In one of our first sessions together, she asked me to describe myself. Between gasps of air and a lot of tears, I meekishly told her I didn’t know who I was outside of the two and a half year relationship that had just ended. In the span of a few weeks, I was grieving the fallout of a called off wedding, losing my first dream job because it ran out of grant funding, and was about to spend my first birthday single in almost a decade. My health was at an all time low, complete with a resurgence of volatile symptoms I hadn’t dealt with since I started law school.
Life felt like a series of one-two punches square in the face without any sign of stopping.
I went from thinking I knew what my future would look like, to what felt like a dumpster fire meets rock bottom with a dash of an existential crisis.
I felt absolutely directionless as all of my friends swiftly moved into the next chapters of their lives with weddings, children, and careers . . . meanwhile, I was starting over in almost every aspect of my life.
This was almost two years ago. Recently, she asked me the same question, and this was my answer:
“I am someone who wants to leave people better than I find them. I want to live my life with joy and gratitude every single day. I am an attorney who isn’t your typical attorney; I love helping people problem-solve seemingly impossible situations. I am someone who can relate to more trauma than one person should ever be able to in a lifetime, but that’s helped me cultivate tremendous compassion for people I once only held contempt and anger towards. I want to be an example for people who don’t think they can overcome shitty seasons in their lives – the breakup that makes you feel unlovable by anyone, even yourself; health issues that strip you of every ounce of independence and confidence; trauma that leaves you distrusting of the world, and perhaps worse, of yourself. I want to be someone who can hold space for others who are going through similar or different situations, because at the end of the day, we’re all just walking each other home.”
It felt like a seismic shift when she paused and told me, not two years ago, I couldn’t answer this question. I COULDN’T ANSWER THE FREAKING QUESTION. I’d all but forgotten how fragile life felt back then. How wild is it that it’s only been a few years between these two moments?
I really don’t recognize the shell of a person I was two years ago.
While I sometimes still struggle to make peace with the person I was and the person I’m becoming and continue to strive to be, I’m grateful I was able to trudge through months on end where I’d journal things like “I drank water and made toast today. I fed the dogs and cried a lot.” For a good while, doing the bare minimum felt like the maximum I had capacity for.
I think it took everything in my life to fall apart before I was able to surrender to the idea of turning inward and rebuilding a life that was grounded in gratitude and purpose. Initially, it was uncomfortable as fuck. Who the hell wants to spend Friday night after Friday night with their feelings and actually take time to pinpoint how they’re not showing up as the best version of themselves? It’s all well and good to critique the world outside ourselves, but turning inwards and shining a light on our own shadows is its own circle of hell . . . but I think it’s one even Dante himself would endorse. Ten points if you get that literary reference.
Two years ago, all I wanted to do was get to a place where I didn’t feel so empty. I tried to jump back into dating, but I quickly realized I wasn’t in any kind of place to be doing that. I had so much shit I had to unpack and work through before I could show up for myself, let alone anyone else. When my ex came to pick up the last of his things a few months after the breakup, I remember feeling so shitty as he gloated about how his new girlfriend was nearly a decade younger than me. In hindsight, I think it’s fitting that that’s the last memory I have of him.
I’ve done the back to back relationship thing . . . and spoiler alert, it didn’t turn out so great. I’d just started my last semester in law school and my boyfriend of nearly five years called to tell me on a Monday morning before my classes, that, at the suggestion of his parents, we should breakup. I wrote this post right after that happened and then this one a year later. I went on two dates about a month after that happened, the second of which became the guy this post is about. But, like all things in life, if you put them off, they’ll circle back around eventually . . . so instead of processing one breakup, which is a tall order on its own, I got to sit with two amidst the onset of a global pandemic and a quickly looming thirtieth birthday. It was a great time; highly wouldn’t recommend it, but sometimes life doesn’t give you what you want, it gives you what you need . . . and I needed to sit with, strip down, and spend time understanding how and why I showed up the way I did in almost eight years of relationships.
It took nearly a year before I started to feel like I could show up as a more present version of myself. It took closer to two years before I started to feel like I was stepping into the kind of person I wanted to show up as, wholly and completely. Instead of searching for that ideal partner, I tried to become it.
I started to do things a happier, more self-confident version of myself would do. I wrote down traits I wanted to authentically possess but didn’t really feel capable of at the time. It was a total “fake it till you make it” situation, but I wanted to work towards becoming a higher version of myself: this future iteration of me was “independent, happy, interesting, peaceful, grateful, and adventurous.”
To be “interesting,” I picked up new hobbies. I started to paint and to listen to podcasts. I joined a running club, got a library card, and started volunteering. I wanted to figure out what set my heart on fire, and while I won’t be signing up for any ultra marathons anytime soon, I do have a series of new paintings I’m extremely proud of and some great podcast and book recommendations.
To be “independent,” I started to go to events and run errands by myself, two things that used to cause me tremendous anxiety. When I first got sick, my flares were so unpredictable (and sometimes they still are), but when I’d get sick while out and about, I’d crumble and feel so embarrassed. Now, my attitude is, it is what it is, and if I flare, I’ll have a change of clothes and medication at the ready, but I’m not worrying about it beyond that. I didn’t want to be the girl who only went to things if her friends or significant other went with her; I wanted to be confident enough to show up anywhere on my own, flares be damned.
