About halfway through the summer, my Type A must-plan-for-school-months-in-advance self decided to take to Instagram stories and beg everyone who followed me for advice on the most important back-to-school essential any student could have.... a planner!
I voiced my frustration with the planner market. I knew my style well enough, and the paisley pink and polka dot vibes simply never agree with me. I love a good effective, goal-setting planner with inspiring quotes and whatnot, but the last thing I cared for was something preppy and over the top. I even held up my planner I'd tried using last semester as proof. It was beige. Just, beige.
Now if those planners with the cute gadgets and bright gizmos are up your alley - I support you! I really do. To each, his own. But for me and my very neutral, earth-toned style, I craved the nothing-ness of beige covers and clean lines.
I haven't had much luck in college finding a planner that works for me, with space to help me track homework and goals, and a price I could actually handle. With modern day technology, I luckily had a community of people to cry SOS to. So I did!
And this, my friends, is what I learned.
Not every day, but more frequently than some, I end my day with a sobfest-style panic attack.
Panic attacks are different for absolutely everyone. No panic attack for me is the same, though I’ve definitely caught on to my triggers and repetition of behavior. For me, a panic attack feels like I am simultaneously pushed to the floor, insulted, and left alone – when none of these things have actually happened. My heart pounds, my entire system of emotions feel wired to explode at any second, and any sense of positivity and security flies right out the window. A trigger for me might be an abruptly rescheduled plan, negative feedback on a paper from a professor, or even the fact that I don’t know what to do with my free time. Recently, I've developed a very annoying and frequently occurring sense of claustrophobia, and find myself embarrassed by how anxious I feel entering packed and vibrant social situations.
My reactions to these circumstances are powerfully irrational, and I often find myself unable to stop the internal pressure from building up inside of me. I am taking steps to take professional care of myself, but while the panic is still here, I want to share what has worked for me to come out of it when it arrives.
The most intense panic attacks for me have usually happened at the very end of the day, after closing my door and finally being alone to process and listen to my thoughts. I would argue solitude is one of the most powerful places we can put ourselves. When you have nothing else to distract you from how you truly feel, how will you truly feel?
In those moments, as I notice an onset of panic, I sit down on my floor, close my eyes, and let it happen. Yep. Step one: let the feelings be felt.
Many coping mechanisms I have found myself pursuing – bad eating habits, antisocialism, mania and trying to do everything at one time – have been like band aids to deeper feelings I haven’t allowed my body to feel. I avoided listening to what God was trying to make me understand by distracting my conscious with anything I could put in front of me. And at the end of the day, when all is said and done, what’s usually left is the original feeling I needed to feel.
Letting myself sit and cry – like really, ugly, puffy cry – felt so uncomfortable for me the very first time I consciously let it happen all by myself on the floor of my room. It’s a feeling we tend to reserve for “appropriate” times, like when tragedy strikes our family or chaos truly erupts our lives. What I hypothesize has forced our generation into a mentally misunderstood epidemic is the uncomfortableness that comes with feeling “sad” for the sake of feeling sad. Social media and subconscious mental clutter pesters us with how we aren’t good enough, skinny enough, strong enough, tan enough, smart enough, accomplished enough, or even imperfect-enough (it happens). We are being manipulated by people who don’t even intend to manipulate us, because of our mere exposure to what everyone else’s life is “like.” As we’ve aged, and have had to make big kid decisions about how we want our own lives to go, suddenly, we are faced with an emptiness in not knowing who we truly are if we aren’t comparing ourselves to something else.
I feel these senses of incapability to define my own self if I'm not comparing myself to something (someone?) else. It’s a paradoxical way of living. And what happens when I let myself be still, quit comparison in its tracks, and look at what my own heart is feeling… It ends up feeling sad.
Maybe I’m alone in that constant comparison, but it drags me (without me even knowing it) and pulls me into the lie that I need to chase something, or else. What about who Chloe is, all by herself? What does she want? Where does she want to be, and what does she want to be doing while she’s there?
Not answering these questions puts me into a state of panic, as I realize I have no answer. So, in those attacks, when something goes wrong and I spiral into not even knowing what is “right” is anymore, I let myself sit in that pain. If I disregarded it and carried about with a nighttime routine I learned on YouTube that I don’t actually want to do, I miss that moment to get to know my heart, and listen to what it has to say. To an outsider, I look exactly as I look: really, ugly, puffy crying. But to me, I am in a state of newfound compassion, ready and waiting to learn what I need to learn from what my own self is trying to tell me. After releasing that pressure to myself by myself, I open the conversation to the only source of advice I know will truly hear.
Step two: talk to God. I sit on my bedroom floor with my hands wrapped around my knees, I bow my head, and I tell Him I need Him back. Why? Because depression, anxiety, panic… it’s all a result of me giving the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27), pulling me from my only true source of good and fulfilling life.
No matter how far from the Lord I am feeling in the moment, I tell Him I want to draw near to Him. That’s it. It’s so easy, I get mad, because I regret not saying it sooner. I tell Him I miss Him, I’m sorry for pretending I don’t need Him in my life, and for the forgiveness and grace to come near to me again. And you know what? It always, always happens. (James 4:8).
Step three: a reminder from yourself to yourself of everything going right. By now, I’ve usually breathed through a lot of the panic, and I’m ready to feel a little bit healed. I uncross every limb that’s been tightly wound, breathe in, and breathe out, and start listing out all the things that I love about my life. The people that I love, the things I love to do, the places I’ve been, and what's yet to be lived. I just remind them all to myself. Over, and over, and over again.
After even just one minute of focusing on gratitude, I feel so. excited. to get up. I’ve cried, I’ve filled my faith cup back up to the brim, and I’m excited to wake up tomorrow and see where He leads me. I remember what I love about this life, I know that whatever triggered me into an irrationally dark pit did not, in fact, require that reaction, but it’s okay that I'm still figuring out how to handle it all. I don’t have to hustle. I don’t have to run fast. I can take moments to be still, to connect with the Lord, and try again tomorrow.
Isn’t that beautiful?
Friend, I don’t know where you’re at. I don’t know if you've ever felt a panic attack before – and maybe you’re just freaked out by everything I described. I guarantee you know someone dealing with a battle, though. A battle through anxiety, an eating disorder, depression, addiction, divorce, miscarriage, loss…. Maybe even just really dull, really unmotivated daily life. These things make up our lives, whether we wish them upon anyone or not. They happen. By God-given circumstances we are thrown, sometimes, into pits. We are pushed, challenged, questioned, neglected – for reasons we often feel we have absolutely no control over. The purpose, I believe, is to return us to Him. And when we are filled with Him, we stop feeling as empty from everything else.
Everyone you know is dealing with something. Me? I panic. What about your neighbor? Your sister? That barista? The teacher you’re talking to or the client you’re about to see? What about your cousin? Your roommate? The guy that annoys you at work, or that women that sat next to you on that plane?
Explore compassion for those around you, ask your friends to talk if you feel like they’re slipping, or look yourself in the mirror and ask your heart what it needs.
Above all else, remember Who gave you this life in the first place. Crave Him, look to Him, and trust Him – He led you here to lead you back to Him.
I follow a lot of people on social media.
Yes, surrounding myself with filtered and curated glimpses of the lives of others is probably not the healthiest use of my time. Scratch that: definitely not. I’ll the FIRST to admit that.
But these platforms and these people are not going away. The digital phenomena of sharing images and video and captions and narrations of our lives as we live them is not disappearing anytime soon. It’s actually growing - at an overwhelming pace nonetheless.
In the about section of this blog, I mention that I wholeheartedly believe life is found offline and up above, not in here. I do not want the Internet to be a safe haven for anyone. It can’t fulfill that kind of role. It has no heart in it of itself.
What I can do with what I have available to me, however, is to intersect those scrollings and those ponderings with words that sneak even the smallest peak into the reality of life’s ups and downs. Instagram and the blogging world is filled to the brim with content curated to “inspire” us to “live our best lives” and to “improve” things about ourselves and our routines – all content that I definitely do consume and do find entertaining. These worlds are, at their core, entertainment. They cannot form deep relationships; they can simply introduce us to new experiences that we then must log off and go explore for our own individual selves.
Even though these digital spaces are soaked with good and positive content, every now and again I come across a published video or post sharing a “Life Update” or a “Story Behind _____” or “What’s Really Going On.” While some are simply clickbait, a fair majority are not. This particular type of content owns up to the fact that someone with a following for their perfectly curated life needs to let that following in on the secret reality of their struggles, their transformations, and their decisions.
The content that glimpses into subjects we tend to find uncomfortable or overtly personal is rare. And I am absolutely enchanted by it.
I find videos and Instagram posts by strangers and influencers about what they’re feeling and how they’re doing energizing. Some are exciting, some are more sad, but all of them are REAL. They are opening up - even to just the few people that may actually pay attention - that they have things happening to them as human beings living in an imperfect world, and those experiences are affecting who they are.
When I come across titles and interviews exploring what it means to be transparent online, I feel - as a reader - like I am less alone. And I can’t explain it beyond just a small, teeny, tiny sense of relief. That the pressure and transformative experiences I am working through are not unusual, misunderstood, and incapable of being solved. They are, contrary to our idealized versions of life, worthy of being noticed. And to not accept them is to disregard the beauty that is cultivated life – something I really, really do not want to disregard.
Comparison is the thief of joy and I therefore urge you to leave the digital world behind you for a while if you truly, truly need it. But if you are here, while you are here, I want to build a space to remind you that you and I, in our imperfectness, have stories being crafted in the present. Not a blog filled with advice to help you get where you want to go. Not just reflections on travels and happenings that are already gone. But what’s here. What’s now. What’s really going on.
Sharing my own life’s messy narrative is, to me, an intimate act of worship. It is not meant to make you wish you were someone else. It is not meant to make you feel pity or disillusionment to yet another thing wrong with the world. It is also absolutely not meant to glorify anyone, but the One painting the story. That process is raw but all art is. It has to be, in order to be considered worthy of our attention.
I have decided to share the waves of my really, really rocky ocean as a tangible reminder to my own, sinking self of the One who walked on water – in the dire and desperate hope you might remember Him too.
Should my words ever intersect your time online, please know that
a) I am safe and surrounded by the most wonderful people in the world,
b) I am writing these things as I am growing and not after I am healed,
c) and real life involves real things happening to real people – and those real things are both happy and sad.
The content I create is content I would want to read on my darkest days and my brightest ones. You might agree with it or not, you might find relatable tidbits or not, you might read every word or not. I love you as a digital friend, anyways.
This journey is just as uncomfortable to write out as it might be to read, but that’s only because we’re breaking the surface of a conversation well overdue, and none of us quite know the perfect timing to let it out. Well, hello! Here we are. I really, really think… it’s time.
What Instagram didn't show during my super aesthetically-pleasing happy-go-lucky weeklong family vacation:
I do think it’s okay to live it up and focus on the mountain tops when they’re right there in front of you, but I promised to keep it real here so that’s where we’re at.
Pinch yourself if you ever feel swamped in social comparison - everyone is living inside a battle you know nothing about, Insta is a highlight reel, and honest living means sometimes... you hike in sandals when you’re out of socks.
It took me a while to discover, and grow an interest in, the act of listening to material read out loud. I've always listened to music, obviously. And I’d heard of audiobooks and radio shows before. In general, however, the concept sounded extremely boring. Why in the world would I want to listen to another human’s voice talk to me about something? It’s not an active conversation. It can’t possibly be entertaining; there’s also no way I could ever replace a good playlist with a podcast.
As I explored creative entrepreneurship with my #sidehearthustle (long story…) of photography and digital brand strategy, I found myself entering into communities of women a lot older than me, whose stages of life had them driving to work and meetings with a fire to learn, learn, learn, learn, learn. Being passionate enough about a career to pursue it without anyone guiding you but you own self sparks a very interesting drive that consumes you. You want – truly want – to use your time productively, lovingly, and always in-line with where you want your business and life to go.
Being a part of this world none of my college friends were involved in inspired me to find my own ways – as a student – to ingest the same strategic insights and productivity as the women above me. I was going to figure out how to use my (very limited) amount of time to learn, too. In hindsight, I totally stressed myself out, and I encourage each of you reading this to take time to rest, without striving for utmost productivity every second of the day. But if we’re being honest here, that’s exactly what I did. I don't regret that decision, because it's culminated in this blog today, but... be mindful. Use your time beautifully. Anyways, enter: podcasts.
I started with an old school classic, How I Built This with Guy Raz. You’ll find, for obvious reasons, this podcast kicks off my list of favorites. Truthfully, it was the only podcast title I was familiar with at the time, since I’d heard my parents mention it and NPR numerous times on family road trips (conversations I honestly had tried to tune out, but still grasped this bite of insight from). The first episode I ever listened to was an interview between Guy Roz and the founders of Instagram. I figured, if I was going to use my time to listen to something “boring,” I might as well learn about the app that consumed my free time, at all times.
I was blown away – and instantly hooked. The episode was about an hour long, and with short walks to class, I found myself trying to meander the long way around just to listen to a few minutes more. I finished the episode during that first day I started it, coming to the realization that I did, in fact, have at least one hour of “free time” to listen to interesting things.
The remarkable thing about that experience though, was that I didn’t necessarily “learn” anything. It was simply a story, about two guys with an idea and a past, and they used what they had to build something as best they could. Sure, that “idea” turned into a concept that altered our generation tremendously (for better or for worse), but I couldn’t help feeling inspired by the sheer impact of hearing how it all happened. I wasn’t planning on building the next Instagram, but that didn’t mean I didn’t want to build impact.
From that episode onward, I binge-listened (if that's even the way to explain it) as many episodes of How I Built This as I was intrigued to listen to. I learned how Sara Blakely founded Spanx (fun fact: the day her product was officially available in one department store, she paid all her best friends to go buy them so the store would think they were in high demand. Talk about #confidence…) (another fun fact: it worked). I also listened to interviews by the founders of Cliff Bar, Airbnb, WeWork, and countless others.
After several weeks of using every ounce of my individual ear-bud time to consume this one podcast, I decided I was totally into podcasts. I loved being able to listen to a story. It was like listening in on a fascinating conversation between people you’ve always looked up to, except nothing more was required of me than to listen. That, itself, wasn’t even required. I could pick and choose what I listened to and how long I listened to it. I loved it.
Through the past 2 years or so, I’ve kept up my love of podcasts by listening to them when I want to, never forcing myself to listen to an entire episode or season if I don’t find it interesting, and switching up content topics every time I can. So far, I have yet to be bored of “listening to another human’s voice talk to me about something.” Part therapeutic, part comedic, part intellectual, part entertainment… podcasts offer whatever you want them to offer. Sometimes I listen to them while running, on my way to-and-from class or work, or in the morning while I'm getting ready for my day,
I encourage you to take my list as a starting point or just dive in yourself and explore what’s out there. I hope above all else - you’re inspired by what you find.
How I Built This : NPR
"Diving into the stories behind some of the world's best known companies. How I Built This weaves a narrative journey about innovators, entrepreneurs and idealists—and the movements they built." - Listen on iTunes here
Recommended: Airbnb, Spanx, Teach for America, Lyft, WeWork, Instagram
TED Radio Hour : NPR
"Exploring the emotions, insights, and discoveries that make us human. The TED Radio Hour is a narrative journey through fascinating ideas, astonishing inventions, fresh approaches to old problems, and new ways to think and create." - Listen on iTunes here
Recommended: Disruptive Leadership
The Daily : The New York Times
"This is what the news should sound like. The biggest stories of our time, told by the best journalists in the world. Twenty minutes a day, five days a week, ready by 6 a.m." - Listen on iTunes here
Girlboss Advice and Whatnot
The Goal Digger Podcast : Jenna Kutcher
"Week after week, host Jenna Kutcher brings you the the productivity tips, social media strategies, business hacks,, and inspirational stories that can help YOU design your dream career. Along with sharing her best kept secrets, she interviews the best in the industry who will share their secrets to ensure you are seen, heard, (and hired!)" - Listen on iTunes here
Ladies Who Lunch : Ingrid Nilson & Cat Valdes
"Ladies Who Lunch lets you sit at the table and explore topics often left out of polite conversation with YouTubers Ingrid Nilsen and Cat Valdes. Write in to join their dialogue about technology, relationships, social phobias and more as they approach life's dilemmas with compassion and a sense of humor." - Listen on iTunes here
Recommended: When does self-care become selfish; How to save yourself from tech addiction; Mistakes we’ve made in our career
Oprah's Super Soul Conversations : Oprah Winfrey
"Awaken, discover and connect to the deeper meaning of the world around you with SuperSoul. Hear Oprah’s personal selection of her interviews with thought-leaders, best-selling authors, spiritual luminaries, as well as health and wellness experts. All designed to light you up, guide you through life’s big questions and help bring you one step closer to your best self." - Listen on iTunes here
Recommended: Amy Schumer: A Modern Day Warrior Woman; Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling: Brave New Worlds
The Health Code Podcast : Sarah's Day & Kurt Tilse
"A fun, informative, unfiltered and real podcast run by health and fitness YouTuber, Sarah's Day and professional photographer, content creator, Personal Trainer and Sarah's boyfriend, Kurt Tilse. This dynamic duo are here to crack the code on all things health, fitness, lifestyle, relationships and building your dream career. Get ready for some serious tips, tricks and healthy hacks." - Listen on iTunes here
Kalyn's Coffee Talk : Kalyn Nicholson
"Kalyn’s Coffee Talk is an upbeat (multiple coffees not included) and uplifting podcast to start your morning, or wind down your afternoon with - covering everything from wellness, mental health and learning to live your best life free from self-judgment and doubt." - Listen on iTunes here
Recommended: Being a Beginner; Trusting Yourself
Creative Empire Podcast : Reina Pomeroy & Christina Scalera
"Each week, Reina + Christina bring you up close with the influencers you dream of meeting at conferences and workshops, but maybe don't have a budget to attend yet. Sprinkled in between these are teaching episodes, and mentoring that walks show listeners through common problems with solutions during their early days of business." - Listen on iTunes here
All Things Faith
North Point Community Church
"The weekly audio podcast for North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA where our mission is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ." - Listen on iTunes here
Recommended: What Happy Couples Know (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4)
Passion City Church Podcast
"In a world where the weight is often heavy, we want to lift people, speak life, stand for justice, add value and celebrate the goodness of our God in the best of times and when the road is steep. We are not perfect. But Jesus is. Come as you are." - Listen on iTunes here
"Serial unfolds one story - a true story - over the course of a whole season. The show follows the plot and characters wherever they lead, through many surprising twists and turns. Sarah won't know what happens at the end of the story until she gets there, not long before you get there with her. Each week she'll bring you the latest chapter, so it's important to listen in, starting with Episode 1. New episodes are released on Thursday mornings." - Listen on iTunes here
Disclaimer: I have never listened to this one, but received two separate DM's recommending it. "Addicting! Great for long runs or drives or plane rides."
Up and Vanished
"Up and Vanished is an investigative podcast that explores the unsolved disappearance of Georgia beauty queen and high school teacher, Tara Grinstead. The 11-year-old cold case is the largest case file in the history of Georgia. Follow along as host Payne Lindsey, a filmmaker turned amateur investigator, examines old case evidence and re-interviews persons of interest. What happened to Tara Grinstead?" - Listen on iTunes here
Disclaimer: I have never listened to this one, either, but received enthusiastic DM's and figured I'd share it in this list too.
The plan is to keep this list updated as I go. Did I miss a favorite of yours? Let me know! I'm always active on my Insta DM's, and would absolutely love to hear from you.
HEYO. I'm Chlo.
So the basic gist is I’m really just tired of comparing myself to perfect people on the Internet, when I know for a fact that "perfect" doesn't exist. This here is a snippet of my inner thoughts and tidbits of experience, based on my twenty-something years of good ole fashioned, really really messy life.
My wish is for this blog to serve the small voices inside all of us that might have forgotten what being honest online can look like. Leave the hustle behind you, because this here is about HEART.
If you happen to not like what you're doing this season
My 2018 Intentions