people that you don’t know but in a brief message state that you are searching for employment and would be interested to know how they got to where they are today. Most people don’t mind giving advice to those who are passionate because they themselves can remember when starting from nothing. If a message may not be enough, you could always invite that person to coffee or lunch, your treat of course.  Doing this the right way could easily land you a new network connection and someone who could perhaps serve as a mentor.

    Reach out to recruiters listed on LinkedIn. Obviously, LinkedIn is a huge resource for recruiters today. If you see a position online that you’re interested in, search for recruiters who work within that company and contact them directly. (Easiest way to do this is to search for the terms “recruiter” and the company you’re interested in. Inform the recruiter that you are very interested in the position and that you would like to apply. Ask the recruiter if you could send them your resume directly to speed up that process. This usually always leads to a new connection for you on LinkedIn as well.

    Follow the companies you want to work for. It’s as easy as it sounds. If you do land an interview with the company you’ve been lusting over, you want to be as knowledgeable about the company as possible. Following them on LinkedIn is a great way to do that. Learn who the CEO, CFO, and other top-ranking employees are. Read up on the most current news within the company so that you can show your research skills during your interview. Not being prepared in an interview is the ultimate death wish.

    Perfect your LinkedIn Profile. Creating a great profile on LinkedIn takes time but is worth it’s weight in internet gold. Make sure that you upload a professional head shot as your profile picture. This doesn’t have to be a photo shot by a professional but one that will make you look like you are indeed serious about your career. Add plenty of keywords to your profile so that your profile will without a doubt be found by recruiters and employers searching for new hires. Fill out your profile as fully as you can and try not to leave any gaps in your work timeline. Describe each position that you have held by using more keywords. Just because you know what your last position entailed does not mean that everyone else will. Play up your best attributes and sound confident without bragging.

    Ask people to recommend you. LinkedIn Recommendations seems to be a tool that most people don’t fully use to it’s advantage. Another person’s opinion of yourself goes a long way in the business world! Kindly ask your former employers or co-workers to recommend you on your past work. You can ask these people in person, through email or a LinkedIn message but make sure that when asking for this favor that you explain that it would help in your job search. Also, don’t ask people who wouldn’t normally recommend you anyway as that could make the other person feel uncomfortable. People are very busy these days so writing a recommendation for someone else means a lot. If someone writes a recommendation for you, it would be a nice gesture to then write one for them.

     

    I’m sure there are many more creative ways to use LinkedIn that I haven’t mentioned here. Tell me, what are some other ways to use LinkedIn to it’s fullest potential?

     


  7. Social Media for Business: The Good, The Bad, The Annoying

    July 11, 2012 by April Smith

     

    Brands are  increasingly becoming ”humanized” now with the integration of social media in our every day lives and I personally think it’s great. I love the fact that if I have a question about a local business I can just look up that business’ information on Facebook or shoot them a quick tweet to ask a question. I now find myself bypassing the Google route and head to social networks for information on a business when I want it asap. Some businesses obviously do better than others but it may just be a matter of time before we all use social networks as a real-time information directory and a direct connection to our favorite brands and local spots.

    I become elated when a small business or even a large brand will notice my mention (whether it’s direct or passive) and in turn thanks me for my patronage or for purchasing their product. It feels good to be appreciated, right? Yup. With every client that I work with, I make a point to thank each customer who has publicly noted on a social network that they’ve done business with that client. I want to make sure that each of those customers will return and even recommend my clients to their friends as well. Social Media Marketing and Customer Service go hand in hand now and although I normally feel that this opportunity to reach customers directly is a great thing it is certain that you won’t be able to please everyone.

    While I worked for ESPNU, there were always sports fans who would curse at certain tweets or on our Facebook page because… well, because they had nothing better to do. As soon as you create a public account on any social network you are handing each person who encounters your brand a huge megaphone. And that thing can reach hundreds, thousands or millions of people. So before creating a social media campaign, you must be prepared for the best (which is usually extremely gratifying) and unfortunately, the worst, as well.

     

    The Good:

     

    I ran a small campaign for a giveaway for a client last week and one of the people who won the giveaway had actually never even been to my client’s business before. After hearing the news that he had won the tickets, this new customer posted this piece of gratitude on the Facebook page:

    “Wanted to say thank you again for the tickets. We had a great time and it was a great show. Neither of us had been there before but you have a couple extra patrons from here forward. The beers were great and our food was even better! Thanks again!”

