This blog is a collection of a young woman's random thoughts, many tangents, and occasional
short stories and novel excerpts. Stay tuned for plenty of bull and brief moments of brilliance.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

#Baking2017: A Year in Review

I know I’m still a month away from the official end of my #Baking2017, but it felt close enough to take a look back. Here I’ve posted all the recipes I’ve done this year so far, starting with the first ones I made in January to a batch made last night. I still have four more sets on the docket for this year (gingerbread men, raspberry linzer, double chocolate crinkle, and peppermint mocha cookies), but I have to say this entire journey has been amazing. And truth be told, it’s impacted me more than I anticipated.
Red velvet chocolate chip, chewy brown sugar, peanut butter kiss, sea salt dark chocolate, oatmeal raisin, carrot cake, toffee potato chip, double layer chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting, and gingersnaps.

I started off this year with my first bout of depression in about 3 years and simultaneously knew I had enjoyed the two or three times I’d made cookies in the past. I wasn’t a baker by any means and lovingly referred to myself as a hopelessly terrible cook. Never did I think I could bake 1) with any consistency or 2) with any shred of talent.

When I start new hobbies, I have a habit of burning myself out or picking things that are unsustainable. For instance, I loved my cross-stitching times of a few years ago, but I could only make so many pieces before it became cluttered. I also didn’t enjoy making pieces for others because it felt like a job, or at the very least I didn’t like it as much. I didn’t want to make things and sell them either. I had to find something that I enjoyed for me.

One of my favorite things about my mom growing up was the freshly baked cookies. It wasn’t every day, but occasionally when I’d come home from school and open the front door, the smell of my mom’s amazing oatmeal chocolate chip cookies would fill the air. If I close my eyes right now, I’m back in that kitchen, with the white cabinets and cut out cartoon bug decals my mom put on the doors, and she’s there with me. I remember helping her make peanut butter kiss cookies around the holidays. She’d always put a bowl of sugar next to the dough and sometimes I’d get to roll the ball in the sugar before putting it on the baking sheet.

I’ve always loved cookies but again, I was suffering from both the I-don’t-care-about-anything-right-now part of depression and the fear of starting something new. So when I began 2017 I decided to make a promise to myself to bake at least once every two weeks; it seemed manageable enough to me. For the first half of the year, I tagged every baking photo with #BakingAwayDepression until I reached my cocoa mint chocolate chip cookies. It was the first time I felt weird about using the hashtag and I realized it was because I wasn’t sad anymore. I posted the picture with it anyways out of reflex, but in that moment it washed over me, the realization: I felt okay again.
Lemon drop, cocoa mint chocolate chip, raspberry almond thumbprints, chocolate covered cookie dough pretzel bites, cake batter chocolate chip, inside out chocolate chip, strawberry chocolate chip, glazed lemon blueberry scones, and snickerdoodles.

My depression seems rather cyclical. It pops up once every 2-4 years for about 3-6 months at a time. It’s angering and exhausting when it visits but I’ve gotten better at dealing with the empty feelings. I try to make an effort to acknowledge the feelings and then put them aside so I don’t feel like I’m going crazy or imagining anything. The nagging feeling of imagining my own feelings has been one of the biggest hurdles of my adult life.

Throughout the year I baked at different points. I baked on Saturday mornings in the hot kitchen in the summertime when I’d have to put some ingredients in the freezer to keep them from melting. Other times, I baked when Lou was out of town and enjoyed the silence and isolation of making something. I baked on nights after work in a frenzy to finish the dough with enough time to chill. I baked before trips to bring goodies to friends and family. I’d bake while playing music most of the time, loud blaring pop music I’d take breaks to dance to between batches of sweets. I danced a lot to Kesha’s “Rainbow” album, and the last week it’s been to Christmas music.

I baked when I was happy and feeling on top of the world. I baked when I was worried Lucy was dying when we were awaiting a potential cancer diagnosis that luckily never came. I baked when I felt lonely or stressed out. I baked when I felt nothing at all and it just felt nice to have my hands in something and be doing monotonous activities. When I bake, I don’t have to think about anything other than the next ingredient, if the oven is preheating, and if the dough is far enough away that Lucy can’t grab it when I’m not looking. At various points my once every two weeks margin started to close and for the past couple months, more often than not I’ve been baking on a weekly basis.

Over the year, my skills have definitely improved. I have better tools, both in my knowledge and actual physical baking utensils. My food photography is improving slowly but surely. I’m feeling more confident about trying harder recipes in 2018. Macarons are my favorite cookie in the world and I’ve been terrified to try them in earnest but I have a feeling that will soon change.

2017 has been a year of growth in many ways for me. I’ve paid attention more to what goes in my body, I’m trying to work out (unsuccessfully most of the time) more, I’m trying to be less hard on myself and love my body. I’m trying to feel less guilty for existing or having feelings that aren’t always positive. In 2018, I want to build upon what I’ve learned this year and try to do even more. I want to take even better care of my skin, work out more, get better at makeup, and above all else make a great batch of macarons.

This year has been weird and wonderful and kind of amazing. But more than anything, it’s been delicious. So I want to take a moment and say thank you. Thank you to anyone who took the time to watch an Instagram story that was mostly composed of baking, looked at my baked goods, or even sampled them for me (especially my husband, who’s had many, many cookies in ’17). Thank you for being with me so far, and I’m excited to see what I can do next year.
Pumpkin cinnamon chip, Autumn spice, apple chai pie, pumpkin cupcakes, cookie dough dip, white chocolate macadamia, sugar cut-out Christmas cookies, glazed cranberry orange scones, and soft peanut butter cookies.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Me Too: Four Stories

I didn’t feel like writing this yesterday, selfishly. I was having a weird headspace day and didn't feel like thinking about this.

