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.

 

 

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Picking Up the Pieces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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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

General Life Update: iPhone Tripod Pics and Self-Reliance

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Hey guys, I’m back.

In all seriousness, it’s been awhile since I last posted. I figured I owed the world an explanation as to why I seem to be posing in front of inanimate objects at an increasingly (and alarming) speed on both Instagram and Twitter (it’s because I was shown no love as a child and Uncle Scar killed my father to rule the kingdom…oh wait, that’s Lion King. Nevermind).

So while I love a good iPhone tripod and the horrified stare of those around me struggling to justify my existence in this world as I set a self-timer and frolic in front of monuments and paintings, this does little to describe the inner workings of my life. I told you, my social media pages can be likened to a fan’s crappy highlights mixtape of Steph Currey’s three-pointers from a few years back. All smiles, all the time.

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Me Pondering: Am I trying to find a Taco Bell in the distance? What is consciousness? Was Tupac’s death faked? Is he still alive?

So other than spending a good handful of my time trying to figure out how Kylie Jenner’s waist to hip ratio works (where does she fit her organs?!), I’ve spent a lot of time alone.

Awww, poor Kristin. Someone play me the world’s smallest violin, already!

At heart, I’m an extraverted introvert. Regardless, I’d say my time alone has overall been great and it’s worth it despite this fact.

My homeboy and Transcendentalist, Thoreau, would’ve also encouraged you to do get in some alone time- in fact, he’d probably try to help build you a cabin out in the middle of the woods somewhere to get you started. So while yes, I have actually had to bum it at various KOA campsites in the fall when I was literally homeless, I don’t recommend going that route unless you have a home to go home to with a shower and refrigerator in it (you can only survive on PB&Js and communal showers for so long, people).

Now that I have a place to sleep at night, I’m able to travel around the East Coast without the stress of knowing the AirBnb or campsite I’m staying at is completely draining my savings account.

And it’s been wonderful.

I spent a day drinking rosé and sitting in front of some of Degas, Monet, and Whistler’s greatest paintings in Boston. Another day, I drove three hours north to the White Mountains because I’ve never seen them before. Later this summer, I bummed it on Cape Cod’s beaches, eating ice cream and watching seagulls bob around in the blue-green surf. I also had the fortune of traveling to San Francisco and every Ivy League school with Brown Volleyball this past fall. Even as I drive home each day through the heart of Providence, it’s some of the most normal moments like these that remind me of how lucky I am to have somehow “made it” here. I’m living, people!

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Me Pondering: where is that quarter I dropped? What is the meaning of life? Where am I?

In my time out here, traveling has served as an escape for me, especially this fall and winter. It’s also taught me a lot about myself. It’s just been, like, the year of realizing stuff. (Lol, if you recognize that, I’ll love you forever).

Though being alone has caused me to grow up a lot quicker than staying at home would have, I’ve also experienced some rough moments in my time here that are harder to capture in photographs.

Fighting depression, anxiety, mixed states, obsessions and compulsions can be a challenge in itself, but when you’re twenty hours away from home, there are many times when you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.

Not pictured on my Instagram are the torn layers of skin around my nails, infected and bloody from ripping them apart out of anxiety. Also missing are the days I wake up with puffy eyes from crying the night before over something so minor I can hardly ever recall what it was. Other things are too abstract for photographs: thoughts of panic gripping me, what are you doing? Why did you think moving was a good idea? I had spent four months desperately looking for a job and watched my savings account go from thousands of dollars to just $33.48 before I got my first paycheck in late November. 

Much of this past fall was filled with days where I fluctuated in a mixed state. The only way I can justifiably describe this to those who have never been through this themselves: you are never certain which of your thoughts are ingrained in reality and which are not.

So when this winter came, I welcomed back depression like an old friend after months of struggling in a mixed state.

Because I’m Bipolar II, I spend more time in the depressed state than the hypomanic state and find it much more familiar and much more manageable than being too “up”. It’s easier to feel suicidal now for me than it is to feel manic only in the sense that I’ve learned to acknowledge these thoughts as just thoughts and as a reminder I’m not well instead of thoughts I need to act on.

After seeing my family over the holidays for a whopping forty-eight-hour whirlwind adventure, I was motivated to help myself again. I started working out as an attempt to get myself out of the “funk” I now found myself in. I made myself a goal: to get in shape again so I’d be able to hike in the Adirondacks this spring and summer.

