A Quick Update

Well life is pretty crazy for someone who just moved across the country. And I’ve been reflecting on that lately.

Recently, someone asked me – had I known the future, and known that a pandemic was going to trap me in my home in advance – if I would have made a different choice? The answer there is twofold:

One, I don’t play what-if games. It’s a personal policy I’ve had for years. Second-guessing your choices only makes you miserable – in my experience.

Two, no, I wouldn’t. And that’s what I told her. If I had known what was going to happen – the new friends I would make, the new job I’d take that I already love, the church family I’d find, the city I’d live in and love with all my heart – I wouldn’t have made another choice.

Still, I understand the root of the question. Another question I’ve been getting a lot lately is this: How are you doing? I can’t imagine living alone right now.

So here’s the honest truth: I’m doing okay. I’m not thriving, by any means. Some days are harder than others. I have days where all I want to do is curl up into a ball and sleep. I have other days where I have so much bursting creative energy from being repressed that I end up staying up half the night painting, drawing, or writing.

But I’m thankful for where I am right now. I’m thankful for the lessons I learned along the way that have made me better able to cope with this situation.

I’m thankful that last winter we had “snowmageddon” in Minnesota, because that taught me two important lessons. One, cabin fever wears off after a few weeks. And two, I’m better suited to living alone during times when I can’t leave my home.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my former roommates. They’re still some of my closest friends. But some of those weeks last year were tough.

I’m also thankful for my friends and family. My mom has sent me more care packages in recent weeks than ever before in my life. In college I had to beg her to send me a care package. And since this whole thing started she’s sent me several things: homemade treats, face masks (some of which I’ve passed off to friends since I didn’t need all of them), and a sweater for my cat (that didn’t quite fit, but I got a good laugh out of it. Picture at the top of this post).

I’m thankful for my new friends, who make it a point to check in on me. I’m thankful for those of you who came to my building to have a social-distancing chat, relieving me after weeks of isolation. I’m thankful for those who picked up or drove to get me food, since delivery is a bit of an issue for me right now. I’m thankful for those of you who text to check in, and send me things to brighten my day.

The reason I sat down to write this is because I was feeling lonely and isolated. I miss my friends – not just the ones here in Seattle, but my friends back in MN, many of whom I haven’t heard from in quite a while. I hope you’re all doing well.

I sat down, intending to write about my feelings. And instead of whining about how I feel lonely and sad, I started writing about what I’m thankful for… turns out there’s a lot, even when I’m sitting in my home, after watching hours of TV all day.

So to those of you who have done things that touched me, I thank you. To those of you who haven’t – that’s fine! Right now is a hard time. You don’t have to feel bad for not reaching out to other people. I’m not good at that myself. There are plenty of people I miss who I forget to reach out to.

What we’re living through right now is collective trauma. Which is why I’m not being hard on myself for not writing, or not doing my laundry on time. I think that right now, having some grace for yourself and others is more important than ever.

I originally wrote this as a diary entry, and didn’t intend to post it. I needed to get some thoughts in order. But… I thought some of you might appreciate hearing from me right now.

I hope you’re all happy and healthy. If you read this far, I’d love to hear what you’re thankful for during this time.

Wishing you peace,

Riley

Plague Diaries: Coronavirus in Seattle

Asian woman in a background with a blue coronavirus microbe in the foreground.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, nor am I trying to give anyone advice. This is purely my experience living here in Seattle in March 2020 during the COVID-19 outbreak.

It’s Sunday, March 8th, 2020, at 4:30 in the afternoon as I sit down to write this. We’re about two weeks into what I’m calling “The Panic.” I haven’t left my apartment since yesterday morning when I purposefully went to the grocery store at 7am in order to get there during restock, and before other people would be out. I’m trying to get rid of the last of a stubborn head cold with some mint tea and honey. 

I figured my friends and family across the country were probably wondering what’s going on here in Seattle. The media hasn’t done a good job of covering the Coronavirus outbreak, both here in the United States, and across the world. All the stories out there are sensationalized, because that’s what drives viewers and readers. So, as someone living in Seattle, it’s really hard to tell what’s an appropriate response to this disease and what isn’t.

Let me back up a step. The reason I sat down to write this post is because, over the course of the last week, I’ve touched base with many of my friends across the country. Some of them are worried sick about me and everyone else in Seattle. Some are completely unconcerned and think that the coronavirus is all hype. I wanted to set some things straight about what’s really happening here in Seattle. Because things are… tense, and confusing. An already isolated society is isolating ourselves further out of fear of sickness and of the unknown.

I can’t speak to what is an appropriate response to this disease. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this before. So I’m just going to tell you what I’ve seen over the last few weeks, as well as what I’m currently doing to protect myself and, in my small way, stop the spread in our community.

And yes, even though the content of this blog is pretty serious – the title is a joke. 

So What’s Going On?

As I’m assuming everyone knows by now, at the end of 2019, China alerted the World Health Organization of an outbreak of a strain of coronavirus that has since been dubbed “COVID-19.” Since then (as of today) over 100 countries across the world have reported lab confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. Over 3.000 people in China alone have died (Source: WHO).

As of the time that this post was written, the coronavirus has not officially been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. I’ve heard a myriad of reasons for this – but honestly, I don’t know why it hasn’t been labeled yet. What I do know is that there are over 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, with a death toll of 21 across the country – 18 in Washington, 2 in Florida, and 1 in California.

It’s also distinctly likely that in the coming days, the number of affected will rise. This will be due both to transmission and importantly, due to the fact that tests are becoming more widespread across the country. So just because the numbers start to jump, doesn’t mean things are actually getting worse.

When It First Started

I remember when I first heard of the coronavirus – it was shortly after New Years. I heard of it and immediately brushed it off – why should I freak out about a disease in China, after all? As the death toll rose and it started to spread across the country, I passively followed the news, but I remained unconcerned. I mean, I was concerned for the people affected – but I wasn’t concerned for myself, or really anyone in America. 

When the virus was first confirmed in Washington state, my first thought was, “Great, now my family is going to freak out.” To their credit, my family contained themselves admirably for quite a while after the virus spread here. 

As more and more cases across King County were confirmed, I grew wary, but not enough to change my patterns. No one has died yet in the U.S. I told myself. There’s no reason to fear.

Then, last weekend, I spoke to two friends of mine who work in healthcare. Both of them were taking the increasing risk of the virus very seriously. To the point that one has locked down her family and is trying to leave her home as little as possible, to try and slow the spread of the disease. At the time, that seemed extreme to me – but I respected her knowledge as a doctor enough to seriously reconsider my stance on the virus. 

Then, the next day, the news hit – the first confirmed death in the U.S. My tune changed. I was now taking the threat seriously. But with so few cases (at the time, there were roughly 50 cases confirmed in Kirkland, and 1 death) I didn’t see the need to panic. 

By this time, stores were already sold out of hand sanitizer. And they were running low on toilet paper as well – which I still don’t quite understand. Why stock up on toilet paper…? Are people that worried about a possible quarantine?

As this week progressed, my concern grew with the confirmed cases. Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency due to the rising number of cases. Health officials advised that people who could work from home should do so. The death toll rose, the amount of cases skyrocketed. I got nervous.

By the end of last week, I didn’t want to be out in public. Not because I was worried about dying – no. But seeing how empty the streets and buses were, I had a sinking feeling that I was the one who was reacting inappropriately, not everyone else.

What Am I Doing?

