For the second year in a row I chose a quote for my letter board that represents my biggest lesson of the year that I wish to bring into the year ahead. 2019 was about personal growth and healing, first through skills based therapy and then through self exploration in Coaching school. The most life changing mindset I worked to develop was accepting that I can’t control every emotion and outcome in my life, but I possess the strength it takes to move through any challenge or heartache that comes. This was tested at the end of the year during grief, when I allowed myself the misery but chose not to stay there. 2019 has been one of the best years of the decade because of all I have learned and accomplished on the inside.
Here’s the thing. Over the past year, it has been eye-opening to experience the judgment and skepticism that has followed our decision to wear rings. Now don’t get me wrong, I have never felt the need or desire to get on here and announce our situation or explain it. As someone who was divorced at 27, currently unmarried, a non-parent (by choice) in an age gap relationship, and wearing two rings on my finger, you can bet your bottom dollar I have heard it all. I have been asked it all. I can’t imagine what it must be like for those who have taken an even more “non-traditional” path than I. But I feel like this message is important and something I really believe in –
It is 2019 and we are lucky that we live in a world that allows us to make our own rules and honor our own values. We are free to dictate what commitment, love, family, fulfillment and happily ever after looks like. And it can look very differently depending on who you ask, because we were all born with different hearts and we all have different stories. And think of how many possibilities we are fortunate to have – single for life, dating, married for life, divorced and remarried, co-parenting, co-parenting while dating, common law marriage, gay marriage, open marriages and relationships, casual relationships, long term relationships, age gap relationships, polyamory, blended families, one child, many children, no children, families born by way of IVF, adoption, fostering, surrogacy, single mothers by choice. The list goes on and on. Yet there are plenty of people who still select their own, ONE option as the standard of success and stability. It is just sad, and really faulty math. I wish people who have made or are wanting to make a life choice for the sake of love or their own happiness, can do so and ignore the fear of their path being too “taboo”. Not everyone has to agree or understand, but we all have the right to surround ourselves with people who accept. Period. So here are my non-traditional, radical, mold breaking, “confusing”, “fake”, BEAUTIFUL rings, the most symbolic ones I have ever worn.
(and yes that is also a new bottle of Britney Spears Curious perfume for those of you who were teenagers in 2002😂)
“Girl, get a hold of your life. Stop medicating, stop hiding out, stop being afraid, stop giving away pieces of yourself, stop saying you can’t do it. Stop the negative self-talk, stop abusing your body, stop putting it off for tomorrow or Monday or next year. Stop crying about what happened and take control of what happens next. Get up, right now. Rise up from where you’ve been, scrub the tears and the pain of yesterday and start again. Someone else doesn’t get to tell you who you can be.”
Several people have asked me recently how I feel about turning 30. Lets just get right into this.
During the first half of my 20’s, my brain was not fully formed. If you knew me, you’d agree, but also this is a scientific fact, I am convinced of that. The dumb clichè of “I was finding myself” might apply had I even known I was lost. But I didn’t. I thought I knew everything during those years and made some awful choices that ignorance disguised as the best things. I hurt a lot of people. I let myself down. I was selfish. I was fake. I did things that I 100% regret, and then I nosedived right into my late 20’s with the consequences.
The scariest part of the past decade was being candid with myself. Honesty and self discovery sound great but when you’re facing the wrong way on your path, it doesn’t feel so great. It takes courage to make changes. It takes work for your life to catch up to where your heart is. It takes a mistake to know better. It takes practice to do better. It takes patience to love yourself again. It takes that same love to forgive yourself.
So here we are, a brand new decade. One that I have heard is the best of both worlds because you are still young, but have gained a bit more wisdom. All I know is I have a long list of things that I won’t try again paired with a shorter list of boxes to check. These past ten years were spent chasing the ideal. The ideal body, the ideal photos, the ideal home, the ideal financial situation, the ideal relationship dynamics, the ideal family. I have seen that when we do that, we create a battle for ourselves that we will always lose. The important thing to chase is the most happiness we can find in each day. All of this being said, I won’t miss my 20’s at all.
