Apartment-Hunting in Amsterdam: A Day In The Life Of A Disillusioned Renter

Apartment-hunting in general is a tedious task. But apartment hunting in Amsterdam specifically, sucks.

If you’re looking to rent an apartment in Amsterdam, you’re dealing with sky-high prices, fierce competition, impersonal real estate agents, and inflexible viewing times. Unless you know someone who knows someone who can hook you up or you’re willing to pay an extra month’s rent to hire an agency to help out, you’ll have to get your hands dirty and accept that finding a place to live will become a part-time job.

With the lease to my current apartment expiring too soon for comfort, what started as casually looking for a new apartment to rent has turned into an intense sprint. To give you a taste of what this looks like, here’s some insight into the bleak state of the Amsterdam rental market.

7:00 – You wake up, and start checking your email for updates on new properties. You realize the email updates aren’t including all properties that fit your criteria, so you take out your laptop, proceed to be blinded by it because you never turn down the brightness, and continue looking.

7:15 – Have 24 tabs open with potential new apartments. Go through them looking for a decent place to live.

7:18 – Be confused about the listing that has the shower in the middle of its only bedroom.

7:22 – Be confused about the listing that states two bedrooms, but clearly shows one bedroom, separated by a curtain.

7:25 – Be confused about the listing that looks like it’s in a prison complex.

7:27 – Find the perfect place. Realize it’s only for residents that are 50+. For half a second, think about falsifying documents to age yourself up by 25+ years and learning how to do elderly costume makeup. Move on once you realize that’s too much effort.

7:45 – Out of curiosity, check how the state of the market is in other cities. Realize that in any other city, for the price range you’re going for, you’d get more than a pimped-out shoebox and a space that’s built with modern needs in mind. Remember you hate commuting and all of your friends live in this city and also you don’t know how to drive despite almost being 30, so you rely on public transport for everything. Debate starting your own company to work remotely forever and live in an affordable, well-laid-out home. Realize you’ve gotten sidetracked once again and continue searching in Amsterdam.

07:55 – Apply to the apartments that fit your lofty criteria: minimum one bedroom with a real door separating it from the living room, 50+ m2, under 1,700 euros, some storage space, with a balcony or garden, and pets allowed.

08:00 – Answer any emails from realtors because all the emails go to your email and not your partner’s, G. G has tried applying to apartments but you’ve both realized that coincidentally, your Dutch last name gets triple the responses his English last name does.

08:15 – Get ready for the first viewing of the day. You spend 30 minutes trying to choose an outfit that makes you look reliable but also helps you stand out. You settle on mom jeans and dad sneakers, hoping to invoke the essence of parental reliability.

09:15: You’re at Apartment #1. The realtor is 10 minutes late and you’re somehow viewing the apartment with 2 other couples, despite the real estate agent stating in their email that due to COVID regulations, only one person could come per viewing. Nobody else is wearing masks except for you. The agent does not apologize for his tardiness.

09:16 – You’re in the apartment. While you walk up to the fourth floor, you wonder why the Dutch, despite being the tallest nation in the world, decided to build the smallest, most narrow steps in existence.

09:20 – The realtor recognizes one of the couples. He stares at them and says: “still looking, eh?”, without an ounce of empathy. You have now unlocked a new fear.

12:30 – You’re at Apartment #2. Once again, you’re with another couple. The couple runs in and tells the real estate agent that they’re actually 15 minutes early for their appointment, but that should be fine, right? The real estate agent said it is. It is definitely not fine in your opinion, but nobody asks for your opinion, so you spend the next ten minutes shuffling around the apartment, avoiding getting too close to the other couple.

12:32 – The living room and kitchen look promising. You ask for where the bedroom is and realize what you thought was a roomy closet with a sink is actually considered the bedroom. You ask if there is separate storage since there is no space for a closet. There is not.

14:30 – You finally have some time to check your emails. Out of the 18 you applied to in the last couple days, 5 get back to you. It looks like a good day.

14:31 – The first email sends you to a site where you have to pay to apply for the chance to view the apartment. You do not apply.

14:33 – The second email asks if you can do a viewing tomorrow. You say you have a work meeting that overlaps and ask for any other time. They say it’s their only time slot and that if you can’t come, you’ve lost all chance of seeing it. Oh, and considering the state of the Amsterdam rental market, you should be more flexible. You wonder how they expect you to be able to come to a viewing at a moment’s notice while holding a well-paying enough job that allows you to be eligible for said apartment.

14:35 – You open the next email. It says there’s a viewing option for today at 13:00. You check the time and realize you missed it. You check for when it was sent. The email was sent at 12:43 today.

14:45 – After answering some screening questions, you finally have two viewings planned for the next few days.

15:40 – You’re at Apartment #3. Although it’s almost in another city, you like the apartment. When you ask them about the length of the contract, they remind you that the contract is only for 2 years max. because otherwise, you will have too many rights as a tenant. You shudder, dreading the thought of going through this process again in 2-year’s time.

15:52 – You check your email and see one from one of the agents saying that, unfortunately, even though the listing says nothing about pets and is an actual house with a garden in a quiet neighborhood, no pets are allowed. But, if you’re interested, you can come to the viewing. You email back jokingly, saying the cats are non-negotiable and you wish them luck finding someone. They email back reiterating “NO PETS” (all caps), but you’re still free to change your mind about the viewing. You email them back one last time, reiterating that you will not be putting your cats up for adoption for this house, but thanks for the offer.

16:01 – You receive a call about the apartment you applied to yesterday. You assume good news since they usually email rejections. You get your hopes up. You did not get it. When you ask the real estate agent as to why, they say it was down to the wire, that you’ve been great candidates, and it’s really nothing personal, but that it just came down to the landlord’s personal preference.

16:13 – It’s time for Apartment #4. This one is it. You’re happy you didn’t give up on the apartment that only had blurry pictures of the windows with subpar views. It’s been recently remodeled, the layout makes sense, and the rooms are actual rooms, separated by real walls and doors. On top of that, the real estate agent referred to you by the right name, asked you about your background beyond the tenancy requirements, and tried to crack jokes. For the first time all day, you no longer feel like crying.

17:10 – You run to the last viewing of the day, Apartment #5. You get your numbers mixed up and stand in front of the wrong apartment 6 doors down from the one you should actually be at for 5 minutes, before realizing your mistake.

17:13 – The landlord is at this listing. They see you struggling to open the balcony door for a good 3 minutes, that feels like 3 hours. They stare at you and mention they won’t fix that. They also mention they won’t fix anything else that’s broken or will break. You wonder whether they realize that part of a landlord’s job description is to fix the broken things in the apartment and not only to allow someone the privilege of paying off their mortgage.

17:58 – Get a call from a realtor. One of the apartments you applied to has already been rented out but, for a finder’s fee equivalent to one month’s rent, he found you a similar one – one that’s not even on the market yet! Without asking, he’s sent pictures to your Whatsapp. It’s the apartment you viewed (and rejected) yesterday with another realtor for free. You ask for the price of the rent out of curiosity. It’s 50 euros more expensive than the one initially quoted to you.

18:00 – The day is done. You go through the listings one more time. You start looking at what it would cost to buy a house. You quickly remember that you’ll never be able to save enough for a house because the prices are going up by 20% every year, so each year you’ll fall further behind because you spend all of your money on rent.

18:05 – Pour yourself a glass of wine and begin the application to the one place with potential. You try to write a convincing letter to the landlord, letting them know all about you, your life, and why you deserve to live in their apartment more than the eight other applicants. You attach all the documents needed and feel weird giving all your personal information to somebody you just met today, for less than fifteen minutes.

Oh, and be sure to have it in before 9:00 tomorrow. Because the Dutch love taking their time with everything except matters of real estate.

Positive update since the time of writing: the sprint was all worth it! We found a place! I might have aged seven years in three months’ time but we’ve got it!

Like what you see? I post a new blog every beginning of the week where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, life lessons, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Why Growing Up In A Small Town Isn’t Boring

Finally Answering the Question “What Did You Even Do For Fun?”

If you’ve ever grown up in a small town where nothing ever happens, you know what it’s like to have to get creative with your free time.

Until the age of 24, I never lived in a big city. My parents, ever the introverted hermits, loved being left alone, far from civilization. There were varying degrees of middle of nowhere. From a lack of paved roads with farmers as neighbors to having a playground to terrorize and a Chinese restaurant that we were pretty sure was a front for some illicit activity because no one we knew ever ate there, but no high schools or supermarkets.

