goals

This is not a new subject.

But it’s been on mind intermittently for a while.

When we are young, we are all on an equal playing field.  We all attend school (or are home schooled) and we all strive to be accepted at university.  No one is getting married or having children (usually) and we all have parents who pay the bills, friends who are interested in the same extracurricular activities that we are, and a home to return to every night to sleep.

In college we are all assigned dorm rooms, and class schedules and for the first time, taste  the headiness of freedom.  You can go to class if you want … but there is no one telling you that you must. We begin to test boundaries, challenge the status quo.  We find people who have the same values and ideals as ours — those people become our friends.  Maybe we all played soccer in high school, or did the school play — but that didn’t hold the same weight in college, as you sat up late into the night discussing symbolism in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and eating macaroni & cheese at the diner at 4am.  College is an amazing time of freedom without true responsibility.  And none of us really appreciate it until we are gone.

It’s after college that things begin to change.  Some people get married right away, some go on to further their education, some start working.  Everyone begins to understand the true responsibility of supporting oneself.  Most people handle it just fine. Some don’t.  All our paths begin to slowly diverge.  We make different choices, we pursue different dreams.

That’s almost easier said that understood.

I think I always had a clear idea of what I wanted — but I didn’t know how to achieve it.  I didn’t value myself very much, or my thoughts and ideas. I allowed other people to influence me, allowed their ideals and values to overshadow mine.  I craved acceptance, I craved the feeling of belonging that had eluded me most of my life.  Insecurity is a very powerful thing.  We allow things that we otherwise would not tolerate solely for the  sense of feeling loved.

I have to admit, I love my thirties.  I finally feel at ease in my own skin.  I feel settled and having my own approval means I don’t seek others in the same way I did in the past.  I know where I am, what I want, and have ideas on how to get there.  I don’t feel the need to apologize anymore.

And in conjunction with that, I don’t look at other’s lives and their choices, and judge or condemn them.  I do not envy them.  Because their choices aren’t my choices, and their dreams and wishes are also not mine.  If they are pursuing their dreams, and are happy in their life, then I am happy for them, but my opinion doesn’t … and shouldn’t… really matter.

But –and I think this is the thing that has been niggling in my brain — we should all respect each other’s lives and choices.  We don’t have to agree with them, or understand them.  We are not wearing their moccasins.  But we should respect the people we choose to keep in our lives as friends.  We should respect their choices, and their belongings, their space and their time.  We should not impose our own ideals and life choices upon them.  Or assume that how we feel is how they feel. We all face challenges, and hardships and impossible days.  But to assume that our difficulties somehow outweigh another person’s is ignorant and unfair.

I go through life now with an incurable neurological disease. I have difficulty seeing sometimes, and I haven’t fully felt my feet and legs for years.  Until I started my current therapy, I used a walking stick named Lydia.  Outside of my own personal, physical struggles, I have family health issues — both my family and John’s family.  John just underwent major surgery for his incurable genetic disease.  So yes, we have hardships.  And some days they break me, and some days they inspire me.

But they never define me.  And I never use them as a tool to shame or humiliate others.  I do not use my issues as a battle tool, a way to ‘win’ the fight for who has it hardest, who struggles and overcomes the most.  That’s just — well, absurd.  I also don’t seek other’s approval for how I manage everything; I don’t look for praise for living.

We all live.  We all manage our chaos, and dream big dreams.  We all have dark days when everything feels impossible.  But I like having people in my life, who despite the darkest of dark hours, still see the beauty.  People who don’t seek constant approval for doing the things we all do to survive.  People who don’t value their own choices above others and use them as a measuring stick to judge.

Anyway.  Stepping off my soap box now.  Taking a deep breath and heading off to enjoy this beautiful day.

another life

I bought a car this week.

It’s funny because it brought a lot of things to mind. Years ago – back when my life was very dark, and hopeless and felt eternally bleak – I made a list. I can’t find it now, but I remember fairly clearly what was on it. I remember where I was when I wrote it. I remember what motivated me to put my dreams on paper.

