When Valentine’s Day Hurts

Valentine’s Day can be as painful for some people as it is beautiful for others. It’s easy to resort to masking that pain with flippancy or humor, but the hurt of being rejected or losing a person who was precious to you can sit for a long time after it happens. I’m consistently finding that letting go of people is more like unwinding a ball of string than a single moment of cutting them out of your heart. I keep returning to the people who it didn’t work out with in the past, wondering why I wasn’t good enough or what I did wrong.


But ultimately I’m learning what matters more than being validated by other people, whether through social media likes or a relationship status, is working on myself. I’m stuck with her and I’m the one person who can always appreciate and stick up for her.


So although I find myself without a partner after pouring myself and getting my hopes up with different people year after year, what matters most is this: 3 years ago, just before Valentine’s Day I had a nervous breakdown because I was so depressed. I had to take a week off of school to go home — all I could do was lie in the fetal position in bed for most of every day. I had no energy and life was a burden. I was self-injuring because I felt like none of the people around me wanted me in their lives.


Today, I have finished a degree, I am pursuing my career and living in a completely different place, designing a museum exhibition. I have turned my pain into music, art, writing, and, most importantly, empathy for others. I am thinking more positively about myself and seeing the world in new ways through therapy work. I am still healing but I am better than I have ever been.


We are all broken, but taking time to heal and to work on yourself is so crucial to improving not only yourself but also your family, children, significant other, friends, and the world. We can do so much more good and so much less damage when we are being honest, vulnerable, and operating from strength and self-confidence rather than unhealed wounds that cause us to react badly, lash out, not live up to our potential, self-medicate in toxic ways, try to exert control over others, or not give people the full commitment and respect they deserve.


So while people may make it seem weak to seek guidance, it is a sign of strength, wisdom, and self-awareness as well as concern for being your best to help your loved ones.


Whether you are or aren’t getting the validation from others you crave thia Valentine’s Day, take time to celebrate how far you’ve come and consider how you’d like to be better and what steps you need to take to get there. Celebrate your growth today and consider what steps you can take to grow more, even if they’re small. You matter.


Other posts you might be interested in:

How to Take Power Back in Relationships that Hurt You

Life on Thin Ice: Seeking Peace in the Midst of Anxiety & Heartache

Can We “Choose Happy”?



How to Take Power Back in Relationships that Hurt You

Do you have that one person in your life who keeps disappointing you, wounding you deeply with their thoughtless actions, but you keep forgiving them and letting them back into your life? You know they care about you, and you love them deeply, so you make excuses time after time, but you keep getting hurt because you keep letting them back in. If you were on the outside looking in, you would tell yourself to move on and ditch the person, but maybe you have a bond with them or a love for them that you can’t shake. So you stay in the cycle of loving, getting hurt, forgiving, loving, and getting hurt all over again.

Grass with ice

Tonight is one of those nights where, even though I swore up and down I was over my person-I-care-deeply-about-but-who-consistently-lets-me-down, I find myself swearing about him, scribbling angry song lyrics, imagining how I would chew him out if I saw him face to face, and yet again wondering how do I (and how can I) mend my broken heart once again. It’s such a hurricane of emotions that it’s hard to deal with. It’s the type of thing that used to make me turn on myself because I didn’t know how else to handle it.

It’s tempting to do the same thing. When someone disappoints you, there’s a frustration not just over the action itself, but an overwhelming sense of grief as you realize that it might be time to cut that person out of your life (or at least your heart.) It’s a shock to the system. Nobody wants to give up something they love. It’s like ripping out a piece of your heart.

Ultimately, as I processed my situation tonight, I realized that I was tired of giving this person power over me. This person has hurt me deeply before, to the point where I spiraled into an extremely deep depression. I have overcome too much in my life, worked too hard to overcome my fears and sorrows to let this person derail me from what has been so far a good period in my life. I have grown so much in the past couple months, to the point where I feel much more content and confident in my life and my self. I hate the thought of giving that all up for the sake of a person who, while they may care about me on a certain level, they obviously don’t give enough of a shit about me to ask how I am or reach out.

I’ve heard it said that relationships can be looked at in terms of power. And I’ve noticed that oftentimes I surrender my power to other people because I’m so eager to be loved and find happiness. What I mean is that I let people control whether I’m happy or sad, content or discontent with who I am and what my life is, based on their actions and how they treat me. If they don’t write me, I feel hurt and lonely. If they don’t seem to care much about our relationship, I question what’s wrong with me that they don’t want me. But I’m tired of letting other people affect my ‘happiness so much. I deserve better.

So while the shock of heartbreak still stings a little, I’m keeping myself from spiraling tonight by grounding myself with the realization that while others have disappointed me with their actions, overall in my life, I have not disappointed myself. I can’t control what people do, but I can work on my own life. I have done that, I am doing that, and I am proud of those years of hard work in therapy, doing writing to process my feelings, turning my story into art, sharing my experience to comfort others.

I’m proud of how I have striven to love others and support them during tough times. I’m proud of my writing and my music and my photography. I’m proud of my resume and my academic achievements. I’m proud of how I’ve stayed true to myself and my inner moral and spiritual compass and convictions. I’m proud of how I’ve overcome fear to move to different places and pursue my career. At the end of the day, those are the things that matter — staying true to yourself, being kind to others, and trying to become a better person so 1) you can be happier and 2) your shit doesn’t hurt other people’s lives.


Canterbury Shaker Village, NH

I’m far from perfect, but I can say I’m, in general, not disappointed in myself. I’m pretty proud of myself. So even if this person has made yet another poor choice that is disappointing to me, instead of letting them ruin my happiness, I will focus on the important truth that have not let myself down. In fact, I’m extremely proud that I’ve been able to re-frame this situation the way I have because I know that comes from years of work in therapy and struggling outside of therapy.


If you’re struggling with a similar hurtful relationship — take heart. Know you deserve good things. Stand up for yourself. Take back your power over your life. You deserve it.


