Spring Break in Guatemala

Last week was one of the most exciting and life changing experiences. For my spring break, I decided to take a random excursion to a country I had never been to (and never learned anything about). My friend had already booked a flight so I decided it would be fun to tag along with her to Guatemala. We went into the trip with no plans except for our lodging accommodations and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I might be addicted to the backpacker lifestyle now and I may or may not be planning a solo adventure for the summer time (destination TBD).

Before we even got to Guatemala, we made some friends in the El Salvadorian airport. We met a group of musicians/dentists from Pittsburgh who were coming into town for a mission trip. They were nice enough to let us hitch a ride with them from Guatemala City into our first destination: Antigua.

While we were in Antigua, we explored the city and did some awesome shopping. We toured a coffee farm and got to sample some. That night we found a bar that offered free salsa dancing lessons and I met a man who grew up in Guatemala but lived in my hometown of Fredericksburg, Va for two years! He treated me and Shannon to a night out with his friends. Although there was a language barrier between most of us, it was so much fun to make friends and share a new experience with them. Since I’m a huge fan of cooking and learning about culture through cuisine, we took a cooking class and I was able to make a completely vegan Guatemalan dish. It was delicious and I can’t wait to make it again at home.

After saying goodbye to Antigua we traveled north to Lake Atitlan where we stayed for 3 days. The lake is enormous and surrounded by volcanoes. Each little village on the edge of the lake has its own personality and we visited a few places while we were there. We stayed in San Pedro (known as the party town) which was home to many European and American expats looking for a relaxed way of life. While I can see the appeal of a longterm travel stint away from work and responsibilities, I do enjoy my day to day American luxuries (like being able to flush my toilet paper).

We visited San Marcos several times which is another small village known for being the hipster town. Shannon and I booked massages and also had a chakra alignment treatment while we were there. At the time, I was in the throws of a pretty terrible cold and I really felt better afterwards. I can’t say that it cured my cold but it did help me release a few emotional issues I’ve been struggling with and I genuinely felt my mood and my cough improve for the rest of the week.

The rest of our trip was spent shopping and meeting fellow travelers. We made some new friends from the states and brought home some incredible souvenirs. I got a handmade hammock that I cannot wait to put up in my yard now that warm weather is on its way.

This experience was eye opening for me and I feel like I’ve just discovered a whole new window into the world. Although my bank account needs to recover a little bit, I have my eye on a few different trips after my summer session ends for school. I really can’t wait to see what the next adventure will bring me.

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March for Women and Staying Sane Post Election

I’ve taken a hiatus from blogging the past few months because my fall semester was physically and emotionally draining. Partly because of school and partly because I was pushing myself too hard in general. I was also emotionally exhausted following the election and just didn’t feel like expressing myself on my blog. Now that I’ve had a few months to recover, I’m more passionate and enraged than ever. Last month, I attended the March For Women the day after Donald Trump took office. I still cannot believe that that man is the President of America. And no, I will not get over it. Not because I didn’t vote for him, but because the policies he is attempting to enact are violating human rights as well as the U.S. Constitution.

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The day I found out about the Women’s March in D.C. I made sure I had the weekend off work. It was so important for me to stand with two of my closest friends (and Audrey’s younger sisters) in protest of something I wholeheartedly disagree with. It was therapeutic to get my anger out in a peaceful and cathartic way. The fact that there were men and children everywhere was so important as well. Feminism is not about women overpowering men and I will be the first person to say something when I feel that men are being stereotyped against based on their gender (although they are rarely marginalized or discriminated against in society, they do have an unfair set of societal standards to live up to and that is also important to talk about).

I recently took a trip home to catch up with an old friend from grade school. He’s one of those friends that bobs in and out of your life and every time you see each other you spend hours catching each other up on life and current events. One of our major conversation topics included what life has been like back home in Fredericksburg ever since November. Apparently, those of the community who have yet to accept that the Civil War ended years ago are trying to bring us back to a time when white people could openly proclaim they were superior. It makes me sick to think that people are using the current president as a way to instill terror in others. I have hope though, that this is a turning point. The number of people who are actually learning about the policies that effect them (like the fact that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare are the same thing) is important and I refuse to give up on progressive change for our country.

