How to control the unknown: Journaling during the pandemic

Recently, I rediscovered my love for journaling. I currently have two journals: a bullet journal where I track my bookish creative needs, and another journal where I focus on mental check-ins before bed and other writing.

With the recent pandemic sweeping the globe, I noticed my journaling habits dwindling. I have been glued to my phone, scrolling through Twitter and Facebook to try to make sense of it all. I couldn’t believe what I read, but seeing that everyone was facing the same issues somehow made me feel less alone. The issue with this, of course, is that people don’t always post the most encouraging or factual things on social media, so those notions of connectivity also brought panic, uncertainty, and a lot of anxiety that I could not curb.

I decided to unplug — to only focus on the positive things — and pay more attention to books (more than I already do). I am working to exercise daily, eat healthily, and be mindful of what I can control. I slowly started journaling again, readying myself to write down what I was feeling. I realized that I was avoiding journaling because it was easier to harbor anxiety and fear rather than see it on paper. It’s been a few days now, and I am enjoying the process and act of journaling. It has helped to record my thoughts and activities during this time and work through them rather than avoid them.

I found myself this Sunday morning scribbling in my journal, feeling much like Jo March when she has a moment of inspiration and needs to get it down. I wrote six pages of free prose, mostly detailing what is happening, how I feel, and how my husband and I are coping during these troubling times. I wanted to share some of it with my readers, for I feel like this is how we might all feel. I also want to start sharing more of my writing with others, which takes a lot of courage.

Here are my favorite snippets:

As a homebody, this is certainly a lifestyle that I am used to, but I find myself gripping to my humanity more and more as we encounter outside individuals on our walks or in the grocery stores. As someone who is so introverted, I find myself craving extroversion. Technology is keeping “us” connected through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat…Google Hangout, FaceTime and Zoom and “we” are having virtual Happy Hours and game nights. Families are joining each other for dinner in their respective living rooms. Why haven’t we done this before? Last week, my friends and I got together for a virtual chat. We laughed and caught up. One friend said: “We should have been doing this all the time anyway!” It’s true. Why wouldn’t my friends and I schedule regular time to do this? When we can’t get together physically, why don’t “we” embrace technology and still be together socially?

I hope that we all appreciate the simplicities of greetings: a smile, a handshake, or a “hello, how are you?” as we pass each other on the street. Why did we lose that in the first place? Ian and I went for a walk the other day, and every person looked at us and said “hi,” as if they were also craving that social interaction. Before, we wouldn’t get a glance from half of the people we crossed paths with. Where did humanity go? Does it take us to all be locked in our homes to strive for politeness when someone passes by?

I hope we learn to appreciate each other more — that we continue to take better care of one another and of ourselves. What about our planet? What about appreciating those on the front lines all of the time? Or asking those “what about them?” questions when things go wrong? I hope we don’t lose sight of that — taking care of each other.

After this is over, I hope that we continue to pick up more books, appreciate the small things like getting an iced coffee or an ice cream cone. I hope more people browse bookstores or work to support small businesses. I hope that we call our friends more, FaceTime with our grandparents regularly. I hope that we exercise and crave to go outdoors and take care of it. These things were always options, but now it’s something that we want to do and share.

I hope that we rediscover hobbies during this time- our love of books, favorite movies, playing or creating music. I hope that we are creative – that we paint, write, draw. I hope we are OK if we do none of those things but take time to look within ourselves and know that we are resilient … that we are strong and we can regain control and maintain that control when the world seems to have lost it. I hope we can just “be” and know that if we do anything, it is good enough. Enough with comparing ourselves on social media, thinking that we are not good enough. Enough with the drive for money and the greed to be successful. Can we continue to check in with one another? Can celebrities and musicians continue to share their talents?

I hope we act silly; that we dance. That we come out of this stronger than ever.

I am so excited to see all the creative work that comes from this. I can’t wait to see all the art, read all of the prose, and listen to new music. I hope to create my own work, academic and personal, during this time. I hope to learn how to be OK with my work, breathe slowly and be patient with my craft — to continue being diligent as a writer. I want to be loud; I want to praise others for their talents and help others feel safe and not alone. It’s time to be there for each other.

2020: The year of ‘Self’

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’m a little late to my 2020 theme post. Actually, I’ve been later. Did you notice I didn’t post one last year? Neither did I. I don’t even know if I had a theme in 2019, and it sure did prove to be a tough year for me.