Growing up in small towns in Europe in the early 2000s, meant growing up far away from the trend of helicopter parents who thought that children needed to be kept busy every single moment of the day. The statement “I’m bored” was never met with a suggestion or eagerness to entertain, but instead with a “What do I look like, a clown to you?”. Our Internet connection was as unstable as my slightly psychotic ex-stepfather’s moods and our TV maxed out at 10 channels – all public broadcasting, of course – with only two for children. While some channels provided the option to view the programming in English instead of Spanish or Dutch, this did not extend to cartoons.

My siblings and cousins did our best to fill our free time with creative and chaotic activities that I’ve only realized in retellings during adulthood were maybe a little strange. Here are the highlights.

Find the source of the river

The premise of this game was simple: we live next to a river, therefore we must explore the river. Because neither my brother nor I paid much attention in geography and had little to no understanding of how far away it could be, we were convinced that if we followed the river upstream, we’d eventually find its source.

Every weekend, we’d take our German Shepherd and Boxer mutt with us for protection in case of wild boars – an actual threat to be wary of – and head off to the river bed. If we got hungry, we’d eat the blackberries growing everywhere. If it got too hot, we’d jump fully clothed in the water to cool off. On two occasions we were chased by river snakes, leading to a cacophony of panicked screeches echoing across the valley.

Parts of the riverbed were dry, which made for easy trekking. We’d hop from one patch of dry riverbed to the next, dogs trailing behind us. Bamboo grew on the sides, framing the river, making it even more secluded. The bamboo turned out to be multipurpose: they made great walking sticks and impromptu dueling swords.

Unsurprisingly, we never reached the source of the river, although in our tiny child brains it felt like we were close. This was definitely not the case because in reality, the source was a 23-hour walk and 117 kilometers away.

Dirt track racing (for kids!)

When my little sister and cousin each turned three, they were gifted a motorized plastic car they could physically ride, each. They never got to play with them though, because my older cousins found that it was much more fun to use these cars to propel themselves all the way down a steep dirt road.

Always the worrier, I proceeded with caution. There were enough reasons to be worried. There was only one place to safely stop the car at the end of the road. Thorn-filled blackberry bushes flanked both the sides and the end of the slope. And if you avoided these, you could still drive straight into the river. All this, with your only brakes being your own two feet. Considering this was early summer in Spain, this meant shorts, tank tops, and flip flops so forget about padding.

We’d race each other to the bottom, purely for bragging rights. By the end of the day, our shoes were covered in dirt, tiny thorns sticking out our arms and legs, and half of us were caked in mud, hair dripping. We did not succeed in avoiding any of the obstacles but kept on going at it, again, and again, and again.

Unfortunately for us (and fortunately for the neighbors hearing our shrieks of joy for hours straight), we had to stop once the toy cars got trashed. Once steering wheels began disconnecting during descent and wheels falling off, we accepted it was time to let go.

Corn wars

To this day, nothing has given me as big of an adrenaline rush as that prepubescent scream of “DE BOER!” (“THE FARMER!”) rippling across the cornfields during a heated corn wars battle.

Corn wars combined “capture the flag”, with the potential wrath of a disgruntled Dutch farmer, and the heavy bruising of paintball. Far away enough that the adults couldn’t see what we were doing, but close enough that if we got into serious trouble we could run home, the cornfield was the perfect battleground for our ragtag group of neighborhood kids.

To get into the cornfield, all we had to do was hop over the waterway next to the bike path. Once in, we’d split up into two groups, make a base each by patting down the corn stalks, and stockpile the rest of the corn as projectile weapons. From there, it was divide and conquer – half roaming to capture the other’s base, the other half ready to defend it. In a rudimentary and brutish effort to echolocate where the others were, corn would go flying in the air until you finally hit something. If you followed the “OWWW!”, you’d find your enemy… or your ally, it was hard to tell who was who.

The farmer found out what was happening after the first few editions of the corn war. Understandably, he was not thrilled with us turning his crops into a playground and would chase us out. We’d dart in every which direction, like rats being smoked out of a cellar, trying to catch your breath because you couldn’t stop laughing as you ran. That sort of delirious laugh you get as a kid when you know you’ve done something naughty and are on the verge of getting caught.

Years later, when talking to the adults about the corn wars, they confirmed that the farmer did confront them, trying to convince the adults to punish us. Unluckily for the farmer, the reason they didn’t stop us is that many of them had dealt with the same farmer when younger, during their own corn wars. Apparently, we weren’t the first generation to duke it out by chucking corn at each other.

LEGO creations and invoking the wrath of God

Not all our activities had an element of danger to them. On rainy days you had to find what to do inside, and sometimes you’d already read every book in the house. For times like those, LEGOs were a surefire hit.

My brother and I were always making up characters and stories. Instead of building the LEGO kits as instructed, we made strange dog-inspired characters who went on a myriad of adventures. Of these adventures, I only remember two details:

  1. One of the characters we made had legs that were too tall and skinny, making him too fragile to play with after we built him. Instead of redesigning the character, or inventing any other excuse to keep him in the story, we murdered him in a ski accident instead.
  2. We had so many characters to keep track of at one point (a good 36) that we killed them all in a freak accident. This freak accident was caused by God wiping them out, as well as their entire world.

God was our Deus Ex Machina. A beat-up Husky plushie with scratched-out eyes that we’d stolen from our older sister that doubled as an erase button. Any time we thought that the story was becoming too complicated, instead of paring it down, we’d smash God into every character, effectively murdering them all.

This was around the time we were foraying into becoming Jehova’s Witnesses and our understanding of God was not per se as a benevolent creator. Morality did not play a part as to why this big reset would happen. Rather than taking the lessons learned during the congregation sessions to create a just and fair God, we thought it much more convenient and accurate to have a random and chaotic one, guided more by whims than morals.

Both of us grew up to identify as atheists.

Filmmaking savants

Hollywood’s recommendation to “never work with children or animals, if you can avoid it” doesn’t apply when you’re halfway through the summer holiday, running out of ideas, and are a child yourself.

The summer we became filmmakers was a grey and bleak one, like many Dutch summers. We’d cycled through the usual card and board games, even coming up with new ones, but needed more. As a last-ditch effort, we asked one of our parents if we could borrow their camera and they relented. Over the next weekend, we’d gather the rest of the neighborhood kids to film “Twinky Gets Kidnapped”. In this riveting tale, Twinky, my cousin’s dog, has been kidnapped by an unknown entity and needs to be rescued. Despite what started off as a straightforward plot, we had a vision that descended it into chaos. We had plot twist villains before Disney was pulling plot twist villains, and tongue-in-cheek fourth wall breaks.

This was also the first time we tried our hand at video editing, without actually editing the video through a computer. In a now-iconic-amongst-the-family scene, the villain and hero were negotiating how much the ransom would be. We sat each character in a different room and ran back and forth, filming their parts one after the other. No re-takes. We thought we were film geniuses. Only once we played it back, we realized half the dialogue was cut off. Instead of “one million euros”, the new answer to the question “How much do you want for her” was just “-euros”.

By the end of the filming, we all got bored with the script and ended up improvising most of the last scenes, including a sprawling fight scene and a song break. That video still exists somewhere in my aunt’s storage and we talk about it often. Part of me wants to see it, while the other hopes it never sees the light of day.

For years, I hid these stories because I wanted to fit in, to be normal, to have regular childhood experiences – whatever those were supposed to be. Experiences like going to Starbucks with your friends or to the mall to kill time or having sleepovers where you watch scary movies and try to stay up all night. Ignoring the fact that even as an adult I hate scary movies, all-nighters, being too long around fluorescent lighting, and think Starbucks coffee never tastes right.

As an adult, I’m happy I had the hands-off, learn-to-entertain-yourself childhood I did. We weren’t always technological Luddites. We still watched cartoons and played shitty Flash games, but we weren’t pawned off or pushed in front of a screen by the adults. They didn’t plan out every second of our day, to make sure we were kept busy or productive. If we were bored, we were responsible for figuring out what to do ourselves.

That might mean you end up scraped, bruised, running away from river snakes, or questioning God.

That might also mean making great memories, a lesson or two learned, and one-of-a-kind stories to share later on.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every beginning of the week where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, life lessons, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Accepting My ADHD Diagnosis: The Good, The Bad, And The Truth

While most people’s association with TikTok are videos of dancing teenagers, I have that dumb app to thank for teaching me that I have ADHD.

