Depression and the devil would be pretty good friends, TBH

Here's the thing about depression.

(Well, I mean, there are a lot of things about depression, the main thing being that, well, it blows, and the other things are basically just groaning sounds of various decibels.)

Anyway, this specific thing about depression is that it's kind of a swindler.

I grew up Catholic, then I went to a Lutheran summer camp for many, many years and spent time doing ministry in college. I've since become what you could call more spiritual than religious, but I think a lot about my depression in the same terms that a Christian would describe the devil. He lurks in your subconscious, whispering vicious lies that make you believe you aren't good enough or strong enough or rich enough or just plain enough. You find ways to build those parts of yourself back up; you go to church or to the gym or to happy hour or to whatever place or state of mind that makes your heart feel a little less empty. Me? Well, among other things, I go to therapy.

I've talked about it briefly here before, but I started going to therapy back in November. I hang out with my therapist Sarah every other week, so I'd estimate I've spent probably 15 to 20 hours dumping my life onto a perfect stranger. When I type it out like that, it doesn't seem significant. I spend 40 hours (or more, let's be real) at work every week, so 15 to 20 hours over the last eight months doesn't feel like a lot. But in those hours, I've learned a lot about myself. I've learned the different ways my anxiety and depression manifest themselves in my daily life and the thought patterns or habits that can trigger them. I've learned to mentally track how many times a day I say the words "can't" or "should." I've learned that I am really bad about having high expectations for everyone in my life, including myself. Sarah somehow pulls things out of me that I didn't even realize I was thinking or feeling until I say them out loud, and then I spend weeks wading through the weeds of my subconscious. 

Recently, I'm happy to report, things have been really great. I've lost 35 pounds since January and I'm actually starting to feel like myself again (whoever that is). I'm exercising daily and taking care of my body, and I feel stronger and healthier than I ever have. My boyfriend Jared and I moved into a little two-story house in East Austin last month, and I've loved exploring our new neighborhood and settling into our new home and our life together. I've recently thrown myself into reconnecting with old friends and fostering friendships with existing friends, and I feel happy and loved. I was put in charge of a new project at work that makes me feel incredibly happy and fulfilled. I feel really good. 

I posted this photo on Instagram Friday. It's one of my favorite little corners of our new house, and it's where I put my cozy chair -- the one I curl up in when I want to read or watch TV or have a snack. It's probably the safest space in our house, for me. 

I posted this photo on Instagram Friday. It's one of my favorite little corners of our new house, and it's where I put my cozy chair -- the one I curl up in when I want to read or watch TV or have a snack. It's probably the safest space in our house, for me. 

So at therapy two weeks ago, when Sarah asked me at the end of my session, as she always does, "So, two weeks?" I almost told her, "Actually, maybe let's do a month." After all, for several sessions in a row I had basically been telling her the same thing over and over again -- that I was, miraculously, pretty okay. But something told me to stick with the schedule. I was thinking about when I would get sick and get prescribed an antibiotic, and as soon as I felt better I'd stop taking it, even though the doctor always told me to make sure to take them all -- but I never listened, and sure enough, I was sick again a week later. If it works like that for your body, it must work like that for your brain, right?

Then, last Friday night, I was doing my usual routine. After work on Fridays, I go to a class at my barre studio called HIITRestore -- it's basically 30 minutes of intense cardio and strength moves, then 20 minutes of stretching and rolling around on the floor. It's my favorite way to end the week. On this Friday night in question, I was rolling around on the floor when suddenly I felt like I was pinned to it. I remember thinking immediately, "I really need to not be here right now." I also remember the intense imagery of a sumo wrestler sitting on my chest, because that's how it felt. I couldn't move. One of my best (and sometimes worst) qualities, I'm not ashamed to admit, is that I'm acutely self aware. I'm able to identify how I'm feeling at pretty much all times. (It's a blessing and a curse.) This was my inner monologue: I really need to not be here right now. What is happening? Am I having a panic attack? Well, usually, I hyperventilate during a panic attack. That's not what's happening right now. I definitely can't breathe, though. Yep, that sumo wrestler isn't letting me get enough air. Oh, she's telling us to stretch our other leg now. I can't do that if I'm pinned to the floor. Can I just get up and leave? What will she say? Can't get up and leave, still pinned to the floor. I guess I'll just stretch this leg and see what happens next.

It went on like that for a good five minutes, which felt like an hour. Then I went to my car and was overcome with intense dread. My chest was tight. But I was so calm -- this wasn't my usual panic attack. My heart wasn't racing and my breathing wasn't quick. I felt completely calm, except I was absolutely convinced that I was dying. I wondered if I should drive myself to the hospital or call Jared to come and pick me up. I sat in my car until I figured, well, it would be silly to make him drive here in traffic. So, dazed, I made my way home. I spent the rest of the evening in bed, watching Netflix and being generally over-dramatic about what had happened.

I asked Sarah about this the following Monday, and she described the way exercise can sometimes release really intense emotions. She didn't seem to think it was a panic attack, but I'm not convinced. (I mean, she's probably right, because she always is, but don't tell her I said that.) We talked about a few other things that had been on my mind, and I went about my day, feeling a little better. 

Then this past Friday, it happened again. I filled in on the early shift at work, so around 1 p.m. I was getting ready to leave for the day. I stayed late to take care of a bit of breaking news, and I finally made it to my car about a half hour after my shift was supposed to end. And then I just ... sat there. I had gone to my car to get my gym clothes, to change really quick and then spend time lifting weights before sneaking in a quick nap and going to happy hour with some girlfriends. I scrolled through my phone for a half hour. I just couldn't leave. I don't know why. When I finally changed into my gym clothes and went back to my car, I sat there for another half hour. I wasn't being lazy about going to the gym -- it was going to be a light day, after all -- I just couldn't do it. (There it is. Me saying I couldn't do something. I'll put a dollar in the "can't" jar, Sarah.) After an hour or so of sitting, I went to the gym and spent 20 minutes on the elliptical, which is not even what I meant to do. I couldn't think straight or even think, period. I don't remember what was on my brain for the full four hours it took me to get home from work on Friday. And I still have no idea why. Well, I have one idea.

Because that son of a bitch depression decided to pop his head in and see what was up. Because just when you start to think, "Hey, I'm feeling better! I'm cured! I am no longer a Depressed Person™!" Then depression is like, "Ha, bullshit. I'm still here. I live here. You're stuck with me for like, ever. You idiot. Why don't you lay down and sleep for like three days straight now, 'cause that's all you're good for, anyway." 

