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.

The Benchwarmer

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Being a benchwarmer ultimately led to my verbal commitment to Binghamton University my junior year of high school.

Though the gym was a comfortable seventy-three degrees, I shivered. Whistles chirped at odd intervals across the length of the gym. Cheering reverberated across the cold walls and snapped my attention back to the volleyball court in front of me. I tugged on my jersey’s sleeves until the ends were balled up in my slightly purple fists.

Brrr…

Self consciously, I sidestepped in front of the three teammates that clapped enthusiastically beside me. I sifted through the pile of warm up jackets on the chair adjacent to them until I spotted a label with a hastily written, “#13”.

That’s me, I thought.

The number didn’t stand a realistic chance of making the regular starting lineup sheet yet, but I felt a little flutter of pride all the same.

A few months earlier, I accepted an offer as an outside hitter on the top club volleyball team in the state of Wisconsin. Though I had experience as an integral part of my previous club and high school teams, I now found myself ridin’ the pine on a regular basis. Feeling deflated, I realized I had gotten accustomed to watching the sport I loved most from the sidelines.

***

My sophomore year at Binghamton University.


Being identified as a “benchwarmer” is not an easy concept for every athlete to learn. It doesn’t matter if you’re sixteen on a club volleyball team, twenty on a Division 1 team, or thirty on a professional team. It can be an intensely emotional experience, especially if communication between an athlete and coach breaks down.

After reminiscing about my club volleyball experience, I was curious to see how my colleagues’ experiences on the bench compared with mine. Admitting they weren’t always the star player or part of the starting lineup, many launched into personal recollections that included rejection, increased motivation, shame, confusion, and bitterness.

Even though I’ve been involved in athletics since the age of five, I never considered giving the psyche of the benchwarmer much thought. To me, it just seemed like a self-pity party I threw for myself on the sidelines as an angsty teen in high school. After more deliberation, I realized my time on the bench impacted my life more profoundly than I had previously given credit to.

The semifinal game at the America East Tournament. We won the championship game and received the automatic bid to go to the NCAA Tournament in 2012.


Two social psychologists from the University of Virginia had a similar interest into the psyche of the benchwarmer and decided to study the phenomena in more detail. In their article, “The Social Psychology of the Benchwarmer”, Robert J. Rotella and Douglas S. Newburg come to the conclusion that some benched athletes “may experience [an] identity crises, the impact of which may be long-lasting and far-reaching for them”. In their report, the psychologists also offer suggestions for athletes, coaches, and sport psychology consultants to help respond to these situations effectively.

Overall this article has great intentions which I can give credit for piquing my interest. On the flip side, the authors come to broad conclusions based on a small sample size of athletes from the late 1980s. It also may have been supplemental to mention the possibility of an athlete who can learn positive lessons while sitting the bench. As always, hindsight is 20/20.

While the combination of prolonged bench time and poor communication will not likely impact the athlete positively, a lack of playing time can serve as an opportunity for some athletes.

This in mind, I can find no better example than former Ohio State basketball player, Mark Titus (of blogsite Club Trillion). He scored nine points during his entire four-year career but established a way to become indispensable off the court. He served as a practice and “pump up” player to the starters that won an NCAA Championship. His book Don’t Put Me In Coach is hilarious account of his journey “from one end of the bench to the other”. I’d highly recommend it.

On a more personal level, my experience offered opportunities to learn valuable lessons that easily translated to the workplace. Now that I’m about three years removed from the volleyball court, I have the ability to see how my role as a benchwarmer during high school impacted my life on an athletic and personal level.

Signing day, my junior year of high school.


After spending time as a six-rotation, front row and practice player through both club and high school, I decided to verbally commit to a mid-major Division 1 school as a high school junior. Overjoyed, I verballed because there was an opening for a four-year starter at this prestigious university.

The offers I had from universities with more competitive volleyball programs didn’t offer a four-year starting position like Binghamton University (NY). Though it’s nice to be a part of a winning program, I decided I’d like to have an immediate impact as a freshman. Without my time on the sidelines, I can’t say with certainty I’d make the same decision again. This is definitely a positive takeaway I wish co-authors Rotella and Newburg took into account in their article.

During my later club volleyball years, sitting on the side was tough. I felt cheated and unimportant, but I will maintain those who coached me had valid reasons for playing others before me if I wasn’t on the court. To this day, I hold no bitterness towards any of the people who impacted my journey as a player, whether I played or not. Feeling like you’ve been rejected is a hard aspect to swallow, especially at the ripe old age of sixteen, but it’s something that offers countless opportunities to learn from.

