Chicago

To my former [18-year-old] self

This post has been a long time coming.

472694_3687763240026_1411090358_o459722_3464858187539_978710585_o292279_3596446157747_1345786181_n

Its hard to believe that five years separate me from the person in these pictures. I guess it isn’t so crazy, though, when I think of everything that has happened since then.

I’ve graduated college, traveled abroad, shared an apartment with my boyfriend (of almost four years!!), and started graduate school. I’ve also lost countless loved ones, been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and ADHD, and dealt with losing close friends. Nevertheless, when I look at these photographs I can’t help but wish that I could have known everything I know now and feel bad that I can’t do anything to fix it.

There are many things I’d want to say, but here are some of the big ones:

  1. You are not flawed and you are not insane. That constant blanket of the ‘blues’ that covers every moment of your day-to-day? That’s depression. No, that feeling is not normal, but it can be treated. Talk to your parents, they love you and will understand. You won’t need to battle with your emotions alone anymore. That tingly warm feeling you get all over sometimes, where your skin starts to feel numb and prickly all at the same time and your chest feels heavy and crowded? That’s anxiety. Yes, you have that, too. Sucks. I know. Look into relaxation techniques. Lay off the caffeine. Again, talk to your parents. Life shouldn’t be so painfully stressful, you’re only 18. You’re probably thinking everything is okay because you’re on the Honor Roll and take AP classes, right? Wrong. Your ‘study’ habits won’t fly in college. Things are going to get harder and there are going to be myriad distractions on campus. Oh, that’s right… Your inattentiveness, untidiness, and short temper? That’s ADHD. All of it. Yep. I know. I’m sorry you were so good at hiding those symptoms after being disciplined for talking in class all those times in kindergarten. There’s not really time to learn how to change these habits and behaviors now…but there’s a way to fix this, too. Above all, these are your body and brain’s way of warning you that something is wrong. However, they are not indications of lower worth, ability, or mental stability. You are okay. You are going to be okay. Please talk to someone.
  2. You’re beautiful. No, catcalls and the number of people who grind with you at dances are not indications of your self-worth nor your attractiveness. Also, those things will get really old once you realize that you’re not ugly. People suck and you just have one of those faces that draws in street harassment. I’m sorry. Back to you … People are fucking mean in high school. Whether they’re jealous, battling their own demons, or cold-hearted. Don’t listen to them – or at least listen more closely to those who are lifting you up. Confidence is NOT a bad thing. I know you’ve been told throughout your life that confident women and girls are bitches, bossy, or stuck-up — that’s all part of gender socialization. You’ll learn about that soon. Smash the patriarchy, too, if you can… But above all, don’t listen to B. (the one who called you E.T. – every day) on the bus. What a lame insult honestly – at least use a movie people our age watch. Also, do NOT use Formspring. Oh wait, that happened in high school. Sorry I’m too late. Either way, if it matters, you’re beautiful.
  3. Stop chasing boys who do not love you. You can’t make them love you. Also, stop investing more time and energy into potential relationships when you’re not receiving any in return (more on this later). You’re going to meet this amazing guy very soon. When? Well, if I told you then everything might change. But I will say that he loves and respects you more than you have ever loved and respected yourself and he will help you in so many ways. He’s a really good person and your whole family approves. I guess my best advice is – you haven’t seen the last of M., but give him a second-chance (NOT in that way) and you won’t be disappointed. Also, you probably want to be a little more reckless your freshman year. P., N., and M. do NOT like you back and it is a total waste of time. Also D., stay away from D. Be patient — he is worth the wait.
  4. Manage your savings better. Experiences are more important than things. You don’t need to spend so much money and someday you’ll understand this, but for now, make sure you have about three thousand saved up for spring of your sophomore year. You’re going to blow your whole savings – but it’ll be amazing and a once in a lifetime opportunity. Also, you’ll probably have to learn some Italian.
  5. Keep in contact with your loved ones and never hesitate to express your love for them. This is one of my biggest regrets. Shit happens in life – unexpectedly and inconveniently – and you’re going to have half a dozen brushes with death by the time you write this blog post. Don’t worry, “he” and your parents are fine. But still. Be mindful of your impact on others as much as you are of theirs on you. Forgive quickly, forget sometimes (if necessary). Things are going to get really hard for you and you’re not going to know how to handle it. The last time a loved one died, you shirked the real writing assignment and turned in an essay (with a construction paper backing) on your dead cat. You still aced it, but that’s exactly what I mean. You could be in a grocery store and see an owl cookie jar and start sobbing – prepare yourself. (This didn’t happen…but almost)
  6. WORK OUT. Endorphins, energy, and (more) eating are the three benefits that are probably the most relevant to you. Sure its cool to have an amazing metabolism and eat whatever you want, but guess what? That’s going to change – FAST. Also, Chili’s basically serves junk food. Junk food is not real food. Eat sparingly. Pay attention – I’m serious. But yeah, if you’re bored please go run a lap around the block or something.
  7. Friendship breakups suck, but you have to move on. They did. This brings us back to the investment part I talked about earlier. You’re an extremely loyal and loving friend — which is to be celebrated. But you know what happens to those people? They get dumped. Unexpectedly. Harshly. Unfairly. And there is absolutely nothing to do to avoid this. It’s going to happen. Two to three times if I remember properly. Yes, even that friend you defended freshman year – she’s going to dump you, too. For someone you introduced her to. Sucks, don’t it? Don’t be like them – but move on like them. They don’t care anymore, I know you’re sentimental, but fuck them. Also, stop sub-tweeting. Its not cool. Break (and recycle) a glass bottle for catharsis. Or write a blog post I guess. They’re probably going to read it – but they moved on, so who cares, remember?
  8. BEING SMART IS COOL. Fucking patriarchy strikes again. Stop pretending you don’t understand things or letting someone else answer questions in class. You’re intelligent as hell. Brag. Yes, I am telling you to brag more. Us adults call it networking. Although I’m not sure how the 34 on the ACT is going to be helpful. Sorry. I’m still proud of you, though. That’s not the last standardized test you’re going to see either. (Oops. I think I said too much.) Also, your major is totally going to change. Roll with it.
  9. Boys Like Girls is going to break up or morph or I don’t even know…sorry. Not much to say about this one. Just thought you should know.
  10. You still haven’t been on Big Brother. That pipe dream isn’t really cohesive with your current living situation. Maybe they’ll do a Big Brother reboot when you’re like 40 and then you can try out? Julie’s still beautiful, too. Ugh.
  11. You’re going to get burnt out. A lot. This is okay. You care about things. Possibly too much. What isn’t okay is that you don’t learn from it. Breathe, assess, exercise self-care (this does NOT mean alcohol or food), take a time out even. Life is going to keep happening – but this is a necessary step. Learn from your mistakes and your failures. Even success can be stressful. You are too smart and too kind to live life in a constant state of war. It doesn’t have to be about to-do lists, deadlines, and ‘being productive’. Who gives a damn if you are productive on a sunny Sunday in July OTHER THAN YOU? No one. So please, take a break sometimes. Life is not measured in how much labor you suck out of every second of every day. Slow down.