    With this promotion (that cost us barely nothing), my client gained at least 2 new, ecstatic customers and probably even more from, hopefully, word-of-mouth, as well as a raving review that is publicly visible on the Facebook page for the other thousands of Facebook fans to see. It feels good when social media actually works well.

     

    The Bad:

     

    But then, there are times when it just doesn’t. I am all for calling out a business online publicly if they’ve been completely out of line but typically, if I’m giving a brand a shout out, it’s because I love them and their service. Unfortunately, there are many people who have found Twitter, Facebook, Google +, etc, to be a megaphone for amplifying their MANY complaints. With my clients, I handle “crisis” situations as quickly, professionally and as friendly as possible. The customer is NOT always right as the saying goes, but if a customer is complaining, usually it’s because something has failed in the business model that shouldn’t have (think airlines – Yikes!) and that problem should be addressed online just as it would be in person or over the phone.

     

    The Annoying:

     

    In a newer situation with a client, a customer complained of not getting service fast enough and she did it through several tweets to her couple hundred followers. To make a longer story short, I quickly responded with a sincere apology and notified the owner of the issue. After hearing more of the situation from the ground level, it appeared that this customer was just not going to be satisfied. I explained to her through Twitter that sometimes some unexpected crowds can cause slower service and apologized once again and encouraged her to return another time. The customer responded a day later saying that she was appreciative of the response but she would probably not return, that she hoped we had other people who actually did like us and that there were “alternatives”.

    I understand that this customer was upset but after realizing there was no chance of me appeasing her, I backed off. We lost her. And that was fine. I know that sounds crazy but you’re not going to please everyone. Because the customer was snarky, I didn’t press the issue further, nor did I continue to try to resolve the situation. I could immediately tell that she was just in it for the drama. And I, as a business professional and representative of my clients, am not. Social Media is a great tool for brands of all sizes but I personally do not think that just because we have given our customers “social megaphones” does not mean that we should bend over backwards, kissing ass to everyone that passively complains in the social space just HOPING that their followers will jump into the drama gossip fest. I could have begged this person to return to my client’s business but I didn’t. I simply moved on from the situation and focused on the customers who would be and are reasonable.

    Am I wrong for feeling like there should be a line drawn for how we interact with business and brands online? After all, it’s not just a computer you’re talking to.. it’s a PERSON  behind those brands and some of the things that you say could be very hurtful. Next time, you think about mentioning a brand online in a complaint, think about what you want to get out of the situation and offer advice to the brand of how they can fix the situation. Maybe then the business will actually learn from their mistake and you’ll get a sense of accomplishment in knowing that you’ve used a tool to effectively have your voice heard.

     


  8. Carolina On My Mind

    June 4, 2012 by April Smith

    I’ve lived in North Carolina for 5 years now and I JUST realized that being a Carolinian is a way of life… It’s sundresses, lake days, outdoor concerts and quick beach trips. It’s BBQ and locally brewed beer. It’s mountain hikes and wineries. It’s Southern belles and gentlemen with a Southern drawl and it’s strangers who hold doors and say “Thank you”. It’s an overwhelming sense of being a part of a community where everyone is appreciative of being here.

     

    I am proud to call myself a Carolinian and hope I never have to leave this beautiful place.


  9. The “D” Word

    May 24, 2012 by April Smith

    There are very few topics that get me riled up, longing for a debate. I am not a political person, so political arguments don’t bother me much and religion, amendments and gun rights issues are debates that I’d rather save for someone else to enjoy.

    What does perturb me, though, is when people use terms loosely that should have significant meaning behind them and over time society has twisted a word with serious meaning into one that is taken lightly and thrown around as a ubiquitous saying.

    A word that so many of us are afraid to talk about is the “D” word: Depression.

     

    An All Too Familiar Story

     

    Last summer, a tragic event occurred when a very successful man who was actively involved in the Social Media community in Greenville, SC, committed suicide suddenly in a church parking lot. People who knew him best said that he struggled with depression from a failing marriage and he supposedly admitted and discussed his struggle with depression with his friends and family. He sadly left behind his children and, what seemed like, a great number of people who truly admired him and cherished him as a friend and mentor. I never knew this man but after reading his story, I was overtaken with many emotions. It was a story I have heard several times of someone struggling from a disease that many know absolutely nothing about. I genuinely felt for him, even though he was already gone. I felt for his family and children that are now forced to grow up fatherless because of this disease that most people don’t understand. I also felt for his friends who obviously tried to help him and believed that he had been doing better, when all along he was probably pretending just so that he would not hurt them.

