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. 

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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.

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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.

 

Too Human

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First it was her legs, poked and prodded

Always something needed to be corrected

Another surgery, rounds of needles

She hated hospitals

“Am I Ok now?”

Onto the next one…

 

Young and blossoming, make-up had to be flawless

“Your hair’s not straight, let me fix it”

Outer beauty was the shield of protection against whispers and words

Of misunderstanding

And she had to be the one to keep it from happening

They saw through it, and they talked anyway

 

A few years later she went off to college

Sheltered and unaware of the culture

She had her independence

That was met with ignorance

Curiosity with eye-rolling

And going out with eye catching

 

It was the first time men seem to find her attractive

Flattering, but a little confusing too

She didn’t try too hard to dress

But the groping and comments never seemed to rest

There were things that they did

A way that people lived

It felt good sometimes

So she figured she’d roll with it

 

Real life came around

With many ups and downs

Most of which were out of her hands

So she did what she did to keep going

She had her body

Not a care that the scale dipped lower

Or that her stomach rumbled from hunger

Tired of being small and backed up against walls

She needed cheap relief and she got it

 

A timeline of sacrifice for perfection

Why is perfection worth seeking

if it means denying and losing who you are?

The church folks implore it’s worth trying for

Few speak against it being worth dying for

And before it was too late

She realized that the worry, obsession, and frustration

Wasn’t worth it anymore

 

This standard of grace is new

Four months in

Beginning again

Setting boundaries instead of casting blame

Walking around with a naked face, unashamed

Sharing her journey, when appropriate

Practicing awareness of feelings

Instead of just sucking it up

She is not a body, but has one

Also a heart, mind, and soul

She refuses to rush the process

Or be guilt-tripped for the sake of someone else’s ego

Surrendering it all to her Creator

She’s soft, yet powerful, like water

And water is part of being human

Some still say she’s too much, and that scares others

But maybe she’ll a little too human

Which not all know what do to with

But for this firecracker, deep-thinker, and people-lover

It’s more than enough

Unconventionally Feeling

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It’s a choice, a destination, and the only “good” emotion within the spectrum. It’s something we pursue not for the sake of enjoying life, but in order to avoid dealing with the realities and complexities that come with it.

Perhaps the concept of happiness has become a total cliche. 

Why can’t you just be happy?

As a young girl, I didn’t know the answer, and still have a hard time with it now . I look back and see the irony, as this kind of question usually came from those who were miserable in their own circumstances or couldn’t deal with their own pain, and therefore put it onto me. But still that one phrase followed me around like the plague, to the point where I started to resent my feelings, emotions, and even my personality for not being able to automatically plaster on a smile.

The fog started to lift as I began my freshman year of college; I had a sense of belonging, a group of friends, and was no longer in the thick of dysfunction. I was fully alive and present to what was happening around me, and I held onto it to where I can still recall most memories. But slowly, the spark began to dim, and I didn’t know why or what it meant. I went to therapy and took time to sort through a hefty amount of baggage, but even after five years of doing so, the heaviness is still there most of the time.

 

It comes in Small Pockets and Waves

Being a writer makes me observant and detail-oriented. I love things like coffee, wine, and pasta. I go on walks a lot, and it’s amazing what thirty minutes to an hour outside (or even just exercising) can really do for me both physically and mentally. There’s nothing like the excitement of a hockey game, or a somewhat long hug where both of us don’t want to let go. I’ve rediscovered the joys of singing to my favorite songs and not thinking too much about how I sound, and if my body feels inclined, I’ll go ahead and dance. Candles are calming, especially while reading books when I feel like yelling, “ME TOO” because the author seems like he or she could be a kindred spirit. I have a sweet tooth the size of Texas and will stop at nothing if I’m craving chocolate or ice cream.

But it’s not just about me; I share memes and funny pictures because I’m hoping it might make the other person laugh the way I did. I’ll send interesting or quirky articles because they remind me of that particular friend, and in a way it’s my way of saying, “I like this about you and I’m glad we have this in common.” I do get a little self-conscious about going overboard, but I’d hope that that person would tell me if they didn’t appreciate it.

Feelings are often momentary, which is why I refuse to wait for reassurance that it’s safe to let myself enjoy something, or wait to see if the other shoe drops. Even if I only have it for a certain amount of time, that’s time I might not get back or have a second chance at.

It might seem unbelievable, mostly because I do these things by myself. Therefore, not everyone sees when I’m in a good mood. But it’s there, and I shouldn’t have to constantly document it in order to prove it.

