First Impressions

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I expected something. Maybe not the gut-wrenching panic of being in such an unfamiliar place, but some twinge of recognition from my body and mind that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

As the coach pulled away from Heathrow airport and I watched as we sped down the expressway towards the London Center, I started to wonder if I had made a grave mistake. Reminders of my mother’s words, “you always have buyer’s remorse, no matter the choice you make,” floated through my mind. A snapchat I had received from a friend emblazoned with the words – “you’ll love it. It’s just like an American city” haunted my memory.

I didn’t feel any different as we took the highway towards London’s Zone 1 and my new city. Nothing. I watched people driving on the opposite side of the road, and it didn’t faze me. I didn’t even feel jetlagged. My friends around me, groggy and blurry-eyed struggled to stay awake on our trip to the center while I tried to decide if this place was too close to home. I memorized a path my friends and I took to an ATM and the streets reminded me of the energy of my own city. Even the convenience store advertising “share a Coke with your mates” amused me but still seemed more like an anomaly than the reality of where I would be living. The tube was just like any other subway I had taken. And I was flipping out. Had I journeyed to Europe and was planning on spending my hard earned money on a place that felt exactly like home?

Hanging out in an Edinburgh restaurant on the first day.

Hanging out in an Edinburgh restaurant on the first day.

It wasn’t even the unfamiliar sandwiches and crisps and sodas that finally made me settle down about whether or not this was a different enough place. It was the brutally long 3-minute struggle of checking out my £3.99 meal deal from a store in the middle of King’s Cross station. It was the confusion of why I had to buy a bag for 2 pence and how to deal with a chip-and-pin card while the cashier unabashedly judged me, checking my signature against my debit card. It was as simple as that to make me realize that I wasn’t home anymore. And I wasn’t going to be for a while.

I’d been reminding myself all morning that this was why I chose London (besides financial reasons). This was my adjustment to the world. This was my ease into culture shock. I had practically panicked myself into a tizzy when something as simple as going to college happened, and lord knows I didn’t want to be so strung out on excitement and adrenaline in a city that was so unfamiliar it was hard to adjust to. I was trying to dive headfirst into a culture that was not mine and it wasn’t working because I was not only trying too hard but also expecting too much. I keep having to remind myself that this is my first time abroad and I think I’m still fairly numb to the entire concept of being somewhere else in the world. It’s just another place to me, strangely enough. But I think my comfort level with being in London means I know I’m ready to adventure.

The Pros of Numbness

As I approach my flight to the UK, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my desire to see the world, like I wrote in my last post, consistently conflicts with my anxiety issues. My study abroad adventures are just around the corner, and that means my excitement is through the roof. But this is kind of a bittersweet situation for me, because travelling comes with a lot of emotions, and emotions mean anxiety.

Now, you may be saying to yourself that yeah, emotions – but they’re good, right? Travelling is exciting! You’re young, you can handle staying in hostels and living on nothing and it’s an enjoyable emotion, right?

Exactly.

This is one of the hardest parts of anxiety that I have to explain to people. When I was younger – think pre-teen angsty phase – I would often tell people, or write about, how I was convinced that feeling nothing would be better than feeling what I felt.

People would always kind of smile at me, shake their head, “you don’t really mean that, honey.”

But here’s the thing – it’s been 7 or 8 years now, and I still stand by that statement.

Now, calm down, I don’t truly want to go and feel nothing all of a sudden. And I think it’s interesting that this is a big complaint people have with antidepressants – is that they mute all your emotions, not just the bad ones.

And I think that is miraculous.

Because here’s the thing – anxiety doesn’t just affect some parts of your life or your thoughts or your feelings. Anxiety claws into the deepest, darkest crevices and the easiest ones to reach. It’s not just that the bad emotions are magnified – all emotions are magnified. It’s like trying to breathe in a room slowly draining of oxygen. It takes hold of everything, and it’s undeniably overwhelming.

