#BellLetsTalk day has rolled around once again.


I’ve always tried to be open and honest about my struggles with mental illness, as I know how important open conversations are to ending the stigma. I used to write about my experiences regularly, but have found myself doing so less and less over the last couple of years. At first I simply wasn’t finding the exercise of writing as helpful as I had in the past. But last spring it became much more than that.
Late one night in June, after 10 years of inner turmoil, I became so overwhelmed with my anxiety and depression that I attempted to take my own life.
I then spent the next seven days as an inpatient in the Mental Health unit of the new St. Catharines Hospital and can truly say that that was the worst week of my life. But probably not for the reasons you’re thinking…
Each day I was in there I would meet with my assigned psychiatrist, and each day he would make the same comment: “You’re a highly educated and well-travelled young woman. You’re not the type of person I should be seeing in here.”
I never knew how to respond to this. He used words like “typical” and “should” and I just didn’t understand. Educated people can and do have depressive disorders, and well-travlled people can and do have anxiety disorders. Who was he to tell me I shouldn’t be there, when the fact was, I WAS there. I was there, and in pain, and instead of being helped, I was made to feel like my thoughts and emotions were invalid. I was made to feel like I should have somehow been above mental illness.
In the end, I didn’t receive anything in the way of “treatment”. My medication was switched to something I’d been on previously, and I slept a lot, played cards with my dad, and then after a week was discharged.
I left the hospital feeling completely discouraged. Following my discharge I dropped out of the outpatient anxiety treatment program that I’d been taking part in for a year previously, stopped going to counselling, and never spoke to anyone about how the experience effected me.
(Until now.)
I spent the summer wallowing in self-pity and feeling like a complete failure, followed by an autumn spent travelling and learning to trust my own abilities again. Thankfully the latter worked, and I returned home feeling like maybe, just maybe, I could be okay eventually. I built up the nerve to take some big chances, as well as rid myself of a few bad habits.
For a long time I didn’t think I’d live to see my 30th birthday.
But I did make it to 30. I made it, and now when I think of the future it’s not a blank question mark, but filled with possibilities. And for the first time I in as long as I can remember, I want to be alive to see what happens.

You better work.

I stepped up my job application game last autumn, resulting in several interview offers. Though I didn’t receive any job offers, I did get a lot of great feedback and made it farther in one process than I ever had before. So while the outcome wasn’t what I’d hoped, the experience was a positive.

After spending a couple of months putting applications together, I now find that I have several different versions of my resume, each suited for different types of jobs. In browsing through these I can’t help but think of how many jobs I’ve omitted from my resume, whether is be for space constraints or irrelevancy. And then I realize that I’m not even sure I can remember every single job I’ve ever had!

This thought has led me here, where in a mix of curiosity and boredom, I will try and list every paid job I’ve ever worked, no matter how short my time there was. Let’s start at the beginning…

2002-2004: ST – Elevator Operator, Arcade Attendant
2004-2005: IT – Usher, Cashier, Parking Lot Attendant
2005-2005: ES – Breakfast Hostess
2006-2006: ST – Projectionist, Reservation Agent, Cashier
2006-2006: IT – Usher, Cashier, Parking Lot Attendant
2007-2007: OSI – Server
2007-2007: IT – Usher, Cashier, Parking Lot Attendant
2007-2011: NFT – Tourism Counsellor
2008-2008: CNH – Reservation Agent
2010-2011: ABM – Customer Service Representative
2011-2012: SCCN – Usher, Parking Lot Attendant, Cashier
2011-2012: SKI – Programs Assistant (Intern)
2012-2012: BT – Telemarketer
2012-2012: CRUK – Telephone Fundraiser
2012-2012: NHM – Retail Sales Associate
2012-2012: EB – Watch Salesperson
2012-2012: PS – Receptionist
2013-2013: VFTS – Project Coordinator, Customer Service Representative
2013-2013: SCCN – Front of House Coordinator
2013-2014: VFTS – Administrator, Customer Service Representative
2013-2014: TWC – Museum Services Assistant
2014-2014: SKUK – Communications Coordinator (Intern)
2014-2014: BRC – MAPS Assistant (Intern)
2014-2014: MCS – Supporter Donations Assistant
2014-2014: HNC – Ticket Taker, Poncho Distributor, People Counter
2014-2015: CI – Front Desk Agent
2015-2017: CC – Visitor Services Officer
2015-2016: MC – Ticket Agent, Cash Room Clerk
2015-2016: ON – Retail Sales Associate
2016-2016: SK – Brand Specialist
2016-2016: HS – Project Coordinator
2016-2016: OTW – Communications Coordinator (Intern)
2016-2016: CX – Technical Support Representative
2017-2017: REV – Transcriber

There are over 30 employers on this list (though some are listed several times, for example IM, which I quit and returned to three times), and I feel quite certain that there’s one or two that I’ve completely forgotten, and will come to me later!

And boy, does this list make me feel like a flake! But in my defense, I spent highschool and university working summer jobs in a tourist town, where you typically had to find new employment at the end of ever summer season AND needed to procure multiple jobs in order to work 40 hours per week. After that I moved to London where I worked as temp, so several of these were just short-term contracts. And from 2014 onward you’re looking at upwards of four jobs held at one time just to pay the bills.

Oh, the joys of precarious employment!

Can you list all of your jobs?

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The Anxious Wanderer Returns, Take Two

In three short days I’ll be in a rental car driving the Golden Circle in Iceland. I’ll be flying there from Toronto tomorrow, and meeting one of my dearest friends in the world in Reykjavik. Following a few days in the land of ice we’ll be flying back to her home in London, and later I will continue my adventures solo around England, Denmark, and Norway.

While this certainly isn’t my first time heading off on a grand adventure, it will be the first time since my anxiety has become so severe. And that, for me, makes this one of the most important trips I’ll ever take.

To say that the past two years have been hell is an understatement. In that time I’ve been diagnosed with panic disorder, panic psychosis, and severe chronic depression. I’ve been through periods where I was unable to leave the house. I’ve experienced emotions so severe than I didn’t know how to cope with them. I’ve had difficulty maintaining friendships, employment, and my own physical health. And just a few months ago I had bout of depression and anxiety so severe that I tried to take my own life.

In this time I’ve been on a dozen different medications, seen countless doctors, counsellors, and nurses, and been admitted to several outpatient and inpatient mental health programs.

In moments of panic it feels like my mind has turned against me, and convinced me that danger lurks around every corner. My attacks, which had always been unpleasant experiences, have become unbearable episodes of sheer terror. The frequent fear and stress have become all consuming, and over the years has slowly chipped away at every aspect of my life.

Even in periods when the attacks, anxiety, and depression are less intense, I’ve discovered that it’s difficult to enjoy things I once loved, like theatre and travel. In the past few years these things have provided me with little more than fear and nausea. At one point I even thought that perhaps I’d just stop partaking, because what was the point?

But, at the end of day, I just couldn’t bring myself to give up my last semblance of hope. So in the spirit of ‘go big, or go home’, I’ve decided to get over my fears by visiting three countries I’ve never stepped foot into before (two of them on my own). I’m also giving myself London, because it’s the love of my life.

And I refuse to let my anxieties take it, or anything, away from me.

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Locked Up

Exactly one month ago I was released from the hospital after spending 7 days on a mandatory hold inside of the psychiatric unit. It was undoubtedly the worst week of my life, and the lowest point I’ve reached during my decade long struggle with mental illness.

During and following my hold I didn’t tell many people about what was happening. Partly because I was embarrassed and ashamed, and partly because I simply didn’t know how to talk about it. I still don’t, to be completely honest. But despite that, I’m writing now because I feel it’s important to say something. It may not be the correct thing, or what people want to hear, but the one thing I know is that keeping quiet out of shame only perpetuates stigma.

The ‘How?’ and the ‘Why?’ are likely what people most want to know, but are in my opinion the least important aspects of the story. While it was one rash and desperate decision that landed me in the hospital, the path leading up to it was a long and complicated one. My incarceration was 10 years of poor decisions in the making. Poor decision that I, for the first time, realize come from the fact that I simply don’t value my own life.

That revelation is in and of itself heavily complex. And along with it I also have my crippling anxiety, chronic depression, and unstable emotional responses to stress and upset. But I’ve come to learn that identifying and accepting issues is half the battle.

And as of tonight, that battle is not yet lost.

