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.

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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.

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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.


7 Things You Need to Know Before You Run the Disney Princess Half Marathon

Last year I signed up the Disney Princess Half Marathon for two reasons: it is Disney, and it is Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. For 10 years now the Disney Princess Half Marathon has been one of the most magical races there is. And it supports CMNH kids all over the country.

Being that I was Miss Vermont when I signed up, and when I ran, that was a big deal to me.

But this year? This year was going to be my redemption run.


See, last year, I ran into some issues.

So being now that I am this seasoned half-marathoner, I thought I'd give you a quick run-down (lol) about how this runDisney business works.

If you're thinking about running in a Disney event, particularly the Disney Princess Half, this is for you.

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1. Set an alarm


Registration happens quickly.

In fact for my first year, I was in D.C. at Miss America orientation, literally eating lunch across from Miss America herself, and registering at the same time. I was frantically texting my mom, and on the website.

This past year was no exception, given that it was the 10th anniversary, it went even faster. With 25,000 people running this race, it gets pretty crazy.

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2. Book your trip soon


Unless you're a central Florida resident, you'll be traveling to the race.

Naturally, for me that includes a flight, a hotel, and well, a few days a Disney.

For seasoned Disney-goers, you'll know that peak times like race weekends are no joke in the parks and at the hotels. While we typically stay at Disney's Wilderness Lodge, we opted (twice) to stay at lower cost hotels.

Why?

Well, when they host an event like this, they know they can sell out, and yep, the prices sky-rocket.

So for year one we stayed at Art of Animation, and for year two we chose Caribbean Beach.

(If you care, AoA was just not for us. It was a lot of waiting because it is one of the lowest tier hotels. And once we get out of the parks, we would just much rather relax at the hotel. Initially we chose Caribbean Beach knowing that it was under renovation and thus would cost a lot less. I have no complaints, honestly. They made plenty of accommodations considering the amount of construction that was happening, and it really worked just fine for us.)

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3.  Train


Look, I'll say this 'til I'm blue in the face, but if you are going to run a half marathon, you need to train for it.

While runDisney events are the best for new runners, and first time half-marathoners, it's still 13.1 miles. In Florida heat, no less.

You've got to start somewhere, and you don't want the first time you run long distance to be at 5:30 AM on the day of the Princess Half.

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4. Plan for exhaustion


If you'll be spending days in the parks, you're going to be tired anyways.

But because the race goes through the parks, it starts very early.

We got to the bus stop at 2:50 AM (on Disney property,) and that got us the first bus to the corrals. By the time we got there shortly after 3:00 AM thousands of people were already walking to the holding area.

Now, the first start time isn't until 5:30 AM.

That's right, we killed time for 2 hours before we even started walking to our corrals.

From there, the corrals go off in waves. I didn't even cross the starting line this year until 6:10 AM.

Literally four hours after I woke up.

Then I ran for two hours.

Exhaustion is just part of the package here. When it comes to race days, you should always plan to recover, in some form, for the rest of the day. But with this, oy vey.

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5. Plan for crowds


I've been to Disney many times, in many different months. But I have never seen it as busy as it is during race weekend. There are crowds at the parks, crowds for the buses, crowds at the Expo, crowds every where.

This is by no means unmanageable, but it's definitely something you need to know going into it.

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6. Plan ahead


I'm happy to say as the resident Field Family Planner, I was totally prepared going into my first Disney Princess Half.

I read a lot of articles. I knew all about arriving for the first bus before 3:00 AM. I knew all about getting into and out of the Expo. I knew what to expect that morning.

(I was still totally dumbfounded by what it looks and feels like to run with twenty five thousand other people.)

Do your research! Do your training runs! Make your dining reservations!

It makes what could be a stressful trip so. much. easier.

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7. Make it magical


Listen, Disney does alllll the heavy lifting on this one.

They aren't kidding when they say it's the most magical half marathon, it's really something else.

There are DJs, bands, choirs, characters, fun signage, cast members, and movies playing all through your 13.1 miles.

But it's up to you to embrace the crowds, the heat, the craziness, and have a magical run.

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All and all, I totally recommend runDisney events. They are well-executed, well-planned, and well-staffed. They are easy (well, they are flat.) And oh heck, they are fun. 

Would I do another one?

Well, not next year.

But I'm not saying never again!


13.1 Fears

On Sunday, I am running my third half marathon.

And man, that is not a statement I thought I would be writing a few years ago.

Heck, maybe not even a year ago.

It isn't really a secret that I still don't think of myself as an avid runner. And maybe it has more to do with only being two-years-new to long distance running. Which, yes, it is so different. If you can run three miles, congrats, I'm proud of you, that shit is hard. But I promise, it is so so different than running 13.1 miles.

Truly.



And so with most race days, I get a little anxiety, a little turn of stomach.

It happens.

They are called pre-race jitters.

But I'm going to be dead honest with you, this is the most nervous I have ever been for a race. Ever. And I once ran a half marathon two weeks after returning from Miss America, at a time in which I basically wasn't running at all.

So there are two reasons for this mega case of nerves: I've got a time goal. And, last year, y'all I fought so freakin' hard for a finish.

It took literal blood, sweat, and tears (and damn stress fractured feet) to get across the finish line.

I just keep telling myself, I've done it before. I can do it again. And if I can't, I'll be surrounded by 20,000 people that can help me keep pushing through.


Annnnd I've heard it helps to voice your fears, put a name to them, and then get them the hell out.

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1. I could hurt my foot/knee/hip.

What if I freaking do? Run strong, not fast. Pace yourself, listen to your body, and run the race you need to run.

2. The weather might be too hot.

Sister, it's Florida. If anything is going to prepare me for the VCM in May, it's Florida in February. 

3. I might be really slow.

4. What if I can't finish?

5. I think I've heard too many horror stories this year. I keep thinking of all the other race disasters I've seen from fellow runners.

Okay, well mind your own business how about that? If every runner on Instagram's bad endings happen to you, damn sister, you'll have a better story than the whole lot of them.



6. I didn't submit a start time, I could be in a much later corral.

7. It might be harder than I remember.

Girl, without a doubt. But you have literally run this race before, you have already shown yourself you are capable. 

8. Running for two+ hours is so hard, and I haven't done that in a year.


9. My stomach has been crazy during my last few pre-races. What if I can't properly fuel?

10. I know I'm going to be finishing much later than Bfield, they're all going to be waiting around for me at the finish line.

Uh, so? They signed up to come to this just like you.

11. Oh gosh, what if it's not too hot, but it rains?

12. I have had a lot of trouble pacing myself properly in my last few training runs. What if I'm too fast right out of the gate? What if I'm too slow?

13. This race is far away. I could forget my socks. Or my headphones. Or my shoes. 




Or, it could go really well. It could be perfect weather. I could run my strongest race ever. I could finish faster than my goal time. I could come out of it feeling strong and uninjured and fantastic.

It's not going to help me to worry about it now.

I'm going to eat as well as I can, stretch it out, get just a few more miles in, and run the best race that I can run.