I’ve come a long way since my last boot photo


You might also like to read:

Life on Thin Ice: Seeking Peace in the Midst of Anxiety & Heartache

Why do we hold onto what hurts us?: Letting go of toxic relationships

Can We “Choose Happy”?

Chapter One

Why do we hold onto what hurts us?: Letting go of toxic relationships

In singer-songwriter Jewel Kilcher’s autobiography, Never Brokenshe tells about how her mother, a free-spirited artist, would make ice sculpture installations during the winter in their native Alaska. One particular installation was a group of women, sculpted out of ice, but with piles of salt sitting in and subsequently melting their outstretched hands, symbolizing how women tend to cling to the things that hurt them.

I was very struck by this image when I read it, and it keeps returning to my mind as an extremely poignant representation of a phenomenon I see happening in the world around me and — lest I be pointing fingers — in my own life too. I continually see myself and other women holding onto destructive relationships that slowly poison us and rob us of our happiness and the joy we could find in healthier relationships, supportive people, and constructive opportunities that are often at our fingertips just as much as the harmful things.

Sculpture at Fruitlands Museum

Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, Massachusetts

Don’t get me wrong — I know that there are so many reasons why people opt for what hurts them rather than what heals them. We all have unfulfilled longings deep within us that drive us towards often unhealthy things we think will fulfill us. For me, having never had many friends throughout all of my school years and consistently feeling like an outsider has left me with a deep-seated desire to belong somewhere, to feel wanted, and to feel like I’m valuable. I hate rejection in any form. I hate criticism because it makes me afraid that I really am not good enough. And I hate relationships where people don’t seem to be equally invested and I do most of the work…yet I continually cling to those very same relationships.

As awful as some relationships can make me feel — friendships where you go out of your way to help out when the other person is struggling but it’s radio silence when you reach out for help, romantic interests where you’re always the one to initiate the conversation — it will take me months or even years to accept that it’s not worth the frustration and hurt for the small moments of connection that I get with that person. As often as I say that I’m done with a person who repeatedly ghosts on me or doesn’t bother to ask about my life or doesn’t express empathy for what I’m going through, I will capitulate if they one day decide to get back in touch or if I decide I miss them.


“Justice” at National Park Seminary historic district, Forest Glen, Maryland

I especially get into trouble in the arena of romantic relationships, where I’ll stay friends with a guy who was nice to me at one point and who I embodies qualities I find attractive — maybe he’s interesting, down-to-earth, creative or we share the same sense of humor — even as less desirable qualities come out.

Prime example: In college, I met a guy who my friend raved about as a perfect match for me. We both were singer-songwriters and shared a dry but ridiculous sense of humor. He had that artsy/intellectual writer soul I have a profound weakness for but came across as very humble and caring. Early on in our friendship, he came to a concert I performed at, then we had some great conversations. He seemed very interested in my budding museum career and asked after me a few times when I wasn’t doing well emotionally.

I quickly fell for him and thought it was a perfect match, but he started to grow distant and for as many jokes we shared or times he checked after me, he would throw a comment of mine back in my face, say something not overtly mean but still rather terse and hurtful. He stopped coming to my performances at campus coffeehouses and started dating another woman, drawing away from his other female friends. The sad thing was, I continued to like him, as hurt as I was. And I let my desire for his approval dictate what I said and did in his presence. I tried to like the music he did and felt bad about the things I liked that he scoffed at.

But it took a long time for me to realize he was in the wrong, not me, because I kept hanging on to this idea that he was a great guy and that we had potential. Sometimes I still believe that. But ultimately, I had to accept that he wasn’t treating me as kindly as I was treating him, and being focused on trying to impress him was destroying my sense of self-worth. For my own sake, I needed to stop making excuses for him and let go.

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Caryatid with a graduation diploma at National Park Seminary historic district, Maryland

I think that’s the saddest part about holding on to people who don’t respect you — the loss of your individuality, self-respect, and self-worth. You start to wonder why you aren’t good enough for that person to like you. You question your own interests that don’t match up with theirs. You try to be more like them and pursue the things that person likes. Then you start to believe that their taste is superior to theirs. But your gift to the world is your own unique individuality, your tastes and talents.

While we should learn from others and be open to other points of view, and it’s certainly not wrong to adopt a new hobby or musical taste that you can enjoy with a significant other, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your interests in the process. A person who loves you appreciates your quirks and loves seeing you happy while enjoying your favorite things. It’s a two-way street: in a healthy relationship, you both should try things the other person likes and you both should keep an open mind.


“Hope” at National Park Seminary historic district, Forest Glen, MD

It’s so sad to see so many women continuing to lose themselves in relationships with guys who don’t respect them. Maybe there are romantic feelings involved, maybe not. But these relationships sap you of your energy and take your focus off of building yourself up. While it’s good to invest in others, it’s not good to lose yourself in another person, especially one who doesn’t invest equally back in you.

It’s easy to make excuses and lower expectations, and sometimes we do have to give people the benefit of the doubt, but if you’re continually doing that, then you need to put distance between yourself and that person. Sometimes that means cutting them off entirely, sometimes it’s just calling less, texting less, investing in other relationships more.

I’ve been in places where I think about a person almost every other waking moment, literally tossing and turning, wondering where we stood in regards to one another. It’s not healthy, to say the least. I ended up not contacting them for over a month (previously I wrote them almost every day) in order to “detox,” if you will, and let go. Eventually, I decided it bothered me to have cut that person out completely, so I reached out again, but since then I’ve been in a process of continuing to let go — not put too much expectation on the relationship, not talk to the person too often, not get my hopes up, not get too attached or fixated.


“Grief of Cyparissus” at National Park Seminary, Forest Glen, Maryland

If you are in a relationship where you know you’re not being treated as well as you deserve — maybe it’s not abusive, but you know that, like the aforementioned ice sculptures, it’s slowly melting your individuality, corroding your happiness, and leaving you powerless — please, take back your dignity. Stop liking their posts. Stop reaching out. Stop visiting their social media at night. Stop dreaming of when they’ll wake up and realize they want you. (I say this as much to myself as to anyone else.)

