Twenty Seven

I turned twenty seven on May 27th. The last couple of months have brought intense pain, growth, and change. I lost one of my childhood friends to suicide in April. I saw his car – where he ended his life – afterwards and it was devastating. I finished my second semester back in school with straight As and a 4.0 for the year. I also moved in April and had a complete meltdown that I am ever so thankful for because it led to me finally getting the help I needed.

It was a muggy Saturday, the clouds looked like they were ready to release a downpour at any second. Exhausted, physically and mentally, My Mom and I watched as the movers carefully lugged all of our belongings, separated by yellow and purple duct tape on boxes, down the stairs and into the truck. I felt good, there was a mix of nervous excitement in my stomach. I drove over to meet the cable guy by myself. I picked up the keys, twisted the knob and opened the door into my new, empty apartment. Everything was clean and ready for me to fill with my own belongings. The cable guy came, my grandmother showed up, and then finally the movers made their way from my Mom’s new apartment to mine. Their eyes widened as they pulled up and realized all my belongings needed to come up three flights of stairs. After a couple of hours my apartment was now full with boxes ready to be emptied. My Mom had gone back to her apartment to meet the cable guy and I was starving. I drove to pick up fast food for my grandmother and I while she began unpacking.

While in line I started feeling strange, then my eyes began to well. I realized that I was really on my own now and this new, exciting chapter in my life was about to begin. On my way home those bittersweet tears turned into full on sobbing. I didn’t stop crying all day, even as we unpacked box after box of my belongings. I cried for six hours straight. I realized that my tears were more than the acknowledgement of change and were actually the start of a breakdown. I was not afraid to be on my own, I was so happy for that, so why the tears? I was so confused. I chalked it up to exhaustion and went to sleep for the first time in my new place. The next day came and the tears immediately followed. Another full day of crying and feeling like a complete failure. My Mom came over again and was becoming increasing concerned. I was worried, too. I had never been this bad – I have always been a crier but never like this. Something was wrong.

On the third full day of crippling depression I went to my Mom’s apartment and told her I needed help, that I couldn’t continue like this. That the weight of the past year, really the past decade, had finally fully broken me. The devastating way I had to change jobs, starting school full-time, preparing to move, the suicide of a friend the week before I moved. Moving was just the straw that broke the camels back. We quickly arranged for me to see my primary care physician that evening and I did. I started Zoloft on May 2nd and the last four weeks have been a whirlwind but a very necessary one.

The intense nausea came first, along with the worst headaches I’ve ever had, but I was able to wake up in the morning without crying. After two weeks the side effects settled and I felt better than I had in a long time. I found myself smiling again, able to enjoy things and breathe. At the four-week mark I am able to better rationalize my feelings, if I am having a self-deprecating thought or a moment of panic I can squash it pretty quickly. I still have anxiety and bouts of depression but they are less severe, and I know they will only get better as the weeks go by. I am feeling hopeful for the first time in a long time.

This experience has taught me a huge lesson in self-care. We are advertised this image of self care being candles, hot baths, Netflix, and pints of ice cream. While all of those are enjoyable, I’ve come to realize true self care is taking care of the difficult shit in your life. Admitting you need help, taking medication, taking care of adult things like bills, doctors appointments, and difficult conversations. I feel so much better doing all of those things while still enjoying the benefits of a nice (dairy free) pint of ice cream.

As I reflect back on the last couple of years, I see a woman who was in denial about her issues. I see the blinding pride of thinking I could bear this burden on my own, the naive belief that if I exercised and ate right I could heal my problems. The shameful thoughts that my family and friends didn’t need to be burdened with my issues. The truth is I can’t outrun my depression and anxiety, that I need my family and they are one-hundred percent there to support me. I am an intensely private person and opening up about my struggles to my own parents was difficult, but they have been nothing short of amazing. This has brought us all closer and opened the door to very important and long overdue conversations.

