My Awesomely Random Life (and Everything in Between)

On the days when it feels like you will never get through this season, this period, this transition — please remember all of the mountains you have climbed before. Please remember all of the nights you spent convinced that the anxiety wouldn’t leave, that you’d never move beyond where you were in that very moment.

Whether you realized it or not, the time passed.

Without you having to even try, joy emerged from your days. One day, something small brought you a little ease, and then a little more. You waited. You realized that everything was going to be okay, even if it doesn’t always feel okay. You let the waves crash, and then you let them recede.

Whether you realized it or not, you found courage.

You did things you once did not believe you could do, even if those things were just finding the will to wake up and face each day. You felt worse than you were capable of feeling, you suffered loss that you couldn’t have conceived prior. You were awakened to reality, which is sometimes cold, and sometimes hard, and sometimes brutally unfair.

But also, unimaginably sweet.

Because while you were mourning what you thought would be, you also found softness. You discovered how important it is to love the people nearest to you, and how invaluable they are. You began to appreciate what you didn’t see before. You began to know that you were enough, because you decided what was enough.

Whether you realized it or not, you became resilient.

You explored the perimeters of what your heart could hold, and how much it could process. You discovered that your strength is limitless, you just don’t know what if it’s never been tested before.

And over time, what was once impossible became easy.

The life you have today is a mere dream of the past. The things you do right now were once the things you only could have ever prayed to have. The people in your life are the ones you gazed out the window for years and wondered if they would ever arrive, if someone would ever show up that made you feel so deeply understood, cared for, appreciated and loved.

You do not have to have everything in order to make the best of anything, because the truth is that goodness is something we extract from life, something we savor, something we choose to see. It’s not always something we can achieve, or find.

So when the day comes that it feels most like you will never move beyond where you are right now, please remember how far you have walked, and through what. Please remember all of the times you were stuck and were sure you would never get out from under the crushing weight of your own disappointment and defeat. Please remember all of the times you were truly heartbroken, truly let down.

Then remember all of the nights you dreamed of being where you are right now.

The days you spent working and planning and hoping that it would all work out. In one way or another, a path was made where it did not exist before. The opportunities showed up. The doors creaked open. You met the people who you’d spend years if not the rest of your life with, people who were once strangers becoming friends, family.

You discovered things about yourself you did not yet know.

You learned what it takes to feel safe, and not. You learned what you enjoy, and what you don’t. You learned what you value, and what you don’t. You learned, because you discovered, the honest truth of who you are and who you’re going to be.

You found yourself, not because you were searching, but because you were cornered. When discomfort in life peaks, we are left to look around and wonder why. Through that reflection, we discover all the pieces that are out of place, and then we find the courage to put them back together.

You will move the pieces in front of you today.

You will arrive to the horizon you’re gazing at in due time.

Instead of fearing that the road will fall out from under you, return to what life has shown you: that things can be scary, but that a way is always made. That even if you don’t believe you’re worthy, you’re always given enough. That even if you don’t believe you’re lovable, you’re always loved. That even if you don’t think there’s a way forward, there always is.

When it feels most like nothing will ever give and the mountain ahead of you won’t ever be scaled, remember how you crossed every one that’s behind you: one step, one hour, one moment, one glimmer of hope at a time.

There’s always that one person who is going to disagree with you, to dislike you, no matter what. It seems harsh and reductionist, and it’s a tough reality to stomach: that you could have done absolutely nothing, and yet someone will come along and decide that you are somehow not enough. That you are flawed, or come up short, or any myriad of lesser-thans that you could ever possibly be. Even if you weren’t even trying to please them, even if what you were doing was solely for your own enjoyment — because there still are those little happinesses in the world — they will make the official proclamation that you have somehow failed.

You can’t please everyone. So it goes.

But still, if the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that these small maledictions are the ones that stick with us the longest. They are the ones that, even if they come from the faceless and nameless, torment us. As if we could have done better. As if we owed it to someone else, somewhere else, to do better, to do justice by their thoughts, their feelings, their beliefs. And no one set of credos has the ability to take away from yours — the world is vast and open, and all that airspace above our heads holds everything from WiFi to power lines to birds and the little lightbulbs of inspiration and ideas that come along if we let them.

And when someone comes along and takes a swing at these things, it hurts.

It’s normal, of course, as is the habit of dialogue and debate and discourse. You can’t stop someone from disagreeing with you as much as you can stop them from drawing breath. And they shouldn’t have to agree with you. There is nothing in this world that says they ought to open their arms wide and welcome you in. We know this, at the core.

Why then, is rejection always so painful? Why do we care?

