Posts by kristinelizabeth

So why the name, "The First Draft"? Well, my dear compadre, this blog was created originally under the name "Next Look" as an assignment for my Rhetoric 440 class during college. Since then, I have graduated and continued to write. I am a seat of the pants writer and find it enjoyable to write and upload blogs within a day or a few weeks. Personally, my name is Kristin and I'm in my mid-twenties. Back in August of 2016, I decided to quit my job in Wisconsin and move to the East Coast. I graduated with a BA in English Rhetoric and love writing slam poetry to Taco Bell at 3 in the morning.

Mental Health and Partial Hospitalization

It’s through a haze of essential oils I realize I’m more or so stuck. A diffuser hisses in the corner. I remember I’m supposed to do something asked of me a second ago, but my mind is foggy. I stare down at the laminated “Check-In” sheet that I’m clutching.

“Hi. My name is Kristin H. My mood for today is anxious…at about a six out of ten,” clarifies my disembodied voice, reading the prompts. “Today my goal for therapy is to learn what I can about Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. I can accomplish this by listening and using mindfulness?”  

Ella, the clinician leading group smiles. Nods encouragingly. “And can you read one of the group rules on the back?” She indicates at the sheet.

“Refrain from taking illicit drugs while in program.” Some nods. Mostly at the floor. A girl in the corner lets her head loll over her lap, hair covering whatever it is she’s drawing in her notebook. I strongly suspect she’s been tracing a circle figure for the last fifteen minutes.

“Thank you, Kristin. Next?” Ella indicates that I should pass the laminated sheet along to my right.

I pass along the sheet and let my thoughts flow in and out of the room as all fourteen of us “check in” to group therapy, stating our names, answering the questions, reading the rules.

I’m an investigative journalist here, I rehash in my head. I’m not one of these crazy people. I’m fine. I don’t know why the hell I thought this was a good idea. I should be in work. Maybe I can write an expose on this once I drop out tomorrow…

I glance up as the sheet makes its way around the room. We’re all a bit unkempt, disheveled, though some of us look like we’re trying. The chairs that line the room are uncomfortable, so many of us fidget as the chairs reject our desire to sit still. Group rules are read one or two at a time by each patient, some rules more obvious than others.

Refrain from personal relationships. Do not talk about personal details related to suicide, addiction, and trauma. Use “I” statements.

I try my best to be a model patient, as if persuading the clinicians that my presence here is a silly mistake. Hands resting on my lap, back straight as an arrow, I realize I’m one of only a few women who aren’t scribbling in mandalas with colored pencils. Is this allowed? I continue to listen intently.

“Alyssa T. I’m tired. At about a seven…”

We’re required to start every session with our firstnamelastinitial, so names begin to bleed into one another, forming meaningless labels. Sarah E. becomes Sarahee, Whitney N. becomes Whitneyenn. Chris R. has a strong Boston accent, so she becomes Chrisahh. The faint smell of booze and tobacco linger around the room. A door slams somewhere down the hall of our classroom. Yelling. A fresh wave of paranoia hits me.

I’m in the looney bin. For all I know, someone got ahold of a gun and intends to shoot up the place.

My thoughts have been along a similar line for a few months now, ebbing and flowing in my mind, not discriminating based on my location, time, or place. But this fear has been increasingly asphyxiating me as each day slips by, and the medications I’d begun taking (and defiantly stopped taking for a few days last week) hadn’t appeared to quell these thoughts yet. I was convinced every forty-year old man on the commuter rail was plotting to kill me and bomb the train. Anyone who looked at me on the streets would follow me home and torture me. I was in an almost-constant state of fear. There had been one too many panic attacks as of late.

“…Jessica, J-E-S-S-I-C-A. Pizlowski. P-I-Z-L-O-W-S-K-I,” a nasally voice interrupts my thoughts. A girl across the room with amplified cat-eye transition lenses states her full name and mood matter-of-factly (“I’m OK”) much to the clinician’s dismay. I think she believes she is showing how little of a f*ck she gives that she’s here.

I stare longingly at the door. Only three forty-five minute morning sessions, a forty-five minute lunch, and two forty-five minute afternoon sessions until I can escape.

***

I definitely don’t want to ruin the suspense for you, but I did not end up dropping out of the Women’s Partial Hospitalization Program I had enrolled in that day. I spent my half-birthday plotting my liberation and ended up staying the full amount of days my insurance covered. On weekdays last month, I drove myself to a hospital and participated in group-based and individual therapy from 10am to 3:15pm. It proved to be emotionally exhausting and not every day felt positive. Some days felt downright heavy and frustrating. But others reminded me of how strong my group of women were, how strong I could be, and how there can always be hope for treatment.

This came at a minor cost.

As we’re all aware, there is a plethora of stigmata behind mental illnesses. I try to be candid about the mental illnesses that affect me in hopes to destigmatize and change the narrative surrounding them, but admitting my health had deteriorated to the point of partial hospitalization seemed like a fairly different ballgame. Should I be embarrassed? Was this something I should avoid telling relatives and friends? Had I literally entered the realm of bat-sh*t crazy? Do I need explain this to my employer?

We’re all aware that psychiatric hospitals conjure up images of Electric Shock Therapy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, gurneys, restraints, and hospital gowns. Before my experience, they did for me too. While this is certainly a realistic (and sad) view of how psychiatric hospitals operated in the 18th century up to more recently, my experience was quite different (though I can not speak to inpatient care).

In practice, partial hospitalization is a program designed for those who need treatment for a psychiatric disorder and are not seeing improvement when meeting extensively with their outpatient therapist, but do not need twenty-four care. Partial is set up to give one “tools” to become more stabilized and able to cope with life. This is certainly not something to be embarrassed by.

I realized I may need this increase in care about a month ago. Both inpatient care of partial had previously been suggested to me during my sophomore year of college, but I could never imagine halting my life for full or part-time care. Now I had a full-time job. I couldn’t just take three weeks off, the thought was ludicrous.

I’ve normally been pretty adept at using coping skills I’d learned through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) over the years, but recently found myself drowning in an ever-increasing amplitudes of emotion. I’d been off medications for two years and hated the thought of taking pills again, especially given I have been diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder (which historically, is hard to stabilize). I needed a space to safely and effectively learn how to regulate my mood while adjusting to the medications I was started. Partial seemed like the right choice for me. And it was. It felt like one of my last viable options.

***

I call it the “brain itch”. When I feel it, I know I’m not well.

Most of the time, it begins with fleeting thoughts that spin around in my mind. When I’m healthy, I’m able to ignore them or address them with a healthy coping skill. However, when I’m already feeling particularly vulnerable, it can quickly escalate into what I perceive to be utter madness.

I’m sitting at Barnes & Noble. I have a book in my hands, but I can’t seem to read more than one sentence without constantly repeating it over and over in my head. Why can’t I read? Am I anxious? Try harder. Eyes glazed over, I turn the page without really finishing the sentence I left off on. “Artemis glanced at me…” A cold knot forms in my stomach. What’s going on? It’s probably nothing. Or what if that napkin I touched earlier had some sort of contagion on it that I now have? Is that why I can’t focus? It can’t be. I know I’m not well. Just ignore it. I stare harder at the book’s stark white pages. That napkin had some sort of blood on it, I knew it. I glance around. A kid sits lazily to my right, reading a comic book. People line up on the escalator. Who is that man and why did he glance this way? He might have explosives. I need to get out of here. I put my book down. It’s not real. You’re so stupid. He doesn’t have a bomb. I need to get out. I get up abruptly and place the book back on the shelf I found it. Exit the store. The clerk looked at me on the way out- did he think I stole something? No. Get in the car. I start the engine. Drive home. Tap your right foot for every striped line you drive past. I tap my foot. I miss a few. Bad things are going to happen. I get home. Avoided danger. I lay on my bed and the stress slowly seeps out of my body onto the covers below. Breathe. I don’t think I’m sick. Threat neutralized. I laugh. I’m so stupid to think someone was going to bomb a Barnes & Noble. But now I’m bored. I don’t want to do anything, yet I have to do something. I’m so bored, what can I do? I sit up. I don’t want to paint. I don’t want to read, I can’t. Study, you need to study for the LSAT. I pick up my study guide and look at it blankly. Try a question. Wrong answer. You’re beyond stupid, you’re worthless. Why even try? Stop it. Try again. I’m trying to fight off the tears that are inevitably coming. I can’t even focus, maybe I did catch something from that napkin. Text your sister. You do not have a disease, but confirm this with her. She’s going to roll her eyes. This is so dumb. I can’t seem to bring the energy to look at another question. I glance at the clock. 7:37pm. Those numbers add up to seventeen. It’s a safe number. I throw my LSAT book on the floor. Open my drawer. Lay out half a pill from one container, two pills from another. One from another. Two from the last. I take every last one of them, just as they have been prescribed. What if they all mix and kill you in your sleep? I get into bed and pull the covers up to my chest. Hands at my side like a wooden soldier. Did you check the doors? No. You should. Check the doors or someone will abduct you as you sleep. I think I did. Did you though? I get up. Check the door. It’s locked. You’re so pathetic. No plans for tomorrow? No one could stand you anyway. No reason to get up. No wonder you were dumped by the last guy you saw. Get back into bed. Covers up. A tight feeling in my chest. Am I dying? Please make this end I can’t be in my own head like this. I can’t do this. Make it stop. Make the noise stop. It’s been two hours and I succumb to the drowsiness that takes me down…down. Down. Sleep five hours. I’m not tired at all. But hungry. Did I eat dinner yesterday? Blank space. I do not remember.

***

I started appreciating partial on the third day. Once I realized (through conversations with the clinician at the hospital and my own therapist) that it was ill-advised to stay for a few days and leave, I began to embrace group sessions.

At my particular program, two to three of the five sessions revolved around Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Each session was led by a staff clinician who directed, steered, and offered prompts for the group to discuss. Some clinicians offered a more psychoeducational approach, while others allowed for more of a group-led discussion. The structure was the same, but the quality of the group largely depended on who was in or leading each group (in my case, there were two rooms you could choose between each session).

A majority of our time was spent learning about appropriate coping mechanisms to help us through times of high distress. DBT tends to focus on the synthesis of the “logic mind” with the “emotional mind” through four main components: mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation. The idea is that instead of thinking in extremes, we should find the middle-ground between what is logic and our emotions as the result of an inciting incident. The ultimate goal of DBT is to create a “life worth living” through acquiring new skills and healthy changes in behavior. You can read more about it here.

Most of the time in each session involved learning and practicing coping skills in a controlled environment. By practicing in a “safe” environment, it’s become easier for me to utilize my DBT skills when in times of distress (such as doing the “opposite action” of when I am feeling sad, i.e. dancing to music, a coping mechanism taught in DBT).

The remaining sessions would vary upon the day. Sometimes we’d work on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or do an Open Process session. Other times, art therapy was incorporated through painting or drawing. One of my favorite sessions was called “Empowerment”. My group of women was challenged to come up with empowering words or phrases for ourselves and create something on a blank sheet of paper. At the end of the session, we went around the room and spoke about what we chose to write and why.

I picked the quote, “who is stronger than you?” from the book Wild. Other women had their own phrases, but we all spoke to the challenges of finding our strengths through our depression, trauma, and other disorders. I’d never been so hyper-aware of the difficulties facing women who feel crushed under the weight of their mental health. We were all struggling, yet we built one another up during the session and let ourselves be vulnerable with one another. I left that day feeling much lighter than when I had walked in. I was learning to truly love myself and see the beauty in others.

***

I’m in the forest again, just like when I was a kid. This time is different, though. The path leads my tennis shoes down a wood chipped path, swallowed by thick, lush, green leaves and branches. I’m sweating lightly, having just returned from a run. Normally, I’d be slightly paranoid about being alone in the woods, but as I breathe in the deep, musky scent of the earth, I’m present. I’m here.

I stand in a clearing dappled in the colors of a warm May sunset. My eyes close slowly and I feel the air around me from my feet, to my skin, to my very being. What do you smell? A verdant oasis, the earthy smell of mud, a slight breeze wrapped in gold spun from the light, sweet honeysuckle. What do you feel? Hair brushing my temples, feet grounded like the tree roots swelling from the earth around me, the sun’s faint, glowing embrace on my face. What do you hear? The longing twill of a robin, the soft rustling of leaves in the forest’s topmost branches.

Opening my eyes, I begin to wander, fingers eagerly outstretched to the beauty around me. What do you see? Colors, the high contrast of sound and light, sharp definition of jagged rocks, soft light filtering through the delicate flora above. My worries melt away and I’m here in this moment. Nothing else matters except my exact position in time and space.

It’s the practice of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. To me, I’ve always known it as mindfulness.

We sometimes forget the little things because we’re focused on the future, on worrying about our next few steps. But it’s the little things like a walk in the woods or enjoying the scent of a wildflower that add up to make a majority of our life experiences. I’ve learned the art of finding myself in these fleeting moments. Through this, I’ve found peace in the madness.

***

The penultimate moment in partial for me was when I decided to let go of my denial that I was not “okay”. For many months preceding this May, I’d been lying to myself and others about my well-being. I lost motivation and tried my hardest to remain optimistic while ignoring most of my feelings. After spending time with my family, friends, and their significant others, I focused on how alone I felt instead of how happy I was to be surrounded by positive, loving relationships. I could hardly focus on studying for the LSAT, but when I could, I quickly grew frustrated with myself. Was I stupid? I continued to beat myself up as if it was a sport. I felt like a fraud. I knew and preached what a healthy person should be thinking during times like these, but I couldn’t mentally convince myself to get there.

Sadly, it would be months until I realized I had been pushed to my breaking point. One day after work, I started uncontrollably crying in my car and could not stop. I wanted my brain to stop bullying me. I wanted to turn my thoughts off. I couldn’t go a day without experiencing a myriad of uncontrollable high and low thoughts. I didn’t need to be happy, but I desperately wanted to put a pause on being me. If I couldn’t commit to partial hospitalization for myself, I’d do it for my loved ones. It’s all I feel I had left. So I talked to my therapist, called the hospital, and asked for a place in their women’s mental health program.

