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.

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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.

Violent Light | Chapter 1: Charlie

Click here to read the prologue to this story.

Charlie woke sweating, as though she had been running. She put a hand up to her clammy forehead, suddenly concerned she had the flu. Blinking away the fuzziness from her eyes, she sat up rigidly.

What had she been dreaming about? Everything seemed so real…from the old man to a strange flash of light. Charlie shook her head in disbelief. And why on earth did she remember a milk jug? That was weird.

Shrugging, she slid her legs over the side of her bed and stretched wearily. She almost expected something unusual to pop out of the recesses of her messy closet. As it were, there were a number of unusual objects inhabiting Charlie’s room. Though Charlie appeared normal in every sense of the word, her room indicated otherwise.

Books filled nearly every vacant space. Stacked ten or fifteen volumes high, most were falling apart at the seams. The musty odor of aged paper filled the air. Nana likened her room to a bombed out World War II bunker. This isn’t to say Charlie was not organized, of course. She knew where to find any book in her collection if she needed it.

Science books stood on her desk, grouped by subject. A plethora of American classics (sorted A-Z by author) lay haphazardly next to her rock polishing kit. Names like Dickens, Hemingway, and Sagan stood out among the piles. A few potted plants drooped lazily against the window sill.  

Only one piece of furniture did not sag tiredly from the weight of dusty, ancient books. A small nightstand bore one novel, the title worn off the cover. It caught Charlie’s eye as she hopped off her bed .

An original copy of The Metamorphosis. She had been sifting through Nana’s old high school textbooks and found it buried underneath a large stuffed bird. Delighted by her find, she began reading the novella a few weeks ago.

Walking gingerly around a few piles of books, Charlie trudged over to the window beside her desk. She opened the blinds and let the watery dawn light cascade into her room. After her eyes adjusted to the sun, she pressed her nose to the glass and peered down the street.

Pruned bushes divided well-manicured lawns into neat sections. She grinned as she noticed a couple of stubborn weeds growing by the mailbox on the front lawn. Her suburban neighbors sniffed at the fact Nana and Charlie did not spend their weekends weeding and clipping the hedges like they did.

Charlie scanned the sidewalk. No one stirred, save for Mr. Peterson and his dog, Pickles. Pickles strained against his leash as Mr. Peterson absentmindedly spilled coffee down his robe. The Beechwood Gazette was jammed under his arm and he appeared blissfully unaware of the hot liquid draining out of his mug. The front door of his house was still flung wide open, letting in the humid summer air.

Charlie shook her head and laughed. Out of all the snobby people on Yorkshire Drive, Mr. Peterson and Pickles were the friendliest.

Mr. Peterson arrived in Beechwood a few years ago with nothing but Pickles, a Volvo, and a hefty down payment on the house two yards across from Charlie and Nana. He was a curious man.

Middle-aged, quirky, and offering no insight into his previous life, he and Charlie instantly bonded over American Transcendentalism one morning before school. His glasses askew, he launched into a tirade on Emerson while letting the tea kettle boil over in the kitchen. Pickles ran around barking desperately as if he were fully aware of his owner’s shortcomings. It was always a madhouse at Mr. Peterson’s house and Charlie loved it.

He never prodded into Charlie’s past life and neither did she into his. It was an unspoken agreement amongst the pair. Though not much was known about Mr. Peterson, the neighbors often gossiped as they trimmed their hedges and picked weeds. Even Nana participated and Charlie knew she hated consorting with the neighbors.

“I heard he was a professor before he moved here to Beechwood,” Nana said one night at dinner.

“Professor of what?” Charlie asked while twirling spaghetti around her fork. She tried masking her curiosity out of respect, but couldn’t resist information that was so readily available.

Nana squinted and looked up at the ceiling.

“Matilda thinks it was history before he was fired. If you ask me, that explains a lot. The man is clearly a genius, but he would lose his head if it wasn’t attached.”

“Matilda lies so often I doubt she even knows what’s real anymore. You know that,” Charlie stopped twirling her fork around in circles to give Nana a look. “It could be completely untrue.”

Nana shrugged and reached for a piece of garlic bread.

“Beats me, hun. Next time you go over, can you please bring him the book on the counter? Heaven knows why he wants to know about fishing practices on the east coast, but I figured I’m not using it anytime soon.”

Mr. Peterson was always wrapped up in some project or another. Before school, Charlie walked past his two-story house on the way to the bus stop. She’d hear classical music blasting one day or see him frantically paging through books on his porch the next.

Neighbors condemned his odd behavior within hours of his arrival. But Charlie knew “odd” was only relative to the hegemony of Yorkshire Drive. Unless your primary concern was bragging about the quality of your rhododendron bushes, you were sniffed at. Charlie welcomed Mr. Peterson and Pickles’ arrival. She didn’t feel so alone.