I remember the first friend I had who was assaulted in college freshman year. I knew it happened, I knew it would someday happen to someone I knew, but it was still a shock to my system. It stayed with me. I remember the second friend, the third, the fourth, the fifth. I remember holding one friend and telling her repeatedly as she cried that it wasn’t her fault over and over, not now, not ever.

I know that there’s been mixed reactions to the “me too” social media posts for various reason. But seeing people write, “Me too,” not knowing which side of the coin they’re commenting on, has made me feel closer, in the saddest possible way, to the other women on my newsfeed. It’s something we all knew subconsciously, of course women are assaulted and most every woman has been harassed, but something about that visibility, not for men but for our fellow woman, has touched me these past few days.

I have four stories I want to share.

1) When I was young, I want to say 13, I was going to the library to study and read books. I remember I really wanted to go over to Starbucks but my mom made me promise that I stay at the library until afterwards. I thought to myself, “It’s only a couple blocks away, mom won’t know.” So I left the library on my pursuit for peppermint hot chocolate. It was a sunny summer day and the hot chocolate was a weird choice for summer, but I was a weird kid so it fits. Young teen me hadn’t started puberty yet, was full of braces, and had a very unflattering short cropped haircut. I wouldn’t get my period for another year. My mom still dressed me for the most part and I’m sure whatever I was wearing involved a lot of brightly colored cotton, or maybe a black Paul Frank shirt if she was letting me feel adventurous. There were probably some Converse shoes in the mix.

I was walking back on a typically busy street in downtown Whitefish Bay. As I passed the local pharmacy I also passed the liquor store and a man in a white t-shirt came out. He walked close behind me and asked if I liked movies. I think I replied, “Yes,” because I didn’t know what else to do, but it didn’t feel right. He said, “What kind of movies do you like?” I started to walk faster. He also sped up. My heart was beating fast so I crossed the street, and he followed my step. I panicked and ran into the variety store across the street and through the aisles, darting back and forth and going to the basement. I came back up the basement stairs and went to the bagel shop next door to use the payphone. I had lost him in the variety store (I couldn’t remember if he’d followed me in or not) and was crying. I called my mom and told her to come get me.

She was furious at me and I’m sure freaked out herself, but the main emotion I remember feeling from her was anger. I wasn’t supposed to leave the library and I’d disobeyed her. I told her about the man following me and how scared I was, and she took me to the police station. The rest is a haze, I think out of embarrassment I blocked some of it out. I remember sitting with an officer and my mom, trying to give a description of the guy. I was embarrassed I couldn’t remember anything about him, mainly because he was behind me and I didn’t want to turn around and look him in the eye. I was embarrassed I was wasting everyone’s time. I could tell from the officer and my mom that I wasting everyone’s time. I muttered a vague description of him and we left. I was in trouble for the rest of the day for leaving the library without permission. Somehow, I felt, this was my fault. If I had stayed at the library, none of this would have happened.

2) Going into college, I had never drank before then (minus a half a beer I drank at a friend’s graduation party) and had barely kissed anyone. I was very much so a virgin. My first Friday or Saturday of my freshman year I wanted to go to a real house party and be a college kid. I met some girls on my floor and some of their friends as well and we ended up going to a house party. I had on a short skirt, a chunky necklace that didn’t really go with it, and some kitten heels. I felt really cool.

When we got to the party, I was handed a beer right away. I sipped at the foam on top but being the weird anxious ball of energy that I was, I was too terrified to drink and set my drink down somewhere. I headed upstairs because my friend wanted another. The keg was near empty and three guys were guarding it, waiting for the other to arrive. One of the guys said I should sit on his lap and wait for it to arrive. No guy had ever genuinely flirted with me, let alone so aggressively, and I felt weird saying no. I sat on his lap and instantly realized it was a bad idea. The other two guys were seated across from him and one smirked at me, and while I sat on his friend’s lap, reached over and kissed me. I kissed him back, but realized his friend was grabbing at my skirt. I reached back and pulled my skirt back down. The guy whose lap I was sitting on started feeling for my panty lines and laughing as he and his friends started to guess what kind of underwear I was wearing. He grabbed me in a hug from behind and his friends asked me what dorm I was in. They asked if I wanted to come over, both of them reaching to touch my thighs. I laughed uncomfortably and said no, shifting in his lap and trying to get out. They were persistent. They didn’t want me to leave, said I was being a tease.

Out of nowhere, I felt my arm yanked, and realized my friend was literally pulling me out of that room. She yelled to them, “You better fucking leave her alone!” and we ran out of the party. I was near tears when we got out. We ran into other friends shortly thereafter and got sidetracked, but I won’t ever forget that friend doing that for me. If those three boys had gotten me back to their dorm room at Slater, I don’t know what would have happened to me. I felt incredibly guilty for the rest of the night. I was a slut and had asked for that entire interaction. This is a story I rarely tell people, because it doesn’t make me look good. It makes me look easy, I tell myself, it makes me look desperate. But I try to remind myself I didn’t want them to touch me like that.

3) When I was in college, I wasn’t super cool (there’s a pattern developing here). I would go too hard when I’d go out because I thought that drinking was the one “bad” thing I could do since I was otherwise a goody-two-shoes. This, in retrospect, was very stupid. It’s amazing I never fell and hurt myself or got lost or got a ticket. I didn’t drink every weekend or every night, but when I did, I typically blacked out. I 100% thought this was normal.

