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Dogspotting Love

Last week on the blog, I shared with you my cat obsession. And this week I felt like I couldn’t leave out my other animal obsession: DOGS!  More specifically, a Facebook group called “Dogspotting Society” which has honestly changed my life for the better.

Social media in 2017 has pretty much been making a slow descent in the toilet bowl of life. In other words, it’s a REALLY negative place to be these days. Between the constant deluge of Trump headlines, natural and humanitarian disasters, and vitriol spewed in online comments, there’s not much hope hanging out on the Internet these days. Compound that with my own insecurities so that I’m always comparing myself to others and their picture-perfect lives, and you’ve got a cocktail for unhappiness.

But…what if your newsfeed was mostly something you enjoyed looking at. Like dogs, for example? What if it was mostly people posting pictures and videos of their dogs doing silly things? What if it was telling funny or crazy or sad stories about what their dogs did recently? What if it was support for when your pup crosses over the rainbow bridge?

Well that’s what I found in Dogspotting Society, and it’s the absolute best! To give you a little taste of the awesomeness, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite photos and trends!

I love the photoshop requests and their results:

I love the memes:

I love how someone finds a cool app like Patternator or Ditty and then we get an influx of posts with everyone’s dogs starring in their own music videos or wallpapers:

I love it when photographers show off their skills and love for dogs:

I love to boop the snoot!

I love the lingo:

I love when people dress up their pups in costumes and how heckin’ concerned they look with it!

I love when people decorate photos of their dogs with stickers and truly show how much they love them:

I love how we get to know many of the dogs personalities through the posts! (e.g. Momo and how he’s ALWAYS WATCHING).

I love seeing pups with (safely) dyed fur and all the cool ways that people groom their dogs!

But most of all I love that a group like this has helped me turn something that caused me a lot of anxiety and obsessive thoughts into something that brings me joy, laughs, and relaxation. Honestly, if we’re going to use social media, that’s really what I think it should be about. It’s created a community for people who might feel disconnected in many other ways in their life, but can come together with others in a shared love of dogs. It’s a wonderful and magical thing to witness. Consider joining the group if you’re up for being friendly and excellent social dog loving. Or if cats are more your thing, consider joining the sister group, Catspotting Society! (I’m personally in both because who could get enough pet posts?)

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‘This is Us’ Shines a Light on Anxiety Attacks

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I’m a pretty naturally anxious person. There are times when it is manageable. But there are other times when it consumes my world.

My first memory of it overwhelming me was when I was 11. I became so irrationally fearful of germs after a bad bought with a stomach virus that I could barely function. If I heard that someone was sick at school, I’d start to hyperventilate. Some students would bully me by touching or breathing on my food at lunch because they knew I wouldn’t (couldn’t) eat it. I’d wash my hands obsessively until they were cracked and dry.

This all led to my parents taking me to a psychologist and a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My parents didn’t particularly want to put their 11 year old on medication so instead I learned how to manage my symptoms through weekly therapy sessions for about a 6 months. I learned deep breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques.  With time, the overwhelming fear that came from the prospect of germs at every turn dissipated.  But my desire to control the world around me as much as possible and my sometimes violent bodily response when I felt like I was losing control did not.  It just shifted from germs to something a bit more easy to control (but no less at the whims of the universe)–my academic success.

I had to be the best at any cost to my own health or sanity.  It wasn’t some kind of narcissistic drive for power, but instead a fear that I was not anywhere close to being the best. That I’d fooled everyone to get even this far, and someone was going to figure it out.  But also that I needed to be the best to feel like I had any kind of worth in the world.

This lead to many nights in high school where my drive for success spun out of control and left me hyperventilating, crying at the computer, blind with internal rage, or screaming and thrashing nonsensically on my bed. My mother and father would try to talk logic to me. One grade isn’t that important. Nothing in school is more important than your health. You know this, you just need to calm down and think. But it did little good. I was too far gone into the black abyss of an anxiety attack.  The few things we found to work were my mom forcing me to take a half a Valium pill or if I wasn’t a harm to myself, to let me rage it out alone until I drifted into an exhausted sleep. This is not ideal, obviously. But I didn’t understand my own emotions, and my parents didn’t understand enough about mental health to really help.

