November 30, 2017

My Favorite Running Things: Clothes, Accessories, Music, Books, Movies, Gift Ideas, and more!

I have written in several different places about running gear for different seasons, but I've been asked this question a lot lately--and I realized I don't have it all in one place. What are my favorite running things? I'm questioned frequently about my favorite running clothes, shoes, podcasts, music, etc.

This is an all-in-one post about my favorite running gear. The type of clothes to wear during each season, in the rain, etc. Tips for saving money on running gear. Checklists for the seasons. Gift ideas for runners, including my favorite books and movies.

(Note: If the products I suggest are available on Amazon, then I am going to include the link to that product. I'm an Amazon Affiliate, which means if you purchase a product through my link, I get a small commission. I don't ever link to items I don't actually recommend! But I put a ton of work into this post, so I'd be thrilled if you use the links if it's something you are planning to buy anyway. Thanks!)

That said, I am not affiliated with any of these companies or products. You'll see that I'm obsessed with Under Armour (and a few other things), but I am not affiliated with them in any way, and I don't get commission from any of these companies.

To skip to particular sections on this page, you can find what you're looking for here:

Winter Running Checklist
Summer Running Checklist
Running in the Rain
Underwear (panties, sports bras)
Tops/Jackets (tanks, shirts, jackets)
Bottoms (tights, capris)
Socks and Shoes
Traction (to keep from sliding on ice or snow)
To Stay Warm (gloves, hats, headbands, etc)
For Your Safety (items that will help keep you safe)
Other Items (carrying belt, hydration, visor, chafing, watch)
Gift Ideas for Runners
   -My Favorite Running Books
   -My Favorite Running Movies
Tips for Saving Money on Gear
My Running Playlist
My Favorite Podcasts

  Winter Checklist  

Sports Bra
Running Tights
Slightly Loose Running Pants (to layer on top, if it's necessary)
Long-Sleeved Tech Shirt
Jacket or a Second Warm, Long-Sleeve Tech Shirt (to layer)
Beanie or Ear Warmer Headband
Traction for Shoes
Sunglasses (the glare from snow can be blinding)
Hydration (Backpack, Waist Pack, or Handheld)
Fuel (see this post about fueling)
Watch or App to Track Distance/Time

  Summer Checklist  

Sports Bra
Running Shorts, Capris, or Tights (personal preference)
Moisture Wicking Tank, Tee, or Long-Sleeved Shirt
Hat or Visor
Hydration (Backpack, Waist Pack, or Handheld)
Fuel (see this post about fueling)
Watch or App to Track Distance/Time

  Fall/Spring Checklist  

A combination of all of the above, depending on the weather!

  To Include for Running in the Rain  

Hat or Visor
Ziploc Bags
   -extra pair of socks
Rain Jacket


Balanced Tech Seamless Bikini Panties - These fit well, and they don't ride up while you're running. They're made of a nylon/spandex blend, so they wick moisture as well. I don't even think they're bad looking! Mostly, I like that they cover my butt--digging out wedgies is very difficult to while running ;)

Champion Freedom Seamless Racerback Sports Bra - This is what I wear--about 90% of the sports bras I have are these Champion ones. They are very simple, comfortable sports bras! They're inexpensive and come in a wide variety of colors.

I love that they're seamless! I used to get chafing from the sports bras I had, and I realized it was because of the edge seams. When I switched to these, I had zero problems as far as chafing goes. (Keep in mind, I have small boobs. I wear a 36B--just barely a B, actually. I don't need a ton of support.)

Enell Maximum Control Wire-Free Sports Bra - As I said, I have very small boobs. But for those of you who need more support, my sister recommends this bra by Enell. It's expensive, but my sister has amazing boobs, and she swears by this bra. The bras aren't very pretty to look at, but they will hold your boobies in place like a straightjacket!


Under Armour ColdGear Authentics Mock - This shirt is my very very favorite. It covers my neck, but not uncomfortably so (it's not bulky). It's warm enough that I can wear it without another layer until it hits about 25 degrees F.

Under Armour ColdGear Authentics Crew - This is the same shirt as above, only it's a crew neck instead of the mock turtleneck. If you don't like your neck being covered, this is great.

Under Armour ColdGear Women's Half-Zip - Jerry bought me this (in black) for Christmas, and it makes a great second layer to the above shirts! When it's really cold outside (or kind of cold but windy), I'll top those shirts with this half-zip. I would order a size up in this shirt, because it's best for layering.

