Find What Works for You

When I started college one year ago, the world was a much different place. Stores and restaurants were booming, handshakes and hugging were commonplace, sneezes were met with “bless yous” and not suspicious side-eyes, and no one wore a mask. I remember at one point during Orientation, the lobby of the freshmen dormitory was packed with so many people that we were literally on top of each other. And we didn’t think twice about it.

One year ago, the world was in a different place. And so was I.

Since I was thirteen, I’ve struggled with an eating disorder and depression. Getting to a place in my recovery where the mere possibility of going away to college was plausible had been a difficult feat, but I’d conquered it—or so I thought. In fact, everyone—from my parents to my therapist to my guidance counselor—was under the impression that I could succeed at college. After all, I was eating independently, I’d been weight-restored for years, and I had a foolproof plan that included a local support system, a single room, and unlimited access to the dining hall. Not to mention that I was attending my number one school.

But even the best-made plans can flop, and that’s exactly what happened. Without getting into the specifics, basically everything that could go wrong went wrong, and I couldn’t cope. I knew I was sinking fast, but I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone because then I’d be admitting that I needed help.

My inability to reach out was my greatest demise. Without anyone to intervene, my eating disorder weaseled its way into my life, and suddenly, I was back in that dark place; restricting food, sleeping most of the time, and barely leaving my room. It felt like all the progress I’d made and everything I’d worked so hard for was coming undone right in front of me, and I couldn’t stop it. I kept trying to convince myself that it was just a phase and that something positive would happen, and I’d be able to climb out of the hole I’d fallen into. But as days, then weeks, passed and nothing changed, I realized that if I didn’t take action soon, that hole was only going to get deeper. So one afternoon, as I lay in my bed feeling completely hopeless, I finally mustered up the courage to call my mom. I told her that I couldn’t do this anymore and asked her to take me home, which she did.

I’ve been home for almost a year now, and while things in my personal life and the world continue to challenge my recovery, I’m in a much better place. It didn’t seem like it at the time, but I know now that leaving college was the right choice. It wasn’t the easy one, but it was right nevertheless.

My college experience, while a bit of a disaster, taught me a lot. I still wanted to get a degree, so I enrolled in an online school in January. Realizing that there are options for people who can’t get a “traditional” education was reassuring, not to mention timely given the increase in online learning lately.

While online learning works well for me, I know that isn’t the case for everyone. I still remember how excited I was about moving into college last year, and in retrospect, I feel fortunate that that excitement wasn’t hindered by legitimate safety concerns. My younger brother is one of many students who was looking forward to starting college but can’t due to that school exclusively doing remote learning or—worse—personal health concerns.

To the freshmen who are in this position, it’s okay to feel upset and angry. But know that there are still so many new beginnings in your life to look forward to. Just because this one was taken away doesn’t mean that others will be as well. The world won’t be this way forever. This too shall pass.

And to the freshmen who are starting college on-campus this fall, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and uncertain. There’s a lot to navigate—now more than ever—and it can be challenging. But keep in mind that you’re not alone. Furthermore, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help.

Maybe if I’d reached out sooner I wouldn’t have had to leave college. Maybe I was doomed to fail no matter what. I’ll never know. What I do know, however, is that leaving college wasn’t the end of the world. Sure, it was a hard decision and took time to get over, but it was in my best interest. Everyone has to find what works for them. For me, that wasn’t traditional college, and by realizing that, I was able to discover new options and opportunities that will help me achieve my goals and dreams.

Freshmen, we’re rooting for you. You can do this. And, if for some reason you can’t, then that’s perfectly fine too.

*This post was written for a back-to-school newsletter for Jewish Family Services. Read the full newsletter here.

A Really Hard Week

It’s amazing how a few days can change everything. Just last week, I wrote in my blog post how I was handling the pandemic better than I’d expected. Sure, it wasn’t easy, but I was using my coping skills to get through tough times and even learning a few things about myself along the way. I was in a good place in my recovery, quite possibly the best I’d been in in quite some time. Once gloomy and pessimistic, I was slowly embracing a more optimistic attitude on life.

Lately, however, all that optimism has been slowly slipping away. It started on Wednesday when, thanks to Tropical Storm Isaias, we lost our power. Four days later, we still haven’t gotten it back, which is why I’m currently spending my Sunday afternoon in a freezing-cold office at UConn Health Center. Having no power for an extended period of time in the middle of the summer in the middle of a pandemic is already bad enough, but to make matters worse, I was scheduled to get my wisdom teeth removed the morning after it went out.

