Look Up Now

A childhood friend of mine passed away nearly two weeks ago.

I found out that she wasn’t doing well only a week and a half prior. One minute, I was having sushi with a friend I went to graduate school with, ranting about our perpetual existential crises and life stresses, and the next, I was on the phone with my cousin, hearing the heartbreaking news on the other end of the line. After battling a life-threatening illness for three years, her body couldn’t take it anymore. My friend, Danielle, was losing the fight. Suddenly, the ranting and raving that took place only minutes before dissipated; reality struck me like a gust of cold wind that shook me to the core.

Only 11 days passed between that phone call saying she was in the hospital, and the message I got saying she had passed, and yet, time seemed to stand still between those days, as if preparing me for the gut-wrenching feeling of being paralyzed by grief.

Young death is an unfathomable tragedy that often reminds you of the brevity of life. It’s sudden, and it’s swift, and it shakes you so deeply, and with such force, that you can’t help but feel profoundly betrayed by the world that’s supposed to keep you safe and let you grow old with the people you love.

It was a rainy Tuesday morning when she passed away. The universe often works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it? That day for me was a fog. It was coasting through a short work day, and going for a drive, cursing the sky above, asking What’s the point? What’s the point in all of this? She didn’t ask for this. It was repeating to myself over and over again, She was only 27. She was only 27. She was only 27. It was somehow ending up at the grocery store with no list or plan in mind. It was walking down each aisle, angry at all of the people filling their carts with the proper fixings for a Thanksgiving meal. It was the desperate feeling of wanting everyone around me to stop what they were doing and feel even a fraction of what I was feeling. It was praying for a familiar face to come up to me and say I get it, I get it. I miss her too. This sucks so much. It’s not fair. It’ll never be fair.

It was being surrounded by strangers who couldn’t possibly know what my favorite memories are. They don’t know about the elementary school pool parties, or sneaking in bouts of laughter between getting in trouble for torturing your old neighbor together. They don’t know about the sleepovers in middle school, or the time you finally felt like you were growing up when your parents trusted you enough to go to let you go to the mall alone. They don’t know about how Ruby Tuesdays became your tradition because that was the first restaurant you spent your hard earned cash that you made at your minimum wage paying jobs at. They don’t remember what it was like to get dressed up in matching fuzzy sweaters and Kangol bucket hats (both of which I am eternally grateful faded out of style) just to take funny pictures that will forever be a part of me. They don’t know about the nights when it was just you, your cousin, and your friend, and how those quiet moments between deep breaths and tears and wishes made for the future and promises that we’d all be friends forever, laying on a blanket, talking over cups of hot chocolate, were some of the most profound moments of your life. They don’t know that those are the moments that you will hold onto when the grief gets bigger and the anniversary of her death gets further away.

And they don’t know how much you are kicking yourself over and over again for somehow allowing the last conversation that ever passed your lips between the two of you to be about hanging out soon. Soon is a concept I’ve become all too well acquainted with. I’ll get to it soon. I’ll call them back soon. Let’s hang out soon. Sometimes, soon never does come.

. . .

The holidays are trailing behind in the wake of her death. The twinkling lights and Christmas carols flowing through the airwaves are an indicator that it’s supposed to be the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, and yet the older I get, the more it feels like the Busiest Time of The Year.

This year, it feels like the Coldest Time of The Year.

The holiday season always seems to creep in, taking with it the magic of what it once used to mean. August, September, and October have notoriously been hard for me – a season of big change and crippling transition, sending me straight into a time of year that is supposed to be met with gratitude, and warmth, and cider, and reflections of Remember When?

Instead, the end of November is a less-than-subtle reminder of the things we have left to do. Did I buy everything I needed to for Christmas? Did I sent out my cards? Will the gifts I order come in time? Did I miss any parties? Do I have time to finish all of the goals I made for myself for the year in the next 31 days?

In the midst of what is supposed to be a magical time of year, it’s hard to remember to enjoy it. To stop, to breathe, and to look up. To feel the crisp air and be enveloped by the scent of peppermint. To watch those twinkling lights with the same mesmerized glow you did as a kid. To feel and express gratitude. To just be present and have that be enough.

This holiday season is a hard one. It seems that these days, all of the people in my life are hurting in some capacity. Hearts are broken all around me, even when outside our windows, there’s twinkling lights, and smiling snowmen, and kids in their bedrooms making wishes to Santa, all with hopeful hearts.

