Books · food · Life · mental health · travel

Reasons to Stay Alive (2018)

I wasn’t going to do a reflection post on 2018 this year. With all the “Top 9s” on social media, the New Years resolutions, and the look backs, I figured that everyone would be growing kind of sick of hearing about it at this point. This morning, however, I had a change of heart. You see, today was the first day back at work after a four day weekend. (Even longer for those of my co-workers who have been off since Christmas.) Like any day back after a mini vacation, I expected work to suck today. Surprisingly, everyone was in a cheerful mood – wishing each other a happy new year, talking about how they spent their holidays, and just generally pleased to see each other. What surprised me even more was that I was one of those people.

LIVE

This time last year I was really struggling. I’d been in therapy for a few months, but hadn’t clicked well with my therapist. Rather than make any sort of progress, I felt myself slipping further and further into the abyss. While everyone else was wishing each other a happy new year, I was walking around feeling angry with everyone and hating myself. Shortly after the start of the year I started to have all sorts of health issues. I injured my shoulder and had an almost non-stop kidney pains/infections, which would last for almost six months. My eating disorder still had a strong presence in my life, despite all the weak attempts I made to kick it back. I was eating, but not always enough. I was so focused on my weight, what I was eating, and being “good enough,” that every time I ate a meal I practically burst into tears.

By Spring I was reading books and articles expounding on all the reasons that I should not kill myself.

I was certainly not the “New Year, New Me” poster child. Slowly, I kept dragging myself along anyway until one day I began pulling myself out of the hole I’d dug. One inch at a time. With the help of my therapist, medication, and a lot of hard work, I began to understand what I needed to do to really help myself. In June, I took a huge leap outside of my comfort zone and took a trip to New York all by myself. The trip itself wasn’t wholly responsible for the transformation I made, but it definitely set the wheels in motion. During that trip I rekindled my passion for life and food, and discovered my newfound love for travel. (You can read more about that trip here.)

Since then I’ve done so many things that I’m proud of. I’ve put a ton of effort into writing my first novel (Something I’ve dreamed of doing ever since I was a child). I’ve faced my fear of doing things alone and learned to enjoy my own company. I traveled to Portland, OR and began planning future solo trips. I’ve taken charge of my health, despite my eventual diagnosis of chronic bladder/kidney problems. I’ve read the books I wanted, made more time for the things I enjoy, and spent more time with friends. I jumped back into the kitchen with abandon, trying everything I can. I’ve made things (like my holiday Buche de Noel) that sent me through the roof with joy. I started living my life again.

Of course, life will never be perfect. I’ve still had my moments of frustration, doubt, fear, and anxiety. I’ve had setbacks and bad days. About one month ago, I had to say goodbye to my dog, and best friend, of fourteen years. It was hard and I still miss him every single day. But, I know that loss is a part of life and that Beaker will always be with me, even if it’s only in my heart. Despite the setbacks, the bad days, and my grief, I am still ten times better than I was this time last year (even on my best day).

I’ve come quite a long way since the start of 2018. I not only endured and pulled myself through, but I found at least a dozen reasons to stay alive. I can’t wait to find a dozen more this year. Here’s to 2019.

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Life · mental health

Fits of Gratitude (Pt. 2)

A while back I wrote a post mentioning a few of the things I was grateful for in my life. They were small things, but things that brought me joy, nonetheless. This time of year is always a difficult one for me. With the beginning of the holiday season, I often find myself feeling lonely and in a bit of a funk. This year has been no different. Compounded by some news I received a few weeks ago regarding my dog’s health, as well as my own ever-present health problems, it’s been a struggle to feel the holiday cheer.

So, in an effort to remind myself to be thankful for the little things, here’s Fits of Gratitude, Part 2.

My Animals – There isn’t a single day that goes by that I am not grateful to have Beaker and Merlin in my life. Their companionship, silly antics, and snuggles are there when I need them the most. They give my life purpose and serve as a constant reminder that I am not alone. I adore these two more than anyone/anything else on this planet.

