Living Candidly #4: Leaving Everything I Knew Gave Me My Life Back

Living Candidly #4: Leaving Everything I Knew Gave Me My Life Back

What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then.People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.

William Least Heat-Moon

One tap. One link follow. Three swipes to scroll. 

That’s all it took to find out about the Working Holiday Visa in Ireland. 

I remember it vividly. I was splayed on the couch in a rental beach house, on vacation with my family just one month after graduation from college. I was coming off the worst five months of my life. After a brutal depression that had cost me friends, love, and a complete sense of self, I found I was back in the pub job in my hometown I had sworn was for one summer back in 2014 to fund my study abroad — it was now 2016. And while I was putting on a brave face for my family amidst the shambling aftermath that I found my life in around me, each day brought a tightening claustrophobia. I felt my air running thin, and my ghosts were hot on my trail. 

Now that it’s 2019, we all know that the internet is algorithmic black magic when it comes to supplying advertisements that prey on our history searches. I’m not sure, however, what I was searching for that dropped Stint Gap Year into my Instagram advertisements — and no, this is not an advertisement. Yet when the image of green pastures and smiling faces popped up, I stalled for .5 seconds long enough to read the caption. 

One tap. One link follow. Three swipes to scroll. 

I sat up a bit straighter, alert that my mother was ten feet away. She had been less than encouraging about my desires to attend graduate school in England — not just for the financial reasons, but also for due reasons after my mental break. I quickly saved the URL in my favorites and vowed to revisit it that night. 

I applied that night in my bed, glow illuminating my apprehensive face as I pressed submit. Three weeks later, I took a phone interview with Aoife. Within another twenty-four hours, I was told I was into the program. The program would — for a fee — guide me through the visa application process, provide initial housing in Dublin, and set me up with a temporary employment agency should I wish to go that route. 

Approaching my parents with caution, I presented the reasoning. It offered maturation opportunities. It would give me unparalleled experiences. It was Ireland, home of my ancestors. I was ready for a battle, but none came. 

On September 28, 2016, I boarded a plane at Dulles International Airport, Washington D.C., with two suitcases and no real idea what I was getting into. 

Over the course of eight months, I experienced more of life than I had in the cumulative of the preceding twenty-two years. From the get-go, it was an immersive experience. I dove into a community of ex-pats my first night, the program providing me a community to in which to envelope myself. The following weekend, I traveled to Connemara and the Aran Islands. I would continue to explore both The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland throughout my time: Kilkenny, Blarney, the Ring of Kerry, Cobh, Cork, Galway, Belfast, Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede bridge (pictured). The ease of access to Europe and the camaraderie found in my new friends and fellow travelers propelled me to new destinations: Morocco, Spain, Belgium, Scotland, and England, where I would ultimately decide to pursue my Master’s degree. 

I was pushed to challenge the very ideas that I had taken as dogma my entire life, to think for myself in ways that I previously had never given due chance. I was allowed, for the very first time in memory, to be an individual. There was no one to answer to and everywhere to experiment. 

I am not being hyperbolic when I say that being in Ireland, taking the chance on myself to be the traveler that I had always wanted to be, was the antidote to all the woes that had built up around me for so long. It quite literally gave me my will to live back. And while, yes, it was an incredible risk to choose something so potentially — and admittedly, at times, realistically — isolating, it also gave me the chance to determine the exact boundaries, forms, and bricks that build the person that I wanted to pursue being from that day forward. 

I moved back from Dublin, my home, with a certainty of self. I felt confident in my navigation skills, whereas before I would use GPS for everything. I could manage eating a meal alone or attending a concert by myself (something I do all too frequently now because I love it). I learned how to handle myself professionally in many settings, having juggled jobs from medical records to receptionist to copyeditor on varying bases. I gained political opinions based in my own thought, based in my own experiences. I learned to open my heart to more people than I thought I could, and I’m so grateful for it. 

