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Smoke and Mirrors

Scrolling through social media today, a thought occurred to me that our generation has become really talented magicians. With colorful pictures and filters, different fonts and backgrounds, funny memes and videos, suddenly it’s like “poof!” everyone’s lives are perfect and just like a movie. The finest magicians would be tipping their hats. We all like to magically make our lives seem perfect. I can say with confidence that I am proud of who I am. It’s taken me pretty much my whole life to get to a point where I really feel like my true self, and even still it will be something I am still discovering for the rest of my life. That being said, the present me feels like the most “authentic and unafraid to be me” me. With the world we live in, it’s hard to sometimes find the courage to be yourself though.

Why as a social media obsessed generation do we feel like we need to pretend to be someone we are not? I’ll admit it, I’m totally guilty of it too sometimes! It seems that with our lives just so out there for the world to see on the internet, it’s always easier to put your best self forward, and only the happy and good times. Being yourself is sometimes scarier than pretending. This is why it’s so easy to go on Facebook for example, and just feel completely rotten about yourself and your life. When all we see is happy, good, fun, amazing things from our friends, we feel like something is wrong with us and our life. FOMO hardcore.

In the time since my mom passed away, I have experienced a complete change of self. Unless you have lost someone so dear to you, you really won’t understand what it’s like. The loss was so monumental to me, that I feel like it literally changed my DNA, (I know it didn’t, but it certainly feels like it!), and I am a much different person than I was before she passed. Just the other night, one of my best friends who now lives far away called me around 10 PM. I immediately knew why she was calling- her brother’s birthday was that day, and he passed away about four years ago. She tearfully told me that she just needed to talk to someone who understood how she was feeling, and I know that feeling all too well. Sometimes it’s hard to describe to people just how devastating my mom’s death was for me, and still is.

This journey of self discovery I have been on the past almost three years has been an interesting one. It definitely has not been easy, and I’m sure a lot of my friends didn’t quite understand the things I was going through. Initially, I pushed away from everyone. It wasn’t because I didn’t love them or appreciate them, it’s just something that I needed to do. I fell into a deep depression and lost a lot of weight. I became dependant on sleeping pills to help my brain turn itself off at night so I could sleep. Nighttime was my most feared time of day because the house was quiet but my mind would race, and my anxiety and heartache would just overcome me. Jess was in Denver that summer, and initially I wasn’t going to go, but by May when he had been gone for two months already I decided that I needed to go. Getting up and leaving this place that was a constant painful reminder of my mom was much needed for me to start to heal. Going to Denver was the best thing I did for myself, because being away from what was normal everyday life for me was so cleansingfor my mind and spirit. We went hiking and on adventures every day that we could and I could really feel myself beginning to heal. I don’t think the pain of the loss of my mom will ever realistically be “healed” but I have gotten to a point where I can handle the pain better and remember the good times we had.

Today I feel like I am more me than I was before because the loss of my mom made me take a good look at what is important to me in life, and what’s not. Death has a way of making you question everything, and I did. I questioned my faith, my friends, my hobbies, my decisions, and my ability to be a mom. I basically disassembled and dissected my life as a whole. Most of these things I was able to salvage and strengthen, but some I had to let go of. It was a really good self-cleansing of my body and mind, and even though it was from something so traumatic, I am grateful for this new me I’ve discovered. I am much more confident now, I stand up for myself, and I don’t let things or people bother me that normally would have before. I have really tried to immerse myself in my faith, and also in helping others. Charity work has become a passion of mine. My sister Aly and I started a yearly donation fund, Kind Like Karen (in our Mom’s name), where we take goods to the patients at the Huntsman Cancer Institute where our mom spent a lot of time in the last 8 years of her life. Also, we have becoming heavily involved with the American Cancer Society in Utah, and have participated in two Gala’s, the second one where we were the co-chairs of the auction. I am honored to be a part of such amazing things, and hope to keep doing more charitable work. It makes my soul happy to be helping others and paying it forward.

It takes courage to be yourself, especially in today’s world. I’m not asking everyone to just stop posting their happy moments, because that’s one of the great things about social media. What I’m asking is that we be a little more real, and to be more authentic. Don’t be afraid to be you! Let’s spread some love and support one another in how unique we all are. Smoke and mirrors shouldn’t be something we feel is necessary with our identity online. You shouldn’t feel nervous to post how you’re really feeling, or who you really are. Obviously there’s stipulations to what’s appropriate, but you know what I mean! If you want to post a cute photo of your baby do it! Or if you want to post about how your kids are driving you nuts and you are just having a crappy day- do it! It’s a balancing act for sure, but let’s not tip the scales with one side or another.

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XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

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Alicante, Spain

We hopped on our first train and headed west from Barcelona. We knew we had wanted to go to Seville and the train trip would have taken all day, so we picked a city in the middle to spend the night. In the end, we basically put our finger on a map and ended up choosing Alicante. I knew nothing about it, but it looked pretty in pictures and it had a medieval castle so it all sounded good to me! So on to our second stop we went.

