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***

These past weeks have been difficult ones. Many of us are fortunate to have strong support systems- I’m happy to see the stigma of mental illness falling away as more people open up about their struggles. However, I know that accessible and affordable mental health care is still lacking. Some of us are going through these trying times without the support we need.

Below are some affordable options for those seeking help. I have tried some of these resources. Others we recommended to me. Please note that I’m not a doctor of any sorts. Your mental health is your business and responsibility. There are no substitutes for actually talking with a professional. However, if I can help you steer in the right direction, snaps.

Headspace Last month, a friend invited me to the local Buddhist Center for a free mediation class. I fell in love with the course- I could finally clear my “monkey mind” and focus on more positive avenues. However, the mediation class is only held twice a month and I wanted more practice. Another friend recommended the app, Headspace. The free app teaches you simple ten-minute mediation that cover mindfulness, letting go and relaxation. I listen to Headspace on my phone right before bed. The host’s soothing voice relaxes my tense mind and muscles and allows me to get a good night’s sleep.

Podcasts Sometimes, we don’t want to talk about our feelings but need to feel that empathy and connection. Podcasts are perfect for that. Terrible, Thanks for Asking is this terrific program that honestly asks people how they’re doing. I like listening to each story and being reminded that no one is perfect- no one has it all together- and that’s okay. It’s more than okay. It’s beautiful. The Love Bomb I first fell in love with Nico Tortorella after watching him on “Younger” (and maybe the fact that he looks like an old ex). He also hosts a wonderful podcast about love and relationship- both with yourself and others. It’s the ultimate comfort food. The Hilarious World of Depression is a weekly podcast that talks with celebrities about their mental health and how they deal with the day-to-day. The most recent episode features Wil Wheaton of “Star Trek” fame.

7 Cups of Teas This site connects listeners together. Individuals can sign up for free to give and get advice, video chat and send thoughtful messages to each other. 7 cups is a welcoming safe space where you can find someone with whom you feel comfortable chatting without fear of being judged. The site also features online therapy at a fraction of the price and their message counseling can be done anywhere at anytime.

Campus resources Back when I was a university student, I took full advantage of my campus health center, especially on-campus counseling services. Counseling was “free” to students (students paid for such services in their tuition). My university’s psychology department also offered free counseling in their Master’s programs training clinics (which is a great option when you’re not enrolled as a student). I also checked in with my teachers quiet often and talked to them about college struggles. The hours I spent in some of my professors’ offices are some of favorite memories and most enlightening moments from my undergrad years.

Good luck, dear reader. I hope that you find the help you need.

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#ForgivingYourself

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***

Forgiveness, can you imagine?” 

The quote above is from “Hamilton: the Musical.” Alexander’s young son just died and his wife discovers his affair with her sister. He sings about his guilt, unable to forgive himself for the mistakes he made. “It’s Quiet Uptown” is on constant rotation on my Spotify playlist. You listen to that song twenty times a day and can’t help but think about forgiveness. How we forgive others. How we forgive ourselves.

For most of my life, it has been easy for me to forgive others. However, when it comes to myself, I hold on to past mistakes long after they occurred. Poor financial choices I made in my twenties. Not taking certain key opportunities. For burning bridges and acting inappropriately in certain relationships. Not focusing on my health- especially my teeth and my anxiety.

To forgive ourselves is to accept responsibility for our actions both compassionately and seriously. Forgiveness is a process, one that doesn’t happen overnight. When we can really wrap our head around the fact that we can’t undo the past- the past is DONE- we open ourselves up to more acceptance. It’s now time to turn the page and accept those events as part of your story. They’ve all contributed to making you who you are. Perhaps we can find a silver lining in each mistake, a learning lesson. Yes, it doesn’t excuse you from being an asshole but when you’re constantly living in the past as I do, forgiveness can lighten your mental load.

Forgiveness is about mental toughness and emotional fortitude. To wrap it up in one simple word, it’s about kindness. We are our own toughest critic. I beat myself up all of the time for every single mistake and poor choice I’ve made. I beat myself up all of the time for being human. Humans are not perfect even though in my head, I think that we are. I think that I should be. I give myself impossibly high standards and expectations. But even the incredibly stupid acts are part of being human. Life is a series of mistakes. We go from one to the next, learning, shaping, and molding us along the way.

