The Halfway Check-In!

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Channeling Edie Sedgwick with a fun pixie wig. 6/5/16

Channeling Edie Sedgwick with a fun pixie wig. 6/5/16

At some point every June, which marks the year being halfway over (crazy, right?)– I like to look back on the resolutions and goals I set for myself for New Year’s and see exactly what I’ve accomplished so far and what I still have to work on. It’s a less stressful way of checking in as opposed to, say, waiting until December 1st so I can be overtly hard on myself for anything I didn’t quite get to/completely forgot about. It also serves as a nice kick in the ass to re-motivate me- especially during the Summer months when it’s easier to get things done before it’s time to go back into hibernation mode.

To make it easier to keep track- I re-list and re-post my initial goals, noting my progress- before I add some side-things I’m hoping to incorporate before the end of 2016 if I know it’s not going to make my head explode.

So, here’s what I jotted down on December 31st, 2015:

1. Take better care of myself:

I’m actually quite relieved/pleased that the very first resolution I had on my list in 2016 is the one I’ve been wildly successful with thus far. With my anxiety/panic attacks finally having slithered back into the fiery hell they emerged from- I’ve found an enjoyable and most importantly- manageable- routine with eating healthy, working out, and getting enough sleep where I can function like an actual adult. I’ve lost ten pounds. My body is tightening and toning itself in ways I didn’t think were possible. My skin has cleared up and my hair is healthy, thick and not going grey every time I have a bad day. I look better- and I FEEL better- which is the most important thing.

Diet and exercise aside- 2016 has really been the year I’ve taken a stand for myself emotionally and mentally, and I couldn’t be prouder. Gone are the days of simply tolerating and/or overlooking mistreatment, negligence, dishonesty and negativity. I put my foot down. I speak up- and I don’t compromise with anyone or anything that refuses to meet me halfway to find viable solutions to problems or conflict. I recently held my ground and delivered an ultimatum to someone who had hurt me- and I was met with newfound respect, understanding and reassurance as a result. 2015 or 2014 Ashley wouldn’t have gotten that- but 2016 Ashley is moving forward and taking control.

2016 Ashley is finally finding zen and “YAS QUEEN” status.

2. Thrive at my career:

This is another resolution that I’m happy to report has been working out well for me. I started my job back in December, and have gradually been finding my footing as I traverse through training, new responsibilities, new co-workers and new clientele ever since. It took a little while, but I’m finally comfortable with my current position, the team I work with, and my own knowledge of the company and how to be a productive and valuable asset to it. I’ve been getting glowing reviews and recommendations from supervisors and customers, too- which I’m sure will come in handy when it comes time for me to work my way up that corporate ladder to get where I want to be.

My job is very different from my former position at the firm- but I enjoy it- and the benefits and perks are infinitely better, too.

3. Relocate:

This is the resolution that is very, very close to happening. After locating what I can only describe as a dream apartment in Western Massachusetts a couple of months ago, and going as far as to submit a completed application to my would-have-been-landlords- I had to withdraw after a couple of test runs to/from the area proved to be a hassle in my getting to work in a punctual (and safe) manner. With the dynamics of my relationships in that part of New England ever changing, as well- I opted to hold off for a little while on moving to the area- until a chance conversation with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while happened. Said friend, now a real estate agent- has taken over the search on my behalf and is keeping an eye out for places more suitable to my ideal location, my price range, my commute to and from work- and my own personal tastes.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what he finds for me.

4. Finally get my first tattoo:

This resolution isn’t even close to happening right now, and I can’t say I’m all too upset about it since I have so many other things on my plate for the time being. I’ve settled on a Beatles tattoo, the lyrics from ‘Hey Jude’ or ‘Dear Prudence’ (the two songs I used to sing all the time with my dad,) but I’m still trying to figure out a font, a size- and a place to put it that isn’t going to be excruciatingly painful. I’d prefer the inside of my wrist, but then the daunting task becomes finding a skilled and suitable artist who knows what he/she is doing and won’t screw it up.

Thankfully, my inked friends have been more than forthcoming with their recommendations (and some have even offered to come hold my hand while I get it done!) which has been really helpful- and hopefully by the Fall- I’ll have my long overdue tribute tattoo to the greatest man I’ve ever known.

5. Visit New Orleans!:

Like my goal to relocate, this is another resolution that will be happening in due time. I’ve been putting as much money away as I can for my planned week off in mid-September- where I am aiming to spend a few days in New Orleans hitting each and every thing on my NOLA bucket list I’ve been compiling for a solid five years. Ideally, I’d like to get a couple of my friends in on the action and have them come with me- but if I have to fly solo due to conflicting schedules- than so be it. I’ve never been afraid to travel alone- even to a new and unfamiliar area for the first time.

Overall I’d say I’m making some pretty solid strides and some real progress towards the big five goals I set for myself for 2016. There’s always room for improvement and some tweaking of course- but I’m quite pleased with myself and all that I’ve accomplished so far in such a short amount of time.