I’d thought that I had direction.  I thought I’d found a partner to struggle through life with, and together we would accomplish things.  I’d made moves (both literally and figuratively) to advance our lives.  And then — suddenly and without a lot of warning — everything crashed down around me.  My life as I’d known it, as I’d planned it, ceased to be.  And I was left, alone, with massive amounts of debt — no direction, no partner, no life plan.  Everything gone.

I moved back in with my parents at the age of 28 — something I’d vowed I would never do.  I went back to waitressing after struggling so hard to get out.  I spent more time than anyone should ever spend on the phone with my credit card providers, the landlord of my abandoned apartment in Chicago — groveling and apologizing and feeling more vulnerable and less valuable than anything I could articulate.  Because that’s something that we all turn a blind eye to — the unquantifiable things.  The shame and the humiliation — the feelings of defeat, of loss. Of failure. The fact that when you make such a huge error — and you don’t see it at first — you lose all faith in yourself.  You don’t trust anything you feel, and it’s confusing and disorienting.  And indescribably sad.

Back then, as I scratched and clawed my way out of the despair, I made a list.  I wanted something solid to refer back to, to reference when I again began to lose my way.  It wasn’t a long list, and it didn’t have much focus.  Except that it defined the life I hoped to live one day.  It motivated me to put money in savings every week, and open an IRA.  It made sacrificing on spending easier because there was an end goal.

I wanted to get certified as a paralegal.  I looked into courses at West Chester University.  I ended up taking my LSATs and applying to law school.  I got in, I got wait-listed, I got denied.  I was offered a partial scholarship.  I didn’t go.  Instead I took a risk on my boss and his restaurant company.  And that’s where I’m at now — six years in, running a growing business.  Three restaurants open, two in development — more on the way.  But I’m not a waitress anymore.  Thank God for that.

I wanted to own a townhouse.  I have always had a love for townhomes — I don’t know why.  I just think they are divine.  And I had this strange, dream-like vision of being a successful career woman living in a neat townhouse.  I lived with my parents for a little over a year.  And then John and I moved into a one bedroom apartment on the first floor of our landlord’s house.  We struggled to pay rent for about six months.  We could barely buy groceries.  And we lived there for six years.  And our landlords became our friends.  And then, last summer, we bought a townhouse.  A brand new, we-picked-everything-in-it-townhouse.  And I come home at night, after an hour commute on the train, after running a business all day — to my perfect townhouse.

I wanted a dog.  A real dog, a dog who went running with me and curled up on the couch.  And in the first few days of 2012, John and I brought home Lucy.  And until the MS, she went running with me every day.  And when she’s feeling very generous, she curls up on the couch with her dad & me.  And she is utter, complete, ridiculous perfection.  She is my protector, and my child.  She is a diva and a love bug.  She is everything rolled into one.  I don’t know how John and I existed without her.

I wanted to drive a Mini Cooper.  And I did.  I drove a black and gold Mini Cooper named Rooney, which I bought for my 30th birthday.  And I owned a red and white Mini Cooper named Junebug.  And she was beautiful.

There were other things on the list — things I haven’t done yet.  I haven’t learned to speak Spanish. And I haven’t published anything.  And I haven’t recorded a song.  I might never do those things.  But dreams are just that — dreams.  And they keep me motivated when the going gets tough.

I haven’t achieved all the physical things I dreamed of, either — MS is a bitch like that.  But i ran Broad Street before I was diagnosed, and nothing can ever take that away.  And I feel blessed that I did it — even though I’ll never run a half marathon, or compete in a triathlon.  Or climb mountain peaks like my brother.  Or do a myriad of other things.

But back to the car that I bought this week.

