Why I Didn’t Learn to Love My Body Until I Became Plus Size

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I am twelve years old. My weight probably hovers around 120 lbs. I’m traipsing through a giant department store with my mom and sister in tow, feeling overwhelmed and confused. The clothes my younger sister has tried on and tossed into the shopping cart are funky, colorful, and fit her carefree ten-year-old personality. I try squeezing myself into a couple of tops and pairs of pants from the kids’ section, but they’re too small. I want to look more grown up, so I head to the juniors’ department. But those clothes are too big. And in the words of Sam from Sixteen Candles, I don’t have a tenth of the bod to fill the damn bust out.

I’m in tenth grade. My weight is somewhere around 170 lbs. I march miles around the football field five days a week thanks to band, so I can’t quite figure out why I’m still one of the “bigger girls.” But I have good friends, enjoyable hobbies, and decent grades, so I’m relatively happy. There’s even a kid on my algebra class I kind of have a crush on. Until one day, while our teacher is out in the hall, the kid hops up on the cold-air return vent, causing his over-sized t-shirt to billow up around his lanky frame. “Whoa!” He cries, an amused grin spreading across his face. He nods in my direction, and just as I think he’s going to say something flirty, he utters the words, “Look, I’m you!”

I’m a senior now. I’ve managed to get my weight down to 140 lbs. with some simple changes in what I eat and how active I am. I’m completely geeked that I wear a size 7. Single digits! I even sort of have a boyfriend. Sometimes I catch guys – even popular ones – looking at me. But when it comes time to wear a bathing suit, I still can’t bring myself to put on a bikini. I don’t have a six-pack like those girls on the drill team or the cheer leading squad. I know I’m not fat anymore but I’m still not quite good enough to bare my midriff.

I’m twenty-one years old. I probably weigh around 130 lbs – the thinnest I’ve ever been. I’m in the front passenger seat while someone I know very well cruises her car along the crowded highway. “You look really good,” she says, then pauses. She reaches over and pats my thigh, which has always been the fleshiest part of my body. “Course you still have to work on this here.”

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I am thirty years old. Since getting married two years ago, my weight has ballooned. I went from wearing a size twelve wedding dress to struggling to fit into size sixteen jeans in less than a year. After spending months dieting and exercising like a fiend, nothing has worked. I sit on the exam table in my PCP’s office, terrified of the possibilities coursing through my brain – PCOS, diabetes, thyroid disorder, high blood pressure. Which will it be? How will they cure it? What do I need to do to lose weight? What is wrong with me? Why can’t I get thin again? Something has to be wrong with me if I’m not thin, right?

Vial after vial of blood is drawn and I am sent home to await. And starve. And kill my knees as I try to take up running.

Weeks later, the test results come in an email that sets my heart pounding in my ears. My hand is shaking over the mouse as I scroll through the black and white findings. Normal, normal, normal, normal, normal.

Normal? How is that possible? I don’t have high blood pressure or cholesterol. I don’t have PCOS or diabetes. My thyroid is functioning as it should.

I should be relieved but instead I’m even more upset. How can I solve this problem if I don’t know what caused it?

Frustrated, I call my doctor. She assures me that nothing in my test results is any cause for alarm. If I’d like, she can set me up for a phone interview with a nutritionist.

Sure, I agree. Anything.

I speak to the nutritionist once a week for several months. She sends me a thick workbook where I track what I eat and take quizzes that remind me of first grade. Of course I know apples are better for you than donuts. I’m not even really a big fan of donuts! I can’t believe they have paragraph after paragraph in this book about how the key to losing weight is shedding more calories than you eat. Duh! That’s what I’m trying to do! I’m fat; not stupid.

At the end of my time with the nutritionist, she declares that I’ve done everything right and that I have a good understanding of how to live a healthy lifestyle. But I’ve lost zero pounds. Zero.

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I am thirty-one years old. I’ve decided to take up swimming again because I just plain miss it. I purchase a tankini on Amazon and am thrilled when it fits and I actually love the way it looks on me.

Except my thighs. My damn thighs. I’m staring in the mirror, focusing on the jiggly tops of my legs, fighting the urge to count every speck of cellulite I see.

I sigh and think about those days when I wore sizes in the single digits and how I still thought I was fat back then. I chuckle and shake my head and think that if I could go back in time, I’d find my younger self and deliver the pep talk I needed to hear. I’d tell the younger me to be confident, to flaunt my body, to flirt, to dance, to buy that bikini.

As I reminisce about those days, I suddenly have an epiphany. If I didn’t even like my body when it was a size 7, when am I going to like it?

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I stand up a little straighter and gaze at my full reflection in the mirror. The answer is now. Now is the time to be happy with my body. Not the body I used to have or the one I may or may not have in the future. The body I have today.

Yes, I have cellulite. I’m not even close to having the coveted thigh gap. But these legs are mine. They take my dog on walks. They walked me through the streets of London and along the shores of beaches. They walked me down the aisle when I married my husband. The kick strongly when I swim.

Yes, I have flabby arms. But they can still hold things. They can still hug. They support my hands, which allow me to type and write and work towards being a published author.

I think about the decision I made to stop lifting hand weights and doing DVD aerobics that I hated just to try and shed a pound or two. Instead I decided to spend that time writing – working towards a goal I actually want to achieve. Not one my parents, friends,  co-workers, or strangers want me to achieve.