On a side note, moving forward into the Summer, I do have a couple of minor things to add to my list of goals/resolutions:

1. Maybe consider trading in my car for a newer one: I adore my little white KIA oh so much, and we’ve been through a lot together over the years- but with over 100,000 miles and an engine that sounds like it’s ready to explode- I think it might be time to trade in and trade up for something a little quieter and that hasn’t been ridden quite as hard. Also, maybe something that doesn’t still have a CD player in it.

2. Finish my HGTV-inspired renovations: One of the bathrooms in my place is completely gutted, and a spare room has been turned into a makeshift storage unit while myself (with a lot of help from family and friends) re-do the walls, floors, ceilings, and everything in-between. A lot of things in my home were long overdue for updates/replacements- and the Summer of 2016 is when I went into full blown “Property Brothers” mode to fix and redecorate pretty much everything. New paint, new appliances, and new furniture. It was time to make a change. Out with the old and in with the new.

I think that’s everything! I can’t load up on too many more goals since I want to have time to actually enjoy my Summer, after all.

How’s everyone else doing with their 2016 resolutions? Have you accomplished everything on your list? Did you throw in the towel and call it quits? Do you need a mid-year refresher like I do/did? I’d love to hear all about it!

xx

May 2016: In a Nutshell.

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5/29/16

5/29/16. Feeling better.

“April showers bring May flowers, but what do May flowers bring?”

While the smart-ass answer to that question is typically “pilgrims”- April’s showers cleared way for a lot of self-reflection, more than a little stress, a good amount of clarity- and a significant test to one of my relationships that came to a challenging crossroads this past May.

When it comes to my love life, I tend to be more private about things. Sure, I don’t shy away from crude/crass humor and sometimes gratuitous details about my sexual escapades and misadventures on social media outlets like Twitter or Tumblr (where those types of conversations seem to be fairly common and pretty normal) for a few laughs, and when people come right out and ask me about my dating situation or status- I’m always open for discussion- but I never really go in depth when it comes to disclosing my emotional attachment to whoever I’m seeing. I save that level of intimacy- the raw emotions, the tender moments, and even the not-so-pleasant disagreements- between him and myself. It’s something deeply personal and special- just between the two of us. In that respect- I try to keep it private.

However, May was the month where my relationship with a guy I’ve been dating for a long time was shaken up and my core values when it comes to relationships, self-respect, compromise and forgiveness were put to the test. A test I hadn’t studied for and was in no way prepared to face.

To summarize: I have been dating the same guy on and off for approximately fifteen years (yes, fifteen.) We met in high school, the way so many young, dumb- doe-eyed lovers do- and flirted shamelessly until he graduated two years before I did and headed off to college. We lost touch for a few short years, until fate (and MySpace- remember that mess?) brought us back together in our early twenties where we’ve carried on a pretty passionate romance ever since. There is a deep level of love, respect, support, understanding and patience between us. We may not always see eye-to-eye all the time- and we may even hurt each other on occasion- but I know we would do whatever we could for the other and I have been content with that for a long time now.

But this past month we reached a bit of a fork in the road as to where this relationship is headed and what is considered acceptable behavior from one another. We had differing opinions- which led to some unexpected revelations and hurt feelings- which prompted me to take a brief hiatus from social media (and from life in general, really) so that I could really do some soul-searching and reflection on my own without the distraction of others’ opinions or unsolicited advice.

The hiatus, however short- helped- as did taking the time to have a thorough conversation about how to proceed from here (and watching plenty of sad movies and having a good cry at some equally sad songs in my car.) I have opted to go down the path of forgiveness and moving forward through our challenges- but not without him compromising, too. It’s a two-way street, after all. One person cannot fix a relationship. It takes both people and a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and patience.

It really comes down to us still caring about each other tremendously. We owe it to ourselves not to let something like this break what we have built up together for so long. I plan on taking it day by day to see what happens- and ultimately letting fate intervene if necessary. It brought us together once before- and I’m confident it will step in again to direct me or give me a nudge in whatever direction if it’s needed.

Western Mass. 5/17

Western Mass. 5/17 – I come here to work out and think a lot.

As you can probably imagine, dealing with such an ordeal and so much re-evaluation took a toll on me this past month. I focused my energies into work, hitting the gym harder than what was probably necessary, and doing some remodeling to my home (photos will be up eventually!)– which left little to no room to blog properly. I had every intention of busting out some fun posts- but I admit I fell a little flat since I was emotionally and physically drained throughout 99.9% of May. My apologies for that one. That was all on me.

Thankfully, I feel I’m getting my strength, stamina, and motivation back- and I’m ready to do some serious catching up in June. I’ve made some travel arrangements for the upcoming weeks, I’ve started the rough drafts of some long overdue posts, I’ve moved my anticipated Springtime-giveaway to take place in early Summer, instead- and I’ve wanted to use my experiences in May to potentially focus on writing more personal posts/articles in the hopes of helping others who may be going through a similar situation- much like I did after my father passed away and I shared my struggle with coping with the consequent guilt/anxiety/panic attacks.

