Listen to Your Heart

It’s okay to follow your heart but take your brain with you.

When my roommate and I were still in university we made a plan, when we both graduated we would take a month off before the real world set in, and backpack through Europe. We had it all planned out, my parents even bought me the backpack for my birthday, but despite my spur of the moment nose piercing and my equally impulsive wrist tattoo, I still remain a lead with my head not with my heart girl. And so I decided that instead of going to Europe, I should stay home and pay off my student loans. My roommate was very understanding, but also told me “I’m still going, if I don’t, I might never get there.” It’s something I greatly admire about her, and am hoping will rub off on me. I had plans to go to Europe the following year, but three summers later and I still haven’t gone. I’ve done many other adventures: Dubai, a road trip to Colorado, and hopefully Hawaii in the Spring, but still no Europe.

A few months ago someone challenged me to stop leading with my head, and start leading with my heart. It’s a hard challenge, because I’m such a planner. I plan Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays months in advance, and I’m always looking ten steps ahead rather than enjoying the one I’m on. Hence choosing student loans over Europe. There’s a part of me that yearns to be more impulsive, to follow my heart more (Or maybe just quicker. I hate that often a simple decision can take me so long to make). But there’s another part of me that’s proud of where I’m at in life. That I know what I want and how to get there. But deep down I think I know the biggest reason I find it so hard to let go of using my head and listen to my heart is because I’m afraid.

I’m afraid of making a mistake. I’m afraid of failing. I’m afraid that if I don’t plan out my life, and know exactly where I’m going my life will descend into chaos. I don’t know what to do with chaos. But then I look back at some of the decisions I’ve made in the past few years, and I realize that I’ve followed my heart many times whether I realized it or not. Moving to a new city. Every person I dated. Changing my degree. Volunteering with youth. All of these choices weren’t made because of my pro/con lists or my extreme overthinking. They were made because my heart yearned for them, because I knew without a shadow of a doubt that they were choices I was supposed to make. And my head wasn’t going to talk me out of them.

This doesn’t mean they all turned out the way I wanted them to. This year for instance turned out a lot differently than I would’ve liked. But it doesn’t mean they were bad decisions, it just means that following your heart can bring you places you weren’t expecting. And I’ve navigated the unexpected before, you can’t be 25 without hitting a few bumps in the road. And I’ve survived them all.

So yes, I would love to follow my heart more, and I am most definitely working on that. However, I can’t always throw caution to the wind. I have responsibilities, and people I’m accountable for. My friend recently sent me a video, it was about why men don’t often approach woman, and as often happens with YouTube I got lost in a video trail. An hour or two later (ok it was probably only 20 minutes, but you can really lose a lot of time clicking video after video), I found another video by the same guy. He was talking about how his desire for ambition is his greatest strength, but it is also his greatest weakness. That really struck a chord with me. I know that my logical, analytical, planner personality is my greatest strength (especially in my job as an admin), but it can also be my greatest weakness. Over the past few years I have really let it hold me back. I’ve let it speak fear and complacency into my heart and hold me back from taking chances.

And so I’m taking my friend up on their challenge. I am going to try to follow my heart a little more, and my head a little less. I want to use my strengths, and improve on my weaknesses. And one day I know I’ll take up my backpack and make my way over to Europe.

The Bonds of Sisterhood

Sister – Someone who’s been where you’ve been; someone you can call when things aren’t going right; is more than just family; a sister is a forever friend.

One of my first memories with my sisters as a child is of my oldest sister babysitting me. We lived on an acreage, and at a young age she had mastered the task of the driving lawn mower. Her favorite activity when babysitting me was to hook up our old wagon to the back of the lawn mower and drive me and my other sister around the yard. We loved it, unfortunately our next door neighbors saw this as an incredibly dangerous past time for three girls under the age of twelve. As a result, we were banned from using the riding lawn mower as a toy, and we had to have someone older babysit us for a few more years.

I’m the youngest of my sisters by about five years. This means that when I was little and my sisters were about ten to fifteen, they loved having me around (or so I like to think). What I think the liked the most is that they had someone to play the roles no one else wanted when we played pretend (my roles mainly consisted of me being the baby, whether that be an actual baby, a baby lion from the Lion King or any other animated movie we chose to reenact. If there was no baby role then I was regulated to any male role that needed to be filled.) For me I didn’t care, I was being included, even if I was only allowed to play with the Barbie missing an arm or got the last choice in dress up. As a child I trusted my older sisters explicitly (something I slowly learned was not always the best choice after being taught dog food was good to eat, and that the reason my mouth was washed out with soap was because my sister didn’t want to cop to being the one who actually dropped a profanity). This was my role as the youngest sister, and I embraced it wholeheartedly, if not with a tad bit of whining, crying, and tattling along the way.

As my sisters and I grew, so did the space between us. When you’re sixteen it’s not cool to have your eleven year old sister trailing after you. I, however, didn’t care. I wanted to do everything they did at the exact same time they were doing it. Classic youngest child. Being the youngest wasn’t always so bad, there were times when my sisters argued on my behalf to allow me to grow up faster (most times it was because they wanted to do or watch something that my parents wouldn’t allow me to see or do yet. So in an effort to get what they wanted they convinced my parents I was in fact, old enough to watch Friends, or stay at home alone so they could go out on the weekend).

Despite all of this, I always saw myself as just behind my sisters. Always trying to catch up and seen as equal by them rather than the chatty nuisance all younger sisters tend to be seen as. When I was entering junior high my sisters were graduating high school, and when I was graduating high school they were finishing up university. It seemed like I was never going to catch up. I saw them grow closer as they went on their separate paths, but always be there when the other needed them. There wasn’t a lot I needed from them in high school, unless of course it was advice on how to convince my parents to let me do something. I always knew they still loved me (I still have the thank you for not dying hippo my sister sent me when I was hit by car riding my bike),  but I felt disconnected from them somehow.