Here’s the easiest way I’ve found to describe any feeling I may have. As soon as you start to feel something – whether it be panic or fear or sadness or happiness or excitement, it starts to encapsulate all your thoughts, reminders popping up around every corner – be it something stupid you said or did, or the fact that there’s something awesome coming up that’s right there, you can almost touch it, but it’s not there yet. It’s like drowning in a pool of your own emotion, gasping for breath as thoughts bubble into every corner of your mind. It’s frustrating to try and concentrate on anything else when all of your energy is tied up with this one emotion, whipping through “what if”s and “but”s or “then”s.

It’s exhausting.

Meditation has definitely helped with this. I’ve started to recognize that sometimes, you have to let yourself drown – even as my internal lifeguard is screaming for me to jump in and yank myself out again. You have to learn to float, submerge into the pool of feelings. Because no matter what you do, it will be overwhelming. Your heart will race, your thoughts will clatter, your world will fade. Because it happens. That’s what anxiety does. And it won’t go away – but it will get worse, the harder you push.

So I’ve had to just let my thoughts run a little wild when I think about travelling. Let my panic seep into my bones. And just be at peace with that.

But does that mean these emotions are enjoyable? Almost all of the time, no. Emotion, for me, gets to the point where it’s pretty much too intense to function. There’s just too many of them. They press in everywhere, and when you feel the panic of unmanageable emotion in your throat, trying to convince yourself to let it happen is the epitome of non-instinctual.

And I’ve tried to push them away for a really, really long time. I eventually figure out how to pound them into manageable sizes for me to process, but believe me, that takes weeks, months, and years.

I’m not at a point yet where I could honestly say I’d rather feel everything than nothing. I think I’ll probably get there eventually, but when the intensity of your emotions overwhelms your will or ability to function, it doesn’t seem that bad. It’s definitely a learning process – because I’m ready to get to the point where I can actually feel things without fear of passing out or having a panic attack or not being able to concentrate. But we’re getting there, and for now, I’m learning to drown in my excitement for London.

On that 9-to-5 grind

It’s my last day here at the National Air and Space Museum. How did that even happen? This summer has been probably one of the best I’ve had so far. I’ve spent 10 weeks in a great city, finally had a job where I got to work in air conditioning and do stuff that might actually be helpful for my career, met a bunch of amazing people, read a lot of books, did some yoga, played a lot of League, and really started to get my emotions together.

Oh, and I’m going to London in a week.

What?

This is my very first international trip. This shocks a lot of people when I tell them that. In the age of jet aviation, it would seem as if it was really easy to do a hop skip and a jump over to South Africa or Asia or oh my god you haven’t even been to England??

Yeah. Growing up in a single income family in Chicagoland, that money doesn’t go very far. Not to say that I never had great trips growing up. I’ve seen most of the East Coast, skiied in Vermont, been to multiple National Parks, State Fairs and seen my fair amount of cities. But I didn’t even remember flying on a plane before I had to fly to my grandfather’s funeral in 2012.

Despite all this, I’ve known I wanted to travel for a very long time. I love telling people that I have kind of an “aggressive wanderlust.” I can’t sit still for very long, and probably as a result of that, I don’t really want to stay in the same city for the rest of my life either. It’s a kinesthetic-tactile trait that has always plagued me; watching videos of myself as a child is almost painful because I won’t. stop. moving. As I’ve grown, the phsyicality of my need for movement has exploded onto a larger scale, and into this idea of aggressive wanderlust. There’s so much world out there, and it really baffles me that there are some people who would be perfectly content working the 9 to 5 grind every day, living in the same place for their entire adult lives.

This is something very important that working in an office all summer has validated for me. And something all the adults will laugh at, and I’m going to probably read back on this and think I was such a naive 20-year-old, but for me to really be productive, I can’t be stuck in the monotonous routine of everyday. I can’t wake up at the same time every morning. It frustrates and angers me; it’s as if I’m stuck on a hamster wheel that keeps going but never goes anywhere.

But everyone does it, you say, you’ll have to wake up and face the real world eventually.

Okay, probably. But there’s just something about knowing you’ll have to do the same thing every single day. Of sitting behind a computer for 10 hours and longing, wishing to go home. So many people say they can’t really have an office job when they’re younger, so what happens? Where do our dreams disappear to?

