The Church of Brené Brown

“Your soul is as disheveled as your apartment, 
and until you can clean it up a little, you don’t want to invite anyone inside.”

Just as a musician falls in love with a chord, or a photographer falls in love with the way the sun sets, making for perfect lighting for a picture, I have always fallen in love with words. I am deeply enamored by the way some words seem to find each other – how some words can string themselves together and sing a harmony that jumps straight into your soul.

The words above dove their way into my heart about a year ago when I first laid eyes on them. At the time, I just thought it was a beautiful quote. One year later, it seems to me that the words were a bit of foreshadowing into what the year ahead would look like.

I turned 28 on Thursday. And while birthdays, for most people, are usually always a time of reflection and contemplation, this birthday in particular brought me back to this quote and how those words embody almost exactly what 27 was for me.

The months closing in on 26 and leading up to 27 tested my strength, my faith, and my resilience. I was caught in the middle of one of the biggest transitions of my life, going from full-time graduate student and juggling all sorts of odd jobs, to settling into something much more secure and stable — two things I was so unfamiliar with. While that might sound like the ideal situation, somehow having things fall into place in one part of my life almost always means that things are falling apart in another place. At the same time that things were coming together professionally, I was met with some really, really tough stuff personally. I was reacquainted with demons I fought off long before I even hit my 20s. I came face-to-face with skeletons that I thought were buried so far in my closet. And in the last few months from 26 into 27, I learned survival. I learned how to figure things out on my own — how to stand on my own and how to be on my own. Little did I know how what I perceived as a strength would come back to bite me in the ass.

Perhaps 26 into 27 was about claiming my independence, and 27 into 28 is about coming to the realization that independence, for me, has been a lot less romantic than than it has been isolating. Independence has been a lot less about me standing on my own two feet, gracefully tip-toeing through life, than it is about me keeping people at an arms distance and wrapping my heart up in caution tape, careful to make sure there were no holes in the tape — no cracks in my shield. Independence, for me, has taught me less about what it means to be my own person, and more about what it means to keep things hidden, in fear of being seen, known, or exposed.

* * *

I’ll be honest; this post has been sitting idly in my drafts for a little bit over a month. The idea behind what I wanted to write about came to mind after having a conversation with one of my coworkers — someone who quickly went from an acquaintance to a friend. The thing about being friends with my coworkers is that they see me, even when I don’t let the light out. They hear me, even when I’m not speaking. They know me, even when I give little to work with.

Somehow, we got onto the topic of my apartment. Without so much as a second thought, I blurted out the same sentiment that I tell anyone when they ask about it: I hate my apartment. No reason why. No words followed. No further desire to discuss it. Conversation then shifted into a talk about vulnerability — how there’s obviously more to my story, how evident it is that there are some things I keep guarded, and how helpful it would be for both my personal life and my professional life if I just raised the white flag and opened myself up to the possibility of maybe letting someone else into my fenced in yard.

I am the kind of person who has only ever known how to see other people. I am best when I am serving someone else, but put the spotlight on me, and I run. I am no fan of vulnerability when I am the one that needs to reach for it. I am horrible when it comes to being seen.

After the conversation I had with my friend, she sent me a Brené Brown video about perfectionism and told me to watch, to listen, to pay attention, and to start attacking that fear of vulnerability in the face.

I went home and spent the weekend watching a bunch of feel-good TED talks, bought tickets to see a TEDx event live (crossing things off my 30 before 30 bucket list one at a time!!!), did a lot of reading about perfectionism, and got to work on writing this.

And here comes the irony – I’ve spent the last month writing and erasing things that I wanted to say. I’ve written paragraphs with intensity and passion, and with barely a second thought, deleted them. I spit out sentences that I thought were appropriate, and meaningful, and important, and shortly thereafter got rid of them. The words coming out of me weren’t good enough for what I wanted to say. They weren’t strong enough to convey the depths of what I felt. They weren’t profound enough to describe that light-bulb moment that happened when I realized just how big the role of perfectionism is in my life, how hard it is to allow myself to be vulnerable, and how much of myself I keep closed off. I struggled with putting something out there that wasn’t perfect enough, while trying to lay out a map of what it means to struggle with perfectionism. Irony.

