Falling in love with solitude

I sat on a covered porch in a rocking chair with my knees to my chest and listened to the thunder tear through the silence and watched as lightning cut across the sky between the gaps of the trees.

I sat, and I contemplated life and love and the state of the world and everything in between. I had just hiked, and the woods always make me pensive. The trails were wet and overgrown from days of afternoon rains. I’d stripped off my muddy converse, and I sat in complete contentment feeling the fresh air and listening to nature.

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I’ve realized lately that the moments I feel most desperate and frantic to be surrounded by people are the times I most need to be by myself. They are the times I need to submerge myself in solitude, usually amongst the trees, in order to sort out my brain and calm my anxieties.

It’s one of those things that I always knew, but it took me a long time to realize, if that makes sense.

Like sometimes you know that certain people or things are good (or bad) for you, but you aren’t quite ready to do anything with that information. Then one day it kind of dawns on you, and you finally incorporate that knowledge into your life.

It’s the difference between knowing something and realizing something. I wish I had more words to explain that concept, but it just is.

Anyhow, this difference between knowing and realizing is why I’ve spent so much time in the woods the past week or so. I always knew it was good for me, but after my anxiety attack a couple of weeks ago, I realized I had to start prioritizing it.

I’ve done a great job of surrounding myself with the most incredible people, but I’m only going to push them away if I make them responsible for my issues.

I can hear him in my head, “I’m not going anywhere, but you can push me away.” I would hate that.

I’m grateful to have had someone to take care of me, but it wasn’t his problem to solve. I’m not his person to take care of, and I refuse to let my anxieties ruin yet another relationship.

So I go to the woods. When I’m desperate for a hand to hold, I hold my own, and I go to the woods and I walk and I take pictures and I braid ferns into my hair. Sometimes I sit on the side of the trail in a puddle of tears because I have to get my emotions out somehow. Sometimes I stop in my tracks to scribble down a thought that comes into my head, a story idea, a poem lead, something I need to tell someone –whatever it is. I just surrender and let it happen.

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I’ve submerged myself in self-care the past few weeks.I buy myself flowers because it’s a hell of a lot better than sitting around wishing I had someone to do it for me. I deep conditioned my hair. I had quite a few sessions of shower karaoke (sorry you have to listen to me terribly sing Whitney Houston, mom, but not that sorry). I’ve taken naps. I’ve buried myself in the things that make me feel whole and alive.

It’s made me less desperate for and dependent on other people. I’m still an extremely social person and crave human interaction, but I feel less like I’m going to fall to pieces every time the anxiety strikes and there’s no one there to hold my hand.

I used to long for someone to share my hikes with, and while company still would be nice, I’ve come to look at it as some sort of sacred alone time. I’m picky about who I’ll let be in those spaces with me, the vulnerable spaces.

It’s an incredible feeling, this contentment. I’m documenting it here so when life gets hectic, and I forget, I have it written here in black and white to remind me that I am enough for myself.

It’s really easy to get caught up in what everyone else needs from you. A lot of times I feel like I’m being pulled in 100 different directions, and everyone needs something. But I’ve realized that the people who love and care about me will want me to take care of myself first. This doesn’t change my undying loyalty to those I care about, but it does mean that I don’t feel compelled to do things for people who don’t appreciate it or who continuously take advantage of me.

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So back to the story I started out with: sitting on the porch after my hike as the storm came in.

I was lost in my head. I had thousands of thoughts competing for attention. There are boxes in my notes of things I had to separate because I was trying to write down three different ideas at once. The woods (and swamps) are abundant with inspiration. It’s the best kind of overwhelming.

So I’m sitting there, and everything feels so loud. There are crickets and frogs and birds and my own thoughts and so many sounds I couldn’t name.

