Why Invest In Girls?

Growing up, I thought I understood the meaning of the phrase “girl power.” We hear it all the time; be strong, be confident, stand up for yourself, do whatever you set your mind to.

Although this all still rings true, my understanding of “girl power” has changed over time. As I grew up a little, developed my own opinions, beliefs, and values, I began to encounter some experiences that allowed me to truly understand what it means to be a girl.

From the Very Beginning…

There is no denying that women have faced many challenges over the course of history, and for minority women, these challenges are even greater. From the battle for women’s suffrage in 1919 to the fight for paid maternity leave (and more) today, there have been many big steps taken, but there are still many huge steps to go, regardless of political stance. I think fighting for human rights and opportunities is something we can all get behind.

Rewind to 2014, when I first got involved in the Miss America Organization. This new experience required me to study social issues and public policy to prepare for my pageant interviews and onstage questions. To expand my knowledge, I started following news sources, public figures, and political leaders. I started to develop an interest in the important issues and make connections regarding how these issues affect me, my friends, family, other young women, and even strangers. We are ALL affected by what happens around us, even if they may seem like the smallest matters in our personal lives.

I learned that there are so many people worldwide without access to basic needs, like food, water, shelter, or healthcare. These people may even be our neighbors. Additionally, there are some people around the world (by some, I mean MILLIONS) who long for education or safety in their own communities. Many of these people are girls and women.

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I know what you may be thinking, “What about boys and men?” Of course boys and men are also crucial parts of our society! I’ll always be an advocate for the success of both men and women. Both populations contribute highly to our communities. However, for my mission specifically, I wanted to target young girls and women because I recognize a need for programs for girls to be involved in, from a local to global level.

Starting a Brainstorm…

From here, the Miss America Organization encouraged me to form an opinion on EVERYTHING, which motivated me to start conversations and apply things that I enjoy toward making a difference. I’ve always enjoyed lifting up other girls and women, encouraging them to believe in their dreams and shoot for the stars and beyond. However, I wanted to do more. How could I make a change with this passion of mine?

One day, I was working on expanding my Miss America Organization platform (a pageant “platform” is an issue or cause I am passionate about and wish to promote as a contestant). I simply Googled, “ways to help girls around the world” and “nonprofit organizations for girls.” This is when I discovered Girl Up, a movement created by the United Nations Foundation, which aims to empower girls to advocate for the safety, health, and education of other girls worldwide, specifically in developing nations. I fell in love with this mission and became a community advocate for Girl Up.

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Photo from: GirlUp.org

“When girls are empowered, it benefits all of us. Investing in girls is key to reducing poverty: Girls who receive an education marry later, have fewer children, and are more likely to get healthcare for themselves and their children. Every year of schooling increases a girl’s future earnings by 10-20%.” –Girl Up (HIGHLY encourage everyone to check out this link and this campaign)

During the course of the next few years, I also took on a few new jobs and internships, earned a local MAO title, met many influential community members, made friends, lost friends, and gained a new understanding of who I am and what I want to be.

This is when I decided that, although empowering girls worldwide is something I am so passionate about, I want direct my focus a little closer to home. I started blogging here and there (writing has always been another fun hobby of mine) and I began to really think about ways to make an impact and how I can use my voice.

This is when I published To Today’s 14 Year-Old Girls, a message from myself to a younger population of girls. Never in a million years did I anticipate this article reaching so many people and generating as much feedback as it did. I got messages from girls, parents, community members, and leaders, racking up over 800,000 views. I knew, at this point, that I was capable of using my voice to make changes.

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This time in my life between 2014 and 2017 is when I began to discover what I’m meant to do and who I was made to become. When I was young, being a girl meant following the rules, fitting into a mold made by society, growing up to be a wife and mother…the usual. Today, being a girl and WOMAN means I have the voice to speak and the power to act. I get to choose my own destiny, and it’s okay if it’s not the norm. I’ve developed the confidence to form my own opinions and beliefs, and I firmly believe that every girl is capable of that as well.

Taking Action…

In this day and age, nobody is afraid to share those opinions and beliefs. However, how often do we see people physically standing up for what they believe in? ACTING on their opinions and beliefs? Going out and MAKING THE CHANGE they so openly spew about on social media? Hardly.

People, young and old, continue to want change to happen, but instead of stepping up, they are guarded by lack of motivation, confidence, leadership skills, or knowledge on where to begin. The reasons are endless.

This is where I wanted to step in.

We NEED more people to use their passions and interests to make positive changes, starting right here at home. I found that my passion lies in empowering girls, so I decided to make my mark that way. This is when GEMS- Girls Empowered and Motivated to Serve was born.

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A group of Girl Scouts participating in a GEMS workshop with me.

Rooted in the importance of service and community involvement, GEMS is a program I wanted to develop (with generous assistance from some wonderful, motivated women in my life). GEMS offers workshops for girls to learn about motivation, confidence, and empowerment. The program allows them to discover their true purpose and take on a service project of their own, depending on their own unique passions and talents.

By creating a positive, safe environment for girls, I’ve found that they feel more comfortable being open about their passions and dreams, as well as their insecurities and concerns. It’s crucial to provide a space for girls, young and old, to connect, learn, and flourish.

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Crafting at a GEMS workshop

GEMS is just getting started, but this has been my way of putting my own skills, passions, and motivation to positive use. GEMS is just a stepping stone toward a future of strong, empowered girls who aim to be the next generation of leaders. By understanding my voice and the impact I can make, I chose to fuel my fire by researching ways I can make my mark and creating a community of people who are just as motivated as I am. It only takes one spark to start a wildfire.

It’s Your Turn…

I invest in girls because I believe girls are the future. We need more girls taking on leadership roles and influencing communities, government, and beyond. Growing up, I thought I understood the meaning of the phrase “girl power.” We hear it all the time; be strong, be confident, stand up for yourself, do whatever you set your mind to.

Today, “girl power” to me means recognizing your true worth as a woman, taking control of your own life by exploring the things you’re passionate about, taking advantage of the opportunities that are given to you, appreciating the privileges that women before you fought for, standing up for girls worldwide, and fighting for opportunities you may not have yet.

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“Be the change you want to see in the world” is a paraphrased quote from Gandhi, but many people don’t know that the full quote delivers a much deeper message:

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

It is within us to understand our true value and capabilities as humans. Once we are able to do this, we can reflect that out to the world. From here, the world will also change to reflect us. Go out and do what sets your soul on fire.

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Love always,

Jessica

Que Sera, Sera

 

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Photo by: Leah LaLiberte (@haelmaee)

Whatever will be, will be.

Lately, this has been a lesson I’ve dedicated a lot of time to. I recently turned 21, I just finished up my junior year of college, and I’m hitting the ground running in this game called young adulthood. Internships, resume building, job searching, graduation planning, big life decisions, pageants on pageants on pageants, scraping pennies from underneath my car’s floor mats just to pay rent… I want to kick my 6 year-old self for wanting to grow up so quickly. Screw you, little Jess.

In times when I find myself stressed to the max, I remind myself, “whatever will be, will be.” My grandma mentioned this phrase a while ago and I felt inspired to blog about it, because there have been some recent events in my life that sparked well-needed reflection time.

Just a few days ago, I called my mom on my way home, gasping for words to explain that I’m a sobbing anxious mess, and when this happens, she usually says something along the lines of:

“Calm down, everything is fine, relax.”

This is something I hear pretty often from my parents, close friends, and boyfriend because most people who know me well enough would know that I’m naturally an anxious person.

No kidding, Jess, everyone knows this by now.

I find comfort in knowing what to expect, being under control, and always having a plan. I have a hard time accepting failure and I get down on myself when I fail to reach my fullest potential. I expect nothing less than excellence from myself, but that tends to be very difficult to maintain some days. In short, this element of my personality has been tested lately.

