A Birthday & A Book

Three years ago today, I sat on the edge of my bed, basking in the faint glow of my computer screen and haunted by the little blue publish button begging me to just click it. It was my first attempt, after years of hiding behind private blogs and scribbling in tattered notebooks and swearing up and down that all I want to do is write, at a public blog.

At 23 years old, I was clouded by the regret of not continuing with school immediately after graduating, and not-so-gracefully transitioning into my first year post-grad. I was working three jobs and taking one class to fulfill the requirements that I somehow missed in undergrad for official acceptance into graduate school. The vision I had of what my life would be like at 23 didn’t even come close to the reality that I was facing. After having been a student for so long, even only a year and a half off from school left me floundering — a fish out of water. I was pounding the pavement, working my ass off, and trying to get into grad school, but it wasn’t enough.

In retrospect, ‘enough’ meant more than going straight to grad school following undergrad. ‘Enough’ meant more than working three jobs. ‘Enough’ meant more than the career path I should have been on — the blue print that I etched in my mind when I went into college.

Enough, to me, was revisiting dreams and plans I made for myself as a little girl. The truth of the matter was, despite my accomplishments, despite the very clear path that laid ahead of me, despite my knowing that finishing grad school was essentially the only option for me, my heart still ached for wishes I made into the night sky as a kid. I needed a home for the thoughts that stampeded through my head everyday. I needed a home to foster creativity. I needed a home to do what I swore to myself I always would: to write. To keep writing. To never give up on words.

I came to this space thinking that if I could just write out what was going on, that it would fix me. That somehow words on a screen sent out to whomever cared enough to read would somehow heal me.

A lot’s changed in the last three years. What I realized in the process of trying to quiet the noise is that none of this is about me. It’s never really been about me.

At 26, I know everything and nothing about life. I say both everything and nothing, because I know what it’s taken to get me here, but I know nothing about what’s to come. And I want to spend the rest of my life learning and growing and offering whatever fragments of wisdom I have to anyone willing to listen. What I’ve learned, especially in the last three years since starting this blog is that this life has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with the goodness and the love that we put into the world. I started this blog because I was broken and tired and needed an outlet to vent. The notebooks I carried around with me everywhere I went just wasn’t doing my thoughts any justice.

I’ve found that above all else, love wins. Words matter. And I know that despite how many times I’ve fallen to the ground in search of some sort of sign telling me that this is okay. That I can pursue a career as a therapist and still pour my words out onto paper, that there’s no right or wrong way to this life thing. That it makes some sort of sense. To hang tight, and not give in, and keep steady on the path that I’m on. That I’m doing exactly what I can. And that it all matters.

I guess the signs were everywhere, but never there when I wanted them to jump out right in front of me. We have to believe that life, in all its sticky and messy glory, is meant for something so much bigger. That even on the worst of days, when we are stuck between two boulders, unsure of which way is out, this all means something.

Writing and words and reading and life have taught me so much in the last three years. But what I’m learning the most is the importance of connections. Relationships are so important — the ones that are real and true. The people who fight for you and fight with you and celebrate with you and sit next to you when you are in the thick of life. The ones who cheer you on and practice happiness and grace when they, themselves, are struggling to find their own. People matter, conversations matter, words matter.

The truth behind it all is that people will never stay as long as you want them to. But I’ll tell you a secret: they’ll always stay as long as you need them to. That’s something I keep learning over and over again. You will meet people who will turn your life upside down. They’ll come in, they’ll teach you something, you’ll grow and laugh and learn from them. And you’ll wonder where the hell they were before you met them. They’ll be incredible forces in your life. And sometimes, as quickly as they came by, they’ll leave. And it’s disheartening and unfair and sometimes cruel, but you’ll carry in your heart that you are better because of them. You’ll keep their memories, their wisdom, and their words.

Because at the end of the day, I need you to believe that words matter.

I believe that everything in life should be done with intention. I intentionally created this space in an attempt to spill the words that before this stayed dormant inside of leather bound moleskin journals sitting on a dusty shelf, and also to stick it to a high school teacher that told me I have good intention, but I lack follow through.

But I guess that teacher was right all along. I had every intention typing out my first post three years ago to climb a mountain with my fist in the air, as if to say, this is where it starts. This is how I start to change the world. This is where my words will matter. And then in the midst of life and school and the changing seasons of love and everything else in between that day three years ago to where I stand today, I lost the point of it all. The point was never to be a world leader or start a revolution or even change the entire world. The point was to connect with people.

The point is still to connect with people. Until the pen runs out of ink and the words keep from spilling out from inside of me, the point will always be to connect with people.

And that brings me here — to this. Three years later, and my heart still beats for the same thing: for connection, for words, for secrets that can only be shared through eloquent words and sentences and story telling.

In honor of my blogs three year birthday, in honor of beautiful words and stories of staying connected, and in continuing with the tradition that I started last year, I will be giving a book away.

I had the absolute honor of meeting Hannah Brencher at her NYC book signing for her memoir If You Find This Letter: My Journey to Find Purpose Through Hundreds of Letters to Strangers and I snagged an extra copy to give away for this very occasion.

Hannah’s memoir chronicles, in detail, the reality of a life that was meant for more than just standing still. She talks about the transition between being a college student and the year following graduation that she took off to do volunteer work for a non-profit– an important job, but one that left her lonely and isolated, in one of the most heavily populated cities in the world. In the midst of struggling with depression and trying to find what makes her heart beat without making it sink at the same time, Hannah started More Lover Letters out of a single act that came from wanting to share her love through a letter with someone whose tired eyes spoke volumes to her. She talks about tough stuff. Life, and death, and love, and heartache, and spirituality, and her quest to find God — and she does so with wisdom beyond her years.

As someone who swears up and down that she doesn’t cry, Hannah’s words always triggers something in me. Her writing is unlike any other I’ve read and I feel eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to meet her. And because I know how important her words have been to me, I want to gift that to someone else. I want someone else to feel even an ounce of what I felt sitting in the corner of a Pep Boys waiting room with tears streaming down my face as I read about her dad in her book (and got weird looks from men sitting by me). I want someone to read her book and be both gutted and inspired by her story. Because Hannah’s words matter. All words matter.

To enter to win a copy of Hannah Brencher’s memoir, use the contact form below to sign up for my monthly e-mail list that will be starting in April. If you’ve already done so, just leave me a message to let me know you are signed up for that. Extra entries goes to those who are subscribed to my blog and those who follow me on Twitter. If you are subscribed and follow me, just leave me a message below with your email that you used to subscribe to my blog and your Twitter handle. Everyones name will be put in an online generator and the winner will be picked at random. Winners will be chosen on Sunday, March 29th.

Thanks for sticking around. I’m looking forward to another year of making words matter.

Everything You Say Is Gonna Matter, Everything You Do Is Gonna Add Up

I used to envy my friends who grew up with brothers and sisters close in age. I used to go on and on about how lonely it was to be seemingly sibling-less growing up, despite having both a younger brother and sister. My brother is six years younger than me and my sister is 15 years younger than me — both age differences were a bit too much as a kid to ever fully appreciate having what could have been a built-in best friend from the start.

The thing is, even at a young age, I always felt compelled to grab onto the people around me and keep them in my company. I craved conversation. I craved connection. I suppose I realized then how fleeting moments are. How quickly people come and go. Truth be told, I never wanted to be alone.

I say that loosely today because I’ve never really ever been alone. 

My mom was a stay-at-home mom who, for lack of a better word, babysat a few of the neighborhood girls after school. My fondest childhood memories involved those girls and the time we spent together every day after school.

Over time, the girls became the sisters I never had (until, of course, my sister came boppin’ along when I was a freshman in high school). Long before cell phones and social media and the need to measure our own worth by the number of likes or favorites or retweets came crashing into our lives, it was always just me and these girls. Playing and fighting and laughing and dreaming. Face-to-face. We spent hours riding bikes around our neighborhood, taunting the boys that lived houses away from me. We’d set up neighborhood-wide games of manhunt. We laid outside and counted stars. We knew nothing of the future, but we hung onto each other. When we laughed, it was never without tears. When we fought, we kicked and we screamed and we yelled. And when we loved, when we were there for each other in the midst of divorces, threats of divorce, familial discord, and broken homes, we loved hard. We were always present. Always right there with each other.

