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.

***

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.
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Picking Up the Pieces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Teenagers tend to be a bit hard on themselves when encountering a herd of their own kind at school. It’s a time often characteristic of trying to fit in- I was no exception.

It was the beginning of a long and difficult road, a struggle not singularly unique to my life.

The girl who looked back at me in the mirror continued to remind me of everything I failed to be. Not only was my appearance unsightly to me, but my perceived personality flaws were now under scrutiny as well. Bashing myself became a cruel hobby, the innocent child in me struggling to stay afloat with compliments I now felt were lies.

I was under the impression nobody liked me, I was a weak leader who constantly underperformed at volleyball, I was a failure/benchwarmer at soccer, and I was selfish. Coaches constantly told me to “fix my face”. Why did I look sad or bitchy one minute then become overly cocky the next?

Unbeknownst to me or anyone else at the time, I was in the early stages struggling with some mental health challenges. While it is normal for a middle or high school student to feel awkward and unconfident, my brain had been in overdrive and had convinced me I was an evil, horrible person undeserving of affection. While not an excuse for my behavior at the time, it definitely gives some insight looking back. It didn’t matter how much my parents and siblings loved and cared about me. I had convinced myself otherwise.

The insecurity, anxiety, and pessimism I had been feeling was further amplified when I thought I may not just be attracted to just boys like the other girls in my grade.

My hometown was a great place to grow up, but is not the forefront of progressiveness like many larger cities. Sexuality was viewed as a choice by many and the church I had attended since I was in preschool condemned gay marriage. I spent much of my junior year worrying someone would think I was disgusting, repulsive, and gross for feelings I had recognized since seventh grade. Taunted by upperclassmen in the halls, I spent time overthinking my every move while with my close friend.

At the time, I didn’t find solace at home. My sister and mother had correctly guessed I was in a relationship with another girl at school and I was terrified. Was the comfort and happiness I found while with my best friend and confidant worth the constant stress of being an embarrassment to my family? I didn’t have time to make the choice myself, as my friend chose to end the relationship before she graduated that spring.

Not only did I loathe myself, but now someone I had trusted deeply had denied we had ever been together. Heartbroken and confused, I began confessing my feelings through a Word document on my MacBook. I had to hide everything from my friends who had no idea any of the previous events occurred. Steadily, my writing became more dark and poetic, but pulled me away further and further from reality. I had no idea what was substantive in my life. I didn’t know if I was drowning in pain or if I was just numb. I began self harming to feel something- anything.

I continued writing at college after a year break. My freshman year had been a whirlwind of social events and stimuli, but I picked up the hobby again my sophomore year in the fall when my past relationship became a breaking point. I felt alone, insane, and didn’t know where to turn.

Entries became sloppy, ink trailed off pages, mixed with tears. An entire entry consisted of an untidy scrawl wherein I tried convincing myself I was another person. I had repeating the same phrase countless times until the page ended. Another page contained confused last rites. I was drunk nearly half of the nights I wrote entries. The same girl who worried over her appearance at sixteen had gotten carried away into a never-ending cycle of self loathing.

Writing had once been a fun release, a way to express myself not unlike my favorite characters from Meg Cabot books. My confessions and heartbreak had morphed into a twisted monster, threatening to finally convince me I was insane and unlovable, a worthy candidate of ending life as I knew it.

However, years later it serves as a reminder of how incredibly sick I had been during this period in my life. Though the entries are painful to read, it truly shows far I have come and how far off the rails I had gone during this period of my life. I had convinced myself of an overwhelming multitude of entirely false information. I lived my life off lies, overreactions, and misconstrued encounters. My illnesses had twisted my outlook on life and stolen years of happiness off my life. It took me awhile to realize my writing was not beautifully tragic, reminiscent of existentialist heroes like Sartre, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche before me, but instead a clear sign I was not well. 

Though some of my behaviors are still evocative of the girl who loved to hate herself, it is more clear to me than ever how much I had needed help at the time. I was lucky to have friends and family who sought out help for me. I’m grateful to this day, because the girl in high school and college had no idea how hard she’d fight to find happiness- and how much progress she’d make by the time she turned twenty-five.

Self loathing had been built itself into the core of my being as a teenager, but I’ve changed this after years (yes, it took me years) of therapy sessions. More recently, I finally took a chance and let myself truly believe I wasn’t a horrible person. It didn’t come easily to me and is sometimes still a challenge, but by learning to dismiss the cruel voice in my head (not to be confused with schizophrenia), I am becoming happier. It turns out life is easier when you’re not trying to cut yourself down (wow!).

So although we don’t have a choice what challenges we are born with (or being born at all), we have a choice of who we become. With the right tools and attitude, humans can be remarkably resourceful. These tools and attitude will come more naturally to some, while others will need to fight more to gain the necessary skillset to be happier or even survive.

I was born into this world with some odds stacked against me (acknowledging my privilege as I am white). A few mental illnesses loomed on the horizon of my late teenage years when I was a kid, but I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by a loving family and friends who wanted to see me succeed and gave me the resources to do so.

It hasn’t been an easy journey, but I’m learning to accept myself instead of resorting back to maladaptive behaviors and constantly putting myself down. Instead of allowing myself to get caught up in a tailspin of obsessive, pessimistic thoughts, I recognize my brain doesn’t interpret everyday events like a mentally healthy adult. Though it won’t always work right away, the fact I recognize my thoughts and behavior as unhelpful is a start.

Hopefully, I have a long life ahead of me (gawd willing). I might as well learn to like myself if I want to live my life to the fullest.

***

I’ve written less in journals or diaries as the years go on, but every once and awhile I take time to recount my day- no matter how mundane or uneventful. My journals have served as markers of my mental health through the years and continue to remind me that while life is ever changing, my overall positive attitude about life doesn’t need to.

In striving to find whatever positives I can, I’ve become healthier and overall happier. Even if I’m not entirely happy (who can honestly claim they’re happy all the time, let’s be real), I’m also learning through pain and sadness.

I’m not quite there yet, but I can say with confidence I am much better than I had been a year ago at this time. When morale gets low, I remind myself I’m not just living for myself, but I’m doing it for those I love. I know I want nothing more than to see my loved ones genuinely happy, so I try to put honest effort into becoming a happier, healthier person each and every day.

So far, it’s been working- because everyone deserves a chance at living their best life– one which includes true happiness and self-acceptance.

Fighting to Find Your “Happier”

LOOK AT THIS VERY NON-STAGED HAPPINESS!

A coworker recently described me as “positive” and I nearly spit coffee in his face.

LOL wattt? I stroked my beard thoughtfully.  

I recovered quickly, flipped my hair, and continued to sip my iced-venti-sized-soy-wingardium-leviosa-five-points-to-Gryffindor latte. Because I am fabulous and fabulous people do nawt spit cawffee in anyone’s face.

Whatevs.

…but I digress.

Whether it be HIV or attitude, I’ve never been positive. My younger sister, Alli, has always been the ray of sunshine in our family. I’m more likely to win the “I Do Not Believe In Love” award.

It’s a chemical reaction in the brain! I yell at the happily married couple next to me, shaking my fist, haphazardly dumping my Founders Porter on their shoes.

So whether I’m yelling at couples that the object of their affection is a result of evolutionary mechanisms or reading Sartre’s No Exit (“hell is other people”), there’s been a shift in my behavior in the past few months.

Yes, it’s spring and the sun is out longer. Nearly everyone feels happier in these conditions. For anyone with bipolar disorder, it’s possible to cycle into a manic phase because the sun is out longer.

When I recently began controlling my swings more efficiently, I didn’t know if it was because I was happy or just manic (and therefore under the false impression everything was great). After some thought, I decided I was truly happier. I’d been more active in making critical behavioral changes in the span of six months time and saw them finally taking effect.

Yas, kween.

***

It was difficult for me to move out east this past summer. I decided to leave the comfort of home for the unknown while in a mixed state (unmedicated). I moved for a volunteer coaching position with no guarantee of eventually securing a full-time job.

For someone born into a privileged upper-middle class life, I had never put the “yo…lol” in “YOLO” so hard before.

Holy bawls.

Though I knew I was taking a necessary step forward in my life, I struggled to stay positive after the move. My friends were already getting promotions, making ten grand more than me, and were in careers specific to their bachelor’s degrees.

I grew worried I made a stupid mistake by moving out east. I unwillingly dipped back into depression this winter, but it felt somewhat comforting. I knew how to cope with my behavior better than I did while in a mixed or manic state.

Thoughts of self-harm and suicide frequently slid into my head and I found it increasingly hard to keep my mind on the right track. Self-doubt filled my thoughts and I constantly worried I was disappointing my boss, coworkers, and customers. I began obsessing over the smallest things I’d done “wrong” throughout the day and let my anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder control my interactions with others. I slowly withdrew from others.

But the biggest difference between my former self and the Kristin who moved to the east coast is simple: I knew I’d do whatever it took to survive here.

It sounds incredibly dramatic, but I knew I’d fight like hell to stay out east. I loved the ocean, the mountains, the history, and I wanted so badly to make my life a success story. This winter was a turning point for me. I decided to do whatever it’d take to feel happier every day.

It’s naive to believe you can be happy all the time. But in choosing to find my “happier” to keep myself afloat and successful, I took concrete steps to begin changing my thought processes. I don’t necessarily aspire to be happy each second of the day, but instead happier. I’m too sarcastic of a person to throw up rainbows and sunshine 24/7.

One of ten paintings I completed this winter.

To combat maladaptive thoughts, I began painting for the first time since high school and started writing more. I also turned to humor to get me through the worst of my thoughts.

For example, I cracked a joke to a coworker who did not reciprocate well. Realizing this, I instantly felt beyond self conscious and thought it was necessary to cut myself for being such an idiot. That was my immediate reaction. A couple seconds later, I forced myself to laugh at my ridiculousness.

Really? I asked myself. You crack one joke someone didn’t get and you decide hurting yourself is the answer? You’re such a bonehead.

Though I had convinced myself I was a complete idiot at the time, I let myself laugh at my immediate reaction. Humor and sarcasm have gotten me through a lot this winter and spring. Being able to laugh at myself has been a godsend and it completely lightens the mood whenever my thoughts take a turn for the worse. I do not brush feelings off, but instead acknowledge them and decide not to give them merit.

Armed with a sense of humor and a few hobbies, I managed to level myself out. I finally found something worked for me and was figuring out how to cope with maladaptive and intrusive thoughts. I walked off into the sunset pumping my fist in the air to the tune of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”.

That’s all well and good. It wasn’t easy, but I finally wanted to fight back to find true happiness and stability. I used to be under the impression being a pessimistic person with self-destructive tendencies was sexy and mysterious.

Yeah, not so much. It makes no sense from a logical point of view.

I made the decision this winter to put energy into becoming my best self. I wanted to be the girl people want to be around, the one who makes those who hang out with her feel better about themselves. To put it psychedelically, I wanted to give off good vibes as often as I could. I challenged myself to find a way to make those around me feel better off for meeting me.

I’m at my best when I push myself to be positive. Given my disorders, it’s what I need to do to be successful. Happiness to me is caring less about my physical appearance and working on becoming beautiful on the inside- someone who is comfortable in her own skin. I value kindness, humor, being spontaneous and fun, and trying to make those around me feel better off for being around me.

Each day I fight hard to become this girl.

True happiness: popping a bottle of champagne at the Grand Canyon with my best friends. Not pictured, friends.

***

I’ll always have suicidal thoughts, urges to self-harm, obsessions, compulsions, and anxiety. I’ve accepted this but cope by expressing myself through what I love most: art, writing, and humor. I’m chasing what I’m passionate about in life and am trying to live life authentically.

I once believed having mental disorders ruined my life. I equated it to having a chronic sickness with no cure, but I now believe my disorders serve as my best asset. They’ve completely altered the way I look at life because I made the conscious decision to push myself to become happier. I’m grateful for my experiences, though it hasn’t been an easy journey for myself, friends, and family.

***

If you’re struggling and don’t see a way out, just remember you can be incredibly resilient if you want to fight to find your “happier”. It’s a battle. Sometimes I get frustrated by the fact I’m fighting so hard for what many take for granted.

It’s difficult to see how naturally others cope with disappointment when you feel like you’ve worn yourself out for something insignificant. Just remember the fight is worth the hard work. Fight to be happier and you’ll find true happiness along the way.

I wouldn’t take back any of my experiences because it’s led me to where I am today: finally becoming okay with who I’m becoming and who I want to be. 

***

NOTE:

I am periodically asked why I choose to write about my personal experiences with mental health disorders. Why would one so willingly talk about something that makes you appear “weak” or “flawed” to others?

It’s my personal opinion that the dialogue needs to be open when discussing mental disorders. A diagnosis does not make someone less of a human, less of a co-worker, less of a friend, less of anything. Every once and awhile the world needs this gentle reminder.

Countless people have reached out to me thanking me for opening up. I understand it’s comforting to know you’re never solitary in your struggle. Occasionally, it takes brutal honesty to reach out and make necessary connections to help save or improve another’s quality of life.

I’m willing to share because my experiences can be a lifeline to anyone who is under the impression they are hopelessly alone. You’re not alone and your life is worth more than you can ever imagine.

Another painting I completed this spring. My mantra has been “create” so my sister bought me a bracelet as a constant reminder to me to create when I start feeling down.

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

***

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)

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.