This is Us, and how It Was Me

The show that has flushed all of America’s tear ducts has a storyline, a scene, or a character that brings back memories for everyone who watches it. Maybe those memories for you are ones of happy bickering with siblings, falling in love, and familial reconciliation— however, the memories for me (and for some of you reading, I suspect) are much more somber.

When I was 16, my biological father came cascading into my life via a newly created Facebook account. At the time, he told me he was newly sober and living at a VA facility in White City, Oregon. I rolled my eyes… I’d heard it before. Emails, drunken phone calls, and birthday cards every few years punctuated my childhood. Tales (mostly lies) about how fun and how glamorous his life was found themselves to me every few months, and then I wouldn’t hear from him for a year or two. After the age of five, I stopped seeing him as my dad and more of a strange cross-country uncle that I had in my life. When he friend requested me, I told my mom “hmm, Tim has a Facebook. Cool. Maybe I’ll get more updates.”

When I was 17, I got a message following message:

“Hi sweetie…went thru ruptured appendix surgery…biopsy came back, doctor called me this morning letting me know i have cancer…I know i haven’t been there for you & glad joey was able to take the roll.  Anyways, i go under the knife thursday noon. If they can’t get it all…im calling it a wrap..i dont want to live w/out quality of life (so to speak) But want to make sure i got all your correct info, so you can get my insurance policy monies. I’m lucky to have such a beautiful daughter 🙂 and I wish you all the best.  Love ya 🙂  If you want to call…”

My. heart. sunk. He had just celebrated 1 year of sobriety, and I had been ignoring his messages for months. I was a senior in high school, and too busy to be bothered by him. I walked out to my parent’s front porch and called him and told him I was going to visit him in Oregon, and asked him 1,000,000 questions. He told me I didn’t have to come, and not to waste my money. I told him I’d hold off on the visit but that I would eventually come out there whether or not he wanted me to. One month later surgeons tried to go in and get the rest of the cancer, but much to their frustration, it had already metastasized to every major organ in his abdomen. He was officially terminal.

The doctors said he had months at best, so I dropped everything and booked a flight to Oregon for the next week. Five days after turning eighteen, I flew cross-country to meet a man and his extended family that I hadn’t seen since I was in diapers. We had a visit, his sister Tami showed me the Oregon countryside, and we all fully expected him to die within the month. We were wrong. I got to make several more trips out west to see his family as his cancer dragged on for two more years. Tim went through 11 rounds of chemotherapy before finally succumbing to cancer without any family present in the VA domiciliary infirmary surrounded by who I hope were his favorite nurses.

The last visit we had he couldn’t leave his bed except for to sneak cigarettes outside of his room on his short walks. His bones looked like they wanted to poke through his skin, and I was honestly afraid to hug him too tight for fear of rupturing his stomach because his tumors had taken over his whole body. I still lie awake some nights still with visions of his frail body clutching his walker as I drove away in a borrowed car on my way back to the airport.

He died over Fall Break my Junior year. My wonderful dad came to get me and drove me back to Virginia and I made arrangements for his cremation, burial, and stressed for weeks as to how I was going to pay off the remainder of the balance that was left at the end of it all. I picked out his epitaph sitting in one of my psychology classes and fought to keep the debt from going to collections. I didn’t go to the funeral, and I still haven’t been to Oregon since. He’s buried in the National Cemetery just miles from Crater Lake (one of the most serene places on Earth) and one day I’d like to go see that headstone I anguished over. I like to think Tim’s final resting place is symbolic of the peace he now feels— peace from addiction, from cancer, from never feeling like he was good enough.

While we didn’t have meaningful interactions with one another until I was nearly an adult, he changed me. I’m still not sure if I’m better off for having gotten to know him in his twilight hours only to lose him, but I know that I don’t regret it. He didn’t raise me, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t my father, and no matter the mistakes we make trying to navigate being human in this world, everyone deserves to be loved in the final hours. He was an amazing man— witty, charming, and kind. Everyone who spent the last years of his life with him misses him dearly, and I loved him. I have his huge forehead, and sarcastic morbid sense of humor. Not to brag, but he said over and over again how proud he was of me and how I was the best thing he ever did. It’s been three years, and I’m still processing the entire ordeal, and I’ll likely continue to evolve my feelings on the subject.

