The Juggling Act

People today are always busy. There is always something that needs to get done. I am no different. It can be incredibly draining. Sometimes it isn’t just physical things that need juggling, but your thoughts that come in and mess up the rhythm causing everything to fall down. As the next semester looms up ahead, I’m starting to feel overwhelmed. Maybe some of you can relate as well.

This summer my life has mainly consisted of working. I love my job. Working at an escape game is like people watching on steroids and I love my coworkers, but that doesn’t mean I never feel burnt out. The past couple of weeks I have started feeling more anxious as the hours pass at work. A lot of this is just the hours of talking to people adding up. I am an introvert and I really need my time alone, so when I feel like I’m not getting that, I start to feel restless. That’s just one part of my life this summer. I am also juggling writing this blog. Finding time to just sit and write when my brain isn’t tired from working all day is hard. I’m trying to read a lot this summer mostly because I enjoy it, but also because I want to be more well-read before going into my internship later this month. I am trying to do some fun things as well because it is my last summer before I am in the real world with a full-time job. That thought alone trips me up often. Those are just the tangible things I am juggling this summer.

Thoughts are no joke. They hold a lot of power. In my case, they interfere with my sleep. There are a lot of things that I’m thinking about this summer. I try to imagine what the next semester is going to look like. I worry that I’ll become overworked and overwhelmed once I add schoolwork and an internship to my schedule. I worry about how I’ll do at my internship. I want to impress the people I work with and learn a lot so that I can find a good job after college. I am going to be a senior this year, so naturally, thoughts of post-college linger in the air. Where am I going to stay? Are my friends going to stay too? What job am I going to have? Am I going to be ready to be a full-fledged adult? I also think about my parents who are in the moving process right now. I won’t see where they live until December. I won’t be able to picture my room at home until then. Then the questions come into my head about the concept of home in general. I think about past moves, good and bad. All of these thoughts hitting at once have made me feel a little blah recently. That’s the best way to describe it. For the past couple of weeks, it has been hard to focus on things, because my thoughts shift or I just feel indifferent. I finally started reading another book yesterday so it’s getting better. But I am juggling all of these thoughts that fuel anxiety on top of the tangible aspects of my summer. But as I talked to my therapist about it, I was reminded that we are all jugglers.

No one is going through life with a one-track mind. We are all trying to balance. What I have come to realize, is that it is okay to drop the ball sometimes. It doesn’t mean that you have to leave everything scattered on the floor. It just means you need to try again and practice until everything is in rhythm. No one becomes a professional juggler overnight. We are the same way. It may take some time to feel confident juggling all of your responsibilities and your thoughts/emotions. That’s perfectly fine. Sure, my next semester might be crazy, but with time my schedule will just feel normal. Sure, my anxiety may still be with me, but with time I will talk those worries out with my therapist, my friends, and my family and I’ll be able to remind myself that everything will work out. Juggling is not easy, but it is something that can be learned until one day it feels like second nature. Sometimes another ball will be thrown into the mix and then you’ll practice again until that rhythm feels natural too.

I really appreciate the support on the blog, especially as I work to juggle everything. As I enter the next semester, my posting schedule may change depending on what my schedule ends up looking like. I will let you know if that will be the case. Thanks for reading and supporting!

Rachel (:

Let’s Talk About Therapy

There is a lot of stigma that surrounds the idea of going to therapy. It has been lessening some in past years particularly when discussed by the younger generations, but the stigma still stands. Today, I want to talk about some of the common myths about therapy versus the realities and how I personally have found it helpful.

Myth 1: People who go to therapy have serious mental issues or are “crazy.”

Reality: There are a lot of reasons that people go to therapy. Is it true that there are people who are in therapy because they are struggling with a serious mental illness? Of course. But even these people aren’t “crazy.” Them suffering from a mental illness and going to see a therapist is just as normal as someone being diagnosed with a physical illness and going to a physician. They shouldn’t be labeled negatively. But to my main point, different circumstances lead different people to therapy. Sometimes, someone had something traumatic happen in their life. Sometimes, they are grieving the loss of a loved one. Sometimes, they are having work or relationship trouble. Sometimes, they just feel a little off-balance. Sometimes, it is just good to have someone to talk to who can give you more concrete advice than your friends or family. There are so many reasons that people go. I went because of my anxiety, but life happened while I was in therapy and now in addition to tackling my anxious thoughts, grief and the inability to control what happens to us have become topics of discussion. Therapists can help a lot of people on a variety of issues.

