A Likely Concussion and A Study in Toxic Masculinity

Dear Readership,

I recently had the interesting experience of being hit very hard in the head while also simultaneously witnessing some of the most refreshing displays of healthy masculinity that I’ve ever encountered (and yes, those are related).

Allow me to back up — last weekend a most beloved friend of mine got married (this is not related. I am just giving too much context like the oversharer I was born to be). Because I was the bridesmaid with the most flexible schedule, I helped with wedding prep and cleanup which made for three very long (and very joy-filled days) that I wouldn’t give up for the world. My feet, however, may never recover. They were swollen, aching, and blistered from adorable but merciless shoes. After it was all over, I sat on the floor of my mom’s house and massaged them pitifully while exchanging pleasantries with the parents of some longtime family friends who were in town for the wedding.

The youngest son of these friends approached me at around 10:30 (a mere 10 minutes after I had arrived home post-wedding cleanup) and asked ever so sweetly if I would consider playing a game called King’s Base with him and the other young siblings (think a mixture of capture the flag/tag played in the dark). Now, as dearly as I cherish the older siblings, I hardly know this youngest child at all and I was completely taken aback by both his forwardness and politeness in asking me to join their game. I looked around me at the semicircle of pleading eyes (my three youngest siblings and the brother who is only slightly older than him having joined him in the asking) and I caved. How could I say no to such sweet faces? “You can say no” my step-dad reassured me. Nevertheless, I agreed to play.

Now, for further context, I’m not sporty. I mean really not sporty. My whole life I have been the klutzy girl (see title of blog). It doesn’t matter how hard I try, how many times I am shown, or how earnestly people try to engage me in sports or group games — I can’t do it.

And it doesn’t matter what the sport is: disc golf, basketball, baseball, kickball, soccer, ping-pong, tennis, croquet, jump rope, volley ball, running, even quidditch — yes, quidditch for a semester in college — I really can’t do it. And yet, as a child that was raised to play outdoors in a community of friends who had limited access to the internet or TV, I was often forced to participate in group games and sports over the course of my life. As a result, my childhood is littered with memories of not measuring up, of always feeling like I was disappointing my teammates, and of feeling embarrassed and ashamed.

I’ll never forget being held back in my summer swim lessons as a very young child and having to repeat the guppy level (you know, where you swim on paddle boards and blow bubbles on the side of the pool) because I had the swimming ability of a literal rock. I’ll never forget the day in middle school when I got picked last for kickball — after the kid in a cast. He couldn’t even play half the game and my friends still considered him a better option than me. I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face in early high school when, after showing me the proper way to throw a disc for the millionth time, I spiked it off the ground four feet in front of me. He was so utterly disappointed that I hadn’t inherited even a shred of his athletic skills. And I’ll certainly never forget the years of playing capture the flag with my friend and her older brothers and the many times they argued over who would be stuck having chubby, slow, and easily distracted Sierra on their team. Even now, these memories kind of sting and they are just a sampling of thousands of others just like them.

Big whoop you might say. Lots of people weren’t good at sports growing up but you don’t see them crying about it online in their mid 20s. And to your point, fair. But I think what made it especially poignant for me was growing up in a community that emphasized gender roles to a very extreme degree. I was constantly being told that my role in life was an inferior one. The Biblical idea of wives submitting to their husbands got lost in translation somewhere and began to mean women submit to all men. One time my friend and I were called into her kitchen to help prepare lunch for her brother who would be home soon because “it would bless him” to have lunch ready for him when he got there. I remember thinking, “Let him make his own damn lunch. I’m not his maid.” To this day I stand by that. If I had already been making lunch for myself that day I obviously would have made enough to share with him. But being called away from what I was doing to specifically attend to the task of making his lunch infuriated me.t

Unfortunately, this kind of thing wasn’t even an unusual occurrence. As it was, us girls were already allowed to do less, our parents came down on us harder, and we often had to yield to the boys in matters of play. When our parents were around the boys were often forced to display acts of gallantry towards us and we were forced to let them as a way for them to (begrudgingly) practice the proper way to treat a woman. But being young and immature as well as given differential treatment, many of the guys I grew up with began to form something of a god complex and would take it out on us girls when left to our own devices. They made sure we knew that we were beneath them and an easy way to express it was to dominate us in play.

The angry feminist inside of me — the one I think I must have been born in possession of because she has always been there — would always feel the extra searing heat of shame in the face of defeat. She screamed inside my chest each time I lost or was picked last or didn’t run fast enough because I knew I was mired smack dab in the middle of a stereotype about girls and there was nothing in my power I could do to thwart it. It didn’t matter how hard I tried, when the boys taunted that I was just a girl and could never beat them it hurt because they were right and I knew it. I could never beat them. But, being children, they were always monstrous about it and the standards of our community let them — even encouraged them to be. Knowing that my hands were tied by my own inadequacy and that my mouth was gagged by the harsh gender roles that had been meticulously stacked against me, a seed of self-loathing wrapped tightly in bitterness began to form inside of me.

As a result, I spent years of my life and hundreds of hours in therapy trying to prove my worth to myself in the face of having been measured so harshly by my community. I fiercely and faithfully refuse to play team sports to this day to avoid putting myself in the kind of situation again where I can be so degraded because I know what it does to me. I end up in a depressive funk where I mull over every mistake and disappointment. I take every taunt to heart and learn all over again how it feels to hate myself and project that loathing onto the people around me (whether or not they actually feel it). I have to spend weeks all over again reminding myself that I am happy, that I am worthy, that I live a fulfilled life that I am proud of, and that I don’t measure myself by the same metric that I fell so short of during my childhood.

So back to the story at hand. After all that very long interlude you may be asking, why, Sierra, did you agree to play King’s Base at all with a history like that? Well, because I thought I was playing against a bunch of kids ranging in age from 10-15. I figured my 15 year old brother could be on one team and I could be on the other and we would be about evenly matched. And because they asked so nicely, let’s not forget.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when both of the college-aged sons of my parent’s friends stood up to go outside and play with us. My heart sank to my toes — suddenly my fears bubbled up and grabbed me by the throat: loser, not good enough, klutz — all echoed in my head. But I had already agreed to play and I had vocally and consistently refused the outs that my step-father had given me. I had to play. But I also suddenly feared the ridicule of my peers in a way that I hadn’t for years. If I had known that they were going to play, I never would have agreed.

I tried to tell myself that this time would be different because this time I would hold my own (why? Literally no reason. I haven’t become faster or stronger or more coordinated so I had no reason to believe anything of the sort beyond the fact that I am super good at lying to myself). And let me tell you — it was a big, fat, steamy lie. I did absolutely horribly. In the first round of the game my ten year old sister and I (teammates, I might add) both ran to tag the same guy and cracked heads so hard my teeth slammed together and I saw a burst of light. I hugged her to my chest and apologized (to her for headbutting her and to everyone else because our team lost when she and I went down). I kept seeing spots in my vision and felt the curling finger of nausea in my stomach for a good thirty minutes after impact, but I was determined to keep playing because I wanted to prove that I was better. I needed to prove that a little mild brain trauma wouldn’t stand in my way.

Honestly I should have quit while I was ahead though (or rather, less behind). A few rounds later I was chasing someone and ran headlong into one of the college-aged guys (again, he was my teammate. Only this time we cracked knees, not heads, so it was an easier pain to shake off). Then just a few rounds later we switched teammates and, confused, I very aggressively tagged several people who had previously been my opponents but were now on my team. With one exception, these “friendly fire” tags remained the only people I tagged throughout the five or six rounds that we played.