 

The Darkness Exists

It’s a black cloud that often manifests itself in the form of depression and anxiety. I can’t say if I have either or both and to what extent, but I can sense that they’re there. Whether they’re professionally diagnosed or not, mental health conditions make constantly thinking positive a little bit complicated. I experience what I’ve begun to call “dark moments” that are either triggered by something, usually on social media or loud arguments. Not too long ago, I sat in my bathroom thinking that my friends and family would be better off if I just disappeared out of their lives, or at least didn’t come back for a little while. I felt unwanted. I wondered if I mattered. I nearly convinced myself that I was worthless and unlovable. I wrestled with texting friends that I sensed would understand, but I didn’t want to worry/burden them on a Saturday night while most of them were busy. And I didn’t want to be a bother if it would only last for a night as opposed to a period of days.

We also forget that puberty and hormones play a role, or the fact that life ebbs and flows. It impacts. It changes. And it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to stay the same throughout the years that follow.

 

A Different End Goal

There’s a lot less pressure when it comes to setting a goal to feel good and/or whole, as opposed to reaching a destination based on circumstances or expectations. One is not required to have a sunshine and rainbows persona in order to take care of themselves and ultimately live a healthy life. Rather than looking at the glass as half full or half empty, it’s possible to give thanks that there’s even water in the glass. And you have to do these things for yourself, rather than trying to fit into someone else’s ideal of who you should be or how you should feel. No one should ever have to prove that they are “OK” despite what they have to deal with, nor should they have to prove that their pain and struggle is valid.

But in retrospect, a lot of it has to do with the type of person I am I’m a deep feeler and have a tendency to both cry and laugh pretty often (and easily, might I add). Sometimes I genuinely wish I could switch it off like the rest of the world seems to do, because at least it would be easier to blend in and therefore not seem like a lame duck. I’m told that I’m better off for it, yet am not always sure myself.

Everybody handles their own sense of well-being differently, so I get when those on the other side of the fence become frustrated if someone they care about seems constantly down and out. But rather than asking about why they can’t seem to get it together, ask how you can help them and support them with whatever they’re going through. In my experience, I do get particularly emotional (waterworks and all) when I’ve been holding things in for a long time, and have no idea how to talk about any of it without fear of being judged or condemned. Having a safe space (for lack of a better phrase) or a listening ear is much better than a to-do list of how I should fix myself or the situation.

If nothing else, l want to be free to live in the moment when those good moments are present. For instance, I’m prone to start giggling or smiling at incredibly random times, usually because there’s something that reminds me of another something that happened previously. This is usually in public, like at a grocery store or while I’m out walking, and an (unnamed) family member will jokingly warn me that everyone else probably thinks I’m crazy. That might be true to an extent, but if it helps me to smile and not feel the weight of the world for a little bit, then that’s a small price I have to pay.

Despite the exclusivity, at the heart of things I’m beyond grateful that I allow myself the ability to feel, whether it’s happy or sad. Not everyone can say that, and what’s worse is not all will allow themselves to experience it.

You don’t have to choose between being Tigger and being Eeyore. You can teeter-totter between both, and chances are more people do that than they’re willing to admit.

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Taking Off My Headphones

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With a portable CD player, I often ran out of battery every time we traveled; headsets were the norm, although I remember how they always broke in one way or another. Jumping on the iPod bandwagon in high school, I typically used it on the bus, or sitting on my swing-set for hours as a form of relaxation and escape. I liked that earbuds were becoming popular, but the Apple brand seemed to be the only ones that wouldn’t fall out when I put them on.

In college, I scuffed up my second generation Nano from carrying it around campus so much, and went through several pairs of those tiny speakers because they were either getting worn out or crushed in my backpack. I would honestly just walk to class or work out at the gym like I was in another world, daydreaming about all the things that I wanted to do or whomever I had a crush on at the time. There were a lot of playlists involving John Mayer, Kesha, The Glee soundtrack, and 80’s power ballads.

As my final semester progressed, I started to leave my beloved device at home; I realized how silly I looked wearing a shit-eating grin for no apparent reason, and most likely came across as unintentionally rude when my friends tried to say hello or have a conversation, and I didn’t respond because I couldn’t hear. I accumulated many scrapes and bruises from tripping and falling (i.e. not paying attention), and received the occasional dirty look due to bumping into random people on the sidewalk. Yet I also wanted to take everything in and appreciate all that was Iowa City, because come graduation I wasn’t going to have it anymore.

As I ride a lot of public transportation in order to get around, I choose to challenge myself beyond just being hands-free. I make a point to thank the conductors and bus drivers for making getting from point A to point B as easy as possible. If I’m at a store where there’s a cashier or barista, I’ll ask them how their day is going. The goal is to always take as many opportunities as I can that allow me to engage with the world around me, especially if it’s uncomfortable at first.  And most of the time, it is.

It’s enlightening to say good morning to fellow walkers passing by in the neighborhood, or to give someone a genuine compliment and see just how much it makes them smile. I’ve discovered that meet-cutes still exist, and that you can flirt on the CTA without being a creep.

