january blues

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When I was younger, I never understood why people hate January so much. Winter is my favourite season – that lack of daylight? Great excuse to be in your pajamas by 6 pm. And sweaters? Sweaters are right up there as humanity’s best invention. Another big pro for January: my birthday is this month, and I thought that should be enough to cheer everyone up (modesty has never been my strong suit). But this year, more than most, I get it.

January is tough. A lot of people are diving headfirst into a new year, weighed down by ambitious resolutions and met with cold weather, short days, and a sense of unavoidable failure. To top it all off, I read that today is unofficially dubbed “Blue Monday,” aka the saddest day of the year.

Here are a few things I’ve been trying to beat the “January blues”. I hope this month – and today in particular – you find extra reasons to be happy.

Beating the January Blues

1// Plan for the seasons. This might seem obvious, but there’s nothing worse than coming up with really fun plans only to have them ruined by the weather. I visited a few parks when I was in London earlier this month, and although they were beautiful – and very quiet! – I couldn’t stay for long before my fingers were freezing and the sky was getting dark. Instead, spend winter doing all the things that seem like a waste of a lovely day in summertime: movie marathons, baking, painting, visiting museums, re-decorating or re-arranging your room, or spending an afternoon at that fancy coffee shop you’ve been meaning to visit.

2// Invest in long-term gratification. I’ve spent the past few years trying to get better at this, which is tough when you have virtually no will power! But if you’re feeling down this time of year, it can help to have something to look forward to (and I don’t mean spring). Buy a film camera so you have to wait for the pictures to be developed, or mail a package to a friend so they’ll be surprised in a couple of weeks. If it feels like you don’t have anything exciting coming up, make something yourself!

3// Try a short-term challenge/scheduled program. Go vegan for a week or read 5 books this month. This 30 day yoga challenge is absolutely brilliant and super fun (although, tbh, I never made it past day 10. Maybe this year!). If you’re anything like me, having short-term goals that promise noticeable results can make you feel productive even in your lowest season.

Please tell me how you deal with feeling down this time of year. I hope January is good to you, and that you’re extra good to yourself. Happy Blue Monday (blue is a very nice colour, after all)!

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going on exchange (with anxiety)

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It was dark outside. It could have been day or night, the Swedish winter isn’t picky. I was lying in bed, brain and body still not speaking to each other thanks to the jet-lag, and I was not doing well. I scrolled through my Facebook contacts, looking for somebody to talk to, but time zones are cruel things. “Active four hours ago” made my heart sink. I felt completely and helplessly alone.

I can’t claim to be an expert on either topic, studying abroad or anxiety. But, as a person who absolutely loved living in Sweden for six months despite near-constant anxiety, I thought I’d try to write something that might be helpful for someone else.

Moving or traveling somewhere new can be scary for anyone, but if you struggle with anxiety it can be hard even to imagine signing up for that kind of life change. Either way, here are a few things I wish someone had told me before I moved to Uppsala, Sweden:

  1. It’s okay not to be excited.

I have friends who said goodbye at the departures terminal of their favourite airport with a big smile on their face – leaving, to them, was just another adventure. And while I admire that cavalier attitude, but I was too busy worrying about how things would change back home or how much I’d miss everything to feel that kind of no-worries-excitement. If the idea of traveling to a new country and leaving your friends and family behind fills you with more fear than joy, that’s okay. You can still have a great time, and being scared does not make you ungrateful.

  1. Be prepared.

You might not know how you’ll react – emotionally, mentally or physically – to your new surroundings. But you can do your best in advance to make the transition easier. Pack your favourite clothes and a stuffed animal. Print out pictures to hang on your wall, but don’t put them up if they make you feel sad or jealous. Do some research and try to find at least one thing that you are looking forward to in your new country, so that you know you will have that, regardless of what else happens. For me, this meant shopping at IKEA and Happy Socks. Making realistic plans and packing tangible comforts is the best way to combat the inevitable onslaught of what ifs. What if I don’t make any friends? You will, of course. But even if everything goes horribly wrong, you can still catch a train to Stockholm and have a great day exploring Gamla Stan.