Initially, I was relieved. But after getting buzzed through a double set of security doors at the hospital, I panicked. Once again, I convinced myself I was fine. I was functioning, right? I didn’t need this, it was a mistake to have committed to this program. I wasn’t a lunatic. I’d work on getting my way out as soon as I met with my clinician.

In my denial, I had convinced myself I already had all the necessary tools to live a happy, healthy life. But this changed as the women around me shared their stories and allowed themselves to be vulnerable while in group therapy. Suddenly, it was okay to admit I was struggling. It was okay to not know all the answers, okay to feel a loss of control. We were in partial together to figure ourselves out. To find a sense of peace in the madness. To acquire coping mechanisms to help us fight through trauma, depression, and life. In this, we were strong together. The moment I let my facade go was truly the moment I was set free. I was free to begin healing again.

Another large part of my healing process began with addressing the fact that I shouldn’t try to hide every negative emotion from myself and loved ones. Hiding my feelings is not the true meaning of being “healthy”. It’s okay to feel sadness, anger, and frustration- even when I’m not feeling well. It’s more so how I choose to address the amplitude of the emotion that matters in the short and long term. This is something I’m still working on to this day.

Overall, partial was a humbling, eye-opening, overall positive experience. It’s taught me that I want to become a student, not a sufferer, of my mental illnesses. Through psychoeducation, I’ve built up the skills necessary to bouy me to the surface when I’m in times of distress. I learned how to do this in partial, which provided a safe environment for me to do so. This is hardly anything to be ashamed of. I asked for help when I needed it most, and this is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.

So circling back to my initial questions: Should I be embarrassed? Was this something I should avoid telling relatives and friends? Had I literally entered the realm of bat-sh*t crazy? Do I need explain this to my employer?

The short answer to all these questions is a simple “no”.

Taking control of your mental health, if not for yourself, but for the loved ones who surround you, is never something to be ashamed or embarrassed of. If you are surrounded by a great support group, you will have little reason to avoid telling your loved ones you had the strength to take charge of your mental well being. Those who do not support you despite this may not have a place in your future. And in my opinion, your employer only needs to know you are taking time off for your health (to keep things professional).

Mental illnesses are rife with stigma. It won’t be easy to change the negative narrative surrounding them, but it shouldn’t mean we do not try. While I once was afraid to admit I needed partial to regain a sense of meaning in my life again, I no longer feel this way. I’m strong through my struggles. I’ve learned a lot about myself through the time I’ve spent participating in group therapy. The women around me proved to be overall positive influences on my life and I wouldn’t change this for the world. I’m strong knowing I am on the path to finding a life worth living and this is largely due to facing my fears, admitting I was struggling, challenging stigmata, and participating in a partial hospitalization program. And this is the path I want to be on.

***

If you have any questions after reading this post, please do not hesitate to reach out to me in the comments section below.

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Intro: Elizabeth Fairchild

Elizabeth Fairchild was not a silly woman. So naturally, she applied makeup before driving herself off a cliff.

Her mascara wand popped out of its tube comically. She was a dead woman, yet heaven help her if she looked horrid when the coroner unzipped her body bag later that night.

One swipe left. Another swipe right. One last on the left (her f*cking eyelashes had a gap in them ever since she’d plucked them out with a tweezers years ago). Her hand did not shake. She was, after all, comfortable with her fate.

Digging through her purse with her free hand, she rummaged around until her fingers brushed a pack of menthols. She flicked the top open, snatched a straight. As the cigarette caught the flame from the lighter, Elizabeth slowly puffed smoke at her reflection over the porcelain bathroom sink.

What a droll time it was, indeed. Her impending doom didn’t dishearten her. She’d never felt so indifferent. Critically, she squinted at the Elizabeth staring back at her, cigarette hanging carelessly between her lips. Her mouth tightened as she took another deep draw.

Deep-set, black eyes. Blunt cut gray hair, too wispy in the front for a lady, her dad always insisted. He also insisted on calling her Lizzie all her life. Didn’t catch on. Ladies should always have their hair in a sleek updo, he willed. Didn’t catch on either.

Elizabeth gave herself one last hard look. Let the cigarette stub teeter out her mouth. She snubbed it out with the toe of her oily black Mary Jane and grabbed a tube of lipstick from the kitchen counter. The television flickered in the front room. An arm flung over the side of the flea-bitten couch, palm up.

Right foot, left foot, over the sh*tty, linoleum floor and through the door Elizabeth carried herself. She unlocked the car door, flipped the top off the lipstick, and warmed up the poisonous red rogue on her middle finger. Smudged the cream on her right cheek, left cheek, then nonchalantly on her lips like an unholy trinity.

She pressed her Mary Jane to the ‘52 Bel Air’s brake pedal and started the engine. Blew a kiss at her reflection in the rearview mirror. The plot was set.

It was show time. And honey, Elizabeth Fairchild thoroughly enjoyed a show.

SELF-LOVE | Thoughts

From the dawn of time, I remember learning I should treat others the way I’d like to be treated. As the first-born child of God-fearing, Methodist-raised parents, this message was delightfully reinforced by studying Luke 6:31 while in Sunday school.

“Do to others as you’d have done to you, boys and girls,” the Pastor’s daughter preached as identical, corresponding coloring book pages were passed around the class. My Sunday school friends and I then scribbled in a Caucasian Jesus to bring home to our parents so they could accidentally misplace it in the recycling bin later that week.

As kids, most of us have been taught to treat others the way we want to be treated. Whether it be our parents, religion, or watching Disney’s Bambi (“if you can’t say anything nice…”), we somehow figure out that life tends to be more enjoyable and rewarding this way.

But sometimes we are so adamantly taught how to treat others; we forget how to properly treat ourselves.

How often do you hear a friend dismiss a sincere compliment, catch a parent disapprovingly looking at his or her reflection in the mirror, or see your sibling caught in a toxic relationship?

It has taken me an extraordinarily long time to write this particular post and not because I have a shortage of feelings about self-love, but because I feel as though I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I’m a work in progress, but this is a place I think many of us identify ourselves as being in. I dismiss compliments, get caught up in how my physical appearance is lacking compared to others’, and let toxic relationships fester for longer than I should let them. All these things add up to quite a lot of unhappiness.

Until recently, I identified “self-care” and “self-love” as taking five minutes out of my life to apply a face mask or buy myself a pretty dress as a reward for an achievement. These can definitely be expressions of self-care and self-love. But while doing these things can certainly be a way of properly grooming yourself to become the best version of yourself that you can be, I think there are many other facets to learning how to treat yourself with love and respect to maximize your enjoyment from life.

The first is learning how to truly love your physical appearance. The second, in my humble opinion (hey, I’ve been living for 26 years now, that gives me some clout), is who we choose to surround ourselves with.

SELF-LOVE: Physical Appearance, Diet, Exercise

While I’m never one to say “no” to an undressed wad of cold, plain spinach, and long (plyo-filled, of course) walks on the beach, I’ve learned that part of my satisfaction with my body relates to more than just what or how much I choose to eat or workout. My satisfaction comes from how I view food and exercise and what their function is in my life.

