medium blog: critical role

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This show has been one of the things that has saved me, and my biggest regret is that I didn’t find it when I was unemployed and going through my lowest points of depression, because it probably would have saved me a lot sooner. It’s my own fault, really.

But I did find it eventually, and it didn’t take long to get obsessed with it — the show, the characters, the story. I couldn’t ignore how it made me feel and what it started to mean to me, and I decided to do the only thing I could do to explain myself: write.

Because I’ve kind of graduated from the journalist lifestyle with my current job, I didn’t know where to put this. I didn’t really want to put it on my personal blog because I felt like it deserved its own separate platform, so I pitched a few places I had contacts at. They seemed interested, but nothing really happened, so I posted it on my Medium account – which was not where I had wanted to post it, but in the end, it was the only place that worked.

The response that followed was on a scale I couldn’t imagine or prepare for. Aside from the cast themselves sharing it and reading it (something that awes me and that I am grateful for and overwhelmed by), dozens and dozens and dozens of fans came out of the woodwork to tell me how much of themselves they saw in this piece. What I wrote was supposed to be a thank you to the beautiful cast of Critical Role as their Vox Machina arc came to an end after 2+ years, but people were thanking ME for putting their feelings into words.

Maybe Critters just really are the best community ever, or maybe what I wrote was better than I thought it was (we’re all our own worst critics when it comes to our talents.) But if I had to reminded that I’m not alone, Critical Role has done that in more ways than one.

And you can read the piece here: https://medium.com/@andrea.towers/heres-why-critical-role-is-my-natural-20-28714309fdea

this is the story of a poster and a dream

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged (my fault) and I’ve realized that with a few exceptions, most of my blogging lately has been — though positive and optimistic — not quite “upbeat” in terms of subject matter. So, today I’m going to talk about something that’s both personal and fun, because with Spider-Man: Homecoming on the horizon and press junkets circulating, I’ve been having a lot of feelings about Robert Downey Jr.’s career trajectory as Iron Man and what that means to me, personally.

I’m going to talk about this poster.

This poster used to hang on the walls of Entertainment Weekly. It now hangs in my living room, but that’s not where the story starts. The story starts a few years earlier, at Northwestern, when I was in graduate school. Going back to school was something I had wanted to do for awhile, but it took some time, because I hadn’t known what I wanted to do. By the time I settled on journalism — having gotten some cred as a freelance entertainment writer/blogger and realizing I wanted to pursue the career full-time at someplace like Vanity Fair (or, my dream publication, EW) — I was old.

To be fair, there was a good range of age in my cohort, and some of my best friends are people who are my younger sister’s age. But I had just turned 30 when I went back to school, and while I tried to embrace the good things that came with age (experience in work and life, having lived on my own and made mistakes with my independence), it sometimes felt like a setback. Here I was, restarting my career all over again — I had worked in publishing and spent five years in non-profit — and most people who entered the publishing industry did so right out of college, becoming senior editors by the time they were 27/28 years old. I was doing things so late, and I couldn’t help but feel anxious about that, even though I was proud of myself for being in one of the top-rated programs for my career.

My Master’s program started in January of 2013 and lasted for a full year. In May of 2013, Marvel released Iron Man 3. I was a fan of comics and a fan of the Marvel franchise, having seen other films throughout the years. The difference is that aside from The Avengers, which at the time warranted a long analytical Tumblr post about my favorite parts/actors, I watched and enjoyed and that was it.

I’m still not sure what it was about Iron Man 3 that made a difference. Maybe it was just that it was a really good film. Maybe it was the fact that it made me feel so good, and forget everything I was stressing over, and gave me enjoyment the way a superhero movie should. Maybe it was because that movie demonstrated Tony’s very human vulnerabilities, including anxiety and depression and PTSD, at least one of which was lingering in my body at the time when I didn’t fully realize it. Whatever the reason ultimately was, it made me walk out of the theatre, snap a reaction picture for Twitter, and then return over the weekend — for a double feature, when my roommates asked me to go with them, unaware that I had gone to an earlier showing. (I lived directly down the street from the movie theatre, which was pretty sweet. Also, Midwest prices as so much nicer than NYC prices. Also, STUDENT DISCOUNTS FOR MATINEES. Bless.)