That was my childhood. In all its glory. It was beautiful and full and connected. It’s hard to believe how long it’s been since I’ve tasted the innocence of what a childhood was. Of the simplest form of fun and happiness. Of face-to-face interactions, getting dirty and muddy and being fully present because we had no other choice but to be.

- – -

I remember the 3rd of July the summer before I turned 21 vividly. The air was hot and sticky, but typical for that time of year on the Jersey Shore. I went with three of my girlfriends to the annual fireworks held a few towns over — a tradition we claimed as our own since we were in high school. Following the fireworks, we packed ourselves up and headed back to one of my friends dads houses. We had a girls night planned: pool, hot tub, and beer.

At 20, we were in the beginning stages of transition. We saw how quickly the world turns. How fast we went from high school seniors to college juniors. We spent that summer, and the summers following, trying to latch onto scraps of our childhood while still trudging through murky water trying to get to that light at the end of the tunnel that was college. While it seemed that summer break for most college students was defined by long days spent at the beach and nights spent funneling beers, ours were never like that. We all took summer classes, interned, worked full-time. We learned early on how difficult it would be to keep up with each other as adults.

But we tried. And we appreciated those fragments where the real world just stops and time seems to be standing still and we get these good, long, full moments with our friends.

It was the summer I realized how small I really was against the tide of love. I was in the crux of loving and hating that green eyed boy whose shallow love was enough to turn me into the boy-obsessed-girl I swore I’d never be. It was his eyes that reeled me in — I melted into those emerald greens every time he looked my way. I was infatuated and consumed and I swore he saw me.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized those eyes never saw me the way I thought they did. At least not in the way I needed them to.

But I swore he was it. He was the one that would save me from every monster masked as a hero. 

I became the person who, wherever she went, had her phone perched right next to her. Keep in mind this was before I got caught in the vortex of smart phones. At the time, I had the Verizon TV phone, and to me, it was the coolest thing next to the T-Mobile sidekick that I never got to claim as my own.

On that 3rd of July night in the middle of the summer of 2009, I sat in the hot tub with three of my childhood friends, beer in hand, eyes glued to my phone sitting on the ledge. Two of my other friends were on their phones as well. Somewhere in the middle of perhaps one too many beers, and I suppose an awkward silence that filled the air, but went by unnoticed at least by me, my friend who didn’t have her phone on her yelled at us. And I know she’s probably reading this right now laughing or rolling her eyes or swearing up and down that it didn’t play out that way. But I swear it did. “Can you guys get off of your phones? I just wanted to spend a night with my friends and you’re glued to the screens. We never get to spend much time together, and now that we’re here, you’re not really even here.”

And maybe those weren’t her exact words. But they were close. And she was mad. And for a long time we looked back on that night and teased her for it. We teased her for being bossy and overbearing and getting mad when all we wanted to do was stay connected with the boys on the other ends of our phone.

Little did I know then what all of that would really mean. Little did I know that trying so hard to connect really disconnected us from what was literally sitting right in front of us.

Oh, and by the way, my little Verizon TV phone fell in the hot tub that night. It took a plunge right into the warm water and sunk to its death. And I guess that’s why karma is a thing, right?

- – -

It saddens and scares me that my sister will never have what I had. At 11 years old, her idea of spending a Friday night with her friends is sitting in front of her computer and having a group video chat with them. She’ll never know communication beyond the three inches of her iPhone. She’ll never know the excitement of coming home to a letter from a pen pal — a friend who moved away but still kept in touch via letter writing. I’m afraid she’ll never have the same affinity for deep, intellectually stimulating conversations as I do. I’m afraid that an argument between she and one of her friends will always be as a result of words that didn’t go over well in text. I’m afraid she’ll never be able to look someone square in the face and tell them what she feels.

Part of me wants to raise up the white flag, throw in the towel, and accept that this is it. We are a social-media-technologically-driven-world. You are never really ever running errands alone, because your head is in your phone having a conversation with someone about last nights date. When you’re riding the train to work, the person next to you is scrolling through his Facebook feed. Awkward silences in elevators often result in everyone pulling out their phones and pretending to be in the midst of a juicy conversation with someone.

But I just can’t bring myself to give up just yet. I want more than that. I want more than text messages and Facebook wall posts and favorites on a picture. I want to be present. Real conversations. Real Kodak moments that aren’t up for others to judge whether or not they like them. I want to be connected — really connected.

When I’m sitting in the middle of a coffee shop catching up with a friend, I am already planning the rest of the day out in my head. Did I submit that paper on time yet? Did I apply for graduation? Did I make sure I turned my hair straightener off before I left my house? When does my car need to go to the shop? And if I’m not going a mile a minute in my head, I’m scrolling through my phone. Answering people I left hanging. Sifting through e-mails making sure I didn’t miss anything. Casually checking my Instagram feed that’s usually inundated with engagement rings and feeble attempts at “Food Porn.”

I don’t want it to be like that. I don’t ever want to be sitting face-to-face with someone and miss the point.

There is still something so romantic, so beautiful, almost sacred, about real conversations. And I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to ever get so caught up in my life that I forget how much more to life there is beyond a text conversation. Because the truth is: life exists in the details. Love exists in the details. Connection exists in the details.  

It’s in the smile that lights up the restaurant the second you walk in and meet up with a friend whom you haven’t seen in months. In the face-to-face conversations about the tough stuff — heartache and loss and love and careers and life-altering decisions. It’s in being there. Being present. Eyes up, ears open. It’s in falling in love with the sound of his voice, or his crooked smile, or the way he can’t keep from grinning when he sees you. It’s waiting by the phone for his call because even though you just left his house, you need to hear his voice. And that voice is what matters. Not a text. Not lifeless words through a screen. But tone and warmth and I’m falling in love with yous whispered in the middle of the night.

And you just can’t get that through a screen.

“Conversation is so much more than words: a conversation is eyes, the smile, the silences between words.” -Annika Thor

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘I Had A Dream’ by Kelly Clarkson.


Psssssst:

In honor of this little blog turning three later on this week (March 20th), I want to compile a list of email addresses of all my readers (those of you who are interested) and start sending out a monthly email to you all. I’m aiming to start in the beginning of April and intend on filling your inbox with some good ol’ fashion words of wisdom, motivation, and stories of life as I know it. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time now and decided what better time to start than after the third anniversary of my blog? I would love for you all to sign up! Please submit your name and email in the contact box below. Feel free to leave me a little message too. And make sure you’re subscribed! :)

I Keep Driving In This Darkness, To Get You, To Get You Off My Mind

Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.

I turned the volume up. I didn’t care about my outdated sound system or how hard my little green Corolla was shaking. Anything, anything, to drown out the noise. I quietly whispered it to myself over and over again. Don’t you dare crack. Don’t you dare cry. But even through deep breaths, heavy blinking, and constantly looking up in the hopes that the tears would just crawl their way back into my eyes where they should always stay, the floodgates opened and I was a goner.

I had an unintentional, good ol’ fashion breakdown on my way home from work the other day. Full on, no holding back, gasping desperately for air, ugly cry.

Trust me when I say: I am not a crier. I promise you I’m not. I’ve always been the girl with the box of tissues, pint of ice cream, gallon of wine, and shoulder to cry on. I have always been the one to catch the tears, and rarely the one who asks for someone else to catch my own. And maybe that’s where I’ve been wrong all along; maybe what I perceived as my strength is really my illness. I’ve always been the girl with the words. I’ve always been the one to show up with pretty words strung together trying so desperately to make sense of the broken hearts and souls of the world around me.

I have always been the person who knocks on your door and walks in uninvited and plants herself on your couch until you’re ready to let go. I’ve always been the one with arms wide open ready and willing to fight for you, to fight with you. I’ve always been good at showing up for other people.

Hannah Brencher talks a lot about Staying. She talks about how taxing it is to stay — to unpack your bags in the midst of all the calamity and make yourself at home. To stay right in the eye of the storm. Staying is hard. Staying is so damn hard. It takes courage and bravery and a whole lotta guts to take each brick that you so carefully and deliberately placed around your heart and take that wall apart.

