learning how to be me: an ongoing journey

I’ve been ultimately terrible at blogging lately for a number of reasons. The most glaring one is that anxiety and depression due to unemployment have made it hard for me to do anything other than sit around or sleep. But also, I’ve been settling into life post-move, and adjusting to sharing a space, and, oh yeah…a lot of writing (aka my catharsis). I had another entry focused on how I was feeling lately, but since May is mental health month, I thought it was finally time to talk about things I’ve been hesitant to say out loud because, well…sometimes you do things and sometimes things change and then you forget you had done things because you’ve made enough progress. I guess my point is that everyone struggles, no one is perfect, and we all have demons under the surface, right?

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bless tumblr for always giving me posts that sum up my feelings

I wrote a post awhile ago about finally accepting help and facing my fears by taking medication to combat my anxiety (which included accepting I HAD a problem that required medication). And honestly? It’s been a huge, huge help for me to know that when I’m spiraling out of control, I have that little white pill that I can take. In the past few months, I’ve also been steadily attending therapy each week. Unlike my earlier (read: years ago) visits, I’m not sitting there refusing to talk — I’m actively expressing my feelings, trying to accept the bad parts of myself, trying to be okay with them. But there’s something I haven’t talked about openly, and that’s self-harm. So, in the spirit of mental health month, I am writing this post.

In my junior year of high school, we were forced to take these sex ed classes and keep a journal where they’d make us write about our thoughts on the topics we had learned about, and we’d get graded on our responses. Kind of like an interactive exercise to also prove we understood the material, I guess. At the end of the school year, we were told we could write an “extra” entry if we wanted, aka a topic that that we hadn’t had a chance to discuss in class. So, I wrote about not feeling good about myself, about wanting to “rebel” (hey, seventeen or eighteen year old me thought it was GREAT to be rebellious, hence the belly button ring). I remember being nervous as all hell to hand it in, and when I got it back, there was a nice long handwritten response in my journal. Essentially, it boiled down to, “this is your cry for attention.” And maybe it was, at the time. Maybe I wanted attention for hurting and didn’t know who else to turn to, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to tell my parents that I sat in my room and clawed at my arms with my fingernails. The teacher questioned things I wrote (“if you don’t want to be like everyone else, why do you want to ‘rebel?'” is a line I remember quite clearly, despite the fact I don’t know where this diary is and haven’t seen it for years…it’s probably in my parents house somewhere.) But ultimately, I remember feeling hurt and embarrassed.

In college, I traded the notion of self-harm for other non-healthy habits — cigarette smoking, pot smoking, alcohol. The quintessential “rebellion” things, if you will. None of those stuck, and I guess the good thing about it is that I never got into anything that became too detrimental to my health (except well, okay. Alcohol and I are still on a bit of a rocky road when it comes to my anxiety but I think I try to pretend it’s not a huge issue.) I also traded fingernails for nail clippers and scissors. It helped, in a way, to see those marks on my skin, to feel the pain when I was upset. I don’t know when things changed and I can’t even say I “grew out of it” because there are still times when emotionally, things become too much. In a few recent instances, the thought and intent has been there, because I’ve been so low that I haven’t known what else to do. But I know that compared to where I was a few years ago, I’ve made progress, and that’s due to everything from friends to improvements in my personal life to comics to people who have, unknowingly, provided me with strength and inspiration to get through my worst days. And I’d rather have a string of bad days where I’m lying on the couch upset, rather than feeling like the only way I can make myself feel better is to act out.

I’ve sat on this post for awhile because I wasn’t happy with it. Not because I was afraid to say these things, but because for awhile, my brain went right back to that teacher who scoffed at my thoughts, however serious or not serious they really were at seventeen. I’m not the “normal” case of a person going through this, and I hate that society (and the Internet) has made it so easy for us invalidate our personal struggles, because no one except you ever knows the extent of what you’re going through. I thought this post should be longer, I thought that I should explain myself more fully, I thought that it should be written better — I’m a perfectionist at heart in everything but in my writing most of all, because from an early age, writing has always been the one thing I’ve been good at when I haven’t excelled at other things in life. (Maybe this is why I put so much emphasis on writing in fandom — it’s not so much the validation that bothers my brain, but the throughline of “if something isn’t inherently liked enough, it means you’re not good enough.”)

But the month will soon be over and I’ve sat on this long enough, so it’s time to put it out into the world, and let the light in.

the struggles of adjusting

Since the beginning of April, my entire life has been in a constant tumultuous state of adjustment.

I’ve had to adjust to a new lifestyle, being unemployed but constantly playing a waiting game of wondering whether opportunities I’ve gone out for are coming to fruition (and then forcing myself to be productive and not get down on myself when they don’t). I’ve had to adjust to a new neighborhood, a new apartment and a new home and a new commute. I’ve had to adjust to a new routine and a shift in mental state. I’ve had to adjust to living with someone who I love while also learning to appreciate and understand their particular habits and my own needs for space. It’s the most adjustment I’ve had since moving to Chicago for graduate school three years ago but at least that change was rooted in a bit of stability: I had built-in friendships and work, I knew I was there for a set amount of time, and I knew what I was there to accomplish.

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Sad last day in my apartment selfie. I miss this view already.

Moving day part one...my old apartment looks so sad and empty

Moving day part one…my old apartment looks so sad and empty

There’s a sense of stability here, too, in our new place. We’re slowly (very slowly) setting up what will become our home, and every day it gets a little more lived-in. But there’s still a long way to go before I feel comfortable, worn creaking farmhouse style, and I think that’s part of what I’ve had trouble with. I feel at home making coffee and getting up each morning and sitting out on my balcony. But aside from the fact that we still need a bunch of furniture, there are still boxes everywhere, and there’s clutter, and nothing is on the walls, and one bedroom is completely filled with boxes and stray items. In some ways, not working steadily has been helpful because it’s allowed me to settle in and take time for myself. But things take time, and there are still moments when I feel like I’m far from satisfied or content. It’s a hard thing to accept, feeling like you’re wobbling on two feet and can’t quite catch your balance.