Like many women, I’ve struggled with food guilt, binging and purging, abusing the treadmill, counting calories, and struggling to adhere to a workout plan amongst countless other negative behaviors. My senior year of college, I convinced myself that a strict, vegan diet was the pinnacle of all health and further convinced myself to adopt an unmaintainable, intense workout regime.

I’ll look so great, I thought. I’ll be happy.

It’s no surprise that when I set myself up with so many lofty goals surrounding my physical appearance, I failed spectacularly. I hated working out. I didn’t see myself getting thinner. I hated food, which I now felt alienated me. My skin was still acne-prone and cutting dairy out wasn’t helping. To make matters worse, I viewed these failures as an innate character flaw in myself. Food and exercise had always been something I knew I could control, so I controlled them obsessively to feel like I had discipline in my life. Once I burned out, however, I stopped working out and limited my calories to “make up for” my decreased activity. I felt like sh*t. Was I a sh*tty person for not having a pristine physical body or lacking the consistent drive to get there?

A large part of how we see ourselves and how we determine our self-worth comes from our relationship with food and exercise. Unfortunately, in today’s culture, deviations from standards of beauty (flat abs, a miniscule waist, a dance-hall ass, you know the drill) can equate to a perceived deficiency of character or lack of self-care. We all know this is ultimately not true, but sometimes it’s quite hard to remember. It’s difficult to be a woman or gay man on social media. We’re bombarded with images on a daily basis of gorgeous tanned skin, pearly white teeth, and airbrushed perfect bodies. When we become acclimated to these images, it’s almost a cruel reminder looking in the mirror to see how we may not measure up.

Since I’ve turned 26, I’ve found that whatever images I’m plagued with on social media, I’m most happy with my body and self-image when I have a relaxed, non-image focused, sustainable attitude toward food and exercise- not when I’ve achieved a week-long calorie deficit and lost five pounds. I spent a vacation on the beach a few weeks ago and for the first time in a long time, I did not feel the need to hide or cover up my body. I found a sustainable workout regime (and I hadn’t lost weight!) that focused more on just getting me moving as well as found a non-calorie deficient diet I could manage. I enjoyed working out and appreciated preparing dinner. Confident in this, I accepted that my body is just that, – a body. A body is just that, but also so much more. It’s wonderful tool to aid me in doing what it must- living. I can enjoy hiking, dancing, hugging, laughing, and anything in between with what I have now, and I feel infinite. I can do all these things enjoyably without washboard abs, perfect skin, or after a five-day juice cleanse.

Self-love comes from a place of finding sustainable methods that help you find YOUR beautiful, whether it be on the inside, outside, or both. We all know what society finds beautiful, but when is the last time you asked yourself what you find beautiful about you? The more I’ve grown into my twenties (a tumultuous time, let’s be honest), the more I place value on loving myself for who I am and my effort to become a better version of myself. Part of this comes from remembering to practice forgiveness- forgiving myself when I’m not able to finish my workout, and not feeling guilty over eating what I want, when I want to. I’ve grown to appreciate a makeup free face, guilt-free donuts, and loving my body (and mind!) for what it can do for me. Loving yourself begins with thankfulness and forgiveness. After all, a body without a beautiful mind is simply an empty vessel.  

SELF-LOVE: Relationships

We are who we choose to surround ourselves with. Some of these people are in our lives whether we choose to have them there or not, including family members or co-workers. Others, we choose, such as friends and partners who become family.

Much of our happiness or lack thereof comes from this community of people. Will they be there for you or abandon you when you need it most? Are they someone you trust? How do they treat you?

Self-care is taking a part in positive relationships (both romantically and platonically) with those who lift you up. A positive relationship will demand the best of both parties, show you how to truly love and be loved, and teach you more about yourself. You’ll feel safe, trusted, and empathetic and return these courtesies to the other party involved. Cutting those out of your life who do not fit this criteria can immediately be the most painful experience in the world, but how can you care for yourself if surrounded by negativity?

I’ve been pretty lucky to stumble upon some of my closest friends through sports. High school volleyball gave me some of the healthiest friendships that I’ve had for the longest time. Distance has certainly taken a toll on how often we talk, but we all know we are there to support one another whenever or wherever. Through college, I gained more friends as I weeded through others. In my toughest times, they lifted me up and shown me unconditional love not unlike my own family. Relationships are never perfect, but at the end of the day, I’m grateful knowing the friendships I continue to foster push me to be a better, happier person.

After moving away from home, I’ve attempted navigating through a different type of relationship I’m most unfamiliar with: romantic relationships. Romantic relationships have always been more of a challenge for me. This past summer and fall, I let an overall negative romantic relationship fester because I so desperately wanted affection and thought I’d found it. I couldn’t be more wrong. I had been independent for so long and I wanted someone to take care of me, someone to be my best friend and someone to support. As we all know, relationships are a two-way road. I hated who I had become when with this guy and didn’t feel like myself. I was embarrassed. I hardly recognized the girl that left her house at night just to see him for a few hours, knowing full well I’d never get what I truly wanted: a stable, loving, relationship.This past winter, I did what I knew I had to do. I broke things off. It still hurts to this day, but I learned the hard way that just because someone else does not love you, does not mean you should not love yourself.

This past year, I did not do an overall great job of surrounding myself with healthy, positive, romantic relationships. This is why I especially consider myself lucky to be surrounded with friends and family who remind me I am very much loved for who I am. I’m trying to remind myself to be grateful for the hard lesson of not letting my self-image be contingent on someone else’s perception of me. It’s taken some time to begin rebuilding myself up again, and I’ve done so through the positive relationships I choose to surround myself with.

Now that I’m in my mid-twenties, I have less time to entertain negative friendships and relationships. I’m figuring out what I value in a relationship and am learning to say “no” to anything that is not that. Remember that you always have a decision, even when it feels like you don’t or when it feels impossibly hard. By evaluating relationships consistently, I’m practicing self-care and self-love. Surrounding myself with positive relationships serves to make me an overall happier, more secure person. I’m able to more effectively navigate life’s trials and tribulations with loved ones at my side.

***

So my question to you is this: what are you doing to self-care and self-love? It could be something as simple as acknowledging a friend’s compliment or finally having the courage to end a relationship that has been negatively impacting your happiness. It could even be as simple as taking five minutes during the day to apply a GlamGlow Supermud face mask.

Learning to love and care for yourself is not as innate as we may think it is. Life happens quickly. We become complacent, allowing ourselves to think that diminishing happiness is simply a reminder we should re-adjust to this new self-prescribed norm. What we may not realize, however, is that we can be much happier than we think. It starts from within and can require practice.


What if we started treating ourselves the way we treat our loved ones?


Self-care for me is 12/10 dancing in the rain.


2018 | The Good, Bad, & Ugly

About one month ago I sat on my bed, eager to write a “Christmas Letter” detailing my year. This clearly slipped through the cracks. My bad. To be fair, I try my best to come up with a main idea for each post I write as to not embarrass my previous English teachers, but I struggled to think of a point to make readers reflect on their own years. Unable to come up with any cohesive storyline, I abandoned the post until today. Here’s to a selfish “my year in review” which is sure to entertain. This past year was full of triumphs, setbacks, and one overarching theme that finally became evident with only a few days left to spare: gratefulness.