But at one point I looked up from my notebook, and the ringing in my ears went silent. It had felt like everything was screaming at me, and then they’d either thought I got the point or realized I wasn’t listening to them and gave up. I sat there and listened to the thunder rolling in and watched the sky grow darker even though it was hours from sunset. A mosquito pestered me lightly brushing my skin as it tried to find a place to latch on, but I didn’t want to leave my chair or the trees because I’d found silence amongst the craziness of life and this city. I didn’t want to let it go.

I’ve found that my attachments to things usually come because I want to live in my happiest moments forever because the ones in between often hurt too much to handle.

The storm came, and I had to leave. My moment of bliss interrupted by the earth’s temper tantrum, but I sat in my car and watched the rain and found bliss there, too.

On relationships, breakthroughs and happy times

Lately I’ve been working on putting smaller pieces of larger stories together. I’ve written about this weird block I’m working through, and that’s a big part of it.

I’ve spent a lot of time avoiding telling stories or processing things or dealing with things, and now that I am, I’m trying to figure out how it all fits together. First in a collection of poems, but on a larger scale, how these events have changed my life and shaped who I am in smaller ways.

The large ones are obvious, it’s the smaller shifts I like to explore.

There’s a saying I hear often (that I’m likely going to butcher) that says something along the lines of “you don’t know the important moments are important until later.” It’s rather obvious, but it’s interesting watching that idea manifest itself in really tangible ways in your own story.

I’ve been writing about Greece a lot. I always knew that going to Greece would change my life, but I never though it would have occurred this way.

That trip was really the moment (collection of moments rather) when I decided that my marriage was over. I didn’t look at it like that then because I was still trying to convince myself there was some semblance of hope that we could fix things, but there wasn’t.

My favorite moments of that trip were the ones where I was alone. Then there’s dirt house story I told here. Then there’s when I was at the most beautiful beach in the world, floating in the clearest, bluest water I’d ever seen, and I still felt empty. I knew at that moment it was as good as it was going to get. Going to Greece was always my life dream, and Chris made it happen, but I still couldn’t be happy.

I’m sure he felt as though he’d given me everything he could give, but it would be unfair to speak for him.

I knew then, though, that if I couldn’t be happy in that space, nothing about that life was for me. I left shortly after that, but the way it all unfolded just kind of came together for me recently.

Since then, though, I’ve been paying extra attention to small moments.

I went out with some friends last week, and we had a really good time. I’m really fortunate to have met some of the best people since I moved to Florida, and we had fun.

We took this picture (below) the other night, and I love it for a few reasons.

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First, that lip color, though. I’m obsessed. Second, do you see how amazing the people I’m with are? They’re freaking great.

Mostly it’s the fact that I look so genuinely happy in this photo. Because I am. It isn’t just the tequila/sangria, I promise.

Let’s rewind.

Earlier this evening, I’d had a really dumb situation happen with a not-so-dumb boy. Sort of a misunderstanding, sort of a moment where I had to check myself to make sure I’m not selling myself short like I frequently do. Boundaries and expectations in relationships are freaking hard to navigate, even if things are super casual.

Anyhow, he hurt my feelings, but instead of going home and crying about it, I went out with my friends and had a seriously good time dancing all of our troubles away.

For once I didn’t make other people more important, I just took care of myself.

Judging from the three texts I received from said boy while I was in the club, he knew he upset me fairly immediately. It didn’t matter.

Funny, though, how people only want to show you that they care when they think you’re halfway out the door. I wish more people would appreciate the people they have in their lives while they’re there.

Anyhow, said boy and I worked it out. I didn’t write this to bash on him, he’s a good guy. Anyone who let’s me ramble/overthink to them in a series of novella-length text messages usually ends up good in my book. But we’ll see how this story unfolds. Who the hell really knows.

I wrote this to point out, once again, how far things have come. Brenna spent a lot of time with me last fall when the actions of one particular jerk (who will remain unnamed because evidently I’m only good enough behind closed doors) would ruin our nights out.

I’d end up a wreck. Crying in a bathroom or on a bar stool because some idiot wouldn’t pay attention to me. Because he decided that he could pop in and out of my life as he so chose, and I let him. Always waiting there at his beck and call whenever he needed an ego boost.