I was in Manhattan the other day and ended up walking along a stretch of 42nd Street to take the subway home, and suddenly got an intense longing for my old apartment. (That’s what happens when you literally lived in the center of everything…it’s a lot easier to miss Queens when you never go an hour outside the city). I missed being able to be in the center of everything, I missed my cozy space, however expensive it was, and living by myself and feeling like I was in control of everything. I missed my doormen and my small apartment in the sky and feeling content, and then I felt guilty, as if I was second-guessing my intent to move, as if I had made a mistake. I hated feeling like that and it took an entire subway ride home and then some additional reflection to make myself realize that the uncertainty of feeling unsettled is something that is a very real hinderance, since I’m a person who always likes to find at least one thing I can control.

And so, little by little, I’m trying to take advantage of things I can control and make those smaller moments count. Putting the few personal things I can away, organizing the kitchen, cleaning up and taking out the trash. Sitting on my balcony and enjoying being able to write or read outside with an iced coffee. Trying to find what makes me feel comfortable, inside my home and out. Settling into a routine. I know it’ll come together eventually, but for now, I’m trying to breathe and let my adjustment level out so I can focus on being productive and get my mind back to being present.

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Sometimes all you need is relaxation and coffee and a beautiful day. And a balcony.

One of my favorite book is Lord of the Rings, and one of the quotes I would always come back to when I had to do something scary and something is the speech Frodo gets when he leaves his cozy hobbit hole to take a journey that he has no idea will change his life: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” 

It’s scary to look ahead and know there’s adventure but not see what’s coming. It’s scary to take the leap and trust that you’ll be okay. But the best thing you can come to realize is that no matter how out of sorts you feel, you’re never alone.

nothing lasts forever

There is no easy way for anyone to break the news that you’re being let go from your job, especially when it’s your dream job. And especially when you had things planned that you were excited to work on. And people you worked with who you genuinely liked. And a job that, aside from a dream job, was pretty damn prominent in the industry.

But, that was what I dealt with last week when my boss messaged me privately and asked to see me. Given that another coworker in a position similar to mine was let go a few days before, I had already been fighting the feelings of anxiety and worry, but I was trying to be hopeful things would work out. As my coworker said, however, real life isn’t television. And so instead of getting angry and trying to prove your point and burning a building down, when you’re handed an unexpected twist that guts you, all you can do is accept it: smile, nod, be professional and mature. Afterwards, it’s totally acceptable to go outside and stand in a hallway, or go to the bathroom and cry hysterically out of shock, fear and anxiety. (Which I absolutely did. And then I took my Xanax. And then I had two wonderful, amazing friends who dropped everything to take me out for drinks and food when I told them what happened. I am so grateful.)

Life is funny. Life is strange. I’ve had a pretty interesting trajectory when it come to jobs. I fought long and hard after college to find a job in a city I desperately wanted to live in. My second job was a legitimate disaster, but when I got fired, I miraculously was handed my third job, and what would become a stable, wonderful environment for five years. Even when I gave it up to go to grad school, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t choose my career with the intent to work at the company I’m currently at. It was a huge gamble, and a huge risk, and it was a huge stroke of luck, but that happened, too. When I was stressing out over whether or not the current round of firings would hit me, my best friend logically told me that I couldn’t sit around in fear, and then that even if something does happen, things will be okay. Because I always come out on the other side.

Which I guess is is the truth. It absolutely, positively sucks. Since last week, I’ve had a few conversations with coworkers, people who I admire and who have been mentors to me in this company and business, and they’ve all said the same thing: you’ll be fine. It sucks. The way it happened sucks. But this might be the best thing that’s ever happened to you. You can do something better. You can work someplace that appreciates your skills. You can start fresh. You can cut your ties and do something great.

Even during the worst of my stint in unemployment, in between leaving my internship and getting my current job — when I sunk to the lowest point I’ve ever been, mentally — things did turn around. It jut took awhile. I’ve had a lot of people ask how I’m dealing with this news, considering how abruptly I was kicked out, and considering what I’m dealing with personally right now in terms of moving and preparing to start a new chapter of things. (My poor therapist…I felt terrible when I walked into her office, on a Friday afternoon no less, and announced that I was let go. She was shocked.) And I guess I’d say I’m handling this better than I thought I would, all things considered. Make no mistake, I’m freaking out about things like how I’m going to pay rent or buy food or even pay for therapy now that I have no salary. There’s an immense amount of guilt I feel with all of this happening literally days before my boyfriend and I move in together for the first time, knowing that all of a sudden, he’s shouldering the burden of our financials. But when I think back to how I was over a year ago, and how much of a mess I was, and how I barely got out of bed for days on end, there’s a difference this time around. Maybe it’s because I’m not alone. Maybe it’s because I have people behind me, amazing friends and support from the industry. Maybe it’s the fact that because I’m moving in with my boyfriend and moving to a new place, I feel like at least something is stable. I wrote an entry about moving awhile ago, where I talked about how part of the reason I felt anxious about moving was because unlike other times I’ve moved or uprooted myself, there’s been something that’s made me feel like I’m closing a chapter on a certain part of my life. With this move, I was going to (at the time) have the same job, the same commute, the same friends. It felt like I was making a scary move I wasn’t prepared for, and I like comfort and familiarity and avoidance, all thing that I have right now in my little tiny apartment in the sky. (As my mom likes to call it.)

And now, days before I move, my job is ending. I’ll leave work on my last day, the moving truck will come the next day, and the next day I’ll wake up in a new apartment and start a new chapter of my life. Maybe this is the way it was supposed to be all along, and things just had to happen at the right time. I’m trying to think of things positively: I was initially worried about having the time to unpack, adjust, even write. I may not have a set job, but now, at least for a little while, I’ll have the time to do that. Maybe it’ll make the whole process easier on my psyche.

Most people know that among the few superheroes I consider my favorites, Hawkeye ranks near the top. There’s a reason why I identify with someone who is constantly beat down by both life and work, who is ordinary and sometimes thinks he’s not meant to be where he is in life. But he’s there because he loves what he does and he knows he has to be good at it. And so you keep going, because it’s what you signed up for. You keep going, even when things beyond your control are trying to pin you down — like aliens.

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You can’t control life, and nothing lasts forever. All you can do is step forward, take a breath, and trust someone will catch you when you fall.

faith and religion and all that comes with it

Here’s something no one teaches you — growing up is hard. Becoming an adult is even harder. And making big life decisions that start to build a foundation for the life you want? Acutely terrifying, thanks for asking.

