Intentions and Direction

I’ve never been one to make concrete “resolutions” per se, a wistful, yet gargantuan to-do list that seems easy to dream up, but difficult to keep. Over the past several years I’ve discovered the concept of setting intentions, which relies on the balance of discipline and grace rather than depending on the happy-go-lucky feeling of a New Year carrying one through the next twelve months. It doesn’t have to involve a timeline, and can evolve and reshape itself in whatever way helps you to grow. 

 

Start Small

I initially started out with a no-holds-barred journal entry of all that envisioned for the coming year. After splitting it all up into categories (Mental Health, Physical Health, Spirituality, and Creativity) I noticed that a lot of the changes I wanted to make involved regular habits. I thrive when I have a routine, and developing a solid rhythm  makes goal-setting both manageable and realistic. These habits include waking up early (6 a.m. during the week and 9 a.m. weekends), daily exercise and stretching, taking vitamins and medication, and making time to both read and write. While starting early doesn’t always guarantee productivity, it’s better to at least try than risk having to play catch up and foregoing basic needs (i.e. eating breakfast). I’ve learned multiple times over that an evening routine is just as important as what I do in the morning. 

 

Write It Down

And not only in the first few pages of a brand new journal. Set reminders in your phone. Put sticky notes in places where can you actually see them. Buy a planner (a first for me since college!)  Make your to-do list based on what will push you forward, rather than something to just cross off. But nothing will ever be accomplished if all you do is let something live inside your head. When I see it, it’s more like that I’ll follow through with it. 

 

Find Accountability

There is usually at least one person who is thinking along the same lines as you, whether they aim to be more disciplined in a certain area or you need a buddy to help take the scariness out of trying something new. Good therapists can help you get to the heart of why you’re putting something off (Writing essays are often terrifying; not so much due to the topic, but because of the possible heavy feelings/emotions that can and do follow). Ultimately, a healthy network, community, etc helps me to see the things that I often can’t see in myself, and reminds me to keep going when I simply don’t want to. 

 

I don’t remember where exactly, but a short time ago I came across a post that portrayed intentions, resolutions, and so on as a false sense of trying to have control over all aspects of our lives. I scoffed in response, but it stuck with me to an extent, reminding me of how busyness is often displayed as a badge of honor. Don’t forget to leave room for the unexpected, the magic that happens when you’re not planning things down to a science (especially if they involve deep conversations and laughter). If it seems like you’re doing something for the sake of pleasing others more than honoring yourself, it’s perfectly okay to pause and take a step back. And if you change your mind? There’s absolutely no shame in that either. What matters is that you walk with presence, in purpose, and to stay open to all possibilities. 

 

Here’s to a new year, and a new decade; Happy 2020!

The Weight of Heartbreak

“Hey Alyx, do you have a few minutes?”

“Sure, is everything OK…?”

We entered the conference room normally reserved for meetings. I saw a box of tissues and a water bottle, which brought on heart palpitations, an immediate sign that everything was not okay. 

“We’re so sorry to have to do this…” “We didn’t plan this, but after [previous manager] left…” “This has nothing to do with who you are as a person or an employee…”

All the curse words. I was being let go. 

The HR manager, bless her, was doing everything she possibly could to comfort me during the circumstances, but it couldn’t stop the questions and confusion. I had been on a trial period and no one had said anything about my employment status or work habits once it ended. A number of people had told me to not be the one to broach the subject, and to assume that I was safe. 

But a lot of things had happened that were out of my control, and there was nothing I could do but to accept the decision gracefully. I actually worked through the end of the week, trying to finish up the tasks that I’d started, but more so taking time to thank my coworkers for making that particular experience what it was. The culture was a big part of the reason why I appreciated both the role and the firm, and if there was one thing that I could find peace in, it was that I never took a day there for granted. 

Yet I hated the fact that it was over, and I dreaded the possibility of having yet again disappointed my family. I spent a few days processing the news before sharing it with my parents, choosing to focus on taking care of myself both physically and emotionally. Any sudden/unexpected change is a huge trigger for me to sink into a depression, nearly to the point where I don’t care what happens or how it affects my health. Eat. Shower. Wear something besides sweats. 

