Emotional Trauma: Processing Vulnerability and Shame

I haven’t written in a while. It’s not that I don’t have things to say because believe me, I do, but I tend to think that other people’s voices are more animated, more amplified, more worthy than my own.

My head is swimming with thoughts, drowning in its own self preservation and sadness at the world we are currently living in. I almost feel wrong sitting down to write right now with the intention of talking about myself and not what’s going on with COVID, the upcoming election, the BLM Civil Rights Movement, systemic racism and police brutality. There will never be enough conversation about these topics but that’s not what my blog is for. Forgive me if you disagree with this but I need one place to call my own that isn’t flooded with the outside world. So consider this that place as you continue to read and believe me when I say I have done everything I can to protest, petition, donate and educate friends, family and strangers on all of these topics. But today, I need a place to unload.

I’ve been struggling a lot lately. Silently. And not because I don’t have people to confide in. More because I struggle with vulnerability, shame (I have two TedTalks to recommend at the end of this that I will link below if you’re someone who struggles with what I am going to write about), a bit of anger towards myself and resentment I’ve subconsciously held on to. These are all things we, as individuals, are too proud to discuss.

I wrote in January about starting therapy again. It was one of my many new years resolutions and honestly, long over due. I’m sure we are all like this one way or another but I am the type of person that thinks time heals everything. If enough time passes, surely the problems will just go away on their own. If I push things aside and bury them, they’ll dissolve. If I spend enough time pretending this didn’t happen to me, maybe I’ll forget it ever did. Wrong. 

I’ve spent 10 years trying to pretend.

I can’t do it anymore.

And this whole thing is so overplayed in my mind that I can barely even verbally acknowledge it to those I’m closest to. All because I’m so incredibly desperate to just forget, let it go and move on, but it’s been so glaringly obvious that I can’t do that. And it’s deafening. Even now, I’m struggling to write even though the words and the feelings are there.

I guess to start, I need to recap. I’m not going to go into detail, mainly because I’m writing this for myself as a sort of processing/release exercise, so if you want a refresher, read my post from February. 

Reading it back and refreshing myself, I’m realizing now that I am a total hypocrite. Who am I to encourage people to face their trauma and not let it define them when that’s what I’ve been doing the last 10 years? But I guess I should give myself a break because when that post was written, I really meant those words and I really had forgiven myself and those involved. It’s funny how resentment creeps back up on you.

The further I’ve delved into my sessions, the more I’ve realized I’ve been lying to myself and to my therapist (unintentionally). I have found that I am very good at putting on a brave face, convincing everyone (and myself) that I’m OK and moving on as if I’ve laid it to rest. We call that a defense mechanism. Pretend you’re OK and you’ll be OK. Act like you’re fine and deal with your emotions in private. This is what we call shame (I’ll get into this more later).

If I’ve learned anything through therapy thus far, it’s that, despite how badly I want to move forward and how hard I’ve tried to convince myself that I can move forward, I have to go backwards first and unravel everything. I haven’t done this yet. This is something I plan to work on in the coming months/years. I say years because it’s been 10 already and I feel like I haven’t even started.

I’ve gone over what happened but I haven’t gone over how it made me feel or the long term effects that I think I might be dealing with for the rest of my life. I wasn’t able to process my feelings when I was younger. Instead, survival mode took over and I did what I had to do to survive. I shut down. And the worst part about this entire fucking thing is that I am still entirely closed off, no matter how hard I fight or how badly I want to be able to open up to people. I have shut down emotionally and in turn, physically.

Opening up to people and feeling vulnerable is nearly impossible for me and for so long, I was made to feel like it was my fault. That this was just the way that I am when really, I was made to be this way. We mistake vulnerability as weakness and use our moments alone to give in to our emotions and the way we feel instead of letting people see us angry, in love, sad or overwhelmed. This is something that normal people do. 

For someone like me, for someone that was bullied and emotionally traumatized, the feelings that come with vulnerability are debilitating. I am met with fear, anger, anxiety, embarrassment and shame. All surrounding an emotion and a feeling that should be embraced because being vulnerable is beautiful.

I pride myself on being authentic, especially when I write and converse with others about my opinions and experiences, but how can I be authentic without being vulnerable?

I think part of this recovery process for me will have to be about embracing my discomfort and not running from the feelings that come with vulnerability. Unfortunately, we are inherently taught that being vulnerable is being weak and if you’re someone who thinks this, whether towards other people or towards yourself, I’m here to tell you that you are wrong. Reworking this and understanding this, even for someone who doesn’t suffer from emotional trauma, is extremely difficult.

So I encourage you, especially if you are someone who has not suffered from emotional trauma (this can go hand in hand with bullying, emotional abuse, mental illness, physical abuse, suicidal thoughts/tendencies and self harm), to think about your perceptions of vulnerability and how being vulnerable makes you feel. Are you uncomfortable? Now take that uncomfortably and amplify it to its most extreme.

I think the easiest way to help someone understand the way I feel would be to picture yourself naked on a stage with big, glaring lights in a room where every single person who has ever disliked you is holding a magnifying glass and looking at you through it, inspecting you, invading your space and your privacy, looking at every part of you that you’re insecure about and relishing in your discomfort. You know they’re going to tear you apart. Except the ones tearing me apart aren’t real people, they’re in my head. And they’re me.

My discomfort with vulnerability goes hand in hand with shame. This is probably the biggest and brightest emotion that comes through when I feel like I’m getting too angry or too sad or too passionate about something. I’m met with a wall of embarrassment and I shut down, even when I am doing nothing wrong. But the simplest laugh or the simplest glance in my direction will send me into a tailspin. Shame is one of those things that makes me feel like I’m too much but not enough at the same time. But shame with emotion is the hardest thing to process because although my head is telling me that I need to recede, it’s also telling me that I need to do more, feel more, be more. Yet, there’s a disconnect between these two parts that can’t seem to work it out.

Men and women process shame differently yet we are both taught from the same sources; our family/close friends and the media (social media, movies, TV shows, books, etc). I’m using binary terms here because this is where the difference is most profound. Of course, the feelings that come with shame and vulnerability can be processed interchangeably between all genders but almost all of the psychological studies surround men and women.

That said, women are inherently taught that a man should never see them cry. The public should never see them upset. They should always be cool, calm, collected and presentable at all times. If a woman lets her man see her cry, he won’t take her seriously. He’ll degrade her, take advantage of her emotions and deem her “too emotional” or “unstable.” If the public sees a woman cry, they’ll deem her “reckless” or “unhinged” or “not fit for a position of power because she is too emotional.” You can see how this will inherently effect young women. This is why having emotional women in our life is monumental for how we process and express emotion.

Take me for example; my mom has never expressed emotion in front of me. Anger, sure, but I have never seen her embarrassed and I have never seen her cry. In turn, I was brought up to think that emotion is processed in private. Did she ever verbalize this to me? Of course not, because she doesn’t feel that way towards other people, she only feels that way towards herself and this is what I saw. I don’t blame her, or any other women in my life, for this is how they were brought up, too. Except the difference between my mom and me is that her mother didn’t condone emotions where as my mother encouraged them. Still, she grieved in private and I learned to, too.

For men, and I don’t understand this even remotely as much as I understand women so please correct me if I’m wrong and feel free to share your own experiences, they are taught that they can never show emotion. Period. Vulnerability in men is immediately viewed as weakness by other men. It makes you less manly if you show emotion. They are expected to be the head of the household, the money maker, the bread winner, the stability and backbone for their women and their family.

But, as someone who has dated both men and women, women love when men are emotional and vulnerable in private but they get uncomfortable when men cry. It’s almost unheard of. If a man is crying, someone must have died. It can’t possibly be because he’s upset over an exam or a fight with his mom. If a man shows affection to his girlfriend/wife in front of other men, he’s a “whipped” or “soft.” Men are expected to be strong, stable and emotionless. And in turn, young men view their fathers, brothers, grandfathers and role models and see this type of behavior.

Regardless of gender, fear of vulnerability breeds fear of vulnerability. And we are all extreme examples of this. So how do we break it down? How do we debunk the myth that vulnerability equals weakness? The same way we teach our kids how to tie their shoes and brush their teeth. When they’re young. But what does that do for us who are already well into our lives and are struggling with this now? I guess that’s what I’m trying to figure out.

And the only thing I can do is look inward. Look at what has caused this shame and fear of being vulnerable and rework it. I was talking to my therapist yesterday and coming from an emotional trauma standpoint, this is how they (they’re non-binary) explained what I’ve endured. When you fire a shotgun, it breaks into hundreds of little pieces that are scattered throughout the area. When you experience repeated emotional traumas, your brain takes these pieces of information and stores them all over. Little triggers and reminders and memories stored in the most imperative and important part of your anatomy, your intellect and your life. In my case, they’re all negative.

As I move through this process with myself, I have to collect these pieces and dispose of them. This could take years. Seriously, imagine shooting a shot gun in your backyard, leaving for 10 years and coming back after it’s been overgrown and covered. But you can’t leave until all of the bullet fragments have been picked up and thrown away. How long do you think you’d stay there? I bet you’d wonder if you’d ever leave. If you’d ever find them all.

And all of this, it doesn’t even begin to touch on the genuine resentment and hatred I feel towards the people involved. But that’s on me. I have held on to that for years, to the point where I have avoided my home town since the day I graduated high school. I still go back, of course, to visit my parents but the lasting effects are still there. I tried really hard to forgive, I genuinely did. I gave myself the space I thought I needed, I removed these people from my life and from my social media so they could never know what I was doing, I spent time engulfed in another life entirely and only came back when I absolutely had to. I thought I was ready last year, when I went to my class reunion. And I think part of me was. I really enjoyed talking to people I unfortunately didn’t keep in touch with. But the second I heard their voices or felt their presence, I reverted back to my 16-year-old self and shut down.

Unfortunately, this feeling creeps up every time I go back to town. Even the other day, my parents and I went out to lunch after the beach at a local hangout that I know these people frequent and I was beyond relieved to have a hat, sunglasses and a mask on because I was so genuinely fearful that I would run into them. Quick glances over my shoulder, an unfortunate awareness of my surroundings, my ears ringing for their voices, my face buried in my phone if I thought I recognized someone, an inherent self consciousness that if I did see them, they’d judge me for wearing my beach clothes to a restaurant or not having my hair and make up done. And I hate them for that and for what they did to me. I thought I had forgiven them but I just can’t and I’m not sure I ever will, even though I really want to for my own peace of mind. I hate even admitting the power they still hold over me. It’s humiliating on a very large scale and that in itself is something I struggle to admit.

But despite their apologies and their outward recognition towards me (which has happened a handful of times), I have been conditioned to believe their words and their actions are to make themselves feel better. Because that’s just how they are and I didn’t see through it. I gave them the benefit of the doubt, thinking we had grown up and matured but people don’t change and I’m the fool who accepted their apologies and told them it was fine. But it’s not fine. And I wish I had the courage to tell them that when I saw them and tell them that I will never be able to forgive them and tell them that they will have to live their whole lives knowing that they’ve hurt someone so deeply for just existing.