I saw the movie at least twice more while it was still in theatres. When I needed a distraction from my work or stress at school, I loaded up on press tours and interviews I had missed because I hadn’t been paying attention. I knew RDJ as an actor, I had seen dozens of his films, and I was aware of his “less than savory” background. But somehow, thanks to timing and feelings, RDJ and Tony and RDJ’s journey to becoming Tony became my greatest motivation and biggest influence.

As my obsession with Iron Man 3 grew, so did my renewed interest in the MCU. I re-watched all the films I hadn’t seen since they came out in theatres with a new appreciation for the characters and the actors that played them. Throughout it all, RDJ was a constant inspiration, especially the more I learned about his rise to the top of the industry, and how he became confident despite his age and despite coming back into the game so long after everyone had considered him done.

I entered graduate school with one long-standing goal that had been in my mind for years, since I started receiving the magazine as a young teen: to work at Entertainment Weekly. I knew that involved getting an internship, so I kept a close eye on Ed2010 for internship openings. When applications opened in October for a January 2014 start, I set my sights on applying. I walked to the post office to mail my application with Sam Jones’ Off Camera podcast playing in my ears. As I dropped off my envelope, personally handing it over to ensure it arrived in one piece, RDJ talked about anxiety and perseverance and taking risks despite your fear.

A few months later, I got an email asking me to come in for an interview. Never content to do things halfway when it came to getting things I REALLY wanted, I flew to NYC for the weekend to be there in person (hey, I got to see my friends as well.) Nervous as all hell about interviewing for my dream job, I stepped off the elevator and was greeted with a foyer/hallway that housed an array of oversized covers from years past…including this particular poster.

I like to believe in signs. I like to think that after all that, getting off the elevator and seeing RDJ’s face on that poster — when it could have been any cover poster on that wall — meant something. In any case, I got the internship, and then a few months later, I got a permanent job at EW. When it was announced that we were moving at the end of the year, and that due to a new and smaller office space everything had to go, I didn’t entertain the idea any of the posters would be up for grabs. It seemed too unlikely that the art department would want to part with things that had been around for so many years. But the week of moving, my friend walked by my desk with a large framed photo of Heath Ledger, her favorite celebrity. I jokingly said that I didn’t want any posters except the RDJ one, which they probably wouldn’t let anyone take. My friend then said everything was up for grabs.

Yes, everything.

I ran as quickly as I could, like someone running through one of those supermarket sweeps programs. I was terrified someone had realized this before me and taken it. But it was still there, and I grabbed that poster off the wall, even though it was twice my size and heavier than I could manage. I propped it up by my desk and somehow, thanks to a very nice cabbie who took pity on me hauling a huge oversized framed piece of art down 50th Street during rush hour, I managed to get it home. I felt like I couldn’t explain to anyone what bringing this poster home meant to me, and how much it meant to have it. It didn’t just represent the fact I was a part of a company I dreamed of working at. It represented so much more, and it had been with me for longer than anyone would be able to understand.

I love looking at this poster and reminding myself of how far I’ve come. I love reflecting on the fact that in a way, RDJ got me to where I am. And I’ll never forget that.

mental health month: a year of medication*

There’s an astrik next to the title of this entry, because it’s been technically over a year. It’s something I forget, though, because when you’re first getting on medication, it feels like forever until you find your groove. Start with a low dosage of Xanax, go to the doctor, talk about your problems, get prescribed a new medication. Maybe the new medication works, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you need to go back and give updates. Maybe you need a higher dosage, or a different dosage. And then, you see if it works. You see if it makes a difference past the two days where you totally feel 100% better, and you see if it sticks.

