Sometimes self-care is working?

I’ve been doing a pretty bad job of prioritizing myself lately. It’s been tough with personal stressors like re-planning my wedding for the third time, having my best friend drop out of it last-minute (but another amazing friend come through for me to take her place), and communicating with contractors and insurance to do some fairly serious home repairs. Not to mention being emotionally overwhelmed by coronavirus and related restrictions and the George Floyd murder and resulting protests. I feel guilty about having all of this stress sometimes- I have the privilege to host a fancy wedding, to own a home, to have good friends, to be white and be able to step back from BLM when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

But for a moment, I’d like to take time for me. I suck at asking for help. I try to do everything and do it perfectly because of this stupid inner voice telling me I have to or I’m not good enough. And I do. But it’s exhausting. It’s really starting to take it’s toll. I haven’t had time to think about my job in the past three weeks as a result.

What was really weird, was that yesterday was the first time I had some free time. What did I want to do with it? Work.  I was so excited to have time to watch presentations from an online teaching conference I had registered for. It was the weirdest feeling to finally have free time and want to do job-related activities. Not because I felt like I was behind, but because I genuinely enjoy teaching and learning about pedagogy.

I realized that I need to take a step back. I can’t do everything (or I can, but I’m not willing to pay the price of emotional exhaustion). But that’s okay. I don’t have to. Let me just remind everyone of a few things. First of all, you are good enough. Even if you aren’t perfectly doing your job or being a perfect friend or partner or family member. Even if you aren’t getting everything done or even most of it. Secondly, you are important. If you don’t make time for yourself, pretty soon you won’t be able to get anything done because of the mountain of stress you’ve created for yourself. Third, self-care looks different for everyone. It’s not always bubblebaths and wine and chocolate (although it totally can be). It might just be allowing yourself to take a break. Going to sleep earlier. Ordering out. Or even doing your job. Don’t judge yourself on what you need to do to take care of yourself. But do listen to yourself. Be honest. Figure out what you need, whether it’s that bubble bath or watching that conference presentation or something completely different.

These are tough times for everyone. Take care of yourself!

Black Lives Matter

In the past few years, I have been becoming more aware of racism, segregation, and related issues in the U.S. I’ve been reading books like Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, having conversations with my colleagues and students, listening to podcasts like Serial Season 3 (which really hits home because it takes place here in Cleveland) and just paying attention.

But as a white person, it’s easy to get distracted by my own problems and struggles. I have the privilege to put my feelings about it on hold.

Then there are days like May 25th when George Floyd was murdered that make it impossible to forget, even as a white person.

I am so angry with the world right now. It feels like I’m not living in the United States or on Earth, because what society could let this happen? It cannot possibly be real that people of color are being murdered and the person in charge is simply encouraging more violence. Violence is never the answer. Especially when rich, white people are calling for it and it’s primarily people of color who are getting hurt and dying.

Here’s what I know: I’m tired of doing nothing. It is just as harmful to sit by in silence. What is happening is unacceptable. People of color are being murdered because rich, white people have perpetuated racist beliefs in order to profit off of their lives. It’s bullshit. It’s not fair.

But don’t stop at that conclusion. Don’t push aside your anger and hurt and frustration. Do something to help.

Here’s what I’m doing: I received $167 for my stimulus check. I donated all of it and more ($200 in total) to Cleveland’s Black Lives Matter organization. If you are also so inclined, here is the link. If you would like to donate to your local BLM chapter, here is a compilation of resources. If you are a white person feeling a little overwhelmed and not sure how you can help, please check out this website and consider reading some of these books. And if you’re a teacher, like me, please remember that we are on the front lines of dismantling racial inequality. Please educate yourself and help fight for justice.

Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Even if it’s small. One person alone cannot stop a tidal wave, but together we can stand strong.

#BlackLivesMatter

My Closet, aka Never Give Up on Yourself

Today I did something I’ve been terrified of doing for months now: I tried on the clothes in my closet.

That sounds a little bit ridiculous. I mean, we’re supposed to wear those, right? I have a lot of clothes. I probably have inherited a bit of a hoarding problem from my parents to be honest. It’s hard for me to give things up. But, it’s even harder for me to face something else I’ve been experiencing lately, which is weight gain.

