A lot of my closest friends have gotten engaged or married this summer, and every one of them had or will have their sister standing beside them as they take their vows. I’ve got to admit, it makes me a little sad if I dwell on it because it reminds me of a little hole I carry around. One day I’ll get married, and my elder sister won’t be there beside me after I walk down the aisle because she passed away unexpectedly when I was a freshman in college. The last thing she told me was that she was proud of me, but I didn’t know she was saying goodbye.
It took years to find a semblance of peace after her death rocked my family. But with my sister leaving this world a little earlier than expected, I’ve had the privilege of creating my own patchwork sisterhoods. Right after Alicia passed away, I went back to college carrying so much more baggage than just my suitcases. I became an RA then, arguably during my least emotionally available period of young adulthood so far. But my fellow RAs, especially my friend Emma and our leader Felicia, embraced the mess and became like my sisters. They sat with me on Felicia’s couch and cried with me as I finally started dealing with the pain I’d bottled up after my sister died.
And I keep making more tiny sisterhoods. Finding those women who validate me but also pull me up by my bootstraps. Ladies like Emma and my dear friends Katie and Caroline and Britt and others who have lived with me in the last few years. Friends who understand my brain and my mental illnesses. Ladies who have been my friends for years who had become like sisters when I didn’t realize it. Older friends who give me life advice when things start going to ashes. Women who tell me they’re proud of me.
Yesterday, I posted the picture above after my best friend Lindsey chose her wedding dress (!!!). And her sister commented, “If I can’t be there I am glad her other, other sister is! Thanks so much Annette for being amazing!” Gosh, it made me cry. Thank you to all of my sisters out there. I lost my biological sister, but I didn’t lose y’all. This post is a love letter to all of the women who have embraced me and been my sisters when I thought that wasn’t possible anymore.
When I was in the eye of the storm this summer, I comforted myself with the phrase, “One day this pain will mean something.” And it’s starting to mean something.
I learned how to deal with the end of a serious romantic relationship with the least amount of bitterness I could bear. Time heals all wounds. Do the least harm possible. The end of a relationship doesn’t hinder the ability to love in the future.
I learned how to walk away when the universe was telling me it was time to leave my job. Everything pressed at me, but fear was winning. And then it wasn’t winning anymore. And the fear didn’t matter. I walked away from something that wasn’t meant for me. As of right now, I’m not exactly sure where I’ll be working in two weeks’ time. I’ve had interviews and met amazing people with the same heart as me, and I’m excited to see where I’ll end up.
I learned how to tell my truths through this blog, both to people I know and strangers from across the world. What a weird thought- people are reading these vulnerable words over their coffee or they’re scrolling through while they sit in traffic. Hi. Thank you for reading.
I learned how much pain I could take. How many terrible thoughts. How far I could bend without breaking. How much I could break before healing. I learned I can take more than I thought I could and still survive.
Every month this summer, I seemed to shed off another old part of my being. June saw me rid myself of the identity as a girlfriend and saw the new independence and freedom of travelling to three new countries. In July, I left Greenville for good and moved back in with my parents. In August, I quit my toxic job. And I’ll still molt in shreds for a while; we all heal at different paces, and I refuse to deny myself the space. I’m still trying to unravel a knot I tied with my own hands. However, I’m speaking it into reality: this is going to be a good fall, crisp and new.
My first interaction with Gretchen Rubin’s work was The Happiness Project. I borrowed it from a friend in high school and only made it a few chapters in because I wasn’t ready for it. When I was 18, I was probably at my happiest. I had just graduated high school and was gearing up for college, I had lots of adventures with my friends, and my family life was going pretty well. I didn’t need a book on how to be happy because I was doing it. If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you’ll see that I’m in a different place now. I’m more raw than I was in high school, and happiness is more elusive than before. So when I found the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, it came at the perfect time.
