Paradise Found

It's been six months since I've experienced the magnetic, blissful, impossible beauty of southern Thailand. (An experience that I'll tell you all about over the next few weeks!)

The warm salty breeze whipping through my hair. The hot, scorching sun on my skin. The powdered sugar sand between my toes.

While the view from my desk in Virginia is not quite a lovely, these photos are a great reminder of all the incredible places that are waiting to be experienced. 

Allow Me To Reintroduce Myself

Today is the day, guys. The blog is back. IT'S BACK!

After a lot of learning and a few months of trial and error, I'm excited to share a completely new look and feel. Oh, and a new name.  

You might have a few questions about this big change, so let's start with the elephant in the room, shall we?

The Name Change

Truthfully, it was just time. I Love This Today was a great learning experience, but it didn't reflect the direction of my life anymore. I've grown up quite a bit, and it was time for my website to do the same.

Carley Writes is a place for me to develop professionally, and still continue to share the cringe-worthy anecdotes from my life that you've grown to love.

The Same. But Different. 

My life is embarrassingly open book, and there is a front row seat with your name on it. Writing about it is cathartic, and also seems to bring joy to a few people I know. 

Here's what you can expect to see:

  • All travel everything. From how to plan a trip to somewhere very far away, to photos of my recent adventures. Packing guides to embarrassing stories. 
  • Life in my late 20's. Navigating relationships, friendships, and views on the world during a time of transition. 
  • Work, work, work. Everything I wish someone told me before I learned it first hand. And a few career-specific pieces focused on the evolving landscape social media marketing. 

What Else? 

What topics are you interested in reading about? Or, maybe what you're not interested in reading about? 

Share your topic ideas and feedback in the comments!

 

 

My Journey to OK

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In hopes of empowering others who have deeply struggled and erasing the stigma associated with mental illness, I’m sharing my journey through depression. And how I came out on the other side.


Can you remember the last time you felt so happy that you were literally beaming? So happy that you smiled at strangers, and they smiled back because your joy was so contagious?

How long ago was that? Hours? Days? Months? For me, it was years.

It wasn’t until that I started seeing a therapist that I realized I couldn’t recall the last time I felt happiness that radiated from my core. Really, I had no recent memories that I could categorize as happy. Not even content.

Sure, there were a lot of moments that I enjoyed. I managed to make incredible memories that I continue to hold close to my heart. But, despite the list of incredible accomplishments, adventures and friendships — I didn’t feel happy. In fact, I didn’t feel anything at all.

Have you ever seen something sink in water? Slowly at first (if it’s porous), and then all at once? That is what happened to me.

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I slowly began to slip beneath the surface of a deep, dark, expansive lake. So slowly that even I didn’t notice it was happening. Every day I just sank a tiny bit deeper, until I was completely submerged in the frigid, dark abyss. So deeply submerged that returning to the surface, to who I used to be, seemed like an unimaginable task. Over time, I became paralyzed in the deep, freezing waters of depression. The undercurrent of what was expected of me by my family, friends, co-workers, and even strangers, pushed me further into paralysis.

In fleeting moments of vulnerability (a feeling I had all but stonewalled out of my life), I tried to reach out to those I was still close with. It was impossible. I had become so removed from all emotion, from myself, that I didn’t know how to describe what was happening to me.

Over time, I found a solution to this “vulnerability” nonsense. I just stopped offering any personal details about my life to anyone. Ever. I focused my conversations on the people I was with — if I even talked at all.

The paralysis brought on by the freeze of depression also took a toll on my self-worth in a big way. I felt an ever-increasing sense that my interests, opinions and life events were incredibly uninteresting to those I shared them with. (This was something I constructed in my mind, and probably wasn’t as true as I felt it was.)

There were times where I felt like I was trapped underneath a frozen lake. I could see people looking at me, wondering what was wrong. Instead of breaking through the ice, I let the freezing water fill my lungs and began the descent back into depression.

Eventually, all the air had worked its way out and I began to sink to the bottom like a stone. All at once.

Over the course of a week, I deteriorated rapidly. At this point, the only thing I could tell my therapist was that I felt “exhausted.” I said this over and over again. Exhausted from the facade I put on for everyone to appear ok. Exhausted from feeling like a failure. Exhausted from trying to be everything to everyone.

This exhaustion led to an overwhelming desire to sleep. I came home from work, took a sedative and went to sleep. If I woke up, I took another sedative and back to sleep I went. Sleeping was my escape. It was the only thing that allowed me get out of my head.

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Day after day, the amount of sedatives I was taking increased. My waking hours were limited to essential activities and nothing beyond that. The escape that sleeping was almost like gateway. The more sedatives I took to sleep, the less concern I had about whether or not my heart would stop. Whether or not I would wake up… ever.

It didn’t matter, I just wanted to sleep. If these sedatives sent me into a permanent sleep, than so be it.

It wasn’t until I woke up at 8 AM on a Saturday morning and immediately reached for a sleeping pill, that I realized I realized what was happening. I had drowned in that freezing, dark, expansive lake. I stopped trying to swim towards the surface and I let myself sink to the bottom like a stone.

I laid on my bedroom floor and let tears stream down the sides of my face. How did I get here? Who is this person I’ve become? What have I done to myself? What the hell was wrong with me?

Questions and doubts swirled around in my head for the rest of the weekend. Despite my own negativity, I knew I needed help. I couldn’t live submerged in this depression for a single second longer. It wasn’t living, it wasn’t anything. And I was done with it.

At the recommendation of a few people, I sought out help through an intensive therapy program (which I was admittedly skeptical about). But, what did I have to lose? I had already hit what was most certainly my lowest low. It couldn’t get worse, right?

Wrong.

The first two days in this program were spent silently rationalizing reasons why I was not “mentally ill enough” to be there. I told one of my friends that it was like Scared Straight — but for the mentally ill. And in may ways, it kind of was.

Participating in this program provided context for my feelings. I was able to evaluate myself against the other participants and see that maybe I wasn’t that bad. Maybe I wasn’t unfixable.

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None the less, I spent the first two days practically in silence as I listened to other people talk about their problems. Because I didn’t volunteer much about myself (classic depression-era Carley), the other group members didn’t trust me.

A few even had the audacity to remark that I didn’t “look like I needed to be there.” I understand now that comments like those are more of a reflection of their own feelings. But still, comments like those made the program even harder to immerse myself in.

As I reflected on the first two days, it became clear that I needed to buck up and participate, or I needed to get out. I wasn’t helping myself, or anyone else, by just observing. In fact, I think I was mostly just freaking people out with my stoic silence.

It was hard for me to recognize that I needed to be there. That I did essentially try to kill myself. That I no longer knew how to establish or maintain relationships because I had (literally) lost the ability to feel emotions. It was a very tough pill to swallow.

But once I did, it was like someone lit a little fire in my chest that reignited my glow.

I learned so many things about behavior and thought patterns, criticisms, the constructs of reality and perception. The time I spent in this program was truly life changing in a way that I did not expect.

Not only did I feel like a human again (as opposed to an emotionless, fake robot), but I felt like myself. I felt like the person who I used to be years ago before depression started slowly pulling me under.

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In reality, I’ve become an even better version of myself. I’m empowered. I’m aware. I’m present in each moment. I’m in tune with what I need, and what I can give to others. I’m actually happy.

And it feels weird. It feels wrong.

When I feel moments of radiating happiness, I quickly assume I shouldn’t feel like that. I look for minor details that indicate that maybe I don’t deserve to feel happy. I dissect each and every step as I progress on my journey to being ok. I look for flaws. I’m searching for errors that prove my assumption that I don’t deserve happiness.

In the past, this would have sent me plunging into the frigid abyss of depression and self-loathing. But not anymore. And hopefully never again.

In reality, the issues I deal with are not gone. I will always be my worst critic. I will continue to scrutinize myself for flaws. It’s likely I will become depressed in the future.

And that’s ok.

Feeling ok, or even happy, is not a destination. It is a journey.