Showing up for others is the easy part. It’s so much easier to climb in the middle of someone else’s storm and be their umbrella. I would much rather do that than sit in the crux of my own sadness and ask for the strength to stay for myself — to ask someone to be my umbrella. I promise you this: as long as the storm doesn’t knock down my own walls, I will stay. I would pitch a tent and weather the storm and let you unpack your load onto me. And I would pick those bricks up off the floor and pack them up in my own backpack. And I promise you that. I promise you that I am good at showing up and staying if it means I’m doing it for you.

I don’t know how to stay for myself. All I know is how to run and how to hide. But to show up and stay for myself is lost on me.

And therein lies the problem.

I am so good at hiding under the weight of movement. I always need to be on the go. Always moving. Always doing. I am always on a mission to prove myself to someone. To show that I can do this. That I can walk a tightrope and balance all of this weight with grace. That I can excel in everything I do. And that, in the face of my own storm, I can stand tall.

I’ve never been able to just sit still. To just sit right in the middle of that chaos and let myself be uncomfortable. I’m good at keeping busy and avoiding the tough stuff. And God forbid I get one spare moment and am looking at loneliness or heartbreak square in the face, I hop in my little green car, turn up the music, and take a long drive with no destination in mind. It’s so hard to just Stay.

I don’t ever allow myself a break. I don’t ever make myself just sit in my own sadness. I don’t ever Stay and listen and fight for myself.

I want to know what the point in all of this is. What’s the point in going, going, going. And why is it so damn hard to just Stay?

It’s so exhausting. The constant going, the driving, the running, the avoiding. The facade is wearing me thin. The hours dedicated to work, to school, to avoiding the pang in my heart that’s yelling at me to just slow down. To stop trying to be everything and do everything. If I’m being honest with you, I crave permission. I need permission to take a break, but if I could avoid signing that permission slip to just slow down forever, I would.

I wonder if you’re reading this and are anything like me. I wonder if you, too, fill your days with extra stuff just to avoid that incessant whisper begging you to just slow down. I wonder if rest and taking time for yourself drives you crazy. I wonder if you feel inadequate if you aren’t always in motion. I wonder if you need permission to, every now and then, get on the ground and let go of whatever is behind you begging for you to keep going. To be more, to do more. Yelling that you’re not enough. Sometimes, I so desperately want someone to take note of the tired eyes and acknowledge the sleepless nights. I want someone to look at me and tell me that I am enough. That I’m doing just fine. That the hours I lose myself in text books and papers, the sleepless nights, the bags under my eyes, and the perpetual pang of a broken heart will all be worth it soon. That the finish line is only 10 weeks away. That I am enough. That I’ve always been enough.

I gave myself permission to let go the other night. I Stayed.

The going, going, going finally caught up to me. I cried. And I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. And it was freeing. It really was. For the first time in so long, I stayed. I stayed for myself. Instead of running for the door and driving around in circles, or sticking my head in a book, or diving right into work, or knocking on the door of a friend whose heart needs repairing, I let myself fall to my knees and I let myself Stay.

And somewhere through the tears and the gasps of air and the music that wasn’t quite loud enough to drown out the noise, I heard the voice inside of me whispering, I want you to know that you are doing every damn thing that you can. Stop being so hard on yourself. Some things work out, and others don’t. Hearts break every day. Life is overwhelming. Slow down and take it all in. You are not a brick wall. Please stop pretending you are. Stop building and building and building. You are glass. You stand tall, but underneath all the layers, you are fragile. Let yourself be fragile. Let yourself break. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Stop worrying about being someone else’s umbrella all the time and pitch a tent right in front of your house and make a home out of your own storm.

You are enough. And it’s okay to acknowledge the voices of doubt and uncertainty screaming you aren’t. But don’t let that wound seep through your veins and make its way into your soul. Don’t let those thoughts set up camp inside your head. Don’t keep building that brick wall and driving yourself in circles and filling your planner with activities, and coffee dates, and picking up extra shifts at work just to avoid staying and showing up for yourself. Please give yourself permission to unpack your bags. Let yourself be vulnerable. 

Please show up. Please stay.

“I have never been strong enough to stay. People say that walking away is the hardest thing to do, but it isn’t. Staying, even when you know it will break your heart, is the hardest thing. Staying right where you are, waiting for your entire world to be ripped into pieces is much harder than walking away and starting a new one.” -The Love Whisperer

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘In The Blue’ by Kelly Clarkson.


Psssssst:

In honor of this little blog turning three later on this month (March 20th), I want to compile a list of email addresses of all my readers (those of you who are interested) and start sending out a monthly email to you all. I’m aiming to start in the beginning of April and intend on filling your inbox with some good ol’ fashion words of wisdom, motivation, and stories of life as I know it. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time now and decided what better time to start than after the third anniversary of my blog? I would love for you all to sign up! Please submit your name and email in the contact box below. Feel free to leave me a little message too. And make sure you’re subscribed! :)

And This Growing Up Stuff, Man I Don’t Know.

I got together with an old friend the other night — a friend with whom I keep in touch with often and see as frequently as both of our busy schedules allow. It was a spur-of-the-moment get together, as they usually are. We made ourselves cozy in the corner of an eclectic little cafe a couple blocks from the beach only a few towns over from our hometown and caught up over dinner.

Conversation surrounded the future — my upcoming graduation, new jobs, interviews, vacation plans, and year-long goals. We talked about her taking a new job position — her dream job. My heart was so full knowing that after all this time, she’s finally getting the opportunity that she deserves and has worked so hard for, but it was also a little heavy knowing that she was leaving her job — the job that kept her in this area, even after she moved out of town a few months ago.

It dawned on me then that no longer could I text her last minute, knowing she was in the area because of work and ask to grab a coffee or a drink. Dinner dates would have to be specifically planned out ahead of time. Girls nights with our circle of friends will be marked on our calendars as something to look forward to in the upcoming weeks.

And that’s when it hit me. This right here, this is really growing up.

The thought was profoundly heavy.

Suddenly, everything felt a little foreign. I looked around the cafe, covered wall to wall in paintings and photographs taken by local artists — at the couches set around the small stage for live entertainment and young musicians so full of wonder. At the electric fireplace that paints the cafe a mix of cozy and modern. And at my favorite part of the cafe — the organic juice and coffee bar at the front. I turned back to my friend and said, “if this was here when we were 17, we’d spend so much less time at Applebee’s and more time at cool places like this.” She agreed.

It got me to thinking about how much changes in very little time. The cozy cafe I was sitting in was relatively new. I’d been there a handful of times before, but it hasn’t been there long. Across the way, a brewery was being built across from a bar I spent a lot of summer nights at when I was 22 years old and so sure I knew what growing up meant. In the next town over, a new Biergarten recently opened. I’ve always been so fond of where I grew up. The Jersey Shore… not as seen on Jersey Shore. But it seems that in just the blink of an eye, everything around me’s changed. There’s traffic lights where there were once just stop signs. New strip malls. Condos where there were miles of land. Biergartens and brewerys and bed and breakfasts.

Everything around me seems to be changing. This is what growing up really is. I swear it is.

Growing up used to scare the crap out of me. There’s so much unknown stretched out in front of us. There are so many pieces of our lives laid out on that long road waiting for us to pick and choose which ones fit together. And anyone who doesn’t say that sometimes growing up is just as scary as a trip to the dentist when you’re five years old is lying to you.

We always think there’s a sign. We think that when we sign the title on our first car, we’re adults. Or when we move into our first apartment, when we’re picking out place mats to match our curtains, or making center pieces for our wedding, or registering for our baby shower, we’re grown up. We think that growing up is acquiring all of these things. But if we fall short of these expectations, if we never get this stuff… then what?

Growing up has nothing to do with stuff.

When you’re little, you equate adulthood to the turning of the second hand on the evening of your 18th birthday. As soon as that clock strikes 18, you’re an adult. At least by law. We think that by 18, we’ll move out of our parents houses, we’ll be free to do what we want. We look to 18 as an elusive and magical time. A time when we would have it all. And then we get there. At 18, we make our decisions about where to go to college. We pick dorm furniture, meet our roommates, and move away and start fresh. And while we’re standing there on our brand new campus looking towards another four years as a student, we realize that this isn’t at all what we predicted.