Forgiveness- it is imaginable. It does happen.

How have you forgiven yourself, dear reader?

#SelfCareSunday

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***

After a rough “breaking news” weekend like this one, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself. We all need some sort of self care. When I feel the worst of the worst, that’s when I know that I need to step back and focus on bringing me back to a place where I can think clearly and rationally.

Self care takes various forms. I turn off my computer and my phone and focus on me. I take showers- LONG showers (close to an hour). Often times, I will stand under the water and mediate, trying to think about nothing.  I’ll watch an ASMR video or something mindless that will make me laugh. I’ll grab my cat and snuggle. I’ll push myself to get dressed, get outside and hang out with good people (a little bit of exposure therapy, if you will). I will do whatever it takes to get out of my head.

But self care does actually mean taking care of yourself physically, as well. I learned this trick on the playa at Burning Man. If you’re feeling off, ask yourself these three questions: Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Are you tired? What does your body need? I feel a 1000x better when I brush my teeth, giving them a hard scrub. I feel a 1000x better when I drink eight ounces of water. I feel better when I take my vitamins. I get out of my head and focus on my body.

Millennials have been accused of focusing too much on self care. But let’s be real- there is nothing wrong about taking care of yourself. We’re raised to think we should always put others before ourselves and ignore our own needs; that it is somehow arrogant or selfish and not a nice thing to do. But Just think how they tell us to put on our oxygen mask first on an airplane before we help others. Yes, absolutely support others, but nurture yourself first.

How do you take care of yourself, dear reader? And don’t forget to treat yourself- treat yourself well (#TreatYoSelf2017!)

#EveryoneHasAStory

For the last couple of years, I’ve sat on the idea of creating a web series, gathering snippets of people’s lives and telling their story. Honestly, I’ve wanted to do this since my early 20s- I just never really believed in myself and thought I could create quality and compelling work. But a switch recently happened and I realized that this is something I really want to do.

Skyping with Saffeya

Saffeya is a jill-of-all-trades. An official Brooklynite, she’s worked in various positions ranging from healthcare to real estate to software coding. Saffeya explains how a certain career setback brought her closer to her mother.

“I was working two jobs. I started to notice very quickly that I was burning out. I was working about 60 hours a week, to the point where one day, I just missed work. I lost my job. I felt bad. I felt dirty. It was the first time I failed at something. I started to lose my way and I gave up on myself; I just gave up. I sat down with my mom and told her that I didn’t want to try anymore. She gave me money to cover my bills. I don’t know what I would have done without a supportive mother. I love my mom.

It took someone else believing in me. We all go through similar life cycles. I’m glad I had those experiences because I learned a lot about myself. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. We need hardships; we need to make mistakes.”

As I figure out software and find people to interview (volunteers, please!), stayed tune, dear reader, for future video posts.

#DifficultRealities (Part II)

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***

After reading my last post to my therapist, she recommended that I counteract all the negative things I wrote about myself with a love letter. I do have a lot of good truths in my life and about my personality that I choose to overlook. Even though I spend 24/7/365 with myself, I spend little time actually taking time to build that positive relationship with the  inner me- you have to make that attempt, she and everyone else say.

Well, here goes nothing…

Dearest Andrea,

I seldom tell you how much I love you. How much I admire you. How beautiful and caring, intelligent and strong you are. That you are my hero.

I took you for granted and dishonored you. I said you’re not enough. That you will never be enough. That if you were only a better student, a better daughter, a better friend, a better writer, a better lover- then, I would love you. If you were smarter, more confident, prettier, more social, skinnier, more assertive, nicer- then, I would respect you.

You are brave. You’re a babe. You are a badass. You just forget that some of the time.

I love your courage- courage to cry, to leap, to give, to receive. When your heart breaks, you allow it to open you. When you heal- and you always heal- your heart grows bigger and stronger.

Thank you for trusting your heart over your head even when it means taking a risk, stepping into the unknown and embracing uncertainty.

I catch you dreaming for hours about a better world. You’re always reading, always searching for more knowledge, always expanding your skills, always longing for more awareness. There’s always something going on in your mind: this mixture of hopes, dreams and ideas that no one knows about. It’s a secret garden only I know the entrance to and this garden is magical.