***

2018 was another year of growth for me, much as I’m sure it was for you. I began dating, got two (two!) new jobs, moved to Boston from Providence, took the LSAT, and fell in love with Scotland. There were plenty of tears. Some came streaming down my face as I uncontrollably sobbed, wondering if the pain would ever subside. But others, and these are my favorite, came from beautiful moments of unadulterated happiness- such as one of my best friends getting engaged this past September.

Essentially, it’d be silly to characterize the year as either “good” or “bad”. I don’t feel like a year is quantifiable in such terms. Instead I like to rely on more ambiguous I-have-a-liberal-arts-degree questions like What have I learned? Have I loved and been loved? Am I trying to better myself? What makes me happy and why? As we all know, the end of the year is typically a time for reflection, review, and resolutions.

So let’s start with the highlight review reel, the sometimes superficial fluff I’d include in a Christmas letter that’ll lead you to believe my life is flawless, darling:

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Mount Adams from the Madison Spring Hut in New Hampshire this summer.

I welcomed in the New Year surrounded by friends unlike the previous year and will be in one of these friend’s weddings this May. Photography became my go-to hobby on weekends and I continued to travel New England in search of places to utilize my Canon T5i Rebel’s tripod, having graduated from leaning my iPhone precariously against inanimate objects with a self timer. I secured a new full-time job in a high rise in the heart of downtown Boston. Scotland and London blew my mind in April. I bagged a few additional peaks in the White Mountains this summer and have now summited seven of New Hampshire’s ten highest 40,000 footers, some multiple times, most alone. This September I juggled studying for the LSAT with a full-time job and part-time volleyball coaching gig at Suffolk University. I turned twenty-six this November.

As we all know, pleasure accompanies pain. It’s how we can distinguish feeling between the two. Though 2018 was an overall productive year for me, it was only this way because pain often drove me to make difficult, but necessary choices.

Dating has not come easily to me. I’ve written about this previously, but struggling with your mental health while trying to let another person into your life can be a challenge (it’s a challenge even without a mental health disorder!). I began the year by making myself miserable over a guy who clearly only wanted a casual hookup. I self harmed, closed myself off to friends, and questioned my value as a human being. After some deliberation, I pushed myself to continue dating. This summer I was delighted when I was asked out on a second date with a guy I felt I had a connection with. After a somewhat turbulent, yet sometimes wonderful seven months, the relationship ended amicably. As I sat on my bed crying, I felt a million emotions at once, but self-harm and suicide never once crossed my mind. I felt both relieved and anguish in a beautiful, tragic kind of way, but above anything, grateful. I learned so much through my heartbreak. I’d grown and came to terms with what I consider to be things I am inflexible about in a relationship. I will not beg someone to love me as I have in the past. My self-worth is not determined by anyone other than myself.

Other than dating, the latter half of my year largely revolved around studying for the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). Working as a paralegal over the past year has not satiated my appetite for the legal field, so after many heart-to-hearts with female attorneys I had worked and work with, I signed up to take the September LSAT in August. I’d never considered myself someone who could even dream of being a lawyer, so I kept the fact I was studying for the test quiet for a few weeks until my anxiety really kicked in. Was I too stupid to do well on the test? Did I even have enough time to study? What would people think of me if I didn’t get into a good school? The “what ifs” began making me physically sick, negatively impacting my health as the test approached. I constantly felt nauseous and sick and ended up losing fifteen pounds, but not in a way I was proud of. Finally, test day came and I completely bombed the LSAT. Again, my self-worth came into question.  Was I a piece of sh*t for not scoring what my brother had? How could I have thought this profession was for me?

One of the blessings of working around attorneys is that it forced me to begin thinking more critically and logically. So while faced with a choice, I did what I believed to be necessary for my success. I swallowed my pride and paid half a month’s paycheck to sign up for a class leading up to the next test in January. After busting my ass this winter, I scored three points higher on the midpoint test than I did on the September test. I consider this a small victory. No matter what happens, I know my self-worth is not contingent on a test that asks me questions like, “Where can Polly sit if she can’t sit next to Jeff and Nora?”. CRAZY, right?

In addition to getting comfortable with the idea and practice of dating, I have also come to terms with aspects of my past that I’ve buried for some time. Interpersonal, romantic relationships had been a violent, emotional struggle for me while growing up. I grew up believing I was “sick” and “unnatural” because I was attracted to both sexes. I beat myself up and spent a large majority of my highschool career and a few years in college terrified someone would find this out. After thirteen years (yes, I knew as early as 7th grade), I finally began identifying myself as pansexual if asked. I no longer feel frightened or disgusted by something that I consider naturally a part of me and who I’ve always been. I’ve never felt the need to proclaim this or make a statement about it, but my point is that 2018 was the first year I am not afraid to admit it. I have nothing to apologize for. For this realization, I am immensely grateful.

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Picture Cred: Amanda Dettmann

While visiting my sister this Christmas, I walked into her room to get a grip on the new condo she now inhabited (my parents moved to Georgia this fall leaving Alli in Wisconsin to finish up her master’s). I sat on her bed slowly, wrapped in a warm towel, still sopping wet from the shower. As tendrils of water from my hair snaked down my back, a small handwritten note caught my eye.

I am grateful for my struggle because without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength.

If you know my sister, Alli, you know she lives for Pinterest quotes. If you know me, you know I live to roast Alli about living for Pinterest quotes. Somehow, this quote didn’t strike me as something to make fun of.

I’m still kind of unsure of my strengths in life, but I know 2018 has pushed me to my limits. I’ve felt emotions I was unaware I could even feel until this year. Some came from simply gazing upon peaks of summits shrouded in cloud, others from allowing myself to become intimately vulnerable with another human being. It’s been a year of pain, bliss, stress, joy, and everything in between. For all these things, I am grateful because it’s allowed me to live my life to the fullest. We call can’t be sure we will be granted another trip around the sun, but we sure as sh*t can be sure of making what we can of the life that was given to us.

Here’s to 2019!

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When one member of the squad gets engaged, we all get engaged.

Growing Up: Liking It

The Awakening

In 1998, American Girl published the first edition of a book titled The Care and Keeping of You. The premise of the book was to educate frightened fathers and pubescent girls about the developing female body from the perspective of a “trusted, cool aunt”. And boy, did it ever.

Five years later, my mom bought the book and slipped it into my reading collection, hoping to prepare me for the impending doom of sex-ed class. Under the delightfully ignorant impression the book was a supplement to Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, I eagerly began reading and quickly became horrified. The book laid out devilish plans that claimed I’d better start preparing for the shag carpet I’d soon grow in my arm pits, the bleeding that would undoubtedly begin occurring for a week every month (and I wouldn’t die?), and these sweater puppies I’d get called breasts that I should hoist up or risk letting droop to the floor. For chrissake, I was a biological ticking time bomb.

So like every well adjusted pre-teen, I vowed to not grow up. I would not, could not, grow up. I would not in a box, not with a fox; I did not like this idea, Sam-I-Am!