I’m writing this today because I often find that I take this experience for granted. It gets overshadowed by the glitzier things I’ve done since — graduate school, a real career. But the humbler times of living paycheck to paycheck, scraping by to travel: those are the ones that shaped me. And of that I need to be reminded. 

Travel saved me.

Candidly Dating #1: The 85% Rule

We dive into things head first hoping for something more than we knew we could be. You didn’t have any cruel intentions, I thought I mentioned I want more than you.

“85%,” Loote feat. gnash

About three days before Christmas Day 2015, I was told by my boyfriend of six months — my first boyfriend ever — that I could not be a priority in his life. There is something incredibly confidence altering about hearing that from someone whose opinion shapes the way you view your own world. The damage that those words had not only on my own self-esteem but on our relationship and the ways I would view romantic relationships in that moment and in the weeks, months, and (unfortunately) years to come is something that I still feel the reverberations of to this day, despite all the comfort and action my friends and family have tried to instill in reparation.

The short of it is that I was giving 100% of myself, limiting my whole self to fit the needs of someone who realistically was giving an operable 85% in return. While I had no boundaries set, no visible lines in the sand, he did.

Now, it’s obviously been some time since this relationship ended. And while I still feel its effects, it has given me some key skills in negotiating the romantic playing field in my mid-twenties. The first being: always match interest, never over-invest without some indication of reciprocation.

Just yesterday, I was asked on a date by someone who I have reasonable interest in based off of what is admittedly a short conversation on a dating app — it is 2019, after all. We made plans for today at 3:00 PM, with him confirming this morning at 11:00 AM that he would send a location closer to the meet-up. An hour and a half before 3:00 PM, I messaged asking where, only to hear back he was doing errands and be asked if I was free tonight. While this could be completely innocuous, the fact that I likely wouldn’t have heard if I hadn’t texted showed lack of intent. And I was already dressed. Once more, I found myself at a higher interest than the partner.

This isn’t a phenomena limited to my own faults. I’ve watched friends give their all to guys — and girls, don’t worry — who clearly don’t see them as an equally viable partner in the long term. While it could easily be solved with a clear discussion, it often takes a harsh wake-up call in a few unfortunate situations to train a shrewd mind until finding that equilibrium.

So today, I am dateless; and honestly, I’m fine with it. A bit laughing at myself, just because this is something that I try to avoid, but other than that, I’ll just listen to “85%” by Loote a few times and then move forward with my day. It’s a gorgeous Saturday and being spared someone who doesn’t see you as worthwhile is a blessing more than anything.

On daring to engage in the flux

On daring to engage in the flux

I’m on the hunt for who I’ve not yet become, but I’d settle for a little equilibrium.

“Hercules,” Sara Bareilles

Regularity used to be my comfort zone. I depended on the routine — a reliable, steady planning of the days as they rolled past. I relished the ease that came from a well designed agenda. From a very young age, I resisted change. I resented any delay to scheduling, and cancellations altogether sent me into a tailspin.

I delved into and invested in the myth that all goals could be achieved with the simple formula of hard work and effort. And so, my planning expanded past the minutes and hours into the weeks, months, and years. I was quickly derailed. I attended a university that I never wanted to for my undergraduate, finding myself with a 25% acceptance return rate for my application submissions. I delayed my postgraduate career by one year when the university lost my acceptance letter by mere days, making the visa process impossible to facilitate enrollment for that year. And, most recently, I had to submit temporary acquiescence to the fact that I would not be launching a career in the field that I had so prepared for and lusted over fervently since 2010.

In the initial shock of these set backs, I held on to my comfort zone with suffocating white knuckles. I gripped it tightly in my undergraduate career, and the repercussions dismantled mainframes for a successful future — something I felt the aftershocks of for months after graduation. I leaned on expectation to a point where I stopped allowing not only myself grow, but I stopped allowing others to explore their potential in my vicinity. The result was crippling and debilitating, ultimately driving an inward spiraling rather than an outward flourishing recommended in your early twenties.

So I pushed myself. I bought the plane ticket to Ireland. I accepted the deferral from my postgraduate career and decided to step entirely outside of my realm of “known” into a world I had previously spent 56 hours in.

