Reading Roundup #5

A lot has been happening in my life since my last post and I haven’t been as consistent with this blog as I wanted to be. After spending a month and a half at my parents house in Wisconsin during quarantine, I moved back to Nashville to start my new full time job at the place where I had been interning. That’s right; somehow I got a full time job right out of college! It’s very exciting but has also been quite the adjustment. I am living in an apartment with one of my roommates from college while our other two roommates are in the apartment diagonal from us. In a lot of ways, I still feel like we are all going back to college in August. I’m struggling to feel like a full-fledged adult and also struggling to be productive in the times where I’m not working. Hence, me not posting on here for the past few weeks. It also means I haven’t been reading as much as I thought I would. However, I did read enough to pick three of my favorites from the past couple of months. I definitely recommend checking these out and as always, let me know what books you’ve been enjoying!

#3 The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Most of the books I decide to read come from recommendations from people or Goodreads, but occasionally I scan the aisles of the library and see what jumps out. That’s how I found this book. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was proven wrong. It follows the main character Victoria as she learns to trust the people around her after having a lot of mistrust in her years being brought up in the foster system. One way that she communicates with people (whether they are aware of it or not) is with flowers. Every flower has a meaning. Some mean love, while others mean loss or hatred. That is how Victoria connects with the world. However, when she starts to find a purpose in life and finds someone who can speak her language, it becomes overwhelming. I loved this book because the emotions felt were never sugarcoated. It gave a glimpse into how going through the foster system can shape a person. It is also inspiring to read about a woman finding her passion and her place in a society that wants to undermine her skills and downplay her accomplishments. You are rooting for her happiness the entire time. A book filled with emotion and feelings that a lot of people can relate to on some level. By the end, I wanted to learn this new language so that I could apply it to my own life. Maybe you will too!

#2 Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I had heard about this book and it had been on my list to read for a while, so I’m super happy that it lived up to the hype. The reason this book works so well is because of the impeccable characterization of the main character, Eleanor. She is depicted in such a specific way, that you can picture her vividly in your mind. The way she talks is unique, her look is perfectly described, and her feelings (or lack of feelings) make perfect sense based on all of the details provided. This book also has a bit of a mystery element, as you start to piece together the events in her childhood that made her into the person that she is today. There is also a romance component for people who enjoy reading about people finding their person. You want Eleanor to break out of her guarded shell and live life to the absolute fullest, and it is incredibly satisfying to read a book where you can almost see the walls around her crumble to the ground in your mind. I literally couldn’t put it down and finished it in two days. I had to know what happened to Eleanor and if you read it, I bet you’ll feel the same!

#1 Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Everyone was talking about this book, so I decided to give it a shot and now I definitely understand what the hype is all about. Much like the other two books, the story revolves around a strong-minded and strong-willed woman. It follows Kya who lives with her family out in the marsh. She doesn’t have the best family life and eventually, at a very young age, is abandoned by her entire family and must survive on her own. Prejudices from the people in town abound, but she learns to get by with her own tenacity and a few friends. I love books like this that alternate between different timelines. In one timeline you read about Kya growing up, discovering what love is, and becoming a strong woman. In the later timeline, police in the area are looking into the death of a well-known man in town named Chase. These stories eventually intersect and the ending is definitely not what I expected, but it was perfect. The writing itself is beautiful as well and the description of the land shows a huge respect for the beauty found in nature. The best way I can describe how this book made me feel is by comparing it to the feeling I get when I’m on a long drive in the middle of nowhere, just admiring the vast land and enjoying the contrast of the music playing in the car to the silence that exists outside. I highly recommend that everybody read this book if they get a chance!

Bonus: Songs I’m Loving at the Moment

Here are six songs that I have been listening to a lot lately. Definitely check out these songs and check out the other songs from these artists as well!

– Die seems like an intense title, but it isn’t as somber as you may think! I’ve been loving Overstreet’s music for a while now, but this one is my favorite.

– Made It This Far is by Katelyn Tarver who is one of my favorite songwriters and also appeared on the show Big Time Rush which just makes her even better (haha). This song is super relatable. It talks about the fact that you may not know what your doing or your life may be a mess, but we can be proud of the fact that we’ve made it as far as we have. A tough mentality to keep in check, but definitely healthier than being weighed down in all the mess.

– Paper Planes is the ultimate driving song. It’s soft and airy and just makes you feel at ease. The songwriting itself is great too.

– betterman is an upbeat song about the artist wanting to become the best person he can be for himself and in his relationships. I found Virginia to Vegas randomly and really love all of his songs so be sure to check him out.

– Honey in the Summer just feels like summer. Upbeat and another great driving song. I also love the context of the song, because it talks about creating your own happiness instead of focusing on the fact that you’re not in a relationship. Super fun and perfect if you need a song to listen to with the top down flying down the highway.

As always, I’m always looking for new books and music suggestions so send them my way! I hope you have a great day!

Rachel (:

Grief

Disclaimer: I haven’t been able to share this post until now. I wasn’t ready to let it all out there. I wrote this over the last seven or eight months. I couldn’t sit down and do it all at once because it was too much. I hope this helps other people who are grieving feel a little less alone. I wrote a song at the time it was all happening and had my brother put music to the lyrics. If you want to hear that, I’ve posted a video of him singing it at the bottom of this post. This is a pretty long post, but grief is also a long process. Thanks for reading!

This is going to be pretty stream of consciousness, and there won’t be much editing so that you can see how I process everything through this post. From all of my previous posts, you have gotten glimpses into who I am and how I think. However, grief feels a lot more personal. I’ve also come to learn that grief isn’t just something that goes away after a funeral. It lingers and shows up at random times, knocking you off balance. I have become all too familiar with grief, but I bet some of you have as well, so hopefully, this post can help you or just make you feel less alone.

My family lost both my cousin Kimberly and my grandaddy within a three month period. Their deaths were the first time people extremely close to me passed away. Both experiences were incredibly difficult. I’m already tearing up a little just writing this paragraph when I haven’t even gotten into the middle of it all yet. This bodes well for me. But, I will continue anyway.