The second irony is my career. In my career as a counselor, I am fortunate enough to get the chance to sit right in the crux of someone else’s pain, and watch as they allow themselves to break down the walls they’ve built to protect themselves. I sit with clients who are so, so afraid to share things, because once they put out the secrets they’ve hidden from the world, they’re losing an old friend — the one thing they’ve kept for themselves. And the beautiful irony is seeing clients who have the insight to know that without cutting themselves open, without allowing someone else into their world, there is no growth and there is no change. In my work, I’ve found that a measure of good work is when you are sitting with someone and they offer their truth — when they trust you with their own reality. When it’s just you and them and nothing but a room full of hard truths and vulnerabilities. And yet somehow, here I was, doing that exact work with a caseload of clients, struggling tremendously with it myself.

And who would have thought it all started with a quote and ended with a metaphor.

* * *

Before watching the video, I saw perfectionism as a part of my life that I left behind. I thought of who I used to be: an academic at heart. I looked at perfectionism as getting straight A’s in school, and beating myself up over an A- or B+. I looked at perfectionism as making sure I won all the spelling bee’s in elementary school, at making sure I was in the National Honor Society, and being a part of all of the extracurricular activities that I could fit into my life in high school — even if they didn’t fit my hobbies, interests, or who I envisioned becoming. Perfectionism meant being what was expected of me for my parents: going to school, getting a job at 15, getting the grades, being quiet, being small, being good enough. Perfectionism meant going to college and having a job to come home to on top of a job by my college. Perfectionism meant that schooling didn’t stop at at Bachelor’s degree. Perfectionism meant painting a scene for what my life is now that I have all of the things I’ve worked for: a Master’s degree, a career, an apartment of my own — all without ever stopping once to admit that maybe my shelves are a little dusty, maybe I’m missing some things, maybe life isn’t just solely about the stuff that I’ve accumulated, or the person that I appear to be. Maybe there is more.

Brené Brown says, “Perfectionism is not about striving for excellence, or healthy striving… it’s a cognitive behavioral process, a way of thinking and feeling that says this: if I look perfect do it perfect, live perfect, or work perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame, and judgment.”

If I never talk about the things that I don’t like about myself, maybe someone else won’t see the cracks in the foundation. If I never address the things that I am afraid of, people on the outside will look to me as strong and courageous. If I never come face to face with the reality of why I keep certain things hidden, I will never be seen. And how authentic can I be if all that you get is a snapshot of who I am?

The thing is, I crave it. I think we all do. I think it’s human, and it’s innate to want people to see us for who we are. I want to be able to talk to a good friend and tell them what my fears are — how sometimes, I am fearful that I gave all I had at love in the past, and not one person has measured up, and how it’s likely that I won’t find someone who can be that guy again for me. How I fear that maybe, I won’t have kids. How I say that this is okay for me, but really, it might not be. I think we all want to be able to look at our parents and tell them what it was they did that hurt us so badly, all while knowing that sometimes, parents mess us up without even trying. And it’s not always their fault, but that’s just what happens. We are all human. I think we all want to avoid it. We want to avoid letting people in too far, so we can avoid the uncomfortable feeling of being judged, or looked down upon, or seen. Because if we are seen for who we are, they will know. They will know that we are imperfect. They will know that we are scared. They will know that the picture they have of us in their minds is cropped, and airbrushed, and placed under a filter.

So, I don’t invite people into my apartment because there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to clean it up a little bit. There’s a part of me that thrives in the chaos and wishes someone were strong enough to crack that wall down and come dance in the mess.

* * *

Years ago, when I started this blog, a mentor of mine told me to write my truth. She told me that the most important part of writing was honesty, and that if I could be honest — if I could write my truth, no one could take that away from me. I’ve referenced that profound piece of advice over and over again, and I sometimes forget the importance of speaking my truth and owning my truth and being the kind of person willing to tell a story based on what I know very well to be true.