Myth 2: Going to therapy makes you seem weak.

Reality: I actually think going to therapy makes you incredibly strong. Allowing yourself to open up to someone and admit that you need a little help is difficult. Stepping into your therapist’s office for the first time takes a lot of guts. It also means you want to take of your mental health. People always talk about taking care of your body, but it is just as important to take care of your emotional and mental health. When we don’t address those problems, it can actually affect our physical health. So going to therapy literally makes you the opposite of weak. It makes you stronger in all aspects of your health.

Myth 3: Going to therapy is something you should be embarrassed to admit or talk about.

Reality: I firmly believe that talking about mental health issues as well as mental health support is incredibly important. That is one of the reasons I started this blog. Going to therapy is a difficult step to take. I went back and forth on whether or not I wanted to go when I first started. A lot of people who are struggling go back and forth. The worst thing that can happen for someone who is on the fence is for someone to make therapy seem like something that needs to be hidden or kept secret. That makes it seem like going is some taboo thing. I understand if you want to keep therapy private, but you shouldn’t actively be embarrassed about talking about it because there is nothing embarrassing about it. When someone asks you if you can get lunch with them and you can’t because you have a therapy appointment, be honest with them. Just saying, “Sorry, I can’t today. I have therapy.” can be powerful. Talking about it normally normalizes the idea for people and it no longer feels like something that should be talked about in hushed tones. I personally am extremely open with the fact that I go to therapy. My friends and coworkers know who I’m talking about when I bring up my therapist’s name. They don’t know the intimate details of what we talk about, but they know I go and that she has been helping me. Talking about it may help someone take the next step in reaching out to a therapist. You never know. So don’t make it seem like it’s embarrassing. Normalize it and hopefully one day the stigma will cease.

Myth 4: It’s a waste of money if you have friends and family to talk to.

Reality: I’ll speak personally for a moment and say that while I love my family and my friends, they cannot always look at the events unfolding in our lives from an outside and objective standpoint. When an event happens, like a death in the family, talking to the other people affected can be helpful, but the advice or support you get in return comes from a very personal and biased perspective. Talking through your feelings and really understanding what they are and how to cope with them, is something that a therapist can do better than a friend or family member. They are trained to help people. It is also sometimes hard for me to express my emotions to those around me. It is something I’m actively working on in therapy. Also, sometimes being able to talk to someone confidentially about issues you are having with friends and family, makes it easier to talk about. Talking to family and friends has the tendency to become a sticky situation if you are talking about people the other person knows. Often issues surrounding friends and family pass, and keeping those things confidential allows you to move on in the future without those things hanging in the air. It is a safe space to vent which allows you to process your emotions more freely. Don’t get me wrong, talking to family and friends is important and can be helpful, but that doesn’t mean a therapist isn’t necessary or an important extra level of support.

Myth 5: Therapists just tell you what to do so you can fix your problem and move on.

Reality: Therapy is helpful because the therapist guides you in a direction, but allows you to come to conclusions and revelations on your own. Therapy is work. Just like you work out in order to stay fit physically, you come to therapy to stay fit mentally and emotionally. You will not walk into a therapist’s office, state your problem, get handed a list of ways to fix it, and then leave. Therapists rarely tell you exactly what to do. Often they give suggestions, but it is up to you to take them up on it and usually, the suggestions don’t lead to your problems being solved immediately. To really get the most out of therapy, you need to be willing to put in the work. Also, be prepared to be in therapy as long as it is necessary. Some people go for a few weeks, some a couple months, while others have been in therapy for years. There is no right or wrong amount of time to be in therapy. That is at the discretion of you and your therapist. But no one is only in therapy for a couple sessions and then is able to walk out worry-free. It is important to be open with your therapist for them to provide the best support. The need for that type of support to continue is determined on a case by case basis. Find the right therapist for you, expect to put in the work, and be prepared to be there as long as it takes.