To put it simply, I made an utter fool of myself through and through. Later that night I sat in the shower (literally sat, too sore to stand) and surrendered myself to the shame and self-loathing that I expected to wash over me. I braced myself for the play by play of every dumb move in agonizing slow motion to grind my self-confidence into a powder as the angry part of my feminist spirit roared in self-defense. I expected to grapple with that anger for weeks before I tamped her back down and reminded myself that anger is not an appropriate response to pain, before I reminded myself that the feminism I want to maintain is driven by a longing for mutual respect, that just because I had embarrassed myself didn’t make me less of an equal to my male counterparts who had beaten me so thoroughly in a game of speed and agility.

And yet, despite my openness to it, the shame didn’t come. I was shocked. Instead, the playback that hovered in my mind’s eye was centered on the number of times my teammates had high fived me and congratulated me for my little successes. I remembered how every time I hurt myself they stopped the game to make sure I was really and truly okay (the guy I plowed into even unnecessarily took the blame for our collision when it was calculably my fault). I remembered how that despite all of the smack talk and competitive airs, no one had ever targeted me. I hadn’t been made to feel small and useless, but had been verbally confirmed as a valuable part of the team. Now, for the record, that could not be more untrue and I know it. All I had functionally done to “help” was make the teams even, but even so, I had been graciously and lovingly included. Any smack talk that was directed towards me was in good spirit and tactfully dodged the subjects of my clear inferiority or any mention of my gender as a possible cause.

And that’s when it hit me: competition in team sports that is driven by gender shaming, by pointing women out as the “lesser” sex, by excluding, or by hassling is a picture of broken manhood. A real man (be he 11 or be he 21) is a man who high fives his klutzy teammate and tells her he’s glad she decided to play. I’m not saying coddle me or lie and tell me I’m good, but be made to feel like I was accepted — warts and all — literally saved me from a month long emotional spiral.

Now, I know that my revelation that sexism exists in sports is hardly new — professional athletes deal with that kind of crap all the time, so why do I feel like I should be exempt from the heckling? I guess the difference in my mind is that unlike Serena Williams or Megan Rapinoe, or Billie Jean King before them, I can’t just win the crap out of my sport to shut the haters up. I fit all of the stereotypes about females in sports that every knuckle-dragging misogynist has ever wielded to try to delegitimize a queen and I really hate that about myself. I want, like in so many other areas of my life, to be able to rise above the criticism through hard work and excellence.

So to then be graciously included in the face of my deficiencies reminded me that there are real men with a real understanding of masculinity who don’t feel the need to shame me when they win or blame me when they lose. That those who fall short of grace are themselves the deficient ones. It was a very liberating realization (albeit not a terribly profound one on the large scale of social insight).

Now, will I start engaging in more team sports with my new enlightened perspective? Probably not. I’m still a hazard and a general embarrassment to myself. But I do like to think I can start to gently let go of the barbs of my childhood and have grace for myself in the face of that embarrassment because someone finally set an example of healthy manhood in competition that I can look to as a litmus. I will never be good at sports, but somehow it took 23 years before a guy outside of my immediate family made me feel like I didn’t have to be — that I could play for fun and the company I provided is what made my presence desirable. Basically, it took 23 years for me to experience what it felt like to be treated like a human being in a sports environment and that long overdue contrast freed me from the binds of toxicity. I hope it will liberate others as well.

Until next time,

Adieu

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Why I Don’t Believe In The ‘Thank You Note’ (And Why You Should Never Expect to Receive One From Me)

Dear Readership,

I realize that what I am proposing (especially as someone who has lived in the South for most of her life) is rather inflammatory. My stand against the thank you note may be taken personally by those who love to abide by and perpetuate long-standing traditions, of which the thank you note is certainly one. To you, I am sorry. I know you must think of me as the embodiment of abandoned decorum or as someone who is utterly without manners. I am, “what is wrong with the world these days” as some would say, but be that as it may, it does not change my mind.

Let me say too before you are really ready to crucify me, I am not anti-gratitude in the slightest. I think being able to feel and express thankfulness is one of the greatest aspects of humanity. Gratitude is a feeling that strikes you low in the gut and wells up inside of you until it fills your body. When deeply felt, it climbs out of your throat, burns through your arms, shines (and even sometimes pours) from your eyes so that it is seen and heard and known simply because you cannot contain it. Gratitude is knowing that someone has changed your life in some way — saved it or made it better — and you feel overwhelmingly compelled to express that truth. Sometimes, too, gratitude comes mixed with other emotions — humility, joy, awe, excitement, even sometimes shame (like when you’re given forgiveness you know you don’t deserve).

But one emotion that gratitude should never be paired with is resentment. It’s an oxymoron. If I resent having to show you my gratitude, I am not really grateful. And if you insist that my gratitude be shown to you in a certain way (say, in the form of a thank you note) then you are stealing my gratitude from me.

I want it to be said and now be known that I resent–I mean truly from the bottom of my heart–resent having to write thank you notes. I think if everyone was being honest with themselves, most people do. It’s a chore that people have to make themselves sit down and do. Or it’s something that they keep offering up apologies and excuses for having not done yet. I can think of tons of times when I have seen a post or received a text or had someone say, “Sorry I haven’t sent you your thank you note, yet. I’m behind, but I’m working on it.”

Don’t apologize to me for not sending me a piece of mail that was likely written in template form so you could get through it faster and that I will definitely throw away. Just tell me right now that you’re grateful I came to your party. Tell me that you enjoy my company and my friendship — better yet, hug me at the party and tell me then. Or best of all — keep inviting me. Keep texting me and loving me by being present in my life. That is gratitude in action and the only thank you card I ever need or ever plan to send.

“But what about people who expect you to send Thank You’s? What if they are offended if you don’t?” a friend asked me a few weeks ago when I told her I wasn’t planning to send thank you notes after my wedding. “Then I hope they don’t come” I said.

That sounds a little harsh, but to me it is simple. If the only reason you would come to my wedding or give me a gift is because you expect to be formally thanked, I’m asking you now — do not come and do not send a gift. And this applies to all future parties, baby showers, anniversaries, etc. I want to fill my life with gifts that were given to me in love from people who don’t keep a running tally. I don’t want my life cluttered up by fake generosity.

I think the heart of this sentiment may stem from an experience I had in high school. One summer a church that I didn’t even go to raised money for me to be able to attend a Bible camp. My family didn’t ever have the funds to send us away in the summer so this was the first time I had ever gone to camp. I was elated! I couldn’t believe their generosity and was grateful beyond words. I made sure I told the pastor (who was a friend of my mom’s) how thankful I was. That week I had a ton of incredible experiences — I made lots of friends, but one in particular that was such an amazing kindred spirit he and I would continue to be friends for years (and still are). I also heard the Holy Spirit speak for the first time as I was dragged out of my comfort zone in ways I hadn’t known I could be. God’s message for me that week was to live boldly for Him — He called me to dance like David before Him and not care who saw me (something that was very hard for me at the time, but was an important first step in a long journey to liberate me from my crippling social anxiety). It was life changing in all of the ways that Bible camp really should be.

But fast forward a few weeks and I received an unsettling message from the pastor of that church. Sheepishly he implored me to write a thank you letter to his congregation because some of the members who had helped pay for me to attend the camp were upset, angry even, that I had not formally thanked them. I was shocked. I had said thank you. And I was thankful! Enormously. But why were they angry? Because it wasn’t on paper? Because I hadn’t groveled enough? It would be different if they had asked for an update — if they had said they wanted to hear from me about what God had done for me that week. But to demand that I thank them more? My shock became resentment as I penned a letter totally numbed by obligation.

It took me a long time and a lot of prayer to forgive the members of that church for shaming me for my “lack of gratitude.” It took a lot of effort to not let my joy be stolen and to remind myself that the actions of fallible humans don’t represent the heart of a perfect God. God still used that week to work in my life, regardless of the motivations of the people who sent me.

