Simplifying in a state of flux

It's funny. As a kid when I imagined what 23 would be like, it looked nothing like this. The picture I had in mind was a highly romanticized version of adulthood where bills were easily paid, meals were prepared skillfully, and I had life figured out. Everything, I assumed, would have settled down by the time I was in my mid-early-twenties. How hilarious and naïve is that?

I haven't fully settled into my life yet, and who knows how long it will be before I do. I'm still fidgety and trying to suss out some things now. Figuring out where I fit in the world, and how I can/want to/and do interact with it all is harder than I would have guessed. And that's not even taking into consideration the mechanics of actually being an "adult." Things like work, rent, groceries... Eight-year-old Erica never thought about those practicalities. But I am thinking about them now. I have to.

There's a lot of things that are out of my control in my life, and very few things within my realm of influence. This week, I had a sort of epiphany about the extra noise I have surrounding me, and I'm on a new mission to silence it. I'm already going through my things and asking myself what I truly use, or what has real value to me, and figuring out what else can be repurposed or donated. I want less things in my way. I want to declutter my personal life in the same way. It's time to simplify everything. Out with the excess, in with things of significance. Less mess, less stress, more work and more reward.

Right now, everything in my life is about to change. I'm not entirely sure how it's going to change, and I can never be sure that it's going to be a change for the better, but I can feel the precipice before me. One push this way, everything falls into place. One push that way... Well, you see where I'm going with this. But I have a good feeling. I think this time, things are going to fall into place. Something great is just around the corner.

Sitting here this morning, looking at the different, clearly defined paths I can follow next, I'm tempted to hesitate before I make any decisions. I have a bad habit of overanalyzing things, and it's hard to turn that part off. But I managed it and already, I've set things in motion. Things are happening. I've taken that leap before fear got the better of me.

Making a choice when it's something that intimidates you is, well, intimidating. But the fear of failing is nothing compared to the fear of doing nothing. Change has already started to snowball. Now, all I can do is sit back and hope that that boulder rolling down the hill is headed in the right direction and I don't regret the choices later, ending up in some Sisyphus situation where I'll forever be trying to push the rock back up the mountain.

Typically, I'm not good with having faith that everything will work out. I don't do well on blind trust -- I do better with hard evidence, some proof that ABC will lead to XYZ. But life isn't always clean (in fact, it's often the opposite). Life doesn't always give you a single path to follow, it gives you options, and it's up to you to pick a direction and go. I'm not going to wait around forever waiting for proof or a sign of what I should do. Passivity makes me anxious, so even though all this change in my life has me a little nervous, at least I'm doing something about it. I'm moving forward.

I'm making choices. I'm simplifying as I go. I'm hoping for the best, and maybe all that positivity will bounce back to me one day.

It's good to be scared

I'm a naturally anxious person. You may or may not know this about me depending on how many social media sites you follow me on. If you follow me on twitter, you've no doubt seen late night tweets about insomnia and panic attacks. Anxiety is a terrible thing to live with; it can exhaust you to no end. Like stress, too much of it can really shut you down, but there is a level of anxiety that is actually good for you. In fact, some anxiety can be helpful.

As a writer, I can work through my anxiety in different ways. Sometimes running away to my fictional worlds help me escape the realities of my own. Living inside a character's head can be easier than living in my own at times. It's nice to explore the "what if's" of somebody else's life with no consequences to my own. And of course, I love writing. The simple act of sitting down and typing out a scene or a chapter is in itself relaxing.

It's not until after I'm done writing that I get scared again. I'm suddenly on the outside of the work, looking in. I am seeing the mistakes, the sloppiness, everything that needs to be changed. What I thought (in the moment) was something original and exciting reads as drivel. And DEAR GOD why did I think this was a good book to write? The editor in me is brutal, and nothing is ever good enough. That's what most writers will tell you: they are their own worst critic. I'm definitely my worst critic, and my inner dialogue can get pretty biting.

Where does this harsh self-criticism come from? Simple answer: fear.

Why did something I once love change into something I now view as trash? Has my opinion of it really changed so drastically? No... Not really, anyway. I still will always love my characters and the stories I write, no matter how down I get on myself. There really is a reason I decided to write this book or this scene. I loved it; that's why it materialized from just an idea!

