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 (:

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 (:

The Comfort Zone

I really like my comfort zone. Most of us do. It makes me feel safe and in control; both of which are important in keeping my anxiety at bay. But living life in that bubble is not how you get the most out of it. If we stay in our comfort zones, we miss a lot of the things that the world has to offer. We miss a lot of opportunities that could take our life in an exciting new direction. We let our fear keep us hostage. But how do we step out of that zone?

There have been many times in my life where I have had to wander outside of my comfort zone. Some of them were by choice and other times life pushed me out into the deep end and said: “Time to swim.” Either way, I have some experience. Being in a military family often resulted in life forcing me to step out of my zone. Every two years, I was forced to start at a new school and make new friends. As a shy and introverted kid, that was way outside what made me comfortable. However, with each move, I found that I was better at talking to people. I wasn’t as afraid. I came out of my shell faster than before. I was better able to relate to people. I became resilient. I was introduced to what it means to fight for your country and the sacrifices that come with it. Being forced out of my comfort zone shaped the person that I am today and the way I look at the world. Without that push, I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today.

There have also been times in my life that I have stepped out of my comfort zone by choice. As someone who struggles with anxiety, these moments are huge for me. When I was picking which college I would attend, I had no idea where my parents would move halfway through freshman year. I knew they were in Texas for the start and that our extended family lived in Georgia and the Carolinas. With all of my headache issues in the last two years of high school, I wanted to be close to family. I started looking at schools in the states where they lived. But one night, I was talking to some people in a group chat about what God had been saying to us recently. People were sharing their favorite verses and how they were applying them in their lives. At one point someone talked about how they had been trying to step out of their comfort zone. They said that they felt like God was telling them to broaden their horizons to get a better picture of the world and their place in it. I had been wavering between a few schools, but that night I chose the school farthest away from my extended family. That choice was a little scary, but now I am going into my senior year and I couldn’t have asked for a better college experience. Sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone is what leads you to the most fulfilling things.

Fear is normal. Everyone is afraid to rock the boat. Having anxiety often puts these fears in the forefront of your mind. But it’s important to not let that fear control you. I am about to embark on an adventure that scares me a little. For the next couple of weeks, I will be traveling to Europe to meet up with a friend and explore that part of the world. I will be flying from Atlanta to Brussels in just a couple of days. That’s a long flight by myself. Once I get there and meet up with my friend, I’m sure some of the worries will wear off, but for the few hours that I am alone in a foreign airport, I’m sure those fearful thoughts will be talking loudly in my head. I have never been out of the country and as someone who doesn’t like flying in general, flying to a different country by myself is a big step out of my comfort zone. But I already know that this trip is going to change me. I’m going to see a different part of the world and I’m going to broaden my horizons. When I return, facing these fears will be worth it.

Everyone enjoys their comfort zone, but it isn’t where you should stay. A comfort zone is a lot like locking yourself in your house. You have all the conveniences that you need, but there are things going on outside that you can’t get to. You are just looking out of a window watching life unfold without you. You are comfortable but you aren’t fully living. I know that it’s hard to let go of the comfortable, but you don’t have to take a big leap. Just take one step outside of the zone and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually, that zone will feel like a distant memory and you will be able to look at all the experiences you were able to have that shaped who you became.

I realize that this is all easier said than done, but I hope that this encourages you to try just taking one step. Broaden that horizon just a little and see how it shapes you. I’d love to hear about some of the ways you have stepped out of your comfort zone and how it shaped you as a person. Let me know in the comments!

I will be taking a short hiatus while I travel, but I will be back in two weeks to tell you all about the adventure. Thanks for all of your support!

Rachel (: