What A Year For A(nother) New Year…

(Content Note: I mention struggles with PTSD/nonepileptic seizures, controlling messages from a abusive relationship I had in high school, and medical power and control).

Just around New Year’s Eve last year, I wrote the first blog post at this URL.

Ringing in 2014 {Two romantic partners drink beer during a selfie}

Ringing in 2014 {Two romantic partners drink some mead during a selfie. Selfie. 2013 or 2014- right on the line.}

I was so excited to be settling down in a new city with an amazing person, but this year itself started in a painful way. My cousin Craig lost his battle to brain cancer during the first few days of 2014. Right after I returned from his memorial services, I got news that a cousin from the other side, Nate, lost his life in a horrible car accident. Just one of these losses would be almost impossible to bear on its own, but the two together made it very hard for me to enjoy my first few months in DC. The stress of moving and the losses of my cousins caused my seizure disorder to relapse after a year seizure free, causing me to lose my driver’s license.

We lived in a somewhat cramped apartment with some wonderful people. Kelsey worked (and still works) mostly from home, while I sat around the house applying for any job that interested me remotely. When I needed a break, I would go on a “Date With DC“, to try to rekindle the spark that brought me to DC in the first place.

Things started to look up in April. I started a job that I really wanted. Kelsey and I decided to spend forever together, and with our respective parents’ blessings (Note: we didn’t ask the other’s parents, but our own), we got engaged.

{Photo: a man in a suit and top hat, down on one knee, placing a ring on a standing woman's hand. Woman is wearing an orange-pink dress with a matching flower in her hair}

{Photo: a man in a suit and top hat, down on one knee, placing a ring on a standing woman’s hand. Woman is wearing an orange-pink dress with a matching flower in her hair}

This was so, so exciting for us both!

Though I was in good spirits, my health problems caused by PTSD were getting worse and worse.  This summer was one of the roughest times of my life. I no longer found meaning in the work I decided to do when I was 15, so getting out of bed, eating, and all of the necessary “go be a human” tasks like dressing myself and taking a shower felt like asking me to hike Mt. Everest. I started almost every morning with a seizure. I had doctors treat me abusively in ways that my (awesome) primary care doctor would say that would be funny if it weren’t my health on the line.

My “saving grace” (get it?) during this time was getting more involved with church. Teaching youth group, protesting alongside other people of faith for racial justice, and volunteering when I can with the Reeb Project (<-guys I’m on Youtube!), which is working to restore voting rights after Shelby. It’s hard to explain to people outside my faith how one can find more in common with atheists than not and still self-identify as “incredibly religious” sometimes, but being a Unitarian Universalist is great.

Even with the amazing support of my church family, my situation got to the point where I didn’t have a choice- I couldn’t keep running on empty while confronting PTSD concerns that had been on the back-burner for years. Even Kim Kardashian: Hollywood couldn’t help me remember to take care of myself, so I took some time off to focus on mental health and started a day program in Baltimore to get me back on my feet. While I was in this program, I also attended the first ever US conference on Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures, and met Dr. Lorna Myers and so many wonderful people who also suffer from these seizures and their caregivers. I learned that this disease is as common as Multiple Sclerosis, yet I regularly have to explain the basic mechanisms to doctors, and they usually don’t believe me until Kelsey (the Man!) gets there with a copy of Dr. Myers’ book. Our community adopted teal and purple as awareness colors, and my almost-mother-in-law knit me teal and purple socks for Christmas.

During this time, I thought a lot about the opportunities that could have been. I wished I had studied harder in math and science growing up. I blamed myself for the fact that the college calculus and A&P classes I took in high school were so daunting to balance while dealing with an abusive relationship with someone who often said I wasn’t smart enough or emotionally mature enough for my med school plans. I felt lazy for dropping chemistry and biology when my seizures were completely out of control in early college. After a few weeks months of self-hatred, I stopped blaming myself and started thinking constructively.

I thought about the things that I type into Google Scholar when I can’t sleep that don’t actually put me to sleep because I want to keep learning. I started de-stressing by running diagnostics on my computer and the WiFi network to make sure we had optimal performance on my aging computer and iffy connection. I signed up for those Girls Who Code MeetUp groups. Maybe in 2015, I’ll go. I decided that Kelsey needed to know more trigonometry and precalculus, so I impulse-purchased my favorite textbook.

{Photo: Textbook. "Who Is Fourier? A Mathematical Adventure" by the Transnational College of LEX. Has some illustrations of some old white dudes, you know, as college textbooks do. But it's really good!!}

{Photo: Textbook. “Who Is Fourier? A Mathematical Adventure” by the Transnational College of LEX. Has some illustrations of some old white dudes, you know, as college textbooks do. But it’s really good!! Oh and there is a woman on there in the corner. Feminism!}

Maybe in 2015, we’ll actually use it.

While this was all going on, we were, as a nation, really trying to process Michael Brown’s murder (this was before the not-indictment), and all of these horrific stories of violence police have shown, especially towards the black community. I thought about who should be the leaders of the feminist movement, and the fact that there’s a lot of white, cis, college-educated women running feminist organizations, and I present able-bodied. I thought that I would affect more positive feminist change as a woman in tech who carries a gender studies lens with her than I would in a so-called feminist job.