Under Armour Women's Tech Victory Tank - These are my favorite tops to run in! They are your basic ribbed tank top, but in a tech fabric to wick away sweat. They have a huge variety of colors, and they aren't ridiculously expensive (UA is always a little pricey compared to several other brands, but these are about $20--not horrible).

Light Weight Water Resistant Jacket - I have a couple of jackets that are no longer sold, but this one looks very similar to my favorite (and it's the same brand). Having a water resistant jacket is so nice when you're running in the rain! It helps protect against wind, too, and the jackets are light enough to run comfortably (not feeling bogged down).


Under Armour ColdGear Authentic - These are your average running tights, made with the same fabric as the Authentic tops. An all-around good pair of tights to run in cold weather!

Under Armour Women's HeatGear Capri - I have a few different models of HeatGear capris, but I bought them so long ago that the model is no longer available--so, I can't link to the exact ones that I have, but these are close. These are your basic capris for hot weather. I love the fabric, because it can't really hold any sweat! It doesn't feel wet, even when you're sweating buckets. And as I mentioned, I really love compression fit running clothes--they hold everything in tight, including my loose skin, and make it comfortable to run.

Under Armour ColdGear Compression Leggings - These are my very favorite pair of compression leggings for cold weather! They are compression fit, so they are meant to be tight. The snug fit makes them great for layering, too--if it's super cold, you can wear them underneath another layer. I especially loved these when I had loose skin; compression clothing helps to hold the skin tight against your body, which is much more comfortable than loose clothing.

Under Armour ColdGear Authentics Mock (bought for $1 at a yard sale!);
Under Armour ColdGear Compression Leggings (bought in 2010, still in
GREAT condition!); and Balega socks (see below)


Balega Hidden Comfort Athletic Running Socks - I received my first pair of Balega socks when I attended the Runner's World Heartbreak Hill Half & Festival. Balega gave us bloggers a free pair (so generous!) and I was completely sold.

I absolutely LOVE Balega socks! They are very soft and squishy without being too bulky, and they cover the back of my ankles well so I don't get blisters. They don't have a toe seam, which makes them even more comfortable. I can't say enough good things about these socks! Balega was smart to give us a pair, because I ended up buying about 10 more, hahaha.

Brooks Ghost 10 - When it comes to shoes, I ALWAYS recommend that people go to a running store and get properly fitted for running shoes. These are the shoes I prefer. However, I happen to supinate (the opposite of pronate) and these shoes help correct that. So, I include these because people are always curious what shoes I run in. But I think everybody should get fitted for the shoes that will work best for them.

Traction (for ice/snow in the winter)

This is a tough category, because I'm honestly not crazy about the options we are given when it comes to running on snow and ice. The two main ones are screws that you add to your shoes and a cover that you put on the bottom of your shoes (I've detailed them both below). They each have pros and cons.

IceSpikes - These are crazy expensive for what you get, but they do work well on ice. They are basically screws that go into the bottoms of your shoes, and they act as spikes to grip the ice when you run. They are different from regular screws from the hardware store, so I wouldn't try to substitute.

Unlike YakTrax (below), these can be used on dry ground as well--so if you come across patches of dry ground among all the ice and snow, you don't have to worry about running on it. The drawback to these (other than the cost) is that they don't work very well in snow, especially deep snow. If the snow is very packed down, these are great. But if the snow is fluffy, then I would use the YakTrax.

YakTrax - This is basically a cover that has metal coils on it for the bottom of your shoe . They are removable, so you don't have to use a second pair of shoes (like you would for the IceSpikes). These work very well in deep snow! They aren't very good for ice or packed snow, however, and you cannot use them on dry ground. So, the course where you're running should be completely covered with snow in order to use these.

Between the YakTrax and IceSpikes, I would honestly rather just run on the treadmill or indoor track. But if I *had* to choose between the two, I think I would get the YakTrax. Running in lots of snow can actually be fun! The ice, not so much.

To Stay Warm

TrailHeads Ponytail Headband (ear warmer) - For semi-cold runs where I don't want to wear a full hat, but I know I need to cover my ears, I like to use a fleece headband. I love that this has a flap for your ponytail! I obviously could just put my ponytail up higher, but the idea is fun--also, if it should happen to slide back on my head, the ponytail will keep it from falling off (I've lost a few headbands that way, actually!)