I’ve been back on the job hunting scene now for just over three months, and while I’ve had some incredible opportunities to speak with and interview for some even more incredible positions, all that I can really focus on is how much rejection I’ve faced.

Which has been…..a lot.

I know people say that you can’t take it personally; it’s just business, after all. It comes with the territory.

But I’m here to tell those people, whoever they are and however well-intentioned they may be, are crazy. How can you not take it personally? When you pour your heart into something, when you allow yourself to get excited and hopeful and inspired about the potential that could be, it’s nearly impossible to not be disappointed when that gets taken from underneath you via a two-sentence email.

It’s nearly impossible to not be sad, or confused, or upset.

To not care.

Because you should care.

You absolutely should care.

You see, that fear of rejection is what keeps you from applying to your dream job, but it also is what drives you to study for your interview. It’s what makes you terrified to ask that cute guy or gal at the bar for their number, but it’s what drives you to dress your best for your first date. Every point has its counterpoint, every con has its pro. The silver lining to rejection is acceptance, but it’s not other people’s acceptance we should seek so blindly — it’s our own.

It’s only when you begin to accept yourself for who you are — when you talk yourself down from the ledges of changing every last detail of what you think and what you say and who you like and what you don’t — that rejection seems a little less scary, because the people who would reject you won’t bother. To them, you will be a lost hope. They need you as much as you need them.

There’s no rejecting someone who doesn’t need approval to keep going. You can resign yourself to the idea that they will keep doing what they want to do, or you can accept it, or you can embrace it. But your rejection will fall on deaf ears. The relentless and the stubborn and most optimistic people care about being rejected, but they don’t let it stop them.

Therein lies the difference. Therein lies the key.

You can’t please everyone — nor should you even try. If you’re not doing something worth having a strong opinion about one way or the other, what are you doing? And there will always be the people who hate something on principle. They will want to hate it, and there is no helping them. There is no pleasing them, either, because giving in to what they want will only ever lead them to rejecting your next big endeavor, too, and the next, and the next. So it goes.

People say to focus on pleasing yourself. And while that is the push to rejection’s pull, that’s not quite right, either. Devote yourself, instead, to doing something worthwhile. To something that leaves you not always pleased, but satisfied. Fulfilled.

Naysayers will reject you no matter what. That is what they will always aim to do. You can’t prove them wrong all the time, by any means. You can, however, prove yourself right. You can create in yourself a person who you don’t reject.

Because if anyone should embrace the person you are busy becoming, it’s you.

When we’re faced with a constant and unrelenting barrage of pain and suffering, uncertainty and big, enormous problems for which there is never an easy or comforting solution, it’s not uncommon to begin to feel apathetic.

That apathy mostly manifests itself as disbelief and disregard.

In the face of crisis, and without sensing that they’re gaining any traction toward a solution, people begin to drop off. They devise alternative beliefs, and come up with every fathomable reason to dismiss someone else’s truth, replacing it with a narrative that is a bit less harsh, and a lot easier for their heads and their hearts to handle.

The truth is, when we are overloaded with so much negativity, we can all start to become used to its presence. It seems to neutralize itself and normalize as a steady constant that we are vaguely aware of but still not immediately alarmed by.

Maybe you have felt this lately.

Maybe you will feel this as the weeks and months press on.

If you do, you need to know that apathy is really a response to overwhelm. The overwhelm is absolutely understandable — but friends, the apathy can’t be.

This past week carried an unspeakable weight for a lot of us, myself included.

To the Asian American/Pacific Islander community, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. To the victims and their families of the senseless act of hate and violence that occurred in Boulder, Colorado earlier this week, to a community I love so much and one that has made me feel so welcomed, my heart is shattered for you.

I’ve sat with this overwhelming amount of sadness, anger, and fear over the last few days. As I tried to carry out my normal routine of going for my morning runs, grabbing coffee, making dinner with my boyfriend and trying to find joy in the smallest of moments, I felt a surge of guilt; I was clouded, lost in a fog.

I looked around me and wondered how people could go back to living their lives so effortlessly.

But then I realized something.

It’s not that they don’t care about what’s happening in the world around them, it’s not that they’re indifferent to other people’s suffering, but that eventually, they hit their saturation point for their own discomfort, and from there, they set up mental walls that help them regain a sense of peace.

This is, ultimately, just a coping mechanism. A form of self-preservation, if you will.

I guess what we all have to learn is how to strike a balance: how to at once keep our heart and mind open while not becoming completely consumed and overwhelmed.

When we first start to become aware of the fault lines within society, our instinct can be to insist that they aren’t so bad, until, of course, we recognize that they are and ultimately feel helpless. We pour every ounce of our already waning mental and emotional energy into devising and acting on a solution only to realize that this is so much bigger than you, than me, than any of us — it would make the most sense just to give up.

