Note: this post talks about mental illness and suicide.
In light of the recent suicides of people who “should” have been happy – Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, both with dream jobs, families that loved them, and tons of money – I’ve decided to write in detail about my mental illness to help with the de-stigmatization of it.
Hi, I’m Bethany, and I have depression.
This isn’t really news to most of my friends, but I’m making a point to talk about it today. Until I realized I had depression I didn’t understand it. I thought you couldn’t have a happy or easy life and be depressed. I thought it was pretty similar for everyone. I thought it was rational.
I was wrong on all counts.
After the adoption of my first son (when I was 27 years old) a few of my friends saw how much I was struggling and asked, “Maybe you have post-adoption depression?” I thought that was silly because my life was great, I was thrilled that my little boy was finally home, he was adorable, and yeah, OK, it was really hard – but isn’t that how it’s supposed to be as a new parent – especially a new parent of a toddler whose life just flip-turned upside-down? I put away the idea of depression until after the adoption of my second son when a friend suggested it once again. This time I decided to Google it myself and realized that I had every single symptom except weight gain and suicidal thoughts. I was shocked.
Looking back on my life I’m pretty sure I’ve had depression since I was a kid, but it wasn’t major, and since it wasn’t like my friend who was hospitalized with bipolar and depression, I didn’t know what I felt wasn’t just… normal. Because, for me, it was, and it was much less life-altering than my friend’s. I didn’t realize that depression isn’t the same for everyone. But I can think back to a lot of things then that are the same as now when I’m in a depression valley.
I haven’t sought treatment for my depression, and I do feel somewhat guilty about that, but here is why: I’m very lucky in that it doesn’t impact my life all that much, and when I have an illness that doesn’t affect me too much I just endure it. My depression valleys typically last a few days to a week and happen a few times a year – just like a mild virus. Those couple valleys every year are not fun, where, among other things, it feels like an enormous effort to do anything but sleep or zone out on the couch. I’m thankful that my life is such that I can get away with that for a few days a few times a year. And since I still have not had any thoughts of being a danger to myself or to anyone else, it’s just easier not to see someone. Finding a doctor, arranging childcare, going to them, talking to them… that takes a lot of effort. Even if I’m not in a valley it seems overwhelming. If I am, it seems impossible.
That last bit is the thing I don’t think many people understand, as after every celebrity death by suicide I see post after well-meaning post about reaching out to someone if you’re suicidal. I have several friends who’ve been there, and they’ve told me that when you’re in that pit, smothered by darkness and depression and other, louder voices drowning out everything you know and love, you don’t have the strength to reach out – even if the thought actually occurred to you and managed to push its way down to where you could acknowledge it. It feels impossible.
Well, then. What can you do?
You can be there. If you haven’t heard from a friend for a while who you know struggles with depression or anxiety or whatever, message them to say, “Hey, how are you? I was thinking about you.” This helps me even in my comparatively mild depression. Then, listen to them. If they’re saying they’re depressed or suicidal, don’t say, “Oh, you just need to go for a walk/get back out there/watch a happy movie/have a drink/whatever.” Try to understand what they’re saying and don’t try to problem-solve. It probably took an astounding amount of effort and feels like a huge risk to talk to you about it, so don’t judge them. Mental illness is a malfunction of the brain; it can’t be logic-ed away, and it doesn’t have to make any sense. Your friend might have the perfect marriage, a great job, be wealthy, travel all over the world, or have a generally easy life – and they could still be thinking no one would care if they weren’t here anymore, or that the pain is too much to bear any longer. If their depression is at all like mine, they likely have extra guilt or anxiety pushing down on them because they feel so awful or blah when they know they “shouldn’t” because their life is great! Also, if you pray, pray for them – and if they’re open to it, with them – and pray for yourself to be the friend they need. (This should go without saying, but DO NOT bash them over the head with God in any way, shape, or form!) If they are suicidal and are open to a help line, send them the number. Offer to dial the phone for them and maybe even be the first to talk to the person on the other line. Stay with them while they talk or sob into the phone. Stay the night with them if you can and they want you to. If they need encouragement to go talk to someone in person, offer to help by giving them a ride, or watching their kids, or texting them funny gifs. And finally and most importantly: love them. No matter what. And make sure they know it!