Yet, it’s just as disheartening when you want to start a conversation, but you don’t want to yell over Bruno Mars or the latest TED talk. Sometimes I’ll notice that nearly everyone around me is staring at a screen, like it’s a shield from all the apps and online games that we’ve seemingly become addicted to. Shortly after the election, I witnessed a situation between two women where one used a racial slur against the other because her baby was being too loud (giggling, not screaming or crying). I was wracked with guilt over not having done more than just tell the shocked young lady to have a good day before getting off at my stop. And it’s tough wanting to be kind, but to not put myself in a potentially dangerous situation when sitting near someone who’s drunk or looks like they’ve been taking some kind of substance.

I’ve been practicing, but I don’t always get it right. As a partial introvert, I understand those who don’t have the energy to make small talk after a long day. For some, their commute is the only alone time they have before going home to a house-full of kids or roommates. If you can’t communicate much during the day, it’s normal to want to return text messages or personal emails as soon as you get the chance. And as it goes, sometimes we just do things out of habit. If you want to change your habits, you have to figure out why you have certain ones in the first place.

When it comes to being in public, my hunch is that it has to do with fear; the fear of giving someone the wrong idea if we give them the slightest bit of attention. The fear of ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fear of being alone with our thoughts, and having to face the possible truths that come with them. These fears are valid, but what good will come of allowing them to dictate how we interact with our surroundings? You can ignore the person making crude/sexual comments about your body, but that’s nothing compared to standing up for your humanity, with dignity. You can get pissed at the person attempting to talk your ear off, or calmly explain that you’ve had a tough day and that you’d like to be left alone.

We can’t backtrack and act like technology doesn’t exist, or wish that it would just disappear. We need to learn to deal with it, to peacefully coexist instead of making it the enemy. You don’t have to completely unplug, but at least start by turning the volume down or wearing one earbud and leaving the other one out. If you’re going from one place to the next, focus on doing something positive (like smiling or holding the door open) rather than just avoiding taking out your phone. It takes baby steps, and at first it feels really weird, like you’re missing a limb or you have this wide open space to contend with. I’m still not entirely used to it, and I find myself mindlessly scrolling from time to time. A lot of it is generational, because I remember what it’s like to grow up without being attached to something at all hours, so that makes it easier to take a break from it.

I want real, face to face connection, and I’m not ashamed to say that I need it. If that makes me an old soul and a lone wolf, so be it. I’m willing to be a leader in order to feed myself.

If You’re Lonely, Read This.

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Why am I lonely?

. I’m no stranger to this feeling, having experienced it for a number of years and still do as I approach my mid-twenties. It’s incredibly human, but unfortunately it’s seen as something to be avoided rather than embraced.

As a child I was pretty comfortable with being by myself. While other kids played tag or wall-ball on the playground, I preferred to simply watch and observe. I wasn’t purposefully trying to be anti-social, but not everyone saw it that way. By the time I hit puberty, solitude no longer felt like a safe haven, but a depressing black hole where that was tough to get out of. I had it in my head that if my social calendar wasn’t booked on the weekends or during the summer, there had to be something wrong with me. Being alone made me question if I was lovable, or if anyone cared if I was around. I had no idea that I just might be an introvert, or that it was possible for my personality to evolve.

Unfortunately, living in a dorm and then an apartment didn’t make it go away, despite being surrounded by my peers and the ability to be physically independent. There was a lot of self-imposed pressure in terms of what I “should have” been doing, and I would get frustrated when it seemed like I was the only one not having the typical college experience. I was tired of watching rather than living, which is why I went out nearly every weekend once I was legally able to. Not only was I making up for lost time, but excessive drinking and dancing was an easy way to connect with people, even if they were strangers. It was a typical phase, so I won’t say that I regret it, but I wish I’d had a better understanding of what I really needed back then.

I’ve been out of that bubble for nearly three years, and the differences in lifestyle and culture have forced me to face several fears and discomforts. I realized that it’s perfectly all right to stay in with a bottle of wine and watch Netflix. Its fine to get sick of being in a crowded bar after an hour or two, or to go home before midnight. And it’s definitely possible to feel alone in groups and in specific relationships, especially if one feels misunderstood. But it’s not just about acknowledging reality, but also realizing that many others (more than we probably know) share in that reality too.

We’re lonely, because the world is lonely.

Communities, countries, and beyond are starving for some real, genuine, and heaven forbid, human connection and interaction.

We’re lonely because we don’t know how to be human anymore.

It’s true that social media is part of that, and that is plays a huge role in mental health. But it goes a lot deeper than just internet fasting or taking breaks or doing our damndest to avoid checking our phones every five minutes. We’re still glorifying busyness and productivity and acting as though anyone who isn’t like us is out to hurt us. We’re plastering smiles on our faces while shielding our tears. And we’re supposedly doing it all without any help.

