Butterflies in Waiting

Monarch Butterfly Numbers Rise Dramatically - Texas A&M Today
Photo cred.

A butcher’s knife met the edge of my middle finger last night and left a fleshy wound.

I was cutting sweet potatoes with a blade that probably wasn’t sharp enough for the job (or maybe it wasn’t the right kind of knife, I don’t know, I always say I will eventually learn how to properly cut vegetables), and it slipped from under the orange vegetable, catching a piece of my finger. Home alone, I winced in pain as I tried to get it to stop bleeding enough to bandage it up.

It was a small cut. Deep, sure, but not unlike others my body has seen in its 36 years of life. Even though I would recover, and my finger would go back to normal, I was still annoyed. It wouldn’t prevent me from engaging in daily activities, but it would make things harder, like untangling my hair in the shower, typing notes, or doing the dishes. This morning the finger throbbed having developed its on pulse-like beat.

Yet, there wasn’t much I could do. I would only have nine fully functional fingers until time and the human’s reparative system did their job of growing new skin to close the gape. Till then, I wait.

Waiting is an essential part of being human, but it doesn’t come to us easily, especially since technology has programmed us to need everything as soon as possible. We can get food, dates, and air fryer within hours. We are sold on the idea that waiting is for losers, and throw enough money at something, and you won’t become one.

There are some things that take time, though. We can’t rush them or press the 15-seconds forward button. We have to let the process go on, no matter how long it takes.

I am stuck in a perpetual wait. OK, perpetual is a strong word, but sometimes waiting feels endless. You are so deep into the time between that you can no longer see either the beginning nor the end. It’s a void without an exit. Waiting is worse when combined with uncertainty. It’s not nearly as tough waiting for a pizza to arrive as it is for results from blood work.

For me, it’s not just one thing I am waiting on, but several big, life-changing things that have no specific answer . What my husband and I will be doing for work, where we will be living, what our family will look like. These waits are ones I’ve endured for two and half years, since we got married, I started school, and my husband suffered an unexpected job loss. I’ve held my breath month-to-month, waiting for some kind of relief to come in, for things to be easier, and that has yet to happen. We had a small bit of relief last winter but a pandemic swiped away that safety net before we could unroll and hang it up.

However, the tide is changing. I am eight weeks away from graduation and 10 from finishing my internship; with a master’s and being eligible for licensure, I am finally to embark on my new career, finding a job that pays more than $0. Our lease expires in July, and we’ll not be renewing. We chip away at our other big goals, identify plans (costly ones at that) and send out as much intention and interest as we can, hoping something will come our way.

This all should be exciting, but rather I am a burned-out stress ball. One person should not be on the precipice of this many life changes, specifically not a person who is working three jobs, two months away from graduation, and preparing for two comprehensive exams next month.

Not to make another running metaphor, but it really does feel like mile 18 of a marathon. I’ve come so far in this journey, but the hardest parts—the truest tests of grit and strength—are still to come. The only difference is that in the marathon, if you keep putting one foot in front of another, you’ll eventually get to the finish line. Nothing here though is guaranteed, not even my degree (although something would have to go terribly wrong for me to not graduate, and even my anxious brain won’t entertain that worry).

And, so I wait. Then, I breakdown. I numb with crappy TV. I return to a calm-ish state. Breakdown again. And keep waiting.

A friend stopped into the retail store where I work the other day. In seven minutes, I blurted out a quick life update, listing all the big things hanging in the balance. It was probably a lot for a short, casual visit, but I was just so happy, and hungry, to see a real-life friend that it all came tumbling out of me. Later in the evening, I texted her how refreshing it was to see her, and she responded saying the same and that I was going to emerge as a butterfly with all of our upcoming changes.

What a beautiful sentiment, and it made me wonder if caterpillars know what’s in store for them. Do they know when they’ll shed their cocoons? Do they know they’ll be restored with magnificent wings?

The thought of butterflies made me want to rethink my strategy of waiting. Instead of refreshing social media accounts to compare myself to others, religiously scouring horoscopes for some kind of sign, or waking up each morning remembering what I am still missing, I let the wait be the journey. I take each day of the unknown and make it special. What if I learn to savor and enjoy the wait, no matter how unsettling or painful, and understand that most of life is waiting and if I can’t stay present with it then it’s wasted?

Waiting isn’t my favorite thing, but it’s the journey I am on. Either I can continue to resent it and break down, or accept it and see the magic that is here. It’s easier for me to type that than to act it out, but I need relief. I can’t control when the answers will come or what they will be, but I can change my attitude as I wait.

My pretty wings will come, until then, I’ll revel in the prettiness of the cocoon.

The Good of 2020

In January 2011, I was evacuated from my first Peace Corps country of service, Niger, due to terrorism activity. We were at a training in a village outside the capital when the decision came in from D.C., and a day later I was on United Nations plane back to the region where I lived and driven out to my village with about an hour to pack as many belongings as I could. From there, I went to Morocco with the other Niger volunteers to decide what was next. My fate changed several times within in the span of three days, and eventually I decided to travel to Egypt and back home, where I would reapply for the Peace Corps and give this long-held dream another attempt.  

On one of the many airplane rides I took during those whirlwind weeks, I listened to a podcast story about Katherine Russell Rich, who lived with stage IV breast cancer for 18 years. This far exceeded medical predictions. Each year, she returned to an online forum for those living with breast cancer, and wrote, “I am still here.” The story ended with The Mountain Goats, “This Year.” I am going to make it through this year if it kills me, the song goes. That song became my anthem for 2011, a year that was a pause, a gap, a line to get from one phase of my life to the next. It was frustrating, heartbreaking, and everlasting, but when it finally ended, I was settled into another Peace Corps service in a different part of Africa.  

Several weeks ago, someone on my social media feed posted a link to “This Year”, which prompted me to play it on repeat for an hour. Hearing those guitar strums and that proclamation of perseverance reminded me that not only did I make it through 2011, the challenges of that year, now practically a decade old, seemed distant and not so hefty. Of course I made it through, I thought, it wasn’t all bad.

So much can happen in a year. It can be a year that brings you some of the greatest joy you may ever know, or one that shows you the truest of suffering. Sometimes, it’s both. However, it’s never all joy or all sadness, and it’s the mixture of two that makes humanity so complicated. Because even in a downright terrible, painful, excruciating year, there is still happiness and goodness.