All in all, I am a much better person today because of what I have been through. I’m still learning and I don’t see that ever changing. I’m unhappy with how I have handled a lot of things in life, but I’m going to try to fix them moving forward. This is why it is important to sit down and think about what you would tell your former self sometimes. Its insane to think that I truly knew NOTHING in 2012 – and I’ll bet my future self in 2022 thinks the same of me now.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self?

 

 

X

 

Danielle

Advertisements
Chicago

Dandelion

It has taken me years to get back on my feet after being diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and ADHD during my freshman year of college. I remember how surreal it felt to know that my life wasn’t the way it should be. Finally, someone could put a label on the complicated mess of feelings, somatic symptoms, and obstacles I had dealt with for the better part of my childhood and adolescence.

All it would take to feel better was medication and scheduled therapy, so they said. So for a year and a half I played the game (so to speak), taking the lowest possible dose of Zoloft plus Ritalin (“as needed”) and went to see a psychologist weekly (sometimes biweekly).

I was ecstatic because I would finally see how it felt to be “normal” and “happy”. Just like someone who suffers from physical illness or disorder, I dreamed of being ‘cured’ and knowing what it would feel like to have optimal mental health.

Nevertheless, this system worked for a while until it started to dawn on me that my new Zoloft-fueled feelings weren’t authentic. Perhaps I wasn’t bothered by Amy* sleeping with a guy I liked because it really was no big deal, rather than an inability to feel anger due to the medication I was taking.

As a result, I started to question my reality. 

I explained my apprehension towards continuing to take Zoloft to my psychologist and we made a plan to wean me off of it. I didn’t experience similar adverse effects with Ritalin, so I chose to remain on that medication.

A couple months after I stopped taking Zoloft, once the nasty side effects ceased, I felt like new again. Of course, I was a bit more emotional (maybe even irrational at times), but I finally felt real. I relished the fact that I could feel anger, sadness, and all kinds of emotions when they were warranted, as opposed to making cognitive assessments of the appropriateness of said emotions in a given context. This new normal seemed to work for me.

Over time, I stopped seeing my psychologist, too. At first, I made excuses about time, money, and whatever else. I cancelled more appointments than I kept. Finally, I convinced myself that I could be okay on my own. I manipulated myself into believing that my depression was transient. I was free. Cured.