Therapy has been a very important thing for me. It has helped me a lot and continues to help me work through all sorts of life changes and issues that come up. I personally think that anyone can benefit from therapy, but don’t go until you are ready. When you are ready, be open to the process and really open up to your therapist. That open communication is what allows them to really help you. Also, don’t be ashamed that you are going, be proud of the fact that you are taking the next step to be the best version of yourself. Being happy and healthy is the goal, and therapy can be a useful step to getting there.

Rachel (:

Reading Roundup

I have always loved reading. I read all the time when I was younger and fell in love with the way that words on a page could form vivid images in your mind. You could fall in love with a character that wasn’t real but made you feel like they were standing right next to you. Reading was a constant in my life. A way that I could escape the real world for a while. My love of reading and writing is what pushed me to become a publishing major. A job where I can be surrounded by books is a dream come true. While in college, the number of books I read decreased dramatically. After reading textbooks all day, I rarely wanted to read more. But this summer, I have had time to read again and have fallen in love all over again. When I’m feeling particularly anxious at night, I pull out my book and get wrapped up in the story unfolding on the page. By the time I put the book down, I’m calmer than before. I have read a ton of books so far and I am showing no signs of slowing down (I still leave with like five books every time I go to the library) so I decided to start a monthly reading roundup post. Once a month I will talk about the top three books I’ve read. I also want all of you to list some of your favorite books in the comments. I know it can be hard to figure out what to read, so starting this conversation once a month can give us all some ideas. So without further ado, here are my top three books I’ve read this month.

#3 The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

This book is extremely clever. I had read one other book by this same author and his writing style is so interesting to me. It’s very meta. In the book, a detective asks Horowitz to write a book about him solving this case of a woman who walks into a funeral parlor to plan her funeral, and six hours later is found murdered. Horowitz writes a book about him writing a book. It’s clever in its style and it’s clever in its mystery. There are many twists throughout that keep you on your toes. The detective asking Horowitz to write the book is quite the character; eccentric and a little off-putting. The layers to the characters as well as the layers to the mystery are deep. If you like this book, I would suggest also reading Magpie Murders. It’s also pretty meta. I’m always impressed when an author can bring a new angle to a genre that has often become formulaic. Anthony Horowitz does a great job of taking a classic whodunnit and injecting new life into the genre.

#2 Nine Perfect Strangers by Lianne Moriarty

I saw this book on a list for summer reads and decided to give it a shot. I wasn’t quite sure what kind of book it was. I couldn’t tell from the description if it would be a mystery or a comedy or both or neither. It was unclear. After reading it, I would classify it as suspense with humor throughout to break some of the tension. The story centers around nine people who come to a ten-day health retreat. They all come for different reasons that you find out along the way. The head of the retreat is quite the character and has some pretty extreme ideas when it comes to making lives better. What I really love about this book and find incredibly impressive is that each chapter is from the perspective of a different character. Moriarty is constantly switching from one character to another giving you a full picture of every character in the book. The ability to jump from voice to voice seemlessly is extremely difficult, and she makes it look easy. Sometimes with books like this one where there are a lot of characters, things can get muddled and you can lose sight of who they are or where they ended up. Moriarty doesn’t let that happen. By the end, you know each character individually and you know what happens to all the characters. The ending of a book can ruin the whole thing if not handled correctly. But Moriarty finishes this book with ease. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading other works by this author.

#1 The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I picked this book off the shelf at the library on a whim because I saw it near another book I was checking out. I’m so glad I did because this book easily catapulted itself into my top five books of all time. I loved this book! It was like the movies The Prestige and The Greatest Showman (without the music) mixed together with a touch of Romeo and Juliet. Two illusionists take on students and have them compete in a competition that is shrouded in mystery. The stage is the circus that they create and the end of the competition seems to be ambiguous. Everything unfolds at just the right pace. It doesn’t give away things too early, but it doesn’t hold on too long. There is never a dull moment. The imagery is staggering. I could picture this circus so vividly that I could have been watching it play out on TV. Honestly, if a movie isn’t made out of this book then Hollywood is crazy. Although sometimes they butcher books, so I’m torn. The book takes place over many years and follows various groups of characters that weave in and out of each other. By the end of the book, I was dying to go to this circus. Man, do I wish it was real. I’m not usually into fantasy type books, but this one blew me away. It has something for everybody. Mystery, suspense, drama, fantasy, romance. And yet, it always feels cohesive. The weaving in and out of storylines keeps you on your toes much like the two characters in the competition. I can’t say enough good things about this book. I truly think everyone should read it.

So there are my top three for this month’s reading roundup. Now it’s your turn! What are some good books that you have read recently? I’m always looking for more to add to my list.

Rachel (:

Under Pressure

How many of you got the Bowie song stuck in your head after reading the title? How many of you have it playing in your head now that I mention it? So sorry. If it makes you feel any better, I have it stuck in my head now too. Now onto the actual topic of this blog post: the pressure you put on yourself.

When you are growing up, everyone warns you about peer pressure. Don’t blindly follow others just because you want to fit in. Don’t do things you aren’t comfortable with. Don’t let the pressure control you. What people don’t always teach you is that the pressure you put on yourself can be just as great, if not greater. It can cause your anxiety to build as you look around and see that you aren’t living up to the expectations you put on yourself. Don’t get me wrong. Setting goals and expectations can be healthy, but when it causes self-doubt and self-esteem issues it is no longer beneficial.

I see a lot of this self-inflicted pressure in college. I have fallen victim to this line of thinking as well. College students put pressure on themselves to do well in all their classes, engage in extracurricular activities (preferably in leadership positions), hold down part-time jobs, volunteer, and have a social life all at the same time. If something starts to fall to the wayside, it often becomes a domino effect. You get behind on your homework so you have to catch up, which means you miss a club meeting, which leads to you not hearing about the get together they are all having next Friday. Suddenly everything is off balance and it seems impossible to get back on track. some of this pressure comes from the outside world of everyone telling college students how hard it is to get a job and how all those things listed above are important for building a resume. But that seeps into our brains and suddenly it is us who are putting pressure on ourselves to get it all done. When we don’t, we get down at ourselves and start comparing. This leads to a lowering of self-esteem and an increase in anxiety. The inability to get past the pressure leads to more questions. If I can’t even get through college, how am I going to make it in the real world? Am I actually ready for full-fledged adulthood?

That’s an example of big picture pressure, but we also put pressure on ourselves over smaller things. For me personally, it is this blog. The whole reason I am writing about this today is that it is currently Tuesday afternoon and I am only now sitting down to write my blog post that goes up tomorrow. This happens often because I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep posting content that I’m proud of. I often can’t think of an idea or am not ready to share the ideas that I do have, and therefore I freeze. I stare at my computer and feel the pressure in my chest increase as my anxiety over the fact that I have nothing to share builds. This blog is important to me, but in the grand scheme of life, missing a week wouldn’t be the end of the world. I don’t want to, but the pressure I put on myself makes it feel like it isn’t even an option, which isn’t true. Often pressure we put on ourselves is based on a lie or a half-truth about the situation based on our perspective from inside. Taking one big step outside to look in as an outside observer will help you see the situation for what it really is.

Anxiety loves to make you overthink small things until suddenly the problem seems insurmountable. The other day I was on a drive (something I do when I’m feeling anxious or restless) and the song “So Small” by Carrie Underwood started playing. It really speaks to the tendency we have to lose ourselves in a situation.

Fighting back against that anxiety is difficult. I do it often. But taking a step back and trying to gain some perspective is really helpful. Putting too much pressure on yourself isn’t healthy. Sometimes I like to remind myself that no one really knows what they’re doing. We are all going through life for the first time and if we make mistakes, it isn’t the end of the world. It’s going to happen. But beating yourself up about it isn’t going to help you get past it. Set goals. Try your best. But don’t let the pressure build up to the point where you can’t get past it. Let someone know if it does. Eventually, the sun will rise again and it will be a new day.

Rachel (:

Sleepless Nights

I have been having a lot of trouble sleeping lately. I’m working with my therapist to try and get rid of this bout of insomnia. But what has been keeping me awake? That’s a difficult question to answer because sometimes I’m not sure. My anxiety has always been worse at night, but recently I haven’t been able to shake it off as easily as in the past. Overthinking about the next day and realizing that once I fall asleep, I will have to wake up and face the day that I’ve just spent time worrying about keeps me up. There is nothing that should be causing me anxiety 9/10 times and yet there it is. That’s the worst part of anxiety. The inability to stop illogical thoughts to creep into your brain.

