New Blog and Instagram!

Hi, friends!

I know that this blog has been quiet for sometime, and that’s because I am blogging elsewhere. I have really loved my time here, but the posts became infrequent and quite erratic. I didn’t want to give up blogging, but rather focus it around theme. So, meet the Running Therapist!

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This blog contains posts about running, mental health, and the life lessons that come with running. I am not sure if running is therapy, but in my experience, the movement does wonders for my mental health.

The Running Therapist will be less personal than this blog, but posts will contain many of the same themes. Yes, it is focused on running, but it’s really for anyone. I’ve already written posts about comparisons, living in the moment, and the courage start.

You can find read and subscribe to the blog here: https://therunningtherapist.health.blog/

Also, I created a brand new Instagram account. Again, more running focused, but mostly me. Find and follow me here: https://www.instagram.com/therunningtherapistblog/

Whether you are a runner or not, I hope you follow along and I would love to hear from you!

 

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Choosing happiness

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When I left my 9-5 career last summer to go back to school, I figured that at some point I would pick up some kind of work, whether it be a part-time job or freelancing, in addition to my graduate assistantship. Since then, I’ve done both, picking up odd writing jobs when I can (I am available for hire!) and working at weekends shifts. These part-time jobs were supposed to be stress-free and complimentary to my school work with a small income to cover some monthly expenses.

I started working at the market attached to Heartland, and when that closed at the end of the year, I picked up a job at a bakery. It seemed quaint, right? Who hasn’t thought of working at a bakery with fresh cookies and breads coming out of the oven? My job was to take orders and make coffee drinks, but maybe eventually I could do some baking. It would be a decent gig, with delicious benefits.

And, at first, it was. The bakery was very welcoming and everyone was friendly and willing to help me learn the ropes. I really liked the owner and my co-workers, and it was fun to walk in every day and see what creations they were dreaming up.

The semester ramped up, though, and I started to dread the shifts. I often worked Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, in addition to spending 10-11 hours at school Tuesday-Thursday. I often couldn’t sleep Friday evenings thinking about all the things I needed to do at the bakery Saturday morning to prepare for the weekend rush. Work worries started to seep into my school life, and I became a stressed out mess, even royally screwing up an assignment that nearly cost me my overall grade. Before my shifts, I was usually in such a foul mood that I was mean to both Ethan and the dog, and overtime, that mood didn’t just start in the hour or two leading to my shift but a day or two before.

It was clear to my husband and close friends that I needed to leave my part-time job, but I had a hard time coming to that conclusion on my own. Like I said, I liked my co-workers and the owner, so what was it? The work wasn’t hard, but I wasn’t particularly good at it, especially as the business expanded its food and drink menu and there was more for me to prepare. Most of the customers were pleasant enough, and I started to build relationships with the regulars. The mornings were early, but really not that much. There was nothing super specifically terrible about the job, so why was I so unhappy when I was at work?

I hesitated leaving because I was afraid that I would be unhappy wherever I went. Before I went back to school, I had had a pretty decent career, but I haven’t stayed at any job for longer than two years. I get restless and want to find something that will finally fill this lingering void. I wondered if I could just hold out for the summer, save some money, and then quit when the fall semester began. That became my plan until the mere thought of working there a few more months made me physically sick.

One day I was scrolling through my Strava app (the only social media account I have), and a singular post stood out. It was from a woman in South Dakota who mentioned a group run at 605 Running Company. At that point, I was running quite a bit and just loving running again. I wanted to spend my weekend nights going for group runs and Saturday morning doing long runs, but my work schedule didn’t allow for that. It made me think about how I wasn’t really a part of the running community in Chicago, but I wanted to change that.

Then, one day, I was in my career counseling class, and we were doing partner activities to practice advising someone who is making a career change. We were to think about issues with our current jobs and present them to our counselor, and when it was my turn, I just blurted out that I wanted to quit my job and start working at a local running store. From there, I kept saying that to other people until I decided to make it a reality. It made sense. Running makes me really happy, and I love talking about it with other people. If I had to have a part-time job, why not have one that is centered on one of my passions?

When I got the job offer, I didn’t accept it right away. I know that seems weird, because obviously I wanted the running store gig and needed to get away from the bakery, but it felt like I was running away from hardships yet again. I have this pattern of jumping from thing to thing in order to find happiness, but ignoring the fact that these are external changes and if I really want to be at peace the work needs to happen internally. Couldn’t I just make it work at the bakery? What if I am not any happier, not just at the running store but eventually as a counselor? It also didn’t help that the running store wage was lower than the bakery, and I wasn’t sure if the pay cut was worth being a bit happier each day, especially if that ended up not being the case.

Eventually, I did take the job, and I actually have my first day today. I know that this job won’t automatically make me happier, but I actually feel a bit lighter since I left the bakery a few days ago. I feel more relaxed, and even hopeful. I still need to do internal work, but this is just a part-time job. Yes, I am doing it for the cash, but I also just want to be around running more. I am excited about working at the running store through the summer, and I could see myself keeping this job through graduate school and even beyond. It will be up to me to not let it become stressful, because it doesn’t have to be, but I also deserve to have a job that doesn’t make me miserable every day I have to work.

