Thursday, September 18, 2014

I MOVED!

Check out the new host of my blog: http://www.girlinconverse.wordpress.com

Same blog, same type of posts, different host.

Bookmark that shit now. :)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How did the bird know to trust its own wings?

“A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch but on its own wings.” – Unknown

I’ve read this quote numerous times over the past few years, each time hoping to gain more than just comfort; I wanted to find out the bird’s secret. How did the bird know to trust its own wings? Instinct, right? Well, if so, where was my instinct? How come I didn’t know I was going to be okay?

I wondered about this long and hard. I went through a phase where I wanted this tattooed on my wrist in order to remind myself that I had wings I could trust, not unlike the tattoo I have on rib cage that reminds me I always have the key; the way out to life’s struggles.

I love my key tattoo, because I have used my own "key" before to unlock shackles that held me back and made me feel trapped. However, I felt that if I got the tattoo of the bird, I would feel a bit hypocritical. See, I did not trust my wings. In fact, I never moved from my safe little branch – I sat there, hanging on for dear life, not looking down, and praying that the sucker never broke.

In fact, I took such desperate measures to avoid having to leave my safe, warm, little branch. With the weight of the problems and darkness I carried around with me, this was no easy task. That branch wanted to break, tired and ready to buckle from holding up not only me, but my heavy problems as well.

Knowing I could not bear to fly on my own, I devised a plan. I would hide is the shadows of the biggest leaves I could find, hoping they would never fall away and expose me. I depended on them to keep me safe and warm and happy so I did not need to learn how to do it on my own. When the leaves did fall and I was still there, shaking with fear, I blocked out the outside world.

This plan worked well, until sometime in the middle of July, when I sat in my psychologist’s office and sobbed about all the pain and suffering I went through in my poor little life (on my poor little branch). She looked at me sternly and said, “You don’t want to get better, you want to feel better.”

What? Why would I be sitting in this office pouring out my whole heart and soul if I didn’t want to get better? Also, didn’t "getting better" mean feeling better? Wasn’t that the point?

However, almost instantaneously, my branch snapped – faster than I could have ever imagined. She was calling my bluff—pointing out the fact that I stayed on my safe little branch all balled up with self-pity and lack of courage and called it a life. It became all at once transparent that I could no longer stay there, I needed to move forward. If I ever wanted to live a healthy life, it would have to mean leaving that branch.

For those of you that have read my past blogs, you may have picked up on the depression and anxiety that plagued me for the past few years. I’m pretty much an open book and while I’m always terrified to share how I feel, it’s strangely one of the things I know how to do best.

Looking back now, I read those posts and roll my eyes a bit at my whiny-ness, my own self-proclaimed victimization. I was a victim of the world. I was a victim of my past. I was a victim of the uncomfortable feelings that I was sure no one else had ever dealt with.

This is not to say the thoughts and feelings weren’t very, very real—because they were (and some days still are!). At least they seemed that way for me. I was lonely and felt rejected and had very low self-esteem; three factors that lead me down a road of complete self-destruction.

For a while, I thought I could fix the hole within me by latching on to others or latching on to destructive behaviors. In many ways, these fixes were my branch – they kept me safe. For this very reason I stayed in an unhealthy relationship knowing I was not happy until it eventually completely destroyed me. If I had someone by my side, it would mean that I was normal – the emptiness inside of me could be ignored and I would eventually feel whole.

This was not the case—in fact, it was the exact opposite.

So, when my psychologist said this to me it struck a nerve. It seems so simple, but yet, it was hard to grasp. Judging by my unhealthy behaviors, she was right. I didn’t eat because I wanted to feel better about myself. I became obsessed with guys who treated me badly because I wanted to feel loved. I stayed on the branch because I wanted to feel safe.

However, none of these behaviors actually helped me get better and none of them kept me safe. In fact, not eating led me down a path that pointed right to my grave. Being with guys that were not good for me lead me to lower self esteem. My attachment problems lead me to feel emotionally and physically unhealthy.

As with all major changes, getting better felt a whole lot like getting worse. All of these feelings of self-hatred that I tried to cover up with unhealthy behaviors came back in full force. Taking care of myself—eating right, exercising, therapy—were very difficult at first. The food was the hardest part. I abruptly moved back in with my parents and things were ugly for the first month. They were watching me fall, but no one could convince me that all I needed to do was trust my wings and fly.

No one could fly for me, carry me with their wings, or help me seek solace in their safe branches; recovery does not work that way. You have to want to get better and realize that it doesn’t always mean feeling better. I had to personally commit to my own health and self-esteem, which meant breaking the negative habits I’d developed over that past decade. I needed to be vulnerable, to admit there was a problem, to seek treatment. This would mean opening up to a psychologist, psychiatrist, nutritionist and scariest of all, my own family and friends.

In a recent Ted Talk, Glennon Doyle Melton mentions, “It’s braver to be Clark Kent than it is to be Superman.” If that isn’t the truth, I don’t know what is.

To climb down from this mountain of self-pride and stubbornness and admit that I had a real life problem that was neither glamorous nor easily solvable – well, that was scary. For so long I had fists held high and a shield up to ‘protect’ myself from a world that was ‘out to get me;’ never once taking a minute to realize that I was out to get myself. The real problem came from inside of me and nothing – no guy, no substance, and no low and dangerous number on a scale – was going to get me out of this dark place except me.

For the first time in a long time, I took steps forward. At first I felt completely directionless; I felt blindfolded with my hands tied behind my back. Every time I would start to feel good, the sadness would come back and I’d feel discouraged. The phrase “one step forward and two steps back” became more relevant than ever.

With the help of people who cared about me – truly cared ­­­­– those tiny steps became easier. I wrote down and fought negative thoughts. I worked with my nutritionist and became accountable for my own health by eating like a normal person would. I accepted that the low number on the scale was no true indication of the person inside of me. I challenged all the ‘rules’ I had created about good and bad foods and started to actually enjoy eating again.