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But this was my life as a teen and young adult. It wasn’t until I graduated college and got into therapy and on an antidepressant regime for issues with depression that I really started to understand what was happening. At first I thought it was all caused by depression, but I wasn’t depressed when I was 11 and diagnosed with OCD. At 22, I was still experiencing some of the same attacks where my chest would constrict, my thoughts would race, and I could work myself up into an irrational fit. At 11, it was about germs and whether or not I was going to throw up because of a stomach virus. At 22, it was much more complex than that. Sometimes it was just me sitting in church or going into a grocery store. I didn’t have school to stress about or try to control anymore so what was causing these overwhelming feelings?

With some research, I began to see that while depression was the overarching factor in my life (perhaps because I had lost any sense of control once graduating college?), high-functioning anxiety had been a constant companion for years. Most of the time, I didn’t even recognize that I had anxiety. I mean, yes, normal social anxiety, but not an anxiety disorder. Does someone with an anxiety disorder find as much success academically as I did? Does someone with an anxiety disorder give speeches and travel to new, uncontrolled places so easily? Well, you might think, no. But with high-functioning anxiety, it’s not like I’m curled up in a useless ball on the floor of my bedroom 90% of the time. I FEEL like that’s what I should be doing but very rarely do I actually give in to the constant buzz of anxiety in my head and belly. But when I do succumb, it’s bad.

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It’s the kind of the bad that I’m fearful of talking about or allowing other people to see.  Which is why when This is Us portrayed Sterling K. Brown’s character Randall’s overwhelming anxiety and subsequent attack, I was in awe. It was the first time I’ve ever seen in any kind of mainstream entertainment, a portrayal of anxiety like that. And what was great, was that it showed Randall’s experience as a high-performing teenager trying to make sure he was Valedictorian (something that hit all too close to home), and as a adult juggling family and work responsibilities.  In both instances, we find him crying, murmuring incoherently, trembling uncontrollably, and losing his sight. The outcome of his teenage attack is not revealed, but as an adult he’s shown in an almost catatonic state.

It’s ugly and painful on screen. It raises the questions: Why can’t he just let it go? Why can’t he ask for help? To someone who can think rationally, the solutions to his problems seem obvious.

But I know what it feels like. I know how irrational everything becomes when you get into that state. I know that it’s not a simple “let it go” or “ask for help.” (If it was, we’d have far less people suffering through anxiety).  

So I loved this episode of This is Us. I want to delve deeper into Randall’s high-functioning anxiety. We’ve now established it as a problem so let’s not just move on and forget about it. (That’s an all too common way of dealing with it in reality…until the next attack comes around). It obviously doesn’t have to be the main focus of the show, but it’s an important aspect of Randall’s character, and it gives the This is Us showrunners a great opportunity to bring mental health awareness and recovery to the mainstream rather than using it as a stereotype or easy plot point. Representation has power, but accurate and resolutionary representation has even more.

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Make Me a Robot

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I had the privilege of seeing one of my favorite YouTubers in concert over the weekend, and it reminded me once again why I love Tessa Violet so much and how she inspires me.  So in the spirit of inspiring others, I thought I’d share some of her wisdom with you.

Tessa’s a bit of an interesting bird. She started out as a vlogger on YouTube–a bi-product of her international modeling stint. It later morphed into directing music videos and writing and acting in comedy sketches.  And then in the last few years she made the transition to singer/songwriter, which is a surprising change in genre for an online content creator. Very rarely does an audience resonate with a content creator in such a way that they can follow her through such dramatic shifts in genre and style.  But Tessa is different. She’s that quirky girl-next-door. She’s that friend who gets all your issues with anxiety and self-loathing. She’s the banner holder of all the outcasts and loners and people who feel like they just don’t quite FIT. In fact, when people ask me who my favorite YouTubers are, I almost always list Tessa first because I know if they also know her and like her, then we’re definitely going to be friends.  There’s a kinship between people who connect with her work and brand that’s nearly indescribable. But I’ll try to give you a little peak into what I think makes that connection.

One of my favorite songs off Tessa’s first album “Maybe Trapped Mostly Troubled” (and I think one of the most universally popular songs as well based on downloads) is “Make Me a Robot.” If you listen to the original album version, it’s electronic and loud with a powerful, sing-along worthy chorus. But it’s also admittedly a rather bleak song. It’s about feeling so worn out with your emotions and anxieties that you want to disappear–or in this case, become a cold, emotionless robot. And unlike most happy-go-lucky YouTube songs addressing these kinds of feelings, it doesn’t have a resolution.

