Rituals of Self-Care in My Post-Grad Life

If it wasn’t already apparent in my other posts or depressing Facebook statuses, I haven’t been having the best time in my post-grad life. Though I am fortunate enough to have my parents support me and let me live with them while I figure out what the next phase of my life will look like, it’s a struggle every day for me to be happy. I often have anxiety attacks and breakdowns worrying about how I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life, for the first time in my life. It’s difficult, but I’ve been trying to be patient and gentle with myself as I’m going through this confusing in-between stage. I’m trying to focus on taking care of my physical and mental health while struggling with post-grad depression.

Diet

When I lived in an apartment with my friends and had to take care of my own meals for the first time, I spent most of my grocery money on sour patch kids and party-sized bags of hot cheetos. I ate at McDonald’s or Costco at least a few times a week because they were a 5-minute walk from my place. Eventually, I got sick often and couldn’t get the taste of salt out of my mouth for days.

Since I moved back home, I made a few changes to my diet. I stopped letting myself eat so much dairy because I became lactose intolerant, and tried to just push through the pain whenever I had a milkshake before. I created a ritual of drinking tea in the morning, which makes me happy by doing this small act of self-care. I started switching out sugary cereals for oatmeal for breakfast. If I add some walnuts, cinnamon, and banana slices to it, it’s a lot more filling and tastier than cheap cereal. I also eat a lot less junk food, which is a luxury because now I have my parents to either cook or provide food for me, and don’t have to fend for myself like I did while I was in college.

Exercise

This is what made me feel the best about myself as a person since I graduated. For my whole life I felt like I was weak and couldn’t lift anything heavy or protect myself. I saw myself as frail and clumsy. And while I am still a bit of a klutz, I no longer see myself as a weak person. Lifting weights and seeing how much I can handle makes me realize how strong I truly am, and gives me confidence in other areas of my life. I started getting scheduled to work shifts in the back room at my retail part-time job, and before working out, I wouldn’t have thought I could hold my own in there and would have been really nervous. But since I know I can lift 100 lbs, I’m not afraid to carry heavy boxes, although I still ask for help when I need it.

Beauty

I wear less makeup now that I don’t go to school—I used to wear lipstick, mascara, and do my eyebrows almost every day last school year. Living in Davis, where—let’s be real—people don’t really care about their appearance and walk around wearing spandex and North Face jackets, it’s much easier for me to let go and not keep up my appearance. I go for days now where I stay in gray thermal pajamas (much like a tribute from The Hunger Games) and don’t put effort into my looks.

However, I try to make a point every now and then (at least once or a few times a week) to do the bare minimum of curling my lashes, swishing on some mascara, and fixing my eyebrows. Taking just 10 minutes of my time makes me feel better about myself for the rest of the day.

Social

Before I left Santa Barbara, I was worried about how I wasn’t going to have any friends when I graduated. It was scary to think that I would go from having all my closest friends live within walking distance of me, to having nobody to hang out with when I moved back home with my parents. When I moved to Davis in 2010, I came to a new high school during my senior year not knowing anyone, and spent the year eating lunch alone and reading Harry Potter or studying for the SAT. I dreaded coming back to this, especially since my new skill for making so many friends in college had become one of the qualities I liked best about myself.

While I enjoyed the fact that I couldn’t walk through campus without seeing at least 5 friendly faces, I did miss my family terribly sometimes. Moving back home gave me the opportunity to spend time with my kid siblings, who are now my best friends since I graduated. Driving my 17 year old brother home from cross country practice, we got to talk about his feelings about going to college and growing up, which I’m grateful for because we barely spoke when I was in college (besides a few short texts now and then about Game of Thrones). Helping my 9 year old sister write her blog posts, watching Tangled with her, and cuddling makes me happy and fulfilled with my social life in a different way from hanging out with my college friends did. Being back home gives me the chance to reconnect with my brothers and sisters and with my identity as an older sister and mentor.

Reading List for 2016

Seeing as I didn’t finish a single book for pleasure this year, this list is pretty ambitious. In my defense, I did have a lot of reading to do for school and I also started a lot of books and read many of them about halfway through.