The funny thing about disordered eating is that it’s probably the worst solution to any problem in the world. Aside from the obvious fact that your body needs nutrients to survive, sporadic eating habits affect your mood in HUGE ways. This makes perfect sense to me now. However, that is because I am in recovery. I can see clearly; my eyes are no longer broken. I understand now that without food, I will become depressed. When I become depressed, I will stop wanting food. This basic principle was so unbelievable hard to grasp and yet so very enlightening once I did.

I can now proudly say I’m on the road to recovery in so many ways. The pain that I carried on and on about is no longer there. It’s hard to even imagine what that pain is like because I did it; the branch snapped and I trusted myself to fly. I no longer have the urge to engage in destructive behaviors – I know I deserve better than all that. I realize now that no one can save me from myself even if that’s the only thing they want to do.



This is not to say that I’m naïve. I understand my shortcomings and my ability to relapse. However, I now have a better understanding of what triggers can lead me down that dangerous, destructive path and I work hard to avoid them. Life will lead me to many highs and lows but for the first time in a while I feel ready. I feel strong and I feel capable and healthy and blessed, even though not every moment of my life is perfect. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Autumn's Coming & It's Time To Fill the Rabbit Hole

A high school teacher once told me and a class of my peers to pay special attention to the leaves outside. He said this on a day in late August when we were starting our senior year. At the time, the leaves were still a beautiful green, although our eyes had adjusted to them over the summer months.  He warned us that the leaves would soon turn a vibrant orange and fall from the trees. We looked at him blankly – we knew the cycle of the seasons by now. He finished by saying the next time we saw those leaves turn green, our lives would be changing; our high school careers would come to an end.

I can picture the look on our faces as we listened to this, not understanding why he was so deeply poetic on the first day of our senior year. Why was he trying to make us nostalgic when all we wanted to do was leave? Sure enough, though, the leaves changed and that chapter ended. Then the same thing happened while I was at Penn State. Then they changed again during my brief time in Philadelphia.

While this all may seem normal and irrelevant, as I walked outside today I realized that the breeze was just a bit chillier than it has been in months. Without fully noticing it, memories of pumpkin patches, leather boots and plaid shirts came to mind. All of a sudden, I felt calmer than I had in a while.

So I started to wonder about the seasons and why they are so important. After almost 25 years on this earth I should be completely used to the changing of the weather. I know what to expect. I know it will be very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. However, I welcome the changing of seasons every year as if I’m experiencing it for the first time.

The first time I can wear a spring jacket instead of a winter coat is metaphorically a sigh of relief; we made it through the harsh winter. The first day I need to wear shorts because it is just too hot for anything else, I feel playful and unruly, because summer is somehow easier and more rebellious. When autumn comes, I feel comforted, knowing that I will soon bring out my cozy sweaters and fleece-lined leggings and feel the cool breeze through my hair. Finally, winter will numb everything with its breath-taking beauty until you are so numb that you need spring again to thaw you out.

Time heals all; I truly believe it. As one season fades into another season, you find that these quick benchmarks, that sometimes seem so terribly long, are set in place to put a distance between you and your past. They are cathartic and magical; as human beings, if we sit too long we get antsy. As soon as one season makes us anxious, another one gently steps in and changes it up for us.

A year goes by so fast, but if I think about where I was last year and where I am now, it does not feel so fast. Time is funny that way. The people and events that I found important at this time last year have both changed and stayed the same. I have both changed and stayed the same.

Last winter brought me into a deep, dark depression that made me feel a whole lot like Alice stuck in a wonderland. I somehow found myself falling down a never-ending rabbit hole and when I woke up, all I could do was look around and take notice to rapid changes I did not understand. Noises were loud, people came and went, and meanwhile I felt completely mad, but no one was there to tell me the best people were. Finally, I am slowly but surely crawling out of the deep dark hole knowing in my own heart that the best people are mad – to me, that’s the only opinion that matters.

As much as spring elicits a promise of rebirth and life, somehow I feel autumn has taken my hand and led me forward more than any other season ever has. Maybe it is because I spent my first 22 years on earth starting a “brand new” school year with “brand new” clothes during fall and maybe for that exact reason it feels like a fresh start.

Walking outside today, I felt that fresh-start feeling and it wrapped itself around me tightly. It gave me a calmness I’ve been missing for a while. It’s cathartic in a way that my old drawn out past and all my regrets are soon going to die with the leaves and I will be able to start fresh; begin again. I can fill up the old rabbit hole and watch as it gets covered; first in leaves, then by snow. When springtime rolls around next year, the new patch of grass will cover up the spot so I won’t even notice it – it’ll just be a distant memory, built into my timeline, a reflection on a difficult time 2 winters ago. A subtle reminder that time heals all.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Much like their facilities, Inne of the Abingtons’ views could use an update

Recently, a soon-to-be-bride inquired about having her wedding at the Inne of the Abingtons. Since it was a same-sex couple, the venue declined. Here's what happened next.

If you live in or around the Scranton area you may have noticed this image making its way around social media yesterday afternoon:



Since the image doesn’t show any signature or show the name of the business, it was only hearsay that this was sent by the establishment Inne of the Abingtons. At first I was skeptical to share on my Facebook wall for that very reason, but as the day went on and I checked the Facebook page of that business (now suspiciously deleted) I realized that more and more people were writing posts with no rebuttal from the business.