Some things that have happened in my life recently are incredible blessings, but it took me a while to understand that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better. In the wise words of Kylie Jenner, sometimes it takes a little bit of “just, like, realizing things.”

Over the past five months, I’ve had the opportunity to compete four times for another local title within the Miss America Organization. Any woman who has been involved in pageants understands that competing is incredibly challenging on a mental and emotional level. We all work SO hard to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network, build up our platforms, organize events, practice our talents, get our swimsuit bods ready for the stage, study current events, and somehow fit in some time to find ourselves, too. There are many highs and lows with tears of happiness, frustration, and gratitude. Of the four times I competed this year, I placed first runner-up three times. Quite honestly, this was SUCH an honor, but I didn’t think so at the time. I admit I was very frustrated, disappointed that I couldn’t measure up to what I expected of myself, and just falling short of a spot at Miss Wisconsin this year.

However, looking back now, I know that there are things I can improve on to bring the best Jess back to the stage next year. God planned something else for me, and being a titleholder this year just wasn’t in the plan, so I had to understand that something better must lie ahead. Being first runner-up THREE times in the same year is an amazing accomplishment that I am so proud of today, and I couldn’t have made it that far without the support of my family and friends, along with my “pageant family” of directors, sisters, judges and mentors. The scholarships I’ve received, the people I’ve connected with, and the things that I’ve learned over the past five months are truly priceless. I just had to remember that whatever will be, will be. There is always another door open ahead.

That door opened right in front of me at the beginning of April, when I was chosen to interview for not one, but TWO big internships. I was truly convinced that this HAD to be the “something better ahead” that I was hoping for. I polished up my resume, collected samples of past work, researched both companies, and prepared for my interviews as best as I could. The funny thing about job interviews is that they feel like a piece of cake compared to pageant interviews. They’re essentially very similar, just without the politics, current events, and platform questions that exist in a pageant interview. For this internship interview, I knew that I had to sell myself, my goals and accomplishments, and let the interviewers know that I was the best candidate for the job, just like in a pageant interview.

I walked out of my first interview feeling confident and accomplished, until I opened my email inbox a few days later:

“Thank you for taking the time to interview for a summer internship with _________. We are contacting you to inform you that you have not been selected for the position…”

*Insert sigh and eye roll here*

UGH! Of course, I was bummed, but I had to keep in mind that I still had another chance to interview for another important internship just a week later. Back to square one, and round two came along quickly. Again, I felt very confident and happy with my conversations with the interviewers at the second interview. I (im)patiently waited for a response, and a few days later, I opened my email inbox again and saw:

“Thank you for taking the time to interview for a summer internship with _________. We are contacting you to inform you that you have not been selected for the position…”

AGAIN?! UGH x2. At this point, I was feeling pretty low. I began to doubt myself and my capabilities. What was so great about the other candidates? My interview went so well, why didn’t they pick me? Rejection sucks, but it’s something we will all face multiple times. I didn’t get that job for a good reason, and it’ll take some time for me to understand what exactly that reason was. As grandma always says, “whatever will be, will be.” I had to trust that.

After a few setbacks, I also have some pretty beautiful things happening as well. Just a couple weeks after the double internship rejection, another door opened and I was offered the opportunity to work with a nonprofit foundation, managing social media outreach and learning the ropes for a potential career path in nonprofit PR. Because of this experience, I’ve gained some wonderful references and a continued love for my education in communication and public relations.

Additionally, I have been able to dedicate more time to things that make me genuinely happy. I started painting again, I’ve been making time to see friends, I decided to chaperone a mission trip this summer, I’ve been finding ways to manage my anxiety on the tough days, and I’ve been brainstorming some new ideas for GEMS (stay tuned, big announcement coming at the end of the summer)!

Over the past few months, I’ve learned that striving for perfection (though near impossible) is okay, as long as I remain realistic and understanding of alternative outcomes. I may not be going back to Miss Wisconsin this summer, I may have been rejected from two big internships, and I may still struggle some days with anxiety, BUT I’ve learned that success is not a straight line, humility and grace are crucial parts of being whole, failure is a natural part of life, and sometimes I have to let go and let God.

Whatever will be, will be. Que sera, sera. Might as well tattoo that one on my body.

Just remember that regardless of what you may be battling, there is ALWAYS something beautiful waiting for you ahead. It may not be what you want at the time, but God knows it’s what you need.

Love always,

Jessica

Life on Lexapro: 15 Weeks

“God gave you this life because He knew you were strong enough to live it.”

I’ve had a few people ask how things have been going since I last posted about life on Lexapro (thank you, I appreciate it) and I must say, I’ve seen some changes.

When I took my first dose on October 29th, 2016, I thought it might change me dramatically right away. Part of me believed I would immediately be calm, collected, and more focused on the important stuff in my life, rather than the small things I’d feel anxious about every day. Over time, I’ve found that this could be true, but I had to be patient.

When I was first prescribed, my doctor said I would see changes between 3 and 4 months of using Lexapro, but it might even take up to 8 months to notice the full effects. I was VERY impatient at first. I wanted to be cured! I didn’t want to feel so upset and on edge all the time. I thought this stuff was going to fix it!

Wrong. Since Lexapro is a SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), my body has to get used to it over time, so I don’t see the therapeutic effects of it right away. It’s something I can use long-term without horrible side effects if I choose to stop using it someday. Other drugs, such as Xanax, Valium, and Ativan, are benzodiazepines (“benzos” for short), which calm you down almost instantly. THIS is the relief I initially wanted, but I realized these aren’t the right kinds of medications for the type of anxiety I was dealing with.

The cool thing about managing anxiety is that there are lots of different options to treat it. If one medication isn’t working for me, there are plenty more medications I can try with the help of my doctor. If one kind of therapy isn’t working, I can try something else, like yoga or art therapy. The possibilities really are endless, so if you’ve been dealing with anxiety and/or depression, always know that there ARE many different options to help you. Don’t be afraid to try new things that might be good for you!

While I was struggling with the test of time until my medicine would take effect, I tried to find some things that could help me focus in the mean time. I started taking time to read, color, journal, paint, or listen to music. I made a daily schedule and to-do lists to keep myself occupied. I set aside specific times to do homework, study, eat, clean, go to club meetings, relax, etc. I slowly began to realize that keeping myself busy and active really alleviated some of my anxiety.

By the time Thanksgiving break rolled around (about 4-6 weeks on Lexapro), I was seeing some very minor changes. Mind you, my doctor said it would probably be 3-4 months before I would notice the positive effects. However, things were changing. I noticed some mood swings, I’d still have good days and bad days, and I started feeling more emotional (my boyfriend can definitely confirm this). I felt a little bit of nausea, but with a few changes in my diet and by taking my medicine in the morning after breakfast, this was easily fixed. I also began feeling VERY tired. This is a pretty common side effect for many people, so I almost had to expect this one. The first month or two was a lot of trial and error and adjustment.

By Christmas (two months on Lexapro), I was starting to feel more adjusted and in control. I’d still feel anxious at times, but I wasn’t having the constant “on-edge” feeling like I used to have. That continuous little voice in my head slowly began to fade away. However, the true test would be when winter break was over and the new semester began. Like most of us, I feel most comfortable and at-ease when I’m home with my family, so during my winter break, I wasn’t sure if my medicine was really working or if this was just the usual relaxed feeling I always had while I was home. At this point, I was excited but also a little anxious to see how I would feel once I moved back to my apartment for spring semester. Things were looking up, but I was remaining patient.