And then, maybe, you start to feel good about yourself again.

And then maybe, you get the courage to become more open about saying you take pills, or you need pills, and you put it out there more on social media, and you become more comfortable accepting your mental health.

And then maybe, you think people won’t see you as an anomaly.

Anxiety and depression were in my life for a long time, but medication didn’t come into the picture until last year, for a lot of reasons — I didn’t think I needed it, I refused to admit I had a problem that wasn’t easily “fixable,” and my parents certainly didn’t provide any real support. They say things have a way of working out, and given that I ended up unemployed shortly after committing to medication, I’d say it was a very, very lucky thing that I got myself slightly straightened out before my health insurance went away. Because it was a hard year. It was a long year. Even with medication, my anxiety and depression reached their absolute lowest points. I didn’t know how to pull myself out of these funks, and it affected my relationship, my work ethic, and my motivation. I talk a lot about how comics saved me, but it’s true. When I was at my lowest, there was something comforting about being able to understand creators who worked their asses off to show the world beautiful things, who did so in an industry that is unforgiving and doesn’t pay well, and they still put their best foot forward and created things that gave me hope and courage.

Self-care and love is so important, and it’s something I struggle with. Even when I tell myself I need to give myself a break, even when I write it in my planner, I still let my mind get the best of me. I have a hard time not sitting in silence and not letting go of things. So sometimes, the biggest self-care thing I can do is allow myself to be hateful. I allow myself to hate my life, my writing, parts of my relationship, my current financial situation, my creativity, my inability to finish a project. And it’s not because I’m trying to demoralize myself, despite my low self-esteem issues. It’s a way for me to clear the air and admit to myself that I do feel a certain way, even if I’m getting better at believing in myself more. It’s a strange form of self-care, but it works for me. Mostly. Because what happens then is you feel the reality of what you’re saying, and you watch your reaction in a mirror, and it causes you to put things in perspective. You’re not hiding from your feelings or your emotions, which is often how I choose to deal. Despite being in and succeeding in professions where being pushy and visible is a requirement, I’ve never been a particularly confrontational person, always more content to play it safe and shy away from addressing things that could cause conflict.

I’m proud to say that I feel better about myself, but that I also understand the things that make me not okay. Part of that is due to finally having a job I love, and part of that is due to me being easier on myself (something I work on with my therapist weekly), but compared to where I was a year ago, that’s progress.

And the fact that I can admit that means a lot to me.

i’m gonna spend my time this way

The last time I sat down to write, I was adjusting to going back to a full-time job, working 50+ hour weeks, and generally struggling with a balance between knowing I had to take work for financial reasons while also wondering if no permanent bites on my dream career outside of freelance for over a year were a sign that maybe I wasn’t meant to do what I so desperately wanted to do.

When I took this particular job back in March, I gave myself the following reasons and reminders:

  • I knew it would be a temporary position (even if I found out I loved writing about finance, I didn’t want to do it for a career)
  • I knew I was taking it mostly for money and insurance (I had been unemployed for a year and needed to get back on my feet)

This place was a hard fit for me, but I did learn about myself. I learned I don’t like the start-up world and the general culture that it employs. I learned that I can’t work with certain types of people and managers. I learned that no matter how much money you make, there are things you need to make you happy — you need to love the work you’re doing, or at the very least, you need to like the environment and the people who you spend all hours of your day with. I knew I didn’t like what I was doing, but I was boxed into a hole of sorts, in that I couldn’t and didn’t want to leave until I had something else under my belt. And making that happen, enough to justify leaving a job that paid me a lot of money, was something that for a long time, felt out of my control. Something that I couldn’t do.