The reality in my world is this: people around me are hurting. People in my life are waking up every morning and putting on their best smile just to get through the day. People are scrambling to figure out if they can afford food, or water, or their electric bill. Christmas gifts are the last things on their mind. People get sick. People get sick so suddenly and so quickly and without so much as a warning. People pass away, even during the most magical time of the year. People forget you. They’ll forget how much of you was a part of them; you’ll see them and be reminded by a bright flash of the past of how much it all meant then, but it’ll be taken from you so quickly like you never even mattered. They’ll whisper words and promises to keep in touch, to stay friends, but they’re empty, and hopeless, and weightless.

The recurring theme in my life is one that is prominent this holiday season: stop romanticizing being busy. Stop glorifying exhaustion. Stop utilizing being busy as a symbol of status, when really, it’s a barrier and a wall built to keep you from your own reality. Spreading yourself thin isn’t admirable, in fact, that’s probably the reason I’ve been sick for over two months. Stop burning yourself into the ground for the sake of making sure that your schedule is filled up, leaving very little room to sleep, and rest, and relax.

Things happen when you’re busy. People you love get sick, and you aren’t able to be with them when they have important doctors appointments. You aren’t able to sit with them while they talk about how scared they are. You aren’t able to tell them that you’re scared too. People get hospitalized and you can’t swing missing work to go see them. People pass away and you kick yourself for never getting a chance to follow through with your unmade plans. You make empty promises of future plans with people, but you don’t always follow through. Because you’re busy. And sometimes, being busy has an expiration date.

So many people, myself included, wear busyness like a crown of honor – like we are deserving of some reward for the bags under our eyes, the exhaustion that weighs us down, and the stress that is undoubtedly affecting our health. The truth is: busyness is an illness. Busyness keeps us from facing reality. Busyness keeps us from showing up for people. Busyness keeps us from showing up for ourselves.

. . .

There is confusion and guilt that lingers in the weeks following Danielle’s death. There’s questioning how there are people existing in what seems to be happy little bubbles, so consumed by the hustle and bustle of the holidays, thriving, it seems, in a world that glorifies trivialities. There’s the constant ebb and flow of the stages of grief. Today, it’s anger at how unaware everyone seems to be at the profound loss the world just experience. There’s perspective — a lightning bolt, an electric shock, a drop of cold water on a hot day — a reminder that there are so many more important and grave things going on in the world, and that sometimes, all of the extra stuff just doesn’t matter when there are hearts broken all over.

Have you ever taken the time to genuinely look up at the night sky? We are so, so small compared to the world above us. We are tiny grains of sand — just specs of matter. Years from now, none of the extra stuff we do will mean anything. It won’t matter if we worked a 70 hour work week every year for 40 years. It won’t matter if we lost sleep over deadlines, and time frames, and progress notes left undone. It won’t matter if we hit the ground running every morning, just to come home with our gas light on E every night. It won’t matter if we dedicate our lives to cultivating a life we dreamed up, but never really living it. What will matter is heart and truth. Were you there for people? Did you show up when you were needed? Did you listen? Did you love? Did you pay attention to the people who needed you, but never asked? Did you ask for help? Did you listen to your body when it told you to slow down, take a deep breath, and be where your feet are?

Most of my life has been spent with my head straight, eyes forward. I’ve known what I’ve wanted of life for a long time, and I’ve done nothing but work tirelessly at building it from the ground up. I am dedicated, I am hard working, and I am relentless in my fight to get what I want — but these days, it’s kicking me in the ass. These days are a constant reminder that if you don’t look up every once in awhile, you’re going to miss a hell of a lot.

Sitting at the services for my friend Danielle, I noticed everyone looking up. Everyone was looking at the person we came to honor. The room was full of people who knew her in some capacity, and loved her as tremendously as the next person in the room. It was in those quiet moments, between sniffles and tears, that I realized only do we ever look up when we are forced — when there is something to look up for. When we are reminded of how very fragile and precious life is. When we are reminded of how quickly it can be taken from us.

Have you ever sat at a table surrounded by people you love and thought to yourself that this is what life is about? Christmas carols humming in the background, kids playing with toys downstairs, and a gentle buzz from the homemade spiked cider filling the air. And in those moments, you realize how full your heart is, how good this life is. I want to capture those moments. Preserve them. Remember to seek them every once in awhile. Because when you are too busy, you don’t have time to appreciate the good life, and the good people that are right there in front of you.

This month was a big, bold, painful reminder for me to start looking up. And what I would do to go back and live a life that didn’t require these kinds of life-altering reminders. Don’t be so busy that you need something this big, or this bold, or this painful to tell you to look up. Look up because life is too short to keep your eyes down. Look up because the world around you needs you — the people you love need you. Look up now.

Yardsticks and Mile Markers

There’s a profound shift that takes place immediately after you graduate college.

