thank you xox

I started “a girl in converse” when I was 20 years old. It was a way for me to explore my feelings and sort through life experiences during a time when life changed faster than I could keep up. Now, five years later, I admit that while I don’t have a full grip on things, I do feel a little less lost than I was when I first started it.

All great projects must have a beginning and an end – I believe that. So while I could let this taper off until everyone forgets about it, I would rather just decide to move on. I find myself less inspired by my past and more inspired by my future.

I haven’t owned a pair of converse in a few years now – I just find them too expensive for the quality they offer. I love how they look, but I’m more interested in value rather than image these days. Much like my change in shoe preference, I have also grown in creativity.

In this blog I’ve explored relationships, break-ups, sexual assault, eating disorders, anxiety and depression. As difficult as it was for me to write about some of these topics and experiences, looking back I feel that it was important for me to get through some challenging parts of life that many people in their early 20s can relate to.

I’ve had the wonderful experience of having people I hardly talk to tell me they relate to my blog posts, “even the depressing ones.” I want to thank everyone who supported me while I openly looked inside of myself in the most desperate of times and laid all my dirty laundry out on the line to dry. The truth is, I like cheeseburgers now and I don’t feel so sad. So, many of my former posts just don’t match up with the person I am today.

This isn’t to say I will not write anymore. I still consider myself a big advocate for mental health and continue to work through struggles and challenges. However, I want to open myself up to different ways to be creative, whether it means writing about a different topic or taking on a completely new project.

Thank you for allowing me to be so honest. My major goal in life is to search out the truth and you’ve allowed me to share with you in the process. I hope you were able to find one aspect of my writing to relate to over the years and I hope I didn’t scare you too much when disclosing the inner workings of my brain! Cheers to all of you xox

“a girl in converse”


Scranton, with a silent “T”, for better or worse

There’s a tiny road that follows a dirty river with run-down buildings tracing its edges. Even the buildings that are in perfectly working order are eye-sores; ugly squares in desperate need of new paint, new windows, new everything. On particularly gray days I mumble miserable phrases about how they managed to get uglier, if it’s even possible.

The river is a mockery of nature; a polluted, brown stream of running water that is only good for flooding and ruining houses. Nothing good can come from that river, and as a result, even the most beautiful of places that are scattered along its trail are over-looked, tossed aside by some off-putting joke about the smell of it or the darkness of the water or the pollution.

I never wanted to stay here – not in this town that is rapidly losing any chance it had to corruption, poverty and bankruptcy. My childhood home is now surrounded by carcasses of houses that have been rendered unsafe, just skeletons of buildings waiting for the city to send someone to tear them down. The lucky ones, the buildings and houses that were already torn down and exhausted of any memories their floorboards held, have been replaced by nothing but soggy earth or patches of weeds. No one builds here. Not among the meth addicts and children with dirty faces playing basketball in shorts in the dead of winter.

The irony of me coming back here has not been lost. I mocked my college boyfriend for wanting to build a life here and yet, here I am. Stuck, or so it seems. Stuck alongside all the others who are desperately planning their escapes, the ones who complain of harsh winters and decaying buildings and rising taxes that only resemble the empty promise of a one-night stand. Nothing comes from the optimism of pooling the community pot, not really.

There are the others who have confidence in the culture and character of an old coal town, who speak about how it is a grand place to raise a family, but deep-down there’s no denying that Scranton will never be “up and coming.” It had its day, I suppose, although I don’t know anyone who was around to see it. The only thing left is history, and much like ex-lovers with a history, no one is interested in the story because it never went anywhere. We’re all just holding on to something that was gone a long time ago.

There are enough woods and abandoned houses around that people try to keep secrets; with nothing but the trees as their witnesses; people go missing, get murdered, get high. The roots all connect, though, and nothing stays secret for long. This small town spreads rumors like wildfire and continues to let it spread until the ground beneath us shakes with drama. No, high-profile murders and suicides don’t happen often, but once they do, there’s a community digging their claws into the atrocity of it, trying to secretly solve it from behind their computer screens on their quiet little streets, seeking revenge for the death of one of our own.

Still, the fumes of a rotting city are not enough to keep the good people away. People leave and come back, some people stay forever. There’s something about the dodgy corner bars that serve chicken wings just crispy enough and keep Coors Light and Yuengling Lager at just the right temperature. Maybe it will never be known for its health-conscious restaurants, but small businesses pop up and deflate just enough that people are grateful their dreams can somehow, maybe, still come true – if only just for a little while.

