How 2012 Tried to Kill Me (And What I Did About It..)

So today I got a reminder that I have been keeping this blog for one whole year. And what a terrible year it has been. Some of the personal stuff from my life has spilled onto these pages, mainly through feelings or sentiments, but most of it has been kept firmly bottled up inside of me. What I find most interesting about this blog is that a year ago I started this project feeling as though I needed to connect with myself more, and I embarked upon a journey of self discovery. Then “life” happened, and I started having to face emotions and fears that I never thought I would be facing in 2012, and for most of the year felt as though my own understanding of myself was diminishing rather than developing.

Let’s speak plainly: nothing really terrible happened inasmuch as nobody that I loved died, my marriage weathered through another year of global disappointment, and we still have our home. But I had challenges to my health (which are still largely unresolved even after 12 months), questions to my sanity at the hands of so called friends, and the threat of financial difficulty. I was made to feel like a true failure in 2012, to the point that I almost gave up faith in myself.

As a result of this terrible year, most of the time I attempted to keep this blog I felt as though I was projecting untruths, because even if my answers were truthful I felt myself becoming more and more a stranger. Most of the questions, I have also learned, are engineered to encourage self-criticism, even melancholy, and those that focus on the positive require a saccharine and sentimental reflection on the past that has been entirely too difficult for me to face. I avoided at all costs questions about home, because home really is unattainable for me right now, and dwelling on it does more harm than good.

So now I am writing this blog post without knowing whether I will try and finish “the questions”. Why? Why would I consider stopping when I have just said this year left me a stranger from myself? Surely I have an ever-more pressing need to continue? Well, not really.

You see, even though 2012 tried to kill me, I persevered. I didn’t do it very gracefully, and there were very few defiant, movie-worthy speeches (except one that I delivered in the pharmacy the other day, but let’s leave that one for the moment), but I really, honestly did find out that I could be true to myself when the moment mattered. I faced a decision that I had to make for my own good, and put all my eggs in that basket when everyone else doubted me, and I prevailed.

Today I sat down with one of my very best friends and told him the story of my year. Firstly he was shocked that he knew so little of it (I’m a marvelous actress, it comes with the territory of being an immigrant); secondly, he was proud that I was able to make the decisions that I had made and be true to myself, despite obvious pressures from people that value money and image above all things. He is facing a crisis of his own, and I told him my story to show him that, even when you are doubting yourself, you still know yourself better than anyone else. And that no-one can act in your best interests better than yourself.

So, I am going to start 2013 with a little more faith in myself. In 2012 I really did discover who I was all over again, but it wasn’t through these questions, it was through having to fight for myself. I hope I will never have to tell anyone about the agony of the last 12 months, and I am sincerely hoping to but it behind me tomorrow at mid-night, but if I do ever tell it I will use it as a demonstration that I refuse to lose who I am.

I might be a little chubby, or curse too much, or snap at people that don’t deserve it, but I am also not morally bankrupt, and I believe in the American Dream still, and I think that everyone should be treated equally and fairly and with respect. I will not let the world change me, and I will not start believing that the world is a place where only changed people can prevail.

I’m sorry if this post is a little preachy, or pointless, but I am ready to actually say to the world that I LIKE ME. I know that a lot of people probably don’t like me, but I do, and I believe in myself, and in 2013 I am going to keep moving forwards.

What have you done in the last year that makes you proud? / What did you learn recently that changed the way you live?

It is important for me to reflect back on the last twelve months of my life. It has been almost a whole year since I sat in this same chair, wrapped in this same blanket, and created this blog. I was so full of intention.

Tonight I am actually writing this from my desktop computer, something that I rarely do, because my laptop is broken again (pretty sure Apple sold me a dud MacBook, but I’m like David over here trying to slay the giant). It’s actually very uncomfortable in our home office – my husband selected the decor, and it’s more for looking at than sitting on. However, it was this same computer that I created this blog ten months ago today, and so it takes me back to a certain time.

Last night I spent some time with a very dear friend of mine. She was a my college roommate, the very first person I met in the United States, and has been close to my heart since I stepped off of that plane over seven years ago. Last week she got engaged to a man that has been such a rock to her, and yesterday she asked me to be a part of their wedding party. Of course, I said yes.