John and I bought a Range Rover.  Even typing that feels absurd and makes me giggle.  I mean — do normal people buy Range Rovers?  Six years ago we were eating dinners made of discount pasta (yes, discount pasta – something already absurdly inexpensive) and shaking under the blankets rather than turning the heat on.

It’s sort of insane.  No — it actually is insane.  Life is not easy — I promise you, most people can attest to that. Life does not cut you breaks, or help you out when you’re having a bad day.  Life is brutal and unforgiving and relentless.  Life tosses MS into the mix right when you think you’re getting on your feet.  Life is like that.  

And yet, despite all that — despite all the things that seemed to forever be going wrong — somehow John and I have ended up here.  And it isn’t by chance.  It is because of hard work, and sacrifice, and making choices.  It’s because when things got hard, we held onto each other and buckled down.

I feel really proud of us.  And when we bought the Range Rover — whom I have named Hazel despite all the raised eyebrows — it felt like the ultimate validation of our hard work.  Not only were we able to buy a house, and furnish it (woof! that’s a tall order when you go from a one bedroom apartment to a three-story townhouse) but we turned around and bought a very nice SUV.

*****

I met John the day before my birthday.  He walked in the front doors of the restaurant he managed — a restaurant I’d waited tables at — and I knew.  I don’t know what I knew — I just knew more than anything, that there was something about him.  I was still wrapped up in another thing but John filled my head.  His smile and how genuine he was, the blue of his shirt and the twinkle in his eyes.  I think we both knew that God had sent us to each other (with Jennie’s help, of course) and six months later, when circumstances were better, we fell into each other.  I was a broken mess, and he scooped me up with his strong, gentle hands, and he helped to heal me.  He helped me find my faith again.

Our journey hasn’t been easy.  On so many levels.  It makes me laugh, to be honest.

But even when things have been excruciating, I have never doubted for a moment that he was there, my strength and my soul and my heartbeat.  And as we’ve struggled and succeeded, and struggled again, I’ve found peace within myself.  I’ve laid so many demons to rest.

So when we bought that car this week — that absurd, luxurious, beautiful car — it reminded me of the journey.  It reminded me of the list, and the dreams that all felt so unattainable.  And maybe we crash again.  Maybe things get hard again.  But they aren’t hard right now.  And I know that no matter what, I have John by my side, holding my hand, making me laugh, wiping away my tears.  And the gratitude for all of it — for the shitty noodles and the freezing cold nights and the sacrifices — as well as the blessings of Lucy, and our home and our groceries ….  Well, all of it is so crystal clear and near the surface of my conscience that I am drowning in love and thankfulness.

lessons

I am not quite sure how it all happened, but we have found ourselves working with a brand consultant (for lack of a better term) at work for the past few weeks.

I won’ t lie – I wasn’t against the idea, but I certainly wasn’t overly enthused either.  However —  it’s been sort of eye opening. Because it hasn’t been about branding at all. It’s been about human sociology – human nature and human behavior. It’s wild. Lots of talk about the limbic brain and gut feelings, culture and tribe-mentality. Without even realizing it we are all  gelling and feeling puffed up with this idea that what we do is different and special. Something we are wickedly proud of building and being part of.

It’s actually bizarrely good timing for my mental health. It hasn’t been an easy six weeks and I have felt on the verge of giving up. Hopeless and lost and frustrated and … Stuck. And then – like a gift wrapped in happiness – I began to look at everything a little differently, and suddenly nothing felt quite as bad.

Life comes in waves – that’s how my brain has made it make sense to me – and there are peaks and valleys. Sometimes, when the valley is low and dark, it feels like the peak will never come again. And then it somehow sneaks up on you. And the depths of despair that had been drowning you feel faraway and distant. I like to be grateful for the valleys because they help me appreciate the peaks so much more. I won’t lie – I don’t always remember to be grateful. Sometimes I’m too distracted by feeling crappy.

But in the end, nothing is as bad as it first seems. And that’s a blessing.

ticking time

I’ve been in my head a lot recently.