Closing out a decade experiencing the culture in Italy taught me more about happiness. It taught me that life should be enjoyed. Not just sometimes but whenever possible, at all costs. Life should not be taken too seriously because we are just one tiny part of it and our struggles pale in comparison to those of so many others. So as I get older, wiser, more boring and have an earlier bedtime, I want to carry that lesson with me. 30 is just a reminder that life gives us many fresh starts and opportunities to look at life differently, to do better, to love harder and to be happier.
I am concluding with an excerpt from the best blog entry I have ever read. The blog has since been removed and I wish I had the author’s name but I don’t. I will always be appreciative of her thoughts and her ability to articulate so brilliantly.
“I have learned to embrace vulnerability. Shit happens…every day…to the best people…making the best decisions they can. There’s no way to avoid it and really live. Embracing risk is essential to this experience, and pain is inevitable. The good news is I was right about one thing: the best stories are riddled with conflict. Heroes are shaped by suffering, born from the ashes of great struggle. But what I had desperately wrong was my belief that pursuing suffering would make me feel significant or more valuable. Hardship will come, and it will be valuable, but it is not proportionately related to the value of my life or my personal worth, and pursuing it is useless. Struggles will come all on their own, and I just have to hope I have the strength to let them shape me when they do.
My life’s pursuits were a series of attempts to control and predict the best outcomes for myself, instead of focusing on honest engagement with myself and the people around me in the present. You cannot manufacture happiness through obedience. You cannot control it. It is not made. It is not earned. A whole life does not look the same for everyone. And trying to do everything the perfect “right” way to attain the “whole life” will not work. There is no universal definition of success packaged in a damn picket fence. Not everyone will want to live like me, and that’s beautiful.
The other beautiful thing I’ve learned is that some people will.”
Millennials are wrestling a monster. A world in which so much of our being exists on social media that sometimes it is hard to differentiate between what is real and what is for show. Am I wrong? Hear me out, I know I am a hypocrite. During my lowest point in life, social media was my outlet. A place I could seek immediate validation for my seemingly awesome life. A place I could appear OK.
I know this topic is controversial, it could seem as though I am targeting specific people or attacking you. I’m not. These are my opinions and what I know to be true from my own experiences. I am not asking anyone to agree, I am just asking you to consider my thoughts because I believe that social media has the power to harm us if we allow it.
Consider for a moment there is no social media. It is almost impossible to imagine right? My generation was raised on that stuff. I was on Facebook back in the day when you needed to have a “.edu” e-mail address to join. Before that, it was Webshots and Myspace. Releasing every facet of our lives for public consumption has become normalized, thus creating this era of social comparison, this era of documenting all, and feeling the need to measure up to what everyone else has or is. The need to look fulfilled. The need to please everyone. The need to explain everything. The desire to have it all figured out.
Have you ever considered how damaging this concept is? I spent years of my life posting on social media without analyzing why I was doing it. It was all subconsciously driven. I was clicking “post” or “upload” as if it was a conditioned response that I gave absolutely no thought to. No hesitation, just share share share. Unfortunately, in most cases the reasons weren’t healthy. I wish I had recognized that at the time because it would have allowed me a head start tackling the personal issues I have been actively addressing in my late 20s.
Lets be honest, we know the type. The person who posts excessive selfies. The person who documents each waking moment of their day as if every mundane part of life is suddenly celebrity status and worthy of sharing. The person who portrays their life as nothing other than beautiful and fortunate. The person who has it all and is constantly flooding your feeds to the point you wonder if you should just hide them, but then you feel guilty for being a cynical asshole. Guess what? I have been all of those people. I can tell you that each one of them was riddled with insecurity, haunted by the accomplishments of my peers, and fearfully uncertain of my purpose in life.
If you have ever been coping with a major life transition, an episode of depression/anxiety and logged onto Facebook, you know exactly what I mean. If you have ever been painfully lonely and logged onto Facebook, you know what I mean. If you have ever felt ashamed of your body, you know what I mean. There have been negative phases of my life when social media has made me feel bitter and angry. I felt like I needed to keep up with those who appeared to be doing better than I was, financially, physically, emotionally… etc etc etc. People who don’t understand what I am talking about will find this entire concept very difficult to understand, but please realize that not everything is as it seems. If that isn’t your case, more power to you, but at times there has been an inverse relationship between how happy I appeared online, and how happy I actually was in reality. The more pictures and posts and attempts to validate my own existence, the emptier I was because I was not giving attention to the roots of these choices.