So when I walked out of the office, I felt relief: relief at not having to go into an office where I didn’t like anything, relief at not worrying if I was going to be cornered with unrealistic expectations and scolding that would cause me to be angry and upset. After I left, I went to lunch and drinks at my favorite regular bar in Manhattan with two of my best friends. We ended up talking/venting until late in the night. I couldn’t stop my internal alarm clock from waking me up early the next morning, but I took the time to be lazy, moving slowly to get the day started. I caught up on all the television I’d been neglecting on my DVR, and didn’t get out of my pajamas until my lunch and errand date in Manhattan. I cleaned the bedroom and bathroom and re-did my entire closet, I organized a lot of files and I did the dishes. I enjoyed having the time ease back into having some sort of feeling of control, mentally and physically.

I spent part of this weekend with a good friend and enjoyed the freedom of not having to worry about putting my personal energy somewhere that takes up so much mental space. I slept in, went running for the first time in forever, took walks outside, and worked on some personal projects. I spent time with my boyfriend without being depressive and bitchy. I healed myself by remembering what it felt to look to the future with more clarity, understanding, and optimism, thanks to new projects and new opportunities — some of which I hope to be able to be more open about here, very soon.

There’s a lot that I’m not sure about, but I do know one thing — I’m where I’m supposed to be. It’s just taken me a little longer than necessary to get there.

adjustment and change

I’ve written before that I’m not a fan of change. It has nothing to do with whatever the change is, and it can be as simple as my favorite bagel and coffee place closing down or my usual salon shuttering, but I just don’t like change. Adjustment is hard for me, and I’m someone whose anxiety gets worse when I feel out of control, or when things happen that I can’t control.

In the past week and a half, I interviewed, accepted, and started a new full-time job. While I’m obviously ecstatic to be employed after almost a year of freelance and part-time work (hooray, health insurance!) the timing was the worst thing that could have happened to me, mentally. I accepted my job on Friday, two hours after interviewing, and was asked to start Monday morning. I had a schedule during my freelance time (at least, I tried to have a schedule) for this exact purpose — so when I did have to get back in the game, no matter when it was, I wasn’t always sleeping until 12pm or lazying around. But no matter how you slice it, transitioning from a laid-back lifestyle to 50 hour work weeks, constant social interaction, and commuting, is hard. Not to mention that this job, while wonderful, requires a lot of mental concentration. It’s a field I’m not entirely familiar with, and a job that’s out of my realm professionally. It relies both on me being my own boss and on me being the driver of a lot of different routes. It’s an open office environment — something not new to me, but in previous environments, I felt like I could at least have things around my desk that made it a comfortable place to work and not just a boring table. There’s no one that really treats their desk as a personal space here, despite the fact that lots of people work late hours, and so it feels strange to me to mark my territory by bringing in pictures and books and small cute toys. And because the company only has a handful of people, it’s also the type of place that focuses on a lot of extroversion (daily group lunches and dinners, frequent meetings and check-ins). All of which, combined with my quick hiring, took a toll. Adjustment and change are a bitch.

I spent the first week of work being frustrated, tired, and anxious. I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t used to getting up at 6am and not returning home until 8pm, sometimes not until 9pm if I was prepared to go home but got pulled into a group dinner. Every time I complained about things, I felt even more guilty, because who was I to complain about getting a great opportunity and well-paying job with a lot of growth (even if it wasn’t in the field I wanted to be in) when all I talked about for almost a year was being depressed because I couldn’t move my life forward since I was broke? Couple all of this with the fact that my book writing is finally taking off, and I freaked out over having to suddenly figure out how to manage my time in a way I didn’t think I had to worry about for awhile.

Yes, I know I’m not a special snowflake when it comes to having these worries. Oh boy, do I know. Lots of people have full-time jobs, kids, health issues, and they manage to get things done. But I know what makes me spiral out of control, and I accept it, I guess.