What I learned in that time, what those months in Dublin gave me, was the confidence to push myself to my limits to the possibility of failure. In the years of flux that started in 2016 and followed, I have made friendships for which I would move mountains; I have traveled much of Western Europe on a temp budget, which has led to more self-learn and self-love experiences than I can enumerate; I pursued and attained the Masters degree in a foreign country; and I have fallen in love with a new profession that connects people with their passion, something I had narrowly decided I could only do within the publishing realm previously.

In short, I have had to learn that there is beauty in the adaptation and revelation in relaxing into and engaging with the flow of the journey. Planning too heavily brings about the stagnation with which I used to number my days. Doing that — offering yourself the option to be limited –that simply does not lead to any sort of growth. And I never want to get stuck again.

You won’t be the only one; I am unfinished, I have so much left to learn. I don’t know how this river runs, but I’d love the company through every twist and turn.

“Grow As We Go,” Ben Platt

I initially set out on this blog to reflect on the ways I was consuming this media-enriched world. In light of my new philosophy of active engagement, consuming is entirely too passive. I will be, instead, inputting the very ways in which I am impacting it, the very ways in which I am impacted, and the very ways in which these two spheres interact.

So hello, you. It’s a pleasure to meet. I hope that we can make this world a little better by being true to the journey and engaging in it wholeheartedly.

Until next time x

On being happily lonesome

She did a lot of things, but most importantly she continued to choose what was best for her each day. She stopped worrying about those who never returned the calls or messages. She stopped stressing over the small stuff and learned how to grow into her full potential. She finally gave her heart away to herself.

Zachry K. Douglas,

It’s been one month since I moved to New York and, admittedly, I am on a train back to Annapolis right now for a brief weekend visit. New York has thrown me curveballs, one after another, and — and I am well aware I am mixing my sports metaphors here — I have been bowling what feels like straight gutterballs in response.

If I’m being honest with you, dear reader, and being honest with myself, it has gone something like this: I’ve been ghosted by two guys, several girls (BumbleBFF…I have no shame), and even some potential employers. Four, if we’re really pressing me to count.

I spend most of my days with my headphones locked in. The voices that pour from them are more familiar than my own — and more used. I eagerly wait for my roommates to get home from their lives, but I know that I cannot rely on them for entertainment. They, of course, have their own lives. So I find ways to make a life of my own.

Most days I rise when I want. This can be 9 am or noon. On the rare occasion, I’ll have an interview I need to be ready for, and those are always exciting, tantalizing a future worth dreaming after. But those are not most days. Most days I rise and begin to work on applications with a bowl of Captain Crunch to my left and my liter of LaCroix not far behind it. Then, when my brain doesn’t want to work any more, I make it to the gym. And once I’m sweaty, breathless, invigorated, and feeling steadier than an hour earlier, I go to the grocery to pick up whatever I can afford for dinner. I shower, cook, and call my best friend in the world for a few laughs even though she is 5 hours different and 4,000 miles away.

It isn’t a glamorous life. But there are perks. I’ve reached out to temporary agencies in the hopes that they’ll be able to find me something to tide me over until the real job, the career, starts. I’ve started to plan solo dates — time away from the apartment that engages me creatively. I’m going to my postgraduate university’s alumni association event at the end of the month at an art gallery. I’m going to two concerts alone — possibly three if I can’t figure out who to give my extra ticket to Gavin James to. I’m embracing the solitude.

If I didn’t know what it feels like to be broken, then how would I know what it feels like to be whole?

“Maybe it’s Okay,” We Are Messengers

I’ve been alone before. When I was in Dublin, I felt untethered for much of it. While I loved the city, and while I loved the experiences I had both domestic and abroad, I was incredibly solitary.

I see the mirror image of it forming in New York. And surprisingly, I’m not scared.

