Doing Your Best Right Now

Before this whole c*vid-19 mess, a recurring theme that I’d been talking about with my therapist was Brené Brown’s theory that people are generally doing their best. It’s been useful to remember to assume the best in the people in my life, and now sure seems like a good time to try to assume the best in others—that in our communities, and as a national and global society, we’ll care for and be considerate of everyone during such an uncertain and, frankly, scary time. (And by that I mean stay home and wash our hands and help out those in less fortunate situations than ourselves.)

I also think it’s a good time to turn that theory of “people are doing their best” back on yourself, AKA give yourself a break because I’m going to assume you’re doing the best you can. I mean you know if you’re not being kind or safe, but assuming you are, I think it’s more common for us to constantly feel like we’re not doing enough or being enough when we’re really giving all we’ve got to give.

And right now, I think the best thing you can do amidst a literal pandemic is cut the negative self-criticism and listen to your own needs while we spend this time inside.

Stop worrying about productivity. I get it; way easier said than done. You could argue that I’m here, pressuring myself to blog before the month is up, but actually, inspiration and discipline have brought me to this page rather than pressure. I’m still learning the difference, but I guess the easiest determining factor is that I want to be here. I want to feel connected to myself and serve others in any positive way I can. This is what I’ve got (and it’s enough that it’s making me feel better, though I hope it helps you too).

Other things that have brought me back into my own sense of calm and joy are: yoga, reading, journaling, tapping, sleeping, watching TV, and talking to my people.

I’m fortunate to be working from home, but I know my back and neck are extra tense, and Yoga with Adriene is helping that and to calm my mind. I’m admittedly slow at 30-day challenges and only on day four of her Home series, but it feels fitting to find peace on my mat and in my home since we’ve all got some time to get comfy.

I dove back into Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of essays she wrote when she was the advice columnist Sugar for The Rumpus. It’s one of my favorite nonfiction collections. I’ve been journaling when I’m pretty fed up with this whole thing and feeling anxious and in disbelief that at this random time, in a year I had already made some cool plans for, we’re somehow in the middle of what will surely be a bad page in a history textbook. It helps to feel my feelings, and then they’re not so loud once I’ve acknowledged them or gained some perspective on how I can move forward.

When I need an extra dose of positivity or a reminder of the best self I’m striving to be, I tap by following along with Gala Darling. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) involves tapping certain points of your body to basically rebalance your energy. Gala explains it better, and she keeps it real while being very optimistic and a huge believer in manifesting great things for yourself.

I mentioned sleep because I’ve been trying to make sure I’m getting my eight hours as a night owl who’s good at accidentally staying up much later than I mean to. It’s good for my moods and my immune system, so I highly recommend, especially since the stress of this situation is heavy and exhausting.

Of course, I’m watching Netflix, specifically New Girl and That ’70s Show and Tiger King (which is insane, so many more layers than anticipated). I’ve been trying to color or use activity books as well, something for my hands to focus on that isn’t scrolling through all the news or social media updates because I find that I can’t be plugged in all the time for the sake of my own anxiety. I’ve also been brushing up on my French with Duolingo, something I’m having fun with whether I spend five or 30 minutes a day on it.

And I’m calling my people; my family, my friends, my therapist. I’m working to expand my phone network, but I’m off to a good start with a birthday call for my brother’s 30th and a virtual spa night with my friends and other calls to vent and laugh and check in more than maybe we were before things shifted.

Essentially, I’m doing my best by taking the best care of myself that I can. I’m not doing all these things every day. I’m not feeling positive 100% of the time. I don’t know when things will go back to “normal”which will probably look different after all thisbut I’m still hoping for the best and holding onto the knowledge that I’m doing all I can for myself and for others by staying inside and finding joy in it.

Show up for YOURSELF

Happy August! Before I get into what’s been on my brain, a few crazy facts for you:

– We’re less than six months from 2020 (what?!)

– Those of us who graduated in May have been out of college for three months (how??)

– I’ve had to live with a boy (*queue Monica’s whining voice) for these past three months, but I think he’d agree that it’s going pretty well (we’re very much Monica and Chandler, what’re ya gonna do?)

– Anndd I’ve successfully completed an internship at an ad agency and had my position extended!

That’s really what I want to get into: getting used to this new 9-5 business. None of the jobs I had during college resembled a Monday-Friday, 9-5 office job, but now that’s my life.

Or is it?

I started writing this to vent about how the past months have flown by as I’ve tried to adjust to this new realm of adulthood. I’ve focused so much on the facets of my post-grad life–mainly getting used to my work routine, but also learning how to live with my significant other, making friends, and navigating/driving again–that I haven’t been writing.

While those things have compounded to make me feel pretty busy all summer, I think the heart of my frustration isn’t the fault of a time-consuming 9-5; it has been me trying to find safety amidst so much change. (For those following along, big surprise, right?)

It’s felt safer to me to avoid the writing I did for my thesis that was really getting somewhere but taking real work to get there. Safer to consume TV than to do the things I know would make me feel better more sustainably, like reading or yoga. Safer to slip into a routine with JT that involves more focus on us together than to carve space for myself because I haven’t had to before; we were hundreds of miles apart and I had all the space I could want.

These examples prove that safer is synonymous with easier. I’m letting myself take the easy way out by avoiding the work or peace-bringing activities I know in my gut I should be doing.

Sometimes I do need Netflix time with JT because my brain is exhausted, but if I don’t start setting aside the time and energy, if I don’t do the damn work, the writing won’t get done. And it’s about more than writing; it’s about personal fulfillment. My whole life can’t be based on logistics and my identity is certainly not my day job.

I have hobbies and passions and creative work that I feel like it’s my responsibility to bring into the world. I don’t want to ignore my impulses to take time doing the things I love and the things that make me feel connected to myself. I have to do better at creating space to pursue the things that enrich my life (or even just make it better for a few minutes) while also pursuing this new profession I’m trying on for size.

I don’t think I’m the only one learning how to handle showing up at a new job I’m excited about and still showing up for myself. I don’t have a magic answer, just a couple steps I’m trying out, like:

– Setting reminders on my phone. The goal is that these daily reminders become habits that don’t need reminding. And it’s super satisfying to click “completed” or whatever as soon as it pops up because I already put in the time writing or stretching etc. 

– Going to free workout sessions in my town that alternate between cardio, yoga, pilates, and even hip-hop dancing. It’s nice to have one night a week I force myself to get out of the house and just spend time being active and out of my own head.

– Visiting my library! I definitely just checked out too many books, but I want to be sucked into a good book (or three) because I find that so much more fulfilling than wasting time refreshing Instagram.

Whatever you’re struggling to prioritize in your new season is valid, but I hope this serves as reassurance that we’re in this together, and we have to focus on more than just showing up to work. Let’s show up for ourselves, too 🙂 

Reconnect Before the Next Step

A concept I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: reconnecting before the next step in my life. It’s really almost here; I’m six weeks from graduating college.

These next few weeks are a season of lasts; the last weeks of living in a high rise with a view of the Willis Tower in downtown Chicago, with the Rachel to my Monica, and of walking or riding the L to work. The final weeks I’ll be at Columbia, surrounded by a community of writers I so admire who have helped build and challenge my work, and the final weeks I’ll be copy chief at Illinois’ #1 non-daily collegiate newspaper. I’ll miss the chaos of the city and the paper and the best friends I’ve made.

But I’m moving to a different city in my home state, and I’m so excited to explore, immerse myself in it, and join the writing community there. I’ll be living with JT–waking up with my best friend, having regular date nights, making dinner with the guy I love instead of FaceTiming him, all the small things I’m so looking forward to.

And so it’s a lot of sadness muddled with excitement and nerves to process in such a short amount of time, even though it feels like everything is coming together. My solution? Checking back in with what’s important to me right now so I don’t get lost in the time that’s flying by.