Anyone who’s been a part of my recovery knows that I’m not good at drinking calories. Too many liquids make my stomach achy and bloated, which in turn triggers my body dysmorphia. That said, we had prepared for my post-surgery liquid diet by stocking our refrigerator and freezer with drinks and soft foods I could tolerate. But when the power went out, most of it spoiled or melted, leaving me with way fewer options than I’d anticipated.

After the removal—which was a bit of a disaster in of itself—I spent the rest of the day in a hospital room so I wouldn’t have to return home to my dark and stuffy house. But even though it was nice to have Wi-Fi to watch shows and promote the new recipe that had uploaded to Nourish while I was in surgery, I was in a lot of discomfort. My mouth hurt like hell, and I couldn’t extend my arms due to bruising from the IV (I have bad veins). That, and simply being in a hospital, eating hospital foods again, was bringing back some pretty dark memories.

It wasn’t until the next day when I was back home when it all sort of hit me at once: the pandemic, the power outage, my wisdom teeth, my wavering mental health. I felt so overwhelmed and started to cry, which really only made my mouth hurt more. With my parents looking on in concern, I let all the frustration I’d been repressing for months come spilling out.

Since then, I’ve been on Survival Mode. I haven’t been sleeping well, and my mood has been low, so not letting myself get too depressed has become a full-time job. This means eating enough despite my swollen jaw and disordered thoughts, talking to my parents when I need support, and doing whatever I can to distract myself and bring some joy into my life.

So, how have I been doing that? One word: entertainment. I’ve taken to rewatching some favorite TV shows and funny YouTubers to keep my mind off of everything else. As someone who’s super ambitious and always has to be productive, kicking back and relaxing with mindless pastimes goes against my instincts. But it’s been making me feel comforted, and with so much discomfort in my life, I need it. After all, it’s damn hard to be productive when I’m depressed.

I’m genuinely trying to stay positive, but with all that’s happened, it’s easy to get discouraged and defeated. Still, I’ll keep plugging along and doing what I can to maintain my sanity. I have no idea what obstacles the universe will throw at me next, but I do know that these experiences, while hell now, will ultimately make me a stronger person. And, as my mom jokingly pointed out earlier, I’ll have plenty of writing material for my future projects, so I guess it’s not all for nothing.

Update: It’s mid-day Monday, and things are looking a little brighter—literally. The power came on last night, forty-eight hours earlier than projected. I’m feeling better (although my mouth is still sore), but I’ve decided to upload this post anyway to show how recovery is full of ups-and-downs. It’s important to know this and to prepare for this, so that when a “down” inevitably presents itself, it won’t completely derail you and you can get through it.

I’ll end this post with a quote from Skam (which I’m currently rewatching for the 4th time): “When everything seems hopeless, just take one day at a time. And if one day becomes too much, just take one hour at a time. And if one hour becomes too much, then just take one minute at a time.”

My Pandemic Perspective

Like most people, when the quarantine went into effect in March, my life was flipped upside down. I felt upset, scared, annoyed, and inconvenienced, while simultaneously guilt-tripping myself with constant reminders of how good I had it compared to other people. This knee-jerk reaction to a situation none of us expected to be in lasted for a couple of weeks. Once the collective shock had worn off and a new (hopefully temporary) normal had settled, I was able to process my emotions, assess the situation, and figure out what the hell I was going to do to not let it get the best of me. Which I have.

Being unemployed and isolated at home for the past few months has made me do a lot of thinking about my life and my future. I’m the kind of person who hates setting plans too far in advance and is annoyingly adamant about staying in the present. I largely contribute this to my past experiences, and how every time it seemed like my life was headed in a certain direction, crisis struck and I had to completely change courses. But seeing that I’m twenty years old and just started my sophomore year at my online college (and will likely graduate within two years at the rate I’m going), it makes sense to at least start figuring out what it is I want for my future and how I’m going to get there.

The reason I’m completing college at such an expedited rate is that I needed to fill my time after I was laid-off from my three part-time jobs. I originally planned on regressing to a normal course load and returning to work when my jobs reopened, but now I’m not so sure. With only a high school diploma and some volunteer work on my resume, it’s practically impossible to find a decent paying job that suits my interests. But with a college diploma, the opportunities increase drastically.

