Up the Ante: Self-Care that Challenges

It has been a bit since we've talked about self care.

Which is great, because apparently that's polarizing now, and uh, who knew. 

I feel like y'all have a really good idea on where I am at with self-care.

But if you don't, go over here and read about how I truly believe that self-care is a hell of a lot more than paying a lot for coffee and calling it self-care. (Hint: you must actually focus on what/why/how to care for yourself while practicing self-care. Otherwise you're just, you know, buying coffee and hoping that you feel better because of it.)


Anyways. 

I started trying something new in this season...self-care that forces me to be outside of my bubble. And If you'll bear with me just a bit here, we can talk about a bubble first.

When my life is like...this. And it is hard for me to do things like eat, or run, or tell people what's going on - I get very comfortable in my shell. Very.

I wear a lot of the same comfy outfits. I eat the same three or four meals (literally.) If I run, I run the same routes. I make my whole life as routine as possible - because that is easy, and safe, and predictable. And those things don't hurt.

My bubble is simple. It's black and white. It's yes and no. It's do this, get that.

While I definitely like that comfort, it is not really conducive to, well, growth, for one. I've also come to see that it is also, arguably, not great when it comes to actively caring for myself. It allows me to protect myself, yes. But not care.


So!

Acknowledging that self-care can be challenging, and even something that forces you to be uncomfortable, has been really important for me in the last few weeks.

But...what does that look like, right? What does challenging yourself, while caring for yourself look like?

It looks like running on roads I deemed too risky, or too public. 

It looks like forcing myself to go new restaurants, stores, and classes that I've never been to before.

It looks like trying my damndest to work outside of what I can easily cook and eat.

It looks like playing with makeup, when I would rather just crawl into bed.

It looks like talking to new people.

It looks like it should be easy, but it is hard, conscious work.



It is a damn challenge for me to be okay with enjoying that risky running route. It's hard for me to embrace the idea of having fun in a new place, or liking a new restaurant. It isn't easy for me to cook new things, or make new outfits - when standbys are comfortable.

But doing those things is ushering me into a new level of confident, of happy even if, of capable, and strong, and you know - being a well-cared for individual.  Because when you recognize that comfort isn't serving you, that challenge becomes far more important.

And that challenge becomes a new way to care for yourself. What you're doing to care for yourself is important, really, and I don't want to discount that. But whether it is a pedicure, a six mile run through downtown Burlington, or breaking in a new cookbook - it is why you are doing it and how you are using that time and that energy that has the value.



Self-care isn't just an action.

Self-care is learning to embrace a need within you that asks for more. More time to yourself, more courage, more challenge, more moments of reflection, more chances to grow.

Self-care is listing to why you are asking for more. You aren't craving the time to yourself, the courage, the challenge, the moments of reflection, and the chances to grow because it is trendy to post about self-care on the internet.

Although if you are, maybe reevaluate? 



You are craving it because something is missing.

Maybe, you're like me, and you're lonely as hell and playing it safe so that you can work your way back to being the badass dream slayer that you know yourself to be. 

Maybe, you've been in the same spot too long. Maybe, you've let the unhealthy relationships in your life bog you down. Maybe you've been lying to yourself about what does feel like a challenge.

And maybe, it is just time to look at what caring for yourself, means to you.

Here Is What Is Going On

I think at this point we are all pretty clear on the fact that I share a lot of my life, and my self, on the internet.

Obviously, there are moments in my life that won't ever be on the internet, and a lot those have to do with my heart. Really, protecting my heart.

So when I think about where I'm at right now, and where my heart is at right now, I'm struggling.

Because part of me wants to share it. Part of me wants to talk about feeling so less-than, and inadequate, and unloveable, and scared, and lonely.

And part of me is recognizing that there might be a threshold here that I'm not ready to cross again.


I've shared a lot of my heart already. I think - and I hope - I've done so in a way that says this is my side of the story. Because it is important to me to be aware that not every story is wholly mine, and so it is not wholly mine to share.

But I'm at a point where this burning in my heart is just, so damn painful.

I know that that's vague, and maybe not super helpful in this context.

So I think my point is that I know I'm holding back. I know there's a large part of this story that you all aren't getting right now. And it is causing...a few things.