Yes, 2020 sucked, and it took a lot from all of us. People lost jobs, homes, communities, businesses, marriages, and their safety. Concerts, travel, parties, and any kind of big gathering vanished overnight. We lost friends and families to our opinions and values. We lost our belief and faith in others. People like Breonna Taylor, Asia Jynae Foster, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others not named in the headlines were needlessly and brutally murdered. And, we lost too many lives to a vicious disease that could’ve been stopped.

But, it wasn’t all bad. I was reminded of that notion last week when The Daily, a podcast of The New York Times, published its piece, “The Year in Good News.” After an invitation to do so, more than 700 people sent audio messages to The Daily describing good things that happened in a year filled with grief. People fell in love, they had babies, they discovered new hobbies, and they reconnected with lost friends and family. These things happen every year, but in this year these joys meant so much more. They were the light in the storm, what kept us going when we weren’t sure we could. Next to heartbreak and pain, we learned to savor them more than ever.

Listening to this episode, while walking my dog, I began to cry. This year was hard for me personally, but there was still so so much good. As 2020 dwindles to a close, I’ve been thinking about all the bright, joyful spots, and I want to put them here so that they have lasting power. Yes, 2020 will be known for its hardships, but I refuse to forget all the good that came to me in the last 12 months.

Here is my year in good news:

  • Even though travel was cutoff for most of the year, I still managed to squeeze in two trips at the beginning of 2020: the first to California to visit one of my dearest and truest friends and the second to Mexico with my mother on her first trip out of the country.
  • The world began shutting down when my mom and I were Mexico, which was surreal to hear stories about the NBA cancelling its season while I am drinking a margarita near the pool. However, not only we were incredibly lucky to make it home without issue, but my school decided to cancel classes an extra week after spring break, giving me the ultimate dream of a vacation after a vacation.
  • I started my clinical counseling internship, and I was accepted at my first choice of sites. It’s been a learning process, especially since all the therapy I do is online, but I truly enjoy my new profession.
  • I started my third and final year of graduate school. The end is near.
  • My husband and I went camping in July in remote Wisconsin woods. It was the first time that I went camping without someone much more experienced at setting up tents, building a fire, and cooking meals over the flame. It was a nice break from the city and current events.
  • I’ve spent more time in the kitchen than ever. From roasts to mini-apple pies, I’ve been able to tick off things on my baking/cooking list, including sourdough bread. I am still working on bettering my technique, but I am elated to officially call myself a bread baker.
  • At the beginning of this year, I had zero plants, mostly because I often kill them. Now, I have four, all of which were gifted to me. As of today, I am happy to report they are all still living.
  • This pandemic has made it a lot easier to reach out to people who’ve I long lost touch with, for whatever reason. It’s been nice to reconnect with people I haven’t talk to in years, and with that, reconnecting to a long-forgotten piece of myself.
  • This was the first holiday season that I spent entirely in Chicago, and it was a bit strange, yet sweet, to experience the quiet city on Christmas morning. It was also the first holidays that my husband and I spent just the two of us.
  • I often don’t spend much money on myself or splurge, but I’ve treated myself more this year. It’s hard enough without my internal shame, so I go for whatever it is that I want. I recently bought a running jacket that is perfect for the wind and moisture of winter running.  
  • When I accepted my internship, although I was excited, it was a bit of gamble. My commute would have been two hours one way via public transportation or 40 minutes in a car. Then there was the commute from my internship site down to school. I was going to spend a good amount of time getting from one point to the next, I knew, but it seemed like a worthy sacrifice. However, with the commute time gone for both my internship and school, I get so much more of my day back. Rushing to and from the train has calmed my schedule, and me. Not having to be on the train at 11 p.m. at night after class is one of the biggest silver linings in this year for me.
  • For a good chunk of the year, the only time I left this house was to run. Running has been one of my true refuges this year, and to avoid well-populated paths, I did many miles on the streets of Chicago, going to places I rarely do not on my runs. Additionally, with masks and distancing, running was still a social outlet for me. One Sunday, a few friends and I ran for six hours in the park, and I recorded my longest run, of 30 miles, since 2012. As the clear closes, I will hit a new yearly mileage record at 1600 miles (that is, after my commute to and from work).
  • After I lost my part-time job in the spring, I was rehired when the store opened in May. I am lucky to have had that job and that the unemployment I received was sufficient to keep my bills paid. My husband also lost his job this year, one he just started in February, and while it’s been hard finding full-time, benefited work, he is working. Our bills are paid. We can afford groceries and other small luxuries. We are beyond lucky.
  • This time has forced me to slow down. Even with school, work, and my internship, I can’t do as much as I once did, and that’s a good thing. I’ve learned to prioritize and be more intentional with my time. Still not great at setting boundaries but getting better.
  • And, finally, I am so thankful for my marriage. I am incredibly grateful that I have had someone during this time of isolation and loneliness, and I thankful that we still love and support one another even after all this time together in our small apartment. We had our moments of tension and frustration, but we survived. I am up for whatever next year brings as long as he is by my side.

If you are reading this, here you are, at the end of 2020. You did it. You made it through this awful, horrific year. I can’t predict if 2021 will be much better, but we are still here, and that’s something to celebrate.

Thanksgiving in 2020

How Americans plan to celebrate Thanksgiving this year | YouGov

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s the day we get to wear earth-toned sweaters, eat a bunch of deeply satisfying and comforting foods, drink wine at 11 a.m., and take multiple naps throughout the day. It’s the kickoff to the festive season, but it comes with no obligations. Just gathering, indulging, and giving thanks. Every year, I am bombarded with nostalgia for turkey days gone, whether it’s being young and spending the day with family friends or assembling an ad-hoc meal from the best available ingredients in a rural African village. As my life has metamorphosized from year to year, so has my Thanksgivings.

2020 was supposed to be a Thanksgivmas year. Since I met my husband five years ago, we have traded off Christmas and Thanksgiving between our families. We travel West to my family for one holiday and south to his for the other. Since we spent Christmas in South Dakota last year, we intended to celebrate the December holiday in Tennessee this year. That meant, Thanksgiving with my family, but we like to hit check off both holidays in a weekend.