30 x 30

T-minus 6 months (and 2 days) until I turn 30. And as such, I’ve decided to make a list of 30 things I wish to do / 30 goals I’d like to achieve, by age 30:

  1. Visit 30 new cities
  2. Do 30 minutes of meditation or mindfulness each day
  3. Learn to be kind to myself
  4. Walk 30 km each week
  5. Eat fruits & veggies 30 times each week
  6. Take time out to recharge and refocus
  7. Lose 30 lbs
  8. Work avg 30 hours each week
  9. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’
  10. Spend only $30 each week on non-essentials (movies, clothes, eating out)
  11. Put $30 in savings account each week
  12. Learn self-forgiveness
  13. Watch / Listen / Read 30 new arts / entertainment things
  14. Give Jacob 30 memorable experiences
  15. Be a more attentive friend
  16. Write and send 30 letters / postcards to loved ones
  17. Set aside 30 minutes each week to get organized
  18. Be more open and honest about my feelings
  19. Rid myself of 30 toxic habits / relationships / things
  20. Volunteer 30 hours each month
  21. Ask for help when I need it
  22. Take 30 photographs each month
  23. Try 30 new foods
  24. Take the time to reflect and appreciate
  25. Write 30 new posts / articles / essays
  26. Try 30 things that scare me
  27. Learn to be more flexible / “go with the flow”
  28. Apply to 30 new jobs
  29. Try my very best to do the 30 things on this list
  30. But don’t beat myself up should I not accomplish them all

Special thanks to Jenny for helping me brainstorm in the middle of the night ;)

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Hit The Floor

Over the past few months I’ve quit several jobs, but still can’t seem to get over this chronic fatigue. I’m at the point of sleeping 10 hours a night, and taking 3 hour naps during the day. On top of that my overly intense panic attacks recently returned, and I’ve started having fainting spells due to a new health issue that is still in the process of being diagnosed.

Oh, the joys of chronic illness!

I wish more people understood chronic illness. I feel like in the past year so many friends have drifted away, frustrated, and I just haven’t had the emotional, mental, or physical energy to pull them back in and explain. But perhaps that’s for the best, because the fact remains that I can’t keep up.

I don’t even have the energy to write more of this post. Please see The Spoon Theory.

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2016: Same Old, Same Old

How is it almost February?

I spent January working my ass off and being sick, so I’ve lost all concept of time. I started a 4th and 5th job, so my schedule is ridiculous. Honestly, if I didn’t have a multi-device syncing calendar I’d be completely screwed. And it’s not like I’m working an excessive number of hours (40-50 a week, on average), but being all over the place at all different times of the day is making me scatterbrained. I’ve turned into a complete flake, and it’s really starting to get to me!

(In a spontaneous act of crazy, needing to feel like I had some sort of control, I got a pair of scissors and chopped off all my hair. Thank you to Saira for being my inspiration there! Heh.)

It’s also not helping that my anxiety is getting bad. And the irony is that the source of anxiety is that (1) I’m beyond paranoid that I’m going to have a panic attack at work, and (2) I lose my prescription benefits at the end of this month.

A big issue for me in early 2015 was that I stopped sleeping regularly due to nocturnal panic episodes, caused my dreams (typically the traditional teeth falling out dream). They went away last spring, but returned in the last few weeks. Recently it’s the same dream over and over: I’m at work (my retail job, which I’ve been at since October and quite like) and am constantly getting into trouble because I’m doing everything wrong. As the dream goes on coworkers start coming up to me and telling me how incompetent I am and that management is furious. Eventually in the dream I have a panic attack, am yelled at by a manager, and fired. And then I wake up in a panic attack (hyperventilating, crying, nose bleed, all that fun stuff). I’ve had this same dream, and same panic episode, the last 3 nights in a row. UGH.

As for the benefits, I don’t even know what to do. I can’t afford my auto-immune meds AND my anxiety meds. So I weighed the option of taking one vs the other. If I stop the anxiety meds I’ll probably relapse into my anxiety-ridden self, but if I stop my auto-immune meds I could potentially die, so… I voted for anxiety meds! But I went to my doctor this morning and asked about weening off the meds to which I received the most incredulous look of all time. “You have an incredibly severe anxiety disorder. You can not go off medication.” OKAY, OKAY.

