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 (:

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 (:

Why There Are Walls

I wrote this poem over a period of a few months and I wasn’t sure if it would ever see the light of day. It highlights where some of my anxiety comes from and is as real as it gets for me. Sharing this is terrifying if I’m being honest. But for whatever reason, I’ve decided now is the time to do it. It is an amalgamation of my innermost thoughts. I hope you like it and I hope that it gives a better picture of who I am. Feel free to share your own poetry or thoughts in the comments below!

Why There Are Walls

by Rachel Hutchings

In my mind, I’m an open book
No emotion left unexplored
No words left unspoken
No hope or fear left unexplained
Every thought and feeling being spoken so loud that sometimes I can’t hear the world around me
But the outside world does not see me this way
Often they can barely see me over the walls I’ve built 
Sheltered and protected from the judgments and the pain caused by others
Underneath armor and ready for battle
No one act or word spoken has made me this way
Years of little moments and of big moves have shaped the way I am
I don’t mean to be unappreciative of the opportunities I’ve had
Of the places I’ve seen
But for every hello came another goodbye
My walls would begin to crack and crumble not long before I had to move on
The real feelings and thoughts hiding behind my unaffected facade came into view
Friends began to see exactly who I was and I began to let them in
For a month or two I would be fully myself
No longer afraid to let the world hear what was really in my mind
I had selective amnesia
I conveniently forgot that soon I would hear the words that instructed my mind to start building the walls again
We have to move 
It’s time to start saying goodbye
Then came the empty promises of talking on the phone and visiting when possible
People checking in consistently for my first month away 
Eventually, my phone becoming silent
Occasional texts to wish me a happy birthday or a happy holiday
The phrase out of sight, out of mind becoming reality

I’m not saying that they are the only ones to blame
I stopped dialing their number too 
I let them go when they began to slip away
Neither of us fought for friendship
We faded into the back of each other’s mind 
Our now permanent home
Friendships aren’t meant to be fleeting 
Ideally, they are for a lifetime
An endless string of inside jokes and uninhibited expression of yourselves
A world free of judgment but full of caring concern
A bond created to stay firm
There have been moments where I believed that I was forming those friendships
I’d like to think that they thought so as well
But little things would creep up on us revealing the hidden truth
Distance doesn’t really make the heart grow fonder
Often it lets the heart slowly start to forget until those moments become memories
It isn’t like I think that I will never form these friendships
I truly think I am in the midst of creating them now
I feel my vulnerability starting to overtake the part of my mind that likes to hide
This time I’m letting it
But the anxiety I feel when I start to become close with someone is puzzling
Why does it make me uncomfortable
Why can’t I just let it happen
Maybe it is because of the looming goodbye that seems imminent
Maybe it is the knowledge that they can actually see me 
The feeling is constant lately
The tension in my chest and the feeling in the pit of my stomach won’t go away
It’s terrible and wonderful
It means that I’m finally letting my true self be known
It also means I am more exposed than I have ever been

There is always the lingering thought in my mind that they don’t really like me
At times, I wonder if they really want me around or if they like it better when I’m not 
My need to be seen as normal suppresses my need of reassurance
But I constantly catch myself analyzing the reactions of those around me
It can be exhausting
Writing out these feelings is the closest I have gotten to sharing them
One day I may say it out loud or let them read my inner monologue
However, even writing that sentence made my stomach drop
Their perception of who I am would be shaped by the words on this page
My secrets becoming known and my anxious thoughts being revealed
I don’t want to be pitied
I don’t want sympathy or constant affirmation of our friendship
That would make me feel weaker than I already do
I want normalcy 
I want to be understood without being treated differently
I would love to know what the world looks like without my own anxious lens
I wonder if my life would have turned out differently if I could use a different filter
People often talk about looking at the glass as half full 
But I don’t think we necessarily get the choice in how we see it 
Some of us see it half empty while desperately trying to see it the way people think we’re meant to
I have my own moments of optimism
However most of the time I keep my expectations low enough that I can hop right over them
That isn’t necessarily the healthiest outlook on life, I’m aware
Most of the ways I cope wouldn’t be considered beneficial to my emotional well-being 
But I’ve got too much bottled up to let it all spill out now, so silence remains my closest friend 

It’s funny to me that I tend to speak quietly when the voices in my head are so loud
An irony only I can truly appreciate
Others often have no idea what really lies beneath the surface
My existence embodying the cliché idea of not being able to judge a book by its cover
You don’t really know who I am without reading every chapter, line, and word
A privilege that I have trouble granting to anyone
It’s disheartening to realize that a piece of my writing may never be read
Myself acting as my only roadblock
The act of handing over a piece of paper or a laptop is so simple in theory
However, in practice, it is one of the hardest things I will ever do
Looking at old friends celebrate the holidays together hit me harder than I thought it would
But as much as it seems I want to be as close as we once were 
I feel a pressure in my chest thinking about a future with the friends around me
Sustained friendships are uncharted territory for me 
I’m walking blindly on a path that seems well-lit for everyone else
Even though I’m unsure of my footing, I’m sure that I don’t want to turn around
I’m becoming more confident in myself and in my friendships with each step I take  
The future, a concept that once seemed destined for farewells
Has become something to look forward to

Rachel (:

Faith When You Don’t Have Control

My dad was a Methodist pastor and is now a chaplain in the army so I have always grown up in church. I watched Veggie Tales when I was little, joined youth group when I started middle school, and went to church almost every Sunday. It has always been a big part of my life. As I got older, I started to look at it as much more than just a routine. God is incredibly important in my life. While that remains true, it doesn’t mean that my faith journey has only been smooth sailing.

