10 years post grad

I graduated high school exactly 10 years ago today.

My high school graduation, one of the happiest days of my life

I had a very specific plan for myself back then.

  1. Go to VCU, study advertising.
  2. Stay for my master’s at the Brandcenter.
  3. Move to New York, work in advertising and become a creative director.

And in following these plans, in doing The Good Things, The Right Things, I would finally be Happy. I would finally be Whole.

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It did not go that way at all. It went the opposite of that way.

I crashed and burned and put my life on pause while I watched my friends and peers do and be All The Things I thought were in store for me.

I sat in doctors’ offices waiting rooms and took online classes and had daily panic attacks and prayed and cried and hoped and waited—there was so much waiting. There is still a lot of waiting. There will likely always be waiting. But my younger self longed for relief and understanding and doubted it would ever arrive. I felt empty and there were days I was convinced that if you sliced me open, you’d find out there was nothing left inside.

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It all worked out eventually—with the remission from depression, the POTS diagnosis, the getting the job, the moving out, the this, the that—but to this day I still can’t shake that feeling of,

“I should be more.”

It hangs over my head every minute. I’m having trouble believing that millennials can’t afford to buy houses because every damn day a person I know buys a house and gets engaged and finishes grad school and has a baby and what have I done?

I should make more money, I should be skinnier, I should be in a serious relationship, I should be more successful in my career, I should be prettier, I should have better clothes, I should be financially independent—

I know the real answer to these shoulds is in the way my therapist looks at me—with this all-knowing, soft smile of compassion and a light in her eyes. She tilts her head to the side and down at me and gently says, “now, what do you think I’m going to say to you?” which lately means, “look at the data in front of you.” Look at how far you’ve come, look at what you do have, look at how loved you are, look at your successes. She said to me last week that she wants me to have a “fuller notion” of my life’s story, to give more credence to the goodness of my life’s story, because there is so much good. I can loosen the emphasis on the painful parts, it’s the perfect time to give myself that gift.

It’s something I have been a lot better at doing. But I need more practice.

Practice is the answer to the shoulds.

Practice telling myself, data suggests that you’re very well liked and have a lot going for you when the intrusive thoughts invade.

Practice telling myself, you made new plans and they turned out great.

Practice telling myself, you deserve the goodness of the world.

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I’m moving to Chicago this fall. I absolutely cannot wait. I’m giving myself the gift of something new and something scary and something exciting and I can’t wait to be there.

10 years later, my life looks nothing like the one I planned for myself as an 18-year-old.

But I turned out pretty alright.

Currently: January 2021

Working — the daily grind.

I have a good job and a great employer, but work is long and work is hard and work is work and my favorite part of the day is 5:20 when I get to turn my work phone off and start to wrap up for the day. That’s when I like to take a big stretch, follow up with my customers, and turn on some music or a YouTube video so I can decompress until I log off at 5:30.

Eating — at home.

One of my new year’s resolutions is to take better care of my finances, and the number one way I’m doing that is by limiting how much takeout I eat. The catch is, I suck at cooking, so I’m eating a lot of noodles and chicken tenders. I never said I was an adult.

Exercising — daily.

You may have read my post about my new exercise machine, but I exercise for 20 minutes a day, 5 times a week, and I think it’s going pretty well! I’m still out of shape, and stairs are still hard, but I think it’s most useful as an energy and stress burner. I never, ever, ever in a million years would have admitted that exercise was beneficial even five years ago… but now I do think it helps. The change in thought is also in large part due to a book I read.

Reading — Burnout.

Erin recommended the book Burnout to me a few months ago. I finally read it and while we both agreed that the later chapters are a little cheesy, the first few are fire. The book talks about exercise as being a means of completing stress cycles that humans are pre-wired with. We need a physical way to tell our brains that we’re away from the danger—and exercise is the perfect way to do so. A few years ago, I would have laughed in the face of this book, but now it makes sense to me, and it’s really helpful in conceptualizing how to cope with some of my anxiety.

Social distancing — well.

I miss my friends’ houses. I miss the inside of restaurants. I miss being able to take a deep breath without inhaling fabric when I’m inside a Target. But I’ll keep doing this as long as it takes until we’re all safe.