In other words, reconnecting with myself; If I don’t carve out time to reflect and process everything I just mentioned, this season may also include a lot of breakdowns. Honestly, it may either way (change is always hard for me), but I think it’s still important to care for myself in the best ways I can. So, I’m going to yoga with a friend on Wednesdays again. I’m making more time to journal and focus on writing. I’m embracing girl’s days with my friends because sometimes you just need a day to binge the “Twilight” movies and check in with each other.

Which brings me to my second priority: reconnecting with friends. Specifically, my female friends who have been evolving the ways I think about the world and myself for the better. They love me and make me feel empowered and remind me how important it is to make sure they feel the same. I’m fortunate to have awesome women in my life every day and to have friends I’ve made in the last year that I also want to spend more time with before I’m a little farther away.

Reconnecting with home; I mean this on several levels. First, home has had three separate meanings for four years, and it’s about to take on a new one. I can’t fully grasp that right now, not before it’s taken shape, but it’s definitely something I’m thinking of and trying to cope ahead about.

Second, being okay with stasis. It’s spring break season right now and all of our social media feeds are full of tropical vacation pics. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t bummed I didn’t go to Southern California or to AWP or just somewhere for an actual vacation. But there is beauty in being stationary, in being grateful for the home you’re comfortable in and lucky to have and people who make it so. Last year, I was so, so fortunate to go to Europe and to California and to Alabama, trips that I needed for different reasons and that taught me to think of home (and a lot of other things) in new perspectives. This spring, I picked up a few extra work shifts and then headed home, out of the city, to spend time with my family, my childhood bff, and JT.

I’ve said it time and again, but sometimes what you need is so understated; walking through HomeGoods with your grandma; eating froyo in the park with the best friend you’ve had since second grade; waking up to see the light perfectly illuminate the periwinkle walls of your childhood room. Sometimes, what you need is rest, and when you can’t get a huge quantity of that, you have to hold tight to the simple things that make you feel better.

That’s the plan for what’s left of Spring 2019 and beyond.

You are Most Important

This past Wednesday, October 10th, was World Mental Health Day. It happened to coincide nicely (so much sarcasm here) with the worst anxiety I’ve had in months, and so I’ve been thinking a lot about my mental health this week.

Some people may remember, but my freshman year of college was a really, really difficult transition period for me. I know that sounds dramatic on the surface, and that not everyone can relate, but the displacement and anxiety I felt about everything (e v e r y t h i n g) was new and seemed extreme. I learned what panic attacks felt like for me and how to recognize when my body is responding anxiously and what habits or patterns of thinking contributed to it. I am not here to say it was magically cured because I figured out how to pay attention to it or that it has just resurfaced suddenly; I’m constantly learning more about what makes me anxious and, lately, constantly feeling anxious.

But that’s not what I’ve wanted to share all week. What I want to share is something I realized after a particularly bad day of panic earlier this week:

I have to stick with decisions that I’ve already made with my best interests in mind.

For example, if I’ve decided that I’m going to do an assignment for a class a certain way because it’s my best stab at meeting the requirements in respect to what I can physically and mentally handle, even if it means ignoring a certain guideline, that’s just how that assignment is going to get done. Second-guessing myself and trying to change everything at the last minute to avoid a lesser grade or an annoyed professor cannot be my gut reaction before I turn things init’s just not that big of a deal.

I wrestle with that concept a lot because I am a rule follower. Unless I think a rule is really ridiculous, I’ll comply. Even then, I’ll sometimes follow it because that’s just the ideology I’ve been ingrained with. Following rules has gotten me good grades which led to being high school Valedictorian and receiving an academic scholarship to the college I really wanted to go to and all sorts of praise from teachers along the way. It’s obviously rewarded me, and sometimes even pushed me to do my best work. And so, old habits and all that.

