SELF-LOVE | Thoughts

From the dawn of time, I remember learning I should treat others the way I’d like to be treated. As the first-born child of God-fearing, Methodist-raised parents, this message was delightfully reinforced by studying Luke 6:31 while in Sunday school.

“Do to others as you’d have done to you, boys and girls,” the Pastor’s daughter preached as identical, corresponding coloring book pages were passed around the class. My Sunday school friends and I then scribbled in a Caucasian Jesus to bring home to our parents so they could accidentally misplace it in the recycling bin later that week.

As kids, most of us have been taught to treat others the way we want to be treated. Whether it be our parents, religion, or watching Disney’s Bambi (“if you can’t say anything nice…”), we somehow figure out that life tends to be more enjoyable and rewarding this way.

But sometimes we are so adamantly taught how to treat others; we forget how to properly treat ourselves.

How often do you hear a friend dismiss a sincere compliment, catch a parent disapprovingly looking at his or her reflection in the mirror, or see your sibling caught in a toxic relationship?

It has taken me an extraordinarily long time to write this particular post and not because I have a shortage of feelings about self-love, but because I feel as though I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I’m a work in progress, but this is a place I think many of us identify ourselves as being in. I dismiss compliments, get caught up in how my physical appearance is lacking compared to others’, and let toxic relationships fester for longer than I should let them. All these things add up to quite a lot of unhappiness.

Until recently, I identified “self-care” and “self-love” as taking five minutes out of my life to apply a face mask or buy myself a pretty dress as a reward for an achievement. These can definitely be expressions of self-care and self-love. But while doing these things can certainly be a way of properly grooming yourself to become the best version of yourself that you can be, I think there are many other facets to learning how to treat yourself with love and respect to maximize your enjoyment from life.

The first is learning how to truly love your physical appearance. The second, in my humble opinion (hey, I’ve been living for 26 years now, that gives me some clout), is who we choose to surround ourselves with.

SELF-LOVE: Physical Appearance, Diet, Exercise

While I’m never one to say “no” to an undressed wad of cold, plain spinach, and long (plyo-filled, of course) walks on the beach, I’ve learned that part of my satisfaction with my body relates to more than just what or how much I choose to eat or workout. My satisfaction comes from how I view food and exercise and what their function is in my life.

Like many women, I’ve struggled with food guilt, binging and purging, abusing the treadmill, counting calories, and struggling to adhere to a workout plan amongst countless other negative behaviors. My senior year of college, I convinced myself that a strict, vegan diet was the pinnacle of all health and further convinced myself to adopt an unmaintainable, intense workout regime.

I’ll look so great, I thought. I’ll be happy.

It’s no surprise that when I set myself up with so many lofty goals surrounding my physical appearance, I failed spectacularly. I hated working out. I didn’t see myself getting thinner. I hated food, which I now felt alienated me. My skin was still acne-prone and cutting dairy out wasn’t helping. To make matters worse, I viewed these failures as an innate character flaw in myself. Food and exercise had always been something I knew I could control, so I controlled them obsessively to feel like I had discipline in my life. Once I burned out, however, I stopped working out and limited my calories to “make up for” my decreased activity. I felt like sh*t. Was I a sh*tty person for not having a pristine physical body or lacking the consistent drive to get there?

A large part of how we see ourselves and how we determine our self-worth comes from our relationship with food and exercise. Unfortunately, in today’s culture, deviations from standards of beauty (flat abs, a miniscule waist, a dance-hall ass, you know the drill) can equate to a perceived deficiency of character or lack of self-care. We all know this is ultimately not true, but sometimes it’s quite hard to remember. It’s difficult to be a woman or gay man on social media. We’re bombarded with images on a daily basis of gorgeous tanned skin, pearly white teeth, and airbrushed perfect bodies. When we become acclimated to these images, it’s almost a cruel reminder looking in the mirror to see how we may not measure up.

Since I’ve turned 26, I’ve found that whatever images I’m plagued with on social media, I’m most happy with my body and self-image when I have a relaxed, non-image focused, sustainable attitude toward food and exercise- not when I’ve achieved a week-long calorie deficit and lost five pounds. I spent a vacation on the beach a few weeks ago and for the first time in a long time, I did not feel the need to hide or cover up my body. I found a sustainable workout regime (and I hadn’t lost weight!) that focused more on just getting me moving as well as found a non-calorie deficient diet I could manage. I enjoyed working out and appreciated preparing dinner. Confident in this, I accepted that my body is just that, – a body. A body is just that, but also so much more. It’s wonderful tool to aid me in doing what it must- living. I can enjoy hiking, dancing, hugging, laughing, and anything in between with what I have now, and I feel infinite. I can do all these things enjoyably without washboard abs, perfect skin, or after a five-day juice cleanse.

Self-love comes from a place of finding sustainable methods that help you find YOUR beautiful, whether it be on the inside, outside, or both. We all know what society finds beautiful, but when is the last time you asked yourself what you find beautiful about you? The more I’ve grown into my twenties (a tumultuous time, let’s be honest), the more I place value on loving myself for who I am and my effort to become a better version of myself. Part of this comes from remembering to practice forgiveness- forgiving myself when I’m not able to finish my workout, and not feeling guilty over eating what I want, when I want to. I’ve grown to appreciate a makeup free face, guilt-free donuts, and loving my body (and mind!) for what it can do for me. Loving yourself begins with thankfulness and forgiveness. After all, a body without a beautiful mind is simply an empty vessel.  