So, I now need to figure out how to pay the $500/month for meds. I keep getting denied for private insurance, so I might try Trillium again. I’ve been denied twice, but maybe third time’s the charm. Everyone please cross all fingers and toes. Thx.

Hmm, what else? I was supposed to start the 3rd semester of my out-patient anxiety program yesterday, but being a sleep deprived flake, I missed the first session. So I need to make sure that I sort that out and don’t get myself kicked out of the program. And today I finally made appointments with my counsellor and occupational therapist. They’re both going to shout at me for taking more jobs…

The last time I saw either of them I had just taken on a second one, and neither were impressed. But I think I needed to do it, and I’m happy I did. I realized the only reason I wasn’t was because I had convinced myself I couldn’t. But it turns out I could! I’m not completely incompetent!

Well, not outside of my anxiety dreams, at least.

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Resolutions

I’m the absolute worst when it comes to new years resolutions, but I still continue to make them. With my birthday being the same time I consider them more to be year resolutions. So, I suppose this is my list of Year 29 Resolutions:

1. Save

2016* will be the year of fiscal responsibility. I want to work on lessening unnecessary spending, as well as make and keep a personal budget. My goal is to pay off my credit card by the end of the year, and have a significant amount in savings.

*We’ll turn a blind eye to any extravagant purchases made in 2015 for things taking place in 2016… Heh.

HOW: Create a budget and keep track of where my money goes. Identify unnecessary spending and make a reasonable course of action to reduce it. (For example, spending $30 a week at Subway can be removed, and replaced with the lower cost of packing a lunch from home.) Put the credit card in a drawer and only remove in cases of emergency! And do no convince oneself that a weekly deal on Amazon constitutes an emergency.

2. Relax

I’m making it a point to insert relaxation into my schedule in 2016. I’ve already registered for a yoga class that begins in just a few days time, and would also like to look into some meditation sessions. In my outpatient program I’ve also learned several relaxation exercises that I have yet to try at home. So, I should start incorporating them.

HOW: Weekly yoga, meditation, and relaxation exercises.

3. Explore

As you know, I love to travel. Unfortunately I spent the majority of 2015 unemployed and dealing with crippling anxiety. As a result I didn’t do much jet setting. However, I did meet my set goal of visiting one place I’d never been before when I went on a road trip to Savannah over the summer. And this year I’d like to increase that number to three new places, with an added specification that these places be in three different countries. I know this sounds counterproductive to #1, but the intention is for the some of the savings to go towards the travel.

HOW: Just do it.

4. Create

I have such a desire to write and photograph, but I’ve somehow convinced myself that my lack of skill outweighs my passion. Which is unfair, because skill is gained through experience. If I want to become a stronger writer and photographer, then I need to continue to write and photograph! So, in 2016 I want to work on creative and passion projects, and perhaps even take some courses to help build my skills and confidence up.

HOW: Set a goal to blog 10 times a month. Set a goal to get out an take photographs at least twice a month.

5. Be Social

When 2015 began I was dealing with agoraphobia. I was petrified to leave the house, and would break out into waves of panic at the mere thought. Now, at the close of 2015, I’m happy to say that is behind me. But I still have a long way to go. Intensive treatment has helped me re-enter the world, and I am now able to hold down 2 part time jobs (and a 3rd casual job), all of which I am comfortable in. It’s incredible to not spend an entire day at work petrified that I will have an attack. Or better yet, not spend an entire day at work having attack after attack.

So, stage one of re-entering the world has been a success, and stage two is to work on being around people. I don’t have social anxiety, per say. But I occasionally get so worked up over the idea that I’ll have a panic attack around people that it leads to a lot of avoidance behaviour. On a good day I can socialize no problem. So I’d like to work on is learning to work through the anticipatory anxiety I experience on the not-so-good days. I need to stop avoiding, and start enjoying.

HOW: Stop finding excuses not to do something. Stop instigating negativity in order to justify not doing something.

6. Be Healthy

I spent much of 2015 working to improve my mental health, and I’d like to continue that in 2016, while also incorporating the improvement of my physical health. The goal is healthy mind, body, and spirit.