I believe this story was from second semester freshman year or first semester sophomore year. I was meeting a friend at her apartment complex with another friend. I had never been here before, but it had one of those doors that you have to be buzzed into and locked automatically behind you. Not exactly a dangerous place by any means. My friend was still getting ready upstairs, so the other friend and I waited downstairs. I was wearing a top I probably deemed sexy but was likely more than tame and jeans. I’d been told multiple times by people that you shouldn’t wear skirts often if you’re going out because people would put their hands up them on the dance floor. I accepted this as smart advice without thinking what a fucked thing that is to prepare against. Leaning against a wall trying my hardest to look cool, I saw a group of guys heading out the door.

One looked at me and reached out and grabbed my breast. As soon as he made contact the first thought in my head was, “You should be grateful someone touched you.” He smirked at me as he left, a look that said, “Fuck yeah,” and I remember hearing the door click behind him. My friend’s head had been turned and she hadn’t noticed, out of no fault of hers. I didn’t tell either friend that night. I felt like it was my fault. Had I been flirting with him? Had I done something? I ignored it and tried to pretend this meant I was sexy. I really wanted to be sexy. I went and got drunk.

4) When I was working at a chain steakhouse in Iowa, I was excited because it was my first job that I found genuinely challenging. Our uniforms were anything but sexy; we wore black button-up shirts, non-skinny jeans, and black chunky shoes. I had heard growing up that waitresses were constantly hit on and that it was a job hazard. During our training, I remember the managers explicitly said that if any funny business ever goes down, to get one of them and they’ll take care of it. That made me feel really safe to know that they wouldn’t let people mess with us.

One lunch shift, I was walking by a table and a man in his mid-60s reached out and slapped my butt. It happened in slow motion for me. No one else at his table reacted, scolded their friend, or made any effort to apologize to me. I was so shocked by the situation. It was around 1pm on a weekday and it was a half empty restaurant. I walked away quickly and finished helping my table and went to go find the lunch shift manager.

The manager on the floor at the time was a nice guy and I was sure he would help. I explained that the guy had slapped my ass and the manger just looked tired. I remember he sighed loudly and said, “Look, if I go over there he’s just going to deny it. He’s almost done with his lunch, it’s not your table. Can you just avoid that area until he leaves so we don’t make a big deal out of it?” Oh, I realized, my being slapped on the ass wasn’t a big deal apparently. And I was the one making a big deal? I was angry for the rest of my shift. Nothing like that happened to me again at that location, but I’ll never forget how abandoned I felt in that moment. I never trusted that manager again.

My outfits varied. The locations varied. The perpetrator varied. My age varied. I didn’t want it any of those times. Each of those times I felt small and like I was the problem. But I wasn’t the problem.

Me too.

Monday, April 24, 2017

I Just Want to Bake Cookies

It’s hard not to hate yourself for being sad when nothing is “wrong.”

There’s this self-hatred that goes along with depression, this feeling that you don’t deserve to be sad if nothing is going wrong. And while I know logically that that is not how depression functions, logic isn’t exactly an effective tool here. I fall into depressive bouts about once every three years or so, lasting 3-4 months. The last time I was depressed I was struggling just being out of college and trying to find a better job. I was stressed and short on cash. Life was overwhelming. I didn’t feel guilty being depressed because I thought, “Well duh, there’s a reason.”

I remember my last shift as a waitress. I very nearly resembled Jessie from Breaking Bad laugh sobbing as I drove home into the night, knowing I was moving the next morning and starting a new job that following Monday. About a month later a couple days after Christmas, my then boyfriend, now husband, and a couple friends of ours were all up north at a cabin for a couple days. Nearly a foot of snow fell over our first night there. I remember the second night, walking outside in the brisk air to the edge of the long driveway and looking up at the stars. You couldn’t see stars in our new town of Oak Park well because of the light pollution from​ the city.

I saw the stars and realized two very random things simultaneously: I didn’t believe in God and I wasn’t depressed anymore.

In my head, I thought, “Oh, well you got a new job and new living situation, so that pulled you out of things. Everything’s fine and nothing will ever be bad again.”

There’s a weird adrenaline rush to coming out of depression I’ve found, a sudden clarity of the world’s “realness” and a feeling of enlightenment. Maybe it’s a douchebag-level thrust to reality, or a weird internal sense of superiority to “beating” something, but whatever it is, I felt it that night. My cheeks burned from the cold but I was smiling and couldn’t stop. Everything was okay now.

We don’t like, as a society, when people are sad for no reason. It confuses us, I think, and there’s a subconscious feeling that it’s selfish or egotistical. Most every character I can think of in media that’s depressed mopes around and such, and yet there’s almost always an underlying issue that’s addressed in the end. Or at the very least, the underlying issue is mentioned pointedly as the character’s source of unhappiness. There seems always to be a source.

We don’t like it when there isn’t a source, because then there’s nothing to fix. We want our characters in books and TV and movies to have issues that need actual solving, or the hint that there is some issue present that could be solved. We especially don’t like when characters talk about being sad, unless that sadness is given specificity. We like montages that fix things, big displays of emotion in the end that show a turning, or a brooding character who is deeply flawed but still fascinating. And even when they are “deeply flawed,” there’s usually a reason. Not always, but often.

I get arrogant about my depression in a way I never do about my anxiety. My anxiety is very apparent; I’m not very good at hiding it and it pops out in various ways, whether me snapping and crying for no apparent reason, renewed body dysmorphia, obsessing over things like where the dog’s leash is laid on a countertop, etc.

Genuinely, I hate to say this, but I’m really good at hiding my depression. And the fucked part is I enjoy that. I wear it as a badge of honor, like, “Look how hurt I am but you can’t even tell! I’m amazing!” I’ve always been stubborn and have deep fears of showing weakness I haven’t already decided I’m going to share. Random musings on this blog over the years has turned up the biggest reason I hide my emotions: my mom made me feel shitty when I shared them with her and it scared me into bottling things up. It’s turned into a cycle of being holier than thou about depression, one I know logically isn’t sound but internally makes me feel better.