I doubt I’ll read every book on this list, but here are some that I’m excited to start (and hopefully finish):

    • Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling. As per my mom’s recommendation, I borrowed this book from the library and read a couple of her short essays on the last day before I had to return it on a 7-day loan. I wish I’d started reading it earlier because her writing style is personal and funny, and her sense of voice is great. Reading her writing makes me want to write and develop my voice to be as good as hers.
    • Modern RomanceAziz Ansari. I loved Master of None and his stand-up, so I figure this book will be a fun read and insightful.
    • The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath. I’m ashamed to admit I was supposed to read this for an English class and never got around to it, but I liked what my T.A. said about The Bell Jar in our discussion section, so I made a mental note to get around to it. Then at the end of Master of None, the quote Aziz used from the book stuck with me. Fate brought the book to me at a used book sale at the library (thank baby Jesus everyone in Davis is so well-read and discards treasures like The Bell Jar).
    • Lair of Dreams – Libba Bray. My step-mom introduced the young adult novel The Diviners to me in 2013 and I loved it. The story follows a New York City teenaged socialite in the 1920s who can touch an object and divine information about its owner, and communicate with the dead or with spirits. The sequel finally came out this year and I haven’t gotten around to reading past the first chapter.
    • Truth and Beauty – Ann Patchett. I’ve been half-reading this book for over a year now and am afraid of finishing it because I know Lucy will eventually die, and I’m not emotionally prepared for that. But reading about Ann’s (I notice I refer to her as Ann even though I refer to other writers on this list by their last names because I feel so familiar with her and her writing. Plus I was fortunate enough to meet her after a talk she held at UCSB this year!) post-grad life makes me feel more hopeful about mine. If she can become a best-selling author after having to spend an off-year waitressing at a T.G.I. Fridays after she completed her graduate writing program, then there is hope for me too. All I need now is her talent…
    • Patron Saint of Liars – Ann Patchett. I’ve read a few of her other books and her writing style is beautiful. Ann Patchett is easily my favorite fiction author.
    • One Hundred Years of SolitudeGabriel García Márquez. I picked up a copy of this at a tiny bookstore in Madrid over the summer!
    • Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – Patrick Süskind. Yet another half-finished book I have sitting in my room. I bought this one at Shakespeare and Company in Paris.
    • A Spy in the House of Love – Anaïs Nin. Love me some erotica (just kidding. Kind of). Bonus books: Delta of Venus and The Diary of Anaïs Nin.
    • The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger. I’ve already read this two years ago, but it was so interesting that I’d read it again.
    • The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt. This was recommended by both my grandma and my dad, and the first chapter was immersive and emotional.
    • The Blind Assassin, The Edible Woman – Margaret Atwood. Feminism! I read an excerpt of The Robber Bride in my fairy tale literature course in 2014 and found it intriguing.
    • Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami. They say judge a book by its cover, and I do so with the unique, aesthetically pleasing artwork on Murakami’s novels. The cover of Norwegian Wood stood out to me at City Lights in San Francisco, and the first few pages hooked me.
    • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling. I’m not sure if these count because I’ve read them several times before, but they’re of my favorites and I’d love to reread them at this point in my life, and see what new meaning I can find.
    • A Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling. If this book isn’t about Harry as  grown-up, I’m demanding a refund.