This time, I chose happiness. Maybe that’s me running away, or maybe it’s me making my happiness and mental health a priority. In the end, it’s still just a job, which is what I need the most right now.

 

The Summer of Self Care

I only listen to country music when I miss South Dakota.

Usually, I start to long for my home state in the fall with those fiery early autumn sunsets and those brisk nights that are so endearing that you forget about the six months of winter they prelude.

This year, though, the start of summer is causing flashbacks of home. I think about the smell of freshly mowed lawn in Steamboat Park or the sound of gravel road under my tires on the way out to Farm Island or how the entire town smells like a campfire for 12 weeks. For years I longed to be in a city, and now that I am, I am a bit heartbroken each night because I can’t see the sun setting between the tall buildings. So, instead I listen to country playlists on Spotify because music is the closest thing we have to a time machine.

We live just a block from Lake Michigan, and on slower mornings, I will walk the dog over to the beach. This morning, she scampered through the sand looking for anything edible and I watch the soft waves lap against the shore. For months, that lake has raged as if it was the ocean, but today it was quiet. Water is centering. Its gentleness is reassuring that maybe I am OK, and today as it was trying to wash out the demons living in me, I laughed. Lately, I’ve been longing for forests and to disappear into the trees, but here the water was welcoming me. It was funny because I have had forests before and I wanted water.

I’ve always wanted what I don’t have.

As I’ve written about lately, I am constantly haunted by what’s missing, and thinking about all that I don’t have brought me into a deep depression for the first half of the year. I tried combating it with self care and gratitude lists, but it’s not an easy voice to stop.

The summer is bringing a pause in my schedule. I am only taking one class and working one job, and I want to use this simpler schedule to really attend to myself and my needs. The summer of self care, I am calling it. I want to try and get to know myself better, follow curiosity instead of anxiety, and find more joy. I want to address my perfection, my resistance to vulnerability, and my commitment to other’s opinions. I hope to drink less, spend more time away from screens, and honor my own desires and wants. I know that I can’t completely fix myself over a summer, but I have to get back to me before I head back into another full semester. If I don’t, I am not sure I will make it.

Mostly, I just want to enjoy where I am with what I have. I want to stop longing, or at least try to stop. Because I worked really hard for what I have, and I should be able to enjoy it, and I can do that while being grateful for what led me here.

Happy Not A Mother’s Day

Bakeries are busy on Mother’s Day. Dads and their kids come in looking for a cake or pie to take home to mother, or families out for brunch decide to stop in and get something extra for the main woman of the house. As people poured through the door at the bakery where I work, my colleagues and I greeted them with Happy Mother’s Day, and people returned the offering to me.

To me. As if I deserved it.

The next day, I stopped in a floral shop and the owner asked how my Mother’s Day was like I had been showered with homemade cards and breakfasts in bed. “Just fine,” I replied.

It was startling how many strangers assumed that I was a participant in Mother’s Day, that I was a mother and should be honored for raising a human. Did they wish me well out of habit, like how we say Happy Holidays to nearly everyone we encounter in December? Or, did it seem plausible, most likely accurate, that I, a married woman in my mid-30s, would have offspring? I wonder if my husband will receive the same kind of attention on Father’s Day, or if that connection between a man being married and at the right to having children is less easy to make.

Truthfully, this bothered me. Partly because one shouldn’t assume that a woman my age, married or not, has or even wants children, and they risk enflaming wounds of possible infertility. Also, mothers aren’t always women who give birth and women who give birth aren’t always mothers. But also because I do want children, and it feels like my husband are in am impossible place to have them right now. I know that there is really no great time to have children, but without a steady income and me being in school for the next two years, babies are far from ideal. And, as I’ve stated here before, my mental health is not in the best of places at the moment. However, that longing desire to have kids still lingers each day, and I feel sad knowing how impractical it would be for us and frustrated not knowing what to do with that want.

Being wished a Happy Mother’s Day was also heartbreaking because it was a clear indication of where society thinks I should be in life and what I should be doing. I am terrible at deciphering my own wants from that of what other people want for me, and so I put value in this summarization of my life. At 34, shouldn’t I already be a mother to at least one kid? And why I am not?

I feel this not just with kids, but also with my career. Currently, as a graduate student, most of my classmates are a decade younger than me, just starting out their lives beyond undergraduate school, where as most of my other friends are fairly established in their careers. And then there is me. I have some work experience, but not enough to land a big role somewhere (if I wanted), and I am pursing another career, which will likely come with a starting salary that is half of what I was making at the job I left for graduate school. On top of it, the little bit of writing I do do and submit is still getting rejections. Professionally, I am not doing anything worthwhile, or that’s how it feels at the moment.

Sometimes, usually on Sunday mornings when I work at the bakery and serve friends catching up over coffee, writers working on their latest drafts, and families popping in after church for a cinnamon role, I wonder how I got to this place. 34, childless, working at a bakery. Didn’t I work hard in school and my career? Wasn’t I a good person? Shouldn’t I have more of my life figured out?

Obviously, I do, and I have a lot more things going for me (newly married, working on my graduate degree, good friends and family, a fairly worn passport) that I chose not to include in the list above because it’s always easier to focus on what’s missing. There is also beauty in being in this place that may seem unconventional for a woman my age, like typing this out on a Tuesday morning from my couch. There is no hungry human demanding my attention or a slew of work emails waiting to be answered. This may not be where I anticipated being at 34, but quiet Tuesdays are a lovely perk.

The thing I keep forgetting is that life is fluid and everyone’s path is a bit different. My path has never been like others, and I am not sure why I expect it to be now. My big career and children will likely come, just at a time that makes sense for my journey. It’s hard to remember that when you see everyone with what you want (which I remember when most of my friends were getting married), but there is a lot I have now that I won’t always have. This is all part of my path, and I just have to have the faith that I am exactly where I should be.

Grad School Hangover

Hi. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I’ve got a ton of excuses as to why, but none of them are truly good ones. Plain and simple, I just couldn’t find the time or motivation to be here, so I just wasn’t.

This semester of school was like a terrible wind storm. It blew hard and faster in ways I never knew the air could spin. I held on as tight as I could, thinking that any more moment it would calm and there would be peace, but the storm raged. When it did finally stop, pieces of branches scattered the terrain, marking a new normal.

Last week, I finished up my spring semester of graduate school, and now I am constantly refreshing my Blackboard app to see my final grades (I messed up royally on submitting one paper, and I am praying that my professor will grant me some leniency and give me the points I need to secure the A). I thought once I finally reached this week, I would feel relaxed and eager for a restful and easy summer (despite one class). Instead, I feel like I am managing a seven-day hangover. I have no motivation for anything, except sleeping, drinking white wine, and eating frosting from the can. I have nearly quit every run I’ve attempted this week, I am mean to my dog and my husband, I don’t feel like seeing people, and I certainly don’t want to work or do anything that resembles it.

It was a rough semester. Most people know this by now, but right at the tail end of the fall semester, my husband lost his job. And because I left my good-paying job to go to school knowing that he had solid employment, this was devastating. For months, I waited and prayed for this trial to be over, for him to get another job and for us to continue on with our lives. But, that didn’t happen. E is working now, but his job doesn’t include a steady income or any benefits, like health insurance. We’ve been able to keep our heads above water, but only because we’ve been treading like hell under the surface. My part-time job has helped, along with both of our savings and parents who’ve picked up a few of our bills, but this set back has cost us. Our marriage has been tested, and between working at school and at the bakery, I’ve morphed into someone I do not want to be. I am irritable, angry, emotional, and constantly stressed. And all of this on top of being a graduate student with a history of anxiety and depression. I have lost a great deal of sleep thinking how one big emergency could wipe us out, or how our luck just might suddenly stop and we can’t make rent one month. The feeling that we are on borrowed time gnaws at me every day.

This week, my emotions frazzled and my energy all dried up, I’ve been craving to be somewhere else, to be someone else. I want trees and quiet nights. I want bright Saturday mornings among flowers. I want cappuccinos in place where I don’t know the language.

This feeling, though, it’s familiar. So comfortable that it is home. These emotions make me think of my first summer out of college, when I moved to Idaho to work at a mid-sized daily. Or in those few months that I lived in D.C. and rode my bike through Logan Circle on Saturdays past bars full of people day drinking. Or, when I came to Chicago and wishing I had some place to be other than in my bed, drinking bottles of wine by myself and watching “30 Rock.” It’s loneliness, it’s wondering if I will be ever enough, it’s wanting everything but what I have.

Throughout this semester, I kept thinking that the stress and sadness would go away if I could just get to the other side. Of this assignment. Of this shift. Of this hardship with Ethan’s job. Of this semester. But, life isn’t that easy. You don’t find joy and peace when you tick off boxes. Rather, they are mixed in with the fear, despair, and hardship, and you can only enjoy them if you pick them out and choose to honor them. I lived my whole life waiting for this or that to happen to finally be happy, and I am only starting to realize that maybe that calm I so desperately dream of in a different life is already within me.

Tonight, I made dinner. Because of my schedule, and the crushing exhaustion at the end of the day, I don’t do that often anymore, but tonight I wanted to use up some veggies we had in the fridge. As the frying pans sizzled and Annie snooped around my feet looking for whatever scraps I inevitably would drop, I got this sense that we were going to be OK.  This happens from time to time. I don’t know how, and I have no explanations, but relief settles in for a minute and I know that we’ll be fine.