Except it doesn’t.

If you ever start to feel apathetic about what is happening in the world, please know, you are not too small to have made a difference. We are not irredeemable. Change that sticks is slow, and steady, and takes time. You do not have to be sidelined by suffering to still acknowledge it exists.

And I hope that you do.

I hope we all do.

I hope that you aren’t lulled back to sleep by the next trend, the next problem, the next crisis.

I hope that you keep your feet on the ground, which is far more important than keeping your finger on the pulse of social media, appearing to be one way without translating it into something real.

I hope that you never deplete yourself to the point that you aren’t capable of feeling empathy, of imagining how deeply injustices can run, how our very foundations must shift if we have any hope of healing.

I hope that you know you are not always at the center of it, but you can always contribute, you can always be a piece of the force that moves us all forward.

And that momentum? It’s important.

Don’t let yourself become worn out and give up.

It is hard to keep our eyes open.

It is far harder not to.

“WE HAVE TO CONTINUALLY BE JUMPING OFF CLIFFS AND DEVELOPING OUR WINGS ON THE WAY DOWN.” – KURT VONNEGUT.

Fear. It’s a funny thing, friends.

It’s also a very necessary thing. If you go back in history, fear was what enabled the cavemen to identify a dangerous situation. It’s what heightens your senses, pumps adrenaline into your system, and it helps you survive whatever it is that’s scaring you. But life isn’t that difficult anymore — there are fewer stakes raised, and we live in a pretty safe, comfortable environment – relatively speaking.

Because of that, our fears are the things we now manifest inside ourselves. The things we let fester, the dreams we never pursue, the chances we don’t take, the places we never move to, the people we don’t admit to loving, the jobs we never apply for. There are so many things to be afraid of, but most of these things reside inside our own heads.

BECAUSE WHAT IF WE FAIL? WHAT IF WE NEVER RECOVER? WHAT IF, WHAT IF, WHAT IF?

But what if we don’t?

What if we do the scariest thing of all — what if we actually get everything we ever wanted?

One of my track coaches used to always say that “you should get uncomfortable because being uncomfortable is where you begin to see real change.” And it’s true — not just in the biological sense that your body responds to harder work by adapting and becoming stronger, but because your mind becomes stronger, too. You begin to withstand the scary things, the things you never thought you were capable of. And in this, you become more resilient.

BECAUSE BEING SCARED IS FREAKING UNCOMFORTABLE.

In all honesty, I think being afraid is supposed to be — it lights that metaphorical fire under your butt in order to tell you to work towards being more comfortable. But there are two ways you can do this: either retreating, and avoiding the scary thing in the first place, or working through it to the other side. Riding out the uncomfortable and the scary until you’re stronger and things aren’t as scary anymore. Fight or flight. Do or die.

And of course, in order to really understand how to withstand the scary things life throws at us, you have to get to the bottom of why you think it’s scary. Why it gets under your skin, why it terrifies you, why it dregs up memories of all the other times you faced scary things and didn’t come out stronger on the other side. There’s a whole host of reasons, really, and each will vary from person to person, but I think one of the things that connect this fear we all experience isn’t all that unique.

WE’RE MOST AFRAID OF BEING HAPPY. OF HAVING A GOOD LIFE.

Not that we don’t want to — oh, of course, we do. But we wonder if we deserve a good life, if we ought to have one, and so this doubt creeps in and we’re left second-guessing ourselves when we have to stand up to the thing that is in the way of our happiness. Of whatever it is we want. After all, what would happen if we wound up getting everything we wanted? What if it all got taken away?

But that is a risk with everything you do. So you might as well face the scary parts head-on because chances are, the outcome you want least might happen anyway. Whether or not you tried.

And if you don’t try, the what if — the magical, fantastical, best-case-scenario — will never happen at all.

My life has had its fair share of missteps, mistakes, ope, and oops moments and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Because it’s in that vulnerability, the scrapes and bruises, and scars that you grow, you learn, you prove to yourself how strong you really are.

DO THE THINGS THAT SCARE YOU.

I recently did something that was very uncharacteristic of me. Something that both terrified me to my core and also filled me with this new sense of power, of hope, of excitement and relief.

I quit my job.

Yep, me. The forever and always girl with a plan and a form of attack.

Stable.

Cautious.

Calculated.

I’ve never really been one to leap before I look, but after being mistreated at my job, unhappy, burnt out, stressed and anxious to the max, I decided it was time for a change.

Over the last few months, I’ve thought long and hard about self-worth: acknowledging it, owning it, celebrating it, and doing whatever it takes to make sure you’re being treated in a way that reflects just how incredibly amazing you are. 