We typically start planning for our holidays about a month in advance. We start a Google Doc with what meals we’ll have when and what snacks are necessary. We’ll also have an agenda of holiday-themed activities to do with the kids. The plan is to celebrate Thanksgiving fully on Thursday, have a transition day, and then celebrate Christmas Saturday with presents and full decorations. Because it’s a shorter stay than at Christmas, we have declared my brother’s house in Minnesota good meeting ground for my parents and eldest brother’s family coming from South Dakota and my husband and I traveling from Chicago. It’s a chaotic, rushed time, but I love it, specifically since my nieces and nephews are getting older and more involved in the celebrating.

Something was different this year. In our family group text, none of us had mentioned the upcoming holiday, other than a few scheduling changes. No one started a Google Doc or declared WE MUST DO THIS ACTIVITY. We didn’t talk about presents or plotting the cooking schedule.

Because we knew.

We knew a choice had to be made, and for a long time, none of us wanted to make it. We wanted to pretend that it would be OK, that we could celebrate Thanksgiving like it was any year. But, at some point, we could no longer ignore the blaring headlines or the CDC recommendations. COVID-19 cases were ravaging our country and celebrating Thanksgiving with people you don’t live with was an incredible risk. Then, one day in our family group text, we called it.

We cancelled our Thanksgivmas due to the surge in COVID-19 cases. We’d all stay home and try to have the best holiday we could over Zoom.

It is the safe, smart choice. Almost three-fours of the country is on the Chicago travel ban list, and Chicago is dangerously close to another lockdown. South Dakota is ground zero for COVID-19 spread, along with most of the Upper Midwest. Both Minnesota and South Dakota are red states on Chicago’s travel list, meaning we would have to quarantine for 14-days after our trip. My husband and I both work retail jobs and live paycheck-to-paycheck, so quarantining was not an option for us. Same for some of my family in South Dakota, where the governor has refused to order any kind of restrictions and they continue to have to work in public spaces. We not only risked spreading the virus to each other but also to the people that we see every day at our jobs. We could also be potentially fined for not quarantining after traveling to a state on the list.

There was a moment when I denied the risk because being able to spend the holiday with my family was too dear to me. No one would really know, and honestly, who is keeping track? We wouldn’t go anywhere outside our family’s house. We’d be an exception. We’d be fine.

But, I knew in my gut that I was being hypocritical. If I couldn’t quarantine before AND after, wouldn’t I be part of the problem? Wouldn’t I be practicing the same exceptionalism that has allowed this virus to range on? How could I think that just because it’s family that we would be immune? I knew that this was one of those moments that will have two historical sides, and I knew deep down that in order to be on the right side, I would have to give up something incredibly dear to me. It wasn’t just about keeping my family safe, but everyone around me, including people I do not or will ever know.

Still, I am not happy about it. I am heartbroken not to see my family for the holiday, but also to know I will go the entire festive season without seeing them. My mom won’t be coming to Chicago for her annual Christmas trip, I won’t get to see my little humans open their presents, I won’t be able to quote the West Wing’s Thanksgiving episode with my dad, I won’t stay up late doing puzzles with my brothers and sisters-in-law. Also, because of the great risk, we’ve cancelled our Christmas plans to visit my in-laws, whom we haven’t seen in more than a year and desperately miss. Most of my favorite Christmas traditions have been cancelled or altered, and I’ve been relegated to spend the holiday season in my small apartment with an incredibly loud upstairs neighbor.

Above all else, what I am struggling with the most is searing judgement and anger. I am so enraged that it has come to this. One of the few times I see family throughout the year has been taken away. What infuriates me the most, though, is to know that even with the CDC and expert recommendations and the countless reports, people will still ignore it. They will still travel. They will still come together with family or friends they do not live with. They will think they are fine, that they have calculated the risks, and they will come out OK. But it’s that kind of thinking that has allowed the virus to rage on like a wildfire, which will continue to put us all at even more risk. More lockdowns will come. More people will lose their jobs or be evicted. And more lives will be lost.

This situation is nuanced, and I am trying to find and give empathy where it’s needed. I know people who have decided to travel or have family travel to them. Some of them are taking the utmost precautions and have very valid reasons to see family outside of their home. There are others, though, who I think are being careless. It’s hard to say what will happen, but I have a feeling that things will be much worse come Christmas. I don’t want to come off as righteous and judgmental, but even more so than the people who are flat out denying the realities of a disease that has rocked the entire globe for a year, I feel conflicted with those who are taking risks and are taking precautions that fall short of truly being able to stop a spread. This is hard for me because my husband and I work in retail places, so we could easily be exposed by someone who thought they would be OK and were not. A lot of this is under pinned by only seeing situations from the outside, jealously, and a deep longing to see my family. All of it is mixed together in one big pile of suckiness suck. From all angles, this sucks. It sucks to know that I made a big sacrifice and others have chosen not to do the same, so this virus will continue to roar, further threatening my physical, mental, and financial health. It sucks to have become a person with so much vitriol who casts judgement without knowing the full story. It sucks to not know when this will end.

The only thing I can do now is grab on to gratitude and hope and hold on. I am thankful to have my husband and that my family and I are all safe. I am grateful for a fridge full of food that I will cook and enjoy no matter what. I am blessed to have a family that knows this is just one holiday and missing it will be worth it if we stay healthy and do not spread the virus to those around us.

I am hopeful that it will just be one holiday, that even though it will get worse before it gets better, it will get better. I’ve spent Thanksgivings alone, with roommates that were nothing more, families of boyfriends, and friends, and they’ve all meant something special in their own way. And while I love my Thanksgivings with my ever-expanding family and those little humans who continue to make me belly laugh, I know there will be more. Many, many more.

This will be a quieter holiday, and maybe that is OK. I was sad at first, then angry, but now I am at peace with our decision. It’s the first holiday that my husband and I will spend just the two of us, which in of itself is special. It’s not a typical year, so we will have an atypical Thanksgiving. We’ll eat out food, we’ll wear our comfy sweaters, we’ll Zoom with family, and we’ll know we did our part.