Life as you knew it suddenly changes drastically. You will choose to take a year off before going to graduate school and spending three years working towards your Master’s. You’ll have friends that never moved back home — friends whose college towns loved them so much, they offered them a job they couldn’t refuse. You’ll have friends that work odd hours and friends that work nine to fives. You’ll have friends that are content with their lot in life and you’ll have friends that go to home at night wearing the weight of depression like a cloak around their neck.

You’ll try to hang onto bits and pieces of your youth, all while feeling the incessant pang of a childhood long gone before you were quite ready to let it go. You’ll start to feel a range of emotions you never knew existed. You’ll be eager to get your hands dirty and be knees-deep in checking things off your bucket list. You’ll be hopeful. You’ll be confident that this life is going to be exactly what you dreamed it would be. You will be faced with rejection. You’ll stay up all night applying for jobs, crossing your fingers that someone out there will just give you a chance. You’ll lower your standards for what you want out of love. You’ll feel a bit like a failure. You’ll spend nights going through old moleskin journals from all the years you spent scribbling down every single one of your plans. You’ll question your intentions. They were real plans, weren’t they? They were honest, hopeful, well-meaning plans. They were true to who you were. They were exactly what you wanted. But here you are, sitting on the edge of your bed, grappling the truth of what your life has become: monotony.

You’ll start to feel like you’ve let yourself down. You let down the teenage girl that used to lay on the beach at night with her closest friends, under a blanket of New Jersey stars, making big, big plans for what life was going to be.

You didn’t write a New York Time Best Selling novel at 18.
You didn’t move into an apartment in the city with your girlfriends at 22.
You never took any time to travel.
You’ve never even seen much more than what the East Coast has to offer.
You don’t know what a healthy relationship is supposed to be like.

The truth is, you thought things would be easier. You thought that being an adult meant that you were always sure of things — that you would know, without a question, if what you were doing was right. But you’ll find that it doesn’t matter how many candles you blow out on your birthday cake each year, because you will always be full of questions. You’ll question your passions. You’ll question your choices. You’ll question if the skin you’re wearing is really fit for the person you are. You’ll question the plans you had for yourself. You’ll question your parents. You’ll question friendships. You’ll question your successes and your failures. And you’ll want to give up and go through the motions when you feel like the seams that keep your life sewn together are starting to come undone.

You’ll feel like you’re being flung across a boxing ring. And you’ll get mad. This is supposed to be what growing up is? This is supposed to be fun? This is supposed to be better than what I’m leaving behind? You’ll go from feeling stagnant to feeling like you’re riding a one-man roller coaster with no handle bars to hold onto. And the truth is, it’s a little bit of both, isn’t it? Sometimes, you’ll feel like you’re at a standstill. Like you’re wearing weights on your feet and you can’t possibly run without falling flat on your face. And other days, you’ll feel a gust of wind pushing you towards the finish line, and you have no choice but to ride that wave out.

You’ll surprise yourself at the first taste of envy.

One day, you’ll get a text from a friend saying they landed their dream job. They’ll tell you that they got offered $10K more than they expected and they already had intentions of moving an hour away from your little hometown.

“I’m happy for her,” you’ll repeat those words out loud three times, as you let it all sink in.
I’m happy for her. I’m happy for her. I’m happy for her, aren’t I?”
You aren’t sure who you’re repeating yourself to. You aren’t sure who is really listening to you.

You’ll go out for a celebratory dinner, followed by celebratory drinks. You’ll count on the bottomless champagne and the glittering lights and the music permeating through the walls to get you through the night. You have no idea what that sinking pit in your stomach is, but you paint a smile on your face and you cheer along when you’re supposed to.

You do it for her. You do it because she’s your friend. And you’re happy for her, aren’t you?

You’ll start expecting it — that feeling, again. The bitter taste of jealousy and confusion. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes, it knocks the wind right out of you, and other times, it makes you grip the chair you’re sitting in. But it’ll always sting.. even just a little bit.

You’ll scroll through Facebook and see that someone you grew up with bought a house. A beautiful little cottage with a white picket fence and wrap-around porch — the house of your dreams. You’ll see a girl you went to high school with posting every moment of her day, working for a well-known, high-end fashion magazine. That was never part of your plan, but you still get green with envy in a way you can’t seem to rationally explain. You’ll see pictures of engagement rings, and sonograms, and nurseries. Your heart will break every single time you scroll through social media and see an ex boyfriend fall in love with someone who is very much the opposite of who you are. You’ll question if you were ever enough, or if it was all a little game. You’ll see posts from a girl you grew up with talking about her plans and intentions to publish a book of essays, and you’ll die a little bit inside at the 100+ likes and comments encouraging her to do so. You’ll get pissed off — wasn’t that what I wanted? Wasn’t all of that what I wanted for myself?

Your friends are getting married. They’re having babies. They’re buying houses. They’re moving into next chapters of their lives at lightning speed, and you’re still trying to catch up on the three years you missed while you were still in grad school. So, you start to create mile markers in your head for where you should be.

You should be in a committed relationship right now. You should be paying a mortgage. You should be making plans for a wedding, and a honeymoon, and a family. You should be settling down. You should be setting up registries and picking out color schemes. You shouldn’t be living in an apartment that hasn’t ever felt like home, you shouldn’t be getting stood up by boys who don’t come close to what your standards used to be, you shouldn’t be working extra hours and extra jobs just so you can afford to be in another string of weddings next year. You shouldn’t be making trips to your parents garden for vegetables because you have to choose what you can afford: your electric bill this month, or food. You shouldn’t be sitting on the edge of your bed, clutching your old moleskin journals, wondering where the hell all this time went and why the hell haven’t you gone after all the other things you wanted for yourself? Things outside of a degree, and a good career, and good, stable ground.

When did we let ourselves become robots? When did we start allowing what we don’t have to dictate how we feel about ourselves? When did we start using other people’s achievements as yardsticks for everything we are not?

It’s cute in the beginning, I suppose, this little act of self-deprecation. It keeps you on your toes when it starts. But it becomes a habit — a dangerous cycle. You become whinier. You start to become empty of all the hope you once had and instead of discussing thoughts and ideas, you discuss your shortcomings and how they compare to others’ achievements. People stop encouraging you; they stop filling you with empathy and compassion. Because the things you swore you’d have done by now are just thoughts you scribbled down in that moleskin journal long before you were faced with the things that somehow matter more now: rent, an electric bill, student loan payments, being a bridesmaid over and over and over again, house warming parties, weddings, baby showers, taxes, health insurance plans, retirement plans. The list goes on.

I’ll be honest. These days, I’m just trying to get by. These days, I’m trying to set up camp in the valley that I’m living in. These days, I’m trying to forgive myself. I’m trying to forgive myself for tiptoeing around that dangerous trap of comparison — a huge pool that I always swore I’d stay away from. I’m trying to forgive myself for expecting more than what is possible of me. I’m trying to forgive myself for holding up a mirror in one hand and a yardstick in the other, measuring who I am against who I wish I was.

These days, self-forgiveness is the theme of my life. You have to forgive yourself for being a little irrational. Your emotions might not always make sense; you’ll find yourself getting angry over something minor. You’ll find yourself seething in jealousy. You’ll sometimes find yourself sad when you see the things someone else has, even if it’s a life you never wanted for yourself. Your feelings may not always make sense, but they’re always valid. You’re allowed to be hurt, and you’re allowed to cry about it. You’re allowed to feel a little stuck every once in awhile. You’re allowed to kick and you’re allowed to scream. But I’ll tell you one thing: you’re also allowed to forgive yourself.

You’re allowed to forgive yourself for not quite being where you thought you’d be. You’re allowed to forgive yourself for not being what everyone else wants you to be. You’re allowed to forgive yourself for not always remembering the things you have accomplished. You’re allowed to forgive yourself for comparing your life to someone else’s. And most importantly, you’re allowed to forgive yourself for being human.

I’m learning that daily. You’ll have to forgive yourself over and over again until you wear the words on your skin. Say it with me: I’m only human, and that’s my saving grace.

I’m only human,
and that’s my saving grace.

It Starts With Heart

My pediatrician told me I would grow up to be 5’5”.

At seven years old, how could I argue that? Despite knowing that neither of my parents stood taller than 5’3″, I had a woman who’d known me since I was a toddler, who had spent more than my lifetime within the four walls of medical school, standing in front of me telling me that I would one day see the world from the vantage point of 5’5″.

I remember when I gave up hope that my eyes would ever get that chance. At 12 years old, I stood at only 4’11”. And when 13 came, and I saw no more growth, I became resentful of my pediatrician’s promise. I started obsessing over being short. I was wearing heels to school every day, I stepped out from underneath the cloak of the shy girl I was; I was loud, and I was bold. I was overcompensating, in part, for the pieces of me I felt were missing. But somewhere along the line, I realized that it never really was about how tall I stood.

The truth is, I spent a lot of my childhood feeling small, and I never actually wanted to be small. Not reaching a predicted height only further sealed what I thought was my overall fate — both physically and emotionally.

I decided then, in middle school, to change who I was. I put on the facade of a girl who was big and was bold, and I hoped that one day, it would catch up. I hoped that one day, I would feel as big as I pretended to be.