When I have a hangover, I know to let myself rest, eat some Jimmy Johns, and drink lots of water. With this emotional hangover, I need to take care of myself. So far, I’ve started by quitting my part-time job at the bakery and getting another at a running store, which I think will be a better fit. I also know I need to find a way to get back to therapy, health insurance be damned. And, I have to do other things that lift me, like taking those slow days and making the time to write. The truth is, unless I really start to address some of my mental health issues, I will continue to long for what I don’t have, and in that find loneliness and unfulfillment.

Tonight was a good start. I looked around at E and our dog and our little dinner, and for a brief second, I wanted to be no where but here.

Spring Awakening

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Today is the first day of spring, and the sun forgot to show up. Instead, a light rain drizzled down on the city, and while it wasn’t snow, it was still not idea. Even so, as I ran next to Lake Michigan this morning, the birds were out singing and a light wind rustled through the trees. It was a sign that a softer, sweeter time is on the horizon.

It’s been a rough winter. As I eluded to back in December, my husband and I were dealt a major life challenge right before the holidays. Ethan lost his job, and with me being in school full-time, this was a huge blow to us, and it has been a rough few months. His job search led him to a different career path, and we beyond grateful to our families stepped up in helping us pay for some necessities that we can’t cover and our friends who were there to support in this most trying time. However, we are still in it, and while we think we are finally headed down a road to normal, there is never going back to where we were. That’s gone.

Over the last five months, I all I have wanted is for my husband to come home and say he got a new job. Then, the tightness in my shoulders would fade. I could sleep through the night. And, I could go back to being just a graduate student. That moment, though, never came.  Like the last time he was without work, he often came close but not enough for the offer.

After one particular rejection, I lost it. I got the news before boarding the train south down into the Loop, and I cried throughout the entire public ride and on the street. I screamed at the sky, wondering why God, the fates, the Universe had been so cruel to my family and I. I stared at my phone, waiting for someone to text me something that would make all the pain and heartache go away. Some friends and family did try to comfort me, but it wasn’t enough. Instead, I went to my favorite fast food restaurant and ordered everything I wanted, and that too wasn’t enough. For months, I had been doing whatever I could to help us fix this – working extra shifts at my part-time job, connecting Ethan to people who might help get him an in, offering suggestions, pouring over our budget – but nothing I did could undo this setback. Which is how I felt that day, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t numb the pain enough. All that was left was to endure it and hold on tight enough to get through the other end.

A depression has taken hold of me. I’ve been entertaining more vices – sleeping, drinking, eating, scrolling, isolating. I have not written nor do I have any nails left. I am close to yelling at strangers and often do yell at my husband. So much anger has popped out of me that it’s surprised even myself. I cry easily or burst into a fit. It doesn’t take much these days to send me into a downward spiral.

I know it’s hard to see why this has bothered me so much. Five years ago, if someone who had said that I would be so upset because my husband lost his job, I would have said, “Wait, aren’t I just happy to have a husband?” This is his problem, not mine, even though I also lost my health insurance and have to pay more for everyday expenses than we planned I would while in school. Also, we come from enough privilege that we are financially OK, and to be honest, I have more money in my bank account now than I did a year ago (does it count if a good chunk of that belongs to the federal government? No? OK, great.).

For a normal person, like my husband, this is a just a hurdle in a long life full of them. It sucks, but you know you will make it out because life often rebounds. He has actually been rather optimistic, and is even happier. However, I have anxiety and depression, so events like this send me into a dark and hairy place. Add school and working two jobs to the anxiety, and you have a tried-and-true recipe for a breakdown. This winter, my head went to a very, very bad place, and there were times I was certain I couldn’t pull myself out of it. I felt unloveable, like I was failing at all things, and that I would absolutely never be OK again.

And right when I thought I could never feel relief again, I decided that I would. I woke up the next day and vowed to be in control of my thoughts and reactions. I could make the universe give me what I want, but I could want what I already had. The sun shined that day, the temps rose a bit, and my shoulders were a bit more relaxed. As the season began to change, so did my soul. If I wanted to be OK again, well I already had everything inside of me to make it so.

It doesn’t quite feel like spring, nor do I feel like myself again, but there are signs both are coming. Like the birds that sang me through my run this morning, as I smiled and thanked the heavens for their song. They were welcoming a brand new season, for me and all of us. I don’t know what summer will bring, but I will greet it with hope.

On Self-Care

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This summer, back when I was working full time, I decided to use some of my leave time for a mental health day. I had been stock piling sick days in the event that we got pregnant (the lack of standards for maternity care in the U.S. is disgusting and degrading), but then I decided to quit my job for graduate school and so I had a few days to burn. I slept in, road my bike to the gym, swam laps in the rooftop pool, had lunch at a brewery, read a book by the beach, and finished it with dinner with my husband. It had been a crazy summer with our wedding, moving, and preparing for graduate school, and I needed this day for myself, to unwind and replenish.