Letting go of the Narrative

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to a friend’s house for a bonfire in their lovely city backyard. That’s how we see friends these days—on computer screens or outside. We sat in lawn chairs at appropriate distances and wore masks if we needed to use the bathroom or get a drink. We did the usual round of catch ups, and when it got to our turn, we started in.

How Ethan’s job search since he lost his job in the pandemic has led to one dead-end after another and mostly has dried up at this point. He took a retail job, which is easy and comes with nice coworkers, but causes him more physical pain than any other job he has ever had. Plus, it’s far from the job he thought he would have coming out of graduate school four years ago.

How my internship is great but really hard. The pandemic has forced me to practice telemental health, before I was even really practicing in-person counseling, and how my caseload is much lighter than I need it to be in order to graduate on time. Of the clients I do have, they are struggling. This is hard, all of it, and for many, it’s reviving old demons that they thought they had long buried, and I am to help them carry that weight.

How money is tight, but we recently were forced to spend $1,000 because our dog developed a mysterious GI issue that took more visits to the vet than we would have liked.

How we think we may have found a solution to our infertility issues, but I can’t get a diagnosis because our insurance is limited, despite the hefty monthly premiums, high deductible, and significant copays. 

How our car is close to breaking down, but we need it to hold on until we both have fulltime jobs and can afford a monthly car payment.

How we hope to leave Chicago when I graduate but there is so much standing in our way for that to happen.

How depressing the news is, how we can’t understand why we are still living in this, how baffled we are at people’s lack of care about others, how it seems to never end.

When we finished, ready to throw the conversation ball back to others, I caught a glimpse of our friends faces. They were a bit stunned, taken back, like they didn’t know it was that bad. I made a joke about venting, embarrassed that I had used this limited friend time for an impromptu therapy session and moved on.

On the way home, I wondered why I felt like I had to spill all of my struggles and worries out in that moment, and I realized it’s something I often do. I like people to know that even though things are hard, they are a little bit harder for me. This morning I was thinking about my first few months at my Peace Corps site in Lesotho, and how when I met up with other volunteers, I was quick to explain my school’s disfunction and how it’s impossible to accomplish anything. It’s hard to tell if things are truly more of a struggle for me, or that’s the frame I like to put on my story.

The last week has been an emotional brick. Things in my personal life are in disarray and each day presents another situation that didn’t go my way. The state of the world is tense and scary and so unfair. In many conversations I’ve had recently, I list all of my stressors, citing how specifically bad life feels right now, and I’ve realized this lens of storytelling is my way of coping. I use it for validation or to garner sympathy.

Or, maybe I cling to this narrative because it is the one thing I can control.

My greatest ailments, lately, are things I cannot control. I have no say on when my husband will get a job with a reasonable salary and benefits and that satisfies him professionally. I cannot force my clients to show up to sessions. I can’t wave a wand to remove COVID. I do not have the power to undo all the evil, cruel, inhuman things our government does to our most vulnerable populations. I can’t will my way to pregnancy.

I’ve long fooled myself that worrying myself to such high stress that I am physically nauseous has an impact on these situations. Or, that I can fix things by doing this or that. Rarely, if ever, does any of this work. Rather, I work myself up into a tizzy only for life to continue on doing whatever it wants.

I suppose that this is something I’ve always done, but the difference now is that I am aware of it. I know that I am worrying about and focusing on things I cannot manipulate, change, fix. I kind of just have to let it be.

Spoiler alert: I am TERRIBLE at letting things be. I honestly do not know how to do that. It’s not in my nature. But at this point, I am losing so much of my presence and missing all the good little things because I am fixated on controlling the uncontrollable.

My professor and I were recently talking about an issue I have, and she agreed that there is a right to be concerned. She gave me two alternatives, and I hated both options. They were unfair, I thought, but really the only viable solutions. I had come to her because I wanted to be validated in my struggles and challenges, and she gave me that. Yet, it didn’t make me feel better. She suggested that we wait two weeks and then reassess.

“You’ve got to let the process do its thing.”

I did not feel good about this, but I knew she was right. Two weeks. I would just have to wait and see and then decide how to move forward. I found myself with an urge to tell others how bad it is, that it’s come to this, that I might have to make some big drastic decision. See, it’s hard for us all, but it’s really hard for me, I wanted to scream.

I wondered, what if I don’t tell that narrative? Not to others, but specifically not to myself? What if I don’t focus on the struggle, and just let the process work? Will I be in a better spot? Maybe not, but also maybe, or at least my I wouldn’t lose so much time to worrying and I wouldn’t feel so nauseous all the time?  

It’s a new month, and there is a lot at stake here. There is so much we don’t know about what will happen, both around the globe and in our personal lives, but I do know that I don’t have much control. I can do what I can do, but at some point, I just need to let go. I won’t be good at it first, but I can keep trying. My story is more than just how hard things are, and I owe it to myself to start writing a new one.  

New Beginnings


This week is stuffed with beginnings. A fresh month is upon us, one that ends in ‘ber’ which are arguably the best months. Wednesday is the first day of my last year of graduate school. And, today I kick off a months-long virtual race across the world with some of my neighborhood running friends.

I am a huge fan of beginnings. They are so special. There is something about newnesses that infects me with hope and confidence. I get overwhelmed with the possibilities, but eventually the “shoulds” and the notion of perfection take over. On day one, I tell myself, I will start over. All bad habits will be kicked and replaced with those that wellness influencers post about daily. Goals that I had been working on for years will suddenly become attainable. This is not just a new start, but this is the start line. This is when it all comes together for me and makes sense. This is the moment when I finally become the person that I think, I know, I can be.

That’s a lot of pressure. And, naturally, my problems don’t magically disappear and I don’t lose 20 pounds or become definitively richer. A thing or two might improve, and sometimes a start can be momentous, but rarely does it deliver me to that perfect life.

Beginnings look different in 2020. The first day of this year held so much hope, maybe more so than other years, but what followed has been continuous heartbreak. The months have bled together, and looking back, it’s hard to distinguish July from April. A new school year looks vastly different from previous years, and there is no indication where the classroom will be next semester or even next year. And the virtual-ness of this race is a reminder of one of the small parts of life that have been ripped from us, again, without an idea of when or if they’ll return.

