This Much I Know Is True

It’s September 2nd, 2003.

I am exactly 14 years, 10 months, and 13 days old. It’s after 11 pm on the night before I am supposed to start high school. Anxiety is coursing through my veins, though it’s not until I am well into my graduate school studies that I really understand the weight of what that means. I am in the bottom bunk of the bed I used to share with my brother, but for tonight, we are both laying horizontally, legs hanging slightly off the side of the bed. He is exactly 9 years, 3 months, and 7 days old. It’ll be years before he and I will ever have a relationship beyond basic sibling rivalry and yelling, kicking, and hitting each other. But for tonight, we silently agree: life, as we know it, is about to change. The chunky green screen Nokia cell phone that my dad left me with for the night rings, breaking up any chance at restful sleep. On the other end of the phone is my dad’s voice telling us that our baby sister was born, making her entrance into the world at 10:48 pm. We acknowledge the news and drift off into sleep, not quite grasping the significance of that night. 

There will always be events that stand as markers of time — a life before and a life after.
That night, for me, was the beginning of the after.

///

It’s September 5, 2017.

I will be 29 years old next month and my brother is 23 years old. We often reminisce about that night and how strange it was that we still remember so vividly sleeping with our legs hanging off the bed, my dads old cell phone stuck between the top bunk mattress and the rung of the bed. We retold the story three nights ago on my sister’s birthday.

Tomorrow, my sister starts high school.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a little over 14 years since my brother and I laid in that bed, wondering what it would be like to have a sibling so much younger than us. It’s hard to believe that it’s now that little baby’s turn to transition into high school, and that my brother and I are both adults — so far removed from those two little kids we were 14 years ago. It’s hard to wrap my head around the thought of that little girl that I used to watch scoot around the house, the little baby who started running long before she started crawling, the toddler who turned four the day after I moved away to college, who drew me pictures and sent them to me for me to string all around my dorm, the kindergartner who asked me to come to her Christmas party to help decorate cookies, the 8 year old who gave me a toothy grin as we stood in line in the dead of November to meet musicians she loved after her first concert ever, the now teenager who graduated 8th grade with all honors, the bright, resilient, beautiful, sassy, funny, and kind-hearted little girl that I will always call my baby sister will be a high schooler as of tomorrow morning.

///

 

There have been so many moments over the last 14 years, where I look at my sister and think, my God, this world is going to break her. Life is going to hurt her. There have been so many times where I wanted to put her in bubble wrap and protect her from all of the hard stuff. But I’ll never be able to protect her from the things she has to go through. So instead, I’ve always tried to be an echo that whispers all of the things I want her to know, with the hopes that what I tell her sticks. And that, in some ways, the lessons I share with her act as metaphorical bubble wrap in a world that will do its best to knock you over.

This list is for my baby sister. It’s a compilation of advice, wisdom, and lessons that I was told, but never really heard– things I wish I knew then, and words that I want her to carry with her these next four years.

I don’t know much about the world, but this much I know is true:

1. Please do not walk around carrying the weight of a heavy scarlet letter branded across your chest. Do not wear your skin stained with the bright red ink of apology, and the fainted whisper of, “I’m sorry” rolling off your lips so effortlessly. Know that the things you should apologize for are the things that you are genuinely sorry about — like accidentally cutting someone off in the lunch line, or knocking someone’s book off their desk, or unknowingly taking someone’s seat. You do not need to apologize for the way your hair falls in front of your face, or how loud you laugh when something is really funny, or how you choose to get over something or someone that hurt you. You do not ever need to take a hammer in one hand and a chisel in the other and carve away bits and pieces of yourself to fit into the mold of what the world around you is expecting you to be.

