Week 2: The Wanting


It’s 5:38 p.m. Friday evening. My train has stopped in the station closest to my house. I exit through the machine-operated doors and trample down the steps, playing the game where I try to beat the person next to me to the bottom. I saunter out and the late-October chill hits my face.

Oh, my goodness, I want a drink.

I am never home before 6 – never – and so I want to celebrate with a third of a bottle of cab. Or, crack open a pumpkin-flavored beer, poured into a real glass to lessen the cheapness, and take gulps as I sauté and chop for dinner.

I want a drink, I think as I cross the street.

I want a drink, I think as peer halfway into the dry cleaners that ruined my rug a few months ago while walking past the closed establishment. As I wait for the light and cross another street. As I insert the key into the main door of the building. As I walk up the stairs to my apartment.

I want a drink. I want a drink. I want a drink. I want a drink. Continue reading “Week 2: The Wanting”


Hi, friends.

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I started this blog at the beginning of 2015 because I knew that I needed to retire A Story, but I wanted a place to put my sporadic emotional outpours. And sporadic it was.

Although I have been storytelling and writing elsewhere, I’ve missed being in this space, writing what feels right and then sending it off to let it be consumed. So, in the last few months, I’ve been tossing around ideas in which I can bring this blog back to life.

I thought about creating a pretzel blog where I eat a crap ton of pretzels and review them. I express this idea every time that I order a soft pretzel at a bar or a ball park. Wouldn’t it be great to be a connoisseur of pretzels? I could eat my way through the world consuming pretzels in each place I go while trying out every homemade pretzel recipe on Pinterest. I could even make cute snacks out of store-bought pretzels. What a cool blog that would be.

The Pretzel Princess.  The Pretzel Connoisseur. Life of Pretzels.

As awesome as it would be to be a bloggess of pretzels (and it would really be awesome), I also entertained another blog theme possibility – documenting my year of sobriety. Continue reading

On the eve of a birthday

Ethan told me to meet him at the parking garage near his office, and so at 4 p.m. I started the 15-minute walk through The Loop to get from my office to his.

The workday had been good, as an accumulation of projects and responsibilities allowed me to carve my place in my new job, but then a quick zip through Facebook sucked out any building confidence.

One Facebook friend announced a series of upcoming storytelling/reading shows and another a writing award. These are both talented, deserving people but their accomplishments were all the invitation my insecure, berating voice needed.

You accomplishments are minuscule compared to theirs.

 They work harder than you do.

 You are from where they are.

 More people like them and will give them opportunities over you.

I rolled through a picture show of others’ success matched against my failures as I walked through the Loop. Downtown was busier than usual, not because the Cubs were hosting the Giants in the playoffs nor the looming three-day weekend. Most of the buzzing people wore black and gray lycra pants and bright neon and pink long-sleeve shirts.

It was marathon weekend.

Inspirational banners advertising the 2016 Chicago Marathon have hung from street posts for weeks now, but, already in the mood of torturing myself, I made sure to study each one as I moved a block south, then east, then south again.

A pain in my left knee has lingered for 10 months. I can’t kneel, stand for too long or run. I took a break from running and went to six weeks of physical therapy and the pain is as present as it was in the beginning. I could feel it as I rushed by the fit tourists, ready to overtake a goal.

The voice came back.

You should be running a marathon this weekend.

 You aren’t running because you are lazy.

 You have no greatness in you.

By the time I reached Ethan, 16 blocks later, I was in tears.

It’s normal for this voice to come out and tear me down when it gets a chance, but the “you are not enough” song was much louder on this particular day. And, it’s lingered through the weekend, hitting me when I was trying to sleep or having a conversation with a stranger at a wedding.

Then, today, the reason why this voice continued to sing became clear.

Tomorrow is my birthday. Another year passed. Another anxious look at the time running out.

Birthdays often put me in a funk of feeling like I haven’t done enough or that I am so far behind, mostly because of my own fear, laziness and lack of dedication.

The older I get and the higher that number attached my birthday is the feeling has not abated, actually intensifying. What has changed, though, is that I am turning to others less to justify my presence in the world.

And, so on the eve of my birthday, I look at the year that was not because I need you all to tell me that I am on the right path because I need to hear it from my own heart. I need to feel my lungs widen with a calming breath and the notion that where I am in life is enough and then exhale out of all that doubt worry.

