Life Lately

It’s midsummer, and I’m taking a respite in the vintage wood-paneled basement so that I’m not exposed to the frequent heat/air conditioner dynamic. My lady lair, as I call it, one of two places where I can recharge and focus without interruption. It’s hard to believe how fast this season has gone, but I suppose it’s natural to feel that way when you’ve been making up for lost time in terms of social outings and get-togethers. In a weird way, I miss the extended periods of rest without the guilt (or wondering what I could be doing that would be considered productive). I try to take at least one day a week to get creative or just let myself be, even if I don’t get fully dressed or only get out of bed to eat and drink coffee.

After being fully vaccinated, I was eager and ready to move forward. I started a new job, and was simultaneously starting to do physical therapy (because pap smears, using menstrual products, and physical intimacy should never be associated with searing pain, regardless of what anyone says). I was finally tackling and making progress in important areas of my life, which was empowering and boosted my confidence as an adult and a woman. One step forward…

…And maybe one or two steps back.

It happened out of nowhere, and initially I thought it was just the typical muscle strain. But I knew something was off when it seemed as if my entire body could barely hold itself up. I was losing my balance and falling in random places, and could barely carry a cup of coffee at times. And then there were the aches, present throughout the day but would especially flare up at night. Not painful per say, but more annoying than anything. I have, and still continue to experience it in my arms, fingers, heels, elbows, as well as my legs. I wondered if it was just a symptom of trauma showing up in physical form from the pandemic, which is why it took time for me to make an appointment with my doctor. That, and I was afraid of being given a list of things that I couldn’t do anymore. 

After an extensive blood test, the results didn’t come up with any serious diseases (which I’m grateful for), and I have an appointment with a specialist next month. I suspect I know what it is based on some research I’ve done, though I’ve tried to avoid Googling anything in order to avoid unecessary anxiety. I’ve been told that I’m just looking for trouble, but I’m only trying to be proactive. There isn’t a whole lot out there about nutrition and health in adults with CP, and I’m in a unique situation where I’ve been physically active and healthy for most of my life. One of my biggest fears is losing my independence; there’s still a lot I want to do, and that includes living on my own, and having a partner (and possibly children). But ultimately I want to show up and be part of the full experience, whether that’s part of my personal life or my career. 

Come what may, I’ll figure it out and adjust accordingly. I always do. 

But I do want to feel good in my body again (which I haven’t felt since I was training for a 5K race in college). Coping with all of all of these things (pelvic pain, achy muscles/joints, etc) can be a very isolating experience. Pelvic pain in particular is something that not a lot of women talk about, and not a lot of professionals in the medical field know about. I continuously fight off the whole “am I enough over here?” and fight through when a lack of empathy tries to tell me that I’m not. I refuse to let any of this change who I am fundamentally, and I refuse to let anyone deter me from what I want to accomplish. In terms of support, I do appreciate people asking about updates and being checked in on. But if nothing else, it’s nice to be reminded that I’m not dealing with these things alone.

One day at a time, one foot in front of the other.

Unpacking (Another Kind of) Weight

When an anchor feels like a sinker
And you can’t seem to ride the wave
Insecurities, overthinking
Creating a ball and chain
Do this
Be that
What the world doesn’t take it account
That it takes two to make a mess or a miracle
And it’s not on you to have it all figured out

Let go of the blame
Reframe the shame
What’s meant for you is yours
Consider it a victory that you showed up
Being nothing but yourself
It’s heavy, that’s clear
Embrace the tears
But remember one thing for sure
You’re not meant to carry the weight of the world
And sure as hell not all of yours

Another rejection, another hurt
What the blank happened and why
Reasons are complex and layered
Don’t run in circles trying to justify
Take and step back and keep your feet flat
The sun will rise again

Remember that you are loved, valued, and wanted
Even when people try to tell you otherwise
You do not need everyone to see you or understand you
Though acceptance is enough when understanding isn’t always possible

Get out of your head and into your heart
Blank spaces will be filled when they’re meant to
Focus on the truth of who you are
What you were made for
Use your energy wisely
And don’t let ever changing culture dictate your heart or your eyes

Inside

Off like a rocket it went

A brother dodging danger

A brief relief with a birthday and the beach

But when spring began it’s usual bloom

The warning signs began to blare

A virus, novel and like no other

From one corner of the world to the next

//

“Stay inside” reverberated some

While a so-called president twiddled his thumbs

Playing it off like a failed casino bet

Omission of truth, for who’s sake?