When I started struggling with insomnia, I wanted to find out more about it. I came across this graphic that lays out some facts about insomnia. It is an incredibly common issue and anxiety is a major factor in causing it. Again, I found that I am not alone. I was also pleased to learn that it doesn’t last forever. Even with chronic insomnia, the symptoms eventually subside with the help of therapy and, in some cases, medical assistance. So my struggles with sleep won’t last forever.

So what are some ways to deal with insomnia? This video I found lays out a lot of the information that my therapist has given me. Currently, we are looking at cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. In the days and weeks to come, I hope to find improvement. In the meantime, I will definitely be using some of the tips found in this video.

If you are struggling with sleep, you are not alone. If your anxiety is getting in the way of restful sleep, you are not alone. I hope some of the tips help you out. Let me know if you have any techniques that help you get to sleep!

Rachel (:

When Anxiety Strikes

Over the weekend, I saw #My1stExperienceWithAnxiety trending on Twitter and I was intrigued to see the responses. What I saw was a wide array of ages and experiences that were different from my experience, yet somehow made me feel less alone. Everyone’s story with anxiety is unique. Everyone has different triggers. Everyone experiences different symptoms. And yet, as I was reading people’s stories, I felt connected to these strangers. I knew what they were talking about. I realized there was a large community of people who understood what I felt like. The link to the hashtag is below in case you want to see what I’m referring to.

So what was my first experience with anxiety? Like some people said, it is hard to pinpoint. First instinct tells me seventh grade after our car accident. That was the first time that my anxiety was overwhelming, but I don’t think that was the first time I experienced it. I started moving around every two or three years when I was seven after my dad joined the army. I was already a kid who worried. But worry is different than having anxiety. I think the first time I actually experienced anxiety was the year my dad deployed. I was in third grade. It was the first time I really thought about what war meant. My dad is a chaplain, so he isn’t allowed to carry a gun and he wasn’t in the midst of fighting every day, but I still knew he was in more danger than he would be in at home. The worry that I felt had a new weight to it. It felt bigger. The period between my third-grade year and my seventh-grade year was sprinkled with moments that were greater than worry. But the first time I felt like I was truly not in control was after that car accident. That’s when the feeling in my chest started to become too much. That’s when tears happened before every school day. That’s when my social anxiety started to take shape. That’s the year that holds the most significance in my anxiety journey. The ebb and flow of it all, and the little moments before big moments were highlighted in a lot of the stories in that hashtag. Anxiety is something that forms in the back of your mind and often grows bigger until you finally notice it for what it is. Knowing that others felt the same was encouraging. Of course, I don’t like that there are so many people having to deal with anxiety, but it is nice to know that I’m not alone.

A big thing I took from the hashtag is that there is no one way that anxiety comes about. Some people were eight years old, while some people were in their mid-thirties. Some people had panic attacks, while some only struggled mentally. Some people went to therapy, while some tried to work it out on their own. Some people can pinpoint an exact day, while some people feel like they have had it forever. No one story was exactly the same. There were elements that were similar, but no one had an identical experience. I think it is important to listen to other people’s stories. Not only to help you feel less alone, but also to get a better idea of what anxiety can look like as a whole. I think learning more about the community can only make it stronger. Supporting others who also struggle with anxiety is so important. Listening to people when they open up will go a long way. I haven’t met the people who tweeted under that hashtag, but I feel connected to them now that I’ve read their stories. Making those connections in person is just as important and something that I want to work on cultivating in the future.

I wish that there were no tweets under that hashtag. I wish no one had a story to share. I wish no one had to experience anxiety. But since there are enough of us to make that hashtag trend, I think it is also important to think about what we’ve learned from our experiences. In therapy, we talk a lot about how I’ve learned resiliency. I’ve learned how to be more emotionally aware. I’ve become a better listener, and therefore a better friend. I’ve started a blog where I actually share my own feelings and experiences which is a huge step for me. Without my experience with anxiety, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Of course, I still have a long way to go and I still struggle but I think it is important to look at your anxiety from all angles. You may learn something about yourself that you wouldn’t have found out otherwise.

