one more candle

It’s my birthday tomorrow.

Ever since I turned 30 a few years ago, I’ve had a hard time with birthdays. Maybe it’s just the very real fact that after you hit a certain age, you start to realize how much of your life you’ve already lived, and you get that “back 9” syndrome Robert Downey Jr. talks about. But for me, birthdays past 30 are continual reminders of the fact I’m not where I want to be or where I thought I’d be at this point in my life, professionally and personally. It’s hard to shake that mindset, to look forward to another year when you’re so focused on what your age means.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my 20’s, about mistakes I made because I was young, and stupid, and listened to the wrong people, and had different priorities. I think about if I would feel different because had I not made certain decisions, I would be where I always wanted to be. On the other hand, I’m astute enough to realize if I had taken that path, there’s a chance I wouldn’t have the friends I currently have. I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to work at the company of my dreams, doing a job I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do. I probably wouldn’t be in my current career. I might not have gone to grad school. I probably wouldn’t have gotten into comics as much as I did, and comics not only saved my life, but they also brought amazing, inspirational people into my world.

The thing is, it’s hard to focus on the road less traveled when all you can see in front of you is the one that is now defining your life. Maybe it’s because I know people who are younger, who have already gotten their lives together, and it makes me feel like moving at a slower pace is demeaning. Maybe it’s because I know people who ARE my age who have the things I desperately want, and I wonder if and where I went wrong.

This was an up and down year. There were extreme highs and extreme lows; I had a lot of positive opportunities and moments but I also had a lot of setbacks. I’ve been reflecting recently, about the steps I’ve taken to improve my life and mental health, the things I can be proud of and the things I could have done differently. In my Passion Planner, I purposefully designated today as “self care” with an attempt to relax and enjoy the day without being upset or depressed that tomorrow will see me another year older, and another year closer to an age that’s pretty significant.

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A few years ago, Kelly Sue answered a question about life and balance on her blog. I bookmarked it at the time, and still look at it today when I need to be reminded of the fact that you don’t have to be successful at 20 to have a good life. Or even successful at 30. Age doesn’t matter. Drive and motivation does. Being happy with yourself does.

It’s my birthday tomorrow, and I’m closer to having the things I want, but not close enough that I can feel optimistic that turning another year older will bring enough good things that will make me feel like I’m on the right track. But this year, I’ve had experiences, and I’ve learned. I’m older. I’m wiser. I have amazing people in my life who I am proud and thankful to call friends, who I love dearly, who help me every single day just by having my back in the smallest of ways. I have a family that is big on tough love, but they catch me when I fall, and lately, I really, really have fallen.

In the words of Kelly Sue, I’m doing the best I can, figuring it out as I go. And that has to count for something.

medium blog: a superhero saved my life…i should know

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Today, in an inspired blog twist, I not only wrote a long personal entry for the first time in forever (I’m getting back in the game, I swear), I also wrote it for the general public. Because I spend a lot of my life being worried about how much of myself I put onto the World Wide Web, especially being in a position where I’m currently looking for work, and being in a position where I have a professional platform and brand. But as I try to explain in this piece, I think it’s important not to hide from things that you struggle with, because in that way, you’re letting the negative parts of your brain win. This was a topic I wanted to write about anyway, and I figured if I was going to write it for here, I might as well take the steps to share it.

I’ve included the entire post below, and as of now, it’s shared in article form on Medium as well.


As someone who grew up writing and devouring fantasy books, it’s not uncommon for me to find inspiration and connection in fictional characters.

In middle school and high school, it was Gillian Anderson and her portrayal of Dana Scully who motivated me and inspired me (so much so that I actually applied to college with the intention of being a pre-med major, before I realized that, unlike the hour-long cases on The X-Files, you actually have to do math and science to pursue a career in forensics). In college, it was LOST and James “Sawyer” Ford as portrayed by Josh Holloway — an actor who spent years working towards his dream of being successful, whose struggles and life lessons I latched onto when I graduated and spent months searching for my own dream job, in a city that I longed to live in and make a life in.

