Back To The Basics

 i.

There were bright flashes of light carrying little reminders of what mattered before, met with staccatoed glimpses into the year that changed everything. Moments of impact. The big, loud, desperate need to grieve, and the hesitation that trailed behind me. The drive home from a sushi restaurant that Friday night in early November filled to the brim with anxiety. The drive home from work that Monday night less than two weeks later that played over like a tape in my head. The tears, followed by guilt, followed by anger, followed by fear. A death and a potential life-threatening illness rattling my bones. Empty promises made to shut everyone out — that it was okay, that was okay. Life became defined by a  timeline: the before it happened and the after it happened, and it was only myself that was let there stuck figuring out which pieces to pick up and which to leave behind.

* * *

December 31st is slowly melting into January 1st. I am sitting in my best friends living room watching Mariah Carey give a performance that is destined for headlines. It’s a quiet New Year’s Eve, a gentle nudge into the next year, and a less-than-subtle confirmation that even the slightest change in tradition seems wrong. It’s the first quiet New Years Eve since before the day stopped meaning watching Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve on the couch with my parents and started meaning big, glittery, liquor-infused ragers. And though much has changed throughout the years — big and loud slowly transformed into more subdued, classy, champagne-infused gatherings, this year’s quiet journey into the New Year marked a tremendous shift in my life.  Sudden illness, an unexpected hospitalization, and other plans got in the way of tradition. The shift in dynamic, the quiet Happy New Year’s that replaced the once rowdy clanking of champagne flutes was symbolic — a reminder, to me, of just how important those moments are. It was a reality that knocked the wind out of me and left me clinging onto nostalgia the way I always do when things start to change.

I ended the night in my own bed. Another first in many years. There might be more of these moments in the future. There might be more moments I find myself sitting in a room a lot thinner than it typically is, whether intentionally or not. And in those times — in those moments where life seems to shift, and change, and twist all the way ’round, I want to hang on tight to the moments that made me feel full, and whole, and happy, and loved. Like masquerade themed New Years Eve’s and the sound of laughter at seeing my friend come out in a Taylor Swift mask. Or a Sunday dinner, sitting around the table, talking about the things we never thought we would. Or throwing hatchets on a Friday night and thinking to myself, this is good. These people are my people. This is the stuff that makes all of the other stuff fall away.

And so, I ended one year and welcomed another a lot different than years of the past, yet still so very much the same. A list of resolutions were written and drawn out: goals for the year, a check list of 30 things to be done by 30 rattling away under a layer of dust. And finally, a promise, like years before, that this would be the year, whatever the year was supposed to mean.

ii.

A hard month; always one of the hardest months. Riding waves of anxiety like a novice surfer, clutching onto the tiniest breath of fresh air, only to come to find the anxiety growing thicker and harder to manage in the month ahead. In between those moments of sheer panic, brief flashes of hope. Repeatedly telling myself to practice what I preach. Trying to get it right, trying to find the motivation, trying to keep the promises that I’d made 8 year ago, and 7 years ago, and 6, and 5, and 4, and 3, and so on and so forth. Promises that don’t seem to matter sometimes because he isn’t here and I still am. And the whole entire world gets to move on even when someones heart stops beating. Even when someone stops living. And doesn’t it seem unfair that the world gets to move on and live when he hardly had a shot?

Treating myself like a human punching bag, beating myself up over the same promises left unfulfilled from all those years ago. He will never have what I have — time. Time to mourn. Time to grow. Time to change, to move mountains, to shake the dust. Time to take chances to grasp and any and all of the strings dangling right in front of me that always seem to slip right past me. Empty, deep, swells of grief. Swallowing the hard truth: I am 8 years older now, and time, for him, has always stayed at 21.

Grief has always come to me, teetering between the first two stages: denial and anger. It starts like a sharp pain in my chest, but quickly gets wrapped up and tucked away before anyone has a second to hear the gasp of air and deep breaths and shattered heart. Time cushions the loss, but regret is a stronger force. Regret that I didn’t have another day. Regret that I am not taking advantage of what I have. Regret that 8 years can pass and though so much has changed, so much also has stayed the same.

February came and went, as it always does: with a long hard look in the mirror, a promise, again, that this has to be important. That if time is all I have, then I ought to use it. That these bones aren’t hollow and my words aren’t empty and maybe, just maybe, I deserve to loosen the grips on the boxing gloves and start treating myself the same way I treat others.

iii.

A slight reprieve from the bitter cold nights cloaked in anxiety. Just slight. A whisper that reminded me: life is transient, life is transient, life is transient. You know this, you’ve seen it; don’t waste it. And then, a louder reminder of just how fragile time is. A road trip to North Carolina — a heavy heart for an old friend, but a full heart at surprising her under the worst conditions. A genuine reaction of shock. A moment I wish I could have bottled up and kept forever on the days that I feel like time can’t hold onto the people and things and memories that matter. Clarity in the midst of sleepy eyes on a quick 48 road trip. The celebration of a life lost and a life lived over clanking glasses filled with wine. Love being the driving force that week — friendship sitting in the passenger seat. A quiet trip back home — a solemn promise to myself to let the people I love know. And just on this side of agreeing to be better, just a few seconds within walking in my door back from the road trip, another reason to grieve. Again, another loss. Another sting. Another young person’s life gone. A screaming, shouting, reminder that you can blink for one minute, and it can all leave you. Tears. Loss of sleep. Regret, after regret, after regret. An awakening. A promise, again, to be more intentional. And even as I write this, that promise seems to have faded away.

Anxiety and grief took turns steering the wheel in March. Anxiety, being the nagging neighbor tapping on my window just as I would find some sort of stable ground. Grief, the unwanted house guest that plants herself on my couch and refuses to leave no matter how hard I shake her. Even months after, admitting that feels a little more like a sucker punch to the gut than a relief — like the sting after ripping the proverbial band-aid off, like holding your breath for a second too long, like the slight burn on your tongue after the first sip of coffee.

iv.

Hanging tightly onto the mask of perfectionism and wrestling with myself for falling short. Getting slapped with a bitter dose of reality, the white flag barely over my head: maybe it all does hurt. Maybe I am still grieving. Maybe it’s all I’ve ever done. Maybe this does sting. Maybe it all does. Maybe I do have a hole in my chest that can’t ever be filled with multiple jobs, and plans, and things to do. Maybe I need to reach out for the hands held out for me, instead of tiptoeing around all of them.

v.

Remember to breathe.

I wrote the words down for someone I’ve been working with for awhile. I’ve said the words out loud to the same person more times than I can count. A reminder, and sometimes, an urgent request: please, please, remember to breathe.

* * *

The ebb and flow of moods. Seesawing between the need to get up and get out of myself and the need to stay in and hide. Remembering to breathe. Gripping tightly onto that white flag of surrender. I still have this. I still have this. Covered in a cloak of defeat, but desperate to find scraps of motivation, of hope, of persistence. A desperate need to get away. An even more desperate need to be pushed to get away. A weekend trip to Georgia to get away. Remembering to breathe. Moments of frustration. Moments of joy. Moments of reflection. Moments that mattered and moments that never came close. A little boost of hope. A day filled with inspiration — the loudest message: Arrive Already Loved. Remembering to breathe. A low-key holiday weekend with friends. A promise to each other to keep celebrating birthdays together. To keep being there for the big moments. To make them matter. A reminder to myself that I decide what stays and what goes. I decide what hurts and what doesn’t. I decide who hurts and who can’t.

Remembering to breathe.

vi.

I don’t wanna keep on wishing, missing
The still of the morning, the color of the night
I ain’t spending no more time
Wasted

Carrie Underwood blaring through the speakers, unwittingly carrying with her a begging, screaming message.

She kept drivin’ along til the moon and the sun
were floating side-by-side;
he looked in the mirror and his eyes were clear
for the first time in awhile.

I was driving along a beach town road, seemingly straight into the reflection of the full moon when this song came on the radio on my way home from work last week. The melody filled my car — the lyrics wrapping themselves firmly around my heart. My favorite Carrie Underwood song.

I don’t wanna spend my life jaded
Waiting to wake up one day and find
That I let all these years go by
Wasted

We are six months into the year. Six months. I am restless. I am sleepy. But I am more awake than I’ve been in awhile.

* * *

Back when anxiety was the name of the weighted blanket I wore early on in the cold months of this year and panic was the unwanted house guest tapping on my window, I was given simple wisdom that I tucked away. At the time, as badly as I needed it, I couldn’t hear it.

In order to get my tires out of the mud, I needed to figure out the why and turn it all around. She looked to me with hopeful eyes and said, “Go back to the basics. Back to the beginning of everything. That is how you find your way back again. That is how everything becomes okay for you.”

And I suppose I’ve been trying to do that all along. Just on my own timeline.

. . .

Tonight as I am writing this, I am frustratingly tired, wondering if I’ll ever remember what it feels like to sleep without waking up in intervals with the voice of anxiety coursing through my veins. I am sitting in a sticky 93 degree apartment too burnt out to get up and prepare myself for the week ahead: my sister’s graduation, my friend’s wedding, another friend spending the night, my cousins coming into town. I am debating turning on the AC, reassuring myself the temperature will drop tomorrow. I get up and turn on the AC. I am groggy. I am sleep deprived. I am pouring from an empty cup, all while knowing that tomorrow, I’ll be back at work. Preaching balance, preaching self-care, preaching wellness. All of the things I’m trying to find a place for in my own life.

The last six months felt a lot like stagnation, but in retrospect, looked a lot like a big, long, lesson in grace. I’m learning to give myself full heaping servings of grace without adding shame and guilt as side dishes. I’m learning how exactly to practice what I preach — how to do hard things and have hard conversations about myself, instead of hiding under a role, a title, and a job that allows me to have hard conversations with other people.

I’ll be honest — I’ve sat at my dining room table almost every other day for the last two weeks trying to conjure the words to write as my big grand re-entrance onto the blogsophere. I’ve typed and erased and typed and cursed and typed and felt solemn and hopeful and pissed and relieved. But the words don’t matter as much as the message behind them do — going back to the basics has been the theme of my life the last few months, coming in waves and intertwining with my persistent need to chain myself to painful things. Going back to the basics tells me that even though there are a million thoughts running rampant in my head, a million pieces of wisdom I want to share with the world, a million things I want to get off my chest, what matters is simple – figuring out who I am and what I want underneath the layers of who the world, more specifically my world, has begged me to be.

One day, I will write all of those things I have swirling inside my head. But, for now, I’m here. And I’m back. I’m learning how to allow myself to be authentic in a world that screams crop, the filter, add a caption that makes it sound better than it already is, make sure it’s worthy of a like.. and when all of that is done, then you can post. I am learning to peel off the extra pieces of myself that don’t add up. I am learning to incorporate the who I believe others around me can be into the who I am and who I want to be. And just like everything else, that’s a process — one that starts right back at the beginning of who I am: the basics. So, for tonight, and for the road that lies ahead, the mask is off. The facade is up. I think it’s better this way. A six month hiatus from dusting off my heart and bleeding through words is long  enough, dontcha think?

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I Never Wanted To Be A Cliche

Someone once told me to write my truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so, I started to avoid things.

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve suddenly become that 20-something cliche.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Youth Is Fleeting, Old Age Is Just Around The Bend

I recently had dinner with an old friend to make up for lost time. For hours, we sat and reminisced on old memories and caught up on months of missed news. Our lives have always been like that — a handful of dinner dates planted sporadically throughout the year just to catch up. I’m not quite sure if this is an indicator of a friendship fraying at the ends, or if it’s a testament to our busy lives. But on that day, I shared with my friend the news of my new job, future plans to move, and talked about my upcoming graduation.

I was waiting on happiness. Support. Encouragement. But what I received was bitterness. Resentment. Oh poor you. Your life is so hard. You’re just lucky. Simple words, maybe, but words heavy enough to minimize everything I’ve worked so hard to achieve.

And so, I sit here on the eve of my graduation from graduate school, looking back on the road I’ve walked the last three years — all the bumps, twists, turns, and detours that it took to get me to where I stand today. Because if I sat here and told you that I spent the last couple of months tying up loose ends, studying for and taking my comprehensive and licensing exams, gathering up the paperwork I need for licensure, finishing up my semester, taking finals, wrapping up at my internship of one year, resigning from a job of three and a half years, and most recently started my first full-time job in the field even before I graduated, it all looks pretty simple. Black and white. Like a clear-cut path laid out right in front of me that I was able to glide right through unscathed.