People know your name, and while they might only grumble it in a hasty hello, holding onto a grudge from years past, they still know it. It still means something. People will beep at you as you log your mile runs in the morning, not caring if you know what their car looks like or not. They will report back to relatives that they saw you, and that in itself is enough to make you feel safe. No, your new next door neighbors may not be friendly, but the people born and raised here always have their eyes open, they know who you are.

If you ask people why they stay, they might mention their family is rooted here or it’s the only place they know, except underneath there is an invisible cloth that weaves us all together. There are the three bars you go to when you want to dress up, the corner bars you go to when you don’t, and either way, there will always be an older drunk there waiting to speak with you about Joe Crocker and how that man could carry a tune. There are the mom-and-pop hoagie places and pizzerias that no big city restaurant can compete with. There are two high school rivals in one small city, which is enough to get even the most angst of teens excited.

Having moved away for a brief period of time to see “what else was out there,” I found myself fiercely defending this little town with its stingy politics and smoke-filled bars, its small universities and numerous hospitals that even the natives can’t tell apart. No, we weren’t all naïve or racist. We do things… we know things.

If nothing else, we unite in the humor of the local city hall meetings that make uneducated characters into local celebrities, and, hey, at least they’re speaking up. We unite in our pure boredom, for the skimpy ski hills and aging movie theaters are losing their magic. We unite in the name of drinking, in the name of small businesses, in the name of pizza and food, and in the name of proudly pronouncing our own name wrong. We have a weekly high school reunions at our local bars. We are a mixture of city people and hicks and general confusion. We are hopeful people in a city of broken windows and sinking buildings. We are Scranton, for better or for worse.

When Black Angels Show Up on Church Steps at 2 a.m.

“Sneak out,” I heard through the tiny speaker on my flip-phone. One of the older, junior class boys was on the other line.

“I don’t know if I should,” I said, referring to both sneaking out and the fact that I was talking about it in the kitchen with my parents in the other room. “You live kind of far for me to be walking by myself.”

“I’ll come get you and walk you home after.”

“Okay,” I said, my pulse racing a little bit. “After my parents go to bed.”

This was not about the boy on the other end – I had no attraction to him nor did he have any towards me. This was more about my freshman, 14-year-old self that wanted to fit in, to rebel, to shed any image that might make me look innocent to my older classmates.

It wasn’t hard – my house is big enough that I could slip out the back door without so much as a peep. No creaky floorboards or echoing footsteps; rather, as I walked quickly up the street I was a little disappointed. It was too easy.

The bright blue screen on my phone lit up with his name. He hadn’t even left his house yet.

“I’ll meet you half way.”

“Okay…” I say, slightly aggravated and slightly scared.

I walk past the church at the top of my street, past the family-owned deli that had long closed and a few blocks to where he said he’d meet me. He wasn’t there. I called him in a panic.

“Where are you?”

“Relax. I’m almost there.”

After a long ten minutes of mentally scolding myself as I stood by myself under a streetlight, I see him show up. “Let’s go.” I noted the coldness in his voice and realized all at once that this was not worth it.

I knew he was always like this, I was pretty good friends with him and I was in no eminent danger, but still; if I was going to risk getting grounded for the rest of my life, I would hope it would be with someone nice.

We walked back to his house where we sat on his couch for 10 minutes before he declared we needed to walk to his friend’s house to “get something.” After looking at the tiny bag that was quickly passed from his friend to him, I knew I was way out of my league here.

He shows me the bag and smiles.

“I thought it would look different,” I said.

“Like what?”

“Colorful or something.”

“No, you see the colors after,” he laughed. “Want to?”

“I don’t think so, I think I’m just going to go home.”

“I just walked to your house to get you, though!” he protested.

“You half walked to my house,” I corrected him. “Anyway, I’m just going to go.”

“Well, I’m not walking you back now, you just got here.”

“That’s fine,” I said, hastily, knowing that this kid would never be worth another ounce of my time.

I made the trek back to my house thinking about the deep, quiet things that only turn up in your mind when you are walking home alone in the dark. I realized there was a rebellious streak in me that could get me in trouble someday, maybe already did.

Walking by the church at the top of my street, I see a boy propped up against the arched doorway of the cathedral, dressed in baggy black pants and smoking a cigarette. I keep walking for a half a block and then turn around. I know in my head that this is wrong, that a boy a few years older than me smoking a cigarette on the church steps at 2 a.m. is definitely sure sign of Stranger Danger! but I commence anyway.

