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.

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.

The Release Project: Pride

Much of my life has been spent in self-reflection. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the person that I want to become, a lot of time figuring out what I am meant to be, and what I want to stand for. Not bad things, right? Well, yes and no. There is nothing wrong with self-reflection and knowing how to read the room. There is nothing wrong with figuring out what you stand for and making sure that is in alignment with what is true in your heart.

The problem comes when you focus too much on defining yourself, that you forget yourself. That you think that you are better than the past life experiences that you have had and have subsequently shaped you. That you negate anything and everything the people closest to you, and really know you have said and want for you. When you become something you are not, because it’s going to please the general public, isn’t authentic and you have lost the point of self-reflection.

For much of my formative years, I was always trying to be like someone because, at that time in my life, I felt that being someone else would be better than being myself. In high school, I struggled with my relationship with my mother. I thought that I would have an easier time to be like my brother who, by his own nature, is much more cynical, practical, and critical. I subconsciously saw how easy it was for my mom and my brother to get along, that I thought if I did that, I would too.

I was so, so, so, so, (times infinity) wrong. I just came across as angry, critical, uncaring, cold, and even though I tried to be something that I wasn’t, I was still sensitive and emotional. So, I was quick tempered, snarky, and just really a bitch. I couldn’t see how I was acting, and didn’t seem to care about what people thought. But, I remember when my grandmother said something to me, “Uncle Kevin thinks you’re being too critical.” Whaaaaaa? Me, of all people? How could he say that? See, I even got mad when someone pointed out a part of myself, that wasn’t myself, and something I knew I needed to change. If that isn’t prideful…

My second really significant phase came when I was senior in high school. I read Virginia Woolf once, and suddenly I was this tragic, romantic figure. Granted, I love Woolf’s writing, but the woman had some demons that she was working on. I felt like I craved for that kind of tragedy in my life, I wanted a place of deep hurt that would give me a reason to act a certain way. Seriously, what the eff was wrong with me? No wonder why my brother always thought I was crazy. I am sure at times it was like living with Eve from Three Faces of Eve.

But, I was yearning for a sense of belonging, because I felt like I was on the outskirts of life. A kid recently just said to me at school, “Ma’am, you must have been really popular, one of the cool kids in high school. You just seem like you would be cool.” I laughed in the kid’s face. I did not divulge to that child that most of my freshmen year was spent watching old movies in my room and crying because I didn’t have any friends. Hey, the kid things I’m cool, I didn’t want to mess up my image. But, if someone has said that to me in high school, I would have ran with it. I would have had this false optimism in my life that people liked me, or at least felt sorry for me.

Because of this sense of belonging, I mad friends that I shouldn’t have. Now, deep down, I am sure that they are both leading really fulfilling lives and making the best of what they have. But, at the time, we were three lost souls that happened to find each other. Our relationship wasn’t meant to last through high school. We got into trouble, we made mistakes, and I did things that are not part of the person that I am now. All three of us were looking to belong, but the other two were looking to belong to something bigger than what we had.

 

Senior year, I also met my friend and mentor, Judy. She was my principal at the time, and is responsible for endlessly trying to get my train back on the tracks. So, of course when she started noticing changes, she said something. She mentored me, she gave me examples of the person to be, how to be with people, and how to care for people. She has been telling me for years that I don’t have to define myself by other people’s standards. Sometimes I listened, and sometimes I decided to go my own path. But, I never really grasped her message—I have to admit that this still happens from time to time.

 

In college, I joined a sorority—but never really felt like a typical sorority girl, so that didn’t stick. But, I drank and I partied—nothing ever to hurt my future; but I did put myself into dangerous situations. Looking back, I probably drank because I was still feeling lost and going to parties gave me something that I felt like I needed at the time. I put myself into situations that I thought would make me feel better, but they never did. They just usually made me feel worse, and this was a pattern that continued.

 

I grew angry and rejected everything that I knew growing up. I rejected family, because I thought that I knew better about myself than they did. I thought that I didn’t fit in with them, that I didn’t belong to them, and it has been a repeated struggle for me. I rejected my faith because I thought that God wasn’t giving me the answers that I wanted. God just kept giving me struggles, he kept giving me things that I didn’t want to handle. At the time, I thought I had put so much faith in him, but He never gave anything back to me. Never in a million years did I ever think the answer to my questions and problems was to humble myself to His Will, instead of trying to fight against it.

 

This periodic up and downs in my life have been sporadic, and each time I seem to go through the same problem. I am trying to live up to expectations that don’t exist. I am trying to live up to expectations that I created for myself, because it was a time when I was not being true to myself. The plan that God has for me was not the one that I was following, and it has been hard to navigate the paths of life because of rollercoaster I was riding one was slowly trying to through me off.

 

When my father died, and being diagnosed, I had to stop and think about what was right for me. I had to think about what was a priority in my life, what were some things that needed to be taken out of my life. I had to rethink life with fibro, and adjust. I had to focus on myself and what was going to add to my life. Well, then I started thinking—who am I? I had tried to define myself in all these ways, but I never actually figured out who I really was.