I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that it's kind of okay to not be totally okay. There probably isn't such thing as totally okay, anyway. Depression isn't cancer. It's not something that you can stamp out with hours and hours of treatment. It's something you live with. It's something you learn to deal with, and recognize, and work on, and give the finger to sometimes because man, does it deserve it. So no, I'm not quitting therapy anytime soon. Because, well, we've still got work to do.

5 Austin workout studios I've tried and loved this year

Now that my 10K training is over and I've discovered that my body can do much more than I expected, I thought it was time to get out of my comfort zone a bit. I've tried a few new workout studios and workout styles in the past few weeks, with mixed results (and a LOT of sore muscles).

Ballet Austin's Butler Center for Dance & Fitness

I've been to a few Pilates classes at Ballet Austin over the years, but after I saw my friend Beth attended a Missy Elliott music video dance workshop there earlier this year, I decided to feel overconfident about my dance skills and sign up for a class. She and I signed up for the Britney Spears Toxic Videodance class, which was a one 90-minute session to learn the choreography Britney performs to the song. I must have blacked out and forgotten for a second that Britney is the literal queen of stage choreography when I signed up for this, because take a look at the routine we learned (starting at 1:25 until about 3:02 because hello, we don't have time to learn the whole dance in 90 minutes). 

This is my first time watching that video since dance class and I feel even more assured that I will never, ever be a dancer (and also more assured that Britney is queen, LOOK AT HER).

Despite my subpar dance skills, it was a really fun class. The instructor, Jenny Alperin, was hilarious and friendly, and she made the class totally accessible. She knew we were all at varying levels of skill, so she gave us options to simplify the moves if we needed (and, uh, I needed). It was a blast, and I'm excited for the next workshop I get to take! Right now, they're offering a three-week NSYNC vs. Backstreet Boys Videodance workshop, but I'm going to be on vacation for one of the weeks. Tragic that you guys won't see my boy band moves (though there would probably be less gyrating involved than with Britney).

The workshop did get me interested in their adult dance classes, though! I've been eyeing the cardio dance workout class on Sunday afternoons. Maybe next week? I'll report back.

Align

I heard from an Instagram friend that this Pilates, boxing and barre studio was offering free classes before its official grand opening in a new location on Lake Austin Boulevard, so I had to check it out.

First of all, the studio is beautiful. It's just off of MoPac (right by that pawn shop on the corner) and it's a two-story building with lots of natural light. On the bottom floor, there are Pilates reformers and towers, as well as a room for private lessons. On the top floor, there's a barre studio, a boxing studio and some retail space. 

I signed up for a Pilates Equipment class on a Friday afternoon, a little fearful of the aforementioned towers but mostly excited. The classes are small (there are only five reformers), so the instructor is able to pay close attention to each person in class and help them with some of the more complicated moves—if you're not familiar with Pilates reformers, they can be kind of confusing. My instructor, Chris, told me they normally spend half of the equipment classes on the reformers and half of the class on the towers. We didn't use the towers, so I didn't face my fears that day, but trust me, I got a good, solid workout. We started out working our legs, then spent the rest of the class on our abs and arms, and my triceps felt it for days afterward.

Their full class schedule launched May 1, so if you're interested in checking it out for yourself, you can find the schedule here. I know I'll be back, because that tower and I have a score to settle.

(Oh, and another major perk: The studio is right next to Deep Eddy Pool and Juiceland, so I went for a swim and sucked down a Wundershowzen after my workout.)

Silent disco yoga

Yeah, you read that right. I saw a local yoga studio in town, Stretch Yoga, was hosting an event called "Blissful Beats + Sunset Yoga" on a Friday night, and I had to give it a try. The idea behind the class was to give wireless headphones to class attendees, silent disco-style, and teach a yoga class on the roof of an east side apartment building. 

The result? I have mixed feelings about it. I admittedly haven't been doing as much yoga as I used to (or as much as I'd like to), so I was a little rusty. I was also sore from going to Pilates earlier in the day, and I'd been up since 3 a.m. because I was filling in on the morning shift at work. The headphones were also a little distracting, but the music was peaceful and I loved that the headphones totally blocked out the city sounds. Also, watching the sun set over downtown Austin on a warm spring evening is pretty great. That said, I'll probably stick with my chill restorative yoga sessions in a regular studio—but if you'd like to give it a try, the yoga studio says it's hosting another "Blissful Beats" class in June. 

Impact Strong

I tried kickboxing a few times last year when I bought a Groupon (yes, I'm a Groupon fiend) for Impact Strong's first Austin location on William Cannon. I loved it, and I'm not sure why I didn't stick with it. It really helped me work out some of my frustrations toward the guy I was dating at the time (or rather, the guy I was trying to date...it's a long story). So when I heard Impact Strong was opening a downtown location, I was so excited I bought their opening special class pass immediately...and then forgot about it for about six months. Whoops.

I finally dragged myself back there (thank goodness the people are so nice—they honored the pass I purchased a billion years ago) for a 30-minute kickboxing class at 9 a.m. on a Saturday.

I thought a 30-minute class would make it easier to get through on a Saturday morning...but it was 30 minutes of face-paced, high-intensity cardio. The instructor, Skyla, was incredibly helpful. I told her it had been about a year since I'd attended a kickboxing class, so she walked me through every move and every step. The other people in the class were clearly veterans of the gym—they didn't need any explainers—so I was able to watch and learn. 

The class was basically a half hour of intense kickboxing moves, with quick workouts like burpees, pushups or squats in between. I walked out of there feeling exhausted and invigorated, not to mention the fact that I left a puddle of sweat on my driver's seat when I drove home. 

The Barre Code

Okay, this might be cheating, because I've been going to The Barre Code since January and I've mentioned it several times already. But I haven't gone into detail about why I love it so much. I initially joined The Barre Code during their January Resolution Remix challenge, which encouraged members to take different types of classes and step outside their comfort zone to complete their bingo card. Since I hadn't been working out at all, pretty much everything was outside my comfort zone.

The studio is so welcoming, and the owner, Cami, is one of the nicest people I've ever met. She went out of her way to get to know me on day one, and ever since, walking into The Barre Code has felt like walking into a room full of friends. The instructors are all wonderful, and I've truly never had a negative experience there. I'd say The Barre Code is mostly responsible for helping me shed nearly all 30 pounds of that weight I've been trying to get rid of since January.

They just added a new class to their schedule, too: Brawl. It's kickboxing! And apparently I'm on a kickboxing kick lately (ugh, sorry for the pun). It's more than kickboxing, though. The website describes it as "an intense class that combines cardio kickboxing sequences with strengthening work for the thighs and glutes." I can't wait to try it.