It makes me sad, and I’m done with that kind of living. I’ve been done for a while

Life becomes an unrecognizable mess when we constantly keep ourselves bottled up, and I’ve experienced this on both sides of the fence. I know of the pain seeing someone hiding in plain sight, desperately wishing that they would quit avoid tough questions and be willing to do the hard things. I also know the pain of hiding, the fears of being found out, and the desperation that manifests itself in physical symptoms like chest tightness and an overactive gag reflex. And part of that relates to wanting to tell the fucking truth.  It doesn’t have to be a no-holds barred confessional; start with acknowledging the truth to yourself, using statements like I am…I feel…I struggle…I want…I need. It’s a form of self-care, and one that keeps resentment from building up in the long run.

When I feel confident enough in the truths I’ve realized about myself (and my life), I then discuss them what are often referred to as Safe People. These are the ones who completely accept my past and present, and walk alongside me so that I can create a bright future. They know when to give me advice and when to just listen. Their focus is being present, and opposed to fixing and rectifying.

What I am now just gathering the courage to do is learning how to interact with those who might not be the safest emotionally; they might not realize it, but they have a tendency to invalidate my feelings and experiences, invoking shame instead of empathy. I don’t engage for the sake of understanding or support, but because it teaches me how to be myself, regardless of the situation. It helps me not to depend on a reaction, because realistically I have nothing to lose. The boundaries are still there, but I’m cowering or hiding anymore.

I accept being a work in progress, that I’ll never quite get “there” and know everything. I’ve gotten to the point where I stifle every time someone mentions that I should “work” on myself, because I imagine retreating into a shell again and doing so out of fear rather than the desire to rest. I understand taking a step back and resting every so often, but does that have to include disengaging with the world around me? Whenever I took that route, it had less to do with being healthy and more so with trying to be perfect.

Real healing comes from help, and help comes from wanting to heal. When I was in college, I wouldn’t have started the journey without the encouragement and support and my best friends. I wouldn’t have been willing to face some hard truths (and grown from them) had I not been called out by those that knew me best. I would not have the motivation to become a better person without positive and real examples to look up to, and for opportunities to learn from others and learn with them. Three years later, I can still recall when a beautiful soul looked me in the face and said, “Let yourself be loved, right where you’re at, and exactly as you are.”

It takes a lot of time and a lot of patience. Post-grad communities can be murky and confusing because no one is in the exact same place or season anymore, and none of them will be like the ones you had in college, high school, or even childhood.  You might have to take the lead for a little while in terms of making plans and actually making an effort and that gets a little frustrating. In those moments, remember that many are living under the assumption that this is the way the world is and that there’s little anyone can do about it. If you have the courage to get up and get out there, you’re already doing a lot better than you think you are.

Somewhere, there is at least one person who wants the same things that you do.

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Reclaiming Courage in a Fearful World

 

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“You’re a hard worker and you’re not afraid to show up to the challenges you have to face,” said the teacher, motioning to boot on my foot that I had to wear after having foot surgery. “That takes courage.”

I was a senior in high school, and that was the first time anyone had affirmed me like that. I’d been used to living life actively looking for caution tape, or reasons not to do things; don’t swim where you can’t touch the bottom because it’s over your head and you’re going to sink. Don’t cross the street alone because you can’t always see the cars coming, nor can they see you. Don’t go out for the track or basketball team because it’s going to be too hard. Don’t…

For from the age of ten up until my early twenties, my brain was a sponge: I absorbed and observed everything, allowing the voices and thoughts around me to become the voices in my head. One voice in particular told me that people would like me if I projected a certain image and acted a certain way. I was an impressionable teenager, but I also carried a grown-ups know best mentality. It would take years to realize that they was speaking from their own insecurities, and sadly, projecting them onto me.

There was a bit of subconscious shift when I decided to go to Iowa, and that continued through my college years. I slowly began to open myself up to the possibilities that came with vulnerability, sharing my story of living with Cerebral Palsy, and what I wanted despite my supposed limitations. I went into therapy a little over a year later because I was tired of being bogged down by depression and anxiety. And after giving myself enough time to process what had happened, I began to speak up regarding my experiences with sexual harassment and assault. Back then I really didn’t believe I was being brave, mostly because I was shaking on the inside. I was scared of not only being rejected, but feeling responsible for that rejection. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. It became a formula of Say this. Do that. Calculate. Overthink. And repeat.

I’ve redefined the word over the years as I’ve gone through different phases and transitions. There has been a lot of debate in the public sphere over such a word, where different groups get pitted against one another and ignorance has come out in full force. I’d like to think that courage is not a singular definition, but a collection:

Courage is not without fear, but putting fear into perspective. If I wasn’t somewhat afraid to do something, than I would always take opportunities for granted.

Courage is being myself, along with speaking up when someone tries to convince me that I’m not enough.

Courage is pursuing something because I want to, rather than justifying whether or not I deserve it.

Courage is an act of surrender; not giving up entirely, but giving the need to have complete control over the outcome. Show up and show them who you are, and the rest will take care of itself.

