Reflecting on progress > obsessing about the past

It’s high June and I’m going to express to you that most of June is SWELTERING here in Southern California. At least by my standards. Not that that says much; being born and raised in Southern California imbues one with an intolerance for real-life weather, let’s be real.

However, there are bigger things that I’ve been known to express, such as my feelings on hot-topic issues, my personal life, and my ever-evolving career path.

At times, I’ll admit that I wish I would have stayed silent.

If you Google my real name, you’ll find a bevy of articles and musings that show snapshots of me during particular times. These pieces, to their credit, reflected my thoughts, style, diction, and values at the time. Fair enough. Unfortunately, many of these are cringe-worthy and incongruent to the H that exists now. And many times, I think to myself, “Why, why did I write this? Why did I do this? What was I thinking? This is embarrassing.”

I’m sure you, Reader, experience the same thing. Perhaps you’re in the middle of a conversation when someone brings up the time that you got into a fist fight in the middle of some bar in some town, a memory which you thought nobody still knew or cared about after, what was it, 7, 8, years?

Or maybe you’re looking at a family photo album and notice that a few pictures from your “scene kid” phase have moseyed their way into those plastic pages. “My god,” you think, “was that even me?”

Or it may be that you’re like me, agitated in bed one night, Googling yourself and trying not to sound irate when e-mailing websites to “PLEASE. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. TAKE MY OLD ARTICLE DOWN. THAT’S NOT ME. I DON’T KNOW HER.” (I’m lookin’ at you, Thought Catalog!)

Whether it’s our old way of being, manner of speaking, style of dress, working style, writing style, or whatever, we all have a past. We have all grown and changed since the days of our past. We’ve gained new knowledge, new experiences, and new perspectives. We are us, but better.

The idea that we can come to terms with these past selves and realize that we are here at Ourselves 2.0 (or 3.0, or 4.0) because of them is easier said than done. I’m sure many of you reading this look at a past work decision (for example) and still regret it to this day. Even if you’re doing more-than-okay now, you’re probably still thinking, “What could I have done differently/better?”

I don’t mean to discredit your concerns, but there is no bigger waste of time than thinking that thought in your head. However, change that sentence to “What can I do differently next time?” and we have ourselves a winner.

Even then, we have to understand the limitations of that approach. Sometimes, what we do in Moment A, while it might not have been totally ideal, felt right at the time and still led us to make other good decisions/gain knowledge. Sometimes we simply have to own the fact that our truth was the truth at the time. Moreover, we cannot apply our lessons learned as blanket solutions to every problem. Every problem that comes up is complex; we will probably never “solve” any of them perfectly, no matter how much thinking we do or how many “logical” actions we take.

Now, I’m not saying that we should act with reckless abandon or never reflect on our mistakes. Of course we should! But we need to change our approach. Ruminating is tiresome and it solves nothing. Harsh, but true. And this is coming from someone who was once the Ruminator to End All Ruminators.

So, if you haven’t yet already, remind yourself that it’s okay that you said/did/wore that thing that one time. You’re awesome now. You’ll be even more awesome in the future. Hold onto that.


(Note: Artwork is credited to KijaDoll from Deviantart)


On privilege.

I am pretty reticent to write about this subject given the current social climate here in the United States. Chances are high that I will either spark the ire of those who are irritated with the idea of “PC culture” (others’ term, not mine) or fall short of satisfying those who are negatively affected by systemic inequalities that exist here. Or maybe both. The internet – nay, the world – is an unforgiving place.

I’m a Caucasian-looking person who was adopted into and grew up in a similarly Caucasian, affluent microcosm. Preschool was a given. A car for my high school graduation was a perfunctory gift. College was a requirement and on the parents’ dime to boot. Worries about the origin of our food, shelter, or various stipends for health and entertainment were nonexistent. Many, though not all, of my childhood/teenagehood friends came of age in similar predicaments.

Going to college in a new state afforded me the chance to experience a “realer” America, without the solace of a private beach or gated communities. I made more brown and black friends, more queer friends, more friends who grew up under differing socioeconomic hardships. I learned a little more about how various things can impact a life, impact one’s trajectory.

I was taught to be “color blind” growing up. To not judge people for how they looked or how much money they had. At the same time, the world I grew up in had very little to offer in terms of diversity. In fact, I was implicitly taught that those who were “diverse” were different from us in some way. The word “housekeeper” was often preceded by friends and acquaintances by the word “illegal” or “Mexican”. I’d be walking with an acquaintance past a homeless person downtown and they’d snicker to me, maybe making a comment about “that crazy guy over there”. And I don’t need to remind readers of the fact that my Orange and Los Angeles county origins instilled a standard of beauty within people that prides itself on being manufactured, almost unattainable, so anyone who resembled something outside of that was often mocked. No one individual taught me to judge growing up – it was a natural, almost unintentional byproduct of my aforementioned microcosm.

Due to my naturally nonjudgmental nature, I eventually returned back to a place of imagined equitability in an effort to internally elevate all people in my mind. Everyone was equal to me until proven otherwise. I wouldn’t make a big deal about race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background. I would just pretend like those things didn’t exist, that we were all the same. And I thought that would be enough.

Things were comfortable that way.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I started realizing how self-centered and ineffective this school of thought was: that if I alone saw everyone equally, that the world would magically become a better place.

Then I started hearing about police brutality. I started hearing about the treatment of refugees. My Muslim friends started telling me about the things said to or about them. I experienced certain types of prejudice and discrimination hatred firsthand.

I couldn’t hide behind the guise of “we’re all equal!!!11” anymore. Because no matter what I thought, these situations were the reality for countless people. And frankly, my positive attitude alone was doing nothing.

It was only recently that I finally realized that I was not only privileged, but exceptionally so.

Later on in life, I started to learn about things that weren’t talked about much in school: the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. The black pioneers of technology and aerospace. The Stonewall riots and the gender non-conforming heroes at the forefront of them. Furthermore, I started making a conscious effort to read more from and about people who were not white, heterosexual, cisgender, and/or able-bodied individuals.

You get the idea.

Speaking about this topic is exceedingly difficult and I carry a target on my back for doing so. Because like I mentioned above: it’s too much, or it’s not enough.

