Musings in Healing from Depression and Anxiety

A few months ago, I wrote a blog entry about my then recent diagnosis with depression and anxiety. The feedback I received from sharing that snippet of my story was overwhelmingly positive and made me feel like I was not alone in what I was going through – so Thank You if you were one of those people who went out of your way to check in with me. I will never forget. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a sharer. I talk about a lot of my struggles openly and unashamedly. I do this because I am painfully aware of my humanness. I have no desire to portray myself as anything other than imperfect. Partly for this reason, I am writing a follow-up post. But I am also writing this post because I want to share the reasons – mostly three main reasons – for my having come out on the other side of my experience with mental illness. I hope that sharing these reasons will be helpful to anyone else who has experienced or is experiencing any kind of emotional difficulty.

Let me preface what will follow by saying this: My depression was a deep hole. There were days when getting out of bed and feeding myself was impossible. There were days when driving anywhere was difficult because being in the car alone made my vision blur with tears. I felt lost, lonely, but ultimately numb. I contemplated what the rest of my life would be like if I just stayed in my bed at my parents’ house and watched my life go by. In my head, this was better than the alternative of getting up and doing anything at all. This state lasted for about three weeks, when I slowly began moving out of my stupor.

This is how:

  1. I began to hear the messages I had been telling myself all along

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With the help of a wonderful mental health counselor and through the practice of mindfulness, I became consciously aware of the messages I was telling myself: You’re not as good as people around you – You’re not achieving as much as you should – Your achievements are not as good as those of others – You’re a slacker – You’re not as smart as others around you – Being depressed means that you’re weakI realized at the time, and even more poignantly now, how horribly mean my thoughts about and to myself were. If I would never speak to anyone else like this, why should I speak to myself this way? Why couldn’t I love myself completely? I think that my depression might have been my subconscious putting a dramatic halt to this distructive internal dialogue. So I started listening to my body, my feelings, my desires, my dreams… This process has been extremely difficult because it has meant silencing the negative voice within, but also shutting down the negativity from the outside that influences the way that I see myself.


                2. I began to understand that healing takes time

Mindful acceptance of myself largely meant that I needed to sit with my sadness and brokenness for a while, because this was where my heart needed to be. Sitting with my pain gave me the hardest lesson I learned – that healing from emotional pain takes time. Looking back on that period during the weeks that followed, I realized that my healing was gradual, and that I was moving into brighter spaces as my emotional state saw fit. Allowing myself that time also gave me the ability to deal with the anxiety that I was constantly feeling over not being well yet. See, anxiety comes largely from the fearful anticipation of what is to come. When you give yourself time to move through the present, anxious feelings can slowly dissipate.


3. I began to see the negative energy that I was allowing into my life. 

As I began to heal, I was better able to identify the factors that triggered negative feelings in me. These factors, as I realized, had a lot to do with the conversations I had and the implicit messages I received from people around me – so I began to cut out this negativity. As with the previous points, this portion is still a work in progress so maybe I will write another post when I have the language to describe it better 😉


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In sum, coming out of depression and anxiety required three main motivators for me: 1. Being kinder to myself; 2. Giving myself time; 3. Cutting out the negativity around me. I want to acknowledge that, though I have boiled my healing into three little factors and compressed this post into relatively few words, depression and anxiety are monsters and healing looks different for different people. Even having said that, please forgive me if I am making depression and anxiety seem simple and easily fixable. My particular experience with these illnesses was not as acute as it can become in some cases. SO, I don’t know if reading about my experience will be helpful to anyone else, but I am always open and available to talk to anyone going through anything similar 🙂

Musings in Depression and Anxiety

Two and a half weeks ago, I woke up in the morning and started about my usual routine. I went downstairs, brushed my teeth, washed my face…meanwhile, my breathing was labored and my thighs were shaking. I was carrying around a fifty-pound weight on my chest that refused to be shaken off. I popped a piece of bread in the toaster oven and left it unbuttered, bringing it with me upstairs. The thought of butter made my stomach turn, but now the thought of eating the toast at all was provoking similar feelings. This is how I had been feeling about food for a few days now. I put my breakfast down next to my computer and set off to work just as I had for dozens of days prior. I stared at my screen, trying to read the words scrambling in front of me. Nothing made sense. That was my first real anxiety attack.