I thought about good ways to get my feet wet in tech, and decided to apply for my current job. It was the right call and also came at a time where I could no longer balance my allyship to other oppressed groups and the job I had at the time. So I left that job, had a week off, and started at my new gig, part-time, leaving lots of room for getting back on my feet.

I am much happier learning exciting things and adapting at my new work place. Today marks 2 months since my first day, and I can’t decide if that’s way longer or shorter than it feels. And this workplace seems to treat workers with dignity in ways I never dreamed. All I could hear in my head for weeks was Jerry Garcia’s voice singing, “every once in a while you get shown in the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right,” which was a nice change from the usual, “I was walking round Grosvenor Square” every time a Red Line-Grosvenor train would come. Fun fact: DC says it wrong if you were raised by Deadheads (here’s a nice 25-min, live version of “Scarlet Begonias/Fire on the Mountain” from New Year’s Eve, 1978. Figured it’s nice and festive). Though the holidays were very hectic, once I found a comfortable work place, everything else fell into place and I didn’t really notice that much.

Though I wouldn’t say that I am without medical challenges, my seizures are (finally!) in control again. I found medications that work well for me as I process through the PTSD (and newly diagnosed ADHD) that has reeked havoc on my body for years- but most of the positive change has been environmental.

And I feel like I’ve grown so, so much.

Next year, I want to grow even more. I’ll go to those “learn to code” free/affordable events you see around DC all of the time. I’ll cruise Coursera and local classes to do math for school for the first time in (yikes!) eight years. I got a beautiful sewing machine for Christmas, and after I finish the owl snuggie I promised Kelsey (his idea!), I want to make lots of comfy dresses with pockets. For feminism. Also because they’re cute. I want to keep staying involved in my faith community. While I want to live in the moment, I need to respect that things from my past will find their way out if I don’t address them.

Also I want to marry this guy in 2015. July sounds nice.

{Photo: a couple poses for a selfie with red clown noses on. One is wearing a pin that says Thunder Thighs}

{Photo: a couple poses for a selfie with red clown noses on. One is wearing a pin that says Thunder Thighs. Selfie. 2014.}

Shout out- Kelsey has been the most supportive human in the universe, and I am so, so grateful for every minute I get to spend with him. Which is a lot, because he works at home and I work part time, and we go most places together.

He even takes me along when he goes on international TV.

{Screenshot: Kelsey on the BBC, talking about why he's skeptical of Call of Duty predicting the future of war. Like a boss.}

{Screenshot: Kelsey on the BBC, talking about why he’s skeptical of Call of Duty predicting the future of war. Like a boss.}

Getting out of this year on top was also made possible by support from both of our families and our dear friends far and near. Special shout-out to Liz because she moved here and it was the best thing.

{Photo: A woman dressed as Rosie the Riveter and another dressed as Ms. Frizzle: underwater edition. Selfie, 2014}.

{Photo: A woman dressed as Rosie the Riveter and another dressed as Ms. Frizzle: underwater edition. Selfie, 2014}.

Anyways. Thanks, 2014. You had so many ups and downs, and really made me grow in ways that I hadn’t imagined. Let’s see what 2015 will bring, but I will just focus on today.

Kelsey and I. Today. {A romantic couple poses for a selfie}.

Kelsey and I. Today. {A romantic couple poses for a selfie. Selfie. 2014}.

Coloring- It’s For Your Health

As many of you know, I’ve been having a tough month. Some, when faced with a month like the one I’m having, spend hundreds of dollars at spas or on fancy vacations to clear their mind. As a job-seeking, new resident of one of the top twenty most expensive cities in the world, I don’t have that kind of money right now.

But, I do have a printer at home, and an arsenal of these:

Crayonsman by Wikimedia Commons. {photo: 16 crayons lined up}

I truly believe in the restorative power of crayons.

I often use coloring as an unwinding break in the middle of a hard day. Though frustrated as a kid about the necessity of staying between the lines, I find this task to be mind-clearing and helpful. Except for those “color-by-number” books that I have no use for, you have the power to decide which colors go where. You can even leave things blank, if you’d like. If I pop on my headphones and play relaxing music as I focus on coloring, it calms me through anger, comforts my sadness, and clears my brain if it’s running too fast. I have a few coloring books  and have plenty of seasonal printouts around.

I am not the only adult to notice that coloring can be quite relaxing and mindful. Some therapy groups use mandalas as a grounding technique, and there are plenty of websites that let you print them for free (this one gets a little silly). There is a serious and a hipster market of coloring books in stores and online.  I have made purchases in both.

Sometimes, these coloring books geared towards adults even get a little NSFW (not safe for work).

{photo: The Big Coloring Book of Vaginas (no vaginas pictured!)}

This one is pretty body-positive, actually.

I gave everyone in my immediate family a coloring book for Christmas this year, and my mom got me a nice holiday-themed mandala book. My intention was for family members to engage in this mindful practice together, but it’s also a great thing to do alone. 

Whether you like to stick to traditional colors or nonsensical ones, and whether you stay in the lines or not, I hope you have lots of fun. If you need a mental health break on a budget, consider the $1.99 investment in crayons. Hey, if you feel like splurging the $10.99, you can even make a custom box. It’s a small investment for a peace of mind technique.

❤ ams