Over the past couple years in particular, I’ve had to wrestle with my faith. I mentioned in a previous post that my family seemed to be getting hit with one thing after another. A cousin in her thirties being diagnosed with ALS and my granddaddy declining in health; both of them recently passing away in a span of three months. My classes becoming more challenging and overwhelming. The realization that I’m only a little over a year away from graduating and the fact that I need to start looking towards the future. A lot of concepts that I have zero control over. During these events, my anxiety has only increased. All of this has been difficult. I often find myself knowing that God is the only one who can help me through this period, but resenting Him for letting everything hit me all at once. It’s a constant tug of war in my mind between relying on Him fully and questioning whether He is really working everything together for good.

I’ve been trying to work on prioritizing God like I should. I pray every day and read my Bible, looking to Him to make sense out of the chaotic nature of my life. I still find verses that I like and that help me when I’m feeling anxious. God is still incredibly important to me. I don’t doubt that He is with me. I know He is. But I also don’t think it’s wrong to question why things are the way that they are. If everything was going perfectly in my life, I would have no reason to dig deep and try and grow in my faith. Not having control is something that I struggle a lot with, but it helps me to think that there is someone who loves me who is in control. That doesn’t mean I have found all the answers I’m looking for. In fact, I’m not even close. But, it does mean that I can lean on Him when I feel myself spiraling out of control. He will be there to walk with me on my journey, wherever it may take me.

I thought I would share some of my favorite verses that I look to when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed by life:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:34

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” – Psalm 56:3

I would love to hear about your own journey with faith. What do you struggle with? What are some of your favorite verses? Let me know. Thanks for going on this journey with me!

Rachel (:

Holding Myself Back

I love to write. I have always loved coming up with characters and making a world come alive on the page. Reading and writing were two constants I could count on when the rest of my world went through changes. I could pick up a mystery novel and get lost in trying to solve the crime and not worry about the fact that we were about to move. I could write fiction or I could write down the things I was feeling that I didn’t, or couldn’t, say out loud. Writing is where I am most myself. So why have I been having so much trouble with it?

I constantly have thoughts running through my head. Mostly logical or necessary for the moment, but then my anxiety starts talking to me too. About a year and a half ago, I was in the middle of writing my first novel. It was a mystery/ dark comedy about two retired detectives getting called back to catch a serial killer they put away after he escapes from prison. I really liked the idea and I was progressing. I wasn’t writing as much as I would have liked because, as it turns out, college is a lot of work. I didn’t have the time to sit and write something that wasn’t for a grade. That was my first excuse for not writing. I was busy. But it was just that: an excuse. It wasn’t the real issue.

I didn’t fully realize the reasons I was struggling so much until I talked to my therapist about it. Around the time I started having trouble writing, I found out that a cousin I was close to was diagnosed with ALS. At the same time, my grandfather was declining in health. I was struggling with emotions relating to that news. Questioning why diseases without cures exist and realizing that some problems that feel giant really are trivial in the grand scheme of what life can throw at you. The more I tried to write my novel, the more unimportant it seemed. I was beginning to question what I wanted to do with the life that I had that could be cut short without notice. Writing a mystery novel didn’t feel like the goal I wanted to work toward anymore.

The things that I have been writing in the last year and a half are things that no one has seen. Poems, songs, journal entries, and stories all describing my anxieties, thoughts, and feelings as it started to feel like my family just kept getting hit with waves of bad news. Some of the things I have written are pieces that I’m the most proud of, but they are also the most vulnerable. They feel important, but every time I go to show someone, I can’t. I’m worried that they will look at me with pity or that they will know too much about me. I’m bad at being vulnerable. This blog is the start of me trying to work towards sharing the pieces I have written and will write that I feel hold importance. Step by step, I’m trying to walk outside of my comfort zone.

I know that anxiety and depression can hold us back. It seems to be their favorite thing to do. They make it hard to do things that others seem to do easily. But that just means that when we do accomplish something, it’s that much more rewarding. It is definitely something that you have to take a day at a time. I may not be close to where I want to be, but I’m closer than I was yesterday. That is something I try to tell myself and it helps, so maybe it can help you too. I’d love to hear about your experience with thoughts or feelings holding you back. Leave a comment below and share your story. Thanks for reading and continuing to grow this community.

Rachel (: