Monday, April 7, 2014

One year

I've been running, I've been creating, I've been getting out, and I've been seeing the ocean.

There have been developments over the last few weeks that have made me questions how far I've really come this year, how strong I really am. Do I still have shaking, uncoordinated calf legs or am I surefooted enough to navigate some rocky paths again?

I've cauterized parts of me, either purposefully or unconsciously, in an attempt to staunch widespread malaise and ultimately heal myself. Now I'm finding my scarred tissue being picked at. Sometimes I pick it out of boredom, sometimes I do it in my sleep, sometimes I cover my eyes while someone else does it, but more and more I've been doing it with intention. What am I going to find under there? Are the scabs going to be even thicker when they grow back or is this more of a controlled burn that will ultimately lay ground for better things to come?

I'm sorry to be talking in abstractions. I just don't know how else to describe the way I've been feeling lately. The anniversary of my dad's death is this week and it's got me thinking about this past year and the changes that it has caused. Are these for the best or do I need to realign? How's this grand rebuilding really going?

Like most things, only time will tell.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

For Sarah

by pankaj via Flickr
Almost 5 years ago, I spent a week in the hospital after overdosing on sleeping pills. My dad found me in my apartment after work notified him that I hadn't shown up and couldn't be reached. My dad, quite literally, saved my life.

The anxiety from adjusting to life after I broke off my engagement and trying to maintain an incredibly unhealthy new relationship with a guy with severe mental health issues of his own completely hollowed me out. After three days of not being able to sleep on my regular dosage, I decided that perhaps finishing off the whole bottle of over twenty pills might do the trick.

My dad visited me everyday I was in the hospital. A few nearby friends also visited. My brother tearfully told me he couldn't get off of work to come down. My mother never broached the subject of seeing me.

Many people, including hospital staff, friends, and fellow patients, told me how lucky I was to have such a supportive father. I casually mentioned this to him during one of his visits. The next day, he gave me an envelope containing two pieces of paper. One was a letter, explaining, "I don't know how to be anything except what I am- truth be told, I'm the lucky one." He went on to say that the second piece of paper was ripped from one of his sketchbooks and it contained a poem he had written the day I was born.

The paper is very yellowed and brittle. It has that distinct sweet, earthly smell of old paper. The letters in pencil are faded, but are still undoubtedly in my dad's distinctive, all caps handwriting. His words are as follows:

"If I could give you the sun,
I'll surrender the mountains I'll climb
To give you the sun, if I could.
The gold I'll catch and save the rays,
the shine from within.
If I could, the yellow white sky."

I was less than 24 hours old and my dad loved me unconditionally. He didn't know what I would become, but he wanted everything for me. The fact that he is no longer living, the person who has loved me most of all, fills me with an almost inexpressible loneliness.

I could sure use the sun's rays at times like these.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Challenges for 2014

by artisrams via Flickr
At the end of 2013, while pondering change, I came across an idea to ask friends and family members who are close to you to give you challenges to work on for a year. I took a shining to the idea and sent an email to those who are closest to me. A few good souls responded with some excellent suggestions. I've compiled them together and would like to share them here, with my comments:
  • Write and mail at least one letter a month to a loved one: I've always been a fan of writing and receiving letters in the mail and I have continued to write letters here and there throughout the years. I really like the challenge of doing this consistently and have already mailed a letter for January. I had been thinking about how I wanted to get back in the habit of sending birthday cards, so that will help in my efforts to send at least one letter a month. 
  • Forgive someone who has hurt you in some way and really mean it: Forgiveness is huge for inner peace, so this suggestion is perfect. I like to think that I've been pretty good about this, but I can definitely improve and be more intentional about it.
  • Volunteer at least twice: Volunteering is something I've been thinking about a lot lately and have been trying to decide what I would like to do. There are a number of animal shelters here that I'm thinking of picking from and volunteering for. There's also a literacy group that gives out free books at community events. So many worthy causes, so little time!
  • Get off of OKCupid: I disabled my account a few months ago and have no intention of reactivating in the foreseeable future.
  • Consider a dating sabbatical/Be single for 2 months: Two of my friends challenged me to cool it with dating and I not only was thinking that myself, but have already set that boundary for myself. I'm hesitant to put a timeframe on the sabbatical, but I'm sure I'll know when I'm truly ready to get back in the game.
  • Set a schedule and swim X times per week/Exercise 3-4 times a week/Do yoga at least once a week for 2 consecutive months/Go hiking regularly: Being more active is another thing that's been on my radar, it's just a matter of being more intentional about it and setting real goals for myself.
  • Plan, schedule, and execute a 1 week vacation in which I do zero work and travel at least 500 miles from home to somewhere I’ve never been: Traveling is a love of mine and so I naturally really love this challenge. My schedule is already starting to look really busy with conferences and such, but I'm hopeful that this can happen.
  • Be near the ocean regularly: I was thinking just the other day how rare it is for me to see the ocean or the bay considering how incredibly close I am to both. This lack of interaction makes me feel really disconnected with my environment and I need to make an effort to make it a regular part of my life.
  • Start blogging again and post at least once a month: As I've mentioned before, blogging and writing in general are at the top of my list for things that I need to make a constant part of my life.
  • Go thrifting once every two months: A new friend of mine gave me this challenge and I like that it's a fun, easy one to have. Going to thrift stores is something that I enjoy doing, but something that I forget about easily. I've gone maybe twice since I've moved here and I need to map out some more stores to visit.
  • Make my pets happy: Yelling at my cats makes me grumpy, but knowing that I'm taking good care of them makes me feel like a competent human being, so I'd like to do more of the latter. I've already been working on this- I got my cats a really nice scratching post to redirect their scratching and have started feeding them some canned food to help my younger cat lose weight.
I have some pretty great friends, don't you think? Many of these things I had thought about in some way recently, so I was glad to discover that we were often on the same page.

The five challenges that I've set for myself for this year are:
  • Take writing more seriously: In order to be a writer, a writer needs to write. I need to make this passion a top priority and write consistently, even when I don't feel like it or if I think it's too hard.
  • Make strides to get my dad's artwork out there: My dad created an incredible amount of artwork in his lifetime and I feel very strongly about promoting his work. It would be a shame for it to simply sit in a storage unit forever. My brother and I are interested in finding an art licensing agent to represent my dad's artwork and hopefully find some companies who are interested in using his work. One step I've taken so far was to purchase a high quality scanner to create digital images of my dad's slides and negatives. It'll be a long process because there are so many, but I'm very excited to dig in.
  • Be more creative/allow yourself to pursue hobbies and interests: I've always enjoyed being creative, but I got into the habit of denying myself that pleasure because I convinced myself I have better things to do. Instead of becoming a better person for cutting this out, I've become a more repressed individual. One step I've taken so far was to sign up for a semester long ceramics class and I cannot wait to get back on the wheel.
  • Be more active: As stated above, I need to decide on what I'm going to do and how often I'm going to do it.
  • Volunteer: As stated above, I need to narrow down which organizations I'd like to spend time with.

Many of these challenges need more work in order for them to become goals and for me to gain any traction with them. As I mentioned before, transitioning into this year has been tough, so I'm glad that I've at least been able to find some clarity in terms of what I want to change. Stay tuned for more updates on this front.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2013

by aerust via Flickr
It's difficult for me to wrap my head around the enormity of 2013. There were so many changes- both good and bad- that I can't believe they all took place within one single year.

I moved across the country by way of a cross country road trip, started a new job, made new friends, lost my dad, became closer to my brother, had my heart broken twice, started seeing a therapist again, traveled way more than ever before, sold my car, bought a bike, and somehow survived.

I don't like to admit how bad or hard things are because admitting it somehow makes it more real to me and makes it an actual problem when I'd rather just be in denial and continue to solider through without comment, but you guys, 2013 was hard. I feel like I have a hangover from that year that will just not go away no matter how many times I throw up and no matter how many glasses of water I drink.

January 1, 2013 was the last time I ever saw my dad alive. I was never a huge fan of New Year's, but now I have a whole new level of animosity for that day. Now, when I am trying to be hopeful and optimistic toward starting a new year, I won't be able to help myself from thinking about the death of my father, how eager I was to leave him and start a new chapter of my life, how he cried at the realization of me leaving, how I'm pretty sure I consoled him with the words "you'll see me again soon." Oh, how wrong I was.

As I mentioned previously, I've been thinking a lot about how to make 2014 a better year. While I can't stop things like death from happening, I feel as though I should try to improve upon the things I can control so that I'll be able to be happier while also withstanding the bad with more stride. Thinking about a whole year is rather daunting; however, and I may need to break it up into smaller chunks of time to be able to imagine and implement any kind of change.

So, day by day, this is the new year.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A blogger comes home

by craftydame via Flickr
Hi, friends. I believe an explanation is in order.

As Ernest Hemingway put it, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Since I was already experiencing significant blood loss due to my father's death, adjusting to a new job and home, and the rapid failure of a new relationship, let's just say that writing became far too painful for me to pursue. To be honest, I'm afraid that writing is still painful for me, but that brings me to my next point.

Over the last month or so, I've really started to examine my life and ask myself what needs to change in order for me to be living the life I really want. 2013 was definitely not my year and I want 2014 to be much, much better. After listening to and reading Brene Brown talk about vulnerability as well as other happiness related articles and books (like The Happiness Project), I'm convinced that I need to start choosing love over fear consistently.

As the child of a hoarder, all I've known has been survival mode. I just needed to get through high school to get out of my mother's hoard. That survival instinct stayed with me through the years: I just needed to get through college, I just needed to get a job to support myself, I just needed to get through grad school, I just needed to land a professional job, I just needed to adjust to living on the west coast, I just needed to get over the loss of my father, I just needed to find the perfect partner, I just needed to be driven by fear. In the process of having my survival blinders on, I've pushed aside a large number of things that have brought me great joy in life: writing, art, exploring new topics just for the hell of it. I got really amazingly good at denying myself things out of fear of being distracted too much from what I "should" be doing as A Very Responsible Adult. This barebones living has brought me to my present condition: doing all of the "right" things, but not being particularly happy.

And so, I've decided to choose love and the things that I love in an attempt to find peace and happiness within myself. My desire to write about it is not just because of my undeniable inclination to be a writer, but because "... as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." I think Marianne Williamson was on to something there and I hope my return to blogging can ignite untold lights in my readers.

Happy holidays and expect to be hearing more from me regularly in the coming year.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Action

image found on Yes and Yes

"Nothing diminishes anxiety more than action." -Walter Anderson



Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Things no one tells you about losing a parent in your 20s

by yogendra174 via Flickr
My dad passed away almost 4 months ago. He died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack. Prior to this, the only people in my life who had passed away that I felt remotely close to were my two grandfathers, an uncle, and a great uncle. While I, of course, cared about all of these men and was incredibly sadden by each of their passings, the loss of a parent digs in much deeper, stings much sharper, and alters your world in unimaginable ways. I feel as though I either haven't seen or haven't paid attention to many accounts of grieving the death of a parent in your 20s. My experience will be much different from others who have had to endure the same heart wrenching experience, but here are a few things I've learned so far about myself and others from encountering my father's death at a comparatively young age.

Grief is not a perfect, linear process. After the first few days of barely sleeping or eating and bursting into tears at the slightest remembrance, I asked myself, "When does this end? When can I feel okay again?" I fooled myself into thinking that if I went through the steps, if I followed the stages, I would come out on the other end as a whole, smiling, fatherless girl. Yes, my dad died, but my future is bright! Instead, everyday is different. Somedays, I'm happy and productive and I think about my dad with a smile on my face. Other days, I wake up from having a dream about my dad and sulk all day. Somedays, I'm moody as hell. Other days, I nearly forget that my father died at all. Somedays, I'm angry that people who are twice my age still have their fathers. Other days, I silently cry at my desk at work while I hear a coworker talk to his father on the phone. Yes, I cry less and generally feel better about the whole thing than I did during month 1, but it's not a perfect, logical, point A to point B progression. It comes in waves; sometimes with tsunami-like force, but usually more like the daily tides.

Life does not stop. While asking myself when the painful grieving process will be over, I also asked myself when I could do normal things again. I thought that I could compartmentalize the grief. If I kept it in its own box, it wouldn't bleed over into the rest of my life and so, when I returned to the rest of my life, it would be exactly the same as it was before. When and only when I stopped crying all.the.time., I could then resume my life. While people are generally sympathetic to your loss, your bills still need to be paid, your friends still want to see you, your bathroom is only getting grosser, and the days keep flying by. If you wait until you feel 100% back to normal, you will sit out the rest of your life. Once I realized that I needed to create a new normal instead of wait for my old normal to return (which it never will), I placed pieces of my life back. I started reading again. I watched a movie. I started introducing my routines back into my life. I allowed myself to date again. Life stops for no one, no matter how much pain you may be in, no matter how much you wished you could stop time so you wouldn't have to live your life without your dad to share it with. Life goes on.

