Category: Motivation and Inspiration

Iced Toddy and Calculated Risk

I go to coffee shops to get work done for the same reason people go to gyms to work out. If you’re surrounded by other people and also possess a healthy sense of paranoia, you will feel extremely motivated.

Consider this sampling of my Gold’s Gym inner monologue: I HAVE to run this mile instead of letting myself walk every other minute. There are people watching me! The mom next to me just run an eight-minute mile and I think she has three kids! Why have I done this to myself! I am so sweaty no one look at me oh God why why why. Okay, hang on. You can totally run on pace with this Jay-Z song. Okay. This is your moment. Go.

Now compare to my Bennu monologue, one iced coffee in: Hanna, put down your phone and type with a purpose! Finish that project! Send that email! Check your LinkedIn! Stop dancing in your chair — people will think you’re blowing off work! Do NOT open Facebook! Why are you so restless please sit still and focus for the love of God above us. Wait, I know how to phrase that poem I’ve been working on for a week. And that email will take 15 seconds to send. Okay, this makes sense. You can do this.

It’s a lot of panic when I sit down in a crowded place. I have always been acutely aware of my presence in public. How much space I take up, how loudly ice clinks in my glass, how my hair looks from every angle, how often my phone accidentally buzzes. I want to be small and quiet and unassuming. I don’t want to annoy anyone with my typing. I don’t want to draw a single unnecessary thread of attention.

I’ve always been like this. A unfortunate by-product of an overactive empathy gene and a too-big body.

Then, somewhere in the din of worry in my head, a chord strikes clear and clean. Focus, like the ever-elusive stray cat you’ve been trying to feed treats to for years, slinks into the room. For fear of spooking her, you keep typing, keep breathing. It’s like hitting a runner’s high. That sweet spot around mile five when your body slips into auto-pilot and your mind gets to freely wander without screaming about aching joints.

There is a calculated risk of letting myself get in my own head. More often than not, it doesn’t go well. I accidentally jostle a wasp’s nest of decade-old stressors. My brain chemistry remembers that it has total control over my day and decides we haven’t had a good cry in about a week so why not right now in the car with my mom that should be fine? Remember that time you were unintentionally really mean and never properly apologized? Yeah, that person probably hates your guts right now. Let’s stop and think about it for a little while.

But when you dig deep on a good day, when it’s warm outside and your head isn’t clouded, you can make some really great art. You hit your writing stride. Sending emails doesn’t make you want to crawl into a hole. Projects magically break themselves up into completely attainable steps. Items fly off your to-do-today checklist. It’s a goddamn miracle.

Today I stopped putting off my productivity. I finished projects that got swept under the rug during last week’s mental health breakdown. I applied to a really cool job. I wrote this blog post. I semi-successfully resisted a full-on Chance the Rapper dance session in the middle of a cafe.

When you wake up every day with a risk of a Bad Brain Day, you learn to embrace the good ones. Being vocal about feeling happy is a surefire way to remind my sad self that things are going to be okay. “See, Hanna? You will be happy again. I know it doesn’t feel like it right now. I know you’re upset and stressed. I know you feel lost and useless. I know you want to sleep and not speak to anyone. But it always gets better.”

Even after an entire winter of sadness, I always find myself staring into the sun, blinking with disbelief.

So don’t be afraid to tap into the scary stuff. Don’t be afraid to put your headphones in and take up space in public. Don’t be afraid to write the truth.

Or, be afraid. Be terrified. Seeing truths written out in front of you can be horrifying. Realizing you are not, in fact, “over” that one thing. Or that you don’t know what makes you truly happy. Or that you aren’t sure if you’ve ever been in love. It’s enough to make your heart stop.

So go out into this giant, terrifying world of ours. Drive to new places alone. Don’t talk to boys who are mean to you. Practice spoken word poems. Write love letters to your best friends. Let yourself be happy, even if you don’t know why.

Be scared. Be brave. Drink some coffee and start.

I’m a little scared that all my blog posts are starting to sound the same. But, regardless, here’s this. Thanks for listening to my babbling!

Go To The Doctor. Love, Hanna.

If there’s one thing I ever wanted to do with my writing, it’s to make someone’s life just a smidge better. (Also, like, make people cry after reading my poems, but that’s another story.) So when I found out about health insurance provider Oscar Insurance’s infographic for CDC Girlfriend’s Day , I jumped at the chance to help spread some important information. Oscar is a new tech-based insurance company that wants their members to be proactive about their health. They have a Doctor on Call tool that allows you to reach a doctor with any question at any time of the day, and a Misfit fitness tracker that lets you earn cash back for reaching a daily step goal. (If you’re in the area, be sure to check out their New York and New Jersey health insurance plans.)

My close friends reading this are probably rolling their eyes back into their heads. “Hanna! You once had a sinus infection for nearly two months because you refused to go into the doctor!” Yes, I know. That happened.

Twice.
But I am reformed! I promise!

When I was working as a camp counselor in Alaska, I got super sick. Maybe it was the roller coaster weather patterns (hot and dry to cold and foggy). Maybe it was the late nights and early mornings. Maybe it was living in platform tents with five other staff members. The week I got sick, I was a floating counselor, and spent most blocks at the boathouse. I helped seven-year-olds find proper life jackets, pushed kayaks of middle schoolers out into our lake and prayed nobody forced me to use my small craft safety training. As I was helping one of my favorite girls pull her kayak in, she turned her small, freckled face to me and said “Jaybird, are you okay? You look really tired. Are you sick?”

That’s the thing about working with kids. They are honest (sometimes to a fault). Let’s just say after that, I pushed meds every four hours on the dot and drank more chamomile tea than I thought was humanly possible. I was better in a day and a half. Two lessons there: 1) I have an easily readable face and 2) do not deny help because you think you’re better than modern medicine.

Since that oddly transformative head cold, I have ~seen the light.~ I always have DayQuil in my cabinet. I finally reached out and got medication to curb my crippling anxiety attacks and depression. I actually treated my seasonal allergies during the pollen haze that is early springtime in the Midwest.

More so than just medication, I learned to listen to my body. Instead of pushing myself to exhaustion four nights a week, I cut back on my involvement in clubs. I tried sleeping instead of propping my near-lifeless body up with coffee crutches. Of course, during my senior year of journalism school, this was sometimes more of a theory than a practice. But I tried, and that’s sometimes all you can do.

The reason I’m prattling on and on about my own (seemingly stupid) path to modern medicine and common sense is because it’s important. By taking care of your health, you can keep watch over your livelihood. I know not everything can be fixed with a trip to the doctor — trust me. My mental health diagnoses gives me hell every day. I have hormonal imbalances that lead to a huge barrage of side effects and chronic issues. My skin breaks out if you look at it wrong. But I am working on making conscious decisions to improve my health. Life is better experienced when you don’t feel like you’re dead on your feet.

Real talk: Check-ups and vaccinations are super important, y’all. Early screening means early detection means getting a jump on treatment before infections spread or compound. Check in to be sure your family and friends are getting the routine immunizations and screenings they need!

Let’s be smart about this, ladies: We are generally social beings, so why not use it for a good? Let’s say you already text the group text with dog pictures 10 times a day (me). Try throwing in a reminder every once in a while to drink water, go on a walk or make that doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off. Get on Facebook and share an article with free flu shot clinic locations. Send your sister healthy lunch recipes you can make super cheaply (because let’s be real…we’re broke).

Establishing accountability from a place of genuine concern is a trend I’m all over. I love you — of course I want to make sure you live forever!

Oscar Women's CheckupsLRG
Infographic courtesy of Oscar Insurance

Happiness and the Nature of Winging It

Happiness is the easiest thing in the world, and also the hardest. It’s sunshine on your face. It’s battling brain chemistry. It’s as complicated as being in the right place at the right time to see the right person, and as easy as making yourself get in the shower after an anxiety attack.

This weekend, I celebrated happiness in the most tangible sense of the word. I decided on a whim to tag along with two friends to St. Louis Pride, which has been one of the best spur-of-the-moment decisions I’ve made in a long time. We gathered beads and beer, danced with friends and strangers, cheered on drag queens and yelled “Love Wins” at the top of our lungs. People were so happy. This ruling is a triumph in every sense of the word, but it’s a first step. A monumental one, but a first step nonetheless. There is so much more fighting to be done for LGBTQ+ rights: You can get fired for being not straight, and you can be even be evicted from your apartment. But there we all were, filling St. Louis with color and kissing and battle cries and selfies and hope and stickers and tears and smiling, celebrating a happy, happy victory.