I love that you like to be funny and that nothing fulfills you more than making people laugh. You’re empathetic and feel people’s pain before they need to tell you anything. I love that you feel the world’s pain as your own and how hopeless it makes you feel sometimes.

I love that you’re an open book and share your fears and dreams with the world. I love you even when you shut down. You will sit with it, let yourself cry and just be there. You are beginning to be more conscious of your thoughts and your words, learning to fill them with kindness rather than hurt. You are taking the time to learn more about yourself and are recognizing the importance of it.

You know that you’re not perfect- you will never be and that’s okay. What you need to remember is that you’re loved and appreciated. Being so is far better than being perfect.

You have “Be Your Own Hero” written on a Post-It above your bed. Looking back at that, hell yes- you are your own hero. You are my hero.

No one will ever be as happy that you exist more than I do.

Keep fighting the good fight. You are worth it. Your life is worth it.

Love you for eternity,
Andrea

(And dear reader, when’s the last time that you wrote yourself a love letter?)

#HowAreYou

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***

“How are you?”

“Fine.”

I know you’re not fine.

On our first date, my partner and I talked for hours about things couples usually don’t discuss when they first meet: religion, politics, what we don’t like about ourselves. He told me his insecurities about his physical appearance while I explained to him how I never feel good enough. It was that level of honesty that connected us to each other instantly; one of the many qualities we both share and fell in love with. Since our first date, I have been thinking about the amount of honesty and openness I use in daily communication.

In the span of 24 hours, I was asked “How are you” eight times (I counted this past Monday). Most days, I usually smile and say that I’m “good” or “okay” even though sometimes I’m not (Monday was one of those days). We all do it. We’re feeling like utter crap but we don’t reveal our truths when we’re asked. We don’t want the attention on us. We don’t want to look like “drama kings/queens.” We don’t want to have to explain our problems to people who might not understand.

“How are you” lost its meaning. It has become an official unofficial rhetorical question.

But what would happen if we were honest and responded with how we really felt?

During that special date, I was asked what is the one quality that I liked the most about myself. I thought hard, thinking about the things I was good at and enjoyed doing. A few months earlier, I was having cocktails with a friend at a bar and I asked her how she was holding up. She broke down into tears, explaining that she was depressed and she didn’t know what to do about it. So, I comforted her and was grateful that she was honest with me… I told Stephen that I was a good friend. I’m happy to be the person people feel comfortable opening up to.

It’s that level of vulnerability. I think that is missing from every day conversations. Sure, superficial conversation has its place but I want to learn. I want to know. I want to share. I want people to know that I’m truly interested in their well-being and that I’m listening.

In this year, the year that I seek out more meaning in my life, I want the BIG talk. Small talk is now and forever out. When we share, we bond. We get closer. We understand better. Our worlds open up. For me, it helps me get out of my head. I remind myself that we all have problems, great and small, worries and aren’t living in these perfect little bubbles.

So, when I ask, how are you, don’t hide your response. I want to hear it. The truth. And I want to be asked the same. This doesn’t mean that I’m not going to explain to a stranger how painful my menstrual cramps are or try to have a conversation while in the public bathroom (although I have been doing that lately- sorry to those who I’ve spoken to while sitting on the pot). When I ask, I simply want to know how you are doing.

Now dear reader… How are you?

#36Questions

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***

I love listening to dating stories. I have quite a few of mine own floating around in my head- after a long weekend, my lady friends and I get together and gab about people with cute smiles, huge blue eyes and who made us laugh until we had charlie horse in our stomachs. We all agree that dating is difficult AF but we look for bright spots among the dating darkness. We encourage each other after we’re ghosted and exchange ideas to keep a conversation going.

Two years ago, I had the privilege of performing in a play with the greatest cast mates anyone could ask for. After one show, we ate lunch together and came across this list from a New York Times article.  We started asking each other and answering questions from the list. It’s a fond memory I think about often- I still think about that moment often. Now that I’m dating, I try to squeeze in those questions from the list into conversation.

This list of 36 questions (broken up into three sets) is supposed to build intimacy by exposing your vulnerability to the person you’re responding to. I have never gotten through the entire list with a perspective partner (I have tried!) but I have pondered these questions when alone. In this moment of my life when I heavily reevaluating my relationship with myself, I’ve asked myself these questions in order to figure out my values and deepen the bond with my inner me.