I asked myself: is it worth working a minimum-wage, part-time job for five hours every day when I could be spending that time focusing on college instead? Maybe for some people it would be, but after a lot of consideration and talking it through with my parents, I decided it wasn’t for me. Had I stayed at work, I never would have come to this conclusion. I used to spend my mornings filing papers and answering questions about computers; now, I spend them in my office, on my computer, working diligently to get a degree that will put me a step closer to reaching my future goals (more on those another time). It’s become a new normal that I’m comfortable with and, seeing as I’m not reliant on a paycheck to support myself, able to keep at. My mom semi-frequently asks me if I’m lonely or bored, and while I can see where she’s coming from, I’m not. For once, being an introvert is proving to be quite advantageous.

Another unexpected and positive outcome of this clusterfuck is Nourish, the online cookbook my mom and I recently launched. We’ve wanted to do a project like this for years, but we never had the time to actually put in motion . . . until now. Creating Nourish with my mom has solidified our special bond and given us a platform to share our recipes and experiences with eating disorder recovery with the world (or at least the 160 people currently following us). Not to mention all the delicious food we’ve been eating as a result.

But the greatest thing I’ve gained from the pandemic is the realization that I’m a lot stronger than I give myself credit for. Even a couple of years ago, there’s a good chance that this situation would have caused me to spiral into a deep depression or resort to disordered behaviors to cope. And yes, there have been moments where I’ve felt down, discouraged, or just really damn stressed, but I’ve gotten through them. The pandemic has been the ultimate test to my recovery, and I’m conquering it one day at a time.

Of course I wish that COVID never happened. It’s brought immense pain and suffering to so many people, exposed the worst of humanity, and made a huge mess that will take years to clean up. But it did happen, and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that. All the “should haves” and “could haves” are meaningless and a waste of time. Instead of beating ourselves up over the past, we have to make the best out of a bad situation to pave the way to a brighter future. We have to learn from this experience and work together to make sure that something like this never happens again. And, most importantly, we need to think beyond ourselves and about the people who aren’t as fortunate and do what we can to protect them—even if it’s inconvenient to us. Because that’s really the only way we’ll get through this.

So, there you have it—my pandemic perspective. Let me know in the comments how you’re handling the pandemic and if you’ve learned anything from it, and please follow Nourish! We have two delicious recipes in store for next week, and you won’t want to miss them.

Introducing Nourish

I’m so excited to share that I recently launched a new blog/online cookbook called Nourish. My mom and I co-created it with the intention of helping people find balance through food. For several years now, I’ve struggled with an eating disorder. My mom has been by my side every step of the way, supporting me and rooting me on no matter what. Her wholesome cooking nourished me when I was refeeding, so our blog will combine her cooking with my experiences of being in recovery. Our mission with Nourish is to provide delicious and nutritious recipes that anyone can make at home, along with education and resources for individuals recovering from eating disorders and their families caring for them.

My mom and I have wanted to do a project like this for years, however we’ve never had the time to put it in motion. But given the low-spirit state of the world—as well as the fact that both of us are unemployed—now seemed like the perfect time. Now more than ever, we need to connect with and support each other. I hope you enjoy what we’ve created and maybe learn a thing or two about cooking and recovery along the way.

You can follow Nourish by visiting this link: https://thenourishcookbook.com/

Rest assured, I’ll continue to post to Wacky Writer. My quarantined life has been relatively uneventful as of late, but I’m working on something exciting that, like Nourish, I’m looking forward to sharing in the near future! Stay tuned, stay safe, stay wacky.

Coping with the Quarantine

Unpredictable. That’s the word I’d use to describe this past month, along with chaotic, confusing, traumatic, eye-opening, and trying. Quarantining and social distancing have tested everyone in many different ways. For me, it’s drastically altered my normal routine—a routine, I might add, that I’ve become very comfortable and satisfied with—forced me to accept that I have zero control over the situation, and challenged my recovery.

So, how have I been maintaining my sanity? Given my predisposition to anxiety, it’s not easy to stay calm and rational when my mind is telling me otherwise. That said, there are a number of steps I’m actively taking to make my life as manageable as possible during the quarantine. Everyone use different coping strategies to deal with stressful events, but these are a few that work for me.

