A Letter to my Teenage Self

I let you down.

I’m sorry I was so mean to you. I’m sorry I called you so many names. I’m sorry I didn’t treat you the way you deserved.

Comparing you to everyone else was my favorite thing to do; pointing out each flaw like it was a checkmark on a list of things to fix.

Remember the times when I wouldn’t let you leave the house without perfectly straightened hair? I hated your curls; they were weird and frizzy, and so unlike all the other girls’ hair in your class.

That was unkind of me, because each unique part of you is what makes you so special.

It wasn’t fair of me to starve you so your curves weren’t so…out there. It wasn’t right of me to say you weren’t good enough for anyone and that no guy would ever love you, because you deserve the world.

I wish I would have stood up for you when everyone called you names, instead of cowering and pretending like it didn’t bother you. Telling you any attention was good attention. I wish I could have helped stop the rumors that burned through the school like wildfire.

I should have lifted you up, praising each attribute and letting you know that it’s okay to be different. In fact, it’s cool to be confidently you.

So what I want to tell you today is: thank you. Thank you for persevering. Thank you for using the struggles to be stronger and smarter. Thank you for not giving into the dark voices. Thank you, for being YOU.

I love you and am so proud of you for flourishing.

Hannah

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Trucking Through the Trauma

As I was huffing and puffing at the gym last night, willing myself to keep going, I came to the realization: I have been praying for this exact moment.

Five years ago, I injured my back while I was studying abroad in Germany. No, it wasn’t some dramatic fall or injury, I just basically woke up one day with back/leg pain and within a week it was so severe I could hardly walk. What the hell? Imagine being a fit, 21-year-old college student who’s been an athlete their entire life, to all of a sudden barely be able to walk.

I took a taxi to the hospital. I had no idea how the German health system worked, all I knew was I had insurance through my student visa. After waiting in the ER for two hours, I was seen by a doctor, to only then be prescribed ibuprofen (German things). Clearly my situation required more than ibuprofen, so back to the ER I went the next day.

They put a pain meds drip in me, admitted me, ordered a bunch of tests and sent me up to my hospital room. Terrified and alone only began to describe how I was feeling. All I knew was I was glad to finally have pain killers that actually worked.

After a three-day hospital stay, an MRI and multiple assessments, I was told I had two herniated discs at the bottom of my spine that were causing sciatica, aka hella nerve pain, shooting down my leg to my toes. The doctor told me that they wanted to operate on me.

I’m sorry, WHAT? My family is 5,000+ miles away from me. No way in hell are you touching me with a scalpel. So I checked myself out of the hospital, took the bus home, changed out of my three-day-old outfit (fun fact: they don’t provide hospital gowns in Germany) and took a shower.

Within 20 minutes of being home, my arm started twitching. Raising itself on its own beyond my control. Back to the ER I go… After having to walk to the ER because it was the closest one that was open, a room full of doctors speaking German so quickly I couldn’t understand, two ambulance rides (they took me to the wrong hospital at first) and some blood tests, I was told I basically had some freak panic attack/mild seizure that my body couldn’t control.

Off I rode in another taxi home. Feeling helpless, confused and was quite frankly in shock.

Upon returning to the U.S. I tried physical therapy. I got steroid injections. I was prescribed multiple medications. Nothing worked. I could still hardly walk let alone workout or enjoy everyday activities I was used to doing.

Finally, after two years of agony and several consultations, I scheduled my back surgery. The healing was much slower post-op than I thought it would be, but nonetheless I was better. Each day was slightly better.

Daily tasks were getting better, but still hard. One time I was changing the laundry from the washer to the dryer and tweaked my back, instant pain searing down my leg. “Great, here I go again…”

Sneezing was so painful because each sneeze caused the sciatica to come out of hiding.

I was scared to live. Each night in bed, I cried, praying to God to alleviate my pain. “Please, I just want to be able to walk normally again. I want to be able to socialize for more than an hour. I want to dance. I want to run again.”

Hopelessness became my normal. My depression was so severe all I did besides work was lie in bed, it was the only place I was comfortable.

So, five years later, you can imagine how scared I was to get back to the gym. I’ve been solidly walking/feeling normal during my every day activities for the past year or so, but I hadn’t pushed myself physically beyond that.

