Embracing My Gray Hair

EmbracingMy Gray Hair

When I was around fifteen years old, my first gray hair was spotted by a high school friend. I didn’t believe her until she plucked it out and dangled the full silver strand in front of my eyes.

I was shocked and confused. How could I, a high schooler, have a gray hair? I tried to shrug it off as SAT stress and hoped it was just some weird natural occurrence.

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How Vulnerability Helps Me Cope with Anxiety

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Anxiety pushes many of us to keep our guard up at all times. It makes trusting others and ourselves difficult. It convinces us to believe and listen to our fears instead of confronting them.

Without any sort of treatment, anxiety can make you feel like a prisoner to your own thoughts.

I’ve been there. My anxiety reached an all-time high during my college years and was the absolute worst during my senior year in 2015. Everyone thought I was thriving because I was losing weight, meanwhile I couldn’t go one day without panicking about class, friendships, my identity, my body, or whatever else made my heart race. It was a painful existence.

Shortly after graduation, my circle convinced me to find my first therapist. Once I began to trust my therapist, I began to talk about my true thoughts, fears, and feelings to her. This is when I learned that one of the most effective ways to confront anxiety is by opening up about it. I began to be more vulnerable with my close friends and family as a result. My life drastically improved thanks to the lessons I gained in therapy.

Flash forward to mid-March 2018 when my relationship with my ex-fiancee ended and my wedding was cancelled. Engagement life had been pretty good, so the trauma of this event blindsided me and hit hard. I had never experienced this kind of heartbreak before.

I was particularly devastated when my ex posted a too-casual status on Facebook about the ordeal, announcing our break-up publicly without my consent. Many of my friends and family members found out by reading the status, and some of them reached out to me with screenshots attached. It was extremely upsetting. My power was taken away from me and it felt like there wasn’t much I could do.

Having to do the post-break-up social media clean-up (untagging photos, new profile pictures, relationship status adjustment) was expected, but I had no intention of writing anything about it on a public forum. I desperately wanted my pain to be private, but my ex made that impossible once the status was posted.

Anxiety quickly overtook my sadness: What would people think of me based on that status? What did this failed engagement say about me? The sense of control I had thought I had achieved in my life was gone and anxiety took its’ place.

After wracking my brain for a while and talking about it with my closest friends, I decided to post my own status and take my power back. My voice deserved to be in the mix, and it wouldn’t be unless I myself spoke up. I wrote with true vulnerability behind my words, and my status was honest and raw.

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My status. You might have noticed it is set to private in the screenshot. I was vulnerable in the moment and I’m proud of that, but it doesn’t mean this life event has to be on my profile forever.

Once it was posted, I felt relieved to have my feelings out in the open. I wasn’t hiding. I was very-much still in the throes of heartbreak (and I honestly will be for some time) but writing candidly about it made it feel less shameful. Those who hadn’t seen the other status flooded my comments with words of support, and that helped too. I flew to Paris a few days later and tried to walk with my head held high.

Since then, I’ve strived to be more vulnerable on a regular basis as a way to cope with the anxiety this break-up reignited in me. I’ve also aimed to expand the range of my vulnerability. My first round of therapy helped me open up to close friends and some family, but that was pretty much the extent of my openness. Now I’m trying to be even more vulnerable on both a private and public level. A few recent examples:

  • Talking to a stranger in Paris about the break-up a week after it happened
  • Writing about seeing a therapist again to help myself feel less embarrassed about it
  • Working through a panic attack with my parents present and making a plan together
  • Speaking to other LGBTQ+ folks at queer events about identity and dating struggles
  • Opening up about body-shaming in the past (see Instagram post below)
  • Admitting fitness fears to my personal trainer and then conquering them together
  • Starting and maintaining this blog

 

Each act of vulnerability has helped me feel less anxious in general. Speaking about what scares me helps me accept each fear a little more. This in turn gives the anxiety less power. I am better able to recognize that an anxious thought popping into my head is usually a distortion: Just because I think it doesn’t mean it is true or that I have to be dictated by it.

Unlocking the door and throwing away the key is ultimately bringing me more peace because I have no secrets to burden me. The pressure to be perfect is slowly but surely disappearing. Fear used to impact my decisions, but now love and kindness act as my primary guides.

I’m sure some people disagree with being as vulnerable as I have been as of late, but most of my circle has expressed positive feedback. I typically find that anyone listening is sympathetic rather than judgmental. The judgement I’m afraid of tends to be a product of my own imagination. We are all in our own heads all the time and are often too busy worrying about ourselves to judge others.

Many people have told me they relate to what I’m feeling, and that helps normalize my feelings and mental health issues in general. It’s essential to remember that we are all fighting our own battles regardless of if we are sharing our battles with others. Choosing to be open about these battles can and will help others.

Does the notion of opening up terrify you? Consider trying therapy first, as it is a way to receive an unbiased response.

If you want to be more vulnerable with your inner circle, start with something small, something with low stakes so you won’t be too intimidated. Maybe tell an embarrassing story to a friend or let yourself cry in front of someone you trust.

Being vulnerable about your anxiety won’t cure it, but doing so can certainly lift some weight of your shoulders. You are not alone in your thoughts and feelings, and sharing them with the world proves you are courageous and strong. I look forward to continuing to live with an open heart and spirit, and I hope doing so will help others as well.

It’s taken me a lot of time to realize I’m often nicer to strangers than myself. I’ve spent too much of my past picking myself apart: My body was never good enough, even at my lowest weight. I was deeply ashamed of my stomach and the stretch marks that came along with it. Exposing my body was a nightmare situation. When my grays started sprouting when I was 14, I would pull them out, too embarrassed to let them be. I spent ten years trying to cover them with dye. My eyes were too squinty and my pores were too big and there was always something to pick on whenever I looked in a mirror. I didn’t feel I was worthy of love because I wasn’t perfect. I am done with that self-hating mentality that is all too present in our culture. Enough is enough! Instead, I’m trying to develop a radical self-love for myself and my body. I’m skipping the judgements and accepting that people and their bodies are not good or bad, they just are. I’m doing what brings me joy and saying no to things that do not. I’m being kind to myself and this kindess radiates past my finger tips into the world. Read more about ways to practice radical self-love on my blog. Spread the love friends! We need it more than ever ❤️ . . . . . #effyourbeautystandards #selfie #selflove #radicalselflove #everybodybeautiful #kindness #love #goodvibes #grayhair #greyhair #grayhairdontcare

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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

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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.

Why I'm Going Back to Therapy

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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