On Celebrating My Body

Four years ago this month, I chose to take my body back, putting my energy toward healing rather than hurting and destroying. Recovering from an eating disorder is not black and white, and there is as much of a mental component as there is a physical component. The beginning of the pandemic rocked me mentally, and I found myself teetering on the edge of unhealthy habits in order to cope with the stress of the unknown. Anxiety left me with little to no desire to eat, and when I did I was concerned about my ability to keep it down.

There are times where this kind of journey, this process, this life, has felt like basic survival. Going through the motions. Taking steps and following plans in order to go forward instead of fall backward. And yes, there are seasons, like at the very beginning or after a relapse where that’s the best course of action. But at what point does one shift their focus from surviving and actually start living? Or living again? 

Celebration is vital, and it’s something that’s not talked about enough in support groups and communities. We can talk about body positivity, neutrality, love and acceptance all across the board, but it becomes an echo chamber if we can’t identify and therefore practice what it looks like. And we deserve to. 

Especially now. 

Take All The Pictures (And Pose)

The very invention of the photograph was to create and keep memories, and for a long time you had to appreciate it, regardless of how it developed. Even before social media, I loved picking up a camera and capturing the beauty around me, even at the risk of annoying everyone else. Photography has become a favorite hobby, and I’m not going to deny that I love doing photoshoots (and having mine taken). I haven’t spoken about it much due to the fear of frequent discouragement, but I have been curious about modeling, regardless if it involves money or not. I’m fascinated by the creativity, the set up, and the way everything comes together. 

I want to remember the days, the moments where I feel good; good, confident, and completely and unabashedly myself. As scary as it is to see my body change, it’s even scarier to think about where I’d be or what I’d have to go through if it didn’t. It’s a sense of maturation, a softening, even if it’s not conscious. Your body is allowed to evolve with your mind, and it’s part of why I wear less eyeliner, only use hot tools on my hair when truly needed, and am most comfortable when wearing less clothing. 

I try things, but I don’t share it all with the world, because not everyone deserves to see it. I have a right to pleasure and enjoyment, but I’m rather selective about who I allow into that part of my life. It already feels vulnerable enough, and if I’m going to make it public, there has to be a purpose. I reject shame, and making anyone else feel that way merely because we’ve had different experiences.

Cultivate a sense of Adventure

I adore exploration; There’s something romantic about getting on a train or a plane and wondering what the day holds, who I might meet, and how it would change my life for the better. The recovery time might take longer, and I have to priortize rest and relaxation in the same way I do having a social life. All I can say for sure at the moment is figuring out how to do both is ongoing.

My family and I had to delay a vacation due to the pandemic, and then ended up making it happen almost a year later. It took a lot of balance with making lists and doing research, while still trying to roll with whatever was out of my hands (especially in terms of weather). I’m still a work in progress in regards to asking for what I want, and claiming victory in speaking up and putting something out there. This is especially true for me in relationships, both personally and professionally. 

It’s the kind of curiosity, vision, and creativity that has carried me through a lot of hills and valleys in life, even more so in this last year. 

Move. Dance. And Don’t Worry So Much 

Movement is a gift, and one that I often take for granted. I love to dance, regardless of speed, and despite never having concentrated on one specific type. At times I’m hyper-aware of the way others might watch me, which is why I’ve never been keen on taking classes (due to the impulse of self-comparison and criticism, wondering why I feel like I could but can’t seem to do it like those around me). But when I’m with people, when the lights go down low and the music is loud, I give myself full permission to go all out.. Sometimes I’ll start in on it without fully realizing what’s happening. Sometimes I’m in church, and sometimes I’m on a sticky dance floor surrounded by old-school paneled walls holding memories that could span decades. 

I’m going to a wedding in a couple of weeks, and I haven’t been part of a crazy party since my birthday back in 2019. I’d like to think I’d kick my shoes off and completely let go, or maybe ease back into it, depending on what the vibe is. But I will be in my element, and I will try not to overthink anything. 

Sip and Savor

My relationship with food has been complex as far back as infancy, texture sensitivities and subconsciously absorbing elements of diet culture playing key roles. I know that I enjoy grazing/snacking more than taking in fuller portions, and the latter can be overwhelming to the point where it causes anxiety. I’d like to expand my palate more (I take pride in trying mushroom stuffed pasta recently), but it’s all in the baby steps. I don’t label any food as good or bad, and do my best to listen to what my body wants and when it wants it. Rather than restriction, I focus on variety, even though there are days where all I can do is get something in my stomach, even if it isn’t particularly nutritious. 