After an introduction of myself I ask him what he’s doing there, anyway. He explains that he lives across the street in a house with about 10 other kids that were kicked out of their houses. He said that one of their moms took them all in, but is never around, and they all take turns sleeping on the beds or the floors or wherever they could find space. They partied a lot and he just got sick of it, so he came to sit by the church sometimes, just to get away from it. He said it had been months since he’d seen his parents or his home.

I walked away wondering if I’d ever see him again and knowing in my heart that if I did see him, it would only mean that I was definitely somewhere I didn’t belong – like on a dark street at 2 a.m. by myself. I get home just in time to hide behind a bush while I see my sister turn off her bedroom light. A second earlier and I would’ve run into her as she came home from her late shift at the bar. A minute earlier, and I would have been grounded for life.

I thanked God that I didn’t get grounded. Although I may have deserved it, I already learned my lesson about where I did and didn’t belong after midnight. I realized the type of people I didn’t belong with – the ones with the tiny bags of illegal substances and the ones that hang out in church doorways late at night. I thanked God that I wasn’t one of those kids in that house with no parents, just partying and smoking cigarettes, entirely on their own at too young of an age. Something would always separate my world from theirs; I had parents that cared enough to ground me — they didn’t.

Lastly, I thanked my parents for giving me a conscious to what is right and what is wrong, because ultimately, as you grow older, you might think you’re calling the shots but it’s really something built within you. It’s how you are raised. There was a reason why I crossed the line that night and quickly turned around. I was curious, like any 14-year-old would be, but somewhere deep inside I knew my curiosity had to stop somewhere. There were limits wired into my brain with every tiny ounce of discipline my parents put forth.

I wonder about that night sometimes – if things had turned out differently would I have taken a different path? If there was no tiny bag, if he showed up on time, if there was no homeless boy on the steps, would I felt more comfortable sneaking out? Would I have gotten the wake up call I needed?

Throughout the rest of my teen years and my young adult life I would first grow to resent my morals and then learn to be thankful for it. Rather, it was more of a resent-them-at-the-time kind of thing and a sigh-with-relief-later kind of thing.  Either way, I never wound up living in a parent-less house with 10 other kids at the ripe age of 16 – so there’s something to be said about being raised on this side of the tracks.

What Happens When You Take a Risk?

I’m turning 25 this week. I couldn’t be more excited. A crisp, clean, quarter-century number. I’m going to be so good at being 25.

So many of my friends are dreading this milestone. After all, it is a reminder that our twenties are half over. Speaking from my own concept of time, I’m sure these next five years will go faster than the first. Still, I’m not worried. The first half of my twenties has been a complete rollercoaster, filled with up and down moments. High highs and low lows. Maybe my thirties won’t be as crazy, but I think I’m ready for the stability. In fact, I think I’ll welcome it.

The thing is, I write on this personal little blog each week, revealing a snip-it of my life to you. Although I don’t have 5,000 readers at the tips of my fingers, as I sometimes do when I freelance, I would argue that this blog is more of a risk for me.

See, when I write freelance, I am writing cultural pieces that are nothing more than fun for me. My true millennial brain shows itself as I revel in the free-spirited but painfully broke ideas of our generation. It’s easy to write an article when you have 10,000 free spirits ready to put their virtual fists in the air and scream a-men. We’re never getting old.

But, we are. I’m not so scared of it anymore because there are important experiences that come with growing up. There are break-ups that mean more to you than you’ll ever be able to put into words. There is the realization that these break-ups should never steal your soul the way you’ve let them. There is the realization that being so painfully dramatic was simply a growing pain you needed to go through in order to mature.

Yes, I write about my struggles with eating disorders, depression and anxiety. Yes, I open up to you about awful dates and times when I felt that world was unfair to me. Yes, it’s a risk.

It’s a risk because while my freelance writing reaches thousands, to a majority of those people, I am just a name and a picture in a byline. A person on Twitter they can now follow. A two-second thought that doesn’t stick. Which makes it all the more easier to express myself.

That’s not the case on this blog. My readers, most of them, know me on a personal level. That break-up post I wrote is easily identifiable – there is a face behind it. I do my best not to give away large details about the people and places I touch upon, but let’s be real: I’m writing about my experiences. I am inspired by miniscule moments and details of my own life and I want to share them with you. I believe someone, somewhere can relate to these moments, because they are all too common.

What is not so common is this open-book syndrome that I have somehow inherited in my gene pool. Not many people go around publishing the darkest, deepest moments of their lives. Especially not people who are actually somewhat private in real life. A friend from college and I had dinner together not too long ago, when he just said, “Monica, I feel like I really know nothing about you. You always ask the questions.”

