A Sunday Morning Blog

A Road Map for Malaise

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Photo from here

I don’t like to call it depression. I suppose that some would, but it’s not a term I use to describe these somber phases. A malaise, sadness, rough emotions. They eventually pass, and I feel like myself again, but when I am in them, it feels like walking through a dark room of cobwebs. I’ve had them all my life; anything can prompt them, and sometimes they stay for a few hours and at other times weeks. I can’t rid myself of them, rather I have to ride their waves.

This recent phase started after our wedding. The month before had been filled with of joy and love leading to this one day, and then almost immediately after it was a hard crash back to reality. It felt similar to when I trained for and ran the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon; I spent months focusing on just that one event that once I crossed the finish line, in happy tears, I didn’t know what else to do. In that first week, as a married woman, my attention and evenings were free to use how I pleased. All of my friends and family returned to their normal lives. Even Ethan was busy nearly every night. The spotlight was no longer on me, and I was left with a bones-deep loneliness. I numbed myself with alcohol, junk food, scrolling, and streaming. I tried so hard to block out the voices that come in these somber times, but they were strong and confident.

You are fat.

You are wasting away your potential.

No one likes you.

Your life is going nowhere.

When I am far into these moments, I believe this voice. I don’t challenge it with facts and reality. And, the truth is, I don’t want to. It’s a dark space, but it’s a familiar one. My friend, Pity, joins me and we wallow, agreeing that I belong and live in this sadness. But, that isn’t true. At my core, I am a friendly, outgoing, bubbly individual and sometimes I just get a bit off track,. And, I have a map to get back to myself. I do know what to do in these moments, and I just have to find the energy and courage to follow the path, which is not always easy – for any of us.

Since this world can be lonely and dark for each of us, I thought I would share some of my known tricks to get me back to myself when a malise has overcome me.

Tell myself the opposite.
Whenever I am in these moods, I pick apart one aspect of my life. My ability to write, my body, my relationships. My therapist and I have spent a ton of time talking about introducing new narratives to the conversation. If I am telling myself, I have no friends, it is not rooted in truth (I do have friends, many wonderful people). Instead, I tell myself, I have the right amount of friends and I am enough. Maybe it’s a stretch to automatically accept that as truth, but I can entertain the idea. Then, that voice hurling insults is weaker.

Reach out
I am not very good at asking for help, and so this step is really really hard for me. I want to fix everything myself, or hole myself up in my house until I feel better, but I know that doesn’t work. If I am feeling lonely and insecure about my relationships, I know that the best solution is to have dinner with a friend or plan a social activity. Friendships as an adult are hard – everyone is so busy and spur-of-the-moment get-togethers are unheard of – but I have to be vulnerable and risk hearing no because I always feel better after time spent in the company of someone I enjoy.

Move
It’s amazing to how much better I feel when I go for a bike ride or swim when I am in these funks. Running used to be my go to, and so still not being able to run, I throw a bit of tantrum and don’t want to do anything. When I stop resisting, and do something that moves my body, I feel incredible.

Get off the Internet
The Internet is full of things that make me sad about myself. With every up stroke of the thumb, I am presented with a fresh opportunity to feel inferior or not enough. That person has a better career than me. That person has more friends. That person is thinner. My solution? Get off the Internet. I typically don’t keep Instagram on my phone. I re-download it a lot to post my own stuff, but anytime I log on to just browse, without fail, I feel worse about myself in about five minutes. For nearly half a day, I was in a funk based on a photo I saw from a friend that, get this, HAD ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH ME. But, that’s what happens when you are in one of these phases. It’s like when you are stressed and exhausted and you get a cold because your immune system is already compromised. My mental health isn’t that stable during a malaise so even the smallest of things can send me into a flutter. That’s why it’s just best to avoid social media during these times.

Do something that isn’t about you
The only thing that lifted my spirits after that Instagram photo was calling my representatives about the what’s currently happening at our southern borders and make a donation to a worthy non-profit. Like most people, this whole situation makes me sick and I just needed to do something, even if little. That 20 minutes getting out of my own head was enough to put me in a good mood for the rest of the day. Imagine that. 

Remember it’s all cyclical
My friend Sabia often says, “Everything is changing and temporary.” Life operates in circles and what is bad now will eventually be good. I find that to be true about most of my sad points, no matter how painful at the time. Also, about whatever non-truth I am telling myself. If I feel like failure at my job one day, I might still fee like I am crushing it the next. It’s the beauty, and heartbreak, of life.

The fog is still present, but I am strong enough to beat it, and using these tips, eventually I will get out and find myself again. I always do.

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Stolen

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My wallet was stolen last night. We were at a restaurant with a friend, and the wallet was in my purse when I entered the establishment but not when I left.

She saw me as an easy mark. She had switched seats a few times, before settling next to me. I noticed her scooting into the long booth against the wall, taking her table next to ours, as I was returning from the restroom. Our purses were next to each other, which I noted but didn’t do anything about.

I noticed the wallet was missing when it was time to pay, and I knew instinctively that I hadn’t left it on my desk or dresser. When I told the server that I think it may have been stolen in the restaurant, she nodded as if she had just solved a puzzle. “I bet it was her,” she pointed to the where the woman had been sitting. “She said she was waiting for a friend but left in a hurry after 15 minutes.”