I’m slowly getting better, and taking full-on control of my passion planner to help me organize and get my head straight again. I’m trying to take solace in small things that I can control, like settling into a morning commute routine — having time for coffee and Tumblr and maybe some writing, watching the news, knowing that I have to get up by 6:10 if I want to shower, but that as long as I make it to the subway to get the train that rolls in exactly at 7:30, I can get to work on time. I made an effort to find a favorite small independent coffee shop — something that’s hard to do if you work in an area like midtown where everything is so commercial, but there are loopholes. I brought in my Hamilton coffee mug and my small Star Wars box, despite the fact that there are universal kitchen mugs and I have no need for anything decorative. It’s minimal, but it helps, for now.

I’m also attempting to stabilize myself in bigger ways. As soon as my health insurance kicks in, I’m going to go back to my doctor and re-evaluate and change my meds, which is something I’ve been needing to do for awhile. I’m going to start going to therapy regularly again, now that I can afford it. (And boy, do I need it.) And once I start getting a paycheck and have a comfortable cushion where I can breathe easier about my finances, I’m going to set up a small rewards system for getting through the week, putting it in my planner to hold myself to it — a massage, or maybe ordering delivery and splurging on the good places, or buying that book that I really wanted, or getting a new phone case, or having a happy hour fancy drink or expensive beer at a bar. Even just writing some of this out gives me a sense of calm, knowing that I’m consciously taking control of my stress and anxiety.

Things will improve. Change will, eventually, be good and lead to other good things. But for now, I’m just trying to get through the day.

the big news: i’ve got an agent!

For the past month or so, I’ve been cryptically tweeting about progress on “I DID A THING,” which was my very, very vague way of getting out my excitement for a project I embarked on but due to a lot of reasons, couldn’t be specific about just yet. Some of that had to do with the fact that I had no idea if it would actually happen, so I didn’t want to put the cart before the horse. Some of that had to do with business.

Guys, keeping a secret of this magnitude, when all you want to do is shout to the rooftops about how excited you are about your dreams starting to come true, has been SO HARD. And the thing is, this very vague cryptic project has a number of steps involved. I still can’t talk about a few of them, but I can finally talk about one that I’ve been sitting on for awhile, now that the paperwork is officially signed.

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Signing my contract! Yes, that is a Black Widow shirt for obvious reasons. Yes, my hair is a mess, but that’s okay.

I have a literary agent. I am officially represented by Maria Vicente of P.S. Literary.

Writing that sentence out — even just seeing it in print — is still surreal to me. I wasn’t sure where this crazy journey would lead me when I decided to query P.S. Literary about a project that is extremely important to me, and I count myself eternally grateful that I happened to click right away with Maria, who is absolutely the right people to help usher this project into the world. Say what you will about the geek world, but it’s small and lovely, and part of the reason I even thought of Maria as a good fit for what I hoped to do was because I knew how much she understood this specific project. Within the span of our long conversation when representation was on the table, I realized how much Maria was invested in my ideas, and how much I would click with her as a collaborative partner. You can query a bunch of people and take the first agent that comes along, but it’s truly so important to be able to listen to your agent, understand their views, and recognize their intentions. Because they want you to be successful as much as you want to be successful, and that’s a team effort. Long story short, I instantly knew this was going to be a great fit.

I started this process at the beginning of 2017, but a lot of this has come together in the past few weeks, which has made February a month of ups and downs — ups where this project is concerned, downs where full-time job opportunities are concerned. But in the atmosphere of the current political climate, having something to focus my energy on besides job searching has been lifesaving, and I’m learning all I can about the publishing world from the other side…a place I never thought I’d be (says the girl who saved dozens of stories to her computer in middle school and high school with the file name “Novel[1], [2], [3], etc” but never managed to complete NaNo.)

I’m still learning the ins and outs — how the whole process works, what I can and can’t tell people at certain points, etc. I’ve even already made stupid tiny mistakes by being overambitious, because it’s me, and also that’s probably what Clint Barton would do. But Maria has been amazing to have as a cheerleader, and I can’t wait to work more with her.