At the concert this weekend, she played “Make Me a Robot,” but it was in its most subdued version. The keyboardist and drummer left the stage, and it was just Tessa with a guitar and blued lights performing an acoustic version of the song. And she also told the story of where this song came from. How she wrote it after having finally decided to go to therapy to help deal with her intense anxiety, but still feeling and fearing that she was a burden to others. That no one really liked her. That it was all lies to save her feelings.

The venue got so quiet in that moment as she outlined her past struggles, and I knew that most everyone there was feeling exactly as I was–that we know that struggle. That we have those fears. That we’re somewhere in our journey of trying to tear ourselves away from giving up.  Because if you’re a Tessa Violet fan, I’d put money on the fact that you’ve probably wanted to be made into a robot at some point in your life. You might even feel that way right now. The reasoning behind this desire will vary, but we’ve been drawn to Tessa because she’s put into words the disconnect we’ve felt with this world for so long.  

So “Make Me a Robot” isn’t a super hopeful song. But it’s a time capsule of a feeling, an experience that Tessa had, that many of us have had too.  And Tessa’s work and success is the resolution that isn’t present in the song. She’s the living embodiment of why you can’t give in to the cold, emotionlessness of a robot’s existence. You have to keep fighting for you.

So every time I hear Tessa and see her perform, I get a little more hopeful for my future and for all the others like me and her. We’re works in progress. But we’re damn amazing.

If you’ve never heard of Tessa before but are interested to learn more, check out her YouTube channel here.

Also, she’s just released a new EP, and these are the song’s she’s released music videos for so far. I was just going to link one, but after watching them all, I realized I love them all for different reasons and you should watch them!

I think “Dream” is my favorite visually. Like this is the aesthetic that I want to make all my videos in!

“Not Over You” has an amazingly cute and fun color palette and the song’s just so awesome!

“Haze” is an example of how a “lyric” video is still super beautiful and well-directed when it comes from Tessa.

Tessa’s acoustic cover of “Make Me a Robot.” If you want to hear the original electronic version, you’ll have to listen to the album.

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Why the 2016 Presidential Election is Already Over

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It’s October 19th and there are a little under 3 weeks left until the 2016 Presidential Election, but I’d like to suggest that the election is already over.  Why?  You might ask. Is this going to be one of those “Donald Trump has run himself into the ground so Hillary has already won” pieces? No, fortunately not.  But I do think the election is already over. We won’t know until November 9th who’s actually won, but for now, I consider it over and done. And besides the day of actual voting, I feel like we could not hear anything more about this election and be fine.

And why is this? Because as oversaturated as the media has been with the drama of this election for over a year now, we’re all decided voters.

In truth, I’m sure there’s a small group of people out there who legitimately haven’t decided who to vote for yet. (I saw someone just the other day start a Facebook thread asking her friends to give non-emotional arguments for each candidate because she was still undecided). But I don’t think it’s enough to particularly sway an election.  I think at this point, we’ve all mentally voted one way or another.

There are really four main categories: the Trump/GOP Supporters, the Hillary/Democratic Supporters, Third Party Voters, and Protest Non-voters. Everything I read, every political interaction I have, I’ve found people to be in one of these four categories. You’re voting for Trump or you’re simply voting for the Republican party even if you don’t like Trump.  Or you’re voting for Hillary or the Democratic party as a whole or you’re a “Never Trump-er.” Or you think a Third Party vote is better for your conscious or the country.  Or you disagree with all the candidates and feel that you can’t give your vote to any of them.  

We’ve all got different opinions about the election, but I would bet you anything that we’d all agree on one thing: that we’re so tired of hearing about the election and nothing in the next 3 weeks is going to sway us from how we’re voting. At this point, it’s really too late. We’ve already absorbed so much insanity that we can’t even tell what’s a lie anymore.  We’ll justify it however we need to feel comfortable following through with our decision.  This will make us seem stupid or ignorant or downright crazy to someone with a differing view.  But the thing is, we already feel crazy after all the nastiness and hatred and utter nonsense that’s occurred so it won’t feel too off-base anyway.

I guess the key is, please stop sharing “You’ll never believe what Trump/Hillary has done this time!” on Facebook. I mean, we get it. You don’t like X, Y, or Z candidate and can’t understand how anyone else is actually justifying their vote for them (I’m guilty of this too!), but honestly, it’s doing nothing but fuel our ever-burning internal fires of anger and irrationality.