For a very long time, I had a very narrow perception of what my self-worth was. Deep down I knew I was intelligent and talented, kind and genuine, and brought a fair amount of goodness to this world, but I didn’t always fight for the girl who was all of those things.

Until now.

The last year has taught me many a lesson – it has for so many of us – but the one thing that stands out most to me is deeply valuing who I am as person, as a professional, and not accepting anything less than what I deserve.

I don’t know what lies ahead for me, but I do know that I’m excited for the future, for doing something I love while also making a positive impact on the world, working for a company or organization I can put my whole heart into, and most importantly, one that believes in and respects me.

I’m also proud of standing up for myself, for recognizing that I didn’t have to accept how I was being treated. No one should. Am I scared? Abso-freakin-lutely I am! But that fear reminds me that I’m alive, and brave enough to go after something that sets my soul on fire. And to me, that’s worth it.

SO TAKE THAT RISK.

Be bold.

Be courageous.

And if you do wind up with everything you ever wanted, it’s because you did that work. You put in the effort, you found the grit within yourself, you realized that the scariest things in this world can sometimes be the most wonderful.

We’re scared of change, is all. But change is good for us. Change is how we learn.

And there’s nothing more fulfilling than that.

It’s still The Great Quarantine of 2020 (even though we’ve officially made it through the first month of 2021), and I’m on my phone, scrolling through Instagram again.

I’m reading a post from my favorite writer about how important it is to “find your passion”. She goes on to say how broke she used to be and because she found writing, she now brings home six figures a year. Her page is flooded with photos that are perfectly candid with inspirational captions and hipster cliches.

My passion right now is this bag of peanut M&Ms on my lap.

I used to be all about mantras and vision boards, and I suppose there is a time and a place for those. After months of trying to be a person I wasn’t, I accepted the fact that phrases like “find your passion” kind of annoy me….It’s not so much that they annoy me I guess… Everyone is so quick to throw the phrase out like it’s a process that everyone should just get. Easier said than done, my friends.

I’m sure you’ve all heard it. Everyone wants to find their passion. I mean, who wouldn’t want that, right?

But what if…..what if I have no effing idea what my passion is?

I mean…I like food. I really like food. And I enjoy writing and hiking and road trips and great hair days.

But my passion?

How do I find that?

It’s a cute idea in theory, but what is the practical application of finding your passion?

I’m here to tell you that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. Surprise, I know.

And I don’t think a quarantine is necessarily a healthy incubus for finding your life’s work. Is this an opportunity? Sure! The silver lining here is that there literally is zero else to do except stare your own existence in the face.

Let me disclaimer the following: there’s no rule saying that the stay-at-home order means you must suddenly become deeply spiritual or become vegan. If those things make you a better person, then I am a shining example of what not to do. We put so much weight on ourselves to find our passions that we end up on social media, stuffing our face with chocolate, totally overwhelmed. Just the word makes me feel clammy. It’s a unicorn concept that only heart surgeons or Oprah deserve to use. Or the people I follow on Insta.

If you feel the need to succumb to the social pressures of being productive while going through a traumatic event like quarantine, I would encourage you to do the following:

Get a pen. And some paper. Or your phone if that’s your jam. Something for notes.

Take some deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Relax the muscles in your face and hands.

Ask yourself these questions with the most honest intention. Write down the FIRST thing you think of:

If I could do any activity, ANYTHING, right now, what would it be?

If bills did not exist, how would I spend my time?

What do I spend hours watching on YouTube/IG/FB/Netflix?

Look at your answers.

If the activity you want to be doing is hiking, think about volunteering as a park ranger. Would you love to start a charity if personal bills didn’t exist? Join the board for a nonprofit. Whatever you prefer to spend your time doing will be the thing that you will put the most effort and dedication into. This is organic success at it’s finest.

If your living expenses weren’t a factor, would you have gone to that technical school to become a glassblower like you always dreamed of? Think about where your life has taken you because of the need to provide. Did you go to college for business because you always wanted to, or because you knew it was a secure future?

While killing time in the line at the DMV, what videos are you watching? Are you addicted to crime TV? Maybe you always dreamed of being a police officer. Love videos of animal rescues? Maybe you always wanted to be a vet tech.

If you ask yourself these questions and you can’t think of answers, that’s ok. 

You’re not alone! I’ve been going through sort of a mini mid-life crisis as of late myself. If there is anything that the last year taught me, is that life is way too dang short to do something that doesn’t make your heart smile, to not feel appreciated in your work place, to not feel inspired or happy. Does the thought of starting over again career-wise at [almost] 34 terrify the beans out of me? Definitely. Does it make me feel a little ashamed for not knowing what it is I want to do at this age? Oh, for sure.