1. Getting outside. Fresh air and exercise are two major elements that are helping me stay in good health both physically and mentally. Every day—pending the weather permits of course—I go on a run in the morning and a walk in the early afternoon. Exercise not only gets me out of the house and boosts my self-confidence; it also releases endorphins in my brain, which are crucial to managing my depression.

2. Keeping busy. As someone who always strives to be productive, this is a big one for me. Six weeks ago, I had multiple part-time jobs, a rigorous academic schedule, an exercise routine at the gym, and book events lined up on the weekends. All of that changed when the quarantine went into effect. Having my social life put on hold has forced me to find other ways to occupy myself while also maintaining some structure. Whether that means getting ahead in my online courses, working on my third book (stay tuned!), or another self-fulfilling task like such, activity and productivity are still very much a part of my life in isolation. At the same time, incorporating fun into my day is also necessary to my well-being. This means setting aside time to play games with my mom, watch funny television shows (shoutout to Schitt’s Creek), work on jigsaw puzzles, and other activities that put a smile on my face.

3. Focusing on the positives (and ignoring the negatives). I used to strive to keep up with the news. From watching CNN every morning to following breaking news accounts on Twitter, I usually knew a decent amount of what was happening nationally and globally. Since the quarantine, however, the news has become less of a source of information and more of a source of stress. With constant coverage of the virus and discouraging updates and headlines, I’ve found that it’s in my best interest to avert my attention to the positive stories and developments to keep moral high.

4. Helping out my community. My mom oversees an incredible food assistance program through our church that provides biweekly deliveries to food insecure families in town. Since I’m no longer working during her delivery windows, I’ve been tagging along to help her drop off food bags to the thirty or so families who participate in her program. Assisting these families has not only connected me with my community; it’s also humbled me and reminded me of my privileges. No one is enjoying the quarantine. That said, I know I’m lucky to have employed parents, access to basic resources like food, and decent physical health. Watching my parents—a doctor and a volunteer—support our community every day has inspired me to do the same. After all, just because we can’t be near each other doesn’t mean we can’t still look out for each other.

5. Hanging onto hope. Everything ends eventually. This is what I remind myself of whenever I feel frustrated or discouraged. In time, we will return to normalcy and put this pandemic behind us—hopefully once and for all.

It’s okay to feel upset, angry, or anxious of these circumstances. I personally go through all three emotions, among others, on a daily basis. But although nobody knows what the world will be like in a month or even a week, the best thing we can do for the time being is to take care of ourselves for our own sake and the sake of others. Until next time, stay safe!

What College Taught Me

So . . . I left college.

One month later, it’s still hard to say that out loud. I went to Chili Night at my church last week—which was largely to please my mom, who thinks I don’t get out of the house enough—and college came up quite a lot. Most of the people at the event were under the impression (rightfully so) that I was still at college and was simply visiting for the weekend. And even though their reaction when I explained that, no, I’d medically withdrawn from my school and was back home for an indefinite amount of time, was overwhelmingly positive, the truth hurt nevertheless.

My last blog post (from two months ago) was essentially a six-hundred-word tangent on why Orientation is the absolute worst. But, as it turns out, Orientation was a merely warm-up jog for the uphill marathon that was college. To say that my college experience was a disaster would be an understatement. In every way that I could have failed, I did on an epic level. But hey, I learned some things along the way, and I thought they’d be helpful to share so something good might come out of this mess. So without further ado, these are the six biggest takeaways from my short-lived college experience.

Number one: Traditional education isn’t right for everyone.

Just because something works for most people doesn’t mean it will work for me. This seems to be a trend when it comes to my education. In high school, I had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that gave me certain privileges, such as my part-day schedule, to help me succeed socially and academically. And while there were still many challenges I faced, in hindsight, I doubt I would have survived without my IEP.

I didn’t have an IEP in college, and, after nineteen years of having a fairly structured and sheltered homelife, being thrust into an unfamiliar environment with thousands of strangers was a complete shock to my system. As I was riding a crammed elevator to the fourth floor of my new dorm building, I was struck with the realization that, for the first time in my life, I was on my own, and there was still so much I didn’t know. I’d been so reliant on my parents that the thought of everything that could go wrong now that I was left to my own devices terrified me. Even though I’d done a lot to prepare myself, in that moment, I found myself wondering if it was enough.

Number two: Even the best thought-out plans can flop.

