One foot in front of the other

The entire car ride up here, I felt my stomach churning with anxiety, my chest tightening with every thought of the unknown that lay ahead. By the time the car turned onto Main Street, I had tears in my eyes from the stress and I thought I was going to blow chunks.

Once we pulled into the small gravel lot though, it was time for action. The next few minutes were a blur of new faces and signing papers and trying to think of something clever to say but drawing a complete blank. I took the keys and said thank you and hopped back into my parents’ car to drive to my new summer lodgings, a weathered, wood-paneled addition onto the back of a brick Federalist house, bookending the finish of a tree-lined street.

My excitement picked up as I ran up and down the stairs, exploring the nooks and crannies of my new home and deciding which room to pick. We hauled my obscene amount of newly purchased professional clothes and bags of tattered “I guess these are still nice enough” shoes into the spacious, if a bit run-down, room. Then my parents suggested we go for a walk through the historic district before they said good-bye for the night.

As we headed back down the road, underneath the shade of the trees, I turned to my mom and said I missed her and dad already. My stomach squeezed at the thought of going back to have a proper conversation with my new co-workers. I’m not famous for talking well in groups, and while I’ve made vast improvements in my social anxiety, the pressure of making a good impression on people I need to get along well with for nine weeks was a bit overwhelming.

But somehow, I hugged my parents, and went to have an awkward but interesting conversation with my newfound colleagues. Little did I know I would be laughing until I cried with some of them, swapping stories about crushes, and staying up way too late for recent college students who now have to wake up at 7:30am.

First weeks are always incredibly stressful, especially if you’re an already anxious person; meeting people whose names you can’t remember, navigating new relationships, figuring out how to answer all the “nice to meet you” questions. Even worse is hearing the laundry list of assignments, rules, and protocol and wondering how on earth you’re going to accomplish this all without crying yourself to sleep every night. This week was no different, but I was incredibly blessed to be able to connect with the people around me like I’ve never been able to do before. This meant that, while my chest still felt like caving in at times, I was able to stretch myself rather than just feeling completely overwhelmed and defeated. I guess the following is a stream-of-consciousness collection of lessons I’ve been learning over the start of this journey:

Other people are stressed too. I tend to assume that because I struggle with anxiety, I’m the only one who’s having a tough time, but that’s not true. People might only give you little glimpses of it, but if you pay attention, or maybe just even put yourself in their shoes, you might realize that other people are overwhelmed too. It can be helpful to be understanding and cut people a break, and to feel less alone, like you’re the only one struggling. Similarly, I think sometimes you need to open up and let people know you’re overwhelmed – nothing major, but just a bit of honesty with someone who you think might understand. You might receive an obnoxious pat reply, you might get some encouragement, you might find you’re not alone. But it’s good to be genuine. In my opinion, people can’t hate genuine. And it does more good than pretending you’re superior to others.

Stretching yourself to your limits is terrifying, but it really does help you to grow.

Don’t approach life trying to prove yourself to other people, but be humble and willing to ask about what you don’t know and remember how much we all have left to learn. Classmate and colleagues can sometimes, admittedly, feel like competition, but we’re all here to learn from one another. We all bring unique experiences and backgrounds to the table, so it’s worth learning from each other rather than, a) beating ourselves up for not knowing enough, or b) dropping names and dates to prove we’re hot stuff.

It’s not about being the best, but doing the best you can.

At the end of the day, whatever work you do isn’t about furthering your career, but rather contributing to your field, and ultimately to the world. Approaching work with this kind of attitude is humbling, and can help take the pressure of impressing people off of projects and let us reconnect with the joy of doing what we’re passionate about.

It’s okay to be a quiet person. Some times this week, I’ve felt guilty for not talking enough or not volunteering an answer because I was too nervous or not being able to think of something to ask a person I found myself standing next to. I’ve felt bad for having a quiet voice that gets talked over instead of commanding attention, for being tentative instead of self-assured. But then I contrast my experience with the self-assured people who seem to have it all together with the down-to-earth, vulnerable, relatable people who connect with you without pretenses, and I realize that, while it’s always good to continue pushing myself to be less tentative and fearful, I don’t need to be ashamed of being someone who listens more than she talks. We need people like that in the world to create safe havens where we can be ourselves, not be judged, and feel understood and comfortable.