Running a 5K with my 76-year-old grandfather and my beer-bellied dad

My family is amazing. During my entire health journey so far this year, they've been incredibly supportive. I can't tell you how many "I'm so proud of you" texts I've gotten from them since January, and I don't think I could have gotten this far without them.

The day I finished my first 10K race a few weeks ago, my Meme texted me saying my Poppy wished he had done the race with me. My Poppy is 76 years old, and I always joke that he's going to outlive the rest of our family, because he's in such incredible shape. He had a heart attack about 20 years ago, and it changed his life. He whipped himself into shape so that he could stick around a bit longer and give us a hard time about how often we change our oil or how to do our taxes. We're all incredibly grateful. He's a goofy, smart man who loves us all with everything he's got. 

Poppy, me and my dad at the Sunshine Run.

Poppy, me and my dad at the Sunshine Run.

So, because I can't let an elderly man outdo me, I decided I'd find us a 5K race we could run together (or, for Poppy, to walk at an extremely brisk pace for a man in his 70s) before it gets too hot. I signed us up for the Silicon Labs Sunshine Run 5K, which benefits the Austin Sunshine Camps, which are free week-long summer camps for low-income kids in Austin. Poppy was incredibly excited—and so was I—so I recruited our whole family to come along to participate or cheer us on.

To my surprise, my dad took me up on the offer. My beer-drinking, red-meat-loving 53-year-old dad. He signed up two weeks before the race, quit drinking beer completely and started walking two miles a day on the track at the middle school in my hometown. He even roped his girlfriend into it, too. We had a team of four Psenciks with nothing to lose, except maybe a couple of pounds.

When it came time to race, I was amazed. My family showed up at my apartment at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning (after I had worked until midnight the night before—yikes) rearing to go. Poppy, my dad, dad's girlfriend Cynthia and I started the race together, and Poppy and Dad even ran the first leg with me! Then I took off, looking to improve on my time from the Longhorn Run 5K two months ago, and I met them at the end. I finished in just over 30 minutes, a personal record for me—then 10 minutes later, here come Dad and Poppy. Jogging across the finish line! It was a day full of so much joy and laughter. My Meme told me it was the best day she's had in a really long time, and I agree.

I adore this man.

I adore this man.

Dad says he's going to keep walking. and despite my running struggles I mentioned a few weeks ago, I'm going to keep running too. We've never been one of those families that exercises together, that does turkey trots on Thanksgiving or coordinates group runs. We've always been more of the family that gathers around the dinner table or passes around Bud Lights in the backyard. But change is a good thing. And I'm so thankful to have a family that supports me and runs beside me and walks behind me every step of the way.

 

 

Why I quit my second Whole30

A few weeks ago, I decided to embark on my second round of Whole30. I did my first round in February (I wrote about it here) and had great results. I felt energetic, healthy and I lost seven pounds and several inches. More than anything, I was amazed at the change in my mental health. With depression and anxiety, there are plenty of good days—days where I wake up feeling energized and motivated, ready to go to work and do good work that I can be proud of. Then there are the other days—there's a cloud over me and an elephant sitting on my chest; I can't focus and my mind and heart are racing. I had fewer of those days during February. It felt amazing, and I wanted to chase that feeling. I wanted to stop feeling like I was fighting the monsters in my head and start feeling like a normal person. A healthy person.

After my February Whole30 ended, South by Southwest started. I was working almost constantly, and when I wasn't working, I was trying to have some semblance of a social life. It led to me being exhausted, hungover and generally unhealthy. It totally derailed my progress, but then I started training for my first 10K. I was running between seven and 15 miles a week and dropping weight like crazy, so why would I stop? I was still getting the results I wanted. The other dangerous part about this line of thinking was that if I couldn't find something "healthy" to eat, I'd skip the meal completely (I'm embarrassed to even write that here because of how terrible that is). I was working out harder than I ever had before and not giving myself good calories or carbs to burn when I did. Yeah. Not good. I was starting to become obsessed with the number on the scale—I was getting so close to my goal weight, and I wanted to drop the weight even more quickly. 

I decided I was going to do another round of Whole30 in April, after my best friend's wedding was over and before the next wedding I'm going to in May (so many weddings, I KNOW). I needed to get back on track, I told myself (though in the back of my mind, all I could think about was losing weight). My friend Alex decided to join me—she just got back from backpacking around Asia for a few months, and she was feeling a little unhealthy (I think her exact words were "I am made of noodles"). So we started together in mid-April, and I instantly noticed how much more difficult it was than my first time around. I felt frustrated, because I knew that my body could handle some of the things I wasn't allowed to have. My reintroduction proved I didn't have a negative reaction to legumes, so why couldn't I have soy milk in my coffee or a peanut butter protein shake after a workout? I was frustrated and unhappy. Once again, I started skipping meals. I wasn't excited about the food I was eating. I was bored and everything sounded gross, so I just didn't eat. That was when I knew I had to make a change, because I wasn't healthy. All I was concerned about was losing weight, which is not the point of the Whole30. I knew deep down that I was developing unhealthy habits for the sake of dropping pounds.

Grain-free, dairy-free tacos. AKA my first foray into my new diet.

Grain-free, dairy-free tacos. AKA my first foray into my new diet.

So I made the executive decision to stop my Whole30 early. Seventeen days in, to be exact, so I was tantalizingly close to the end. I decided to shift to my own custom version of the Whole30. I added legumes back into my diet on day 17, and I felt fine. I felt great, actually, because I had given myself something my body wanted but I didn't sacrifice my health for it. On day 18, two of my friends got engaged. I had two beers with them to celebrate, and I hadn't eaten anything due to a stressful morning, so I splurged two slices of pizza. I spent the rest of the day feeling a little bloated and gross, but happy I'd been able to have a "normal" experience with my friends. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to be having beer and pizza all the time—in fact, I'd say that'll happen rarely—but I'm excited to go forward in this journey on my own terms, eating things that make my body and mind feel good without that guilt and shame that are associated with eating "bad" foods. I've always been an "everything in moderation" kind of girl, and I'm going to go forward with that in my mind, while remembering that things like grains, dairy and added sugars don't make my mind and body feel great. I think that's what "food freedom" is, right? That's what Whole30 promises: Food freedom. To me, that means being able to eat these things occasionally without feeling bad or guilty, as long as everything else I'm doing is healthy.

I'm trying to figure out a way to keep track of my diet, though. I had the idea to make a calendar, or some pages in my bullet journal, to track my eating. Do you have any ideas for how to track your eating habits? Let me know!