So, if that’s the case, then maybe my writing shocks the ones who know – or think – they know me. I am constantly torn between what I want to share and how I believe it will be perceived. The thing is, no one wants to read about a mundane day in the office. It’s the nitty-gritty that people relate to; it’s the idea that they aren’t alone in their struggle, that someone else has less-than-perfect moments in a less-than-perfect life.

To me, this camaraderie that I am trying to cultivate is more important than any one individual’s opinions of me. It feeds my soul directly when people can say that they’ve been moved by my writing, that they’ve gone through similar things. On the contrary, I never want to hurt anyone.

Sometimes it’s just unavoidable. I am a writer. It is what I do. I whole-heartedly believe it is one of the things I was meant to do. I know from the days in which I felt alone that if I don’t share my story, someone else is going to feel just as alone as I did.

I’m prompted to write this because, as can be expected, I have received some criticism. I know when I hit the publish button that somehow, somewhere, someone is going to be unhappy. This used to censor me. This used to provoke a fear within me. I used to call my mom every week, in which she would say, “Monica, this is what you do. You find it important to write these things. Why worry about it afterwards?”

I realize now, though, that the fear of being called dramatic, the fear of being told that my life must be pretty shitty, the fear of being told I’m making it all up is no match for sharing my story. I can’t be silenced. I won’t be. At 25, I think it’s important to stand tall and do what I love, which is sharing both the good and the bad.

I’ve come so far. The eating disorder I described to you? Well, that feels like a distant memory. (In fact, I kind of feel weird calling it that, but my doctors insist otherwise.) I no longer feel the darkness of depression. However, I could choose to write these things at risk of sounding dramatic, or I can sweep them under the rug and pretend they never happened.

The truth – that huge phenomenon that people choose to ignore and I beg to bring forth – is that I’ve had rough times. I’ve traveled through break downs. I’ve survived. Were they dramatic? Yes, of course they were. Everyone goes through hard times. Everyone is entitled to be dramatic when they are in pain, I believe that.

Being fearful of myself has always been something I struggled with. I understand that I feel things completely. Human connections and emotions have always interested me. But, I’ve realized that some people don’t hold a high regard for the mushy-gushy Kodak moments of life in the ways I do. What I’ve struggled with figuring out is that, it’s okay – for both them and myself. I no longer need to be so afraid of seeking out what I believe are the best parts of life; personal growth, love, acceptance, truth, happiness. I don’t have to be scared to explore my depth and the depth of others.

I suppose my final thought is that I am a writer. No, I do not like to destroy people via my blog. I hardly write about people whom I truly care about. I try to focus mainly on my own experiences. However, I refuse to keep my own story quiet in fear that it may offend. It’s going to be a long 40, 50, 60 years if I choose to live my life at the hand of others.

I’m not always pleasing, nor am I always displeasing. It’s exhausting to pretend otherwise. So, to only focus my blog entries on, say, the happy-go-lucky days I have and ignore the shitty, frustrating mental health days, break-ups, you name it, would be completely unfair if I am going to accurately paint the big picture, which is what I aim to do.

Therefore, as a 25th birthday present to myself, I hereby give myself permission to be exactly who I am, good or bad, breakdown or no breakdown, good date or bad date. Cheers to another lesson learned!

‘I’m fine with being the cat lady if dating you is the alternative’

As we drive down windy streets lined with spacious, alluring houses, I ask him about his life. This will be the third date and I haven’t gotten to know him, yet. Not really. I mean, I know the basics – the job, where he grew up, how old he is… but other than that, nothing. He has mentioned somewhere that he likes me, but I don’t know how that could be. Really, he knows nothing other than my Instagram updates and Snapchat stories.

I didn’t even really want to go on this date, if I am being completely honest. My parents are going to Buffalo Wild Wings and that just seems more appealing. I was starting to wonder why a night out with my parents was more enticing than dating. I guess this is what happens when you are completely and utterly burned out when it comes to the opposite sex. I am.

My best friend and I have a hard time understanding why people jump into relationships. I used to be that person. I have had two serious boyfriends, both within a short time of each other. Now, I just can’t seem to care less. I am having too much fun going to bars and eating waffles in diners at 3 am. Plus, I’ve seen the ugly in relationships – is that something I really want again? I’m not sure.

However, I’m trying to be more open to it. I realize that if I don’t put myself out there I could, one day, be the cat lady. Except – I’m allergic to cats. It’s really pathetic when you can’t even be good at plan Z.

