When “Fixing” Is Not The Answer

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It is a scene that I’m all too familiar with, a sign that I’ve either hit a wall bottomed out again: I’m crying uncontrollably, emotions taking over my entire body to the point where I can’t even move. The tears were probably triggered by something specific, yet there’s an overall exhaustion, loneliness, or a combination of the two. It’s an emotional black hole, where the cause is probably different, but my thoughts remain the same:

I can’t do this anymore.

I feel isolated and alone.

I’m depressed and barely functioning.

When is this shit going to actually go away?

 I want to get better NOW.

You might have been there before. You might already be in the thick of it.

It’s definitely not my first rodeo: I’ve been in therapy for  five years now, to where I have people asking me if it’s really helping because a lot of the time I don’t act like it. It’s hard to explain that it has made a difference, though the feats are often small and not easily seen by those on the outside. I still get stuck, and  it’s frustrating as hell because I feel like I should have a grip on it all by now, especially the triggers of depression and anxiety that tend to ebb and flow over time. I’m still considering the possibility of medication, but would like to get a psychiatrist’s perspective before making any decisions.

I had a moment this past summer, just wanting to be done with it all. Not suicidal done necessarily, but done with the darkness and living out the definition of insanity (which some will argue I’m still doing). I won’t call it an epiphany, but I thought of something in that moment, and it has stayed with me ever since:

What if it wasn’t about fixing ourselves, but feeding ourselves?

On the other side, what more could we accomplish if we stopped trying to fix other people, but instead support and encourage them to seek nourishment?

Perhaps that’s why I’ve seemed to be going in circles over the years: I sought outside help believing that it was a one and done thing, and that I’d be fine after sorting through all my baggage. What’s more, I believed that it would lead to love and acceptance from those whom I wanted it from the most, and all would be right and well.

It’s tough to acknowledge, but real healing doesn’t work like that. There’s no formula or specific set of instructions to follow, and not every situation comes with a timeline. Processing is necessary, and medication can make circumstances more bearable and easier to deal with. But the real work has to come from you alone and for you alone. You are the solution, because you are the one who is ultimately in control of how you choose to view life, despite your experiences while living it.

Feeding yourself, I’d like to think, is doing anything that makes you feel alive, at peace, and allows you to stay true to who you are. It might involve working out, creative projects, community service, going to church, prayer, and investing in quality time with both yourself and with others. It’s a way of putting talk into action, rather than sitting around and bemoaning your story all the time. Yes there is pain, and letting it go is a lot easier said than done. But what other choice do you have? You can choose to be a victim (and from my experience, that has only led to regret). Or you can choose to be resilient, and be surprised at just how much you can do when you have an open heart and mind to the possibilities of what’s right in front of you.

You are not broken, because you are not an object or a robot. You’re messy and you feel deeply. You’re hungry for connection and real relationships. You’re human, and you yourself need the same amount of love and care that you put into anyone else.

It’s overwhelming and unfamiliar, which is what ultimately makes it scary. I’m always a work in progress, so I can’t say what it truly feels like to get “there,” so to speak.  Yet, I tell myself to just keep going. Take it easy. One foot in front of the other, one day at a time. Whether you’re pursuing nourishment literally or figuratively, it’s something to be savored, enjoyed, and ultimately worth holding onto.

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I say this all with the uttermost compassion and understanding, because I’m still striving, working, and occasionally crawling to get where I want to be  I don’t know what road you’ve had to walk or what hell you’ve endured, and that might be all you’ve ever known. I can’t tell you what to do, but I hope you’ll do something that brings you healing, peace of mind, and wholeness.  Regardless of where you’re at, remember that you are brave, you are strong, and you are loved.

To love yourself is to feed yourself.

You’ve got this.

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Making Room

 

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Many of you hugged and kissed your way into 2017.

Some of you danced.

Perhaps many of you simply let it be, but it felt like you were actually doing an army-crawl.

It’s easy to talk about hope and possibility when you’re on the cusp of something. There’s a kind of magic in those feelings, and you hold onto them because it might be all that you have. But once midnight rolls around and the real work begins, accomplishing any resolution can seem like navigating an obstacle course with a load of bricks on your back. Either that, or you want to “get there” as soon as possible because you don’t want to waste any more time or live with regret.