Declared a pandemic, despite the questioning and ignoring of common sense

Daily news briefs were almost too much to bear

Anxiety, chest pains, and lack of appetite by day

Depression descended as evening fell

//

“Routine, Productivity, Positivity!”

My body responding differently

I didn’t want comfort as much as I wanted personal connection

To physically feel common threads

My extroverted self a little lost in the hubbub

Afraid of losing the confidence I’d gained in the last year

//

So I stayed inside

Detesting “new normal”

Preferring currently reality

Though the unknowns loomed larger 

Than dormancy

A reprieve through walks and sunshine

Access to the water

Mom started a new chapter

The city came alive again

//

Behind closed doors

The desire to walk through fire

To support those who were struggling

To keep living, keep going

They needed me, and I needed them

Late nights

Deep conversations

Protective, patient, and learning how to hold space

Finding different ways

To carry them however I could

Capped by a reunion

A long time coming

//

And then the second wave

Predictable at one point

But could have been avoided

By collective responsibility and respect

The plea to stay inside again

Saved by the grace of changing colors and important milestones

I relished the tv specials

The snuggling up to read, watch, and just be

Real rest, without fear of missing out

My work in progress for as long as I can remember

//

But the fatigue is real

Body aches with unknown origins

Colder weather?

Lack of usual activity?

A response to stress?

//

Yet the most challenging aspect

Was not the confinement of four walls

But the confinement of thoughts inside my mind

Swirling around like storms

To reach out or give space?

To tell the truth, or pretend I’m ok?

Are you ok? Are we ok?

To ask for what I want/need

Or hold it in for as long as possible

//

Distraction could only do so much

When the healthy distractions weren’t always available

Overthinking, deeply feeling

Jealousy, more questions than answers

My prayers feeling dry and without heart

Sitting in the tension

I’m still learning

//

And as the calendar turns again

Cautiously Optimistic comes to mind

With new leadership

New possibilities

Changing seasons

A new year

//

I dream of music and dancing again

Lots of people

Opportunities for living

Being in nature

Assertive

Growing Confidence

Expression

Thriving

Roaring

When You Need A Little Extra Help

I wrote this as I was holding space for someone whom I’m care about very much. This kind of decision should not be made lightly, and should always involve professional evaluation and input. I wrote this based on my own personal experience, and ask that it do not be taken as gospel.

I take a little pill each day
And I was scared at first.
Would it change my personality?
Would it make things even worse?
I had a lot of questions, which were answered with patience and care.
Follow the instructions
Pay attention to your mood and feelings
And then take it from there.

So I took that little pill each day
And it took a couple of weeks.
Over time I noticed that there was a change
But a change involving good things.
I wasn’t crying as much anymore
And the chest pains went away.
I had the headspace that felt lighter and brighter
And the motivation to go about my day.
Some people say I mellowed out
“You’re not as bubbly as you used to be!”
My friend, it’s called the typical stresses of adulthood
Hormones and PMSing.

Haven’t you heard of puberty?

It’s not always magic and instantaneous
I still have to do the work.
Reframing anxious thoughts and coping with uncertainty
But I stay off the edge, for what it’s worth.

It can take some trial and error
Many options, and not all have the same purpose or results.
But it’s better to try and try again
Then to strive for mental wellness
And yet do nothing at all.

What works for me, may not work for you
That’s entirely okay.
But if you’re not a doctor or professional
Please be careful with what you say.
Some people need that little pill, but avoid it due to fear.
Fear of stigma
Fear of criticism
Wanting to be superhuman in the eyes of strangers
But especially to those they most hold dear.

It’s not a lack of faith
Or a desire to numb out.
I’d rather not get stuck inside the prison that is my head at times.
To be able to connect and build relationships.
To seek and experience joy
Is what life is all about!

So if you need that little pill
There’s nothing wrong with you!
Human beings have complexities
Who need a little help, that much is true.

I think it’s brave
I think it’s wise
And who is anyone to judge?
If you take a little pill
You have my support and love!

Resilience (In The Age of Dumpster Fires)

One could say that I’m an embodiment of it. .

Resilience, before I could even comprehend it.

And yet, trying to harness it in 2020 feels like a joke. For most of us anyway. 

Cliche? Kind of. Overrated? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely, yes. 