You learn who your true friends are. After being woken up by the phone call from my brother telling me that my dad was being rushed to the hospital, after the initial shock, after the first shouted "no," after the first cup of tear tainted tea, I reached out to my closest friends to put them on high alert, hoping that my messages wouldn't put a jinx on my dad. After the second call from my brother, starting with the dreaded, "Sarah, I'm so sorry," after the shouting of the repeated and pathetic "no," after the uncontrollable crying and shaking, after the shouting of the repeated and pathetic "why," after the dumbstruck silence and emotional exhaustion, I reached out again. After their brief dumbstruck silence, my phone blew up. Friends called me crying before they even heard my first whimper. My friends flocked to my dad's memorial service like it was a pilgrimage to Mecca. They came unasked- it was a given to them. When things needed doing, I could barely put the words together before I had multiple hands reaching out to help. When I needed to vent, I had an inexhaustible audience. When I couldn't remember to eat, my sister in law fed me. When I couldn't stand, my brother carried me. When I couldn't compose myself, my brother had unyielding resolve. When I couldn't find a light at the end of the tunnel, my brother lit a candle.

Unfortunately, there's a flip side to finding out who is really on your side. My dad's girlfriend turned out to be a thief, a liar, and an incredibly weak woman who was promptly thrown out of my dad's house and karma gave a good ass beating to.

No one can say anything to make you feel better. My first reaction to people telling me they were sorry for my loss was to say, "It's okay." My second reaction was, "I hope you never experience this." My loss was not okay and almost everyone will have to deal with losing a parent at some point in their lives- what silly things to think. I guess in some weird, backwards way, I was trying to make them feel better for feeling bad. Finally, I came to terms with just replying with a simple thank you. After talking to friends who sat in stunned silence after telling them how I was coping, after writing emails in the middle of the night about how I was feeling and receiving only a few words in response, instead of getting angry at their apparent disinterest or apathy, I realized that my friends were at a loss for what to say because they have no idea what it is like to lose a parent. The vast majority of my friends, and none of my closest friends, have not yet had to go through what I am currently going through. Even hearing stories about your dad or hearing how much he talked about you to other people aren't very comforting because you can't help saying to yourself, "That's nice, but it would be way nicer to have my dad alive and still creating stories and talking up his children." Despite the nonexistence of the right words, someone ignoring the fact that your dad is dead is way worse than them saying something that does not provide comfort. Sharing memories, asking questions, letting the griever grieve allows the parent to live on in the only way he or she can now.

I feel like an orphan most days. My mother still hasn't talked to me about my dad dying. She has little to no idea how I've been dealing with it all. To be honest, somedays, it's easier to pretend that she's dead too. My brother, his wife, and my friends have been absolutely wonderful, but, because I am not currently talking to my mother, did not have a significant other at the time my dad died, and live so far away from my closest friends and family, I felt, and occasionally still feel, incredibly alone in all of this. Mourning hangs on you like a shadow during your day to day movements. You don't have to talk about it or even spill tears to feel it. It's just there and can fill a room if you let it. Even though my brother and I shared our father and share our grief, he can experience that grief with his wife. He can be, or at least should be, happy knowing that his wife got to know her father in law for a few years and their son got to play with and be held by his pop pop. I don't have those luxuries. My father will not be there for many of the milestones I'm yet to experience- getting married, having kids, buying my first home. The man I'm to marry can't ask my dad for my hand in marriage; my father can't walk me down the aisle; if I have children, they will never know their maternal grandpa; my dad can't show me how to repair things around the house. When older people who have lost a parent reach out to me and tell me they understand, I appreciate the sentiment, but they can't possibly understand the full depth of what I'm experiencing. Unless you are a 20something, single female who has a bad relationship with your mother and you recently lost your father, I just don't think anyone can really understand this.

Dating is really hard. My first concern was that the guys I would start dating after my dad died wouldn't understand and would feel uncomfortable when I started talking about my dad or if I was having a rough time dealing with his death. They would think I was broken and give up on me. That fear was allayed when I met my current boyfriend, B. While he doesn't understand what it's like to lose a parent, he understands that things are going to bother me and that all I need is patience and open arms. I feel more insecure than I've felt in years and this causes me to react/overreact to things that I would have otherwise let roll off my shoulders. Because my mother was never very affectionate, reassuring, or encouraging, losing my dad meant losing the biggest figure in my life who told me without pause that he's proud of me, that he thinks I'm beautiful, that he thinks I'm great. This absence has caused me to seek constant affection; second guess silences, conversations, and actions; feel incredibly sad during B's family gatherings; and generally jump to the worst possible conclusion if there's a sliver of a doubt. While I rarely act out or start fights because of these things, I let it dominate my thinking and deflate me to the point of tears. B lets me get it out of my system, but builds me back up with the truth- that he thinks I'm great too.