What happens (to me, at least) is fear. When I write, I write in isolation. I don't letter that inner voice or my editor-brain click on. I let the scene flow and don't look back. Sometimes I'll write in the dark or in the middle of the night because it's easier to be honest when you're too tired to think straight. There's no judgment, not pressure, just... story. That's a great place to be. If I can stay in this frame of mind long enough, I can have a very productive editing session. Revisions, when you're still in the honeymoon phase of your idea, aren't about tearing apart your manuscript -- though you might be; it's about polishing the gems you've already laid. It's about taking something good and making it great, or taking something awesome and making it...

But step out of this headspace and WHAM. You're smacked with not only your inner critic, but also those outside critics. It's a fear of being judged: by readers, by other writers, hell, maybe even your family or friends. What if they don't like your story? What if they think it's weird or stupid? What if... what if... And it all spirals down from there. It gets worse when you have access to negative reviews of your writing. Remember that 1-star GoodReads rating you got the other month? Of course you do! That review has been replaying in your head every day since you've read it! Or how about that article you read that discredited the YA genre as a whole (which can not only boil my blood but really let the air out of my balloon when I'm in a good-writing-mood)? And let's not even mention the hundreds of nay-sayers about making writing a career and not just a hobby.

Yeah, there's a lot to be afraid about when you choose to put yourself out there as an author. You invest so much time -- blood, sweat, tears, and red pens -- into writing the best book you can and then you just have to send it out into the world without a safety net. You throw it into the great (and amazing) abyss that is the world of publishing and cross your fingers that it's well received. (Of course there are other things you need to do to make sure people actually catch your book when you throw it, and buy a copy! But that's a different post.) There will be people who like it. There will even be those who LOVE it! But be prepared for those who don't. Because if you've written something worth reading, you will evoke some kind of emotion out of people -- positive or negative, in this respect it's all actually a good thing. And I don't think I've ever read a book that didn't have a negative review... Books with only amazing ratings are like unicorns; mystical and probably a bit dangerous.

Fear and writing... I think the two go together. Especially if you are writing about something that means something to you. And you should be! But how do we deal with fear? Should we try to eliminate it from our process? No. Absolutely not. Being scared is good. I know. It's hard to hear that, and in the moment of fear it's impossible to believe. So I'll say it again: Being scared is GOOD. It's great! It means this book means something to you! It means you have invested some part of yourself into this book. It means you care. What's important is to accept the fear and move past it.

Don't let fear stop you in your tracks. Instead let it nip at your heels as you press forward. Let the fear bring passion to your writing; let your fear motivate you to always try better than the last time, to keep pushing yourself to write the best you can. Allow the fear to inspire you. Don't compare yourself to other writers (trust me -- that's a bottomless pit of doom and despair). Don't dote on those negative reviews, and every now and then, tell your internal editor to put a sock in it. If you're having a hard time shaking off the anxiety about writing that next scene, revisit your early notes of your manuscript. Remember what made you start writing and what you love about this story. And then write. WRITE LIKE THE WIND, no matter how scared you get. Because being scared is good.

This post has been revived from the archives.

Wandering downtown

Annapolis, MD, USA

Life leaves scars

Sometimes the world is full of so much darkness that it's hard to find any light. The walls crush in on you and a feeling of helplessness carves itself into your bones. Everything is bleak and, worse than sad, you've become melancholy and numb to the world around you. What do we do in times like this?

Be the light. Be the lift of hope. Be the smile in a crowd. Fight against the indifference. Don't let fear win, let love.

Tell those that are important to you just how important they are. They may not be here tomorrow for you to let them know, so do so now before you miss your chance. Embarrassment has nothing on regret; one dissipates, the other only grows.

Be kind to every person you meet. Smile at strangers. There are shadows in all of us, and we should work on acknowledging them and scattering away the darkness. Small moments of decency can mean everything -- what is a single drop in your bucket could be the first rain a person parched for kindness has seen in years. It's never hard to be nice.

In a world where we are threatened to be hurt at every corner, it's easy to want to let yourself fade out. The news is full of stories about vitriol and violence, and we're getting used to it. We tune it out as white-noise. It's easier to not care at all than care too much, right? Shouldn't you prefer a gray world to one where the colors -- both beautiful and horrible -- are so vivid that it's nearly painful to look at?