Oh – also – don’t forget to be real about your own struggles with mental illness, if you have them. We aren’t ashamed to talk about it if we have diabetes, or multiple sclerosis, or cancer, or any other illness; why are we ashamed to talk about mental illness?
God loves you no matter what, and if I call you my friend, so do I. Be well. ❤
This is a post script (a post script post, if you will – ahem) to yesterday’s PAAMA post about travel hacking. In this post you will see a very simple option to try out travel hacking for yourself if you so desire. All previous disclaimers and information apply.
Travel Hacking: An Easy Example
I always tell newbies to try to hack their way to a few flights on Southwest Airlines. If you’re familiar with Southwest you know how easy they are for… pretty much everything. That extends to award travel. Just like with a regular booking, they have no cancellation fees, no change fees, checked bags and carry-on bags and snacks are included, and they don’t block out any flights to award travel! Also with the Premier card every year they send you four free alcoholic drink coupons to be used in-flight, so what’s not to like?
Southwest has two personal credit cards (that’s a referral link; non-referral link here), and they both frequently offer 50,000 Rapid Rewards as the card bonus. (Do not get a SWA card unless they are offering at least 50,000 RR!) They market that as two free roundtrip tickets – and indeed it is likely that you could get only two depending on where you fly and when you book. But if you wait for sales – which apply to points too – you may be able to get four roundtrip flights with those RR! I have, and could again. (See pic.)
As of the date of this post, the minimum spend for either card is $2,000 in three months from date of application. When you sign up, enter your Rapid Rewards account number (if you don’t have one I suggest doing that first; it makes things easier, and it’s free). At the end of the billing cycle where you hit the threshold, the RR will transfer automatically into your RR account.
Booking award travel on Southwest is super easy. When you go to their site to book, you just select “points” instead of “dollars” – and if you forget to do that on the first page, you can also toggle back and forth once you’re in the list of flights.
Since you’re looking at the points cost, when you select your flights it will tell you how many points and how many dollars it will cost (usually something minor like $11). Finish the booking process, and you’re good to go!
One card, 2-4 trips, easy booking process. You can handle that, right? Of course you can!
How about another one?
(Note: I have not done this one personally.)
The Hawaiian Airlines credit card offers a bonus of 35,000 miles after you spend $1,000 in 3 months. 35,000 is enough for card holders to book a roundtrip flight to Hawaii. (It’s 40,000 for non-cardholders.) So you spend your $1,000, get your miles, and book yourself an award travel trip to Hawaii for, say, $100 including taxes and fees on the trip, plus the annual fee for the card. Not bad, eh? I’ve heard that they are more restrictive on which flights are only 35,000 roundtrip, but if you’re relatively flexible on when you go, that shouldn’t be a big problem.
So what do you say? Ready to try it? Still have question? Just ask!
I thought I had already written this post years ago. Apparently instead I just sent people to other people’s posts about it, or answered questions directly to people when they ask me. How unusually inefficient of me!
I’ve had an uptick in interest among friends lately because I just got Isaac and me a trip to Australia and New Zealand for this fall for about $360 total using travel hacking. I actually am kind of annoyed that it cost that much (the flight between Sydney and Queenstown cost $95 each in taxes and fees) since I got all four of us to South Korea and Hawaii in 2016 for under $250, but still, we’re saving $3,000+ on the 15th anniversary trip of a lifetime, so I probably shouldn’t complain.
Anyway. Stand by for details. First: disclaimers.
