SELF-LOVE | Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SELF-LOVE: Physical Appearance, Diet, Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SELF-LOVE: Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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


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


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


2018 | The Good, Bad, & Ugly

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Picture Cred: Amanda Dettmann

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

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

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

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

Here’s to 2019!

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

Growing Up: Liking It

The Awakening

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

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

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

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

We love an Aeropostale hoodie!

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

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

But it would soon in seventh grade.

Pride and Period Juice

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

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

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

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

Vogue.

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

Saving Face, Feeling Great

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

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

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

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

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

Peep the blue metallic lipstick.

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Quin – @everchanginghorizon

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

Robyn Nohling – @thereallife_rd

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

Stay & Wander – @stayandwander

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

Aspen the Mountain Pup – @aspenthemountainpup

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

Tasty – @buzzfeedtasty

Food, quick video demonstrations, and great content.

Folk Souls – @folksouls

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

Accidentally Wes Anderson – @accidentallywesanderson

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

Lola Tash and Nicole Argiris – @mytherapistsays

Two words: fire memes.

Happy Not Perfect – @happynotperfect

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

Dating for (Mentally Ill) Dummies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easier said than done though, right?

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Goodbye, Rhode Island

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Fall, 2016. The first time I’d visited Fort Wetherhill in Jamestown, Rhode Island. It’s still one of my favorite places to go on weekends.

God knows it’s been awhile since I first drove down through Carolina, by way of the isle of quiet winding pine woods onto East Beach Road, past raised, bleached houses that were delicately hidden behind rolling dunes.

It was winter of 2016 when I first drove down to the south shore. Charlestown’s wind-swept beaches offered me the chance to witness the steady roaring of crystalline blue waves buffeting fine white sand. Away from the busy chatter of the city, the cool breeze off the ocean tossed tendrils of my hair around my face and bit through my thin jacket. I fell in love.

I’d been living in Providence for about five months at the time. I couldn’t tell you (and still can’t tell you) the best places to dine in Federal Hill or what coffee milk tastes like, but I can navigate the rough crags of Fort Wetherhill in Jamestown and tell you when the tide rolls out to sea, leaving hidden coves along the shores of Beavertail Lighthouse.

I was young when I moved here two years ago. I still am. But Rhode Island has offered me something beyond what I could’ve hoped for- a chance to make my life my own. A chance to make my own mistakes, a chance to learn.

When I made my first solo trip to Boston two years ago after moving into a four story house on Olney Street on the East Side of Providence, I glanced up at the towering skyscapers above and wondered who worked there. Too afraid to take the train up from Providence (how did it work?), I paid dearly for parking that January day and wandered the streets until I found a museum with free access- it was Thursday, one of my two days off at the dealership down in Warwick.

Clutching my phone tightly, I walked one block and turned around. The sun had long since disappeared and I felt vulnerable. I returned to the steamy underground parking garage, found my car, and pressed the start button a little too quickly than the occasion called for. The ignition roared to life and I silently sat in my car, glancing past the steering wheel to the brightly lit dashboard.

48,656 miles.

I drove home, the thought that I’d be working a few blocks away in less than one year’s time never crossing my mind. A year and a half later, I stare down at the streets of Boston from the 16th Floor of 125 Summer Street remembering the time I’d wearily driven home, not having visited the Contemporary Institute of Art that Thursday- in Seaport, as I now know.

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Unedited photo I took while down at Beavertail Lighthouse in Jamestown, Rhode Island. If you’ve never watched a storm roll in from the southwest while on the coast, it’s amazing.

To date, my Ford Escape has about 65,000 miles on the odometer. Hundreds of miles have been spent driving down to the frozen beaches of Newport, Jamestown, Westerly, and Charlestown during the winter of 2016. The beaches were blissfully empty during those months, but as I began to see shoots of flowers emerge from the undergrowth, so too did people begin to emerge- both in my life and on the beaches.

Gone were the days when I’d go twenty-four hours without speaking. The road down to the southern shore remains a familiar friend as I play the same music as I always had, but now I take friends and family down to the places I’ve grown to know so well.

Oh, there’s a river that winds on forever/ I’m gonna see where it leads/ Oh, there’s a mountain that no man has mounted/ I’m gonna stand on the peak.

Two years later, I know I’ll see these beaches less, but somehow I know I’ll always be able to guide myself over the cool, salty rocks that have been here long before me and will long survive me. I feel timeless as the sea foam floats eerily through the air around me, the sun beating down on my cheeks.

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Blue Shutters Beach, Charlestown, Rhode Island. I took my parents to my favorite Rhode Island spot last summer before they swung up to Acadia, ME.

