A Sunday Morning Blog

You Don’t Belong

94db60947151dfda861b7536008f3e9a--intelligent-quotes-brené-brown

“Can I wear this to the opera?” I lifted up my arms and looked down at my own body, dressed in black leggings and a plaid shirt underneath a green sweater. My co-worker, who goes to the opera frequently with her husband, nodded slowly before we both broke out into laughter. The answer was not really.

A few weeks ago, a staff member for the mentoring program I volunteer sent an email offering discounted tickets for mentors to take their mentees to a show in mid-December. I scanned the email and assumed, based on the season, it was some kind of Christmas play, so I signed my mentee and I up to go. The day of the show, though, I read the description more carefully and realized that it wasn’t a play and it was not holiday themed. Rather, it was an opera at the prestigious Lyric Opera House. I was in a hurry to get to work that morning, but I contemplated throwing a dress in my bag and ultimately decided against knowing my mentee would be coming from schools and likely wearing jeans.

I didn’t give my dress much thought until the end of the day, when making conversation with my co-worker. I had never been to the opera or the Lyric before, and now I had a small worry that  would be undressed and out of place.

When we arrived to the theater, a large man in a top coat and cape ushering us in from the cold, we both immediately noticed the dress of those around us. Men wearing suit jackets, leather shoes, and large gold and silver watches. Women were doned in sequined slim fitting dresses and large silk skirts. At one point, a woman in a fur coat rushed past me, and I could feel the straps of my cheap backpack (which had a small stain of dill cucumber sauce from my lunch) get tighter. There were other patrons in more casual dress, but not as many as those who put in the extra effort to look different for the show than they did, say, for biology class. As we moved through the lobby, I felt eyes on my stocking cap and backpack. We most certainly stood out.

Taking our seats was a relief from the awkwardness. As we waited for the show to begin, I ruminated on how I did not belong there. I did not have the wealth or refined tastes for a woman who goes to the opera. I do not know the difference between Bellini and Puccini. And, I do not own a gown. I was faking it by being in this beautiful opera house, and not well.

Recently, E and I’ve experienced some setbacks that have changed our finances, and every day I am accosted by the things I can’t have because we can’t afford it. A membership at a nice gym, tickets to a live taping of one of our favorite podcasts, a dog trainer to help Annie with some of her separation anxieties. The other opera attenders were more representations of things I am not allowed because of money. I assumed they all had nice condos in Lincoln Park and took yearly vacations to somewhere tropical. They didn’t have to worry about shopping between the cheap and more expensive grocery story. They could go out to eat before the opera and not give it another thought. These people were not me.

The opera started and immediately I was enamored with the story, the flowing vocals and dream-like instrumentals. The music hung in the air like a thick fog, and I sat on the edge of my seat for most of the first act.

At intermission, I got up to use the restroom and was again self-conscious about my clothes. I watched women with designer blouses and skirts wash their hands, assuming they were judging me (even though I am not sure if they noticed me). That voice—the one screaming “You don’t belong here”—started up again, but this time I challenged it. Where was this idea coming from? Who says that I belong or do not belong at this opera? No one has pulled me assigned and said, “Miss, your leggings are atrocious, and you need to leave.”

No, I am telling myself I don’t belong and the interesting part is that I also get to tell myself that I do belong. I get to say that I belong not just at the opera but also on stage with those other remarkable storytellers or in my writing group or that party with fascinating people. I am the one who decides that I belong, not anyone else, and I am really tired of not belonging in nearly every place I go.

So, that was that. I belonged. I washed my hands, returned to my seat, and loved every minute of the rest of the show. Thoughts of feeling out of place did not plague me for the rest of the night.

Advertisements

To Give Thanks

IMG_3329

It’s a bright Wednesday morning, clear and sunny enough that without feeling the chilly 30-degree temp outside you would think it’s August or September. The countryside of Indiana along the Interstate is stale, but I like flat, undisturbed landscapes because it reminds me of home. I am in the back of Ethan’s car, wrapped in a Basotho blanket and Annie sleeping next to me, while Ethan drives us further into the heart of the country.We are headed to Tennessee for Thanksgiving with his family.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s sandwiched between two of the best times of the year—fall and the festive season. There are no obligations except to gather with loved ones (family, friends or both) and eat whatever foods make you feel full and content. The only demand is that you stake a minute to remember all the great things in your life and actively be thankful for them.