I spent eight weeks training for a 10K—and realized I'm not a runner (but I want to be)

As you know, in January, I embarked on a journey to eating healthy and living better (and losing 30 pounds).

I started out in January with a monthly unlimited membership to The Barre Code, my now-favorite workout studio in Austin. Then I got an email blast at work: The Statesman Capitol 10,000 (the 10K race sponsored by the Austin American-Statesman, where I work) was free for employees. I figured I didn't have a choice but to sign up, right? A free race = no excuses.

Then life happened. I was working my butt off at The Barre Code, then I did a Whole30 in February. Before I knew it, the Cap10K was in only eight weeks, and I had yet to run a mile, let alone prepare myself to run 6.2 miles.

So I kicked it in. I searched online for "eight week 10K training plans" and found this one, which seemed doable—I could do 2.5 miles, right?

Y'all, I struggled. Everything hurt. I couldn't breathe. My already-troubled hips and knees screamed at me every second of every day, and I discovered new pains in my ankles and lower back. Every day brought a new ailment. My Fitbit told me my cardio health was subpar for an average 25-year-old woman, which I found troubling (I stayed up until 2 a.m. one night googling what could happen to an overweight mid-20s woman with bad cardio health, thanks anxiety). I went from running 0 miles in one year to running 7.5 miles a week, at the minimum. By the time I made it to week seven, I unsurprisingly injured myself from overexertion.

Leading into week six, I ran my first 5K race. It was exhilarating—I finished with a way faster time than I'd ever expected (I'm not a particularly fast runner) and I was feeling happy, healthy and ready for the 10K. I could do anything. My legs hurt, but my body was strong.  

I woke up on the morning after my five-mile run in week six. I felt proud of myself that I'd completed it in just an hour, but I had been a little lazy about it: Instead of going to the hike-and-bike trail on Lady Bird Lake (without a doubt the best place in Austin to run), I just ran around my neighborhood. My very hilly, very small neighborhood. I woke up the following morning with a pain starting in my lower back that led into my outer hip, then radiated down my leg into my knee and outer ankle. I couldn't even take the stairs at work.

I continued my training anyway, thinking I'd just stretch it out. On week seven, the week before my 10K, I set out on my final long run before the race: 5.5 miles. I wised up and ran it on the lake this time, not wanting to risk anything with hills or broken sidewalks that were a twisted ankle waiting to happen. I felt good. I felt strong. I ended up running seven miles instead of 5.5, then collapsed onto my boyfriend's couch while he helped me stretch.

I guess you probably know what's coming next: The next day, my leg was worse. I felt pathetic, limping around and unable to exercise. I skipped five days of working out (the longest I've gone without working out so far this year). I felt lazy and stir-crazy. I didn't run the entire week leading up to the 10K. I felt deflated and confident that I wouldn't finish the race that Sunday. I was, frankly, scared.

The good news is: I did it. I finished with a better time than I expected, and I felt great.

And guess what? The 10K actually helped my leg. It's still not quite the same as it was before the injury—I still have shooting pains up and down my left leg from time to time, and my knee is a little sensitive, but it hasn't kept me from working out (To my boyfriend reading this: Yes, I've been stretching). 

I'm thankful to have supportive friends to run with!

I'm thankful to have supportive friends to run with!

I feel so proud of myself. It was hard to keep from crying as I crossed the finish line after working so hard these last few months. It was proof that I can do anything I put my mind to, and hey, did you guys know that running burns major calories and helps you lose weight? Who knew! But the biggest thing I learned is that I don't really think I like running. Yeah, after all that—the runner's high included—I'm not sure this is really my thing. Don't get me wrong, I'm going to keep doing it (I'm still very anxious about that low cardio health score) but maybe running seven or even 15 miles in a single week for somebody whose body has been mostly sedentary for the past 25 years isn't a good idea. Consider this my official apology to my knees and hips: Sorry I did that to you, friends. We'll stick with the three-mile lake loops from now on (until my next brilliant, impulsive decision to run a 10K comes along, that is).

With the Whole30, I got what I was asking for, better or worse

I'm a little behind on sharing this, but I put together a story that ran in the Austin American-Statesman in April summing up my experiences with Whole30. I'm working on some more follow-up posts about it, but until then: Here's an excerpt of what I wrote, followed by a link to the full story. Enjoy!

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A few months ago, I was in a rough spot.

For the past year, I’d been recovering from a horrific breakup and a job loss, which led to a major bout of depression and anxiety that brought with it a lot of extra emotion and physical weight. I took a lot of comfort in food. I never thought twice about treating myself to pizza or tacos or Whataburger, ironically because I was trying to be kind to myself.

I thought I’d treat myself to unhealthy foods because I “deserved it” because everything else in my life felt so awful. All it did was cause me to gain more than 30 pounds over the course of a year, which left me feeling worse than ever. I needed a change.

So, on Feb. 1, I embarked on a journey to “food freedom,” slang for “not having an emotional connection to your food” in the world of the Whole30. What is Whole30?

I hesitate to call it a diet, because it goes a few steps beyond just telling you what to eat, but it’s a lifestyle program that encourages eliminating “psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups” from your body for a full 30 days.

The program is aimed to help pinpoint which foods may have a negative impact on your physical and mental health by eliminating certain foods and then gradually reintroducing them after the 30 days are up.

The forbidden food groups? Grains, dairy, legumes, added sugar, alcohol and a handful of banned additives, including MSG, sulfites and carrageenan. It’s no easy feat. I was checking labels constantly and had to be the girl who disrupted brunch to ask questions like, “What type of oil do you cook your vegetables in?” It also meant eating three full meals a day and a lot of cooking at home, which was extremely new for me.

Read the full story at MyStatesman.com.

I don't deserve any of this: Impostor syndrome and the lies your brain tells you

At least once a week, I look around — at my apartment, or my office, or at my boyfriend or my friends — and I think, "how did any of this happen?" 

And by "any of this," I mean: How did I end up with such a good gig? How did I convince the people at the newspaper in the 11th-largest city in the United States to hire me? How did the people who own my apartment complex decide to rent a nice, 800-square-foot space to this pretend grown-up? How did I dupe dozens of really nice people into wanting to hang out with me? 

