anxiety, part 2.

Well, this weekend was rough–the end of October is rough. Yesterday would have been my father’s birthday; 64 years old. Last year around this time, I was totally unaffected; I can’t even remember what I did or who I was with but I don’t think that it hit me as much as this year did.

Friday afternoon–I was busy at work helping with the induction ceremony for the Student Council and National Honors Society. And, we went out with some friends after work. I got home, and my high school friend came over for some wine. I was almost falling asleep, and for some reason thought more wine would help. I don’t drink enough to get completely drunk or plastered anymore–and honestly, I believe that I am in denial of my alcohol intolerance as part of my fibro.

Well, late nights and alcohol are not my thing anymore…and for some reason I wanted them to be. I hung out with my friend, but of course I thought I was my old self—pre fibro. This has been the hardest adjustment for me; I want to be the person that I have always been. Fun, happy, and just not having to plan everything out–I just can’t relax and have fun. I have to dial things back, and I am holding on so, so tight.

Saturday night my mom had my aunt, uncle, and cousins over for my brother’s birthday. I held off drinking until after dinner, and didn’t get so wasted…but my anxiety kicked up that was for sure. I said before my anxiety is like knocking on a door, think “The Raven.” Rapping, tapping, and finally just being coming surrounded.

My anxiety tells me that I am not good enough–my anxiety convinces me that everything I do is never enough, never good enough, and people don’t actually like me for who I am. This is really deep seeded for me–when I was in grade school I had a friend that treated me like dirt. I have since been able to forgive that friend, but I still have the aftershocks of what that kind of treatment and behavior has done to me.

When she and I were friends, everything I did seemed to make her angry at me–there was something I would do, and she would stop talking to me. She was manipulative and nasty, because 7th grade girls are nasty. However, this has so been ingrained in my and effected the way that I deal with friends and relationships–that I need to be constantly convince that what I am doing is right. Because, I am afraid and deep down believe that I am not enough in my friend’s eyes.

I judge my friends a lot on the words that they say to make, and take everything pretty personally. This is something that I have done to family, friend, and sometimes in the classroom (if I am being one hundred percent honest with myself). Well, I think this weekend I hit my rock bottom. I missed my dad, I felt like my friends didn’t want to be around me–and I just had a mini-breakdown.

Sunday. I did something totally our of character for myself, and that was lay in bed almost all day. I was worn out from crying, I was tried from not sleeping, not taking care of myself. I needed a break. Thankfully, I didn’t have much to do. I laid, and I slept a little, and I just relaxed. I realized that I had to get up and do something in order to feel like a real person. So, I painted my nails and stretched.

I blame myself for all the bad stuff, when I feel negative, but I always look to someone else to take that blame away. I look for a reason, or something to heave all this heavy shit off of me. Because this isn’t who I am (I tell myself)! I am better that this (I say, not believing a single word)! It is so easy for me to get wrapped up in the bad shit, that I totally forget all the good that I have. I forget how good my friends are to me. I forget how good my family is to me, and how much people love me.

I truly hate feeling this way at times, because I feel so broken and little. I don’t like showing my cracks or faults, because it makes me feel like that is another reason for people to stop being friends with me–like they are my friends because I try to be strong and there for everyone, that when I buckle or stumble…people aren’t going to be there for me. Which I know isn’t true.

It was good, though; because it got all this emotional shit that I have been sitting on out. It isn’t the worst thing in the word to realize, but I know that I am tired of this problem that I have effect my relationships–I want to be able to enjoy my friends and family. I want to be able to not take everything personally, to realize when people are joking with me, and I want to be able to feel confident in who I am.

I am totally done with second guessing the things that I say and do. I am totally done with not making myself feel important, and apologizing for who I am. I am totally done in not believing in myself.

I have to be okay with not being okay sometimes. I have to ask for help when I need it, and I have to stop trying to be perfect all the time. But it’s okay!

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Anxiety

Anxiety.

I remember when I first started dealing with it; I was in grade school. 7th grade to be exact. Whether it was the joys of becoming a woman, or it was something that I always had inside of me I’m not sure. But, I thought about losing my grandparents, a lot. My father’s parents were older than all my other friend’s grandparents. When I was in grade school, my grandparents were already starting in their eighties.

I wasn’t obsessive, but I thought about it enough to keep me up. Then my anxiety blossomed into something that kept me awake at night. I would think that someone was breaking in, I would rationalize to myself how this wasn’t true. And, I would be lost in this abyss of what ifs and could this happen. It consumed a lot of my nights, and then it started coming during the day.

The thing about anxiety is that is doesn’t tell you what you should and shouldn’t be worried about, it makes those decisions for you. In my life, a lot of the big things that I had going on I had in control, and it was little shit that I had trouble dealing with; so, if the smallest thing went off the rail…. boom. Hit like a train.

In grade school, anxiety was small but it slowly got bigger. Friends and relationships were a large part of my problem. I was insecure, I was smart, I didn’t really fit in, I was heavier than most of the people in my class. But, these were things that I could deal with; I couldn’t seem to keep friends.

When you have anxiety, I found that it is a lot easier to blame other people and situations because you don’t have the deal with the issue at hand. I think of all the times that I was hurt by someone—and I think that I was genuinely hurt by people that I was friends with.

My best friend in grade school would literally play these mind games with me—she could be mean to me, hurt me, and then I would apologize. Because, in certain cases, she was hurt so I had to apologize. This was a pattern, every so often this would happen, and I would cry. I would let it happen to me. I would be so anxious about this girl not being friends with me and treating me poorly. But, I never stood up for myself.