I never realized how young I was when I graduated from college and I never knew I could experience true happiness while in solitude years later. Moving from Wisconsin offered me the chance to figure out what I value most in life, my loved ones and a sense of adventure.

It’s been one of the hardest, yet easiest choices I’ve made in my life. Getting here was the easiest part- I had supportive parents and a friend who offered me the spare room in her apartment. The next part was the hardest. I had to find a job to support myself.

Post-college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew what I loved and was passionate about, but had few connections that led to anything fruitful. I’d spent hours shooting off my resume to random job sites and recruiters to no avail, becoming more and more discouraged at each turn. How could I have a four-year degree that offered me nothing?

After a jobless four months, I managed to connect with someone who put me in touch with a manager seeking to fill a position at a car dealership. Since that time, I’ve learned acquiring a new job is twofold: it’s about who you know and being patient. This is how I acquired my most recent two jobs as well as ended up switching career-paths. I’ve also learned no job is beneath me or my education. If it pays the bills, it pays the bills.

With the ability to support myself monetarily (still with some help from my parents), I began to explore. Ocean to the east, mountains to the north and west, friends to the south. I now felt a freedom like I’d never before. No longer in my college bubble, I began to find myself. I went out on dates, began caring less what others thought of me, and confronted demons that threatened to bring my delicate, newfound life crashing down.

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The first time I visited Blue Shutters Beach, Charlestown, Rhode Island. Though I look cold, it was an unseasonably warm January day.

Though I know I’ll never be cured of my mental heath illnesses, I am very aware what I’m able to do to manage them. While surrounded by sun bleached trees, softly chirping birds, and a trailhead, I began to challenge myself to live unapologetically a year ago. I am me, that’s all I can give. I might as well learn to tolerate myself if I want to experience everything I can about life while I can, I thought. My world became a much less depressing place as I acknowledged the beauty of the sea glass on the ocean’s shore, the sheer magnitude of the mountains in the Pemigawasset Wilderness, the soft colors of the sunlight filtering through the pine trees on a winter day.*

Shedding much of the negativity I had brought with me to Providence, I let the sand beneath my feet guide me and sky overhead remind me of how incredibly lucky I was to be alive. These fleeting moments never cease to bring me out of a funk, even if only for a short while.

I began taking up hobbies my parents so graciously introduced my siblings and I to as kids. I hiked, biked, and ran more. No longer mindlessly doing these tasks or performing them with volleyball season in mind, I consciously began learning to savor each movement of my body and how lucky I was to be able to perform each exercise. I climbed summits, pedaled through vibrant green fields aglow with wildflowers, and started enjoying the feeling of running for time, not distance.

It’s taken time (two years!) and I’m still learning to like myself. I’m taking each day for what it is and I’m working on becoming less stressed about my future.

As I leave Rhode Island for Boston (I know I’m being dramatic, it’s not that far- but still, it’ll be a two-three hour drive to get to the destinations that now take a half an hour), I feel more prepared to continue my life out on the east coast than I had two years ago. There’s been hard lessons to learn and will still be in years to come, but I’ve never been more excited to begin a new chapter of life.

So although I’ll be farther away from the crashing of the ocean waves on Blue Shutters Beach or the tangled vines that twine around the fences of Fort Wetherhill, I know part of me will always be amongst the salty air, waiting to return to the places I grew from a recent college grad to a young (functioning!) woman. The move I’m about to make is far less about distance than about the person I’ve become since moving here in August of 2016. And I wouldn’t change a single moment of the past two years for the world.

Goodbye, Rhode Island. Living here has been a pleasure.

xx KH

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My favorite photo I’ve ever taken while at Moonrise Kingdom in Jamestown, Rhode Island. If you haven’t already seen Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson), I highly recommend doing so- some of the movie’s scenes were filmed here. 

***

*Let me make this clear…I am in no way hinting depression or any other mental illness can simply be cured by sitting in the middle of the woods. It doesn’t work that way. Though it has greatly helped me by being “in nature” while depressed/anxious/obsessive-compulsive, it doesn’t replace meds or therapy. Trust me.

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Beavertail Lighthouse, June 2017. Nothing makes me happier than when I’m able to make it down to the coast while it’s shrouded in a thick layer of fog- it’s beautiful.

Picking Up the Pieces

If any of you know me well, you are well aware I am currently in possession of four or five diar- journals. They’re journals.

