You Cannot Break Me

When I started this blog, I started it with the intention of sharing my adventures with the world – weeks of traveling, taking risks, meeting strangers, making memories that would last a life time, moving so fast that I never had time to focus on my biggest adventure: me.

I’ve always been the person who thinks too much, tries to hard, and spends hours overanalyzing my decisions. Was I making the right choice? Would people approve? How would I look to others if I took a path they disagreed with? Never once did I stop to think how I would look to myself.

Recently, I had the courage to share my story, owning up to some of the darkest truths that have been festering deep inside my heart for years. I thought that was my catharsis. I felt proud that I finally found the strength to share every piece of my story, without hesitation or concern for the hurtful opinions of others. I thought that I’d finally crossed that bridge over the pain of my past and into the acceptance of my future as I am today. What I didn’t understand until this moment is that sharing my story was just the beginning of the bumpy road ahead of me.

For those who’ve never dealt with mental health issues – sharing your truth comes with blankets of emotions- relief, anxiety, happiness, terror, you name it. It is not the end-all of the mental health journey, it is the starting point. Sharing your truth opens a doorway to freedom- freedom from your mind, your secrets, your inner criticisms. It is the chance to speak up and speak out about who you are and who you are proud of being. The only problem with doors is; they close. And sometimes they lock you in if you’re not careful.

That’s why I’m back, sharing more of what I thought was over. Because right now, my door is open and I’m trying to keep it that way.

I’m starting with acceptance – an action not easily achieved when it comes to the battle field that’s in my head. But I’m starting here anyway – right at the forefront of everything that’s caused me pain. My first step: acceptance of myself and my flaws. For me it’s been the recognition of my own worst enemy – my mind. The mind that has forced me to change myself because it feared how others would see me. The mind that told me it wasn’t okay not being okay. The mind that convinced me I had to be perfect to be valued. The mind that has been shaped by societal pressures, my own experiences, and the people around me.

And now I’m here – sleeping in bed each night with my worst enemy, living a life with the one thing that constantly tells me I am less than perfect, and fighting to keep it out but repeatedly failing because, well, it’s glued right in there at the top of my head and it sure isn’t going anywhere. So, the only logical solution is to learn to live with it.

If we’re being brutally honest, I’m not really sure what’s going to come next but I sure do hope I can stay open about it. All I know is that the next few months is going to be a whirlwind. This is the part where I learn- learn to be brave, to be strong, and to stand up for what I need FOR ME. This is the part where change has to be okay because it is necessary. This is the part where I will fight – fight to find happiness in my personal life and in my career, even if it means I have to make choices that others don’t understand or value. This is the part where I will sit down with my worst enemy and look her right in her face and say – I will beat you. You cannot break me.

Wish me luck –

 

Own Your Truth

We’re never truly “ready” to share our deepest pains with the world. But I’d go as far as to argue that we’re never truly ready for anything. It’s really just about finding courage to share our truths with the world so they too can find courage to share their own. I guess now’s as good of a time as any. 

I wrote this two years ago. Two years ago, I was looking to find my strength in others. But the stigma was too much. Now, I am stronger. My hope is only that this truth with help others find courage in themselves. 

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 9.52.52 PMHere’s my story…

It’s harder than it sounds, putting years of pain into a few pages. I guess it’s fair to say that the language of your heart isn’t directly transferable onto paper. But if I’ve learned anything over the past six years, it’s to push through the hard times even when it seems impossible. I’m glad I did too…because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here today.

He walked into my life six years ago and I’ve been different ever since. He was my 10th grade English teacher. Knowing I was placed in his class felt great at first- Honors English, pretty cool right? My brother and sister had him sophomore year too. They loved him. What a great guy, my mom said. He came to my house one June for my brother’s graduation party. I remember because he told me how excited he was to have me in his class. My siblings were excited too. They told me I was lucky to be his student. I would be better for it, they said. After all, he was their favorite. He was everybody’s favorite. His name was a name of honor and success to so many. Honestly, I can’t even say it out loud without feeling sick.

Fresh faced and focused, I arrived on the first day of school. I was ecstatic but that feeling was soon to be a distant memory. If I had known then what I know now, I would have turned around and walked out that door. If I had, I would have saved myself a lifetime of unhappiness.

At first he was a great mentor. I started out asking for advice on papers and our relationship grew to a more personal level. I trusted him because I felt like I could go to him with any problem I was having. He always stressed that I could do anything I put my mind to and it made me feel good. With him as a teacher, I felt like I had the world in the palm of my hand. At that impressionable teenage phase, he was an adult figure I could look to for advice- he was someone who had the power to change me. He was someone my friends and I could go to for reassurance. At the time, I would have compared him to a father figure. His classroom was a sanctuary from the harsh realities of the high school hallway that was plagued everyday by judgment. In his classroom, I felt like I could be myself completely. Harsh words from other peers were easy to overcome when you had someone there to build you up and protect you. But as a sophomore in high school, I was vulnerable and he soon took advantage of that.

First came the small criticisms, which grew bigger with time. After a while, my work was either thrown out completely or put on a high pedestal. Some days he built me up to the stars and other days he would tear me down completely. I was lost and confused. When my work wasn’t up to his standards he would break me down and I felt completely worthless. I was looking for validation from someone and all of the sudden I couldn’t find it anywhere. He said I could do better, I SHOULD do better. He said, I was a disappointment, A WASTE OF TIME. That’s exactly how I felt. The emotional abuse went on for two years and after awhile, I took everything he said and internalized it. I was scared to tell my parents; afraid that they would also be disappointed…so I did what I thought I had to- I kept it to myself.

I distinctly remember the first day I gave a presentation in front of the whole class. I was nervous and worried about what he would think and I didn’t get more than one word into the presentation before his critique started. I had a horrible habit of playing with my earrings when I was nervous. He knew that too- he pointed it out days before. But this time, it was his moment to humiliate me. Each time I touched my ear, he stopped my presentation and made me start over. He hadn’t done this to the girl before me who stuttered over her words though and I didn’t understand that. After a few times, he stopped my presentation all together and I sat down. I was the laughing stock of the class that day, and the two years that followed have left me questioning my self worth for years.

Little Henry is what he often called me- in the hallway, after school, the most often; when he would call me out of other classes to come down to his room- why you ask? He told my other teachers it was work related. It wasn’t.

He didn’t hesitate to draw attention to my insecurities as the youngest child in my family. As he reminded the whole class on multiple occasions, I was the “black sheep” of my family. I was much different than my older siblings. They were more confident, smarter of course, and a lot less trouble. The only thing I had going for me was my looks. And for some reason- my entire personal life was always on the table for class discussion. The things I had talked to him about, as my mentor, became entertainment for the whole class.

I remember the first day he told me I looked “nice.” It took me off guard at first but I ignored it. He’d never done anything like that before and in all honesty, I thought I heard him wrong. It wasn’t until after school when he called me to his desk and slid his hand down my leg that I knew I needed help. I was terrified. I had to stay away from him, but at that point I was so tangled up in his control that I didn’t know what to do. I felt my friends didn’t understand. They continued spending time in his classroom everyday and I felt forced to go with them. When I chose not to go, I felt excluded. When I went, I felt sick to my stomach. I felt scared to tell my family, I no longer felt connected to my teachers, and if I stopped hanging out with my friends, I would have no one.

There was an entire band of students on his side. Even my other teachers were his friends. I was scared to say a word because everyone I knew loved him – even my family. Why would they believe me? What was the point in telling them he felt me up? I was scared of the rumors. I was scared of the judgment. I was scared people wouldn’t believe me so I kept it to myself.

The first few months all I did was avoid him, and as a result I felt like I was losing my closest friends. They asked me on multiple occasions to come with them to spend time in his room, and I had no choice but to make excuses. We started to grow apart – and as a result my confidence deteriorated. I felt I was lying to my friends, the people who had been there for me through everything. I hated myself for it but I was just so scared.

What was happening was like a terrible dream; one that didn’t seem real and one that I surely couldn’t prove to anyone. It all went on for two years and each day I was terrified to walk through the front door of my own school. I didn’t know what was going to happen and on top of that I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings. I was upset and I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. After a while my thoughts built up inside me. I just couldn’t take it anymore, and soon I started to blame the only person I had left- myself.

