You Do You Week

Remember on Parks and Recreation when Donna and Tom have a “Treat Yo Self” day?

Of course you remember because, when you saw that, you thought “oh fuck yes!  Me want!”

About a month ago I was in the deepest depression I have ever experienced.  Only those who are closest to me knew about it because I was getting up and going to work every day. Pushing, pushing, pushing.  Then, I was coming home and sleeping for 14 hours.  Dinner. Bed.  Maybe some light to heavy crying. So, I decided that if I didn’t take care of myself I would be in serious trouble.

That’s when I decided to take “treat yo self” to the next level and stretch it into a “You Do You” week (actually I called it Tiff Week, but you get the idea).  “You do you” is my favorite hip expression that I recently learned.  I’m usually really behind when it comes to hip expressions.  I still say “raise the roof”.  A lot.  But, this one resonated with me because I’ve always been a super authentic person.  I clap and say “yay!” during meetings.  I cry at my desk when I think about my dad.  I do breathing exercises, noticeably, when I am walking down the street.  So, I’ve been living “you do you” my whole life.  Now, it’s a movement.  Marvelous!

I wanted to share with you, dear reader, what I did and what I learned during my YDY week.  I hope you’ll try it for yourself.  You might be thinking, “fuck you, Tiff!  I don’t have time to take a week for myself!” First of all, don’t swear at me.  Second of all, if you can’t take a full week, can you take a day?  Can you take an hour a day?  It’s about choices and you get to make those choices, even if you have obligations and responsibilities.

Prioritize You

The very first thing I did, even before I took my Tiff Week, was I made a decision.  I decided that I was going to use a week of my vacation days to focus on myself.  I was able to do that because I don’t have children and I have a job that allows me to accrue vacation time. I understand that not everyone has that freedom. I’m going to speak about my own personal experiences here, but if something resonates with you and you don’t have the freedom to take a week for yourself, I’m guessing you do have time to carve out a day here and there to try some of these things.

I thought about going away to the ocean.  Taking a solo vacation.  But, I decided that sleeping in my own bed, being around my mom, spending time in my cozy home (I just had my walls painted lilac) and visiting my favorite neighborhood spa was going to be more restful for me.  I hate airports, I hate navigating when I don’t know where I am. I know that those things induce anxiety in me.  I know tons of people who find traveling alone to be cathartic.  I decided that pushing myself to take a solo vacation wasn’t the right way to relax.  Me do me.

Have Zero Expectations

Thanks to anxiety, I put hard core pressure on myself.  Expectations swirl in my mind constantly.  I made a very conscious effort to have zero expectations of my Tiff Week.  I wasn’t walking around saying to myself “oh mahgawd this week is going to be sooooooooo relaxing.”  No.  That’s not what a You Do You week is about.  It’s about doing you.  If you want to relax, relax.  If you want to cry, cry.  If you want to dance around your living room in your underwear, dance.  If you want to sleep until noon, do it.  Don’t wake up at 9am because you have so much to do during your You Do You week.  None of that.  I had to re-train my brain.  When I woke up at 7am on some days I thought, nope. On other days, when I woke up at 7am, I felt ready to jump up and dance around my living room in my underwear.  If you can’t tell, I’m very big on dancing around my living room in my underwear.  Check in with yourself and see what your higher self is saying in each moment.  I think the smart people call that “mindfulness”.

Make Friends with Unstructured Time

Because of my anxiety, I often freak out when I have unstructured time.  But, I decided that structuring all of my time was also a source of anxiety for me.  During Tiff Week, the only structured time I used was for a much needed massage, a visit to my acupuncturist, an appointment with my therapist and a first visit to a cancer grief support group at Gilda’s Club Chicago. That’s it.

When friends asked to hang out I said “I’m not committing to any plans during my Tiff Week.  It’s a boundary I set for my self care this week.  I’ll have to let you know.”  I did see some friends, but I didn’t feel stressed about having to be social during my time off. The time I did spend with my friends felt awesome.