I want to be fully able to see food as an experience, rather than something to rush through or survive on. I love the meditative aspect of cooking, and the sentimentality of drinking coffee in the morning and wine or tea in the evening. It’s those parts of my day that force me to go slow, to look around me and pay attention. And if you’ve ever heard me make a raunchy reference to eating chocolate (mousse, gelato, etc) maybe after reading this you’ll understand why. It should be pleasurable, and damn it if it can’t be sensual every so often. 

And when I can’t rejoice in my skin, or the things that come with it, I simply try to show it compassion. Here we are, calloused fingers and toes. Thank you, slightly pudgy tummy that sticks out because of poor posture. It all moves and functions differently, but I adapt and I figure it out. 

Yes, I have thin privilege. Yet I also live in a handicapped/disabled body, which society at large does not celebrate (if that was the case, ableism wouldn’t exist). It feels like a paradox, looking one way but having multiple layers to contend and come to terms with. And that is a whole story for another time. 

Right now, I thank God for four years, and for the way he physically made me. Even where there are days where I struggle and question and want to just get it right already. 

Here’s to draping myself in grace, and grace for those around me.

Let it be so.

Twenty-Nine

It was not quite a typical “quarantine birthday” as I was determined to avoid that, despite knowing that it would be different this year due to Covid. I experienced eating in an outdoor igloo for the first time, and my best friend and I made our own fun out of playing We’re Not Really Strangers and doing a photoshoot (with a bit of bubbly involved). The day itself initially felt weird, waking up to the last year of my twenties and doing my best to fight off the anxiety that  comes with trying to have reasonable expectations. 

My birthday has always meant a lot to me, and up until recently have been uncomfortable with sharing why. Living with a chronic condition, I’ve often gone along to get along for the sake of not being an inconvenience (at best) and not wanting to to bear the frustration of those around me (at worst). That’s only the tip of the iceberg, but it boils down to a birthday being the one day out of the year where I could vocalize what I wanted and how I wanted it. It’s a common attitude there’s some extra emphasis when you have this self-imposed standard to be the easy child. The selfless person. The compassionate one. Whether or not I have been, or if others would see it that way, is another story. 

It might have been the pandemic itself, or it might have been the gradual unfolding of 2020. Regardless, the desire to advocate for myself has been steadily growing and getting louder. I’ve alluded to it in previous writings, but learning and putting it into practice truly is a process. Carrying weight that isn’t mine, and taking responsibility when I don’t have to is a trauma response. Deconstructing and choosing differently involves a lot of grace, perseverance, and trying and trying again.

Self-advocacy is a huge step, especially when you’ve spent most of your life asking for assistance of some kind. The need to be helped and the need to be heard can coexist, and should never be transactional. I’ve known this in theory, but overthinking has often gotten the best of me.  One of the biggest challenges of this pandemic is having to sit with my feelings, wading through what requires deeper reflection, and what requires letting go of. It’s hard when I’m hurting or frustrated and can’t just go be with people, or seek out adventure on a whim due to the virus.

It’s exhausting to constantly ruminate on what to say, when to say it, and how. And the more I hold back, the more agitated I get. Of course there are times when my opinion isn’t required, and I’m aware of navigating circumstances when I’m overcome with insecurity versus confidence. There should always be a balance of considering viewpoints and feelings with pursuing self-care and things that give you joy. 

It’s not about getting what I want every time, but putting something out in the open so that I’m not saturated by anxiety and resentment down the road. Even if a situation pans out differently than I’d like, at least I did my part to the best of my ability. Growing in relationships, whether with people or with God, require getting out of your head and into your heart. A wise friend once told me that rejection is better than inaction, and I haven’t forgotten that since. 

There have been various small victories thus far: admitting what works and hasn’t worked when it comes to redecorating my room. Not hesitating to follow up on tentative plans if we’re still trying to figure out details. Being adamant about taking a ride-share to a dinner date because I wanted to feel more independent. Saying “because I want to” without a detailed explanation. As I publish this, I’m about to make the kind of phone call that typically has me crawling in my skin, but I’m not going to get anywhere if I don’t take initiative.

And it’s the small victories that I hope and pray will add up to breakthroughs, both personally and professionally. I’m cautiously optimistic, after having seen how everything can change and priorities can shift so quickly. But the work is still important, and necessary,

Here’s to speaking up, speaking truth, and progressing forward!