Even when I moved away for my first couple years of university I wasn’t quite sure how to connect with them. I still felt like I was the little sister who couldn’t possibly understand the stage of life they were going through. And then I got my first boyfriend and went through my first break up, and I didn’t know who to call. And then my phone began to ring, and my sister was on the other end offering to drive down and punch any guy who dared to break my heart. Although I didn’t take her up on the offer, it was exactly what I needed to hear. As the years went by I began to realize that just because my sisters were older, they saw me as a grown up (something I don’t always understand because I don’t even see myself as a real adult half the time). That just as they had grown up, so had I.

I mentioned in a previous post that both my sisters wound up getting married five weeks apart, and then they adopted puppies from the same litter. While my one sister just had a baby in September, my other sister will be having her first child in October. Their lives seem to be running parallel to one another, and mine is taking a path not even close to theirs. One day while I was on the phone with my sister she told me how proud she was of me this past year. How even though it had been pretty hard year for me she was impressed at how mature I had become. And then she told me just because my life hasn’t taken the same path as her and my other sister, doesn’t mean there was anything wrong with me. It is nice for them to be able to experience these milestones together, but me not doing them alongside them doesn’t mean that I’m not able to still connect with them.

That’s when I realized that all these years I hadn’t been chasing after my sisters, I had been looking up to them. I had been trying to emulate them. Each of them have amazing qualities that I admire so much. Like my sister’s impetuous nature which brings her so many amazing adventures. Or my other sisters ambition and preservation/inclusion of family traditions in our lives. There are so many wonderful things they have taught me, and I have learned so much from both their successes and failures. And I’ve come to the realization that even though I won’t get to experience everything alongside them, they will be able to teach me everything they know when my turn does come around.

So perhaps I’m the lucky one. I have been blessed enough to have two amazing sisters forge ahead of me in the world, who are fiercely protective of me, and constantly encourage me to follow my dreams, and even though we’ve had our fights (what kind of siblings would we be if didn’t), I wouldn’t trade these two woman for the world.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Just be yourself. Let people see the real, imperfect, flawed, quirky, weird, beautiful, and magical person that you are. – Unknown

When I was in elementary school my mom got me the worst haircut I’ve ever had. At the time it was probably really in style, but I hated it. She had my hair cut into a pixie cut, and then permed it. It looked like I had a permanent afro. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad, if as a child I wore any girly colored clothes. Instead I wore a lot of orange and navy blue and ran away from anything pink or purple. Unfortunately, my choice in clothing combined with my new haircut often caused me to be mistaken as a boy. There were quite a few times where I was followed into the girls washroom by someone telling me I walked into the wrong one.

After that experience I refused to cut my hair from grade 7 until my high school graduation. I grew it out till it reached down to my back, but I never did anything with it. I have naturally curly hair, which is hard to tame on its best days, but back in high school I couldn’t be bothered to do anything more than wash and dry it. It drove my mom crazy, she was always after to me to style it, or at least blow dry it before I left the house. In retrospect maybe having short hair would have been better for my lack of styling.

It wasn’t just my hair I struggled with. I couldn’t do makeup to save my life. I had no interest in the time it took to put it on or learning the proper contouring techniques or shaping my eyebrows. I never wore anything more than a pair of jeans and hoodie for the longest time. Much of this was to the chagrin of my older sister, who loved all of these things and really wanted to teach me all of her secrets. Doing hair and makeup came a lot easier to her (while I’ve since learned the basics of hair and makeup, I’m still convinced it’s a skill that some are much better at than others.)

The thing is for the most part I didn’t care. I didn’t care that my hair was unruly or that my eyebrows weren’t professionally tweezed. I didn’t care if I looked like all the other girls in my class or if I had the perfect outfit to wear to school.

Why does all of this matter? Because I’ve always been a little proud that I didn’t care too much about these things. I was glad I was able to shrug off a bad hair cut, or leave the house even if my eyeliner isn’t exactly perfect (something that makes my roommate cringe, shes the master of the perfect eye, and that I blame on how small my eyelids are). But two months a go I went in for a regular haircut, and I came out fuming.

As someone with curly hair, it’s often hard to find someone who knows how to properly cut your hair (usually it should be cut dry vs. wet, but if it is cut wet, you never cut it at the exact length you ask for because curls always pull up.) For the past couple of years I’ve worn my hair just above my shoulders, and when I went in I asked for it to be cut to my ears, knowing that it would grow out again fairly quickly. Instead my hairdresser trimmed the right side of head to almost non existent and the back pulled up pretty far as well. It was nothing like I’d asked for, but I couldn’t say anything. I just paid for the haircut and walked out the door completely devastated. I felt unattractive and extremely unfeminine. I had never been this unhappy with a haircut before, and that includes the pixie cut with bangs my sister talked me into my freshman year of university.

As I was sitting there fuming, I couldn’t help but think why does this matter? In a few weeks it will grow out and I’ll love my hair again. When did I suddenly get so insecure about how I looked? Obviously I have felt insecure about how I looked before, but it had never bothered me as much as it was now.

The next morning I had to go into work, and so I decided that in order to take the attention off of my hair I would wear an amazing outfit and make sure my makeup was on point. I even took the time to accessorize (something else that I really struggle with)! I was so confident walking into work with my blazer and matching shoes. This feeling lasted about two minutes when the reception looked at me and said, “you know your blouse is inside out right?” I looked down to see that she was right (she tells me something like this at least once a week whether it’s my sweater being on backwards or my shoes not matching my outfit). I quickly took my blouse off intending to put it on correctly, forgetting that I had put on lipstick that morning. Needless to say red lipstick and white blouses do not mix. My outfit was ruined! I had to borrow a cardigan from a coworker and my blazer and necklace no longer worked with it. My confidence was gone…until the first person to walk by my desk looked at my new hairstyle and complimented it. And then another person…and another! Suddenly I realized my new hairdo wasn’t as bad as I thought. My roommate had tried to tell me that when I came home, but she’s my roommate and she has to say things like that.