    Another story that has recently touched me is one of someone I used to see on a daily basis that, at the time, I thought was living a normal, happy life. Mike Cranston, a former AP Sports Writer here in Charlotte, used to frequent the bar where I worked and even though I witnessed his copious amounts of drinking, I never noticed anything too peculiar. But about a year ago, Mike went off the grid after leaving his job due to alcoholism and depression and contemplated committing suicide more than once. Thankfully, he has lived through what is hopefully the worst of his depression and seems to be doing much better today. You can read more of Mike’s insightful story here.

    Sadly, there is a stigma behind depression that prevents us all from openly speaking about our experiences with it. Therefore, many helpless people contemplate suicide or are successful in their attempt. Most assume that because someone is depressed they are weak, lazy and selfish, when in fact, it’s actually quite the opposite.

    But instead of defining the disease, it might be easier for me to explain how the topic is of interest to me anyway.

     

    My Experience

     

    I personally, under clinical standards, have been depressed twice. Once, when I was 21 and again when I was 25. For those who don’t know me very well, this may come as a surprise as I think I tend to be pretty happy and strong-willed, but that’s part of the reason why I’m now writing this. I fell into a deep depression due to a manipulative relationship that broke me at the young age of 21. I foolishly gave so much of myself to that one person that I had nothing of myself to live off of and I personally believe this is what jumpstarted my depression. Initially, I drank a lot, slept all the time, acted completely irrationally and ignored top priorities. I don’t think many of my friends or family noticed at first but that also could have been because I didn’t ask for help and hid it pretty well from those that loved me. But over time, I became much worse and stopped eating, talking or even leaving my room. My own world closed in on me so much so that the only person that existed in it was… me. I was in college at the time and stopped going to class only to keep my door shut and watch hours upon hours of TV when I wasn’t already sleeping my day away. I woke up each day, not wanting to be conscious. I hated myself for opening my eyes and seeing that I had made it to another day. The mere thought of existing made me cry and sink further down into my bed. One of my college roommates opened my bedroom door one day and frustratingly asked “Do you even LIKE to watch TV??” (Before my depression, I never really watched much TV. I was always very social and active and had an insane amount of energy; so obviously, this was a red flag for those who knew me best.) I also had a best friend write me a sincere letter explaining how I had abandoned our friendship and had been living my life selfishly. That letter, which was supposed to help pull me out of my depression, instead enraged me and caused an even greater void between my friend and me because I was in denial that I had changed. I still vividly remember the days when I would leave my bedroom to walk to the store to buy a pack of cigarettes and wish that a car would hit and kill me as I crossed the street. It never happened.

     ——————

    After months of denial, I finally made a decision to quit college and move back home to be miserable there. To this day, I still don’t know why my parents didn’t push for me to get help. Maybe, they didn’t see the signs. Maybe they thought I was being an unruly young adult. I’ll never know.  I went on to lose 20 pounds in one month alone (which meant I then weighed a whole 115 pounds at the height of 5’8”) and never smiled… not once. My Dad even asked me at one point “Are you always like this??” in regards to my despondence. Without hesitation, I just said “Yup.” Because I was miserable, I wanted everyone around me to be miserable too. I wanted everyone else in the world to feel the same pain and hate that I did. But the WORST part was that even though my world had stopped, everyone else’s world kept rotating around just like any other day. And that just made me hate the world I lived in even more.

     

    Existing…

     

    After some time went by, I eventually became a little better, but only by default of time passing. I then made the decision to move to Charlotte to start over after my father had passed away. I was definitely not happy or cured in the least bit, but I was strong enough to keep going each day so that I could still laugh and enjoy the small things at times. Then, at the age of 25, I dated someone who challenged my mediocrity of living life with just one saying: “I don’t think you know what you want.” After realizing this person was right, I forced myself to re-evaluate my life by sitting at home alone many nights pondering all my mistakes and shortcomings. What ensued from this self-discovery was a monumental disaster. In hopes that I would truly find myself and then become happier, I actually fell into another deep depression; this one maybe deeper than the first.  I, again, had thoughts that no one wanted me or cared and that I had nothing to live for. All because I never dealt with my serious issues of abandonment and rejection the first time I suffered through depression. I, again, started to miss work and constantly made excuses for extremely irrational behavior. I cried constantly and obsessively called/texted that guy I had dated. I bashed myself over and over again each day because I knew I wasn’t worth a damn thing to anyone. I, again, hated waking up each day, but drank a lot and went out almost every night. When I was awake in the late night hours, I felt like I could exist without anyone else knowing. It was like the entire world had stopped and I could just exist there for a little while in frozen, depressed time.