Not only are we welcoming a new year—we are also welcoming a new decade. As I reflect on my life the past 10 years, I see tremendous growth: I met my husband, graduated with an undergraduate degree, traveled to places around the world, had many rewarding jobs, got married, got a cat, went to graduate school, won an alumni award, and rediscovered different hobbies like theater and avid reading and writing. Life has been good to me!

If there’s anything that I’ve learned this past decade, and continue to relearn, is my self-worth. It’s something we all have (not to be confused with self-esteem) and I’ve worked hard to combat those negative thoughts.

What I have noticed throughout the past year is that I have been super negative. From looking in the mirror and picking at my face, my body, and overall image, to writing and calling myself incompetent or worthless, I’ve really pushed myself down this year. I feel as if I can never say a good thing about myself. I’d like for that to change in 2020.

Writing a master’s thesis and starting a new job at the same time is extremely stressful, but they are both very positive things. I’ve become so stressed that I’ve been sick since October. I haven’t been eating well, and I haven’t exercised as much. It’s taken a toll. It’s time I start to become more positive and erase those negative thoughts that constantly swirl in my head telling myself that I am “not enough.” As a perfectionist, these thoughts occur often, and it is affecting my overall health and happiness.

In 2015, I learned that there is a key difference between resolutions and habits. Resolutions just don’t work. If you say you want to eat healthy, you aren’t really creating something that is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based). If you really want to succeed in your goals for the next year, try to form habits.

In 2016, I took it one step further (all inspired by Gretchen Rubin, a happiness expert) and declared a theme for my year, which was Health. In 2017, I created a theme of Improve, and in 2018, my themes were Perform and Travel. This year, my theme is “Self.”

Coffee, Food, Drink, Hottest, Leaves, Winter, Cold

I was trying to find the perfect word to describe what I wanted to achieve this year, and I found that one of my friends has the same goals for 2020, calling 2020 the year of “Self.” So, inspired by her, that will be my theme!

Now, along with a theme, you must create goals that correspond with that theme. Then, you create SMART habits that will help you achieve your goals.

Here are my goals for Self:

GOAL: Become more mindful: Do you every feel as if your mind doesn’t stop? My mind has raced constantly and I cannot concentrate and complete everything on my to-do list.

Habit: To achieve mindfulness I will use my Stop, Breathe, and Think app once a day and meditate throughout the year.

GOAL: Be organized: From my full-time job and writing my master’s thesis to side gigs and a social life, I have found that I have lost touch with my organizational side (a side I took pride in). I want to be able to juggle all my tasks—from my blog and bookstagram posts (follow me @keepitkassual on Instagram) to my work meetings and academic projects.

Habit: Purchase a monthly/daily planner and a bullet journal and regularly update both items once a week, on Sunday mornings. Sundays will be your day to be organized for the week and start the work week recharged and focused.

GOAL: Prioritize fitness: This one is pretty straightforward. When I exercise, I am not only physically healthy, but mentally healthy. I am energized, confident, and can concentrate and complete my other tasks with a positive attitude.

Habit: Go to the gym 2-3 times a week, incorporating regular strength training with cardio (spinning on Saturdays or using the bikes at the gym on weeknights). I also plan on putting the gym in my planner to hold myself accountable and not move it if other things were to arise.

I am hopeful that these goals will be achieved this year! If I am mentally and physically healthy (mindfulness and exercise), I will feel organized and energized to complete my other tasks. I also hope to prioritize writing not only for my thesis and other academic projects and read slowly, enjoying the books I want to read rather than rushing through them. With the help of achieving these goals, I will truly be able to focus on myself—mind, body, and soul.

What about you? What are your “themes” or goals for 2020? Share in the comments below, and wishing you and yours a Happy New Year!

Reflections: My experience as a “solo traveler”

My husband had just pulled away from the local bus station in Massachusetts when I felt an immediate sense of panic. I remember thinking: “How am I going to do this by myself?”

I walked through the sliding doors and purchased my one-way ticket to Logan Airport. I sat down in the plastic seats and began calling my family members for a sense of comfort.

I was traveling to London to meet a friend who was studying abroad. I was going to get on a plane by myself, get off the plane and go to my Airbnb by myself, travel to meet my friend by myself, and sleep by myself. I had never done that before, and the thought was both frightening and exhilarating.

The plane ride went fine. I watched Sherlock, attempted to sleep, and I stepped off the plane feeling confident. I went to the woman at the train station, asked how to get to Potter’s Bar, and confidently got on the wrong train. Panicking and tearing up while I looked at how to fix this mess, a super helpful couple helped me get to Victoria Station, which then led me to King’s Cross station, and I got off at Potter’s Bar on time to check in to my BnB.