  1. Push yourself (out of your room).

This is so, so important in your first few weeks. There’s a good chance you’ll be jetlagged and homesick and disoriented, but don’t curl up for a Netflix marathon just yet. Try to attend a couple orientation activities, or explore your new city. Most people you meet will be equally new, lost, and eager to make friends. Pushing yourself doesn’t mean you need to go out every night if that isn’t your thing, or become best friends with the first person you meet. But try your best, especially at the beginning, to be around other people and make plans together.

  1. Be kind to yourself.

Being in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by new people, and trying out words in a new language, is draining. Pay attention to your physical and mental health, as this kind of change can take a toll on both. So yes, do try your best to get out and socialize, but if you need to spend a day in bed doing nothing, recognize that that’s okay too. If you’re studying abroad, you live there now. That’s a lot different than being on vacation – it means that you’re allowed to have off days and regroup. Check in with your friends and family back home, and your new friends, too. If you are having a hard time adjusting, chances are they are too.

  1. It will be worth it.

Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, or while you’re waiting at your gate in the airport. Trust me on this.

This might not be you at all. You might be one of those eager, adventurous types who is always on the move. And if so, I envy you. But if, like me, you’re shy and sentimental, afraid of change or anxious about the prospect of uncharted territory, that’s okay too. You can still go new places and do big things, and you will be just fine.

the 100 postcard project

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As soon as I read this post by Naomi Bulger, I ran to the library and bought a thick stack of postcards to put in the mail. Mrs. Bulger, an avid snail-mail advocate and illustrator, is on a mission to send one thousand postcards to strangers around the world in 2017. You can sign up on her website to receive yours very soon.

Her project made me think about how much I love receiving handwritten notes in the mail, and how I want to give other people the excitement of spotting an unexpected card in their mailbox.

My mail slot is the top one in my corridor. I have to stand on my tippy-toes to look inside every morning, convinced that a tiny envelope or sweet postcard could have slid to the back. Most days it’s empty – but when it’s not, I unlock the little door, grab my mail and twirl down the hall to my room to open it.

So I went out and bought a stack of postcards, and if you’d like, I’ll send one your way. Just fill in your name and mailing address below. I’ll never share it or use it for anything else.

As Naomi writes on her blog, I’d love to send you a line from a poem, a story, a recipe, or something else that I hope will brighten your day. And maybe (fingers crossed) you’ll turn around and send someone a postcard, too.

all the things I didn’t know

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I’m sitting in one of my favourite cafes as I write this. The walls are covered in blue and white striped wallpaper, and when you order a piece of cake they always ask if you want ice cream on the side. My kind of place.

I didn’t expect this when I moved to Sweden just over two months ago. I didn’t know about the country’s obsession with coffee or how meeting at a cafe (aka going for fika) is a national institution. I had no idea how to order in a restaurant, and to be honest I’m still too afraid to try, but I’m getting there. I didn’t expect to find a cafe right next to the river in my home-away-from-home where I can sit and work for hours, and feel like I belong.

I had never been to Sweden before I moved here for an exchange (although I go to IKEA on a regular basis, so there’s that). Despite all my research and devouring every Swedish detective series on Netflix, there are still so many things I didn’t even realize that I didn’t know before I got here.

“You never know until you try,” has been ringing in my ears since I got here. Or, in my case, “you never know until you pack a suitcase full of woefully weather inappropriate clothes and hop on a plane.” So here are a couple things I’ve learned. Maybe you can tell me some of yours, too.

(Some of) The Things I Didn’t Know:

  • Tote bags and purses will hit your wheels while you bike and make steering a nightmare – use a backpack instead
  • Swedes say “Hej!” but Norwegians prefer “Hei!” (both conveniently English-sounding so it’s easy to fake)
  • Everyone has a black wool coat and everyone looks amazing even when it’s -10 degrees outside
  • It will be -10 degrees outside at times. Pack more sweaters
  • Every window you pass has plants and flowers in it. It makes the long, dark winter a little more cheerful. Also, people leave their living room curtains open a lot – stop looking in, it’s weird
  • There are vegan, soy, and laktosfri options for everything here (including yogurt and feta cheese. I mean everything)
  • Sweden has great secondhand shops, even if half the clothes inside are from H&M (it’s still Swedish though, right?)
  • Spring in Sweden goes from 20 degrees and sunny one day to grey and snowing the next. Dress in layers and try not to be too disappointed
  • Fika is everything. It basically means going for coffee, taking time out from your day, by yourself or with friends, and it will become your new way of life
  • Swedish is similar enough to English and German that sometimes you can catch what people are saying. Okay, maybe “sometimes” is too strong a word
  • Riding your bike home on the first warm (ish) day of spring is the best feeling in the entire world

It took me a long time before I even knew why I had come to Sweden in the first place. But two months in and I think I finally have something close to an answer: I want to be the type of person who, when presented with crazy, amazing, outlandish opportunities, is brave enough to say yes.