I didn’t run a marathon this weekend, but I did get better health insurance that will allow me to find out what’s going on with my knee with an MRI this week and hopefully return to running. I’ve also done more yoga and fallen back in love with swimming in the time I’ve been out of my running shoes.

I am not booked to do a bunch of shows and no one is knocking at my door to publish my writing, but this week I finished the first draft of my first fictional novel, which has taken me four months to write. I also did publish a few pieces and told some stories on stage.

I got a new job, travelled, moved into a new apartment and felt the love of good friends and family. And, in the last year, I’ve learned to accept some heartbreaking situations and find forgiveness (for others and for me) and hope in them.

As I go into 32, my life is far from perfect but it’s also far from the disappointment I sometimes make it out to be. The greatest gift I can give myself is the permission to let me be where I am and the permission to let that and myself be enough.


The beginning of my second year teaching in Lesotho as a Peace Corps volunteer didn’t start off well. Using my one year of experience and a renewed sense of motivation after the summer break, I had hoped to launch into the school year with great fervor and determination. The projects that couldn’t get off the ground the year before would be success stories. I would empower the struggling students. I would find grace and capability in my position.

But, the students carried a host of grievances, many of them justified. The school was losing money and students daily and there was an accumulating fear that the students would strike or the school would close.

Often, I went into class thinking we were going to discuss verb-subject agreement only to spend the entire hour calming students about the fact that it was four weeks into the year and they did not yet have a math and science teacher.

By that point in my two-year service, after a great deal of heartache, I had learned to let things be. I had finally released the idea that I was in control or that I should avoid disappointment and failure. I knew there was something greater than me and my little Peace Corps mission at work, and so I gave into it. I let events and situations play out, participating from the sides and not as a leading or objective voice.

I thought of those days this afternoon as I walked through the tree-lined streets of my quiet neighborhood. After a day and half of computer issues, I was finally on track to getting my compute and printer set up to perform the daily tasks of my job when my internet cut out for 45 minutes. Practically in tears, I chose to step outside and let the gentle hot wind calm my nerves.

There have been several changes in my life in the last three months. Not necessarily bad change, but also not unnoticeable change.

The best of the changes is that Ethan and I moved in together. While it’s a slight adjustment to live with another person again (I lived alone last year after having a roommate my first year in Chicago), it’s been great. Making this two-bedroom apartment our home has brought us closer and he makes me giggle more than anyone else. Recently, he yelled “Heather!” from the bathroom and then came out with a bowl and said, “I guess living with Heather means finding bowls of popcorn in random places.”

In that, though, we are learning about each other in our more plainest and purest forms, which comes with some minor turbulence at times.

The biggest of these adjustments is that my new home has also become my new office. I am still employed and with the same employer, but because of expired leases and the timeline of preparing a new place, our entire office is working from temporary spaces. I opted to work from home for the five months rather than a rented space downtown (part of the reason Ethan and I opted for a two-bedroom instead of a cheaper one-bedroom unit). At first, I did not think working from home would suit me, given that I am quite chatty and maintain friendly relationships with my co-workers. I softened to the idea when I started to think about the commute time I would gain back in my day, not having to travel from far north to the Loop.

We are not an entire week into it and the rough waters feel quite stormy (back to the aforementioned tech issues). And I can tell sitting at my desk and trying to interpret what others mean through instant messages and emails is not good for my social paranoia. What did he really mean in that email?

As soon as Ethan walks in the door, I speak at him for 10 minutes straight. It sort of reminds me of what mothers of small children talk about when they say they miss adult interaction.

There’ve been other changes as well, personally and professionally. Another big one is not being able to run and the undoing of my summer plans to marathon train. Some of my social circles have also shifted, mostly due life progressing, but it’s still never an easy adjustment for me to accept.

With so much change, I put a great deal of pressure on myself to deliver, to be the gold standard. With change often comes room for error, but not for me. I walk on thinner eggshells in hopes of not disappointing others.

But, I feel like I am failing, and greatly. At the end of the day, some days, I am so exhausted trying to please others that I’ve forgotten how to take care of myself, and frankly I don’t have the motivation to do so. I want to be everything and all things to everyone around me and it really upsets me when I can’t. I’ve always put such pressures on myself, but in the times of great change those expectations feel like bricks on the throat.

I do not know how to be. I have forgotten since those long lost days in rural Lesotho. Instead, I scatter around to fix and make better, and when I cannot, I blame, punish, and make excuses.