Image credits

Goals for 2016

  1. Get a real grown-up job (making more than minimum wage, please) and hopefully in an area that interests me—anything dealing with writing.
  2. Save up enough money to feel safe living on my own and move out of my parents’ house.
  3. Read at least one book a month. This is so embarrassing as a former English major, but I barely read any books for pleasure this year (although I read long-form articles daily, so at least I’m learning…), and now that I have a lot of spare time, I can use my post-grad transitional year as an opportunity to get back into reading. I’m sure I can do this if I just go to bed a little earlier and read, or substitute an hour of reading for an hour I would’ve spent watching TV. Here’s my 2016 reading list.
  4. Keep working out at least three times a week. I’m not going to set any lofty goals for fitness that I can’t meet, but staying consistent with exercise is a difficult task in itself. Luckily my parents are all fitness nuts and lift weights with me or try to get me to run or do yoga with them.
  5. Deadlift my own body weight—which is an increasingly difficult task because the more weight I can lift, the heavier I get. I just recently started lifting 100 lbs and while I assume that’s pretty light for people featured on fitness Instagram accounts, I’m still really proud of myself for getting this far!
  6. Blog consistently throughout the year. At least one post a week would be great.
  7. Start writing a book.
  8. Spend less money on things I don’t really need. I’m going to start keeping a running Google Doc with all the items I purchase with rationalizations on why I bought them so that I can be more conscious about my spending habits—and hopefully guilt myself out of buying unnecessary things.
  9. Try to slowly transition into eating healthier. This is hard for me because I love sweets so much. I highly doubt I’ll be anyone’s vegan clean eating inspo, but I’d like to at least eat more fruits and vegetables, and a little less processed food.
  10. Spend more quality time with my younger siblings. They’re only going to be kids for a little while longer, and I want to take advantage of living near them for the first time in 4 years to hang out with them more, especially if I’m planning to move away for a job eventually.

What I would do differently if I could go back to college

Last week, I had dinner with two of my good friends from college—which was the first time I met up with any of my friends from UC Santa Barbara since I graduated in June (besides hanging out with my one friend who also lives in Davis now). One of them asked us if there was anything we would do differently if we could go back to undergrad. For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in SB, and most of the mistakes I made turned out for the better, because (as cliche as it sounds) they helped make me who I am today. But in retrospect, there are a few things I wish could advise 18-21 year old Chloe about, and would extend this advice to anyone new to college too. Because if there’s anything I’ve learned during my few months of post-grad life, it’s that you only get to experience that part of your life once, and it can suck living the regret of knowing you could have gotten more out of that special time.

  • Branch out and join more clubs, especially starting in freshman year, or actually stick with the clubs you check out. This was probably my biggest mistake (as I wrote about in my post with advice to my 18 year old self).

  • Make use of the unique resources your school has to offer. I’ve wanted to get scuba certified for a few years and went to one class in a series offered by my school’s recreational center, but gave up after I didn’t pass the swimming test on the first try. I regret not going through with the classes or going surfing at least once, especially since I so fortunate to go to a school that was literally on the beach.
  • Put yourself outside of your comfort zone as much as possible.

  • Live as close to campus as possible. It’s a drag having to take the bus to class and either having to stay on campus all day or go back and forth and take up hours of your time.

  • Don’t just choose your acquaintances you met on your dorm floor to be your roommates for the next school year—chances are you won’t even be friends by the end of winter quarter.

  • Stop worrying about getting a boyfriend—love will find its way to you eventually. When you’re focusing on becoming the best version of yourself, people will notice and be attracted to your positivity and ambition. As soon as I stopped looking for a boyfriend and worked on figuring out who I was as an individual, that’s when I seemed to get asked out the most, and in a few months I met the guy who I would date for the next two years (and counting).

  • What you want at 18 will be completely different at 22 (and at 26, and 30, probably). When I was planning to marry my boyfriend in freshman year (I know, what was I thinking) I read this in an article and I couldn’t imagine wanting anything else. This piece of advice made more and more sense every year throughout college as I noticed myself changing as a person, and is still changing to this day. It’s hard not to, but you should try to focus on enjoying the good things you have in the present instead of constantly worrying about the future, because you’ll never enjoy yourself that way, and you’ll be disappointed when the future comes and it isn’t everything you expected.

  • Take advantage of every free event possible—and standing in line for a couple hours is worth the memories you’ll have forever of the concert you went to by waiting for those tickets. I missed out on some cool free events in my freshman year because I lived in the farthest dorm from campus and didn’t bother to go out very often.