Look inward instead. What do you need? What have you let go of in the process of pursuing this person? Who are you? What have you accomplished? What should people respect about you? What are your needs in a relationship?


Duke Gardens, Durham, North Carolina

Then look outward again. Which friends and family members have always been there for you and do appreciate you? Who can you rekindle a friendship with to support you during this time of grieving and rebuilding? What relationships that were constructive have you let fall to the wayside while focusing on this person who didn’t deserve your energy?

Research tools you can use to rebuild your sense of self: mindfulness exercises, self-love challenges, therapy, hobbies, meditation, ways to express yourself, classes to take on subjects that have interested you, volunteer work to do.

Rebuild yourself, your life.

You are worth the investment.

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“Joan of Arc” at National Park Seminary, Forest Glen, Maryland

On a Similar Note:

Life is a Page-Turner

When friendships fade

Get what you deserve

Can We “Choose Happy”?


This box has been laying around our living room (the way things tend to around here) for the past couple days, and I never really paid attention to it, just passing it by as the empty box to someone else in my family’s bizarre Christmas gift. But just now it registered to me what the message on the front says: Choose happy. And I got pissed off.

Now, as a disclaimer, I should say I’ve been in a funk the past couple weeks, and it’s only gotten worse recently, especially tonight. So quite frankly I was just looking for something to get me even more riled up against humanity. But since I see phrases like this so often, I think it’s worth commenting on, because it really does hit on a misguided belief that permeates our culture, which is that you can fix psychological struggles simply by choosing to be better.


Exeter Cathedral, England

Maybe for some people that’s true. God bless them. I envy them. But there are also a lot of people out there, myself included, who find themselves unable to magically fix the bleak outlook, the impermeable loneliness, the grey fog that settles on the mind, the unshakable discouragement that at times overtakes us, spreading to heart, soul, and body and settling in like storm clouds blocking out any inch of sunlight before a celestial downpour.

Depression is suffocating, oppressive, indefinable, inexplicable. It’s been with me over a decade, since I was about eleven, so I’m not even sure what it’s like to live without it. During the times when the clouds lift, it feels surreal, even scary. I wonder if this is what life can really be like for most of the world. I worry about when the darkness will return, because I know it will.

Depression makes me wonder if I can achieve the career I want. If I can ever find a significant other who will weather the tough times with me. If I should have children since they will probably suffer the same way I do. It makes me wonder if I can heal, be happy, live a full life. Sometimes it’s all I can do to just survive.


cloudy skies in Exeter Cathedral, England

I can never fully describe what depression feels like to people. Most of the time, I don’t even bother, because unless they’ve been there, most people don’t get it. Sometimes they look at me with pity and offer to pray for me, but it just feels like they’re talking down to me. Sometimes they feel uncomfortable and change the subject or end the conversation. Sometimes they impatiently suggest I just get a hobby or find more friends. Occasionally — thank goodness for these people — they listen and nod and say, “I’m sorry. You don’t deserve this. Let me help you through this. Let me remind you why you belong here. Let me remind you you are loved.”

For all my trying, I can’t seem to choose happiness. Depression keeps coming back. I’ve lost friends because of it. I’ve had to turn down career and academic opportunities. I’ve lost time spent lying in bed, trying to ride out the storm and recover. Money spent on therapy and pills. Because of depression, I’ve spent good portions of social events crying in bathrooms instead of connecting with friends. I have had my religious faith, once the bedrock of my life and upbringing, shaken to its core unalterably (cue huge ongoing identity crisis.) I took time off of school and eventually had to transfer because of it. Most of all, I’ve missed out on just plain being happy, enjoying life and some of the amazing opportunities its brought my way because of this. So believe me, I would love to choose happiness. But for some of us, that just isn’t possible.


Exeter, England

What we can choose, however, is how we react to these dark times in our lives. For some, depression is persistent. For others it may be for only a season of their life. Either way, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to cope. It’s easy to feel powerless when such a powerful force overtakes your mind and changes your life, sometimes in a matter of days. So I want you to know that you do have a choice, you do have power over this darkness. Maybe you can’t choose to just flip a switch and feel happy again, the same way a person who just got out of surgery after a major car accident can’t just get up and walk out of the hospital, go home, and resume their normal life. But that doesn’t mean you can’t recover, or at least improve your life.


Exeter, England

When we are overwhelmed by depression or other psychological hurt or mental illness, we can choose the way we respond. I have not always responded well. I still don’t. I tell myself how stupid and worthless I am, how nobody wants me, perpetuating the lies my mind has gotten sick from. I shut people out who mean well and nurse bitterness over how other people treat me without bothering to tell them. I continue in relationships and habits that are unhealthy to my self-worth. I pity myself and paint other people the victim.

For about a year, my internal pain was so unbearable, I even took to injuring myself externally. Some people turn to drugs and/or alcohol to numb the pain. I’ve seen the appeal of doing this, so much so that I made a pact with myself when I was 19 never to drink because of it. Other people use thrill-seeking or unhealthy dependence on relationships or validation from others or workaholism, even bullying, using, and abusing others…There’s all manner of unhealthy ways to respond to hurt. It’s easy to turn to them because we aren’t typically taught what healthy responses there are, and society and the media often perpetuate unhealthy ones.


still Exeter, England

But we can also choose to seek help, to make changes that promote healing. We can choose to work on ourselves and face our demons. We praise people who suffer physical injuries for their persistence and perseverance in slowly, slowly building their strength and ability back up, day by day, exercise by exercise. Going to doctors and physical therapy and pushing themselves forward. Let’s also praise the people who take up the difficult task of looking inward, examining themselves, asking for help, putting time into therapy and self-care, standing up to the bullies inside and out, cutting off toxic relationships, learning to stand up for themselves, and learning to love themselves.

Opening up, being vulnerable, talking about things that we say you should keep hidden, admitting you’re struggling, seeking help. These are all difficult tasks that we’ve been trained over the course of our lives not to do. If you have done any of the above, be proud. It’s easy to feel embarrassed, especially if the person you open up to just doesn’t get it or there are repercussions in your career or relationships. But it’s the start not just of changing yourself, but also of changing society and the way we deal with these previously taboo emotions and issues.


Exeter, England

The road to improving yourself is long and confusing and there’s lots of backtracking and feeling like you’re going nowhere. Just this week I’ve been thinking to myself, “Shit. Am I really in this same place again? Have I really not resolved these issues yet? Do I really keep making these same mistakes in relationships? Wasn’t I in this same place a month ago?” I’ve been in therapy over three years now, with three different therapists, some mediocre, one great. Sometimes it’s exciting and I feel like I’m changing everything, others But it really is a long-term project, a journey. This is my fourth cycle of doing therapy and I keep breaking new ground, turning corners, realizing new ways to look at things. Of course, I also keep uncovering new things to work on, which can get discouraging, but I’m not one to give up on a fight.


Exeter Cathedral, England

You may not be able to choose happy. And let’s not pressure other people into being happy if they’re not. But you can choose to fight, to be healthy. To reevaluate your life and yourself and your ways of thinking instead of just going with the flow or accepting what people have always told you.

If you can’t seem to choose happy, you’re not weak. I feel weak and powerless sometimes because of this struggle, but it has forced me to to work and examine myself and try to help other people in a way that I doubt I would have had I not struggled. No matter how powerless you feel, with relapses in your own mental state or going back to bad coping mechanisms, you are not any less of a strong person. You are just human. A human who is struggling under enormous pressure.

For all of you fighting to choose a better life every day, know you are strong and press on, in spite of any judgment, relapse, or stigma you may face.


As an ending note…Someone posted this photo of me on social media once. I don’t think anybody realized I was at one of the lowest points in my life here — 20 years old and heartbroken, lonely, exhausted, on medication that I didn’t know was destroying me. I was suicidal the night this picture was taken, drifting in and out of the bathroom during a social gathering I couldn’t leave. I made a choice after that to, 1) take care of myself by leaving a toxic environment (the school I was in), 2) start distancing myself from people who didn’t support me, 3) take a break from school until I was healthier, 4) go to therapy again, 5) use writing to process my experiences and give ownership to my emotions, and 6) to be an advocate for mental health awareness by sharing my own struggles. I don’t regret any of those choices.

Compassion in a colder climate

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)

I guess this isn’t a typical Christmas verse (and if you’re not into Jesus things, don’t worry, this isn’t a particularly religious post), but it was the only one the spoke to me today. I’ve always made relationships and caring for people a big priority in my life. But frankly this year has left me a bit shattered in that arena. It’s been a long time coming, actually, but recent months of disappointment and frustration across the board in various relationships have been the straws that have broken this camel’s back.


Deerfield, Massachusetts

I feel a bit jaded and disillusioned, even cold-hearted at times these days — the typical defense mechanisms when you’re trying to cope with hurt. I’ve spent so long trying to make relationships work that I just want to stop trying. Give up and let them slip away if people really don’t care enough to contact me or open up when we talk or check up on me if they know things are tough. I’m tired of writing people who don’t respond, of playing text or phone or email tag. Of wondering what she’s up to these days since she never responds to messages or whether I should ask him to meet up again since he always seems too busy. I know I sound curmudgeony, but for years I’ve felt like I’ve carried more than my fair share of weight in relationships (all the unrequited love didn’t help either), and I’m just sick of it. After you reach out so many times, you feel stupid, you wonder if the person even likes you, and you feel unappreciated. It’s degrading.


Deerfield, Massachusetts

Maybe I should, maybe I shouldn’t. I don’t know. But the quote I started with reminds me it’s good to keep in mind that Christmas is at its heart about giving and self-sacrifice. God sacrificing himself for us, us giving to others to echo that same incredible, unconditional, overly-generous love.

When I think back on the past year, the times I treasure most have been the times I’ve been honest and vulnerable, which has allowed me to connect with a people in a way that stops me in my tracks when I think about it. Those interactions gave me meaning and purpose. They were the times relationships felt worth the fight, the ups and downs and heartache These were the times when I felt that my life — with its times of incommunicable hurt — had purpose. And once was even the time my heart opened in a way I never dreamed possible.


Deerfield, Massachusetts

I won’t forget those moments for a long while yet, and I hope this year has many more of them. What is the purpose, after all, of suffering from the same wounds silently, standing side by side but feeling completely alone. I know everyone approaches relationships in a different way; some collect them to maintain connections to use as they need them, some delve deep into just a few and seem bland and cold to the rest of the world. It’s tough when you’re heading into a relationship  (platonic or romantic or familial) with a different goal in mind than the other person (which is, quite frankly, most of the time.) That’s when you get hurt.


Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts

But continue to use the blessings and talents you have been given to make others smile. Remember friends and family. Utter the words that are stuck in your throat. Comfort others who hurt. Kind of like paying it forward, pass the kindness that has been shown to you over the years to others. Someone was once there for you on your bad day, so try to be there for another person. You don’t have to do it perfectly or have the right words to say, just taking the time to spend time with a person or to send them a text asking how they are or saying you’re thinking of them — that can speak volumes to someone who’s struggling.


Fruitlands Museum, Massachusetts

Remember what encouraged you when you needed help — a shoulder to lean on, a patient ear, quiet, company, talking, hearing someone else’s story, being allowed to just talk, being affirmed and encouraged, just being listed to — remember what helped and give that to someone else this year. Be a little more open, a little more available, a little more willing to sit and listen even though your phone is vibrating, a little more conscious of checking in, a little more vocal about how you appreciate others.


Fruitlands Museum, Massachusetts

And if you’ve been burned before — I’m truly sorry. I hope healing comes your way and I hope you come across people who comfort you, love you, and restore your hope. And maybe you and I both can resist the temptation to close our hearts and continue to hope and to put ourselves out there.

Merry Christmas.


Looking up at Brookside Gardens, Maryland

Song of the day

Cold showers


Tintagel, England (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Tonight I had the unpleasant experience of getting in the shower, patiently waiting for it to warm up before I stepped into its deluge completely, but then over the course of my shampoo and condition session, the water grew increasingly frigid. I don’t know if someone was running the washing machine or taking a shower unbeknownst to me or if the universe just hates me today, but I was not particularly thrilled by this unexpected surprise, especially being the cold-blooded being that I am.

As I shivered my way through the rest of my hair care routine (it takes a lot of conditioner to upkeep these luscious locks), my mind wandered to the more metaphorical times I’ve been left in the cold, in particular in relationships.

Today, I was walking past several places where this summer I felt particularly hurt or betrayed by a man, and it brought the frustration that has been simmering periodically below the surface of my psyche to a boiling point. Yet, I can’t shake the hope that maybe he’ll change his mind and see my worth…Well, not just see it, but value it.


Tintagel, England (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I thought about how unfair it is that I still pity and worry about the well-being of this man and others who haven’t treated me particularly attentively over the years. I even pray for their well-being sometimes. I pride myself on being a caring, empathetic person; it’s part of my identity and I would hate to cut that part out of myself, but sometimes I do feel like I’m the butt of a joke, left shivering in a cold shower while someone basks in the warmth of a nice steamy one.

I pour out into others’ lives, take initiative to get to know them and pursue and keep up a relationship with them, but when I step back to see if they will return the favor, it’s radio silence. I do dumb (albeit adorable) shit like studying in the library every day because it was the best place I could be sure to run into the guy I liked freshman year, but who returns the favor (except for a couple creeps.)

It gets discouraging after a while when you feel like you’re the one doing most of the heavy lifting in relationships. It makes you wonder whether you’re just bothering people, whether anyone wants you. I know people are probably just busy and preoccupied with their own issues, but I can’t help thinking that if they cared and I was a priority, that shit would be something they would want to share with me, or at least wouldn’t be enough to keep them from checking in.


Tintagel, England (Photo by Rebecca Gale)

I don’t know why I’m writing this, except that I’m sure someone out there knows exactly what I mean. And who knows, maybe it will inspire someone to send a simple text to an old friend and ask what’s up. It’s as easy as that. Letting people know you care. Asking how they are. Being honest about how you’re doing. It’s almost stupid how much we could help by just doing little shit like that.

I’m sick of being out alone in the cold sometimes. But I guess I’ll go dive into some blankets and try and warm myself up.


Tintagel, England (photo by Rebecca Gale)


Feeling Stupid.

I’ve experienced quite a lot of feeling dumb these past few months. It’s a pretty awful way to feel and has a tendency to make us shut down and not want to try any more for fear we’ll look more stupid.

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Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Yesterday, I was working in the historic house that I am volunteering in as an intern this fall. It was my sixth day in the house and unfortunately the nature of working at such a busy museum is that most of your training is on-the-job, and it can be hard to get proper training even then because the house can be so busy that other staff members are talking to visitors most of the day so you don’t get a chance to ask questions or receive instruction.


Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Well, yesterday was busy, but I found myself being told over and over, “No, we don’t do that. This is the right way.” I was already tired out from having worked in the house two days before that and was going into the day with a “just make it till closing time” attitude because of the physical and mental fatigue. Being told I was wrong over and over did not help my emotional state improve too much, as you might imagine.

This summer, I participated in a program where I and five other undergrads learned about antiques in New England. While I love history and museums, I quickly found out that I knew relatively little about the subjects we were covering, namely furniture, art, and New England, especially in comparison with some of my esteemed colleagues. I frequently felt dumb, inferior, belittled, and less valued in comparison to my peers because I didn’t know all the answers.

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Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I often found myself giving a wrong answer in a seminar session or biting my tongue on saying something because I was afraid of being wrong again and finding out I did have the right answers. Both situations made me feel equally stupid. When I found out some people questioned why I was in the program because of my ignorance, I was enraged but also insecure because they’re critique had hit on the inferiority I had been nursing over the course of the program.



Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)


Now, in both cases – this summer and yesterday – nothing was my fault. I just hadn’t received the training or come in contact with the knowledge I needed to do those things. And why should I know which cutting board is meant for pastry or what era a slat back chair falls into? Those are both pieces of very specialized knowledge that few people have the chance to be taught. Plus, both instances were supposed to be learning experiences, not examinations where I proved what I learned. All of life is a learning experience, yet we expect people to know how to do everything and live life right from the get go.


Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Knowledge and experience are happy accidents the majority of the time; what some people might call a blessing and others a privilege. Don’t get too down on yourself about not knowing things, and don’t be so hard on others. Maybe we all need to extend more grace to each other for our mistakes.


Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Lastly, I feel stupid because I keep developing romantic feelings for men who turn out not be be equally interested in me. I feel stupid that I’ve done this again. I feel inferior that people have come to just assume and expect that I’m single. I feel disappointed that the same scenario keeps playing out over and over and that I keep being duped. It seems like I should know better by now. But we can’t be so hard on ourselves. I feel like a failure, but none of this is my fault. And better to fail because you love than because of hate or neglect.


Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Maybe I need to stop framing my life in terms of mistakes and focus on accomplishments and growth. We are so much more than our mistakes. We should learn from them, yes, but we shouldn’t look at other people or ourselves just in the shadow of the things we don’t know or have done wrong. We label people constantly with the ways we’ve perceived they have lapsed – addict, crazy, failure, stupid, needy, slut. We turn adjectives into nouns and use them to write people off and box them into that mistake they’ve made.

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Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

You are not stupid. You are not a screw up. You have persevered. You have made it this far. You have accomplished. You do not have to be defined by your past or your mistakes or what you don’t know or haven’t done. You can find help. You can learn. You can grow. You can rise from the ashes of whatever haunts you in your past.


Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Song of the day

When friendships fade

Something I’ve struggled to learn over the past two or three years is that relationships have life cycles. Sometimes they thrive, sometimes they die. Sometimes that death is a violent murder, but most of the time it is a slow fade from existence, brought on by neglect. When you move somewhere new, people often forget to keep in touch, which can really hurt. Even if you are able to keep up, the relationship really isn’t the same.