Even though beginnings have tended to rage with hope, 2020 has dimmed them down to just a small flicker.

But, it’s still there, and it might be better this way.

We need fresh starts to help us recenter and redirect us, specifically annual ones, such as New Year’s birthdays. These are built-in moments to help us reflect about where we’ve come and where we are going. However, we let too many external messages of where we think we should be and what we should be doing clog us down. We put too much expectation into these and then are unexpectedly disappointed when we can’t live up to them.

Now though, with life disjointed, our expectations are limited, and because of that, we get to see our beginnings for exactly what they are: the next step.

The thing is that we don’t need big marks in the calendars to help us be the people we want to be; we get to do that every day. If we aren’t showing up the way we want on August 31, we likely won’t be able to fully transform by September 1. Instead, we take each day as a step to grow a little bit more.

Yes, life is still hard and uncertain right now, but we can use that to build resiliency. We can redefine our limits and expectations in order to locate a new kind of hope, one that is present in the the seventh month of quarantine and another virtual school year.

Here we are, at a new beginning. Rather than demanding it bring me a better life, I just ask that it helps me be more present in the one I’m currently experiencing and that it offers a bit of faith to keep moving through the darkness. I’m thankful for this beginning, because no matter what it will bring, I was brought to it. Something else ended, and here I am, and well to make it this far, that’s the special part.





storm through a windshield | A blurry view of traffic and th… | Flickr

I hate driving through Wisconsin. But, in order to get to my family, I must. It’s not that I don’t like the WI—forests, beer, and cheese are all some of my favorite things—but often when I trodding along I-90 or I-94 I encounter weather. Rain, snow, wind. I’ve experienced it all.

One July weekend, my husband and I decided to visit family in Minnesota, which is a journey that requires crossing Wisconsin. On the way home during the seven-ish hour drive, we hit a rain storm. In a minute’s time, the sky went from being blue speckled with white clouds, like we were in a milk commercial, to ominous and dark. We watched the wall of rain come our way as if we were entering a car wash. Our little windshield wipers could barely keep up and visibility was less than a car or two lengths ahead. It reminded me of the many whiteout winter storms I’ve driven through in South Dakota. We had to slow way down, and at times, big gusts of rain and wind hit us as if they were waves.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve white knuckled my way through many winter storms on the highway, including spinning off the road a few times (thankfully, without harm). I am a bit scarred by these experiences, and often refuse to drive if there is anything but clear skies. My husband is a good driver, and he would rather be at the wheel than have me steering us through the elements, but even in the passenger seat, I am panicked and afraid while driving through storms.

During this summer storm, my anxiety was in overdrive. What if we hit another car or one hits us? I found the radar online to make sense of this storm, and the blobs of green and yellow seem to be headed in the same direction as us. These gusts of wind and torrential rains could be with us the entire trip home. The fear of what could happen was like an itch all over my body, and I kept adjusting myself in the seat, hoping to find some relief. “Should we pull over?” I asked my husband. I was willing to spend the night in a small WI town if it meant that this big scary moment would be over. “No, we aren’t stopping. That would be worse,” my husband said. Not to me. I just wanted this terrible feeling and situation to end.

This is how I approach a lot of big scary things in my life—looking for an out, searching for something to control so I can get to the other side. Here is the thing, though, I can’t control Mother Nature. I can’t even dictate what my husband, the driver, was doing. Rather, the absolute only thing I could do was to accept the worry and fear and trust that my husband knew he was doing. I had no other control beyond myself.

This is often what happens to us in life. We are presented with something terrifying and too big for us to control. There are no quick fixes or easy outs. Rather, we just have to endure. We have to trust ourselves, and we have to reign in our emotions. The only way to get through is to get through.

We are living through some really frightening and nightmarish times right now, and there doesn’t seem to be an end. Even once there is a vaccine or economic rebound or substantial changes to systemic racism (and none of those are guaranteed to come quickly), we will be feeling the ripple effects and trauma of this time for decades to come. We will likely never return to normal, but rather create a new one and try to put back together the pieces of our world.

There are little things we can do, such as wear masks, vote in the upcoming election, educate ourselves, etc., but there is more that is beyond our control. This is a storm we cannot dictate, and while we have every right to be afraid and scared, we can’t let those things become us. We can’t let looking for a quick solution or the easy out redirect us. Rather, we must learn to trust one another, acknowledge our emotions and feelings, and do our best to endure.

After about 20 minutes, the storm in Wisconsin that day lifted, and we returned to the clear skies of a milk carton. If we can find the will and faith to keep moving forward, all storms eventually pass.



Me and Social Media

Social media addiction quiz - How addicted are you?
Photo from here.

The other day I was listening to a running podcast with a guest who is a wellness influencer. He had been on this specific podcast before but came back to tell a story he hadn’t done so publicly — his journey to sobriety. It began by noticing that most of the people he admired had a freedom he wanted but wasn’t sure how to get. Then, he started to recognize how intertwined alcohol was in his life—after runs, with his kids, on airplanes—and he needed it that way. However, he limited his use, thinking that if he didn’t drink on specific days, he didn’t have a problem. He didn’t think he could give up drinking, but something pushed him to sobriety. When he started down that path, he knew this was what he was looking for all along.

As I listened, I recognized some of these patterns and behaviors in myself, but not necessarily with alcohol. The guest said he got sober because he wanted to be more present in his life. I want that, too, and there are a lot of obstacles for me, but my biggest is social media.

I joined Facebook nearly 15 years ago, in September of 2005. I remember it being such a big deal at the time because the site was only open to specific universities. I didn’t have a MySpace, but the exclusivity of Facebook drew me in. When the social media platform finally recognized my university email, I immediately made a profile.

Then came Twitter and eventually Instagram, LinkedIn, and Snapchat and others that didn’t last the test of time.

For the next decade and a half, I’ve broadcasted my life over apps. Anytime there was news to share — from new jobs to race finishes to published articles to my wedding — it had to go on social media. Pictures from vacations, random Friday night outs, and scene scapes that matched my mod were posted to say, “I am doing better thank you think I am.” Social media also was a simple way to keep in touch with people without actually talking to them; we might not have spoken in two years but I know about your new house and the name of your baby.