These days, my schedule is bananas. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I am usually up at 7 a.m. to take out Annie, get in a run, and do some homework before heading to school to work at my graduate assistant job and then go to class. Because class goes till 10:10, and I live fairly far from school, I don’t get home until 11:00 – 11:15. Then, I work  at the bakery Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and when I have free time, I am usually running, doing homework, catching up on errands, spending time with my husband, or trying to see friends (although I am failing pretty hard at that these days). Student life has built-in breaks for holidays and the spring, but in the thick of the semester, I can’t just take a day off. Instead, I have to find pockets of time for self-care, or I will crash.

And, I am crashing. My stress-induced nausea is almost a daily occurrence, I have at least one teary breakdown a week, and I often work myself up into a lather, convinced that no one truly likes me. (Just this week, I apologized for slighting people, thinking maybe they were upset with me, and they responded with, “I didn’t think twice about it.”)

For one of my classes, I recently had to do a photo collage of myself, with pictures from my infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adult phases, and then describe what I was like at that age. Looking through old photos, I got really sad remembering how hard I’ve always been on myself. Like seeing my posed cross country photo, when I was limiting myself to 800 calories a day and refusing to eat dinner after a meet if I didn’t run as well I thought I should have. I called my mom to ask what I was like as a kid, and she said lots of sweet things but also that I was a perfectionist and I was eager to please people. My husband, who was listening by speaker phone, responded sarcastically, “Wow, things have really changed.”

Reflecting on who I was a kid and teenager added some insight to my current life, and all the stress I am balancing with school, keeping our bills paid, being a good wife and friend, and living the way I think I should be. Yes, I am stressed now, but I’ve always been stressed, chasing whatever I think will finally make me feel enough.

I just need to lose 10 pounds, and I then I will feel worthy.

I just need to have a good paying job, and then I can relax.

I just need to meet a great guy and get married, and then I will feel whole.

I just need to get a book published, and then I will know I am OK.

I just need friends to want to be around me, and then I will feel valued.

My whole life, I’ve been chasing that thing that will finally make me feel enough, but once I reach that finish line, the goal morphs, and I am running again. So, yes I am at a specifically stressed time in my life, but this feeling of moving in a hundred directions just to silence the “you are not enough” in my head is not new. And, if I am going to make it out of this program and live contently, I need to stop chasing finish lines and find solace in who I am and where I am right now.

This is where self care comes in. Most people think that self care is about bubble baths and solo dinners, which it can be, but it’s also about putting yourself first and showing yourself love. Honestly, love to myself is likely what I have been missing all along and why all the things I’ve done, the people I love, and the good in my life are not enough to make me feel whole. One giant piece is missing.

Here is what self care looks like for me these days:

  • Running. Thankfully, my hip is healed, and despite what a psychic told me last April, I am running again. I have even signed up for two races this year, and I am strongly considering a marathon in the fall. Some people do yoga or meditate to center themselves, but for me, it’s running. Yes, it’s a pain to run in 17-degree weather and some of my runs are more like ice skating, but running is the best calmer to my anxiety. When I go too many days without a run, I usually end up having a breakdown, so as much as I don’t want to go some days, I force myself anyway. Also, I feel so fortunate to run again, and I don’t want to take that for granted.
  • Saying no. As I mentioned earlier, I really don’t have a lot of free time these days, so the time I do have is valuable. I hate bailing on things I’ve committed to, but I can’t keep spreading myself so thin in order to please others. Lately, I’ve started to say no to certain things and create stronger boundaries so that I can have more time to cuddle with my dog or write (which I do very little of these days). I am no good to the world, if I can’t take care of myself.
  • Watching trashy TV. Wednesday mornings, before I go to school, I make myself coffee and watch a really awful MTV show that aired the night before. It’s not that it is reality TV, but it’s bad reality TV, and I freaking love it. I don’t care that it’s dumb and vain; it makes me happy. I give myself that hour without judgement and then go back to my text books and writing assignments. That little break, filled of made-up drama, is a nice little reset for me, and I won’t apologize for it.
  • Silencing voices I don’t need. I have a pretty unhealthy relationship to social media, and it’s a destructive coping mechanism to endlessly scroll after a long day of class, but I have taken the initiative to unfollow people who make me feel bad about myself. There is a running blogger who I’ve long followed and compared my life to, and not only did I obsessively read her blog, listen to her podcast, and read her social posts, but I also followed a GOMI thread about her to see how people were judging and gossiping about her life. She always seemed to have everything I want, and I used her life to prove to myself that I am failing. That was definitely not filling me up, so since the new year, I unfollowed and unsubscribed her completely. There is still plenty for me to feel bad about (P.S. Does anyone else use Venmo to see what friends where hanging out without you? Oh, just me? Cool.) and I need to set better social media boundaries, but at least I don’t have this one person in my space anymore.
  • Prioritizing sleep. I need at least 7.5 hours of sleep to function each day, and the older I get, the more I realize that nearly nothing is worth skimping on the sleep. If I am tired and dragging the next day, then I can’t be in the moment and enjoy it. So, I go home early, skip runs, and put my husband on dog morning duty so that I can get in the sleep I need.
  • Introducing a new narrative. My head is really good at telling me lies about who I am to other people and how I am not enough. I’ve longed believed these lies, but after years of therapy and some maturity, I am starting to challenge them. It’s not easy, but I am throwing my support to myself when I say, “Yeah, I don’t think that is true.”
  • Letting myself breakdown, and then rebuild. I have anxiety and depression, so I am going to breakdown more often than other people. So be it. I need that sometimes, and as long as I can withstand the storm, which I can, then I will be there for sunshine.

