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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Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

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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Let’s talk

I feel like I always have so much to say in every blog post. For once, I don’t have anything to say.

Last year, I was asked by a friend to help him create a group on campus where students could go for open discussions on life’s biggest questions, self-care, mental well-being and everything in between. Starting this group is near and dear to my heart, and we call it The Listeners.

Yesterday, he messaged me to let me know that the Listeners were having their first meeting tomorrow night. I don’t have any words to describe how excited I am for this group to start meeting. We were lucky to be supported by McWell – an incredible resource on campus that I think everyone should take advantage of at some point. They always have fresh berries and a cool make-your-own essential oils blend table. I don’t think there is a hallway on campus that smells as good and calming as McWell.

Today’s post is going to be a little different because instead of me talking at you, I want you to talk to me. Being abroad makes it difficult to stay in touch and in tune with everyone’s lives, so today I want to follow in the spirit of our special group and listen. 

So talk to me. I don’t care if we’ve never spoken before. I don’t care if the last time we spoke was a year ago, or a few months ago, or last week. I don’t care if you hate me, or love me or feel completely neutral about me. Do you need someone to listen? Let me be that person today, tomorrow or next week.

Next week I’ll follow up with an update on spring break and my life in Dublin lately. Until then, I want to take this time and listen to you. So email me, text me, Facebook message me or send an international carrier pigeon.

Let’s do this thing.

The light in me honors the light in you,

Sus

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Quiet

A friend recently shared an article that I needed to read that day. It was called “The Disease of Being Busy” and can be found here. It carries an important message that I’ve been thinking about for a while now. I have long championed the benefits of self-care and taking time for oneself, but I haven’t thought much about our epidemic of business. I think it’s easy to get lost in it, especially as a college student, because day-to-day at Notre Dame is unbelievably jam-packed and it can feel like you’re doing something wrong if you find yourself with free time.

A quote from that article struck me, and it’s been on my mind since then:

In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?

What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.

How is your heart doing?

I found the article to be a gorgeous reminder that we are human beings and as human beings we need to feed our souls and our hearts and not just check off to-do lists or fill calendars. When was the last time your heart felt as full as the week you planned? I know for a fact that mine rarely does. I always thought I would be happy when I did more things and boasted an extensive laundry list of accomplishments. I’m not usually happy when I do, I’m only exhausted. The article urged us to connect with others, but more importantly with ourselves.

Reading this article came at the perfect time for me because I had just spent the last weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was a relatively spontaneous trip, and due to my last-minute planning I was on my own for the majority of Saturday before meeting up with my friends for dinner and adventures on Sunday.

Traveling alone was a strange way to connect with myself.

I was definitely nervous but I knew it was something I had to do while I was abroad. For the rest of my trips this semester, I’ll be in a group the whole time and will rarely be on my own. I loved having Saturday to myself. I spent the entire time wandering around the city and getting used to the layout. I stopped in several cool vintage shops and found my heart in the most amazing bookshop. It’s called Armchair Books and had floor to ceiling bookshelves overflowing with second-hand book deals. I picked up three great ones for only 7 pounds! I blew through Every Day by David Levithan in a day, and I 10/10 recommend it. It oddly put life in perspective for me, and reading young adult fiction was a welcome breath of fresh air.

It was freeing to be on my own. I had no one’s schedule or desires to adhere to other than my own. If I wanted to go into a shop to try fudge, I could. If I wanted to try on a quirky dress from the 60s, I could (and did). If I wanted to spend an hour in a teeny tiny but fabulous bookshop, I could (okay, several tiny bookshops).

I hadn’t had much time to focus on myself and reflect on my time abroad since being here, but taking that day in Edinburgh was exactly what I needed. I needed it to recognize the extent to which I struggled on some days and how much more I needed to focus on myself. I needed a day to remind myself that I was something to be proud of because I could maneuver a strange city and because I could find peace in a mocha and A Return to Love. The week before, I led my first group yoga practice and it made my heart burst. Nothing beat the feeling of looking around and seeing everyone flow together and I almost cried while I led savasana and told everyone to welcome peace into their hearts. I want to teach yoga and I want to fit the 200-hour teaching training into my life at some point before I die.