All of that being said, THIS IS US IS MAKING ME CRY SO MUCH. I don’t want to spoil the show, but there’s a storyline there that hits way too close to home. NOT COOL NBC. But honestly, I’m thankful. It’s reminded me that I’ve made it so far since going through Tim’s death, and reminded me to live purposefully in the wake of loss. Does anyone else have any crazy TV related emotional trauma right now?

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Anxiety and Obsession

When I was young, I was famous for pushing the limit in regards to things which excited me. Be it something I wanted from the store, somewhere I wanted to go, or something I wanted to do– I was relentless. I’d ask over and over and over again until my parents, grandparents, friends, and teachers were ready to strangle me. I learned quickly to justify things I wanted to do in hopes it would allow them to realize the urgency behind my wishes. I can often feel myself becoming annoying and unbearable, but I can’t seem to stop myself from “beating a dead horse.”

Thinking back, I wasn’t trying to manipulate them into giving me what I wanted from a sense of deservedness, but because getting where I wanted to go, or getting the item I was pining for was the only thing to relieve the compulsion I was feeling. I don’t know now if I was spoiled, or what caused me to become this way– all I know is that I’ve been living for over 20 years now and still give in to every obsession that plagues me.

My most recent realization is that my obsessive tendencies go hand in hand with my anxiety– I convince myself that getting something new, or going somewhere fun, or doing something different will make my life better. For example, I’ll read on the internet that taking probiotics and weight loss seem to be correlated. For the next 24 hours, I’ll do nothing but read about types of probiotics, success stories, reviews, dosing, and price. Within a day of the beginning of my obsession I will possess a probiotic and the moment I get what I’ve been compulsively reading about I’ll feel sweet relief–almost a sort of high. It’s not materialism, it’s a temporary treatment for my anxiety.

I think when I’m busy obsessing over a show, product, or place I find less time to worry about things that are really bothering me: money, health, missing my family, the state of the country, how dirty my apartment is, etc. The grand distraction works, but also doesn’t always benefit me.

Perhaps when I feel a new obsession coming on, I ought to pause and take a moment and take a small step toward tackling a stressor that’s actually making me anxious. For example, right now instead of online shopping for new makeup I should organize all of the monthly bills that I have due this week and make a plan to get them paid. Either way I’ll feel better about my life, but by focusing on a real problem I’ll be doing my small part to ease my anxiety at the source.

Will I do that though? Probably not. I’ll probably continue to obsess and worry myself and others to death about meaningless things, because that’s my nature. However, realizing this about myself and others will hopefully allow all of us to understand each other better.

tl;dr: Next time someone you love is relentlessly bugging you about something they want, somewhere they want to go, or someone they want to see– give them grace. See it as an outward expression of anxiety. Help them see that you understand that you can’t stop talking about it, and try to help them relax. They’ll thank you later.

 

New car, new me?

Two years ago I was a junior in college driving a 1994 Jeep Cherokee with more rust than paint and unsure of the future. One of those things has changed.

When my trusty Jeep (affectionately named Cletus) got to the point that I could no longer drive it back and forth from Knoxville to Roanoke, I knew it was time I reach out to my parents to brainstorm solutions to my car problems. Rather than pour another dollar into my Jeep, they decided to dip into their hard-earned savings to buy me a pre-owned 2003 Volkswagen Passat off of Craigslist.

With a new car came a symbolic new chapter of adulthood. That summer I went to Bonnaroo for the first time, turned twenty-one, went to clubs, and began to seriously think about dating for the first time since high school. I was a mess, I tried hard to meet the wrong guys in the wrong places— taking drinks and dancing with strangers to feel wanted. Much to my then frustration, I was unsuccessful (however now I’m thankful for my failure).

Within a year of getting that new car, I started a serious relationship, failed college, moved into a my first apartment, adopted a dog and a cat, and became a car salesmen. Whew. Life got weird, fast. However, for the first time in my life I have a semblance of control. Gone are the days of depending on my parents and living under the structure of a strict Christian college campus. Here are the days of wine, Netflix nights at home with my boyfriend, and bills.

Of course, with every new chapter comes a new car (at least in my case). Last week, I signed a lease on a 2017 Subaru Crosstrek and I can’t wait to see where I am in life at the end of the next 36 months.

The Four Seasons

So many changes have been happening in my life. I’ve started two new jobs, moved into a new apartment, gotten a kitten, and I now have real-life bills in my name! I’m in the midst of a huge season of change– changing both in ways I expected and ways I didn’t expect.

I moved out of Johnson University. I’ve lived, worked, and socialized at JUTN for the past four years. The entirety of my life was wrapped up into just a few acres of reclaimed farm land in East Tennessee. However, all good things must come to an end and I’m officially living in the scary big real world. I work about 60 hours a week on average and spend a few nights a week out with friends and that’s it. Long gone are the days of having so much free time I couldn’t stand it. Anyone who tells you life gets easier after classes are over is lying to you.

I’m in a wonderful relationship. I’ve been dating John for six months now– and while things aren’t always easy they’re worth it. He is by far my biggest support system and there are times I would have been homeless without he and his family over the past few months. He’s studying biochem at a local University and works part time in the tourism industry of  Pigeon Forge Tennessee. We’re both super busy, but so far have managed to set aside just enough time to be together.

I’m a mother!… to a kitten. In May I got a kitten and named him Frankie Valli (I have a long history of naming pets after celebrities). He’s cuddly and playful and a wonderful distraction when life starts to get tough. He also keeps me company in my apartment and I love him and I’ll kill anyone who gets in the way of our love. Just kidding. Maybe.

Last but not least, I live in a super cool new apartment. It’s a second floor walk up built in 1928 (the year before the depression hit) and it has French doors and open archways and original hardwoods. I got very lucky to find something so charming in my price range and while money is tight, at least I’m spending money to live somewhere I adore. What my apartment is lacking in furniture it makes up for in charm.

So, that’s my latest update. I hope to post some cool reviews or deep thoughts later this week– but until then, stay classy.

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The Shame in Not Knowing

For some people, being a senior in college is a relief—those who feel like they made the right choice about their major, have a killer internship, and know which jobs they’re applying for after graduation. However, I am not one of those people.

I regret choosing my major most days, even though I totally dig the people I learn with. I have no clue if going to this college was the right choice for me, even though I’m almost 30k in debt to pay for my education. I don’t know if I’ve made the best decisions socially, even though being around my best friends fills my heart with joy like nothing else. I’m currently registered to begin my very last semester come January 2016, but thinking about finishing this chapter of my life both terrifies and excites me. It’s officially the season of questions like, “So, what’re you plans for after graduation?” and I am forced again and again to utter the dreaded words, “I have no idea.”

I feel shame in being lost. I’ve always been someone who has their life together—I am a stereotypical control freak who rather enjoys having my ducks in a row, so to speak, and as much as I’d like to freeze time in place until I figure my life out, time has other plans. Time dictates that I move along with it, and as petrifying as that seems to me I’ve somehow found comfort in the steady reliability of time. Time moves on and time gives grace. As long as I’ve got time, I’ve got the opportunity to change my mind. Time limits, but it also liberates. Time is limited, but it brings with it limitless possibilities. We’re not guaranteed time, but we can guarantee ourselves a timeless love of life if we recognize that it’s ok not to know.

I could worry myself until I’m riddled with ulcers trying to figure my life out between November and April, but for what? I have not a clue where I’m going to live, what I’m going to do, or where I fit in this great big world. I have absolutely nothing—nothing but time and a willing spirit to learn what living life is all about.

8 Phases of Coming Home from College for Summer

1.The Dog Excitement Phase

This phase is self-explanatory. You are driving the last 5 miles down the street toward you childhood home and you realize you will soon get to see the one important entity in your life you can’t keep up with via Facetime: your dog and/or cat. You rush through the door, bags in hand, and you greet your four legged best friend. If you’re me, this also includes making the rounds to all of your family members for a hug (when all you really want to do is lay on the floor with your dog).

2. The Relaxation Phase

For me, this phase lasts anywhere from two days to a week. After just finishing finals, there is NO WAY anyone has energy to do anything productive. You’re back sleeping in your own bed, and your parents have cable… what more could make for a better stay-cation.

3. The Justified Celebration Phase

This phase comes back to bite you in the butt, unfortunately. Because of how hard you’ve worked for the past semester, you see this as the perfect opportunity to splurge a little. In my case, this meant eating a lot of junk food and spending a few precious dollars on some new beauty products. However, in the coming weeks my pants will become tight and my wallet flat and I will have “ragrets”—just like that kid from “We’re the Millers.”

4. The Reluctant Unpacking Phase

Once your mom and dad have nagged you for a few days, it is time to unpack all of your hastily packed belongings. This phase is also egged on by the fact that you’ve probably been wearing the same shirt for four days straight (you, not me… I would never do that). You likely are struggling to squeeze your newer clothes into the drawers which still have t-shirts from the fourth grade in them. However, when this phase is done, you will feel much better.

5. The Reunion Phase

This phase pretty much is all you think about during the last two weeks of school. You eagerly text your friends and all come up with a time and place to meet. Whether it’s a sleepover or a lunch out, you get ready and you finally get to catch up with them. This phase can either be excruciating or wonderful, depending on how much you like your friends (it’s ok, don’t feel bad, not everyone has friends as awesome as mine).

6. The Haunting Phase

This phase occurs on and off from anywhere from one week to the entire summer. You will find yourself enjoying the pleasantries that are involved in summer when you feel it—the phantom homework. You feel stress start to creep up, only to realize that you actually have nothing to do. After months of having things you “should be working on” you have completely forgotten how to relax…shame on you.

7. The Bored-To-Tears Phase

This is the phase is self-explanatory and typically leads to the writing of a cynical blog post.

8. The Settled Phase

Eventually you start working regularly, develop an intense gym schedule, or other ways to occupy your time! Good for you! However, you find yourself missing phase 2 when you could sleep until noon every day (not that I did that, I’m not a lazy bum). Another bizarre thing happens in this phase—you start to miss school. Seeing your friends’ Facebook posts of all of the fun they’re having makes you reminisce on all of the fun you have at school, and you inevitably begin the silent countdown until move-in weekend

Practicing Gratitude and Defeating Negativity

Late last year, I found myself in a MAJOR funk. I experienced death and loss in a way which completely drained my soul of any semblance of peace. After months of forcing a smile and telling everyone around me that I was going to be ok, I reached my limit. It was Christmastime, and I found myself jaded at the concept of celebrating with my family—and that’s when I discovered something was amiss in my mind. See, because of extreme stress and emotional conflict, I had landed in the pit of depression. I didn’t want to spend time with my friends, I lacked motivation to get out of bed, my schoolwork was struggling, and I felt as if sleeping all day would take my problems away.

I saw my family doctor and tried really hard to snap out of it, but anyone who’s ever struggled with depression knows the only way to fight depression is to seek help and be patient. I was home from college for winter break, and I decided to do a simple Google search to see if I could find any fixes for my emotional turmoil (I know, very clinical). I stumbled upon this article and first read about the concept of “practicing gratitude.”

The basic idea is to take time each day (I usually do this at night before bed) to write down some things you’re thankful for. Sounds too easy, right? The items you write don’t even have to be anything philosophical or deep, simply things that made you thankful that day. For example, this is the first list I wrote on December 28, 2014:

journal

Thankful for:

Sleeping until noon, friends who want to see me, books I get lost in, technology, conversation I had with Hope, a pharmacy, and rest

BOOM! Then you’re done.

The exercise of racking your brain daily to find things in life to cherish does wonders toward defeating negativity. Whether you struggle with depression like I do, anxiety, or just feeling down, practicing gratitude has the potential to change your life. Since December, I’ve filled up about half of a leather journal (found here on amazon) with simple things I’m thankful for. I’ve noticed a real change in my outlook on life and overall mental stability.

So, if you’re reading this and not feeling your best, take the next 3 minutes or so and jot down a few things that have made today bearable, and see how it impacts your tomorrow.

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” -Charles Dickens