SELF-LOVE: Relationships

We are who we choose to surround ourselves with. Some of these people are in our lives whether we choose to have them there or not, including family members or co-workers. Others, we choose, such as friends and partners who become family.

Much of our happiness or lack thereof comes from this community of people. Will they be there for you or abandon you when you need it most? Are they someone you trust? How do they treat you?

Self-care is taking a part in positive relationships (both romantically and platonically) with those who lift you up. A positive relationship will demand the best of both parties, show you how to truly love and be loved, and teach you more about yourself. You’ll feel safe, trusted, and empathetic and return these courtesies to the other party involved. Cutting those out of your life who do not fit this criteria can immediately be the most painful experience in the world, but how can you care for yourself if surrounded by negativity?

I’ve been pretty lucky to stumble upon some of my closest friends through sports. High school volleyball gave me some of the healthiest friendships that I’ve had for the longest time. Distance has certainly taken a toll on how often we talk, but we all know we are there to support one another whenever or wherever. Through college, I gained more friends as I weeded through others. In my toughest times, they lifted me up and shown me unconditional love not unlike my own family. Relationships are never perfect, but at the end of the day, I’m grateful knowing the friendships I continue to foster push me to be a better, happier person.

After moving away from home, I’ve attempted navigating through a different type of relationship I’m most unfamiliar with: romantic relationships. Romantic relationships have always been more of a challenge for me. This past summer and fall, I let an overall negative romantic relationship fester because I so desperately wanted affection and thought I’d found it. I couldn’t be more wrong. I had been independent for so long and I wanted someone to take care of me, someone to be my best friend and someone to support. As we all know, relationships are a two-way road. I hated who I had become when with this guy and didn’t feel like myself. I was embarrassed. I hardly recognized the girl that left her house at night just to see him for a few hours, knowing full well I’d never get what I truly wanted: a stable, loving, relationship.This past winter, I did what I knew I had to do. I broke things off. It still hurts to this day, but I learned the hard way that just because someone else does not love you, does not mean you should not love yourself.

This past year, I did not do an overall great job of surrounding myself with healthy, positive, romantic relationships. This is why I especially consider myself lucky to be surrounded with friends and family who remind me I am very much loved for who I am. I’m trying to remind myself to be grateful for the hard lesson of not letting my self-image be contingent on someone else’s perception of me. It’s taken some time to begin rebuilding myself up again, and I’ve done so through the positive relationships I choose to surround myself with.

Now that I’m in my mid-twenties, I have less time to entertain negative friendships and relationships. I’m figuring out what I value in a relationship and am learning to say “no” to anything that is not that. Remember that you always have a decision, even when it feels like you don’t or when it feels impossibly hard. By evaluating relationships consistently, I’m practicing self-care and self-love. Surrounding myself with positive relationships serves to make me an overall happier, more secure person. I’m able to more effectively navigate life’s trials and tribulations with loved ones at my side.

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So my question to you is this: what are you doing to self-care and self-love? It could be something as simple as acknowledging a friend’s compliment or finally having the courage to end a relationship that has been negatively impacting your happiness. It could even be as simple as taking five minutes during the day to apply a GlamGlow Supermud face mask.

Learning to love and care for yourself is not as innate as we may think it is. Life happens quickly. We become complacent, allowing ourselves to think that diminishing happiness is simply a reminder we should re-adjust to this new self-prescribed norm. What we may not realize, however, is that we can be much happier than we think. It starts from within and can require practice.


What if we started treating ourselves the way we treat our loved ones?


Self-care for me is 12/10 dancing in the rain.


2018 | The Good, Bad, & Ugly

About one month ago I sat on my bed, eager to write a “Christmas Letter” detailing my year. This clearly slipped through the cracks. My bad. To be fair, I try my best to come up with a main idea for each post I write as to not embarrass my previous English teachers, but I struggled to think of a point to make readers reflect on their own years. Unable to come up with any cohesive storyline, I abandoned the post until today. Here’s to a selfish “my year in review” which is sure to entertain. This past year was full of triumphs, setbacks, and one overarching theme that finally became evident with only a few days left to spare: gratefulness.

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2018 was another year of growth for me, much as I’m sure it was for you. I began dating, got two (two!) new jobs, moved to Boston from Providence, took the LSAT, and fell in love with Scotland. There were plenty of tears. Some came streaming down my face as I uncontrollably sobbed, wondering if the pain would ever subside. But others, and these are my favorite, came from beautiful moments of unadulterated happiness- such as one of my best friends getting engaged this past September.

Essentially, it’d be silly to characterize the year as either “good” or “bad”. I don’t feel like a year is quantifiable in such terms. Instead I like to rely on more ambiguous I-have-a-liberal-arts-degree questions like What have I learned? Have I loved and been loved? Am I trying to better myself? What makes me happy and why? As we all know, the end of the year is typically a time for reflection, review, and resolutions.

So let’s start with the highlight review reel, the sometimes superficial fluff I’d include in a Christmas letter that’ll lead you to believe my life is flawless, darling:

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Mount Adams from the Madison Spring Hut in New Hampshire this summer.