I’m not planning to totally quarantine myself (though after a bus ride with a guy who was coughing up his lungs on Friday, I’m not really feeling the whole “riding a bus” thing right now), but I’m going to limit my outside time. Most of my usual weekly activities are canceled for the foreseeable future. I usually go to church on Sundays, small group every other Wednesday, and do a dinner out with my friends on Friday nights. 

As of next week, my office has made coming in to work optional. The office itself isn’t closed. But I’ll be taking the opportunity to stay in, and off the bus. 

When I do go out in public (for example, the grocery store yesterday) I’m conscious of what I do. I try to touch as little as possible, keep my hands away from my face, and then wash my hands as soon as I get home/to the office/wherever I’m going. And yes, for the full 20 seconds with soap and warm water. 

I’m also trying to eat at home – though I will admit, this is more a budget issue than a safety issue at current. 

In staying in and off the streets, I’m hoping to slow the spread of the virus. Many of my friends and church family are doing the same thing. Some are trying to stay in as much as possible for fears of the virus spreading so quickly through the community that it overloads our already strained healthcare system. There are concerns across the world that our healthcare workers will run out of protective equipment due to limited supply (source: WHO).

My Moral and Sociological Struggles

The thing that alarms me about the coronavirus – and I’m sure others feel the same – is that those who have it can be contagious for up to 2 full weeks without showing any symptoms. That means that I could have caught it a week ago, exposed all of my friends at church and my entire office, and still not show symptoms myself for another 7 full days. 

This is why I’m glad I canceled my trip to Florida next week – I didn’t want to risk accidentally spreading the virus to my grandparents, who I would have been staying with on my trip.

And now that things have gotten worse around here, I’m really glad we made that choice.

There is one major thing I’m struggling with in regards to the coronavirus:

Staying In vs. Going Out

This may be a surprise, but I find the choice to stay in or leave to be a bit of a struggle. On the one hand, staying in (which is obviously my choice) means slowing the spread and potentially protecting myself from a serious illness. (DISCLAIMER: the mortality rate for healthy people my age is VERY low, so as I said above, I’m not worried about dying).

Sociological:

News outlets have reported that for some restaurants across Seattle, their sales have dropped up to 50% in recent weeks. This means that small businesses, hourly workers, waitstaff, entrepreneurs, delivery drivers, and many more people are short on their usual cash flow. Those people already don’t have the opportunity to stay at home and protect themselves – and if a quarantine happened, they would be the ones to suffer most. People like me with office jobs can work from home and continue getting paid regularly. But what happens to other people when those of us who usually eat out all stay in?

Moral:

On the other hand, say I continued my normal patterns and stayed out and about. I might, eventually, catch the virus, regardless of how carefully I wash my hands. 

What if I give it to one of my coworkers and they have someone at home with a compromised immune system? What if I give it to someone on the bus who works at a nursing home?

In other words, what happens if I unintentionally pass the virus on to someone, and because of that, people die. Where does that leave me? Obviously not consciously culpable. But morally, I’m not comfortable with that possibility.

The Result:

As I said, I’m trying to stay in as much as possible. I’ll periodically re-evaluate and see what other ways I can be of service to my community during what is admittedly a pretty scary and uncertain time. 

But I’m sure my mother, at least, is happy to hear I’m going to be staying in…

What Now?

If there’s one thing that bothers me about this entire situation, it’s the uncertainty. Say I start (as I have) trying to stay in. How long will I have to do so? How long before things go back to normal? Will things get significantly worse before they get better? It certainly seems so, with COVID-19 spreading to more and more states each day. So when does it end?

I don’t have answers to any of those questions. I’m simply living my life here in Seattle, trying to keep myself and my community safe, and make the best possible choices I can in a tense and confusing situation.

If there’s a moral to this story, I’m going to echo Doctor Mike, a Youtuber I follow: Be alert, not anxious. If you live in an area that doesn’t have confirmed community spread (or local transmission is another term), there’s no need to panic. Even if you do, there’s no need to panic! Be smart. Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Keep a reasonable distance between yourself and other people. And for the love of God – someone tell me why the stores are out of toilet paper!

If you want to hear the opinion of a medical professional about the coronavirus, check out this video from Doctor Mike:

In addition, if you’ve heard a lot of different things about the coronavirus and aren’t sure what to believe, check out this list of myths that WHO has busted, or this list of Frequently Asked Questions.

I’d love to hear from other people in Seattle and across the U.S. How has the virus affected your community and state? Leave me a comment and tell me how you’ve been prepping – and if your stores are sold out of toilet paper!

So How Are Those Goals Going, Anyway?

Despite the radio silence here on my website, my progress toward my goals this year has actually been quite steady. I told myself that this was my year to really buckle down and do the work – and that’s what I’ve been doing. Keeping my nose to the grindstone, filling my spare time, and trying to also maintain a social life.

I’d be lying if I said it was easy. In many ways, I feel busier than I’ve ever been. I have that feeling I had in college. Whenever I have free time, I feel as if I should be doing something else. Writing. Art. Reading. Working out.

I know that sounds stressful and depressing – but honestly, I actually prefer that kind of feeling as opposed to

Writing

writing

I’ve really been trying to buckle down and write as close to every day as I can. There are some screenshots below of my progress so far. I’m using a tracker called Write Track, which is completely free.

As you can see from my screenshots – I definitely don’t manage to actually sit down and write every day. Since I work on the same laptopeeeeee that I write on, sometimes after I do a full day of work, I just don’t want to sit down at my desk again and write.

Those days, I give myself a bit of a pass. One of the things I’ve been working on teaching myself this year is the art of self-love and self-forgiveness. I miss a day of writing? That’s okay, I can make up some words another day. Miss a day at the gym? It’s all right, it doesn’t mean I’ve given up on fitness. Eat unhealthily? That’s okay, tomorrow you’ll do better. I find that if I give myself some grace and kindness, I’m less likely to quit. Whereas if I’m hard on myself for missing a day, I want to stop almost immediately. Not to mention, it’s just better for my mental health to have a loving edge toward myself, rather than a hard one.

But, anyway! Let’s check on my goal progress.

My overall word count is going well. Though I don’t write every day, I do tend to write more than my daily count when I sit down to write. I usually average around 1,000 words or more a day when I actually write, as you can see from my February word count.

2019-03-24 (1)

Clearly, I had problems writing every day. Well, I should say – I had issues recording my writing every day. Sometimes I just forget to mark where I started writing, or I just forget to update my count. I don’t think that was the case here – I honestly think that the 17th – 24th I just didn’t write. It happens. I don’t lose sleep over it. The point is that I’m still working on developing the habit. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

But let’s take a look at the days that I did write. Almost every day I wrote in February I wrote 2,000+ words in the day. There was one day I wrote over 7,000 words. Those days really help make up for the ones that I don’t get to my laptop. The point of setting my goal of 200,000 words in a year was to learn to do the work. If that means I don’t write every single day, but I still reach the goal in my timeframe, so be it.

So now let’s take a look at my overall word count so far this year:

2019-03-24 (2)

NOTE: This doesn’t include today’s writing since I haven’t updated my count for today yet. Okay, let’s take a look.

As you can see, I’m pretty far ahead of my goal progress. This was my plan. I know I can write a lot in a short period of time, so I buckled down in January and cranked out as many words as I possibly could to get ahead of the game. In the month of January, I wrote 30,949 words (which, fun fact, is my average for each NaNoWriMo except for the time I wrote 90,000 words – that was an outlier and should not be counted).