Now, back to Edinburgh.

I met up with Abby, Maggie and Sarah for dinner after their tour of some Scottish towns and the Loch Ness. We ate at a fantastic Spanish restaurant and all of us nearly peed ourselves laughing (okay, I think Maggie did pee herself).

Sunday was a GREAT day. It started off with breakfast at the Elephant House, which is where J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books, and the walls covered in notes from HP lovers made me tear up. I grew up with Harry Potter and I am forever grateful that I did life with a few brave but awkward teenagers fighting the Dark Lord. We moved from the Elephant House up to Edinburgh Castle, which was truly a beauty. We met up after the castle to grab cake (the strawberry cake paired with a mocha at Patisserie Valerie is to DIE FOR) before leaving to hike up Arthur’s Seat.

We chose to do a tougher climb up the mountain, and while it was long, and strenuous, and I didn’t wear the right walking shoes, after an hour and a 400-meter elevation difference we made it to the top. The other three girls put up with me and my desire to scamper around a flat plateau for my glorious Sound of Music moment. It was arguably one of the most amazing moments during my time abroad. The view at the top of Arthur’s Seat was INCREDIBLE. It was definitely worth the hype and the pain from my old lady knees later in the day. After our climb, we stopped in a shop to load up on shortbread cookies (also worth the hype) and began the trek back to Dublin.

Three hours later, we touched down in Dublin town and the happy sense of being home made me smile so big. I love the fact that coming back to Dublin feels like coming home now. It is truly a special city and I only realize how special it is when I spend time away from it. I’m grateful for its friendly people and that I can navigate it without Google Maps and the lack of aggressive touristy attractions and shops. It’s my home, and I love it more with each day and coffee shop that I pop into.

The weeks to come feature 14 days of travel: Prague, Vienna, Budapest, County Kerry, Madrid, Valencia and Lisbon – oh my! I am so lucky to be on this journey and for all the laughs, tears, gelato, sangria, bubbles, wine and books to come.

There will be more quiet time, more yoga, more laughter and more freedom from a packed schedule. As usual, I’ve attached some snapshots from this weekend.

Final note: I recently received an email from an anonymous old friend that actually made me cry. They included this quote at the end: “And while you’re out there getting where you’re getting to, I hope you know somebody loves you and wants the same things too.” I don’t know who you are, but I want you to know that I’m praying for you as well, and that I would love to know who you were so we could re-connect. Your love is mutual and reciprocated, and your heart is beautiful and kind. Thank you for your gentle reminder, and I hope you know I walk with you every day.

The light in me honors the light in you,

Sus

 

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Press pause: no facades

Oops, I did it again. It’s the start of Week 7 and a few weeks since my last update. An immense amount of things have happened since then – it’s kind of crazy how much can happen even in a single day here.

I want to fill you all in on a whirlwind weekend in Amsterdam and another in North Ireland, but I want to talk about something more important first. I think it’s really easy to put on this false face while abroad. Social media makes this almost unavoidable, and every weekend and day looks like an adventure that goes without a hitch.

Well, I have a confession, and that’s that I have been struggling.

One thing they don’t tell you before you leave to study abroad is how much you have to rely on yourself. Over the past three years, I have built up an incredible support system at home and Notre Dame. I was wary to leave it for a semester, but I told myself that I would be brave. Bravery is overrated. I feel like I’ve lost days telling myself to be brave and only feeling less solid.

I’ve been hanging out with my good friend Anxiety quite a bit here in Dublin. I am not afraid nor ashamed to admit that my study abroad life isn’t all rainbows and good craic (although the majority of it is). Without going into too much detail, I wish I would have better prepared myself with proper resources in the case of events that threw me off. As much as I love each day in Dublin, lately they have been tinged with struggles to remember my self-worth. In the past month, I have been shocked by the complete lack of respect that both people close to me and people I hardly knew have shown towards me. If you are reading this and think it applies to you, then it probably does. I am wholeheartedly disappointed in the breaking of trust and I want it to be known and recognized.

Doubt of my self-worth is something I have carried for a while now. I wish I had readied myself for rebuilding it while an ocean away from those that I leaned on before. Do not get me wrong: I feel unbelievably lucky to be here, and I am wowed each day by the love and joy that everyone in the Dublin program gives me. However, I would be telling a false story if I pretended if everything was good always.

So today I’m dropping those pretenses. Behind my pretty pictures and interesting stories, it is still me behind it all. I still have days when it is hard to get out of bed, and days when I wish I could be anyone and anywhere else. I still have days when friends have to text me to remind to eat regular meals, and days when going to all of my classes is the crowning achievement of the week.

However, the real me is still traveling on the weekends and sipping half-pints on weekdays and laughing when she can despite it all. If anything, I want people to know, especially those of you who haven’t studied abroad yet, that it is okay to not feel like you have it all together and that your life isn’t always a dream while you are abroad. You are a human being and you will feel all kinds of emotions during this growing time – even low and bad ones.

There have been countless moments during these past few weeks when I have thought to myself, ‘You almost missed this’ and I have never felt so proud to have made it to another year, another birthday, to this semester. These are the moments that remind me that with each rough morning, there is a bright day, a lovely evening and a joyous week. These are the moments I am grateful to be here and to be alive, to have made it and persisted.

Okay, hard and heavy over – what have I been up to? Two weekends ago I spent 48 hours in Amsterdam, and it really is a strange city. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I thought it was beautiful, and that the architecture and canals were lovely, but the whole vibe of the city was difficult to put a finger on. Seeing the infamous Red Light district in action on Saturday night left an ugly taste on my tongue. It was the first time that I had seen prostitution in action, and although it’s legal and decently regulated in the Netherlands, all I could think of was the human trafficking and slavery that was still likely going on. I have always been one to support the legalization of prostitution, but after that weekend I wasn’t so sure. I supported making prostitution safer and regulated, but in doing so, did I condone the selling of bodies for pleasure? I was unsure of my stance, and the persistent weed stank did not thrill me either. The diversity of the city struck me as well. Ireland struggles when it comes to diversity, so seeing more people of color and hearing a wider variety of languages was both confusing and fresh at the same time.

Amsterdam was exhausting – I rarely had a break and I was ready to return to Dublin on Sunday evening. This past weekend I traveled with Notre Dame to North Ireland, where we toured Belfast and learned about its bloody and heartbreaking history. We visited the peace wall, which stretches 30 miles and still separates Catholics and Protestants to this day. One of our tour guides was actually part of the Protestant para-military group, and it was odd to be so close to a man who had killed other men. My favorite part of this trip was Saturday night, when we walked over to Sheep Island after dinner and the sky was so big and crammed with stars. It was nearly pitch black, and we all climbed up onto a large rock and sang songs. I love stars, and every time I can see so many my heart is full. We took a moment of silence to be still, and it was the coolest thing to be under a blanket of stars with the sound of the sea crashing onto the shore.

What’s the future hold? I have fully booked each weekend for travel up until Easter, and I am thrilled to think about the adventures that lie ahead in Scotland, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, London and more. I also signed up for a half marathon in Connemara the weekend of my 21st, and I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad idea. It’s supposed to beautiful and I’m itching to get back into my running shoes regularly again – let’s hope my old lady knees can make it through.

Ending with some snapshots again:

 

The light in me honors the light in you,
Sus

 

 

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One glass of mulled wine

Well, this is awkward.

I remember telling myself a month ago that I would be updating this blog regularly. I’m a little embarrassed to be finally writing a post about my time so far in Dublin, but here goes. I promise that I won’t be super rambly.

One month in: some thoughts

I don’t like change and I never have. I was dead nervous to get on the plane in Philadelphia and throw my familiar life to the wind for a semester in another country. I was not thrilled, and the days leading up to the flight I could hardly sleep and my anxiety was on an all-time high.

I did get on the plane, and to my own surprise, I landed in Dublin.

The first week was odd. The first day was borderline miserable. As cool as it was to be in a new country, trying to keep my eyes open after an overnight flight and also absorb the new sights and sounds was not. The next few days were strange because it felt like a short vacation. I kept thinking that after a week I would be packing up again and going home to Notre Dame. It made me really sad to think about my friends back on campus – especially the ones that I hadn’t seen since May.

The first week was also a lot better than I could have imagined. I met some incredible humans that I have grown close with this past month, and have laughed louder and smiled more than I had in a while. We went dancing, we drank cheap mixed drinks, and we sipped beer at pubs (but I had tea. I hate beer. THERE I SAID IT!). I still got nervous when a bouncer looked at my real ID even though it was 1. real and 2. I was very much over the age of 18. During the first weekend, we took a day trip to the pretty coastal town of Bray, where we went on a lengthy cliff walk and I wished I could have stayed in the fresh air forever.

The second week didn’t go as well.

It was the first week of class, and I was as frazzled as I was during the first week of freshman year. I had no idea where anything was but I felt more like an outsider this time. I felt like I stood out like a sore thumb – not only was I American, but Ireland is also 84.5% Caucasian and I was a rare breed.

The highlights of the week were the times spent at O’Connell House, which is the Notre Dame center in Dublin. It is truly a special place, and everyone who works there tries their best to help you feel at home.

The second week we started planning trips for the semester. To say it was stressful is an understatement. My friend Katelyn and I decided to visit our sweet friend at Oxford University during our first travel weekend. I was relieved that it was a close distance and that we would be staying with a friend.

The second weekend was spent in Sligo at the Yeats Winter School. This weekend was horrific for many reasons and none of them had to do with Sligo or Yeats. I learned a lot from this weekend. I learned that trust should be earned, and not given. I learned that I had great people who I could lean on here. I learned that adjusting to a new support system during a rough time of mental health was more difficult than I anticipated. I learned that people who act kind to your face can sometimes treat you like trash when you’re not there. I learned that love is hard but it is always worth it.

Things started picking up the third week.

It was an odd week. I had been thrown an emotional curveball over the weekend, and I fell into a minor depressive episode. It was difficult to make it to my classes and keep a brave face, but I did my best and ultimately faked it till I made it.

The third week did have a great weekend to look forward to. Katelyn and I were finally on our way to visit Kelly! Kelly is a true gem of the earth. If you are lucky enough to know her, then you are incredibly lucky.

Our weekend at Oxford was truly magical – and it wasn’t just because a lot of Harry Potter was filmed there. From throwing pennies at a crew date to sipping afternoon tea and milk, it was a three days filled with good conversation and lots of joy. Oxford was gorgeous and quaint, modern and old-fashioned all at once.

It was a glass of mulled wine that finally got me out of my funk. The weekend in Sligo had left me feeling depressed and vulnerable, but on a Saturday night, over a fantastic glass of mulled wine, I realized how blessed I was. A few booked trips to Rome, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Amsterdam, Barcelona and London (with more to come!) also made my life feel like an absolute dream.

I don’t think I’ll be able to adequately describe how much I needed that weekend, or how much better it made me feel. All I know is that I am grateful for the people and moments that made it special.

This first month has been no walk in the park.

This first month has also contained some of the sweetest and best moments of my life. Dublin is an amazing city – there is always something to do and something to see. I was never very much into vintage until I stopped in a few shops here, and my tea habit has exploded into something of a mild addiction (one could also argue that I may be mildly addicted to shopping).

There have also been a few days when I’ve really struggled with my mental health here. I’m naturally introverted, but I have been trying to be more social and outgoing here. I need to be more cognizant of taking alone time and keeping up with my journal (hopefully I won’t be ignoring my blog again).

Alright, that’s all I have for now. I promise that I’ll have more detailed posts in the future since I left a good number of moments out of this one. I’ll end with some snaps that I’ve taken in the past 30 days.

Also, to all of you that haven’t studied abroad yet – they don’t lie, the time DOES FLY. I have never felt so lucky.

The light in me honors the light in you,
Sus
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