It was still a lot to wrap my head around, and a polar vortex gave me an excuse to hunker down and grieve. It was pointed out to me that maybe I was getting too comfortable, and that I might have been creatively stunted had I stayed there by choice. There’s a lot I could say about having the privilege to do what you love, but that’s for another time. It would ultimately be a while before I could go past the office building without getting salty all over again. The organization had been right for me, but I hadn’t been right for them. 

A couple of weeks later, shortly before Valentine’s Day, I met Ben.

 Not his real name, but the combination of the two celebrities he closely resembles. 

I’ll admit that we moved quickly, bonding over similar family backgrounds, personalities, and hockey. Within a month we were acting like a couple, albeit we never talked about dating exclusively or establishing a formal relationship. It was the first time where I felt like I didn’t have to be a guy’s mother or a therapist; he was physically attractive (while respecting the physical boundaries I set), had a good head on his shoulders, and insisted on paying for everything where money was involved. As we continued to spend time together, I could picture us meeting each other’s families, and allowed myself to explore the possibility of being together long-term. 

March turned into April, the first week marking his birthday. We hadn’t talked in a few days, which made me uneasy, but I tried to act like it wasn’t a big deal when anyone asked why. 

Happy Birthday! I’m grateful for you. He never responded to that text, or answered his phone when I tried to call him. It was silence from that point on.

And that’s never a good sign.

I knew from previous conversations that his uncle had been struggling with health-related issues and was in and out of the hospital. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but part of me knew what took me a week to acknowledge: he didn’t want to be with me, and would rather disappear out of nowhere than tell me himself. 

Aside from the fact that it happened, the toughest part about being ghosted (in any situation) is fighting the urge to take full responsibility.  Figuratively speaking, I had to sit on my hands in order to keep myself from overanalyzing our final conversations or searching his social profiles for answers. The initial shock turned to anger, then the desire to close myself off emotionally from men of a certain age. I wrote Ben a  letter (the kind that’s better off burned), opting to read it out loud to my therapist as opposed to hitting “send.” It was as comforting as comforting could be without explanation, and the process of moving on turned out to be far better than I could imagine. 

Though I didn’t want to admit it in the moment, there were things about him that gave me pause. Things, I figured, that would eventually sort themselves out or come up naturally in conversation. It definitely didn’t help that we stopped getting to know each other after the third or fourth date; we talked, but neither one of us asked questions or tried to learn about the other person. It’s hard to do when you spend the majority of an evening cuddling and/or watching TV, and you don’t want to ruin the moment because by bringing up a tough subject. There’s nothing wrong with low key date nights in, and it takes time to learn how to be vulnerable with each other. But when you’re doing that all the time to the point where it stalls any progression, what then?

I’m not sure if there’s anything I could have done differently, or that deeper conversations would have led to a different outcome. After being removed from the relationship for some time, I realized that I liked the stability of our relationship more than I liked him, and I probably would have clung to that, far longer than necessary. 

But I still cared, and  it still hurt, and as I write this I still have fears and potential what-if’s that I’m trying to address. 

I need a man who has a good head on his shoulders, where we can grow both independently and together. 

A man who can empathize and show compassion, and at least recognize that family dynamics are often complicated, and that I’m doing the best I can to navigate it.

A man who prioritizes working on himself, and doesn’t depend on me to fix or make him whole.

It has me thinking a lot about expectations. I’ve been told quite a bit that I can’t expect people to cater to my feelings, but when ending a relationship (and how one goes about it), I get the sense that there’s a slight difference.

Breaking up well (i.e. communicating honestly and gently that either you don’t see things going anywhere or you’re not ready/on the same page) has to do with being a decent human being. It’s respecting the other person, despite your feelings and/or reality not being the same as theirs. And it’s about taking responsibility, rather than putting the entire weight of the relationship on the other.

It would be wrong for me to expect a guy to promise not to leave me (especially when rings and vows are not involved). But expecting honest communication seems pretty basic.

And if the guy disappears, I should not expect an apology. I should not expect that which hurts me is going to heal me. I should not expect my future partner to do all of the healing work for me, or to make him feel responsible for a situation that he had nothing to do with. I should not expect “closure” in the form of chasing after an explanation that I realistically don’t need, because if a guy doesn’t want me that’s all I need to know.