So, yeah. I have an agent. And as soon as I can share some other good news along the same lines, I will.

guest post: my coming out story, thanks to supergirl

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This is technically another one of those entries where I share a link as opposed to actually writing out my feelings, but in this case, it’s a little different.

I’m lucky enough to have a lot of connections in the industry. When I approached Mashable about freelance pieces and the possibility of writing a “coming out” story about my bisexuality thanks to Supergirl and the Alex/Maggie storyline, I was both surprised and grateful that they were into the idea. I wrote the piece back in December, and then for various reasons, it didn’t get published until last week, when the show returned from hiatus. Cue me freaking out internally while I waited for a go-ahead.

I call this post my coming out manifesto. I’ve been more open about my sexuality online and on Twitter in recent months, but I’m still working on fully embracing myself. This piece isn’t just me admitting the truth about my sexuality. It makes me vulnerable, and not just because I admit my age and my struggles. But I’m proud of this piece, and I hope that it helps someone else who is feeling like they need to find themselves. I hope someone else realizes it’s never too late to embrace your identity.

You can read the full piece on Mashable by clicking this link, and I encourage you to share it if you know someone else who shares my story.

here’s to 2017

Well, it’s 18 days into January and I still haven’t posted about the new year or any of my goals, so…I’d say my resolution to have more of a schedule is going well.

Maybe I haven’t made a declaration on my blog. But in my life, since waking up on January 1, 2017, I’ve made a concentrated effort to be more. Be more present, be more positive, be more optimistic, be more happy. It’s hard, but I’m determined. (I’m also determined to get better meds, but that’s another story for another day. Insurance, you suck.) Be more, and be less — less self-medication in unhealthy ways, more self-care on days I really need it.

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I’m trying to be more lenient. I’m trying to put less pressure on myself as a human being, as a person. My perfectionist traits run deep, from over-editing a piece of writing to making sure I look okay before I see someone I don’t know. In this same way, I beat myself up when depression and anxiety get the best of me. I allow myself to sink into anger. I’m angry that I feel this way, that I’m upset, that I’m unhappy with my state of mind and that I spent an entire day lazily dicking around online, finding ways to make myself feel WORSE rather than trying to change it. In 2017, I’m striving to take that pressure, recognize it, and breathe it away. I don’t have to be perfect all the time. I can (and just did) have a bad day, or ten bad days. I can accept that, and deal with it, as opposed to taking an entire bottle of wine and drinking alone.

This year, I decided to carefully title my page of resolutions “Things To Accomplish” rather than write out the word “resolution” in any way. The things I want to accomplish in 2017 are a mixture of real “resolutions” (drink more water, read more) and dreams/hopes I want to conquer (running another half marathon, moderating a comic con panel, writing a comic). Writing them all out in a big list is overwhelming, sure, but it’s also kind of inspiring. I’m not making the list so I can cross off as many as possible. I’m making the list to remind myself that I can do anything, be anything, accomplish anything. Is it a lofty set of dreams and goals? Sure. Is it a little ambitious? Probably too much. But you miss every shot you don’t take, right?

In the back of my planner, along with this list of “resolutions,” I’ve made a number of other 2017-oriented lists: Books Read, Things To Write, as well as a general wishlist of items I want but just can’t afford right now. I’m also keeping a list that’s simply titled “Nice Things And Smiles.” It says 2017 on it, because I kind of got carried away in decorating, but it’s really just a comprehensive list of all the things — from hot baths to comics to FaceTime dates with friends — that are worth smiling about or waking up to. My goal is to add to this list as often as I can, and as often as I feel like I want to. (Oh yeah, and sometimes I put things down twice by accident. Whoops.)