When I began touring colleges in spring of 2018, I had certain criteria to determine whether the school would be a fit. It had to be on the smaller side, focus on the arts, have adequate mental health services, not be affiliated with a specific religion, and be within two hours from home. Once I was accepted into college—my top school, for that matter—I took a number of precautions, including finding a therapist near my campus and applying for a single room, to make sure that my transition was successful, which it was . . . in the beginning.

And then I relapsed (whoops). Without going into too much detail, basically everything that could have gone awry did, and I couldn’t cope. It felt like all the progress I’d made and everything I’d worked so hard for was falling apart right in front of me, and I couldn’t stop it. I kept trying to convince myself that it was just a phase, and that something good would finally happen, and I’d be able to climb out of the hole I’d fallen into. But as days went by and nothing changed, I realized that if I didn’t take action soon, that hole was only going to get deeper. So one afternoon, as I lay motionless in bed like a zombie, I did what anyone who desperately needed to be rescued would do and called my mom. I told her that I couldn’t do this anymore and begged her to take me home, which she did.

Number three: Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

I think the greatest lesson I’ve taken away from this whole ordeal is that asking for help doesn’t mean I’m weak. In fact, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Accepting that I’d failed and my mental illness had won was the first step to healing. Had I kept lying to myself, I might have never found the strength to call my mom, and while I wish I’d reached out sooner, in hindsight, it could have been so much worse.

Number four: Relapse doesn’t equal failure.

This one is hard for me, as there are still times when I feel like I’ve let myself and my family down by withdrawing from college. But then I remind myself that recovery isn’t linear. Recover is like a roller coaster ride: bumpy, unexpected, and full of so many twists and turns that at times, I simply want to hurl myself over the rails in frustration. As for relapse, well, relapse is horrible, but it happens, and it’s not my fault. I didn’t choose to be this way after all.

Number five: Relapse isn’t the end of the world.

Just because I took a couple of steps back doesn’t mean that all the progress I’ve made has been for nothing. This is simply another hurdle I must overcome, and that’s exactly what I plan to do. I’ve been home for a month, and while my mental health is far from perfect, I think I’m headed in the right direction. I’ve started writing again, I’ve applied for several book events, and I’ve even been taking driving lessons, which will hopefully pay off at my road test tomorrow (pray for me). I don’t know what will happen in terms of my education, but thankfully, I have plenty of options from online schooling to community college to getting a job around town and growing my bank account. And if there’s one thing I’m sure of it’s that recovery is still very possible. My mental illness may have won this time, but it won’t defeat me in the long run.

Number six: Communal showers are terrifying and should be avoided at all costs.

Seriously. Forget ghosts and ghouls and werewolves and whatnot; this spooky season, the scariest thing of all is communal showers. Happy Halloween!

Surviving Orientation

My week-long Orientation at Emerson College has finally come to an end, and I couldn’t be more relieved. Between daily meetings with our Orientation Leaders to mandatory information sessions to theater productions every evening, it’s been a busy seven days. And while I’m glad to have had a chance to learn about the school I’ll be attending for the next four years, it’s fairly obvious that Orientation targets a specific group of people — and I’m not one of them.

I identify as an introvert. For me, introversion isn’t synonymous with shy or antisocial;  it simply means that I get energy from being alone rather than from social situations. I can still interact with people, an example being the countless craft fairs I’ve participated in since I published Changing Ways. I genuinely enjoy company, and I’m not afraid to put myself out there to achieve a goal. That said, my personality desperately needs time and space to “recharge my batteries” as my mother puts it. I need breaks every now and then so I don’t burn out or overwhelm myself. 

Thankfully, I have a single room this year to disappear into when I need to decompress. I have my own space to do things that relax me, like writing and yoga, without worrying about anyone disrupting my peace. It’s required me to make an extra effort to connect with my peers, but I love my single nevertheless. It keeps me sane, and at the end of the day, sanity is my priority.

But nothing — not my single room, not my nightly phone vent sessions with my parents, not even The Great British Baking Show — could replenish the energy Orientation had sucked out of me, like a vacuum cleaner sucking up the crumbs of a delicious homemade muffin (I really miss my mom’s cooking). It was so draining that at times, I worried I wouldn’t make it to the actual start of school. Thankfully, I got my shit together, but it was a legitimate concern of mine for a day or two.

Don’t get me wrong; Orientation wasn’t all bad. In fact, there were parts of it that I quite liked. I met some really neat people. I enjoyed most of the performances I attended. I got to explore Boston before the weather goes to shit. I even participated in a dodgeball tournament, which despite the overabundance of testosterone plaguing the gymnasium, was a lot of fun.