But I haven’t forgotten how it felt to be made small, to be scolded, to be the target of anger and judgment for not writing a thank you note. And since then I have been quite sure that I would not ever waste my time saying thank you’s that I didn’t mean, or force myself to write thank you’s that would make the sentiment disingenuous. People who are angered by this are merely identifying themselves as people I can happily prune from my life.

I guess you could say that this post is my official warning to all of those who are ever invited to future events that I host to not expect a card in the mail from me. Specifically those of you who do attend my wedding, if you find that you can get over my impropriety, I want you to know that I am thankful. If you give me a blender, know that I will be thankful every morning when I make a smoothie for breakfast; I will be thankful for my sheets every time I crawl into bed; I will be thankful for my measuring cups when I bake cookies; and I will be thankful for my dishes at literally every meal. I love the tradition of filling the house of a newly married couple with the things they need from the people they love (I personally have always enjoyed blessing my own friends in that way). And whether or not it is ever said, I know that they are always thankful.

And if you want a thank you — a real and proper thank you — listen for it. Our unspoken thank you echos in all of the trips and concerts and nights out that Bryce and I skipped in order to save money to make our wedding fun for our guests. Our thank you will be there in the delicious food we’ve paid for you to be able to eat and it will be there in the decorations. You’ll hear our thank you in the music, you’ll feel it in the hugs we give you and you’ll likely see it in our eyes and even hear it from our own mouths as we delight in having the people we love share in our joy.

I love to be thankful, it’s my favorite way to live. But not on paper. Not in a uniform stack of identical cards that I will try to race through to get over and done with. That’s simply not what thankfulness means to me.

Until next time,

Adieu

Love in the High Country: In Which Two of the World’s Most Awkward People Stumbled Their Way Into an Epic Romance

Dear Readership,

This is a saga — I’ll apologize in advance for the length. I have shortened it in every way I can, but like any story worth telling, our lives and love were formed in the details. Our story is one of repeated near misses, bad timing, and conveniently crossed paths that could give any decent Rom-Com a run for its money. So buckle up and enjoy!

Bryce and I first met when we were little Freshman babies at Appalachian State University back in the fall of 2014. He started talking to this girl who lived on my dorm floor, and once they began officially dating, he became a regular “lobby kid” (which is what those of us who bummed in the public space on the 5th floor of Coltrane unofficially called ourselves). I very vividly remember the day Bryce asked my floormate out because I bumped into him in the elevator just before he did it. He had bought her a box of gourmet cookies and written an adorable pun in the lid of the box. My friend and I wished him good luck and went on our way. Once Bryce was out of earshot I told her, “Man, if someone asked me out with a pun like that I would say yes in a heartbeat!” 

This, of course, was some pretty crazy cosmic foreshadowing.

Fast forward a little and Bryce and I happened to join the same campus ministry (he joined because a friend from high school was already a part of CCF and had spoken highly of it. I joined about a semester later because this girl who lived on my floor — and would later become my roommate, one of my best friends, and eventually a bridesmaid — kept nagging me about trying it and I wanted her to leave me alone).

Through the mutual space of our campus ministry, he and I kept in touch and began to become friends. When Bryce returned Sophomore year freshly single, my interest was officially piqued. I didn’t realize it though until he started talking to someone else and I became outrageously jealous. Not being much of a seductress, I settled into the comfortable distance of casual friendship and continued to admire the man of character that he is from afar.

Then, in the spring of Sophomore year, fate threw me a bone by sending me Hannah (Bryce’s sister) who transferred from ECU. When Bryce first told us his sister was transferring to App, I decided I wasn’t going to like her on principle (aren’t I evil? I had grown up with a dear friend who got regularly befriended by girls who were crushing on her older brothers. I knew how much it hurt her to be a tactical vantage point instead of a person with friends, and since I am nothing if not a woman of delusions and extremes, I decided to spare Hannah that fate by simply not liking her at all).

This, of course, went very poorly. I think I managed to dislike Hannah for roughly 2 hours? Maybe less… Her vivacious personality and raw endearing humor quickly flagged her as a kindred spirit and someone who I was incapable of avoiding. As our friendship blossomed, I remained determined to never ask about Bryce or bring him into our friendship. And yet, there he was. She would mention an endearing detail about him from their childhood, or would invite me over to his apartment where she was hanging out with him (since I lived across town and she still lived in a dorm with a somewhat weird and unnerving roommate, his place was the easiest meeting point). I found out from her that he was once again single and I tried to not get excited about it. But the more time I spent with her, the more time I seemed to end up spending with him, and the harder I fell.

I started to send out flirtatious probes (yes, probes. What an un-sexy word… once again, seduction is not my strong suit). I pulled out all the stops that my sheltered self could think of: the occasional brushed arm or bumped knee, regular texting, teasing, deliberate eye contact… I even tried the age old eye contact bounce between his eyes and lips when he spoke. Nothing. I couldn’t tell if he was picking up on any of it.

Then, at the end of Sophomore year, I drove him back to his apartment on the last day before the summer. It was just the two of us in the car and I thought maybe this would be the moment something finally happened. All my hopes were dashed in one cruel moment, however, when he reached out and gave me a goodbye fist-bump (not even an awkward in-the-car side hug). It was then that I was sure he didn’t like me.

Momma didn’t raise no quitter though, so I gave it another try over the summer when I texted him to see how he was doing. Despite my best efforts to keep it alive, the conversation quickly died. It was the final nail in my fragile ego’s coffin. Now I was sure that not only did he not like me, but maybe he didn’t even want to be my friend. I was Hannah’s friend who was around sometimes. That was all.

So I started dating someone else.

Little did I know, Hannah had been name dropping for me over the summer (even though Bryce had never picked up on my interest in him, she certainly did). She even went so far as to ask him if he would consider me as someone viable to date. That off-handed question managed to plant a seed in his head that all of my best attempts at flirting had never been able to do: Bryce started to notice me, to think about me, and to consider me as an option. As the summer wound to a close and we headed back to Boone for Junior year, Bryce began, for the first time, to really like me.

Just a few days into the fall semester, Bryce and I both volunteered to work the CCF table for the club expo (where new students could learn about/join clubs) and we found out that we had been assigned to work the same shift at our ministry’s table — just the two of us. He was elated when he found out. This would be the perfect chance to spend some time one-on-one with me. I, on the other hand, was devastated — I hadn’t stopped liking Bryce, I had just given up on being liked back. I couldn’t spend time with him like that. It would be awkward, not to mention unfair to my new boyfriend.

I told myself to put on my big girl panties and do it — we were in the same small ministry. It’s not like I could avoid him. Besides, we were there to do a job. I went in planning to be cordial but distant and instead ended up having a wonderful time. Our table had been placed in a back corner that didn’t get a ton of foot traffic so we spent most of the time talking, and Bryce proved to be a wonderful conversationalist.

He went home and told Hannah (his now roommate) that he was going to ask me on a date — and she told him that I had a boyfriend. Crushed, he resigned himself to our sudden role reversal and decided to continue to be my friend and like me from afar as I had done the year prior. With these intentions, he and Hannah invited me over a few nights later to see their new apartment and watch a movie. Once again I had a lovely time so naturally I decided by the end of the night that I would need to avoid Bryce in order to remain emotionally faithful to the guy that I was dating.

Despite my best efforts, he and I kept getting thrown in together — we joined the same support group, ended up at the same table for our campus ministry’s Thanksgiving (it was the first and only year they enforced assigned seating for the meal and I bet you can just guess who I got seated next to), and we often times ended up in our friend group’s hangout spots on campus at the same time. Even with all of our elbow bumping, we spent very little meaningful time together that semester and he was far removed from my mind when I ended my relationship during finals week that fall.

In fact, I really didn’t give Bryce a ton of thought at all until I returned to school for my spring semester Junior year and we started chatting at our campus ministry’s kick-off meeting. The conversation spilled over into text and we began to banter flirtatiously. All of my feelings from the last several years came rushing back out of the deep dark corner that I had hidden them in, and for the first time in a long time, I started to have hope that maybe he liked me. It all came to a screeching halt (again) when I jokingly threatened to hold him to a promise that he was making and he responded with, 

“10-4, good buddy.”

I died on the inside. Absolutely died. Good buddy?? The stinging shame of being blatantly friend zoned burned so hot in my chest that I couldn’t stand to bear it alone. I took a screenshot of it, blacked out his name, and sent the picture to several of my nearest and dearest friends (one of whom was obviously Hannah). I captioned the image with something along the lines of, “When you’re trying to flirt and you get friend-zoned so hard you get whiplash.”

In a matter of minutes she responded with, “who friend-zoned you?”

This was a question I wasn’t ready for (because I’m an idiot) so I said the most incriminating thing possible — “Don’t worry about it.”

She then did the most low-down dirty thing that I will forever be grateful for: she screenshotted my message and asked Bryce, “Did you recently tell Sierra ’10-4, good buddy’?” He admitted that he had and she showed him the message in which I confessed to feeling friend-zoned. He insisted that that wasn’t his intention, that he had been joking.

Sometimes I wonder how long Bryce and I would have been trapped in our cycle of missed opportunities and bad communication if Hannah had never intervened. Because even though I didn’t know at the time that she had shown my text to him, it changed Bryce’s intentions. He had confirmation that I did, in fact, like him. That I had been flirting with him. It gave him the final push he needed to make his first move — he invited me over to watch Futurama. After a few episodes we switched to Stranger Things (because I had said that I was too afraid to watch it by myself and he kindly offered to watch it with me and protect me from the scary bits). This, of course, led to some low-key cuddling which led to another planned date to finish the show later that week, and this time some unashamed high-key cuddling.

Then, on February 13th, 2017 I asked him if he would like to join me at the library where I was writing a paper. To my surprise, he said yes! It was already pretty late and Bryce didn’t tend to prefer the library as a study space, but he said he had a test to study for and could use somewhere quiet to work on it. Unbeknownst to me, at the time of my invitation, he was furiously drawing a Stranger Things themed Valentine’s Day card to give me. On the front was a drawing of Eleven holding a box of Eggo waffles along with the pun, “Leggo out?” written above it. Inside the card were several more ST-themed puns asking me to be his girlfriend. He brought it with him to the library and as the clock struck midnight he slid it across the table and whispered, “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Naturally, finally, inevitably, I said yes! Or rather, I nodded yes to being his girlfriend. I had, unfortunately, not known I was going to be asked out that night and had set up to study on the “no talking” floor in the library (my favorite place to get work done). So, having lots of things to say to one another in a space where we weren’t allowed to talk (and me still having a paper due in 6 hours), we continued to work in silence. However, I could barely stop smiling and I can say with confidence that that was probably the worst paper I have ever turned in.

As it got late, Bryce finally stood up to go. It had been my intention to stay later than him to finish, so I figured I would walk out to the car with him so I could finally say something and kiss him goodnight. Much to my surprise, he hugged me goodbye and before I could think to say anything, he walked away. I stood there torn for almost 30 seconds before frantically texting him not to leave yet because he had forgotten something and then raced down the stairs after him. I caught him in the lobby and (before I could have time to think through how much I hate PDA) I reached up and planted a big, breathless kiss on his mouth right there in front of God and the library staff and every procrastinating student on the first floor. “There” I said, “You forgot to kiss me.”

And from there, things were always pretty simple. Our relationship style has always been quirky and a little out of sync, but I have learned to love us that way.

The first time we said “I love you” I sat in silence for a long time trying to build up the courage to get the words out. Finally, feeling like I would burst, I managed to force out the question, “Guess what?” as an awkward transition from silence to professing my undying love for him. Instead of responding with your conventional “What?” my precious man didn’t miss a beat before replying “Chicken butt!” I spluttered for a minute, my brain unsure how to proceed before sheepishly saying, “Noooo… I love you.” Shocked, he hugged me fiercely and whispered in my ear, “OH! I love you too!”

Our off-beat style continued through the ups and downs of dating and almost a year after our first “I love you” we began to discuss marriage in earnest. We had talked about a lot of different timelines to get engaged, but never set something in stone. Unfortunately, I’m not a terribly patient person, so when each of the mile markers I had suggested came and went without a ring, I bought an engagement ring of my own. It was a simple wooden ring (because Bryce has such a deep love for all things rustic and wood grain) and I began to lay plans to ask him to marry me. He and I planned a picnic for the weekend after I got home from my study abroad and I figured that would be the perfect time to ask him. I’ll never forget telling my brother my plans and him cutting me off, “Wait, did you plan the picnic or did he?” he demanded.

I thought for a second, “Well, he did” I finally said.

“You stupid idiot!” he shouted, “He’s planning to propose to you that day!

“Not if I beat him to it” I said.

But as the picnic drew nearer, I decided to give Bryce the chance to ask first — it was his picnic after all. Then, if by the end of the day, he didn’t ask me, I would give him my ring instead. 

On the day of the picnic we drove up to Boone and headed for Howard’s Knob — an overlook of the mountains that also gives a stunning view of App’s campus. We set up our blanket on a nearby rock and enjoyed a delicious lunch (unsubtle plug — it was from Kindly Kitchen on King Street. It is one of my all-time favorite restaurants and everyone should go eat there). The day was gorgeous so there were a lot of people around us, also enjoying the view. Bryce kept commenting how he wished everyone would go away. Finally, they did.

“Everyone’s finally gone,” he said, “Let’s go look at the view from closer up while it’s just us.”

“Okay” I said, pretty sure I knew what was going to follow, but giddy nonetheless. We walked over to the edge and surveyed the little kingdom that had contained the entire length of our love story so far.

“Look,” he said, “You can see Coltrane from here. I can’t believe we met there four years ago. It’s so cool how we’ve come full circle becau–” he cut himself short. Just behind us a hiker had come over the ridge and was making his way down to the edge of the overlook where we were standing. Bryce let out a nervous and exasperated sigh. He turned back to me and reached into his pocket, “Before that guy gets over here” he said, pulling out the ring box, “Will you marry me?”

“YES!” I gushed as he put the most beautiful ring I have ever seen on my finger. “As it happens” I chuckled, reaching into my own pocket and producing the ring, “I have a ring for you too.”

He agreed to marry me back.

“I hope it’s okay that I didn’t kneel” he said, as we stood admiring our new bling and all the promises they held, “I wanted to ask you to marry me while I was standing beside you. You know, to ask you as my equal.”

This, of course, earned him a kiss. If I hadn’t been sure that I wanted to marry him before that statement, I was now. And I continue to be. Every day since then — good, bad, and ugly (and there have been some very ugly days) I have become more and more certain that despite our rocky start, Bryce is my perfect match. I continue to realize that I could never have asked for or even imagined a better happily ever after than the one I’m living with him. And in 144 days, I get to become his wife.

Until next time,

Adieu

Give Me The Same Cover Charge Or Give Me Death: A Rant

Dear Readership,

I have wrestled with knowing how exactly to write this post or what direction I want to take it (and have even written it 3 times over), but have ultimately decided that the best way to begin is with the most condensed version of the truth: last Friday night I went to a club in Asheville with some friends and proceeded to get the angriest I have been in a very long time. Angry enough to yell “I AM A WHOLE PERSON, NOT JUST BOOBS!” in a very crowded room. Angry enough to confront an employee of the establishment, and angry enough to part unnecessarily with my money — something I would never otherwise do — because I came face to face with a sneaky form of sexism that had snaked its way into my otherwise pleasant evening, and I was not going to stand for it.

Allow me to explain a little further.