 

The Aftermath of a Storm

It has now been a full day since Election Night in America and I’ve finally had time to process the fact that Donald Trump will actually be leading my country for the next four years. I’m not going to lie, I wept. I cried when I went to sleep on Tuesday night because I just had a feeling. As much as I believe in the greater good of human kind, I also know that there are many people in America who are angry. Unfortunately, it seems that we are all angry and for different reasons. Some Americans are angry because they feel they are losing jobs and their livelihood and Donald Trump is going to save them somehow. Others are angry because they feel that our next president will be a hateful man who will marginalize groups of people and cause so much suffering and backwards social movement. I am in the latter group.

I don’t think I fully grasped what it meant to have a woman on the ballot for Presidency until she lost. I guess I grew up knowing that Hillary Clinton was a prominent female politician who always wanted to run for the leader of our country. For as many times as I’ve witnessed and experienced male aggression in my personal life I didn’t want to believe that that many people hate her simply because she is a woman. Sure, there are political beliefs and difficult decisions she has made that many do not agree with but that’s not what I am getting at. She was constantly demonized for circumstances beyond her control-her husband’s choices, her fashion choices, her face, her susceptibility to “mood swings” aka hormones cause a woman to be incapable of making rational decisions. None of these things would ever stop a man from entering office (or even be discussed). In fact, her actual qualifications for the job worked against her as the public tore apart every difficult decision she ever made (which unfortunately, is a part of being a leader).

I woke up yesterday morning and felt as if I was in shock. I already had a text message from two friends expressing their genuine fear. “How will I get my birth control?” one of them asked me; while the other merely expressed extreme sorrow. I myself felt as if I had been sexually assaulted all over again. For me, this election was not about political parties, it was about telling women and minorities that they still don’t matter. It was about instilling fear in people to scare them from using their voices. I think I finally understand what life must be like for minorities in America. I try to check my privilege when I discuss sensitive topics because I know I am extremely lucky to have been born middle class and white yet yesterday I understood more than ever why #BlackLivesMatter. Because no one should ever have to live in fear and although I have experienced traumatic life events, I’ve never experienced the fear of violence based on the color of my skin or the country I was born in.

This is not to say that I do not emphasize with the concerns of many men and women who voted for Donald Trump. I understand that there are many people who are working hard to making ends meet and want to make a living wage. But this is something that comes from working together between parties. It does not come by encouraging your supporters to beat up protestors, making fun of disabled persons, immigrants, veterans, etc. I don’t even need to link these examples because everyone in America knows the stories and I’m exhausted by all of the hate.

More than anything though, this week I’ve thought of my 2 year old niece. Of how I am already incredibly proud of the strong, independent women she is going to grow up to be and how I want more than anything to be a strong role model for her. I hope that she never has to hear Donald Trump give a speech (and I’m confident that she is young enough to avoid this) about hate and division, nor be subjected to his views on how to treat women. I want her to know that her voice always matters, that no means NO, and that she should never be silenced or shamed for having an idea whether its a good one or not.

Now that the dust has settled and the reality is kicking in, I have a renewed sense of purpose. There is a strong chance I may run for some sort of elected office one day because of this election. If not for office, I will at least spend my life working to defend women’s rights. It is because of Hillary Clinton that I feel like this is even a possibility. She may have not won the Presidency but she has started a fire in women across this country. I have always been and will forever be grateful for her ability to carry on even in the face of criticism irrelevant to her work. I may not agree with every political move she’s made but still, #Imwithher and I always will be.

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Wedding Weekend Ramblings

Last weekend was incredible. I spent Saturday celebrating one of my favorite couples at their wedding in Richmond. I really needed a break from the work/school grind and it was a great opportunity to see my close friends from college and let loose a little. The drive home in the morning had me thinking a lot about the weddings I have coming up in the next year and the relationships in my life (you know-just general car ride musings).

I’ve hit that age where all my friends start coupling off and freaking out about getting married but I don’t get it. I’m obviously very happy for my friends who have found great relationships but on the other hand, I also know a few people who have gotten divorced already and I’ve watched how heart-wrenching and emotionally exhausting that is.

