Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What Is Your "Church"?

"Every time I go there I cry. It's my church."So said my friend Amber as we munched hipster fusion tacos amidst exposed brick and wooden beams in Silverlake. 

She was talking about the Griffith Observatory and their Centered On The Universe film.
I was wondering what that even means and picking the chicken out of my $7 taco.

For most of my adult life, I've given religion and spirituality less thought than I've given my bangs.
Or what I'm eating for breakfast. Or how my ass looks in those jeans.
Which is to say - very, very little thought.

When I visit my parents, I'll occasionally attend the church I grew up in because I want to say hello to all those sweet little old ladies. I went to a Universal Unitarian church once. I love partaking in my guy's (totally atheist) Jewish holidays.

When people start talking about crystals and chakras and "communing with blahblahblah whatever" I mentally assemble my shopping list and consider my cuticles with undue scrutiny.

But Amber's comment got me thinking. What does church mean? What would church feel like to me, the most Agnostic and deeply unspiritual of humans?

Coincidentally (or by divine intervention?) just a few days after our conversation, Amber and I attended a workout class with one Mr. Richard Simmons.

We danced. We sang and shouted in unison with people we'd just met, making eye contact and grinning while we high kicked. I moved my body in a way that brought me that down-to-the-bone, childlike joy. I felt connected and happy and part of something bigger that myself - even if that something was just a studio full of happy, sweaty strangers.

As completely ridiculous as it sounds, I finally understood my friend and her version of spirituality by sweating to the oldies.

And little by little, I started taking note of those tiny moments when I would well up with happy tears or chest-swelling connection.  Those moments have become my personal version of church.

For me, church takes place any time
I'm making music with people I love,
I'm alone with the sun and a huge, open sky,
I get completely lost in what I'm doing and I feel connected to the task at hand - dancing, writing, cooking, scrubbing the grout with a toothbrush.

Your church is any space that fills + thrills you. It's any gathering of people that brings you tangible joy. 

Do you subscribe to an organized religion? Do you think of yourself as spiritual? When do you feel most connected? What is your church? 

photo by Robert Couse-Baker // cc

Monday, October 20, 2014

True Story: I'm Turning 30, Becoming A Stepmom, and Getting Married In One Year

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Rhiannon, Ben, and Eva.

Tell us a bit about yourself! 
I’m Rhiannon, named after the Fleetwood Mac song. I’m the oldest of three girls from a mostly Italian/Irish family. I’m an office manager by day and a writer by life. I live in Hammond, Indiana, which is right over the border of Indiana/Illinois, with my fiancé Ben, his three year-old daughter, Eva, and his/our 10.5 year-old black lab mix, Sloth. I’m still a White Sox fan and still work in downtown Chicago, as does Ben. I just have a different zip code.

What's your fiancé like? And tell us about his kid!
Ben is the most loving and kindest person I know, next to Eva. I tell people he’s a mix between a human Xanax and a Buddha and neither one is a stretch. Every single day he asks how I am/what I’m feeling/what I want and need from him, be it his ridiculous fish tacos, a back rub, or to be my soundboard one more time. He’s really, really good at knowing when I’m full of it, when “fine” does not mean fine, when I’m trying to cover up a bad day by talking a lot/constantly changing the subject/asking about his day/Eva/Sloth/if the books I ordered came in the mail, etc…He never pushes.

He does a lot of waiting, which is good because I’m awful at it. I’m very Martha Stewart about things. “We need to leave by 5:30 to make the party at 6 and we need to have these snacks in the car for Eva and we need to go grocery shopping, etc…” We balance each other out. I’m very go, go, go and he’s very, “Rhi, breathe. Everything will get done. What can I do? What do you need?”

Eva is amazing. She just turned three on April 16 and her party was all pink and all princess. Last year was a train theme; I love her range. She is kind and curious and at least once a day asks me and Ben to “draw a little heart and a big heart.” Right now she is obsessed with Scooby Doo and says, “I want another mystery!” She is the biggest blessing in my life. It’s amazing how much she’s changed since I met her when she was sixteen months old. Everything she does is magic.