I’ll start with the experience of losing Kimberly since she passed away first. My cousin was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) a little over two years before she passed. It was a shock to everyone. She was 38 when she was diagnosed, which is earlier than most people are diagnosed. She was having trouble with her hand and thought it had something to do with a tennis injury. No one was expecting the news. The most I had heard about ALS before the diagnosis was the Ice Bucket Challenge that went around. I wasn’t completely sure what it was. My parents called me one night in my freshman year to let me know she had officially been diagnosed. They asked if I had any questions and I said no, but I think I just had so many I couldn’t process any of them. When they hung up, I did the one thing that never helps a situation: I went to Google. It quickly became clear that this wasn’t something that got better. It actually got worse. There is no cure for ALS and the average survival time from diagnosis is three years. That is not a long time. Especially for someone diagnosed so young. When I read those facts, it was hard to wrap my head around. That night I just stood in the shower and cried.

Kimberly’s diagnosis and life expectancy made the grieving process longer than it is for someone who just dies in an instant. My therapist and I talked about how in a lot of ways we were already starting to grieve before she even passed. There was never a moment where we just gave up, but it became clear that she was getting steadily worse. For a while, you couldn’t really tell that she was getting weaker. The day she started having trouble walking was an eye-opener. Then she became unable to walk. Eventually, her ability to speak began to fade. What made this deterioration so much harder to watch was the knowledge that her personality and her quick-wittedness never went away, but her ability to express those things did. Every time I saw her, no matter how far her illness had progressed, she was still Kimberly. We still laughed about dumb jokes and ridiculous stories. I found myself telling more stories when I was around her, making it feel normal. But, the reality was it didn’t feel normal. It was really hard to watch. There were a couple of nights where I cried after visiting with her for the day because I just couldn’t understand why it was happening and I couldn’t face the reality that she was probably going to pass away.

My family is a family of believers. And as Christians, we are told stories all the time of miracles that have happened. God made the blind see, the lame walk, and even brought someone back to life. We all wanted a miracle for Kimberly. We all prayed for a miracle for Kimberly. We didn’t get that miracle, and that was one of the hardest things to deal with. Why not? Why did God let this happen when He had the ability to make it go away? I really started struggling with my faith. I stopped going to church, mostly because life got busy, but a small part of me didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to sing songs about God’s ability to heal and then go back to life where Kimberly was getting worse and not better. It was a weird relationship to have. I prayed for Kimberly all the time and still fully believed God was capable, but I was also really angry that a miracle wasn’t happening. That has been something that remains a struggle while I deal with grief. I still don’t have answers and I’m still a little angry. I’m working on it. Part of growing stronger in a relationship with Christ is admitting when you have doubts. The really hard part is not letting those doubts turn you away. I work every day to remind myself that God is there for me. But in times where grief sneaks up on me, I find myself asking those questions all over again.

I really loved Kimberly and we had gotten closer the older I got. I was a really shy kid even around some of my extended family and I was quiet a lot of the time. I remember one time when I was around ten or eleven, I stayed up late to play some card game with my dad’s side of the family. I took a shower and came back to the table, and just started talking. I remember Kimberly telling my mom that it was the first time I really showed my personality. After that, it’s like a dam had been broken and I was talking all the time. Kimberly, my brother, me, and my other cousins on that side joked around all the time. We had the same sense of humor. Almost every time I was around her Kimberly would tell some story that made me laugh until I cried. I miss her storytelling. We shared a love of playing board/card games, pink vanilla cupcakes from Smallcakes Cupcakery, and bathroom jokes. When Snapchat became a thing my brother, Kimberly, and I got very serious about keeping streaks alive. Every day she would get a glimpse into my day, and I would get a glimpse into hers. Our streak lasted 593 days. I took a picture of it on the morning she died before it went away. It seems like a silly thing, but I really did love that we had that connection. Watching that streak disappear is one of the first times it felt real. Reliving that moment just now started my tears again. Losing somebody doesn’t happen all at once. Each time something happens without them there it becomes a little more real.

As I said earlier, grief is a longer process than just the emotion you feel right when you find out someone has passed away. However, that moment is really hard. I found out that Kimberly died after my parents called me. I woke up to two missed calls from my parents and a text to call them before I got up for class. They know that I’m not really a morning person, so I knew something had to be wrong. My chest got tight (one thing that happens when I feel particularly anxious about something) and I braced myself before I dialed their number. I pretty much immediately started crying. I knew she was getting worse, but I didn’t expect her to pass away so quickly. I was already planning to go home a few days later and I was excited that I was going to get to see my aunts and Kimberly. That was one thing that was hard: finding out that I had seen her for the last time and I hadn’t even known it. I didn’t ever really say goodbye. A small part of me always pictured her getting better, even as the likelihood of that happening grew slimmer. But even when that thought makes me feel sad, I try to remember all the years I did get to spend with her. Nothing can take away the inside jokes we shared, the late-night Dairy Queen runs, or the looks we gave each other when we both were too hot and wanted to turn on a fan. Those little things suddenly seem like big things when you don’t get to experience them anymore. I miss Kimberly and I’m pretty sure I always will, but I’m grateful that I got to grow up with her being a part of my life.

While all of this was happening with Kimberly, my granddaddy was also battling a deteriorating illness. He was originally diagnosed with Parkinson’s like symptoms and was later told that he was battling multiple system atrophy (MSA). It is a degenerative neurological disorder and like ALS it doesn’t get better. It affects different systems in your body and most people die because of respiratory issues. It gets harder to do just about everything. I watched as over a few years he got worse. There would often be dips in his health, and then he would plateau for a while. Luckily during this time, the army stationed my dad at Fort Benning in Columbus, GA so my mom could travel to Columbia, SC pretty often to go stay with my grandparents and help out. It was really hard to watch his health decline and watch my mom deal with her sadness and stress. You just kind of feel helpless. My cousin died in October of 2018 and I got the call about Granddaddy passing away in January of 2019. That was a rough call as well. A week before they called to tell me that they thought this was it. He was taking another dip and didn’t look like he was going to get better. That was really hard. It was hard to focus on life stuff when your granddaddy passing away at any moment is in the back of your mind. He was in his eighties and had been sick for a while, so I was very aware that any time I saw him could be the last, but it is still a gut punch when it actually happens.