    I reached out to that guy several times asking him to help me, and of course, he bravely told me that there was no way he could help me and that only a friend or family member should help me. He was right. Looking back now, I realize I only wanted him because he was the only person that confirmed my depressed thoughts of not being wanted. It was like I wanted to prove him wrong and show him I was worthy of happiness. Now I know the only person I should have proven that notion to was MYSELF. I was my own worst enemy. My own thoughts were killing me slowly with each day. During that time, not a day went by where I did not think to myself “If I died in this very moment… not a single person would care.” Sometimes, now, I think about those thoughts that I had and it brings tears to my eyes to remember the emotional pain that surged through my body on a daily basis. I wouldn’t wish that upon my worst enemy. I truly wouldn’t.

     

    It’s Going to Get Worse before It Gets Better

     

    After a night out with friends, I was sitting on my friend’s porch, feeling as helpless as ever and had grown so tired of being a victim of depression, that I decided that the world didn’t need me anymore. My friend was asleep in her bed and as I remembered the high-dose pain relievers she had in her medicine cabinet, I realized that if I were to go out, that would be the way I was going to do it.

    After much crying and blaming God, I mustered up the strength to drive back to my apartment. I then sent two of my best friends a text that said “I wanted to kill myself tonight. I need help.” I then passed out in my bed without taking any pills.

     

    …The next day, very early in the morning, I woke up to a banging on my bedroom window. I jumped up, still drunk, startled and confused and opened the door to one of my best friends standing in my doorway who had frantically hopped my balcony hoping to find me alive. Her and my other best friend had been on the phone with each other all morning worried that they would never see me again. They had also called the guy I dated for help as well as the sheriff’s office on ways to get me help or escort me if I refused help. I still cry every time I think of what I put those girls through that day. They had no business worrying if their best friend was going to kill herself. But, I am somewhat glad that I did finally reach out. I had mentioned being sad before to them but I think they thought it was a “boy” problem, or that I would get over it soon enough. They just didn’t know how to notice the signs and I don’t blame them. That day, I called my Mom and broke down. I told her that I had wanted to kill myself just the night before and she willingly drove that same day from Virginia to take me to a clinic to put me on anti-depressants.

    I was then on different anti-depressants for about a year and a half, seeing things in a haze, but living life enough to get through the worst of it. After being put on medication, my lows weren’t as desperately low but I still wasn’t 100% myself. I never had health insurance so I never had a therapist to talk to or help me to understand why I had become someone else for far too long. The next few years I struggled with my identity and had to discover again what truly makes me happy.

    I haven’t taken anti-depressants in about 2 years and I never want to again. I will admit that the medication got me through the worst of it, but it also prohibited me from living my life for a very long time. After weaning myself off of the meds, I eventually learned how to cope better with disappointment and rejection, but I would be lying if I told you I’m back to 100% even after the worst depression being 3 years ago. I believe that I will always have the disease lingering in my body, waiting to surface if I allow it. Some believe (including myself) that depression is hereditary and I know of my own family members who have suffered from it in a major way and still take medication for depression.

    ——————

    To this day, I have to make my decisions carefully. I have learned that because I am so sensitive to other’s perceptions of myself that I must be very careful of whom I let in or trust. I am still trying to learn to have more self worth and self respect. It’s hard to regain that when you had NONE for years. Depression has also taught me to be more compassionate and understanding. But more importantly, I have learned that even the strongest people are affected by this disease.

    Depression does not discriminate.

     

    Depression is, without a doubt, a disease that controls one’s mind. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain that takes over one’s conscience and poisons it with the worst thoughts imaginable. It is not laziness, selfishness or irresponsibility, although it may manifest itself as those things. I guess you could say that depression is selfishness in the sense that the depressed is only consumed with his/her own thoughts of worthlessness. But even that’s a half-empty observation. In most cases, a person who is clinically depressed would probably rather others not focus on them at all because they don’t feel the attention is warranted. If you have never experienced depression yourself, these concepts are very hard to grasp. Depression is most definitely a twisted mind-screw. It is the devil of your mind that you can’t silence, no matter how hard you try.