2. I hate to quote Bieber, but he hit the nail on the head when he sang the line, “You should go and love yourself.” There are going to be days when you feel ugly. There will be days when you decide you want to chop off all the hair you have, or style it a different way. For me, it was deciding to get a perm when I was 15, and years later, getting a bob hair cut. [Note: please do not ever get a perm. Or a bob.] There are going to be days where you won’t leave the house without painting a full face of makeup on. There will be days when the clothes that you liked just yesterday won’t fit the way they used to. And there will be people, myself included, that will tell you you are beautiful. That will tell you that you are smart, and funny, and kind, and caring. But people will never love you any more than you love yourself. It’s a hard truth that I still grapple with at my age. You can fill your closet with the cutest clothes, and your makeup bag with everything under the sun in Sephora, and you can fill your time with friends, but none of that stuff will ever fill you in the same way that self-love fills you. Bring self-love with you wherever you go. Or, as Mariah Fenton Gladis says, Arrive Already Loved. I promise you it will carry you further than any makeup pallete or pair of ripped jeans ever will.

3. You will never feel good having shallow people in your life. Gossip might be funny and drama might feed your little teenage soul, but none of those things will crawl into your bed at night and tell you that you are loved, that you are a good person, and that you are deserving of having good people in your life, no matter how much hate and vitriol those people spew from their mouths. Do not allow yourself to be dictated by conversations surrounded by gossip. Do not let yourself feed into the friendships that sit around scrolling through social media mocking selfies-gone-wrong, or outfits that don’t match. You, my dear, sweet sister, are not made for anything shallow. You are made to be deep. So, look for the friendships that add depth into your life. Look for the kind of people who ask you how you are and really mean it. Look for the people who cheer you on, who cry when you cry, and who laugh when you laugh. Look for those people who tell you when you’re wrong without shaming you for being wrong. Look for the kind of people who know what kind of day you are having just by the sound of your voice, and who know what kind of ice cream you want just by the look on your face. Look for the people who make you feel good, and loved, and seen — the ones you can be wholly and fully yourself around.

4. Never believe a boy when he tells you that he will leave his girlfriend for you. You are strong, but you are not strong enough to turn a bad boy into a good boy. You are worth more than someone’s second option. You are worth more than someone who is willing to leave one good thing and get the next good thing that fell in his lap. There will one day be a boy that stumbles into your life without any strings attached [just let me know ahead of time when this happens so I can schedule a panic attack], and he will respect you and only have eyes for you. Wait for him.

5. There is not one single class in the next four years that will teach you how to say goodbye, though I wish that was a pre-requisite for adolescence. People will come into your life and leave silently in the night. Others will stay for a season, and lucky for you, some will stay for the long haul. But, there is no way of telling who will stay. Goodbyes are painful, and heartbreaking, and devastating, but, like most things, they’re inevitable and unavoidable. There aren’t enough eloquent words to talk about how much it hurts closing the door on some relationships and how much it stings to see friendships fading away, or how hard it is to have your heart broken. But if there is an upside to having to say goodbye to the people that leave, it’s the comfort in knowing that at one time, that person loved you and you loved them right back. And sometimes love doesn’t last forever. Sometimes love just isn’t enough.

6. There is still something very sacred about face-to-face interactions, though your generation grew up on technology. But, no matter how advanced we get in this technologically driven world, please pick up the phone not only to text, or to tweet, or to Snap, or to Instagram a selfie. Please pick up the phone to hear a voice on the other end of the line. Make plans to meet people face to face. Have conversations — the hard ones about deep things, about your dreams and goals and hopes for life — in person. When I was your age, my friends and I always ran to the beach late at night and sat on the swings dreaming about what our lives would turn out to be like. All these years later, I don’t think those conversations would have such a permanent place in my heart or such a profound meaning if they were had in a group chat over text. Please unplug from time to time. Put your phone down. Turn it off. Leave it home.

7. You do not need to have it all figured out. Repeat after me: I do not need to have everything all figured out. There are some people who know at a young age what kind of career they want for themselves, and then there are other people just trying to figure out what it is that they like. Please don’t worry if you don’t know what college you want to go to or what kind of career you want to pursue. Figure out what moves you. Figure out what ignites a spark in your soul. Figure out what your heart is passionate about. And once you do, all that career and future planning will fall into place.

8. Write things down, whether it be a diary, or a gratitude journal, or just a short sentence or blurb of the days events. Ten years from now, you are not going to remember specifically what you are feeling or why. But, it’s nice to be able to reflect on the things you experienced and the way you felt and say to yourself, I made it through that even when I thought I never would. 