To be honest, I don’t like the separation of home life and work life, and this is one thing I’ve not only learned about myself but learned to incorporate into my daily life. I love when work and home and passion and productivity and inspiration and task lists bleed together. It’s most likely because of my eternal dream to be a novelist, where “work” means sitting down wherever you are and cranking out some words. That excites me. Not knowing what will inspire you or will require a reaction is an adventure.

For me, travelling and working have to combine; maybe not “travelling” in the strict sense of the word, but adventuring. Travelling can mean a trip across the world or down the street to a new gelato place. I’m not sure how yet; I know what I’d love, but not what realistically will happen to me in the future.

For now, I’ve got a week to go before I take my first international flight, and I’m so ready.

5 Things I Have Learned About DC Thus Far

With only four weeks left of my internship to go (!!!), I thought I might share with everyone some knowledge I have gathered about how to survive in DC. Cities are very similar in many ways, but in others, they are extremely different, and this is a post that compiles some of the things one should know about how to blend in in DC.

 

1. Wear a lanyard

If you’re going to be a true DC-er, you need to wear a lanyard. Constantly. This is indeed one of the ways you can inject a little bit of personality and differentiate yourself from the pack of other professionals in the constant stream of the Metro during peak hours – colors and styles may differ (many proudly representing the company they work for, or the college they went to most frequently), but everyone in this city wears a lanyard. If you’re not working here, you’re a tourist.

 

2. Get business-y

On a similar note, DC is the most professional city I’ve ever been in. Chicago, for the most part, has a mix of all kinds of people – students, homeless people on the train, odd-looking hipsters, you name it. DC has people in suits. No lies. Every morning when you see people walking around, they’re either in suits or in sandals and socks. You get one guess as to what people are doing here.

 

3. Carry an umbrella

It doesn’t actually rain that often (as least as far as I’ve been here) despite the constant oppressive dampness that hangs in the air, but more than any other place I’ve been to, people carry umbrellas to shield themselves from the heat. Also a great thing to have in case the sky does open up. You know, preparedness.

 

4. Jaywalk like a boss

Like in most cities, jaywalking is pretty much a way of life. So is crossing the street with as little time as possible left on the walk signal (just so you know, you can’t cross Independence Ave in under 7 seconds unless you want people honking at you and threatening to run you over … definitely did not learn this from personal experience). And it’s no different in DC. There’s no point in waiting for the walk signal if there are no cars coming – we’re young professionals with places to go and people to see.

 

5. Measure things in Washington Monuments

Everything here is measured in comparison to the Washington monument. Get used to it.

 

There are also many more things that, in all honesty, I am just too lazy to write out here. But the summer is almost over, which is insane, and in exactly a month, I’ll be flying to the UK.

 

Here’s to adventures!

How To: Learning

Detail of a mural at the National Air and Space Museum.

I’ve always been a really passionate learner. I think this is somewhat due to my educational experience, since I was essentially allowed to study things I was interested in. I know it’s also partially because it’s something that comes easily to me – especially in a classically American educational system, I can easily excel because I know how to play the game. I memorize quickly, read fast and retain information.

I also love talking about all the random stuff I know. My brain is like a sponge of random facts, mostly because I love being right. This sounds really obnoxious (which it is), and it’s definitely a trait that I’ve been trying to improve upon. In the past (my younger, foolish self), I would argue things I had started even if I believed my opponent was right – and I always loved having an opinion about everything.

Luckily, (I believe) I have been growing out of this. I’ve had to force myself to listen, especially this past year.

The reason I’m writing about this now is because my internship has made me do this even more. I’ve never been a science-y person and I never would have seen myself working at a science-centered museum. I’ve always been self-proclaimed “right-brained.”

Hangin out at the installation of the X-43 Technology Demonstrator model.

And I’m here, at the National Air & Space Museum.

Why, you might ask. Why would you choose to work there if you have very little knowledge of the materials in the collection or background of all the information?