The Bookstore – My home away from home. It’s where I spend my lunch breaks to read or get some writing done. On weekends, I browse and visit friends, both new and familiar, among the stacks. The people who work there know me and always make me feel welcome. There’s always coffee in my hand and the smell of baked goods in the background. I don’t know where I’d spend most my free time if this place didn’t exist.

Life · mental health

Funky Town

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I feel like I’ve been failing, or perhaps “slacking” is a better word, at the whole blogging thing lately. For some reason, since I got back from my Portland trip I’ve been in a bit of a funk. Some of it is most likely due to the weather. I’m finding it harder to go outside and get exercise, as it’s already dark by the time I get home in the evening. (Stupid daylight savings!) On top of that I’m just feeling incredibly bored and a bit sad. Usually at this time of year, when all the holiday fervor starts, I start feeling quite lonely. I find myself wanting to do more things, but I keep running into the issue that a.) there aren’t many things in Charlotte that excite me anymore, or b.) I don’t have anyone to do them with.

I’m already finding myself wanting to book another trip somewhere, just to get out of my own head for a  bit and to give myself something to look forward to. But is going away somewhere by myself really going to make me feel any less lonely? I don’t know.

One positive thing I have to share is that I’m still making good progress on the book. I have about a quarter of the book left to finish before I am done with my first draft. As I already have the rest of the story outlined and planned out, it shouldn’t (hopefully) take too long for me to finish. 🙂

I apologize for my lack of comments and posts lately. I’ve been reading plenty, but realize that I’ve been somewhat lazy with comments and writing reviews. Blergh. I really need to snap out of this funk soon before it starts spiraling back into a full-blown episode of depression.

I hope you’re all doing well and had a Happy Thanksgiving!

Life · mental health

Table for One, Please

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Something interesting happened to me this weekend that I would like to share.

On Saturday, I woke up early and drove to Asheville. I had planned to go a few weeks ago, but due to the hurricane, I had to put my plans on hold. Saturday turned out to be the perfect day for a drive through the mountains. The weather was cooler, but still warm. Hints of red and yellow have begun surfacing. providing a picturesque backdrop for my visit. Once I got there, I did my usual thing: Visited my favorite bookstores, browsed through the vintage clothing shops, drank lots of coffee, and ate lots of delicious food. Part of the reason I had wanted to go there was to try a restaurant that I’d been meaning to try (but never remembered to make reservations to).

When I showed up for my lunch reservation the hostess seemed confused. “It’s just you?” she asked. “Yep,” I responded, happily. I know that busy restaurants don’t always like to “waste” tables on solo diners, so I happily offered to sit at the bar. This turned out to be a great idea, because it gave me a great view of all the cooks in action. It was the best view in the house! After ordering my lunch, I happily pulled a book out of my purse and read in between glances at the beautiful plates of tapas being prepared before me.

As soon as I sat down, I caught the glances of a few of my fellow diners. They, too, seemed confused as to why I was sitting in this nice restaurant, with only a book for company. I did my best to ignore those people. I even made sure to smile at them when they caught my eye. I was enjoying my dining experience and my solo day in the mountains far too much to be worried about what those people thought.

This is not the first time this has happened to me. Nor will it be the last. The irony, however, is that only 4-5 years ago, I never would have even had the courage to set foot in a restaurant by myself. I, too, used to be one of those people who only did things with someone else. Eating in restaurants, taking a trip, or going to a movie were things that you did with friends or a significant other. Only weirdos and people who didn’t have any friends went out by themselves. That misguided notion left me feeling bored and lonely for a very long time. Even though I was married at the time, we had very different schedules, which meant that my husband wasn’t always around to do things with. So, I just didn’t go out . Instead, I sat home and sulked over the fact that I couldn’t do all the fun things I wanted. As a result, I missed out on a lot of things.

When I got divorced, I was terrified of being “alone.” Of not having enough people to do things with. Of being stuck at home all the time. Of being lonely. Etc. Then, one day, it hit me. The problem wasn’t doing things alone. The problem was that I had no idea how to be alone and enjoy my own company.