It’s on purpose. Sort of. I’m not trying to gain weight, but I am trying to stop obsessing about what I eat and repair my relationship with food. I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that my body’s natural size may be a few dozen pounds more than I thought, having dieted off and on for the last eight or so years.

It’s been a challenging process. Actually, it’s been kind of terrifying. The part where I get to eat whatever I want has been excellent. But having to face my closet- the clothes that don’t fit- or the stares of people who know you’ve gotten bigger but try not to let you know that they know has been really hard. It’s hard to let go. I’m a bit of a control freak, so it’s hard to let go of anything. But it’s especially hard to let go of control of my body. It’s hard for me to let myself be hungry or full naturally, to let my body decide what it needs to eat and when it wants to exercise.

Weirdly, it was a lot easier to just join Weight Watchers or count calories. It was rewarding- the numbers on the scale went down, you have a built in support system, everyone comments on how good you look. But it didn’t feel good. Being hungry all the time and being obsessed with deserts was not fun. Finishing crappy cookies because who knew when you’d allow yourself to eat sweets again was disturbing. Spending all of my brain power on what I was going to eat and when I was going to eat it was exhausting. And despite all of that, I still felt guilty about my body and how I looked.

I’m glad I’m not doing that any more, but not doing it is hard too.

Still, I went through my closet today. I got rid of some clothes for donation and made a second “just in case” pile (in case I do lose the weight naturally or in case I want to purchase the same or similar clothes in a larger size). It felt really freeing. I also discovered that there are a lot of clothes I love that still do fit. I put on one of my favorite shirts and it still looks good on me. Honestly, I was terrified that nothing would.

I may have to give up on some favorite clothing, on some special outfits I bought to wear at my wedding or engagement photo shoot, or costumes for LARPing, some of these which I wore once or not at all.

But this seems a small price to pay for feeling better about myself and about my body. Maybe when this quarantine is over, I’ll reward myself with a shopping spree!

It’s a shitty time right now, but never give up on yourself!

 

It’s Okay not to be Okay

I returned back from my spring break nerd cruise vacation last Sunday feeling refreshed and ready to face the world again. But the world looked a lot different than I remembered.

My college moved to remote learning for the rest of the semester, I self-quarantined since I had returned from travel, bars, restaurants, and small businesses closed down, I couldn’t see my family or friends, and I had no idea what the status of my bridal shower, bachelorette party, or wedding would be.

I should feel lucky- it could be so much worse for me. There are people out there who are sick and dying, people who lost their jobs or can’t afford to pay their rent, students who are trying to complete classes online so they can graduate and maybe find a job in this crazy new world, people who still have to report to work at the grocery store or hospital, people who need health services unrelated to the virus but can’t access it because the hospitals are so busy or because they can’t afford it. I could still be long-distance with my fiance, stuck apart for who knows how long. My brother could be stuck in China. Me or my loved ones could be sick.

But thinking of that list only makes me sad. Because not only is the world slightly worse for me, it’s so much worse for so many. And the worst part about it is that we don’t know when it will get better. Scientists have run models and are working themselves ragged to develop a cure and help get things back to normal. But no one knows. Events are being cancelled or postponed indefinitely.

And yet, we are told to just keep on keeping on. Work from home, be productive, clean your house, catch up on your hobbies. I want to do all of those things, but in the back of my mind, I can’t help but consider all of the What Ifs. They make it hard to stay motivated.

I finally broke down and cried about it last night. I didn’t think I would. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t help judging those who said they did. But thinking it’s not such a big deal is really only wishful thinking. It’s not okay. I’m not okay. But that’s okay.

I have no idea if and when I’m getting married this year. I have no idea when I will get to see my family and friends. I have no idea when I can leave my house or go back to my job as usual. But there’s absolutely nothing I can do to change those things. All I can do is try to keep up with my life as best I can within my house. I can take care of my family. Also importantly, I can take care of myself.

Please, take care of yourselves. Let yourself cry. Allow yourself to feel afraid or angry or sad. It’s okay to not be okay. I don’t know if anyone is right now, but that’s okay. We can get through it, even though we don’t know what awaits us on the other side.

Acceptance: My Goal for the New Year

In the past several years, I’ve made intense goals for New Years and other times throughout the year: weight loss, exercising,writing, reading, and more. I always work really hard to meet these goals and often I have the dedication to make them happen. But the intense effort can take a toll when I’m pursuing goals at the expense of everything else. What I’ve neglected is self-care.

I’ve noticed this especially on my journey with intuitive eating. I’ve done a pretty good job of not restricting foods and allowing myself to eat what I want, however the positive body image has really been a struggle. I’ve gained some weight since starting Intuitive Eating, and it’s recently been making me feel bad about myself.

Tonight, it made me argue with my mom when she told me my “food theory” was right and it wasn’t. Upon reflection after we hung up, I realized that I argued with her, because I felt like she was criticizing my weight gain, even though she had said nothing of the sort. Eventually I realized that I was projecting my negative body feelings onto her. I called back, apologized, and had an emotional conversation with her where she shared her struggles with eating as well. It was eye-opening to realize that I was feeling criticized during the conversation, but she was just feeling vulnerable herself. If I had stayed obsessed with my own negativity, I would have never realized what she was feeling and would have never had that second conversation with her.

Self-acceptance makes you a better person.

The most important reason for this, is because you stop obsessing over yourself and you’re able to hear others. Instead of thinking they’re criticizing you, you can realize that they are struggling too.

It also means you have the time and energy to care for others and make the world a better place. If you are only worried about yourself- how to lose a few pounds, how to look better, what others think of you- you have no more thought space left! Imagine all the time you’d have to think if all those worries were taken away.

This year, I want to be that person. I want to learn to love myself so that I can reduce my worry and free up my thoughts for more productive things. I want to accept myself so that I can help others.

It won’t be an easy journey. Society projects messages of self-criticism, of dieting, of not being good enough. Even if you want with all of your being to overcome those messages, it takes a lot of time and energy to do so. I’m not even sure it’s possible to be a fully self-accepting person.

But I know that it is a worthwhile goal and that I want to try.

No One Eats My Cupcakes Any More

For my exam reviews in the courses I teach, I motivate students using cupcakes as prizes for the winning team. I’ve noticed that fewer students have been taking cupcakes. They’re dieting or eating healthy or don’t eat cupcakes. When I try to gift them to other students in the hallway after class, I find the same unusual phenomenon. When I bake for events I’m attending, I’ve noticed a similar pattern. Fewer and fewer people are enjoying my baked goods. Are people just decreasing in their love of sugar and tasty treats over time? I doubt it. Often people will look longingly at the desserts before refusing them. So what is going on?

I’ve recently become aware of a movement called Intuitive Eating. One major observation that this movement has made is that of “Diet Culture.” We are living in diet culture. Magazines tell us to “lose the flab”, or “get ready for that beach bod.” Disturbingly skinny models are advertised everywhere. Diets are cropping up like weeds- paleo, keto, Adkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, and more. Each one is the “answer you need” and is “unlike other diets.” They all have the “solution” for your “problem.”

The terrifying part is that they work. Yesterday alone, I overheard at least a dozen diet- or eating-related comments. People refused the adorable (and delicious) Halloween cupcakes I baked because they were “on a diet” or “felt disgusting” for eating “bad food.” Another person looked longingly at photos of herself in an old Halloween costume, remarking “if I lost 10 pounds, I’d totally wear that again.”

We spend so much of our lives hyperfocused on food. Losing that last few pounds, getting “in shape for the big day,” preparing our “bikini bods”, and so many others. The problem is, diets don’t work. Yes, you heard me correctly. Diets do NOT work.

In the short term, you may lose a few (or even more than a few) pounds. You may have a support group (like in WW) cheering you on or giving you rewards for every few pounds you lose. People compliment or even clap and cheer at your weight loss. It feels exhilarating. But sure enough, months later, you’re back at the meetings. Why? Because the weight came right back on. And sometimes, with a vengeance- you weigh more than you did when you started the diet.

Our bodies react to diets like they do to starvation. Our metabolism decreases and we become hyper vigilant to any sign of food (See the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.) Restriction makes us binge- we gobble down that forbidden food because who knows when we might have the chance to do it again.

Research shows that diets fail for 90-95% of people. For the rest of us, we’ve just wasted weeks, months, years of our lives feeling guilty and depriving ourselves of our favorite foods. So why are we doing this?

Diet culture sends us messages that weight is equivalent with health. No surprise there, given that BMI is used as a universal indicator of health, despite the fact that it was NEVER designed to do so (10 Reasons why BMI is bogus.) In fact, the standards for BMI’s “normal,” “overweight,” “obese,” etc. are completely arbitrary. They were changed to be even lower in 1998 when insurance companies wanted to change the way they billed their clients. Even more interesting is the research showing that “overweight” and “obese” people (according to their BMIs) actually tend to live longer than those in the “normal” weight range. So if we aren’t losing weight to be healthy, what are we doing it for?

It certainly isn’t to feel good about ourselves- diets “work” based on making us feel guilty when we eat the foods we love. Then they don’t work by making us binge on those foods we crave.

I’ve been dieting for a long time. I’ve felt bad about being chubby since I was in middle school and have been actively restricting my eating with calorie counting, Noom, Weight Watchers, and more for 7 years. My weight has been up and down the whole time. I’ve always felt that there was something wrong with me for not being able to succeed on these diets. I’ve felt I didn’t have the willpower, I wasn’t good enough, I was addicted to sugar, the problem was me. But no longer.

I’m working on trying to eat intuitively. To eat when my body says its hungry, and to eat what it wants me to eat- even if that is french fries and chocolate and ice cream and donuts. Even if that is salad and vegetables and chicken breast and fruit. I’m terrified of letting go of the control I’ve grasped for years. I’m afraid I’ll gain tons of weight and everyone will look at me differently.

But I also feel so relieved. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m not addicted to sugar. I don’t have a problem. I just like food. And that’s okay.

If you’re interested in reading more about this movement, I highly recommend the books “Intuitive Eating” and “The Fuck It Diet.” You can also find websites and Facebook groups about these topics.

You are not Alone

My heart bleeds for my students’ struggles. So many of them are facing all kinds of intense personal issues at home that affect their mental and emotional health, not to mention their grades and academic careers.

In the past month, I’ve had a student decide to take a break from college because she just had a baby and has a full time job, a student who had to room with someone who brought her flea-ridden cat into her apartment and is still (2 weeks later) taking showers in dish soap and washing her dog daily to deal with them, a student whose dad got in a car accident and she is his power of attorney so she’s had to quit her job and spend every free moment at the hospital, and a student who just came into my office crying because I was the only one in her life she felt close to.

Many of my friends, and myself included, did not have these concerns in college. Our biggest problem was not wanting to wake up early or experiencing social drama with our friends. We didn’t have to work one or more part or full time jobs to afford our schooling. We didn’t have to take care of children or siblings or parents. We had social support at home. (Or maybe you did have these concerns and, if so, my heart bleeds for you too!)

It’s hard to see this. It’s hard to notice other people’s struggles while we face our own and it’s hard to bring the emotional energy to care or do something about it. I hate knowing what my students face and giving them penalties for late assignments or missed work. I want to tell them there are sometimes more important things than school. I want to give them hugs. I want to bake for them and pay off their loans and buy toys for their dogs or babies. I want them to only have to worry about their assignments for class and their friends and how early they have to wake up and to solve all of their other problems. I want them to know how much I care and I want them to know there’s always someone they can talk to.

Unfortunately, I am a college professor, and I can’t do many of those things.

But, I am a college professor, and there is something I can do. I can listen to my student cry in my office and give her candy and tell her she can stop by anytime. I can bring my positivity and enthusiasm to my classes and interactions with my students. I can see them and acknowledge their struggles.

And my students are not the only ones who struggle and these are not the only issues. If you are struggling, know that you are seen. You are appreciated. I am here for you. If you want a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen or just someone to feed you candy while you cry, I am here.

Be that person for someone. Understand that everyone struggles, and let your heart bleed for them.

To My Brother

Being around people who know me really well is comforting, like wearing a well-loved hoodie or drinking hot tea on a cold day cuddled under a blanket inside. Being around people who make me really happy fills me with a sense of effervescence. Like my whole body is a terrible metaphor for champagne- full of laughter and light.

Spending time with my brother is both of these things.

Siblings know each other in a way that no one else in the world does. Mike and I are extremely different people, yet also eerily similar. I like rules and control, planning what I’m doing for the next five years. He likes spontaneity and prefers not planning even what he’s doing the next day. I’m a huge nerd, spending my free time reading fantasy books, playing board and roleplaying games. He (fondly) teases me for my nerddom, preferring going out with friends or just chilling out and talking. I can’t stand being idle, he loves having nothing to do.

But then we somehow have the same worldview, the same sense of humor. We know exactly what the other is talking about when we can’t remember a word or phrase or person’s name, with very little context. We have crazy inside jokes that make each other break into uncontrollable laughter with just a word or a look. My future in-laws recently commented that we were practically twins.

We have the best conversations. We once ate lunch at Chipotle while talking about whether or not math exists. We contemplate the fundamental nature of existence in one breath and make fart jokes in the next. Once, we had an entire phone conversation speaking entirely in sound effects without using any words. Going on family vacations when we’d share a room meant silly conversations until late in the morning where we’d laugh so hard we couldn’t breathe.

Just being around him makes me unbelievably, ridiculously happy. My brother is the funniest person I know. Laughter comes easily to him and he brings it to others even more quickly. Often our family gatherings without him feel plain and boring. There’s an energy they lack that he never fails to bring. He isn’t afraid to bring humor to ANY topic. There’s nothing that fazes him, whether gross, disturbing, or taboo. He lets you view the world more lightly by questioning everything- and laughing about it.

We always have each other’s backs. When we were kids, we would always play Super Smash Brothers on our N64 with my cousins (also a brother and sister). Without ever talking about it, we would team up, destroying them first before having to fight each other. This strategy would work every time. They got so frustrated with us for doing this, but it never occurred to us to turn on each other.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t fight. The most intense fights I have are with my brother. But we don’t hold grudges. My favorite description of our relationship is a time I was visiting home from grad school and he from college. We had the most intense bitter argument about something stupid- I wanted to join him in running this errand and he didn’t want me to come. It ended with me stomping out of the room and going to my own, slamming the door behind me. Not two minutes later, my brother knocks on my door and asks if I want to come on the errand with him. I say yes, get in his Jeep, and we head out, having a great time on the way- previous anger completely dissipated.

I am unbelievably proud of my brother. He’s living in China right now, teaching English to children. He’s been there for a year already and plans to stay at least another year. It takes incredible courage to leave everything that’s familiar to you to go to a foreign country where very few people even speak your language.

But I also miss him like crazy. He was just in town visiting for about a month and it was such an amazing time. Sometimes I forget just how much I love my brother until he’s here hanging out with me. And when he’s here, I forget just how much I miss him when he’s away.

This one’s for you, bro! Keep living it up in China, being awesome, and visiting your boring sister here in Ohio ❤

On Endings

Recently, my hard drive crashed. There was a long 2 month saga of trying to get it fixed, including two weeks of being lost in the mail and several phone calls involving pretending to be my mom, shouting, crying, and more headache. Needless to say it was incredibly stressful. After that incredibly onerous process, I was really hoping for a happy ending, but it was not to be. Nothing could be recovered. Luckily, all of my photos were backed up to the cloud. However, so much was still lost. Old assignments, journal articles, teaching resources. Probably the biggest lost for me were my old stories and journal entries.

It’s funny, because I didn’t regularly use that hard drive. It wasn’t like I read those files every day to reminisce (maybe if I had, I would’ve backed them up elsewhere as well). But I would occasionally do so and I liked knowing that I had them if I ever wanted them. Now that I’ve lost them, of course, I feel the need to check them out all the time and an odd empty feeling when I remember they are lost forever.

My best friend in college and I spent probably hundreds of hours working on a universe and characters that we just referred to as “The Sci Fi Story.” I wrote a bunch of short stories about it and we have so many notes on the small amount of plotting we did (we liked inventing characters a lot more). Mostly, we have a lot of timelines (No joke, I managed to rescue- from email- files entitled “Very Useful Timeline” through “Very Useful Timeline 8 overhaul”). Somehow though, I lost the majority of the short stories I wrote.

No problem, I figured. I could just email my old friend. We had been out of touch for awhile, but I have so many long distance friends who easily reconnect even when we haven’t spoken in months or even years (in fact, one I haven’t spoken to in about 3 years messaged me today about my wedding dress!)

In response, I got the most passive aggressive email I have ever received, beginning with “Wow, an email from you out of the blue! What an unexpected surprise.” and including such gems as “As things stand right now, it is not enough of a priority for me to spend effort on at this time.” 

I honestly don’t know if it’s the loss of the stories or the friendly acquaintanceship I thought we had that makes me more sad. I can’t say I’m surprised, but I am incredibly disappointed. We were almost inseparable in college for three years and remained close for the next year or two while I was in graduate school. We had a pretty intense falling out and didn’t speak for three years until I reconnected with her about 5 or so years ago. It’s been rocky since then but I had hoped we were friendly enough to at least occasionally catch up. It wasn’t that long ago that I was visiting Chicago and spent the day with her. I guess this relationship, along with the hard drive and the sci fi stories, is just another loss.

Maybe it’s the hoarder in me, but it’s hard for me to view this as an opportunity to start over and create afresh. I could always have done that, but I can never get the writings (and other various data) back. I guess this is just what endings feel like- bittersweet. An excuse to start anew, but a loss of something you hoped to have for some time to come.

 

Dragon Thrones

This weekend I had the great fortune to participate in one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences ever,Dragon Thrones. My fiance and I made a last-minute decision to attend, just 2 months before it happened. The description sounded incredible- and it was.

About a hundred people participated, all dressed in renaissance-like costumes, acting as fantasy characters on a college campus with buildings that look like medieval castles. From 1 pm on Friday to about the same time on Sunday, we were all entirely in character. We ate meals in costume while discussing politics with other characters. We watched magic shows, talented singers, dancers, and comedians in the Great Hall in character. Not to mention, of course, the majority of the time spent running around as a Diplomat (my character’s role) speaking with leaders of other nations, making trades, alliances, or demands. There was time for personal missions as well, like my team’s (the Draconian Federation) missions to find and hatch dragon eggs and my character’s mission to seek out someone who could help return her magic to her. In case you were wondering, all of these missions were successful!

Meanwhile, war was occurring of course, on the two continents and the Generals from each team spent their energies building troops and structures, using the alliances from the Diplomats to attack other teams or defend against them.

It was incredible. Everyone’s costumes were amazing and the roleplaying was impressive. I spent the first day and a half running from room to room, making trades and alliances with other nations, being one of the first and the few Diplomats to complete our trade goals. I was so successful at this, I was even able to ascend as a Queen of my people.

The game was so immersive, time just flew by. We were up until 1 or 2 am each night because there was so much to do in character. For example, at around 11 pm one night, we found out that a human nation found our dragon eggs that a different nation (one we were allied with by marriage) had stolen from us. This set off a flurry of activity that didn’t end for about 2 and a half hours. We collapsed into bed each night, minds still whirling, dreaming of Dragon Thrones.

And still there was so much more to do! I missed attending the ball (which included dancing lessons) because I was needed (and wanted) to hatch more dragon eggs. We had a cool puzzle that one of the GMs made that I was interested in working on, but never even got to look at because I was so busy in my social role (which I loved doing!)

Part of what made it so extraordinary, were the people. Besides having gorgeous costumes and being amazing roleplayers, everyone was extremely friendly and kind- especially to new players. Though we may have yelled at each other in character or been enemies in some other way, it was clear that there were no hard feelings or insults actually done. My team of Draconians was amazing as well. Despite the GMs trying to cause dissent, we were one of the most united teams. We were often on missions together or plotting with each other in our War Room. One of my personal favorite moments was when our discussion was interrupted by the spotting of a giant cockroach. Apparently, nothing clears a room of strong dragon-blooded faster than a large bug.

Personally, I felt this experience helped me grow as a person. As Queen Cynia of Ashbridge, I was confident, strong, efficient, inspiring. I talked with different groups of people with ease. I led my team in diplomacy and in other ways without a second thought. I never doubted myself, my anxiety was nowhere to be seen or felt. It showed me that a part of me, Stephanie, is Queen Cynia. A part of me is also confident, strong, efficient, inspiring. A part of me can do those things with ease.

I was shy in the beginning of the weekend. As we sat in the Great Hall for the first time, I looked around at other teams and people interacting with one another and wished I had the confidence to do that. I asked the Queen of our team if I should go speak to other nations and she encouraged me to do so. I took the first step, and I walked over to the leaders of the Elven Coalition, and I spoke to them. That first step was all I needed to form a strong alliance with them, and start being one of the most effective Diplomats in the game.

I am taking that home with me. That ability to take the first step. To do something scary, outside my comfort zone. Something that I want to do, but am too nervous to do. I am taking home that confidence. And most importantly, I am taking home a sense of friendship, of welcoming, of being at home with all the amazing people I met this weekend.