Still, they kept their friends while I lost mine. They kept their reputations as fun and outgoing while mine turned to dramatic and sensitive. They made new friends in college while I turned inward and graduated with a few. They kept their memories of high school and their emotions in tact while I still flinch if I even drive through town or passed a car that looks like one of theirs. And I can’t help but wonder if they sit around drinking their coffees and their cocktails, talking about how terribly they treated me and how damaging it’s been on me since. I wonder if they know. I’m sure they do.

But the worst part of it all is that they went on with their lives, made new friends, and told their stories where I undoubtedly played the villain because they’ll always be too ignorant and self absorbed to admit their wrongdoings while their friends and families have no idea what absolute, monstrous, abusive people they truly were. All without consequence. That in itself is enraging to me.

And I am sure there are going to be some people who read this and think “just get over it” and I wish I could – believe me, I would do anything to get over this – but I was made to feel things about myself and my life that will take an entire lifetime to undo. I’ve spent years staying silent, trying to move on, protecting their names and identities to avoid backlash and repercussions when I use the truth to slander their names but I’m done. I’m still not going to give names to these people, mainly because they don’t deserve my recognition, but I will hold them accountable and I will continue to talk about bullying and the emotional impact it has on people. Their names are pointless to me, just like their existence, but I am still left picking up the pieces of my old self and hoping that I will one day even remotely resemble the person I was before I met them. And unfortunately, I am reminded of the way they made me feel, the words they used to purposely hurt me and the experiences and memories they took from me every single day because of that.

I guess I just want people to know that these are real, lived experiences for some people and the effects are monumental and long term. Words are extremely impactful on young adults and can stick with you into adulthood. Be mindful of how you treat people and if you have children, be mindful of how they treat people and how they’re treated. Young kids and young adults don’t like to ask for help but the signs are more obvious than you  might realize. Speak up for them. They might beg you not to intervene because it will most likely make things more difficult for them but find ways protect them, even if that means educating them on their self worth when they’re at home. If you see someone being bullied or being harassed, please speak up. You could save someones life.

And lastly, if you are someone who has been bullied or harassed and are suffering the long term effects of it, we’ll get through this. It’s OK to ask for help, it’s OK to resent the people involved no matter how much time has passed and it’s OK to be vulnerable. The shame that comes with your vulnerability is normal, especially after enduring something as severe as what we’ve gone through, but listening to our shame without letting it consume us or change us is monumental to our growth as individuals and our recovery just like understanding the power that being vulnerable has. Check out these TedTalks linked down below by Psychologist Brene Brown. It helped me to better understand what I am feeling and maybe it’ll help you, too.

The Power of Vulnerability
Listening to Shame

As always, thank you for reading and I am always here to listen to your stories and your experiences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quarantine Update, Travel Plans & Societal Pressure

When I don’t have much work, I’ve found that I turn to creative outlets as a way to pass time. Whether that be someone else’s creativity or my own, it helps me escape for a couple of hours from the reality of what this life has turned in to. I avoid social media and binge watching TV during the day at all costs. Not because I don’t enjoy these things, but the thought of laying in bed watching TV or scrolling through other peoples mindless quarantine thoughts makes me nauseous. It breeds insecurity in me that I would rather avoid.

It’s been so easy lately to get caught up in my head. I question if and when things will go back to normal. I have small panic attacks at the thought of never being able to travel again. I wonder if I will be able to survive the next 65 years if this is all life will become for us. I honestly think a lot of it has to do with the weather. I normally wouldn’t notice something as insignificant as the weather since my days used to be filled with going to work, meeting my girlfriend for lunch, my second job, going to the gym, etc. but lately, when going outside seems to be my only true form of entertainment and exercise, it’s all I notice.

I don’t check my social media when I wake up first thing in the morning anymore. I check the weather; can I sit on the porch and drink my morning tea? Can I read or write in the sun? Can I do yoga in the yard? Can we go for a walk after work or a hike this weekend? Most likely, the obvious answer is no.

So instead, I have been filling my days with reading and writing, working as much as I can, trying to convince myself to exercise and stretch and trying to create content. I would like to blog more, and I think I’ve said this in past posts, but I struggle with inspiration sometimes. I don’t want to feel forced to meet a self-enforced deadline of weekly posts. I’d rather write when I have something to write about. This keeps my posts more authentic and true to the feelings I’m having.

If I wrote every week, it would be the typical “15 Books to Read in Quarantine” or “15 Best YouTube Quarantine Workouts” and no one wants to read something like that. Disclaimer: No one wants to write something like that either. No offense to those who write these articles but those are reserved for people who want recognition but don’t actually have a single creative bone in their body or affinity for writing.

I picture some of the other journalists in my graduating class doing something similar. Truly, there should be a written requirement before you’re accepted into any journalism program because I can’t even put into words how torturous it was to go over some of our written work in class and listening to how clunky and grammatically incorrect some of these “journalists” work was. If that’s the type of person that is being groomed nation wide to be responsible for insightful, true journalism, no wonder the media is in so much trouble. I’m just glad the majority of those students in my class went on to become fashion and beauty bloggers.

Not that I’m doing anything monumental myself but at least it’s because I didn’t want to and not because I didn’t have the talent for it. Whoops.

I’m getting off topic. Back to creating content, my girlfriend and I posted our first YouTube video last night if anyone wants to check it out. Creating content with someone you’re in a relationship is actually incredibly fun. It takes the pressure off of what’s going on around us and we can focus on each other and just messing around on camera. It’s created a lightness in our relationship that hasn’t been there these last couple of weeks. Life has been terribly stressful and putting aside time to come up with interesting videos we want to film has brought an element to our relationship that we didn’t know we needed.

We’ve also been planning our next trip for when all of this is over. Jumping into that headfirst has been really fun as well. I know a lot of people and couples are probably doing the same thing. When I was battling my anxiety and depression, someone told me that having something to look forward to can drastically change your mood. Whenever I’m feeling low or anxious, I try to plan little things (dates, concerts, movies, etc.) so I’m excited about something in the future. This has proved to be the best way to get through a situation like this, at least for me.

As for what’s been going on in our personal lives, neither of us have lost our jobs. I don’t know who to thank for that because I don’t really believe in a God but the universe has been on our side lately. I did lose my second job for the time being (which contributed to my savings for the home we want to buy one day) and I took a 20% pay cut on my current income but I really have nothing to complain about. I feel so lucky to have a steady income right now even if it’s not as much as it was a few weeks ago.

This whole experience is making me question the monetary value of things. And all I’m going to say is that this questioning is what has inspired the next trip we are going to take. I guess at this point, I’ve alluded to it so much I should just announce our plans. In April of 2022, we are planning to leave our jobs and take 6-7 months to travel across the country in a camper van. We’ve mapped our route at this point and have talked to a handful of people looking to sell their camper vans. We’ve been researching, looking into campgrounds and national parks and budgeting for this big jump we want to take.

At least for me, I want to test the boundaries of my dependency on money and challenge myself to live minimalistically without a set income. If you’ve followed me along from the beginning, you know I’ve already done this when I lived on the road with Rob for 5 months but Rob and I weren’t dating (contrary to what everyone believes) and he had a lot of experience on the road to the point where I could depend on him to keep us safe, navigate and make any necessary repairs given the knowledge of his home on wheels. If you’ve followed me along from the beginning, you also know that I am the happiest when I don’t feel stagnant and I can travel.

With this experience, it’ll be entirely new from start to finish as we navigate our way through purchasing a dependable home for 7 months, living on the road and our relationship. I read a book recently that I recommend everyone reads called To Shake the Sleeping Self about a man who takes 16 months to cycle from Oregon to Patagonia. The intro paragraph is what inspired this trip.

He talked a lot about childhood and how we are so full of wonder and awareness of our surroundings and what we do. As we get older, we slowly feel the societal pressure to go to college, get a good job, marry the opposite gender, buy a home, have kids, etc. in that order and we forget our feelings of wonder and adventure. We forget how we once felt as kids and we forget how to be happy. We become too focused on what we “need” to do and we forget what we’ve craved since we were children – happiness, awareness, curiosity, total awe of our surroundings, adventure.

At 27, he makes a pact with himself that he is going to quit his job at 30 and make this life changing trip in an attempt to discover who he really is (his sexuality, his religion, the meaning of life). The first thing he did was tell his friends and family about what he was going to do in an attempt to hold himself accountable for his future plans. That way he couldn’t back out when it was time to really leave. So I guess that’s what I’m doing; holding myself accountable for my plans by voicing it to the universe and my readers. You heard it here first: April 2022. Cross-country road trip. 

This is something I have felt like I needed to do since I realized how big the world was but I never felt like I had the time or the money. Honestly, who ever feels like they have the time or the money to do things. No one because we’ve become so dependent on financial/job security that we forget the real purpose of life. It’s not to work until we die. It’s not to save up as much as we can so we have a better retirement. Life is meant to be lived. No matter how rich or how poor you may be, none of it matters if you aren’t happy. I want to challenge this feeling of dependency I have on myself and my financial security.  I want to challenge myself to do something wholeheartedly because I want to. And I want to challenge those who read this to think about the one thing you’ve always wanted to do and what excuses you’ve come up with for why you can’t. Then comment them because I’m curious.

This novel really changed my outlook on life and really inspired me to do something with mine. Not just sit back and wait for time to catch up to me. This whole quarantine thing has slowed time down to an aching crawl but it’s also given me plenty of time to think about the direction I want to take my life and the way I want to live it. I think I’ve struggled to find my voice and my own way of thinking because of what my parents want for me. But I’ve gotten to that age where I’m realizing it’s OK to want something else for my life than what they envisioned. And it’s also OK to have different opinions and values than they do.

I’m really lucky to have parents that support the majority of my choices but I don’t need to apologize when they don’t. After all, the whole point of life is to discover your own identity and what makes you the happiest. If we lived to please other people, especially our parents, we would be more disappointed in ourselves than we would be proud. Going off of that, I often struggle with my relationship with my parents. On the one hand, I have very involved parents, which is great, but on the other hand, their involvement often influences me negatively and makes me feel like I need to live my life to please them.

I’ve learned that taking space from your family is OK. You’re not obligated to have someone in your life, even if they’re your blood. This took me a while to understand. I felt a pressing sense of guilt for being angry at my parents or disagreeing with them. I often felt like I had no choice but to apologize and mend things because we lived under the same roof or because they’re my parents. Now that I’ve moved out, it’s freeing to stand my ground and take the space I think I have deserved for some time now. I feel like I can breath again, and on my own. I’ve taken back a sense of power that I didn’t know I had lost.