Zooming — weekly.

Jose, Sara, Mike and I have a weekly Zoom together on Friday nights. We recap our weeks and then sync up a show together and text each other while we watch it. It’s the highlight of my week and has helped me feel closer to Sara ever since she moved to Seattle. 

a standard zoom session with Sara, Jose, Mike, and me

Watching — Grey’s Anatomy.

I have a list a mile long of shows I need to watch so I decided I should rewatch Grey’s Anatomy instead. The soundtrack to this show is pretty off the rails (Tegan and Sara and The Cardigans in ONE episode?!) and all of the throwbacks have very much enhanced my Spotify listening. 

Celebrating — Joe Biden’s Inauguration.

Joe Biden’s not going to be perfect but oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, Trump is gone and I feel like I can BREATHE. The best part of his inauguration was hands down the beautiful and talented Amanda Gorman and I’m hoping we see much more of her in the future. She is an absolute joy. 

It’s been a good start to the year. I’ve been dreaming up a lot of different plans and ideas and I’m excited to see what comes.

Shannon’s Favorite Things 2020

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Solstice, Happy every single winter holiday that occurs this season!

And most of all, happy sales and free shipping!

About a month ago I had really big and grandiose plans for another installment of my dysautonomia inspired gift guide—I had plans to work on it over Thanksgiving and scour the internet for deals and recommendations and provide you with the greatest ideas ever for your loved ones.

Welp. Here we are.

I want to blame my lateness on the fact that I threw my back out on Thanksgiving and was stuck in bed sleeping for a full week after, but that doesn’t do much to explain why I’m still another week late.

This year I’m incorporating a lot of non-dysautonomia items, which is why this year is just Shannon’s Favorite Things. Life with COVID has introduced the need for a lot of new products in our lives and SURPRISE, I HAVE A LOT OF OPINIONS.

Happy shopping, and happy holidays, I hope you find a product or an idea you love!

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FACE MASKS

I think the greatest nuisance of COVID is wearing a face mask. We always have to be aware of where our masks are, keep spares in the car, clean them… Plus I’m too scared to wash my masks in my laundry machine because if I’m losing socks in there, who knows what will happen to my masks.

The good part is that shopping for masks is actually fun and it’s now the perfect gift because every one needs them and having an extra is always helpful.

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WATER BOTTLES

I recommend a water bottle every year because it is always a correct gift to give, provided you’re giving a quality bottle.

It’s a very cliche option to choose, but the one I’m loving the most is the 32 oz Hydroflask with the straw lid.

Bonus: get someone a pack of vinyl stickers to decorate their bottle with.

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HAIR DRYER BRUSHES

I sometimes call myself a failure of a woman because I can’t use a standard blow dryer to save my life. I lack all coordination required to hold a hair dryer and brush my hair at the same time without smacking myself in the head every 3 seconds. In addition to that, POTS makes it impossible for me to lift my arms for any extended amount of time. As a result, I’ve strictly relied on air drying my hair for… my entire life?

I used my friend Katie’s hair dryer brush at DysConf one year and it’s a GAME CHANGER. It’s fast, it’s easy, it only requires one arm, and I LOVE IT.

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SALT

If you have POTS, you’re probably not getting enough salt in your diet… and no matter how much chips and salsa I eat, I’m still a bit low on sodium.

My lovely cousin Catherine decided to remedy that by sending me the nicest birthday gift, which was a ton of amazing salts from a mine in Utah called Redmond Salts. I have REALLY been enjoying their seasoning salts in particular–their garlic salt in particular. There isn’t anything that garlic salt can’t make more delicious.

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TILE

I lose things a million times a day—keys, wallets, prescriptions… it’s no good for anyone. After a few too many upset moments looking for keys, I finally decided to get a Tile and I love it. You put a little key fob on your keys or phone or whatever device you lose most often and use an app on your phone to locate it. And you can even do the reverse—if you lose your phone, you can press the button on the key fob and it’ll make your phone beep.

It’s come in handy A LOT.

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MEAL & GROCERY DELIVERY

When I moved into an apartment, the best thing I ever did for myself was sign up for sign up for Instacart’s premium service which lets you get your groceries delivered with no delivery fee—just pay for the groceries and tip your shopper!