Journey Hard

This is my newest Tiffpression (Tiff expression). Journey hard: because a journey isn’t meant to be easy!  I don’t have to tell you, you probably read The Odyssey.  Any journey worth anything has pain in it.  My Tiff Week was super painful at times.  When you have downtime, all of those pesky emotions you’ve been pushing down come up like food after eating bad fish.  We normally just push them away by working or by distracting ourselves (I know I do).  During your YDY time, allow those emotions to come up and honor them.  This is a lesson my father was constantly trying to teach me when he was alive.  I wasn’t ready to listen.  Now, I’m ready.

One morning, I went for a lovely run/walk on the Chicago Riverwalk.  By the end, I was weeping in public next to a giant deer.  Did people see me?  Who fucking cares?  I was sad.

Deer

 

Let People Help You

I have a lot of people in my life who are really great at helping everyone around them, but they are shit at asking for help.  I resonate with this mindset sometimes.  It’s so much easier to busy myself helping and coaching everyone around me than to focus on the unpleasantness of my own shit.  When we take on the caretaker role all the time, others expect that of us.  If that describes you, pause for a moment and shout the following, “HELP! HELP! HELP!” It feels pretty good.  Now, sit down and figure out who can help you.  I have a dear, dear friend who is taking care of everyone else in her life, yet she is ill herself.  I asked her recently “who is taking care of you?” and she said “I am.”  Good for her but also no, no, no.

Learn to Help Yourself

On the flip side of asking for help is learning to help yourself.  This isn’t a lesson I learned until my husband took off.  All my life, my parents helped.  My husband helped.  My mentors helped.  I was always shouting HELP!  But, my journey has taught me to love and rely on myself first.  It’s been a fucking hard thing to learn.  My instinct is to grasp for help from wherever I can get it.  For me, that instinct comes from years and years of not being independent.  But, I’m journeying hard and learning not to always shout for help every time I need it.  Help can come from within, too.  What did that flight attendant teach you?  Put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.

Reflect

Once your YDY week is over, reflect back on it. Maybe that means writing in your journal.  Maybe that means telling a friend about your week.  Maybe that means writing a blog post for the world to see (hi!).  Remind yourself that YDY time isn’t a one-time thing.  You should keep it up!  Maybe around your birthday every year you commit to doing it.  Maybe you schedule time each month, or each day, or each week.  Maybe you don’t.  It’s your choice.  You do you.

Tiff’s Recommendations

I wanted to share a few things I did, specifically, during my time off that helped me immensely, in case you want to check them out.

  1. I You Tubed the shit out of my T.V.:
    I have a smart T.V. so, I listened to my favorite upbeat songs on You Tube and danced in my underwear in my living room.  This is my current favorite song to dance to in my underwear in my living room.I also used You Tube to find some great yoga. I super loved Adriene and did her Yoga for Mood Swings session.  You do you, A!  Check her out.  She’s got tons of awesome free yoga videos and she hits me as a super authentic person.
  2. I worked on my body:I visited my favorite spa, Allyu, in River North.  Amazing, relaxing place.  I mean, look at this relaxation tent.  LOOK AT IT!  Beam me up!!!  Linda is my go-to massage therapist.

    I also visited my beloved acupuncturist, Cynthia Funai, whom I love.  Honestly, the best sleep I have ever gotten is from her treatments, right on the acupuncture table. I wake myself up snoring sometimes.  When she puts the needle in the middle of my forehead, it puts me to sleep almost instantly.

    I took a morning to run/walk.  I’m not a big exerciser, but it really does get the happy quotient up to do something physical.