The genesis here is that it’s okay to acknowledge where you came from and acknowledge that you are quite possibly lucky in many ways. Sure, we all struggle. One swift read through my blog will inform you of my own struggles. But I’m completely uninterested in the Oppression Olympics, so I’m not going to compare your struggle to mine. Nor should you do the same.

That said, it’s also okay to learn more about people. All types of people. And better yet, to support other people – financially, spiritually, whatever. We live in a huge, ever-expanding world. The “right” thing to do isn’t always clear, but let’s just start by being self-aware and committing ourselves to learning.


(Note: There is a LOT more that I can say here, but I’m going to keep it brief. If requested, I can expound upon my views, but I think the general message here is pretty clear: open your eyes, learn, and love.)

(Note 2: Artwork is credited to my favorite artist, Jee-ook Choi.)



Life announcement + “heavy” professions

Boy, do I have a lot to tell you all.

I think I announced a while ago that my life was, once again, changing pretty drastically. That I was in a transitional period, getting ready for a new life, as it were.

Well, everyone – at long last, here it is:


That’s right. Me, a student again!

I have officially been accepted into the Masters of Science in Counseling program at Cal State Fullerton and will go back in mid-August of this year. It’s a three-year program, which means that I’ll be starting an entirely new career as a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) at the age of 30 and I couldn’t be more excited.

Now, if you know me, you’re probably not terribly shocked at me finally arriving at this career choice, but for those of you who don’t know me, it might be helpful to know and, dare I say, somewhat motivating for those of you still figuring it out? Here’s a (curt) summary below.

Didn’t know what I wanted to be for most of my life. Wanted to act and model as a youngin but my parents weren’t 100% stoked on that idea so I abandoned it. Knew roughly that I wanted to “make money” in high school. Dad’s an accountant and it was 2008 so I went to college for accounting while going through the following major progression: accounting>philosophy (thought I wanted to be a lawyer)>biology (thought I wanted to be a doctor until I remembered, oh yeah, I have severe emetophobia and can’t even look at a sewing needle without getting heart palpitations)>marketing (because it sounded “fun”)>accounting. Finished my B.S. (no, not that kind of B.S.) degree in 2012. Completed my Masters in Accounting in 2013 because it gave me credits for the CPA exam. Worked at a BIG accounting firm until 2015. Also got my CPA license then. Quit because I wanted to do something that was more focused on “people” problems and less on data. Took a little over a year to figure out that I wanted to help people professionally. Applied to grad school. Now I’m here.

What’s missing here is the sheer amount of angst and anxiety that went into figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, but that’s for another entry.

It took me a long time to get the bravery to even think about going back to school again, especially since I am the first to admit that my parents helped me through school and I have a massive sense of guilt about not sticking with accounting. It’s not that I think my degree or license are useless in any way – on the contrary, I think they’ll help me immensely in private practice. It’s just that accounting as a profession isn’t for me. It’s for many people, and I can see why many people love it. It’s just not for me, and hopefully the fact that I have not one, but two degrees in the subject doesn’t make me seem like a fraud for saying that.

I’m excited to go back and start this journey. I’m a super sensitive, compassionate person, a great listener, and a great thinker, if I do say so myself, and having volunteered as a crisis hotline worker for a few months now (and having volunteered in other capacities for years), I think I have a real knack for helping people. But of course, I do get the odd inquiries of…

But won’t that make you sad?

Won’t you get sick of listening to peoples’ problems all day?

I don’t know, doesn’t that job seem just a little…heavy?

I hear you. I get it.

But let me tell you: if I’m gonna choose between helping people in real trouble or my temporary feelings of discomfort, I’m going to choose to help people.

Because I’ve been there.

I’ve struggled with mental illness my whole life. It’s still something I have to manage. And let me tell you, it is not for the faint of heart. My therapists over the years have helped immensely and I credit much of my success to their guidance.

In a way, I think of it as me paying it forward.

Yes, having to keep it together to help people is hard. And yes, hearing unfortunate or non-ideal stories day in and day out has an effect on you. But for whatever reason, there’s a part of me that can step outside for a moment and at least try to help. I’m not patting myself on the back for this. It’s just what I want to do. It’s just how I want to live. It’s what i want my name attached to.

I’m sure doctors, nurses, social workers, volunteers, massage therapists, and plenty of other people hear from other people about how “hard” their jobs must be all the time. Hell, as mentioned above, I could never do some of these jobs. It’s not my skill set, not my strength. But someone has to do these jobs. And there are so many people willing to do them.

Which is freaking awesome.

So, in conclusion, I’m here. I’m doing this. I have no clue what the next few years will truly bring, but I thank you all for sticking with me, supporting me, and being generally awesome. Thank you.




You can’t please anyone – except yourself

Happy Valentine’s Day! I figured I’d come back in full swing with a nice little double entendre. Actually, I didn’t intend for that to happen. But I know you guys – and I know how easily I set myself up sometimes.

I’m sitting here eating a sleeve of Thin Mints, enjoying a soy latte, and occasionally sneaking excerpts of The Bell Jar into my daily routine. “But Haley,” you say, “Act Like a Stereotypical White Person Day is still months away!” I know, I know. But for me, the consumption of these simple pleasures (the cookie and lattes) as well as the somewhat strained cultivation of my literary knowledge (the reading of Bell Jar) are for the purpose of something that is often highly neglected: self care/love.

On this day, I have no doubt that many people, including many of those in relationships, are feeling a sense of self-doubt. It’s unfortunate that a holiday that began as an excuse for a bunch of drunk Roman guys to whip women with animal hides causes us so much anxiety. As if we aren’t good enough by ourselves. As if we need someone else to dote on us and make us feel appreciated.

All this talk of self-doubt reminds me of something that I was thinking of earlier this week.

I roam through social media quite frequently. Now that I have reincorporated Instagram into my life, I find myself peeking through the comment section of many prominent players in the digital world, from models to makeup artists to personalities who are worshipped to the tune of thousands of “Likes” for every impromptu car selfie or latte portrait they post. I also spend a decent amount of time on Twitter, where the whole world seems to congregate for news, pop culture happenings, and musings from certain political figures.

Almost without fail, every picture, tweet, or post that is remotely recognized will have someone chiming in with negativity.