My facade was busted pretty openly. Its hard to pretend your life isn’t a mess when you get divorced after 1.5 years, lose the house you just built, and are living with your parents and starting completely over at age 27. The social media jig is basically up. I had to look at things differently after that. What did I want to share, what did I want to keep private, what did I want to portray? How open did I want to be about my pain, my struggles, my insecurities, the ways my life was changing? How quickly did I want to share my new relationship? When was I ready to be judged in an entirely new light? This is the social media era we live in. This is a cultural burden that some generations before us cannot fathom. The pressure of it all does seem so silly when you really think about it, when you remember that the only person you need to answer to, is you.
And so we all toe the thin line of sharing versus oversharing. Of being “real real” or “highlight reel”, of attention seeking for the right reasons, of trying to seem happy, or trying to BE happy, of CAPTURING the moment while also LIVING the moment.
I still share, of course. But part of taking care of myself emotionally post crisis years has been staying in touch with why I press “post”. I think that is important for all of us to analyze from time to time, even if the reasons aren’t completely simple or easy to swallow. I think it is important for us all to be in touch with these reasons so that we don’t lose ourselves in the temptations of comparison and envy that are only a click away.
As I approach 30, I find myself wanting to be a bit more private relative to my past. When I do share, I try to only post things that mirror how I am feeling. If I am feeling inspired, I spread positivity. If I am feeling silly, I post something funny. If I want people to comment on my new hair do, I will post a picture of that. If I am feeling moved by a topic, I will write 😉 If I am feeling down or lost, I try to find more productive ways to handle that than I once did.
We all have completely different lives, both on and off the internet. We experience peaks and valleys at different times. We express ourselves differently and we all have our personal thresholds for what is too much. Social media can be used in many positive, amazing ways, so long as we remember to keep in touch with ourselves and the “whys” behind our behavior. The bottom line is, there is a reason we all share, as opposed to a group text, an e-mail, a written journal entry or a scrapbook. There is a reason we share with ALL.
I remember sitting down last year and reflecting on my 27th year of life. The changes, the struggles, the “adult” issues I worked myself through, often times less than gracefully. I was optimistic about year 28. The worst was behind me and only good things to come. And then the flood happened. And then I lost my condo. And then I was back at square one – living at home again, feeling helpless, the weight of ruin and so much repair ahead of me. Like I said in my post below about the flood, it all sounds dramatic and it was because I am dramatic. I don’t handle crisis well, at least on the inside. I had an extremely tough year at work on top of it all, and at many points the once optimistic 28 and 1 day old girl turned in to the same defeated girl I was the year prior. Here’s the thing – I did it. I got through it. I got through one more year filled with heartache and adjustments. I sit here right now with a furnace that won’t turn on, a hot water heater that desperately needs to be replaced after I get the furnace figured out, and bills waiting to be paid after I meticulously arrange my budget for the next pay cycle. But guess what? I will get through that too. These past couple of years have absolutely.worn.me.down. And I know many if not EVERYONE can relate to this in their own way. That is kind of the point of my blog this year, is reflecting on the fact that everyone struggles. Everyone hurts. Everyone gets to the point sometimes of wanting to hop in their car and drive until they run out of gas and can hide from life in the first hotel they see. (…thats not just me, right?) We have days that look good on Facebook, and days that don’t. We have good days that make us feel we can do it all, and days when we can’t do any of it if we tried. Those days are OK too. I’ve had a lot of those. There are days when we dream of having more, and better– and there are days we can’t believe how lucky we are. It is part of life, it is part of being human.
During year 28 I learned to truly identify bad days as what they were and I learned to accept the person I am on bad days. One thing that has helped the most, was remembering that we don’t always feel this way. Good times are ahead – they ARE ahead. If not tomorrow, then the next day. But they will come, and they will remind us why we fight so hard. Sometimes we just have to be patient.
Some things I enjoyed about year 28 was making new friends, and catching up with old friends. I enjoyed having friends in the workplace who are always there for me, can always make me laugh, and who and can relate to the stress I feel professionally. I have also loved watching my three nephews grow up this year. It seems as if in an instant, they have turned into young men, and I like the new/different relationship we are starting to form because of that. I was proud that I was able to be DRUG FREE. Ha – let me explain 🙂 I made the decision to permanently take myself off of my ADHD medication. It was NOT easy (nor enjoyable for the people closest to me) but I did it, and I also learned to accept the 15lbs that came along with it. I enjoyed being able to travel to a new country and have a new adventure, which was something I never thought I would be able to do any time soon. Lastly, I loved that I could love. That I could be open about being in love again without feeling judged. There was an indescribable freedom that came with that.
What will year 29 hold? What things will I be writing about next year, when I am about to turn THIRTY. (I still feel 15 – I can’t handle this 30 nonsense) All I know is, whatever I may be up against, if I am here to talk about it, it won’t be for nothing. Someone much older than me recently told me that I have been through more experiences and struggles before the age of 30 than they have been through in their lifetime. In an odd way, I am proud of that. It has made me who I am. “Life is tough, buy a helmet.” And buy me one too – just make sure it has rhinestones on it.
This blog entry might seem dramatic. It is. My life is dramatic. This day was dramatic. My condo is dramatic, which I guess makes it perfect for me. The irony is I couldn’t wait for life to be simple. I thought 2016 was my year of calm. Of being settled. A year of shorter to-do lists and boring weekends. You’d think I would have learned this by now, but just when you get too confident about the forecast for your life, God sends a reminder that you, in fact have zero control.
Wednesday, 20 January started out to be an exceptionally great day. It was a normal day at work, but I was excited to eat the egg sandwich I had bought from Harris Teeter (so good) the night before, when I went to stock up my pantry for the pending blizzard. Before lunch I received an unexpected call, informing me that I had just received a pay raise/promotion. My most significant raise since starting my job 6 years ago. I was over the moon. The kind of happy that makes your hands shake a little bit. I thought, 2016 definitely is my year. Off to a great start. Everything finally coming together.
It wasn’t 30 minutes later that I received another call. This time, from a number I didn’t recognize. “Kim? Are you the owner of unit ***?” Yes? “You need to come home immediately and get your dog out. Your entire condo has flooded.” I don’t remember if the person on the other end hung up on me, or if I hung up on them, but in that moment I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. Was this a prank? Am I dreaming? I had just bought this home four months prior, and had just finished making it the way I wanted. Paint, decorations, new floors, window treatments. I had a million thoughts rushing through my head. The fact that I had just been promoted no longer was one of them.
That 30 minute drive home felt like an absolute nightmare, mostly because I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even know who had called me. I imagined my condo literally floating away. I was scared for Brooklyn. I was worried about my things. My furniture, my electronics, my clothes. The hand painted crafts I had just hung up on the wall three days ago. Was everything ruined?
When I got home, there were a bunch of strangers in my living room but I went directly to Brooklyn, who was perched on top of my love seat, soaked and shaking. He was safe, so there was that. Had he escaped, I would not have been able to cope. Things are things, but pets are family. I then looked around and saw puddles everywhere. The fire marshall had busted down my front door, and there were people already starting to clean up. It wasn’t the scene that my pessimistic imagination had been envisioning during my drive home, so that immediately prompted me to be positive. “Oh, this isn’t that bad!” I said as I noticed all of my trashcans had already been dumped out and were being used as buckets to catch the water from above. I would later eat my words, because the scene that wasn’t “that bad”, would get very bad in a few hours. I began trying to soak up some water with bath towels, having the delusional belief that I might be able to save my floors. I had the genius idea that my best friend Kelsey who lived down the street could bring her wet vac over to get up the remaining water, and then my condo would be saved and I would live happily ever after. When she arrived with the wet vac (and her 11 month old son) in hand, it dawned on me that they turned my electricity off, making the wet vac useless. Oops- silly me to think that logic would be working.