So we keep on trekking through. Soon, we’re 20, 22, 24. Some of us signed titles for cars, some of us have moved into our own places. Some of us have beautiful china sets that we only take out for holidays. Some of us are engaged, married, and have kids. And some of us don’t have all that stuff.

Growing up has nothing to do with stuff. It just doesn’t.

Growing up is accepting that work and school take precedence over hanging out on our friends’ couches watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey marathon. It’s finding new cafe’s with big couches to have coffee and catch up at. It’s letting go of your usual Applebee’s spot and reminiscing on the days when half-priced appetizers were the only things you ate (or could afford). It’s random texts and phone calls from friends asking how you are, wishing you luck on your interview, or just saying they’re thinking of you. It’s the nights you stay up all night around a firepit with the friends you grew up with having beers and laughing over old times. Growing up is that feeling of so much love and pride and joy when your friend gets a promotion, lands the job of her dreams, gets engaged, gets married, or finds out she’s pregnant.

Growing up is being there for the good, the bad, the sweet, the ugly, the messy.

Growing up is watching your friends pack their things to move away for new job offers, for love, for a big change. It’s making brunch plans a month in advance and sending cards and letters just because. It’s learning to let go. It’s learning to accept change. It’s being okay with knowing that nothing will ever be as it was, but nothing will ever change either.

The real stuff — the deep stuff, that’s what growing up is all about. Everything else is just a side effect.

“Speed and direction of our path through life are pretty good measures of our age. We race headlong through childhood, never looking back. Wanting it to end as quickly as possible. As we get older, we occasionally slow down long enough to savor certain moments. It’s a sure sign of growing up. It’s only in our twilight years when our pace is slowed and the long race is nearing the end that we spend most of our time looking backwards, and we wonder why we were ever in such a hurry.” -Everwood

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘The Night Before‘ by Carrie Underwood


Psssssst:

In honor of this little blog turning three later on this month (March 20th), I want to compile a list of email addresses of all my readers (those of you who are interested) and start sending out a monthly email to you all. I’m aiming to start in the beginning of April and intend on filling your inbox with some good ol’ fashion words of wisdom, motivation, and stories of life as I know it. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time now and decided what better time to start than after the third anniversary of my blog? I would love for you all to sign up! Please submit your name and email in the contact box below. Feel free to leave me a little message too. And make sure you’re subscribed! :)

Cause One Day, Yeah Someday, You’re Gonna Be With Somebody, And That Ghost Is Gonna Be Coming Back.

I’m scared that it’s always going to be you. It’s not a bold fear, really. Not loud and vicious like the monsters I feared were under my bed as a child. It’s not debilitating. Not one that taps me on the shoulder and makes its way next to me at the dinner table each night. But it’s there, nonetheless — a quiet echo in the distance.

I’m scared that we missed something. That somewhere between tangled sheets, words left hanging in the air, too many Grey Goose and club soda’s, slamming doors, whispers of we’ll still be friends; that won’t ever change, and finally driving away in the dark of that cold March night, we missed a sign. That if we just looked up, it would be written in the night’s sky for us. Telling us we made a mistake and to turn around.

I’m scared that all I’ll ever be is stuck living inside of this heartbreak ghost town — that everything I do, everyone I touch, every person that fills your place will be haunted by your memory.

I’m scared that I’m always going to carry your ghost with me.

And it’s so damn unfair. 

It’s strange when you lose someone who was so much a part of your narrative. We were a tangled web — intricately built and strangely elaborate. One that took precision, patience, and timing to weave together. Our web was never without flaws, but we were always willing to start over. And perhaps that was our downfall. Perhaps we started over one too many times. But each time a piece got knocked over, we rebuilt. We kept adding to the web, ignoring the mistakes. Ignoring the signs that did all but scream this web is a dead end, stop while you’re ahead. Years of building and rebuilding and weaving eventually wore on us and nothing could have stopped it from being destroyed completely. From a ravaging storm that washed away all the pieces of our web, leaving it unrecognizable.

And that’s how you learn to let go. 

You learn that the pieces you thought fit together so well really didn’t hang as beautifully as they once did. So you walk away. Begrudgingly, at first. You avoid anyone with the same charm and charisma. You avoid letting anyone else talk to you with any hint of confidence that was remotely similar to his. You refuse to let anyone look at you in the same way he did. You refuse, at first, because you want so badly to still believe in that web. You want to believe that you can find the missing pieces in a hidden crawl space and glue them back together. You’ve done it before; you’ve pieced back together the broken mess. But this time was different. You start to resent things, people, and places, because no matter how hard you try to avoid the beach where you sat and listened to him tell you this time will be different, or the bench at the mall where he made promises for the future, or the basketball courts where you used to watch him play, you somehow still find yourself lingering. Hoping that if you go back, you’ll find that missing piece.

It’s a funny process, letting go. You have to dig a hole so deep and wide to bury them, but if you stray slightly from the blueprint of his grave, his ghost comes back.

You’ll kiss new people, and at first, it feels a bit like some profound betrayal. Like the ground beneath you is crumbling and you’re suffocating under the force of a sweet kiss. Like you’ve done something tragically wrong and you’ll never be able to fix your mistake. Like that kiss is going to ruin the already destroyed web. But then suddenly, somewhere along the line — maybe all at once, you start to forget. Really forget. You let in new love and flush away the thought of old love. You forget the way he always left a trail of his cologne on your pillow. You forget the nicknames he made for you. You forget the way he tortured you with his indecisiveness. You make new memories. You go to new parks and beaches. And it doesn’t feel a bit like betrayal or suffocation. It feels like freedom. 

But that ghost always comes back. When you’re sitting next to new love, making future plans with him, talking about wishes and dreams, you realize that these were plans you once made before. That these dreams of a house on acres of land with a wrap around porch and wooden swing set were once future plans you made with your past. And you find yourself laying in bed at night with new love, with the hopes and dreams you’ve made together, and you replay it all in your head. How on earth did the ghost of loves past steal your ability to love presently? How did he steal the hope in your heart to move on?

This isn’t some sort of demand for a time machine to thrust me into the past. I’ve let go of that web. Years have passed, seasons have changed. We have changed. Where once stood young and foolish and so infatuated with each other, so wrapped up in our own little web, now stands two entirely different people. Still young, but older. Stronger. Maybe even a little harder. But I still find myself as emotionally unavailable as I was when this was fresh — when the wound was just starting to scab over.

It seems that every time I get close to throwing the dirt over your grave, your ghost comes back. Every taste of new love gets taken away and I’m left flat on my face.

Sometimes, I think my fear is more than being haunted by your ghost. Sometimes, I think I’m afraid to let anyone new fully in. Maybe it’s a fear that that person would leave too soon, so I leave before it can happen. I am self-destructive in that sense — only leaving the door to my heart slightly cracked, and shutting it before it gets too deep. If I’m being honest with myself, I realize how damn good I am at destroying any potential for love. Did I walk away because he called exactly when he said he would? Did I say no to that date because he was too charming, too charismatic, too much of a promise of something real? Was it because he wanted to talk about the future? Was it the way he looked at me like I was the only person in the room? Maybe because there was too much potential. Maybe too much hope.

What really scares me is opening that door fully and getting passed this. When I allow myself to fill those empty spaces, I’m afraid that you’ll still be there down the road. When I’m settled into my own life, married, with kids, and a career that I am so deeply passionate about, I’m afraid your ghost will still rattle my bones. When I’m having my morning cup of coffee and getting ready for work, while my kids are yammering on about the latest school gossip, and my husband is whipping up my favorite breakfast in the kitchen, I’m afraid your voice will still be an echo in my mind. I’m afraid that when I close my eyes, I’ll remember the way you made your coffee — dark, but extra sweet. And I’ll remember just how embarrassed you were by it because what kind of man takes his coffee sweet? I’m afraid that when I’m out with my girlfriends, letting my hair down, and reminiscing on old times, I’ll take a sip of Grey Goose and club soda and the tart taste will propel me into the past. I’m afraid that I’ll always remember your crooked smile, and the way your head fell back when you laughed. But mostly, I’m afraid that years from now, I’ll look back with such profound and vivid recall, sit in that regret, and still be haunted by your ghost.