If a girl posts a “before and after” style photo to show the hard-earned transformation her body has gone through over the course of some months, I will see a comment that calls her a “slut” for displaying her body or “fat” for god-knows-what reason – regardless of what her body looks like.

If that same woman posts a picture of herself dressed in a covered fashion with a bare face, someone will call her “ugly” because – get this – she’s not showing them her body or putting on makeup for them.

If a black person posts about Black Lives Matter, a swarm of dissenters will chime in with accusations of that person being “racist” or “radical” .

If that same black person stays silent on issues of black oppression, they’re an “Uncle Tom” or a “traitor”.

If a man posts a picture of himself in makeup, he’s called words that mock his sexual orientation.

If this same man posts a picture of himself espousing a traditionally “masculine” appearance, someone will say he’s “not fooling anyone”.

If someone identifies as conservative, they are immediately classified as a virulent, heartless, anti-gay war monger, because nobody has taken the time to actually ask about their views in detail.

If someone identifies as liberal, they are immediately classified as a virulent, idealistic, free-loading tree hugger, because nobody has taken the time to actually ask about their views in detail.

If we do one thing, we are punished. If we do the opposite of that, we’re punished. If we happen to Goldilocks our way into to the middle – sorry, still punished. Sure, loads of people might be happy that we voiced our opinion, and we might even be happy that we did that. But someone’s always going to speak out against us, especially in the age of ubiquitous social media presence.

I don’t need to go into detail about much harder it is for women, people of color, people of queer (including trans) experience, people who are disabled, people who are Muslim, or people who are otherwise not reasonably educated, well-off, white, heterosexually-identified males to avoid negative comments. But that’s for another post.

Keep in mind: this isn’t me being negative. This post might even cause you to laugh at how ridiculously hard it is to please anyone. And if you’ve been hurt by these types of comments in the past, you might be relieved that someone out there notices what’s going on – and is just as frustrated as you.

But I’m here to tell you: it’s okay.

Because the most important thing to do in our current climate is to do what makes YOU happy.

I know that by posting this, I will make someone unhappy. Guaranteed. That’s okay.

I know that my views inspire fear and anger in a lot of people, even people close to me. That’s okay.

Because I love myself, a lot of people love me, and I believe in myself and what I stand for.

All of this being said, I do think it’s important to apologize when we hurt people. I do think it’s important to thoroughly research (!!!) things before we try to publicly state facts about said things. And yes, I understand that it’s hard, even downright scary, to voice our opinions sometimes. Unfortunately, safety can be an issue when it comes to expressing ourselves. But to the extent that we can, we must still try.

So on this Valentine’s Day, be proud of you. Keep voicing your opinion. Keep fighting your good fights. Keep standing strong. The world needs you, even if it doesn’t know it yet. And it all starts with you loving (and pleasing [LOL]) yourself.

Oh, and while you’re at it, eat some cookies or donuts or something. You deserve it.


How to handle the people you don’t like

I dislike very few people in my personal life. This is a terrible thing.

I give chance after chance to most–often ending up hurt in the end. If I’m unsure about someone, I may still wait in a purgatory of indifference until I can make a full decision about them, often for years. It usually takes a personal assault or a litany of human rights violations before I really, truly dislike someone. At best, I am seen as a wishy-washy “Switzerland” type; at worst, I strain friendships and get caught in the middle of some incredibly tenuous spats. Sometimes I explode, letting the floodgates of my feelings open and my hatred flow out in a concentrated stream towards the rare individual who dares to provoke my ire. It’s not fun. Now do you see why this can be terrible?

I am–horn-tooting time– a nice person. Like, ludicrously nice. Nice to the point where people in my first job disliked me at first because they thought I was faking it. That is, until they were proven wrong by my impassioned dedication to getting my work done and bringing in my own baked goods for everyone to eat. I look for the best in people. I try to be nice. I always try to be honest. I try not to speak too off-the-cuffly. And I give, and I give, and I give.

At the same time, anyone who has spent a decent amount of time with me can also tell you that although I have this ball of exuberant emotion for a heart, I can be awful. My awfulness stems from two things: (1) my profound insecurity with myself and (2) my inability to hide my emotions. Some have referred to the latter as something that makes me “So authentic!!111!@” but ugh–no. It sucks.

I have not been above posting awful subtweets about people with different political viewpoints. If I feel slighted by someone, it’s not unheard of for me to visibly glare at them when I see them, to the tune of “I. Will. Destroy. You.” Sometimes I’ll raise my voice and use bad words at my boyfriend if he does something to upset me, instead of listening to him and calming the crap down. All of this happens because (1) and (2) are facts with varying degrees of inescapability.

That said, I can see why people might not like me.

But I’ll go into that in another post. I say the above because it helps me understand where others are coming from. If I feel like I don’t like someone, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Does this person remind me of a worse version of me? A version of me that carries my negative traits?
  • Do I know all of the facts about this person’s life?
  • Does this person have as many awful qualities as I think they do, or am I making up some of this in my head?
  • Did this person personally hurt me, either intentionally or unintentionally? Have they apologized for doing so?
  • Did this person hurt people I know and/or love? Have they apologized for doing so?
  • Does this person simply have a fundamentally different personality than I do?

And the kicker:

  • Do I spend enough time around this person to actively dislike them?

If you can answer “yes” to most of these questions, I would figure out a way to get away from this person, whether they’re a family member, a friend, a coworker, or anyone else. However, if most of it is concentrated in a “yes” answer to the first question above, this adds an incredibly complicated layer to it all. You may, in fact, need to take the time to further understand this person–provided you have to be around them. In the end, you may better understand yourself.

Although they are few in number, I do have a few people that I actively dislike in my life. I won’t say who, only that they are somewhat powerful forces in my life and will likely continue to be for a while. Because of this, I make efforts to understand them when I can, I show them kindness, and I find ways to at least reduce my time around them. The hardest part is hiding how I feel. I’m sure that these people have seen my death-glare more than a few times, but I make it an effort to stay as kind as possible. If I can offer any one bit of advice, it’d be to stay kind around these people you must be around.

In any event, hope everyone’s enjoying the new year. I’m sure 2017 will bring of bevy of interesting things for all of us to the table. Let me know what you hope to accomplish this year in the comments below!


