It’s amazing the difference a year can make.

On a late night, one year ago, I decided that I was in too much pain to keep on living and that my existence was too burdensome on everyone around me. I had been dealing with ongoing suicidal thoughts for years, but in the months leading up to that night they’d become more and more intense.

I awoke the next morning in a psychiatric Form 1 lockdown at the hospital, with my parents sitting by my side. I remember feeling little more than numb through much of my two week stay in Unit 1M. And when I returned home I felt more discontented with life than ever before. I dropped out of my anxiety treatment program, stopped going to counselling, and tried to fade out of people’s lives.

Fortunately for me, I had a few amazing people in my life who wouldn’t stand for the latter. With their help I spent the summer slowly learning to live again and remembering so many of life’s little joys.

In late summer I set off for adventure, hoping that a bit of solo travel and space would help me regain some lost confidence. I spent three weeks driving under the Northern Lights in Iceland, boating through the Fjords in Norway, wandering the cobblestone streets in Denmark, and lounging with old friends in England. The trip gave me some much needed time for reflection and appreciation. For the first time I truly allowed myself to look at my life and the reasons for my unhappiness. The main one, I realized, was that I was scared.

In the autumn I came home determined to open myself up and conquer my fears. I took risks, faced new challenges, and found myself entering winter feeling something I had never truly felt before: Contentment.

And now, one year on, my life is virtually unrecognizable. I found a job that encompasses everything that I’ve ever wanted in a job. I fell in love with someone who makes me happier than I ever thought it was possible to be. I’ve started reaching out and attempting to mend broken relationships. And I’m starting to think that maybe, just maybe, I’m not such a human disaster after all.

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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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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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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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Road Trip America

After a long, arduous winter a friend and I have decided to take a little time out this summer and do a mini US roadtrip. Nothing major. One week, traveling from Niagara to Savannah. It’s a 2 day drive, so we’ll head down to Virginia on day one, and then continue onto Savannah on day two, where we’ll stay for a few nights. We’ll take an alternate route home, stopping for a night and half day in Washington DC before heading home. It should be a ton of fun, and we’re really excited!

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Since money is tight, we’ve decided we’re going to try and raise the money needed for the trip in a few different ways. We have a GoFundMe page for anyone who might wish to simply donate to the cause. We’re also holding an online rummage sale, with over 100 items available, and at the end of the month we’ll be holding a yard sale (more info coming soon).

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After only just a couple of days we’ve been able to raise nearly $400! The trip itself will cost about $1000, if we’ve budgeted correctly: $190 for a rental car, $250 for gas, $175 for hotels, $250 for food, $40 alt transportation, $100 buffer.

I said I wanted to go somewhere this year that I’ve never been, so I’m really looking forward to this. I’ve heard great things about Savannah! It sounds like it’ll likely been painfully hot and humid, but we’ll survive!

If you’re able to donate or grab a rummage sale item, we’d really appreciate it. There’s even some fun incentives for those who donate:

$10 Donation: A shoutout on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

$25 Donation: A thank you card that we’ll make ourselves and mail to you! Each card will be designed by us, and include a little something special.

$50 Donation: All of the above, PLUS we’ll Photoshop you into some of our photos. It’ll be just like you’re there with us!

$100 Donation: All of the above, PLUS you’re very own custom embroidered wall hanging from Mommy’s Lil Monkey.

$150 Donation: All of the above, PLUS an invitation to hang out with us on one of our future adventures.

$500 Donation: OUR SOULS.

Regardless of whether or not you’re able to contribute, please stay tuned for updates on our trip. I’ll be posting a ton from the road! We plan to hit every wacky water tower, world’s largest ball of twine, moth man museum, and buffet that America has to offer on our route. It should be quite the adventure!

12 Days In New York City

I love New York, but boy was I ready to come home after 12 days in it. Had the last 7 of those days not been so stressful it might be another story. But the fact was that I barely had enough money to get me through the 6 intended days, so the additional 7 weren’t overly enjoyable as I tried not to use much public transit or eat out or really do anything that involved spending any money…

But, despite all that, it was still a lovely and much needed holiday!

I arrived in the city on a Wednesday at which time I wandered to Vi’s and collapsed on her couch. On Thursday made my way to Brooklyn to go see the Botanic Gardens. I’d seen someone post about it somewhere, and thought it might be worth a visit. The weather was great, the colours gorgeous, and it turns out there’s not admission cost on Thursdays.

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That evening I headed to Times Square to meet up with Vi. We were hoping to the lottery for a show, but missed it for both The Last Ship and Hedwig. Instead we got omlettes and watched Netflix.

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On Friday I headed down to Union Square where I spent a couple hours getting lost in the racks at The Strand. Paul Giamatti was there. We stood in the ‘Banned Books’ section together. It was pretty cool.

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I then went and wandered around the West Village and people-watched in Washington Square Park. It was chilly, but sunny, so I was happy.

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That night I headed back to Times Square to meet Vi. We lost the lottery for Idina Menzel’s show If/Then, but were able to grab ‘Lottery Loser’ tickers for only $5 more. I guess the show isn’t doing so well… I thought it was okay. I’m glad I saw it, but really it’s only selling points are Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp.

Speaking off, we did stage door, of course! I’ve seen them both before, but it’s always fun!

10422083_935529480984_5726191222963934932_nIdina Menzel

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On Saturday I met up with Carly, Sara, and Annie for an excellent 4 hour lunch. We’d never all gotten together as a group, so it was a lot of fun. Eventually Carly had to head to work and Annie to a housewarming party, so Sara and I met up Vi and went to dinner.

Vi and I saw ‘On The Town’. I liked it well enough. It’s a classic, so, you know. The dance numbers seemed a little drawn out, but the music was great.

On Sunday Vi and I went on a roadtrip to Baltimore. She rented a car and got tickets to see Next To Normal, I tagged along. Oh, and I can now say I’ve been to Delaware. Woo!

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On Monday it down-poured so we went to the movies to see ‘The Theory of Everything’. I also dragged Vi from shop to shop in search of a single magazine, as, you know, I do that. The weather cleared up later in the day though, so I went for a nice stroll around mid-town.

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On Tuesday I headed out at some ridiculously early hour only to reach the far end of West-nowhere (aka the Megabus stop) and learn that there were no buses. No one seemed to know why. So, my enormous backpack, suitcase and I hiked it over to Penn Station to see about a train. I got a ticket, all looked well, until it’s announced that all Toronto bound rail service will be suspended in Syracuse. Again, no one could say why. So I got a refund and started frantically texting everyone I knew for a place to stay. Annie was kind enough to offer her couch right away, so I made my way 160 blocks or so uptown to Washington Heights.

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I eventually came to learn about the horrendous storms in Buffalo and every 12 hours or so would get an update that train and bus service remained suspended. That week is a bit of a blur with regards to what happened when, and in what order. Again, I stayed in a lot. I mean I managed to watch the whole first season of Gilmore Girls on Netflix, so…

I did go for several nice walks around Washington Heights and Fort Tryon. One day I took the subway down to the Upper West Side to go to Barnes and Noble, and then took a very long city bus journey back to the George Washington Bridge (if you catch a bus within 2 hours (maybe 3 hours?) of catching the train they don’t charge you again- HEY OH!). Washington Heights was pretty cool though, I’m glad I had some time to explore it.

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10406411_935648617234_5416060134614959295_nHudson River, Fort Tryon Park

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And then of course Saturday was the insane Into The Woods evening. I’m still not over that one! Earlier that day though I met up with the wonderful Jennifer Eolin for tea and trading of horror life stories, and a couple hours later went for hot chocolate with another online friend. All that made for a very nice day. Adding in Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, and an early Into The Woods screening were just icing on the cake!

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I didn’t sleep Saturday night, and had to leave for my bus around 4:30am. Thankfully though when I arrived there was no one advising of a cancellation, and I even managed two seats to myself for the entire journey home.

It all kind of worked out. Sort of. Maybe.

Backpackin’

Four years ago I started this blog as a way to post updates while I was backpacking around Europe. At the time I was simply posting a few random, unedited photos from the road, all taken with an old Canon point-and-shoot. By the time I returned home I had several thousand pictures, and never really got around to sorting through them all.

Feeling reminiscent this morning, I decided to have a quick scroll through the albums and pick out a favourite(ish) shot from each stop on the trip. Here we go:

EnglandLondon, England

ScotlandEdinburgh, Scotland

Northern IrelandCounty Antrim, Northern Ireland

IrelandCountryside, Ireland

CzechPrague, Czech Republic

AustriaCountryside, Austria

GermanyBerchstagen, Germany

ItalyVenice, Italy

SpainMontserrat, Spain

FranceParis, France

SwedenStockholm, Sweden

FinlandHelsinki, Finland

I desperately hope I can do another Europe trip like this one day. There’s so many places I didn’t get to visit! Berlin, Nuremberg, Budapest, Geneva, Lisbon, Vienna, Zagreb, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Oslo, Sofia, Madrid, Warsaw, etc, etc, etc.

Though I still haven’t written off the idea of going to Germany for a year, so maybe if I do I can knock most of those off the list while there!