To be “peaceful and grateful,” I started to block off the first part of my morning to journal, roll out my yoga mat, and go outside with my dogs. I intentionally sit down for meals and try not to eat over the sink like a raccoon (most days). At night, I make a point to write down three things I’m grateful for that day. Even on days when I’ve got one dog throwing up, the other two fighting and trying to help me clean it up, the phone’s ringing, and life feels a little bit chaotic, I’m so dang grateful be on this side of the dirt.
To be “adventurous,” I started to say yes to things I might normally have shied away from. I learned how to sail. I learned how to fix things, like how clean a P-trap (under a sink; thanks YouTube!) and how to build pantry shelves (shoutout to @frillsandrills and so many other female diy-ers who make even the toughest projects look possible . . . and dare I say, fun?). I started to cook and to bake more than I’d done in years. I began traveling again and meeting new people. I took myself out on dates. I stopped waiting for a knight in shining armor to smush the spiders and to reach things on the top shelves . . . but if he’s reading this, I definitely don’t have a step stool and will very likely need some assistance to open that pesky jar in the back of the fridge.
To be “happy,” I tried to be more present and in the moment. Easier said than done, but in combination with everything else on this list, I started to find myself smiling more. I don’t really fret about things when they go awry (like the time my windshield shattered into a million pieces . . . or when one of my dogs dislocated their shoulder minutes before I had a court call . . . or the time a concrete hose exploded all over my kitchen windows while I was in the middle of a court argument).
The phrase, “your vibe attracts your tribe” resonates now more than ever. I have a lot of compassion and gratitude for previous chapters in my story, but this new one feels good. It feels authentic as fuck . . . but I think it all started with getting clear as hell on what I’ve been doing right and what I needed to change.
I stopped overthinking what I wanted my life to look like in five years and started to be present with the life that was right in front of me.
As far as the clarity within myself, two years ago, I wrote a list of qualities I’m proud of, as well as ones I’m not so stoked about (but want to work on). Something I really like about myself is how I can reframe almost any situation and find a silver lining. Part of that has to do with what I do for work (you can make better arguments if you can understand where the counterarguments are coming from), but more than that, I’ve really come to embody the phrase, “if you’re not changing it, you’re choosing it.” I wrote a whole post about it. For years, I subscribed to the narrative “bad things always happen to me.” These days, even when “bad” things happen, I try to zoom out and see the situation from a different perspective. Breakups and job changes can rock your world, but they can also propel you into careers and relationships you might never have pursued otherwise.
Something I’m still working on is getting curious about why something might upset me before I react or respond to it. It took me years to realize a lot of my anxious tendencies were compounded by the unreliable nature of navigating chronic health issues. I felt such a lack of autonomy in my own body. While my grad school friends were going to wine mixers and grazing charcuterie spreads, I was chugging colonoscopy prep and unenthusiastically choking down elimination diets (like this one where all I ate was basically boiled chicken and rice for weeks on end).
Over the years, I’ve felt tremendous shame and pain every time life sharply veered away from the direction I thought it was going to go. Becoming an attorney hasn’t been a linear process; there was an entire year I spent in limbo, unsure if I’d even be able to go back to school. Sometimes I still think about that Assistant Director of Law Student Affairs and how she told me to reconsider taking medical leave in favor of withdrawing because I probably wasn’t cut out for the rigors of the legal world, anyway.
Figuring out a protocol to manage my chronic health issues has been a series of so much trial and error . . . but it’s quite literally helped me slow down and to be a more present and patient person.
Even the breakups, which individually and collectively weighed heavy on my heart for quite some time . . . I’m grateful for those, too. I’m grateful I didn’t end up with either of those guys; I wrote a whole post about that.
While my stories may not resemble your own, maybe you know someone who is navigating a new health diagnosis and you’re trying to be supportive without being too prescriptive. Maybe you’re at a point in your life where you want to make a change, but you don’t know how. Maybe you feel like you’re all alone dealing with something scary, like a broken heart that fucking feels like a vacuous cavity that won’t stop hurting (spoiler alert, it won’t always feel that way). Maybe it’s a job (or a lack of one) that makes you question your worth or if you’re even cut out for what you’re trying to pursue. I started to write on here because I felt so alone navigating what’s felt like a nonstop cyclone of change for almost the entirety of my twenties.
I want to diffuse the palpable tension and shine a light on the shame that envelops so many of the things I’ve been through, and in doing so, I’ve realized (and I hope anyone else reading this does, too) I’m much less alone than I think I am.
At the end of the day, I think we’re all walking each other home.
Every conversation, every smile, even the broken hearts along the way . . . I think they’re all meant to carry us home. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m so grateful I never got what I thought I wanted. Maybe this post is a love letter to myself, to celebrate how much good can happen when you give yourself permission to not have it all figured out. Maybe this is a nudge of encouragement to a stranger on the internet that they’re not alone in whatever they’re going through right now.
You don’t have to figure it all out, today, or ever.
You don’t need a five year plan.
You don’t even need a five day plan.
If all you’ve got gas in your tank for is microwaving a frozen burrito and sipping on a glass of water, do that and hold space for that. It won’t always be like this forever, I promise.
Maybe you’re at a different place in life and things feel good, celebrate that, too. You don’t have to hold your breath for when it’ll inevitably change. Change isn’t always a bad thing . . . dare I say, it’s never a bad thing.
So here’s to walking each other home, whether you recognize it or not, the way you move through the world matters. You matter . . . because you never know who you’re helping walk home.
All my love.