I am sharing these answers with you, dear reader. I hope that my answers can inspire you into asking yourself,  your partner, your friends, the random dude you’re seeing these questions. These questions are meant to help you fall in love (even if it’s just with yourself). They may not do that exactly but they will help create feelings of intimacy and trust—necessary conditions for love to thrive.

Set I

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? I would have dinner with my biological father. I’m curious to see if we share any personality traits and facials features.

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way? Truthfully, yes. I would want to be famous. I would be a well-known journalism like Lisa Ling or Diane Sawyer.

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why? The only times I rehearse are when I think I’ll cry during the call. I’ll usually write my thoughts down and repeat what I wrote.

4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you? The perfect day would consist of spending it at the beach with a group of close friends, filled with sunbathing, swimming, music and laughter (maybe a nap). Then, we all get dressed up and go out to a nice dinner somewhere semi-fancy and barhop the night away.

5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else? I sang to myself this morning as I biked to get coffee. And does my cat count as someone else? If so, I sang to her this morning (she isn’t a fan of my singing and often runs away to hide under the bed).

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want? I rather have the body. There is too much to do in this world and I would want young legs to take me places.

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die? Painfully. It will be a painful death.

8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common. What I seem to have in common with my readers is that we seems to concerned with current events in the news. We all want to change the world, or at least our corners of it. We also appreciate semi-decent writing.

9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful? I’m the most thankful for my friends. They catch me when I fall, inspire me to the best version of Andrea I can be and bring so much joy to my life. I’m so grateful to have such a large and strong support system.

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be? There would be more sincere hugs and words of praise and encouragement.

11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible. I was born. I was in foster care. I was adopted. I had sisters. I went to school. I was an average student. I became the child of a divorce.  I continued to go to school. I got better grades. I was insecure. I played the drums. I ran for student body secretary. I discovered that I wanted to be a journalist. I graduated. I left home. I went to college. I struggled. I hated school. I dropped out. I moved to New York City. I fell in love for the first time. I went to a lot of concerts. I partied. I learned how to fix bicycles. I learned a lot about myself and life in a short time. I moved. I fell in love again- twice. I finished college. I graduated with a degree. I job hunted. I traveled. I lost friends. I met some cool people. I’m still figuring everything out (all this was written in four minutes, timed on my iPhone).

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? I would either be able to read minds or breathe underwater (my grown self still desperately wants to be a mermaid).

***

Stay tuned for Part II.

#FamilyValues

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***

I will always value pizza- the #1 priority in my life.

I will always value pizza- the #1 priority in my life.

In middle school, I was obsessed with Limp Bizkit. I really wanted to go to the Family Values tour (when I told my mom, she listened to their music and almost had a heart attack). That’s a terrible segway but I’ve been thinking about my value system a lot of the last couple of weeks. What do I value? What is a priority in my life? How do I determine my values?

Values shape the way we live our lives, how we interact with others and how we feel about ourselves and others. Even if we recognize them or not, values do naturally exist. They’re learned, passed down from generation to generation, by friends and discovered after certain life experiences, turning points and big decisions. When your actions and thoughts match your values, we’re satisfied and content. But when they don’t align, things feel wrong and life gets hard and confusing. This can be a real source of unhappiness.

Life is easier when you acknowledge your values and when you make plans and decisions that honor them. I think about the things that make me happiest in life, my zen (please keep in mind that this is a random sampling): Purpose. My friends. My mental health. Community service. Creativity and originality. Forgiveness. Achievement. Adventure and exploring things and experiences unknown to me. Tolerance. These things are what I’m currently and always seeking out in my life. What do I do every day that honors these values? I reach out to my friends and make time to spend time with them. I take my antidepressants daily and see my doctor regularly. I dedicate most of free time not spent with friends to volunteering…

There are negative values, too. Fear. Self-doubt. Embarrassment. Competitiveness. Selfish. Pessimism. Guilt. Laziness. These are some of the ones I deal with and think about on a daily basis. Once I recognize these negative values, I can change them into something positive- they are largely false beliefs. Almost all negative values are connected in a broad way with a feeling of little or no self worth. These values can set up a negative pattern that you will bond to and repeat throughout your life. Once these negative beliefs are recognized, you need to listen to your inner critic and stop thinking what you’re thinking- bad thoughts lead to bad actions; bad actions lead to bad habits; bad habits make up a stressful and miserable life.