Like I said, some friends and I went to Asheville last weekend and I really had a grand old time; they are some of my absolute favorite travel buddies and I love that we’ve started to form the habit of vacationing together. Friday night when we all got into town we went to Wicked Weed for a few drinks which was simply fantastic. Then some of the members of our group got that deep-down-in-your-brain energy itch that only dancing can ever properly scratch (obviously I was not among their number because I have about as many dance moves as a sock puppet and had not yet had enough to drink to make me forget my inhibitions…so far that limit does not exist). Fortunately, drunk people make for some of the best people watching, so I was happy to go along.

Someone looked up where the nearest nightclub was and we all braced ourselves to step out into the cold mountain wind that our flimsy “Winter in Raleigh” clothes were doing little to protect us from. Now, I’ve probably only been to 2 or 3 clubs in my life — none of which were in the U.S. — but I figured I knew the drill pretty well: pay the cover fee, buy one absurdly priced drink, complain about how expensive the drink is, hold my friends purses while they dance, and try not to get stepped on, creeped on, or puked on in the meantime — easy peasy.

So there we were, standing in line, whipped into the kind of obnoxious frenzy that stems from trying to follow the bouncer’s instructions (about handing over IDs, signing in, and getting checked for weapons) while also trying to maintain our own conversations in disjointed and breathless bursts. Eventually one of the girls in our group who was in the front of the line called back to the rest of us,

“Hey, the guys have to pay a cover of $10 but girls get in free. Do y’all still want to go in?”

We stood there in a confused cluster and clogged the doorway for a minute before ultimately deciding to go in. The guys begrudgingly fished the money out of their pockets and wallets while the girls stood on the sideline watching the transaction go down. My first thought was to be relieved and a little giddy: I didn’t have to pay! Yay me! But that thought was quickly overtaken by a flood of skeptical and angry thoughts: why not me?

Of course, to fully understand why excitement was my first reaction (but not my strongest reaction), you have to know that the part of my brain that was happy has been shaped and strengthened by being lifelong bedfellows with poverty. I like to think that I have never been entirely destitute despite always being poor, but financial ruin has been looming just behind me and breathing down my neck for as long as I can remember — one poorly timed late fee or car repair or lost cell phone would be all it took to send me into an uncontrolled spiral. Living with that constant threat has established in me certain “thrifty” behaviors that collectively formed a barrier against the threat of ruin. It’s a barrier I find I need less and less these days, but one that is hard to dismantle.

I still do things that a normal, thriving person doesn’t do — like accepting anything someone offers to give me (clothes, furniture, dishes, etc.) regardless of whether or not I need them because someday I might. Things like eating all of my food (and even other people’s if they offer their leftovers) if I go out to eat — regardless of whether or not I enjoyed the meal or even whether or not I’m still hungry, because anything that is paid for cannot be wasted. Things like cutting mold off of expired food and eating it anyway; like shopping with a calculator to factor for sales tax on a budget that has no margin of error; like always walking with my head down to pick up loose coins; like not correcting a mistake on a receipt if I’m being undercharged (which morally I have a problem with, but I’m not proud to say I’ve done anyway). Things like religiously shopping with coupons/sales; like bumming rides to save on gas even though I have a car; like sitting in the cold and dark to save on the heating and electric bill; like generously tasting every food sample in a grocery store because walking past free food is stupid and short-sighted; and on and on and on.

Being constantly forced to make choices to keep yourself financially afloat (like whether you should leave your insurance info on a car no one saw you hit or be able to make rent that month) brings out the ugly, animalistic survivor in everyone (which is why I hate and will always have a problem with the saying “poverty builds character” because it honestly, truly, really doesn’t. But that’s a soapbox for another time).

All that to say, that’s the part of me whose knee-jerk reaction was to feel a little smug and excited to not have to pay the cover fee. I knew I could afford the $10, but old pinchfist habits die hard. And under my initial celebration, feminist alarm bells began to sound in my head. Why would they only charge the men? My mind started to race.

On first glance, it seemed unfair to the guys — why should they have to pay when we didn’t have to? If you looked at it from the angle that women were being treated like VIPs who were granted free and immediate access, it did seem like the guys drew the short straw on this one. But I think anyone who knows anything about how we as a society place value on things would find it difficult to defend that position in earnest.

We live in a modern age that is driven by consumerism, where we often buy membership or the right to belong, and where the customer is always right. VIP access is never given out for free because preferential treatment goes to the highest paying customer (think about the difference between flying coach and flying first class — you know I’m right).

And what were the customers (men) of Room Nine paying for? Certainly not the environment — a small dark room, hot bad-smelling air, sticky floors, a so-so DJ — no, they were paying (whether they thought of it this way or not) for access to dance partners. For access to us. We weren’t customers at all, we were commodities that added to the package deal that the men were paying to use, and because we were free, we were also replaceable.

I know that may sound like a bit of an extreme interpretation, but hear me out — financially, what could the club hope to gain from only charging half of their patrons to come in? Wouldn’t they make more money if they charged everyone a cover fee? Yes, but only if they were creating an environment that encouraged repeat patronage for all of their customers. It occurred to me after we left to look the club up on Yelp and I was not surprised to find that most of their bad reviews came from women. Many of the reviews read the same — she was having a good time, but complained that some guy was dancing on her or wouldn’t leave her alone and the bouncers did nothing to stop it. And why would they? If she and her friends never came back they could easily be replaced with the next wave of women who had invested nothing to be there. Meanwhile, people who paid would insist on getting their money’s worth.

The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. the men were being offered a type of citizenship — albeit one they didn’t ask for — when they paid for entrance. And the rights of that citizenship (the bouncer ensuring your protection, for one) were being denied me because I was not the club’s target clientele. Rather I was the bait in the trap to bring them in. The club had lots of women — women that men would pay to come dance with.

I just couldn’t shake the idea that I wasn’t paying for goods, I was the goods.

“This is bullshit!” I said, “I’m not here to make the club experience better for some random guy. I’M A WHOLE PERSON, NOT JUST BOOBS!” I marched my way back through the crowds of people to the front desk where a woman sat. I slammed a $20 down on the counter in front of her.

“I would like to pay the cover fee for myself” I said.

She blinked at me.

“I would like to pay the $10 cover fee for myself, please” I said, nicer but still firm.

“Why?” she asked, still taken aback.

“Because it’s dehumanizing. If the men have to pay for the right to be here, then I have to pay for the right to be here. I’m a person, just like them.”

She stared at me for a minute more. “Okay,” she said, “I respect that.” She opened the register and gave me my change.

“Thank you” I said, putting it in my purse and making my way back to my group.

The rest of the evening was fairly uneventful: I bought my overpriced drink, I complained about it, and I held my friends’ purses while they danced. I felt a certain amount of satisfaction — both in having spoken my peace and in knowing that I had grown enough as a person to choose moral principle over fear-driven frugality, but part of me was still upset. Just because I personally paid the cover fee didn’t mean that the club was going to change their policy. I had taken a stand, but what about all the women who wouldn’t, or who didn’t realize that they should? What about all the women who would ignore the uncomfortable feeling in the back of their minds when they accepted the free admission, who would leave bad reviews for the club when they didn’t feel safe, and who would let the cycle continue? How could I stop that?

I don’t actually know if I can. But I do know that the experience solidified even more for me my own definition of the equality I will continue to fight for — I don’t just want equal social perks with men (things like voting and salaries and being CEOs) I want equal access to be able to pay the price for those benefits — from nightclub cover fees to registering for Selective Service. I truly believe that women won’t be able to reap the same social benefits as men until we suffer all the same costs, because that’s what it means to be equal.

Until next time,

Adieu

Valentine’s Day – Bah Humbug!