Growing up, my family didn’t travel much for Thanksgiving. Our extended families usually celebrated on a different weekend and my father worked in the news business which meant he didn’t get time off, so we stayed in town for the actual holiday. A family friend got wind of this and invited us over to her home, and so began a decades-long tradition. Thanksgivings at their home are some of my favorite memories, and I can track my childhood with these flashbacks. At 7, I wanted to be grownup and wear makeup like the family’s high school daughter. As a teenager, I hoped someone would offer me a glass of wine so I could prove my maturity. At 20, I felt like a child still going to these Thanksgivings, as if there were a cooler place for hip people to go and I was not invited.

Because we spent most of our Thanksgivings in my hometown, traveling for the holidays seemed like a treat and it represented something larger about how I lived my life. In college, going home meant a long-break from classes and the informal high school reunion at the small town’s dive bars. During the three-hour drive from school to my hometown, I practiced what I would say to high school classmates when we were both waiting for a drink at the bar or to use the bathroom and they asked me what I was doing. I wanted them to think I was different, that I had outgrown their perceptions of who I was in high school.

My first Thanksgiving out of school was during the brief time when I lived in Idaho, and I decided to take a train from Salt Lake City to San Francisco to visit a friend doing AmeriCorps. The train was long, but full of interesting people. I met one woman who carried a yoga mat attached to her backpack and worked at an outdoor adventure camp for troubled youth. Her life seemed to have more meaning than mine. Then, in San Francisco, I had a full turkey dinner with other volunteers (which I am now only realizing was foreshadowing to the Thanksgivings I spend in the Peace Corps) who were all far from home and better off for it. Even though I had only been at my job for five months, I started to question my decision to rush into a career after graduation.

Then I moved back to South Dakota and spent a few years taking the same stretch of Highway 14 home for the holidays that I did when I was in college. This made me feel utterly pathetic. Driving a few hours home is what most people I knew did, and I took that to mean I was average and plain. If I was traveling by airplane, or not even able to make it back, then that would mean that my life had taken a sharp left somewhere. I wasn’t the person everyone expected me to be if I was rushing through an airport to get to my connecting flight, and when I would run into those high school classmates I could bolster that I lived somewhere that required air travel to get home for the holiday and somehow that would make me better than them.

Eventually, my life did take that turn and I spent four Thanksgivings in African countries (one in Niger and three in Lesotho). Most of the time, I celebrated with other volunteers, whether it was at the Peace Corps hostel in Zinder or at the house of the American ambassador to Lesotho. My last Thanksgiving in Lesotho came a week before the official end of my service, so I stayed in village and spent the day hanging out with my host family. I posted something on Facebook about having my fourth Thanksgiving in Africa and an old friend commented about how surprised he was in the direction my life went and that he was glad I didn’t settle. It was a backhanded compliment, but I beamed.

I didn’t go home for my first Thanksgiving back in the U.S. Because I had to work the next day, so I had dinner with my roommate at the time and a casual friend (both of whom I no longer speak with). I missed my family so much that year, and I holed myself into an “I am All Alone” cave for most of the day.

I’m terrible at acknowledging the blessings in my life. A million wonderful things could be happening to me and I chose to focus on the one thing that is slightly off. I am the woman who goes to Paris and my attention is absorbed with how fat she will look in pictures (that’s true), or the one is surrounded by her closest friends but takes note of who isn’t there (again, true). Every Thanksgiving, I tell myself I am going to be more thankful for the little things, but it’s a habit that never sticks. I look back at these Thanksgivings because, while all of them hold special memories for me, in each of the them are tainted by remembrance of what was missing. Even on my favorite holiday, I couldn’t be fully present because I was obsessively noting what was wrong.

On the day before Thanksgiving 2017, I have a lot of worries. Some are inconsequential, such as trying to get a trial appointment with the salon that I want do my hair for my wedding, and others more complicated, worries deep enough that I am refraining from posting them on the Internet. I could list them all out on piece of paper and point to them as reasons why I have little to be thankful for this holiday.

But then I look up from my computer, seeing my napping dog and my fiancé focused on the road, and I am not sure how I got so lucky over the years. When it comes down to it, I am lucky for the basics—a place to live, a job, money to cover an unexpected bill and my health—but also the things that are not given, such as some writing success, an upcoming wedding and friends and family that go out of their way to show how much thaey love me. I have so many good things in my life that I don’t take the time to acknowledge.

This year, I am going to try something different. When tomorrow comes, I will not let myself think about what is missing or could be better in my life. Those thoughts will likely come regardless if I invite them to, but I will lightly dismiss them, without shame, and continue counting all the blessings I have, big or small.