There were various moments throughout the time before he passed and after that were particularly challenging for me. The biggest moment that stands out for me was a day where I went with my mom to see my grandparents and my mom and grandmama had gone out for a walk. It was just granddaddy and me and we were talking about school and life. My granddaddy was always the one who drove because he loved it and grandmama didn’t. That was one thing granddaddy and I had in common. We loved to drive. So I knew it must have been difficult when he had to stop. But as we were sitting and talking he got choked up and said that it was really upsetting that he couldn’t drive anymore. I composed myself in the moment, but I cried later that night. It’s never easy to watch someone you love and look up to, struggle. There were other small moments like that throughout his illness progressing that were difficult because you could tell he was really upset about it. Most of the time he was his normal goofy and joking self, so those moments hit particularly hard. His funeral was also a tough day. My dad spoke and did an amazing job talking about how good of a man my granddaddy was. Watching my little cousin cry was also a difficult moment for me. I knew what she was feeling and it sucked that she had to deal with it at a younger age. But all in all, his funeral was a celebration of who he was. He had an enormous tie collection with all sorts of fun ties (Disney, M & M’s, Looney Tunes, holiday-themed, and more) and everyone in the family picked one of their favorites to wear to the funeral as a tribute him. It was really special and I’m sure granddaddy loved it. 

He was a really special person to me and to so many others. He was the best grandaddy a girl could ask for. My dad’s parents passed away before I was born so grandmama and granddaddy were my only grandparents growing up. Granddaddy was incredibly funny. He was always ready with a joke no matter what situation we were in. He let me play barbershop with him when I was younger, which consisted of me messing up his hair in all kinds of crazy ways and then him paying me a dime or a quarter for my troubles. Every night before bed we would give grandmama and granddaddy a hug and he would always tell us to look out for the imaginary internal organ he made up called the “goosenglogger,” so of course, we tried to squeeze it extra tight. He used to make us milkshakes at night that he called “Super Dupers.” I was always excited to drink mine and was always curious what the secret ingredient was (it was vanilla, but love was another ingredient that made them taste extra good.) When I was younger, I loved going on my grandparent’s lunch routine with them. We would get a salad from Wendy’s first and then head to McDonalds and get burgers to put the patties in the salad. Sounds weird, but it was delicious and I loved that the people at Wendy’s called him “The Salad Man” when he walked in. My grandparents always made things fun. The love they had for each other was also unmatched and was inspiring, especially as I get older and start looking for the person I want to spend my life with. I don’t ever want to settle for less than the love my granddaddy had for my grandmama. It was truly a beautiful thing to grow up seeing. He loved his family, his church, and his community. He was an all-around amazing human being who I miss very much. 

Grieving is a crazy difficult process to go through. It ebbs and flows and you never fully get over the loss of a loved one. I have had some pretty low moments, especially when it comes to my faith. Ever since Kimberly was diagnosed and the health of both her and my granddaddy started to decline, I have been struggling with my faith. It is hard to wrap my head around the fact that God would allow a forty-year-old to die from ALS and then that he would take my grandaddy away at the same time. My relationship with God was on some rocky terrain there for a little while. It’s still on a little bit of rocky terrain now. I know that God is good and He knows more than me. I know that He is there to comfort me in times of sorrow. I know that he is real and present. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have doubts. Doubts are never stronger than when grief hits me all over again. On anniversaries of their deaths or when a song comes on that reminds me of them. I still have a lot of questions. But the most important thing is that I’m still asking them. I haven’t turned away or given up on God. I also know God’s not going to give up on me.

This song is really special to me because I wrote it in the midst of everything that I was feeling. I wrote the first verse and chorus the day after I got the call about Kimberly passing away. I wrote the rest a day after my granddaddy passed away. It encompasses everything I was feeling as I was feeling it. It still hits home now. Maybe some of you have lost someone recently and are feeling the same way as I did. Maybe you also have a lot of questions and no real answers. You are not alone. I wrote the lyrics and sent it to my very talented brother so he could put music to it. The instrumental sections of this song actually come from a hymn that we sang at my grandaddy’s funeral, which makes it even more special. I hope you can relate in some way. It didn’t have a name for a long time, but I finally came up with one that encapsulates what I struggled with most. Here is “No Answers” performed by my brother, Nate Hutchings.

Thanks again for reading this post. It was difficult to write, but something I needed to do. I hope this makes some of you feel less alone if you are grieving as well. A special thanks to my brother Nate Hutchings for providing the music and the video of the song. I hope you all have a great day!

Rachel (:

Mental Health in a Quarantine

When this pandemic hit, it caught everyone completely by surprise. Two weeks ago, we were living our lives and suddenly everything shut down. “Social distancing” wasn’t even a part of people’s vocabulary and suddenly we’re saying it multiple times a day. It has affected everybody in one way or another, but for people like me who struggle with their mental health, this is especially difficult. My anxiety is definitely worse since all of this started to go down. I know I’ve been feeling pretty down and limited social contact doesn’t make it better. Texting and Facetime are just not the same as chilling on the couch with my roommates talking about random life stuff. But I think its important to remember that we’re all in this together even if we are separated at the moment. This won’t last forever, even if it feels endless in the moment.

Something that I am struggling with a lot is my college closing for the rest of the semester. We are going fully online, like a lot of college campuses in the country. While this is the safest and most responsible decision, it is incredibly difficult as a graduating senior. I walked out of my last class without even knowing. I saw some of my classmates for the last time without saying a real goodbye. I left my dorm room like I was coming back. I walked across campus for the last time without taking it all in. I’m going to miss out on those last moments with my friends. Graduation is being rescheduled for August for whoever can make it, but I know not everyone will come back. It won’t be the same. We’ve worked our whole lives to get to graduation and that feeling of walking out of our last class ever won’t come. The same is true for all college seniors whose school has closed in this crazy time. It’s also true for high school seniors who don’t get to go their proms or on their senior trips. I know emotionally and mentally that its a tough thing to process. Not having closure is something that we have all struggled with in our life. The positive to this is that there is a huge community of people having these same feelings right now. I encourage you to reach out to your friends and classmates and just vent. I know my college has a student Facebook page where people are doing things to connect. Stay as connected as you can be to your peers in this very disconnected time.

