Road to Graduation: Making Dreams a Reality

Three of our very own LVNG Limitless writers [Kenzie, Jess and myself] will be graduating from Ohio University in May. Over the next nine months, the three of us will share our personal insight on what this “Road to Graduation” is like, how we’re navigating our last year and the lessons we’re learning along the way. 


Growing up, I always envisioned a specific future for myself: a college graduate living in an apartment in a big city with a best friend [or 5]. Every Monday through Friday, I will leave said apartment at the crack of dawn for my teaching job, donning professional attire, an oversized purse slung over one shoulder and, of course, a large cup of coffee gripped tightly in one hand. 

In less than a year, that will be my reality. 


Today, I began my last first day of college. My last first day of work. My last first day as an undergraduate student. My entire college career has been a whirlwind. After moving from Chicago to start college at San Diego State University, taking a gap year my second year to work and volunteer abroad in Peru, I finally [somehow] ended up at my second home: Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where I will have studied abroad twice by the time I graduate. 


I can’t say I’ve had a typical college experience, butI can’t say I’m shocked or upset. I’ve always been very conscious of what other people think of me. For a while, this made me think I was very indecisive. In reality, I’m the most decisive person on this planet. I know what I want and I always have. College has given me the chance to learn what I want and how to vocalize what I want and I know that I will only continue to learn how to do this. 


I don’t know what next year has in store for me —I don’t even know what tomorrow has in store for me. But I do know one thing: I’m going to be enjoying this road to graduation for the next 35 weeks; taking in every feeling, living in every moment and participating in every possible adventure I can.


Six Chicago Artists to Add to your Playlist

Chicago is known for its great strides within the Jazz and Blues industry. In today’s Chicago music scene, many up and coming artists try to pay homage to this history through their music, while adding their own unique style it. After realizing that more music exists other than what is repeated on Top 40 radio stations, I began to explore deeper into the music that’s created right in my backyard [metaphorically speaking]. Here are my top bands and solo artists [as well as my song recs] from the Chicagoland area. [Bonus: listen to all of my top Chicago music picks here.] 



Manwolves has to take the cake for my absolute favorite Chicago band [and one of my favorite bands of all time]. The six-piece, which even features a trumpet, has a great mix of jazz and R&B with a sprinkle of pop in its sound. The trumpet, an essential jazz instrument, adds such an interesting flair to each song that Michael Werner plays. Werner and his bandmates,  Julian Freeman [drums], Henry Wolf [bass], Eli Cohen [guitar], Ari Garfin [keyboard] and Jamie McNear [vocals]. are from a suburb outside of Chicago and have known each other since high school [where they first played as Manwolves] and have been best friends ever since. Their genuine friendship is seen both on and off stage and is contagious within the crowd. Whenever I’m home, I make it a point to go to every Manwolves concert I can. [PS: pls play in Athens.]

Top songs:  “You,” “Fisherman’s Friend,” “These Days,” “Fear and Loathing”


Ric Wilson

If you ever need to feel empowered, listen to Ric Wilson.  His sound is an electric hip hop that exudes feel-good vibes. At every concert, he does a ‘soul train’ which allows anyone in the crowd to show off their dance moves. He is very much into singing / rapping about the issues the Black community in Chicago are facing, like police brutality and incarceration, while also singing about black empowerment. We love a woke and empowering man.

Top songs: “Powerful,” “Hang Loose,” “We Love Us”


The Slaps

The Slaps are what I would consider to be a traditional “indie” band [though, what does “indie” even mean anymore?]. While two of its members originate from Kentucky, the band found its drummer, Josh Resing, when they all attended DePaul University. While in school, Resing, Rand Kelly [vocals] and Ramsey Bell [guitar] created The Slaps, thus making it acceptable for them to grace my top Chicago music blog post. Though the band is quite small,  unique vocals and minimal instruments create a sound that boasts an upbeat energy [with the occasional slower songs and ballads scattered throughout its discography]. The Slaps are still a pretty small band [less than 5000 followers on Instagram] but with the help of their friends, Manwolves, they are slowly climbing up the ladder of Chicago music and who knows, maybe they’ll be selling out The Aragon and Ravinia, two of Chicago’s most iconic concert venues, before we know it. 

Top songs: “Song for a Friend,” “Houses” 



Tasha is a solo artist who mainly creates dream pop music. Her beautiful voice mixed with a chill, groovy type of music will calm anyone [the perfect finals week soundtrack]. While her music is amazing, her social media presence is just as important. Extremely passionate about Black female empowerment, she uses her music [much like Ric Wilson] to empower black women and talk about the hardships black women face in their day to day life. 

Top songs: “Something About this Girl,” “Lullaby,” “Kind of Love”



Very similar to Tasha is another solo artist, Kaina. She exudes the same dreamy and chill pop vibe in all of her songs and definitely isn’t afraid to play around with a synthesizer. She mixes Latinx sounds with the classic Chicago Jazz and Blues sound to create a one-of-a-kind sound. As a first-generation Latina [her parents immigrated to the US but she was born in the US], Kaina sings about her cultural identity and her detachment from it since she didn’t grow up living around a good majority of her family. 

Top songs: “La Luna,” “A Song to Sing” [a collab with Manwolves and Ric Wilson], “Honey”


Burns Twins 

I discovered the Burns Twins in a different way than all the previous artists. I was playlists deep on Spotify when I’d finished yet another Spotify Discover playlist. The next song that started playing was “Day by Day” by the Burns Twins. I’d heard of them through the Chicago music scene and from collaborations with Kaina, however, I’d never listened to any of their own music. Burns Twins collabs with a variety of artists, playing to their strengths in the technical side of creating music [usually a pop / hip hop mix]. With the twins as the driving force and the vocals of a talented lyricist, it’s hard for a great song to not be created. 

Top songs:  “La Luna” [a collab with Kaina], “Day by Day”

Discover: Chicago, Illinois

Living in the suburbs of Chicago my entire life has granted me many days trips to my absolute favorite city. With that being said, I have done so much in and around the city. It’s impossible to discover the entire city of Chicago in one week, let alone a day, but here are my top five must-sees for the perfect day in Chicago. 

Start the Day at Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea and Stan’s Donuts in Wicker Park 

Chicago is made up of a lot of little “villages.” Wicker Park happens to be one of my favorites. Head down to Milwaukee Avenue and enjoy a nice shot of espresso or iced coffee [or both] from Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea. They offer a wide variety of cold brews, espresso and matcha, as well as some sweet treats. Their nitro cold brew is ~amazing~ and Fairgrounds is definitely one of my favorite shops I’ve found. Once you have had your caffeine fix, walk around the corner to Stan’s Donuts and Coffee for a freshly baked donut [or two]. The owner of Stan’s is originally from California, but in 2014 he and Rich Labriola, owner of Chicago’s famous Labriola baking company, opened Stan’s Donuts and Coffee in the heart of downtown Chicago. They now have a plethora of shops in and around the city of Chicago and are always bustling with business [see the line that snakes out the door for proof]. Stan’s even has one or two vegan donut options [depending on the day] so they already receive an A+ in my book [education major pun intended]. While you’re there, don’t miss the opportunity to head down the street to take a photo with the iconic “Greetings from Chicago” sign. 

Check out a Museum at Chicago’s Museum Campus

One of the things that Chicago is known for are its museums. Boasting over 70 museums, there is certainly an exhibit for every kind of tourist. My personal favorite is the Art Institute. This museum is not situated on the museum campus, but just a few blocks away on Michigan Avenue. The Art Institute always has new art and exhibits for any art taste. From sculptures, the miniature room, modern art, textiles, ancient art and more, it’s easy to lose track of time and spend all day here. My tip for visiting museums on a time crunch: do some research the night before and make a list of what you want to see in the time you have so you aren’t running from one end of a museum to the next because you forgot to see the iconic Georgia O’Keefe painting, Sky Above Clouds IV [yes, I may or may not have done that].