Today, I am approaching 16 weeks on Lexapro, and by the end of February, I’ll be at my 4 month mark. I’m about four weeks into the spring semester and I’m feeling better than ever! Some of the more recent changes I’ve noticed are the positive ones. No more rapid heartbeat and dizziness, no more anxious nausea, better sleep at night, easier to get up in the morning. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a panic attack, which makes me one happy camper.

The weirdest part of this is that I still feel anxious at times (more anxious than the average person because that’s how life with GAD goes), but I feel like my brain and body are able to manage it much better. I am still able to recognize what makes me anxious, but it’s almost as if my brain just doesn’t care as much. I’ve learned what works for me and what doesn’t, I know that sometimes I feel better when I’m alone, and sometimes I feel better when I’m busy with other people. Lexapro hasn’t cured my anxiety, but it has given me the little 10 milligram daily dose of serotonin that my brain needs to function properly.

Overall, I’m very excited to continue seeing changes in my health and attitude. I’m excited to keep exploring new things and discover more methods of therapy that make me happy (so far, I LOVE journaling and painting). THANK YOU to my friends and family for being so patient and supportive as I handle this adjustment. To those who are struggling with GAD, other types of anxiety, depression, or anything similar, feel free to comment or reach out to me on social media (see my “About Me” tab for information). I’m always happy to offer a helping hand or simply just be an outlet for you share anything without judgement. We’re all in this life together.

Love always,

Jessica

Starting Life on Lexapro

I told myself I’d never take medication to manage anxiety. It wasn’t natural. I wouldn’t be myself. I am now telling myself that I was wrong.

After a lot of contemplation, trial and error, and weeks (even years) of sleepless nights, missed opportunities, and a full mind, I decided to make that appointment with my doctor.

Naturally, I’m always nervous to go to the doctor due to the fear of the unknown at every check-up. None of us like to walk into the office and hear that we’re due for another vaccine. (GET ME OUT OF THERE BYE.)

However, this time, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I thought long and hard about whether or not medication for anxiety would be a good idea for me. I’ve tried CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) for a while, but never truly committed to that method of healing. It seemed like every session I went to was a waste of time and I never felt like I got the right resources to better myself. Being in college, I’ve also noticed that it’s hard to continue CBT along with a full load of classes and extracurricular activities. It just didn’t work for me before, but if it came down to it, I’d keep an open mind.

After that point, I had nothing else to lose and I needed to start doing something about the way I’ve been feeling for so long. I didn’t want my mind to be in constant battle with itself any longer. I wanted to take control of my life again.

I did my research, asked around, read some reviews, and ultimately decided that I wanted to be medicated. So, there it was. The appointment was on my calendar.

This would actually be the first time talking to my primary doctor about anxiety. In the past, I felt like my anxiety was never “severe” enough to be medicated or even discussed in the doctor’s office. I had visited neurologists for tension headaches, I had seen therapists for situational anxiety, but I was afraid my teenage self would be told once again, “It’s just stress.”

The day of my appointment came and I woke up feeling excited, relieved, and (of course) a little anxious. For some reason, this seemed like a monumental day.

My nurse took the vitals and asked what I was in for today.

“Just a little bit of anxiety,” I said.

Little did she know that this wasn’t “just a little bit of anxiety.” I don’t know why I felt the need to play it down like it wasn’t a big deal. For such a long time, I kept it to myself due to the fear of the eye-rolling and scoffs that I was just overreacting about something minor. I hate the stigma.

“Just a little bit of anxiety” had been running my life for years. “Just a little bit of anxiety” caused me to transfer schools, disconnect with great friends, miss out on incredible opportunities. I was almost angry at myself for not owning up to the fact that “just a little bit of anxiety” was much more than that. So, I didn’t hold back and I told my doctor everything.

…Racing heartbeat, nausea, irrational fear of nearly every situation, hard time getting up in the morning, insomnia, avoiding daily tasks, spending more time alone, crying spells, shortness of breath, mood swings, headaches…

Sure enough, my doctor explained to me that the symptoms I had been feeling definitely had a name. They call it GAD, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

There it was, the label. I was officially branded.

From there, we discussed my options. One option was to try CBT again, which is a method that I try to keep an open mind about, even after I didn’t have a lot of success with it in the past. I know for many people, it is beneficial. For me, CBT was nice for a while because I was able to go to a professional to talk about everything I had been experiencing. I was allowed to cry or be angry or whatever I needed to feel. It was a “safe place” with no judgement and no stigma. This option has always appealed to me because I’m a fan of holistic medicine and more natural ways of healing, but like I said before, this method never seemed to work for me long term. I kept it in the back of my mind, but there was another option I was set on this time.

My other option was to be medicated. Medication always scares me a little bit because of the side effects, risks, and the way it can alter your natural biology. I didn’t want to be prescribed some medication that turned me into a vegetable, unable to feel any sort of emotion anymore. I still wanted freedom and I wanted to feel normal and happy again. I know medication isn’t right for everyone and it must be taken carefully and safely. After expressing these concerns with my doctor, it was clear that the benefits outweighed the risks in this circumstance. I wanted to give it a shot. My doctor prescribed me Lexapro.

I picked up that prescription and stared at it for a while. This little sheet of paper on the back of that tiny orange bottle gave me permission to finally feel better.

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Lexapro

My first dose was on Saturday, October 29th and I started on 5 mg (half pill) before bumping up to 10 mg (whole pill) after two weeks. While I was doing my research and talking to my doctor, I learned that Lexapro (or escitalopram, by its generic name) is a SSRI, or a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. In normal English, it’s an antidepressant that adjusts chemicals in the brain that may become unbalanced, which is ultimately the scientific cause of anxiety and depression.

In other words, my brain naturally has too much of one chemical and not enough of another, which causes the imbalance that makes me feel a constant “fight or flight” mechanism…that constant feeling of anxiety. When the average person experiences “fight or flight,” or our natural stress response, there is a rush of chemicals that releases from the brain. For most people, this is only very temporary and won’t harm your health, since the chemical balance returns to normal once you relax.

However, for people with GAD or other forms of anxiety, this constant “fight or flight” feeling can be detrimental to your health due to this constant imbalance and release of chemicals from the stress response. This was a really interesting topic to learn about, so if you want to embrace the inner Meredith Grey in you and find out more too, click here.

Anyway, enough of my Grey’s Anatomy lesson. Over time, the intention of my Lexapro prescription is to balance the anxiety-causing chemicals in my brain so I can be a happy Jess again.

Today, I just took my second dose of 10 mg. Like many other SSRIs, you don’t feel therapeutic effects immediately, which is slightly frustrating some days. It will take between one and four months to notice a difference in the way I’m feeling, so I have to stay hopeful and patient. I also have to remind myself that being on medication is a mental and physical collaboration. I can’t depend solely on the medication to make me better; I still have to make a strong effort to get out and do things that are good for my mind and body, like eating adequately, drinking lots of water, and taking care of myself. Some days are still harder than others and there’s still a constant battle going on between my anxious mind and my physical being.

I am still considering giving CBT another chance, because I think the combination of medication and therapy could be very beneficial if I can stick to it long-term. As an adult, I have lots of decisions to make in the near future about school, professional life, and my personal life, but I’ll always continue to put my mental health as a priority. We all have incredibly busy lives, there’s no denying that. However, please take care of yourself and know when to give yourself some time to reflect on that. If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s that there’s no shame in asking for help. If you are someone who is in need of a helping hand, please don’t be afraid to reach out to someone, myself included. Thank you to those people in my life who have always offered that helping hand, especially recently. You all rock.

Every day is a new day. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Love always,

Jessica

My Anxious Mind

This post has been in progress for nearly a year now. When I first started this entire blog, I had intentions of sharing my personal story, but I can never seem to craft the words to explain how I feel, or to explain how I feel in a way that others might be able to understand. I’ve typed and deleted, typed and deleted. I finally thought to myself, “what better way to share my thoughts than to actually share my thoughts?”