Our train ride was pleasant. The trains in Spain were nice, and this one even had a movie playing, (although in Spanish), and they handed out free headphones. Aly and I visited the cafe car and got some delicious croissant sandwiches which were made fresh and warm as you ordered. We were excited to get to Alicante and explore this once thriving Mediterranean port. Little did we know, that we would run into more than one problem while there!

We arrived in Alicante at about 2 PM, and needed to get to our Airbnb by 3 PM to check in. Thankfully, getting around was much easier on this trip because I actually had cell service, (it was well worth the money to pay for it!), and I figured out the bus line we needed to take to get to our place. Unfortunately, an incredibly nosy woman decided it was her mission in life to help us get to where we were going, and insisted we follow her off the bus at a particular stop. She made us get off at a bus depot, which was not where we needed to be.  Jess kept trying to ask her in Spanish why we were there, and she would just say over and over : “Bush!” (bus?) and gestured to the bus depot. She then waved us away and laughed maniacally while snorting when we asked her why she made us go with her there. We collectively decided she was insane, and then got back on the right bus and headed to our apartment and laughed about the twenty minutes we had just wasted.

We found the lock box which held our apartment keys, and walked another block to find it. It was a lovely little apartment but it wasn’t quite what we had signed up for. It was a studio apartment, and the queen bed that Jess and I slept in was literally right next to the front door. Aly’s “couch bed” ended up being a poorly made couch from wooden pallets put together with hard cushions on top, which was about 5 feet from the queen bed. As soon as we walked in Aly yelled: “Sleepover!” Aside from the odd sleeping arrangements, the apartment had everything we needed for one night. There was a full kitchen with dishes, pots, and utensils, and a washer. The bathroom was very nice and had a good sized shower with plenty of hot water this time! Adjoining the bathroom was a door to the patio where we could sit and hang up our wet clothes to dry. The main room of the apartment had plenty of natural light, since it was lined wall-to-wall with floor-to-ceiling windows with large wooden shutters. We were on the ground floor though, and we were directly across the street from a Kebab restaurant that was very busy and loud. There was a group of men and a barking dog who sat outside talking, drinking, and laughing until at least midnight. One man in particular, desperately needed to put a shirt on but thought the opposite. So, we mostly kept them shut when we were there to maintain our privacy.

Once we unpacked we washed some clothes, taking a quick cat nap while waiting for the cycle to end, and then hung them up to dry. The adventure of the day was to venture to the Medieval Castillo de Santa Barbara which seemed an easy 10 minute or so walk from where we were staying. Little did we realize, that the castle sits atop Mount Benacantil which is 544′ up. Doesn’t sound so bad, but once we started hiking on the only pathway that wound around instead up straight up with a very steep incline our legs were all but completely dead when we weren’t even halfway to the top. When we finally made it to the front gates we were out of breath and incredibly sweaty since it was about 82 degrees that day.

That view from the top though! It was breathtaking, and you could see all of Alicante, and beyond. It was sunset by the time we got up there, so we stayed and enjoyed the beauty of it for a while at the top. The castle itself was very old, and artifacts have been uncovered therefrom the Bronze, Iberian, and Roman ages which is pretty impressive! The origins of the castle itself dates back to the 9th century.

There was even a little museum of ‘Game of Thrones’ which got us all excited thinking this was a site from the show, but it turns out that HBO wanted to use the Castillo de Santa Barbara as Daenerys Targaryen’s castle on the show, and the city of Alicante said no (for whatever reason), but they still had this little museum. It was like a “We could have been on the show and said no, but still want tourism” museum that was really strange and pretty comical.

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We made our way back down to the city, and decided to hit up a local grocery store. We purchased items to make some spaghetti and made it at our apartment, which ended up being quite good. The food in Europe is so much better than what we have here in the states! As we were cleaning up dinner, Aly and I noticed some of the shutters were opened, so we proceeded to shut them. A few moments later we noticed they were once again open, and after shutting them again a few more times and finding them open we decided we had a ghost. We named him Ferdinand and apparently opening the shutters was one of his favorite hobbies. After dinner we were pretty tired, and all took turns showering and got ready for bed and Ferdinand’s antics kept going throughout the night. Jess is the deepest sleeper so he was not aware of any of it, but Aly and I kept waking up to the kitchen lights turning on and off, and objects being dropped in the kitchen. Between that, and the loud group of men who hung around outside until after midnight, and then seemed to come back at 5 AM, it was not a great night of sleep for anyone.

The next morning, we were supposed to make our train that left at 10 AM. We made the epic mistake of hopping on the right bus line, but going the wrong direction. If we had just crossed the road and waited for another one going the other way, we would have been to the train station in about 5 minutes. After about 15 minutes on the bus we did happen to get on, we knew we were going to miss our train. So, we hopped off at a stop, and asked a local where we could catch a taxi. He was very nice, but took us on a really long walk to find one, and once we got it and rushed to the station we had missed our train by more than 20 minutes. Defeated, we waited in line to book the next tickets to Seville, which didn’t leave for another 5 hours.

With an unexpected half a day in Alicante, we decided to walk down to the beach and check out what was down there. The city was surprisingly colorful, with incredible architecture and colorful artwork on many walls. The beach, (at least the one we went to), was not super impressive, but being down by the water was fun and we sat and relaxed for at least an hour on some steps leading down to it. We shopped in a cute little market, had some gelato, and then made our way back to the train station.