Once I did, it seemed to set me free. But, I didn’t have friends. I didn’t go out, I felt alone. When I was growing up, I was, as most girls are a sensitive kid. I cared a lot—for other people and mostly about how people saw me. I got caught up in how people saw me and sought out perfection from other places. I thought that my mother didn’t understand me, and to an extent she didn’t.

Part of my huge insecurity deals with not feeling good enough. It seems like no matter what I do, I am always behind the curve. It started with when I was in grade school with my friends, and that still plagues me today. My constant apologizing to my friends in grade school has given me this complex that I am not good enough. Because I have been spinning my wheels. Now, as an adult, I need constant reassurance that I am doing the right thing, and I am doing what is expected of me. How exhausting right?

Well, it totally is. My need for wanting things to be okay, and not wanting to be at fault for things is now getting the point that it is crippling to me. This type of thing holds me back, in my personal growth. As soon as I start making great strides in a certain area of my life, it seems like the other shoe drops and I am back to feeling so small.

Which makes sense that I am like that because when I am hurting the most, when I am hurting myself, and I try to make others feel small as well. And, most of the time I don’t know that I am doing it, because I would never want anyone to feel the way that I do. But, I still do it. And, I usually feel bad that it comes to that.

This is something that I am trying to fix or work on, because this is something that is so deep and so shameful to me—that I portray this strong exterior, but I fear that I am not enough. I constantly fear that I am not good enough for other people, and that goes back on myself.

i feel so much better, part two

Okay, here we are for part two of the summer of change; and why I feel so good. I have been training for a half-marathon! Running deserves a post all by itself because it has been a challenge.

Let’s hit a on a little background. I have always been an active person, however I have always struggled with my weight. When I was younger, my cousins and I spent our summers running around outside, going to the pool, playing games; unless it was oppressively hot outside or raining we were never inside.

When I got older in school, I played field hockey, basketball, and softball. When I was in grade school, I loved playing field hockey—and I was pretty good at it. However big fish, small pond. I was one of the better of the girl athletes in my class of 20. I played basketball, which although my mother said was my best sport, I’d rather watch basketball than play it. Softball, I pitched and played third base. I have a pretty good arm, still—and I thought that going into high school I would have loved to play.

High school. I dropped basketball and stuck with field hockey and softball. My freshman year playing field hockey, myself and two other freshmen were subs for the varsity team because our coach, thought that we would be able to handle it. I barely played a varsity game, but to be thought of as someone that could handle it was cool. We went undefeated my freshmen year, and almost won our league championship; but we lost in double overtime in penalty strokes.

Fast-forward to next year, we get a new coach. I barely play for the rest of my high school career, and my senior year I barely played the entire season. And, I remember why. My senior year, I got involved with our campus ministry program at school, and I was asked to lead a retreat in October (during field hockey season); now, looking back, our campus minister probably should have been more lenient with people and their sport schedules, but I wanted to go on that retreat.  My coach has a problem with that and basically told me that if I decided to go, I wouldn’t play. And, I think I made the right choice.

I wasn’t jaded about high school sports, I wasn’t annoyed that I didn’t play—I was looking at the long game. I was looking at what was going to help me later on in life, because I knew I was never going to go far as a field hockey player.

Well, one of the important things about field hockey was running—I hated it; I was slow, and I still am slow. But, there was no internal motivation. I didn’t really care for the girls that I was on the team with, there were attitude problems, and I was just over it.

So, I have always been active; I just have never been consistent with it. Working out has been something that I have done off and on since I was in high school. I went through a weird cycle. I joined LA Fitness when I was like 17; I went, I think once. Literally. I hated it, but I was also socializing and having fun with my friends. Then I went to college and between my freshmen and sophomore year, I think I gained 30-40 pounds.

But, I didn’t really think anything of it because I was happy—I joined a sorority, I had great friends, I was having fun. But, I wasn’t taking care of myself. Literally, if I wouldn’t have known then, what I know now, my college years would have been a little different. Now, I wasn’t like super crazy with partying; after my junior year it calmed down a little bit. Really, it was after I turned 21, and then it wasn’t fun anymore haha. But, I was smoking…a lot. Drinking…..alot. Eating crap, only walking to class. It just wasn’t good for me. Senior year it kind of kicked in that I needed to do something; my co-operating teacher was really fit, and she was kind of an inspiration to getting my ass into gear. However, this was the spring of my senior year.

So, I ate a little better, I went to the school gym after student teaching, still drinking a little, but not a lot (because my friends would go out on weeknights). And, you can tell in the pictures from my graduation that I had lost that little bit of weight that I gained during my first couple years of college.

Then I go home for good; I joined a gym, I tried to eat a little bit better, but I was still going out with my friends to places like Applebee’s and drinking almost every night of the week. It was a bad cycle. I was substitute teaching as different public schools, I barely had any money, my student loans were coming in, I didn’t have a full time job, and my summer job was just causing my so much stress and problems that I would literally have anxiety attacks.

And, I would hold all of these things in. The inadequacy I felt from not having a full time job, the unnecessary stress that I felt from my summer job, paying my bills, and not having control of little things in my life. I remember standing in my kitchen on night, talking to my mother, and completely breaking down. I blacked out, couldn’t breathe, and all I could do was cry, scream, and sob.