I thought I would be ashamed of myself if I ever started medication, that it would signal I was weak. Instead, I feel stronger than ever. I feel proud of the fact I reached out and was able to seek help. It’s perfectly okay to not be able to do this on my own. My challenge to myself this year was to be more vulnerable and I am fully living up to that now. I know I still have a long way to go but I am now more prepared than ever.

Anxiety

I have been struggling the past few months. I have been beating myself about it because I have been through so much that pales in comparison to my current situation. I keep wondering “why now”? Why, after everything I’ve been through, am I unable to cope? I throw my hands up and say “I must be weak”. The truth is that chronic stress has taken its toll and I’ve never addressed it.

I never addressed the profound grief I am journeying through after losing six loved ones. Even tonight, at complete random, I got upset when I remembered Nathan texted me the night before he killed himself and I didn’t respond. We were at a Super Bowl party, he asked me to come outside and I didn’t. I have no clue why – I was caught up with everyone else. I wonder if he wanted to say bye. It has haunted me but I shove it down deep inside. These are the types of things I need to address.

I never addressed my shame from past relationships. I never addressed my parents divorce, although it was not as painful as it could have been it still takes a toll. I never addressed my half-brother and the painful situation surrounding him.

All of these things together, coupled with the massive life changes I am going through in quick succession – moving out on my own, going back to college, switching jobs – has been a recipe for disaster.

I have a lot to unpack, a mountain of past feelings that are affecting my ability to live a happy life. I feel guilty because I have everything I could ever need – a supportive family, a roof over my head, a job that pays my bills, a loving boyfriend. Yet I am still anxious and depressed, still living with this crushing fear. I don’t want to ruin all the good things I have.

This has taken a toll on my physical health as well. My stomach is a mess, it’s interfering with my work and personal life. I can’t tolerate a lot of food right now. I don’t get enough sleep. I miss feeling a sense of longing, wonder, and excitement. I miss being outside of my head. As much as I have tried no amount of healthy eating, exercise, sleep, or mediation will help me. I need real professional help.

The first step is acknowledgment. I am taking that step.

Help

Reaching out for help is not weakness,
It’s strength.
Crying is not a sign you cannot handle,
it means you have the capacity for empathy –
a beautiful thing.
Baggage is not a burden;
Like returning from a long vacation,
eventually you need to unpack.
Alcohol, while falsely empowering,
is temporary. It will not heal.
The extra weight will weigh you down
physically and mentally.
Every day you put on your armor
of business casual, or whatever you can muster.
Make up, drawn perfect or not.
Many times rising out of bed is an act of bravery.
Celebrate it.
It’s so easy for outsiders to say
“Eat healthy, exercise, get adequate sleep”
as if mental illness is a formula so easily solved.
Eat the damn pizza, deal with the stomach pain for the night,
then rise again and face the day.
Your imperfections are beautiful.
If you want to get better, even if you aren’t actively able to right now,
you’re already miles ahead.
You are stronger than you think.

2016

2016 has been a wild ride. It’s become an overplayed joke at how “terrible” this year has been. Sure, we lost a lot of greats and our political climate is unsettling but I think what it boils down to is us millennials finally getting old enough to really see life for what it is – a never ending ride of ups and downs. When I was younger, I thought happiness was this destination I would suddenly arrive at. With each new year I felt an overwhelming sense of opportunity to start fresh, I thought things would truly change. Now, in my more jaded years, I see the life for what it is – an endless string of good, bad, and the ugly all mixed together to make an amazing experience. I am so idealistic at heart, I want to believe in clean slates and fresh starts but I’ve learned that anything can happen, we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Life can be painful, messy, and there will be great hurt beyond our control. When I start to objectively look at these sources of pain from the outside I take them for what they are – experiences – and don’t let them define me, I simply learn from them.