I want to end this on a positive note and list some of my favorite books that I’ve read. You can get them used for $2.50 ish on amazon. They’re all different genres and styles but they’re good reads if you’re running low on your stock.

  1. To Shake The Sleeping Self – Jedidiah Jenkins (Genre: non-fiction, memoir, adventure, self-discovery)
  2. Plain Truth – Jodi Picoult (Genre: fiction, murder, cultural)
  3. The Shining/Doctor Sleep (Series)- Stephen King (Genre: fiction, paranormal, horror)
  4. Woman in the Window – A.J. Finn (Genre: fiction, psychological thriller, suspense)
  5. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden (Genre – historical fiction)
  6. The Taker Trilogy – Alma Katsu (Genre: fiction, paranormal romance, fantasy)
  7. Mrs. Sherlock Holmes – Brad Ricca (Genre: historical non-fiction, true crime, biography)
  8. A House in the Sky – Amanda Lindhout (Genre: non-fiction, suspense/thriller, biography)
  9. Road to Valor – Andres McConnon (Genre: historical non-fiction, heart-warmer, suspense, biography)

As always, thank you for reading and I hope you all are staying safe, healthy and sane during these crazy times.

Battling Mental Illness in Isolation

As someone who’s suffered from anxiety first hand, I can’t even begin to put into words how debilitating the combination of anxiety and self-isolation can be. I’m one of the lucky one’s who has learned how to manage my anxiety and find creative outlets for my mind when it begins to wander but not all of us have gotten there yet. And honestly, there are going to be some people who develop anxiety and depression because of these circumstances who would ordinarily consider themselves “normal” on the spectrum of mental illness. They will need our help as sufferers and survivors.

When I had my first panic attack, it felt like the world was closing in on me despite sitting on my deck under the stars. I found myself hyperventilating for hours, numbness creeping up from my toes and fingertips until my limbs were pins and needles – lack of oxygen. It wasn’t until I thought I was going to pass out that I made the trek from my bedroom to my moms room. I call it a trek because the thought of moving from the shelter of my bed made my head spin.

When I finally got to her room, she took one look at me and knew exactly what was happening. She took my hand, led me through some deep breaths and sat me on the deck outside with a glass of water. I’ve lost a lot of my memories from those six months of constant panic attacks but one thing I do remember was her telling me to find something that would ground me.

The weight of that word – ground – really resonated with me. If you’re someone who has suffered from panic attacks before, you understand the sensation of floating while waiting for your mind and body to come back to one another – that out-of-body feeling as if you’re looking down at yourself. What grounded me was the sky.

I didn’t understand how fortunate I was during those first few panic attacks. My mom also suffered from anxiety after a traumatic incident. She told me of her struggles a few days later but up until then, I thought I was fighting this thing alone.

Soon, my panic attacks became more frequent. I would wake up to them in the middle of the night – it was always worse at night – dizzy with panic and out of breath from hyperventilating. My mom slept in my room with me for at least four months until the anti-anxiety medication (Prozac and Ativan) got into my system. I’d eventually throw up. She’d try to calm me down by rubbing my back, reminding me to breath and grabbing me a glass of water or the trash can that we always kept next to my bed. Then I would lay awake for hours watching something mindless on TV and willing myself back to sleep.

Soon it began to trickle into my social life. I couldn’t drive at night. I couldn’t be in big crowds. I couldn’t sleep over anyone’s house. If I did leave the house, I had to be the one driving. I couldn’t drink or smoke. I couldn’t be around people who drank or smoke. I couldn’t be in confined places. If I thought I had left my emergency medication at home, I would panic. If I couldn’t find my emergency medication, I would panic. I had that tiny little bottle glued to me for years. Some days it was so bad I couldn’t sit still for more than 5 minutes, let alone make it through a whole day of classes. I lost my appetite, I stopped doing my homework, I stopped living.

And this was all while I was able to leave the house, attend my therapy sessions and distract myself with friends and family. Take all of that above, one single mental illness in comparison to many, and add self-isolation. You can imagine how anxiety and depression would flourish in this environment.

This is a time where people are dying from a deadly virus, yes. But this is also a time when buried mental illnesses are returning to haunt us with every waking moment we spend alone. It’s a time when they’re planting their seeds of self-doubt and manipulation in the heads of those who thought we had overcome this battle already. And it’s spreading probably quicker than COVID-19 as the endless days drag on. People who would not consider themselves to have depression or anxiety are no doubt feeling the effects of this quarantine and those of us who have overcome it before are lucky enough to recognize the signs. But, for those of us who have not experienced it before, you might not know what to look for and you might mistake the symptoms as the effects of isolation.

From my own personal experience, I want to share some of these symptoms to look out for, for the people who just maybe have’t been feeling right lately.

If you’re about to stop here and not read further, I want to remind you that you are not alone. It is not embarrassing or shameful to suffer from mental illness. It does not have to control you or debilitate you. You can live with this. It does get better. This situation is not forever. My door is always open, I am a phone call/DM/email/letter away – if you need anything at all, please don’t be afraid to reach out. We need to be here for each other and I can do my part to contain the virus by staying home but I also want to do my part by being an ally and fellow survivor for those of you/us that are suffering.

ANXIETY (some symptoms overlap with depression)

I suffered more from anxiety than I did from depression but I no doubt suffered from both at one point throughout my self-recovery. I had strong feelings of helplessness and suicidal thoughts coupled with the common symptoms of both so it was hard to differentiate at times what I was feeling. But there was no doubt in my mind that when I was anxious, the signs were there. When I was depressed, I categorized it as a side effect of anxiety. 

  • I find myself to get tired more easily. I’m run down by the most mundane things such as making my bed in the morning, cooking breakfast, emptying the dishwasher. Anything that requires more energy than sitting in bed all day is immediately a red flag to me. Definitely attributed my exhaustion more to my mental state fighting this seemingly endless battle than I did to depression.
  • Difficultly concentrating was a big one for me. I got stuck in my head a lot, milling over the what if’s and the when I’m better’s. I worked myself into panic attacks because I couldn’t concentrate on the task at hand and I let my mind get away from me.
  • Racing heart. This was the absolute worst physical symptom for me. I had EKG’s done, stress tests done, heart tests done just to determine that my heart was healthy and my palpitations and chest pains were caused by anxiety. For those of you that don’t know, panic attacks sometimes directly mimic the symptoms of heart attacks. For me, my heart felt like it was fluttering and skipping beats which would send waves of anxiety through my body to my head, resulting in dizzy spells and feeling lightheaded. I’d eventually throw up and then my body would come down. The trauma would cause me to shake violently, which is when I knew it was finally over but I couldn’t warm up for hours no matter how many blankets I bundled up in.
  • Insomnia/over sleeping/trouble falling asleep. I have had insomnia my entire life but when my anxiety was at its peak, I laid awake all night praying for the sun to shine so I could get some sleep. Something about the dark made my anxiety worse and the second the sun started to rise, I would fall into a deep sleep and sleep all day. I was eventually prescribed to Trazadone which is a heavy duty sedative that I finally got off a little less than a year ago.
  • Emotional changes: Restlessness, irritability, feeling on edge, lack of control over yourself, dread and panic. I lived my life worrying when I was going to have my next panic attack which would result in more panic attacks. It was the feeling of panicking that made me panic which I’m sure doesn’t make sense to a lot of people but when I panicked, it was like trying to escape my own head and find clarity but I was so consumed with the overwhelming feeling of dread that I lost sight of what I was working towards. My panic attacks left me defeated, embarrassed and absolutely exhausted. They took such a physical toll on me. If I had a panic attack in the morning, my day was considered over. I needed hours to recover and nurse myself back from that edge.

DEPRESSION (some symptoms overlap with anxiety)

I strongly believe any depression I endured was a direct result of the mental battle I was fighting every single day with anxiety at the forefront. I no doubt was depressed too but mine was more from wishing every single day that I would just catch a break. And of course, the nagging feeling that I couldn’t endure my anxiety much longer. 

  • Exhaustion/heightened fatigue with everyday, mundane activities.
  • Lack of concentration is a big one too. If you find yourself aimlessly scrolling through social media, bouncing between apps and games on your phone, even if you know you have stuff that you should be doing or want to be doing, force yourself to get up and engage with anything other than your phone and your bedroom.
  • As I mentioned above, I lose my appetite and lost a lot of weight. This is a telltale sign of depression and anxiety. Not wanting to eat or not having an appetite of course leads to weight loss. For me, it became a battle to eat anything before noon and when I did eat, it was normally a breakfast bar and then nothing until something small for dinner.
  • DIFFICULTY SLEEPING AND OVERSLEEPING. If you notice that you or a loved one is spending all day in bed or is having trouble falling asleep/staying asleep, encourage them/yourself to just get up. The first step in fighting mental illness is getting out of bed in the morning. Take it from someone whose own mother wouldn’t let her get a lock on the bedroom door because she knew I would not get out of bed and she would need to come get me.
  • Loss of interest/no longer finding pleasure in activities or hobbies. This was a big one for me. I would do what I was supposed to do (read, my homework, go to my horseback riding and dance lessons) but anything more than that, I lost interest in.
  • Some emotional changes: heightened irritability, hopelessness, sadness, anxiety or restlessness. I know this can easily be confused with self-isolation in general. I think given the timing, we are all a bit irritable, anxious and restless but this is still something to keep in mind throughout your days as things continue to get harder for us.
  • Suicidal thoughts/tendencies or feelings of self-harm (cutting, burning, pinching, biting, etc.)

I know these are very personalized to me but if any of these symptoms resonate with you, fight it. It’s so easy to give in to how you’re feeling and let it consume you but the only way out is to fight with everything you have because this is not a road you want to go down. And I know so many people will say, well you don’t have a choice if you’re depressed or prone to anxiety and you’re absolutely right but there are ways to fight it as opposed to letting it consume you. Get angry, resist it and push back.

It’s okay to give in to the feeling, temporarily. A lot of people find comfort in their depression and their anxiety because it’s constant and familiar to them whereas fighting it is unfamiliar and unnatural. That said, if you’re going to give in to it, allow yourself a couple of hours or a day at most. Find little things you can do to take your mind off of how you’re feeling. Ordinarily, people suggest hanging out with friends and family, going for drives, shopping and other self-care options. Obviously, that’s not something we can do given the circumstances. And I say “we” because this is undoubtedly something we as a society and a community are going to go through together and we are also going to overcome it together.

Just the other day, I spent the day in bed. Monday, it rained all day. I felt defeated, exhausted, filled to the brim with sadness and fear and total uncertainty at what was going to happen tomorrow let alone the next couple of weeks. Being in the situation that we are in, we are all fearful. For our jobs. For our income. For our health. But we should also be equally as fearful for our mental health. This isn’t a battle everyone will overcome. They are estimating that there will be a dramatic increase of suicide/suicide attempts, self-harm and reported mental illness in the following months.