“And I’m worried…I, I’m afraid that he took away my ability to believe. And I hate him for that. Because I always believed before. And now I just feel lost. And I am, I’m trying to put myself out there, but I feel hopeless.” -Sex and the City

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘That Ghost‘ by Megan and Liz

I Still Get Jealous

Green has never been my color. In fact, I would go out on a limb and say that green isn’t anyone’s color. I’m willing to be the face of the petition that fights to end the color green. Green is ugly. It’s envy, and jealousy, and bitterness, and resentment.

Green is a monster that lies dormant inside of me. Green is the color that seeps through my veins when that monster is rattled.

I was talking to an old friend the other day — someone who’s known me for the better half of my life. She’s been going through a rough time lately and needed someone to vent to. We’ve known each other a long time and have seen each other through some of the darkest and brightest moments. We were there for each other during the twisted middle school and angst-filled high school years. We were each other’s backbone and support in times of familial discord. We saw each other through heart aches and many of life’s obstacles. We’re adults now — having gone our own way after high school, but we still find our way back to each other. We still keep in touch.

I listened to her vent about how nothing’s going right for her. How it feels that even the smallest inch forward is accompanied by a sudden tug backwards. I felt for her. I’m sure we can all relate to feeling hopeless — to feeling like when one bad thing happens, it’s quickly followed by a snowball effect of bad things. To feeling like nothing good is happening to you, while everyone else seems to be doing well. I understood where she was coming from more than she believed.

I imparted my own wisdom. I shared with her my own opinion and take on it. I told her how I fight the monster that is envy all the time. But, she didn’t believe me. In our conversation, she told me that from the outside looking in, it seems like I have it all together. She said, with absolute confidence, that I handle things better than her. That I somehow made it past all the heavy crap and somehow landed here — whole, full, happy.

There’s a lot of truth to what she had to say. In comparison to the nightmare of a child that I was in middle school, or the angsty high schooler I was, I am a much different person. Those years are hard for everyone. But in retrospect, those years straightened me out and taught me about quiet strength in the face of difficulties, and persistence when the odds are stacked against you. Time brings us back to the present. Brings us back to what’s important — not high school dances, or crushes who choose your friend over you, or arguments with your parents. I went on to college, and then graduate school. And every day, I hear stories that humble me. That make me step back and look around at what I have, and who I am, and how I live. And all of that leads me here — whole, full. happy. But there seems to be a misconception about people who offer advice — people who are the ears for those who desperately need to speak, people who want to mend the broken hearts of the world.

For one reason or another, we’re placed on this pedestal. Another wall that symbolizes a stereotype that I desperately want to break down; and it’s hard to shake that persona. How does offering my ears and pieces of my heart make my life perfect? How does helping someone else mean that I sometimes don’t need it myself? I wanted to jump out of my skin. I wanted to yell I struggle too. I get frustrated too. I get jealous too. But it wasn’t about me.

The truth is, I’ve been struggling to tame that monster inside of me lately.

She taunts me. Overwhelms me. Laughs in my face when I unknowingly set her free. Jealousy turns me into the ugliest version of myself. Sometimes, even when I try to fight it, I am overcome with the near fatal sensation. No matter how you shake it — envy, bitterness, resentment — it’s all the same. The feeling seeps into our pores and controls us. And we’re left the shake it off. We’re left to put on our boxing gloves and fight our way out. We’re left to stand tall in the face of jealousy.

And I will be the first to say that it’s hard. It’s hard to not look on at others doing well, accomplishing incredible things, making dreams come true, and not feel a twinge of envy. I think part of this is my feeling stuck in the middle of what I thought was going to be the most exciting and accomplished years of my life. But being in this transitional stage — still working towards a degree, while people around me have been settled in their career since we graduated from college in 2011, is isolating. But the other part of me believes that this jealousy is fueled by getting older and questioning whether or not I did all that I intended to. Whether or not it’s too late to chase after some of the goals I had for myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am blessed to have some incredible people in my life — all successful in their own right, who make me proud to be a part of their lives. Any and every good thing that’s happened in any of my friends lives have been about hard work, never luck. They deserve all the good things that have come their way. So today, this isn’t about them.

This message today is for myself.

But it’s also for anyone who feels like my friend that I mentioned earlier. Anyone who feels like me. Feels stuck in a strange period of transition — not quite settled into a career, but very close to it. Anyone who has a job that just pays the bills, but doesn’t make their heart burst at the seams. Anyone who struggles when they scroll through Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram and see friends and acquaintances seemingly doing better than you.

Sometimes, words fail. I can tell you to look Jealousy and Envy and Bitterness and Resentment in the eyes and tell them to take a hike. I can tell you that comparison is the thief of all joy. I can tell you to stop comparing your beginning to someone else’s middle, or your middle to someone else’s end. And if I did tell you all of that, it would still hold so much truth. But sometimes we need more than the truth. Sometimes, we need permission to let our heart feel what it needs to feel.

If you want to have a cup of coffee with Jealousy, go ahead and do it. If Envy wants to have a seat at the dinner table, set her a plate. If Resentment comes knocking on your door in the middle of the night, let her in. Not many people will tell you this, but just for today, I will. It’s okay to feel like you’re at the end of your rope, swallowed up by the incessant sting of jealousy. It’s okay to raise the white flag. It’s okay to want more.

It’s okay to let them visit, but please don’t ever make a home for them.

I think when it comes down to it, it’s important to remember that in this life, you are always going to be behind someone and ahead of someone else. You are always going to look towards someone and see them doing better than you. But, you’re also going to be that person to someone else. I don’t have it all together. I don’t even feel remotely close to being there, but the fact that someone thinks I do reminds me that perhaps the people I look to with green-tinted-lenses are doing their best, just as I am, to truck through this life.

Remember, life is not a scale. It’s not a boxing ring. It’s not a fight with others to get to the top.

Whenever good things happen to other people, it doesn’t take away from me. In fact, it has little to do with me at all. And I think that’s the takeaway message here. When we are in the throes of envy, when we wear resentment and bitterness like a cloak on our shoulders, remember that what someone else has, does, or achieves, can’t take away from what we have. Even in the moments when we are desperately fighting off our demons, trying to pry our eyes away from yet another accomplish that someone got to before us, remember that.

You’re doing all you can with what you have right now. Stop beating yourself up over it.

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” -Steve Furtick

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘Jealous‘ by Nick Jonas.

And Melodies in the air, Singin’ Life Just Ain’t Fair.

I used to think I was lucky to grow up without grandparents.

I promise it didn’t start out that way. When I was in elementary school, I envied my friends who spent their Christmas break baking cookies and decorating gingerbread houses with their grandma, and Easter’s looking for pastel colored eggs with their grandpa. I often found myself profoundly jealous over not having grandparents to share with me the stories of their life — the stories of their hardships and what it took to overcome them — stories of trials turned to triumph. I spent a lot of time wishing I had a home away from home — grandparents to be my ears when I needed someone to listen or to offer me sage advice. Someone older and wiser to remind me that this too, shall pass. But when I got older and saw my friends reeling over the deaths of their grandparents, I dubbed myself lucky.

I say lucky loosely. Lucky, because for a long time, I was largely untouched by the heavy cloak of death. Lucky, because I never had to mourn the loss of a grandparent. Lucky, because it was four less people I would have to say goodbye to.

I don’t consider myself lucky anymore.

Before really understanding the permanence of death, I had a taste of what happens when you lose someone. I was eight when my aunt passed away from bone cancer. It was ugly and brutal. I struggle sometimes with the minor details — like how she felt when she was diagnosed; did she have any last wishes or regrets? Did she live a life she was proud of? Did she want more? But what I do remember is the quick and painful way she slipped away from us. How she was here one day — healthy, and happily feeding my then two-year-old brother cheesecake off her finger, and suddenly sick, frail, and then gone. All within the span of six months. And despite being old enough to have a general understanding of death, despite living just around the corner from her, despite watching this horrible disease take my beautiful aunt away from me, I never understood the weight of death until it came back to me at 19, and then at 20. And then over and over and over again.