As I’ve talked about in various posts, I’ve been in the process of moving in to a new apartment with my boyfriend, marking both of our first serious steps in a relationship (he’s never lived with anyone before; I’ve had serious boyfriends before but I’ve never moved in with them or talked openly about marriage with them). With this comes a lot of questions and worries and “oh my god this is something I have to deal with” moments, and not all of them are things like trying to figure out what furniture to buy or how I’m going to get out of hanging out with his friends that I don’t particularly enjoy spending time with.

My boyfriend is technically Jewish, as in, his mom is Jewish while his dad is Catholic. But he had a Jewish upbringing. He went to Hebrew school, he had a Bar Mitzvah. On the flip side, because his dad wanted to keep his own traditions, he also celebrated Christmas every year with that side of the family, and he goes to Easter dinner and Christmas dinner with a family that does things like eat ham and go to church. And because his mom is kind of apathetic when it comes to religion, it’s ended up that Christian holidays and a lax upbringing of religion (they don’t take off work to celebrate Yom Kippur, they keep ham in the house) has taken precedence over the years. (It also doesn’t help his mom’s side of the family is small and estranged, while his dad’s side is warm and welcoming, and…well, you can guess where kids enjoyed going more for family gatherings when it came to Passover or Christmas.)

I was brought up as a Conservative Jew with all the proper foundations — a kosher home, Hebrew School, a Bat Mitzvah, synagogue every Saturday, celebrations of most Jewish holidays with keeping Passover and the like, Shabbat every Friday, fasting on Yom Kippur, years at a Jewish sleep away camp. My mom always made sure we knew religion was important, but my family wasn’t so overly religious that we were the epitome of following every rule. I clearly remember my dad sneaking Big Macs when he would pick my sister and I up from Hebrew School on Sundays, something I didn’t even understand wasn’t “allowed” until I spilled the beans to my mom by accident thinking it was no big deal. My dad would order Chinese food with small bits of pork in some of the meals. When I was old enough (aka after my Bat Mitzvah), I quit Hebrew School because I didn’t want to go anymore, though that was also largely because my town and temple were so small, there were only about 10 kids in my class — which in those years, made for a terrible experience if you weren’t part of some clique. (My sister went all the way through because by the time she was old enough, we had smartly partnered up with a larger group of temples around the Boston area, thus she attended a much more inclusive environment that I absolutely would’ve taken advantage of, if I had the opportunity.) Eventually, over the years, as my sister and I have gotten older, my family has gotten more lax about certain things — there’s shrimp around and my dad freely orders cheese on his meat and the like, and my mom doesn’t really yell anymore.

I always appreciated my heritage and knew where I came from, but over the years, I lost a little bit of enthusiasm for my religion. Once I got to college, I got distracted by more important things like new friends, and didn’t bother to actively involve myself in Hillel or services even though I was constantly told to, because those weren’t the friends I made. (The irony of all this was that George Washington, where I did my undergraduate study, had a hugely Jewish presence.) Being away from home meant suddenly I had freedom from my parents and I didn’t have to keep Passover when all my friends didn’t, and I didn’t have to go sit in temple for five hours when I couldn’t come home, thanks to not getting days off during the week for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. I ate cheeseburgers and lots of things that had milk and meat together (I still do) and bacon. Man, I LOVE bacon. At a certain point, when I was trying to start to date, I argued with my parents a lot about the fact that I could totally date someone who wasn’t Jewish. I mean, love is love, right? Who cares about religion? If you love someone, you make it work!

Despite this thinking, I never dated anyone who WASN’T Jewish, even when I moved off JDate (where I pursued most of my options) and onto other, more open dating websites. I dated two people who were reform and one person who was a stronger side of Conservative (who was also a too-pure human robot with a strange family, proving that sometimes it’s not always better to be TOO religious), but all of those people came from families whose parents were brought up with the same religion. When I met my boyfriend, and when I was searching for people to send messages to, I didn’t look at anyone who wasn’t Jewish. He identified as Jewish in his profile, and it was only after I got to know him and started to like him I realized what his family history was.

Still, you know — not a big deal, right? I mean, he’s technically Jewish. He even went to temple! He cares about religion!

Here’s where it gets complicated. Moving in together means that suddenly, everything happens together. I need to figure out how I want to run a home. Although we technically share the same religion, I’m now faced with butting heads with someone who might as well be a different religion, because of our different upbringings. He’d bring ham into the house, I wouldn’t. He wouldn’t care about keeping a kosher kitchen, I would. He wouldn’t bother to keep Passover for a week or only eat certain foods inside the house, I would. He wouldn’t necessarily take off for the High Holidays, I can’t even think about not observing one of the holiest times of the year.

It’s also complicated because due to a lot of anxiety and experiences in the past few years, I’ve started to come back around and openly embrace/appreciate my religion, coming to care about it in a fiercely important way. When I couldn’t cling to anything concrete, I clung to what I knew — my upbringing. I became less “whatever” about eating things I shouldn’t and saying that things don’t matter, and more committed to lighting candles each Friday night and keeping kosher. The good news is, my boyfriend is one of the most understanding, sweetest, open people I’ve ever met. He knows what’s important to me, and I’m not necessarily worried about the fact he’ll fight me on a lot of the things I want for our life, although I am prepared for a certain amount of push back — and maybe that’s something I need to accept, something that we need to compromise on while building what kind of home and life we want: who gets to eat what things and who gets to celebrate what things and to what extent do we do those things. But it still makes me stress, and even worse, it causes me to look at everyone else in my life who married people of the same faith and wonder if I really did make the right choice. Why didn’t I just stick to finding someone on JDate who was fully Jewish? Why did I give up past relationships? And, does it really matter? My Jewish cousin married a Catholic guy — a really great, wonderful guy — although she’s planning on raising her kid Jewish. Their wedding was predominantly Jewish. And I’m assuming at some point, they’ll have to explain why they celebrate Jewish holidays but also go to Christmas dinner with his family, and why they had their daughter wear his sister’s family Christening dress as part of her baby naming ceremony. I suppose the difference is that it’s easier when you’re fully one religion rather than “well, we’re Jewish but we also celebrate parts of this holiday, too.”