And I have to cut myself some slack some times…we can’t do everything perfectly. If I don’t say much at a meal, that’s okay. I’m not one for small talk; I’d rather have a one-on-one or small group conversation where we really get to know each other or come up with inside jokes or really, genuinely laugh until I cry…the kind of laugh where you look ridiculous but are in such good company you don’t even care because you know they won’t judge you.

Even when I make “mistakes,” what matters is that I’m trying. I’m stretching myself a little further every day to overcome fear, push through anxiety, and dismiss hesitancy. While other people, myself included, may only see my shortcomings compared to an ideal of gregariousness and forthrightness, I know how far I’ve come. They don’t know that I used to never speak in class. They don’t know that two years ago, I considered quitting college. It’s easy to let shame darken our hearts because of societal stigma or bad reactions we’ve gotten in the past. Celebrate the obstacles you have overcome; let them remind you of the strength you have built and the mileage you have traveled to get to this place. The things that have cut you up inside (or perhaps even out) and left you broken have given your a story, made you wiser, stronger, more loving. The world needs broken people to pour love out into lives of others. I supposed there’s a time and place for a confident facade, but more and more I wish we made more room for an honest conversation.

More importantly, I firmly believe that, as cheesy as it sounds, empathy and humility can make a big difference in communities, relationships, group dynamics, and our lives if we let them. If we’re vulnerable, we can have deeper, more satisfying relationships, but we have to open up if we want others to see who we are so they can love us. We have to be present if we want to make connections that make an experience rich and fulfilling.

Girl talk.

Last week, I was expressing my discouragement over the immaturity of the men I interact with to a mentor of mine and was met with advice I’ve heard time and again, “While you’re waiting for a good guy, invest in your female friendships.” I completely see the merit in saying this, but I also stand by my reply to this woman: “Yeah, well the problem is that those are pretty crappy too.” Those words have continued to ring true in my life since I spoke them, so I figured I would share some of my brewing thoughts on the subject, as intimidating as it is so broach such a personal – and political – subject, where it’s so easy to say one wrong thing and set all of social media ablaze.

As much as I’ve agonized over the poor treatment I’ve received at the hands of men over the past few years, I would say that the hurt I’ve experienced at the hands of female friends has been equally, if not more, devastating. I spend a good chunk of my time lamenting with other women about the lameness of guys — how on and off again their affection is, how judgmental and condescending they can be, and how they can fixate on another woman who isn’t as good of a person as you. But if I think about it, I’ve experienced all these same types of betrayals by many of my female friends as well.

As what I predict might one day be called a Third Wave of Feminism has exploded in the past several months, it’s been interesting to see how some women I know will post photos at marches and then cut me down in a text a few weeks later. I’m a big believer in the mantra that “actions speak louder than words” — as much as I love words and the power of written language, if your actions contradict your fine phrases, your declarations really mean nothing. I’ve seen a lot of what my sister dubbed “Instagram Feminism” in the past months; women who make a show of decrying institutional injustice, but return to real life, if you will, the next day and cut down, ignore, and mistreat their fellow woman. What is especially baffling to me is when women pour their efforts and energy into the men in their life at the neglect – or even expense – of supporting their female friends and coworkers.

I’m not one to say that I’m super happy to be a woman or anything — I’ve had my period too many times for that. But I will say there is something special when you get together and really bond over the shared experience of the uniqueness of the female life cycle (including a good complaining session about the menstrual cycle.) We all have some common ground in terms of our experience and outlook on life that men will never understand. I think there’s something really beautiful that happens when we come together and open up about our hearts and lives and embrace and support one another through the unique trials and triumphs of womanhood, helping each other find our way and our identity as our own perspectives shift and the world around us evolves.

I know I’m as guilty as anyone of the aforementioned critiques. I’ve never been much into politics, and I’m guessing some women I know have judged me at one point or another for not marching or sharing op-eds on social media or ranting about the news. I’ve had my share of anger about the comings and goings of this election cycle and its aftermath, but I’ve ultimately decided that it’s not worth risking my mental health to get worked up about things I feel I have no control over. I’m not judging others who do, but I will say I’ve found more fulfillment in looking around me and seeing the individual needs of the people in my own life and doing what small things I can to try and support them.

I can do even more in this regard, but I think this is how change happens — little actions and words of encouragement. Asking people to meals. Forming small groups of friends to create solidarity to support one another in the face of both larger political and cultural trends as well as the “small” barrages of life. I’ve experienced some tough crap in my life, and it’s only been made worse when my fellow women have not stood by me, or have even judged and mocked me.