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Even though we had to change our plans up, we made the best of it and still enjoyed our extra few hours in Alicante, and if you happen to ever be in this region of Spain you should check it out!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

Barcelona, Spain

On October 13, we officially arrived in Barcelona. It was our first stop on our epic two-week trip and even though it was technically 2 AM our time I was super excited and ready to go when we landed. We had been on different flights from Salt Lake City, but all met up in Newark, NJ before boarding our Norwegian Airlines flight to Barcelona. Jess and I flew Norwegian when we went to Europe two years ago, and their planes are SO nice! Also, when they have their fare sales, their prices are some of the cheapest around.

We were in Barcelona during a very interesting time for the Catalan region of Spain. The Catalan leaders and people were voting to secede from Spain, and become their own country. When we arrived, the vote had already taken place, and they had all unanimously voted to secede. So, while we were there, it was peaceful and the people were extremely happy. Everywhere we went, there were Catalonian flags hanging proudly from balconies, in windows of homes, and draped out of car windows. Unfortunately, since then the Spanish government has decided to overrule them, and are now possibly jailing the Catalan leaders, and there’s a lot of protesting and civil unrest.

Like I said, we really lucked out with the timing of our trip! Some friends of ours arrived in Barcelona a few days after we left and none of the main touristy sites closed, and there were protests and strikes all across the city, so pretty much nothing was accessible or open.

From the airport, we made our way to our first Airbnb of the trip. We swear by Airbnb because it gives you the chance to meet locals, and have a more authentic experience in each city you stay. Plus, you cannot beat the prices! The apartment we rented was about 20 minutes north of Barcelona via train in a cute little town called La Floresta. It was nestled up in the hills that were covered in trees that were filled with parrots! The parrots in Barcelona were one of my most favorite things! They were a beautiful green color and were about as common as robins are here in Utah. I loved it! Our host’s name was Pilar, and she was so kind and welcoming when she met us. Her apartment had everything we needed, (except for 3 people the water heater was super small so at least one of us had a cold shower everyday!), even though it was a small space. But, we really weren’t there for long at night so it was fine. Poor Aly was basically sleeping in a closet! She got shafted a lot on our trip with beds, which I will tell about more as I post more about our trip. It was pretty funny to see what the third “bed” would end up being in a lot of the places!

One of my favorite things about our apartment was the outdoor sitting area. There was a small table and chairs and a swinging bench. In the morning, the birds would all be singing their little hearts out, and it was so quiet because we were away from the noise pollution of the city that it was just magical.

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This staircase from the La Floresta train station was a killer leg workout!

 

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Part of the walk to our apartment in La Floresta

 

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Waiting for our train on the way to Sant Cugat Del Valles

Once we settled into our apartment, and took an hour siesta (the jet lag hit us HARD), we decided for the evening to take the train 10 minutes north to the town of Sant Cugat. It was a charming little town that had a Roman Monastery, and darling little streets and shops.We were pretty hungry, so we searched for a cafe to eat. Jess and I chose a bakery that had sandwiches and pizzas. I settled on a small cheese flatbread and a chocolate croissant. This would be the first of about a million croissants on our trip!

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After we ate, we walked around the cute shops for a while, and then made our way to the monastery. I made a huge mistake and led us in the wrong direction for a good 30 minutes before I realized it. But, in my defense, there were like three different places with the same name as the monastery! So, we had a good long walk and lots of exercise!

Thankfully, we arrived there before it got too dark, and we were able to explore the Monastery of Sant Cugat. It is a Benedictine abbey that was founded in the 9th century, but was under construction and was not completed until the 14th century. I had to touch the walls and the wooden doors because some of them are as old as the early 900’s!

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Gotta love the photobomb by Jess 🙂

Knowing we had a long day the following day, we went to a market and got some food items for breakfast, and headed back to our apartment.

The next morning we took the train back south to Barcelona. We started our day finding one of Gaudi’s most famous architectural feats: Casa Mila, or La Padrera. It was actually the last private residence designed by Antoni Gaudi. Like most of the touristy spots in Barcelona, you had to pay to go in. We decided that this particular spot was not necessarily worth paying to see. Seeing the outside of it was very impressive though!

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Casa Mila

Our second stop was La Sagrada Familia. This was what I was most excited about and have dreamed about seeing since I took some architecture classes in college. It definitely did not disappoint me when I saw it in person! Once the giant structure came into view, I was speechless! My bubble was soon burst as we were informed that there were NO more tickets for tours that day.

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Trying a local favorite. It’s a churro that you dip into hot Nutella chocolate. It wasn’t my favorite, but it was worth trying!

We made a reservation to see La Sagrada Familia for the day we would fly back to Barcelona on October 26, since we would have about 6 hours once we landed from Lisbon. Seeing the outside of it but knowing we couldn’t go inside really hurt, but knowing we would eventually see the inside made it sting a little less.

We hoofed it up to Guell Park. Barcelona reminded me a bit of San Francisco with how steep most of the city streets are! By the time we made it to the park, we were SO sweaty and tired. It was a gorgeous 80 degree sunny day, so it made for the uphill walk to be quite hot.

