Long Overdue

It’s been so long since I’ve put letters to screen… Since I’ve written, period, really. I got so caught up in making it to the weekend, I lost months. It’s a reminder to live each day. I feel like I’ve been in hibernation until recently. I did a Whole30 in November-December and it was a lesson in discipline. It’s an amazing feeling, realizing you are stronger than you ever thought. (For those who are not familiar, Whole30 is a 30-day paleo challenge – no sugar/processed foods, dairy, legumes/soy, alcohol, or grains). I made it all the way and am currently doing a second one. It makes you feel healthy and powerful. I love it. It also reduces inflammation, which has helped my pain.

I’ve been focusing internally, because I looked in the mirror (literally and figuratively) and I didn’t like what I saw. I’ve gotten lazy and stressed out by my job. I’m not sleeping well at night. I started feeling anxiety, again, and I just want peace. So, if I don’t make any changes, nothing will change.

What has encouraged me to get back to writing the most is that I realized earlier this month that 30 is just around the corner for me – about 4 months from now. So, in panic-mode, I threw together a pre-30 Bucket List… Now, I’m going to make myself accountable for the following things by posting them on the internet. That makes everything real, right?

Things to Do Before I’m 30:

1) Simplify my possessions – clean up, get rid of what I do not need, pack
2) Go camping without help (i.e. without an adult haha)
3) Try the Rejection Therapy game (see http://rejectiontherapy.com)
4) Write every day – no matter what it is
5) Actually finish a Coursera course
6) Actually finish a book
7) Go one week without TV/Netflix/Hulu, etc.
8) Volunteer
9) Join and actually attend something on meetup.com
10) Explore what I really want to do with my life
11) Don’t say anything negative about other people for one month
12) Re-read The Alchemist. Again.

I may add more. TBD.

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A Life of Comfortable Agony, Part I

“Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worst kind of suffering.” – Paulo Coelho

This took almost two weeks to write. Not because it was particularly challenging writing, but it was soul-work and I’ve been avoiding it. So much is going on in my life and, yet, not enough. I’ve been making small, but noticeable steps forward. Those seem to be the most infuriating; I wish I could just shake myself into action, but I’m just slower than I used to be.

I had a cleansing cry in the car, driving home. I wasn’t sad. It was relief and excitement and exhaustion from all I’ve been going through in the last 6 years. Waiting for your life to start is soul-crushing work. Sometimes it takes a long time for you to heal, but the trick is to figure out how to help heal yourself. You can’t live your life with an open wound, physical or emotional. I kept telling myself I wasn’t going to be scared anymore, but that’s not true. I’m probably going to be terrified most of the time, but I won’t let it stop me. I won’t let it hold me back anymore.

I keep reminding myself that “the best way out is always through” (Robert Frost). I need to go through this to get to the other side. I have to feel what I’m feeling, because “it’s better to feel pain than nothing at all” (Lumineers). Anyone who’s ever been in an antidepressant haze knows how true that is… Well, any substance-induced emotion-extinguishing haze, really. It won’t be easy, but I don’t want easy. I want to experience it all.

Things are clearer now that I’ve made a concrete decision about the direction my life is going to go in. It’s made me realize I’ve been focusing on the wrong things. I’ve been saying I’m the same person I used to be under all the chronic pain and suffering, the traumatic brain injury, and the depression, but I’m not. I won’t find my old, outgoing, happy-go-lucky self under it all like I’ve promised myself before; I don’t think she lives here anymore. I realized that I don’t want to find her, anyway. She let herself be walked all over, used up, and manipulated. She let herself be cheated on and gave too many second chances. She let other people make her feel like she deserved less than she does. She accepted excuses from others and herself. She fell and just laid there; she didn’t even try to pick herself back up. She may have been happy at some point, but it was ignorant bliss. She was weak, just a layer that needed to be peeled away. She wasn’t able to deal with everything that has happened in this life (bad decisions, the accident, the loss, change, etc.), so she abandoned me. And, the truth, as cliche as it sounds, is that if I hadn’t been through all this, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I don’t really know who that is, yet, but I like her already. I’m looking forward to getting to know her better. She looks to the future and doesn’t dwell in the past.