By nature (and most of my anxiety comes from this), I’m someone who immediately looks to the future and stresses about the when rather than the now. Maybe it comes from the fact that my mom was always adamant about me needing to look five or ten years ahead in planning my life so that I didn’t get stuck in my tracks, which is something that’s always stressed me out — but also, I’ve realized in the past few years that I probably should’ve listened to her more, even if I didn’t want to at the time. (You’re right, mom. I’ll be telling you that forever. You have no idea how much I regret not listening to you when I was in my early 20’s.) Anyway, what this means is that instead of thinking, “okay, so we’re moving in together and we’re going to have our first home together,  I get to call the shots on how I want to run it, he’s not living with his family anymore, this is our life, and we can have a Jewish home and do Jewish things, and it’ll be a process, but we’re just starting our life,” I’m thinking, “what will this mean for my kids? Will I have to fight him on keeping Passover food in the house because he’s not used to that at all? I’m bringing my kids up 100% Jewish but I can’t ignore his family and their traditions, so how do I eventually explain, one day in the future, that we’re Jewish but we also go celebrate Christmas even though we technically DON’T?” Sue me for thinking ahead when it comes to the family I’ll want someday, but at 33, I think I’m more than entitled to start wondering about these things and worrying about them. (My therapist would disagree.)

It’s a process that I know isn’t going to happen in one day. I’m currently in the middle of writing a long, long, LONG and involved fictional story that’s taken on a life of its own (literally, it’s longer than Lord of the Rings, but that’s another story altogether). In that story, there’s a lot of “me,” as I’ve realized I’ve infused a lot of my own anxiety and fears and thoughts into the relationships that I’m writing and showing having evolved over a period of 10-15 years, down to making compromises and making choices that maybe people in your life don’t agree with. But in the end, you realize you’re happy because you’re with the person you love, and that even if you think things might end up being hard, you have a life that you love and you’re proud of.

Religion is important. Religion is important to me. But it doesn’t have to be thing that sets my relationship apart, if I can remember to take it step-by-step, compromise, and believe in what I know — that I have someone by my side who would do anything to make me happy and make it work.

embracing the terrifying change

I hate change. I hate change so very much. I go to great lengths to avoid it, even if it’s detrimental to me.

To my great dismay, I will have a lot of change in my life very soon.

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Yes, that says what you think it says. I have a new apartment.

It’s real, now — not that it wasn’t real before, but closing in on a move date, getting keys, signing a lease and talking about furniture purchasing make it more tangible than just knowing you chose not to re-sign your lease. And don’t get me wrong — knowing that I have a place to live and that I won’t be homeless certainly helps with my stress and anxiety. But that doesn’t mean that there’s a lot of ancillary worry, most of which comes from the fact that, well…I hate change.

Moving in with my boyfriend, and moving out of my “single” life of going home to a studio apartment every night is crucial to everything I want so badly, everything that I wish I already had — marriage, children, a home in the suburbs. (Really, I’ll just take a house with a yard in someplace that’s not a legit borough of Manhattan.) My brain knows that, but, hey. I hate change.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I feel so damn scared, and why I feel so depressed and upset when I think about having to leave my current apartment, given that I’ve only been in the space for two years. Admittedly, there’s a part of it that comes from living in a very (very) nice luxury building: short commutes due to being in the middle of Manhattan. Laundry in my apartment which means I can wash whatever I want, whenever I want. A dishwasher when I get too lazy to handwash things (which is a lot.) A view I will miss terribly. Doormen. A coffee shop downstairs. A crosstown bus. But when I moved out of my former apartment in Queens to go to grad school, I had lived there for over five years. My landlord was like my second mom, my friends came to stay over all the time. I knew the neighborhood. I had my nail salon and coffee shop and grocery store and Chinese take-out place and I had dentists and doctors. As it happened, I got that apartment at the same time that I got a new job that would also become semi-permanent. As a result, it was the most stable life I had since coming to New York as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, excited twenty-four year old.

And I felt incredibly sad when I left. Making the decision to leave New York, however temporarily, was something that gutted me and caused me anxiety for weeks on end. Like leaving my little studio in the middle of Manhattan to move in with my boyfriend, I knew that going back to school was something that I had to do in order to achieve the kind of life I wanted. But it was hard to quantify the fact that not only was I leaving my apartment and everything I knew (not to mention all my friends and family), but I was also uprooting myself to a new state, not knowing if I could ever really return to New York and be self-sufficient at an age where most people are married and financially independent and starting families. And I was sad, and I cried, and my last night in New York also happened to be my good friend’s birthday. It was the end of December, and I helped my parents finish packing up my apartment. They got in the car to drive back to Boston with my stuff, and I spent the night drinking in a bar in Chelsea overlooking the Empire State Building, toasting to my future and my past. It was a fitting way to close a certain chapter of my life.

Most of my life has felt like a series of “one door closes, another opens.” When I moved from my first apartment in Brooklyn to my apartment in Queens, it was on the heels of starting a new job; when I moved back to New York after being away in Chicago for year; it was on the heels of starting a new career. I don’t know if I’m going to get to close this chapter of my life in some way — as far as I can tell, my job won’t change and my friends won’t change. There’s not going to be some big “milestone.” I’m lucky that I’m going to be able to have the luxury of having an easy and relaxing moving process rather than trying to cram everything into a few days time. But it’s going to be less “let’s process this” and more “well, now your keys have been returned, and you have a new apartment. Get up and go to work.” I wish I could be more excited and proud of myself for taking these steps towards a future I want, but instead, all I feel is anxiety

And maybe it’s too much to ask to have those closures. Maybe I’m being too selfish for wanting it. My therapist correctly helped me deduce there’s a lot going on that I don’t have control over, and that it’s not so much leaving a nice space as it is realizing I’m losing a lot of things that are concrete. My commute times, my “go-to” coffee shops and stores, my routines, my sleep schedule, and especially my personal time, that’s all going to change. And it’s less about not being able to sit on Tumblr when I get home from work, and more about the fact that if I want to stay in on a weekend, I now have to remember to answer to someone besides myself when it comes to why. In that sense, feeling like I’m leaving something very secure (my cozy little solitary space) and also very comfortable (location-wise) is hitting me hard.

I’ve been trying to do things that will help ease me into the process, which has the potential to be messy and stressful and unpredictable. Things that are simple, like buying a huge bottle of wine and sitting on my bed and drinking while curled up in a blanket, or ordering a pizza for dinner just because I feel like it, or watching my favorite movie, or walking around in a bathrobe for no reason, or taking a bubble bath when I get home from work without cooking. Just small moments that allow me to take advantage of MY time in this place as long as I have it, rather than always being focused on what’s ahead. Because believe me, I am excited for things. I’m excited to live with someone I love. I’m excited to live in something bigger than a one bedroom or a studio. I’m excited to decorate with all my nerd stuff, which thankfully, my boyfriend approves of. I’m excited to buy furniture. I’m excited to know I can sit on a couch with a glass of wine, or in the guest bedroom with my laptop, or at the kitchen table with dinner. Yes, there are cons that come with living in this new space (hello laundromats and having no dishwasher or closet space) but I’m excited to have the opportunity to make this new space somewhat of a real home, even if it might not feel like home for awhile.

And so on night’s like tonight, as each day gets closer and closer to change, I sit and I look at this view and I think “how lucky we are to be alive right now” and I drink my wine and try to live in the now and focus on this, rather than what will always be an uncertain future, wherever I live.

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silencing the demon voice

I recently plowed through Amy Poehler’s autobiography, Yes, Please, something that I’m almost embarrassed to admit considering the book has been sitting on my bedside table for about a year and I only JUST got around to reading it now. Chalk it up to the fact that my year of reading in 2015 was pitifully pathetic and just…not productive in any way, shape or form. Anyway, it’s not that I wasn’t interested — I mean, I ADORE Amy Poehler. She’s one of my favorite people, and Parks & Recreation is one of my favorite shows ever. Plus, hell yes to being neighbors by default! (She grew up in the next town over, which made reading her book super fun, because she not only worked at restaurants I frequented as a kid but there were also a lot of in jokes I was able to appreciate. Ah, Massachusetts.)

Among the cheeky references and amusing anecdotes, there was a chapter early on where she talked about dealing with her “demon voice” — you know, the degrading, nagging thing that comes along somewhere in your teens and then stays with you for most of your life. It goes away after a bit, after you’ve gotten through the high school adolescence period of, “I’m not popular enough” and “I’m not pretty enough,” and it sits in the closet or gets put on a shelf and gathers dust. You kind of forget it’s there when things start to straighten out and when you get more confidence. But it never really goes away. It always comes back, reminding you that you’re not successful enough, that you’re not good enough, that you’re not worthy enough, that you’re not smart enough. The list goes on.

I’m dealing with a lot of different things right now that my “demon voice” is currently having a blast with. (No, really. I’m pretty sure it’s having a full-on party, complete with the kegs and the raves.) My demon voice is telling me I made the wrong choice with my job. (“Go back to your safe, nice field! Even though that’s not really what you wanted to do and you had no promotion opportunities!”) My demon voice is telling me I made the wrong choice with choosing my boyfriend. (“Maybe when you went with first instincts, you should have worried more about his job and his motivation!”) My demon voice is telling me if I hadn’t fucked up my priorities 6-7 years ago, I wouldn’t be having these problems to begin with. (“Look at all that money you wasted! Look at all those decisions you made because you let other people influence you! You’re responsible for all your depression now when you wish you had things you don’t anymore!”)

According to Amy Poehler, you’re supposed to tell your demon voice things like HEY. DON’T SAY THAT TO ME. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? You’re supposed to push back at it and let it not control you. You’re supposed to give it a face like this:

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I wish I could do that because the problem that I have, and the problem that I’ve always had, is that once I get pulled into the spiral of self-doubt and depression, I find it very easy to let the demon voice stomp all over me. I can’t feel optimistic and I can’t push back, because all I can do is focus on the shitty things that I’m being told, and then I start to look at everything in my life through that lens. It leads to anxiety and even more depression. It’s kind of like yelling EXPECTO PATRONUM! at a Dementor, when you WANT to yell but all you do instead of freeze up and let it suck the life out of you.

It’s really, really annoying.

My therapist and I have spent a good amount of time talking out my regrets and worries, and each conversation is a small step towards making me more accepting of the good things I have in my life. One of the biggest things we’ve talked about has been trying to pinpoint what the cause of my demon voice is. Get to the heart of the matter, that’s how you kill it, right? (Hey, it works for vampires.) And it makes me think, because I really don’t know where my demon voice came from in particular. I’d always been an introverted, shy child, but where did this absolute “you are worthless” sense and lack of confidence come from? When did I get to the point where I can’t even enjoy the things that make me happy because there’s a constant comparison of how I’m just not worth anything? I didn’t have a terrible childhood, by any means. I grew up in a supportive privileged household with strong family values. I attended a high school that was competitive and focused on academic success, and although I wasn’t the smartest person in the room, I did more than okay. With a few exceptions, I was never really bullied. My mom pushed me hard, and sometimes too much, but never with any negative connotations. I was always told I had talent — in writing, in ice skating, in theater — although I didn’t always get everything I wanted or win every award, I was never told that I was terrible at anything.

And maybe that’s it. I’m a perfectionist by nature, and I always have been, no matter what the situation is. Maybe I was just always close to being “perfect” but the fact that I could never quite get there built up over time, and gave that demon voice a bigger presence. It’s something that’s inherent in all of us, unless you’re just really good at pushing your feelings aside — you have a good job, but someone your age has something better. You have a good relationship, but someone out there is in a relationship that has something a little more perfect than you, that you can’t quite achieve. You have a good life, but there are things about it that aren’t quite perfect. You have a good piece of writing, but there’s someone out there that gets better reception.