So today, five days into closing the chapter on 27, and dancing into 28, here is my truth:

I am in a good place career-wise. I am in a good place with the majority of the people in my life. I am grateful, and I am happy. But, there are days when I want to pack my stuff up and run back to my parents house, all while knowing exactly what kind of chaos I would be running back into. There are days I wake up in the morning, take a good look at myself in the mirror, and ask myself how on earth can be the person that people trust enough to be vulnerable with and disclose the dark parts of them. There are days I don’t feel good enough. Not a good enough daughter, or friend, or sister, or therapist. There are days I don’t think I am where I am supposed to be — days when I feel despite all that I’ve accomplished, I’m still five miles behind. There are days that I am so fearful I somehow did something wrong, that I somehow made a mistake and I’ll regret my life in the long-term. There are days I have to sit and calculate if I have enough money to buy groceries and afford my electric bill, all while scrolling through social media in envy over new cars, and jewelry, and houses. There are corners of my apartment that are still not furnished; there are things that I still haven’t hung up on my walls. There are days I open my planner and wonder how the hell am I going to squeeze in all that I have. There are days when I can’t make commitments with my friends, because I would rather lay on my couch and watch Netflix than listen to everyone talk about buying houses, and having babies, and how much money they have saved for the this next big thing. There are days I am fearful that I am not doing enough. There are days that I really, really hope that I am.

* * *

Apparently I’ve become somewhat a victim of growing up. I’ve somehow slid my way, not so gracefully, through my early and my mid twenties, and landed face-first in my late twenties.

I guess this is 28. I guess this is another trip around the sun for me.

There are things I want out of 28 — like health, happiness, abundance, adventure, experience. And then there are the things that I know I need to work on — like practicing what I preach, allowing myself to be open to the possibility that maybe I don’t need to go at this alone.

I think we sometimes hesitate to invite people into our lives for whatever reason. Our space is hardly occupied. Our shelves still have dust on them. There’s still boxes where there should be furniture, and a coffee table where there should be a TV stand. If only we could sweep up the rubble, or get rid of the dirt or put together a piece of furniture, we would be ready. If things looked better, it would feel better to let people in. Today, things still don’t quite match. There are dishes piled in the sink, piles of laundry that has yet to be washed, picture frames leaning against the wall that have yet to be hung, garbage overflowing the can. Our situation isn’t quite what we want it to be. We aren’t where we want to be. My hope for 28 for both myself and for anyone who feels the tremendous weight of perfectionism and the difficulty with vulnerability is this: start going to church. Start attending the Church of Brené Brown. Start looking at all the walls you’ve built around yourself, and fight back all those fears you have. Let yourself be seen. Let yourself be known. Don’t let the dust on your shelves or the rubble all around you stop you. Invite people in anyway. 

Advertisements

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.

I’m over starting over, riding on a broken down roller coaster.

I want to tell you the story of the best year of my life. I want to find a corner in a cozy little cafe overlooking the beach and sit down with you and talk over soy lattes. I want to reminisce over the last year — over all the memories and moments that brought me eternal joy. I want to talk about the people I met; I want to share their stories and tell you what I learned from them. I want to tell you that this was the happiest year of my life. That I finally kept all of my resolutions and crossed everything off my list of goals. That I was successful. I desperately want to tell you that 2014 was that year.

But that’s not the story I have for you today.

I want to talk about heaviness. When we take ourselves apart and dissect every minute detail of our existence, we find that even the tiniest pieces have weight. Each page of our story, even the least threatening, can get heavy. 2014 was heavy. I found myself standing on a thin rope, putting my arms out for balance, and hoping I wouldn’t fall over. Hoping I wouldn’t succumb to the weight. Hoping I wouldn’t break. That tight rope never changed in width or length, but the weight did. With each step, bits and pieces piled on top of me. Every day, the load grew heavier until I found myself struggling desperately with balance. That’s the thing about weight: when the load gets heavy, something has to break. Eventually, your legs will give out. Eventually, your lungs will be desperate for breath. Eventually, the weight will come crashing down. You will come crashing down. And you’ll be faced with a choice: give in or get strong. I chose the latter. 

I want to tell you about the heartache. About the demons. About the mountains and rivers and valleys that defined 2014 for me.

In 2014, I felt life break my heart over and over again in unimagineable ways. I felt my heart break for others. For myself. For friends and family and acquaintances and strangers. I felt pieces of my heart shatter over stories of illness, stories of loss, stories of life, stories of grief, stories of love. I had so many moments fighting through the chaos under the pressure of weight where I wanted to stop dead in my tracks and scream, “what’s the point in all of this? Why does everything break me like this? What’s the bigger purpose?” I don’t mean that in the morbid way that it sounds. But if you’re the kind of person with the propensity to feel just a little too much, then you’ll understand exactly where I’m coming from.

There is so much tragedy in this world — as a whole, and in our own little universes. So many broken pieces. So much pain. 2014 taught me how easily it is for someone’s life to break. To shatter. To end. Just as quickly as you figure out the proper footing to walk across that tight rope, something can end. Your heart can break. The weight can get heavier. I learned that no matter how much weight is on your back, the world still moves on. It’s like when you’re sick and are forced to be surrounded by people who are well. You curse them for being able to get a sentence out without coughing. You want everyone around you to suffer in the same way you are. You want them to have a scratchy throat, or feel like they have an 8 ton elephant sitting on their heads. But it never happens that way.

When someone you love walks away from you, your world stops. Your heart can get ripped out of your chest, stomped on, and dragged across town. You can look to the people passing you by at the mall, or sitting next to you in class, or working in the office across the hall from you, but their lives don’t stop because yours did. Their weight isn’t your weight. 

And that’s what broke my heart the most in 2014.

While I was incapacitated in bed over closing one chapter of my life and struggling to find the strength to pick up the pen and start writing the next page, the world outside my window kept on spinning. The sun still rose, the birds still sang their songs, and my neighborhood didn’t crumble the way I did. When I watched a family member slowly deteriorate in a hospital bed, crippled with fear over impending heart surgery, the world outside his hospital window didn’t stop. They continued with their Memorial Day Weekend plans, and their barbecues, and their start to the summer season, all while he laid weak in bed, hoping for the chance to see another Memorial Day. When a friend of the family got diagnosed with cancer and slipped away in such a short amount of time, I looked for people around me to just get it. To somehow even feel an ounce of what I was feeling. But everyone kept living. They went about their Christmas shopping, they continued to bake their cookies, they continued to enjoy their holidays with their family. No one got it.

Our weight may never be the same, but the load is still equally as heavy.

Sometimes, we’re lucky and are able to dust the rubble off our shoulders. Other times, the pieces keep adding up. But we keep going. We have to keep moving. We have to find the fight within us to dig ourselves out from that valley. To fight the demons. To swim those rivers. To climb those mountains. To transition the weight so we don’t fall over.  

2014 was about transition. It was about learning to transition my life after every tragedy. After every change. After every heart ache.

2015 will be about movement, and progression, and being present. This year will be about steady and graceful balance. Taking both baby steps and giant leaps into the blind unknown. It will be about showing up. It will be about building relationships, maintaining old ones, and being present with the people in my life. It will be about continuing to balance on that tight rope, rolling with the punches, and expressing gratitude. 2015 will be about transitioning into this next phase of my life. It will be about unrelenting strength in the face of the unknown. In the face of all odds — and isn’t that what life should always be about? 

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015.

“Be kind to yourself in the year ahead. Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It’s too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand. Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin. Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them. Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.”
-Neil Gaiman’s 2014 New Years Eve wish

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘Just Watch Me‘ by Kate Voegele

Sew this up with threads of reason and regret, so I will not forget; I will not forget.

Everything in life is temporary.

It was the end of March when I first tasted those words with full understanding of the weight they carried. I was 22 at the time, and naively thought I was making one more stop on my last drive back up to school before graduation. The air was in its final stage of transitioning into spring — somehow still cool, but in recollection, not nearly as cold as the ice that froze my heart. In what could only be described as the most wearing walk of my life, I felt those words rattling my bones as I willed my legs to move. Please, just let me get to my car before my knees give out. Just let me get to my car. With painfully vivid recall, I remember the sinking feeling with each step I took. “Don’t be a stranger, kiddo,” his voice echoed in my head. I remember asking myself when I missed it. How could I look away for one second and miss that we somehow became strangers? When I finally got to my car, I stood with my hand gripping the door, as if somehow begging to hang on. Begging for things to stay the same. There weren’t big flashing lights and signs to let either of us know it was over. There were no words signifying the end, but I knew it. I think we both knew it, didn’t we? Somehow, things changed. Somehow, we became strangers. Fighting back tears, I timidly whispered goodbye and reminded him of the promise to keep in touch. Those words held as little promise as a middle schooler signing the yearbooks of all their classmates with “HAGS. KIT.” Empty promises fell on deaf ears. But as his house faded in the background and out of my periphery, I started to understand the transience of life — how even the prominent buildings simply fade away in the dark, and how quickly things change. Nothing lasts forever. Not even love. Not even life.

That was nearly four years ago.