I can’t guarantee that this will become a daily habit, but I am going to start with tomorrow. I will practice gratitude in each moment, and then maybe try again the next day.

You Don’t Like Me, And That’s OK

IMG_3094

On Friday night, Ethan and I met up with friends for dinner and a show, and it was really special to me because I haven’t been out of the house much in the last six weeks. I was so excited for the evening that I put on a dress and heels. The food and show were wonderful, but the best part of the evening was laughing and catching up with our friends. Walking up to our apartment at midnight, I had a big smile on my face until I saw Ethan stop at the door. He threw is head back and said, “You have to be kidding me.”

I’ve expected this for some time, to be honest. Maybe it was really a matter of time or maybe I manifested this action with my worry, but it happened. Taped to our door was a very passive aggressive note from an unsigned neighbor and an article about separation anxiety in dogs.

Our puppy, Annie, is a wonderful, friendly dog, but she does not like being left alone in the house. She whimpers and barks, occasionally destroying whatever is in the kennel with he, like a blanket or toy. Ethan and I know this is a problem, and it really does stress us out, but we’ve been unsure how to handle it. The situation has gotten worse because, since my surgery, both Ethan and I have been home with her all day every day for six weeks. She loves us, but she erupts into anxiety when we are gone. We’ve tried music on in the background, keeping her in a room instead of the kennel, and giving her enough treats to forget that we are gone. None of it truly works. We’ve figured that it takes about 20 minutes for her to calm down, and then she is OK. It’s not ideal, but we have to be able to leave our house, so we leave with her crying and hoping she’ll calm down soon.

Well, apparently our neighbors are not a fan of her barking. My guess is that she cried for some time on Friday, calmed down, and then started again for a few minutes at a pretty late hour. This prompted the passive aggressive note and a deep panic for Ethan and I.

Ethan and I have had some big life setbacks the last few months, and while we are trying to work through them, our emotions are a bit high. This note made both of our minds run wild. Our neighbor could report us to the landlord, who might say we need to get rid of the dog or we move out. We are not in a position to move right now, but Annie is our family so we can’t imagine getting rid of her. While we completely understand where are neighbors are coming from, this felt like yet another blow in a series of tough events.

The next day, we started making a plan to how we were going to handle Annie, in both the short-term and long-term. We made promises to each other and already started to do some exercises with her. Even so, neither one of us could stop thinking about that note. I ended up throwing it away, but I have it memorized. Because I do not know the sender, I can’t have a conversation with the person so I have no idea if their words were a polite suggestion or angry and spiteful. I don’t know the tone or the intentions behind it, just that someone in our building doesn’t like us.

Even if we curb Annie’s barking (which she only does when she is alone), our relationship with our neighbors will likely always be strained. It’s kind of what happens when people live in close quarters and don’t actually have a relationship with each other. The opposite is true of another neighbor whose dog we found roaming in the back alley and brought into our place until she got home—that neighbor and us we’ll have a general positive relationship until we move out.

Knowing that someone doesn’t like me is my greatest agony. Throughout the entire day, I kept telling myself, “If they only knew what what we were going through” and I jumped back and forth from wanting to defend myself to hating them. I thought that if I could give my side of the story we could patch tensions between us. The truth is, though, even if we were able to talk to the neighbors, they likely wouldn’t magically be upset at us for having a barking dog that disturbs them. We are just their neighbors, not close friends or family, so they don’t owe use that slack. They could be understanding, but maybe their patience is worn too far. Just like they don’t know what’s going on in our lives, we don’t know what stresses and pain they are experiencing.

While I think it is good to do what you can to repair relationships around you, there are times when people will just dislike you. Ethan and I may be the neighbors that this person (or persons) complains about with friends on social media, and I have to be OK with that. It’s not that I want to be disliked, but I think far too often I spend good energy trying to patch things over with people that don’t matter. I can work with my dog to make her a quieter neighbor, but making her less anxious when I am not around is more important to me.

This may seem like a selfish attitude, but my obsession with pleasing other people and getting them to like me has left me empty and wasted. I never want anyone to be mad at me, but I also can’t control how people react to me and my actions. I’d much rather put more effort and bravery into resolving a conflict with a co-worker or friend, than I would someone I don’t know. I can still try my best to be a good neighbor, but I can’t make everyone like me. So, I have to move through the world knowing that someone doesn’t like me and try not to desperately fix it.

It’s OK for me not to be liked by everyone. That is not an indication of who I am as a person, just that I am human.

The After

Mangan_Photo Sample 4

It’s the middle of the day. I have no where to be, and no pressing task is demanding my attention and energy. Ethan is asleep on the couch with Annie, and it’s the kind of cold day that beckons for cuddling and relaxing.

And, yet, my mind won’t stop racing. I should be working on that newsletter. I should be editing that essay. I should be working on wedding planning. I should organize the spice cabinet. I should clean the tub.

I try to take a nap, but I toss and turn before giving up. I scarf down a piece of dark chocolate, even though I am not hungry after a big breakfast. I pick at my nails. I scroll through social media. I do all the things I usually do when I am trying to shove down emotions.

It’s been 37 days since my surgery, and the tough parts of recovery are behind me. The constant nausea and lack of appetite from the narcotics, the sleepless nights because of the loud ice machine and uncomfortable Styrofoam boots I had to wear to prevent blood clots and turning on my side, and the inability to move from room to room without the help of another person are all over. I am still on crutches out in public, but that will end in a matter of days.

Soon, I will return to normal life.

But, for the last two weeks, a panic has undercoated my days, because I do not want my normal life back. This fear of returning to what was is the reason that my long nails from a month ago are worn down to stubs, that I break into tears every three to four days, and that I all I want to do at the end of each night is turn on a dull movie to numb my feelings.

For months, I have felt strung out and worn down. Part of that is keeping a busy schedule of volunteer commitments, work, social activities, and creative endeavors, but also my exhaustion comes from constantly doubting myself and my role in this world. I never feel like I am doing or giving enough, mostly I just don’t feel like I am enough. These feelings have led to two years of self-exploration that have included: months researching grad school programs to ultimately deciding against it; begrudgingly writing a book that many, many agents declined to represent; a year of sobriety that failed to meet expectations; going to a church different than the one I grew up in but still unsure of it; juice cleanses and elimination diets; the overconsumption of self-help books, spiritual podcasts, and inspirational Instagram accounts; and so many Sundays spent dealing with a rumbling anxiety that I couldn’t figure out how to treat or soothe.

My surgery presented a break from work and my other commitments, but also a pause to the “shoulds” and to-dos. During this time in recovering, I wouldn’t force myself to write or pitch editors and agents. I could forget about my career path and what I wasn’t doing to help it along. Errands and chores could fall to the wayside. My only obligation would be to take care of myself, and let the rest go. Going into the surgery, even Ethan understood what this meant for me. “I am glad you are having this,” he told me. “You need downtime.”

The hip arthroscopy was a success. The only hiccup to the whole day was that we were a bit late due to traffic. The procedure only lasted a couple of hours, and after two more for recovery, I was sent home with an ice machine, a bag full of drugs, and three small incisions on my upper right hip. I slept most of the first two days, waking up to take meds and sit in my CPM machine (which slowly moved my leg for four hours a day). Even the days following, when I was more awake, I watched movies with my mother and talked wedding plans, sometimes writing or answering text messages from friends.

About 10 days after the surgery, I went back to work. I couldn’t move much, but I could work from my bed and couch and so I did to save my sick leave. Soon enough, people started asking to me to write this or send that, and I said yes. After work, often more than the normal 7 hours, I pitched story ideas to editors and worked on ways to get published. I started to feel the stress and scramble of becoming enough again.

The pain has forced me to slow down. Ethan and I bought tickets for a show, but he had to go alone. I’ve missed stortyelling shows, panel discussions, and other events happening in the city. Even this weekend, my hip was causing me so much pain I had to miss a birthday party that I really wanted to attend. Sometimes, I didn’t leave my house for days, only seeing Annie and Ethan. I’d be so sick of my walls that I’d just walk down the stairs to smell the fresh fall air, and even then I would be tired after two flights down and two flights up. The slower pace hasn’t been easy, but I need it, and more than just to heal.

It will be months before I can return to normal physical activities, such as running and yoga, but once I am off crutches I no longer have an excuse to escape my daily life. I will return to working from the office, which means at least 90 minutes of my day will be eat up with a commute, stop relying on Ethan to do all the household chores, and resume my commitments. I won’t be able to spend Saturdays lying around reading books or watchings silly movies. The “shoulds” and to-dos will take me hostage again, and I will lose my breath trying to chase enough.

Just writing this brings tears to my eyes. I do not want to go back to where I was two months ago. I don’t want to wish every day away until the weekend for it only to be spent running from thing to thing.

Well, this is my life, and I can be in control of how I spend it. The last few weeks, breaking down into tears and mindlessly eating, had proven to me that I need to make some changes. Some external, others internal. Some easy, others hard. Some can be made now, others may take several months. Either way, I can’t keep going down this path, which means I gotta turn a corner or two.

Making these changes is going to require vulnerability and courage, humility and strength. I am going to have to ask for help while also disappointing people. I will have to stop letting other people and external comparisons dictate my choices. I am going to have to listen to the quite inner voice and follow only that one.

The good news is that I have done this before. Sometimes I look back on my life and feel like I’ve spent most of it lost and wandering aimlessly, but that’s just a story. The truth is, when it has mattered the most, I’ve put in the determination and the grit to make a change, and it’s lead to some beautiful things. The greatest example of this was when I was living in Sioux Falls eight years ago. I was so, so unhappy. I gave my heart to someone who didn’t deserve it, I trusted people who disregarded me, I emptied my savings trying to make a dream work, and I was failing at nearly everything I tried. But, I dug in harder, and a year later I was living in a dusty hut in rural Niger, happier than I could have ever thought possible.

I probably won’t back to rural Africa (but wouldn’t be that great), but I am committed to leading a life that brings me joy. That may mean different things on different days, but finding joy is my goal.

There are no absolutes in life. You don’t make changes and then happy forever, and you aren’t sad and scared forever, either. Seasons change. We may keep finding ourselves roaming, but if dig down deep, we know how to find our way.

It’s time for me to dig down deep again. I refuse to return to my old life, rather I will start a new one.

What gets me through

A few hours ago, I was crying in the shower.

I cried again, curled up with the covers over my head.

Again, when I was finally able to tell Ethan all the demented dark thoughts that had been lingering in my head since about noon.

This is what anxiety looks like. It strangles your life at inconvenient times and you can fight back, but your only real defense is time.

Ethan and I talked through our frustrations, individually and as a couple, and we looked at our own faults but also noted what we can’t change. I quoted Oprah and we both declared our next right move for the evening. Our storms passed, and we both could smile and breathe again.

Treats were in order, for both of us, after fighting our inner demons. We each turned to chocolate and something mindless to watch. When I recover through an anxiety episode, I am quick to give myself whatever I need to restore my courage and energy for the next day.

For a long time, I turned to alcohol during anxious moments believing I needed it get through those prickly emotions. I swore that I deserved it. And so I drank and drank until I was numb, thinking I had persevered when really I just pushed it all down and not dealt with it, like an overstuff closet.

There are a few bottles of wine in my cupboard, along with a small bottle of champagne. They have been there for more than a year. As I was hurling insults at myself, I thought about opening one of them, letting the alcohol soothe me. I am allowed to drink now, I could do that.

I didn’t though. I stayed sober through the fight, and when it was done, I told myself I could celebrate with a victory pour. But when I went to the kitchen, I reached for a La Croix instead.

My year of sobriety is over, yes, which means I don’t have to refrain from drinking when I want to. And, yet, I know that I don’t need alcohol to get me through my anxiety, or even celebrate when I’ve outlasted it. I can beat it on my own, and that’s celebration enough.

 

Week 52: The End

IMG_8994

I haven’t written in days. In part because I feel defeated by the rejection and silence my submitted pieces have evoked, and in part because I am lazy and uninterested in chasing the heartbreaking muse.

But, at some point, I knew I was going to need to post to this blog. The other evening, as I was slathering a flour tortilla with hummus for dinner, I started to think about what I would say to mark the end of my sobriety project. Then, I thought about what I didn’t have the courage to say, and I decided that’s exactly what I needed to write about.

My one year of sobriety ends October 10, on my 33rd birthday, but when that day comes I will be heavily intoxicated with pain medications after my hip surgery. This detail has lingered around the internal conversation I have with myself about whether or not I will drink at the end of my year. It occurred to me that I could cut the year short

Last weekend, one of my dearest friends from Peace Corps Lesotho was getting married in Denver, and I knew that, as devoted beer lovers, she and her soon-to-be-husband would have ample amounts of quality beer on hand for the celebration. I polled a few friends about this scenario: I could end my year of sobriety with my Peace Corps friends (my greatest drinking buddies) and good beer, or I could continue to wait out until the deadline and decide from there. All but one told me to go for it.

Leading up to the weekend, much like in Italy, I was really unsure if I wanted to drink. Maybe I needed more time to be sober, maybe I was letting down those who had rooted me on in the last year by drinking, or maybe I was stunting my self discovery if I so easily turned back to drinking. I flipped the choices back and forth, like a coin, and decided to make a decision on the spot.

The Friday wedding weekend welcome was at a brewery, but I didn’t even look at the menu. I was so enthralled with catching up with my Peace Corps friends that I couldn’t break myself away for five minutes to order a drink. At the end of the evening, most people were a happy buzzed and I was drunk with endorphins.

The next day, when two of my friends and I were getting ready for the wedding in a hotel bathroom, they offered me a glass of prosecco in a beige mug. I took it. Over the next 12 hours, I had exactly five drinks and was far from the dizzy drunk that my Peace Corps friends know of me.

I debated sharing this because I am worried what you all will think. Maybe you are disappointed in me, that I caved into drinking at a wedding, that I am starting myself back on a slippery slope. Or, maybe you are excited that I can now finally return back to my three-beer self. I don’t know how to tell you this, but I am not sure I am going to be either of those.  I wish I could come to this blog and write something inspirational and definite about how I feel about my year of sobriety and where I will go from here, but I don’t have that clarity. All I can say is that I was sober for a year, then I had some drinks that I don’t regret, and now I will likely be sober for the next few weeks while I am recovering from surgery.

One of my close friends who doesn’t drink asked me if I planned to drink again, and I told her that I wish I could drink like her, just one or two here and there, but I wasn’t sure if I could.

“You can,” she said.

I didn’t believe her, but after this weekend, I am wondering if she is right.

By the time you read this, I will have had my hip surgery. I am planning to go dark in the next few weeks and only focus on healing, physically and emotionally. I have a stock pile of books, multiple away messages set up and a freezer of ice cream. I am not committing to anything other than recovery. My body and my heart need it.

Maybe I will gain some introspection on my year of sobriety and what it means for me after time passes, but right now I don’t have answers. I am not sure if I will order a glass of wine when I am out with friends, or if I will go on to be sober for another year. The only thing I can say is that I need to make that decision for me. I need to not take anyone else’s opinions into thought, not even my own shoulds, but listen to my realest self and move where she tells me to go. To do that, though, I got get quite so I can listen.

For now, I just want to say thank you for following along on this journey and offering more support than I had ever anticipated. Sometimes you’ve been the only thing keeping me going, I plan to pay that love and encouragement forward. Thank you.

Week 50: Lost

IMG_8937

I missed my stop.

Only as the train pulled out of the station did I realize I was supposed to get off there. Surprisingly, I wasn’t paying attention, not because my head was buried in my phone (like it is often), but because the sky stole my focus. 

Through the train window, I watched the sky stay consistent and vast as the world below it morphed from building to bridge to building. I was not in a neighborhood that I knew, but the unwavering blue welcomed me anyway. It was the kind of sky you would expect in late August, clear and high with so much sun that I could take off my sweater and only wear a thin-strapped tank top. 

At the next stop, I got off to catch the next train going where the direction I had just come, and to get to that opposite tracks I needed to cross a sky bridge. Perched above the West side, I could see the cluster of buildings that made up downtown Chicago. Nothing else around me looked familiar and I wouldn’t know where to go if I exited the station, but the sky will still gloating. I had given myself enough time to get to my appointment and reveled in the extra few minutes to study the sky, as if it was a piece of acclaimed art.

That Cerulean blue – stiff yet comforting – reminded me of the sky in Lesotho and fetching water from a sometimes-working pump near my rondaval. Situated on a slight incline, waiting for a thin stream to fill my 25 gallon buckets, I looked out into the full sky, above the valley of rocks and trees below it. It held such promise, that sky. I’d think about my upcoming vacation, what I would accomplish that day, what I could be in the duration of my lifetime. It was as if the heavens were telling me that I was just fine and that I would be OK.

The sky in Lesotho was so captivating because I could specifically link it back to when I was a kid, sitting inside and watching TV on beautiful days. I remember wishing and wanting to be somewhere else – like on tire swing over a lake in a forest or on the boardwalk of a coastal town – and hoping that if I wished hard enough those dreams could come true. The sky I imagined in those dreams was the same one I saw in Lesotho, then in Chicago. Sometimes, I wish I could go back and tell that little girl not to worry so hard, because one day she would go to boardwalk cities, lakes in forests and rural villages in Africa.

My train arrived, but I could no longer watch the sky like a movie because the car was full of festival goers. Instead, I started thinking about being lost. I felt unsure about myself and my future during those summer days as a girl, then in Lesotho and even now. Actually, there are few times when I didn’t feel lost in my life. Once a friend told me that she has never felt lost, and I know she was saying it to make me feel better, but I got the sense that that meant there was something wrong with me. But, as I go through life, I see that many of us don’t know what we are doing. We make decisions and trust that it will lead to our true path, even if we don’t quite know what that is.

Eventually, I got to my appointment, the sky guiding me on a short walk alongside a busy road. The world above us is miraculous like that; we change, it changes, but it never abandons us. I arrived at my destination a bit later and not in the way I had originally intended, but that’s OK because I made it. I always make it.

 

Week 49: Put your head down

3.24.2015

The rain started midway through my short run. Light at first then heavy, like all weather in Chicago. In the hour and half between work and a social engagement, I decided steal away a quick run. The clouds at 5 p.m. were dark and cotton like, and I knew was gambling with Mother Nature by trying to be outside for longer than 15 minutes and yet I wanted to take my chances. Knowing that my upcoming surgery will sideline me from running for several months, and feeling stressed about the procedure, I needed the endorphins to calm my nerves. 

The rain pounded down, and the walking path emptied of tourists and bike commuters. It was me and the rain. The front of my teal t-shirt darkened, my hair wetted to the point of dripping, and I stuck my phone down my pants in attempt to keep it dry. 

When the weather sings during a run, there isn’t much I can do.I have to get home somehow, and without a wallet or keys, my only option is to go the way I came. The rain soaks, the wind thrashes, and I lower my head. I dig my heals in and keep putting one foot in front of the other, like I am trying to finish a 100-mile race through the desert instead of the last mile in a casual run. It doesn’t matter how slow I go, though, I feel heroic. Other runners may seen the rain as a good enough reason to stop, but I am out there daring Mother Nature to give me more.

I always feel a bit better when I can outlast Mother Nature, and this weekend I needed the confidence boost. Most days, I couldn’t get myself to a mental calm, and I tended to start the morning lethargic and without emotional energy. I questioned big pieces of my life and what may need changing. I don’t know where to start and what direction to head. Mostly, I feel overwhelmed.

Part of it came from making preparations for my surgery. I have spent most of my life very healthy, something I love bragging to doctor’s about during check ups. This surgery changes that. Although the procedure is routine and I should bounce back just fine after a few months, my body isn’t as resilient as I once thought it was, and as I get older, I know it will continue to falter me. That scares me. I’m also terrified about being put under and that the recovery will be harder than I am anticipating.

Also, I feel defeated in my writing ambitions. For the last several months, I’ve been pitching stories to websites and magazines, submitting pieces to literally, and sending portions of my manuscript to agents. This week, I got a rejection letter nearly every day. I know, I know, that’s part of the process. Yes, I have heard the story about Steven King’s Carrie being rejected 30 times, how he threw it away, and his wife fished it out and convinced him to send it to one more editor. Or, how JK Rowling received “loads” of rejections before a publisher took on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I know that all writers get more no’s than yes’s, at first, but it still stings and makes me question my talent. (Also, to note, my book is no where near as good as HP or anything Stephen King has written.)

Out running in the rain that day, thinking about my failures, I remembered the Orpah quote and how running often mimics life. There are times when things are challenging for reasons beyond your control, and you can’t fix it – in fact, fixing it only makes it worse. Rather, you have to endure because it’s the only way through.

I am feeling off today, as I tend to do on the weekends. I get in these funks when I feel like my contributions are small and worthless, and I don’t know what I am doing. As I prepare for a new week, I know that I can outrun this storm. I just got put my head down and keep going.

 

Week 48: What Serves You

IMG_8535As you may have noticed, posts on this blog lately haven’t been as consistent as the weekly content I initially promised when I announced my year of not drinking. While I have found joy in writing this blog, posting once a week was adding unnecessary stress to processing and feeling out my sobriety. I wasn’t reaping anything from that blog schedule. So, I decided to write only on the weeks I had something to say.

For most of my life, I have gone out of my way and stressed myself out doing things I thought I should or needed to do because someone somewhere, sometimes myself, said it had to be done. I also participated in behavior that was destructive or stagnant out of habit. As the fad in spiritual pop culture, though, I want to get more intentional with my actions, and that means letting go of things that no longer serve me.

That idea, dropping what doesn’t serve you, has sort of been played out in memoirs, yoga classes and uplifting Instagram posts, but it’s only something I am starting to take seriously. For far too long, I’ve put energy into things and people that brought back little in return.  That feels like a wasted life to me.

Only posting when I feel good about the blog I put together is a step in that direction. I’m also learning to let go of friendships that aggravate me or make me feel bad about myself, and I’m trying not to let worry and panic consume my thoughts when a friend doesn’t return my message.

There are a lot of things in my life currently not serving me – some I am willing to admit, others I am not – but I don’t think this is a sweeping gesture like spring cleaning. It’s a practice and what’s best for me in any moment can change. My only goal is to notice when I am not feeling fulfilled and energize by something and then having the courage to let it go.

I am interested to hear from my readers – what are you giving up that no longer serves you? How is it going? Do you have any tips for me?

Week 47: Fair Enough

16-cheryl-strayed-quotes-that-will-make-you-re-evaluate-your-life-on-life-2

At 6 a.m. Thursday morning, in a card that was halfway slid into an opening parking spot about a block from my house, hot tears streamed down my cheeks as I thought about how un-freaking-fair life is. The universe was throwing me too many little disappointments that, I felt, were unwarranted.

Twenty minutes earlier, I had left my house in anticipation of spending a 12-hour day at a video shoot for work in the suburbs. I went to a nearby Starbucks before I got started on my journey, sort of looking forward to the morning drive of coffee and NPR, but before I got out of the car I noticed that my wallet wasn’t in my purse. I called E in a panic, hoping I had left it on a table in our apartment, but he couldn’t find it. I drove back home, put my flashers on in a tow zone and ran upstairs for 10 minutes. I came back down to the car with no wallet and a parking ticket for $200 stuffed under the windshield wiper. And, I was going to be late to the shoot.

My bad luck in the moment seemed really unfair and part of a bigger set of circumstances in which I was on the losing end. This week, I received several writing contest rejections and passes from literary agents, including one that had been interested in my work and asked to see the whole manuscript. I had put my writing out in the world, and the world was pushing it back to me.

The “why me” song played again this morning when I was out for a run, a small three miles. Most of the runners out on the Lake Shore Path this morning looked to be in marathon training, with team jerseys and water belts for long runs. I also came across a staging area for Sunday’s triathlon, as fit people hauled bikes to and from the transition spot. My hip tinged with pain and I knew I needed to turn my casual, non-training run around and head for home. My breakfast didn’t feel earned

Why can’t my hip not be torn so I can participate in endurance events like marathons and triathlons? Why can’t my writing be chosen to be published and celebrated? Why did I have to get a ticket when other cars are parked in the tow zones for hours without receiving so much as a hand slap?

When I am my unhappiest in life it’s usually because I am wishing for things to be what they are not. I am pissed at the universe for dealing me a shitty card and longing for what others have. I want everything to be perfect, and when I don’t get my way I get sad and sulky.

But, this attitude isn’t really working out for me. Over the last several months, a general malaise has hunger over my days. I feel stuck, uninspired, not particularly happy. I daydream about making changes – location, career, lifestyle – hoping one of them will be a quick fix. The problem, though, is that this feeling is not new. I can pinpoint these exact emotions to other times in my life: right out of college when I was living in Idaho and working at a newspaper; the year I lived in Sioux Falls and was running The Post; in Lesotho, most days; and during those short months in D.C. I moved around, changed jobs, and tried to yoga, run and zen my way out of my feelings. What I never did was stay and work through that shit.

In these moments when unfair creeps into my vocabulary, I started to try to imagine that I chose this specific set of circumstances. I decided to lose my wallet, tear my labral, collect rejection letters and an acquire a $200 fine from the great City of Chicago. This is exactly what my life needs to be right now.

Then, I like to remember all the good things surrounding the unfairness, such as how I was able to locate my wallet at an ice cream parlor and it was returned to me with everything, all the funds in my accounts, in tact. Or, how someone I love was going through some health issues and all results came back clear. And, how a good friend came to visit me for a few days and we had a great time exploring Chicago together and catching up. Also, that my life is full of good people and places, and when it comes down to it, I can pay that fine, I still love writing, and even three miles of running brings me immense joy.

Yeah, life isn’t fair, but that’s a fact and I am tired of wasting energy in not accepting it as so. Things get hard, but then they change and are easy for a bit. I don’t have everything I want in life, but I have everything I need now.