I am still going to have bad days, and I won’t immediately feel like enough, but I am committed to working towards that. While I can’t take those mental health days, I can still put my well-being at the center, and when I do that, I am a better person to everyone I am around.

Your turn. Tell me about your self-care routine? What’s the thing you do to make you a better human?

What I Wished For

Whenever I feel despair or hopelessness, I turn to Pinterest. I search for quotes that will resonate and encourage me, and I’ve even built an entire board of more than 1,000 of these pinned quotes. The majority of these quotes come from pre-June 2015, before I met my husband and was fairly love lost and hopeless. I’d scroll through the site, looking for words to reassure me that I wouldn’t forever feel this way.

There is one particular image that stuck with me over the years. Not because it was what I had hoped for (although it was), but more because it is what happened.

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Ethan and I came back from our dream honeymoon a few days ago, and I’ve been in denial about it. The end of our vacation means the official finale of the holiday break, and in just a week, I will go back to school. I’ve got a new job and a freelancing gig, and I am already starting to worry about balancing them in addition to my classes (and, being the overachiever that I am, I decided to take an extra class this semester). Plus we are still working through the challenges of a major life change. Back in reality, thoughts on my short comings and not being enough are lining up to zap out any bliss I gained while sipping fruiting cocktails poolside in Costa Rica.

We were supposed to drive down to southern Illinois today to pick up our dog, who has been with Ethan’s parents in Tennessee for the last three weeks, but those plans have been derailed because of snow. And, since I don’t go back to work until tomorrow, I was given an extra day to catch up on errands, work on the freelance stuff, do all the tidying projects around the house that I promised myself I would do over the winter break.

Instead, though, Ethan and I slept in, which is a huge treat since my new bakery job comes with a 5 a.m. wakeup time, and even on my days off, Annie starts making noises around 6:30 demanding to be fed. Not on this gloomy Saturday. We laid in bed snuggling and reading, before I got up to make us pancakes and coffee, which we brought back from Costa Rica.

And, as the quote says, everything was alright. For a few hours, I forgot about my to-do lists, what I should be doing, where our bank accounts is, how many pounds I gained on vacation, if I will ever get published, if I am doing enough for the world, if I am doing enough creatively, if I am being a good friend, and all the other worries that keep me up at night.

Sitting there, eating pancakes and drinking coffee with my newish husband as the snow came down, I remembered that this is the life I had dreamt about years ago, and it doesn’t seem to right squander it away with worries that it could be better. What’s the point of wishing and hoping for things if you won’t enjoy them when they arrive? Yes, I wish our circumstances were a bit different, and my days weren’t so full, but there is so much good still pulsing through our lives.

With a new year upon us, I’m making the intention to find more good in the present rather than going hunting for what is missing or how it doesn’t compare to what other’s may have. I realized that I need more joy in my life, and the only way to get it is by recognizing what is already there.

So, I sip my coffee, watch the snow come down, write, and be so thankful that what I had long wanted is now mine, giving me reassurance that I all is, and will be, OK.

 

Just a Job

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When I was evacuated from my first Peace Corps service, in Niger, I went home to live with my parents for a few months, where I planned to get my bearings straight and decide what to do next. I figured I would get a low-stress, no-stakes job, so once I passed the initial devastation of my service ending, I started looking around for gigs. I went to the local ice cream shop, a bar, a couple of retail stores. No one wanted to hire me, probably because I didn’t have much experience in those industries. The place that did want to hire me, though, was the local newspaper, and so I took the job and immediately became one of the more veteran reporters on staff. A few months later, the Missouri River Flood of 2011 happened, and while I won an award and produced clips that I used to get jobs a few years later (after a second Peace Corps service), it was not the stress-less job I had hoped to have.

I’ve been very fortunate that I haven’t had to work many service, minimum wage jobs in my lifetime. My first real job, outside of babysitting, was lifeguarding and teaching swimming lessons, which I did all throughout high school. In college, I interned and freelanced for newspapers and made most of my beer and rent money working in the marketing department of a scoreboard company. Outside of short stints at Blockbuster and a pizzeria housed in a gas station, I have always held jobs that were linked to my field of choice. I never folded clothes at a Gap, made a latte, or waited tables. I am lucky, I know.