Charlie pressed the palms of her hands to her sweaty temples and closed her eyes. She could only imagine what her neighbors would say if they knew she’d been having bizarre dreams for the last month. They’d probably encourage Nana to ship her off to boarding school. They had a deep distrust of the public school system for reasons unknown to Charlie.

Side stepping a pile of National Audubon Society guidebooks on mammals and birds, Charlie walked to her closet and changed for the day. School was out for the summer, but she opted for a Jansport backpack and threw in a few wildflower guides. Charlie adjusted her t-shirt and glanced in the mirror on the back of her bedroom door. She stared blankly at her reflection.

Freckles splashed across her arms and bridge of her nose, skin slightly tanned from the time she spent outdoors collecting rocks or swimming at the beach. She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and cocked her head to the side. The mirror cut off the top half of Charlie’s face. She was taller than most the boys in her eighth grade class but didn’t mind the teasing her height encouraged. Being tall made her feel important.

With a sigh, Charlie turned away from her reflection. She grabbed a sketchbook from her desk, managed to find a pencil under her bed, and tiptoed down the stairs. Nana wouldn’t be up for another hour. Grabbing an apple from the kitchen counter, she slipped out the front door, hopped on her bike, and pedaled down Yorkshire toward the rising sun.  

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.

Hometown

Senior pictures are a huge deal in the Midwest. Killin’ it.

It was the perfect sized town to grow up in.

A sign boasted “POPULATION: 25,501” if you took exit 132 off Highway 41. It hadn’t been updated since 2010. Neenah was growing slightly each year.

If you continued down Main Street, you’d run smack-dab into one of the oldest parts of the city. Bar and grill restaurants would slowly give way to million-dollar mansions on East Wisconsin Avenue if you continued towards Lake Winnebago.

Across the street at Riverside Park, kids would dance in the fountain during the hot summer months. Winter brought subzero temperatures. A few brave souls would walk the winding paths, breath visible in the bitter air, admiring the ethereal beauty of the frozen ice shoves.

My family would sometimes parade our boat around the marina in June, gliding softly through the water. Sailboats bobbed lazily, gently straining against their buoys. The hospital stood proudly on the shore, proclaiming the name of a wealthy businessman’s daughter.

I had been born there in 1992. I left in 2016.

***

When I came home from college for the summer, I’d aimlessly drive down the country roads. At about 6pm, I knew the streets would become bathed in gold light.

The sky seemed bigger back home. It always did.

Cornfields blurred on either side of my Ford Fusion. Sunlight streamed through the windows, the AC blasting, my family’s newly acquired golden retriever sitting shotgun. Her loose hair swirled around the car.

I turned up the radio. 101.1 FM spun an overplayed hit from a few summers ago. I didn’t care. I turned up the volume anyway. I loved my hometown.

I couldn’t imagine growing up anywhere else.

***

I left for New York in the summer of 2011. The night before, my best friend dropped me off at my house. We spent twenty minutes crying, sitting in her Chevy Impala on my driveway.

Will you come visit me? Yes. Let’s keep in touch. Of course! Volleyball will be weird without you. I knowwww. Let me know if you meet any boys! Ugh, same for you. I hope.

Tears mingled with watery smiles.

I had a long trip ahead of me, in both distance and maturity.

I’d return the next summer a vaguely different person, but I had no indication of this while I sobbed and embraced my friend.

We’d spent nearly every day together from Junior year until now. After college started, our days together were few and far between.

But every time we got back in touch, it was like we’d never left our hometown.

***

In Wisconsin, the horizon line is finite.

Upstate New York is different.

Mountains burst through the soil, boldly reaching to the heavens. Clouds often tangle themselves within the trees; firmament interlacing with earth.

What had seemed so far out of reach in Wisconsin was now within grasp. I felt as though I could touch the sky.

***

Senior year of high school finally arrived.

Let’s get a picture of the Resch Center and hang it up in the team room. Yeah, then we can tape it up on the wall as motivation for the State Tournament. I don’t think the underclassmen get how badly we want this. It’s our last year, we just have to beat Fondy. I’ll see if I can find a picture. Sounds good. I’ll get tape. What time is practice again? It’s at four-thirty. I’ll count the volleyballs to make sure we have them all before we do dynamic warm up.

The photo of the Resch Center never made it up in the team room that year.

It was my fourth year on Varsity and we had a young squad. Four seniors. Our libero left the year before to play in the Big East Conference.

We practiced Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after school. Matches were on Tuesday and Thursday nights at 7:30pm. Occasionally, we’d have weekend tournaments.

The dedication was there. We had heart.

I wore my jersey with pride. Rocket red and white. 

R, R-O, R-O-C-K. K, K-E, K-E-T-S.