Over the course of our evening together we talked at length about our friendship: the high points, the low points, and the things about each other that we weren’t aware we didn’t know. A few years ago my dear friend went through the biggest challenge of her life, and spent a year battling her way out of it. At the end of this year she met the love of her life, and the rest, as they say, is history. We talked about her tough times, and I shared with her my recent struggles, of which she was not yet aware.

The reason I am sharing this tonight is because I learned a lot about myself last night, and a lot about my friend, and a lot about the way that “most people” live their lives. We shelter the world from our emotions, often choosing to take a personal hit over risking exposing how flawed the world is, and how poorly it has treated us. My friend told me about her own dark path, and the steps she had to take to free herself from it: most of it I knew, but some of it I didn’t. At the end of our conversation I was sad that she had been in that position, angry at the world that had put her there, but mostly proud that she had come through.

When I look back on the last year of my life I am coming to a realization: I am going to be proud of the way I handled myself. I have made the active decision to disassociate myself from some people that have been harmful, and it has been a point of contention, and I really have had to question whether I have made the “right” decision. However, through my conversation with my friend last night I realized that there are people in this world that will take you at your lowest point and twist your soul, and once they have a grip on it they are impossible to shake off. I think that I shook myself free from those people in the last four weeks.

Before I sat down to write this blog post this evening I went into the bathroom to get a glass of water and stared myself straight in the eye. I found myself trying to picture my face a year ago, two years ago, ten years ago, but all I could see is the face looking back at me. Probably, I have not changed that much on the outside, but I feel that also the only person that matters in my life right now is who I am at this moment in time. And I might look tired (I really do look tired), and I might be starting to get some frown lines around my eyes (I’ve been frowning a lot recently), and I might be fifteen pounds heavier than I’d like to be, but I feel like a victor tonight.

Yesterday taught me that I have lived my life right recently. Prior to today I have doubted myself, and wondered if I would live to regret the choices I have made, but tonight I know that absolutely not. I have lived my life right recently, and I am proud of myself, and I really believe that only good things will follow.

What is the difference between falling in love and being in love?

Love is a difficult topic to write about. It’s hard because it’s nearly impossible to verbalize, and almost certainly different for every single person. Also, I personally feel that people that write about love as though they know what’s best sound conceited, self-important, and invariably detached from the reality of other people.

That being said, several questions on this list revolve around the topic of love, and so it is time to tackle the topic head on. And so I am writing with an obvious focus on what is true for my life, my marriage, and the limited knowledge that I have of other people’s relationships.

Falling in love, for me, is infuriatingly easy. I am a product of the 1990’s, of the Richard Curtis generation of Romantic Comedies, and the generation where paupers become princesses. I also grew up knowing a great deal of love: love from my family, love from my friends, and love from the community that I grew up in. Love was a constant in my life, I never felt the absence of it, nor the need to seek it out. I also saw many young girls in my high school getting pregnant, but never really talk about “love”. Sex was the appeal in my high school class, not romance, but I always felt connected with the notion of recreating some epic, literature-worthy affair of the heart. I easily found out that teenage boys are easy to create romance around, they are blank canvases that allow themselves to become pictures of whatever we girls want them to be.

It’s easy to love as a teenager, because falling in love is about hope, and need, and fear. As an eighteen year old setting off for college I was full of hope and full of fear, I was also in need of comfort and security – so I took my high school boyfriend with me and he was my transition, and I his. Once we settled into a “new life” we gave each other up amicably: there was never any question about ever trying to retain anything past the hope and fear and need.

Fast forward ten years and I’m married – just past our four year anniversary – and I think that I fell in love with my husband for the same reasons as that first boyfriend: I was in a period of huge change, and he represented all of the hope, he calmed all of the fears, and he fulfilled all of my needs . He was a constant. In fact, the period of change that I was going through lasted several years, through our courtship, engagement, and marriage. I believe that however much we protested we were already “an old married couple”, we were still falling in love past our first anniversary.