That’s exactly why. I always aim to challenge myself in my learning patterns and my knowledge. Did I know much more than the fact that stars were gaseous balls, the Wright brothers invented the first airplane and how to locate Orion’s belt when I first started here? Yeah, no.

Early morning planetarium photo shoots are the bomb.

So it’s very difficult for me to be right in a place where I know very little about the subject matter. Which means that I’ve had to change gears a little bit and put myself in the passenger seat. There are so many intelligent interns, researchers, curators and staff members here who know so much more than I do – there are interns studying gender roles in aviation, geology on Mars, galaxies that I’ve never even been aware of.

And that means I have a lot to learn from them and not a lot to contribute.

So it’s been a process of sitting back and absorbing all the knowledge I can – thank goodness for planetarium shows that dumb everything down for me and blow my mind more than a little bit. For conversations at lunch that show me that there are so many things I don’t know about. For casual bits of information that keep my intellectual ego in check.

6am at the Udvar-Hazy Center.

That’s one of the biggest things I love about this internship – being in a social media role, that means I get to learn a little bit about everything, which was the main reason I started in journalism in the first place. When I first walked into the Air and Space Museum, I didn’t know the difference between the Apollo and Gemini missions. I can now point out command modules from every Apollo mission. I can identify different types of aircraft and the stories behind them (Vin Fiz? SpaceShipOne? Spirit of St. Louis? I got you).

It’s a new way of absorbing information for me, and I can’t do anything but sit back, shut up and be grateful.

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Aircraft at Become a Pilot Day 2014.

Stop.

No, seriously. Stop what you’re doing. Stop it.

Does that mean stop reading this blog post? Yeah, for a minute.

Bear with me. Close your eyes. Breathe.

Take five deep breaths.

Now, continue.

Especially in America, I feel like doing things quickly has a lot of value. We’re a country of immediacy – of fast food, Quik Marts, speedy service. But in all that time we spend trying to pressure ourselves or others just to get things done, we miss a lot.

And I’ll be the first to admit that I am one of the worst perpetrators of this. I love getting things out of the way, getting tasks over with, getting on to other things.

But this has also contributed to a lot of the high anxiety and depression I’ve had over the past . . . well, I mean, my entire life. And I’ve been walked through a lot of tactics – but it’s taken me 20 years to figure out ones that are actually starting to work for me (which, along with medication, is pretty awesomely miraculous).

Riding the Wave

We often don’t take the time for ourselves we need to be human – we try and push away a lot of our issues. Many tactics I’ve been told over the years involve just covering up the problems, thinking of “happy places,” imagining stop signs, “rewriting tapes,” or pushing the thoughts away, replaced by other, pleasant thoughts. But the thing that I’ve been running into constantly with those is that the feelings always come back, often overwhelmingly so.

And I’ve been terrified of drowning in those feelings for a long time. One of my biggest fears is of fainting. This was a discovery I had while meditating the other day. I’m actually afraid of passing out. This stems from the fact that every time I’ve passed out, it’s a full day spent vomiting, sleeping and generally feeling awful – and always caused by high anxiety situations. So, there’s a vicious cycle that goes on in my brain of anxiety, then immediate pressure from myself to calm down which therefore makes me more anxious.

But my first experience with anti-depressants was actually really good, in many ways. For those of you who don’t know, starting new medication can often be bumpy. And for me, my first experience was pretty rough. The first week or so, every morning about an hour after popping my pills, waves would crash over me. And I mean crash. I could barely stand, focus, or breathe. It felt like a panic attack – and anyone who’s ever experience panic attacks knows how awful that uncontrollable feeling can be.

And my mother told me just to “ride the wave.” It was a way that I had never thought about dealing with my feelings before, but these waves were un-ignorable. They were too powerful. These ones weren’t being “rewritten.” So I had to sit and drown for a little while.

And one of the successful things I’ve found are some of these tactics that don’t push those feelings away – they actually accept them. But it requires stopping. It requires taking time to actively be you.

Yoga

If you know me, you know I’m kind of obsessed with yoga. And yes, you can say I’m completely a white girl hopping on the “yoga craze” train. But hear me out.

