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Little Moments of Happiness

Life is crazy right now and I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time keeping my head above water. A few nights ago I remembered that I had been keeping a list on my phone of little things that make me happy. I read through them and could not stop smiling. So, I thought I’d share them here with all of you. Even in times of great uncertainty, there are always little moments of happiness.

The curl of a wave before it hits the shore

Birds using their absurdly small legs to run away instead of flying

Songs you know by heart coming on the radio

Waking up refreshed

When people are reading in public and smiling to themselves

Tea at the perfect temperature

Cool summer evenings with a good book

A perfectly ripe piece of fruit

Puppy snuggles

Cherry blossoms in bloom

Used book stores

Laughing until your sides hurt

Perfectly timed high-fives

Gentle summer thunderstorms

Killer lipstick colors that match your outfit

Clear night skies

Clean, fresh sheets

Brand new journals

The smell of freshly baked treats

Small habits people do when thinking hard

When the sky is filled with different colors right before the sunset

Walking into a bookstore and feeling like you’ve left the world behind

Realizing that you don’t have anything to do and just being lazy

When the sun comes out after lots of overcast days

Making a bad joke and having one person laugh

When people talk about something they love and seeing their face light up, their eyes bright

Cloud seas when on an airplane

When rays of sunshine poke through the clouds

When you see a dog and get excited and the dog is just as excited to see you

People goofing off in public, not caring about other people’s judgement

Putting on warm, fuzzy socks when your feet are cold

A freshly made bed, the perfect temperature

Long phone calls with a loved one

Forehead kisses

Warm showers

Platonic cuddles

Leaf piles

Flickering light from fireplaces and candles

When puppies snore and their little paws twitch and you can guess what they’re dreaming

Calling a dog of any age ‘puppy’ and having them respond like “Yes!! I am puppy!!!”

Watching your favorite movie under fuzzy blankets

Putting on your favorite outfit and killing it

Waking up with nothing to do so you go back to sleep

When you’ve finished cleaning and your space feels new

Those first days in spring when you can open the windows again

Flowers starting to bloom after a long winter

Noticing how bright the stars are when you leave the city

Having someone you admire looking at a project of yours and saying “good job!”

Take some time every day to notice the little things that make you happy. And share them! Let’s remember that happiness can be found even in the darkest of times…

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Coping during COVID-19

Hello friends and family! Phew, it has been a rough couple of weeks.

We all knew it was coming: schools went virtual. While the public-school system of Maryland has yet to make a decision, Towson University has gone completely online for the remainder of the semester. Campus is closed, students moved out of dorms, and all classes are now via Skype or email. I don’t know about you, but this is not what I signed up for.

I don’t do well with online classes. I have taken two out of necessity, but I told myself that I would not do that again. But, here we are.

I’m graduating this semester and I am really excited! It’s been a long 5 years with a lot of work and a lot of tears, but I learned so much, made amazing friends, and had an amazing experience. So, when it was announced that the commencement ceremony for Spring 2020 was postponed until the Fall, I was disappointed to say the least.

I’m not really a ceremony person. I don’t like to make big deals out of things, and I don’t really like crowds. But dammit, 5 years of hard work deserves some recognition! And while I know, logically, this postponement is for the best and is looking out of the health of all people, myself included, I’m more disappointed than I expected.

So, what do we do? Life has changed so completely and rapidly these past few weeks and has left us reeling in its wake. Students, teachers, parents, children, workers, all lives upended.

What do we do?

Allow yourself to feel all the feelings

The last time the world experienced a pandemic like this was the influenza post WWI, so no one alive has dealt with something of this magnitude. It’s natural to be scared, anxious, angry, sad, and every other emotion under the rainbow. Things have changed and decisions have been made, while for the best, without your consent, and that would rattle anyone. Add to that the necessary social distancing, it’s easy to feel trapped.