I did everything I could to let my feelings out. I stopped eating lunch because I thought I might feel better if I was skinny. If I were thinner, at least I would be worth someone’s time. If I were prettier, maybe I would find a guy who actually thought I was worth something. I woke up at 5:30 am everyday to shower and straighten my hair. I begged my mom to buy me new clothes and make-up. Once I lost some weight, I got attention. At first I felt like I was worth something but that was short lived. I met a boy- the first one who was ever interested in me. He made me feel special and I was excited. Then one day I made the mistake of telling him what had happened. He never talked to me again.

Everything just got worse after that. I spent my days focused on my classes, my afternoons at school activities to distract myself, and my nights crying in bed. My nightmares got stronger and I lost a lot of sleep. When the lights went out, I thought about what other people would think of me if I told them, what would happen to me if I ever told a soul, and I thought about how much easier life would be for everyone if I was gone.

I hated myself. I hated the way I looked, the people I was around, and most days I was convinced it would be easier for everyone if I just did them all a favor and disappeared. Nothing made me feel better. Some days I sat on the bathtub, staring at a razor blade thinking about how good it might feel to take my anger out on my own body. I hated myself for that too. But I still kept doing it. Kept thinking- kept looking for ways to disappear. What was the point in going back to school anyway? No one would notice I was gone except him. No one knew what I was feeling. It didn’t matter. I didn’t matter. It haunted me every day.

I hate that you’ve had the power to make me feel this way. For the longest time I despised everything about myself. Even though I did nothing wrong, I felt like I was worthless. At any moment I could have gotten out of it, but I chose not to. How could something that lacked some much in physical contact be construed as sexual abuse anyway? It wasn’t that. What was it? I guess I could call it sexual harassment, but it was more than that. Your presence and threats of sexual abuse brought me to a level of emotional agony that I can’t even begin to put into a few pages of writing. Does what you did to me even have a name? How is it possible to open up about something I don’t even know how to describe? It was like I went through something that no one seems to ever relate to. I try to remind myself that none of what happened was my fault but sometimes I still hate myself for not doing something about it. Was it my fault? How can I be so upset over something I had the power to stop? Why didn’t I stop it? Why didn’t I tell anyone? I still ask myself these questions and they still make me feel worthless.

Sometimes I think what’s worst is the fact that the whole situation makes me feel like nothing that’s ever going on in my mind even makes sense. It’s been four years since the last time I saw you; four years since I’ve felt terrified to walk through the school doors, but I still question my self worth. It’s been four years and sometimes I feel just as insignificant as I did when it was all happening. My therapist says its anxiety, depression, and PTSD. I try to talk to people about these conditions now but it’s hard to not sink back into my old habits of keeping things to myself, especially when a lot of people I open up to freak out when I tell them what I went through. I guess I don’t blame them though- it’s a lot.

The flashbacks happen much less often now but sometimes things comes up that trigger all these feelings again. I think about the girls out there you might be doing the same exact thing to. I think about how I would feel if you ever found me again. I’m still scared. I’m scared of you, I’m scared of guys in general. I’m scared that everyone has the potential to treat me the way you did. It’s horrible. There’s still that void and no matter how hard I try, I can never seem to fill it. I can tell myself everyday that I am strong but no matter how many times I say it, there’s still something missing. It’s like you took a piece of me that I’ll never get back and no matter how close I am to finding myself again, something doesn’t quite fit. I will always hate you for that.

“Are you excited to graduate?” and Other Questions Collegiate Seniors are Tired of Hearing

As an undergraduate senior at the University of Maryland, I am well-versed in the small-talk questions deemed suitable to ask those preparing to enter the “real world”- questions which they think we are prepared to answer:

“Are you ready/excited/nervous to graduate? What are you going to do with your [fill in the blank] major?”