I’m not saying you have to be best friends with every woman you meet; you should evaluate people based on their character and actions and break off friendships that are more toxic than uplifting. But if you call yourself a feminist (or even if you don’t), take time to consider how well your actions and attitudes align with that label. Think about how you can better support other women. If we believe that we are not treated fairly by society, then we need to be the first ones to set the tone by treating one another with respect, appreciation, sacrificial kindness, attentiveness, and dignity.

Stress: It’s Just Not Worth it

This was originally posted on the Universities at Shady Grove‘s student blog Around the Grove on February 17, 2017. You can read my other post here.

I don’t know about you all, but the whirlwind of work has already set in for me this semester. I have a lot on my plate in the coming months, which is both invigorating and overwhelming. It can be tough to find just the right workload that pushes you to achieve without leaving you burnt out. If you’re starting to feel burnt out and overwhelmed by the coming semester, maybe it’s time for you to take a step back and evaluate what’s on your plate.

In life, it can be easy to let your choices be dictated by what other people expect of you. It’s great to get advice from others and be mindful of other people’s expectations, but I think it’s also important to learn to put your foot down and stand up for  your own needs at times.

It’s awful to feel like you’re drowning in never-ending commitments. Sometimes we become so convinced that we have to do everything or we can’t let people down that we stay in extremely stressful, even toxic, circumstances. But we end up hurting ourselves and even letting others down even more because we can’t give all the tasks we’re juggling our full attention.

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De-stress picture #1! (Taken in Prince Edward Island, Canada, one of the least stressful places I know of!)

Of course, sometimes we really have to shoulder a ton of different things in our lives; it’s beyond our control. If that’s the case, it’s still important to draw a line and not let work and other commitments take over your life. Make time to relax and remember to take care of yourself by doing things as simple as eating regularly, getting sleep, and staying hydrated.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the semester already, consider doing some of these things:

  1. Cut something out of your life. Drop a class, ask to reduce your hours at work, cut back on the number of organizations you’re in…You don’t have to do everything! It’s more important for you to be healthy and for you to do things well, giving them your full attention.
  2. Build a support network. Find one or two supportive friends or family members who you know you can go to when you’re overwhelmed. Maybe even delegate one of them to be your “No” person who will remind you not to take on more than you can handle!
  3. Find a professor or other staff member to mentor you and help you navigate all that’s on your plate. We have wonderful, caring staff here at USG, and they are here to support students and are often more than happy to give advice, offer encouragement, and answer questions.
  4. Consider talking with a counselor at USG’s Center for Counseling and Consultation or attending one of their free workshops teaching skills to handle stress and live a healthy life.

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    De-stress Activity: Imagine yourself on a beach! (Photo by Rebecca Gale)

  5. Take time to de-stress. Plan little breaks in your day. Take a walk outside and look around at the scenery, noticing things you haven’t before. Sing along to the radio in your car. Find a hobby as simple as coloring or learning how to make smoothies to give you breaks so you don’t feel like you’re drowning in work.
  6. Enjoy good conversations with friends, even on a busy day. One of the first things that tends to go when I get busy is socializing, but taking time for a laugh or honest chat with a friend can really go a long way.
  7. Get rid of things in your life that bring you down instead of lifting you up. Avoid unnecessary extra stress…Does the news send you into a rage whenever you see it? Does social media overwhelm you or make you feel like you’re not good enough? Avoid things on your phone, TV, and computer that add to your daily frustration.

I know it can be tough sometimes to say no to things and it’s easy to feel like a “wimp” for trying to take care of yourself, but I honestly believe it’s for everyone’s benefit if we all manage our lives to be a healthy balance so we can be our best selves and be able to step up to the plate in the tasks we are faced with. Stress can really take its toll on relationships and mental and physical health, so be wise about controlling the amount of stressors in your life and learning how to cope well with stress when it does arise.

How to be a Better Human: Food for Thought About Friendship

This is a longer version of a post I wrote for “Around the Grove,” the student blog of the Unviersities at Shady Grove. I’m also considering writing a series of posts called “How to be a Better Human” with my unsolicited advice about being a kinder, more compassionate member of human society who gives back, and this will be a precursor to that.

If you’ve logged onto your Facebook recently, you might have noticed that Facebook is celebrating their “birthday” with a holiday they created called “Friend Day.” Now, personally, I don’t have a great track record with having good friendships in the last few years, so I thought it might be interesting to reflect a bit on friendship in my first blog post this spring semester. A lot of people say, after all, that the friendships you make in college are part of what makes your experience so meaningful. The flip side of this, of course, is that bad friendships or a lack of strong friendships can make a college experience really difficult.

