By Heather Hansen

I think my mom always knew something was different with me. I always needed to be near her or at least within a short distance of her. And while that is normal for infants and toddlers, it’s not exactly “cool” to still require that when you’re 10. If an event caused my mom and me to separate, I would cry and cry and cry. Whoever was watching me at the time had to be a master of redirection.

I can recall being in Mrs. N’s second grade classroom. Feeling the fight-or-flight urges (even though I didn’t know how to classify them at the time), I would ask to go to the nurses’ office every single day because my stomach hurt. I wasn’t lying, my stomach really did bother me — but turns out it was from anxiety, not the flu.

Mrs. N caught on to my routine quite quickly, and she began giving me peppermint candy to try and settle my stomach. Looking back now, I see how crafty she was attempting to get my mind off of my anxiety and onto something of value. I was magically always picked to help her with classroom duties — she thought that if she kept me busy, it would keep my anxiety at bay. And while it did help, I was exhausted from the constant fears.

For the next couple years, my anxiety slowly but surely killed off any friendships I formed. Even though I was invited to birthday parties and sleepovers, I never attended for fear of experiencing a panic attack. It usually came down to my mom practically dragging me out of the car to at least give the birthday child his or her present. I would hide behind her leg, never speaking a word. Eventually, the other kids got tired of hearing my excuses, and I stopped receiving invites.


“I remember opening my locker door, sticking my head inside and just crying.”


My life seemed to suddenly come to a shattering stop when I entered sixth grade. I’ll never fully understand what made everything come to a head then, but I do know that I felt paralyzingly lost. On the days that I actually got out of the car and walked into school willingly, my fake smile fooled everyone. Because I didn't fully understand what an anxiety disorder was at the time, it was kept on the down low to try and minimize bullying. I remember opening my locker door, sticking my head inside and just crying. I was at a school where I knew every single person by first and last name, knew all of my teachers, was an honor roll member, yet I could not get the negative thoughts out of my mind. My biggest fear at that time was that something terrible was going to happen to my mom; normally the thoughts were so severe that I imagined the worst.

I missed a lot of school that year between panic attacks, doctor appointments and mornings where I just couldn’t get it together. All of the other kids seemed to brush my worries under the rug and figured that if they didn’t bring them up, they weren’t an issue.

This was the year I saw my first counselor and psychiatrist. I’m not going to lie, I hated my first counselor. She never smiled, never told me anything about herself and often would use the silent treatment to coax me into breaking the silence and talking. I can’t even tell you how many appointments I spent on the couch with my eyes glued to the floor. While I didn’t like her, she did indeed know what was wrong with me. I was diagnosed with severe separation anxiety. Wow … what I was feeling actually had a name?! I didn’t think anyone would ever be able to explain to me why I felt the way I did.

At 11 years old, during my sixth grade school year, I was put on my first mental health medication. From then on, I was basically a guinea pig. She would give each new medication a try for about a month before deciding she wasn’t seeing enough progress, then we would move on to the next.

The pills made me tired — they made me a sort of tired I had never experienced before. It was like life was in slow motion, and all I wanted was to lie down. It's been 15 years now that I've taken medication on a daily basis. Deep down, I know that I probably will always require it to function "normally," but I am grateful to have a found a med combination that is effective and doesn’t exhaust me in that way.

Junior high and high school weren’t much different from sixth grade — although depression was also added to my chart. I spent a lot of time alone, and I channeled a lot of my sadness into writing. Whether it was poetry, short stories or art projects, my depression always seemed to find a way to seep in. I tried really hard to lead a normal life, attending my classes, having conversations with others and sometimes even going on public outings, like to a basketball game.


“I don’t need to apologize to anyone for my anxiety because my anxiety is not me.”


During this time, my anxiety was still focused on my mom and being separated from her. In fact, the “separation” wasn’t dropped from my diagnosis until I was 20. Looking back now, I feel guilty. My anxiety stole years from not only my life, but also my mom’s. The countless times she felt helpless, the innumerable nights she stayed awake praying that the next day would be even just a slight bit better for us both than today, and the literally billions of times that I asked her for reassurance. It took me a very long time — in fact I’m still working on it now — to understand that I shouldn’t feel guilty. I don’t need to apologize to anyone for my anxiety because my anxiety is not me. It’s not always easy to separate the person from the illness, but it is crucial in order to move forward.