What?

We’ll get there, hold on.

One of my favorite quotes is by Rupi Kaur from her book, Milk and Honey:

“The thing about writing is I can’t tell if it’s healing or destroying me.”

(Side note: For anyone who has experienced love, neglect, abuse, or really any life altering situation, read this. It’s a remarkable work of poetry to describe cycles of hurting, loving, breaking, and healing. And no, I’m not being paid to say that.)

While discovering methods for coping with anxiety, I found an outlet in writing.. Journaling. There’s just something about a pen and paper that can focus the mind.

Here we are, almost a year in the making, I am finally publishing the unedited thoughts and reactions that happen inside my mind on a daily basis through the eyes of my choppy, inconsistent journal over the past year and a half.

What better way to share my thoughts than to actually share my thoughts?

Some of these entries might not even make sense. However, every day is a struggle in it’s own way.

Most days, I try to picture what life would be like without an anxious mind. What a life that would be.

Remember, I am not sharing this for sympathy or pity. Feel free to simply read and try to understand. Every mind is different and this is mine.

Immerse yourself in the raw workings of my anxious mind.

Monday, March 23, 2015.

(Second semester of my freshman year of college)

Today was an okay day.  I woke up feeling tired, anxious, and ready to go home.  I just got back to school from spring break YESTERDAY.. I’m so disappointed in myself.

I already started a countdown for when I can go home this Friday.. it’s only four days away, but I can’t get out of here fast enough already. A 2-hour drive often seems like home is a world away.

I don’t understand why I feel this way, because nothing is wrong.  I’m doing well in my classes, my friends are great, I’m healthy, my environment is comfortable, I don’t know why I feel so anxious and eager to be home.

A lot of my stress comes from simply having so much time for my mind to re-evaluate every little thing.

I find myself checking in on everyone and analyzing everything they do. If someone near me has a cough, I’m Googling the symptoms of the flu. If people around me are discussing their plans for the weekend, I’m busy finding a ride home. It’s getting ridiculous, but I have no answers or paths to find how I can help myself.

I’m still struggling to decide if it will be better for me to transfer next year or if I should tough it out, grow up, and stay here…farther from home. I’m so confused, tired, helpless, hopeless..the list goes on.  I’m praying for some sort of answer.

Four more days and I’ll be safe at home for another weekend.

Monday, March 30, 2015.

It’s Monday.

Surprise, surprise, I already want to go home.  That “time of the month” just passed today and I have a headache and backache. My mind always tricks me into thinking I’m dying whenever I get symptoms like these and I start feeling a lot of anxiety.

I have no idea what’s wrong with me.

I’ve been feeling really gloomy and sad and I feel like this day is just dragging on with no end in sight.

Tomorrow, my sister is coming to visit overnight and I’m supposed to be excited, right?  I keep telling myself it’s going to be fun to have her come during the week so I can show her around and get my mind off of everything, but I can’t get over the way I’m feeling today.

I can’t wait to finally get done with my class and my meetings, take a shower, and just relax and watch a movie or something.  That’s my favorite part of my day. Movies make me feel like I can temporarily disassociate from my own life and immerse myself in another one.

I think one source of my stress comes from the unknown situation for next year. I think I want to stay at this school, but who knows what kind of mess my mind will be in. I am stuck. I want to be tough and just stick it out, but there’s always that little voice in the back of my mind to tell me I can’t do it.

I pray that God will point me in the right direction soon, because time is ticking away quickly..

Thursday-Friday, March 9-10, 2015.

Had a really good day today!  Looking forward to tomorrow because it’s my friend’s birthday and we’re all going out to dinner and then I get to GO HOME.

Plot twist..

A girl threw up in the bathroom tonight.  I had an instant panic attack.  I immediately ran out, went into my room and shut the door.  A minute later, I was already pacing the room crying.  I could think of no other solution but to talk on the phone with my mom.

It was 1:30 a.m.

(Part of the reason why I hate this disorder is that I feel like I’m a burden on others. I have to depend on other people for my own sanity. WHY.)

After this incident, I was completely paranoid.

I usually go to the bathroom to brush my teeth and pee before I go to bed.

Not this time. I went all the way down to second floor of my residence hall to brush my teeth, and I held my pee until the morning.  I was shivering and crying through the night.  I didn’t sleep at all.

When I decided to get out of bed after a sleepless night, I went all the way to the basement to use the bathroom, and did this for the rest of the day. I skipped all of my classes and spent the day packing to go home and trying to feel normal again.

I couldn’t eat, I was exhausted mentally and physically, and all I could think about was what happened the night before.

I am ruined. All because someone else was sick.

Saturday, March 11, 2015.

I woke up at 11:30am today.  No surprise, because I got absolutely no sleep on Thursday night. What a disaster to my mental state.

Today, while I was home, I planned out some classes for next year and was hoping to get in contact with an adviser about the transfer process.

The adviser never got back to me.

I went with my mom and brothers to Madison, excited to do a little shopping and go out to dinner.

I got an anxious stomach ache halfway through shopping so we went home early.

As I began to do my laundry and pack up my things to go back to school again tomorrow morning, I started to cry.  I will be at school for 19 days.  The fact that I can’t even handle 19 days away from home makes me feel so disappointed in myself, like I’m a failure.

I’d love to come home every weekend!  To be able to have something like that to look forward to every week makes me feel so happy, but it’s unrealistic. I have commitments. I am missing out on so many memories and good moments with college friends because of this stupid mental disease.

I want to come home already and I haven’t even left home yet.

Sunday, March 12, 2015.

I woke up crying this morning.

It’s Sunday. I have to go back to school today.

Why can’t I be like every other student and have a good time in college?  Oh right, anxiety.

I don’t know why.  I don’t know how.  I’m terrified to be away from home, away from my family.  I wish I could stop this, I really do, but there is no easy way.  I HAVE to force myself to get through this.  I have to be strong and tough because I know it will help me in the long run.

I just wish there was an easy way.

Friday, April 24, 2015.

It’s been a while.

Some things have changed recently.  I decided to reach out for help after I realized I’ve slowly been getting very unhealthy, mentally and physically.

I went to go see a therapist here on campus a week ago and I pray that it will help me get through the rest of this year.  She was really nice and I told her everything that I’ve been feeling lately.  She seemed to be very understanding and gave me a few things to try before my next appointment on the 30th.  The thing is, these appointments are so far apart that I struggle in between.

I still panic during the week, more often when it gets close to the weekends.

I still coop myself up in my room unless I’m in class.

I hate socializing because I feel like I just don’t fit.

I love being at home…

I wish I were there right now.

Tonight, I have to force myself to stay here at school because I need service hours for my sorority.  Tonight is a fun event and I’m hoping it’ll take my mind off things for a little bit while I’m there.

But I’m terrified to come back to my dorm.  It’s such a struggle, because sometimes I LOVE being in my room and other times, those white cinder block walls are my worst enemy.

I’m already crying again because I have to face my fears and stay in my dorm for one night over the weekend.. and I will only have to come back to my dorm just to sleep. Why does sleep sound like such a difficult thing to do?

Tomorrow, my mom is driving up to take me out for my birthday.  I can’t even describe how much I can’t wait to see her, even though I was just home five days ago.

I decided I’m going to go home with her again, too, because I can’t handle another night here on the weekend. I decided I need to go home for 24 hours because I’m not stronger than that.

Things have changed around here. I’ve gotten more and more unhappy, the weather changes every day, people change every day.

I’ve lost 15 pounds since I started college in September. That seems a bit backwards, doesn’t it? I’m not happy, I’m not healthy, I can’t eat or sleep. Something is wrong and I promised myself I’d continue to try and get help.