In fact, in the years we have been married there have been periods when I have felt that we have fallen even more in love – we are currently going through one of those periods – and they all hinge around a trying time, a moment when one of us is scared, hopeful, or in need. I think that falling in love doesn’t happen once, I think that it happens cyclically, and that being in love is the quiet and patience between the “falling”, and the trust and faith that the cycle will repeat.

Of course, I have explained this theory to my friends in the past, and I don’t know that anyone has ever 100% agreed with me. I think my theory scares people as it suggests that marriage is only made strong through challenges – I know a lot of people feel as though the best marriages are a calm and tideless sea. Like I said – love is such a personal thing, and I have no business speaking on behalf of other people or trying to counsel them to my way of thinking. But for me, and for my marriage, I think that this is how I would define the difference between falling in love and being in love.

Would you rather have less work or more work you actually enjoy doing?

This question seems rather apt right now, as I sit on a flight home after 10 days vacation. Ten glorious days with my sister, who lives on the other side of the world, seeing four national parks, four states, and many different cities. Tomorrow I return to work and, like a subconscious stretch before a run, last night I dreamt non-stop about “the office”. I dream about Work all the time – I find it impossible to disconnect myself from my job. Ultimately, this is the American “live to work” culture, and I don’t mind it – I’ve always been a hard worker, and apply myself to every aspect of my life – but this time I made an effort to totally shut myself off from my working life.

I expected it to be harder and scarier than it was, and, although I know that tomorrow I will arrive at my desk to a veritable avalanche of emails, I have no intention of checking in tonight, either.

This time away, as well as the “quarter life crisis” I’m likely in the middle of, has caused me to re-evaluate my life. I like my job, I’m very happy with the company that I work for, and am by all means satisfied with my position. However, I would love the opportunity to work for a non-for-profit. Working in healthcare has opened my eyes to all the huge problems facing America, and how important it is to show support and give funding to the multiple not for profit organizations that dedicate their lives to better understanding, educating, or improving lives surrounding these causes.

I feel live a reverse of myself – or perhaps just a mirror of my quasi-liberal upbringing – I came out of college wanting to join a huge corporation and take over the world, and now I find myself wanting to “save the world”. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

I keep thinking to myself, what would I give from my life to be able to achieve this dream? I have looked into various different volunteer positions, but the truth is that I would need to dedicate evening and weekend hours that, right now, my current job demands. Additionally, having two stinky, scruffy puppies that need their tummies filled, and a husband that doesn’t get home until 9pm, doesn’t really liberate time in my evenings. It’s the most I can do to fit in a 45 minute workout a couple of times a week. But I know that it’s something that I have to find the time to do – or rather, than I need to find time to do to scratch the itch inside my heart that tells me my life so far has been too easy.

Ultimately, the answer to this question is obvious to anyone, and I don’t know a single person that would say they would rather work 30 hours a week gutting fish (unless that’s your calling, in which case more power to you) than doing what they love. Because really, those of us that aren’t lucky enough to work what our heart wants us to work spend so many hours a week dreaming of our “ideal” job, the hours would negate themselves.

I also think it’s important to look at this question as brutally unfair in most aspects – how many people ever have this choice to make? I hope one day that I will be fortunate enough to be able to do what I love, but until then I am not going to be remorseful for the job I do have – there is no value in these “what ifs”, they breed discontent more often than they inspire.

How corporate America stole my abililty to speak freely

Aside

It’s been two whole months since my last post. I got sloppy. 2012 has not been my best year to date. I reached the point where answering questions about where my life was going, or what my legacy should be became painful to even think about. I didn’t want to articulate what was actually going round in my head, and trying to force out what I thought I should want to say because exhausting; I got the point where I could barely remember who I was, as though I was writing the account of someone I met once on a train and thought we might be friends if we lived closer. I still feel like that: like who I am is in another room and I am opening doors trying to find her.