I felt like shit, I thought that I was shit. I was controlled by the opinions that other people had of me, I looked for validation and every turn. I didn’t believe that people wanted to be around me; I was depressed and holding on to a very frayed rope. This was probably the darkest time in my life because my faith suffered, my health suffered, and my mental health suffered.

I learned to shut certain things out. I shut people out because I thought that couldn’t possibly understand what I was going through—Now, I am very aware that when I was going through this tough time, I liked being the martyr. I wanted someone to feel bad for me, but I would shrug off their sympathy or empathy because how could they possibly understand what it means to be me. Now, I realize, no one will ever truly understand…and that’s totally okay. It’s okay because we all have to go through our shit. And, sometimes other people’s shit is like ours and we can be there for each other.

I don’t think there was ever an “Ah-Ha” or a “Come to Jesus Moment,” because I think from where I was in my life, I slowly has to climb out of my cave. Working at a Catholic school, brought me back to my foundation of my faith, which I think has miraculously helped me in how I handle things that are thrown at me. There have been some bumps since, but I think that I this foundation has helped my build myself up again.

The biggest and longest struggle that I have with myself is feeling wanted, feeling that I deserve happiness, and accepting myself for who I am—and not changing myself because someone doesn’t like it. Most of this has been because I liked being a martyr of sorts, I would make problems bigger than what they were because I wanted someone to be upset for me and with me. I didn’t want to feel alone. And, I was so busy trying to quantify what people thought of me, the love that people had for me, and making sure that they were never going to push me aside; I never enjoyed the love and I appreciated the people that I had in my life.

Which, I was something that I think that the loss of my father taught me about—that people in your life as semi-permanent as they can be. And, you must cherish and realize that the people in your life effect the way that you act and are—something that I never realized. When I was going through this dark time, I was with people that weren’t helping me out of it, their solution was to drink the issue away or have fun or talking about something else. It was getting around the issue, not dealing with it front of your face.

But, when my father died—I saw the people that were truly there for me. They dropped what they were doing to be there for me and my family, they brought us food, they spent time with us. This is what love is; this is what I realized I was missing out on; it was so wonderful and all encompassing, and I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

The icing on the cake was really being diagnosed last summer; I really like to think about it as a blessing in disguise. I could be mad at myself, and realized that the shit that I have held in is what manifested this disease—but I want to look at the positive. I beat myself up for so long; physically, emotionally, and mentally. My body is now beating itself daily, and I am not even doing anything!

So, enough was enough. Fibro has taught me what it means to take care of myself. It was a wakeup call that I needed; honestly. And, thank God it wasn’t something more serious. I realized that I can’t do the things that I used to do, BUT THAT’S OKAY! At first I was bummed that I would never feel the same again, but then I realized how much better that is for me! Drinking and smoking was hard to tailor back on, but keeping up with some fitness regimen wasn’t too bad. My doctor’s appointments, and a brief scare about my blood pressure scared me into quitting smoking—which, despite a few slips, I have been consistent with.

But, then I needed another challenge. After doing my second color run, I wanted so badly to do a half-marathon. So, in the middle of the summer, I started looking at half’s and finally I just signed up for one. Realizing that just thinking about it wasn’t getting my anywhere, I needed to be about it, too.

The things that I wrote about in the post all surfaced when I was running. Things that I needed to realize, things that I needed to learn, and the uncomfortable emotions that I never wanted to think about. There are runs I have done and I have pushed myself and started crying. But, there is something in common that happens after every time I run—I feel this amazing sense of accomplishment. I feel like I conquered something that has been sitting on my chest for years, or I am able to zone out and listen to rhythm of my footsteps.

Yesterday I was having an off day. I was up at 4:30 (not on purpose). I laid in bed until 6, finally decided get up and run and get yourself some coffee. I had to run 4 miles, lucky for me Dunkin’ is two miles up and two miles back. So, I ran. I tried to out run my tired, but it caught up to me. I went to mass, because of the Holy Day. I worked all day at my summer job, but it was cloudy and that came with a break. I was able to leave early, I went shopping (why?), came home, and I had to fix my bed.

So, I have discovered that I am a little handy—however, when it’s 10 pm and all you want to do is sleep from a 20 hour day…you don’t want to be handy. I was at my wits end with how to fix this draw. I literally tried putting the screw in the same place twice, I tried wood glue, and I was about to lose it. Finally, I decided to try something that I probably should have done in the beginning. I “drilled” my own hole and screwed in the screw, and almost cried when I was finished.

I put drilled in quotes because I couldn’t find the right bit to fill the drill (which, I think was my father looking down on me, honestly) and I just twisted the drill bit around until I made a hole deep enough for the screw. I was going to lose my patience, but I started talking to my dad to guide me through the process. And, I think that he helped me to the right direction. As soon as I got that screw in, I got up and walked around the house. Zero people in my house were awake, but I stood there excited from what I hoped I accomplished. The test was getting the drawer in, and once it worked…I was so tempted to scream. I was so excited.

But, I tried to keep the same mindset as when I run. There are times I want to quit, and say I have had enough—but I just walk, breathe, and push myself further. And, it worked. I realized that half of the game in mental, those are the things that have been holding me back. But, I just try to get around them. With running, I try to channel those thoughts into running, and shed that negativity with every mile I run; that way I can leave it all behind me.

 

i feel so much better, part one.

This next post is going to come in two posts. Reason one, because I wrote part one a month ago and then just gave up on it; reason two, there have been two major things that I have done this summer to “change” my life. 

