Happiness depends on how you handle the day

This past weekend, I was catching up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. One, like me, has been going through some medical things lately. Completely different issues, but very similar paths in The Hunt for a Diagnosis. It’s led both of us to some problems with anxiety, and in my conversation with her, I told her something that she found very comforting: You can’t control what happens, but you can control your reaction to it.

In my case, I can’t control what my body is doing. I can’t control the pain or the ridiculous journey I’ve been going through. I can’t change anything that’s happened. I can’t turn any of the negative tests into positives just for the sake of a diagnosis. I can’t go back and tell people that I know it could be worse, but that this battle I’m fighting is no less real just because it’s not cancer and I’m not dying. I can’t go back in time and tell myself to calm the eff down about life, because stress may be what brought this all on to begin with.

But what I can control is my reaction to it all, and what stressors I decide to allow in my life now.

It’s something I’ve really come to grips with in the past month (two? three? I’m losing track), but I haven’t really been able to articulate it particularly well. I should’ve known that my favorite band (Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers) would be able to put it into the words I couldn’t come up with:

“Happiness depends on how you handle the day.”

I don’t think anyone fully understands what I’ve been going through since mid-July. No matter how hard they try to get it, or how hard I try to explain it, no one can truly know how this has all affected me in ways other than the outward, physical manifestation of pain.

And it’s something I’ve been hesitant to talk about or write about in a public forum, because mental health in our society is a scary subject. It’s almost taboo. I’ve been terrified to talk about it for fear of being judged, for being seen as weak.

Last week, Nicole (who is a bit of a blog rock star in my world) wrote about mental health battles (read that, seriously), and after wiping the tears out of my eyes, I emailed Nicole and poured my heart out to this amazing woman, who simultaneously felt like a stranger and a best friend. I told her that I could relate to her situation in a myriad ways. That my life, in which everything was finally going so amazingly well that I could hardly believe it, had come to this grinding halt and that aside from the physical health concerns, I have been having real and debilitating mental health concerns. I thanked her for being so open and honest about mental health battles.

And lastly, I asked her to carry me with her across that finish line on race day, along with the many others she is carrying in the fight for mental health care in this country.

I felt infinitely better having emailed Nicole, and I was content with that step alone. But then she emailed me back, one of the kindest and most sincere emails I’ve ever received. We’ve exchanged a few more and the conversation with Nicole has been a huge inspiration for me.

This week, I’ll be taking a step forward in getting the help I need with the mental and emotional effects of what I’ve been going through physically. You all know my penchant for self-help, but sometimes, you can’t help yourself well enough and you need to bring in outside resources.

And that doesn’t make me weak. It makes me strong, because I’m trying to make it better. Weakness would be giving in to it and letting it consume me.

My beloved Stephen Kellogg is right: Happiness depends on how you handle the day – one day at a time. And I’m determined to get that happiness back in my life for as many days as I can.

To the friends and family who have been helping me handle these days the past two months, I cannot thank you enough. I haven’t always handled it gracefully, but I’m working on it. I’m no longer allowing myself to stress about who has or hasn’t called or texted me. Or about how I’m going to pay the medical bills. Or about all the social events I’ve missed out on. Or about whether they’re getting on OK at work without me. Or about how difficult my first run back is going to be. Or about how outsiders are viewing me and what I’m going through.

I’m focusing on my health – physical, emotional, mental. My complete health, my whole self. Because if I don’t get myself healthy, none of that other stuff matters.

And to Nicole – thank you for having the courage to speak out about mental health, and for encouraging me to do the same. I only hope our society as a whole can learn to see it for what it is and work to make mental health care a basic right. You truly are a rock star, lady.

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Taking Chances on Missing People

I’ve had a lot of time to myself lately. Which means, a lot of time to think and feel. Dangerous, right? Right. It’s also meant a lot of time to write, albeit it very intermittent due to pain (I haven’t been able to peck out more than about 150 words in one sitting – torture for a writer). I have six posts sitting in my drafts folder in various stages of appropriateness for public consumption.

A little over two weeks ago, I wrote a post about missing people – three specific individuals in my life. It was a thinly veiled way of passive aggressively attempting to get their attention without actually putting myself out there and being vulnerable. If any of them read it, they would know without a doubt I was talking about them. I let it sit in my drafts rather than hit the “Publish” button.

And then I thought and felt, as I’ve been known to do. Which is when I realized that if I really missed these people as much as I had written that I did – if I truly craved them back in my life – then publishing a melodramatic blog post wasn’t the solution. If I missed them, I had to let them know directly. No more fear of whether they actually missed me too or had instead forgotten I ever existed in their lives. No more excuses of “Well, if they wanted to talk to me, they’d call.” After all, couldn’t they be thinking the same about me? Didn’t that make me a hypocrite?

When enough time passes, that initial contact can be awkward. Whether it’s been three weeks, nine months or more than a year. Maybe you’ve spent all your time thinking about them; or maybe for the most part, you forgot them too. But then something pops up in your mind or in your day-to-day activities that reminds you of them – a song, a scent, an inside joke that no one else will ever understand – and you physically ache because of the hole in your life that they used to fill.

Since that revelation, I took the chance on two of those three people. I rehearsed what I would say (because of all the thinking and the feeling) and then before I could turn back and put it off another day, I let my thumb hit that contact in my iPhone and held my breath and felt sick to my stomach waiting for the voice on the other end.

Obviously, what I rehearsed in my head (or, um, out loud alone in my house – shut up…) never made it out of my mouth. Because as soon as I heard their voices, I couldn’t stop smiling, much less get out a proper sentence. After the slightly awkward beginnings, the rest of the conversation flowed like we’d spent no time out of each others’ lives.

I took a chance on missing people. I took a blind leap that if they meant so much to me that I was aching to have them back, there had to be a pretty decent chance I meant that much to them too.

And I’m so glad I took those two jumps. It was terrifying to think of; I could have had my heart (not to mention ego) splattered on the jagged rocks of being ignored, of being forgotten. But instead, I was caught in the comforting arms of “I’ve missed you too,” and “I’ve been thinking about you, but wasn’t sure if it had been too long. Thank you for taking the initiative to call.”

Nothing good ever came out of everyone being afraid, of everyone hiding from possible rejection. Someone has to take the chance, to make the move. Why not let it be you? If it means enough to keep you up at night, it means enough to make the call. Worst case scenario: you don’t hear back or get the response you wanted. But maybe you’ll get some closure, or at least a good night’s sleep knowing you didn’t just let it slip by.

As for me and that third person… I still haven’t taken the chance on calling them. Maybe soon.

Real Life Sick Days

I have never liked sick days. Not when I was a kid, not when I was in college, not now. And I don’t think I ever will.

If you ask my mom, she’ll definitely tell you that when I was in school and would wake up feeling like something close to the black plague had hit me, I would still insist on going to school. “But I have a test today. That paper is due in third period. I’ll be so far behind on my in-class assignments. How am I going to know what my homework is?”

I’ve been doomed from the start. Yes, I did occasionally skip a class or two in college when I was sick, but I never felt OK about it. (Which could explain why I once left a three-hour seminar to go to the bathroom, throw up, and return for the rest of the session. Of course, that was when I was studying in Australia, and it was an entirely different kind of sick…but we won’t get into the details.)

But at least back then, “sick days” could still be kind of “fun.” When I was too young to stay home alone, my mom would drop me off at my Nana’s house. I would bring books or toys and watch her go through her morning routine. We would watch The Price Is Right and QVC. I would build castles with wooden blocks and color some pretty stellar pictures. Nana would make me soup for lunch and we would both take an afternoon nap.

Once I was a little older, sick days meant fending for myself at home. A can of Spaghettios, the TV completely to myself to catch up on those all-important episodes of Fraggle Rock, Under The Umbrella Tree, Gummi Bears, Rugrats (the guilty-pleasure little kid shows I still enjoyed) followed by Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones, Jerry Springer (my older sister’s influence) and then TRL and The Rosie O’Donnell Show. Then I would patiently wait for my best friend, Julie, to call me and tell me what I missed in school – or maybe I’d be lucky enough for her to stop by and bring me my work.

High school meant you were definitely getting that work delivered to you, but most often at the hands of your parent who had been in touch with each of your teachers about what you were missing and even took a trip to your locker to get the textbooks you forgot to bring home. Ever the overachiever, this was always a bit of relief to me. I wanted to stay on top of the work while I could. But I definitely still got my share of The Price is Right and any other tv I wanted in at that time.

In college, sick days meant I could sit around and have a constant rotation of company. Roommates, suitemates, hallmates, friends… they all had classes at different times and were totally willing to stop by and say hi and indulge in yet another marathon of Gilmore Girls with me.

In the real world though… sick days suck, man. I’m now on week four of being on medical leave from work and I’m out of ideas. I’m tired of reading. I’m pretty sure I’ve listened to all my long-neglected music in my iTunes. I’ve written in my journal. I’ve completed menial tasks I’d put off for four years, like importing six CDs of music my roommate in college gave me (I’m not kidding). Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest can only be refreshed so many times. I’m 100 percent tired of television. (Y’all, there is nothing on during the day. Don’t feel like you’re missing out. Well except for The Price Is Right. That never gets old.)

