Free

Breaths so deep, 

Green trees, green meadows, blue skies. 

The most perfect morning sun.

We’re dizzy on fresh air and pines; 

Tequila, board games, and good souls.

Freedom, dry skin, and long, hazy sleeps.

Each afternoon brings to mind every country song I’ve ever hummed.

Eyes caught across the crowded living room, surrounded by and swirled with love: my favorite notes you write. 

Only 50 weeks until the next.

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A Word on Haircuts

My age is sneaking up on me in mysterious ways. I’ve become inordinately concerned with going to the dentist, I pay attention to when my car is actually due for an oil change, and last week, I caught myself watching a young mom of three wild boys and saying to her “You’ve got your hands full there,” with a sage nod.

There is, however, one notable facet of adulthood and growing up that I can’t even pretend I’ve come close to mastering.

Haircuts.

I set out at the beginning of this year to find myself a real, grown woman hair salon. I hear it’s a burden that many women grapple with (hence the finding a hairdresser that works and then following her to the ends of the earth stories you hear), and I decided that this was going to be my year.

I made a vow to Sean and Meg, after a healthy amount of teasing, that I would not trim my own hair as I did during my beyond broke study abroad college days. I’m a broad on a budget after all. Nevertheless, I have kept my promise.

My car slows, threatening to stop at every Supercuts I see along the road and somehow, I haven’t been able to go in. Supercuts feels like a regression haircut, like a low confidence attempt to slink back to childhood.

This week, I made myself an appointment at a local salon celebrated by Yelp with one dollar sign, meaning I can probably make the cost work. I’ve also gotten my brush stuck in my hair twice in the past month, so I have to face the reality that it’s something that needs to be done.

My creative universe’s practice in letting go of control begins at the shampoo bay. I lean back and let this perfect stranger guide my head to the cushioned rim. In spiritual circles, we call it leaning in to the experience, emotion, etc. and it seems like perfect poetic irony that in this excruciating situation, that phrase applies so very literally. So I lean in. My head rests against the questionably sanitary tiny tub and I let the Eastern European woman with kind, bored eyes named Katrinka  scald the shit out of my scalp. I tell her everything is fine when she asks about the temperature. She lets the first droplet of water dribble down my neck and my body tenses. I’m sure she asks me questions, but I am only aware of the second water droplet, which runs on a perfect line between the corner of my eye and the inside of my nose. If there’s a hell, I think I’ve found it. I am stiff and a headache begins across my temple, where I hold my tension.

There is nothing more humbling than being forced to stare at my own face in that mirror with the black cape concealing my neck and body with a threateningly tight grasp. “Has anyone’s head ever looked more like a basketball?” “Why have I never noticed how grateful I am for my neck?” I make a mental note to thank God for necks, the unsung heroes for those of us self-conscious about our round faces.

I start to wonder where my eyes are supposed to travel when I realize I’m warm and not just slightly. The sweating begins and my eyes become nervous darts. Should I close them or is that creepy? Surely it’s better than whatever is happening now.

I watch helplessly as several inches of my knotty ends fall to the floor and I observe how strangely sad this makes me feel. The sweat continues to bead along my forehead while Katrinka commences her 40 minute blow dry trick. I scratch and claw at my insides to make it through the small talk about the color of my hair, as if this is a topic anyone has ever been interested in. I feel lightheaded with the inability to scratch my own nose. I’m daydreaming about a Gatorade to replenish my electrolytes and joining some religious cult where cutting your hair is fiercely prohibited. Then I briefly consider re-enlisting in therapy.

Katrinka rings me up; the total is $10 more than the price listed on the wall – a sweating fee I imagine. I don’t even care — I’m free. Perhaps 2020 will be my year.

9 Honest Confessions of a Highly Sensitive Person

Many of us grew up with the sense that we had something different.

Many of us kept a lot inside.

We have known all along that our inside worlds are rich and abundant, but that some 80% of the population regards us as introverted, closed off, or timid.  We might have struggled to find our voice amidst a larger culture that is constantly demanding that we are too anxious, too “in our heads,” and too easily exhausted by large social gatherings. Here’s a list of just a few of the things I’ve kept inside that I want you to know: 

 

1.I’ve experienced a lot of guilt over the fact that my family is entirely too much for me.

