Who tells your story?

I am a girl consumed by wanderlust. Not necessarily with regard to travel. Though believe me, there are cities and mountains and beaches I will make it a point to see before I run out of time. Mostly, my form of wanderlust is intricately tied with feeling a sort of aimlessness with life. There are some days where, even while I'm headed in a clear direction, I still feel lost. I'm always worried if what I'm doing is right, or if what I'm doing is enough.

This isn't a unique feeling. It's the human condition. Doubt and fear and the horrible, shrinking feeling of being something temporary. Life is a blip, and we are all dust floating in an ever expanding universe and the chances of us doing something worthy of being remembered (let alone something that will actually be remembered for) is slim. *Cue speech from 10 Things I Hate About You.* But do you know what is also a part of the human condition? Fighting back. Denying the odds and trying to be impactful anyway.

From Hamilton:
But when you're gone, who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame? Who tells your story?  
And this is why I turn to art when I find myself in a wandering/wondering state. Art always answers me. What we leave behind should not be our primary concern; it's who we leave behind. Who have we loved, who have we lost, who has lost us? What ripples do we leave, what lives have we touched?

It's not important that the entire world remembers us. It's the brief exchanges with strangers, small gestures and conversations that stick with friends long after you part ways. It's the hearts you held, the gentleness with which you touched the world. It is in both the good and the bad -- the ones in between. Every connection is an impression.

I have a small circle of friends. It is high in quality, not quantity, and for that I count myself blessed. I know that each person I have in my life has left a lasting impression on me. There are a select few whom I know, no matter how much time has passed, I will always hold with me. I will tell their story in the way I live my life, carrying with me all they've taught.


The impression I hope to leave behind -- my story -- is one of courage and compassion. I want to be brave, I want to be good, and I want to do all I can with those two forces driving me. I want to be remembered one day as someone who smiled freely and loved easily. I want to be thought of as someone who, despite the odds, did not give up and never developed a callousness toward the world. In the end, I don't know how many people will tell my story, but I do hope it is a story worth listening to.

Charlottesville

Stop. In all the chaos swirling over last week's events in Charlottesville, I find myself coming back to one question. And it's not the angered question about why we still have such prevalent acceptance of white supremacy in 2017, how that's even possible. It's not the question about why our president refuses to take a stance on the subject, and how anyone finds it less than laughable that speaking against Neo-Nazis is where he draws a line. It's something I thought would be more obvious, but apparently, isn't.

Why are statues of dead white men (many of which are steeped in a history of oppression and the monuments glorifying such acts/people might serve as a racist reminder that emboldens bigots and barbs those still experiencing discrimination, but you know, whatever) deemed by some to need more protection than black lives? 

They are statues. These are people's lives. How is this even a discussion anymore? Why are we even entertaining anything less than a firm and absolute condemnation of such indisputable racism and hatred -- from anyone, let alone our Commander-in-Chief?

We should be so much bigger, so much farther, than we are right now. If you have have the means and the opportunity, get out and do something about it. Every small action counts.

And if you're at all interested, let me recommend a book to you that I am currently reading -- "Nobody: Casualties of America's War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond." It is already (and this is nearly unbelievable) outdated in numbering statistics of injustices, but Marc Lamont Hill gives an excellent, impassioned account and overview of how heavy a hand the economy, and the system we have built around ourselves, discriminates against those of color, and those in poverty, while protecting and favoring white America.

Do more. Don't stop. We can be better.

Sad & Selfish

I have a really, really good life right now. It’s a life I never would have imagined possible when I was younger—a life I wouldn’t have known to even wish for because it was so far from my reality I would never have gotten my hopes up this high. Every day, I take stock of the things in my life I am lucky to have: a job I am excited about, a house that keeps me safe and comfortable, family and friends who want the best for me, a boyfriend who is the most compassionate and caring person I know. I've done more in these past few months than I have in my twenty-four years of living, and these opportunities will never be forgotten.

I take my tally of everything wonderful and have a moment of quiet gratitude. The universe didn’t have to let me have these things, but it did, I do, and I am thankful.