As heavy as it has been, I don’t carry any bitterness what happened or how it played out. I know that God gives and takes away, and despite my lack of understanding, I know that He is still good. I’ve had a lot of opportunities in this particular season of my life, and I’ve learned how to genuinely enjoy being single while still being open to a romantic relationship. I still have moments [of wishing the circumstances were different] but at the end of the day, all I can do is keep going and trust that what’s meant for me will be just that.

And I refuse to let my hurt define my worth.

When You Get Nervous

It was a Sunday summer evening
Been a few since I wore the dress
I could hear a loud noise beating as I rested my head
I asked if all was okay
As he kissed my hair so softly
Told me I was a sight of beauty
And that’s what made his heart go so fast

Flattered, but lost for words
Knowing my thoughts were similar
But wanting to feel protected, rather than a carry a savior complex

The road from seed to flower can be complicated
Zigging, zagging, and maybe riding off the rails
And God only knows what the other side entails.

But here, in this moment, I know it’s not easy

Your past, and present fears speaking loudly

When you’re nervous, think of strength
Your arms that will hold
Another body, and that same heart

When you’re scared, think of risk
Risk lies in our deepest dreams and desires
Given to us by One that is Higher
Success, security, and the fiercest of love.

Love’s worthiness is not determined by reciprocation or rejection
But the willingness to live a noteworthy life.

When you look at me, all nerves and racing hearts and fears
I hope you’ll remember the love that is already in you
The love that carried you here
And may that guide you to seek me and pursue me
Knowing that what is given, can also be taken away
To be present, pursue, and serve with purpose
Bold, brave, and beautiful
This moment
And every day

When You Turn Twenty-One

The weather was not in favor of any kind of celebration; a few days prior a blizzard had hit, and now temperatures had plummeted to subzero conditions. 

“I’m still going,” I told my friends adamantly, refusing to let anything disrupt what at the time felt monumental. “Bundle up, take a cab, it’ll be fine. I’m not worried.” Mom had texted me earlier, an unspoken understanding of just how significant this birthday was. I put my makeup on, did my hair, and anxiously waited for one month to transition to the next. 

Midnight. It was time. 

///

I chuckle at how a number can make you feel like you’re on top of the world with nothing to lose. Invincible, almost. And while it was a completely different era compared to the one I’m in now, it feels as if it was a lifetime ago. My cousin and baby sister only recently celebrated the big day,  and while their college experiences have been different than mine, I still carry a kind of maternal wisdom when I think back to seven years ago. 

 

Don’t Take It For Granted

Regardless of where you go or what you study, this is a time in your life that you’re not going to get back once you graduate. I won’t advocate for the extreme, but at least allow yourself to enjoy some of the perks that come with being of legal age. That could range from checking out the local music scene, to beer and wine tastings, or trying your hand at a casino (once was enough for me to cross it off my bucket list). Going out almost every weekend probably wasn’t the most realistic or healthy thing to do, but I can’t say that I regret it. I was an independent person and had come from a very sheltered social scene before college, so I wanted to experience different things as often as I could. Sometimes that meant going alone and hoping I could join up with people later, and sometimes that meant staying sober if I was going to be alone. And when it was all over, when I moved from Iowa City for that last time, I could hold onto the gratitude of having one helluva four year-ride.

 

Be Aware

There’s a dark underbelly to the drinking culture, especially on campus. What can start out as a way to let loose after a week of classes, papers, and exams can easily turn into unhealthy ways to cope with both stress and pain. My junior year was filled with a lot of firsts, and many of them involved grief and loss. Right after my birthday, I formally ended a relationship that I held onto for several years. Some time after that, my parents started the divorce process. And then over the summer, a friend from high school unexpectedly passed away. I didn’t drink to numb the pain, but I had already developed a habit of using alcohol as a way to try to turn sad or angry feelings into happy ones (spoiler: it doesn’t work). I saw it as a way to feel connected to my friends and even acquaintances, because a lot of them couldn’t understand what I was going through at the time. And I was afraid of making people uncomfortable, even though my closest friends stepped up to support me. Fuzzy memories, kissing strangers, it’s all fun to a point. I knew where the line was, but I was afraid of getting bored or becoming a hermit if I truly backed away from it. And despite the expressed concerns and worries, I didn’t truly try to make any changes until long afterward. 

 

Allow Yourself To Evolve

For most people, there comes a time when binge drinking and bar-hopping until closing time just isn’t as fun anymore. If they aren’t already, priorities such as work, paying bills, and having enough energy will come into play. Whatever the reason, know that your changing interests and values is not only normal, but responsible. We all have to outgrow certain things and grow up, and if not the matters of life and health will force us to. 