1. This is NOT for you if you already have credit card debt and/or do not intend to pay off the entire balance on your card(s) on time every month. Yes, that needs to be bolded and underlined. The interest and fees you will pay if you don’t pay in full on time will negate the benefits of the points you accrue. As soon as you get a new card, log in to the site and set it up to autopay in full on the due date every month; then there’s no way you’ll mess it up!
2. Don’t expect to travel right away. Unless you do this hardcore, which most of us can’t do because we have jobs or kids or whatever, it takes time to accumulate points. Of course it can vary greatly, but start planning now for a trip a year from now – or farther out, even.
3. If you don’t have good credit, you may not be able to do this yet. Work on building up your credit and the fun will come later! I would suggest trying to get a no annual fee credit card to help out your debt-to-credit ratio. And pay it off every month!
4. Hack at your own risk. 🙂 Just in case: if you do this and for some reason it doesn’t work out or you screw up your credit, it’s not my fault.
What is travel hacking?
Travel hacking is using airline miles/credit card points to travel, typically but not always internationally, for much less money than usual. You will pay only the taxes and fees for the flights, and any annual fees for the credit card(s).
Why is it called hacking? My theory is because you’re not doing it the way “they” tell you to do it. Also because almost every little tip or alternate way of doing something is called a hack these days, just like every scandal is “-gate”.
Where does one get those credit card/airline points?
The primary means of getting points is by getting credit cards when they are offering large bonuses. You get the bonuses by meeting a certain spending threshold (usually $1,000-3,000, but sometimes higher if the bonus or points are worth more) within a certain time frame (usually 90 days after you apply for the card). After you receive the bonuses, you use them to book award travel on whichever airline gets you where you want to go.
OK. So how do I do it?
1. Figure out where you want to go. Once you know that, type your departure and arrival airports into this, which searches every award program to tell you how much each one would require to get you there. This tool also tells you which loyalty programs each airline is affiliated with, which helps you choose which cards to get. Once you know which program(s) you need to earn points for, you will focus on getting cards that get you points for that program, or that can be transferred to that program.
Example: When we decided to go to Seoul, we figured out that United was one of the cheapest, and we could add a stopover in Hawaii on the way home for no additional cost. That sealed the deal. Chase cards are transfer partners with United, so we could get United cards and/or Chase cards to reach our goal. If I remember correctly we each got one regular Chase card and also each got one United card. Those bonuses, combined with Chase points we had been accruing for about two years since I found out about travel hacking, were enough to get us the trip we wanted.
2. Apply for the cards that will get you there. How do you find them? I really like this list, which is updated every month with current offers. If you don’t know which programs are affiliated with which cards, Google it. Bonus offers change frequently, so keep checking back until you get a good one.
Before you apply take note of what the minimum spending threshold is and how long you have to meet it. (Note: this clock almost always starts from the date of application, not the date you receive your card.) Some people make spreadsheets. I screenshot my application confirmation and note the date on the Word doc I save it in. You could write it on your calendar. It’s also a good idea to screenshot the bonus offer just in case, although I’ve never had a problem getting one. I just add that to my Word doc.
3. Meet the minimum spend. Put everything you can on that credit card until you hit that threshold! Mortgage/rent, utilities, internet, cell phone bill, gas, food, clothes, sports games, movies, Netflix, charitable giving, Starbucks… anything you buy that you can pay with that card, you put on that card. Some banks, landlords, and utilities charge a fee for paying via credit card. In those cases do the math on whether it would be worth it for you. (If you won’t meet the spend without it, it’s probably worth it.) For our SK/HI trip we were able to get multiple cards at once because we had just bought a house and had a lot to buy for it. We just put everything on those cards and met all the spends quickly! That’s not typical for us, though we do use cards for everything since we get rewards and aren’t liable for fraud.
4. Book your flights! The billing cycle after you meet the spending threshold the points will appear in either your card account (if you’re earning Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest points, American Express Membership Rewards, etc.) or your airline account (if you got a United card earning MileagePlus Rewards, Southwest card earning Rapid Rewards, etc.). If they are in one of the card accounts you’ll likely need to transfer them to the airline you intend to use. That’s usually very simple, but Google is your friend for how to do yours specifically if you can’t figure it out.
Once your points are in your airline rewards account, go to that airline’s site and search for award travel. It is typically an option you can check, or in a dropdown box. Some days/routes may cost more than others; you have to choose the ones you want that you have points for. If you have enough points for the trip you want, book it! It’s pretty much a normal airfare booking from there – except you pay a whole lot less!
Note: One thing I will add is that you should Google what each airline’s award rules are. They may allow you to go two places for the price of one. On our Korea trip we stopped in Hawaii for six days on the way home. Sadly, United no longer allows that, but on our upcoming trip we have a free stopover in Sydney on the way to New Zealand because they are the same award area with United. You are also allowed an “open-jaw” ticket on United, which means you depart from a different airport than you flew into. As our time is limited, we are flying into Queenstown, NZ and out of Auckland, NZ. It’s up to us to get from one to the other. In searching for those flights I used the Multi-City search option. I chose our departure airport-Sydney-Queenstown-Auckland-arrival airport. It was 80,000 points and about $180 roundtrip per person (or, three 50,000 card bonuses + points from the spending to get the bonuses) – or, a savings of about $1800/person based on current pricing for that trip.
A few more things:
- Most people can go anywhere with just two card bonuses. Roundtrip to Australia and New Zealand can be had for 80,000 points from the USA. South Korea and Hawaii was 80,000 points total from the USA. Most of the time you can get 100,000 with two card bonuses – but it could take you six months to do so if you don’t spend much. Hence disclaimer #2: don’t expect to travel right away.
- Most of these cards have annual fees, and most of the fees hit in your first month and don’t count toward your spending threshold. Is the annual fee worth it? That’s up to you. Even with the annual fees from the cards we got to go to Seoul and Kauai our total cost was under $500 for four people. Yeah, those fees were worth it! Just don’t forget to factor those into your total cost.
- Keep track of the cards you apply for and when. It would really suck to miss out on a bonus because you thought you had an extra week.
- Sometimes awards will cost more than other times; just like regular flights, prices fluctuate and cost more on holidays, etc. Keep that in mind and try to be flexible. We wanted to go to Aus/NZ over Christmas break to limit the boys’ time off from school and be on our trip on our actual anniversary, but it cost 100,000 points each way instead of 40,000, so hahahahaha no.
- My favorite credit card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Isaac and I both got this to get our SK/HI trip and I’ve kept mine since then because the perks are so good that it’s even worth the annual fee to me. We’ve had basic Chase cards since 2005, which were later converted to the Freedom. Using the Freedom and Sapphire together builds points quickly and makes them very flexible. We use the quarterly 5% back categories on our Freedom, and transfer those points to our Sapphire, which we then transfer to airlines! That said, if you are trying to get your whole family on a trip using Chase cards, I suggest not getting the Freedom yet. Work on getting the high bonuses first; don’t “waste” a Chase card on a freebie. (Both of those links up there are referrals, but you can find non-referral links pretty easily. The offers are the same.)
- For some reason people think that getting more credit cards makes your credit score go down. This is a myth. About 1/3 of your credit score has to do with your debt-to-credit ratio, and 1/10 has to do with credit pulls. Each time you apply for a card your score goes down slightly for the pull, but if you’re approved it goes up because your debt-to-credit ratio just got much better! My credit score has gone up about 50 points since I started travel hacking!
- PAY OFF YOUR CARDS IN FULL AND ON TIME EVERY MONTH! Seriously.
Questions? Comments? Or check out my favorite way to test the waters with a very easy card/hack!
My running in 2017 wasn’t quite as impressive as my Year of Running, 2016 (no half-marathon every month), but I did do seven half-marathons including one preceded a day earlier by a 5K and 10K, and achieve two long-desired PRs! Read on for my Year of Running, 2017! (You can also read my Year of Running, 2015.)
Best Race Experience
This is a tough one, but I’m going to have to go with the Disneyland Paris half-marathon. This is the only Disney half I’ve ever done where we spent a majority of the race on Disney property that isn’t just roads. The first 5+ miles were in the parks, then we went out in the lovely French countryside for about 5 miles, then back in the parks for the final 3 miles. This was also my first international race, and it was a fun experience to have the race morning hype squad speak another language, have distances marked in kilometers, and have everyone cheering me on with cries of, “Allez! Allez!”
Runners-up: Runner’s World Festival in Bethlehem, PA in October; Disneyland Avengers/Superheroes half-marathon
Either the Gasparilla half in Tampa, FL in February, or the Winter Beach Run in Jacksonville Beach, FL in January. During Gasparilla I felt great and kept my pace for the first ten miles! …And then we turned around and it was like we were in a wind tunnel. According to my GPS watch I was able to walk nearly as fast as I was able to run, so I switched to that rather than expending all the energy to run and not go much faster. In the end I still finished with my then-third fastest time. During the Winter Beach Run I managed to hit a long-awaited time goal: five miles under 55 minutes!
Best New Piece of Gear
I didn’t get much new gear this year, but I think I have to go with my Skirt Sports Vixen Skirt in black. It inspired my Disney World Star Wars: Dark Side half-marathon femVader costume and also worked great for my Scarlet Witch costume for the Disneyland Superheroes Half-marathon. It has two huge pockets so no race belt is necessary, has mesh shorts (better in hot weather) that don’t budge – and it looks awesome!
Best Piece of Running Advice You Received
“Everyone has a bad race. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad runner.” Now, I am certainly not a good runner, but just because I have a bad race doesn’t mean I should feel like a failure. I was at a definite low in October after having an absolutely awful Marine Corps Half-Marathon. What once was my PR for fastest half is as of that day also my PR for slowest half. (Not counting Disney races, where I only aim to PR in fun.) Others I know also had bad races that day, but they’re fast, so for them I knew it was a fluke. I began trying to convince myself that I need to be OK with never getting faster in my half-marathon. A week after that I went to the Runner’s World Festival in Bethlehem, PA. I had a weekend with a bunch of encouraging internet runner friends from the Sub-30 Club. I ran a 5K and 10K on Saturday and then a half-marathon on Sunday in hilly eastern PA… and I finished about 15 minutes faster than I had the Marine Corps half the week before. I had a bad race; I am not a bad runner.
Most Inspirational Runner
I’m going to go with fellow Subber, parrot head, and Route 91 survivor, Sandra. Her life got very scary when during that music festival in Las Vegas with friends, a lunatic opened fire on the crowd. She understandably stopped running and worked on recovering. She was going to not run much at RWF because she wasn’t up to it, but after running the 5K with a Jimmy Buffett-themed Sub-30 group, she also went on to rock the 10K she had been unsure of. She is getting her groove back, training like the awesome person she is, and not letting PTSD and other painful things keep her down. You rock, Sandra!
Getting to do both Disney’s Castle to Chateau and Coast to Coast Challenges was pretty amazing. I also hit sub-55 in a 5-miler and finally went sub-2 in a 15K!
Favorite Picture From a Run or Race This Year
All the pics already in this post, plus these. Left: Running a Hula Hustle dressed as Moana with my friend dressed as Lilo. Right: Running the first part of the RWF 10K with a big group of Subbers.
Race Experience You Would Repeat in A Heartbeat
There are several, but this year it’s far and away Disneyland Paris.
I’ve run half-marathons in:
2015: Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut
2016: Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, California, Hawaii
2017: Pennsylvania, France
If you could sum up your running year in one word, what would it be?
Running Goals for 2018
- Sub-2:40 half (I got SO CLOSE at Best Damn Race Jacksonville this month! 2:40:56! At least it was a PR!)
- Sub-1:50 Gate River Run 15K (So close! 1:53! My stupid knee started hurting again!)
- Sub-32 5K
- Do at least eight half-marathons
- Check off half-marathons in at least two more states
- Maybe do a 25K?
We’ve probably all seen the commercials with people who had their DNA tested by one of the consumer labs and discovered some shocking ancestral heritage or two. I knew the likelihood of that for me was small – as far as I knew, both sides of my family have been in the USA for centuries and were all descended from England, Wales, or Ireland. While it’s very cool to have ancestors that have been here for four centuries, being essentially 100% American isn’t all that exciting. (I love the USA, but our culture is basically every culture, and thus none.) I’ve often found myself a little jealous of my boys’ clear Ethiopian heritage, even if they don’t get to grow up surrounded by it. So, when I caught 23andMe on sale, I went for it, doubting the likelihood but hoping for a surprise or two in my ancestry. I spit in a tube (so attractive), mailed it off, and about a month later… Surprise!
I had no idea I could be about 10% French and/or German, let alone the little bits of potential Scandinavian and southern European! The 96.7% western European made me laugh though because I’ve always called myself a “western European mutt” – but I thought the countries involved were just England, Wales, and Ireland. I’m even more excited to go back to France now! These results also spurred me to look at genealogy sites for the first time in a long time and I found things I’d never found in previous searches. Now I know that on my dad’s side I’m only three generations removed from Canada, and six from Scotland, so a lot more of that Northwestern European/British is likely Scottish than I knew.
After reading all the ancestry reports, I uploaded the raw data to Promethease to get the health info for $5 instead of paying 23andMe another $99 to get that info. It was interesting to see what they got right (skin/eye/hair color, susceptibility to sunburn, likelihood of depression, carrier for male pattern baldness, etc.) and what they got wrong (supposedly I’m likely to be an early riser, easily affected by caffeine, and think cilantro tastes like soap, as well as several more incorrect items). I also learned some useful things about how my body metabolizes certain medications, and increased likelihood of some health conditions, which are still unlikely but good to be aware of.
So. Would I recommend 23andMe? Definitely. If you know a lot about your ancestral heritage it may not be as interesting to you as it was to me, but if you don’t, it’s kind of fun to have a surprise or find out more. Also, getting the health data would be helpful for anyone. Since my kids were adopted from a country with less advanced health care, I would like to have them tested so they can know what they are genetically predisposed to. Even if there is birth family history of something, it probably went unknown or undiagnosed.
Just remember: as interesting as genetics are, they are simply potential, not a guarantee. We are not slaves to our DNA, but we can learn from it.
23andMe links are referral links.
And this one when we had finally finished:
I still stand by those two posts, much to the surprise of all my runner friends who said “never again” themselves and have since done insane things like multiple other marathons and even ultras. (You people are messed up. You know who you are.) Others have been surprised that I haven’t wanted to do another just to have a good experience at one because I know – and I do know – that it would be better than this one was.
Surprisingly, despite that I still don’t want to do another and despite how utterly miserable it was, I have long since decided that stupid marathon was worth it. Here’s why:
1) I met a wonderful friend, Emily, in the trenches of mile 18 or so, and she has ended up being a huge blessing to me. We’ve since had several more adventures, and I hope there will be more this year!
2) I learned that I never want to do that again – and, having finished, never need to.*
3) I learned that I am strong and I can do anything. I was in intense pain for about 16 miles of the race. No real idea what went wrong; we did everything right, but it was just a really bad day. For a while, trudging around mile 21, I kept a meager pace by chanting sometimes in my head, sometimes aloud, “Never ever ever again. Never ever ever again.” But we prevailed. We did it. We finished. When the sweepers were looming, instead of giving into the sweet idea of putting ourselves out of our misery and taking a bus to the finish, we dug deep into bone-dry wells and kept moving until the finish line. When since faced with difficulties I’ve said to myself, “If I could finish that stupid marathon, I can do this!”