Vulnerability around my mental health

Today I wanted to take a step back and write about the current state of my mental health.

When thinking of a title for this post, I wanted to start with “transparency” or “honesty,” but the word “vulnerability resonates more. Brené Brown, one of my favorite researchers and mental health advocates, says that being vulnerable – no matter how scary – is one of bravest things one can be.

Lately I’ve been struggling with current pain and past trauma. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about my family members, former coworkers and friends who have hurt me deeply. The blessing and curse of being an empath (or “indigo child” if you will) is feeling so deeply. Deeper than the average person can feel. I remember every word, moment, feeling… when I have been hurt in the past. For certain friendships or working relationships, time does heal all wounds; I’m not thinking about certain people as frequently as I used to. And I understand that people grow apart, but this is different—this is people who I believe have genuinely hurt me or have taken full advantage of my kindness.

All processing past pain, I’m also coping with current depression. Depression about Chicago not being what I thought it would be, my marriage not being as strong as I’d like it to be, people here letting me down no matter how hard I’ve tried, family and friends from Michigan continuing to let me down… It’s difficult for me to not feel like a failure. I feel like I’m failing in my family’s eyes, in Juan’s eyes, in certain friends’ eyes… I feel like if I leave Chicago that I would be a failure. But is it worth staying when my depression is worsening?

Last week one of my closest friends here betrayed my trust. I continue to feel like Juan and I are growing apart, not wanting the same things of the future. I feel financially trapped and scared that I’ll never live the life I want to live. I’m afraid my family will continue to misunderstand me and never fully accept me as I am.

For the first time in my life, I truly don’t know how to move forward. I know I’ve been open about my struggles with mental health on this platform, but things feel worse this time.

Living with depression feels like living with a deep sense of hopelessness, despair and constantly feeling alone or misunderstood.

But what I really want and need to feel is a clear path forward—a light in the darkness.

Photos taken Friday, May 20, 2022

Warm Weather, Warm Heart

Spending so much time outdoors last week made me exponentially happier 💛

Linley and I spent five days at the dog beach, including one morning at sunset. We also met some new neighbors on our block – both human and dog! – and enjoyed some lemonade stands along our afternoon walks. These kids are gets salespeople around here! Chasing Lin at the beach and watching him play with other dogs and kids was incredibly heartwarming—and exactly what I needed 🙂

Here are several photos and videos from our week:

Missing Montana

During Linley’s and my road trip to Washington state last month, we passed through Montana. I’ve heard from a few friends who have been there how beautiful Flathead Lake, Glacier National Park and Whitefish are, but never expected to feel like I was back in Norway—or even in a place like Alaska. Montana blew me away in natural beauty.

Linley being too salty to appreciate the view!
Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park

What blew me away even more was the kindness of its residents. I stayed at three Airbnb’s (two heading west, and one on the way home to Chicago) and everyone was incredibly gracious. And yes, I know that Airbnb hosts “need” to be kind, but these Montanans weren’t just hospitable—they were true, “salt of the earth” people who treated you like family from the start.

My favorite Airbnb was our first one in Billings. Our hosts, Jennifer and her dog Izzy, were two of the greatest hosts I’ve ever stayed with (and I’ve been using Airbnb in Europe since 2014!). I enjoyed my time with them more than anything. It was especially nice after a LONG multiple-day drive without many people to talk with, excluding Linley who wanted nothing to do with my bad singing 😂

The only downside of my trip is that I woke up with a nasty head cold the next day (not covid, thank goodness!). Jennifer was so kind and took Linley and Izzy on a walk down by the river because my head felt like a bowling ball. Again, reiterating how amazing and warmly I was treated there. ❤️

This week has been a struggle: learning a new role in a new industry AND at a new company, my marriage falling apart, my happiness in Chicago fleeting, a major fight with my mom and resurfaced PTSD, a general sense of not being able to find my footing… it’s been draining to say the least. But I’m grateful for my road trip memories and want to think about positive moments that have occurred recently. I hope to make and find more of these memories soon…

If you’re ever considering visiting Montana – or are simply passing through – please reach out and I can send you my Airbnb info and travel highlights from Billings, Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake and Helena.

Linley enjoying our Airbnb in Billings!

Photos taken Tuesday, April 19 and Wednesday, April 20, 2022

It has been a WEEK.

It’s only Tuesday and so many little odd things have gone wrong…

For starters, yesterday was my first day at my new job. After going seven weeks without working, it has been extremely hard for me to focus. My dog also kept making noise during my only real meeting of the day—mainly because our upstairs neighbors are moving out and also made a lot of noise. AND my travel Instagram account was hacked, and will likely be disabled…

I. Am. Devastated. ☹️

BUT me being me, I’m trying to find the silver lining in it all. Perhaps this is a great way for me to live in the present; not the past (not posting throwback travel photos, etc.).

Until/if I can even get this sorted out, you can find my dog at westiepoo.linley on Instagram. His account is private – for now – but he’ll follow you back, I promise!

It was a beautiful day yesterday, and here are some photos from my 6am stroll:

Photos taken Monday, May 2, 2022

Welcomed by Washington

Linley’s and my final destination was Washington state—to spend quality time with our friend Bethany for a long weekend. We were graciously welcomed by her, the wilderness surrounding us, light breeze and warm sunshine every day of our visit.

Our weekend together was worth all the money for gas and Airbnbs, time on the road across numerous states and nasty head cold I caught along the way. Having Linley and Bethany finally meet in person was beyond touching—and of course I’d missed her immensely, too!

Until next time, Washington 🙂

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram:

@westiepoo.linley and @adventureinspades

Media taken Wednesday, April 20 through Sunday, April 24, 2022

It’s always sunny in South Dakota

Hello from Billings, Montana! Linley and I are heading on a road trip to Seattle, and we’ve had some interesting stops along the way…

Me changing oil at a gas station in Minnesota, while Linley stares in judgment as I punch a hole in a styrofoam cup for my makeshift funnel…

En route to Washington state, I decided that Rapid City, South Dakota made the most sense as our first overnight stay. I’ve heard by several that South Dakota had an abundance of national beauty once you get past the horrible, incredibly boring jaunt of I-90 West, including the Badlands and Black Hills National Forest. I’ve seen a lot of sunsets in the most breathtaking places, but the sunset driving through the Badlands is one that cannot be ignored.

After a relaxing night at a local Airbnb and an official oil change in the morning, we headed west to visit the Black Hills National Forest—which engulfed us in its natural beauty and crisp mountain air. Linley and I are both avid hikers and thoroughly enjoyed our three-hour trek. Our adventures in South Dakota oddly reminded me of my times in Estonia: sometimes the places you have no/less expectations of can quickly become your favorites!

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram: westiepoo.linley and adventureinspades

Media taken Sunday, April 17 and Monday, April 18

Asheville Waterfalls

In 2014, I saw some of the largest, most beautiful waterfalls in Asheville, North Carolina. During my most recent visit (I returned to Chicago with Linley late last night), I knew I had to revisit DuPont State Forest—and finally see Looking Glass Falls.

DuPont State Forest is a free, extremely large park with multiple trails and options for everyone to enjoy. Linley and I wanted to spend the majority of our time at High Falls—arguably the most magnificent of the bunch. I distinctly remember this from my first time in Asheville nearly eight years ago, and haven’t been able to forget it ever since. We hiked down to the river beneath the falls, found a great rock to sit on and enjoyed some quality time together.

Once Linley started getting antsy, we started to head east to get a better, closer view of the falls. The trek wasn’t necessarily the safest, but Lin and I were able to practice some fancy footwork and find a good spot to enjoy the mist from the falls.

Once we were pretty covered in sprinkles, we headed north and hiked another hour or so to Grassy Lake Falls—another waterfall in the park. This fall is significantly smaller, but much more peaceful and tranquil, making it the perfect spot for a quick picnic. There was a big rock that seemed like it was made specifically for Lin and me. We munched on some cheese sandwiches and dog food, and relaxed before the next hike.

On our way back to the visitor’s center, we met a lovely couple and chatted with them for a bit—which is one of the many reasons why I love the Asheville area so much. Linley even started to fall asleep as we visited with them! We finally made it to the car, and headed north to Looking Glass Falls.

Looking Glass Falls sits halfway between Asheville and DuPont State Forest, and is one waterfall I’ve always wanted to see. It’s not necessarily a “hike,” but it is a beautiful place to park your car, walk down toward and hang out for a little while. Linley and I sat in a “sandbank” type area with the best view of the falls, people watched and enjoyed hearing the sounds of the waterfall and the creek flowing near us.

I’m beyond grateful to have visited some of my favorite places with one of my best friends 😀

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram westiepoo.linley and adventureinspades

Media taken Wednesday, April 13

In Awe of Asheville

Asheville, North Carolina has held a special place in my heart since December, 2014—when I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and built homes in the area. The mountains, people and unique energy pulled me in, so much so that I almost moved there in 2021. I accepted a position at a smaller company and met some amazing coworkers-turned-friends, but ultimately relocated to Chicago instead.

I know what you’re thinking: How can a city girl be so outdoorsy at the same time? Truthfully, my only reasoning is that I’m a Libra and enjoy balance 😂

In all seriousness, when I knew I would have a seven week sabbatical between jobs, I knew I had to visit—Linley in tow. One of my best friends, Carolina lives in the area with her boyfriend and dog, giving us the perfect excuse to come visit. Nature is beautiful and all, but there’s nothing better than enjoying it with friends—human and four-legged!

Linley and I drove through Chicago, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Western North Carolina on Sunday, April 10 to get here. Linley was great in the car, but I knew I had to make it up to him – and myself – with some major hiking the next day. On Monday, April 11 we decided to hike the Rattlesnake Lodge trails while Carolina was busy at work. The trails were roughly four miles and approximately four hours for us to hike, but the sun peaking through the trees and the light breeze motivated us to keep going. The views weren’t as “open” as other hikes in the area, but it was still a great trail for us to start with. Between the hiking and long drive the day prior, Linley and I were so exhausted that we napped in the afternoon—something he often does and I rarely do. Carolina, Matt and I grabbed dinner and drinks downtown, watched some Impractical Jokers and went to bed.

The following day wasn’t looking like a great day for hiking; rain and light thunderstorms were predicted for the morning, which turned into the afternoon as well. Me being me, I thought leaving around noon would be smart to avoid the worst of the rain, but Lin and I were disappointed when we arrived at the Craggy Gardens trail and were hit with quite a bit of rain (guess which one of us was more disappointed than the other!). We stuck it out under it became unbearable, dried off in the car then headed back toward the city of Asheville for better luck.

Well, we didn’t have better luck at the North Carolina Arboretum, but we still made the most of it. After another rainy hike, we headed back to Carolina’s place. Carolina, our friend Jes and I headed to downtown Weaverville for s’more tacos and drinks. It was great to catch up with them—especially a long day of not being able to do much!

Don’t forget to follow Linley and me on Instagram @westiepoo.linley and @adventureinspades

Photos taken Monday, April 11 and Tuesday, April 12

Life’s a (dog) beach!

My beloved dog-turned-best friend, Linley, and I are blessed to live so close to the most popular dog beach in Chicago.

Note: “Close” in Chicago terms means either ~an hour walk, or a ten minute walk plus two train stops followed by another twenty minute walk (Or an 11-minute drive…).

Regardless, it’s nice being so close to what we love: Lake Michigan, the sand and the sun!

I’m taking a little sabbatical from work—giving Linley and I more opportunity for fun in the sun. Over the past five days, we’ve gone to the dog beach twice. Watching Linley smile and make new friends, prance around the shore, get the zoomies in the sand and let the sun hit his face instantly warms my heart. I forget about all my problems when I’m around him 💛

On Monday, my friend Andrea met us at the beach—followed by a lovely stroll around Uptown, her soon-to-be new condo and an outdoor dinner. We ordered burgers (mine was vegan of course!) and I asked for a plate of grilled chicken for the little guy. Linley was such a good boy—per usual. I’m also lucky that he’s great on long walks and the CTA trains.

Photos and videos taken Wednesday, March 16 and Monday, March 21

Cousinly Quality Time in NYC

The last time I saw my cousin in New York was summer 2017—far too long ago. But all that changed last weekend as we finally spent time together in The Big Apple.

My flight got in late Friday evening, so we grabbed a nice dinner and a quick night cap. We went back to Katy’s place—which was super cute and exactly what you would expect from a New York City apartment—and got ready for bed. Being with her again meant the world to me!

We attempted to take a stroll that Saturday morning, but the weather told us otherwise. Katy found a cute little cafe where we mixed up our coffee orders (totally my fault!) and then made our way through Columbia’s campus—en route to brunch in Times Square.

At Friedman’s, Katy, her sister, dad and I had the best potato-filled brunch of my life. The gluten free chocolate chip pancakes and sweet potato fries were to die for, but the conversation and that feeling of picking up right where we left off were even better.

No matter how stuffed we felt, Katy and I were determined to make our way to her friend’s birthday celebration, which was full of crafting and watching Broad City. I’m incredibly lucky to have met Katy’s high school, college and now grad school friends—because we have always lived in different states and I’m a few years older than she is. Katy and her friends are always welcoming, which was really nice and led to a fun, lazy day of candle making and painting. I definitely made everyone laugh when my paint exploded all over the table, but at least I can say that I predicted the future 😉

Still full from brunch (no joke!), Katy and I grabbed dinner at an awesome vegan place called JaJaJa—where our bartender Mario called us twins and handed us each a free shot. One of many reasons why I love my cousin as much as I do is that we can go from the most profound conversation to laughing and joking around. Our meal was full of that, which is something I’d missed very much and very deeply. We ended our night out with another drink at a different bar, playing a game of “What’s Their Backstory?” and me guessing one of our bartender’s names on the first try.

As much as I love the city, my favorite moments with Katy are always the simplest ones. I cherished our night of listening to Leo P on the sax, hearing her tell me more about her partner Ben and drinking tea until we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore. And it’s truly all of those “in-between” moments (taking the subway, walking to a destination, etc.) that make me love and miss Katy as much as I always do ❤️

On Sunday, our last day together, we started at a gluten free bagel and sandwich shop, and a stroll through Central Park. It was cold—especially with my iced coffee—but it was so worth it! Seeing people out and about because of the weather and our semi-decent coronavirus situation was something that didn’t go unnoticed, and something we certainly didn’t take for granted. We braved the cold until we couldn’t anymore, so we relaxed at Katy’s apartment, enjoyed more tea and life/family-related conversation, then ventured off to find more delicious vegan tacos!

Our time together always flies by and feels too short. I wish Katy and I lived closer together because she’s truly a sister to me. I don’t know who or where I would be without her in my life.

A letter from Norway// Hello 2022!

As 2021 comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on, arguably, the most difficult year thus far, while also taking inventory on all the good things that have happened during the pandemic. One of those things has been maintaining contact with my family friend in Norway, Kjell.

Sitting with Kjell (Spring, 2016)

Kjell was a foreign exchange student who lived with my mom and her family in high school. He was part of my childhood and early adulthood from afar through handwritten letters, photos and memories exchanged between him and my mom, but I finally had the opportunity to stay with Kjell in 2016. Those two weeks with his family in Askoy, Norway (near Bergen) has as much impact on me now as it did then.

Here are some of the highlights from my time with Kjell:

Despite the fact that we’ve switched our channel of correspondence from handwritten notes to email, Kjell and I have kept up with regular check-ins and photo sharing! He recently wrote me, shared some family updates and of course, beautiful photos of Norway.

Our fishing spot in 2016 🥲

I wish all of you a happy new year, and wish you continued travel and adventures with friends in 2022 🙂

Craving Cascais

Cascais, one of Portugal’s most beautiful beach towns, was a must-visit on our week-long adventure. Although Lisbon was my favorite of the three cities, Dani and I were craving the sun, sand and sea that Portugal had to offer.

After an exhausting morning of travel mishaps, we were ready to do absolutely nothing on the beach. We walked down beautiful winding roads toward the shore, where there were tons of authentic restaurants and tourist traps ready to be explored. Past that was a smaller, somewhat crowded beach, but we found a secluded spot to lay our towels and our heads for a little while.

I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to hear the sounds of the water crashing on the cliffs around us, people speaking different languages again and feeling the sun on my cheeks (cheeks on my face that is — it wasn’t “that” kind of beach!) 😂

Dani wanted time to herself, but I wanted to eventually get in the water. It was cold, refreshing and was exactly what I needed. Ever since I was a little kid, I loved the cold water because it gave me an instant rush and felt like comforting bath water after a little while. I’m not sure if it gives me a “nostalgic” feeling per se, but being in the water is my happy place. Dani woke up and took some candid photos — which is normally a cringeworthy idea for me — but I felt good about myself and figured I should embrace the feelings I had that day.

Although I was soaking wet, we had a lovely dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant. It was nice to sit and talk about absolutely nothing as we enjoyed some spicy food. Soon afterward we wandered around and explored some cute shops, including a gelato place we were aiming to check out on our way back. The sunset was too good to miss, and we even met some Swedish women with the most adorable dog — instantly bringing me back to my study abroad days. All in all this was the most relaxing, peaceful evening of the trip, which was much needed for both of us. We shared some laughs, grabbed some gelato and moseyed our way back to the apartment.

Little did I know my entire trip home was about to change. I had a COVID test-related scare based on my airline and it honestly put me in a spiral. I had to call Juan and everything… foreshadowing to what was probably my worst travel experience to date. But in the spirit of positivity, everything worked out the way it was supposed to, and I was able to calm myself down to enjoy my last evening with Dani.

I was deeply saddened that Dani wouldn’t be spending the last night back in Lisbon with me, but I did enjoy the time we had together. It was a great vacation full of culture, exploration, getting lost together and meeting the coolest strangers-turned-friends along the way ☺️

Photos taken Monday, September 20, 2021