The beginning of the semester tends to be a time when people have friendship on their minds: getting to see friends from last semester again, trying to make new friends if you just transferred, meeting new people in your classes, etc. I figured I would offer a few unsolicited pieces of advice that I’ve learned from experience of the years on the subject, particularly as they relate to starting back at school:

  1. Be open to making new friends (even if you’re a senior.) I’ve heard seniors tell friends they don’t want to bother with meeting new people because they’re about to leave anyways. You never know when great opportunities will come your way, and you might be surprised how many friends will drop out of your life once you move on to a new place. So be careful about writing people off or closing yourself off to the potential of forging new friendships. If you’re not a senior, it can be easy to get comfortable with your friend group and neglect making new friends. There are lots of interesting people in the world who are worth getting to know and who might expand your horizons and enrich your life.
  2. Be open to being friends with people you wouldn’t normally hang out with. Some of the most unexpected people have ended up being my best, most loyal friends over the years, so don’t write people off as not your type too quickly. Also, be aware that some people take a longer time to warm up to people and open up to others and show their true personality (like yours truly!) We all have a tendency to be attracted to the loudest person in the room, but consider trying to get to know the quiet people on the periphery; I’ve come to learn they can make great friends and have a lot to offer (though maybe I’m a little biased!)
  3. Welcome new students. All of us undergrads at USG have experienced being a transfer student. Maybe it went well for you or maybe it was really lonely and stressful. Either way, have some empathy for those who are just arriving and welcome them: introduce yourself, include them in conversation, and just be open to getting to know them. It’s sadly not unheard of for some people to look down on newbies, but we’ve all been the new person…Do you really want to be the jerk who forms a clique and excludes others?
  4. Cut off toxic friendships. This doesn’t directly relate to school life, but I think new years and fresh beginnings can be a great reminder to clean out toxic habits, thoughts, and people from our lives. A lot of us at USG have moved from other schools or places, and I’m sure many have experienced the frustration of friendships we cherished fizzling out. It’s helpful to remember that some relationships are just meant for a certain part of our lives; people come and go. If someone isn’t invested in you and prioritizing your friendship at the same level that you are and you find yourself more hurt than uplifted by that relationship maybe it’s time to let go.
  5. Even though you’re busy, remember to let people know you’re invested in them. Nothing kills a relationship like an unresponsive friend. So even though you have a lot on your plate, remember to take a moment here and there to do these things for friends and loved ones:
    1. Ask them how they’re doing
    2. Tell them why you appreciate them
    3. Leave them a note or send an encouraging text
    4. Let them know you are thinking of them
    5. Respond to their emails, texts, etc. in a timely manner (or let them know you will get back when you have the time)
  6. Respect others’ points of view and be a good listener. Obviously, our political and social climate right now is very tense and full of harsh words. As a community of scholars, I think it’s crucial for us to continue to respect the opinions of others, listen to their point of view, and try to be understanding rather than just dismissing or insulting whatever we don’t agree with. A lot of people feel powerless right now, but, as corny as it sounds, I think the communities we create in the little worlds we each inhabit can have ripple effects into the world around us. And we can make a huge impact on the people around us – for better or for worse – in our daily interactions.

Well, with that, I think I’ve said more than my fair share, but I hope that you all will enter this semester open to new relationships and that you’ll be able to find some kindred spirits to brighten your life among the swamp of papers, projects, and textbook readings!

Best of luck with this new semester!

Life Lessons from Ice Skating

Tonight, I went ice skating for the first time in over a decade. Recently, I’ve been trying to find some “cool” sport to learn to make exercising appealing and to feel like I’m accomplishing something in life outside of doing schoolwork. Like many women, figure skating has always fascinated me. It’s like the gymnastics of the winter Olympics.

When I found out the local ice rink offered classes, I was immediately ready to fork over $200 bucks and register, hoping I could get a taste of that kind of grace and freedom skaters seem to experience out on the rink. Thankfully, my ever-practical mother put the brakes on that train and recommended I actually go skate before I empty my bank account, go to one class, and find out I hate it.

As much as I hate to admit it, she was right. (Thanks, Mom.) Learning to skate must be like learning to walk, which makes me feel bad for baby me. It’s extremely unnatural, awkward, baffling, frustrating, and a bit terrifying. And you fall a lot. But as I wobbled my way around the oval again and again, slowly loosening my death grip on the wall and allowing myself to glide a few feet on the ice (until I fell and slammed onto my butt twice), I couldn’t help but think of how much the process paralleled real life.