Which makes me feel like a garbage human when I have moments of stress, or sadness. It hit me this morning, out of the blue, with no cause. I finished my breakfast, washed my plates, and then sat there in a pool of unreasonable melancholy. And I got frustrated because 1) there was no trigger that I could point to that would have instigated any sort of sad feeling and 2) what right have I???

 Like I said above, I have a good life. I am so happy and grateful to be living the life I’m living and I never take a single second of that for granted. But sometimes that makes my more sensitive days all the more frustrating. I don’t want to waste time being sad when I have so many good things going for me. I want to be the smiling, energized Erica people like to hang out with. I don’t like who I am when I’m vulnerable or sad or anxious. I’m going to have to be okay with who I am in those moments, but it’s not easy.

I live in this strange cycle with anxiety and depression where my anxiety/depression acts up, I feel selfish for letting it act up, and then am increasingly hard on myself the longer it stays. I tried to explain it the other week like this:

 I get anxious. > I feel like a burden for being anxious, even though the other person is doing absolutely nothing to make me feel like a burden. > I’m told I’m not a burden. > I feel like more of a burden for making them feel like they made me feel like a burden.

 And so the spiral goes.

This is just another thing I’m adding to my long list of “areas needing improvement.” It’s okay to feel sad sometimes, even when I have things in my life that make me happy. It doesn’t make me a bad person, it means I need to sit down and try to figure out where that feeling is coming from. (And sometimes the answer is nowhere. Sometimes it’s the depression.)

My bigger task, though, is to work on the burden thing, because that gets me the most. I’m always worried that if I am not perfect and happy and everything people expect me to be—or what I think people expect me to be—that I’m going to eventually become too exhausting to be around. I don’t want the moments I have hard times to become too heavy for someone else to carry, so I’ve always carried it all on my own. It’s difficult to remember I can share part of that load, now. I’m getting better, but there’s still a far way to go.

Who I was vs who I am

There are no circumstances under which I could have ever guess that I would be where I am today. When I look back on the past year and review everything that conspired to put me in the place I am now, it’s hard not to believe that I’m getting help from some hidden hand, pushing me along. I’m not particularly religious (I would love to believe in a God, but jury’s still out as I sort through a number of things), and I don’t like to believe that my life is predetermined and that nothing I do makes a difference in my ending. But I do think that there’s such a thing as fate—probably many fates—and timing. Timing is a big one.

A year ago, I was a wholly different person. I’m not going to say that there weren’t redeeming qualities about the person I was, because there surely were, but I did not like who I was. A year ago, I was just surviving. I got through my days with grit teeth and a smile that I was working really hard to feel as real. I was sad and lonely and anxious. I had a habit of sabotaging myself, convinced that I should stay where I was in life because it was safe and steady and any risk I took might be met with failure.

Today, I am happy. I feel safe; for the first time in my life, I feel quiet and grounded and secure. I am surrounded by purely positive energy, and I am genuinely supported. There are still times when I feel like a burden due to my anxiety, but it’s getting better because of that support, and I’m slowly learning how to ask for help when I truly need it.

Who I am now is someone who is brave, and certain, and headstrong. I take risks. I say yes to things that I want to do, even if they scare me. I push myself to open up, to break through the walls I’ve spent twenty-four years building. I’m learning that I can still be selfless while remembering I deserve care and attention, too.

I still struggle. Anxiety will always be with me, but I don’t let it affect me nearly as terribly as it used to. And I’m always trying to grow more, to be able to put myself more fully in other people’s shoes. I’ve always been an empathetic person—sometimes to a fault, where I let it affect my mood, my day—but I’m trying to look beyond the emotion and go deeper. I may not be able to fix the problem, but I am better able to understand the underlying issue. It’s opening my eyes to a lot of thing.

And this year, I am loved more than I ever have been in my life. I know better what gentle means, how powerful acts of service can be. I value time spent with those I love, and am wholly satisfied to be gifted with just that: time. I know what it’s like to have someone understand me, to see the darkness in me and not turn away or shrug it off as a nonissue but instead grab a flashlight and help me explore it. It’s nice to have someone next to me who cares enough to ask questions, to know when to push me and when to hold me. I am very grateful for that, and I am very lucky.