Christmas isn’t lonely for me now, but maybe one day it will. I also think there’s a fine line between not actively looking for a relationship and crossing out the idea completely. It’s healthy to want to have a serious relationship with other people. It’s healthy to want to get to know someone better.

So here I am, hair curled and red lipstick on, wondering why the guy sitting next to me is talking in riddles. I’ve been in his car for 20 minutes and I’m already frustrated. I’ve tried to get a better idea of his life, asking him the staple questions – how many siblings, his favorite color, if he snowboards. If you were to judge by only hearing his answers, you would think I was asking him for his father’s social security number.

“Why are you asking me so many questions?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I’m just trying to get to know you better.”

“Oh,” he says, looking out the window.

I get some answers, but finally give up. It’s not worth the frustration. I also realize he has not asked me one question about my life. I don’t really care to share, anyway… I’m busy mentally kicking myself for not going for wings with my parents like I wanted to.

This is why I don’t date, I thought suddenly. Why would I?

In the past few months I’ve dated a few guys and it seems to me that most of them think they are interested in me, while none of them actually are. Usually they try to impress me by blasting music to cliché songs and belting it out, kind of like a scene in a movie. Every time this happens, I want to throw up. Don’t get me wrong, with the right person, blasting music and driving can be a deeply romantic thing; but with these careless guys, it just seems more like a gimmick, a way for them to show themselves off. I’m not interested.

I can count on one hand the number of times these guys have shown genuine interest in my life. Don’t worry, they are more than willing to over-share their ideas about money and careers and… blah. Sorry, I was only half paying attention.

It seems they are just as burnt out by females as I am by males. Otherwise, why would they think that I care about the amount of money they make? Why would they think it gives them an advantage to say, “Hey, I got this – trust me, Mon, I don’t have to worry about money.” (Yes, that happened.)

Insert big eye roll. Turns out these guys seem to think they are chivalrous without actually being chivalrous. Turns out I don’t care.

After giving up with the questions about his life, the conversation turned to sarcastic comments and teasing each other. I’m the queen of teasing. I think it’s one of the best things you can do in a relationship. However, if it’s your only means of communicating, things dry out so fast. Between the teasing, I learn that my date is openly racist, something I find not only sickening but completely astonishing for a 20-something in 2014. I find out that he cares more about money than basically anything else. I find out that he is more interested in himself than other human beings.

I come home and vent to friends, who tell me my favorite cliché: When you stop looking, love will find you. This proceeds to make me angrier. I’m not looking for love. I actually hate love. It’s caused quite too many problems in my life for me to actively seek it out. However, if I can’t fall back on the cat lady plan, I guess I should spend an afternoon on a ‘date’ instead of just hanging out with my parents as usual. There seems to be a conflict in clichés – half the people in my life tell me it’s time to ‘get back out there’ and half tell me to ‘stop looking.’

I’m somewhere in between. I guess that’s probably where I’ll stay until maybe one day I’ll find someone worth leaving the in between for. Until then, maybe I’ll just pull out my sketchbook and start drawing some cats. It’s kind of the same, right?

When Blue Dish Detergent Pisses You Off

I look down at the counter and see thick, bubbly blue soap everywhere. On the floor, dripping down the cabinets. What the hell. Then I see that I forgot to put the little white cap back on the sponge/soap dispenser I’m using to clean the dishes. I’ve been cleaning the dishes while blue Dawn dish-washing soap escaped all over.

I’m immediately angry. No, I mean, irrationally angry. I’m gripped with anger in a way that I feel I might hit something or go crazy or just start yelling at someone, anyone who gets in my way. In the past, I think I would have.

At first, I think I’m mad at my parents because I’m doing the dishes and somehow that’s their fault. As if doing the dishes is such a chore. As if washing a few dishes on a quiet Monday evening is something to be angry at.

So, I turn off the water and just stare out the window into the darkness and the snow. I’m angry because there’s no sun when I get out of work. I’m angry because my car is cold and old and never heats up. I’m angry because of some snarky side comment someone said to me over the weekend. I’m angry because I’m angry.

Between pointing my finger at this person or that situation, trying to pinpoint exactly what is making me so goddamned angry, I feel my eyes welling up with tears. My parents are still in the kitchen cleaning up, and I haven’t even gotten a grip on what the hell is happening yet, so I try to blink the tears away. They just keep falling.

This happened one other time recently. I went to get my grandfather and he wasn’t ready for me, even though we told him what time we’d be there. I was so angry, irrationally angry, first at him and then five times as much at myself. It’s not fair to be angry at someone simply because they are aging and don’t remember as well as they used to.