Living in eating disorder recovery has definitely changed my relationship with alcohol. This could be another post in itself, but it’s very easy to engage in various ED-related behaviors and claim that the liquor was the culprit (or use it in place of engaging with those behaviors). Dealing with a hangover  often leads to sleeping in late, and doing so throws of my entire day in terms of when I eat and how much I eat because I’m essentially playing catch-up. 

I’ve also witnessed the effects of alcoholism up close, starting from mildly embarrassing to downright terrifying. Dating and loving someone who struggles with addiction is anything but romantic, and it sucks to tell them that you can’t be around them when they’re drunk because of what happened the last time, or even with the last guy. And I can only speak from my experiences as a woman, but it’s infuriating to be told that, “Well maybe if you had only been sober, maybe he wouldn’t have done that.” 

Some will tell you that you don’t know how to party anymore, or exclude you from social functions because of the way your experiences have shaped your thinking. But that’s on them, and you don’t owe anyone justification or explanation regarding do what’s best for you.

///

These days I consider myself an introverted extrovert, where I enjoy going out and being social, but also need some amount of alone time to recharge. One of the things I love about venturing about in Chicago is that there is such a variety of things to do, as opposed to being stuck between going to a bar or just staying home and watching TV. When I do go out, I typically turn back into a pumpkin by midnight, unless something or someone gives me enough motivation to stay awake. 

I’m not a prohibitionist by any means; my ideal night in often involves a glass of wine and a fireplace, and I’ll never turn down a margarita or a mojito. But I’m also not comfortable with how society inserts booze into the likes of every-day activities, from beer yoga to the concept of holding a cocktail in one hand and a baby in the other. Are we in that much pain where we have to include getting buzzed as part of the daily routine? 

Life is a balance of ebb and flow, but also involves being more intentional (especially as you get older). You’ll never have it entirely figured out, but that also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the work either. 

Yes, the bubble eventually pops. But from where I’m standing, that hasn’t been a bad thing.

 

The Summer Of…

The sun was shining, the air was warming up again, and I was eager to get out. Not to say that I wasn’t doing that already, but I wanted to experience what many in the city called hashtag Summertime Chi (or at least the parts of it that were for pure joy and not only for the sake of looking good on Instagram). Boats, rooftop parties, and white claws aren’t bad in and of themselves, but I didn’t want to be in a bubble. 

And out of the bubble I got. 

Networking Events. Open Mics (one which I performed at). Comedy Shows. Outdoor Movies. Concerts. And I had no shame in just going to a bar or restaurant completely by myself, so if I wasn’t meeting friends, I had no problem making them. My favorite occasion was when I was waiting for a seat to open up at a well-known football spot, and got to talking with both a Green Bay Packers fan, as well as another who was rooting for the Minnesota Vikings. It turns out that not only did they attend the same University and were part of the same fraternity (albeit different generations), but the older one knew the younger one’s Dad from when they had attended college together. 

You’re a ray of sunshine in a dark basement! One of the oddest compliments I’ve ever received, yet incredibly sweet and genuine. I was grateful that I went against my initial urge to leave and go home, as what usually happens when the anxious part of me starts wondering if the people around me think I’m weird. 

But it got me thinking about the beauty of organic, face-to-face human interaction. That was a repeating theme of the conversation taking place that day. People are incredibly afraid to approach and get to know one another, due to feeling like anyone who does must have an agenda. We hem and haw over how to merely say hello or introduce ourselves without coming across as awkward, or heaven forbid, creepy, thinking that we have some control over the outcome by doing/saying the right things at the right time.

Having been in unsafe situations (particularly with men), I wouldn’t say that I’m naive to what can and does happen when engaging with strangers. Not everyone has the best of intentions, and I cannot overemphasize how important it is to pay attention and trust your instincts. I’m fortunate to have cultivated a strong intuition, and that additionally allows me to read social cues and respond accordingly. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your own company in public, and it’s perfectly okay to do things simply because you want to. 

After regaling one of my earlier adventures involving a meet-cute at the train station,  I was asked if I was “out of my mind.” I get defensive when anyone questions my extroversion and romanticism with the guise of not wanting me to be disappointed or hurt, especially if they’re aware of just how stuck in my shell I was during high school and college. One of my biggest regrets is over analyzing most situations, to the point where I felt like I couldn’t fully connect or be seen for who I was. Thankfully there was grace and understanding in terms of those relationships, but I wish I hadn’t carried all that weight around. It wasn’t my responsibility then, and it certainly isn’t now. 

So yes, I’m out of my head, and that’s a good thing. I have to live my life on a different level than most people, and the reality is that sometimes even’t my closest friends and family can’t understand it.

I’m still learning, but here’s what I know right now:

Rejection and disappointment hurt, but they are not the end of the world. 

Love your present more than you hate your past. 

Focus on the experience, not the outcome.

When You Want To Be Ordinary

“Do you want to know why I bop around the city so much?” I asked him one day. 

“Why?” 

“I could be wrong, but I feel like there’s this whole thing about how twenty-somethings should be traveling and seeing the world as much as possible, and more so be willing to do that by themselves. For me, I can barely get through an airport without needing some kind of help, and being alone in a foreign country for an extensive amount of time seems scary and dangerous (especially since I have a physical handicap). By adventuring in Chicago, or even other cities around the country, I have that freedom to experience and try new things while still having that sense of safety and comfort of home.” 

///

It started during my junior year of college, where I began to wonder if I was giving as much as I was taking. 

After graduation, during a conversation with my primary care doctor, he told me that I needed to be an “example” for other adults with disabilities, and show them that there was more to life than just playing video games and living off supplemental income. It left a bad taste in my mouth, as most primary care doctors do when they act like they know what they’re talking about. 

And now as I’m job hunting and simultaneously reevaluating what direction I want to take my life in, that question continues to plague me: Am I doing enough? Am I living up to my potential? Am I fulfilling my purpose/calling? 

And while these questions are worth asking, the answer is much more complex than just ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ These questions are a symptom of our busyness-is-a-badge-of-honor culture. As a woman with Cerebral Palsy, it stems from realizing that those with disabilities are either pitied or put on a pedestal, and the latter becomes the subject of inspiration porn/objectification. And that’s what scares me about doing The Big Things, such as writing a book, speaking in public, and/or becoming a full-blown internet celebrity: I’m terrified of losing my humanity, and becoming a stationary fountain of wisdom in the process. 

It doesn’t happen to everyone, but most people that I’ve seen slaying and hustling and making shit happen all at once  are also suffering on the inside: they’re physically and emotionally exhausted and they have to practically go off the grid in order to recharge. This is what marketing is. This is what making a living is. And if you want to make an impact, this is the kind of sacrifice you have to make. 

I call bs. Not because I have all of the answers, but because that type of rhetoric comes from listening to a cacophony of popular opinion as opposed to actively listening to individual experiences and one’s intuition. 

And while I’m still learning, this is what I know now: 

What you are capable of doing matters. You do not have to defy the odds all the time, or ever if you really don’t want to. You do not have to kick ass for the sake of making anyone feel better about themselves or more comfortable with your situation, especially if they’re able-bodied. Embracing what’s true for you does not equal mediocrity, but maturity. 

You are allowed to set boundaries, and you are allowed to have fun. Whether it’s shutting down your phone/computer at a certain time, or saying, “I support you, but I’m not qualified to treat you or heal you,” limits are absolutely necessary. I’m a huge advocate for discussing mental health and a host of other topics, but I also need play time and pleasure. It’s part of why I often send my people memes as much as I send inspirational quotes.  It’s part of why I enjoy watching Disney movies and reading People Magazine on a weekly basis. There is a lot more light to life than just listening to podcasts/sermons and reading self-help books. Especially if you experience brain overload or vulnerability hangovers quite easily. 

‘Living Your Best Life’ DOES NOT make you better than anyone else. You wanna be the next sexy, glamorous, entrepreneur? Godspeed my friend, and more power to you. But you are not superior to those that choose a trade school over a traditional university, or are doing what they have to do in order to support themselves It’s not always possible or practical for people to pursue something just because they’re passionate about it, and your passion might not be the thing that provides a paycheck. God needs those who are willing to do the every-day as much as He needs those who do the once in a lifetime. Your worth does not depend on how you contribute to the economy, or whether or not you contribute at all. And if you feel the need to preach about doing things, ‘like everyone else’ please check your damn privilege. 