– – –

I showed a Ted Talk in a group that I run the other day. The speaker, Glennon Doyle, called her story Lessons from the Mental Hospital, and in it, she talked about her struggle with depression and self-worth, bulimia, and addiction. I didn’t have an agenda or a direction that I wanted to take after watching the video. I wanted the group to take in all the themes that jumped out within those 18 minutes — the importance of vulnerability as a catalyst for change, finding bold courage, taking off the masks that we hide behind, crashing into rock bottom, and coming back up for air. When I asked the group what stood out the most to them, the general consensus was these words:

“We feel so much pain and so much love and we sense that the world doesn’t want us to feel that much, and doesn’t want to need as much comfort as we need. So we start pretending. We try to pretend like we’re the people that we think we’re supposed to be. We numb, and we hide, and we pretend. And that pretending does eventually turn into a life of lies. But to be fair, we thought we were supposed to be lying. They tell us since we’re little that when someone asks us how we’re doing, the only appropriate answer is: ‘Fine. And you?'”

The common theme in the room was that, as children, we were told that our voices didn’t matter. We were taught that no amount of wanting to be big would ever make it true: we were children, and that instantly made us small.

When we cried, we were handed tissues — the message essentially screaming that your tears don’t matter. Wipe them up, sweep whatever hurt you are feeling under the rug and carry on. We’re told, at the sight of one tear rolling down our cheeks to stop crying. And often, when we were sad, it came out as defiance. We were never asked, “what’s going on? What are you feeling upset about?” We’re asked, “what’s wrong with you? Why are you being so bad?” We were taught that the only thing we could feel was fine. We were taught to quiet the sound of our voices, and to forget the feelings that were rattling our bones. And so as time passed, we assumed the role of the person who was never heard. And that’s how we grow up.

– – –

I made a career out of the deep rooted desire to never let the people around me ever feel small. But all the schooling and internship hours and the textbooks and the professors and the mentoring could never set you up to tell you what it’s like.

I remember the first time I realized how big my job is, and just how small that epiphany made me feel.

I was sitting with someone who could only be described as a warrior. Her story is not mine to share, but I need you to know this. I need you to know that when she showed up at my door, she was hiding behind a hard shell. As time went on, I had the honor of watching her take her chisel and pick away at the pieces that she so intricately built around herself.

On this particular day, she was talking about where she thought the onset of her problem lied. She was fed, as a kid, the age-old adage: be seen, but don’t you dare be heard. Just like Glennon Doyle spoke about in her Ted Talk, this person was always told to hold her head up, to puff her chest out, to paint a smile on her face, and to always respond with, “I’m fine,” when asked how she was doing. I listened to her deconstruct all the lies she had ever been told, and I watched as she started to believe them.

You’re worthless. You’re a mistake. You’re a piece of shit. 

And as she rattled them off — all the lies she’d ever been told, I noticed she was looking down, fidgeting with her hands: a clear sign of nervousness that comes from being vulnerable. It was in that moment that I realized how much I really connected with this person. I remember all the times I hid behind the small things out of feeling insignificant and small myself. And I remember how nearly impossible it’s always been for me to look someone in the eye and speak my truth.

Silence filled the room, and I knew she was waiting on me to change the topic, for me to ask another question, for me to divert my attention elsewhere.

I didn’t have any words to offer that would make an earth-shattering difference. She needed my silence. She needed to believe, in that silence, that her voice mattered.

The drive home that night was brutal. I regressed back to the adolescent version of myself. My mind was spitting back all the insecurities I thought I once weed wacked my way through. Who had the audacity to choose you to be the one who gets the hear their story? How could you be enough for them? How could I cower down to this small version of myself and have this job that I had to show up at and be big and bold and somehow make it work?

But something really important happened. That person kept coming back. She started to identify feelings that were suppressed by the liars and the voices that told her she was never enough. She started exploring more and with each passing week, that wall kept coming down. There was a pivotal moment, when I checked in to ask how she felt things were going. She told me that the moments that were most important to her were all the ones when I allowed her to just be there, with all of her heavy stuff. It was the moments I didn’t try to redirect, or to change, or to dig. It was in the moments she felt heard, and she felt seen, and she felt important.

That was my tent pole moment.

Hannah Brencher talked about tent pole moments in her November Writing Intensive. She describes these moments as the ones that plant themselves in the ground and mark a very obvious shift in your life. They’re the poignant moments that knock you off your path a little bit, and make you believe that you’re on your way to being different. This conversation changed it for me, and I’ve never been the same.

– – –

It is such a privilege to be the one invited to sit right in the crux of someone else’s pain.

I don’t make many promises, but I do promise that if you ever get the chance to sit with someone while they tell you the whole story, it’ll be intense and it’ll be overwhelming, and it’ll hurt like hell. It will feel like a series of sucker punches to the gut. You’ll question why you were the chosen one. And when they keep coming back, and when they allow themselves to slowly take off their masks, you’ll ask yourself a million times how you were enough for that very important role.

That’s what I struggle with the most. The truth is, I don’t know how to be enough. I don’t know how to love hard enough, or listen intently enough, or be good enough. And to be the person who gets to collect all these heartbreaking stories and crack open a shell full of pain and build on the bits and pieces of hope and help stitch together recovery — well that’s the the stuff that makes what I do golden. That’s what makes it all enough.

I’m starting to learn that enough isn’t pretty sentences with words intricately stitched together that sound bigger than they really are. People don’t need that.

Amongst all the misconceptions about the field of counseling is the one where people think we, as therapists, have all the answers. People believe there is an answer key in a book somewhere, and that we can open that book and direct you towards the road you need to take. And my God, if that were the truth, I would give this all up. I would ask for a refund and throw in the towel and say that this isn’t what I want to do. Because if it were that easy, I’m not sure it would be worth it.

As much as we believe it to be true, people don’t need another map with a red X marking the destination.

More than answers, we just need each other. We need each other to show up to remind us that we are not alone. We need to be validated. We need to know that our thoughts matter and that our feelings matter. We need someone to ask, “how are you,” and stay with us long enough to hear the answer when it’s not just, “fine, and you?”

I guess I’ve been wrong all along. It’s not about constructing a life so big that you forget to be small. It has nothing to do with being bold and being loud and forgetting the person you are underneath your own shadow. It’s about heart. That’s the stuff that matters. It’s about having the heart that is willing to sit with someone when they need it the most. It’s about hearing other people and letting them feel known — letting them be seen, and letting them find it within themselves to believe that they are more than just that small child who was taught that their feelings didn’t matter.

It starts when you drop the facade; it starts when you stop trying to be bigger than you are. It starts when you stop letting the fear of being too small be the barrier the stands in your way. It starts with heart — because that’s all we ever really need.

I Never Wanted To Be A Cliche

Someone once told me to write my truth.

“Be honest. Write your truth; no one can take that from you.”

Those words came to me nearly four years ago when I was gearing up to take on this little project. I was apprehensive. For most of my life, I’d scribbled in journals, jotted down daydreams, and made private blogs that never met the eyes of anyone I knew. Publicly opening my heart was new.

At the time, I was doing something so dangerously outside of my comfort zone, I almost felt like I needed a life jacket just to step into it. But those words of wisdom were so important to me. They are the words that remind me today that I shouldn’t worry about sugar coating it. Writing shouldn’t be about waiting for inspiration to strike, or when the positive, uplifting, and motivational messages seem to be pouring from my fingertips. Life just isn’t like that– it doesn’t come at you cropped or filtered. Life is real and raw. And writing should be real and raw. It should always be about writing what you know — it should be about your own truth.

And so, the driving force behind this little machine has been about owning up to and writing my own truth. It’s been about confessions — about getting down to the heart of the matter — the things that hurt, the things that heal, the truth.. my truth. It’s been a nearly four-year-long honesty hour.

So, I’ll be honest. I’ve been avoiding. I’ve been avoiding a lot of things – this blog, friends, acquaintances, commitments, plans. Nearly everything aside from my two closest friends, my coworkers that I see daily, and my every day responsibilities. I’ll admit that I’ve fallen a bit down the rabbit hole, but not quite all the way; I’m still hanging on.

I’ve spent the last year of my life running on a hamster wheel, desperate to get to a finish line that just wasn’t quite there. I spent hours huddled up in Starbucks studying for (and later passing) two really important exams that led to graduation, certification, and licensure. I graduated with my Master’s in Mental Health Counseling. I landed a job in the field and even progressed into a position that I thought was years away, only three months into my career. I packed up what little belongings I had and moved. I watched friends get engaged, I watched friends get married, I watched as friends pack up their things and move states away. I fought with my family, I fought with myself; I fought through some of the most challenge seasons of my adult life.

The truth is, I selfishly didn’t expect life to just keep on moving.

Being a college student was about how many nights I could spend at the local pub and still maintain a 4.0 Being a graduate student in my mid-20s was about trying to keep myself afloat– how to keep myself from falling asleep at the wheel, or from forgetting what day of the week it was, or trying to keep up with friends who seemed light years away. I was doing fine if I kept my head just a little bit above water. I was forced to follow a strict schedule — I was a student, working two jobs, interning, and trying to maintain relationships and some semblance of sanity. I had blinders on to the world outside of my own.