Happier has been a little ray of sunshine for me on my commutes. Gretchen and her sister, Elizabeth Craft, spend about 30 minutes per episode tackling issues that impede happiness and give tips to make your life happier, healthier, and more productive. They also give themselves happiness demerits and gold stars in order to hold themselves accountable and reinforce good behaviors that make them happier. Overall, it’s super positive and encouraging.
My favorite tips from the podcast:
- Do a “power hour” once a week where you do all the things on your to-do list that you have been avoiding
- Join a group or create your own-I joined a book club and yoga, and it’s been great to have a community of people who enjoy the same things I enjoy!
- Develop a minor expertise
- The strategy of pairing
- Get rid of something as soon as it becomes useless
- Outer order contributes to inner calm
I highly recommend this podcast if you’re looking to grow toward creating good habits and being happier in general!
Failure. My biggest fear and constant companion this year. Actually, right here on this blog, I’m going to go ahead and name 2016 “The Year Annette Failed Spectacularly and Lived to Tell the Tale.” I’m owning it. Admitting it out loud.
There are the little failures. Forgetting to take my medicine and getting sick. Messing up and embarrassing myself at work. Not being as good at yoga as I’d like to be. Having days when I can’t seem to meditate, no matter how hard I try. Not meeting the little goals I make for myself (like posting a new blog every Sunday- y’all, it’s Monday). Those hurt, but they’re pretty insignificant in the long run. But I’ve failed miserably at some big things this year. Here are my truths:
I applied to Clemson University for grad school and made it as far as to get academically accepted. However, the program required an assistantship. I went to a two-day conference and used up 2 precious vacation days and interviewed for 6 assistantships. I didn’t get a job, so I won’t be going to school this fall. Grad school? Not this year. Later, I applied to a job at a college near my hometown so I could get some experience in student affairs. I left just knowing I had it in the bag, but they never called me again. New job in a field I’m interested in? Nope. I moved back in with my parents rather than finding a new apartment with my roommate in Greenville. Western society tells me this is a big failure. I lived completely independently for a year, but I want to save money. Independent? Not right now.
I’m face down on the ground at rock bottom right now, mumbling all of this through a big old mouthful of dirt! But I’m saying it! The worst things about the expectations we set for ourselves are that we hide them, making them our secret shames. But I’m out here saying that I’m struggling! And if that makes even one person feel less ashamed of their failures, then I’m stoked outta my mind. I’m failing, but I’m not alone in it. And the goodness that comes from all of it is that I’m so much more willing to stick my neck out because I’ve failed and seen that failure wasn’t fatal. If I fail again, I’ll be okay.
Like my shero JK Rowling said: “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was…. I was set free because my biggest fear had been realized, and I was still alive. Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
The poison leaves bit by bit, not all at once. Be patient. You are healing.
This month was about cleansing, sloughing off the dead stuff. Moving and leaving things in the past. Tying up loose ends. Being patient as the poison of heartbreak and uncertainty and constant stress slowly leave me.
As I posted a few weeks ago, I’ve been going to hot yoga, which has been such a cleansing and tough and rewarding experience. About halfway through each session, I feel terrible, physically and emotionally. I wonder what I’ve done, why I’m on the mat. If it’s worth it. However, apparently that’s normal- all of the sweating and moving loosens up hormones and toxins in your body in a similar way that massage can loosen things up. And after water and a healthy meal, I feel a lot better, a lot lighter. And a few hours later, I want to be back in the stuffy, 99 degree studio again.
Moving home has also been a detoxifying and difficult adventure. I can finally go to work every day smelling like my clothes have been freshly laundered instead of smelling like stale cigarettes. The act of culling some belongings from my parents’ house and from my apartment was nice, too. I got rid of things that had bad memories attached to them and things that were useless clutter. I’m learning to be selective about what (and who) I let into my space. I’m not going to lie and say moving home has been easy and great. My family has been supportive, and I’ve had a great time hanging out with them. However, moving home is bringing up old demons I didn’t know I’d been carrying around, old guilt and shame I thought I’d dealt with but I’d just swept under the rug. I’m using this time at home to truly deal with these things in therapy so I can wash my hands of them for good when I move to the next stage of my life.