For whatever reason, this isn’t something people are talking enough about. We are all-consumed by COVID-19 and the threat to our physical health but this is a trying time for those of us that are susceptible to mental illness and to those who may have already relapsed. We are on the brink of a very difficult time as a community and I think opening this discussion and reminding people that it’s okay to talk about it and that it SHOULD be talked about is incredibly important, if not more important, than COVID-19. They’re developing a vaccine for the virus but what vaccine is there for our mental health?

I want to take the rest of this post to talk about some thing’s we can do as individuals to better our mental state. Things that don’t include swimming in our private pools, taking our million dollar cars for rides or adopting dogs at the animal shelter. Reasonable, sustainable solutions and distractions that can benefit us in the long run and that cost little to no money.

  1. Call your friends, family and loved ones: If you’re anything like me and you already suffer from anxiety and depression, then you know that being home alone for hours on end can contribute to the spiral of your mental health. Maintaining a sense of community (outside of necessary trips to the grocery store and pharmacy and client/co-worker calls) is imperative. Keep in touch via text, phone call and video chat. It’ll keep you sane and give you the sensation of socializing without leaving your home. If you think you might get really bad or are already really bad, set up a schedule. Create times throughout the day and maintain these times as we head toward a long isolation and potential quarantine.
  2. Self-care goes a long way: Take a bubble bath, do some facemasks, paint your nails. Make sure you’re eating regularly and you’re eating well. It’s okay to indulge in the snack drawer but don’t make it your lunch. Also please keep in mind that coffee is not a meal replacement! Since we can’t go to the gym, try to get creative with your exercise routine. Whether you do sprints on your street, yoga indoors, stretches before bed or make it a goal to squat the fridge, try to get your heart rate up and your body moving at least once throughout the day!
  3. Self-soothe: A lot of us that already suffer from anxiety and depression have little tricks we partake in to calm ourselves down or remain calm through stressful situations. Some people like repetition, such as a movement, exercise or an app/game. Some people prefer to read or write (this is what I do to stay present and mindful). I also like to make detailed lists like the places I want to travel, the next books I want to read or the next blog posts I want to write. Whatever you do, definitely don’t watch the news.
  4. Stay busy: It’s so easy to get caught up in a lack of a routine while at home, whether it be staying in bed until noon or mindlessly watching Netflix all day. I’m super guilty of not being productive in this environment but I’m forgiving myself and giving myself a grace period to adjust to this new lifestyle. A lot of people recommend creating a schedule for yourself. Something along the lines of when to get up, eat breakfast, read/write, exercise, cook dinner and let yourself relax/enjoy a show or a movie. This allows you to plan your days efficiently and maximize your time. I would respond well to something like this but I wouldn’t be diligent with it which would lead to me being disappointed in myself which is obviously counter-productive. Some other alternatives would be to learn a new language, teach yourself a new skill that you’ve always wanted to learn, research a topic of interest, read more books, write about your days and clear your head, practice yoga/work on your flexibility, buy some plants and learn to take care of them, start a new hobby that you’ve always wanted to try, plan a vacation for when all of this is over. There’s so much we can do with the Internet literally at our fingertips. If you don’t have access to the Internet or don’t want to sit in front of a computer all day you can invest in some board games, brain puzzles (Sudoku, crosswords), card games, new recipes, organizing or cleaning. These are all things I have done personally to get me through the days until my roommates come home at night.
  5. Appreciate the little victories: If you are suffering from anxiety, these suggestions might be extremely difficult when you are lacking motivation. To that, I would start by just getting out of bed. Wash your face, brush your teeth and drink some water. Try to avoid going back into your bedroom by sitting on the couch or even on the floor but resist the temptation to get back into bed. That in itself is a victory to me. If you can overcome the urge to go back to sleep, you’re winning in my mind.
  6. Challenge yourself every day: Create short term and long term goals for yourself. For example, if getting out of bed by 10 was your goal the previous day, challenge yourself to get out of bed by 9:30 the next day. If you only managed to get out of bed and brush your teeth the previous day, challenge yourself to get out of bed, brush your teeth and eat a piece of toast the next day. If you started doing yoga last week and found a pose you want to work on, make it a goal to master the pose by the end of the new week.

I’m sure there are countless possibilities and activities you can do to combat mental illness and stay busy but these are a few that resonate with me and have worked for me personally. If you have any suggestions of your own, please comment – I am always looking for different and new things to do!

I know we are all feeling a bit defeated during this time and some of this stuff seems silly and pointless but I will leave that up to you for interpretation. It’s your responsibility to take care of yourself, no one else’s. You don’t have to fight this battle alone unless you choose to. That said, reach out to those around you if you need help and check on your friends who might be struggling. Everyone can use a little support right now and the least we can do (those of us that are fellow survivors and sufferers) is be present, be supportive and be available to those who might need us right now.

As always, thank you for reading and I hope everyone stays safe and healthy!

 

Starting Therapy Again & Vulnerability

Part of my resolutions this year have included bettering myself; digging deep, uprooting those problems and fears that have taken home in the pits of my stomach and starving them of their fuel. Along with the more standard resolutions (reading more books, spending less time on my phone, working out consistently and trying to eat healthier), I made it a point at the turn of the decade to find a therapist that actually worked for me.

I was always turned off by the idea of therapy. Ashamed by it in a way like I think many of us are. It’s human nature to want to be perfect, to compare ourselves to those around us. With the influence of social media, it’s almost impossible not to see other people’s lives, seemingly so happy, and wonder, what’s the trick? There isn’t a trick. It’s staged because we want people to think we are perfect.

Maybe if they think we’re perfect, we’ll start to think we’re perfect, too. 

It’s true what they say about getting help. It doesn’t happen unless you want it to happen. People can vouch for you, push you, do all of the background work to set you up for success but if you’re not ready, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. I refused it for years.

When my parents were getting divorced, my mom found a few therapists for me to talk to. I remember refusing to even look at them, surrounding myself with toys and crayons on the floor until the hour was up. Jump ahead to high school, I apparently had sessions with a few different therapists and none of them were helpful. I had severe anxiety at the time and don’t remember much of these appointments, just their different colored doors, scented waiting rooms and prescriptions from psychiatrists. College came and went and I filtered through the system of provided care because it was “free” and maybe this would be the right time for me. It never was.

But this year, and whether it’s the turn of the decade or finally feeling like I’m ready to heal, I decided it was my time. The first, and really only thing, we have talked about is vulnerability. More specifically, my problems with being vulnerable. When I reached out to the therapist I see now, I told her I needed help with relationships. It is very hard for me to open up to people and maintain relationships, both familial, romantic and platonic. It’s always been hard for me to keep people around because I get to this point where I throw my walls up and it’s damn near impossible to break them down. If you’re someone who knows me personally, think about it; I’m sure there’s very little that you truly know about me.

It’s instinctive by nature that I am the way that I am. We dove in head first during the first session and I want to use this post to reflect and share what I have learned throughout this process so far in terms of my own fear of being vulnerable.

Before I get into this discussion, I want to preface that I have forgiven my past and those involved in my trauma. I have forgiven myself for those I hurt while I was hurting and in no way do I write this with a vengeful heart. My trauma is my trauma. It can be downplayed and denied by those involved, but it will never change the way I was made to feel about myself and the severity of what I endured. I have forgiven but I have not forgotten and part of this process for me, unfortunately, involves digging up everything I have buried in my heart that my mind refused to remember and accept it as the trauma it genuinely was.

When I told my therapist about what I went through in high school, she explained it as a trauma. She told me, the body holds on to trauma in a way your mind doesn’t. Basically, the defense I put up is a product of how I was treated and the way I reacted in those moments that has been forever ingrained in me. Undoing that is one of the harder things I have done in my life.

I asked her, how can it be a trauma when I wasn’t physically hurt? And she validated what I went through by telling me that I wasn’t sensitive, I didn’t overreact and it was real. My emotions were real. My sadness was real. My suicidal thoughts were real. My pain was real. My experience was real.

I won’t bore you with the details. Simply put, I was badly bullied by a group of guys and girls that I considered my friends. When you think of the popular kids in high school, you think of the jocks and the cheerleaders who are nice to everyone and super inclusive. When I think of the popular kids at my high school, we were partiers and we were mean. I say “we” because collectively, this was the group I fell into by circumstance and the group that I couldn’t escape. And trust me, I had my mean streaks as well, I can’t excuse that, but it undoubtedly was a product of the way I was treated. I became conditioned to think I was inherently mean. There were a lot of people in our friend group that didn’t have a mean bone in their body but they got clumped into this awful perception in my head because although they didn’t do anything to harm me, they didn’t do anything to help me either.

Despite this being a group of maybe 20 people, there are really only three or four names in my head that stand out the most and I link them to a few specific situations that I remember more vividly than my first kiss or even graduation. These are the memories that come rushing towards me at full speed when I think of high school or even when I am walking through the stop & shop in my home town. These are the people I will never forgive and the people I have made myself forget because they don’t deserve the space in my head.

For years, I was made to question myself. I was called sensitive if I overreacted to something someone said to me. I was brought into situations just to be made fun of. I was targeted and tricked and used as a pawn, thrown back and forth across a chess board in an attempt to win the affections of the queen until I became a shell of myself.

My breaking point came one February during my senior year of high school. My ex and I had just broken up and I was devastated beyond comprehension. To think I felt like a shell of myself when we were together, I felt even more unfamiliar in my own skin after we had broken up. My friends knew how I felt and I had isolated myself so much in an attempt to heal. Their words ricocheted off of me like bullets against armor yet their lack of compassion never wavered. I was invited out one night to a party down the street and although against my better judgement, I decided to go.

You need this, they told me. You need to be surrounded by friends and get him off your mind.

I told myself I’d try but they had to promise they wouldn’t invite him or any of his friends. They agreed and I reluctantly trudged down my driveway into the awaiting car. We made our way through the silent streets, listening to music and passing drinks back and forth until we pulled up to my friends house.

It started out as a decent night. Music, dancing, drinking games. I was planning on sleeping over but by 10 p.m., right as more people started to arrive, I hit a wall. I wanted to go home but my ride was drunk. The girl whose house it was told me I could sleep in her bed. I thanked her and apologized for the turn in my mood. She gave me a hug and told me I tried my best, next time would be easier.

I climbed into her bed and cried myself to sleep only to wake up to the sound of shouting. A couple in my friend group had found me asleep in her bed and they weren’t happy. Clearly drunk, they told me they were sleeping there, they had already asked and how dare I be in the bed that they were going to share. I had no idea. The last thing on my mind were everyone’s sleeping arrangements. I was just happy to be asleep and away from my thoughts.

I told them I had permission to sleep in here and they would have to find somewhere else. To my absolute shock, they started spitting on me until I left the room. I have never felt so disrespected by another person in my entire life, I couldn’t even process what was happening. Had I not been half asleep, I probably would have done some serious damage to the girls’ face but lucky for them both, I broke down and locked myself in the bathroom, hysterical. It was midnight by now, I couldn’t call my mom without worrying her and one by one, each drunken person I mistakenly had called a friend knocked on the door, trying to coax me out or at least, begging me to let them in.

