Happiness

Pic from We Heart It

Someone told me something a few days ago that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. He said that in the past few years, he couldn’t think of a time when I had said I was truly happy or content in life.

To a degree, he is right. I’ve been through a lot and the nature of our friendship often means that I come to him when I’m hurting or need someone to talk to, and vice versa.

And in the moment of him saying this, I agreed with him, because all that came to the forefront of my mind were the instances of trauma and heartache. It was later, when I was still thinking about it, that I realized all the ways in which I do find joy, and all the little things or big things that make me happy…

Like waking up to a thunderstorm, when you don’t have anywhere to go

Going to a Halsey or Demi concert and singing at the top of my lungs, and dancing in the aisles, with no judgment at all because in those moments it is just you, the fans, and the artist connecting.

Being in any bookstore at all, or better yet a library, where I can pick up whatever my heart desires and take it home to devour

When I spent my 30th birthday with my best friend in the world and watched my mom defend me to a protestor on Bourbon St.

Night swimming at my second mom’s house, watching the trees light up with fireflies like glitter and talking to the moon

Going for a walk in the fall, when the weather is just right and the leaves are falling from trees into my hair

Waking up to the feeling of my cat curled up against me, fast asleep

Having the strength to be vulnerable, even when I know the door will be closed in my face

Driving with the windows down, singing to my favorite songs

And writing. I am whole when I am writing.

So, as I come off of a medication that might have had a tighter hold on some of my emotions than I might have originally believed, I find myself feeling happiness even more, and more so, wanting to share it with others. I hope I can do that, and never leave someone again with only the impression of sadness when there is so much to be grateful for.

Musical Muse 4

Inspired by “Cuz baby I could build a castle, out of all the bricks they threw at me..” by Taylor Swift “New Romantics.”

I stood there naked

as her words cut

into my skin,

branding me

with their fire,

bruising me

with their force.

I stood there

clothed in hypocrisy

until her breaths

were too labored

to lob more poison

into my seeping wounds,

and I turned

and walked away.

Unexpected Closure

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Letting go

I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell my story, and why I felt such a need to tell it, for at least a year now. Nothing really seemed to work or feel right. At least until a certain concert I went to that inexplicably sparked something in my mind that caused the pieces to fall into place. Suddenly, I couldn’t stop writing. I’d been reminded of my roots, of the ways in which my voice is strongest, and it finally felt right, and safe, to say what I needed to.

In telling the story, I wasn’t sure what I hoped to accomplish. I just knew that it needed to come out, one way or another. A couple of nights ago, I finished the first draft of that story and I was surprised to feel not just nervous that people would actually be reading it soon, but also an overwhelming sense of peace. Peace and confidence and serenity that I haven’t felt in almost 5 years.

It will be 5 years since the assault happened next month. Every year I’ve done something on or around the university to take back my power of that day and try to prevent myself from succumbing to the painful memories that can sometimes surface. Last year, I forgot there was an anniversary at all, something I considered, and still do, a victory in and of itself.

This year it seems the anniversary will bring about a piece of work written in my blood and tears. It’s honestly probably the piece I’m most proud of to date. More importantly, writing it brought closure. I can’t tell you what it means to finally feel like I can close the door behind me on this chapter in my life when for years I didn’t think it would be possible to go more than a day without thinking about it, hurting from it.

But that’s what happened. When I came to the end of the word document that held everything I’d gone through…I felt closure. I felt like I can finally move on.

I’ve been wondering at times what the purpose in my coming to Texas was when I’m just going back home to Indy in March, but now I think I know. I needed this. I needed to get away from all of the monsters that held me hostage before, come to a new, untainted environment, and find my voice again.

And I did. I found it, and I’m proud of it, and I’m so incredibly happy that as some sort of miraculous bonus, I’ve finally found closure. I can finally go home feeling happier and lighter than I have in years, and I am so grateful and excited for this next chapter.

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Ready for the road home…

A Date with Dragons

After living in Texas since June 1, 2017, I’ve decided to go back to Indiana. It hasn’t been an easy choice at all. I love Austin a lot. I feel like I can breathe here and I’ve been really happy here and am proud of myself for making a life here. I’ve also had the chance to learn a lot about myself since I moved, and one thing that I learned is that my family and friends mean more to me than I realized.