This can especially be a struggle after graduating and leaving college and going from living with your friends every day to living across the country from all of them. Some people may continue to call you up, but many will fade out of your life, not even answering texts or letting you do all the work of a friendship. This can be really difficult to deal with, and sometimes it means the end of friendship, though sometimes a relationship can unexpectedly spring back to life again.


Reproduction tea bowl and saucer, Small House, Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I used to get really upset about relationships fading out because the other person got too busy or seemed to lose interest and wasn’t investing the same amount of effort into communicating as I was. I took that personally, thinking that the other person didn’t like me or want to be with me. I spent a lot of time in therapy processing through the hurt I felt because people didn’t seem interested in keeping up a relationship with me, especially after I transferred out of the first college I attended.

During that time, I struggled with a lot of frustration over my own needs and expectations for relationships not being met. Why didn’t people care enough to check in on me? Why did people pretend like nothing had happened when we did talk, when they knew full well I had left in large part because I was struggling with depression? Couldn’t they say they were sorry I was struggling or express some kind of sympathy instead of just joking around?


Small House, Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Eventually, I stopped attempting to continue having a relationship with many people who didn’t seem invested, cutting back to only a couple people who would ask how I was and be real about their own lives, making for a meaningful, two-sided friendship. At first, my cutting other people off was because I was angry, but then it evolved more to be about protecting myself emotionally. It’s pretty emotionally depleting to keep contacting a person and have them be apathetic about talking to you. I especially felt frustrated when I would share something personal about my own life and the person would say nothing or would just respond with something superficial.

I feel like vulnerability is sort of a currency; when you are open with someone, it helps them to feel more comfortable being open with you. But if you keep being open and they never reciprocate, you just feel embarrassed and almost disrespected because that person 1) is forcing you to do all the work of building the friendship, 2) doesn’t trust you enough to open up, and 3) isn’t invested enough in the relationship to open up more to deepen the relationship. I know that may not be entirely true and that some people struggle to be open or to vocalize their feelings, but I’m just saying that it can feel that way if you’re the one being open.


Center Meetinghouse, Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I’m still working on it, but in the past few months, I’ve started accepting more and more that relationships have their own cycles, just like anything else in life. Sometimes you’re really close, other times you’re not…it depends on life circumstances – whether you’re together or apart geographically, whether you’re busy, whether you are both going through similar events in life, how people’s emotional and physical health is, etc. It can be really hard to have a friendship that brings you a lot of joy and that you really cherish fade, but relationships change form and nature throughout their lifetime.

Sometimes you may have to be the one who carries a relationship, initiating all the conversations, checking in on the person, scheduling face-to-face meetings, etc. I know that can get tiring and frustrating and emotionally draining – it can even make you feel like people don’t want you. But ask yourself if the relationship is still meaningful and enriching to you. Notice I didn’t say that it still benefits you, because I don’t think relationships should be all about getting something out of it; sometimes you stick with people through difficult things because you love them, even though it’s draining to you.


Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

But I think we all know deep down which relationships are ones where part of us would die if it died and which are ones where we know it’s just been one-sided all along. Sometimes it might be worth it to just let go of the relationship for a time; stop initiating communication, though respond if they reach out. If you’ve repeatedly reached out to a person and not had them respond, it’s time to take a break, for your own sake.

In these situations, I think it’s good to be mindful of whether that person is just going through something where they don’t have the capacity to reach out to you, but you can usually tell that they’re happy and grateful when you reach out to them at least. If that’s not the case, maybe it’s time to let go for a while. Or if the two of you aren’t even close enough that you know what’s going on that’s making it hard for them to keep in touch, maybe that’s another good indicator that it’s not worth continuing to empty yourself out to keep the relationship going.


Asa Knight store, Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

There are times when relationships end; someone cuts you off or you have a fight or communication just isn’t reciprocated. This can be unspeakably tough. You might even go through a process of grieving the relationship, even if we don’t typically associate grief with friendships ending. But it can be extremely helpful just to acknowledge that, yes, you did lose something – and someone – you valued and, yes, there are hard feelings that come with that. Those feelings need to be acknowledged and processed through in order to heal and let go. It might even be worth seeing a counselor about or using a hobby – exercise, writing, painting, etc. – to work through your emotions and give yourself time alone to process things.


Bellows in the Asa Knight store, Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Oftentimes we deny ourselves the chance to acknowledge that something is difficult or we push negative feelings to the back of our heads, telling ourselves to remain positive or that it’s not a big deal. This can just perpetuate the hurt they cause. Even just acknowledging something hurt or is hard can help though. If you’re going through a friendship ending or even being not as close as you’d like, take this as your permission to hurt a little over that. Take time to reflect on the good times you had with that person, but also give yourself the dignity you deserve by refusing to blame yourself, spend hours wondering what went wrong, being bitter, or continuing to pursue the relationship if the other person isn’t interested.


Bullard Tavern, Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Better times will come (hopefully.) And you always have the company of the best person in the world – yourself 😉

Chapter Two

Today was better than other days. It’s good to get out, even if it’s hard to get yourself out there. I’ve been exhausted, struggling to adjust to my new sleep schedule, but I’ve been trying to force myself to go out and have mini-trips when I can.

Recently has featured Slater Mill, MA; Hartford, CT; Wellesley, MA; Brimfield, MA, and Sturbridge, MA, along with all the places along the way where I inevitably take a wrong tour and end up accidentally enjoying the scenic New England countryside. But I digress. Let me get to my “thank you” of today:

Today I’m thankful for people.


Sturbridge, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I’m honestly not usually thankful for people…They’re alternately annoying, frustrating, disappointing, and hurtful. Sometimes they’re all of those at once. I have trouble connecting with most people – I very rarely feel like I fit in anywhere. I’m an introvert and I definitely love my alone time, pondering life. Yet I long for meaningful friendships and relationships where I can be myself and know I’m supported.