Something that everyone is struggling with right now is the fear of the unknown. The word “unprecedented” is constantly in the news and it’s true. We don’t fully understand what this virus is or how long all of this will last. With each passing day inside, we are getting more restless. Some people are feeling incredibly lonely if they live by themselves. Others are struggling with the stress of constantly being around other people. It’s important to take care of yourself in the midst of the craziness. Call your loved ones if you are alone. Take some time to yourself if you are living with people. I just drove around for a while yesterday listening to music and it was just what I needed. Schedule a video call with your therapist if you had to leave the city you were in because of a school or job shutting down. I know it can be really hard working from home as well and finding the motivation to get work done, but it is important to set time aside each day to get things done. Dedicate a certain time to doing work. Try to keep up with routine as much as possible. Do some meditation if that works for you. Get out and go for a walk to get some fresh air. Do what you need to do to calm your fears. Feel free to comment or message me what you are going through, because chances are others or myself are feeling those things to. Social distancing is really hard on our mental health and its important to let other people know that so that they can try and help alleviate some of the loneliness, depression, or anxiety we feel.

I have no idea what lies in the future. I think it is important to take it all day by day. I also think it is important that we let ourselves feel what we are feeling. If you are grieving the loss of the end of a senior year or time at a job like I am, then grieve. If you are feeling sad, cry on someone’s shoulder or by yourself. If you are feeling angry at the situation or even angry with God for letting this all happen, then get mad. That one is one that I struggle with, but my therapist and I have been talking about how it is okay to feel angry with God sometimes. People in the Bible shared their frustration with Him all the time. I think in the end, it will create a deeper bond. No one has gone through this, so no one knows how to feel. It is important to remember that all feelings are valid.

Some of these extra anxieties or depressing thoughts come out of having a ton of time on our hands to do nothing. With that time, we are able to just live in our thoughts, which can be detrimental to those who struggle daily with their mental health. Because of this, it is important to fill our time with other things. You can click HERE to see a list I found of things to do while stuck inside. It has some pretty good ideas. I personally am reading, watching some light-hearted TV shows, watching more movies, and trying to write more.

Let me know what is getting you through this quarantine. Also, let me know if you are struggling. We can get through this uncertain time together. Thanks for reading! This blog is really helpful for me to write, so I appreciate that others seem to find it helpful too. Have a great week and stay safe!

Also here are some resources if you are feeling overwhelmed:

If all the talk about COVID-19 is making you feel overwhelmed or frightened, contact the SAMHSA Disaster Helpline: Call DistressLine at 1-800-985-5990 or Text TalkWithUs to 66746

The SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7 365 day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human caused-disaster. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents of the United States and its territories.

Rachel (:

Comparison Kills

As a human being, it is pretty impossible to never compare yourself to other people. It has become even more difficult with the rise of social media. We are constantly bombarded by people’s best moments without getting a glimpse into their actual life. Because of this, we are left comparing our struggles with their picture-perfect persona. That can be really difficult. I’ve been feeling this a lot lately. I feel like once you hit your twenties, comparison becomes commonplace because everyone is starting to pick the path their life is going to take. Suddenly people you knew in middle school are getting engaged or married. Others are already having kids. Some people already have good jobs, while others are taking a year off to travel. All of these things are found out through social media posts that talk about how great their life is going. Then you shut off your phone, and look at your own life and go back to taking unsure steps into the future with a sadness that you can’t be as content as everyone else. But we have to remember that we aren’t seeing the whole picture of other people’s lives or even our own life.

There is not a single person on this earth that is happy and content all the time. Even the people who you think should be the most content struggle with things. Letting yourself believe that you are seeing a person’s whole life based on three Instagram posts is damaging because we do see every second of our own days, which are not always good. Remembering this is the first step in overcoming the need for comparison. But I know this can be difficult. A lot of people who I know from middle and high school are getting engaged. Some even have kids with their partners. Meanwhile, I am single. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me, but sometimes when I see multiple people get engaged in the space of a week, I call into question whether I am really content right now or not. I question my own happiness based solely on someone else’s. I have to remind myself that that isn’t how feelings work. No choices that other people make should directly impact your emotions. If that is the case, it means you have fallen deep in a well of comparison, which can only lead to disappointment.

Some of my questioning whether or not I’m happy when I see other people hitting life milestones comes from feeling like I’m falling behind. There’s a song by Phil Good (great name) called Be Somebody that hits on this idea perfectly. One of the lines of the song says “Can’t help but compare, all my friends already there
I can say that it’s not fair but maybe somehow it’s my fault” and later “Every day I’m afraid I’m not even in the race and I’m feelin’ kind of left out.” I definitely relate to those lyrics. But I shouldn’t be living on other people’s timelines. If we all accomplished things at exactly the same time, we would be living in a very dull society. I have to try and remember that it’s okay that my priorities aren’t the same as some of my peers. I’m focusing on school and work right now instead of relationships and that’s okay. Relationships will come in their own time and when I have more time to give. Everyone moves at their own pace and there are no deadlines. Comparing another person’s timeline to your own is comparing apples to oranges because they have different life experiences that shape their path. Trust me, I know that reminding yourself of these rational thoughts is hard. Lately, I haven’t been doing a good job of listening to my own advice. But by comparing to others, we are only worsening our mental health.

I really liked this article that I found that talks about things to do when you start to feel yourself comparing too much. I especially like the point they make about this not being the end of your movie. We have no idea what lies ahead. Only God truly knows what will happen. So reminding yourself that you aren’t seeing the full picture can help you when you are feeling disappointed in the moment. Your time to shine could be just around the corner. Instead of spending time comparing, we should be actively pursuing goals and people that will aid us in our search for happiness.

Thank y’all for reading and I hope this is something someone needed to hear. It’s definitely something that I needed to write for myself. I hope you have an amazing week!

Reading Roundup #4

I read a lot of books since my last reading roundup so I figured it was time for another one. My goal for this year is to read 100 books. I read 55 from June to the end of last year, so I’m hoping I’m not shooting too high. Being in school always slows me down some, but I’m graduating in May and then I’ll have some more time on my hands (which I’m pretty anxious about, but we’re not going to think about that right now 😅). As always, let me know if there are any books you are loving at the moment as I am always looking for recommendations!