     

    There Are Signs

     

    The next time you notice someone being distant, sad or deflated, ask yourself if you think it may be depression. If someone you love sleeps in too late, misses engagements, is losing weight, is always disengaged or is constantly bringing up the same issue in a subtle way, ask them seriously if they are well. Listen to them and offer help in any way you can. If there are any signs of depression, do not ignore them. Force the person to talk if you must or involve the authorities if need be. You may be able to help someone you truly care about before it is too late. I wish someone had done the same for me when I was 21. If so, there’s a chance I may not have gone through that horrible experience again just a few years later. And maybe if someone had helped the many people who committed suicide before it was too late, they would still be here today.

    Our superficial society has created a stigma that depression is embarrassing but more people should be educated on the true effect that this disease has on millions of people every day, like me, Mike and maybe even your own loved ones.

     

    Just because someone is smiling, doesn’t mean they are not hurting on the inside and you NEVER know what road each person has gone down to get to where they are today. Please help someone suffering from depression if you can and feel free to share my story if it will help.

     

     

    “Funny, when you’re dead how people start listenin’…”    

    ~ ‘If I Die Young’ by The Band Perry

     

     


  10. I’m Married to Social Media

    May 15, 2012 by April Smith

    Last night, I had an epiphany… and it wasn’t a good one.

    I am “married” to social media.

     

    Allow me to explain. I am in a long distance relationship so if I’m not out on the town while I’m in Charlotte, I spend the majority of my time at home alone. I also do a lot of work from home during the day (writing and social media work) so some days I may not even see an actual human being, which is an even scarier thought. Because I am alone so often at times, I tend to lean on my digital world to keep me company and informed. I never have a house of kids or a husband to come home to, but I do have social media networks always waiting for me when I arrive home. I am in a marriage with social media.

    Pass the Facebook meth, please...

    I enhance my viewing of TV shows with social media by chatting with my friends/followers who are watching the same program. It’s almost like I’m filling a void of not having anyone with me at the moment to share that experience with. I can guarantee that if I were watching said program with my boyfriend, my phone would NOT be in my hand because I would obviously be talking and interacting with him (the live human being in the room) instead. I also implement social media in my cooking and dining. When did I become one of those people who posts every single meal they eat?! Ugh! It’s like I can’t help it!!

    But, unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. I take my access of social media with me almost everywhere I go when I do leave my home. I take it to dinner, events, the gym, work, bars, etc. It’s like social media has become my… spouse.

    I check in to restaurants on FourSquare, post pictures to Instagram of what I’m eating or doing, rave/rant about my dining experiences on Yelp, etc. And ALL of those networks are linked to Facebook and Twitter just so I can make sure people get really sick of me. If I’m doing it, chances are you’ll know about it if you follow me on a social network. Everything I do these days is documented in some form or fashion by my use of social media and I know for a fact that I’m not the only person who does this each and every single day. And THAT is frightening.

    A few days ago I told myself that I would not post anything on either Twitter or Facebook for an indefinite period of time out of disgust for my tweeting and posting too often, especially of unnecessary information. I don’t even think I lasted a day… but I did learn some valuable points:

    • I post a lot of dumb crap sometimes
    • I should really be focusing on blogging instead of “micro-blogging” nonsense
    • If I’m 28 years old and see my habits as an issue, then our younger generations are screwed, I tell ya
    • I should focus on what’s in front of me that is living and in the NOW, rather than what is virtual or “social”
    • Social ain’t so social anymore
    • I need to read actual hand-held books more often instead of staring at a computer/iphone screen
    • Social media can sometimes make us jealous or envious of other’s lives by comparing our downfalls to other’s triumphs that are typically only showcased on popular social networks
    • Our heads are buried in the sand and we don’t realize how dependent we, as a nation, a world, are, even in the beginning stages of online and social media addiction

     

    So where do we draw the line, folks? I obviously am not suggesting we abandon social networks altogether. That would be disadvantageous for most of us now (and another blog post for the future) but I am a little worried at how much it consumes us. I work in social media and believe that business and consumers alike are benefiting from the close relationship that can be obtained through social networks these days, but there must be a happy medium. I applaud social marketers whom I never see a tweet from on the weekends. I am in awe of those who choose to live their life without such channels (my boyfriend). I, in fact, think everyone, especially those in the online-marketing industry, should find their personal balance between living in the real world and the online world because if not, we will soon be living in a digital culture where, like myself, no one will ever have to see another human being, or care to for that matter.

     

    It begs the questions:

    Where does it stop? Are we sharing too much? Are we addicted? Can we survive without social media now? In a couple decades, is our country going to be led by young people who have never survived without texting, tweeting, Facebook-ing, blogging, etc?

    How do you personally juggle the balance of living in the now and existing online as well?

    I’d love to hear your feedback. Cheers!