It’s been such a lifesaver during quarantine and also on days when I just DON’T have the energy. When I know I have a big haul of heavy things, it’s the biggest relief in the world that I can pay someone to do it for me.

I also recommend gifting someone a meal delivery service! The one I hear the most good things about is Freshly, which delivers pre-made meals and all you have to do is heat it up.

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JOGGERS

My greatest discovery of this year is joggers. Before 2020, I was strictly a yoga pants girl (and still, yoga pants and bike shorts are the bomb), but I feel spectacular in joggers, just like the 90s kid I am, who lived in sweatpants and Gap sweatshirts.

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HAND SANITIZER LOTION

I get really dry hands in the winter which has only been made worst by washing them constantly. Thanks, COVID.

I was so happy when I saw that hand sanitizer lotion is a thing, and I LOVE Vaseline’s. With a lot of lotions and hand sanitizers, my skin burns and hurts from the cracked skin, but I don’t have that problem with this lotion at all. This is a perfect stocking stuffer.

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STUFF FROM MY FRIENDS

I have the most incredible and talented friends that you need to check out.

Natasha makes candles that look and smell delicious enough to eat

Sarah hand blows custom glass ornaments and home decor

Kylie 3D prints 2020 themed cookie cutters

Elaine makes stunning mosaics

My mom’s friend Karma makes the most delicious chocolates and caramels

HOW COOL ARE THEY? Please, go buy from them, and tell them I sent you!

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ARTISTS THAT I LIKE WHO I WISH WERE MY FRIENDS

Alyissa makes the cutest earrings

Clare Kim makes amazing pop culture paintings

Claire England makes adorable pins (check out the salty pickle one, perfect for POTSies!)

Michelle, Spoonie Sisters, sells shirts, mugs, and stickers for chronically ill girls — it’s SO cute

Morgan Harper Nichols, who is bananas amazing, makes art and poetry 

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If you’re looking for more ideas, check out my previous gift guides!

Whatever you choose, please be safe when shopping in person, have a social distanced holiday (but still celebrate over zoom!), and have a wonderful holiday season.

All my love,

Shannon

I started exercising again

How many times have I declared, YES, AT LAST, I HAVE STARTED EXERCISING AGAIN, I DID IT, I AM BORN ANEW, A WOMAN WHO EXERCISES AND MAKES HER DOCTORS PROUD and then like two weeks later I miss a couple of days and never exercise again?

That is, until my therapist Jedi mind tricks me into starting the routine again, I do it, I proclaim from the mountain tops that, YES I AM A NEW WOMAN, and the cycle repeats?

It’s been quite a few times now, right?

WELL GUYS WHAT, Y’ALL.

I AM A NEW WOMAN.

I HAVE STARTED EXERCISING AGAIN.

But this time is totally different—I swear.

Last year I moved out of my parents’ four-story townhouse into an apartment with my friend Amy. We live on the third floor, and it’s been a game changer. Sure, carrying groceries up sucks (hello, Instacart!) but having my laundry and my kitchen and my family room all on the same floor as me—all within feet of me!—makes me not only less exhausted but happier.

All of this backfired a little bit when COVID started. Now that I wasn’t walking around at work, I wasn’t even walking out and up and down the stairs to my car every day, I was barely moving at all. I was confined to my tiny little home.

A couple of months ago I saw an Amazon sale for a piece of exercise equipment called a Cubii. It was like a stationary bicycle—but just the pedals. I’d seen stuff like this before, but nothing this secure and efficient looking. AND this has an app!

I liked the look of it, it had good reviews, and after watching a dozen videos about it, I hit buy. It was pricey, but c’mon! It’s an investment in my health! Plus it was $100 off!

The Cubii arrived a few days later, and there it sat. In the box. In my apartment. For weeks.

I mean, I was sort of exercising by osmosis. Just having it in my vicinity, it was like I was burning calories, y’know?

(I have since been informed that (1) that is not how exercising works and (2) that’s not even how osmosis works. It’s been a while since high school biology, I’m doing my best.)

Anyways.

In October I dragged the piece of equipment out of the box, set it up, and told myself, just 10 minutes. You got this.