But I’ve been trying to squash those beliefs down hard. And have been reminding myself that life today is so incredibly different than it was 30, 20, even 10 years ago.

It’s okay to reinvent yourself.

It’s okay to change. To grow. To adapt and thrive.

It’s okay to be happy.

It’s okay to put yourself first. Again, easier said than done.

But I’m working on it.

And if you are too, I want to tell you to keep going. And that I am damn proud of you.

The self-help world tells you to “do what sets your soul on fire”. I’m not certain I fully understand what that means, and it sounds dangerous anyway. At the end of the day, if you do want to find your passion, the first step is to let go. Don’t be too hard on yourself or others.

After quarantine is over and we all go back to our hustle and bustle, create time to pause. Don’t wait for a pandemic to care about your life.

And listen to that inner voice of yours, even if she tells you to eat some peanut M&Ms once in a while.

My Hope For You Is This

It’s hard to fathom that another year has come and gone. And while usually this is a time when I take a moment to self-reflect on the past year, and share all the things that I look forward to in 2021 (which to be honest, I still definitely did because I’m a creature of habit like that and because there is so very much that I am looking forward to in 2021), I wanted to do something a little different.

I wanted to put the focus on you.

Yes, you. The person reading this.

Because sometimes we all need to be reminded of just how beautiful this life really is, to be reminded to take advantage of the big moments, the little moments, the everything in between. To be reminded that despite the challenges and heartaches and rough patches you may have hit over the course of this year (and oof y’all, there was a whole heckin’ lot of those), you made it through.

And you will continue to do so because you are a badass. And are strong, and courageous and bold and damn you’re doing the thang. And I am so fucking proud of you.

In 2021, my hope for you is this:

I hope you see things that take your breath away, things that make you feel like you have never felt before. I hope you travel to the places you have always wanted to explore — and that it is finally safe to do so again. I hope you catch the sunset at the perfect time on a random Tuesday drive and have your whole chest expand with gratitude. I hope the night sky is always beautiful wherever you rest your head.

I hope you drink good coffee and stay out late with someone who enlivens you. I hope your bones are tired and your hair is messy and your heart is full of nostalgia. I hope someone who makes your whole damn face light up kisses you the way you have always wanted to be kissed, that they hold your hand and take care of you when you’re sick and bring you flowers just because.

I hope you fall so deeply in love with your life that your happiness is undeniable whenever someone looks at you. I hope your days are filled with people who inspire you, and that you always let them know just how rare they are, just how much you appreciate them. I hope they do the same for you. I hope you connect with your moments, the ones that make you feel like you’re doing something right, the ones that happen quietly in the middle of a conversation when everything stops and you truly realize just how lucky you are to be alive.

I hope that you take a chance, that you make a leap. I hope that you do something just for you. I hope you continue to take a stand for issues that mean something, that matter. I hope you allow yourself to take a breath, to pause, to relax and relish in the right heres and right nows. Because if there’s anything we learned this past year, it is to appreciate those seconds of solitude and stillness.

I hope you are reminded every single day why you’re special. I hope you are reminded that you make people feel heard, that you make people feel understood and accepted. I hope you believe that — that you have purpose, that you’re a good person who deserves beautiful things and rich moments in life, that you mean something to someone. Because you do. My goodness, you do.

But most of all, I hope you look back on 2020 and feel a sense of gratitude, strength and pride. Of encouragement, love and fortitude.

2020 was a year.

But we made it through. Together.

So here’s to the lessons we learned, the moments of pure bravery we displayed, and the prophetic change we were all a part of and witness to.

Here’s to the many loaves of sourdough bread we baked, the Zoom call meetings we took and make-shift home offices built.

Here’s to the virtual hugs, the cardboard cutout fans, and the number of times we Googled “How to…”

Here’s to the extra time we got to spend with the human beans we love most, the endless amount of support that was abound, and the kindness that was bestowed upon our neighbors during times of hardship.

Here’s to the smiles that still shown brightly through cloth-covered faces, and the love and hope that proved to be the two things that couldn’t be shaken, even in the most difficult of times.

Here’s to the end of quite possibly the best — and worst — year of our lives.

And to the beginning of a beautiful new one.

Here’s to you.

Happiest 2021, friends.

xoxo

Wendi Jo

Trust Me When I Say…

…that even if your plans have changed, even if your timeline is different, even if this year has not unfolded the way you thought it would — you are not falling behind, but instead, are right where you need to be.

The course of our lives is not contingent upon things happening precisely as we think they should. In fact, it’s often the unexpected that opens us up to opportunities that weren’t crossing our radars, ideas about life, and love, and the world itself, that we hadn’t stopped to consider. If you know that it’s time to slow down, to simplify, to take it easier, to savor your days, to adjust your course — you are absolutely right.