Why I (temporarily) fell out of love with pole

I took my first-ever pole class about two years ago. One of my closest friends had started doing it and looked amazing, so I decided I wanted to be just like her. Plus, it looked like a fun, challenging, and truly artful way to get and stay in shape. What wasn’t there to love about it? Although it took a while for my practice to finally “stick”, I decided in March of 2015 that I would start poling at least three times a week. And I did it.

It was difficult. I remember crying my eyes out because I couldn’t even manage a “chair spin” after my third class. I remember seeing girls hold themselves upside down twenty-feet in the air in 6-inch heels, wondering if I could ever be so fearless. I went alone to every single class, so I never had a friend to relieve stress with if I messed something up. I had to get comfortable looking stupid in front of girls (and boys) who were really, really good.

Eventually, though, I too got good. I started inverting a few weeks into my consistent poling regimen. I increased my flexibility. I could do complicated, often scary-looking tricks. I learned how to put routines together. Soon enough, I was helping out the other girls in class and even got to teach a class of my own for my friend’s bachelorette party. I even bought a pole for my apartment, rearranging my entire place and getting rid of furniture to do so. I was feeling fabulous and felt that pole had become my “thing”.

Other than falling out of it a few times for a couple of weeks at a time, I kept at it until the following March of 2016, when I competed in my first competition. I competed at Level 2 in the entertainment category, meaning that my routine had to be focused on tricks and spins rather than “flow” or displays of emotion. I didn’t place too highly, but I wasn’t in last place by any means and was proud of myself for doing it. Excited at the prospect of competing again, I kept at it, albeit much less consistently, for a couple of months thereafter.

About a month ago, though, things started to feel…different.

I had absolutely zero motivation to go to classes and interact with people. I barely felt like freestyling at home. While I partially chalk it up to it just being too damn hot this summer (and my apartment is like a furnace, even with generous wattage being spent on multiple fans), I realized that there was something else happening.

I had started taking pole too seriously, and it was biting me in the butt.

You see, when I start becoming interested in something, I feel like I have to eventually become the best, or one of the best. This sentiment may pass, but I always start out that way. With pole, it just happened to stick with me for a while. When I started, I knew that even though I sucked then, I would eventually get better and better until I was competing nationally, then internationally. I pictured myself being like Natasha Wang, who started pole at 29 and now teaches workshops of her own all over the world. I was determined to become a figurehead in the pole world and make my mark that way.

But here’s the thing.

Pole is not the only way I use my time. I have a full-time job, a novel I’m writing, two blogs, and a side writing project I’m working on with a friend. I have friends, family, and a relatively new relationship that I am developing and nurturing. I have other things I love doing, like reading and making visual art and getting outside. I realized that if I wanted to be where I supposedly wanted to be with pole, many of these things would have to be put on the back burner. And if I’m being 100% real with myself…I’m simply not willing to do that right now.

And I’m okay with that.

Me not being willing (right now) to put in the enormous, sacrificial amount of effort it takes to be one of the “greats” doesn’t mean that I can’t continue with pole. I doesn’t mean I can’t be good–nay, great–, that I can’t ever teach again, or that I can never compete again.

This is me being okay with not being the “best”, at least for the foreseeable future.

This is me saying that I’m okay with having pole as a part of my life right now, rather than being my whole life.

This is me telling myself that I’m still valuable, awesome, and talented even though I’m not dedicating hours a day to stretching, lifting, spinning, falling, and bruising my way to pole expertise.

I may have fallen in love with pole for the wrong reasons, but I’m willing to take a more casual approach and see if I can fall back in love with it for the right ones. I’ll still attend classes once a week or once every other week and I’ll still keep my home pole–even if it means I can’t have furniture. Heck, I might start taking online pole classes when it gets a little cooler. I hear great things!

Like any enjoyable activity, pole is one of those that can easily turn into a chore or burden if you take it too seriously without understanding what that truly means. But if you sit down and and have an honest conversation with yourself, you can figure out where you truly want to be and how you can get there. Maybe you are willing to make it your life, but need motivation to get started with that goal. Or, perhaps your time with that activity has expired and it’s time for you to move on–which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Or, maybe you’re like me and you just need a little reconfiguration in your approach. All of these outcomes are good and it’s important to do what’s best for you.

Is it easy to figure out what the answer is? HELL no. It’s probably easier to land a fonji or a Russian split than it is to answer that question. But try to have that conversation with yourself whenever you’re ready. You’ll feel just as good as when you land that split.


p.s. If only for my own ego, it is still an imperative goal of mine to be able to fonji one day. And get into a hypersplit. And dance in heels. Maybe pole isn’t getting rid of me as easily as it thinks it will.

The Healing Powers of Pokémon

I’m not expecting any SEO miracles from me posting something about Pokémon right now. Despite only celebrating its 15th day of life today, there has been no pop culture topic more talked about during these past two weeks than Pokémon Go, the free-to-play, augmented reality app that seems to have captured hearts and sculpted legs the world over. So, I’m not unique in bringing it up, and even the most astutely crafted blog post about this game runs the risk of falling into the Black Hole of Overused topics, but I’m here today because I just might provide a unique perspective for those doubting the game or stating that they “just don’t get” Pokémon.

First, a little background.

In 1998, I was eight years old and in the third grade. I was just starting to come to terms with two heavy realities in my life: my anxiety, which I live with to this day, and my parents’ looming divorce. While I had a lot of great friends, I couldn’t help but feel noticeably different from the flock, moreso due to the anxiety than anything. This fact would be told to my face the next year, but it was I who picked up on it first. I couldn’t go into rooms with high ceilings; I felt like I was going to get sucked into the atmosphere. I would cry instantaneously if someone said something mean, because I thought it meant they hated me. During reading comprehension exercises in school, my teachers would sharply question where I came up with things and would blatantly tell me I was “wrong” for interpreting stories the way I did. One teacher suggested to my parents that I may have had a learning disability. I just wanted to be like everybody else, but I never once felt like I truly fit in.

One thing that did help me feel connected to others growing up was video gaming. My two brothers and I had played video games since we had control over our own finger movements. Like many-a child at the time, we found ourselves at the feet of our parents to get copies of Pokémon Red and Blue for our Gameboy Colors when they first came out in the U.S.. What started out as a trend-prompted request became a virtual lifestyle shortly thereafter.

