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.

Living Candidly #3: Getting My Laugh Back

Living Candidly #3: Getting My Laugh Back

In Pre-K 4, my teacher would often hear me laugh in the back reading nook of the classroom with concern. Her concern stemmed from one simple question: was I laughing or crying? At times, it was indecipherable, the laughs shaking my body and tears streaming down my face.

This may seem like an exaggeration, but for the first eighteen years of my life, if I thought something was funny — really funny — I would tear up within seconds of the first chuckle escaping my lips. If it was a discreet laugh, in the back of a classroom or between me and my brother in the backseat of my parents’ cars, I would lose it faster. The waterworks were unintentional and 100% uncontrollable, to the point where I quickly invested in waterproof mascara when I reached a makeup wearing age.

But then, when I was eighteen, something shifted. With the end of my high school career came the end of my tearful laughter. At the time, I chalked it up to a biochemical alteration; I had started taking anti-anxiety medication. I became convinced that I had previously been somewhat uncomfortable in expressing complete joy, and that thought carried me to the conclusion that I was finally free to laugh with emotional abandon.

I did not cry-laugh again — until my twenty fifth birthday. A simple conversation between me and two friends regarding the practices of gynecology drove me to tears over the course of minutes. Since then in the course of two months, I’ve teared up over laughter, gripping my sides, more often than I have in the past seven years. And honestly? I’m so relieved to be tearful again.

Instead of considering it a symptom of discomfort at the display of joy, I’m viewing it more as an uninhibited celebration of joy. It’s a wantonness, a carefree element, a comfort level that maybe I’ve been missing for a while. Maybe, for the first time in a long time, I’m comfortable in my own exaltation.

I hope I continue to laugh like that four year old I once was.

Candidly Reading #2: Tell Me Lies, Carola Lovering

Candidly Reading #2: Tell Me Lies, Carola Lovering

There is nothing that will sell me on a guilty pleasure read quite like twin recommendations from Cosmopolitan and theSkimm. So when I came across the ombre cover for Carola Lovering’s Tell Me Lies (which, through the novel, you learn is named after Fleetwood Mac’s song “Little Lies”), I was quick to make it my next read.

The premise in essence is very simply collegiate girl-meets-older-boy. But very quickly, I became aware of how Tell Me Lies was going to serve as more than just a fun read. Heroine Lucy Albright is introduced as an aspiring journalist in a non-industry job trying to mentally prepare for seeing the guy who epically broke her heart at a wedding they are both attending. Her narration, altering between her college years and the hours of the wedding, is coupled by those of Stephen DeMarco’s college narration, the very boy who broke her heart. Their duality offers cutting insights into both sides of an addictive and spiraling love affair that derails not once, not twice, but thrice.

And more than once, I saw my relationship — my only relationship to date — unfold on page in glaring ink and typeface.

DISCLAIMER #1: This post contains spoilers. Sorry. Don’t come here if you don’t want the tea.

DISCLAIMER #2: If you are close to me and you don’t want to relive 2015-2016, for understandable reasons, then this post is not for you. You do not need to be supportive right now.


For eight tumultuous months, he was my favorite person.

But those months were brutal. They started with an argument about what the “rules” were for behavior at music festivals. It escalated from there to losing my best friend over their old flame (something I, admittedly, should have been more prepared for). There was the night that I screamed in my sleep in rage because he was fazing me out, my mother in bed next to me having driven two hours up from Annapolis to comfort me in ways she simply could not have done over the phone. There were the Christmas presents thrown at me from the doorway of his bedroom, and the (light) push backwards when I came too close during one of his rants that followed.

People always talk about realizing they’re in love during the happy moments, but I think you realize it in the bad ones. The ones that knock you off center, scaring you when they prove that no matter what kind of logic is in your head, it’s what’s in your heart that determines fucking everything.

Tell Me Lies, Lovering

And yet if you asked me during this time what I was doing with him, I would have said he was my best friend, my person, my soulmate. I loved him more than I loved anything in the whole world. When we were good, it felt like I was alive in another plane than I had ever experienced in my previous twenty-one years. So, yes, against all reason and all judgment, I kept returning every time that he would take me back. As long as I was given chances, as I viewed them (instead of me giving them to him), I was okay.

I was delirious and idiotic and naive and irresponsible and self-destructive, and I knew all of that. But none of it weighed anything against what I actually felt. Do you follow your head or your heart? which do you do? Your heart, always. Right? I didn’t think I would ever stop believing that.

Tell Me Lies, Lovering

When it actually did end, I descended into my darkest mental health to date. It was shocking to me how bleak my life seemed in his absence. For the six months to follow, I was a shell of the person I was prior to our relationship. It took moving to another country, completely detaching myself from the ghost not only of him but also of those who had separated themselves from me in the aftermath, in order to grant myself the clarity and chance to start fresh. I gave myself permission to go on dates again, although I didn’t kiss anyone for another year. When I finally did re-enter the physical arena of romance, I found myself avaricious, eager to gain some sort of confirmation that I was still desirable now that I was capable of optioning myself that way.

Three years passed and (just like Lucy in Tell Me Lies) I found myself in New York City, fully redeemed and confident again. And then he was nine miles away from my apartment.

Whoever I was then seemed like a long-lost version of myself, someone I didn’t know anymore, and I couldn’t figure out how I’d gotten to where I was. I’d been experiencing the same recurring thoughts since I’d moved back to New York: What was I doing? Why was I still chasing him? Did I even like him as a person? How could I ever bank on a future with someone I couldn’t trust? There was that one stubborn, annoyingly veracious part of me that knew wanting Stephen had to be wrong. If you ignored the gray and got really honest, if everything in the world was separated into black and white, into good and bad, Stephen would fall into bad.

Tell Me Lies, Lovering

I knew that I shouldn’t have gone to drinks with him. I kept it quiet, not telling anyone what I was doing beforehand and only a few after the fact. I knew it would hurt many who stood by me, alienate their loyalty, but I couldn’t stand strong, stand reformed, without having the chance to shove it in his face and say, “Look! Look what you did to me, and I’m still here!” And — if I’m being honest — there was still affection.

We are no longer in contact, and I don’t anticipate that will change anytime soon. Like Lucy at the end of the book, when Stephen comes up and tries to flirt with her at the wedding with his fiancée just feet away, she knows that there is no reason to pursue something that to him is just a game. Much like the end of the book, Lucy is able to go and pursue her writing and Stephen is stuck in a dead-end finance job (just like my ex).

Tell Me Lies was exactly the cathartic read that I needed. At the end, I feel as strong and empowered as Lucy. The world is capable of so much more than the multitudes of cookie cutter Stephen DeMarcos. I know this because I see it in my parents, in my friends’ relationships, in my relatives. I feel it in the love they show me.

One day, writing this won’t even cross my mind. It will be, as my ex said when he broke up with me, “a blip on [my/your] radar.” Because, one day, there will be real love in the picture. That all-encompassing, past-relationship-amnesia-causing love that comes into your life in the most common ways. As CJ, Lucy’s mom, tells her in one of their last scenes:

Love — real love — isn’t something you construct or hope or imagine or plan for the future. Love is something you live and feel in real time, in every single moment, big or small. It’s reciprocal and often unglamorous. But we bank on it because it’s what gives life meaning.

On learning a new dream

On learning a new dream

I have wanted to be a CEO, a real estate agent, an architect, a Disney princess impersonator, and most recently an editor, a publisher, and a literary agent. Not once did capital-“R” Recruiter for a healthcare company enter the realm of potential career opportunities in my future imaginings. And yet, I have just completed my first month of work within that very role.

But I am entirely out of my element.

You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.

Albert Einstein

My background is based concretely in literature and communication studies, from skipping out of my science course Senior Year of high school to my dual B.A. in English and Communication from Villanova to my M.A. in Publishing. There’s a heavy learning curve with every day at my new job, educating myself in the jargon of medical technicians and professionals from their credentials to their daily tasks. I’m proud to say that after a month I can easily differentiate between limited permit credentialing and LMSWs, LMHCs, LCSWs, RNs, and the rest. I can discuss the differences between Doctors Board and 1199 unions and which covers which staff.

However, at every point of my career daydreams, I always wanted to engage in a profession that connected people with their own passions and their own dreams. I wanted something social, something that was people-oriented. And that is certainly what I am doing.

My days are spent reviewing resumes and arranging interviews with hiring managers, helping to host employee engagement events and manning career fairs. I’ve become adept at applicant tracking systems and reading people quickly but still fairly. I’m confident that my skills will only improve with time.

This is all a very long way to say that while I never thought of myself as a Recruiter for a talent acquisition career, I feel pleasantly surprised that I found a comfortable footpath to follow.

I’m determined to be the very best at this job that I can be, even if it fell into my lap haphazardly.

On going the (5k) distance

On going the (5k) distance

In 2007, New Line Cinema released Mr. Woodcock, a film featuring Jon Heder of Napoleon Dynamite fame returning home only to find his mother (Susan Sarandon) now dating his nightmarish high school gym teacher appropriately named, you guessed it, Mr. Woodcock (played by Billy Bob Thornton).

I don’t remember much about this movie, admittedly, except the deep resonance it set in me at age 14 when I was taking my own high school gym class with a dead ringer or Thornton’s portrayal. My teacher favored the athletes in the class, openly mocked my inability to run a 5k (of which we were graded on our time completion), and consequently instilled a deep hatred in me of all physical exertion. Particularly running.

My classmates and I stood lined up against the painted cinder-block wall mere minutes after I turned in my bib and completed 5k time. My gym teacher evaluated us as we stretched before yelling, “Friel! Did you walk this?” waving the bib up and around his head. I flushed pink.

The teacher’s distrust in my athletic ability filtered down into the student population. I frequently overheard my peers say dishearteningly that they finished behind me that day in the exercises, as if that was a measure of a poor workout. People stared at me when I made excuses the first few times to get out of the class, but soon it just seemed to be a relief for everyone involved.

I had not run one step from spring of 2009 until January 2019 — almost a full decade later.


Flash forward to last Saturday morning when I stood under a canopy to shelter from the light rain with an iced coffee in hand, mentally preparing myself for something I hadn’t even achieved when I was graded on it: running a 5k race. I had no dreams of winning; the goal was to finish without vomiting.

I stopped to walk four times, each for approximately thirty seconds or less, just enough to catch my breath and gear up for the next leg of the journey. I had my headphones on the highest volume — literally I could hear nothing else than the playlist above.

I ended up finishing with a final time of 35:12, which was shorter than I had anticipated by nearly 5 minutes. My split paces were 11:04, 1:54, 11:26, and 9:18, proving that I really wanted that finish line.

I’m incredibly proud of my perseverance. I pushed myself to something I begrudgingly did in 2009, this time with full self-motivation. And the reward, for that reason alone, was so much greater.

I will absolutely be doing another race. I’ll train to beat my 35:12 time. I don’t need to win first or even twentieth, but I want to prove to myself that against all disbelief that has been given to me for years and years, I am entirely capable of anything I put my mind to. Even if that “anything” is running.

  1. “If I Can’t Have You,” Sara Bareilles
  2. “Bones,” Galantis feat. OneRepublic
  3. “Waiting,” Only Yours
  4. “Please,” Samantha Harvey feat. Matt Terry
  5. “Joan of Arc,” Little Mix
  6. “Solo,” Clean Bandit feat. Demi Lovato
  7. “Someone To You,” BANNERS
  8. “My Love Goes On,” James Morrison feat. Joss Stone
  9. “Pink Lemonade,” James Bay
  10. “New,” Ben Platt
  11. “If I Go,” Ella Eyre
  12. “Make It Happen,” John Splithoff

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

In response to International Women’s Day: On nurturing female sexuality

Years later, after I began The Last Romantic blog, I would remember those magazine covers. They suggested something so alluring, so corrupting that they were safe only on the highest shelf, where children and women could not reach. Female sex appeal was dangerous. Sexual desire something expressible exclusively by men. My friends’ fathers, male teachers, older brothers. All of them, reaching for that high shelf. Where, I asked myself then, was my high shelf? And what wonders would I find there?

The Last Romantics, Tara Conklin

On an ordinary weekday in 2002, my mother was hurriedly cleaning out her minivan in the parking lot of the auto-dealer’s mechanic shop with my four year old brother standing watch. As she emptied the various remnants of our everyday life out of the cluttered vehicle, my brother came upon a Victoria’s Secret magazine. My mom was so preoccupied with transferring everything to the interim rental car that she wasn’t aware of Joe flipping through the pages of bras and panties until his small voice pipped up with a confident, “Hey, Mom, can I take this to Doug’s house?”

It has been a solid 17 years since this has occurred and yet this story is told time and time again in my family, always with with my Dad’s final bravado of a fist pump and a proud, “That’s my boy!” My younger brother’s straightforward and non-dubious heterosexuality has been a point of family lore for almost two decades. Now, he has a steady girlfriend of three years and their intimacy is completely understood as par for the course, nothing that needs further inspection or parental involvement although he is twenty years old.

In comparison, when I was six years old and caught imitating dance moves of popular icons of the time Britney Spears or Christina
Aguilera (we’re talking “Oops…I Did It Again!” and “What A Girl Wants” era, nothing extreme) I was hurriedly urged to stop. My youthful and harmless exploration of female allure and sexual freedom did not receive the same laughter as my brother just two years later.

When in high school I started to develop adolescent crushes on my peers, my parents would pry and tease. While this was meant harmlessly, it made me feel as if what I was feeling was wrongful and a point of fault. My involvement in drama productions with romantic plots elicited unwanted investigations into my own romantic exploits — of which, there were honestly none. I was subjected to talks at my Catholic high school that separated the male and female populations only to urge the girls that intercourse would only encourage the man to leave while committing you emotionally further, a terrifying thought for someone who had never been even asked on a date. I became shy, romantically introverted, afraid to talk to men in the instance of inciting rumors. This ultimately led to underdevelopment, my first romantic kiss not occurring until age 21 — a point at which many of my friends were losing their virginity and telling me that I simply “didn’t understand.” At a crucial point when I should have been claiming my sexual identity — in whatever form that was — I found myself apologizing for it time and time again in conversations between my family, my Church, and my friends, all of whom saw my status as some form of potentially problematic or downright reprehensible.

When I finally did become sexually active, I was seen as “changed.” While I expected to be welcomed into the club of non-virgins, there was no banner awaiting me on the other side. And it seemed I had spurned those I left on the abstinence track; one close friend even went so far as to say that our friendship would suffer because I wouldn’t understand her struggles anymore. The relationship that led me to that point ran its course, and I was left with the knowledge that I now had the freedom to choose where I went from here, but also the overwhelming and imminent judgement on my actions if I chose to share them with anyone.


Today, I still hold remnants of these beginnings in my bones when it comes to claiming my sexuality. I do not have a right to the grandiose and more moving stories, I do not think, like those of the LGBTQ+ community. But perhaps there is something quietly relatable in the fact that female sexual freedom is still so underwhelmingly represented and passively repressed. When I do start the conversation, I try to keep it light. Severity is threatening to the house of cards we as a global society have so carefully constructed when it comes to sexual liberation and who can have it.

So today, I’m grateful for the women who challenge me and the world to step outside our comfort zones. I’m grateful for Virginia Johnson of Masters & Johnson. I’m grateful for the sex-positive feminists. I’m grateful for those out there who tell women they don’t have to be sexually active to be worthwhile too. I’m grateful for the female (and male) friendships that pushed me to open up and the friendships that celebrated my milestones.

Thank you, women. And thank you, men, for listening to us. May this world be kinder tomorrow because of your bravery today.