 

I started an odd healing process during my time spent in graduate school—I was doing something that I loved. I was learning, I was exploring, I was asking questions, and I was learning about things and topics that were of interest to me. So, now I was doing something that I loved, I started to focus on love. My faith was strong already, but it got better. I felt like I was having an authentic relationship with God because I was listening to Him, not simply asking him of things. I was trying to put difficult situations into His perspective; trying to figure out what God was trying to tell me.

 

My relationships with people got better because I was focusing on being me, and not what they wanted me to be. Life with fibro has meant, expressing myself truly and honestly—and if people can’t accept that, then I can’t make them like me. I learned that listening to people, is better than just talking and talking and talking. The most important thing that I learned was not letting someone else or something else to define you—regardless of what others tell you are made in the image and likeness of God. So, be forgiving of others, especially of yourself.

The Release Project: Be Gentle

Yesterday was a good day. Yesterday I watched my goddaughter get baptized in the Catholic Church. When my cousin asked me to be the godmother to Viviane, I was a little bit shocked. I mean, Carolyn and I have always been close, but I thought of a dozen other people that I thought would make a better godmother than myself. I mean, here I am just going about my business—why do I get this great honor? To be a witness to such a great gift, a great experience, and I get to be a part of it all. I was, and still am, humbled. It was so beautiful being able to be a witness to my goddaughter; and promise to help her grown in the love and presence of God.

I realized that this weekend I missed blogging. I could come up with excuses as to why I didn’t get around to it, but the truth is that I was feeling lazy. I would think of things to write, but I was just feeling uninspired. Part of it was I started Spring Break at school, and I was just enjoying the fact that I was getting a much-needed break. But, I was also thinking of other things—money, the baptism, and so many things that caused me unnecessary anxiety.

During Lent I get these emails from Dynamic Catholic for a series called Best Lent Ever.  They are daily emails that have a video and reflections for that day during Lent. I loved getting them last year, but I have fallen behind on the videos—I am consistent with being inconsistent. So, this afternoon after I did yoga I caught up on the series. I actively tried to take notes and listen to what was being said in the videos. This past weekend, and maybe longer than that, I have been in a funk. I just felt like something was on my spirit, and when I get like that it’s pretty hard for me to bounce back, at least spiritually.

I was going through the reflections, and was noticing a pattern. It’s all about happiness and allowing yourself to stop resisting happiness in your life and that happiness that God wants for you. I wrote about things that make me happy—being present in the moment, practicing yoga, and prayer. I listed things that make me unhappy—comparison, insecurity, and judgment. As I listened to Matthew Kelly explain that we have this void that only God can fill, and we often seek things that to not bring us closer to God because we are lost and the things seek out are not big enough to fill God’s place.

The reflection for today really spoke to me. It was titled “Life is Messy.” Isn’t that the truth—I mean, I always seem to have this part of my life where I feel on top of the world, but then I get drawn into this negativity and this passivity that adds nothing to my life. I don’t feel happy, I feel overwhelmed, my attitude changes, and I know that I am not being true to who I am and what God wants for me.

I woke up today sore—I almost didn’t want to get out of bed. Saturday night we were out late, and I had a little too much wine. So, Sunday morning was rough in the beginning—but since coming to grips with fibro, any night like that will set me back a few days. But, I was just feeling blah. I didn’t want to try for anything, I just want to lay in bed all day. But, something in my head refused to let that feeling take over, and I got up. I went to Rite Aid to get my meds, came home, threw out some old products in my drawers, and decided that I was going to do something yoga.

I felt like I need something gentle. I follow Yoga with Adriene on YouTube—she is great! Bubbly, happy, and her practice is all about finding what feels goods. So, you don’t have the worry about staring at her making sure your pose is exactly like hers. At the beginning of the year she started this Revolution series—where you practice taking care of yourself and learning to move through love and gratitude on the mat—in hopes that it will transfer off the mat. The first day of the series—Practice Ease. Sign me up.

This was a little more fast paced than Yin, but it was not Vinyasa. Yin is good for days where you might be having a little flare or are feeling stiff, but want to do something to make you feel better. Yin really clears my headspace when I am fight fibro fog. But, this was easy. The movements were more about finding and creating space in the body to make room in the future. It was a little challenging, and I did break a sweat; but I feel so much better about after done something that I always promise myself to do…but never actually end of doing.

I did some of the reflections after yoga, and like a stared previously, the reflection for today was perfectly in line with the yoga practice I did. The focus was on being gentle with yourself and with other because you never know what someone else is carrying on their shoulders. Something just clicked in my mind about this was a day to be gentle to myself. I take my medications, I make sure to pray, do some sort of movement with the body, say no to things that don’t serve you, and do things that you really enjoy.

While it still might be difficult to move around and focusing on tasks, I know that if I move with gentleness and ease, it will make the day better for me. Focusing on the steps to getting there instead of worrying about the final destination helps me keep myself in check, and be gentle with myself.