Guell Park was super crowded, which made the experience a little less than special, but what can ya do? You also had to buy tickets to see the really cool and iconic spots in the park, and sadly for us, we ran into the same problem as we did at La Sagrada Familia. We had hoped that we could just get tickets the same day, but the only time they had available was at 6 PM that night, and we honestly didn’t want to come all the way back up the hill again. So, we walked around and saw what we could for free, and saw from afar the cool iconic and colorful buildings.

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Gaudi’s Home

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I had to take this photo from behind a fence 😦

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Just hanging out with Antoni Gaudi!

After our disappointing Gaudi explorations, we decided to head down to the waterfront and see what that was all about. Barcelona is so beautiful, and it seemed around every corner was some amazing old building. We even ran into another Gaudi building that I had completely forgotten about: Casa Batllo.

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Casa Batllo

We also stopped and ate our first taste of Tapas. We also discovered during this meal that lunch in Spain is the usually the biggest meal of the day, and takes about 3 hours!

Once at the waterfront we saw the Christopher Columbus Memorial, and some other impressive buildings, and then made our way up the coast to see the Magic Fountain. Once again, (although not my fault this time), we took a wrong turn and ended up take the extremely long way there. After an hour, we finally found a hotel that had a bus stop, and took the bus. The only thing was it was PACKED full! The three of us were jammed at the front of the bus and standing by the bus driver. One of the times he stopped the door smashed my foot! Luckily there was no real harm done.

We found some standing room at the Magic Fountain, and even though we had to wait an hour for the show to start, it was worth it! The show lasted about 30 minutes and was put to music. It put the Bellagio Fountain in Las Vegas to shame!

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Barcelona is a city I would love to see more of! We saw as much as we could for as cheaply as we could in the day that we had though. When we were walking to find the Magic Fountain, we got to see an amazing view of the city at night, so that was worth the walk too.

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Until next time!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

The Value of a Woman

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This afternoon I sat on the soft leather sofa in my therapists office, and she was asking me what I valued most in life. I immediately listed off what felt to me like the normal things: my husband, my kids, my family, my friends, my work (helping others), and my beliefs. I felt like I was done and was silently read over the list. There was a brief pause as she turned and looked at me.

“Anything else?”

“Well,” I hesitated, “can I put myself up there?”

“Heather, you should be up at the top of this list!”

She went on to discuss with me why I didn’t add myself to the list initially. I honestly wanted to add it, but decided against it because I felt like it sounded selfish. So, the question is: why did I feel selfish to value myself?

Of course I KNOW I have value, but it has bothered me all day since my appointment why that played out the way it did. Why wouldn’t I consider myself just as valuable as everything else on my list? I have been trying to peel away the onion layers of this, and although there’s still so much to understand, I think I’m on the right track.

Fake News

From a young age, girls are bombarded by the “standards of beauty”. I remember staring at the half-dressed emaciated models on the covers of magazines at checkout stands around age 6 and thinking they looked strange, but as a teenager those women suddenly became who I wanted to be and look like.

So, when I was an awkward teen in middle school, the Delia’s magazine was huge, (anyone else remember this? Or does this totally age me?). I remember scoring through its pages coveting all the clothes inside. I felt like such a loser because I didn’t have the clothes, but also because I wasn’t tall and super skinny like the models. This was during the time when my mom was hospitalized with her terminal cancer, so even was she was home, she was not able to help me with makeup and clothes. I was often depressed and some days just flat out hated myself because I didn’t feel like I was beautiful since I didn’t fit these standards.

I will give the fashion industry credit. Things have come a long way since then, but it’s still bad. With the added sources of social media, it seems that “fashion FOMO” and body issues are even worse now. I don’t want my daughter to feel like I did, but I know that navigating that with how many sources of content there are today is going to be rough.

But WHO decided that these are the set standards? I would like to have some cross words with them, or maybe just punch them in the throat for good measure. There shouldn’t be one set of these ridiculous “beauty standards” simply because not every woman is the same. The fact that everyone is different makes this world beautiful. Being the same as everyone else is not.

Me, Too

I know you’re all familiar with this campaign that went viral just a few weeks ago. It was heartbreaking to see how many women, (and men),  I know who posted the status. I am very sad to say I am also among those who posted it. I was sexually assaulted by a guy I knew my freshman year of college and when I tried to report it, I was threatened by not only him but his friends and people who I thought were my friends. He was on a football scholarship, and this could potentially “ruin his career”. It was a hot pile of garbage is what it was. Rape culture at it’s finest.

Recently Hollywood seems to be imploding with the scandals of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Casey Affleck, Louis C.K, and many others I’m sure that will come out who have all raped or sexually assaulted women. There is one thing in common with all these stories: that the women felt like they couldn’t come out with what happened to them because they were scared, or were perceived to be liars, or were quietly paid off so that they would not tell. It’s this that makes my blood boil more than anything. The fact that we as women are viewed by so many in this world to not have value. Women are viewed as these sexual objects for men to do with what they want, and then we cannot say anything about it.