I welcomed in the New Year surrounded by friends unlike the previous year and will be in one of these friend’s weddings this May. Photography became my go-to hobby on weekends and I continued to travel New England in search of places to utilize my Canon T5i Rebel’s tripod, having graduated from leaning my iPhone precariously against inanimate objects with a self timer. I secured a new full-time job in a high rise in the heart of downtown Boston. Scotland and London blew my mind in April. I bagged a few additional peaks in the White Mountains this summer and have now summited seven of New Hampshire’s ten highest 40,000 footers, some multiple times, most alone. This September I juggled studying for the LSAT with a full-time job and part-time volleyball coaching gig at Suffolk University. I turned twenty-six this November.

As we all know, pleasure accompanies pain. It’s how we can distinguish feeling between the two. Though 2018 was an overall productive year for me, it was only this way because pain often drove me to make difficult, but necessary choices.

Dating has not come easily to me. I’ve written about this previously, but struggling with your mental health while trying to let another person into your life can be a challenge (it’s a challenge even without a mental health disorder!). I began the year by making myself miserable over a guy who clearly only wanted a casual hookup. I self harmed, closed myself off to friends, and questioned my value as a human being. After some deliberation, I pushed myself to continue dating. This summer I was delighted when I was asked out on a second date with a guy I felt I had a connection with. After a somewhat turbulent, yet sometimes wonderful seven months, the relationship ended amicably. As I sat on my bed crying, I felt a million emotions at once, but self-harm and suicide never once crossed my mind. I felt both relieved and anguish in a beautiful, tragic kind of way, but above anything, grateful. I learned so much through my heartbreak. I’d grown and came to terms with what I consider to be things I am inflexible about in a relationship. I will not beg someone to love me as I have in the past. My self-worth is not determined by anyone other than myself.

Other than dating, the latter half of my year largely revolved around studying for the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). Working as a paralegal over the past year has not satiated my appetite for the legal field, so after many heart-to-hearts with female attorneys I had worked and work with, I signed up to take the September LSAT in August. I’d never considered myself someone who could even dream of being a lawyer, so I kept the fact I was studying for the test quiet for a few weeks until my anxiety really kicked in. Was I too stupid to do well on the test? Did I even have enough time to study? What would people think of me if I didn’t get into a good school? The “what ifs” began making me physically sick, negatively impacting my health as the test approached. I constantly felt nauseous and sick and ended up losing fifteen pounds, but not in a way I was proud of. Finally, test day came and I completely bombed the LSAT. Again, my self-worth came into question.  Was I a piece of sh*t for not scoring what my brother had? How could I have thought this profession was for me?

One of the blessings of working around attorneys is that it forced me to begin thinking more critically and logically. So while faced with a choice, I did what I believed to be necessary for my success. I swallowed my pride and paid half a month’s paycheck to sign up for a class leading up to the next test in January. After busting my ass this winter, I scored three points higher on the midpoint test than I did on the September test. I consider this a small victory. No matter what happens, I know my self-worth is not contingent on a test that asks me questions like, “Where can Polly sit if she can’t sit next to Jeff and Nora?”. CRAZY, right?

In addition to getting comfortable with the idea and practice of dating, I have also come to terms with aspects of my past that I’ve buried for some time. Interpersonal, romantic relationships had been a violent, emotional struggle for me while growing up. I grew up believing I was “sick” and “unnatural” because I was attracted to both sexes. I beat myself up and spent a large majority of my highschool career and a few years in college terrified someone would find this out. After thirteen years (yes, I knew as early as 7th grade), I finally began identifying myself as pansexual if asked. I no longer feel frightened or disgusted by something that I consider naturally a part of me and who I’ve always been. I’ve never felt the need to proclaim this or make a statement about it, but my point is that 2018 was the first year I am not afraid to admit it. I have nothing to apologize for. For this realization, I am immensely grateful.

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Picture Cred: Amanda Dettmann

While visiting my sister this Christmas, I walked into her room to get a grip on the new condo she now inhabited (my parents moved to Georgia this fall leaving Alli in Wisconsin to finish up her master’s). I sat on her bed slowly, wrapped in a warm towel, still sopping wet from the shower. As tendrils of water from my hair snaked down my back, a small handwritten note caught my eye.

I am grateful for my struggle because without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength.

If you know my sister, Alli, you know she lives for Pinterest quotes. If you know me, you know I live to roast Alli about living for Pinterest quotes. Somehow, this quote didn’t strike me as something to make fun of.

I’m still kind of unsure of my strengths in life, but I know 2018 has pushed me to my limits. I’ve felt emotions I was unaware I could even feel until this year. Some came from simply gazing upon peaks of summits shrouded in cloud, others from allowing myself to become intimately vulnerable with another human being. It’s been a year of pain, bliss, stress, joy, and everything in between. For all these things, I am grateful because it’s allowed me to live my life to the fullest. We call can’t be sure we will be granted another trip around the sun, but we sure as sh*t can be sure of making what we can of the life that was given to us.

Here’s to 2019!

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When one member of the squad gets engaged, we all get engaged.

Suicide and Self Harm

What a title. I had a couple others planned out but as I typed each one it began to sound like one of those horrible “OMG, I did it and now so can you!” self help books you see at Barnes and Noble. I decided to keep it simple. So there you have it. Suicide and self-harm. They’re hard topics to talk and hear about and are something that aren’t often discussed until it’s too late. Remember the Penn U cross-country runner? The man who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived? Those people could be someone around you.

A whopping 26.2% of Americans 18 and older suffer from mental health disorders. As a percent, this may seem small, but this roughly translates to 57.7 MILLION Americans- and each of those people mean something dearly to an entire network of people. Pretty soon you begin to realize that mental health affects a hell of a lot of people, whether you are the one with the disorder or the one who knows someone with the disorder.

With the large amount of people affected, I find it of utmost importance to keep the dialogue about mental health open- because most of the discussion seems to happen when it’s too late. Normally I’m a “seat of the pants” writer, but I took a lot of time putting this post together. There are so many stigmas about mental health and things I want everyone to know to help anyone affected. I know that every case is different, but at the heart of each person’s problems there tend to be similarities.

Before I begin, I have to make what I think is an EXTREMELY important point. If you are close to someone who is struggling, keep in mind that you are their FRIEND or FAMILY not their therapist. Listen to them, of course, but keep in mind that you should not feel completely weighed down by being the only one they talk to. I’ll give my sister, Alli, a quick call or send a quick text if I’m about to have a panic attack that I have some random disease I saw on WebMD, but would never weigh her down with suicidal thoughts. Those I save for the professional- and I would personally advise everyone else to do the same. Friends and family are great support teams, but are not health professionals with extensive knowledge of mental health. Unless of course they are.

My friend Alexa said this herself in a detailed email to me, “you are not this person’s therapist and you are not going to be the person who ‘saves’ them”. She went on to say that yes, let them vent to you, listen to them when they come to you or need to bounce ideas off you. Sometimes the person just wants someone to listen (which I can vouch for, personally) and sometimes they just want to be left alone. Don’t pry or prod but just be there whenever you can.

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Tackling the Issue: Three Points of View

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My friend Alexa, and I boogie boarding and tearin’ up Myrtle Beach

In addition to my first hand experience, I’ve asked my sister and a close friend for their points of view. My sister was not at college with me when I began to fall off the deep end, but she witnessed the panic at home after my dad received a call from the ER at 3 in the morning when he dropped me off at school a few hours prior. Alli has been my rock ever since.

Alexa is one of five close friends that witnessed everything as it happened. She’s been there before, during, and after and has kindly offered to share her experience- honestly.

Though I can say I’ve both suffered from and had more than one loved one suffer from a disorder, I like to get as many voices as possible. I’ve tried my best to arrange this post as logically as possible- chronologically with alternative points of view scattered wherever I felt most applicable. I’ve then addressed some misconceptions about mental health disorders including my experience as well as Alexa and Alli’s on medication and disorders as an excuse. This is a longer post, so I’ve taken the liberty of sectioning off parts here and there. There is some overlap from a couple previous posts but I try to keep this at a minimum. My goal in writing this is not to recall painful memories just for memories’ sake- if this helps anyone out there than I will have considered myself successful.

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My sister, Alli and I this past Christmas

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Self-Harm: Escalation into Suicide

My own experience with self-harm began in high school and should have been a huge red flag for myself to get some help. I began by scratching my wrists, and when that became a little more obvious than I would’ve liked, I began cutting and scraping my stomach with a scissors- from my rib cage down to pelvis. Though these cuts were not deep, they were hard to hide in the summer. When asked about the angry red marks, I would lie and say it was from tubing and everyone seemed to believe me, except for my ex. She noticed and got upset and talked to me many times about getting help but I never did.

At the time, cutting served as a way of feeling something. It physically hurt me to feel the anguish of knowing my ex was growing distant when I wasn’t completely numb. To make matters worse, I didn’t feel like I could go to anyone for help because I was paranoid I’d be labeled as a lesbian when I wasn’t even sure if that was true or not. Gender didn’t (and still doesn’t) factor into who I like, but I was under the impression at the time that if I was with a girl, it was completely disgusting and unnatural. Being able to see the inner pain I felt physically manifested on my body helped me bottle up my feelings and move on.

The cutting stopped when I went to college freshman year and I had no visible scars. I didn’t begin self harming again until my sophomore year. The shallow marks no longer did justice to me; I was a failure even more than I was already. I hated myself for not being able to actually hurt myself. Instead of cutting to “feel pain” like I used to, I cut because I hated myself and everything I had become. I cut because I didn’t have perfect stats at volleyball practice, I cut because I thought my friends hated me, I cut because I just didn’t seem to hit it off with several of the boys I tried talking to at school, I cut because it made part of me happy to destroy me. Furthermore, I started burning my wrists with a lighter. This was hard to hide with volleyball season so I would try and get to the training room earlier than all my teammates in an attempt to privately wrap my own wrists. I thought I fooled them into thinking I just liked to tape my own arms for passing (they didn’t believe me).

Several of my friends took note and began to get worried. Alexa said every time she’d see a new cut her stomach would drop. It was a lot to take in at only nineteen years old. Shouldn’t we only have to be worrying about homework and tests?

Amidst my anguish, I’d displace my anger and sadness on my friends. Often times I’d realize this and try to distance myself from them. They continued to try and show how much they cared about me but I constantly shoved them away. They never knew which Kristin they’d get each day, and quite frankly, neither did I.

Though I’ve already described in a previous post the night where I was going to commit suicide, I’ve never really gone back and asked my friends what was going through their heads at the time.