Here's what I think: the world is supposed to leave its mark, even if it's a scar. If, at the end of our lives, our skin is smooth and unmarked, how can we speak about all we've survived?

Today's a dark day in the world, and my thoughts are with those in Belgium and Turkey (as well as with anyone in the world whose life has been shattered by violence). But the hate we see is outmatched by the love and compassion of the response. There are heroes in every one of us, little pieces of light in all of humanity. Don't let the darkness win. Don't let evil isolate. Reach out and do something, however small. The effect will be bigger than you expect. A ripple only widens.

You just do

I am particularly practiced at pushing aside stress. Well, it's less pushing it aside than it is shoving it in a box with all the other stress and anxiety I have, taping up that box, and compressing it into as small a thing as possible. Damn, is it dense, with how packed that little box is. All that stress sits right between my ribs. I call it The Void.

For the most part, I can ignore The Void until a more appropriate time. Meaning that, in the moment, that terrible thing will be put away until I have time to unpack it and deal with it. Put it in the box, figure out how to handle it later when I have the time, or a clearer head, or am not in public, whatever. The problem is, when I finally get around to opening The Void, it's sort of a Pandora's box situation. I am not able to take out only one thing to analyze at a time. Everything sort of...spills out. And when that box is overpacked, I usually don't have a say in when it's open because it will just explode. What a mess that is.

This week was a lot, for a lot of reasons, but chiefly among them are the increased hours at work, a busier personal life, and missing my family. The perfect storm for The Void to grow large enough for me to lose that control I practice so hard to maintain. And guess what happened? The box opened. Exploded. It made a mess, and not at an optimal time.

Thursday at work, I had a panic attack. It was of the lowkey, quiet variety where customers (or coworkers) wouldn't notice, but it was a bad one. Really bad. The thing is, I've been lucky. I haven't had many panic attacks at work (four, maybe?). Mostly, my bad days at work are ones where my anxiety is on constant high alert. My base line of anxiety and stress is MEGA HIGH but an inch below panic, so I tolerate it. I deal. The last panic attack I had was way back during the holiday season, where the store I work at was so busy, crowded, and hot that I couldn't calm myself down. I think I finally was able to work my way out of a panic back in December when it happened because I was sent to work in a cold part of the store in the back where I freaked out for a little and then it was over. Thank god.

So what happened Thursday? What triggered this panic attack after working for so long without the interruption? The Void. I was tired. The store was busy. I was mildly overheated. Add all this together, and I got flustered and suddenly it felt like there was something wrapped tight around my neck and I couldn't breath and HELLO PANIC ATTACK it's been a while! To make matters worse, this all began an hour into my shift. It was still going to be a while before my shift ended and I went home, and even if things got worse I couldn't leave. (You see, I have this thing where my anxiety becomes even more unbearable if I feel that I'm inconveniencing others. Leaving the store short staffed -- especially when I was to help close that night, and we were busy -- would be the epitome of inconveniencing. So that option was out.)

Thursday was awful. Yet here I am, alive. I'm okay. I didn't leave the store and run home when my panic attack begun; I knew that that would only make things worse, if it were even an option for me at that point. I knew that if I let panic stake its claim at my work, I would never be able to go back in without having major spikes of anxiety and panic. And what if I had another panic attack at work? Would I leave again? If that happened, the cycle would never end. I had to stay, I had to survive. I had to deal with it head on. And I did. I stuck it out so that by the time I left work that night, I was calmer. I had something other than panic to associate with my shift for the day.

I get a lot of people asking me things like: How do you cope with/manage your anxiety? The answer, as shitty as it is, is that you just do. You take it one minute at a time. Sometimes ten seconds, if that's all you can manage. Grit your teeth and stay where you are, no matter how loud the urge to run is screaming in your head. If you run, you let your anxiety win, and slowly your world will shrink smaller and smaller until nowhere feels safe. Don't let that happen. It's miserable, trust me.