TikTok has a powerful algorithm that learns what you like and who you are at a rapid pace, catering to your specific tastes. ADHD-related content starting showing up in between cat videos and fashion hauls, before I even knew I had it.

Before then, the thought of having ADHD hadn’t ever crossed my mind. I knew I had some sort of mental health issue, but since the people I knew with ADHD all fell into the typical association of hyperactive men who talk fast and get distracted all the time, bouncing from one thing to the next, I had rejected the notion.

After binging ADHD TikTok after ADHD TikTok, I made an appointment with my doctor to not only discuss my anxiety issues, but to reassess my previous diagnosis and check if it was ADHD.

Spoiler: it was ADHD. And it turns out, the anxiety part was also because of ADHD.

Here’s the good, the bad, and the truth, of accepting my ADHD diagnosis.

The Good

ANSWERS! ADVICE THAT WORKS! MEDICATION THAT WORKS! MY BRAIN IS NO LONGER (as much of) A BIG QUESTION MARK! WHEN I TALK TO OTHER PEOPLE LIKE ME, THEY UNDERSTAND ME WITHOUT EFFORT!

Pardon my yelling, but there’s no end to the level of peace that I’ve felt since getting the right diagnosis. For what feels like forever, I’ve been trying to put together a five thousand piece jigsaw puzzle without any reference as to what it could be. And somebody finally showed me what it’s supposed to look like. Yeah, I still have to put it together, but at least I’m no longer guessing where each piece goes.

The right treatment has gotten me in a mental place that I thought unachievable a year ago. I’d resigned myself to the idea that just coping was the best I could hope for. The people around me were balancing work, socializing, personal development, education, and hobbies, while being happy and goal-oriented. What felt impossible then, is forming into a reality now. For the first time in my life, I have a semblance of control over the raging tornado of energy whirling inside me.

I’ve also come to understand that my brain is different. It’s not a negative, just neutral. Sure, I’m scatterbrained and impulsive and incapable of sticking to a schedule. But I’m also creative and quick and ready to take action when no one else will.

Life looks more manageable now.

The Bad

As with any psychological diagnosis, the slow realization that the parts that you thought made you unique, turn out to be symptoms, is always disappointing.

Accepting my ADHD has also meant accepting comorbidities. In my case, anxiety has been a big one. There are few things I am sure about in life, but one of them is that I don’t think I have ever chilled one single day in my life.

My mom always said I was a “nervous” child. What was referred to as “nerves” turned out to be anxiety. My anxiety expresses itself as racing thoughts and overthinking, working together to make me the fastest, most overwhelmed person in all the land.

Apart from providing peak cringe material, looking through old journals makes it obvious that there was an internal wasps nest raging inside. When writing while emotionally agitated, these journals read like a Virginia Woolf-style stream of consciousness on speed. It’s just one thought after another and another and another and another and another and who needs punctuation or a moment to breathe? Everything always felt like it was too much.

This “nervousness” – which I now recognize as restlessness – also means that I never feel relaxed. Even when I’m supposed to be resting, I’ll be filled with the sudden urge to jump from task to task or start thinking about all the other things I want to do. When I’m watching YouTube I want to be writing and when I’m writing I want to be drawing and when I’m drawing I’m thinking about all the dishes I still need to clean.

Accepting that these quirks were just symptoms all along, means accepting that what I’d considered an integral part of me can be fixed. Which explains why I’ve gone through three identity crises in the last nine months alone.

The Truth

Being diagnosed and getting the right treatment are just the beginning. I’m still working through accepting that I was misdiagnosed, that regardless of treatment I’ll still have ADHD symptoms, that “catching up” for lost time is impossible, and that I now see much of my life through the lense of having ADHD.

Having lost faith in the field of psychology for myself and then having to go back to get it checked, was a challenge. I grappled with conflicting thoughts of mistrusting professionals while knowing I had to be receptive to the advice given in order to improve. The only way to confirm the suspicion that I’d been misdiagnosed was to go back and get tested. If I wanted to get better, I had to return. And I was right. And they gave me the help I needed. But I’m still angry that they got it wrong the first time around, even if I know the anger won’t solve anything.

Receiving the right treatment of therapy and medication has been a godsend. But, it hasn’t fixed everything. Just because I can identify what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and how I should stop it, doesn’t mean I’m in control of it. My ADHD is still there, there’s just less of it. I won’t be able to eradicate the symptoms and managing it will be a life-long effort. But, I do feel better and more equipped than before.

Because I feel like I’m finally close to being on a level playing field with others, I feel like I’m catching up to do better and do more. The laundry list of areas I want to improve on is infinite. I want to write more, and draw daily, and read more, and get a promotion, and be more social, and, and, and, and, and… Every day is planned like there are 26 hours in the day. While I’m ecstatic that my urge to create and learn is matched by actually creating and learning, when I fail to meet the ridiculous expectations I’ve set for myself, I spiral.

An added perk to getting diagnosed in the midst of a pandemic, is that you don’t remember how it affected you in social situations, until the world starts opening up.

I’m re-learning that I can become overstimulated and overwhelmed in large crowds. Plus, all my social interactions are now viewed through the lense of my ADHD. Had I always been such a terrible listener? Did I talk this much before? Did I overthink my interactions to this degree afterwards? Trying to find out if it’s my rusty social skills from being isolated for almost two years or if it’s been my ADHD all along, is a fun game I’ve taken up.

Acceptance

I have ADHD.

What I decide to do with that piece of information is up to me, but the fact remains.

I have a tendency to share this tidbit with almost everyone I get even slightly comfortable with. It’s not to get a reaction from them or to throw myself a pity party. Partially, it’s because I’m too impulsive to ever leave any shroud of mystery about me.

But mainly it’s because I value being open about what makes us different, instead of treating it as a taboo. By being open about it, I’ve had others share that they’re in the same boat. Or that they know someone who is, who they want to help but don’t know how. Or that they’re doubting if they have it, so what’s it been like to find out if it is.

Labeling the issue doesn’t solve the problem. What it does, is validate what I’ve been aware of: there is an explanation as to why I march to the beat of my own drum and there are ways to make it easier.

For ADHD Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share my journey with ADHD, because ADHD can look different from person to person. So, DISCLAIMER: some of these experiences may resonate. To an extent, a lot of them happen to most people. The biggest difference is the extreme to which these symptoms affect ADHD’ers life adversely. If you think you might have ADHD, please contact your doctor or mental health professional.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

I Was Misdiagnosed For Almost A Decade: A Mental Health Journey

Before we begin, a confession: I am an idiot.

When it comes to mental health and wellness, I was a rookie when they first diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. My parents were vocal in their distrust of psychology, seeing it as an excuse to wallow in your trauma instead of solving it.

Regardless of their prejudices, they encouraged me to go to a psychologist to figure out why I was so hell-bent on self-destruction. Their hope was that I was “normal” but had been derailed because of the zesty combination of hormones and a failure in however the other divorced parent had raised me. The reality was more that I was a teenager with undiagnosed ADHD and unresolved ✨ trauma ✨. Not that we knew at the time.

Because of this, I accepted the diagnosis given to me and dropped out of therapy a couple months in, deciding I could sort it out myself. This was the start of a mental health journey that has erred more on the side of free-climbing the Matterhorn during a snowstorm than a casual stroll through the forest.

The misdiagnosis ended up doing more harm than my ADHD symptoms, even exacerbating them. I was putting a cast on my arm, when it was my leg that was broken. In the end, I ended up with a numb arm and my leg still in pain.

I started therapy and medication for ADHD expecting it not to work. It did work. Almost too well. Because now I’m stuck with an endless conga line of “what-if’s” dancing through my brain.

BPD vs ADHD: how did they get these confused?

Before we begin, let’s answer the big one: how did Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) get confused for one another?

BPD is a cluster B personality disorder that is characterized by an inability to regulate intense emotions. This inability can result in high levels of impulsivity, a propensity towards self-destructive behaviors in an effort to cope, and emotional outbursts. ADHD, on the other hand, is a neurological condition that affects attention regulation, hyperactivity, and executive function. When untreated, ADHD can be expressed as impulsivity, a propensity towards self-destructive behaviors in an effort to cope, and emotional outbursts.

ADHD is genetic and has to be present before the age of 12 to be diagnosed, while BPD can be genetic, environmental, or both.

Gender plays an inadvertent role in diagnosis. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with BPD than men, just as men are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than women. Women tend to receive an ADHD diagnosis much later in life, and to be misdiagnosed in the first place. And yes, BPD is a common misdiagnosis in these cases.

These are the facts.

But the facts don’t fully encompass the frustration of living with the wrong diagnosis for so long, and the amount of doubt it brings. Here are the questions I’ve grappled with, and am still grappling with, because of it.

Am I a fraud? Did they get it right this time?

Being told that it looked like my BPD was ADHD in disguise was a turning point. After months, I’d been validated in my suspicions and could breathe a sigh of relief.

Until I thought about it for too long and convinced myself that I’d been faking every symptom the entire 6-month long process of getting diagnosed.

That fear that they’ve gotten it wrong again is a consistent nag in the back of my mind. Writing about ADHD this month has let me organize my thoughts when it comes to my own experiences in the context of a new(ish) diagnosis. This doesn’t mean that there are no doubts. What if I’m sharing all these thoughts and experiences and it’s something else? Am I misleading people? Am I just trying to convince myself that I actually have it?

When I start thinking that, I run through the same list every time:

  • When I talk to other people with ADHD, I finally feel heard and understood for the first time in my life.
  • Following ADHD-specific advice works, which didn’t happen when I’d follow BPD-specific advice.
  • Caffeine doesn’t make me hyper, it calms me down.
  • My medication does not hype me up and makes my brain much more quiet and subdued, to the point I can relax. Which is nice. And not what happens if you take it without having ADHD.

Still, the level of self-skepticism borders on exhausting and I’d wish my Impostor Syndrome didn’t extend to my mental health, too.

Why did I have to be so stubborn and not believe my close family and friends? Was I dumb in just accepting the diagnosis?

They say that the more someone is entrenched in a belief, the more they will dig in their heels once opposing evidence is presented. I am guilty of this.

In my attempt to get better, I’d shared BPD resources with my close friends and family. I was trying to avoid the unhealthy interpersonal relationship dynamics I’d been warned were inevitable. Disregarding the fact that I’d had no issues whatsoever with these friends and family, I felt they needed to be prepared.

Almost every single one of them were kind enough to take the time to read these resources. They were also kind enough to let me know that they did not see me in what they were reading.

I’d equivocated not believing in my borderline as not believing there was any mental illness. Denying my BPD felt like a denial of my mental struggle. And the struggle was undeniable. Had I listened, I would have heard they were aware I needed help, but that I was looking for it in the wrong places.

Lesson now learned: if the people who know you best are telling you that your perception of self is way off-base, it’s probably (definitely) way off-base.

I kept re-traumatizing myself for nothing?

BPD can be brought upon by trauma. Because of this, trauma is explored when treating Borderline Personality Disorder, to recognize and change negative trauma-related behaviors or attitudes. In my misguided attempt at self-improvement, I gave too much weight to traumatic experiences that did not need constant reliving.

Making judgements on my actions through the lense of trauma was overwhelming. I thought I’d never be able to get over that period in my life because it had affected me to the point of changing my personality. It permeated everything. I saw traces of it in the ways I thought or interacted with people.

It was inescapable.

Aaaaand it was a pointless mental prison I’d built for myself. It turns out that the keys to the prison were in my back pocket this whole time. I just didn’t know where to look.

Did I cause unnecessary damage by trying to control parts of me that were never there?

My interaction with the psychologist who diagnosed me with BPD was not an entirely positive one. After concluding that I had borderline, he admitted that his borderline patients were his most difficult to treat. He also mentioned that a lot of literature I would find would be about how other people deal with people with BPD, because we could be considered toxic and manipulative.

Overall, not a great start.

From there, I started treating myself like I was a menace to be around, self-isolating from people who just wanted to be closer to me. I pushed myself away and tried to make myself invulnerable and independent. My usual route of learning through reading was also not proving fruitful. A lot of what I’d found was confirming that being around someone with BPD was considered worse than suffering from it.

Adding to the loneliness? I felt alienated from both the BPDers and from so-called neurotypicals. If I tried to share experiences with either, neither group found them relatable, driving me deeper into isolation.

Everything I tried to do to make myself better only turned out to push me further into believing I was a scourge to society if I didn’t learn how to control my emotions.

Which made me more emotional.

Even though that wasn’t even the problem in the first place.

When my group therapy sessions for ADHD ended, the clinic offered individual sessions for problems not addressed in therapy. I spent more time in those individual sessions talking about how much damage the misdiagnosis did, than on my ADHD-related symptoms.

The misdiagnosis had twisted the way I viewed my ADHD symptoms into something untreatable and unmanageable. It also added to my low self esteem, because everything I tried to solve it did not work. I’m happy to see the level of improvement in less than a year by getting the right help. Although, I’m still bitter.

I just wish they would have been as thorough with my borderline diagnosis as they had been with my ADHD diagnosis. My ADHD diagnosis took me almost half a year to get, involving multiple interviews, including interviews with parents, questionnaires, and even then, it took some convincing after they almost threw the whole diagnosis out because I didn’t struggle in school. My BPD diagnosis was based on a hunch after just one intake session, where I only introduced myself, plus one questionnaire. It took about two weeks. Max.

At least they got it right this time, right?

For ADHD Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share my personal journey with ADHD, because ADHD can look different from person to person. So, DISCLAIMER: some of these experiences may resonate because to an extent, a lot of them happen to most people. The biggest difference is the extreme to which these symptoms affect ADHD’ers life adversely. If you think you might have ADHD, please contact your doctor or mental health professional.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Not Quirky, Just Undiagnosed ADHD: Now-Obvious Signs I Had ADHD

Since hitting puberty, I’ve been compared to Zooey Deschanel’s manic-pixie-dream-girl characters a lot. The blue-eyes, dark brown hair with bangs, and fondness for polka-dots played a large part in it, but even more than that, is that I’ve always been called some semblance of weird, odd, and mainly: quirky.

It’s cliche at this point, but I always knew I was different. My brain didn’t seem to match most other people’s frequency. Being in a family with 3 other, very different siblings meant that these differences were highlighted in a matter-of-fact way, without any value judgement. Quirks like my obsessive reading and spaciness were just part of who I was – never something to be fixed.

It wasn’t until puberty hit, and with it a whole slew of realizations, that the once cute and quirky habits I had, were no longer so cute and quirky. My mental health had taken a nose dive.

In an effort to get better, over eight years ago I went to a psychologist and received a diagnosis for a personality disorder. This diagnosis turned out to be useless and a large source of frustration because it was wrong (more on that in the upcoming weeks).

January this year I received a new diagnosis that finally felt right: it was Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, aka ADHD, all along.

If you’ve been diagnosed with any sort of neurodiversity/mental illness, you might have encountered the same issue I’ve grappled with: it turns out, a lot of the things that I thought were just little quirks, were symptoms of untreated ADHD.

Here are the (not-so-)little quirks I now know had more to them.

In a world of my own

I was a spacey child. As a kid, if you weren’t looking me straight in the eye, there was no chance I was paying attention to you. My parents had even nicknamed my own little world, asking me if I was in La La Luna. Another common phrase I heard growing up was “colgada como los jamones”. Directly translated from Spanish it means “hanged like a ham”, but really it’s more like “totally zoned out”.

I loved daydreaming. My mental world took precedence over the physical world, which became an issue when it came to socializing. For years, I never understood why I didn’t connect with classmates. Looking back at old home videos, it’s clear I was mentally checked out, dipping in and out of the conversation wherever it interested me. It’s not that I had issues with understanding social cues in the first place. I understood what was expected, but I would get distracted and miss out on key parts of social situations.

My forgetfulness only made my awkwardness more apparent. Besides the run-of-the-mill signs of forgetting homework or appointments, there were multiple times where I’d go to school with two different shoes on my feet. In my defense, they were the same color.

Nowadays, I’ve gotten better at masking, but if I’m on autopilot, I’ll still space out and forget things. Only this time, the only victim is my partner who has to hear my Velma-like cry of “Where are my glasses? Have you seen my glasses?” at least three times a day.

Devouring books

Up until being diagnosed, my understanding of ADHD was relegated to it being about having a lack of focus. Turns out, ADHD is a deceptive name. Instead of an attention deficit, it’s more akin to an attention deregulation. Including sometimes focusing too much attention on a certain task. A common way this shows up for some in childhood is with an obsession with reading.