My depression doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen on TV. I haven’t seen my depression played out in a way I can deeply connect to, and as soon as I feel like I can it’s revealed the character has a drug problem or other underlying issues causing their pain. Louis C.K. on his TV show of the same name came close, but it was a bit too bleak. The closest I’ve ever come to finding something that mimics how I feel is Patton Oswalt’s “Supermarket Depression” joke.

He talks about a time he goes to a grocery story on a Tuesday just to walk around. He ends up in the frozen food aisle looking at a bunch of Lean Cuisines, and as he’s looking at them Toto’s “Africa” starts playing. He says in that moment, he’s never felt so joyously, peacefully suicidal. It wasn’t even despair, he just would have if he could have in that moment.

I love that joke, the entire set up, because I think to a certain person it’s rather alarming and not really funny. Or they think he thought the experience of wandering a grocery store mid-Tuesday was depressing and he was being funny about it. But to a person who has been suicidal, I found it hilarious. I’m not suicidal and haven’t been for years, but the bluntness, the dull edges that tint that otherwise rather straight forward story, the strangely out of place melancholy in a starkly lit grocery store. Depression just is, it exists in that space, even as out of place as it seems. It’s perfect.

Depression, for me, has never been caused by specific circumstances. Aggravated by them, perhaps, but not caused. It more mimics seasonal allergies that will come every so often and can’t be entirely avoided unless you never want to leave your house. Depression is a tiny small friend I hide in my pocket on a day-to-day basis. It’s a gloomy blanket I can wrap myself with and just melt. I just desperately try to be happier.


I’ve been depressed for about a month now. I’m alright. I mean, I’m not, but I’m doing okay. It’s not as bad this time around as others. But the trees are a paler shade of green and food tastes odd, weaker somehow. If my life is a TV show, someone is fucking with the color settings. Things are distorted. Some days, I’m filled with manic energy, threatening to burst from my chest and run away as fast as it can. Other days I want to sulk and try to morph my body to our futon even if it means crumbs accumulating in my bra because I refuse to use a plate. But most days, it’s just practicing normalcy.

That’s probably the easiest way for me to describe depression: someone has taken the parts of my brain that allow me to interact with the world in a normal way and I have to pretend I can until I can.

I’m finding solace in baking, oddly enough. It’s nothing I’ve ever been interested in before this year. I’ve baked, before this, a total of 5-6 things in my entire life. At the start of 2017 I had beginning rumblings of depression looming and wanted to do something. I decided I would start baking, as I liked it the couple times I had done so. An avid baker friend of mine suggested picking one bakery item to focus on and get great at that.

I picked cookies.

Every other week I’m baking a new batch of cookies. So far I’ve done red velvet chocolate chip, chewy brown sugar cinnamon, peanut butter kiss, sea salt dark chocolate, giant oatmeal raisin, carrot cake, and potato chip toffee chocolate chip. This Thursday, I’m going to try to bake my first two layer cake ahead of Luke’s birthday this Saturday. I’m nervous, but I’m excited.

I don’t think baking is going to cure my depression. But I’m a stubborn piece of shit who refuses to open up to therapy and no longer want to use medication after having done so for 11 years. Both of those things are entirely valid and I applaud anyone and everyone they work for. Maybe I am being a stupid piece of shit and I should give therapy another go, but I honestly don’t want to.

I just want to bake cookies. And I’m sad. I want to bake cookies and I’m sad. But I’m okay. I think. At the very least, I’m not not okay. And I think that’s enough for me right now.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Don't Kiss Tipsy Boys in Bathrooms

This is a random story from college I remembered again a couple days ago I felt like sharing.

As I’ve stated previously on this blog, growing up I always had this base understanding in the back of my head that I wasn’t gorgeous. I wasn’t hideous by any means, but I was awkward, a bit pre-pubescent looking until I hit 21, and made terrible fashion choices. When people would describe me, I’d get identifiers like “cute” or “quirky” or “kind,” which always felt like coded was of avoiding actively talking about my physical appearance.

Perhaps it was going to an all-girls high school that was generally uplifting, but I didn’t have a terrible self-image (beyond some long standing body dysmorphia) until I went to college. I hadn’t been allowed to date in high school and quite honestly, didn’t know many people I could have dated. I wasn’t yet comfortable in my sexuality and was desperate for any kind of attention I could receive.

Desperate is an important word here.

My freshman year, the concept of making out with people at parties was not only enticing, it was rebellious in my mind. Up until around the age of 20 I would kiss pretty much anyone who would allow me to come close. My floor freshman year in the dorms was…complicated, to say the least. There was drama on top of drama that seemed to multiply daily. Nevertheless though, the girl’s Writing Floor and the downstairs boy’s Writing Floor spent a lot of time together outside of class.

There was a boy from the downstairs floor I thought was cute and who was generally kind to everyone. For the sake of this story, we’ll call him Steve. Steve had the look of a guy from a Disney live action teen show: perfectly styled hair, hipster clothes that veered more on the side of theater-kid-chic, and big dreamy eyes. He was also relatively gangly (which has always been my type). A lot of the girls on my floor either found him cute or were actively hoping to hook up with him. He had a habit of getting drunk and wandering the halls of the boy's and girl's floor hoping to find someone to make out with. The entire ritual had a high school feel to it, but being someone who hadn’t experienced anything on this level, I was interested.