And while at times I may feel like I am in this alone, I take comfort in knowing that there are lots of others who are also on a similar journey. They may be standing in line behind me at a coffee shop. Sitting in the next car over in traffic. They may be a friend who chooses not to share what they're going through.

We’re all on this journey together. I take comfort in that.


Read, Sleep, Repeat: Three Books to Read Right Now

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I've fallen back in love with reading in a reckless, time-sucking way recently. My seemingly never ending quest to re-inspire myself has led me back to one of my first loves - books. As I've grown up, I've realized that few things ignite a passionate conversation, or help build bonds with strangers, quite like the common thread of reading. Unlike many of my millennial eReader-hating, book-smell-loving friends, I do not care how I consume a book. I only care that I'm able to paint a vibrant, vivid picture of the story and it's characters. If I could plug a flash drive into my ear and download a book into my mind, I would do it.

I'm in it for the stories that are told so well that you're brought to life an entire cast of characters in your head without even realizing it. They capture your attention in an all-encompassing way, and transport you to the streets of Paris during World War II, a rumbling train on its way to London, and the dusty foothills of Afghanistan during the Taliban rule.

For me, the three authors below have done just that. Maybe they'll do the same for you, too.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Converging stories set in France and Germany prior to, during and after the rise and fall of Hitler's Nazi regime throughout Europe will initially pull you in. The construction of the characters, the intricate details of their lives, will be the reason you stay up until 3 AM reading one more page.

Marie-Laure is 6 years old when she goes blind. Her father carefully constructs a scale-model of Paris to help her navigate around the city, and often takes her to his job at the National History Museum. Werner, a German orphan, dreads his 15th birthday and the looming call to the mines, where his father died. Aside from the impending World War and Nazi occupation, what else did these two stories have in common? The Sea of Flames.

This book has been rated over 100,000 times on GoodReads.com, with a 4.3 star rating overall.  I'm no expert, but that is pretty incredible. This book is not a light read. It require attention to time, place and detail in order to completely follow the complexities of the story - but it is worth every minute you spend digesting the words.

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

Frequently recommended to those that loved Gone Girl, this novel is perfect for those thirsty for plot-twists and surprises throughout the novel.  It's not nearly as violent, and the characters are not quite as crazy, but don't be fooled. I was not initially attracted to this book in any way, but it is constantly raved about all over the place so I gave it a try. Boy, was I totally blown away.

You know those people you see every day, but don't know? You see them so frequently that you feel like you know them. Maybe even making up a story line in your head about their "life"? That's how this story starts, but definitely not how it ends. I was very surprised to learn the main character, Rachel, is an alcoholic. (Promise, I'm not spoiling anything for you.) For me, this made the story even more interesting as it unfolded.

Be warned: It is another page-turner, and you might lose some sleep over it. I listened to it on Audible almost every single day until I finished it. Now, I'm sad that it's over.

It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario 

This raw, unfiltered memoir chronicles the life of Lynsey Addario, a woman who's unwavering passion guided her on a remarkable, and often very scary, journey to becoming an world-recognized photojournalist. Though she tells her story first hand, this memoir reads like a novel. I can practically taste the dust in my mouth during her first trip to Afghanistan in 2010 to cover the oppression of the Taliban regime. Keeping in kin with that, I can also feel her heart-break when she's forced to choose her work over her personal life.

This emotional story covers her down-right inspirational professional career, but it also covers the less glamorous side of life. The hard, sad moments where she wants to quit. The moments where she thinks she might die on assignment, covering the tumultuous Middle East immediately following the 9/11 attacks.

Her story is goose bump inducing.  If you're looking to reawaken the passionate, driven side of you - just read this book. Look at her photographs. Realize that she was so passionate about this, she taught herself. She chased her dreams relentlessly, and has an incredible story to tell because of it. (It's so good that I started this book on Sunday and finished it on Monday night.)

Big ups to The Skimm for getting this memoir on my radar before it turns into a major motion picture. (Hint: Jennifer Lawrence is already signed on.)