Yet we forget that we cannot live these practices out loud without the help of others. I love Brene Brown and Glennon Doyle Melton for pioneering the fact that if you’re out there and getting your ass kicked, then you’re doing something right. I love it when people are messy and unafraid to invite others into their mess. It’s much easier to connect and relate to someone who’s willing to admit that they don’t have it all together, and that they can’t do it alone.

Oh, but heartbreak! No one actually wants to get hurt, but what other choice is there? It’s one thing when a certain path has taken you down rabbit hole, or if a person has already shown that they’re not good for you. But when you’re just basing what might or might not happen on what the world says, then of course it’s going to be painful. Yet I’ve found that pain is not a sign of foolishness, but a sign of a well-lived life. I would rather experience pain in the deep end than joy because I stayed in the shallow end.

It’s not easy, but I’ve found that a good starting point is naming whatever is currently making me feel insecure and/or afraid. When I name them, be it in a face-to-face conversation, writing in a journal, or writing a letter that I’ll never send, it gives them a lot less negativity and power. There are times where I hate sharing the details with anybody because I don’t want to take them on a roller-coaster ride, nor do I want numerous differing opinions clouding my thought process. I prefer to have at least one or two people in my corner who will let me get stuff on my chest, and then I usually receive clarity on my own.

It can seem like a fluffy and sugary platitude, one thing to discuss and something else entirely to live out. We’re all human here, and we all have stories that are often times complex and take time to come to terms with. I made the mistake of believing that courage was constant, a quick fix that enabled me to do whatever I set my mind to. And then when it didn’t work, I’d be tempted to close myself off because I felt like a failure.

Courage ebbs and flows. You take a risk, take a stand, and when you get knocked down, you allow yourself to feel the pain. Ultimately, you get back up. Keep dreaming. Keep chasing. Keeping going. And remember, there are many paths to one destination.

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What If I Don’t Want to Guard My Heart Anymore?

Whether you grew up in the church or spent the majority of your teen years in a youth group, you were probably told that your heart was “deceitful” (Jer. 17:9), but that you should “guard” it, because “everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). I mostly heard it in relation to how to navigate the already confusing landscape of dating, particularly when I fell in love for the first time when I was only thirteen.

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Yet that responsibility was also being imparted to me (in a non-religious way) before I walked through the sanctuary doors. I learned to subconsciously believe that being liked and accepted meant that I had to present myself in a certain way. That I shouldn’t allow anyone to see my complex or emotional side until we had known each other for a while. And if I wanted to be loved, I needed to put on a happy face.

I tried to act in a way that was safe and comfortable, but was put off by the concept of friendship (and perhaps more) becoming a revolving door that people would walk in and out of. It was a cycle of hoping, overanalyzing, and then closing myself off. Deep down, all I really want was to get to know others and be known, but I couldn’t tell the difference between what was healthy and unhealthy. I carried it with me from junior high through college, and even today I’m still shaking it off.

But it’s not just about what we learn from our upbringing; unfortunately, we live in a culture that constantly warns us against the dangers of taking risks and getting too close. From relationships to careers to fulfilling our lifelong dreams, it’s all about doing whatever we have to do in order to avoid pain.

Nearly everything these days is saturated in fear. In some respects it’s completely understandable, but when it comes to personal interaction, it’s getting kind of ridiculous. There’s no formula that guarantees love and acceptance after opening up to someone. And because we’re all flawed human beings here, we’re all going to get hurt at some point. But there’s a difference between pain that results from our own impulsive or bad decisions, and pain because we knew what we were getting into and the other person did not show up.

As my own convictions and beliefs have been reshaped through the years, I’m beginning to see that taking “guard your heart” so literally is actually more harmful than it is helpful. It gave me the false idea that I had more control in relationships, and that if I went about it so carefully, I could in turn make people care about me without taking too big of a chance. It led me to believe that I was responsible for others’ emotional reactions and making sure that they didn’t disappear as I peeled back the layers. I glorified self-protection, and eventually became self-reliant. What I thought would bring me closer to God actually took me away from Him, and I regret what I missed out on as a result.

On the contrary, I don’t propose blindly following feelings and emotions either: you can want something so desperately that you can’t stop thinking about it, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Treating your heart like a runaway train is just as dangerous as treating it like a caged animal that has to be under lock and key. If God created us with this thing that is essentially the center of our bodies and physically keeps us alive, then it can’t be all that terrible; it just needs a little guidance.

I’m entering into a new season, and one that involves a lot of vulnerability and taking leaps of faith. I don’t want to guard my heart anymore as much as I want to guide it. The process itself is for another post, but it really comes down to getting real with God about everything, and being grateful for new opportunities, regardless if they’re just for today or for a lifetime. It’s a matter of trusting Him completely, rather than relying on my own limited understanding of what’s happening at the moment (Proverbs 3:5-6). And it’s experiencing the peace that comes from gratitude and surrender, allowing that to act as a protector rather than trying to do it all myself (Phil. 4:6-8).