So here’s to bidding farewell to Spring- a season that fought hard to finally get here in New England- and left a trail of pollen in it’s wake (specifically all over my windshield) as it passed through and made plenty of room for 90ºF weather to march right in without warning. I’ve already got the air conditioning and fans set up and running steadily. It’s been brutally hot out lately.

I can’t complain too much, though. I do love the Summertime- as much as someone as pale as me can, anyway!

See you all in June!

xx

“It’s time we all reach out for something new – that means you too.”

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Image via Martin Homent - www.martinhoment.com

Image via Martin Homent – http://www.martinhoment.com

Today/Tonight’s blog post was supposed to be a review of my April GlossyBox- but given the circumstances- I thought I’d take the opportunity to pay tribute to an unparalleled genius, a musical and cultural icon, and a man who has inspired and who will continue to inspire me throughout my life, instead.

2016 has been pretty brutal with the celebrity deaths so far. David Bowie and Alan Rickman dying within days of each other back in January was a one-two combo that sent music and movie fans alike reeling  in shock and sadness- and just this past week the world bid farewell to both Doris Roberts and former WWF/WWE star and sports entertainment pioneer Joan “Chyna” Laurer.

However, yesterday’s announcement of the unexpected and premature passing of Prince Rogers Nelson made the world feel as though it had come to a standstill- and I think many people are still trying to regain their bearings- myself included.

I was brought up in a musically diverse household- something I’m so very proud of and so grateful for because I was able to learn, absorb and appreciate different types of artistry and cultures from a very young age. My father was a former drummer and classic rock/Beatles buff. My mother loved MoTown and jazz. My two older brothers’ tastes ranged anywhere from heavy metal, 80s hair bands, punk and ska- and the occasional foray into gangsta’ rap- which went over about as well as you’d expect in our predominantly conservative, suburban neighborhood where we grew up.

And while all of our tastes were definitely different- my family collectively loved certain artists. Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston come to mind almost immediately- and so does Prince.

I was born in 1986- two years after ‘Purple Rain’ well, reigned supreme- both at the box office and on the charts- but much like Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’- ‘Purple Rain’ was an album that was on heavy rotation in my household from as far back as I can remember. If ‘Billie Jean’ was the song that had made me want to take dance classes as a child- then ‘When Doves Cry’ was the one that had made me want to play guitar when I was still pint-sized. The album just had that affect on me- and when I was finally old enough to watch the movie and actually understand it’s plot and it’s characters (shout-out to Morris Day- who I love oh so much!)– I fully grasped why it was such a big deal to so many in the two years before I was even on this Earth.

It was art- and it made the music take on an even more profound meaning when you saw how it intertwined with the story and the struggles of “The Kid”.

Via Tumblr

Via Tumblr

‘Purple Rain’ was the thing that got me hooked on Prince when I was still a young girl- and his ever-evolving music, image, style, and overall cool, mysterious and provocative demeanor KEPT me hooked. Every song, every album, and every performance I’d catch on television was electric and innovative. Prince not only broke racial, gender and sexual barriers- but he made it look so effortless while he did it. He was one of, if not THE ONLY man who could rock lace, ruffles, eyeliner and high-heeled ankle boots (or ass-less chaps- because we all remember that one) with such unabashed confidence- but still be irresistible and desirable while he did it.

Prince re-defined and re-constructed any previous established tropes of masculinity and played a definitive role in my own sexuality and my preferences in men as I grew up. Fun, TMI fact- the song ‘Cream’ was playing when I lost my virginity- which was really the only redeemable moment in what was otherwise an awkward, fumbling disaster (I wish I could have personally thanked Prince for that one, honestly.)

And through Prince I discovered so many other unique, talented musicians and performers- each with their own style and visions to bring to the table. A whole new world of music and art was opened up to me- and it was through that exploration into his protégés and his collaborations that I learned more about myself and about a scene where it truly felt like anyone and everyone could be themselves and still belong. We all had a place there. We were all welcome.

For someone like me- someone who never felt like I really belonged anywhere for a very long time- this was a huge deal.

Prince and his music united people like that- in a way that I truly feel only someone as brilliant and as eccentric as him, could. He was one of a kind and a trailblazer through and through. Everyone has a favorite Prince song- a song they shamelessly sing along to in the shower, or in their car, or one that gets them out on the floor to dance or pushes them to work out a little harder at the gym to because it’s so funky that you can’t NOT move or groove to it. Ask anyone what theirs is- and I swear to you- they will have one (if not more than one.)

And even through moments of unusual or unexpected behavior- like briefly changing his name to a symbol, or his strict policies on fans sharing his music, or his dabbles into social media- Prince remained endearing, charismatic, and cool. Where many artists struggle to maintain their relevance in pop culture- Prince never had to try. He was always a constant fixture- omnipresent in a way- which makes his death all the more horrible for the people who knew him personally and the fans who adored him. Despite his incredible body of work over these past decades- it feels as though we’ve been left with a void that none of us are quite sure how to fill except by looking back, reminiscing and listening to those very same songs that first made us fall in love with him all those years ago.