My panic disorder will never go away. It's something I've found hard to reconcile with, but this is something that will always be with me. It is mine, and I have to own that. There will be times when it is hardly noticeable; there will be times when it's all I can see. But I won't let it dictate my life, like it used to. I'm so tired from running all the time that I'm ready to stand there and fight. Because that's what a panic attack is: fight or flight. You survive it but surviving it. You just do. Make the decision to not give up and see how strong you really are. I bet you'll impress even yourself.

Diversity matters and you should be writing about it

I am a middle class, white female. I have a privilege that I was born into just because of circumstances and it is my responsibility to keep that in mind in everything I create. Just because privilege isn't intentionally sought doesn't mean I don't receive it because of who I am and what I look like. And how stupid is that?

I'm a strong proponent of diversity, especially when it comes to all things fiction: books, television, films. Why not have a more diverse cast of characters? Aren't we tired of seeing the same paper person over and over again? Give me characters of color, characters with complex gender identities, characters of mixed sexual orientations, characters with disabilities, characters with mental illnesses. Give me more real people!

Diversity and representation in young adult is pretty pathetic; it's getting better, but there's still loads of room to grow. And I hold myself and some of my early work under this microscope of scrutiny, as well. All too often, I find myself automatically making my characters straight white women because, well, I know how to write that easily. What a lazy excuse! If I can write about demons and angels and ghosts, I can damn well include characters that aren't "like me." Aren't I doing that already? (God I hope so, otherwise I'm probably a psychopathic killer who loves torturing people and summoning demons.)

I'm more conscious of the characters I craft now, and am proud of the diversity I have in my stories. The Ignite series alone has a cast of characters that is as diverse in appearance as it is in morality. Kala's a one-winged, black, lesbian angel with the mouth of a sailor and a heart of pure gold. Gus is a shy, bisexual book worm in Hell. Zo is an Asian angel with more allegiance to man than to Heaven.

In The Empath, my main character (Odessa) is described as black. Originally, I wrote her as a pale girl with red hair and freckles. Why? Just a knee-jerk reaction. But changing her race didn't make a lick of difference to the story I was telling; in fact, it aided in the story, as Odessa faced prejudices as a psychic. Adding in the factor of race in the late 1800s made that sense of "not belonging" and mistrust stronger. It added another layer of tension.

I want to be sure my characters are diverse and representational of the real world--even if they exist in a fictional one. And I want them to be in roles where they are not defined by their skin color/sexual orientation/disability. I want that to just be a trait of theirs, just an underscore of their voice. There's a quote from Orphan Black (which you should be watching, if you aren't already) Cosima says that really nails this idea: "My sexuality's not the most interesting thing about me."

In my works in progress, I've written characters with crippling anxiety; I have a gender-bent Robin Hood story where Robin still falls in love with Maid Marian. In my sci-fi, multiple cultures and races are represented, along with a spectrum of sexualities and genders. In Lyra, my story Patchwork Press anthology, my main characters (Orpheus and Eury) are an interracial same sex couple with a wide division in their castes. Why write characters like this? Why not.

I have an issue with authors who are over ambiguous with diversity in text and only reveal in after-interviews/blog posts "Well, that character was gay" or "Actually, that character was Muslim, though it was never mentioned or even alluded to once." I'll do all I can to make it clear just who my characters are, and I can guarantee that they'll be more complex than just an aspect of diversity. Diversity doesn't overshadow a character; it makes them stronger and more realistic. And don't we want characters that feel more realistic??? I know I do!

I'm still learning and growing, in both my writing and my life. Writing diverse characters can sometimes feel like I'm writing with my left hand, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't try. My handwriting may still look sloppy to some people, but I will always work my hardest to focus on the soul of their character while also acknowledging their diverse traits. And don't let the fear of not knowing how to write diverse characters stop you. Do some research, and write. Write it again. The more you practice, the better you'll be, and eventually, you'll be ambidextrous.

Don't be a lazy author that excuses the lack of diversity in your books. Find a way to fix that problem, because diversity and representation matters, and you should be writing it.

This post is from the archives, originally posted February 2015.

Art and literature

In college, I changed majors a half dozen times. There's no exaggeration there. I couldn't seem to settle myself into one specific course of study because I wanted to study it all. And all of it, many would argue, were degrees that would lead nowhere.

I fell in love with the humanities. My mythology class was so interesting I became obsessed with the texts we were assigned -- so much so that I decided to read and research more on my own, outside of the context of the class. My philosophy classes were gripping, and I discovered how much I enjoyed engaging in intellectual (and passionate) debates over morality. Of course there were a number of literature and publishing classes that lifted me up into the clouds and ultimately convinced me to take the leap and major in creative writing and English. But one of the classes that sticks in my mind even to this day was my art history class.

Art was always something I appreciated, but from afar. I cannot paint, I cannot sculpt. Hell, I can't even sketch well. (Though I can draw a pretty wicked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Not exactly museum worthy work though, is it?) Because I'm so atrocious at art, I'd only taken a few necessary art classes during elementary and middle school. They were tolerable, but never took hold in me because, like I said, I sucked. I sucked hard.

This art history class, though. This one hit the mark -- I didn't have to draw, I only had to look. Sitting on the bottom shelf of my bookcase is the Big Art Book, and I take it out at least once a month to stare at some of my favorite pieces. Like I did during the class, I study the techniques and colors, the styles and the artists. I read as little or as much into the art as I want; create my own story or read about the artists' intentions. God, I love it. And I love art. But that's not what I do: I write.

Which leads me to the literature bit of this post. One of my lowkey favorite authors of late is Donna Tartt. The first novel I read of hers was The Secret History and I have never sat so in awe of a work of fiction as I did when I finished that book. She had such an artistic way with her words -- something that stretched beyond poetry. Her language wasn't necessarily overly flowery or complicated, it was the ideas that brought the fascination; the crafting of her characters, of the world they occupied, was stunning to say the least. It took little convincing for me to want to pick up another one of her novels, and so I did.

I just started reading The Goldfinch this morning. It arrived in the mail yesterday and I was surprised at how big the book is. It's easily twice the length of The Secret History. I hardly read the synopsis when I bought it off Amazon, but this morning, when I woke up early so I could start this beast (yes, I get it, I'm super lame but whatever), I scanned the back cover.

Here's what I know about the book: It follows Theo after he loses his mother in an accident. (That accident is an explosion at a museum. I just finished that bit this morning. Wow, was it well written.) He's taken in by a rich family because he is fatherless (presumably because his father left, I'm gathering). Dealing with his grief over the loss of his mother, he becomes obsessed with a small painting of, you guessed it, a goldfinch. Somehow, this leads to him discovering the underworld of art and shit gets real.

Already, I'm hooked. Anything with "the underworld of art" in the summary, and I'm in. I can't wait to read a book that contains the cross section of all that I love: art, mystery, and incredible writing.

One thing I will say about Donna Tartt is that her novels are not only interesting, and her writing is not only crisp and exact, but her work is inspiring. After The Secret History, I was compelled to sit down and write something that could be even half as masterful. Of course, I could never replicate her style, even if I tried. It's a style I enjoy reading, but not a style that comes naturally to me in my own work. And that's okay. Art isn't supposed to be the same, and the voice of an author should be as unique as the brushstrokes of a painter. I'm turning that envy in to drive and determination, and someday, I hope it will all click into place.

Look at yourself, not that dude over there

Comparison kills creativity. And courage. And confidence. And probably a lot of other things, but let's end it there because I like the alliteration and grouping of three. Anyway, what I'm getting at is that when you stop focusing on what you're doing and begin to look around at what everyone else is doing, shit goes south fast.

Like, remember in school, when you took a test and felt like it was going really well until you looked up and around at the desks near you and realized that they were a page ahead of you? Or even worse...people were already turning in their work and how is that possible we just started this test and it's only been like ten minutes tops?!!??!? You know the feeling. I'd argue everyone knows it. Because, for some reason, we all decide to look up and check on how those around us are doing. Curiosity killed the cat (creativity/courage/confidence) and all that.

I'm 23 now. I don't think it's ever been harder to stop comparing myself with my peers. Social media -- I'm looking at you Facebook -- makes it even more unbearable. In my mid-early-twenties (roll with it, that's what I'm calling 23 now), I still have a million insecurities about the choices I'm making with my life. What do I want to do as my career, or what can I realistically do? Should I follow my head or my heart? Pursue passion or secure safety? Am I doing this "adult" thing right or royally messing it up?