Dear Readership,

Happy almost V-day! In celebration of a holiday that apparently nearly half the American population hates (and what feels like more than half of the people that I know), I thought it would be fun to break down some of the most common complaints that I’ve heard against the day and why I find these excuses problematic. If you’re one of the love-hating bellyachers in my life, listen up! This is for you.

Firstly, I am someone who is terribly fascinated with human ritual — especially holidays —  so I did some research on the origins of Valentine’s Day and thought I would share. If you just want some interesting facts about the day, this list was an engaging, quick read (and I was able to fact check a decent bit of the info): https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/holidays/valentines-day-ideas/a26863/valentines-day-facts/

Or if you care a bit more about the history, I thought this was a good read as well:  

https://www.historyextra.com/period/modern/a-brief-history-of-valentines-day-cards/

My obsession with long-standing traditions aside, I really do have a problem with people who have a problem with Valentine’s Day. Even in my many years of singleness, it always perturbed me when people would go out of their way to crap on the holiday; please don’t think that my frustration is born out of the fact that I love a good platform to brag about my man. This beef predates his presence in my life by many years.

All of that to say, here’s my list of most common complaints about Valentine’s Day and why I think they are doo-doo.

1) “I hate Valentine’s day because I had a really terrible experience once.”

And? I had the Norovirus for Christmas once, so don’t even get me started on terrible experiences! It was rough. Me and every single other member of my family was the sickest I think any of us has ever been. Every bathroom, bowl, bucket, and even the backyard were being used to try to contain the physical manifestations of our misery (if you know what I’m saying). But we don’t sit around every Christmas thinking about that one time we nearly barfed and shat our brains out and then go out of our way to tell everyone else how much we hate Christmas. Bad experiences only have the power to ruin aspects of life for us if we let them. Be the kind of person who chooses to replace bad memories with good ones, not the kind of person who lets their joy be stolen and uses that bitterness to steal other people’s joy.

2) “Valentine’s Day sucks because it’s just a day for couples to rub their happiness in my face”

Again on the topic of bitterness — it’s an ugly shade on everybody. Don’t be that way. Nobody is going out of their way to be happy just to make you miserable. And frankly, if other people’s happiness does make you miserable, you should probably do some self evaluating because that’s a you problem.

3) “It’s just a commercialized holiday so companies can sell stuff”

That is literally true about every holiday ever in our modern consumerism-driven world. You can’t single out Valentine’s Day to not celebrate because of commercialization. Now, if you are one of those people who boycotts all holidays on the grounds that they’re just a giant marketing ploy, then I applaud your consistency and commitment to principle. However, I will also probably never invite your party-poopin’ butt anywhere because you kinda suck. Live a little.

4) “If you really love someone you’ll celebrate them every day, not just one day of the year”

This excuse makes my blood boil more than any of the others. It is the Battle Cry of the neglectful lover.  I think people rally around this particular saying because they believe it makes them sound more loving, but here’s the thing: if you really love someone you WILL celebrate them every day INCLUDING Valentine’s Day. People who truly cherish their partners take every opportunity to show them love. Daily celebration is love in the little things — like taking out the trash or sending them sweet texts or watching their favorite movie with them even if you think it’s stupid. That kind of love and celebration is beautiful and necessary in all of its ordinariness.

But it is also important to pamper the people that you love with large gestures of affection. Pampering looks different for everyone though, so I’m not saying you have to subscribe to the chocolate and roses method. Maybe pampering your S.O. is building them new shelves in the pantry or going camping or getting them concert tickets or whatever will bring them joy. Of course I think you can do those things any day of the year, but why would you go out of your way to refuse to do it on a day that is literally set aside to demonstrate your love?  

You should seize the moment — seize every moment — to love people well. You are not being counterculture when you refuse to celebrate Valentine’s Day, you’re being dismissive. And maybe there are exceptions to the rule, but my experience has always been that people who claim it is better to celebrate your partner every day, not on Valentine’s Day, are people who are trying to justify their emotional laziness. Those people aren’t ever going out of their way to love their partner well. And when you are being equally un-celebrated every day of the year, it is much harder to tell that you are being neglected than if there is a rise and fall to the patterns of affection displayed by the person who claims to love you. Again, there may be exceptions, but I have yet to meet one. If you are the kind of person who uses this excuse, I implore you to think of a time you did something big for your significant other. If you can’t think of a recent example, you really should reconsider your approach to loving well because I doubt you’re doing it.

5) “I don’t believe in Valentine’s Day because women say they want equality and then turn around and expect to be pampered on V-day. How’s that equal?”

I’ve heard this one a couple of times, but my most recent conversation about it got me the most riled up. I tried to interject that I love to pamper my fiance. I love to give him gifts and plan sweet surprises for him and write him letters so he knows exactly why and how much I love him. And if he gave me any indication that he wanted them, I would buy him flowers in a heartbeat, so what gave this guy the idea that V-day was only for pampering women? “Well, it’s implied. Especially in movies” was the response. I said, “Okay, but media professions are over-saturated with men. So men are the people telling you that Valentine’s Day is about women and I think you might need to take that complaint to the inner circle.” At this point, the subject was changed. But here’s the thing that really bugs me about this particular dismissal of Valentine’s Day: not only does it make the huge generalization that women are both superficial and hypocritical, it also enforces the false idea that men shouldn’t be pampered. As a woman who DOES want equality, I feel like the gender I need to fight for on this one is men. Love (or the celebration of it) is not inherently feminine and Valentine’s Day should never be only about women.  Ladies, if you aren’t going out of your way to love your man so that he also feels equally cherished on Valentine’s Day, step it up!

I know there are other excuses, but these are the ones I hear the most that I felt like needed to be addressed.

In summary, CELEBRATE! Be the kind of person who enjoys showing love (if not to a romantic partner this year, to friends and family and to yourself!) Delight in other people’s joy, go out of your way to spread love and remember: if you aren’t buying butt loads of discounted chocolate on February 15th, Valentine’s Day is being sadly wasted on you. Make 2019 the year you do better.

Until next time,

Adieu

How I found Jesus and my depression in a pack of cigarettes

Dear readership,

Please forgive my long silence (all three of you who regularly follow my writing and care to hear from me. The rest of y’all — meh). I have a whole slew of half posts that I wrote and never published because I grew to hate them as I wrote them, and then by extension, hate myself. It’s interesting because I have gotten very good at following the curve of self-loathing in my painting (you start and you hate it. And then with each new brush stroke you hate it more and more until you start to hate yourself so deeply that you think perhaps you should crawl back into the oblivion that you crawled out of and then BAM! Something goes right. The painting starts to look like deliberate art instead of vomit on canvas and a rush of relief and pride shoots through your bloodstream. You decide that maybe you’d enjoy going on to live another day after all because you might just be brilliant). But as it turns out, I haven’t adjusted to channeling and overcoming that kind of hatred in my writing yet. For whatever reason, it’s a different kind of cathartic roller coaster for me — one where I can’t ever seem to get to the satisfying bit at the end of the ride; instead, I just fall off at the rockiest moments of self-loathing in the middle.

So I never finish anything.

But today, today I think I finally shall. I mean, who can leave a half written post with a zinger of a title like that? And also this has been weighing on me.

Before I explain the night I had last night and the contemplation that resulted, allow me to give some back story:

I don’t smoke. I’ve shared one cigarette in my whole life and I didn’t even inhale (at the time I was drunk enough to not want to be left in the bar alone while my friends went on a smoke break, but not drunk enough to actually breathe it in). But last night, last night I needed to do something wicked. I don’t particularly know why, but I did. I have recently given up my go-to vices (eating junk food or drinking). I didn’t want to break my diet, but I had to do something. I had made such grand plans to be productive on my day off, but here it was 9:45 pm and I had gotten out of bed exactly twice (to pee and eat).

