For me, sometimes the night is the hardest part, the time of day when the calmness often does not come and I am fraught with worries, contemplation and reflections; fixating on all I haven’t done, have yet to do, or fear I never will. Sometimes the past creeps up beside me, clutching onto my pillow and blanket and is relentless. Sadness or a sense of melancholy can manifest; sometimes I write, other times I read, hoping to wish away what plagues me. Sleep does not always come, but worry and ruminations do; ruminations about the lack of progress, the stagnant path of my life and the curiosity into whether change is even feasible.
It can feel impossible to quiet the mind at times, as it creates ideas, stories, or memories that may or may not be authentic. There are difficult days, difficult moments and painful memories, that can overtake if we let them and can continue to color our days, painting them black and faded grays. Or, on the contrary, we can keep going, honoring our past and the progress we’ve made even when the progress feels meager. We are still here, still traversing through, still waking up each day and beginning again, even when it doesn’t feel like it. We know more than we did yesterday and sometimes, for me, that is enough. Progress does not need to be monumental or even measurable to be in existence.
Little by little, we take steps forward. Maybe it is a tip-toe, maybe some days it is a giant leap forward, or other days, it is a small step backwards, but albeit, we are moving. This season, I’m learning to be gentle with myself, realizing my fears and worries are not me – they do not define who I am, where I am going, or the path I’m taking. A work in progress, a painting unfinished, a story with much of the content yet to be written; this is us, all of us.
So many of us desire to make others happy, in particular, our loved ones, albeit family and friends. So many desire to make those they don’t even personally know or know all that well, happy; albeit customers, clients, neighbors, passerbys, or those we meet once. Though, while doing this, it is easy to forget that we, ourselves are deserving of happiness; we ourselves are deserving of a genuine smile, a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear. It can be easy to forget this or put it aside, believing we’ve received all we need or that all we need is within us. Maybe our internal strength IS bountiful, our knowledge and wisdom robust and plentiful, but still, I believe we are deserving of another’s smile, their genuine inquiry into how WE are, allowing us to feel heard, seen and acknowledged, sending us the message of, “I care and I am here to listen and spend time with you, whether in-person or virtually, because you matter in general, but especially to me.”
Never forget in the midst and journey of helping others and bringing smiles to their faces, that you are someone, too. Someone who is deserving, someone who is worth the time and effort of another and someone who means something to someone, no matter how often or not it is verbalized or expressed.
Almost two years ago or so, I started listening to the local country radio station while en route in the car, after hearing about it from my sister. Both of us in recent years had become intrigued and enamored with country music, realizing its many facets and types and how much it evolved over the years. So many musicians, writing from their heart, crafting their sentiments into award-winning, captivating songs, speaking to me, in ways I never dreamed possible.
As I listened more often, I started to hear many of Taylor Swift’s old songs. For me, much of Taylor Swift’s old albums and songs reminds me of my past, particularly in my early 20’s, where much of my time was spent in the car, commuting to and from college and a host of other locales. In particular, one summer stands out to me, as Taylor Swift’s current album at the time served as the soundtrack of that summer season. It was a season filled with possibility, newness and more social activity than I’d experienced in years. As a newly-minted 21-year-old that year, excitement and exhilaration would often fill the air, as I began to explore what it meant to be an adult “of age.” Finishing up several summer courses that year, afforded me with finally solidifying myself as an official college senior. That truth came at a time when I never thought it would materialize, having suffered through many health and emotional tribulations. Though it came and with it brought a season I think back on as one of my favorites for a variety of reasons.
Just the other day, while en route running errands, in the car, a nostalgic Taylor Swift song began to play on the radio, filling the car with her calm, alto voice. It was a song I’d heard several times before after beginning to listen to the country station, and was one I hadn’t heard prior. A song from my own senior year in high school, the title, “Tim McGraw,” was one that at first perplexed me. Why, I wondered, would she write a song all about a fellow country singer? She must really like him a lot, I initially thought. Though, for the first time the other day, I started to really listen and take in the lyrics, realizing it wasn’t really about Tim McGraw at all, but rather what his songs represented and how his music brought her back to that particularly enchanting summer season. Hearing her lyrics, I thought of how much of a coincidence it was for her to have detailed a similar type of summer to the one where her own music served as my unofficial “soundtrack,” for. Listening to those song lyrics and internalizing the sentiments behind them, I nearly felt transported back to that innocent, yet exciting and thrilling summer. In a way, I could feel my hands again on the steering wheel, though at present a passenger in the present time, traveling through the night, on the hilly roads, listening and singing along as Taylor Swift’s voice filled the air. Continuing to listen, I could nearly envision my front windshield beginning to fog from the vast, soupy, summer humidity filling the air, that is characteristic of a summer in the northeast.