Discernment is important, but I refuse to resort to legalistic measures, hoping that God will somehow bless me if I follow some silly formula or outdated process. It’s entirely possible to proceed with caution and listen to your instincts while still enjoying the journey of exploring something new and putting yourself out there. When I don’t do that, I miss out on the joys of learning, growing, and perhaps even healing. Yes, that is the real tragedy in putting up walls; it’s a refusal to have faith that He is in the business of healing and miracles, even those that come from pain, suffering, and re-piecing a broken heart back together.

I’m not going to tell you to not get hurt, because a painless existence is not of God. The truth should set you free, but it shouldn’t hold you back and keep you hidden either. Pay attention, but remember that experiences are meant to be treasured, not dictated.

And remember this: You’re going to be OK.

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The Right Motivation

It’s something that has run through my veins since before I was even born; something that was drilled into my brain enough times where I still remember various conversations down to obscure details. Today it has almost become just about as glorified as being busy, being productive, and a host of other concepts that seem to put us on the road to success. Yet between my own experiences and what I’ve heard from a number of so called experts, I wonder if it’s becoming another washed up buzzword that is used without knowing what it means.

Is it entirely black and white, or is there another way?

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For many of us, myself included, the phrase that immediately comes to mind is “tough love.” For those that were raised on it, it can spark a flame, but the fire burns out quickly and easily. It’s a repetitive, it’s powerful, and it’s also a language that’s very difficult to understand if you’re incredibly sensitive. We know that we need to get our act together, that pity parties don’t help, and that we need to change if we want to be liked and appreciated. But why? Why does it matter if our efforts merely result in being torn down by our peers in the form of gossip and name-calling, because apparently we’re trying too hard to fit in?

We try to convince ourselves that every pep talk and every piece of advice is genuine, and that ultimately our elders want what’s best for us. Yet eventually the voices of love become worse than the adults in Charlie Brown cartoons who you can hear but barely understand. They become voices of shame, disappointment, and frustration. We are simultaneously too much and not enough.

What looks like thick skin is actually just shoving everything down until we’re completely alone, even though somewhere someone can hear us. We’re angry and guarded but we don’t really know why. The depression sets in, which leads to venturing to dark places we’d never thought we’d go in order to cope. We age and mature, and we’re opened up to the beauty of being vulnerable, but the patterns are hard to break. We’ve spent years believing that love is conditional, and that somehow we’re responsible for how others perceive us. We keep it together until we can’t, and then apologize profusely for rocking the boat or causing discomfort. Heaven forbid anyone talk about real life because it’s the truth, particularly after you graduate college and should be able to handle it. .

We end up resenting those who mean well, but try to help us in a way that we flat out don’t know how to respond to.

And then slowly we realize that it was all about pleasing other people. We were trying too damn hard, but we did it because it’s what we knew. The anger stemmed from desperately wanting validation and not getting it from either side (peers and parents); we didn’t realize that we needed to be OK with ourselves and didn’t need permission from anyone. We were depressed because we couldn’t be honest, whether it involved our feelings or just being the person we wanted to be. Later on, we bit back against professional expectations because we were beating the crap out of ourselves already and we were scared to death of getting what we wanted, only to have it taken away.

We had the fuel in us, but we were adding it to the wrong fire.

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It’s been said that I have a story to tell; one that can encourage people to make something of themselves, regardless of what challenges they face. For a while I’ve hesitated because I didn’t want to make anyone feel as though they were less than or didn’t measure up. And what right do I have telling anyone how to walk when I haven’t walked in their shoes?

It really comes down to one thing: our stories are enough.

For those of us that speak, we can do so and allow the listeners to take whatever they want to take from it. It might make a wave or just a ripple, but we shouldn’t need proof of the effect in order to use our voices for something good.

For those of us that want to mentor on a more personal level, we can do so without looking down on anyone. Rather than make assumptions, we can make the time and effort to ask questions, especially in regards to young people: what are your goals? What are you most afraid of? What do you want out of life?

Imagine what we could do when we make an effort to learn about someone.

Imagine the possibilities of conversation with the intention to learn from them, as opposed to the intention to argue or convince.

Seek to understand as much as you seek to be understood. Strive to see each generation as individuals rather than a clump of stereotypes.

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By nature, I am an observer. I started crawling because I wanted to see my newborn baby brother, and I began to walk when he started walking. I experience more drive, passion, and motivation from watching my favorite sports teams than I do listening to a speech or pep talk. I do what I do because I choose to, and not ultimately because I’m demanded to.

The best motivators are the ones that lead by example; who create a space free of judgement, where people can share their deepest dreams and desires. They’re willing to hear stories instead of solve problems. They’re worth admiring because they can be themselves, and in turn they allow others to be human as well.