Meanwhile, as I'm asking myself all of these major life questions, my social media feed is littered with people sharing pictures of their fiancés. Status updates about the amazing jobs they work, or spectacular trips they fly off to, are distracting me. In all honesty, they make me more than a little envious. Not that I want to be engaged or married now; not that I'm sure I want to be locked in to some career path that would be difficult to get off of, if I were to change my mind; not that I'm not proud of how far I've come just because other people appear to have gone further.

The thing is, I like my life being up in the air right now. I mean, I don't love it, but the freedom of being able to change everything about my life on a whim does give me a certain sense of freedom. I can decide tomorrow to pick up and move across the country and very little in my life would be upset. How many people can say that? How many people would love to be able to do just that? Leaving my options open while I figure it all out gives me comfort. There's nothing I hate more than feeling trapped, or believing I've made some monumental mistake because I've chosen the wrong person/career/place to spend my life tied to.

I still have time. There's always time.

What's important (and I've said this in a previous post but I think it deserves restating) is to focus on what I'm doing, what I want, and where I'm going -- not the perceived success of those people I know through social media. I'd rather focus on how far I've come than how far I've left to go. Peeking over my shoulder at those around me and thinking that I haven't done enough simply because other people appear to be doing better or more is bonkers. I'm doing fine. Look at all I've done!

Besides, we all know Facebook only shows a small slice of someone's life, and often it's the prettiest picture possible. Not many are willing to share the low points of their lives. That awful day at work, the stress that comes with their "glamorous" career, or the nit-picky annoying arguments they have with their longtime boyfriend or girlfriend won't surface on social media. No one's life is as perfect as they depict it online. It's airbrushed and only fractionally real.

We all need to stop looking at that dude over there and focus on what's in front of us. It doesn't matter what they're doing; it matters what you are doing. While it may seem like others are doing better than you, they're not. They're doing different than you. Don't ever mistake the two. You are doing great and you will be fine.

Smart mouth

She had a smart mouth.
Not necessarily because of her intellect
           — though she had plenty of that.
It had something more to do with
the way she held her lips,
How she’d smirk      just an inch
while insulting someone.  
Sarcasm laced heavy
through her sentences, 
but it was the silence
that was truly damning.

Emotional range of a teaspoon

Hello, my name is Erica and I like to pretend that everything is a-okay, always. I get all squirrelly when people try to give me an earnest compliment. My ability to laugh off actual problems is unmatched. Minimizing that which is upsetting is second nature. Having serious conversations is difficult for me. I have the emotional range of a teaspoon.

Here's a secret: I'm actually all mushy inside. I'm a hopeless optimist, even in the face of a bleak pessimistic reality. When I love people, I love them instantly. I love them hard and without exception. It's why I'm ready to go to battle for them at the drop of a hat. If you upset one of the few people I hold close to me, prepare for all hell to break loose.

When I sit and think about how I deal with Things Of Significance (please note the intentional capitalization), I can easily pinpoint the reason I have this strange juxtaposition. My sister's the same way; we grew up this way. We don't want to burden people with our problems -- or even letting anyone know that there is a problem at all -- but we will protect those we love against even the greatest threats in the world. We'll bleed for them, but refuse to accept the fact that we've got wounds that need tending to ourselves. I've talked about this before. My ability to repress my own problems is one of the reasons I can have a panic attack and the person sitting across from me may have no idea. I box it all up and bury it deep. I place it in The Void, as I like to call it.

I have a problem, as I think most people do, of talking myself out of acknowledging that whatever issue I have in the moment is something that deserves to be addressed. I'll tell myself things like "other people have it so much worse." I convince myself that whatever I'm feeling is petty and unimportant and, at its core, selfish because I have a life more privileged than so many others in the world. And while all of this may be true -- people do have it worse than I do, and I do have to recognize the privilege I've seen (of which I am very grateful for) -- it doesn't devalue what I'm going through in the moment. It doesn't take away the anxiety/pain/etc.

Suffering is not a competition. You do not need to have it the most worst to take the time and care for yourself.