Plus, I have an excellent therapist who’s only a five-minute walk from Emerson, and my parents seem more than happy to listen to me complain (I think they just like hearing my voice). Perhaps this wasn’t the ideal start to college that I had in mind, but in hindsight, it could have been much worse. Emerson is an amazing school. It’s stands for everything I believe in: inclusion, diversity, and authenticity. Not to mention that the president is well liked, which, in my experience, is unprecedented. I’m looking forward to exploring all of the opportunities Emerson has to offer me, whether that be working behind-the-scenes on their television channel to participating in an organization to earning some extra cash at an on-campus job to maybe — and this is a big maybe — picking up a sport again.

My first class starts shortly, so I’d better dash. As this will be my first ever seminar, I have no idea what to expect, but I’m excited to finally delve into my major nevertheless. And if there’s one thing I know for fact, it’s that I sure as hell am glad Orientation is over.

Straight Pride Parade

Society is at it again. Super Happy Fun America, a nonprofit organization that sounds like a child named it, is vying to add “S” to the LGBTQ+ acronym because “it’s great to be straight.” In their quest to exacerbate the prejudice queer people face on a daily basis, Super Happy Fun America obtained a license to hold a Straight Pride Parade in Boston this Saturday, which will march past Emerson’s campus. While this is obviously a political stunt fueled by privilege and ignorance, the fact that these things are still happening in 2019—and on a regular basis too—is pitiful.

As the daughter of same-sex parents and an out and proud bisexual, this issue hits close to home. Even in my liberal hometown, homophobia is all-too-prevalent. Gay slurs plagued the hallways in middle and high school, while at my former job, I was subjected to frequent assumptions about my sexuality. “Do you have a boyfriend?” one coworker asked. “I know you’ll meet so many boys in college,” said another with a suggestive smile.

We live in a heteronormative society where everyone is presumed to be straight. For centuries, queer people have been marginalized, rejected, beaten, and even murdered simply for being themselves. Promoting a “straight agenda,” as Super Happy Fun America has deliberately chosen to do, merely worsens the issue at hand. It incites the delusion that such hate crimes are permissible and encourages others who share similar opinions to participate in this blatant discrimination.

While I acknowledge that society has made progress in terms of accepting the LGBTQ+ community, we have a long way to go. Equality is possible, but to obtain it, we can’t back down in the presence of bigotry. We must use our voice to combat the outdated norms that rationalize homophobia. We must speak up for those who are oppressed. We must advocate for equal rights and acceptance through non-violent methods. We must be true to who we are—even when society tells us otherwise. Because at the end of the day, there is nothing more liberating than authenticity.

Queer people exist. Choosing not to accept them is not an option. The fight for equality is far from over, yet we press on. Maybe freedom won’t exist in five years or ten or even fifty, but I’m hopeful that the day will come when living your truth isn’t condoned—it’s celebrated.

Social Anxiety

Last weekend, I participated in a two-day book event in Naugatuck. On both days, I arrived around eleven to set up and left sometime between six and seven in the evening. The event, which was in its fifth year, drew an enormous crowd. There were so many people who wanted to talk to me that I barely had time to eat my lunch.

And it was incredible.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m the type of person who prefers solitude to company. I’ve never been keen on the whole party scene, as noisy environments have historically made me want to hide in a corner with my fingers in my ears. But over time, especially in the last year, I realized that my unwillingness to put myself out there was costing me many great opportunities. There’s a reason why I don’t have close friends (yet), and it’s because for years, I chose staying in room on my computer over joining a club or attending a social gathering with kids my own age.

When I published Changing Ways in September, I quickly learned that the best way to spread the word beyond my family was through book talks and events. This scared me. Prior to publication, the only exposure I’d had to public speaking was in acting class at high school. But, since I wanted my book to reach as broad of an audience as possible, I hesitantly emailed local bookstores and libraries and joined some craft/vendor groups on Facebook.

It wasn’t long before I’d scheduled several events. I drafted a script of what I’d say, which included sharing my mental health struggles, and created a PowerPoint presentation. My first talk was at a small bookstore in South Windsor. I went into it a nervous wreck, and despite the fact that it didn’t draw as large of a crowd as I’d hope for, the talk was an overall success. Realizing that I could speak publicly without making a complete fool of myself gave me the boost of confidence I needed to press on.