Life is filled with a rhythm of rest and movement, and one that many overlook because they’re worried about living up to old, outdated expectations. It’s entirely possible for self-love and self-improvement to coexist, without the supposed need to choose one or the other. And just because you take a particular path for the time being does not mean you can’t ever change direction, change your mind, or just stop and be for a bit. Comparison is not only the joy, but the thief of everything that matters. 

I’m all for finding treasures in this world, but I’m also one for exploring my own backyard. 

Some call that backyard a jungle, I call it a playground.

Where some see loneliness, I see freedom and opportunity. 

Writing. Public Speaking. Advocating. Creating.

Maybe it’s unconventional, but I’m just doing my thing with great love. 

Perhaps it’s just a season, or maybe more. I do what I can, and let God take care of the rest.

IMG_5489

(photo by Rachel Loewen Photography)

Thank An Artist

No one told me to go to business school
But they raised their eyes all the same
Sitting down, telling stories of a far away place
Holding onto ideas like precious gems
//
Writing and playing
Dancing and painting
Picture an uneven life
Without the promise of money or being known
Exposing your soul
Sometimes more than once
Speaking in a tongue only some can understand
//
Art
In all it’s mediums and interpretations
A second voice
An outlet for intense emotion
A puzzle for that which we can only try to grasp
Expression of experience
And desire
//
It teaches you how to feel
To fall in love
To fight for what matters
And find your way back
When you hit the bottom
Talk about it
Weep for it
Celebrating all that life is
The good, bad, and incredibly ugly
//
Chords, colors, words alike
No one is niave to their power and movement
Yet some of us run and rage against it
While others savor the sweetness
//
Like it or not, we need it
So before you tease, or complain, or point fingers
Remember all that is that has moved you
That keeps your sanity
That fosters connection and builds bridges
That saves and sustains
That heals
//
Thank an artist
For what you don’t have the guts to do
For bleeding when they can hide
For giving their time to their heart and mind
Expecting little to nothing in return
//
Except to show and be who they are
Colorful, breathtaking, and always evolving

Love Alive

Raised on boybands and princesses
Nothing was messy
The 90’s was where it was at
A writer and a wordsmith
Telling stories on end
Hell, I made volleyball sound romantic
A first kiss in a bar
Relationships became a rollercoaster
Now what do you say about that?
//
The life raft
The mirror
The runaway
The free spirit
The Rock
They all gave me something so beautiful
And it hurt just the same
How do I risk enduring it again and again
//
Role models are few
Formulas are cheap
But walls aren’t worth it
And love runs deep
//
Looking to the horizon
Having faith that all works together
But how does one allow whole hearted togetherness
When pain and memories prickle
Like needles to the skin
//
Art has a purpose
Imagination is limitless
The possibilities full of wonder and romance
A balance of realism and whimsy
The music we sing and dance to
The stories we hear
The way we root for others
And the way we hold each other
//
But it’s choosing and trying
Again and again
It’s declaration followed by action
Not despite imperfection, but because of
Scars and beauty marks
Here for it all, baby
Every moment
Gratitude
//
There is wisdom, and there is noise
Pain does not have to become cynicism
It’s hard to grow from bitter thoughts
That are not without value, but not worth blood
//
Believe in meetcutes and meeting halfway
Passion and compromises
Slow dances and running together
Flowers and basic needs
Arguments and fighting for what’s right and real
Over and over
Now until kingdom come

Why Mental Health Is About More Than Just Self-Care

If you’re struggling, reach out. There is help. There is hope. [insert number for crisis text line]

I’ve seen this kind of message shared in droves over the last couple of years, and admittedly I used to do so whenever I would hear of a prominent celebrity passing away. The intentions are good, but the wording reeks of privilege and implies that society should only do the bare minimum in order to address a widespread crisis. The reality is that verbally disclosing that kind of struggle, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or any kind of mental illness, as not as simple as most PSA’s imply. It’s hard when you’re directly in the midst of a dark moment/season, one that is so emotionally paralyzing that you can’t find the words to articulate what you’re going through. It’s hard when you don’t know how someone will react, and telling them could possibly hurt the relationship and make you feel even smaller than you already do. And it’s hard when you don’t want to be a burden or an inconvenience, and then have it held against you later on.

