When You Don’t Support Someone Struggling with Mental Illness

I have usually been on the receiving end of support when it comes to matters of the mind. My mental illness therapy and recovery has greatly relied on the encouragement of others, the push from loved ones to focus on getting better, the positive words and actions of my network to put this journey above all else.

I have recently found myself now on the giving end of support. This is new territory for me. It’s just as scary for me to offer support as it is for the other person facing a new journey to better mental health. One of the biggest obstacles I have to work through as I take on this support role is helping to instill the mindset of, “You come first. Don’t let anybody steer you off course. This is the right thing to do to get better.” Upon thinking about this more, I realized how sad of a reality this is. The reality of the naysayers, the one’s who “don’t get it” and want to make you feel their doubt and skepticism about your choice to seek help and recover. Then I stumbled upon this most excellent The Mighty article this morning on how supporting people with a mental illness is everybody’s business. So I knew I needed to expand upon this and write something. I can’t accept the disconnect I am seeing anymore, especially through my new personal experience. I want to tell you just how you play a role in the journey to mental health recovery. Yes you. All of you. Maybe not as a person who is a mental illness sufferer, but as a person who is a mother, father, sibling, lover, friend, relative, coworker, boss, acquaintance, store clerk, or passerby to someone who is.

When you don’t support someone with a mental illness:

  • You immediately assume there is something inherently “wrong” with them
  • You trivialize their struggles, often making a joke out of it or poking fun at their destructive habits
  • You ask invasive questions like, “What do you mean you have an appointment every week?” or “Why are you so emotional?” or “What’s gotten into you lately?”
  • You encourage and pressure tempting activities, like drinking or smoking, they are trying to become more mindful of, cut back on, or quit
  • You ignore the reality that is mental illness, and consider their behavior “dramatic”, “attention-seeking”, “weak”, or “incapable”
  • You fail to see how hard they are working on paving a healthier pathway through life by instead focusing on their hardships and behaviors they are dedicating so much of themselves to correct
  • You make internalizing their struggles easier
  • You allow their destructive, self-harming habits to seem more rational
  • You assume someone else will be there to support them, even if they won’t


When you do support someone with a mental illness:

  • You understand they are trying, no matter the level of effort
  • You accept that mental illness recovery and therapy is difficult. That it is not a joke. That it is life-changing and emotionally overwhelming. That it is crucial to staying alive and well
  • You don’t ask questions that warrant really personal, intimate answers. You wait to feel invited to discuss the issues at hand. You base conversations on their comfort level, not yours
  • You recognize that social activities for some can be addictions for others. You accept “no” for an answer. You even change your own behaviors around them to eliminate temptation during their recovery
  • You accept mental illness as truth. That is it not made up. That it is not an excuse. That it is medical. That is has scientific proof. That your inability to understand what it feels like does not change facts
  • You come to terms with their destructive behaviors as part of a bigger, rooted issue they are working to pry from the depths within and address. You don’t fixate on their shortcomings, but understand that bad habits take time to break and new habits take time to form
  • You allow them to feel comfortable in their struggles. You don’t isolate them as an outcast
  • You offer solutions to avoiding temptation. You offer a new perspective on how to cope. You realize everybody has problems and can always use advice, big or small
  • You don’t assume anybody else is in their court. You offer whatever level of help you can, relative to the relationship you hold with them. You don’t let them feel alone. You offer a glimmer of light in an otherwise dark period. You choose to support life

See the difference?

Mental illness affects all of us. Everybody. Whether you’re on the receiving end of support, or someone who needs to play a role – big or small – in someone else’s support network. We have to own this, not as segmented societal groups, but as humanity. Let’s do better.

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Confronting 16 Truths About Me

Here we are, two months into the New Year, and the one resolution I have made for myself is to be honest. That branches off into many different arenas of my life. Being honest with myself is the top priority. I am now taking the time to assess my feelings and translate what they mean, then proceeding accordingly with positive actions and behaviors. Next in line is being honest with the rest of the world. This is not as easy for me.

I have a tendency to understand myself, my wants, my needs, my feelings and my beliefs, but project a completely different version of them to comply with whatever environment I am in during that moment. While this allows me to “fit in” temporarily and protect my insecurities, it has caused me to create a persona that often reigns victorious in the real world. Everyone else misses out on the authenticity I reserve for my most private and intimate experiences. Everyone but a select few is shielded from the purest form of “me.” While this has been a coping technique I have defaulted to for most of my life, I realize now that it is destructive and counterproductive to the rest of the progress I have been working so hard to make. I deserve to honor the evolution of myself intimately in my own solitude, but also outwardly for the world to see so they have the opportunity to accept the version of me I have been trying to achieve for 28 years.

Continuing on my journey to better mindfulness in 2016, I am confronting 16 truths about me here in this post. Some will make a significant impact, while others are light-hearted, matter-of-fact “Jill-isms” that I just want to share out loud. Regardless of where they fall on the spectrum, each is necessary in defining and helping others better understand my true being. So here we go.

  1. I make a ‘to-do’ list everyday
    While this is not uncommon for most, my ‘to-do’ list is how I define success for each day. I write down every single thing I intend to do with myself, and satisfyingly delete items as I complete them. I am, however, slowly learning to embrace the present and not rely on my list as the be-all end-all of each day.
  2. On the misophonia spectrum, I’m an 8/10
    For those unfamiliar, misophonia means ‘hatred of sound’ and is a fairly common and self-diagnosable disorder. I recently found this self-assessment test, and fell into the ‘Group 8’ bracket. What does this mean? I really can’t stand particular sounds to the point of anxiety and internal rage. I don’t usually act out (if I do, I typically blurt out something angrily), but if I appear extremely disgusted by someone’s loud chewing, crinkling candy wrapper, or drowned out bass-thumping – this is why. Please, don’t be offended.
  3. My home is always neat and tidy, except my bed
    People always comment when they come over that my house is so clean, organized, and well-decorated. While I take this as a compliment, I know the result of my excessively tidy nature is due to struggles with OCD as it relates to cleanliness and order. The one place I am able to find comfort in chaos for some reason is my bed. I never make it, except on the rare occasion my parents are coming over to visit. I like jumping into a pile of blankets and pillows, meshed together in the exact place I left them when I set out to begin my day. It retains the last moment of comfort and peace I had before facing the world, and it will be there to pick up right where I left off when I am ready to rest again. It’s my safe haven, my solace, and where I put my brain to rest. I preserve this as my sacred spot where my brain doesn’t win; where I can accept a bit of disorder and lack of control for comfort’s sake.
  4. I have fallen in love with an exercise for the first time and its name is yoga
    I have always watched those who practice yoga from afar, envying their agility and composure, thinking I could never handle such a patient, mindful format because I am too anxious and uptight. Well, duh, that’s the point of yoga — to bring yourself inward, increase your focus, and learn to slow yourself down. So I tried it in conjunction with meditation, and much to my surprise, I fell in love. Sure, the first few weeks weren’t ideal – I was fumbly, a little stressed, and not totally understanding “the point”. When I finally learned that yoga is ongoing, gradual, and evolving as you learn to master different poses and breathing techniques, I settled into my happy place. Yoga has increased my flexibility, taken away aches and pains, taught me how to shift my focus inward on myself, and take the time to relish in relaxing, restorative healing. The best part? I still have a lot to learn and uncover. I encourage anybody to try it and challenge you to tell me you didn’t learn to love it! 🙂
  5. I really want to play guitar at open mics, but my nerves don’t
    Every once in awhile I post a 15-second Instagram video when I’ve had enough wine to think I actually sound like a coffee shop-esque singing savant, but the truth is I have zero confidence in my musicianship. I enjoy playing guitar, I enjoy singing and I enjoy being musically creative – but can only manage to do so very intimately and privately. Considering people have complimented me on what I post online, I would really like to build my confidence and showmanship to ultimately reach the goal of playing out at open mics. Maybe just for a few close friends to start. Baby steps.
  6. I am afraid of hitting my goal weight
    Lots of people raise an eyebrow if they hear someone say this, but I can vouch that in addition to me, lots of people in my Weight Watchers meeting feel the same. Why is this? Because for lots of us, hitting our goal weight still feels like the magic trick that will cure our years of self-loathing, self-consciousness, and confidence issues. It’s as if a miracle brain switch will turn on when the scale lights up “GOAL WEIGHT” and poof – we’re no longer afraid to live in our own skin. But we all know this won’t happen – we know that hitting goal weight is only one piece of the puzzle. So I am afraid of the day my goal weight rolls around, knowing fully that my physical health achievement will be unlocked, but my brain might still be lagging behind the finish line. I am afraid to see my body indicate success and victory, while my mind may still look in the mirror and see a failure that hasn’t changed one bit.
  7. I have severe “only-child”syndrome
    I expect every person who is an only-child to understand this with no explanation, but for those of you who shared your childhood with others by  your side, you probably do not. One set of parents focused solely on you 24-7. One person to share your room with, your stuff with and your emotions with inside the intimate walls of your home. Two people who have dedicated their lives to making yours the best they can, and you wanting to make them proud with every choice, decision, and action. This has been my life for 28 years. Would I change it? Never ever. Does it make certain life experiences more difficult? Absolutely. I don’t do well with conflict – I never had to fight with anybody over anything, except the occasional friend. While I am not a spoiled brat, I do struggle with letting go of control and sharing responsibilities and commitments. I also still aim to impress my parents with every life choice, although I am coming to realize that they may not always understand why I do what I do or why I like what I like. But that’s okay. It’s a learning process and one I think many only children go through as they become adults. The most important thing we can do as people who are used to being alone is let others in more willingly, and communicate when we normally would not.
  8. I don’t know how to outwardly accept a compliment…yet
    This is tough for lots of people, but I think the thing that makes me the most frustrated at myself is not only do I deny a compliment, but I reply negatively in a way that cuts me down. I know this is very unflattering, and damages my own growth towards better self-esteem. A big turning point for me was a recent night when I bought some t-shirts with my boyfriend online. When they showed up we modeled them for each other, but, to my dismay, some of mine fit a little snug around my stomach. I immediately became super self-conscious and deflected every “Babe, they look great” comment with an insult to myself. When he got quiet moments later, I asked why he was acting withdrawn. He felt like he couldn’t say anything to make me feel better, and he was right. I had to make myself feel better. And then he looked me in the eye and said, “You’re hotter when you’re confident”. He hit me with the truth and it was everything I needed to hear. So I may not be great at receiving compliments just yet, but I am actively working on accepting them, and at least in the short-term, not responding in such a destructive way.
  9. I am an observer
    This is something I both love and hate about myself. I love watching others interact in some of the most honest, candid moments of their lives. Watching smiles erupt while people on the subway look at photos from last night’s party, or seeing a couple discretely having a disagreement at a department store over what bedsheets will breathe better in the summer heat. I enjoy these moments so much, mostly by myself, because it depicts life exactly for what it is – a series of events, connections, and experiences that, whether good or bad, are all we have. It allows me to feel connected to others, even if I am the quiet spectator who will never interact with those I am observing. It fuels my ability to write and create based on what I see. It allows me to feel relative to what is around me in that moment when I often feel isolated the rest of the time. To flip the switch, I also hate being an observer at times because it takes away from me being the one immersed in the experience. I can often get too focused on watching the world move by me, rather than moving with it. I easily justify leaving myself on the sidelines while everyone else is out on the field because I too readily rely on this identity. I am learning it’s all about balance. Thinking of others as onlookers is fascinating and exciting to me. So I need to learn to let go sometimes, and be the subject of someone else’s moment of observation.