I almost naively expected time to stand still. I expected to cross that stage to get my diploma and be greeted on the other end by this world that waited three years for me to catch up. 

Moving forward has been difficult for me. I could sit here and tell you how grossly ungraceful I am at transitions, or exits, or new beginnings. I could tell you that I hate change. I could tell you that surviving the shifting of orbits doesn’t really fall onto my resume as one of my strengths. But please, name someone who is graceful at change. Name someone who is actually good at it. Tell them to come find me. Tell them to teach me how it works, cause I haven’t got a clue.

I wish I could look back on the last nine months of my life and pinpoint the exact moment when the path I was flying down started to get a little turbulent. I don’t remember when, but I do remember a coworker, who I’d interned with prior to both of us working together looked at me in the months following graduation and asked me, “What happened? You had it all together when we were in school, and now you’re literally falling apart. You’re crumbling right in front of me.”

It’s just as dramatic and funny as it sounds, but when someone you’ve worked side by side with nearly every day for the last year says something like that to you, it sticks. What the hell did happen to me?

I was struggling. I started to become a pressure cooker. I was filling myself daily because that’s what I thought I needed to do. I was making plans with people and listening to them talk about their lives and finding myself barely listening on. I was detached. I didn’t care about the matching his and her towels, or the future vacation plans, or the joint bank accounts, or the new jobs. I didn’t care about the baby planning or the wedding planning or the flavor of the week they were dating. I wanted to be present; I wanted to be supportive and attentive, but it was hard. So I rationalized by making all these plans in the hopes that one day, some of the circuits would align and it would make sense and I would somehow find myself enjoying the conversation in front of me. I was filling myself with people, and plans, and things, and going home every night and hating myself for it. I kept filling and filling, and despite overflowing, despite coming to a head and essentially bursting, I was never full.

I found that I stopped caring about things that I used to care so fiercely about before. I was losing enthusiasm for people I cared about. And it wasn’t fair to them. It wasn’t fair that I was struggling with my own stuff and to take it out on my relationships with other people, but that’s how the tape played out. I was struggling with closing the chapter of my life as a student and entering this new phase of my life: the one where I struggle to live on my own, to make it in this field, to bare the burden of some of the most beautifully broken souls I’ve ever met, and to still have to face my own realities at night.

And so, I started to avoid things.

I started protecting my heart. I stopped filling myself with things that made me heavy — the things that made me go home at night and tip over to pour right out of me. I stopped answering texts and disconnected myself from my phone. I started detaching myself from things that seemed to be just filler. Because I’m going to be honest with you: I’m just tired of it. I’m tired of things that lack substance. I’m tired of relationships built on small talk. I’m tired of friendships that aren’t meant to span a lifetime. I’m tired of feeling like I have to force a conversation– like if I don’t have something witty to say back to a random text message that doesn’t interest me in the least, I become fearful that the person on the other end is mad at me. I’m tired of feeling a little behind, like I can’t contribute to a conversation because I don’t have a mortgage, and those matching his and her towels, or plans for a baby. I stopped writing because I didn’t have anything good to write. I didn’t have anything positive. I didn’t want to be the person who whined and moaned and waited for some miracle that never came.

But I guess that’s what it’s all about, right? The truth. The not-so-pretty reality: that life isn’t perfect. That you can get everything you worked so hard for and still feel like something is missing. That you can get to a certain point in your life where some relationships aren’t serving you and you have to let them go. That you feel like an elephant is sitting on your shoulders every day, but you don’t dare tell your friends just why you don’t want to get together. Because the truth is, there isn’t a reason. You just physically can’t do it.

The truth is I always swore I would never look back.

A lot of the last nine months have been spent staring into a rear view mirror, wondering if there was anything I could have done differently — what I could have done to just hang onto the things I never wanted then, but strangely want back now. I’ve been decorating my walls in memories and moments I never thought I’d miss. I somehow planted my home right in the heart of Nostalgia Lane. I’ve been stuck here ever since.

So much of my life was about moving forward and looking towards the future. I spent years investing significant time into chipping away at what I thought was the grander picture. I spent my entire childhood desperately craving adulthood. I never planned on being the girl that missed all the things she was running from.

I’ve suddenly become that 20-something cliche.

When I was in middle school, I wanted to be in high school. I wanted a hipper hair cut, I wanted my license, better clothes, a car that I could drive with the top down. I wanted freedom. When I was in high school, all I wanted was college. That would be freedom. I wanted to live away from my family, and the house that built me. I wanted adventure and new beginnings. When I was in college, all I ever wanted was a career. I wanted a place of my own. I wanted a life I could say I proudly built with my own hands. And when I was in graduate school, I wanted to go back and have fun. I wanted time to slow down. I wanted life to stand still. I wanted the chance to have a couple do-overs.

