Mental Health and Partial Hospitalization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

This came at a minor cost.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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.

 

 

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?

IMG_9900.JPG

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.

Fighting to Find Your “Happier”

LOOK AT THIS VERY NON-STAGED HAPPINESS!

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

LOL wattt? I stroked my beard thoughtfully.  

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

Whatevs.

…but I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

Yas, kween.

***

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

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

Holy bawls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of ten paintings I completed this winter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each day I fight hard to become this girl.

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

NOTE:

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post: Beauty & Self-Worth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Karen Hovie.

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

***

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

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

Now that would have sent a powerful message.

And that was as far as I got.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You understand the importance of positive body image.

You know the consequences of possessing a poor body image.

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

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

We all know all of this, yet little changes.

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

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

More importantly, we weren’t meant to.

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

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

The world needs more Carrie Ann Inabas.

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

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

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

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

So what if we started listening? Really listening.

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

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

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

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

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

You are so much more than your outward appearance.

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

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

 

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

Favorite child status?

Wanderlust: How I Travel

 

White Mountains, New Hampshire

If I had a dollar for every time I saw a blog post entitled, “Ten Places to Travel When You’re Broke AF” I’d actually have enough money to go on one of these proclaimed “cheap” places.

While I think it’s great Millennials have a desire to get out and travel the world, I find it discouraging to think others feel left out due to a lack of time, money, or travel buddy.

Let’s be real, some recent college graduates have just begun working and may only have three to five vacation days in the bank. For my current job, I work on three Saturdays out of the month and do not have the luxury of two consecutive days off four times a month or taking a “long weekend”. Oh, poor me!

Now that I’m living on my own, I also pay for my own groceries and rent on top of other expenses. Who knew just taking up space on planet earth could equate to so many dollar signs?

NOT ME, UNTIL I DITCHED MY PARENTS AND MOVED OUT EAST. My former bedroom has already been renovated.

So anywho, flexible and fixed expenses can add up quickly, especially if you’re trying to do things like eat food and not live in a dumpster.

Add limited funds to the issue of being a lone twenty-something-year-old and your options may seem limited for travel.

So although I can’t jet-set like a mofo, I have little angst about the fact I can’t travel to tropical locations or ski resorts as often as I’d like.

HOW CAN THIS BE? I THOUGHT YOU LIKED TO WHINE, KRISTIN HOVIE.

Well I can’t deny bitching is a great pastime of mine, I’ve been able to utilize my new location to take more adventures that are friendly to my wallet, work with my schedule, and doable alone.

Princeton was my favorite Ivy League school to visit.

The result: many day trips to regional destinations. Remember, wanderlust doesn’t always have to apply to overseas destinations. This in mind, I’ve been exploring New England like it’s my day job. The east coast offers no shortage of beautiful oceanic views, mountaintop selfie opportunities, and historical landmarks. The best part of this? It’s relatively cheap, everything is within about a four-hour car ride, and these trips are doable alone.

Naturally, most of the places I’ve been require plenty of photos. I tend to post my adventures on Instagram and other social media sites and as a result, sometimes get questions about where I’m going and how I find I found the location I’m posing in front of. I’ve compiled a short question/answer section below that goes over a few of the most common inquiries. ENJOY!

The Providence Performing Arts Center

Q. How do you find these locations?

A. A mixture of research and spontaneous..ness.

Short answer: TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google, Social Media, and Bloggers.

Longer answer: My trips are often determined based on a healthy mix of researching the shit out of things and YOLOing. I like to be outside as much as possible, but when this isn’t possible I tend to gravitate towards museums and the performing arts. I’m also lucky in the sense that bloggers like Kiel James Patrick and Sarah Vickers share their location on their Instagram photos. If I think what they’re posing in front of is pretty or fun, I’ll plan a trip. I started following a bunch of bloggers on social media sites for New England inspiration.

Further Insight: When I saw the Boston Symphony Orchestra in January, I planned ahead about three weeks. I managed to get my hands on a $34 ticket in the nosebleed section and did my research to figure out where to park and how much it’d cost me. The venue was gorgeous and I had a great time remembering when I used to carve my initials into my rental violin in middle school. While walking down Massachusetts Avenue, I saw a sushi place I decided to randomly stop by for food. The combination of planning ahead and YOLOing worked out well in this case. Both were public venues where I didn’t feel weird or nervous about being alone. This was also the case when I saw John Cleese at the Providence Performing Arts Center (also around $40).