So, as he got ready, I went for a walk in the snow. I walked through my old neighborhood with red lipstick on and my navy blue, knee length winter jacket, knowing that the cars driving by had to be wondering where such a dressed up girl was walking to in the middle of winter. Why did she look so sad? I cried, stopped, cried. I found myself at the cemetery. It was the only place I could think to go.

Nobody likes death. Nobody likes to think about it, to confront it, to realize it’s a part of life we all need to accept. Death comes in two ways; shockingly fast or painfully slow. When it happens fast, it’s like a straight punch to your gut. When it happens slowly, it feels like someone is letting the air out of a balloon inside your stomach, and you can’t fill it back up no matter what.

Regardless of the way it presents itself, it demands attention. So, if you aren’t going to let the soppy tears fall into the soapy dishwater, than you can bet your ass you’re going to be punching something.

I realized that as shitty as this feels, I’d rather just cry. So when my parents finally asked me what was wrong, I just break down and tell them. No “I’m fine” or “nothing” — just the straight out truth. My grandfather is getting older and it hurts like fucking hell. He’s the head of the family, the strongest one there is, and it’s hard to grip the reality that he is human just like the rest of us. I don’t want him to be human. I want him to live forever.

I don’t call the shots, though. I don’t have that kind of power. So, I just send my prayers and hold on to the moments I have right now. When he makes me laugh, I laugh. When I want to cry, I cry. If nothing else, I think about the time I have here and the time he has here and how important it all is. Cliches aside, it all goes by too damn fast.

Split the Chicken Wings 60/40 & Have a Panic Attack

“Mon, we’re all getting breakfast sandwiches, you want one?”

“Okay…” I say, thoughtfully, thinking about what exactly a breakfast sandwich meant. It meant a lot of calories and fat as my first meal of the day. It meant blowing my calorie limit out the window. Basically, it meant starving.

“Well, what kind?” he asks.

“I don’t know. What are you getting?”

He kind of just looks at me with a face that says, “What does it matter?”

So, I just tell him sausage, egg, and cheese. Or maybe I said bacon. I don’t remember because the alarms in my head were going off. Just five minutes earlier I had hopped off the scale in his bathroom. It read 100 lbs – the lowest I had been since junior high.

I start to get dressed and tell him to go downstairs; I’ll meet him down there. Then the panic begins. I am starving. I went out last night and couldn’t find anything healthy enough for my standards on the menu. I wound up splurging by eating 6 chicken wings.

But I can’t eat that sandwich. I know I can’t. There will be a lot of cheese, a lot of grease, and a lot of carbs. I can’t do it. I don’t even want to know the calorie count.

I rush downstairs and throw six dollars in his direction and tell him I have to leave. He looks confused and kind of hurt, wondering what he did wrong. He didn’t do anything wrong. I just couldn’t eat it.

As I drive home I realize I am starving and have no food in my house. So I stop at Dunkin’ and get the low-cal breakfast sandwich – turkey sausage and egg whites. Then I drive to my apartment and set it on the counter where it sits for five hours, untouched, until I finally throw it away. By the time I eat at 3pm I am shaky and dizzy.

Flashback a few years and I’m sitting in a restaurant. I want to order the chicken wing wrap but I already know the calorie count. It doesn’t matter anyway. He’ll probably mention it if I don’t first.

After a painful deliberation between a chicken wing wrap and a salad, in which we discuss calorie and fat content so I can make an informed decision, I choose the salad. Then when the waiter comes I quickly change to an order of wings and fries. I eat six chicken wings and leave four for lunch tomorrow.

At lunch the next day I eat all four of them, and then I cry. I’m ruining my body. I’m feeding it unhealthy food. I’m out of control. Little did I know that I was out of control, just in different ways.

It’s eight months ago and I am at a rest stop between Philadelphia and Scranton. I had no chance to eat, yet. My options are a burger from Roy Rogers, greasy pizza from a nameless place, or a pre-made grilled chicken sandwich that has more chemicals in it than I can handle. I spend a half hour at this rest stop, walking and walking, trying to find something that is not automatically ruled out by my strict diet.

I find a granola bar that is 110 calories and leave. My trip is set back a half hour and I’m still starving.

I can’t speak for everyone when I say that featuring FDA-mandated calorie counts on menus nationwide is more harmful than it is good, even though that’s exactly what I believe for myself. I will tell you that the panic is starting to set in. It’ll be a year before this goes into effect, so I have time. It’s just that, I spent the past 6 months teaching my brain not to care about calories, and this feels like a bit of a blow. I can’t lie and say I’m not a little scared.