I get it. There’s a sense of urgency in the air, especially in days like these. But the turning of a calendar year does not take away insecurities, change habits, or rebuild what has been broken down. You have to be the one to set goals, make the effort, and stick to it (even when it gets difficult). Yet consistency can be and often is a challenge because of how people approach trying to better themselves, along with the collective reasons for wanting to. The path to success/achievement is viewed as a straight shot, never mind that there are probably going to be cracks, rocks, and roadblocks along the way. It’s all about the hustle, and once you fall, you’re done and it’s no longer worth pursuing.

And that’s probably why resolutions lose their luster after January. It’s not a lack of realism or ambition or motivation, but a lack of loving and taking care of ourselves in the process. If you want to accomplish anything, you have to understand that you’re going to trip and stumble. You’re going to have setbacks. Failure might not be an option, but obstacles are a definite possibility. Ultimately, it will be up to you to decide whether you’ll allow those things to define who you are and what you’re capable of, and whether you’ll choose to keep going or let challenges get the best of you.

I’m not sure if I resolve to do anything differently, as much as I resolve to continue what I’ve already been doing. That’s not to say change isn’t important, or that I’m avoiding making changes in my life all together. But life does get messy, and trying to ignore that reality has only led me in circles. When I make room for the mess, and I invite people into the mess, I’m able to do my part knowing that I love myself and am allowing others to love me too. And when I do my part, when I take control of what I actually have control over, the rest takes care of itself and the changes happen a bit more naturally. Approaching change with shame never works because you end up trying too hard, and you end up making choices for all the wrong reasons.

Yes, I want to accomplish things: I want to exercise as often as possible and eat healthier food so that I have more energy to actually have a career. I want to become a published writer and reach people with my words. I want to communicate (especially with text messages) in a way where I’m not constantly acting and reacting out of insecurity. These are not just goals to achieve, but habits to maintain after I achieve them. In terms of personal development, growth is never static and the work is never entirely done. There is rest and there is acknowledging the journey, yet I’m always evolving as a person. And I’m not sure if I really want to know if I’ve succeeded or not (in some respects), because I don’t want to take anything for granted.

I suppose I say all of this because the-end-of-one-beginning-of-another jargon has started to make me cringe. Yes, 2017 can be YOUR year, but why make three hundred sixty five days the end all, be all? Of course you have the capability of making it a good one, of writing a great chapter or even a great book…but that takes time, and writing anything great comes with a lot of sitting and editing. The best mentality that I can come up with is to take it all one day at a time, and put one foot in front of the other. Life is unpredictable, and you really don’t know how you’ll handle a situation until you’re in it. You can plan and map something out to a tee, but life can be turned upside-down at any given moment.

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

Remember that you’re brave, you are strong, and you can do hard things.

If nothing else, you never have to wait until midnight to start over. You can do it again and again, reinventing yourself every day if it means getting to where you want to be.

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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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Project Publish

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A couple of months ago, I submitted an essay to be reviewed for possible publication; the piece itself is a personal narrative, and one that I’d spent months composing and editing while simultaneously coming to terms with the subject matter. At the beginning of October, I finally decided to hit, “send” and then sat back to wait on a response. While it had been well-received by the editors, I was told that unfortunately it was not the best fit for the platform. I wouldn’t be human if I said that it didn’t sting a little bit, but I was grateful for those on the other side who took the time to give genuine and truthful feedback. It was the first time I’d submitted anything in a while, and in hindsight I was just glad to be getting my feet wet again.

The majority of serious writers know that getting their work out there can and often does take a long time. Depending on the genre and length, it could take years:  Write. Edit. Submit. Critique. And repeat. I first started the summer before my last year in college, where the process of researching, emailing, and waiting actually took several months. Eventually I put it aside to focus on other things, and didn’t think about trying again until after graduation. By that time I was becoming more of an essayist, which compared to fictional short stories, is most definitely another ballgame.

The past year has helped me realize that I want to take it to a platform that’s perhaps a little bit bigger than this blog or my Facebook page. It’s not about bucket lists or recognition, but having a unique perspective and sensing that the world needs it, especially right now. I’ve been told over the that I have a different way of thinking and communicating, which I’ve been quiet about because I don’t want to brag or act like I’m better than anyone. I don’t have all the answers, and there are certain situations in which I don’t think I have a right to offer my perspective, simply because I haven’t been there. Yet, I continually find myself asking, “isn’t there another way? Does it always have to come down to this or that, without any gray areas?” There are always layers and complexities to unpack, especially in a culture that’s constantly changing and advancing.