It started as a simple way to share pieces of my life, but as the platforms developed and became more sophisticated, social media consumed my life. And not just mine. When I joined Facebook back in 2005, 5 percent of Americans used social media. Now it’s 70 percent.

My use of social media veered into excessive early on, especially with the evolution of mobile technology. Unhealthy habits started to become normal, such as logging on to Facebook at work, checking Twitter while driving 75 mph down the Interstate, and diverting my attention away from the people in front of me to what was happening on social. I knew I was probably spending too much time online, but what was it hurting? Plus, when I moved away from South Dakota, social media was really the only way to keep in touch with what was going on back home. I needed it.

The first time I deactivated my Facebook account came after a heartbreak. I was obsessively checking the profile of someone I needed to let go of, and I didn’t have the discipline to do it with a connected profile. So, I deleted the whole account. It was incredible. Not only could I finally distance myself from that person, but I felt lighter, freer away without a Facebook presence. I stayed off for four or five months, but eventually came back. My decision to return was due to guilt over losing touch with friends in Lesotho as Facebook was really only my channel of communication with them. Even when I was off of Facebook, I was still on Instagram and Twitter and not quite disconnected from social media.

In the last six years, I’ve taken breaks here and there, sometimes deactivating my account, other times just not logging in for weeks at a time. But, I always come back, and when I do, my use quickly ramps back up to overindulgence.

I use social media with rules to avoid facing the fact that I have an unhealthy relationship with it. I do not have the apps on my phone, even though I can easily log into my accounts from the web browser. I try to take the weekends off, but often break that rule. I tell myself I won’t log on today but cave. I only ever intend to be on there a second, but I lose 10, 20,30 minutes scrolling.

These days, almost always, when I go on a social media binge, I usually end up feeling terrible. Whether it’s the onslaught of bad news and harmful opinions or the comparison trap, I no longer get joy from social media, but yet it’s still a crux that I do not know how to let go of. I keep going back, more frequently and spending more time on the apps, because it takes longer to get my fix.

The second that I feel bored, I reach for my phone. When I am sad or anxious, I scroll. I visit the profiles of people I haven’t talked to years, to educate myself on what they are doing and how they feel about the matters of the day. I think about accomplishing something big just so I can post about it online, going so far as to decipher the exact writing I will use. When I do post something, I check it several times to see how many likes or comments I have, and I take note of who has interacted with this post. Or more specifically, who has not. I scan accounts of people I’ve never met, wondering how I can get what they have. My feed is there to remind of me where I am falling short. A post about someone’s new job, house, or baby can send me to depressive spiral for hours. The sadder I am about not having what I want in my life, the more I go to social media to punish myself.

In my training as a counselor, I’ve learned that mental health issues are not consider diagnosable disorders unless they are causing specific harm to your life. An addiction is only an addiction when it’s hurting you and the people you love. Anxiety is only a disease when it’s preventing you from living the life you want. This means that there are many people who can operate normally and seem fine with similar symptoms but aren’t not diagnosable because it isn’t causing negatively impacting their life.

Take my husband for example. He spends a large chunk of time online, passing through Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, likely passing more time on social than me. The biggest difference, though, is that he doesn’t leave these sites feeling worse about himself. He doesn’t use them to numb or avoid. He has banal interactions from social media, often just gaining information. Me, though, a visit to social media can ruin my mood for hours.

That’s how I know I have an unhealthy relationship with social media.

So, should I quit? I’ve done it before, why not again? I am afraid of deactivating my accounts for lots of reasons. There are so many groups and events that only take place on Facebook, so deleting my account means I would remove myself from those communities. Instagram is by far the most triggering for me, and I do try to limit my time there, but it’s also a really good way to build followings and connect with people who have similar interests. I really want to find a way to combine my mental health education and writing, and I would need a platform like Instagram to reach people. Plus, I am afraid I will miss out on events and happenings in my friends and family’s life. Once, during one of my Facebook breaks, my colleague invited everyone in the office to his Halloween party, except me. I joked about not getting invited, and he said, “Well, you aren’t on Facebook so I couldn’t invite you.” As if we have always thrown parties this way. If I deactivate my account, what else will I miss?

And what about other sites, like Strava and Snapchat, which are used for running and watching videos of my nieces and nephews? Would I have to go cold turkey and cut out everything to really get the benefits? (Side note: I deleted my Twitter account a year and half ago. I still go to the site from time to time to see why my Red Line Train is delayed 30 minutes and why I am hearing helicopters outside my apartment, but for the most part, I do not miss that dumpster fire.) Or, should I just enforce stricter rules? Would I even adhere to them?

This week I start training for my internship, and it would be a good time to reduce my online presence. Not just for the sake of being more present, but because it’s inevitable that my clients will Google me (all of my accounts with my name on them are set to private for this reason). Also, it’s not a bad time to leave Facebook on the precipice of an election, not to mention all the spam friend requests I’ve been getting (Hi, Russia!).

My relationship with social media is indeed not healthy, and it’s something I want to change, but I guess I am afraid. I know the right answer is to delete everything, even if for a while, but I am scared of what I will miss and who I will be without it. Right now, I am not ready to pull the plug, but at someone point, I am going to have to see that who I will be without it is probably not as bad as how I feel with it.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves


Part of my training in becoming a counselor is to learn about the different theoretical approaches and practice ones that align to my interpretations of therapy. One of my professors calls this “dating around,” but it hasn’t taken me long to zone in on one: narrative therapy.

As a writer, storyteller, and now soon-to-be therapist, narrative is a natural fit for me. In fact, a semester before I took the theories course a student further along in the program anticipated that this would be my theory of choice. She was right. Narrative centers on the idea that stories define a person’s experience in life and that these stories can be changed and altered to help empower a person to see their own strengths and build a life that they want. Narrative therapists believe that people are separate from their problems and that they are capable to externalize these issues and manage them in effective ways. Not only have I been exploring narrative therapy in practice counseling settings, but it’s become an added perspective in which to view my own life.

There are many stories I tell about myself and who I am as a person, and not all of them are steeped in reality. Rather, many are framed around expectations and comparisons and focused on what is missing. When I hit a snag in life, these stories of deficit consume me.

Last week, my husband was laid off due to COVID-19. It’s specifically upsetting because he had had this job a few months and has been mostly underemployed for about three years. This job was to be, finally, his fresh start, but then a global pandemic and national recession hit. Not only is he now back enduring the humility of a job search, but he is doing so with fewer job options and more competition. With me still in graduate school for another year, we are hovering right at the line of being OK and not. Also, we lose our health insurance at the end of the month … during a pandemic.

At first, I didn’t take the news well. I tried to keep it together in front of my husband, who was reeling from yet another professional setback, and finally had to go outside to cry. The emotion spilled out of me so ferociously and audibly that a woman living nearby came to check on me.

In that moment all I could think about was reverting back to the emotional distress and despair that haunted me for months. How I held my breath each time as the cashier scanned my items at the grocery store, wanting to indulge in simple pleasures but hoping the total was one our bank account could handle. Or, how shameful the situation sounded when we explained it to friends or new acquaintances. Or, how exhausted and irritated I felt after taking an extra shift because I wasn’t in a position to refuse an extra paycheck.

Mostly, I was terrified of going back to the idea that our lives were on hold, of going back to the pause. Without a steady, sufficient income, we can’t make big choices let alone a budget. Things like buying a home or taking a trip have to wait. We’ve been trying to have a baby for some time, but that is another thing that can’t happen until there is enough money coming in. As our friends and family travel through these big life events, we just watch, waiting for all the pieces to fall into place so that we can have them, too.

The story I told myself for so long was that we were undeserving. We couldn’t figure out the basics, so we didn’t get to spend Saturday mornings walking a stroller down the block to get coffee. We don’t get to try out that new restaurant or get tickets to see a beloved performer. We dislike our small apartment with the thin walls, but it’s what we get. Somewhere along the way we failed, and so we must suffer.

I couldn’t go through this heartbreak again. It took so much from me last time—testing not only our marriage but both of ours mental health—and I wasn’t sure I could survive again. I tried so hard to find solutions for us, controlling every aspect that I could, doing everything I thought a loving wife did, and yet here we are, in a similar place. How could we go through this struggle again, but this time a bit harder?

Then I wondered, what if my constant heartbreak isn’t the situation that life keeps handing me? What if it’s the expectations that I continue to hold myself to? The ideas of what I think life should be? My pain and sorrow are not what I don’t have and who I am falling behind but that I only see what isn’t there. Would it be possible to stop aspiring for perfection and accept my life for what is, even the very real, scary, and uncertain parts? Could we survive if I didn’t worry about it every day? If I didn’t match our downs to everyone else’s ups? What if instead of the one where I am waiting for life, I am living it? What if my story became that life isn’t perfect, but I don’t need it to be to enjoy the simple but beautiful everyday pieces? What if I decided that as long our necessities were met and we were together then contentment was achievable?

What would happen if I changed the story?

So, I did.

My new story is about enough. With a greater sense of reality, it reminds me that we have the money we need to pay our bills and enjoy an occasional night out, that my husband is a good, intelligent man who will find his way to a career that enriches him, that as a couple we are building a satisfying life with enormous potential, and that there are small but nourishing blessings all around me.

It’s only been a week, but this time is different. I don’t wake up stressed about money. Rather, I understand that the white privilege I hold allows me to be a bit better off than someone of color in a similar situation, and I refuse to take that for granted. At the grocery store, I get whatever I want because I know that I am careful with other spending and this is the only place that I do indulge. And, when I think about what is missing and how far I am behind, I ask myself, “Will that really make you happy? Or, can you be happy now?” Now is always the answer.

Our circumstances are not ideal, but we do not have to be victims of the situation. Even in a financially stressed time, there is so much beautify in our lives, and we also know it won’t last forever. Eventually, my husband will get a great job with benefits, and I will graduate next year and get my own consistent job. We’ll have more money for trips and luxury items, and that baby and house will come. But, I’ve come to understand that if we can’t be happy now, we never will be. If we can’t change our story about what we need and what we deserve, we will always be plagued by it. I refuse to continue let circumstances write my narrative. I write my own story, and it in, I am deserving and worthy.

White People, Do the Work



**Over the last few days, two stories have been reported that highlight racism in American, including the unlawful and horrific murdering of George Floyd in Minneapolis. On all of my social media accounts, White people are questioning why and how, and I felt like now was a good time to remind my fellow White people that this has been happening for centuries, and there are things we can do besides just post about our sadness. We have to do the work of dismantling racism in America. I am not perfect in this work, nor do I want kuddos for trying, but below are things that I have done, have tried to do, and still need to do, from now and until I leave this Earth. So, if you are upset about another Black person being killed by police or the audacity of a White woman to use fear to cover up her racism, here are so my suggestions of what you can do:

Educate Yourself. This does not mean go to you Black friend and ask them to help you understand what is going on. This does not mean hopping into the comments section of Black activists and asking them to help you navigate your feelings. Go to Google, put in the search terms, and start reading. There is a ton of stuff out there. Read books, watch movies, take virtual lectures. And don’t assume just because you read one book you are good. I admit that I do this sometimes, but unraveling our whiteness and being allies is a constant process. So, start learning and don’t stop.

Here is a great collection of resources that I plan to work through, but a couple of recommendations I highly suggest are “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor” by Layla F. Saad and “White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism” by Robin DiAngelo

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and ...

Additionally, learn about the Black men and women who are dying. Hear their stories. These are people. Their lives deserve to be remembered.

Pay for your Education and Support Black Activists. There are a lot of great free resources out there on social media, but behind many of those accounts are people of color who spending hours putting together that content. Pay them. Find their Cash App, Venmo, or Patreon, and send them what you can. You can also make donations to organizations that specifically support and hold up people from marginalized and historically oppressed communities, but you can also send money to an activists who are having a hard time getting groceries because the work they do pays so very little. Only recently have I started making donations to groups when these stories hit, and I am angered. Here are two I’ve recently donated, and I happy to provide others for your consideration:

Chicago Community Bond Fund

The Loveland Foundation– to help fund therapy for Black women and girls.