On the day I had that epiphany, it was like I could almost see the light bulb flicking on over my head. This was my life. My body. And it was about damn time I started doing what I wanted to do with my life and being happy with what I’d been given.

So I traded in my weights and exercise DVDs for my laptop and writers’ newsletters. I swim because I enjoy it, not to try to lose weight. I walk my dog and kayak because it’s fun and relaxing, not because I sometimes eat ice cream.

It’s been three years since I decided to love and embrace my bigger body and work towards the life goals I’ve had since I was a little girl.

My daily routines and my long-term goals are based on what I want, and I’ve never been happier. Even though I’m not a size 7.

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My anxiety and depression is more under control now than it’s ever been because I spend time in therapy and doing things that relax me. Even though I have flabby arms.

I am good at my job and am happy where I spend nine hours a day. Even though I don’t have a thigh gap.

I spent a year volunteering with Planned Parenthood, which taught me a lot and made me feel really good. Even though I’m a bigger girl.

I self-published two books, had several articles published, and maintain a blog. Even though I have a belly.

I traveled to London to fulfill a lifelong dream. Even though I have a big ass.

I say these things because I know that if someone were to see me in person or in photos for the first time in a long time, they’d be shocked and maybe disappointed at how much weight I’ve gained.

But then I think about all those times when people complimented how thin I was and how good I looked, and I realize that while that may have been true, those people also didn’t realize that I was having serious battles with my mental health or that I’d lost yet another job, or that my mom was dangerously ill in the hospital or that I’d lost my grandfather.

Sure, there are times that I cringe at an unflattering photo. There are days when I’m sad that I’ll probably never fit in my wedding dress again. But to be completely honest, I have never been happier or more content overall with my life.

I stay as active as possible with swimming, light hikes, walking my dog, and kayaking. I try to eat as many fruits and veggies as I can even though I loathe cooking. I refuse to eat artificial sweeteners or meat laced with hormones. I see my doctor regularly, and at my last visit she declared my blood pressure as “perfect.”

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Let me be clear – I don’t condone unhealthy lifestyles, whether it be dangerous cleanses or gorging fast food. But much like a woman’s reproductive health, her general health stats like blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol should be between an individual and her doctor, no one else.

I’m finally starting to realize that there is no magic number for health. There is no one weight or one size that marks us as healthy or not. This is not a black and white issue, and it’s time we stopped treating it like one.

Here’s a good example – recently one of my Facebook friends posted about being envious of those girls who have a thigh gap. The post was made in the midst of a scorching heat wave, and this friend, who is about as far away from being fat as the earth is from Pluto, was complaining about her thighs chaffing.

One woman commented, “Just stay healthy.”

It took every ounce of my self-control not to reply to her ignorant comment. One physical feature does not define health! I didn’t even have a thigh gap when I was a size 7 and I’m pretty sure Miss Serena Williams doesn’t have one either. Go ahead – tell that force of female power she’s not healthy.

There are so many different types of bodies in this world and we need to start respecting all of them.

 

above photos courtesy of Google Images (ANTM Whitney Port, ANTM Khrystyana Kazakova, singer Miley Cyrus, tennis player Serena Williams, & model Ashley Graham)

I’m going to close with a quick story that I hope highlights the importance of appreciating and accepting our own bodies and the bodies of others. When I went to see the musical Peter Pan a few months ago, I had the pleasure of sitting in the very first row where I got an up close and personal view of the tiny little details in the set, the costumes, and yes, the actors’ physiques. The woman portraying Peter Pan was tiny – probably barely five feet tall, great bone structure and thin limbs that helped her nail the acrobatic moves she made while being hoisted over the stage on wires. I felt a twinge of jealousy as I admired her lithe arms and legs and seemingly effortless moves. How great would it be to have a career where you got paid to be fit and tiny?

Then the actress playing Tiger Lily took the stage and began to dance. As she stomped and twirled and flipped, I found myself admiring her body too – even though it was nothing like Peter Pan’s.  She was shorter and curvier with larger breasts and a generous backside and thighs that looked like tree trunks. But every move she made was impressive and I could actually see the sheer muscle propelling her body as she leapt and spun.

At one point in the show, Peter Pan and Tiger Lily stood on opposite sides of a drum, dancing and beating a rhythm and playing off of each other’s movements. I watched in awe as these two women with completely different body types worked in harmony to create an impressive dance sequence. One wasn’t a better dancer than the other and one wasn’t more attractive than the other – they were simply different.

 

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Special Blogger Award

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Matthew at Blog of the Wolf Boy nominated me for the “Special Blogger Award” many weeks ago, and I am just now getting around to completing it! Head over to Mat’s blog for regular deep musings on a wide variety of life experiences. Thanks for the nomination, Wolf Boy!

Rules:

1.) Thank the blogger who nominated you

2.) Answer the questions you are asked (if you’re comfortable doing so!)

3.) Create 10 questions for the bloggers you’ve nominated

4.) Nominate at least 3 bloggers for the Special Blogger Award

5.) Comment on your nominees most recent blog post to let them know you’ve nominated them

6.) Have fun!

***** Note: So I’m a total dork and ended up answering both sets of questions. So if I nominate you, feel free to answer both or pick one set or mix and match ! ******

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1.) What made you take the leap and start your blog?  

I took a very unintended, nearly ten-year hiatus from writing between about 2006 and 2015. Looking back I realize it was due to lots of life changes, both good and bad, and my anxiety was the dominating force in my life. After a vacation to the Outer Banks inspired me to write a novel in 2015, I realized how much I still wanted writing to be a big part of my life so I went at it full force — self-publishing two novels, entering contests, and starting this blog!