Your feelings are valid because you feel them. There doesn’t need to be a reason behind them, or an explanation for them. And fighting against them with thoughts like “I shouldn’t be this upset” or “There’s no reason for me to be anxious” will not make those feelings go away. Allow yourself to be angry, upset, or scared. Cry if you need to. Punch a pillow if that will make you feel even the tiniest bit better. And then recognize that while you cannot control your emotions, you can control how you react to them.

Self-Prioritize

I know this is difficult for a lot of people. We’re taught to always care for others and take others into account when making decisions, which is not a bad thing! But it is okay to prioritize yourself. In times like these, it’s necessary. So if you need to sit at home and binge-watch dramas to get the catharsis from the cheesy, I-will-ship-it-till-I-die romances, then do that! (Just me?)

Find time every day to do something that recharges your batteries. Watch a favorite movie! Learn a new craft or skill! Play that video game you love! Make that time for yourself so that your soul can be fed.

The bare necessities

We’re all stuck at home, inside to self-distance. Some of us are even quarantined and not able to leave the house until medically cleared. It’s easy to forget the basics when your schedule has disappeared. So, write it down. Every day make sure you’re drinking at least 8 glasses of water, doing some sort of physical activity, and getting outside. Take a walk while listening to some music. Or even just open a window. Fresh air will do wonders.

Remember to shower, wash your clothes and dishes, and keep your space tidy. It’s easy to fall into the trap of messiness, especially when you don’t have anywhere to go, but it’s proven that your surroundings effect your mood. If everything around you is messy and disorganized, you’ll feel that way too.

F is for Friends

Social distancing does not mean social isolation. Call your friends and family! Check up on those you care about and talk about silly, mundane stuff. Facetime your best friend just to keep each other company while doing other work. We are social creatures.

I know that right now everything is overwhelming. A lot is unknown, uncertain, and upended. But we will make it through. We’ve done it before; we’ll do it again.

In the meantime, take care, and be well.

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On Living with a Chronic Illness During the COVID-19 Panic

First, I would like to say, for all you healthy folks out there, please relax. Yes, we should be taking this outbreak seriously, but stockpiling soap and toilet paper is not rational. Did you never wash your hands before this? Frankly, the fact that it took a new virus to make you think about washing your hands properly is more worrying to me than the virus itself.

But let’s back up a minute. We’re going to take a moment to talk about facts, just to calm everyone down a bit.

The novel coronavirus, named COVID-19, is a new respiratory illness causing fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The reason it’s all over the news and spreading so quickly is because it’s new. We don’t have a vaccine for it, we don’t have a cure for it, we can only treat the symptoms, and in severe cases, offer medical support to vital organs affected by the virus.

For information regarding COVID-19, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

This sounds scary, but you know what else is a coronavirus that we don’t have a cure for? That we can only treat the symptoms? The common cold.

I’m not saying this to downplay the virus or to say it isn’t something to keep in mind. I’m just saying that if you are healthy, you don’t need to panic. Panic is the opposite of helpful in these situations. Haven’t you ever seen a disaster movie? What do people do? Panic. Does it do anything? It only creates more chaos and, in some cases, stops medical professionals from being able to do their jobs. So, let’s chill a bit.

For you healthy folks out there (when I say ‘healthy’, I mean the general person, without chronic illness, with a working immune system, etc.) here’s what the CDC recommends to prevent illness:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe
  • Follow the CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

CDC on illness prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention-treatment.html

CDC on handwashing: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/

For healthy folks, here is my honest plea, if not my strong demand: Stop buying medical supplies you don’t need and stop buying medical supplies in bulk.

Facemasks will not help the common Joe. Medical grade face masks are only to be used if

  1. You yourself are sick
  2. You are in close contact with someone who is sick
  3. You are immunocompromised (ex: chronic illness, ongoing chemo, etc.)

If you do not fit into one or more of the above, you do not need to wear a face mask and buying them in bulk is actually making the situation worse.

Please, please, stop panicking and running to Target and emptying the shelves of hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes. For people with chronic illness, those medical supplies you are stockpiling like those crazy people in math equations are the difference between a good day, and possibly deadly consequences.