When I made the choice to quit my job to go to school it was with the idea that I would probably get some part-time work down the road. With my grad assistantship to cover my tuition, loan money to cover my rent and extra school fees, a willing husband to cover more costs, and a fairly decent savings, I didn’t need a job right away but that didn’t stop me from obsessing over our bank account and feeling guilty for not contributing more to the household expenses.

Initially, I thought that this would be through freelance work. I could do some writing, editing, and marketing work on the side, creating my own hours and bringing in a bit of cash. When I left my job, though, I didn’t want to start putting out the feelers right away because I needed a break. Plus, I wanted to adjust to my new life as a student. I did apply for a few positions from postings online, but I knew that the best way to get work was reaching out to connections. Part of me put off looking for this kind of work because school hadn’t quite ramped up and I didn’t know what kind of time I could commit to a side gig, but also because I wasn’t ready to dive back into that work just yet. And because writing those “Hey, I am looking for work” emails isn’t the best way to spend an afternoon.

Then, one day, while returning home from the gym where I just swam tens of laps to get rid of my anxieties about money, I decided to stop in at a health foods market in my neighborhood. The market is attached to a restaurant and cafe that has been in the neighborhood for 40-some years and is known for its vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. The store’s items include produce from an organic farm in Michigan, sustainable coffee, vegetable versions of chips, and natural beauty and cleaning products. I had been in there a few times to browse their vegan section, and while I couldn’t afford much, it was the type of store I often dreamed about shopping at exclusively. Locally owned. All organic. Kombucha on tap.

I’ve often been scared to go up to a business and ask if they are hiring, as if I am the first person to ever think of such an idea, because of the possibility of instant rejection. On this day, though, I would risk that fear because the worry over money was greater, so I walked up right to the counter and asked if they were hiring.

The woman wasn’t sure. Maybe, she said. I told her I wasn’t looking for many hours, just one or two shifts a week. I didn’t know if this would hurt or help my chances, but it was actually the answer she was looking for. They could use a filler here and there, and even better that I was willing to work weekends, almost exclusively. I didn’t flinch saying ‘no’ when she asked if I had retail experience, but she gave me an application to fill out. I returned it later that day and was hired the following week at Heartland Café.

Generally speaking, the job is easy. Checking the produce, make inventory notes, answering the phone, and taking to-go orders. It can get stressful on a Sunday morning when I have several online orders that need to be sent to the kitchen and a line full of customers waiting to be checked out, but other than that it is low-stakes. Whatever fire ignites is easily put out in a few minutes. I was overwhelmed at first, not knowing how busy a kitchen can get and terrified to ask the chefs to make special accommodations on orders, but then I found my groove and identified my little role in this business.

Some have said that the worst part of jobs like these are the people. Rude customers, unlikeable characters, strays from the neighborhood. And, it’s this unknown of who is going to come in the door that has kept me from jobs like this in the past, but it’s actually the people that are my favorite part. I love the regulars who come in for the same thing each Sunday or whose order I can predict before their open their mouth. I love helping people find something that they can’t get at other stores. I even like the uncomfortable situations, where someone comments about how high the prices are or how the business has gone down in recent years, because it’s great training for a counselor who will be in all kinds of awkward scenarios.

What’s best about this job, though, is that it is just a job. I don’t have to think too much, except when counting the cash, and it gets me out of my own head for a few hours. I work just a shift or two a week making minimum wage, but even that is enough to soothe some of my money worries. Plus, I’ve always loved grocery stores and it’s an easy two-block commute from my house.

And, it’s low stakes. I don’t have to be here forever. I don’t have to work my way up. I don’t have to prove to everyone that I am good at what I do. I can just show up, do my job, and then go home. The key, for me, is to keep out the stress. In my last position, I spent so much time worry about where I was in the organization and what others thought of me (they often were not thinking about me) that it diluted my experience. Much of the time, I was more stressed than I needed to be. In fact, when I left, one piece of advice someone gave me was to just relax. This market job is a way of reclaiming my passion and my energy. I want to succeed and do well at school, but work is actually a break from that. It’s just a job, and at this moment in my life, it’s exactly what I need.

Just when I started to really enjoy this just-a-job job, I lost it (after I had written 1,300 words about it). The Heartland announced that it was closing because the building had been bought (by developers, cue the eye roll). Both the restaurant and café will close tomorrow evening, December 31, without a new home, although the owner hopes to be in a new Rogers Park location by the spring, but nothing is confirmed.

At first, losing my job was a kick in the teeth after some already unfortunate events Ethan and I were handling. Second, I am losing my strongest connection to the neighborhood. But most of all, the neighborhood is losing, as many customers have told me, an institution. Over the last few weeks, people have poured into the store, telling me how they started coming there three years ago, 15 years ago, 35 years ago, when they first moved to the area. It was their first home, they tell me. They are sad for me, but mostly for their neighborhood.