For the whole month of December and much of November, I had limited myself to 800 calories a day and wanted to cut the deficit to a lower amount. My obsessions had gotten worse for some time and I was extremely unhappy with the way I looked. It felt good to punish myself- I sucked at my job and felt like I was annoying everyone with my lack of knowledge. My position used none of my talents, I felt trapped, and it was hard enough to even show up to work much less try and remember details about leasing or financing a car (for those unaware, I work at a car dealership).

As January continued on, I tried to work out and travel more. I became less depressed and obsessed with my daily caloric intake and sometimes I’d feel happy, truly happy- not manic and out of control, but the real genuine thing. I spent less days dizzy, miserable, and light-headed and more days active and reflective.

Loneliness no longer bothered me to the extent it used to. I felt alone, but I learned to truly embrace it. For the first time ever, I decided to go to a fancy restaurant by myself in Boston a few days ago. People around me definitely stared, but I pretended not to notice. This wasn’t like your run-of-the-mill Panera or Starbucks, everyone there was dining with someone sans laptops and it was obvious I was alone. After a few minutes, I ordered a brie and turkey sandwich and ignored wandering eyes. My very existence felt defiant, so when asked if I wanted to see a dessert menu, I said “hell yeah”, much to my waiter’s chagrin.

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You bet I used a tripod. Me frolicking around the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. 

It was then that I truly realized that being alone doesn’t mean you have to feel lonely.

In fact, I’m often reminded of the Kristin I used to be as a child. I was always content reading a book rather than socializing. As I grew up, this changed. Everyone’s self confidence takes a dive as a teenager. We all looked weird as f*ck and were trying to figure out our place in the world. At the time, being with others helped me feel wanted. I had to be an okay person because others would hang out with me, right? I read less but had a lot of fun making new friends.

Although I’m always game to go out on a Saturday night, I’m also perfectly happy reading a book or driving around in my Ford Escape listening to NPR. It’s a balancing act now.

It doesn’t bother me as much anymore when I’m traveling and see couples and friends laughing and talking with one another because I also know the time I spend alone is giving me another chance to build a positive relationship with myself. It sounds silly, but it’s something I’m incredibly proud of because I’ve never truly liked myself in the past (I’ve always joked that I’m working on my positive self talk, but it’s hard when working with an idiot).

Bottom line, all the sh*t I’ve been through (both good and bad) this fall and winter has taught me a lot. I’ve learned to like myself a little more and enjoy the perks of traveling wherever, whenever. I also determined I’d rather build up my self worth internally than rely on another person’s opinion of me, whether it be positive or negative. While it’s great to be loved, it’s even better to have a good relationship with yourself that you’ve worked on yourself. Even if you have to go through what seems like hell and back to get there, I can promise you it’s definitely worth it in the end.

So here’s my challenge to you: pick a nice restaurant and eat alone. Order dessert. Get that $15 sangria. Take your time and try not to bring out your phone. Self-reliance has more than just a place in American Romanticism, enjoy it and learn to embrace it.

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Smiling because I’m liking myself more now. Also maybe because I see a taco floating in the water. 

Tuesday Thoughts: Think Next Time You Say, “Oh my God, I’m So OCD”

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Courtesy of Deviant Art. 

It’s typically something that’s said without much thought, as a sort of excuse for an overly organized bedroom or clean car:

“Oh my God, I’m so OCD.”

Though these behaviors have the possibility of indicating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder on some levels, I find many are quick to throw out this phrase casually as if having OCD is simply about being a neatfreak.

Truth is, the mental health disorder is much more complex.

Though I have never been offended by someone saying, “I’m so OCD” while referring to their cleaning habits, I think it’s important to clarify that this disorder isn’t always about washing your hands into oblivion or continuously checking to see if your door is locked. Next time you say, “I’m so OCD” or hear someone else mention it, it’s my hope that after reading this post, you’ll remember the wider span of the disorder.

IMPORTANT: You’ll never hear me claim to be an expert on mental health, but I experience the obsessions and compulsions characterized by this disorder on a daily basis, sometimes for hours and hours. From this, I seek not to find sympathy, but instead a newfound understanding of OCD, because there’s much more to this disorder than being a “neatfreak”. In turn, it’s my hope people will use the term less flippantly.

In the past, I’ve shared my experiences with you guys about living with bipolar disorder and anxiety, but I figured it was time to let this often-misunderstood disorder have center stage. In doing so, I’ve also just solidified my place in society as a millennial. Well, then.

So really…what is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

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Courtesy of Deviant Art.

