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.


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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.

Fighting to Find Your “Happier”

LOOK AT THIS VERY NON-STAGED HAPPINESS!

A coworker recently described me as “positive” and I nearly spit coffee in his face.

LOL wattt? I stroked my beard thoughtfully.  

I recovered quickly, flipped my hair, and continued to sip my iced-venti-sized-soy-wingardium-leviosa-five-points-to-Gryffindor latte. Because I am fabulous and fabulous people do nawt spit cawffee in anyone’s face.

Whatevs.

…but I digress.

Whether it be HIV or attitude, I’ve never been positive. My younger sister, Alli, has always been the ray of sunshine in our family. I’m more likely to win the “I Do Not Believe In Love” award.

It’s a chemical reaction in the brain! I yell at the happily married couple next to me, shaking my fist, haphazardly dumping my Founders Porter on their shoes.

So whether I’m yelling at couples that the object of their affection is a result of evolutionary mechanisms or reading Sartre’s No Exit (“hell is other people”), there’s been a shift in my behavior in the past few months.

Yes, it’s spring and the sun is out longer. Nearly everyone feels happier in these conditions. For anyone with bipolar disorder, it’s possible to cycle into a manic phase because the sun is out longer.

When I recently began controlling my swings more efficiently, I didn’t know if it was because I was happy or just manic (and therefore under the false impression everything was great). After some thought, I decided I was truly happier. I’d been more active in making critical behavioral changes in the span of six months time and saw them finally taking effect.

Yas, kween.

***

It was difficult for me to move out east this past summer. I decided to leave the comfort of home for the unknown while in a mixed state (unmedicated). I moved for a volunteer coaching position with no guarantee of eventually securing a full-time job.

For someone born into a privileged upper-middle class life, I had never put the “yo…lol” in “YOLO” so hard before.

Holy bawls.

Though I knew I was taking a necessary step forward in my life, I struggled to stay positive after the move. My friends were already getting promotions, making ten grand more than me, and were in careers specific to their bachelor’s degrees.

I grew worried I made a stupid mistake by moving out east. I unwillingly dipped back into depression this winter, but it felt somewhat comforting. I knew how to cope with my behavior better than I did while in a mixed or manic state.

Thoughts of self-harm and suicide frequently slid into my head and I found it increasingly hard to keep my mind on the right track. Self-doubt filled my thoughts and I constantly worried I was disappointing my boss, coworkers, and customers. I began obsessing over the smallest things I’d done “wrong” throughout the day and let my anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder control my interactions with others. I slowly withdrew from others.

But the biggest difference between my former self and the Kristin who moved to the east coast is simple: I knew I’d do whatever it took to survive here.

It sounds incredibly dramatic, but I knew I’d fight like hell to stay out east. I loved the ocean, the mountains, the history, and I wanted so badly to make my life a success story. This winter was a turning point for me. I decided to do whatever it’d take to feel happier every day.

It’s naive to believe you can be happy all the time. But in choosing to find my “happier” to keep myself afloat and successful, I took concrete steps to begin changing my thought processes. I don’t necessarily aspire to be happy each second of the day, but instead happier. I’m too sarcastic of a person to throw up rainbows and sunshine 24/7.

One of ten paintings I completed this winter.

To combat maladaptive thoughts, I began painting for the first time since high school and started writing more. I also turned to humor to get me through the worst of my thoughts.

For example, I cracked a joke to a coworker who did not reciprocate well. Realizing this, I instantly felt beyond self conscious and thought it was necessary to cut myself for being such an idiot. That was my immediate reaction. A couple seconds later, I forced myself to laugh at my ridiculousness.

Really? I asked myself. You crack one joke someone didn’t get and you decide hurting yourself is the answer? You’re such a bonehead.

Though I had convinced myself I was a complete idiot at the time, I let myself laugh at my immediate reaction. Humor and sarcasm have gotten me through a lot this winter and spring. Being able to laugh at myself has been a godsend and it completely lightens the mood whenever my thoughts take a turn for the worse. I do not brush feelings off, but instead acknowledge them and decide not to give them merit.