I’m one of the lucky ones. While I am immunocompromised, it is not as severe as others and I do not need many OTC medical supplies. That being said, there are people out there who do need those things. And when you, who do not need them, buy those supplies in bulk, they are not available for those who need them. If it will make you feel better to go out and buy some hand sanitizer, do it. Just don’t buy the whole store’s worth. Herd immunity requires everyone be taking proper precautions, and if you own all the soap in the tri-state area, how is anyone going to wash their hands?

Okay, let’s talk about facemasks. If you are the average Joe healthy person, you do not need a facemask. Buying them and wearing them does nothing unless you yourself are sick or you are in close contact with someone who is sick.

So, why do I wear one? Why do you still see people wearing facemasks?

There are people who do need to wear facemasks, and you can’t tell who they are just by appearances. So, if you see me walking around looking like a medical Bane, don’t judge, because you don’t know the whole situation. And please, do not stop me and tell me ‘you know facemasks don’t actually work’. Just assume I have COVID-19 and stay the hell away from me.

This is a scary time for spoonies. I could die of complications from the common cold, so it’s understandable that I’d be preoccupied with germs. But being filled with panic isn’t going to help. So let’s all agree to take a deep breath, and look at things logically.

Panic, no. Cautious, yes.

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An Open Letter: To My Friends Who Don’t Shy Away from My Illness

To my friends. My friends who stay by me. My friends who stand tall beside me, even when I cannot do the same. My friends who do not shy away, who brave doctors’ offices and hospital visits and medication changes and pain flares.

Thank you.

I cannot express how much your friendship means to me. I do not like being vulnerable (ironic coming from the person with an almost too-much-information level public blog). I show the world only what I think the world is ready to see, only what I think the world can handle. But my illness doesn’t work like that. So, on those days when I’m crying on your floor, unable to move from pain, or insisting I’m fine only to pass out moments later, know that the fact that you stay by me means more than I can say.

I know that our friendship has suffered because of this illness. I know that I cannot always be there for you when needed, and that hanging out with me now involves far more resting and planning for every possible scenario. I know that it’s not easy. I know it can even be annoying and frustrating at times. But the fact that you are still with me is something I thank God for every day. Because the reason I can continue being strong, continue living my life despite a noncooperative body, is that I have support from people like you.

It’s not just the 3am visits to urgent care, or the refusing to leave my side after an incident, though those mean the world. It’s that you still treat me as me, still want to watch tv with me, discuss music with me, and be around me as much as I want to be around you.

People tell me all the time that I am strong, because there is nothing more difficult than living with a chronic illness, but I’m not sure that’s true. I think there is nothing more difficult than living with a chronic illness by yourself. Because I know I wouldn’t have made it this far without you by my side.

So, thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for not shying away when things changed. Thank you for staying. Thank you for being my friend.

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A Year in Review

Hello friends and family! So, I got an email a few weeks ago from WordPress. (For those of you who don’t know, that’s the platform I use to blog.) It said “Congratulations! You’ve been here for a year!” Holy cheese balls. I started Worry Warrior last year right after Christmas, and looking back, it’s amazing to see the progress I’ve made.

This time last year, I had just come back from France in extraordinary physical and emotional pain. I had not completed my courses abroad and was forced to leave the program early due to my health conditions. I was still struggling to get support and recognition from doctors, desperately searching for a diagnosis, and horribly anxious and depressed. I couldn’t stand for long periods of time without falling over or passing out, I couldn’t walk more than the distance from my bed to the bathroom and back, and I was afraid to leave the relative safety of my house, the place with pain killers and my bed. I wasn’t sure I could get my degree, much less go back for the next semester. I was afraid. I was lonely. I was in pain.

I wish I could go back in time and tell myself a few things. But as time travel has not been invented yet (or at least, I can only assume it hasn’t as my future great-grandchildren have not come to visit me from the future) I’m going to put it here for all my fellow Worry Warriors. Who knows? Maybe this time next year I’ll look at this post and see even more growth. I sure hope so.