Prince02

Since the news broke of his passing, people around the world have been sharing their favorite Prince songs/memories/performances. I’ve re-watched his amazing guitar solo during a cover of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ at the 2004 Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, I’ve teared up during clips of his perfect Super Bowl halftime performance from 2007 (a set I locked my then-boyfriend at the time out of the house to see so that he wouldn’t interrupt it in any capacity because I’m pretty sure he was jealous of my affection for Prince) and I have laughed watching Dave Chappelle re-enact Charlie Murphy’s tale of the time Prince and The Revolution completely schooled him and his friends during a game of basketball (Game. Blouses.)

Even MTV, VH1, and BET have done the unexpected and have started showing music videos- HIS music videos- again as a tribute and a nostalgic nod to an era gone by- lost to reality TV shows and scripted teen comedies/dramas.

And through it all, there are a few things that remain perfectly clear and consistent: Prince’s otherworldly talent as a musician is undeniable. His prowess as a songwriter is unmatched, and his influence- not just on music and pop culture but on the world itself- is something that we may never get to see again in our lifetimes.

When Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston died, it felt as though an important and integral part of most of our childhoods went right along with them- and the pain of losing people who had shaped us, inspired us, and influenced us so much was, at times- too much to bear- especially given the tragic circumstances of their deaths.

With Prince’s passing- the pain is just as real and just as raw- like a scab that has been picked away at a still healing wound- but his death feels less like the loss of a fond childhood memory we clung to dearly and more like the loss of a close friend or family member. One who was always around- even when they weren’t physically there before our eyes. We have been robbed of a unique and truly incredible artist and presence in this world. Someone who still had so much more to share with us all and someone who still had so much time to continue evolving, inspiring and changing history as we knew it.

In these coming days as fans mourn, remember the man and the music, and cope- let me share what I’ve learned from Prince and from being a lifelong fan:

Never be afraid or ashamed to be yourself. Never be afraid or ashamed to test and break boundaries. Never be afraid or ashamed to venture outside the “norm” and do things your own way. Free yourself of the standards and/or expectations that others have set for you and do things the way you want to do them.

Do what feels right to you- and don’t apologize for it.

And create- as much as you can and as often as you can- and don’t stop creating.

PrinceTributesThe world is a little less purple today.

Rest in Peace you wild, brilliant, inspiring genius. You will be missed so much and by so many.

Be good to one another.

xx

Transitions…

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Sunrise over Boston: 11/14/15

Sunrise over Boston: 11/14/15

Back when I first started writing “Legally Redhead”, a blog I’d been planning and preparing to launch a couple of months before my very first post was published in January of 2013- I was a recent college graduate with a degree in Paralegal Studies, and was also just over two years into my job as a legal secretary-turned-paralegal at a personal injury and criminal law firm in the city. It was a time of personal growth, and- in many ways- a transition for me. I was twenty-five years old and was no longer the carefree wild child I had been in my late teens and into my early twenties. I was no longer hopping from job to job- from retail to waitressing- and staying out all night with my friends. I had responsibilities and financial obligations. I was behaving and conducting myself like a professional and, dare I say it- an adult- saving most fun and adventures for my nights and weekends while I was off the clock.

Since launching “Legally Redhead”, I’ve  underwent other transitions, too. Small ones, of course- but still transitions nonetheless. My relationships have changed, as have some of my interests and a few of my goals- but my career remained the same- a constant (and almost reassuring in a way) in my life as I continued to grow and change into the woman I am today.

And now, at twenty-nine years old, I am once again experiencing  a transition. One I was not prepared for and one I’m not particularly thrilled about- but it’s happening and I’m attempting to make the best of it and remain as optimistic as possible.

But this post is starting to sound like the prelude to awful news, isn’t it? Let me assure you all- I am healthy and I’m not dying or taking a break from blogging or anything. There has not been some earth-shattering loss of a friend or family member, thank God.

After over five years of working as a paralegal at a criminal and personal injury law firm- a job I started in my early twenties and have enjoyed immensely each and every day I reported to my office and/or the courtroom- major and much-needed budgeting and financial cuts within the practice have resulted in my being laid off last week.

Yes, it sucks. Yes, I’m upset (and maybe a little angry- if only because the holidays are right around the corner and that’s stressful enough)– but the decision ultimately came down to me: a 29-year old with no children relying on my income, manageable bills, and roughly six years of experience- and my co-worker: a 35 year old single mother of four with approximately 15 years of experience.

I was the obvious choice to get cut, and I realize that. I’m not happy about it- and even my boss was visibly shaken as he broke the news to me- but I understand why it had to happen. I am young enough and eager enough to bounce back and start anew somewhere else. I don’t have certain responsibilities to limit what I can/cannot do at this point of my life. My co-worker does not have that luxury. She needed her job more than I needed mine and my boss could not afford to keep both of us on the payroll.

I take pride in the fact that this decision was not a result of my own incompetence, or poor work ethic, or lack of skills or value. The harsh reality is that this decision was the result of the mismanagement of others. Unfortunately, I am the casualty of that mismanagement- but when one door closes, another opens. My mother and many of my friends say that all the time and I truly believe it to be true.

Late-night resume review with friends (and cannoli!) 11/14/15

Late-night resume review with friends (and cannoli!) 11/14/15

I’ve already been approached by a couple of different firms and attorneys with the mentions of potential employment opportunities- although I have not made a concrete decision as of yet. I have been actively working on my resume (which was in need of a tune-up anyway,) and taking some personal time to relax and reflect on this incredible journey I’ve been on.

Sometimes it helps to just stop and take a breath for a little while- although I consider myself to be a workaholic so I don’t want to stay stopped for too long.

I am grateful. I am grateful to my boss for taking a chance on me all those years ago and hiring me while I was still in college to see if I had what it took. I’m grateful for everything he taught me. I’m grateful he had the decency to compensate me financially (as much as he legally could) so that I don’t have to stress about money just now.

Most of all, I’m grateful to my friends and family members (hi mom!) who have been so damned supportive and lighthearted over the past couple of days while I process everything.

So where does that leave the “Legal” in “Legally Redhead”? Well, I don’t intend on changing this blog’s name anytime soon (besides, I just paid to renew it, anyway!) because as far as I’m concerned- law will always be a passion of mine, as will being a redhead- and I hope to remain in the field when I do eventually return to a new place of employment in the coming weeks.

The sun rises, and the sun sets over the Mystic River. 11/15/15.

The sun rises, and the sun sets over the Mystic River. 11/15/15.

I’m nervous, but excited for what happens next. It’s a whole new chapter in my life (just in time for me to go into my “Dirty Thirties”) and hopefully I can close out 2015 on a high note.

xx

Spring Cleaning!

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Breaking out the neon pink lipstick. Spring Brayyyyy-ke Foreva'.

Breaking out the neon pink lipstick. Spring Break Foreva’.

Well hello there!

It’s been a little more than a week since my last post, which hasn’t entirely been an accident. Since recently getting over a cold/flu, I’ve taken a few days off from blogging to put in some extra hours at the office to catch up on the work I had missed while I was recuperating at home. I’ve also been doing some long overdue Spring cleaning, both in my place and here on Legally Redhead- where I’ve been updating and organizing links, putting together some posts that will be up throughout the rest of this week and over the weekend- and re-arranging my layout (just a little bit!) while putting some final, last minute touches on blog-related business cards I’ve been designing with a printing company (because they always come in handy at meetups and conventions!)

With PAX East taking place in the city over this past weekend, I managed to spend an evening catching up with my longtime friend Frank, too- who traveled from Canada to attend the convention. I typically only see him once a year around this time- so it was nice to hit the town with him for a few hours.

And with temperatures on a slow rise over the past few days (for now,) I’ve started my Spring/Summer diet and fitness regimen- which admittedly hasn’t exactly been a picnic to begin (I’m already aching all over,) but will surely pay off in the long run as long as I stay focused and determined and stick with it!

Needless to say- I’ve been pretty busy!

Now that I’ve gotten the momentum going and am acclimating to my schedule (and Daylight Savings Time)– it’s time to get back to posting!

Later on this week I’ve got a great promotion for jewelry lovers and a recipe post for my fellow foodies. I’ve also got a really fun, Summer-themed giveaway coming up within a few days that is open to those in Canada and the UK, too!

‘Til next time!

xx

On a Personal Note…

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Belchertown, Mass. August 2014.

Belchertown, Mass. August 2014.

When I first started writing Legally Redhead, I had intended for it to be a lifestyle blog: a little bit of everything from my love of makeup, to my travels, to my unusual affection for bad horror movies, to fashion, food, urban exploration and photography- and everything in between. For the most part, I’ve stuck with that formula- pumping out a couple of posts per week that delve into subscription boxes, recipes, time spent with friends in and around town, adventures at comic-conventions (Boston Comic-Con is this weekend!) or in the wilderness, movie reviews and the occasional giveaway. I love blogging. I love connecting with people from all over the world and from all walks of life. I admire and appreciate every single one of you who follow Legally Redhead or read it on a regular basis. It means the world to me and I hope you’re all enjoying the content I deliver as much as I enjoy putting it together.

This being a lifestyle blog, of course- I do have to occasionally blog about some of the more personal aspects of my life- even if they’re not always fun and upbeat. Some of you may remember my post from June of last year where I opened up about my struggle with an anxiety disorder and coping with my father’s death, for example.

Don’t get me wrong- I consider myself so, so blessed that my life is overwhelmingly positive. I have wonderful friends, a loving and supportive family, a great job that I look forward to going to (almost) every day, an adorable and mischievous dog- and financial stability and freedom that I achieved through hard work and perseverance. I am grateful.