Armed with a sense of humor and a few hobbies, I managed to level myself out. I finally found something worked for me and was figuring out how to cope with maladaptive and intrusive thoughts. I walked off into the sunset pumping my fist in the air to the tune of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”.

That’s all well and good. It wasn’t easy, but I finally wanted to fight back to find true happiness and stability. I used to be under the impression being a pessimistic person with self-destructive tendencies was sexy and mysterious.

Yeah, not so much. It makes no sense from a logical point of view.

I made the decision this winter to put energy into becoming my best self. I wanted to be the girl people want to be around, the one who makes those who hang out with her feel better about themselves. To put it psychedelically, I wanted to give off good vibes as often as I could. I challenged myself to find a way to make those around me feel better off for meeting me.

I’m at my best when I push myself to be positive. Given my disorders, it’s what I need to do to be successful. Happiness to me is caring less about my physical appearance and working on becoming beautiful on the inside- someone who is comfortable in her own skin. I value kindness, humor, being spontaneous and fun, and trying to make those around me feel better off for being around me.

Each day I fight hard to become this girl.

True happiness: popping a bottle of champagne at the Grand Canyon with my best friends. Not pictured, friends.

***

I’ll always have suicidal thoughts, urges to self-harm, obsessions, compulsions, and anxiety. I’ve accepted this but cope by expressing myself through what I love most: art, writing, and humor. I’m chasing what I’m passionate about in life and am trying to live life authentically.

I once believed having mental disorders ruined my life. I equated it to having a chronic sickness with no cure, but I now believe my disorders serve as my best asset. They’ve completely altered the way I look at life because I made the conscious decision to push myself to become happier. I’m grateful for my experiences, though it hasn’t been an easy journey for myself, friends, and family.

***

If you’re struggling and don’t see a way out, just remember you can be incredibly resilient if you want to fight to find your “happier”. It’s a battle. Sometimes I get frustrated by the fact I’m fighting so hard for what many take for granted.

It’s difficult to see how naturally others cope with disappointment when you feel like you’ve worn yourself out for something insignificant. Just remember the fight is worth the hard work. Fight to be happier and you’ll find true happiness along the way.

I wouldn’t take back any of my experiences because it’s led me to where I am today: finally becoming okay with who I’m becoming and who I want to be. 

***

NOTE:

I am periodically asked why I choose to write about my personal experiences with mental health disorders. Why would one so willingly talk about something that makes you appear “weak” or “flawed” to others?

It’s my personal opinion that the dialogue needs to be open when discussing mental disorders. A diagnosis does not make someone less of a human, less of a co-worker, less of a friend, less of anything. Every once and awhile the world needs this gentle reminder.

Countless people have reached out to me thanking me for opening up. I understand it’s comforting to know you’re never solitary in your struggle. Occasionally, it takes brutal honesty to reach out and make necessary connections to help save or improve another’s quality of life.

I’m willing to share because my experiences can be a lifeline to anyone who is under the impression they are hopelessly alone. You’re not alone and your life is worth more than you can ever imagine.

Another painting I completed this spring. My mantra has been “create” so my sister bought me a bracelet as a constant reminder to me to create when I start feeling down.

Guest Post: Beauty & Self-Worth

I’m learning how to love myself, belly rolls and all. My body is a wonderful tool, not something to be scrutinized or ashamed of.

As a human with access to multiple social media platforms and magazines, you’d have to live under a rock to not know our culture places an enormous focus on physical beauty and appearance. We admire certain models, celebrities, fitness coaches, and peers for their hair, body, makeup, clothing. Why not? It feels great to applaud people for their fabulousness and dedication to be ridiculously good looking.

But, like, hell-o? We already knew this from age six when we caved wore scrunchies and Oshkosh B-Gosh overalls to fit in? Duh.