Other times, I’ll plan an outdoor trip a few days in advance. For obvious reasons, it’s important to take the weather into consideration. TripAdvisor has been a godsend this past winter to help me identify National and State Parks that are worth visiting. I’ll typically find locations on this site then research them more thoroughly to see if it’s worth my time. Trips to places like Fort Wetherill can be attributed to planning ahead while seeing the breathtaking views of the Omni Mount Washington Hotel are purely coincidental (I literally pulled off the highway).

Sometimes the spontaneous doesn’t work out, but it’s not worth getting upset over. I decided to nix a trip to the Boston Contemporary Museum of Art because I felt uncomfortable walking around Boston alone after dark on empty streets.

The Providence Public Library

Q. Do you feel uncomfortable alone? Do you hike by yourself?

A. Sometimes and it depends on the location.

Short answer: Like I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I sometimes do feel uncomfortable being alone. If it makes sense, I’d rather feel uncomfortable surrounded by a group of people than uncomfortable alone in the mountains. I do not hike alone in the White Mountains or Adirondacks. It’s simply too large an area to not have great cell reception and people have died falling off cliffs or drowning in rivers. Though I’ve been responsible for children while hiking and know the basics, I simply do not have all the supplies necessary to feel comfortable hiking alone.

Longer answer: I was very stupid this past fall and decided to hike Mount Ascutney in Vermont after eating nothing but a granola bar for breakfast. I was also out of shape and thought I could handle a two mile hike to the summit (3140’ as opposed to Cascade Mountain which I did a couple summers ago at 4098’). I managed to make it to the top of the mountain fine, but the hike down reduced me to tears. I was shaking so badly on the hike down I moreso flopped my way down the path to my car. Lesson learned. On the bright side, I was smart enough to screenshot a map of the hiking paths and thoroughly research it before leaving my apartment in Providence.

I am snobby when it comes to hiking and don’t think Newport’s “Cliff Walk” is considered a hike at all, but I will definitely do this alone. Ditto with beach walks!

The Palestra at Penn

Q. Who is taking your picture?

A. Me.

Short answer: Target sells these cheap, smartphone tripods that are about three inches tall. I have also become acquainted with the ten second self timer. I’m working on purchasing a tripod for my Canon t5i Rebel now, hopefully this will allow me to experiment with editing less grainy photos.

Long answer: It would be a lot less effort to just take a photograph of a landscape without me in it, given I’m by myself, right? Yes. Though I have plenty of landscape photos, I just think it’s more special when I’m in the pic to show that I was there. When my kids look back on my pictures years and years from now, I think they’ll find it more interesting to see photos of me doing things, not just…things. I know I enjoy going through my parents’ photographs of when they hiked the Great Smoky Mountains at my age. My favorites are the photographs where my parents are shown along with the landscape around them. Say what you want, but I like the creative problem solving involved in trying to capture both a feeling and moment in front of something breathtakingly beautiful. It’s artsy and just a tad bit vain, but I like that sh*t.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Q. What are your favorite places that you’ve traveled to so far?

A. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Fort Wetherill, and the Adirondacks in New York.

Elaboration: The Museum of Fine Arts was and is incredible. I’m a fairly artsy person, so I could spend hours parked in front of a few displays or paintings but there are so many different exhibits that continually change that are sure to appease just about everyone. Fort Wetherill might just be my single-most favorite location in all of Rhode Island. Though many newcomers may pass Jamestown on their way to Newport, it’s definitely worth the pit stop. It faintly reminds me of Capri (Italy) with the rocky outcrops, secret beaches, and incredible ocean views. Though it can get busy on weekends, it’s fun to climb around the rocks and watch the sunset from this state park. The Adirondacks will always have a special place in my heart after working at Camp Treetops a few summers ago. I was only living there for about three months, but there’s something comforting about being surrounded by giant mountains.

Adirondack Park, New York

Q. What other places do you plan on visiting?

A. Mount Washington (New Hampshire), the Boston Public Library, and Blue Shutters Beach (Rhode Island) in the summer.

Short answer: I’m absolutely dying to hike Mount Washington this spring or summer once the weather conditions get better. It’s the highest mountain peak in the northeast. The only reason I drag my butt to the YMCA or go out on runs is to get into better shape for this trip. After seeing photographs of the Boston Public Library, I knew I will have to take the forty-five minute drive just to check out the amazing architecture of this building. Check out the photo below, it looks like something straight out of Harry Potter. I’ve been to Blue Shutters Beach a couple of times this winter already, but I can’t wait to haul all my beach things with me this summer. The water is an unreal shade of blue-green, the sand is white, and it’s a very natural environment. Summer can’t get here soon enough!

Newport, Rhode Island

Let me know if you have additional questions regarding travelling regionally as I’d be happy to dish, betch. I’ll pretend I have awwllll the answers.

In the meantime, get out and explore wherever you are!