I had bottled up so much anger and sadness at this point, it poured out of me like the liquor they dumped down their throats. I was enraged. Word after word tumbled out of my mouth, a swear here, an insult there. You’re not my friends, I shouted at them. You only want to know what happened. You don’t care about me.

I don’t remember who got through to me but the only memory I have after my breakdown was sitting in the passengers seat of someone’s car. I don’t know who drove me home. I don’t know what time it was. But I swore to myself in that moment that no matter how alone I would feel, I would never go back to them.

I held steady on this promise, reminding myself that I graduated in a few months. If I could hold out for a few more months, this would all be over. I would never have to see them again.

Weeks turned into months. People reached out here and there saying they missed me, asking me to join them at parties and sit with them at lunch, apologizing for “whatever we did to hurt you,” as if they had no idea what they had done.

I was lucky enough to befriend a teacher who took me under her wing. She created an independent study for me my senior year that was really just yearbook. I designed the entire yearbook myself, collected photos from my peers, put together articles. She gave me my own office and a key. Whenever I was feeling overwhelmed, she’d let me work through lunch and other periods, as long as I kept the door open and unlocked. It became my safe haven. A few friends knew I was there, they’d join me for lunch occasionally but I had found my place and my creativity and I threw my emotions into creating a masterpiece for my class and myself. I made no effort to reconnect but I also made no effort to make new friends.

I was still in the group message but back then, you couldn’t take yourself out of groups like you can now. I’m sure they had other groups without me but they still kept up in this one occasionally. I barely engaged and one night, when I wasn’t responding despite their direct messages to me, it started to get bad again. Taunting and low blows, personal insecurities and jokes about my feelings. Anything to draw a response out of me.

I remember sitting in my moms bed watching a new episode of Grey’s Anatomy, my dog curled at my feet and all I could think was that this was never going to stop. I have never wanted to die like I did in that moment. And it’s unfortunate that the only way I was able to get them to stop harassing me was by threatening suicide. Not reminding them that I was a human being, not asking them politely to leave me alone, not begging them with whatever energy I had left to stop.

It was with the words, “If you message me one more time, I will kill myself,” that finally produced the response I had been looking for. They pondered back and forth, wondering if I was serious and in that moment, I was. But I looked at my mom half asleep next to me, laughing at a joke on the television and my dog snoring by my feet and told myself that I had to live for them.

When I shared these experiences with my therapist, she asked me how I survived. I don’t normally cry in front of strangers, or anyone for that matter, but this simple sentence produced such an emotional response in me that I broke down. I couldn’t muster a single word for at least five minutes of internal agony. And when I finally looked up at her, I told her that without the encouragement of my mom and the way my dog seemed to know when I was sad, I wouldn’t be here.

When I finally went to college, I had trouble making friends at all. In fact, there are only a handful of people from my time at Roger Williams that I truly consider friends and I don’t think I ever shared this part of myself with them. I didn’t really speak much to anyone from high school after that. I made it a point to block everyone from my social media because any insight into my new life felt like a threat or something they could use against me.

I was made to believe I wasn’t a victim. Years have passed and still, I am conditioned to think I am a bad person, that I deserved what happened to me. I was said to be victimizing myself which is when someone basically thinks they’re a victim of a situation because they can’t take responsibility for their actions.

My therapist asked me, well why do you think they treated you like that? To which I responded, I don’t know, I must have done something and she said, do you think there could be no reason at all?

Validation is a drug in itself. Reliving and trying to understand this trauma, I have learned that I was a victim and I was a target. I learned that I wasn’t any more sensitive than the next person. I learned that my reactions – my extreme upset, resistance and attempt at standing up for myself – were what drove their meanness. I learned that I am not inherently mean and that my sharp tongue and short temper were my only protection.

Those short four years have affected me more than I care to admit. To admit that this had an impact on me at all, let alone a lingering one, would be admitting they won. It’s hard for me to think that people have good intentions and it’s even harder to open up to those that I consider the closest to me. I have walls up that I am so desperately trying to scale from the other side in an attempt to let go of all of this tension and distrust but it has been hard and painful.

Part of my recovery process is recognizing what happened to me and recognizing that it was as severe as I remember it. Vulnerability is something that I have continued to struggle with but it’s something I want to feel. I know it’ll take time but I am finally in a place where I feel like I can dedicate these sessions to breaking down those mental barriers and relearning that people can be good.

If you can take anything away from this, I hope it’s the knowledge that despite the obstacles in your past, time will wait for your recovery. You are not defined by your trauma. But your trauma will not subside if you don’t face it.

Thank you for reading, I know it was a long one.

Travel Blog: Costa Rica

When I think of Costa Rica, it’s hard not to be engulfed by the idea of warm, sandy beaches, lingering sunsets and all of the frozen margaritas you can possibly drink in a day by the pool. I opened my eyes to the computer screen in front of me and began thumbing through the Internet in search of the perfect getaway for my girlfriend and me. Quick glances around the office told me my boss was too sidetracked with shuffling papers and organizing orders to come check up on the work I was supposed to be doing.

Besides, I would only look for a few minutes.

When my best friend brought up the idea of a group trip, I jumped at the chance to visit Costa Rica. It was never on my list to begin with but when the opportunity presents itself, I am always looking to add another pin to the world map that hangs above my bed. The little red knobs poke through the Styrofoam perfectly with a little crunch, a sound I am constantly chasing. She and her boyfriend had a friend that would be staying in Tamarindo to do some surfing and they decided they wanted to make a little vacation out of it but when they realized they had their dates mixed up, it seemed as though the trip would be cancelled.

“Why don’t we go anyway?” I asked my girlfriend.

We had already gone to Europe twice but we stayed with friends or family each time and between working full time jobs and night jobs, we were both in dire need of some quality time. Laying in bed after a long day watching a few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy every  night just wasn’t working for us anymore. Besides, we had already been looking at hotels in the area and read a bunch of reviews about Tamarindo.

The only negative thing we had discovered so far was the ride from San Jose to Tamarindo. It was about 5 hours of bumpy, mountainous roads just to reach the shoreline. We decided to take a look at Liberia which was a little more expensive but only an hour from the beach. We found a great deal on Black Friday via Expedia ($535 per person, hotel and flight included) and jumped on the opportunity. The Selina House was advertised as a bustling, upscale hostel with a variety of rooms from dorm style, to shared apartments to private bedrooms with private bathrooms. We booked the private bedroom and private bathroom and for the next couple of months, we prepared for our trip. A piece of clothing here, an excursion there, until the day finally came and we shipped up to Boston for our flight.

There were no red flags when we first arrived at the Selina House. The staff was very friendly and they got us checked in and showed us to our room almost immediately. The young man at the counter wistfully pulled his hair into a clump on the top of his head and grabbed both of our suitcases, motioning for us to follow him to a rundown building in the back corner of the complex. When we swung open the door, we were shocked, disappointed and frantic.

On the website, the room was described as urban and tropical. They had posted photos of gorgeous designs on the walls, a private bathroom with a waterfall shower head and a modern tub, perfect for a couple that was travelling alone. We were excited. Instead, we were lead to a room bordering a fence. On the outside of the fence was a trash pit that was home to rats and vultures at all hours of the day. The inside of the room was dimly lit by an overhead light and barely big enough to accommodate the twin sized bed that had been forced between the two walls. There wasn’t even room for our luggage. Literally, not a single drawer or bureau was available in the room. We couldn’t unpack which meant we would be living out of our suitcases that quickly found their home in the only remaining space in the room under the window. Which was also home to ants and other insects scurrying under the wheels and squirming their way through zippers and pockets into our clothing and cosmetics. I was disgusted.

We were then told that the bathroom was a few buildings over. It was supposed to be a shared bathroom with another two guests and we were given a key for privacy. Before we decided to leave, we told each other we can tolerate the small bedroom as long as the bathroom is OK. If you’ve ever gone to summer camp, you can picture this perfectly. You grab your crappy sandals and your shower caddy, sling a damp towel over your shoulder and run down the hill to the community bathroom at the bottom where you shower off quick and head to dinner. When you’re little, it doesn’t matter if you still feel dirty because you’re just going to climb into bed with a single sheet and no air conditioning and scratch your bug bites until you wake up at six the next morning for breakfast.

But when you’re an adult looking for a romantic getaway and you walk into a bathroom that looks more public than shared, you’re going to be fuming. The door to the bathroom was swung open, revealing another dimly lit rectangle of room with muddy footprints on the floor and mold clinging to the permanently dampened shower curtain. There wasn’t even soap to wash our hands and bugs were crawling all over the ceiling, buzzing noisily around the fading light.

I whirled around quicker than I ever have and marched to the front desk immediately. After we had checked in, it was like the boy didn’t even notice us. I say boy because he was most likely no more than 18-years-old and clearly couldn’t handle the responsibility of running the front desk of a “hotel” as there was almost a line out the door at this point with backpackers looking for rooms and angry customers alike.

When it was finally my turn, I calmly explained to him that this was unacceptable and we were less than thrilled with the conditions. He agreed to give us an upgrade for no additional charge but we would have to wait for the morning.

I told Jillian, “OK, we can handle this for one night. I just won’t shower.” She agreed, we wouldn’t shower. We’d take a dip in the pool, get through the night and switch rooms in the morning.

I trudged back to the room, key in hand and dirt smudged between the thong of my flip flops and my toes, the lip of the shoe flinging up puffs of dehydrated dust. We had been travelling since 5 a.m. and all I wanted was to take a nice, hot shower. Nothing is worse than laying down at night after flying all day and not being able to shower.

I sat down on the bed to take off my shoes and it felt like I was sitting on concrete. I kept reminding myself, it’s only one night. You can do this. The breaking point for us was when I went to lay down on the pillows and realized the cases were made of plastic and covered with a thin, cotton sheet. I removed the sheet to reveal clumps of black mold and dirt spread along the casing of the pillow.

You might think I am exaggerating but after two hours of checking into our hotel, we were running frantically from door to door at 7 o’clock at night begging hotels within a half mile radius to take us in for the seven nights we had scheduled.

Thank God I can speak Spanish because this would have been horrendous otherwise. It’s not that the people of Tamarindo don’t speak English but rather, their native language is Spanish and I don’t think I could have effectively communicated the urgency of the situation through the tears and exhaustion had they not fully understood my native tongue. Granted, I don’t fully speak theirs but they got the point after I took several deep breaths and wiped at my eyes for a few minutes.

We were turned away at every single one until we finally found a little hotel, called Luamey, at the top of the hill that was advertised as a restaurant first and a hotel after. They had a room available for us for the seven nights we would be in Tamarindo, but again, it was shared. I asked politely to see the room and Will (who was the manager of the hotel and was constantly checking in on us and making conversation – I can’t say enough good things about this man) took us to the back of the building, up a winding, unpaved road and a few flights of stairs. The room had a small common area, two bedrooms and a shared bathroom. We agreed immediately.