The stigma associated with mental illness provoked me to escape – at all costs – from any aspect of having one. Rather than call my psychologist to schedule an appointment, I would bottle up my feelings. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I would take my anger and frustration out on those around me (my parents, Luke, and even myself).

When I gained 20 pounds, I used it as ammunition for blaming myself for any problems I experienced. (“Oh, your friends didn’t invite you out because you’re ugly now”) I became the self-destructive person I always had been, but all the more dangerous because I falsely believed that those experiences were all behind me. I thought that my renewed depressive and anxious episodes were something that resembled “normal” anxiety and sadness.

I listened time and again to people around me talk down about mental illness. I even mentally victim-blamed others like myself who suffer from real and dangerous mental illness (and disorder), labelling them as weak or whiney. I knew that I fit those descriptors, too…but I was more focused on distancing myself from that stigma than being true to my own beliefs.

Rather than become an advocate for myself (and others) by speaking out and getting the help I needed – even if that meant budgeting time and money to do so – I internalized all the negative energy and experiences. This process intensified over the last 6-7 months.

Before my diagnoses, I tricked myself for over 6 years into believing that this is just the way life is: daily panic attacks, tears, and anxiety about my social and emotional well-being. I accepted a less than enjoyable life under the premise that everyone lives this way and that those who don’t vocalize their problems (like I do) are just “bigger people” because they can accept these feelings and still be able to function.

In the past 9-12 months, I’ve reverted to that lifestyle. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror anymore. Sure, I own my successes and I recognize my failures, but I don’t feel like a participant in my own life. I’m a spectator, along for the ride. Bumps included.

I stopped living for me and started living for others. I inquired about others’ lives and reached out more than I had before. I thought that the perceived decline in my social life might be due to being introverted or having a tendency to self-isolate.

Once I reached out, I was able to make plans and have something fun to do almost every weekend. It was exciting to want to socialize and to have access to as much as I wanted.

Despite my efforts, things turned sour at the beginning of this school year. I became a burden, an annoyance, a friend who needed to be coddled and reassured of their worth. I recognized that my “normal” mask wasn’t doing its job. People could tell that I wasn’t happy-go-lucky and fun-loving all the time. I’ve realized that people don’t want to be around someone who can’t pretend to be those things.  

But I tried to make things work. I backed off a bit, thinking I may have came off too strong. I stopped asking about others and waited for them to come to me. When I felt excluded, I avoided bringing it up. Except no one seemed to notice and I felt an even deeper need to be included. I was hurting myself more and more each day by trying to be a more perfect image of the type of friend I thought others wanted to have.

So, I tried to re-evaluate if I had done or said something wrong. I thought that maybe I might be to blame for my problems. In effect, I gaslighted myself. I criticized my own thinking, deciding that I was being either irrational or foolish and not intuitive or perceptive (as I had previously thought). I began to question my reality (again). I didn’t trust my own assessments of things, consistently asking for others to weigh in on a situation and tell me what they thought was real.

At times I would make sure that everything was okay and would be reassured that it was. This fueled my thought processes, further confusing my conception of what was really going on in my life. But asking for reassurance never fixed the problem. It never made me feel more secure, happier, or loved. Nevertheless, I bit my tongue and continued to go to events (when I was invited) and reaching out in order to maintain friendships and relationships.


In the last month, my creeping suspicions arose again. In a sense, I am a dandelion. 

Sure, some people can see past the fact that dandelions are weeds and even find beauty in them…but no one would really miss them if they weren’t there. They’re a nuisance, even.

It dawned on me that the only reason communication was intact between myself and others was because I continued to reach out and start conversations. Here I was, bright yellow and ever-present — asking for someone to pick me, to choose me, to prefer me. I became infuriated when I was passed over for the red roses in my life. Red roses are inviting, have apparent beauty, and seem to say “pick me, you won’t be disappointed”. But unlike dandelions, red roses can hurt you because beneath their facade hide sharp thorns. Red roses, unlike dandelions, hold power over others. Try as I might, my attempts to be empowered resulted in others holding power over me.

As a dandelion, I spent so much time making myself accessible and available that I didn’t realize that I had lost my appeal. I wasn’t a red rose. I didn’t think I even wanted to be a red rose. But I was jealous of them. I wanted someone to see me, as I was, and recognize how dependable and loving I could be. However, my best qualities weren’t displayed on the surface, but rather were integral to my character. Unless someone takes the effort to really appreciate them, no matter how hard a dandelion tries, it will only ever amount to a child’s disposable flower crown (at best) – essentially, dandelions are perceived as replaceable.