  3. I faced my emotions:Friends, this was the hardest part of my Tiff Week.  I’ve always been like “ooooooh, I’m so self-aware.”  And, when I learned that my perception of my self-awareness was a load of bullshit and I had been pushing down all of my feelings, pretty much my entire life, it was a very scary realization.  What goes down must come up.  So, I forced myself to deal.  One of the best things I did for myself was join Gilda’s Club, which is a cancer support organization.  There are locations around the country but, lucky for me, there is one about 5 blocks from where I live.  I joined a support group for those who have lost someone they love to cancer.  I noticed my emotions as I listened to others and I shared my own story.  It sucked in a really great way. The only way through pain is to deal with it.  If cancer has touched your life in any way, check out Gilda’s.Gilas's.jpg
  4. I made my space cozy:I had my home painted light purple.  Yes, that’s right, the color of a baby’s nursery. It was a bold choice, but it’s the physical representation of my authenticity.  Color means so much to me. Check it out.Photo 1 of home
  5. I did various other things that bring me joy:I had brunch with good friends. I saw my sweet and caring partner, Chris, and let him hug me for a really long time after my support group. I went to an art fair with my incredible mom.  I hung out with a tiny dog!!!!  It was awesome and sad, and fun, and hard.

This is the longest post I’ve ever written.  Thank you for letting me Tiffsplain and for lending your support. Feel free to share this with anyone who needs to carve out some “them time”.  If my journey helps you in any way, that makes me super happy.

You do you, dear reader!!!

 

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My Independence Day

On July 4th, just a few weeks ago, I stood on a Chicago rooftop and watched 360 degrees of color explode over my head.  Although there are no fireworks exploding above me today, I consider today, July 29th, to be my true Independence Day. It is a day I will honor and celebrate every year for the rest of my life.

One year ago today, I watched my husband walk out.  And, as the door shut behind him, I had no idea what was to come in the year ahead.  All I knew, in that moment, was my life as I knew it was over.

And you know what? Thank goodness.  Because my life, as I knew it, was due for a complete overhaul.

In the months that followed, I learned the meaning of pain. But I also learned that a phoenix rises from the ashes for a reason.

Instead of my writing in my usual essay format, I’ve decided to write a few of the lessons I learned this past year.  I hope you find something, dear reader, that gives you strength.  Especially if you are due for an overhaul of your own.

Be Your Own Best Friend.

Remember when you were a kid and you had to choose a field trip buddy?  Someone who would be responsible for making sure you didn’t wander off?  What a nice sentiment!  I’m here to tell you that, while it’s really nice to have supportive friends, loving partners and loyal family, you can’t depend on anyone to fix things for you or make you happy.  It’s a cliché you’ve heard before, but it’s very true.  In 2016, I lost my dad to cancer.  I often depended on him to calm me down when I was anxious. I watched a man who told me hundreds of times during the course of our marriage that he would always be there for me, leave.

And the sum total of those loses? Only gains.  In the absence of my Dad, I thought about all the techniques he taught me to manage my own anxiety.  I learned that my emotional dependency on my husband led me to be skillfully manipulated for many years and completely lose my sense of self.  Never again.

At the end of the day, you always have someone who will make sure you don’t wander off.  You.

Life is Change.

I despise change.  Some people thrive in uncertainty.  I hate it.  You know what the Universe has to say about that?  Too fucking bad.

Everything in life is steeped in change.  Those of us who struggle with anxiety want to hold on to anything stable like a toddler holds a blankie.  I’m not saying you have to throw open your arms and welcome it like an old friend.  I’m telling you it’s coming for you.  But you already know that because life isn’t the movie Groundhog Day.  Every day you live, something new happens to you.  Just make room for it.

You Do You.

My dear friend Katie, who is one of the smartest people I know, taught me the value of “doing you” and setting boundaries.

The phrases I’ve used the most in the past year to describe myself are “I’m ready when I’m fucking ready” and “I’m an individual.” Setting boundaries will piss some people in your life off because you will become less available to them.  But, it will give you the energy you need to show up harder in your life.  And, don’t get bristly when other people set boundaries or tell you what they need.