Head over to The Chicago Diner for Lunch

Walking through museums can be exhausting and the last thing you want to do is spend an obscene amount of money on museum food. One of my favorite restaurants in Chicago [due to it being 100% vegetarian and having the ability to make every item on their menu vegan] is The Chicago Diner. A quaint restaurant in Boystown features the best milkshakes this city has to offer as well as breakfast all day long — what could be better? There isn’t one thing on the menu I would recommend more than another because every single item I have ever tried there is phenomenal. You might even score free parking [a rarity in Chicago] if you get there when there isn’t a traffic rush happening!

 Walk Around Lincoln Park and Enjoy the Best Cupcakes Ever Made

Just a quick drive or ‘L’ [the Chicago version of the Subway] ride away from The Chicago Diner is Lincoln Park. Lincoln Park is one of my favorite Chicago “villages” for so many reasons. From the lake view to the conservatory to walking the breathtaking DePaul campus [where I almost went to school, actually] there’s always a sight to see. Also, if you have room in your stomach after feasting at The Chicago Diner, sinking your teeth into some cupcakes from Swirlz Cupcake Shop is a must. Located just down the street from DePaul University, Swirlz offers cupcakes for people with most allergies [nut free, dairy free and gluten free]. Swirlz has 18 different vegan and gluten-free cupcakes that they rotate throughout the week as well as regular cupcakes as well. Check their website or give them a call to see if they have the cupcake you want today!


End the Day with a Cubs game at Wrigley Field

Not everyone is a sports fan, I get that. However, in my opinion, a trip to Chicago is not complete without a baseball game at Wrigley Field. With its iconic ivy, tons of [overpriced] food options and almost every seat filled, Wrigley Field is exactly what a baseball park should be. Enjoy a hotdog [Chicago style of course] and a Malt cup [or a pretzel and cotton candy if you’re like me] and enjoy a great night of friends, food and America’s favorite pastime. 


How To: Travel With Ease in Europe

If you’ve been following the blog [or my personal Instagram] over the past two months, you probably know that this summer I was fortunate enough to be able to study abroad in Toledo, Spain. 

While in Spain, I visited eight cities and two countries [which would have been 13 cities and five countries, had my purse not been stolen the final weekend forcing me to cut my trip short]. A lot of people don’t know how easy [and cheap] it is to travel through Europe, so here are my “do’s and don’ts” for traveling through Europe on a budget. 

When traveling to near-ish [i.e. 250 miles or less] places — TAKE A BUS

Buses in Europe [and South America, if you’re curious] are SO much roomier and cleaner than buses in America and I would 110% recommend taking one if you’re traveling within one country or if you’re in a city near a border [i.e. Barcelona]. Bus tickets range from $15 to $100 roundtrip, depending on how far you’re going and how populated the area you are headed to is. The time for the trip will be a bit longer but when money is on your mind, losing six hours and saving $150 is definitely worth it. 

If you’re traveling alone, stay in a hostel 

While there are some preconceived notions about the safety and quality of hostels from stereotypes portrayed in certain movies [i.e. “Hostel”], all the hostels I have stayed in over the years have been great. When looking at hostels, always go to trusted hostel websites like hostelworld and hostels. From there, make sure you’re in your price range. Whether your budget is $20 a night or $200, you’ll be sure to find something. Next, I always make sure they have metro access, are at least somewhat close to popular attractions of the city, have lockers and offer breakfast. Finally, I read the reviews to find the best hostel for me. I have yet to stay in a bad hostel [knock on wood] just by following these easy rules. 

If you’re traveling with a group, stay in an Airbnb 

I’m sort of new to the Airbnb scene because I really haven’t done much group traveling until Spain. In Madrid, Cuenca and Barcelona, I traveled with a group of people [four to nine  of us for each trip] and we stayed in Airbnbs for all three. The Airbnbs were always nice, spacious and in perfect locations. I followed roughly the same rules for finding Airbnbs as I did for hostels and we were pleasantly surprised each and every time. Airbnbs make group travel much easier than a hostel [hostels fill up fast and there is no guarantee that you will be sleeping in the same room as your friends]. There also isn’t a common space to cook and hang out in a hostel. This isn’t as much of a problem when traveling with one person, however, with nine people, it’s sort of a hassle. Airbnbs offer all the commodities of a house or apartment which fit the needs of every traveler. You can spread out after a long day of walking, cook dinner, open a bottle of wine [or four] and play some card games all in the comfort of your own kitchen, 

Use incognito mode

Airlines will hike up the prices for flights when they know you’re looking so make sure whenever you’re searching for hotels, flights, etc. you are using incognito mode [meaning your data and cookies won’t be saved, so websites can’t keep track of what you are searching] on your computer. This will save you so much time, money and you will be less stressed when you don’t see the prices change every time you refresh your page. 

Picking the days of the week for your trip is SO important

When I went to Paris over my birthday weekend, I wanted to go from Thursday to Sunday. I couldn’t find a single flight below $200 to return on Sunday and I was becoming so disheartened. Would my dream of spending my birthday weekend in Paris not come true? Then, I changed the days of flights I was looking at to Friday to Monday. I booked a roundtrip flight for $96 [with RyanAir —100% recommend them for weekend trips when you aren’t packing a lot]. I was floored. Yes, weekends are the ideal time to travel for you, but that means they’re also the ideal time to travel for everyone else. Miss that Monday morning class and stay an extra day in Paris [SUCH a sacrifice], you might save over $100 😉

Use Trip Advisor or sites similar

I love doing touristy stuff when I go new places. Walking tours, museums, bus tours, etc. and Trip Advisor and Civatitis are the places to look. I booked free walking tours, bus tours, boat tours, and more using these websites for a lot cheaper online than with a travel company in the actual city. Through these, I not only saved tons of money but I met a lot of other solo travelers who I wound up spending the rest of time in that city. It’s truly a win-win. 

Traveling through Europe isn’t just reserved for social media influencers and retirees. With these simple tricks and a little bargain hunting, anyone can make their dream of basking in the Tuscan sun or having a cappuccino while wearing a beret in Paris a reality.

Recipes for a Vegan-friendly 4th of July

When the Fourth of July comes to mind, the first thing I think of are all the different foods: burgers, brats, hot dogs, cole slaw, potato salad, apple pie, corn on the cob, etc. However, once I went vegan my food options at family cookouts went from seemingly infinite to roughly two: watermelon and butterless corn. I’ve had to bring my own food to any sort of Fourth party I’ve been to in the past four years. But, last year, I discovered a few recipes that I can make on my own that are delicious and will not be scoffed at by non-vegans. I hope this makes every vegan [and fruit and veggie lover] have a great, healthy and patriotic Fourth of July this year. 


Who says the traditional watermelon snack on Independence Day can’t be made fun? I love watermelon and this spicy and grilled take on the sweet treat is the perfect way to turn a rather boring fruit into the perfect mix of sweet, spicy and a hint of barbeque. Just add some watermelon and cayenne powder to your grill and every guest will be happy. 

Chips and dip is a barbecue classic. However, with dairy filled dips and cheese flavored chips the vegan selection is put to a halt. With these dessert chips and strawberry salsa, I’m able to have all the enjoyment of chips and dip but personalized to my dietary needs [and with a slightly healthier twist]. If you’re not in the mood to make the chips or you’re in a rush, you can always substitute with sugar pita chips. Your friends and family won’t even be able to tell the difference when this dish is plated amongst the rest of the non-vegan dips! 


I personally was NEVER a hot dog fan. Once I heard that they found rat feces in a certain hot dog brand, I’ve stayed clear of them. Hamburgers, on the other hand, were always a weakness of mine. Now, I do a variety of things to get my burger fix. My absolute favorite are Beyond Burgers with Daiya vegan cheddar cheese. When I’m feeling a bit more experimental, I make portobello mushroom burgers and a recipe that I just found recently [my host dad made these in Spain] are roasted beet burgers. The burger’s pinkish-red color will add a pop of patriotism to any hamburger bun. 

Side dishes

I know I mentioned above that potato salad and coleslaw are barbecue staples, but  I despised the two for the majority of my childhood. Right before I went vegan, however, I tried my grandpa’s potato salad and was absolutely hooked. Since going vegan, I haven’t been able to eat potato salad. Last year at school, I had a potato salad craving [of all things to crave I haven’t the slightest clue as to why I craved potato salad, but I did] and immediately searched google to find the best vegan potato salad. I made four different kinds that night and this one [with its subtle hint of garlic and creamy texture] was my favorite and is now my go-to party side dish. 

Another thing I love are veggie skewers. However, with most veggie skewers comes various meats [steak, sausage, etc.]. These veggie skewers use tofu instead of meat and are marinated in a barbecue sauce which makes them the perfect Fourth of July dish. Put them on the skewers, marinade and barbecue them with everything else on your menu. 


My favorite thing about the Fourth [and summer in general] is all of the desserts! Ice cream, s’mores and literally anything with fruit [we love a good ~natural~ source of sugar]! However, ice cream, cakes, cookies, etc. are all filled with eggs, milk and butter [much to the disappointment of vegans everywhere]. Fortunately, I’ve found two desserts that are a great way to cool off on a hot summer day that are also red, white or blue [one is all three ;)] which will make the perfect Instagram worthy photo [because let’s be honest, what’s a party without a social media post?]. 

These firecracker pops are your traditional take on the classic Rocket Pop popsicle [cue the childhood nostalgia] but are made of fruit and plant-based milk rather than dairy products. Savor every last lick of these sweet pops after you’ve hopped out of the pool or are waiting for the fireworks shows to start!

If you prefer ice cream scoops to popsicles, this sorbet is just what you need. Instead of an ice cream maker, all you need are frozen fruits and their complementary flavors [i.e. strawberry and basil] and a food processor. I love making this with frozen bananas and cocoa powder because it’s got the texture and flavor of ice cream, but it’s all fruit!

When it comes time to gather with friends and family [especially when food is the focal point] it can be nerve-wracking for those of us who choose to live a vegan lifestyle. However, more and more recipes are being created and shared that turn our favorite non-vegan dishes into ones made complete dairy- and meat-free! Share your recipes with us on Instagram. [Tip: even if you’re not vegan, try one of these recipes this Fourth of July. We promise, you won’t regret it and you won’t even be able to tell the difference!]

Discover: Toledo, Spain

When you hear the word Toledo, the first place that may come to mind is Toledo, Ohio. But, the northwestern Ohio city isn’t the only one that claims the name. This summer I am studying abroad in Toledo [To-lay-do] Spain for eight weeks. I am already over halfway done with my time here and all I can say is WOW. Toledo is one of the most beautiful and historic places I have ever encountered and every day I feel like I’m dreaming. While I have eight weeks to explore this magnificent city, I know that most people who come to Toledo will not have that luxury. Therefore, I want to share my absolute favorite things from this city, so that people who are visiting here with a much shorter timeline can still bask in the glory that is the “ciudad de las tres culturas” [translated below].


The culture and history of Toledo is the city’s claim to fame, because its nickname is the “city of the three cultures.”

The number one must-see when it comes to culture is La Catedral de Toledo. This 800-year-old cathedral is one of the most jaw-dropping pieces of architecture you will ever see. From the amount of gold to the beautiful stained glass and everything in between, there is no going wrong here. Make sure you allot at least three hours to fully experience this building and its history and don’t forget to stick your hand inside of the “secret” pipe to touch the bones for good luck!

It wouldn’t be fair to mention that Toledo is called the city of the three cultures without talking about at least one of the other cultures. Make your way down to the Jewish Quarter for a street full of cool shops, insane views and access to hiking trails, like La Ruta de Don Quijote. The trail, declared a European Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe spans more than 1,500 miles and consists of historic roads and livestock trails.


Spain is very much into the nightlife. Bars open around 10 or 11 p.m. and don’t close until the early morning [some even stay open until 6 or 7 a.m.]. There are so many options for every mood you’re in. In my opinion, however, two bars stand out..

La Taberna de Livingstone is your typical bar; cheap drinks, great company and the owners are SO sweet! 3 euro sangria along with 1 euro shots can make any night one to remember [or … forget?].. When you maybe just want a drink or two before dinner, Terraza Miradero is the place for you. Their drinks are a little bit more expensive, but totally worth it. Each set of drinks comes with two or three tapas [little appetizers of various sorts] and they also serve AMAZING food! There are even a few vegan options! This is definitely my group’s favorite place to go to for the great drinks, great view and, of course, the great company.