Lots of my peers are drunk or high every weekend, which is why I’d much rather just go home and do something productive. I don’t like being around it and I don’t think others understand that it causes me so much stress. I know it shouldn’t cause me stress, because it really shouldn’t affect me at all.

Somehow, every little thing can cause my mind to create a crisis. I hate it.

I keep thinking to myself that I only have to be here for another 20 days until the semester ends and then I never have to come back. I can finally feel happy and comfortable again. Maybe the demons will disappear.

Get me out of here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015.

Here I am, sitting in my dorm.

I woke up in a strange mood, unsure as to why I felt this way. Am I exhausted? Am I sick? What the hell is wrong with me? I continue to blame the way I feel on my hormones, but that can’t always be the reason, right? I need answers.

Yesterday was my birthday, which was a wonderful day. I felt no anxiety, I was genuinely happy and surrounded by people who care about me. I got to talk to my mom on the phone and Skype with the boy briefly. I finally went to bed around 1:00 a.m, which may be part of the reason why I’m feeling so tired and gloomy today. But I think I’m depressed.

I get to talk to my therapist here on campus again tomorrow. I don’t know what we’ll talk about, but I want more answers.

I need a diagnosis, something to get me on a path with whatever I’ve been dealing with. Whether it be extensive therapy, medication, hospitalization, tests, whatever. I need answers. I need to know what to do. How to be healthy…mentally and physically.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016.

(Two semesters and two different schools later…)

It’s been over a year since I last wrote. I guess you could say I found myself for a while during my sophomore year of college and coming into my junior year. One new relationship, two new schools, two new employment experiences, countless life choices.

I decided to transfer schools last year, and it absolutely was the best decision of my life thus far. I found a career experience opportunity, I graduated with an Associate’s degree, I cared about my health, I competed at Miss Wisconsin, I felt accomplished, I felt at peace, I met a wonderful guy who I have the privilege of sharing my life with to this day.

Things are going great.

I’m back at a (yet another) new school (third one, to be exact), and I am excited to continue my journey and move past all the difficulties I had experienced my freshman year. I am ready to complete my Bachelor’s degree and continue on a new path I set for myself. I decided to make a change for the better. I am ready.

Aaaaaand it seems that the vicious demons have returned. They’ve all come and gone since the last time we met.

Here we are, stuck in the endless cycle.

I definitely didn’t make it as long as I thought I could… we’re at it again in one of the infamous mid-night episodes.

2:07 a.m. rang in and I was up with the classic shaking, nausea, dry mouth, racing mind sort of scenarios. For some reason, waking up and only seeing a few hours go by since I went to bed makes me so worked up.

Most of the time, nights are just survival passages into the next day.

I guess that’s kind of what they really are for most people, too.

For me, it just seems like nights act as some sort of method of time travel. A wonderful form of time travel. Peace and serenity until reality hits like a hand on an alarm clock. For most, getting up after a night of time traveling is very difficult (especially when you time travel from Sunday to Monday morning), but for me, waking up is the best feeling in the entire world, regardless of what day it is.

Why?

Because I successfully traveled through time without being brutally interrupted by a bout of night anxiety. Sometimes, that’s an accomplishment in itself (sad but true).

Night anxiety is the worst (arguably comparable to mid-day anxiety. Actually, anxiety at any time sucks pretty bad… Now I’m being irrelevant.)

Being thrown on a late-night detour on the time travel route through peace and serenity is a very rude awakening. Mostly because night time is a chance to recharge to get through the next day, which is difficult if you wake up with horrible, uncomfortable feelings in your mind and body. After that, you’ve lost part of your internal battery with no chance to gain that charge back until you begin the next time travel journey the next evening.

BUT, say you were put on yet another anxious detour the next night. You lose more of that internal battery until eventually, you can’t recharge anymore. By then, it’s a constant cycle of detours and interrupted time travel and then

you are lost.

That may be a pretty obscure analogy for mid-night anxiety, but for some reason, it gave my detour a little bit of direction for tonight’s time travel journey. Goodnight.

Monday, October 17, 2016.

Hello again. Back at it for another late night. Yesterday was a rough end to the weekend. My wonderful man came to visit and of course, I feel so much peace and pure happiness when he’s around. He knows how I struggle, he knows how to make me feel better, and he is able to comfort me at any time. Naturally, I always want him around for that purpose (and many others.)

Yesterday, I woke up with a sore throat, and we all know how I get when there is just one thing going against my plan. That feeling of being in complete control is constantly tested.

My brain also remembered that it was Sunday, meaning I have another week of classes, stress, and anxiety. Fast forward a few seconds and I’m a shivering anxious mess. How will I survive the next two weeks? I have obligations, so going home is not an option. What if I get sicker? Where is my mom when I need her?

Here we go again, bad thoughts and memories bring back an anxious Jess. Deep breaths…

Tonight, I’m feeling depressed, anxious, in pain, and fearful. I’m afraid of being sick or tired (or both). I’m afraid of being away from home for more than five days. I’m afraid of being stranded here with no way out.

I’m afraid of my head; I’m afraid of myself.

I need to grow up. It’s time for me to stop living a life of fear and start living freely. I thought I was over this. There is no way for me to stop or control everything.

Life. must. go. on..

And the crazy thing is, it always does. Life is full of temporary pain, discomfort, or unhappiness, but it always goes on. There is nothing that ever stops me but my own thoughts.

That’s it, I need to call my mom.

No I don’t, I’m okay.

Sometimes, it helps if I read anxiety forums to see what other people say about their own struggles and how they find solutions. It’s silly, but it almost makes me feel like I’m not alone (or going absolutely crazy).

It’s almost 2:00 a.m.

I’m going to take some melatonin and try to prepare for the day tomorrow. I just have to remember to breathe, think positively, and use my resources when I need them. I have to remember that it’s okay to accept help. I don’t have to do this alone.

I can get through this.

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(Photo by: Leah LaLiberte – @haelmaee)

Put Your Big Kid Pants On

“I don’t wanna grow up,” says every young adult ever. Adulting is hard and I’m quickly beginning to realize this as I enter my junior year of college. Money is ALWAYS tight, $5 feels like $100, and I’m ready to accept the fact that I will probably be scraping pennies for the rest of my 20’s…Or maybe not, if I make financial responsibility a priority. After speaking with financial experts, I came up with a handful of goals I hope to accomplish as I enter my 20’s. While being an adult is fun and independence feels great, it’s always good to keep an eye on the future, especially when it comes to financial independence. Here is a culmination of my “adult checklist,” including some serious goals and a few fun goals, along with a little bit of my own advice for others to get their big kid pants on!

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1. Start saving
I know what you’re thinking… “Jess, you’re 20 years old and you decided to start saving NOW?!” Yeah yeah, I should’ve taken this more seriously a long time ago. Going into my third year of college, I am kicking my 16 year-old self for spending money from my first job on things I really didn’t need. I could’ve traded all the McDonald’s frappes for my first month of rent for my college apartment. According to Personal Capital, 40% of millennials don’t have current plans for retirement, and 73% don’t know their net worth. These things might not have a significant impact on your life right now, but later on they become really important!
My advice? Set savings goals. Determine the major purchases you plan to make in the future and calculate how much you’ll need to save for them. You don’t have to stop spending money all together, but setting aside 10-20% of each paycheck will add up quickly. Setting a clear path and being specific will make it easier to see the bigger picture.

2. Pay off student loans

Student loans…dun dun dunnn. Those two words haunt me in my sleep. In 2013, nearly 70% of college students graduated with debt, averaging $30,000 in student loans each. This causes me a lot of stress and I know the majority of my peers worry about the debt they will also carry after they graduate. Often enough, student loan debt prevents young adults from buying homes and expanding wealth. The sooner you can live debt-free, the better.