But there’s also a personal side to it, and one that I didn’t think much about while composing the original piece: writing helps me to connect with people. It’s my way of saying, “here is an invitation for you to truly get to know me, and I hope that you will allow me to get to know you.” Of course this is hard to accomplish with a multitude of strangers, particularly when sharing something on the internet. Over the last several years I’ve taken to writing uncensored versions of things and then sharing them with my closest friends, at times way before it goes public. They are my tribe, the ones that don’t mind curse words, revealing details, or occasionally using the all caps button to get a point across. To know and to be known is a beautiful and most precious gift.

This is why you cannot be creative without being vulnerable. Creativity doesn’t necessarily stem from inspiration, but a willingness to get to the heart of whatever you’re trying to depict or communicate. And it’s challenging because not everyone will understand; your words might be misinterpreted as an attack, rather than mere expression. They might say you’re overanalyzing or going too deep, when in actuality you’re just too deep for them. You have to find a balance between telling the truth and taking others’ feelings into consideration. Sometimes regardless of the disclaimers or choice of words, they’re just not going to get it. Authentic writing requires thick skin, or at least an ability to recognize when someone is temporarily lashing out versus expressing genuine hurt.

By the time this year ends, I’m hoping to have sent another piece out for consideration, one that I specifically wrote for The New York Times “Modern Love” column. Two years and nearly ten drafts later, I’ve held back because of how meticulous I’ve been when it comes to editing. I’m more afraid that it won’t be “compelling” enough, and that ultimately my point is just going to fall on deaf ears.

Of course there is life after rejection, and a singular no doesn’t indicate that there won’t be a yes somewhere else. I’m considering Thought Catalog (and others) as a main base because I’m still  a new and emerging writer, and for now that might be my best bet. It also seems to have a larger audience, and from what I understand, a submission fee isn’t required.

It’s something that I’ve wanted to do my entire life, and will keep pursuing until that door closes on me for good. If it ends up that this gift only stays between me and certain audiences, so be it. Nevertheless, it is a talent that I will not let go to waste, and will use it to make a positive impact in any way that I can.

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And So We Rise

It has been over a month since the election, and I refrained from writing (let alone posting), because I wasn’t sure how to express my feelings. In some respects, that’s still true, which makes it challenging to have conversations on the subject. Since I’m a much better writer than a talker, I thought I would let these words be a symbol of my thoughts.

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And So We Rise

 

After months of anticipation

And anxiety

It came down to one day

I cast my ballot and prayed

All through the counting hours as results rolled in

The outcome looked dark

The unknowns were swirling

Like my head after two glasses of wine

I cried at midnight

Physically sick

Like millions of others

Lamenting and asking why

 

The air had changed

From hopeful to questionable

It seemed like a free for all

Divided and pitted against one another

Us vs. them

And so I grieved

 

Politics is like a foreign language

One I only know bits and pieces of

I rarely speak it for a concern of looking silly

But now I know that consequences of not learning

At least to the extent that I should

It’s hard to understand

But not impossible

 

Reality TV is not real life

And real life looks grim on the surface

But let this not be a reason to hide

Or a reason to run

Let this be a wake up

Call to action

To be moved by compassion

To not rely on one person alone to represent us

Or fight for us

But to look in the mirror

And be the change we so desperately need

And so we should act

 

This chapter will not be an easy one

It might get worse before it gets better

But we cannot allow fear and cynicism dictate the direction

We as individuals and collectively

Want to go in

We might fall

And hit the bottom

Time and time again

But we keep going

Speaking

Writing

Teaching

Advocating

Together

And so we rise

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When You Don’t Know What to Call It (Call it Good)

 

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It was like doing a cannonball into the deep end of a pool; last spring I attended a singles mixer for the first time in months, not really expecting to meet anyone special, but still curious nonetheless. One in particular did end up catching my attention, and after introducing ourselves, we were inseparable for the rest of the evening. We left the place early due to the crowd and the noise, opting for exploring the surrounding neighborhood while getting to know each other. At the time I was typically wary of being alone with a man who I’d only just met, yet his personality didn’t set off any alarms; he was a sweet nerd who hadn’t dated much and had a thing for cars, guitars, and skinny jeans. We swapped numbers and kissed several times before I let him drive me back to the train station, simultaneously asking myself what just happened and wanting to do a happy dance.

The following Thursday was one of arcade games, watching playoff hockey, and being incredibly vulnerable with one another. We came from different backgrounds, and I was grateful for his compassion and understanding, despite not always knowing how to respond. The physical connection was just as strong, and he was affectionate in a way that I absolutely adored. I appreciated not having to hold back, that we didn’t have to hide that we liked each other. It was fun to sneak around places while trying not to get caught, something that I hadn’t even dared to do while in high school or college. And by the time we parted ways after midnight, it was like we were officially a couple.