I’d be in possession of six if I could find the journal I wrote in fifth grade when I recorded my feline endeavors at recess as “Blackstar”, leader of Thunderclan, but I think I must’ve done a great job hiding it because I’ve been looking for years now to no avail. One of my high school friends will undoubtedly bring it out just in time for my engagement party within the next ten years. Thanks! ❤

The first journal (alright, it really should just be called what it really is…a “diary”) is a spiral notebook with a hard pink cover. A flower adorns the cover and “MY JoUrNaL” is printed sheepishly around the stem, as if an afterthought. My first entry is dated November 18, 2005.

Once inside (if you could unlock it, that is), you’d realize all of the entries are pretty mundane- unless you were my younger sister at the time. The diary included the classes I went to in seventh grade, Venn diagrams of my crushes and their strengths/weaknesses, and random song lyrics I had been feelin’ at the time (Duran Duran). Basically, anything you would imagine would be in a journal which has, “THIS BOOK BELONGS TO NO OTHER THAN THE GREAT KRISTIN, NOT YOURS SO DEAL WITH IT” scribbled on the front inside cover. Yes, it was scrawled proudly across the page in sparkly gel pen. It was 2005, man. A hell of a year for any millennial.

The most satisfying part of having a diary (or several) is being able to glimpse back to a time where memories might ordinarily have become muddled by time or bias. Having the ability to look back at written material has served me well. When I wasn’t meticulously recording my crushes and their daily interactions with me (“omg Alex saw me in the hall today, I think he looked at me”) or showcasing the spelling fads of 2007 (“i no i shouldnt b saying this but i ❤ jordan. his eyes r awesome tho”), it is interesting to see how my brain processes information at the time.

Though my spelling has gotten much better (I still struggle with “i” before “e”, except after “c” or whatever the hell it is) and I’ve become less boy crazy since the days I hid behind my bed to scribble down the events of the day, parts of my thirteen year old self carried over into my college years- for better or worse.

Hidden between the hundreds of pages I’d written about volleyball, soccer, and crushes was a girl struggling with self acceptance. She just didn’t quite realize how much this struggle would impact her late teenage years quite yet.

Middle and high school can be remembered fondly to some, while others bask in the glory of having the class bully unclog their toilet forty years later. To say the least, it may be a time best described as having many highs and lows. :.)

Our innocence waned as we learned cuss words on the bus from the older kids, we finally figured out what Chat Roulette was while at a sleepover, and broke curfew…again and again.

My childhood was somewhat more sheltered than most in the sense it was mercifully uneventful until my teenage years.

My diary entries noticeably shifted as 2005 slipped to 2007, then 2008. I continued to sporadically write into high school, but did not write much beyond a few entries in 2008 and two in 2011 (one had been ripped out). I began writing less about my crushes, favorite songs, and daily encounters with my teachers and family.

The girl whose biggest issue was worrying about not making the soccer team now drew a picture of herself pointing out her flaws, writing “ugly” repetitively over the page. I was pale, fat, had too large a nose, regretted cutting my hair, overdid my eye makeup, and hated my freckles. The date above the crudely drawn picture was March 21, 2008. I was sixteen.

Why couldn’t I look like the pretty, popular girls at my school?

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Above: Teenagers tend to be a bit hard on themselves when encountering a herd of their own kind at school. It’s a time often characteristic of trying to fit in- I was no exception.

It was the beginning of a long and difficult road, a struggle not singularly unique to my life.

The girl who looked back at me in the mirror continued to remind me of everything I failed to be. Not only was my appearance unsightly to me, but my perceived personality flaws were now under scrutiny as well. Bashing myself became a cruel hobby, the innocent child in me struggling to stay afloat with compliments I now felt were lies.

I was under the impression nobody liked me, I was a weak leader who constantly underperformed at volleyball, I was a failure/benchwarmer at soccer, and I was selfish. Coaches constantly told me to “fix my face”. Why did I look sad or bitchy one minute then become overly cocky the next?

Unbeknownst to me or anyone else at the time, I was in the early stages struggling with some mental health challenges. While it is normal for a middle or high school student to feel awkward and unconfident, my brain had been in overdrive and had convinced me I was an evil, horrible person undeserving of affection. While not an excuse for my behavior at the time, it definitely gives some insight looking back. It didn’t matter how much my parents and siblings loved and cared about me. I had convinced myself otherwise.

The insecurity, anxiety, and pessimism I had been feeling was further amplified when I thought I may not just be attracted to just boys like the other girls in my grade.

My hometown was a great place to grow up, but is not the forefront of progressiveness like many larger cities. Sexuality was viewed as a choice by many and the church I had attended since I was in preschool condemned gay marriage. I spent much of my junior year worrying someone would think I was disgusting, repulsive, and gross for feelings I had recognized since seventh grade. Taunted by upperclassmen in the halls, I spent time overthinking my every move while with my close friend.