Regardless, there are instanceslike in your senior year of college where you’re feeling tremendous stress to figure out the next steps of your life and you have a job you love that demands a lot of time, and so much homework, the thought of your to-do list physically knots your stomachwhen you have to prioritize.

Put yourself first. You are most important.

Ironically, I’m doing that now as I type this, taking a break from that stupid to-do list because this is what I feel like I need to be doing. Also ironically, I found myself sharing this advice with one of my closest friends just this morning. And I will keep telling myself:

Stick with decisions you’ve already made with your best interests in mind because folding to the expectations of others is not worth your wellbeing.

This doesn’t mean I’m just gonna b.s. my homework for the next semester and a half; frankly, I care too much for that. But it’s about knowing when I’m caring more about an A than how many hours of sleep I’m getting or whether or not I’ve done yoga in the last two weeks or any self-care that helps me manage my anxiety. Because so much more harm is done when I ignore it and pretend that everything is fine because I feel like it has to be, like I don’t have time to acknowledge the actual state of my mental health.

I have to make time. I hope you make time, too.


Things You Can Control

We all face times when life isn’t going as planned. I’ve recently felt stuck, and let me tell you, I am not one who enjoys waiting or the unknown. When things aren’t going my way, my first instincts are impatience and over-analyzation. I’ve had to acknowledge that these negative emotions don’t help anything. Instead, they put you even further into a funk, making it hard to see that your situation is only temporary. And more importantly, there are still things you can control, even when it feels like everything else is out of your control.

The three key things you can still control:

1. Yourself (physically)

I’m not about to tell you to diet or hit the gym every day–unless that’s what you do to clear your head and heart. For me, that does include yoga and my own version of meditation. What I’m trying to say is that I think the first thing to realize when you feel unsure of everything is that you can feel sure about yourself. You can connect your body and your breath through yoga (or cardio or strength training or running, whatever happens to be your thing), reminding yourself that you’re physically and mentally strong. You can be confident that you look great by wearing your favorite outfit and taking a bunch of photos. You can wear a full face of makeup, or wear no makeup and do a face mask–just do what you’ve got to do to smile at the mirror and acknowledge that you’re still taking care of yourself.

2. Your Space

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Whether you’re consciously frustrated from clutter or emptiness, or it’s something that’s always been further down your to-do list, take charge of your space. Tidy. Decorate. And if it still feels off, maybe it has more to do with the place itself. Evaluate where you really need to be, physically or geographically, while you’re going through your funk. If you need time alone, go to your favorite solitary spot, like your local cafe or library. If you need comfort and support, go to a place filled with friends or family. I recently decided to spend some time in my hometown to feel grounded and give my current situation some time.

3. Your Time

Your most valuable resource to give–your time–is still completely under your control! And if you’re in a place in life you don’t want to be, choose to use your time for yourself. Make priorities. Is there something you feel you need to do to reach a goal and get out of your funk? Do it. Seize opportunities. Be purposeful in working towards making the changes you need to get out of your rut and turn your dreams into reality.

And that may just mean repeating these steps until all that’s left to do is step back and exercise some patience–or so I’m learning.

Awaiting Departure

Written yesterday, 12-26-17:

For the first time, I am traveling this holiday season. My first destination is Frankfurt, where I’ll stay with my older brother, get a taste of Germany in the winter, and ring in the New Year. My second travel destination is Paris, for a short study abroad trip, where I will get to read and write in Hemingway’s old haunts.

Because of this impending trip, the last few days, weeks really, have been a roller coaster of emotions.

First, there has been stress; I was so worried about planning every detail and then so overwhelmed when I discovered that I physically couldn’t do that AND live in the moments leading up to Christmas with my family—and that was all the time that I had with them.

Then excitement; obviously, I mean, I’m going to Europe! I’ve been once before, when I was seventeen, and I fell in love with Germany in July (who wouldn’t?). So, three years later, it’s finally time to reunite with this particular long distance love, at the opposite time of year, AND get to see Paris for the first time. It sounds like a dream when I simply say where I’m going, let alone when I dive into my plans.

But there was also sadness; I traveled on Christmas, my absolute favorite holiday of the year, leaving my cozy house and actual long-distance boyfriend after only six days together, and then my trip took longer than expected because of a ridiculous Amtrak ordeal (in short, it should NEVER be okay to sell bus tickets as connections to train tickets and then refuse to wait for that connection that YOU SOLD @Amtrak). On my extended bus ride, I was having vivid flashbacks to my freshman year of college; I was experiencing the same kind of loss, the kind that you feel when leaving behind those you want to take with you, knowing you have to in order to get the most out of the amazing experience in front of you.

And anxiety; do I have everything? Will I get everything taken care of before it’s time to leave? Do I have everything on my list? Wait, did I even make a full list? Do I need two coats? Should I have convinced someone to fly with me? Would that have made this less stressful? Also, am I going to get sick, between the airport and my lack of sleep and trying to fit what I can of my usual five-week holiday break into one? How can I be thinking all of these things at once??

Finally, exhaustion; this past semester was easily the most difficult, and I feel like I have yet to totally shake the anxiety and weariness I gained from it. I keep having to remind myself that it’s over, and that I deserve this trip, and most importantly, this entire trip is FOR ME. To rest, to spend time with my brother, and to learn and create in a beautiful, historic location. Trying to triple check every detail of my packing wasn’t helping my mental health; I wasn’t as organized as I would’ve liked and my obsessiveness was only adding extra pressure. In the last few days, I’ve had to do my best to check myself, to say “I don’t need that,” or “I don’t need to worry about it,” and move on to do the things I’ve been meaning to prioritize, things I was forgetting because my brain was too tired and preoccupied.

To that end, I feel better. I’m sitting at my gate in O’hare, two hours early, with everything as taken care of as I can make it. I did not get enough sleep (as my teacher stressed we should), but I never do before important travel or other events. I’m doing my best to self-care in any other ways I can today.

That’s my goal for this entire trip: self-care. I realized in taking the time to write all of this out that I need to make time to do what I value so that I can check in with myself, feel grounded, and grow from there.

Here’s to exploring, engaging, and writing for myself in the New Year. 

Stay tuned for more from my travels abroad!


College is a Time to Treat Yourself

I know the timing of this is a little ironic as it’s finals time – a period notorious for being difficult to get ourselves through in one piece. Regardless, I’ve been reflecting on how well I’ve taken care of myself during the last two years of college, and how good I feel right now, about myself and my life.

We all know college is supposed to be when we take responsibility for ourselves as adults, but I think it should go further than that. I think it’s the best time to start treating ourselves well. We need to treat our minds and bodies the way they deserve to be treated because it sets the stage for the rest of our adult lives. It’s like that famous Tolle quote, “If not now, when?” I think that if we don’t treat ourselves well now, we probably never will, or, at the very least, it will be even harder to do so down the road.

I didn’t come to this conclusion on purpose. I realized that in the last two years that I’ve been responsible for myself, I’ve naturally been drawn to doing the things that I want to do. I’ve done a lot of stupid things like stay up late for no reason when I have class the next morning that I’ve realized aren’t good for me. On the flip-side, I’ve also done some really healthy stuff for myself purely because it made me feel better, be it physically, mentally, or emotionally. 

Here are 4 really simple ways to treat yourself (or continue to treat yourself) right next semester:

#1 – Exercise

You’re thinking, “Duh,” right? I get it, everyone knows that to be healthy you should be physically active. But I want you to start reading this by feeling positive instead of negative; think of all the places you walk! A lot of time in college is spent walking through campus to class, or if you’re on an urban campus like mine, walking through the city. We are definitely getting our steps in.

To take exercise further, and remain positive, don’t think about hitting your campus or apartment building’s gym as a chore to attempt to lose weight. Think of it as a way to relieve stress and anxiety. Last year, I got into a routine of doing maybe 15 to 20 minutes of cardio every morning – just enough to get my heart elevated before I started my day. My anxiety was so bad freshmen year, and it was one of the major things that helped. I also started attending yoga at the dorm building across the street from mine once a week. This year, I was lucky enough to even be able to sign up for an actual credited yoga class. You may not have that option, but look up free yoga or gyms to hit up a few times a week! Make your only goal to spend some time releasing your endorphins, raising your heart rate, and clearing your mind. You deserve that.

#2 – Eat Well

If we’re going to talk exercise, we have to talk diet, right? Like I said, as college students, we all depend a little too much on eating out and microwaveable food sometimes. I’m 100% guilty of attempting to survive off of (gluten-free) chicken nuggets. But the cool thing about buying your own groceries is that they can be as healthy as you want them to be. For example, I like making chicken nugget salads and throwing together my own chicken noodle soup with organic broth and veggies. My roommate and I alternate who’s going to buy fruit bowls for us to share for the next week. Once in a while, we grab salads from Panera. The point is, it’s worth it to buy fruits and veggies instead of tons of sugary or salty snack food, even if it costs a little more (I personally don’t think there’s much difference $ wise). Plus, there are plenty of ways to find those kinds of snacks that taste bad for you, but really aren’t – and I would know, as I don’t eat gluten or much dairy. If you also have a food allergy or intolerance, college is cool because there is a very good chance your new friends will be supportive and willing to educate themselves on what you can and can’t eat. I know I used to be shy about telling people because it can be a hassle, but college has completely changed my attitude about it. And let’s face it, it is so much easier to be straightforward about allergies/intolerances than to have to explain why you’re having a bad reaction later. So again, eat what makes you feel good – it will literally make everything better.

#3 – Do What You Want

Speaking of prioritizing my diet, I’ve also begun prioritizing my time. As I’m sure pretty much every college kid has realized, thanks to tweets/tumblr posts of it going around, you don’t have to be friends with/hangout with people just because you see them five days a week anymore. In college, you’re lucky to see your roommate five days a week, between class and work schedules, not to mention other friends and significant others. The point is, you can opt to spend your time doing whatever you want with whomever you want. Personally, I would much rather stay in and try to get to some homework done while watching Netflix with my roommate two out of three nights in a weekend (weekends start on Thursday in college), than continuously going out with people I don’t know as well and procrastinating. That’s a choice; a lot of people would rather go out. The point is, you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone either way. You don’t have to apologize for your choices, whether they’re social or antisocial. Distress when you feel like you need to, and get your work done when you feel you need to. Basically, you do you.

#4 – Wear What You Want

Another obvious one? Yes, but I’m kind of fascinated by how great I feel some days when I spend a little more time on my appearance. Maybe it’s just that everything was so casual at my high school and I now go to an art school, but I’ve stopped wearing sweatshirts four days a week. Which is good – I have a ridiculous amount of other clothing. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you had the same habit I did before college where you saved all your favorite clothes for a “nice” occasion, stop. Wear clothes that make you feel good every day. Even if you have a 9 am, and you’re set on wearing leggings, wear your “good” ones. Clothes can eventually be replaced, but you can’t go back and change how a bad first impression or a negative/insecure attitude you had after telling yourself you “should” just wear those old pants and shirt because who cares? Do yourself a favor and be the one who cares.

#5 – Anything Else That Makes You Feel Good

Do you enjoy writing or journaling? Cleaning when your roommates are gone (any other Monicas out there?)? Watching Shameless after a day of three classes? Go for it. I know we’re all busy, but we are also probably more in control of our schedules now than we’re ever going to be, so do what you need to do for yourself to have a good day, week, or semester.

I know that none of us have a lot of time or money to waste, but don’t think of treating yourself well as a waste, or as something you have to spend a lot to do. You deserve it, and you can show yourself love in all the little ways that I just talked about.