Have you latched on to any good reads lately? I'd love to hear about them and add them to my ever-expanding library of things-I-hope-to-read.

An Open Letter to My Twenty-Year-Old Self

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I'm going to be painfully honest right now. I am miserable and think my life kind of sucks. I'm stuck in an endless cycle of negativity and sadness, and it's really been wearing me down. There are lots of reasons I feel like this, but the one that is sticking out most to me right now is failure.  I feel like a failure, and I think I know why. I'm comparing my life to the people I see on social media. Seriously, I am. It was subconscious, and I am slowly realizing that it's playing into my negative cycle of misery.  But why? Well, the answer is obvious.

Social media allows us to highlight the beautiful, interesting, extravagant, and awesome slices of our lives without exposing the Debbie-downer crap that we all put up with every day. The professional bloggers who get paid millions (seriously) help perpetuate this expectation of "perfection" because they are literally always perfect. They present a curated, carefully constructed reality - and I think it's all bullshit.

I have to constantly remind myself that I am seeing less than 10% of that person's life. The other 90% could completely suck, but it's that 10% presented to a world of interested eyes that shapes our opinions.

Last night I was desperate to resuscitate myself and find inspiration. To dig myself out of this hole I've climbed into and remind myself of how far I have come, and that I am not a failure because I don't: drive a BMW, weigh 110 pounds, have endless money to spend on clothes, have 2,000 people a day reading my blog.

I stumbled upon a writing prompt that sparked my interest. "Explain your life now to your five-years-ago self. What would you say?"  Below is an open letter to myself at age 20. Proceed with caution, as it's a tad personal.

Hey Carley,

You're on your way.

You're in for a really wild five years, and your life has hardly started. But you're getting there. In a few months you'll start this blog as a hobby and become really interested in it. You'll watch a documentary that will continually inspire you for the next five years. You'll get your heart broken, but you recover. You'll break a heart or two, also. After graduation, you'll get a job and meet your future best friends. 

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You never stop learning.

Guess what? That little blogging hobby you have? It's going to become your career in a few years. Eventually, you'll be paid to write, edit, manage social media and public relations in a field where you are interested in. You'll pick up new hobbies along the way, too. But writing will always be the anchor in your life.

You'll laugh, cry, and then stop giving a s#!t. 

Duh, everyone does. You'll lose an incredible friend to cystic fibrosis. You'll be over 7,000 miles away when your uncle passes away suddenly. You'll learn what grief is, and you'll learn how you handle it.

You're going to feel really alienated from people sometimes, and that's ok. Just because some people don't understand you does not mean no one understands you. It's really ok.

On the flip side of that sadness, you'll find out who your true friends are. You'll make new ones, reconnect with old ones and learn a lot about yourself. See? I told you it's ok.

Eventually you'll realize that everyone elses opinions of your life are really unimportant, and you'll start living the way you want to live. You finally admit openly that you don't like cheese and don't watch movies!! 

You forget about fear. (Kind of.)

Instead of letting the fear of the unknown paralyze you, you start to really take risks. You do things you would have never done in the past. You get really real about your dating life on your blog. And best of all, you start to see the world.

Seriously... here are the places you will go in the next five years in chronological order (I think?): Austin, TX; Paris, France; Barcelona, Spain; Madrid, Spain; San Francisco, CA; Miami, FL; St. Petersburg, FL: Kigali & Lake Kivu, Rwanda; Serengeti, Nogorongoro Crater & Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania; Zanzibar Island, Tanzania; South & East Iceland.

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 Like I said, you're on your way.

Despite what I may be telling myself right now, looking back at the past five years of my life has been extremely cathartic. It's so easy to get wrapped up in other people's definitions of success and stability that you lose sight of your own.

My blog allowed me to easily look back at my past five years, and that is kind of awesome. Not just at things I loved, but how I've evolved. Also, a common thread turned up: The past five years have been pretty kick ass.

 

If you've read this far - bravo! Who know my life would be interesting enough to capture your attention for 800 words? Let's flip the script here, shall we?

What would you say to five-years-ago self?