I was so aware all day of what I needed to do, I just couldn’t make myself do it. Any of it. Not even start a load of laundry (despite the fact that I have officially run out of clean underwear and that has always been the hard and fast line to make me start a load). My room is a disaster zone. Every time my fiance comes over I apologize for the mess. He’s such a tidy person and I’m a barely functioning person and I’m legitimately embarrassed about it. Every week I say I’m going to clean it on my day off. And every week my room goes uncleaned. My errands go undone. The only reason I have food to eat is because my fiance holds me accountable to shopping and meal prepping with him on the weekends. I’m not really thriving and that bothers me.

So there I was at 9:45pm having done nothing and needing to do something. Something destructive. Something outside the realm of what I normally do. Something to jolt me back to life. So I decided to buy a pack of cigarettes. Was that healthy coping? No. I’m aware. But it’s what I did. I’m not even good at being bad though; before leaving for the gas station around the corner I looked up NC smoking laws and dug out a copy of my lease to double check the complex smoking rules to make sure I was still operating within the confines of organized society. Some rebel I am.

Once I had purchased the pack I sat in my car thinking about where to smoke. I didn’t want to do it on my porch because I knew a lot of people would have their windows open for the nice weather and I didn’t want to disturb them. Against my better judgement, I lit one up in my car.

“Sorry girl” I whispered to Valerie as I rolled down the windows and started to drive. I just needed to be in motion. I needed to be alone and not worried about anyone else. I cranked up the radio and settled deep into self analysis as the smoke swirled around my head.

Why had this been something I felt compelled to do? Why couldn’t I just make myself function without some dramatic and edgy display? Why couldn’t I care about how guilty I felt for doing nothing and use that to get something done?

I started to think about my history with mental illness as I puffed my way through the pack — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 cigarettes, one right after another. I thought about how I have never really struggled with depression because debilitating social anxiety has always been my largest and most urgent cross to bear. I was anxious to the point that I would cry if I had to ask a stranger for directions, or I’d get sweaty and tongue tied if I had to make small talk with the grocery store cashier (thank the good lord for self checkout!) and don’t even get me started on how uncomfortable it made me to express my personal preferences over even the tiniest things. It was the kind of anxiety that drove me to perform, to do everything in my power to please people. Even when I was overwhelmed and buried in work to do, so long as I had deadlines to meet, I would meet them.

Meeting a friend for breakfast? It didn’t matter that I had had a panic attack all night and only two hours of sleep. I said I would be there, so I would be there.
Had a paper due? I would do everything in my power to write a paper that was above reproach even at the expense of personal relationships or free time. You guys, I never even skipped a class until junior year of college and it was because my mom had surgery and my professor said he would count me as absent even if I did come to class because I needed to go see her. I was always so afraid of being the cause of disappointment that that fear would drive me to excellence (and also a lot of misery). I used to have to sleep with a finger between my teeth because I would clench them so hard at night that my jaw hurt all the time. I would wake up if I bit my own finger too hard and practice relaxing my jaw in order to help with the pain.

These days, I largely consider myself someone who has recovered from anxiety. After LOTS of therapy and support groups and self-confidence meditation and fighting to control the lie that I wasn’t good enough, I really did get better. Do I sometimes pretend I’m someone else to get me through uncomfortable conversations? Yes. Her name is Regina and she’s loud and ballsy and not afraid to ask a Walmart employee where the chocolate covered pretzels are. I slip in and out of her persona so seamlessly now that sometimes it feels like Sierra is not afraid to ask where the chocolate covered pretzels are and that’s nice. But the point is, I function. I’ve learned to be okay with disappointing people — even authority figures– if it’s in my best interest (one of the reasons dropping out of grad school was such an incredible emotional VICTORY for me).

I thought I was better, so what was this overwhelming sense of apathy that I couldn’t seem to move past? It’s like hitting a brick wall every single day. I get up and go to work, I come home and lay in bed. On my day off, I go to bed. On the weekends — bed. Sometimes I just lay there scrolling on social media and looking through posts I’m not that interested in because I don’t feel at liberty to relax and watch tv or read or do something I enjoy. I need to get up. I need to be productive. But I don’t. Not to shower, not to clean, not to run errands, sometimes not even to eat. Why?

It occurred to me (I think on cigarette 4?) that maybe I had always sort of struggled with this but that anxiety had been a much louder voice in my head. My need to perform outranked my crippling desire to do nothing. For the first time in a long time, I’m not busy. I don’t have outwardly imposed deadlines, and suddenly I’m drowning in the big feeling of nothingness.

“Am I depressed?” I asked myself. The rain-chilled wind whipped through my hair and carried away the smoke as a sped along to 1 of the 6 places that I know how to get to without my maps on (that list is: Michael’s, the university I no longer attend, work, my fiance’s house, the library, and Cookout). I chose cookout. My throat was scratchy and I needed water. I felt weird about just getting a cup of water though so I ordered some hush puppies to smell (because that’s the phase of my diet that I’m in right now).

As I pulled away I sipped the water and took another drag — letting the smell of smoke mingle with the smell of warm greasy hush puppies in my car. I thought about how I liked the smell of cigarette smoke (I think I got used to it while I was in Spain and now it reminds me of being there), even though I don’t much care for the taste or general mouth feel. I thought about how I have always been careful about claiming mental illness. It took a doctor’s diagnosis and being bedridden for a couple of weeks with the physical effects of anxiety in high school (aggressive hand tremor, numbness and tingling in my hands feet and face, insomnia, lack of appetite, difficulty breathing, and difficulty focusing or remembering) before I acknowledged that it was a problem for me. I didn’t want to say I had anxiety because I didn’t want to presume my problem was as bad as other people’s. Was that true now? Was I dismissing depression as laziness? Or was I hyping up laziness and calling it depression to excuse the fact that I had gone another day without addressing the mess that is my closet?

I wasn’t sure. I turned up the radio even louder. It was tuned to a Christian music station and I just let the music wash over me and mingle with the other sensations — the smells of smoke and fast food and the feeling of tiny cold raindrops stinging my left arm and cheek. I felt a stirring in the bottom of my stomach when an old favorite came on — I hadn’t heard it in years, but I love to worship to it. The sound of it caused movement in a part of my spirit that has felt so numb and lifeless lately. It didn’t overcome the crushing lethargy, but it did remind me that sometimes I feel energy and joy and determination and no time more than when I am in the presence of my King (side note: this is not me claiming that the cure to depression is just listening to 106.9 the light. I would never presume to suggest something so invalidating of someone else’s struggles. I understand that mental illness is more complex and often due to a chemical imbalance, so it needs more treatment than a sing-along with Chris Tomlin in the car).

But I was reminded that this isn’t the first time that I’ve wrestled with my identity in the face of overwhelming mental illness. As a recovering anxiety addict, walking with Christ through my darkest days was an integral part of my recovery. Even on days when I didn’t feel like it was helping or days when I was frustrated that I wasn’t seeing results. On the days where I would relapse and have a panic attack and on the days when I couldn’t imagine it ever getting better. Those were the days that His presence was the most crucial.

I realized that my heart hasn’t been in my relationship with God recently. The blanket of numbness of my life has been affecting that too. I have been lukewarm in my attempts to nourish my closeness to Him and I didn’t want that to be true anymore. I sang my heart out the rest of the way home.

But, as is human nature, as soon as I got into my apartment in the quiet, I spiraled again. I fell asleep that way– in a dark ugly place. However, there is redemption with a new day! This morning I took a shower to wash off the smell of stale smoke. I threw the rest of the pack of cigarettes into the trashcan. I drove to meet a friend for Bible study and then I listened to worship music the whole way to work. I was ready to try to face this day differently than I had the day before.

I don’t imagine everything will all get better at once, but I do know the next step to overcoming this hurdle for me is re-learning to lean into God with everything that I’ve got. EVEN when I don’t feel like it. Even when it doesn’t feel like He’s leaning back. The rest will come in His timing.