The world has always exploited women. We are told to look a certain way and act a certain way. Women are praised or judged by what they look like or what they are wearing. It’s rarely for our intellect and achievements. Obviously this isn’t true for the world as a whole, and even though women’s rights have come so far, we still have such a long way to go. Have you ever noticed in tabloids it always talks about what the women are wearing? Women are constantly “flaunting” their bodies, instead of just simply walking down a street living her daily life. Magazines rarely talk about men the same way. Women are perceived as these sexual objects and nothing more.

But here’s the double standard. If a woman dresses more modestly or acts so, she’s suddenly a “prude”, but if she is comfortable with herself to flaunt it and dress a little more revealing suddenly she’s a “whore”. Why is that? Why can’t a girl or woman choose what she wants to do with her own body and let that be that? “My body, my choice” am I right?

So many guys in high school would either never ask me out again, or not even pursue me romantically because I chose to save myself until marriage and wouldn’t give them what they wanted. Since when is that bad? I hope if those boys I knew ever have daughters, that they never have to deal with boys treating her the way they treated girls in high school. Hopefully karma doesn’t teach them a hard lesson.

What’s In a Value?

Last Sunday I got to teach a group of teenage girls from ages 12-18 at my local LDS church. In this lesson, I taught them that no matter what happens, that they still have worth in this world. Despite what this world will tell us over and over, is that we (as women) have so much value. It’s more than what we wear or what we look like. So much more. So, let’s go back then to the question of why I couldn’t list myself on the list of things I valued.

I know I have value, I knew it when my therapist asked me, but I was just afraid to say it. I’m not going to be afraid to value myself now. I will no longer let the things that have happend to me in the past, or anyone or anything else convince me that I have no value.

My daughter will always be taught by me that she has value, and I will help her navigate through this world that will constantly bombard her with these ridiculous “beauty standards”. Lucky for her, she’s got an entire pride of strong women who will also guide her. Wherever she goes in this life, I know that she is going to have the confidence and knowledge to take her far.

I want to hear your thoughts on this!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

 

 

Portuguese Dirty Bathroom Floors

As I sat in the bathroom stall with unbearable pain stabbing at my stomach, I knew that I was about to be extremely ill. We had literally just sat down at a table outside of the nice French Restaurant in Sintra, Portugal and were looking over the menu when I suddenly was overcome by “that” feeling of oncoming sickness. You all know the one – the oh-so-lovely  “number 2” kind. I bolted for the restroom, and there I sat on the toilet with my head in my hands to try and stop my head from spinning. Sweat was pouring down my face and neck making me even more uncomfortable. I had my coat on and another two layers underneath it since it had gotten chilly as the sun went down, and those layers were all just sealing in all the juices.

I badly wanted to take off my coat to help relieve me from some of the heat, but I didn’t want it to come into contact with the dirty floor in the bathroom. Granted, it was a nicer restaurant, so it was cleaner than most places but it was still a public bathroom in the middle of Portugal. I was determined to release these demons, and be on my merry way. Unfortunately for me, my body had other plans. All I’m gonna say is  it was a good thing that no one else was in the bathroom because once the floodgates opened, it was ghastly. Had it not been me, I would have been laughing, because it sounded like a professional sound board of flatulence and diarrheal explosions used in a movie. It was really bad. So bad in fact, that I  started to get really dizzy and quickly recognized that I was going to pass out. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and even though I could barely see what I was typing I managed to text my sister:

“Help”

Finally succumbing to the fact that I was indeed fainting, I figured it would be better to lay down myself than fall down. Feeling so awful to the point that I just didn’t care anymore about the aforementioned dirty floor, I plunged from the toilet head first. I did however, manage to place my hat on the floor so my face was not in direct contact. It was there, in all my post-diarrhea glory with my pants still down, that I finally blacked out.

Within moments my sister dramatically flung the door of the bathroom open, (I imagine her kicking it open with her fists in the air). She told me later she thought my text message meant I was being kidnapped, (I mean, obviously if I was being abducted I would be able to text), and she was fully prepared to fight off whoever it was. I was brought back to consciousness by her pounding on the bathroom stall door. I was able to lift my arm and unlock it, and she knelt down by me to assess the situation.

After telling her what happened she ran to fetch Jess. When the two of them returned, he knelt by my side and the first sweet thing that came out of his mouth was:

“Why are you so sweaty?!”

Had I not been incapacitated I would have busted up laughing. This whole situation was crappy – pun intended – but it was hilarious. The bathroom smelt horrendous from the ungodly things that had just come out of me. I was aware I was extremely sweaty – I had a river flowing from my neck to my backside- but I can only imagine what I looked like to everyone else. I was not only riding on the hot mess express, I was the conductor. Toot toot!

Along with Aly and Jess came a waitress, who was super freaked out and wanted to call an ambulance. I was mortified. First of all, my pants were STILL down around my ankles so, first order of business was to get those suckers back up. I was so glad they would come back up! You know after you go swimming and if your legs are a little wet it’s impossible to get clothes on? It was kind of like that. Secondly, I would be damned if I had to get in an ambulance because of a little diarrhea! What would they have done anyway, wipe my butt and give me some tums? Nope. That absolutely was not happening.