  • Get over your lazy tendencies and go out with your friends. I barely drank at all until I actually turned 21, and even then, I hardly went out to parties or the clubs with my friends. Although I enjoyed my nights in my warm bed at night when the idea of a night of taking too many shots and vomiting outside after dancing in a room full of sweaty strangers didn’t sound appealing, the individual nights of binge-watching my favorite shows don’t stand out as clearly in my mind as the ones when I actually went out with my friends. I didn’t enjoy getting my toes stepped on by sloppy drunk girls’ stilettos on the bus home at 2am, but I do remember having fun dancing to Taylor Swift’s “22” on my birthday and the time my friend and I saw our 40-something year old Spanish professor at Tonic Nightclub.

The 10 Commandments of a Healthy Relationship

Writing for Lovescrewed started out as a way for me to reconcile with the bad relationships I had in the past and learn from them, while I went on my journey to becoming a whole person and loving myself. But then I stopped writing early in 2014 because I got into a new relationship and everything was so exciting and fun—and who wants to read blog posts about me being happy and in love anyway? People come to self-help blogs to get raw, honest advice, and I wasn’t dealing with the ghosts of my past anymore to fuel my writing.

Not to say that I’m unhappy now that I’m blogging again, but as my boyfriend and I grow closer to the two year mark in our relationship, I’ve come to learn a lot about relationships, as this is the longest and most serious one I’ve been in.

Needless to say (since it’s evident in my many blog posts), I’ve had my experience with toxic relationships, and learned from my mistakes. I’ve also learned a lot while navigating through this newer relationship. It’s interesting to see how much your feelings for someone can evolve over the span of a couple years—from smitten to infatuated, to learning that they aren’t the person you thought you were falling in love with in the first place, to accepting them for who they truly are and loving that you can learn new things about them even when you thought they couldn’t surprise you.

It’s not always easy, but if you’re with the right person, it’s worth it and hopefully you’ll grow together.

Here are some of the most useful things I’ve learned, and guidelines I try to live by in a relationship (even if I mess up sometimes):