#3 The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger

I had heard good things about this book before I got it and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a literary fiction novel that looks at the lengths a parent will go to in order for their children to get into a new “gifted school” that is being built in town. It follows four families who have been friends for years, whose relationships are tested as they all compete to prove their children belong there. It’s a page-turner and you get fully invested in these characters. The characterization was extremely well done. There is also a twist later in the book that I definitely didn’t see coming. It’s witty, sad, and heartwarming all at the same time. I think anyone can relate to this story because of all the different family dynamics portrayed throughout. The author did an amazing job of describing all the insecurities and intricacies that come with familial relationships. I particularly connected with this book because it reminded me of one of the places I lived that held kids to an almost impossible standard and had a dog-eat-dog mentality. This book does a good job of showing the pitfalls of that kind of thinking. I’m all about doing well in school, but you should never overextend yourself to the point of it being detrimental to your mental health. This book is funny, yet poignant and I would definitely recommend you put it on your list!

#2 The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

You may remember from a previous roundup that I talked about how much I loved The Night Circus, so I was super excited to hear that she came out with a brand new book. I loved this one as well! Like her other novel, it is mainly a fantasy novel, but other genres are woven throughout. It follows Zachary Rawlings who picks up a dusty book one ay only to find that a story about him is hidden inside. As he reads more and follows the trail left by the words on the pages, he discovers another world made up of underground libraries and the protection of words and stories. He finds himself in a battle with a group of people who are looking to destroy this world and prevent the Starless Sea from reaching its full potential. Erin Morgenstern does an impeccable job of describing the universes she creates. Like The Night Circus, I could picture it vividly. It pulls you in. Especially as someone who loves reading and writing, the world she creates feels like paradise. Much like we all wish we could get a letter to Hogwarts, Morgenstern makes you wish you could find a hidden door and enter this secret world. Definitely read this book whether you usually like fantasy or not. There are aspects of the story that will resonate with everyone because in one way or another the words that are said and stories that are shared connect us all.

#1 Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

This book was one of the most honest and engaging things I have ever read. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I go to therapy. I think therapy is an important thing. I advocate for everyone to take care of their mental health just as much as they take care of their physical health. Therapy is something I think everyone should experience at least once in their life. The connection you have with your therapist is different than any other relationship in your life. They know everything about you and help you come to conclusions about your life and your struggles on your own. This book perfectly encapsulates what this relationship can feel like. It is written by a therapist and details accounts of some of the patients she is working with, as well as following her own journey through therapy that she is experiencing at the same time after going through a hard break-up. It not only gives you a look inside the head of the person on the other side of the couch, but also shows you that therapists are real people who are also going through problems. Everyone can benefit from therapy. It is funny and real. She has some powerful ideas but doesn’t take herself too seriously. It doesn’t shy away from the truth and it is cool to watch the progress of the patients. There are moments that made me tear up and other moments where I couldn’t stop laughing. If you support mental health in any way or are struggling yourself, I highly recommend this book!

Bonus: Songs I’m Loving at the Moment

Here are six songs that I have been listening to a lot lately. Definitely check out these songs and check out the other songs from these artists as well!

-The Last Time I Was Yellow is by my roommate and it is one of my favorite songs that she has written. It really speaks to how it can feel when you are struggling, but desperately want to feel peace and happiness.

-Guidance is a really honest look at what the relationship can feel like between man and God.

-Slow is a chill track that details how it can be difficult to move on.

-I love Alec Benjamin, and his newest song Demons is no exception.

-I truly believe everyone should listen to First Last Name for the songwriting alone. She went to Belmont and I still remember how impressed I was the first time I heard it. It talks about the special relationship between a father and daughter.

-Even When You’re Home is another chill track that details a feeling we all feel at some point: loneliness.

Books and music are two of my favorite things, so I always love discussing what I’ve been reading or listening to. Let me know if you have any book or music recommendations! I hope you have a great week!

Rachel (:

Where I’ve Been

I haven’t posted in quite a while. I had planned to take a break at the end of last semester and over the holidays, but I didn’t think I would wait so long into January to post again. This is my last semester of college and that idea has stressed me out more than I thought it would. Getting back into the swing of classes mixed with my internship and a part-time job is a lot. Simultaneously I’m starting to have to think seriously about my future. Thinking about all of these things at once has been a bit paralyzing and unfortunately, I let my blog fall to the wayside. I figured for my first post back, I’d fill everyone in on how my semester ended, what I did over break, and how I’ve been doing mental health wise.

Some of you may recall that coming up to the end of last semester, I was quite stressed. I had a lot on my plate and was unsure what some of my professors were looking for in terms of the projects they assigned. I spent many long hours in coffee shops around Nashville finishing up papers and presentations. Luckily my professors liked my work, and I ended up with the grades that I was hoping for. It was a huge relief! I was really feeling my anxiety in those last weeks and my insomnia was pretty bad, but I was proud of myself for pushing through and finishing strong.

After that it was off to Wisconsin to be with my parents over winter break. First things first, Wisconsin is cold! It was cool to see all the snow and to walk on a frozen lake, but I definitely couldn’t be there long term. I’m very impressed with my parents who seem to be handling it well. I also got to spend time with my brother when we went to his house in Maryland for Christmas. It’s always good to see him and he made delicious cookies that I ate too many of, so all in all break was really nice. But there were aspects of break that were a little hard for me. When I went to Wisconsin, it was my first time seeing the house and my room in that house. My roommate came home with me for the first few days, and it was weird to not be able to answer her when she asked where something was. It was an inner battle to remind myself that it was home when in some ways it felt like I was a guest. Not when I was with my parents, but sometimes when I was getting used to the layout or trying to figure out where we were when they drove me around town. Going home looks different for me than it does for my friends and sometimes I am jealous of that. But, when I’m starting to have those thoughts I try and spin it to be positive. I got to see a part of the country I hadn’t seen before, I got to drink cranberry wine, and I got to spend time with my parents who I don’t see as often anymore. It’s always important to find the positives when you’re starting to focus on the negatives.

In terms of where I am in terms of my mental health, I’m struggling a little. I’m still having trouble sleeping. I was talking to my therapist about how there will be words said and things that happen that make me feel anxious during the day, that I shove to the side because I’m in the middle of class, or at my job, or working at my internship that all pile up and come into my head again when I lie down at night. I told her that it is kind of like when you are flying and you turn your phone on airplane mode and then when you land, you turn it back on and all the notifications and messages ding one after another. That’s how my brain functions at night. This has been getting in the way of my sleep. I’m going to take her suggestion and try some meditation, but we’ll see how it goes. As I mentioned at the beginning, I have felt a little paralyzed with all the things I’m having to think about this semester. Starting to plan a future is scary. Having plans get formed and then fall through and then making new plans seems to be the new norm. I struggle a lot with the concept of the unknown and all of the unknowns lately are not helpful in terms of my anxiety. There is going to be a longer post about this coming soon, but based on what we talked about in therapy last week, it has become clear that on some level I’m still dealing with grief. My cousin Kimberly and my Granddaddy played a big part in my life and I’ve been dealing with their deaths little by little. Coming to this realization in the midst of everything else is difficult, but it’s better to deal with my emotions, rather than push them all down. Even though I’m struggling, I’m trying to focus on the good things happening and making time to do fun things with friends. I want to work to be more present this semester instead of only focusing on the future.

I am looking forward to continuing this blog this year. I have some ideas for my next few posts. Some are hard to talk about and others are just fun. I hope that you all will continue to read. Your support means a lot to me! I’m going to try to post once every two weeks. So be on the lookout! Let me know what you all were up to while I was gone as well! Hope you have a great week!

Rachel (:

Winter Blues

It’s winter. This is both wonderful and terrible. On the positive side, this means Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday. All times where I spend time with family and relax. However, before this and even during (looking at you finals week) these times of celebration, comes big projects, big papers, big tests, less daylight, and more freezing temperatures. Winter is difficult. This time of year is a pressure cooker. I see it in the faces of students that I pass on the way to class. I see it in the faces of co-workers. I see it in my own face when I look in the mirror lately. The most wonderful time of the year isn’t actually always all that wonderful.

I’ve talked about before that as a senior, I was struggling with the motivation to do my work. That feeling has only increased in these last couple of weeks. Having the sun go down at 4:45 has really affected my mood and my overall energy levels. It is a constant cycle of feeling like I don’t care about anything and then worrying about the fact that I’m not caring. I find myself wanting to throw in the towel on my many projects and papers and instead curl up in my bed and sleep for a week straight. That’s not a great feeling, nor is it feasible. I find myself wanting to shut myself in my room and not talk to another human. It’s a feeling that I’ve been calling peopleitis. Also, not ideal considering I have to talk to people on a daily basis. I find myself feeling even more tired than usual. This year, I find that I’m lacking the joy I usually have when planning things like Friendsgiving and Christmas activities. I’m just struggling.

I was talking to my therapist about this when I saw her earlier this week. She was telling me how normal this feeling is. Some people get these kinds of feelings every year and are diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is the first year I have felt like this and therefore I am not diagnosed nor am I an expert but there are more than 3 million cases in the US every year. It isn’t abnormal. Symptoms include fatigue, depression, hopelessness, and social withdrawal. It usually presents itself in the fall and carries through the winter months. Those between the ages of 20 and 30 are also more likely to develop SAD than adults in older generations. Below are a couple of links that describe seasonal affective disorder in full detail.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/seasonal-affective-disorder#1

It is also important to note that you do not need to be diagnosed with SAD to be struggling during the winter season. A lot of things can cause stress and sadness during the holiday season in particular. For college students, the amount of work we have to do at the end of the semester is overwhelming. Other people may be grieving the loss of a loved one or spending their first holidays without them. Military families have family members that are deployed. People could be going through breakups. Others may be unable to take time off of work and therefore have to be away from family. It may be hard for people to go into work in the dark and then leave in the dark. All of these things are difficult and can be especially difficult when the holidays roll around. So is there anything that can help?

The answer is yes. For those who think they may be struggling with SAD, I encourage you to go see a therapist. Being able to talk to someone who understands this problem can be extremely beneficial and they can give you the help you need. For those who are having a particularly hard time this winter/holiday season, here are a few things that I’m trying to do. The first thing is to not disengage from the world. Instead of crawling in my bed and shutting the door, I try and do things with my friends. I also try to actively participate in holiday events. Being around others who are excited, can sometimes help you get more excited. My roommates and I have decorated the apartment for Christmas because one of them was really excited to do so. I was less excited, but instead of sitting at home, I went with them to shop for decorations. In terms of working on not feeling overwhelmed by schoolwork, I write out a list at the beginning of the week breaking all of my assignments down into manageable chunks. I also build “catch-up days” into my schedule so that if I have a less than stellar day, I am not immediately behind. It isn’t easy, but just doing little things can help you to feel better.

I feel like this week’s post was a little bit of a downer, but it is the reality of what people can go through this time of year. If you are struggling please reach out to those in your support system, or to a professional. I hope that this post has helped in some way and made you feel a little less alone.

Rachel (:

Mental Health Checkups?

Everyone knows that you are supposed to go in once a year to get a physical checkup, but why aren’t we required to get a mental health checkup? Mental health affects you on a day to day basis and can even cause there to be physical pain, so why isn’t it addressed as thoroughly as your physical health? It isn’t just me who asks this question. Below are a few articles that talk about this idea as well as my thoughts on the articles.

Why Don’t Americans Get Regular Mental Health Checkups? It’s Complicated.

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/why-aren-t-mental-health-screenings-part-our-annual-physicals-ncna839226

Mental health is just as important as physical health. I will continue to say that over and over for the rest of my life because I think it is important for others to understand. Your mental health can even affect your physical health. Going to see someone to talk about your mental health at least once a year would be incredibly beneficial. Even if you don’t feel like you are having a tough time, it doesn’t mean there aren’t stresses in your life that you could talk through. Having checkups could also help those who feel too embarrassed or uncomfortable to go to therapy. I especially think this would be helpful for teens. Helping them to deal with all the stressors that come with growing up and giving them tools to ease their anxiety is an important thing to do. I am definitely an advocate for mental health checkups.