A European Adventure

I went to Europe. That is a true statement and I still can’t quite wrap my head around it. The trip was incredible! It was also difficult. Flying to a different country by myself, changing environments every few days, and not having a true plan was a real test for my anxiety. I’m really proud of myself for doing it. There were moments in the weeks leading up to the trip where I was starting to want to back out. But, I didn’t and I’m so glad I didn’t let my anxiety hold me back. Also a PSA: this post will definitely be longer than my others because I have so much to talk about, so make sure you are comfortable.

The flight was the first big test. I’ve flown by myself before, but only short flights to other places in the U.S. This was a nine and a half hour journey to a different country. Sleep escaped me on my plane ride, but I made it through. I navigated out of the airport in Brussels and took a taxi to our hotel on my own without too much trouble. My anxiety was a little worse than usual that day most likely because I was exhausted. I got 12 hours of sleep that first night in Belgium. I have no idea when the last time I had that many hours of rest was, but man, did it feel great.

Belgium is a great country! Amazing food (frites and waffles, I’m looking at you), incredible beer, and beautiful buildings. We spent our first full day in Brussels and really made the most of our time. We went to an amazing cafe called Askum Coffee Shop, where we ate fresh quiche and crescents. I also got an iced latte that came cold but without the ice that melts and just waters it down. Truly genius! We got the city pass so that we could go to a bunch of museums. We went to Mini Europe, a display of miniature versions of all the biggest landmarks in each European country. Next up was the Comic Strip Museum showing how the Smurfs and TinTin got started in Belgium (who knew!), followed by a chocolate museum. It is important to note that Belgium LOVED audio tours. Almost every museum we went to had an audio component where the people doing the voices got incredibly in character while talking about facts. There were storylines woven throughout. It was truly something special. A little cheesy, but honestly made the whole experience more enjoyable. We ended our Brussels day with pizza and beer (a classic combo).

The next two days were both day trips to other cities in Belgium: Bruges and Ghent. These days were filled with boat tours and wandering around. Bruges was by far my favorite place we visited in Belgium. We had amazing pancakes at a cafe called Cafune, embraced our love of fries at the Frite museum, and walked through a flea market. We also took a brewery tour that ended with a free house beer and introduced me to strawberry beer; a true delight to the taste buds. We got another audio tour in the books at Gravensteen castle in Ghent, which was the best one by far. The voice actor really committed to the role. Half of the tour was spent making eye contact with my friend and rolling our eyes/laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. My favorite part of Ghent was the street covered in street art all the way through. It was cool to see all of that creativity and artistic expression in one place. If you are ever in Belgium, these two cities are a must!

Our last night in Belgium was spent at Delirium, a bar holding the World Record for most beers offered at 2,004. We had to give it a try and boy was it worth it. You tell the bartender the kinds of things you usually like, and they tell you what to order. A great place for someone who is often indecisive, such as myself. The next morning we took one last walk through the main square and said goodbye to that incredible country. My anxiety in Belgium was higher than it usually is on a day to day here, which was expected since I was in unfamiliar territory. We didn’t have any real plans so there was always uncertainty; something that I don’t deal well with. I’m extremely proud of myself for going with the flow throughout the trip. All of these feelings carried over to our next stop as well.

We spent less time in Cologne, Germany than the other two legs on our trip, but it was just as fun! We got a city card just like in Brussels and were able to see the chocolate museum (yes another one) where they made Lindt chocolates, the Ludwig art museum where I questioned whether or not I could be a contemporary artist (one of the pieces was a rectangle of Post-It notes cut in half), Rheinpark (voted the most beautiful park in Germany) after riding a cable car to get to it, and the lock bridge that holds so many locks that there is literally no space left. After that jam-packed day, we relaxed for a while and ate ice cream by the Rhine River. Quiet moments like that were when the idea of actually being in Europe felt particularly surreal. The next day, we took a walking tour around the city with a really funny guide. We learned all about the history of the city and took in all of the amazing architecture. We ate doner for lunch (a delicious kebab sandwich) and went to a local restaurant for dinner where I drank Cologne’s prized type of beer, Kolsch. They just keep bringing them to you until you put your coaster on top of your glass to signal that you don’t want anymore. It was fun to embrace the culture in each city we went to.

Cologne was also my first hostel experience. We were in a mixed 4 person room. The nice thing was that there were curtains on your beds so you could make your bed area private at the end of the night. The facilities were really nice and the people were really helpful with suggestions of places to go and places to eat. It felt safe as well, which was important for me. It had no air conditioning (like most places in Europe) which was a little difficult because it was unusually hot, but I was still able to get to sleep, which is really all I needed. If you ever go to Cologne, I would definitely recommend staying here: Die Wohngenmeinschaft. I found that a hostel added another level of uncertainty that caused me to feel a little more anxious. My anxiety was worse at night because I had time to think while I was trying to fall asleep. I found myself feeling anxious and wanting to go home some nights, but in the morning I would try to refocus on enjoying myself. That is something that I was really proud of on this trip. I didn’t let my anxiety take over and hold me back. I got out each day, tried new things, and had impactful experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I listened to the anxious voices in my head.

Our last stop was in Amsterdam. It was my personal favorite place that we traveled. On our first day there we actually saw some of my mom’s side of the family who happened to be there on the same day to start their cruise (wild!) and ate a late lunch with them. The rest of the day was spent wandering the streets of Amsterdam and getting caught in the rain. That first night in the hostel, we talked to a girl from England traveling by herself for two months. While I really enjoyed my trip, I could never do that. I was seriously impressed. She gave us a lot of suggestions for things to do before taking off on her next adventure in the morning. The first full day there we got…wait for it…a city card! Every museum we went to in Amsterdam was extremely high quality. We went to the big art museum there: the Rijksmuseum, the Nemo museum (a giant hands-on science museum) where we got to see a three floor Rube Goldberg machine, the Van Gogh museum, and the Moco Museum which had a really cool Banksy exhibit. By the end of the day, we were pretty tired, but it was one of my favorite days on our entire trip.

The next two days were less packed full, but we still saw a lot! We rented bikes from our hostel and rode them to the Pancake Bakery for brunch where we tried poffertjes (essentially pancake bites with powdered sugar) which were delicious. It was in a beautiful area of Amsterdam called Jordaan with breathtaking canals and really interesting architecture. I bought some art from a few street artists in this area and it was some of my favorite art I’d seen from any of the places we’d been to. While the morning was great, my anxiety was getting ready to throw a major wrench in our plans. I found out that riding a bike on the streets of Amsterdam is so anxiety-inducing that my chest immediately got tight and I was struggling to breathe as we walked back to our bikes to head to our next location. I knew at that moment that if even the idea of getting on the bike again was making me feel that way, I needed to not ride it anymore. Once I was finally back to the hostel where I could drop the bike back off, I had to sit in our room and take deep breaths for a long time to calm myself back down. This was also a moment I was particularly proud of because I didn’t let my anxiety pin me to the room for the rest of the day. I picked myself up and did a couple more things that night. A canal ride was one and going to the Amsterdam Ice Bar was the second. The Ice Bar was my favorite thing of the whole trip. It is a bar made completely of ice where alcohol is served in ice glasses. It is 15 degrees in the Ice Bar and as a person who is always hot, I was in heaven. If that was a bar in Nashville, I would get over my aversion to going to bars and go to it all the time. Ending the night with my favorite thing of the trip really turned my day around.

Our last day was spent wandering the streets again. We didn’t have set destinations and we walked all over the city just admiring the fact that we were there. We went to vintage shops, a floating flower market, and a couple cafes. It was a nice and relaxing way to end our trip. Our hostel was really nice in Amsterdam as well. We were in a six-bed female room with the bathroom in the room itself, which was really nice. It was really clean, the staff was friendly, and I slept great. If you are ever traveling to Amsterdam, Stayokay Vondelpark is the place to be.

The flight back was the last hurdle to jump over in order to get back to familiar territory and hopefully ease some of the anxieties I experienced on my trip. Figuring out how to get through a foreign airport is stressful, but I made it to my gate. This was after a stop at the McDonalds in the airport, which was way nicer than the Mcdonalds in America. My flight got delayed and we had heavy turbulence in our descent, but I made it back in one piece. This experience is something I will never forget. I really enjoyed learning about other places and cultures. I definitely want to travel more in the future. I am extremely proud of myself for hopping outside of my comfort zone and refusing to let my anxiety hold me back. Hopefully hearing about this experience, will inspire some of you to step out of your comfort zone as well. I can now say from experience, that it is definitely worth it!

Rachel (: