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Honoring Difference: Lessons in Embracing & Loving Yourself

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When I was a freshman in high school, I was diagnosed with a disability that’s “traditionally” tied to middle-aged or elderly women: fibromyalgia.

He thought for a few minutes. I imagine it was hard to put aside all his history with me – I’d been ill for much of my time as a child, suffering from other chronic health problems that were linked to my prematurity (I was born three months early and had multiple surgeries thanks to my preemie status). Finally, he sighed and said, “Well, we usually only diagnose middle-aged women with this, but I’d say she has fibromyalgia.”

Finally, all of my symptoms fit into one clear-cut, clean box: the constant-pain, the daily level-ten migraines, the vomiting, the anxiety, the depression, the swelling, the insane amount of absences from school, the sore throats, the arthritic joints…all of it made sense. And it was a relief, but also a life sentence: I had a medical condition that fell under category of disability, and I was only a freshly-minted teenager.

The symptoms didn’t go away – they still haven’t completely, even though I take a cocktail of drugs every night and go see specialists relatively frequently, but to say I’ve learned a lot from my disability is the understatement of my entire life. It’s made me stronger, even in my weakest, most vulnerable moments. And I’m thankful for that, even if I hate my disability’s rotten guts.

After missing more than 200 days of high school, college was a dream. Not to say I haven’t missed a ton of my college classes – I have – but really, it’s been a dream. Especially after having my high school counselor and principals tell me I’d never graduate high school, let alone get accepted into or be able to attend college. So this is for all my HATERS. (Sorry – I just had to. One of the things that gets me through my rough days is laughter, even if it means laughing at my own jokes or…gasp…laughing at myself.)
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This is going to sound crazy, but I’m thankful for my disability. It’s made me learn some huge life lessons, in my opinion, apply to anyone going through a rough patch in life – like we all do, at one point or another. Here are a few of the big things I’ve learned.

It’s OK to ask for help.
Learning this was a big challenge for me. Especially when my parents were sick. I felt guilty asking them for help, but I needed it, and it was OK to need it. We all need help sometimes. Sometimes asking for help is the bravest thing you can do! So just do it! And know that you are strong because you know when and how you need help – and are brave enough to ask for it. It truly never hurts to ask. Knowing yourself and your needs takes strength, so asking for help is strong.

Take time to relax.
We all need relaxation. Taking time to relax is good for you. Sometimes, it is better to be lazy! So take a step back, do something that makes you happy. Read a good book, check your Facebook, call your mom, watch TV, or – by all means – take a nap! I tend to get behind with my schoolwork, studies, or commitments because I need more “me-time” than other people, but I’ve learned to be OK with that. Like I just said, asking for help is a sign of strength and self-love, and letting people know that you may need to extend some deadlines or might need to cancel a meeting because you’re either going through a rough patch or have a disability – well, that’s also a brave and strong thing to do. And, though I know this is most likely a cheesy thing to say, you’re worth it! It’s true!
Saying “no” is a good thing.
I touched on this before, but having different limits and abilities in life has meant learning to say “no.” This has been a hard one for me. I’m a people-pleaser by nature. I want to be able to do it all and I don’t want to let anyone down, but I’ve learned to say “no.” It’s a huge coping mechanism for me and keeps me healthy. I let people know that upfront. Being honest with yourself and others is a huge sign of maturity. It’s also a way to honor and know yourself – something we all need to learn. Saying “no” is a tool I – unfortunately – have to use on a daily basis, but it’s also the simplest way I know to stay healthy and in control of my disability. Sometimes I give people an explanation, but it’s also important to note that you don’t always need to. That’s something else I’ve had to learn. Sometimes, an apology just isn’t warranted! It’s OK to put yourself first – easier said than done, I know, but it’s important to TRY. Especially in those rough patches!

Know your limits, but also know when to push yourself.
This probably sounds totally contradictory to what I just said, but honestly it’s not. For the longest time, I let my disability disable me. I let it run the show for fear of a flare up (AKA my fibromyalgia symptoms rearing their ugly head…AKA pain, insomnia, vomiting and lots of tears). It kept me from seeing friends or trying new things way too much. I said “no” all the time for a long time. Then I got sick of it. I wanted my life back, even if it meant dealing with more pain than usual. So I went to Paris. Literally – I went to Paris. (You can read a post about it here.) And I was scared! But it was also the best thing I ever did in my entire life. I was in a ton of pain from all the walking – I went with a class last Spring, so it was basically like an extremely amped up field trip – and the seven-hour time difference. I had tons of flare ups while I was there. Sometimes I cried. But I also had the best time of my entire life. I made some of my most favorite friends and my breath was constantly taken away from all the joy I experienced in Paris. I loved every second. Even the teary seconds. Even the painful seconds. Every second. I could go on and on. Want to know the biggest thing it taught me? It taught me that I was strong and brave and in-control of my life! My disability didn’t run the show, even when it was making my life more difficult. I was still capable of happiness even when I was in pain. I was still capable of doing amazing, wonderful, adventurous things. It forced me out of my comfort zone, and I am forever grateful to myself for it! (And you know what? Turns out you can say “no” even when you’re in Paris. I did. But I also learned to say “yes” again!) Holly011 Holly024 Holly035 It really will all be all right – eventually.
Ever heard the saying “this too shall pass?” It’s totally true. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by the fact that I will spend the rest of my life with this disability. Sometimes I cry – well, I cry a lot – and tell my mom and boyfriend that I feel like I’m dying. Sometimes I get super-dramatic about it and feel like my life is over. Dramatic, right? Well, it happens. And that’s OK! Because you know what? It will be all right! It all will be all right. The flare ups and freak outs will pass. Though rough patches will, too. Eventually. Sometimes, you just have to give it some time! Patience is a really hard virtue, but it’s necessary. I really do promise it will all be all right. Pinky swear.

You are a strong person, even when you feel weak.
Man, oh man! I feel like a total weakling sometimes. And physically, I probably am in a lot of respects. But I’m also strong – even when I’m at my most vulnerable. And so are you! I’ll pinky swear about that, too. It takes a strong person to learn how to be happy in this life! It takes a strong person to say “no.” It also takes a strong person to say “yes.” We’ve all been through the rough patches of life. They make us stronger. I know I’m probably sounding cheesy by now, but I think that it’s so important – and brave – to recognize that. Give yourself a pat on the back. Do it. You deserve it.
You are loved, so love yourself.
Think of all the people who love you. And yes, your mom and dad count, too. So do your dogs and cats. So do your fish. So does your pet…monkey…? It’s truly an epidemic in this country – the whole low self-esteem, low self-worth thing. I mean that. It makes me sick and sad and angry all at the same time. Self-love is low around these parts. So let’s all take a moment – or a bunch of moments – to give ourselves a huge hug for all that we do for others and ourselves on a daily basis. You are so loved – each and every one of you! So love yourself. Easier said than done in our society, I know. But learning to love myself and celebrate my achievements – even the tiniest ones – is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. It’s still a huge learning process and it’s still a struggle, but all kinds of love take devotion, so let’s all become devoted to self-love, too. (If you need some more encouragement, check out my friend Cortnie’s blog. It rocks my socks.)

I asked my readers to share some of what they’ve learned from their disabilities or from their loved ones having disabilities – which I prefer to call different abilities (I learned that from my Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies classes), but for the sake of non-WGSS students out there, I’ll use the traditional D-Word for clarity’s sake. Because trust me – you learn a lot from being a disabled person, or loving a disabled person – especially if you are a young person who is affected by a disability, I’d say. That also goes for young people who love people with disabilities, too. I learned so much about myself taking care of my parents – who are both cancer survivors. Probably more than I learned from my own disability, so for everyone out there who is a caretaker, I think you are the strongest people around. That also goes out to my parents and my boyfriend, who are my caretakers on my rough days. Unconditional love gives me the most strength I could ever have – which also takes form in loving yourself unconditionally – don’t forget that! Learn to do that! PRONTO! Holly027 Holly021 Holly008 Anyway, when I asked my readers and friends to share their stories regarding disability, I received some beautiful, wonderful and amazing responses. They made my heart happy.

Gabrielle Walter, who is also a blogger and UC student, gave a response that took my breath away. I didn’t even know she had an invisible disability like me, so it was a real eye-opener. Her comment was especially beautiful and relatable.

“Many times disabilities aren’t easily seen or noticed by people you work with everyday,” she said. “I was officially diagnosed with narcolepsy, a rare sleeping disorder, about a year and a half ago. I’m unable to regulate my sleeping patterns aka I fall asleep at the most inopportune times. At first the hardest part was coping with the fact I couldn’t live up to society’s expectations. I’d fall asleep before deadlines, classes and while working. In about 6 months I went from very involved, successful student to a part-time struggling-to-stay-in-school student. Once I got past the importance of grades, I had to accept I couldn’t do everything I wanted to be able to do for myself. That was by far the hardest.”

Gabrielle and I both used to be editors at our student newspaper, which takes a lot out of you, so hats off to her – and hats off to me, too. Because I’m a firm believer in exercising self-love.

“While any disability is difficult, you do grow as a person,” Gabrielle said. “Randomly sleeping about 12-14 hours a day makes you make the most of the time you are awake. I focus on doing what I love, and only what I love. I have re-evaluated what I truly consider important in life and have ultimately slowed down to enjoy the simpler things.”

This is evident in Gabrielle’s blog, Profoundly Simple. I check it every day for new posts and information. Gabrielle started the blog in an effort to live more simply since, like she said, making the most of the time you’re awake (or, in my case, not in pain) and enjoying every second of that time becomes so important. Learning to focus my time and effort has been a invaluable skill for me. Holly009 Holly013

Bloggers Ali Stigler and Marisa Whitaker (you can find their blogs here and here) wrote about the life lessons that come with depression and anxiety.

“[Sometimes] you just don’t want to go out and would rather lay in bed trying to figure out who you really are,” said Marisa on her anxiety, depression and ADD.

Marisa brings up a great point. Life with a disability – and rough patches in life in general – really does make you figure out who you are very quickly. Any rough patch tests your emotional and mental strength, but I’ve found that you really find out who you are, what you want and what you stand for when you deal with those rough patches every day, especially at a young age. I really related to Ali’s story; her life has also been touched by disability.

“My mom, like many others, has suffered from depression for about seven years now,” she said. “It isn’t visible all of the time, but sometime you can just tell when she’s upset. She’s on medication to regulate it, but when you can tell she’s having a rough day and not feeling it, it’s hard to figure out what to say to make it better. Because there really isn’t anything I can do to make her feel better. I just try to get her out of the house and take her to lunch or go thrifting (one of our favorite activities). I know those kinds of things make her happy, even if it’s only for a certain amount of time.”

Having a loved one suffer from a chronic illness, disability, or disease while you’re young – or at any age, I’m sure — causes you to grow up fast, as does having a parent or loved one who is ill. Being a caretaker at age 18 and on (I’m an only child) while coping with my own chronic illness made me grow up – or attempt to grow up, whatever “growing up means” – really fast. It made me put my priorities in check. While I didn’t get to party or be a typical reckless teenage girl, I am thankful for the life lessons helping my parents battle cancer taught me. In fact, I’m thankful for all my rough patches thus far in life. They’ve made me who I am and have strengthened my heart.

What are some things you’ve learned from your rough patches in life? What are some skills you’ve learned along the way? What some big life lessons for you? Let me know! Holly014

Resale Therapy: Taking the Anxiety out of Spring Cleaning

springclean10springclean9 As a former packrat, I never thought I would say this, but I have become addicted to cleaning out my closet.

It all started when I began working as a buyer for a women’s resale shop — sort of like a curated, upscale thrift shop or a Plato’s Closet for stylish, modern women. Upon being hired, I quickly learned the ins and outs of buying merchandise into our story — all of which comes from our customers and clients. I learned a lot about brands, current styles, which trends cross over into the resale market, and what styles and brands fit into our store’s demographic.

Aside from being able to style mannequins and our customers — I am so in love with styling, but that’s another post…or several posts…Anyway, what I love about my job is interacting with women who bring in their clothes. Most of these women (and a few husbands, girlfriends and boyfriends here and there) are terrified of parting with their clothing. Which I totally get. I used to be terrified, too. When it came to my closet, I was a total clothes hoarder. Since working at Clothes Mentor and becoming a buyer, I’ve learned that it’s OK to Spring Clean! In fact, I do it all year round!
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There’s something very satisfying about “recycling” or “trading in” my clothes. It all feels very sustainable and…well, thrifty…but without the whole bedbugs scare that’s been plaguing the thrift stores that will take anything lately…again, that’s another post.

Like I said, cleaning out my closet has gone from something overwhelming and anxiety-triggering into an act that is empowering and even relaxing! I’ve come to think of it as resale therapy.

My friend Sarah recently commented on the blog saying she too faces the common anxiety of cleaning out your closet. So many of the women I buy from do, too. It (almost) always turns into a stress reliever, though! Simplifying life takes even more weight off your shoulders than you realize (something I’ve learned from fellow blogger Gabrielle).

"I don’t know about you, but I get really sentimentally attached to clothes, and really anything else for that matter," Sarah said when I posted about Spring cleaning and motivation for organization. "Recently, when I was going through my stuff with the intention of getting rid of a lot, it helped me to have the fiancé nearby to confirm that I was probably only keeping something for sentimental reasons, rather than because it looked good, fit well, etc. I was much more successful when I had him nearby to bounce my decisions off of. My other suggestion is to work when your body is naturally most energetic. If you’re a morning person, start then. If you, like me, work better in the evening, do your organizing then. Also, good music always helps!" Sarah gave some great pointers that I totally agree with. It’s important to take your time when you’re giving your closet a deep cleaning. Another really important piece of advice I’ve taken away from my work in resale is that if you haven’t used something, worn it, or thought about it in a year, then it’s best to get rid of it (unless, of course, it has sentimental value).

This is also a great thing to keep in mind if you are considering making money off of your unused, unwanted apparel, shoes, or accessories! Most resale or consignment shops won’t buy in items that are more than two years old. Did you know a brand changes their label every two years? That’s how resale shops like Clothes Mentor, Once Upon a Child and Plato’s Closet know what’s current and what’s out of date!

I recommend going through your closet on a seasonal basis to ensure you are reselling, trading, consigning or giving away the most current items possible in order to get the most bang for your buck.

Another good point Sarah brought up was moral support! I’ve learned that we are often more sentimental than we realize when it comes to our clothes, shoes and accessories! As you clean out your closet and dresser, it’s important to have a loved one or friend close by to tell you whether or not you actually use that item — they’ll have a better memory about these things than you might expect! That way, it keeps you honest with yourself about whether or not you really need that dress or those shoes.

Keep in mind that lots of resale or consignment shops also take in barely used or new fragrances and lotions — some even take in home goods, art work and candles. These outlets gives you even more of an excuse to break into your closet and treat yourself to some resale therapy. Trust me, the hard work of giving your wardrobe a facelift pays off — sometimes, it even pays off literally!

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If you have any other questions or comments about Spring cleaning and my work as a certified buyer, sales associate and stylist, feel free to speak up in the comments section below! More posts about this topic are sure to follow! Keep an eye out for a post on the style makeover I gave my store (and it’s mannequins) coming up very soon!

Let’s pin together on Pinterest!

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Pinterest is one of my favorite creative outlets. It also furthers my desire to lead an organized, beautiful and creative life. I know it’s just a website, but it’s really helped me define my sense of style — and sometimes my sense of self, too.

Do you love Pinterest? Let’s pin together! You can find me right here. I’m constantly seeking new means of inspiration. For me, Pinterest is the ultimate mood board. As usual, let’s inspire each other!

What’s your favorite way to use Pinterest? Let me know in the comments below! I look forward to pinning with you!

A Spring Dress & Snowflakes // A Belated Birthday Style File

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My birthday takes place on the cusp of Spring & on the tail end of Winter, so my birthday weather has always been bipolar at best here in the Midwest. Last year, Mother Nature gave me the gift of mid-60-degree weather, but she had vastly different plans for me this time around.
Even though it was bitter cold, windy and flurried throughout the day, I was bound and determined to rock a spring dress that day. Since Spring is my most favorite season to style, it’s no surprise I always insist upon dressing for the Spring on my birthday.
This, of course, meant layers upon layers for lunch and our family trip to the Cincinnati Art Museum. That didn’t stop me from donning my favorite Modcloth dress, some coral-colored tights and some combat boots with a ruffled, feminine detail. Top it off with a glittery gold belt, a fun necklace,a green cardigan and a bright canary-colored coat, and I was ready to brave the cold in my favorite Springtime attire.

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How do you rock Spring dresses during the transitional time between Old Man Winter and sunny Spring? What are your favorite trends in transition right now? Let’s share style tips!

A Place Where Dreamers Go to Wait

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This man of mine dreams big dreams. And so do I. They keep growing and growing and growing. They continue to grow even though it doesn’t feel like we feed them very well right now. We talk late night talks about the future while our minds are full of the mundane and of schoolwork. We feed them with our little talks, our penny pinching and our vague plans, but for now we cannot feed them with much else.

So here we are: the place where dreamers and their dreams go to wait: the “in between” I talked about when I began to dream the dream that eventually became this blog. This is our “in between.” I refuse to refer to the two of us as “stuck.” We are just waiting. We are just dreaming. Eventually we will stop waiting. Eventually the waiting will become doing. But not right now. Not quite yet. We will hurry up and wait.

Sometimes I feel like my dreams aren’t really dreams at all. Just feelings. Just flashes of what I hope is the future.

I see our life as a creative one. A bright one. A warm one. A busy one rich with laughter and vibrance and smiles. A life where breathing and creating come naturally. Kyle wants to roam around national parks for a living; he wants to be a ranger; he wants to work with his hands and feet and mind all at once. And so do I. I want to have a life rich with artistry, Maybe with my words. Maybe with my photographs. Maybe with the way I document and raise our future children and animals.

We want to raise chickens and live in the sunshine. We want to hike and build a home. I want to create beautiful things and curate a life full of them. But this is the in between. So we wait for these things. We watch our bank accounts and dwell in my parents’ house. We go to school and study and our dreams feel cramped.

I read about the lives of women I admire. I interview them from time to time, too. He looks at photos and imagines himself in the wilderness. I pretend to feel the warmth of a different sun on my face. We listen to audio tracks of the ocean’s waves at night. We wait for a time where our dreams can run wild. Most of the time I can’t even put a finger on where that place is or when it is or what it will look like. But right now, here we are, in love in a place where dreamers go to wait. In love in the in between with the highest hopes and best intentions for a dreamlike future.

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Was there a time in your life where you felt stuck in the “in between” phases? How did you navigate them? What is the best advice you have or have been given about future plans? What are some of your hopes and dreams for the future? Let me know! Let’s navigate this in between together. Any and all advice is welcome. Ps: Find us on the Sunday Style linkup at Plane Pretty!

Forever Addicted to Humble Pie

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For me, the fine line between a lack of self confidence and a humble attitude has been a difficult one to walk. I have never been good at accepting compliments — I’d like to think this is just called “grace,” but it also stems from an anxious shyness that will most likely be a forever battle. That’s not to say I’m not an extrovert in numerous ways: I am the Type A, overly-excited, often-enthused one in my relationship; I am friendly; I am inquisitive and curious to a fault. I am also a journalist; a knowledge seeker; sometimes a know-it-all.

I’ve taken the personality tests. I’m always an eclectic mix between introvert and extrovert. I crave attention at times, but I can just as easily spend hours on end alone in my room entertaining myself. Sometimes I’m full of much too many words and far too many questions. Sometimes I can’t think of anything to say at all.

Accepting that I am more than good enough is something I’ve struggled with for my whole life. It comes from being prone to anxiety and perfectionist tendencies. It also comes from growing up with medical problems. It’s been a weird web of praise and scolding from authority. While I had a number or supportive educators growing up in the public school system, I had an equal amount of administrators who told me I would never graduate and would never be able to “make it” or build a “normal” life for myself. I met this cacophony of opposing attitudes with defiance and gumption. I also met it with a lot of tears, a lot of panic attacks, and a lot of self esteem issues.

After graduating high school with both a 4.000 and more than 200 absences, self esteem was easier to muster. Sometimes. When I’m faced with adversity — which, trust me…it’s in college, too — I tend to rise to the occasion. I can stick up for myself. I can fight. I can articulate my feelings and emotions and I can usually claim victory over the social struggles that come with having a disability. I fight the good fight and feel good about myself in the end. Because I feel like I’ve earned it. Like I’ve paid my dues.

Praise, on the other hand, is sometimes crippling. Not when it comes from my mom or dad or family or my boyfriend. That’s easy praise. It’s expected. I can handle that. I can drink it up and soak it in and become lighter and brighter because of it. I can use that praise as fuel without feeling undeserving.

But praise from my peers or professors or strangers? That’s hard. It’s unexpected. It’s an attempt to get under this thick skin I’ve grown. Praise from authority or people who don’t…you know…have to love me? When I don’t have to fight for that praise? That’s scary. Because it blurs that line between being humble and being confident. It blurs the line of being tough and vulnerable. If I don’t have to earn it — you know, by fighting for it — that stops me in my tracks. It makes me feel like I have to bake myself a humble pie and stuff my face with it as fast as I can.

Today was a big day for praise. I received several emails from one of my professors complimenting me on the work I’ve done. How good of a writer I am. How raw and honest and beautiful. No criticism. Just praise. Email upon email of praise. Three of them. In one day. I thought I’d gotten past this whole, “Oh, me? I don’t deserve this! Little old me?!” thing. Guess not. In my email back, I was eating piece after piece after piece of humble pie. Being vulnerable is hard. Harder than sticking up for yourself. For me, anyway. It makes me squirm and blush and feel figuratively naked.

But it shouldn’t be that way. You can remain humble while accepting some love — self love and self confidence is OK. We shouldn’t always have to earn it — sometimes you just deserve it without any strings attached or dues to pay. Learning that continues to be a journey for me. For everyone. Or for the people that truly deserve the compliments they are paid, I think. And because of all this, I’m going on a humble pie-less diet. Because maybe I’ve earned it. And maybe you have, too.

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Do you struggle with an addiction to humble pie? How do you curve the cravings?