This is the hardest lesson I’ve learned this year.  I was going through a very, very tough emotional journey and drained a lot of energy from the people in my life.  So, I learned to pull back and focus a bit more on my inner journey.  It meant that sometimes I didn’t show up for others in my life the way they needed me to because I was so emotionally drained.  I’m working on learning how to balance focusing on my own needs with being there to support friends through their struggles.

Part of “doing you” is being mindful and present.  How will you know if you are “doing you” if you are not self-aware? If you are working on this in your own life, my advice is to define what it means to “do you.”

Don’t Want to Do It?  Do It Anyway.

I’ve always had performance/social anxiety. It shocks people to learn because I am very extroverted when I am around others. My dear friend Jenny confided in me that it was “good to have me back” when I started to spend more time with friends this past year.  When I was married, I got lost in my own anxiety and didn’t know how to pull myself out.

It’s not that I don’t love my friends or that I don’t enjoy activities, it’s that anxiety makes it hard to get up and go.

I used to always call my Mom and tell her “I was invited to this thing, and I really don’t want to go” and she would say “just force yourself to go.  You never want to go, then you go and have a great time.”  My Mom is the smartest person I know.

It takes a lot of energy for me to do anything.  Maybe this is true for you, too.  But, I’ve learned that feeding your soul, experiencing things that bring you joy, and spending time with people you love are the only things that truly matter in life.  And sometimes you have to kick your own ass to do those things.

In the past year, I’ve developed some new, deep friendships.  I’ve reconnected with old friends who have  brought new meaning into my life.  I have been singing.  I have been writing.  I took a stand-up comedy class. I started dating again and I met an amazing guy.

I’ve had really, really bad days, too, as a result of putting myself out there.  I’ve had days where I couldn’t get out of bed.  I’ve cried.  A lot.  But I ultimately always push myself to keep moving forward.

Luckily, forward is the only way we can move.

You, Dear Reader:

Thank you, dear reader, for supporting me on my journey this past year.  Each month has been a new breadcrumb on a path.  It’s been a twisty path, but it’s a path nonetheless.

Your support, your kindness and your loyalty has not gone unnoticed.

Let’s see what the next year brings, shall we?

 

 

 

Recalculating

I’ve always had a terrible sense of direction.  I have lived in Chicago for ten years and when someone stops me on the street and asks for directions, I tell them that I am from out of town to calm my anxiety and save face.  The voice on my GPS has said “recalculating” so many times that it’s beginning to sound like an old familiar tune.

Although my life seems to be mirroring my GPS—recalculating—I don’t feel lost. For the first time in my life, I’m starting to really feel grounded because I’ve had a realization:

Happiness is not a destination.

I know, it’s contrary to everything we believe in, right?  “Keep searching for happiness, you’ll get there”.  If you put in the work, you’ll eventually be rewarded by crossing the finish line.  Your prize?  Happy.

We are constantly searching for happy, like your phone searches for a signal when you are just out of range.  I don’t know one person who doesn’t suffer from the “if I could just” mindset.  “If I could just find the right partner. If I could just move up in my company. If I could just lose ten pounds.” Then, what?  You’ll be happy?  Quite possible, yes.  But, the pressure to keep happy up indefinitely is not attainable.  Why do you think we have expressions like “money can’t buy happiness”?

I realized all of this the hard way.

My entire life was a series of “if I can just” and the mindset caused me to eventually miss my exit and inevitably hear my mental GPS recalculating.

Even when I was young, very young, I was always looking ahead.  When I was 10 I couldn’t wait to be a teenager.  When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to be in my 20’s.  When I was in my 20’s, I wondered why I wasn’t married.  When I was married, I wondered when I would have a house and have a baby.  I was always stretching for happy and never pausing to realize I was miserable every moment of every day.  The pressure of happy was too much.

And, after the dust settled and I looked back, I realized I had spent all those years hunting a unicorn.