Focus on the next right thing

As long as I can remember, whenever I’m overwhelmed, my parents tell me to ‘focus on the next right thing, the next human step’. We break it down to the smallest of steps so that this seemingly giant task becomes manageable. Sometimes that’s getting a pencil, or some water, or even just washing my face. Last year I was so focused on the ‘what if’s’ surrounding my illness that I was completely overwhelmed. I was looking at the big picture, the totality of my future, instead of the next human thing, which was usually taking a nap. I wish I could go back in time and remind myself that everything seems large and unmanageable when you look at it as a whole. I would go back and take it one step at a time.

Other people’s opinions of you do not define who you are

I’ve never really been one to care about what others think of me. One time in middle school, a friend informed me that this girl who rode my bus *hated* me, and I distinctly remember thinking, “why are you telling me this? Why should I care?” I dress how I want, shave what I want when I want, and couldn’t care less if you think it’s weird to dance and sing to songs played over the CVS speaker system. Don’t at me, Man, I Feel Like a Woman is a bop. But chronic illness really took its toll on my self-esteem. I was angry and upset about my academic performance in France. I wasn’t able to focus on my work, turn assignments in, or participate in class. And as my illnesses don’t have many visible symptoms, I was afraid that people would think I was lazy. That I was a poor student, that I didn’t care. I knew that wasn’t the case, but what about my professors? My program advisors? My friends?

I was ashamed and because of this, I didn’t even tell my US friends when I got home. I didn’t speak to anyone because I was afraid of what they would think. (Because of my complete and utter lack of technological understanding, my friends knew pretty much as soon as I got home because I have location sharing on for our conversations, so they saw I was in Maryland. I still don’t know how to turn it off.)

I wish I could go back and shake myself, yelling “You are not defined by this moment in your life!” I wish I could tell myself that no one thought I was giving up on my academics, and even if they did, who cares? I knew what was going on and I was taking care of myself, and dammit that’s all that matters.

You are not broken

One of the biggest challenges I faced this time last year was discouraged, depressed, and desperate for answers. Whenever I looked in the mirror and saw the bags under my eyes or had to sit down after walking half a block, I felt crippled, defective, like this illness had beaten me and I was useless because of it.

Looking back, I realize that this was a time where I was my strongest. Despite the constant pain, despite dizziness and brain fog, migraines and heartache, I kept going. I kept pushing forward. I started this blog! I refused to stop doing what made me happy, and that is not something that’s easy to do. My abilities changed, my body did too, but that did not make me broken. If anything, it made me stronger.

A year doesn’t feel like a long time, but it also feels like an eternity. I’ve spent this past year working hard, doing physical therapy, trying new medications and seeing new doctors, and overall taking care of myself.

And now, I’m entering my last semester of college! I’m getting my certification to teach English as a foreign language! I’m planning to move abroad and see what the world has to offer! And I’m doing it all, not despite my illness, but in tandem with it. Because this is a part of me, but not all of me.

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On New Year’s Resolutions

Trigger warning: eating disorder, body dysmorphia, diet talk

Before all my other diagnoses of fibromyalgia, PMDD, etc. I was diagnosed with something that has shaped my life in ways I never thought possible. I haven’t talked about it before, which is strange considering I have an entire blog dedicated to talking about my chronic illnesses, but this one feels just a little more personal than the others. This diagnosis predates any of my others, including depression and anxiety, though I’m sure they’re related. I am currently 5 years in recovery from an eating disorder.

I’m not sure how it’ll feel after I tell all the intimate details to strangers on the internet (and admit a lot of this to my mother, who is a faithful reader of the blog). But I’m saying all this to make a point. So here we go.

I’ve always been chubby, and I’ve pretty much always been aware of that fact. I’m not sure exactly when the world’s views crept into my consciousness and I started viewing my body shape as ‘bad’, but I know I was young. Why else would 8-year-old me bemoan my size to my fellow 3rd graders? (Side note: the best response I received, and the only one I remember, is one girl telling me that if the apocalypse struck tomorrow, at least I wouldn’t die immediately. As bleak as it sounds, it made me laugh, and it still does.)