Cheap Knit Gloves (this isn't a brand, but an item) - I have tried several brands and types of running gloves, but I always go back to my tried-and-true dollar store knit gloves. At around $1 per pair, I buy at least a dozen pairs each year (my kids wear them and lose them, too).

These are also great at races, when your hands are freezing at the beginning of the race, but you want to ditch the gloves a couple of miles in. You don't have to feel so bad about throwing out a pair of $1 gloves. This pack that I linked to is $16 for a pack of 12 (different colors), and it's Prime!

Unisex Cuffed Knit Winter Hat - I have tried several nice (read: expensive) running hats, and honestly, I prefer these plain old knit hats. They're only $7, they come in a TON of different colors, they keep your head very warm, they stay on well, and they're comfy!

My first "back to running" run this year, cozy in a cheap knit hat

For Your Safety

Nathan's Reflective Vest - In the winter, it gets dark so early that if you want to run in the evening, it's usually dark outside. I bought a Nathan's reflective vest in 2010 when I ran my first Ragnar Relay. I still have it and use it when I am running in the early morning or at night. It makes you very visible!

Black Diamond Sprinter Headlamp - After borrowing a headlamp during the Ragnar Relay Florida Keys, and hating how terribly it fit me (you can even see me adjusting it in the From Fat to Finish Line documentary), I decided I needed to get my own. A good one.

I spent hours reading through reviews, and I finally settled on this Black Diamond Sprinter. It's very expensive compared to other headlamps, but in my opinion, it is completely worth it. If you run in the dark fairly frequently, this is a great investment!

I don't run in the dark very often, but I do walk Joey at night. Having my hands free for the leash is great! The light is SUPER bright and you can see pretty far ahead with it.

Haha! Here is a picture of my headlamp ;)
Also, my Nathan's reflective vest.

Pepper Spray - I carry this with me because you never know what you may come across! Not only do we have to beware of people, but I've been bitten on three separate occasions by dogs that weren't leashed or supervised. The pepper spray is a small enough little canister to carry around--hopefully I'll never need to use it, but it's nice to have.

Other Necessities/Luxuries

FlipBelt by Level Terrain - If I had to choose just one item that I swear every runner needs (other than shoes), it's this belt! I've tried several brands and models of pouches and belts for running, and none of them even come close to this. I like this because it lies flat all the way around and the fabric is thick, so it doesn't bounce and stretch up and down as you run.

It fits a ton of stuff--car keys, iPhone, Gu/ShotBloks, pepper spray, etc. All at the same time! I like to take pictures when I run, and by keeping my iPhone in the front part of the belt, I can whip out the phone very quickly when I need to. If you are a runner, you need this belt!

Camelbak Hydration Pack - I honestly never thought I'd like wearing a hydration pack, because it looked unnecessarily uncomfortable. But Camelbak sent me their (now discontinued) Camelbak Marathoner pack, and I LOVED it. It's my favorite way to carry water (along with everything else I may need--there are lots of pockets!). Here is the review I wrote about the Marathoner model.

Hydraform Handheld Ergo-Lite water bottle by Amphipod. When I do short runs during the summer, and don't need nearly as much water as the Camelbak holds, I prefer to carry a handheld bottle. I bought this particular bottle from Amphipod, and I'm very happy with it. It holds 10.5 ounces (also available in 16 oz), which is great for a short run (or if you have places to refill). It fits very comfortable in my palm, it's not heavy, and there is even a little pocket that you can fit something small (a key or a Gu).

Aquaphor - This is a Godsend if you happen to be a chafer. I used to chafe in all sorts of spots when I went for a run, but after discovering Aquaphor, I was chafe-free. This stuff is great! The texture is similar to Vaseline; but Vaseline is 100% petrolatum, while Aquaphor is only about 40%. It's also made up of things like mineral oil, lanolin, glycerin, etc.

So, Aquaphor is definitely preferable to Vaseline. But I digress. I rub Aquaphor on spots that are likely to chafe, and it effectively prevents chafing. I also use it to rub on the skin that will be exposed to extreme cold or wind while running. And it's fantastic for to prevent or heal chapped lips. It's a great product!