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There are things happening in 2017 that scare me, and that I don’t know how to handle. But I can handle myself, and that’s what I’m working on.

a (brief) look back at 2016…the good stuff

In my last post, I talked about how 2016 wasn’t a great year. And it wasn’t. But I didn’t want to end the year with an entry that, even though a little hopeful, dwells on the bad. So.

At the beginning of 2016, I made some resolutions. I started a “monthly check-in” (that I promptly failed at keeping up) where I tried to see how I was doing with the small-ish goals I had made for myself, and I’m proud to say that if I look back at where I ended up, I did pretty damn good.

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Okay, so technically, I completed very few of these things. I started to be better about my water intake thanks to daily messages/check-ins with my girls, but a lot of these things didn’t happen: I lost my job so I could barely pay anything let alone pay down my debt, and I didn’t finish NaNo due to November being an absolute pain in the ass. I didn’t write one fic per month like I planned but I DID break my word count goal, which makes me feel really good about myself. I also finished a huge, huge writing project — my longest story ever at 250,000 words. And in case you missed it, I ran the Disney Avengers half-marathon. I guess that counts as “running at least one big marathon somewhere”, right? (I think when I started this I definitely had intentions of doing another run before/after Disney in the NY area, and I tried, but the timing never worked out.)

One of the biggest goals I set for myself was to read more in 2016. I had fallen off the train due to laziness and (sad to say) an increase in screen time that took my time away from reading. I didn’t read AS much as I wanted to — I really would have liked to read more. But between re-reads and new books, I think I did pretty well, and I read more books than I have in the past two years. As for 2017? I have a whole new list of books I want to read, and thanks to the holidays, I have a crop of books already queued up and ready to go. Bring it.

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I haven’t fully finished my goals/resolutions for 2017 yet, because I haven’t really sat down to look at things in my new planner. (I haven’t even gotten a chance to finish things in my old one, and I might not…we’ll see. I’m debating just starting fresh at this point since we’re so close to the New Year and it won’t do me any good to “catch up” on the week.) But as much as 2016 sucked, I did a lot of things I was proud of. I had a lot of personal accomplishments (some of which I’m not writing about just yet, but they belong in this year), and although some of the bad outweighed the good, I prevailed. I accomplished the things I didn’t think I could do. I didn’t let the bad guys win when I could have, even though I came very close.

I’m still here. I’m a little more tired and broken-down and cynical, and I still have things to work on, but I’m here.

i tried, 2016. i really did.

When I sat down a few weeks ago to decorate/fill in the December monthly grid of my passion planner, the first thing I did was take a pen and circle December 31. I then wrote in big letters, the year is finally fucking over.

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2016 was supposed to be a great year. Okay, maybe the word great is a little too optimistic. I always try to be optimistic, but I just don’t have it in me to be a true “glass half-full” person. Still, 2016 had the potential to be pretty good. After months of stress, I was going to move in with my boyfriend, thus finally starting to move my life forward. I was well-respected and successful at my dream job, and I had plans in place to start searching for a new job with more money once I got settled in my new home. I had goals I wanted to achieve, and the hope that I could make my life more organized and more comfortable. I wanted to pay off my debt. I thought I could finally be engaged by my birthday, if not the end of the year. 2016 was going to be a great year.

2016 was not a great year.

Three months in, I unexpectedly (and unfairly, though that’s a story for another time) lost my job. I lost my job exactly four days before I was supposed to move, and I still haven’t been able to find full-time work, despite numerous interviews and connections. It all spiraled from there — because of not being employed, life moments like getting settled and getting engaged were pushed back. My self-confidence waned, and I became unable to have conversations about life because I was feeling guilty that I was holding us back. And each day came and went, because the world doesn’t wait for you to start figuring your shit out. It just leaves you in the dust, and suddenly, you’re looking at where you are at 34, approaching 35, and thinking about how left behind you are and how everyone else is in a better place than you.

2016 was not a great year.