So while I will always be your cheerleader for posting a great bikini pic (you better werk), I will also be your biggest fan no matter what you look like if I truly find you beautiful on the inside. Cellulite and all.

We all struggle with our self confidence when it comes to comparing ourselves with others.  There is always someone with better hair, eyebrows, abs, and legs than us. It’s hard not to fall into a black hole on the Instagram “Explore” page.

Sometimes we’re able to brush off our feelings of self-doubt and love ourselves for what we are. Other times, it’s hard not to feel inadequate while scrolling through airbrushed photos of others frolicking on the beach or posing with coconuts.

It’s okay. I’m not here to bash anyone for what they decide to post or who they admire for their looks. Instead, I hope to give you a little perspective from someone who has over forty years (but doesn’t look a day over thirty) of experience dealing with pressure from culture to look a certain way.

My mom’s journey has not been easy, but she continues to redefine beauty every day. She enjoys eating whole foods and has learned to ease up on her formerly rigorous training regime.

Enter Karen Hovie.

My mom is truly one of the most beautiful souls in the world. I say this not only as her daughter, but as a young woman who looks up to a powerful woman who is fighting to change our perception of “beautiful” and what it means.

I asked her to write a guest post and she agreed to share her perspective. Sometimes we need a reminder that we’re all gorgeous kweens! Being stunningly gorgeous isn’t simply knowing how to do your makeup or what to wear or how to eat or exercise…it’s being comfortable in your own skin and knowing YOU ARE ENOUGH as you are.

So as bikini season approaches (it has arrived, honey), here is a kind reminder that your self-worth should not be determined by how closely you resemble a celebrity or model.

Respect your body, eat whole foods so you have energy to spread good vibes, and learn to appreciate yourself for what you are: a fabulous betch that is unapologetically herself.

Enjoy!

***

Last summer, after reading Jennifer Aniston’s rather scathing essay to the media addressing body shaming, I was inspired to write the following:

I give Jennifer Aniston credit for going public with her frustrations with the media in its portrayal of the female experience. However, I wonder if the message would have been more powerful had she been compelled to address a picture of her that was inarguably beautiful, but inarguably edited, instead of one that cast her in a ‘less than perfect’ light.

Now that would have sent a powerful message.

And that was as far as I got.

Shortly after Aniston’s essay hit the press, I was watching ‘LIVE with Kelly’ (a guilty summertime pleasure). ‘Dancing with the Stars’ judge Carrie Ann Inaba was co-hosting. As she interacted with the audience, I was drawn to her charismatic personality. She radiated joy and self confidence. I was also aware that she looked healthy. Vibrant even. She did not have the rock hard athletic body of Kelly Ripa; she looked real.

And then, she grabbed her stomach roll for all the world to see. I could not have loved her more!

Now, fast forward to last month, when my daughter Kristin asked me to write a guest post for her blog on…body image. (You knew that was coming, right?) I felt it was a sign, because while I never finished writing the post, I didn’t delete it either. This was the push I needed.

Before I go any further, there are a few things you should know about me. First and foremost, I am passionate about health and wellness. I eat a mostly whole food, plant-based diet. I exercise consistently and in moderation most of the time. I typically get 7-8 hours a sleep. On most days I devote time to prayer and meditation. Yet in spite of this all, having a positive body image is something I continually struggle with work on.

(Words bolded, as I don’t want you to get the impression that I am perfect, as I most certainly am not. Nor do I strive for it.)

Truthfully, while the topic of body image is near and dear to my heart, figuring out what to write has been challenging. Very challenging.

What could I write that you didn’t already know? What could I write that would make a difference in your life?

You understand the importance of positive body image.

You know the consequences of possessing a poor body image.

You’re probably aware most women have a negative body image.

And I know you are well aware of social media’s negative impact on body image.

We all know all of this, yet little changes.

Social media continues to be inundated with before and after pictures, sweaty post-workout pictures, edited pictures, bodies positioned in perfect-angle pictures…pictures suggesting there is an ideal.