Alexa and my other friends who knew I was struggling were living in constant fear of my safety. Who knew if they’d check on me in the morning and find I wasn’t there? This escalated the night in November when my friends made one of the harder decisions they’d had to make in life to that point, whether to call the cops on me. I remember begging them not to while trying to hide the blood covering my sheets, but they did, and I can’t thank them enough. They saved my life that night.

When I was at the hospital going through testing, my friends were back at the dorms cleaning up my mess. They called my family members to let them know what happened, took away any scissors, tweezers, anything sharp from me, and washed my bloodstained bed sheets. That’s when Alexa said she realized the full extent of what was going on- and that this was going to be a long uncertain road ahead of all of us.

Though I wish I could say this was the last time I ever self harmed again, I can’t. The road to recovery isn’t a short, easy one. Having a mental illness is something you have all your life. You can’t get rid of it- there are just ways to revamp the way you think. I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll always have these thoughts- I’ll just work to have them floating around in my brain a lot less.

Self harm, like suicide, a permanent solution to a fixable problem. I’m still enduring the aftermath of the cuts that I have. I’ve had everyone from unbeknownst family members at Christmas, children at the camp I worked at this summer, and completely random people ask, “oh my gosh, what happened to your wrists?” for which I have no immediate answer. It’s scary for others to see the marks once they realize they were self-inflicted. That’s understandable. I hate knowing the scars remind my family and friends of the pain they’ve gone through. For me, I like to think of them as a reminder of how far I’ve come. Though I will lie to people who ask and tell them with a laugh, “aw, it’s from this accident with a rake” or something, I won’t hide anything from someone who asks me at a non-awkward time. It’s extremely hard to admit to having a problem, but it’s also just as hard to find the courage to ask someone if they’re okay and need help. The more we keep an open dialogue, the better we can all help one another understand each other. The only reason I am here today is because I had friends who did one of the hardest things one can do- reach out and get me help even though I begged them not to.

Now, to those who contemplate suicide…

As someone who continues to struggle with this, all I can say is that every time these thoughts creep into my mind, I remind myself that my thoughts ultimately have no merit. Thoughts are just thoughts. It took me awhile to take the leap of faith and begin to believe others that I was not a complete piece of shit, but once I did, I became a lot happier- not quite happy, but happier- and that’s HUGE. It’s not a switch you can just turn on, it’s something you have to push up your sleeves and get dirty with. It’s going to be hard, YES, but life has a lot of potential to being a great place if you let it be. So let me be your personal cheerleader- I went through this shit and it got me to where I am today. Going through what I have allows me to be more patient and understanding of others, and my friends say that going through this has allowed them the same experience. Even though your or your friend’s mental illness may feel like a burden, remember this: there is so much to be learned, and that makes every single struggle worth it in the end.

“‘Make your mess your message’ -Robin Roberts” -Alexa Zbytniewski***

***(If you’ve ever watched The Office, you’ll understand my use of quotation)

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Recovery: A Process, Not a Destination or Whatever It Is They Say

The next few months after the hospital visit were pretty hard, to say the least. I had a month and a half until the end of the semester and a few days before I could be home again for Thanksgiving Break but still had yet to face the consequences of my breakdown.

If my friends were scared before my mental breakdown, they now had even more reason to be worried now. As I mentioned before, they took away all of my sharp objects so I now needed to go and ask to borrow my possessions back for menial tasks like cutting paper and plucking my eyebrows. Alexa even noted she still has some of my clippers and razors to this day.

Back at home, 1,300 miles away, my parents and siblings continued to worry as well. Over the two years that I had been away at school, I had probably called home three times- twice to ask for more money. My family found it shocking and was completely surprised at what had happened. Alli knew things had been a little rough for me for a while but not because we were braiding one another’s hair and talking about it. We had been sitting in the Neenah Wal-Mart parking lot earlier that summer waiting for my parents to come back with groceries when we got into a shouting match about the marks on my wrists. I don’t remember too much from the situation, but Alli remembers me yelling at her, “you don’t know anything about my life!”

While my family and friends continued to worry for my safety, I knew it was long overdue to get myself some help- but I didn’t know how or where to start other than my University’s athletic department. My coaches already knew what had happened because my friends had called them the night I went into the ER, but I needed to go in to have my mental health assessed before I could continue practicing volleyball (we played Penn State in the NCAA tournament that week).

I had absolutely no idea what a “mental health assessment” would be like, but I knew the only way I could possibly describe the way I was feeling at the time was to show them the suicide note I had started writing a month ago. After reading it aloud to my head coach, assistant coach, and academic advisor, they immediately referred me to the University Counseling Center. I bounced around and talked to several different psychologists in the area but began feeling more and more dismayed at everyone I saw. One psychologist diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder and the next another told me I should buy his book and visit his wife’s gay bar downtown. It took me months to find a great psychiatrist, but the wait was well worth it.

Looking back on everything now, I’m shocked I made it. I had (and still do have) the best support system I could’ve ever asked for but sometimes that’s not enough. It takes a lot of trust in a great psychiatrist or psychologist, hope, and most importantly the will to get better. Fighting negative thoughts that you’ve learned to accept as normal in your head is a 24/7 job and it’s exhausting. I can only imagine how hard it was for my family and friends to be there for me. The only thing harder than going through a mental health disorder is watching a loved one go through it not knowing what they’re thinking or how to help.

