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?

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