//

First of all, it is making me feel like I can't say a lot about this pain.

I don't want to be vague and annoying. I want to be clear about what hurts, and why. I know that that is when I'm actually able to connect with y'all. And that is when I am able to keep building these bizarre and magnificent internet friendships.

It is when I am clear about my pain, and my triumphs, and - this phrase doesn't thrill me but - my truth, that I feel like I'm actually doing more than just spilling my guts on the internet.


But it is also making me feel really distant.

I know if I'm not willing to be vague and annoying, and I'm not ready, or able, to be totally clear...then there is a discrepancy between who I am online, and who I am right here in, you know, real life.

I don't want that. I don't want to feel like a whole piece of who I am right now is floating silently in the background of everything I say.

The sad reality is that I already often feel really separated from parts of my life.

Especially in the head space that I'm in these days - connections are already difficult, engaging in my life is already difficult.  I spend the better part of each day forcing myself to work on staying engaged, and staying out of my own head, and not focusing on my own pain.

So ideally that doesn't carryover. Ideally, if I'm feeling like I want to connect with other people, and I like I want to share my life, I don't want to feel like there is a wall there too.


The other thing is that holding back, and this separation between life, and what I'm sharing about my life - it isn't serving me.

And I don't mean to say that my pain should always serve me, because I don't necessarily believe that. And I don't mean to say that I only use my space on the internet to serve me, because I think it's actually the opposite.

But, I am not helping myself - and I am not serving my own sense of healing, or closure, or anything - if I am not allowing all the parts to get the same kind of exposure.

It is like failing to turn a plant, and wondering why the 40% of the plant that is not getting any light isn't thriving.

I'm not giving it light, and I am sure as hell not thriving.


So, I don't know yet how to shed light on this without cracking open the cover on a couple stories that I don't think are ready to be shared.

I don't know how to share those parts of my heart.

I do know that they are soaked in pain, and hurt, and worry, and feeling like it will never be enough.

And I don't know how to tell those stories without sounding like I'm being too dramatic, or throwing someone under the bus, or diminishing the layers of how the stories came together, or devaluing the parts that are truly important, or glorifying the details that are, albeit juicier, but irrelevant.

So, here we are.

There are pieces of me I don't know how to share with you.

And I know that it's keeping a wall up. And I know that it isn't helping me. And I know it's not making it easier to be...where I am. And I don't know if that's going to change, because the reality is, the stories aren't going to.

So thank you, for handling my vagueness. And sticking with me anyways. And supporting me anyways. And reaching out anyways.

And in an effort to be more transparent, here's a lil nugget for you:

I got Bumble last night.

For all of four hours.

And I hated it.

Well, not wholly true. I really loved the BFF function. But I could not handle the horrendous dating side of it, so I deleted my account. Already.


4 Ways Through Anxiety: Birthday Edition

It's a month before my birthday, and I'm nervous.

Is that weird, to be worried about celebrating at 26?

Probably, right?

It isn't that I'm worried about turning 26. Because, I don't know, I guess I don't really care about that part. But I'm just worried that this year is going be...hard.

I mean, you guys remember last year. What a day. It was magical, if you want to know the truth. I was really excited to be 25. And I was even more excited because I felt like I had so much to celebrate. I was so happy. And I had so many people in my life that I wanted to be happy with, on my birthday.


This year is different, of course.

I think it's obvious - but I'll say it anyways - it isn't that I don't have people in my life now. Really, that's not the case. There are many wonderful people in my life that - every day - make me happy.

But they are spread around in my life. And I think - maybe as childish as it sounds - that this is really about being let down. That, maybe, this is really about being worried that all the black clouds that hang out in my life day-to-day will be there on my birthday.

So that thing that they say about depression, loss of interest in your life that's true, we know that. I think you can see that is true for me from time to time. But do you ever hear how anxiety gives you fear of disappointment in your life?

Because I get that one all the time.

What if it's not a good run?

What if my birthday is just me, by myself?

What if I can't buy a house in my 30s? 

What if I am always alone?

Honestly, I could go on.


But the reality is that sometimes there is a fear that pulses through me, and it is literally just about living my life.