I’m not writing this blog post to say that I found a way to cure myself of this demon voice. Or that by just realizing what it is and what it maybe comes from has solved everything. Or that it goes away and never comes back if you just wait long enough. Or that I used to be more affected by it, but now I’m totally fine. (As evidenced by last night’s breakdown. Yes, demon voices can make you cry, too.) But I’m working on it. And whether it’s by talking to friends, or taking meds, or writing it out, or talking to my therapist, I like to think there’s hope it’ll get better. As my favorite FBI agent likes to say, I want to believe.

monthly round-up: january

If you use a passion planner, one of the big organizational things they try to instill is goal setting. Whether it’s for the week, the month, a year, whether it’s three years, ten years, your lifetime, whatever, the point is to try to accomplish as many things as you can even if they don’t end up being your SOLE goal. (For example, you may not have published a book, but you did write 10,000 words of a draft of a novel that you can query. Or you didn’t get married, but you did get engaged. Or you didn’t get a new job, but you did get a promotion.) At the end of each month, you reflect on your goals and your steps that you’ve taken to get there, however big or small. You sit down, you look at questions that ask you about specific feelings or moments, and you reflect on how you’ve changed over the month. You look at the things you said you wanted to do/accomplish 30 days ago and you see if you’ve made progress on them. If you have, yay! If you haven’t, that doesn’t mean that you failed anything — you look at the month and you think about why you didn’t accomplish things, and you make resolutions to do better next month.

(See, look at me trying to make it look like I don’t feel like a failure for that whole “no I didn’t make my goals this month” thing!)

The monthly exercise is a way for you to keep your motivation in check, and I figured putting those things in a blog would be a good way to do that, as well. Maybe it’s all a little redundant, since I’m doing this in my planner each month, but hey, it can’t hurt.

These were my “goals” for January, as put into my planner at the end of December:

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blah blah blah, ignore all the life commitments

So, how did I do?

  • FIND AN APARTMENT

I didn’t find an apartment. The truth of the matter was, I didn’t expect to find an apartment, not with my lease ending in two months and knowing the way the market moves in New York. But I did start looking, and I plan to kick that more into gear this month. I basically have to, considering that I’m leaving my current place no matter what. Have I mentioned that I hate apartment hunting? Because I really, really hate apartment hunting. Number one, it means making a huge change, which basically fuels a lot of my anxiety. Number two, I hate processes that are out of your control, so when I need to make a huge life decision or change I usually end up putting it off or hiding in order to avoid dealing with it. My therapist and I have been talking about ways to combat my fears, because I can’t really do that with this situation or I’ll screw myself over in more ways than one. In good news, I saw a place that I fell in love with. In bad news, I’m pretty sure for a variety of reasons it won’t work out. But if not, the search goes on.

  • START SAVINGS/BUDGET

I didn’t do this the way I envisioned I would, or by starting some program that helps you track your spending. (Apparently programs like that don’t do well for me considering I live alone and have a hard time allocating expenses and I get overwhelmed more often than not.) But I did become aware of my spending, and I kept a vigilant eye on my checking account and my credit card balances, more than I usually do. I carefully calculated what was coming out each month (usually, I just handwave a lot of the automatic payments and forget about them) and at the beginning of each week, when I wrote out my passion planner, I tried to remember to put in my starting balance so I always knew what I was working with when it came to spending. It’s a slow process, but I do feel like I’m slowly gaining more control over my financials, however small the steps are.

  • WRITE EVERY DAY

I cheated slightly with this — even before I made all my “resolutions,” I was pretty much writing every day because it’s how I spent my free time or downtime. So it wasn’t really about making myself write more, but more refining my writing — how much I do it, when and where I do it, etc. Admittedly, although I blocked off time in my passion planner every morning and night for writing, I didn’t stick to those constraints. I did find, however, that it does help me to visually and mentally put the time aside, because even if I go out on a weeknight or sleep in too late, I always remember I need to at least try and write. But I did open a google doc every day and make progress on projects. Right now, all of the things I’m working on are fic, and it will probably stay that way until NaNo starts again. But in other ways that writing every day has made a difference: I’ve blogged regularly almost every week, I’ve kept on track with my huge multi-chapter, and I started new stories I have inspiration for.

  • READ EVERY DAY

By the end of January, I had finished Wishful Drinking (love Carrie Fisher so much), The Night Circus, and Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please. I read three books this month! THREE! Last year, I read maybe two books over the course of the entire year, and one of them was Margie’s Black Widow novel which was half work. The only difference between last year and this year, aside from commuting, is I made an effort to read when I wasn’t doing anything else or when I had some free moments to relax, rather than sitting on the computer and scrolling through Tumblr, or re-reading fic on my Kindle. (Which I still do, I just default to it less often, having an actual book I know I want to get through.)

  • POST ONE NEW FIC A MONTH*

Success! I finished my Star Wars/Avengers AU, which I had started back in December when I realized just how much alike Rey and Finn were to Clint and Natasha. And I’d like to finish one of the three ideas I’ve been working on for next month — even if I can’t break my word count from last year, as long as I can keep posting one new story every 30 or so days, I think I’ll be satisfied. It’s just important for me to keep my brain creatively active, even if I go through periods of feeling like I have no motivation or inspiration whatsoever, or I feel like there’s no audience for my words.

*(for the record, this whole “one fic a month” thing does not include an ongoing multichapter that is, at this point, over 100,000 words.)

Every step is a baby one, but I think so far, I’ve done okay. It’s been a productive first month of trying to make myself happy with what I have. And looking back at what I’ve accomplished makes me feel positive I can push forward, even if things endeavor to push me back.

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blah blah blah, ignore all the life commitments

how do you measure a year in the life?

I am very, very lucky to not only have a job that I love, but a job that allows me to have some SUPER cool opportunities. I truly don’t take for granted the things I’ve been able to do and experience and the “perks” that come from being in this industry, from interviews to meet & greets to parties to anything in between. But sometimes, there are things that happen that rank higher than the rest for specific reasons, and not even because they’re the culmination of professional lofty goals (you know, like the “dream big” goals I have of one day interviewing my favorite A-listers and Avengers. Or sitting in Scarlett Johansson’s trailer. One day.)

Last Friday, I spent the day covering the first ever BroadwayCon with my co-worker. Our main assignments were to cover the Hamilton panel (which was amazing) and the 20th anniversary Rent panel, which included about half of the original cast members as well as the original choreographer, Jon Larson’s sister, and some of the original creative team. About halfway through the Rent panel, I received an email from the PR person I was working with saying they had a request that someone at our company wanted to interview the cast, and they could definitely make it happen, and were we interested?

Full disclosure: this moment almost didn’t happen. I had been out all day writing and reporting, and these cons, even when you’re not working them, take a lot out of you. So when you’re actually working, and putting all that excitement and mental energy towards making sure that you’re not screwing up hastily written quotes while being under pressure and taking pictures and live-tweeting…it’s a lot. By the time I got the email, at 8:30 at night, I had been around and working since early morning. And honestly, my brain was already in the mindset of craving relaxation, so all I wanted to do was go home and sit on Tumblr and de-stress — not stay around until 10pm for what might be five minutes of face time. (To be fair, this was also when I thought I was coming back the next day, which didn’t end up happening because of the blizzard.) I know it sounds superficial and first world problem-ish, but it’s the nature of a job that seems so perfect on the outside. For every awesome magazine cover story and video and set visit that someone sees, there’s tons and tons of personal time that goes into putting it out there, especially when you’re trying to balance all your other job responsibilities and things like transcribing, writing, researching. And since all of it is time sensitive, and it’s very easy to get caught up and just feel like you want a break, and lose sight of what’s considered “cool” and what’s considered overextending yourself. So you understand why I was a little “eh” despite the situation.

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The actual panel, which was amazingly touching and reflective.

I am so, so glad I decided to go for it.

Let’s back up a second, because I need to at least attempt to accurately describe what Rent means to me, the effect it had on me, the influence it had on me, the path of my life that it helped shape. Beyond my 100+ show count over 6-7 years (yes, my anal retentive self kept spreadsheets of all the casts that I saw and the dates, so I do know how many times I’ve seen it), Rent provided me with most of my best friends, some of whom I’ve now known for over 10 years (and who I’ve attended or been in weddings of, and gone to babies’ first birthdays of.) It was because of Rent I visited New York in the first place, falling in love with the city after I realized I could travel on my own freshman year of college without telling my parents. I was always afraid to be more independent — I acted out in quieter ways — and Rent helped me become independent and self-sufficient at the right time. Rent gave me an opening on my resume, thanks to the cast member I befriended who became a close friend, who in turn let me start a website for her that included self-teaching my brain HTML. While most people discovered their early twenties through college parties and by doing things that really, really shouldn’t be disclosed here, I discovered that all of that stuff through traveling to NYC once or twice a month, by going to birthday parties and gigs of cast members where, hey, no one cared that you were underage! (Or, uh, that you were being given drugs afterwards.) Going to see Rent, then going out with the friends I had made through that show to bars that no longer exist, and sometimes making bad decisions but ultimately living and having fun.

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An early photo from 2002, before the walls got entirely filled with graffiti and it became all scaffolding.

That green theatre, on that block that was dumpy and barely built up before it became the glitzy stretch of 41st Street it is today, became my home in so many ways. The lottery boys became some of my good friends who I would see outside of the show; more importantly, they were guys that beyond their tough Bronx exterior would have been there to take care of me if I ever needed help. The house staff became familiar and, sure, you can sneak in during the second act to see a swing’s Maureen, we won’t tell. There was a reason why, when I lucked out enough to attend the final Broadway performance with literally every friend I had made over the years, I cried my eyes out — because I wasn’t just losing a show that had helped me find myself. I was losing a second home. (Literally. That theatre would never be the same.)

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Somewhere, my signature is in there…

 

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Final performance bows in 2008. Let’s not talk about my tears.

So, given all that, you can imagine how surreal it felt when I arrived at the autograph room where I was to be conducting my interview, where I was then was brought to the front row of chairs and instructed to essentially sit in front of an entire panel of people who were responsible for being a part something that changed my life. I was then told I had at least ten minutes to talk to them. Just me, and only me. I’m kind of glad I was too overtired and exhausted to really let myself realize what this opportunity was, because if I had prepared for it more, I probably would’ve psyched myself out completely.

To say that those ten minutes were some of the most insane moments of my life would be an understatement. I thought it would be more overwhelming, but it was one of the easiest interview experiences ever. And when I was listening to the recording so I could transcribe it for my story, I was taken aback at how genuine each response was, how emotionally charged each story was, how amazingly grateful these people felt about their experience. It seems silly sometimes, to say that a show or a musical or an actor changed your life. But when you see things like this, from the other side of the spectrum, you realize that you’re not alone (ha — see what I did there?) You see that sometimes, people who create the art that means so much to you are just as grateful and blown away by what it’s brought them in life, the same way that you are. I think I babbled (correction: I know I babbled) about what it meant for me to sit in front of all of them and talk to them about this, but every word of it was true. I wouldn’t be here today in my profession, let alone in New York, if it wasn’t for Rent.

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It was 11pm at night and I’m in my Hamilton shirt. Oh, and my boots had broken. And I don’t care – life goal accomplished. (Can you tell by my face?)

It’s funny to me sometimes that most of the perks I’ve gotten through this job are things I never would have thought I’d get, given the industry. I’ve had more opportunities in theatre than in any other medium that I cover — I went to an opening night AND an afterparty, I covered the Tony Awards, I interviewed decently well known theatre people. All the thing that Young!Me would’ve absolutely DREAMED of doing one day, but it wasn’t anything I ever expected to do, not in the same way I would hope, “well, maybe I’ll go on a TV/movie set visit, maybe I’ll interview [insert actor’s name here], maybe I’ll go a screening or a premiere.” Maybe that’s the point — maybe if you just take life as it comes at you and try not to expect everything, you get handed your dreams in the most surreal way.

If someone had told 18-year-old Andrea, who at that time was sitting in a college dorm room with her roommate watching bootleg video tapes of Rent performances from 1996 and 1997, that, “hey, maybe in another 15 years or so, you’re going to have a chance to meet these people who you’re currently wishing you had a chance to see,” she would have laughed. A lot. But life comes full circle in the most insane ways, and sometimes you just have to take a step back and think about where you are, and where you started. And forget regret.

talking about stress…and meds

A secret that is not actually a secret at all is that I am terrible at handling stress.

I’ve gotten a little better at it, thanks to being more aware of how my brain and body works, and with that comes an ability to try to recognize when I’m letting myself get too overwhelmed. But like a lot of things in my life, it’s still a work in progress. My dedication to improving my self-care this year isn’t just to make myself more productive and get more sleep and the like. It’s also to get myself into a place where I can hopefully feel better about myself. Part of that involves finding ways to quiet my brain when it wants to take the rest of my well-being on a ride — and that doesn’t just extend to things during the day. It would be nice to not wake up in the middle of the night constantly, and, you know, sleep a little better for once.

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My sleep schedule, according to my fitbit tracker – I’m too restless, so don’t let the actual hours fool you.