I’ve been on a roller coaster of change in that time, but the lesson didn’t come back to hit me directly on the face until a brisk October morning two months ago. I was sitting in bed, coffee in one hand and phone in the other, scrolling through Instagram, all while ruminating over my ongoing existential crisis, future ‘goodbyes’ and ‘see you laters,’ and desperately searching for some tangible evidence that this too, shall pass. Wrapped up in the warmth of my covers, I whispered it to myself. I said it out loud. I texted it to a friend. I repeated it over and over again to justify the palpable sting of feeling left behind — of people leaving, relationships ending abruptly, business being left unfinished, friendships left hanging before they could ever really get started, and life hanging on such a fragile thread.

I let it consume me all day. For my own self-validation with my issues with abandonment, I made myself push it aside. On one hand, you can acknowledge that change is inevitable and that nothing lasts forever, but on the other hand, you can beg and cry and kick and scream to just hang on. For things to stay the same. For nothing to ever change. No amount of vacillating between being accepting of change and battling intrepid fear because of impending change would have made a difference, so I tucked those words away. I locked them up and told myself to only revisit them when I really needed reassurance — when my inner Peyton Sawyer  comes knocking on my door, reminding me that people always leave. 

I forgot about those words for nearly two months. I haven’t needed them. I didn’t need to justify loss or life or moving on until two times this week — one, when I was faced with eventual loss and life ending, and two, when I caught myself saying those very words out loud and sharing my own thoughts with someone else.

“It’s not permanent,” I said, “everything in life is temporary.”

I rationalized to the person sitting in front of me. If you don’t like where you’re going, or what you’re doing, you can always change it. It’s not permanent. 

The truth is, we need these sentiments. We need these little reminders tucked somewhere in our souls that nothing lasts forever. We need to be reminded that just like physical rain storms never last for too long, neither do the metaphorical ones. And it’s sometimes hard to believe. You can justify pain and heartache from a breakup as temporary. Somehow, that can be enough. The pieces of your heart slowly find their way back together and things eventually start to make sense. The world starts to feel a little less cruel and love starts to feel like a magical possibility again. But when you’re faced with people leaving — moving away for jobs, for love, for a fresh start, or passing away slowly with each last breath, the change can be too much to justify. Even the most level headed rationalizers will want to grab onto whatever pieces of the person and will them to stay — I need you, don’t leave me. 

But no matter how we slice and dice it, the truth is in the ephemerality of our existence. Nothing is ever permanent. 

“Everything in life is temporary.” The sound of my own voice has been echoing in my mind all week.

With all of this impending change, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about regret — regret on a profound level. Not ordering a cheesy, glutenous pasta dish instead of a salad, or not going to the gym when I promised myself three days in a row that I would, or not doing my laundry until the next weekend, leaving me with only a small selection of clothes to wear. These are minor in comparison to the vast picture.

When things change, when people change, when life changes, regret hits me on a profound level. I often find myself filled with words left unsaid, things I never got around to doing, people I haven’t made it a point to see, apologies never uttered, promises never fulfilled, friendships left hanging. I tell myself it’s because I’m busy. I tell myself that once I graduate with my Master’s, I’ll make more time. I tell myself I’ll be more social, I’ll make time for old friends, I’ll take a vacation, I’ll finally dedicate some time to writing something worth reading. I’ll fulfill promises. I’ll mend old relationships. I’ll say sorry. 

I’ll do better next time,” or “I’ll do it later,” or “another day” are all bullshit because next time is right now. Later is right now. Another day is right here and right now. And shouldn’t we recognize this? Shouldn’t we look at life and realize how fleeting moments are? A lot of people say that life is short. For some, that may be the case, but life is not meant to be short. It’s meant to be rocky, and bumpy, and challenging — and long. It’s only when we are faced with the end of the road do we gather up the pieces of our relationships with people and say life is short. But here is the reality: life is long; it just goes by fast.

Of all the important lessons I’ve learned throughout my life it’s this: in life, everything is temporary. You get a small window of opportunity to seize the moments, to tell someone you love them, to make the most of the time you have with them before they’re gone. Before life takes them away, or love changes, or careers move.