My parents belted out the same cheer a couple decades before me. My mom had been in pom-poms. Class of ‘85. My dad probably skipped out on school assemblies to go burn rubber in the senior parking lot. Class of ‘80.

I picked the number thirteen freshman year. I had last dibs. The jersey was far too big for me, but I was ecstatic. I was the first freshman to make varsity under the head coach who had taken over the program in 1998.

We didn’t make it to the state tournament senior year. Our rival, Fond du Lac, won in four games. I’d never made it beyond sectional finals, the last step before the state tournament.

I didn’t cry. We had come so close.

While one athletic career ended, a new one would begin.

***

Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Watch the Throne” blared. Fans heckled me as I warmed up in the harsh light of Rec Hall.

Bright white banners hung limply above, undisturbed by the excitement below. Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, Ohio State…

The crowd rose, roaring in approval as the number one seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament jogged in.

Our coach told us not to give Penn State the satisfaction of watching them warm up. But it was impossible. They were mechanical. It was everything we aspired to be.

And they had no idea who the hell we were.

Binghamton? Losing record. Must be an automatic bid.

I now wore number three across my back and chest. Number thirteen had already been taken. And green, I decided, was so not my color.

Two years later, I fixed that very statement across my graduation cap.

I had that Binghamton Bearcat pride, but I was still a Neenah Rocket at heart. My small town pride permeated who I was and how I identified my actions.

Do you live next to a farm? Yeah, within walking distance. I bet you go cow-tipping in your spare time. Oh, all the time. Do you like cheese? Cheese curds are the best.

I took a deep, shaky, breath and listened as the Penn State’s starting lineup was called.

***

I still went to basketball games with my parents and siblings when I returned home for winter break. My brother had been on Varsity and could dunk. My sister joined me on the volleyball team her sophomore year. Teachers knew my family and called us by our last name.

It would get confusing when we all joined track that spring.

Running was not my gig. That was fine. I remembered liking high jump in middle school and decided to give it a try my final year of high school.

That June, I made the lateral trek across the state to La Crosse for Track and Field State Finals.

For the last time, I wore my Rocket uniform. A small Neenah “N” was embroidered onto my shorts. High jump offered a low-pressure alternative to volleyball.

I finished 7th.

Not bad for joining the team a few months prior.

***

The people are just different out east. How so? I don’t know…they just are. I’ve heard the people in Midwest are nicer. Yeah, that’s true in some ways. Is Wisconsin west of the Mississippi? Did you really just ask that? Yeah. It’s east of the Mississippi. Wow. Is it like Fargo? What? The show. Is it like the show Fargo? That took place in North Dakota. Oh.

***

Nearly everyone had access to a boat at home. Either you did, your friend did, or a friend of a friend did.

Minnesota prides themselves for being the “land of a thousand lakes”. Wisconsin has thousands more.

I grew up around the water and learned to swim at a young age. My dad taught my siblings and I how to sail and would occasionally let us steer our power boat through slow no wake zones. We’d later brag to our friends.

While at a family friend’s cottage, I pulled our Sunfish sailboat back to shore after the wind died out in the middle of the lake.

Though our parents could’ve easily tugged us back to the dock, I insisted. I tied a small knot around the clip of my life jacket and steadily sliced my arms and legs through the clear water. My friends cheered me on from the cockpit.

Summer days were often spent on the lake. Any lake. We’d go tubing, water skiing, fishing, and swimming for hours until the sun began to sink behind the trees. Slightly sunburnt and tired from the day, we’d plop into folding chairs by the fire at night, stuffing our faces with walking tacos.

If we were lucky, our parents would let us stay up late playing Ghost in the Graveyard or Kick the Can. After we were hushed into silence, we’d lie on our backs, trying to spot satellites and shooting stars.

Miles away from city lights, we could easily the detail of the Milky Way. I taught myself to recognize the Little Dipper, Big Dipper, and Orion’s Belt.

I could still recall the constellations nine years later as I drifted quietly in Round Lake. Surrounded by the Adirondack Mountains, I gazed up at the night sky. Some of my innocence had been lost since I’d left Wisconsin. Slightly drunk, my hands fanned out beside me to keep me afloat in water. The lake reflected the heavens overhead.

I was in a trance. Though I’d changed in remarkable ways over the last decade, Orion’s belt still glittered above me, unchanged.

Tears trailed down my cheeks silently into the black water.

I had never felt so infinite.

***

It was the perfect time to leave.

A sign proclaimed, “POPULATION: 179,154” once I hit Interstate 44 in North Providence. I didn’t remember seeing this sign last time I visited in 2011.

I continued on 44, stealing glances around me.

Urban. An unfamiliar skyline reached to a hazy stretch of sky in front of me. A left, a right, and one last left.