My advice? Apply for scholarships, work hard during the summer, and save up for college as early as possible..like from the day you were born.

3. Buy a car

This goes along with the whole saving thing. Currently, I drive my late grandfather’s 2004 Chevy Colorado with a topper on the back, sharing it with my two sisters. As a college student, having my own car isn’t absolutely necessary while living near campus with a public transportation system, but I know that I will soon want a vehicle to call my own.

4. Apply for my dream job

Ahh the famous question… “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We’ve all been asked this question (most often at family get-togethers and graduation parties) but as I finish up my final two years of college, it’s important for me to try and figure this one out. College is a time to explore different options and find your niche, so don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars when contemplating what your dream job may be. Even before graduating college, I plan to apply for numerous jobs in my field of interest, even a few jobs that I may not even be qualified for. You never know what might happen!

My advice? Nothing is impossible if you work hard enough for it. Stay focused, do what you love, and take risks.

5. Live on my own

I feel as though I’m in the minority, but I couldn’t wait to move back in with my parents after my freshman year of college. In fact, I spent my sophomore year commuting from home because I couldn’t stand to be far from my family. However, I know I’m finally ready to branch out and do my own thing and I am so excited to have signed a lease to live in my first apartment while away at school. Well, I will have roommates, but baby steps are still steps forward. Within the next two to three years, I hope to have a place of my own, but of course, that requires me to be completely financially independent. We’ll just say I’m working on this one.

My advice? It’s okay to live with your parents while you are saving up. It’s better to be financially unstable while living with mom and dad than be financially unstable all alone with monthly bills to pay. Live with roommates as long as possible to split costs until you can venture off and support yourself.

6. Network like crazy

As a young adult, it’s crucial to go out and meet people, socially and professionally. Every person you meet has something to offer…take advantage of it! People say it’s a good idea to get involved when you go to college and that’s because it can connect you to countless other opportunities. Networking is one of my favorite things to do (partially because I’m a Communication Studies major and partially because I was a social butterfly in a past life).

My advice? Do anything and everything to build up your resume, from charity work and volunteering to internships and first jobs. Find something you love to do and you will be connected to people who feel the same. Don’t be afraid to reach out to potential employers as well! Be a leader, initiate connections, and ALWAYS present yourself professionally.

7. Adopt a pet

I’ve grown up with dogs my entire life so obviously I need some pet therapy when I can get my own place. I’m also the type of person who freaks out when I’m home alone so having a little companion will be a nice addition to my life. I kept a plant alive for over a year in my college dorm room so I have a lot of faith in my care-taking abilities. However, having a real pet of my own is still a big responsibility, so I’m making this one a goal for my later 20’s…

8. Travel

Quite honestly, I’m a bit of a homebody and majority of the time, I’ll choose to stay in with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a good Netflix series over going out all night. During my young adulthood though, I hope to either study abroad or visit a country and immerse myself in the culture. I’ve lived in Wisconsin my entire life and have only traveled outside of the state a handful of times because traveling can get expensive! This is another goal to save up for as much as possible (so be sure to calculate that into your savings goals!) I want to take advantage of the opportunity to travel while I’m young, but the real question is…where to go?

My advice? Spend money on EXPERIENCES rather than material items. Would you rather spend $500 on clothes or $500 on a round trip to a new country? To each their own, but I know it will be so rewarding to save up for a phenomenal life experience and gain a new perspective.

9. Get healthy

Truth is, the “freshman 15” is a real thing. It’s so easy to swing through McDonald’s every day rather than meal prepping with grilled chicken and broccoli, but the payoff of the latter is so much more worth it. I won’t even lie…I eat chicken nuggets and pizza like they’re my only lifeline, but more recently, I’ve been trying to get in touch with what my body needs to be at its best. This includes physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health as well. Most people think health is centered solely on diet and exercise but it is SO much more than that. During my young adulthood, I want to make my overall health a priority because I only get one body so I might as well treat it right.

My advice? This doesn’t have to be difficult! It can be as easy as drinking more water or switching to whole grains. Take time for yourself to rejuvenate, find a fun way to exercise (yoga, walking), and seek beneficial outlets for your stress, like painting, listening to music, meditation or prayer. Discover what makes your body feel good and develop consistency.

10. Prioritize happiness

When I was younger, I spent a lot of my time worrying about what other people wanted from me and how I could make others happy first. After high school, I made the decision to put my happiness first and aim for what I wanted to accomplish for myself, even if I was the odd one out. The term “put others before yourself” is one that I admire, but one that I also don’t believe in 100%. There is such a stigma around focusing on yourself, some may call it selfishness, but this is essential on the path of discovering who you are and what you want to be. While generosity and compassion is one thing, it’s another thing to love yourself and take care of your needs and wants as well. In my young adulthood, as I figure out who I am, I will continue to put my mind, body, and soul first, along with my personal and professional goals. I am going to take the time to invest in my own happiness and success. Life is too short to be anything but happy, so LOVE YOURSELF!

My advice? Don’t be afraid to take the time you need to discover who you are and what you want out of life. Rise above, leave the peer pressure back in middle school, never let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough, and do whatever you need to do to be successful.

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There you have it! Just a handful of my goals as I venture through my 20’s and a little bit of my own advice. I encourage you (the lovely reader) to get your big kid pants on and start making a plan to tackle your future! A little birdy told me that if you write down your goals, they will eventually come true. I’m thinking this adult checklist is a good start! Financial independence is so important and it’s often something we put on the back burner until later in life. Your dreams can become reality simply by taking responsibility of your wallet.

For more information on how you can take charge of your financial independence, check out the wealth management tool provided by the amazing team of financial experts at Personal Capital so you can manage your money and plan for the future! Now go out there and make me proud.

Love always,

Jessica

Thank You, Mom and Dad

Long time, no see, am I right?! In the midst of final exams, the college transfer process, and preparations for Miss Wisconsin in less than one month, my free time has been nearly nonexistent. However, I always preach that it’s crucial to find time for yourself, which is why I’m taking a few moments to do what I enjoy…relaxing, reflecting, and writing! During these busy times and transition periods, I often lose sight of the road that got me here…or the people who drove me, for that matter.

As I enter my twenties, I am now (legally) an adult, even if I don’t want to accept that sometimes. I can’t go back in time to a point of no responsibilities and I can’t jump forward to the day when I finally have my life together, but I am thankful for the guidance I continue to receive to make this journey through young adulthood manageable.

To my parents, it’s so cliché to say “I don’t know what I’d do without you,” but in complete honesty, I would not be here today without the both of you (seriously, science doesn’t work that way). It would take me up until the end of my days to thank you for every little thing you’ve done for me over the past 20 years, so I’m attempting to compile as much as possible in this letter to you.

Mom, thank you for guiding me through the rough middle school years as I discovered what kind of woman I wished to become.

Dad, thank you for instilling in me at a young age that my education is one of the only things that nobody can ever take away from me.

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Mom, thank you for answering my late-night phone calls during my freshman year of college when I felt anxious, overwhelmed, or lost. Hearing your voice is all I needed.

Dad, thank you for being a shining example of what it means to have a servant’s heart. Your duties as an educator, father, brother, son, coach, and mentor taught me that selflessness is a virtuous quality to possess.

Mom, thank you for chaperoning field trips, making endless bologna and cheese sack lunches, taking me to gymnastics and cheerleading practices, and driving hours to pageants. Your unconditional support of everything I do means the world.

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Dad, thank you for teaching me how to be an adult when my first W-2 form came in the mail. I’m nowhere near financial independence, but I’m a few steps closer thanks to my knowledge of a check register and overdraft charges…

Mom, thank you for getting to know all of my friends and making sure I’m choosing them wisely. You’ve taught me to surround myself with responsible, respectable people who lift me up as much as you do.