Prior to meeting your fiancé, what were your feelings about 'mixed families' and parenting kids you didn't give birth to? 
I’d always had it in my head that I would adopt if I didn’t get married. I could see myself as a mother before I could see myself as a wife. I have always been the “mom” in most group situations: the planner, the worrier, the listener. I’ve had several jobs where I worked with kid: as a nanny, working in an after school program, and tutoring. 

My parents are not divorced, but Ben’s did when he was young and both remarried. It’s crucial to me that we raise our children differently than the way we were raised. I grew up in a house with a lot of fighting. I know my parents loved me, but it was a sad childhood and I did not learn how to be happy until I was in my twenties. I want to help Eva be happy.

Had you ever dated a man with kids before you met your fiancé?
No, but I dated a few who acted like kids, so, pretty close.

At what point did you meet the kids? What was your first impression? 
We agreed Eva would be the last person I met, and I did meet her after close to two months. I followed Ben’s lead on this because she is his life. We talked about her all the time and he was incredibly protective of her. I fell in love with him as he shared more and more about her and then I met her and I was done. I mean get-the-fork-done. I’m grateful that I’ve been a part of her life for more than half of it. 

How did the people in your life feel about you marrying a man who already had kids?
Nearly everyone was wonderful about it. “Do what makes you happy. Trust yourself.” Being supported and encouraged by friends and family was everything. I was never nervous about meeting him/meeting Eva/dating a man who had been through a LOT and that is an understatement. I just knew he was the one and felt calm in that. (Ben is Eva’s legal guardian and has sole physical custody of her. I can’t say more than this for legal reasons, but he is divorced and I waited to meet Eva until the divorce was final.)

What did your fiancé tell his kids when he asked you to marry him?
Ben told Eva I was going to be her step mommy. He asked her if she knew what that was and she said no. He explained that I was going to be like a mommy; it’s just a different type of mommy. Eva said, “I just want her to be like Rhi.” Things like this just crack me open. 

Will Eva be involved in your wedding? 
Absolutely. Eva is our flower girl. She loves, I mean loves big dresses and flowers, so this job is right up her alley.

Do you and your fiancé plan to have children of your own?
Yes. I would love to give Eva a sibling or two. Ben said he’ll be happy with whatever we’re blessed with, but to be clear, we are not having anywhere near a Duggar situation here. And he likes the girl name I’ve had picked out since forever, so that is a big plus.

Obviously turning 30, getting married, and becoming a stepmom is a lot of milestones for one year. How do you feel about all this? 
It’s a lot. It really is, but I’m so ready to be married to this man and be a step mama to Eva. There are plenty of days I feel overwhelmed to the point of tears, sometimes on the train, sometimes on the spin bike, overwhelmed by how much work there is to do, by how huge this life of mine is becoming. I’m already helping raise this girl, but come September it will be a bit bigger. And the thirty thing is weird. So many people I know who are 29, 30, 31 are married, have their third child, etc… And that’s their story. One of my favorite quotes is “Comparison is the thief of joy” by Theodore Roosevelt because it’s so dang true. This is my path. My story is my own.

What advice would you give to others who are crossing off multiple milestones in a super short period of time?
Breathe. Focus on the blessings and less on the stress. If I allow myself to be consumed by stress then there is no room for the joy that’s also a part of this journey, joy that I deserve.

When I’m particularly overwhelmed/stressed/whiney I make gratitude lists. I’m the queen of lists and Post its, but making gratitude lists helps me breathe better when I forget how. I am thankful for an empty row of spin bikes. I am thankful we did not get caught by that train on the way to our own this morning. I am thankful for $7 sushi from the café downstairs. I am thankful for the sound of Eva saying, “Shhh. I have to tell you a princess secret…I love you” as she grabs my face with both of her hands like my grandmother did when I was a child. I am thankful for this breath, for this life. 

Thanks so much for sharing, Rhiannon! Are any of you guys stepparents or stepkids? How have you dealt with new family? 