Under Armour Fly Fast Visor - I was never much of a hat person, so I never really expected that I would find such great uses for a visor--until I became a runner. I always have my hair pulled back when I run, and when I use a visor, I can even pile it on top of my head (as opposed to a hat).

The visor keeps the sun out of my face without my having to wear sunglasses (I hate wearing sunglasses while running!). But the BEST use for a visor (or hat) is to keep rain out of your face when you're running in the rain. You don't even realize how big of a difference it makes until you try it! Jerry bought me this visor before I ran my first half-marathon, and I love it.

Garmin Forerunner 630 - To be clear, I have the Forerunner 620, but that has now been replaced by a newer model (the 630). I don't even have to tell you how much I love my Garmin. In fact, I'm pretty sure my legs will refuse to run if the Garmin isn't on my wrist. I've had a Garmin (different models) since 2007, when I was (supposed to start) training for the 2008 Indy Mini.

The things this little watch can do are amazing. If you are at all serious about running and wanting to get faster or run farther--or just meet running goals in general--then some sort of tracking device is crucial. There are tons of different ones out there, but I am partial to the Garmin Forerunner.

Gift Ideas for Runners

In addition to anything that I posted above, here are some gift ideas for runners. As a runner myself, I can say that I would love to have any of these things!

1) A race registration. Perhaps the runner you're hoping to get a gift for has been running for as long as you can remember, and they have everything there is to have related to running. You can never go wrong with a race registration!

I would make a handmade "coupon" to give them, saying that it's good for one race registration of his/her choice. Unless you know someone really well, I wouldn't recommend just choosing a race and registering that person without talking about it first, however.

2) A subscription to Runner's World magazine. When I first started running, this magazine was SO helpful. I learned all sorts of running terms that I'd never heard before, read inspiring stories that kept me motivated, and got lots of tips for training. I was a huge fan of this magazine long before I was featured in the April 2014 issue ;)

3) A book about running. Here are some of my favorites:

"Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner" by Dean Karnazes
"My Life on the Run: The Wit, Wisdom, and Insights of a Road Racing Icon" by Bart Yasso
"Hansons Marathon Method" by Luke Humphrey, with Keith & Kevin Hanson
"80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower" by Matt Fitzgerald
"Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall  (I've actually not read this; but I'm probably the only runner in history who hasn't read and loved it. I tried to, but I probably need to give it another chance.)
"Honey, Do You Need A Ride? Confessions of a Fat Runner" by Jennifer Graham
"Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World's Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself" by Rich Roll
"Running For My Life: One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games" by Lopez Lomong  (This book is AMAZING--a must read!)

4. A movie about running. Some favorites:

"McFarland, USA"
"Saint Ralph" (Very funny--love this movie!!)
"4 Minute Mile"
"From Fat to Finish Line" (Sorry, I had to plug this!)

5) Hire someone to turn the runner's race shirts into a quilt. This is something you would either have to ask about beforehand, or give a "coupon" for, because you could risk making some really angry if you cut up his/her shirts! It's also very expensive because of the labor involved, but it's such a special gift.

I cut up my shirts and made a quilt top out of them. My sister-in-law and her mom did the quilting for me, and it turned out to be AMAZING! A lot of runners have more race shirts than they know what to do with, and putting them into a quilt is an awesome way to preserve those memories. Sarah, a reader of mine, takes orders for handmade quilts. You can check out her blog and pricing here.

To Save Money on Running Gear

   Buy gently used items. A lot of people get gung-ho about fitness or running and buy all sorts of things to get started; but then discover they don't enjoy it and they sell their stuff. I've had luck with E-bay, garage sales, and even the clearance rack of TJ Maxx. I've found several nice items at Salvation Army, too! I would say about half of my Under Armour clothing came from Salvation Army or a garage sale.

   Even when you pay a lot for something up front, it may last you a very long time, making the cost worth it. For example, I am extremely loyal to my Under Armour clothing, but I haven't had to throw away a SINGLE piece of clothing from them. I still wear the same winter running tights that I bought in 2010! They were roughly $50 at the time, but they've lasted me 7 years and counting. Totally worth it.

   Only buy what you need. If you're planning to run just three days per week, do you really need five pairs of tights and eight different tops? Yes, it's fun to have lots of options when you dress, but you could probably get by with just two bottoms and two tops!

   If you can only afford to splurge on one thing, make that thing your running shoes. Shoes are not the item to cheap out on! It's super important to get fitted for the running shoes that are best for your feet. They'll be expensive, but they will last a long time and help prevent injury. They're important!