In the wee hours of the night – well, as “wee” as my brothers and I could manage without getting in trouble – we furiously trained our Charmanders into Charmeleons and, eventually, Charizards. My brother traded his Haunter to me so it could evolve into Gengar. I emitted increasingly loud groans when I ran into Chansey in the Safari Zone and could never catch her. This may sound like gobbledygook to someone unfamiliar with the games, but the overarching symbolism was what tied us to it.

To succeed at Pokémon, we had to invest hours of our time to train our monsters to be the best they could be. We battled in-game trainers, sometimes continuously, to reach increasingly difficult goals. My brothers and I had to work together to catch more Pokémon. In effect, the games were a fun, entertaining way for me to experience real-life responsibilities, even if they were in a fantasy world.

But I didn’t think of it that way at the time. Pokémon just made me so happy. I didn’t think about my anxiety when I played. I didn’t think about my parents’ arguments or those scary ceilings or my mean teachers. I didn’t really experience negative emotions while playing the game. Sure, I got casually frustrated, but the game was just too dang enjoyable for me to ever become truly disenfranchised with it.

While I never got into the trading card game and only infrequently watched the first incarnation of the anime, I continued to be a fan of the game series well into middle school. I let it go for a while in an attempt to be “cool”, as the fad had died down, but would secretly return to it from time to time, especially when a new game would come out. I continued playing in high school, but figured that in college I would “grow up” like everyone else and stop playing it.

Turns out, I needed Pokémon more than ever in college.

Between discovering my social identity, painstakingly learning about love through my rather intense, often damaging romantic relationships, and experiencing what was, at the time, one of the biggest decisions I had ever had to make (my college major), college was an animal far different from high school. After a hard day of studying, working with my student business organization, and hitting the gym, Pokémon was there to pick up the pieces and calm me down at the end of the day. Because I used it as a reward system after I had taken care of my responsibilities, I felt zero guilt sitting down to play it. It may have just been a game, but there was nothing else that calmed me down and brought me happy feelings so instantaneously.

As I transitioned into my whirlwind grad school year and began taking the CPA exam, Pokémon became an even more integral fixture. In order to get done what I needed to get done each day, I had resolved to breaking up my days’ commitments into hourly intervals. I don’t think I would have been as happy of a camper without my daily 30 minute-to-one-hour responsibility of playing Pokémon Black (the version I had at the time).

Which brings me today – and Pokémon Go.

I’m open on both this blog and my new one (cue mandatory plug of my new blog, Building Your Bold) about my struggles with anxiety and depression. As I get older, I not only gain more responsibilities, but become ever-more aware of the painful realities of this world, which unfortunately makes these illnesses harder to suppress and deal with. It doesn’t help that I’ve recently been having a tougher time than usual, likely because of my new relationship combined with creative struggles. (Keep in mind that I’m over-the moon happy in my relationship, but literally any relationship is so, so stressful for me at first, due to the amount of inherent risk involved and the amount of damage I am still undoing from previous ones.)

When Pokémon Go came out two weeks ago, I was nervous. On its outset, the game looked super different from its console predecessors. It was supposedly rife with bugs and appeared to be way overhyped. But I gave it a shot anyway, because it had been a while since I’d played Pokémon.

I couldn’t have picked a better time.

Pokémon Go has revitalized my desire to go on walks and explore the beautiful city I live in. It’s helped me feel more comfortable making conversation with random strangers, because I finally feel like I have something in common with people. It’s given me a reason to exercise more during the day, which is vital given the sedentary nature of my job. Best of all, it’s reminded me that Pokémon has always been there for me as a stress-reliever and all-around “happy-maker”. I know I’m not alone in this, as I’ve seen dozens of people around the internet say the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dropping everything else in my life in favor of Pokémon Go, and even though it’s great exercise (the game requires you to actually walk around to land items/catch Pokémon), I try not to spend too much time on it unless I’ve completed my “real life” stuff for the day. I still go to work, I still sit down for healthy(ish) meals, I still spend time with friends and family, I still volunteer, and I still make plenty of time for writing, pole, and all of my other hobbies. And to be honest, I think this is how 99% of all other Pokémon Go players are. Yes – even the ones who sneak in a gym battle or two during work hours :).

Moreover, I’m aware, albeit painfully, that Pokémon Go may not be here forever. The craze may pass and the creators of the app may cease developing new iterations. Worse yet, I may eventually find that the app doesn’t hold up for long-term play, especially since it’s so different from the console games I grew up with. I know that I may one day have to drag myself outside without the motivation of an egg hatching or a rare creature sighting to excite me. That’s okay. I can accept that and will enjoy it while it’s here. Plus, if anything, I always have the main series games to fall back on should I be specifically craving a Poké-fix.

In conclusion, I’ll say this: let people enjoy Pokémon Go and any other video game they might love – Pokémon-related or otherwise. You never know what kind of impact the game might have had on their life and you never know how productive they might be in their life outside of the game(s). And even if they aren’t productive? Who cares. I find life is most enjoyable when we focus on improving ourselves and not criticizing others. But that’s just me.

Now, excuse me while I try and track down the Hitmonlee I saw earlier.


Why do we hide our struggle?

You got to work this morning and, for some reason, could do nothing but stare at your screen for the first five minutes of your workday. You then went up to grab some coffee from the other room, but when you got back to your desk, you felt only marginally better. Slowly, but surely, you’re reaching a point of indifferent numbness. Every problem in your life – your father’s sickness, your mounting credit card debt, your failing relationship, and whatever else there may be – came crashing down on you last night as you tried to sleep. But now, searing mental anguish has melted into a calm indifference.

Why? Because you’re forcing it to.

“You okay?” a coworker asks as she peeps into your cube. She may or may not be legitimately concerned about your well-being, but you’re not going to dignify her question with a proper answer anyway. To do so, you believe, would be inappropriate.

“Oh yeah, I’m good,” you answer. It’s always some variant of that. “Fine” is another common one. It’s never the opposite.

And so, it’s back to work you go.