How do I return to a state of being instead of doing? Is that even possible for me again? I guess I do not know, but I know that I need to try or at least give myself some kind of relief. My poor nails can’t take my anxious state anymore.

For now, I take walks instead of cry. I let the sun soak up the buzzing worry. And, I think back to a time when I was strong and present. If I could be that then, I could can be it now.

A dream life

In Lesotho, on a curved section of the round hut in which I lived for two years, I cultivated a collage of photos torn from magazines my mother sent me. A woman in a white tank top with a blue print skirt and chunky brown jewelry. A black and white image of a young girl sitting on the edge of a dock. A pristine white kitchen with plants and white china. Ann Patchett in perched on ladder in the Nashville bookstore that she owns. A friend of friend visiting from the U.S. described it as a touchable version of Pinterest.

There was a theme to the wall, and occasionally I found photos that I liked but didn’t necessarily fit the theme, like a portrait of Adele or a motivational running saying. I kept those, too, but they were taped to a different piece of the hut. The images in my collage were quite specific, a representation of the life I wanted.

On quiet mornings, I would stare at that collage while I boiled hot water and then, sitting on the stoop outside my hut, staring off into the big blue sky as herd boys and their sheep drifted past me, I envisioned all the little pieces of that dream life. Organic grocery stores. Coffee shops. Yoga classes. Sunrises on the beach. Nights under city lights. Dinner parties with friends.

At the epicenter of this fantasy was my living space, filled with plants, books, candles, music, and warmth. In a city but with touches of nature. My utopia was quite simple, but many nights the thought of it put me to sleep, next to the mooing sheep and Basotho women.

Truthfully, the dream wasn’t developed in Lesotho out of cravings for American comforts, rather its one that I’ve harbored for years. A young woman in an urban setting, living happily because the entire world was at her finger tips. Sitting in high school math class and wondering, why of all the places I could grow up, it had to be Pierre, South Dakota, I began to piece together the possibilities. In college, the dream was more fluid but cemented itself into me the closer I grew to graduation. It stole my attention in the big and small moments of my day, and I often saw glimpses of it in Brookings alleyways and Sioux Falls coffee shops.

I chased this dream, or rather I lived life with this image of what I wanted always in the back of my mind. I made a series of choices that maybe didn’t lead me immediately to my destination, but ones that I thought had the power to at some point.

It’s Sunday morning. I am sipping coffee, and instead of the bells and bleats of sheep, I hear a city beginning its day after the night rain. Before this moment, I did yoga while my love sleeps, waiting for him to wake up so we can make pancakes next to soft music. As of yesterday, our apartment is officially settled into and the freshly hung photos are comforting.

This is it. That life I had pined over for many restless nights and dull days. It’s arrived and is my actual life.

Now of course, it’s neither perfect nor conclusive, and my life isn’t magically 1000 percent better now that I am living out some of those fantasy images, but that dream did mostly come true. I have a little city apartment, my favorite coffee shop is two blocks away, and my nights are full taking advantage of what this city has to offer.

There is more to life than where you live and the little things that fill up your days, but I’ve set the framework for where I want to be. I had a vision and I set out to make it come true, or as true as I could, and here I am. My life is far from a dream and sometimes I feel like I am churning my wheels in mud on the way to a place I do not know, but at times I need to step back and realize how great it all is, how far I’ve come on the path I set for myself.

I write about this as a reminder to myself. A reminder that dreams take time and maybe you take a few missteps (or a couple of plane rides to Africa) but they can manifest in such glorious ways. A reminder that I am capable of what I want, even if it feels far off and not in accordance with my timeline. A reminder that at once I didn’t think I could have this dream life but now I do.

There are other things I want out of life, too. Many of them may never happen, but maybe some will. And they’ll come in expected ways and unplanned paths, but that will be the exciting part.


I can’t run


I can’t run.

I don’t mean that in that sense that my legs have stopped working and I physically can no longer do it or in a way that indicates that it’s more laziness than ability. Rather, I can’t run because a medical professional has highly suggested that I don’t.

For most people, a doctor’s note to not run is like being congratulated for doing nothing. It’s the perfect excuse for not going to the party that you had no intention of attending. For me, though, not running makes me want to cause physical harm to someone else. The other day, while at the physical therapist, another patient mentioned that she had a long 10-miler planned for the weekend and I wanted to pull her purple Nike sweater over her head, like I was the bully in a 90s family sitcom. Of course I didn’t but I most definitely delighted in the thought of doing it.