   Try out some cheaper brands for clothing and see if you like them. I happen to have a few bottoms from Walmart (I tried to find them to link to them, but I bought them several years ago and they aren't sold anymore). They certainly aren't the quality of my Under Armour bottoms, but I happen to really like them for certain types of runs. I think they were about $12. I also have several tanks from a local chain called Meijer. Those, too, were discontinued, but I like those as much as I do my UA tanks! If UA, or the other brand names, are out of your price range, it doesn't hurt to try cheaper brands.

Here is a good example... on the left, I'm wearing Under Armour capris and UA tank; on the right, I'm wearing capris and a tank from Walmart (Danskin Now brand).

From the looks of them, you can't tell the difference! But there is definitely a difference in quality and fabric, so beware of that. I definitely prefer the UA, but I still like the Danskin Now ones.

My Running Playlist

I will warn you, I can guarantee with 95% certainty that you will not want to download this playlist. Hahaha! I am stuck in the 1990's when it comes to music. I can't help it! It brings me back to my high school days and makes me feel young. (There are a couple of new(ish) songs, but most are old.) But lots of people ask me for my favorite running songs, so I figure I'd compile a short list. These aren't necessarily "running" songs, but they are songs that I listen to when I run... if that makes sense ;)

Audioslave - Doesn't Remind Me
DJ Khaled - All I Do Is Win
Buckcherry - Crazy Bitch
Judah & The Lion - Take It All Back 2.0
Vance Joy - Riptide
twenty one pilots - House of Gold
American Authors - Best Day of My Life
Maroon 5 - This Love
LMFAO - Sexy and I Know It
Billy Joel - Piano Man
Thirty Seconds to Mars - Kings and Queens
D-12/Eminem - When the Music Stops
My Chemical Romance - I'm Not Okay (I Promise)
Smash Mouth - All Star
Panic! At the Disco - I Write Sins Not Tragedies
Disturbed - Down With The Sickness
Toadies - Possum Kingdom
Awolnation - Not Your Fault
Jason Mraz - I'm Yours
Robin Thicke - Blurred Lines
Milky Chance - Stolen Dance
Mary J. Bleige - Blow Your Mind
TLC - No Scrubs
Salt-N-Peppa - Shoop
Kottonmouth Kings - Bump
Treble Charger - American Psycho
U2 - Beautiful Day
Taio Cruz - Dynamite
Fall Out Boy - Dance, Dance
Godsmack - Awake
Green Day - Welcome to Paradise
OMC - How Bizarre
The Killers - Mr. Brightside
Foster the People - Pumped Up Kicks
Shinedown - Sound of Madness
Billie Holiday - Them There Eyes
Bush - Machinehead
The All-American Rejects - Move Along
LP - Into The Wild
Busta Rhymes - Turn It Up
Pitbull -
   -Give Me Everything
   -Time of Our Lives
Our Lady Peace -
   -Happiness & The Fish
   -Somewhere Out There
Eminem -
   -Rabbit Run
   -Rap God
   -Shake That
   -The Way I Am
   -X Gon' Give It to Ya
   -Party Up (Up In Here)
Cee Lo Green -
   -Bright Lights Bigger City
   -Fuck You
Nirvana -
   -Smells Like Teen Spirit
   -Come As You Are
Imagine Dragons -
   -On Top Of The World
Jimmy Eat World -
   -The Middle
Blink 182 -
   -Feeling This
   -I Miss You
   -What's My Age Again?
   -All The Small Things
   -After Midnight
   -Stay Together For The Kids
Alanis Morisette -
   -All I Really Want
   -Not The Doctor
My Chemical Romance -
   -Famous Last Words

My Favorite Podcasts

These are my favorite podcasts to listen to when I run. These aren't necessarily about running (I used to listen to a lot of those); they are just podcasts that keep me interested so that I hopefully forget that I'm running.

This American Life
Serial Killers
The Hilarious World of Depression
The Moth
Half Size Me
Bipolar Style
Another Mother Runner
This Is Actually Happening  *This one is my current favorite!
The Bipolar Family

And there you have it, Friends. The longest post EVER about running. But I am glad to have all of my favorites compiled into one place! If you have favorite running "stuff", feel free to share in the comments :)

My very favorite post race food? A huge basket of Cajun Tots from McMenamins, of course!