Not only has my time on the bench impacted my life athletically, but also personally. It’s nice to be an integral part of a team, but it helps to learn humility and perseverance as a player. This translates well into the professional world and your coworkers (and anyone you encounter, quite honestly) will thank you.

Squad of 2013.


As my mother told me from a young age, you’ll find ninety-nine point nine percent of the time there will be someone out there more talented than you. Sometimes you’ll be the star, other times not. Whether this is true in the athletic, real world, or both, there can be many opportunities to grow from.

If I could go back in time and tell my 16-year-old self anything, it would be to 1.) stop using so much eyeliner, 2.) invest in Apple, and 3.) let this time on the bench serve as motivation, not a sign you’re not good enough.

This isn’t to say every coach will have reasonable cause for keeping one athlete on the bench as opposed to another. As I’m sure we’re all aware, coaches are also human. Some humans have better intentions than others, but sports have seasons that end. This lesson certainly comes in handy in the real world while dealing with difficult managers and bosses. As my college sports psych professor often claimed several times per class, “sports are a microcosm of society”.

I had to include this photo, grainy or not. I’m now living in Providence so it’s a small coincidence!


In the short term, riding the pine may seem disappointing. Long term, I can say it eventually made me a stronger person and helped determine where I’d be happiest during my undergraduate degree. It’s exciting to be a starter or to feel important, but there’s also a chance to grow while off the court. What you learn through athletics often translates well into the professional world. I can definitely vouch for this!

Whenever you’re feeling bummed out about playing time, just remember you have the power to make what you can out of a situation. Sports have seasons, seasons end, you grow older and your knees and back will sometimes fail you. It’s times like these when I appreciate the lessons I learned on the bench more than I could’ve realized when I was sixteen. Though a very slim amount of players can say they aspire to sit on the bench if given the chance to be on the court, it’s not always a bad place to be.

Ride that pine with pride, athletes!

#12 was my favorite player to play against. She now coaches at University of Albany.


On Moving and Trying to Find My Big Girl Pants

About a month ago, I had been sitting at my desk in an overly air conditioned office staring blankly at my computer screen. My head throbbed painfully. I needed an Aspirin. Or five.

And I needed a way out.

If you would’ve told me I’d be living in Providence, Rhode Island two years ago after a year long stint at home, I would’ve laughed like a maniac. Me? Live at home, then live in Providence? No freakin’ way.

As I’m sure many of you know, my job search in the past year has landed me several gigs in which I learned, oh yes, I learned! many different life skills. I taught horseback riding at a summer camp in the Adirondacks, proceeded to secure a sales job at a retail store while waitressing on weekends, followed by a social media gig at a local outsourcing company where I learned way too much about diapers and laundry.

It’s safe to say I’ve learned a lot about myself (haha) and which career paths may and may not be for me. I didn’t think I’d get to this point the way I did, however.

Please allow me to give you a little background into my career-oriented life thus far:

I began life as a rambunctious little tike, determined to be a veterinarian. Charming, really. A girl with no particular gift for long division or fractions, I loved my cats and thought this a great opportunity to share my love to help the general public. On weekends, I’d also take weekly measurements of my tropical fish (Zip, Zap, and Dude) and record them in my diary. I had to track their growth, you see. I dedicated my life to studying National Audubon Society field guides for birds, mammals, and weather. I’d find any animal I could and learn how to draw it for documentation.

Fast forward to high school and this career goal changed drastically.

I’ll do art! I thought valiantly as I finished my fourth large-scale painting of the year.

“Go large,” my art teacher would encourage, thrusting his pointer finger in the air, “Art Schools love to see students working large for the portfolios!”

After about six more paintings and several ruined countertops later (sorry, Mom and Dad), I felt completely and utterly burned out. I couldn’t bear to spend another month painting with acrylic or oil paints. As I visited several schools while on college visits, I decided to pursue a Bachelor’s in English instead of Studio Arts.

As I mulled this over trying to justify this to myself, I realized I’d always loved writing and had even remembered I had some of my smaller works published after participating in summer writing camps while I was younger. It was the one thing I never really burned out on, especially after filling two bound notebooks with all my middle school girlish fantasies (and fish measurements, to boot). I looked forward to furthering my education immensely. I wanted to be an author!

While in college, I spent a good deal of my time fighting the system (damn establishment!) and unfortunately, fighting against my own brain. I had little time to think of what career or internships I’d pursue as I was convinced I wouldn’t make it to that next step of my life.