Spontaneity has been on my mind a lot recently. It’s something I haven’t been able to indulge in for quite a while. I had to work. I procrastinated too much and needed to stay up super late to finish a project. I was broke. Usually, summer is my adventure time. After freshman year, I explored Austin with my sister. After sophomore, I ran away to Alaska to work as a camp counselor. Last summer, I hopped the pond to spend a summer in Belgium. This year, I’m off to a slower start. It’s been mostly work, Netflix and going to my favorite bars with friends.

But things are about to pick back up. When your life path is largely “I don’t know,” things are equal parts scary and exhilarating In two weeks, I’m moving out of my apartment and out of Columbia. For good. Which, initially, is terrifying and very, very sad and anxiety inducing in the extreme. It’s also exciting and thrilling and cause for celebration. I get to move on to a new adventure in Austin (which will hopefully soon include full-time employment if y’all could cross your fingers for me). I get to change and grow and go do new things. Meet new people. Find new coffee shops. Find new favorite bartenders. But to do that, I have to be willing to put myself out there.

This is my public declaration and internal plea to let myself take more chances. I’m a people pleaser and also a nervous sort of person. I worry about what people think of me. I don’t like to leave the house without triple-checking my hair or doing my eyebrows. I am also a person who loves adventures and eating at late night diners and exploring where there isn’t cell service. I want the next chapter of my life to focus on soothing this cognitive dissonance.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s way better than it has been. I feel more like myself than I have in ages. My good body image days far outweigh my bad ones. I’m not really afraid of shorts. I’m not afraid to dance in the grocery store. My hair is half blue-teal-teal-whatever.  I am realizing parts of my identity that are exciting and freeing and wonderful. I have a couple ridiculous crushes that make my life so wacky. Things have been really good recently.

Maybe it’s the fact that I won’t have to endure another finals week for more than five years (assuming I ever go to grad school). Maybe it’s the fact that my research project is done and submitted and out of my hair. Maybe it’s the fact that I feel validated in my physical presence. Maybe it’s the fact that people are proud of me. I’m not sure, but I feel more less like a pile of sludge and more like a sunbeam every day.

Five, then seven, then five again

I think one of the most clear realizations I knew I was a writer at heart was when we learned what haikus were in elementary school. Many of my classmates groaned and rolled their eyes. They already didn’t enjoy writing exercises, let alone adding a math component into the mix. I, on the other hand, could barely contain my excitement within my tiny frame. A writing puzzle! A counting game! This is great! (Note: I was a weird child.)

How do I fit my point into 17 syllables? If you’ve ever read my creative writing or poetry, you’ve probably noticed that I care a lot about line breaks. The visual flow of the words has a very direct connection to the emphasis of the poem. It’s always been my favorite part of writing, and involves a design aspect that I don’t get to play with a lot in my more academic life.

I have been feeling very stuck in my life recently, which directly translates to painful, seemingly incurable writer’s block. So I turned to Twitter and the lovely followers of my writing Tumblr and asked for short prompts. I turned around and wrote haikus inspired by these single words. It’s a poet’s baby step. An easily tackle-able task that gets the gears moving again. I thought I’d share some here, then challenge you to ask for prompts.

Who knows… maybe one will be just the spark you needed.

Honey
My honeycomb love,
Forever stuck to my heart.
Worth every bee sting.

Stars
When you stop looking
For distant bits of light shine:
That’s when things will glow.

Sunflowers
Everything must end.
Do sunflowers cry at night
When the light runs out?

The light hitting just right
Some day, morning light
Will not look like your freckles.
But until that day…

Lilies
White petals, soft like
Your Easter morning heartbeat,
Soft like “please come back.”

Tattoos
“But what does it mean?”
It means that I am going
onward to the end.

Sadness
Tumbled bones, short breath,
Waves of every “I love you.”
Morning will come soon.

Let’s write, kiddos.

Additional reading: One of my favorite poets is Tyler Knott Gregson, and he has a daily haiku series that takes my breath away. Check out his Instagram for some absolutely beautiful writing and poetry.  

© Tyler Knott Gregson (via Instagram)
© Tyler Knott Gregson (via Instagram)

Tunesday: Finals Study Marathon/Panic/Meltdown Edition

Hi hello. So, if you’re anything like me, your semester is coming to a panicked, chaotic screaming end. God only knows I need endless music to make it though. I thought I’d share some of my favorite study playlists. This isn’t exactly a Tunesday post, but mostly a music dump because I have a LOT of emotions about these tracks. Seemed as good a day as any to make it. This thing is chockfull of hyperlinks and sleep-deprived babbling… enjoy!

1. “Adderallnighter” (from 8tracks)

This is one of my favorite study playlists, and one I’ve revisited often. It has an electronic vibe to it that really helps cut down on outside white noise and chatter. It’s also nearly seven hours long, which lets you zone out into your music rather than constantly changing songs. Also, no ads. 8tracks is your best best friend, in case you were unaware (if you don’t use 8tracks already, you need to seriously reevaluate your music listening avenues.).

Honorable mention: “For very late night revision.” Feel free to check out the other study playlists I’ve dogeared.

2. OMN’s music

Ollie McKendrick-Ness is a person I found through Vine, fell a little bit in love with, then wormhole-d myself to his Soundcloud page. OMN’s stuff is absolutely stunning ambient electronic vibes. Most are original, but there are a few remixes (“Towers,” anyone?). Some have minimal vocals, but it’s nothing too distracting.

(You should really listen to his singing Vines though. The man’s voice is stunning. Examples A, B, C)

3. In Return from ODESZA

That electronic ambient vibe, again, y’all. It’s great. The duo’s most recent album is superb, and I encourage you to check out their previous work as well. Also, they’re coming to Columbia in February so GET HYPED. “Say My Name” is the jam.

4. “Mid-Tempo Indie

Phantogram and London Grammar vibes. Enough said.

5. The Transformers score

Almost all movie scores are a solid bet for very intense study sessions. My favorites are Transformers (Steve Jablonsky), Inception (Hans Zimmer), The Dark Knight (Hans Zimmer), The Fountain (Clint Mansell)

6. “Hell Week Jamz

I think I made this playlist two years ago during finals, but it’s been a staple in my Spotify library ever since. It’s got Daughter, The National, Bon Iver and other favorites of mine. Probably best for essay writing — it has singing, but it’s nothing too in your face or dance-party-inducing. (Also, A List of Voices I Like is sort of a follow-up playlist, if you’re interested.)

7. “Good Things

This is a Spotify playlist of my three current favorite albums: “Islands” from Bear’s Den, “I Forget Where We Were” from Ben Howard and “Dream Your Life Away” from Vance Joy (yes, I’m still listening to them almost exclusively.) This music is obviously not instrumental or no-vocals, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you have to do any particularly deep or thought-consuming reading. But it’s incredibly good music, and can help ease the pain and stress of studying/finals if you just need a breather.

My top picks: Think of England and Elysium by Bear’s Den, Georgia and Mess is Mine by Vance Joy, In Dream and Time is Dancing by Ben Howard.

8. Other albums that deserve a mention because they’re great and you should listen to them during this time of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion:

finalz

Remember to drink lots of water with your undoubtedly increased caffeine intake, get some sleep, pet a dog and send your friends encouraging texts. You’re going to make it through and you’re doing a good job. Best of luck to everyone!

Also: comment with your favorite study playlists because sharing is caring.

On Eyeliner and Lipstick and Freckles

Or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Myself.”

(author’s note: I’m not entirely sure if this blog post makes a lot of sense, but I’ve been really wanting to write about it for a while. Here are my thoughts. Let me know what you think.)

There is something very precious and fragile about self-love. I know I’ve written about this before, and you’re probably tired of hearing about how amazed I am with my newfound fascination with my own self. After all, it shouldn’t be this groundbreaking, right? To be okay with yourself? To like the human being you are busy being?

But things shift and change. Delicate little puzzle pieces snap into place of their own accord. Walking into a room full of strangers becomes a less terrifying prospect. If all I needed to do for the past 21 years to feel good about myself was actually care about my eyebrows, I’m a little mad I didn’t start earlier.

If you have told me six months ago that I would be the kind of person to dress up when she isn’t feeling awesome in order to force herself into a better state of mind, I would have laughed in your face. Historically, I have been the person to roll into most social situations in running tights (despite a massive lack of running in my non-existent workout regime), Chacos and an old sweatshirt or Goodwill flannel. If I was feeling anything less than stellar, there was little to no effort put into my appearance. I wouldn’t put on makeup, save keeping any leftover mascara. I wouldn’t touch my hair, except maybe sweeping it into a topknot or hiding it behind a favorite baseball cap.

Then I went to Europe.

Europeans dress better than most Americans. That may be a stereotype in some cases, but believe me when I tell you I actually only saw two hoodies the entire time I was abroad. I knew going in to my summer abroad that I wanted to dress the part; to fake it till I made it, as they say. I packed only one t-shirt. I left my running tights at home. I didn’t bring a single sweatshirt.

Instead, I wore sweaters and skirts. I bought a pair of black ankle boots. I paid attention to what my hair actually looked like. I put makeup on. I learned to appreciate the power of the perfect shade of lipstick.

I know what you’re thinking: didn’t you just describe someone becoming more shallow and obsessed with appearances? I thought about that too. I have to wake up a little earlier every day to give myself a margin of error in case I mess up my eyeliner and have to start over (which happens almost daily). I keep lipstick in my bag. I actually bought a full-length mirror so I can change outfits multiple times before I leave the house.

In other (more frank) words, I started to give a shit.
And when I started to give a shit, life got better.

So yes, I care a lot more about my appearance than I used to.
You want to know why?
Because I care a lot more about my confidence.

Few things make me feel ready to tackle a difficult day like winged eyeliner and a red lip. I rarely feel as prepared to deal with my social anxiety’s whims as when I’m wearing my favorite striped shirt and my oversized Levi’s denim jacket with the sleeves rolled twice. When I know my hair looks good, I feel like I can take over the world. People can tell when you feel good, just as they can tell when you don’t. Confidence is the first thing most strangers will pick up on when you walk into the room, no matter how subtle the changes are.

And that’s completely fine, because the confidence I get from my outfit or a particularly good hair day bleeds into every other area of my life. I put on lipstick to go to the library, and now I am pounding out a blog post I’ve been putting off writing for weeks. I blow-dried my hair yesterday morning and then made huge strides in assignments I’ve been struggling with approaching. I haven’t changed my routines to impress others, but for the immense personal importance.

This doesn’t only happen when I accomplish the perfectly blended smokey eye. When I spend Friday mornings without a speck of makeup on, I feel like I’m glowing. A few months ago, I would have cowered at the thought that I could feel beautiful in my most natural state. Something about feeling good on the outside has wiggled its way inside permanently, and it’s the most wonderful feeling.

It’s hard to change your insides, after all. I have been a procrastinator since the day I was born (my mom likes to say I “took my time” coming into the world), and it’s something I have to actively work on combatting. I am bad at managing money, and my dad has fought tooth and nail to get me to not overdraw my bank account (update: I’m getting better and better).

What I’m thinking — and hear me out — is that sometimes you need to inspire yourself to be better. When I’m wearing ankle boots and have lipstick on, I want to be the kind of person with an organized desk who drinks two cups of coffee every morning and takes time to read the news. People who willingly stand in front of a mirror and painstakingly etch eyeliner that looks the same on both sides are not the kind of people who give up halfway through a busy day.

Does any of this make sense? By caring about what I think about myself and investing time and effort in myself, I have changed my life for the better. By caring about my outsides, I have drastically improved how I feel on the inside. It’s a weird sort of logic that I’m just finding the words to (try to) explain.

My room is an absolute disaster right now. Maybe a new tube of lipstick can remedy that…

This took me entirely too much time to do, but the ripple effect of liking your eyeliner is unbelievable.
This took me entirely too much time to do, but the ripple effect of liking your eyeliner is unbelievable.