Now, I’ve been on the workout/eating healthy grind consistently since the New Year. Last night I did four miles on the elliptical in 54 minutes. I almost want to write that sentence again just to have it sink in for myself!

Y’all – I find myself smiling while sweating! Straight up jammin’ to my music and singing along while I am doing hardcore cardio. I can’t fully express how elated I felt last night when I noticed I was so happy to finally be MOVING. My body, the same battered, cut up and stitched back together body that used to be so stagnant, was now moving like the athlete I know is inside.

Weight and body image have been a struggle for me as long as I can remember. I used to get so caught up with the scale, my jeans’ size. But now? I am so happy to just be moving and breathing hard and sweating for f u n.

I definitely have goals of weight loss and fitness, but I am so damn proud of how far I’ve come. 21-year-old me is crying seeing me now.

Except this time, they’re tears of joy.

xoxo,

HB

Is it all in my head?

The intruding thoughts, the paranoia, the hurriedness to finish a task, is it all just in my head?

Yes. But, also no.

Of course the thinking is literally in my head. But, I’m not making up all these negative obtrusive thoughts. Or am I? You see, when you think 1,000 thoughts in a minute’s time it can get fairly confusing. Yes, I do live with anxiety and depression and have done so for much longer than I first thought (therapy is a funny yet beautiful thing). BUT – my anxiety and depression do not define me. 

Just because I hear negative thoughts creeping into every moment of my day, does not mean that those are my own, true reality. Or are they? Now I’m just getting too existential and need to take a step back. LOL

What I’m getting at is this: humans are multi-faceted beings. You can have one side to your personality or 10. And lately, I think I’ve begun to almost relish in my melancholic side. Do any of you get that way?

I’m not saying I’ve enjoyed this struggle bus I’ve been riding for what feels like forever, but lately I’ve been thinking I’ve let myself use my mental illnesses as an excuse. An excuse to be antisocial. An excuse to not go to the gym. An excuse to ignore responsibilities.

Sometimes it seems you are climbing an uphill battle, and hey, maybe you are. But working on ways to counteract those negative thoughts and actions is what will get you to that holy grail of a destination: peace.

My dad, the wisest, kindest, most optimistic person I know (he’s also a psychologist so hey, he’s got the proper training, too) once told me that to keep yourself at peace, you must replace each negative thought with a positive one. And when the negativity seems to be taking over no matter how hard you try, you can’t give up. Hating on yourself for looking fat or unkempt in your outfit today? Tell yourself you’re beautiful. Say it out loud if you have to. Shit, write it down!

We all have our ups and downs, and I personally have been on a down for a while now. But I haven’t given up. I won’t give up. Adding positive and healthy habits into your routine is a great way to start.

For example, I’ve been reading so much more lately. I used to always have my nose deep in the spine of a book, but I got off the reading train in college and never quite hopped back on. Until last year. Not only does reading make me happy, but it also is a non-electronic activity, which are few and far between these days. It also helps me fall asleep easier and more quickly than if I turn on the TV. Which means…drumroll please…I wake up more easily!

Getting out of bed on the right foot really goes a long way. Forcing yourself to find the silver lining helps, trust me. Yesterday I had the day off of work, and when I first woke up I couldn’t wait to just lie in bed all day and watch TV. But why? Sure, a leisurely day is necessary, especially when your body and mind need rest, but too many lazy days is what starts your downward spiraling.

So, what did I do? I said NO to my negativity and got out of bed and went to yoga. As soon as I had my breathing regulated and hit my first down dog, I immediately felt a release of stress. Pain, hurting, anxious and depressive thoughts quickly crept out with each huff.

I felt so great afterwards and ended up having a fully productive day, all the way down to putting up Valentine’s decorations at midnight (still working on the whole falling asleep thing, it’s a marathon not a sprint y’all gimme a break).

So here’s to replacing each negative thought with a positive one. Let’s spread more peace – Lord knows our world needs it now more than ever.

xoxo,

HB

Life’s not all rainbows and butterflies

I am tired. 