But, we live in this social media driven world where you can simply crop a picture and put a filter on it and the rest of the world is there to look on with envious eyes. We only show how we want to appear. Some people choose to share with the internet their every move, their every detail of their day. Me, on the other hand… I’ve been quiet for most of the last three years. In a time where we are all so desperate for validation by means of a like, or a favorite, or a retweet, I stood firm in living my life according to the quote: “work hard in silence and let success be your noise.” So tonight, less than 24 hours before I walk across that stage for my 2 seconds of fame, I’m brought back to the tiny details — the things that brought me to my knees, the moments and struggles and tough stuff that I didn’t talk much about.

* * *

When I was a junior in college, I attended a graduate school panel led by professors and students in the mental health field educating prospective grad students about various programs in the tri-state areas, what these programs offer, and what can be expected once we make the commitment to go for our Master’s. The take-away theme was simple. Grad school is isolating. 

I was 21 and naive. As someone who got through undergrad while working full-time all four years and doing freelance writing on the side whenever the opportunity presented itself, I had the utmost confidence that graduate school would be the same. I would get through it working a tremendous amount of hours and somehow walk out mentally stable. My image of graduate school in my head was that of college — except maybe even easier. I wouldn’t be living on a college campus and living that same college girl lifestyle.

I was wrong. Everything I thought about graduate school was wrong.

* * *

I used to have a recurring dream when I was younger. The dream was always set in one of my neighbors houses — girls I grew up with. We were playing, laughing, having fun as little girls normally do. But when it came time for me to leave and take the thirty second walk from their house to mine, I couldn’t ever walk down the stairs to get out. The dream always ended in me falling. Flying, really. Flying down the stairs with no end. I kept going and going and spinning and gliding, but never ending. Never stopping on the ground.

Nearly twenty years later, I never knew that dream was a foreshadow into the image of what it would feel like being a graduate student.

Because if we go back to what I mentioned before — back to the fact that we choose what we want to share, it all starts to make sense to me. I shared with very few people this comparison. I rarely ever opened up and let people in on my little secret — that graduate school feels like falling down a flight of stairs and twisting and turning and hoping for an end, but never quite getting there. So it was probably so easy for my friend to spit those rash words. It’s easy looking on the outside, seeing that I am accumulating such positive things in my life and think that this was all so easy.

But there are so many things I haven’t told you yet.

I never told you that I’ve cried almost twice weekly for the last two months at the loss of my youth. At realizing that life really starts now and not being at all prepared for it. I never told you about the friendships lost and relationships that couldn’t ever last because not many people want to stick around to a friend who’s had two days off a month for the last year and a half. I never told you about the love that never happened because I was so fixated on loves past — on the green eyed boy who cheered me on during my worst days, but never was quite around while I was in grad school. I never talk about the isolation and the loneliness at looking out the window on a beautiful day and knowing that all my friends are sipping mojitos by the water and I am cramming for licensing tests. I never talked about the time a professor failed me for the semester for plagiarism, and how I had to fight for six months for that grade, only to come out with an A because the professor was wrong about me. I never told you how I almost got placed on probation while in grad school because of that incident that wasn’t my fault. I don’t talk about how hard it is for me to sit in a room with my friends and have nothing to talk about. Not many people are willing to sit and talk about what I’ve been doing because no one is interested in tests and papers and clients. I never told you how hard it’s been for me to balance everything with grace — how I’ve had to accept that perfection can’t always be an option. And how the act of accepting that was nearly debilitating.

Those people at that graduate school panel all those years ago were right all along. Grad school is isolating. There’s no other way of putting it.

You will have friends who get married, who have children, who fall into lucrative careers, who branch out on their own, and you will feel stagnant. You will feel not good enough. Not smart enough. Not successful enough. Not wise enough. Not fast enough. You’ll feel like you’re stuck and you’ll do everything you can to crawl out of that chasm that’s sucking you in. And despite the sleepless nights, despite the 15 hour work days, despite the endless papers, and research, and over a thousand unpaid internship hours, you will feel like you’re not doing enough. 

You’ll think you know loneliness. You’ll think you’ve felt it rattle your bones and sink to your core and pull you down and suffocate you with its wrath. But the loneliness that envelopes you like a blanket is unfathomable until you’ve experienced it — until you’ve felt that weight pull you under. Until you scroll through your contact list searching for someone to talk to — someone who will be okay with the fact that you can only go out for a little bit, or okay that a coffee date is as much as you can offer them right now. Or okay that you can only go out for a couple of beers because you have to get up early the next morning to work. It’s unfathomable until you realize it’s your first weekend off in months and hear the echo of your own isolation — everyone you know and love has plans, but you weren’t included. They stopped including you weeks ago when they grew tired of your no’s. It’s unfathomable until you stop yourself from complaining to your friends about how hard this all is for you — because how can you complain when they’re stressed over mortgages and jobs and marriage and breakups and juggling what it really means to be an adult. You will feel that familiar feeling of loneliness when the envy seeps through your pores that it seems everyone around you — everyone but those you go to school with it seems — can hold solid and healthy relationships and you can barely stay up late enough to have a drink at the bar.

And then there’s the self-doubt. The why the hell am I doing this moments. The what did I get myself into moments. The can I really handle doing this for the rest of my life moments. The what if I missed my chance on other dreams moments. There will be nights you sit on your best friends couch going over hopes and wishes and dreams you had years ago and how you haven’t even scratched the surface of achieving those yet. You’ll see other people snag these dreams — dreams you never knew they had. And you’ll watch as they get to feel what you thought you’d feel by now. They did it. They accomplished something you swore you would. A dream you wished upon a star twenty years ago that just hasn’t come true you. And then there will be the lonely, cold night when you just want to forget. Give me the first ticket out of this life, please. I didn’t sign up for this.

These are the nights that will bring you to your knees.

For me, this night came a little over a year ago. I couldn’t wrap my head around school. I couldn’t remember how I had gotten there — what pushed me into this particular field. I had all but given up. I contacted other graduate programs within my University to see if I could transfer into them. It was a moment of both sheer panic and clarity all wrapped into one little ball. And I’m thankful I made it out of that. Thankful I crawled out from underneath that cloud. 

But all of those dark spots, those little flecks of time that took up space in my life led me right here. To this. To sitting at my desk going over the memories of the last three years. Without these moments, without the struggles, and the tears, and the questioning myself, I wouldn’t have what I have now. I wouldn’t know what I know now. And I think the biggest lesson I can take from these last three years is that we are all more resilient than we think we are. We can all handle more than we think we can. And even when we feel we are close to the brink — close to cracking, we somehow bounce right back. 

The last three years have shown me that resilience gets you places. That resilience builds you up and keeps you from falling on your knees when you feel like that’s the only option you have left. I am so fortunate for the opportunities I’ve been afforded, for the lessons I’ve learned, for the massive group of professionals I’ve worked side by side and have learned from. I’m grateful for the relationships and friendships made, and am more grateful to the handful of friends who stood by my side — people who took my abuse when I was seemingly losing my mind over school — people who understood and stuck it out with me. I owe you everything.

So, what I mean to say by all of the above is this: no matter what you are facing, you are tougher than you think. And you don’t need to preach it to the world, you need to preach it to yourself. You need to remind yourself that you are strong. You are tough. You are able to take the hits and dodge the punches and roll with the tides. But don’t ever let someone try to knock you down. Don’t ever let someone try to make you feel like all of the fight was easy. Don’t ever minimize that mountain you had to climb. 

These are the least pearls of wisdom I can give you for now. More to come after I cross that stage and officially have an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

 “There’s a trick to the ‘graceful exit.’ It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, or a relationship is over — and let it go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving up, rather than out.”

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘The Sound of Settling” by Death Cab for Cutie

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

Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And therein lies the problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please show up. Please stay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 We’ve made movement, but I want more.

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

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

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

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

We need conversations like this.

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

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

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

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

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

We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time.

A lifetime ago, or so it seems, long before I ever walked into my twenties, or felt the gut-wrenching heartache of failure, or tasted even a real glimpse of life-affirming success, or cried over the loss of a good friend, or watched love fade away, I spent most of my time with my head in the clouds, ruminating on what my future would be like. Would I be successful? Would I keep all of my childhood friends? Would I get married? The vision I had was built on bits and pieces of what the future looked like through the scope of books, movies, and TV shows. I relied on fictional things to formulate a reality in my mind. I clung to the story lines, the friendships, the love. I was the girl who, every Thursday night at 8 pm, tuned into NBC to watch her Friends navigate through life together, and planned her future vicariously through their present.

When you’re young and naive and unhealthily obsessed with whether or not Ross and Rachel were going to end up together, you have a certain image of how your life is going to turn out. The pretty picture you paint looks like the inside of a 90s sitcom. You imagine stumbling into a new city with all of your childhood friends and growing up with them. Growing old with them. Making mistakes, falling over, and picking yourselves back up with them. You imagine that life after college isn’t all that hard. That even during the most difficult of times, it’ll never be that bad. You’ll have the support and the love of the people who’ve known you since before you knew yourself. And how could life ever be painful, or dark, or lonely, with that kind of love?

But then we get there. We graduate high school, some of us go off to college, and some of us don’t; and somehow, we cannonball into our next adventures. We’re thrown into the middle of nowhere and are forced to come to terms with the reality of our lives. We’re forced to come to terms with the fact that perhaps the vision we had when we were younger was a distortion of what reality really is. We realize that life in our twenties doesn’t consist of hanging out at Central Perk, listening to your slightly erratic friend singing a jingle dedicated to a cat, or coming up with a New Year’s Eve dance routine to be aired on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with your brother, or getting a Thanksgiving turkey stuck on your head, or building a giant poking device to see if the man in the apartment across the alley is alive.

And that’s what they don’t tell you. They don’t tell you that life in your twenties is often sticky and messy and heavy and confusing and wonderful. That you will, in fact, be happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. 

They don’t tell you this, but I will.

You’ll wake up one day and feel like you’re falling down a rabbit hole. You’ll look at yourself, you’ll look at your friends, you’ll look at acquaintances, you’ll look at enemies even. You’ll find that you’re barely getting by in graduate school, or being a stay-at-home mom, or starting up a small business, or pounding the pavement at a job you’re sure you’ll never advance at, all the while wondering if this life belongs to you. You’ll wonder if this is where your story ends or where it begins. You’ll feel stuck inside someone else’s story. You’ll beat yourself up over not having done it differently. What would be different if I went left instead of right? If I followed my heart instead of my head? If I took that job when it was offered to me? And on the days when you feel a little too defeated by the what ifs, you’ll look at what you have and wonder if it’s enough. You’ll ask yourself if you’ll be okay and content and full for the rest of your life if you don’t ever achieve anything else. You’ll try to be okay with it. You’ll try to quiet the incessant voice that says, ‘no, I need more. I cannot settle.’ But the voice will still be there, and it’ll rattle your bones until you do something to silence it.

You’ll start fresh and you’ll start new, and it can come in waves; the change can be welcome, or it can be sudden and uninvited. You’ll bounce from different careers. You’ll decide that you really don’t love what you have a degree in. You’ll leave a job that you never had any intention in leaving and you’ll wonder what the hell you can do differently. You’ll walk away from financial security and open doors to possibilities, only to find that the door you walked through wasn’t the one with the winning lottery ticket, but you’ll still try. You’ll still fight, despite the sinking feeling of walking into the office every single morning. You’ll make an effort and establish a routine. You’ll talk yourself out of bitterness and resentment. You’ll wonder if you have the strength and the courage to start over just one more time, and you’ll forget how brave you are for starting over in the first place.

One day, you’ll scroll through your Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram feeds and realize that your friends somehow figured it out and you’ll ask yourself how you missed it. You’ll go back to the summer nights spent on the beach, Wawa milkshake in hand, coming up with a list of goals and dreams for the future, and wonder where the hell it all went. You’ll wonder what happened to the plans you made together. To the dream of getting your first apartment with your childhood friends and dating twin brothers and having kids at the same time and raising them together. You’ll go in different directions. They’ll move on, and part of you will feel like you’re sinking in quick sand, while the other half of you is elated. You’ll be happy for them. You’ll celebrate their engagements. You’ll organize a cocktail hour when they get their first promotion. You’ll be the first one at their housewarming party. And in the midst of all this growing up stuff, you’ll feel selfish for feeling anything other than ecstatic. You’ll wonder when it’ll be your turn. When you’ll settle into a career and relationship and new apartment. You’ll stop yourself and wonder how on earth you can be so happy for their gains and successes, yet so heartbroken at not quite being there, all at the same time.

Sometimes, while you’re sitting next to the people who know you the best, you’ll feel at a loss for words. You’ll feel small next to them. You’ll feel like the conversation you bring to the table is nothing like the success they bring. And you’ll kick yourself afterwards for being so selfish. For wallowing in self-pity. For letting your feelings win.

You’ll get a taste of what love is, only to have it walk away from you. You’ll see the love of your life fall in love with someone else. You’ll watch in envy at how easily it is for them to move on. You’ll pray, every night, that you will never get the notification on Facebook telling you they got engaged. You’ll date people who are bad for you, and you’ll be bad for other people. You’ll wonder what’s stopping you from your own happy-ever-after. You’ll make a mental list of the reasons you’re alone. You’ll guard your heart with everything you have and you’ll wonder when someone will come and permanently knock your walls down. You’ll decide for yourself that it’s okay to be single, but you’ll grow frustrated at hearing your friends and family ask ‘when are you getting married, when are you having kids, you know your time is slowly running out.’  

They don’t tell you about the isolation. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and if you don’t grab onto your dreams, someone else will take them right out of your hands. So, you put in the work. You stay later at the office to finish a project. You take on overtime hours at the hospital. You choose to go for your Master’s. You start building a family. You’ll feel comforted by your friends when they embark on the journey to reaching their goals, too. You’ll have the same ideals for the future, but different paths to walk to get there. You’ll sacrifice sleep, you’ll sacrifice a social life, you’ll dedicate your all into what you want, and it will be lonely as hell. You won’t be the person who runs to her best friend crying about an argument you had with your parents. You won’t be the person who calls someone up in the middle of the night to go grab half price appetizers at Applebees.  You’ll ask your friends to hang out only to hear that they’re all busy. And then you’ll be busy when they want to hang out. You’ll spend nights going through old pictures of drunken college nights out and reminisce over the simplicity of life back then. You’ll cling onto your youth and life before the transition into this in-between stage of adulthood. You’ll bargain with whatever higher power you believe in just to feel forever young with your friends one more time. 

They don’t tell you that despite your best efforts to keep your emotions stifled, hidden under layers of bravery and strength, and a shield of armor, you will cry. You will cry when you realize that your planner is overflowing with due dates and test dates. You will cry when you scroll through Instagram and see your group of friends hanging out without you. You will cry when you clock out after your 17th day working in a row without so much as a consecutive 8 hours of sleep in one night. You will cry when you realize that you can’t split yourself apart and be in two places at once. You’ll cry on your way to school because you don’t know how much more you can take. You will cry because you’ll feel misunderstood. Because you are a master’s student, an employee, an intern, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and you will be made to feel like what you’re doing is not enough. You. Will. Cry. You will cry when your friends confront you for drifting from them. You’ll cry when they call you a stranger. You will cry because they don’t get it. You will cry because you feel all alone in a world that shouldn’t be this cruel. You’ll cry because you are so profoundly happy that there are still people in your life who decided to stick around. You’ll cry when you share in their successes. You’ll cry because you can’t imagine what life would be like without the friends that turn into family. You’ll cry and you won’t know why or how to stop the tears from falling.

They don’t tell you that sometimes, you will feel everything and nothing all at once. You’ll feel your heart exploding from happiness and your brain drowning in misery. They don’t talk about the influx of emotions and the roller coaster we ride just to fight through them. They don’t talk about the brokenness and the bitterness. They don’t talk about how confusing it is to be in your twenties. How life can be incredible and heartbreaking at the same time, and how it makes perfect sense to feel like you’re unraveling from time to time.

They won’t tell you it’s okay. They won’t tell you that it’s normal. That despite the broken pieces, your twenties are a time to feel everything. To get a taste of both highs and lows. To fight for what you want. To really learn what it’s like to love and to lose. They don’t ever tell you that. But today, I did. 

“You’ll be fine. You’re 25. Feeling [unsure] and lost is part of your path. Don’t avoid it. See what those feelings are showing you and use it. Take a breath. You’ll be okay. Even if you don’t feel okay all the time.” -Louis C.K

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘22‘ by Taylor Swift