I’m not saying happiness doesn’t exist.  Some of us stay in happy for a long time, consistently.  Some of us have more dopamine dancing around in our brains, naturally.  Some of us practice gratitude as a way to let happy in.  Some of us make a conscious decision to feel happy.  But, others of us do not.  Some of us feel sad a lot of the time.  Not all the time, because sad is also not a destination.

I’m not a psychologist.  In fact, the only human mind I understand is my own, and only just barely.  So, I may be completely off base. But, this realization has freed me in some way and maybe it will free you, too.

At the age of 34, I had to recalculate.  I found myself without my beloved dad.  Without the comfort of my husband.  Without the future I thought had finally begun to blossom into my present.  I’ve had a lot of time to sit on an emotional teeter-totter between happiness and sadness.

For people with anxiety and depression, there are days when the sadness feels like it will never end.  I have those days.  Then I have moments of happiness.  They burst open like a magnificent flower through a time lapse camera.  Lately, I’ve been diving into them deeply and letting them wash over me.  I’m trying to anchor those feelings and remember them for when the sadness rolls in.  And the sadness always rolls back in.  That’s okay.

By taking the pressure off to achieve happy, I’m really starting to see things differently.  I’m not walking around trying to please everyone all the time.  I’m setting boundaries, taking time away, and speaking my truth.  And, you know what? It’s making some of my friends mad.  And that’s okay.

I’m telling myself I may never have a family in the way I always thought that I would, and that’s okay.  I’m pausing and saying “what do I need right now, in this moment?”  It’s the first time I’ve ever considered the moment instead of chasing the future.

Those of you who, like me, have always kicked the happy can down the road hoping to stumble upon it eventually will realize, sooner or later, that happy is ephemeral.  That means we get to have it sometimes and that’s pretty rad.

Happiness is not a destination.  It’s just a stop along the way on our journey through many emotions.

Not all those who wander are lost, they are just recalculating.

 

 

Put on Your Underwear, We Need to Talk.

When I was 11, I found something of my Dad’s that I wasn’t supposed to.  No, it wasn’t a nudie magazine (though I did once find his Zap comics).  It was a cassette tape of a psychic reading about me done by a friend of his.  And, boy, was it a doozy.  Without even asking for permission, I popped the tape into the tape deck and pressed play.  I don’t remember much of what I heard, but what I do remember stuck with me and will probably be with me forever.

“Tiffany will get divorced and have one son.”

I remember my stomach dropping when I heard that.  One son?  Just one kid?  And a boy?  The divorce stuff kind of bummed me out, too, but when I was 11 I was lucky when a boy even talked to me, so the thought of marriage was far in the distance.  But, even at a young age, I knew I wanted to be a mother to a little girl one day.

So, I grew up and 18 years later I got married.  And, about a month ago, I got divorced.  So, wouldn’t you know it? The psychic was right.  No sons yet, though, so I’m still dubious.

My Dad had a lot of friends who claimed to be psychic.  I don’t know if any of them were.  I don’t think I even believe that someone can be psychic—at least not in the way we talk about psychics.  I do believe, however, that some people can have strong intuition. I believe that because I am one of those people.

But, I didn’t start listening to my intuition until very recently.

Sure, 50% of marriages end in divorce, so the odds of the psychic being right were pretty high.  At least that’s what my husband told me as he was walking out on me and I said “the psychic was right!”  But, on some level, I think I always knew he was going to walk out, and I’ll tell you why—I had dreams.

I had a recurring dream for years.  In that dream, my husband would ask me to sit down and he would say “Tiff, I love you, and I’m going to help you through this, but I’ve got to go.”  I had a variation of that dream many, many times.  Every time I had the dream, I woke up and told my husband about it.  Each time he would say “I will never leave you.” I also had another recurring dream that I was back in the dating world and experiencing break up after break up.  I recall being confused by this particular dream and swearing, during the dream, that I was with someone.  Then, I would wake up and see my husband lying next to me.  That’s some major cognitive dissonance right there.

