5 Ways Becoming a Dog Parent Has Brought Me Joy

5 Ways Becoming a Dog Parent Has Brought Me Joy

Anyone who has spoken to me in the last two months know I became a proud parent to a pup. Since entering my life in April, Stella has been the main topic of my conversationsand rightfully so. She has brought me major happiness in a short period of time. Various studies support the idea that dogs can improve mental health overall.

It’s surprising just how much this eleven-pound bundle of fluff has changed my life for the better. Here are five ways becoming a parent to a dog has filled my world with bliss:

1. Unconditional Companionship

This is fairly obvious one but it is fundamental! The companionship dogs give humans can provide a lot of happiness, and the relationship between dogs and their owners can be strong and special. Dogs are known as man’s best friend, after all.

Living alone in New York City can be a pretty lonely experience. Getting a dog helped me feel less alone, even if she primarily communicates in barks, tail wags, and licks. She quickly bonded with me and now she tends to follow me around the apartment. Stella is sitting on the couch next to me as I write this sentence.

The best part is that I know she is always thrilled to see me when I come home. She’s never mad at me for leaving her, all she cares about is that I’m with her now. If only humans could be so forgiving!

2. More Responsibilities

Some may argue that having more responsibilities is a bad thing, but the duties that come with dog parenting have actually been good for me. Since getting Stella, I’ve been waking up a bit earlier than I normally would. My schedule is set around her feeding times and walks, and we’ve developed a solid routine.

Waking up earlier has increased my productivity (after that first walk, I try to jump into another task), and having a schedule again has also helped me find a comfortable groove (I’m a freelancer, so my work schedule tends to vary.) The more productive and scheduled I am, the better mood I’m in.

I also get to see how doing things for her makes her happy, which in turn makes me even happier. She gets so excited every time the dog bowl is at her feet, and every walk is an adventure to her. Sure, I don’t always want to wake up at the crack of dawn for that first walk of the day, but getting up for her is worth it!

3. Increased Physical Contact

With companionship comes a familial closeness. While not all dogs are interested in being touched by humans, many do enjoy some form of physical affection like pats, scratches, and belly rubs. This definitely depends on the dog, so always ask an owner before touching a dog that is not yours and take time to discover what forms of contact your dog likes.

Let’s be real: your dog’s decision to lick your face is not an expression of love (this tends to actually mean they want food.) It sure can feel like love to humans though! Making physical contact with pets can bring us joy.

I lucked out with my little fluff. She loves belly rubs, head scratches, licking my feet, and occasionally snuggling with me for a nap. All of our forms of physical contact make me pretty happy. I can’t help but love her a little more whenever she puts her little head on my thigh.

4. Increased Physical Activity

The added responsibilities of owning a dog can really increase your physical activity. Regular walks get you closer to hitting that 10,000 step goal. Throwing balls and frisbees can increase your heart rate as well. My dad fully works out whenever he is playing with our active Australian shepherd.

Of course the amount of exercise you’ll do depends on your living situation and the type of dog you have. People with adequate yards do not have to go on walks as often, an some dogs don’t require much exercise. I think it’s safe to say that your physical activity generally increases from owning a pet though, so let the endorphins flow!

Stella is pretty tiny so she doesn’t need to exercise a ton, but the steps from our walks definitely add up and the occasional tug-of-war doesn’t hurt either.

5. More Socialization

Many dogs are social creatures, and owning a dog can make socializing a more regular part of your life. Walks, visits to the dog park, and other dog activities can all lead to meeting and communicating with new people.

Almost every time I take Stella for a walk, someone will come up to us to say hi and ask what breed she is. These encounters have led to quick chats, deep conversations, budding friendships, and even exchanged phone numbers. I’m pretty sure I’ve interacted with more strangers in these last two months than I have my entire two years living in New York City and I have a little puppy to thank for that. The increased socialization can add little moments of happiness to my day.

Dogs can truly be a great conversation starter. If striking up conversations makes you feel uncomfortable, bring your dog to a public environment they are comfortable in and let them be the center of attention when people approach you. Fur babies tend to steal the spotlight in the best way.

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How has your dog or pet brought you joy? Share in the comments below.

Why I’m Going Back to Therapy

Why I'm Going Back to Therapy

I’ve been striving to be more vulnerable lately. My most recent act of true vulnerability was admitting to a stranger that my wedding was cancelled at a queer bar in Paris a week after it happened. It was painful to say it out loud, but doing so helped me accept it just a little bit more. And the stranger was really sweet about it. She simply told me I’d be okay. Hearing that from someone who wasn’t my parents made me believe it.

So I’m going to be vulnerable again now: I’m going back to therapy. My first session is tomorrow morning.

Why am I so terrified to admit that? Maybe it’s about wanting to appear strong in the face of defeat. Going back to therapy means I’m not strong enough to handle it on my own, right?

It could also be about not wanting to scare my family and friends. Going back to therapy implies that something is majorly wrong, that my last time with a therapist was a failure, and they’ll now have a reason to worry about me. I’ll be looked at differently.

Clearly the stigma that comes with mental health issues is alive and well. The unfortunate part is that these messed up ideas make their way into my brain and cause me to think negatively about my own mental health issues sometimes. Once I take a minute to tune out society’s omni-present judgement, I try to remind myself that there is nothing wrong with going back to therapy.

I repeat: there is nothing wrong with going to therapy! This is especially important to say in a time when our collective mental health (as a country, as a world) is suffering.

The truth of that matter is that going back to therapy is showing strength: I’m standing up for myself and getting the help I deserve. That takes courage. And sure, I probably wouldn’t be going back to therapy if everything in my life was fantastic right now, but there are plenty of reasons to see a therapist that don’t involve a big crisis. If anyone in my circle really views me differently for getting help, then they don’t belong in my circle anyway. And my last dabble into therapy was anything but a failure.

I first tried therapy at my college in 2011, but really committed to it in 2015 when I was at my lowest low after graduating. My anxiety was practically my best friend and depression was making it hard to get out of bed. My first therapist helped think about my thought processes for the first time and my life slowly but surely changed. I still use many of the techniques that I learned from that year of have therapy on a weekly basis.

So why am I going back now, three years later? I would like to talk through the details of my recent trauma with an unbiased person and try to understand what happened a little better. I want to understand how these events have fundamentally changed me. I also want to talk about how to move forward from all of this and think about what I want my new future (bright and shiny) to look like. I have a lot of concerns that are weighing on me: how (and who) do I go about dating again? What career moves do I want to make in the near future that will impact my long term future? A big goal is to learn from my past mistakes and not make the same ones again.

I’m not in crisis mode nor am I at my lowest low. In fact, my life isn’t as terrible as I thought it would be when the breakup first happened. Solo travel has brought me major happiness in bursts. Being a dog mom is pretty therapeutic and my pup has completely won my heart. I’m spending a lot of time in Westchester enjoying the trees and the company of my ridiculous parents, which has been a nice change from Manhattan. I get to see my friends now and then, and a select few of them are really amazing at checking in on me throughout all this. And hey, at least Miz Cracker made it to the top five on Drag Race!

My life is pretty good. All of the concerns that are nagging my soul are legitimate too. And I’m going back to therapy.

Sometimes your own advice is the advice you need to hear. I wrote an article a few weeks ago on finding your first therapist. Early this week, I signed up for PrideCounseling.com, a segment of Better Help’s online counseling services. I opted to try an online option to save money. I was quickly matched with a therapist who I’ve been messaging throughout the week. She’s already been understanding and has asked me some fascinating questions to ponder on. Our first video session is tomorrow morning. I’ll be sure to write about the experience of online counseling in the future.

Truth be told, I am a little bit nervous for my first session. I keep telling myself that it will be well worth it though. I deserve help, and so does anyone who is struggling with their mental state and lives. I’m not going to be secretive about it because that only adds to the stigma. Everyone should be able to access mental health care without feeling ashamed or embarrassed.

Note: I am very aware that therapy and mental health treatment is a privilege. This country makes it particularly difficult to access help if you’re not rich. If you want to try therapy but know your finances can’t support it, consider trying an online option. BetterHelp and PrideCounseling gave me a financial aid discount after I provided them with my financial details.

 

Songs that Celebrate Self-Love

Songs that Celebrate Self-Love

Music can change my mood instantly. That’s why whenever I’m feeling a little down, I turn up the tunes and dance around my room. It’s the quickest way to make myself feel better.

I’ve been working on building mood-specific playlists to be able to access at a moments notice. I’ll continue to share them here as I make more. This first one is pretty special.

Check out my Self-Love Playlist on Spotify. It’s perfect for those moments when you need a little boost of confidence, for those times you’re doubting your self worth and need a little reminder from Kelly Clarkson and RuPaul of how freaking awesome you are. From upbeat pop hits to strong ballads, you’ll find yourself grinning as you hum along at the gym, in the car, or at your desk.

Here are some highlights from the track list:

“I’m Coming Out” – Diana Ross

Regarded as a class LGBTQ+ anthem, this will always be my favorite Diana Ross song and it deserves a top spot on this playlist. It’s upbeat and breezy and can put a spring in your step. Walk down the streets to this disco beat and let the world know you’re here!

“You Gotta Be” – Des’ree

One of the chiller tracks on this list, this song encourages you to express yourself and know that you are strong for doing so. Love will save the day, indeed. Self-love, that is!

“Born This Way” – Lady Gaga

This dance hit quickly became a pride staple, and deservedly so. While I’m not a religion person, the sentiment is stronger than those particular lyrics in my opinion. This classic Gaga track makes a strong statement, and it’s a nice reminder that I, too, am on the right track.

“Don’t Stop Me Now” – Queen

This is the song that pops in my head whenever I’m on cloud nine. The fasttempo, the fun lyrics, and Freddie’s vocals all make this a upbeat track a great one to celebrate your inner power. Listen to it when you’re feeling low and psyche yourself out!

“Titanium” – David Guetta, featuring Sia

This is definitely one of those songs that I’ve belted out in the shower after a breakup. Listen to Sia, don’t let anyone tear you down. YOU ARE TITANIUM.

“Good As Hell” – Lizzo

Lizzo is the intersectional hero we all need, and all of her music clearly reflects this. I strive to be as confident as Lizzo seems. Play this track when you’re getting ready in the morning and you’ll feel good as hell about yourself too.

“Up From the Mud” – Boy Band

One of my favorite bands in the New York area, Boy Band is a group of three young women who make really empowering music. This track, a personal highlight on their first EP, encourages you to be the “strongest flower rising from the mud.”

You can check out the whole Self-Love Playlist track list below:

What are you favorite songs about loving yourself? Share them in the comments and I’ll consider adding them to the playlist. Happy listening, folks!

Why Disneyland is My Happy Place

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I’ve been a Disney fanatic for as long as I can remember. I wore out VHS tapes of The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Cinderella throughout the 1990’s and my mouse love was cemented during my first trip to the Walt Disney World Resort in 1999. I’ve been back to Florida several times and even visited Disneyland Paris this past spring.

So when I started planning my solo trip to California, I just knew I had to visit the original Anaheim park. My two previous stops at the Disneyland Resort had only lasted a couple hours each, so this time I purchased a three-day hopper ticket and booked a room at a nearby motel.

Unsurprisingly, I had the loveliest time. Maybe it was because it was my first time going to one of the Disney parks alone, or perhaps my broken heart simply needed the magic more than ever… For whatever reason, that little park in Anaheim charmed the heck out of me. While Disney World will always be my first park, my recent experience at Disneyland was so wonderful that it just might be my favorite one now. Here’s why it’s my new happy place out of the Disney resorts I’ve been to:

It Has the Classics

Since Disneyland is the first Disney park and the only one Walt lived to see, celebrating the history seems to be more of a priority there than at any of the other parks. Old staples that Walt himself worked on have longer lifespans than they do at other parks (though they have received some updates and seasonal overlays over the years.) In general, attraction changes seem more likely to happen at the newer California Adventure (Tower of Terror turning into Guardians of the Galaxy, Pixar Pier’s arrival for example.)

Many of the opening day and early attractions are still running, and it was neat to experience a few of them in near original condition as a Disney geek. They might not be the most technologically advanced (the animatronics in the Enchanted Tiki Room are practically antiques), but the magic is still there and the nostalgia is palpable. It was particularly exciting to go on some of my dark-ride favorites that are no longer at Disney World, like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Snow White’s Scary Adventures. Who doesn’t love the classics?

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It’s A Manageable Size

Disney World’s size is great in terms of being able to house multiple, large parks but it can also feel pretty intimidating if you’re spending less than five days there because there is just so much to do. It can be a hassle to park hop, and I always leave feeling like I didn’t make enough of a dent on my to-do list.

Disneyland Resort, on the other hand, can be fully experienced in two days (even a one day visit is adequate) and it is very easy to go between the parks. The main gates for both are directly across from each other, and Downtown Disney is only a short walk or monorail ride away as well. Only the parking lot requires bus transportation, but I avoided that by walking to the parks from my motel. It was very convenient to get around.

I was able to experience more rides and entertainment over three days than I typically do in Disney World over six days, and I attribute that to the smaller size. I bounced back and forth between the parks each day with ease (I even booked fast passes for rides in a park I wasn’t in, but more on Max Pass later.) Walt may have regretted not obtaining more land for his first park, but bigger isn’t always better. Disneyland is accomplishable, and the quaintness adds to the charm.

The Food is Superb

Disney World may have many more options and variety in their dining (Epcot alone is culinary experience), but the food at Disneyland is special in its own right. The corn dogs from the Little Red Wagon are perfection, the Dole Whips are in an league of their own, and eating in New Orleans Square should be a requirement. That Beignet Monte Cristo at Cafe Orleans (pictured) rocked my world. The sweets at Pooh Corner, a bakery tucked away in Critter Country, actually tasted homemade. The restaurants and snack options at California Adventure are pretty creative too.

The dining team has had over sixty years to perfect some of these dining staples, and it shows in most baked goods and savory snacks. I’m thinking about hot churros as I type this.

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Easy Riding with Fast Passes & Max Pass

Disney World may have digitized fast pass first, but I’m a firm believer that Disneyland currently has the best Fast Pass system stateside. Disney World guests can reserve fast passes up to 60 day in advance as part of FastPass+. This is great for planners and anyone staying at a resort hotel but really bad for Florida residents and other on-the-fly visitors.

Some of the more popular Florida rides, like Toy Story Mania, are nearly impossible to reserve day-of because most passes are already taken 60 days in advance. Toy Story Mania in Disneyland is a lot easier to get on, and that’s because the California parks only allow day-of fast pass booking. I believe this is generally fairer to all park guests, particularly considering that many visitors are annual pass holders and California residents. They shouldn’t be blocked out from attractions.

Guests can upgrade their fast pass experience, however, by purchasing Max Pass on the Disneyland app. Max Pass introduced digital fast passes to the California park at an additional cost of $10 a day per guest or $75 per year for pass holders in 2017.

The cost is a bit obnoxious (and it could be prohibitive to larger families on a multi-day stay), but I found it to be really worthwhile, especially considering that WDW’s FastPass+ privileges depend on whether you’re staying on or off site. As soon as I entered a park, I was able to book three fast passes on the app, and all rides that offered fast passes were fair game (no tiered rides like FastPass+ has.) Throughout the day, I would receive an alert whenever I could book a new one, and it was more often than I expected. Max Pass also includes additional perks like unlimited access to Photo Pass.

I was actually surprised at how many fast passes I managed to use throughout the day. I rode e-ticket attractions like Hyperspace Mountain, Radiator Spring Racers, and Splash Mountain with fast passes multiple times, which would never happen at Disney World since they limit the amount of top tier rides you can book. Less waiting, more magic!

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The Weather is Ideal

Anaheim’s weather makes visiting Disneyland pleasant. It’s often sunny and warm, and precipitation is rare. It can be a bit cold in the mornings and evenings, but I was fine with just a sweater and didn’t need any additional layering.

Compared to Orlando’s humidity and seasonal hurricanes and the chance of snow in Paris, the weather at Disneyland is a happy medium. Just don’t forget to put on sunscreen (even if it’s overcast!)

Most of the Visitors are Annual Pass Holders

As I mentioned above, the California parks tend to have more annual pass holders visiting than out of state tourists (though this can depend on the time of year.) While overall guest behavior wasn’t noticeably different between the resorts, it was a treat to meet and chat with Los Angeles area locals at Disneyland.

Ranging from young families who visited on a monthly basis to senior citizens who lined up for rope drop every morning, I was among various pass holders while waiting for the gates to open and for Fantasmic! to start. I quickly sensed that Disneyland has a homey, comfortable vibe that makes it truly unique. This makes moving to the west coast and becoming an annual pass holder myself all the more tempting!

I’m so glad I included a multi-day stay at the Disneyland Resort on my California trip. If you haven’t been to Disneyland yet, I highly encourage you to check it out! It may just become your new happy place too.

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On the Road Alone: Solo Travel Tips

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Solo traveling is an experience like no other, especially when you’ve only vacationed in the past with your family or friends. Your first few solo trips definitely come with a learning curve, however. Even with thorough planning and a wonderful solo trip to Paris under my belt, multiple curveballs were thrown at me on my recent escape to California.

I learned a lot on my eight day journey. Read on for some tips that could help your first solo travel experience go smoothly.

More Independence, More Responsibility

One of the best parts of solo travel is that it can really make you feel independent. I alone made my California adventure happen, and that was super fulfilling.

It is important though to remember that there is a downside to assuming full responsibility while traveling. There is no one to switch off with, no one to rely on but yourself, and this factor must be considered in the planning stages.

An example from my recent trip: A lot of time was spent driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back again. In total, I spent about 15 hours driving, with most of it happening right in the middle of my trip. I did not consider the toll that hours of driving in a short period of time would take on my body. My back and hips were not happy to sit for so long. It would have been more doable had I been sharing driving responsibilities or if I had spaced out the time better (more planned stops, less rush to reach destinations, etc.)

The increased responsibilities should not dissuade you from trying solo travel, just be sure to think about the various ways that being alone can impact your plans.

Take Care of Your Feet

My favorite way to explore a new place is by simply walking around, and I bet other solo travelers love to do this as well. Walking through a new city among locals makes me feel present and active (as opposed to sticking to a tour bus.) I take long urban hikes through Manhattan often, and tend to reach 10,000 steps a day easily. So I should’ve been all good to walk all over California, right?

Wrong. My feet took a beating on this trip. Bad blisters developed on the balls of both of my feet right on my first full day in San Francisco and significantly impacted my mood and energy.

The horrible sight of my mad feet came as a surprise to me at first: I had done significantly more walking in Paris than in California and didn’t get any blisters over there. Why weren’t my feet cooperating now with less distance per day? 

I simply did not think about my feet enough when packing. In Paris, I had two main pairs of shoes, boots and sneakers, that I switched between. On this trip, I only had my sneakers and a pair of flip flops for the beach, which was a big mistake. I should’ve packed one more pair of real shoes to alternate my sneakers with. I also packed thicker socks for Paris while my California socks were thinner based on temperatures. Thick, athletic socks can help your feet handle the activity better. I certainly learned my lesson!

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I strictly rented this silly bike to take some time off of my feet

Obviously foot health isn’t only important to solo travelers, but being alone made my blisters particularly frustrating. It was terrible to be in so much pain and not have someone to who could make a run to the closest pharmacy for me.

If you’ll be spending a lot of time on your feet, prioritize your shoe and sock choices on your packing list, and consider investing in aids like gel insoles or moleskin to prevent foot issues ahead of time.

Make Your Safety a Priority

This relates to the first tip, but deserves some additional attention. Solo traveling is a vulnerable act, particularly for women, people of color, and queer people. All travel comes with risks, of course, but those risks can feel magnified without having someone to watch your back.

Do what you can to feel safe by preparing yourself for worst-case situations that are specific to your destination. I definitely felt safer traveling in California than in Paris, simply because I was still in my home country and am a native English speaker, but I still kept safety in mind throughout my west coast trip.

A few Cali-specific examples: I tried to keep my rental car parked in safe spots and made sure to not leave anything visible from the car windows. I had several friends in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, and I made sure that my lodging sites had a front desk attendee at all times in case of an emergency. I did my research on the laws related to recreational cannabis before visiting a dispensary.

Don’t forget general travel safety tips, including carrying multiple copies of ID in different locations, wearing clothing that blends in with the general population, and showing your itinerary to someone you trust, to name a few.

If you’re traveling to a place where you don’t have any contacts, I highly encourage you to connect to someone local online ahead of time. Having some sort of emergency contact can help you feel safer, and you could end up making a new friend who you can meet up with during your travels. Women can check out this Facebook group – it’s been a tremendous resource for me and most members are very friendly.

Interact With Others

It can be very easy to isolate yourself while solo traveling, but I highly encourage you to connect with people around you while on the road alone. Whether they are locals or travelers as well, simply talking to other people now and then can add some memorable moments to your travels.

Let the locals tell you their favorite eateries and what tourist traps to skip. They can be a more authentic resource than the review you found through Google, and you’ll learn about your destination on a different level.

Obviously keep stranger danger in mind and protect yourself. Consider chatting with your bartender, cab driver, or hotel clerk if reaching out to a random person makes you nervous. I chatted with plenty of cast members and fellow park-goers at Disneyland, and doing so made my visit even more special.

Go With the Flow

Despite having made some ambitious plans for my trip I had to alter many of them for a variety of reasons. I didn’t get to walk through Golden Gate Park, ride a trolley, or climb any of the staircases like I had planned due to my foot situation. The stops in-between San Francisco and Los Angeles were also greatly altered simply because I did not want to tack on any additional driving hours when I was already feeling weary. I originally had wanted to experience more of the coast, but the closures on Highway 1 and the extra time ended up deterring me. I stuck with quick snack and bathroom stops on my drive back to LA instead of hitting up towns like Santa Barbara, Cambria, and Ventura.

It didn’t feel great to change and cancel my plans as a type-a person, but following my intuition was the correct thing to do while solo traveling. Pushing myself to complete all of my plans would have exhausted me and taken the fun out of it. I wouldn’t have fully enjoyed the steps in San Francisco with the pain in my feet and my body was definitely happy to spend more time at the Santa Monica beach than on the highway.

Let your plans change. Who knows, you might end up doing something else that is equally as memorable. I left Disneyland park early because I was tired and ended up watching the fireworks from my motel. In San Francisco, I let myself spend some extra time reading Ginsberg’s poetry in the City Lights Bookstore as a break from walking and I thoroughly enjoyed that. I would even suggest leaving some blocks of time open in your schedule to allow for some on-the-go improvisation. You could stumble upon something wonderful or gain a local perspective.

Did you miss out on something that was very important to you? Use it as a reason to visit that place again in the future. There’s always next time! Highway 1 won’t have closures forever, and one day I’ll drive the whole route.

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Stay tuned for more posts about my California trip soon!