I also know several people who are getting married because they feel like its expected of them and I just don’t understand why. I can definitely see that a lot of people feel pressure from their families to settle down but I don’t understand why we put that pressure on our loved ones in the first place. I stumbled upon this article recently and I thought it was really cool how this woman threw herself a wedding because she doesn’t plan to get married and she wanted to celebrate her commitment to her loved ones (and celebrate own life and her accomplishments).

While I would love to get married one day, I’m left wondering about why there’s this huge rush or timeline. Isn’t marriage supposed to be about your actual relationship, not just all of the life milestones? Shouldn’t it center around the fact that you’ve found someone you want to completely intertwine your life with? I know this isn’t a new phenomenon but because I’m getting to the point where all my friends are coupling off I’m noticing it more. I’ve found that a lot of people my age are staying in relationships because they’re afraid to be alone even though they may not be compatible with their significant other and that’s what really makes me sad.

As someone who has spent most of her life single, I see things from a totally different perspective. I love being in a relationship and sharing my life with someone but I also don’t think that there should be any fear or pressure to move things along before the time is right. I understand the feeling of wanting companionship but its so important not to lose sight of yourself first. The first criteria when you start to date someone shouldn’t be “how soon will we start a family together?”

I noticed this recently in my own life. I found a totally incredible person that I enjoyed spending time with and really felt a connection with. However, both of our lives are crazy at the moment and I honestly just can’t imagine trying to get to know someone while also working nightshifts, starting graduate school, and trying to take care of myself all at the same time. Part of me (ok a lot of me) was bummed that it didn’t work out but I actually found that going to this particular wedding and seeing what a relationship is supposed to look like made me that much more ok with the situation (the fact that it was my choice didn’t hurt either).

I genuinely don’t have anything against young people getting married, I just find myself worried that there is too much pressure to settle down with the first person who comes along and that we are often expected to put off other ambitions in order to start that family dynamic. True, you can definitely balance career and relationships but it’s very difficult to do (especially if you haven’t already partnered off with someone when your career starts to pick up).

October Goals

I know its already a week in but I figured there was no better time to start mapping out my goals then the present. Fall has been crazy so far but I love how busy I am. It’s keeping me moving and, most importantly, it’s keeping me in the moment (something I’ve always struggled with).

Here are a few things I’d really like to accomplish this month:

  • Finish my workout log for work. We have an incentive to do 52 workouts from August-October and I’m almost done but still, it’ll be an accomplishment. On top of that, I’d like to workout 3 times a week (minimum).
  • Pass all of my exams this month! I have so many tests coming up and while I’m using this time to procrastinate from studying, I have time scheduled to knock out the important things coming up.
  • Finish one book. It really shouldn’t be hard, I’m almost done with two but taking the time for myself to actually read them is difficult (no my textbooks do not count as reading).
  • Attend one Junior League event. I have had to miss out on a few Junior League events due to my crazy schedule recently and I really want to get some time in with the League. If I can at least put in a few hours of volunteering, I’ll be extremely happy.
  • Focus on eating plant-based again. When I recently stressed myself out, I noticed that my eating habits took a turn which didn’t help my mood. One thing I really want to focus on while I’m so busy is keeping myself healthy by eating the right foods. It’s can be difficult to eat healthy while working nightshifts as there is always the temptation to eat all night to stay awake which leads me to my final goal.
  • Come up with a healthier schedule for my shifts. Since they tend to be a lot slower (depending on my patients) I need to keep myself busy. I’ve been attempting to study for my CCRN certification although it gets difficult sitting for long periods at 3 am and not getting drowsy. I think I might need to start taking walking breaks around this time to re-energize myself halfway through the night. I’ll report back next month with my results!

 

So there it is, 6 relatively easy goals for the month. Hopefully I can accomplish them all.