P.S. True Story: I'm a triplet but our birthdays are 11 days apart and What I'm (Trying To) Teach My Kids

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Web Time Wasters

How was your week, guys? It's been unseasonably gorgeous here in Minnesota, so I've been making the most of it with lots of hike and longs walks and lovely, outdoor dinner parties. Today, I'm hosting brunch for two of my girlfriends (I'm making these and my BFF is skyping in from New Mexico!) and then watching my favorite 11-year-old's last baseball game of the season.

Anyway. Links for you!

Ever late to the party, I am newly obsessed with the capsule wardrobe blog Un-fancy. (Gah! So stylish!)

Everything's better with quotes on it.

After my 23 hour train trip from L.A. to Portland, I'm obsessed with Amtrak. This blog post is a wealth of information about booking and having your own train adventure!

Welp, now I'm adding Lisbon to my must-go list.

LOVE this long-form, photo-heavy piece on rodeo queens.
That night, they decide, it’s time to go out dancing. The RV that six of them are sleeping in looks like it has been hit by a Western-feminine tornado. Boots, hats, turquoise jewelry, jeans, makeup, and eight queens in various states of readiness are everywhere. A lonely cheetah-print bra, owner unknown, is sitting on a counter. After a brief search, Miss Nebraska—Sam—sets it down on a cheetah-print suitcase.
“These probably belong to the same person,” she reasons.

I'm cooler by association now that Anthropologie carries my friend's skin care line (and it's amazing and organic!)

Further fantasizing: a million amazing pool cabanas.

YESYESYES. I have So Many Feelings about this. Why you should 'let' your man wear red pants.
In the last year he’s tried many different things with his hair from the neck up and it’s amazing how many people have commented to me about it.
"I can’t believe you let him grow a mustache."
"I would never let my husband grow a beard."
"Do you REALLY like his long hair?"
"You’re brave to let him do that."
I was really taken aback by the response of people, to me! I didn’t have to think to hard about an authentic response and I noticed it was always the same two things.
1. I’m surprised, but I actually really like it
2. It’s really not that big of a deal…it’s just a (fill-in-the-blank.)

Oh, the hilarity! This series of replies to a spammy text is amazing.

I'm taking a break from proselytizing about Old Navy Rockstar jeans to tell you about these. High enough to mash everything in, make your butt look a.ma.zing, and they have enough stretch to literally do deep plies. Not that I tried or anything.

Potentially unpopular opinion: I loooooove the way cilantro smells. Obviously, I love this roundup of cilantro-scented beauty products.

We agree that leopard is a neutral, right? Right.

If you read this True Story interview with my friend Kaitlin, you know that 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. Nora writes about hers.
I don’t know when it happened, when the butterfly heart I’d seen at 8 weeks turned to the ghost inside of me. What was I doing to not notice something so monumental? Driving my car, shopping for groceries, eating a bowl of cereal in bed, none of these seem like the things that should keep a mother from noticing her baby no longer is.
It’s a new kind of sadness to feel. It’s not for myself, and it’s not a typical brand of mourning, either. It’s a cold comfort to know how many women have been here before. How many women I know. How many women around the world heard the same news on that same day, felt the same perceptible loss of something that almost was. Almost is always the hardest.

High quality underwear that support girls' education? Into it.

Black swan makeup for Halloween!

The heartbreaking reality of low-wage workers.
Her landlady, Amelia Resende, said Ms. Fernandes fell behind on her rent a couple of times this year, struggling to come up with $550 a month for the basement apartment in Newark that she rarely slept in. Mr. Carter said that she was hoping to move to Pennsylvania, where he lives

Ms. Resende said that Ms. Fernandes slept in her running S.U.V. so often that she started keeping a container full of fuel in the back. Mr. Carter warned that this wasn’t safe, but Ms. Fernandes brushed aside his concerns. She couldn’t run the risk of waking up to an empty tank

Could you survive a weekend with the cult of Oprah?

Wonderful! A sexually enlightened R&B song.

Worth watching: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED talk about the danger of a single story.

Take yourself on a date, girl!