God needs people to do the small things as much as He needs people to do the big things.

And whatever you do, do it with love. With faith. And knowing that you have something to give, rather than something to prove.

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What Your Twenties REALLY Mean

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She had come to give a presentation for the “Last Lecture” series during Iowa’s Senior Week. With a month or so left before I graduated college, I was anxious for the change and transition ahead. Listening to her speak was like talking to a like-minded friend; apparently I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to Carpe Diem or base my decisions off of “you only live once.” Her belief that your twenties are a defining decade, setting the foundation for years to come, resonated with me. The actual book was both insightful and refreshing.

Reading it was one thing, but living it out was an entirely different story. As I applied for jobs and made a genuine effort to meet people, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was on a race against time. It had less to do with Meg Jay’s Millennial-based philosophy, and more so with the horrifying tragedies that seemed to occur on a daily basis. Do I really have enough time? What if it all ends before I actually accomplish something? I was told that it was normal to struggle, but the urge to do more and to be better still lingered.

My personality and interests were also changing and evolving, and I wondered if I was turning into an old lady who didn’t know how to have fun anymore. My alcohol tolerance was going down, and I could barely fathom the idea of staying up past midnight for a consecutive amount of time. I longed for a partner, and to be surrounded by those who let me be as serious or as silly as I wanted to be. These were natural desires that related to growing up, but I needed confidence to understand it.

An enlightening conversation led me to watching Meg’s TedTalk, having forgotten the majority of her previous presentation. She frequently discusses women’s fertility and marriage, and insinuates that females are less desirable after the age of thirty. She can spell out what young people should be doing, as though there’s a type of concrete formula that bridges certainty with success. I could see how her ideas would not bode well with some, and leave others in confusion.

But what if it’s not about having to choose between prolonged adolescence and responsibility? What if our twenties were the starting platform of merely being intentional with our dreams and decisions, rather than just taking it to one extreme or another?

Sure, you’ll still stumble around and make mistakes, and things might not happen when you want them to. But there’s a difference between exploring/pursuing, and trying to conform to some BS culturally infused identity because either you’re scared or you don’t know what you want.

Whether you’re a young one or a few decades in, adulthood is always going to involve adjusting to both the messy and the beautiful. It’s the time to learn about who you are and fully embrace it, even if that means setting an example and being a leader for the people around you. You’re no longer living in this ridiculous, unrealistic bubble that surrounded you in high school, and maybe even college. Every path is different, too complex and layered to have a singular “classic” experience.

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The thorn of it is that nearly everyone is going to try to give you advice. Age might make a person wise, but it does not always make a person right. With social media, comparison is almost unavoidable, especially in regards to careers and personal relationships. The internet is one big smorgasbord of opinions, and if you ‘re not careful they’ll drive you crazy. You’ll feel like you’re in a tug of war, like you have to choose one side or the other.

But you don’t; you can be proactive without an insane amount of pressure. You can have fun and be curious, while still setting boundaries. You can spend part of the night at a bar with your friends, and then go home and watch Netflix in your pajamas. You can be romantic and realistic. And you can go through changes on the outside, but still be exactly who you are on the inside. Anyone who says otherwise is probably insecure or has an extremely narrow view on life.

Maybe you’re comfortable with who you are, and self-doubt still persists. Maybe tuning out the noise seems exhausting, and you can appreciate the occasional affirmation once in a while. It’s not about being ignorant of the fact that you’re human, but rather keeping it all in perspective.

At some point you have to ask, why am I doing this and who am I doing it for? If your answer doesn’t involve you or God, than you need to take a step back and figure out why.

The “Glory Days” exist because someone was willing to put a vision into action and make the most of the opportunities they were given. It’s not about age; you experience different things at different times because of maturity (or lack of it), surroundings, and recognizing what you can’t control and what I can’t. I was a bit of a late bloomer in certain areas, and I understand now that it’s because I wasn’t ready. Yet I’m grateful that I took risks and chose to be vulnerable, because it’s better to discover that something isn’t right than to wonder I have regrets and wish I had gone about it differently, but if I got everything I ever wanted at one time, I would probably take it for granted.

Forget the list of cliche things you should do before you’re twenty-five or thirty. Traveling, marriage, independence, cultivating habits, and so on are great, but don’t make it about a checklist. Focus on experience, and making every experience count.

It can be overwhelming and frustrating, knowing that you have time but not necessarily all the resources or ability to do what you want.  I can’t predict where my own path will lead, but I do know that I intend not to waste any of it; and in hindsight, when you have the right attitude and surround yourself with good people, you never waste anything at all.

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Re-Thinking "Getting Hurt"







It seems to have become a rallying cry of a generation, or perhaps just a rallying cry overall. We use it as a rebuttal for a million different situations, but none the more polarizing then when it comes to avoiding deep and meaningful relationships:
“….But I don’t want to get hurt!”