When you’re well, all you want to do is lie in bed and watch tv and have no responsibility. But when you’re unwell, you tire of these things at record speed and want nothing more than the comfort of your office and work responsibilities.

So if anyone is at work and needs a break or a distraction – please, please, please feel free to text, call, gchat me. I’m here and ready to meet your distraction needs. Unless I’m napping. Then I’ll get back to you.

Quarterlife Lessons

I haven’t even hit the halfway point in my year of being 25, but it’s no big secret to those in my life that hitting the big quarter-century mark back in March was a bit…terrifying for me.

The day itself came and went without much fanfare, very low-key (which was fine with me after the past two years of ridiculous birthdays). The implications of it though? Not so low-key in my mind.

Right now, I’m going through a bit of a difficult time personally. I know I’m not the only person going through things right now (not even within my own circle – I wish I were so the others’ suffering would be over), but it’s given me a lot of time for reflection. And we all know how I, as a writer and a 20-something, love to reflect here on the blog.

So, here are a few things I’ve learned so far in this new stage.

Sometimes living at home with your parents at the age of 25 is OK.

And helpful, even. As eager as I am to move out and live alone, I can’t imagine what I would be going through right now if I did. I would’ve ended up calling my mommy crying (uhhhh, did it from work…it’s fine) and she would’ve come to pick me up from my apartment and bring me home to take care of me. Just like she did last year when I hurt my ankle. I would not have been able to get through the past eight weeks of this medical (and emotional) hell without the help of my parents. So you can take your cool 20-something apartments and shove it.

Your friends – your real friends – can help you get through anything.

You’ll learn a lot about who your real friends are when you need them the most. Even if you don’t ask them to, they’ll be there for you. They’ll send you care packages in the mail. They’ll remember that you had that appointment with the seventh different doctor today and ask how it went. They’ll call you one night and say, “What are you doing on Sunday? Nothing? Good. We will be there with hugs and games and gossip to entertain you.” They’ll bring you sushi and movies and spend a day lying on the couch with you because they know it hurts for you to do anything more. They’ll force you to go out to dinner and then to a friend’s house to sit around the fire-pit because, even if it’s physically painful, they know your spirit needs just as much healing as your body, if not more.

A good cry is necessary every once in a while.

All right, I’ve done more than my fair share of crying lately, but I think I had let it all build up for so long, it was way overdue. A good, loud, heaving sob session, curled up in bed with a stuffed animal you’ve had since you were 10 until you fall asleep is incredibly cathartic. Really, give it a try sometime. Just don’t do it for seven (plus) days in a row like I did. Trust me. It gets exhausting, and the finish line of sleep starts to evade you, leaving you staring at the ceiling alone with your thoughts. Danger, Will Robinson!

But a good laugh can cure almost anything.

You know the kind of laugh I’m talking about. The tears-rolling-down-the-face, snorting-like-a-pig, wheezing-like-an-emphysema-patient, entire-body-shaking, drawing-attention-from-strangers kind of laugh. It often comes when you least expect it, when you can’t remember the last time you even halfheartedly chuckled. And you can’t even figure out why the hell it was so funny, but you just feel lighter afterward.

Working for (and with) good people makes a huge difference.

We spend at least 40 hours a week at work. Far more time than we spend [awake] at home. Working for (and with) good people can make all the difference in how you feel about your job. I don’t know what I would do without the caring, helpful people in my company. They’ve been a godsend the past two months.

The internet cannot solve all your problems.

Not even close. You can look up all your symptoms on WebMD and know you have the diagnosis… and still be wrong. You can read every 20-something blogger out there and think you finally know how to handle this potential relationship… and still screw it up. You can watch or read about a million train-wreck lives to make yourself feel better… and still feel like you want more out of life.

 

But that’s the thing about being 25 in the year 2012. You don’t have to have it all figured out just yet, as long as you’re trying your damnedest. I am 25 years old. I don’t have all the answers, but I have some of them figured out. I know what’s important to me and what really matters in this thing called life. The other stuff… merely details. I’ve got my head on straight (although the neck’s a huge question mark these days). It’ll all come together someday. In the meantime, I’ll take the lessons I’m learning every day.

Let’s Get Weddy (AKA #TeamBride #060912)

After almost a year of intense anticipation, last month I finally got to stand next to one of my best friends while she married the man of her dreams. And while she is the only person who can really validate whether I have actually accomplished this item on my Single Girl’s Checklist, I think it’s pretty safe to say I (and the other bridesmaids) did:

#41: Be an awesome bridesmaid.