Because I work as a Public Relations professional and moderate a national company’s Facebook page, I understand the importance of communication upfront when the image of your company is being threatened. So, for this to be floating around the internet with no statement released from the actual company, I have to believe that this is their actual stance on gay marriage at their facility.
If it is not, they should be working overtime to respond to each and every post to insure people that this is a mistake. I noticed early this morning that they actually deleted their Facebook page, which is probably the worst thing they could have done. Now when you search their business, you’ll come to the reviews on Facebook, which are filled with people angry with the moral stance this company has. For example:




Please note, there have been zero responses from any person working for this company to address these matters. I also emailed them myself to see if this was true and received no response.
Now, aside from the clear public relation nightmare this is, there is also the business aspect. I understand that every business is entitled to their views and reserves the right to refuse service to anyone – but to openly throw away business in this economy is just brainless. Being that gay rights are on the top of the political agenda, they had to know that this would anger the general public.

Maybe they thought that since they wrote this in a private email they would be safe, but if that is the case they should probably step out of the 1950s – not only in their beliefs, but also because technology now allows us to share bigotry at rapid speeds. Inne at the Abingtons, please note: screen shots are a thing.
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is the only in state in the NortheasternU.S. that lacks a statewide anti-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation. So as unfortunate as it is that this facility feels the need to discriminate against the LGBT community in a way that is comparable to discrimination against the African American community in the past, there are no laws that make this illegal.

On the bright side of this unfortunate situation, it seems the rapid speed at which this image is being shared and angry reviews are being written shows that our generation has made leaps and bounds in embracing the equality of the LGBT community. I have always felt, personally, that this should not even be something we need to “embrace” – it should have just been a part of our culture from the very beginning. However, since it has not, it’s nice to see positive change is happening.

I don’t always love social media, but I do love it when it brings a community together to combat hate:

Please join me in showing the Inne of the Abingtons that this type of hate will not be tolerated in Northeastern, Pa. Write a letter, share this post, share the original picture, etc. I would show a little sympathy if they tried to issue a statement or talk with their target audience about the matter, but since they’ve stayed silent, it makes me think that their hate is more important to them than their customers.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

5 Typical 'Inspirational' Lists That Can Go Shove It

If you have had any exposure to the internet within the past year and a half, you may have noticed a bit of a cultural trend - these 'inspirational' lists that explain to us how to live our lives to the fullest. These 'advice' columns are full of great suggestions - get married in your twenties, don't get married in your twenties, travel as much as you possibly can, etc. It's all really annoying if you ask me - I'm probably just going to live my life the way I want, anyway.

With our lives under a constant social media microscope, it's easy to get caught up in these suggestive lists and develop FOMO (fear of missing out, duh.) Should I be traveling more? Is being single and hooking up with people more fun than being in a five year relationship? Wait, how am I going to complete this list of things to do in my twenties when I'm broke from my glorified party days (aka college)?

I decided to take it upon myself to find 5 lists that I believe to be complete bullshit. Most of these articles have a stock picture of beautiful girls laughing in the sunset - do not let this pull you in. Don't worry, I'll explain why.

(Side note: Did anyone else realize that these lists are mainly geared towards 20-somethings? Does life completely end at age 30?)




Why This Sucks: 

  • Um, the very first reason is that it is almost certain you will get cheated on. Really? Are people more prone to getting cheated on in their twenties rather than their teens or their thirties? Is that the best reason to stay single? 
  • Then we move on to #2, which is the obligatory, feel-good "You're Young - Go Out There & Explore The World!" At first glance this sounds cool; I could totally go out and explore the world. I instantly see myself riding on elephants in Africa and climbing the Great Wall of China. Then I stop and remember the logistics - I'm poor. Now I feel sad. I'm so young and I should be exploring the world! That's what would make my life mean something! No. Just, no. Put meaning into your life by doing what you can and what makes you happy. Traveling around the world doesn't make one life more valuable than another. 
  • Wait, here comes three: "Money Doesn't Come Easy So Save It." Now this I can get behind. Hold on, though, two seconds ago I was daydreaming about elephants in Africa. Surely I can save money AND travel the world, right? 
  • Here is my all-time favorite: "Girls Can Be Too Dramatic and Will Just Waste More Of Your Energy."Wow. Just, wow. I cannot formulate the right words to articulate what I am thinking right now, so I am going to just leave this one for you to judge on your own. 
Bottom line: How about you enter a relationship if you want to and you stay single if you don't want to? Not sure about you, but this list did not persuade me to do anything other than think about the moron who wrote it (sorry, not sorry). 



Why This Sucks: 

  • "It Could Make You Happier." Well, if getting married is not going to make you happier, why would you do it? Also, is there evidence to support that getting married when you are young will make you happier than getting married when you are older? 
  • You'll make more money (at least if you're a man). Hate to break it to the person who put in the research needed to make this statement, but it's a well-known fact that on average men make more money than women. Thank you, Huffington Post, for taking that hideous glass ceiling and putting it to good use in your dumb article. 
  • You'll have more sex and you'll drink less alcohol. Oh, in that case, someone order me a husband pronto! I've needed to curb my out-of-control drinking habits for a decade now - how silly of me not to look at the easy solution of just getting married. As for the sex thing, eh - get it in writing. 
Bottom line: If you are considering getting married, please tell me it has nothing to do with trying to drink less alcohol and make more money. Please. Otherwise, I have completely lost faith in humanity once and for all. 




Why This Sucks:

  • Happy people surround themselves with other happy people. So, that depressed person you know? You should probably take them out to a lake and drown them. It's either that or risk losing your own happiness, right? Oh wait, the article touches on this: "If you’re struggling with a bout of sadness, depression, worry, or anger, spend more time with your happiest friends or family members." Man, if only all the therapists and mental health specialists knew this tiny secret written by a genius on the interwebz!
  • Happy people show signs of happiness. Wait, what? You mean to tell me that happy people don't show signs of sadness? Weird...
  • Happy people see challenges as opportunities. In other words, next time your car breaks down on the side of the highway and you need to get to work, take it as an opportunity to explore the art form of picking wild flowers on the side of the road. No money to have it towed? Use this opportunity to see if prostitution really is the answer to the world's problems. 
Bottom line: Find your own inspiration and your own happiness. While I do admit that some lists do have good suggestions and exploring ways to get out of the slump you are in is a good idea, no one is perfect. These lists will make you feel like you should be. 




Why This Sucks:
  • I actually do not even need to give specific reasons - the list basically makes it apparent that "truly happy people" don't care about much of anything. Which sounds good in theory, but is a bit unrealistic. It's fun to say "Zero F*ck's Given" but it's another thing to completely live by it.



Why This Sucks:
  • This list includes completely original ideas such as go for a picnic, spend time with your real life friends and have a BBQ. Wow. I never thought to have a BBQ in the summertime. Sounds fun, though, thanks Lifehack.
  • Plank yourself 3 times a day. Really? I must plank every single day, three times a day? Someone please tell me what will happen if I decide to run, bike or swim instead - I'd like to know beforehand so I don't mess my life up too much. 
  • Do some housework. Well, I generally like to keep my living quarters a bit tidy around the fall and winter months, too, but I see how this is also important in the summer as well. 
Bottom line: There really is none - just a question: do people get paid to write this stuff? If so, I'm in. I know I am fully capable of doing a great job of listing 25 mundane things people must do to make their summer complete. 


Here are my final words of wisdom: Stop reading dumb lists and live your life how you see fit. That's the real secret to happiness. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My 15-Year-Old Self Kicked My Ass Last Night

While attempting to pack last night for my big upcoming move, I came across my old journals. For those of you who do not know, I can proudly say I've kept a journal since I've been in 4th grade.

This is great for a variety of reasons:

  1. Gaining access to the complete mind of a 4th grader is just top notch entertainment.
  2. I can cringe at how immature I've been and pat myself on the back for how mature I am right now - er, think I am. 
  3. I can look back at so many situations and see them clearly - which has helped me so many times as far as keeping the past where it belongs. 


Anyway, reading old journals is my favorite form of procrastination. It really is. Last night I happened across my high school journal and at first I was reluctant to pick that one to read. High school was bad enough the first time, right? Also, did I really want to read about my struggles to fit in and all the dumb crushes I had?

However, what I quickly discovered was the complete opposite. Aside from the occasional hormonal everyone-hates-me-I'm-so-emo entries, I was a pretty confident girl. In fact, I was so confident during this time in my life that I pretty much jumped out of my journal and slapped 24-year-old me in the face. It seems the 15-year-old version of myself was much less scared and anxious and a lot more "eff you, this is the way I am, accept it or leave it."

I am a writer. If there is one thing I can say I am good at and I like, it's writing. One entry I came across last night was about my passion for writing and just how much I loved it. The pure honesty and enthusiasm is something that I'm not sure I've had in a long time. I can't even write a blog post without second guessing myself.

It seems that it's easier to be less passionate now because than it doesn't hurt so much if people don't respond appropriately. Let's be honest here, no one is patting writers on the back for much. Unless you have a bestseller out there, society seems to think writing is pretty useless being that it does not make you money at all.

Before money was a factor - and judging by my writing from high school, it was a happier time - I was so proud of myself. I wrote about how lucky I was to have that talent and how I wouldn't trade it for the world. I can't count the amount of times I said in college that I would trade my writing for a brain that understands engineering. I wonder what 15-year-old me would think about that. 

The other aspect I wrote about was the standard high school drama. However, back then I seemed to take on the world with a shield up and a sword in my hand. If someone treated me badly I would plain out say, "Oh well, they treated me badly and I'm not going to stand for it." I was adament about my no-drinking, no-drugs policy back then as well, which is good because I was 15 years old. However, I wrote many times about how my friends were getting involved with such things and how that simply just wasn't acceptable to me. To break it down, I did what I wanted, what I felt was right, and if someone disagreed I simply just did not care.

In fact, I was pretty comfortable with saying, "Those people are no good for me and I really don't care what anyone thinks, I'm not going to surround myself with it just to be cool and liked."

Damn girl, step down.

After reading such confident, no-nonsense writing from my former self, I obviously starting thinking. When did that change? Was it after my first heartbreak? Was it when I got bullied a little bit and I let it get to me?

All I know is that sometime in the last 10 years, that confidence got a little lost.

When people told me I would never find a job with my degree I believed them. When they told me that I was in the complete wrong major, I believed them. I believed them when they told me that math is where the money is and money is most important. I still believe them. I believed them when they told me I was too emotional, cared too much, too enthusiastic, too hyper... this list goes on and on.

I can't pinpoint the exact moment I broke down and started believing the bullshit that society feeds us every day, I just know it happened. I picture 15-year-old me, fully clad in my Hot Topic gear and headphones permanently attached to my ears, and she's glaring at me with eyes that say, "Get a hold of yourself, Mon."

I think she's right.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mental Health Awareness Month: Conquering the Stigma


It’s mental health awareness month – and, for me, it’s extremely important. I know there’s an awareness month for just about anything you can think of, so I usually do not pay much attention. But for many reasons, this one is important to me.

It’s a difficult thing to write about – mental health. While the stigma is most definitely lifting, it’s only really lifting at the corners - otherwise, it's still stuck there. For example, I’m comfortable alluding to my anxiety in light-hearted ways. Jokingly, I can say, “I can’t watch the news – it gives me anxiety!” and people will usually laugh. However, conversations get weird when you take it past that. If you start talking about how you saw a headline about climate change 3 days ago and you still can’t pick up a newspaper because you don’t even want to know, well, it gets difficult.

How do you explain - without sounding “crazy” – that the sound of people coughing at work sometimes makes you jump? Or how other days your head goes in constant circles around a problem that doesn’t exist? What do you do when you try to explain these problems and people just stare and question, “You don’t need to worry about these things, though, so why don’t you just relax?” My first thought is, “If it was that easy I would and half of people in the mental health field would be without a job.” After that, I just start worrying about the reasons why I’m worrying in the first place.