HOW: 1) Physical Health- There’s three main things that I’ve been slacking on that I need to fix: Showing up to doctors appointments; Getting required monthly blood work done; Taking auto-immune medication. 2) Mental Health- Things to continue or improve: Continue going to outpatient anxiety program regularly; Continue reading to help improve my understanding of panic disorder; Practice the lessons taught in program.

And then, of course, healthy eating and exercise. That’s a given on everyone’s list, isn’t it?

HAPPY NEW YEAR, FRIENDS! Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and stress-free 2016!

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Adulthood

Tomorrow I turn 29 and I’m honestly not too sure how I feel about it.

I’ve spent far too much time this past year obsessing over the fact that I’ll be turning 30 at the end of 2016. It’s only now that I’ve finally sat down and tried to figure out why. My best guess is that 30 seems to be the line drawn by society to separate transitioning adulthood from real adulthood. A specified point in time when it’s socially required to have your shit together, so to speak.

This line is completely arbitrary, of course. And generational. And situational.

Legally adulthood begins at 18. Some consider it to begin when they finish post-secondary. Others define it as when they leave their parents house. It could be when careers or families start, or simply when the onslaught of adult responsibility starts. But there’s no all encompassing definition that takes into account legalities, responsibilities, accomplishments, etc. So, what is adulthood? Is there a magic moment when you suddenly feel like an adult?

If there is, it certainly hasn’t happened to me yet. But I don’t feel like a child or young adult. I have credit cards, pay car insurance, and owe an obscene amount in student loans. I buy groceries, book vacations, read self-help books, and have been denied life insurance. All of these typical adult things are a part of my life.

So why don’t I feel like an adult? And why does the idea of it freak me out so much?

There are certainly much scarier things than the unavoidable reality of being an adult. Many things that I myself have done. I moved abroad at 18; I jumped off a cliff; I backpacked through 12 countries alone; and moved solo to Europe in twenties with $50 in my bank account. Twice. I’ve wandered abandoned sanatoriums, spent several nights in foreign hospitals, and driven a rental car through the terrifying country roads of Northern Ireland. All of these are legitimately uncomfortable things, but I never feared them. Yet I do turning 30?

I think what it comes down to is that I fear being a failed adult. If I were imagining my life 10 years ago I would have certainly had grander ideas of where I’d be than the reality of where I am. I didn’t imagine I’d be back living with my mother, suffering from an anxiety disorder so severe that I require an ongoing, intensive treatment program, and still career-less after 7 painstaking years of university and grad school. My imaginings didn’t include crippling debt, long months spent bed-ridden with physical illness, or a million other little things that crept up in the last decade.

When I sit back and think rationally about my situation, I know I’m doing the best I can. And that compared to a year ago I’m doing very well. I can and am working full time hours for the first time since 2014. My health is okay. My relationships are good (for the most part). Overall, things are looking up.

So maybe it’s time to just accept the fact that I’m an adult, but throw out the notion that there exists a necessity to define oneself as a failure or success. That to be alive and content in the moment is enough. That to understand your passions and pursue them without fear is enough.

Appreciate all that you are and all that you’ve done, instead of focusing on who you’re not, and what you haven’t.

I think that if I can learn that, then 30 won’t seem so scary after all.

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25 Questions About 2015

It’s the end of the year, and as always I’d like to reflect on the previous years happenings. Rather than post a best/worst list though I thought I’d mix it up with a self survey I found online.

1. What am I most proud of this year?

I’m proud of becoming a self-advocate for the improvement of my mental health. I spent years frustrated and feeling failed by a flawed system. But this year I fought back and was finally able to find the treatment I needed. It’s still a daily challenge, but I’m proud of myself for getting where I needed to be.

2. I have become a better _____________?

Friend. At least I hope so. After spending years floating in and out of crippling anxiety and depression I was finally able to focus energy outside of myself, and give back to the people in my life who mean the most to me. Though I haven’t had the energy to mend relationships with all the people I’d like to, I’ve managed a few and am beyond grateful to have them back in my life. And I can say that those relationships are stronger and better than they’ve ever been.

3. Where am I feeling stuck?

Career. I spent a long time questioning if I was ready to take one on, eventually convincing myself that I wasn’t; That I was too weak and too broken. At one point this year I became convinced that I couldn’t hold down any job, certain I would fail at whatever I did. But as my health improved I found a job that met my needs. And now I’ve taken on another, and it’s helping build my confidence about my ability to at least be out in the world without losing my mind.

