Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Broke, Fabulous, & Traveling: Hanoi, Vietnam

In case you're not following me on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, let me catch you up: I just got back from a week-long trip to Vietnam. My parents have been traveling around south-east Asia for five months and they flew all three of us out to see them at different points during their trip. My brother and his girlfriend met them in Thailand, while my sister and I went to Vietnam with them. Over the course of eight days, we went from Hanoi in the north down to Hue and Hoi An, then back up to Hanoi.

After 22 hours of travel, I arrived in Hanoi at 11 am on a Sunday. I hadn't seen my parents in five months (the second longest amount of time we've ever gone without seeing each other), but I'd hosted my sister the week before when she was in New York before catching her flight to Vietnam. We got right to exploring the part of the city we were staying in.

We were a couple blocks from Hoan Kiem Lake, so we spent a couple hours during our time in the city hanging out in the park and admiring the water. All the uninterrupted green was a stark contrast to the rest of the city. 

Hanoi as I saw it was composed of buildings that seemed to be built without regard for the rest of the street. There was little consistency in shape, size, and even color of these buildings. Some fit together like old jigsaw pieces: with awkward gaps in unexpected areas. Other buildings seemed to not even make an effort to fit with their neighbors. All of them, though, had plants dripping down their exteriors and laundry hanging out of windows.

My family takes pride in our travel style. We don't usually plan ahead too much (an approach that is different to how I take on every other aspect of my life), and instead spend our time learning the streets of our destination and trying to get a taste of daily life in this new environment. Sometimes that means going to museums or other travel destinations. Sometimes, like during our time in Hanoi, that means a lot of fairly aimless walking and stopping in at random coffee shops. I made sure to pack my most comfortable pair of shoes (surprisingly, a pair of sandals from H&M), and I wore them every day for 7 days.

When you spend a couple days (3, to be exact) walking around a part of a city, you get to truly experience everything that area has to offer. The sights (pictured in this post), smells (a lot of garbage, but I get that in New York, too), sounds (primarily honking from motorbikes and cars), tastes (Vietnamese coffee changed my life), and feel (humidity) of Hanoi are what define my time there.

One of the most interesting parts of the city that we ended up walking by was this giant, ornate church next to the lake. The French colonized Vietnam as part of a religious quest to "save" the world outside of Europe. This church stands as a reminder of that part of Vietnam's history and, I believe, still holds services for travelers and locals alike.

I grew up traveling with my family, but haven't had the chance to travel since going to college. A confession: for years, I've enviously watched as the people on my Facebook feed have taken amazing trips to really cool places across the world. I try to turn that energy into being proud of myself for focusing on a different goal– being financially independent while coping with a disability– but it's hard, and I often find myself jealous and disappointed in myself for not making my dreams of travel come true. It's hard to admit that I feel this way about not traveling at my age, but I'm working on being honest with myself and others, so I feel I have to say it.

I'm so incredibly grateful to my parents for flying me out and putting me up in Vietnam. My love of travel comes from my parents, who took my on my first flight when I was 13 days old, and it was beautiful to have them continue to fuel this love now that I'm an adult. I'm really lucky to have grown up with parents who value exploring the world. I wouldn't be who I am today without them.

Next week, I'll be sharing pictures and stories from the second part of my trip: Hue and Hoi An. Stay tuned!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Instagram is a Liar Sometimes and Other Mental Health Awareness Month Musings

*TW: depression, anxiety, suicide, and general themes of mental health*

My freshman year of college, I took a couple months off of Instagram. I was going through a huge transition, and being on social media wasn't helping me comfortably adjust to my new life. When I re-downloaded the app, the first thing I did was go through my following list and remove a bunch of the people I'd gone to high school with. It didn't seem fair that, while I had struggled through high school and continued to struggle through college, the people who'd had such a great high school experience were also killin' it in college.

I know now that my perceptions did not accurately reflect the lives my former classmates were living. Like me, these people were experiencing trials and tribulations as part of life. I didn't know that their smiling faces and enthusiastic Instagram captions only told part of the story. At the same time, though, my Instagram account painted the picture of a smiling, enthusiastic college student. I, too, was lying.

My Instagram account from the month I decided to delete the app. Look at all my smiling!

We've all heard not to trust what we see on social media because it only portrays part of the story. People only post the good stuff on social media, so there's no way to know what's really going on in someone's life. You have to take others' social media posts with a grain of thought.