Something that has been on my mind recently is how good I feel. I know, I wouldn’t think that either because of my fibro diagnoses, but here I am talking about how great I feel. I keep thinking back to the summer of last year. I was trying to do the same things then, as I am doing now…maybe except the quitting smoking part. Last year was when I started to feel the first symptoms of fibro. I was running and exercising almost 5-6 days a week. I was feeling pretty good.

Until I started to notice that I had this terrible, awful pain in my legs. My legs felt swollen, it hurt to walk, and I just felt like I wanted to sit for a most of my day. My energy was zapped, I was foggy, and I just thought that it was my body getting used to running. So, I didn’t do anything until the end of September. I went to my doctor and he prescribed my Naproxen; thinking that it was similar pain to what I had a few years ago. I took it, when needed. But, nothing happened—the pain kept coming back, and seemed to be getting worse.

So, October-ish, my doctor sent me for blood tests. My sed rate was normal (frustrating), my blood sugar level was normal (apparently, my doctor thought it was diabetes. Sheesh. I would love it if doctors were a little more transparent. It was just like when I went into a patient first with a stomach bug, and my doctor gave me a pregnancy test). I didn’t know want to do. I was almost crying in his office (he’s my best friend’s uncle) because I as beside myself. There HAD to be something wrong with me.

At this point, I wasn’t working out, I was barely staying awake during the day. My spine, my legs, my head, everything was so bad. I remember coming home from class and literally just going up to my bed. I was so tired and depressed because I was so tired. I wasn’t doing anything, and yet I felt this bad. It hurt to walk, it hurt to teach, my memory was shitty, I felt like I was walking through a veil of fog every single day. Now, these things have become a lot clearer since I was diagnosed. I have the words that I needed then to explain to my doctor.

My doctor just looked at me, after I was finished with my sob story, and he said, “Stand up. I want to see something.” Um…. okay. He had me cross my arms over my chest and give myself a hug. He said, ‘How does that feel?” I thought, “This shit better be over soon, because this is terrible.” I said, “Not great.” And, he pushed….and I mean PUSHED on, what I know now to be, the trigger points for a fibro patient. He would ask me to explain how I was feeling once he pushed on the point—I had to restrain myself from yelping several times.

I had no idea what he was doing, all I knew is that I wanted him to stop. Finally, after he was finished and said, “Now, I’m not a rheumatologist, but I have seen this test done. It’s for fibromyalgia.” My head flashed to those commercials, and that one girl that I knew in college that had it. And, her life was kind of sad. So, I thought…what if my life becomes sad? I didn’t want that.

And, it hasn’t been that. I have had a love, hate relationships with fibro since November. Before fibro, my life was a constant rollercoaster of moods, or at least it seemed like it. I was up and down, I was stressed out by the tiniest thing, every small bump in the road was a major catastrophe in my life. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was rushing through everything, and I wasn’t taking the time to properly care for myself.

I definitely wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t exercising consistently. I was drinking too much, smoking too much. Just about the only thing I was doing right was praying and going to mass. But, I didn’t think that I needed to be taking care of myself. Before fibro, I didn’t think that I deserved to feel good about myself or feel healthy.

For the past 2 and a half weeks, I have been doing a lot of reflection. I have been reflecting on myself, my actions, my job; I have been taking stock of what has been helping me recently in multiple ways.

This, mostly likely, is because I took on two major “challenges” that are a complete 180 from what my life has been for the last decade or so. The first major challenge was quitting smoking—which could be considered the challenges to end all challenges. However, until I added training for a half-marathon to that list.

Let’s tackle my first challenge: quitting smoking. In one of my last blog posts, I wrote about smoking and quitting, but I relapsed for a period, but there was just one weekend when I wanted to be over it—kind of. I could get past not having nicotine, not smelling like smoke, not having my heart race. But, what I was going to miss was the actual action of smoking a cigarette. There was something “therapeutic” about taking that time. In a rational mind of a non-smoker, this doesn’t make sense—and probably even to some smokers it doesn’t make sense.

So, after attending a wedding, and realized that my life could not continue on the path that it was going—I bought a vape and prayed that this investment would work. I didn’t know what I was buying, I didn’t know if it would work, but I thought I have tried almost everything else…what the hell?

I downloaded the Smoke-Free app on my phone; which has been super helpful. I have been able to see how long it has been since my last cigarette, how much money I have saved, I am able to see pulse rate improvement, oxygen levels increasing, etc. So many positive things, and I have used this app before, with little success…but this time, it seems, that something has took. I can count on my one hand how many times I have slipped up—which, is amazing to me, because usually if I slip up, I go right back to smoking. Not this time. The cool thing about this is that you can track the cigarette you have, if you have them. Which, I have done, but only when I have been drinking. I haven’t smoked regularly or consistently, in 1 month, 6 days, and 23 hours.

The major things that I have noticed have obviously been my breathing, sleeping, and my energy levels. I didn’t realize how much my breathing suffered while I was smoking (yes, I am very, very good at lying to myself). I have more stamina, and I noticed that I wasn’t as out of shape as I was (when I ran The Color Run), but it was the cigarettes that were effecting my breathing (No shit, right?). My sleep is so much better—which has been huge for me.

I love sleeping; it is probably my favorite thing in the world. My mother always told me that I was such a good sleeper when I was a baby, and I don’t think much has changed. I sleep like a rock—it takes so much to wake me up in the morning, I have to set several alarms, have looked into getting a vibrating alarm clock, I have slept through earthquakes (seriously), and I love my bed.