If you can do math (and you can) you’re probably saying, “But wait a minute there Miss Writes-A-Lot, that means you’ve only written another 30,000 words since January!” You’re right, That’s why I worked so hard in January, because I knew I would start to slow down. (Full disclosure – I wrote this article before the end of April as I was trying to get ahead on my blogging. So who knows how many words I will have actually written by April 1st? Just kidding, I know, its 69,278).

I’m still pretty far ahead of the Expected Progress Bar. For those curious, as of today, March 24th, 2019, in order to reach my goal by December 31st, my expected progress is 43,333 words. I’m trying to still stay ahead of the bar in case I run into any more dry spells.

All in All: Am I Satisfied?

I absolutely am satisfied with my progress. It’s nice to have a measure of just how many words I’ve written this year. I find it motivating to be so far ahead of my goal. I want to see how quickly I can reach my goal, and how much I can surpass it by the end of the year.

I’m still working on building the habits, but I’m doing the work. That’s all I can really ask for.

Health

I feel good about the stride s I’ve made toward prioritizing my health. I got a gym membership at Xperience Fitness which is a cheap-but-good gym near me. I go three times a week in the morning and work out for 30 minutes to an hour those days.

I’ve made some discoveries. I’d made a lot of excuses as to why I couldn’t join a gym before. A lot of them revolved around my asthma – I was embarrassed to work out when I knew I would have an asthma attack. I thought people would judge me for being out of shape when in reality I just couldn’t breathe.

But the more I’ve gone to the gym, the less I’ve had problems with my asthma. I thought it was going to take a lot of doing to get to the point where I could do a set of weights, or run for 30 minutes without having an asthma attack. Turns out I was wrong.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying that people who have asthma are whiners, or that asthma can’t be a legitimate worry when working out. This is purely my experience.

After one week at the gym, I stopped having problems with my asthma. I have no idea what sparked that change, but I’m glad it happened. Now, I can push myself as hard as I need to in the gym without feeling like I’m drowning.

Of course, this doesn’t mean working out is easy for me now. It’s not by any means. But it’s less terrible than it was before.

As far as goals – I don’t actually own a scale. So I don’t know how much weight I’ve lost so far on my health journey. But I also know that I have lost weight. The reason I know? I had to replace all of my pants because they were suddenly too loose. That’s right, I’ve dropped a pants size so far this year.

In the interest of being transparent – which is what I’m trying to do here – I’ll give you a rundown of what I’ve done to achieve my health goal. My roommate and I attempted Whole30 and stopped after 17 days, when she realized that a health condition of hers was being aggravated by the restrictive diet. I could have continued on my own, but quite honestly – I didn’t want to. I am very much a foodie, and while I did find some recipes that were tasty, most I found to be bland and boring. Because they were bland, I didn’t want to eat, and then I got grouchy and tired because I wasn’t eating enough.

That’s all to say, I’ve figured out how to adjust my diet to be more healthy. Have I been doing it well since I stopped Whole30? No, but I’m going to start again. I’m cutting back on sugary foods – soda, coffee, sweets – and eating out less. This is partially for my health and partially for my wallet.

All in All: Am I Satisfied?

Absolutely. I’m proud of myself for the progress I’ve made. It may not be perfect, but I’m still working hard and I think I can give myself credit for it. I’m still developing all the habits – there are occasionally still mornings where I choose to sleep instead of work out. But those will come with time an dedication.

I also intend to buy a scale soon so I can actually find out how much I’ve lost.

Books

All right, admission:

I haven’t finished a book yet this year. It’s now April, I should be starting my fourth book in-keeping with my goal. And I haven’t. Finished. One.

I also figured out why I didn’t finish any books last year, either. I read a LOT of my own writing.

Does that sound vain? Probably. But I’ve been writing for 13 years. I have quite a library built up. I read my own work for inspiration, reflection, and editorial purposes. I also read because… well, no one knows my tastes like I do.

So I’ve read thousands of words this year. It’s just that I haven’t read much that I haven’t written myself (and articles online, of course).

All and All: Am I Satisfied?

No, not really… I don’t really know what to change when it comes to my reading habits. I always intend to sit down and read but in reality, I have so many other things to do, I just forget. And then suddenly it’s April and I should have read 3 whole books and I haven’t read any.

I don’t really have a plan for what to do to achieve my goal… I’ll keep you guys updated if I come up with a plan. I’m just going to try to read some short books to catch up whenever I have the time (which is never).

Coming Soon!

Good news for those of you who actually enjoy reading my blog. There’s more coming!

Newsletter

That’s right, I’m hoping to roll out a newsletter in the next several months! You can look to find updates on my story, personal anecdotes, pictures, hints, and hacks. This will still be a little while coming as I want to get into the habit of regularly publishing articles before I roll it out. Still, I’m excited to share more of my life with you all!

New Series!

I’ve brainstormed enough blog topics to publish one article a week for the rest of this year. Actually, well into next year as well.

I took away my best excuse. “I don’t have any ideas for blog posts!” Not anymore. I have over 50 blog ideas, with titles and details, written in a spreadsheet. I have publishing dates assigned, and several series planned. Here’s a sneak peek!

Adulting is Hard: a crash course on how to be a real adult from one who learned the hard way. I’ll be talking about budgeting when you have no money, how to grocery shop on a tight budget, what to do when your car breaks down for the first time, keeping your place clean, how to find your first apartment, tips on living with roommates, a simple checklist of essential furniture and household supplies for your first home, the best way to do laundry, and learning how to be healthy when you’re broke.

Creating a Story: I figured if you’re always told to “write what you know,” then I’d better start writing about what I know best: writing! This series will touch on the basics of developing a good story. How to design a compelling character, creating character development, finding a good antagonist and conflict for your story, designing a full plot arc, then, finally, actually sitting down to write the story. And, of course, the all-important editing.

Writing Fantasy: There’s a lot that goes into creating a compelling fantasy world that people don’t really think about. In this series I’m going to touch on building a believable fantasy world, creating new fantasy races and their rules, dealing with creatures and magic, as well as the basics of language and spells.

Misc. Lifestyle and Religion: The rest of my planned posts for this year are mostly miscellaneous, and branch across several topics, but I still think they’re going to be fun to write, and hopefully fun to read. Here are SOME of the posts I have planned:

  • What Queer Eye has Taught me About Self Care and Confidence
  • I Walked Away From Christianity for Two Years. Here’s Why I Came Back
  • Brainstorming Tips and Tricks From Your Local Creative Mind
  • Why Christian Lonely-Shame, and Why We Should Stop
  • What Happened When I Konmari’d All My Belongings

Those are the first series I have planned! I’m excited to get started. I feel like I finally know what I want to say and how to say it, so now I just have to sit down and do the work. And that’s what this year is all about, anyway!

Leave a comment down below with what series or post you’re most excited to read! I’d love to hear from you!

Let’s Talk About 2019: New Year, New Goals

Happy New Year!

If you’ve ever talked to me around this time of year, you’ll know that I don’t really like the celebration of New Year’s Eve/Day. I find it to be somewhat arbitrary and get tired of people always saying they’re going to “reinvent” themselves every time a new year starts. Though I don’t really mind having an excuse to get together with friends and have some fun.

So, needless to say, I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. However, I do find it to be a good time to set some new goals and make sure my life is heading in the direction I want. If you would like to argue with me that setting goals are the same thing as setting a resolution, feel free. Whatever you call it, I have things that I want to accomplish in the next 365 days and sharing them seems like a good place to start.

Writing

The obvious place to start: my passion. 2018 was a good year in many respects – but I will say that I stagnated creatively. Quite significantly, actually. I had a fairly successful NaNoWriMo in 2018, ending at 30,000 words for the month, but I don’t think I wrote much more than that in the rest of the year put together.