Tired of being the life of the party. Tired of being the one who puts in the extra work. Tired of being the funny one everyone looks to for a laugh. Tired of being the go-to friend for advice. Tired of being the optimistic bubbly person everyone thinks I am. (Which, don’t get me wrong, I am optimistic and usually pretty bubbly, but that’s not the only side of me, folks.) Tired of giving everyone else my time when I don’t give myself a minute.

Y’all, I am just TIRED.

Don’t get me wrong, I love cracking jokes, being the one my friends can lean on, putting in the extra work on a group project. But I can’t be that person all the time. Nobody is happy all the time. Nobody is equipped to deal with outside drama 24/7. And while most of you reading this will agree we can’t be happy or helpful all the time, nobody actually considers this when seeking help on something or wanting a shoulder to cry on.

Sometimes, the advice-giver needs an open ear to vent to. Maybe the person you rely on to do the majority of the group project just can’t muster that extra energy this time. Maybe, just maybe, they need a  b r e a k.

My depression has been getting the best of me lately. It keeps me from wanting to socialize, catch up on the phone, or even just run errands that I typically love. What do I say when my coworker asks me what I did over the weekend, admit I didn’t leave the house until it was time for work Monday morning? Because that would be the truth. But that’s not the fun answer, it’s not the crazy party story people may be used to hearing from me.

My anxiety comes into play when someone bombards my world, whether it be work or a friend or family or whatever. When you’re depressed, you hardly have enough energy to do the things that normally are a breeze. Waking up on time? LOL that snooze is going off at least five times this morning. Doing my makeup? Y’all might get to see me with mascara and brows on that day. So when I’m having a more-than-usual depressive day, I just can’t handle anything else. And if something is thrown my way I’ll go into a panic.

The thing is, humans are creatures of habit. We get into routines, learn people’s behaviors, and then start to expect those routines and behaviors to stay the same. That’s my issue though: because I’m usually the fun one, the advice giver, the hard-worker, that’s what people start to expect of me. And when I’m struggling with my depression and anxiety more than usual, just thinking about someone needing me or expecting my typical happy-go-lucky self sends me straight into stress mode.

Being an empath is both a curse and a blessing. I love the relationships I’ve made and the connections that continue to grow because of the deep conversations, the venting, the listening, the advice giving. But as someone who lives with anxiety and depression, on my bad days I just can’t handle any more emotion. I will get sad about your dog being sick or your grandparent dying along with you. Truly. That’s why it’s both a blessing and a curse.

I know most of this post has just been ranting, but here’s a quick recap:

  • Be considerate, you never know what someone else is dealing with
  • Stay patient with loved ones who may seem moody or distant
  • Check on your happy friends

This blog was mostly just to get my feelings out there and off my chest so I can take a bigger breath. Have a moment to sit still, quiet and calm. But I also hope some of you can relate, and know you aren’t the only one.

It is okay to say no. It is okay to say, “I’m sorry but I’m just not up for that.” It’s okay to put someone else’s needs off because you need time for yourself. Here’s to a more understanding and empathetic future for us all.

xoxo,

HB

International Self Care Day: You’ve gotta nourish to flourish

Isn’t that saying so fun but also, like, so true!? You’ve got to nourish yourself in order to flourish. Flowers can’t bloom without proper watering and sunshine. You can’t pour from an empty cup. To be on top of your game 100 percent of the time, you have to spend time on yourself so you are getting all the attention and care you need.

source: Pinterest – Lushome

Today is International Self Care Day, and I wanted to share with y’all ways I find my zen both at home and at work.

At home 

Dealing with anxiety on a daily basis, finding my happy place is absolutely necessary. Here are a few ways I deal with everyday stress to keep myself balanced:

  • Change into comfortable clothes
  • Take off your makeup and wash your face
  • Do a face mask (or two – I have an obsession)
  • Burn incense or light a couple candles
  • Turn all the overhead lights off and only have lamps on
    • The warm lighting helps you relax
  • Listen to a calming playlist
  • Put on your favorite show or movie, but keep the volume a little lower than usual
    • For me, too much noise can cause an increased heart rate and slight anxiety, so if you’re feeling on edge already, it’s best to keep the volume levels at a more comfortable setting.
  • Go for a walk
    • This one is part of my daily routine already because I have a dog, but even if you don’t have pets, make an effort to get outside and take a quick walk – even if it’s only 10 or 15 minutes.
  • Cook yourself a healthy meal
    • Cooking has become one of my favorite hobbies! I love that it’s a non-electronic activity, especially since I work in social media and am constantly connected. It’s a great stress reliever and a semi-mindless task, too.
  • Treat yo self!
    • Parks and Rec style – maybe this is an Amazon order, maybe it’s going to get coffee or ice cream, or maybe it’s finally buying that pair of shoes you’ve been pining for. Retail therapy is real y’all!
  • Play with your pets
    • If you don’t have a pet of your own, maybe you have a neighbor who could use a helping hand and can walk their dog for them.
  • Call your mom
    • Okay seriously – momma always knows best! Just talking to your mom or dad, brother or sister, for a few minutes will relax you. No one knows you better than the woman who birthed you and the siblings who helped get you into trouble!
  • Meditate
    • Mediation beginner? No problem! Two of my favorite meditating apps (that I also use to help me fall asleep at night) are Calm and HeadSpace. They’re free and available in the app store.
  • Take a nap
    • Sometimes when life gets too hard, you just gotta nap. it. out.

Now, I’m aware some of those seem like simple and small activities – and that’s exactly right! Finding your zen and balancing your mind does not take a great deal of effort, rather it’s small steps that keep your heightened senses at bay and relax your mind, body and soul.

Peace Wall, Prague, Czech Republic 2014

At work

Obviously it’s not quite as easy to take time for yourself when you’re on the job. I am very fortunate for having my own office, where I can control the lighting, sound and smell. Most of us work the good ole 9-to-5 and are on a pretty consistent schedule, so I’ve come up with some ways you can decompress while still accomplishing your tasks and pleasing your boss, too!

  • Go for a walk
    • I know I said this on the list above, but it is seriously one of the quickest ways to de-stress and clear your mind. After an intense meeting, a quick lap around the building for about 10 minutes does my mind WONDERS.
  • Grab a coffee or tea
    • Personally, I have a sliiiight caffeine problem, so getting my afternoon tea or coffee is basically a must. But it’s also a healthy pick-me-up, too!
  • Use an oil diffuser
    • Some offices don’t allow this…thankfully, I have my own so I can comfortably diffuse my beloved lemongrass essential oil all day long. For those of you who can’t, keep a roller with your favorite oil combo in your bag and put it on your wrists, neck and behind your ears for instant relaxation.
  • Talk it out
    • Take a quick 10-minute personal call. Whether it’s to your parents, partner, or long-distance best friend, speaking to a loved one even for just a few minutes will help you feel more at home and peaceful.
  • Put on your headphones
    • Just as I mentioned above, listening to a nice relaxing song is great to drown out the noise around you. But – maybe you aren’t wanting a quiet and calm tune. Throw on any old song; sometimes I like to put on some rap and jam it out. Works like a charm.
  • Confide in a trusted coworker
    • Not every work environment is ideal, and some of us are lucky to have more friends at work than others, but surely you have at least one confidant you can talk to. Whether you’re stressed about a project or worried about an upcoming review, talking it out with a trusted coworker will make you feel better, even if it’s just saying your thoughts and worries out loud.
  • Close your eyes and imagine your happy place
    • My personal happy place changes based on my mood/train of thought…but it always is either a fond memory or me with my family and friends, or a beautiful place in nature near the water. The pic below is my go-to image because I remember how salty and fresh the air smelled and how blue and majestic the water looked when I was in Croatia.

Split Harbor, Croatia

Side note: my favorite incense and essential oils are available at Whole Foods! My diffusers are from Amazon (and under $20!) and my roller balls are from TJ Maxx.

Well, there you have it! My tried-and-true methods to reaching inner peace and keeping your zen on, no matter where you are.

xoxo,

HB

 

 

 

What do your tattoos mean?

Oh how I just love getting asked this on a weekly basis…

Well – for those of you who have wondered (and those who don’t give a rat’s ass) – below I’ve laid out each tattoo and its special meaning to me. All three of my tattoos are on my right arm and belong to a theme: places I’ve lived that have impacted me in inexplicable ways.

Tattoo #1 – the key

Oh my beloved key. This one is a tribute to my second homeland: Germany. I first stepped foot in Germany when I was 13 years old. My family and I made the trip across the pond for the 2006 World Cup and I was absolutely in LOVE with the place. People were friendly, but not over-the-top, food was yummy and fresh and the weather was phenomenal – even in the summer, which was a major plus to this southern girl.

My junior year at KU, I studied abroad for a semester in Regensburg. I minored in German Studies in college and had planned on studying in Germany for a semester since I was in high school.

The six months I spent in Regensburg changed me in more ways than one. It was the first time I lived alone, and if you know me, you know I used to hate being alone. I did everything I could to stay busy and be surrounded by people to block out the damaging thoughts going on in my mind. I also first injured my back when I was living in Germany. There was no accident, no fall, just woke up one day with insufferable back pain and a searing burning feeling going all the way down my leg to my toes.

Great. Here I am, in this beautiful country, and I’m immobile. After three trips to the ER, two ambulance rides, three days in the hospital, a creepy male nurse who hit on me while changing my IV (and then proceeded to LOOK ME UP on Facebook from my patient file and BRING IT UP in conversation as if it was NORMAL), tests, MRI, etc. etc., I found out I had two herniated discs at the bottom of my spine. The doctor told me he wanted to operate on it but I said hellllll no! My family is 5,000+ miles away I am not having major surgery all alone.

Alone. Thats what I was – a 21-year-old American girl in a German hospital with no A/C, no hospital gown, just my three-day old clothes and a book: Eat, Pray, Love. (Shoutout to Elizabeth Gilbert  because her book kept me inspired when I really wanted to crawl into a black hole and never come out.)

Fast forward to pain managed by drugs and several awesome weekends traveling Europe and I still had the most incredible six months of my life that year. Aside from my foreign hospital experience, I learned how to live alone and enjoy it. I learned how to converse with locals in German. I learned how to navigate cities where I didn’t speak the local language. I learned what it meant to truly o p e n  your eyes and take in each and every moment; experiencing foreign cultures wholeheartedly. Once you immerse yourself in a new place, where you know nobody and have no connections, you find out how large our world is and how small you are.

So, why the key? 

Well, Regensburg’s flag is this:

source: wiki commons

But, I knew I wanted mine on the outside of my forearm, so I opted to have just the one key. Here’s mine:
My first tattoo. My tribute to Germany. My reminder that I can get through anything and come out stronger on the other side.

Tattoo #2 – the diamond

The smallest of my three tattoos, but the one nearest my heart. In case you didn’t know, I was born and raised in Arkansas. My grandparents, parents, three of my four siblings and all my nieces and nephews still live in Arkansas. In fact, they’re all within a 3-mile radius of each other. I know…we’re almost annoyingly close as a family. But I LOVE us Barlings for it. 🙂

Arkansas is where I had my first school dance, my first kiss, my first hike, my first soccer game. Putting it shortly: I experienced a lot of life’s big “firsts” in Arkansas. Family means more to me than anything  and my fondest memories reside in the Natural State. My diamond tattoo is a tribute to my childhood, my family, my home.

Tattoo #3 – the sunflower 

“Despite knowing they won’t be here for long, they still choose to live their brightest lives.” – the sunflower, by Rupi Kaur

Wow. What a beautiful thought and one I like to apply to real life. Most people are here on this planet for 100 years or less and in the grand scheme of things, that isn’t a very long time.

Sunflowers have always been my favorite flower. I hate how over-used roses are and would rather receive a sunflower any day. I’ve always been drawn to them; their bright colors, big “faces”, long stems. They stand tall and regal – proud.

The wild sunflower is also the state flower of Kansas, where I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Those four years were a magical time. So many exciting and new endeavors. New friends, new hurdles, new accomplishments. My journalism career exploded at KU and I owe it all to my work at the University Daily Kansan.

Goals were made and reached. My life is forever changed after living in the beautiful hippie town of Lawrence, KS. My sunflower tattoo is my tribute to that stage in my life of constant learning and growing.

Well – there you have it: the meaning of my tattoos. Ultimately, these are for me and nobody else and if you have negative opinions about them I honestly couldn’t care less. 🙂

xoxo,

HB