I arrived on this planet as an HSP to a wonderful family who happens to be very loud, very nosey, and very indifferent to alone time. I have made peace with the fact that I can love them exactly as they are, accepting that their idea of fun and comfort might not be the same as mine. However, there were many years during which my sensitivity to their natural tendencies made me feel cruel and ungrateful because it has been always been difficult for me to spend long periods of time with them (cough, also an empath). As an HSP, there has been nothing more unifying and settling to learn to embrace our differences and understand that our variation does not mean I love them any less.

2. My anxiety is never higher than when you’re watching me perform a task.

By the time the task begins, I have already internalized what I believe your judgments about me might be (because I’ve been preparing diligently). Work observations are torture and I’m likely sweating profusely and stumbling over my words in a way that is generally atypical for me. It’s not that I am nervous because I feel I am incompetent, more that I am hyper-aware of your attention and I can feel it throughout my body.  As a former collegiate athlete, I took on-the-field personal failures so hard that I often let perceived criticism become a symbol of my self-worth. Striking out in front of a crowd, for example, was devastating for me – and my inner critic (influenced by what I thought you believed about me) was often abusive. Looking back, what my coaches called “playing scared” or making mistakes out of the tension that comes from the fear of making the mistake before it happens – pretty much defines my athletic career.

3. I have had issues with my relationship with food (and sugar especially) for as long as I can remember because excess food and excess exercise numb my internal experience.

For many years before I understood why my system was so easily frazzled (which I know identify as a trademark HSP / Empath quality), quieting the world with food (always alone), was the only way I understood how to cope. I knew the behaviors were unhealthy as I was practicing them, but the need to escape from the constant stimulation has a mind of its own.

4. When I am neglecting my creative outlets, you can tell.

Those who are close to me describe it as a hollowed out version of the person they know. My inner world is so very much alive and I’m working hard to keep up with it nonstop. If I haven’t gotten the words, the ideas, the feelings, out of me somehow, I clam up and become emotionally blocked. During these times, I’m even more likely to retreat from a social obligation, call out sick from work to spend a day alone, or becoming highly irritable in my relationships. Long story short – I’m far from my best self.

5. If possible, I nearly always reach for a drink when I walk into a social gathering.

I’m not proud of this habit, but If there are more than a few people that I’ll be forced to socialize with in the same space, I find an adult beverage as soon as possible. I am painfully in tune with the energy in the gathering space buzzing with electric noise, smells, sounds and a glass of wine (or two) lowers my threshold to the environment. There’s also a great chance you’ll find me outside with the dog thirty minutes into the party.

6. I am prone to anxiety and depression.

While being an HSP comes with many gifts and strengths, it also comes with its apparent difficulties. In my case, my constantly overworking mind and sensitivity to the outside world means that I feel anxious often. When left unresolved, my anxiety can spiral into depression. As I am gaining awareness around the attributes of Introverts, Highly Sensitive People, and Empaths and the ways in which they impact my everyday life, my propensity to seek ways to take care of myself grows. Today, I use tools that have not always lived in my repertoire to identify my triggers as they arise. I let myself rest and work backwards when I catch my inner critic wanting to inflict shame that I require more down time than others. I am diligent about sharing my internal state with a few loved ones whom I trust greatly, even though it is painfully difficult for me to do.

7. As a kid, I took more books to slumber parties than anything else because I knew I’d need to escape somehow.

I am not necessarily anti-social and in all likelihood, I was looking forward to the sleepover. There’s an even greater chance that by 8pm, I would be completely overwhelmed with the screaming girls, the new surroundings, and another family’s foods and I would have regret coming. I learned around age 7 that I could last a little longer before snapping into overdrive if let my mind escape into a story for awhile. Let’s also not pretend that I didn’t have 1-4 of my best imaginary friends there with me to diffuse my experience. Today, I practice yoga, mindfulness meditation, and work to be conscious of my breath in everyday situations in order to tap into stillness in a world that seems to be moving at warp speed. Without these practices, my daily life felt a lot more chaotic and unmanageable.

8. No, I don’t think my clothes are trendy or super flattering either. But if a shirt with a scratchy tag over a poky bra and a tight pair of jeans is my reality, I won’t hear a word you say all day. 

I’m not joking here. As a softball player, I couldn’t wear batting gloves, despite the sand paper callouses that had formed on my hands because I would step up to the plate and the sensation of the gloves would take all my attention.  In elementary and middle school, I wore soccer shorts and a crew neck sweatshirt literally everyday. My hair was permanently plastered back into a tight tight mid-pony because the baby curly hairs on my forehead tickled so very much. By high school, I realized that as a straight female, I was expected to dress a certain way. I marveled (often aloud) at how comfortable everyone else seemed to look when I could conjure hives just looking at a pair of low-cut jeans. Thankfully, it’s 2019 and not only have a gained tremendous insight about what my “red light fabrics” are and I avoid them with swine flu level caution, but athletic clothing somehow became married to casual clothing in a wonderful cataclysm of HSP bliss.

9. Finding someone you can share your alone time with (and hell, actually want to) is the greatest feeling in the world.

Seriously.

Letter to the Darkness

We live in a world that glorifies the light, the spaces that illuminate, even with closed eyes. It makes us dark ones feel as though we are somehow damaged beyond repair because not all of our crevices are bright and shiny. Some days, those crevices are louder than the pieces of us that surface in search of the sun.

It’s okay to be in the dark sometimes I think.

 

To my own darkness,

 

I see you.

Today, I will give you the space you need to express yourself.

I’ve wasted many days trying to run from you and just for right now, my legs are tired.

Today, you can sit with me and I will do my best to let you be.

You are not invited to drive the car we’re riding in, but I won’t kick you out.

I know that tomorrow you evolve into my greatest strength and my brightest light.

Today, you are welcome here.

Things Happen

The notebook I was gifted read “MAKE THINGS HAPPEN” in bold, sparkly letters across the middle of the cover. The giver meant well; she thinks of me as a genuine go-getter and assumed this notion would inspire me. It’s been sitting on my shelf for three and a half years, every page blank.

I’ve been working with a writer soulsister friend on this whole notion of creativity and part of our practice involves writing three pages every morning, no matter what. If I have to wake up at 4:00am to write my pages before I start my day, I will sleepily drone on about the injustices of being given this desire to spark my creativity with a cup of coffee the size of my head resting at my forearm… but I get them done. I’m sure half of my pages at this point are a sincere compilation of my deep hatred for having been born a person who is made to seek. It’s a nice quality and all, but don’t the other people get so much more sleep?

At any rate, these morning pages have been clarifying and somewhat intoxicating. When I’m given a blank page with a sense of commitment sans rules, my mind falls quiet. It falls just quiet enough for me to be able to hear my soul. Some people call it their intuition, God, the light, the spirit, the inner voice, the higher self. To me, it’s all of them or none of them, because who am I to know? To me, it doesn’t matter what its name is. I can call it anything or nothing and it doesn’t affect the familiarity that resonates within me when I hear it, when I am quiet enough to hear it. When I give this inside voice permission to play for thirty uninterrupted minutes before I begin my highly chaotic day, I feel drunk on the silence of my busy head.

I decided to pull that old, virgin notebook from the shelf for this new venture. Still, I tormented myself with violent eye rolls when I read the inspirational message that tattoos the cover. And because I’ve become extremely aware of the satisfaction of listening to my higher self, I grabbed the scissors directly from my desk organizer. I pulled the blades apart and held them in a fist, scary toddler-on-the-loose style. I scraped and clawed with the scissor blade until the front of the notebook I have to look at 5:00am everyday is something I can live with. I scraped until the word “MAKE” was completely gone. My new favorite notebook now reads “THINGS HAPPEN” with the scar of torn paint revealing the hard cardboard underneath.

It’s perfect.

To Know Us

I think a lot about the things you are missing.

There are the obvious ones like Chayna’s high school graduation, Mom excelling at a job she finally loves, Jamie’s wedding, and every Christmas since that fall.

I think of the selfish ones like showing you my new favorite trail while we laugh about the fact that Chayna drives a forklift on a daily basis, the ugly truth that I no longer have an ally to duck out of family parties early with.

But I think the most about the subtleties – the number of times Chayna has changed her hair color, the people I’ve called to help me change a tire that weren’t you, the way Cailynn puts on her cleats. The way she loves and respects the game we did too would light you up and I wish you were around to see it. I wish you knew that she couldn’t wait to get to practice and that Mom has to drag her off after the stadium lights have gone off; she thanks her coaches at the end of every practice the way she learned from me the way I learned from you.

I think about the way it would feel for you to know us.

Chatter in the Breeze

Each step forward makes a cloud of dust underneath my worn out Nike’s and the endless mind chatter loses steam; both the winding path ahead and the wild heart within liberate me.

I’ve been highly critical of myself as of late based on how I’m choosing to spend my “fitness funds” and where I believe I’m deriving newfound mental energy. The answer to both of these propositions lies on the cushy floors of the bougie yoga studio down the road from my house. I started the free trial membership two weeks ago and was hooked. It really is worth all the pizazz. I’ve been obsessed with this notion that I am somehow a less authentic person because I’ve been moving my body in a warm, scented room with a bunch of other privileged individuals. I feel like I’ve been sneaking around, having an affair of sorts and cheating on my down-to-earth movement routines that feel like a symbol of who I am… and loving every second.

Then, the breeze across my cheeks on the trail calms my mind chatter and I am allowed to settle into myself. This breeze is an old friend and she reminds me that I’m okay and everything is exactly how it’s supposed to be.

It seems like such an obvious thing, but perhaps I was never taught that it was okay to be all the things and to keep exploring, to be unsure and curious. Maybe we all need to be reminded sometimes that impermanence is our only constant and we can do so many things that are new, scary, and interesting and still come home to our authentic selves, however evolved she might be by now.

The truth is, I think it’s bullshit that we get to be only one thing. As it turns out, I am allowed to love hiking, big ass trees, and getting unmentionably sweaty and dirty and be intoxicated by the experience of practicing yoga in a community that challenges and inspires me. It is permitted that I am equal parts invigorated by the rocky hillside and the smell of the spring air and scared absolutely shitless of any rustling brush because RATTLESNAKES. It is completely okay to be mutually devoted to the idea of getting lost in unnamed campgrounds and sleeping on the ground underneath a blanket of endless stars and that of a weekend on the couch with Sean, drinking our favorite wine and watching How I Met Your Mother.

It is my intention to accept myself in this new practice I’ve been enamored with.

It is an intention in love.

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On Second Thought

A week ago, I learned that I was denied admission to a graduate program for the upcoming year.

Failure is an ugly and unhelpful word and truthfully, I believe that there is no such thing. However, until this morning, I had a piece all typed up ready to be published about all the ways in which that was true in everyone’s story but my own.

My words sat there like a big, organic multivitamin that I thought I was able to swallow completely, but clung stubbornly to the edge of my trachea.

I had listed the disappointments and frustrations that are surfacing in tandem with this experience, mostly the fears. The rejection letter sparked fear within me about who I want to be and how I’ll get there, but mostly, fear that you believed in me too heavily and I don’t deserve it.

I sat with the words until I felt something magical happen. I sat with them until they were boring and had no meaning to me. I sat with them long enough for me to separate from them and understand that they were a written representation of my mind chatter and nothing more.

The truth is, who I want to be has nothing to do with external accomplishments and the people whose opinion I’m really worried about already see me – with or without a Master’s degree by the time I’m 30. Most importantly, I still see me.

Yes, there is disappointment and frustration where I hoped there would be excitement and I believe it is my duty to let myself be fully human and acknowledge these things. It is okay to not be okay about this for the moment.

But when that moment dies and a new one is born, I am able to feel my higher self trusting the timing of the universe with full surrender; submission to this idea is as easy to me as taking in air. Practicing patience in the meantime, however, requires a bit more effort.

This time for me is not becoming what I thought it would. But then, it never really is. As it turns out, I don’t appear to be headed any of the places I had planned to be. Isn’t it beautiful to think that there are storylines for me (and for you) that we haven’t imagined yet? I have no idea what it looks like, but man, am I excited to learn what it is.

When we get there, we’ll be right on time.

The Untapped Market

I have grown up into the junior adult I am today with the notion that a vast majority of the great mysteries, overwhelming emotions, and paralyzing conundrums of my life have already been written for me. Books are transportation devices to times, places, and conditions that make us feel less alone; they’re my favorite way to satiate my endless fascination with human nature without having to interact with too many actual humans.

There are self-help books on an endless slue of subjects and I would venture to say that some of them are even legitimate. I’ve scoured the shelves of Barnes & Noble, investigated every inch of my beloved community library and I’m coming up empty handed. It turns out there isn’t a book for how to meet up with your partially estranged father for a casual coffee in the middle of a suburban city neither of you know well for which one of you will be tremendously tardy (cough, not me) and you have both accidentally found yourself in the middle of a historic antique car show. It’s a damn shame, because I see a real untapped market there.

Before this day, I had not seen my father in over six months and it had been at least a year since the two of us were alone. Coffee and sports are our bonding zones and given that he was coming from a sporting event and I only had an hour and a half before work, coffee seemed like a safe call. It felt mature and so very ordinary to meet up with my father for coffee, which is precisely why it felt so unnatural. Him and I have never lived in that place. Our relationship was built on drinking from the hose, building janky skateboard ramps and duck-tape appliances, annoying my mother, and bowls of ice cream the size of our heads. The two of us sitting down for coffee in a public place surrounded by other civilized adults felt vaguely like a turtle and a grizzly bear walking through the savanna hand-in-hand. I chuckled to myself imagining the strangeness of it all as I guzzled my nitro cold brew and watched the minutes before work tick by and  monopolized a table for two. Time passed, I lost the ability to hide the fact that the cold brew went straight to my head, and we looked at old cars I couldn’t care less about like we had seen each other last week. It wasn’t tragic or simple or the most revelatory, meaningful hour of my life. It just was. We joked like none of the rest of it happened.

As we turned to go our separate ways, he stopped. “Wait! I forgot I have something for you.” He dug through the back of his camper shell covered truck bed filled to the brim with god only knows and finally came up with a thick black binder. He flipped through the pages to show me charts of family trees, typed and handwritten chronicles of my genealogy, which has apparently become the hobby of my paternal grandfather’s golden years. The front of the binder displays a blurry portrait of a dozen grey-haired, wrinkly-faced souls – my paternal grandparents smack in the middle. It’s a funny thing, this binder. I don’t have the time or energy to study it, though I sense that I someday might. Furthermore, my already-filled-to-the-brim apartment is literally begging me to not bring another object over the threshold. Storing it somewhere seems packrat-esque and strange, but I certainly don’t have the heart to throw it out. So, for now, it lives on the passenger seat of my car. It feels weirdly symbolic that I let it ride around with me without feeling the need to open it or trash it.

It’s a tricky thing to make peace with things that do not make you happy, things that you never would have chosen. I suppose acceptance doesn’t require my approval. As the universe constantly reminds me, alignment with my expectations is not a prerequisite for the things in my life that will eventually bring about healing. So, for now, I’m driving around with a peaceful sense of grief, an undeniable caffeine buzz, and a binder full of old people.

Messy, Imperfect Practice

“I’ve been busy”: Everyone’s least favorite excuse. I guess I can’t speak for you but it’s definitely towards the top of my list.

The truth is – I’ve been burnt out. I’ve been spending a lot of hours doing something that I’m not deeply passionate about, which feels very stressful. That feeling wears me down and I want to check out when I have free time. When all the boxes have been ticked and all the noses have been wiped, I want to sleep. And then I wonder why I feel slightly disconnected, slightly offcentered, slightly flat.

It’s the cardinal sin of hobbies that bring us great joy, I believe, that we start them to light a fire when our lives feel perhaps a little darker. It excites something inside us and then we find the rest of our life getting a little bigger and a little brighter because that spark is contagious. The universe senses when you are your most creative, inspired, connected, and loving. For me personally, these things go hand in hand. It is my sincere belief that people cannot help but gravitate towards this vibration. This energy that our thing builds in us is absolutely contagious and consequently, our lives continue to get even bigger. Our calendars fill with work opportunities, academic pursuits, and social responsibilities (because of that godforsaken contagious vibe) and then, do you know what happens?

We stop doing the thing.

I’m in that place. My life got busy. I stopped doing the thing that gave me the passion to engage in this busy life of mine in the first place. I believe that this blank page was the beginning of my spark and then I continuously told myself that I was too busy, too tired, too mentally depleted to return to it. As the days crept on, the mean voice that is sometimes in my head told my insides that I do not have anything worthy of publishing and I listened far too often. I woke up this morning (on Earth day, no less) with a bigger voice – the love voice. The love voice reminded me gently but unequivocally that I have this full, exhausting life today because I pursued this thing that excites me first. I have forgotten that this blank page is not a chore or a heavy obligation; this blank page is church, freedom, and authenticity. The honesty and grace this thing has helped me to find in myself deserves to be remembered and to be honored with messy, imperfect practice.