Dad, thank you for accepting each of my boyfriends throughout the years, even though I’m sure you didn’t really like all of them. Thank you for proving that chivalry is not dead and that a lady should always be respected. Because of you, I know that I should never settle for anything less than what I am worth.

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Mom, thank you for being a warrior. With five children, you’ve never given up on any of us and you’ve proven that motherhood is one of the toughest, but most rewarding gifts you can ever give to a child. I look forward to the day when I can give the same to my own kids.

Dad, thank you for exposing your relationship with Christ; for believing that a little faith and humility can carry you through anything.

Mom, thank you for being strict with my curfew, because I’m sure it saved me from traveling down the wrong path in high school. On the flip side, thank you for loosening the leash sometimes so I could see firsthand why I should’ve been home at eleven…

Dad, thank you for teaching me to fight for what I believe in. In a world of many injustices, you’ve taught me that it’s okay to stray from the pack in order to stand up for what is right. You exemplify what makes a great leader: hard work, compassion, and determination.

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Mom, thank you for sharing your warm heart with the world; for teaching me to accept every human for who they are and that generosity and kindness speak louder than words.

To the both of you, thank you for never handing me anything. Thank you for teaching me the value of a dollar and that I need to work for everything I want in life.

Thank you both for encouraging me to set high goals and providing me with a supportive environment to achieve them. As I enter adulthood and begin to make decisions that will impact my future, I know that I will always have both of you right behind me. I understand that I must learn from experience and fail a few times, but the lessons you’ve taught me from the very beginning have allowed me to grow into the woman I am today, the woman I am still becoming.

Some day, I’ll be lucky to be half the people you are. I owe you one.

Love,

Jessica

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I Found My Faith During College

College /ˈkälij/ (noun): a place where young adults go to seek higher education, spend life savings on tuition and cheap alcohol, gain weight, procrastinate, cry, and question their morals

Okay, okay… college is so much more than that.

In reality, starting college is the perfect time to try new things, meet new people, grow up a little, create your future, and ultimately re-invent yourself. On this journey, every college student will encounter a new situation that will test their strength and their morals. With mom and dad all the way back home, unable to intervene on your decisions, there are times when the little devil and angel will be arguing with your conscience…

Should I start this final paper that’s due tomorrow morning or go party with my friends?

Angel: “You’re in college for one reason… to further your education and get a degree. Stay in and work on your paper, your GPA and successful future self will thank you later!”

Devil: “Paper shhmaper. You know you’d have more fun with your friends than sitting on your computer all night. You’ll miss out on all the fun!”

The struggle is real! There is an incredible amount of pressure placed upon millions of college students…pressure from our parents, professors, the job market, and American society. It’s no wonder we are all hungry for a little bit of freedom and stress relief! With the freedom of college comes the chance to make decisions and grow and learn from those choices on your own. There are times of stress, temptation, and questions about the future. During these trying times, I found my faith.

Let’s sit down for story time…

Your homegirl grew up as the oldest of five children to two of the best parents in the world, who also grew up in crazy-huge fams (mom the youngest of six children and dad in the middle of eight). I guess you could say big families are kind of our thing. Every family has a different way of doing things; there are different values, rules, morals, lessons, religions, economic and social backgrounds. Growing up, I can remember a few lessons my parents taught me over the years, like “treat everyone the way you’d like to be treated” or “use your manners” or “don’t do drugs” or “don’t swim out too far without your floaties.” I remember always having an early curfew, always having to ask permission to go ANYWHERE (actually…this never changed), and I remember going to church and sitting through hours of Sunday school, which I thought was a big waste of time at the age of eight.

Throughout high school, I continued to attend religious education classes held through my church until I was confirmed at age 17. As I grew older, I learned a lot about religion and faith. However, I never fully understood what it meant to be a true woman of faith.

Why did I endure all those years of religion classes? When will these lessons truly apply to my own life? Can God really hear me?

These questions were answered as soon as I stepped foot into my freshman year dorm room.

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During my preparations for my first year of college, I never felt more nervous and unprepared. For the previous eighteen years of my life, my parents and peers were my main sources of guidance in all areas of my life. From tough decisions to curfews, I always turned to my family or my friends for answers. However, when I waved goodbye to my parents form my dorm room window, I was on my own. It was time to make my own decisions and somehow find a way to get all the answers.

Sure, mom and dad were just a phone call away, but college is a time to learn independence. I was adamant about this. As the oldest sibling in my family, I wanted to prove that I could be a leader and that I could make it on my own. This is when I realized that the little lessons from my earlier years and the lessons I learned about my faith would offer me the greatest guidance.

I openly admit that my freshman year of college was incredibly stressful for many reasons. I understand that thousands of college freshmen experience similar feelings of stress and anxiety, but for some reason, I still felt so alone. Luckily, I had an amazing roommate (hey Leah) and some incredible friends that I am so blessed to have in my life to this day. These people gave me the little pieces of strength that I needed to get through the rough days and enhance the good days. I kept asking myself where in the world I would be able to find the strength I needed to continue to endure this changing time in my life.

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One day, I reached a breaking point. I was homesick, severely anxious, in a tough long distance relationship, busy with a full-time college schedule, tempted by outside sources, and completely undecided on a path for the future with so many pressures to choose that path immediately. I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t sleep, I barely ate, and I felt like my life was spiraling out of control.

By the grace of God, I found this quote:

“When you are going through difficulty and wonder where God is, remember that the teacher is always quiet during a test.”

This quote struck me and continues to stay with me to this day. At this moment, I turned to my faith. I finally began to ask God for guidance. I asked Him to help me to know what to do with my life. I asked Him to calm my nerves and give me reassurance. I asked Him to give me the strength to endure these obstacles as I grow to be a young adult. At this point, I began to understand what years of religious education prepared me for. Even though I felt alone at times, I never was and never will be. My upbringing prepared me for the hard times; the stress, the temptation, the moral tests of adulthood.

The interesting thing about faith is that it works in mysterious ways. Strengthening my relationship with God allowed me to stay motivated to make changes in my life. I tried to eat healthier, appreciate the easy days, stay hopeful through the tough days, pray daily, and stay open-minded about where my young adult life would lead me. I learned that I shouldn’t put so much pressure on myself to be independent. The fact of the matter is that my parents and friends will always be there for me and it’s okay to call them every once in a while (they really start to miss you too). I learned that God answers the call as well, but sometimes He doesn’t answer right away. The teacher is always quiet during a test…

Today, as I prepare to begin my junior year of college in the fall, I look back on where I started. Many of my questions have been answered and God did answer my call after a few tries. After my freshman year of college, I made the decision to transfer schools, take the time I needed to choose a path for my future, get healthy (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically), get involved in my faith community, serve others through volunteer opportunities, and continue to strengthen my relationship with God. I became a woman of faith.

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Adulting isn’t easy and we all handle it differently. There will be temptation, stress, anxiety, tests, and questions. You may think that the answers lie ahead, but sometimes, you can find the answers in your heart and up above.

To anyone struggling with understanding their faith or dealing with a trying time:

Patience is key. As humans living in the 21st century, we want immediate answers. However, good things come to those who wait. God is working on you.

Take a deep breath. We often underestimate the power of meditation. Deep breathing works miracles and it allows us to gather our thoughts and be more productive. Take time to relax.

Reach out when you need help. You are NEVER alone. The Lord walks with you wherever you go. Family, friends, religious leaders, and community members are always there for you. Use this to your advantage and thank them.

Take time for yourself. This goes along with that deep breath. During a hard time, we lose sight of ourselves and what our goals are. It’s important to take a moment to remember what you enjoy, reflect on the things you love, and appreciate the positives.

Listen to your heart. Especially during college, there will be times of temptation and pressure, not only from peers but from the rest of the world. Remember what drives you and recognize the steps to get there.

God is always listening. This one speaks for itself. He listens, He answers, He saves.

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New Year, New Outlook

We’ve heard it all before…

“New year, new me! This year will be better than the rest!”

I’ve never had a New Year’s resolution, and to be completely honest, I think I’d cave by January 2nd. The typical “eat healthier” or “save money” or “exercise more often” goals tend to tick away quicker than the Times Square countdown and I knew that if I ever decided to create my own resolution, I’d be determined to make it a permanent part of my life.

This past year has been full of opportunities and significant life changes and I knew that I wanted to start the new year with a fresh mindset and clear direction of what I hope to accomplish in 2016. Instead of having superficial goals that I know I can’t commit to, I decided to make a list of small actions that I can tackle day by day that will encourage positivity, mindfulness, and overall happiness in my everyday life. I’m a firm believer that the simple things are the ones that truly matter, so here’s to a simply enjoyable new year.

Jessica’s Handy Dandy Pocket List of 2016 Resolutions

  1. Openly express gratitude
  2. Give compliments
  3. Find a good book
  4. Sing loud and proud
  5. Be courageous
  6. Stand up for what you believe is right
  7. Pay it forward
  8. When there is music, always dance
  9. Take time to relax
  10. Remain tolerant
  11. Get to know someone you used to judge
  12. Accept that there is no such thing as perfection
  13. Take care of your mind and body
  14. Believe in the power of prayer
  15. Visit a coffee shop and sit with a stranger
  16. Put down the cell phone
  17. Learn and understand all sides of politics
  18. Ask for help
  19. Make use of your talents and assets
  20. Practice honesty
  21. Keep promises
  22. Explore your hometown
  23. Serve graciously in any way possible
  24. Thank your parents
  25. Apologize for wrongdoing and learn from it
  26. Love yourself first

I plan to add more resolutions to this list as the year goes on and see how the many areas of my life take shape. It’s strange how day-to-day life never seems to change, but once we look back at the end of the year, we realize how much those little moments changed us over time. When each year comes to an end, I like to be a sap and reflect on the things I’ve learned, the people who have been there with me through it, and the areas of my life I will continue to work on. A flip of the calendar just feels like the right time to make a difference, but in reality, we wake up every morning with that same opportunity.

Take advantage of life’s simple chances for growth and happiness. Have a blessed 2016, beautiful people.

Love always,

Jessica

NEW YEAR

And The Liebster Award Goes To…

Hello friends!

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Courtesy of: Leah Mae Photography

‘Tis the season to be ridiculously busy, am I right?! I’ve finally found some time to sit down, slip into some fuzzy socks, and relax a little bit. First, I’ll give a little update on life…

Many of you have seen my blog post “To Today’s 14 Year-Old Girls” and some of you may also know that it kinda went viral… (say what?!) Well, not as viral as the Gangnam Style madness of 2012, but pretty close (okay not that big). I’d like to thank each and every one of you, from the bottom of my heart, for reading, supporting, and spreading that article around the world and even into the hands of the editors at MTV… (another SAY WHAT?!) Crazy, right? Check it out on the MTV website by clicking this link! I still can’t believe it. Because of YOU, I’ve been able to reach about 800,000 people and spread my personal experiences in hopes of touching at least one life. I am so grateful.

It has been a blessed holiday season with family and friends so far and I’ve been able to focus a lot of my time reflecting on the ups and downs of this past year. Lots of changes have occurred in my personal and professional life since last Christmas and there are still many more to come in 2016, but I’m taking advantage of every opportunity I come in contact with. I could be a sap for another 483659 pages, but I’ll leave it at that. THANK YOU for the amazing opportunities rooted right here on this blog.

I am more motivated than ever to continue writing as often as possible in between my full-time college schedule, dance practices, pageant preparations, three jobs, and a social life (wait..I don’t have one of those). I have lots of ideas of what I’d like to write about for future posts, but I am more than willing to take suggestions. You can find my contact info in the “About Me/ Contact Me” tab so feel free to shoot me an idea or two if you’d like!

Enough about me, let’s get onto the reason for this post!

I was recently nominated for the Liebster Blogging Award by a fellow blogger and pageant sista, Serena. The award is meant to help bloggers discover other bloggers and show a little blogging appreciation (say blog one more time, Jess). Here’s how it goes:

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Thank you for nominating me, Serena! Give her a little love at The Royal Introvert.

My Nominations

I would choose 11, but I’ll leave you with my top three favorites right now!

  1. The Wright Way, Miss Washington Teen USA
  2. Life Of Renee Blog, personal friend and new blogger
  3. Tianna Vanderhei, fellow MAO pageant sister

11 Questions From The Blog That Nominated Me

  1. What is your New Years resolution? I’m usually on top of things when it comes to procrastinating, but I find that my phone becomes an easy distraction when I’m trying to check things off my to-do list. So this year, I’m going to put down my phone a lot more often!
  2. If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? I’m currently sitting in a snow storm today, so Hawaii sounds nice right about now.
  3. What is your favorite memory of 2015? This is a tough one… but all of my best memories always happen with my college friends. Am I allowed to include all of those memories? Probably not, but we all break the rules once or twice.
  4. What is your favorite book? I’ve recently picked up John Green’s first novel, Looking For Alaska, and I can’t put it down.
  5. Why? It’s SO raw and a little controversial, maybe that’s why I love it. From the author of Paper Towns and The Fault In Our Stars, you know this one’s a good one.
  6. Sum up your personality in one word. Contagious
  7. What is your favorite song? Right now, I’m digging “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” by Meghan Trainor and John Legend. I’m obsessed.
  8. What is your favorite blog to follow? All three listed above, I can’t pick a fave!
  9. Why did you begin blogging? A girl’s gotta vent somewhere right?
  10. What was your favorite Christmas gift? My grandma gave me a Love Your Melon beanie and I can’t get over how adorable it is. Even better, it’s a company run by college students aiming to put a hat on every child battling cancer in the United States. Does it get much cooler?
  11. Did it snow where you live? I’m from Wisconsin.. ‘nuf said.

11 Random Facts About Myself

  1. I have a small plant named Isaac.
  2. I can name all 50 states in alphabetical order in 20 seconds.
  3. You can find me smelling all of the candles in Bath & Body Works for hours.
  4. I sleep with a stuffed monkey every night.
  5. Shopping with other people stresses me out.
  6. Ellen DeGeneres is one of my favorite humans ever.
  7. I’m in my second year of college and I have no idea what I want to do with my life (actually not worried at all).
  8. Potatoes are my favorite food.
  9. If I were an animal, I’d want to be a corgi.
  10. I bite my nails..all the time.
  11. I eat when I’m bored and I’m proud of it.

11 Questions For My Nominees

  1. What is the best compliment you have ever received?
  2. What makes up your perfect pizza?
  3. If you could’ve witnessed any event in history, what would you like to have seen?
  4. What cheers you up?
  5. Who is your role model?
  6. Do you have any strange talents? If so, what are they?
  7. What is your biggest fear?
  8. What is your favorite topic to blog about?
  9. Who is your favorite cartoon character?
  10. What is your dream vacation?
  11. Have you ever met anyone famous?

award

There you have it, folks! Just a little fun post to get back in the swing of things as the holidays wind down. Once again, thank you Serena for this nomination and thank you ALL for encouraging me to do what I enjoy. Hit that follow button in the corner to get updates whenever I post new content and be sure to follow my Instagram (@jessicasusan96) for updates as well! I’ve got some fun ideas coming your way in 2016…

Love always,

Jessica