I’ve always been someone who clings to rules and craves a set of instructions. I always felt the burden of expectations placed on me and obliged. After high school, you go to college. You start a career (that’s as far as I got before my car accident) and marry before 30. Then, comes kids. What happens if you fall short, something unexpected derails those plans, or you don’t even want those things? I’ll tell you what happens: you just become increasingly disappointed in yourself. It builds and becomes despair. The chasm between what I’ve wanted for myself and what is has seemed insurmountable most days. As a result, I moved through life since being derailed with the enthusiasm of a zombie. I’m ready to reject all these expectations and write my own story. I don’t know if it will have a happy ending, but knowing that there will be happy days is enough for me to want to try. 

“To live would be an awfully big adventure.” – Peter Pan

I’ve depended too heavily on other people and self-help books for support, advice, answers, and even decisions. Maybe so I don’t have to face the constant fear I’ve been living in. Maybe it’s just so I don’t have to expend the energy required to make the decision myself. Or, maybe it’s so I can avoid taking responsibility when things inevitably go wrong. Regardless, in doing so, I’ve lulled myself into a life of comfortable agony. I stopped growing as a person the second I got comfortable and stopped challenging myself. I see now that life doesn’t come with a set of instructions and I will only learn by doing; I must figure it out myself. No one can draw me a map of how to pull myself out this grave I’ve dug for myself. The only way to figure it out and ‘get through it’ is by approaching it in my own way. Figuring it out on my own will allow me to experience it in a way that I can truly understand. It’s a life of trial and error, and always of learning. I can’t depend or wait on anyone else, because they’re not coming. And, that’s kind of a reassuring thought to me, because I know now that it’s up to me.

The serendipitous circumstance that I find myself in is that if I had lived up to those expectations and was married with children like so many people my age, I wouldn’t be standing here, ready to head out on my own (excited out of my mind). So, ironically, my failures in the realm of adult relationships were a blessing in disguise. I think that most of the time we go through life, focusing on the negative (i.e. the bad decisions we’ve made and their consequences), but every now and then, the universe conspires to give us a glimpse of the grand scheme of things. It’s so rare and you have to be looking to catch it. But, if you do, you’ll see how everything that has happened is connected and those decisions you made in the past got you to where you are today. And, on occasion, the universe may reveal to you a path. You have to be ready to jump in, feet first and follow it. That’s where I am standing: at the beginning, once again. This is me, officially announcing that I am moving to California this year!

I will keep writing, because it’s when I’m writing that things are clearest. It allows me to dig through the muddled, lazy thoughts, and put the pieces together. As I write this, like I said, I’m standing at the beginning, and that’s alright with me. I have everything to look forward to. I need to throw myself into a situation that strips away my obsession with doing things ‘the right way’; like going out on my own. I know there is a lot ahead of me and that genuinely excites me for once. I just hope it’s messy, uncomfortable, and wonderful.

Part 2 will follow today or tomorrow.

Song playing as I press “Publish”: Hall of Fame by The Script.

New Adventure #2: Made Dinner

New Adventure: made an entire meal by myself with all fresh ingredients.

Today, I completed the second of my new experiences for 2014. I know, it’s a little sad… I’m a 28-year-old who’s never made a whole meal for herself. Well, now I have. I’ve recently been making vegetables in different ways, which I found is kind of relaxing (despite the pain it causes my back), as long as I get to play my music.

I made grilled chicken, sauteed zucchini, boiled potatoes, and roasted yellow squash… all by myself!!

Yum

Yum

I cheated a little with the chicken… I used a George Forman Grill. Seeing as our oven has been broken for years and the small upper-over (I don’t know what it’s called) doesn’t work all that well, the GFG was my best option. It turned out pretty well. And, it only takes like 6-8 minutes.

My favorite was the sauteed zucchini. I thought I was pretty much a pro at making zucchini at this point, but I added a few garlic cloves to the mix, which I have never done before, and it really enhanced the flavor. I didn’t think it was possible for zucchini to get any better. I could have eaten an entire meal of this zucchini. It was just zucchini, olive oil, and a few chopped garlic cloves.

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Sauteed zucchini with chopped garlic cloves.

I also made red-skinned boiled potatoes, but I kind of over-cooked them. Oh, well, they were pretty good. Kind of blah.

Boiled red skin potatoes

Boiled red skin potatoes

The last thing I made did NOT work out all that well. It was cubed roasted yellow squash, margarine (I couldn’t bring myself to use butter), brown sugar and cinnamon and was meant to be a healthy dessert. I put it on a cookie sheet covered in aluminum foil in the over at 350 degrees for 20-40 minutes. All the pieces pretty much burnt on one side, and, yet, weren’t cooked all the way through. I was kind of over it at this point, though.