Like I said, Claire is really the only person who can truly say whether I attained the “awesome” status in the weeks leading up to and on her big day. But if the following are included in the criteria, I think #TeamBride #060912 crushed it:

  • Checking to be sure the bride’s undergarments did not show through the wedding dress.
  • Preventing the bride’s former co-worker from walking in on her naked. Yeah, that would’ve been awkward.
  • Crying at the rehearsal. You know, just to be sure I could do it right…
  • Bonding with the groom in a hallway at the rehearsal dinner, including finally getting the gossip about how their relationship got started (and then sharing said gossip with the rest of the bridal party).
  • Giving an emotional and funny toast at the rehearsal dinner, when no one else was toasting. To a group of virtual strangers.
  • Throwing out a That’s What She Said joke with her dad’s cousin at the table. And he was the first one to laugh.
  • Practicing slow-dancing with my fellow bridesmaid/bff at the rehearsal dinner.
  • Unwrapping hundreds of sparklers for the grand exit on the big day at 11 pm the night before.
  • Totally embarrassing myself, a fellow bridesmaid and the bride in front of her parents by showing a slideshow of our lives together over the past six years. The parents were not intended to be present for this.
  • Creating a sobworthy slideshow of the bride and groom for the cocktail hour.
  • Keeping tabs on the bride’s mom and dad and their emotions throughout the weekend.
  • Taking a massive picnic lunch to the hair salon. And tweeting about it. A lot.
  • Bonding with the groomsmen in our holding pen before the ceremony about who even knows what.
  • Freaking out when the best man almost dropped the rings down a vent – it has to happen at every wedding, right?!
  • Sitting on itty bitty pre-school chairs in the church basement.
  • NOT tripping while walking down the aisle.
  • NOT fainting even with shaking legs throughout the ceremony.
  • Sobbing the second you see the bride at the end of the aisle, on her dad’s arm, beginning to sob.
  • Making eye contact with the mother of the bride at that moment, making her realize the bride is crying, and prolonging the trickle effect of the tears.
  • Quoting Friends in the middle of the ceremony (ahem, Kirsten…)
  • Climbing hills at an apple orchard in dresses and heels for amazing photography opportunities.
  • Getting the dancing started at the reception.
  • Forcing the father of the bride to come dance with all four bridesmaids – a moment he was supposedly mortified by, but could not stop talking about or smiling about.
  • Ripping the slit in the back of your dress to a very dangerous level while lunging for the bouquet, because, you know, you’re single with no prospects and clearly ready for that step in life…
  • Forgetting to take even one photograph on the wedding day because you are completely absorbed in the love, happiness and joy of the moment and can’t imagine being concerned about documenting it.
  • Crying the next morning, when saying goodbye to the bride’s parents, who insist on making you breakfast, force leftover cake and tiramisu on you, and tell you that they love you and consider you to be daughters.
  • Being unable to stop smiling for several days afterward because your heart is so full of love still.
  • And, of course, there was the shower and bachelorette weekend…but portions of that are never to be spoken of again, like any good bachelorette party 😉

Even thinking about it now, almost a month later, I am still so full of joy for Claire and Kyle, and so honored to have played such an important part in their day. Wedding weekend withdrawal set in less than 6 hours after I got home, and I’m not sure it’s subsided yet.

Bridesmaids and our bride at the bridal luncheon the day before the wedding.

To my fellow bridesmaids – we did it! To my beloved bride – thanks for making me part of your day. Now… who’s next, ladies??

There’s Something About…Singlehood

I’ve been a little bit overwhelmed with the number of “likes” I’ve gotten on my last few posts, both on WordPress and on Facebook. And the number of comments on Facebook from long-lost acquaintances about their online dating success stories.

Especially since these posts were going to lead up to the story of how I quit online dating.

Again.

And, so I thought, for good.

Maybe what I actually have taken away from this though is that it can work. Just maybe not so much through the free dating websites. Most of the people who have had success did it through the paid sites: eHarmony, Match, Chemistry. The ones that, at least as they advertise it, use actual science and statistics to match you. Not so much through the freebies. So maybe I’m not 100% done with the online dating scene.

But for now, I’m kind of enjoying this other aspect of being a single lady (Beyonce style): Meeting and flirting with men.

Y’all, this might seem so simple and ridiculous to some of you. But this is something I have very rarely in my life experienced. At least the enjoyable kind of flirting. I’ve been hit on, yes, but until recently, it was never by men I had an interest in. Always the creepers. Always. So, yes, I’m enjoying this “new” part of my life.