I will be immensely happy when this election is over because at least (I can hope) for a little while that we might have some peace. (I also recognize that if either of the major party candidates win, the climate is such that either way, we’ll most likely be dealing with just as much anger, irrationality, and hatred as we are now).  But at least, for a little while, I can rest easy in the idea that people might stop telling me that I’m ignorant for voting one way or another. Or (more specific to my case) being afraid to let anyone even know what your voting preference is because you worry about retaliation and persecution.

I just hope that 2020’s election (or frankly, any future election) doesn’t feel anything like this one. I’ve had enough presidential election angst for an entire lifetime.

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Anxiety and Change

Anxiety and Change

The last few years have been pretty rough for me emotionally. I’ve basically been living life in a way I didn’t want to be and couldn’t find much joy in which is why change is a welcome development in the narrative of my life. However, if you’ve read much of my blog or followed me on YouTube, you know that change is not really my thing. Change—no matter how desired—still causes me to resist. And change (or at least fear of the repercussions of change) gives me anxiety like you wouldn’t believe. So the last two weeks have been some mixture of dream come true and nightmare.

The Positives:

  • I got a new job!
  • I get to move to Richmond!
  • I don’t have to live with my parents anymore!
  • I get to be near most of my friends and my boyfriend!

The Negatives:

  • I have to leave my current job and deal with all the guilt that comes with leaving my heavily pressed team right before a conference.
  • I have to do all the “adult things” that involve moving and changing jobs and starting something new in a new place.
  • I have to deal with the guilt associated with leaving my family (aka what I went through in college and now 8 years later, I’m basically going through the same thing again).
  • I have to figure out how much LIFE costs and make a budget and figure out a way to save money when I have a bunch of new and different expenses.
  • I have to move all my stuff and find furniture otherwise I’ll be living in an empty apartment. It seemed much easier in theory than in reality. Now I kind of understand why my boyfriend slept on a pile of dirty clothes for the first week or so after moving to Richmond.

So what does this all mean? It means, I’ve been walking around with my stomach in knots and my mind multitasking all the things and my chest tight with more worry than it should be.

On a positive note, for the first time I finally got to accept a job offer without weeping or crying on the phone to my grandmother/boyfriend/parents about how I don’t want it but I need it. Essentially, I finally got to accept a job that I wanted rather than I job I needed. And that feels significantly different. Especially after setting my mind on being employed by a particular organization and actually fulfilling that goal.

But the prospect of change quickly overwhelmed the golden glow of a “New Job,” and I’ve found myself paddling furiously in a stormy sea of anxiety. There’s fear and guilt and shame threatening to drown me during a time that should be very happy, but because I loathe change so much even when I need it, I have a hard time seeing through the storm. I’ve had more than a few moments when I think, “I could just call them and say I don’t want the job and tell my office I’m not leaving and just go on living in my parents house, working a job that doesn’t fulfill or challenge me, and staying lonely and miserable. No change.” That’s a real thought! Doesn’t it sound crazy? But it’s still there, nagging at the back of my mind. The mean and negative little voices in my head trying to get me to quit before I’ve even started.

But despite all the anxiety and fear and questioning of what I’m doing, I start a new job next Monday. Change is going to happen one way or another. You can either take it by the fist and swing on the vine with it screaming like Tarzan or you can let life push you down the river on your life raft where you think you’re not changing, but you can never escape the effects of time.

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Art, Depression, and Monsters of the Mind

Monsters of the Mind 1I started a blog yesterday that was pretty honest and raw about the rough time I’ve been having with depression recently. But it was SO raw, that I was a little afraid to continue writing it and post it. You all know I’m an advocate for honesty in my blog and vlog, but I think for now I have limits on how honest I can be. Just because I worry for my safety, career, and future when I post things like that. So instead, I decided to go a different route with how I’ve been feeling. I picked up my iPad and drew my feelings.

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I love art. I love drawing and painting and sculpting. I wish I had more time to devote to it so I could really hone my skills, and it makes me think that art should be one of my 2016 goals. Like instead of one blog a week, maybe one art piece a week with a short blog on my purpose behind it instead. I think that could be an interesting experiment, especially since one of my 2016 goals for my YouTube channel involves art/coloring as well.