You are not straying from the path, you are finally finding it.

You are learning that real growth is not always just constant forward motion. Growth is also staying still. Growth is deep rest. Growth is stopping to reconsider where you’re headed before you arrive there. Growth is letting yourself settle, it’s letting yourself blossom, it’s letting yourself see how much good is already in your life before you hunger for more.

You are allowed to take days to grieve, to do nothing. You are allowed to press your plans back until they make more sense. You do not exist on a single schedule, your fate is not to arrive at each set point at precisely the second you think you should. That’s not what you’re here for. That’s not what this whole thing is about.

You cannot miss the exit.

There are no wrong turns.

Life is a living, breathing thing — because it’s an extension of you.

It’s the ways in which you explore the corners and contours of your soul, the way you find pieces of yourself through love, through trial and error, through reaching, through supporting and learning and caring and doing good. Every part of our lives exists to teach us something. We are not only making progress when we are clearly, discernibly growing. We are also making progress when we take time to simply be.

The irony is that it’s often the plans that go wrong that teach us more, and show us more, than the ones that go right.

Those words even signify our perceptions of how we are meant to be in the world, that we cannot possibly do anything but what was pre-determined, otherwise we’re failing, and off-course.

The truth that I am asking you to consider is that even if all you did was wake up and keep breathing today, you did what you are supposed to do. Even if all you could manage was to take care of your most essential tasks, you have done more than many can. If you’re able to reach for something just beyond yourself, you should applaud yourself and feel profoundly grateful for your courage, your strength, and your grit.

You should not feel ashamed that you aren’t able to wake up and do that every single day.

Because you and I? We are human beings just trying to sort through the realities and imperfections of being on this planet, with all of these people, trying to coexist and make sense of it all and come out on the other end a little more okay than we were before.

Our lives are not defined by how clearly and seamlessly we reach each goal, but what we are able to savor from each day.

Who were we, and how did we show up, in the simplest moments, in the easiest ways? We are far more defined by the way we make others feel than the way we think they feel about us. We are far more impacted by learning to see what we have as enough as opposed to thinking we’re only okay once we have more. We are far better for taking time to rest, to regenerate, and seeing this not as a stagnation, but a beautiful, and essential, part of being who we are.

May this be the year that you learn slowing down is nothing to be ashamed of.

May this be the year that you realize your life isn’t on any schedule but your own — and you can amend that.

May this be the year you realize you are not only as good as your latest accomplishment was great.

You are not falling behind, you never have been.

The journey has only ever been about learning to find a semblance of peace each day, and it’s often in the quiet, in the unexpected, and in the simplest things that we are given the greatest opportunity to do just that.

The Upside Down

A good 99.98% of my days are warm and flaxen.

Even when it’s rainy, even when it’s nighttime, there’s still a brightness. The atmosphere is golden-hued, like the world and everything in it is backlit by the sun. There is a constant thrum of expectancy. Something good is going to happen, even if I don’t know what it is. I’m always looking forward to the next exciting thing—a dinner, a vacation, a new book, a warm cup of coffee. Even when things aren’t so good, even when there are little annoyances, even when my day is a complete dumpster fire, there’s still the sense that everything is okay. I’m hopeful. I’m grateful. I’m happy. There’s always tomorrow after all, and even if something is worrying me, I can still objectively take a step back and look at my life and declare that it is good. 

Really, really, really good.

I’m so accustomed to seeing the world this way that it’s not even something I notice on a regular day. I think most of us are like this, you know? When life is generally good and things are relatively easy, it just flows. We’re along for the ride, and we’re so focused on the map and our destination that we don’t acknowledge the vehicle driving us there. We don’t hear the hum of the road under us or feel the wind from the cracked window. Kind of like our breath—we only notice it when we take the time and energy to focus on it or when it’s taken away from us.

I feel the need to emphasize that even on my best day, there is always an undercurrent of anxiety. I think that people who don’t struggle with mental health issues are under the impression that when things are good, our symptoms are totally absent. As much as I wish that were true, it just isn’t. Anxiety is my constant companion. Most of the time, because of coping skills and the incredible support system of people who I love standing by my side, it’s completely manageable. I’m able to function and enjoy life, but it’s always there.

Still, even with that annoying companion, most days have that subtle glow. Most days are good and light and warm.

Until they aren’t.

I had my very first anxiety attack a few months ago. I remember sitting at my desk, my heart beating out of my chest, my inability to do something as simple as take a breath, the feeling of not being in control of my own body. It was one of the most surreal and paralyzing moments I’ve felt in a long time.

I’ve had a few more since, the last time being when I was in Florida last week. The weight of everything going on in the world right now, paired with the news that my grandfather had tested positive for COVID and a very stressful work week was just too much for me to handle. And despite having an incredible time in a beautiful place with the person I love so much, my anxiety still popped in to say hey girl heyyyyyy.

I was in the shower after a run and fainted. I woke up on the ground scared. Confused. Embarrassed. How could I let it come to this? Why do I let the stressors of life get to me like they do?

I’m an empath to the kajillionth degree. I feel things and I feel things hard. When I can’t fix a problem, or when others are hurting, I take that pain on myself. And it often gets to be too much.

My boyfriend said something the next day that really resonated with me, and maybe it will for you as well.

“You can and should only focus on the things you can control. There is so much happening right now; it would be impossible for you or anyone to try and take it all on at once. Breathe. Take it one day at a time. And look after you.”

When my anxiety turns to panic, when my mental health becomes something I have to actively focus on, the very fabric of my world changes. I don’t just mean metaphorically. The world around me literally looks different. The atmosphere seems thick and heavy. I move through the world differently. Slower. I’m disoriented and disconnected. Everything is just… wrong. I’ve left Hawkins, and I’m in the Upside Down. (Have you seen Stranger Things? If you haven’t, quit reading this right now, turn on Netflix, and get your life right. I’ll wait.)

In the show, the characters go to the Upside Down, a kind of parallel dimension where the monsters live. Everything is dark and tinged with blue. The air is full of poison and floating matter. It’s unnatural and unsafe. It’s just not right. 

This is exactly how my world looks when I’m in a “season of anxiety,” as I’ve begun calling it. I feel like I’m trapped in the Upside Down. All I want are those warm and flaxen days back. I get upset with myself for not appreciating them when they were here. Will they ever come again? Am I going to live in the Upside Down forever?

But then.

Always, always, always.

A ray of sunlight pokes through. The dark blue world around me starts giving way to splotches of gold. Slowly at first, but then it spreads like paint on a canvas. The toxins slowly clear the air. My fingers and toes start to thaw, and for the first time since I can remember, I take a long, cleansing breath.

I call my time in The Upside Down a “season of anxiety” because it always passes. It’s always just a season. A shitty season, but a season nonetheless. Sometimes it lasts an hour, sometimes it lasts for days, but it’s always temporary.

Against all odds, I always make it out. I always get back to that place where I can take a step back, look at my life, and declare it is good. Really, really, really good.

If you’re feeling a bit lost, scared or unsure, please know that you’re not alone. The world is a heavy place right now, and we’re all just trying to get by as best we can.

But also try and look for those golden-hued moments. They’re there, I promise.

xoxo

Just Breathe

Hi, friends. How are you? Are you doing okay?

I realize that’s kind of a silly question, more rhetorical than anything given *gestures vaguely* our current circumstances. Whew. This year has been one heckuva decade. It’s weird to have one common, global talking point, no? This virus — systemic racism, the tumultuous state of our democracy and of course, the actual COVID virus. It’s leaving nowhere unexplored and no one untouched.

Last week, I met up with a friend and we caught up on life while taking a stroll around the park. As we walked, my face half-covered with a kitty cat face mask, sweat slowly dripping down my forehead, she looked over at me, and exclaimed: “Goodness, I cannot wait for this crazy year to be over!” I looked at her, not fully comprehending her statement in the moment, and simply nodded back. Later that week, wrapped up in a never-ending group chat, I happened to read a similar statement from another friend of mine: “2021 please hurry!” This time, I felt my interest spark: are there people out there simply waiting for 2021 to come along to make things better? If so, why?

I will be the first to admit, 2020 has definitely not been the best year of my life. I couldn’t have predicted losing a job I had started not a mere four months after I began. I never saw myself experiencing my first (and subsequent second and third) debilitating anxiety attacks. I didn’t envision the heartbreak, sadness and fear that would fill my heart, and the hearts of the world at large when Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Jacob Blake’s (to name just a few) lives were tragically taken, or the aftermath that would follow. And of course, I could have never imagined the advance of a full-blown pandemic that would completely alter the course of our lives forever, causing everything we had known to change.

But despite the heaviness, the challenges and the pain that this year has brought thus far, there were also moments of beauty, growth and peace that I have experienced throughout this, as my friend put “crazy year.”

For one, I fell in love. And it’s been the truest, deepest, most sincere and beautiful love I’ve ever experienced. In the midst of one of the most uncertain and stressful and scary times of my life, he has been my one constant, my light, my biggest supporter and cheerleader. And I am forever grateful for that.