After drinking some water and sitting up for a few minutes – still on the bathroom floor mind you – I assured the waitress that I would be alright, and we headed back to our Airbnb which was thankfully about five minutes away. Once there, I stripped all my clothes off and put them in a plastic bag to be washed at our next stop, showered and went straight to bed. I was so relieved to be laying on a soft bed and not a dirty bathroom floor.

What would a European vacation be without an epic diarrhea story, right? Well, I would prefer it not to be me who was sick, but I took one for the team. My husband Jess, sister Aly, and myself traveled to Spain and Portugal for two weeks this past October. It was a dream trip that we planned for about a year, and even as we got on the plane to leave it didn’t seem real. The thing about traveling, especially with long trips like this one, is that nothing will ever quite go as planned. That’s just a given!  The mishaps and adventures along the way are what make a trip so memorable. Kind of like the hilarious example below where Jess and i could not nail this jumping photo!

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Besides this little diarrhea debacle, our trip was amazing, and I cannot wait to post more about it! I took SO many photos so get ready!

 

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

Anxiety: My Silent Stalker

Since the previous post I wrote titled:” The Light Inside My Darkness” , which describes my recent struggles with anxiety, a great number of people reached out to me. Some I know well, some I haven’t spoken to in years, and some were complete strangers. Many of them told me I was so brave for talking about a subject many don’t like to talk about, while others thanked me for talking about something they suffer from too. I guess I didn’t expect the impact of my words to help so many people. It was unexpected but extremely humbling. I in no way think of myself as an advocate for anxiety and panic attacks, but if I am helping people feel better about their own struggles, I will continue to discuss my own personal battle.

Warning Signs

Anxiety is something that I believe has always been present with me, but has gone through phases of being better or worse. The earliest memory I can recall was when I was around a year old. I was crawling down the hallway upstairs in the Pennsylvania home I grew up in. I can remember the carpet under my hands and knees. I came to the top of the stairs and paused for a moment, debating if I should go down or not. Apparently I decided I could do it, because the next thing I knew, I was tumbling all the way down. Just a few weeks or months later, I grabbed onto my mom’s curling iron cord and pulled it down from her bathroom counter and onto the top of my left hand. I still have a burn mark from it. I believe, that these two events that are seemingly inconsequential started my anxiety. The world became full of dangers that I never knew existed, and to such a young child it was scary.

When I was a toddler, I developed extreme separation anxiety. When my mom would take me to department stores, grocery stores, or any large place with lots of people, the moment I would lose sight of her I would freak out.  I can remember a few of those times. I really had no logical reason to think my mom would just leave me there, but I was beyond reasonable thinking.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Fast forward to 1997 when I was in sixth grade. This was the year my mom was diagnosed with her cancer. Sixth grade in itself was just a hard year for me. I mean, middle school was not fun in general, but for me, it was rough. I was a complete dork. Glasses, no sense of style, and zero confidence. So the added stress and emotions of my mom being diagnosed with terminal cancer just exacerbated everything.

Over the next year or so, my mom was pretty much in a hospital. My dad was still working a full-time job, and would eventually have a nervous breakdown. So, my sister and I instead of being normal twelve-year-olds would come home from school and do laundry, cook dinner or clean the house. Our family had many guardian angels who helped us during this time, but it was not everyday.  We were responsible for things that most kids our ages weren’t doing. I’m not saying we never did fun things with our friends, or would go out, because we did. But for a majority of the time, we were basically forced to grow up and act like adults. It was a lot of responsibility and stress, and it would eventually break me down.

My OCD and anxiety started during this time. I became acutely aware of disease, and anything having to do with germs and sickness would make me panic. I always had hand sanitizer, and started to compulsively wash my hands until they bled. I was also always convinced something was wrong with me. If I got a bruise on my leg suddenly I had Leukemia, or a cough was pneumonia. For a period of time I was wholly convinced that I was going blind and even made someone take me to an eye doctor. My husband has forbidden me from using WebMD because this terrible habit will raise its ugly head if I look up the symptoms for me or my children.

I also became very cognizant of death. My mom was constantly on her deathbed which was so traumatizing for me.  There was even a night where they told us to say goodbye to her, because the doctors were convinced she would not make it until the morning. I cried so much that night when I went home that I made myself sick. My dad spent the night at the hospital, and when he came home in the morning he told us mom was still with us. Thankfully, like I have said before in other posts, my mom lived until 2015. She was a fighter. The idea of death stirred in me an anxiety that I am still dealing with: separation from loved ones. It all stems from the separation anxiety I dealt with as a child, but it manifests itself in me having the tell people I love them every time I say goodbye. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the phone or in person. I was constantly afraid when I said goodbye to my mom that it would be for the last time, so I started telling everyone I loved them every time we parted ways. This is something I still do to this day, but I don’t think it’s bad to make sure everyone I love knows that I love them.

Just Breathe

Quite a few people have asked me advice on how I deal with my anxiety. I tell them all that everyone is different, but I am still happy to share the things that have helped me. I have compiled a short list of some methods that have been very beneficial for me.