2.) Are you aiming to progress your blog into a full time job or keep it as a hobby?  

Well, my ideal scenario would be getting paid to write at least part-time, and if that includes blogging, I’d be happy with that! I don’t really consider it a hobby because I want to get more serious about my writing, but for now I’m content having it as a means of discipline and a great way to network with other readers and writers.

3.) What are your favorite kind of blog posts to read?  

I always love reading about the unique experiences people have, whether it be traveling the world or encountering a memorable character in their day-to-day life. It’s also extremely comforting to read about other peoples’ mental health struggles — not that I’m glad they’re struggling, but sharing our stories is a great way to cope with anxiety and depression and doing it on a public platform allows for camaraderie, understanding, and healing.
A story that gets a good laugh out of me is always good too.

4.) What are your favorite kind of blog posts to write?  

Honestly, I just love writing, period, about almost anything.

5.) Do you feel your blogging experience has impacted you positively? Why/why not?  

Yes, absolutely. It’s made me more disciplined by keeping me on track to post every week, which I really needed when I decided to get back into writing.
It’s also opened up a huge community of readers, writers, and fellow mental-health warriors that I am so glad I found. When I first started blogging, I had moments where I was like — “Who the heck wants to read about some strange random girl who has panic attacks about almost everything?” Well, apparently lots of people!

6.) Are the people in your life (outside of the blogging community) supportive of your blog?  

So . . . interesting question. When it comes to writing in general, people (family, friends, co-workers) are super impressed and interested. But when I actually started blogging and publishing, it was like crickets. I sometimes get kind comments from people in my personal life but in general it’s relatively quiet. I’m learning to deal with that in a more positive light, like thinking about it in the sense that maybe they just don’t understand as opposed to them just being rude or disinterested.

7.) What advice would you give to fellow bloggers who are just starting out?

Just write. Don’t get all caught up in SEO and widgets and ads at first. Just write.

8.) If you could go back to when you first began your blog, what piece of advice would you give yourself? 

See the answer to #7 lol

9.) What is your top tip for growing a blog?  

Um, considering I’ve been blogging for 3 years and I’ve just managed 210 followers, I’m going to say I really have no idea!

10.) How many blog posts do you post a week? Do you try to stick to a schedule or just post when you feel like it?  

I post once a week. I have a full-time job, a part-time job, a husband, a dog, and friends and family. My schedule doesn’t really allow for much more!

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10 Questions For My Nominees:

  1. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
    Outer Banks of North Carolina
  2. Why would you want to live there?
    It’s where my heart and soul feel at home and at ease. For more details, please see my blog post (Extra)Ordinary Vacation
  3. Where did you grow up?
    Pittsburgh, PA. Still here.
  4. What’s the most embarrassing fact about your hometown?
    Hmmmm. Well, I can’t deny the fact that I have a “yinzer” accent and think it’s pretty cool that Pittsburgh-ese is a unique regional dialect, but I can’t stand when people say stuff like “warsh” for “wash” and “Warsh-ing-ton” for “Washington.”
    Our roads and bridges are in terrible shape all the time too, despite the never-ending cycle of construction.
  5. What’s your favorite food?
    probably pizza or chocolate
  6. What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to blogging?
    Probably the fact that I’m the most technologically inept millennial on the planet.
  7. Have you ever read a book that changed your world? What was it?
    Broadway’s Anthony Rapp wrote an autobiography that focuses a lot on the illness and death of his mother. It was the first time I read a firsthand account of what it was like to have a sick mom. That really had an impact on me.
    I also love Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and Jennifer Weiner’s Hungry Heart. Oh, oh and Ashley Graham’s A New Model. Is it weird that I’m not a huge fan of nonfiction but those are the books that have “changed” me?
  8. List another skill you have outside of the blogging world.
    Honestly, writing is the only thing I’m good at lol
    I mean I’m good at my 9-5 job, for what it’s worth
  9. Who’s one person that you’re truly thankful for in your life?
    I can’t pick just one person!
  10. Who’s a celebrity or famous person that you admire?
    Oh geez there’s so many! Mostly people who have pulled themselves out of horrible circumstances to rise to success and have remained humble and helpful to those less fortunate.

My three nominees are……….

V at Millennial Life Crisis

Alex Grace at Living.Pretty.Happy

Roxy at RTW Roxy

As I said above, I accidentally answered two sets of questions so nominees, feel free to pick and choose whatever questions you want to answer!

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Places I’ve Been, Part 4 (Southern Caribbean)

 

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For our honeymoon in November of 2013, J and I hopped aboard Princess Cruise Lines for the second time in our relationship and explored the islands of the southern Caribbean aboard the Crown Princess.

The ship was as beautiful as its sister we sailed on in 2009, but it was almost an exact copy, so there was no surprise or new things to explore. From what I understand, all Princess ships are pretty much mirror-images of one another. While this might make navigating your way around the ships easier if you cruise with Princess more than once, I think it would be fun exploring the newness of a vessel each time you vacation. Still, we had a comfortable room complete with a balcony, and J’s mom had sent us a surprise bottle of champagne to mark the occasion.