I will always have my anxiety disorder, even on fantastic days where I feel like nothing could go wrong. I keep those days stored inside my head so that I have something to refer back to on the hard days.

To my mom, who never left my side, who never got sick of my need for reassurance, who was willing to get me help when she realized it was more than she could handle — thank you. I will never be able to tell you how much your love and support means to me because there aren’t words great enough.

My advice to anyone who is currently living with an anxiety disorder is to keep reminding yourself that you need to be in the present moment. The past cannot be changed, and the future cannot be predicted, but you can accept yourself as you are and take it one day at a time. I will never forgive my anxiety for that: ruining my friendships, loading piles of stress onto my mom’s shoulders and wasting all my time worrying about disasters that would never actually happen.

If you feel this story is relatable to you and your journey, please seek out treatment. You don't have to suffer through anxiety day after day. Medications and counseling work wonders. Keeping a journal or blog also helps me to "empty" my current fears and worries to make room for more important things like positive self-talk and strengthening family relationships.

You are not alone. You are a valued life who deserves happiness. Keep breathing and believe. It will get better.

Heather Hansen is an anxiety expert (26-years strong) living in Michigan with her boyfriend and dog. She is an early childhood educator who enjoys photography and the cinema.



By Caira Clark

When someone asks me what I studied at university, my answer almost immediately reveals my values: I studied environmental sustainability.

Reusable water bottles and compact fluorescent lightbulbs, farmers markets and public transit, vegetarianism and secondhand stores are some of the first things that come to mind. But my degree is more than that. It is a reminder that I know about human impacts on the natural world and that this knowledge requires action. In my life post-graduation, though, committing to action and prioritizing these values is more challenging than I ever thought it could be.

I didn’t arrive at university knowing what I would study. Instead, I slipped into my degree after my first year, during which I took courses that weren’t offered in my small-town high school. My parents are very self-sufficient — I often say they have an aversion to grass because their yard is an enormous vegetable garden and orchard — and that influenced me while I was growing up. There are many photographs of my sister and me holding giant zucchinis or helping to make bread. Through my parents, I also became involved with environmental organizations in my community. So at university, after one class in environmental sustainability, I was hooked.

While earning my degree, I lived within walking distance of school and had access to public transportation by simply purchasing an inexpensive bus pass. My university provided free vegan meals for everyone, three times a week, as part of our student fees. I lived close to a grocery store with a bulk section, close to secondhand stores and close to stores that stocked local produce and products. I often had time during the day to travel to neighborhoods with more sustainable options if I couldn’t find what I wanted nearby. But my scholarships gave me financial stability, and I felt comfortable paying a little bit extra for more expensive but still environmentally friendly options nearer to me from time to time.


“Committing to action and prioritizing these values is more challenging than I ever thought it could be.”


Now that I’m no longer in school, I’m faced with new obstacles to maintaining a sustainable lifestyle.

Short-term jobs are the first challenge. While I look for something more permanent and save for graduate school, temporary work is a necessity — work that unfortunately is not always in the environmental sector.

Retail jobs, for example, are associated with consumerism, a complex subject for an environmentalist. If I sell new items every day, my personal energy reductions and waste reductions seem very small in comparison to the new consumption I am fueling. Then again, these products would be sold anyway — if I didn’t have the job, someone else would simply take my place. I have applied for some of these retail jobs, but luckily, so far I have been employed in other sectors.

Having short-term jobs and saving for school also mean that I am faced head-on with the privilege associated with environmentalism. It is a concept I learned about at university: being environmentally friendly is easier if you are wealthy. Certainly reducing my environmental impacts has saved me some money — shopping for used clothing, buying in bulk and walking instead of driving have all helped me hold on to some cash — but often environmentally friendly practices require more time, access and financial resources than I have. This is another challenge.

Now, I live on a tight budget with room only for necessities. I live in a new apartment in a neighborhood where rent is lower and services are fewer than in my old neighbourhood. Considering the less-frequent bus schedules and the time I spend on transit to and from work, I don’t always have time to travel to access better options or even always have the time to cook. And I don’t have money to spend on the more expensive sustainable choices nearby.


“Sometimes I just can’t be as green as I would like to be.”


Sometimes, environmentalism feels like a chore — or altogether out of reach. That really bothers me. I have been taught that I can always do more, that individual impacts matter, and that time and money are not excuses. Everyone can be green. Well, sometimes I just can’t be as green as I would like to be. But I’m coming to terms with that.

My environmental sustainability degree is not a contract. To me it represents a commitment to our planet, but that doesn’t mean I have to struggle to maintain environmental perfection. I am not an Instagram poster child for the zero-waste movement or a vegan YouTuber with many thousands of followers, nor do I want to be (though even they are allowed to face challenges and make mistakes). Instead, I am a person who makes choices every day based on my knowledge and my circumstances. I try my best, and the best I can do now is strive to make personal choices that benefit me, my community and the environment. I can try to learn more and to do more, but at any given moment, I can only use what’s available to me.

For now, I do know that the next time I need groceries, I can create a meal plan so that I don’t buy unnecessary food; I can mend rips in my clothing; I can borrow from the library rather than buying new books. I can celebrate these achievements and recognize that through these actions, I am living my values.

In the future, I hope that I will have more time, access and money — nothing extravagant, but enough of these resources to make it possible for me to further reduce my environmental impacts. But even if I don’t, I can continue to make conscious choices.

No matter what, every day, I’ll be doing something — living what I value as much as possible. This thought calms me.

I will always do what I can.

Caira Clark is a freelance writer and fisheries biologist in Halifax, Nova Scotia.



By Yulia Chan

Beijing is the most beautiful in the fall.

The smog-free days unveil a clear blue sky — a luxury for Chinese people nowadays. With the temperature settling below 30 degrees Celsius (that’s 86 degrees Fahrenheit), you feel the crisp air brush your skin as you ride your bike along the gridded, perfectly perpendicular roads the city was built on.

Beijing in the fall is the sight of harvest coupled with city dwellers going back to their normal routines. Summer holidays for students and the tourist peak season have ended. Whether it’s school or work, the city is rediscovering its inherent rhythm.

Fall in Beijing is the perfect time to remember the city’s strong history; if you ride past the Bell Tower and all the Hutongs (old alleys lined with blocks of walled courtyards that represent the true heartbeat of the city), with many parks the Emperor used to visit alongside, your mind starts to drift and wonder what other imperial beauty this city has to offer.

This is what I was thinking when I posted a photo of the city on Instagram the day I left Beijing, ready to head back to school for my senior year. I woke up at 5 a.m. and biked about 15 kilometers to Jingshan Park to climb to the top of its hill for a magnificent panorama of the capital and to catch a glimpse of the princely roofing of the Forbidden City.

But these were NOT the thoughts I had when I landed in Beijing at the beginning of June, a few months prior, to start my internship at the World Health Organization (WHO).

This was the second time in my six years since leaving Beijing — since my family immigrated to Canada — that I had returned. Landing with plenty of expectations and excitement, the cabin door opened and I stepped off anxious to see the place I had called home for 16 years.


“I forgot how crowded the city was, how fast urbanization took place and about the developments that would inevitably come with it.”


What welcomed me was a heavily polluted Beijing with a metro population of more than 20 million people a sea of automobiles and bikes filling the streets. The cacophony of the honking of cars and ringing of bike bells and engine revving of the increasingly popular mopeds took me awhile to get used to. I forgot how crowded the city was, how fast urbanization took place and about the developments that would inevitably come with it.

I soon met up with a dear friend from junior high I had not seen in six years. He told me that every time he comes back to Beijing from Singapore, where he now lives, to visit friends, he basically has to recalibrate and become “more rude” to fit in and to understand the locals. “Pleases” and “thank yous” are almost entirely omitted in public here, and waiting in line and personal space also seem to be foreign concepts to many.

I too had to recalibrate: It took me about a weekend (which I consider quick compared to some) to get used to prepping for the impending “PM 2.5.” (That’s particulate matter less than 2.5 microns wide, which means these particles seep into your skin. Yes, we are talking about air pollution here ... Scary.)

And readjusting to Beijing didn’t end up being the only challenge of my summer. Work introduced new questions as well.

On June 13, I walked nervously from my house to the WHO Beijing office, where I learned that I would be responsible for researching how China has transitioned from “hygienic cities” (which emphasize only physical cleanliness) to “healthy cities” (which instead emphasize the importance of putting health on the agenda for policy makers, as well as providing a holistic awareness of the social determinants that can contribute to the people’s health) — a noble cause to be sure. And although some might think that my being pre-med and being selected to intern at a UN agency means I have it all figured out, it’s actually quite the opposite.

Between my feelings about Beijing and about this internship (I didn’t love the research), the primary lesson I learned this summer was to be more at peace with my confusions. If you asked me whether I now have my life figured out, the answer would be: Hell no.


“Although some might think that my being pre-med and being selected to intern at a UN agency means I have it all figured out, it’s actually quite the opposite.”


My summer in Beijing exposed me to different people both in and outside of work — people who have had some crazy journeys. From gaining field experience in Somalia with the UN peacekeeping force to mitigating the ill-treatment of women and civilians in conflict zones, working multiple jobs and self-financing life after university to having the courage to take a gap year in the middle of university to learn Chinese in Beijing and reevaluate goals, my new friends certainly weren’t on the straight and narrow. I want to have these adventures too.

I think Beijing has provided me with the opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate my situation — to think outside the box about how I can use my passion for healthcare in different and innovative ways and not let it confine me.

Although I may be more confused than ever and feel like I am being bombarded with the possibilities of so many different routes to take, I do believe in finding the good in everything. Beijing has provided me with the perfect opportunity to re-engage my roots and again analyze my future goals.

It’s confusing and daunting to pick what I want to go into. For some strange reason, society puts this invisible pressure on you to have it all figured out by the end of undergrad, but what does “figured out” even mean? I’m in my last year of my pre-med undergrad degree, and I am probably part of just about 10 percent of my class who are not applying to medical school this year. I have not taken my MCATs and don’t plan on doing it anytime soon.

Do I freak out every time I think about this? Yes. Do I have a mini panic attack when I think about the fact that all of my friends submitted their medical school applications yesterday? Yes. Do I feel like in a way I’m devaluing myself if I don’t apply to medical school? Hell yes. But, for me, there is so much more to the world than “stable” jobs — doctor, lawyer, engineer.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if I took away anything from this summer, apart from the digital detox (thanks to the Chinese government) and being literally on another continent happily disconnecting from my friends for awhile, it’s that feeling overwhelmed is OK.

I know I’m the type of person who will not be satisfied until I find a job that brings me purpose and is meaningful. And it might take me a long time to figure out what this is.

As I meander my way through my last year of undergrad, hopefully not cracking under the pressure or confusion, please think of me, and I will think of you. I know you fellow “Croppers” are out there fighting these same internal battles. Stay strong.

Yulia Chan is in her senior year of pre-med in Kingston, Ontario. She considers herself a third culture kid and probably makes around 400 decisions about food every day (the average a person makes a day is 200).



By Ashley Oleszkowicz

Just three years shy of hitting 30 years old, I often find myself reflecting — sitting back, closing my eyes and thinking about how life doesn’t always go according to plan.

It’s that plan that lives in your mind — only occasionally spoken aloud to family members and maybe some friends — detailing the degree you want to earn, the career in which you want to succeed, the house you want to own, maybe in a small town or with a porch overlooking a lake, and the husband or wife and children you hope to share it all with. We try to create structure and plan out at least the milestones of our journeys, sometimes down to the year or the season or the month.

But who can confidently say they’ve achieved those original goals, met those deadlines and actualized those dreams? I certainly haven’t. And I’m sure many of you can relate.