Suddenly I started embracing my hair, and my confidence came back. In fact, I’m going back this week for a hair cut, and getting the same style done. The purpose for this blog post is that this whole experience has made me think about the concept of beauty. I can’t remember the day I decided that wearing pink and purple was okay. Or the day I put makeup on for the first time, or when I bought my first pair of heels (side note, I have mastered the art of walking in heels, I can in fact, walk faster than my roommate in heels while she’s in flats). At some point I slowly started doing all these things, and there’s nothing wrong with any of them. However, I found that lately I wasn’t doing any of these things for me. I was doing them because I wanted other people to like me, so that other people would think I was pretty. I wanted to be one of those women that people look at and couldn’t believe how put together they are (rather than the inside out blouse wearing woman I usually am).

And that’s when I realized that I needed to stop. I needed to stop worrying about my hair, or the fact that I started getting pimples on my face, or whether or not the outfit I’m wearing is in style if the only reason I’m doing these things is to impress others than what’s the point? And I know that I will have my days just like everybody else, but overall I need to be ok with who I am. Because in the end who cares if fifty percent of my wardrobe comes from my mom and grandma, they’ve got great taste! I look just as good with my bushy eyebrows as my roommate does with her shaped ones. We all have our things, we all have our own form of beauty, and even though it may be hard to see sometimes, it’s time we all start embracing it. I know I’m going to.

 

 

My First Love

Some books you read. Some books you enjoy. But some books just swallow you up heart and soul. – Joanne Harris

At this very moment I am sitting on my couch eating ice cream out of the carton watching my roommate and her boyfriend work, which is really just an excuse to sit at the table and flirt. It’s actually quite amusing, and my spot is perfect for mocking them at the same time…I’m not sure they find that part quite as funny as I do. As my roommate’s boyfriend would put it, the cynical side of me has reemerged (I think he kind of missed this side of me over the last few months, even if he’d never admit it).

The truth is I’m not actually as cynical as I come across, for the most part I just do it to annoy my roommate, which has about a 90% success rate. In reality I am a romantic at heart. I realized that this weekend when I returned to Pinterest for the first time in six months. I have a Pinterest account for one reason only: the quotes. I love quotes. I can spend hours scrolling through and pinning them to my quotes board. I have a few other boards as well, but my quote board has the most pins by far.

As I was scrolling through the quotes I had saved over the years I realized that there were three main themes to the types of quotes that I chose to pin. Inspiration, beauty, love. I know that first category can cover a lot, but for me inspiration relates to quotes that describe the person I want to be, but haven’t quite found a way to embrace yet. It’s like I have the person I am, and the person I want to be, and I’m working harder to get closer and closer to that person. Not because I’m dissatisfied with myself, but because I know as time goes on I need to keep growing.

The thing I love about quotes, or words in general, is there ability to come together and say exactly what you’re thinking or feeling at the moment you’re thinking or feeling it. Words have the ability to penetrate your soul.  You remember advice, a story, or a phrase you heard long after it’s been said. They find a way to take root in your heart and speak into who you are.

I think that’s probably why I became an English major in the first place. I loved the way words could make a person feel. I loved examining what was beneath the surface of a book or a poem, because there was always more than met the eye. Words are some of the most powerful things in the world. They can be used to build people up, but they can also be used to cut people down.

A few years ago, my roommate and I were struggling with feeling loved and beautiful. It was a problem. So one night I took a bunch of note cards and scrolled through my Pinterest writing out quotes such as:

“Be confident. Too many days are spent comparing ourselves to others and wishing to be something we aren’t. Everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s only when you accept everything you are – and aren’t – that you will truly succeed.”

“You are the content of your character. You are the ambitions that drive you. You are the goals that you set. You are things that you laugh at and the words that you say. You are the thoughts you think and the things you wonder. You are beautiful and desirable not for the clique you attend, but for the spark of life within you that compels you to make your life a meaningful one. You are beautiful not for the shape of the vessel, but for the volume of the soul that carries it.”

“There is nothing more beautiful than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me that is the essence of true beauty.”

I took these quotes and I posted them all around the outside of our mirror. So whenever we looked at ourselves and thought that we weren’t pretty or loved, we would know differently. We would be empowered to think differently…and it worked. It caused us to look at ourselves differently. To be less concerned with what the world thought of as beauty, and more concerned with loving ourselves the way we were.

For years the wall across my bed was filled with note cards with various quotes. I’m talking about an entire wall, and about half of it was filled with different quotes that inspired me. I never wanted to forget a single word that elicited my love for the English language.

My roommate often mocks me for the amount of quotes I send her, or how I can go on and on about a quote and how it applies to my life. How it makes me feel or something it reminded me of. There are very few things that can get me going, but words are one of them. And then this summer she got me the best gift of all. I had walked into an antique store and saw an old fashioned typewriter, and I fell in love with it. I wanted it so badly, but not badly enough to spend $200.00 on it. As luck would have it, my roommate went out running later that week and passed by a garage sale. She glanced at the closest table, and there it was: a typewriter! She booked it home to get money and purchase it right away. The minute I opened it my mind ran wild with all the ways I could use it. Remember when I said I was an 80 year old woman on the inside? Well this just fed right into that part of my persona. I immediately ran out and got some fancy paper and began to write. I wrote a few letters on it, and as I wrote a thrill would run through  me. This typewriter was bringing me to life.

I guess the point of this long explanation of my love for words is to show you, that even though I make a lot of jokes about being a spinster or becoming a permanent fixture in my roommate and her boyfriends home (whenever they get married), I am actually a romantic at heart. I save the smarmy quotes on what love is, and I repost the inspirational quotes about chasing your dreams and not being defined by societies definition of beauty. And I find myself more often than not getting lost for hours in the words of those who chose to write down their innermost thoughts, who probably never thought they’d wind up inspiring anyone else but themselves.

With that I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the Velveteen Rabbit:

“He said, ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

An Ode to Friendship

Friendship is so weird…you just pick a human you’ve met and you’re like “yep, I like this one” and you just do stuff with them.