It’s very interesting to be at a store as it approaches its end. Some people are sad, saying they love this place, but admit they haven’t been there in years. Other people are very pumped about the discount on market products and buy baskets full of stuff when they wouldn’t have bought anything if there wasn’t a sale. It reminds me of a radio piece I heard several years ago, about the 2008 recession, and how some customers were upset that either something was discounted further or they no longer had what the shopper wanted. Most people are generally upset about the Heartland closing, but there are some who just want a good deal. It makes me sad.

For a while, I wasn’t sure what I would do. Maybe I would actually try freelancing this time, because we do need the extra income, or I could get another part-time job. Either way, I told myself that I wouldn’t bother with that until after Heartland closed. Till then, I would work my shifts and say goodbye properly.

One thing that is nice about working at a locally-owned business is that other locally-owned businesses want to hire those employees. A few places reached out to the owner about some opportunities and he passed them on to those who were interested, myself included. Before Heartland closed its doors tomorrow (I’m working the morning shift that day), I’ve already worked two days at my new job. It’s at a bakery, not too far away, and so far it’s as cute and as quaint as you would think baking at a bakery would be.

I will miss Heartland, but it was my threshold to just-a-job jobs. I needed that foundation of doing something unfamiliar yet low stakes to help me through school. Getting through my master’s is my main focus right now, but these jobs shows me sides of myself that have yet been cultivated. Now I know I can have just a job and be perfectly content.

 

Holiday Magic

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One of the things that I love most about the holiday season is that it comes with a strong connection to what was and what will be. Time slows down just a tad and we’re able to soak up all the magic that comes with the season. From family traditions passed from generation to generation to classic Christmas carols sung by musicians long gone, the holidays allow us to step into a different world for a few weeks. We eat more than normal, we spend a little extra, we smile more. We remember what it’s like to be a kid, and we believe in the impossible.

But, life does not stop in December, not with trees and menorahs, not with anything, and our hardships are even accentuated among the festivities. What can’t be afforded, who is no longer with us, the stability of last year, the “if only” slamming against what is. As the author Brené Brown wrote: “The gremlins don’t go on vacation. Checks bounce, chemotherapy appointments are scheduled, interventions are planned, relationships keep unravelling, being alone feels even lonelier, parents negotiate who will have the kids on Christmas morning, and the ‘never enoughs’ are in full swing.

Each fall, my eyes turn toward creating the best ever holiday. With baked treats, buffalo plaid, and several strands of white lights, I hope to conjure not just the Christmases of my past but also the ones in my dreams, and this year was no exception. A few weeks before Thanksgiving, life threw a curve ball at my husband and I, and our worst fears became reality. Our lives were paused and our plans pushed back. I was bitter and angry, like my throw-my-fists-into-my-mattress angry. Why us, I pleaded with God while filled with tears and rage. The uncertainty of what was next not only occupied most of my thoughts, it made me physically sick. This path of hardship will end at some point, but it’s quite unclear as to when and what other trials we may endure before we get there.

Not only did life give as an unfair set of circumstances, but the timing right before the holidays felt especially cruel. They are happy holidays, and sad ones, and the holidays joined an increasingly growing list of things we could no longer enjoy. Everywhere I turned I was reminded that our Christmas will not only not be the Christmas I had hoped for, but it would be more depleted others in recent years. No holiday cards, fewer presents, and less holiday magic. Maybe none at all.

That Brené Brown quote continues on: I will find my holiday magic in the mess. I will practice love and gratitude with the special group of folks who keep showing up and loving me, not despite my vulnerabilities, but because of them.” The thing about the magic of the holidays, though, is that it is present for all of us, no matter what struggles we are enduring. We just have to be willing to receive it.

I realized that the only way that I could continue on each day without being full of rage and tears is to stop focusing on the darkness and find the light with gratitude. Each day, I made myself write down five wonderful things that happened that day, and overtime I started to notice that while the list of what we don’t have is long, the one with what we do have is longer.

This is not the holiday I had envisioned, but it is our first as a married couple. I spent many Christmases wondering if I would always be alone, and now I have this wonderful man who grabs me by the shoulders, tells me that he doesn’t know how but it will all be OK, and then kisses me on the forehead. It’s all the reassurance I need. Also, we have incredible families who have promised they will not let us fall and wonderful friends who have made us feel loved and supported, even if they might not know what’s going on. Then there is school and finally doing something that I love, and running is finally back in my life to soothe my ailing heart. We are healthy, our basic needs are met, and there is so much love bundling us.

We are enduring a tough time, that’s for sure, but I do recognize that we are not alone. Many, many people I know also are not having the Christmases they wanted—with loved ones past, medical diagnosis threatening what they know, and deep pain from other struggles—and yet they still have much to celebrate. So do I, and while I refused to see it at first, I do now. I am very loved, blessed, and lucky right now.

Just a few days before Christmas, and I feel that magic. It captured me after all, and I know that I have absolutely everything I need right now. While I hope the new year brings new beginnings, I hold on to the beauty our trials have revealed, because it is all more than enough.

Wherever you are, whatever you are dealing with, I hope you can find your magic. A merry and bright holidays to you all.