Ew.

I won’t do that again. I won’t be that for someone ever again. Although sometimes it’s hard to tell when you fall into that role.

Hindsight is 20/20. My regular vision…well, I should probably wear my glasses more often.

Anyways, I did not end up in a puddle of tears in some gross bar bathroom. That, my friends, is progress.

That, my friends, is me taking care of me. And that is how you get a genuine smile.

It was a small moment, one night out with those fabulous people in (hopefully) a series of them. But it did not go down as “the night Michelle ended up crying over some dumb dude.” Instead it’s “the night Saqif showed us all up on the dance floor.”

It was a small moment, but those are the ones that make all the difference.

 

Too beautiful for this world

I remember when I found out.

I was lying in bed, mindlessly scrolling through social media like I do every day.

I sat straight up when I saw it. I couldn’t believe it, but it was true. My friend had taken his own life.

It’s been three years since that day. It still doesn’t seem real. We hadn’t talked in ages, probably since I’d moved away, but it still hit me when I found out he wasn’t around anymore.

I think it’s because of the way he went.

I knew Eric during a particularly dark time of my life. He knew the me who was trying to navigate the dark tunnels of depression for the first time. He knew the me who regularly contemplated suicide. He knew the me that had cuts on her arms and legs and a razor blade in her pencil case.

There were days when he would tell my angsty, depressed, twelve-year-old self that it would be okay. That this wasn’t forever. To smile. Then he’d give me a hug and be on his way. He was a light on some dark, dark days.

The small things made a difference to me. Small acts from a lot of people helped me dig my self out of that dark place. I may have visited a time or two since then, but overall, I reign champion over my inner demons.

I attempted, contemplated often and am here now writing this. In a cemetery of all places. How ironic that I would be at a funeral on this anniversary. We buried my beautiful great grandmother today. She lived a long and happy life. She met her soul mate, had a beautiful family and lived a fulfilling life.

I often wonder why some people live forever and others are ripped away cruelly far too soon.

Sometimes I forget and think he is still out there making kick ass art and putting smiles on people’s faces.

Then it hurts all over again.

From my own struggles, I know how he must have felt when he died. I know what it’s like to feel like the world is just too much and the pain is just too much and there is no way out. I know what it is like to feel hopeless and helpless. No one deserves to feel that way.

Depression is very real. Anxiety is very real. Pain like that is real and dangerous. As much as I know that when it gets to that point, very little makes a difference, I still wish there was something someone could have done.

I’m sure the people that loved him, that were a part of his daily life, feel the same. I cannot even fathom how that must feel.

I watched them grieve from afar and just wanted to wrap them in a giant hug and make the hurt go away.

The shitty thing about something like this is that you can’t make the hurt go away, you can only learn to live with it and hopefully turn it into something good.

The strength I have seen, especially from his sister, as time goes on is incredible. She knows it, I’ve told her. I hate that I never got to tell Eric how much those little things he did for me meant to me so I make a point to let people know how much I love/admire/appreciate them while I do have the chance.

You really never know when it will be gone.

Something Danielle said about him has stuck with me: he was too beautiful for this world.

Some people just are.

I hope that he is out there in the universe somewhere watching down on us knowing how much we all loved him.

It’s unfathomable. I’ve written about it over and over and over again, and I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that something like this is possible.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand.

I think I’ll always question why we struggled with some of the same things, but I get to be okay and he doesn’t.

I’ll just take the hurt and keep writing until my hand cramps. I’ll keep remind the people I love that I love them and that they matter.

Love is the only thing that cures us anyways.

 

If you’re hurting, struggling, contemplating, or whatever, please get help. Suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255. If talking on the phone gives you anxiety, google it and they have an online chat. Reach out if you need a friend. Sometimes people really just have no idea what someone is going through even if you think they should.

Take it from me, things really can get better if you work to build your better. I promise.