It all sounds funny in certain contexts and I think that’s okay. Laughing about your weaknesses makes them more bearable. On other days, though, it’s just not funny. It’s not funny when your family is downstairs celebrating Easter and you are upstairs, alone, just trying to catch your breath. It’s not funny when you finally come downstairs because you are scared for no reason and your dad needs to hold you for 15 minutes while whispering in your ear that it’s a good day, nothing bad is happening and we’re all right here. It’s not funny when you have to explain to your family why there are tears running down your face and you do not even know why.

There are times when I go through spurts of depression, too, which is whole other monster. I once read somewhere that depression could be described as feeling like you are drowning; only, you can see other people and they are all breathing. It does feel that way. It feels like you are screaming for help and no one can hear you, or the people than can hear you just don’t know how to help. So, you need to wait, and you need to work at pulling yourself out. Eventually, you always do, but its tough to remember that in the moment…

The thing is, at least with anxiety you can find the humor – when it comes to depression, there just is none to be had.

I think these feelings are more common than we all like to admit; just some of us go through them more than others. I've sadly known two people in the past year that commited suicide. 

It’s scary to admit the ugly feelings because it feels as though people will run and hide from you. When I meet someone new I try to hide it – I am not anxious and I do not get depressed now and then - that’s the perfect image I try to portray. That sometimes makes it scarier, because what happens when they find out? It’s not true anyway, I’m not perfect and I won’t be, so it’s not worth it to pretend differently.

After a few dates, I once told a guy that I have anxiety. He – ignorantly, to say the least - was going on and on about how his one friend was “crazy” and to really drive his point home, he added that this friend was “medicated.” That’s how crazy he was. Needless to say, I did not like where the conversation was going. So I plainly said, “I have anxiety and I take medicine for it.” *Silence* He then took my hand and said, “I don’t think you have anxiety, I just think you are just too hard on yourself.” Hmm… well, that didn’t turn into a relationship for obvious reasons.

Anyway, I feel to do this justice, I would have to go into some of the thoughts and feelings I have on my worst days. But I can’t do that – there’s too much of a fear there, which is where the stigma of mental health comes in. I want everyone to believe I never have awful, scary thoughts; I want everyone to believe that I am always fine.

The thing is, it’s not something that’s going to go away. I’ve been to doctors and therapists and I’ve cried when they told me, “This is something you will deal with forever. You will learn skills to control it, but there is little chance it will go away.”

I cry because I do not want to feel this way – like my heart is constantly beating out of my chest when there’s nothing even happening. However, not wanting to feel this way won’t change it; it will just make me resist it. The truth is, I do feel this way. I do have anxiety. I did not ask to be this way, I do not enjoy it, and I don’t bother to dissect how I got here – because when it comes down to it, it’s not important at all. It is what it is. 

Another thing I remind myself is that it is not a label stuck to my forehead. I have other things, too - like happiness, love, humor, curiousity, and a deep caring for other people. I have to believe that people will view those things as important and not just my weaknesses.

I have people out there on my side – people who have felt this way, who do feel this way, and people who try desperately to understand even if they haven’t experienced it. I have ways of coping – writing and running. I always tell my mom I’m going for a run “to get the demons out,” and it’s true. It helps.

On my darkest days, I read a quote from The Perks of Being A Wallflower – a book that I believed saved my life many times. I read this not so much for the message, because the message itself is flawed. That's the point, though - it helps to know that the person who wrote this book gets it, they understand. Here it is:

“I know that I brought this all on myself. I know that I deserve
this. I'd do anything not to be this way. I'd do anything to make
it up to everyone. And to not have to see a psychiatrist, who
explains to me about being 'passive aggressive.' And to not have
to take the medicine he gives me, which is too expensive for my
dad. And to not have to talk about bad memories with him. Or
be nostalgic about bad things.

I just wish that God or my parents or Sam or my sister or
someone would just tell me what's wrong with me. Just tell me
how to be different in a way that makes sense. To make this all
go away. And disappear. I know that's wrong because it's my responsibility, and I know that things get worse before they get
better because that's what my psychiatrist says, but this is a worse
that feels too big.”

On my brightest days, I don’t need to read quotes from books. I look up at the sunshine, smile, and think to myself, “Cherish this moment and remember it. Remember that when it gets bad, days like this will always return.”

As with all my writing and many of my blog posts, there’s a specific anxiety that comes with getting it out there. Some people might look at me differently after reading it – but I think right now it’s just important to me that I get this out there. I can sit around and complain about the stigma behind mental health or I can speak out to overcome it.

If nothing else, I hope this helps people understand that mental health problems are not something to be scared of. They do not indicate “craziness” or “weakness.” I do not believe I’m weak. I make it through every day, sometimes with the help of others, but I make it. I might have bad days, but overall, my life is good. Most of all, to those who suffer from similar problems, don’t let it hold you back. Moving to a new city is difficult for anyone; moving to a new city when you have anxiety is harder. I did it and I’m here. That in itself is proof that anxiety does not equal to weakness – don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Life Lessons Found In Greasy Pizza


I’m waiting in line for my food on a day that could be generously described as “shitty,” and the man standing next to me starts talking. He usually does when I see him and I normally enjoy his friendliness, but today I just am not in the mood. This entire week has been filled with stress at work and my own negative thoughts have been running me straight into the ground. It’s Friday and I do not even want to eat, I just know I need to. So as I wait in line, he starts talking to me.

As reluctant as I am to start talking to him, I’m also not the kind of person that will be rude for no reason. So I muster up as much friendliness as I can and find it actually helps. He asks me about my weekend and I get a little bit negative, knowing I have no plans until Sunday and I just feel so alone. I almost get so caught up in my own head that I forget to ask him what his plans are, but luckily I remember just before I start looking impolite.

I expect him to tell me that he is going to drink or hang out with his friends or something of the sort – the normal weekend plans. He’s an extremely nice man, so I do enjoy talking to him – it’s just that, today, I am miserable. To hear that he has better plans than I do would just dig into me deeper. His answer left me in awe.
                
“Do you have plans?”
                
“Oh, yeah!” he says excitedly.
               
“That’s good! What are your plans?”
                
“I’m getting baptized.”
                
At first I didn’t believe him, just because it was such an obscure answer and I was not expecting it. After some suspicious questions on my part, I realized he wasn’t joking. He mentioned that he was very excited, but a tad bit embarrassed, as everyone in his family was baptized as babies and he was the only one that wasn’t. He explained that he had to pick his own godfather.
                
“So, this is really important to you if you decided to do it anyway, huh?” I asked, pretty amazed.
                
“Oh, yeah! This is very important to me,” he said.
                
“Well, good for you, enjoy your weekend,” I said, walking away. I meant it and I felt happier. I was glad I talked to him even though at first I didn’t want to.
                
As I walked away, I was left thinking about my own choices and my own matters. I found myself talking with a man that was willing to go through something a little embarrassing (his words, not mine) and a little bit out of the ordinary because it was so important to him. Not only that, he was excited about it. What made me that excited? Also, what steps did he have to make to achieve this thing that was so important to him?
                
Certainly he needed to reach out to people and let them know what he wanted to do, which is something I’d struggle with myself. Then he probably had to tell his family and friends, and ask someone to honor him as his godfather. Finally, as he had mentioned that he is having a party to celebrate, he needed to plan that as well.
                
I left wondering what beliefs I have that are so important to me. I’m not sure I have any. Even if I do, I do not think I am the type of person that could stand up and say, “Hey! This is what I want!” and do it. Many times I won’t even admit to my friends that I’m religious if I know they are atheists- shame on me for that.
               
Confusion also entered my mind because, as I walked away, I realized that this person made my day a bit brighter and I didn’t even want to talk to him to begin with. I complain about my loneliness, but at the same time, I find myself avoiding conversation with people anyway. Even if I do talk to people, I’m not sure I’m so vulnerable to speak about something that I’m both excited for and I find important. It inspired me that this person was able to stand so strong and tell me, a person whose name he doesn’t even know.
                
There might be a reason floating out there for my unwillingness to talk with others – whether it be our technology-saturated society or just that I’m a cranky girl – but it does not matter. What matters is that there are people in the world that are still able to speak out, be heard, and do what they need to do regardless of other people’s opinions. This man showed me that and as a result, I think I just found a value that is important to me.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Time Flies & Other Cliches Found At Love Park

I'm not sure I can come up with a more truthful cliche than "Time Flies" - because really, it does. I moved to Philly over a year ago and that just sunk in today.

It's been a tough year. No. Never mind that. Maybe I just haven't counted my blessings enough this year.

Things are not perfect, but I've been thinking a lot lately. I've been taking a step back and trying to figure it all out - my goals, my future, etc. At risk of sounding dramatic, I'm trying to figure myself out.

Moving to a new city - albeit, a big city - was not easy. I had to adjust to being away from
family and friends, push myself out of my comfort zone to make new friends, and learn how to work in a professional setting for the first time in my life. Next, factor in the unraveling of my 4-year relationship and learning how to budget my money (yes, these tedious tasks have more in common than you think). Finally, leaving an unpleasant environment - my own apartment - and moving for the third time in one year. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Somewhere in between the shit-storm that was 2013, I forgot why I came here in the first place. When people ask, I usually reply, "For my job." However, that's not entirely true.

Before I moved to Philly, I was stuck in a dull spot. I wanted an adventure. I wanted to move to a place I didn't recognize with people I didn't recognize and explore it. I wanted to know what it was like to be completely out on my own and have to figure it out. I wanted to learn to rely on myself and prove to myself that I could make it.

It finally dawned on me today that this "tough year" I've been having is exactly what I wanted in the first place. I have just been focusing more on the mistakes I made rather than the lessons I learned. I got my adventure. Sure, I have problems, but the positives in my life far outweigh the negatives. My family is healthy and happy, I have learned once again how to be myself, and I have made it 14 months in this new city.

Sadly, I've been too busy mourning the death of my past that I have not looked around to catch these positives in a while. 

When I first moved here, everything was exciting. I had no idea what people meant when they talked about Queen's Village or Fairmount. I used my GPS to get everywhere and for a couple weeks, I could safely say that I knew no one. It was challenging and I cried... a lot.

Even through the tears, though, I looked around more. My eyes were open. I would go for a walk and marvel at all the different types of people walking by. My cellphone was glued to my hands and I instagrammed everything I possibly could. The coffee I got in the overpriced, hipster-ish coffee shop down the street tasted better than any other coffee I ever drank. The cable cars were so cool and look at me learning how to get around using the subway. Even driving on the Schuylkill was amazing for me - I would just look at the cars on either side of me and daydream about the people's lives inside.

Sometime between then and now, I stopped looking. I became comfortable - I found friends, I found enemies, and traffic was no longer (or ever will be again) exciting. The coffee was overpriced and tasted just like the cheaper coffee I made at my own house. I did not care who was driving next to me on the Schuylkill just as long as they stayed out of my way. Life became life again. I focused less on the positive side of my move and more on the negative.

My thoughts centered around losing my relationship, being far away from my family, having endless bills to pay and constantly getting stuck in traffic. The negativity slowly wore me down until finally I burned out. I did not want to be in Philly anymore, but I also had no idea where I wanted to be. Home? Somewhere else? Really, I just wanted to run and hide from all of my problems.

After a long talk with a close friend, she pointed out, "You keep saying you are so worried about 'making it' and 'surviving', but you're here. You are surviving. You have an apartment, friends, a car, and a job. You haven't moved home yet and it's been more than a year. You are breathing and talking to me right now. If that's not surviving, I don't know what is."

It finally clicked - I was surviving. I got the adventure I wanted but yet, I just wanted to run along to the next adventure instead of dealing with my problems and enjoying the ride. Deeply surrounded by my negative thoughts, I lost the magic of the adventure. Focusing on what other people had that I didn't - love, money, etc. - just made me forget that I got the one thing I wanted all along. I got the opportunity to move somewhere new, make it on my own, and learn to rely on myself.

I cannot say all my negative thoughts are gone forever - we all know that is impossible - but for now, I'm learning to see the good again. Traffic will never again be exciting, but when I drive into the city, I take a second to look up at that beautiful skyline and feel small again. I take out my phone and snap a photo of a tall building just like a tourist - even if I've seen the building a million times. I am back to pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and realizing that it is helping.

In fact, today I wanted to go to an art exhibit in the city. It was a tribute to the 70's punk rock era which I am incredibly interested in. Still, I was worried all day - would I hit traffic? Is it worth it to drive into the city? Where will I park? But finally I overcame and decide to just go. 

Unfortunately, when I got there, it was closed. I was bummed but figured I was already in the city and I missed the gym, so maybe I should just walk around for a while.

It was exactly what I needed. I watched with my eyes wide open as a skateboarder tried over and over again, and failed every time, at a new trick. I watched a burned-out photographer beg people to "Kiss, kiss" in front of the love statue. I saw people older than me, younger than me, people with more money and people with less. More importantly, I felt the magic of the city again.

So I just sat there, taking it all in. Finally, I realized I could be surrounded by complete chaos and feel at complete peace. I can't say that I'll stay here forever, but it's nice to know that - for right now - I'm exactly where I belong.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Things You Do When You Owe $1000/mo. On Student Loans


When you’ve got over $100k in student loan debt for a bachelor’s degree, you do things you never dreamed you would do. The person you wanted to be when you hit the real world is different than the person you are, and that causes depression and anxiety all in itself. You feel like your life is ruled by your debt and it is. 

You don’t feel entitled to complain, though, because people will tell you one of two things:

  • "You should have gotten a ‘better’ degree.”
  • “You knew what you were signing up for, kid.”

And you’ll believe them, even though you did not exactly know what you were signing up for and you thought two degrees in fields that interest you was enough. It’s not.  

Since you were born, you were told that you will go to college, because if you don’t, you won’t get a job. Fast forward to 18 years old - you got into the state school you wanted to and you know that people regularly take out loans for their education. Your education is your responsibility and your parents have 5 other mouths to feed, so you take out loans. If you don’t, you won’t get the education you need to get the job to support yourself.

What they failed to mention, though, is that jobs are hard to come by. The jobs you can find do not cover your $1,000/month payments, especially when you have to relocate to a new city just to get that job. That means rent and food and not living in your parent’s basement. (Even though our millennial generation is full of people that just coast off of their parents’ hard work, right?)

Don’t think that anyone wants to hear you complain though – then you will be fitting into the “me, me, me” stereotype of your generation. Also, what were you thinking getting a degree in communications and psychology? Even if you have two degrees, kid, why didn’t you just go into engineering? That’s where the money’s at…

Never mind that my passion has always been writing and helping others, and I barely passed math in high school. That doesn’t matter… you just go where the money is, and if you don’t, you’re dumb. That’s what I pick up on these days.

So what do you do when you when you can’t afford your life?

You live in a sketchy neighborhood to afford the rent and you don’t turn on the heat.

Never once did I dream I’d be living in a sketchy area, and while most of my friends say, “It’s really not that bad!” it’s still not a location I thought I’d wind up in. Your neighbors fight constantly, the inside of your apartment constantly smells like weed, and you learn not to look up when you walk to your car. You try your hardest not to turn on the heat until you are so cold you just do, and regret it 20 days later when you get the bill. Also, a microwave and a toaster are not options – they take up too much space and they are not in your budget.

You eat more mac n’ cheese than you should.

Because it’s cheap and you can’t afford to buy the healthy stuff. Never mind that you always ate healthy in the past and you feel better when you do eat healthier. Some weeks, you don’t go grocery shopping at all, you just eat pasta for 5 days straight. You finally realize that what you learned at your overpriced university was true – poor people are typically more obese because they can’t afford to eat healthy.

You buy all your clothes in thrift shops.

I’ve always been a thrift store shopper, so I don’t necessarily hate this, but when you can’t afford a new outfit ever it drains you. When you need new running sneakers and you are too scared to cough up $40 for the cheapest pair you can find, you just stick with your old pair that makes your feet ache. You panic when you need to buy essentials like socks and underwear, because it’s not in your budget. At all.

You attend a lot more house parties and a lot less bars.

A friend of mine recently said, “Why do your friends always have parties? Why don’t they ever go out?” Hmm… it could be because it costs $5 a beer no matter where you go and you are broker than broke. So for me, I’m thrilled my friends have house parties. I still get to be social without overdrawing my bank account. But sure, everyone would like to go out once in a while…

You call customer service reps dirty words you didn’t know you even had in your vocab.

You call Sallie Mae, Wells Fargo, etc. and cry, plead, beg. Explain to them that if your payments aren’t lowered that you will not afford food or your rent. Tell them that you will pay your loans until you are 99 years old if it means you can make them affordable each month. They will say no. Then you will scream and call them names and realize that you are being the mean person you never wanted to be. Then you get off the phone and you realize that you are taking out your anger out on someone else that doesn't deserve it, and you start to feel guilty. 

You use your credit card even though you told yourself you wouldn’t be a person that relied on credit.

My ex-boyfriend and I always spoke about how we would always keep our credit in check. That is still very important to me and I work hard to not use my credit card. Sometimes, when it’s a Tuesday and you don’t get paid until Friday and your gas light has been on for a while, you have to use your credit card.

You pray that your car just keeps running and never breaks down. Ever.

Because you can barely afford your bills now, how are you going to be able to afford a car payment, too? So your 2000 Pontiac Grand Am better keep running and running and never die.

You apply and apply to part time jobs to help pay the bills, and because you are overqualified, they do not call you.

People have mentioned that maybe I should stop complaining and get a second job. Restaurants, bars, retail stores, janitorial jobs, freelance writing, receptionists, you name it – I’ve applied for it. People say all the time, “You live in Philly, it can’t be hard to find a part time job.” I agree. I understand that complaint, but I’ve been trying. So many people are desperate for jobs right now that even the lower paying jobs are competitive. If they can hire someone that doesn’t have a full time job sucking up 8 hours a day, they will.

You wish you could go back and decide not to go to college.

You see friends from high school that did not go to college and you realize that some have more money in their bank accounts than you. They are taking vacations that you cannot afford. Maybe they are not making as much money, but they also do not have to fork up $1000 a month for their education. I know… the grass is always greener, but at this point I’m not sure if I’d rather be in their shoes or mine.

You stop dreaming and you lose hope.

I was interviewed by the Huffington Post recently and the reporter asked, “What is your dream? Where do you hope to be a year from now?” and I laughed. I told him I don’t waste time dreaming. He told me that was depressing and I agree. However, I can hardly afford to take a weekend trip to the Jersey Shore or a day trip to snowboard, so what would I dream about? I dream about days when overdrawing my bank account is no longer an everyday anxiety-provoking thought. I understand there are millions of other people in my boat or worse, so it’s no use getting down about it… but am I going to dream? No. Dreams cost money. I dreamt once about going to college and getting a job, and it’s precisely the reason I don’t dream anymore.

I’ve thought about grad school, which is another solution many people dish out to me. However, the thought of taking out more loans to pay for another degree that might not even help is a scary thought. Plus, I’m not sure what I would even want a degree in or what will pay better. There are no jobs.

If this all sounds whiny to you, than #sorrynotsorry (yes, I just used a hashtag because I’m a ‘millennial’ and I can.) This is the truth about our broken system. I will be paying on these loans for 30 more years and the thoughts I’ve had about buying a house, car, and having kids are looking more and more daunting as the days go on. I am just keeping my head above water now and I only need to worry about myself. People tell me it’ll get better and maybe it will. I hope it will.

As always, there is a silver lining, though. One of these days I will get the second job and it will make life more affordable. I do have a job which many people do not have, so that is another positive. I have an apartment and I have food and I have things in my life that bring happiness that have nothing to do with money. I will work diligently to find solutions to my own debt problems, spending less and putting more towards my loans each month. So I want you to know I do see the positives in my life and it's not all bad. 

My advice for future college attendees: be careful about how much you take out and which lenders you choose. If you can go to a university at home to avoid paying room and board, do it. You can always party with friends on the weekends. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Dying Breed: The Times-Tribune Gives Away Readership Without a Fight

Not so long ago, I moved to a new apartment. Trying to save pennies where I could, I spammed my co-workers' inboxes asking if anyone had old newspapers they could bring in for me to pack with. Not one person responded, which I found a tad bit upsetting until a few days later at lunch. A friend jokingly pointed out, "Monica, no one subscribes to newspapers anymore. We are all in our 20s and we read the news online... not sure where you were going with that email."

It made perfect sense. Living in Philadelphia, I don't know a single person who gets the newspaper sent to their door anymore. Working in digital marketing, I should be more aware than anyone that print is a dying breed. However, I shouldn't be too hard on myself, as The Times-Tribune in Scranton (my hometown) seems to be overlooking that small detail as well.

As an avid news-reader, I love to keep up with the news from my hometown. Recently, I went on a news-binge since there was a high-profile murder case going on. (Search Neil Pal & Jason Dominick if interested) So, I head on over to their website and as soon as I click on an article, I am confronted with this gem.


5 free articles? FIVE? For an entire month? Wow, thanks Times-Tribune! Also, $10 is more than what my Netflix subscription costs me... so uh, no.

I get it. Newspapers have to make money somehow. With the digital age growing to its full prime and print media dying a slow, painful death, it's tempting to beg for money in anyway you can. 

In Scranton, though, The Times-Tribune already has an advantage - they are the largest local newspaper around. If anyone is going to subscribe to the paper, it's going to be the Times. Obviously, even if it crossed my mind to subscribe to the paper, I cannot have it delivered to Philadelphia - but hey, I'm 24 and let's be honest: I will probably never in my life need to subscribe to a newspaper.

To vent my anger, as always, I turned to Twitter:


Reply:

Hmm... Okay, well first, it's very nice of The Times-Tribune to reply back. But here's a question for the Times: Do you think I will go through the trouble of calling my parents, getting their "All-Access Membership" information just to read an article on your website? (Which, as a side note, I'm sure my parents aren't even sure what this is.) Or, do you think I might just open a new tab and go to WNEP.com to check their articles? 

You guessed it - I opened the new tab and got my news right away. It's sad, too, because WNEP is a cable news source, so they aren't quite in the same dilemma as the Times. Yet, the Times is basically inviting their readership to check out different news sources.

Also, threading from the same Tweet:

So not only are you only granting us out-of-towners 5 articles per month, you also are charging through-the-roof rates for the people who do subscribe. 

I've done some research for you, Times-Tribune, and found some easily accessible articles from the internet. Let me just re-iterate - easily accessible. I even found a nice little tech talk for you. Oh, here's a TED talk, too. 

I leave you with this - I understand the dilemma: you need to make a profit somehow and your writers need to get paid. However, you are speeding up the time to your last dying breath with the tactics you are using right now. Plain and simple, people will not pay for articles online - it just will not happen when there are so many free sources available. The younger generation is not subscribing to actual print media - that would require a trip to our front door, when we would rather just stay cozied up in bed with our iPads (we are "Millenials" after all.) I urge you to reconsider your policy, not only for my selfish purposes - but to conserve a news source that has been around since 1870.