The server was going to have the manager review the security footage and get back to me, but that really won’t make a difference in my wallet being gone.

When we got home, Ethan and I went about freezing our accounts and reporting our credit cards as stolen, which is incredibly easy. My benefits card – which includes my health savings account and pre-tax commuter funds – was the only one I couldn’t cancel on the spot, and it’s the only one she tried to use.

Other than the hassle of getting new cards and an ID, I am out a wallet that a friend gave me eight years ago before I left for the Peace Corps, gift cards to Apple and Whole Foods, and $80 in cash. I absolutely never ever have cash on me, but I took out some for the wedding and haven’t spent it yet, waiting for when I may need it. Now it’s gone.

For the last 24 hours, I’ve been thinking about what I could do differently – moved my bag to be between Ethan and I in the booth, being more aware of my surroundings, using a bag with a zipper. But all this rehashing is only a punishment, a way to scold myself and prove that I deserve these bad and unfortunate things. This is a position I have long took in my life, but with therapy, I am entertaining new narratives.

Years ago, when I was in elementary school, I got this cool peace sign shirt that I absolutely loved. It had black frills on the sleeves. I was so excited to wear it and my first opportunity came at swim lessons the next Monday. During that time, we often just put our clothes in a bag and then left them on a bench. Hey, it was a small town. When I came back to the changing area, after my lesson, the shirt was gone. Someone else decided they liked it, too. I was really upset about this – that shirt and I barely got to know each other – but my grandmother wouldn’t let me wallow. “It’s just a shirt,” she said, knowing way more about the world than my kid self did. “Besides, you don’t know. Maybe that other person needed the shirt more than you did.”

I’ve carried that anecdote with me because it’s a really nice way to look at life, a cosmic rearranging of the universe for you to help someone without really understanding why or how.

So that’s my new story. It’s not that I was careless but that maybe that woman really needed the money and sometimes we do desperate things when it comes to getting money for food or transportation or a medical bill or whatever it is she needed. I am so blessed in my life that I could lose $80 and be OK the next day. Really, the rest is just a minor inconvenience.

And besides, it could have been worse. I still have my Ventra card so I can get to work today, she didn’t get my phone, Ethan has an account that isn’t connected to me so I can live off of him for a bit, and the wallet wasn’t take by force or with weapon. It was a simple picked pocket.

Losing my wallet sucks, but it’s life and a reminder that what happens to me doesn’t matter nearly as much as my reaction to it.

Summer Bucket List

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Season bucket lists are basic, I know this, and yet I can’t help but make them every fall, spring, summer, and winter. I find them to be a good road map to enjoy the most of the time at hand before the weather change and there is new focus.

This summer is a bit monumental as it is bookend by two major life events. The beginning was our wedding and the end, well, that’s a post for another day. (I promise). Life has slowed down a bit since  wedding planning, so I really want to take the time to enjoy this season, especially in Chicago where warm temperatures are the equivalent of striking gold.

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From here

And, instead of tucking it away in a journal, I thought I would share my summer bucket list here, maybe as some sort of accountability. This is what I want to do this summer:

  • Cook and Bake: We got a ton of new food-related items for our wedding, and I really want to use them exploring the bountiful harvest of summer. Also, I wouldn’t let myself have any carbs for the wedding, so I want to make up for lost time.
  • Go for a Long Bike Ride: My hip is finally in a good place and I am almost done with physical therapy (mostly because my insurance is denying me additional appointments), however running is still far off. But, I can bike outside now and that’s a win. I am hoping to go for a long ride this summer. A couple of options would be to Three Floyds Brewery in Indianan or, since that may be too far this summer, the length of the Lake Shore Trail. I would prefer to do this with a friend – anybody?
  • Blog More: I haven’t been around these parts much lately, and I miss it. Blogging was never about views or likes for me, just a place to go when I needed to put my thoughts in the world. I love writing when I come here, and I spent so much of the last two years working on getting published that I have a distaste for writing. I want to find my happy again.
  • Day Date with Ethan and Annie to Starved Rock: I’ve lived in the city four years and have never gone. I am thinking it would be a lovely one-day trip.
  • Go Camping: We got a tent for our wedding, so why not?
  • Read More: I have so many unread books that need my love and attention, and I am tired of Netflix and Hulu.
  • Try Bumble Friends: I am really intrigued by it.
  • Take Steps to Start a Podcast: I have a really good idea for one; I just need to get over my fears and do it.
  • Make Kombucha: I could drink this stuff every day, and at at $4 a bottle, I should learn how to make my own.
  • Explore our new neighborhood: While we love our current apartment, Ethan and I decided to move to Rogers Park to save money. We found a cute two-bedroom that is near a ton of great restaurants, theaters, and my favorite market in the city.
  • Take the Water Taxi to Chinatown and then get Dim Sum: I’ve said I would do this for years and I really want to follow through.
  • Bike to Work at Least Two times a Week: That is, when I am ready to that kind of distance (we live about nine miles away from my office)
  • Swim: My gym has a rooftop pool, so I want to be there all summer.

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Other standard Chicago Summer things I want to be sure to do:

  • Cubs & White Sox Game
  • Picnic at the Beach
  • Picnic at Millennium Park
  • Eat as many meals as I can outside (our new apartment has enough of a space for a table and chairs)
  • Go to all the Farmer’s Markets
  • Yoga at Millennium (this is a long shot as I will be able to run before I can do yoga again)
  • Spend as much time on Lake Shore as Possible

So, what about you? What’s on your bucket list for the summer?

The Best Day

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As a teenager, I thought my wedding could take place at the public pool where I lifeguarded. There would be floating candles and a stringed band. Older, I wanted something more casual, maybe artisan pizzas and craft beers. At one point, I envisioned it taking place at the 50-yard line of Coughlin-Alumni Stadium.

A wedding and a husband have been long-time goals for me. Often, I’d fall asleep planning out the details – colors of bridesmaid dresses, the style of my hair – even if I did not know who would be at the other side of the aisle. For the second half of my 20s and into my 30s, I started to wonder if love and all the events that come with it were going to happen for me. Those were pretty sad and lonely times (just ask the friends I would text after two glasses of red wine). I was envious of every person who had figured love out, ignoring that their relationships likely weren’t as perfect as I made them out to be. At my youngest brother’s wedding, I was determined to show all my friends and family that I was fine being single, the last one in my family unwed. I boasted my urban life and my recent two-week vacation to New Zealand as reasons that I am doing OK, but deep down, I really didn’t want to be on my own anymore.

Three days after his wedding, I went on a date with a guy who is now my husband. It didn’t take long for the first “I love you” to come, then plans to move in together, and eventually, talks of an engagement.

When Ethan purposed, I didn’t want a wedding, at first. As I’ve said here, I know my anxieties well, and I knew that they would damper any joy trying to peak its way out. But, one fall night, while we where walking our dog, Annie, we came across a block party. Block parties are pretty common in our neighborhood of single family homes priced at $1.5 – $2 million, and while they make parking for us silly apartment dwellers horrendous, I understand their appeal. This one had white lights strung across the block, flowing bottles of something, and friends gathered to laugh and converse. That block party, along with the idea of having everyone I love in one place, convinced me that I needed to have a wedding.

My mother came for a week while I was recovering from hip surgery, and we spent that time watching episodes of “Say Yes to the Dress”, picking through bridal magazines, and putting together a plan for the wedding. Her only goal was to nail down a time of year and general location, but by the time she left, we had a date, a venue, a cater and a vision.

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Outside of the guest list, the location was the hardest part. If money weren’t an object, we likely would have gotten married in Chicago, the city where we met and fell in love. I had scoped out places along Lake Michigan, botanical gardens, maybe even a boat on the Chicago River in the loop. But, our budget and city venues fees did not match, and so we had to look at other options. While it would be special to have it in Pierre, where I grew up, it’s not an easy trip for anyone outside of South Dakota. The flight to Sioux Falls is unbelievably expensive (seriously, City of Sioux Falls, you gotta make it cheaper to get there) and then you have to drive three and half hours. I couldn’t do that to our friends. I also really liked the idea of somewhere in the woods, and because we likely couldn’t afford the California Red Woods, we look at locations in Wisconsin, something that was an easy drive from Chicago. Just a few days of calling venues add a layer of tension to my shoulders. Many places were booked or out of our price range, and we would have to arrange time to get up there and see the place. It felt like shopping for an apartment. I hated it. I knew I wanted something outside and flexible, like a backyard. Since I already ruled out Pierre, we started talking about Ethan’s parents’ house in a small town 90 minutes of Nashville.

It made sense. They had a big backyard with a gorgeous view of the sunset. Nashville is by far easier to get to than Sioux Falls. And, we could add enough white lights to have that block party feel.

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Then, we needed a date. One came to mind, and I did that thing where I start a sentence and stop midway to look something up. Sure enough, it was on a Saturday. “How about June 2?” I said. Ethan nodded his head and smiled. I had wanted to get married earlier in the year, but it seem almost perfect to get married on June 2 – the third anniversary of our first date. June 2 is the day we have celebrated our anniversary the last two years, and it was the best date for our wedding.

With the date and location secured, we set out on the other details. Shortly after we were engaged, friends suggested that we make a list of the things that really mattered to us and put more of our resources behind those things. For me, that was photography, flowers, and lighting.

Fake flowers were not really option for me, but because we were getting married in a small town and had a small bridal party, we were able to get beautiful bouquets (that ended up being bigger than I anticipated) for a reasonable price. For the table flowers, we purchased several bundles from the grocery store and placed them in antique soda bottles. Ethan’s aunt took it another level by growing and potting two dozen succulent plants.

Mood lighting is a big thing for me, just ask my husband who constantly wants to turn on the overhead light and I insist the lamp is just as good. I wanted an entire canopy of white lights for my wedding. My mom and mother-in-law were on light duty, and the holiday season came with great deals. We used the lights to set up a perimeter for the reception and dance floor and floated them through trees to create an outdoor romantic feel. We paired them with clusters of lit candles in jars as centerpieces.

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The piece that I cared the most about was photography, even more so than my dress (not by much, but still more). I’ve long been an appreciator of good photography, and to me wedding photos are the thing, besides vows, that will last the longest. In all of my wedding fantasies, I had alway picked out a friend or a former co-worker, usually someone experienced in photojournalism, to be the photographer. For the last few years, that person has been Wes. I met him through a friend of friend when I was living in Sioux Falls, but it wasn’t until after I left South Dakota that he started building his photography businesses. His photos were popping up all over the place, and I knew that I wanted him to photograph my wedding if there was ever the opportunity.

When we started interviewing photographers, I was only looking at those located in Tennessee, but since I had had the dream of hiring Wes for this specific life event for so long, I thought I would at least inquire to find out how much it would cost. Because we would have to pay for him to get to Tennessee, his fees were a bit more expensive but he was also more experienced than the others we were considering (but definitely not the most expensive of those we researched). And, the quality of his photos were higher and more consistent. But what finally convinced me was advice a friend gave me – hire someone you and Ethan would be the most comfortable around, and I knew immediately that was Wes. We he was the first vendor we officially hired.

Over the next eight months, the rest of the wedding came together. We decided on a BBQ buffet with a popcorn bar during cocktail hour and all-you-can ice cream for dessert. We asked our good friend Kera, who remembers me telling her about Ethan and saying “I am going to try with this one,” to be the officiant. And, my mother made special trip to Chicago so we could visit three boutiques and try on 15 different dresses.

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A few weeks before the wedding, I was nervous that it was going to rain. We didn’t really have a good back up plan, and so at the last minute we ordered a tent and bought dozens of umbrellas at Dollar Tree. We also made a quick order to Amazon for hand paper fans in the event it was too warm (they came in handy for the 90-degree humid day). I was also worried that we had decided to do too much DIY and it wasn’t going to come together. Once, I had a meltdown in the street while talking to my mom on the phone about how we were going to ensure cold drinks were constantly available.

Ethan and I drove to Lawrenceburg the Wednesday before the wedding, and I was a ball of nerves up until midday Friday. By that time, the forecast showed nothing but sunshine until Sunday, all of the wedding party and my family had arrived, and there was nothing left to do but the day-of-set up (which was a lot of work, but thank goodness for family and good friends willing to do the work so I could concentrate on getting ready for the day), and all of my worries were gone. We had the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner and then a small get-together with friends, all of which was the perfect lead up to the big day.

The morning of the wedding, I woke up with little sleep but not a care about it.  I wrote in my journal, had a special moment with my mom, and ate a light breakfast. My two bridesmaids, personal attendant  and I went to the salon, and then we hung out until it was time to do make up and put on my dress. My friend Mackenzie remarked how calm and at peace I seemed to be, and I really was. It was not going to rain that day, but even if it did, it wouldn’t have bothered me. Nothing was going to ruin my wedding day.

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Ethan and I talked about whether or not we would do a first look, and he initially did not want to see me before the wedding. But, that would mean we wouldn’t get to see each other until 5 p.m., and I wanted to spend the day together, so we decided to meet at a waterfall in a state park where we were taking our photos. The only time I had butterflies in my stomach was right before I saw him, but when he turned around and we were finally next to one another, nothing else really mattered.

The rest of the day was perfect. I mean, there were hiccups, but I do not care. Our wonderful wedding party and family were by our sides the whole day. The guest list ended up small, but intimate. The ceremony and sermon my friend gave was better than I could have imagined. And, the party was full of lights and flowers and dancing and giggling and joy. It was everything I could have hoped for.

I had told people that the wedding I am planning at 33 is far different than the wedding I would have had at 23, which is true but for all good reasons. It everything I wanted to be, and more. Not just for our loving guests or the perfect lighting or the amazing photography, but because I get to call Ethan my husband. All those other wedding fantasies don’t matter, because this one had him and that’s all I ever really wanted.

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All photos by Wes Eisenhauer Photography. 

 

 

Wedding Week

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The night after Ethan proposed, the two of us sat down at our kitchen table and started discussing what kind of wedding we would have. Would it be in Chicago? South Dakota? In another country? As we made lists about what kind of lighting we would have and who we wanted to marry us, I started to panic. The only vision I could muster up was me, sitting in a white dress, sitting on a bench or a table, and worrying. In this dream scenario, I was worrying about who didn’t come and the real reason as to why. I was worrying that so and so thought our decorations were cheap and gaudy. I was worrying that guests were not having a good time, therefore my relationships with them would be rocky and strained after.

As an anxious person, I knew that wedding planning would be stressful, and it has been, and not really for the reasons I assumed. Mine and Ethan’s mom took care of much of the logistics and DIYing as I gave them directions and ideas. The guest list gave me the most headache, as I wanted to keep it small while inviting everyone I knew, but eventually we figured it out. What caused me the most anxiety, though, was all the comparing.

Weddings are supposed to be this big event in a person’s life, the one day when all of your loved ones come together to show how much they love and support you. Your wedding is supposed to look perfect with touches of your personality dripped into elegance. Your wedding is supposed to be the single best day.

Supposed to, supposed to, supposed. I’ve been haunted by supposed tos.

For months, I compared my wedding, and myself as a bride, to those not just in Martha Stewart Wedding magazines, but to also weddings of friends, families, and acquaintances on Instagram. When someone RSVPed no to the wedding, I thought about how they had made the effort to travel to someone else’s wedding. I doubted how good of a friend I was because I didn’t have a gaggle of women wearing matching shirts that said “Bride’s Team” even if I did not want that at all. I worried that my wedding would be the one people talked about long after the event, and not in a good way. At every corner and decision, I found a way to compare myself to grand ideas, many not rooted in reality, so I could see that I was coming up short. Whatever definition a bride should have, I wasn’t meeting it.

But that’s just my perception, and I can change my perception with gratitude.

The wedding I am planning at 33 is by far different than the one I would have planned at 23. There are many friends that I’ve lost touched with in that decade who won’t be there, but also a whole gang of new ones who will be by my side, and many others rooting me on from afar. I’ve lost things, sure, but I’ve also gained so much. When I stop to think about all the things that are going right – a loving fiancé, incredible family who have spent hours to bring this wedding together, friends who have checked in on me to make sure everything was going well – I am not sure I need anything else. And, sure I get sucked into thinking my wedding isn’t like so and sos from time to time, but when I remember to be thankful for all the good things I have, that despair dissipates. It no longer matters, but it never really did anyway.

It is officially my Wedding Week, and I am no longer thinking about who isn’t coming to the wedding or if the guests will hate the food. Rather, I am so focused on how excited I am to marry the man I love in front of many of my favorite humans. I know, with certainty, I will not be sitting on bench worrying, rather trying to soak up all the love and joy that I possibly can. It doesn’t matter what will go right or wrong, I have everything I need.

Let It Go

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Photo from here

For more than a year, I held an infatuation for a man that did not share equal feelings for me. A piece of me understood this truth, but another piece of me, one more raw, believed that maybe one day he would change his mind. Often, I would let him get close while he kept me at a safe distance away. Anytime he let me an inch closer, I believed he was finally starting to embrace me.

Every interaction with him made me feel worse about myself. It was like eating that second piece of pizza, I knew it would not make me feel good and yet the temptation to do so overpowered my greatest sense.

One day, I wrote him a scathing message that I didn’t intend to send. I said what I wanted to say, believing he would never hear it. It was my release. Except, with a slight slip of the finger, I did send it. At first, I tried to undo my mistake, thinking scraps of him were better than no him, but then I felt a sudden rush of relief. I didn’t have to live this way.

With the bandaid half off, I ripped the rest. I told him to not contact me anymore, that I deserved better. He said he understood. Hours later, he tried to reach out again, and I told him that I was serious. It was the end.

It was a bit scary to let go of this person with whom I had held such potential, but he told me early on who he was and I did not listen. I did know if I would ever find love, but I knew I had to stop searing down his pathway.

A month and after later, I met Ethan, my soon-to-be husband. Ethan loves me in all the ways that that individual couldn’t. He supports me, nourishes me, stands beside me. I do not doubt his commitment and dedication to me, giving me the greatest gift of all – reassurance.

I have been thinking about this story quite a bit lately and the magic that comes with letting go of the things that no longer serve you. That phrase – “letting go of the things that no longer serve you” – seems like something you would see in an over-edited, over-posed Instagram photo, but there is a deep truth to it. Had I never let go of the man that kept me hanging by a thread, I would have never taken the steps to find the man who wraps his arms around me. This is relevant not just because Ethan and I are getting married in 13 days, but because I am in a shedding season.

I am letting go of friendships that reached their end a while ago, despite my unwillingness to accept that.

I am letting go of what I thought I was supposed to be.

I am letting go of my single life.

I am letting go of jam-packed weekends.

I am letting go of the impact I thought would I have on the world.

I am letting go of the pressure I put on myself.

I am letting go of the things my body can no longer do.

I am letting go of my need to keep the voice that says I am not good enough around.

But I am not just letting go, I am making room. Big, big things are happening in my world (can’t say them here yet, but I promise I will) and I am cleaning house to let new and beautiful blessings come my way. I can’t go into this next phase as who I was, so I am going to be someone I’ve never been.

Letting go is scary, and sometimes it takes us a long, long time to get there, but when we do, miracles happen.

 

 

The Mystery of Faith

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Photo from here.

I went to church this morning, which is something I don’t do as often anymore, but it’s Easter, and all good Catholics know that of all the days to skip mass this is not one of them.

It’s always comforting to me that no matter how long it has been, no matter which church I am in, I still can recite the words to the responses, offerings, and prayers. As I followed along today, four words stood out – the mystery of faith. I had said them thousands of times, but what does the mystery of faith mean? How does it show up in our lives?

And then, I thought of this story.

The news came a day earlier than expected. If it was going to happen, I thought, it would surely be Friday and the on final day of the fiscal year. But, on the Thursday, on the second to last day of the month, I got a text from my partner, Ethan, at 3:52 p.m.

I didn’t want to make you think a lot about this through the day, but I did get laid off. 

My heart sank. This is one of those big life events when things change. Some people fall into deep holes of debt and depression. Some  make it work by redefining normalcy and success. Some never recover. At that moment, it was too soon for us to see how Ethan losing his job would impact us, emotional and financially, but all the possibilities were laid out and I could only see the catastrophic ones.

We knew the layoff was coming. Ethan worked for a public entity in a state that hasn’t had a budget for three years, and a new administrator had come sweeping in with promises to get the organization back on track, which meant laying off 140 people. Ethan was the lowest man on a team, that on paper, appeared to be padded, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when his position was eliminated.

At first, the layoff was a godsend. Ethan had been applying for other jobs for months, practically since I met him. He was not happy with his work and those frustrations spilled over into his home life. After work, he set up camp on the couch, his computer propped on his lap, and staying there until it was time to go to bed. It was his way of numbing the stress of working a job you do not like. But, after he was laid off, a layer had shed and he was lighter, bouncier. Ethan greeted me with smiles at the door and offered to clean up the house while I was at work. A silly, jovial gleam had washed away the drain and he became a better version of himself, overnight.

My anxieties plucked their usual cord, specifically about money, but Ethan reassured me that it would only be a month or two before he had landed another job. With a master’s degree and 10 years of professional experience, he, and we, assumed another position would come quickly now that he could devote his full days to applications and attending networking events. We scaled back our spending a bit – staying away from big purchases, like tickets to concerts, and deciding only one of us should fly to see family instead of both – but it was temporary. That’s what we told our selves.

Before Ethan had lost his job, he had been applying to other positions and getting interviews, including for an incredible job at a well-known institution in Chicago. He was one of three finalists for that role and was fairly devastated when he did not get it. At the time it was heartbreaking, but not the end of the world because he still had a job. I told him this thing that I often repeat to all friends and family when they are looking for a job: “This just isn’t the right the job. The right one will come along.”

That phrase could be argued as straight up mumbo life coach bullshit. There are no guarantee that any job will come along, let alone the right one, and yet I said this to Ethan with a ferocity of belief. I knew this to be true as much as I knew that I would one day marry Ethan. I couldn’t explain why or how, but it just was.

About a month after Ethan’s lay off, he received a temp-to-hire job at a non-profit. The conditions of the position weren’t ideal, but he liked the people and could make it work. It was, after all, a job. We couldn’t quite relax, though, not until the temporary was removed from his title and he was hired full time. There was no reason to believe that wouldn’t happen, but we couldn’t let the air out of our held breaths quite yet.

It was clear that this was not the kind of job Ethan truly wanted. After obtaining his master’s degree, he had been hoping to steer his career in a different from his previous positions, but he was caught in the not-enough-experience-but-too-much-experience loophole. This new job was more inline with what he had done before, but again, it was a job.

One day, another Thursday, Ethan’s voice indicated something was different when I greeted him from the kitchen. He had gone to work that day, had a normal day of planning projects for the next day and three months from now. On his way home, after he got on the train, the temp agency who had placed him called and said his contract had been terminated. Without an explanation, he was told to not return the next day.

During the next five months, Ethan applied to hundreds of jobs, went on countless interviews, but an offer didn’t come. His initial optimism vanished, and a different kind of depression moved in. At most points within that period, he had prospects. Friends, former colleagues, and professors shared opportunities with him, getting him an interview when maybe he wouldn’t have otherwise. Recruiters found his LinkedIn profile and approached him about jobs that were meh but they paid. His hopes would soar at any nibble and then crash when yet another rejection came.

Me, I wasn’t handling this well. Our lives were put on hold because of his unemployment. While we are lucky enough to have parents who are offering to pay for our wedding in June, a honeymoon couldn’t be planned. We couldn’t save to buy a house let alone a new mattress. And, my ticking time bomb ovaries would just have to stay fertile until the circumstances were better. Everything felt stagnant, and not being in control and having to just wait is not something I do well. I got frustrated with Ethan, wanting him to do more and try harder, even though I knew he was doing everything he could. I wanted to jump in and fix it; if he could just hire an interview coach or get a part-time job, then we could beat this thing.

One of our darkest moments was when a neighbor complained about our dog Annie barking loudly and constantly while we were away. Annie had got so used to both of us being home all day every day (I was recovering from a hip surgery and working at home at the time), and she freaked out. We both assumed the worst from that passive aggressive note – that we were in danger of being evicted. We knew that we needed to hire a trainer for Annie, but we didn’t have the money to do that. Or, that we would have to return Annie to the shelter we got her from. We really thought we could lose everything.

More times than I want to count, Ethan and I had very challenging conversations about how were going to get out of this. His emotional health had declined, and I felt like I had a shell of a partner. I often freaked out about finances, which upset him because my worries were over that I didn’t save as much as I had wanted to that month. We were still splitting most bills, but I started paying for a few of them on my own without telling him, and when our car needed more than $1,000 worth of repairs, I paid for it. He had a nice savings that he had been living off of, but our time with that safety net was running out.

In tough times like this, doubt cracks your belief. I was no longer so confident Ethan would find that right job, and I even started to question whether or not marrying him was a good idea. I know that may make me seem like a horrible partner, and at times I did feel that way, but it was a very human reaction to this kind of hardship. I think other women, and men, in my position would have the same thoughts.

But after ever teary talk, we resolved to continue forward, together.

As I’ve gotten older, my faith is less of a raging stream that I can call upon and more of a faint trickle that I have to hunt and find. It devastated me that there wasn’t anything I could do about Ethan’s job situation, rather I would have to stand back and have faith that something bigger than us would take control. I had to believe that it eventually would all work out without any indication that it would other than my own faith.

Ethan and I were not going to celebrate Valentine’s Day. We have longed stopped going out to eat because we can’t afford it. He had an interview the week before that had led to a writing test. If he got a job offer, we decided, then we would celebrate.

At work, this time a Wednesday, he texted me.

Want to go out to dinner? 

Finally, after months of being told no – or, worse, not hearing anything at all – Ethan finally heard a yes.

And, this isn’t just a job. It’s the job Ethan wanted way back when he was in graduate school. It is the job that stood out from all the others he had applied to over the last eight months. It is the right job.

At times, it feels like it’s still not real, that there is no way that everything that was awful three months ago is suddenly wonderful. But, it is. Life can be unkind and cruel at times, but in others, it is magnificent and graceful. Even though my faith is shoddy, I have no doubt that a bigger power was at work here. It turned out too well to believe otherwise.

I love this story about Ethan because it’s a reminder that of what faith can do. It also encourages me to have faith in other things, big and small, and that faith is a much better option than fear and anxiety. Faith is mysterious because we can’t see it’s edges, but it’s also glorious because it can lead to incredibly things more beautiful than we could have imagined.

The Kind of Person I Want to Be

“Did you get the offer?” the woman said.

I noticed her because her jacket was not zipped. Having secured myself a seat on the Red Line at rush hour, at each stop, I glanced around to see who was standing in front of me. I like to do this to make sure I am not the jerk who is keeping a pregnant woman or an elderly person from sitting. She held her phone to her left ear, her jacket ajar and letting in the bitter January air.

“Oh, so you did not NOT get the offer?”

I looked at her again. Her head was thrown back, tears twinkling at the corner of her eyes.

She continued with her conversation, and I, completely ignoring my book, glanced up every few seconds. The tears were gone, but there was worry on her face as she tried to understand the person on the phone.

This put me at a crossroads. I could pretend I didn’t notice her emotion and keep reading, or I could say something. It’s easiest to ignore, right? It’s none of my business. I don’t know her. I really don’t know what’s going on.

She ended the call, saying they would discuss it further when she got home, and with one hand, began jabbing at her phone. She lifted her the device to her head again, as if she was calling someone to repeat what she had just heard. My moment to inject had passed.

There is the Bing commercial from years ago featuring brave women – Gabby Gifford, Malala Yousafzai, Margaret Thatcher – but the part that always makes me cry, even now when I rewatched, is the highlight of Antionette Tuff. When a gunman with a AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammunition walked into a school, Antionette was able to talk him down. Not a single person was injured that day. I often think about the bravery and empathy Antionette has, how there was likely a voice telling her to not get involved but she did and it saved hundreds of people’s lives.

Now, I am not sure that I have that kind of courage, but I do know that when presented with an opportunity to engage in ripe humanity and empathy, I want to be the kind of person who embraces it. I want to be the kind of person who is polite to the cashier. I want to be the person who brings you food even though you said you were fine. And, I want to be the person who comforts a stranger who is crying on the train.

A couple of conversations this past week have made me look hard at what it is that I really want in my life. I was told to name the specifics of my life three years from now: the kind of house I would own, the types of books I would write, and the joy I would embrace from being my best self. It was scary and stressing and afterwards I hunted for chocolate to ease the uncomfort.

But when that woman on the train did not enter into another conversation, the person on the other end not picking up, I knew I was given a second chance to either say something or ignore. There are times when I have not acted like the person I wanted to be, leaving friends and strangers alike alone, and I know I can’t always be there for everyone, but this moment was fresh and it was an opportunity.

“Excused me,” I said, setting my book down in my lap. “I don’t mean to be forward but are you OK?”

“Yes.

“Yes. Yes. Yes.

Yes.”

“OK,” I nodded and smiled. She paused for a second and then told me that her girlfriend was soon going to be offered a job in another city.

“It’s a good thing, but it’s also sad.”

“It is,” I replied.

Our exchanged last a few more seconds as she got off at the next top and I wished her well.

I share this story not to brag, but to remind myself of what it feels like to ignore that throbbing NO and invite the small yes into existence. I share this to remind myself that, in this way and in all ways, I have the power to be who I want to be.

2018

I’ve been in bed most of the day, watching bad movies and guzzling down water. My laundry needs to be folded, I have good library book that I should be reading, and there is always writing I could be doing, but I continue to lay under the covers. I am hung over.

Going into New Year’s Eve, it was my intention to have one or two drinks at a friend’s house, but I had more than just one or two drinks. The party was wonderful, I saw people I enjoy, and I continued to grab craft brews out of the fridge until it was late.

Since the end of my sobriety project, I have resumed a moderated drinking level, going out with friends for wine or sipping a holiday cocktail. I don’t say yes to alcohol every time it is presented to me, but also don’t refrain from indulging anymore. I do still crave to drink more than I let myself, but I can just have one.

As I lay in bed this morning, it’s been hard not to shame myself for drinking so much last night. Wasn’t I supposed to be the one who controlled her alcohol? Wouldn’t people who read this blog be disappointed if they knew that I got drunk last night? How could I let them down? How could I let myself down?

This is a new year, though, and I reject that kind of thinking. I will not torture myself by trying to be as I think others may want me to be. I will not fall into a belief that my relationship with alcohol needs to fit into a box. I will not criticize myself for having a fun, safe evening with friends and drinking a bit more than I normally do.

My biggest resolution for 2018 is to practice acceptance and stop apologizing for myself. I can make mistakes and learn from them, but I also don’t have to follow anyone else’s rules but my own.

So maybe I start the year hung over, but I do so without shame or guilt.

Here’s to a new one, friends.

The Year of Trying

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My first moments of 2017 were spent walking through the snow covered woods of northern Wisconsin. A small group of us had driven up to a friend’s cabin for the weekend, and on the morning of the new year I was the first one up so I decided to go for a long walk by myself. It was a wonderful holiday — no next day hang over, surrounded by good friends, snuggled with the man I love — a holiday I would have killed for in previous years, but yet a heavy sadness hung on my shoulders and in my throat that morning as I stomped through the snow. I had big goals for the year ahead, and I already felt like I was behind in achieving them. I hadn’t taken enough risks or been bold enough to put myself out there, but I couldn’t get where I wanted unless I did so. So, looking up at the white-topped trees and the gray sky, I made a promise to myself that I would try. I didn’t have to succeed, but I had to try.

Now, I sit in a coffee shop in northern Chicago two days before 2017 finally comes to a close, and I look back at that promise to myself. Did I truly try?

2017 was not an easy year. The political atmosphere has overwhelmed me, and some days I can’t turn on the news or social media. People are angry and quick to judge and condemn. The basics are partisan. Kindness and love are hard to find. On top of all of that, I am bombarded with guilt that I am not doing enough to fall on the right side of history. It’s not an exaggeration when I say that sometimes the headlines make it hard to get out of bed.

On top of that, though, I’ve had some personal setbacks. E lost his job several months ago, in a massive organization-wide layoffs, and it’s been unbelievably stressful for both of us. Our lives are on hold until he can find work, but every lead and flicker of hope has turned into a dead end so far. He is doing everything people have advised him to do — networking events, use connections, ask CEOs out for coffee — but no offer has come. While we are stable now, our finances look scarier and scarier each month he goes with out work. And, then there is the emotional toll of being told no over and over again. He does his best to weather each hit, but it wears us both down. E is an incredibly talented, smart individual, and it’s heartbreaking to see him passed over and over for jobs he would love as well as jobs he is overqualified to do. It’s not fair, and all the thoughts about why it isn’t fair works me into a panic. Sometimes, I take his rejection worse than he does, and then he is forced to comfort me, which makes me a horrible partner. We have had so much joy this year, from adopting our dog to getting engaged, but him not having a job has clouded the happiness.

While I am still gainfully employed, I’ve had my own rejections this year. This summer, I finished my book and I sent pieces of it to more than 30 agents. Only one responded to say she wanted to see more but later passed on representing me. I also applied to a pitch contest in which I would work with a mentor to improve my manuscript and then to agents, but none of my selected mentors were interested in seeing more. I also submitted short stories and essays to several literary magazines and contests, all of them coming back as nos. And, I started pitching editors to drum up some freelance work. Again, none of them wanted my work. I know that rejection is part of being a writer, and yes I’ve heard the stories about Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, but you can only have thick skin for so long before you start doubting your abilities. I have a long personal essay that I think has the potential, but I have delayed finishing it because I am not sure if I can handle rejection of something so intimate.

Then there is my hip issues and essentially losing running this year. Even two months after the surgery, my hip still hurts every day. I know it will get better, but it’s been a full year since the hip pain started, and I just want to hit the Lake Path and run until I can’t hear the doubt in my head.

It feels like it’s been a year of rejection: rejected from having a comfortable life where I don’t worry about an unexpected bill, rejected writing, rejected body, rejected kindness and compassion. I even thought about titling this post “Year of Rejection,” but I kept thinking about my resolution to try.

In the woods that morning, when I vowed to try, I was mostly referring to my writing, noting that I had few rejections to my name because I hadn’t aggressively submitted my work. But the try was also a bit vague. I wanted to be less fearful and more vulnerable in many aspects of my life, not just writing. I wanted to show up.

Even with all the dark parts of this year, I did try. I tried a lot. I called my senators and representatives repeatedly. I flocked to the streets to scream and make my voice heard. I donated to causes I believe in. I reached for E’s hand when it would be easier to close him out. I was his shoulder when he needed it. I counted my blessings when I could have counted what I have to go with out. I pitched editors at my favorite magazines and websites. I leaned into my truth, putting it into to words. I wrote a book and I sent it to other people to look at it. My body told me it need to heal, and I listened.

2017 was also a really good year — I was present when several of my friends got married, I took E on his first trip overseas, I gained another nephew and a new niece, I watched great movies and read inspirational books, I saw my absolute favorite band in concert, I traveled to two new countries, I got on stage and told a story I hadn’t spoke of in years, I wrote a book, E and I adopted a dog, I spent long and wonderful nights with friends and family, and I said yes to a forever life with E.

And, I did what I set out to do this year. In hard times and good, in small moments and big, I tried. I started letting myself be really seen and leaning into the uncomfortable. As the year ends, I will again try to see how all the setbacks and rejections have actually move forward. I tried, therefore, I am better than where I was.