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.

Wanderlust: How I Travel

 

White Mountains, New Hampshire

If I had a dollar for every time I saw a blog post entitled, “Ten Places to Travel When You’re Broke AF” I’d actually have enough money to go on one of these proclaimed “cheap” places.

While I think it’s great Millennials have a desire to get out and travel the world, I find it discouraging to think others feel left out due to a lack of time, money, or travel buddy.

Let’s be real, some recent college graduates have just begun working and may only have three to five vacation days in the bank. For my current job, I work on three Saturdays out of the month and do not have the luxury of two consecutive days off four times a month or taking a “long weekend”. Oh, poor me!

Now that I’m living on my own, I also pay for my own groceries and rent on top of other expenses. Who knew just taking up space on planet earth could equate to so many dollar signs?

NOT ME, UNTIL I DITCHED MY PARENTS AND MOVED OUT EAST. My former bedroom has already been renovated.

So anywho, flexible and fixed expenses can add up quickly, especially if you’re trying to do things like eat food and not live in a dumpster.

Add limited funds to the issue of being a lone twenty-something-year-old and your options may seem limited for travel.

So although I can’t jet-set like a mofo, I have little angst about the fact I can’t travel to tropical locations or ski resorts as often as I’d like.

HOW CAN THIS BE? I THOUGHT YOU LIKED TO WHINE, KRISTIN HOVIE.

Well I can’t deny bitching is a great pastime of mine, I’ve been able to utilize my new location to take more adventures that are friendly to my wallet, work with my schedule, and doable alone.

Princeton was my favorite Ivy League school to visit.

The result: many day trips to regional destinations. Remember, wanderlust doesn’t always have to apply to overseas destinations. This in mind, I’ve been exploring New England like it’s my day job. The east coast offers no shortage of beautiful oceanic views, mountaintop selfie opportunities, and historical landmarks. The best part of this? It’s relatively cheap, everything is within about a four-hour car ride, and these trips are doable alone.

Naturally, most of the places I’ve been require plenty of photos. I tend to post my adventures on Instagram and other social media sites and as a result, sometimes get questions about where I’m going and how I find I found the location I’m posing in front of. I’ve compiled a short question/answer section below that goes over a few of the most common inquiries. ENJOY!

The Providence Performing Arts Center

Q. How do you find these locations?

A. A mixture of research and spontaneous..ness.

Short answer: TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google, Social Media, and Bloggers.

Longer answer: My trips are often determined based on a healthy mix of researching the shit out of things and YOLOing. I like to be outside as much as possible, but when this isn’t possible I tend to gravitate towards museums and the performing arts. I’m also lucky in the sense that bloggers like Kiel James Patrick and Sarah Vickers share their location on their Instagram photos. If I think what they’re posing in front of is pretty or fun, I’ll plan a trip. I started following a bunch of bloggers on social media sites for New England inspiration.

Further Insight: When I saw the Boston Symphony Orchestra in January, I planned ahead about three weeks. I managed to get my hands on a $34 ticket in the nosebleed section and did my research to figure out where to park and how much it’d cost me. The venue was gorgeous and I had a great time remembering when I used to carve my initials into my rental violin in middle school. While walking down Massachusetts Avenue, I saw a sushi place I decided to randomly stop by for food. The combination of planning ahead and YOLOing worked out well in this case. Both were public venues where I didn’t feel weird or nervous about being alone. This was also the case when I saw John Cleese at the Providence Performing Arts Center (also around $40).

Other times, I’ll plan an outdoor trip a few days in advance. For obvious reasons, it’s important to take the weather into consideration. TripAdvisor has been a godsend this past winter to help me identify National and State Parks that are worth visiting. I’ll typically find locations on this site then research them more thoroughly to see if it’s worth my time. Trips to places like Fort Wetherill can be attributed to planning ahead while seeing the breathtaking views of the Omni Mount Washington Hotel are purely coincidental (I literally pulled off the highway).

Sometimes the spontaneous doesn’t work out, but it’s not worth getting upset over. I decided to nix a trip to the Boston Contemporary Museum of Art because I felt uncomfortable walking around Boston alone after dark on empty streets.

The Providence Public Library

Q. Do you feel uncomfortable alone? Do you hike by yourself?

A. Sometimes and it depends on the location.

Short answer: Like I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I sometimes do feel uncomfortable being alone. If it makes sense, I’d rather feel uncomfortable surrounded by a group of people than uncomfortable alone in the mountains. I do not hike alone in the White Mountains or Adirondacks. It’s simply too large an area to not have great cell reception and people have died falling off cliffs or drowning in rivers. Though I’ve been responsible for children while hiking and know the basics, I simply do not have all the supplies necessary to feel comfortable hiking alone.

Longer answer: I was very stupid this past fall and decided to hike Mount Ascutney in Vermont after eating nothing but a granola bar for breakfast. I was also out of shape and thought I could handle a two mile hike to the summit (3140’ as opposed to Cascade Mountain which I did a couple summers ago at 4098’). I managed to make it to the top of the mountain fine, but the hike down reduced me to tears. I was shaking so badly on the hike down I moreso flopped my way down the path to my car. Lesson learned. On the bright side, I was smart enough to screenshot a map of the hiking paths and thoroughly research it before leaving my apartment in Providence.

I am snobby when it comes to hiking and don’t think Newport’s “Cliff Walk” is considered a hike at all, but I will definitely do this alone. Ditto with beach walks!

The Palestra at Penn

Q. Who is taking your picture?

A. Me.

Short answer: Target sells these cheap, smartphone tripods that are about three inches tall. I have also become acquainted with the ten second self timer. I’m working on purchasing a tripod for my Canon t5i Rebel now, hopefully this will allow me to experiment with editing less grainy photos.

Long answer: It would be a lot less effort to just take a photograph of a landscape without me in it, given I’m by myself, right? Yes. Though I have plenty of landscape photos, I just think it’s more special when I’m in the pic to show that I was there. When my kids look back on my pictures years and years from now, I think they’ll find it more interesting to see photos of me doing things, not just…things. I know I enjoy going through my parents’ photographs of when they hiked the Great Smoky Mountains at my age. My favorites are the photographs where my parents are shown along with the landscape around them. Say what you want, but I like the creative problem solving involved in trying to capture both a feeling and moment in front of something breathtakingly beautiful. It’s artsy and just a tad bit vain, but I like that sh*t.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Q. What are your favorite places that you’ve traveled to so far?

A. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Fort Wetherill, and the Adirondacks in New York.

Elaboration: The Museum of Fine Arts was and is incredible. I’m a fairly artsy person, so I could spend hours parked in front of a few displays or paintings but there are so many different exhibits that continually change that are sure to appease just about everyone. Fort Wetherill might just be my single-most favorite location in all of Rhode Island. Though many newcomers may pass Jamestown on their way to Newport, it’s definitely worth the pit stop. It faintly reminds me of Capri (Italy) with the rocky outcrops, secret beaches, and incredible ocean views. Though it can get busy on weekends, it’s fun to climb around the rocks and watch the sunset from this state park. The Adirondacks will always have a special place in my heart after working at Camp Treetops a few summers ago. I was only living there for about three months, but there’s something comforting about being surrounded by giant mountains.

Adirondack Park, New York

Q. What other places do you plan on visiting?

A. Mount Washington (New Hampshire), the Boston Public Library, and Blue Shutters Beach (Rhode Island) in the summer.

Short answer: I’m absolutely dying to hike Mount Washington this spring or summer once the weather conditions get better. It’s the highest mountain peak in the northeast. The only reason I drag my butt to the YMCA or go out on runs is to get into better shape for this trip. After seeing photographs of the Boston Public Library, I knew I will have to take the forty-five minute drive just to check out the amazing architecture of this building. Check out the photo below, it looks like something straight out of Harry Potter. I’ve been to Blue Shutters Beach a couple of times this winter already, but I can’t wait to haul all my beach things with me this summer. The water is an unreal shade of blue-green, the sand is white, and it’s a very natural environment. Summer can’t get here soon enough!

Newport, Rhode Island

Let me know if you have additional questions regarding travelling regionally as I’d be happy to dish, betch. I’ll pretend I have awwllll the answers.

In the meantime, get out and explore wherever you are!

More pics from my adventures below:

Beavertail State Park, Rhode Island

 

Mount Ascutney, Vermont

Ocean Drive (Newport, Rhode Island)

Omni Mount Washington Resort, New Hampshire

Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire

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Fort Wetherill, Rhode Island