The mitigation crew arrived a few hours later, after the electrician had come to dump out the light fixtures that had been filled with water, and safely turn the power back on. I sat on my couch observing everything. The flood crew was starting with the units above and below me first, because somehow they were worse off than I was (which I couldn’t believe was possible until I looked in and saw that my neighbor’s unit could have passed as Sea World). I noticed that my beautiful new floors had started to buckle from the water, so it started setting in that there was going to be quite a bit of damage. I will never forget the moment when I looked up at my ceiling, from my couch that had been pushed into the dining room along with my other furniture, and saw a seam of water start rapidly forming. Logically, I should have anticipated this. The water was coming from the attic, from a frozen pipe in the sprinkler system that had burst. The water came rushing down through the attic and destroyed the unit above me. It didn’t occur to me that all of this water would eventually soak through those floors, and come through my ceiling. All at once it seemed, pockets of water started bursting through, quicker than I could attend to them. I got out every pot that I had, and every makeshift item I could think of to start catching the water. It was happening everywhere. The living room, my bedroom, the guest room, the closets. I couldn’t keep up with all of it. I couldn’t shift furniture and belongings around quick enough to protect them from the water. I didn’t know where the next pocket would form.
I developed a deep sense of sympathy for those who have lost their home in a fire, or a natural flood, or any kind of disaster. Although this happened to me on a smaller scale, I believe that the psychological impacts are the same. You are losing more and more of what was once your home with every passing minute, and there is virtually nothing you can do to stop it. I felt helpless. I eventually ran outside and saw some crew members from the mitigation team arriving and begged for their help as I dealt with “the worst of it”. They had to immediately start cutting holes in my ceiling because the weight of the water would soon be so heavy that my ceilings were at risk of caving in. I knew I had lost my floors. I am now losing my ceilings, and more than likely my walls too.
After the entire crew of probably 15 people arrived, a sense of paralysis set in. There was absolutely nothing I could do but sit and watch. I have seen rooms get flooded. But I hadn’t seen anything like this first hand. I was about to lose everything as the crew started quickly tearing up my entire home. They told me best case scenario, my kitchen would stay in tact. Everything else would be gutted. There were so many questions I wanted to ask that I’m sure no one had the answers to, or the time for. As the anxiety was building, I decided I needed to go out for a drive just to get away from all of it. By this point it was after 8:00pm and I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast. My egg sandwich was still in the refrigerator at work. When I drove back into my neighborhood 15 minutes later, after a quick run to McDonalds, firetrucks followed behind me. My building had been evacuated, flood crew and all. Why? My neighbor burned a baked potato in the microwave and set the fire alarms off. We would be evacuated for the amount of time it took me to sit in my car, eat my oatmeal and Diet Coke and watch as the first snowflakes of the blizzard started falling down. A day that had started out with amazing news and the highest high, ended in the ultimate chaos. A complete and utter uprooting of my newly achieved life. This wasn’t calm or simple. This was a nightmare.
I called my boss from my car to tell him I would be in late tomorrow. My only reaction was to laugh, to keep from having a mental breakdown. I even thought to myself, I hope one day I look back and genuinely laugh at this moment. I am. As I write this.
I would start to receive bits of discouraging news over the next few days…We need to move out all of your things immediately, pack enough clothes to get you through the Spring. Insurance won’t be covering the upgrades you made to your condo. The upcoming blizzard will delay work. Your front door won’t shut or lock. Meanwhile, my property manager was in Las Vegas, and I was about to put everything that I own in the hands (literally) of a group of people I had just met, who by the way, ended up being fantastic.
Over the next few weeks, I would have a new experience for the books. I knew how to rent a place, how to house hunt, how to buy a home with another person, how to buy a home alone, how to build a new home from the ground up, how to lose a home in a divorce, how to find the perfect storage unit, how to move (x1000). What I didn’t know how to do was navigate through the process of rebuilding. But in the same way that we rebuild anything, with patience, faith in God and in others, the path was eventually paved and I started back on my quest for “calm”. I also don’t think it would hurt for high schools to get rid of Algebra and add a class called “How to Handle Unexpected #GrownUpProblems in your 20s”
I share this story for one, because it is ridiculous. I also share it as proof that life can throw some really tough things our way, over and over again, despite the high hopes we have for tomorrow. Being dealt a bad hand doesn’t mean you are exempt from being dealt another one. In fact, you are likely to get one because you have proved that you can deal with them.
Also, water is crazy. It stops for no one. It just goes wherever.