Again, like accepting compliments, realizing that I need to sometimes ask for help makes me squirm. I hate it, but I'm working at it. I'm slowly trying to tell those who are important to me more about my life and why I am the way that I am. Not because I have an obligation to tell anyone anything, but because I want to -- because I think that when they know about the things who made me who I am today, they'll understand me better. And while I've always been one to hold people at arms length so they don't really get the chance to understand me too well (because, you know, fear reasons and the whole "emotional range of a teaspoon" thing again), I'm starting to drop my guard.

I use this blog primarily as a way to expel some of the thoughts bouncing around my head. Shake something loose and let something go. Maybe, in the process, I get to know myself better. At the very least, I'm learning to exhale. So, with that in mind, here are two of the small secrets I like to keep to myself because I'm afraid that if I tell people, they'll see me differently. (They'll see me too well.) Deep breath for a moment of vulnerability.
I know why I have panic attacks; my mother gave them to me as a way of remembering her, even after she left, and I can never forgive her for what she's done to me or my family. 
My biggest fear is that another person will find it overly taxing to love me back. I don't want to be seen as "too much work."
Slowly, I'm letting go of my secrets. Even if most of the time when I share them I shrug them off like it's not a big deal, I'm getting a slightly better at it. It feels good in the end, though I'll be honest in saying that in the moment it makes me really nervous. But we can't keep holding on to secrets. Share them with those who love you and they'll understand. Let others in, even if it scares you shitless. Even if you have the emotional range of a teaspoon.

Zero tolerance policy

Try as I might, all too frequently I allow other people (as well as some events from the past) affect my emotions. It might make me "human," or whatever but damn is it toxic. Handing over my day-to-day wellbeing to outside sources gives others way too much power over my life and I'm putting an end to it. It's time to stop looking back and face fully forward. I've officially adopted a zero tolerance policy for all things negative. That which does not make me feel better, or become a better person, will be dropped so fast it'll make your head spin.

Just the other week, I spent an extended weekend with some of the best people I've ever met. I would, without a doubt, protect each and every one of them from anything that threatens to do them harm in any way. Seriously. They are my favorite humans and the world needs more people like them because they are small spots of pure, golden warmth in a world that often looks cold and gray. For the four days I was with them, I was happy. Really, purely happy. (Sleepy, but happy.) Through late nights, early calls, and long days of filming, I laughed and grew and felt good. Uncertainties were brushed aside and some thoughts I had fluttering around in my head finally calmed down. Things clicked. I was at peace with myself, with whom I was with, and with what I was doing. These feelings came from looking ahead at what could be instead of behind at what was.

The past has a way of dragging me down, big time. It weighs us all down when we dwell in it, and suddenly those old proverbs about "letting go" start to truly resonate. Because the idea of not letting (*insert your deal here*) affect us screams of newfound freedom. Who doesn't want to be free? When I surround myself with people who are good, and when I'm doing something that makes me feel my best self, all the small, petty drama of life falls away. 

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those people who say (with the best of intentions) that the only way you can find happiness/love/whatever you're looking for is if you can first find the happiness/love/whatever within yourself. It would be great if that were the case, but for some people, it's just not possible. I am, however, a firm believer that we should do as little damage to others as we can, with regards to our own baggage. Don't unload your problems onto someone else because they have their own problems to contend with and adding yours to their responsibilities only complicates matters. 

Everyone's shoulders are heavy with the luggage of the past that we're slowly trying to sort through, and we can only carry so much. But maybe we don't have to carry it all ourselves, all of the time. Maybe we can offer to help. When we're strong and doing well and notice someone struggling, maybe we can offer a hand, or an open embrace. Even listening to others -- really listening to them speak and not impatiently waiting for them to be done so you can jump in with your own struggles, like some kind of weird "who has it worse" competition -- makes a world of difference. Don't allow people who won't reach out to help stay in your life; even more, don't allow those who only ask for help without reciprocation to stay in your life. You're tired, too. Don't devalue your exhaustion.

We can find healing in others, as long as we don't grow a dependency. We can fix ourselves by fixing one another. Isn't that what love and friendship is all about?

Be kind, be gentle, and don't let the past decide how happy you will be today. Unapologetically cut those negative people out of your life; they are not worth the energy and you deserve better. Go get better and love those who are worth it.

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