Whenever I talk about reading a lot when I was younger, I find it difficult to paint the picture as to how obsessive this hobby was. I’d read at dinner, with my book wedged between my legs and the table. I’d read in the car, to the point of making myself nauseous. I’d even read while walking down the street like Belle in the opening of The Beauty and The Beast.

Something I don’t often bring up, is the level of anger I would have if you distracted me, which everyone around me chalked up to me being grumpy. In reality, I was worried that if I lost focus, I wouldn’t guarantee I could get it back. This was particularly annoying if I was hell-bent on doing the one thing for hours and hours.

Niche interest sprints, not marathons

Hyperfixations are the obsessive interests that come with hyperfocus. While neither are considered official symptoms, they can be good indicators for ADHD. A hyperfixation is an intense focus on something, to the point where you’re blocking out the rest of the world. Important to note: hyperfixations are mostly associated with people with autism, but these tend to last longer – many months or years. ADHD hyperfixations are significantly shorter and more akin to impulsive shifts in interests.

In preparation of writing, I tried to list all the hyperfixations I’ve had. Things I spent hours on, researching until too early in the morning, for, at most, a few weeks on end, that I dropped once something more interesting came along. Because this list ended up being 4 pages, front and back, including only the ones I remembered, I won’t go through them all. But, to get a good idea of the topics I know way too much about, but don’t care about anymore, below is a taste.

Baking muffins, nail art, running, learning Japanese, learning the guitar, become a manga artist, marine biology, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Final Fantasy XII, YouTube beauty guru gossip, making Anime Music Videos, Gossip Girl, Gilmore Girls, all of Gordon Ramsey’s reality TV shows, Anthony Bourdain, Audrey Hepburn, Jim Morrison, barre, soft grunge Tumblr, the TV show Skins, historically accurate vintage wardrobes, fashion design, 30 Rock, commentary YouTube, Kingdom Hearts, One Piece (the manga and anime), bad movie reviews, Art Deco furniture, New York visual artists of the 80-2000s, Newgrounds Flash games, Stardew Valley, and Neopets.

To be clear: this is not just a list of interests. It’s a list of things I had made the main focus in my life for a short period of time, before moving on to the next one. I still regularly disorient new friends who start off sharing one of my hyperfixations, but realize a week later I’m disinterested because it’s no longer the flavor of the week.

At least it’s given me a wide range of skills and – useless – knowledge, which can be pretty handy sometimes.

I Have Approximate Knowledge of Many Things | Knowledge Meme on ME.ME
Although mostly I’m more like this.

No patience, just vibes

I hate waiting. I hate following instructions. I hate sticking to strict schedules. I love planning, but hate sticking to the actual plan. The thread through this hatred is simple: I’m impatient and have little to no impulse control.

Until my partner pointed it out, I never thought twice about the fact that the first thing I do when buying new electronics or furniture, is throw out the instruction manual because I know I won’t use it. Even as a kid, if my brother and I had a new LEGO set, while my brother would follow the instructions to build whatever was on the box, I’d be using the blocks to make off-kilter characters.

In school, I winged it during presentations. Classmates would comment on how impressed they were with my lack of note cards when presenting. In reality, I overcompensated with my delivery because I had no patience for the prep-work needed to stick to a script and would get too distracted if I had to read and present at the same time.

Even now, if you see me waiting for public transport, all you’ll see is someone pacing up and down the platform like a caged lion.

Perpetual fidgeter

Just like it seems you can only be underwhelmed or overwhelmed and not whelmed, I’m pretty sure there’s only overstimulation or understimulation.

I wouldn’t consider myself hyper in the traditional connotation of a six-year-old boy high on sugar. But I do score high in hyperactivity if we’re looking at chatting and fidgeting.

Fidgeting tends to be caused by being understimulated. Favorite forms of fidgeting apart from the obvious leg-bouncing? Doodling in class/during meetings, never being able to stay sitting in one position for too long, getting up to get tea six times a day as an excuse to walk around, and fidgeting with my hair to the point where I end up giving myself three different hairstyles in the span of an hour.

On the other hand, I also get overstimulated – mostly due to too much going on around me to focus on one thing. While it doesn’t happen as often as understimulation, it brings about its own quirks. Apart from randomly getting overwhelmed and snippy in packed public spaces, I’ve developed a party-only smoking habit that helps me take a socially-accepted pause when things get a bit too much.

Quirky or just undiagnosed ADHD? I don’t see any reason why it can’t be a bit of both. As long as no one compares me to a manic pixie dream girl ever again, I don’t care. Plus, recently I find out that Zooey Deschanel also has ADHD.

Sometimes life just comes full circle.

For ADHD Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share my personal journey with ADHD, because ADHD can look different from person to person. So, DISCLAIMER: some of these experiences may resonate because to an extent, a lot of them happen to most people. The biggest difference is the extreme to which these symptoms affect ADHD’ers life adversely. If you think you might have ADHD, please contact your doctor or mental health professional.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, general life musings, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Europe Has Bad Food Too: Rating Sad Meals I’ve Had Across Europe (And What You Should Eat Instead)

For three years, a combination of circumstances led me to the least glamorous job with a seemingly infinite budget for food, allowing me to eat my way, for free, across Europe. Some of these meals were so bad, that the memory still incites anger to this day.

While there have been many good meals, time and location constraints sometimes meant godawful food due to limited options. The job itself already sucked ass and we took a lot of abuse from people on the daily, so food was the highlight of the day. A lot of times, the only place open that was still serving food plain sucked and it would crush your soul just enough so that for a moment you reconsidered all the choices in your life that led up to that exact moment.

We’re reliving the worst of the worst. By worst I don’t mean fast food or anything in that vein – I love trash food, as long as it’s not a sad meal. Anything from molecular gastronomy to a home-cooked meal to chain restaurants to regular ol’ fast food (if the timing’s right) is all good by me. What we’re talking about today is a sad meal, with 1 being “I might have just ordered wrong” and 5 being “I definitely shed at least a couple tears after eating this because it was so sad”.

Sad meal: a meal that made me sad to eat. A meal I wish I could go back in time and un-eat because the meal brought me nothing but emotional tragedy.

Madrid

Spain is a country I know intimately. I spent 7 of my formative years there and go back at least twice a year to visit family. I used to love Spain unconditionally, until working there, because we always ended up with the worst of luck. Madrid in particular has been the culprit of many sad meals.

The most memorable of the bunch was when my team had a late-night dinner at VIPS – a Spanish fast food burger joint. We rushed to VIPS, hoping for a reliable meal option after finishing off almost two weeks of non-stop 11+ hours-a-day work.

VIPS did not say they were closing and that we were about to be kicked out at as soon as we received our order.

We sat outside their steps on the sidewalk to finish our meal. Somehow, they managed to burn both the burger and bun on each of our burgers, while simultaneously serving cold fries. To set the mood, I played sad off-tune Titanic flute music from my phone while we ate and said goodbye to a terrible stint in Spain with a too-fitting meal.

Rating: 4/5 burnt burger buns.

What you should eat instead: go to a local cerveceria and get tapas. The name is deceiving (they serve much more than beer) and you can find some gems. Avoid food near the main tourist places and go one or two side-streets down.

Alternatively, try a Latino restaurant! Madrid has many good Latino restaurants – anywhere from Mexican, to Colombian, to Venezuelan, they’ve got most of it.

Lannion

Lannion is a beautiful seaside city in Bretagne that does fish very well. We ordered the seafood platter for four people, for three of us. During the meal, the seafood platter did not feel like a mistake. It was all the oysters and shrimp and crab legs and sea snails a human could eat. This particular seafood platter – a four tier tower – had every mollusc and crustacean you could imagine. It was a decadent and well-deserved treat for an overworked bunch.

The seafood platter became a mistake that same night. And the day after. And the day after that. And even a few more after.

Whatever joy we had during that meal was ripped away the following days. It turns out four tiers of all the seafood you could imagine is a terrible idea for your gut. This became evident once my colleague and I spent the next days passing the keys to the bathroom to each other like you’re passing a baton in a relay race.

Rating: 0/5 during dinner; 5/5 for the 5 days following.

What you should eat instead: get a plate or two of fresh seafood, but don’t get a platter. Your insides will thank you.

Lisbon

I’ve always been reluctant to call someone useless. Up until recently, I thought everyone had their purpose in the workforce – even if it’s just because they’re fun to be around.

This was until I met useless Michael.

