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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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?

Life Lessons from Video Games

As a gangly, pale, glasses-wearing, zitty human teenager in the early 2000’s, I had definitely grown out of my “cute” 90’s stage and liked to avoid the glare of the yellow dwarf star we know as the sun. So when I wasn’t assigning myself homework during summer vacation, I gravitated towards other activities that allowed minimal human interaction…i.e. reading and playing video games.

Reading was fun and all, but after 3rd grade, my friends were unable and unwilling to justify crawling around in the dirt during recess to reenact scenes from my favorite books. While other kids gossiped on the uneven bars, played soccer, and beat up kindergartners for lunch money, I built cat forts and solidified my status as leader of Thunderclan, the most ferocious group of undomesticated felines to rule the northeast corner of Lakeview Elementary School. I spent a majority of my 5th Grade Halloween party hissing at my classmates from underneath a table.

I quickly found out that while it was very easy to act out cat battles (I’d crawl around on all fours and claw at imaginary enemies from Shadowclan) or catch prey (mainly finches and voles, also very imaginary), it became difficult to let my freak flag fly without my peers giving me weird glances in the hallway.

When the opportunity arose to participate in something nerdy, wildly popular, and socially accepted, I got turnt AF. That year, I begged my parents to buy me what was the biggest fad since the fanny pack and green ketchup: Gameboy Color, son.

My parents sighed and gave up all hope of a normal child when they caved and bought me a beautiful, teal Gameboy that year. A few months later, my parents found me sitting in my closet with the light on playing Pokemon Blue Version at 3am. I was obsessed. I still read books, but I spent more time gaming than reading. I justified this because my teacher told me I read too much during class. Betch.

My 5th Grade School Photo.


Pokemon was the height of coolness when I was in elementary school. Though my parents forbade me from playing the Pokemon trading card game with the neighborhood kids, I managed to gather a few cards by seducing a kid from my grade a few houses over. I had him wrapped around my claw finger. This was definitely on account of how great I looked when I tucked my Seaworld shirt into my high-waisted Diadora soccer shorts.

Werk.

My neighbor would give me a few cards here and there so I could get my Poke-squad lit enough to defeat the other kids on my block. I had some lame cards like Bellsprouts, Pidgeys, and Clefairies, but I longed for the ever elusive holographic Charizard card that now sells on eBay for $4,000. At the time, I just wanted that card so I could Fireblast the sh*t out of the school bully’s Nidoking. He would pay for the time he facewashed my little sister’s mug in a snow bank.

When other kids began giving up Pokemon in 6th grade for cooler things like tie-dye t-shirts and cocaine , I still snuck my Gameboy on the bus so I could use my Level 103 Articuno to icebeam Level 4 Ratatas (because screw those lame-o rat pinheads whose only move was “Scratch”). I had to get hyped up so I could effectively do long division later that day, you see. Pokemon was no longer something to brag about, but for me, the game very much lived on past the brand’s glory years. I was the best gawd damn trainer in all of Pallet Town who cried while trying to figure out 504 divided by 2.

Around the same time I got my Gameboy, my brother succeeded in getting a PlayStation for his birthday. He quickly succumbed to the lifestyle of gaming hard and avoiding sunlight at all costs. I saw this as an opportunity. I wanted to continue being a part of something that involved minimal contact with reality.

Enthusiastically, I bought several games and negotiated time with my brother (or threatened to tell his crush what color his underwear were) so I could play games like Barbie Horse Adventures, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Gallop Racer, Spyro, and ATV Off-Road Fury 1-4.

Instead of going outside and building forts, I now spent hours in the basement building an empire. I bred racehorses, beat Riptoc to release the fireflies he captured, learned how to bet, created super cute Barbie outfits to horseback ride in, and kicked major ass at stunts on my Ravage Talon ATV while jamming out to Korn’s latest CD. I knew at a young age my resume would be lit.

When my brother got the Playstation upgrade a few years later, I added Dance Dance Revolution to my repertoire. I aced the crap out of songs like “Move Your Feet” by Junior Senior and knew all the steps to Duran Duran’s “The Reflex”. Left, right, up, down, left, PLOT TWIST LEFT AND UP AT THE SAME TIME. Boiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii~

Height of the Pokemon craze.


I was living my best life. I spent a majority of my teen years listening to 80’s power ballads in my room while writing in my diary and owning the crap out of video games. I was an overweight, sweaty, 40-year-old virgin in the body of a pubescent preteen.

And I loved it.

In high school, I largely abandoned the games so I had people to sit by at lunch. Every once and awhile I’d rummage through all the crap under my bed and rediscover my Gameboy or PS2 games. More recently, I brought my Gameboy with me to college for the hell of it and defeated Pokemon Blue Version for the umpteenth time just to show what a motherfrickin’ gangstah I still was. I’ve found that the older I get, the more creative I get with naming Professor Oak’s son. I started off naming him Poophead then regressed to Sh*tstain a decade later. I imagine I’ll come up with a really special name for him when I turn ninety.