  10. I go to therapy every Friday and it’s changing my life
    I am confident that the stigma of “I have a therapist” meaning “I am a complete nut case” is close to over. In today’s complicated, fast-paced world — who doesn’t have a therapist? But I know people are still afraid to talk about it the way they talk about going to the dentist – as if it’s not a matter-of-fact part of life. Well, it is. Our brains need regular check-ups and cleanings just like our teeth do. And for some of us, we need those check-ups a little more frequently to stay on track. Fridays at 2pm I shut off the rest of the world and I spend an hour on me, my thoughts, what they mean, how I feel, and what to make of it all. I meditate, I reflect, I speak openly, I don’t hold back. I analyze the way I speak, and the feelings that certain words evoke inside of me. I am slowly learning to accept my illness and willingly have the feelings it brings about, even though I may not always like them. This is how I am healing and growing and I am grateful to have found such a professional that I click with so well to help guide me towards better mental health.
  11. Some of my most vulnerable conversations happen with Internet friends
    It’s my job to sit on the Internet all day. It’s also my job to be on social media all day. This can be extremely oppressive and ruin the novelty of having personal profiles, but in some ways it has been an absolute blessing. In the last few months of opening up about my mental illness struggles, I have created a whole new network of confidants and “people who get it”. Some of these people I already knew, but just not in this way. Some are complete strangers I’ve met through mutual friends or blogging or Twitter. I spend a lot of my days keeping in contact with a handful of these people to stay motivated, mentally stimulated, and optimistic. Even if we don’t see each other in real life often, or ever, I don’t care. What we have is enough. What you give me is enough. You mean so very much to me and you help make each day valuable and meaningful. In 2016, friends are not defined by tangibility, but the experiences you share together, whether in person or over Facebook chat. You are all my friends and the greatest support network I really needed to find.
  12. I never call, text, or make plans first — but I want to
    I have great friends. I can most likely count all my friends on two hands, and my close friends on one. I don’t share myself with lots of people and I am a socially awkward introvert. So this all makes sense. But I also realize that being a friend is a two-way street. I know that my anxiety wishes it could always be a one-way street of receiving texts, calls, plans, and support. But I know that’s not right. I am a better friend than that. So I am making a promise to my friends that I will do better. I will text more often. I will call to say hello. I will try to think of fun plans whether it’s a night out or a wine date in with our favorite TV show. I will express until I am blue in the face that you can count on me for anything and that you never have to feel alone during a tough time. I am sorry my anxiety makes it seem like I don’t care, but I do. You make my world go round and make me feel wanted, loved, and included. It’s time for me to try really hard and do the same for you.
  13. After over a decade, I am full of bursting love
    I will save the details for a future Hallmark card, but loving and feeling loved back is a tremendous part of anyone’s life. It can make life richer and more fulfilling to share it with others by your side. Oppositely, a departure from any important relationship can crumble everything else around you. That’s happened. It will happen again with more people in my lifetime. But presently, I am so flooded with happiness. I’m happy I get to love with my genuine self, all of myself, and share it with many people in my life. But also, I get to love someone that I have a strong, authentic connection with, a connection that has withstood the test of time, turmoil, and transformation. I feel alive knowing I get to choose who to love, and I am so full of gratitude to feel it in return in the way I have always dreamt of.
  14. I told myself with conviction “you look pretty” for the first time on Christmas
    I teetered on if I would include this truth, as it is highly personal and intimate for me, but then I realized it would resonate with so many people that I would regret not sharing. For my whole life, I haven’t ever been able to compliment myself authentically, nor have I been able to really accept one from other people. I can superficially tell myself my makeup looks nice, or my outfit is awesome, or my butt fits well in a pair of pants – but usually it’s in some jokey manner that disassociates the reality of feeling inadequate more often than not. Self-esteem and body confidence has been a huge goal of mine to work towards and stick to since the summer, and I am so happy with my progress. But even with visible progress I can’t always bring myself to feel and emote such success. But I did on Christmas. I woke up in my empty house, with three cats and no Christmas tree. I did morning yoga. I showered. I decided to try on a dress from three years ago that is my favorite, but also became too small. It fit. I began to put on my makeup and do my hair. I looked up in the mirror when I was finished and the words “you look really pretty” fell out of my mouth. Then I cried a little. Then I sobbed. I didn’t need a Christmas tree, or someone to wake up to on Christmas morning, or anything at all to symbolize the day in that moment. The best gift was feeling adequate to myself for the first time ever, and I am so proud to understand what that is now.
  15. Everyday is a battle to get out of bed and pursue my goals
    I actually just discussed this with a lovely coworker over lunch and it rings true for more people than you might think. When people say “getting out of the house today was such a struggle”, some people are exaggerating to express their lack of motivation, or just the fact that they are having a bad day. Some people, like me, mean it literally. When you face depression every day as I do, waking up isn’t usually sunny, refreshing, or motivating. It’s anxiety-inducing and overwhelming to think about how to make it 24 more hours when 30 minutes in the shower can feel like climbing a mountain. Being stuck in bed with no hope of leaving is real. Small mundane tasks, like putting on clothes or makeup, feeling extremely overwhelming is real. Having chronic depression that inhibits the small things we can take for granted is real. I am grateful that for almost four months straight I have been able to get up and out of bed every single day and go after what’s ahead of me. But there will always be someone struggling to do so. Look out for them.
  16. I am very afraid the world won’t love the “#nofilter” version of me
    As much as I’ve evolved in the last few months to be the most authentic version of myself, I still have moments where I mentally freeze at the thought of how others perceive me. I can’t be perfect at this, which I have come to accept, being human and all. But I have to be truthful about it. As much as I want the world to see the parts of me I have been inclined to hide, I also realize my support system will be matched with critics. Sometimes this won’t matter to me, but sometimes it will. But I’m hopeful the urge to conform and avoid such discomfort from the naysayers will begin to wane by embarking on this writing exercise. I will always choose to be me first.

There’s not much else to say except I am grateful to have an outlet where I can speak my truths, and to thank you for spending the time reading any of it. As time continues to unfold, I will hold on to this 2016 goal and not let it fade by the side of the fickle gym-goers and diet-doers. I am going to try my hardest to honor these 16 truths out in the world, everyday, no matter what is surrounding me. And I promise I will be honest a year from now, when reflecting on how I did. 🙂

Mental Illness Awareness Week

It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week and We all Need to Talk About it

My father sent me an email this morning with just a link to a Salem News Letter to the Editor. It was an important gesture for him to send it to me, and now I feel compelled to share it with the rest of you. But I want to take it a step further. I don’t want you to just read the link that I could have easily posted to my social media channels. I want you to more than see what the words mean beyond the two paragraphs written in the link. I want you to understand it. Understand it from someone who is living the exact purpose of the letter: a person battling mental illness who experiences the firsthand stigma it has created.

This week (October 4-10) is Mental Illness Awareness Week. The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (NAMI Mass) wants to make you aware that mental illness affects 1 in 4 adults. I will make you aware that I am 1 of those 4 adults. NAMI Mass also conducted a survey that reveals some disappointing results – although mental illnesses are the leading cause of disability in the workplace, only 27% of people feel comfortable talking about their mental illness at work. I am luckily 1 person in that 27%. Let me be honest, though, I did not start talking about my mental illness until a week ago, when I was at my breaking point, when I was in crisis mode. That’s not the best approach. That’s not when I should have been speaking up. And this is why we need to talk about it.

CAMH

The stigma of mental illness is still very real. People get uncomfortable being around those with a mental illness. Some feel unsafe. Some perceive it as a sign of weakness, or a vain indulgence of one’s self. Some seclude and ignore those who are suffering. Why do people do this? Two reasons: because they don’t experience it firsthand and they can’t see it tangibly on the outside. The problem here is that we can comparatively take a physically noticeable ailment, like paralysis or cancer, and even if we don’t know what it feels like to experience these firsthand, we can see the toll it takes on a person’s body. We can then empathize, accommodate and advocate for a better quality of life for these sufferers. For the mental illness sufferer, the struggle and toll occurs on the inside of the body – where nobody can truly see the distress and degeneration. When the results of mental illness are projected to the outside world, they are still intangible: stress, crying, yelling, withdrawn behavior, sadness, fear, paranoia, nerves, etc. And unfortunately, when the results of mental illness are left untreated and advance to display a physical toll on the outside, it is in the darkest moments when sufferers are most misunderstood and unaccepted: self-harming, harming others, alcoholism, drug addiction, attempted suicide, death.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in Massachusetts says only 52.8% of affected adults seek treatment. This is not okay. All mental illness sufferers should have the resources, opportunities and encouragement to seek treatment just as anybody with a physical illness does. Treatment in 2015 is vast. It comes in many forms. Therapies, medications, alternative healing, herbal medicine and many more are widely available, but not often obvious and accessible. Work benefits that support mental illness treatment and HR services are also not widely communicated across companies or encouraged to be used. Again, we need to change this. Addiction, harm and suicide should not be considered an option. It will always be a thought for a mental health sufferer, but there are ways to make it from becoming a reality.

Let me bring this back to my experience. I’ve suffered from chronic anxiety and depression since I was 14. I struggled in my teen years to find a productive way to cope. I self-harmed often and rejected therapy. As a young adult, I suffered more and had some difficult experiences with prescription psych medication, addiction and therapy. Today, I am still battling anxiety and depression along with panic and mild OCD, but I have learned through the aid of my family and boyfriend, doctors and a supportive workplace, to seek appropriate treatment. I am in therapy. I am working on an alternative medicine approach. I am taking time off work to focus on me and to heal. I have a team of people behind me pushing me towards success. I was ashamed at first to bring this to my workplace, to try and convey what I was suffering. But once I did, the overwhelming support was shocking. I was encouraged to take the time. I was explained my benefits and rights I have from my employer. I was messaged by multiple coworkers in support of my needs. I was not a victim of this stigma that so many others are.

I am a girlfriend, a daughter, cat mom, marketing professional, friend, artist, writer, thinker and dreamer. I am not an incapable, burdening, unproductive, dangerous, self-indulgent basket case. I have a mental illness, but I am not “mental.” I am not afraid of what people will say or think of me. I have a voice and will fight for those who can’t find theirs just yet.

Mental Illness Awareness Week ends on Saturday, but the conversation will continue for a lifetime. I guarantee you know at least one person suffering. Heck, most of you reading this know me. But beyond our relationship, there are most likely others in your life suffering, maybe even you. I encourage you to advocate for those people, or yourself, and take the necessary steps to ensure proper treatment. I also encourage you to tell 3 other people the statistics I’ve shared about mental illness in this post to continue breaking the stigma that this isn’t real, and that those suffering don’t deserve the same rights as the physically ill. This is real. We all deserve to feel healthy, inside and out.

A few more links that can help:

NAMI Massachusetts (local resources and support)

To Write Love on Her Arms (my favorite supporting nonprofit)

Anxiety and Depression Association of America (where I’ve learned a lot about my conditions)

Additionally, program in your phone 1-800-SUICIDE. It’s a hotline that will always be there for you.

Thanks for reading, and more importantly, for understanding.

Podcasts

From the Desk of | Podcasts are the New Black for Consumers and Advertisers

My “From the Desk of” series will feature re-posts of blogs I’ve written for my company blog. Here’s my first installment. Original posting here.


Two months ago my commute increased from 30 minutes to an hour as I embarked on a new career path at InkHouse. The longer drive proved streaming Spotify to be a drain on my data package, while the radio played the same 5 songs on repeat. Coincidentally, I had seen a lot of buzz on social media around this new series called “Serial.” I found out I could download it to my phone through the iOS Podcasts app, so I gave it a listen one Monday morning drive. By Wednesday evening I was sitting in silence on my couch, clinging to the last few minutes of this gripping 12-episode story. This was my first introduction to podcasts, and I was hooked. I immediately went back to the Podcasts app to discover my next audio adventure. I guess I’m not the only one – Americans are listening to more than 21 million hours of recorded shows like “Serial” every day, according to Edison Research.

Podcasts don’t stack up to TV, radio, or web consumption quite yet, but the numbers show it’s quickly on the rise. Serial can be considered the medium’s breakout success – with over 5 million downloads or streams of the series and over 1.5 million listeners per episode. Where Serial differs from the rest is in its continual storytelling throughout the series. Serial carried listeners through the revisited murder of Hae Min Lee, and the conviction of her then boyfriend Adnan Syed. Each episode heightens suspense for the next, unraveling more details about the 1999 case and raising questions about Adnan’s conviction. Despite whom you side with when listening to Serial, one thing is certain: reporter Sarah Koenig has brought new light to Adnan’s questionable sentencing that is no longer being ignored, and her millions of listeners are begging for what’s next.

Serial shows that the once beloved medium for tech-geeks has become more universally accepted with simpler “click-to-download” or “stream here” methods of consumption. People can now listen to the podcasts they love wherever, whenever – Netflix for your ears. But Serial is just one show in the sea of podcasts, with very few advertisers, asking primarily for listener donations to keep the show going. Over 1 million users actively downloading Serial without a huge advertising push exemplifies the opportunity for a new wave of content marketing.

As podcasts rise in popularity, so does the ability for brands to easily exhibit their thought leadership to an audience willing to listen – all you need is the Internet. By adding simplicity to content creation and introducing more personalization, podcasts are quickly becoming an alternative to radio. Steve Litchfield, producer of the Phones Show podcast, explains, “Podcasting is viable because it’s on-demand, which means listeners won’t miss a thing. Also, podcasts contain in-depth and informative content, whereas radio is often transient and overly chatty, with little substance.” Brands can bring their storytelling to life by cutting out much of the clutter involved in traditional content distribution.

If brands are not looking to begin an original series, they still have an opportunity to sponsor an existing, relevant podcast as a new advertising medium. PodcastOne is hoping to bring major brands onboard as investors into the rise of these programs. The company aggregates shows and sells ads in bundles across their combined audience while sharing the revenue with its programmer.

Even more valuable is the opportunity for sponsored content. Very few podcasts have introduced sponsored content into their programming, but the ones that have are doing it well. A new podcast I’ve been enjoying is Reply All, simply defined as “a show about the Internet.” Hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman are always sure to make note of sponsored content, but when it involves a clip of PJ calling his dad to define the word “intranet” as a promotion for Igloo Software, it seamlessly fits right into the rest of the episode. Reply All also sponsors content from Squarespace, a website builder that has been advertising on podcasts for the last 5 years.

Podcasts are personal,” says Ryan Stansky, marketing manager for Squarespace, “We have the opportunity to get hosts genuinely excited about our products and values. When they relay an authentic message to a large audience who trusts them, it benefits everyone involved, because the show is supported, we get new business, and the customer learns about a product that is useful in their personal and/or professional life.”

Podcast Data

As you can see, podcasts are the new black for content consumption. They can go where TV and Internet (hopefully) draw the line: while you drive, while you cook, and even while you shower – guilty. But what about sponsored content – does it even work? Out of the 39 million average monthly listeners, 54% have made a purchase from podcast ads – AKA yes, it’s working.

Now that I’ve convinced you to hop on the podcast bandwagon, where should you begin? Here’s a start, and the comments section is worth reading this time. If you’ve been around the podcast block, we’d love to know what’s on your playlist. Happy listening!

Escaping the Social Media Lens: My Real Year in Review

It’s with no surprise that this week’s media is cluttered with “top 10” posts to recap the year, but Facebook has been put in the spotlight for their “Year in Review” playback of your own 2014. We’re all going to be spammed by an unfortunate amount of our friends with these slideshows, that’s just how social media works. But one thing we can all agree on is that while Facebook is really good at aggregating our most engaging posts on social media, it doesn’t know anything beyond the blue gates of its own News Feed when it comes to what our lives are really about. And considering I spent 50% of 2014 being inactive or completely deactivated from Facebook, I am doing myself a disservice if I choose to represent the hardest year of my life through a social media lens. Here are the main takeaways from the last 365 days of my life, whether I “liked” it or not.

Love can never be steered, but only followed.
Once the New Year turned in 2014, I immediately went from planning a wedding to splitting up with the person I was about to give my life to forever. The impending nuptials were a way for me to face the problems in our relationship that we kept avoiding, and ultimately realize that marriage is a 100% promise. I journeyed through a rebound relationship that was volatile, a series of turbulent emotions, and a passing wedding date that will now never represent anything. I learned to face my own demons, and he his, and we found our way back to each other again in the later portion of the year. Despite my ability to make that sound like a “happily ever after,” we’re nowhere near perfect. We do, however, see love in a new light and that makes a year of heartache worth it.

Disconnecting is ok.
In the age of being “always connected,” it’s really hard to find some fucking privacy. It’s also really hard to cut cords with those that no longer add positive value to your life. This year I needed a heavy dose of both to progress forward, rather than sink deeper into my demons. I remember the day I actually committed to using the “block” button on my iPhone and never looking back. It felt really GOOD. It doesn’t mean that I will never encounter an ex-fling or friend ever again, but at least in moments of weakness I will no longer rely on those that are toxic. I also really struggled with how to deal with my broken relationship when many people were following my wedding plans on social media. As much as we all want to feel superior to the Internet, we share some of the most important moments of our lives there for all to see. When those moments don’t play out accordingly, it’s hard to admit that in a public setting. Dan and I sat down and planned our message together to announce our canceled wedding and separation, and then we both deactivated our accounts shortly after. At that point, I needed to search within myself to see how my life was supposed to evolve, rather than script it for a News Feed. I spent nearly half of this year off Facebook, and those months were crucial to Dan and I resolving our issues. Disconnecting is really important, and some of the best memories you make don’t end up online.

I faced, then embraced, my mental health issues.
Mental health is a really big issue that I advocate for, mostly because I suffer from chronic anxiety and depression. That means no matter how I alter my life, I will always feel both to some degree as long as I live. I was fortunate to spend many of the past 6 years with very mild symptoms, but this year they both really crept in as I worked through my hardships. In 2014 I had a panic attack, something I hadn’t experienced in 4 years, in front of someone I barely knew. I struggled to cope with my feelings and turned to alcohol, which led me to drinking a bottle of wine or more each night for about 3 months. I struggled with prescriptions for a short while, and spent many weekends inside, feeling the worst social anxiety I had ever experienced.

One of the biggest reasons I was able to pull myself out of the dark and feel alive again was finally swallowing my pride and committing to therapy. I have never seen a therapist for more than two sessions, always feeling disconnected from the robot staring back at me, as well as denying they could actually help. This year I found the most incredible woman who always stayed focused on me, and approached solutions with an unbiased view. She has helped me over so many of these hurdles I’ve detailed, hurdles I’ve faced head on by myself. If there’s anything I feel truly proud about this year, it’s this. Knowing that I’ve stabilized my mental health, and avoided relying on medication to numb the pain, is such an incredible victory.

I still have my struggles, and I will for the rest of my life, but I’m not afraid to talk about it. This year we saw a little stir in the worldwide conversation regarding mental health, much in part to the devastating passing of Robin Williams, but it’s not enough. I really hope we can get to a point where we don’t just dump ice water on our heads or put ordinary people on the covers of popular magazines because we want to end physical suffering. We need to support ending all suffering, whether we can tangibly see it or not. There are more Robin Williams-es out there than we really, truly know.

Me

Do not succumb to the norm no matter who is watching.
This year has really shown me that peer pressure exists long after those 14-year-old moments of being persuaded to try a cigarette. Even as adults when we feel like we’re in control of our lives, we’re not as self-aware as we let others believe. We still feel pressured to go to college, get the good job, settle down in marriage with some kids, and live the American Dream. Unfortunately, that’s not many of our dreams, and I really have no intentions of doing my life that way. I’ve learned what’s important to me: finding a passion within my career that allows for growth and challenge each new day. Finding a love that’s mutual, where it transcends all that is tangible, like wedding rings and social media validation. Finding a spark that keeps my creativity burning, and endless possibilities that will never let it be stifled. Finding a richness in life where you can leave your comfort zone and face the world 100% as yourself — to not cower back into the cookie cutter norm when lots of people are too afraid of their own selves to agree with your fearless choices.

I still don’t love myself.
We will never enter a new year perfectly closing the previous chapter. As much as I’ve seen positive changes come out of such tremendous darkness, I have beat myself up along the way. Two years ago I was thriving in a weight-loss journey that left me feeling physically healthy and happy, and now I’ve found myself back to the starting line. It’s hard to balance mental and physical health, especially when you struggle with both, and this year I had to favor my mental stability over taking care of the outside version of me. It hurts to know I’ve made so much progress within, which cannot be reflected by the subpar exterior version of myself. I have a lot of work to do to bring myself to a happy place physically while also learning to embrace how I am right now. As we turn the corner and enter 2015, I’m not going to resolve to “go to the gym” and “juice cleanse once a month” or any of that shit that doesn’t make it past the first week. I’m just going to resolve to love myself, and inevitably change will occur in order for me to do just that.

So there you have it – 2014 was without a doubt the hardest year I’ve faced in my entire life. It showed me that no matter how in control you think you are, life doesn’t always play by your rules. No matter how much you filter something for publicity’s sake, it’s not truly perfect or beautiful. No matter how much you think you know yourself, there’s always opportunity to learn more. And these are the things Facebook’s Year in Review won’t tell you. I hope you “like” my version much better.

Cheers to the next 365 days of our lives, and may they let us achieve what we’ve set out to do today.

Sushi Rolls

Opus: A New Restaurant Experience [Review]

Moving back the the North Shore of MA where I grew up has its perks, once of which is living a stone’s throw away from Salem. Salem is not only a little gem of a city within the suburbs, but also the Halloween capital of the United States. This, along with October being my favorite time of year, allowed me to spend almost every weekend in Salem leading up to the Day of the Dead. One of my favorite evenings out was the Saturday before Halloween, when my festive Halloween Birthday boyfriend and I tried out a newer restaurant in town, Opus. The results were chillingly wonderful, which is why I want to tell you all about it.

First, I knew Opus was fate for Dan’s and my quirky sense of taste when we found out the downstairs portion of the restaurant was holding a Golden Girls drag show that night. Unfortunately, we only caught a glimpse when using the restroom, but regardless, WICKED NEAT.

We started with drinks, naturally. I ordered the “Red Wedding”, although highly tempted by the Golden-Girls-themed cocktail flight (again, NEAT). The Red Wedding was a beautiful blend of local Brooksby farm apple-infused vodka, St. George Raspberry, Licor 43, and Prosecco. It was daintily served with a splinter of cinnamon stick. So adorable, yet packed a good boozy punch. Dan got a man beer: Attic & Eaves, a toasted brown ale by one of our favorite locals, Slumbrew.

Red Wedding Cocktail

Next, we ordered the Smoked Confit Pork Belly Tacos. With a name like that, how could we not? Needless to say, these little tiny tacos made a big impression our my taste buds. They were smoky, savory, a little sweet, and super spicy (that may be biased since I bit right into a jalapeño seed on first taste). The mix of cilantro, lime, and peppers was perfect, and the cumin was not overpowering (thankfully because I dislike it in large doses). Once we obliterated those bad boys, we had dinner to destroy.

Pork Belly Tacos

Opus’s menu is infused with many Asian-inspired dishes, including an entire sushi menu. Since we were keen on sharing and sampling, we decided to try out the Surf N Turf Roll and the Tuna Tartare Tacos. They were served most excellently to us as an edible work of art. The Surf N Turf Roll began and ended with shrimp tempura tails, and housed little rolls of magic in between. “Magic” translates to spicy crab, Kobe Carpaccio, spicy mayo, & sweet chili – holy yum. The Tuna Tartare Tacos were a clever Mexican-inspired trio of taro root “taco” shells containing spicy tuna, avocado, yuzu tobiko, chives, and cilantro. I have always loved tuna tartare, but pairing it with cilantro and avocado to give it some Mexican flair made me want to cha-cha. For real, these two dishes were fantastic.

Sushi Rolls

Despite scarfing our dinner down in a matter of minutes, we weren’t ready to leave yet. So we decided to share one last cocktail. We immediately settled on the Blue Monday, and you’re about to see why. This kick in a glass contains house-infused habanero vodka, blueberry preserves, lemon, and mulling spices served over crushed ice. I tasted the cool fruit upon sipping, and experienced the zingy warmth afterwards. It was the perfect way to warm up on a chilly night without having a hot beverage. The flavors popped, and the heat helped take the edge off the vodka.

Blue Monday Cocktail

As we finished up and were headed out, the host asked us how our first Opus experience was; thoughtful, quality, and inspirational were the words that came to mind. The food not only tasted fantastic, but it was beautifully plated. The drinks were cleverly named and concocted to bring out classic cocktails with a twist. The atmosphere was welcoming and ambient, with art and architecture to take in all around. The staff was continuously attentive and hospitable, despite having a full house on a Saturday night the week before Halloween. Not one bit disappointed, and that is a rarity when eating out as Dan and I have found in our travels.

If I’ve convinced you to head into the Witch city and check out Opus, it’s conveniently located near the Salem Depot commuter rail station, as well as a short distance off Route 128 in downtown Salem. Even though Halloween is over, Opus still holds live music and performances every week in their “Underground” downstairs level. And of course there’s sights and shops all around to visit before or after dining. I know I’ll be back, because their Charcuterie Board and Parmesan Truffle Fries are calling my name!

Hello October

Forget Christmas; Right Now it’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

There are four seasons to a year, and generally we experience them all dramatically in New England. Summer’s too humid, Winter’s too treacherous, and Spring’s too allergenic. Fall doesn’t have an underlying irritant, therefore Fall reigns in my seasonal hierarchy.

From the beautifully changing colors, to that cozy “in-between” sweater weather, to flavors and scents that intoxicate us with warmth — Fall is a force to be reckoned with by the other sorry 9 months of our calendar year.

To celebrate truly the most wonderful time of the year, here is my fall bucket list (some of which I’ve already completed):

  1. Go apple picking.
  2. Hoard apple cider and cider donuts in the home. 
  3. Bake a bunch of yummy treats with said apples.
  4. Drink pumpkin spice lattes and coffee repeatedly.
  5. Watch Hocus Pocus. More than once.
  6. Take a few scenic drives around New England.
  7. Have a Croc Pot cooking marathon all month.
  8. Make warm, boozy concoctions for nights in.
  9. Dress up the cats for Halloween.
  10. Eat lots of squash in varying forms.
  11. Embrace fall fashion; plaid, boots, hoodies, deep colors.
  12. Enjoy walks during lunch and after work in the most perfect temperature.
  13. Watch 5 horror movies I’ve never seen and a bunch of classics.
  14. Hoard fall-scented candles and revel in their perfect aromas.
  15. Start reintroducing beanies and knit hats to the wardrobe.
  16. Go to a haunt even though I am the most petrified.
  17. Have a Walking Dead premiere viewing event.
  18. Pair scarves with every outfit possible.
  19. Carve pumpkins (and give to someone who has an actual yard).
  20. Roast the pumpkin seeds and become instantly happy.
  21. Relish in the fact that fall “witch” makeup is so in right now. Give me all the crimson and black.
  22. Wear fuzzy socks and squish my toes in them because SO SOFT.
  23. Visit many of the Salem Haunted Happenings attractions.
  24. Go to a Rocky Horror live audience showing (even though I am a live show virgin and will probably get hazed).
  25. Go to Topsfield Fair for the first time in many years.
  26. Eat a turkey leg because, fair foods.
  27. Read a book under my new cable knit blanket.
  28. Sit outside by the fire with a beer and friends.
  29. Celebrate Dan’s Halloween birthday however his heart desires.
  30. Top my fall-inspired birthday desserts from year’s past.
  31. Photograph everything and look back when Fall is over.

To help keep me on track, I’ve found this awesome photo-a-day challenge for October that I’ll participate in on my Instagram page.
October photo challenge

I look forward to enjoying my favorite season with family and friends. A gallery of all my memories is sure to follow. ☪