Intentions and Direction

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

 

Start Small

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

 

Write It Down

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

 

Find Accountability

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

 

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

 

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

Perfectly Enough

Celebrating a year in recovery.

Vacations to several of my favorite places.

A job loss that led to something better.

Meeting awesome people.

Relationships growing and changing.

Welcoming a new baby into the family (for the first time in twenty years!)

Waking up the morning after an election, and experiencing hope instead of despair.

A reigniting of fire; to grow in my faith, and to grow closer to God.

And for the first time since I graduated college, actually wanting to celebrate the holidays.

2018 has been a plethora of things. An eclectic mix of joy and heartbreak. A mix that I struggle with summing up in a singular word. The magic wasn’t necessarily in the circumstances, but in the moments. As my sister said recently: It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfectly enough.

Oh, how perfectly enough.

I’ve noticed that reflecting often comes with the tendency to take it to the extreme; it was either amazing and we want to hold onto it for as long as we can, or it was awful and the end cannot come soon enough. But why do we always have to label anything as good or bad? Why can’t it just be reality, the kind where there are good things and there are hard things, but we can still say, “It is well”?

Yes, it is well, with or without the warm fuzzies to go with it.

I still have intentions for 2019; intentions in general aren’t filled with unrealistic expectations and leave room for grace and flexibility. They’re not centered on physical appearance or require validation, relying more on self-care, along with emotional and spiritual growth.

I would like to be as financially stable as I can be, and then move into my own place.

I want to write and read a little each day, whether it’s merely in my journal or a chapter in a book.

I intend to continue building my personal brand, and not get caught up in the numbers game.

I would like to join a small group again, and to focus on building relationships in person.

And I would like to get back into cooking, along with learning how to meal prep and plan ahead of time.

But most of all, I don’t want someone’s understanding or perception of me to determine whether or not I feel at peace with myself.

Let it be so, and may you have a joyful and prosperous New Year!

When Loss Comes Closer

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And only the good die young…

 My mom and I had gone to see Billy Joel at Wrigley Field that Friday, and that was the song he closed with as we began to make our way toward the exit. We stopped for a little bit to dance and sing along with the rest of the boisterous crowd, but part of me was (and still is) unsettled by the song’s popularity. I had a really funny feeling that drove straight into my soul, and I remembered how I had lost a friend from high school to a drunk driving accident three years ago. But as I would come to find out two mornings later, that wasn’t the only reason why.

I will always remember the day he died, and the day I heard the news. On August 27, 2016 I was in Chicago for an unofficial high school reunion, sipping wine on an apartment balcony that overlooked the city. The next day, I was getting ready for a date when I noticed that I had two missed calls from my mom and brother, and they texted that I call them back immediately.

“There’s been a car accident and it was fatal,” my brother said. I called my mom and she confirmed the little that she knew. I don’t remember the actual feeling of being sucker punched, but all I could do was put my hands over my face and cry.

“Why?” I kept asking over and over to the empty bathroom. I had known Connor and his family from the time I was a baby; they were our neighbors and we had all pretty much grown up together. The accident happened during a rainstorm, and he was only twenty-two years old.

I laid down on my bed and instantly grabbed hold of my favorite blanket, a Hawkeye theme where the edges of the material had been tied together. His mom and sister had made it for me before I went to college, and I held onto it in times homesickness or stress. Even though I was no longer in Iowa, it continues to be a source of comfort, my “blankie,” if you will. I spent the rest of the day battling a splitting headache, probably because it was all too much to process at the time. I wanted to reach out to Kaitlyn, his older sister and one of my best friends. I knew that bullshit clichés and platitudes would be of little comfort, and more than likely more than one person was trying to pile them on.

The days leading up to the funeral were filled with anxiety, part of it relating to being in shock over the tragedy that had taken place. This wasn’t the first time I’d been faced with an unexpected passing in my life, but it was the first time I felt like I was allowed to openly grieve because I knew the person really well. On one hand I was numb, silently going through the motions and merely observing everything that was going on in the situation. But I also wanted to be strong for the others that were in mourning, as Connor was not only my brother’s best friend, but also my best friend’s brother. She has held me up during many difficult times in my life, and now it was my turn to do the same for her.

I arrived later than intended on the day of the service, so the process of saying goodbye while simultaneously offering support felt rushed and all over the place. Certain aspects of that day will remain in my memory forever: the look of anguish on my brother’s face as he helped bear Connor’s casket up and down the church aisle. My mom’s arms around me as we both stood and cried together. The way my legs shook in anticipation of finding the family and silently hugging each of them (and the way they seemed to be comforting me more than the other way around). It was all very much surreal, and I’m not the only one who felt like they were existing between reality and an unfathomable nightmare.