More pics from my adventures below:

Beavertail State Park, Rhode Island

 

Mount Ascutney, Vermont

Ocean Drive (Newport, Rhode Island)

Omni Mount Washington Resort, New Hampshire

Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire

img_6747

Fort Wetherill, Rhode Island

 

Preliminary Dating Profile: One Hundo P Real

Any time I visit my dear old grandparents, they make it a point to ask how I’m doing:

“Oh, we didn’t think we’d make it this far. We might go any day now…it’s nice you called. How is the weather? Do you like your job?”

Sprinkled amongst their many questions is always one that always serves as a special treat:

“Are you meeting any nice men out there?”

While it’s definitely thrilling enough having them grill my sister about her boyfriend (whom they are under the impression was born in Nigeria and whose name has been American-Depression-Era-icized as “Timmy” instead of Temi), I sometimes get the pleasure of explaining to my 88-year-old grandparents that no, they will not live to see the day I date anyone and get married anywhere other than a Las Vegas church by Elvis while three times over the legal limit.

My grandparents are tough folks, having grown up in the Depression and all, so they put on their bravest faces, ignore the shock, and try to keep their teeth in their mouths.

Bless their souls, I love them to death.

In spite of them almost certainly believing I am a closet lesbian, I have decided to put myself out there…starting now. Here’s a preliminary start to my dating profile which will be up within the next month. I’m not joking.

This will be my Profile Pic.

Name: Kristin Elizabeth Hovie III*

*Not the III

Short Blurb on Me: I spent most of my life fighting with my father (who didn’t understand my curiosity about the human world) and this curvalicious octopus b*tch (who wanted my voice to seduce my hot love interest). My best friends include a neurotic crab who composes music and Flounder, who is basically my day one hoe. Oh wait…that’s The Little Mermaid…

Hometown: Bumblef*ck, Wisconsin

Currently: Laying in a ditch contemplating the meaning of life.

Birthday: November 9th

Education: BA in English, elementary tap dancing.

Occupation: Standing in line for food at soup kitchens due to said Bachelor’s Degree.

Height: Chances are I can probably dunk on yo ass and hit a three point fade away jumper on you in a game of one-on-one. If you like ya shawties…shawt…I am very not that.

Body Type: A cross between a sock monkey and an 80-year-old amateur adult film star. I will not send you anything other than head-shot photos because I want to troll you so hard on date #1. I just might be a transvestite.

Sexual Orientation: I identify strongly with a potato.

Ethnicity: White as f*ck.

Thing I am Most Passionate About: Taco Bell, a good whiskey Old Fashioned, and shaking my ass on the hood of Whitesnake’s car

Religion: The one with human sacrifices every Tuesday night.

Skills/Rewards:

  • Thumbs Up from mom for cleaning up dog poop on front lawn
  • Gold Star for mastering “Mississippi Hot Dog” on the violin
  • Pat On The Back from dad for being able to tell the difference between a Phillips and Straight Edge screwdriver
  • $10 from Grandpa for power washing front porch
  • Insurmountable Feelings of Pride from Self for backing a trailer 
  • Pokemaster (all badges, beat Professor Oak’s nephew no prob)
  • Killed a Basilisk and saved Hogwarts on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (for PS2) in roughly eight hours
  • Powers: Fireblast (but only five times per battle or I get worn out), Bubbleblast, Scratch, and Whine
  • Participation Ribbon for 13th place at Summer Fun Run of 2004

Hobbies include chilling.

Things Overheard about Kristin:

    • “I just don’t understand how she finds shoes large enough for her feet…” -Kristin’s prom date Senior year of High School after being stepped on several times
    • “I was always very concerned about her…in fifth grade she would crawl around on the ground at recess by herself and insist that others call her ‘Blackstar’ or something like that. The janitor had to rip down half the forts she made along the fence back in ‘04.” -Kristin’s 5th Grade Teacher
    • “Kristin who?” -Kristin’s 7th Grade Crush
    • “Helluv an ass.” -Homeless man in New York City

Hobbies:

  • Catching mad air off my front curb with my Razr scooter
  • Cyberbullying children 
  • Tweeting slam poetry at McDonald’s
  • Working on my beer pong wrist flick while in public places
  • Probably making you a sandwich

Quotes:

  • “Positive self talk is hard when you’re working with an idiot.” -Me

This is me knowing how to have a good time.

If Interested:

  • Contact me at this phone number (920-555-5555). It’s my dad’s cell, he’ll want to conduct a thorough screening of your dating profile and will set up an appointment/date if you fit the following qualifications:
    • Nobel Peace Prize recipient
    • Have owned or currently own a Mustang GT
    • and Like fart jokes