  • Breathing- This is a key one for me. Often when I’m spiraling into full-blown panic mode I am breathing fast. I have to slow my breathing down and take long drawn out breaths, and then count to five when I am exhaling. Just physically stopping and concentrating on your breath can snap you out of your panic mode, and it slows your heart rate as well.
  • A Change of Location- What I mean by this one is that you need to physically change where you are in that moment. Oftentimes, if I am inside and feel the panic racing in, I go outside. Fresh air for some reason helps calm me down, and I feel so stuffy inside and get claustrophobic so the fresh air definitely helps ease that feeling. If you cannot physically change your location, say when you’re on an airplane for example,  see the next one.
  • Grounding- Grounding methods have been a game changer for me especially when I am in a situation where I cannot go outside. Last fall I was boarding a plane from Chicago to Salt Lake City. I’m usually okay on flights but as soon as I stepped into this plane my heart started racing. It was a TINY plane which had two seats on each side of the aisle. I sat down in my seat and tried to talk the panic away but it didn’t work. Instantly I needed to flee, so I ran up to the front of the plane and stood with the flight attendant bawling my eyes out by the still open door as people boarded the plane so I could feel the fresh air. She consoled me and even started to cry herself because she felt so bad for me. I considered getting off the plane, but had a conversation with myself that pretty much said “You will need to board a plane either way. Might as well do it now and get it over with.” So, I sat back down in my seat with the air on me at full blast and my music on in my headphones. I was still on the edge of panic the entire flight, but I kept doing grounding exercises and it helped me get through my flight. So, what is a grounding exercise you ask? Simple. You basically need to use your five senses. You find five things around you that you can see,four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and finally one thing you can taste. It helps you to focus on the environment you are in, and bring you back down from the edge.
  • Music- This one for me has always been an escape. When I got my first walkman, (yes, I’m old), I would sit in my room for hours sometimes listening to music and just going into my own little world. It helped me to escape the harsh reality while my mom was sick when I was in middle school, and has been a huge help to me in many other events or times in my life. I’m a huge believer in driving with the music turned up and singing at the top of your lungs too. Music just heals your soul.
  • Find an outlet- This one can be anything really. Whether it’s a sport, hobby, game, prayer, reading books, crafting, scrapbooking, photography your options are limitless. And the great thing is, you can have more than one! For me, working out is one of my most important outlets. I am a much happier person when I take the time to workout. I also enjoy doing classes at the gym which motivates me more when someone is yelling at me what to do. I also love to play city league sports, and have played in several softball leagues, and do a women’s volleyball league twice a year. But whatever works for you, do it!
  • Having a Person- You know, your “phone a friend” lifeline.  I myself have multiple people who I know I can call if I find myself running for mayor of panic town, and I know they will answer their phones and will understand what’s going on. I trust these people and love them so I feel completely comfortable to be able to call them when I am at my absolute craziest. I think it’s important to have people you can turn to because anxiety is terrifying when you are trying to handle it by yourself. Believe me, I know. Another important thing is to educate your “person” or “persons” so they understand what anxiety really is. My husband for example, who is obviously my main “person”, has never experienced anxiety or panic attacks, so I have made sure to have him educate himself by reading many articles so that he can someone grasp an understanding of what exactly I am going through, as well as know how to correctly respond to me when I am in that state.
  • Getting it Out- Honestly, sometimes the best thing for me is to just let it out. I mean crying, and just let those emotions out instead of trying to hold them in. Sometimes just having a good five minute cry helps the panic subside much quicker than trying to hold it in for me. A release of those pent up emotions can really relieve your anxiety.

I could go on, but these are just a few examples of the things that have worked for me. I have also started medication and am scheduled for my first therapy session next week, (I was supposed to go two weeks ago but because I have no insurance they kept giving me the run around and now I am FINALLY going. But that’s another story!) but these things are what I believe at this time. Not everyone needs medication or therapy.

This Too Shall Pass

The mind is such a fascinating thing. It can really sabotage us though, and I feel like that’s what mine was doing to me when my anxiety was at its worst just a few months ago. But the good thing is, that with the right help and techniques, it WILL pass. During a particurlarly bad panic attack I had my face buried in my husbands chest sobbing, and he was rubbing my back and telling me to breathe, and he said “Don’t worry this is going to pass.” So, now when I do have anxiety attacks, (honestly they have been few and far between since my medication), I say to myself in my head over and over while I breathe slowly: “This will pass. This will pass.” and it really does help me.

The panic is always there, and probably always will be. Anxiety is my silent stalker. I decided, however, that I was no longer going to let it rule my life. It’s a real battle some days, but it’s a choice I am not going back on.

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw BrunetteIMG_5781

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Be Brave My Darlings: An Open Letter for My Littles

My darlings,

As I am writing this letter to you, the three of you are playing a game in the front room together. The sound of infectious giggling is filling the house; a sound that always brings me so much joy. It is a precious sound I wish I could bottle up, and open when the days are hard. I know that one day you will all be grown and gone, and the sound of your laughter will be greatly missed.

Your happiness means everything to me. I have tried to keep your lives enriched with fun activities, new adventures, and so much love. I know I am not perfect. Far From it. I just hope that even when I struggle, you understand one day that I always tried my best and can be forgiven when I failed spectacularly.