I read and hear a lot about self-care, and the fluffiness behind it all. Yet, I feel like we should be doing more: we need to take care of each other too.

But how do we do that in a world prides itself in individualism and a “do it yourself” mentality?

How do we do that when everyone seems to keep score of who reaches out to whom, and then holds a grudge if you go a long time without talking?

It starts with one question: How are you today?

If the person says that they’re struggling, you could ask the following: What do you need? How can I support you?

Maybe they need to just get out of the prison that is their own head. Maybe they need to get something off their chest so that it has less power. Maybe they just need to be affirmed that it’s okay to not be okay all the time. Maybe they need help, and have no idea what help looks like or how to get it.

The important thing is to simply hold space, for whatever it is in that moment; no problem solving or preaching about being positive.  Do not assume that they want or need advice unless explicitly asked. Yes, it is unbelievably difficult to see someone in pain. It might seem impossible to listen to anybody try to explain the intensity of their experiences without wanting to run or cover our ears. But it’s not about you, or your comfort. This is about demonstrating love in action through empathy and allowing people to just be who they are, where they are.

Village Care, as I’ve come to call it, doesn’t only have to involve sharing and being vulnerable. It could be offering to help find a therapist or treatment program, driving people to and from appointments, or offering to babysit if they have kids. When I was going to a support group for my eating disorder, I very much appreciated when family members or friends would go with me. It showed me that they wanted to learn about what I was dealing with, and how they could love me and walk with me in my recovery.

Having been both the listener and the talker, there should always be boundaries. I do not keep my phone on at night unless specifically asked, and I don’t have the energy to keep my DM’s open all the time. A child, regardless of age, should not have to play a role bigger than themselves in their parents’ crumbling marriage. In dating relationships, a significant other should not pay the price or be the solution to their boyfriend/girlfriend’s previous relational pain. If a loved one knows they need professional help, yet continues to expect you to act as such instead of seeking it, it’s okay to draw a line. I care about you and I support you, but this is beyond what I’m able to do for you. Can I help you find someone more qualified?

Setting boundaries might feel like abandonment at first, but no relationship is worth compromising your emotional and physical health over. You’re not leaving them as much as you’re recognizing that you cannot save them, and they have to do their part too.

And sometimes, there are seasons where we just don’t have the energy or stamina to be there for someone in the way that we’d like to. It might be too painful, too triggering, and end up setting us back in our own journey. There is absolutely no shame in that, but the response should always be with love and compassion.

Lord knows I have failed at empathy many times, and I am still learning. It is never too late to learn how to do something, especially if what you learn might help save someone’s life.

We say that we are not alone, and I believe that. But it’s about time we stop saying it to merely pay lip service, and start making an effort to make it a reality.

Be Brave enough to go first. Set your pride, ego, or whatever it is aside and go to them. And then keep checking in.

You are wanted and you are needed. Probably more than you know.

When Your Squad Scatters

It was the summer of 2014, and by late July I was saying goodbye to life at the University of Iowa. I was terrified of the unknown, and it was honestly one of the hardest things I had to do at the time. Not only had I found my independence, but for the first time in my entire life, I felt like I had made some of the best friends that I’ve ever had. I hated leaving them, and what’s more, I didn’t like the idea of starting all over again. But life would go on whether I liked or not, and I could either figure out how to move forward or allow myself to be paralyzed by a number of fears that I have when it comes to relationships (both platonic and romantic).

Nearly five years later, I’m finding that there isn’t exactly a full-proof way to make new friends and keep existing friendships going. But it does take a lot of intention, patience, and loosening my grip on the ideals that have been ingrained in me since childhood.

 Be Open and Be Grateful

The fact that anything can happen post-grad is both overwhelming, yet full of so much opportunity. Many people end up in new corners of the world, or they go back to their hometowns in order to regroup and save money. Some are lucky enough to reconnect with friends from high school or even further back, but most likely are not going to be surrounded by peers within a particular age bracket. It’s completely normal to meet and spend time with those who are younger, older, and completely across the board as far as seasons and backgrounds go. Whether you join a church, a meetup, or stumble across a Facebook event, it’s about showing up and being consistent. It might be just a season, or it might be the beginning of something incredible.