 

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Our first port of call was again Princess Cays. Unlike our last visit, this time J and I decided to try one of the excursion adventures and rented one of those giant floating bikes with the brightly-colored wheels. I always thought it looked like fun – but I was a bit wrong. The seat on the bike is metal, and what happens to metal when it sits in the scorching hot Caribbean sun all day? Yeah. It gets painfully hot. I’m pretty sure I lost a layer of skin off my ass and my thighs when I sat down. The other issue with this giant floating bike is that pedaling is HARD. I’m not the most fit person in the world, but I thought I was more than capable of peddling a bike. Unfortunately, getting enough momentum to your bare feet against giant pedals isn’t as easy as you may think, especially when the ocean waves are bobbing you up and down unpredictably. And finally, doing any sort of manual labor in ninety degree heat is only made worse when you’re wearing a bulky life vest. While I was sadly disappointed that our floating bike adventure was less than relaxing, we did manage to snag some beach time and swung by a few shop to add to our Christmas ornament collection.

Since the next islands on our itinerary were quite far south, we spent the next few days “at sea,” where we whiled away the hours playing hilarious and challenging games like trivia and bingo, enjoying the pools and hot tubs, sipping fruity drinks, and watching movies “under the stars.” Unfortunately, we ran into some rough waters for a day or two – bad enough that they closed a few of the upper decks due to high winds and the ship deployed its outriggers in order to try to keep the boat from rocking in excess. At night, you could definitely feel the ship swaying, and I experienced some mild seasickness for a few hours.

As we reached the island of Curacao, J and I watched as we cruised by dozens of oil rigs, which is apparently the island’s biggest export. Once ashore, we spent the morning shopping and exploring the old ruins and markers of famous battles, marked by aging cannons and crumbling forts. Our initial plan was to go back on the ship and change into our bathing suits, then hit the beach, but it was so incredibly hot that we ditched the idea and just stayed on board to enjoy one of the pools. Curacao’s coast was quite rocky, which meant we’d need to take a taxi to a more accessible beach. Since we hadn’t booked a cruise-approved excursion in advance, we erred on the side of caution and just hung back. This ended up being one of our most relaxing and quiet afternoons aboard the ship, as most people were off exploring the island.

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The next day we arrived in Aruba, catching a glimpse of the coast of Venezuela as we made our way to the dock. I was thrilled to be far enough south to see another continent, and my excitement only grew as we got closer to our next destination. Aruba was absolutely beautiful. From its brightly-colored coastal buildings to its pure white sand beaches and crystal clear water, it was truly a slice of heaven on earth. And while the weather was of course hot, it wasn’t unbearable thanks to the trade winds. These winds not only make the environment comfortable, but we quickly learned that they are also responsible for the tilt of the famous Divi Divi tree, a large shrub that always leans to the southwest and are found in abundance on this beautiful piece of land.

We’d booked an excursion for this island, and it was money more than well spent. We boarded a refurbished school bus with no windows and painted in bright, funky colors with a giant banana on top. Our driver was a happy-go-lucky local with a huge personality and a wealth of knowledge about his native land. He spoke five languages (Dutch, Spanish, English, French, and Papiamento), and kept us laughing as we sped down the coast. Along the way, I marveled at how clean and modern the island and all of its hotels and restaurants were. Everything from Holiday Inns to Ritz Carltons were stunning, and each eatery and shop boasted bright, inviting colors and often upbeat music. I very quickly came to understand why Aruba’s official slogan is “one happy island.”

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The first stop on our tour was the California Lighthouse. Here, we learned the history of the structure, posed for pictures, and sipped coconut water right from the source. I was truly impressed (and a bit terrified) as I watched two local men hacking the fruit apart with machetes and almost no effort.

Further down the coast, we stopped at Moomba Beach, where we’d have several hours to enjoy the scenery before the bus returned to take us back to the ship. Moomba Beach was absolutely stunning. Besides the picturesque landscape, there were beautiful ships anchored nearby, everything from touristy pirate ship recreations to bright sailboats and speeding jet skis. There was also a small cluster of shops and restaurants, complete with a cigar shop and tiki huts. Light fixtures made of glass bottles hung among the palm trees as did old anchors and thick ropes, making me feel like I had stumbled onto the set of Pirates of the Caribbean. After J and I did some swimming, he somehow convinced me to rent a jet ski, and we spent an hour speeding through the water. Once my initial panic wore off and I loosened the death grip on J’s life vest, I actually managed to have a pretty good time.

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All too soon, our tour guide arrived to whisk us back to the ship. He blared The Beach Boys’ Kokomo from the bus’s speakers, and made us dizzy circling three times through a roundabout before getting back on track. When the bus came to a final stop at the dock, I actually had tears in my eyes. Falling in love with Aruba didn’t take long.

As our ship pulled away from the most beautiful island I’d ever visited, J and I waved sadly from our balcony. But Aruba had one final surprise – we somehow managed to spot a shark swimming alongside our ship just before he disappeared beneath the waves. Though we were safely several dozen feet from the creature, it was easy to tell he was quite large – at least ten feet if I had to guess – and I shuddered to think that we’d just been swimming in those very waters.

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The last few days of our honeymoon were “at sea” again as we made the long trek back to the Florida coast. J and I passed the time playing board games in the library, lounging on deck, drinking more alcohol, and enjoying a Coldplay concert broadcast on the giant outdoor movie screen. We even splurged on a couples massage to top off our relaxation.

