34 looks good on me (goodbye to blondeatthebeach)

Eight years ago my boyfriend at the time and I were living together in Charleston, SC while he was in nuclear power school there, preparing for a life in submarines.

We lived there a year together and moved in before I’d even received an “I love you” back from him. Talk about brave.

We’d adopted a puppy together, a rescue lab-border collie mix named Maggie, our first baby.

Now we were ending our time in Charleston, a time of growth for both of us, and moving on to our next destination: a life together, somewhere. That somewhere ended up being Hawaii.

In fall of 2009 Nick received orders to Pearl Harbor and we decided to continue our relationship there. In December he proposed to me in New York City in front of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. In February of 2010 we bought a house and moved to Hawaii together. In March of 2010 we were married in a quiet beach ceremony with a handful of friends.

In fall of 2009 when we first found out we would be moving to Hawaii in just a few short months, the name “Blonde at the Beach” popped into my head, and my online persona was born.

I began a blog, a website initially to write about our adventures in moving approximately 5,000 miles away from my home and family in a still-new relationship to what felt like an entirely new country.

I also blogged as a way of staying in touch with family, because back in the dark ages of 2010 our moms hadn’t joined Facebook yet. It was still mostly us recently graduated college students and most of our Facebook friends were people who were friends of friends of friends, or we may have met at a party or sorority social once, or we had a vague memory of making out with while chugging dollar beers at our local college dive bar. So a blog was a fantastic way to update family members on our new lives together.

As the years passed “Blondeatthebeach” truly took on a persona. My phone voicemail has been, “I’m sorry I can’t come to the phone right now but I’m probably at the beach” for as long as I can remember. I soaked up every second I could at various beaches in Hawaii, my go -to being the lagoons at Ko Olina where I found was a quick trip down the street following a work day and also had more parking and incredible sunsets in the evenings.

The blog rapidly developed into my stories about my time there. Through my @blondeatbeach twitter account I chatted with local Hawaii Five-0 fans as well as fans from out of the country about the show as I appeared as background throughout the first three seasons of the show. I was typically found on the beach on the background of the show which only added to my “at the beach” part of my persona.

I also have fond memories of actor Daniel Dae Kim approaching me on set one day after my tweeting that I was in a scene with him, asking me, “Are you Blonde at the Beach?” Later at the red carpet premiere of the show, I was even more flattered that he remembered who I was by my username. And in my last episode I worked in season three DDK (as I affectionately called him, pretending I was on a nickname basis with the actor) came over to say goodbye to me and to wish me luck after I tweeted him it was my last day.

When our time in Hawaii was through in 2012 we found we’d be returning to our number one choice, Charleston, SC once again. As I pondered changing my website/usernames on all media I quickly came to the conclusion that, as a submarine  Navy spouse, we were basically always guaranteed to be near the ocean and therefore the beach was forever applicable.

As time went on however our lives changed both in predictable and unpredictable ways.

We had a baby. Predictable (since we knew I was pregnant leaving Hawaii).

I experienced Postpartum Anxiety and Depression. Unpredictable.

After coming through a particularly rough first bout of anxiety/depression (with the help of an amazing therapist and occasional Xanax, yoga, and running), I rediscovered a love for bright colors.

As with my season depression I experienced through the years growing up in the northeast, it felt like the clouds were parting after a particularly cloudy, miserable winter and were opening to new rays of sunshine and hope. I grasped at it with both hands and pulled them to me.

Then I rediscovered Lilly Pulitzer.

In my newfound love for a brand of which I previously knew but had never really owned any pieces I discovered more about the brand’s creator Lilly, and learned her story.

Lillian McKim Pulitzer (and eventually Lilly Pulitzer Rousseau), better known as Lilly Pulitzer suffered a severe breakdown (now known as Postpartum Depression) shortly after giving birth to her third child. She was hospitalized and told by her doctor to “do something” to keep busy. (Incidentally my grandmother was given the same advice after also experiencing what would later be known as Postpartum Depression after one of her children’s births too. Doctors didn’t quite get mental illness in those days. Cue eye roll.)

It was because of the doctor’s advice that Lilly began putting together baskets of oranges from her husband’s orchards and selling them locally. Eventually, frustrated at not being able to sell “not as pretty,” bruised up, or otherwise damaged oranges Lilly began a juice stand. While juicing in the hot Florida sun Lilly wanted comfortable shifts to keep her cool but also bright patterns to hide the juice stains.

Years later, the Lilly Pulitzer brand is still going, churning out bright, happy prints and embracing the essence of resort wear with the feel of a beach vacay just on the tip of your tongue. Lilly Pulitzer patterns often tend to feature sea life like starfish, coral, octopi, waves, and mermaids adding to its beachy vibe.

It was stumbling across a pattern called Nice Tail (a gorgeous, blue, whimsical pattern featuring mermaids swimming with swirls of the ocean engulfing them) while emerging through a dark winter of emotional turmoil that I rediscovered and fell in love with Lilly Pulitzer.

As I began collecting more patterns I found my own preferences for earthy, relaxed, beach tones changing to those of soothing mints, preppy greens, happy corals, serene blues, and oh-so-cheerful pinks. Prior to Lilly I wouldn’t have been nearly as likely to wear a bright pink top. Now I own more than I care to count (because basically pink is my neutral). I also loved how the clothes fit me, draping comfortably on my postpartum body and helping me feel beautiful.

I wish I could say that after that initial diagnosis and recovery from Postpartum Anxiety and Depression (PPA/PPD) I became happy and involved and healed up but that’s just not the way the human mind works.

The truth is it has come back. The truth is that mental illness never really goes away. It’s just managed. And after a particularly tough reemergence last year I sought help once again, this time turning not only to professional help through a psychiatrist, but also to a more permanent/constant antidepressant presence. This time the difference was practically tangible.

As someone who has struggled with disordered eating and negative body image for most of my life Zoloft was life changing. Initially I remember repeating in my head after my doctor that she wanted me to be on Zoloft for at least 6 months before considering weaning off. “Okay, 6 months,” I thought. “As soon as that time is up I’ll be weaning off it stat.”

What actually happened though is that suddenly I wasn’t hearing echoey awful inner voices when I looked in the mirror. I was actually hearing nice things. Compliments even. That voice was now telling me things like, “your cheeks are glowy  today” and “look how happy and healthy you look!”

Zoloft is NOT a happy pill or chill pill and is not perfect. When you take it you’re not cured or and you don’t suddenly see everything in gold, glowing lights as thought you’re in a perfect paradise. I certainly don’t.

I’ve still had the occasional panic attack and lack of motivation or negative energy while on it but for the first time in my life I’m not being so hard on myself. I’m forgiving myself and letting go of things so much more easily than I ever was.

Something I noticed along the way was my preferences shifted depending on my anxiety and depression. Before beginning Zoloft I had begun shunning parts of my closet, steering away from bright colors and gravitating toward more navys and blacks. Even beige. (Gasp.) Colors that would allow me to blend in without allowing people to give me a second glance.

As my positivity returned however I once again began choosing to don brighter colors and patterns. I was beginning to notice a trend.

What if, maybe people who wear bright, happy colors aren’t necessarily naturally bright and cheerful on their own? What if it’s our perception of her choice in colors that makes us believe that that woman in the hot pink top and wild patterned shorts is an extrovert, the kind of person with whom you’d strike up a conversation easily at a party? 

And what if when that woman left the house that day she made a very conscious decision. Maybe her anxiety was kicking in. Maybe she sat behind the wheel of her car in the Target parking lot for almost ten minutes psyching herself up for the experience and attempting to convince herself she wouldn’t be bothering the customer service representative with her returns. Maybe, just maybe, she’s just faking it until she makes it.

That’s always been one of my favorite sayings. Fake it till you make it. I even used it in a job interview once.

On days where I don’t feel altogether and I can feel my inner voice seeping out and judging me, my appearance, my decisions, and my interactions- on those days I choose color.

Rather than blending in (which is what I want on those days) I bask in color. I let color bleed deep into my mind and into my thoughts until I’m practically glowing with an aura of confidence (or at least that’s what you’d think from looking at me). I fake it till I feel it. Till I truly am more confident.

While I am still in love with the ocean and the Vitamin Sea and spending time at beaches digging my toes into the sand and soaking up the sun when I can, I’ve changed along the way and it’s important for me to tell that story of how I’ve changed. Why I’m here today exactly the way I am, faults, mental illness, mistakes, and all.

Now I’m someone who lives and loves through photographs and bright colors. Even when I took a nearly year sabbatical from Facebook I was still so happy indulging myself in beautiful, colorful Instagram accounts. And I’m a such a sucker for anything mint and pink.

My daughter too has developed a love for color coordination and even earned the Skittles Award for being the “class fashionista who wore a rainbow of colors to school.” Her favorite color is “rainbow” or pink. And I love seeing her grow as a person and choose outfits and gifts for others out of her love for color and happiness.

So now here I am. I’m now 34 years old. I love my body more than I probably have in my whole life (thanks, Zoloft!). I’m here to advocate for mental illness awareness and to let you know that meds aren’t the end of the world and if you find the right ones they can really be life changing. I’m here to let you know that loving life is so much more important than just living life. 

And what would our world be if we all wore beige and there were no rainbows? Here’s to drinking the wild air and living life to the fullest spectrum of color you can harness.

Live. Love. Colorfully.


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