When I look back on my life, I would relive it all again; good and bad, I will take it all. It’s led me to where I am now, and has pushed me down the wonderful road of opportunity. I think the hard things I went through were put before me so that all the goodness I’m about to stumble upon—that I’m living in now—evens out. Darkness and stars, and all that.

Hesitancy Toward Happiness

When I think of my mother, I remember her arm across my neck, pinning me to the wall in the hallway outside my bedroom. Behind her was a large window that overlooked the court we lived at the bottom of, and I saw a car come and go as she said nasty things to me that have since faded into a vague sense of abuse that only sharpens into something clearer and cutting on bad days. The car loped slow through the street and I wondered if they noticed the window I was looking out of, calculating how quickly I could get outside. Was I even visible through the trees that were just starting to grow dense with leaves again?

Ten years later, I still think of fourteen-year-old Erica. At an age where every small thing was susceptible to seeming incredibly dramatic and world-ending, I subverted. Major problems were dealt with through a shrug. I ignored and buried and boxed up trauma until I ran out of room. It was so much easier to fixate on smaller, petty problems than deal with something that, at the time, seemed unfixable and much too complicated and scary to face the truth of. The sensation of being trapped--in my house, in the life I was living--was overwhelming. One day, when I had locked myself in my room and sat at the bottom of my closet, putting one more set of doors between us, I tried to picture what my life would look like in a year, in three, in five. I couldn't see it. All I could picture was the same days on repeat, the same fear and vulnerability playing itself out in a loop. I would be stuck, and all of the terrible things I was told were true.

No way out; nothing better waiting. I wouldn't deserve it even if there was.

How I ever came to believe such lies is beyond me. There was nothing but better waiting for me. I haven't had actual, intentional contact with my mother in about six years, and the happiness I've found in that time is unimaginable. When I think back to the times I felt helpless, I am endlessly grateful for having made it to where I am, and for those who made me feel a little less powerless. I know I owe everything I've achieved and how far I've come to those whom I loved, and those who showed me what it was like to be loved back. My sister, my friends, my dad--people who, even unaware of what I was going through, showed me unfailing strength and kindness, shining examples of hope. At fourteen, I couldn't see a way out, or forward. At twenty-four, I see that there's nothing but possibility before me.

Now that I've had enough space and time to process things in a healthier way, I'm cleaning house. I'm unpacking those boxes, one at a time, and setting what's not useful to the side and holding onto the lessons I learned and the moments--however bad--that made me who I am. I know, for example, that I have an incredible capacity to care about others that I likely would not have achieved without those difficult times. My sister and I are as close as we are because I wanted to see her do more than I did and be happy and whole. I can endure more than I think, but instead of making me hard against the world, those experiences I survived gave me an acute sense of empathy and a desire to help, protect, and heal.

My hesitancy toward happiness is fading the farther I get away from her. It's been hard to shake the doubt when I have moments of peace, but I live my life better. I know that I am worth the contentment I wish for others, and I am capable of achieving it. It doesn't matter what I've heard in the past, because the voices I surround myself with are more supportive than anything I've experienced before; and the times when I start to forget, they're there to remind me. We are all so much more than we believe, and everyone deserves happiness and security.

I can't see my mother as a whole person anymore. She exists only in flashes of moments, only in instances of anxiety. She rarely crosses my mind, but when she does, I remind myself of all that I want to be better at--I want to be kind and happy and vulnerable; I want to be honest and I want to love and defend, never harm. I'm not mad or angry at her anymore, though there were years where I struggled with something close to hate. I've finally reached a place of indifference. There are rare times when that slips and I let her darkness worm its way back in, but I'm so full of light that it's nothing. Where's a shadow to exist at noon, after all?

She seems so small to me, now. I never thought that would be possible. I never thought any of this would be possible, but here I stand, closer to contentment than I've ever reached before. And I'm still moving forward, because there's nothing but better things waiting.

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April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. If you have the means to do so, please donate to National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Association, a program that supplies judge-appointed volunteers to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in an inappropriate group or foster home. 

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