We paid on the spot, promised him we’d be back within the hour and ran down the hill to grab our luggage. I dragged my suitcase across the complex, into the reception area and told the boy we would be leaving. He apologized and tried to refund us but because we booked through Expedia, he wasn’t able to. I would have to file a claim online and see what they can do. Fine, just get me the hell out of here. (They were able to refund us).

Within minutes, we were trekking through the streets with our luggage in tow and it was in that moment that I swore I would never come back to Costa Rica unless the trip turned around. It only got worse from there.

The next day, I got a message on Instagram from the assistant manager of the Selina House. I responded, thinking it was to discuss the unlivable circumstances of the hotel, but to my absolute shock, he asked me out for drinks. I can only assume he asked the boy at the front desk what my name was and found my social media which lead me to believe they gave out my private, confidential information.

We quickly learned that Tamarindo is one of those places that you stay at for a couple of days and move on. In our seven nights that we stayed there, three different groups of people moved in and out of our little shared space with plans to see the rest of the country or having come from other parts already. Each and every person said the same thing; Tamarindo is not nearly as beautiful as the rest of the country, from the beaches to the scenery to the excursions to the locals to the mountains. Everything was better everywhere else.

Almost every single morning, we were woken up to the stench of sewage. I thought it was a freak thing the first couple of days until I finally googled it and found that because of the lack of pipelines and modern plumbing in the country, the sewage draining system wasn’t at all what you would expect for a highly developed tourist town. There were feces and urine running through the streets and when the wind blew, which was every day since we were there during the windy season, it wafted through the hinged windows into our tiny nook and I awoke many mornings with the covers wrapped so tightly around my face I could barely breath.

The beaches were rated as the best beaches in all of Costa Rica but where I come from, our beaches are ranked as some of the best beaches in the world so I might be a little biased. Nevertheless, the view was very pretty but we couldn’t lay out for more than five minutes without someone walking up to us waving handmade trinkets in our faces, desperately trying to sell us something, and not leaving until we verbally acknowledged that we weren’t interested. The current was too strong to swim and with the amount of surfing lessons happening, we were lucky if we didn’t get hit in the mouth by the end of a surfboard. It did make for some truly extraordinary sunsets though.

sunset3

After three or four hours on the beach, we had had enough. But by then, it was only noon and because we had anticipated being at the beach all day, we didn’t have any other plans. We decided to walk back to the hotel most days, take a dip in the pool whose water levels didn’t even reach the filter. There was so much debris, you really couldn’t spend more than five minutes in the water and the smell of sewage was overwhelming. We ended up confined to our room, looking for other hotels that had better accommodations. Some days, we wandered around town bopping into little boutiques and souvenir shops but there’s only so much you can do in a town that is about a mile in each direction.

By the end of the trip, we had watched cockroaches climb out of the shower drain, found tiny fire ants in our sheets a handful of times, shared the walls with couples who had no respect for the people in the next room (I’m sure you can pick up on what I mean) and woke up nauseous from the smell of literal shit almost every single day.

Still, we made the best of the trip. Despite everything that went wrong, it became laughable. We had a little system by this time – we didn’t need to make the most of every single day. It was OK to sleep in and wait for the little acai shop down the street to open up. It was OK to walk down the beach a couple of miles and find a spot that was secluded and away from the pestering locals. It was OK to spend $25 on the beach club that had a private pool and poolside service. It was OK to be in bed by 9 with a good book and the air conditioner.

By the end of our trip, we had gotten into the routine of things and learned how to avoid the things we didn’t like. We didn’t let the frustration of our circumstances affect our relationship and at the end of the day, we were together, away from the stress of our jobs and in a country that most people won’t ever have the privilege of seeing.

When we got home, my mom asked me how I could handle the Dominican but I couldn’t handle Costa Rica. A little bit of a back story to put this into perspective; when I traveled to the Dominican, I knew exactly what to expect. I knew we would be seeing modern day slavery in its purest form, I knew you couldn’t wander off the resort without being pestered by the locals, I knew there would be days that I wouldn’t be able to shower and when I did shower, it would be out of a bucket filled with stale, soapy water from days ago that had been collected when the water was running through town. I was prepared.

What made Costa Rica so upsetting was that I went in with expectations and I left with the knowledge that I would never return. Someone explained it simply while we were down there; stay in American resorts when you travel to Central/South America (except that the American resorts like the Marriott, Wyndham and Best Western were anywhere between $250 and $300 for a single night). What you see on Expedia/TripAdvisor is not what you will get. You will get what you pay for.

She also asked me what my favorite part of the whole trip was, which I think is super important to share. We booked a tour via TripAdvisor which took us to Rincon de la Vieja, a national park north of Liberia, about an hour from Tamarindo. If you go to Costa Rica, you must do this tour. No matter where you are staying, make it a point to do this. It included everything (zip lining, horseback riding, river tubing, natural hot springs and mud baths) as well as transportation, breakfast and lunch all for $145. If you’re looking to fill your time, I would also recommend the ATV Tour(which we didn’t do), a fishing trip with Capt. Lee Keidel and exploring any of the national parks in the neighboring areas which are filled with wildlife, lush rain forests, hiking trails and waterfalls – all of the things we didn’t get to do.

Note to the LGBTQ+ community: It is safe here but people will look at you and cat call you whether you are two women walking down the street as friends or two women walking down the street holding hands. It doesn’t make a difference to the locals there. At first, we were very skeptical of even showing that we were in a relationship in public places like the beach and around town but we quickly realized that we were being stared at because we were women, not because we’re a same-sex couple. We were happy to see other same-sex couples in the area and no one bothered us.

Note to women: Look out for predatory men travelling alone – we were invited for dinners, drink and hotel rendezvous way more than anywhere else. A lot of men travel alone there and will offer you drinks and drugs. One guy offered to rent us a car if he could come with us to travel throughout the country. Another couple invited us back to their hotel for a foursome (we declined obviously). Countless single men approached us on the beach and asked us to accompany them to dinner, even after we said no. Stay together, travel smart and be aware of your surroundings!

Note to men: Stop being so creepy towards women traveling alone! You might think you’re being nice but your harmless/suggestive advances are uncomfortable.

Recommended Restaurants:

Friends – Found within the Mercadito, which is kind of like a food court but more upscale. There are all sorts of food choices here from poke bowls to fresh seafood to different styles of Latino and American food. The Acai Bowls and Crepes at Friends are very good. Outside seating only.
Patagonia – Found next to the Mercadito. Known for their fresh meats and traditional Argentinian dishes. Good quality. Outside, covered seating only.
Wok n’ Roll – Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and Thai food. Very good. Drinks aren’t the best. Inside and outside seating.
Pico  – Beach view. Gluten free and vegan bistro. Air conditioned inside, offers outside seating.
Sharky’s – Known as one of the best bars in Tamarindo. They offer very Americanized snacks like wings, burgers, nachos and beer. Indoor and outdoor seating but most people sit outside as there is always some sort of event (live music, DJ, karaoke, sports game) inside.
Rumors – We loved it here. Really good restaurant overall that offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. Live music most nights and it turns into a pretty active wine bar.

Panama – A Year Later – The Start of 2020

It’s crazy what a year of change can bring. Quantifying a year is one of those things that’s hard to conceptualize for a variety of reasons but the main one being, when you think about the age of the earth (4.53 billion years old), a year is mathematically equivalent to less than a second. Yet, sometimes, it feels like an eternity and sometimes, it’s so filled with change you can hardly believe you were where you were 365 days ago.

When I think back to where I was a year ago today, I am reminded of my first heartbreak of 2019. I had just gotten back from Panama and although I was excited to come home, I had a gut feeling that I would be staying home. Sure enough, Rob called me about a week later after we both had some time to reflect and decided it was time to part ways.

I was very conflicted at first. Part of me was excited to be staying home, to get back into some consistency and routine, to pursue the relationship I had just started. But the other part of me was really sad and I didn’t understand why until a couple months ago when I couldn’t kick the unwanted feeling that I wasn’t doing enough. I am the type of person that doesn’t like to be in one place for too long and sure, 2019 brought me a lot of positive change (I moved into my own place, I travelled to three new countries, my girlfriend and I moved in together, I bought my own car) but it also made me feel stagnant.

I have so many goals for myself. So many things I have told myself I am going to do in terms of travelling and adventuring and although Field Trips and living on the road was easily one of the hardest things I have ever done both emotionally and physically, it was also one of the most rewarding. I laid down in the RV at night, a stranger turned best friend living in the bedroom beside my little couch, and fell asleep exhausted and fulfilled knowing I put everything I had to offer into this experience but still, I was left feeling like I didn’t do enough. And in a lot of ways I didn’t but what I struggled to understand was that it wasn’t my fault.

I tore myself down for months afterwards, playing over every experience in my head, picking out everything I may have done wrong and everything I could have done better. I went over conversations, video footage, arguments, scenarios, every little detail I could possibly think of until it dawned on me; nothing could have prepared me for this experience. No amount of effort or participation or innovation could have changed this outcome. There is nothing I, or Rob, could have done differently because at the end of the day, I wasn’t experienced enough and there wasn’t enough time in the world for Rob to teach me everything I needed to know while running a business that occupied at least 95% of his daily routine/mental capacity. And that’s no one’s fault. Yet, I am still filled with regret at the way things ended and I’ve linked that specifically to my experience in Panama.

Panama was transformational in so many ways. It’s where I learned the most about my sexuality, it’s where I realized I wasn’t cut out for Field Trips and it’s where I realized I isolate myself beyond recognition the second I feel any sort of disappointment, dislike or negativity directed at me. I shut down in Panama. I isolated myself. I pushed those around me away. I stopped making an effort to get to know clients. I forgot why I was there. And in turn, I ended up disappointing myself, disliking myself and spiraling into a whirlwind of negativity trying to psychoanalyze what I could have possibly done differently to avoid this outcome.

The answer is nothing. The answer is, I did everything I knew how to do. The answer is, I tried my hardest and maybe I wasn’t good enough for this experience but that doesn’t mean I won’t be good enough for my current experience or my next experience. The answer is, I learned so much that I have thrown into my current career path that’s made me successful in this field. The answer is, I am strides ahead of where I was a year ago last year. The answer is, I have nothing to regret and nothing to be disappointed in because in my heart, I know I did my absolute best given the circumstances.

And when you think about it from an outsiders perspective, I literally jumped in an RV with a man I didn’t know at 22-years-old and spent five months travelling and fishing throughout the country/internationally. That in itself is amazing and genuinely unheard of.