So, without further ado, here are a few quick unsolicited life lessons I took from my experience today:

  • You might fall on your tush a few times, but you can get back up and try again. Don’t let it stop you. Laugh it off. You might feel your body tense next time you pass that spot where you wiped out, but grit your teeth and skate a little faster.
  • Sometimes you need somebody (or something) to lean on. When I first got out on the ice (and every subsequent time, actually), I felt so stupid clinging to the side of the rink while seven year-olds glided by doing triple lutzes. But that was all I could do at the time. Sometimes you have to lean on other people – family, friends, a therapist, a doctor, a psychiatrist, a mentor – to help you through a time when you can’t walk on your own. It’s just part of life. We can’t always be strong or know what we’re doing.
  • Sometimes real life isn’t like the movies. I can’t think of a silver lining to sugar coat this one, but I think it is an important lesson you have to realize at some point in life. I went in expecting a “Disney’s Ice Princess” moment where I stepped onto the ice and immediately start gliding and spinning. Not so, my friend. I find myself expecting a lot of things to be like TV – where you get to tell off the friend who wronged you or the guy who you’re meant to be with realizes his girlfriend is a witch and you’ve always understood and supported him and he dumps her and runs to you just before you get on the plane…But life isn’t like that. (Or at least mine isn’t; maybe the joke’s on me.) But all the same…
  • Even awkward, difficult things have silver linings. Even though I never quite got the hang of it and I can tell that I’m going to wake up tomorrow feeling like a Zamboni drove over me, I had a good time. I got out of the house, I spent time with a friend, I actually exercised, and I realized that I can give up my dreams of being an Olympic figure skater. Sometimes it’s kind of relieving to be able to cross something off your list that you feel like you should accomplish. “Nope. That’s never happening. Now I can move on to salsa dancing.”
  • It’s good to be reminded not to take yourself too seriously. The other benefit of today’s experience was that it was humbling. It’s nice to laugh at yourself a bit and realize you can’t conquer everything. It’s good to be aware of your limitations in a non-self-berating way. I could laugh at my inferior abilities without falling into the trap of self-hate. I could keep my ego in check but not fall into the depths of despair because it was kind of funny to be bad at something for once; I had nothing to lose. And with that, as I marveled at the seven year-old girls skating their way to Olympic qualification, I realized that there are things that I’ve been blessed to be naturally gifted at that I’ve been taking for granted.
  • Go with the flow. About my fifteen billionth time around the rink, I realized that the best thing to do is just glide. Feel where the ice is taking you and lean into it. As someone who has been freaking out over where to go in life after I graduate, trying to plan my life out but realizing its impossible, it’s good to remember that a lot of life is gliding from one opportunity to the next. Sure, you have to put a lot of work in, I’m not saying your should just skate through everything, but you have to let go of the need to plan everything and just be open to the idea of seeing where things go.

I could draw a million more parallels, probably. (Here’s another one: They never bring out the damn Zamboni when you need them to. And as a result you fall on your butt.) But I think I’ve over-written my welcome.

I hope, nonetheless, readers, that life in the coming weeks is for you “incredibly skateable,” as one of my mother’s ice skating-loving students once said. (Translation: REALLY AMAZING.)

“Geese Around the Grove”

The following post was published on Around the Grove, the student blog of the Universities at Shady Grove, on 10/28/2016. 

One of the first things I noticed on campus was this quirky yield sign near the Shady Grove Road entrance.

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But it wasn’t long before I found myself sitting in my car on the way to class, stopped in the middle of the road waiting for our resident flock to leisurely waddle their way across the asphalt.

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I had to wait a surprisingly long time for them to cross, but just as I found myself growing annoyed at such a ridiculous setback, I realized just how funny these feathered friends were. They were completely unperturbed by the fact that they were stopping traffic; they just kept waddling at a leisurely pace, absorbed in their own business, keeping me, the supposedly superior human from going about mine. I had to let go of my frustration and laugh at how silly the situation was.

It struck me how similar geese are to people: we’re all very absorbed in our own routines, just like geese get caught up staring at the ground right in front of them, nosing around for some good eats. Geese walk along like they’re the most important beings in the world, not realizing just how silly they look. Seeing geese always reminds me to stop taking life quite so seriously, getting wrapped up in every situation and worked up about every unexpected road block (including large, road-hogging birds!) All of the things I think are the end of the world today are relatively small in the grander scheme of life, and it’s good to take a step back and have some perspective, humility, and humor about the trials and stresses we come across every day.