Lastly, I wrote this because I like to reflect on lessons, big or small, that I learn from major events. I understand that you have to be in the mood to read things like this, otherwise I will probably seem disgustingly optimistic, preachy and annoying. But for those of you in the mood, here we go. I was mad at the universe for destroying my calm life. My settled life. I had a lot of self pity, and a lot of anger. I asked a lot of whys, and I complained. A lot. But over the past six weeks I think I have been learning quite a bit about simplicity, and how ruin CAN in fact create that. I have learned to live with less. I have recycled the same five outfits and two pairs of shoes over and over. I have realized what I truly NEED, and how many things I don’t need, packed in storage that I will be donating. I have been appreciating the simple things… a wall, a door, a ceiling. The kinds of things we take for granted that many wish they had. Had this not happened, I don’t think I would sit on my couch at night, look around and think “I am so thankful for these walls.” I will be doing that soon, and for a long time. You also realize in these moments how temporary “things” are. They can be gone in an instant. Completely. You can replace them. You can buy new ones. You can’t replace loved ones, I can’t replace my precious Brooklyn. To lose the things you can’t replace, now THAT is a tragedy.
But even so, this was still tough. There were many nights I had to force myself not to think ‘how much can one person take?’, but rather ‘look how much I have endured. Look how much I have learned.’ I can tell you that when I move back home, there are a lot of things I will no longer take for granted. And if/when I do, I hope I remember the night it was taken away, minute by minute as I prayed to God to make it stop. The hardest thing to do is identify the positives in a situation that feels so dismal and unfair. One of my weaknesses is continuing to believe that life owes me something, despite all of the mistakes I’ve made and people I’ve hurt. That for some reason, the universe will choose to spare me and will put training wheels on for me when I’m exhausted. It doesn’t. It shouldn’t. Sometimes life must teach us, challenge us, not in the ways we want, but in the ways we need. Opening up my heart to that concept has been a great place to start. Home will no longer just be a place I signed my name for. It will be a place I restored. A place I cried in, prayed in, a place that was brought back to life. A place that held so many emotions in such a short time. A place that had its walls destroyed, only to build stronger ones. Like I said above, this home has already proved to be dramatic. Just like me. We were meant for each other. We are a mess. But I can guarantee we will both be better for it.
I read about age 27 being the year of crisis. I can’t quite remember the science behind that theory. It didn’t seem as entertaining when it actually started happening to me. I stopped writing for a long time. In fact, my website was about to expire and at the last minute, I renewed it with only a day to spare. I loved writing about pain and strength, and how ironic that during the most acutely painful time of my life, I couldn’t seem to find the words.
The changes I have faced this past year have been shared with some and assumed by others. I don’t have some crazy story to tell. I have no juicy details or confessions to spew. Yes, I am divorced. Yes, I was a newlywed and yes I built a new home from the ground up. I could sit here and go on and on about how and why my life was turned upside down. I could preach about courage and resilience and being true to yourself, but I think that speaks for itself and I don’t find sugarcoating such an impactful experience to be appropriate. I also know that I am just one of so many people in this world who have to cope with ruin, and my story is not at all unique. I wasn’t the only one who went through hell and I am certainly not a victim.
No one starts drawing out the map of their life and intentionally sketchs so many uphill roads and detours. You don’t just travel them for fun. This year has been messy. It has been one of those ‘you could never fully understand until you go through it’ experiences. Inspiration comes and goes like the wind and there were a lot of dark moments. There were a lot of moments that looked a lot like panic, like fear, like defeat, and like the deepest sadness you could imagine. There were a lot of blank stares into the sunset while I was parked at the grocery store, forgetting why I was there. There were a lot of cold spoons under my eyes the mornings after hard cries. There were names of people I was ready to tell, scribbled in the margins of my notebook. There were stacks of boxes and paperwork and bills. There were many nights when I saw the clock hit 3:00am and wondered when I would ever sleep well again. But that was all necessary. It had to get terribly horrible before it got better.
I learned who my real friends are. I also learned what a real friend is. I learned that for some, it is much easier to judge than it is to understand. I learned to accept that fact. I found the person that I am when everything else was stripped away, and I realized that I don’t need to apologize for who that person is or the choices that person makes.
Tomorrow I turn 28 and my life couldn’t look more different than it did when I turned 27. I kept telling myself, just get through one more hour, one more day. And here I am a year later. I feel like I experienced a lifetime’s worth of emotions in 365 days. I am moving forward, continuing to rebuild, and doing so with a more open heart. One that doesn’t so quickly judge the choices of others, as I know how painful it can feel to be judged unfairly. One that is more patient, as so many hearts have been patient with me. And lastly I am rebuilding with a heart that is more honest, more humble. 27, you shattered me and just about killed me. 28, lets pick up the pieces and do this.
Depression is life in a dense fog. Colors become muted, our skin no longer absorbs the warmth of the sun. We no longer recognize or enjoy the aroma of our morning cup of coffee. In fact, simply making it has become a burden. We drive to work and collect every last ounce of energy in order to apply the mask that says we are okay. The smile that says “I am happy, too.” Maybe if we fake it for long enough, we will believe it. But it is hard to believe anything anymore.
Depression is a silent pain. If it speaks, we fear judgment, stigma, isolation, loss. So we surrender. Our bed becomes our safe haven and the time away is spent lifelessly representing that person the world still thinks we are. The world sees the breathing, functioning shell, and that is good enough. But the shell is empty. The spark that once fueled our joy is dimmed. Our heart hasn’t grown cold, it has run dry. The comforting insulation of love and laughter has become something existing only in movies. Tomorrow is no longer a new day, but an extension of our suffering.
Depression becomes our worst enemy while also acting as our biggest comfort. We become complacent in our misery, accepting the false belief that our life will never be better than it is today. We accept depression as our only reality because it is the only voice we hear. It is the only power influencing us how to think, how to feel, how to act. On our worst days, we cling to the memories of our brighter days. We believe that we have felt all there is to feel. At the beginning of life, we were granted so many good days, and we have used them all up. We long for the days when our smiles were real and we met each sunrise with clarity and rejuvenation. We long for hope while simultaneously handing it over. On our best days, we just don’t care. The only reprieve is sleep, the only time that depression rests. When we are asleep, no one can ask if we are okay. No one can see that we aren’t. No one can tell us “you will get through this” or “your life is worth so much.” No one can shove our blessings down our throat and make us chew on the guilt of seeming ungrateful.
Despite the heavy weight and vicious toxicity of depression, the human spirit is incredible. Our darkest days relentlessly ask us why we are here, and then at some point- days, weeks, or even years later, we will discover the answer. And then just like a muscle-days, weeks, years of pain, suffering and deterioration will allow us the opportunity to rebuild on a foundation that can only support something stronger than what was once there. The challenge is waiting for that day to come. The bigger challenge is believing that it will.
The resiliency of the human spirit is often underestimated, discredited, and wasted. Resiliency allows us the ability to use our struggles as building blocks rather than the wrecking ball that finishes us. Then, not suddenly, not dramatically, not with bells and whistles and lightbulbs all igniting at once, we feel okay. We feel better. And gradually, subtly, we will find happiness again. We might find it in the kind words of a friend. We might find it in the unstained enthusiasm of a child. We might find it when we notice for the first time in years how beautiful the sunset is. We might find it when we smell our morning coffee again. When or where we find it makes no difference. What matters is in that moment we remember what it means to feel. More profoundly, we acknowledge that we are capable of feeling. We have found the colors to paint over even the darkest shades of blue.
These moments might be few and far between. We might look for them in every corner and often times come up empty-handed. But as our hearts thaw from the catatonia of depression, we will find them more and more. We will treasure the act of rejoicing because we know the aches of despair. We will hold onto our happiness tighter and longer because we know the darkness of its void. We will be able to see the sadness and pain in the eyes of a stranger. We will be able to recognize when the smiles of our loved ones only serve as a costume. We will be able to look at the darkest, emptiest, most trying days of our lives as nothing more than stop signs in our rear view mirror. We will serve as pillars of hope for those who are tapping their breaks. We will drive the cars of our lives knowing that we navigated the twists and turns in the road. And just as such, we can pick up those who are struggling to find the way on their own.