I immediately decided the most obvious way to repress the onset of puberty would be to eliminate the possibility of getting boobs, because this was the feature I frequently bullied my 7th grade neighbor, Caity for having. My young, half-witted, developing brain was under the impression that a bra alone could stifle my body’s attempts to grow “outward” as disclosed by that diabolical American Girl book. After all, Kit Kittredge didn’t have a rack and I strongly suspected it was due to the shelf bra in her camisole. So now, the once tossed-aside precautionary Fruit of the Loom training bras suddenly became vital to my very essence of being. I would use them to strap down my non-existent boobs, I thought defiantly. That’ll stop the puberty!

We love an Aeropostale hoodie!

But my male peers had different ideas for my progression into womanhood. (Ask any grown female or weathered fourth grader.) Chances are she had her “come to Jesus, aw shucks I’m a woman!” moment when a male figure verbally abused her in some way. I soon learned it didn’t matter if my boobs came in or not, I was unwillingly and ungracefully thrust into womanhood in fifth grade when a classmate told me he made a Sim character of me and “woohooed” me in his hot tub.

Hallelujah, I was now a woman. I twirled in a circle, angels sang, and size 34B bras and Kotex tampons rained down from the heavens. Though I now realized there was a clear divide in males and females that could not be ignored, my body had not yet betrayed me.

But it would soon in seventh grade.

Pride and Period Juice

I don’t recall getting my first period. Some women conjure up wonderful tales of “becoming women” after delicately ruining a pair of Limited Too underwear at thirteen, but as previously discussed, I had already identified myself as a grown-ass woman since fifth grade, so I’m left to speculate as to what occurred and when. I can’t help but reasonably infer I thought I’d sharted my pants for a week straight until my mom knowingly slipped Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret into my reading collection.

Regardless, I do specifically recall the struggle of wearing a pad when I was in middle school. Terrified and terribly confused as to where a tampon should be inserted, I nearly passed out on the bathroom floor attempting to shove an entire plastic applicator up my a**hole. Much abashed, I now knew my only choice to combat Aunt Flow was to wear a super absorbent pad for three to five business days per month.

This is all fine and dandy while wearing my finest pair of dark-wash, bootcut Kohl’s Glo jeans, but wearing a pad became more difficult with the prospect of wearing spandex for volleyball, a new sport I was unfortunately good at due to the fact I could slam dunk on all my friends’ dads by age thirteen. Carefully unwrapping an Always “Sport” pad from its unbearably loud wrapper, I’d strategically stick the base into one pair of spandex and layer another pair of spandex over the first to hide any odd looking bumps should my teammates check out my ass during practice. I now had myself a bulletproof diaper that crinkled with every step I took. At that moment, I proudly secured my fate as a braces-wearing virgin for the next twenty years.

Not only did re-learning how to effectively wear a diaper for the first time since being a toddler benefit me for volleyball, but I could now feel more safe while at school as well. Layering a pad under two pairs of spandex and jeans allowed me to gain some confidence back after dreading I’d unleash an unholy flood on anything I sat on during the school day. The only thing I feared now was another girl hearing me unwrap a pad while in the bathroom during passing time. (This was something I avoided by unwrapping the pad quickly while the hand dryer was on. I learned this technique from when I’d take dumps during intermittent dryer blasts so no one would hear questionable splashes or plops- a process that could take up to an hour).

Vogue.

With time, a mirror stolen from my mom’s bathroom drawer, and the prospect of being cyberbullied by my older friends, I eventually found out how to use a tampon. I’m not sure how I felt when I graduated from wearing diapers a pad at age two, but I think the second time I graduated from wearing a diaper a pad and no longer required a spandex-diaper was much more iconic. I know this because the entire experience is written out in code in my diary (which was cleverly cracked by my sister using the key on the following page).

Saving Face, Feeling Great

In 2006, icy eyeshadow and glossy lips were all the rage in beauty magazines like Cosmo, Seventeen, and Teen Vogue. I wouldn’t have known this though. I first picked up Seventeen a year later in August 2007 (covergirl was Hilary Duff), confused as to why there were pictures of a latex tube unraveling itself onto a banana with step-by-step instructions on page 34.

While many chic, beautiful women and closeted gays can delightfully recall enchanting moments of their first encounters with makeup, I can’t relate. I never snuck into my mom’s makeup drawer to steal her Chanel Rouge lipstick or apply a quick spritz of an eau de parfum of any kind. I am not one of these fabulous gawdesses.

From what I can remember, my sister and I used to raid my mother’s makeup drawer for one item: blush. Instead of turning ourselves into sun-kissed kweens as advised by Revlon, we thought it hilarious to apply blush heavily all over our faces to feign a bad case of sun poisoning. I can only infer now this has to be the cause of why I continue to suffer from acne- it is simply because I applied blush so heavy handed in seventh grade that the pigment is still trying to free itself from my clogged pores.

Beyond applying blush, my first encounter with makeup was Maybelline’s “Silver Lining” eyeshadow. Pressed into a pan with small applicator, I skillfully smeared metallic pigment all across my sweaty lids. No mascara. No brows either- as far as teenage America was concerned, eyebrows simply did not exist until Anastasia Beverly Hills made us aware they were solely on our faces to draw in, dye, comb, pluck, fluff, gel, stencil, and spend $500 on per month.

As my hormones raged on into eighth grade, beauty magazines encouraged me to beat my face into quite the flawless, handsome-looking pancake. In addition to metallic eyeshadow, I now added foundation to my skin routine. Zits? Gross. No one could even know I had visible pores. I packed on five layers of foundation and concealer so I’d look like Ashley Tisdale in TigerBeat magazine.

Peep the blue metallic lipstick.

Because I did not have the porcelain skin of a china doll, I was at constant war with my face. At night I played a continuous, sweaty game of whack-a-mole in the mirror. With the calm determination of a deranged plastic surgeon on edibles, I tweezed, poked, prodded, and pushed my acne further into my pores. Any time one zit would subside, another rose up in its place. I would pick my face into submission or tweeze trying.

“It was from hitting myself in the face with a shovel”, I’d yell loudly to random passersby in the halls, making a gesture to the gouge I’d made in my forehead from trying to rid myself of a blackhead.

Turns out it’s increasingly hard to convince your peers you’ve been repeatedly hit in the face with a shovel, especially in the warm, summer months. So onward I continued, beating foundation into my skin even harder, making Aunt Jemima proud of her little pancake faced-child.

To Be Continued…

Boys, School Dances, Homosexuals, Social Media in 2007, and Cross-Dressing

L E S S | Making Room for More of What Matters

A graveyard of cardboard boxes lay scattered across my bedroom floor, most slumping tiredly, as if they too wondered why it had taken me so long to rid them of their contents. It had been roughly two months since I’d moved to Newton from Providence. I’d lost track of what I’d put where and why a long time ago, but oddly, I hadn’t missed the two ball gowns I bought on a whim last December or all forty-three t-shirts I’d acquired since 2013.

I sunk down to the floor next to a box labeled dresses and sh*t. It was the third time I’d moved in two years- and this didn’t include the two months I’d spent moving in and out of various campsites and hotels in 2016, living out of the boxes piled high in my 2014 Ford Escape. I needed to downsize or risk drowning in all my clothing and knick-knacks.