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A Common Misconception/Perception of Suicide

One question or affirmation I find to be quite popular in conversation about suicide is, “how could they kill themselves? It’s so selfish”. Why would anyone want to take their own life away while others fight so hard for theirs? At first, I found this question to be highly frustrating. I didn’t understand how to even begin.

First off, a person contemplating suicide is not in the right state of mind. Suicide is not a normal feeling to have- the person thinking this is not operating like the average human being. When I get suicidal, my thoughts tend to be more along the lines of, “my family, friends, and the entire world is better off without me. I’m a piece of shit, I am doing nothing positive for anyone, and my death may be hard for a little while, but they’ll realize how much happier they are when I’m gone”. Other times, a person’s anguish blinds any rational thought and they succumb to a split second decision that has permanent effects. I’m sure there are a thousand other “justifications” in a depressed individual, but I would be willing to argue that 99.9% of the time the person has no intentions of purposely hurting their family or friends. If anything, they are trying to help but because the way they deal with information in their head, their thinking is maladaptive. Killing oneself is not a logical way to deal with issues- a lot of people know this already- but this is not the case with many struggling with mental health disorders.

Alexa and Alli also brought up a great point worth mentioning – both said that if you’ve never gone through having a mental illness, you will begin to realize that you will never understand. Alexa continued to say, “I’m no expert, but there’s usually one thing in common with people who deal with these issues; all of their thoughts and actions are irrational, which is exactly why it makes absolutely no sense to you”. Keep this in mind in life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve personally thought this even while dealing with people at work. But couldn’t have said it better, myself, Alli and Alexa.

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Medication: An Aid, Not a Quick Fix Solution

Though there are tons of different types of treatments for anything from Bipolar Disorder to Anorexia (think psychotherapy, ECT, etc.), sometimes these are not enough alone.

Meds have never been something to me that are a “quick fix”. I began seeing several different therapists until I found one that worked out for me- always using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (essentially retraining your brain, look it up, it’s pretty cool stuff). Learning how to retrain your brain takes a lot of those “leaps of faith” I was mentioning before and progress is sometimes hampered by severe bouts of depression or mania for me. When these become too much and I feel like I’m losing my mind and can’t even focus on retraining my thinking, meds come in handy. They are like tools to help with therapy. Simply taking medication does not magically make you better- the processes that go on in your brain are much more complicated than that.

There are, however, several drawbacks in taking meds. Some people’s bodies react differently to different medications. What may work great for me may actually do more harm than good for someone else- and that’s not to mention figuring out the proper dose and how much increasing or decreasing doses will impact your mood.

My sophomore year, I began taking a mood stabilizer to help me “level out” a little to aid in the CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Meds typically take a month to actually kick in, and once they do, they have to be monitored closely. As my psychiatrist and I were trying to find the right amount for me to take, we increased my dose by a half a pill (the pills were extremely tiny) and a week later I was almost a completely different person.

After weight lifting one morning during spring season, I was walking down the hall following the rest of my team. I asked a question and no one must’ve heard me because no one answered. I asked again and still received no answer. I suddenly felt this herculean surge of rage and screamed, “WHERE IS BRYAN?” and threw my water bottle I had been holding, completely ruining the lid. I remember some of my teammates turning around, shocked.

After that outburst, I immediately went down a dosage. A pill as large as an earring stud can make that much of a difference.

Some meds I tried out completely leveled me off and made me into a shell of my former self, others made me extremely tired, some even more depressed, and even more anxious and manic. Interactions with others were hard when I felt empty inside, panic attacks sometimes increased with some pills and I’d skip class for fear of dying, and I spent a lot of time confusing the hell out of my friends. It wasn’t until about two months ago that I have something that finally works.

Meds are something I avoid using unless I absolutely have to they but can come in handy if one is able to find the right match, and I’m proud to say I’v been med free for quite some time now.

Both Alexa and Alli have had to deal with my varying moods with meds and without. Alexa said it was beneficial to ask anything she could on my disorders and also noted how important it was that she realized “her role” in my life. She became (in her words) the neutralizer. She’d ask me if things were okay if she noticed I was having a bad day she would go about the rest of the day as normally as possible- not hovering over me. She understood this was the best way to help me and it worked out best for us. Eventually, once I began to open up more about how I was feeling, it helped our relationship a lot. Once we were able to talk to each other, Alexa understood where I was coming from instead of shutting me out or vice versa. I always forgot that although I knew clearly in my head how I was feeling and what my intentions were, my friends and family had to play the guessing game constantly- which was highly stressful for them to do.

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Disorders: An Excuse or Not?

As a former collegiate athlete, I grew up my entire life feeling like there was no such thing as an excuse. This is great motivational inspiration for a poster hanging in a weight room, yes, but I find that when it comes to mental health disorders there is a little leeway for excuses. It almost pains me to type that, but at the end of the day, people with disorders are fighting an entirely different battle in between their ears in addition to everything that goes on in their everyday life.

If you are suffering from a disorder, it can at times be incredibly hard to be a fully functioning member of society. Those with anorexia might feel light headed and weak all day as they worry about burning off the few calories they consumed earlier. This is in addition to working a forty hour work week or studying for tests and writing essays for school. A person suffering from depression may barely be able to get out of bed for eight hours a day let alone two to practice and fight to keep their starting position on a team they aren’t even sure if they want to be a part of anymore. Anyone with bipolar disorder knows if a manic episode overcomes them they risk blowing through all of their savings unless they can manage talk themselves out of it- if they even are able to recognize their manic phases from actual happiness. Like I said before, these people are all around you. The only difference between them and a completely “normal” person is a small chemical imbalance in their brain.