The negatives this time around were minor, like the unbearable heat and unsightly oil rigs in Curacao, and the excessive rough weather the first few days. We also felt a bit more “buying” pressure from Princess this time. For example, after our massage, we were taken to a “recovery” room, which basically consisted of the masseuses giving us water, then trying to sell us exorbitantly priced lotions and oils. When we declined, they kind of grilled us as to why we weren’t interested, and that rubbed me the wrong way (no pun intended). We also had an unpleasant incident where J and I wandered into an area of the ship called “The Sanctuary” and made ourselves comfortable on lounge chairs in a cabana. After sitting there peacefully for ten or fifteen minutes, a steward came up to us and asked if we had reservations. When we looked at him like he had two heads, he explained that the cabanas had to be rented – at some absurd rate of around $100/hour. While I understand that certain amenities cost extra, there was no indication that any part of “The Sanctuary” required reservations or additional funds.

But the ship was beautiful and the majority of the staff pleasant, and we enjoyed some amazing meals and incredible sights throughout the week. Our honeymoon cruise was one to remember, and I am so grateful we got to visit Aruba. If we ever come across the funds, I would not hesitate to spend an entire week there.

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Rainy Day Thoughts

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Though this post was written on 7/7/19, and although it will more than likely be sunny (SHOCK) the day it goes live, I feel compelled to mention that in the 20 days since I first wrote this, parts of the city and surrounding suburbs have flooded twice more. Not only is the frequent rain depressing, but it seems like there’s no such thing as a simple summer shower or good old fashioned thunderstorm anymore. Every time it rains, it causes devastation in little pockets of the world, and subsequently contributes to all-out panic mode at my work as we get absolutely slammed with hundreds of vehicles that end up being totaled due to flooding. But climate change isn’t real. Nope. 

Anyway, to the post . . . 

Well, it’s another rainy weekend here in Pittsburgh. The day will stretch out from dawn to dusk in a hazy, humid spattering of everything from drizzle to a complete downpour. Lightning will strike, thunder will rattle the windows, and streets and homes will be flooded in different parts of the city and its suburbs.

We will be stuck inside our house for hours on end, once again, just like we are in the frigid winter when it’s too cold to breathe and the relentless snow and ice traps us indoors.

I’m growing weary of the weather in my hometown in case you couldn’t tell, and it’s making me quite bitter. Growing up, I don’t remember feeling like my life was dictated by the weather. I recall endless sunny, warm days of summer with the occasional rain shower and maybe 1-2 weeks of winter that brought the city to a standstill. Now it seems like our weather holds us hostage constantly, no matter the season.

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photo from local news station KDKA Pittsburgh. This intersection is about 10 minutes from where I work. Happens nearly every time it rains.

 

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this picture was from last summer when a local Pittsburgh restaurant got absolutely destroyed by flash flooding. Google images
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and the infamous “snow-magedden” of 2010. Yes, that is my car

 

Maybe it’s because I spend 40 hours a week sitting in an office and 8 hours a week cleaning offices, or maybe global warming is just having its way with southwestern Pennsylvania too.

Either way, I feel like I’m trapped in the house every single weekend and cannot get outside to enjoy anything. Over the last few years, Pittsburgh weather has either been A) too cold to breathe, B) too hot to breathe, or C) torrential downpours.

And I’m just over it. Weekends seem impossible to enjoy anymore, and it’s really triggering my anxiety and depression.

Moving right now is not an option for several reasons. I don’t even want to get into them because that would be enough material for five more blog posts. And it would make me even more depressed.

I know that you’re supposed to “make lemonade” or “dance in the rain” and all that jazz, but finding creative ways to have fun amidst shitty weather gets old after a while. Having a limited budget makes it even more difficult.

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When I read Eat, Pray, Love for the first time a few years ago, I remember a part where the author talks about writing a letter to herself/god/the universe about what she wants but didn’t know how to get.

I’ve done this a few times in my life and feel like today’s a day to do it again. Because when you’re trapped inside with nothing but your thoughts and the black hole of TV and Internet, you start thinking about all the things you want to do with your life but aren’t quite sure how to achieve, and your rainy day blues spirals into a full-on depressive episode.

Some of the things on this list are going to be abstract or probably too personal for the Internet but what the hell. Maybe someone will listen this way.

I want to start swimming again

I want to replace my second job (cleaning) with getting paid to write

I want to get my tattoo fixed

I want to take two vacations a year — one to the Outer Banks and one somewhere new (Holland, Oregon, Canada, California, Grand Canyon, Hawaii, Alaska, English countryside, Scotland, Ireland, Maine, etc, etc….)

I want to be valued and rewarded for my work

I want to live in a better part of town

I want to get back into volunteering

I want a president who is an intelligent, compassionate human being who isn’t an embarrassment to the entire planet

I want a more solid circle of friends

I want to spend more time outdoors (walking my dog, kayaking, easy hikes, swimming, bonfires)

That’s all I can come up with for now. Am I asking too much? I don’t know how to get from here to there. But it’s probably going to rain on the journey. Maybe I should start building a boat.

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Summer Reading!

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Well, summer is in full swing, and for us readers and writers, that means taking our beloved books outside to enjoy by the pool or hammock . . . or in my case, snuggled under the comforter while the AC blasts on ‘high.’

I feel like bloggers and writers are always getting asked about their favorite books and who their favorite writers are, so I I wanted to have some fun sharing some of my faves.

In no particular order . . .