Vulnerability. This is a word that has been weighing heavy on my heart and soul lately. I struggle with this concept. I play my cards close to my chest, keep my thoughts to myself, and do not share my light with the world. I have a hard time trusting people. It’s easy to say “I don’t know why” but I would be lying. Grieving through my teenage years left me depressed, anxious, and paranoid I would lose loved ones. It’ s much easier to push people away instead of getting attached and risk losing them. I was deeply betrayed by an ex-boyfriend and his friends in my early 20’s and now its hard to trust the opposite sex. I’m extremely self conscious and want people to like me so I deny myself happiness based on the possibility I may not be accepted or liked. I am too hard on myself and obsess over past mistakes which makes it difficult to give up the unnecessary shame in my head. I would love to share my photography and writing with the world in a more accessible format but I’m worried about what those I know will think, if they will think it’s weird or if they will think I’m egotistical for taking self portraits. I want to allow myself to be vulnerable in 2017, to let others in, to let my own family in. I keep so much to myself that I stifle growth and connection. This is the most important thing to work on in the coming months.

I enjoy looking back on the past year to celebrate success and reflect on lessons from the difficult times. This year marked the absolute most difficult situation in my professional life. It was a very personal attack on my mother, myself, and the physician I worked for. Once we were bought out it became clear the stark difference in a family run business and a corporation. I gave my entire early adulthood to this place, nine years, from the ages of 17 to 26. I worked my way up from a file clerk to the office manager. The last two years were brutal, 50-60 hour work weeks with little appreciation, compensation, or light at the end of the tunnel. I have always prided myself on hard work and dedication but it got completely out of control. I felt like I had something to prove because my Mom worked for the same company, I didn’t want to just be seen as her daughter. It caused me to care too much what people thought, work an unhealthy amount, and ultimately put so much stress on myself I could barely function at work, much less outside of work. I allowed work to define me and when it was taken from me I had no idea who I was anymore. My life was work, work was my life. When I was told they had hired my replacement even though I had not quit I had no idea what to do. I felt so betrayed. I had put so much blood, sweat, tears, and time into that place and they just tossed me like a piece of trash. I learned that businesses cannot be loyal and I cannot be loyal to a business but only to myself. Instead of letting this situation define me, I decided to let it teach me important lessons about loyalty, vulnerability, trust, and business.

The biggest, most exciting accomplishment has been returning to college. I still don’t think it has sunk in that I’m a college student again. I’m attending UNT and will hopefully have my bachelors completed by 2018. This has been a life long dream of mine. I have spent nights crying on the floor while studying because I’m so frustrated and exhausted after a full day of work. It was easy to get mad at myself for not doing this sooner but I am choosing to trust the timing of my life. This is for a reason. I can appreciate it more now, I care more, I see the benefits. I enjoy the challenge and I am so excited for the new opportunities this will bring.

I started a new job that builds on my technical knowledge while satisfying the project management side of me. It’s also forcing me out of my comfort zone as a large part of it is presenting applications to large groups of people. I have a lot of anxiety, so this is allowing me to overcome that slowly but surely.

I will not go into 2017 thinking it will be “amazing” or “my year” because nothing is guaranteed. I will go into it with the hope of continued growth, the excitement of new possibilities, and a heart full of love.

Here’s to a prosperous 2017.

First Semester Thoughts

“Only the educated are free.” – Epictetus

This semester I have made mistakes, impressed myself, disappointed myself, and spent several nights crying on the floor. My first semester back in college after a seven year hiatus has taught me a lot about myself, about habits, and about balance. The five things I need to improve on for next semester:

  1. Sleep is integral, especially while working and going to school full time, I cannot be productive on five to six hours of sleep. After working all day I do not have the energy to continue studying productively. I must make sleep a priority.
  2. Exercise and Nutrition keep me healthy physically and mentally. Both have gone by wayside this semester and it has negatively affected my mood, weight, skin, and energy levels. When I exercise and eat right I feel better.
  3. Balance is key. I’ve made sacrifices in the wrong areas. I need to prioritize the above mentioned areas and schedule social time instead of doing things at the last minute. Free time is a very important part of the process but it must be planned well.
  4. Plan my week – break down readings and assignments into chunks and stop waiting to complete everything at the same time. Breaking things into smaller parts helps with retention. Make a commitment to complete my daily tasks, even if it’s just a small chunk of reading.
  5. Forgive myself when I stumble and don’t obsess over mistakes. I need to give myself the same compassion that I give others. Negative, degrading thoughts will only prevent me from learning and growing.