When visiting any new place, you’re going to want to make a purchase [or 15]. There are multiple malls in and around Toledo, however, if you want authentic Toledo clothes, shoes, souvenirs, etc. Zocodover is a plaza in the Historic Casco district of Toledo. It’s a very touristy area filled with tons of food, souvenirs and art shops. It’s definitely been my one-stop shop for a quick snack before dinner and for all of my souvenir needs for my friends and family.

If you’re in the mood for some more traditional Spanish goods, a flea market is just what you need. Los Martes [Tuesday’s] is a flea market that occurs every Tuesday right outside of Casco. From shoes, clothes, food and more there’s something for everyone. I’ve already bought two pairs of shoes, a cute dress and a few tasty treats.


I’m not sure if anyone is surprised that both food locations that I recommend are dessert places. Santo Tomé and Jacinta y Maria are my two favorite places in all of Toledo. Santo Tome is a phenomenal marzipan shop with other baked goods as well. Their color is pink and everything you buy is cheap and wrapped up very nicely in pink wrapping paper and a pink bow. This is definitely the location where I will be buying food for my family and friends back home.

Jacinta y Maria is our group’s favorite hangout spot. After our dance and cooking classes every Monday, a group of anywhere from 2 to 10 of us head over to get gelato, sorbet, marzipan, chocolate and more. The couple that works there, Paco and Yolanda, are always willing and able to help us with our Spanish skills, talk for hours, and let us try all of their favorite creations. With a small cup of gelato, at just under 3 euros and served with love and a bottle of water, there really is no better place to go for a sweet fix.

The list of amazing things to do and see in Toledo is endless. This quaint and historic city has stolen my heart as well as all of the places I’ve highlighted and more. While I had never heard of Toledo prior to studying abroad, I would 110% recommend visiting this city and these locations if you’re ever in Spain. It’s only a 25 minute train ride from Madrid! 😉

Guide to Stress-Free Traveling

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after being in quite a few airports throughout my life, it’s that traveling can be STRESSFUL. But, I’ve also learned how to minimize the majority of the stress.. Here are my top five tips for making traveling a breeze.

Get to the airport early

I always joke about how I could never marry [let alone travel] with someone who gets to the airport 20 minutes before their flight boards, but I mean it. I am definitely the type of person who gets to the airport 2-3 hours before my flight takes off ~just in case~. There is nothing more anxiety inducing than getting into a security line that is a mile long and realizing you might not have enough time to get to your gate. Also, if you’re traveling in a popular airport [O’hare, JFK, LAX, etc.] those airports are BIG. It is so easy to get lost in them or take a wrong turn and add 20 minutes onto your search for your terminal. Get there as early as possible to allow ample time for browsing gift shops, grabbing a coffee, using the restroom, filing up your water bottle and of course, people watching.

Pack light

There is nothing worse than showing up to the airport with two suitcases, a duffle bag and a backpack. Not only is it a hassle to maneuver through airport with all that, but traveling at your final destination will be just as difficult. Just because a luggage set comes with three pieces does NOT mean you have to bring all of them. Try to fit everything into one checked bag and one carry-on [ie. big rolling suitcase and backpack/purse]. I always aim to pack clothes in half of my suitcase and the other half I save for toiletries, first-aid kits, shoes, etc. [this allows me to have extra room on the way back for souvenirs!]. In my carry-on I keep snacks, electronic devices, important documents and a book or two.

Pack snacks

Unless your flight is only an hour and you could navigate the airport in your sleep, flying can be a day-long venture. Therefore, you’re going to need to eat and airport food is expensive [we here at LVNG Limitless are always ballin’ on a budget, so I’m sure you are too]. Bring a variety of snacks to the airport with you to avoid spending your life savings on a bag of chips. Instead, use that money for the fun trip ahead of you.

Keep all important documents accessible

Passport, driver’s license, boarding pass, photocopies of documents, insurance card, debit/credit card, etc. all need to be within close reach so that you aren’t fumbling around and wasting precious time looking for them in your bag. That being said, they also need to be tucked away to prevent from being stolen. I have a passport holder [with RFID protection] that I wear around my neck under my shirt to keep everything with me and readily available. It seems silly, but I would much rather be certain that all of my ducks are in a row than be checking my backpack constantly to see if anything important has been stolen.

Always carry  cash

Whether traveling domestically or internationally, it is never a bad idea to carry cash. I personally don’t like having a lot of cash on me at once just in case, but having $20 to $50 for food, a taxi or tip is never a bad idea. Plus, in other countries, there are places that don’t take cards at all so it’s better to be safe than sorry!

The next time you’re frazzled about your latest traveling adventure, try out these tips! I PROMISE they will reduce at least some of the stress and help ease your mind. What travel tips have you thought up throughout your experiences? Share with us on Instagram!

Loving Yourself When Your Mind Refuses

Today is the first day of May, which is also, coincidentally, the first day of Mental Health month. Over the next few weeks, we will have various contributors share their mental health journeys. Advocacy to end the stigma surrounding mental health is something that is very near and dear to my heart. Here’s my story:

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a good relationship with my head, or my body for that matter, and it’s taken quite the toll on every aspect of my life. It’s been that way since I was at least 12-years-old.

I started paying attention to how I looked when I was 10, counting calories at age 13, working out for hours on end to burn as many calories as i could at 14, self-harming at 16 and much more in between.

At the time, I thought what I was doing was healthy. I was losing weight and I was getting compliments on my appearance. I’d never gotten those before. That fueled my fire. I kept eating less, working out more, sucking in, and anything else I could to change my body.

Looking back, what i was doing was the furthest thing from healthy I could have been doing for my body and my mind. Alas, these 1200 calorie days were not feasible. So I started bingeing. I was eating 200 calories before 5 p.m. and then when my body couldn’t handle the lack of food, I would overcompensate with hundreds of calories in junk food to satisfy my pent up cravings.

Then, I hated myself more for what I’d just done.

Somehow, though, I lost 50 pounds. I was “happy.” People were saying I was pretty and that I looked great. The attention I was getting was unlike anything I’d received before and I loved it. Boys liked me, popular girls talked to me, It seemed great at the time so I kept eating less and pushing my body past its limit.

What I didn’t realize then was the toll that this would take on my physical and mental health. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and, despite not having been officially diagnosed, I’m almost certain I had/have a binge-eating disorder [but we do NOT self diagnose in this house so despite what I think, until I get the official “you have or you do not have an eating disorder” I will go on living as though I do not]. I stopped seeing friends, stopped doing the things I love and my grades in school dropped. Overall, I felt empty and hopeless. I wanted to die. I couldn’t get smaller. I couldn’t fit into society’s ideal image of the perfect human being.

So I started self harming. If my body couldn’t do what I needed it to do, it had to be punished.

This hateful cycle of not nourishing my body, over exercising and self-harming continued all the way through college. It took me until I was 20-years-old to discover CHAARG [a health & wellness organization on my campus that strives to make fitness fun for college-aged girls]  and things that make me happy such as the color yellow, the current people in my life, music, children, the outdoors, good food and so much more.

I have spent 11 years hating what I saw in the mirror looking back at me. I’ve spent the past 11 years trying to change my body to fit a standard I was never meant to fit.

I’m 21-years-old now. I never in a million years thought I’d make it this far but, I’m genuinely happy. Of course, I still have my bad days,  but now there are more sunny days than cloudy. I have an amazing support system with the best friends in the entire world, I have a body that does all I need [and more] and I have the will to persevere through anything and everything.

What I’ve learned from this is that everyone needs to put down whatever their device is and thank their body. Thank your body for all it does for you. Thank your body for healing you when you are sick, for allowing you to lift heavy objects and walk long distances and for loving you unconditionally no matter what you do to it.

The last thing anyone wants to hear is that it gets better, but the one thing everyone needs to hear is that you are not alone. I needed to hear that 8 years ago, I needed to hear that last night. Everyone fights their own battles, mine just happen to be with myself.