At the ripe age of 18 as an incoming freshman, I looked to the seniors and thought “Wow, they are so old; they must have their whole lives in order by now.” I always thought that by the time I was a senior, I would know what I wanted to do with my major, my future, and my life. Here I am, three and a half years later, and I still have no idea where my path is leading me. I’ve begun to realize that things will eventually fall into place, but for now, the thought of the future is extremely overwhelming…

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Plane and Simple

Seven hours and counting…God I hate planes. It’s funny how my attitude on flying changes depending on the situation. I’m sure everyone’s been there. You’re in your house, packing, trying to fit as many clothes as possible into a suitcase and praying to God that it doesn’t weigh more than 50 lbs in order to avoid the airlines excessive overweight luggage fee. You’re just so excited that you would do anything to get to the airport right that second and start another adventure in your life. At that moment, who the hell cares about the flight? Not you. As long as it’s getting you somewhere other than your bedroom floor, it’s bliss.
WRONG. You get to the airport and everything changes. First, you spend a ridiculous amount of money on a taxi from wherever it is you’re coming from, unless you drive yourself of course. In that case, you spend a horrendous amount of money on parking and try not to think about the fact that while you’re gone, your car is sitting still in a parking space and slowly putting you in debt. Don’t even think about the $500+ that you spent on a flight because you’ll probably rack up close to that amount just trying to get onboard.
Of course, then there’s security. Don’t forget to pack your carry-on in an organized fashion or else you risk ending up in the most unfortunate situation near the security conveyer belt as your headache gets worse and your belongings explode everywhere in front of you. Move quickly though because everyone in line is watching you and though you can’t hear them, they are probably thinking something along the lines of “This day would be a whole lot easier if this idiot wasn’t in front of me.”
Finally you’re through. Hopefully you avoided the uncomfortable pat-down, but if not, I am deeply sorry. I’m sure all you really need to perk up is coffee or a light snack that will tide you over until you come in contact with your grotesque airplane meal that you probably won’t eat anyway. Unless of course you enjoy luke warm chicken or beef “who the hell knows what else is in there” stew. Thankfully you find a little cafe somewhere near the high end watch store that you always find in the terminal. It’s obviously clear that the first place people think to go to when planning on buying an unnecessarily expensive wrist watch is the airport. Need I say more?
Nevertheless, you wait in line…try to find pain killers in your purse for the unavoidable backache you get from lugging your twenty pound carry on bag on your shoulder for two hours. The only other thing you have to do before finding sanctuary at your gate is decide whether spending six dollars on a piece of cheese is really worth it.
The past couple of hours remains a blur; maybe it was the lack of sleep or your effort at tuning out the misery, but it doesn’t stop here. You find yourself in your seat listening to the onboard safety video. Note to self: if your plane falls from 30,000 ft and you manage to live through it, there’s a life jacket under your seat.
Here comes the best part; your neighbors. Maybe you’re lucky and your next to a tiny old woman who takes up zero space and doesn’t say anything except “hello” and “goodbye.” Let’s not be too optimistic here though. Most likely you’re stuck in the middle seat next to a combination of five different types of people: the three hundred pound sweaty, congested man, the talker, the antsy elementary school student, the stressed out travel mom and her kids, or the screaming toddler. No offense to any of these people of course. I’d be stressed out too if I were traveling with kids, but it would be naive to say that every single traveller doesn’t dread the whining or the sticky tray tables that surround them in these situations. Personally, I prefer the toddler because, well, at least they’re cute, and depending on your preference (sleeping on the flight or not), the talker isn’t always the worst. You can meet some pretty interesting people while traveling abroad. However, the large congested man is always the worst. At least keep your extra couple pounds in your own seat, blow your nose if you’re going to try and take a nap, or wear some deodorant if airplanes make you sweaty. Is a little consideration for others really that much to ask? I think not.

Needless to say, I hate flying.