We are expected to not only hide our emotions, but prevent them from slowing us down or affecting our daily obligations in any way. Displaying emotion is a sign of over-vulnerability and acting on them is a sign of brashness, they say. We are to never cry in public. We have to “act normal” around people we meet for the first time, even if we are having the worst day (nay, year) of our lives. We are never, under any circumstances, allowed to admit that we are taking a day off of work due to anxiety or depression. Such acts exemplify weakness, or at least that is the position our society has taken.

Is this real weakness, though?

The best connections I have are with those whom I’ve seen at the bottom of the abyss. Those who have laid their hot, tear-stained cheeks against mine. Those who have just been embarrassed in front of a huge crowd during a presentation. Those who I’ve seen reading a text message and promptly throwing their phone against a wall after witnessing a partner’s textual indiscretions. Those who have had to swallow and stutter in between every word to tell me a story about their past. Their struggle wasn’t concealed – it was on display for me to see, absorb, and practically experience second-hand.

To me, completing or witnessing these acts means that you’ve reached the pinnacle of human connection with someone: exposure of the raw self. If someone is willing to show you their innermost thoughts in action, it is very likely that you are one of the most important people in their life. It takes more bravery to convey this self to someone than to do almost anything else on an emotional level.

Of course, I fully understand that there is a time and place to express certain emotions, and that there are definitely times where the intensity of the expression can afford to be dialed down a bit. But I’m one of the crazy ones who prefers a world where authenticity trumps all. Am I alone in this? I would love to hear what my readers think about this subject. Let’s come up with a good discussion in the comments below!

Can’t wait to hear from you,


So, this is what meeting your birth mom for the first time feels like.

For those of you who AREN’T adopted, do me a favor.

If you live with your parents, or if you’re in the vicinity of one or both of them, take a look at them as soon as you can. A good, hard look. Take note of their features: your dad’s prominent, aquiline nose, your mother’s frail wrists, or the fiery red tendrils sprouting from one of their heads (if applicable, of course). Maybe you notice that you inherited your height from your dad’s side, as can be visibly seen in your exceptionally tall father and uncles. Or, perhaps you notice that the curve of your mom’s upper lip matches yours perfectly. You’ve probably never noticed these things before, and even if you did, you’ve probably never had an inner dialogue about them. You came from your parents, you carry their DNA, and your phenotype is the physical expression of that DNA. Ergo, you resemble them.

*reader looks at me puzzled, wondering why I’m asking them to create such a mundane scenario in their head*

Okay, I suppose that this exercise is just one example that represents the curiosity – and strange preoccupations – exclusive to adoptees.

Y’see, I’ve known that I was adopted since I had the most remote level of cognition. Since I was also adopted right at birth, it was never really a question in my mind that my “adopted” parents were, quite simply, my parents. Yet as I grew up, I began to wonder, as most adoptees probably do, about my genetic origins. And so, after 26-and-some-change years of being a practicing human, I ventured to Minneapolis with my mother to meet my birthmother in person for the first time. Well, since my birth, of course.

Before I go on, though, I should probably back up a bit and explain (to the best of my knowledge) how we got here exactly. Shall we?

Adventures in Adoption

The year was 1989, though shortly before Taylor Swift was born, I imagine. My parents were hard-working Southern California yuppies in their early/mid-thirties looking to adopt a daughter. So, they hired an uber-experienced adoption lawyer, David Keane Leavitt, to assist them.

(Insert would-be picture of parents posing with classic ’80s hair. Oh, if only I could find the one picture I’m thinking of. Pure gold.)

Now, bear in mind that the adoption process can take months or years from start to finish. Between submitting an application, getting in touch with a lawyer/agency, finding a birthmother/birthparents, conducting interviews, and eventually finding a perfect match, it’s a rough trade for the impatient. However, my birth mom and birth parents were miraculously connected within a matter of weeks. Even better, all parties involved knew immediately: this was gonna be it.

My parents helped my birth mom out throughout her pregnancy. A Minnesota native, she had just moved to the Los Angeles area for a teaching job, so it was convenient enough for my parents to periodically commute from San Diego to check in. When I was born, I was immediately placed in the care of my parents. They have a 22-minute long video of my mom holding a newborn me (yes, that’s all that’s happening in the video, lol @ new parent things), perhaps just to prove to themselves that, holy crap, they really, truly had me!

After a six-month “probationary” period (yep, that’s actually what it’s called), my parents were able to officially call me theirs and raise me as an O’Bryan.

The Most Normal Thing About Me

I hear stories about kids not being told that they’re adopted until they’re 13, 16, or even fully grown, which typically prompts a “LOL WUT?!?!” response from me. As I stated earlier, I’ve known that I was adopted since the beginning of my memory log. I suppose that’s why it was never really a big deal for me. (Note: if this is how you choose to do it with your adopted kids, I have nothing against that – it’s just so different from the way that I grew up!)

My birth mom would dutifully send me a letter every year on my birthday, as she still does today. However, my parents and I had a firm understanding that I was not to read her letters or look into my “adoption paraphernalia chest” (a Barney-colored chest containing effects from my adoption ranging from my birth certificate to adoption questionnaires to my parents’ rather bare legal pad containing name options for me. Spoiler alert: there were only two legitimate ones – Betsy and Haley) until I was 18. This was a perfectly fine arrangement for me.

And yet, although being adopted had never bothered me, per se, it eventually became difficult to let go of my growing curiosity – especially as I got closer to adult age, when I could moderate my contact with my birth mom independently. And because Young Haley wasn’t exactly known for following the rules, I may have pulled a look-my-birth-mom’s-info-up-on-the-internet-and-email-her-out-of-the-blue at age 17, several months shy before the big 1-8. Whoops.

Pandora’s (or rather, Haley’s) Box is Opened

Though my birth mom and I were only able to communicate a little before my parents pumped the breaks and told me to follow the original protocol, it felt like no time passed before my 18th birthday arrived and I was free to communicate with my birth mom as I pleased. We exchanged letters and e-mails a few times a year. We eventually added each other on Facebook. We learned quite a bit about each others’ lives. Although it was different than the situation I grew up with, it eventually became the “new normal”.