After that, it became about superheroes.

Black Widow was my inspiration when I realized I wanted to write about comics and geek things, and when I needed to fight against people who seemed to think I couldn’t contribute to or succeed in a field dominated by males. (Ask me if I was ever taken seriously when I said I read comics in a room of men). Iron Man (and Robert Downey Jr) was my inspiration when I was fighting my way through graduate school at Northwestern, because some people, when they turn 30, get promoted to senior editors. I turned 30, started my entire career over after almost nine years of living and working in New York, and went back to school to get my graduate degree among twenty year olds, just so I could work in the industry I so desperately dreamed of being in. Like Dana Scully and James “Sawyer” Ford, these characters are still my inspirations, and I still count them among those who have had an impact on me.

And then there was Hawkeye. Specifically, then there was the comic book written by Matt Fraction and drawn by David Aja, Annie Wu and others, that launched at Marvel after the success of The Avengers in 2012. Hawkeye is often jokingly referred to as the “forgotten” Avenger, the one most people don’t know the way they know Thor or Iron Man or Captain America. Still, the character’s superhero history is not something to be laughed at: he debuted in the 1960’s, is known to be a prominent member of The Avengers, has had important relationships with his teammates and has had a long and complex history as both an Avenger and a rogue superhero. So why did this comic resonate so much with me, when the superhero is one that’s been written and drawn for so many years? Because the 2012 Hawkeye series sets Clint Barton in the streets of today’s grungy, beat-up Brooklyn and paints the character as something that no other comic has been able to do: a human.

Because, see, Hawkeye lives in a building where on his off days, he grills on the roof for his tenants and watches his neighbors’ kids. Hawkeye makes amazing coffee (at least, the way I’d want to drink it). Hawkeye is GREAT at shooting a bow and arrow — there’s a reason he never misses. Hawkeye is super compassionate and cares about the people he considers important in his life. Hawkeye is only serious when he has to be and is unashamed about his thoughts and doesn’t bother to censor himself. And Hawkeye has no real superhero abilities, unless you count that awesome marksmanship. He doesn’t have super soldier strength, or a metal suit, or gifted abilities, and he doesn’t hail from a God’s royalty. He’s not destined to be a king or a leader. He didn’t come from a family who expected great things from him. (His family didn’t care about him at all). Hawkeye is all talent, muscle, luck, perseverance and heart, and he’d rather save the day and sit at home with his dog and eat pizza, rather than sit on the throne of Asgard.

The thing is, Hawkeye is great at being a superhero. Most of the time. But Clint Barton? He’s messed up his life. A lot. He’s screwed up relationships. He’s screwed up friendships. He’s said the wrong things and gotten so down on himself, he’s wondered if it’s even worth getting out of bed. He’s had moments where he can’t see past the fact that all he does is shoot a bow and arrow, and he wonders if the world even needs him when they have other people who save the world with more success. His stubbornness and coping mechanisms during bad days have caused strains and fights with close friends, lovers, and teammates, and there’s a reason why sometimes he’d rather just go back to bed then be reminded of the fact that today is his divorce anniversary. I can’t relate to being a superhero, I can’t relate to shooting a bow and arrow, but boy, can I relate to losing a job and questioning your place in an industry you desperately believe you belong in. I can relate to looking at your life and your experiences and wondering if you made the right choices. I can relate to screwing up relationships and doubting yourself. I can relate to that feeling of wanting to go back to bed, rather than having to face another day of nothing. I can relate to a friend slamming a door in your face when you won’t talk to them about your problems.

