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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Here’s To The Nights We Felt Alive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t have anything new to say. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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