I don't know if I've ever once looked around at my surroundings and thought, "You know what? I've worked hard in my life. I deserve for good things to happen to me, because my hard work has paid off." It's really hard for me to feel proud of myself, because I always think there's more I could have done. For example, when I'm done writing an article for work, I'll make continuous edits until the last possible second — then, when somebody compliments it, I'll say something like, "Well, I wish I would have worded this differently." I always find something wrong with it. I always pick it apart. And I have always been that way.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately after finding out that Viola Davis — Oscar-award winning actress and all-around badass — suffers from impostor syndrome. She told ABC News after the Oscars that she feels like she's going to wake up one morning and everyone's figured out that she's a hack.

Me laughing at how ridiculous it is that somebody so talented can call herself a hack ^

Me laughing at how ridiculous it is that somebody so talented can call herself a hack ^

Y'all, if Queen Viola Davis is a hack, then what does that make the rest of us?

This is why impostor syndrome is total bullshit — but it's also totally normal. More than 70 percent of people report feeling like an impostor at some point in their career.

I think for me it started when I didn't get into the University of Texas, my dream school. They turned me down and waitlisted a few months before I graduated from high school, and I was heartbroken. I hadn't worked hard enough, and I wasn't good enough. It was that simple. Then, one day in May, I got an email from the university: I got in. It wasn't to my first-choice major, and I'd have to work hard to change majors and get into the journalism program, but I was in. I cried. My family cried. I'm tearing up right now just thinking about it.

But from that day on, I felt like I didn't deserve to be there. I felt I wasn't smart enough to manage the work load that a top public university would require. When I performed well in my journalism classes, I thought I was somehow tricking my professors. When I landed internships and part-time jobs, I thought I'd somehow talked my way into something I didn't deserve. But when I got C's on my geology or statistics exams, that felt appropriate and deserved (hey, turns out I'm just not good at geology or statistics). 

I eventually made it out of there and I graduated a semester early, with honors — in fact, I had a 4.0 my final semester. Somehow I still have nightmares to this day, more than three years later, that they'll call me up and tell me that they screwed up, and I actually never had the credits to graduate. 

Every job I've ever gotten has come with a few days (sometimes weeks or months) of disbelief. After all, job applications are just curated versions of ourselves we choose to present to the world, right? We show our potential employers the best possible versions of ourselves we can create: The hard workers, the talented writers and thinkers, the organized and mature adults. We smile through job interviews, say all the right things and land the job. It's not because we deserve it — it's because we're good at faking it. Or at least I feel that way.

Some experts suggest impostor syndrome may have its roots in childhood. For example, getting too many participating trophies or undeserved praise as a kid can make us really screwed up as adults when we don't get that type of recognition. Or, on the flip side, too little praise as a kid can screw us up, too. I don't think either of those are at the root of my impostor syndrome. I think it's simply because I've never wanted to come off as cocky. And for some reason, my brain has a hard time making the distinction between being proud and being an asshole.

The past month or so, I've been feeling really good at work. I've been there for about five months now and I'm really hitting a stride — I'm working on projects I'm proud of, I'm writing a lot and I have good relationships with my coworkers and bosses, who frequently praise my work. But those feelings of fraud still remain. Every time I publish a story I've written, I think about the various ways somebody could pick it apart, even if there's virtually nothing wrong with it. It's a thought pattern that becomes dangerous and exhausting, and my anxiety really likes to take it and run with it. In short, I'm sick of it and I'm ready to give it up.

I've made a lot of progress wrangling my demons since I started going to therapy three months ago, so this is the next thing I'm taking on. I've come up with a few things to tell myself when the "I'm a hack" feelings start creeping up. Maybe they'll help you, too, if you're experiencing self-doubt: You deserve to be here. You were chosen to be here because you are good at what you do. These people care about you and would not lie to you. When somebody praises you, say "thank you" instead of making excuses or telling them why they're wrong.

Or, you know, as Viola would say:

I’m doing a Whole30 in February to reset my eating habits — here’s why

I'm a little late in posting this, but I'm currently six days in to my first Whole30. Other than some frustration about the lack of coffee creamer in my life, I'm feeling pretty good! I'm blogging about my experience for work, over at Relish Austin on Austin360. You can read an excerpt from the blog about why I'm doing the Whole30 below, and read the whole thing here


I’ve always loved food. I grew up here in Central Texas with my dad, who makes the best burgers, steaks, spaghetti and “homemade Hamburger Helper” (as we called it) I’ve ever eaten. It’s probably no surprise that as a nerdy, quiet girl who wasn’t good at sports and loved her dad’s homemade hearty meals, I was more than a little overweight as a kid – at least up until middle school, when I joined athletics and lost all the baby fat. From that day on, I was able to inhale Whataburger and Chick-Fil-A and Taco Bell to my heart’s content and not gain an ounce.

That all changed last year, when I gained an unexpected 30-plus pounds for reasons I still can’t really put my finger on. It probably had something to do with the fact that I was going through an earth-shattering breakup, during which I was diagnosed with depression and discovered that apparently I take comfort food to a whole other level when I’ve got the blues. It also probably has something to do with the fact that I’m not exactly a teenager anymore and my metabolism chose this time to turn on me. But regardless of reasons, the weight’s still there. And it’s been…weighing on me (weak, I know. Sorry).

So, when my friend Melanie told me she lost 12 pounds in November doing this fancy “Whole30” thing I’ve heard some people talk about before, I jumped on board. I kept picturing myself at my high school best friend’s wedding coming up this April, the fabric of the size 10 dress I’d ordered engulfing me and all the weight I’d lost. I got kind of obsessed.

Then I started reading more about the Whole30. It’s more than weight loss. It’s a total lifestyle change. 

Read the rest of this story at Austin360.com

Thirty pounds.

That's how much weight I've gained in the last year. I don't recognize myself when I look in the mirror, or when I look back at photos from a year ago. None of my clothes fit anymore. I can barely stand to open my closet door and look at the thousands of dollars worth of beautiful clothes that I can't wear.

I mean it when I say I don't know what happened. It felt like I woke up one morning and the jeans I wore the day before no longer slid up past my thighs. There was one day I broke down crying in the bathroom at my grandmother's house because I had to go to my cousin's volleyball game and I didn't have any clothes that fit me. She cried with me.

I mean it when I say I don't know what happened, but I do know that depression is a cold-hearted bitch. It takes and takes and takes from you until you think it can't anymore, and then somehow it takes some more.

So really, I do know what happened.