Maybe always … but I’m just more aware of it right now.

One of my closest friends recently confessed to a minor mid-life moment.  We’re not old — thirty-five, thirty-six — that’s not old.  But it’s a moment.  It’s a time when you really hope you have your sh*t together. You aren’t twenty-something anymore.  You can’t sort of float through things, hoping you find a current and somehow a direction.  The mistakes feel bigger, the consequences heavier.  You are settled into life — into a job, or if you’re lucky, a career.  You’re married.  Or you’ve been traveling with someone for a long time. Your lives are woven together.  You’ve had a child or a pet longer than you spent time in college.  College … it feels farther and farther away.

Time keeps ticking.  It never stops.  Which isn’t overwhelming really … until it is. Until expiration dates begin arriving, until you look at your parents and see the gray in their hair, until you realize that you’ve lived away from home nearly longer than you lived there.

Making changes becomes harder.  Somehow, when the whole world is ahead of you, anything is possible.  But as you become settled, change becomes less exciting and more burdensome.

I’m in my head because I somehow found myself where I am — in the job/career I have. It wasn’t necessarily a choice I made.  I was that kid who floated and ended up somewhere unintentional.  I’m not ungrateful — but there are moments when I feel trapped.  By bills.  By obligations — by having to be a grown up.  By bedtimes and early wake-ups and laundry and cleaning and dishes.

Anyway, I’m not really going anywhere with this — just writing to try to help my mind settle.  Hopefully.

 

blue

Depression is an odd thing.

I feel as though it sneaks up on you — you are going, and going, and going, not stopping to breathe, just trying to keep your head above water.  And then somehow, at some unknown moment, it consumes you.  It grips your soul, and suddenly, you are drowning.

It’s also surreal.  This feeling of hopelessness, overwhelming fatigue — disinterest in life and the ensuing sadness and frustration at feeling so disconnected.  It’s also funny how well people can cope — hide — their overwhelming darkness.  How you can smile, and function — get done what needs to get done — without any feeling of purpose or accomplishment.

Anyone who has ever felt depressed understands its nuances.  Understands its insidiousness.  Understands its inky darkness.

I’ve been here before.  It was a long time ago, in a different life.  But I know this place, this painful numbness.

When I was younger I had a painful fear of the transition from school to adulthood.  I can’t remember exactly what i was so afraid of, but I remember being paralyzed with fear.  I didn’t know how I was going to ‘grow up.’  I completely understood that everyone seemed to do it — I just didn’t understand how.  I don’t know why this was so terrifying to me.  But it was.  I might not clearly recall the details of my fear, but I certainly remember the feeling.

I think part of the reason that I ended up in restaurants was this fear.  I was afraid to pursue my dream of acting, and to stay young – to stay a child – I stayed in restaurants.  I waited tables and hid in the haze of serving and the lifestyle of the hospitality industry.  And then, without even realizing it, I ‘grew up.’  For six years I grew into adulthood by getting to work on time, learning accounting, and figuring out how to run a business with little to no guidance.  I learned to trust myself, trust my instincts, trust my brain.  I grew from a shy, scared little girl into a strong capable woman.

And becoming strong and capable has led me to again feel overwhelming depressed.

Life is funny that way, y’know?

I am looking forward into 2016, and the future of life — our first full year in our house, our trip to Italy, our trip to Iceland.  I’ve thought about how we’ve gotten here, the hard work and the sacrifices and the mistakes we’ve made along the way.  I’ve thought about maintaining our life, and the things we need to do to accomplish that.

And I know, without a doubt in my mind, that I cannot fulfill my half of the equation.  I cannot keep doing what I’m doing, day-in and day-out without support or recognition or gratitude.  I cannot keep doing what I’m doing when no one respects me, respects my time or respects my contributions.  I know, in the depths of my heart, that I have to make a change.  Or I will drown in this sadness, I will drown in this hopelessness.