I was fine with this concept for years. I'd see someone caught mid-laugh at a party on social media and think to myself, "what a liar." Then, I'd open Instagram and upload my own "candid" mid-laugh pic before crying for a couple hours and falling asleep at 9 pm.

Some prime smiles and good times. What's missing from these pictures: I'd just gotten out of the hospital, moved out of my apartment, quit my job, and had to step down from my role in a campus publication. I was having a really damn hard time.

There are countless arguments against being authentic on the internet. Being authentic is difficult enough as it is, because it requires you to be vulnerable and being vulnerable is HARD. Many people actively work to keep their personal lives off of social media in order to maintain a professional internet presence. Hiring managers and other members of our professional lives definitely check us out on social media, so there's a lot of pressure to keep it clean. The internet is also known to keep things for forever: once it's up, it's up. Even if you delete an embarrassing post, there's still a draft of it in a database somewhere. If you post something and forget to delete it, it can easily be brought up in the future and easily used against you.

There's really only one good argument FOR being authentic on the internet: to share the human experience. We all go through good times, and it's great to be able to be there to encourage and congratulate each other as we graduate, move, get hired, or even just have a good hair day. We also all go through bad times, which is alienating enough as it is. What's even more alienating is not seeing your struggles represented in your environment. Not only are you having a rough time– you're the only one not managing to live your best life. There must be something wrong with you.

One of my research projects in college was examining social media habits and their effects on mood and outlook. In multiple cases, researchers found that simply opening up Facebook had a dampening effect on one's mood. This negative impact got worse the longer the participant remained scrolling on the site. Qualitative research methods showed that participants perceived their lives as worse than their peers' based on what they saw on social media. We compare ourselves to our environment, often without meaning to do so and without any awareness of the process, and we find that our full story doesn't compare to the purely positive spins posted on social media.

My Instagram from the week I got dumped. The only indication that I might not have been having as good a time as it looks like I was having is that I captioned one of these pictures "feeling blue" and another one "I am a rock! I am an island!".

I was recently listening to an episode of my favorite psychology podcast when the topic of social media and self-perception was brought up. The research I've already described was discussed through the personal anecdotes of someone just a couple years older than myself. The guest describes the pressure to keep up with her Facebook friends, who were getting married and buying houses and having kids while she was traveling and working odd jobs. After a while, she found it hard to keep up with her Facebook self, as she continued to post about the great stuff in her life as her marriage and career fell apart around her. She found she was unable to portray herself as taking the bad with the good. After all, no one else on her timeline was talking about the bad stuff, even though statistical reasoning suggests at least 25% of her friends were going through similar difficulties.

We all fall trap to that line of reasoning: if no one else is doing it, why should I? If everyone else on my Instagram feed is laughing and smiling, why should I allude to the reality of living with chronic depression? If everyone else on Facebook is posting cute couple photos even when they're fighting, why should anyone refrain from doing just that? It creates this vicious circle: I'm not being honest because I don't see anyone else doing it, but others aren't being honest because they don't see anyone else (myself included) speaking honestly, either.

A series of tweets in which I expose the world to exactly what I'm experiencing in that moment.

The conclusion I drew from getting rid of my high school friends on Instagram was that none of us are quite who we pretend to be on social media. The conclusion I drew from the literature review I wrote in college was that social media can be a space in which to create and maintain an open community, but that we put up barriers which often keep us from reaping the benefits of these platforms. The conclusion I drew from listening to this podcast was that, by not being honest ourselves, we're contributing to the problems that make social media impact us so negatively.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I've been thinking about how grateful I am for the people in my life who speak honestly about their struggles on social media. They encourage me to be vulnerable and they help me not feel nearly so alone. One of the most important reasons for Mental Health Awareness Month is to bring awareness to a very serious aspect of health that affects everyone, whether directly or indirectly. How are we supposed to bring awareness to mental health if we're only talking about it in the abstract and not sharing our experiences? I say this as someone who regularly shares mental health-related articles on social media and who has talked about my struggles with chronic depression and anxiety in the past. I also, however, regularly refrain from talking about the reality of my day-to-day life as a human and a human with these mental health conditions. I'm striving to be open without oversharing on social media right now.

Most of all, though, I'm striving to not paint a picture of myself on social media that simply doesn't exist. I don't have to share the most vulnerable details of my life to not portray myself as happy all the time always. For me at this point, that means honest Instagram captions, honest (and even vulnerable) tweets, and keeping my Facebook professional instead of just happy. I'm still working on not sharing smiling photos on days when I'm not smiling.