When I was diagnosed (to those who haven’t read my previous post, OCD, Bipolar II, Depression, Generalized Anxiety) I didn’t freak out and deny it. To me, being able to look back at the ways I had mishandled life and knowing I had a sort of “excuse” was a huge relief to me. I had spent my life thinking I was a completely shitty person, but I now knew that I had messed up chemicals in my brain and maladaptive coping methods. This of course does not account for 100% of my personality but it does explain some of my crazier behaviors.

Even though having a mental health disorder can be an “excuse” to an extent, I like to use this to fuel my fire. I refuse to let this get in the way of my life as much as I can, but realize that I have a little leeway when things get rough. It’s only an excuse to me if you know in your heart you could not have possibly pushed yourself any harder or further. To think you can live your life with no excuse is a valiant thing to think, but truth is, not everyone has the mental capacity to do this all the time.

***

If you’ve made it this far, I genuinely hope this has helped you understand yourself or a loved one better. When I discussed writing this post with Alli and Alexa a week ago, one of the more important lessons we took away from everything that happened was that we ALL became better people from it.

We can all say that going through what we did has made us all more empathetic people- and I’d never consider that a bad thing.

So if you’re the sufferer, let me be 100% honest with you…

It will be hard. You’ll feel lost, you’ll feel uncomfortable, people might look at you a little differently, but the more I’ve opened up, the more I’ve grown to like myself. Turns out, the more I like myself, the more other people seem to like me too.

The fight will never completely end, but I can say that going through the crap I have has made me a better person than if I hadn’t. Use your disorder as a way to connect with others, to empathize with others, and to live life unapologetically- because the world becomes a brighter, better place when you do so.

Here’s That Long Ass “About College” Post- Another Bullshit Story Told By Yours Truly, <3 K Hoves Jr. <3

Well slap me in the ass and call me Betty. As you may know, I’m done with college. In fact, you may only know this due to my ridiculous amount of instagrams, facebook pic uploads, and my nostalgic drunk tweets about how much I love my friends and Taco Bell. Awesome. But since I’m now graduated, I feel the need to sum up my college career so I feel like I did more than just binge drink four days a week in spring and struggle to make it through three hour volleyball practices every day in the fall.

Alright. Big picture first because people have 3 second attention span.

HERE’S WHAT I LEARNED:

I am not the same person that I was when I walked onto campus for the first time in August 2011. I look back on my freshman self and think, “Jesus Christ tweeze your eyebrows, stop dying your hair black, boys don’t have cooties, dumbass, and I am not the same person anymore”.

LOL but before I go into a bullshit story about how “Binghamton has really become my second home” or “I wanted to transfer my freshman year but really swagged out and liked it after awhile” type thing, I have to start here. Here’s my bullshit story.

When I left Neenah, Wisconsin in the summer of 2011 for preseason, I was not sad to say goodbye to my family. Alright, a little sad, but I was never homesick for the next year. High school left me in a difficult spot. My junior year was a constant tug of war with Reedo and Karen for extended curfews, time spent with friends, and a bad relationship choice. Of course, as those of you out of high school now realize, most high schoolers are complete dumbasses. We just don’t recognize it till we get older.

Though my relationship with my parents fluctuated, I was pretty close to my siblings. My brother, Logan, and I got along well because he was the mediator between my youngest sister, Alli and I. Alli and I were close but I spent much of my time comparing myself to her making sure that I was the best at everything. When she made Varsity volleyball halfway through her freshman year, I didn’t rejoice. I saw her as a threat to the “legacy” I was trailblazing as my high school’s first freshman to make the Varsity squad. It’s incredibly sad and pathetic.

Oh my god, teenage angst!! Me junior year of high school.

Oh my god, teenage angst!! Me junior year of high school.

Alli and I continued to butt heads my junior year of high school as she (and my parents) didn’t approve of the semi-secret relationship I was in (only considered “semi” because no one really knew we were together except my mom and sister who had their doubts- a couple kids guessed at school but my friends didn’t know and neither did the other party’s parents). They were scared and I was scared too. I still remember a senior taunting me about being in a relationship with the person I was with and I spent the rest of the week freaking out that everyone knew I wasn’t exactly in a “normal” relationship. Add that to signing to a school 13 hours away from home and you have a SHIT ton of teenage angst.

Me signing spring of my junior year of high school

Me signing spring of my junior year of high school.

Junior year ended and it was onto senior year. I made some great friends that I still have to this day, but struggled with the fact that my lifeline and essentially, my entire “world” had left for college. Senior year was pretty great, however; I joined track and field and was able to compete in high jump. It was fun to be good at something and not have a lot of pressure on myself to perform- it was a great release for me.