Once I began to get healthier, I began to explore the options my major presented me with. I had no idea what I wanted to do, much less what to get an internship in, so I studied abroad in Italy for a summer before my last year at Binghamton while everyone else was getting valuable job experience. My senior year, I had reached the conclusion that I’d go to Europe and continue studying and get my Master’s in Fashion, Animation, or Screenwriting. I spent hours printing out pages of information and making Excel documents with each university’s location, cost, and course information. Maybe I’d go to Central Saint Martin’s or maybe to Stockholm to study fashion! How romantic.

But as my senior year continued on, I came upon the difficult realization that I wasn’t as mentally fit as I’d hoped. It broke my heart to hear that it would be unwise to commit to moving overseas where the mental health care wasn’t a commonality as it is in America. The foreign faces I’d hoped to meet faded into the background. I halfheartedly began job searching for entry level positions and internships in New York to no avail. I knew I’d need to start searching for schools and jobs closer to home.

So cut the crap, Kristin. Do you really want to tell a sop story today?

 

Truth is, we’ve all had crazy career aspirations at some point in our lives. Who thought they were going to be an astronaut at age five? You’d be trippin’ if you said you weren’t banking on this.

We sometimes grow up under the impression that it’s our life’s ambition or mission to go to college, get an internship, graduate, get a full time job, marry, have kids, retire, and die happily in old age. While this is a completely fine framework to have in life, it doesn’t always work like this so flawlessly.

Two of my favorite comedians on this earth, Tina Fey and Amy Schumer, had crappy jobs and many shudder-worthy experiences during their early and late twenties before they hit their big breaks. This said, the people I admire most in life aren’t those who’ve had a perfectly structured life. It’s those who don’t always stay the course that prove best capable to deal with life’s adversity when it happens, because it will inevitably happen at some point.

As I sit here trying not to let the word, “unemployed” let me sweat too much while endlessly searching for jobs online, all I can do is continue to remind myself that there’s always a possibility this may happen in the future as well after I do secure a career. People can get laid off or need to be relocated. If these things happen, I’ll be confident that I’ll be well prepared. It may not be easy, but I know I’ll have the capacity to be cool under pressure.

Though being unemployed gives me anxiety, it has small upsides as well. During my off time, I’ve been able to explore the east coast by myself and finally visit some of the friends I’ve missed while back home in the Midwest. When I’m not applying to jobs or editing my cover letters and resume, I’m catching up on some books I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I’ve worked hard to save up money so I could pull off moving halfway across the country for a volunteer position and can afford to do these things for a short time while searching for my next career. It’s a little scary and sometimes keeps me up at night, but I’ve made some changes to my life to push myself and do what I believed was right for me in the moment.

Bottom line here is that we can’t always guarantee that we’ll have the same stable job we’ve had over the past “x” amount of years. Nothing in life is guaranteed and life doesn’t owe us anything. Some of us may proceed to find our true calling while in college and the transition to “real life” may be easy. That’s great! Others may find themselves wishing they were back in college and still, others yet will go from job to job not sure what they really want to do until their late twenties or early thirties. As columnist, Mary Schmich, once said in her 1997 essay for the Chicago Tribune, “some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t [know what they want to do with their lives]”. It’s a great essay that Baz Luhrmann mixed into a popular song that I’ll attach here. You’ve probably heard it before and it’s a great reminder if you’re feeling a little lost in your life.

Though I’ve had people look at me incredulously, shocked, when they learned I was moving to Providence without a full time job, I’m learning to own it. Doing what I did may not be for everyone and there’s no guarantee anything will come of the move, but there’s so much to be learned from doing something that scares you crapless every once and awhile, especially if you’re truly unhappy to begin with. Though I may not be a veterinarian or have had the “dream job” I’ve dreamt about since my college days, I know I’m moving in the right direction and can’t find fault with this. 

So if you’re a high school or college student, recent grad, or ten years out into the real world, don’t fret. All the adversity you’re going through can make you stronger if you learn to chase what makes you happy and live life with #noragrets. It’s easier said than done, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll stand to be a better person because of it.

If you find yourself truly unhappy with your life right now, I encourage you to make some changes, even if they’re small, so you can find that happiness you know you’re capable of. You’re not alone. Pressure makes diamonds, right?

In the meantime, know while it’s always great to have a plan for life, chances are this plan will change. It’s how you choose to either gracefully or ungracefully react to these changes that make you into how successful you’ll be in the future. This isn’t something you can physically write on your resume, but it sure as hell will help you through something that matters more than a job: your life, because the two can be mutually exclusive if you let them be.

And that’s where I’ll leave you today.