Unfortunately, time doesn’t always keep us in the same place (especially in your twenties). Life can feel like a revolving door of people coming in and out, creating a lot of anxiety and wondering if it’s realistic to allow ourselves to relax and get comfortable. The best thing I’ve learned is to not take seasons or people for granted: be present when you’re around them, and put your phone away unless you really need it. Ask questions and make an effort to genuinely listen. Take pictures, even if they’re not worthy of posting. It’s not going to protect you from the pain if and when that time does come to an end, but it helps when you know you made the most of it.

Create New Traditions

This is a lot easier said than done, especially when you live in different states and have bills to pay. But we should always make room in our lives for things we want to do, as opposed to merely what’s necessary for survival. Whether you meet up one day a year for a football game at your alma matter, or pick a weekend to celebrate a birthday or two, put it on the calendar and go. It doesn’t even have to huge or expensive; it might just involve meeting up with someone on a weekly basis for coffee, or catching up over the phone. But adulthood does not wait for those who merely wait for the weekend before making commitments.

Give Some Grace

I cringe whenever I see a passive aggressive quote involving communication and keeping score. People already have so much to keep up with, along with trying to manage their physical and emotional health in the process. I’m learning that equal give and take, while ideal, is not exactly black and white (especially when mental illness is involved). We need to stop being so harsh each other and declaring that someone is cut off just because they haven’t texted or called in a while, although I’m aware that it’s a slightly different story in regards to dating and romance. I love to encourage and lift people up, and I’d rather have them know that I’m thinking of them, rather than hold a grudge over a lack of response. We might only talk every so often, but that doesn’t mean we love and care for each other any less.

It’s not always personal, and we need to stop vilifying others when we’re the ones who refuse to accept them as they are.

Enjoy Your Own Company

The majority of us have been conditioned to be social and eager to be in groups at all times. Much of my college experience involved having a variety of friends with all kinds of interests, and the dreaded fear of missing out had me constantly on the go in one way or another. I had it in my head that physically being by myself meant that something was wrong with me, and other than drinking my coffee in the morning, I was always uncomfortable with the concept.

Whether you’re brand new, or your friends or all in different places, you will confront that head on, and it’s ultimately up to you to deal with it. I’ve learned to be perfectly okay with a Friday or Saturday night filled with Netflix and my favorite food. I love going on walks for an hour or two at a time. And I definitely wouldn’t grow and evolve if didn’t carve out time to pray, journal, and read. I haven’t quite worked up the courage to go to restaurants or concerts by myself yet, and the former I’ve only done before or after an interview and I know I need food.

Love and Let Go

This has always been the hardest part for me. I’ve naturally grown apart from friends over the years due to distance, different interests, or just being in different seasons. But it’s another story all together when I haven’t been able to see it coming, and the only way to cope with that kind of change is to blame myself. A couple of years ago, I noticed that one of my really close friends had stopped responding to me checking in with her, and eventually she told me that she needed space. It was like a gut-punch, because we had never experienced any conflict up until that point, and she had always been kind-hearted and inclusive in the times we spent together during undergrad. I was on the tail-end of a very dark season, where from November of 2016 to March of 2017, I was the lowest I had ever been with my eating disorder, and was also trying to deal with a relationship where I was in way over my head. I had never felt so insecure and impulsive, and unfortunately I projected that onto other people that I cared about.

But sometimes life just happens, and there are things that we’ll never understand. When I love, I love deeply, and sometimes that gets mixed up with holding onto seasons or relationships too tightly. I’m not going to get overly angry or curse someone out merely for being honest about what they can and can’t handle. I don’t have the energy to be visibly pissed off, even if I have the right to. I believe in setting boundaries, but I do not believe in building walls. I often ask God to take care of such people in the ways that I cannot, and trust that He will do the rest.

Perhaps it’s unrealistic to have everyone be in your life, or at least certain aspects of it. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t hold them in your heart. Some will go in, and some will go out; but the ones who are meant to be there will always be standing in the doorway.

Friendship is a kaleidoscope of the ever-changing, one that can either bring out the best in us, or the worst. I often wonder if Facebook and Instagram didn’t exist, would we be really all that concerned about the size of our circles? The answer is both a riddle and a masterpiece, a wrestling match between how we think our lives should go and reality.

When you miss someone, send them love and give thanks. When you’re searching for someone, always try your best to be that kind of someone to others. It’s not a competition, or even a race. Life is always abundant, and what you have now is there for a reason. Savor it. Learn from it. And keep going.