9. Slow down. Life goes by fast enough. One day, I am 14 years old and getting news of my little sister being born, and in the blink of an eye, that same sister is 14 years old awaiting her first day of high school. Adults will tell you all the time to pay attention, to take things in, to never miss a beat, to never take for granted the time you have here. Well-meaning adults told me that a million times when I was your age. Back then, it all sounded a lot like noise. Today, in retrospect, it sounds a lot like advice I wish I would have heeded at a young age. The truth is life does happen in the blink of an eye without you even trying, so don’t try so hard to rush this growing up thing. Life does that all on its own.

10. You were beautiful long before he ever told you so. This goes back to #4. There is going to be a day that, [if I had it my way, this day would come later rather than sooner] you become enamored by a boy. You will fall for his charm, you will fall for the way he says your name. You will fall for the way his eyes glisten in the sun, and the way he talks about the things he wants from his life. Your heart will flutter the first time he calls you beautiful. Your heart will sing the first time you fall in love. But if that boy hurts you, if that boy stops being the sun in your sky, if that boy stops being the one who makes you feel like you are the center of the universe, please remember: you were beautiful long before he ever told you so. And you will love again.

11. Ask for help. If you find yourself unable to fall asleep at night, covered in sweat and crippling fear, ask for help. If you have trouble getting out of bed, or have little motivation for the things you once loved, ask for help. If you need a little extra support, some encouragement, or for someone to listen to you and actually hear you, ask for help.

12. You are going to feel like everything is the end of the world. I promise you it’s not. Friends are going to betray you. And the proverbial knife they are going to stab you in the back with will sting more so than if a boy rejects you. You are going to feel like you aren’t good enough — like nothing you do is of importance. There are going to be days you will want to throw in the towel — days where you’ve had enough. You are going to feel like the smallest cut or scrape is a deep wound. I promise you that these things pass. The world keeps on moving. The things that sting so much now will be the things that have very little significance in the future. Life doesn’t stop here.

13. Piggy-backing off of #12. Listen to the song. “It’s Only Life” by Kate Voegele. Live by those lyrics. After all, it really is only life.

14. Your voice matters. Your voice matters. Your voice matters. Saying it three times for emphasis. You have a voice. You have opinions. You have thoughts. All of those matter. Do not ever allow yourself to be silenced by the people in this world that are too insecure to hear the opinion of a 14 year old. Do not let anyone tell you that your opinion doesn’t matter, or that you are too young to care, too young to have choices, too young to be heard. If you believe in something fiercely, no matter how much the world around you is telling you that you are wrong, speak up.

15. Know that it’s okay to be at home on a Friday night watching Netflix in a dimly lit bedroom. There might be nights that this makes you feel like there is something catastrophically wrong with you. You’re going to wonder why there are parties going on and football games to attend, but you’re in your room on a Friday night indulging in your latest binge TV show. You’re going to feel that uncomfortable pang in your stomach that urges you to change. Change what your Friday routine is. Change what you believe in. Change the way you spend your free time. Change to fit in with what everyone considers normal. It is okay to spend your Friday nights alone. It is okay to say no to parties if there will be people doing things you are not comfortable with. It’s okay to not fit in with whatever normal happens to be.

16. Know that today, right now, as you are, you are full. You are not full when a boy likes you. You are not full if the popular girls choose you to be a part of them. You are not full if you wear what’s trendy, or if you perfect the winged eye liner look. You are not full if you join the right clubs or if you make high honors. Exactly as you are, exactly as you stand, you are full. The rest is just secondary.

17. Do not leave your friends for a boy. And subsequently, do not stick around waiting for friends who will choose a boy over you. Women need women. Having a group of solid girlfriends that don’t bend or break when a boy steals one of your hearts is so, so important. After all, who’s going to be left standing there when you want to talk about that boy?

18. Grades are not the only important thing about high school, but please, please, care about your grades. Study hard. Do your homework. Ask for extra help if you need it. Apply for National Honor Society if that’s what you want to do. But more than just academics, have fun. Join clubs that are appealing to you. Find out what interests you. Go to football games. Go to dances. Do things you never thought you would. You have four years to figure out what feeds your soul. All of that starts now.

19. Respect your body. I know, I know. Here we go again with the anti-nudes soap box that I will forever stand on. You have one body. One. It is yours. Respect it, nourish it, feed it. There is not one single person on this planet that is deserving of access to your body through Snapchat [or text message]. Trust me when I say you can’t ever get that back.

20. Be kind, always. I could write you a paragraph about how kindness always wins, but I know that it’s sometimes hard to believe with the way the world is today. Sometimes, bullies win. They do. And while there are so many things I wish I could change about this world for you, I still know deep in my heart that having a heart that is kind and loving and compassionate will always trump hate. Always.

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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.

Go Pick Up The Pieces

Without ever realizing it, without ever really trying, we lose bits and pieces of ourselves just by existing.

We lose a piece of ourselves when we give a friend good advice that they don’t heed. When you leave footprints in the sand, only to get washed away by the ocean, you’re leaving pieces of yourself. You lose a piece of yourself when you back down from an argument over something you so desperately believe in. You lose pieces of yourself when all you’ve ever done, is chip away at the parts that make you who you are — when you lessen yourself just to fit inside a tiny box that someone else handed you. When you pacify people, appease them, say yes when you want to say no, stay quiet when you want to scream, do something for someone else because you just want them to look at you like you matter.

You lose pieces of yourself trying to be everything for everyone.

If their love brought with it a series of punches to the gut, you’d stand still and take the hit without thinking twice. You would let them cut you open and spit you back out if it meant feeling whole, even just temporarily. You’ll give pieces of yourself away freely, giving anything you’ve got, if only it meant feeling loved, valued, appreciated… enough.

You’ll walk around with the burn of a thousand paper cuts dancing all over your skin, desperate to lock eyes with anyone who will stop you and tell you that they will cool off the fire. You’ll try to remember these moments — remember how sensitive to the touch your skin was, how it feels to be the one standing with a chisel in your left hand and a hammer in your right, chipping away the pieces of yourself and handing them off to ravenous vultures, desperate for something else to eat. And as hard as you’ll try to remember it all, you’ll still go home at night and be the proverbial punching bag if that’s what it takes to feel anything other than the sting of desperation and the need to just be seen.

As long as you have them for just a minute, you’ll hand them the knife and let them slice and dice right into you. They’ll ring you dry and even when you have barely anything left to give, you’ll somehow dig out all that makes you whole and good and full and pass it around like side dishes at Thanksgiving dinner. You’ll give and you’ll give until there’s nothing left in you but a tired, tired soul.

You become desperate for a home. And so, you’ll build one out of the empty pieces that you cling onto — the pieces that they gave you, the hollow pieces that led you to believe that you were worth keeping. That you meant something to them and that’s why they threw a stone your way. You build and you build and you put together these pieces with the hope that you will fit. That you will all fit. You don’t stop to look and see that no one else can fit inside the tiny box you built in front of you. So you shrink yourself down and compromise yourself just to feel a little bit less isolated and alone. You will do anything to believe that you have a home.

You’ll go to war with yourself. You’ll fight with yourself to try to hold onto everything that makes up who you are. They don’t deserve more than you have to offer. You’ll repeat it in your head over and over again. But it’s cyclical – the way you go around in circles, so desperate to find some sort of stable ground. And so you start throwing whatever tiny pieces of yourself that you can chip away behind you, like a trail for them to follow. You won’t say it out loud, but you hope that they pick up the pieces and that they’ll come and find you. You keep sprinkling the pieces over your shoulder because you want them to find the piece that makes them realize they were wrong about you. You want them to remember all the times you showed up for them. You want them to remember all the times you saved them. You want them to acknowledge the gifts just because, the times you thought of them, the way you wanted them to have everything they never had a chance to experience when they were younger. You want them to notice you — the real you. You want them to pick up the pieces that tell them that you are selfless, that you are worthy, that you are kind, that you are capable of being loved.