But, since my diagnoses of fibro—my sleep patterns have been sporadic. When I first started seeing my rheumatologist he prescribed Flexaril because I was having trouble sleeping. It was hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, and then get up in the morning. So, taking that has helped, but I didn’t realize how much not smoking was going to help, as well. I wake up more refreshed than ever, and I think I have more energy in the day. And, I always smoked a cigarette because I thought I needed more energy. Smoking is a good liar. Of course, my energy levels are being compounded with the sleep that I am getting—awesome; I don’t know if it is because I am not at school and seem to be more relaxed, or I am just adjusting to this new life, but I feel SO much better.

sometimes you have to go down the death trap slide.

So, as the school year is winding down, teaching seniors makes me a little nostalgic about high school. I had a decent high school experience—my high school was great, the teachers were awesome people, and the people that I went to school with were overall pretty nice people. It felt like a family atmosphere. Mostly, because families either knew each other or were related to each other. For example, when I was a senior in high school, I had a cousin in my grade, two cousins in the grade below me, and my brother was a freshman. There were five of us from the same family in high school together. And, we were not the exception.

A few of my students asked me what I was like in high school; and I really didn’t know how to answer the question. I was…normal. I was…like I am now. I was….well, I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t a loser. I was smart, but I wasn’t at the top of my class. I was average. This, my students, did not believe. “You had to be popular, ma’am. Come on!”

I don’t think that I ever cared what my social status in high school was; I was happy where I was.  I wanted normal high school experiences, and I got into a few situations that didn’t reflect the girl that I was then. I was, like to think, the woman that I am today—except I was a little more insecure and I was more of a people pleaser.

I was never a girl to follow trends—I wore what I wanted, watched the shows that I wanted, watched the movies that I wanted. I was an old soul desiring to have an authentic high school experience…but I never really got it. I never had a relationship in high school, and that bothered more than I probably would have admitted back then. And I definitely struggled with embracing who I was, because I wanted to be something different. People liked me for me, but I couldn’t see that. I was so busy worrying about what other people did, and what people thought of me that I never learned to like myself for who I was.

There is one thing that I always look back to when I am fighting with who I am and what I want to be. I have a memory before I was in high school of being at the pool that I work at. It was the end of the summer, the pool was getting ready to close, and the one thing that I wanted to do was jump off the really high lifeguard stand into the pool. So, I did it. I climbed up and dove head first 20 feet into the water. The impact was hard, my back hurt, and I realized that if I hit the water a different way I probably could have been really hurt.

But, I did it. It was amazing, scary, and I felt fearless. This was the girl that I always wanted carry with me…I wanted to dive off a lifeguard stand because I wanted to do it and feel free. Monday and Tuesday, we had a class trip to the Poconos at an indoor water park. There was this intense slide where the bottom dropped out from underneath you—I hate heights, I hate 90 degree angles, and I hate climbing stairs.

Well, I was sitting, relaxing by the pool and the boys talked me into riding the death trap of a slide. I panicked the entire way up the stairs. The boys were like “Ma’am, you’re going to be okay. You’re going to be fine. You’re really that afraid of heights?” I never used to be, and I wanted to do this death trap slide because my reputation was on the line. Was I glad that I did it? Kind of, I would never do it again, but I did go on a mountain roller coaster that I would do again. A coaster that you were able steer down the mountain side and it was so cool!

Something I ask myself what happened to that girl that wanted to do things her way; that wasn’t afraid of adversity or pain and wanted to do something for the experience? I think there were a number of things that happened. I probably was made fun of for being different. I was too out there, I didn’t conform to what I “should” have been. And, I wanted to be like everyone else that didn’t stand out. So, what would I say to that girl now?

I would look her in the eye and I would confront her what all those uncomfortable times that made her question who she was and what she wanted. She wanted to be fearless, but instead of being fearless she became ridden with fear. She started caring about what other people thought, she started hanging out with people that didn’t give her what she needed, and she started chasing  things that weren’t good for her. I would remind her of the time she was on top of lifeguard stand and ask her to remember the feeling of falling into the water. The feeling was freedom, the feeling of letting it all go, and the feeling of freedom that you can do anything at all.

I got that feeling on the mountain coaster and the death trap water slide. I remembered what it was like to feel free again and feel like I could do anything. It was awesome. Embracing that side of me made me realize a few things—how much I have grown up, how much I have experienced in my life that is so awesome.

In high school I was able to see Julie Andrews in person, attend a papal mass in New York City, and travel to Italy for 10 days. I have seen the Sistine Chapel, the Roman Colosseum, and the Trevi Fountain. In college, I attended a Phillies World Series Parade, joined a sorority, learned value skills of time management and compassion for others. And, as an adult, I have learned value lessons and skills that I never thought that I would be able to learn. It’s all be such a cool, crazy ride.

Part of that ride includes all the heartbreak and problems that I have had in my life—they make up that map. It’s not something that I want to forget because those things have made me who I am today. Through my dad’s death I have learned how important it is to listen to people and to be there for people regardless of what is going on in our lives. Part of life is helping other, giving of yourself to people, and that was something that my dad always taught me.

One of most valuable lessons that Dad taught me, through his actions, was that regardless of your shit…people have other shit going on, too. And, unless you stop to listen to someone and care about that person…you are never going to learn what is going on. You don’t compare your situations to other people, because it’s going to help anything. Comparison only brings sadness and anxiety, and doesn’t allow you to open yourself up to the people that might need to hear from you.