Yoga does a lot for you. Yoga isn’t just about the poses, which took a lot for me to start to understand. It’s not just a workout – it’s not just being weirdly touchy-feely, but it is about connecting with yourself.

The thing I really like about yoga is that you can push yourself and push yourself, but you won’t be successful unless you are connecting your mind to your body within the pose. There’s a lot of control in your body, and even more in your mind. Of course, there’s always the physical control as well of a rhythmic breathing pattern (similar to swimming, which is one of the reasons I love that as well) – and it’s extremely rewarding to be able to breathe into tight stretches, complicated balancing, long practices.

I’ve been trying to complete a sun salutation (or the Hindi name, surya namaskar, as a close friend of mine once corrected me) at the very least every day, if not a half hour to hour yoga video. And that’s a lot of time out of my day to take for myself, especially after taking absolutely zero time for me. This is partially inspired by the amazing yogis I follow on Instagram because I just feel so inferior – but the thing about yoga is it’s one exercise that you won’t be successful at if you’re just trying to be competitive.

It’s a deeply personal practice and that’s a very new thing to come to terms with.

Meditation

The thing that really inspired this post is my recent delve into meditation. I’ve always had a really hard time with meditation because I never really understood what to do. I always liked the idea of it – take some time just to relax, calm yourself, breathe. But I didn’t like the idea of just falling into the recesses of my mind – that’s a dangerous place.

But recently I discovered this awesome app called HeadSpace. And HeadSpace is amazing. It starts you out with 10 minutes for 10 days. You have 10 minutes. I promise. I’ve been doing them right before sleeping and they’ve been really awesome. The great thing about HeadSpace is they really encourage not pushing your thoughts away – you just have to let yourself experience them. It’s not about “clearing your mind” or thinking about a blank room – it’s about being with yourself and your own thoughts.

Get some.

EBT

Emotional Brain Training – yes, it sounds like some weird hippie psychological mind stuff. And yeah, it kind of is. But it’s also really helpful for gauging and identifying your own feelings, which can be really difficult in the midst of everything.

EBT (which also has a really cool app) identifies the emotional state that you’re in – 1 of 5, from least to most stressed. It then gives you steps based on your emotional state to help yourself accept those feelings – and it’s as simple as repeating that you accept your feelings as they are.

tl;dr

Take some time for yourself. It’s important to be able to allow yourself to have feelings.

10 Ways to Pass the Time on your Commute

It’s been an entire week that I’ve been in DC, and a completed work week at the National Air and Space Museum. Yesterday we had an intern morning at the Museum of Natural History which was a grand old time, seeing the giant Hope Diamond and getting butterflies to land on me in the butterfly pavilion. Lunch hours have been on the employee terrace enjoying the not yet stifling June weather with some other interns or on the national mall, solo on a bench, watching tourists try and take pictures of them “holding” or “leaning against” or “poking” the Washington Monument (this is a hilarious escapade, and I highly recommend you do this at some point if you happen to find some free time where you can hang out on the mall in DC). Work hours have been spent with many, many Google spreadsheets cataloging data for social media posts, exploring the Air and Space Museum’s social media platforms and looking at different analytics tools.

 

But I’ve also spent about two hours of each day commuting from Manassas, VA to the mall in DC. This has been a pretty rough schedule for me to adjust to as such a night owl (6am alarms…), but tea and happy puppies to greet me in the morning help. I’ve always loved trains and as much as everyone pulls a face when I say I’m commuting from Manassas, I really don’t think it’s that bad. You have plenty of time to get other things done, especially in summer, when there’s not homework or other responsibilities to worry about. So, I have compiled a list of ways to maybe make your morning commute a little better, inspired by many different corners of the internet.

1. Sleep

 This may seem obvious, but this is a great way to get a few extra minutes (or hours) of shuteye. Unless, like me, you are paranoid about missing your stop and/or can’t seem to be able to actually sleep unless you’re all the way supine. But, if you are blessed with a body that will allow you to take a few breaths and knock out, feel free to stay up that extra hour binge-watching “Orange is the New Black.” You’ve earned it. And, obviously, you can just catch up on the train tomorrow.