Instead, we’re living lives we never could have imagined.

I am a 27-year-old woman who holds two college degrees (a bachelor’s in advertising and a master’s in journalism), considers herself professionally successful, enjoys challenging adventures, maintains a healthy lifestyle and has incredible friends and family. But there is something missing.


“Who can confidently say they’ve achieved those original goals, met those deadlines and actualized those dreams? I certainly haven’t.”


Part of MY plan was to get married — I always told myself that I wanted to be engaged by 26 and then have my first child by 28. Today, many of my close friends are already married or in relationships that seem destined for wedding bells. Or at least, it feels that way. My best friend in the entire world is married and currently pregnant with her first child. I couldn’t be happier for her.

But where is my soulmate, my best friend?

☐ ☐ ☐

Throughout my life, I have dated quite a few characters. Some were better to me than others, but the point is, I dated and realized that these people were meant to be a part of my life for just a short amount of time.

Then, a few years ago, I meant this guy who I made “chase” me for a whole year in order to prove his love for me. I was scared. I was 23, thinking that being single was everything I wanted. However when I look back, he was everything I wanted. I was just terrified to accept that feeling inside my stomach, thinking, “This could be the one.” He had just gotten out of a seven-year relationship, and I had recently been in two relationships back-to-back, so first, I felt like I needed some breathing room.

Finally we decided to be exclusive and change that “Single” status to “In a Relationship” on Facebook. We cared deeply for one another, and for a split second, I envisioned this person being the puzzle piece that fit quite perfectly into my plan. We would sit on the couch and laugh and joke and talk about the next phase in our lives. We both wanted to see each other down the aisle, and we discussed the total number of children we wanted to have together; we lived under the same roof; we ate weekly dinners and weekend breakfasts together. To an outsider looking in, we seemed to have a fairytale relationship — one you read about as a child.

But, as time progressed, our love for one another began to disappear.

I was working full-time by day, 40 or more hours a week, and going to graduate school full-time at night, and I just lost sight of who I was. I would come home daily and yell at him — if a cleaning to-do list had not been completed, I would scream, then sit there and watch him cry, even though I knew in my head I was in the wrong.

It is so hard to explain the feeling to someone who hasn’t felt it, but I was depressed — even if you couldn’t tell at face value. And he was my punching bag, which is by far my biggest regret in life. I look back on stressful nights when I had work and school, and would come home after a 13-hour day and throw his nicely prepared dinner and dessert against the wall because I hated life — and myself. He would say all the right things at the perfect time, but it was always in one ear and out the other. I ruined us, and it’s something I have to live with.


“To an outsider looking in, we seemed to have a fairytale relationship.”


The man I thought would watch me walk down the aisle in a pretty beaded white dress was soon gone for good.

I had planned for him to be a part of my life, through the good and the bad, in sickness and in health. Sure, I cried after we broke up — a lot, actually — but eventually it hit me: That guy who chased me, the guy who would pick me up when I walked through the front door after work and hug me until I decided to let go, the guy who I would fall asleep next to, the guy whose face I used to picture 30 years in our future — he was just another person who I was meant to meet on my journey. He would fill a chapter in my life story that I could look back on — something interesting to reread.

After the whole emotional breakup, I did what the average 20-something does: I started to live that single life. I went shopping and binge-watched hopeless romantic films on Sundays. I ate whatever I felt like eating, drank some bottles of wine and a few 7 and 7s, and, of course, gradually got back to dating and met a few people who I wanted to get to know more.

☐ ☐ ☐

I never imagined being single at 27, but I am slowly starting to realize that reality is better than my plan because I am growing. Just because I do not have a flashy diamond ring on my left hand does not mean I have failed. It just means I have more chapters in my story to fill.

I can say that I am a stronger person today because of what I went through a little over a year ago. My schedule continued to stay busy, but I was approaching it with a new perspective — I was putting ME first.

After he left me, I grew in ways I never thought were possible. I had promised to always love him, yet I couldn’t give him the love he deserved because I didn’t love myself.

I have learned to be calmer and to accept that there are some things in life I just can’t control. I have learned to take the bad with the good and still remember that I am worthy. I now know I cannot count on a significant other to be my everything. I have to be my everything.

So what if you are watching many of your peers get married and clicking through their wedding albums on Facebook? That should not burden you. Love yourself, and you’ll find love. Be confident in knowing that there is a person out there who cannot wait to meet you — even if they don’t yet know your name.

Continue planning out your life, but just know that your story will be so much more of an adventure than you bargained for.

Ashley Oleszkowicz grew up in the suburbs of Detroit believing that anything in life can be accomplished by having confidence in yourself and wearing a smile on your face. She enjoys spending time with friends and family, dancing to the sounds of any beat, running marathons and writing in her spare time.



From the Editors:


Happy Halloween, and happy October issue!

Wow, this month was a whirlwind.

For me (Maria), it was defined by travel: I took a trip to Spain with my older sister (which I posted about on Cropped’s Instagram!), headed to New Hampshire for a 5k race I run in annually and attended a work conference in Las Vegas.

Typically I live for travel — there are few things I look forward to more than a trip. But this month I got my fill and am ready to have my feet on the ground for a while.

It feels like travel is in the air, though — no pun intended. So many great Cropped stories have related to travel or living abroad (we have another great one this issue from Yulia Chan), and it’s not hard to understand why.

I once heard a quote about travel that has really stuck with me, from a book called “A Hat Full of Sky.” In it, the author, Terry Pratchett, writes, “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

So here are a few lessons I learned during my travels this month.

From Spain: Travel is so much about who you’re having the experience with. Some of the best moments of our trip were just goofing around during a bike tour of Barcelona, or watching “Saturday Night Live” clips at our hotel in Sevilla. You can’t always plan the best moments of a trip, but you can plan to go with the best company.

From New Hampshire: Kanye West’s “Saint Pablo” is amazing. My friend Sean, who I run the race with, is my ultimate DJ. He made the six-hour drive so much fun. And so many Kanye songs are Cropped appropriate! “Real Friends” spoke to me.

And from Las Vegas: I typically avoid talking to strangers — despite, or maybe because of, being a journalist who talks to strangers every day, but in a more structured conversation! But on my flights to and from Las Vegas for my conference, I relaxed a little bit and spoke to my fellow travelers. They gave me some great travel recommendations and even some professional advice. One guy sitting next to me gave me some ideas for Cropped! You just never know.

Wherever you are in the world, we hope you enjoy this issue of Cropped. And check out what else has been inspiring us this month!

Maria (and Marina)



I cannot get enough of “In the Company of Women” by Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge. Anybody else reading this one? It’s a book of “Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs,” and the diversity of women — in age, race, background, sexual orientation — highlighted in it is amazing. Every time I open the book I find yet another nugget of wisdom to hold on to. This is one I read today, from artist and designer Sarah Neuburger, that I love and seems right up Cropped’s alley: “The world looks so different when we remember we are an energy, not an image.”

Fred Armisen is just the greatest, and I really enjoyed hearing him on the Rolling Stone Music Now podcast earlier this month. He seems like such a genuine dude, and it’s fun to listen to a fellow music nerd discuss their favorites. In the interview, Fred is asked about missing the thrill of performing live on SNL, and he says, “In my life, I try not to miss anything because that’s like going back. It doesn’t really help me. … Missing it would mean I’m not enjoying the intensity of my life now.” I can’t stop thinking about that idea. There is so much I miss in my life right now — places, people, moments. But I’d like to start channeling Fred, appreciating my past and reveling in my present.


Speaking of personal growth and travel, I finally read the novel “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, after several of my friends recommended it to me. I absolutely loved it, and not just because it’s about a woman who strikes out on her own and starts a blog. The book has been described as “self-aware,” and I agree — it’s funny and sharp, while remaining sentimental. Adichie even includes some direct criticism of the way some people use social media. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner is one of my favorite profile writers, and this month she wrote a profile of Kesha for the New York Times Magazine that I’m still thinking about. I don’t want to give too much of it away, but it’s worth your time. We have just no idea what celebrities’ lives are actually like.