I was understandably aware that I wasn’t the kind of girl he would be after. To describe 18 year old me as awkward would be a drastic understatement, both in action and dress. But a couple girls knew that I found him cute so one night when someone came up to me and told me Steve was looking for me, I thought it was a prank. “You’re messing with me,” I said with a snort. I was in a causal tee, sweatpants, and was barefoot at the time. Still though I went downstairs and found him standing in the middle of the hallway. I could tell he was tipsy, in the way that someone is just as a party gets going rather than a slosh-fest end of night look. Now, it’s important to note, we were Facebook friends and had hung out a couple times, but only in larger groups and never in a one-on-one context.

“Hey, wanna come here with me?” he said, motioning to the bathroom with his head. I was rather bewildered by the entire experience, but I nodded my head yes. He took me into the boy’s bathroom and started kissing me rather aggressively. I remember the smell of Captain Morgan on his breath, that almost nauseatingly sweet smell that doesn’t go away.

No one had ever kissed me like this, and it was intoxicating. After about ten minutes he stopped suddenly as he heard noises outside. It was getting later and people were starting to hang out in the hallways for entertainment. He peeled away from me quickly, stuck his head outside, and came back over near me. I realized then that he hadn’t looked me in the eye this entire time. He was looking over my head at the tiled wall, thinking. Running his hands through his hair, he turned to me.

“Hey so, here’s what’s going to happen,” he said looking around the entire time. “I’m going to leave and hang out outside, and you,” he reached out and grabbed my shoulders and pushed me back into a bathroom stall behind us. “You’re going to stay in this stall for, say, five minutes, and then you’ll go upstairs. Just don’t…don’t tell anyone about this, okay? This will just be our little secret.”

Smiling a half, pity smile, he closed the door of the stall he’d put me in and instructed me to lock it. He left after straightening his clothes. The last handful of minutes had happened so quick I hadn’t had a chance to gather what had transpired. I remember hearing the swinging door close and trying to feel confident. I told myself, “Holy shit, Molly, I can’t believe that just happened to you. You’re pretty lucky.” I tried to stay positive. This was cool, right?

The sudden realization hit me that I was barefoot in the boy’s bathroom. I still remember the feeling of the cold, dirty tile underneath my toes. Then my face was wet and I didn’t know why. I had tears on my face but I wasn’t actively crying. That feeling of shame, that dense blanket of shame covered me. I had a knot in my stomach.

He didn’t want to be seen with me. When he realized someone could potentially walk in on us, he suddenly wanted nothing to do with me. I had seen him flirt with other girls from the floor and lead them off seductively. Not once had I seen him organize alternative escape routes to avoid being seen together. He’d put me in this bathroom stall to wait, wait until it was okay to leave, wait until it had been long enough that no one would have possibly guessed I had kissed Steve. Wait until he could protect his dignity by not being associated with Molly.

I think he thought I hated myself enough to listen to him, not to tell anyone as a courtesy to him. He was mostly right; I told a couple friends but no one else. When I went back upstairs to the girl’s floor, I tried to play it off as a fun, silly thing. I pretended I was okay with what had happened instead of feeling like used. It was in that moment, back upstairs sitting in the hall on the Writer’s Floor that I felt ugly for the first time. I mentally assessed my short, awkward haircut, my bare feet, and my boxy Hawkeye t-shirt. I had a fading purple streak in my hair that I hadn’t dyed correctly.

It was the last time I remember I let someone I was attracted to make me feel unworthy, at least in the sense of my beauty. That incident stayed with me for a long time, but it served as an important turning point for me not to let my then ever-present desperation supersede my self-worth. I was worth more than that.

I realized a few days later that I had forgotten to mention to him that I had mono (I had shared cake a month previously with someone who had it). In the midst of a soon followed holiday break, someone let me know he had also gotten mono. I apologized profusely to him on Facebook and told other people I felt terrible that I’d forgotten to tell him beforehand.

In truth, I didn’t feel so bad after all.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Beauty in the Little Things: Wedding Day

Our wedding day this past Friday, from start to finish, was perfect. Perfect is a word that gets thrown around a lot and is rarely genuinely meant, but I'm not kidding when I say every tiny aspect of this day was everything I had wanted and more. Since it's been a couple days, I decided to write down my favorite 30 moments from the entire experience. Photos from: Adam Wesley, Ceci Lamonica, Angela Kroner, and myself.

Little things and moments I’ll never forget:
1. Waking up and running around the hotel room yelling, “It’s my wedding day!” and dancing in the shower.
2. Being all dolled up and in my wedding dress while me and all the bridesmaids sat around the hotel room eating Pizza Lunchables.
3. Walking up to Luke and seeing him in his suit for the first time, and getting to see his face when he saw me.
4. Stepping into the venue for the first time and seeing it sunny, beautiful, and everything I had possibly envisioned.

5. Having my dad walk into the venue and seeing me in my dress. He started walking, had to pause for a moment to gather himself, and then gave me the biggest hug.
6. Joe asking the photographer to take pictures of him chasing geese.
7. Seeing Nick dance with Maisey in the empty dance floor pre-ceremony.
8. Luke coming into the kitchen, where I was hidden away pre-ceremony, and having a moment just the two of us before the commotion. He was sitting on a cooler and I was next to a mop bucket. I grabbed his hand, and he smiled into my eyes. It was all I needed.
9. Nick and I sharing a beer in the kitchen before the ceremony.
10. Standing with my dad in the entrance of the ceremony hall with the flood of sun coming in just as the large swell of the processional hit.