I have tried to protect you and keep you safe. The “Momma Bear” instincts are a very real thing. Even when you were just fluttering in my belly my desire to protect you would burn so strongly inside me. When you were newborns, I worried about illness and SIDS. When you were a few months I worried about you choking on small items since every object was chewed on. When you were a year or so, I worried constantly about bumps and bruises when you took your first steps, and had to child proof the house like Fort Knox because every nook and cranny was explored. It honestly goes on and on, and with each new stage comes new dangers and worries for a mom. Unfortunately, I cannot protect you from everything. This reality for me has been such a hard one to come to terms with.

The world we live in is becoming a scarier and more dangerous place. There are so many evils facing us now that I could have never imagined would be commonplace and on the news everyday. As horrifying as it is, these dangers are very real, and even now on American soil. In our cities and hometowns. I never in my life thought that white supremacists would be walking so proudly in the streets of my country openly promoting their sickening message and beliefs of hatred. It makes me physically ill to think that people can be so hateful towards other human beings.

The first time I saw a swastika I was six years old. I was in first grade, and during our art class, a boy tricked me into drawing one onto our art tables that were covered with brown paper. When our teacher saw it she freaked out, because, swastika. I had no clue what this symbol was and was confused and upset why I was in trouble for drawing it. My teacher quickly realizing that I didn’t know what this symbol stood for, decided to call my mom to tell her about it. That night, my mom had a discussion with me. She explained to me that this symbol became the emblem of one of the most hateful and evil groups of people in history – the Nazis. I had never heard of the Nazis before, but would soon understand they were bad guys from the Indiana Jones movies that became favorites of mine. I just could not understand why they could hate people so much because of their religion or their genetics. It broke my little six-year-old heart.

My first real education about the Nazis was during our World War II studies in eighth grade. Towards the end of the semester, we took a field trip to Washington D.C. and went to the National Holocaust Museum. As is the norm with any field trip, we were all psyched to be on buses and with our friends. Even on the elevator up to the top floor where the museum starts, we were still busily chatting with one another. As the metal doors opened, however, we were stunned to silence. I’m pretty sure no one really spoke until we all exited the museum.

In 2015, your father and I took a trip to Europe. While in Munich, Germany we made it a priority to go to Dachau and see the site of the first concentration camp during WWII. It was a very heavy day for us. I had a pit in my stomach that stayed with me hours after we left and headed back to Munich. I was so glad we took the time to go, and I suggest that anyone who is in the vicinity of one of the sites of any concentration camp should go. It needs to be seen and future generations need to be educated so we do not allow history to be repeated. The atrocities that occurred are unspeakable, and being there in the actual location of these crimes against humanity was extremely harrowing.

We spent a few hours there. I took my time, taking care to even tread lightly on the ground. Your father and I maybe spoke a handful of words to one another while we were there. Speaking seemed disrespectful. When I entered the gas chamber I was instantly overcome with the horror of that room. I had been alone when I entered, but was not once I stepped inside. The brick walls were no longer silent, and the things I heard and felt will never leave me.

I do not tell you these things to horrify or scare you. I tell them so that you are aware that these evils happened. Human beings did this to other human beings. Hatred and killing happens everyday, even here in the U.S. Racism is still prevalent in our country. Hate crimes are prevalent in our country. Hate is something that probably will never go away, and peace, may never be a concept our world will fully know again.

There is, however hope. That hope is you, my children. You, and your future children, and every generation to come. I want to teach you so many things while I can, but one of the most important things is to be decent human beings. To just be a nice human. To be the good in this world that is filled with increasing hate. There is more good in this world than evil, and if we educate ourselves and stand up to evil we have a fighting chance.

I want to make some things very clear. Pay attention.

  •    You must never stand by and watch. Doing nothing is as bad as doing the evil itself. Please, don’t be afraid. Some of the most beautiful and rewarding things happen on the other side of fear. Evil wins if fear resides.
  •   I will NEVER be proud of any child of mine if they are involved with, support, or condone any sort of hate. I even hate the word hate. Hate will never be allowed in our home for any person. I forbid discrimination or the mistreatment of any person because of the color of their skin, who they choose to love, who they choose to worship, (or not worship), where they live, their financial situation, what they look like, or what they are good or not good at. It’s absolutely unacceptable and this will never chage. Ever.
  • You are not defined by your mistakes. Despite what people and the world may tell you, you have SO much worth. More than you will ever know. Please, do not forget this. Mistakes will happen, it’s a part of life. The hard but most important step will be to overcome these mistakes and become stronger because of it. I believe in all of you with all my heart.

Perhaps the most important one of all: you will ALWAYS be loved. Always. Don’t be afraid to come to your father or I when things are overwhelming, scary, falling apart, confusing, or hurting. Don’t be upset if we get angry. Our initial reactions to situations may not be how we truly feel. We are not perfect either, so just try to remember that. Despite whatever happens, our love will always remain. That will never change.

Being your mother has been the most challenging and most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. I am grateful for you three every single day. Sometimes I sit and marvel watching you. I cannot believe that these three different, beautiful little children are all a part of me. I see the good in all of you, because you are good. Hate is not born, it’s taught. Hold onto the good, and never let go. I hope that I can teach you these things while I can so that you can spread a little good in this world. It needs it, and it needs you.

Be brave my darlings.

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

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