July was so much better than June, and I’m hoping that August will see improvement in the same ways. I’m still going to therapy every week and doing my best to be patient with myself in this healing process. I’m reaching out to people and being vulnerable about my struggles and telling my truths. Things are still hard sometimes. But the poison is leaving bit by bit.
I thought about posting a bullet journal primer, but there are already TONS on the internet! Plus, it’s easier to start from the basics and tune it. I follow a lot of bullet journal blogs and instagrams for inspiration and tweak things until they serve me best. In 2012, I started out journaling about my day and recording quotes. This year, I started using the bullet journal calendar system, so my journal has morphed from the traditional setup to a new setup that I’ve attuned especially for my needs. I use my journal for normal “here are my feelings about life and what I did today” thoughts, but I use it to keep track of all kinds of different things. I love having all of my life in one place.
Here are my bullet journal spreads:
- This month, I started a new monthly page where I put goals and quotes and mantras for the month. I’ll add to it as the month goes on, but there isn’t much on it yet.
- Beyond the month, I break it down into a weekly spread. I change it up a little each time, using different setups and printouts and quotes that suit the week’s ~vibe. On this spread, I record my appointments, to-dos, and a few habits. I also sometimes track my sleep and spending. Each Sunday evening when I create my weekly spread for the next week, I think about the things I want to improve about myself in order to set goals. If I have a week where I buy too much coffee, for example, one of my goals the next week might relate to abstaining from that bad habit. The weekly goals have check boxes that align with habits I want to create. A lot of people track their habits in their monthly spread, but I find it more encouraging to do it weekly so I have a clean slate each week. I usually keep scheduled items like appointments apart from to-dos. For example, in the weekly spread below, I use my three goals to separate events/appointments (above) from the the to-dos I fill in below.
- Though I don’t like tracking my habits on a larger scale, I LOVE using my journal to keep up with media, like this tracker I have for watching House, MD (please don’t judge me for those binges last month…). I have a monthly spread for the podcasts I listen to because I usually listen to one or more a day. I also have a bigger spread for the books I’ve read in 2016. For these big spreads, it’s helpful to use tabs for ease of access.
- There are other kinds of spreads, too! Just like when I first started journaling, I still like to keep track of quotes (below, left). I’m definitely a collector, and I love recording quotes from books, movies, and people. Also, it’s poignant to see what quotes struck me at different points in my life. I usually incorporate quotes in my weekly spreads as well as my day-to-day journaling. I have educational spreads where I’ll watch a documentary or read a book and take notes. I also have spreads devoted to different cleaning references. Travel spreads are so much fun in a journal (below, right). I collect small scraps from my trips, like ticket stubs and tea tags, and journal about my day around them like a mini scrapbook. I love buying postcards and putting them in my journal when I travel because they’re cheap, high quality pictures that are better than ones I can take with my iPhone and print. The travel spread below contains my memories from Parc Güell in Barcelona, Spain.
My journal is a hodgepodge of all the things that make me happy. It lets me celebrate the little pieces of who I am, the events and quotes and thoughts that shape me into the person I’m becoming.
I drive at least 2 hours a day because I commute for work, and one of my favorite parts of my drive is listening to podcasts. So, I’m going to do a miniseries on podcast reviews! I’m starting with the podcast that started it all: Call Your Girlfriend, the podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
The premise: two besties call each other once a week and chat about politics, culture, and everything else best friends talk about. They answer listener questions about life, love, and womanhood. They’re also the inventors of Shine Theory, which is reason enough to listen! Just listening to how successful and hardworking they are makes me want to live my best life!
Aminatou Sow is my inspo for self care. She is a big believer in treating herself to luxurious candles and massages. She’s a girl boss in the tech industry, which is awesome! Ann Friedman is a journalist, and she’s always recommending awesome articles. This podcast keeps me up-to-date on everything!