The saddest part of growing up is this: time doesn’t stand still, no matter how hard you fight for it to. Second chances are few and far in between. You just don’t get do-overs. 

Just like grains of sand along the shoreline, you can try to gather it all in your hands, but it somehow still just slips right through your fingers. And what I would do to go back and apologize to all those all-knowing adults that stood right here, where I am today, and told me to slow down, to take it all in, to stop worrying so much, to write it all down, to remember these moments, these feelings, this laughter. To enjoy it all. I swear if I had a chance to do it over, I would take back all the times I rolled my eyes at them.

Because life comes without warning. One day, you’ll turn 18 and you’ll feel invincible — like nothing on the planet could touch you. And then you’ll turn 20; you’ll find yourself stuck between saying goodbye to being a teenager, and being so unsure of what being in your 20s even means. You’ll taste heartache and you’ll know that even though you are young, with the world right in front of you, you aren’t invincible. You’ll look back to mornings where you packed eye liner and mascara in your backpack, and ran straight to the bathroom at school to put it all on before anyone could see you. You’ll look back on the nights you spent fighting with your parents about the length of your shorts, or the cut of your shirt, or the inappropriate writing across the butt of your sweats, or the skin tight dress you absolutely had to wear to Homecoming. You’ll smile at the memories and feel a knot of pain at how far away they’ll seem. You’ll turn 22. You’ll graduate from college and you’ll look back at middle school graduation and think to yourself, “how the hell could I think that this would be better?” How did I think that facing the unknown was a hell of a lot better than being 14, and hanging out in the mall, gossiping about boys, and buying new hand sanitizers from Bath and Body Works. And one day, you’ll be 26, inching closer to 27. You’ll feel a surging rush of emotions as you walk across the stage to get your Master’s. You start a new job, you’ll struggle despite essentially having it all.

And then you’ll be 27. My God, 27 sounds a bit old, doesn’t it? Like you’re meant to have some sort of grip on who you are. But, you’ll slip down the rabbit hole just a little, and you’ll try to climb your way out of it.

Some days, I feel so incredibly guilty for looking back and pining over memories when I have wonderful things in front of me. But what I’m finding is that growing older is equal parts living and equal parts being nostalgic. It’s about small glimpses into the past and remembering what it was like being 18 and carefree and driving to the beach at night with our heads halfway out the window. It was feeling weightless. It’s about what life was like, what it’s like now, and what it could have been. It’s about looking through a lens into your past and cursing yourself for not holding onto those fleeting moments that we never knew were so important. Like sneaking out for the first time, blowing cigarette smoke off rooftops, making wishes into the starry night sky. It’s about not realizing that these small moments were actually big moments. It’s about missing moments that you had no idea would mean so much.

I think a lot of my struggles the last few months have something to do with how fiercely I cling to nostalgia like my favorite childhood blanket, in the hopes that it’ll all come back to me.

The thing is though, those memories do come back. Just not in the way I necessarily want them to.

They’ll come back to me when I am standing at the end of the aisle watching as one of my longest friends walks towards her husband-to-be and memories come flashing back about the first time we slept in tents outside, huddled around a bottle of vodka, telling stories of what we wanted for our lives. The moments will come back when you are sitting side by side an old friend and really see them for the first time. When you see how much of you is in them and vice versa. And how different would your life be had they not been there for all of the big things: for high school, college, and graduate school graduation. For all the times your family broke your heart and the times that the boy who they never approved of, came back and drove right over it, as if almost knowing you needed your heart to survive. Moments of the past will come back when you look at your beautiful baby sister and realize she is not a baby anymore. Not even close. It’ll be in saying goodbye to friends you grew up with and hoping and praying that living states apart won’t change a thing, but all the while knowing that it changes everything. And when these moments do come back, I’m learning that it’s all okay.

What I’ve found in my little hiatus from the world is this: maybe it’s okay to be a cliche. Maybe it’s okay to be just like any other 20 something millennial struggling to get by. Maybe it’s okay to say yes to guacamole on your burrito, even if you can barely afford your student loans. Maybe it’s okay to say no to plans because you need time to yourself to decompress. Maybe it’s okay to distance yourself from people. Maybe it’s okay to feel like you’re missing something. Maybe it’s okay to still not know what you want, to still not be engaged, or married, or have a kid on the way. Maybe it’s okay to be 27 and still renting, without having even let the thought of a mortgage cross your mind. It’s okay to be a 20 something cliche. In the end, it’s all okay. It will all be okay.

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