I spent the end of elementary school and my first year of middle school praying for a height growth spurt so, as all of my relatives kept reassuring me, I would ‘even out’. I was destined for disappointment however because at my tallest, I’m 5’2”. Damn you, scoliosis! Take inches away from people who have some to spare, why don’t you?

My first three years of high school I played on the junior varsity field hockey team. (I had neither the talent, nor the drive, to try for varsity.) This should have been a time where I cultivated my competitive drive, made friends with the older players, or learned what constitutes a foul inside the 25-yard-line. (I still don’t know, and at this point, I’m not going to Google it. It’s a pride thing.) Instead, I was too busy worrying about the fact that the jersey numbers directly corresponded with their size, and that my number was one of the highest on the team.

My eating habits changed during middle school, but in high school things got dangerous. In middle school, I found myself eating only parts of the lunch packed for me. In high school, I threw it all away. In middle school I would skip dessert most of the time. In high school, I convinced my parents that I hated butter so I would have an excuse to have as little of it in my diet as possible. Every calorie counted, and I did just that. 1500 a day is recommended? Let’s try 1000. No? 800. Still fat? 500 it is. Eventually my ‘cravings’ as I called them then, but what I now recognize as my instinctual human need to eat food and survive, would kick in and I would have something to eat. The guilt that followed me after ‘indulging’ in a second serving of dinner, or something I deemed ‘too caloric’ led to more extreme self-policing. I started wearing a hair-tie around my wrist, and when I found myself craving food, I would snap it hard against my skin. When that stopped working, I’d allow myself to go crazy for food for the next 12 hours, but force myself to vomit it up after. This is usually the part where families start to notice something is off, but I hid it well, and I was grossly proud of that fact. I was always a sickly child (surprise, surprise, I know) so it wasn’t a stretch for my parents to believe I had the flu again. When I couldn’t stand the idea of shoving my toothbrush down my throat for the nth time, I would allow myself to chew food, and enjoy its taste, but not to swallow. I would cover up the trashcan evidence with paper towels and move on with my day.

Then it finally happened. I began to lose weight. To me this was just proof that my methods worked, and while I knew that what I was doing was not healthy, I told myself I would stop once I reached a certain number. I weighed myself daily in my parents’ bathroom. I had this obsession with weighing 100lbs. Not healthy at all, but to me, it was the perfect number, and I’ve always strived towards perfection.

Once my weight dropped, due to my body entering starvation mode and using fat deposits as energy to stay alive, I was temporarily happy. But I wasn’t the magical number 100, nor was I blissfully happy and content as all the models, magazines, and diet advertisements had promised me would happen once that number started going down. People noticed I was losing weight, but to them, this was due to my finally ‘evening out’ and ‘exercising properly’. Let’s not get into the fact that when I wasn’t playing field hockey, my exercising looked like running on the treadmill until I reached 400 calories burned, or my legs gave out, whichever happened first.

By my junior year of high school, I was completely miserable. I’d gained back the weight I’d lost previously, plus some, and was a complete wreck. I managed to keep up in my classes and put on a brave face for those who cared about me, but inside I was dying. When my therapist moved, I cried. I lost it completely. She was the one lifeline I felt I had, and now, she was gone. I felt abandoned. I felt confused. I felt alone. She and I hadn’t discussed my fucked up relationship with food and my body, but when she left I felt that any chance I had to get help left with her.

Then one night, my senior year of high school, I finally lost my grip on the carefully sculpted mask I had been wearing since I was 11, and sobbed hysterically that I needed help. My sister had never seen me lose control like this (outside of in Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 2, when Buffy was forced to kill Angel, and the sword went through him right as he got his soul back. I cried so long about that.) so when she had mom come and talk to me, she correctly assumed I would need some time, and went upstairs. I don’t think I’ve ever told her how much that moment of space to talk to our mom alone meant, but it meant a hell of a lot. (Now she should know, if she’s reading this blog post. And Sydney don’t even pretend because I get a country-by-country map out of readers, so if nothing pops up from The Gambia, I know the truth. Love ya!)