It feels weird to say this, but in a way it’s almost as if the pain from previous years has prepared me for this one. 

What Hurt You Isn’t Going to Heal You. 

My early twenties were full of anger and angst, mostly regarding transitions where I felt neither protected nor validated. There was some resurfacing of past trauma, and then retraumatization all over again. I spent a lot of time stuck in my head, which brought on intense loneliness and fear of abandonment.

I thought I needed an apology to move forward, and pursued it with reckless desperation. I longed for a kind of nurturing and assurance that I wasn’t going to get from those around me, and it would be a while before I learned how to set boundaries and have reasonable expectations. 

A few months ago, an ex (whom I’ve referred to as Ben) tried to come back into my life. While grateful to finally have answers, his explanation regarding the circumstances didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t want to be with someone who attributed a serious situation to bad luck, rather than taking responsibility for his actions. It was emotional, bringing up a lot of what I had already closed the door on over a year ago. I had to mourn the end of that relationship all over again, and for what? 

My point is, apologies for causing pain aren’t always the balm we think they are. They have to come from a genuine place of contrition, rather than manipulation or lip service. But to demand or wait for one is almost always going to hold you back, rather than push you forward.

There Is Room For Both. 

It’s becoming one of my favorite sayings, especially when it comes to dealing with feelings versus logic, or many all at once. Anger, sadness, frustration, and the like can equally coexist with relief and hope for the future. You’re allowed to acknowledge hurt and pain, while recognizing that everyone involved was doing the best they could with what they knew at the time. 

I can remember a sit down conversation that was a long time coming, and afterward my mind went blank. It was partially due to emotional exhaustion, but additionally I wasn’t sure how to feel. At the time, it seemed like I had to be completely at peace in order to put the situation in perspective. And then as I was sharing it afterward, somebody whom I admire and trust dropped a truthbomb.

“You don’t have to decide anything; feelings come and go, and what’s more important is how you deal with them.”

It was life-changing, and I wish I had grasped it sooner.

Reframing Helps.

Moving forward is tricky, especially in regards to when and how to do it. Ruminating on anything takes a lot of energy, and eventually I get tired of being pissed off or upset. Yet, it seems like the modern-day definition of letting go is to do so and never talk about it again, let alone think about it. But what if there was a better way? 

A different viewpoint does go the distance. The things that happen to you might actually  be happening for you. A relationship that ends is painful, but it can also be a freedom or a catalyst for much needed change. Job loss doesn’t mean that you’re not enough, or that you’re not cut out for your field. What might be right in one respect could turn out to be wrong in another. 

Life happens in seasons, and not all can be there to walk with you through each one of them. It means you’re growing and evolving, and that is more than okay. 

How I carry on often comes down to these two questions: What do I have control over, and what do I not? Occasionally it’s what other choice do I have? I’ve had my heart broken, and despite the passage of time, am still triggered by a song, a place, or an event. The bitterness and sadness resurfaces, where the best thing I can do is acknowledge it and then let it be.

However, there are definitely exceptions: I will never tell a parent who outlives their child how to grieve, and vice versa. There are no silver linings when it comes to abuse and/or assault, and putting that on survivors is a slap in the face. Yes, there is healing, but that and the tragedy should be treated as separate circumstances. 

Practice Real Self-Care.

It sounds like a fluffy little buzzword, but taking care of yourself is a combination of doing the work and also seeking out joy. I’m an advocate for taking time to reflect through therapy and writing, seeing what role I played in a situation and what I’ve learned from it. Books and podcasts are like an extension of that, but in the sense of soaking in and meditating on it. As human beings, we should always be striving to grow and improve ourselves, even when it’s incredibly difficult. I don’t like realizing that I’ve hurt people, or most likely I contribute to a problem. But the work never hurts as bad as the wound itself. 

Like working any muscle, you have to allow yourself time and opportunity to rest. Go for a walk. Blast your favorite music and throw a dance party. Eat your favorite foods. Dress up merely for the sake of doing so. What makes you feel alive is just as important as crossing things off your to-do list. Whatever you do out of love and enjoyment is never a waste of time.

Staying grounded, particularly on a spiritual level, is important to me. I’m learning to turn off the news and put my phone down, even at the risk of missing out. While necessary to be informed, it doesn’t help if I’m in a constant state of anxiety and distress.