Sincerely,
The weariest of travellers

Blessed

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I’m currently sitting on a boat that is sailing back to Athens from Mykonos, which is a greek island in the Aegean Sea. Did you know that there aren’t any sharks in the Mediterranean? I had no idea about that until coming here and it sure does make swimming in the ocean ten times more enjoyable for me. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not that I didn’t like swimming in the ocean before this trip. Considering my SCUBA certification and the amount of time I vacation at the beach, I think it’s safe to say that the ocean is one of my favorite places to be. However, I do and always will have an irrational fear of sharks. Okay yea, some people might not think a fear of sharks is irrational because a lot of people are afraid of them, but in all honesty, the chance of getting attacked by a shark is extremely rare. My Dad likes to explain it as, you are more likely to get into a car accident than you are to get attacked by a shark. So, why hesitate when getting into the ocean because we are afraid of a shark attack if the possibility of a car accident doesn’t stop us from getting into a car? When I think about it that way, I feel pretty stupid looking over my shoulder or under the water for sharks when I’m swimming. But regardless, I always do it and I probably always will. That’s why it was nice to be in the Mediterranean because I got a chance to swim without being afraid of anything. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a little more of an adventure than I bargained for.
Yesterday we took a trip to the beach closest to our hotel. It’s only about a 10 minute walk down a mountain to a small, breath taking beach. I guess I was a little too excited because I ended up falling down on the steep dirt path that leads to the beach. Needless to say, having a huge scrape on your leg is bad enough and having it filled with dirt really doesn’t help the situation. Regardless, I picked myself right up and enjoyed the beach just as I would have enjoyed it “scrape less.” Excited to swim without any sharks, I jumped right in and swam out pretty far with my friend Kat. We ended up above some sort of stone wall or something. It was hard to tell what it was, especially since we didn’t have any goggles, but I wasn’t scared because I knew there weren’t going to be any sharks. The only thing we did see were small black specks on the wall, which we assumed were some type of plant, but boy were we wrong. After finding a part of the wall that we could stand on we caught our balance and stood up. It didn’t last very long though when the next wave came in and we toppled over right on top of these lovely black specks that marine biologists define as sea urchins. I don’t know how many of you know what a sea urchin looks like or what it feels like when you fall on top of it, so I’ll explain. Basically they are sea creatures that live on the bottom of the ocean, sometimes around coral reefs or near other things they can stick to. They are black and covered in spikes and can sometimes grow as large as a basket ball. Being stung by one feels kind of like being stung by a jelly fish and a wasp at the same time. Throw porcupine quills in there too and you’ll have a picture in your mind of the struggle that is being stung by a sea urchin. Still, we sucked it up and pulled through for an amazing night out at Paradise Club. Mykonos is known all over Europe for its night life and we all had a blast. The only downside was all the creepy men at the club. We definitely had a lot more encounters with creepers than a girl normally would in the US. It was crazy expensive too but that wasn’t enough to ruin the experience. You’re only in Greece once, right?
So, let’s take a step back and summarize. I’m leaving Mykonos having learned some new things. One, Greece has a crazy amount of stuff to see, do, and learn. So much that I didn’t even have time to mention the archaeological site we went to on the Island of Delos until now, which is one of the largest archaeological sites in Europe and is home to Temples of both Apollo and Artemis. Two, pay attention when you walk. Three, just because one terrifying sea animal doesn’t exist somewhere, that doesn’t mean there isn’t another one. Four, people in Europe smoke way too many cigarettes. Five, never go to a club in Greece without guys in your group to fend off creepy old men. Six, when you think you have on enough sunscreen, wear some more. Seven, don’t sweat the small stuff. And eight, be thankful for every opportunity you get. If you get a chance to travel, always remember how blessed you are and don’t let anything that goes wrong ruin your experience. Having the means to travel is a gift and anyone who receives it should embrace every minute.

Back to Athens we go.
Until then,
Stay thankful. Xoxo.

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Just Like Us

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Attention readers: yes, I am still in Greece. I believe the last time I touched base with everyone was when I was in Naufplio. I could be wrong though, my memory is pretty shot. It’s probably full of Greek Mythology or pictures of different kinds of pottery. I never thought I would say it, but I will admit that I am slightly tired of all these museums. I try and stay interested in every ancient artifact I see, but there’s only so many ceramic vases you can look at before you start seeing them in your sleep. Don’t get me wrong though, this entire trip has been amazing and I have been feeling extremely blessed to get to stand right in front of the objects people used centuries before Christ. Whether you believe in God or not, there’s no denying that this whole “Before Christ” method of calculating time really makes you realize how old these artifacts really are. And it’s not just the rocks we see or what remains of the ancient temples that blow my mind. It’s the jewelry, silverware, and baby high chairs that somehow survived from thousands of years ago that really make you think about the people that lived in these ancient civilizations. Yea, they wore different clothing, spoke complex languages, ate other food, and didn’t have facebook, twitter, or blogging websites like we do, but they had religion, families, everyday problems, and dreams just like us. Regardless or how they lived or the fact that their day to day activities were different, they had a lot of the same values and thoughts that we do. They were working toward success and doing whatever it was they needed to do to be happy; sounds kind of familiar, right?
I have been here in Greece for awhile now. Yea, maybe it’s not an entire semester but I’ve been here long enough to stop caring as much about taking pictures of every little thing I pass or every new type of situation I encounter. I notice everyday that I feel a little more at home here and less like a tourist. It’s not so much that I am getting better at the language (because I sure as hell am not) or that I am making local friends (definitely not really time for that), but that I feel confident navigating the city of Athens and interacting with Greek people in their local environment. Yesterday, my roommate, Kiara, and I had the opportunity to interview Irini Solomonidi, the senior librarian at the Gennadius Library in Athens, which is home to the priceless heritage of it’s founder Joannes Gennadius, Greek Ambassador to Great Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1922, Gennadius donated his 26,000 volume collection to the American School of Classical Studies in Athens and thus, the Gennadius library was born. Today the library holds more than 120,000 volumes, old and new. The most enjoyable part of our visit was talking to Miss Solomonidi about her experience as a librarian in Europe. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be sitting there with her in the secret parts of the library with some of the rarest books in Europe and almost living her experiences with her as she told us everything about her life; how she came to be a librarian at such a prestigious library and the struggles she has faced getting here. We even had the chance to see the first edition of The Illiad from the 1400s. Might I add that turning the pages of a 600 year old book that’s probably worth more than my house was absolutely terrifying considering I am one of the clumsiest people on planet earth.
We have seen so many amazing places on this trip and learned so much that it makes me sad to not have enough time to even begin to write about all of it. From visiting the birthplace of theater to the site of the first Olympic games, to eating Gyros and frozen yogurt in every city we pass through and experiencing the nightlife of Gazi, to tanning on the roof of our hotel with the view of the Parthenon in the background, everything has been a first.
I’m sure some of you are wondering about what’s happening here with the political unrest in Turkey so close to us, and I won’t lie, things aren’t going so great for Greece. A few days ago the Prime Minister made a decision to save government money by completely eliminating the radio. In one day, 2,500 people were out of a job. Protests began immediately. Police are everywhere and it’s definitely scary not really knowing what could happen here considering how many people are unhappy with the government. However, as of now we are safe and moving along with our program. All we can do is keep moving and learning, crossing our fingers that nothing here gets as bad as the riots that are currently devastating Turkey. Tomorrow we leave for Mykonos, which is an island! We will leave the economic crisis in our rear view mirror for a few days as we soak up the sun and the history of the paradise that is Mykonos.

The Peloponese

I’d say it’s been about five days since I blogged last, but in all honesty, I don’t really know. We have been to so many places and seen so many things since we left Athens that I can’t even begin to explain everything. I do know one thing though, and that is that it has been more than anything I could have ever imagined. Considering how high my expectations were coming here, I think that is enough to show that Greece really is one of the most amazing places on earth. Not only is it piled high with history, but the food, the people, and the breath taking beaches aren’t half bad either. Yea, i’ll admit, some days have been long and the content of this course is pretty in depth. Normally I would complain or stress about getting my work done, but none of that really applies here. There’s few things greater than learning the history of ancient greece while you’re standing smack dab in the middle of where it took place.
In five days we have been from Athens to Nemea to Mycenea to Naufplio to Olympia, and we leave for Delphi in the morning. I guess you could call it a crash course on 350,000 years of Greek history, but that might be an understatement. I’d love to write more, but as you can see, time isn’t something I’ve got much of, and I’m not going to spend much of it on the internet. It’s safe to say that paragraphs on paragraphs of blogging on a touch screen ipad isn’t exactly time efficient. The details are going to have to wait for when I am reunited with my laptop in PA. As for now, tonight we find out what Ouzo is all about.

Until then,
Στην υγειά μας!

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