The past couple weeks I’ve had some small moments where people I met warmed my heart, which gave me some joy to keep enduring. I started my second week of work yesterday and I had to spend about an hour helping shepherd some first graders around a museum. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past week and a half, it’s that kindergarteners and first graders are strange creatures. I sometimes question if they’re really even human.


But as frustrating as the kids were at times (why won’t you listen to me when I tell you not to pick up fistfuls of the dirt on the road that animals regularly walk and poop in?), there was one little girl who, from the moment I joined the group, kept looking up at me like I was really cool (I’m not) and telling me random crap about her life in the most endearing way. She was quirky, and I like quirky people. I felt a little sad for her because I could tell even at 6 she was a bit of an outsider. Another little girl asked the person next to her if she could switch seats with them so she could sit next to me. This warmed my heart too. It’s nice to have a moment where you feel kind of cool.


I found a frog in the marsh! Sometimes you have to kiss a few to find a prince.

To dust off our knees and stand back up to adult level, here’s a more comical misadventure of mine. A week ago, I was at Guitar Center looking for a new guitar with a pickup. I struck up a conversation with the staff member waiting on me, an attractive guy who seemed to be a few years older than me…and what can I say – I like older guys. I stayed probably over half an hour and he kept coming back and checking on me. The cynic in me said he just wanted the sale but the hopeless romantic in me wondered if he appreciated the unexpected visit of a young, fairly attractive woman who could talk acoustic guitars.

In the end, I had to leave before I could make a decision, so he gave me a card with his contact info on it before I left. Over the course of the hour-long ride home, I grew increasingly excited about the possibilities I began to imagine. I started to psych myself up, deciding I was going to ask this guy out. It was time I went on a proper date and he seemed normal and the other relationship I had pinned my hopes on seems to not be working out. I don’t mind asking a guy out. I know my girl friends tell me men don’t like to be pursued, but I know the kind of person I want so why not try and at least drop hints about your interest if not straight up initiate.


My imagination runs away when it comes to relationships. I should probably move into this tiny fairy house and sequester myself from the world while I’m still ahead. (Sturbridge, Mass.)

When I got home, I decided to Google the guy before I got in touch. Lo and behold, I search the phone number he gave me, and it was the store telephone. I realized it was probably a business transaction. I laughed at my own silliness and inability to read whether men are interested in me. I felt a bit let down but a bit relieved. I don’t know if I could go on a date with someone who I didn’t know well. But people I don’t know well don’t seem interested in going on dates with me. All the same, the story is funny and I was humbled and I’m still glad to have met the guy.

But to balance out that slightly embarrassing interaction, two days ago I went to a CVS and as I was taking my bag from the cashier he told me as politely as possible, “You know, you’re really cute.” I was so surprised, I was flustered, but mostly extremely flattered and, honestly, a bit touched. I don’t think a guy has ever told me I’m cute before. I appreciate that guy’s bravery in complimenting me…I wouldn’t have had the guts to compliment a stranger, but it made my day.


A single, unexpected, small gesture can leave you smiling with wonder. (Sturbridge, Mass.; Rebecca Gale)

People can hurt you and they can bring you unexpected joy that is like nothing else you’ll experience in life. Oftentimes the same person can bring you both. We can laugh with friends one week and complain about how they never call the next. Relationships ebb and flow and cycle; I’ve noticed people will get wrapped up in certain relationships and let their friendship with me fall to the wayside and then one day they will pick things back up with me again because their life situation or perspective changes. It used to irritate me to no end – I felt disrespected and neglected.

But with time I’ve come to accept that to some extent that’s just human nature. And when people need me, I’ll be here to listen and to try my best to empathize. I sometimes wish I had more people to do that for me, but at least I have been blessed with an incredible mother who consistently does that for me and has modeled what it is to be a compassionate, self-sacrificing, accepting human being. I value that above all else.


The man who consumes my thoughts and heart these days…He has brought me so much joy over the past months. But also some pain. Disappointment, disillusionment, confusion, hurt – then a reconciliation that deepened our relationship beyond what I could have ever anticipated, shifting things from us being acquaintances to friends. Those conversations were invariably previous to me, as difficult as they were, because they were real and honest and I felt like he trusted and regarded me well enough that he was willing to open up. I didn’t take that lightly. It meant the world to me.

But it’s hard when you then feel like subsequently the person has shut you back out of your life after they let you be privy to their hurts and struggles. Because you’re then invested and you care and you are concerned, sometimes even worried. But you don’t want to press them for answers, yet you wonder what’s going on in their life. You want to be an encouragement but don’t know how to bridge the gap. You’re willing to pour yourself out, but you want to have at least a little indication that the person is receptive to your pursuits of a relationship.


I’m sure lots of good memories were made here and it meant a lot to the family who once used it. Now it just looks like a dump to whoever comes by and peeks in. But it can always be fixed up again. Renewal of a relationship can be even sweeter.

Relationships are messy. And confusing. I’ve expended a lot of emotional energy and angst worrying over them the past several years. Sometimes it’s tempting to wish someone had never even been a part of your life because the hurt is so deep, the loneliness without them such a gaping hole that aches and yawns like an empty cave, making life appear that it will merely stretch into darkness from here on without them.

But I wouldn’t trade most of my relationships even if it meant I wouldn’t have some of the scars on my heart and body that I do. I learned, I grew. I keep learning. And even though you have to let go of people sometimes for your own emotional well-being, sometimes they come back.


Sturbridge, Massachusetts – Sturbridge Treks trail (Rebecca Gale)

It’s easy to rewrite history to make a relationship all good or all bad to help yourself move towards whatever goal you have in mind – convincing yourself the person was all awful so you can break up or telling yourself that he’s perfect so you can push down those red flags that keep coming up when you daydream about finally kissing. I’m guilty of both. Maybe that’s part of the process of, well, processing a relationship. But I think the goal of a healthy acceptance of a relationship in your past is appreciation of the beautiful and acknowledgement of the ugly.

Sometimes people surprise me, even when I’m reeling from the ways other people have disappointed me.


Still walking. Step by step. I don’t know how I’m going to make it sometimes, but I’ve felt that way many times before and I’m still here.

Well, that just sounds dumb…

Hi. My name is Rebecca Gale and I like to study old scrapbooks.

I’m pretty embarrassed about that…I feel self-conscious every time I have to bring it up. But I can’t seem to let go of my desire to look at these musty collections of random crap that I once described as “compressed trash bins.” They’re so strange and personal and cryptic and beautiful. They tell stories of people who didn’t get to invent gunpowder or write a best-selling novel or marry someone famous.

I love untangling those stories from the web of junk pasted onto crumbling paper and literally letting them see the light of day again. I love the sense of fulfillment that comes from giving voice to someone who has been overlooked. I love the fun discoveries that come when you open an envelope and find a love affair or a half-eaten cookie, the layers and layers of meaning, the little mysteries that will never be solved.

Beyond that, I think a little part of me is afraid that I’ll never make it into the history textbooks either, so I like to think maybe one day someone will open up the acid free archival boxes containing my own carefully constructed creations and give them a second glance. I like the thought of giving forgotten people a second life, a chance for their stories and secrets to see the light of day. Because I, too, one day will probably just be a box collecting dust on the shelf of some historical society shelf (if I’m lucky enough to even end up there.)

I know my reasons for loving scrapbooks are legitimate. I firmly believe deep down that they are treasure troves of historical knowledge worthy of attention and study. But I’m still embarrassed to admit I like researching something as girly, messy, silly and sentimental as scrapbooks, something associated with $7.99/pack Martha Stewart stickers, middle-aged moms, and glitter. Even using the term “research” to refer to them seems like a stretch. When I try to describe why I think they’re important to other people, I just get bashful and tongue-tied.

I was talking recently with my professor about how easy it is to feel insecure as a student. This summer, I participated in a fellowship program, learning about material culture studies, something I’m passionate about, but quickly realized I knew much less about than I thought. I spent a lot of the summer grappling with self-doubt, feeling dumb because I gave a wrong answer in a seminar or frustrated because I didn’t speak up when I did know the answer. I felt inferior to my colleagues who had a much more extensive knowledge of decorative arts and art history. I even occasionally felt angry, perceiving that I was belittled or underappreciated. (As a side note, I also think my teeth got even more crooked this summer, and I’d like someone to please contact my middle school orthodontist and demand a complete refund at this point.)

As I shared all this with my professor, I tried to counter-balance some of my ranting with the lessons I had learned along the way, in spite of how frustrated I had sometimes been. Mostly I was thankful for the clarity that the program brought to some of my goals for future study and my career. But at one point I also mentioned to her that maybe it was good for me to realize that I need to start finding value of my own academic abilities and scholarly worth within myself, rather than relying on external affirmation or letting myself be swayed by situations not going as I hoped or people criticizing my efforts.

My professor responded to this by telling about how she herself up until recently had constantly questioned her ability as an academic, all through the process of getting her PhD and even afterwards as she worked on writing a book. Then suddenly she realized that if she was passionate about her topic, others would see its value too. It was amazing to me that someone so obviously intelligent and capable, working in a legitimate, established, respected field of research could feel so insecure. But the more I get to know people, the more I realize that something most humans have in common is insecurity.

I’ve come across a lot of cocky people, especially in academics, who are constantly trying to name drop or network or make clear that they know just what or who it is you’re talking about. As annoyed as I get with these people, on a certain level, I feel bad for them, because I think that they’re the most insecure of us all. I could be wrong, but I think the constant efforts to prove themselves to people, even when nobody has asked them to, stem from some some need deep down to impress, which in turn comes from a fear that they are not enough.

I’ve been guilty of bragging and trying to prove myself too though most of the time my insecurity manifests itself as timidity or silent self-doubt. Either way it isn’t healthy. Insecurity in any form, about anything, eats away at us and distracts us from dedicating ourselves to whatever work or cause is our purpose in life. We drop classes, don’t turn in applications, put projects away in drawers, keep quiet instead of engaging in exploration of a topic, play it safe when we should take risks, don’t ask questions for fear of seeming ignorant, and don’t speak up for our cause or passion for fear of judgment, thus minimizing the impact we could have on the world.

Own your cause. Pursue your passion. Talk back to your doubt. Let go – bit by bit – of your insecurity. Move forward in spite of your anxiety. Speak out in spite of the fear of judgment. Continue to speak even when judgment – or perhaps worse, silence – comes. You were given certain interests and loves for a reason, so you could bring awareness to them. Unfortunately, not everyone will see the importance of your passion because not everyone is passionate about the same thing.

And sadly some people, because of their insecurity, feel the need to put down others’ passions in an attempt to validate their own. This is awful behavior, but also probably the sign that they are, deep down, a broken human being with their own self-doubt. But look for the people who are what Anne of Green Gables (another love of mine I’m always ashamed to admit) called “kindred spirits” – those who share your love. Or those who are allies, who can appreciate and support you and your love, even if it’s not theirs personally.

Cultivate relationships with those people. Take a risk and open up to them when you experience doubt about your work or even your value and ability as an academic. This is an act of strength that any good friend will respect you for and be happy to tell you not to be ridiculous, you are one of the smartest people they know, etc. And do the world a favor by being an ally, even to those who love something you just can’t get excited about, listening to their point of view, giving their work your time and attention, and letting them know that you respect their work and encouraging them to continue to pursue their passion.

Whoever you are, wherever you study, whatever you love, go for it. Do the best work that you can do. Practice articulating why what you love is worth studying. Write or speak about it for a non-academic audience to gain experience communicating your topic’s importance to the layman (no offense to non-academics – you are normal and wonderful.)

Love what you love and your passion will shine through as you speak and write about it. Others will be convinced and made to appreciate it too. Maybe not everyone, but some people. There is great power in doing work well and in doing what it is you were meant to do. Someone was meant to bring light to your topic, and that person may very well be you.

My name is Rebecca Gale, and I really love scrapbooks. (And, yes, I do make them too, okay.)