But eventually, it became clear to me that my relationship with my birth mom wouldn’t be complete without the ultimate milestone: a meeting. I tiptoed around the idea in college, but even with my incredibly supportive parents insisting that they would accompany me on a trip to meet her, it never felt like the right time. Or, more accurately, I felt very caught up in my own college world – friends, boyfriends, school clubs, and, most niggling of all, picking a major that wouldn’t send me into the pits of financial despair (aka, convincing myself that my lifelong dream of being an artist and writer was unfeasible due to my need for survival). After college, my focus then became finding a way back onto the very path I worked so hard to convince myself I didn’t want to be on. It was only after I found my most recent job that I felt stable enough to go, “Let’s do this.”

And so, in October of 2015, I came to my mother, eager to see what her response would be:

“Do you want to come with me to meet my birth mom?”

“I always told you I would do this for you. Let’s make it happen.”

A Tale of Twin Cities

The trip got booked the very same day I brought it up; such is the outcome when dealing with people who are as fastidious about planning as my mom and I. But strangely enough, it barely felt like a real thing that was actually happening. That is, until about a week before I left. It was then that things went from zero-to-sixty fast – real fast.

I wavered between wanting to stay in my room for days at a time and reaching out to everyone with even remote hearing capabilities for advice. I stress-ate one day, then barely ate the next. I showed my newish relationship partner a whole new level of drama beyond the one he was well aware of (I don’t hold much back). I cried on the phone with my mom, then would go to dinner with my dad and be fine. It was happening. Holy crap, it was really happening.

The nerves in my body undulated with anticipation and downright fear as I stepped on the plane the morning of Thursday, March 31st. I was contained in a lucid dream bubble, halfway detached from reality. Every action I completed, from taking my shoes off in the airport security line to ordering a drink on the airplane, felt mechanical and artificial. It had been a while since I truly felt that way, so I knew that I was experiencing quite an emotional response if I was in this type of fugue.

My mom and I arrived on Thursday evening and spent the next 24 hours enjoying Minneapolis. Even while eating at incredible restaurants and visiting the highly-anticipated Walker Museum, I couldn’t get my mind right. My mind was abuzz.

What if things are totally different in person? What if someone says something and it becomes awkward? What if she hates me? I probably didn’t turn out anything like she expected. What if I do something stupid? What if someone cries? Do I have to cry? HOW DO I DO THIS?!?

These tidbits scratch the surface, but you get the idea.

We were meeting at 6:00 pm on Friday. But this was no April Fool’s joke: this was happening.

My Mom and I arrived at the Nicollet Island Inn Restaurant – an elegant dining space with a lovely view of the Mississippi River – a touch early, as we do. We sat down, with me facing the river and away from the doorway. I placed my napkin on my lap. I ordered a water, my voice quavering a bit. I had to be ready.

My mom and I made naturally-flowing small talk about the day to keep ourselves in a casual mindset. It wasn’t ten minutes before my mom’s face lit up. It was my birth mom. She had walked in.

My birth mom was beautiful, vibrant, and incredibly fashionable when she presented herself to me – much like my own mom. I gave her a warm hug and she sat down, holding my mom’s hand and letting her know how nice it was to see her after 26 years.

All of a sudden, it was as if the nervousness and painful anticipation were absent. It was no longer a waiting game. This wasn’t something to fear. The meeting had happened and it had felt as natural as seeing an old friend. There were no hysterics, no tears, and there was no awkwardness. Just people connecting.

Our dinner lasted more than four hours. At the end of it, we (of course) took a picture, which I will happily provide here:

girl with mom and birth mom
My birth mom is on the left (my right) and my mom is the blonde lady. I see resemblance with both. Pretty crazy.

It had finally happened, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

The next day, my mom and I went to lunch with my birth mom, her husband and kids, and my birth mom’s sister and her husband and daughter. After that, my mom took some “me time” and I continued on with the group for a day of museum-touring, delicious food-eating, and, of course, Snapchat face-swapping. We eventually made our way over to my birth mom’s parents’ house. As insane as it seems to meet your “birth family” for the first time, it really felt so normal.

I know that readers, both adoptees and non-adoptees, are probably a bit shocked by my virtual nonchalance here. Don’t get me wrong, it was a trip (pun intended). Like I mentioned in the beginning of this post, even being in the same room as people who shared my genetic material was an out-of-this-world experience for me, as I had never, ever experienced that before. But I truly felt comfortable, and this leads me to believe that I made an excellent choice in meeting everyone even more.

The Aftermath and Future with my Birth Mom

I returned home early on Sunday, April 3rd. While I did not come back an entirely new woman, I definitely came back knowing so much more. Not simply about my family – though they were a joy to learn about – but about myself as well. I learned how to handle something big like that (there’s room for improvement). I learned that I do best when I am simply myself. I learned that I can feel incredibly close to people who are genuinely interested in the things I do and who I am. I cannot repeat this enough: I am so happy I went on this trip.

As for what the future holds, I imagine my birth mom and I will keep a similar level of contact that we’ve been having these past few years – several e-mails and letters a year – and maybe add in a phone call here and there. Moreover, I absolutely plan to see her again. Having individuals who add to my life – and to whose lives I can add – is the greatest experience of this lifetime.

Are you an adoptee? Have you met your birthparent(s)? If not, are you thinking about it? Whether you’re an adoptee or just a curious reader, feel free to leave me a comment below with your thoughts or questions!


Author’s note: I realized after I had written this that I had neglected to mention anything about my birth dad in the post. No, I was not asexually reproduced from my birth mom (lol), it’s just that my birth dad decided from the get-go that he did not want to be involved in my life post-adoption. This is TOTALLY fine, because I feel so thankful and overjoyed to have the family I have, including the new relationship I have with my birth mom. I do not have any intention to communicate with my birth dad or meet him unless he reaches out to me first, and I am honestly completely okay with that.

What I want my little brother to know about life

As of fifteen days ago, I am twenty-six years old. I act like I’m approximately three much of the time. Thus, as I walk hand-in-hand with my little brother across a street, swinging my arms and singing any number of the weird songs we have written together, any thought by passersby that I might be mature enough to be his mother is immediately squelched when they see how I’m actually acting.

Despite our vast age difference, this little ball of energy (and occasionally, terror) and I have a lot in common. We both love video games, we’re both noticeably taller than most people in our respective age groups, and we both have a fastidiously-maintained collection of shoes. Well, okay – he takes way better care of his shoes than I do. And he probably has more than I do at this point, too.