If you like these links, you might like my Twitter stream. Each evening I tweet a link to my favorite read of the day - different than the links you see here. I even hashtag them #yandy so you can find them all in one handy place!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fun links! Show Your Real + Expanded Comfort Zones + Effortless work

It's Saturday! The day designed for drinking a whole pot of coffee, padding around the house in your yoga pants till 11 am, and lunching on crackers and hummus because grocery shopping is over-rated. Allow me to assist you in your lounging by pointing you towards some great posts from this month's sponsors.

Favorite posts:
Iron mom // I'm awesome // Show your real: Allie
Let's be friends!
facebook // instagram // twitter // pinterest

Favorite posts:
Let's be friends!
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Favorite posts:
Let's be friends!

Favorite posts:
Let's be friends!

Want to see your stuff here? In front of 11,000+ people? My sponsors are really happy and many of them come back month after month! You can see my rates and info here or drop me a line at sarah (at) yesandyes (dot) org to get started!

Friday, October 17, 2014

All my best Halloween stuff!

Tis the season for my absolute favorite holiday! Growing up, I'd usually start planning the next year's Halloween costume on November third and this year I've already tried on my costume three times. I made sure I've got at least three parties to go to so my costume can get maximum exposure. Obviously, I'm making these.

Anyway, in honor of The Best Holiday Ever, here are some Halloween-related posts from my archives for you!


Happy best-holiday-of-the-year!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How To Buy The Best Ad Space (And Make The Most Of It)

Thinking about buying ad space for the holidays? (Yes, I too hate that I just mentioned that). All ad space is not created equal and there are all sorts of clever things you can to to get the most out of yours. Pop over to my small business blog if you'd like to know more! 

New Thing: See A Movie At 'The Heights' (+ voting with your money)

Each year I make a list of new things I want to try. Some are easy, some are suuuuuper hard (at least for me) and some are so, so mundane and easy to complete. You can read about previous adventures here

Tell me if you guys know this feeling:
Lean-forward-in-your-seat fascination
I-should-probably-be-embarrassed-I'm-this-excited grinning
A just barely suppressed desire to clap like a toddler

It pains me to admit that riding a Segway gave me this feeling and most recently, I experienced this while watching an elderly gentleman toot away on a restored Wurlitzer as they slowly rose out of a stage in a gorgeous, historic theater in Northeast Minneapolis. As our organist tootled through his repertoire of show tunes (including 'Edelweiss' and 'Give My Regards To Broadway,' obviously) the lights on the Wurlitzer changed color and I leaned back in my comfy, velvet seat, grinning like an idiot.

Growing up in rural Minnesota, it was a major point of pride that our town of 2,000 had a movie theater. Sure, we only had one stoplight but we had art deco murals, a marquee filled with blinking yellow lights, reasonably priced popcorn, and a screen twice as big as what you'd find in those cineplexes.

So when I heard about The Heights' live, pre-show Wurlitzer performance and their $8 indie movies I couldn't wait to hunker down and engage in some good old fashioned nostalgia. It was so wonderful and sweet I promptly signed up for their newsletter and announced to all and sundry that this is where you can expect to find me every Friday night this winter. 

Ass in chair, grinning like a dork at a light up organ. 

And on a related note, I'd like to pull out a tiny soap box and remind you of something you already know: 
We vote with our dollars. 

Each time we spend money at an independently owned business that gives back to the community and pays employees a living wage, we're voting for the kind of world we want. 

When we go to a movie at The Heights rather than Mann Cinema, we're voting for light up organs, thought-provoking movies, and community engagement. We're voting against $10 popcorn and movies like this

Rant finished. 

If you're interested in your own vintage theater experience, there are still tons all over the U.S.: The Riverview (this is in the Twin Cities and I go there all the time! Movies are $3!), The Orpheum Theater in L.A., The Byrd Theater in Richmond, VA, The Senator Theater in Baltimore, MD, The Castro Theater in San Francisco, The Fargo Theater, The Alabama Theater, Screenland Armour in Kansas City, Galaxy Drive-In in Ennis, TXThe Tampa Theater (I saw a movie here in March and it was AMAZING.)