There’s just something fun and freeing about spotting the cute guy across the room at a party. About him starting a conversation with you. About talking to him and feeling sparks when he brushes your hand while passing you a jello shot (OK, so I didn’t say it was all romance). About smiles across the room and laughter and dancing and singing to “Call Me Maybe,” with undertones of those insanely absurd lyrics being kind of fitting. About an arm around your waist.

There’s something about meeting a guy at the bar during your friend’s bachelorette party. So what if she pointed at you and screamed, “SHE’S SINGLE!” to every guy that approached your group? There’s something about the awkward laughter you share after that remark. About the color rising to your cheeks because you’re simultaneously mortified at that statement, but grateful that he knows your status. About teasing him for double-fisting Coors Light (or what I not-so-affectionately call “water”). About finding out he has cousins who live right up the street from you, when you’re 5 hours from home. About the walk from the bar to the late-night food joint when you lag behind your group of friends because you want to keep talking to him. About staying in the parking lot sharing life stories and people watching while our respective groups of friends are inside ordering burgers and bribing the owners to use the restroom that is apparently reserved only for brides-to-be. About that moment when your arms brush and you can feel the heat linger for a couple minutes. About not being able to break eye contact because you think he’ll disappear if you do.

There’s something about a man telling you that you’re “perfect” and “amazing” and “beautiful” and you just don’t know it, and you begin to wonder if they’re about to burst into song a la One Direction. It doesn’t matter if it’s a line or not (or if they really are listening to teeny bopper boy bands and reciting lyrics), because it makes you smile and blush and feel great. And isn’t that how you should always feel?

Perfect. Amazing. Beautiful.

So, until I find that one guy who can make me feel like that always, I’ll take a few here and there telling me that for a couple hours at a time. It doesn’t matter if it turns out that he has a girlfriend (OK, so that one kind of mattered) or suddenly becomes the silent, socially awkward guy in the corner. For that little bit of time that you had his attention, that you innocently flirted – even though somewhere in the back of your romcom-infested mind you thought it might go somewhere – it didn’t matter that it wasn’t going anywhere. You were having fun. And I’m learning that’s a huge part of being single in your mid-20s. (Cue the “holy crap, I’m 25” freakout that I still get two months later.)

This conversation happened with Audrey, one of my best friends and someone who knows me better than most people in my life, this weekend while we were…well, stalking people on Facebook. (Hey, you do it too. We just come by it honestly.)

Me: Everyone is getting married. EVERYONE.
Audrey: Well. Not everyone.
Me: But we don’t need to be!
Audrey: Right. We’re single and loving it! [approx. 5-second pause] Or, you know, single….

On that note, cheers to being single… and at least trying to love it.

A Year of Letting Go

I just spent a good hour reading my blog posts from the end of December 2010 into January 2011. It is remarkable how much has changed in a year’s time.

I made the clichéd statement in January last year that “this year is MY YEAR.” People say it every year, it’s probably on about 10 Facebook statuses on your News Feed right now. I’d said it in the past.

But in 2011, I really followed through on that.

One year ago, I was struggling to crawl out of depression. I was making very difficult decisions, but decisions I knew I needed to make.

Ultimately for me, 2011 was about learning to let go.

When I think back on it, that’s what everything I went through last year was. Letting go.

Professionally, I quit my job at the end of February, having no backup plan and a scary year ahead of me. I just knew I couldn’t continue to let that job degrade me anymore. I second-guessed myself when times were tough, but I never truly regretted the decision I made.

Personally, I learned to let go of toxic friendships and relationships. The ones that I poured my heart and soul into and consistently got nothing but disappointment in return. I learned to be OK with being “alone,” but also learned that I wasn’t even actually alone, because there were amazing people in my life who would be there for me regardless.

But most importantly, I let go of fear. I let go of self-doubt. I let go of insecurities.

Without making these conscious choices to let go of things that weren’t right in my life, I would not be starting 2012 in such a good place. For the first time in my [albeit relatively short] life, I can say I am truly and completely happy in my job. I am doing what I love doing, in the industry I have always seen myself in, with fantastic coworkers and a lot of opportunities for growth. I come home feeling energized and excited, rather than defeated and tired. I now am free to put my time and energy and love into the people who deserve it, rather than wasting it on those who don’t appreciate it.

Throughout the course of 2011, I learned to fight for what I want. I learned that I am strong. I learned to stand up for myself. To have confidence in myself.

I fought through a lot in 2011, and in the end, I came out on top. And I am going to continue fighting in 2012, continue growing and learning. And if I have to, continue letting go of the things that don’t fit anymore. I am looking forward to what this year has in store, and I hope all of you are too. Happy New Year to all!

What did 2011 mean to you? And what are you hoping 2012 will bring?