I had hoped and expected something inside of me to break, where the floodgates would be opened and I could get everything out and be done with it. When that didn’t happen, I became frustrated and uneasy, wondering if there was something that I needed to tap into or a switch that I needed to hit in order to find closure. I had heard that one of the ways to process the loss was to have a conversation with the deceased person. Knowing that I’m a much better writer than a conversationalist, I decided to write him a letter.

It was two pages of me reminiscing, grieving, and ultimately thanking him for being such a large part of my life. I had an amazing childhood, where the six of us practically lived in our own little world for at least a decade. At a more private memorial, I relayed stories that our parents hadn’t either known about (or had forgotten about) until then. I then did one final sendoff at sunset, releasing the words into the lake in us kids had grown up on, and would now hold a tender mixture of joy and pain. I began to understand that the grief would come in waves (which it still does) and would often hit me when I least expected it.

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There are no words to aptly describe the pain of losing someone so suddenly, and especially when they have so much life left in them. And it’s been painful to see people that loved him (and he loved just as much, if not more) in so much agony, although that’s not to say I regret bearing witness to it. In a weird and morbid way, I’m thankful that I allowed myself to see and feel everything that I could, even if it hurt like hell. Nobody wants to talk about the fact that death is part of life, although no amount of knowing and preparing will decrease the weight and impact of the loss. It fucking hurts, and it fucking sucks.

I don’t know if Connor’s passing happened for a reason, and I don’t think that everything does happen for a reason. Yet I have learned a lot about compassion, and what it means to show up for people in their darkest hour(s). For the love of all that is good in this world, please stop with the whole “If I can’t take away the pain, then it’s pointless to do anything” way of thinking. There is always something that you can do! Go to the person that’s hurting and let them know that you love them and that you’re there. There is so much love and power in the simple act of merely being there: sitting with them. Holding them. Letting them be sad and mutually sharing in that sadness.Listening. And if you can’t physically be present, you can still send flowers or a card or something. How much time does it really take to type out and send a text message that says, “I’m sorry for your loss”? Pick up the damn phone. Write a letter or an email. Whatever you do, know that the smallest amount of support and tenderness is better than nothing. Show up and show love.

Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but walking with someone through tragedy is NOT about your level of comfort. It’s not about you. I’ve learned how to be extremely vulnerable in those moments where I have no idea, to say, “I love you and I’m also terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing right now.” I understand that’s where a lot of the hesitation and resistance lies, because no one wants to make things worse or end up being the insensitive jackass who meant well but epically failed. There is grace in that, because at least the person is making an effort. Questions are always better than assumptions: “What do you need?” “How can I be there for you?” “Do you want to talk, or do you want to just sit in silence?” Never assume that you know what a grieving person wants or needs, just because you might want or need to do that in a difficult situation. Again, it’s not easy and often requires stepping out of your own box of comfort. But if it makes people feels less alone, then damn it, swallow your pride and do it.

I waited at least a day or so to tell anybody on the outside (unless I absolutely had to). I’ve had this habit of telling people too soon (when bad things happen) because it keeps me from being sucked into a black hole of depression and despair. Contrary to popular belief, it is helpful to have the support of those who didn’t know the deceased, or at least that’s how I feel. There were times where I needed to breathe emotionally. There were times where I desperately wanted the perspective of those who had already been through it, or whose minds weren’t shrouded in the clouds of unspeakable loss. When another friend died three years ago, I ended up turning to alcohol and random strangers for comfort. I didn’t want to numb the pain, but I wanted to feel connected.  And now I would rather be a raw, emotional wreck than go down the path of functioning alcoholism again.

Maybe it is expecting too much, or maybe it’s wanting to know that you and your experiences matter. It’s a lesson in real friendship, about who’s willing to be there and who isn’t. People make mistakes and they mess up, but pure silence does say a lot.