Do you have an awesome, historic movie theater near you? Leave a link in the comments and I'll edit this post to include it!

interior photo by twincities.com 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

How To Fill Your Home With Cheap, Beautiful, Interesting Things From Thrift Stores (Without Becoming A Hoarder)

thrifting tips

It brings me an immeasurable amount of joy to tell people how much my belongings cost.
(It's called Chronic Pricing Disease.)

Like my sofa? I'll fall all over myself to tell you that it was $90 on Craigslist.
Those brass bookends? $5 at Salvation Army.
My red velvet flats (which are, amazingly, Crocs!) I got 'em at Goodwill for $7.

One of my biggest not-so-secrets to living the proverbial champagne life on a beer budget is buying many, many of my belongings second hand. There's an art to thrifting (my best tips are here and here) but there's also an art to finding things that you really, really love ... not just stuff that's pretty-cool-it's-cheap-and-funny, which then gather dust and suffocate you.

Here, fellow thrifters and non-hoarders, are my best tips and tricks to creating a gorgeous space filled with wonderful things that cost two nickels - but not dying under a pile of bad oil paintings. 

1. Keep an on-going list of wants/needs and measurements
Thrifting is not necessarily for you if you're trying to fill your closet and furnish your apartment, like, yesterday. But if you're willing to relax into the search and enjoy the process you can find so many amazing things.

Want to make things easier for yourself? Set aside an hour or so and pad around your home with a measuring tape and your phone. Create a memo detailing all the things you'd (eventually) like in your space, along with measurements and details.

Things like:
Chest of drawers for living room - around 35 x 16 x 24
Hanging shoe rack for closet
Slipper chair for bedroom - neutral color, no taller than 30"
Vintage round table cloth - at least 50"
4 white saucers

And then if you're reallllly serious, you get a tiny tape measure key chain so you'll be able to measure all the slipper chairs you encounter.

2. Honor the 'immediate yes'
Really, I think this is a good practice for, um, everything ever, but it's particularly helpful when you're convincing yourself that a $4 sweater would be a good investment. Because it's warm and work appropriate and, sure, it's not really your color and it doesn't do much for your upper arms but it's $4!

Dude. You deserve clothes you lovelovelove and that make you feel like a gee dee super hero. It doesn't matter how little the piece costs. If you don't want wear it out of the store or immediately rearrange your living room to accommodate it, leave it alone.

3. Practice one-in-one-out
Want to keep your closet relaxingly clear and your shelves not-overflowing? Each time you bring in something new-but-not-totally-necessary, swap out something else.

If your bookshelves are holding all they can and you really "need" that Little Women collection, maybe it's time to get rid of those college textbooks. If all your hangers are occupied but you just found three vintage wiggle dresses, get rid of those sweaters you never wear. You get the idea!

4. Keep a donation bag going at all times
One paper bag in your front closet for catching all those duplicate vegetable peelers, the mismatched pillow cases, and the heels you never learned to walk in. When it's full, drop it off at your neighborhood thrift store, then come home and start a new bag. Each time you see it, you'll think about winnowing and narrowing what you own down to only the best things!

Are you a thrifter? Tell us your best tips!

P.S. How to purge your closet and 4 things you always find at thrift stores + cool DIYs to make with 'em

photo by decor8 holly // cc

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

4 Ways To Disguise Horrible, Ugly Kitchen Cupboards

This is the first guest post from our new DIY/design contributor Thalita of The Learner Observer! Thalita will be writing about easy, cheap ways we can all make our small, rental spaces even cuter. Follow along with her on Twitter or Instagram!

As any renter will tell you, it's nearly impossible to find a place that meets the criteria of your "dream apartment" while sticking to your budget.

Unless you're a Rockefeller, you've probably had to make a few compromises and live with a few less-than-stellar features that are impossible to change. 

Painting the walls? Easy.
Covering up some not-so-great flooring with rugs? Easy.
Disguising hideous kitchen cupboards? Hard!
Or is it? This too can be an easy and reversible fix, friends!

Cover cupboard doors with contact paper

With contact paper regaining some momentum and becoming a popular material for DIY'ers, there is a slew of inspiration out there from fellow renters who have discovered genius ways to cover up their less-than-attractive cupboards.

The great thing about this new generation of contact papers is that they tend to be super easy to remove, but will stay put until you decide to pull them off. Win-win for the renters of the world, right? Here's some inspiration for you.

Panyl makes covers for IKEA furniture (also very renter-friend, am I right?) and that includes their cupboards. You can now completely customize your cupboards to be as colourful (colourless) as you want!

If you're creative, or know someone who is, why not try creating a completely custom design for your kitchen? I love this woodsy theme!

If you're ok with the cupboard doors, but want to inject a punch of colour into your kitchen, Joy Cho's studio has some great inspiration. The toekick is made entirely using contact paper! The shelving on top is also pretty spectacular - more on that in a bit!

If you're brave enough to fill your space with pattern, check out this kitchen makeover using Isaac Mizrahi contact paper! Yep... there's such a thing as designer contact paper!

Add some open shelving where cupboards are lacking

Remember Joy Cho's studio up there? That kind of open shelving can be a great option for those of us who lack storage in the kitchen. Find a wall with no upper cabinets and add your own stylish storage!

Already have enough uppers? Well this brings me to our next option...

Remove your cupboard doors for open shelving

Just get rid of the doors! By removing the doors, you create openness in the kitchen, a better flow, a more modern look and a place to show off all of your prettiest dishes! Just remember to keep all of the hardware and the doors themselves!

You can even add some wallpaper, fabric or wrapping paper to the backs of the cupboards to spruce them up. This one has some grasscloth in the back, which gives the kitchen warmth and texture!

And while you're at it, why not use the ever-popular washi tape to your advantage too? It's easy to apply and remove, and you can switch out colours and designs as often as you wish!

Hardware is jewelry for your doors!

My last piece of advice to you is to remember that hardware is important! After you've taken care of what you want the doors (or lack thereof) to look like, remember that the knobs and pulls make a big impact, too! Here is some inspiration for you, in wide price range from $5.99-$49!

I hope this provides you some inspiration for your very own rental kitchen! Remember you don't have to settle for someone else's taste - you can always bring in a touch of your own personality and change things up!

What's your kitchen situation like? Share your best rental-improving tips in the comments!

P.S. A tour of a cute Chicago apartment and 7 cheap ways to switch up your space

Sources for cupboards:

Monday, October 13, 2014

True Story: Med School Made Me Have A Nervous Breakdown

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/amazing/challenging things. This is the story of Alison and her time in med school.

Tell us a bit about yourself! 
Hello there! I’m Alison, I’m 28, and I live in southern NJ, not far from Philadelphia. I currently work as a clinical research assistant at a children’s hospital in the department of oncology. When I’m not working, I enjoy reading, knitting, snuggling my cats, hanging out with my husband, baking, indulging in a glass of red wine (or two!), and of course, blogging.

When did you know you wanted to work in the medical field?
I’ve known since I was 9 that I wanted to be a pediatrician, which is still true. One of the things I love the most about medicine is the ability to connect with people on a variety of different levels. I also like that I will never stop learning and that every day will be different. It’s a very exciting field, and I really believe that I wouldn’t be fulfilled doing anything else. 

I think a lot of us have heard horror stories about medical school and medical residencies. Could you tell us about an average course load? And how much time you'd spend studying/writing/preparing for your classes?
Haha, well! I preface this by saying that I don’t know about every single medical school out there, but for the most part, med school is split up into two parts: classroom and clinical. First year is dedicated to learning everything there is to know about anatomy, physiology, microbiology, genetics, histology, and biochemistry. Second year is still classroom work, but it’s more geared towards clinical medicine and you get to dig into specifics on all of the body’s systems. I would say in a traditional program, you’ll spend anywhere from 4-8 hours a day in lecture and lab. 

As a first year med student, I personally spent 7-8 hours a day in lecture or lab, and then another 2-5 hours studying and reading at night, even more than that if we had an exam. It was… exhausting.

Prior to medical school, had you struggled with any mental health issues?
Beginning in 7th grade, I started to struggle with depression, anxiety, and self-harm. At 15, I went on my first antidepressant and I’ve been on over 14 different antidepressant medications. In addition to medication, I’ve also been seeing a therapist on and off since I was 12. The one I see currently is amazing, and I’ve been seeing her since 2008.

When did you realize that you were really, truly unwell?
The moment I knew that I was really in trouble came in two parts. 

The first was when I was crossing the street to get to class. I remember thinking, “If I got hit by a car, I wouldn’t have to go to class anymore.” The second came a few weeks into the second semester when one of the deans pulled me aside in the hall and asked if I was okay. I told her a little about what was going on and she suggested that I take a leave of absence. Ten minutes later, I signed the paperwork to take a year-long leave of absence from the program. I spent the next two weeks lying in bed. At 2 am on night, I called my mom and told her that I was “thinking of taking all of my pills”. It was really scary.

Was there one specific thing that triggered your nervous breakdown?
It was more of a “perfect storm” of events. From the start, things were not going well for me in med school. I felt constantly overwhelmed and I had crippling anxiety every time we had an exam. It was so bad that I would leave an exam in the middle to throw up. Some friends and my dad lived nearby, but I still felt very isolated. I failed exams due to anxiety and being underprepared from not being able to focus and study, and that made me feel even worse. I was seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist, and was on multiple medications. First semester, I failed two courses that I knew I would have to retake and pass that summer, or else I would fail out of the program. The combination of having failed two classes, feeling isolated, being generally disappointed in myself coalesced into the worst depression I’ve experienced to date.

What happened when you had your nervous breakdown?
After signing the paperwork to take a leave of absence from school, I was basically shell-shocked. I spent the next two weeks sleeping, barely eating or showering. I found myself thinking about how I would commit suicide, and that scared me. I called my mom and she immediately demanded that I call the school’s crisis line. The woman who answered told me that she would stay on the phone with me and that she was sending two police officers to my apartment. I was terrified, because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to me. 

How did you recover? 
I was admitted to the psychiatric unit for four days and I think I did nothing but cry for the first 48 hours. I didn’t like my psychiatrist they assigned me, and they changed all of my meds really suddenly, so I went through withdrawal and felt really sick. It was definitely useful to be “away from the world” for awhile, but after four days, I was more than ready to go home. 

My family helped me move back home and I started with a new psychiatrist who worked to find me a good medication. I also started seeing the therapist that I’m seeing now. I took time for myself and tried to re-enter life as a non-medical student. So far, so good!

You're heading back to med school this year - congrats! How are you staying healthy and making sure you'll have a different experience this time?
Thank you! I’m still in therapy and plan to continue with it, as well as my meds. The school I am attending is in my home state, where many of my friends and family are located, and my husband is incredibly supportive. I have a lot of people looking out for me!

Have you found any books/websites/tools/apps to be particularly helpful in helping you manage your stress and depression as you navigate school?
Honestly, my best tool is my therapist. I’ve also found a lot of support online, both through Twitter and blogging, as well as through The Bloggess’ website. While the main focus of her website is definitely not mental illness, she is a huge champion for the cause. (Some of her best posts are here.)

What advice would you give to other people with mental health issues who are undertaking big, exciting, potentially stressful endeavors?
It is really important that you always take care of yourself, mind and body. It sounds so silly, but get enough sleep, eat well, and take time to have some fun. Remind yourself that you are not the sum of your achievements. Never be afraid to ask for help. 

Lastly, “Depression lies.” Don’t let it fool you into thinking you are worthless. You are so, so important. Be kind to yourself. We can all use that reminder every once in awhile.

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Alison. Do you have have any questions for her? Have any of your had health issues that were triggered by school?

P.S. True Story: I have depression and True Story: I dropped out of my PhD program

photo by natshots photography // cc