Our relationship moved quickly, but I felt safe and natural being with him. I didn’t see any reason to wait for the “right” moment to enjoy what was between us, having over-calculated previous dating situations in the past and ultimately ending up frustrated and stressed out. Certain topics came up sooner rather than later, but it was good to be honest about where we were both coming from and what we wanted in that respect. There was no pressure or force, nor was there a need to rush anything. He definitely brought out a side in me that I knew I had, but had tried (and failed) to conceal for years; it was almost like he flipped a switch, but I was relieved instead of freaked out.

The ending was just as unexpected as the beginning; I went out of town to see my brother graduate from The Air Force Academy in Colorado, and hadn’t heard from the guy in several days. I knew something was off because we normally kept in contact regularly, though I tried to hold it together in front of my family. I woke up one morning and got a text from him saying that it was over, for reasons that I believe we could have discussed and worked through. I responded as if I accepted his decision, but on the other side of the screen I was devastated. I cried just about every day of that whole week, confused and wanting an explanation. I worked up the nerve to call him when I got home, and sadly he hung up on me when he recognized my voice. He didn’t want to be with me and that’s all the closure I would get for some time.

It took a while for the sadness to truly dissipate, because not only was I upset over what no longer was, but what would also never be. We had all talked about the things that we wanted to do together, and I’d hoped to introduce him to my best friends and family at some point. I should have been angry at him, but I took the usual route of blaming myself; it’s what I’ve done when I have no idea what’s going on, and am trying to fill the question marks for the sake of not driving myself crazy.

It’s as much speculation now as it was back then (as far as what exactly happened and why). I’m aware of the possibilities; that he could have been using me, met someone else, or freaked out and ran the other direction. Ultimately I choose to trust my instincts and believe that his interest was genuine, and that he meant what he said about me. I have compassion for him, knowing what he has struggled with and how it shaped him. Men have pain and fears and complexities just as women do, and those deserve to be acknowledged and honored. It does not excuse disrespect or taking the easy way out, but we’re all human here and each person should be viewed as such.

I don’t regret investing in him or spending time with him, nor do I regret the way we were with each other. If anything, I wish I hadn’t confided in so many people about what was going on, both before and afterward. I over think relationships enough as it is, and a multitude of opinions and theories became paralyzing. It was wishful thinking to be vulnerable and not expect a reaction, especially since most of my close circle didn’t know him. By now I should be able to let cynicism and unnecessary advice go in one ear and out the other, but that’s challenging, given that I second guess myself a lot. I’ve learned to be much more protective about what I share, and selective with whom I share it with. Everyone means well, but not all end up being helpful.

So what do you say when something might or might not have been love, but it was no less real and meaningful? It was more than just an experience, not “right” but not necessarily wrong either. It was beautiful and amazing and I’m grateful that I met him. Initially I was scared that I wouldn’t have something like that again, but as time has passed I’ve seen how each individual relationship is unique, and it’s unfair to make comparisons or box yourself in. It really comes down to whether or not you feel like you can be yourself with someone, and whether or not he/she motivates you to be a better person. That takes time, patience, and grace. Don’t panic if you don’t figure all that out within the first two dates.

It was brutal at first, but I let it be and kept going. Eventually I met new people and put my energy into those who were present, as opposed to those who were not. I occasionally wonder where he’s at now, and various places and songs will momentarily bring back memories. Writing (and reliving) this was somewhat painful, bringing deep-seeded fears to the surface again. I’m still trying to come up with a confident way to explain to a man, please don’t leave without telling me. Please, whatever you do, don’t just disappear.

I hate the way that he left, but I don’t hate him. And despite not knowing, I’m glad for all of it. He woke me up, and in turn, I stayed away from my shell and trusted what was to come. Heartbreak is an excruciating bitch, but it’s also the price for love. When you’re willing to love someone despite the risk of heartbreak, it’s not a sign of naiveté or bad decisions; it’s a sign of a life well-lived.

That in itself is worth celebrating.

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Why I Re-defined “Letting Go”

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You need to stop worrying so much.

You need to let this go.

You need to move on.

It’s something that I’m told often, but on the outside don’t seem to be very good at. I always thought it implied forgetting that it ever happened and never talking about it again, at least not in the presence of the subject of conversation, or others involved.

But what if there’s a different way? What if we’ve been actually been going about it all wrong?

Somewhere between Christmas and New Years last year, I helped mediate a difficult but necessary conversation with my immediate family. Thoughts and feelings were boiling over, people were lashing out, and hard things needed to be said. I went back to my grandparents emotionally drained, no longer lividly angry, but unsure how to feel about what had taken place both that weekend and over the last several years.

“You don’t have to decide anything now,” my grandfather said to me after I explained what had transpired. “Feelings are feelings, and they change all the time.” I’d heard this before, but it was clear and gentle coming from him. For the first time in a long while, somebody else’s advice actually made sense. Almost a year later that thought process is still taking shape:

It’s not forgetting the situation entirely, but putting it into perspective.

It’s not never talking about it with people, but changing the way we talk about it.

And instead of forcing the pieces together in order to understand, let the pieces come together on their own.

It is possible to grieve, process, and ultimately feel while still moving forward. But we do so without wrecking our brains over the “why” of everything. Why doesn’t this person want me/accept me/love me? Why did this happen, and in this way? Why won’t anyone tell me what the [blank] is going on? And on and on it goes, as the stress levels rise and sleepless nights turn into haggard mornings, until one day we don’t recognize ourselves anymore.

It’s human nature to want answers, especially when something is unexpected and painful. I once spent many years chasing (and longing for) answers, apologies, and at one point I wanted to inflict the exact same hurt that someone had inflicted on me. I wanted relief, and as much as I hate admitting it, sometimes I wanted to be the one to have the last word. None of it ever came to be, and in the long run I don’t think I would have been satisfied. I wanted those that hurt me to be the ones to heal me, and most of the time it never goes both ways.

Maybe it’s easy to say now because I’ve become comfortable with not knowing, at least at this moment. Maybe I’ve been through enough where I’m confident that no matter how gut-punching the past is, and how terrifying the future is, I will always get through it. It might be by the skin of my own teeth, but I do.

I don’t want to ever completely ignore what once was, because I would be denying how it shaped me as a person, and what I’ve learned from all of it. I don’t want to forget how to accept people for who they are, how to have compassion and show compassion. I don’t want to forget what it feels like to be mistreated, so I don’t treat others the same way. Ultimately I want to remember how far I’ve come, so that I can be a light for someone else who’s walking a similar path.

Despite what’s argued otherwise, I do believe that it’s possible to tell a story purely for the sake of providing context, rather than throwing a pity party. Acknowledging where a problem began is not the same thing as holding a grudge or calling out a person’s faults. And reflecting on an experience does not necessarily mean you’re stuck in the past. If I didn’t reflect or think about things, I wouldn’t be a writer.

Rather than “let it go,” I choose to let it be. I still feel and have my opinions, but I ultimately choose to keep going in order to keep living. Sometimes appropriate boundaries are necessary if I’m trying to move forward from toxic relationships or periods in my life. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it definitely helps. Counseling is a beautiful resource, and I will never stop advocating for it. Feeding does more than fixing ever will. And slowly but surely, good things start to happen: you feel lighter, stronger, and more self-aware. But it’s always one day at time, one foot in front of the other.

I came to better understand all of it when I ran into an old love at the end of this past summer. It was after a mutual friend’s funeral, and I’d actually had a dream/premonition a night or so prior that we would see each other again. He hugged me and exclaimed that it had been a long time, never mentioning that it had been three years without any sort of contact. We caught up on life and I got to meet his little girl, a mixture of sweet and awkward and feeling seventeen again. For a few brief moments I wanted him to take me aside and hold me the way that he used to, but I think that was just the grief talking. Life had just been turned on its head a week prior, and I was completely overwhelmed to the point where I couldn’t think straight.

I debated on reaching out to him on Facebook afterward to thank him for taking care of me all of those years ago. In the end I had decided against it because I didn’t see the point in disrupting the boundaries that I’d set or the progress I’d made. I’d come to terms with the ending of our relationship long beforehand, but seeing him was definitely a positive bookend and confirmation. He had served a meaningful purpose, and I was content with that.

It truly is different for situation. Additionally, it’s extremely important to note that mourning the end of a physical life is extremely different than mourning a season, phase, or relationship. You might experience triggers, dreams, and moments every so often, which may or may not mean anything. In some respect, certain events and times in your life will always have some impact, and that’s okay. What matters is how you choose to use it for good, and whether you allow it to drag you down or build you up.

There is life again. There is love again. There is beginning again and re-purposing the pain. See it, choose it, and pursue it. One day at a time.

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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.

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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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