Alright. So now that I’ve had a glass of wine and can now look back on my high school experience, it sucked. I know I always whine about being 22 years single, but it’s actually a lie. THIS IS IMPORTANT BECAUSE: I attached onto a person who in the end denounced the entire relationship and left me when they clearly should have pushed me to get help at that point. I didn’t get over this person until the beginning of THIS year (yes, THIS year my senior year of college!!!) and it ruined many other opportunities to date other people at Binghamton. This affected my happiness at college. (I figured I’d make sure I put my points in all caps for emphasis and also some sassiness~)

So let’s fast forward a little to college. Freshman year was mostly uneventful. I always tell anyone I meet how you don’t realize how much freshman year of college sucks until you’re done with it. I didn’t go out much, but I had a successful freshman season of volleyball and made some friends on my team. My next year was one for the books, however.

If you’ve read my previous posts or seen me play volleyball, you either know I’m a literal psychopath or am bipolar II/depressed/OCD and also semi-lactose intolerant. My sophomore year is when everything I dealt with in high school with the poor relationships I had with my family to the termination of my “secret” relationship came to a breaking point.

Some day in November (can’t remember approximate dates) I was drinking with my friends which clearly later impaired my decision making skills. I had been wandering off into the woods or into empty bathrooms on campus to cut and burn my wrists on a regular basis and covered it up at volleyball practice with prewrap and tape. That night, however, my friends found me in either the bathroom or in my bed with blood all over my wrists up to my elbows. I don’t remember much except being taken to the hospital in an ambulance and begging them to believe me that I wasn’t drunk because we would have to play Penn State in the NCAA Tournament that week. All I do know is that if my friends hadn’t found me and called for help, I would have committed suicide that night.

Me sophomore year- wrists taped up at the Cornell match in attempt to hide what I'd done.

Me sophomore year- wrists taped up at the Cornell match in attempt to hide the cutting and burns.

During sophomore year, I had seen four different therapists, tried at least ten different medications, and had seen a little improvement. I spent much of that winter break debating whether or not to go back to school in the spring. I’ve been told that most people that struggle with Bipolar Disorder take time off. I couldn’t imagine not going back to school with my friends, so I went back and struggled through a grueling preseason while my friends, family, and coaches watched me closely. Who knew when I’d fly off the handlebars again? Not even I knew.

Sophomore year at conference tournament- even though we won the whole tournament I still struggled with self-harm at the time and much of this period was unremarkable for me.

Sophomore year at conference tournament- even though we won the whole tournament I still struggled with self-harm at the time and much of this otherwise “happy” time was unremarkable for me.

Sophomore year ended and Alli committed to Binghamton that spring. Unlike the high school me, the college me was thrilled. My near-death sort of deal ultimately made us much closer than before and I was extremely happy to have her with me in New York. REMEMBER WHAT I SAID BEFORE ABOUT CHANGING? I’M DOING IT HERE, PEOPLE!!!

My last two years of college were some of the best years I’ve had my entire life. Junior year I made friends on my own and became closer to my friends Lex, Amanda, and Jordan. (Heyyyyyy gurlz there’s a shout out! <3) I spent much of my volleyball career sidelined due to various injuries and such, but overall, I was happy. (Like ehmahgawd, I could sit on the bench and do my hair and look fab without it risking getting messed up!)

Things getting better for me as Alli joins me at Bing

Things getting better for me as Alli joins me at Binghamton ❤ ❤ ❤

As senior year approached, I was in a much better place than I had been two years prior. Though I struggled with sort of “hating myself” I hadn’t cut myself in awhile and was starting to come out of my shell around people. After I played my last volleyball of my collegiate career, I didn’t cry. I felt relieved. As I’ve probably told you on a Tuesday at JT’s at 1am, I have cried way too much during the past four years in the West Gym wheelchair bathroom stall to be able to muster up a single tear to justify my athletic experience at that point.

As for the rest of my college experience? Spring of my senior year was the best time of my life I’ve had yet. I had five classes I was more than excited to take and the time to enjoy other pursuits. Even though I’ve continually struggled with mania, depression, anxiety, OCD and beer shits the morning after a great night out, I was finally figuring out who I was and becoming more comfortable with myself and being less apologetic about it.

Myself with my closest friends (minus Steph and David) graduating

Myself with my closest friends (minus Steph and David) graduating (cray crayyyy!)

So essentially, I believe at this time that life isn’t worth living unless you experience those highs and lows. God knows that if you don’t have them you might as well be an emotionless robot.

So where in the world is our dear little Kristin Hovie now?

I’ll stick my now empty wine glass where the sun don’t shine if you ask me what I’m doing after college but I will tell you this:

When I left Binghamton University a couple days ago, I was sad. And you know what is so absolutely precious about that? Being sad means I cared. Being sad means I made some great friends and had some great experiences I’ll never forget. So before I get all existential on your ass, I’ll just sum it up to this since I’m all about the capital letters now~

COLLEGE WAS GREAT IT WAS AWESOME I HATE LEAVING BUT IF I COULD TURN AROUND MY SHITTY HIGH SCHOOL/SOPHOMORE YEAR OF COLLEGE, I HAVE A LOT OF GREAT STUFF AHEAD OF ME.

So that’s that. I’ll bet you didn’t bargain on me “in vino veritas”-ing all over you on a Tuesday night, but I did. (It’s probably because I know I should be doing $1 pitchers at JT’s right now and bitching about their $3 cover.) I had a helluva ride and am happy to say $%^&, I made it. Because I did- I did with a little help from my friends.

xx

ACE~

😉

P.S. Big thank you to my coaches, family, friends (Lex, Manz, Jojo, Steph, and David amongst others) for being there for me when I needed it- because I did need it. Thanks for being great listeners.