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. 🙂

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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

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.

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.