Over the next few months, I partook in various speaking venues from more book talks to an anxiety panel at my former high school to a live interview with Fox61. My first craft fair was in November, and although I was underprepared, I persevered through the six-hour nonstop stream of customers and even managed to sell eleven books. As I became better at marketing, that number steadily grew. By the holidays, I was averaging around twenty books per event.

This was a side of me that I didn’t know existed. I’d never imagined that me, the introverted writer who spent most of high school in isolation, would one day be able to stand in front of an audience and speak openly about my mental health. Suddenly, people were coming to me for support. I was getting Facebook messages and emails from fans asking for advice or simply telling me how much Changing Ways had helped them. I was thrust into a role that was the complete opposite of what I was used to. After all, just a few years ago I was relying on others to get by.

This new responsibility was very overwhelming, especially in the beginning, but as time passed, I came to appreciate it. I felt like I had a purpose, and that motivated me to keep putting myself out there even when I didn’t want to. The most important part of all this isn’t book sales or name recognition—it’s showing up. You never know whose life your story will touch and the difference you can make.

For anyone who struggles with social anxiety, here are some tips I’ve acquired along the way:

  1. Challenge your negative thoughts.
  2. Have coping skills for when you feel anxious.
  3. Don’t let your fear of rejection hold you back.
  4. Real friends are better than online acquaintances.
  5. Don’t aim to be perfect—it’s not an achievable goal.
  6. Remember that people are rooting for you—not against you.
  7. Breathe. You can do this.

 

Eating Away From Home

The past few weeks have really put my recovery to the test. First, my parents flew to Montana for four days, leaving me at home to cook and eat meals on my own (I’m still amazed that I didn’t burn the house down). Then, of course, I published my second book. Obviously I’m overjoyed that Breaking Free is out, but at the same time, it’s turned me into a colossal nervous wreck. I’m constantly on edge, and I’m even more indecisive than I usually am, which is a problem whenever I have to make choices surrounding my diet. Deciding what to eat for dinner has been exceptionally challenging lately.

This week, my family and I were vacationing in Southampton. I use the word “vacation” cautiously, as my trip was largely spent networking and promoting Breaking Free. That said, I had a lot of fun. It was nice to escape the constant hubbub of suburban life to relax in an upscale lake house with laidback people and—dare I say it—some damn good food.

My family aims to visit Southampton every summer, but I haven’t been back since seventh grade. I’ve had difficulty in the past adapting to unfamiliar environments, and, after a string of failed vacations, I decided a few years ago that it wasn’t worth the hassle. My rigidity around food made it impossible for any of us to enjoy vacation because we were constantly at war with each other. Any small alteration of my meal schedule would send me into a full-blown panic, and I’d cry or yell or just shut down. As if that weren’t bad enough, more often than not, I’d return home weighing a pound or two less than when I left.

But as years went by and I developed skills that made stepping outside my comfort zone less likely to result in catastrophe, vacationing slowly became enjoyable again. I’ll admit that I was a little nervous about returning to Southampton, where the lifestyle is a stark contrast to that of WeHa’s, but this trip has exceeded my expectations in more ways than not.

Rather than spending most of my time holed up in my room, I had genuine interactions, partook in local activities, and even went to a waterpark—in crappy weather, but still. Food, while anxiety-provoking at times, was overall manageable. I adjusted to a more lenient routine and even enjoyed brunch with my cousin’s South African neighbors. Brunch is difficult for me, as it falls around the time when I eat my morning snack. I’ve historically avoided it at all costs, but, since I’m trying not to let my anxiety get the better of me anymore, I decided “screw it,” had a bowl of cereal to tie myself over until eleven, and went to brunch. It turns out that with quality food and the right people, brunch isn’t so bad after all.

I’d encourage anyone who struggles with eating away from home—whether because of an eating disorder or something entirely different—to not let that fear hold you back. Exposure therapy isn’t easy, but with time and patience, it’s gotten me to a place where my mental illness doesn’t dictate whether my vacation is good or bad. That’s in my hands now.

Of course, there were still a few hiccups along the way, but my trip to Southampton was yet another indication of how far I’ve come. Realizing that I can do well outside of my comfort zone motivates me to keep progressing in recovery. I have an entire lifetime of vacations ahead of me, and while I don’t expect that they’ll all be smooth sailing, at least I know that anything is possible.

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