I don’t remember the first time I met my roommate. She does, in great detail, but I have no recollection. In fact the first time I remember meeting her is over a year later on a road trip with some other friends. Even after meeting her a second time, we didn’t become friends right away. I asked her how we became friends the other day, and she told me it was the day we met for coffee at Tim Hortons…another event I can’t remember.

What I do remember is her driving me home from various university events because I didn’t have a car, singing One Direction at the top of our lungs, and the way she stood up for me in the early days of our friendship.

The moment that defines the beginning of our friendship for me is when she drove me home after hanging out with friends of ours. We got in the car, and she turned to me and said, “why didn’t you stand up for yourself tonight?” I had no clue what she was talking about until she told me that someone had been passive aggressively making fun me all night. I hadn’t realized that this had been happening, but she had definitely noticed it and it had taken a lot for her not to step up and say anything.

From that night we began to develop our friendship. At the end of that year I asked her if she wanted to be roommates with me. She said no. Twice. It wasn’t until her mom told her that living with roommates was the best part of university for her that she changed her mind…and then I almost got us evicted before she even moved in.

The last five years have been made up of a lot of different adventures: road trips to Edmonton and Colorado, both of us graduating university, starting life in the “real” world, first relationships, and first heartbreaks. Our friendship often consists of me getting into trouble and her bailing me out. Case in point: the day I got my pants stuck on our closet door and she had to lift me off. Or the time I sliced my hand open three times on the same can and then wrapped it in saran wrap because we were out of band-aids. My roommate brought an entire first aid kit home for me that night. There was also the time I set a grease fire in our oven, and instead of putting it out I shut the door and called her to rescue me. As you can see I tend to throw out rational thought when I begin to panic, which is why I’m thankful for my roommate. She may very well be the reason I made it out of university alive.

I may not remember meeting my roommate for the first time, or the first time we hung out one on one. But I’m glad that she does, and I’m glad that despite my lapse in memory she still decided to take a chance on someone she barely knew and move in with her. I don’t think either of us knew what we were getting into five years ago when we became roommates. I don’t think we anticipated the fights over who put the cups in the wrong spot while putting away the dishes, or how fast we’d start to rely on one another.

The best thing about my roommate? As much as she’d love to fight my battles for me, she doesn’t. Instead she gets me to do it for myself. She often gets more offended than I do when someone hurts me, and gets extremely riled up when I let someone back in after they’ve deeply wounded me. She’s not afraid to tell me to my face when I’m doing something stupid, or that I need to stand up for myself. In essence she challenges me to be better, and to see my value the way she does.

She recently told me that I hadn’t prepared her for life beyond me (okay so she may have been referring to how loud I am when I move around the house, but I decided to take it as a compliment), and I jokingly told her “there wasn’t supposed to be a life beyond me.” It’s true, when we first moved in together I don’t think we imagined we’d live together for so long, and then after awhile we’d lived together so long we jokingly decided we always would. Eventually that will change, she’ll get married and I’ll become the crazy dog lady living out the rest of my life as a spinster (I may have already picked out my retirement home based on which ones allow animals). But until that time, I’ll continue to count on her to rescue me from my crazy comedic life. And maybe one day I’ll learn how to keep myself from doing things like cutting myself out of my own shirt when I get stuck in it…one can hope right?

Spoiler Alert

All endings are also beginnings, we just don’t know it at the time.

-Mitch Albom

I love endings. Maybe love isn’t the right word. A better way to put it is that I love knowing how things will end. It doesn’t matter what it is, a book, a movie, a TV show, I need to know what happens before I actually read or  watch anything. It drives my roommate crazy because I’ll always know what’s coming up in a show we’re watching (and I’ll be honest I’ll often stare at her during the surprising moments to see her reaction so I can see why she gets a little irritated). The thing is that I like to know I’ll enjoy getting to the end, that I’m not wasting my time on something I’m not going to wind up enjoying. To me it makes perfect sense.

However, I’ve realized that knowing the ending to everything isn’t always best. When I know the ending it’s all I’m excited for. I don’t pay attention to the rest of the plot, and any conflicts that come up don’t worry me because I know how it’ll work out. I’m never shocked or taken off guard because I’ve read the plot summary or flipped to the last chapter of the book. This also means I’m always anticipating the good parts. Instead of following along to the story I’m just waiting for the parts I’ll enjoy to come up. I start missing out on all the other aspects of the story.

The thing is that while I can always flip to the end of the book, there’s no way for me to do the same with my life. I can’t foresee how things will turn out when I decide to take a chance on something new. I can’t flip ahead and measure whether the path I’m taking will be worth it or not. However, I’ve also realized that when I’m in the moment I only see a small piece of the puzzle. There’s a lot of adventures I started on that didn’t turn out how I planned (in fact most of my plans don’t turn out how I imagined them to, which I blame on the crazy expectations I build up in my mind). Despite these plans not turning out as expected, they’ve shaped me into who I am. There’s been some painful experiences and there’s also been some incredible ones. The thing is there’s no way to know which way something will end until it does.

I recently went on one of these adventures, and it didn’t turn out how I was hoping. I started dating for the first time in about four years. It didn’t last as long as I thought it  would, and there was, as with any breakup, some hurt involved. However, there was also a lot of fun and growing. Someone once told me that when a relationship ends more often than  not all you can remember are the bad things. The stuff that lead to your breakup, which isn’t all together untrue, but I’ve found you also remember the other stuff as well. And it’s this stuff, the good stuff, that’s helped me realize why I wanted to take the risk in the first place.