A post shared by Hannah | Broke & Fabulous (@thehannahgold) on

This post may contain facts pulled from research, but that doesn't mean my opinion is 100% right. Do you agree with my opinion that we need to be more honest on social media in order to mend the divide between ourselves and how we perceive others? Can vulnerability on the internet help raise awareness of mental illness, therefore providing countless resources to those in need? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, May 15, 2017

OOTD: Shades of Navy

I've worn this outfit so many times (thanks for the life inspo, Lizzie McGuire!) that one of my friends at work and I have actually matched our denim-on-denim looks TWICE in the last four months. Recently, I switched it up by doing this half-tuck thing and adding a blazer to the look. I thoroughly believe that a blazer and jeans make for the best business casual outfit.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Can I Do That: Eye Nail Art

I constantly see things online that I'd love to have, but that I can't afford. Clothing, hair colors, nail designs, home decor, etc. all haunt me as I scroll through Instagram. It's no secret that I love DIYs, but what if I can't find a DIY to satisfy my needs? I'm starting a new series called "Can I Do That?" in which I try to imitate cool things that I want on the internet. In this premiere post, I'm inspired by Amanda Smith's amazing nail art, shown below.

I'm starting off with a fresh set of nails. I had to scramble to find the nail polishes I needed for this project, and ended up borrowing one of the colors from one of my roommates. Perks of living with 4 roommates, I guess.

Step 1: Gold

I can definitely do this. I've painted my nails with this color dozens of times, as you might be able to tell from the worn-off label. It's an old L.A. Colors color that closely resembles this Essie color.

Step 2: The Whites of Their Eyes

This is where it starts to get tricky. The only white polish I had was this Sally Hansen nail art pen, which isn't meant to thoroughly cover an area of your nail. So, the white part is a little uneven, even after going over the area a couple times.

Step 3: Eyelashes

This is where things really started to go south. I love this black color, but I didn't use it very well. I don't know what possessed me to buy these nail poorly-designed nail art brushes, but they're definitely not meant to paint on nail polish in the ways I needed them to. Plus, anyone who's ever painted their nails before knows that it's a serious struggle to paint your dominant hand using your non-dominant hand. I'm too embarrassed to show you all what my right hand even looked like at the end of all this.

Can I Do That? Verdict: Actually, I kind of could... On my left hand, at least. Some of the eyes look a little droopy and the eyelashes aren't even, but it looks pretty good from far away. If you're ambidextrous and/or have any significant experience painting your own nails, I'd give this a go. Otherwise, take the nail art slow.

Monday, May 8, 2017

OOTD: Grad Announcements

So, I know I already graduated... But I'm back for more. My college only has one commencement ceremony a year, so I'm headed back to Seattle in June to walk with the rest of my class. I already have my diploma and an internship, so I'm feeling pretty good for someone who doesn't walk the stage for another month.

Seeing as I'm not in Seattle, throwing together photos for my grad announcements took a little more effort. My cap and gown are waiting for me in Seattle, so I borrowed my friend Corina's for the weekend. I wouldn't be able to take pictures on campus, so I leaned into my status as a New York resident. You can see the Manhattan skyline from my roof (including the Empire State Building), so I took my pictures up there to highlight where I'm at right now.

Of COURSE Luxe got in on my graduation shoot! She accompanied me to all of my classes sophomore-junior year, so she's pretty much an honorary graduate.

ConGRADulations to all my fellow graduates from the class of 2017!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

OOTD: Up and Down Manhattan

Welcome to my ideal Saturday: walking Luxe all over Manhattan (seriously, I walked 8.9 miles the day I took these pictures). Claire and I started off on 81st street and walked all the way down to 4th street over the course of several hours.

When you're walking around in 80+ degree heat, you have to be really strategic about what you wear. Usually, I don't wear black when it's hotter than 75F, but I made an exception for this loose-fitting dress. Pairing it with a light crop top really helped, especially since it left an opening for my torso to breathe.

If you'd met me a year ago, you'd be very confused by my shoe choice. I've owned one pair of tennis shoes in the last 7 years, and they've been too uncomfortable for me to wear for longer than a couple hours at a time. These shoes, though, aren't like that. Sure, they're a little uncomfortable, but I'm chalking it up to them still needing to be broken in. Either way, one of my roommates gave me these shoes, and I'm always willing to try anything that comes to me for free.