  • Jennifer Weiner
    My favorite author for years. I remember reading this woman’s books in my late teens and early twenties and thinking, “Wow. This is something I can identify with. And this is how I want to write!” Reading novels like Good in Bed and In Her Shoes were the first time I really felt like I was enjoying something written by or for a friend. Her talent goes beyond good story-telling; the characters are real and flawed and you can’t help identifying with them. And I find myself laughing out loud several times in most of her books. She also wrote an autobiography a few years ago entitled Hungry Heart that made me love her even more. I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on her latest release, Mrs. Everything.
  • Sophie Kinsella
    Another writer that makes me laugh out loud. Her characters are usually quirky or awkward, which I can definitely identify with! She manages to weave complicated plots and deep-rooted story lines into the everyday occurrences of her characters’ lives, teaching them and the reader lessons along the way. My favorites include Undomestic Goddess and her latest, I Owe You One. Ms. Kinsella also writes under the pseudonym Madeline Wickham, so be sure to check those books out too!

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  • Emily Giffin
    When I first read Something Blue back in the early 2000s, I remember absolutely sobbing at the end. This is a writer that gives you all the feels and sets the tone for dynamic characters. When I read the recently released All We Ever Wanted, I was seriously impressed with how she managed to cover very-relevant and difficult topics like white privilege and the #MeToo movement with the perfect balance of raw emotion and sensitivity.
  • Beatriz Williams
    Hands down my “new” favorite writer. I discovered Ms. Williams’ last summer when I read Summer Wives and felt like I had literally been sucked into the book a la Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I then proceeded to read every single thing she’s written over the next couple of months and found myself absolutely transported to another time and place with every plot and cast of fascinating characters. I even cried at several of them. The passion she evokes is some of the best writing I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Her love stories (and scenes) are beautiful and emotional. I am practically drooling waiting for The Golden Hour to be released.
  • Philippa Gregory
    I’m not sure Ms. Gregory’s writing can be classified as “light summer reading,” but I do love her historical fiction novels. Most of her books hinge on heavy, historical events like the War of the Roses, Henry the VIII and his six wives, and the role of Elizabeth I. The stories are complete with adultery,  beheadings, and medieval battles that will entertain any history buff. Her writing is so rich and descriptive it’s like you’re actually on the battlefield at Bosworth or in the Queen’s chamber listening to her ladies-in-waiting giggle and flit about.

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  • Gregory Maguire
    Mr. Maguire is the only man to have made it onto my list and for good reason. While I’m not a huge fan of fantasy novels, his Wicked series features some of the best re-imagined tales I’ve ever read. Wicked, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and Mirror, Mirror are “prequels” to well known stories like the Wizard of Oz, Cinderella, and Snow White. The books explore the realm of possible answers into questions like “why was the Wicked Witch of the West Wicked?” and “Why did the Stepsisters hate Cinderella so much?” This is truly compelling writing that may leave you feeling just a bit sorry for all those fairy-tale villains you grew up being afraid of.
  • J.K. Rowling
    Do I really have to explain this one? If you somehow haven’t read any of the HP books, I beg of you to give them a whirl. And if wizardry, friendship, mystery, adventure, and epic battles of good versus evil truly aren’t your thing, check out Jo’s other writing, including A Casual Vacancy and Very Good Lives. The former is jaw-droppingly different from the boy wizard series, and the latter is her 2008 Harvard graduation speech that makes me cry Every. Single. Time I read it or hear it. Jo has also written several novels under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

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  • Rochelle B. Weinstein
    I discovered Ms. Weinstein’s books through a Facebook group called Women Writers, Women’s Books, and the first one I read, What We Leave Behind, absolutely spoke to me on a personal level. Not only is the story beautifully told, but I feel like the plot and the characters had the ability to connect with readers on a personal level. Most of her books focus on those deep, dark secrets of your life that have shaped you as a person but are too terrified to let anyone see. The stories are  poignant reminders that no one is exactly as they seem.
  • Lucy Dillon
    Lucy Dillon is a relatively new name to my bookshelf, but I fell in love with her writing style and characters as soon as I opened one of her first books, Walking Back to Happiness. I am slowly working my way through all of her novels, but unfortunately having a bit of a tough time finding libraries in my part of the States that carry this British author’s work. Still, Ms. Dillon’s stories, which center on female characters in the midst of some sort of life crisis, have made me realize that there is a market for novels like my WIP (The Monthy of May) that center on mental health, grief, and major life changes. Most of her books also have subplots involving dogs, which I absolutely adore. You can’t go wrong with feel-good stories that feature pups of all shapes and sizes!
  • Diana Gabaldon
    Oh, Jamie Fraser. He may be my biggest literary crush ever. Even if Starz had never brought him to life in the form of the drool-worthy Sam Heughan, I would have fallen for him just from the pages of the Outlander novels. In this expansive time-traveling series, twentieth-century main character Claire goes on countless journeys with the sexy Scottish rogue in the 1700s. I don’t want to give too much away in case you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the books or watching the series, but these books (especially the first 3 or 4) are some of the sexiest, most captivating reads I’ve ever had the pleasure of completing.

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  • Honorable Mentions:
    • Elizabeth Cunningham
      If you’re not easily offended by creative takes on biblical characters, check out the Mary Magdalene series. These fictionalized accounts follow one of the most (in)famous women in history through her life before, during, and after her time with Jesus Christ. Fair warning: there is plenty of sex, violence, and blasphemy.
    • Kathleen McGowan
      Ms. McGowan’s books are along the same lines as Elizabeth Cunningham’s, but not as dark. They center around the idea of the Sacred Feminine and the possibility that Jesus may have had children and that the search for the Holy Grail is actually a search for a holy blood line. If you liked Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, you’ll enjoy The Book of Love series (although I still can’t quite figure out why Ms. McGowan seems to have a vengeance against Da Vinci. Her novels center on the artwork of Boticelli instead of Leonardo, and she doesn’t paint the latter in a very positive light).