2016: the Dumpster Fire Year

Every year I say I’m not going to write one of those cliched, over-done, “year in review” posts. Yet, every year I find myself sitting behind a keyboard writing one any ways. I kicked enough bad habits this year, I suppose this one will have to wait.

I have a difficult time categorizing 2016 as a “good” or “bad” year. It would be easy to say that it was the worst, in a lot of ways it was a complete dumpster fire. However, that discounts the good things that happened this year which feels unfair.

Whether good or bad, 2016 will go down as a pivotal year in my life. This year took me to places I only dreamed of, and it brought me home again. It ripped me out of my comfort zone and forced me to build a new one –and even to learn to be okay living without one for a little while.

I call it the dumpster fire year because it went up in flames before January even came to a close. While this atrocious year is finally ending, I still haven’t fully extinguished the fire. That’s okay, though. Good things come with time. If there is one thing I’ve learned this year, it is that there is no need to rush things. I’m terrible at patience, but I’m learning. Trying to, at least.

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What will go down as the most peaceful moment of 2016, and maybe my entire life so far. Walking, doing yoga and meditating on the beach at sunrise in Crete, Greece. 

 

This year was the year that I lost and found myself within one fell swoop. I uprooted myself more than once. First to Europe to build the life I thought I wanted with the person I thought would be my constant. Then back home again to figure out what the hell I actually want because I was so terribly wrong the first time.

I lost the majority of my faith in my decision making this year, but I learned a tremendous amount about my strength. I learned that I am far stronger than I have ever given myself credit for. I never thought I would have the courage to make such a drastic change to improve my life without someone to lean on as a crutch. It’s not to say that I didn’t have support, I certainly did, but I had to find the strength within myself to do what I needed to do because there was no one to catch me if I fell. It wasn’t easy, but the right thing rarely is.

This year I really began to embody the “do no harm but take no shit” mantra that spoke to me so deeply the first time I heard it. I learned I don’t have to belittle others to stand up for myself, and that I am worth standing up for in my own right. Not simply because of the role I fulfill for someone else.

More than anything, I learned to respect myself, and I learned to demand the same respect from others who wish to be a part of my life. I finally realized that I don’t deserve to be put down or shamed or treated badly by people who say they love me –friend or lover. I learned, and am still learning, how to set boundaries for myself.

That is a lesson I hope my daughter doesn’t have to learn the hard way.

I learned that goodbyes aren’t always negative and are often entirely necessary –even if they take a few pints of ice cream, a couple bottles of liquor and incessant bitching and ranting to get over.

I spent the majority of this year completely and utterly heart broken. This year brought me to one of the lowest points of my life. However, I’ll call it a win because I managed to feel completely overcome with depression and sadness and shame and occasionally far too much alcohol, but I never once felt like ending my life. That is an accomplishment, and yet another testament to the strength I have worked so hard to develop.

The year opened with news of a betrayal that shook me to my core, and it unraveled from there.

While my months in Europe were magical in so many ways, and I am so insanely grateful for that experience, they were also lonely. I remember being so overjoyed to be living my dream of traveling and exploring and seeing the world, but also so lost, isolated and that maybe, no matter how much I wanted it, it wasn’t where I needed to be right then. I don’t know that I’ve ever been more conflicted than I was this year, which is why it is so difficult for me to sum up.

My heart ached while I was in Europe so I came home.

The hurt has subsided. I no longer cringe every time I think about the way my dreams fell apart. I no longer question whether or not I did the right thing. I don’t cry myself to sleep any more, I’ve healed in countless ways.

I’m ready to slowly wade into this new year and see what it has to offer me. I’m ready for new beginnings. There are a few things brewing right now that I am excited to watch unfold.

More than anything, 2016 taught me about the power of friendship.

When Chris and I were together, he used to say that he felt like I loved my friends more than him. Honestly, it was probably true. Anyone who has been friends with me knows I love big, I love hard. I take care of my friends, and they are everything to me.

This year I felt that love back. I had to cut a few out, but it was worth it. I surrounded myself with the greatest people who supported me, encouraged me and loved me despite the fact that I’ve been a complete mess. You guys know who you are, and you know how much I love you. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for everything.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to kiss an old year goodbye and welcome a new one with open arms. I’m going into this year with a smile on my face and a heart full of love.

Good things are coming, I can feel it.

I’m ready.

 

Write hard and clear about what hurts

Write hard and clear about what hurts. Write hard and clear about what hurts. Write hard and clear about what hurts.

The mantra repeats over and over again in my head. I remind myself of it when I feel stuck. I remind myself tear-stained pages are okay. I remind myself I’m no less beautiful with mascara streaming down my face. That the hurt will be there until I leap fearlessly into its waiting arms. Until I dive in to face it, submerging myself completely like I do at the lake on the first warm enough day of the year. The hurt, the longing won’t go anywhere until I make it. I have to work fight. Acknowledge. Acknowledge. But with so much swirling around in my head, how do I figure out what hurts?

Write hard and clear about what hurts. Sometimes the words flow from my pen faster than I can keep up with them, and I bleed all over the page making as big a mess on my brand new, pristine notebook as I seem to do in life. Sometimes I can’t stop them from coming out. Sometimes I look at them against the yellowish white of my notebook and just think “shit.”Because the pen goes places I don’t allow my mind to wander. It sneaks its fine tip into the corners of my mind I refuse to go because I’m afraid what I may discover. The pen tells me more about my feelings than I tell it. It hits at the truth I’m always trying to over think, to over complicate. So I run from it, like I do everything else. Because that’s all I know how to do. I find the loving touch of another escape, a favorite distraction. One that seems easier even if it’s not without it’s own complications. One that ignites a part of me I thought was lost, washed away in the mundane aspects of everyday life. One that masks the pain, even just for a little while.

Sometimes you just have to make a damn mess out of everything to figure out what the hell you want. And sometimes you look around at what you’ve done, and you still don’t know.

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My best friend takes some pretty rad pictures of me, then does some crazy ghosty things to them. Photo credz: Emma Whitley

Write hard and clear about what hurts. But what if nothing is clear? Make it clear. Let the words fall out of you until you have no more. Face it. Feel it. You can mask the hurt. You can build this place where you think everything could be okay, but if it isn’t based on truth, it will crumble. Then what am I left with? Someone new to blame the hurt on? The hurt was there long before anyone else.

Write hard and clear about what hurts. I repeat it. Over. and over. and over. and over. and over again. But I don’t want the pen to find the things I’m hiding. I don’t want to know the truth. It’s easier to keep running. Keep pretending. Sometimes I put the pen to paper and nothing comes out because I’ve built a fortress around those parts of my brain. Because telling yourself you don’t know what you want is easier than chasing what you want.

Sometimes you have to make a mess. I have this way about me of making things bigger than they are. Of needing everything to be catastrophic or romantically beautiful. I have this way of loving people harder than they could ever love me in return, whether that be romantically, friendship or family. I’ve been told I’m oversensitive. That I give love too easily to too many people who don’t deserve it. That’s probably true, but what’s wrong with loving with all you have? Maybe we need more of that.

That being said, some things are just things. Some things just happen and they aren’t any more than what they are on the surface: ill-advised choices fueled by some combination of alcohol, fear and a general discontent. Things can happen and then go back to how they were before because it isn’t that big of a deal anyhow. They just are. People come and go, and I need to learn to let them. They’ll come back if it’s meant to be. It’ll happen if it’s meant to, so someone once told me. And so right they were. So why can’t I apply that here? Because I’m not one to let things be, but it’d do me good to learn to.

I think a part of me will always think “what if, what if, what if” about a lot of things. But where has that ever gotten anyone?

Write hard and clear about what hurts. My pen hovers over the page, eager to bleed. Thoughts race through my head, but none of them come out. Something hurts, but it’s not clear what.