Mixing yellow squash, margarine, brown sugar and cinnamon

Mixing yellow squash, margarine, brown sugar and cinnamon

The finished product... not so great.

The finished product… not so great.

Lessons learned:
– One simple ingredient can change the flavor drastically.
– It’s difficult to cook more than one thing at a time! You have to juggle so much and remember how long things have to cook for. It’s overwhelming.
– Worst part of cooking: cleaning up afterwards. Well, I already knew this, but tonight reaffirmed it.
– It was kind of nice.

What I’m playing when I press publish: Skinny Love by Bon Iver

New Years Resolutions

This year is all about trying new things, taking action, and following through…

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1. Adopt healthy habits (exercise, eat healthy, cook my own meals). Follow the 80/20 plan.
2. Take more photographs, regardless of how I look.
3. Be open and honest with everyone in my life.
4. Clean and organize my things.
5. Move by the end of the year (preferably to Cali).
6. Say yes to new experiences… Try at least one new adventure every week that I’ve never done before.
7. Volunteer 150 hours by the end of the year.
8. Keep up with blog.
9. Start book. Try to finish.
10. Try guitar, again
11. Complete at least 3 MOOCs by the end of the year.
12. Brush up on French.
13. Practice yoga and/or pilates on a regular basis
14. Develop new skill (ideas: cooking, photography…)
15. Laugh as much as possible.
16. 30 minutes of meditation, 30 minutes of exercise, 30 minutes of reading/writing, and 30 minutes of brain training every day.
17. Stop letting fear control me.
18. Forgive myself and others

Introducing…

I am someone who:

– loves writing, Pilates and yoga, knitting, driving with no particular destination, music, reading, movies (especially the horror genre), but who has a hard time following through.

– is constantly plagued by wanderlust and whose dream job involves traveling the world and writing, but, ironically, I think I’d hate to be a travel writer (it’s usually so superficial).

– went through 7 majors in college… English, Journalism, Business, Integrative Arts (Music Business), Media Studies, Anthropology, and Global Affairs.

– once had 19 piercings and dated a guy that wore guyliner (but that’s another story).

– struggles with a tremendous lack of self-confidence and is learning to not hate herself, because she isn’t where she thinks she should be at this point in her life and is far from the standard of beauty perpetuated by the American media.

– is more interested in improving herself than finding a new man, which I think means I’m growing up.
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I am participating in the Zero to Hero Blogger Challenge, so I’ll be writing from prompts on occasion. Today is the first day of the challenge, so the prompt is write and publish a “who I am and why I’m here” post.

First, I want to mention that I am excited to connect with new people through my blog, so if you have anything to say to me at all, whether it’s encouraging, hate (as long as you’re prepared to engage in a conversation about whatever it is you’re hating), a grammar correction, a joke, something you want me to check out, or just a hello, please leave a comment or contact me. I’ll reply.

Here goes… I’m a 28-year-old female who has a B.A. in Global Affairs and a concentration in Sub-Saharan Africa. I am currently not working. I am a chronic pain sufferer and was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury after a really bad car accident almost six years ago (but I don’t plan on complaining about it frequently, if that’s what you’re worried about). I’ve struggled with depression on-and-off over the past eight years and have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I spent the years following the accident heavily medicated and being told by medical health professionals how these things would limit me and how to deal with it. When you’re constantly focused on limitations long enough, you suddenly find yourself defined by these things. I finally got to a point where I couldn’t stand to spend another day letting that happen, so I’m trying to get my life together. I’ve lived in Northern Virginia my entire life (aside from 2 years at Penn State University, before I transferred) and I absolutely hate it. The only tolerable time of year here is autumn because the leaves are beautiful. The winters amplify my pain. I have plans to move to California at the end of summer.

My blog will be focused on (but definitely not limited to) a challenge that I came up with my friend, Andrea, after we grew bored with our lives in Northern Virginia: try at least one new experience every week. I will also talk about other things like chronic pain, getting my life together after letting it fall to pieces over the past 6 years, depression, getting healthy, setting new goals, adopting a more positive attitude, traveling, music, and more.

I am blogging, instead of keeping a personal journal, because, as I learned in my last failed relationship, I have a difficult time communicating with people, especially after the accident. At the time, I grew apart from my best friends, because I felt incapable of expressing what I was going through to them. Instead, I withdrew into myself and alienated everyone. Fortunately, writing has always been the best way for me to express myself. I think that the things I will express here will surprise people about me and you’ll probably never hear me say them outloud. Also, I have about 20 journals sitting around my room, mostly blank, that I just never followed through with over the years, so I’m hoping the change in medium will encourage me to write more. In fact, I hope to get started on a novel soon, so I can definitely use the writing practice. Since my memory is a little faulty, I think it will be good for me to keep a record of things going on, as well.