November 28, 2017

RECIPE: Hawaiian Fried Rice

Whenever I have leftover veggies or leftover rice in the fridge, I typically make fried rice for dinner. You can basically make it however you want--with or without meat, all sorts of different veggies, white rice or brown rice, etc.

One day, I came across this recipe on Pinterest for Pineapple Fried Rice. I had never thought to use ham or pineapple in fried rice before! It sounded delicious, and it really was. I made a few adaptations to it (using one bag of frozen mixed veggies makes this a very cheap recipe, because you don't have to buy many ingredients!). Anyway, notes are following the recipe.

Hawaiian Fried Rice


3 cups cooked rice (day-old rice from the fridge works best)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz diced ham
1 bag frozen mixed vegetables (corn, carrots, peas, & green beans)
1 large can pineapple tidbits, drained
2 green onions, sliced
1/2 tsp ground ginger powder
3 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 Tbsp sesame oil


In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and white pepper, and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat and add onion. Sauté until onion is soft. Add garlic and ham, and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the mixed veggies and pineapple. Cook for about 4-5 minutes (until hot) stirring often.

Stir in rice, green onions, and soy sauce mixture, and cook until hot (just a couple of minutes).


You can use fresh vegetables, or any mix of frozen vegetables--whatever you'd like. Fresh vegetables will take a little longer to cook (especially the carrots), so you may want to add them with the onion.

Leftover rice from the refrigerator works really well for fried rice, because it doesn't get gummy or soggy. It holds its shape and texture really well.

For the ham, I always buy a little 8 oz package of diced ham near the processed meats (like hot dogs, deli meats, etc). You can get bigger chunks of ham, but I like the very small diced ham. When it's on sale, I usually buy a few of them and throw them in the freezer. The ham is great for adding to things like eggs for breakfasts, macaroni and cheese, a breakfast burrito, etc.

You can add toppings to this, like Chinese fried noodles, shredded coconut, or whatever else you can come up with. I love the coconut on it!

November 28, 2017

The 7 (Very Effective!) Life Changes I've Made in Pursuit of Happiness

Life changes in pursuit of happiness

After a very long depressive episode last year, I've been writing a lot this year about the "pursuit to my happiest life". When wording that, I didn't want to say "pursuit to happiness" or "pursuit of happiness", because that would sound like I have nothing to be happy about already. And that's not the case--I have plenty of great things in my life!

When I say "my happiest life", I mean that I want to consistently pursue habits and transformations that make me happy. To reach the level of "happiest" would mean that it can't get any better. And since there is no "cap" on the amount of happiness one can have, I want to continue to learn about and practice the things that make me happy.

This year has been ground-breaking for me. If happiness was a mountain, I started in the lowest point of the valley and charged up three quarters of that mountain over a relatively short period. I still cannot believe the changes that have occurred!

There are several things that have helped me so much in this pursuit that I thought it would be appropriate to write about them. These have literally changed my life for the better in so many ways:

I started psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, or "talk" therapy, always seemed to be one of those things that worked for other people, but just wasn't for me. I really didn't believe that I could learn anything about myself that would change my life. I didn't have any big issues from childhood (abuse, neglect, major loss, etc).

This year, I discovered just how wrong I was to think that psychotherapy wouldn't (or couldn't) help me. It all started with finding a therapist that I really clicked with. If I didn't like my therapist, I never would have opened up enough to discover anything about myself.

In one of my sessions, I had a huge breakthrough that explained so many things about my past, my personality, my anxiety, my relationships, and several other areas of my life.

I feel like that particular therapy session--that "aha!" moment--was the beginning of this pursuit to my happiest life. Everything about my life started making sense, and I was able to start piecing it all together to move forward in my pursuit.

I stopped caring about what other people think of me

This is something that I have struggled with my entire life. Starting in elementary school, I always wanted to fit in; so I did what I thought other people would like, conforming in any way that I could, rather than just being myself.

My feelings would get hurt so easily. I wrote in depth about this in my post about social media causing such severe anxiety. I lived with horrible anxiety for most of my life because I was worried about what other people thought of me. It was because of my "aha!" moment in psychotherapy that I was able to finally let go of that anxiety.

This is me not caring. (Just kidding, it was just one of a trillion pictures
Jerry took of me when I was trying to get ready in Portland.