Yes, that's more anxiety than anything else. Of course. The sense of dread and fear that I feel just about leaving my house sometimes, let alone celebrating, that is anxiety.

So how do you cope, right? Because the birthday is gonna come. And the reality is that it could be me, the dog, and some Moe's. And we all know that I am the type of person that would let that get to me.

1. Well, make a better plan.

When it comes to anxiety, my number one solution is always to make a better plan. Because my anxiety likes to poke holes, in everything. So it's my job to fill the holes before they open.

If that means I'm gonna bake myself a dang cake, so be it. I'll buy the cake mix. If that means I'm gonna go for a long run, great, I'll make plans for Peeks. If that means I need to plan breakfast, working hours, lunch, and dinner, then I'll do it.


2. Also, stay away from things that make it hard to be happy.

Seems simple enough, but again, gotta work it into the plan.

So for me? That means not feeling guilt about food, and not worrying about making other people feel validated on my day (side note: should we talk about emotional labor? As an empath I'm constantly working on knowing when to shut my emotional faucet OFF, but... God. Tanget. Sorry.)

I'm gonna stay away from the notion of have tos and shoulds and must-hit milestones. 



3. While you're at it, have an escape route. 

If I have to get the hell out of dodge - which often happens with me and my anxiety. I need to know I can, and how. Usually, that just means an hour of driving around in the car. But sometimes it is four days of seclusion in my parent's empty house.

Either way, you gotta have a way "out," that works for you. A way to find your off switch.


4. If you're going to feel left out, it's on you to find a way...in

FOMO is real. And FOMO with anxiety is...kind of insanely persistent?

Especially when it comes to big events or to-dos I think it's consistently important to remind myself that I cannot feel bad about feeling left out, if I'm not going to make an effort to be let in.

This works for just about everything. But essentially, if I want to be with people, I know that I have to make that effort. And frankly, that it is going to take a lot of effort. Because 9 times out of 10 it is really easy to let me, convince me, to stay home...in bed. Alone.


And that's it.

That's my plan.

I mean, we are a month out. I have time to make a plan, and get my act together, and stop being so stupidly scared of a date on a calendar.

So here's to recognizing anxieties as they come? And not acting like I can't just wish it away? Because a girl with a plan is unstoppable? Or something like that?



Real World: Recovery

I don't talk too much about my experiences with disordered eating. For some reason, they are still inherently private to me.

In general, I guess that isn't surprising. I think it's just when it comes to me, as someone who shares a lot of herself and her dark spots with the internet, it is a little surprising.

It's not that I'm entirely opposed to sharing it with y'all.

But I do think that I struggle more with the stigma of an ED, than the stigma of depression, or anxiety. A lot of that, I know, has to do with having far more years of depression under my belt.

Frankly, I also think that most of the really a-typical stereotypes that follow people who have depression don't consistently bother me (day-to-day. Obviously they bother me on an intellectual level. They should bother you too, honestly.)


I like to believe that is because I surround myself with people who are educated enough to understand that a breakup didn't make me depressed. And educated enough to know that things like shopping, working out, eating well, and baths are also not going to be the things that cure me.

But, EDs are different right now.

The stigma is skewed, because the understanding is skewed. I do really think that now, more than ever, you have to look sick, to "be" sick. Now, more than ever, the validity and pervasiveness of EDs are being overlooked.

Because disordered eating is normalized, diet culture is mainstream in 100 different ways every day, "fitspo" and "thinspo" are now interchangeable, drinking your meals is "healthy," and because I keep hearing "cheats/treats/guilty pleasures." The list goes on and on.

And I'll be totally transparent - that shit makes me want to shut the heck up on tough days.

Look, it's not like I haven't bought into some of this. I know dang well that when I have prepped for pageants, I have sprinted down that slippery slope.


Admittedly, it is really hard to see how you can be contributing to an unhealthy narrative when you truly believe that your behavior is otherwise healthy and acceptable.

Should I have done Whole30? Nope.

Should I be telling people how to carb cycle? Honestly, no.

Should I be counting macros and calories and whatever hell else? Right now, no.

I understand that there's a time and a place for "prep behavior." But that line is so thin, and so many people do not know it. Sometimes, even I didn't.

That alone means I've contributed to the culture that devalues an ED diagnosis. That alone means that I've taken my own experience and brushed it off in a manner that honestly, is a little disgusting at this point.

So, to say that I have a hard time talking about it...all of this? That's why.

//

That, and I still have hard days.

Really hard days.

Honestly? This week, I had two.

Which is rare, admittedly. But it stung. And it was hard. I wanted so so badly to give into the notion that I can't eat that, and that I don't deserve that, maybe worst yet that I haven't earned that.

If you're confused: there are no such thing as "no" foods, there are no such things as foods that need to be deserved, or earned. You don't have to do X to get Y here. Food is food.

And some days, I spend a whole day telling myself, you can eat that, it's okay. 

And some days, I cry in Healthy Living because the pressure is literally too much. And I pick up bread and put it back twice. And I worry that the girl at the check out judges my single piece of chocolate. And I spend the entire time there worried, and anxious, and aware, and scared.


That's real.

That's also why we have therapy, so like, please keep your head on your shoulders too here. I have coping mechanisms. I do eat. But I struggle too.

So, I don't talk about this much.

Because even right now, I'm writing this and thinking that y'all are going to try to jump down my throat here. That somehow I'm not someone who's allowed to be in recovery here. Because, it doesn't look like it. Because I have a lil tummy squish.

It's hard to share that sometimes the most basic form of human sustenance sometimes sends my anxiety through the roof.

It's hard to say that sometimes I have to go through the truths, one by one.

Food is nourishment. Your body is healthy. What you eat is dictated by no one. And your anxiety doesn't control you here, not again. 



That's hard.

Especially when the culture right now is all workout fads, and new diets, and calling consistent food restricting a "lifestyle," and acting like "cheats" are normal, and like eating isn't inherently tied to emotion, and like we have to somehow throw all of our stock into fitness and health and well-being to matter right now in this arena.

That's ridiculous.

I walked away from the notion that I have to workout with any rules. No specific number of times a week. No specific days. No specific length.

Do I like it? Oh hell yes.

But I don't like the thought that those things are tied to food intake.

I walked away from the notion that I needed to "eat healthy." Eating healthy is just eating. It's just eating when your body is hungry. It's just listening to what your body wants and needs.

Do I still eat salads and not (always) a lot pizza? Of course.

But all of that? I want to stop feeling like I have to justify it. I want to stop feeling like this is a kind of recovery that has to be hidden because it's harder to explain.


This week was hard.

That doesn't mean it was a wash. It just means that it was two long days of remembering what I do put my stock into. And where I do have value, and worthiness, and strength. And how I am able to get through these days, whenever they happen.

'Cause they are gonna happen.

And I will probably keep talking about it.


I Wouldn't Wish This on Anybody

I'm not really in a position right now to talk about where I'm at.

Which is only to say, I don't really know how to say where I'm at.

I'm struggling. I'm hurting.

It's been about two weeks I guess, maybe three now, and I'm just...floating. I'm not sinking. But I sure as heck am not swimming. I'm floating.

And I don't know if it's just where I'm at, you know, emotionally. Or if it's really an uptick in this sort of thing. But I feel like every where I look someone is telling me how depressed their favorite show is making them, and how their grocery list is giving them anxiety.

So, I don't know if it's my heart kind of just aching to be heard, or if maybe I'm the only one that's gonna try and die on this mountain, but that misuse of language just...oh y'all, it just throws a wrench in my heart.

More and more I think there is a distortion about what depressive episodes really are, and what anxiety and panic attacks really feel like. Sure, they sound far more dramatic. That is because they are.

And I think it bears repeating that when you live with these things, it is language like that that makes you think, you have no idea. And, usually, that is totally true. They have no idea.

Though, I do get that twinge of resentment. Not gonna lie on that one. I also usually end up thinking, still as much as I've been through, and as damn hard as it is to explain this pain, I don't wish this on anybody. 

Not even my worst enemy.

Because this is constant pain. And I know that's hard to comprehend because, bless it, I've got a lot of coping mechanisms.

But depressive episodes aren't just being lonely, or crying during This is Us, or feeling bummed that you don't make millions of dollars a year. It's more than I can tell you guys. It's more than I can physically remember, because it's my life, all day, every day.