I love it here, but I feel like I’m missing a limb, like a huge chunk of myself is just absent. It took me a little while to come to the realization that I can live with an Austin-shaped hole in my life (as long as I still get to visit!), but I can’t live with a family/friend-shaped hole.

It turns out though, that even while I feel like this is right decision in my gut, I’m still apprehensive. I left Indiana at a time when I was suffocating and could barely hold myself up. The few months I spent before I left at my brother’s house helped for sure, but the time before that, in the apartment by myself, I was followed constantly by a storm cloud that I thought would eventually drown me.
So, now I find myself going back and a small, irrational part of me is scared. I’m worried that the anxiety and crippling depression I left behind is waiting for me, a 70-foot dragon waiting at the state line just daring me to cross.

harrypotterdragon

It scares me. I’m worried I won’t be able to breathe there. I’m worried the depression will come back when I cross back into Indy’s borders, like shrugging on an old heavy coat. I’m afraid everything will be the same.

But I also know that this is something I need to do. That while I’m safe here in Austin, I need to face the demons and dragons I left behind to show that I really have grown. Because the fact is, things won’t be the same in Indy when I get back, simply because I’M not the same.

So, March 2018, I face the dragon.
(and who knows, maybe it’ll end up looking like this guy)
toothless

Evolutionary Waters

So, there’s been a lot going on lately, and about a million things on my mind so I haven’t been able to update much.  I’m still too close to things to even really be able to comment on what’s going on right now so I decided instead to put out a non-fiction piece I wrote a year or so ago about a close friend of mine. Hope you like it ❤

tenor

Summer 2000

I look around the room at my second family, my mom’s best friend’s family: the people who helped raise me, my home away from home. We spend every summer together, passing the season’s milestones in a flurry of cookouts, fireworks, and card games.
Empty paper plates sit in everyone’s lap, forgotten as they stare at the glowing television playing Miss Congeniality. This time in the evening means winding down, relaxing in front of the TV with a full stomach until our eyes grow too heavy to process any more and we wander off to bed.
I nudge Brett, the second oldest of the kids, and my partner in crime. He is nine and I am twelve. I jerk my head towards the door and he nods.
Tiptoeing out of the room, we manage to sneak outside without raising any questions from the zombies.
We run uninhibited through the sparse country acre that makes up the backyard and towards the pool. We laugh as we fly up the plastic white ladder attached to the side and cannonball into the water. It’s lukewarm as it embraces us, refusing to release the heat from the afternoon’s sun.
“Marco,” I call out to Brett, closing my eyes. Night had fallen but the sky is so clear, the full moon so bright, the landscape is perfectly lit.
“Polo,” he answers. I peek through one eye to see if I can spot him. After all, it’s only cheating if I get caught. Ah ha! He’s just to my left. I reach a hand out, grasping air as I hear him splash out of reach.
“Marco,” I call out again.
“Polo,” he says. I lunge forward and out of sheer luck graze his wet shoulder.
He laughs, hearty and loud, the sound echoing off the trees and into the sky as he throws his hands up in surrender.
“I think my sister likes your brother,” he says.
“Ew, we’re practically related!” I exclaim.
“Do you have a boyfriend? You know you can tell me anything, right?” My love life is one of his favorite topics. He’s fascinated by the sophisticated relationships of my twelve-year-old life.
“I know,” I say. “But that’s none of your business!” I splash him before ducking under the water.
Summer 2006
My boyfriend and Brett’s girlfriend look at us with a knowing expression as soon as our plates are empty. In our own ways, we had each briefed them on what had become a tradition. So they don’t follow as we set the dishes to the side and sneak out the door.
We run barefoot towards the pool, tossing off the clothes that cover our swimsuits and leaving them to wait for us, scattered across the grass. Brett runs up the squeaky white ladder and jumps in, splashing me. I yell in response and jump in after him.
I grab the nearest pool noodle and sit sideways on it, so it cradles me like a swing, keeping me afloat.
“So, tell me about her,” I say to Brett. He’s attempting to straddle three pool noodles at once and failing miserably. I laugh as he tries to lift his leg over a fourth one and face plants into the water. He comes up coughing, sputtering, and trying to catch his breath before he answers.
“She’s cute, obviously. We have the same math class so at least I get to see her every day.”
“That’s good. Matt’s always busy with his college classes and work so I don’t get to see him as often as I’d like, even though we live five minutes apart.”
“That’s lame,” he says. “I can’t believe you’re graduating this year.”
“I know. I’m excited, but it’s scary too. It feels like everything is going to change.”
He nods. I can only see his silhouette against the darkness but I hear the water move around him. The fireflies are our only light tonight; the moon is hidden behind colorless clouds. Hundreds, maybe thousands of the glowing insects twinkle in the tree line, making it look as if someone had dusted glitter on the leaves.
“Dad cheated on Mom,” Brett says, breaking the silence, his voice heavy.
“I know,” I say. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t know. Everything feels different, like I don’t know who to trust.” I nod, though I don’t think he is looking at me.
There aren’t words for these things; nothing a person can really say to make it better. So instead, I wade over to him, grab one of his pool noodles, and float silently next to him. I listen in the still night as he purges his pain, his fear that his parents will divorce, and the insecurities that stem from having a father whose affection he feels like he’s never received.
Summer 2013
As we walk out the door and into the night this time, there is no one in the room to sneak away from. Brett’s parents went to bed early, his sister lives in another town now, my parents are divorced and in separate cities, and my brother is staying the night with a friend. We’re the only ones there this summer, but we aren’t bitter. By now we understand that families ebb and flow. People leave for a while, come back, and leave again.
We walk towards the pool this time, savoring the feeling of the long grass tickling our ankles. Brett jumps in first, but I take my time on the unsteady, cracked plastic ladder before lowering myself into the water. Automatically, we go to the two rafts we’d left floating along the surface earlier.
I maneuver myself onto the inflatable plastic, positioning my head on the bump that serves as a pillow. Reaching behind my neck, I pull my long hair out from underneath me and spread it out so it’s splayed over the pillow, its ends dancing in the water.
“What happened last month?” Brett asks, skipping the small talk. I’m expecting this question but am not sure I’m ready to talk about it. I don’t bother asking how he knows something happened in the first place. Word travels very fast in our small group.
I don’t answer for a while. Instead, I stare up at the vast, stunning heavens above me. The summer night is clear, the sky deep cobalt, and dotted with bright stars. A full moon floats next to the big dipper and I study its markings while I figure out what to say.
It’s not that I don’t want to tell him. Years of growing up together had proved no subject was off limits between us. It’s more that I’m hesitant to ruin such a peaceful night by smearing its canvas with violence.
“Nikki?”
“I still can’t bring myself to say it out loud,” I tell him, opting for honesty. The four-letter word, three-word sentence, is still stuck in my throat. Every time I go to say it, I choke and a flashback of hands grabbing me, a stranger’s face, pushing, hurting, makes me physically shake.
Silence is easier.
“Someone hurt you,” he says. It’s not a question. My eyes fill with tears at the concern in his voice. The fear, shame, and pain I’d been trying so hard to keep buried, in a futile effort to function from day to day, rush to the surface. The salty drops fall from my eyes with the faintest plink as they hit the plastic beneath me.
I hear splashing, the sound of Brett paddling his raft over next to mine. He reaches for my hand and holds on to it, a firm symbol of solidarity.
In all the years we have known each other, we have never held hands, but in that moment, it feels right. I can see in his face that he can guess what happened, and it is enough for both of us to know that we understand each other. It is enough that we are still in this together, bonded by something deeper than blood. We have been navigating life’s terrain together since the very beginning, when our hearts were still pure and innocent, and we would remain that way even as the years traded our innocence for weariness and wisdom.
“It’s okay,” he says. “I’m here.”
“I know.”

Accepting Depression

I’ve been dealing with depression off and on since the 8th grade. At least, that’s the first instance of it that I can remember. It’s the first time I recall feeling so sad that nothing could save me, but also feeling so many things that my skin couldn’t hold them in. The only thing that kept my head above water was music. That was the year I started listening to Janet and Velvet Rope was the first album that I felt touch my heart and calm it. 
Over the years I’ve found various ways to deal when those feelings came up again. Music has always been a go to, with just the voices of certain artists being able to soothe the hurt like a balm. There was years of dance of course, which saved me over and over again. And then there were the countless times that I ignored it. 

I would pretend I was fine or blame it on a circumstance, thinking that if only I could fix this one aspect of my life, I would feel okay again. 