My mental health imploded in a way that was extremely detrimental. Whereas I used to be able to comfortably handle my anxiety and depression with healthy amounts of self-care, being out a job made me unhappy with my life, which caused my anxiety and depression to hit an all-time low — one that forced me onto medication. My self-care deteriorated considerably while my drinking escalated, and I had more than a few embarrassing “rock bottom” moments that included a bottle of wine and the toilet bowl. I hated myself for becoming that person, and wondered if I had a problem that needed to be addressed. I toyed with suicide ideation for a few months, though never so seriously as to worry myself, aside from worrying myself that I was thinking a LOT in terms of “what’s the point?”

2016 was not a great year.

My depression manifested itself in not only making me feel worthless because I couldn’t find full-time work, but in tainting my relationship. Never before had I cared so much about what other people thought — I was comfortable in my relationship, I had a guy who loved me and would give me the world, who was genuinely a good person and who shared my interests. I suddenly became extremely fragile when I realized other people didn’t think of him the same way or didn’t even care for him as much, which made me feel like I was making a mistake. And because my self-esteem was so low and I couldn’t trust myself, I started comparing myself to every other couple, focusing on the negative qualities every person has that I couldn’t look beyond, convincing myself I had made wrong choices.

2016 was not a great year.

I spent most of it in the worst financial shape ever, overrun with debt, feeling guilty that I couldn’t provide my share of finances. I relied heavily on my parents to support me, something that exacerbated my guilt tenfold, given that I’m at an age where I should be self-sufficient, or at least married and taking care of my own life. Accounts were overdrawn, and I have a list miles long of money I owe friends from commitments I made this year that I still followed through with because I could KIND OF afford it at the time.

2016 was not a great year.

When I lost my job, lots of people reached out instantly and offered support or help. I was grateful to them. A lot of people who worked at places I longed to work in also supported me and offered words of encouragement. I went on interviews that seemed wonderfully positive, and lots of times, I was left in the dust without even so much of a “yes” or “no” response to all the work I’d put in to trying to get whatever job I applied for. I suppose it’s not anyone’s fault — things just weren’t in my favor, and I have to keep searching to find the one thing that’s “meant to be.” It doesn’t mean that each rejection didn’t hurt, though, and it doesn’t mean that I didn’t spend time feeling badly about myself, as everyone else who was let go from the same kind of positions before and after me managed to find work fairly quickly. The journalism world is small, and it’s hard to hide from everyone else’s success. It’s hard after awhile not to wonder if maybe you’re not so great at what you love, after all.

2016 was not a great year.

Donald Trump was somehow elected president. In the days and weeks after the election, my queer, Jewish, female self has never felt so helpless or so scared. My mental health suffered; I found it hard to find the creative drive I always embraced when I needed to get my mind off of things that were bringing me down. I felt removed from friendships due to everyone pulling away from the world and having their own issues, which was no one’s fault, but because of my current mental state, it made me feel that much more alone and useless. I couldn’t complete NaNo for this year, because November wore me down in every single way. It’s December, and I’m still am looking for that “holiday cheer.” I’m not sure I’m going to find it.

I write all this out not to air to everyone what hardships I went through or ask for sympathy, but to try to put into words everything that felt hard this year and remind myself that this year wasn’t me. Sure, 2016 sucked because of a lot of reasons, more so than previous years. But because those bad things happened, because those setbacks happened, it doesn’t equal the fact that my life is terrible. This year didn’t define me. It just beat me up in a lot of ways. And I’m very grateful that I had amazing friends in my life who were my rocks and lifelines, even when they were dealing with their own shit. And when that failed, I relied on those who reminded me that I could get back up and beat the bad guys. I could take care of myself. I could rise up.

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2016 was not a great year, but if anything, it made me realize I can try to be better. I can try to make things happen and make 2017 a good year for myself. A year doesn’t define me — my thoughts and actions do. And I’m willing to be optimistic, even cautiously so, if it means I can get rid of some of the bad.