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.

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. ☪

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.

xoxo.

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

Fifty-seven days

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In 57 days I will turn the age that was the inspiration behind this blog. In the traditional world, this age bears no milestone. It holds no symbolism behind it except as another year in the books. In my world, this age holds the key to a new door, and a new chance at life.

This key opens the door into my 27th year. In the 365 days leading up to this, I have experienced significant gains and losses in the form of weddings, weight, work, and (self) worth. If age was a food, this one was a putrid bowl of brussel sprouts. In other words, come 57 days from now I don’t want shut the door on 26 for good, but I sure as hell can’t wait to slam it.

27 means a chance to regain myself physically and mentally, and to remove the shadow that’s been looming overhead as 26 continued to gray the color in my life.

I’m getting a jumpstart on a few things before it’s time to blow out the candles and celebrate.

  • Facebook: gone. Facebook’s mission statement reads, “Facebook gives people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” The power? Too much. The sharing? Way too much. More open? Yes, but not open-minded. More connected? I beg to differ. — Back in 2009 when this was written I may have agreed because I had a fresh, (fairly) new digital play-thing to explore. In 2014 I’d like to take their mission statement and replace the first word with “Humanity.” It’s time to disconnect and reconnect. I think you know what I mean.
  • Health: back in action. I have come to realize that when my emotions are at an all-time high, my health decisions reach an all-time low. I was able to come off my anxiety/depression medicine at one end of the spectrum, and consume 4-5 bottles of wine per week at the other. Vegetables were replaced by things that came in a box. Exercise meant walking from the parking lot into a building, or cleaning the house “vigorously”. Remember that fit and fiery girl who walked a marathon just 4 days before the 26th year of doom entered her life? Yeah, she’s coming back.
  • Art: give me all the checkmarks. I’ve been writing (example: this), I’ve been playing music (and recording), I’ve been DIYing. These are the things that make me me. They were living under a miserable monotonous rock for too long, but my left-brained self finally smacked the shit out of my right-brained self.

So with the above, I continue to ramp up for the next best year of my life. In 57 days Chapter 27 will begin. The scariest part is the words aren’t on the paper yet. The best part is the words aren’t on the paper yet because those awesome experiences are yet to come.

Let’s do this.