A large part of my stress ends up coming from the fact I have a hard time believing that what I do is right or enough, which is probably a holdover from the way I was raised — loving, supportive parents who also pushed me far too much, who made me believe certain ideals were more important than others, a top high school full of kids who were all smarter than you, etc. But it’s tough to want to be social, to be out with friends every so often and think, “I would be better if I was spending time writing,” or to be at home doing nothing and think, “I would be better if I was more productive.” The noise that I get in my head kind of paralyzes me in the same way I can’t turn my brain off when it comes to the self-worth things compared to the rest of the world (my writing isn’t as good, my life isn’t as good, my relationship isn’t as good) and then half the time I just end up whining to people about the way I feel, which causes my friends to do really lovely things like threaten to put a shock collar on me so I stop getting down on myself. (See? True friendship.)

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In all honesty, I know this isn’t something that’s unique to me. This kind of mental stress is something everyone deals with, and some people are just better at figuring out how to handle it. Some people need help, and I’ve recently come to terms with accepting the fact that I’m one of those people — no, I might never be satisfied, but I can make efforts to keep myself from feeling like everything is too much.

For years, I resisted taking any kind of medication for various reasons — I didn’t believe I had any kind of issue that was worth being medicated, I had been told by some friends that I shouldn’t go down that route, I felt like I was a failure for admitting I needed help more than just talking to someone. After a recent incident made me realize just how much my brain could overwhelm me (read: a complete anxiety attack where I lost it while with my boyfriend and his uncle at a Broadway show, and became unable to function for a few hours) I made it a mission to get that kind of help for real. (Not just doing things like, you know, having friends slip you pills in times of need. Whoops.) And honestly? Just knowing that I now have the option of that little bottle of pills, that I have a way to quiet my brain when it gets to be too much, has made me feel so much better about things.

Aside from certain coping mechanisms that I’ve been trying to take advantage of (audiobooks, coloring books, tea), I’ve also been using iPhone relaxation apps more and more, especially before bed. And it actually helps a lot.

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I made my app background look like this because it reminded me of Clint Barton’s farm. Yes I did. It’s calming, okay?

Once I have a chance to sit down and put aside some money for my budget, I’m going to let myself indulge in a few more “self-care” things that I can put towards taking some of that stress off of my brain — a new tea, a new candle, some new audiobooks, maybe new colored pencils. But the fact remains that I’m someone who likes to hide from addressing their feelings, and I would never have thought I would have the courage to take control of my life with medication. I owe a lot of that to my friends who have been steadfastly supportive, most of whom are in the same kind of boat I am and understand what I’m going through.

But I guess everything is progress. And I’ll accept that bottle of pills with pride, because progress means I’m finally learning to ask for help.

january, week one

So it’s officially been one full week of 2016. How did I spend my first seven days? Spending time with my college roommate who visited for New Years Day, seeing Star Wars yet again (no shame here), going wedding dress shopping with one of my best friends, and doing a fun project at work for my favorite actor’s birthday. All in all, not a bad way to start the year, even if there were some early morning wake-ups and mental setbacks (thanks, anxiety.)

It’s also been one full week of starting fresh (or trying to), attempting to follow through on resolutions, and get myself on track for a better and healthier life in all aspects, so I thought I’d take a brief look at the efforts I’ve made so far.

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passion planner mantra of the day/week/month/year: What Would Laura Barton Do? Also, yay for arrow stickers!

  • Organization: I’m still trying to figure out how to properly use and decorate my Passion Planner in a way that’s beneficial to me, but I already feel like by making it by Bible, I’m seeing a difference. I look at it every morning, I look at it during the day, and I’ve made a commitment to plan out my week ahead every Sunday, blocking off times for writing, social events, etc, so I can have a clear idea of the week ahead (I know I’m not going to be able to plan EVERYTHING, a lot of plans happen last minute, which I have to get used to.) It’s a little frustrating when I get ahead of myself (for example, I planned to post a piece of fic this weekend, had it all written out in my planner and ended up finishing and posting it early) but that’s something I’ll work on: the reminder that not everything is set in stone. The important thing is that I’m blocking out the time needed to accomplish things. (But seriously, guys. This Passion Planner thing has been a godsend. I’m so grateful for Shelly’s recommendation.)
  • Reading: I already finished one book! Thank you, Carrie Fisher, for having a short (and hilarious) biography. I’m currently in the middle of my second book, The Night Circus, which is a little more dense. Am I reading every day? Not quite. But I’m definitely making an effort to spend less time online once it gets late, and trying to use that time to read as long as I’m not tired.
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a good friend recommended I start 2016 with simple pleasures: a good book and tea/coffee. So I did.

  • Internet: I’ve been in bed mostly by 10:30 or so every night, which is a huge change for me — even if I’m not reading, it means I’m also not staying up to blindly scroll through Tumblr, or staying up and pushing myself to write when my brain is too exhausted. So while I haven’t mastered the strict “Internet time” rules that I wanted to start to implement, I feel this is at least a step in the right direction.
  • Writing: So far, I’ve been managing to write every day, even on days where I go to bed early or get up late or am out late. I’m still working out an actual routine for that, too, but I’ve been mostly writing after work — and if I can get up early enough, in the mornings for a little bit. I moved my list of WIPs from my computer to my Passion Planner, and each week I plan to map out exactly what parts of my ongoing fic I want to work on, to keep myself on schedule.
  • Misc: I started wearing my FitBit regularly again! (I’ve had the thing forever but fell out of habit after I left grad school.) And when I say “regularly,” I mean that I don’t take it off except to shower, and I’ve been using the silent alarms to wake up and trying to hit all my steps. I’m now religiously using the app and trying to figure out how to challenge people, so go me for being healthy! I even bought a nifty little designer band for it, which, yes, I am that person that is more inclined to use/wear practical things if I can make it cute.
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do your worst, Fitbit

Obviously, I can’t say that in seven days I’ve turned my life around. I know some of the routines and some of the monthly goals I’ve set for myself will take time and effort to fully implement. But I’m really proud about how deeply I’m already committing to a lot of resolutions that I’ve made. It’s not just about trying to be a “better person.” It’s about shaping up so I can make myself the happiest I can be, dissatisfied parts that I can’t change be damned.