Paperwork and possessions. In the midst of trying to mourn my dad's death, my brother and I have had to deal with an enormous amount of paperwork. Death is a very messy business. Since my dad was not married and he did not have a will, my brother and I had to go to court to become the legal administrators of my dad's estate. We've had to scramble to find account statements, passwords, assets. We've logged countless hours on the phone explaining that our dad has died and we need access, we need closure, we need our peace. We've had to go through my dad's possessions, trying to decide what to keep, what to toss, what to give away, what to sell. We have to remember to pay his bills on top of our own bills every month. We have to try to sell a house that's a day's drive and a day's flight, respectively, from either of us. Thankfully, my dad did have life insurance and that has made many, many things much easier, but I never in a million years thought that this process would be this stressful or drawn out. This is the one thing that has taken me most by surprise because I've never been this close to anyone who has passed away before.

You learn you're not the only one who thinks your dad was awesome. You also learn how much your dad would not shut up about you. Countless strangers have told me, "Your dad loved you very, very much. He was so proud of you." The stories we heard and continue to hear about my dad have confirmed what I've known all along: my dad was one of a kind. He will be missed by many, many people.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Regret

via Pinterest

"In the end, we only regret the chances we didn't take."


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Life happenings

by bayasaa via Flickr
July was largely a good, albeit busy, month for me. I'm happy to report that I have a new boyfriend in my life and he's pretty great. I usually go for older guys, but he's a few years younger than I am, so I'm shaking things up a bit.

The Bay Area has been entirely too cold for my liking- July should be a sweaty month, not a month of wearing a coat everywhere and wishing I had put socks on before I left my apartment. I constantly forget it's summer and that kind of makes me sad. Oh well, at least I have a boy to cuddle up with now :-).

So, what have I found around the internet lately?

Have you checked out 40 Days of Dating yet? I find myself checking on the two friends' dating progress every morning out of sheer curiosity and secretly rooting for them.

Don't always assume heavy bass means rap.

It often seemed like I had trouble finding good pizza when I traveled from home and I finally found out why: I grew up in the pizza belt.

Beer terms for the casual beer drinker.

62 of the world's most beautiful libraries. I've been to two of these!

Want to swim in the clearest waters on Earth? Here you go.

Super helpful if you're planning to fly any time soon: security line wait times!

The 5 best west coast road trips

5 Chinese restaurants in my backyard that I must try

As the owner of a fat orange tabby, these famous paintings with a photoshopped fat cat had me in stitches.

I hope you had a great July and have plans for a wonderful August!


Monday, July 29, 2013

The 2000 Things challenge: part 4

by delete08 via Flickr
I feel like this update on my 2000 Things challenge is a little sneaky. I'm sure most of you were thinking that by "things" the items gotten rid of had to be physical items. I took a broader interpretation of "things" and decided to include electronic clutter as well. Lucky for you, I'm not including email in this challenge (because I would have hit 2000 ages ago), but am sticking with locally hosted files instead.

First, let me give you a rundown of my sad physical item count:

  • dry rotted bathing suit
  • tin of lotion
  • 1 sample that was mailed to me
  • 3 books
  • a box my cats stopped playing with

That brings me to 219 physical items gotten rid of thus far. I have a number of things that I've been eyeing to get rid of, so this number should get much larger soon.

To keep me from falling down the rabbit hole too much in terms of electronic clutter, I focused on things I could delete off of my smart phone. I knew there were probably a few contacts and some old pictures I could wipe without much thought. Boy, did I ever underestimate how much was lurking on my phone:

  • 893 files, mostly pictures, deleted off of phone
  • 7 contacts deleted off of phone
  • 1 app deleted off of phone

Yup, 901 things got deleted off of my phone last week. Hard to believe something so small can hold so much. I think it's just as important to keep your electronic files well organized as it is to organize your physical items since a cluttered hard drive can cause just as much of a headache and inefficient use of time as a cluttered desk.

Since all I'll need is an afternoon of deleting things off of my laptop to reach the 2000 goal, I'm going to keep the physical and electronic tallies separate. I still have a lot of physical items to go through, so I don't want to use the electronic clutter as a cop out.

Were you ever surprised by the amount of files you've been able to delete off of your phone or computer?