4. Where do I need to allow myself grace?

Again, career. I have to stay positive that one day I’ll be ready to take it on, and when I am I’ll find where I’m meant to be.

5. Am I passionate about my career?

Ha! Well, this is fitting. I’m passionate about my desired career. And I enjoy the jobs I currently hold. I’m working in positive environments where I feel accepted and appreciated. For now that’s all I can ask for.

6. What lessons have I learned?

To be more compassionate with myself. That to trust in and share with others can lead to great things. That I am loved.

7. What did my finances look like?

Umm… Not good. No, 2015 was not a good year financially.

8. How did I spend my free time?

I spent more time with friends. I started The Panic People Project, which is currently on a break, but I plan to get back to in the new year. I read a lot and watched Netlflix.

9. How well did I take care of my body, mind, and soul?

Body: I spent the first 6 months of the year going to the gym 3 days a week. When I started working it fell by the wayside, but while it lasted it improved so many aspects of my life.

Mind: I entered an outpatient program for people with severe anxiety. It has helped improve my quality of life immensely.

Soul: I reconnected with friends and for allowed myself to be open to trust, support, and love.

10. How have I been open-minded?

Yes. But there’s always more to learn, and I hope to do so.

11. When did I feel most creatively inspired?

When I began work on The Panic People Project. I felt so ambitious and inspired in those first couple of months. I hope I can regain that feeling.

12. What projects have I completed?

I’m not sure I’ve completed any projects, but I’ve come a long way on many.

13. How have I procrastinated?

Netflix. Definitely, Netflix.

14. In what ways can I re-structure my time?

I need to learn to balance my time again. I’ve spent so long with an empty schedule, and now that I have so many things on the go, I’m struggling to keep up. I also get too ambitious in my time management planning, but struggle with the execution (ie, thinking ‘I’ll be fine to work a 16 hour day following a midnight shift’ is not incorrect), so I need to forgive myself on my requirement of sleep and down time. I also need to allow myself time to do things I enjoy.

15. How have I allowed fear of failure hold me back?

This is a complicated question for me. My irrational mind screams ‘YES’. That I’m a failure in so many aspects of my life. But my rational mind pops in to tell me that it’s been a rough year, and that there is nothing wrong with taking time out to take care of myself and my health before diving into something new.

And in all honesty, agreeing to the intensive outpatient anxiety program was 100x scarier than hopping on a plane to Europe with no money and a 2 year visa.

16. Where has self-doubt taken over?

I live every moment of my life in self-doubt. ‘What if I fail?’, ‘What if I panic?’, ‘What if I embarrass myself?’, ‘What if they fire me?’, ‘What if this is the wrong decision?’. Everything is a ‘what if’, and I’m learning to simply tell myself ‘What if I don’t fail?’

17. When have I felt the most alive?

As always, when I’m travelling. This year didn’t see many trips, but the ones that did happen were great fun.

18. How have I taught others to respect me?

I’m not sure I have… But if I have, I hope by being an honest, kind, and compassionate person.

19. How can I improve my relationships?

As I said earlier, this is something I’ve been working on and will continue to do. I’ve always been very closed-off and have been trying to let some of those walls down these last few months. I can improve my relationships by accepting the idea that it’s okay to put your trust others once in awhile.

20. Have I been unfair to anyone?

Oh, absolutely. A few people. I’m still figuring out how to turn my attitude around on those fronts.

21. Who do I need to forgive?

I think that over the past year I’ve been able to let go of a lot of resentment I held towards certain people, and those relationships are on the mend. Other than that, I don’t believe I ‘need’ to forgive anyone else. There are things not deserving of that energy.

22. Where is it time to let go?

I think it’s time to let go of a lot of my trust and boundary issues. I don’t know how yet, but I’m hoping 2016 will bring some clarity.

23. What old habits would I like to release?

I’d like to release some of my obsessive tenancies! But The X Files returns in January, so that’s not likely ;)

24. What new habits would I like to cultivate?

Mindfulness. Meditation. Healthy eating. Healthy and positive attitudes. Exercise.

25. How can I be kind to myself?

By working on changing my thought process. By ignoring my irrational mind. By continuing to learn and love and be loved. By learning to love myself.

2015