It’s been over one hundred days. One hundred days where I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that he’s no longer here on earth. I miss his smile, his laugh, and the way he made fun of me whenever I got tipsy. The memories still keep popping into my head, though most were from ten or twenty years ago. I post old pictures and am still hoping that somewhere in one of our houses, there is a picture of all of us together, at least one. I still feel a little guilty over moving forward with my life, especially since there are a ton of people who are still living with the pain as if it just happened yesterday. I know he would want me to live my life to the fullest, to love people around me with everything I have, and to not spend my days in darkness. I think about things that I’ve been too scared to mention out loud: weddings, babies, and a plethora of occasions that will never be exactly right without him. I continuously find small ways to honor him, whether it’s occasionally drinking his favorite beer or leaving his name on the wall at Wrigley Field after the Cubs won the World Series. I’ve never been into hunting or fishing, but those things now remind me of him. Country music is more meaningful than it ever has been, especially Eric Church and a variety of songs that now make me happy and sad at the same time. This is all neither good nor bad, but it’s reality. It’s the new normal that we all have to live with.

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It is said that pain changes with time, although I’m fully aware that it will never go away completely. I don’t know how I’ll feel a year from now, or what I’ll have learned from it in the next three or five. I understand that grief is the price we pay for loving people, but a broken heart is also an indication of a life well lived. I’m blessed, fortunate, and honored to have known such a kind soul, and I thank God for all of it.

Life is really is precious. He left a mark on the world, and I hope somehow he knows that.

I miss him. Now and always.

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The Waterfall

The coffee was absolutely delicious.

The all-inclusive resort was a perk.

I’m not sure I would do the zip-line again, but I’m glad I tried it once.

Yet out of everything I experienced on my inaugural trip to Costa Rica, the highlight of them all was a little-known local spot that my family and I decided to spontaneously visit a day beforehand. We packed a cooler, hired a driver, and set out to cross a long-time item off my bucket list: standing under a waterfall.

We had to hike a bit in order to get there, but having done my fair share in Colorado and Arizona, I wasn’t all that concerned. As we got closer, I could hear the sounds of the water and began to giggle like I used to when I was a little girl (side-note: this is how you know when I’m really happy). I had to force myself to walk slowly so that I wouldn’t trip and fall over anything, which was a challenge as the anticipation kept building. Once we made it all the way down, I couldn’t believe my eyes:

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Swimming out to the surrounding rocky area was a little bit tricky; I wore my gym shoes so as not to risk cutting my bare feet, and apparently was so excited that I forgot to take my glasses off at first (I did go back and put them away, but initially I wanted to make sure that I was able to literally see it all). I put my arm muscles to good use throughout, and eventually clawed my way up and around, standing close enough to be under this sight to behold, but far enough away from the edge so as not to lose my balance.

There aren’t words to truly describe what I was feeling in that moment, but grateful would be a good start. I know that not everyone gets to do something like this, and certainly not everyone who deals with physical challenges like I do on a regular basis. I was thankful for legs that can move and eyes that can see. I was thankful for the risk we took in asking a stranger to get us there (and back). I kept saying, “thank you” over and over again, sometimes in my head and sometimes out loud.

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I’m not sure if I jumped off of anything or just slid back in off the rocks (probably the latter, because I’m not a jumping bean like my sister and didn’t trust what was at the bottom). We swam around for a bit, and at one point I tried to duck under the fall and so that I would be directly behind it. The current was incredibly strong and aimed to pull me in several directions, where I became panicky and momentarily thought I would get sucked under. It was somewhat scary because my body was getting tired, and I’m not exactly skilled at treading water. I eventually found my footing and stopped to rest in the shallow end.

Before we left to head back to the resort, I stopped and said a quiet prayer in front of this amazing creation. I had dreamed of doing something like this since I was a child, and knew that I would always remember it. If not what it looked like, than definitely the freedom and wonder and awe that I felt in the midst of it. I’ve never been a travel fiend, but this made me want to explore more. It also dawned on me that a lot of my bucket lists aspirations have to do with water. In my lifetime, I would like to experience the following:

Swimming with dolphins (technically I’ve already done that, but I would like to do it in a place where I’m not with a boatload of people and have a little bit more time to enjoy being around one of my favorite animals).

 

Slow dance more often; I haven’t slow danced since my senior prom, but I don’t have to be at an event or party. It only takes two people, am I right?

 

Be kissed in front of Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom.

 

Witness sea turtles hatching, or just look at sea turtles. Turtles in general are adorable!

 

Have one of my essays be accepted for publication.

 

Sit on a rooftop and watch the sun rise in Chicago.

 

Meet the Blackhawks, or at least catch up a game up real close.

*I’ll keep adding as I think of things. This is just a shortened version.

I’m a dreamer. I’m a romantic. And I don’t mind it at all.

The Year Of…

 

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Every December since freshman year of college, I’ve been partaking in a blogging/writing journey called Project Reverb. Though format and methods have changed over the years, the concept of reflecting and manifesting still remains the same. It has become one of my favorite things during this month, and I hope you’ll join me on the journey.