“It’s been said that patriotism is not a frenzied burst of emotion, but rather the quiet and steady dedication of a lifetime”
12 years. Over a decade has passed, yet the anger and horror is just as fresh, at least for me. Coincidentally, I entered on duty for the Federal Government on May 8, 2011, just a week after one of the most monumental days in intelligence and military history-the UBL raid. I didn’t think it was possible to feel a more potent and overwhelming burst of patriotism than I did the night our President announced the death of the world’s most heinous terrorist. But, I was wrong. The day I promised full commitment and dedication to the government by raising my right hand and signing on the dotted line was the most inspirational and defining day of my life. I knew the death of UBL did not mark the end of terrorism. Although it was appropriate to celebrate this victory, I knew the fight for our freedom and protection did not cease on May 1, 2011.
I was only thirteen on September 11, 2001. I remember how I felt, and I remember how that day went. I remember the sadness and shock that permeated every inch of space for a long time. I remember the sound of each plane flying overhead, a sound which previously went unnoticed, but suddenly evoked feelings of panic and fear. As each anniversary came and went, I understood with greater perspective the impact of that devastation and what it meant for our country. When I began my career ten years following, I met people who lost spouses and siblings in the 9/11 attacks. I met care providers who responded immediately and witnessed ground zero before the dust had settled. One of my colleagues told me that despite many decades of training as a psychologist, nothing could have prepared him for what he experienced at ground zero. The physical remnants and unprecedented breadth of destruction transcended all logic. The scenes he described made my eyes full, but I needed to hear it. I needed to be reminded of how horrific and gruesome that day was. I think if every American saw what he saw, they would think about life a little bit differently. Lastly, I have met officers from all walks of life who have dedicated their time, energy, and passion to the security of our nation, operating with a momentum and vicious courage that has fueled them for 12 years. The impact that I make is minimal, although I am still proud of it and honored to contribute in the smallest of ways. However, it is the ferocity I see in the eyes of my colleagues and the selflessness of the heroes who serve in the shadows of anonymity that inspire me in a very unique way. As George H. W. Bush said, “It is an honor to stand here and be counted among you.”
The attacks on September 11th proved to us with striking clarity that unspeakable evil exists in this world. But it also reminded us that we live in a country made of men and women who are nothing less than heroic. They aren’t the kind of heroes who catch a ball in the endzone, they are the fierce patriots who risk their lives in the bravest way by facing danger and fear void of hesitation, certainty or praise, not just on September 11th but throughout our nation’s history and the 12 years following the attacks. In addition are the silent heroes who dutifully fulfill their roles behind the scenes day after day, night after night. These silent heroes consciously realize the ever-present threat upon our nation and work tirelessly to ensure that we never experience that kind of barbaric violence on our homeland ever again. When we sleep soundly and safely at night, it is because of them.
At 8:46am on Wednesday, I hope those who are reading this will take a moment to sit in silence with reverence, setting aside their opinions regarding current events or foreign policy. At the absolute least, we live in a country in which people go to bat for each other, not just for their loved ones, but for people they never have or will meet. The terror that weighed heavily on our hearts and minds has gradually been lifted because of the people who, regardless of political affiliation, rank, or reward, put the needs of Americans before their own. These people hand over their lives with less hesitation than some of us would hand over our phone records. These people should be thought of as symbols for what it means to be an American and should inspire us to serve with similar loyalty, pride and dedication in whatever role is specific to us. My mother taught me, “any job that is worth doing is worth doing well”, whether it be defending our country, teaching in our schools, or staying at home with our children.
September 11th is always a very somber and emotional day for me, as it is for so many. My heart is blended with anger, sadness, but also with the motivation to continue pushing against the evil things in this world. We have been shown that this evil is not limited to the radicals abroad, but can be seen at home through domestic acts of terror, violence and hate. Our world is undeniably a scary and confusing place. I can’t comprehend what brings people to act with such maliciousness, but what I do know is the demand for love, acceptance and compassion has never been higher. My personal goal is to be a source of light inside and outside of work, even when it is difficult, always remembering that no job is beneath me, and no act of kindness is unwarranted. Just as the quote at the beginning of this entry states, my burst of emotion that occurred on May 1, 2011 has turned into the steady desire to serve my country in a way that I never could have predicted or envisioned when I was thirteen. I am reminded every day of the sacrifices that are made in defense of freedom and during this time especially, I am proud to be an American.
*Written in honor of the innocent lives lost as a result of terrorism, and of the American heroes who selflessly devote themselves in pursuit of a safer, stronger, and happier world.