Now don’t get me wrong. Just because I’ve made this realization doesn’t mean it’s  been rainbows and butterfly’s this past month and a half. I’m not going to lie, I did walk into an IKEA recently and attempt to refurnish my entire house until  realized I was broke. (I settled for salad tongs, a candle and some wine glasses). And this weekend I was on the search for the perfect coffee maker, which I never found because a simple coffee maker suddenly costs $100.00 (when did that happen, and more importantly how will I sustain my caffeine addiction without one?). I think I’ve realized that when anything hard happens in my life I try to solve it with kitchen appliances, probably not the best way to cope with life. And while I may not feel altogether myself for a while, I’m happy I even took a chance on someone. I’ve found that too often I’ve shied away from getting into a relationship due to my own insecurities and fear of getting hurt. And even though it didn’t end in happily ever after, I am thankful for the chance I had to be in a relationship. To know that even if I can’t appreciate it all now, this relationship showed me a lot about who I am and what I want, and I’ll be able to carry that forward with me.

So despite the fact that my most current adventure didn’t turn out as planned, I’m actually glad there’s no spoilers for my life. A friend of mine asked me at the beginning of my relationship if I knew how things would turn out ahead of time, good or bad, if I would approach my relationship any differently . My answer was no, and it’s the truth, because when there is no way to see the ending ahead of time there’s no reason to hold back. So until the next adventure (or latte as my friends put it) comes along I’ll be at home rearranging my furniture and continuing my search for the perfect coffee maker.

Battle of the Mind

This is one of the most frustrating things about having an anxiety disorder; knowing as you’re freaking out that there’s no reason to be freaked out, but lacking the ability to shut the emotion down.

Ever since I started blogging nine months ago, I’ve begun to realize how therapeutic writing is to me. I always knew I was good at writing, but I never realized how much I needed to write until I started doing it regularly. I thought I was writing just as a project, something to get the creative juices flowing after being away from it so long. I spent four years pursing an English degree and when I was finished, I was so tired of writing that I just quit. A year and a half later I’m realizing how that while my blog may have started out as an experiment and a way to engage others, it has now become my way of discovering who I am. My blog is just as much for me as it is for sharing with other people. I haven’t posted anything in a long time, and it’s because I honestly didn’t know what to talk about. For the most part I’ve tried to keep this blog light and funny (my life has plenty of comedic moments so that’s been fairly easy), but this last month and a half I’ve found myself in a less comedic place. I’ve been struggling with something I thought I had conquered a long time ago. This blog is supposed to be honest and I realized that it can’t be honest if I only talk about what’s good in my life, but I also have to be honest about my struggles as well. For me, the above quote gives an accurate description of what anxiety has been for me in my life.

Anxiety and fear. It’s something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. As a child it was the fear of death and the unknown. I refused to take any undue risks because there was no guarantee that I would emerge unscathed. It caused me to miss out on a lot of experiences that I didn’t necessarily need to. I don’t regret anything. There’s nothing I look back on and think “If only I hadn’t been so anxious or so fearful.” I worked hard as a teenager and a young adult to conquer this anxiety. I was in counseling for multiple years, and it was hard. It was hard to have to learn to rewire my brain so that every change that came my way didn’t cause me to lie in bed in fear of what might happen. It was hard to know that other people could do things without a second thought, but I would take hours overthinking and reworking every little detail before taking a chance. Hard to know that I had to go over every inch of a situation before I was comfortable to move forward with the assurance that I would be able to handle it.

It got worse when I hit University. I had never been in a relationship of any kind until then. There hadn’t been a lot of interest from guys while I was in high school. By the time I was 19 and entering my first year of University I had very little experience with guys. I’ve mentioned a couple of the run-ins I had my first few years, and every single one of them was fraught with anxiety. Someone I knew fairly well asked me out for a coffee date, and after accepting, I spent the entire night in a cloud of panic unable to sleep until I emailed back and declined. Only then did I have peace. I learned early on that if I felt anxious, I could often get rid of the anxiety by cutting off or blocking out the situation that made me anxious. Sometimes this was a good thing, there were situations where cutting off the source of anxiety was exactly what I was supposed to do. However, there were also times that called me to push through my anxiety, to get to the other side and I often refused to do that, which meant that I never really learned what good things could await me on the other side of my fear.

Eventually I had a breakthrough. After my first serious relationship which was shrouded in fear, anxiety and panic attacks, I was determined to beat this beast of anxiety. I didn’t want my life to be ruled by fear any longer. It didn’t happen overnight, and I haven’t gotten rid of it completely. However, I did learn how to manage it. I learned how to find confidence within myself, and not fear what others thought of me or how I was perceived.  I got involved in things. Even volunteered to lead my own group of fellow students. I stepped out of my comfort zone and forced myself to learn the difference between healthy fear and unhealthy fear. To know when to listen to my anxiety and when to force myself to push past it. I was amazed at how different I felt and how my life changed in those two and a half years.

My roommate saw me at my worst in regards to my anxiety, but she also saw me climb my way out of that pit. She’s been one of my biggest cheerleaders besides my family as I’ve navigated this crazy path. She learned how to calm me down when I was in the throes of an emotional breakdown (which in the past six years we’ve known each other has been more often than I’d care to admit). It’s hard because I’m not the only one affected by my anxiety. It would be so much easier if that were the case, but it leaks out and affects the relationships around you. Sometimes people look at you and can’t understand the change that’s happened from who you used to be, to the girl sitting on the couch crying. It’s hard because you can’t really explain how it feels to others. You can’t make them understand that it’s your own thing and it has nothing to do with them. You’re not mad or upset with them, you’re mad and upset with yourself for not being able to control your emotions, for not being able to live in the moment. The hardest thing is that I often don’t understand where my anxiety is coming from in the moment. All I know is that I feel scared or overwhelmed. When that happens I have to work backwards and figure out where it started and why it started and how to rework my thoughts so that when I’m confronted with the situation again, I can learn from it and respond differently. Sometimes it’s easy and I can figure it out and move on, other times it takes me being confronted with the same issue multiple times before I am able to figure out a healthy way to deal with my fear and move forward. Because the one thing I want most in the world is to be able to do just that. And some days I can do that. I can control my emotions. I can banish my anxiety and I can enjoy the moment, and those days are the best days.

So why is this important? What has this got to do with the past three months?