Because this time, this is an opportunity. An opportunity to love myself in ways that I neglected for fear of becoming to insular in London. For fear of shrinking away again, I gave away myself too freely when I first arrived in New York. This, though, this newfound solitude — however involuntary it may be (I prefer to think fated) — is offering me the chance to place myself first once more as I near my 25th birthday. A chance to reassess my goals, my promises to myself, my fears and my rationalizations that stop me from facing them.

And when life offers you a chance for growth, you have to take it — don’t you?

You are no longer insulated; but I suppose you must touch life in order to spring from it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

On the — for lack of a better word — shittiness of young adulthood

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.

The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan

It’s been two weeks and three days since I moved to New York City, and while there are definite perks — bagels, Central Park, culture on your doorstep — there are definite, irrefutable drawbacks. These drawbacks, however, are not inherent to the city itself. No, they are entirely symptomatic of the condition I would diagnose as “young adulthood.”

Over the past seventeen days, I’ve somehow managed to get personally rejected from three jobs, ghosted by two guys (that means to be completely ignored by someone you’ve met up with/kissed/hooked up with/etc. for those not hip with the lingo), been the regrettable cause of one dear friend’s tears, and somehow felt completely alone 24/7. There has been relative respite in the sanctuary of my bedroom and the Godsend of modern messaging applications keeping in touch with best friends far away in both the relative sense (Annapolis) and very real sense (London). But at the end of the day, I’m still sitting in my bathrobe sipping Jameson wondering how I made it to a state of unemployment and solitude in a city of 8 million.

I’m no stranger to transitions; but each previous transition has come with a safety net of sorts. Saint Mary’s had Brooke, my childhood best friend, to welcome me to the foray of the Catholic middle school. Villanova had dorms and a cappella to give me an extra curricular identity. Dublin had Stint Gap Year program to situate me in an expat household of likeminded individuals. And finally, London had my coursemates and extra-curricula to engulf me into a new world (and also some kickass friendships).

But now I’m in a safety-net free zone. So what is the solution?

My life at the moment is a — for lack of a better phrase — fustercluck. I’m considering career changes in order to broaden my horizons on the employment front. I’m actively and embarrassingly enough using Bumble BFF to meet young women who are in need of companionship in the city just like me. I’m doing everything in my power to stay afloat, emotionally and mentally.

I know it sounds cliché and it is totally par for the course, but why is it that being in your twenties is this lonely? And lost? And confusing? Why is that we are having millennial life crises? And choosing to pack up and move across the world on a whim? (guilty!) And then feeling displaced when we move back to where we are from? Why is that we are all floundering in a world that should be ours for the taking?

As usual with #MondayMusings, I don’t have the answer to any of these questions. But I’m hoping that you do, Dear Reader. Or maybe this will help you feel less alone in your own quest to find some place in this shitshow of a world. God only knows I’m trying to find mine.

On the division of the timeline

Photo by Moose Photos on

Forever, Emily Dickinson said, is composed of nows. But how do you inhabit the now you are in? How do you stop the ghosts of all the other nows from getting in? How, in short, do you live?

How to Stop Time, Matt Haig

It would be nice to think that 2,019 years ago, somewhere contemporary “historians” decided to simply flip a theoretical switch and start a new timeline, leaving the choices of B.C. or B.C.E. (depending on your school of thought) and launching us into A.D. or C.E. with a flourish of a quill or etching of stone.

The key word in that sentence however is easy to ignore: simply. It’s too simple — a fantasy. And, as it happens, this was just not the case.

History and the humanities are not my academia of choice so I will likely butcher a part of this retelling, but from what I can gather, the story goes something as follows: a monk Dionysius Exiguus introduced the A.D. portion of our modern system in what we would consider A.D. 525 in order to calculate the time distance from the birth of Christ, but even then was off by approximately three years. His reasoning was also to replace the Diocletian calendar of Christian persecutor by the same name. The concept of B.C. wasn’t introduced until two centuries later. This places B.C. in the eighth century, and the initial adoption of this method wasn’t until the ninth century under Charlemagne. Full adoption wasn’t complete until 15th century. (

And yet, today it is critical to our understanding of history and time. Before and after. Our society uses this concept of splitting time into antecedent and resultant as if there was no time in our human existence where we didn’t in fact think in such a way.

Recently, I’ve been overcome with my own division in the timeline of my twenty-four, nearly twenty-five years. At my move to London, there’s a schism. A parting from the person I used to be, a shift into the person I am today. The change is stark, startling, a bit aggressive. My passions are more fully formed, but my goals in manifesting them are different. My instant support network — those girlfriends I text when immediate terrors (or as we call them, the f*ckenings) occur — are relationships that were appreciated but underdeveloped as of three years ago. The shape that I want my life to take, the steps that I am taking to make these dreams a reality, are some that are so ballsy that I would not have been able to fathom an existence where I could execute them without a Xanax or a parental hand-holding.

If I am being entirely honest with myself, for a long time I was running away. Away from who I was, from who I had been, from who I didn’t want to be. And that isn’t a fair assessment about my life “before” because it wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t what I wanted. So perhaps — maybe — I needed to pull a Dionysius Exiguus and decide that there was a period from before that needed to be separated from a time after.

And this schism that I created, it came at a cost. I have ghosts of new forms now, ones I didn’t suspect when I made my decisions to cast off my former shell. That, though, is something I have rationalized as part of life.

My biggest fear right now is that there is another schism on the horizon as I settle into my life in New York City. I’m not ready to let go of this person that I formed and spread into in London. I only hope that the two cities can accentuate each other rather than compete for dominance over my adaptive qualities.

Because, after all, there is no A.C.E. or After Common Era. There are only so many times we can separate ourselves from our pasts and reinvent before the ghosts threaten to overwhelm.

On my new “vivarium”

Photo by on

Stuff your eyes with wonder…live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

In order to take AP Human Geography my Sophomore year of high school, I had to make the concession of starting Honors Latin instead of French. Little did I know that would take me on the journey through Honors Latin V to President of the Latin Honor Society — I know, I was a nerd — and eventually able to translate fairly well even into my mid-twenties.

So imagine my pleasure at discovering the word vivarium during the final quarter of Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists. Vivarium means “place of life,” and while it is frequently used in laboratory environments constructing homes for plants and animals, it carries a beautiful weight to it as well. To me, it echoes with the simple question — where do you create your own vivarium?

For the greater part of the last four years, I have not had a central place of life. I have been transient, nomadic at best. I was spreading my time during the end of my Senior year of Villanova between Annapolis, Maryland and Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Upon completion of my degree and finding a harsh job market, I boarded a plane and literally jetted across the Atlantic to Dublin, Ireland to establish a Gap Year (really, 8 months) where I temped and traveled. From there I moved across the channel to London for my Master’s in Publishing at London College of Communication.

And now — as of 54 hours ago — I am a certified New Yorker.

This time with no end in sight.

Unless I reach a point of complete and utter failure, I risk nothing but permanence in this new move — a concept completely foreign to me. I’ve had somewhere new on the horizon for as long as my short-term and not-so-short-but-not-so-long-term memory can recall. But for the first time in my adulthood, my only option is to put down roots in this new city and begin constructing something of more concrete substance.

I find myself building my own vivarium. The weekend was spent decorating my shoebox room in my apartment I can barely afford on the Upper West Side. I invested myself in decor that meant something to me, brought me “joy” to quote Marie Kondo. I’m finally investing myself in a career path rather than diverting to “fun side-hustles” or working to make ends meet only. Hell, for the first time in three years, I’m buying cookware so I actually make myself meals rather than eat microwavable ones, sandwiches, or resort to ordering in.

I find myself reflecting on this quote from Fahrenheit 451 because it is one that has driven me for the past few years. It took me from country to country. It took me away from all I had ever known three times and then back again. It made me thirst for a world I had never seen — and yet, now it’s the very thing that’s making me hunger for a world of my own just four hours north of Annapolis.

It may not be the most thrilling adventure on paper that I’ve ever begun, but I think it has the potential to be the most rewarding one yet.