You’ll try to hold yourself steady when you look behind you and see that all the pieces you laid out are gone, but they’re nowhere in sight. They’ve taken every last bit of you, but they never came looking for you. They never told you that they believed in you, or that they appreciated you. They never thanked you. They never gave you the kind of love that you were searching for, that you were desperate for, that you deserve.

They never used the pieces the way you needed them to. And so, you’re left empty. Broken. You gave away all that you had and they were somehow always hungry for more. And really, all you needed was for them to be on your side.

I’ve been trying to forgive myself for leaving pieces behind me, and earnestly believing that they’d be the pieces used to build the home I so desperately wanted.

You have to forgive yourself. This is not a suggestion; this is not a solid piece of advice. This is a demand. Forgive yourself for cutting yourself open and letting yourself bleed dry. Forgive yourself for feeling desperate for attention — it was never that you were desperate for attention; you just wanted to be wanted and loved and important. Forgive yourself for believing that every time you fixed yourself up just to be what they needed you to be, that it would be different. Forgive yourself for believing that you could possibly be everything for everyone. Forgive yourself for believing that breaking off pieces of yourself and giving them away freely would somehow make you be enough for them. You are enough just the way you areForgive yourself for jumping into meaningless relationships and conversations just because you need something to fill the holes left from your lifetime of attempts at leaving a trail behind, hoping that they will come pick up the pieces and somehow your story will change.

Your story can change. Your story will change. It changes now. It changes now because you decide it does; it changes now because instead of throwing those pieces of yourself over your shoulder, with fingers crossed, hoping they’ll pick them up and run towards you, you’ll keep them for yourself. You decide it changes now because this is not how it ends. This cannot be how the story ends.

Step one in forgiving yourself is this: pick up those pieces. Turn around and collect the pieces of yourself that you’ve chiseled away and stitch them back together.  There will be scars. There will be a few cracks, but you don’t need to be empty. You don’t need to give yourself away, and be rung dry, with the quiet desperation of a life you never had.

You have a home. I need you to believe that. You have a home even if the house that built you never was warm and inviting. You have a home even if the person you’re supposed to spend the rest of your life with pushes you out. You have a home even if you’re sitting in an empty apartment, working your ass off just to get by. You have a home. It’s within you; it’s up to you to build it up with the pieces of yourself that you collect.

Stop giving yourself so freely to the people who would be the first to throw in a match after you’ve danced in gasoline. Stop giving yourself so openly and so lovingly to the people who speak to you like your presence is a disservice to them — like you owe them something for simply existing. Stop letting people hold your hand only when they feel like it. Stop taking yourself apart and rearranging all that you are just to fit in with someone else’s belief of what a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a wife, a friend, an employee, should be. Stop picking up the phone for people who don’t answer when you need them. Stop showing up when you’re told to never come back. Stop prioritizing the people who only see you as an option — who only talk to you or make plans with you just because they have no one else. Stop trading in what reality is and swapping it with a more romanticized memory. Stop walking on glass and asking why it hurts. And more important than anything, stop giving away pieces of yourself and expecting to be anything less than empty at the end of the day.

Your story changes here, and it changes now; turn around and go pick up the pieces.

On Humility

I just want to be real with you today and let you in on a little secret.

The world does not cease to exist if we don’t snap an iPhone photo, crop it, filter it, and decorate it with a clever caption to dangle in front of someone else’s eyes. Life will continue to move forward without logging your daily minutes.

In the last week, I held the door for a stranger at Wawa, I let a woman with a crying toddler get in line in front of me at the grocery store, I went to the gym two times, I worked a total of 54 hours, I read an entire novel and am knee-deep in the middle of another one, I meal prepped for the week, I scrubbed my bathroom floor, I got frustrated with my family, I spent time with friends, I barely slept all weekend. You wouldn’t know any of this by scrolling through any of my social media accounts.

– – –

It’s hard to remember a time in my life when moments were nothing more than just that — moments. Sometimes I forget about what it was like to pick up the phone and check in on an old friend, rather than scroll through Facebook to see their latest status. It’s hard to remember a time when Tweets and photos and status updates drenched in the quiet desperation for validation were not the norm.

And please, don’t get me wrong. I love social media for what it’s given me — a platform to share my thoughts. A space to keep in touch with friends who’ve moved away. A world of networking and finding people with words and thoughts that are similar to my own.

But I sometimes find myself nostalgic for the time that came before the days of filters and statuses and Tweets. I often miss the days when love was found, not by swiping right, but by subtle glances from across the room and uninterrupted conversations. There was a time when all of the pieces of life belonged solely to you — when nothing was done just for the purpose of putting it on display for the world in front of you.

The thing is, the whole idea behind social media is to help us stay connected. But it seems like it’s pulling us further away from each other.

I’m afraid that, one day, I’ll only be a name rolling on the credits of a long film that’s missing a plot. I’m afraid I’ll always sit behind the mask of a secondary character in someone else’s life. I’m afraid of living an empty life, governed by a deep-seeded need for approval by means of a few likes, or comments, or followers.

I want to live a life that means more than sharing things for my followers to see me as big and bold.

I don’t want any part in that. I want the things that truly matter: Authenticity. Heart. Integrity. Compassion. Connection. Humility.

Humility. That’s the stuff that matters to me. Humility teaches me that I am human. Humility tells me to take a step back and feel good about the things I’ve done, rather than boast about them. Humility teaches me to embrace all that makes me human. 

I want your humanness. I want you, in all your glory. I want the real stuff — the sticky, the sweet, the messy, the ugly. I want the actual and the real and the every day stuff. And maybe I’m the minority; maybe I’m part of some small statistic and percentage of people that want the truth, no matter how it looks on a plate. But I guess that’s really all I’ve ever wanted — to have a life that is filled with people who will just keep it real with me.

We are not created to be perfect. We are born with this empty slate and the only thing that’s expected of us is to simply be human. We’re meant to experience all of the ups and downs of life, the roller coasters, the twists, and turns. Simply put, we are born to feel — tremendous hurt and loss and happiness and hope. We were born to be real, and to be raw. We were born naked for a reason — to remind us to never hide behind the mask of something we were never meant to be.

It’s harder to drop the facade and simply be human. But, conceding victory and realizing that we don’t always have to put on this show for the people around us is more powerful than any type of mask you paint.

While running a group the other day, I asked everyone to write down one thing they are currently in recovery towards. We were in the middle of a heavy conversation about how there is so much fixation on the things we are running from, and very little dialogue about the things we’re running towards. One particular person shared that they are working towards learning how to be the kind of person that shows up.

It was one of those magical moments where I got to see my own heart beating outside of my chest and it filled me with the kind of hope that electrified my soul.

On that same day, one of the greatest people I know reminded me the other day of how easy it is to just show up. She’s never had any social media account; she’s never felt inclined to do it for the ‘gram or plan a witty Facebook post. She simply exists in this world with a pure and open heart, without ever asking for it in return. She listens to the stories that you don’t ever share with anyone else, and she’d never take credit if you thank her for listening to you rant. She doesn’t have a Facebook to run to and share a story that is not her own. Documenting for the world to see her heart isn’t her priority. Being present is. Loving is. Showing up is. She is a reminder of the person I’m fighting to be.

I’m trying to become the kind of person who doesn’t need the right angle, a ring light, and the combination of VSCO and the Nashville Instagram filter to show you all the parts of me.

The true challenge lies in chiseling away at the person we think we ought to be, and being open to showing the person we genuinely are. It’s in learning how to ground ourselves and be present. It’s staying in the moment and doing what’s in front of us without concocting the perfect caption for it in our heads.

Society and Culture will tell us something different. They’ll scream at us to be good people. They’ll say if you are privileged, you must help those that are less privileged. Feed them. Guide them. Give them your heart. Make them feel seen. But don’t forget to leave a paper trail. Don’t forget to let the world around you know that on this date, at this time, you did something good. Post it for the world to see. Let everyone know that you are a good person.

I think we need to try harder to fight against that. I think we need to dig within ourselves and think about the people who lived before us and what it was like for them. I think it’s time we peel off the mask and drop the facade. I think it’s time we allow ourselves to be fully human, in all of its sticky and messy glory. And I think it’s time we let that be enough.

This is your Sunday evening reminder to go out into this world and do good. Show up when you’re needed. Lift people up. Give people the pieces of your heart that they need, but please, please, please, do it because you feel it in your bones. Do it because your bleeding heart is telling you that there are people who need you. Take a step back and ask yourself, “am I doing this because my heart is in it, or am I doing it because my head needs a reminder of who I want to be?”

And if it’s the latter, I genuinely encourage you to shift your focus and to take off that mask and simply just be human.

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.

Confession: I am not a gymnast.

Gymnastics has always been one of my favorite sports to watch, and I’m not sure many people know this about me. As a kid, I idolized the Olympic gymnasts. There was always something incredibly mesmerizing about watching kids my age fly fluidly across bars, decorated in twists and turns, and somersault their way into a backwards bend on a beam with precision and grace. I always dreamt of becoming one of them. I always wanted to be the girl in the black leotard, hair pulled back tightly in a neat bun, gliding across a beam. I wanted to be the girl who tackled life the same way a gymnast tackled a floor routine: with precision and grace and above all, balance.

Today is my 27th birthday, and all I’ve got is this vague confession about everything I never became: I am not a gymnast.

– –

It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to convince myself to meet you here in the very same place I swore over and over again I would never leave. This whole thing somehow changed for me in the years since I started it. My thoughts on your screen are symbolic, really. Like that local coffee shop you won’t dare walk past in fear that just the smell of their dark roast will bring you to your knees and back to the time when you almost made him stay. Or the dimly lit ocean side road where you sat with him outside on that cold March night and realized that this would never work out. That that road and that street light and his sullen wave in your rear view mirror were the last you’d see of him. Or the gas station that you conveniently skip past, even when you’re chugging along the highway, running on E, because it’s a reminder of a night you want so badly to forget. When his smile lit up the crisp summer night and his hand was on your knee, and you knew that you were falling — that somehow, this would be good, until suddenly, it wasn’t.

It’s been awhile. It’s been awhile since I gathered up the courage to will myself to come face to face with the thoughts in my head and put them down onto this screen. Because once they’re out, once they escape that secret spot in my head and flow through my hands and onto your screens, they’re concrete. And what else do I have to keep for myself if everything that’s spanning the universe in my mind is written out for you to read?

But today, on my 27th birthday, I gathered the energy and the courage and the will to stand up and raise my little white flag and tell you that I never became that girl. I never became the gymnast. I never became the girl who tackled life with precision, grace, and balance, and I’m okay with that.

– –

Here’s what 26 was like for me:

26 was me, standing in that black leotard, hair pulled back in a bun, walking on a balance beam, gleaming with pride as I tip-toed across, collecting medal after medal. 26 was me, gliding through my routine, but feeling a little off kilter. 26 was me, trying my hardest against the wind — trying my hardest to learn balance. I spent most of the year walking that beam with the same determination of a toddler taking her first steps.

No one ever warns you. No one ever gives you a heads up and fills you in on this whole growing up thing. And it’s funny isn’t it? You get a book detailing What to Expect When You’re Expecting. You get inundated with syllabi at the beginning of the semester outlining what is to come in the upcoming 15 weeks. You are given pages of instructions describing specifically how to piece together Ikea furniture, and yet we are all faced with one universal truth: we eventually all will have to grow up, and there is no book, syllabus, or list of instructions that tell you what to expect, what to anticipate, or which turn to take.

You don’t know how badly I wish someone could have grabbed me by the shoulders and looked at me in the eyes and just told me that 26 sometimes feels a little like being 16 all over again. That you’ll sometimes feel incredibly small and unimportant, despite being surrounded by so many people who love you. That you’ll often feel misunderstood, no matter how many ways you put it or how many words you use to describe it. That you’ll go toe-to-toe with your parents and just like that, they somehow forget that their child is an adult. Because no matter how old you are, you will always be their baby. That you’ll still struggle with relationships. both romantic and not, and showing up, and deciding between how tightly you should hang on and when it’s time to let go.

26 genuinely felt a little bit like 16 did. And I’m sure if I went around the room and asked how many of you are dying to take a time machine all the way back to the age of 16, I would see idle hands stirring in your laps.

The last year of my life was as much about advancement and progression as it was about stagnation and loneliness and feeling a little bit of loss of control. It was as much about success and accomplishment and getting what I worked so very hard for, as much as it was about feeling run down and broken and tired.

26 was supposed to be it for me, though I’m not quite sure what it really means. Did it mean transition after transition, the closing of an era, and the birth of new chapters? Did it mean saying bye to people, letting go of familiarity, closing the door on the past, finishing my Master’s, diving headfirst into my career, and the continual shift in my orbit?

I’ll be honest: 26 was all of those things.

I’m not sure really what I expected. Nothing changed. There was no loud crash. No confetti. No marching band parading around me. Nothing that marked the end of an era and the beginning of the next chapter. There was dinner and margaritas and waking up the next morning to go to work. Business as usual. 

Nothing changed, and yet everything did.

And I was waiting for it. I was waiting for the bright lights and loud noises. I was waiting for something I could touch or taste or see. The change was there — it was almost tangible. I was sucker punched by it, but I didn’t see it. I couldn’t touch it. Believe me though, when I tell you, I felt it. And it swallowed me whole.

I wish someone could have told me that the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel isn’t actually as bright as it seems. I wish someone told me that you can reach all the destinations you pinned on your road trip map, and sometimes, it’s still not enough. Sometimes, you throw your hands out in front of you to steady yourself, but you still lose balance. You still get tossed along the shore.

I wish someone could have told me that the grass is always greener no matter where you water it.

I’ll be honest. I have nearly everything I worked so hard for in the last three years. And my God, if life was only about the accumulation of things, I would be on top of the world. Everyone thinks it’s about the stuff. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s never about the stuff. I can fill a little glass home with all of the things that I’ve earned: a degree, a certification, a license, a diploma, a job. And trust me when I say: all the stuff is not enough.

– –

The last couple months of 26 were about giving myself permission to be human.

There were so many nights I wanted to kick myself for going home and crashing. For sitting in the eye of a storm that shouldn’t have existed. For getting defensive when people told me how lucky I was to even land a job before graduation, how they would switch spots with me in a heartbeat. For feeling selfish and ungrateful because on paper, I got what I wanted. I got what I worked hard for.

But I’m only human. I’m allowed to go home and let the night swallow me up. I’m allowed to struggle with both success and failure. I’m allowed to feel hurt. I’m allowed to be frustrated. I’m allowed to want more. I’m allowed to be human. And this is a reminder that you are too.

– –

There’s going to be a day when I forget about all of this. There’s going to come a point in my life, maybe many years down the road, when I look back on this last year and all of the mountains I climbed, and valleys I lived in, and laugh at myself for ever being so dramatic. There’s going to be a point when I look back and remind myself that despite the ever-present feeling of losing balance, it wasn’t all that bad. I knew next to nothing about anything in life, but I still did it, and survived it all in the end.

26 taught me there is so much more to this here life thing than adding a bullet point to your resume, or a comma to your salary, or a new mailing address, or an extra diploma to hang up. 26 taught me that life is less about the precision it takes to become a gymnast, and more about balance and grace and determination. It’s not about hitting that routine perfectly; it’s about getting up and doing the damn walk, no matter how strong those gusts of wind are.

I can’t predict what 27 will be about.

And maybe that’s the beauty of life. Maybe 27 will be the start of something new as I really assimilate, for the first time, into this new role in this big ol’ world we live in. Maybe I’ll spend the next year figuring out what the hell any of that even means. Maybe 27 will be scary and magical and exciting and difficult and fun and surprising.

And maybe, if I’m lucky, with a little faith in my own balance, 27 will be all of those things and so much more.

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.

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