Until next time,

Adieu

TBT: Moving… Oof!

Dear Readership,

Tonight I was going back through old drafts of blogs I had started and never finished and there were some real wacky ones in there. Unfortunately, most of them are doomed to stay in the draft file collecting cyber dust because I can’t for the life of me remember where I was going with them. But, lucky you, I found this one fully finished and unpublished for reasons I don’t remember. So here you go! Enjoy this little throwback to August and possibly the worst move of my life! Cheers!

****

Have you ever caught a total stranger off guard in their pajamas by walking out of the back room of their house completely uninvited and unannounced? No? I have. Twice. It was as awkward as you would imagine it to be.

Let me back up.

I don’t know about you, but I hate moving. Truly. Deeply. With a hatred so pure and poisonous that if it were to ever be condensed into a liquid form it would kill on contact. If you don’t count periods of transition — of which I have had many — I completed my 9th move this past week and it was a pretty heinous affair (I say “completed” as though the majority of my furniture isn’t still in my sister’s basement in Winston).

What made this particular move so bad? Well, let me tell you. It started with a series of paperwork in the days and weeks leading up to the move. For one reason or another, my apartment complex changed my lease on 4 separate occasions, the final switch being only a matter of days before I moved. It was a hassle, but it was finally sorted. On the day of the move, I attended a doctor’s appointment with my sister that lasted FAR longer than it should have. As a result, we had to pack my bags into our cars in a mad frenzy and race towards Raleigh in the hopes that we would arrive before my apartment’s leasing office closed.

According to the GPS, we would get there with 20 minutes to spare. According to the universe, we would most certainly not. We hit accident traffic not once but TWICE that made everything come to an absolute standstill. I watched our ETA climb steadily, and in a panic, called the leasing office to beg them to stay open just a few minutes past 5 so that I could pick up my key.

Begrudgingly, they agreed.

I’m sure the feeling of helplessness that slowly squeezed the life out of me for the duration of that drive is one that just about everyone can relate to — the feeling of having a hard deadline that you are powerless to meet as you slowly inch forward in traffic. But for the sake of everyone’s sanity — mine especially — let’s fast forward through the grizzly details of one of the longest hours of my life, to the moment when we finally pulled into the parking lot (going roughly 75 mph) and ran up to the office at 5:03pm.

The door was locked.

I knocked… I knocked louder… I all but pounded down the door.

An old man grumpily poked his head out, “WE’RE CLOSED.”

“Sir, I know, but I called ahead. I just need my key.”

“I said we’re closed.”

“Listen, I’ll be two minutes. Please, just give me my key. I have all of my stuff with me and nowhere to put it if you don’t let me into my apartment.”

He gave me the stink eye and slowly opened the door.

I ran into the office of the lady who had been helping me since I first contacted the complex about living there.

“Hi, here’s my rent check. I just need my key” I said.

“Yes, did you change your renters insurance?”

me: *dies on the inside* “What?”

“You changed units, remember? You have to change the address on the renters insurance.”

Right on cue the old man wandered by and grumbled. Angry at my continued presence in the office and the fact that I was not just picking up my key after all.

As quickly as possible I called the insurance company and changed the necessary information on my policy. Finally, it was sorted and she gave me my key. She walked me to the unit (to make sure the key actually worked) while I showered her with apologies and thank yous for helping me. As we were turning the key in the lock on the front door it occurred to me to ask, “Did you tell the people living her that I’m moving in today?”

“No” she said absentmindedly, “I normally do, but I didn’t have time to let them know.”

Immediately a giant rock slammed into my stomach. I prayed that they would both be in the living room when the door opened so the leasing office employee could explain that I was moving in. They weren’t. In fact, there was very little in the apartment to indicate that anyone actively lived there at all. Ten assorted and unmatched chairs lined two walls, a glass table without chairs sat against another. Two large box TVs sat unplugged and unused in different spots in the room. One random piece of ugly duct tape art hung lonesomely on an otherwise empty wall. An abandoned copy of the Al Anon handbook sat in a thick layer of dust on the floor in the corner

Did people really live here or was it a storage unit?

The woman helping me looked around at the scuffed and dingy walls, “It needs painted in here. Put in a work order for that and have a nice weekend.”

She left.

My sister and I looked around, and after whispering uncomfortably about what we should do, we began to unload my stuff. It was at this point (walking from my room back to my car for the next armful) that I startled my first roommate. She was in her pajamas and beginning a load of laundry.

I explained my presence in her house and introduced myself. She said her name.

I didn’t catch it.

I asked her to repeat it.

I still didn’t catch it.

To this day (one entire week of living together later) I’m still not sure what her name is. I’ve actually only seen her twice in passing since that initial meeting.

**EDIT** It would be two more weeks before I learned her name. She’s lovely and we get along quite nicely now when our paths cross. 

Fast forward about forty-five minutes and I sprang myself on my other roommate (also in her pajamas) and repeat the same uncomfortable encounter — except I did catch her name. Aside from briefly introducing her to my fiancé and his mom later that night, I have not seen her again since then.

**EDIT** we now talk nearly nightly and she’s walked with me through the ups and downs of all of my radical life choices since arriving in Raleigh. She is also lovely.

Honestly, the only evidence that I even have roommates is that sometimes dishes are sitting in a different place in the kitchen than they were the last time I was in there. Oh, and one of them set off the fire alarm at about 6 this morning and then apologized to the other one when she came out of her room to see what was going on which I could hear perfectly from my bed thanks to paper thin walls.

But back to my move. Fast forward through the next couple of hours in which I went and picked up a bed/set it up/made it/said goodbye to the people who came to help me/ and suddenly found myself standing alone in the middle of my unpacked room. It was at this point that I realized I didn’t have any wifi (I figured that either the apartment would offer it as a part of utilities or that my roommates would already have a router and I could chip in on the bill… neither proved to be true). I knew that I had a conference at the University first thing the next day, but I didn’t know when or where or how to get there.

Tired but resolved, I drove around Raleigh until I got to I-40. I drove down 40 until I got to an exit that had a food sign for McDonalds (aka free wifi). I exited and drove until I got to the McDonalds — it was closed and under construction. I kept driving until I found a Harris Teeter. I wandered through the store looking for the bathroom when some guy called after me, “Hey man, sick hair!”

“Thanks!” I said, feeling a little bolstered by the compliment.

“….ma’am” he quickly corrected upon hearing my voice.

Aaaaaand I deflated again. I thought man had been a colloquialism.

Eventually I found the bathroom where I sat for an hour, looking up details for the conference and trying to get my phone to let me add data to my plan so I could use it for maps to get home (it would be 2 more hours at a Starbucks the next day before I conquered the data problem). Finally I gave up and went “home” to the weirdly empty apartment with ghost roommates and no furniture and cried about how much I hate moving.

One week later, things are mostly better. I’ve unpacked a bit and I spend most of my time on campus anyway (let’s be honest, the library will always be my home–the apartment is just where I sleep). After three absurdly long orientations, I am ready to start my job and excited to delve into my program.

**EDIT** Spoiler, it didn’t work out. 

As I get to know the city, Raleigh is slowly worming its way into my heart despite all of my meltdowns along the way.

If this were an adventure novel I am fairly confident that I would be the main character’s whiney (but endearing) sidekick. I’m not sure if it’s considered acceptable to be the sidekick in your own life story, but it’s a role with which I am quite comfortable. 😉

***

Oh how three months can change everything! My living room is furnished, my roommates are not strangers (and I even gained a 3rd), my room is unpacked (but messy as ever), the university library is no longer my home, I am marvelously content with where I’m at, and as I’ve learned to take ownership of how my story unfolds, I am slowly becoming the main character. How’s that for a happy new beginning? (because it is certainly not my ending)

Until next time,

Adieu