Some great writing pointers for just starting out...

Some great writing pointers for just starting out…

If I blog successfully throughout 2014, I hope to improve my writing skills, build my confidence as a writer, connect with people going through similar things, improve communication with other people, and get feedback. I hope you’ll follow my journey.

If you want more info on the Zero to Hero Blogger Challege, go here: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/zero-to-hero/

What I’m listening to as I press “Publish”: “Out of the Blue” by Prides. I can’t get over this song. Give it a listen: https://soundcloud.com/pridesband/out-of-the-blue

NJ Falls into the Atlantic…

As I sit here at 5 AM, waiting for sunrise, with one friend passed out in the backseat of her car that’s parked in the Caesar’s Atlantic City Hotel and Casino parking garage (because, as we found out, rooms are $799 tonight) and another dozing in the chair next to me, I can’t help but think about how I got here. In this abandoned corner of Caesar’s Casino, Natalie Merchant’s “Wonder” is the unfortunate soundtrack to my thoughts. Our goal is to see the sun rise somewhere we never have before. So, we decided to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic for the first time of 2014 in Atlantic City.

I’ve seen the sun rise in Paris, the Shenandoah mountains, Connecticut, California, New York City, all over Virginia, Penn State, and more places than I can remember, but this is probably the most significant sunrise for me (and I’m in New Jersey, of all places). I’m finally feeling a shift in my heart. All I’ve hoped and prayed for after struggling with depression for eight years is a change in perspective and attitude. It’s something so small, but so seemingly impossible for someone with depression. But, I’m feeling it and the most exciting part for me is that I know that I’m doing it. I’m finally learning from the mistakes I’ve made in the past few years and from letting five years slip away from me because of chronic pain and depression.

I can’t change much about the pain I deal with every day, but I can stop it from stealing away the parts of me that make me who I am. I can feel myself emerging the person I used to be, a little more every day. The person who cared most about her family, friends, helping people, and seeing the world. The person who would laugh so hard my throat would hurt. I think I’ve laughed harder and with more heart in the past month than I have in the past five years. The double-edged sword of antidepressants is that they may make the lows more bearable, but they make the highs dull. Being numb to everything to avoid the negative spectrum of emotions robs you of the best feelings. That’s the effect they had on me. I guess I see now that when my friends told me a few years ago that I changed, they were right. And, if it were back then, I would be mad about it and I would argue I couldn’t help it. But, now, I just feel acceptance. Things unfold the way they do and I believe there is reason behind it.

2013 was an unfortunate, but necessary year for me. I went through a lot, but more importantly, like I said, I actually learned from it. I decided to end a significant relationship, and I’m glad that I did, because I came out of it broken. I don’t know who I’d be today if I had remained in that relationship. He was manipulative and wore down what little self-confidence I had over the course of our 1.5-ish year relationship. And, after it was over, I had to hold my ground and stand up for myself repeatedly, because he didn’t respect my demands that it needed to end. It finally did, though. While I would rather have avoided the heartbreak altogether, I can appreciate that it happened and that it was important. I literally had to build myself back up, one brick at a time. Most days, I backtracked and self-sabotaged, but it eventually made my foundation stronger. I am more realistic now about my expectations of myself and others.

The main theme of my 2013 was fear… crippling fear that held me back from so many things. Fear disguised as what doctors told me was “anxiety.” I never associated anxiety with fear in my mind, because I didn’t have a reference point for anxiety, so it seemed to be something separate. I never really understood it. I feel like I would have handled things differently if someone had told me, “Hey, you’re just scared!” It wasn’t until I finally made that simple and, frankly, obvious connection that they were one in the same that anxiety made sense to me. I realized that I just needed to identify what I was scared of.

My goal for the new year is to embrace the fear, as terrifying as that sounds. Forcing yourself outside your comfort zone is a sure way of getting to know yourself and seeing what you’re capable of. That’s why I am challenging myself to say “yes” to at least one thing I’ve never done before every week (which is what I will write about under “new adventures”). Seeing the sun rise in Atlantic City definitely falls under that category.

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Here’s that sunrise. 2014 is going to be my best year, yet.

P.S. If anyone knows where the title of the post is from, without a Google search, you’re awesome.