So, to my body: thank for you for loving me despite everything I have done to you.

To my mind: no matter what you think, you can’t stop me from blooming.

Discover: Old Man’s Cave

I don’t know what you think of when you think of rural Ohio, but two things that immediately come to mind for me are farms and corn. The last thing that I’d think of is a beautiful solace of caves, state parks and waterfalls, but that’s just what’s housed in the small town of Logan, Ohio.

Logan is home to Lake Logan State Park which includes not only Lake Logan itself, but Ruby Falls, Cedar Falls, Ash Cave, the famous Old Man’s Cave and so much more. Last weekend, Grace, Hannah and I made the 30-minute venture to Logan to see Old Man’s Cave with our moms for Ohio University’s annual Mom’s Weekend.

Personally, this hike was beyond necessary. My life has been overflowing with hustling and bustling for the past few months and getting the chance to slow down, appreciate nature and hike in one of the most beautiful places Ohio has to offer, with my best friends, was exactly what I needed. Just 30 minutes outside of campus, the Hocking Hills location is perfect for a quick day trip [or, look into renting a cabin for a relaxing weekend getaway!].

Old Man’s Cave never ceases to make me realize how miniscule some of of my worries are.  There’s something about the outdoors and being surrounded by towering trees, rushing water and the daylight bouncing off of the cave walls so brightly that they almost look orange that makes any anxious thoughts, deadlines and responsibilities disappear. Instead, my worries are replaced with taking in the beautiful view laughing and spending ~quality~ time with friends and, of course, trying not to trip and fall in the nearest patch of mud.

Grace, Hannah and I [and occasionally our moms] couldn’t stop gushing about how serene the cave is. Being #CityGorls [or maybe wannabe #CityGorls] from Chicago, Columbus and Cincinnati, the looming tree branches were a welcoming contrast to the urban landscapes we grew up in. The cool breeze, canopy of foliage giving shade from the sun, sound of water flowing in the creeks and being surrounded by nothing but nature and a lack of phone service reminded us that it’s important to stop and take time to breathe amidst our busy schedules.

If you’re an avid wanderer, like myself, Old Man’s Cave is a must for your travel list. You can even make a day of it! Start the day by grabbing a pastry and cup of coffee from Village Bakery in Athens, Ohio. After making the quick commute to the cave entrance, make sure to take time to really appreciate your surroundings — don’t rush it! End your day with a drink and a meal at Eclipse Company Store. We promise, by the time you make it back home you’ll have a deeper appreciation for quality time spent outdoors with loved ones [even if you may be so exhausted that you sleep for 11 hours after].

Pop of Yellow

Sunshine. Sunflowers. Ducks. Chicks. Denny’s. Daffodils. Lemons. Snapchat. Bananas. Emojis. Bees. Stars. Lemonade. Canaries. The theme of this blog.

What do all of these things have in common? They’re yellow of course. I don’t know what it is but there’s something about the color yellow. Yellow is a color I try to relate to as often as I can. It makes me happy. Few things do these days, but yellow? Happy as a clam.

I try to relate to the color yellow as often as I can because it does make me so happy. Whether I’m wearing my yellow vans, my phone background is yellow, my nails are painted yellow, etc. I try to add a pop of yellow to myself every single day.

Something I like to do is “flex” on my depression. When i have bad days, or struggle to keep going, I look to the color yellow and I’m immediately more radiant. I may have no serotonin in my body whatsoever but as long as I’m looking at the color yellow, there’s at least some hope for a good day ahead.

I think of a lot of things when I see the color yellow. I think of a warm summer day on the ocean, the breeze cascading across the shore, smiles from everyone involved.

I think of a day with friends, laughing in a coffee shop, ignoring homework and responsibilities because you’d much rather hear about drama than read 100 pages. [We love a good coffee shop tea party, honestly.]

I think of the word bloom. How I’m still growing, blooming. No matter how many bad days, long nights, missed responsibilities, I’m still growing and one day, I’m going to bloom.

We all have something. Something that gives us joy, something that gives us hope. Sometimes it’s coffee, sometimes it’s a dog, other times, it’s a primary color that turns every frown upside down.