I did some research to see the affects of calorie counting on eating disorders. It turns out Harvard University opted to remove the calorie counts from their dining halls in 2008 due to the impact it had on students with eating disorders. Other than that, I didn’t spend much time researching. Our disordered-eating-obsessed country has many more articles on how to lose weight in unhealthy ways than articles on eating disorders. It’s just the way it is.

When Football Fields and Candy Stores Pop Up in Your Living Room

She looks at me with big, blue eyes and tugs at my hand.

“Monica, come closer.”

Then she whispers in my ear the best secret she can come up with to get me to follow her into the next room.

“There’s candy in there.”

So I close my sociology book and take her tiny hand as she leads me into the make-believe candy store that popped up in the living room. She gives me a tour of the place which is comprised mostly of chocolate and banana flavored candy. She asks me if I want some. Of course I do; after all, pretend candy may not taste all that delicious but it doesn’t have any calories.

I sit down in the corner she points to. She tells me I should sit there if I ever want to get my candy. I look around the room and realize that I don’t know how long it has been since I sat on this floor, let alone in this corner. I note how the world looks different from down here.

She continues to run her candy store, telling me that she will also make me a “hamburg” but I’d have to forget about the cheese; she doesn’t have any. An imaginary person named Henry ate it all. She asks me if I would like mustard before she decides that she ran out of that as well.

The counter of her shop is set up right beneath the piano. She’s small enough to fit under there but tall enough now that she could bang her head if I don’t keep reminding her to be careful. She’s not worried about hitting her head; she’s just worried about making my food.

I watch her as she runs around, laughing and being silly. She stops to tell me secrets now and then about the football field that she decided is somewhere behind the couch. I try so hard to see it, but all I see is a green wall. She’s sure it’s there, though. “Monica, see the football field?”

So I try to see it. I play her game and think about how wonderful it is to build your own beautiful candy store right next to the football field on a rainy Sunday night when the rest of the world is dreading work the next day. I’m envious.

Her tiny blonde ponytail is bouncing up and down and she looks at me and giggles. While she starts making me an imaginary bucket of buttery popcorn, my heart aches a little. I want her to stay this way forever, as selfish as that may be.

I don’t want this perfect little girl to grow up and experience the bad – because right now her world is filled with candy and cake and happiness.

I never want her to look at a candy bar and wonder if it will go straight to her thighs. I don’t want her to feel like she needs to sleep with a guy to make herself feel worth it. Lord knows I never want her to experience drugs, or even alcohol, because right now, the world is good enough for her just the way it is.

I stop thinking so much about the real world for a minute and fall into her creative world filled with endless candy and “hamburgs” and football fields. We giggle and laugh and when she does lightly bump her head on the piano, she runs to me with a serious look on her face and I hug her and she smiles. I love this little girl, we all do. She pulls me out of the real world and into her exclusive, make-believe world. It’s all I need to keep my heart at least a little bit young.

The most overused yet ignored phrase: “Be Yourself”

I’ve been burdened for a long time by my need to have other people like me and approve of my choices. I would say out of all the things that contributed to my anxiety, depression, and eating problems, this is the number one reason to blame.

I’m not sure when it happened, but sometime between now and when I was a fourteen-year-old girl, I felt the only way for me to survive was to be who others wanted me to be. I mean, all the time.

So when I dated someone on the football team, I changed my style to fill that role. When I dated the health and exercise addict, I became obsessed with these things, too. When I had a crush on a guy who liked to party, I suddenly liked to party (too much), too.

The problem with this – aside from how obviously sick it really is – is that it created an anxiety within myself. I don’t like to exercise every day. I actually prefer to exercise a few times a week, otherwise I wind up getting burned out. I don’t actually like football that much, nor have I ever. I certainly like to go out and have fun, but quiet nights watching movies revive my soul and give me a chance to hang out with myself.

It needs to be said that I did not necessarily take on these roles because someone was forcing me to, but rather, I thought that was the best way to get others to like me. Because I didn’t necessarily love myself, it felt easier to blend in with others’ expectations to fill that hole.

This need to live up to other people’s expectations doesn’t just extend to the guys I’ve dated in my life – they also extend to my parents, my friends… everyone. Letting down my parents has been my biggest fear, so I’ve always tried to go above and beyond to do things their way. Or, at least, pretend to do things their way.

However, once you start to “grow up” (really, Monica is growing up and it’s terrifying) and become an adult, you realize that you have different views of the world than your parents may have. This is neither good nor bad; it’s just the way it is. But if you get caught up in living by the standards of others, you may find that you never will grow into the person you are meant to be.