I made time for family, for friends, for consciously making an effort to stay connected and letting the people who matter most in my life know how very much they mean to me. I began writing again, reading, having slow mornings and lazy afternoons. I found peace when I was exploring the great outdoors, and I felt like for once, I could breathe.

Long-standing issues of racial inequality, systemic racism and police brutality were once again brought to the forefront of out minds, but instead of mourning and taking a stand for but just a moment, we got loud, we got angry, we got inspired and educated and united, and we turned this moment into a movement. A movement that will continue until we see the social justice and equality and equity that we have been fighting for for so long.

This year has forced us all to take pause, to reflect, to focus on the things that truly matter.

If you are reading this article, I urge you to stop waiting for 2021. It will come, and the virus in all of its forms will still exist. But with any hope, we will be better prepared to take on its challenges, bringing with us a new found sense of strength, hope and the thought that the power to make this life a better one, for all of us, lies in our hands.

But for now, take a moment to breathe.

Reflect on all that has gone well.

Acknowledge the moments of peace and solace you experienced this year.

Live, and be grateful for this moment.

For in the end, that is all we truly have.

Why We Need to Talk About It

I don’t really know how things work up there⁣⁣. One thing is for certain though,⁣⁣ from here on out..⁣⁣.my worst days,⁣⁣ are your very best now.⁣⁣
⁣⁣
Seven years gone too soon,⁣⁣
but one day closer always.
⁣⁣

It was a few days after my 26th birthday. My oldest cousin Nick — the sweetest, kindest, most outgoing and lively human bean you ever did meet — took his own life. I’ll never forget that phone call from my mom when she told me the news: one minute I was sitting at my desk, and the next my life was forever changed.

Grief changes you at your core, but suicide is a whole different realm.

There were so many questions left unanswered. And guilt, just this overwhelming sense of guilt, a feeling that I could’ve done or said something – I should’ve done or said something – to prevent this from happening. A reaction that is often had and felt when someone you love takes their life on their own accord. From the outside looking in, he seemed to be okay. We’d talked frequently on the phone, filling each other in on our jobs, our lives, the Colorado Avalanche. But there was a deeper pain that was living inside of him that he did not talk about. A pain that was just too hard to bear.

I found out later that Nick had been dealing with severe depression for quite a while, turning to alcohol to numb and quiet his thoughts and heartache.

There are many complex reasons and factors that go into a suicide attempt, but possibly the most simple way to explain it is that the individual’s perception of their pain outweighs any hope they may have for the future.

This was the case for my cousin.

Yes, it does get better and there is support out there – but that doesn’t necessarily mean the person in question feels that way. The reality they may be living in might be quite different from the way you perceive their life from the outside.

It’s easy, for instance, to look at a successful, seemingly outgoing and happy person and think that they are doing okay. But we honestly have no idea what people go through – whether they’re suffering from depression, acute loneliness, anxiety, or another mental health issue that may be affecting their day-to-day functioning. Until you’ve been in a suicidal person’s shoes, it can be difficult to discern how excruciating their pain might feel.

Addiction can be a silent killer as well, and is another leading cause of suicide. Not only does substance abuse increase the likelihood that someone will attempt suicide, it may even be used as part of the attempt. When people are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, their inhibitions can be lowered, their impulses can run the show and any existing mental health conditions can also be exacerbated.

After Nick’s death, I was inconsolable. Not only because I missed him — I did and still do, terribly — but also because he had so much to live for. We all did. We were so young. Youth is often wasted on the young, as they say.

He hardly had that chance to waste it though, before it was wasted on him.

It felt unfair. It was unfair. Loss always is, especially in this way.

September is National Suicide Awareness Month, and with the passing of my cousin, and so many others I know who have lost loved ones to this heartbreakingly tragic thing, we are reminded that these issues do not discriminate and that mental health is something that needs to be prioritized.

Unfortunately, there is still a great amount of emotional invalidation, stigma, misinformation, harmful stereotyping and shame surrounding the topic of suicide.

That’s why it’s so important to continue the conversation.

It’s important to talk about why suicide attempts and ideation occur.

It’s important to destigmatize the suffering of those who may be shouldering their pain in silence.

It’s important to be mindful of how we treat those who choose to share their struggles, that not everyone may be as open in coming forward or reaching out for help.

It’s important to be there for the ones we love, to show kindness and grace, and to try and not put blame on those who have taken their own lives, but instead honor and remember them in every possible way we can.

There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t miss Nick, or think about him: what he would be doing now, if he’d be happy, if our lives would be different.

I can only hope that he found peace and he is finally…free.

I love you, dooder.

For more information about suicide prevention and actionable items you can take to spread awareness, you can visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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