No one understood how useless Michael had gotten assigned to one of the most labor-intensive, headache-inducing, prestigious projects available to his department. All we knew is that one day there was no useless Michael, and the next day there was.

One incident with useless Michael that will forever stay with me was during a tech summit where we were receiving over 1,500 guests a day, from 8 to 19 – 7PM for the Americans. Useless Michael was meant to cover me and my colleague whenever we needed our breaks (usually only a half-hour lunch). Useless Michael decided to disappear the entire first day of the event.

Seeing that he was nowhere to be found, my colleague and I went for lunch regardless, getting a burrito somewhere in the venue. Because no one was attending our parts of the exhibit, our Portuguese contact complained to us and to him about him not taking over during lunch. They specifically clarified that my colleague and I needed our half-hour lunch break and that he promised the stand would always be attended, so he should not disappear.

Instead of taking over the Herculean task of working for one whole hour, useless Michael volunteered to pick up lunch. This way, we could have a quarter-hour lunch break instead, because according to him, ordering lunch took the other fifteen. Because he’d already proven to be of little help, we agreed in order to save us a headache or two.

The next day he comes in with three large pizzas from Pizza Hut. Of these three pizzas, there’s a cheese, a shrimp and corn pizza, and a canned tuna pizza. He proceeded to eat most of the cheese and leave the other two abominations to the human palate for the rest of us, hurrying us in the process.

Not only were they the worst flavor of pizzas from the worst place, but they were crumpled. He complained that the people working at Pizza Hut must be idiots. We almost believed him until the next day, when we saw him walking in with the pizza being carried vertically in a plastic bag.

Turns out, Useless Michael not only couldn’t choose pizza properly but he also carried it in a way only someone completely unhinged and disconnected from the world would.

Rating: 6/5 sideways pizza boxes.

What you should eat instead: Lisbon has a surprisingly good Chinese restaurant, The Old House, near where the tech summit was hosted. It can be pricey, so skip sad lunch and just have a big dinner there.

Toulouse (en route)

A common rule of thumb when choosing a good place to eat is that pictures on menus indicate a low quality restaurant. While I no longer agree that this is entirely true, I wish I would have followed this on my train ride to Toulouse.

Already not feeling the freshest because of a bad hangover, I chose to eat a burger to settle my stomach. The burger in the picture already looked sad enough – like someone took a blurry iPhone 4 picture of a McDonald’s burger. But the reality was so much worse.

The burger that I received had 0 vegetables – yet still reeked of onions. The buns were stale, the burger patty looked (and tasted) like a hockey puck, and was microwaved right in front of my very eyes. In my self-induced dehydrated and overemotional state, I was very close to crying when I saw it.

Not only was it offensive to consume, it was physically offensive to my body as well. The second the last bite of this burger hit my stomach, it set off a bomb I was ill-equipped for. That train ride felt eternal.

Rating: 5/5 microwaves.

What you should eat instead: buy yourself a good French sandwich at whichever station you’re departing from – jambon beurre (ham and butter) is my personal preference and a delicious, but safe choice. Avoid train food at all costs. It’s like airplane food, only without the excuse of changes in air pressure making things taste worse.

Romania (somewhere on the road)

Romania is a country that exceeded my expectations when it comes to food. Despite having Romanian friends, no one had ever touted Romania as being a killer place to eat (which it is)

One typical Romanian delicacy that I tried is a small sausage called mici (pronounced meetchee) or mititsei. We stumbled upon it during a roadtrip that spanned 5 Romanian cities. Romania has two main highways, with the rest being mountain road, so getting from one place to the other means a lot of meandering through the Romanian countryside.

During one of these meanderings, we started smelling the distinct odour of grilled meat. There were no establishments in view where this grilled meat could be made. The grilled meat mystery was solved a few minutes later where a whole stretch of street vendors selling fruits, vegetables, Romanian plum-based moonshine (tsuica), grilled meats, and most importantly, mici, came out of seemingly nowhere.

Mici is amazing. A small sausage that’s packed with flavor and super super super affordable. We picked up the mici with some tsuica and left very content.

We became less content once, one by one, we got the meat burps. The smell of the gas that came out should be classified as a biohazard – especially in enclosed places. Considering we still had 5 hours to go on our roadtrip, a “no mici if there is driving” rule was implemented from that stretch of the trip onward.

Rating: 1.5/5 unlabeled tsuica bottles.

What you should eat instead: pick up some roadside mici!!!! It’s delicious!!!! Just don’t stay in an enclosed location with anyone who’s eaten it. If for whatever reason you want to avoid the mici meat burps, the best steaks of my life were eaten in Romania. They know how to cook meat well and, compared to Western Europe, it’s affordable.

Lyon

Fun fact about Lyon: Lyon is considered the food capital of France and one of the food capitals in the world. Knowing this, I somehow managed to fuck up our experience in Lyon so much I had the worst meals of my life there.

Let’s start with the worst pizza I’ve ever had.

My team and I had arrived late at night at this parking lot, ready to set up for the next day’s event. Working on almost no sleep, but still in high spirits, we ordered the only option available in this industrial area telecom parking lot: pizza. The pizza took an hour and a half to get to us, and our French/Chinese contact had to argue on the phone with the delivery driver for it to even get to us at all.

The taste was subpar, but not offensive. What was offensive is what it did to my stomach. I never knew a pizza could double as a laxative until we ordered this one. To this day, I’m convinced that because of whatever argument was happening on the phone with our contact, they might have added something to that pizza to do what it did to us.

The second worst meal of my life was in another parking lot in Lyon, the day after.

After the terrible pizza of the night before, I held out for a good dinner the day after. This did not happen. A series of unfortunate events led to everyone in the team being too drunk on gin to realize that restaurants had closed and our only option was now takeaway. Once we noticed, we ordered doner and ate ravenously in the hotel parking lot.

The circumstances of being in the best European food city, drunk on an empty stomach, and having the saddest of sad meals – this time self-induced – was emotionally too much to handle and I might have cried when half my doner fell to the floor while eating it.

Rating: 7/5 sad sad tears of a clown

What you should eat instead: Anything else in Lyon. Please.

Sad meals are usually avoidable. It’s part of what makes them so sad.

Picking a good place to eat in a country you don’t know is an art in itself. It’s a good skill to hone and one that I think I’m pretty good at (if anyone wants tips on that, leave a comment and I’ll share them). But every once in a while I get reminded that really, you can’t win all the time.

And when that happens, and I’m staring down a sad meal, I try to hold on to the fact that at least most of the time, I nail it.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

A Reading Retrospective: The Metamorphosis of a Bookworm

I’ve always been known as an avid reader. Like for many others, books provided the perfect outlet for someone with an overactive imagination and who is prone to escapism.

It was so bad as a kid, that the only time I’d get into real trouble was because of reading. The astigmatism from reading with a flashlight for hours under the covers and the pile of stolen third-grade books with the scratched “Ms. Oppy” in permanent marker on each one’s corner are reminders of that.

I’ve gone through periods of reading a lot and then not reading so much back to reading a lot again. Some of the books I read were because I really enjoyed them, others because there wasn’t anything else.

Now, trying to go 3 for 3 for a yearly reading challenge (my target is 100 this year) and with the resources to read whatever I feel like, I make lists of what I want to read based on what I enjoyed in the past. Here’s what I’ve gathered from this reading retrospective.

Chapter One: Scholastic & Spitting Fun Facts

Any American who loves books and who’s experienced a Scholastic fair can tell you that it feels like what they imagine Charlie felt when first entering the chocolate factory. You go to school expecting just another day and before you know it, you have your foot through the door and are hit by the smell of plastic and new books. I don’t remember exactly what I read during this time period apart from The Babysitters Club – all I remember is it was definitely Scholastic.

This was also around the time that I had a stint as an amateur book thief. Let me be clear: this wasn’t intentional, I was just a very forgetful child. My teacher, Ms. Oppy (sorry, Ms. Oppy!!) probably only realized when it was too late. A few months into my thieving stint, I moved to Spain with my stolen goods.

I also took a liking to reading childrens encyclopedias. I used to read these and then relay all the information I’d learned from them to whoever would listen. Which was usually my poor brother who had to hear me prattle about Amelia Earheart being eaten by coconut crabs and lamprey eels. This is most likely what instilled my bad habit of spouting random facts I find interesting to unsuspecting listeners.

