Hard truths

I hate change.

I am a creature of habit. I stop at the same Dunkin Donuts every morning at approximately 8 AM before heading to work. I go to the same yoga classes each week with the same teachers so I can predict the flow. I own twelve white shirts yet I keep buying them whenever I see one in a shop.

This past month has been really hard. As my semester in Dublin came to an end, I started counting down the days until I touched down on U.S. soil. I was ready for the comfortable familiarity of home and my family, along with sweet tea from Dunkin. I think it was just grass is greener syndrome. In Dublin, I was tired from traveling each weekend and stressed from finals – I have mad respect for the Irish. I’m not sure I could do more than one semester where the final essentially determined my entire grade. Also, the Irish study group theory as undergraduates – a chill still goes down my spine when I think back to my course on symmetry.

This past month has been a whirlwind of change.

I had only one week at home, where I spent most of the time in bed, before moving to Chicago to start my internship. I had never lived in a large city. I grew up in the suburbs of northern Indiana outside of a college town. I studied abroad in a country that could be described as ‘the Midwest of Europe’ (I coined that, trademark me). I have always daydreamed about the idea of living in a big city, and these past three weeks have shown me that I enjoy the fantasy more than the reality.

If I lived in Chicago I would have to do so outside of the Loop, in a neighborhood like Wicker Park or Old Town. Both are quieter residential areas, with fantastic shopping and eateries, with similar environments to the sweetness that I grew up with.

It has been tough for me to adjust to the loudness and mild chaos of the city. I hate the mildly persistent stank of weed and the rude, touchy people who think they’re flattering rather than harassing. I missed Dublin for its people, its size and its coziness. My heart still aches for it every day – much more than I thought I would.

But with each day that passes, it gets a little bit easier. The city has gotten smaller, and I have been here long enough to establish a few go-to spots. I know where I can get the best caffeinated horchata (Goddess and the Baker) and a fantastic breakfast sandwich (Cafecito). I stumbled upon the American sister to my all-time favorite Dublin cafe, KC Peaches, and that made the start of this week almost a thousand times better.

Struggling with the adjustment made it, and still makes it, much easier to be hard on myself. I was frustrated and upset with myself – I write so much on resilience yet I couldn’t be resilient. Recently, a wonderful friend of mine told me that I needed to stop being so self-critical. I am thankful for a friend that is willing to tell me so instead of letting me put myself down.

I value kindness so incredibly much. I valued it in the Irish people, and I miss it in the daily big-city hustle and bustle. I value every smile I get from a stranger or a show of manners. I value the small reminders that I am important from both people I know and don’t know.

I value kindness more than almost anything else, yet I refuse to show it to myself. A year later, I can still be as hard on myself and my body as I was when I was rapidly dropping weight.

But why?

I really do think it’s easier to put myself down than it is to build myself up. Building myself up takes effort – it forces me to recognize that I contain joy and love. It forces me to work towards being a bearer of good in an ever confusing and conflicted world.

Building myself up means that I can’t give up. 

I’m looking forward to the next few weeks. I enjoy my internship and the people I’ve met, and I really like going to work each day. I’ve decided to challenge myself on two ends: budgeting (no more clothes! White or otherwise!) and kindness towards myself.

If I can’t be kind, then I can at least not be horrible – and right now, that might be all I can muster.

Last Saturday, I participated in a yoga and meditation workshop that centered around the theme of rewriting my self contract. It was based on the idea that we enter into subconscious contracts with ourselves and those around us. At the end, I had to write a new self contract for myself, and I included valuing my self-worth, embracing my independence after the end of a long-term relationship and continuing to search for good.

I’ve been working towards being kind to myself for years now, and I don’t see it magically happening anytime soon. Until then, I’ll keep going. Until then, I’ll keep waking up and getting coffee before work. Until then, I’ll let myself daydream about the past and the future. Until then, I’ll keep smiling at strangers. Until then, I’ll keep doing my best.

Until then, I’ll keep adjusting. I may be a creature of habit, that’s a habit I’m willing to break.

The light in me honors the light in you,

Sus

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Big days

Today I achieved bliss.

I sat at a window seat of a sweet coffee shop (Dollop Coffee Co., I highly recommend) with an iced chai tea latte, three different colored pens and my journal. One of my favorite things to do in Dublin was to sit in a cafe and watch the world go by, and I knew that wasn’t going to change in a new city.

I had a lot to think about today. Life has been super weird lately. I’ve been back in the States for a week now, and I feel like I’ve woken up from an incredible dream. Hindsight is 20/20 though – Dublin wasn’t all rainbows and craic, but now that I’m home I can only think of it that way. I have to remind myself that there were tough days and nights, times when I wished I could be back home and moments when I questioned my decision to go abroad.