IMG_0382BF4512DD-1 2

Listen more than talk. When these events happen, as they do every day, before you go posting, listen. Take the time to visit reputable news sites and social media accounts of activists and take in their perspectives before you go off sprouting your own. You are not absorbing the weight of a situation if you need to react first. If you feel the need to intervene with a comment or question during your education, ask yourself why. Are you trying to make this about your or genuinely curious? Also, is your comment cloaked in white fragility? If so, work on that first.

Find the actionable items and do it. All activism comes with action items.

Stop Sharing the Videos. Akilah Hughes had an extremely moving speech in this morning’s What A Day Podcast about how traumatizing it is to Black people to be bombarded with these horrific videos of murder. We do not do this for white deaths. Stop sharing the videos. Do not watch them. Even if they are in a news clip. Skip over that piece of the report, and maybe @ the news organization that these videos are unnecessary to the reporting. It is inhumane, and we can be just as outraged without having to watch the video or hear a recording of the sound. Speaking of videos,

Remember that this has been happening for a loooooooong time. Don’t think that just because we see videos around that racism is new or these acts are unprecedented. The video cameras are new. That’s it.

Don’t expect a gold star or a pat on the back. Just because you read a book or shared a resource, you are not entitled to any kind of applause, so don’t expect it. You are doing the work. Black people are dying. Your efforts here are not notable, but you definitely need to be doing them. As Layla Saad says, this is the bare minimum of work you should be doing to be a good ancestor. Also, if you are going to share stuff on social media, make for damn sure it is not about the likes.

Even as I write this, I have had to hold the back to the urge to tell you all about the things have done. I want you to know this because I am insecure and what to be known for doing the work. That is not helpful. I need to get over myself, because I am not at the center of this.

Stop being worried about making a mistake or being called a racist. White people are so scared about being labeled a racist that they are quick to point that they are not one, or they just don’t say anything. And know, if you do the work, and you should, you will make a mistake. That’s part of the process. You are not allowed to cry about that mistake and ask a Black person to comfort you and remind you that you are not a racist. Rather, if a Black person calls you out on your actions or words, listen to what they have to say, reflect on it, talk to your White friends about what you did, and learn from it so you don’t do it again. Now, if a White person comes at you about reverse racism, whatever. That’s not a thing. Or, how they were breaking the law, blah, blah. None of these acts deserve death as a punishment. None of them.

Talk about this with your communities. This part is hard. We don’t like to call our families or friends or acquaintances out for their racism. We just ignore it and move on. Oh, how many times I’ve done that. But, just because we don’t do anything, it doesn’t mean nothing happens. Instead, this kind of behavior is allowed to linger and be present. It can fester and lead to things like a woman believing she has the right to make up a story about a Black man threatening her because he had the audacity to tell her to follow the rules and leash up her dog. We have to talk to our White communities. And not just once. Over and over. It’s hard but not so much as dying because you are Black.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This work of dismantling racism and acknowledging our own white privilege and biases is uncomfortable. But, your small discomfort is not more than the trauma Black Americans experience every day. Get over it.

Utilize your voice. This list is a great start. Use Google to find others.

Please know that this list is not exhaustive, nor perfect, and I welcome any additional suggestions and resources. White friends, we can no longer just be outraged. We must do the work.

**This post has been updated to include the capitalization of Black and White. A reader sent me this article about capitalization of Black, and after some research and consideration, I decided to follow suit. 

A New Path Forward


Most mornings I wake up and the absolute last thing I want do is run. With toddler-like protest, I claim I am absolutely not going to do run today, and I don’t press the issue. Instead, I go about my day walking the dog, journaling, and eating breakfast, and like a parent trying to woo said toddler to bed, if I just let it be, nature takes over. Within a few hours, I have an intense hunger to lace up my shoes and steal an hour outdoors.

Like most runners these days, I’ve had to change up my normal routes. Chicago’s two biggest paths—the Lakefront Trail and the 606—have been closed since, I don’t, maybe 2019? It’s hard to remember. Anyway, they are off limits, which means runners, walkers, and cyclists are forced onto the sidewalks. Summer in Chicago is an EVENT, and each year, the first nice day brings hoards of people outdoors to dust off winter crumbs, but without patio bars, farmer’s markets, beaching, and intramural leagues, all of that pent up energy can only be released with short walks and bike rides around the block. Meaning, more than ever, the sidewalks are busy and crowded. So, when I decided to run mid-morning or day, as opposed to 6:00 a.m. which is the time of most of my runs when I actually have places to be in the day, I have to avoid my tried-and-true paths.

This morning, when the urge to run was gnawing at me, I thought about which way I would go.  It was only 9:30 a.m., but it was also above 50-degrees, which meant a decent amount of people out. Now, I run with a buff to cover my nose and mouth, and I always dive into grass and even the street to separate myself, but those actions are cumbersome when there are so many people out. I live about a mile from the Chicago-Evanston border, and most of my runs lead me north, past Lake Michigan, and up to Evanston’s running path, which is still open. Again, though, I knew there would be enough families on bikes, runners who wouldn’t bother themselves with moving over, and neighbors trying to walk together at a “safe” social distance that it would make me anxious and zap all of the joy from the run, which is really the only reason I run these days. Well, that and because, for me, running works better than antidepressants.

So, to go north, I would need to take another path, and I decided on well-traveled road that was far from the lake and with more stop lights but would most certainly contain less people. At first it was pretty loud, making it hard to hear my podcast, and my body nearly met the front of a Subaru crossing an intersection too quickly with a driver who didn’t see the runner before her (who, by the way, had the right of way). As I crossed into Evanston, traffic thinned out, and it became the most lovely run. There were gorgeous houses and interesting things to keep me entertained, like a stuffed bear sitting in a porch swing, flowers making their grand May entrance, and the quaintest green door that should be a painting in an art museum. The sun was giving me enough warmth for the most ideal conditions, and there were a limited amount of people out that it was easy to scoot to the curb for a safe pass. I was so so happy. And grateful.

Grateful to be outdoors.

Grateful to be running.

Grateful to have taken a chance and followed a new path.

This run is an appropriate metaphor for the uncertainty that we face. Things are scary and uncertain, but we are given a new path forward. We must take it, and even though we can grieve for the route we had planned to go on, we also have to open our hearts to the possibilities. It’s not ideal, but we have to keep going. And, if we take this new route, we will be led to incredible beauty that we might have missed otherwise.