 

So there you have it — a pretty exhaustive list of all the books and writers that have made my imagination sing over the last ten to twenty years. Let me know if you’re fans of any of these authors or if you have any suggestions of new ones you think I might like.

As always, thanks for reading!

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Places I’ve Been, Part 3 (New York City)

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I first visited NYC in the spring of 2003, as part of a senior trip with my high school’s band. We spent three days exploring the city, visiting The Empire State Building, touring Ellis Island, and reflecting on 9/11 at what was still known as Ground Zero, a hallowed construction area surrounded by orange mesh fences and a wall serving as a temporary memorial to those lost that day. My friends and I also attended two shows that weekend — Hairspray and Blue Man Group, the latter of which was one of the most bizarre and enjoyable theater experiences I’ve ever had. When we headed home, I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to come back someday, and I had that chance in October 2012.

At that time, my sister was studying for her Master’s Degree at NYU, so I took a Mega Bus to visit and stayed with her at her Brooklyn walk up, a quintessential old building where she lived on the top floor with a roommate. 

Over the next several days, I experienced New York City as a resident rather than just a tourist. I traveled on the subway, which to this day have no idea how anyone navigates, ate at local hole in the wall restaurants, and learned that grocery shopping was something you did several times a week, considering you can only buy what you can carry on the train. I slept on an air mattress on the floor, cozied up in a soft, fleece NYU blanket, admired the exposed brick and bright skylight of the third-floor apartment, and showered in a stall so small I could barely raise my arms to wash my hair. I traipsed through the city, walking more in those few days than I probably had all year, and regretted packing only pants and warmer tops as the humidity in the city unexpectedly rose to something around eighty percent.

But I did have an enjoyable trip, and left with a new appreciation for the way my sister and millions of people live their lives in the city that never sleeps.

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On the first day of my visit, my sister took me to Washington Square Park where we enjoyed views of the arch and caught the spray of the huge fountain. We were lucky enough to catch the street performer, who my sister and her friend had dubbed “Crazy Socks,” a man who does street art often wearing women’s bathing suits or leotards. My sister had a class that afternoon, so while she was away, I spent a few hours people watching, reading, and walking  in the park, enjoying the shade from giant trees and marveling at just how close the squirrels will get to humans. At one point I thought one was going to hop right into my purse.

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The next day I had the thrill of visiting the Museum of Natural History, a building so massive we actually got lost when it was finally time to leave. Not only are there hundreds of fascinating exhibits, but the architecture of the building is impressive as well. We spent hours wandering through the halls, snapping photos of the different animals on display, and I was lucky enough to view the world-famous life-sized blue whale suspended from the ceiling. There are also plenty of prehistoric fossils, ancient figurines, and a fantastic earth and space portion of the facility.

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Afterwards, we spent some time in a small corner of Central Park, where I was over the moon excited to see Strawberry Fields and pose for a picture with the Imagine mosaic dedicated to John Lennon. We wandered through several miles of surprisingly lush portions of the park, complete with ponds, fountains, picturesque bridges, narrow, rocky paths and beautiful greenery. I was surprised at how peaceful the park felt in the shadow of the bustling city, and was grateful for the time I got to spend there, however small.

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On the final day of my visit, we made a trek to Manhattan and the World Trade Center site. I was admittedly nervous about being in the area again — I’m well aware that I’m an empath, and sometimes going to places with a tragic past make me physically ill. But I was curious to see how much things had changed since my last visit in 2003, and of course I wanted to pay my respects to the victims of 9/11.
As we got closer to the memorial, the harsh sounds of the city somehow seemed to fade. There was an unexpected hush as we stood in line to go through security, which is of course high. After passing through metal detectors, we wandered onto the acres of land where the Twin Towers once stood, and is now a peaceful tribute to the thousands who lost their lives.
I was pleasantly surprised at how calm I felt on site. Everyone talks in whispers and the rush of water from the giant waterfalls is almost therapeutic. Though there are strategically placed armed guards at nearly every corner, you almost don’t notice them thanks to the bright green grass, beautiful trees, and resiliency of nature blooming all around. Birds still sing and fly, flowers still bloom, and a rainbow was even coming out of the mist as we meandered past the thousands of names etched into the stone.

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Afterwards, my sister and I ducked into a pizza place to enjoy a few slices for dinner before we headed back home on the hot and crowded subway. This final meal in New York was delicious, as were the others I had enjoyed during my stay, including Saraghina in Brooklyn and El Cantinero near NYU. 

I also feel compelled to mention that this trip to NYC took place only weeks before Hurricane Sandy ravished this part of the country and left millions stranded without power for days on end. Luckily, my sister and her apartment got through relatively unscathed, through she was essentially marooned in her room without electric or internet for roughly a week. The subways were shut down due to flooding, so she couldn’t get to class or a grocery store beyond her local Seven Eleven. She also tells a hilarious and slightly tragic story about a squirrel who apparently lived in the giant old tree in the courtyard of her brownstone, who, desperate for shelter during the worst of the storm, was clawing at her bedroom window. I remember her relaying to me the frightening sound of the huge old tree creaking in the high windows as rain lashed the building and the huge boughs struggled to withstand the hurricane.