I suppose the dreams may have come because I never really felt like I knew my husband on more than a surface level.  He was very emotionally guarded with me.  But, I think the dreams were also a manifestation of my intuition that something was very wrong.

There was one dream, in that sea of nightmares, that stood out in my mind.  I dreamed that I was staring, deeply, into the eyes of a man and he was staring, deeply, back into mine.  I knew that I loved him and that he loved me.  All I could remember about his features was that he had a dark, black beard.

When I woke up, I was absolutely shaken and felt so alone, because I knew for certain that the dream was an intuition and that my husband would never make me feel as loved as the bearded man in my dreams did.

On the day my husband walked out, nearly a year ago, the conversation went something like the conversations in my recurring dreams had gone.  Except the actual conversation started differently.

“Put on your underwear, we need to talk,” he said.

When you get married, you don’t assume it’s all going to go up in flames and you certainly don’t assume the conversation, ending it all, will ever start like that.

Oh, you’re wondering why he said that?  I’m considering just letting you use your imagination to answer that question, because I’m sure whatever scenario you’ve concocted is a hell of a lot funnier.

We had just gotten back from dinner.  Because the best time to tell your wife you are leaving her is after a meal at an expensive restaurant.  I was in the bathroom, and he knocked on the door and barged right in.

When he said “put on your underwear, we need to talk” all I heard was “we need to talk”, so my anxious brain was already five steps ahead, fully prepared to have the “I’m leaving you” conversation partially naked. But, I did put on some underwear and we did talk.

And the conversation was almost identical to the ones in my recurring nightmares.  I guess it turns out I was the psychic all along.

The story does have a happy ending though.

Remember the man with the dark beard?  Well, it turns out he’s real.  He stares deeply into my eyes and I stare deeply into his.  Just like in my dream.  And, he’s incredibly smart, caring, funny, supportive and unreasonably handsome–and he has a perfect, jet black beard.  But, most importantly, he treats me like an equal, not someone who needs to be taken care of.  We communicate openly with one another and we can both marvel in the new experience of being loved and accepted.  Neither of our lives is easy, but is anyone’s life?  We’re there for each other and we’re open about who we are and what we need.

He knows that my dream of being a mother is still important to me, just like it was when I was 11.  I told him right away because, now, I trust my intuition and I value the importance of open communication in a relationship.

I still have dreams, but the dreams I have when I am awake are the ones that are most important to me now.  I don’t have nightmares about my partner anymore.  Instead, I have dreams of being a writer, a comic, a mother and an equal partner in a healthy relationship.  And you know what? I’m more than halfway there.

Now excuse me, I have a cassette tape to destroy.

March Forth

My dad left this world parallel to the way he lived his life- with meaning.  To die on a day that is not only represented with numbers, but also with a command- march forth- is powerful and fitting.  My dad brought meaning to the lives of so many while he was here.  And, while he never commanded anyone, his words inspired people to march forth in their own lives.

I think I was always his toughest case.  I wasn’t much of a marcher when he was alive.  I was a “if I stand perfectly still everything will be fine” sort of person.  That’s not the way life works though and life will teach you that lesson when you are ready to learn.  It was only after his death, and the experience of other massive losses within a quick succession thereafter, that my dad’s lessons really started to take a hold of me.  In his death, I was reborn, which is both a comforting and painful reality.

We teach people how to treat us and, thanks to my anxiety, people used to see me as someone who needed protecting.  Really though, I could have been a Bond villain and my dad’s instinct would have been to protect me.  That’s what dads do for their daughters. In the weeks leading up to his death, my dad tried to protect me from seeing him weak.  He didn’t want me to know he was sick.  But, I will never forget the first time I saw him and realized that something was grievously wrong.

