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.

The Release Project: Guilt

I have a guilty conscious. I am the person that walked into a store, looks around but doesn’t buy, and walks out hoping that the people don’t think that I just stole something. Yup. I am the person who thinks, “Did I do that?” When I most certainly hadn’t seen, or communicated with that person in weeks.

Some people would classify this as “Well, you care too much about what people think about you?” Yes, but no. I care about what the people are that the closest to me think of me. If I cared too much about what people think about me, I could never do what I do daily. Teaching is getting up in front of children and not caring about how they view you, because you’re there and they are there. The purpose isn’t a standoff, the purpose is to make sure that they learn something in that time you have them.

I care that my students think that I am fair, kind, and there for them. I don’t care that they think that I’m a tyrant for giving them work as a 4th quarter senior (They keep trying to make this a thing, but it’s not). Before lunch, two of my students literally were so annoyed at the work I keep giving them, they wrote a declaration of how they weren’t going to do work. I laughed at them.

So, no….I don’t get wrapped up in what people think about me. However, I am sensitive. I have always been sensitive. Being sensitive has always been something that I haven’t been totally comfortable with, but it seems that I have start getting comfortable with it because it is most certainly part of me. I am the girl that cried during The Hunchback of Notre Dame when Esmeralda lost consciousness and Quasimodo lifted her up over the cathedral. I was six, and I was sobbing. Why was I crying? I don’t remember at all, I didn’t understand what unrequited love was, but I knew that this was a strong emotion and I had some response to it.

Now, this type of reaction would carry with me my entire life; and I would spend half of my adult life trying to stifle it. Sensitive was a word that I heard very often after this movie. I would cry, scream, express emotions at inappropriate times, usually. I would hold emotions in until I couldn’t take it anymore, and then explode. I was a rollercoaster; most of this was puberty and hormones finding their home, but I can still be a little unpredictable with emotions.

I hated that people called me sensitive. Women in my family aren’t sensitive, they are strong. They are bold, and they don’t let emotions hold them back. I felt like none of these things when I was growing up. I felt disconnected, I felt like I was a black sheep, and I thought that everything that I was annoyed my family. Completely disconnected and totally lost in life, I sought out different ways to cope with these feelings.

I was friends with people that I probably shouldn’t have been friends with in high school, I started (not excessively), drinking, and most of all I started smoking. My mother, my grandmothers, my aunt, and my uncle were all smokers at some point in their lives. Somehow, in my delusional mind, I made the connection to smoking with a family thing—maybe that I would belong or something. I was so lost that I tried everything that I could.

So, smoking and I have had a relationship for the past ten years, on and off. Mostly on. After I mended my relationship with my family and my mother, I started thinking “Why am I still doing this?” It didn’t make sense, because I was doing something that was hurting me. But I thought it was helping me. At this point, smoking made gave me a lot of outs in life—if I felt uncomfortable or annoyed, I could step outside, if I felt awkward I could leave, it was a moment of quiet in my life. It didn’t make sense at all, but to me it did.

My friend, Judy, has been there through the whole smoking ordeal—and I have put her through a lot. I used to lie about this habit, and still partially do, to everyone. My family, my friends, students, coworkers. Because to me, this isn’t me. This is not something that I am, or something that I do. This lie has hurt a lot of people—including myself. But, lying about it hurt a lot of people in my life. It especially hurt my relationship with Judy. I lied about it constantly, and I just never listened to her. Partially, because it was because I wanted to do my own thing, and sew my oats. At that time, I was disconnected with smoking, because I was hiding it the best that I could, but it wasn’t really that great.

So, recently, I have been thinking about giving this habit up for good. It just doesn’t make sense for me—I have been working on me, who I am, and what I stand for. I had this habit, but I was going to yoga, I was working out, I was trying to eat healthy, but I was still smoking. I would break off of my cigarettes, but then I would experience something that would send me back to my habit. Fibro pain, my father’s death, stress, nervous breakdowns. I was sifting through so many things, that I didn’t know which way was up—who was I?

Since I started this “journey” (that I haven’t been consistent about documenting), I have been doing a lot of thinking. Mostly about who I am, and embracing myself completely; faults and all.  And, I have been trying to answer this disconnect this question about why I still have this habit that I swear I will stop, but seem to pick it back up. I have learned to cope with my own stress (I have really tried to bad stress in my life completely, because of the fibro), I have come to grips with my father’s death (and still go back and forth with grieving), and all the ups and downs in life I have learned to deal with it all.

So, how do I connect the dots now with smoking and my life. Well, there is no connection. For the past few days, I have been feeling low energy. I feel like I am giving out more than I am taking in The kids, people that I work with, there are things that have been out of my control that have been taking a toll on me. Like I said before, I have always been sensitive and I take on a lot from other people. A lot of problems that are not my own, I seem to take them on.

One of the girls that is in my grad class seems to be having a hard time, and I don’t know the whole story but I got a little stressed out for her. I don’t even know the whole story, but I felt so bad for her that she was feeling bad. I couldn’t make sense of it all. It was totally misplaced and weird, because the pain became my pain. How does this make sense? It doesn’t. Somehow, now smoking and stress has becoming to feeling stress and pain for other; overly empathetic. I felt that strong urge to start smoking again because of the pain that I was feeling for another person.

I have been thinking about this a lot the last few days, and I think that I found the connection for my disconnect. I experience and feel pain that is not my pain to feel, so I go back to something that should not be part of me. So, now I am struggling to put this habit down—the last few days I have slipped with letting this habit go. I pick it up, but them immediately regret it. It’s like I go into a trance when I want a cigarette. It’s all I think about, I legitimize it, and I make it reasons why I should do it. I know that I shouldn’t, I know that I don’t need it, but for some reason I think that if I just do it a little bit—it won’t be that bad.

But, now it’s hurting me in so many ways. It hurts my body, physically and it’s hurting my emotional game as well. I am relying on something that does not give anything back to me, at all. I have this abusive relationship with smoking, I know that it hurts me and doesn’t respect me but I keep going back to it and cannot break up with it. But, I want to make that change. I want to make that move. I have all these plans to be healthier and get better. I ordered all these vitamins, I have doing yoga, my prayers have definitely been off, but I think I need to fix that when I feel the urge to smoke. I need to be patient with myself, I need to forgive myself for the times that I have hurt myself, but that doesn’t mean that I need to continue down this road or make this my life.

Time to break up with the bad,  and get in a relationships with the good.