I don’t want to change who I am, but I sure as hell don’t want to be in my current position either. I have seen how it feels to be a dandelion and I will remember to appreciate the dandelions in my life. I have also seen how I can be fooled by my own intuition whether it relates to my self-concept, my reality, or my relationships. Moving forward, I choose to believe in me before I believe in what others tell me. 


I’m tired of expressing how I feel only to be gaslighted or forced to apologize for my words.    I was raised to advocate for myself and that quality had been all but stamped out after years of being told I am “too emotional” “dramatic” or “overly sensitive”.

No matter what someone tells you, it is imperative that you own your truth and recognize that both you and your feelings are valid.

I’m tired of waiting. Waiting for someone else to text me first, to invite me out first, or to post an Instagram collage on my birthday when I did the same for them. While seemingly minor, these experiences add up over time and contribute to a sense of worthlessness. I have lost my patience because I have waited too long for reciprocal acknowledgment. I am exhausted because I have given so much but the result has been a net loss.

The bottom line is that I simply do not have the energy to reassure myself that my friendship with someone else is healthy and nourished. I need something in return, some evidence that I am not the only one who cares. I need proof that I am appreciated in spite of being a dandelion.


What’s worse, I’ve run out of ways to solve this conundrum. I am stuck.

I can’t express how I feel, because I know how that ends.

I can’t wait for others to notice that I’m gone from their lives, because I’m only hurting myself by letting them continue to treat me like a weed.

And I can’t just move on, because I do love and cherish these relationships. I invested so much time and energy into these relationships that I simply can’t go without something in return.

I’m left with several questions: Does anyone care? Does it matter that I’m losing my will to withstand and my ability to grow? Will anyone recognize that they’ve done me wrong? Will they admit to lying by omission, not appreciating my presence, and allowing me to recognize that I’m simply a weed and nothing more?

History tells me the answer to all these questions. I pray that somehow I’m wrong.


I hope that by writing about my experience I can remind others (and myself) about the dangers of relinquishing control of your own truth to others around you. The important thing is that I have learned a few lessons through these struggles.

  1. Don’t change your lifestyle in order to be more palatable to other people. Go to therapy, take medication, or meditate if that’s what helps you be the best you. Don’t do those things in order to become someone you are not because you will fail time and again. I thought that healing meant becoming someone new, but I was wrong. If you cast away your true self in the process, there will be nothing left to make you you. It’s important to embrace your faults and allow for some of your quirks to remain.
  2. Don’t associate with people who pick and choose when they are there for you. Even on my best days, I have felt utterly alone. Your support system should lift you up when you’re down but also celebrate when you succeed. If others don’t express interest in your life, or even refrain from sharing theirs with you, its not worth it.
  3. Finally, BE HONEST. If you don’t love and cherish someone in your life, it’s better to tell them how you feel than to perpetuate the relationship where they give more. It’s a waste of someone else’s time and frankly, it’s rude. If you do love and cherish those people, tell them. Maintain connections with people who maintain connections with you. Some express their emotions more than others but everyone needs support and attention from time to time.

This takes it back to Kindergarten (“the Golden Rule”), but please please please treat people you call your friends the way you would like to be treated. 


*Clearly, not a real name.

 

Chicago

Truly Madly Deeply

Sometimes we experience tragedy without being directly impacted. I guess, you could say I’ve found the right place in a Social Psychology Graduate program (Oh yeah, that happened. More on that later…), but I think I’ve always been this way. Individual experience is so much more than internal thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs. I am highly sensitive, empathetic, and too deeply wrapped up in emotions. I know that, believe me. And I love nothing more than when these characteristics are hurled at me as insults, when I think these are the very things which make me me.

I wrote a blurb on Facebook this week about how the WDBJ shooting impacted me. Ever since I’ve felt…different. Forgive this hackneyed tidbit of advice, but — life is precious. I want to savor every moment, love every creature, and benefit everyone and everything in anyway I can. I sound sentimental as hell and I’m not sure what I mean by this, but I want to live life.

Life has been amazing to me lately.

I’ve been overworked, sleep deprived, and often felt lost or like a failure…but I’m important, valuable, and have a lot of wonderful experiences ahead.

_____________________________

Back to grad school … I spoke with a professor about a month ago regarding applying to my school’s program for next fall. She knew I would graduate this fall and I was somewhat disappointed that I would essentially sit here waiting for next fall after completing my undergraduate coursework. However, she mentioned a 5 year program I didn’t know about, where I could enter grad school THIS fall and complete my Bachelors degree on time as well as obtain a Masters degree spring the following year.

Instantly, I wanted to say no. I wanted to give up and be done with school, but where would I be? Truthfully, I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.

There’s something so satisfying yet terrifying about admitting this.

But I think we can all say that at some point (maybe even now) that we have felt this way. Regardless, she told me to think about it and let her know if I was interested.