Fast forward to now: I take day trips by myself often. I’ve gone to NYC by myself and have a few more solo trips in the works. I have no qualms about going to restaurants, coffee shops, stores, parks, and movies solo. And the best part is, I enjoy doing these things. Sure, I still do these things with Boyfriend or friends (it’s not healthy to be alone all the time), but I am often content to just do my own thing. Pushing myself to do all these things has made me appreciate time spent by myself. I’ve learned more about who I am – the things I truly like and want, what my boundaries are, how to push those boundaries, and how to enjoy life more. Honestly, whenever people give me funny looks for saying that I did ________ by myself, I feel a little sorry for them. I wish that everyone could learn to be content in their own company or, at least, stop judging others for it.

Are you comfortable doing things by yourself? 

Life · mental health · Writing

Fits of Gratitude

Well, WordPress has somehow deleted the Top 5 Tuesday post that I wrote yesterday. *sigh* I don’t know why this periodically happens, but it is somewhat frustrating, as I’m sure you can imagine.

How are all of you doing this week? All of us in North Carolina are currently bracing ourselves for hurricane Florence. Don’t worry, we’re all stocked up on the essentials: bread, chocolate, coffee, and lots of books. I had actually been planning to spend the night in Asheville this weekend, but, alas, that is not going to happen now because of the weather.

Rather than sit here and be bummed about cancelling my trip or pissed about my deleted post, I’m going to make the best of it. With health issues and the ongoing mental health struggle, it’s not always easy to be positive. I’m trying though! Fortunately, given how much better I’ve been feeling these last few months, it’s getting easier.

Since I’m trying to be less negative, I’m going to share some of the things in my life that I am grateful for instead.

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Food – A little while back I wrote about how my trip to New York had helped me get over the last hump in my eating disorder recovery. Since then my relationship with food has only gotten better. I’m cooking and baking constantly, trying out new recipes and making beloved favorites. I’ve rekindled my love of French cuisine and classic cooking techniques, making everything from bouillabase to meringue to pate choux. Ironically, despite the strained relationship I’ve had with food the last few years, this one, this passion for gastronomy is the one that feels right. It’s nice to be back where I belong again.

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The Coffee House – My weekend routine has become quite different the last couple of months. Instead of staying home and getting the sleep that I covet during the work week, I set my alarm and typically get up around 6:30 every Saturday and Sunday. By 7:00 I am seated in one of the nooks in my favorite local coffee shop (still quiet at that hour) with an almond latte and my laptop in front of me. I have found that I can focus better on my writing early in the morning and when I am outside the house, for whatever reason. I’ve been making lots of great progress on my book at that little coffee shop and I am really excited about it.

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What have you been grateful for lately?

Life · mental health

The Chronicles of Chronic Illness

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Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I am not shy about discussing my health problems, both mental and physical. As someone who has been plagued with mental health issues since a pretty young age, I know all the ins and outs of my mental state and how to talk about it. The past six months I’ve, unfortunately, been learning the ins and outs of my physical state, as well. Due to constant kidney/urinary infections and intense kidney pains, I’ve had more doctors’ visits that I can even remember. I’ve had various procedures done, been on at least five different antibiotics, and seen two different specialists. It’s been frustrating and expensive, to say the least.

Finally, after months of dealing with all of that, my urologist thinks they have solved The Great Kidney Mystery. They’ve diagnosed me with a disease called Interstitial Cystitis. A ton of research hasn’t been done on this condition, despite the fact that millions of (mostly) women have been diagnosed with it. The cause of IC is still unknown, but what happens is that you have irritation and chronic inflammation in the lining of your bladder. This creates different symptoms for different people, but the common symptoms include pain in your bladder/pelvic area, stomach pains, frequency to urinate, feeling like your bladder is always full, and sometimes blood. You pretty much feel like you have a UTI most of the time, even though you don’t actually have an infection. For me, this has also led to kidney pain and a few actual infections. Through all of this we have also learned that my right kidney is much smaller than my left one, which may explain the cause of frequent infections, as well.

So, what do they do to treat IC? Not a whole lot. For starters, I have to learn what foods and beverages are more likely to irritate my already irritated bladder/kidney. There’s a laundry list of things that might do this. The biggest offenders are caffeinated and acidic foods: coffee, chocolate, alcohol, fruit, spicy foods, tomatoes…pretty much everything I like. I either have to figure out which foods are “bad” for me and either avoid them completely or take anti-acid pills with them. The pills are helping a bit, so far, but it’s not a perfect system. Having a restrictive diet for any reason is majorly problematic for me, given my eating disorder. The fact that I’ve been doing so well with food the last few months makes this situation really upsetting. It’s like no matter how hard I try, I can never just be “better” for a while. I’m finally over my eating disorder relapse and enjoying food/life again and now it’s like “Oh wait, just kidding. Time to create more problems.” 😦

Other than dealing with trigger foods and whatnot, there’s physical therapy that can be done. (Honestly, I don’t even know what this is for yet. Something about relaxing the pelvic floor muscles?) There’s also medication that I could technically take for when my bladder symptoms are really bad. The problem, however, is that you can’t take them with anti-depressants. So that pretty much just means I’m screwed, because I can’t stop taking my meds.

You’d think I’d be rejoicing at finally having a diagnosis, right? If I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I’m actually pretty upset by all of this. I think deep down I was expecting/hoping them to finally figure out the problem, then fix it. Even if it had involved surgery, I was okay with it, as long as the problem went away. Instead, I’m being told that I have a chronic illness that’s likely to cause me problems for the rest of my life. Given that I’m only 30 years old, that could be a long time. It was bad enough trying to deal with my mental health issues, but now I get to deal with chronic pain on top of it. 😥

I’m trying really hard to remain positive. I’m reading up on tips and suggestions that other people with IC have shared. This hasn’t really made me feel much better though, as most of these people sound like they’re pretty miserable half the time. It doesn’t help that I already feel like my support on this is lacking. Since the disease is uncommon, I imagine that most people just won’t “get it.” I actually tried to discuss it with someone earlier this week and was met with some very unhelpful comments that actually made me feel a lot worse.

At the moment, I’m PMSing, which is a terrible enough time for me because of the fact that my depression gets way worse. It also causes my bladder/kidneys to hurt more. My brain is already having a field day with this, telling me all the reasons I should feel sorry for myself. *sigh* I’m trying really hard not to fall into that mindset and remain positive about this, but it’s tough. This is new ground for me and I honestly don’t know what to do or what to expect.

If anyone out there has any feedback or tips to share, I am always willing to listen. Tomorrow we will return to our regularly scheduled bookish discussions.

Books · Life · mental health

Eating/Traveling My Way Back to Health

I feel like an update is in order after last week’s dilemma that I posted about. After much deliberation, I went ahead and booked my flight to Portland! Each of you who responded said that it seemed like I had already made up my mind about which place to visit. You all hit the nail on the head. I guess I did already know what I wanted to do, but just needed a little justification.

Since we’re on the topic of travel, there is something I would like to share. You may (or may not) have noticed that I haven’t been saying much about my mental health struggles lately. That’s because I’ve been doing really well! I can credit my own hard work and 5-6 months of therapy to my success, but there’s another piece of the equation that really helped give me an extra shove.

My trip to New York.

I know, I know. I’ve talked plenty about New York and BookCon already. What more could I possibly have to say? Well, a lot, actually. Part of the reason I came home so giddy and excited was because I found something on that trip that I hadn’t been expecting. Something I’d been looking for for over a year.

I found my appetite again.