I think we all know this. Somewhere, beneath all of our excuses and reasons why we’re holding off, we know that life is temporary. I know it, no matter how hard I fight it. I knew it that March night when he and I walked away from each other. I knew it when I graduated from college and made wishes into the sea of people to be friends forever. To hang onto those moments forever. I knew it when I got the news, at 20 years old, that a friend passed away suddenly in a tragic car accident. I knew it when I got a C in statistics, and thought the world was ending. I knew it when someone I love dearly was diagnosed with cancer. I knew it when I visited him last week and realized that I never did watch the movie Groundhogs Day with him 11 years ago, or Against All Odds with him over the summer. And I knew it that day earlier this week, talking with the person sitting in front of me about her fears surrounding her own big life changes, when my own words echoed in my mind.

We don’t need anyone to tell us this. We are fully aware of the transience of life, yet we wait for the perfect moment. We rely on timing.

I say: screw timing. Screw making excuses. Screw being too busy. Screw finding the perfect moment for your mind to agree with your heart. One day, you will be sitting at the end of someone’s hospital bed looking on as they fight for their last breath, and you’re going to beat yourself up over telling them you were too busy to come over, too busy to watch a movie, too busy to make time. All that you’ll be left with are words that you never said, and regret so debilitating that it eats at you every day. One day, the person you love with every ounce of your soul is going to stop looking at you the way they used to. They’re going to forget the fire that once warmed both your hearts. They’re going to walk away. And you’re going to kick yourself over not having told them everything you wanted. That you loved them, that you appreciated them, that despite how things ended, you are grateful and thankful they were a part of your life, even if just for a short amount of time. One day, your best friend might realize that she hates complacency and the small town you grew up in together. When she moves, that lump in your throat is going to wish you said it when you had the chance. I love you. Thank you for being my other half for so many years. 

We always think we’ll have time, so we wait. But the truth is, we don’t. The existentialist in me deeply believes that people come into our lives and are meant to teach us something, but we often don’t realize it until it’s too late. Don’t let it be too late. Today, I dare you to call up that old friend you haven’t spoken to in a year, reach out to family, make amends. Do it now. Today. This very moment.

Everything in life is temporary. Don’t wait.

“Change. We don’t like it, we fear it. But we can’t stop it from coming. We either adapt to change, or we get left behind. It hurts to grow. Anybody who tells you it doesn’t, is lying. But here’s the truth: Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And sometimes, oh, sometimes, change is good. Sometimes, change is… everything.” -Grey’s Anatomy

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘One Year, Six Months‘ by Yellowcard

If I had known that year would disappear, I would have made it last.

There’s something extraordinarily peaceful about driving. If you asked any one of my peers, they’d probably disagree. We dedicate a good portion of our days frantically driving from one location to the next with the hopes that we can get there on time without having to add a speeding ticket to our laundry list of debts owed. To many, the race between home, school, work, internships, Starbucks, the library, and any public place that serves food, coffee, and free wifi for the purpose of doing homework, oftentimes 7 days a week can be tiresome, monotonous, and draining. At this point, driving should be a chore and a reminder that all this time in my car is time I could be spending catching up on sleep, or on the latest episode of Scandal, or tackling my “to-read” books on GoodReads. And while I would love to be knee-deep in a stack of novels, or caught up on years of missed sleep, or watching old episodes of my favorite show, I wouldn’t trade it in for time I get alone. When you spend every waking hour of your day surrounded by other people, you have to take what little time you have to yourself, even if it’s spent confined within the four doors of a small car. At a time where self-care is nearly impossible, I take my me-time in the car as just that. Every day, I hop in my little green sedan and embark on my various drives from Point A to Point B to Point C and back to Point A, put my iPod on shuffle, turn the volume up, and let the melodies take me away.

It’s always the music that tugs at my heart-strings the most.

It is both a blessing and a curse the way a song can heal and hurt – the way music can fill the gaps of your soul you didn’t realize were missing. Hearing a certain chorus, or a hook, or a harmony can be a time machine violently propelling you into the past, or driving you to wish for a better future. It’s always the music that spirals me into profound waves of nostalgia. It’s always the music. 

Driving home last week, Betsy Lane’s “What About 18” came on my shuffle, and immediately, I’m back in the fog of my early twenties. I’m thrown back into the years that I never fully held onto, into a time I spent clinging onto naivety, begging for teenage freedom, but desperately wanting to grow up. The next song comes on, and suddenly I’m 14 again and wrestling my way through my last year of junior high. I’m angry. I’m bitter. I’m confused. I’m lonely. I’m hormonal. I’m a complete nightmare begging for someone to see me. And with the fade out of that song in comes the next. This time, I’m a freshman in college – floundering, homesick, learning to adjust. I’m 18 and tasting freedom for the very first time. The next song that plays launches me back to my glory. I’m 17 again, applying to colleges and planning to breakaway. I’m so close to tasting freedom, but so far from knowing what the price of freedom is. Another song sends me back to my college dorm; I’m opening up an e-mail from him with an enthusiasm that only the first taste of love can bring. Another one plays and I’m sobbing in my apartment senior year. Cursing love, cursing second, and third, and fourth chances, cursing the promise of ‘no matter what happens, we’ll still be friends.’ And just as easily as I’m in that apartment, I’m 16 again. I’m rebellious and mad at the world, sneaking out and smoking cigarettes on rooftops with neighborhood friends, begging the universe to send us a sign that it gets better.

As each song changes from one to the next, I am overwhelmed with a longing for days I know I’ll never see again. For people I will never meet again, places I will never step foot in again, love I will never feel again.

I’m no good at this nostalgia thing. It’s messy and it’s complicated and it hurts.

It’s overwhelming — feeling happy, and content, and full with your life today, but still finding yourself begging for bits and pieces of your past to somehow finagle their way into your present. Maybe it’s my being a bit of a masochist. Perhaps without any chaos, I feel a little lost.

The songs keep changing, bringing me from 13 to 21, to 17, to 25. To the nights that no amount of vodka cranberries, or dancing to forget, or laughing with your best friends would ever be enough to forget how horrible it was to walk away, how miserable I was, and how nothing could make me feel as weightless as I wanted to feel. Another song brought me to my college graduation. To being surrounded by some of the best people I’ve ever met, looking back on some of the best years I’ve ever had. To being young, but maturing. To being a graduate, but still hungry for knowledge. To scanning through the crowd and memorizing the look of pride on every face. And just as quickly as that song came on, I’m thrown back again to the middle of high school. I remember how tired I was. How unhealthy I was. How desperate I was for validation, and hope, and love.

I got home that night and found myself digging through old photos. Old birthday cards. Old yearbooks. I scrolled through my Facebook timeline through years of vacations, girls nights out, inside jokes, reminders that no one could ever love as fiercely, or laughed as hard, or had as much fun. I realized I was digging. Digging for the past, digging to bring it all back to life, digging for hope, digging for answers. I put my music on shuffle again, and this time, the music kept me right where I am now. Today, I’m 26. I’m complicated, and more often than not, a complete mess. But I’m whole. And that’s when it dawned on me. Why was I digging so desperately into the past that was broken, and ugly, and tangled, and shattered. What good was I doing trying to pick up the broken pieces of the past and glue them back together now?

But maybe it wasn’t just that I was digging in the past. Maybe I was digging to leave everything there. To go through it one last time, but to let it all go.

Maybe I was digging for freedom from the shackles that chained me to the person I once was.

What I found in the process of digging through and grieving over my past, is that you miss out on what’s present. You miss out on the person you are. On the things you’ve accomplished. On the people who love you, and the people you love. The person you grew up to be after closing that chapter. You neglect to realize that pieces of you may have cracked, your heart may be a little jagged in places you aren’t sure will ever heal, but you’re here. You matter. Now matters.

We are not prisoners of our past. We owe nothing to who we used to be, to who we used to love, to who we thought we were. I’m no longer that girl sitting on the rooftop, blowing smoke into the starry sky, dreaming of better tomorrows. I owe nothing to the love that came in sweetly and slowly and ravaged his way through my heart, destroying everything in his stormy path.

It is our choice whether or not we allow ourselves to break free from the bars that lock our heads up in thoughts of yesterday.

I’ve been taking a little bit of time here and there to go through old things and box them up. As long as they’re there, sitting on the top of my closet shelf, they’ll be safe with me. But I don’t need to listen to the music that breaks my heart. I don’t need to look through pictures to remind me of better or worse days. The past will always be there — a distant echo in my head and my heart. I’m sure that ten years from now, when I am truly settled into a life and career, I’ll feel the palpable sting missing my mid twenties, and just like this time around, I’ll sort through old photographs and look for proof that I was here. That we were here. That all this confusion, and fear, and pain, and mess were worth it. 

But for now, I packed those memories up and tucked them in the back of my closet. I locked them up.

I let them go.

“You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.” -C. Joybell C

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘What About 18‘ by Betsy Lane