I haven’t written in too much detail about my experiences abroad, and today while I was journaling I decided to set some goals for myself. Tomorrow I start my internship in Chicago at a marketing firm, and I am so excited to see what a career will be like outside of a lab.

I have a few goals  – run every day, learn to budget and save properly and write a book. Yep, that’s right. I have a lot of love for essay collections and I think the best way for me to document my time is to break it down into essays. I have always loved writing, and this is something I have always wanted to do.

Is there a better time to do it than a summer in the city? I don’t think so. I’m writing this blog post to hold myself accountable and make the promise that by August 11 I will have a collection of essays.

I’m also starting at a new yoga studio this Sunday and it looks incredible.

The light in me honors the light in you,
Sus

 

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Summer whites

Being back at home means bringing back more up-to-date blog photos. I’m keeping today’s post short and sweet, just like this white top I wore today! Anyone who knows me knows I have a mild problem with white tops (I own 12 cotton white shirts and counting). It’s my favorite color to wear in the summer, which is odd since I have the ability to spill on everything I’m wearing.

This ruffled number is from Zara and I’ve linked it here. It’s true to size and I’m wearing a small. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more white tops this summer in Chicago, and I won’t admit I have a real problem until I hit 20.

Also, my lovely grandma popped into my photos today and I hope I age half as well as she did.

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Cafe crawl

If they say de-Nile is a river in Egypt, then I’m drowning in it today.

I woke up in my own bed this morning. My big, fluffy bed with its redundant pillows and soft blanket – a bed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, instead of Dublin, Ireland. I woke up late and rolled over, thinking about when I should catch the bus in order to get a pick-me-up mocha at Clement & Pekoe. I blinked a few times and it took me a couple of minutes to remember where I was. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t crushed. I can only dream of the next afternoon I can swirl a chocolate stick around a warm cup of coffee while watching people go by on South William St. By dream, I mean I’m slowly planning my return to Dublin to do research over fall break.

This won’t be the last time I write about Dublin.

It’s going to take me a few more days to process this past semester. I’m leaving for Chicago in only six days to start my summer internship. I’m swapping cobblestone streets with short buildings for a concrete jungle and American Zara prices.

I don’t know if I will ever stop writing about my four months in that beautiful country. Today I’m sipping sweet tea out of a giant mug (sweet tea! My whole life) and thinking back on the little cafes I fell in love with in Dublin. Going to Dublin soon and looking for a cool place to sit and sip? Look no further than Susan’s Dublin Cafe Crawl.

Stop 1: Clement and Pekoe, South William St  

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Photo by Natalie Lim

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This was my second favorite study spot, and it was partly due to the mochas they served. They make their mochas not with chocolate syrup but with a large piece of chocolate on a stick that you swirl around in hot coffee until it melts. Their mini cakes (especially the apple one) are also very well-done.

Stop 2: KC Peaches, Nassau St  

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If you know me at all, you know that I fell in love with the KC Peaches on Nassau St this semester. It was my favorite place to study and many a paper was written there over a cup of tea, or a medium mocha, with a slice of the multi-berry custard (GO EAT THAT CUSTARD. IT IS FANTASTIC). The food was also hard to beat if you needed a quick bite. It was wholesome and natural and healthy, and the only place you could go for a fantastic sandwich that only puts you back 5-6 euro. I had a really difficult time leaving this place, but then I have an attachment personality.

Stop 3: Queen of Tarts, Cow’s Lane 

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The desserts here are to die for. The chocolate fudge cake served with homemade whipped cream is unbelievable, and I chose to go with a blueberry scone and tea on my last visit. Queen of Tarts has two locations in Temple Bar, and I frequented the larger one on Cow’s Lane. Also: there is a fantastic yoga studio right across from here, and is a real gem. It’s called Samadhi and has very reasonable rates. I loved this studio because it reminded me of my cozy, sweet studio at home in Pittsburgh.

Stop 4: Beanhive, Dawson St 

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I became high-key obsessed with this place late in the semester. Their latte art is unbeatable (look at how sweet that bear is on my hazelnut hot chocolate!). I found iced tea here, which I craved more than I thought I would. I am a huge sweet tea fiend at home, and when I saw they had iced tea on their menu I nearly cried. The peach iced tea was excellent and I only had to add about 5 packets of sugar. I only wish I could have found this place earlier because their friendly staff and delicious drinks stole my heart.

Stop 5: Cake Cafe, Pleasant’s Place 

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This one is a bit off the beaten path (over past Dicey’s), and kind of located in a weird alley, but the homemade cakes here are difficult to beat. I had the Victorian sponge cake and wished I could have taken the whole thing home.

Stop 6: The Dwarf Jar, O’Connell Street 

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Give me a huge mocha and a view of the river and I will be happy forever. Sarah and I also indulged in tiramisu here, and she got this fabulous wine tea that tasted like mulled wine. This is another great place to people-watch.

Stop 7: Bestseller, Dawson St

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This adorable polka-dot shop has the coziest benches for curling up with a good book. It houses the Irish Bible Society and sells interesting books and artwork by independent Irish artists. The coffee here was alright but the environment really won me over. It’s also very quiet.

Stop 8: 3FE, Grand Canal St

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I only visited this place once, but it has a special place in my heart for the second pot of tea I got on the house and the big community tables and windows that let sunshine in. I wrote an entire philosophy paper here.

And that’s a wrap! I am so lucky to have loved and lived in these cafes this semester. I’m already planning to find more mini-heavens in Chicago this summer. I promise there will be a more substantial post on my time in Dublin to come, but right now I can only daydream about big mochas and delicious cakes while binge-watching season 3 of Kimmy Schmidt (go watch it! It’s as hilarious and woke as ever!). Good thing I’ll be returning to my sweet Stray Dog yoga on Tuesday morning.

The light in me honors the light in you,
Sus
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May florals

It’s finally springtime in the city.

I woke up this morning and couldn’t believe the sunshine streaming through my window. Dublin is notoriously cloudy and rainy – and I was hardly surprised that the weather finally picked up on the last day of reading week. I have my first two finals tomorrow (happy Monday to me!), but I took a study break today to go outside and soak up some vitamin D.

I crave sunshine. Vitamin D supplements are my go-to when I’m feeling consistently down, and the vitamin has been seen to positively affect serotonin levels. I don’t think I’ve felt sunshine like this since my weekend in Rome, when I actually started sweating. It’s important to note that that also could have been milk sweats (the gelato is copious!).

It’s kind of refreshing to take a break from hot and heavy topics on this blog. Sunshine and a relaxing afternoon with a lovely friend put me in the mood to share one of my favorite things with you: florals. 

 

Nothing screams spring more than the perfect floral piece, and mine this season is this cute little number I picked up from Zara for only 30 quid. It has the most flattering fit and I was obsessed with the baby blue. It can be dressed up or down, and is a welcome change from my eight (yes, eight) white cotton shirts. It does run small in the chest so I would size up (I’m wearing a size medium). Keep in mind it’s also European sizing which tends to run small.

Happy spring, people! Pull out your florals and get out to the park.

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The light in me honors the light in you,

Sus

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Healthy

My face is rounder this semester.

I’ve always had a round face. Growing up, my parents told me that it meant that I would have good luck, but I just thought I had a big head. Sarah took a photo of me today while we were sitting in the sweetest coffee shop, and I noticed immediately how much rounder my face looked. A year ago I probably would have cried with a realization like that – hell, even a few months ago I may have.

I never thought I would be the kind to struggle with my weight. My genes have made me lucky enough to be naturally relatively thin, and I never went through any significant weight loss period in my early teens.

I can’t pin down the exact moment I started being truly unhappy with my body. I know it was sometime around the end of sophomore year, which had been surprisingly tough and taxing. A good deal of my life and comfort zone shifted dramatically and I struggled to accept the changes and adapt to new environments. I desperately sought control. Whenever my depression returns, the first thing to go is my feeling of control over my life. I think it was at that point that I shifted any anxieties and questions of my self-worth onto my body.

I may have not been able to control all of the circumstances of my life, but I could control how I looked. I became obsessed – I’ve blogged about this before, so I’ll summarize it here. Over the course of two months during the summer after sophomore year, I dropped 10 pounds and was at 114. For someone my age and height, I was considered underweight. I ran miles a day and carefully watched what I ate, and never ate more than I could burn off that same day.

I thought I was beautiful that way. My mother thought otherwise.

I’ll never forget it. It was hour two in a fitting room, trying to find a business skirt that would fit without alterations. My mother was exasperated as every size 0 we found fell from my hips. “This is not okay,” she told me, “this is just not okay.” From that day, she watched me closer at meals, encouraged me to substitute runs for trips to the yoga studio, and quietly but willingly took me out to buy a new set of pants and jeans as most of the ones I owned were too loose. During the last few weeks of summer, I slowly started gaining back the weight I had lost, and was back up to a healthy 120 by October. I went to therapy every week to supplement consistent eating habits, and avoided distance running like the plague.

Today, I sent her that picture of me with a rounder face, and she responded with “It’s ok, you look healthy.” Today, I am healthy, and my jeans may be a little tighter since arriving in Dublin, but I’m okay with it. There are still days when I sink back and wish I was still underweight, but for the most part I have taken strides.

Last week I ran a half-marathon pretty much cold. It was my third, and arguably one of the coolest things I have ever done. For so long, I had abused running, and it felt amazing to do long-distance again (despite the rolling hills at mile 10. Those were brutal). It had been a while since I ran to run, instead of running to be thin. I finished the race because I was healthy, and I am proud of that.

Healthy looks different for everyone.

For me, healthy looks like kindness and patience. It looks like more energy and less hurt. Being in Dublin for the past semester has helped me become healthier. It may be the copious amount of delicious food in Europe (seriously, how can I pass it up?), or the fact that life is less demanding so I am less demanding on myself. Whatever it is, I am grateful for it.

I still have a ways to go, but I am okay with that. Right now, today, I am healthy, and that’s all I need.

I think that now more than ever – in the age of social media, glossy lifestyle blogs, and fitness idols – we need to remind ourselves and each other of the importance of being healthy and how ‘healthy’ is different for everyone. I think a critical moment for me was setting standards against only myself. I may not be as thin or fit as the girl on Instagram, but compared to where I was a year ago, I am stronger and more resilient. Healthy and beautiful should only be defined by your standards, and not by anyone else’s.

The light in me honors the light in you,

Sus

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Is this it?

They say that the end of something is the beginning of everything, and this past week I’ve been working through a new beginning.

For the most part, nothing really feels different. I guess that I’ve always thought beginnings should be huge, seismic events that shake me to my core. Beginnings are quiet. They spend most of the day hanging out by themselves in the corner but creep into awareness at the most inopportune of times. I hate the ebb and flow of them and the occasional bout of bone-crushing emotion. I would rather have everything hit me all at once rather than carry on for days.

I have a friend that wrote me a letter ages ago. My favorite line from that letter – a letter that I have tacked onto a board so I can read it every day – tells me to “never forget that the word ‘inspiration’ literally means ‘that which breathes life into,’ because that’s exactly what you do for others.”

I admit that I do spend a good deal of time trying to breathe life into others. I admit that not from a moral high ground but from the fact that I am absolutely exhausted. A year ago I was starting to come out of my second bout of depression and experiencing another beginning. At that point, I told myself that I would be anyone’s shoulder to cry on and everyone’s cheerleader because I knew too well how it felt to feel alone and hopeless. Knowing that even one person in the world could feel loved by me was the biggest thing that brought me joy.

I like the feeling of being relied upon. I like the feeling, but lately in this recent beginning I’m starting to realize that maybe it’s time I start letting myself rely on other people. I just got home from an incredible weekend in Barcelona. I sat in the sunshine against a pillar at the Sagrada Familia and stared straight into a bright stained glass window for ten minutes. I ate two dinners on Sunday and lost myself in Spanish Zara and ancient ruins. I laughed until I cried a little. I was happy. I was happy and on the flight home I asked myself if this was it.

Is this it?

I asked myself if this was it, if this is what happiness felt like. Real, true happiness where I didn’t have anxiety whispering in my ear. Happiness where I actually felt giddy and that I could do anything. Happiness where I wasn’t worried about the next moment, the next hour, the next person.

I have spent so much time advocating for mental health awareness, trying to break down the stigma on mental illness, being open about my own mental illness and pushing others to work through their mental illnesses. In a weird paradoxical way, I have defined myself by my experiences with anxiety and depression by trying to not define myself by anxiety and depression.

Happiness is odd to a person with anxiety and depression. I almost didn’t recognize my life this weekend because how could life be so good? I wondered if life could always be this way and if it didn’t feel like I was coming down from a high. Could this be the norm? Could this be it?

I apologize that this isn’t a standard travel blog in which I list all of the beautiful and amazing things I’ve done and put my life through the lenses of glossy photos and edited landscapes. I don’t think that’s a fair portrayal and that it’s important for people going abroad to see that life is still life despite being in a different country.

I promise that this long-winded post is coming to an end. In the past week I have been unbelievably happy but also unbelievably sad. My twenty-first birthday is in three weeks, and birthdays have always brought mixed emotions for me. A few years ago, I didn’t think I would make it to twenty. It breaks my heart to admit that, but it’s true. I always have a heavy heart and jumbled feelings whenever I’m close to becoming another year older. A few years ago, I didn’t think I would make it to twenty, and I would never have felt the sun on my face or the joy in my heart from choosing my life. A few years ago, I didn’t think I would make it to twenty, let alone twenty-one, and today I hope I can be included in your prayers.

Here’s to a new beginning, people. Beginnings are hard but if they’ve taught me anything it’s that they’re important and unavoidable. Let’s do this thing.

The light in me honors the light in you,
Sus

 

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