The pain began when I was training for the Chicago Marathon last summer. I noticed an achy-ness in my left knee that wasn’t sharp but unpleasant. I took some time off, rubbed out my IT band, iced it, and lubed it up with IcyHot. The pain eased, returning occasionally for a few days, but it was mostly bearable and I ran the marathon without any knee pain (oh, but there were lots of other pains).

Going into this year, my plan was to spend the winter months lifting and doing speed workouts on the treadmill to build my base. Then, come the warmer temperatures and soft songs of birds of the spring, I would launch into training for the Twin Cities Marathon in October. I feel like I sort of phoned in my workouts for Chicago, but I was determined to reverse that in this cycle. I would focus on being stronger and faster, adding more miles, speed work, and cross training. I would train so that I would have the strength in mile 22 that I didn’t have during the Chicago Marathon.

I chose Twin Cities for some very specific reasons. While I loved running Chicago, I wanted to try a different race in a different city, plus my brother recently bought a house in St. Paul. I also liked that it was a day before my 32nd birthday, meaning I would have run two marathons at 31.

The biggest reason, though, was redemption. In 2009, I signed up to run the Twin Cities but life happened – I started The Post and moved to Sioux Falls – and I developed a knee injury. To others, I blamed the injury but really I was angry at myself for not taking it seriously. Seven years later, I planned to match my ultra marathon training and go into that race in great shape in an effort to win back some of my dignity.

After taking a few months off, I started just as intended. I lifted two to three days a week and started running with my coworkers during lunch. My excitement for training and running towards a goal built and I often fanaticized about long runs along Chicago Lake Shore Path on early summer mornings. Training, to me, is quite fun. It involves lots of schedules, numbers, mini goals. I like the drive to overcome some obstacle, whether it be a time or distance, and the elation of knowing that I could have done anything that morning but instead I ran. I was so eager to have all that again this summer.

Then, one day, I felt the knee pain again. I didn’t give it much validity and ran through it. It started to be more consistent, so I took some time off. I iced. I took the foam roller to the IT Band. I did all the things that I had done previously, but the pain didn’t go away.

At first, I was in denial about what this meant and that there was a chance it could be something bigger. I pretended that I could fix it myself, but the pain didn’t let up. Finally, I set up an appointment with my primary physician, who took an x-ray and referred me to a sport’s medicine doctor. Bu

Part of me wanted it to be a tear, a clear answer to this ailment; I also knew my body and my history with this injury. I knew that it wasn’t the case. It was something harder to define, in the gray.

The sport’s physician said that I stumped him, which is far from comforting. “If there was a tear,” he said, “there is no way that you would have been able to run that marathon.” He gave me two options: get an MRI to make sure there is nothing wrong or go to physical therapy. We both agreed that it was likely something mechanical and that I should see a physical therapist.

At the very first appointment with my physical therapist she said agreed that it is a mechanical issue. “You are weak,” she said. “Your hips are weak.” So, I see her to get less weak. I do a series of exercises that make me feel both like an elementary student in gym class and a professional football player. She rubs my knee and then ices it before I leave.

Yet, it’s not getting better.

When I first saw my PT, she told me that running a marathon this fall was very possible. That was about four weeks ago and she still won’t let me do a trial run on the treadmill so she can see my running form. She tells me that I can bike or use the elliptical (gross), but not run. I could set back my progress, she says.

Not running sucks. Every day, when I see people out on the trail bopping along, I want to stab something. I miss starting my day with a run. I miss trying to talk myself out of not running but then being so thankful that I did. I miss the sense of peace and stability that running brings me.

Running keeps me sane. It’s my glass of wine at the end of the day, my long pull when I need a second to think. It’s the one thing that I do for myself because I believe that I deserve it. And, now I can’t have it.

I am going a bit bonkers because of it. There are A LOT of changes happening in my life right now, so my emotions are extra high, as evident by the length of my short, stubby nails. I need running. I need to go out and tell it how I am feeling. I need it comfort me. I need it to tell me that I am going to be OK.

Running is the one thing in my life that I don’t feel pressure to be good at or that I measure with grand expectations. I don’t need to win races or be better than people I know. I just want to simply run.

When you lose something you love, sometimes there really isn’t anything you can do but mourn that it’s gone. You can’t replace it with something else or forget what it meant to you. You just have to say that it’s sucks and hope that once day you’ll find that thing again.

Missing running is worse on days like today, a cool spring Saturday. Instead, I am inside thinking about all problems. Social media is full of photos of people running races today and I felt like I saw every single person in the city was out running when I was getting coffee this morning. I think about saying, “Screw it,” and going out anyway. Maybe it would be OK, maybe it would not.

I don’t, though, because of that twinge in my knee when I walk down the stairs or the spark of pain that awakes me in the middle of the night. Running is a gift I give myself, but I have to abstain so that I can heal. Rest is my gift now.


Part of living

The number of near panic attacks that I’ve had this week out pace the number of digits I have on one hand.

In fact, I am writing this  post, on my poor neglected blog,  because I am about to explode and need an outlet to diffuse the emotion. Even just my Spotify forcing a restart is enough to make me shout profanity into the air like there was someone out there that control little blunders like this from happening.

Why can’t the world work the way I want it to?

So what’s going on with me? Nothing out of the ordinary and nothing that deserves sympathy.

Creative projects are draining me. I took a chance on a friend that I trusted and that person took advantage of me. What I do for work and where I work are both drastically changing. Medical bills for a bum knee keep appearing in my mail box. I am trying to find a new apartment in an industry that only cares about numbers. I can’t run because of that bum knee, which often keeps me up at night. I am trying to be there for other people, but not for myself.

All of these things are part of the price to live in this world and whining about them makes me seem ungrateful and annoying.  I am not going through a big break up. I am not wading my way through an illness. I am not jobless. Hell, I am not even worried about anyone but myself. Yet, many times this week I’ve been pushed so hard that I look for outs, big ones.

When your sadness in life is stemmed from big changes at work or unanswered text messages, you think it doesn’t matter. You think your emotions are irrelevant next to the father who is spending nights in NICU or the child whose mother hasn’t worked in months. You feel ridiculous being caught up in the minute when countries are being wiped away by AIDS or, that just a few miles from where you cry at night, someone’s child is being gunned down.

So why do I want to cry or drink or hide away?

I used to think that I was special. I understood that my emotions were grand and overpowering and I thought that separated me from everyone else. I assumed that I thought differently from others, that my swell of emotions defined me.

What I have learned, though, through my current therapist is that I am not special. These emotions, insecurities, and anxieties are not mine alone, but part of the deal when we are born into this world. Yes, we all have different struggles, but we all want to be loved, to be enough, to feel good about the life we are leading. My worries feel so specific to me that I think I must defeat them alone. But I am not, because all humans feel similar struggles, which doesn’t make me feel that much better.

Yet, that doesn’t mean that I can’t acknowledge them and care for those worries. This past week I saw my therapist for the first time in several weeks. I started telling her about a situation in my life and immediately wanted to move from it because I thought I was making a big deal over nothing and it wasn’t my situation to be emotional about. I thought that I couldn’t feel pain or sadness or anything about it because I wasn’t the protagonist and the one who was had bigger worries than me. Instead, though, she made me unpack what I was feeling. She made me accept the pain I had felt and acknowledge its existence.

“You are grieving,” she said.

That word – grieving – hit me so hard in the moment that moment as I understood grief to mean more than death. We grieve when we lose someone, something, some idea. Grief is one of the hardest emotions because we often feel like we are not allowed to feel it and we try to suppress and control it. We push it down because we aren’t entitled to it. But, when I let that grief come up, when I saw that I was experiencing it in this particular situation, I realized I was feeling it in so many others.

Grief for ideas I had for my life.

Grief for the situations that I thought I understood.

Grief for people I thought others should be.

Grief for who I thought I should be.

Now I see loss everywhere and it’s not necessarily helping the situation, like last night when I was nearly in tears because I couldn’t find my keys after I had been home for a few hours. It’s in my life and I don’t really like it, mostly because I still can’t control it.

So, what can I do? As I said before, I can’t run right now and that takes away one of major coping mechanisms (I hope to write about that later because I am dying on the inside). I think about drinking, a lot, but I know that I can’t. Writing is giving me the most anxiety these days. I can’t rely on anyone else to make it better, mostly because I put expectations on people that they will literally solve my problems.

I don’t know. I think all I can do is move forward. I can put my stress into perspective but also know that my emotions matter and they are present. I can count my blessings and make more time for me. And, I can see that this is part of living and admission is worth the price.