After determining my values, I think about how am I applying them to my life. I start by writing a list of both my positive and negative values (don’t underestimate the power of a Post-It) and purposely view it every morning before I start my day. Checking in throughout the day helps, too- I listen to music that represents my values on constant rotation and focus on the words. Each day brings a new challenge and I reexamine if the value is that important to cling to. Through this process of consciously shifting and examining my values, I’m slowly (and hopefully) becoming a better person.

What are your positive and negative values, dear reader?

#FindingYourTribe

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I’m friends with a bunch of weirdos. But that’s okay- I’m quite strange, as well.

In my last relationship, I pushed a lot of friends away in favor of my ex. I now know this was the wrong thing to do, as I spent many nights during that relationship crying to him that I had no friends and how lonely I felt, missing companionship. When we broke up, I forced myself to reconnect with the people I pushed away, getting out of my comfort zone to apologize and hang out after months of no contact. I needed someone and really relied on them pre- and post- break up. In what happened seemingly overnight, my social circle- my tribe- grew and now, I don’t feel so alone anymore.

Over the last month or so, I applied to several jobs out of town, looking at moving to a big city like San Francisco, Chicago, even back to my beloved Brooklyn. But the more and more I thought about it, the more I realized that I want to stay in my western mountain town. Sure, I may never write for “Vogue” nor “Vanity Fair” while living here but this is where my tribe is. I realize that I shouldn’t sacrifice my dream for people (if they love you here, they will love you anywhere). But these people are what give my life joy. I have met so different people in my life and I know once you find someone good, you don’t let them go. Perhaps I’m lacking something on my end- there are good people anywhere but the more I think about it, I have a good thing here. I don’t want to move and have to rebuild my social circle again.

I recently had two friends approach me, needing someone to talk about their depression and anxiety. I was beyond happy to listen to them, being there in their time of need. I’ve been open about my struggles with my mental health and for me to be the shoulder that they needed made me feel like I am worth something. To know that I’m valuable in their lives means the world to me. I imagine if I wasn’t there, what would have happened?

I don’t know what my future holds, especially as I’m making big change for the upcoming new year. It’s scary- extremely terrifying- but I know that I have a great group of people that I love rooting me on and holding me up. We all desire to have connect and I have these individuals who love and accept me just as I am even when I’m a complete jackass in a terrible funk. I found my tribe.

How did you find your tribe, dear reader?

#TouchMe

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I’m a sucker for cuddling. Holding hands. Giving long hugs. Sitting close on the couch. Kissing. Scientists figured out that human beings need at least five different touch interactions during the day and the lack of that comforting touch can lead to depression and anxiety. Touch gives us humans the sensory input that we crave.

The power of touch is pretty incredible. It’s our primary language of compassion and care. Even when it is non-sexual.Touch instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger. It lifts serotonin levels, elevating your mood. Touch builds trust and a sense of safety. It’s one of the most simple of ways that we continually renew our bonds with those we love- holding our children, caressing our partners. It relaxes muscles and releases tension in the body.

It is possible to be touch deprived (something that I have been experiencing lately). “Most of us, whatever our relationship status, need more human contact than we’re getting,” said psychologist Matthew Hertenstein, PhD, director of the Touch and Emotion Lab at DePauw University. “Compared with other cultures, we live in a touch-phobic society that’s made affection with anyone but loved ones taboo.”

In the 1960s, psychologist Sidney Jourard observed friends in different parts of the world as they sat in a café together. Sometimes, they hugged. Sometimes, they gave each other a simple high five. Sometimes, something more. In England, Jourard noted that the two friends touched each other zero times within the hour. In the United States, we touched each other twice. In France, the number shot up to 110 times per hour- no wonder the French are considered so sensual, engaging in their sense of touch.

Why are Americans so afraid to touch one another?

We live in such a busy, crowded world. Yet, it’s so easy for many of us to go days, weeks, even months without touching and/or being touched by others. Ask yourself, dear reader, if you are deprived and why you are. I’m not saying to tackle the next random person you see on the street. But maybe the emerging cuddling businesses might be the way to go. Perhaps I should become a professional snuggler…