The latest was leaving Indiana. A large part of it was a life long dream, yes. But part of it was also to get away from the suffocating depression I was experiencing. Surely being in a new place, with new air, and new people, would make it easier, though I never expected it to go away altogether. 

I guess I just also didn’t expect it to still be so present. I underestimated its ability to knock me on my ass no matter where I am geographically or not matter how well I’m progressing in my life. 

It might sound stupidly obvious to some of you, but it took my being 1,000 miles away from home to realize that the depression is in me. It’s not something I can ever run away from. Running away isn’t going to be anything but a temporary solution and for some reason that gives me so much comfort. 

Maybe it’s because now I know that I’m not doing anything wrong. That it isn’t the choices I’ve made in life or the abundance or lack of success in various parts of my life. It’s a chemical glitch that will always be there. And there’s a certain peace I’ve gained from realizing that and knowing that now, all I need to do is learn to live with it when it shows up, to never listen to its lies, and to let it rest when it’s gone. 

Its not always going to be easy, I mean hell this week alone has been gut wrenching and painful in itself, but my heart is at peace because I know it will pass. And in the meantime, I’ll bury myself in stories and poems and music that keeps me above water. 

“I’m a Little Bit On Fire Inside..”

My old pointe shoes

I feel too much. I always have. It’s hard to describe it but it’s like this ball of emotion that sits in my chest, demanding my attention, demanding that I do something to sate it. 

I’ve tried so many things to get rid of it; ignoring myself, self care techniques, even changing my life to counteract it. But it follows me everywhere. It followed me 1,000 miles to TX. There’s no escaping it. 

And then, out of no where, it hit me. This is the same feeling I used to have as a kid and a teenager. But I didn’t remember it torturing me like it does now, and I realized that’s because I had an outlet for it. I poured that over abundance of feelings and passion into dance. It kept me going, it kept me alive. 


Since I stopped dancing, a part of me has felt lost, ungrounded. Since I stopped dancing, I felt that ball of emotion in my chest trying to claw its way out, and I tried to make it go away. Whatever passion I had as a kid with dance, I thought was gone, forever. I thought I’d lost my motivation, my purpose for life. 

Then it hit me tonight. This ball of feeling, this screaming vortex of emotion, IS my motivation. It IS that burning ball of passion that used to drive me as a kid. And I do have an outlet for it, I just haven’t been using it. 

Because when I write, that knot disintegrates. It spills out of me onto the page, and I’m able to use it to write what I need to say and then leave it behind. Writing keeps me alive, and my feelings have been telling me this whole damn time when I need to do it, when I most need that outlet, and I haven’t been listening. 

But here, alone, in TX, away from everything I know and love, I can hear it so clearly. And I can use it again to light a fire under what I love and reignite my life and mind. 

Trying to edit a book with a cat on my lap

I can’t believe it took me so long to figure this out, but I’m really fucking glad I did. THIS is what I came here for, to figure out what I wasn’t seeing about myself when I was comfortable and in a familiar place. 

Staying Afloat. 

I’ve had a lot of things going on in my head lately, a lot of feelings that I haven’t really had anyone to share with. I know when it starts to become too much because it’s like I can feel my body and mind start to fill up and threaten to overflow. Sometimes I think I feel too much, but that doesn’t really help because either way, I need an outlet. 

Being in TX, and now being mostly alone in TX, has been hard. Like, really hard. But I’m trying to think of it as a retreat of some sort, a period of time I can use to grow and challenge myself and learn things about myself that wouldn’t have otherwise surfaced. 

One of things that has become my greatest life raft are stories. I find myself intentionally drowning in them, consuming them, and creating them, at a rate I haven’t experienced since I was a child. When things are too much, when I don’t have anything else to do, I read or write. I lose myself in another world or I challenge myself to take out the pen and build a new around me. It’s beautiful and it gives me hope. It keeps me alive, and I couldn’t be more grateful. If I go back home with only this love rekindled, reinforced, then I will consider this experiment a success. 

But that is still months away, and even then not set in stone. So I’ll keep waking up every day and trying to get everything out of it that I can. I’ll keep working at the bookstore that I love, enjoying to time I have with the couple of friends I do know here, and challenging myself to take advantage of every new opportunity that comes my way. 

Stream of consciousness

Excerpt from my journal: 

Only 8 days left until I leave and the closer it gets the more I feel like I’m on the right path. Like I’m finally, finally moving in the right direction again. I want to take advantage of this new city, dance in the lights and explore the hills and meet strangers. And write. I want to write like I’ve never committed to writing before. I want to let myself burst out of my box and actually work for the life that I want. I crawled, on hands and knees to this decision, to make this move happen. With my last breath I reached for the edge, to the surface, and the fresh air is so close I can almost taste it. And I want it. No, I need it. This doesn’t even feel like a choice anymore. It feels like the next step in my evolution, a compulsion. It’s a survival instinct built in to ensure that I don’t stop growing, that I don’t keep myself locked in this tiny box of a life that will inevitably suffocate me and snuff out any light I had inside. I have a chance to make the first of many dreams come true and for the first time in so so long, they seem within reach again. So much is waiting for me. And I met someone, maybe someone great, but right now she lives in my phone. A phantom I can’t see or touch, just out of reach, until I make this jump. This jump across the border that I’m literally aching for. The more it sinks in that I’m leaving soon, the more I’m brought to tears of relief and excitement, and joy. I can’t wait to see what’s waiting for me. 

The Girl in the Tower.

I haven’t been able to write for awhile. I mean, I haven’t been able to make myself sit down and write what was going on in my head for a long while. The very act of doing that opens you up to what you’re actually feeling and, in this case, broadcasts it to the world. I wasn’t ready for that because I barely understood what was happening….

but I think I’ve got it figured out. Not solved by any means, it’s going to take awhile to deal with and reprogram my thinking, but I know what it is now, and that makes all the difference.

See, I have kind of a shitty history with…people. I have abandonment issues that have caused me to learn how to control my emotions around others, how to shut myself down and be as cold as I need to be in order to protect myself. It’s a survival tactic, but it isn’t a good one. It’s something that has cost me friends and relationships, something that contributed to my abandonment issues because I didn’t yet realize that, in some cases, I was the reason things were ending as badly as they were.

Couple those issues with the devastating divorce of my parents, a complete loss of support system, and a sexual assault, and you’re left with what seems like, at the time, two choices. I could give up, let it all go, and let the world go on without me, or I could protect myself and make sure none of it ever happened again. I chose the latter.

Brick by brick, I built myself into this Rapunzel like tower, safe from anyone and everyone. I lived alone, I worked alone, I did everything alone. I thought there was a kind of stoic honor in that, in being able to survive without needing anyone else. But no matter how high I built the walls around me, I couldn’t keep my own depression out.

I was barely hanging on, ready to throw myself over the edge of the tower, when I decided that first, I would try moving the structure somewhere else. If I had a different environment, a different view, maybe I would get a second chance at life.

So, I made the plans for the move. Part of which meant that I would have to leave my tower for a little while to stay with my brother in his, occasionally smelly, castle. It was a sacrifice that not only was I willing to make, but one I was hesitant to admit that I really wanted.

As the weeks ticked by, I started to look forward to the times of day when I would see and interact with people I cared about. I wanted to be around them, even though I didn’t trust any of them not to leave at the drop of a hat. I was out of my tower, but still carried its bricks with me, buffering me from everyone I can in contact with. Something was still wrong, and I didn’t know what it was, or why I was still feeling this way.

It was one night, while I was sitting at the canal downtown, that all of this hit me. I was watching everyone walk by in pairs and groups, and feeling sorry for myself for being there alone, when I saw my life for what it was. I saw myself locked in a tower of my own making and I saw that it was killing me. It was then that I realized that having people come in and out of my life, whether they made it better or ripped my heart apart, wasn’t the problem. It was the solution.

I realized that I can’t survive by myself, and that I don’t want to try to anymore. Some people won’t like me for who I am, but others will, and I am just as deserving of friends as anyone else in this world. It is those very experiences that allow us to grow and shape who we are. Staying locked up in a tower, untouched by the world, will only keep you trapped, smothering you until you stop evolving, until you cease to exist.

So here’s to smashing those bricks with a hammer and burning all the rubble. Here’s to throwing my heart out there and seeing what comes back. Here’s to trusting my friends and working every day to be a better friend to them as well. Here’s to learning and growing again.

Here’s to living.

tangled

Pic credit: http://inkmonster.net/blog/tag/scructure