As 2014 quickly passes us by, I realize that it’s been my hardest and best year yet. I’ve learned so much and gained so much insight this year. For the first time in so long I feel human and I feel okay. I feel like myself. I live life by my own standards.

One of the most important lessons I’ve come to learn this year would be that I’m not perfect nor will I ever be. It sounds so cliché, but it’s true. The thing is, for the longest time, I didn’t even know I was trying to be perfect. What’s even more peculiar is I was trying to be perfect for people who didn’t even expect me to be perfect.

When I fall short by my own standards, I’m so hard on myself it makes me sick. If I fall flat on my face in front of a guy I’m interested in, or if I say something I shouldn’t have, I beat myself up for so long. It’s exhausting.

There’s a freedom in realizing that you don’t have to be someone else’s idea of what you should be. “Be yourself” is perhaps the most overused yet ignored phrase in our language today. Everyone wants you to be yourself until you actually be yourself. Then you are weird.

I’m weird and I freaking love it. No, really, I’m not kidding. Not even a little bit. I write this blog because I own my brokenness and recognize that without it, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Without the mistakes in my past I wouldn’t have gotten to the wonderful, exciting, beautiful place I am at right now.

No, I’m not perfect. I make mistakes and then I make them again. Sometimes I hurt people without even knowing it. Sometimes I get angry with myself. Sometimes I think that I should be somewhere else than where I am.

But most of the time I realize I’m exactly where I need to be in life. I’m exactly who I need to be – a person with emotions and enthusiasm and a need to over-share. If I continued to live up to the expectations of other people, I would live my entire life in chains; it’s nice to finally feel free.


War on Bullying isn’t working; where do we go from here?

As a nation, we are all pretty aware of the bullying issue. There are anti-bullying campaigns on social media, through commercials, and even movies about it. It’s real, too. The numbers are extremely sobering; suicide is the third highest cause of death for teens.

While we’re all aware of this issue, we seem to all disagree on how to solve the problem. Not only does it lead to suicides, but school shootings seem to be happening almost daily now. This book  explores the connection between bullying and school shootings.

From my own experiences with bullying (you can read my post from 2011 here), I’ve come to realize that no administrative help was going to fix the problem. Because administrators did try to help me, and when they intervened, it just made things worse. Their intentions were in the right place, but unfortunately it just led to more issues.

The thing is, bullying isn’t a new phenomenon. If you are like me and watch 24 hours of the Christmas Story during Christmas, you know poor Ralphie and his brother were bullied. No, I am not suggesting that we retaliate by punching the shit out of the person (although it did seem to work for him…). But I think the main difference between bullying then and bullying now is the internet. Kids don’t get away from it when they go home at night. Ralphie wasn’t sitting on his cellphone watching his bullies have a fun night out via social media. Man, he was busy thinking about his Christmas gift.

Almost 10 years after my own struggle with being bullied, I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to not go after the bullies necessarily, because in the end, it’s never going to stop. People will be assholes. Furthermore, I’d argue that the people who bully have their own issues they need to work out and that’s why they pry on the weaker. Hell, I’m almost 25 and I still know people who are bullies.

I think we need to teach kids better coping skills to deal with it when they do get bullied.

Really, although my experience was traumatic, it turns out that a lot of the emotional pain I felt was because I already had low self-esteem. So, basically, in my head, I sucked. Therefore, when I had 12 of my classmates telling me that I sucked, a red light started flashing in my brain that said, “They figured it out! They know you suck! Everything you’ve been thinking about yourself is real!”

In all reality, those kids knew nothing about me and didn’t need to affect me the way that they did. The problem, after all, was that I felt shitty about myself and gave in to the lies they were spitting at me.

Our generation has a problem sitting with feelings. We don’t like to feel things, mainly because we don’t have to. When we feel out of place, we go on our phones and check Facebook. When we are angry, we tweet about it. When we are sad, we watch a movie. We never learned how to sit with our feelings without taking action. Our society is so fast-paced that we have a reaction trigger. Something happens and we act quickly.

If you read my blog entry about my own experience, you’ll see that there were points that I wanted to die. I did not want to live. Now, almost 10 years later, I realize all the things I would have missed out on: two of my sisters’ weddings, the birth of three amazing cousins, college graduation, relationships, great times with great friends, a million laughs and smiles… I could go on forever.

We need to teach kids how to cope. How to stand up not only to their bullies, but to the personal voice inside their heads that are telling them they suck. It’s the only way we are going to save people from themselves.