That year I started taking medication for my depression and anxiety, and when I left for college, the first thing I did was find a therapist nearby and make an appointment. I am in a much better place now. I don’t restrict my eating, or binge and purge, and I point out when I’m categorizing foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I have an open dialogue with a therapist whom I love and trust, a bomb ass support system, and an appreciation for all my body has done for me, and continues to do for me, that grows every minute I’m still here.

So, why am I bringing all this up now? Because, it’s almost 2020.

A new year! A new freaking decade! New opportunities await, and what better way to get a head-start on the life of your dreams than through the most popular new years resolution, ‘getting in shape’?

I have said many things about diet culture, and I will continue to do so. I’ll rag on diet culture and weight-loss companies until my face turns blue. Because no matter how ‘healthy’ they claim to be, no matter how many of your favorite celebrities they get to endorse them, they’re still just a corporation making money off your dissatisfaction with your own body.

I’m not here to drag people for wanting to become healthier. Health is something that we should all strive for. But a weight-loss program is not how you get healthier. If you want to be healthy, and you think part of that involves shedding a few pounds, before you do anything, go see a doctor. And I don’t mean reading some sham Dr. Oz type diet book. I don’t care if that man has a ‘Dr.’ in front of his name, he has dollar signs in his eyes because he’ll endorse anything if they pay him enough. True, healthy, or just rat piss in a bottle, he’ll get on tv and tell you to drink up, piss babies, because this is how you lose that weight for good!

I recently stumbled upon an article discussing the merits of the latest health trend, intermittent fasting. Normally when I see titles like this, I keep on scrolling. I’ve got pictures of baby corgis to squeal over, thankyouverymuch. But this one, I clicked. Because it’s that time of year, and I wanted to see what ammunition the bigwigs at You’re Not Good Enough Incorporated were going to throw at us. And boy, this one’s a doozy.

If you don’t know what intermittent fasting is, it’s exactly like it sounds. You deprive yourself of food for a set number of hours so your body goes into starvation mode and eats into those pesky fat deposits there to be used in case of survival emergency, then once the allotted time has passed, you can go back to eating. How long is this time, you ask? Oh, just 16 hours. Jesus Christ on a cracker you have got to be kidding me.

This article even offers helpful tips for people who find this diet ‘a little tricky’, like starting your fast before bed so you get through the majority of it while you sleep. Do you know why the first meal of the day is called breakfast? Because you break your fast! That’s the whole point. Some people get sick if they eat too much in the morning, not because your body wasn’t meant to have breakfast, but because your body doesn’t have time to adjust to the sudden influx of food right as it was entering starvation mode.

Another helpful tip is to do the every-other-day-method, where the article encourages you to “eat nothing, or very little one day, then eat whatever you want the next”. Buffy, stick that sword through me, because I don’t want to see another word.

(Note, I am purposefully not citing my source here because no one else should be subjected to that rubbish someone had the audacity to publish. And, despite the subheading ‘What science says’, this article didn’t give a single medical source, so, fair is fair.)

This has quickly become the longest blog post I’ve written to date, but I feel it is also one of the most important. Before you try out the latest diet trend, or make that resolution to lose those pounds, make sure you think hard about your reasons why. Are you exercising to keep up with the grandkids? Or to fit into that pair of pants in the back of your closet you try on every so often just to be filled with self-loathing?

This New Year let’s try resolutions that are about health, not about weight or size.

How about spending less time on social media? Or journaling every day for a month? Or drinking the recommended amount of water so your doctor stops saying, ‘you drink like two tablespoons of water a day, how are you even still alive, Alex??’How about doing one thing that scares you a month, or spending an hour outside every day? That seems a lot healthier than worrying about your bodies relative gravitational pull, if you ask me