Salem Willows

Chapter 27 Begins

I originally started this blog 57 days before my birthday with the intentions of picking up the pieces of my life, a prologue of sorts. I succeeded in preparing myself for new discoveries, new outlooks, and new beginnings. 57 days is not a lot of time in the grand scheme of life, but was exactly what I needed.

Now, Chapter 27 is here.

This weekend I not only celebrated another candle on the cake, but learning to live and love all over again. The best gifts were not wrapped, the best moments were not filtered, the best feelings were not interrupted. I can only show you a glimpse into some of my celebrations over the past few days, but know that my heart is full. This has been a year of turmoil, in which the impending date of September 13 only seemed to symbolize leading myself down the rabbit hole for another year. To celebrate triumph, however, was that one extra candle on the cake, for good luck and good fortune. To quote Alice herself, “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” It’s nice to know we both were able to leave that rabbit hole behind, and find our sense of wonder again.

For now, I will leave you with the visual representation of what my first days of Chapter 27 looked like. And here’s to many, many more.


Dinosaur Planters

Plantimals by Jill: Crafty Creations are Serious Business

Last year I saw these off-kilter planters online, that housed little plants in weird plastic toys. I NEEDED to own one, but not for the steep price of $40 the website was asking. I knew I could make these myself for a lot less money, with a lot more personality.

So, I made one. Then I made three more.

Dinosaur Planters

First batch of dinosaurs from left to right: Waldo Who-Knows-A-Saurus (blue), Betty Bronto, Brutus Bronto (green),  and Tally T-Rex (hot pink)

I realized I loved making these little guys and thought, “maybe I could sell them for far less than the ones I saw online, and share the awesomeness of my weird crafts with others.”

So I kept experimenting, and then I made one that caught someone’s attention online. And they bought two!

Shark Cactus

Dun dun dun dun. Cactus Jaws, watch out for Kitty.

So here we are. I’ve spent much time in the past few days ramping up my little shoppy, and I present to you: Plantimals by Jill!

I turn play things into plant things. Select from pre-made critters or send me a request for a custom order!

For now I will be servicing those on the North Shore of Massachusetts, because I don’t feel comfortable shipping delicate plants to protect the integrity of the product. Delivery within reason or pickup only. When I begin crafting with air plants, I will launch Etsy, and expand to friends all over the US!

I’m so excited to get this side hobby jobby rolling. I hope you’ll consider supporting my efforts, and share with your networks that might be interested in a new plant pal!

For your convenience, you can also find us on Instagram: @plantimalsbyjill

Cosmetic Psychopharmacology Took Over my 20s and Now I’m Getting Out (Part I)

I recently discovered one of the better Thought Catalog posts buried in their growing daily collection of male and female bashing/love advice that inspired me to tell my own story. I didn’t even understand the topic until I dove into the content, soon realizing I was unwillingly a part of this “Cosmetic Psychopharmacology” culture.

To quickly define, that mouthful refers to a term “coined in 1990 by the psychiatrist Peter D. Kramer … [referring to] the use of drugs to move persons from a normal psychological state to another normal state that is more desired or better socially rewarded.” This is often thought of in the same manner as plastic surgery; going from “undesirable” to “beautiful” via physical enhancements to meet conventional standards.

Happy Pills

Just recently I’ve come to terms with and reflected upon an 8-year experience that is unnervingly relatable to the OP: I’m coming off psychoactive drugs and I can feel every bit of the process. What I mean by that is the withdrawal is a real (often surreal) experience, and mirrors the effects of actually feeling a lot WORSE than when I was initially “saved” by these happy pills. I’d like to talk about this experience in two parts, one from the medical perspective of a drug review, and one from a personal perspective of how said drug affected me for nearly a decade. The drug spotlight is on Risperdal, an antipsychotic used to treat schizophrenia and symptoms of bipolar disorder.

We’ll begin with a bit of context. For one, I am not bipolar, nor schizophrenic. I also do not have autism (which this drug has also been used to treat). I was diagnosed with depression and severe anxiety, with a focus on racing thoughts, when I was 20 years old. I was initially put on Klonopin, a drug that affects chemicals in the brain that may become unbalanced and cause anxiety and panic disorders. The problem with this was simple: I was a 20-year old that had never been able to manage their anxiety for 7 years in a healthy way, and I was put on a drug that is highly addictive (it’s one of those coveted scripts any pill-popper would die to buy from you). So, addiction happened, and really fast. I don’t think I made it 4 days without abusing the shit out of this medication, which led to a re-evaluation of my mental health, and my drug cocktail.

The new solution was a combo of Celexa (an anti-depressant) paired with Risperdal. The Risperdal dosage was much smaller than Celexa’s, however the intensity of the drug far surpassed its partner. To put it in perspective: when I went on the medication, the doctor did forewarn I would be quite drowsy, as Risperdal is primarily a sedative. Drowsy was an understatement. I slept for nearly 3 days straight. My parents and I were mid-conversation one of those days and I nearly fell out of my chair as I passed out fully upright. Fast forward 8 years on the drug, and this temporary effect was the least of my worries. Here’s a list of Risperdal’s side effects. Everything in bold is one that I’ve experienced over the last 8 years, some of which have lasted the entire duration:

  • aggressive behavior
  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • changes in vision, including blurred vision
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • inability to move the eyes
  • increase in amount of urine
  • loss of balance control
  • mask-like face
  • memory problems
  • muscle spasms of the face, neck, and back
  • problems with urination
  • restlessness or need to keep moving (severe)
  • shuffling walk
  • skin rash or itching
  • stiffness or weakness of the arms or legs
  • tic-like or twitching movements
  • trembling and shaking of the fingers and hands
  • trouble sleeping
  • twisting body movements
  • back pain
  • chest pain
  • sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arms, or legs
  • confusion
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • extreme thirst
  • fast, shallow breathing
  • fast, weak heartbeat
  • headache
  • lip smacking or puckering
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle cramps
  • pale, clammy skin
  • poor coordination
  • puffing of the cheeks
  • rapid or worm-like movements of the tongue
  • shivering
  • unusual bleeding or bruising
  • constipation
  • cough
  • diarrhea
  • dry mouth
  • increased dream activity
  • increased length of sleep
  • nausea
  • sleepiness or unusual drowsiness
  • sore throat
  • stuffy or runny nose
  • unusual tiredness or weakness
  • weight gain
  • absent, missed, or irregular menstrual periods
  • breast swelling or soreness
  • darkening of skin color
  • decreased interest in sexual intercourse
  • joint pain
  • loss in sexual ability, desire, drive, or performance
  • loss of voice
  • oily skin
  • pain or tenderness around the eyes and cheekbones
  • stomach pain
  • toothache

Okay, so first of all: holy shit – that is a long list of issues to encounter when taking a medication (63). Secondly, I have experienced 35 of these side effects while on-boarding, continually using, and withdrawing from Risperdal. In other words, more than 50% of the side effects this drug kindly offers I have suffered! Knowing what I know now, what I have been through, and how I feel, this drug significantly hurt me more than helped me. At which point was there a discussion with me, or my parents (considering I was not in the best health), about such side effects? At which point was it explained why this drug was the “solution” given its irrelevancy to my diagnosis? There was none. There was no conscious effort to alert me or my family of what this drug could potentially do to me, and what my other options were.

“Take this and you’ll feel better,” is said in variations to those of us that are ailing as we’re handed a piece of paper that is the gateway to our newfound happiness. And we, in our moment of weakness, trust it. But is it really a happy pill after all if it causes 35 problems when setting out to fix just 1?

Happy Pills

In the second part of this topic, I will dive into more detail on how the bolded effects above impaired me, and how getting out of Cosmetic Psychopharmacology is the right choice for me. Until then, I hope this gives a little insight for those that are taking psychoactive drugs to assess the help vs. hurt they, too, are experiencing in their journey to a better mental state of being.

I was Supposed to Get Married Today

Today is August 30, 2014 and it was supposed to be my wedding day. I was planning a whimsical day of nuptials at Coney Island, with roller coaster vows, a food truck caterer, and a reception connected to the famous Freak Show theater. I was going to wear a polka dot dress, hold a bouquet of pinwheels, and forever give myself away to someone I love. All of that isn’t happening. Except the last part. That’s still happening, just not according to plan.

Earlier this year I canceled my wedding plans. Took back my vendor deposits. Took off my ring. This led to me deciding to separate completely from my significant other. To move out. To try dating someone else. To forget the last four years of our lives because things were broken. I thought they were irreparably broken. I thought doing something new and fresh would relieve my symptoms of monotony, frustration, unhappiness. I thought I would rediscover myself instead of continually sinking my own individuality for a relationship that wasn’t what it used to be. I thought it would be a breath of fresh air. In actuality, the last 8 months have felt like breathing while someone’s holding a plastic bag over my head. And as each day went on, the bag got a little tighter, the breath a bit more recycled, the will to try and carry on life in that way a lot less desirable.

I realized I was not satisfied with the current state of our relationship upon ending a wedding and long term commitment. But I also realized that I became significantly more destructive and miserable without him. And I learned that love doesn’t quit.

Love isn’t flawless, flaws empower and keep it honest. Love takes its makeup off at the end of the day, love bares it all: pimples, oily hair, stretch marks, tears, chipped nail polish, bad breath, smelly feet. Love is feeling on top of the world in your best outfit and lipstick, love is feeling next to nothing in sweatpants and a hoodie, and love is all those other in between moments. Love is #nofilter. Love is being offline. Love thrives in times of happiness, but doesn’t cower in times of distress. Love doesn’t care what those on the outside think. Love doesn’t stop unless it isn’t real to begin with. Love understands when mistakes are made, love understands when you slip away. The thing about love is it won’t let you forget what you abandoned. Every new situation you put yourself in, you compare, you analyze, you don’t feel 100% yourself. That’s because you left a bit of you behind.

Despite going through some very unimaginable things in a short 7 months that felt terribly long,  I feel undeniably grateful that I found that little bit of me that was missing. And it was where I left her all along. He kept her safe, he kept her close. We just needed a new perspective, and a new approach to what was always there.

So today is August 30, 2014 and it was supposed to be our wedding day. He will be going to tech someone else’s wedding at his job (how ironic). Then we’ll be going to a lobster bake with my family. We will end the evening with cats and Netflix. It might be lacking the frills and finesse of what we had originally planned, but one thing will still happen today as originally intended: we will still say “I love you” and we will still mean it. And that is why I can’t be upset. Although I’m really pissed I can’t get a Nathan’s hot dog on the Coney Island boardwalk. You win some, you lose some — I’ll get over the hot dog. 🙂

I love you. Thank you for being my light at the end of a very dark tunnel. I’m glad we’ve found the surface, again.

He and She

Loved by All, Except Himself: Robin Williams

It’s a unanimous feeling across the world – those aware of Robin Williams’s passing are deeply upset. We all have our own individual reasons for the resonating feelings of sorrow and sympathy: some people grew up on his films, some people loved his stand-up comedy, some people were his friends and family, some people simply appreciated the way his humor was contagious.

There’s a deeper underlying reason why many of us are sad that goes beyond the sudden death of Robin Williams; a man who committed his life to making us happy couldn’t reciprocate that feeling on the inside. A man loved by all of us couldn’t love himself. Robin WilliamsI know a lot of conversation has sparked around depression and self-harm in the short few days Robin Williams has been gone. While I can appreciate the sentiment behind a more proactive approach to mental health, those of us who have battled depression and self-infliction know that it takes more than a Tweet, 20/20 special, or hashtag to feel like someone is out there on our side. In fact, most of the people inciting major promotional movements behind these issues probably don’t understand what it really feels like to be the end user of those campaigns.

I am a digital marketer, sufferer of depression, and prior sufferer of self-harm. I can tell you that I don’t care about hotlines, Tweets, hashtags, branded swag, or inspirational selfies. Those initiatives, while respected for the intent behind them, are not what I need. I need the few people in my life I trust to be educated on what I’m going through, and to become diligent and aware enough to know when their help is needed. Because I won’t always ask.

I know when I first showed signs of depression and anxiety, I had already been heavily self-inflicting as a young teen in the late 90s. I was frustrated with being miserable long before someone noticed. You don’t really know what to look for if the knowledge isn’t out there. With the current widespread push to acknowledge mental health issues on an equal level with physical health issues, there are more resources and more resolutions. With that comes more campaigns, crusades, causes. The problem is that many of these are directed at the sufferer, and most of the time that person is too far in to help themselves.

I haven’t self-inflicted in nearly 13 years. I’m grateful that my support system was able to help direct me towards healthier solutions to my mental barriers. Currently, I still battle anxiety and bouts of depression, which have led to minor addictive habits with alcohol and medication in the past. I can tell you something, though; when I am in my weakest moments where I feel like I can’t get past these barriers alone, I don’t turn to Twitter, or the TV, or a hotline. I turn to those I love, and those I trust. Those people have built an awareness to my mental health issues over the years, and have endlessly instilled their trust to me to use them as an outlet before I get too far in again. I have had slip-ups, I’m still human, but I can confidently say that if it wasn’t for them being in the back of my head at all times, those slip-ups would have been far worse.

I don’t want to speak for the entire community that battles these mental health issues, because some of these campaigns have certainly aided in their recovery. I do want to speak as someone who has experienced the ultimate feeling of hopelessness: a firm hard look in the eye from a loved one with emotion and dedication to getting you better because they know you cannot do it for yourself leaves a far bigger impression than the ones companies are paying for through Promoted Tweets, TV spots, or hashtagged tees. I hope that as these movements grow, they grow in the appropriate ways: to educate outsiders looking in on those battling mental health issues and how to know when it’s time to intervene, and what to do. That is what will save lives.

To bring it back full circle, I am sad for many reasons that Robin Williams is no longer here. I am sad his depression skewed his vision on life, and how he impacted all of ours. I am sad his self-worth disappeared, leaving the personalities of Mrs. Doubtfire, the Genie, John Keating, and Dr. Maguire as only memories while we mourn. I am sad that one of his famous lines became his reality:

I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.”

              — Robin Williams as Lance Clayton (2009, World’s Greatest Dad)

If you feel like someone in your life is struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health barriers, don’t make them feel alone because you don’t see the signs. They already do that to themselves. Utilize the many resources available and educate yourself. Use the Promoted Tweets, hotlines, TV specials; because they most likely won’t. Reach out, and take action. There’s no other solution.

Mr. Robin Williams, this is how I will always remember you. An endless source of light when things feel dark. I hope you find your soul again, wherever you are now.

Robin Williams

                                                           O Captain, My Captain (1951-2014)

Live from my Living Room: The History of #JillWineCovers

One thing a lot of people don’t know about me is that I love to play music. I’ve been playing and singing for about half of my life, yet only a handful of people have seen me “perform”. This is due primarily to my stage fright, anxiety, and lack of confidence. Somehow, a room with sleeping cats is far less intimidating than a place full of people. This year I have been branching out with my music using social media to gain feedback from complete strangers in hopes that I can try out an open mic, record a full song, and feel like the musician I am on the inside to the rest of the world.

It started when I was a 14-year-old girl admiring the many pop punk stars that were plastered on my bedroom walls. What I would have given to hop on stage and sing with the Madden brothers in Good Charlotte, or whip a mic rope around with Adam Lazzara. I begged my parents to let me get a guitar and learn to play. A hand-me-down acoustic from a friend  kicked off my dream. When my mother saw me holed up in my room one day self-teaching posture and technique (and  Christmas jingles), she realized I was serious. She scored a guitar lesson package at my school’s auction and off I went into pseudo-rock stardom. I ended up falling in love at each lesson with not only the music, but learning new styles and skill sets along the way. The studio eventually hired me to teach younger children how to play, as I advanced in my own lessons with the studio manager. Sadly, I took off to college out of state so I had to leave the Music Box, but I continued my lessons in Jersey at school. I was learning to fingerpick and read sheet music that resembled drunk hieroglyphics. I was really becoming a talented musician, stylistically and technically. The one thing I was too shy to do was test out my voice against my guitar playing.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself back in Boston to finish out college, moving into a Brighton apartment and living on my own for the first time at age 22. My roommate was not moving in for a few months, so I had the whole one-bed split to myself during the winter of 2009. In between school, making new friends, trying my hand at online dating, and surviving on ramen, I decided to lay down a few tracks of cover songs I enjoyed. I slapped some vocals and guitar together in GarageBand as best as I knew how (not very well) and threw the tracks up on MySpace (here I go showing my age). Coincidentally after, I started dating a musician and he revealed that he listened to my Cobra Starship cover every night before bed because he loved it so much. Creepy? Hell no. That was the gateway to me believing that I actually didn’t sound like a fork in a garbage disposal (an Uncle Jesse reference I have always loved).

Fast forward a few more years and I found myself living in a huge, 2-floor apartment outside the city with too many rooms and not enough furniture. The dining room we didn’t even know existed when we checked out the place remained unfinished, considering we ate most meals on the couch like true 20-somethings. The best part about this was the incredible acoustics this room created, as well as a space to set up my PA and really jam out the way I’ve always wanted to. In order to loosen up, I would bring a glass wine with me while I practiced my favorite songs. This ended up turning into a habitual thing, eventually finding myself comfortable enough to record a video, eventually ending up on Instagram and Facebook.

#JillWineCovers was born. I use the hashtag to categorize all my videos on Instagram so people can find them easily, and also because I’m so edgy in the year 2014 (no.). At this point, I’ve received a lot of feedback from friends, family, and complete strangers about how they’ve enjoyed my covers. It feels even more awesome when those comments come to you in real life (from other musicians who you admire). It feels even more surreal when your best friend sends you a video of your godson eating lunch, then hearing your cover on Facebook and smiling and dancing happily to your voice (yes, I cried). So here I am now, looking to branch past 15 seconds of song and lay down a full version on YouTube, SoundCloud, and somewhere IRL that serves alcohol so I can avoid fainting upon arrival. I hope you’ll support me in endeavors, as this has been one of the hardest confidence barriers to overcome. Here’s a taste, and you can tell me what you think. Hope to see you soon jamming out somewhere!


Chez Jill: Mushrooms, Mexican, MMMM

One thing I have been excited to dabble in again is my “love” for cooking. I use the term loosely only because the conditions in which I cook are specific: prep and cook time must either fall under 1 hour of work, or be split among two days. I have found if cooking exceeds these limits, I no longer have the desire to eat what I produce.

Cooking for me has to be a creative process; one that takes a dish to new levels of flavor and ingredients. Also, the emphasis on being health-conscious is important – taking a comfort dish that lacks nutritional value, and turning it into one using alternative fixings. I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe’s and came to discover that their website has a library of recipes, all of which sound mouth-watering.

I bookmarked ten and decided on 3 dishes for last week’s dinner:

Portabella Mushroom Pizzas

Portobello Pizza Recipe

I love pizza. If pizza were a man, he would be my soul mate, ‘til indigestion do us part. Let’s face it though; pizza is not the reigning champ in diet dishes. This recipe cans most of the carbs by subbing in Portobello caps for crust. I added a dollop of tomato sauce to each before sprinkling with sundried tomatoes and freshly diced mozzarella. Pop in the oven for ten minutes, add some fresh arugula to the top, and let cook for another 8-10 minutes (once your mozz is melted). A meal that takes 5 minutes to prep, 20 minutes to cook, and represents my favorite junk food is a triple win. But how do they taste? Flavorful, juicy, pizza-y. Sold!

Crock Pot Chicken Chile Verde

Chile Chicken Verde Recipe

Sometimes I forget that even though it’s summertime, I can still utilize my crock-pot. This recipe inspired me to dust it off and make a meal of epic proportions (literally, I had leftovers for days). This meal was a 2-day prep process, but required very little effort. I diced the veggies the night before and defrosted the chicken thighs. Before work, I combined all ingredients in the pot to cook on low for 8 hours. Once I got home, my house smelled fantastic and all I had left to do was boil the jasmine rice and simmer the black beans. The meal in pieces looked great, but assembled looked phenomenal. A scoop of rice, the shredded chile chicken mix over the top, black beans on the side, and a dollop of sour cream. Garnish with cilantro and a spritz of lime juice. It may sit pretty on a plate, but how did it taste? Savory, a bit spicy, just enough salt, and the right amount of sour. All the flavors you expect in a fulfilling Mexican dish. Eating leftovers for 3 days wasn’t even a chore this time around.

Carne Asada Tacos

Carne Asada Tacos Recipe

I adapted this recipe a bit to tacos rather than salad, considering I had corn tortillas to use. The magic behind this recipe is the carne asada you can get prepared at Trader Joe’s. It’s undeniably delicious and you don’t have to do the legwork to get those spices just right. The other secret to success is to make homemade guac to add as filler, rather than just avocado slices. Dice some onion, tomato, and cilantro, toss in a bowl with sliced avocado, a dash of salt and pepper, and spritz with lime juice. Then MUSH. Once you’ve seared your steak and gooped your guac, add to a corn tortilla. Top with some diced tomato, onion, cilantro, shredded cheese, and a dash of green Tabasco sauce. Make two tacos, and pair with chips and salsa for a light meal, heavy on the flavor.

I still have coconut chicken and pork belly tacos to try out next week. 🙂

What are some recipes you have tried lately? Always looking to source new ideas in the kitchen!