Let’s rewind to my college years and the few years after that. I had come out of school with a degree in Culinary Arts (Did I ever mention that I was trained to be a chef?), was running my own dessert business, and had a major love and appreciation for food. I cooked and baked all the time. Not just for the business, either, but for the sheer enjoyment of it. There was always some kind of food experiment happening in my kitchen and ideas floating around in my head. I was adventurous, wanting to try any and everything at least once. Going out to dinner was a fun experience for me. I loved getting to try new places and see what other culinarians were creating, often so I could figure out how to recreate such dishes at home. Food was not just about sustenance for me, it was a passion. Something I thoroughly enjoyed and looked forward to.

Then, in the last few years of my twenties, I lost that passion. I went through some difficult things and, as a result, my mental health worsened. My depression and anxiety came out in full-force, determined to ruin my life, one thought at a time. It was only inevitable that my eating disorder followed suit.

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Last year I wrote a post, Existential Ice Cream Crisis (a spectacular band name, in my opinion), after experiencing a breakdown over a social event at work. At the time I wrote that post, I had been teetering on the edge of an eating disorder relapse. That negative voice – the one that likes to tell me I’m not good enough, that I need to be perfect, and that I need to lose weight – had been slowly creeping back into my life for some time. In that post I expressed my frustration with those negative feelings and an envy towards those who had seemingly “normal” relationships with food. Despite not wanting to fall back into my old habits, I kept teetering, until eventually I slipped and fell headfirst. The next 7-8 months were hell. I became obsessed with food again, but not in a healthy way. Instead of appreciating and enjoying food, it became my enemy. Deciding what to eat for dinner was enough to send me into a tantrum, because I couldn’t handle the stress over what to feed myself. I was hungry all the time, but my brain told me not to eat more, or else I’d gain weight. I didn’t lose too much weight during that time, but it didn’t matter. My brain and body weren’t receiving the proper nourishment they needed. As a result, I was feeling quite unhealthy, both physically and mentally.

When planning my trip to New York I did research on all the possible restaurant options I might want to consider. Given how big New York City is, the options are endless! I found places that spoke to me and my inner foodie. My eating disorder tried to retaliate by saying “No. Why are you even considering these places? Look up the healthy options instead.” But, for the first time in a long time, I shut that voice out. I was going on a trip and I was excited about it. I was not bringing my eating disorder along to ruin it for me!

So, I left my eating disorder here and went to New York. And I ate. I went to the restaurants and bakeries I had researched and improvised when necessary. I ate when I was hungry and ordered what I (not my eating disorder) wanted. As a result, I got to try some amazing food. And you know what? I enjoyed every bite of it. Never once did I go back to my room and stress over what/how much I ate. I simply let myself be content.

On the last night of my trip I called Boyfriend on the phone. I gushed over all the fun things I did, about BookCon and meeting V.E. Schwab, and about all the things I ate. I told him about the awesome French-Asian patisserie I found, where I got a white chocolate-matcha cream puff. Gotham Market, where they had amazing tacos and a delicious dessert waffle place. The Indian restaurant that had some of the best chili chicken and garlic naan I’ve ever eaten. The dim sim place where I ate…who knows what. It sure was delicious though.

During that conversation I said something along the lines of “It’s nice to be able to just eat and enjoy food again, like I used to.”

In which Boyfriend replied, “Good. Bring some of that home with you.”

I did bring it home with me. When I got back, my eating disorder was surprisingly MIA. I’ve been eating what I want again, cooking more, and playing in the kitchen. Last weekend, I was invited to go out to dinner with a few girlfriends to try this restaurant they’d been telling me about. Rather than hesitate or have to look up the menu first, I agreed to go. I ate what I wanted that night, including some foods that would have sent me to tears six months ago. And you know what? I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Food has become my friend again. Not only am I eating better, but I feel so much better. I have more energy, am less cranky, and have an easier time focusing on things. My mental health, overall, has been significantly better. It’s amazing what can happen when you actually give your body the things it wants/needs.

I know my eating disorder and other issues are still there, buried deep down. They’ll show up again at some point, whether I am expecting it or not. The next time it happens, I’ll remember to read this post and remind myself of the things I’d be giving up if I let the eating disorder stick around.

For the record, it has not been invited to Portland. I have too many doughnuts to try there!