Dad’s passing highlighted a lot of things for me. I learned who was there to support me because they loved me, and those who supported me because it was something they thought they should do. It made them feel better. That’s fine, because not everyone know who to deal with death. There is not handbook that you get when a parent dies that says, “Hey, you should do x, y, and z to help yourself.” No magic pill, and no magic way to tell people how to treat you. You show people how to treat you. You have to let yourself lean on other, and some will support and others will buckle a little bit. But, that buckle might not be because they don’t love you…it just might mean that they need a little support, too.

This is so, so important to recognize because you are recognizing and appreciating what someone is giving you. But, at the time, of course it feels like your being slighted. Because you expect people to step up, and when they don’t it’s disappointing. But, you have to remember, just because you focus in about your situation 99% of day doesn’t mean that other are going to, or have to. People are busy, people have other lives, people have families. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t love you.

This is all much harder to accept that it sounds. Really hard. Because in the moment, you feel alone and helpless. You feel that people have stopped caring about you, stopped thinking about you, but that’s not true. It’s just that they aren’t thinking of you right now. And, like a lot of things in life, only the people that get it really understand it. They know what it’s like to have your thoughts consumed, to want a break from the world, and to realize that certain bullshit just doesn’t matter.

Two years ago if I had gotten a text from my best friend about someone in our class that either got married or had baby, and ridiculing them for their decisions I would have taken the bait. I would have checked out the post on the Gram or Facebook and made the same comment. But now? Who the eff cares? Bullshit drama at work? Who the eff cares? People making more money that you? Who the eff cares? Someone got fat? Who the eff cares? The people that you see on your timelines and feeds, they are on their own paths. They are doing them, and if it makes them happy to post…who the eff cares? Don’t want to read it? Unfollow or unfriend. Or, instead of making fun of them, how about seeing their happy in the situation?

I came across a post of a girl that I knew in high school, and that I always said was copying my every move in life. She now has her master’s and just got a new job. My first thought was, “Oh my God, she’s trying to be me.” Um, hello? How productive is that? How is that helping me? It’s now. Comparison is evil, and I was succumbing to it.

How much of an ego could I possibly have to think that? Ew. That’s not me; and that never was me until I left my little shelter of growing up and entered the real world. Well, in this world you get to choose the things you care about. You get to choose the people in your story. You don’t like the people? Write them out. But, don’t forget that just because you’re the main character means to get to ignore everyone else.

Yes, I have started saying “Who the eff cares?” about the little things, but the people that you care about in your world and you have been your support system are the big things. And, they go through shit too. Shit that sucks just as much as your shit sucks. People have shitty jobs, shitty relationships, shitty friendships; but if it means something to them it means that you have to listen to them. Even though it doesn’t add up to the shit that you have been through. That’s not their path.

I am thankful that none of my friends have had to lose a parent or even a grandparent. That’s rough shit, but I try to use that experience to make me more compassionate and more patient. My cross might be big, but that doesn’t mean that someone else’s has to be, too. If I can use that experience and help my friends carry their crosses, I consider that a win; because I want the people that have been there for me to know what I will be there for them.

a lesson from mean girls.

There are two things that I never debate about unless I feel totally comfortable with the people I am talking to. The first is politics and the second one is religion.

Politics, if this administration has taught us anything, is bleeding into every single aspect of our lives. It is at a point where politics and playing the game, is part of daily American activity. I have always had a special interest in politics, because it was a time where my dad and I would really talk about what we thought and what we believe.

My father was a Democrat. He had no problems telling people that he was democrat, and he really never understood why people became Republican in the first place. Honestly, I just think that he’s jaded because his parents became Republicans after JFK was elected. My grandmother decided that she wouldn’t vote for someone that cheated on his wife. Seriously, I think she was the only Irish Catholic woman in the Philadelphia area that did not vote for John F. Kennedy. This part of my grandparents made my Dad so mad—more so my Nana than my Pop.

But, what made him even more mad was that when I was growing up, I was the little Republican my grandparents dreamed their son would be. Now, I was 3rd or 4th grade—I literally had no understanding of the American political system, but I loved my grandparents. And, they loved Bill O’Reilly. So, in turn, I loved Bill O’Reilly. When President George W. Bush was running for president, I wanted him to win. Why? I probably couldn’t tell you. Literally, no idea. I guess I thought he looked like a nice man (which, to my credit…he actually does seem to be. Terrible president? Absolutely. A-One guy, most likely).

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A man and his poncho.

However, this made my dad so mad that my grandparents were telling me what to think and how to feel about political climates. Now, I am going to guess that he would have been mad if was the other way around, too. Because my parents were, and are, big believers in letting their children go their own path. My father was much freer about this than my mother is. But, my dad never wanted me to believe something or think something because he thought it—he always said that until the day he died. He raised me to question things if I felt that they were wrong, and stand up for what I think is right. But, it made him happy the day that I stopped being a Republican at 11 years old, and registered as an Independent when I was old enough to vote.

When I went to college, I fell on the other side of the political spectrum. I became, what my father called, “a bleeding-heart liberal.” I never understood that he was really annoyed at my conservatism but was also annoyed with my liberalism. But, yes…I went through a phase—because I look one Women in American History Education and suddenly I wanted to be Betty Friedan. I am sure I was really annoying to be around, but I will argue that all girls go through that “Stick it to the man” phase in their lifetimes. But, yes, I was one of these “snowflakes” (is that the term? I think that’s stupid) that the right now criticizes. I was offended by everything, probably. And, I thought that anyone that didn’t think or speak like me was ignorant, uneducated, and simply living under a rock.