I suppose that in comparison to many, I am still largely untouched by death. But death keeps making her way back into my life, and each time she visits, she steals a little bit of my heart with her.

Yesterday was the six year anniversary of the death of a dear childhood friend of mine.

Six years is a long time. Six years is more than half of my sister’s lifetime. Six years is the age of a first grader. Six years is how long it’s been since I was a college sophomore. Six years of grief, of growth, of change, of birthdays passing, of life. Six years, and the weight on my heart is still the same. Six years down, but a lifetime more to go. Yesterday was heavier than the last six years have been. Perhaps because the anniversary of Pat’s death fell on a Saturday — the same day he died, showing us that time still moves even when he doesn’t get to come along for the ride. Perhaps also because I found myself driving home from work on the parkway with the same urgency I had that day six years ago, when I drove home from my college down the parkway shortly after hearing about his accident. In a weird twist of deja vu, my heart was heavier as I remembered one of the sweetest men I’ve ever known. I think about him a lot. On a windy day, like the day of his funeral, I swear it’s him looking down on us and roughing us up. Reminding us that a little turbulence can’t ever hurt us. I think about him when I drive past his house. When I think about my first few years working at Auntie Anne’s. When I think about the icy Valentine’s Day we were both stuck working and spent the night making heart-shaped pretzels. When I think about being in elementary school and starting martial arts and him telling me how cool it was that I did Tae Kwon Do. Seriously, when you’re a tiny nine year old girl, nothing is cool about doing martial arts. Pat always reassured me. And even though I think about him all the time, and even though it’s been six years, it still seems unfathomable to me that he’s gone.

That’s the hardest part about death. That the earth still turns, and you’re still here, and the person you love is simply gone.

There is something so surreal about the concept that the people in our lives can just disappear. Like my neighbor — the healthiest, strongest, most physically fit man I’ve ever known — who was fighting with everything in him to beat his cancer. He was here one day, telling me to keep working hard at school and to, as soon as I got the chance, finally watch Groundhogs Day — a movie I’d promised I would watch when I was 15 years old. His illness claimed his body in the blink of an eye. One moment, he was here in his entirety. The next, he was hospitalized after having a stroke. And in the weeks between that stroke and his death, I watched the rapid transition and watched as his body grew tired from fighting.

I witnessed my neighbor’s fight. I can still feel the very moment I got the phone call telling me Pat died. I remember the agony of my aunt passing away — and yet the concept that death takes these people away from us permanently is still so hard for me to wrap my head around sometimes.

I still imagine that as life moves on, as the world turns and shifts and changes, as I change along with it, the people in my life will still be doing the same. That my aunt in Vietnam, who passed away last year, is still living her life and running her little convenience store. That on the next sunny day, I can look out my window and see my neighbor with his Red Sox baseball cap sitting on his lawn chair at the top of his driveway. That I can arrange for all of my old Auntie Anne’s coworkers to get together for drinks and that Pat would be sitting right along side us. That although we are apart, we are still living and growing together.

And then other days, I am so paralyzed by the transience of it all — often to the point of anger towards those who don’t realize the same. Some days, when I am scrolling through Facebook and reading complaint after complaint, or on days like yesterday, when I am reminded that this is it. This is all we get. Just this one shot at life. I want to shake the people complaining about non-important things. I want to scream from the rooftops, “Hey, this is all temporary. Don’t you realize that? In the grand scheme of things, your problems are so small. People lose who they love every single day. We can love with all our might, but in just the blink of an eye, it could all be gone.” 

But I’ve never said any of that, because I would be a hypocrite for not living life the same way. For not seizing every single moment and making it all count. But I really, whole-heartedly, want to make this count. 

I think the problem is that we’re waiting for this big awakening. We’re waiting for purpose. For meaning. For someone to kick us over and scream this is why you’re here. This is what you’re living for. And until then, we travel blindly on this winding road with little or no significance. But what if that epiphany never comes? Maybe, instead of wishing to live in these big moments and be these big people, we need to see what we have when we have it.

In the last year, I have been trying to live better. To do better. I’ve been trying to live fully and intentionally. But most importantly, I have been trying to be grateful for even the smallest of things. In 2014, I did a gratitude jar. I wrote down one “good thing” every single day and at the end of the year, I looked through fondly at some of the memories — spending the day in Atlantis, Bahamas, lazy snow days watching Netflix, getting a gift from a friend in the mail because I was having a rough time, spending my first Memorial Day Weekend not in retail with my friends at the racetrack, treating myself to a Starbucks Frappucino, getting out of work early.

When I think about making this all count, I think of only two things: gratitude and love. I think life begins and ends with love. And I think if you practice gratitude, if you make yourself aware of the little things, you’ll find that there is so much to love about this life — even in spite of all the bad things that often come our way.

When I am at the end of my life, whenever that time may be, I want it to be known that I loved as hard as I could. That’s what I need to remind myself when I feel my blood pressure raising over petty Facebook statuses and Tweets. When we are at the end of the road, that stuff won’t matter. No one will care about how much college loan debt you’re in, or how many bills you’ve paid for the month, or how stressed you were studying for that exam. At the end of all of this, two things will matter: gratitude and love.

Remember that. Practice that. Live in that.

“What are you going to do with your life?” In one way or another it seemed that people had been asking her this forever; teachers, her parents, friends at three in the morning, but the question had never seemed this pressing and still she was no nearer an answer… “Live each day as if it’s your last’, that was the conventional advice, but really, who had the energy for that? What if it rained or you felt a bit glandy? It just wasn’t practical. Better by far to be good and courageous and bold and to make difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance.”
-David Nichols, “One Day

 The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘View From Heaven‘ by Yellowcard.

I’m Addicted to the Madness, I’m a Daughter of the Sadness, I’ve Been Here Too Many Times Before.

Over this last holiday season, I was out Christmas shopping with a friend and found myself struggling to find a gift for a co-worker. Another shopper — an older man, overheard me and asked what kind of work my co-worker does. It was late, I was cranky, and I was beyond wanting to socialize, but I politely responded, “they’re a therapist,” all while hoping this time would be different. I always find myself gritting my teeth when I bring up the word therapist because I know it always follows with me having to explain, “no, not a physical therapist. A counselor. A mental health clinician.” The man responded with, “Can I suggest a duck?” After staring blankly at this stranger in front of me whom I naively thought was genuinely being kind and trying to suggest a Christmas present, I replied with a feeble, “Why?,” all while knowing as the word left my lips I wouldn’t like his answer. “Because they’re a quack.” I was in utter shock at how pleased the man was with himself. I flashed him a weak smile and walked away, and let his boisterous laugh fade in the background.

His words still echo in my head over a month after hearing them. You can imagine the bullets I’ve dodged in the form of judgment, criticism, and ignorance — all in regards to the mental health field. Since freshman year of college, I’ve let things roll off my shoulders. I let friends, acquaintances, and family members especially, mock me. I let people tell me that what I was going to school for was useless. That mental illness is not real. That addicts are pathetic. That people who commit suicide are selfish and weak.

For years, I stood on the sidelines and watched people make a mockery out of something that’s important to me. I’ve kept quiet about it. I’ve listened on and smiled politely as people belittled my educational and career choices. I made up excuses for people. It’s a difficult subject matter. Not everyone has the tools to learn what I’ve learned. They just don’t understand. I repeated these sentiments to myself, all while seething on the inside. Because for as long as I’ve been on the sidelines, I’ve been wanting to step into the ring and fight. To defend myself. To defend why I chose to do what I do. To put on my gloves and jump in the ring swinging.

But then I think about the people who are quietly living with mental illness every day. The ones with no one advocating for them. The ones who need someone else to put on those gloves and swing for them. And I take my own selfishness out of wanting to defend my career choices and I realize this is why I am doing it. This is why I need to go in and swing. This is why I need to speak up. This is why I need to get up on my soap box and stick it to that stranger in Hallmark and to every other person who’s ever belittled me, my classmates, my co-workers, or made a mockery out of the field of mental health.

It’s time I start talking, because in the case of mental illness, let’s face it. Ignorance is not bliss.

It’s no secret that mental illness bares the heavy cloak of stigma in our society. There is an ugly shame often linked with being anything other than what is perceived as normal. There’s a wall that needs to be broken down. We need empathy and understanding, but we can’t even begin to cross that threshold until we educate ourselves — we need to voluntarily learn about the various mental health diagnoses – from major depressive disorder to anxiety disorders to post traumatic stress disorder to paranoid schizophrenia to borderline personality disorder — and every single disorder that falls between the covers of the DSM. When we make it a priority to educate ourselves, perhaps we will see more understanding and hear less mockery. Perhaps we will see a shift in adequate insurance coverage for mental health services. Perhaps there will be less fear, mistrust, and violence against people living with mental illness. Perhaps less people will turn their backs on their friends and family members struggling with mental illness.

Stigma keeps people who have mental illness from speaking out and seeking help. Stigma allows people to suffer in silence. 

According to NAMI, these are the facts: one in every four adults suffer from mental illness in any given year. One in 17 adults live with a serious mental illness — schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder. Approximately 20% of adolescents between 13 and 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year. Approximately 60% of adults and nearly 50% of adolescents with a mental illness did not receive treatment in the last year. 

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, more common than homicide. It is the third leading cause of death for adolescents between the ages of 15 and 24. 90% of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder.

With the deaths of beloved actors like Robin Williams — someone the public eye so deeply enamored, and when entertainers like Demi Lovato use their celebrity to speak out about living with mental illness, we’ve started making progress. People are starting to understand that perhaps fame and fortune doesn’t mean mental well-being. That money can’t buy stability. That even people we laughed with for years can suffer tremendously. But there are still people who choose to look past what’s clearly evident. I don’t want to live in a world where I fear my 11 year old sister will be crippled by shame and guilt if she ever feels the thick weight of depression. I don’t want to teach her that it’s okay to turn a blind eye when she sees someone suffering. I don’t want to live in a world where I can’t sit at a table with my family or friends and talk about my work day for fear that someone will make a harsh jab. Someone will tell me that what I do isn’t real. That people seeking therapy are pathetic. Or one of my personal favorites — “how can you be interested in the field of addiction if you’re sitting there with a beer yourself?” I don’t want to live in a world where I feel forced to sit quietly when I hear someone say, “didn’t he think of his family and friends before he killed himself?”

 We’ve made movement, but I want more.

As you may or may not know, I held on tight to various dreams growing up — all focused on the idea of writing. Of writing novels, screenplays, tv shows. Of having my words matter to someone. For several reasons, I chose to go to school to become a therapist instead. With both writing and reading fiction, I always loved the idea of character development and seeing how each character changes over the course of their story. In writing and reading creative non-fiction, I focus on reality and on words that heal. On words that matter. I found that my choice has afforded me not only the opportunity to still do projects like this one on the side, but to use what I love about reading and writing and apply it to my career.

I don’t claim to be an expert. I’m still learning every day, and I will still continue to learn for the rest of my life. What I do know is that in the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most remarkable and resilient people I have ever met. I’ve spent time with people who have severe and persistent mental illness, people who are homeless, people who struggle with auditory and visual hallucinations, people who’ve endured trauma after trauma and still wake up every day to face a world that’s been nothing short of cruel to them, people who’ve struggled with addiction, people living with various mental health diagnoses. I’ve worked with people who’ve come so close to losing hope, but still manage to wake up every single day and fight. Since starting graduate school and immersing myself in the field with my internships, I’ve been able to collect stories of triumph, of unrelenting strength, of hope in the face of the unknown. Of bravery. I am a better person now because of what I’ve learned through these interactions.

I choose to be aware. I choose to understand. I choose to empathize. 

But I can’t empathize with someone who remains adamant in choosing to stay ignorant. I can’t empathize with someone who chooses to blame people for the suffering they don’t take the time to understand. If you fall into the category of people who scoffed when Robin Williams killed himself, or when Amy Winehouse overdosed, or when Demi Lovato was treated for self-harm, an eating disorder, and bipolar disorder, or when the boy in the town next to you jumped in front of a moving train, or when you see a homeless man on the street, or when you tell someone their pain is not real because it’s not a cut or a scrape or a broken bone, I challenge you to rise above. I challenge you to take a real look at those statistics above — I encourage you to look at those facts, to seek to understand that rather than turn a blind eye to something that can so easily be explained.

We need conversations like this.

We need to fight this war to end mental health stigma. We need to stand up for ourselves when people tell us our careers are useless. We need to advocate for people struggling with mental illness. We need to educate ourselves and the people around us. Without our voices, there will be no more movement. Without our voices, the homeless man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia will get continue to get beat up by a group of teenage boys, as onlookers stand idly on the side. Without our voices, the girl struggling with an eating disorder as a result of post traumatic stress from enduring multiple traumas, will cry herself to sleep at night and hope and pray she doesn’t wake up tomorrow. We need to speak up because without our voices, without even an inch of movement, there is no understanding. And without understanding, there can be no empathy. Let’s speak up so that we can one day live in a world where people — both male and female — don’t feel ashamed for how they feel. Where people willingly speak up and seek help.

Don’t be afraid to speak up. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you feel something is wrong. If you see someone suffering, please don’t let them suffer in silence.

Always, always, always, be kind. Kindness is possible. Chose it.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me‘ by Demi Lovato.

Here’s To The Nights We Felt Alive

I’ve been knee-deep in mud, trudging through a sea of nostalgia lately.

I’m sure you’ve noticed. I haven’t exactly been subtle in my meticulously stringing words together that do all but scream, “hey, guess what? She doesn’t have it all together. She gets stuck too.” I’ve written a lot about the universality of life– how everything in life is transient. I’ve imparted my wisdom. I’ve talked about infinite connections and how important relationships with people are. I’ve reminded you that if you blink, you could miss a moment. I’ve asked you to make your amends– to reach out to someone you’ve left behind. I’ve told you about the sometimes painful act of folding up our old memories, wrapping them up in ribbon, and placing them high in the back of our closets. I’ve talked about being okay with seeing people walk away. I’ve talked about learning to turn the page. I’ve talked about living in the moment, being fully present, and letting go.

But this is where I have to throw my hands in the air and admit that maybe I’m a fraud.

The truth is, I don’t have all the answers. And part of me hopes that’s obvious to anyone reading this. I hope you know that I write these words because just like you, I need to hear them. I need these messages as little reminders tucked into this corner of the internet. Moments are fleeting. Life passes us by before we are able to grab on and take hold of those very moments. And we can fight it all we want, but we just can’t live in our own memory. Memories keep us frozen in time. As much as I would like to offer you the cure for the sting of nostalgia that creeps up on you, unannounced, in the middle of your morning coffee, or while you’re grocery shopping for the week, or when you’re folding your laundry, I just don’t have that today.

Lately, I’ve been sitting right in the heart of my own nostalgia.

If you asked me to describe my life right now, I would tell you that I’m lucky. And blessed. And happy. Most importantly, I genuinely mean it. I am every single one of those aforementioned things, even when life knocks me over. Even when I am running in circles, unsure of where to go next. Even when I don’t feel very lucky, or blessed, or happy. Every day, I wake up grateful. It’s taken practice. It’s taken collecting a gratitude jar for 365 days filled with one good thing each day for me to get here. I am privileged to go to work, or to school, or to intern. I get to practice what I love every day. I get to surround myself with like-minded colleagues and incredible friends. And I get to go home and work on my other love. This. I am finishing up my Master’s degree and preparing to get my feet wet in the Mental Health field. My life is good– better than it’s ever been. Trust me when I say you could not pay me enough to take a time machine into the past and relive it.

But all of that doesn’t stop the fact that I’ve been crippled by the sudden and quiet whisper of nostalgia. Hey, remember throwing your friend a surprise sweet 16 at Chuck E Cheese? Remember the year you thought getting a perm was okay and appropriate for the early 2000s? Remember when you dressed up like Spiderman for Halloween when you were a senior in high school? Remember when you went clubbing for the first time and saw for yourself that you don’t. have. rhythm? Remember that summer you got drunk with your friends and slept in a tent outside your friends house? Remember missing the train and being left in the city on your 21st birthday? What I would give to hold those moments in my hands and feel them deeper. To laugh louder. Love harder. But time is just like sand; you can only hold so much before it all slips through your fingers.