I took a leap and called her back the very next day and in a whirlwind two weeks — along with a multitude of pulled strings all thanks to my former professor — I now find myself in grad school.

I’m shocked. I have imposter syndrome like you couldn’t imagine. “I don’t deserve this, I”m not smart enough, talented enough, driven enough….I’m not in the right place.” It sucks. I can see that I am talking myself down when at the same time, I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now.

How many times in my life will I be able to say that? I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be right now. 

Sometimes it takes a little reflection at the end of the week (or blogging) to come to terms with that yourself. Sometimes it takes learning about a tragedy, which may not directly impact me, but through societal factors and personality factors I’ll likely learn everything about during my graduate studies, impacts me as directly as it impacted the families of Alison Parker and Adam Ward.

I already said my political piece on the issue, but I think the human component of learning about tragedy should be addressed as well. So while I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be — I’m nervous.

I’m afraid of failure, of success, and of stagnancy.

But life is wonderful because I can feel all these emotions at once. I can simultaneously celebrate and mourn.

I’m learning how to balance my emotions. I know I’m an emotional person and it doesn’t take much to make me angry or to make me cry. But it also doesn’t take much to make me smile or laugh.

The coming months (years? eek…) are going to be stressful. They’re going to be draining and make me question everything.

There’s something about growth and struggle…some quote. Whatever that may be, I think that’s going to be my new motto.

All I know is that I have a grad acceptance letter plastered to my fridge and I’m trying my best to recognize that leaving a few dirty dishes in the sink tonight do not mean the end of the world tomorrow. That sometimes I need time alone, sometimes I need coffee or wine or mac and cheese.

Through all of this rambling… I’m learning about living my life for me, for whatever that requires in a given moment or situation, and remaining cognizant of how fortunate I am to be here as well as how deserving I am of all the opportunities and accomplishments thus far.

I think these lessons apply to everyone, though. We need to celebrate our victories, own our achievements, and brag about our own abilities. We need to smile in the face of hatred, power through in the presence of bullies or toxic influences, and keep our heads on straight and oriented towards becoming a better person and human being.

My life has turned around the last month. I’m enjoying work again, feeling like myself, and understanding that life isn’t exactly what I want but it’s what I need right now.

Happy happy Friday

x Danielle

Chicago

I’m Thankful For . . .

In the midst of one of the craziest semesters yet, I’ve started to see that I have no game plan for dealing with stress. I’ve noticed my blood pressure climbing in recent check-ups and doctors visits. I’ve been gaining weight, feeling sluggish, and getting sick more frequently.

My emotions fly from one end of the spectrum to the other without any clear cause or explanation. Sometimes I step back from my situation and ask myself why I’m reacting so emotionally. Almost always, I can’t find a reason. I’m convinced that stress plays a huge role. 18 credit hours and a weekend job make for one stress-filled semester, with little time to breathe or discover myself.

In the past week I’ve went from healthy and organized, prepared to register for my final semester of undergrad — to torn apart, suffering from a sinus infection requiring antibiotics, and more distractible than ever. Luckily, all the problems I encountered reached solutions (and I finally registered for those necessary classes thank god).

I wanted to make it to the end of the semester without breaking down. Without losing my shit. Unfortunately, there is only so much stress one person can take . . . especially one with my reactivity. Although, I’m trying to forgive myself for this and see the benefits of my anxiety.

Regardless, I have a job to do for the next week and a half. Finals, my work schedule, and regular appointments and commitments will remain. I’d like to take time off to de-stress, but that’s not happening until May. So, I’m confronted with learning how to manage my anxiety in a constructive way.

Of course, I thought that I was managing quite well. But I’ve really been ignoring the root of the issue, pressing on and becoming a workaholic/time-bomb who never has any fun.

For this reason, I’m listening to the advice I’m given.

1. I’m going to try to step back and assess the situation before a freak out even has the chance to start.

2. I’m going to live a little – sometimes – and not worry about all the deadlines and projects, because there will always be something left to do and I can’t put off my happiness until my list is complete.

3. I’m going to try to like salads. I love pasta, peanut butter, and potatoes more than anything on earth. I love salads, too, as long as there’s a lot of cheese and dressing involved. I don’t know when I stopped loving vegetables. I do know that my health is starting to suffer from my awful appetite and that amazing metabolism I had is changing. So, salads.

4. I’m going to laugh at myself. When I cry, when I fail, when I miss a bus or I’m late for ___. I need to find the humor in even the most disheartening everyday occurrences or else I’m bound to fall apart.