And it was really easy.

Suspiciously easy. I mean, it was only on the level 1 for resistance, but still, it was so easy.

See, I think the Cubii is designed to be a piece of equipment you work out on for hours absentmindedly—set it at a low resistance level and pedal while you do send emails and take meetings. It’s designed to fit under your desk, so it’s like the seated response to standing desks. (By the way, I now know that exercise isn’t Of The Devil, but standing desks most certainly are.)

Now I’m not using my machine that way—but I don’t think there’s a “wrong” way to use it.

Every day I do a 20 minute work out on the highest resistance of the machine. For 20 minutes, I either turn on my TV or get a book and pedalpedalpedal and at the end, I’m tired, not fatigued, but this is the first time since I was a kid that I haven’t had a violently angry reaction to exercise.

The exercise is light. I’m not panting or drenched in sweat like I have with most exercise as an adult.

But it legitimately feels like I’m rewiring my brain to not abhor body movements.

And because there isn’t a negative association, I’m doing it consistently. And I’m doing eagerly, without dread. I don’t feel normal until it’s done.

Sure, I’ve exercised consistently in the past. I have exercise logs saved in my notes app to prove it. But those logs are accompanied with little side notes like “cried while doing it” and memories of being absolutely miserable.

I’m not miserable with this machine. And I never thought it would be possible post-POTS to move my body without feeling miserable.

So I’m really excited about this. It’s been a hugely positive change for me–it’s a source of pride, to check off that exercise box every day. Even if it’s not high intensity or running marathons or anything like that, it’s so much more than what I’ve done in the past.

Progress is built through consistency.

Thanks, Cubii!

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Note: this post isn’t sponsored, I just really like the product and like sharing things that I think will help my fellow POTSies.

Kirk & Becky & COVID

Every night when I’m in bed, my mind drifts to COVID and my parents.

My parents are in their 60s and both have pre-existing medical conditions.

When I was little, I knew they were chronically ill before I had the words for it. But they were so solid. Unshakable. Even though my dad made his diabetes his hobby and my mom always made comments about hating her body’s unreliability—I was a kid, so as far as I was concerned, my parents would be around forever.

kirk & becky, 1980s, before the kids showed up

But then I started growing up.

And part of growing up is understanding your parents’ very real mortality.

At night, while I’m in my bed, I imagine my parents asleep in theirs ten miles away, and I think about how vulnerable they are to the world—the world where COVID exists. A disease that preys on the older populations, chronically ill populations—they’re the perfect victims.

It paralyzes me with fear. I get so scared my body forgets to breathe. The paralysis switches to convulsions as I start sobbing.

I hiss in and out and in and out, trying to regulate my breathing again.

It’s not easy.

See, it’s not so much the fear of what will happen if they die prematurely—

(Prematurely being anything before they turn 85, because I’m not ready before then and even then is highly debatable—)

If they die too soon, I already have these long, long lists of contingency plans, emergency plans, of how-I-will-keep-myself-safe-if-That-Unthinkable-happens plans that are miles long and one of them involves asking my therapist to adopt me—

No, what keeps me up at night is The In-Between.

What happens if they’re admitted to a hospital that ends up being understaffed, with no one to care for them?

What happens if they are denied a needed ventilator because doctors give it to someone more “deserving”?

What happens if they are alone in a hospital bed without me to hold their hands, to tell them how much I love them, to tell them how lucky I am to be their daughter?

And worst of all, what if they die without me getting to say “goodbye, I love you, and I’ll see you again someday”?

My therapist tells me to take these thoughts, like all negative and unwanted thoughts, acknowledge their presence, and then let them pass.

“Hello, I see you, now goodbye.”

To not let them take power or hold over me.

But oh boy, these thoughts are strong and loud and powerful, just like COVID is, and I keep saying “goodbye, thought” and then it comes back over, and over, and over again, all while the same picture plays in my head—

My parents, asleep at night,

So vulnerable to the world.

And I just want to say to them,

Please stay home. I love you too much to let you get sick.”

And to the rest of you I want to say,

Please stay home. I love my parents too much to let you get them sick.”

for your enjoyment:
“Here is a Heart” by Jenny Owen Youngs