It’s important because I thought that I had figured my issues out. I had gone at least a year without any fear or anxiety, and then suddenly it appeared again. I don’t think anyone was more disappointed than me to discover that while I may have learned to manage my anxiety, especially when I am in my comfort zone (which I’ve stayed in for probably the last three years. I have taken risks and stretched myself, but this year was by the far the biggest year of change for me in a while), that any kind of change can still set me off.  The moment I realized what was going on I felt completely defeated. I felt like I had won a battle just to lose the war. I had been so good for so long that I had assumed my anxiety couldn’t touch me anymore. I realized I had decision to make. I could give in and let my anxiety run my life or I could fight back. I knew what giving in would look like. It would consist of me over analyzing and freaking out about my life until I would eventually stop eating or sleeping and run every scenario from the start of my anxiety through my head on how I could’ve changed things or how I could’ve acted better or handled my life better. It was a road I did not want to take.

So instead, two days after I realized what was going on with me, I booked an appointment with my counselor. It was hard. I felt like I had failed myself and everyone around me, because I wasn’t strong enough to handle this on my own. I had thought I was done with counseling, done with crying myself to sleep and done with being afraid and insecure of myself and other people. My counselor assured me that I was not a failure. I had spent years learning how to be on my own without anxiety, but any life change would cause me to have to reorient how I perceived things and that eventually just like I had in the past I would once again be able to handle any new situations that I found myself in. That I would be able to be myself again without the fear and insecurity flanking my every move.

Why I am talking about this? Because I feel there’s a need for honesty. My blog has never been about rainbows and unicorns, it’s been about what’s real to me. I would feel like a fraud if I wrote something that made it seem like I’ve been handling all of this like a champ. I also feel like there’s a lot of shame surrounding things like anxiety, and a lot of people who don’t realize that it’s not something that can just be overcome with a good attitude or by forcing a smile until you feel happy. It’s a lot of work. It’s hard and it’s scary, but when you come through to the other side, when you manage to overcome it, even if it’s in the smallest possible way, the struggle is worth it. The feeling of victory is amazing.

I don’t know if my anxiety will ever completely go away, but I do know this: I will never allow it to run my life the way it did five years ago. It’s only been a month, and I’m already in a much better place than I was before I started fighting back, and that in and of itself gives me enough hope to keep on going.

Burying My Head in the Sand 

I am an Ostrich. It’s something I’ve discovered in the last two months since I’ve been dating. I’ve probably always been one, but it’s never been obvious to me until now. The reason I am comparing myself to, in my opinion, a very unflattering bird is because, just like an Ostrich I like to bury my head in the sand and hope my problems go away. 
​My first dating experience wasn’t the greatest, and in all honesty I didn’t expect this one to be much different. I just assumed that overwhelming anxiety and fear were just a normal part of being in a relationship, and I think that’s why, in part I had avoided it for so long. Turns out, thankfully, that that is not what all dating relationships are like. I have had my fair moments of freak outs for sure, and I’ve realized that when I do I become an Ostrich. I bury my head in the sand (or to be more accurate in my boyfriend’s shoulder) because if I don’t have to look at him while I freak out maybe, just maybe my issues will just magically disappear. So far it hasn’t worked, and instead I am learning that burying my head in the sand only works for so long, if at all.

 

​I was made even more aware of the fact that I can’t ignore all my fears when I went home to visit my family two weeks ago. My dog and I were taking our first road trip together since I bought my first car in August. I had saved up enough time to leave a little early from work in order to complete the seven hour drive at a reasonable time. Two and a half hours into our adventure I found myself in the ditch. When I had left home snow had just begun to start falling, but I figured the roads wouldn’t be too bad yet. Unfortunately I was wrong, and thus found myself and my dog in the snow bank with no idea what to do. Thankfully I was on a busy highway, and even better is that many people (I think I counted seven) stopped to assist me, and eventually push me out of the ditch and help me avoid a hefty tow truck bill.

 

​I was back on the road, and completely terrified. I had decided to spend the night on my roommates brother’s couch, and try again tomorrow. The next morning the weather was even worse, but I really had no choice. If I went home I’d have to go over the same dangerous roads I took to get where I was, and if I continued on to my family I’d have to do the same. Either way, I had to get over my fear of driving through the snow and go somewhere. I couldn’t remain stuck where I was.

 

​I made it to my parents safely, and I was more cautious and aware of what I was doing while driving on the roads (if anyone was stuck behind a car going 60 on a 110 highway I do apologize, but I wasn’t taking any chances this time). I now knew what it felt like when my car wanted to go off the side of the road, and how to avoid allowing it to happen. I had learned not only how to push through my fear, but how to avoid making the same mistake again.

 

​I’m finding relationships are the same way. There’s a lot of fear and vulnerability involved. A lot of wondering about whether your differences make you stronger or if they’re too much. Realizing that how you react to a situation is not how someone else will. There’s a lot of issues that can and will arise, and when they do you can’t just ignore them and hope they resolve on their own, because they won’t. They’ll just get bigger and bigger until finally you collapse under the weight of them all (trust me I’ve been there…multiple times).

 

​I honestly feel like a nut case in my relationship 80% of the time. I am constantly over analyzing and worrying about every step I take, and in all honesty I often drive myself crazy, so I can just imagine what my boyfriend thinks sometimes. However, I’ve also discovered that some of things that I saw as insurmountable problems at the beginning of the relationship have gotten smaller. That things I’ve worked through in this relationship don’t keep coming back at me. I’ve dealt with them, and am able to fend them off when they try to come around again. I’m learning that being an Ostrich may be the easier choice in the short-term, it does nothing for me in the long-term.

 

​Now I don’t want you think that the last two months have only been terrifying and full of anxiety and fear. It’s also been exciting. It’s amazing how much more fun things like cooking and taking the dog for a walk can be when you’re with someone you like. You start learning a lot about the other person’s quirks. Spoiler alert: I have a lot (my excessive hand rubbing and the scrunching up of my face when I don’t know what to say are just the tip of the iceberg). I am also learning how to be mushy! This is a big step for me, and my roommate, rightfully so, has been mocking me for it ever since I began dating. Considering all the things I’ve said to her about her relationship I totally deserve it.