Chapter Two: The Obligatory Millennial Harry Potter Phase

Like a lot of millenials, I was obsessed with Harry Potter. From 8 to 13, the Harry Potter books were my Bible – despite having read the Bible. For an 8-year-old, the way I found the first Harry Potter book was the closest to divine intervention I’d experienced. I just found a beat up copy in the back of my dad’s closet, under 10-year-old tennis shoes and a pile of winter coats. He states never having bought it in the first place.

I was obsessed. I read Prisoner of Azkaban 13 times. I drew every single character up until book 5. I had a 500-page unofficial guide to the mythology in the books with notes in the margins, highlighted, and dog-eared. I made potions with shampoo’s and my moms expensive perfumes.

Other notable reads: Roald Dahl, french comics like TinTin, and my first book completely in Spanish: “Me Importa Un Comino El Rey Pepino”. This roughly translates to “I don’t give a damn about the pickle king”. I only recently found out the book isn’t even originally Spanish, but German.

Chapter Three: The Traveling Library That Couldn’t & The Cult That Could

Two factors led to strange literary tastes for a pre-teen: we moved to Spain to a very remote town that didn’t have a library, and we didn’t have much money for books for when we actually returned to civilization.

The town I grew up in was a small town with less than five thousand people and a heavily dispersed population. While they now have a library, back then there was only the “library bus” – known as el Bibliobus. The Bibliobus was meant to come every Thursday.

In reality, the Bibliobus came whenever it felt like it.

This lack of access to new books meant that I read whatever we had at hand. Since my mom loves John Grisham, he became a staple. This time period also coincided with my family’s weird temporary foray into the Jehova’s Witness. The Witnesses took notice of my love of reading and plied me with all the books they had from their own publication, The Watchtower. This never seemed to concern my parents much since I spent most of my time complaining that they didn’t make any sense.

This was also the first time I hated a book: The Secret. My mom, a true proponent of The Secret, urged me to read it. Because The Secret felt even more like cult-like propaganda than that of the actual cult, I didn’t care for it.

Chapter Four: Hiding in The Library

Finally, in middle school, I had access to a library again. The librarian and I quickly became friends since I spent most of my free time there. This was about the time my friends became interested in boys and drinking and cigarettes and I still had a couple years to catch up.

I needed an escape from these newfound hormones and awkward teen years. I found it in the Eragon series and Isabel Allende’s take on magical realism – both her adult (Hija De La Fortuna) and YA books (Ciudad De Las Bestias).

Around this time, I read A LOT of manga. We finally had a good enough internet connection that I could read scanlations (scanned fan-made translations) well into the night. Some that stick out: Vampire Knight, Fairy Tail, Ouran High School Host Club, NANA, and One Piece. Somehow, Naruto was the one I never really got into.

Chapter Four: The Lost Years

During high school, with a bout of depression came a disinterest in reading.

We had some good school books that I read: Watchmen and Camus’ The Stranger were highlights. Near the end I started reading more on my own. I’d reverted to ignoring friends that were never really good friends in the first place and hiding away to read during breaks. This was about the time I slowly started feeling like myself again. The books that stand out are The Book Thief, Catch-22, Maus, and Ubik.

Here, I fell in love with The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I read and re-read this book over and over, with Iron & Wine as its soundtrack – a match I will still recommend for those who are looking for that perfect state of nostalgic ennui.

Chapter Five: Getting Back Into It

After that dry spell, I started challenging myself to read more. For that, I thank George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, because I blasted through that and it reminded me of how much I enjoyed reading in the first place.

Two genres kept on cropping up: beatnik literature and contemporary Japanese literature.

I can blame the beatniks on my ex-boyfriend, who had an obsession with everything 60s and 70s Americana. Because I was still picking off books from other people’s library shelves, it meant a lot of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs. Out of this genre, my favorites were the autobiographies, in particular Off the Road by Carolyn Cassidy – the “untold story” of the wife left behind on Kerouac and Cassidy’s ramblin’ adventures. Looking back, it’s probably because the manic beatnik writing style stresses me out.

Here was also my first foray into Japanese literature – completely unrelated to my initial anime obsession. For this, I can blame Convenience Store Woman and the Traveling Cat Chronicles. I picked these two up on a whim in a book store in Turin and was hooked from the first page.

Chapter Six: A Little Bit Of Everything

Last year I made myself read 52 books. This year I’m aiming for 100. Because of that, I read… a little bit of everything and anything that piques my interest. I finally bit the bullet on avoiding non-fiction and try to balance fun with some professional and personal development. I’m also no longer snobbish about only reading physical books: they are expensive and take up so much space.

Because there’re too many to go into, here’s the short version, with my favorite book in each category:

  • Funny – anything by David Sedaris will do. Calypso in particular made me cackle.
  • Sci-Fi – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
  • Classics – The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.
  • Graphic Novels – The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • Autobiographical – The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane
  • Fashion books – Fashion is Spinach by Elizabeth Hawes
  • Marketing/Communications books – They Ask, You Answer by Marcus Sheridan
  • Writing books – On Writing by Stephen King
  • Illustration and art books – Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon

The only books I refuse to read are self-help books. I’ve accepted that I’m too stubborn and don’t like being told what to do.

Are you what you read or do you choose what to read because of who you are? Regardless of the answer, the conclusion is the same: the books you read show something of yourself and the circumstances you’re in. It’s why I love getting book recommendations from friends over researching online.

Every time someone recommends me a book, I feel like they’re letting me in on a little secret about themselves. Even if I don’t like the book.

Especially if I don’t like the book.

Like whenever anyone recommends me The Alchemist they’re letting me know “psssst, I don’t know good books and carry around a sense of pseudo-altruistic self-importance I try to disguise as depth”*.

And how else could you find out that sort of thing?



*Disclaimer: I am still friends with people who like The Alchemist. I just don’t trust their taste in books. Just like a lot of people don’t trust my taste in films because my favorite movie is The Room. We all have our hang-ups!

5 Lessons I’ve Learned From 26 Years Of Bad Hair Makeovers

I was not blessed with hair that naturally cascades and shines like that of a heroine in a cheap fantasy smut novel. If left unattended, my hair is somewhere between Hagrid, Hermione, a 1970s teenage skater boy, and Cousin Itt. There’s a lot of it, it’s thin, fragile, and has been described before as “very stubborn”. Pair that with the fact that I am extremely lazy when it comes to any sort of styling, and this has left me heavily reliant on a good hair stylist to make my coif suitable for the public eye.

This epiphany came courtesy of my last three haircuts, where saying “I really like it” at the end was no longer a bald-faced lie. I bit the bullet and paid for a salon-level haircut and have decided I am never looking back.

To avoid the same mistakes I’ve done, here’s a list of the things I’ve learned over the past 26(ish) years of bad haircuts. Avoid these if you can.

1. If you’re going through a major life change, bangs will not solve the problem

Ahhhhh bangs. It’s common knowledge at this point that if your friend abruptly decides to get bangs, the only kind thing to do is ask her over for a glass of wine to figure out what is going wrong with her life. Bangs are a simple way to change up your whole look that requires minimal commitment. Bangs also do not look good on everyone.

Instead of coming out a new person completely – be it quirky and cute like 2010s Zoey Deschanel or disheveled but sultry like 1960s Brigitte Bardot – you’ll end up with a high-maintenance style you’ll love for exactly the one day the salon styled it for you. You’ll then loathe them each morning when they decide to defy gravity. Somehow they’ll either be too poofy and thick or too greasy and you’ll have to deal with that awkward growing out phase, with the added bonus of acne now erupting on your forehead.

Plus, you’ve still have been ghosted by that douche who was definitely way below your standards already. Only now everyone knows it.

2. If you’re going to go blonde, do it right or don’t do it at all.

Although we’d like to think we’re past the times where blondes were seen as the sexy, fun alternative to the dowdy, serious brunette, if you’re not already blonde, there will reach a point in your life where you will ask yourself “do blondes really have more fun?”. Once this starts, it’s over. Despite all the hair coloring apps and filters in the world showing you that you shouldn’t do it, you’ll still be wondering if you’re not reaching your full potential by being blonde.

But going blonde is a commitment. If you’re going blonde, there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind – it’s one of those things that’s worth doing it right.

  • If you’re starting off really dark, do not do it all in one 6-hour session. Not spreading out the sessions will help you hair not only look like straw by the end of it, but feel like it too.
  • Be aware of upkeep and TONE IT so you don’t end up with piss yellow hair. No one has ever crooned over “your beautiful piss yellow hair”.
  • Be willing to pay up. Don’t try to skimp on this. If you’re taking up hours and hours of someone’s time and you want them to do it right, pay them for it.

Maybe the reason we revere peroxide blondes is the same reason heavily tattooed people can be so hot: nothing says mating potential like showing off you have large amounts of patience, pain tolerance, and disposable income.

3. Pitch black hair only looks good on a very very very select group of people

At the opposite end of the spectrum of going blonde, we have going pitch-black. Maybe not as popular a choice, but definitely one that will pop up if you’re light-skinned with light eyes, because somethingsomething high contrast. Pitch black hair has a few advantages over blonde. It’s easier and faster to DIY, it gives you that big makeover moment, and it can look striking.

What nobody tells you is that there is no way to dye it any other color afterward. Your hair might lighten a bit, but it will stay dark for a ridiculously long amount of time. Enough time that if you don’t like it, you’ll end up absolutely hating it. If you’re pale, it can wash you out and highlight every blemish and sign of hyperpigmentation under the sun. If your hair is prone to frizz, oh wow will it look fuzzy and fried. Because nothing says good hair like emulating a Brillo pad.

Try dark brown instead: it lightens up quicker if you don’t like it, while still giving a similar look. With the added bonus of not making you feel like either a Russian spy or Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way. Unless that’s the vibe you’re going for.

4. Dyeing your hair at home is actually fine (depending on your end goal)

Some people will tell you that you should never use box dye and that your hair will be irreparable if you do and to only let a professional dye it and yadayadayada. Do not listen to these people. Also stop hanging out with those people too, because they sound really boring.

One of the thrills in life is sitting on the bathroom floor with a glass of cheap wine, waiting for the dye you just haphazardly massaged onto your scalp to finally settle in. And if you can get a friend involved in the process? Boom, that friendship will last as long as those splotchy stains in your sink: forever.

Unfortunately, you need to be realistic. If you want to go from black to blonde with just a bottle of at-home peroxide, it’s not going to happen (see: blonde misadventures above). If you want highlights or to give yourself one of those multi-tiered bright color dyes, you’ll likely be highly disappointed.

But if all you’re looking for is to go slightly darker or a little more red or to dip dye your ends? Just do it. The worst that’ll happen is it’ll be a bit patchy and you can always buy more dye.

5. Don’t (!!!!!) go back to the same hairdresser who never fully gets your hair right

The reason I have trust issues can be directly traced back to the fact that my mother has always insisted that my aunt is a good hairdresser. Which is true if you’re not related to her, but when it comes to doing my family’s hair, it’s not exactly true either. She was my hairdresser growing up because she was cheap, easily available, and meant to understand my hair type. She was also a fan of experimenting without consulting us and prone to spacing out when dishing the dirt about the latest dramas.

Highlights of the capillary torture she’s put the family through include: misreading labels and dyeing half of her sister’s hair pitch black and the other bleach blonde because she was stressed gossiping about an affair. Giving my risk-averse oldest sister a mullet. Giving the entire family bangs and only realizing at the end that our hair type was very different from the model with thin, pin-straight hair. Dying my hair pitch black when I’d asked for dark brown because she thought it would “make my eyes look beautiful”… right after she’d had a lengthy conversation with my mother about not dyeing my hair pitch black.

While this wonderful woman would never do any of these things to her non-related clients, she kept on doing it to us and we kept on paying her for it. This leads me to my final recommendation: if your hairdresser just can’t get it right and won’t listen to you, go somewhere else. Even if she’s the cheapest. Even if she’s family. Even if you’ll have to make up a new excuse every time she asks to do your hair when she sees you.

Here’s the thing about hair: generally speaking, it grows back. Unless you’re suffering from a serious condition like male pattern baldness (my condolences), it will grow back.

So get bangs, dye it box blonde in your bathroom, or do any of the things I said you shouldn’t. Because everyone’s hair is different, so what works for me may not work for you.

Except for the bad stylist thing. Ditch them. You deserve better.

I’ve Never Been Good at Sticking with Things: The Lifecycle of an Abandoned Hobby

As you get older, you begin to accept parts of yourself that you used to be delusional about. At the ripe old age of 26-going-on-27, I’ve already come to understand a few things:

  • Bangs in any way, shape, or form do not look good on me,
  • I will never be the “chill girl”, because I have never been chill for a second of my life,
  • And I have never been, and probably never will be, good at sticking with things.

I could blame the last one on an inability to stick to routine, an ego that can’t handle not being perfect at everything immediately, or an attention span that rivals that of a coked-up squirrel. But instead of taking responsibility for my actions, I’ll just blame my parents. It’s their fault for being too supportive of their children, encouraging us to be independent and take ownership of our hobbies. Instead, they should have been over-invested in what we were doing and set up unrealistic expectations that we’d never meet. Like normal parents.

Despite this dilemma of nurture or nature, the result is the same: I have more abandoned hobbies than I can even list. While I can’t remember each reason for picking them up or why I abandoned them, at this point, all I am sure of is that they all go through the same cycle.

Phase 1: The Epiphany

It starts innocuous enough. Your friends are doing cartwheels around the schoolyard and are talking about the new gymnastics class they all signed up to. No, you watched a YouTube video on nail art and realized you can walk around with ladybugs on your nails all the time. Wait no, your sister came back from her tap-dancing class in a leotard and tap shoes and oh look, everyone’s looking at her, and doesn’t that look really fun?

And then the thought creeps in….

“I could totally do that.”

Phase 2: The Honeymoon Phase

You’ve now done it a couple times and it feels a-ma-zing. You’ve convinced yourself that this new thing you’re doing is going to change your life. The stars have aligned, and you’ve finally found your calling.

Although you’ve just started – or not even that yet – you’ve already told every person you’ve met about the new coding app you bought (even though just the thought of anything too detail-oriented and logical makes your eyes glaze over) or shown them your brand-new rollerskates (even though you’re terrified of going faster than walking speed or doing any tricks without at least 7 layers of padding on first).

It’s all uphill from here, bay-bay!

Phase 3: The Struggle

It turns out to be good at things you have to actually be consistent… and slog through the rough parts… and you’ll probably most likely suck in the beginning. And it turns out you won’t be an amazing superstar/professional athlete/X-games winner/yogi instructor/coding genius after a month.

Although this happens every time, you are both shocked at how hard things can be and disappointed at the lackluster results. This time was supposed to be different. You saw how it was all supposed to play out (ending with you being awesomely amazing at everything, naturally), and now see your half-baked dreams slipping through your fingers.

And all you have to show for it is a malformed vase your ten-year-old hands made in a community center basement, surrounded by sexagenarians.

Phase 4: The Bargaining

You know what? Who even has the time and energy to do something every few days for a limited amount of time to get better at it? What do you mean spending an incessant amount of hours in a short time isn’t sustainable?

You’ve tried to see it through and still, things don’t seem to be getting much better. Your fingers still hurt from playing the guitar those three times for like 15 minutes and you’re still unsure if you’ll ever be able to pick and strum at the same time. Ignoring the fact that every 20-something year old guy with a beanie can do it, you’ve convinced yourself that people who can do this must be multi-armed wizards.

And since you’re not an appendagely-gifted wizard and honestly, it’s getting kind of boring, you quietly give up.

Phase 5: The Shame

Here’s the thing with quietly giving up: it doesn’t really work when you’ve announced to the whole world that you’re seriously – but like, seriously this time – taking on a new hobby. That unlike last time, this time you did the research and bought all the right stuff for it. And yes, I know I quit the other thing but this time I made a PLAN.

You want to disappear as soon as someone starts asking about how your YouTube channel’s going and when you’re going to post your next video on how to quit shopping for a year. You want the Earth to swallow you and the over-stuffed Zara bag(s) hanging on your arm. But since it won’t, the best thing to do is just accept the shame, own up to your flakiness, and mumble something about a completely unrelated topic to distract them.

Plus, I just saw this other thing that it turns out I really want to do, and I think I could be really good at it? And if I was doing the first thing I just gave up, I’d have no time to do this new thing! I’m not actually giving up, I’m just prioritizing. Look! I’m making a plan and everything!

Was this entire blog a long-winded way to say that I hope this lasts but that my track record isn’t exactly stellar, so please, set your expectations accordingly? Maybe.

But hey, a few things have stuck along the way. I still make art and love to read and even write every so often. You try so many things out, something’s bound to stick.

Let’s hope this one does too.