OCD is a disorder of the brain and behavior. According to Robert Boland, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown Medical School, patients with OCD are plagued with obsessions, compulsions, or both (this is more common). For those of you who don’t know, obsessions are characterized by recurrent thoughts, ideas, images, impulses, fears, or doubts. Patients can resist these thoughts but also may be unable to stop them. Compulsions can manifest in a variety of ways. Patients may feel compelled to touch, count, check, have everything arranged in a particular order, or repeatedly wash their hands. Any attempt to resist the compulsions (even though patients at some point recognize the senselessness of their obsessions and/or compulsions) are met with increasing anxiety.

Chances are, you probably knew something above from Psych 101, but in the spirit of broadening our horizons today, here’s a personal example of an obsession that has nothing to do with cleanliness:

As I’m walking down the street, I’ll suddenly feel I absolutely can’t walk to the left of the stop sign ahead or something bad will happen. If I walk to the left of it, I’ll die.

It doesn’t stop here. After I walk to the right of the sign, I’ll have these little thoughts every other minute for hours on end that I’ll:

a.) have a terrible day tomorrow,

b.) get shot,

c.) have a family member that will get maimed beyond belief,

d.) get possessed by a demon, or

e.) all the above. I’m a creative person, I’ve imagined myself dying in many, many ways. The options are endless!

Other days, I’ll continuously hear recurrent meaningless phrases or songs. The first time I listened to Casting Crowns’ “Just Be Held”, I heard one snippet of the song in my head for the entire day on repeat- not even the whole song, just a few phrases. TALK ABOUT ANNOYING.

Though these are just a few examples, there are many more. Here’s a link to a great site that teaches more about other intrusive thoughts those suffering from OCD may have.

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Courtesy of Lancaster Online.

As for an example of a compulsion, here’s a common one I used to struggle with:

Every night before I’d go to bed, I’d have to check my entire room for a robber/criminal/whatnot. I’d peak under my bed, behind my desk, in my closet, and behind my door. Just like with my obsessions, I knew this compulsion was completely senseless, but I had to do this routine a couple times before I could go to bed.

Another classic example of a compulsion I’ve recently overcome:

After my iPod was recently stolen out of my car, I’d sleep next to my keys and wake up repeatedly through the night to constantly double-tap the lock button. Every time I locked the car, I’d relieve some of my anxiety and go back to bed, however, I’d wake up a half an hour later to redo the whole process again.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve also always had to tap my left and right foot separately for every time I pass a stripe or landmark (mailbox, sidewalk ending, etc.) on the side of the road while listening to music. If my left foot tap doesn’t line up with the quarter notes of the song and my right foot tap doesn’t line up with the eighth notes in the song, I get frustrated and nervous. It’s slightly embarrassing to admit, but it’s a compulsion that’s easy to hide while with others. I’ll attribute this to taking piano lessons at an early age and listening to a metronome.

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Road with lines = my feet going tap tap taptap tap taptap. Courtesy of the BBC.

To give you a more scientific idea of what’s going on:

Boland notes, “[c]ompulsions spring from recurrent doubts or fears that something awful has happened or will happen…almost all patients view their compulsions as senseless, and out of embarrassment…they resist carrying them out. The growing tension that accompanies this resistance, however, is generally unbearable”.

Well, that sounds like nothing but happiness and sunshine! So are things kind of hopeless then?

Not at all.

Managing day-to-day activities with OCD is completely doable, with or without meds (meds can function as a sort of “crutch” to help you along if your symptoms worsen). The key is to controlling OCD is to first recognize maladaptive behavior, and secondly, not give obsessions and compulsions any merit.

Often times, for example, I’ll say “screw it” not give into my obsessions or compulsions regardless of my increased anxiety. This essentially breaks the “cycle” of obsession. Even though I’m sometimes convinced suffer a horrible death or have a family member fall off a cliff, everything seems to be okay so far.

“Oh My God, I’m So OCD”

So next time you hear someone utter this phrase, please think about those who truly suffer from this disorder. To me, saying this isn’t completely offensive, but like I mentioned before, shows how we’ve carelessly let another mental health disorder become part of of our casual daily vernacular (read: “I’m so depressed” while experiencing sadness).

To some, having OCD is a daily struggle not characterized by simply enjoying a neat room. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is very real to 2%-3% of our population which roughly translates to 3.3 MILLION people (Boland). It’s time we started treating OCD for what it is, something that if left untreated, can interfere negatively in all aspects of one’s life.

My point?

Let’s work to keep Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder a noun and not an adjective.*

xxx

 

Source:

Boland, Robert, MD. “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (DSM-IV-TR #300.3).” (n.d.):               n.pag. Brown.edu. Brown University. Web.

*This goes not without saying this should expand to other mental health disorders as well.