​I’m still taking tentative steps every day when it comes to this relationship, but I’m finding I’m slowly becoming more confident in where my relationship is going. Who knows? Maybe eventually I’ll morph into some sort of other animal, one much less likely to hide at the first sign of trouble (and hopefully more flattering too).  

The Implications Of A Latte

Love is meant to be an adventure. – Gordon Hinckley

It all started with a latte…if only I knew where those few words were going to take me over the past few months. It seems fitting since that’s how this blog started (and because of my dependency on caffeine to function) that that’s also how this new adventure in my life began. For him I think it started with bowling, but for me it was the following week’s latte that hooked me.

Yes, you’re reading right. There is a guy in the picture, and has been for about a month (officially). Like many things that happen to me, it came out of nowhere, and if we’re being completely honest I tried hard to resist it because the packaging wasn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t meet him online. In fact my foray into online dating came up dry. Instead it was someone who I’d known for a while, and actually saw on a regular basis but just hadn’t really thought about the two of us being together.

It began with bowling, and me sitting in my car for a good five minutes prior to meeting up with him having a nervous anxiety attack. This was before I even knew if he was interested in me or whether or not bowling equaled a date or if he just wanted someone to pass the time with. However, I was convinced that beyond friendship this wasn’t what I wanted and so I should just turn around and drive out of the parking lot. Instead I pushed through, and had a pretty fun evening with a friend. There were no grand declarations or awkward conversations (don’t worry though they come eventually, after all this is me we’re talking about). I left that evening feeling pretty proud of myself, but still convinced that this relationship would never move beyond friends.

A week later, sitting at a local coffee shop sipping a latte, my resolve began to crumble. As I’ve mentioned before I assume a lot of things, and it can often cloud my perception of people. This is one of those times. I found myself sitting across from this man and wondering, “how is it I’ve known you for 9 months, and yet I seem to not know you at all?” I realized that I wrote off the idea of a relationship based on assumptions and things I perceived to be insurmountable obstacles. Really I was just making excuses not to jump, because as much as I say I’m ready for a relationship there’s still a lot of fear for me in that area. Fear that keeps me from testing anything romance related out at all. However something nudged me that night in the coffee shop  and I felt like maybe I should be more open to the idea of a potential relationship.

After he walked me home, my roommate (who has been shipping us all along, not very subtly I might add) asked me how it went. I told her I talked too much. That I never knew what to ask other people so I just wound up babbling about myself a lot, but that we were going to hang out again next week. Her response? “Well if he spent three hours listening to you talk, and still wants to see you again he’s a keeper!” That’s one of the things I love about her, she tells it like it is.

The next week I had coffee with a friend and I unloaded everything onto her. I told her how I was feeling, how I didn’t want to get caught in one of those do she like me, does he like me relationships. I just wanted to know: is he interested in me or are we just going to be friends? I didn’t want to waste my time. Her advice was to just go for it. Bite the bullet and find out what was going on.

So that is how I found myself standing on the sidewalk downtown looking at him, and letting it all spill out. Word vomit. I think I spent a good five or ten minutes starting and stopping my sentences. Not really finishing any of my thoughts, but every so often going “you know what I mean?” I’m pretty sure he didn’t. But he just stood there smiling at me as I rambled on, and when it appeared I had run out of steam he said, “Are you good? Do I get to talk now?” And then he, much more eloquently than I did, told me that he was hoping for more than just a friendship in this relationship. And just like that I was dating. Something I haven’t done in many years, but I just decided it was time to finally jump again, to take a risk and see where it goes.

So that’s what I’m doing, and I case you’re wondering I am working on being more romantic and less cynical. I would, of course, find myself dating someone who has the romance part down pat. And I will admit it is nice to come home to flowers on your doorstep or enjoy a nice walk around the lake together. My roommate would tell you that I’ve become sappier than she’s ever seen me (however she is still much more cutesy and sappy than I ever will be), but I’m okay with that. I’m trying to let go of whatever holds me back and just allow myself to be me (which still includes a lot of incoherent rambling, and sometimes a very amusing phone call because I’ve gotten lost in the city and can’t find my way home). It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a relationship, and I’m sure I will have many more amusing anecdotes to share as this progresses. All I can say for now is that I’m really glad I had that latte.

No Opinion Necessary

When you are single there is a pressure that is spoken and unspoken about how you are supposed to be ‘normal’ or like everyone else and be in a relationship with someone.      – Anonymous 
 

Two years ago my sisters got married five weeks apart. It sounds crazy, but it was actually a great, albeit sometimes stressful time. I spent the whole year helping them and listening to all the amazing things they had planned for their special days. Since our whole family was scattered across the globe at the time, it was a great way to bring us all together. I loved it…until the first wedding hit. I should have guessed that when two out of three daughters were getting married so close together that the jokes and questions about my own love life were bound to happen. I think my favorite was “Are you next?” Well I’m their only daughter left so I guess I am. There was also the “Are we going to be back here in another five weeks for you?” Well sure if mail order grooms are a thing I supposed we could be. A lot of people seemed extremely fixated on my love life (or lack thereof) and it bothered me. I understand when you’re at a wedding these things come up, it’s like the ultimate event for love, but over the years I’ve come to realize it doesn’t matter where I am, everyone seems to have an opinion about my relationship status.

 We live in an age full of social media and people giving their opinions left, right and center about everything and honestly it gets to me sometimes. It’s really hard to be able to figure things out when so many people have different perspectives on what you’re doing in your own life. The worst I find are people who you haven’t, and most likely would never solicit advice from in the first place. I have a sphere of people in my life such as my family, my roommate, and some close friends whose opinions I highly value, and who I give every right to comment on my life if they think something’s amiss or to challenge me. However, I began to realize that there were a lot of people outside of this sphere who were lining up to give me advice as well. It wasn’t always pointed directly at me, often times it referred to single women in general, but since I’m one of the few single women in a lot of my social groups I felt it was directed at me. 