I think I’ve come to terms with leaving Field Trips. I still think about it every single day and wish I could jump back on the road with Rob and I wonder sometimes what he would say if I called him up and asked if I could join him for a couple of months. But my life right now is consistent and I have people that rely on me and I have a lot to lose and I have goals and a steady income and two jobs and a house and a girlfriend who lives with me and we travel a lot and are looking at puppies and talking about getting engaged and sending each other pictures of homes to buy and rings we like and planning a future together. That’s something I could never have on the road.

And I think I’m ok with that. At least for now.

I don’t know what this next year will bring but I think it’s funny how we measure our success in terms of a year. How we compare January of one year to January of the next and use that to determine what we accomplished. It’s almost like we use the “new year” as an excuse to set new goals and ambitions when we should constantly be striving to reach our own goals and ambitions. I think it’s silly that we wait for the strike of midnight to start working on ourselves again. A social construct I would like to dismantle.

Success isn’t measured by what those around you think and it’s not measured by how much you’ve changed or accomplished in 365 days. It should be determined by the goals you’ve set for yourself however long ago and how close you are to achieving them or how quickly you did achieve them.

We, as humans, give up around the end of the year, using the holidays as an excuse to cheat on our diets and spend the last two months of every year doing things we wouldn’t ordinarily do because we’ll be “better” in the new year. If only we had that mentality at the end of each day, then we’d really be successful, myself included. But instead, we set ourselves up for disappointment and let ourselves be more lenient knowing that we have full intentions to be better, to do better, to eat better. Better, better, better. The word has lost it’s meaning.

2020 doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s another year, a measurement of time that we’ve socially constructed, a date to remind me how old I am, a number to write on my deposited checks, a year that doesn’t have any significance except what we’ve been told it should mean. A new decade, the youngest we’ll ever be, another chance to get it right.

I have goals, don’t get me wrong. But they’re not defined by the start of a new year or the end of an old one. They’re defined by my integrity, my ambition, my drive. And I’m not saying it’s wrong if you do confine your goals to a period of one time. Whatever helps motivate you is a win in my mind.

I guess what I’m trying to say is a lot can change in one year but it shouldn’t restrict your ambitions. I’ll leave it at that.

Timing

These last couple of weeks, I have been flooded with a million little thoughts and words strewn together into pretty sentences and ideas that I wanted to write about and elaborate on. Naturally, with my super busy work schedule, I didn’t write any of them down and those fresh ideas might as well have never existed.

But one that kind of stuck with me was the idea of timing.

Looking back on the way my life has unfolded thus far, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence. One small decision I made when I was 20 blossomed into an experience that ended up shaping my entire life or a simple social media post in 2011 that lead to the downfall of a friendship or a relationship that otherwise would have been toxic. The way moments and memories slip between one another has created back to back experiences, pushing me forward from one milestone to the next when most days, I don’t even realize it. And more often than not, it’s unintentional. It’s looking back that I see the way simple moments have shaped entire experiences.

I have read so many theories about time. A social construct made up by the human race to keep everyone in check. A number on a clock that really doesn’t contain any numerical value, yet we base our days on it. But realistically, if we (at least my generation) were stuck in the wild, dependent on the rising and setting of the sun, we would be lost. Both in time and probably within our surroundings as well. And don’t even get me started on deja vu.

But this post isn’t necessarily supposed to be directed at actual, literal, defined time. More the way our choices and actions fold into one another to create this little thing we call life.

I guess I could take you back through those monumental moments, those pivotal moments, that lead me to where I am today. The way that those moments unfolded and the choices I had that eventually lead me to right now. I guess this is where deja vu comes into play.

Deja vu is one of those things that truly fascinates me. I’m not sure if it’s the same for everyone but for me, when I experience deja vu, I not only recognize the moment I am in, but I can very clearly remember what is supposed to happen next. What happened next in whatever time or moment I had already experienced. Yet, the opposite happens. And after the moment passes, I can explain what I saw or what I remembered from the previous memory.

My favorite theory surrounding deja vu is the idea that we are experiencing a parallel universe. A universe that runs directly in line with our current one where we are making different choices that eventually unfold into an entirely other universe. Each choice we make in our current life has the possibility to branch into another life in another universe. If you believe in that, then realistically, there are an infinite amount of parallel universes, alternate universes, depicting what we could be. But we are present in this one.

A secondary theory is the idea of deja vu being a memory. A memory of a past life, which in turn, is indicative of our life being on the right path. So if you experience deja vu a lot, I guess you can assume you’re doing something right.

And lastly, and the most logical, it’s simply an overlapping of memories from a previous day or a similar situation that have morphed into a present memory that tricks you into thinking it has already happened. A situation that feels weirdly familiar when it shouldn’t feel familiar at all because it hasn’t happened.

I’m not sure if deja vu and timing even relate to one another but obviously, without time, deja vu wouldn’t exist. But without deja vu, timing wouldn’t be affected.

And then we have the “luck” factor. I feel like this post is turning into a giant math problem, like the ones they give you in statistics.

Find the dependent and independent variables that are equal to time with the given factors. X x Y = TIME. 

But in terms of luck, when it comes to actual, big life decisions (moving into my own place, my current job, my travels) things have all kind of just fallen into place without me need to look for an apartment or apply to jobs or spend x amount of money on travel because I knew people in foreign places. I think that’s crucial to understanding timing; luck and coincidence have a lot do with it.

Which, in turn, could stem into a discussion about karma. Which, from the way I have come to understand it, our karma in our current life is either a reward or a punishment for how we lived our previous lives. I’ve also come to believe the way we die is karma for how we lived our past lives.

Kind of freaky when you get into a head space like the one I’m currently in; kind of going back and forth questioning your entire reality and the meaning of your life from an existential standpoint. Questioning your fate. Wondering if our lives are a product of the effort we put in and the choices we make or if our lives are predetermined from the day we are conceived. I probably sound like a crazy person right about now, if you have made it this far.

Let me circle back to the topic at hand: timing (time management)

I have genuinely heard so many people say the phrase, “our timing sucks” in an attempt to blame their misfortune on timing. As a way to end a relationship because “we both work too much, the timing just wasn’t good.” I’ll be the first to tell you this is a bullshit excuse. If you want to be with someone, if you want to spend time with someone, if you want to make something work, timing doesn’t matter because, unlike most things, you can make the time if you really want to. You can stay up an extra 10 minutes to call your significant other. You can go into work earlier to make it home for date night. You can take a five minute bathroom break to text someone back or let them know you’re thinking of them. You can get gas the night before and skip 15 minutes of your down time so you don’t have to get up 15 minutes earlier to do it in the morning.

I guess what I’m getting at is that blaming your misfortune or lack of interest on timing is a poor excuse when we all know if we really want something, we can manage our time to have it.

Let me circle back again: timing (coincidental timing)

I read something the other day about a man spilling coffee on his shirt and needing to run back inside to change, a woman’s dog taking too long to go to the bathroom in the morning and she was late for work, a man whose new shoes gave him such bad blisters he had to stop at a convenience store to buy  band-aids. All of them were supposed to be in the World Trade Center when the planes struck. All of them survived for what we might consider minor inconveniences. All of them survived because of timing.

It’s an interesting concept to think about and I have caught myself wondering so many times, “Why is this person driving so slow,” or “Why can’t I find my car keys?” All to finally leave the house and get stuck in traffic caused by a car accident. And I wonder, “Could that have been me if I knew where my keys were?”

Maybe I have conditioned myself this way because I believe in everything happening for a reason or maybe it’s just the optimist in me. I’m not sure but every single time I face a minor set back, I tell myself, “this is happening for a reason.” And I might not know what that reason is in that exact moment, but it often becomes apparent to me by the end of the day. The only time it doesn’t become obvious to me is when I receive awful news that I can’t quite wrap my head around for a few months. But looking back, it’s always there.

The way timing works, the way coincidences work, the way life works. If I think too hard about it, I’ll get lost in a tailspin in my own head questioning the entire universe. But for now, timing or luck or fate or karma, whatever you want to call it, has been on my side and continues to guide me in what I can only hope is the right direction.

I guess I really just wanted to put timing into perspective for myself, and hopefully for some others who may feel lost or not understand the way things have been working for them lately. There’s no rhyme or reason to this post, which is very unlike me, but I like to believe in signs, too. And maybe some of you reading this have been looking for a sign. Maybe some of you reading this have been looking for a reason or a reminder. I don’t know why I was compelled to write this today, or why it went in the direction of fate and karma but I like to believe the timing was right and it was written for a reason.

Take it as you will and use it as you can.

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Out Part 3: Telling My Family

 

IF YOU MISSED THE FIRST PART OF THIS MINI SERIES, YOU CAN CHECK IT OUT HERE. 

IF YOU MISSED THE SECOND PART OF THIS MINI SERIES, YOU CAN CHECK IT OUT HERE.

It’s kind of ironic how parents can predict things before we have any inclination whatsoever.

I know I’m not the only one who has been in a relationship where you make the mistake of telling your parents too much. This trust we have in our parents, to them, seems almost like an invitation for their input and skepticism.

Soon you’re hearing, “Is David* still selling drugs to high schoolers? I really hope you’re done buying that stuff from him.” or “Did Tom* unfollow that girl on Instagram whose pictures he kept liking?” and “From what you told me, it sounds like Kyle* has some serious issues. Run.”

*Names have not been changed to protect the identities of ex-boyfriends

Next, they’re giving you advice about how he’ll probably get a girl pregnant before he can start his life and that the two of you are so toxic you’ll end up ruining each other’s ideas of love forever.

All of a sudden, you’re 23 and you look back and realize, holy shit my mother was right.

Except, when I told my step-dad I was interested in this girl as more than a friend he told my mom he always thought I would end up gay.*

*I do not identify as a specific sexual orientation

I don’t know how parents are able to predict this kind of stuff, but this was news to me. Because up until the very second I kissed this girl, I had no idea how I felt about women.

Telling My Family

Before we jump into the terribly awkward, self-humiliation that is my true coming out story, I want to preface this by saying I am so incredibly thankful to have the friends and family that I do. Daily, they have continued to make this process as easy as I could have hoped it would be, and how I hope it can be for everyone.

The first night Jillian came over to hangout with me, I told my mom a “friend” from school who I had recently re-connected with was on the Cape for Christmas (we hungout for the first time December 22) and neither of us had anything to do so she was coming over to make a gingerbread house with me.

This wasn’t a total lie, we did make a gingerbread house, but she definitely wasn’t a friend from school. In fact, I had no proof she was even a real person at this point so I kind of just invited a stranger to my house based on a few days of text exchanges and a cute picture of her online.

Thankfully she wasn’t a serial killer.

My parents weren’t home when she got to my house because, unlike me, they actually have lives. We set up the gingerbread kit, starting pasting chunks of icing onto a cardboard house and every so often (probably every 10 minutes), I checked the window to see if lights were coming up the drive.

I’m not a very good liar, especially when it comes to myself. I like to be truthful with my parents and get their advice on things but this whole “thing” was so new and so unexplored that I honestly didn’t know what to say. So I lied.