But anyway, let me introduce you to The Depression Monster. He’s only one variation of the Monster. Monsters of the Mind are sneaky shape shifters. But today he appeared to me like this. Razor sharp bird claws, dead eyes, and tentacle-like arms that can reach out and find you anywhere. That can trap you, choke you, drag you back. He also has a grey and dreary aura that affects everything around him. Even the sun hides from him, and the flower die at his feet. He’s an all around miserable and misery-causing guy. But he’s also kind of cute in the oddest way so that you’re tricked into letting him into your life and feel guilty about kicking him out even though he’s very obviously making things unhappy for you.

He’s a plague. And tomorrow, he’ll likely look different so you won’t recognize him and let him back into your house if you managed to rid yourself of him the previous day. He’s crafty like that.

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The Three Trains of Life

Trains of Life 1The president of my company made an analogy recently that really clicked with me and the kind of pressures I’m currently undergoing. He was praising our business at a fall luncheon/celebration for getting through all of our fall events with even less staff than ever, but it’s true on a personal level as well.

He said that there are three trains. One containing the monster that we’re currently battling—which we have to keep on course even when it feels like it’s going to be wrenched off the tracks at any moment. The second is the train with our everyday duties and responsibilities—something that seems insignificant in the face of the Monster Train, but is in fact, no less important. We still have to keep it up and running to survive. And the third train holds plans for the future. Eventually the first Monster Train will be tamed and if you’re not currently working on the Future Train now, you’ll be left with nothing before you realize it. Essentially, you’re always responsible for looking towards and building your future.

Trains of Life 2           Sometimes when I hear things that I really relate to, a little alarm goes off in my head: “This is you! You know this exactly! Don’t miss a thing!” And that’s exactly what happened for me during the president’s speech. I’m struggling to keep all those trains running and on track in my life right now more than ever. And boy, is it frustrating! So much so that I feel like I abandon my trains most of the time and collapse on the side of the track and find something distracting to invest in.

For example, take how I handled last week. I have so much going on right now that I really need to be using every available moment to work on my Monster Train and my Future Train (and even then I’m just barely getting by with my Every Day Train); however, last week when I finally had a bit of an opening time-wise, I decided to use it not to tackle those trains, but instead to make a Halloween costume. Now did the creation of that costume boost my self-esteem and make me feel like an accomplished DIYer? Absolutely! Did I utilize the time to help out my Every Day Train? Yes! I filmed it so that I could use it for a weekly video on my YouTube channel. Two birds with one stone!

IT WAS A PRETTY COOL COSTUME THOUGH, RIGHT?

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But like my therapist pointed out, while it’s not a bad thing to work hard and be creative on a costume (especially when you’re an intensely creative person trapped in a non-creative environment), it was a purposeful distraction from dealing with the stress and drama of the Monster and Future Trains. And I’ve been doing this more and more frequently. Essentially, the more complicated and daunting my Monster and Future Trains get, the more likely I am to abandon ship, put the problem on the backburner, and invent a new problem that I know I can fix for myself (e.g. like needing a Halloween costume). That way I feel like I’ve accomplished something rather than the repeated feeling of failure that accompanies focusing on Three Trains of Life. It’s a problem that I wish I knew how to fix. All I know is that when I focus on one or more of the Trains, I spend 98% of my time one step away from having a panic attack. My chest is tight. My head aches. My mind can’t stop racing. Thoughts of suicide start creeping in as the only viable option for escape.

And I don’t like those feelings. Those are not healthy feelings. That’s not how I should be living my life at 25. But I’m at a loss for how to fix it. According to my company president, you just keep riding the trains because “that’s what you gotta do!” But I don’t think it’s actually that simple on an individual level. It’s too easy to create rewarding distractions for yourself rather than facing your actual problems. Please tell me I’m not the only one! But what are some actual strategies other than “doing it because you gotta do it?” How can I pull myself out of my distraction land and actually apply that creative energy to the Monster Train and even the Future Train. I feel like I’m getting left behind on the tracks these days and I can’t just run to catch up. Those trains are too far ahead of me now, and I’m much too weak and frustrated to make it by running. The Three Trains of Life chug on without me. I’ll have to find a way back onto them eventually, but for now I don’t have any solutions. Just made-up problems in the Desert of Distraction to keep my mind busy and help me feel like less of a failure.

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