I spent some time developing my other creative skills – I started painting again, and spent some time drawing. I picked back up my guitar after a 4-year hiatus and after redeveloping my calluses and having to re-teach myself everything I knew before, I can play again. I even brought a piano into my apartment, and found – to my chagrin – that I’m just as clumsy on it as I always have been. I’m working on that.

But I made little-to-no progress on any of my (several) Works In Progress. So that’s the basis of my goal this year.

My goal is a bit lofty:

I would like to end 2019 having written at least 200,000 words. That’s roughly 550 words per day.

Will I make it? We’ll see. I’m pretty optimistic about it, all told – I’ve been known to write 10,000 or more words in one day, so I could get a nice head start right off the bat if I can manage my time correctly. And even if I don’t reach that goal – well, I’ll still write plenty of words.

Now, I know from past experience that a manuscript of mine averages out to be between 150,000 and 200,000 words. So I’m basically aiming to complete at least one manuscript before the end of the year.

I already have 3 I’m splitting my time between, so maybe I can finish more than one (lol @ my ambition).

I’m using WriteTrack to keep up with my goal – it’ll be easier than tallying on my own time.

Note: I’m uploading writing excerpts to Wattpad so I can share them with you. Each will be linked to this post below with a small synopsis of my story.

Health

Now we get into the more personal goals – and also the goals that more closely resemble a classic New Year’s Resolution.

There’s not as much to say here, honestly. I don’t like talking about my health or my weight, but this is on my goals and I want to be transparent. So here are some of my health goals:

Lose roughly 50 pounds. To be honest, this is less about the actual number on the scale than it is about just being healthier. I know that 50 pounds ago is when I felt my best, so that’s what I’m aiming for. But my steps are much more about maintaining my health than they are about reaching a weight or measurement.

Join a gym and go consistently. Shout out to my workout buddies. I actually already started working out several times a week a couple of months ago, so this is more of an obligatory inclusion than anything else.

Maintain a healthy diet. I ate a lot of crap last year. A lot. But I’ve been making strides toward being healthier in the last several months, and I’ve been feeling better than I have in a long time. I ended out 2018 by quitting caffeine, and now that I’ve gotten it completely out of my system, I feel so much better than before. I don’t intend to never drink caffeine again, but I’m certainly intending to have it in moderation from now on.

Add to that, one of my roommates and I are going to attempt the Whole30 diet next month (we were going to do this month along with every other person in the entire world, but there were some circumstances that made it more difficult, so next month it is).

I’m bad at sticking to diets. I like food a lot. But I’ve been spending a lot more time cooking fresh food for myself in the last few months, and I think I’m finally finding a balance between healthy and delicious. And we can only go up from here!

I like using the app Mealime to help with my meal planning, check it out!

Books

Here’s a fun admission that may get my writer card revoked:

I didn’t read a book from cover to cover last year. Not even one.

I’m not exactly sure how that happened? I know I spent a lot of time reading articles online and reading excerpts of books on my phone, or from the library. But I didn’t finish any of them.

So I’m aiming for a reasonable goal of 12 books this year. I would like to fully ready 12 books this year. A book a month. I was going to aim for something higher, like 24 or 36, but – I thought something more reasonable would be in order considering my other goals are also going to eat up a lot of my time.

I’ve already started January’s book – The Elfstones of Shannara, by Terry Brooks. I’ve read the first Shannara book before, but not the rest. I also just finished watching The Shannara Chronicles on Netflix (it’s good, I recommend it) so it seemed like a good place to start.

Feel free to follow this progress on GoodReads!

And that’s about it! As lofty as some of those goals seem, I think they’re completely doable based on my personality and my skills. And though I haven’t gotten as good a start as I would have liked – 2019 has already hit me with a head cold – I believe I’ll make it happen.

I’m also going to attempt to post more on my blog here – that was a side effect of my creativity stagnating. I ran out of ideas for blog posts. But I have some more now! So hopefully all of you haven’t gotten bored of reading about my life just yet.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read a book, write a novel, and eat a salad.

happy new year

What I Wish Other Christians Understood About My Depression

Writing this piece makes me tense. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fairly private person, and I particularly don’t like talking about my faith online. This is a combination of the fact that – to me – faith is very personal, and because in the past, no matter what I’ve said about my faith, I’ve been “wrong.”

This isn’t meant as a call-out to anyone. If you recognize some behaviors you’ve done in the past – even to me – don’t worry. I don’t hold it against you, nor do I think you’re a bad person for it. I don’t. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about mental illness – and Christians can be accepting, but they can also be condemning and judging. So I’ve created a list of misconceptions I’ve heard around depression.

If you find yourself agreeing with some of the things I’m arguing against, I encourage you to take a moment and open your mind to the possibility that you don’t have all the facts.

Depression is a Medical Condition

There’s debate around this – what a shock – but a lot of scientists have tested and believe that Major Depression and Clinical Depression are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. It’s not a “disease” in the normal sense of the word. But it is still a condition that is commonly treated by medication. And a lot of people – myself included – can’t function properly without the medication. It not only gives me energy and helps me care about my emotions, family, friends, and work – it also keeps me balanced and cuts my depressive episodes – and suicidal thoughts – down by a considerable margin.

Is depression always a chemical imbalance? I don’t know, I’m not a scientist. But I do know that even if it is triggered by something – lifestyle changes, problems, death, illness, etc – that doesn’t mean that it is a person who is just feeling down. Depression is serious, debilitating, and needs to be taken seriously.

I know there are some religious fundamentalists out there who disagree with seeking treatment for any medical condition or disease – but most are not like that. If you have the flu? Seek treatment. Cold? Take some cough syrup. Cancer? Do radiation. But mental illness? “Pray and it’ll go away, you’ll see.”

Just because it’s “in my head” – literally – doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Depression Doesn’t Mean My Faith is Weak

I’ve heard many Christians shame each other – and me – for being on antidepressants. Because they view depression as a weakness in one’s faith, or a struggle with sin, or a refusal to deal with personal problems. And – forgive my language – that’s absolute bullshit.

Some Christians I respect beyond others struggle thoroughly with mental illness. They have faith. They’re strong in their walk, unwavering. And yet they still struggle with thoughts of worthlessness, pain, helplessness, and that they’d be better off dead.

These Christians have more faith than many others I know. Because they struggle, every day, with thoughts that they’d be better off dead, or people would be better off without them. But they choose to move forward anyway, because they have hope in a better tomorrow. They know God has a plan for them, and their faith leads them to believe their stories aren’t over yet. How many normal Christians here in the US can claim that kind of daily struggle?

Depression is a Trial, not a Failing

My depression is my cross. It’s my struggle, my trial, my whatever-Biblical-terminology-you-want. My depression is not caused by a lack of faith. It’s my burden. I have to struggle with it every day, not because my faith is weak – but because it’s making me a better person.

Yeah, you heard that right. In some ways, I’m thankful for my depression. I try to live as James says in chapter one.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

I try to mold myself in the footsteps of this verse. Depression is my trial – and it has already taught me perseverance. I wanted to die, friends. Is that blunt? Yeah. That’s the point. I wanted to end my own life, and I didn’t. I took another step forward in faith – when I really didn’t want to – praying that life would get better. And it did.

You can Still have the Fruits of the Spirit if You have Depression

I can see myself becoming a better person through this trial. I know that the fruits of the spirit are growing through my life.