  1. Promise to yourself to never check their phone. Obviously I’m not proud to admit this, but I’m guilty of being the psycho jealous girlfriend who actually blocked girls repeatedly from my ex’s Facebook and Instagram accounts while we were dating… It was hard to stop, but I decided I never wanted to experience that burning angry feeling that made me want to throw up every time I got stalker-y and jealous. I can’t say I haven’t occasionally wondered about whether there’s anything suspicious on my boyfriend’s phone, just out of curiosity (and from seeing way too many Instagram memes about it) but it was important for me to set boundaries for myself. I don’t want to become that distrustful, sneaky person again, and I don’t think anyone enjoys feeling like that either.
    It’s a slippery slope from checking once just to get rid of nagging insecurities, to constantly being anxious about what they might be doing behind your back, and not trusting them enough to believe what they say. If they’re cheating on you, they’re probably smart enough not to comment heart-eyed emojis on someone’s pictures and they’ll probably delete her texts too, so why bother checking? Trust your gut, and if something makes you uncomfortable, try to talk to them about it. But don’t go sneaking around behind their back because if you can’t trust them enough to take their word for it, then it isn’t a great relationship anyway, and it definitely isn’t worth the stress of worrying if you’re being cheated on.
  2. All boyfriends/girlfriends shall remain innocent until proven guilty! Every relationship is somewhat of a gamble of trust, but if the person hasn’t done anything to make you distrust them, try to let go of the pain you’ve gone through during past relationships and don’t just expect the new person to cheat or treat you badly. The worst mistake you can make is to drive a great partner away by misplacing blame on them for something your high school boyfriend did to you 6 years ago. Don’t let the mistakes of your old teenage ex define every relationship you have in the future, or you’ll always expect to get hurt like you did when you were 16 and neither of you knew how to even be in a healthy relationship.
  3. Be each other’s cheerleaders. Encourage each other and support each other’s dreams! This is especially important because a partner should be one of the first people you come to when something good happens to you, and you’d want to be that person to them too. Give good advice you think will help them and show enthusiasm when something exciting happens. There’s no such thing as too much positivity or good attention.
  4. Pick up new hobbies together. If you started dating just because you both liked the same movies or had the same taste in music, chances are that your mutual interests will get old eventually, because your tastes will probably change over time. If you’re in it for the long haul, you have to find activities you both enjoy doing together. My boyfriend and I like to start watching new TV shows together which makes it our thing, and gives us another source of references for our many inside jokes.
  5. Don’t hold their past against them. Try not to get mad or jealous if they slept with a bunch of people before you two dated because that has nothing to do with you. What’s important is how they’ve acted since you met and started dating. You shouldn’t blame someone for something they did before they even knew you existed.
  6. Keep complimenting each other even if you’ve been dating forever. It’s easy to stop doing this over time because you already know you both are attracted to each other. But it’s still nice to hear that the one person you really want to think you’re hot is still into you, or to know that they still think you’re beautiful even after seeing you in the morning all greasy-haired and crusty-eyed. Getting a compliment from your significant other feels a thousand times better than getting 200 likes on an Instagram picture (well, maybe not, but it’s close).
  7. Don’t ask for anything or expect anything. You should definitely expect them to treat you well, but I’m talking about material items. Your boyfriend doesn’t owe you designer bags or jewelry. Although it is nice to receive gifts, don’t be one of those girls who expects her boyfriend to spoil her with expensive things. Follow Destiny’s Child’s lead and be an Independent Woman (The house I live in, I’ve bought it / The car I’m driving, I’ve bought it / I depend on me).
  8. Be grateful and remember to say thank you even for the little things. You’ll become more appreciative of what your partner has to offer if you’re noticing and thinking about the effort they put in to make you happy.
  9. Say “I love you” often, or express fondness in whatever way you’re comfortable with at that stage in your relationship. It’s helpful to remind each other regularly that the love is still there.
  10. Learn how to communicate openly and honestly with each other. This is the most important part of maintaining a healthy relationship. If you don’t express it to your partner when you’re feeling upset with something they did or didn’t do, or when you’re feeling any other emotion towards them, they will not know. This might be obvious, but if you don’t tell them directly, they probably won’t figure it out—nobody is a mind reader (and neither are you, so don’t expect anyone to be omniscient about your thoughts and feelings). If it’s too hard for you to tell them directly, try writing out a letter or a text to them explaining everything you’re feeling, and then try sending it. If it’s a good relationship, then they’re likely to respond well and try to help you meet your needs.
    Another important part of communication is active listening. When your partner is talking to you, don’t just think about what you want to say next—focus on them, then think of how you will respond after. It’s important to let them be heard and be empathetic so you can be there for them and give them what they need. Because while a relationship can be great in that you have someone who will be there for you, it’s your duty (really, it should be your privilege and pleasure) to be a good friend to your partner.

Post-grad fears vs dreams

I’m sitting in bed next to my boyfriend while he studies for his finals in his second year of law school. I scroll through my Facebook feed on my laptop, seeing updates of my friends’ post-grad successes, like a form of voyeurism that will only make me hate myself in comparison. Jody is attending another law school mixer. Angelica will be free to talk to me on Wednesday when she has a day off from her grad school classes at USC. Nikki just posted a picture of the Christmas tree in her apartment in New York City. Every day I see another person from my graduating class adding their new job to their Facebook profile, or Instagram a picture of their freshly-printed business cards tagged at the company they’re working for (usually something hip like a startup in San Francisco—yeah, we know you have a fun job, thanks for rubbing it in everyone’s faces).

Meanwhile, I procrastinate and read every article about race or feminism that pops up on my feed, or hell, even watch a video recapping the latest episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. I instant message chat with my nine-year-old sister. I go through the photos on my Google Drive to free up more storage space. I’ll do anything I possibly can to avoid facing my fears and actually revive the blogs I’ve built (and gradually abandoned) over the past two years, like I told everyone I would after I finished college.

It’ll be better when I won’t have to focus on school and I’ll have so much time to write.

turned into

I’d have more time to write if I didn’t have to wake up at 5am for a part time job that makes me exhausted and miserable.

I’ve been making up these excuses for months about why I can’t write and how life gets in the way, and I see myself slipping into a 9 to 5 job that doesn’t suit me—and in turn, to mediocrity—because I’m afraid that if I actually try to make it as a professional writer, I will fail.

Trying to make a living off of my creative skill is a privilege, yet incredibly terrifying.
Don’t get me wrong—I know I’m not an utter failure (yet). I graduated from college in four years, which is probably more than most people my age can say for themselves, and I’m fortunate enough not be in debt either (loved ones remind me of this repeatedly when I break down about how unhappy I am with my life, and this is my mantra to keep myself from spiraling into depression). I’m grateful to have the luxury of pursuing my passion even though I don’t know if I’ll make any money.

But the stakes are still high. I’m scared that nobody will care about what I have to say—or worse, that they’ll think I’m either too shallow or too radical based on my content, and I freeze up, too anxious to write at all. I’m scared that I’ll become the broken link in a chain of four generations of journalists, the end of a legacy. I’m scared that I don’t have what it takes to follow in my dad’s footsteps, that I don’t have the drive to work for myself. I’m scared that I’ll fall so far behind and watch everyone else in my life excel professionally while I chase a dream that may never come true.

But what scares me even more is regret—that I’ll let my excuses and fears control me, and that I’ll wake up one day stuck at a job I hate, wondering how my life would have turned out if I’d only taken a few hours a day to push myself into writing again, instead of comparing myself to the appearance of success my friends had online.

I often have to remind myself that no matter what people post about on social media, or what path they take professionally, nobody really knows what they’re doing at 22. We’re all just trying to figure out who we are, and I owe it to myself to listen to my gut and take advantage of the opportunity I’ve been given to take the risk of following my dreams, to be brave and at least try.

How to Get Good at Anything: The 30 Day Challenge

Everyone has a hobby that they loved when they were kids but stopped doing when they grew up, or always wanted to learn but never made time. For me, that hobby was drawing. As a kid, I loved to draw characters from books I read or from my own imagination. Since I couldn’t gain coolness points in middle school for anything besides sports or being on people’s Top 8 on MySpace, I stopped drawing and didn’t get back into it until I was in college. A few years ago, my dad suggested that we do a family challenge where we each sketch every day for a month and have a prize at the end. We decided to do this challenge again two years later, and now drawing after dinner is one of my favorite parts of the day.

Here’s what I’ve learned from the 30 day challenge model:

  • You will suck at first, but that’s okay. If you keep working on the skill every day for a month, just by continuously putting in effort over an extended period of time, you will improve, no matter what.

  • Pick a time of day that works best for you, when you know you have at least 10-25 minutes to focus on the skill you want to build. I usually spend a couple hours watching TV at night to wind down before bed, so I chose to draw while half-watching old episodes of Modern Family.

  • Setting up a system of accountability is key. Ask a friend or family members if they’re interested in joining you in your 30 day challenge, and show them it can be fun! When you have someone doing it with you, you’ll be more likely to stick to it because you won’t want to let them down and they won’t want to let you down either. If you can’t get anyone to participate, ask someone to let you check in with them daily, so that you’ll have someone to hold you accountable in case you feel like skipping a day.

  • Missing a day is fine, but try not to miss two days in a row because it’ll pile up on you and you could lose momentum. If you can’t practice the skill one day because you’re busy, just make up for it the next day.

  • Set your daily goal so low that you can’t not do it. When you’re starting out, just the idea of having to work on the skill can seem daunting. I’m at the beginning of my writing challenge month and getting back into the habit of writing is a difficult task in itself. So I set my daily goal to write for at least half an hour, and hope that by starting, I’ll end up getting into the writing mood and end up with a longer session anyway.

  • Treat yo self. Decide at the beginning of the month what your reward will be for completing the challenge. It can be as simple or extravagant as you want—just as long as it’ll motivate you beyond gaining the skill as a reward. For my family, our prize was to get some delicious cinnamon rolls in Berkeley at Cinnaholic.

  • After the month is over, see if you can continue refining your skill. I was so happy at the end of the drawing challenge month that I wanted to keep going on my own. Seeing how much you improve after a few weeks can be enough of a reward to keep you going even when the challenge is over. If you can keep working on it at least 10 minutes a day, you’ll build your skill even more.