When they finally got home, they asked her the standard questions. Did you go to Roger Williams, too? Where on Cape are you staying? What was you major?

Thankfully, being the paranoid freak I am, we had gone over all of these questions except she didn’t go to Roger and her family wasn’t staying on the Cape and although she said she majored in business, she actually didn’t go to college at all. Now we were both lying.

This would all come out on my moms birthday few days later but until then, we had passed the friendship test and went to the basement to watch a movie.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I had someone over that I was interested in, I would invite them to the basement to watch a movie. My parents definitely caught on to this and there were only so many times during this “Christmas break” that I could invite this girl over my house to watch movies in my basement before it got weird.

And weird it got because one day, my mom was driving home and the words spewed out like vomit.

“Hey mom, yeah Jillian’s here again yeah she’s gay and I might be too and I don’t want you to be weird about it when you get home so just act normal, OK? See you in bit. Bye,” and I hung up.

She later told me that the pure shock of this sentence alone made her almost drive off the road. Not because she wasn’t accepting of me but simply because I had dated guys my entire life and not once did I mention any sort of possible interest in women.

I had decided to hold off a bit longer to tell my step-dad but the morning of my moms birthday (December 29), as Jillian parked her car at the end of my driveway and walked towards the house in stilettos and a black dress, I blurted it out.

“Jillian’s gay,” I said as I stood in the newly remodeled kitchen, leaning over my phone with my elbows perched on the island. I didn’t even glance up.

“OK,” he said back.

“I might be, too.” My face was now buried in my phone, Jillian was almost at the door and my moms coffee just about spewed out of her mouth.

“Ok and?” he said. He kind of chuckled and went back to drinking his coffee.

At this point, Jillian was walking up the front steps, hand in a fist, ready to knock.

“I thought you were going to wait to tell him?” my mom said as the knock echoed through the living room.

For whatever reason, I had invited Jillian to a play with my family and me in Boston. Little did I know, when I texted her and asked her, she paced through the kitchen coming up with all of the reasons why she shouldn’t go before texting me back an hour later saying yes.

Now, we stood side-by-side in the kitchen, the abrupt announcement lingering in the air. Oblivious to what had taken place seconds earlier, Jillian gave my mom a bottle of red wine and wished her a happy birthday. We filed into the car, shipped up to Boston and up until the day I asked her to be my girlfriend a couple of months later (February 22), it wasn’t brought up once.

Not because they didn’t care or because they didn’t approve but because as long as I was happy, it didn’t matter who I was with. So I guess, in a way, they didn’t care that I was seeing a girl. I had fantasized about the scrutiny I would get from family members, concerned glances in my direction as I paraded her around family functions, snide comments as we wafted past.

But it didn’t happen. The conversation didn’t come. The concerns weren’t voiced. The questions weren’t asked. Instead, I was flooded with congratulations as we made our relationship “Facebook official,” comments from relatives excited to meet her, likes from past friends and family members I hadn’t seen in years. All writing the same thing; you look so happy. 

I was relieved. Still, it would take me some time to tell my dad.

The first time my dad met Jillian was on New Year’s Eve. We stopped by the house before our first “public” night out together. I introduced her to my dad the same way I introduced her to my mom; an old friend from Roger that was on Cape for the holidays.

Once it was made “official” online, I knew I had to tell my dad. I didn’t want him finding out from someone else, so I made plans to have lunch with him the following day.

We have a really good relationship but we’ve never talked about relationships. Since I lived with my mom, she was always the one that saw my significant other the most and was forced to get to know them. My dad would be introduced eventually and they’d make small talk, always cordial with one another, mostly around holidays or family events.

I was more scared to have the conversation with my dad than I was with my mom. Again, not because I feared judgment but these weren’t exactly the conversations we were used to having. Unlike my mom, my dad doesn’t have much of an opinion on who I date. He is very passive with mine and my sister’s life choices and rather than telling us what we should and shouldn’t do, he lets us figure it out on our own.

Sitting across from him, I could feel the anxiety creeping up into my throat as I forced down my food. With every bite, I hoped I would be able to swallow my unease.

He was picking away at his sandwich when I decided to start the conversation.

“Do you remember that girl you met on New Year’s?” I asked him. I took a sip of my drink and waited for him to look up at me.

“Yeah,” he said in a drawn out voice.

“Well, her and I are kind of dating,” I said. The words trailed off at the end as he finally looked up at me.

He paused for a few seconds as I choked back an awkward laugh.

“Like lesbians?” he asked me. He sat back in his seat a bit more and had a funny look on his face. That look you get as a child when you know you did something wrong, like poop in the litter box, but your parents are laughing too hard to punish you.

That was the look.

“I guess,” I said as I sipped at the empty ice at the bottom of my cup. “But I’m not gay. I just really like her.”

I was waiting for a reaction but nothing came.

He just adjusted his glasses, picked up his phone and leaned back into the booth. He mumbled something about it being a phase and how most women go through them. I didn’t want to correct him or argue with him so I let it go.

It wasn’t brought up again. I asked a few times if he wanted to talk about it but he always said there was nothing to say. I was happy, so he was happy. Simple.

Simple. 

I would wonder about the simplicity of coming out for months. How could it be so simple, so passive, for me to announce I liked women, but so brutalized and condemned for so many others?

I had hyped up the idea of being gay. I had given it it’s own place in my head where it could live and wonder. It’s own secret garden. I planted flowers in my mind and watered them with my thoughts. Fuel to flourish and a place to feel safe. Confidence to speak and courage to accept. To accept myself. They would sprout from my ears, petals falling from my eye lids and like a mid-summer rain, I’d open my mouth to catch them on my tongue. I’d swallow them whole until I was almost bursting. Full. Whole. Ready to show the world what I had so preciously built. And in the center of it all;

us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Out Part 2: How I Knew and Dating Women

If you missed the first part of this mini series, you can check it out here. 

So how did I know? How does anyone know what they like?

The answer is simple: try it.

Looking back, part of me wishes I had just swallowed my pride and the little bit of humility I had left and explored the thoughts of my adolescent mind. Honestly, it would have been so much easier had I come out when I was 13 or 14. Then, everyone would already know when I got to high school. Girls that maybe thought they were gay or thought they were curious would probably talk to me, maybe I’d have a few girlfriends here and there. I would be the girl that I eventually became jealous of; the girl who was confident and fluid in her sexuality.

Then I’d go to college, probably date a few more girls, be asked to do a bunch of threesomes,* and find the love of my life. Simple.

*If you don’t know this already, guys are obsessed with hooking up with two gay girls – we are not your entertainment; we never have been and we never will be.*

But instead, here I was at 23-years-old, straight (lol) out of my college experimental years where I didn’t experiment, trying to find girls to talk to. Do you know how difficult it is to jump into the gay dating scene when you have absolutely no experience and have never even flirted with a girl before?

It goes a little something like, “Hi, I don’t know what the f*ck I’m doing but I think I might like girls and I don’t know if I want to kiss you or just play with you hair but would you like to talk to me for two months before I make up my mind?” In the meantime, they fall in love with you because girls are the most emotional creatures on the planet and then you’re just doomed.

I felt like I was jumping head first into that scene in Shark Boy and Lava Girl where they’re just passing through the Land of Milk and Cookies. The girls were the cookies, I was the ridiculously out of place girl with flames coming out of her head.

If you don’t get this reference, you’re too young to be reading my blog. Or too old.

How I Knew

I had asked a few of my friends who were bi/gay/lesbian/pan, “How did you know?” and they all said the same thing. You’ll just know. 

And I’d just respond, “What does that even mean?”

And they’d say, “Just download tinder, find a cute girl and hangout with her and for Christ’s sake Jamie, stop thinking about it.”

So I did. But getting a girls attention is so much harder than getting a guys attention. When I had dating profiles before, I would post cute pictures of me out with my friends, pictures from the gym, pictures of me holding fish.

If there is one thing I have learned from social media, women hate when men post pictures of themselves holding fish. Was it the same with other women?

I wasn’t trying to impress men here so I limited it to one fish picture (which I used as my last picture), a bunch of selfies without other girls because I didn’t want these new girls thinking I was posting pictures with past girls, and a picture of me in the gym because let’s be real, if I was a guy, I’d be a Brad. We all know this.

brad

Honestly, the worst part about this whole dating app experience was coming up with a bio.

“Curious!” You’re on a women’s dating app, obviously you’re curious. 

“Hi! Not sure what I’m looking for but maybe you’ll be it ;)” I would throw up if I read something like that in someone else’s bio. No. 

“I don’t know what the f*ck I’m doing here.” Genius. Absolutely perfect. This is it. You’re ready. 

I was not ready.

The first few girls I matched with immediately asked me to have threesomes with them and their boyfriends. I was warned about this.

A few other girls said they had hotel rooms downtown and I should come over. This terrified me.

One girl invited me to a sex battle and when I asked what that was she told me to google it. Don’t google it.

And then there was her.

Our conversation started simple. Me saying her dog was cute (trying to break the ice), her responding that her dog was dead (the ice was not broken, it was shattered).

We chatted for a few days, exchanged numbers and truth be told, I didn’t think it would go anywhere. Honestly, I didn’t even intend to hangout with her. I was just trying to get into the mindset of talking to a girl as more than a friend because love stories don’t happen when two people meet on tinder. Nothing usually happens when two people meet on tinder. Except maybe herpes.

But our conversations were easy. They flowed. One topic to the next, I started to look forward to the moments I could lose myself in our exchanges. I started to look forward to the moments I could lose myself in her.

A few days later, I invited her over. All I remember from that night was watching Bird Box. The days went on. Talk of my anxiety here, a dab of her depression there, a sprinkle of self-reflection topped with the whopping secret that, holy shit, I like girls. 

I invited her over again and this time, she kissed me during Harry Potter. It was like my brain had re-wired in this exact moment. It was like everything I had envisioned a relationship to be was gone. It was like everything that never made sense in my life suddenly blossomed into this gay awakening.

They’re not kidding when they told me I’d just know. That it would just feel right. 

The “married to a man with two kids and a dog” scenario had vanished. It was replaced with gentle thoughts of holding her hand before bed, simply admiring her femininity and knowing that I possessed it too, tender kisses on a park bench in the middle of a city, painting our first crappy apartment, walking barefoot across the beach in white dresses.

OK, maybe I was moving too fast. Take a step back, try to get her bra undone or something before you start picturing your romantic, gay future together. You could hate it for all you know.

Although I didn’t know it then, she would redefine love for me and I for her. She would teach me what it felt like to be truly and selflessly loved. She would teach me to be fearless and unapologetic of my feelings. She would help me come out as me. And I would fall in love with her in the process.

But telling my family, sharing this huge secret I had been carrying around for so long, was the scariest and most relieving moment of my life.

(Coming SoonPart 3: Telling My Family)