As I write this, I’m experiencing what is now being called pandemic fatigue. I understand the need to follow the guidelines, but from a mental standpoint, it doesn’t make it any less tiring. I’m now just getting comfortable asking, “can I cry with you?” while holding space with loved ones who are struggling. When I’m being vulnerable, it’s not always about looking for comfort, but wanting to feel connected and close to people. It’s unfortunate when real, honest expression is mistaken for negativity, and it bugs me. 

It’s one thing to be independent, but another to do so where you’re afraid to need anybody entirely.

Many of us are in the same storm, different boat scenario right now. We all want something to look forward to, and a light at the end of the tunnel. 

And we keep going; one day at a time, one foot in front of the other.

The Unintended Impact of Disabled Inspiration

“So, how’s the job hunt going?”

I was at an appointment with my doctor, a yearly checkup or something to the effect. He was trying to make small talk while looking at a clipboard.

“It’s going,” I said. “I’m filling out job applications, going to networking events, reaching out to people on Linkedin, and honing my overall skills.” I elaborated that I wasn’t giving up, and proud of myself for trying to build a life in Chicago, even if that meant having one foot in and one foot out.

“The world needs more people like you,” he said without looking up. “People that realize that there’s more to life than just playing video games and living off government money.”

Huh? His comment carried an uncomfortable implication, an unspoken expectation. I left with a kind of uneasiness that I couldn’t explain, and for the longest time couldn’t figure out why.

///

I’ve become part of and have learned a lot from the Disability Community over the last year. My first steps were reaching out to a woman whose Facebook post had gone viral, needing validation regarding a long-desired dream. I’ve wanted to write and publish a book but questioned the right to tell my story due to having a lot of privilege as a white woman who can pass for being nondisabled most of the time. Her answer was a resounding “YES!” and that disability is fluid in both condition and experience. I joined online groups and began following prominent figures. I learned about the Americans With Disabilities Act, my own internalized ableism, and how SSI keeps many recipients in poverty. I read, watched, and listened as much as I could, and I’m still learning. It helped me begin to grasp what I previously didn’t have the language for.

When living with a disability, you’re either pitied or put on a pedestal. I’ve been both at one time or another, and it’s been why I’ve been so hesitant over the years to write for large publications and truly plant myself in the public space. I don’t like the idea of telling people what to do and how to live their lives, especially if I’m not in their shoes. I was (and still slightly am) afraid of being idolized to the point where I feel like I can’t be me. I wrestle with that enough as it is.

I’ve only been called an inspiration on rare occasions, but it’s been equally implied in other ways. The term may have fueled my sense of determination growing up, but I can no longer deny the problematic nature of the word and the weight that it carries.

It Has the Wrong Focus

When hearing stories of those facing more barriers/challenges, the common assumption is that the person isn’t working hard enough or saying/doing the right things. This leads to a harmful misconception that most disabilities can and should be “overcome”, whether by sheer willpower or divine healing. “Inspiration” puts the sole responsibility on the disabled person to not only make everyone around them comfortable, but they often must rely on that comfort in order to fight for and obtain basic human rights.

What most people don’t realize is that for decades, there has been a system at work that aims to discriminate against disabled folks, particularly in the workforce, healthcare, marriage, education, transportation, and even art. (I’m sure if Trump and the current administration had their way, we’d be locked in institutions again and out of public view). Rather than lauding (or pushing for more) we need to examine how society has systematically failed to see us and treat us as human beings, and then hold it accountable.

We have the technology. We have the resources. Any supposed reason not to address the system going forward is just an excuse.

It Removes Agency and Projects Identity

I won’t deny that grit, determination, and resilience are part of why I’ve reached certain milestones and accomplished a number of things in twenty-something years. But attributing “inspiration” to part of my identity has often made me feel like I have to be “on” all the time, and I end up struggling to tone that fierceness down when it’s not needed. I actually have a soft, romantic, and even sensual side, and I’m in the process of figuring out how to show it more often. I have to remind myself that I no longer need to spend my time and energy proving my worth, and I’m allowed to just rest and be.

Everyone has a right to choose how they identify, and reject terms and phrases put on those who have never been where they have. (Most of what’s deemed derogatory were done so by those without disabilities, believe it or not). I’m not “semi-disabled.” I have a right to ask for help (without being talked down to or infantilized). And I’m not being selfish by refusing to deny my needs related to having Cerebral Palsy.

I’m realizing that I don’t want to attempt to do everything, especially for the sake of being a badass. I don’t want to be everything to everyone, particularly if I have to forsake my mental and physical health in the process.

It’s Just Awkward

Imagine if someone were to approach you, and the first words for an introduction were “Hey sexy!” or something along the lines of that. Whether it was intended as a compliment or a come on, there’s something about it that doesn’t feel right. I’ve been there plenty of times, and in those moments I wish I worked up the nerve to say, “You don’t know me, so how do you truly know what makes me [insert adjective]?” I’d probably be accused of not being able to take a compliment, but if I sense that it’s not genuine, I’m not going to take it as one.

And I think that’s why much of the Disability Community bristles at co-opted adaptability, especially if they’re just trying to survive in a world that wasn’t built with them in mind. Some appreciate it, and they’re entitled to do so, it doesn’t mean everyone should be lumped together. If a disabled person says “this is hurtful” or “this isn’t helpful” that should be respected, full stop.

///

When it comes to giving praise or speaking highly of anyone, I’ve learned to use “I” statements to communicate that I’m taking personal responsibility for what I say and how I say it.

“I admire you,” or “I’m grateful for you” doesn’t seem like much, but it goes a long way.

 “Thank you for sharing your truth,” or just, “Thank you for being you,” speaks volumes.

For me personally, it melts my heart when individuals take the time to ask me what I truly want, rather than trying to convince me to take what I can get all the time (both personally and professionally)

Context is equally important, specifically how long you’ve known the person for and what parts of their story they’ve shared. If you’re at a speaking event or conference, take in and sit with what they actually said before sharing what you’ve learned or what it means to you. There’s a time and a place for everything, and a first meeting isn’t necessarily it.

In a culture that values productivity and defines individuals by how they contribute to society, I want my message to be that what you are capable of doing matters. The world needs people who can do the little things as much as the big things. It’s perfectly valid not to want to be the next big polarizing figure, or the subject of inspiration porn (that’s another subject for another time). You are worthy of living life as you see fit, regardless of who tries to make you feel bad about it.

For those getting defensive about this subject, please check your ego as well as your privilege. Impact is always greater than intention, and if you don’t live with a disability, you don’t get to tell the disabled how to live. Part of being an ally to marginalized communities is the willingness to have some humility and be corrected, even when it doesn’t feel good.

I know that many will still look at disability a certain way, regardless of how much education and insight there is. And I know that people will still look at me in a particular light, regardless of how I ask to be treated. But I hope that my closest family, friends, and even potential partners will respect where I’m coming from, regardless if they agree or not. I’m still learning how to explain what I often don’t have to think about, because I live it on a regular basis.

And now the question is, if you’re so inspired, what are you going to do about it?

When I Talk About…

Initially I wanted to tell as many people as I could, or at least many as I thought needed to know. When you keep a serious problem like an addiction/disorder under wraps for a length of time (whether intentional or not) you suddenly don’t want to have a filter anymore. You want to tell the truth, all the time, believing that’s exactly what you need to do to heal. And perhaps in a way, I absolutely needed to back then.

But as the saying goes, not everyone can handle the truth. And my truth is that recovering from an eating disorder is complex and multi-faceted. Three years later, I’ve come to regard it as something sacred, a big part of my life, but a part nonetheless that not all can be part of. There’s an assumption where if you don’t openly discuss the absolutes of who you are, you must be ashamed of them. Yet what if it’s not shame, but protection, that motivates the quiet? A healthy protection of progress, and protection of self.

///

My best friend asked me how I wanted to celebrate, given that the pandemic had put the original plan on pause. My immediate family was supposed to reunite in Florida after my brother’s return from deployment, and we’d even spend a day at Disney. The courage to share with my mother what that trip would mean to me, what I had accomplished personally, was enough of a celebration in and of itself. It was tough to come up with anything else beyond that at the time.

I dreamed the night before the three-year mark about being surrounded by cakes, each one looking too damn delicious for words. And the morning of the seventeenth, I finally came up with a short-term idea (well, mostly). It should involve macaroons or chocolate truffles (two of my favorite sweet treats). I want to get dressed up and go dancing when it’s safe enough. Do a photo shoot. Anything that allows me to appreciate food and my body.

And yet, recovery is so much more than that, and I want it to be a focus as I continue to grow and evolve: it’s about getting in touch with yourself, valuing yourself, and ultimately coming back to yourself.