When life as I knew it fell to pieces last year, I stopped taking care of myself. I got drunk every day. There was one night in January a friend dropped me off at home after a night at so many bars I couldn't keep track when I drunkenly realized I had lost my keys. I had locked myself out of my apartment. I became hysterical. I called my dad and woke him up because he had my spare. Before he got there, I continued to wander around my apartment complex, wondering where I'd lost my keys. I found them in the parking lot — I must have dropped them either when my friend had picked me up or when he had dropped me off. I ran back to my apartment and I fell going up the stairs. I fell so hard I still have nerve damage in my knee a year later. My dad and his girlfriend still drove all the way to Austin at 3 a.m. and comforted me as I cried off the after-effects of a panic attack. They slept on my couches and stayed with me the next day to make sure I was OK. I wasn't. I stayed home from work for the next few days, ashamed of myself. I had hit rock bottom. 

Thirty pounds. That's what drinking every night did to me. That's what happened when I stopped working out daily, stopped paying attention to what I ate, started sleeping too much.

IMG_0692.jpg

I made a bad joke to a friend the other day about how I wished I was one of those people whose depression made them stop eating instead of start overeating, because joking is one way to cope when things feel bleak. But it only works for so long until you realize you have to wake the fuck up and do something.

My boyfriend, Jared, and I have gotten into several fights about my fitness and healthy eating routine (or lack thereof) since we started dating in July. He's a really healthy eater, he stays very active and he really takes care of himself and his body. His discipline is unreal, and I'm jealous of it. He doesn't want me to lose weight — I would "boy, bye" him in like .05 seconds flat if he tried to come at me with that mess — but he knows I haven't been taking care of myself, and he hates it. He wants me to be happy and healthy as I can be — that's love, y'all. But I'm not always good at taking criticism, even when it's constructive criticism. I've never been great at handling a situation when I feel like somebody's telling me what to do. So he's been patient as he waited for me to realize that he was right all along (he was, of course). 

Losing weight is everyone's number one new year's resolution, right? I felt really cliche when I kept telling people I was trying to work out and eat better in the new year. But these thirty pounds and I have some work to do.

I'm not saying I want to lose all thirty pounds. I've never been naturally "thin" and over the years I've come to love my curves. Also, as my doctor reminded me when I went in for some routine blood testing a few months ago, I don't exactly have a teenager's metabolism anymore. I may not ever fit back into those size twos again, and that's fine with me. 

Since January 1, I've been working out (I joined a fitness challenge at a local barre studio, and I'm obsessed) and eating well (I'm beginning to realize I actually like to cook!) and I've been feeling better physically and mentally this month than I have in more than a year. It's amazing what taking care of your body can do for your brain!

I was really hesitant about sharing the exact details of my weight gain with the world, as weight has always been one of those things women "aren't supposed" to talk about. But despite my fitness goals (for example, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't buy new clothes this year until I drop a size), my number one resolution for 2017 is honesty. I'd like to be more honest with myself and with the people around me, so I'm posting that embarrassingly large number on the scale for everyone to see. And you know what? It's going to feel even sweeter when we can watch that number drop together.

Stop doing things you don't like

I keep a pretty detailed bullet journal. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's basically a little notebook I carry around with me 24/7, and it's a combination of a calendar, a to-do list and a journal (if you're interested, I can do a post explaining how I use it!). Last week, on a day I found myself particularly frustrated with some of my interpersonal relationships, I wrote, "Stop saying 'yes' to things — and people — you don't like" on that day's page in the journal.

I've mentioned before that I recently started going to therapy. One of the things my therapist Sarah and I discussed just before the holidays is my apparent discomfort with the word "no." I was talking to her about a recent spat I had with some friends after I bailed on lunch plans we'd made because I was feeling really overwhelmed with all the things I needed to get done that day, and I simply had to wipe my calendar. We got into a bit of an argument afterward, which left me feeling really bad — and sad — the entire rest of the day. This led Sarah to ask me why I felt like I'd needed to say yes to these lunch plans in the first place, when I knew I had so many things to do that day and was probably going to end up canceling the plans. I didn't have an answer for her.

I think a lot of people are afraid of the word "no." We don't like to say it and we don't like to hear it. We plan our lives around avoiding it. Many of us would rather lie to our friends or make excuses for why we can't do something instead of just telling the truth. We're afraid of disappointing people. I also think we're afraid of disappointing ourselves. Saying "no" to something means we're admitting maybe we aren't the people we pretend to be on social media. We're not necessarily the fun-loving, spontaneous, mysterious creatures who have dozens of friends and never get tired of hanging out with them. 

One thing Sarah always mentions is self awareness. If I was self aware enough to know I wasn't prepared for that lunch with those friends, then it was healthy for me to be honest with myself and them about not being able to make it. If I had gone, I would have probably expended the very little energy I had on that gathering, and it would've thrown me off for days, maybe even all week. And I knew that, so I said no. It ended poorly and led to a disagreement, but I'm still glad I did it. 

And that's the thing about "no." It's not a negative word. It can be a really positive, freeing one. It can mean that you're being honest with yourself and the people you love. It can mean you're taking care of yourself, which is something so few of us actually take time to do. 

Recently, I invited my friend Vicki to a Christmas party I was throwing at my apartment. She lives in Dallas, and I'm in Austin. She messaged me after she got the Facebook invite, saying that she would come to my party, but she had just read Shonda Rhimes "Year of Yes" and she decided to have her "Year of No." I laughed, but I'm with her. I haven't read the book yet, but a "year of yes" sounds exhausting. So here's to 2017, the Year of No.

The scribbled note in the aforementioned bullet journal.

The scribbled note in the aforementioned bullet journal.

Link love: What I'm reading | Jan. 8, 2017

With it being the first week of the year, I've scrolled through so many "Here's why you should _______ in 2017" articles, I don't know WHAT I'm supposed to spend my year doing (but it's not like I've ever been much for people telling me what to do, anyway). 

As somebody whose job it is to literally read articles all day long (how did I end up with this job?!) I consume a lot of content on a daily basis, and even more junk ends up under my saved articles on Facebook. 

Here's what's been catching my eye and turnin' those wheels this week.

What I'm reading

How I Used Meditation To Turn My Life Around | Motto 
I've read this article before, but they pushed it out on social media again this week, and I'm super grateful they did. I'll be the first to admit that I've tried meditation a billion times and oh boy, am I bad at it. I have what the Buddhists call "monkey mind" which basically just means I can't turn the thing off. But this article changed the way I think about my monkey mind. At one point, the author writes, "I realized that meditation wasn’t about trying to control my mind; it was a time to just allow whatever was going on in my mind to just be." And that's something I'd like to have more of in my life: Instead of trying to push negative thoughts out of my mind, I'd like to learn how to accept them, to acknowledge that they exist, to hold them briefly and then let them float down the river far, far away from me. (Related link: I've also been thinking a lot about this New York Times article about conquering negative thinking. Same idea!) 

Where Everybody Knows Your Name | Texas Monthly
One important thing to know about me: I prefer a dingy dive to a bougie cocktail bar any damn day of the week. I've been known to ask friends to take me to the most poorly lit, run-down bar they can think of. You know the kind I'm talking about: Mismatched furniture, they may not even take credit cards (and their jukebox sure doesn't — oh yeah, and they have a jukebox) and a few regulars who will talk your ear off the second you open your mouth. Maybe it's my small-town Texas roots that make me love places like this — they remind me of home — or maybe I'm just not a $14 cocktail type of girl, but this list of the best dives in Texas made me want to hit the road and visit them all. Oh, and my favorite bar in Austin is on the list: Deep Eddy Cabaret. They've got the best jukebox in town.

A Stanford University psychologist's elegant three-step method for creating new habits | Quartz
"They" say it takes 21 days to form a habit. I think that's BS, because it can take one day to break that habit you worked so hard on for nearly a month, and then you'll have nothing to show for it. The program this Stanford researcher developed only takes five days, which is way more my speed (#commitmentphobe), and the thought process behind it is appealing: Train your brain to succeed at small adjustments, which in turn gives you confidence for the big adjustments, and voila! You have a habit.

Inside the Life of John Prine, the Mark Twain of American songwriting | Rolling Stone
Another thing to know about me: In another life, a long long time ago, I wanted to write features like this one for Rolling Stone. So when one crops up on my Twitter timeline about one of my favorite songwriters of all time, you know I'm gonna drop everything to read that bad boy. John Prine makes me think about my dad for so many reasons, but mainly because I'll never forget the way my dad giggled when he first played "In Spite Of Ourselves" for me in his truck, and the way we both laughed through the song's lyrics about drinking beer and and putting ketchup on scrambled eggs. Prine is witty and he finds joy in the little things, which also reminds me of my dad. I was smiling the entire time I read this.

The 1 Book You Must Read to Become a Better Writer in 2017 | Inc
While we're talking about my dad, let me tell you the one thing he's told me more than anything else in my life: "You should write a book." Like it's just that simple. No problem! Let me just write a book. I've had stories floating around in my head for most of my life: My stories, other people's stories, stories I made up out of thin air, daydreams. I figure it's about time I finally start trying to figure out what I would even write about, which is part of the reason I'm even writing this right now. So, this one's for you, Dad. I've now resorted to reading books about writing just so I can figure out how (and what) the hell to write in the first place.

One more thing

Back in 2012, writer and wonderful human Neil Gaiman gave a commencement speech at Philadelphia's University of the Arts. Before he wrote so many wonderful stories, he was a journalist. He says he became a journalist "because journalists are allowed to ask questions, and to simply go and find out how the world works" which I identify with on a spiritual level.

For a long time, I thought I couldn't be a journalist and be creative. I thought journalists simply reported straightforward facts. There was no artistry there. I had to choose one or the other. I was wrong for so many reasons, and this speech was one of the things that helped me realize that. 

For Christmas, my dad got me a book version of Gaiman's speech, beautifully designed. I found myself flipping through it yesterday, stopping at the "make good art" part, as I often do.

I also used to think that I could only "make art" when I was in the throes of depression. When I had been dumped, or snubbed by a friend or family member, that was when I felt like writing. Not when I was feeling good. When I was happy, I often shook my fist at the sky, wondering why I couldn't string any good words together. Turns out, a lot of the things I used to think are wrong.

So I'll leave you with this, courtesy of my man Neil:

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art. I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art. Make it on the good days too.

Staying afloat

This post was originally published on on Medium on Dec. 31, 2016.

*Trigger warning—this post contains anecdotes about depression, anxiety and suicide. Proceed at your own risk.*

A year ago today, I was sitting in a different apartment, on a different couch, with a different man. Staring at a different computer screen, with a different show playing on a different television. I had a different job. A different life.

They say what you’re doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve is what you’ll spend your year doing. Last year, I was on that couch, with that man, with that life.

On the first day of 2016, the year I welcomed with open arms, full of possibility, we awoke to the news that my boyfriend’s grandfather had shot himself. He was dead, almost exactly two months after my boyfriend’s older brother had taken his own life in the same manner.

We laughed when we got the news. It wasn’t funny, not remotely. But on the first day of 2016, I learned that right when you start to think, “At least it can’t get worse,” it can. It always can.

Seven days later, he left me. He loaded up a Budget truck full of all of his earthly belongings and he drove to South Dakota. I was wearing his T-shirt; he was wearing a down vest I’d gotten him for his birthday the month before. It’s how I’ll always remember him — bags under his bloodshot eyes, ragged like a man who’d lost everything. He had. And I was about to lose everything, too.

It was all I could do to resist running after the truck as he drove away from the home we’d shared. I didn’t go back inside. I couldn’t. I went to work. I cried in the bathroom. I called him on my lunch break. He was in Dallas. It seemed unbelievable that he was somehow still in my state, when it felt like he’d been gone for months, not hours. We tried to make our long-distance love work, but it didn’t. It was cursed from the day he left. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Two broken people don’t make a whole.

The spring was a blur. All I wanted to do was stay in bed. I did, but I was rarely alone. I found comfort in a man I’ve known since I was a teenager. My phone would ring with his photo on it, and my heart would leap. I hadn’t thought that would happen for me. Not again, not this soon.

I landed my dream job in April, somehow, between hangovers. I thought everything would change.

It did, but not in the way I thought. The man I’d fallen for had not fallen for me. I would say we broke up, but there was nothing there to break.

My new job allowed me to work from home. At one point, I went five days without showering or changing out of the same ratty pair of pajama pants.

I realized, for the first time in my life, that I was depressed. I laughed out loud when the thought hit me. It was ironic. The man I’d loved, the one who had left me, was chronically depressed, and for two years I struggled with finding empathy for his fight with a disease I couldn’t understand. I laughed because I finally understood. I cried because I finally understood. I cried because I missed him, my whole body missed him. I physically ached for him, the man I thought I’d spend my life with, who was now a stranger.

It was summertime. I met someone. It was terrifying. It was easy. He changed everything. I moved into a new apartment and shed my skin. I started anew. He held the broken parts of me in his hands, breathed new life into them.

Two days after my 25th birthday came the layoffs. I was one of them. Just when everything had begun to come together, I fell apart again. Even after I found a new job, I mourned the old one. I struggled to pay my bills. Everyone parroted how lucky I was to have found a new job so soon. I didn’t feel lucky. I still felt broken.

At least it can’t get worse, I thought.