Students Can Now Miss School for a “Mental Health Day”

https://www.edutopia.org/article/students-can-now-miss-school-mental-health-day

I’m actually in the midst of taking a mental health day right now. I think it is extremely important to give yourself a day on occasion where you can regroup and catch up on things that life has caused you to push aside. I don’t think it helps students to go to school when they’re having a day where they feel particularly anxious, overwhelmed, or depressed. If they go, they won’t take in the information being taught and they will only get more added to their plate. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and therefore I agree with students having excused absences for mental health days. It’s important to know when you need a break and schools should support students in those decisions. I hope that this becomes the case in all 50 states in the future.

Five Reasons Americans Fail to Get Mental Health Checkups

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/patient-engagement/5-reasons-americans-fail-to-get-regular-mental-health-checkups.html

I really hate that there is such a stigma around mental health because it not only gets in the way of people going to therapy when they need it, but it also affects the coverage provided by insurance. Not everyone can afford to go see someone because you have to be clinically diagnosed before insurance will help you out. If mental health checkups were seen in the same way as physical checkups, this would be less of a problem. But because insurance doesn’t place the same weight on each type of health, people will continue not going to therapy. Stigma must be dealt with before we can move forward.

Mental health is important. We should make sure to pay attention to how we are feeling and act accordingly. Even if mental health checkups don’t become normal, checking in with yourself will remain important. Take a mental health day when you need one. Get help when you need it. Be kind to yourself.

Rachel (:

Reading Roundup #3

It’s that time again! This time around I had a lot of books that were just so-so, but these three stood out among those and I liked them all for different reasons. Hopefully, you feel the same if you decide to read any of them. As always, I love getting book recommendations so feel free to leave a comment below telling me what you’ve been loving recently!

#3 Delirium by Lauren Oliver

I wasn’t sure I would like this book. It was a dystopian YA novel that was recommended to me by a friend. My favorite book series in that genre will always be the Giver series. This book reminded me a lot of the first book in that series. The premise is that at age eighteen everyone gets a procedure that gets rid of love. You can no longer feel love for anyone in your life. Love is considered to be a disease that destroys people. They read Romeo and Juliet in Health class (haha) and have their own handbook that they study in school laying out the rules and regulations. The city is separated from the Wilds (where people who survived the bombings live without the cure) and they are said to be dangerous. Lena, the main character, has been looking forward to the procedure. While her family history is a complex one (and one of my favorite subplots) she has a sister who is cured and living a perfectly happy life. She has never questioned whether or not love is as dangerous as they claim until she meets Alex. While a lot of this book is fairly predictable, the characters are well developed and there are no real lulls in the plot. It is always moving. I also just really like the theme. Love is always going to exist even if you try and stop it and watching that concept unfold really makes you think about how important it really is. It is the first book in a series and I look forward to seeing if I like the next book as much as the first!

#2 Hideaway by Nicole Lundrigan

This book is suspenseful, quirky, and pretty dark. It wasn’t what I expected it to be which made me love it even more. Gloria seems like a doting mother to the outside world, but she is actually pretty emotionally abusive. She is going through a separation with Telly who has his own set of flaws. Rowan and Maisy are the typical brother and younger sister, but Rowan does feel more protective because of his mother’s antics. The story revolves around Rowan who runs away with a man named Carl (a really interesting character battling a mental illness) and Gloria trying to win back Telly’s affection. It all goes downhill from there. It gets pretty dark as it continues, but the writing is quirky and you almost don’t notice how horrific it really is. The characters all have interesting arcs and the simultaneous plots are well done. It all comes to a climax that is both unexpected and gut-wrenching. I’m a sucker for a suspenseful book, and this was not a disappointment. It looks into the idea of family and what you’re willing to do to keep it together or to get out of it. It also illustrates that strength can come from unlikely places. Definitely read it if you love the thriller/mystery/suspense genre!

#1 The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

My roommate wanted me to read this book and I did no real research into it before I read it. It surprised me how much I enjoyed this book. The book tells the story of Evelyn Hugo, an actress who had a long career and was also always in the news because, by the time she retired, she had seven husbands. At the beginning of the book, she calls on Monique Grant who is a low-level writer at a magazine and says she wants to give an interview for the first time in years, but only if it is Monique. There are two twists in the novel. One comes near the beginning and it changes the tone of the book. The second comes at the end and knocks you off balance. It is incredibly well written. What stands out for me is the character development achieved in the book. The characters are rich and in-depth. You understand them and hurt for them as the story goes on. They feel like real people. It also talks about the complexity of a human being. It plays with the idea that everyone has good and bad in them and sometimes people do bad things because they decide it’s for a good reason. It shows how doing something to save your family from hurting, can hurt somebody else. It also discusses topics that are relevant to today’s society. It talks about the LGBTQ community and discrimination. It talks about the inequality that exists between men and women at work. It looks at depression, domestic abuse, and alcoholism. It doesn’t shy away from anything. Evelyn Hugo is finally telling her life story and she is telling her whole truth. Nothing is held back which is what makes this novel so great. She is unapologetic which means that the book is that way as well. When you read the title and start the book, you may have thoughts on what it might be like, but I assure you that perception is wrong. What unfolds is a story focused on love, both romantically and for your family, and what you would do to protect that love. It is one of the most honest books I have read which makes it a must-read!

Thanks for reading and as always leave some recommendations below! I love discovering new books and reading things I wouldn’t have picked for myself. Follow me on GoodReads to see all the books I’m reading. https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/101673175-rachel-hutchings

Rachel (:

Fictional Characters I Look Up To

The other day I saw a quote from George R R Martin that said “You should grieve if a fictional character is killed. You should care.” As an avid reader and a writer, I couldn’t agree with it more. It made me start to think about what makes you connect with a character. Sometimes it is seeing a small part of you, but I think that more often than not we love characters because they possess a quality that we wish we had. Or at least that we wish we possessed more of. So today I decided I’d talk about some fictional characters that I love and look up to. I’d love to hear about your top 5 in the comments below!