Love? I love deeply and unconditionally, because I know what it is like to feel totally alone and unloved. And I never, ever, want anyone around me to feel like no one loves them.

Joy? When I’m at my high points, they’re higher than ever before. I feel joy in every minute that I have when I don’t feel depressed. Moments of happiness feel like blessings. A lot of people can take happiness for granted – but I don’t think I ever will. I think that my experiences have taught me what true, unconditional joy is – the joy of knowing that you’re alive.

Peace? Yes. I feel peaceful. When I’m not depressed, I feel at peace, because I know what true inner turmoil feels like. I can feel at peace with my life and my surroundings because I’ve experienced those low points.

Those are the strongest ones I’ve noticed. I definitely know that I’m growing in the rest of the fruits of the spirit. I can feel it and see it in my life every day.

I know I said at the beginning of this post that this isn’t a call out post. And it’s really not. But, Christians, we need to do better. We need to stop judging mentally ill people for something that’s out of their control. We need to stop shaming each other. There’s no shame in seeking treatment for mental illness, and we shouldn’t be treated that way.

Psalms 34:11 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” That’s exactly how I feel when I’m in the midst of depression. I feel broken. I feel crushed. I feel heavy. And I know that God is near me in those times, even if I don’t always feel like it. I have faith. But my faith doesn’t eliminate my struggle. Just as faith doesn’t eliminate temptation, or grief, pain, anger, fear, or anything else. It simply gives us something to cling onto, and the hope that the future holds better.

 

Together In Solitude: 6 Ways Mentally Ill People Experience Loneliness

Most of my friends who struggle with depression (which is a lot of them) all confide in me the same exact thing. Even though we all know each other, and know that we all have mental illness – we all feel incredibly lonely. At the best of times, we feel like a community. At the worst – we feel like no one understands us – or cares to.

I often feel loneliest when I’m with the people I love. I’m by nature a very private person – most people who meet me don’t get to know the real me until years after we first meet. This is nothing personal – it’s just a reflex. But the hazard of this reflex is that I often even shut out the people who care about me. I’ve talked about this in another post, What I Mean When I Say “I’m Tired” so I won’t go into it in as much detail here.

What is Loneliness?

When I first started to struggle with this post, I thought I would start with a basis in fact. So I looked up the definition of loneliness.

Loneliness, adjective

“Affected with, characterized by, or causing a depressing feeling of being alone.”

That definition seemed a little simple to me – which is fine. But I ran across another definition in the course of my week while I was working on this piece. I found it in the book When Your Twenties Are Darker Than You Expected which I picked up by accident at the library, but has given me so much insight while I’ve been reading it. The definition in this book is:

“Loneliness is a state of lacking intimacy with the people around us.”

That definition really struck me – it’s not that you are alone, it’s that you feel alone because you can’t – or, in my case, won’t – be open with the people around you. This leads to self-isolation, which I am horribly guilty of in general.

My Struggle

When I’m having a bad day, I feel trapped inside my own head. I withdraw from the people around me – not physically, but emotionally and mentally. I shut them out, and they don’t know what to do with me in those circumstances – so they let me. Which leads me to hit my toughest moment – feeling like none of my friends care about me while I’m still with them.

This is, of course, incredibly perverse, considering it’s my own fault that I’m shutting them out. And my friends have proven time, and time again that if I just reach out to them when they need me, they’ll be there to help me in a flash. But despite knowing this – I still find myself trapped by crushing loneliness when my depression flares.

I knew I wasn’t alone in this – in fact, I know that all of my friends with depression experience the same thing, as well as many, many more people across the world. So, I reached out to my friends and asked them to describe to me what their loneliest moments felt like – and what triggered them. I’ve decided to keep all of these anonymous since they’re so personal.

“I feel lonely, and then isolate myself…”

Yeah. Loneliness is my biggest problem with depression. Especially because it spirals. I feel lonely and then isolate myself. Which obviously doesn’t help with the loneliness.

I have a problem with crowds too. If I’m in a large crowd and not having a meaningful connection or conversation with someone – I can start feeling really lonely. In a full room. Which is dumb.

I also get a lot of my validation from verbal reassurance and love. That’s my main form of expressing and receiving love. So if I don’t have verbal affirmations from those around me that they want me around – I’ll feel like I shouldn’t be around and then again isolate myself and lead to that.

It’s frustrating because I have a strong support system of friends and family who know I struggle with mental health. But I tend to just not see it when I need it.

To help myself – I straight up ask my friends if they still like me a lot. Like, “Hey. I need affirmation we are friends and you want me around.”

They are understanding and provide that. Which is really stellar.

I also have a set schedule for how often I see friends every week to avoid mass amounts of isolation and loneliness. And I call my mom daily. And she’s just a bundle of support.

It’s all about finding your triggers and working with your team to support you. I can’t avoid crowds. So I cope instead. I’m single. So I can’t avoid being alone and feeling lonely. But I have positive affirmations of love and affection to prevent a full blown spiral.

I have people who specifically say – have you been social three times this week? And if I haven’t they show up at my place. It prevents isolation really well for me.

“All of a sudden I disappear, and no one asks where I’ve gone…”

When people don’t love me in the way that I love them, and they make no effort to try and learn how I need to be loved. It makes me feel like I’m the only one with my eyes open and what’s the point of that? I feel most lonely when I feel like people are inviting me out of obligation. I feel lonely when people hide things from me. I feel lonely when I put in 100% of the effort in a relationship. I feel lonely when depression is suffocating me and no one notices. Because all of the sudden I disappear and no one asks where I’ve gone.

“Waiting it out seems to be the only solution…”

My loneliness creeps up on me. Often when I’ve had a tough day or haven’t had a deep connection with anyone for a while. The only remedy I have is time—waiting it out seems to be the only solution. It’s just an overwhelming feeling that not only haven’t I built deep relationships but that I may never get to. It’s like floating in the deep space of your consciousness, being only too aware of how alone that makes you.

“At night… it can sometimes feel unbearable…”

It seems to happen sometimes at random, usually after I’m depressed and angry… Even when I’m with my husband. I’m usually thinking about other people and being a disappointment. Weirdly, when I’m at home alone during the day, I’m fine. But at night – when my husband is home and asleep next to me – it can sometimes feel unbearable.

“The look…”

Yes, having depression can make me feel personally isolated, i.e. caught up in an intense fear of socializing and small talk. Yet, I feel most alone and alien when I get “the look” from an acquaintance. The conversation typically goes the same way: I share that I have clinical depression, and in response I receive a momentary wide-eyed expression of fear. I imagine that they are internally picturing me like a radioactive bomb about to explode. As if having depression equates suicidal and a lack of control over my emotions. Usually, after the pause, they reply with a surface-level response of sympathy, as if I need to be “cured” of my illness of clinical depressed before I can live a happy and fulfilled life again.

But honestly, through the counseling and introspection necessary after my mental health diagnosis, I have come the closest to self-actualization and personal understanding. Yes, it is true that I have a chemical imbalance that predisposes me toward symptoms of depression, and I will never be able to “take a break” from my pharmacological and emotional therapy. But, I also am able to understand my limitations and then take the necessary efforts to function optimally.

Maybe the next time that I get “the look,” I will be brave enough to educate that depression isn’t an illness to fear, but instead one that society needs to understand better.

Let’s Talk About Suicide

If you have ever thought about suicide or attempted suicide, this article could potentially be triggering for you. If you ever need help, please reach out to those around you, or use the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to get help.

What a topic to choose, right? Who wants to talk about suicide? Those of us who haven’t lost someone or haven’t thought about suicide would rather not talk about it – it’s an uncomfortable topic. Talking about suicide forces everyone – mentally ill or neurotypical – to struggle with the thought of someone choosing to take their own life. That’s not a comfortable topic.

However, as someone who has struggled with thoughts of suicide, and who has lost someone, it’s a topic that I no longer want to avoid.

So if you’ve never had the desire to kill yourself, awesome! If you’ve never lost someone to suicide, that’s great. But I encourage you to read this article anyway, and maybe walk away with a better understanding of what it means to be suicidal.

If you have lost someone, let me say from the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry. Losing someone is never easy, but having to grapple with the reality that someone you knew was so miserable that they chose to die is even harder. It’s hard not to feel guilty and play the what-if game. “What if I had reached out to them? What if I had been a better listener? What if I had asked more questions?”

Take it from me. The what-if game will bring you nothing but misery.

Being Suicidal v. Suicidal Ideation

I’m sure at this point, most people now know that there is a difference between having suicidal thoughts and being suicidal. I’ve been in both places. So, I’m going to take a moment to try and explain the difference between them. It’s a bit of a blurry line, so hopefully I can clear it up for people who don’t quite understand it.

Suicidal Ideation

This is where I most often am when I talk about having ‘suicidal thoughts’. Suicidal ideation is a weird place to be. Imagine you’re just living your life, doing what you love to do, hanging out with your friends, and suddenly someone screams in your ear why don’t you just die?

For me, it’s often like that. Some days, if I’m having bad suicidal ideation, the smallest thing can bring on the thoughts. My debit card is declined. Well, you could always just die! My car won’t start. Death would be easier than this. I try to sort out my budget after over-spending. If you can’t pay that bill you can always die.

That’s what suicidal ideation feels like for me. Sometimes it can get a little more serious, though. Some days, it feels as if nothing is going right. We all have those days. And on those days – when I begin to feel that I am worthless, or that I can’t do anything right, or that all I can do is mess things up – it’s easy to see the appeal of death.

Death would be easier than having to fight on day after day.

Being Suicidal

There’s a huge difference between suicidal ideation and being suicidal. Because one is thoughts that float in and out of your head. And while one can lead to the other, the second is much worse.

Being suicidal is actively wanting to die. This happens when people start to write a suicide note. Sever ties from people they care about. Decide what way they’d most like to die – and then start to gather the things they will need.

People who are suicidal stop caring about themselves. When I was I didn’t eat for two days, because I simply didn’t care about my body. I wanted to die anyway, so why not just starve?

Sometimes they’ll take stupid risks, like driving without a seatbelt, crossing the street without looking both ways, or stopping in places they know they’ll be in danger. Because the risk doesn’t matter anymore when you’re suicidal.

If something else kills me now, it’ll save me the trouble – and my family the pain – of doing it myself.

Wait, What’s the Difference?

The main difference between suicidal ideation and actually being suicidal is that I don’t want to die.

Let me say that again, because it’s important.

I don’t want to die.

These thoughts pop into my head not because I actually want to be dead, but because life is hard, and sometimes the fight to keep living is just exhausting. But I don’t want to die. I’ve made no plans. I have nothing I could use. That is the main difference.

This can vary from person to person. Some people with suicidal ideation do want to die, but won’t make plans because they value people in their lives. Some people who don’t want to die can still be suicidal. This is just my experience, and my limited view. But hopefully my perspective will help some of you understand what I – and others in similar positions – go through.

Real Life Experience

This is going to be an unpleasant topic. Let me just warn you in advance.

Some of you may already know this – but I lost a friend of mine to suicide in October of last year.

He, like many people who suffer so profoundly, was loving, kind, generous, warm – and left a lasting impact on everyone who met him. I knew that he suffered from depression – I’d been his friend for his first suicide scare in 2013. I remember that heart-pounding day as we waited for news after he disappeared, and I remember the relief when I heard he’d come back alive.

I wasn’t prepared for his loss. Who is, really? I wasn’t prepared to attend his funeral – it’s hard to see someone so young (23) in a casket. I wasn’t prepared to see so many of my friends – all of us so grief-stricken – absolutely shattered by this sudden loss.

But most of all, I wasn’t prepared to see the reality of what suicide does to the people it leaves behind.

Barely a month before my friend passed away, I was suicidal myself. I wanted to end it – stop having to struggle. Stop stressing. Stop existing. It was so hard.

I’d always told my friends that if I ever thought I was a danger to myself, I’d seek treatment. So that’s what I did.

I found a therapist. After a couple weeks, my therapist recommended I seek psychiatric help and referred me to a psychiatrist.

Four days before my friend committed suicide, I started my first day on antidepressants. I don’t know how I would have handled the loss without them.

I mentioned before that I refuse to play the what-if game because it brings nothing but pain – there’s a reason for that. The last time I saw my friend alive was six days after I hit rock bottom – three weeks before he ended his life.

He was in a wedding and I attended. We got to chat and he hugged me, a huge, dimpled grin on his face. “I’m so glad you made it! It’s so nice to see you!”

We chatted for a while, and both expressed interest in hanging out soon – hopefully once our lives got in order once again.

I left the reception early, citing that I had a long drive to get home. But the truth was that I was exhausted. It had taken nearly all of my energy to just to come to the ceremony, and I needed to go home and collapse. I remember giving him another quick hug and a grin, and promising to text him soon to make plans.

Three weeks later, I’m attending his funeral.

It’s so easy to think of what-ifs, and blame yourself for things you didn’t know. I did it for a while.

What if I’d reached out sooner?

What if I’d stayed longer at the wedding?

What if I’d checked in with him?

What if we’d stayed in touch better?

I shy away from those thoughts now. I can’t change what’s happened, and thinking like this only makes me more miserable.

Facing Reality

By far the worst thing about this experience is that it forced me to take a good, hard look at what happens when someone commits suicide.

I got to see – up close and personal – what friends and family go through with this kind of loss. I saw how it destroyed everyone around me. I saw people who’d barely known him cry when they heard the truth.

I saw his family struggle with questions and howl at the sky, asking why this had happened – why was he gone?

I saw friends who I thought were strong shattered into tiny pieces at the sight of his body in that casket.

I lived with the reality that someone I knew – someone I loved as a friend, and in some ways like family – was in so much pain that he chose to take his own life, rather than reach out for help. I’m not, and have never been angry about all of this. I’ve been too close myself to be angry at my friend. But I am still sad, and grief-stricken.

In that time of grieving, I lived with a paradox in my head. The sadness and pain at my friend choosing to end his life, and struggling with my own not-so-distant desire to do the same. I felt like a fraud, a hypocrite. How could I mourn my friend while still feeling the same as him? How could I grieve his loss and feel the pain of his choice while still feeling the same way myself?

I’ve given myself permission to feel both of those things, and through that made my way toward healing. One doesn’t cancel out the other. In fact, those feelings – the depth of them – are what help me know that I’m alive.

It’s not easy to understand, but I am not my mental illness. I am the one who mourns the loss of my friend, my mental illness is the thing that makes me want to die. This dichotomy that I struggle with is making me a better person, a better friend, and has taught me to love deeply, tell people how I feel, protect what I love fiercely, and not be afraid to talk about my struggle.

To end on a positive note – have a nerdy quote that always brings me hope, even in a dark time.

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad thing, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them less important.” – The Doctor, Doctor Who

I know I said this at the beginning, but if you’ve ever felt suicidal, please get help. Your family and friends don’t want to live life without you. If you don’t like to talk on the phone, use the Crisis Text Line (if you’re in the USA) to talk to a counselor. Text HOME to 741741 to talk with a counselor now.

What I Mean When I Say, “I’m Tired.”

If any of you know me personally, you’ll know that I often respond to inquiries of “How are you?” in the same way.

I’ll pause, introspect for a moment, then with a wry smile – and maybe a yawn – I’ll answer, “I’m tired.”

Oftentimes whoever asked that question will respond with a laugh and echo my sentiment, and then the conversation moves on as normal, completely overlooking the fact that I haven’t said anything about how I actually am.

Those of you who know me know that I struggle with depression, and that sometimes it gets the better of me. On those days, “tired” takes on a completely different meaning.

“I’m tired…” of having to peel myself out of bed in the morning.

“I’m tired…” of using dry shampoo since I haven’t had the energy to shower in several days.

“I’m tired…” of plastering a smile on my face whenever I see someone so they don’t see the crushing emptiness that threatens to consume me.

Yeah. I am tired. And sometimes it just means I didn’t get enough sleep. But all too often, it can mean that I feel as if I’m losing my fight.

I’m tired of having to fight my own brain every single day. I’m tired of people belittling my mental illness by saying “Oh yeah, I get sad too.” Or, “You shouldn’t be on meds – you can do something more natural. Like yoga! Or meditation! Or exercise! Or deep breathing or regulating your sleep schedule or thinking good thoughts or refusing to think negatively or eating more fruit or or or or or OR.”

I’m tired of crying myself to sleep at night. I’m tired of sleeping for ten hours and still not feeling rested. I’m tired of thinking that death would be easier than having to wake up the next morning and continue on.

I’m tired of my brain trying to kill me.

I hide behind a laugh and the words “I’m tired” because I don’t want to tell people the truth. People don’t want to hear responses like “I’ve felt numb for a week”, “It took me three hours to get out of bed this morning”, “I can’t shake a crushing sadness that has no cause.” Or at least, I don’t want to give them, because I don’t like people to see me suffering.

But that’s become a problem for me. I’ve realized that in my quest to keep up the illusion of strength, I’ve locked knowledge of myself away from the people who care about me. By hiding behind a quick smile, sharp tongue, and ready laugh – I’ve concealed myself from people who care about me. My own best friend, just last week, found out what my favorite flavor of ice cream is. And something that insignificant isn’t even worth hiding – so why did it take me three years to tell her?

I’m trying to challenge myself to be more open, and let people in. Because shutting myself off from other people may protect me from harm – but it also leaves me feeling more alone than ever.

I won’t change overnight. So next time you hear me say, “I’m tired” now at least you know why.

Note: my favorite flavor of ice cream is Raspberry Sorbet.

When a 4 Hour Trip Takes 8…

Everyone who travels will tell you – you get into your fair share of trouble while you’re at it. I don’t know what about traveling long-term tempts fate so much, but when you’re on the road for a while, interesting things are bound to happen. And if you’ve been reading my previous posts, you’ll know that I’ve already had my fair share of difficulties. But, as any good traveler, I tend to go into any situation ready for the unexpected.

Sometimes there’s no preparing for it.

When you ride on a bus – particularly between major cities – you expect delays. It’s part of the gig. It’s one of the cheapest ways to travel, so it’s really not surprising that there are sometimes problems. Traffic happens. Accidents happens. Buses break down. So, I tend to expect some delays when I ride on a bus – no matter where I’m going.

I don’t expect my bus to turn around, though.

So, here’s the story: my friend and travel buddy Jackie and I were on our way back from New York (the second time), and we decided to take a bus. It’s only about a four-hour trip, and it’s easily the cheapest (and least stressful) way to manage the trip. Getting even the cheapest Amtrak tickets are usually about 3-4 times as much as a bus ticket. So, for the traveler on a budget, it’s the logical choice.

Our bus left New York City at 12:30 PM, and was scheduled to have us in Washington D.C. by 5:00 PM the same day – counting time that we spent at a rest stop in New Jersey. I don’t know why, but it was a fairly empty bus. There was one person per every pair of seats, and still some open pairs afterwards. Jackie sat one seat in front of me, which allowed me to put my computer on the seat next to me and lean against the window while I worked I generally make sure I have at least an hour’s wiggle room when planning to take a bus – or really any form of transportation – anywhere. Because it seems like any type of long-distance ride has some form of complication when I’m on it.

(The last time I rode Amtrak, the train I was supposed to get on was 12 hours late. And one of the last times I flew the plane was delayed because the flight attendants couldn’t get the door to close – which is sort of important when it comes to flying.)

So, I figured we’d probably be back in D.C. anywhere between 5 PM and 6:30 PM. Jackie and I could take the Metro back to my aunt and uncle’s and get dinner at a reasonable time.

And we were actually making pretty good time. I kept an eye on our projected arrival time as we traveled using Google Maps – it tends to be fairly accurate – and we were projected to arrive in D.C. around 6:15 PM with traffic. We had our pit stop in New Jersey, right at the border into Delaware. The bus driver made all of us get off the bus so he could refuel. We were given very clear instructions:

  • Be back in fifteen minutes.
  • The bus will be right here.
  • If you’re not here, we’re leaving without you.

That’s the way buses work. You are responsible for getting yourself on and off the bus on time. If you get left behind, it’s really your fault. I’d never been on a bus with people who were stupid enough to get left behind at a gas station. Most of us are self-aware, and know that if we got left behind, we’d be pretty much screwed, as we all had places to be.

So, we all get back onto the bus – 25 minutes after we got off. We actually ended up having a longer rest break than planned. Which was fine with me – I enjoyed being able to stand and pace for a little while. I got some food and stretched a little bit. The bus picked us back up, we all boarded, and we headed off again.

Fast forward an hour. It’s about 4:15 PM and we have a projection to arrive in D.C. about two hours after that. Not amazing time, but for rush hour into Washington on a Friday, it’s really not bad. So I was happy.

Then the driver comes on the intercom.

“Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. Uh, when we took our rest stop, we left some people behind. So, I have been – I have been ordered to turn around and go back for them.”

Stunned silence. The woman in the seat across the row from me looks over at me. “This is a joke. Right?”

I don’t know why she thought I would know. But I was pretty sure it was not a joke.

Jackie sends me a text as soon as the intercom turns off: Idiots. I can’t help but agree. I had so many questions:

  1. How do you miss getting back on your bus when it takes a 10 minute longer stop than planned?
  2. Why did it take them an hour to get us to turn around?
  3. How could the bus company prioritize those few people – who could have taken the next bus a couple hours later – over all of us, who were on time, and all had places to be in the evening?

Luckily one of the people sitting near me took the initiative to call the bus company immediately. Apparently, we were informed, we had left not one person behind, but five. And the company felt that the most compassionate thing to do would be to turn around for them. And while I respect the business for sticking to their values – after hearing everyone around me complain about what they were missing – I had to disagree. The most human thing to do would have been to get us to D.C. in some semblance of on time. What if one of us had been going somewhere really important? A funeral? A hospital to visit a dying friend or relative? What if we were trying to catch a plane or train? A delay of another 1.5 hours would ruin all those plans.

The people around me all started to talk – you could call it bonding, if you would like. The girl sitting across the aisle from me is a teacher, and she was going to D.C. to meet up with some friends to take a mini-vacation before school starts again. She’d been expected at a dinner at 7:15 PM, and now we weren’t going to get in until 8:00 PM.

The boys sitting two rows in front of me are DJs, and because of the delay they missed part of a gig at a club in D.C. Both of them were pretty easy-going people, and only looked a little disappointed, but accepted the delay.

The girl sitting in front of the teacher was on her way to a music festival in Baltimore for the weekend and would miss her ride there. She also hadn’t eaten all day, and now was resigned to being stuck on a bus for another 4 hours before she could get food. I – luckily – had a couple of spare granola bars, and I gave a couple to her to help her, but I doubt it did very much.

I was angry, I’m not going to lie. Not because I was delayed myself – no, that didn’t matter. I had things to do (like write blog posts that are long past due). But because these 5 people felt entitled to make the bus turn around when it was their own fault that they missed it.

Anecdote: My much kinder, and more compassionate best friend Jackie has pointed out that they could speak English as a second language and have heard “50 minutes” instead of 15, and just assume that things work that way here in America. And I mean, she could be right – but I don’t think so. I don’t think the bus company would have made the bus turn around for anything less than an absolute demand from the people left behind. So maybe it’s unkind. But I don’t care.

It’s now 5:05 PM, and we’re nearly back in New Jersey. We’re all sort of resigned to our fate now. I’d decided to do the mature thing and simply bury my nose in a book, and not look at who got on the bus. Because I couldn’t truly, deeply resent them if I didn’t have faces to match them to. We were nearly at the border when suddenly, the bus pulls off the highway, turns around, and gets back on going the opposite direction.

I think I’m one of the few people who noticed that right away. I’d been staring out the window for a while. I’d lost my internet connection and needed a break after working on the bus earlier. I know one other person noticed because he went up to ask the driver what was going on, then came back to inform us that the people who’d made us turn the bus around had contacted the company to tell them that they no longer needed to be picked up.

I can’t even tell you the momentary chaos that ensued. I was swearing and threatening these people who I had never seen and would never see again. Jackie was silently fuming and staring out the window. The teacher next to me was in hysterics – laughing and saying, “I can’t handle this, guys. I can’t do it.” The girl in front of her was muttering a string of steady curse words under her breath. The DJs said, “Are you f***ing kidding me?” and groaned.

This was incredible. I will never know if Jackie was right or me. I’ll never know if those people were simply very entitled and didn’t feel guilty about inconveniencing many of us for their own benefit, or if it was truly a string of weird coincidences. And I don’t know that it matters – it didn’t deeply inconvenience me in any conceivable way, and I met some cool new people out of it. So, I can’t complain. Not really.

***

Note: You’ll probably notice that I didn’t put the name of the bus company in this post. That was purposeful. I spent some time reflecting on everything that happened. Yes, the company inconvenienced me. But they also fully refunded both of my tickets, as well as gave me a voucher for another ride. And when it comes down to it – I’d rather ride with a company that chooses to help its passengers – even if they’re idiots – than one that would just leave them behind. Now if this same thing happens again – obviously I won’t ride with them again. But when I spoke to their representative on the phone, he was both kind and helpful. So all around, as weird of an experience as it was, I don’t really consider it a bad one.

New York City: The Pulse of America

I’m sure this will surprise exactly 0 of you, but I loved being in New York City. So much so that I went back again this week for three days. Well, that was actually because of an appointment, and not because I just really wanted to go. But it was fun nevertheless.

I can’t even tell you how much I love it there. The pace, the people, the atmosphere, the art and music scene – it’s all amazing. Not to mention – of course – the book scene. So many major publishing houses call New York City home, as do many writers. Maybe that’s why I felt at home the second I stepped off my bus and onto the street. I knew, when I took that step, that I would live there someday. And maybe sooner than I thought. But more on that later.

My first day in New York, I met up with a pair of friends and we went to do some of the touristy things that I desperately wanted to do – starting with the Brooklyn Bridge!
Okay, we didn’t actually walk the bridge. We went to Pier 17 in Manhattan. From the end of the pier, you get this view:

 

Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge, taken from Pier 17. Pulled from my Instagram.

 

Amazing, right? I still want to walk the bridge someday – but that can come later. For now, I’m happy that I got to see it. From that pier, we walked up to the Staten Island Ferry – which is honestly my favorite thing that we did that day. I love water, I love boats, and I especially love being on a boat on the water. But the best part of that ride was this:

 

Lady Liberty
Yes, we could have gotten a better picture from the island itself. Or if the tourists in front of us had moved to allow us to see it… Pull from my Instagram.

 

Seeing the Statue of Liberty up close was the moment that it sank in that I was in New York City – that place that everyone reads about and sees in movies. It didn’t feel real until then. I felt almost like the New York you see in movies was a fantasy, and not what the real New York City would look like. But I was wrong on that front.

The Ferry was awesome – we took it to Staten Island, then back again and got off. From there, we walked to see the Bull of Wall Street and the Fearless Girl – but since it was a weekend, it was swarmed with tourists all trying to get a picture. My introvert came out and I ducked out of there after catching a glimpse of both, rather than stand in the middle of that crowd just for a picture.

Speaking of introversion – from there we caught the subway to arguably the best place in the city: the Strand bookstore.

If you like books and you’ve never heard of the Strand you need to find out now. It’s a huge bookstore – and I mean huge. Like, miles upon miles worth of books. I almost wish we’d gone there first instead of last – because by that time I was hot, tired, and hungry. Not to mention a little bit broke after buying lunch, so I couldn’t buy any books that day. Well, I shouldn’t have bought any books at all, but that went better in theory than it did in practice as I ended up leaving New York with one more book than I came with.

And that was it for day one. I spent the next couple of days mostly working from coffee shops and exploring the streets in the evenings. On Wednesday I took the day off so that I could see some more sights – but this time without as many crowds, hopefully.
So first thing Wednesday, Jackie and I head to Times Square:

Yet another truly incredible experience. Since it’s such a popular place for events, television, movies, posters, and more – it felt almost surreal to be there in person. As you may be able to see from my pictures – it’s clear that it was still pretty crowded despite it being mid-morning on a Wednesday. I expected as much, though. It’s still Times Square, after all.

After that, we did a bit of walking. We walked to Rockefeller Center and looked around, then past Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. From there, we – unfortunately – had to walk past Trump Tower. I stopped for a picture even though I still have a nagging feeling that taking a picture is just giving the building too much credit, but what the hell.

If any of you know New York City well, you may know what direction we were headed in – our next stop was Central Park.

Let me just say: as someone who had never been to Central Park before, I had no concept of just how big it is. That park is enormous! And this is yet another time where I’ll say that I almost wish that we had gone a little earlier in the day, because I was pretty tired and wanted to get back to where we were staying to rest.

Apparently I also shirked my duty to take pictures of food while I was there. The only item of food that I took a picture of was my pizza – and let me just say, if you haven’t had New York pizza, you are missing out. It was so good we ended up ordering two entire pizzas and eating them both during the week that we stayed there.

 

IMG-0702
No regrets.

But despite not taking pictures – we ate some amazing food. From picking up food at Central Park on our walking trip, to going to West Side Market and grabbing whatever we felt like – everything we had was amazing. Other than pizza and hotdogs – I think I ate exclusively Chinese and Japanese food while we were there, simply buying whatever I felt like from West Side Market. It was amazing.

I’ve now been to New York City twice – but my second trip can wait for a future post as it was far less interesting. Though our bus ride home had some interesting incidents – but, again, more on that later.

To keep you all in the loop, there’s a distinct possibility that I’ll be cutting my traveling shorter than I planned, in favor of moving to New York City when the opportunity arises. I’m not sure what’s going to happen in that regard yet – but when I know, you’ll know.