My initial reaction is, “ Well, who actually does?”

 It’s natural to be a little bit cautious, and the world would be a disaster if we weren’t.  Yet the more I hear it, the more it comes across as an excuse as opposed to a valid concern. Do some truly want to avoid unnecessary hurt, or do they want the benefits without taking risk or responsibility?

The fact is, no one on this earth is immune to pain; at some point you’ll either experience it in one (or several) ways:

Going into something and knowing that it’s probably a bad idea, but doing it anyway.

Getting blindsided when things are going really well.

Understanding the risks, and taking things as they come. It might turn out well and it might not, and that’s OK.

The question is, what are you willing to live with?

Yes, boundaries are important, but there is a huge difference between setting boundaries and setting up an obstacle course. It’s baffling as to why some tout having been hurt in the past, yet turn around and hurt others by lying, cheating, or manipulating in order to get what they want. Maybe it’s due to a lack of confidence, not knowing how to communicate, or wanting to be in control of another person.

Then there are those who know they’re in a dysfunctional situation, but are unsure how to get out. Not only was I one of them, but I watched a friend put herself through the wringer for the sake of a complete idiot who wanted to take more than give. It’s often a battle of either trying to prove that you don’t care at all or that their personal well-being is a top priority. You either put up a wall to see how far someone will go, or you will try like hell to break it down.

It’s an exhausting push and pull, and one that unfortunately is considered normal all across the age spectrum.

I get that none of us is perfect; we’re all scared, we’re all lonely, and we don’t want to go through heartbreak.  But we’ve become so terrified that we confuse necessary limits and self-protection with numbing real needs and feelings. There’s no black and white, clear-cut formula, and it could very well depend on the person and kind of relationship you’re in. It’s practically a given to believe that if men did this and women did that, we’d all be a lot better off. In a way that might be true, but we can only control our own choices and actions.
I’ve begun to wonder if it is less about what we do with the possibility of pain, and more about the perspective we have on it. Instead of saying “I’m going to make sure that this doesn’t happen,” we say, “I’m going to have the best experience possible, regardless of the outcome.” This can have a lot of different meanings, which is why it’s difficult to put into practice. One can assume that physical gratification is the best experience, but eventually they’ll get hit with the realization that it’s only prolonging the hurt, not eradicating it. Others might see it as diving headfirst into a new relationship, wanting to just relax and be in the moment.  How do you let yourself be happy with what’s right in front of you, while still acknowledging the possibility that it might not be what you envision to be? Is there such a thing as proceeding with caution without purely waiting for the other shoe to drop?

One day at a time, sweetheart. Breathe and have faith.

Naming and vocalizing fear, especially a specific fear, gives it less power. My best friend once told me that she and her significant other are brutally honest about their fears and insecurities all the time, regardless of how silly it sounds. There’s something to be said for that kind of vulnerability; not just in romantic relationships, but with others as well. We all need people who are willing to speak truth and accountability into our lives, even when we aren’t ready to hear it. I’m now just becoming comfortable with opening up about what I am most afraid of: that I will not be enough in the eyes of my person, and that walk away from what we have without talking to me about it first. It has happened before, each time where I believed I was at fault for causing them to run, though deep down I knew otherwise. Everyone has a choice in terms of how they handle discomfort or frustration, and it’s ultimately their choice in terms of whether or not they’ll act like an adult.

I never want anyone to promise me that they won’t hurt me, and I wouldn’t promise that in turn, even if it was unintentional. Instead, I prefer a mutual promise that we’ll both take responsibility for our choices, regardless of how difficult it is. Say it, own it, and then work through it.

If it does end, the thorn of it all is believing that the pain is only temporary, that you can somehow move on and put yourself back together. I’ve been through enough where I understand that this is possible; granted I might not completely get over it, but I’ll still get through it. And if I surrender the broken pieces, allowing myself time and space for an honest reflection on what happened, I usually do heal from it. And by real healing, I mean without rebounds or hook-ups.

 At my junior high and high school youth groups, we teenagers were often told to “guard our hearts,” and that avoiding dating equaled less heartache. In theory it seems like a good idea, but whenever I’ve tried to follow a full-proof formula for anything, I end up forgetting to trust God in the process. It doesn’t mean preparing myself for negative impact from the get-go, but by trusting my instincts and seeking Him before all else, that it will still be something that I can learn or grow from; it will not be a waste of time or energy.

This is all very much a thought process, one that I’m allowing to evolve and re-shape as time goes on. It’s messy, indefinite, like puzzle pieces still scattered and I have yet to come up with a method of putting them together. I’m still in the midst of walking through a bit of haze, where I just got out of something that has more questions than answers. It’s OK to take a step back, to re-evaluate, and wait until you’re ready.

 And perhaps the first step is simply acknowledging that pain is not a problem to be solved, but an inevitable experience.