I started speaking my mind

Because of the said "aha!" moment, I was able to start speaking my mind. I instantly had all the freedom I'd always wanted. I had always been a people-pleaser, doing things that I didn't want to do (or not doing things that I wanted to!) simply because I didn't want to hurt someone's feelings or because I felt obligated.

When I stopped caring what other people think of me, I started speaking my mind--even if it wasn't what others wanted to hear. I always do my best to be polite when I say what I'm really thinking. I also validate others' feelings, which I believe goes hand-in-hand with speaking my mind. Just because I am no longer a people-pleaser doesn't mean I want to be a jerk.

I used to keep quiet if I disagreed with or didn't like something. Now, I feel free to politely disagree or simply state that I don't care for care for something. I used to feel like a doormat--people could walk all over me because I didn't want to stand up for myself. Now, I do or say what I want, and it feels so nice to say my opinion out loud!

Giving someone a piece of my mind! (Just kidding, I was actually rapping along with Eminem)

And you know what? The world didn't end. People didn't suddenly hate me. If they don't like something that I say or if they disagree with me, they don't end our relationship--they get over it, just as I would.

 I stopped avoiding confrontations 

If someone does or says something that bothers me, I simply tell them so (in a validating way). I've found it much easier to say what's bothering me and talk about it than to worry about things and pick things apart inside of my head.

For example, if a friend makes a comment that hurts my feelings somehow, I will just say, "Hey, it kind of bothered me when you said (whatever it is they said). What did you mean by that?" Most of the time, I find out that I am reading too much into it--particularly when it's in a text message. Texts are so hard to read sometimes, because you can't convey sarcasm or jokes very easily.

I always feel better after confronting the issue head-on. I used to let it take up so much of my head space that it would nag at me constantly until I finally was able to (mostly) forget about it. This usually caused "catastrophic thinking", where I automatically assumed the worst: "This person hates me" or "This person never wants to hang out with me again", etc.

I've learned that confrontations aren't necessarily a bad thing. Both parties can speak their minds, and then move on. And using the validation technique I learned in therapy keeps confrontation civilized. It's liberating!

 I stopped hiding my authentic self

I don't feel embarrassed or apologetic for my quirks. And I have a lot of odd quirks! However, I've learned that many of them are symptomatic of bipolar. My diagnosis helped me to feel at peace with these, because now I know it's "normal" for someone with bipolar to feel or act certain ways. But even for the oddball things that make me ME, I don't try to hide or apologize for them.

I have accepted things about myself that I always felt like I needed to change. My weight fluctuations, for example. Of course I don't like the fact that my weight has gone up and down in a range of 30 pounds rather than the ideal 5 pounds, but that's what's happened over the last 7 years; and I have finally accepted that maybe it's just the way my body works!

I embrace the things about me that are unique, even if they seem weird to other people. I want my kids to grow up feeling happy about who they are and not feel like they have to conform to fit in with others; and the best way they can learn this is to see ME doing it. I've learned that I actually really like my quirky, weird, authentic self.

Who doesn't love red plaid pants?

Eli had been wanting to dye his hair green for some time, so we finally did it on Sunday. He was SO excited to go to school the next day with his newly dyed hair; and when he did, he said the kids all teased him for it. I felt terrible for him.

I asked Eli if HE liked it, and he said yes. I told him we could change it back if he wanted, but if he likes it, then that's all that matters--he should do what he likes, and not do things just to fit in with other people. He agreed with that, and he went to school this morning with his green hair, styled the way he likes it. I can't even begin to describe how proud I am of him!

 I started saying "yes" more

I used to turn down so many opportunities simply because they were outside of my comfort zone. As a shy introvert, I feel safe and comfortable at home; but because of this, I didn't even give new opportunities a chance.

I always feel awkward in social situations, unless it's just myself and one or two other people. So, if I was invited to do things in a large group, I would rather have just said no than to let it stress me out. When I decided to pursue my happiest life, I also decided that I would say yes to things outside of my comfort zone--otherwise, how would I know what would make me happy if I didn't try new things?

An example of this is when my friend Jessica asked me if I wanted to go on a party bus to Greektown Casino in Detroit. This was the ultimate test for me--riding on a bus full of people where I don't know a single soul except for Jessica, and going to a casino as well as walking around downtown on a Saturday night? Totally unlike me. But I immediately said yes.