Being the older sister to him along with five additional younger siblings has conditioned me to be a special kind of worry wart. You want your younger siblings to have fun, but not too much fun. You want them to do well in school. You want them to never, ever text and drive. You want to serve as an example to them, but you don’t want them to get any ideas from the stuff that you got away with doing (and believe me, I got away with a LOT). Even if you yourself would totally do it all over again if you knew you wouldn’t get in trouble. Yes, it’s complicated and it’s freaking difficult beyond belief at times. And that’s just the beginning.

Most of my siblings are grown adults now. At this point, I feel confident that my siblings are aware of the world around them. They’re aware of modern socioeconomic phenomena like the financial crisis, technological trends, and how social media has changed the world. They know that this is not the world our parents grew up in. My littlest brother, however, is just breaking into this world and is hardly aware of anything beyond his own bubble at this point. He has a lot to learn, and not all of it’s going to be comforting.

Mankind has made amazing feats in the fields of science and technology, but human beings are less connected than ever. Competition in job markets is fierce and wages have only marginally increased to keep pace with the rising cost of living. As my little brother reaches adulthood, I worry. The ubiquity of the Internet has allowed access to an amazing breadth of knowledge but also bombards us with images of mindless, sensational news chatter, Donald Trump, and the Kardashians. As a result, I feel an obligation to give my brother a heads up on what’s to come – and to be the best sister I can be.

kid on snapchat
Snapchat: an app my dad will forever regret downloading onto his phone.

I’m probably not the perfect example for my brother to follow. I was a pretty dramatic child. I was a rebellious teen. I had, like, twelve different majors in college (which was not cheap) and out of pressure, I chose the most ill-suited one for me because – surprise! – that’s where the jobs were. I worked my butt off to get a great job out of college that I ended up loathing. To add insult to injury, I want to be a writer now, for crying out loud. I’m virtually a parent’s worst nightmare.

But after going through many years of school, finding my old job, going through my old job, quitting my old job, finding my new one, and now having the time to pursue what I love, I know a thing or two that I can share. Moreover, I’m finally starting to get a sense of myself back. I finally feel happy. I finally feel like I’m living.

So, in the midst of the often-scary stuff that this world will throw at him, here’s what I want my brother to take away from all of this:

There are going to be a lot of pressures to be someone else, or do something else, especially after middle and high school start. I want you to know that, sadly, that pressure doesn’t end, and if you let it get out of hand, even you start to turn against yourself. But you can’t let that part of you win. You have to keep going. You have to be who you were meant to be.

little boy in drag
If you want to be a lipstick zombie, be the best dang lipstick zombie you can be.

Now, on that note, it’s not always easy to “find yourself.” It’s not always easy to know right away what you’re interested in, whether that’s for hobby or job purposes. Take your time and remember that understanding these seemingly simple things about yourself takes years. Whatever you do, pick your future job because you want to do it – not because Dad, Mom, your friends, or I want you to do it.

One of the ways that you figure out who you are (or what you want to do) is by putting yourself out of your comfort zone. This means traveling, getting an education, and, yes, talking to scary old successful people. Or even just other people in general. Occasionally this means doing karaoke at a company party and crowdsurfing halfway through it. Just make sure the song isn’t “Freak-a-Leek” by Petey Pablo and we’re all good. (Oh, wait, I shouldn’t have introduced you to that song yet. Forget I said that!)

kid in ninja outfit
Putting yourself in this outfit counts, too.

Friends will come and go and that is okay. The friends that enrich your life and encourage you to be the best you can be will always be there, even if you occasionally lose contact. It’s not always easy to tell who your “true” friends are, but the truth is eventually revealed. I want you to nurture your true friendships, especially since the number of people you can call a “friend” dwindles as you get older. That’s okay, though. You don’t need 100 million friends. Having a lot of friends is like having a second job – it’s exhausting. What you need is an all-star team who loves and supports you and for whom you do the same.

Material things are really not as cool as you think they are right now (yes, shoes included). Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with owning material things and occasionally buying new ones. But they don’t represent you. Material things break, become obsolete, or fall out of fashion. The experiences that you will have in life will stay with you forever and will shape you as a person.

boy with baseball
The ball won’t last forever, but the fact that you caught it will.

Your health and physical ability are some of your most precious assets and taking care of your body will let you live a more fun and comfortable life as you get older. No matter what, nobody is invincible, including you. Take care of your body and your health.

Mom and Dad are going to be super, duper annoying at times. You’re probably going to want to run away, and you may even make it onto the next bus outta there once. But everything they do for you is out of love and a desire for you to be happy and successful. Ask me or any of your other siblings. I wanted to become a ward of the state when Dad told me I couldn’t wear makeup or have my computer for a week one time. He’s now one of my best friends. As siblings, we will be less annoying, but we still love you more than anything and, as such, will occasionally be pretty annoying, too. Be prepared for that.

A partial crew for father’s day last year: my 21-year-old brother, my 15-year-old sister, me, my dad, and my little brother’s gigantic mouth.
A partial crew for father’s day last year: my 21-year-old brother, my 15-year-old sister, me, my dad, and my little brother’s gigantic mouth.

I’ll talk to you about “like-liking people” when you’re ready. Thinking of you going through the trials and tribulations of the romantic world is giving me forehead wrinkles – and I DO NOT need to add anymore of those yet, please. Let’s table that for later.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything I want to tell my brother. I will be that sister who gives earfuls of unwarranted advice to my brother while his eyes roll so hard they disappear into the back of his head. I will have nightmares when he decides he wants to go on a trek through the Gobi desert (even though I’ll probably end up joining him because holy crap I want to do this). If he finds himself in a serious bind, I will drop everything I’m doing and help as much as I can, just as I would for any of my other siblings.

These days, I often tell him that I want him to “go through life actually living”, to which he shrugs his shoulders a bit and asks me if I want to go play soccer or watch a movie with him. I almost always say yes, because his asking me if I want to play with him is the only answer I need in return. I have no idea what life has in store for my brother, but he’s got a family that will be there for him every step of the way and is already a strong, determined young person in his own rite. Someday he’ll realize that those facts about him are even cooler than the new Nikes he’s rocking today. But I’ll be patient – that might be a while.