My dad loved music so much.  He’s the one who taught me to love it, too.  I used to look forward to time with my dad in the car, because that is where he really let loose.  He would blast the music, play drums on his steering wheel and play air guitar.  Don’t worry, my mom taught me how to drive. For many summers, and during the year in between college and law school, I worked for my dad’s company.  It was those drives down to the city that I treasured the most. Cruising (and sometimes sitting) on 90/94, we would listen to WRXT and sing together.  Sometimes he took a work call and I would gaze out the window.  I felt at home in that car with him.  Safe.  We both loved Lin Brehmer, a longtime XRT DJ.  Lin has a segment called Lin’s Bin, where he answers listener questions on the radio.  But, he doesn’t just answer the question, he lovingly crafts a response and uses music to make his points.  He’s a brilliant writer and storyteller.

On the day I realized something was grievously wrong with my dad, I was heading out to my parents’ house for dinner and listening to a repeat of Lin’s Bin in the car.  The question posed to him was “is everything going to be okay?”  At the time, I was going through a rough period in my life and making some very intense decisions about my future.  It was just the question I needed answered.  I turned it up and listened intently.  I even sat in my parents’ driveway as Lin finished up, tears streaming down my cheeks.  Was everything going to be okay?  A few moments later, I rang the doorbell and my dad answered.  I had never seen him look so skinny in my life.  My stomach dropped to the floor.  Something was very wrong.  Everything is not going to be okay, I thought.

The truth was hidden from me because I used to be a different person.  Because of the extremely challenging things that were going on in my life a year ago, my dad didn’t want me to know that he was struggling, too.  He didn’t think I could handle it.  That’s how I taught people to treat me my entire life, with kid gloves.

A few days later, when I visited my dad in the hospital, he turned to me and said with a very weak voice, “sorry for the cat and mouse” and I said “it’s okay, Daddy.  I’m stronger than you think” and he said “I know.”  I didn’t believe it when I said it, but it turned out to be true.  I held my dad’s hand for a whole week and watched him turn yellow.  I helped him drink from a straw. I told him it was okay to die.  Only a strong person can do that.

Sometimes it kills me that he can’t see me now, because I really am a different person today than I was a year ago. But, the fact of the matter is, if I hadn’t lost my dad, husband and dream of a family within the span of one year, I wouldn’t be as strong as I am.  That’s the poetically unfair duality of life.  That’s the meaning.  We have no choice but to march forth and we shouldn’t want it any other way.

Last night, as I was heading to see my mom and brother, I caught the tail end of Lin’s Bin.  And, I shit you not, a car drove past me on 94 with a license plate that said two words: Love Dad.

That was dad telling me everything is going to be okay.

Own Alone

For the past 8 years, I was a Valentine’s Day zombie.  Devouring hearts, aimlessly wandering greeting card aisles and drooling over a bunch of crap.  What can I say?  I’d been bitten.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with love and the expression of it on Valentine’s Day.  If that’s what you’ve got going on, own it!  But for me, right now, I’m putting the own back in alone.  Maybe you are, too.

I used to hate the word “alone”.  Being alone?  Gross!  Why?  Now, I revel in it.  What changed?  I’m finally learning to love myself.  I know, your eyes are burning from the cliché of it all, but it’s true!  Self-love may be the slippery unicorn of life, but it’s attainable.  Take it from a recovered hater.

I didn’t just wake up one day and think “Gee whiz! Being alone is the greatest!”  Nope.  In fact, after my husband took off I was all but surgically attached to my mother.  I could barely function on my own because I had been part of a unit for so many years.  I didn’t know how to be Tiff anymore.  I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat, and I had amnesia.  I had forgotten that I was capable of taking care of myself and, most importantly, that I could thrive.

The learning curve was steep, but it was incredible.  Soon after my separation, I rekindled a friendship with a buddy who was also going through a divorce.  She stayed over one night and had to leave early in the morning, but not before she left me a note.  The note had instructions for self-care.  Things that had worked for her.  I wasn’t quite ready at the time to implement her great ideas, but it was the first time I started to see a light.  I have spent a lot of time with my buddy in recent months, and each time I learn something new from her about the beauty of alone.  She’s still learning, too.