It was the first time in a long time that I wasn’t angry, that my soul wasn’t being saturated by pain and frustration over things I could not control. It was the year that I lost a job, met some pretty amazing people, watched my brother graduate college (from the Air Force Academy, no less), crossed off a long-time bucket list item, experienced a painful tragedy, witnessed history on multiple occasions, and never stopped learning in the process. Much was welcomed with open arms, while every so often I had to grit my teeth and press on in what felt like a tangled up mess. It was eye-opening, liberating, life-changing, and unexpected in every way. I normally can’t predict what the future holds (and most of the time I don’t even try), but I’m serious when I say that I did not see any of it coming.

At first I would have called it a cluster, a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Sometimes it feels like a breakaway from old patterns and habits, giving me a sense of comfort in my skin and with my history. A lot of it is ultimately indescribable because I’m still processing and taking it all in. Seeds were planted, steps were taken, and something tells me that this is only the beginning.

I’m not one for picking a singular word until my birthday, but if nothing else I’d like it to be a continuation of positive change and growth. So often I’ve looked at the upcoming New Year as a time to start over, to put all my mistakes behind me and try again; and while there’s nothing wrong with that as a whole, I want to make sure that I also focus on celebrating where I’m and what I’ve accomplished. I’ve come a long way over the last year, and while there’s still room for improvement, I don’t want to get caught up in the hoopla of trying too hard.

Maybe I want to just be: Be content. Be grateful. Be aware. Be me. Yet, I also want to never go without being hungry for new adventures and experiences.

 

It is well, and so am I.

Photo Credit

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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Life Lately: Things Are Happening

Happy 2015, Dear Readers!! After dancing my boots off in the heart of downtown Chicago, I’m glad to be getting back into a solid routine again. I feel incredibly motivated, which is a surprise considering I normally feel drained during the month of January; not only have the holidays passed (and the blues have set in), but in my neck of the woods it tends to get insanely cold to the point where it’s dangerous to go outside. Typically this makes me want to hunker down and hibernate, but to my surprise that’s not the case this year. This week in particular has been fabulous because I got a lot accomplished, and I credit that to the goal of doing something right when I think of it, rather than putting it off. 

Good things come to those who wait, but good things also come to those who don’t procrastinate. 

It’s true that I’ve developed a habit of pushing tasks to the side, more so if they involve important conversations, emails, and the like. I would tell myself that I needed more time to emotionally prepare, or at least wait until nightfall so that if I read or talked about a subject that would naturally upset me, I could let it out when no one else was around. And I would be done for the day so I wouldn’t be wasting time crying when I could be getting stuff done. 

These days, it’s less about fear and more about weirdness or discomfort. I recently described it to a friend as that sensation I experience when on a roller-coaster; the kind of weightlessness that causes my entire body to clench up, and from a scientific perspective I believe it’s called G-Force or something like that. It’s not necessarily a bad feeling, but it’s not one that I’m fond of either. 

That’s what I experience when thinking about the future, about meeting new people and/or joining groups and getting involved with life. It’s not scary, but it can be hard to envision myself in that position for whatever reason. 

Yet, often times the only answer is to do it. And the more I do it, the more comfortable I will become. 

The job search is still on in full force, but I’m trying to take a different approach, rather than just applying on websites and doing dozens of interviews at one time. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but it personally became draining by the time December rolled around. I’m learning that there is absolutely no shame in asking for help and/or being mentored by someone that knows what they’re doing. As much as our culture emphasizes this whole lone wolf mentality, the idea that true success can only happen by your own strength, I’m finding it all to be completely false. Whatever you accomplish and however you go about doing it, at the end of the day there’s always someone to thank, even if you’re too stubborn or prideful to admit it. 

Nobody does anything worthwhile without the guidance and influence of someone else. 

It’s not easy, especially when you spend a lot of time with people who seem to have their lives together (i.e. jobs, relationships, confidence, and overall experience). I have moments where I wonder when on earth I’m going to catch a break, whether it be getting hired, getting published, and/or connecting/reconnecting with certain people. Life as a post-graduate is unpredictable, and that gets frustrating after a while. 

But I things are happening, even if for the moment they’re not monumental or worth shouting on the rooftops about. I will continue to do what I do and celebrate the small victories, along with not beating myself up when I mess up or fall short in the process. 

Yes, this train is moving, even when I don’t feel it. And for that I’m grateful.

photo credit: Paul-W via photopin cc