11. Luke sobbing when we were finally standing in front of each other at the altar. I started laughing, which made him laugh, and we both snickered while wiping away tears.
12. Looking at Soren and Maisey sitting with Kari and both of them continuously throwing flower petals throughout the ceremony. It kept me from crying the entire time.
13. Luke holding the ring in his hands but forgetting he had to put it on my finger.
14. Me trying to put his ring on the wrong finger.
15. Going up to see the reception hall before everyone else arrived and it being everything I imagined.
16. Taking a moment before the reception to stand outside in the Beer Garden, just the two of us holding each other, looking over the water and the beautiful weather and smiling.
17. Luke carrying me into the reception to “Good Golly Miss Molly” and me smiling so widely my cheeks hurt.

18. All of the reception speeches, but specifically three things:
a. Ross saying to Luke’s parents, “But I just married your kid, so there.”
b. Joe’s entire speech and me crying-laughing so hard my vision was blurry.
c. My dad making his cringe face when telling embarrassing stories about me.
19. Our first dance and talking about the most random mundane things while it happened, which somehow made it more beautiful.

20. My dad and I talking about pop culture references during our father-daughter dance.
21. Taking photos in the misty weather outside in my reception dress by the lake.
22. Singing “Make You Feel My Love” to Luke while we slow danced and him tearing up.
23. Dancing hard to all the early 00’s music with my friends.
24. Knee-slapping circle to “Danger High Voltage” and most people being frightened and confused.
25. Epic late-night photos with the photographer completely changing my mood when I was getting annoyed about a couple small things. It was so romantic and intimate and perfect.
26. Having a drink of scotch with the photographers in the kitchen before they left.
27. The dedication to my mom with “Seasons of Love,” and the giant swaying circle of every wedding guest singing along together. It was more beautiful than I could have anticipated.
28. Everyone dancing really hard to “SOB.”
29. Coming back to chocolate covered strawberries and champagne when we got back to our hotel room.

30. Sitting on the floor of our hotel room, laughing about the day, and sharing a bowl of chili from a small shop around the corner before going to bed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Are We There Yet: A Summary of The Past Year

Today we’re less than one month to the wedding and as the recent weeks have started passing, almost everyone is asking me the same thing, “Are you getting nervous?”

It’s a loaded question. Am I nervous to marry Luke? Lord, no. Am I nervous about the wedding day? I mean, vaguely, in like the “I hope it doesn’t rain because it would make the day easier” and the “I hope I don’t break out a couple days before and that my dress looks bomb.” But because of my anxiety disorder, anticipation is my worst enemy.

This is one of the big reasons I insisted on getting everything done months in advance. Short of finalizing seating charts and printing a couple signs, everything was done for the most part by mid-June. Luke has to take a couple boxes of wine and some signs to my parents this weekend, and I’m getting my last haircut before the wedding this weekend as well. My bridal shower and bachelorette party were last weekend and Luke’s is this. After that, we’re more or less waiting for the days to pass.

This summer has been an odd one, and the past year has just been kind of a fucked up series of events one right after another. Last year during Labor Day weekend, I had some jaw pain and went to my then dentist, who said I needed a root canal even though there was no evidence of needing one on my x-rays. Following this like a week before Luke proposed, I had the root canal but the pain never went away. I spent that fall being over prescribed amoxicillin and going from specialist to specialist, until they found out it wasn’t a tooth problem but TMJ disorder and started me on physical therapy.

Shortly after I started the therapy to loosen my jaw, the over prescription of amoxicillin essentially ended with me being poisoned in the early winter and my being in the hospital until the day before Christmas Eve. The early part of 2016, January-February, was me getting not one but three reinfections. Another specialist was thrown into the mix and nearly every morning that I woke up, I was coated in a thick layer of fear. I lost a lot of weight, weight I still haven’t gained back, and the stress made my TMJ worse. In April I had a really bad bladder infection that led to another ER visit and months of following bladder spasms (all of that happened days before my best friend’s bridal shower and bachelorette party I had planned in Iowa).

Around this time as well I noticed my hair was starting to fall out, and likely was due to the extreme illness at the beginning of the year. Almost 6 months after not being sick, I’m still losing hair on a daily basis and while others can’t really tell, I can feel my ponytail getting smaller. I have about another 2 months or so that I should expect hair loss as new hair is slowly growing back in and am just desperately hoping nothing too extreme falls out before the wedding. I hope my hair stylist on Saturday can give me good news. My best friend’s wedding, for which I was the maid of honor, was also at the end of May. During this entire time as well, I was working to get everything wedding related done as quickly as possible for my own wedding and experiencing a doubling of my workload at work.

June 1st I came home to find out we had to move suddenly from a house I loved. The next weeks were spent finding a new place (which I do honestly love more), trying to figure out money in the midst of recovering financially still from being sick and paying for a wedding, and packing. In July we moved, and shortly after Lucy got sick again. After a month and a half of medication and follow-up tests, luckily she didn’t have stones and finally got better. This month has been last minute minor wedding things and attempting to relax.

The entirety of this year, my anxiety has been on high alert. I can start sobbing at the drop of a hat and my body dysmorphia, as previously expressed, has also been all over the place. I find myself visibly tensing at the most mundane things and can go from happy to freaking out with very little transition. Things are starting to settle in the past month, but it’s almost like after a thunderstorm when you see the random pangs of lightning in the distance even after the storm has passed. Some days are still challenging.

So no, wedding planning has been fine, if anything it’s been the one nice distraction in an otherwise shit year. The one good thing I’ve had to look forward to is this goddamn wedding. It’s kept me going. I chuckle to myself when people assume I’m going to be stressed about the wedding, because knowing my personality I can sort of see why people would think that, but I’m not. I think a fair number of people thought I was going to be a bridezilla as well, and I don’t think I have been. Honestly, I’m too tired and beaten down and exhausted on a daily basis to give enough fucks to worry if the linens are going to be placed in the right array on tables. I told my bridesmaids recently, “As long as everyone doesn’t look like garbage warmed over on the day of, I’m fine with it.”

That’s the truth.

Next weekend is Labor Day and while it’s been an entire year since all of this insanity has started, it feels like it shouldn’t be here already. My wedding shouldn’t already by only four weeks away and I shouldn’t be picking up my dress in two. I don’t want to say I didn’t have the time to enjoy being engaged, because that’s life and that’s a tad whiny even for me, but there are bits of truth to that statement. Stressor on top of stressor has brought Lou and me closer together, but obviously not under the circumstances I had hoped. This summer was hot almost every step of the way, and living in homes with no consistent air conditioning didn’t exactly help my mood. Day in and day out, I tried to stay positive, smile, and find good spurts. When I think back on the summer though, I don’t have as many great memories as I did with last year’s. I remember crying a lot, being scared at everything, and being worried I was a bother. I’m just starting to enjoy this year in the past three weeks and now I feel like it’s almost over.

It’s been one of those years where you fight to breathe, fight to stay healthy, fight to keep your sanity, fight to smile, fight anything you can find to fight. After fighting though for so many months, the main feeling I’m left with is exhaustion. And yet, l I feel hopeful that the remaining months of this year will be filled with positive rather than negative.

I guess in summary I’m not nervous for the wedding, not even a little. Getting married to Luke in a couple weeks has been the one glimmering bit of hope I’ve had. If he hadn’t been here for me the past twelve months, I don’t know how useful of a human being I could have been to society. In a weird, unintentional way, it’s been one of the best tests if this is the right thing to do. Getting married at 25 is relatively young for my generation and even if you aren’t actively questioning your life choices, you wonder if this is the right time. Thirty days to go and I do not doubt a thing. Nothing has anything ever felt as certain as this.

If 2017 could be a more upbeat year for me though, that would be great.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Anxiety, Body Dysmorphia, and Getting Married

I've struggled with my body image for as long as I can imagine. At times in my life, it has been all-consuming, taking up most of my day’s thoughts. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I realized I was suffering from body dysmorphia. I never altered my eating habits drastically, but the sight of my body in a mirror passing by would make me want to cry.

The last time it was at its worst was when I was a senior in college. I had gained some weight from a previous relationship (maybe ten pounds in total) and none of my clothes fit me anymore. In a fit of panic, I started staring at my body daily. I started to calorie count, a practice I still do today but in a healthier way, in an attempt to help me lose weight. However, if you’re in college, busy, and just starting with counting, it’s going to be sporadic so the weight was coming off very slowly. The weight was falling off but I couldn’t see it. I worked in a gym at a smoothie bar, and I would take long bathroom trips so I could run into the locker rooms and weigh myself. I would stand in front of the mirror with my shirt raised, poking and prodding at my skin.

Only once I lost the full ten pounds did my body dysmorphia calm down, though it’s never disappeared. Over the years I’ve started to eat healthier and look heathier overall as a result. Some days I’m confident, other days less so. My greatest tool to combat my obsessiveness, oddly enough, is photographs. Photographs cannot lie to you; they aren’t trying to trick your brain and they aren’t going to change each time you look. So I take pictures, not for any romantic reasons or for others, but for myself and my own confidence. And it was working for the most part.

Ever since we got engaged, I was worried my body dysmorphia would kick into hyper-drive, but for a while it wasn’t happening. I was grateful. Like anyone with anxiety, I’m more or less constantly waiting for it to flare up like a bad knee. For the most part through early engagement, I wasn’t overly stressed. My plans were all falling into place and I felt on top of everything. For once, I felt like I was going to get through a major life event without a meltdown.

Everything changed when I got c-diff in December.

When I left the hospital, Luke looked at me with a look of fear and concern. My cheeks were sunken in, my ribs were showing, and I had somehow lost ten pounds in three days. I remember his words well: “You look gaunt.” They stung.

He, the concerned and loving partner he was, went out and bought high protein shakes and powders and cookies in an attempt to get me to gain the weight back. But as anyone who has ever had stomach issues before can tell you, eating is usually the last thing on your mind because you’re constantly in pain. Each time I would get hungry, the window would last mere minutes and I would attempt to eat as much as I could keep down. My body never fully recovered each time and I relapsed with c-diff two more times. It took almost two and a half months for me to gain back five of the pounds I had lost.

After a couple days home post-hospital, I was well enough to stand up and look at myself in the mirror for the first time. I stared at my naked body and was shocked; I had never been this skinny in my life. And I liked how I looked. I spent the next couple weeks marveling at how thin my arms were, how flat my stomach was, and how much of a thigh gap I had. A small part of me loved how long it took to regain the weight, but I knew logically there was no way I could ever sustain looking like this without drastically and dangerously altering my eating habits. That I had no desire to do.

It was a weird combination of emotions, knowing being this thin somehow put my body dysmorphia on hold, knowing how fucked up that was as an overall concept, and also knowing the bigger truth: the weight would come back and I would be sad again. I had just become okay with how my body looked pre-c-diff and suddenly I had been offered a body I’d always wanted. It’s like being handed a puppy and being told you don’t get to keep it forever. Not in years had I dealt with gaining weight and I knew I would not react well to it, but something else shifted drastically in me.

Losing control of your body, for someone with at times crippling anxiety, makes you feel like you’ve lost control over your entire life. I began to obsess and fixate more than I had the entire time Luke and I had been together. He was shocked at how I was concerned with xyz when my body was more or less falling apart. Each time c-diff came back and a doctor promised me it wouldn’t again, I began to resent anyone who told me anything about my body. I got mad when Luke told me I looked beautiful because I was convinced that meant I looked like I had gained the weight back. Any compliment I received was a reminder there were more things I could obsess over. Photographs were no longer self-therapy but a dangerous weapon.