The romantic in me. That sense of child-like wonder and awe. The sensitive smile with a tender heart who cries easily. She doesn’t need to be found because she’s always been there. She just got buried under a lot of garbage for a while. And though I’ve done a lot of work in terms of getting to know her again, there are aspects I’m still learning to accept and embrace.

///

As Sunday ended, I had a hard time falling asleep, so I began to pray:

I’m sorry that I haven’t always loved and cherished this beautiful creation that you’ve given me.

I’m sorry for when I didn’t show it compassion or understanding.

I’m sorry for the ways in which I allowed my body to be disrespected and used. I wasn’t strong enough back then.

Thank you for three years of healing.

For learning how to honor, rather than avoid hunger.

For trusting myself enough to know what I need when I need it.

And thank You for walking with me through it all, especially in the moments when I’ve felt very much alone.

Of course, there is grace; grace for when I wake up too late and feel like I don’t have time to eat breakfast because I must play catch up. Grace for when I chug a protein drinks or various snacks just to get something in my stomach. Grace for when I the constant news of COVID-19 made me want to hug the toilet because I couldn’t hug anyone else. When I fear that gaining weight will no longer mean I’m beautiful, because that’s what I’ve known and was used to

But I am more than that. I have my heart, my mind, and my spirit. My church, listening to podcasts, reading books that make me think, quiet time, all remind me that I have a body, but other parts of me just as much nourishment.

In some respects, with diet culture so prevalent, I’m always going to struggle. I’m now just finding the gumption to call BS when I see it. And it takes a lot of mental energy to let things go when people around me just don’t “get it.”

There are good days, and there are hard days. I’m grateful to be part of each one of them.

Twenty-Eight

It was a combination of trying new things within familiar surroundings. The night started out with Mexican food and margaritas (albeit I was trying not to brood given that I  cracked my phone screen after tripping on the sidewalk while walking to the restaurant) and then making our way to a go-to spot that had been decked out in everything Valentines. We karaoke’d the heck out of Shania Twain, drank tequila, and then capped the night off with dancing and belting my heart out to the Backstreet Boys.

Apart from dinner, I don’t think I sat down once.

But once the celebrations end (and I’ve semi-recovered), that’s when the real work begins.

Twenty-seven was not the easiest year; I lost a job and then a relationship within the span of a few months, finding comfort in the freedom to sleep in and wear sweats all day if I wanted to. Depression came at me like the black cloud that it is, and there were days where I had to fight to not allow the grief of my circumstances to consume me. It wasn’t just about what happened specifically, but the fact that it seemed to happen over and over. I resented the lack of control, but simultaneously that’s where I also found clarity.

The sun came out again, and that’s where I genuinely rediscovered my adventurous side. I learned about that consequences that follow when you hold back from asking for what you really want, and the doors that can open when you live like you having nothing to lose. I actually enjoy going to events and outings by myself, because it allows me to focus on being a blessing to people around me, rather then resting in a buffer of being surrounded by who or what I already know.

I couldn’t settle on a singular word as I prayed over my twenty-eighth year. I initially started out with “shine” and the desire to do so in a way that wasn’t always about being gritty or a badass. Just me, cultivating my talents and sharing my gifts without justifying over-explaining. I’ve experienced a lot of self-doubt, especially over the last several years as I build both a life and career for myself: Am I qualified to do this? Do I even have a right to talk about a particular topic when I [probably] have more privilege than others?

And that’s when “breakthrough” popped up; the desire to experience a turning point both personally and professionally, and not give into the urge to hide all the time.

But waiting for that perfect moment to start being who you are isn’t realistic. Momentum is great, but it cannot be the only thing that carries you. There has to be faith, and there has to be discipline. It seems backwards, but breakthrough actually happens when you  use your gifts, exercise your strengths, and pursue your dreams in the midst of outside opinions trying to diminish your glow.

I’ve shied away asking questions, being an advocate, and ultimately elevating my voice because I’m terrified of having my spirit broken in the process. I’ve seen people light a flame, only to burn out time and time again. My biggest concern is having enough emotional energy not only to speak, but to equally engage and listen. I’m grateful to have a platform, and I’m giving myself grace in the midst of learning how to set boundaries, and pausing to respond instead of react. Dealing with the heaviness that comes with push-back is never easy, but no one makes an impact just by sitting on the sidelines.

It doesn’t always have to be loud, large, or fierce. And what you’re capable of doing matters.

Here’s to twenty-eight!

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 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.