Jittery, I finally parked my Ford Escape and vault myself eagerly out onto the hot pavement.

I left my hometown in 2016. I started my new life that same year.

***

The more I return home, the more I accept that I’ve outgrown Neenah.

I pass my high school, remembering the times I roamed the hallways during ten minute passing periods. I ran sprints on the track out back and had soccer tryouts on the field scores of feet away. I walked across the stage in the Ron Einerson Fieldhouse for graduation like my parents before me. Class of ‘11.

The cornfields are still there too. They remain unchanged, much like the constellations that light the night sky, no matter where I am. 

I’ll always call it my hometown.

The “Nah”.

Kween.

Violent Light: Prologue

Some of the locals still called it “Fort Manning”, though it had been hundreds of years since the British evacuated the settlement in 1779. The fort, perched strategically on towering granite cliffs, now lie in ruin. Undergrowth enveloped the eight unused concrete gun batteries, choking sunlight from the fort’s innermost corridors. Once a training center for German prisoners during the Second World War, the settlement fell into disrepair and grew more desolate each year that slipped by.

Those who lived nearby concluded the old fort was unusual for several reasons. After the war ended, strange voices seemed to radiate from the bowels of the artillery rooms. Bursts of cruel light illuminated the frigid waters once a month at low tide and couldn’t be explained by passing ships. The villagers avoided idle gossip, but sixty years ago, a local fisherman vanished while leaving the fort’s stronghold on the treacherous coastline.

The police responded to the disappearance as soon as the local milkman noticed three untouched milk bottles in front of the fisherman’s cottage door. Three days missing. They were already thirty-six hours behind.

The case looked exceptionally bleak. No witnesses and no evidence. The authorities assumed the boat washed out to sea.

The entire village held its breath after hearing the news. Within a few hours, the milkman quickly rose to fame. He recounted his testimony that night at the pub to anyone who would listen.

“So I goes up to the door, ya see,” the milkman said to a hushed crowd. “And I see three bottles. Full! Firs’ thing I think is, ‘well, wutta a waste’. This guy n’er leaves ‘is milk out. So I walk up to the window and try ta look inside…but ‘issall dark. I knock and nothin’.”

He took a hearty swig of his pilsner, greedily eyeing the small crowd of villagers.

“What happened next, Bill?” Cried one of the barmaids. Several of the other patrons nodded eagerly and looked back at Bill.

Bill dramatically lowered his glass. It wasn’t often that he captivated audiences like this.

“I says to myself, ‘that’s weird’. So I up and call the police.”

“And…?” The barmaid asked hopefully.   

“Well, they still haven’t found ‘im. But I ‘erd ’is boat washed up on shore las’ night…looked like it took quite a beating, it did. Mighta’ hit a reef er somethin’. Nothin’ found onboard ‘cept a couple ‘a fishhooks.”

The crowd began muttering to one another.

“…never knew the poor soul, did ya, Barry?”

“Saw ‘im once and awhile at most, Marianne,” said Barry as he exchanged a dark look with the barmaid beside him.

After a few weeks, the police had yet to unearth any clues regarding the fisherman’s disappearance.

Months passed and the village slowly forgot about the fisherman.

“It’s hard to justify looking for someone who is missed by no one,” Chief Lutz sighed as he shuffled through the fisherman’s case file. “Something tells me he didn’t want to be found.”

Months passed and turned to years. Years turned into decades. Few villagers remained from the rainy night Bill told his story at the pub. Memories and rumors intertwined to form local lore. No one was quite certain where fact deviated from fiction.

Years later, the milkman was well into his nineties. He still recounted his story many times, but never spoke about the oddest part of the day he stopped by the fisherman’s house:

call him crazy, but he was certain he heard hundreds of whispering voices seeping out of the fort’s inner chambers that morning. Though he still did not know what the voices said or even what language they spoke in, he left a changed man. He couldn’t explain it, but he was unable to shake off an overwhelming feeling of uneasiness in his bones for the remainder of his life.

So when death approached him later that night, he readily collapsed into its arms, able to find peace at last in a burst of cold, violent light.

***

A special thanks goes out to my mom, Karen Hovie, for guest editing this post. Though this is not a finished product, she has helped with the fine tuning of what I’ve written.

Guest Post: Beauty & Self-Worth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Karen Hovie.

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

***

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

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

Now that would have sent a powerful message.

And that was as far as I got.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You understand the importance of positive body image.

You know the consequences of possessing a poor body image.

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

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

We all know all of this, yet little changes.

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

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

More importantly, we weren’t meant to.

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

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

The world needs more Carrie Ann Inabas.

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

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

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

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

So what if we started listening? Really listening.

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

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

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

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

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

You are so much more than your outward appearance.

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

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

 

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

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