 

Stretching Myself Thin

The past two weeks have been funky. School started off strong and I’m still so happy to be back in the Intensive Care Unit. After a few weeks though, that happy high I was on settled down and I was left feeling overwhelmed and stretched pretty thin with new work responsibilities and coursework. To make things more difficult, I took care of a patient suffering from very intense PTSD and the next day my FNP seminar discussed mental health issues and mental trauma. Slightly triggering for me.

I still struggle with regulating my emotions and I often find that when I reach a truly happy point, I’ll occasionally fall off the bandwagon and my mood will spiral downwards. It’s a trend that has gotten better over the years through my recovery from depression but its something that I know I’ll always have to manage during my lifetime. Yes, I am generally a happy person now but I still feel things differently than most people who haven’t struggled with depression. I tend to shut down more quickly and I get absorbed into my thoughts much more easily. This can lead me down a dangerous path in terms of negative thinking.

About two weeks ago, I noticed a few of my old symptoms creeping back up (mainly, a complete loss of appetite and insomnia as well as a poor mood and complete inability to concentrate) and I pretty much just shut down. I couldn’t concentrate or enjoy time with any of my friends and I started to become hyper vigilant in my thinking, obsessing over little things and not trusting myself and my intuition. I knew that I was on the verge of a relapse which frightened me and so I called three different therapists with no luck. Literally two weeks later and one of them still hasn’t even called me back. The other two I didn’t qualify for because of my insurance.

It’s so upsetting that mental health providers are in such short supply that I can’t even be proactive in taking care of myself, especially when it’s so hard to admit to myself that I need to see someone. Luckily, I’ve been working on things myself using the techniques I’ve learned in therapy and I have been forcing myself to stay moving.  I took a day off last week to drive up to skyline drive and study at one of the overlooks and yesterday I just took a day away from school and watched football with some friends from work.

Things are looking up but I’m still in that uncomfortable worrying phase. I feel myself stretching from this process though and I have no doubts that in a few weeks I’ll be back to my happier state of mind. Right now, I’m just taking each day at a time and remembering that I can make it through anything because the worst is already years behind me.

 

Back to School

My first week of graduate school has come and gone and I’m feeling slightly better after having attended most of my classes and really looked at the course syllabi. I’m a little nervous for statistics as its a doctoral level course and I have to use a program to analyze data which is something I’ve never done before. I’ve never even used outlook beyond organizing lists (which I’m sure is not it’s intended purpose).

Luckily, our professor is encouraging us to work together on the homework because as nurses we’re a collaborative profession. He wants us  to bounce ideas off each other before writing our own answers to the assignments. That will be especially helpful for the programing part! And it really does make sense given the fact that nursing is all about teamwork (as much as we try to make it harder on ourselves, I can’t imagine a shift without my coworkers).

Speaking of work, I’m officially back in the ICU and I could not be happier! By the end of my first shift I felt like I hadn’t been gone for a full year and I’m so excited to step up into a leadership role as I get my bearings back again. It was also pretty funny how all the older residents I ran into told me that they missed me (what? a resident noticing something other than a possible procedure?!?). It’s also pretty exciting to see the positive changes that have happened in my absence. People seem so much happier and the teams (from my experience) are all collaborating so much better than when I left. It’s nice when a doctor looks you in the eye and occasionally uses your name when talking to family members (sounds like a small thing but it really shows the families that 1. my judgement is important when caring for your loved ones and 2. the docs actually trust me which means you probably should too). I could write a whole post about that little rant but we’ll save that for another day.

Although I had to miss out on my family vacation this year and I had a minor panic attack last week at the thought of balancing school, work, Junior League and seeing my family and friends every once in a while, I couldn’t be happier with where I am. I know that going back to the ICU was the best thing for me as my last job wasn’t a good fit regardless of school. I need to be around people my own age and I need to be in a job where I can talk to my coworkers and relate to them. I also need to have hands on time with my patients, I learned a lot about the health system working as a care coordinator and my assessment and critical thinking skills were definitely improved by triaging people over the phone. And for as much as I complain about it, I’m so excited to be back in the nursing school. After everything that happened to me during my undergraduate experience, the school of nursing was by far the best experience of college. I’m excited to be challenged by my courses and, as our Dean of Students said during orientation “be completely transformed by the program” into an expert clinician.