Potter’s Bar—let me tell you. If you want to see a quintessential English sleepy town, you go to Potter’s Bar. The town’s epicenter is the train station. Other than that, it’s cottages with smoking chimneys and commuters making their way to the station. I walked out the doors, I immediately turned to my maps on my phone to get to my BnB.

I walked along the quiet streets filled with anxiety. “Where was everyone?” “Am I in danger?”

I wasn’t in danger. Potter’s Bar is a sweet, safe town. My anxiety was getting to me, but I had to tell myself a few times to breathe, relax, and pack less on my next trip because wheeling this suitcase up a hill in a cute English town was a little too much.

When I made it to the Airbnb, my host welcomed me graciously. I stayed in a refurbished shed in the back of her house, fully equipped with a kitchen, bathroom, comfortable bed, and Apple TV (which I took advantage of!). I was in love!

I got inside, sat down, and immediately felt loneliness sweep over me. I cried, I almost called my husband and said I wanted to go home. In fact, I did call my husband, but only to tell him I was safe. I’d never been alone like that—I knew what it was like to feel hollow and hopeless.

I wrapped myself up in blankets, sat on the couch, and took out my journal. I started writing down an entry filled with “I don’t think I can do this” and “This is WAY out of my comfort zone.” But then I stopped. I thought, “I can do this. I am so capable of doing this!”

That’s when I took this picture of myself:

 

This was taken exactly one year ago today. This is me: exhausted, unfiltered, messy-haired, scared, anxious, determined. I decided to shake off those scaries and get my butt to King’s Cross Station. I had to explore. I had memories to make. I thought, “I have growin’ to do.”

And that’s what I did. I conquered my fears; I tried something new. I learned how to navigate the metro, how to get back and forth to my Airbnb with little-to-no-fear (walking by myself at night was eerie at first). I calmed myself to sleep when I felt super vulnerable and alone, and I did it. I just did it.

I loved every second of it. I learned that I loved being by myself. It was a great way to unwind after a long day in the city. I learned self-reliance, determination, and my own strength. I learned what it was like to feel lonely, but that I was not alone in my own company. I am proud of that trip and proud of the person I became.

If you have the chance to be a solo traveler, try it. You’ll unlock strength that you didn’t know you had within you!

It’s Summertime! Six Ways to Celebrate Summer

It’s summer! Yesterday marked the official start of one of the best seasons: sunny skies, fireflies, lemonade, and beach days!

While I definitely prefer fall and cooler weather, there’s something about summer that gets everyone excited and in a great mood—which I love!

Here are some of my favorite activities to do in the summer:

Go for a bike ride:
We live in an amazing part of the state where we can access a few of the many rails-to-trails spots in Connecticut. One of the trails follows a major river, and my husband and I love to strap on our helmets and ride along the shady, cool trails and take in the scenery. We love to stop and watch the flow of the river and listen to the birds and bugs buzz on a cool summer night!

Go to the beach:
Since my husband and I started dating, we have traveled to Rhode Island multiple weekends in each summer and spent time with his cousins and his family. It’s one of my favorite traditions that we plan on continuing when we grow as a family! I love the beach. I love planting myself in a chair with a giant sun hat and devouring books to the rhythmic sound of the waves under the warm sun.

Ice cream shops
On a hot summer day, nothing cools you down better than a cold treat. Ice cream, naturally, is delicious, and eating a giant ice cream cone outside with music playing and kids running around is quintessential summertime!

Travel
Summer is a great time to hop in the car with the windows down (or up with the AC blasting) and explore the world around you! Aside from our trips to Rhode Island last summer, we traveled to Burlington, VT, Washington and Montpelier, VT, D.C., and Montreal, along with stopping at different places in our state, like the Book Barn! Make sure you take time to travel this summer!

Drink iced coffee
I only drink iced coffee when the weather is warm, and I sure do take advantage of it! Iced coffee/iced lattes are such a delicious treat in the summer. I even started making my own iced coffee to save a few bucks, and I love my recipe!

Just celebrate summer!
This is actually a new favorite of mine! Yesterday, two of my close friends and I celebrated the Summer Solstice with a barbeque, lots of glitter, flower crowns, dancing, and music. It was a fun way to enjoy the nice weather and welcome summer with open arms (especially after such a cold winter in New England!)

How do you enjoy summer? In her latest blog post, Marycatherine shares her list!

Happy Summer!