It’s tough to be alone because there is silence.  Sometimes the silence is deafening.  That’s when the growing happens.  If you pop all of your thought bubbles, you will never watch them float effortlessly on the wind.  You have to observe them sometimes.  Other times, you need to just get up and dance, take a walk or watch your favorite show.  No matter how you do alone, remind yourself that there is healing in it.

I don’t say any of this to be preachy, or to lead the Valentine’s Day counterculture.  I say it because it’s possible that you are bumming hard today because you don’t have someone to remind you that you are loved.  Ah-ha, but you do!  You have you.

The Power of an Instead Life

A year ago today, I was out like a light.  That’s what happens when a doctor puts Propofol into your vein.  When I woke up from my procedure, my husband was there grasping my hand and saying “you did so great, baby.  I’m proud of you.”  It was all a lie, but I didn’t know it then. Exactly three weeks later, I grasped my beloved dad’s hand and watched him take his last breath.

I was committed to an idea of what my life would look like.  I squeezed that idea close to me, never letting it breathe.  But, if you hold on to your dreams too tightly, they will squirm out of your arms. Dreams want their freedom to grow and shift and change, like a child. Let them. They may mature into something greater than you could have ever imagined. I’m not saying that I was wrong to have dreams.  What would life be if we didn’t have any?  I’m saying that my dreams had four walls, and the walls were made of steel.

I learned my lesson the hard way.  Is any good lesson learned any other way?  Anxiety feeds on rigidity.  It savors it like a juicy filet and a nice glass of red. The tighter I grasped my dreams, the more anxious I felt.  The more trapped I became inside the steel walls.  It wasn’t until I lost everything that I realized the walls were actually made of clouds on a windy day, ever shifting and changing.

My dad had big dreams, too.  He was planning to retire and devote the rest of his life to helping people.  Instead, he died.  My dream was to build a life, a family, with my husband.  Instead, he left.  Life is full of instead, and when you finally embrace the instead rather than fight it, you realize the secret: an “instead life” can be the greatest gift.

I’ve been living my instead life for many months now.  It’s tough sometimes because it feels like I’m living between two worlds.  The life I used to have—the one where I relied on my dad and my husband to be there, and my instead life—the one where I rely on myself to be there.  My instead life has been empowering.  Let me save you $20.00 on a self-help book: when you are walking through hell, grab your fire extinguisher and stop to smell the charred roses.  When you are feeling out of control about your life, the state of the country, or anything else that makes your heart pound and your stomach knot, try to embrace that feeling and know that you will learn something from it.  Let it empower you to do something, teach someone or change something.  Don’t let it immobilize you.  You might need tools to help you, like medication or meditation, but the more you embrace your instead life the more alive you will feel.

I have bad days where I want to kick my instead life in the face.  When I have those days, my wisest friends tell me something along the lines of “this too shall pass.”  It’s hard to believe that adage when you are in it.  But, it always does.  Sometimes I feel great and dance around my place to my favorite music, and sometimes I curl into a ball and cry.  But, at the end, I always embrace my instead life and face the things about it that make me most uncomfortable.  I hate traveling, but I just returned from a week-long work trip to New York.  I had an incredible time and I also got food poisoning.  While I was donating the contents of my stomach to the New York sewer system, I was also feeling extremely present in the moment.  That’s what my instead life has taught me.  There is a brilliant duality about life.  You have to ride the waves (of nausea sometimes) until the waters calm.

Maybe you haven’t glimpsed your instead life yet.  You will.  We all do at some point.  We lose someone we love, or get sick.  We change careers or we fall in love.  Your instead life will find you, like it or not.  Instead of pushing it away, grasp it by the hand and jump.