 

2. Read

Though this tactic has made the conductor actually have to yell “ma’am?!” in my face to get me to show him my ticket twice this week already, reading is an awesome way to pass the time. I’m on my fourth book of break already – pleasure reading? I haven’t done that probably in years! Unfortunately, motion sickness is a big issue with this guy. I feel you, I really do. I’ve been training myself to not get carsick for years. Start slowly and try and build up a tolerance to it (unless you get nauseous as soon as you look at words. Then don’t do that). Audiobooks are another awesome alternative. I’ve had friends who said listening to music helps, as does eating – which leads us to our next activity…

 

3. Eat

(I don’t know who these people are but I admire them because they are awesome and I want to do this sometime)

Again, maybe obvious… but I don’t think enough people take advantage of this activity. Don’t be gross, but this is a great opportunity to sleep an extra few minutes and grab yourself a smoothie for breakfast on the way out the door or a sandwich on your way home from work. Saves time and who doesn’t love food (unless, of course, it’s not allowed on your preferred choice of transport)?

 

4. Relax

Especially with a normal 9-to-5 schedule, it can get hectic and stressful. Commuting time forces you to not do something for a while, and that’s a perfect time to sit back and think about you. Meditating is a really easy activity that you can do while on the way to or from work. You can even get apps to guide you through the meditation process, or you can just plug in your music and go into yourself. Again, don’t miss your stop, but take this time for you. You can also relax your eyes, which can be strained after lots of staring at a bright screen. So put your little smartphone in your pocket and let your body recover.

 

5. Stretch

In the same vein, our bodies can get extremely tense, especially if you’re working at a computer all day, those shoulder and neck muscles are probably strained beyond belief. If you know me, you know I love yoga, and there are awesome resources out there for simple stretches to get the blood flowing (like an awesome sitting version of surya namaskar, or sun salutation). There are tons of great exercises you can do to not only stretch out those muscles, but help you wake up or relax after a rough day in the office.

6. Listen

Podcasts. I don’t think I will ever get over how awesome podcasts are. I posted on podcasts a while ago, but I’ll tell you again. They’re awesome. From narrative fiction tales like in Welcome to Night Vale, real life stories told by ordinary people like in The Moth, starting to learn a new language, discovering crazy new things in Brain Lab, listening to reviews … they’re a great way to expand your knowledge while just sitting on a train or a bus. Go. Listen. Absorb.

 

7. List

A lot of stress stems from the fact that we’re overwhelmed with things to do. Commuting can be a great time to make to-do lists (maybe with the help of crazy awesome apps like Habit HPG cough cough) or spend some time going over what you’re thankful for by making a gratitude list (which has shown can help with depression and other mental illnesses). Take some time to physically or mentally list out stuff.

 

8. Rehearse

A big tip a lot of people have when searching for good things to do while commuting is rehearse. A presentation, a speech, an important conversation… anything. But this is a great time to take advantage of the fact that it’s just you and your thoughts, and you can plan out anything you want to say – big talking points, ideas you want to hit on, questions you should be prepared for.

 

9. Watch

I honestly think people-watching is highly underrated. It’s one of my favorite activities to observe other people and see what they’re doing on the train – and part of me wanted to make this post much, much creepier by posting photos of random people doing things I saw on the train (aren’t you glad I didn’t?). But watching people can be an awesome way to pass the time – I saw a guy get really high scores in 2048 this morning. You can learn a lot from watching others – be it observations for a short story, a new way to use your phone, or anything else. Take your nose out of your technology and check out what the world looks like.

 

10. Create

This is by far, my favorite thing. Commuting is a perfect time to make all the things you didn’t have time for, allowing that they’re not too messy or annoying. But want to learn to knit? This is the perfect time. Refine your drawing skills (and hold them over other people’s faces)? No problem. Considered trying to make friendship bracelets? Flower crowns?  Jewelry? Cards? ART? Yeah, do it. You got this. You’re a hip, young professional and you got time on your hands.