Winnie the Pooh

In my opinion, Winnie the Pooh is one of the best characters that has ever been created. I loved him as a kid and I still love him now when I’m about to graduate college. My brother who is 25 loves him. My parents love him. But why is that? For me, every time I see a quote from him I immediately feel warm inside. Pooh’s like the embodiment of a hug. However, the two qualities that Pooh possesses that I look up to are his loyalty and his positivity. He sticks by the people that he loves through thick and thin. The newest movie where he goes to find Christopher Robin as an adult showcases this brilliantly. He senses that he is needed and he is there. It all comes from a place of genuine love and the desire for other people’s happiness. That’s an admirable quality. As my senior year continues to fly by, I’m forced to think about what comes after. Not all of my friends will stay here. In the past, I haven’t kept up with friendships as well as I could have. Winnie the Pooh makes me want to remember to make a conscious effort to maintain these friendships in a way that still feels meaningful. In a way, all of the characters in these stories model what friendship should look like. Both the things that you should do, but also how other friends should act toward you. Loyalty should go both ways and Winnie the Pooh is an excellent example of what that should look like. Pooh is also a beacon of positivity. I tend to lean on the more pessimistic side. Sometimes Eeyore reminds me a lot of myself. However, Pooh is always looking on the bright side. One of my favorite Pooh quotes is “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” He is always trying to build people up. He always wants people to see the best in themselves and the world. Every time I see a Winnie the Pooh movie, I leave wanting to live my life through a rose-colored lens. I admire his ability to feel a spectrum of emotions (like sadness when he runs out of honey), but still end the day feeling positive. I’m forever grateful that Winnie the Pooh was created and that I can always look to Pooh for models of friendship and positivity.

Matilda

I have read the book once, but I have seen the movie approximately one million times. I used to watch it every time I went to my Aunt Marla’s house and I never skip it if I scroll past it when channel surfing. It is one of my favorite movies of all time. If you have watched the movie and have not tried to tip over a glass with your mind, you are lying. But her powers are not the main thing that I look up to. I’ve always admired her intelligence and determination. Even though she didn’t have the greatest home life, she was able to dive into books and find other mentorships with people like the librarian and Ms. Honey in order to encourage her learning. She loved school. She actually pleaded to go to school. Sometimes I take for granted the fact that I get to go to college and get a quality education. I complain a lot, but if I take a step back and look at the big picture, I am incredibly lucky. She is a character who makes me look at the world that way. Also, I connect very strongly with her love of books. I bet she has fictional characters that she looks up to as well. I also admire her determination. She was not going to stop without making Ms. Trunchbull pay for the horrible things that she did. Even when others tried to stop her, she believed in herself and pushed forward. In the end, her belief in her goals and her follow-through allowed for everyone to have a much better life. When I watch this movie and think about this character it makes me want to dive into a book and accomplish my goals: both equally important for a happy life for me.

Phineas and Ferb

I haven’t watched this show in a long time. Probably not since I was in middle school, but these characters always made me want to try and do the impossible. These two characters are some of the most inventive and creative characters that I have come across. Their ability to start with an idea in their backyard and transform it into something spectacular was inspiring. They didn’t see anything as too big or too hard. They just did it. I love to write. But for a while now I have been having some sort of a creative block. It may be from stress or from my own anxieties. I’m not totally sure, but for whatever reason, no ideas are flowing. If an idea does come, it’s one that I don’t see ending up well. But characters like Phineas and Ferb wouldn’t just stop. They’d write those bad ideas out if there was even a .00000001 chance it would end up well. They wouldn’t just say “oh well” when writer’s block strikes, they would find a way or build some machine to solve that problem. Too often, I sit by and let things happen around me or ideas pass by without grabbing them because it seems impossible. But characters like these don’t see anything as impossible. They are definitely two characters who possess qualities I’m sometimes lacking.

Nancy Drew

I love this character with all of my heart. I read every Nancy Drew book when I was in elementary school, have played some of the computer games, and have seen the movie. I love the concept of a girl solving crimes with her own wit and strength. She possesses a fearlessness that I wish I had. As you know by now, I struggle with anxiety. I struggle in situations that are much less dire than the places Nancy ends up. She is always willing to jump into the unknown in order to help herself and others, but the unknown is what I fear most. It is what I struggle with coming to terms with on a day to day basis. I wish I had her fearlessness when it comes to diving in even if you aren’t certain it will turn out okay in the end. We aren’t God, so we have no idea what tomorrow brings. Or even what the next hour brings. However, that doesn’t mean that we should just sit in our comfortable bubble and never venture into anything that is uncertain. That is actually impossible. Not everything in life is a sure thing. Sometimes you have to take a deep breath and take a leap of faith. Nancy Drew did that in every book. Sometimes she got out of a sticky situation and learned valuable information that helped her crack the case, but other times she got hit by a bad guy and ended up in a worse position than she started. But she would always take the next case, no matter how difficult the previous one had been. She never let fear hold her back and that is something that I am actively trying to work on. Even just typing this paragraph makes me want to grab a copy and spend some time marveling at Nancy’s ability to walk into the fire. If you never read these books (which is insane to me that this might be the case), you need to. The books are fun but the character and character development that happens over the series is some of my favorite work by an author.

Pippi Longstocking

Last, but certainly not least, is Pippi Longstocking. Based on the mixed reaction I got the year I dressed up as her for Halloween, I would say she is a slightly less popular character than the ones listed above. Not as many people seem to have read these books. For me, she is a character that I have looked up to since the first chapter I read in elementary school. For those of you who don’t know, Pippi Longstocking is a little girl who lives on her own with her monkey and her horse. She has a unique look and a unique set of skills that lead her on a myriad of adventures including being in the circus and making burglars leave her house. The thing I have always admired about this character is her ability to be totally and completely herself without caring what anyone else thinks about her. I can be self-conscious sometimes even when I don’t want to be. I’m a little bit of a people pleaser and I don’t like to rock the boat. Pippi is not afraid of rocking the boat or being seen as different than everyone else. Her individuality is what makes her such a dynamic character. Owning who you are and being unafraid to show it to the world is something that I would love to do 100% of the time. Part of owning who you are is realizing you have flaws, which Pippi does. It is what makes her such a well written and well-rounded character. She will forever stand out in my mind as the most confident character I have come across.

All of these characters stand out for their own reasons. I love all of them for giving me examples of how to live my life better and to its fullest. I look forward to coming across many more influential characters in the future as I continue to devour books and movies. I want to know what characters you look up to! I think knowing someone’s top five can tell you a lot about them. Let me know in the comments below!

Rachel (: