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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culture & society, feminism, personal journeys, Uncategorized

I am not a strong, independent woman

Sometimes I go traveling or rappelling or hitchhiking by myself. Other times, I drink wine in the bathtub because it was a really hard day and I just want to listen to Celine Dion in peace, goddammit. Sometimes I’m strong and sometimes I’m a mess. Sometimes I’m independent and sometimes I just really, really need to be cuddled and probably want someone to give me chocolate five minutes ago.

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stacking stones at the Brough of Birsay, Orkney Islands: a balancing act

I don’t believe anybody can be strong and independent all the time.

The cliché really bothers me, mostly because ‘strong, independent women’ are pretty much made to look all the same. You know what I mean: in movies, you get a ‘strong, independent woman’ who’s innocent but sexy, as strong as a guy but still definitely feminine, independent but happy to take a guy on board. She’s different from all the other girls, acts like a guy, and is almost completely strong and independent.

This strikes me as a wee bit unrealistic, no? Also, the stereotype is based on the assumption that being strong and independent is a very male thing to be. Think of any Mission Impossible movie and you get my point.

This stereotype is dangerous because it focuses on one person or character as a ‘hero of the story’, an ‘intrepid adventurer’ but neglects to show a wide variety of strengths and weaknesses. It’s great we have Wonder Woman and Khaleesi (and I love them dearly), but I also think if we think that only unrealistically and narrowly-defined strong, independent women can do strong and independent things we’ll limit ourselves horrendously. I want to see more action movies with young, scared single moms as the leads; I want to see more far-less-than-perfect characters.

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Women–simple, everyday women–who are sometimes strong and sometimes weak can do incredibly strong things. They can go on adventures, be the unexpected hero like Bilbo Baggins, and be independent even though they sometimes also aren’t.

Instead of trying to be strong, independent heroes, let’s try to be strong characters: interesting characters who grow and evolve, fail and thrive throughout a long story that defies a linear plot and simple answers. Love the strength and weakness, the muscle and the frown lines, and allow yourself to feel everything that comes with being alive.

 

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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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anthropology, culture & society, mountains, munros, personal journeys, Scotland, travel & adventure, Uncategorized

where do we roam?

My father has told me several times throughout my life that freedom is the degree to which you are able to take responsibility for yourself. 

Caveats and social justice questions aside, I believe this no more firmly than I do on the river, at a crag, or in the hills. The ability to roam or wander and to know that you and only you can be responsible for your own safety–or your own ability to experience awe and joy–is distinctly empowering.

It’s wearing your mortality as proudly as a bird wears its feathers, letting your own awe and smallness take you deeper into the world.

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me getting ready to wild camp on the Trotternish Ridge with Maryam. Isle of Skye, Scotland

In Scotland, I mainly experienced this freedom by walking. If you’ve been around this blog before, you’ve heard me talk about it a great deal. Scotland’s ‘right to roam’ made this magic. Very simply, as long as you don’t damage someone’s property or trample their garden, you can pretty much walk anywhere that isn’t industrially dangerous. You can camp in fields as long as you don’t damage crops or disrupt livestock. You can cut across miles of pasture on your way up to a knife-edge ridge. This freedom strikes me as fundamental to the ability to take responsibility for one’s actions: you are responsible for how you care for the landscape, for your own safety, for navigation, for each step.

This freedom enables so many adventures. I climbed munro after munro, walked the entire 117-mile Fife Coastal Path and other hills besides with a dear friend, explored miles of the Moray Coast with another, and wandered and hitched across many islands.

Here in Pennsylvania, there is, quite sadly, no right to roam. It’s strange as ‘roaming’ seems to be very compatible with American mythology. Instead, I find some of that freedom on the rivers, the crags, and the creeks.

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Nick getting us ready to kayak on the upper Allegheny River

Nick and I have put in many miles this year thus far, kayaking parts of the Allegheny River, the Clarion River, the Kiskimenetas River, and Buffalo Creek. It’s been a lovely adventure. Oftentimes the waterways carry us past old railroads which have been turned into paths for cycling and walking–‘Rails to Trails’ for anyone who’s not familiar.  Primitive camping sites along some of these rivers give me a little of what I miss: complete responsibility for my food, my sleep, all my needs, just for a day or two.

At some point, I think I’ll tell the story of how the ‘right to roam’ was actually won in Scotland. It’s a good story with mass trespassing and angry union workers demanding a right to walk and move and enjoy their country without having to spend an arm and a leg. (Though the crags might take an arm or a leg from you for themselves.) I’ll explore how ‘adventure’ and ‘recreation’ operate in different places and amongst different sociopolitical systems. For now, however, I have a few questions.

What do you think of the right to roam?

Do you think the right to roam enhances or detracts from personal freedom?

Do you think that, if U.S. citizens were able to experience more of their environment more freely, there would be a greater desire for environmental responsibility?

What does ‘private property’ mean, and what does freedom mean to you?

Just questions to ponder. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy whatever adventure is readily available to you. Personally, I believe nearly every place offers its own unique freedom. It might not be as readily available to one group of people as it is to another, and that’s part of the inequality inherent in our current world. But I also believe that making the world such that more people might enjoy it takes going out there and enjoying it for yourself, claiming space and claiming adventure.

That’s the only way you can share the joy of the outdoors with others and advocate for the expansion and preservation of that joy.

Do and enjoy what you can, now, with what you have, and share your explorations whenever possible.

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anthropology, mountains, personal journeys, travel & adventure

what kayaks, alpacas, and flowers have taught me: learning from ‘odd’ jobs

During university summers, I worked a lot of jobs, some odder than others. I worked at a kayak, canoe, and stand-up paddleboard rental facility; I babysat and tutored; I gardened and worked at an alpaca farm. Whilst at university, I lead hikes and served for two years as a class representative. In the year or so since graduating, I’ve worked at GoApe (a high ropes course and zipline facility), tutored extensively, taught piano, cared for horses, and worked at a greenhouse and flower farm.

Sometimes it’s intimidating to think of where I am, where others are around me, and where I’d like to be. I think of my dreams of being a writer, researcher, and explorer (basically, an anthropologist with a mountain problem) and wonder how I’ll get there. I see others my age doing crazy, scary shit like getting desk jobs (not knocking desk jobs). Life can be quite strange, can’t it?

As I’ve said before here, my life has proven to be a little nonlinear lately, but it’s given me so much joy and brought me some of the most treasured people in my life. I think it’s also easy, as humans, to look around and label circumstances as somehow disadvantageous to our goals. But honestly?

Alpacas taught me a lot, namely that animals built for cold mountain weather are pretty needy in hot, humid Pennsylvania summers. In all seriousness, they also taught me about herd dynamics, about how animals build their own social networks and power structures, about managing a lot of animals. Some kind redneck gave me a two-minute lesson on how to drive a quad without breaks with a trailer behind it through the woods, and I learned it didn’t kill me.

Working at a kayak rental facility gave me the opportunity to learn to kayak, canoe, and paddleboard. It showed me many sides of working with the public: the frightened children, the rude customers, the customers who beamed kindness. It showed me how differently people can perceive a certain activity and how many different assumptions people can make about each other. I learned to watch people there, to try to understand where they were coming from and how best to help them.

Working 11 or 12 hour days in summer heat between jobs paired with living in Scotland the rest of the year, I learned a thing or two about tolerating physical discomfort. I learned that discomfort or inconvenience often produces memories, joy.

‘An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered’ — G. K. Chesterton

Horses showed me unconditional irritation or unconditional affection. They taught me how to be assertive with an animal ten times my size and gave me lessons in medicine. I learned that working in subzero temperatures in a barn isn’t the worst thing in the world and can actually be quite enjoyable. Again, discomfort can lead to some crystal-clear memories.

Guiding hikes and mountaineering on my own in Scotland showed me a great deal in terms of camping, wilderness first aid, navigation, and so much more. It kept me on this planet during the hardest time of my life and gave me some of the best friendships and conversations I could have hoped for. It took me from not knowing how to read a map to tackling some of the most challenging ridges in the UK on my own or with a friend.

Tutoring lead me into hours upon hours of researching child psychology, the philosophy of education, and teaching models. I read countless books and articles about the Montessori method, Charlotte Mason, Classical Education, and Social Thinking. I worked hard to make my hours of lessons for homeschool kids fun, challenging, and always creatively joyous. This challenged me a lot: I had to understand how each child learn, pay attention to their needs and moods, and be open to wildly different personalities and learning styles.

GoApe helped me learn how to coach others through their fears and, very practically, set rescue systems at height.

Working at a flower farm and greenhouse has brought its own unique joys, from learning the name of so many new plants and flowers to watching the everyday workings of a family-run business. I’ve been able to ask so many questions and, as someone who aspires to live at least mostly off-grid at some point in my life, the knowledge it’s given me is invaluable.

And now I step back and think: I want to be a writer, researcher, and explorer. I want to work largely with indigenous circumpolar peoples, to conduct personal and interpersonal research in taxing, unfamiliar environments. My jobs have taught me, in a way academia never could, adaptability to different personalities, worldviews, and tasks; the ability to withstand physically uncomfortable or taxing environments; and assertiveness, endurance, and self-sufficiency.

The University of St Andrews gave me an education, but these jobs gave me tools that I feel will help me put that education to good use.

Maybe you haven’t worked what you think are the ‘perfect’ or ‘optimal’ jobs or internships. Maybe it’s easy to compare yourself to others or look at what others have accomplished. But everyone, no matter this circumstance, will do the human thing and catalogue their disadvantages. Let me ask you, though: what are the advantages? What are you learning right this second? How is this helping you love yourself and others more fully? How is this helping you become the person who will enjoy achieving your goals, rather than just hurtling towards them?

Your adventure isn’t around the corner; you might already be well on your way.

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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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anthropology, culture & society, feminism, mental health, personal journeys

blubber

Here is a guest post I wrote for Women from the Blog, a wonderful site run by dear friends. Follow me there for the rest of this story. 

I was four years old and my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world.

She was much taller than me, and I felt very tiny next to her, especially when we compared feet and she tickled my toes.  I loved her hair, which was long and which I loved to watch her dry, and she had a smiling laugh, bright blue eyes and straight white teeth.  I remember being very young and showering with her and wishing, hoping that I would be like her when I grew up.  Even the water seemed to run over her skin and through her hair like it was made of magic.  She was flawless. 

I remember her reading me a book about whales.  I watched videos about them, too.  They sang in the deep, the book said.  The blubber meant dolphins and whales were more buoyant…follow me to Women from the Blog for the rest of the story. 

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