A few weeks ago, spurred by social media’s awareness, I picked up the bookLast Night, A Superhero Saved My Life. In addition to the obviously on-brand premise, I was lured by a collection of stories from some of my favorite authors, including Neil Gaiman and Jodi Picoult, as well as a story from a former colleague at Entertainment Weekly who served (and continues to serve) as a mentor in this strange, overwhelming industry. I knew what I was getting into when I started to read, but I don’t think I realized how much each story would affect me, or how much I would see myself reflected in these honest, earnest tales about people who felt truly attached to these characters in a very personal way. My superhero obsession isn’t a secret, but I often don’t tell people about my personal connections to them, or why they mean so much to me. And if I do tell people about my love for Hawkeye — a well-known aspect of my life among my friends or anyone that sees my apartment or work desk — I often pad it with the explanation of being a fan of Jeremy Renner, who portrays the character in the films. It’s not a lie, but it perpetuates the idea that most people think I like the characters I do because of their pretty faces, or because of their superhero physique. But would they believe me at all if I said it was because these characters saved my life? Or would they continue to roll their eyes at the admission?

We don’t talk about how we deal with our issues. The world has enough bad stuff going on, and so I don’t need to tell my friends or the general public about the medications I take, the self-harm I’ve inflicted, the journal writing I find solace in when I find myself crying about things that make me unsure of where I am and who I’ve chosen to love. Despite putting myself out there in my writing and profession, I remain wholly unconvinced I have anything to offer the world. (Self-confidence: it’s a bitch.) The past few months have put me in situations which have led me to struggle with old demons in ways that I feel unhealthily overwhelmed by. During one particularly tough afternoon, in an effort to distract myself from sitting around in depression, I found myself picking up my hardbound Hawkeye omnibus without thinking about it. I sat down on the couch, opened the book, and read straight through all twenty-two issues without stopping. I let myself cry at the panels I needed to cry at, I let myself feel connected to the panels I needed to allow myself to accept. It wasn’t my weekly hour of therapy, and I didn’t even have to pay a dime, but it worked. And in the same way I found solace in Clint Barton’s story while the comic was running, reading this series over and over became a coping mechanism that I desperately needed. When I felt depressed or anxious, I would open the comic and read a few pages, or a ton of pages, and I would find myself again. Like Hawkeye, I’ve had moments where I’ve felt inspired, empowered, on top of the world. Like Clint, I’ve been knocked down because I’ve fallen — oh how I’ve fallen. So what do I do? I get up. I keep fighting. Because what else am I supposed to do?

Because Clint Barton is a fighter. He came from a broken home where he was taught that he was essentially worthless, thanks to an alcoholic father and parents who died when he was young. He ran off to the circus, he tried to change his fate, and he was screwed over by people he thought wanted to help him. He struck out on his own after learning he couldn’t trust people who he put his faith in, and he made his own luck. But he used all those things to make himself a better person. He’s an archer not because he doesn’t want to be a more powerful superhero, but because this is what he’s trained in, and because this is what he has to offer the world. If he fails at the one thing he’s known for and proud of, he may not even bother to call himself an Avenger. And he knows that.

“You’re gonna miss each and every shot you can’t be bothered to take. That’s not living life — that’s just being a tourist. Take every shot, Kate. If it’s worth caring about, no matter how impossible you think it is — you take the shot.”

Clint Barton was depressed and he had a hard life, and he failed more than he succeeded. But he was also a superhero. And the fact that I could see myself so accurately reflected in the pages of a comic book, the fact that I knew he had all these doubts about his life, that he struggled with all these internal demons and he could still continue to put himself out there was mind-blowing. Because he never stops believing people can change. He never stops helping people, or trying to prove his worth. And because he won’t stop fighting, that means I shouldn’t stop fighting, either. Even if I have to accept help from outside sources. Even if I wake up some days thinking about how easy it would be to not get out of bed at all.

Dana Scully made me work harder in high school and James “Sawyer” Ford helped me not go down a deep dark road when I first stepped into the real world. But Black Widow inspired me to keep working against my obstacles and not care about what people were saying, and Iron Man guided me through the start of a second career when I wasn’t sure if I was making the right choice, and Hawkeye showed me that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that I wasn’t alone even when I felt like I was.

Comics helped me. Comics saved me. As cliche as it sounds, a superhero saved my life. And like the people who put their own stories into my hands, who allowed me to realize I’m not alone, I’m not ashamed to say it out loud.

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.

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.