People shame me for looking back. And I get it. I’ve been beating myself up over it. Sometimes, I can’t control my natural instinct to look in the rear view mirror.

There’s a quote that really resonated with me the second I read it. It captured every feeling I had being that girl who ran back to the guy who broke her heart over and over and over again that it became more of a joke than it ever was love.

“When the past calls, let it go to voice mail. It doesn’t have anything new to say.”

It doesn’t have anything new to say. 

But nostalgia, to me, has never been about my wanting to go back and redo it. It’s never been about trying to change the outcome. It’s never been about trying to go back and see if I could find something I missed. Something new. Something that would change the way my life turned out. Every road I’ve traveled led me to this life. Nostalgia is about taking my arms and wrapping them around the girl I used to be and hanging onto the naivety that I once lived in — the naivety that I sometimes wish I still lived in.

Nostalgia is realizing how much of a damn fool I was to take for granted those moments. Because that’s what life is, isn’t it? Life is a series of flashing moments. Life is in the way my friends and I stuck our heads out of the window of my white Jeep, laughing over Wawa milkshakes, and reveling in the new found freedom that came with being 17 and licensed. Life is in the moments I got acceptance letters and scholarship offers from colleges. Life is in the moments my roommates and I jetted out at midnight to Dunkin Donuts for large coffees to help keep us up to write papers. Life is in the moments my best friend and I drove 45 minutes away to a further Olive Garden just to avoid seeing someone at the closer location. Life is in the moments I am able to share in my friends’ successes. Life is in the moments we let loose. The moments we laugh so hard our cheek bones hurt and tears stream down our faces. Life is in these beautiful moments — moments that escape us shortly after they happen.

Nostalgia is my way of both biting into and avoiding fear.

My fear is that I will never be fully present. That I’ll never love a moment as much as I should. That I will never live in the way that I should. My fear is that I will always fall into my nostalgia and kick myself for not laughing harder, or loving deeper. My fear is that these words — my own words, will never be enough. That they’ll sit on your computer screen and mean nothing more than that. My fear is that I’ll never truly ever be okay with letting these moments disappear. That I’ll never learn to truly let go. 

“But here is the truth of nostalgia: we don’t feel it for who we were, but who we weren’t. We feel it for all the possibilities that were open to us, but that we didn’t take.”

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘Here’s To The Night‘ by Eve 6.

I’ll Keep You Locked In My Head, Until We Meet Again.

“Have a nice life,” I whispered, as I pulled away from a final hug goodbye, “good luck with everything in the future.”

An unsettling feeling rattled my bones when I was faced with my first real goodbye. It was the last time I would ever identify as a college student, and somehow I had gone through 22 years of my life without ever being taught how to gracefully leave something behind — without ever learning how to be okay with closing a chapter of my own book. At the time, it seemed ludicrous that we suffered through four years of exams, papers, lectures, presentations, community service hours, sleepless nights, all while accruing an enormous amount of debt in student loans, without ever being taught how to say goodbye to this pivotal part of our lives.

I often think back to that last full day on my beautiful alma mater’s campus and that very moment — standing on the basketball court near my freshman dorm surrounded by a sea of people filled to the brim with the same nostalgia that was bursting right out of me. I think back to those final goodbyes. To pushing myself to stutter those words, “have a nice life.” It all seemed too surreal. I spent that last day roaming campus with my roommates — four girls I had grown to love as sisters over the course of those four years. Together, we participated in our schools “senior sendoff” — our final farewell to four years of memories, of nights out, of heart aches, of parties in the Village, of Late Night dining, and of the quiet notion that no one could ever have what we had. No one could ever love as fiercely or laugh as hard or live as carefree as we did.

I was fully aware of the palpable pang of nostalgia in saying goodbye to friends I’d grown close with. Despite knowing we’d see each other again, we knew that that was where it ended. That this — whatever this was at that very moment, would never be the same. We knew we would never see each other in the same way again. But there was a deeper, and perhaps more bittersweet sting in saying goodbye to our acquaintances. Saying have a nice life was so final. The people we saw twice a week in class, did group projects with, had an occasional beer with, or awkwardly shared a bathroom stall at the bar with – the people who were equally as much a part of our college history as our roommates. There was something so profound in saying goodbye to acquaintances — in saying thanks for being a part of this journey with me, when I think back on these four years, I’ll think fondly of you. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the people we meet and the lives that we touch.

Mostly, I’ve been thinking about relationships and the various connections and links we have with people. I’ve been thinking about the way people weave themselves in and out of our lives. And how rarely we notice the subtle impact they have on us until they leave.

We don’t meet people on accident. I am a firm believer in that. I think people come into our lives exactly when we need them to. Like the boy who broke my heart and taught me to stop placing all my happiness on one person. My neighbor who played the role of the grandfather I never had, who taught me to be relentless in the pursuit of my goals, and taught me to laugh in the face of all pain. Even down to his last breath, he was always laughing. A college professor who taught me empathy and understanding when she was in her final days of battling terminal cancer, but still managed to write me a glowing recommendation letter for graduate school just days before she passed. The woman in front of me at the grocery store with tired eyes and two kids that taught me patience and wonder as I watched her let her toddler individually place each item on the belt.

I’ve been thinking about endings. And goodbyes. And letting go. And how people come into our lives at different parts of our story — how they come in and stay for a scene, a chapter, or the majority of our book. I’ve been ruminating over the short-lived relationships and how we establish all of these invisible connections with people, just to see them go. It doesn’t seem fair. If given any wish in the world, I’d wish for the ability to wrap my arms around every single person I care about, around every single life that’s touched me, and keep them right here with me. But as far as selfishness goes, I don’t even come close. One of life’s biggest, suckiest, truths, is that we are never given a timeline. People come and go all the time — some relationships are short lived, some last far longer than they should, some stay for a good portion of our lives, while others cruise in and out faster than we could have anticipated. Some people come in into our lives for what feels like a moment, but we are forever changed by their presence, no matter how fleeting.

I believe our lives are inextricably bound by the people we meet.

If life lately has taught me anything, it’s that people will never stay long enough. And I’m not sure we will ever know why. It’s times like these I desperately wish life was as simple as a geometry text book where the answers were conveniently located in the back. Why do people come into our lives and leave before we are ready to let them go? All I know is that goodbyes are inevitable. And we can’t control how people leave or when — whether it be a death, a breakup, a misunderstanding, a move, or the slow and steady transition from one life to the next. But the inkling of solace that I’ve found is that we get to choose what pieces we cling to. I choose to remember with warmth in my heart the boy who told me to never stop writing. I choose to remember the 8th grade Algebra teacher who stayed with me after school every single day for extra help, and knew without ever saying, that I needed less extra help more than I needed someone to just be there. I choose to remember the stranger in front of me at the Dunkin Donuts drive thru who paid for my Monday morning coffee and turned my entire day around. I choose to remember my first kiss who showed up at my doorstep, years later, on my 19th birthday and left me a rose and a card just as a reminder. I choose to remember my closest friend in middle school who cried with me and helped me sort out the mess that was my life back then. I choose to remember the friendships I’ve made over the course of my lifetime, the people I’ve worked with, the acquaintances who’ve been passerby’s in my life. And I choose to remember all of these people, despite having to say goodbye.

Instead of mourning the losses, and in spite of the heartache that inevitably comes from death, and breakups, and goodbyes, and endings that come far too soon, I want you to remember this – you are forever changed by the connections you make. Regardless of length of stay in each other’s lives, we are all bound by the stories we tell, the lessons we learn, and the moments we share. Your life is a tapestry stitched together by the people you meet along this winding journey; you are who you are because of the people who’ve woven themselves into your life’s work of art. And I think that’s pretty incredible.

“You ever look at a picture of yourself, and see a stranger in the background? It makes you wonder how many strangers have pictures of you. How many moments of other peoples lives have we been in? Were we a part of someone’s life when their dream came true? Or were we there when their dreams died. Did we keep trying to get in? As if we were somehow destined to be there or did the shot take us by surprise. Just think, you could be a big part of someone else’s life, and not even know it.” -One Tree Hill

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘Who Knew‘ by Pink