During my second week at my new job, he showed up. The one who’d left me nine months before. He was in the parking lot, asking for some old T-shirts of his I’d kept and meant to mail to him but never did. He was back. He was here. He was in front of me. We talked. He hugged me. I remember none of it. I threw up in a trash can in the parking lot at my new job. I threw up in the bathroom at my new job.

The old wounds were torn open, violently. I began flaking on social events, on friends, on my new boyfriend. I was terrified of the world and what it held next. So I stayed in bed, alone, leaving only to go to work. I was afraid of everything. I couldn’t bear to think of what could happen next.

I started going to therapy. I started sharing my fears with a total stranger, and that made me feel brave enough to share them with my friends. I apologized for who I’d become, this person who was too afraid to put on clothes and face the world. Some understood. Some didn’t. I healed, ever so slightly. Honesty makes you see the world in new ways.

I am still afraid of everything, but perhaps less so. I have stopped convincing myself that it can’t get any worse, because I know that it can. I think perhaps it will, and I can only hope that I will be better equipped to handle it next time.

This has been the most difficult year of my life. But it’s also brought me great joy. Just when I thought it would never happen, I found someone I can truly call a partner. I’ve lost friendships but strengthened others. I have been so very loved, even when I felt my most alone.

I have spent most of this year mere seconds away from drowning, but I stayed afloat. Sometimes that’s enough. I’m still fighting. I hope you are, too.

(P.S. This thing from Rupi Kaur helped me, and her book “Milk and Honey” changed my life this year. Also, I was inspired to share this very personal tale today because of this thread on Twitter from Chris Jones.)

Image via Rupi Kaur on Facebook

Image via Rupi Kaur on Facebook

P.P.S. If you feel you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It is a free, 24-hour hotline, at 1.800.273.TALK (8255).

If you live in the Austin area and are looking for therapy services, I highly recommend Alive Austin. They will connect you with a therapist they feel will best suit your needs mentally, emotionally and financially. They are truly amazing people who do amazing work.

 

Living deliberately: About the launch of this blog and living with intention

So, this is new.

As a lifelong writer, reader and producer of #content, I've launched probably a dozen blogs in my lifetime, each with different intentions and themes, a few with a variation on the same name: Living deliberately.

That phrase pops into my head often, ever since I visited Walden Pond a few years ago and I saw this sign with a quote by the man Henry David Thoreau himself:

I was 19 then, and I didn't think much about what the quote meant. "Living deliberately" meant nothing to me at the time, I was just fascinated by the idea that this dude went and hung out in the woods for a while. Didn't he get bored? A life in the woods sounds lonely.

Since I saw that sign six years ago, I've questioned myself. What does it mean to "live deliberately" and how do I learn to do all things with intention? How do I set goals for myself each day and actually achieve them? More importantly, how do I live without guilt when I inevitably don't achieve those goals? How do I regain control of the thoughts that fill my mind, the habits that fill my day, and the people that fill my life?

Well, here's the entirety of that Thoreau quote from the sign:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms...”

At the end of 2016, I found myself run down and exhausted, ensnared in the clutches of clinical depression and high-functioning anxiety. I felt like a broken boomerang. Somebody had thrown me into the wind with the expectation that I'd make my way back eventually, but we were both starting to figure out that maybe I wouldn't. I was hurtling through time and space with no direction and no safe landing.

So I began thinking about this quote again — this whole idea of "living deliberately" — and even though I generally shy away from making new year's resolutions, I thought the dawn of a new year was as good a time as any to try to muddle my way through figuring some of this stuff out. 

I don't have all the answers, if that's what you're looking for here. I fully expect that 365 days from now, I'll be sitting at this same desk, staring at this same laptop, wondering how to better my life. But that's the beautiful thing about being human, right? We're constantly trying to better ourselves. We have the gift of complex thought and self awareness, and we can choose to be or do whatever we want. And we have the ability to fail, epically and painfully and viciously, in ways we think we can't bounce back from. But we do bounce back, even if it's not in the ways we expect. Boomerangs return, eventually.

And that's what this blog is about. It's about learning to live with intention. It's about life with depression and anxiety. It's about a girl in her mid-20s trying to figure this big damn world out. It's about living and loving and traveling and reading, and sometimes failing (okay, OFTEN failing) and figuring out how all of that fits into daily life.

This whole thing is scary, but let's do it, shall we?

 

 

The 5 best books I read in 2016

I made a Goodreads pledge to read 65 books this year, as I managed to read upwards of 50 last year. That didn’t happen, for various reasons, but I still managed to find time to fall in love with a few good’uns. Not all of these were published this year, but these were the ones that resonated with me the most.

5. The Girls, Emma Cline

As someone who’s been eerily obsessed with Charles Manson and his cult following for several years, the moment I read the description for this novel, I knew I would love it. My main gripe with this novel was that it followed the Manson storyline almost too closely, in the sense that it felt a little unoriginal, but the fact that it was from the viewpoint of the girls who followed the charismatic cult leader gave it new life. I’ve found myself thinking of this book often, and fondly.

4. The Sun is Also A Star, Nicola Yoon

I read this late in the year, just two weeks ago, but it mirrors a thought I’ve been having frequently this year: The number of things that have to go exactly right for something to happen — from something as big as the universe’s formation to as small as getting the good parking spot at work. I’ve seen a pattern in my adult life as I begin to read more YA novels that tackle big topics such as this that leave my head spinning. I’ve been thinking about the line “Everything looks like chaos up close” for nearly two weeks now, and I still can’t shake it.

3. Home is Burning, Dan Marshall

This book positively gutted me. I haven’t wept this openly while reading a book in recent memory, and unfortunately for those around me, I read this one on a plane. It was crude and honest in a way that no book about loss and grief has ever truly represented in a way I could identify with. Many griped about Dan Marshall’s immature response to both of his parents being diagnosed with chronic illnesses, but to me it perfectly depicted life’s messiness. Nobody’s response to grief is ever perfect. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with your life being flipped upside down. This book reminded me of that.

2. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff

I loved the sheer depth of this story, and the layers of stories beneath it. A beautiful reminder that life is rarely simple, and the people who surround us are complex and imperfect and messy.

1. Milk and Honey, Rupi Kaur

Of all the books I purchased this year, this is the one I’ve found myself returning to repeatedly, dog-earing pages and marking with Post-It notes. I went through the most traumatic breakup of my life this year, and I sat wallowing in grief at my grandparents’ New England home this spring when I first opened this book. The words on every page are different, but I kept seeing one message leap out at me: You are not alone.

P.S. This blog was originally posted on Medium.