So here’s to three more months and a lot more learning, with love from Uppsala, Sweden.

hey Monday

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It’s a Monday, and that usually means one of three things:

  1. It’s awful
  2. It’s awful
  3. It’s really not that bad

I’m writing this because this morning I didn’t want to get out of bed. I’m on my second cup of coffee, slowly coming to terms with the fact that the weekend is over and giving up isn’t an option. I’m writing this because these are all the things I needed to hear, and I thought you could use them too.

So if you’re ever having a tough day – Monday or otherwise – here are a few things I’d like you to remember:

Good morning. It’s a Monday, and that means that you need to wake up and face the day. Stare down your to do list, hop on the bus, get to class and just keep going. Because no matter what you have to do today, you are the very best person for the job.

You are strong – the kind of strong that can stand up to chilly mornings and 7 am alarms. Even rude drivers and grumpy professors can’t match you. You are strong enough to move mountains, carry around venti lattes, and lift other people up.

You are kind – kind enough to meet eyes with gloomy strangers on their way to work and smile. Kind enough to shake off your tiredness, say thank you when the barista hands you your coffee, and give up your seat on the bus even when you really, really don’t want to.

And lastly, you are graceful. You might be the kind of person to complain – loudly, vividly – when forced to get out of bed before noon, but you’ve got the kind of grace that makes Monday bearable. You aren’t afraid of struggle and you don’t back down from bad days. You pull yourself together, not just once a week but on the daily, toss off the blankets and go.

Monday might be the day that we blame for our troubles (see: Garfield), but you are so many great things every day of the week.

It takes grit, heart, and a whole lot of willpower to to keep on going. So this is a friendly reminder to stop, add an extra sugar to your tea and play some Kanye on your commute. I hope you have a good Monday, Tuesday, any-day-of-the-week and remember, it can be tough but you are so much more.

dark circles

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Last night I was brushing my teeth, getting ready for bed. My neighbour came in and we made eye contact in the mirror in that sort of half-true way when you aren’t sure which face to look at. He raised his eyebrows.

In the mirror, side by side, the differences between us were striking. His olive skin next to my paleness, his short hair to my curls. His brown eyes met my green ones, then instantly darted down: to the splotches of purple, black and blue that have been a fixture on my face for as long as I can remember.

“You should get some sleep,” he said. “You look so tired.”

Thumbing through my phone somewhere around midnight (maybe he had a point), I found an old note that I remember writing on my commute home from work last summer. When I used to fall asleep on the bus nearly every morning and smile at the floor when people looked my way.

If anyone has ever told  you you look tired; if you’ve ever felt tempted to give up on something big and take a break from your dreams; to the people with dark circles under their eyes – this is for you:


Today I am tired. Today the skin under my eyes looks bruised, like someone has been pressing their thumbs against my cheekbones and I guess that would explain the lack of sleep.

Today I layered on foundation, concealer, foundation. I tried to patch up sleepless nights like cracks in the concrete.

Thought but never spoken: My face is a construction zone. I am something to be fixed.

But why can’t we look at each other – Monday morning or Friday afternoon, over breakfast or on the way to work – and instead of pointing out our flaws, whisper, “You look so strong this morning. You look determined. I am proud of you for waking up.”

Because bags under your eyes don’t mean ugly. They don’t mean worn thin or barely holding on. They are your body’s clumsy sign language, characters in an unfamiliar alphabet, litmus strips marking dedication and grit. They stand for late nights dreaming and planning and doing. Those circles under your eyes mean flashlights under blankets, the soft glow of a laptop screen, the solo beating of your heart when everyone else is fast asleep.

And so the next time someone points it out to me, with concern or with laughter in their voice, I will smile, thank them, and keep going.

I look tired because I’m trying. And I will rep my tribe, purple and blue smudges under messy, half-asleep eyeliner scribbles. 7am or half past midnight. The early risers and late night dreamers.

We are here and we are trying.

a beginner’s guide to showing up for people

 

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I saw a picture the other day – maybe you’ve seen it but if you haven’t, don’t try to google it because it will break your heart in so many ways. It was of an old woman – someone’s grandmother, mother, best friend – wearing a pretty dress and heels, all ready for her first ever art show, except for the sad look on her face. Because no one came.

Even describing it leaves me feeling gutted. Because it reminds me of every time I’ve put off sending an email or forgotten to reply to a Facebook message; of every missed phone call or blown-off conversation because sorry I’m busy. Social media has given us a thousand new ways to connect, and even more ways to let each other down.

Because getting to know somebody is about more than liking their profile picture, and being a good friend takes work. We – the generation that is taught that disinterested equals cool and that double-texting is an automatic red flag – know exactly how to measure out an arm’s length + keep people there. Maybe it’s subconscious, maybe it’s a lack of time or money or stamps and-the-post-office-isn’t-open-right-now. No matter what, we can do better.

2016 will be the year of sending birthday cards on time.

That’s my goal. And I won’t manage to remember all of them or I’ll add a sheepish “belated” to the cover, but I’ll try.

Let’s be the type of people who respond within the day. Let’s make “twenty-something” synonymous with “tries their best + cares about other people.”

I want to be known, and I want the people I care about to feel known – seen, recognized, loved. I hope there never has to be another lonely grandmother or forgotten friend, caught in limbo between cancelled plans and un-returned voice mails.

I want to show up for people – in 7 small ways.

1/ Send the goodbye text. Don’t just disappear from a conversation for hours at a time. Say you’re busy and have to go. Say goodnight even if you’re crawling into bed at 9pm after an awful day. When people do this to me, it makes me feel like I matter. Give yourself closure + tell the other person you care enough to sign off.

2/ Be honest with your no. If you can’t make an event, don’t click “maybe” or “interested” on Facebook. Don’t play ambiguous with other people’s feelings. Be honest + be real + make it when it matters. This also falls into subsection 2a: backing out at the last minute, except in emergencies, is the opposite of kind. Some days are tough but don’t be that person any more than you have to.

3/ Call to check-in. My dad has a black belt in showing up + seeing people. He manages to call my grandpa, aunt, uncle, brother and I each at least once a week – just to say hi. Sundays are reserved for catching up. I, still an apprentice, am trying to manage once every couple weeks. Clear your schedule + your space + just listen for 20 minutes. Golden rule: never reply to “what’s new?” with “oh nothing.” Think of something. My dad knows all about the new app I downloaded to make me drink more water. Dedicate part of your day to being silly + heartfelt + so present in that moment that the other person can hear it in your voice.

4/ Bad days require action. If a friend tells you they aren’t doing so well, be there. Be there via text, easily reachable, if they need to be alone. Or be there in person, eat pizza on the living room floor, and tuck their hair behind their ears while they cry. Don’t mistake a call for help with a random text. People can be melodramatic – show up anyways.

5/ Mark your calendar. I was trying to make plans with a friend – the kind of girl who’s so busy I’m surprised she still finds time to eat + sleep + laugh on the daily – and she put it in her calendar. Our vague, tentative, let’s-do-something-fun-next-Friday was suddenly a real thing. Make space. Block off time. Show people they’re worth it.

6/ Send birthday cards. My grandma had this down since the day I was born and here I am, 21 years later, still forgetting to buy stamps. They don’t have to be the prettiest stationary or written in the fanciest writing. They don’t even have to be delivered in the right month. Tear a page out of an old notebook and scribble down some words. Show someone else that they mean more than just a quick “hbd” post on their Facebook wall at 11:50pm.

7/ Find your people // love them hard. This one is tricky – realizing that you can’t show up for everyone + 8 billion birthday cards means licking way too many envelopes. You can’t take every person you meet on a 5 hour coffee date, catching up about what exactly? Oh right, how we just met. But when you find those people you want to hold the closest, make them feel loved. This isn’t about exclusion or making someone feel left out. It’s about doing what you can + showing up when it matters.

Seven little steps and seven months to go in this year. Let’s keep 2016 real + keep trying our best. I am texting back as soon as I can + putting birthday cards in the mail.