At the time, I didn’t find solace at home. My sister and mother had correctly guessed I was in a relationship with another girl at school and I was terrified. Was the comfort and happiness I found while with my best friend and confidant worth the constant stress of being an embarrassment to my family? I didn’t have time to make the choice myself, as my friend chose to end the relationship before she graduated that spring.

Not only did I loathe myself, but now someone I had trusted deeply had denied we had ever been together. Heartbroken and confused, I began confessing my feelings through a Word document on my MacBook. I had to hide everything from my friends who had no idea any of the previous events occurred. Steadily, my writing became more dark and poetic, but pulled me away further and further from reality. I had no idea what was substantive in my life. I didn’t know if I was drowning in pain or if I was just numb. I began self harming to feel something- anything.

I continued writing at college after a year break. My freshman year had been a whirlwind of social events and stimuli, but I picked up the hobby again my sophomore year in the fall when my past relationship became a breaking point. I felt alone, insane, and didn’t know where to turn.

Entries became sloppy, ink trailed off pages, mixed with tears. An entire entry consisted of an untidy scrawl wherein I tried convincing myself I was another person. I had repeating the same phrase countless times until the page ended. Another page contained confused last rites. I was drunk nearly half of the nights I wrote entries. The same girl who worried over her appearance at sixteen had gotten carried away into a never-ending cycle of self loathing.

Writing had once been a fun release, a way to express myself not unlike my favorite characters from Meg Cabot books. My confessions and heartbreak had morphed into a twisted monster, threatening to finally convince me I was insane and unlovable, a worthy candidate of ending life as I knew it.

However, years later it serves as a reminder of how incredibly sick I had been during this period in my life. Though the entries are painful to read, it truly shows far I have come and how far off the rails I had gone during this period of my life. I had convinced myself of an overwhelming multitude of entirely false information. I lived my life off lies, overreactions, and misconstrued encounters. My illnesses had twisted my outlook on life and stolen years of happiness off my life. It took me awhile to realize my writing was not beautifully tragic, reminiscent of existentialist heroes like Sartre, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche before me, but instead a clear sign I was not well. 

Though some of my behaviors are still evocative of the girl who loved to hate herself, it is more clear to me than ever how much I had needed help at the time. I was lucky to have friends and family who sought out help for me. I’m grateful to this day, because the girl in high school and college had no idea how hard she’d fight to find happiness- and how much progress she’d make by the time she turned twenty-five.

Self loathing had been built itself into the core of my being as a teenager, but I’ve changed this after years (yes, it took me years) of therapy sessions. More recently, I finally took a chance and let myself truly believe I wasn’t a horrible person. It didn’t come easily to me and is sometimes still a challenge, but by learning to dismiss the cruel voice in my head (not to be confused with schizophrenia), I am becoming happier. It turns out life is easier when you’re not trying to cut yourself down (wow!).

So although we don’t have a choice what challenges we are born with (or being born at all), we have a choice of who we become. With the right tools and attitude, humans can be remarkably resourceful. These tools and attitude will come more naturally to some, while others will need to fight more to gain the necessary skillset to be happier or even survive.

I was born into this world with some odds stacked against me (acknowledging my privilege as I am white). A few mental illnesses loomed on the horizon of my late teenage years when I was a kid, but I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by a loving family and friends who wanted to see me succeed and gave me the resources to do so.

It hasn’t been an easy journey, but I’m learning to accept myself instead of resorting back to maladaptive behaviors and constantly putting myself down. Instead of allowing myself to get caught up in a tailspin of obsessive, pessimistic thoughts, I recognize my brain doesn’t interpret everyday events like a mentally healthy adult. Though it won’t always work right away, the fact I recognize my thoughts and behavior as unhelpful is a start.

Hopefully, I have a long life ahead of me (gawd willing). I might as well learn to like myself if I want to live my life to the fullest.

***

I’ve written less in journals or diaries as the years go on, but every once and awhile I take time to recount my day- no matter how mundane or uneventful. My journals have served as markers of my mental health through the years and continue to remind me that while life is ever changing, my overall positive attitude about life doesn’t need to.

In striving to find whatever positives I can, I’ve become healthier and overall happier. Even if I’m not entirely happy (who can honestly claim they’re happy all the time, let’s be real), I’m also learning through pain and sadness.

I’m not quite there yet, but I can say with confidence I am much better than I had been a year ago at this time. When morale gets low, I remind myself I’m not just living for myself, but I’m doing it for those I love. I know I want nothing more than to see my loved ones genuinely happy, so I try to put honest effort into becoming a happier, healthier person each and every day.

So far, it’s been working- because everyone deserves a chance at living their best life– one which includes true happiness and self-acceptance.