//

And I don't wish that on anybody.

I don't want anybody to spend 9 hours in bed, crying.

...to go without a shower for 28 hours because it hurts to even think about getting up.

...to have to convince themselves to brush their teeth.

...to convince themselves to eat.

...to quietly whisper, it's okay, you're okay as you try to just drink some water, or make coffee, or put on pants, or wash your hair, or type an email.

...to not be able to make it through a 6 minute drive without crying.

...to feel guilty that you can't do your laundry, you can't get groceries, or make your bed.

...to spend weeks wondering if you are ever going to smile, or laugh, or feel joy again.

...to lose friends, because you can't bear to be in public.

...to fail at work, because you are spending your existence trying to survive, and you can barely wrap your head around that.

...to stop wanting to watch TV, read books, listen to podcasts, and every thing else you ever enjoyed.

...to pause your own life for days, and weeks, and months because your brain refuses to do anything other than...float.

I wouldn't wish that on anybody.

I don't know where I go from here. But to be fair, I usually don't. I know there is another side to this mountain. I know there's a flow to this ebb. I know that as many times as I've been right here, it has always passed.

So, hang in there (here?) with me. We'll get to that other side.


The Piper Kate: Assistance Animal FAQ

First things first: thank you guys so much for loving my girl.

From the first time I posted that little golden twinkie of a pupper, to today, you all have loved her so well. Even when I was maybe overloading my Instagram. Even when I talk like a werido. And especially when I sobbed on insta-stories when I was just trying to get my girl home.

So, thank you.


And now, let's get to the questions.

Almost all of you know that Piper Kate is a certified assistance animal, and that was always the plan. And of course, a lot of you know the struggle it took to make sure that she was all set and ready to come home without her mama getting the boot.

That ended up working out really well (for those of you that don't know.) And we are settling in quite nicely at home.

But I think there are a lot of questions about assistance animals/emotional support animals, (especially in light of some emotional support peacocks, hamsters, etc. that have been in the news.)

So, let's just go right down the list, huh?


What is the difference between an assistance animal, an emotional support animal, and a service animal? 

Most people understand that service dogs receive some form of specialized training. That can be assistance with sight, diabetes, epilepsy, even PTSD. Those dogs are required to undergo that training and receive certifications for those tasks.

That is not the case with assistance animals and emotional support animals.

Now, in the state of Vermont (under the Vermont Fair Housing Laws,) assistance animals and emotional support animals are relatively interchangeable. Save for the fact that the language the laws use is exclusively "assistance animal."

Under those same laws, assistance animals do not require any specialized trainings or certifications.

But other than that, the protections for those animals and their owners are relatively the same.


So what makes Piper Kate an assistance animal? 

Essentially, Piper Kate was prescribed by my doctor. (That's the easiest way to say it.)

Her assistance animal status based on the fact that just by having her, my diagnoses of anxiety and depression are in some ways alleviated.

Because of this she is not considered a family pet, but an assistance animal, and is therefore protected by those Vermont Fair Housing Laws.


Okay, but everyone likes puppies. So couldn't we all just get assistance animals?

First of all, sure, everyone likes puppies.

And frankly, if you'd like to pretend to have a mental health issue to get a doctor to recommend an assistance animal for you, you've got bigger problems than trying to justify a dog.

The reality is this goes beyond puppy cuddles.

Piper Kate's actual existence serves a purpose in my treatment regimen.

A dog forces you to get out of bed (depression would like you to stay in bed all day.) A dog forces you to go outside (depression would like you to never leave your house, anxiety too.) A dog forces you to meet and talk to new people (anxiety would like you to keep your head down and keep walking.) A dog forces you to play, to move, to engage (depression would like you to sit quietly for 12 hours and watch netflix and sleep and cry.)

Yes, cuddling my dog is extremely therapeutic for me. She takes naps in my lap and it's the single best feeling in the world.

But it goes far beyond that.

She has brought purpose, routine, and engagement into my life that simply was never there before.


What happened with your living situation?

The long and the short of it is that I did exactly what I needed to do. And because I was on the right side of the law, and he was not, it all worked out.