As I continued shuffling the mess of clothing around my room, I couldn’t help but wonder why I’d decided to keep this cute (but uncomfortable) Banana Republic top I’d never worn. Rummaging around further, I found an ill-fitting, leather dress from college. I held it up into the light skeptically. Dust swirled around my room, light filtering in through my dirty window. Bought on a whim and now highly unrealistic to keep, I had no idea why I’d continued to drag this little number along with me as well. What, did I plan on wearing this to work? As if, hunney!

Letting the dress fall to the floor amidst the mounting chaos, I hopped across my room to retrieve a trash bag from the kitchen.

Four hours later, a light sheen of sweat glittered on my forehead (and down my butt-crack, let’s be real, here). I felt much lighter, my mind less cluttered. I’d stacked up my forty-plus t-shirts and picked ten of my favorites to keep. My old gameday dri-fits from college volleyball were placed in a plastic bin along with my half-retired horseback riding gear. The dri-fits were too threadbare to donate, but too special for me to toss quite yet.

By the end of my tirade, I’d decidedly kept four pairs of jeans (I’d only realistically worn two on a weekly basis), a few pairs of trousers, and no more than a half rack-full of nice shirts and tank tops. Though a stunning dress was clearly my vice, I donated or recycled anything impractical that I didn’t feel 99.9% beautiful and confident in. What was the point of keeping a pretty, but clingy dress that amplified my insecurities?

In that moment, I realized I’d rather have less clothing that was worn more if it meant I felt more comfortable in my own body. I wanted to become less uncomfortable, wear less unflattering clothing because that could mean more room for the pieces I genuinely loved myself in.

Sitting on my bed, I gazed across the room at my now airy closet. I’d eradicated any trendy pieces I’d acquired in college from places like Zara, H&M, and Forever 21. These items had served their purpose once upon a time (i.e. going out, an athletic banquet in 2012, etc.), but ceased to provide me additional pleasure beyond their initial use. The items that I’d kept were simple, made from quality material, could be worn several ways, and complimented my body. I laughed as I realized most of my favorite pieces were from REI, Columbia, and LL Bean (I would’ve been appalled five years ago). Though my dollar didn’t stretch as far at these places, I had no regrets because of the comfort and confidence they gave me (this isn’t to say that items from Zara etc. can’t bring you the same feeling, by the way).

As I sat on my bed, I squinted at the six (six!) trash bags around me. This was all well and great, but I also wanted to take the next step and implement a more minimalistic mindset in the future as a consumer. Without a doubt, I’d be moving again and didn’t want to continue the buy-wear-give away cycle I’d grown accustomed to. My goal was to purchase less items that I now knew were frivolous and impulse buys, and focus more on reusing, repurposing, and practicing restraint. I could not justify keeping over forty t-shirts.

***

Part of adopting a more minimalistic lifestyle began with disposing of or donating items that no longer encouraged positive self-image. The next part began by taking a more proactive approach to controlling the ads and marketing I was a recipient of on social media. For me, social media use had geared my mind to think a “buy now” and “buy more” attitude was sustainable for my lifestyle and salary. Bloggers and celebrities I followed on Instagram served to perpetuate my desire to buy, buy often, and buy based on fads and trends. In the past, I’ve been known to see a backpack on Pinterest and buy it one click later on Amazon Prime. I already had four useable backpacks at the time, so you tell me whether or not this was a wise decision on my part. This was not an isolated incident and led me to engage in more transactions than was ever necessary.

Furthermore, seeing the perfectly airbrushed bodies of various influencers and bloggers I followed did little to help my self-esteem. By surrounding myself with images of beautiful models and perfect looking women, I grew more insecure. Suddenly I felt the urge to buy whatever it took to make me tanner, more fit, and prettier. I knew I had to change something or I wouldn’t be able to get out of this never-ending, zero sum game of comparing myself to others.

As I scrolled through my feed, I began unfollowing accounts that encouraged diet-culture, praised skinniness over healthiness, and placed importance of outwardly appearance over inner character (which can be harder than you’d think to determine). I noticed the accounts that I enjoyed following the most were down-to-earth bloggers or photography accounts that encouraged my creativity and overall desire to live a healthy life. Instagram didn’t have to be a negative place for me if I surrounded myself with more body-positive accounts and beautiful imagery of landscapes. Less of a focus on airbrushed, unrealistic content meant more time for what I cared about most on the platform: finding real people whose passion for their content was contagious and inspired me to accept me for being me (see the list I’ve compiled below).

In the past few months, I noticed my self image became healthier when I wasn’t comparing myself to a small, unrepresentative community of people who are essentially paid to look good. Though I am well aware I can never limit my ability to block out anyone I think has a great body, beautiful skin, or “perfect” on a day-to-day basis in real life, I’ve become very much aware of the idea that just because someone else is beautiful, it doesn’t mean that I can’t be. I wanted to spend less time obsessing over my looks, and more time appreciating the body I’ve been given and what it can do for me.

***

Placing an emphasis on less to make room for more of what is truly important to me has altered the way I think, dress, and serves to continue encouraging me to become a happier, less insecure and worrisome person. As a girl who spent a large amount of time thinking I’d never be happy without losing twenty pounds, getting a nose job, and having the best clothes, I could not have disproved myself more. Instead of spending hours (yes, hours!) stressing out about acne, how awful my hair looks in unflattering light, and how a pair of jeans presses into my love handles,  I’m trying to remember my friends and family love me for me, not because I’m an image of perfection. I know this because I feel the same way about them.

Truth is it took much more than six garbage bags and an exodus of unfollowing on social media sites to reach the conclusion that I could be happier with less of the right things. I’m very prone to latching on to an idea and practicing it for some time before resorting back to my old ways, but I’ve been able to practice restraint while shopping and focus less on my appearance for some time now because celebrating small victories has been sustainable for me. On the same token, I don’t beat myself up too badly if I slip up.

Instead of committing one hundred percent to buying nothing or instantly loving how I look at all times, I take pride in small victories in my shift in behavior. Sort of like intuitive eating, I ask myself how I would feel after a purchase and if I could truly put the item to good use for a large extent of time. Impulse buys feel good in the moment (especially if you’re trying to treat ‘yo self in a moment of sadness/celebration), but how often do they lead to good long term buys? I also ask myself, “what will this item replace if I purchase it?” in an effort to reduce my impulse buying. There’s no “one size fits all” answer. This is up to you and your given circumstances.

So in the quest to find happiness and learn to love myself, I’ve found that less can be more. This isn’t my final answer to this ever evolving challenge. I’m sure my attitude will change many times over in the future, but for now, it is viable solution in my day-to-day life. One thing I am sure about, however, is that happiness and confidence look more beautiful on everyone than any piece of clothing money can buy.

***

My friends and I are into “vibes”. In particular, we love to encourage good vibes. Any time any one of us get tired on a night out, one friend in particular is known to snap her fingers in said tired person’s face while yelling, “VIBES”. It’s become a habit while we’re together- since we don’t see one another often, we like to maximize on the good vibes we have while we’re together.