5. I’m going to get more sleep. Duh. I somehow relish the fact that I’ve never taken naps and can get by on 6 hours of sleep. Nothing about that is normal or something to be proud of. Oops…

6. I’m going to learn how to be grateful and start my own gratitude list. (Hey, mom!) All in all, I have a very privileged life. I have a wonderful support system, amazing genetics (regarding my health), and qualities for success and happiness. I’ve just never put those things into a perspective which doesn’t criticize and question. I used to call myself a “realist”, but in reality I’m a pessimist . . . and it’s taken me until now to admit that.

Of course, I’m going to struggle with these changes. It’s going to be difficult and I’ll still probably be my emotional self at the end of it. Mainly, I just want to enjoy life. College has made me responsible and goal-oriented to a fault. I’ve worked on my abilities to the neglect of my human, internal self and I need to recognize that my mind and inner self need care and attention, too.

If anything, I hope you can take from this the importance of loving yourself, your life, and the danger of taking life too seriously. In everything I do, I’ve worried about perfection and efficiency. Human beings are not perfect, and efficiency is a quality I should look for in a household appliance — not a person.

I’m thankful for being who I am because I’ve learned that I’m not perfect. But, I am worthy of love and happiness.

Let’s learn to be grateful – not just for what we do or who we know, but for how we act and how we view our experiences.

Danielle

Featured image is yet another beautiful view out our window of Lake Michigan, taken a couple weeks ago. I’m so lucky. 

Chicago

Horses into Sheep

As 2014 leaves us and we move into 2015, it’s only fitting to write about my past experiences as well as future goals. Of course, people will say it is cliche to do such a thing, or even to make New Years Resolutions. I think that if you want to make a change, and starting a new calendar off with those new goals in mind is how you accomplish said goal — go for it.

7194e47f33ba8ad070443c7ace9ff9e4That being said, my goal is a simple one. A resolution which doesn’t quite line up with my overall life aspirations for the year, but a simple change which I hope will have lasting effects. This year I plan to walk 10,000 steps a day, everyday. I’ve been good about this the past semester living in Chicago and I’m sure if I had recorded my steps in Rome I’d have been successful as well. However, in the past I have been driven by academic and work achievements at the result of neglecting my physical and mental health.

This has become very clear to me, demonstrated through my conflicts with family and friends. I know that when I am active, it gives my mind some time to wander and decompress. I’m not saying that I’ve found the “cure” for sadness, or that no one has told me this before. My doctor tells me consistently to exercise more, but I think it’s important that I am choosing my own plan to add activity to my life. With walking, I’ll seek healthy choices in other aspects of my life as well. I’ll sleep better, eat better, drink more water, and decrease my caffeine and alcohol intake. Again, all possibilities which may result from increasing physical activity but which are not my main focus in the New Year.

I think the reason why our resolutions don’t work is because we create goals which are too broad with strict expectations for ourselves. (I also think that simply telling people who make resolutions they are being cliche or will fail is a contributing factor…but that’s for another post 😉 )

fb0be63b21255436cb2a86ee387b9c54We tell ourselves to “lose weight” or “be successful” or “find inner peace”. None of these goals are impossible or outrageous to achieve, especially not in 365 days. But life gets in the way. We have one bad day and suddenly eating a piece of cake means it’s all pointless and we drop our resolutions. Quietly, only weeks in to the year. Our friends laugh at this failure, not in a malicious way, but regardless we understand that our resolutions will never come true.

At least, that’s what I’ve experienced. Maybe my resolutions haven’t been about losing weight, or eating a piece of cake, but I think this is a common story for many of us. Which is why I want to walk 10,000 steps everyday and only focus on that aspect of my physical well-being. I’m not asking my body to burn more calories than it takes in. I’m not even asking for weight loss or changes in my appearance. I only want to add physical activity to my life, any benefits of this change are bonuses.

So, what exactly did 2014 look like, then?

5080653cb017630255e53ba51138ade9Last year, I studied abroad in Rome for 4 months. I visited Vermont and the North Shore with my boyfriend. I lost my grandmother suddenly after an MRI. I lost some friends, whether through mutual or one-sided factors. I experienced improvements and digressions with my family. I’ve feared losing my dog, even though I know that this is inevitable.

I guess I could look at the last year and say it wasn’t great. Sure, I studied abroad, but this happened and that happened and I’m not any closer to my goal of “X” than I was on January 1st, 2014. And honestly (here’s the big cliche theme that you’ve all been anticipating!!) “2014 Danielle” let all those setbacks ruin all of the wonderful things I did accomplish and experience. Even up until December 31st, I was letting the man who made lewd comments or the woman who cut me off driving (or walking) or the lack of Instagram likes on a picture determine my worth. I allowed for minuscule events in my life to overshadow making the Dean’s List or securing early graduation or all the great memories abroad and last summer.