I have twelve pictures of my teeth on my phone because I thought my gums were receding.

I have four pictures on my phone of my chin because I thought it was getting large.

I have nineteen photos on my phone of my front teeth because I think there’s a gap forming.

I have ten photos of my hair on my phone because I thought my hair was thinning.

Every day for the past five, almost six months I’ve awoken in fear of what would make me upset that day. I send obsessive pictures to friends and siblings begging them to tell me I’m not crazy. Luke will find me crying randomly as I wonder if I’m losing my mind. And again, since c-diff I’ve had a hard time trusting others, so everyone who tells me I’m imagining it is instantly lying in my head. I feel trapped.

A couple weeks ago, Luke invited me downtown to grab a drink with him since he had been working late most of the week and we hadn’t spent a lot of time together. I went to the guest room where most of the laundry lays and started grabbing at shirts. After putting one on, I stared at the mirror in shock: my clothes had all shrunk. I put on another and same thing. Panicking, I feared my entire wardrobe was now ruined because of a freak dryer accident (we realized later that none of them had shrunk at all). Panic rising in my throat, I got on the train in near tears. By the time I got to Luke I could barely hold it together.

I remember my dirty martini was somehow sour but also too strong. The heavy taste of rubbing alcohol was not masked by the olive juice. He was being so sweet to me, touching my leg and telling me how beautiful I looked. The bar was packed that night and I needed to get out. Soon he suggested we go somewhere else to keep the night going, and I just shook my head as I fought back tears. My clothes were magically shrinking, the room was hot, and there were too many people everywhere.

When the train pulled into Oak Park, I sprinted off and walked quickly ahead of Luke back home. I was sobbing and felt hyper-aware of every muscle in my body. I went into my closet and looked at my veil hung up. I still have mixed feelings about the veil and while it looks great with the dress, it isn’t what I pictured myself in someday. Taking the veil out of the packaging carefully, I secured it to my head and went into our room to look in the full length mirror. The only thought in my head was, “My wedding dress is disgusting. This veil is disgusting. I’m disgusting.” I sat on the bed and sobbed. Luke came in and carefully took the veil off my head and held me.

About an hour later I felt numb and knew I needed to leave the house, even if just for a few moments. I grabbed my keys and told Luke I was leaving for a bit. He looked at me with such fear and hugged me close, breathing into my hair. With my depression, his fears were not unfounded, but I reassured him I wasn’t suicidal; I just needed some time alone. He begged me to tell him where I was going so he wouldn’t worry, and his worry only made me madder. Logically, I knew he was only trying to help, so I said, “Whole Foods.”

It was night in Oak Park and Harlem Ave was lit by streetlamps. I had the radio on but was only half listening as I sifted through the traffic-heavy road. As my focus shifted from hyper-awareness to normalcy and back again, I tuned into James Bay’s song “Let it Go" playing throughout my car.

“I used to recognize myself
It’s funny how reflections change”

I pulled into the Whole Foods parking lot and sat there, staring over my steering wheel, not sure of what to do next.

“So come on let it go
Just let it be
Why don’t you be you
And I’ll be me”

I wandered through Whole Foods aimlessly and remembered how bright and sterile the lighting felt to me in that moment. Grabbing a couple Halo Top ice creams, I paid and drove back. I sat outside of our house staring up at the lit window and saw him putzing around his music studio. The guilt that washed over me was unlike any other; there was no way I deserved this person. I messaged my brother and told him I felt like I was losing control over myself. For the next ten minutes or so, he talked me through it. I told him I felt guilty that Luke always took such good care of me, that I felt like I could never repay him no matter how many kind things I did, and that I wasn’t good enough for him.

“I’m just worried he’s gonna get sick of this shit one of these days, and realize it’s not worth it.”

Nick said many things, told me this was my anxiety talking and that yes, I was lucky to have a guy who will support me through everything, but not to worry about the future.

“Fuck that. Live in this moment. There’s nothing to worry about other than your ice cream melting.”

Finally, especially since my ice cream was melting, I went inside. I looked at Luke and said, “I love you, but I don’t want to talk about what happened right now. Just know I love you and I’m sorry.”

He smiled his adorable smile and said, “You don’t have anything to be sorry about. I love you too.”

This week he is in San Francisco with work and I miss him already. When I woke up this morning, I instinctively reached out next to me to hug him and grabbed the dog’s tail by accident instead. When I showered and dressed this morning, I started to cry when I looked at my stomach. I checked my measurements and sure enough, my waist was slowly creeping back to 26”. My chest started to heave and I felt nauseous. I have six photos on my phone this morning and I look miserable in every one of them. “No one can tell” sometimes helps me, but other days it makes me feel antsy. Today is one of those days.

I don't need people to tell me I'm thin or pretty or beautiful; I need people to reassure me I have control over my body and I'm not falling apart from the inside out.

Right now, I’m taking deep breaths and trying to focus instead of getting rid of this terrible pain in my back. I’m trying to remember if we’ve finished ordering flowers and if anything else needs to be done for the month of April on my wedding timeline. So far so good, we’re still under budget and ahead of schedule. Okay, I’m good.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, repeat.

I’m breathing, at least I’m trying to breathe. Some days I struggle to find my air in my throat, and other days I barely notice my breathing patterns. Today I’m hovering somewhere in the middle. Anxiety is a cycle for me, it comes and goes, and after it feeling like a near constant for about half a year, I’m ready for it to let up soon. In the meantime though, I will just breathe.

Maybe tomorrow I can ignore it again.