My Junior year of college, I encouraged one of my roommates to bring her PS2 with her so we could play Crash Bandicoot in between two-a-days for volleyball. It was always fun to game with my friends, but I longed to kick some butt at Spyro again.

Real photo taken just seconds from me defeating Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on PS2 my junior year of college.


I began searching for my old haunts at GameStop and managed to hustle my favorite games for under ten dollars. I moved the PS2 from the common room into my room and neglected my homework. DID POKEMASTERS AND GALLOP RACER CHAMPIONS NEED TO WORRY ABOUT SHAKESPEARE? HELL NO THEY DID NOT.

I’ve always been an avid supporter of not doing any schoolwork after midnight. Video games are a highly different situation. It’s life and death. I either write a research paper on earthworms or stop Riptoc from committing genocide against hundreds of fireflies. Easy decision. I’d play well into the wee hours of the morning if it meant I could get closer to defeating whichever game I began playing earlier that day.

I’m sure I would’ve had more of an appreciation for Beowulf or statistical analysis if I wouldn’t have conquered so many fantasy worlds. But truth is, I was still learning by avoiding institutional learning. Screw the man.

I was so turnt after beating HP2 that I decided to beat Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly my senior year.


Below, I’ve compiled a short list of things I’ve learned that translate well into real life. Bottom line, if you have children who are weird gamers and are rarely seen outside of your basement, do not freak out. I managed to grow up moderately fine and wasn’t beat up too bad. So to justify all the hours I’ve spent in a basement gaming like a baller, here’s a list of the most critical lessons I’ve learned thus far:

  • Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly
    • Learned resourcefulness because it took me five years to complete
    • Learned how to simultaneously cuss and press the square button to use firebreath
    • How to glide
    • How to head-bash my enemies
    • How to light sheep on fire so I can eat them
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
    • More resourcefulness because it also took me over five years to complete
    • How to cheat via Youtube walkthroughs
    • How to simultaneously cuss and insult Draco Malfoy’s mother while winning the House Cup
    • How to slay a basilisk
  • Gallop Racer: A New Breed (horse racing)
    • Gambling, mostly
    • How to cuss and whip a horse simultaneously
    • How to breed horses
    • Also inadvertently learned about the possible side effects of horse-incest
  • Barbie Horse Adventures 
    • How to put together a fabulous outfit
    • Learned what boobs were and that I did not have them 
    • How to simultaneously cuss, lasso a horse, and look fabulous
  • MarioKart: Super Circuit (for Gameboy Advance)
    • How to throw trash and banana peels at others so I can cut them off and beat them to the stoplights
    • How to drive, mostly
    • How to simultaneously cuss and hit people with turtle shells
    • Learned Yoshi is the best
  • Dance Dance Revolution
    • How to dance within three square feet using only four foot buttons
    • Great practice for playing at arcades to impress friends and the child molester at Chuck-E-Cheese
    • How to simultaneously cuss and press a button with my foot
    • Great for drunk dance moves for after college
    • How to win a dance battle against a brain-damaged seal, probably
  • Pokemon Blue Version
    • How to socially isolate oneself as a human being
    • How to simultaneously cuss and throw my balls at imaginary animals
    • Great for self confidence
    • Learned great hand-eye coordination from throwing my balls at imaginary animals
  • ATV Off-Road Fury 1-4
    • Learned all the words to Korn’s song “Here To Stay”
    • Created my own band called “Karrot” as a result which is creativity
    • How to simultaneously cuss and pull the move “One-Handed Indian Air” (Left console Triangle button + Right console) while catching air off a dirt hill
    • How to be an a-hole (drive the opposite way on racetrack to crash into opponents head-first)
    • How to cut people off and force them to crash into a gasoline pipe to finish a race first
    • How to drive mostly

As you can clearly see, I’ve learned many skills that have translated well into my social and work life. 

What if a basilisk started attacking my apartment? I’d have the know-how to either throw a ball at the beast to enslave it or how to slay the sh*t out of it so I can eventually use its fang to defeat SPOILER ALERT Voldemort. 

Even more exciting, I also learned how to drive from MarioKart and ATV Off-Road Fury and can now drive like I’m from Rhode Island or Massachusetts. 

Highly translatable skills. Even more so than Microsoft Excel or written and/or oral communication.

Long story short, I regret nothing. I’m a better person because of all the hours I’ve spent rotting my eyes out in front a screen in a fantasy world. Though my parents were worried for me when I started sleepwalking at night trying to catch ‘em all, the truth is I definitely got an athletic scholarship because of my highly adept hand eye coordination skills and ability to press the “square button” to whip my horse during a race.

I encourage any overbearing parent set on having their child get a scholarship to have them play Dungeons and Dragons for five hours a day. It makes complete sense. Take it from me, a nerd who is very well-adjusted in life now.

Not all heroes wear capes.