So the reason for this post, some of you may be wondering? Well, there’s one aspect of my life I rarely blog about. Sure, I tweet about it sometimes- but the discussions and conversations are usually kept at a minimum and in private (and are usually hysterically vulgar and raunchy depending on the audience and the overall mood at the time.) I’m talking about my romantic and sex life. I consider myself pretty open in that I’m blunt and willing to discuss pretty much anything- but when it comes to publicly declaring my affections for someone I’m spending a lot of time with- especially on my blog- I’m a little more reserved. I do value some privacy, to an extent. It’s always nice to have a little mystery and keep some things to myself.

However I know a few people were concerned and curious with a few brief updates I’d made on social media over the past couple of days, and I wanted to clarify what they meant on here where I have more than 140 characters!

I was recently preparing to make a pretty big change in my life: specifically, I was going to be moving in with a dear, longtime friend of mine that I suppose you could say I was dating depending on how you look at it. I digress. I was on the verge, mere weeks away, from packing up my things and moving out to Western Massachusetts to live in the lovely town of Northampton with said dear friend by September 1st. I had mentioned it in my “In a Nutshell” post for July, and at the time- was nearly done making plans to re-locate. Despite the change in scenery, I was going to keep my job, since I never mind spending time in my car- even when it’s during a commute (that, and I can’t completely leave the city behind!) Ultimately, I’d like to live in San Diego- but this move seemed like a step in the right direction.

I was nervous, definitely frazzled- but excited nonetheless. I love the area- which is always buzzing with activity and has so many unique nooks and crannies to discover and explore, is a forty minute drive away from my mom and older brothers- and an hour and a half away from my friends. I was eager to paint, redecorate, cook in a new kitchen, and do all the fun things that typically come with getting a new place. More than anything, I was positively elated at the idea of living with someone I know, trust, and care very deeply for in a cozy, chic apartment downtown.

BelchertownWaterTower2

Belchertown, Mass. August 2014.

Unfortunately, my guy-friend and would-have-been roommate received a once in a lifetime temporary job offer out of state earlier this week, and accepted it- which is not surprising at all since he had been holding out hope for it. The move could have still happened for me, since living in a semi-new town on my own for a few months until he returned to the area didn’t seem too terrible- but the job has the potential to become permanent after the trial period is up- meaning that I may never see him again, and if I do- it won’t be for a very, very long time. Not exactly comfortable with looking for roommates on Craigslist (nobody can fault me for that one,) and not knowing anyone in my current area who would be eager to drop whatever they have going on to move an hour or so West on such short notice- I begrudgingly had to give up what would have been our apartment and scrap my plans to move while preparing myself to say goodbye to my friend when he leaves in a couple of weeks.

I’m hurt, sure. Disappointed? Absolutely- maybe even a little angry (mostly because of the disappointment and the fact that I had really, really wanted to get new furniture. Argh!) but I’m trying to keep my head up besides the setback and continue moving forward. I’m happy for my friend. I’ll miss him, but I know he’s going to be a tremendous success in his new endeavors.

As for me- it looks like I’ll be staying right where I am for now, which isn’t a bad thing at all. I’d still like to re-locate to the Northampton area eventually, maybe with more time and preparation. It won’t happen overnight- but I’m confident I can make it work sooner than later.

And that’s it- the disastrous failed moving debacle in all it’s frustrating glory! My apologies if I’ve been aloof or seemed like a bit of a Debbie Downer over the past few days to anyone! I’m just in the process of bouncing back from this minor setback.

I do want to say a big thank you to those who had reached out to me when they heard the news and attempted to cheer me up or take my mind off of it all together (usually by forwarding hilarious .gifs to my inbox.) You guys are the best!

xox

I’m Not Crazy – I’m Coping.

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June22HamptonBeach

June 22, 2013. Happier and healthier!

I’ve wanted to write this entry for a while now, a couple of months at least, but have been sort of on the fence- and subsequently delaying it’s publication. I wasn’t sure if I was ready. I wasn’t sure how to even start it. I wasn’t sure how my readers would react to it, but this blog isn’t just about makeup, or movies, or recipes, or traveling. It’s about me. It’s about my life- the good and the bad.

Admitting to yourself that you have any kind of illness, or disorder- can be an extremely difficult thing to do. There’s always fear, uncertainty, pride, even- that stands in the way. Nobody wants to be perceived as any of the stigmas that often come with emotional or mental distress/trauma- “crazy”, “damaged”, “broken”, and it’s because of that reason that often times people simply deny their problems , forget them, sweep them under the rug and hope that they’ll just go away on their own.

Writing about those problems and telling the world can be even more difficult- but I wanted to share my story. I wanted to reach out to people who may be going through something similar and let them know they aren’t alone, that there are people out there who understand and who offer their full and total support. I also wanted to show that while some people may require medications for more severe cases, it IS possible to recover without the aid of pharmaceuticals.

*Please note that I’m not a Doctor. I’m not a therapist. I’m not any kind of specialist when it comes to anxiety or depression. Everyone is different and what worked for me may not necessarily work for others. This is just my account of my own, personal struggle.*

I am recovering from something called Hyperventilation Syndrome (HVS for short).

For those of you who aren’t aware what Hyperventilation Syndrome is (and I wasn’t until a Doctor diagnosed me almost two years ago and gave me a stack of paperwork to read up on the subject. It sounded like something someone just made up at random), it’s a psychological-based disorder brought on by a lot of anxiety and massive amounts of stress. Think of a panic attack, and then multiply it by 10, and that’s an accurate description of what it feels like. What makes HVS so scary is that the panic attacks share similar symptoms as a heart attack, so even if you’re young and active enough like I am- it’s easy to become scared out of your wits when you start getting sharp chest pains, disorientation, and your fingertips start tingling.

Let me just stop and rewind just a little bit to explain how this all came about.

I have been blessed to have never experienced anxiety or panic attacks the way some of my friends and family did in my childhood and teenage years. That’s not to say I wasn’t exposed to it. My mother, forever a perfectionist, would often have mini-meltdowns around the holidays when it came time to prepare for her in-laws, and our cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. to crowd into our home. I can vividly remember sitting on our couch one Thanksgiving before everyone arrived for dinner while she took strides around our dining room table, breathing deeply to calm herself because she had felt faint and panicky. At the time, I didn’t understand since I hadn’t experienced anything like it.

All of that changed in the Fall of 2011 when my father, who I was unbelievably close with and whom I considered a friend and a confidant, was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer. At first, I was in denial at the possibility of him dying. It was just something that wouldn’t happen. He was strong, and vibrant, and he was going to live on to be a very old man who would tell my future children, his grandchildren, all the stories about his younger years in the 60’s and 70’s, and all the mischief that he got into- that he often told me. Losing him before he had the chance to celebrate his 40th wedding anniversary with my mother, or walk me down the aisle if and when I ever got married- was just unfathomable.

But as the weeks wore on and I saw him go through biopsies, and PET scans, and the words “transplant” and “chemotherapy” became part of the everyday vocabulary- I found myself realizing his death was very much a possible outcome, and I noticed a change in myself and in my health. I was having a hard time sleeping, and not wanting to be exhausted at work, I turned to consuming large quantities of caffeine to compensate, thus killing my appetite and resulting in me not eating much. Above all that, I was constantly afraid. I was afraid they wouldn’t be able to find a donor in time to save my father. I was afraid of getting the call while I was at work that he had passed away. I was afraid of going to my parents’ house and being the one to find him unresponsive. All of that fear made me tense all the time.

One day while I was at work, I experienced an intense feeling of vertigo, accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath, and one of my hands going numb. Having never had a panic attack before, my automatic assumption was that I was having a heart attack- and I ended up in the ER for an 8-hour stay that resulted in nothing but a Doctor who couldn’t have cared less telling me my EKG results were irregular and that I should follow-up with a cardiologist, and a pretty nasty and painful bruise from where the nurse had stuck me a couple of times in an attempt to draw blood.

A couple of hours after I was discharged from my first ER visit for a panic attack in 2011. The bruise tripled in size by the next morning!

A couple of hours after I was discharged from my first ER visit for a panic attack in 2011. The bruise tripled in size by the next morning.

I had hoped the experience was a one-time thing, but when I ended up in a different ER some weeks later for the same symptoms, and was given the same tests and x-rays as my first ER visit- a more informed, and more compassionate Doctor informed me that I was suffering from Hyperventilation Syndrome- and that I wasn’t dying. I was told that there were different ways to treat HVS: therapy, medications, or, if I could get my stress and anxiety under control- it would eventually fizzle out on it’s own over time. Not having the time to see a psychologist a couple times a week, and not being one to medicate since I prefer to be in control of my own body, I opted to ride it out and see if I could conquer anxiety on my own. I was supplied with literature, exercises to help me stabilize my breathing, and contact numbers for support groups and Doctors who could be of assistance- and sent on my way.

Around the same time as my second ER visit, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute had taken over my father’s treatment, and were providing us with better news than we had originally been getting. They had a plan, and they seemed confident they could save my father’s life and get him cancer free by the end of 2011. I felt myself start to relax, slowly but surely. I was still prone to sudden and often painful panic attacks- but I had hope. On Christmas Day of that year, following an extensive and intricate surgery a few days prior, I brought my dad home and he began the road to recovery. It was the best Christmas I’d ever had.

In the months that followed, my father still had to go through chemotherapy and radiation treatments to guarantee the cancer was gone for good. I helped take care of him, as did my mother, and seeing him getting weaker and weaker with each passing round of chemo, and her trying desperately to stay strong for the both of them only further triggered my HVS. The panic attacks began  happening once or twice a week, rendering me helpless for a half hour to an hour at a time.

Nearly a year ago, after a courageous fight, my father passed away at the home he shared with my mother, and I was there when it happened. His body just couldn’t handle it anymore and his heart gave out. It wasn’t the type of death you see in the movies where there’s a beautiful, poetic, final exchange between family members before the person quietly slips away and a perfectly orchestrated tearjerker of a song starts playing. No- my father was ripped, rather gruesomely and suddenly, away from us. When my mother, who was hysterical to the point where she’d nearly passed out, took the phone from me to answer the dispatcher’s questions while the paramedics were en route, I attempted to perform CPR on my father. I had taken one look at him before I began and knew he was gone- but I did it anyway because I was hoping for a miracle. I was hoping for my own movie moment where my dad would come back, make some sort of witty comment (which he was always famous for), and things would be okay.

I never got that moment. Instead, the paramedics brought my father to the hospital and briefly put him on machines in a desperate attempt to revive him. When there was nothing else to be done, I had to be the one to tell them to shut the machines off. My mother was inconsolable and I had never been given a chance to say goodbye to him. My worst fear had come true and as a result, in that tiny ER in the middle of the night- I came face to face with mortality, and my anxiety came back tenfold.

I’ve never really spoken about my father’s last minutes until now.

There is something about seeing someone die that changes you forever. We see it in movies and in television and while it can make us cringe or turn away, it’s not nearly as traumatic as seeing it happen right in front of you to a real person- to someone you love. I was consumed by guilt that I couldn’t save my father (for months I blamed myself, thinking I hadn’t done CPR properly), anger, depression- and I became so afraid of death after what I’d seen happen to him that every ache, every pain, every unexplained sensation in my body triggered me to have a meltdown in fear that I would be the next one to die suddenly. Chest pain? HEART ATTACK! Headache? ANEURYSM! These feelings were amplified when I held still for long periods of time (specifically at work when I was sitting at my desk, in my car when I was driving for miles, or at night when I was laying in bed).

Looking back, I knew it was crazy, but I was so far-gone and so out of control of my own body that even though I knew I was fine physically, the emotional and mental turmoil I was going through always managed to convince me otherwise. I let myself go- not eating properly, not sleeping enough, not exercising. My weight fluctuated- I lost, and gained, and lost so much and so fast that I always felt and looked sick. I went to work, had a panic attack, came home, had a panic attack, and attempted to sleep- only to lay awake and have a panic attack. The time I spent with friends and family was divided into normalcy when I could function like a regular person, like myself- and sheer terror when I would feel unnerved and out of my element and would have to excuse myself to calm down somewhere quiet where I could be alone.

I never thought I’d get better. Instead, I chose to adapt. If it was going to be a part of my life, then I better just get used to it and try to make the best of it.

But in recent months, more so out of curiosity and desperation than anything else, I began trying different tricks to attempt to curb the HVS attacks while they were still brewing before they had a chance to get so out of control that I couldn’t function. I started with little things- cold compresses on the back of my neck and on my pressure points (I carry a package of cooling towelettes in my purse that were designed to alleviate hot flashes for women going through menopause and they work wonders), keeping a fan or A/C on me since the noise and the cool air helps me breathe easier, drinking a glass of cold water (if you didn’t notice a trend = cold helps relax me), and counting to 100 while I waited for the panic to dissipate.

I also wrote down whenever I had a panic attack and what I was doing or thinking right before it started. By doing this, I learned the patterns of what would trigger my HVS, and from there, I could calm myself down before I repeated the same actions or thoughts. Once I had that under control, I worked on improving my overall health again- getting more sleep, not skipping meals and eating at normal hours, cutting back on coffee, becoming active again, and getting as much fresh air as I possibly can.

I also learned the power of my own voice. When I felt anxiety coming on, I would sternly tell myself, whether in my head or out loud depending on where I was at the time, “you’re okay, Ashley,” and “you’re in good health, just relax,” but the most important and beneficial one was “don’t be afraid.” It became a mantra of sorts, and now- after what felt like such a long struggle as I grieved, accepted that what happened to my father was not my fault and was out of my control, and came to terms with his passing and having to carry on and live my life without him in it- I’m not afraid anymore. I’m hopeful. I feel like myself again.

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve had a substantial panic attack. I get a little jumpy from time to time, but it’s nothing a few deep breaths and a glass of water doesn’t fix. It’s still infinitely better than what I was previously experiencing. I wouldn’t say I’m 100% recovered just yet, but I know I’m on my way- and that was something I never thought I’d be able to say ever again.

Of course, I couldn’t have done it alone. For months I’ve had the support of family and friends who have been so patient and so understanding with me, some of whom encouraged me to write this and share my story with readers who may not have known what was going on underneath the surface. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them or their love while I dealt with things.

Like I said earlier, everyone is different, and circumstances are never the same. What worked for me may not provide the same results for someone else, and that’s perfectly okay. You need to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. If you don’t think you can do the D.I.Y. route the way I did (and still am), don’t be afraid to reach out for help from a therapist. If you have to go on medication- do it. There is absolutely no shame in doing what needs to be done to get yourself to a good and healthy place mentally, emotionally, and physically. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I appreciate anyone who took the time to read this. It was much longer than I anticipated, but it felt really, really good to write and get it out of me.

I’m not crazy. I’m coping.

And I’m going to be okay.