health, love, mental health, personal journeys

a toast to the scary times

he’s a good guy

Halloween night saw me in the emergency room for antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication withdrawal. I had the shakes, electric shock-like headaches, nausea, lightheadedness, tunnel vision, etc. My boyfriend got me ready to go to the hospital, got me in the car, and held my hand the whole way there. Long story short, I’m fine. I’d had toxic levels of that med in my bloodstream before I even started withdrawing, so it just all really sucked. On the other hand, I had someone by my side who loved me 100% of the time, who loves me and shows me how to love myself when things feel dark or like I’m failing at being strong.

Today I’m paying that forward.

To anyone going through any kind of mental health struggle:

Being afraid of yourself, your body, your mind, the medical system–it’s normal. Chances are we’ve cried over the same thing at the same time. You’re really not alone.

You can be afraid of the dark places your mind goes and you can shake and cry and you can still let yourself feel all of it. You’re handling this, even when you don’t feel like you are.

You can let yourself have bad days.

You can get up. You can fall down after you get up, and you can get up again.

Social media is all bullshit. Everybody can look good with the right filter, the right hashtag, the right cocktail, the right words, the right job, the right school, etc. Don’t compare yourself.

And lastly: I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any of the Cate Blanchett Elizabeth movies–if you haven’t, you’ve missed out–but there’s part of the first movie that always sticks with me. In summary, a conniving piece of shit tries to break young Elizabeth’s heart, career, and life. Instead of banishing or executing him, she decides to keep him at court forever. She keeps him close and she tells him why:

because you will be my reminder that I beat my enemies, even if it takes me a moment to figure out who they are

because you will be my permanent reminder that I’m smarter than you, even in my most worst moments

because you will be a reminder of my strength–that I am and will always be stronger than you

because it’s my own weakness that shows me how strong I can be

Any bad days, any rough day? Keep them close. Let them remind you that you’ve been here before and, even in the worst moments, you’re that strong.

I’ve been through a well-balanced (hah) sampler of mental health struggles, and when I think about my passions in life, about anthropology, about sustainability, adventure, and the mountains, I know hard times just make those loves more worthwhile. It’s cliched, maybe, but it gets truer the more I experience.

Caring about people and the earth all becomes richer when you know what it’s like to not care about yourself. Loving the mountains deepens when they’ve given you a sense of wonder and smallness when you’ve most needed it. When you come back to yourself, when you see all that and love yourself, it’s a richer love. You know you can love yourself through it all and come out of the worst, safe in the knowledge that you are your own unfailing best friend. The mountains are no longer postcards. Loving yourself is no longer a hashtag. This is the real shit now, the real adventure. It’s so much bigger now, and there’s no going back.

The mountains are no longer postcards. Loving yourself is no longer a hashtag. This is the real shit now, the real adventure. It’s so much bigger now, and there’s no going back.

We humans (and, I assume, any bored stoner aliens busy binge-reading human blogs–in which case, hi bro!) are here as a species because we’ve found some finite meaning and peace in this crazy life. We’re hunters and gatherers whose greatest achievement is rigging up traps of belonging to stop some hard falls. (I’m really sorry everything is somehow a climbing metaphor.)

This is the time of year where many remember the ancestors. Maybe take a moment to think about what they went through. Think about the hands they’ve held in the dark, about the traps they laid to keep loneliness at bay. Thank them for being badass bitches who sometimes gave up and cried but always came back.

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anthropology, culture & society, feminism, love

food for thought

Over two years ago now (scary), I took a course at St Andrews called ‘Anthropology and Eurasia’. It was, by far, one of my favourite courses ever. During a seminar one day the group discussed an article written by the course lecturer, Dr Stephanie Bunn. The article was short and deceptively simple compared other dense texts but incredibly powerful. Put briefly, it was about food.

In Kyrgyz, the language of many nomadic peoples indigenous to Kyrgyzstan, the word küt means food–and bone, nourishment, ancestors, fate, the stars, sustenance, fortune, luck, family, and more. This had links to how the Kyrgyz people would divide up the meat of a sheep by family role and status. The eyes of the sheep were given to the oldest female as a sign of honour, and it went on from there. The sheep was raised, herded, cared for in different ways by different members of the family, and it thus reproduced and reinforced family relationships even as it was being consumed.

I remember how each young woman in the class seemed struck by this expansive way of tying food into so many aspects of life. One classmate, in particular, said something that I remember clearly even today.

‘Food,’ she said, reflectively. ‘I mean, that’s just not what it means here. I feel like every young woman here can say that food, for them, means something so different. Calories, weight, health, restriction, guilty pleasure, diets, beauty, fitness. On holidays and at Sunday dinners, it has something to do with family, but you always come back to how what you eat means for your worth as an appearance. And this applies to lots of men and women.’

I sat back in my chair and thought about this. Images raced across my mind.

 

 

What the hell, I thought. I then quickly tried to put together a mental map of food that somehow reflected my very limited, very western perception of Kyrgyz values. It looked so different.

The image that struck me in that moment did not render the eater an object of marketing. Instead, food became a focal point of connection to the cosmos, family, society, our bodies, our actions.

It would be a bit silly and ethnocentric to portray Kyrgyz people as somehow ‘innocent and pure environmentalists’. The dynamic and ever-shifting Western environmental values are based on individual and national history and philosophy; a Kyrgyz worldview, by default, must be different yet equally complex and varied.**

I don’t want to go into it all right away in a single blog post, but instead I wish to rest on a few questions.

In light and in spite of the fact that this concept küt exists in a very different cultural setting, what can we learn from it?

How can küt challenge our understandings of ourselves, our bodies, and our relationships?

What does küt make you think about your relationship to your environment?

What does food mean for you? Does it connect you to others or separate you from them?

It’s a powerful word, a powerful concept. I’ll leave you with küt as it’s far more eloquent than more of my words could be.

Sources

2016 Anthropology and Eurasia module as taught by Dr Stephanie Bunn.

images:

http://www.rosemarysheel.com/archives/kyrgyzstan-landscape

https://www.theapricity.com/forum/showthread.php?192502-Kyrgyzstan

https://xpatmatt.com/photos/kyrgyzstan-photoessay/

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/

http://www.hollysierra.com/files/?C=S;O=D

 

**disclaimer

I dearly hope my ‘mental maps’ as portrayed here isn’t in anyway trivalizing of the complexity of Kyrgyz culture or, on the other hand, U.S./broader ‘Western’ culture. This post is meant as a bite-size dose of anthropology, a way of posing a question, and not in any way representative of broad swaths of communities.

 

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feminism, love, mental health, personal journeys, poetry

what’s helped me: on recovering from mental illness

This is very much a practical post. Lately, I’ve really wanted to share the resources (blogs, books, podcasts, apps, etc) that have really helped me during this process of recovering from panic attack disorder, depression, and disordered eating. I know I talk a lot about the outdoors and adventures, but I couldn’t have done those things without these smaller bits of help. They have and continue to work small-scale, everyday changes in how I think and process the world around me, and have thus enabled me to experience life in a more balanced, more joyful way. Thus, without further ado, here are my ‘top resources,’ in no particular order.

I – Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

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This book is a memoir of dealing with depression and finding hope and reasons to live in the small things. The chapters are short, the reflections are captivating. It completely changed my perspective on depression and helped me see not only how to get through it, but how to learn from my struggles and empathise more with others.

 

II – Goodbye Ed, Hello Me by Jenni Schaeffer

Jenni Schaeffer’s books gave me the crucial skill of learning to separate myself from eating disorder and depression thoughts: to see them as an illness, not as truly me or what I really value. This enabled me to ‘talk back’. It helped me get in touch with what I really believed and loved and to use that to build truth back into the fabric of my life. Chapters are super short–it was perfect when my depression was really bad and my attention span basically nill–and there are lots of practical exercises to help you separate from the negative voices in your life.

III- Jessi Kneeland 

This is a recent find of mine–a random google result–but it’s already had a huge impact on me. She’s coach, counselor, and writer dedicated to helping women love, live in, and make peace with their bodies. Think body acceptance versus body change, empowerment versus perfection. A lot of her blog posts dig deep into the messages women receive about their bodies and worth on an everyday basis, and almost all of her writing features probing questions that have helped me to uncover and let go of the root of many insecurities. Honestly, I wish her so much success. Very few bloggers have had such a powerful impact on me in such a short time.

IV – Emily Dickinson

It’s simply impossible to read Emily Dickinson’s poetry and not feel wonder for the small things. My paperback collection of her poetry seems to find its way into my hands very, very regularly, and it never leaves my hands without having left something in my mind’s eye. Find a poet or writer or musician or anyone whose work you connect to, and give yourself a daily dose of beauty.

V – Food Psych

Food Psych is a podcast devoted to body acceptance, intuitive eating, health at every size, and eating disorder recovery. Christy Harrison, a registered dietitian and intuitive eating counselor, leads weekly discussions with people from all backgrounds and walks of life about their relationships with their bodies and their journey to body acceptance and health. I listen to a sampling of this podcast’s extensive library of episodes a couple of times a week, and I’ve learned so much about the history of diet culture and how badly it affects our society, from sending people on diet cycles to completely messing with hunger and fullness cues. In turn, I’ve started to learn to honor my body’s signals, let go of a set beauty ideal, and have a hell of a lot more energy (since I’m not massively restricting or binging nearly as much).

VI – Pacifica

A free app, Pacifica is essentially CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) in your pocket. You can track your moods, write down your thoughts, and it guides you through recognising ‘thought errors’ that reinforce negative emotions. It also guides you through ‘reframing’ those thoughts and offers free guided meditations and podcasts. Awesome resource.

VII – YouTube’s free yoga

Not everyone can afford yoga studio prices, but if you have access to a phone, computer, fancy tv, tablet, or laptop (granted, a privilege of its own), you can pull up yoga teachers on youtube. Yoga’s health benefits–from mental calm to decreased pain–are very widely known, but for me it really powerfully connects me to my body and brings my anxiety levels way down. Some of my favourite teachers are BadYogi and fightmaster yoga. They have videos for all levels and you can pause, stop, or modify without any judgment and without an audience.

VIII – the sun and her flowers by rupi kaur

This book of poetry is simple and stunning. It speaks to so many aspects of what it means to be a woman in the world, addressing love, lust, poverty, politics, and far more. I can’t really say enough to describe it, so I here’s some poetry throughout in the hopes that you’d become a fan as well.

 

 

Much love to anyone who’s struggling or supporting someone with mental illness. I hope these practical tools prove helpful–much love xx

 

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feminism, love, poetry, Scotland

a poem for sisterhood

a poem I wrote after my time in St Andrews in April, almost a year after I graduated. I’m sending love and gratitude to all those who helped me along my way, all those women who loved each other and didn’t take shit from anyone. 

 

I came back to a place that was trial by fire

only to find the hearth of a beloved inn

here, my sisters–hillwalkers, anthropologists,

philosophers and domestic goddesses

have pulled up chairs and rockers to gossip

to mhmm over mistakes and knit scarves

for our daughters caught in the cold

to drink down spells of sisterhood

and to eat the flesh of slain monsters

St Andrews 2018

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love, personal journeys, Scotland, travel & adventure

twists, turns, and a love story

I don’t often share everyday details of love, family, and friendship here on this blog, but I feel like I should tell the story of Nick and me–simply because it’s a good one and has contributed to so many of my recent thoughts and adventures.

We met on Tinder, of all places. I was about to delete my account given the state of the average American male, while Nick’s friends had just talked him into making an account. I was his first match, and two days later we met up for dinner. I’d just finished work at the stable and I wasn’t sure about going to meet this stranger, but I went.

It was, quite simply, the best conversation I’d had in months. He kissed me in the parking lot, we parted ways, and, like a goon, I couldn’t stop smiling.

We met up two days later, then the day after that (Valentine’s Day), then the day after that. The day after Valentine’s Day, he drove out to rescue me when my car died and I was stranded. I got him into healthy(ish) eating; he got me into rappelling. The relationship unfolded from there like a river unfolding into itself: climbing, hiking, camping, kayaking, bad decisions and hilarious adventures.

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Nick and I climbing at McConnells Mills the day before I left for the UK

Then, on April 1st, I left to guide a family for whom I tutored around England and Scotland for several weeks. All of a sudden, a place I had wanted to leave for months–Pittsburgh–felt so difficult to leave. No matter how I happy I was to be back in the UK and to see my dearest friends, I was continually surprised by how much I missed this recent stranger.

That UK trip was full of surprises. I frequented an awesome climbing gym while in London, got horrendously sick (perk of working with small children), and then my parents kicked me out because I’d left my room messier than they’d wanted. This sent me reeling–it was my parent’s home, of course, and it was their decision, but it did leave me feeling incredibly stressed and homeless. The tutoring family’s grandmother passed away while we were in Scotland, which meant they decided to go home early. Plans I had with my UK friends fell through given the rather drastic logistical and financial changes that had just hit me. I felt unprepared, childish.

In spite of this, I was fortunately able to make the most of my time in Scotland and St Andrews. I ceilidhed with the hillwalking club, helped friends with dissertations, had coffee and dinner with my practically-a-sister friend Antonia, laughed and gossiped with Maryam, enjoyed my favourite coffee shop, attacked Irma with a hug, jumped off the pier, ran through Glen Shee, and more. But then I had to go home. This time, home meant going back to Nick and his family.

On one hand, it was scary to move in with someone I’d only known in-person for six weeks. It seemed a little mad, even for me. But underneath all the confusion, I felt a sense of peace and excitement that didn’t make sense given outside circumstances. I already knew I loved Nick. He felt like home for me, and his family soon came to feel like home for me as well. I started doing the family gardening (commandeering the entire yard). I changed summer jobs from high ropes course instructor to farm and greenhouse worker while the tutoring season was at a bit of a lull.

Meanwhile, Nick and I kept climbing, kayaking, and camping. It was ropeswing and swimming season all at once, and I went to my first music festival. My life suddenly brimmed with new things in a place that had once seemed a little mundane. Sometimes it was overwhelming. Often, it was exciting. But I always felt that, in spite of the craziness of the past few months, I was on the right path.

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back in my favorite St Andrews coffee shop, Taste, and sleeping on the sofa like my old self. photo by ILinca

I don’t know what the future will bring. It’s been a crazy few months, but I do know this: I have an acceptance to the University of Glasgow’s Celtic, Pictish, and Viking Archaeology Master’s Programme, which I’m deferring until 2019. I have an idea of how I want to combine archaeology and anthropology in the future. I have someone with whom to explore the world. I have relationships to mend with my own family, but I also have another family that has come to feel very much like my own. Lastly, I have hope that this unforeseen road will take me better places yet.

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sometimes this is about as professional and put-together as I feel. Photo from a Dublin adventure with Antonia in March, 2017.

My path isn’t looking like a straightforward undergraduate to master’s to PhD to an academic career path. But maybe a life of radical challenges is exactly what I need in order to conduct research and exploration that will have a powerful impact. These days, I’m reading anthropological articles while the bread rises, thinking about landscape theory whilst weeding in the garden, muttering Scottish Gaelic in the shower,  and thinking about Scottish mountains while I walk to the gym. I keep repeating my old mantra to myself: anthropology starts at home, no matter what home looks like. 

Beyond that, these twists and turns have opened me up to so much love. It’s shown me how little I actually control in my life. Five months ago, this new and lovely world I now inhabit didn’t exist for me. It didn’t come to me because I planned or earned it. Rather, it fell into my lap: a gift wrapped perfectly in muddy adventures.

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