Like the average human, I like to optimize the good vibes I receive on a daily basis. This not only includes the clothing I wear that makes me feel good or the reduced mess I have in my closet now that I’ve downsized, but also includes what I consume on social media. For some good vibes that are easily accessible by a flick of the thumb on your screen, I highly recommend following the following on Instagram:

Quin – @everchanginghorizon

Quin’s photos are simply amazing. If you love nature and have an appreciation for photo editing, he is a must-follow.

Robyn Nohling – @thereallife_rd

Robyn is a nurse practitioner and non-diet dietician encouraging women to practice intuitive eating and finding peace with food and their bodies.

Stay & Wander – @stayandwander

Again, amazing photos taken from a community of photographers. All nature, all good vibes.

Aspen the Mountain Pup – @aspenthemountainpup

Do you like dogs? Do you like the outdoors? Well, this is both and Aspen is a golden retriever. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Tasty – @buzzfeedtasty

Food, quick video demonstrations, and great content.

Folk Souls – @folksouls

This account inspires me each day to push myself to make my photo editing skills better. I can’t say I always have an “amazing” location to shoot every day, but it challenges me to find beauty in what I now consider the ordinary- Massachusetts.

Accidentally Wes Anderson – @accidentallywesanderson

For anyone who loves this quirky film maker, you’ll love the aesthetics of this account.

Lola Tash and Nicole Argiris – @mytherapistsays

Two words: fire memes.

Happy Not Perfect – @happynotperfect

Mind over matter. This account is great for words of encouragement with a focus on mindfulness.

Dating for (Mentally Ill) Dummies

It wasn’t my best date, but it wasn’t my worst either. He showed up, unlike my first date ever in college. That was a plus.

He was sweet, I knew that much, but I found myself straining to find common ground amidst lengthy, awkward pauses. Tense crossed legs, vigorous nodding (don’t dissociate, damn it), I gripped a cold fizzy beer in my right hand like the lifeline I knew it was. Feigning interest, I propped my chin in my hand and noticed that his eyes flicked towards my now-exposed wrist. Self-consciously, I jerked my arm off the high-top table and back into my lap.

We needed a distraction. He had mentioned salsa dancing in passing earlier, so I drained my IPA in ten seconds and vaulted myself off my chair, date in tow. The poor guy probably thought he was gonna lay the pipe that night.

After a ten minute Uber ride, we flashed our IDs and a quick smile to the bouncer and entered a sticky-floored bar in downtown Cambridge. Shaking my head when asked for another drink, my date and I hit the dance floor. Under the flickering lights and gyrating, sweaty bodies, a bridal party from my college’s hometown screamed at my arrival and asked if I was dancing with my husband.

Grinning like an idiot, I smacked her shoulder and yelled, “HE’S MY BOO” over the pounding bass. Whipping my hair around like a banshee, I fumbled with my date’s shirt buttons and unceremoniously unbuttoned his shirt in the middle of the dance floor. An hour later, I soberly drove him to his house and dumped him off on the curb. I hope he didn’t see me exchanging numbers with that Julian kid earlier. Gawd, being manic was so great.

The dates I’ve had are few and far in between, but it’s safe to say that between myself and my friends, we have a few stories to tell.

If “getting out there” and “meeting up with hawt singles” on apps is what gets us millennials off our phones, off our asses, and into the arms of that girl/guy who had a puppy in photo number three, then so be it. I used to balk at the thought of exchanging messages through an app only to meet a rando in a bar, but now I have learned to embrace it for what it does and the purpose it truly serves (meeting people!).

Dating is hard. I often find myself wondering how the hell two people can mutually agree to see one another after a first date. Through many (MANY. I’m a HAWT piece of a**!) trials and errors, these meet ups have taught me to live in the moment and chill out a little bit. Not every Tom, Dick, or Harry will be your potential husband. What they will be is a potentially good time, so offer to split the beer, get to know the human next to you, and enjoy being in the moment.

Easier said than done though, right?

It used to be a lot harder. As I’ve described in previous posts, I’ve had a somewhat abnormal dating past life due to several factors, the largest being my mental health.

After a particularly ugly break up in high school, I was confronted with parts of my illness I was in no capacity and had no idea how to control. I became angry, frustrated, and increasingly negative while in the throes of my anguish- but most of all, I became scared. Scared of myself, scared that I was unable to control my mood, and scared I was unworthy of loving someone or being loved in return. Undiagnosed and not treating with a psychiatrist or therapist at the time, I had convinced myself at the age of eighteen that I couldn’t be trusted to date or see anyone until I “fixed” myself. Unfortunately, this delusion continued on through college.

As you may be well aware of (but I was not at the time), mental illnesses aren’t something you can “heal” or “get over”. It’s a bit harder than just taking your Prozac, drinking water, and reading up on the latest edition of “Dating For Mentally Ill Dummies”. Mental illnesses are for life. For some, myself included, it’s sometimes just a matter of learning how to properly cope and find ways to be successful despite maladaptive learned behaviors and thinking patterns.

In hindsight, I spent years (yes, years!) too afraid and discouraged to put myself out there and go on dates, worried I’d become obsessive, manipulative, and insecure like I had been in high school. What I failed to accept until recently is that I’m no longer the girl I used to be.

Now that I’m cognizant of the fact I’m better equipped to handle what life throws at me, I decided to make some changes and take some risks this past year. I know I’m far from the functioning capacity of one who has not struggled with a mental health disorder, but I understand it should not inhibit my pursuit of happiness and self-discovery. With this in mind, I accepted that dating would be an uphill climb, but one I was willing to undertake. Life is simply too short to close oneself off to pathways just because they may be painful and difficult.

***

I’m not unaware of the shock that has passed across some of my dates’ faces as they see the deep purple scars on my arms, a visible talisman of inner turmoil from my past. For some, my mental health been a deal breaker. For others, it’s served as a topic of conversation that has led to unexpected common ground.

It’s a road divided. My mental illnesses serve as a fork in the road where I know only one of two routes may be chosen after my illnesses been revealed. Either we will see one another again, or we will part ways contingent on this reality.

This fork in the road used to worry me, but I’ve learned to let go. I have nothing to apologize for, I have nothing to hide. My mental illnesses are something I will have for the remainder of my life and whoever I end up with will be well aware of this. As long as I’m working on getting better, I see no reason why they should be thought of as having a negative impact on my dating life.

So although it’s taken me years to build up the courage to go on dates, I couldn’t be happier I finally took the chance. I can’t expect (and don’t expect) every date to end perfectly or even well. I’m becoming better at dealing with rejection, though it sometimes hurts more deeply than I know it should. I’m a work in progress. I’m better off learning how to deal with the ups and downs of dating now rather than avoiding it altogether because I’m worried something will go awry- because things always do.

The more dates I go on, the more I’m convinced I’m doing the right thing- even through heartbreak. I’ve never characterized myself as someone who is resourceful, but now I’m forcing myself to deal with my mental illnesses head on instead of avoiding them. Becoming comfortable in a fluctuating state of disquietude doesn’t allow growth and I’m learning to embrace this, however scary it seems. And so far, it’s been a painful, yet wonderful road filled with lessons I’m beyond grateful to continue learning.