While there’s still plenty of New York City I haven’t seen, and hope to go back sometime, I’m so glad I got to spend a few days experiencing the city like a local.

 

 

 

 

The Struggle with Faith & Mental Health, Part 2

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Despite my aforementioned doubts, I’m not closed-minded enough to think that this earth, this universe, and this life are the only things “out there.”

I do still believe in some sort of higher power, whether it be a robe-wearing old man or just an incredible force of cosmic energy keeping the universe in some sort of “balance” none of us can comprehend.

Given the relatively cynical vibe of part one of this post, I’m sure you’re wondering how that’s possible, and that’s because I’ve had my fair share of experience with the unexplainable.

  • A few years ago I saw ghost, plain as day, hovering in the doorway between my kitchen and dining room. I wasn’t sleeping, dreaming, drunk, or high. I was simply letting my dog out, and when I turned around, I saw an old man wearing glasses and a checkered shirt smiling at me from the entryway. And I could see right through him.
  • Then there was the time I’m pretty sure my recently deceased grandmother was in my bedroom. A few weeks after she passed, my aunt sent me a piece of artwork that Gram wanted me to have. That night, I woke up to go to the bathroom and heard, undeniably, the sound of someone pacing (floorboards squeaking in rhythm) at the foot of my bed. As soon as my Gram and her artwork popped into my mind, it stopped.
  • And while I’m not sure I really believe everything happens for a reason anymore, I do believe that some things fall apart or don’t work out because something better is in store. When J and I first started dating, we wanted to move in together right away. But his dad’s unexpected death, followed by job loss, my mom’s illness, and then more job loss, delayed the plan for FIVE YEARS. Looking back, I now realize that had we gotten an apartment back in 2008, we never would have been able to save enough money to have our dream wedding and buy a house in 2013.
  • Another example is my mom. The autoimmune disease that caused her kidneys to fail and forced her to go on dialysis has thrown us dozens of complications and scary near misses over the last twenty years. But the worse was probably in 2010 when she contracted an infection through the dialysis and spent three months in the hospital. The infection raged out of control, leading to several surgeries, weeks in the ICU, and the possibility that we may actually lose her. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed so hard in my life for her to recover. And though my mom’s vocal positivity in regards to her health has usually been front and center in her life, this time she kept her thoughts and feelings to herself. Somehow, despite everything, she made it through. I swore up and down about the power of prayer, positive thinking, visualization, and mediation in the months that followed.

But at the same time, I also couldn’t help but ask — why make her struggle through this disease and its complications in the first place? And only a few months after my mom finally emerged from a rehab center, an acquaintance of ours lost her mother to cancer. On Mother’s Day. So you can see why I’m torn.

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I understand that people question their faith when they’re going through hard times, but for me this has been the opposite. Despite the recent feeling of “being stuck” in several aspects of life, the last few years have been filled with lots of progress with my anxiety and writing, and J and I are looking up towards bigger and more exciting goals. It’s been quite a while since I’ve felt this “good” about life in general.

That being said, I know that I’ve made it this far because of the hard work that I’ve done on myself and with my writing. J and I have made it to where we are, and want to continue moving forward, because we’ve busted our asses to get to this point, and we still have so much to achieve. We didn’t get where we are through prayer or blind faith. We worked hard and overcame every obstacle to become who we are today, both as a couple as individuals.  Trusting that everything would “work out” was never part of the equation. To me, blind trust would have meant plopping ourselves down on the couch and waiting for something to be handed to us on a platter from the heavens. Instead we fought tooth and nail for everything we have.

I understand that some people believe that the struggles and its subsequent achievements are “rewards” from God or the universe, and that’s cool. I get it. But a bigger part of me is really starting to believe that God (he, she, or it) doesn’t give two shits about any of us. I mean, sure, maybe we’re all a part of his universe or creation or whatever, but I don’t think he monitors our daily lives and every step we take. For the most part I think he’s simply an observer, waiting to see what we get ourselves into.

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I simply cannot believe that any type of god would allow certain things to happen – childhood cancers, school shootings, plane crashes, terrorist attacks. And even if you look at these horrible occurrences as humanity being given a chance to learn and change, when is that going to take place? I mean, dozens of children were slaughtered at an elementary school in Newton, CT in 2012 and the US still has yet to do anything about gun control. What the hell is that all about, God? Or what about the people gunned down at a Texas Baptist Church in 2017? Or the synagogue shooting right here in Pittsburgh last October? Were those people not praying enough? It doesn’t make any damn sense.

Now despite all the problems with faith I’ve just recounted, I do want to end on a positive note. Because I do believe that sharing happiness and success with others is one way we can help alleviate some anxieties in our lives and make the world a better place.

Back in December, someone I used to be very close friends with had a house fire. She and her husband lost everything, including their two beloved dogs. I was seriously depressed about this for weeks, wondering why on earth something so horrible would happen to two good people. Six months later, they announced that they are – somewhat surprisingly – expecting their first child. Not only was this a welcome positive in what I’m sure has been months of painful trials, but my friend never thought she’d be able to have a baby because of health issues. She always wanted to be a mom, so I am completely over the moon for them, especially in light of their recent struggles.

Even so, I’m left wondering who or what is responsible for the ups and downs in life. God? The universe? Coincidence, chance, luck? Is there such a thing as “meant to be?”

Who knows? I surely don’t. And the verdict is still out on what that means for my mental health.

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