Right before I lost $20 in 30 seconds on the Wheel of Fortune slot

Jessica admitted she was totally shocked when I agreed. And I knew I was probably the last friend on her list that she would ask, simply because she expected me to say no.

I actually had a really great time! I still felt awkward around people I didn't know, but I know that putting myself in situations like that will help me to feel more comfortable down the road. Maybe someday, I'll even be good at small talk... who knows? ;)

 I simply stopped doing things that didn't make me happy

The most obvious example of this is running. Last year, I became so tired of running; I dreaded it every day. I had run for seven years, and I just wanted to stop. But I'm "Runs for Cookies"! Who would I be if I wasn't a runner?

I struggled with this decision quite a bit, and it was very hard to formally make the decision (let alone make that decision public). But once it was out in the open, holy cow--I felt an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders. I didn't have to pressure myself to run each day, come up with new goals, or set PR's. It was awesome!

(As you know, I have recently started running again, and I'm actually very happy about it. I needed that long break--eight months--to feel rejuvenated and excited about running again.)

See how excited I am to be running again?!

Another thing that I stopped doing is binge eating. This one was tricky, because I've never been able to make the decision to "just stop" when it comes to food. But for a few months, I constantly asked myself (about almost everything I did) if it made me happy. And binge eating never made me happy.

During a binge, I felt okay because I just didn't care about anything in that moment. Afterward, however, I felt so much self-hatred for it. There was never a part about binge eating that actually made me HAPPY. It either numbed me or made me hate myself.

There have been several times over the last eight months that I have found myself starting to think that I wanted to binge--usually out of boredom or because I feel some sort of uncomfortable emotion (almost always anxiety). Where I would usually struggle with myself for a while, going back and forth in my head about whether or not to do it, now I just remind myself that it's not something that makes me happy. It never has been, and never will be. Since it doesn't make me happy, there is no reason for doing it.

What is the point of doing anything if it doesn't make you happy? There are a few circumstances where it's appropriate (or necessary) to do things we don't want to--like going to work, for example. Maybe work doesn't make us happy, but we know we have to do it. In that case, we just make the best of it that we can.

Another example of this would be housework. I can't say that cleaning out the litter box or scrubbing the shower makes me happy; but I do feel happy when my house is clean. Prior to this pursuit of my happiest life, my house wasn't filthy, but it certainly wasn't clean most of the time. We had things strewn about here and there; laundry would pile up until it was unavoidable; you could make a safe bet that the sink always had several dirty dishes inside; and many other things.

I can't explain why, but I could never relax and enjoy myself when my house was messy. It nagged at the back of my mind, and the obvious answer would be to just clean the house. It felt overwhelming and pointless, though, because it was just going to get messy again the second my kids got home from school.

When I started doing what makes me happy, I had to look at things like housework as one degree away from happiness. Certain household chores most certainly didn't make me happy, but having a clean house always makes me very happy.

Just Luke and me, admiring how clean the house is

If someone unexpectedly stops by my house, I don't have to feel embarrassed or apologize for the mess. If we make plans for company, I don't have to spend a full day or two beforehand deep cleaning the house. THOSE are the things that make me happy, and that makes the dreadful chores worth it.

Also, I discovered that there are a lot of chores that I actually do enjoy: organizing closets, drawers, cupboards, etc; folding clothes; vacuuming; cleaning the windows; weeding the landscape; dusting; and several others. I will never enjoy washing pots and pans or cleaning the litter box, however ;)

So, the first step to doing things that make me happy was to really step back and look at what was making happy and what wasn't. I eliminated the (unnecessary) things that didn't make me happy; and as for the things that I have to do regardless of whether I want to or not, I looked at them from a degree or two away. These changes have made such a huge difference in my life.

I'm sure there are many things that I've forgotten to include on this short list (yet very long post), but these are some of the best transformations I've made for myself. I'm the happiest I've been in the longest I can remember, and it's not due to external factors--it's all from things that I've worked on inside of myself.

As cheesy as it sounds, I've learned that true happiness really does have to come from within--nobody else can make me happy; nor can money, objects, or just expecting things to happen on their own. I had to make changes to the way I was looking at or doing things in order to find joy in them.

So, the pursuit to my happiest life continues, but I am clearly off to a running start (no pun intended); and I feel liberated in a way I've never felt before :)

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