68243be24d78b3868197e8d65c39fc30

I’m very open about my struggle with depression and anxiety, something I wish for everyone struggling with mental health issues to feel comfortable about discussing without feeling embarrassed or ignored. But I recognize that it took me years to get to this point. To tell friends, family, and complete strangers that my brain isn’t wired in the same way, doesn’t feed off of happy energy at a healthy rate. Instead, sapping all the happy feelings up and using them too quickly. My mood can plunge simply because my brain didn’t have any more endorphins or serotonin to circulate. I constantly seek that “moment” when I knew I was happy. Rather than enjoying happy memories, I think “wow, this is how it is to be happy… I wonder when it will happen again”, wasting those precious times. But, “2015 Danielle” (aha, here is the cliche) will continue to fight my body’s tendencies through action.

Most likely, I will still tweet about the lewd comments, still mutter under my breath at the slow walkers, and wish for more likes. But in the “grand scheme” of things … no one bad memory should alter my perception of my self and my abilities and my life. Of course, it’s day 3 of 2015. Someone is going to think or comment about how resolutions are bogus or always fail. But why should they fail? I have a healthy functioning body, I”m young, I have enough free time to walk around or skip taking the bus (I’ll miss you, 147) to class a few times a week. We all spend too much time waiting for things to happen to us, why shouldn’t we all aim to change our futures for ourselves?

I think I’ll be much happier knowing that this year was made better by my own changes in behavior.

X Danielle

Chicago

On Distance

9a94a3ece7bdd3633207f415673181811When I first met Luke, I knew I was going to Chicago and then on to Europe. Within 3 weeks, we were dating, and 2 weeks after that I moved back to Chicago.

I should say I haven’t had a relationship before. Of course there have been casual things, or those that didn’t last. But I knew this was different. Which, I think, is why I fought so hard to make this work.

I wanted to write about being in a long distance relationship, because the stigmatization of LDRs is so toxic and I’m glad I never succumbed to the hopelessness that people (even CLOSE friends and family) perpetuated by telling me that it wouldn’t work out.

Of course, going to Chicago for my sophomore year after dating for less than a month, I figured it was easy and that I could handle it. Distance was nothing. Except it was everything, and I mean that in the best and the worst ways. I learned more about myself through Luke in that first month without seeing him than I have from anyone else.

I don’t want to get too weird explaining everything, but I want to do my experience justice. I began to see what it felt like to really, truly love someone. My family ties strengthened, my friendships (that mattered) deepened, and I began to value myself through valuing someone else.

I think it’s dangerous to tell girls that they shouldn’t get in a relationship when they are self-conscious or sad. As someone with depression, I think that getting into a relationship and learning how to love someone else is what helped me start loving myself.

Regarding the LDR stigma, can we all agree to stop blaming failing long distance relationships on the distance? I never experienced feelings that made me want to end things because of the distance. And I think it’s fair to say that long distance relationships are fragile and prone to breakups. All it comes down to (in my opinion) is trust, and if you have that, the relationship should succeed.

I never thought I would be strong enough to go through last Fall in Chicago while Luke lived in Minneapolis. But, because of that “trial run” of long distance – going to Italy for 108 days was easier. To be clear, nothing about this experience was “fun” or something I would recommend. I definitely don’t think that long distance is ideal, but if you love each other it’s pointless to “take a break” or whatever nonsense people suggested to me. I don’t feel cheated out of my experience, I’m not kicking myself for not sleeping with those hot italian men peers told me I would miss out on. Honestly, there weren’t any. And if there were, I was never tempted because I loved someone waiting for me back in Minnesota 1 million times more than any of them.

Honestly, it hurt me more and motivated me to hear those I’m close to play into the stereotype of long distance. I had friends, family, and acquaintances basically trying to give me a list of pros and cons as to why I shouldn’t be in an LDR. And I had friends telling me that it wasn’t “like me” to stay in, not kiss boys at parties, or get too drunk.

I’m sorry, but what? It’s not “like me” to be responsible, to mature, or to decide I’m better than trashing my body and reputation? Sure I did those things freshman year – we all did, but there’s a time and a place. And unfortunately, I had began using parties as an escape from my feelings. It was unhealthy and I was thankful to break out of the rut and feeling like I needed to party, to drink, to forget.

All I ask, is that you respect those you know who enter into a long distance relationship. Because it is their decision, and they’ve already weighed the pros and cons before agreeing. Do not make the battle harder for them by chastising, tempting, or condoning. I love Luke, I love my family and friends for trying to protect me, but I am so glad I never let anything anyone told me get to me.

I suppose I’m trying to show that long distance relationships can be simple. It can be about a boy and girl (or a girl and girl, or a boy and a boy, etc. ) who love each other, and decide that it doesn’t matter if their relationship thrives on letters, Skype, and texting as long as they have each other. It can be that simple if we let our loved ones make that choice and if we support them.