Every part of the above list will help me excel in school, work, and my personal life. I definitely strayed very far off course but I have forgiven myself. I had a rough summer, with many personal and professional challenges that heavily impacted my life. I look forward to continuing my education and am so thankful for the opportunity to complete my degree.

“Embracing stress is an act of bravery, one that requires choosing meaning over avoiding discomfort.” – Kelly McGonigal

Trust The Timing of Your Life

I am in the final four weeks of my first semester back at college. This semester has been grueling as I also started a new job in August. To say this has been a huge test of my willpower would be an understatement.

It’s difficult to balance all aspects of my life. Work, school, exercise, nutrition, health, sleep, hobbies, family, friends. When I focus on one area, another suffers. I am used to being able to well manage all areas of my life. Usually what suffers the most is my sleep. I want to be everything to everyone (including myself) all the time and it’s just not possible. I am prone to beating myself up over minor failures (skipping the gym, eating fast food, etc) instead of celebrating what I was able to accomplish. I didn’t cook a fresh dinner tonight but I got a lot of studying done for my math test. That is still a worthy accomplishment.

The internet is riddled with people supposedly “having it all”. Instagram posts, Facebook posts, Snapchat stories all showing us how “put together” people are. The working out while taking care of their kid, cooking a healthy meal, and maintaining relationships type. While I’m sure they do achieve these things, other areas of their life may be lacking and we do not see the true emotions and struggles these individuals go through. This facade is something I discuss often because it’s important to remember with the prominence of social media.

In the thick of the stress, I find myself getting caught in the negative feedback loop of regret. “I should have gone to school when everyone else did”, “I should have gone to school out of state when I was younger”, “I wish I had started this sooner”. I quickly come to my senses and remember there was no way I could have afforded traditional college at 18, especially out of state, and starting now is better than never starting at all.

I believe that things happens for reasons we cannot full understand. I don’t mean on a religious level, I’m not quite sure what level I mean but I believe it with deep conviction. While every one of my friends is engaged or married I am here hustling for a paycheck and a degree. This doesn’t bother me in the least, it’s just humorous that my life has taken a 90 degree turn from what I thought it would be.

In all the stress I must remind myself to let go and embrace the current journey. I need to trust the timing of my life. This is my challenge to myself from here on out.

All or Nothing

I’ve discovered as I’ve gotten older that I do not do well with rules. I can work within the traditional corporate constraints but I wither under micromanagement. I recently realized I have been micromanaging myself which is causing more harm than good. I tend to get lost in the all-or-nothing mentality. “If I can’t complete my reading tonight I might as well not start it” or “If I don’t get 100% then I failed”

I’ve always enjoyed the methods of organizing; planners, calendars, OneNote, Google Keep. Starting college prompted an even deeper spiral into the land of tasks and to do lists. I find myself more consumed in planning my assignments for the week than actually completing the work. I like to call it ‘procrastination planning’, I was avoiding dreaded tasks by plotting them out instead of completing them.

My organizational obsession and all or nothing mindset has set me up for unnecessary stress. I had forgotten the tried-and-true method of getting as much done as you can in the day. Even if it’s only 10 minutes that’s enough. Exercise is another piece of my life that has suffered from excessive planning. I got out of the habit during the scorching summer months and now, as I reestablish my routine, I find myself frustrated if I can’t get a full workout in. Of course, I must meet deadlines but there are less stressful ways to reach those.

If all I can do is 15 minutes of yoga that’s what I need to do. If I only accomplish one push up or 10 squats then that’s better than nothing. If I can only read a few pages for one of my classes that’s better than holding off till the last minute. I’ve always believed in baby steps and perpetual progress. This mindset helps my rule aversion while still satisfying the organizational side of my brain.

This month I challenge myself to focus on completing tasks and not over planning. To continue to make baby steps and not get stuck in all-or-nothing mentality. My first semester back in school is almost halfway over and I am hoping this will allow me to finish the semester strong and set myself up for future success.