The lyrics to that song, Tim McGraw, so raw, beautiful and true, spoke to me as though they were my own words lining the many notebooks buried in and on top of the desk in my bedroom. Nearing the end of the song, as she speaks of September, summer’s conclusion, I thought back to my own September and Fall season that year, as I sat in my desk chair with the window slightly ajar, feeling the cool breeze of the season fill the air with waves of melancholia and longing saturating my thoughts.
It’s funny how much a season can impact or affect us all our lives; comprising mere months or weeks, yet what they hold is so deep and profound; sometimes it’s significance is even a challenge to place into words. Yet, I took comfort the other day as I listened to those Taylor Swift lyrics, realizing I’m not alone, realizing there are others out there, too, who still think of those seasons, those moments in their lives that still stay with them. At the same time, it also made me feel grateful and fortunate to have had such a season, to have experienced what I did. It’s funny how a three or four minute song can summon a sea of emotions, traveling through waves of sentiments as the song plays on and when it ends, we are transported back in time, weathering through those same emotions from weeks or years prior. No matter the nostalgia, much of it pleasant, some of it sad, brings me, I still sit here today, grateful for having lived, for having taken chances that summer and for that season, overall.
So many of us, maybe even most of us, go through stages in our lives where we feel pain, loss, sadness/anguish, fear, worry/trepidation and the feeling that we may always be stuck or feel unfulfilled in our lives. We may be afraid to make a change, afraid to step into the unknown, afraid of letting go of what no longer serves us, but what is “comfortable.”
Then, sometimes we take a chance and begin to make a change, maybe we begin to work on ourselves, challenging the self-defeating thoughts, challenging the fears, challenging the thoughts that say, “I can’t.” Slowly, cautiously, but surely, we start to make progress. Maybe it is the way we respond to those who question or doubt us; maybe it is remaining calm when feeling anxious, maybe it is choosing a different, constructive positive coping skill, rather than destructive one. Much of the progress we make on ourselves is not always visibly seen by others.
For me, a conversation I had not long ago was filled with questions, wondering how I could be so “different,” when it was not reflected in my appearance, or supposed appearance. Progress is not always tangible, or outwardly visible. The inward progress one makes is not for others; it is for us, for solely ourselves and if we wish to share it, then we can; it is solely ours to decide. The way we challenge ourselves, take changes, respond differently, is for us to celebrate, and not everyone needs to be invited to the figurative celebration, unless we choose. Our progress is not for others to decide or measure, it is solely our own.
Several nights ago, I experienced a fitful sleep, unable to rest the thoughts in my mind, overcome with stress and worry. For whatever reason, I felt compelled to dig into my old Facebook messages, trudging back into years worth of messages, reading my old words and thoughts. Some of them stunned me, surprised I’d even written or thought about the things I did. In a way, I started to feel embarrassed, wondering how I’d had the audacity to say such things. Then I remembered just how long I’d been on Facebook – 15 years. Well over a decade; a decade of learning, changing, transforming, hard work, pain, memories, and realizations. Back then, I surely didn’t know what I knew now, so that late night, I decided to take the route of kindness, acknowledging how far I’d come, instead of fixating on the content of the messages. Growth, progress, is not always apparent to us during times of stress, or when distracted, but that evening, I could visibly see just how far I’d come.
In any case, there will sometimes be others, maybe even ourselves who question our progress, who question if we’ve put forth any effort at all. From my experience, progress, no matter whether it is internal or external is not always linear; it is a serious of trial and error, triumphs and setbacks, but notable, all the same. This life, is your journey and yours alone. The progress no one sees or will ever see is just as important as those that are visible and felt by others. Remember to honor how far you’ve come, the steps you’ve taken, the small wins, the big wins; they all count, they all matter and so do you.
Whether a child, an adolescent, an adult, or a senior citizen, so many can criticize, judge or ridicule one’s personality, choices or decisions. Some of the supposed “weaknesses” ascribed to us can even start to define who we are, impacting our decisions, promoting a lack of action, apathy or conversely, impulsiveness, and can create feelings of sadness, loss, frustration and beyond.
Throughout my life, I’ve both been told, “I talk too much,” or am “too quiet”, “too sensitive”, “too emotional,” and an “overthinker,” with many questioning why I am the way I am, as though I were never “right.” All of us have faults; it is inevitable, and though it is always okay to have struggles or aspects of our personality that may not be as strong as other areas are. They may create challenges for us, but what is important to also remember, are the many strengths our weaknesses can actually provide, as well.
Yesterday, I spotted this chart posted by a favorite stationary and journal company of mine, Bloom Daily Planners. As you can see, it details those supposed “weaknesses” and how they can actually be translated into something positive and constructive. Maybe you’ve been told you’re “too quiet” in a room filled with talkers, causing you to question why you can’t simply be as “chatty” as others, but in reality, according to this chart, your quiet nature can and does make you a great listener, with the ability to reflect on what others have said and provides you with material to talk about when you feel inclined or inspired. For those who have been told they talk “too much,” this may mean you simply enjoy conversing with others, sharing your thoughts and expressing your passions.
For every downside, or supposed weakness in one’s personality or behaviors, I feel there is typically something positive to be derived from it, even if it isn’t always easy to see. Sometimes, it may and can take years to realize or reveal a positive attribute from a supposed weakness, but in most cases, from my experience, it exists.
For me, math has never been my strong point. When in school, it was the source of many tears, sadness, disappointment and frustrations. It led me to chastise myself and question why I simply couldn’t understand what so many others could. Years later, as a college student when I achieved an “A” in math after significant hours of hard work, practicing and repetition, I finally realized a positive from all my math struggles – it led me to become a hard worker and boosted my skills as a critical thinker. Critical thinking, the process of adapting and adjusting in various situations in order to derive a solution that may not be as cut and dry as in some other cases, serves many well in various situations. So while the struggle with math was often excruciating at times, in the end, it led me to appreciate the other surprising ways my struggles actually served me well.
The supposed “weaknesses” of our personalities and behaviors are not something to hide behind; they are often strengths disguised as weaknesses; alternative ways to perceive and experience our strengths. Many times, it can be challenging or even impossible, to see the strengths in our weaknesses, but if we look deeper, as this chart helps us do, it is much easier to see so many aspects of who we are in a positive, more encouraging and realistic light.
Don’t hide who you are because of your struggles, the things that may make your days harder than another, because you, as much as anyone else, deserve to be loved, without having to hide the parts of yourself you think are unlovable.
It is something so many of us take for granted or write off as insignificant each day; the prospect that everyday people we meet, albeit passerbys, neighbors, former friends, former significant others, or distant family members all are grateful because of US, as people.
Maybe you’ve spoken to these people once, or maybe in a fleeting moment, or maybe previously on a regular basis, but now years have surpassed, but those moments, the words you spoke, the actions you took, the help you provided, stayed with them and always has and will.
For me, I remember so many; people I met once, or maybe used to interact regularly whose presence in my life proved to be monumental, still making me recall them, fondly. A professor in college who sat with me for an hour beyond my night class, leading me to invest in caring for my health; not one, but two neighbors jumping to my aid when my car battery gave out. A veterinary technician who came to my aid when I all but collapsed into pieces when Oliver, the first dog I ever owned passed away after just shy of 16 years as my family and confidante.
Then there are others, people who saw me in my most vulnerable state, as I did them, and yet we somehow bonded together, providing solace and understanding for one another. We were fragile, but not fractured, worn, but not completely weathered and somehow we made it through together. They were the people who saw me as I took steps to care for me, sometimes choking back tears and sadness as I did, but we only saw the internal strength each of us maintained instead of the external masks we wore. Some of them are now mothers, wives, doctors and other professionals, serving and helping others, as they did for me, so many times. Whether they were telling a joke, providing a shoulder to cry on or listening ear, I still think of them today, and think of the beauty of resilience and how it can weave its way into whatever or whomever need it, no matter how long it may take.
It is easy to forget sometimes what our presence could mean to another, in a life/world constantly pulling each of us in so many directions, with people, responsibilities and life in general telling us where to look, how and who to be, commanding our attention all at once. Maybe it is a word we said, a conversation, a small action, a smile, a nod, a hug, a shared moment of understanding or laughter, which someone else uses in their personal tool kit. Maybe you bring them joy, or serve as a reminder that beautiful people exist who care. Maybe those of you reading this doubt if it is true, but I’m here to tell you it is; because I, myself, have those people, the ones I remember from years, months, weeks and even days ago.
Whenever in doubt, think back to those moments; the kind smile exchanged with a neighbor or passerby, the candid conversation with a friend or family member and remember, you are someone to someone else and your presence matters. Maybe we may not always know what we mean to someone or know for certain what our contributions are, but someone out there has taken something with them, through your presence, words and actions.
Throughout my life, I’ve often struggled to define or achieve happiness, tricking myself into erroneously believing something significant had to transpire in order for me to classify myself as “happy.” Though, the older I get, the more I realize how untrue this is.
Happiness can be achieved and felt even in the most supposed “mundane” ways; setting in at home, after a long day to enjoy a favorite treat, TV show, movie, or to engage in some other type of favorite activity. Maybe it is felt in the presence of a pet, friend or family member; maybe their sole presence brings happiness. Or, maybe it is the comfort of laying on a beach, feeling the warm breeze and hearing the soft waves of the ocean, while feeling the warmth of the sun on one’s back.
In any case, happiness is not solely dependent upon significant events, breakthroughs, accomplishments. Happiness is what we all make of it, a personal and individual experience and feeling. What constitutes happiness or feeling happy/content to one person is not necessarily the same to another.
There is so much I don’t have, so much I have yet to try and see, so much I have yet to accomplish, but I can still see and find joy in the everyday. Whether it is snapping photos of my dog, Daisy snoozing or enjoying herself while playing with her toys, stopping at Starbucks for an iced coffee, or taking a walk outdoors and staring up at the pristine blue skies, feeling the warmth upon my shoulders; today, I’ll let myself soak up those moments of bliss, no matter how short or fleeting. Let’s choose to be happy as we are, happy where we are and happy with where we are going. I hope whomever is reading will be able to do the same.
Sometimes they appear perfectly coiffed without a hair out of place, their makeup is pristine, disguising every blemish and imperfection, their clothing is neatly pressed, stylish and fits every curve. Plastered on their face is a smile, their personality vibrant, upbeat, cheerful and welcoming. They ask after others, wondering how they are, mentioning specific events or encounters, asking how appointments went, asking after their family members. An excellent worker, they excel at their job, earning a decent salary and are able to pay their everyday bills and then some.
Though, they arrive home at the end of the day, exhausted, worn and weathered, unable to utter another word to anyone, unable to turn on the TV, unable to pull up their social media feed. They long for the comfort of their bed, the shower to erase the facade they wear the entire day. They are constantly surrounded by others, but couldn’t feel more alone and despondent.
Typically, we see people everyday, whether it is in-person, virtual or both. So many form judgments, expectations and perceived notions of someone is simply because of their external appearance or external persona. In reality, many of us are probably doing this fairly often, some more than others. The way we appear does not render us incapable or undeserving of help or recognition.
Struggles and pain do not need to be plastered externally onto someone; we don’t need to “wear our sadness or struggles.” They don’t need to be donning sweats or appear unkempt to be significantly struggling or just barely holding it together each day. This month, May, is Mental Health Awareness Month. So many struggle or suffer in silence due to fear; fear of being honest, fear of seeking help, fear of NEEDING help, fear of stigma, fear of judgment and criticism. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather the opposite – asking for help is a sign of strength, a sign that we recognize the need and desire to feel better about ourselves and our lives in general.
On my birthday this month, May 3rd, I looked fear in the eye, with my hands shaking and my thoughts racing, but did so amidst the comforting presence of my mom and sister, two people who have stood beside me throughout my life. They’ve wiped every tear, answered every call, held my hand, and also were there for the times that made me feel whole again. My thirty-third birthday was the birthday I decided to abandon fear and taste life. That day, I surely tasted life, but a whole lot more, I tasted what it felt like to rejoin a life I abandoned so many years ago as a teen. In a way, it felt like summoning back the strength I thought had permanently escaped me. The three of us sat together in my mom’s car that Spring day, overcast, but still temperate and beautiful, in a parking lot, with others milling around. Amidst their comforting presence and a desire to make my myself proud, I let the fear slip away, nursing life and freedom through my fingers.
With my fingers cradled around the ice cream cone I’d coveted for so many years, life reentered my body one lick at time and I both thought to myself and felt, how sweet living life could truly be.
Anybody can wear a smile, a tailored suit or dress, makeup and an external facade. Similarly, anybody can feel alone, afraid, depressed, lost, fearful and in need of help. We see what we see, but the important thing is to look deeper and to ask, “Are you okay?” Ask. Question. Help. Reach out a hand. Wipe a tear; you may be the only one who does.
It’s never too late, you’re never old, or in the wrong place or point in time, to ask for help. Being vulnerable and candid with emotions and fears can be scary at first, the entire time, or in general, but sometimes the things that scare us most are what prove to be the most fruitful of all. As the quote says, “It’s okay to not to be okay”, but it’s also more than okay to ask for the help you need and deserve.