10272608_10203436312455841_4873518810452333406_o

Chicago

New Leaf

I’ve missed writing, something that became a habit when I was abroad. Every time I think of starting my blog up again I remind myself that my life isn’t “so interesting” as it was when I was in Rome.

However, I think it’s important for me to see that my life is interesting. No matter where I am, my life should be something that interests me. Not in a self-centered way, but in a realistic manner. If you do not put enough love and attention into your own life you are not going to be able to love and attend to others. And that’s one of the main things I have learned so far this semester.

I posted earlier about losing my grandmother. Around this time last year, I lost my other grandma. It’s crazy how you can go from having all your grandparents and thinking that old age and death are so abstract to having only half of your grandparents left. 11 months ago, I had both grandmas. I didn’t see either of them often, they were both relatively young and healthy (for grandparents) and I was busy with work and school.

I can’t describe how abrupt these changes were nor how confused I was for so long. Since September, I have done a lot more thinking about my own life and my own values. I started missing my grandma(s) today so I called both my grandpa and my great-grandma to catch up. Every conversation matters now.

And not only with my elderly family members. We do not know what time we have here. It sounds grim, but I want to treat others as if this is the last conversation, last hug, etc. and savor every moment I have with those I love. Why should you treat anyone any less than 100%?

That being said, returning from abroad has shown me how little I meant to some people. I spent weeks depressed about it, questioning what I had done wrong or why they wouldn’t just explain to me what happened. Not because I really cared about the relationship, but because I want honesty and I would expect openness and honesty from people I used to value. Unfortunately, many of these people do not conduct themselves that way. And it’s hurtful, but I chose to move on.

If I am not treated with the same level of compassion and support that I give others, then the relationship is without balance and I’m exerting myself maintaining a friendship with a person who doesn’t care for me at all.

I am still hurt by this. I still want an explanation. And I still want people who have hurt me to develop a backbone for five minutes and tell me they’re “too cool” or don’t want to hangout with me because I”m consumed with hanging out with my boyfriend. But those would be lies and excuses that blame me for something they have done. Blaming my strong relationship with my boyfriend as the reason that you deliberately ignore my texts is a reflection of your own lack of integrity. And I do hope that those I’m indirectly mentioning read this. I’m not going to pretend otherwise, you have hurt me and I hope you know that. But I’m not going to try to confront you anymore because you do not have power over me and I will not give you any power by hurting me further.

Moving forward, I want this blog to be about happy things and my thoughts from day to day. If you’d like to follow along, please follow my blog 🙂 I am going to try my hardest to post more often.

I’m so excited to start writing again and sharing my life, no matter how many (if any) enjoy my posts.

I’m posting some pictures (unfortunately all iPhone…oops) of the past couple months.

San Diego:

IMG_2908

My dad participated in a hot wings challenge while we were in San Diego, it was one of the lighter moments during an emotionally draining trip. I can’t wait to see my parents again for Thanksgiving. I can’t believe I haven’t been home since August 5th!

IMG_2919

One of my cousins posed with my Canon. I can’t believe how grown up they are, I was thankful for this impromptu trip out West because I got to reconnect with some family I don’t see very often.

IMG_2928

Margarita station before sending off balloons for Grandma.

Chicago, again:

IMG_2980

Flowers my boyfriend bought for me, on the window sill of our apartment. These flowers stayed beautiful for weeks (I believe this picture was almost 2 weeks after I received them). They’re in my Danish beer can from Copenhagen. So glad I kept that

.IMG_3026

Here’s a photo my grandma had hanging in her condo. My mom sent it to me in a care package a few days after I got back to Chicago. My San Diego grandma is on the left and my other grandma on the right. This photo was taken around 1997. It was one of the few times both grandmas got to meet. They were both so young and beautiful. I miss them.

IMG_3093

Luke and I went on a last minute date downtown to my favorite pizza place, Lou Malnati’s. I appreciate every moment with him, face-to-face, after months of long distance and hectic schedules, even living together we don’t have much time together.

IMG_3168

This is the best part about my apartment. View of Lake Michigan on a fall morning about two weeks ago.IMG_3187

Here’s a pretty tree I saw on the way to a game at Northwestern. I am hoping to share more beauty in future posts, and hopefully of better picture quality.

IMG_3202

Lastly, this is the new motto I wrote on the board by our front door. I hope to adopt this sentiment and I think I’ve been making progress recently. Life is so short and it’s necessary to be selfish in part, because you are living your own life. I want to make sure I am doing what I need to do to be happy before I can focus that energy on others. Surrounding myself with supportive friendships, my family, and spending more time relaxing and reflecting are what make me happiest and what I will continue to do.

X

Danielle