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.

On Moving and Trying to Find My Big Girl Pants

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

And I needed a way out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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