 ​I will admit that I get very passionate about this topic. My roommate is often afraid to bring it up because it’ll more than likely cause me to fly into 30 minute (or more) rant on how much I hate the dating culture around me. It’s something I’m trying to work on, because I know that every person is different and every relationship is different. I realize that I’m no better than those people who frustrate me in regards to commenting on my relationship status if I start attributing generalizations onto others.

 ​The reason I decided to write this particular blog post is because, as many of you know by now, my roommate began dating. Before this happened we both had each other to turn to when we felt lonely or like we were the anomaly among our peers. Now it’s just me. And I have become extremely frustrated with how our culture (or the culture I find myself surrounded in) treats dating and being single.

​I distinctly remember a couple months ago a friend of mine wanting to set me up with someone. It wasn’t someone I knew super well, but I knew them enough to know that it wasn’t someone I was interested in. When I told them this they seemed confused. “Why not?” They asked. “Don’t you want to find someone? Do you want to be alone forever?” In that moment it felt like I had only two options: date this guy or be destined to spinsterhood. There was no other option. I shrugged it off however and moved on. However a couple weeks later somebody else asked me if I was looking for someone to date. I honestly told them that I wasn’t actively seeking someone. That I was happy being single, enjoying it even and if the right guy came along I would happily make room for him, but that I wasn’t interested in chasing down every guy that walked by in case they might be the “one.” I was content. They looked flabbergasted. “Why? Why are you happy being single?”

​These are just two example of encounters I’ve had in regards to me being single in the last few years. But it finally got to me. I started feeling guilty for being happy with my life. I started second guessing myself and wondering why am I single? Am I broken? Is there something wrong with me? Am I less of a person because I can’t seem to find someone to be with or won’t go out with just any guy?

 ​I know that no one around me was intentionally trying to make me feel this way. Their offers to set me up with someone weren’t because they felt sorry for me, they just wanted me to be as happy as they were in their relationships.

 ​I didn’t grow up dreaming of marriage and kids. My parents never really talked about me getting married or settling down. They focused on encouraging me to follow my dreams and do what I loved. If that had been to get married young they would’ve been all for it, but that wasn’t what I wanted. I just assumed eventually it would either happen or it wouldn’t, but there was no use sitting around waiting for it when there was so much more I wanted to accomplish in life such as school and traveling. Those were my dreams for a long time. Slowly they’re beginning to change to include new dreams and ideas, and one of those is to get married at some point.

   ​I’m not disregarding being in relationships at a young age, or getting married, or having kids. Please don’t take that away from this entry. Instead I’m just saying we all do it our own way, and that’s ok.

 ​When I was 21 and in my first relationship, I thought exclusively dating someone just meant that you were getting to know them and learning more about them one on one in order to see if this was someone you could seriously commit to. I’m all for going on a coffee date or two with a guy and then realizing that you’re not interested in them and leaving it at that. How else are you supposed to discover someone to be with? I don’t condone dating for the sake of dating, I do believe there’s a difference between the two. However, when I agreed to be in a relationship with my ex, it was like I had committed the rest of my life to him. After a month everyone around me began asking me when we would be getting married and if we were in love etc. And my boyfriend was doing the same. I became incredibly overwhelmed. There was so much pressure and so many decisions I was supposed to make based on the opinions of others. The minute I entered into that relationship I felt like everyone around me was expecting things of me, including my boyfriend. I felt like I owed him myself. I owed him marriage and the rest of my life. But that was a lie. I didn’t owe him any of that. Not at that point in our relationship, and I honestly think there’s no point in a relationship prior to being married where you would actually owe that to someone.

 ​If I said I wasn’t sure people assumed I wasn’t serious about my relationship, but to say anything else would’ve been a lie. For me personally, there was no way I would be able to know after a month whether or not I was ready to spend the rest of my life with someone? I’m a logical person, it is incredibly hard for me to allow my feelings to guide me or for me to express them to others. I need to wrestle through things in order to get to the other side and feel confident about my decisions. This is exactly why it’s so hard for me to be the “Woo” girl my roommate so desperately wishes I was at times.

 ​I spent the majority of my first relationship shrouded in anxiety and having panic attacks in my room because I felt like I wasn’t living up to the expectations everyone had for me. Everyone had an opinion and everyone wanted me to act a certain way that I didn’t have time to really understand how I felt or what I wanted. I felt like I had been swept up by wave and dragged out to sea.

 When I broke up with my boyfriend I felt like a complete failure. Dating was supposed to be a serious thing, and why would you enter into a relationship that doesn’t end in marriage? These are a lot of the vibes I got from people before and after dating my ex. The worst thing about everyone having an opinion about things?

 ​I already felt it. I was perfectly capable of making myself feel discouraged about being single, just as I was perfectly capable about making myself feel guilty and anxious about my failed relationships. I didn’t need people, even though I knew it wasn’t intentional, telling me things I already knew or felt. What I needed was for people to come around me and let me know it was ok. That these things happen. That some relationships fail. That being single isn’t a bad thing. In fact I’ve learned a lot about myself while being single that will benefit me immensely in my next relationship.

 ​I guess what I’m trying to say is that everyone process differently. Everyone experiences things differently. It’s ok to be single your whole life. It’s also ok to be married. It’s ok to have more than one relationship. It’s ok to make mistakes. You’re writing your own story and it’s not going to look like anyone else’s. Just because your best friend found someone their first time out or your colleague got married after 6 months doesn’t mean you have to. You are not them. This is something that I am still wrestling with: the idea that I am no one else. I am me. And I’m not sure I even know what that means yet. I’m still struggling everyday with how I should feel, how I should act, how a relationship should look like. Relationships are already incredibly scary without the added outside expectations or pressures. So next time you make a joke or flippant comment about someone’s relationship status or compare them to you or anyone else, remember it’s not your story. It’s theirs. And there is no opinion necessary…unless asked.