Reality says (as do numerous surveys), few of us look like the so called ideal.

More importantly, we weren’t meant to.

Yet we keep trying to morph our bodies into something unnatural. We keep trying to be something we weren’t meant to be. We are brainwashed into believing we should be slender with a flat stomach and thigh gap, wear a size 2, have muscle tone, tanned skin, white teeth, and thick hair. And if we don’t meet these qualifications? Well…

And that’s when I think back to Carrie Ann Inaba. She looked healthy. She was comfortable in her own skin. And I think because of this, I admired her. A lot. She was somebody I would love to get to know.

The world needs more Carrie Ann Inabas.

And then I began to wonder, are there more Carrie Ann Inabas out there?

Turns out, there are. In my search for positive role models, I discovered a movement in the world of social media. There are women posting ‘before and after’ pictures taken within minutes of each other in an effort to make a point; looks can be altered in mere seconds. What you see, isn’t necessarily real. Perception is not necessarily reality.

I applaud these real women. We need to see belly rolls. We need to see cellulite. We need to see back fat. We need to see wrinkles and stretch marks and freckles and zits. We need to see authentic women. We need to see how an ideal body can disappear in the blink of an eye, because, until authenticity becomes the norm, positive body image will continue to be a struggle for many of us.

We will continue to strive to attain bodies we can’t healthily maintain, because in our quest to achieve the ideal, we’ve stopped taking care of ourselves. We’ve stopped listening to what our bodies are telling us. We’ve stopped being intuitive.

So what if we started listening? Really listening.

What if the focus shifted from outward appearance to overall health? What if we honored our bodies by eating real food, exercising daily and in moderation, and making time for rest and spiritual rejuvenation?

Could you accept your outward appearance knowing you were taking care of yourself?

And not that it should be a driving force, but just how do you want to be remembered?

By the hours you spent at the gym? The miles you’ve logged? The size of your clothes? The number of the scale? Your hair? Complexion? Muscle tone? Thigh gap?

I hope not. I hope this is not what defines you.

You are so much more than your outward appearance.

What matters, what truly matters, is who you are. What’s going to make a difference, is what you do.

So what if, we simply lived and focused our efforts on doing all we could to make the world a better place?

 

For more, head over to my mom’s blog 2write4health.com. She shares some great recipes, witty puns, and offers health and fitness advice.

Favorite child status?

Life Lessons from Video Games

As a gangly, pale, glasses-wearing, zitty human teenager in the early 2000’s, I had definitely grown out of my “cute” 90’s stage and liked to avoid the glare of the yellow dwarf star we know as the sun. So when I wasn’t assigning myself homework during summer vacation, I gravitated towards other activities that allowed minimal human interaction…i.e. reading and playing video games.

Reading was fun and all, but after 3rd grade, my friends were unable and unwilling to justify crawling around in the dirt during recess to reenact scenes from my favorite books. While other kids gossiped on the uneven bars, played soccer, and beat up kindergartners for lunch money, I built cat forts and solidified my status as leader of Thunderclan, the most ferocious group of undomesticated felines to rule the northeast corner of Lakeview Elementary School. I spent a majority of my 5th Grade Halloween party hissing at my classmates from underneath a table.

I quickly found out that while it was very easy to act out cat battles (I’d crawl around on all fours and claw at imaginary enemies from Shadowclan) or catch prey (mainly finches and voles, also very imaginary), it became difficult to let my freak flag fly without my peers giving me weird glances in the hallway.

When the opportunity arose to participate in something nerdy, wildly popular, and socially accepted, I got turnt AF. That year, I begged my parents to buy me what was the biggest fad since the fanny pack and green ketchup: Gameboy Color, son.

My parents sighed and gave up all hope of a normal child when they caved and bought me a beautiful, teal Gameboy that year. A few months later, my parents found me sitting in my closet with the light on playing Pokemon Blue Version at 3am. I was obsessed. I still read books, but I spent more time gaming than reading. I justified this because my teacher told me I read too much during class. Betch.

My 5th Grade School Photo.


Pokemon was the height of coolness when I was in elementary school. Though my parents forbade me from playing the Pokemon trading card game with the neighborhood kids, I managed to gather a few cards by seducing a kid from my grade a few houses over. I had him wrapped around my claw finger. This was definitely on account of how great I looked when I tucked my Seaworld shirt into my high-waisted Diadora soccer shorts.

Werk.

My neighbor would give me a few cards here and there so I could get my Poke-squad lit enough to defeat the other kids on my block. I had some lame cards like Bellsprouts, Pidgeys, and Clefairies, but I longed for the ever elusive holographic Charizard card that now sells on eBay for $4,000. At the time, I just wanted that card so I could Fireblast the sh*t out of the school bully’s Nidoking. He would pay for the time he facewashed my little sister’s mug in a snow bank.

When other kids began giving up Pokemon in 6th grade for cooler things like tie-dye t-shirts and cocaine , I still snuck my Gameboy on the bus so I could use my Level 103 Articuno to icebeam Level 4 Ratatas (because screw those lame-o rat pinheads whose only move was “Scratch”). I had to get hyped up so I could effectively do long division later that day, you see. Pokemon was no longer something to brag about, but for me, the game very much lived on past the brand’s glory years. I was the best gawd damn trainer in all of Pallet Town who cried while trying to figure out 504 divided by 2.

Around the same time I got my Gameboy, my brother succeeded in getting a PlayStation for his birthday. He quickly succumbed to the lifestyle of gaming hard and avoiding sunlight at all costs. I saw this as an opportunity. I wanted to continue being a part of something that involved minimal contact with reality.

Enthusiastically, I bought several games and negotiated time with my brother (or threatened to tell his crush what color his underwear were) so I could play games like Barbie Horse Adventures, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Gallop Racer, Spyro, and ATV Off-Road Fury 1-4.

Instead of going outside and building forts, I now spent hours in the basement building an empire. I bred racehorses, beat Riptoc to release the fireflies he captured, learned how to bet, created super cute Barbie outfits to horseback ride in, and kicked major ass at stunts on my Ravage Talon ATV while jamming out to Korn’s latest CD. I knew at a young age my resume would be lit.

When my brother got the Playstation upgrade a few years later, I added Dance Dance Revolution to my repertoire. I aced the crap out of songs like “Move Your Feet” by Junior Senior and knew all the steps to Duran Duran’s “The Reflex”. Left, right, up, down, left, PLOT TWIST LEFT AND UP AT THE SAME TIME. Boiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii~

Height of the Pokemon craze.


I was living my best life. I spent a majority of my teen years listening to 80’s power ballads in my room while writing in my diary and owning the crap out of video games. I was an overweight, sweaty, 40-year-old virgin in the body of a pubescent preteen.

And I loved it.

In high school, I largely abandoned the games so I had people to sit by at lunch. Every once and awhile I’d rummage through all the crap under my bed and rediscover my Gameboy or PS2 games. More recently, I brought my Gameboy with me to college for the hell of it and defeated Pokemon Blue Version for the umpteenth time just to show what a motherfrickin’ gangstah I still was. I’ve found that the older I get, the more creative I get with naming Professor Oak’s son. I started off naming him Poophead then regressed to Sh*tstain a decade later. I imagine I’ll come up with a really special name for him when I turn ninety.

My Junior year of college, I encouraged one of my roommates to bring her PS2 with her so we could play Crash Bandicoot in between two-a-days for volleyball. It was always fun to game with my friends, but I longed to kick some butt at Spyro again.

Real photo taken just seconds from me defeating Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on PS2 my junior year of college.


I began searching for my old haunts at GameStop and managed to hustle my favorite games for under ten dollars. I moved the PS2 from the common room into my room and neglected my homework. DID POKEMASTERS AND GALLOP RACER CHAMPIONS NEED TO WORRY ABOUT SHAKESPEARE? HELL NO THEY DID NOT.

I’ve always been an avid supporter of not doing any schoolwork after midnight. Video games are a highly different situation. It’s life and death. I either write a research paper on earthworms or stop Riptoc from committing genocide against hundreds of fireflies. Easy decision. I’d play well into the wee hours of the morning if it meant I could get closer to defeating whichever game I began playing earlier that day.

I’m sure I would’ve had more of an appreciation for Beowulf or statistical analysis if I wouldn’t have conquered so many fantasy worlds. But truth is, I was still learning by avoiding institutional learning. Screw the man.

I was so turnt after beating HP2 that I decided to beat Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly my senior year.


Below, I’ve compiled a short list of things I’ve learned that translate well into real life. Bottom line, if you have children who are weird gamers and are rarely seen outside of your basement, do not freak out. I managed to grow up moderately fine and wasn’t beat up too bad. So to justify all the hours I’ve spent in a basement gaming like a baller, here’s a list of the most critical lessons I’ve learned thus far:

  • Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly
    • Learned resourcefulness because it took me five years to complete
    • Learned how to simultaneously cuss and press the square button to use firebreath
    • How to glide
    • How to head-bash my enemies
    • How to light sheep on fire so I can eat them
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
    • More resourcefulness because it also took me over five years to complete
    • How to cheat via Youtube walkthroughs
    • How to simultaneously cuss and insult Draco Malfoy’s mother while winning the House Cup
    • How to slay a basilisk
  • Gallop Racer: A New Breed (horse racing)
    • Gambling, mostly
    • How to cuss and whip a horse simultaneously
    • How to breed horses
    • Also inadvertently learned about the possible side effects of horse-incest
  • Barbie Horse Adventures 
    • How to put together a fabulous outfit
    • Learned what boobs were and that I did not have them 
    • How to simultaneously cuss, lasso a horse, and look fabulous
  • MarioKart: Super Circuit (for Gameboy Advance)
    • How to throw trash and banana peels at others so I can cut them off and beat them to the stoplights
    • How to drive, mostly
    • How to simultaneously cuss and hit people with turtle shells
    • Learned Yoshi is the best
  • Dance Dance Revolution
    • How to dance within three square feet using only four foot buttons
    • Great practice for playing at arcades to impress friends and the child molester at Chuck-E-Cheese
    • How to simultaneously cuss and press a button with my foot
    • Great for drunk dance moves for after college
    • How to win a dance battle against a brain-damaged seal, probably
  • Pokemon Blue Version
    • How to socially isolate oneself as a human being
    • How to simultaneously cuss and throw my balls at imaginary animals
    • Great for self confidence
    • Learned great hand-eye coordination from throwing my balls at imaginary animals
  • ATV Off-Road Fury 1-4
    • Learned all the words to Korn’s song “Here To Stay”
    • Created my own band called “Karrot” as a result which is creativity
    • How to simultaneously cuss and pull the move “One-Handed Indian Air” (Left console Triangle button + Right console) while catching air off a dirt hill
    • How to be an a-hole (drive the opposite way on racetrack to crash into opponents head-first)
    • How to cut people off and force them to crash into a gasoline pipe to finish a race first
    • How to drive mostly

As you can clearly see, I’ve learned many skills that have translated well into my social and work life. 

What if a basilisk started attacking my apartment? I’d have the know-how to either throw a ball at the beast to enslave it or how to slay the sh*t out of it so I can eventually use its fang to defeat SPOILER ALERT Voldemort. 

Even more exciting, I also learned how to drive from MarioKart and ATV Off-Road Fury and can now drive like I’m from Rhode Island or Massachusetts. 

Highly translatable skills. Even more so than Microsoft Excel or written and/or oral communication.

Long story short, I regret nothing. I’m a better person because of all the hours I’ve spent rotting my eyes out in front a screen in a fantasy world. Though my parents were worried for me when I started sleepwalking at night trying to catch ‘em all, the truth is I definitely got an athletic scholarship because of my highly adept hand eye coordination skills and ability to press the “square button” to whip my horse during a race.

I encourage any overbearing parent set on having their child get a scholarship to have them play Dungeons and Dragons for five hours a day. It makes complete sense. Take it from me, a nerd who is very well-adjusted in life now.

Not all heroes wear capes.


General Life Update: iPhone Tripod Pics and Self-Reliance

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Hey guys, I’m back.

In all seriousness, it’s been awhile since I last posted. I figured I owed the world an explanation as to why I seem to be posing in front of inanimate objects at an increasingly (and alarming) speed on both Instagram and Twitter (it’s because I was shown no love as a child and Uncle Scar killed my father to rule the kingdom…oh wait, that’s Lion King. Nevermind).

So while I love a good iPhone tripod and the horrified stare of those around me struggling to justify my existence in this world as I set a self-timer and frolic in front of monuments and paintings, this does little to describe the inner workings of my life. I told you, my social media pages can be likened to a fan’s crappy highlights mixtape of Steph Currey’s three-pointers from a few years back. All smiles, all the time.

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Me Pondering: Am I trying to find a Taco Bell in the distance? What is consciousness? Was Tupac’s death faked? Is he still alive?

So other than spending a good handful of my time trying to figure out how Kylie Jenner’s waist to hip ratio works (where does she fit her organs?!), I’ve spent a lot of time alone.

Awww, poor Kristin. Someone play me the world’s smallest violin, already!

At heart, I’m an extraverted introvert. Regardless, I’d say my time alone has overall been great and it’s worth it despite this fact.

My homeboy and Transcendentalist, Thoreau, would’ve also encouraged you to do get in some alone time- in fact, he’d probably try to help build you a cabin out in the middle of the woods somewhere to get you started. So while yes, I have actually had to bum it at various KOA campsites in the fall when I was literally homeless, I don’t recommend going that route unless you have a home to go home to with a shower and refrigerator in it (you can only survive on PB&Js and communal showers for so long, people).

Now that I have a place to sleep at night, I’m able to travel around the East Coast without the stress of knowing the AirBnb or campsite I’m staying at is completely draining my savings account.

And it’s been wonderful.

I spent a day drinking rosé and sitting in front of some of Degas, Monet, and Whistler’s greatest paintings in Boston. Another day, I drove three hours north to the White Mountains because I’ve never seen them before. Later this summer, I bummed it on Cape Cod’s beaches, eating ice cream and watching seagulls bob around in the blue-green surf. I also had the fortune of traveling to San Francisco and every Ivy League school with Brown Volleyball this past fall. Even as I drive home each day through the heart of Providence, it’s some of the most normal moments like these that remind me of how lucky I am to have somehow “made it” here. I’m living, people!

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Me Pondering: where is that quarter I dropped? What is the meaning of life? Where am I?

In my time out here, traveling has served as an escape for me, especially this fall and winter. It’s also taught me a lot about myself. It’s just been, like, the year of realizing stuff. (Lol, if you recognize that, I’ll love you forever).

Though being alone has caused me to grow up a lot quicker than staying at home would have, I’ve also experienced some rough moments in my time here that are harder to capture in photographs.

Fighting depression, anxiety, mixed states, obsessions and compulsions can be a challenge in itself, but when you’re twenty hours away from home, there are many times when you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.

Not pictured on my Instagram are the torn layers of skin around my nails, infected and bloody from ripping them apart out of anxiety. Also missing are the days I wake up with puffy eyes from crying the night before over something so minor I can hardly ever recall what it was. Other things are too abstract for photographs: thoughts of panic gripping me, what are you doing? Why did you think moving was a good idea? I had spent four months desperately looking for a job and watched my savings account go from thousands of dollars to just $33.48 before I got my first paycheck in late November. 