Anyone seeing the hypocrisy in this? I read Facebook comment after Facebook comment because I am a glutton for punishment. I read the comments for the people on the right to call people on the left “libertards” (Classy)  and “snowflakes.”  I read the comments for the people on the left to call people on the right “radicals” and “bigots.” Besides a country wide seminar on how to use a thesaurus or a dictionary, I come away with these thoughts every single time:

This is what political discourse has come to in this country, and people really have the time and energy to write Facebook comments about this shit. (Says the girl writing an entire blog post, I know)

Political discourse is not about calling each other names, and finding fault with every single word in a sentence that someone writes about their endorsement or their dislike for a political candidate. When you evoke your First Amendment rights, you are not waived from dissent—that’s not how it works. The First Amendment writes allow you write what you want about someone in political office (as long it is not of a threatening nature to their lives or families’ lives) without being prosecuted. Yup.

You cannot be tried or convicted of treason because you disagree with the president. Also, can we, as a country just look up treason together and all understand and comprehend the definition? What Benedict Arnold did? Treason. Anne Boleyn? Treason-ish (I was teaching about Henry VIII, what a train wreck).

When I read posts like this, I tend to think of my students. I think of my rural Pennsylvania kid that voted for Trump, I think of my international kids that were so unsure about what was going on in our country, I think of the people that I work with that were disheartened the day after the election. The day after, the boys were buzzing in asking about how he won, what a long shot it was, and that Hillary Clinton was never going to be president.

One kid came up to my desk during my study hall, and said, “Ma’am, you’re a liberal right?” So, I asked him what he meant by that statement. He rephrased, “You don’t like Donald Trump, do you?” I could have taken this two ways, deny his statement and move on or use this as a teaching moment. Working at a private school, like the one that I do…you get a little wiggle room with things like this.

So, I said, “Do you mean, did I vote for him?” He nodded. I took a deep breath, and said, “No, I did not vote for him….” He started to ask, “why?” and I anticipated his question, “However, this is how I see it…He’s the President of the United States, and I will respect him as such. I might not have voted for him, but he is still the President of my country. I will not claim that he is not my president, because he is—even if I don’t agree with him.” I could tell he was not expecting what I had to say, and I continued, “Wanting Trump to fail is like wanting the pilot on your plane to have a heart attack. You’re all on the plane together, and you don’t want it to crash into the side of the mountain.”

He smiled, and responded “Ma’am, that’s the first time that someone who disagreed with Trump gave an answer like that.” And he reached out for a high-five. To see him have that reaction was good, but it was also a little sad. Young adults shouldn’t be surprised when people disagree politely about serious topics. Instead, they are learning to be inflammatory and judgmental behind a screen. This is what we want out children to learn? This is how we want the future generations to grow up?

This is not what I imagine for my children and my grandchildren; I want them to be able to form opinions and thoughts from listening to both sides—and maybe even living both sides. I never would have had that opinion if I hadn’t know what it is like to live on both extremes of the spectrum. And, I want other people to know what if you read something that doesn’t speak to your beliefs….that’s okay, because it’s either going to teach you something that you never knew or it’s going to deepen your belief in that system.

I want a world where kids are not afraid to ask questions and research because it speaks to their interests. I think that amount in which a person that learn is not something that needs to be prescribed to them in their textbooks in tests. For whatever reason, I always think of that scene from Mean Girls when Cady is facing off with Marilyn from the private school. “The Limit Does Not Exist” scene, if you will.

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Calling someone a snowflake or a bigot is not going to get people to change their view, and it certainly not going to get them to be able to see your differing opinion. Sometimes, it’s something that you can move on with, or sometimes you just have to walk away. At the end of the day, a post about how someone is an idiot because they backed a candidate does make them think you’re any less of any idiot for voting for the other guy.

depending on something bigger than myself

I have always had a special place in my heart for the Easter Triduum. I am sure it goes back to when I was altar serving in 8th grade. As an older kid, I was responsible for teaching the younger kids how to serve during the masses. And, when your priest is a nonsense Polish man that loves a high mass—you get everything right.

I remember the only time that I was openly disrespectful for a teacher—it was during on practice for Holy Week. Father would call every single altar server out of class to practice for the Masses during Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

Somehow, I was never slated to serve the Easter Vigil. I have never, in my life been to one. My mother won’t go back to one because when she was grade school, she was in the choir and had to stand for 3 hours. She said she remembered deliberately dropping her hymnal so she could bend her knees. So, we always served the 7 am mass on Easter Sunday.

Anyway, my teacher wouldn’t let me and other 8th graders leave for practice, even though we were allowed. I told her that we had to leave, and she got this big attitude (for the record, this woman probably shouldn’t have been a teacher. She was a little nutty) and said that if Father had a problem, he could take it up with her. I snapped back at her and told her that she didn’t teach anything anyway, so what would it matter? Somehow, I didn’t get in trouble and she let us leave.

Holy Thursday was always required more practice than Good Friday. Holy Thursday we had to practice the incense, we had to practice the washing of the feet, the procession around the ENTIRE church during the benediction. It was a big church, and it always seemed to take an hour. We must have ran through the entire mass three or four times, and it must of stuck with me because at every Holy Thursday mass, I remember what we did, when, and I notice if it’s not done at other churches. For instance, during the Gloria—two altar servers go back and forth ringing the bells during the entire hymn. It’s the last time the bells ring during the Triduum. My parish doesn’t do that, I remembered that. I have been to parishes that don’t really do a procession—which I always find odd.