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This lesson seems particularly apt as we hit the mid-semester crunch of tests, projects, papers, and other deadlines…It’s easy to get caught up in each assignment and overwhelmed by the enormity of everything that’s right in front of you. The reality is that these obstacles, tough and frustrating though they may be, are just one part of your life; you will get through them…You’ve gotten through so many semesters already!

So when you start to get overwhelmed, remember to take time to get your nose out of the grass and admire the beauty (and humor) around you.

Keep on waddling on, USG!

If you ever need help managing stress, you can visit the USG Counseling Center (located in the library) for free counseling or attend their Thursday afternoon free workshops on dealing with stress and anxiety. Consider it a long-term investment in your own well-being!

“When Depression Strands You at Sea”

This is a piece I wrote earlier this year that was published on October 5, 2016 on the blog of To Write Love on Her Arms, an organization that advocates for mental health awareness and treatment. You can read the original posting here.

When depression stranded me at sea, I thought it was the end of everything good in my life. No one could seem to make things better, not my family, not my counselor, not my psychiatrist, not my friends, not my God. I felt myself slipping beneath the waves of emotional turmoil, hopelessness, disappointment, self-hatred, and unspeakable hurt. And no one could throw a life vest my way. Every time I spotted help on the horizon and swam to it, I found it was only a mirage. The ship I was cast from, the friends I thought I could count on to dive in and swim after me, had long disappeared into the distance. As I struggled, the roar of the waves that surrounded me silenced my cries for help.

Finally, I gave up trying to find rescue. I realized that all I could do was tread water until something—anything—came along. There were times I wanted to give in, just fall beneath the waves and let them carry my body to shore where everyone would regret how they neglected me. But I remembered that I had a responsibility to myself—to my younger self who dreamed about the great things she would one day accomplish. So I kept swimming even though those dreams were nowhere to be seen.

I eventually made it to shore, but I found myself in a new country. Although this was not my homeland, I realized I could never go back—not after what happened. I had to make shelter where I landed. So I dropped out of school and accepted the surprisingly difficult purgatory of Rest and Recovery. I quickly found that although I might be safely ashore again, things were not as easy as I thought they would be. I thought that I had closed my story, put the final period on that dramatic chapter of my life at sea, but the memories kept coming back.

It was then that I thought I had come to the end of myself, that there was no hope for me. So I poured out my shattered dreams and watched them get whisked away like grains of sand in the wind. I was stuck. Stuck at home. Stuck in a mire of being too healthy to be hospitalized but too sick to function normally. Stuck in a cycle of old emotions that kept coming back to torment me. Stuck reprimanding myself for being stuck.

But gradually the tides began to change. The poisons that had been destroying me both physically and emotionally with fatigue, apathy, and hopelessness slowly drained from my system. New support systems and treatment were thrown into my path to help me regain my grip on life. I severed ties with those who had shown their true colors as fair-weather friends on my journey and learned to stand on my own two feet. I found a new school that fit my new set of needs and was amazed to find it was an even better place for me than where I had been before. Exciting opportunities have come into view on my horizon, and now I am building my own boat to sail off in this new direction. My crew is still sparse and I still feel a bit jealous when I see the headway others my age have already made while I’m stuck ashore still building my ship, but mostly I am hopeful. Because I know that a mere six months ago I was stranded, fully convinced there was no hope for me.

When I hear news of old friends getting married, getting jobs, and getting pregnant, I think back to the sculpture I made in one of my first art therapy sessions after dropping out of school: an oyster reef. The new organisms make their home on the shells of the departed ones, the living and the dead intertwined. To me, the sculpture represented rebirth: The old, dead dreams and hopes of my past life remained in my heart, but they would now serve as a foundation for the new life I was building. That is where I find myself now: being reborn in so many ways. I am still struggling, but I am also rising from the ashes I thought would be my grave. Now I am stronger, freer, wiser, more grateful, and more intentional about living my life and loving others.

Sometimes the waves start to rise again and lap dangerously at the base of my new boat, and I become afraid that I will go under again. But when I’m tempted to give up hope and sink beneath those waves, I remember that little girl who used to dream of what she would be, and I grab the ropes to begin the journey to safety and recovery once again.

For her.

For me.