Much of this past fall was filled with days where I fluctuated in a mixed state. The only way I can justifiably describe this to those who have never been through this themselves: you are never certain which of your thoughts are ingrained in reality and which are not.

So when this winter came, I welcomed back depression like an old friend after months of struggling in a mixed state.

Because I’m Bipolar II, I spend more time in the depressed state than the hypomanic state and find it much more familiar and much more manageable than being too “up”. It’s easier to feel suicidal now for me than it is to feel manic only in the sense that I’ve learned to acknowledge these thoughts as just thoughts and as a reminder I’m not well instead of thoughts I need to act on.

After seeing my family over the holidays for a whopping forty-eight-hour whirlwind adventure, I was motivated to help myself again. I started working out as an attempt to get myself out of the “funk” I now found myself in. I made myself a goal: to get in shape again so I’d be able to hike in the Adirondacks this spring and summer.

For the whole month of December and much of November, I had limited myself to 800 calories a day and wanted to cut the deficit to a lower amount. My obsessions had gotten worse for some time and I was extremely unhappy with the way I looked. It felt good to punish myself- I sucked at my job and felt like I was annoying everyone with my lack of knowledge. My position used none of my talents, I felt trapped, and it was hard enough to even show up to work much less try and remember details about leasing or financing a car (for those unaware, I work at a car dealership).

As January continued on, I tried to work out and travel more. I became less depressed and obsessed with my daily caloric intake and sometimes I’d feel happy, truly happy- not manic and out of control, but the real genuine thing. I spent less days dizzy, miserable, and light-headed and more days active and reflective.

Loneliness no longer bothered me to the extent it used to. I felt alone, but I learned to truly embrace it. For the first time ever, I decided to go to a fancy restaurant by myself in Boston a few days ago. People around me definitely stared, but I pretended not to notice. This wasn’t like your run-of-the-mill Panera or Starbucks, everyone there was dining with someone sans laptops and it was obvious I was alone. After a few minutes, I ordered a brie and turkey sandwich and ignored wandering eyes. My very existence felt defiant, so when asked if I wanted to see a dessert menu, I said “hell yeah”, much to my waiter’s chagrin.

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You bet I used a tripod. Me frolicking around the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. 

It was then that I truly realized that being alone doesn’t mean you have to feel lonely.

In fact, I’m often reminded of the Kristin I used to be as a child. I was always content reading a book rather than socializing. As I grew up, this changed. Everyone’s self confidence takes a dive as a teenager. We all looked weird as f*ck and were trying to figure out our place in the world. At the time, being with others helped me feel wanted. I had to be an okay person because others would hang out with me, right? I read less but had a lot of fun making new friends.

Although I’m always game to go out on a Saturday night, I’m also perfectly happy reading a book or driving around in my Ford Escape listening to NPR. It’s a balancing act now.

It doesn’t bother me as much anymore when I’m traveling and see couples and friends laughing and talking with one another because I also know the time I spend alone is giving me another chance to build a positive relationship with myself. It sounds silly, but it’s something I’m incredibly proud of because I’ve never truly liked myself in the past (I’ve always joked that I’m working on my positive self talk, but it’s hard when working with an idiot).

Bottom line, all the sh*t I’ve been through (both good and bad) this fall and winter has taught me a lot. I’ve learned to like myself a little more and enjoy the perks of traveling wherever, whenever. I also determined I’d rather build up my self worth internally than rely on another person’s opinion of me, whether it be positive or negative. While it’s great to be loved, it’s even better to have a good relationship with yourself that you’ve worked on yourself. Even if you have to go through what seems like hell and back to get there, I can promise you it’s definitely worth it in the end.

So here’s my challenge to you: pick a nice restaurant and eat alone. Order dessert. Get that $15 sangria. Take your time and try not to bring out your phone. Self-reliance has more than just a place in American Romanticism, enjoy it and learn to embrace it.

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Smiling because I’m liking myself more now. Also maybe because I see a taco floating in the water.