If you are considering bringing an assistance animal into your home, and you expect to have some trouble, please please please contact me - I know how to help, seriously.

(That is in hugelargeginormous part to all of the wonderful folks that helped me via instagram on that fateful night. Really guys, thank you.)


Will you get her in to special training?

Yes! Once she is fully vaccinated she'll be going to a puppy training class right here in Burlington.

Does she go to work with you?

Yes! She won't always. But because she can, and she does so much for my anxiety while at work, she does come to the office with me.



This is your first dog, so what do you think, overall?

She's the best. I couldn't imagine not getting a goldendoodle. Because she is so smart, she's so well mannered. And y'all, she is so dang pretty.

Is it hard? Sure. She's a puppy after all. I have my eyes on her 24/7. I still wake up in the middle of the night thinking, is she okay? Is she breathing? 

I knew this was going to be challenging. And truthfully in the week leading up to bringing her home I was so nervous I thought that I had made a huge mistake.

And then she was home. And we clicked. And y'all loved on her. And for every challenge that comes with bringing home a puppy, holy heck, the rewards are just so good.

But I'll tell you what, in the midst of a really hard season of life, she's a mighty big golden spot for me.



As always I love talking about her, and I love answering questions. While I'm still technically in the beginning of this process, I'm always happy to talk about what it has been like.

Choose Wisely

Okay, I'm going to ask you to indulge me here for a minute...

I think that every day - we can go with every hour - you get to choose where your energy goes. You get to choose where you're going to put your effort, and how you're going to direct your thoughts, and so on.

You get to decide. And so it is up to you to choose your energy wisely.

Okay. We can put that aside for a bit now.

So, I've been thinking a lot lately about who gets to have my energy.

First of all, my energy is in short supply. I'm chasing a puppy around. I'm working full-time. I'm trying to, you know, run every once in a while and do my laundry once a week. Second of all, I'm starting to get into the mindset of...let's call it reclaiming my time. 


I know myself well enough to know when I'm getting run down.

That could be because I'm getting sick, I have too much on my plate, or I just need to sleep more.

But it's increasingly possible that I'm letting too much, take too much. Does that make sense? I'm feeling more and more like I ought to be more diligent in deciding where I spend my time and energy.

I think it's far more important for me to take the time to make a choice - maybe every hour - how my time and energy are spent.

Because that's the reality right? I'm spending them.

And let's be honest, if the return isn't good, the spend isn't worth it.


So, reclaiming my time (and energy.) Where does it start?

Well, honestly, it started with looking at what was draining me.

We've talked a little about how I've given up on caring about diets, fads, and running myself ragged for a body type that's not worth my energy. And that's been huge.

Giving up listening to the voices that yell and scream false facts about "health." Giving up pretending that any diet is a "healthy" diet. Giving up restricting foods - any foods. Yeah girl, I eat McDonalds, and two desserts, and whatever the heck else my bangin' temple wants. 

That stuff is out.


Because it takes something from me, and there's no return.

Giving up people that take from me, and don't have anything to give. That, that was harder. But dang it was good. And it is a tight line to toe, I know.

I know I've said a lot about giving until it hurts, and serving others, and being present when the only thing for you to do is give who you are.

And I stand by all of that.

But I realized - maybe last yearwho knows - that there will be people that take, and only take. There will be people that are there to take your energy, take your time, take your kindness, take your joy and keep returning with empty hands, looking for more.

Those are the people that had to go if I wanted to reclaim my time.


I had to walk away, say no thank you, and put up some blinders - because my energy was worth more.

And I think that's the hardest part, saying that something about me - time or energy - is worth more.

Worthiness is hard to begin with.

Recognizing your own? Claiming your own as something that is deserving? That takes effort - a lot of it. And time too.

So, I gave up ideals that aren't good for me. I gave up people that don't show up for me. And I made the choice that my time and energy are actually worth something.

Has it changed anything?

Totally.

I still get tired. I still have to make choices about these things every day. But I worry less that I am wasting my time with things that don't matter. And I feel less and less drained by my life.

I won't say it's a perfect system, it's not.

But I will say that knowing what has to go is powerful. And knowing that the things that are in your life are things that you choose to invest your time and energy into, makes them all the more valuable.