I spent the next days vacillating between complete despair and numbness. I had nothing left in me but somehow the tears kept rolling almost involuntarily. Two days ago, my primary care doctor gave me a formal diagnosis of situational anxiety and depression. I haven’t been able to do much in two and a half weeks because of the sheer effort it takes to complete any given task with the limited energy that I have.

If you’re reading this and thinking that I “should just get over it,” I ask that you honestly question why you believe these feelings to be illegitimate. Is it because you have gone through this and were able to quickly “get over it”? If that’s your answer to yourself, then you haven’t gone through this, not even close.

I write this entry not because I want anyone’s pity. A good friend recently told me that We reserve our pity for people that we don’t respect. I write this entry for two main reasons: 1. Because this is part of my healing process. I talk things out, I describe them in detail, I open myself up frequently and to people from all walks of life. That is my personality. But more importantly, 2. Because in trying to make sense of what I am going through, I have been scouring the Internet for stories like mine. What I see time and again are the success stories of people who are now happy la-da-da so friggin happy, not so much about people who are deep in the hole. That’s not sexy. To speak of weakness without a turning point of becoming strong is unappealing. Yet here I am, sharing my unsexy, vulnerable, unappealing story in the hopes that, even if others don’t come forward, they at least don’t feel alone.

I have not yet recovered but I have been told that I am on my way there. I’m going to be clichéd enough to say that I have learned incredible lessons while down here in the hole – lessons about who I am and the kinds of things that I am willing to labor and suffer for. Emotional pain is real and ugly and invisible enough for others to have absolutely no idea that you are floundering in it, but if you are unfortunate enough to feel it in its rawest form, you might come out with a different understanding of life on the other side. Whether that shift is worth it is to be decided.

Travel Lull – Time to Reflect: Modern Day Slavery

Because I am not traveling right now and have some free time on my hands, I have been able to reflect more on what I am doing with my life (IMAGINE THAT!). I don’t only mean in a lofty why am I here way, but mostly, I mean evaluating the things that I do in daily life, and whether they are actually bringing me the fulfillment that I need. Here’s the simple answer: No, the things that I’m doing are not fulfilling me. And here’s a preface to the long-winded answer: Have you ever thought that Modern Day Slavery is very much alive and consuming our contemporary culture, and most importantly, our everyday lives?

Now, I know that it is provocative (and some may say far-fetched) to say that any of us living in the free land of America, or any democratic country (so we would hope), would be experiencing slavery. But, aside from the human trafficking that does happen on American soil, the slavery that I am talking about is psychological. Let me elaborate.

Someone, at some point, in recent history discovered that they could sell a product by making people think that they need it. How do you make people think that they need something? By pointing out the parts of them that are currently lacking without that product. Let me make this idea more concrete. Say someone decided that s/he wanted to sell milk as a body moisturizer, so s/he went out and started telling people that their skin looked dry (aka lacking, less than perfect). Hence begins the branding of inadequacies, upon which sellers have been capitalizing for decades on the livelihoods of unsuspecting consumers everywhere.

This is nothing new. But here is what this branding is doing to us: we go through daily life measuring ourselves against arbitrary ideals (we know that they are arbitrary because they are not the same in every culture, so they are not part of human nature!). Think about the parts of you that you are self-conscious about, and tell me why, and from where you got the idea that there was something wrong with them.

I must admit, I am also a victim of this culture. I spend a significant amount of time wondering if I am enough. But the real question is, what is enough? Better yet, who gets to decide what enough is? To return to what I was saying in the intro, this constant self-assessment and self-rejection is why I don’t feel fulfilled – because I have been convinced that I am not enough and that different parts of me need fixing.

I hereby propose a solution. Let’s stop the cycle. Next time a commercial on TV makes you feel like you’re not tall enough, hairy enough, hairless enough, skinny enough, or a conversation with someone makes you feel that you are not smart enough, wealthy enough, etc, Stop that thinking right there. Look in the mirror and have an honest conversation with yourself, where you assess your body and your personality not against some idealized construct that has no real meaning, but by the functionality that these parts of you serve. Start small, from your toes to the hair on your head. All of it is probably functioning and serving the purposes for which your body is intended – to take you from place to place, to safeguard your essence inside, etc. Furthermore, your personality, your essence is FINE THE WAY IT IS. If your friends disagree, you probably should think about getting some new friends…

Next, we will need a new definition of beauty. For some time now, I have personally been finding “perfect beauty” REALLY BORING. You know what’s really beautiful? Quirks. Passions that only you have. The kindness with which you approach strangers. Your ability to forgive. Now, that’s beautiful.

One time, I was listening to that Lil’ Wayne song “How to Love,” and was struck in the end when he says, “I just want you to know, You’re far from the usual.” It sounds so nice to be that special, yet none of us want to be that different from the norm, do we? It’s the ultimate paradox of our generation. So here’s to our commitment to breaking free from modern-day slavery, to being far from the usual, and yet feeling like there is no other way for us to be.

Best Coast?

This week, I spent four days traveling to San Francisco, admittedly my first time west of Illinois (wadup, Chicago). Let me just say now that this trip was AMAZING. I spent half the time at the Jean Piaget Annual Society Meeting, and the other half wandering around San Francisco. Here’s what I uncovered during the MANY miles I walked (my legs are still jelly; disclaimer: some of the photos are better than others. Bear with me. I’m still learning :)) 

1. San Francisco has some funky, super interesting architecture and artwork spread all throughout the cityImage

 

 

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2. Once you get to the Pier, it’s breathtaking but you have to be ready for the swarms of tourists.Image

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(Did they make this area for me?)

Below is the Fishermen’s & Seamen’s Memorial Chapel, hidden in a corner of the pier where there were no other tourists.Image

 

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3. At the end of Fisherman’s Wharf, if you can make it through all the tourist shops and restaurants, there’s an amazing beach, and contrary to what the locals will tell you, the bay water is not the most freezing water ever. Come on, guys, have you been to Massachusetts? I was told multiple times that I would freeze walking outside. It was 60 degrees -_- Image

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4. You can walk literally anywhere in this city. I walked to the Golden Gate Bridge in less than two hours, and it was a beautiful, scenic, and peaceful walk. Also, as you will see, it was pretty foggy when I got to the bridge, but (and apparently as is typical for SF weather) it got sunny while I was there. I spent a good amount of time watching the fishermen all over the lookout point. Image

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5. As you walk out of the Golden Gate “viewing area,” you see a curious golden dome to your right and naturally wonder what it is. If you venture over there, you see the Palace of Fine Arts, this gorgeous structure with a wide pond where you see tons of old people sitting around on benches.

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7. If you’re like me and didn’t get enough of the pier on your first night, you can go back to Fisherman’s Wharf and go on boat cruise under the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz for a mere $15. You will make friends during that hour-long trip, you will fear for your life as the little boat crashes against the large waves, you will get soaked, but it will be worth every minute. Image

 

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8. As you may know, I’m a huge foodie, but I didn’t get much of a chance to explore SF’s culinary prowess. I did, however, have a bread bowl of the famous Clam Chowder. It was AMAZING. I also had a Ghirardelli hot fudge Sundae in Ghirardelli Square but it didn’t last long enough for me to take a picture 😀

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The biggest takeaway from this trip for me was that you should never be afraid to do anything because your friends can’t come with you. There will inevitably be others at your destination who are also alone and who will be super friendly. The locals might also be nice if you give them a chance! 🙂 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Easy

This was my third and best trip to New Orleans, Louisiana. I had a wonderful time interviewing thirteen participants and spending time with my coworker. I am now checking in at my hotel, getting ready to go to bed REALLY SOON even though it’s only 7:47pm. That’s what happens when you go, go, go for four days straight.

So below are some of the shots that I have taken while being here. As is consistent with the purpose of this blog, the shots are mostly of food I ate (or am eating right now) and places I visited while here. I really wanted to have had the chance to take pictures of the house that are still boarded up so many years post-Katrina, but it didn’t happen. Maybe next time!

So I wanted to try as much as I could to eat exclusively from local cuisines. With that in mind, I only had a meal from a chain once, which was IHOP this morning on my way to a participant’s house. This only happened because there was absolutely nothing but chains on my way there, and I was short on time. Anyway, enjoy 🙂

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So I didn’t actually buy this or try any, but Chocolate covered chips is such a bizarre concept that I felt compelled to take a picture!

These were at a fresh food market on St. Charles Ave

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Also from the same fresh food market. Lol. Good thing I didn’t eat any red meat on this trip or I would have thought of this little face.

So our first full day in Nola, my coworker and I went for lunch at this place called Superior Grill. This dish was the Fresh fish of the day (Tilapia). So yummy.

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Oh and I ordered a virgin Piña Colada because it was 2pm and I wanted something really cold (my arm looks strangely gigantic in this picture, haha oops)

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This is just here because what? How do you get Monica from Ana? Anyway, this coffee was from CC’s Community Coffeehouse, where I ended up spending a good chunk of my time. Nice place with sidewalk seating and classical music playing inside. Right up my alley.

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Here’s what a part of the sidewalk seating at CC’s looked like:

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Later on Thursday, my coworker and I went to dinner at this spot called Delachaise. Here’s what it looked like:

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We had a thing for outdoor seating on this trip as you will notice – probably because we’re so sick and tired of cold weather, and it was wonderful and warm on Thursday and Friday here. Anyway, we both ordered the Grilled Cheese special that looked like this:

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Definitely delicious.

So on Friday, we each did our thing because we had interviews in different parts of the city. So when I had some off time from interviewing, I went to Mojo Coffeehouse on Freret Street. This is the beautiful and delicious Hazelnut soy latte I got from there:

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After I had my wonderful coffee and worked for a few hours, I grabbed a Shrimp Poboy from across the street at this local place called Freret Street Poboys & Donuts. As you can see, the meal was not the beautiful presentation ever, but who cares? It was delicious:

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After many, many more hours of work, my coworker and I took the trolley down to the French Quarter for dinner and explorations.

Here’s the trolley we took on St. Charles St:

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Once we hit Canal Street, we decided to walk down Bourbon Street for funsies. Here is some of what we encountered:Image

Dude 1 hauling dude 2 and his piano around on wheels. Bananas. But dude 2 playing the piano yielded my favorite picture from this trip, which I will include at the end for the sake of providing you with an exciting journey through my post 😉

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Street performer; she held this pose for solong.

So after much walking and deliberating, my coworker and I finally settled on having dinner at Cafe Amélie, which (surprise, surprise) had outdoor seating. It looked like this from the street:

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And from our table:Image

Cool, right?

So my coworker and I ordered this delicious starter with goat cheese:

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For our entrees, I had the grilled salmon with potato wedges and asparagus, and she had the pasta for veggieheads (a.k.a. vegetarians):

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After this beautiful meal, we decided to walk more to make room for what came next… but first, on the way to our next spot, we saw this curious human being:

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And these disgusting cats lounging around like idiots (sorry, I really dislike cats):

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And finally, we reached our destination:

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I’m pretty sure that it is a sin to go to New Orleans and not go to Cafe du Monde for beignettes:Image 

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YUM! So after we ate all this food and felt like we were dying, we decided to walk more, except this time towards our hotel. On the way there, we saw this beautiful park area that I still don’t know what it’s called, but it looked like this:

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Not coincidentally, the further we got from the French Quarter, the more that we came  into areas that looked like this:

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And this was my final shot from Friday night:

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Lastly, tonight (Saturday) for dinner, I had a local favorite, crawfish! More specifically, this was pasta with crawfish sauce. It was as delicious as you would imagine it to be. Again, not the most beautiful presentation but NO ONE CARES:

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And as a closer, I introduce my second favorite shot of the night, taken by my lovely coworker on Bourbon Street (disclaimer: Instagram filter added):

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And finally, my favorite shot of the trip, and perhaps the best shot I have ever taken:

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Thanks for reading, everybody! Stay posted for more adventures in the future! 🙂

Restaurant Week

This past week, Celina was visiting from Chicago, so in honor of her visit, she and I went to Henrietta’s Table with my housemates Brooke and Aline for Restaurant Week. These are the dishes that we had. 

APPETIZERS

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Aline’s New England Salt Cod Cake (baby arugula, lemon herb vinaigrette, tartar sauce) – Absolutely fantastic; the vinaigrette was a perfect contrast to the cod  

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My House Smoked Pastrami Salmon (native field greens, chive oil, crispy potato wafer, lemon vermont creme fraiche) – this dish was a bit unusual…that’s the best way I can describe it. The texture of the salmon was not my favorite… 😀

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Celina’s and Brooke’s Maine Rock Crab and Corn Chowder (with smoked bacon) – well seasoned and richly tasteful! Definitely my favorite appetizer

ENTREES

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Aline’s Barbeque Ale Braised Elysian Field Farm’s Pulled Lamb Shank (wilted greens, farro, native beans, crispy nitrate free smoked bacon) – melt-in-your-mouth good!

 

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Brooke’s Crystal Valley Farms Herb Chicken (crusted rotisserie roasted chicken) – perfectly cooked to amazing tenderness

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Celina’s Yankee Pot Roast (mashed potatoes and gravy) – yet another melt-in-your-mouth goodness Image

 

Aline’s and Celina’s Spicy Toasted Cauliflower

My entree didn’t make it! Grrrr, I think I forgot to take a picture of it after I started eating!  At any rate, I had the Ozark Mountain Grilled Smoked Pork Chop (Native Apple Sauce, AppleJack Demi) – it was incredibly delicious but made my belly hurt for like 24 hours. Pork is not for me.

DESSERTS – I’m not going to add individual descriptions; these were all out of this world 

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Celina’s Fresh Farmers Custard with Mixed Berries & Lace Cookie, Featuring Fresh Cloumage from Shy Brothers Farm

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My Henrietta’s Pie of the Day with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream (This was the Mixed Berries Pie)

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Aline’s Matfield Maple Farm Native First Run Maple Cheesecake with Candied Walnuts

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Brooke’s Butterscotch Pudding Cake with Toffee

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Above and Below you will find happy campers after the meal!

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Enough said!

Beauty and All

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emerson’s Essays

Lately, I’ve been itching to travel… I want to see what’s out there, to meet different people, to experience myself in different cultures and contexts. I am sure that we do not know who we are until we have seen ourselves in the foreign. For the time being, however, my itch is paired with a bank account that affords me only the here and now. I started thinking about ways to remedy this situation – it occurred to me in the process that I am a hypocrite. I want to explore the world so badly, and I have yet to explore my own backyard.

Boston is a fascinating city filled with hidden gems. Here’s my commitment to finding these gems, the cheapest way that I can. I have decided that it will be a stepwise process as follows:

1. Bring my camera with me everywhere I go (it’s about time I started taking advantage of that thing anyway; and invest in a lens for long-distance shots!).

2. Go somewhere I have never been before at least twice a month (i.e., get off somewhere completely random on the T, and not just the red line out of convenience!).

3. Put on walking shoes and comfortable clothes. I’ll be thanking myself for not looking like a little fashionista at the end of the day. Go ahead and laugh, but if you know me, you know that this is a real effort.

4. Don’t worry about exploring alone from time to time. It might be a lovely experience to spend a day in my own head…or not (I’ll get back to you).

5. Expand my definition of beauty… and photograph it. As in the Emerson quote above, immortalize the beauty I perceive into photos so that I may know that I am surrounded by it even here, this wonderful city where I’ve lived for almost five years, whose grounds I have only just begun to explore.

I’m going to cap off the steps at 5 for now. Depending on how it goes, I would love to eventually start meeting people during each of my explorations. However, I’m not sure that I’m ready for that. We’ll see!