Holy Thursday always required a lot of planning, and it seemed like it was most important mass of the year since we practiced, literally for a week.

Good Friday was always much simpler—not a mass, veneration of the Cross, communion, and that’s it. Cake walk compared to Holy Thursday. However, there was one Good Friday that I thought we were going to be a man down. We had a very old monsignor—he must have been almost 90. My pastor had directly told him, when we prostrate do not lay down. So, when we processed in, our three other priests prostrated on the ground and one altar server tugged at my sleeve. I looked around, and there was the old Monsignor laying on the ground.

I went into the panic. What are we going to do? Is he going to be okay? Are we going to be able to get him up? Well, that’s exactly what we had to do. We literally had to hoist him up off the ground, and he just started laughing. I mean, it was amazing that he still wanted to do that, but it was definitely not practical.

So, I have always loved the ceremony behind the masses—I think they are beautiful and deeply meaningful to Catholics during this time. But, I have not always had the sense of connection and love for this time.

Before I started working at my school now, I was a substitute teacher in my Catholic school system. Looking back on those days, they were some of the most trying times in my life. My anxiety was a lot higher, I was really trying to figure out who I was, and looking back at it now it was a lot of growing pains.

I experienced a lot of failures at a particular school that I worked out. I was having trouble figuring out what kind of teacher that I wanted to be, I was struggling with who I was professionally and personally—there was this separation of it all, I think, and I just wanted my life to be different. This was all over a period of three years. I worked at this school for about six months, but in that six months—I gained something that I hadn’t gained in other places. I felt, in a way that I belonged—I liked the community and I really thought it was what God has planned for me. But, when we plan, God laughs.

So, after my six month stint, I kept going back to this school—I started helping a friend of mine in her office, because I was unemployed (This was the spring before I was hired at my full time job), and I needed something to do. Thankfully, that panned into a per diem job. But, then my grandmother died. Another shock to my system. I didn’t have a job, and I lost one of the closest people in my life. How could it get worse?

Oh, wait it did!

There was a guy that I worked with that I ended up really liking—he was everything that I thought that I wanted. Catholic, loved his job, and just was a great person. After months, maybe a year of interpreting and misinterpreting signs I told him how I felt. I actually believed that the feelings were reciprocal—and a lot of other people did, too. This was something that I never did before, and to do it took a lot of balls.

Part of my wanted to finally have an answer, and another part of my wanted to stop feeling like I was crazy or unhinged. So, I told him. However, the feeling was not reciprocal, and looking back on it—all the anger that harbored toward him was actually anger that I had toward myself. I was angry that I thought that I looked foolish—and put myself out there. Understandably, my ego was hurt. And, I thought that my life was spinning out of control.

I was unlucky in love, unlucky in my job, and I had lost my grandmother—I could and thought about giving up. But, I didn’t. This time was different, I prayed harder than I even could have in my life and tried to make peace with everything that had happened to me.

But, too this day, I am working on this. I still have bouts of self-doubt and jealousy of all those people that I worked with. After I left that place, it was like my connection to them was completely severed. Everything that I had done, and everything that I given of myself was just left there in a weird limbo and I hated it. I hated myself for being upset and scared, this was not who I was working to be and not who I wanted to be.

When you are hurt by someone and something that deeply, it is really hard to get over. But, guess what? It’s all going to be okay. Because, at the end of the day I still have my family and friends that still love me and still support me. I know the people that are supposed to be in my life. My friend Judy once told me about “reasons, seasons, and lifetimes.” There are people that are in your life for a reason, season, or a lifetime. But you don’t realize when or for what at the moment. I think now, those people that I used to work with were a season—they were there to teach me something about myself that would eventually make me stronger.

Learning how to deal with heartache and disappointment, but also being able to rely on God are what helped me through the death of my father. Something that rocked my world to the core, I was able to remember that I am that I need to lean close to God, not against Him. It was something that I learned to go through all that when I worked at the school, but in terms of what I have gone through now…it’s a blip. But, it was blip that made me learn.

So, this Holy Thursday—I actually went to my home parish for the first time. I was in so much pain from the fibro that kneeling and standing were taking such a toll on me—but, I persisted. I was thinking about how Holy Thursday has carried such an anxiety and disappointment for me that it was hard to focus on anything but that. But, I think that was what I was supposed to do.

I focused on the difficult things. The things that made me cry, the things that broke my heart, the things that had made me feel so small and so insignificant. I broke myself in front of God, because I wasn’t afraid anymore of my brokenness or of what was thought of me. I knew who I am in the eyes of God and in the eyes of the people that matter the most to me.

When Father took the Blessed Sacrament around the church, I had this heaviness of my heart. From everything that I was worried about, and once he walk by me…my heart felt light. As soon as he walked to the Repository and placed the Blessed Sacrament inside…my heart was light. Jesus had taken my suffering from me, and held with him until the next day—where that suffering would be shown on the Cross.

God never give us anything that we can’t handle in our lives. He doesn’t test us, nor does he enjoy watching us suffer. However, in times of struggle, we lean on God for what was cannot get from other people. There is a safety net about God; that can handle things that we cannot. And, being able to rely on Him during times of struggle has been something that I have needed in my life. It was powerful, moving, and I just felt like I could sing. I finally felt at peace, and it was the best feeling in the world.