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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mountains, poetry, Scotland, travel & adventure

the hebrides

Last summer, I spent a little over two weeks living and gardening on the Isle of Canna, an island off the west coast of Scotland. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, I also enjoyed a traverse of the Rum Cuillins plus a little extra, a bright and sunny day which gave me over 1900m of ascent and 20 miles when I’d finished my fun. These two islands are part of the bigger group of Scottish isles that make up the Hebrides, and these islands haven’t left me yet. Here is something I wrote about them months after my experience there, plus some shitty phone pictures. 

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chasing summits and miles on the Isle of Rum: my Rum Cuillin Traverse of last summer

the gods hid in those islands—

between the scheduled ferry trips—

between mainland and empty Atlantic—

they hid in the rocks that crumbled into surf

they hid in the wool of sheep caught on brambles

they hid in me as I plunged, naked,

into the clear cold of the vein-blue sea

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the Isle of Canna

I could taste them in the punishing rain

but I could never quite see them

they never told me their names

they denied my prayers, they laughed

at my hymns and pleas—and why should

a naked traveller splashing in salty shallows

be allowed even to grovel before

the hidden gods? hush—remember,

here be monsters—

they feed on secrets.

 

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the Isle of Canna

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anthropology, culture & society, Uncategorized

our rainbow bridges

It’s no secret that I love anthropology. Ever since I was a kid, I loved reading about different people and places, and, at the University of St Andrews, my Social Anthropology degree irrevocably changed how I think. But a recent visit with Oma–my German grandmother–reminded me of one of the most crucial lessons I learned throughout my whole degree.

It seems that every time I see my oma, I hear another part of family history for which I’d previously been a little too young. Germany during and after World War II was, of course, a very complicated place, a place whose figments often resurface in my mind and challenge my sense of identity.

I wonder what my great-grandparents thought about the war. I wonder which prejudices they carried, which dear friends they lost, which homes were bombed and burnt around them. The potential for baffled complicity with genuine evil terrifies me just as much as my sympathy for indescribable loss moves me.

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my oma as a little girl

Thus, the stories my oma tells me of her own small family during that time strike me hard. Recently, she told me the story of her biological father.

The man and soon-to-be father was taken prisoner by the Russians at the Eastern Front and spent five years in a Siberian gulag. My oma’s mother assumed he was dead. When her biological father finally came back, he found that his former best friend had divorced his own wife after falling hard for my oma’s mother so they, in turn, could be married. My oma only found out that the man she grew up knowing as her dad wasn’t, in fact, her father, when she was in her thirties. This, of course, was long after she had crossed the Atlantic and had two children of her own.

My oma has only one memory of her biological father–that of a sad man sitting across from her and her mother at a restaurant. My oma was three years old, and she remembers the thin and weary man signing papers. He pushed these papers back to her mother one by one and with a sigh.

Oma and I were bent over a sewing project as she told me this. My hands looked so long and clumsy next to her compact and quick fingers.

“I would never condone their actions. I can’t say I understand why they did what they did, and I would never do it myself, Schatzi,” she said, bending over me. “Hold that cloth tighter. There you go. You need to keep the tightness same.” She paused. “But Em, you also cannot understand what they went through. You did not see the darkness they did. You can talk about it for as long as you want, but you never really hear what they were thinking. I think about this from time to time.”

There was nothing to say after that; her words sunk deep into my head as my fingers worked.

My oma and I spent hours and hours talking about everything and nothing. She gives me a very deep sense of home; her accent makes me feel safe and her still-broken grammar carries the same mistakes my mother sometimes makes when she’s not careful, that sometimes even I make when I’m a bit spacy. We watched travel shows in German together and talked about people we trust, people we love, hiking trips we’ve enjoyed, and about how to best plan for traveling. We talked about traveling to St Petersburg together in a year or two, and we agreed to do our separate research.

When she left, I cried for a good half hour because I hadn’t been able to be a child with her and play with her and know more about her. Maybe I’m a total dork, but it struck me that this is the challenge with almost every relationship and in nearly any culture. You want to know a person, yet, at some point, it comes down to words. It comes down to a thin bridge made of sentences and memories. Sometimes, this seems just as implausible as following a rainbow to a crock of gold.

Making space in my life for these small stories continuously strikes me in a way I never anticipate. The words my oma and I spin together create a place where we can understand each other while knowing that, as she says, “One can never know what goes on behind the forehead of another person.” Our listening makes me keenly aware of the places words can never bridge, no matter what I wish, while also making me wish and work harder for the bridges I can build.

I believe this “making space”, this affirmation of the humanity of those who we will never understand, is anthropology at its best. How can I ever claim to understand or to study something or someone I do not first listen to out of love?

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mental health, mountains, personal journeys, travel & adventure

small victories

 

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Newtonmore, photo by Brodie

Small victories 

when you start being able to sit anywhere in a restaurant–even in the middle, where you can’t see much–and not have an anxiety attack. You might still penguin-shuffle race to get the corner chair, but your hangups are gradually fading into quirks.

when you get your own vehicle and sleep in it, twice, within the first week and a half of driving it, and you wake up feeling like a million bucks.

when your mother is starting to walk without crutches after a major surgery.

when you look back over the past year and a half, and you realise that a year and a half ago your depression and anxiety was so bad you were terrified of being alone, but now you look forward to a solo road trip or hillwalking excursion or even a day of simple silence just as much as you look forward to going out with friends or meeting interesting new people.

when you realize you can feel at home anywhere, just as much as you used to feel lonely everywhere.

 

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Durness, Scotland, photo by me

when you can laugh and roll your eyes at the thoughts that used to petrify you, even though they still sometimes petrify you. 

when you look at time away from mountains not as a total curse of Biblical proportions, but as a time to get stronger, eat healthier, get your shit together, love your family, earn money, write a story, and plan. (though it is sometimes a curse of Biblical proportions.)

when you feel safer and stronger and happier in your own skin.

when you know these feelings will come and go, but this world will still be around you: big, beautiful, overwhelming, impassive to your many capitulations but always tender to the touch.

these small victories are all we have; we have no banner but laughter, no weapon but resilience, no strength but the ferocity of unrequited love for people and places, no legacy but their unrequited grace for us.

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