When I first started this blog my aim was to rediscover how I express myself; to encourage deep thoughts; to realise interesting things about myself and feel reunited with my i. Perhaps I aimed too high. Perhaps I’m way too out of practice at these things. I work in the corporate world, people. Worse, I work in Healthcare. Even worse, I work in Healthcare in a foreign country. I am used to expressing myself according to very limited terms and conditions. I measure my opinions. I live in the midwest, the key is to blend in. And truthfully, I don’t disagree with blending in, it’s something that, as adults, most of us have to do to some degree. It’s compromising, or justifying, or being collaborative, or some other business lingo. It’s a mindset that you train yourself for, or that you get unwittingly trained in through the “needs must” school of life. It’s hard to admit that it’s nearly impossible to break out of this identity, it’s like a bad habit, I self-edit constantly.

As a marketing and operations professional, I focus on impressions and working as an art form. I advise people, reprimand people, mentor people on the right or wrong thing to say. Most of what I preach I don’t practice, and even less do I actually believe is true in the real world. But the business world isn’t the real world, and that’s the fundamental lesson behind my life. How many people would write emails to their friends like they write to their colleagues? Or how many people would dress to go to a ballgame with their friends as they dress on “casual” day at work?

I’ve learned a lot from my job, especially my current position, and wouldn’t want to change any of it. I’ve build a knowledge base on everything from database systems to healthcare operations; public speaking to individual mentoring; from how to dress at a conference to what is the “right” answer if someone offers you wine at a business event. But I haven’t learned anything about myself. I’m English, so people label me constantly. Mostly people run the fine line between considering me an awful prude or an outrageously liberal alcoholic (I’m neither, by the way). I’m a monarchist or a communist, a label-loving Londonite or a Welly-Wearing hoorah henry with a country pile. Different people take away a different version of me, and I am constantly shifting between each identity.

My failing was that I thought this would be easy. Things have always been easy for me, I’m one of those people that worked hard but not too hard in school. I got excellent grades because I understood how to check all the boxes, not because I actually wrote the most insightful answers. This is why I’m excellent at my job, because it’s all about educating people on what they should be saying or doing, and I’ve always been good at playing the game. Life is about displaying that you know what you’re talking about, rather than knowing what you’re talking about. The truth is, I’ve realised, that I know how to act like I know who I am, but really I have no clue.

So I’m starting from scratch here, and it’s probably going to get a little ugly.

What would you regret not fully doing, being or having in your life?

Sometimes it’s really hard to actually sit down and reflect upon all the things that I’ve done and achieved in my life. We live in a world where we always want more, always feel as though we should be more, or have more, or do more. It’s a race against ourselves, and normally a pursuit of pointless or meaningless things.

I am (nearly) 27 years old, and in my life I have been a daughter, a sister, a friend, a student, an employee, a girlfriend, a fiancée, an immigrant, a wife, a daughter-in-law, a hound-momma, and a home owner.

In my life I have travelled the world, got a college degree, written a thesis, been published in a book, stayed close with my family and friends, bought my own home, married a fantastic man, planned a wedding, survived the immigration process, met several famous people, raised a bratty dog, got and kept a good job in a poor economy, learned how to style my impossibly curly hair, and read thousands of books.

In my life I have had the opportunity to do many wonderful things, meet many wonderful people, I have had the chance to own my own property, work for a living; I have had encouraging friends, a loving family, and good employers. I have 1400 square feet of Missouri to fill with things I bought new, and to allow my dog to run around in.

I have done, been, and had plenty of things in my life – it’s really hard for me to consider wanting more.

Who do you love, and what are you doing about it?

I’d like to pause for a second and revisit the first time I read the article that inspired this blog. Clearly, I was impressed enough by the list that I was inspired to dedicate a year of my life to writing about it, but there were a few points that niggled me. The main frustration I have with the list is that many of the questions seem very intentionally phrased. It’s as though the writer is trying to coerce a certain response from the answer – in many cases, a response of self-depreciation, admissions of failure, laziness, and emotional subsistence living.

This question is one of those. I imagine many people answering this question will confess to unrequited, silent love, or a string of failings in their current long-term relationship. How I need to try harder, and cook proper meals, and make more of an effort with my outfits. Etc.

My answer is not going to follow this pattern. Not that I think i’m doing everything right; we all have things that we can improve. However, I don’t think any relationship is ever improved by people beating themselves up. There is nothing I enjoy less than my poor husband (God love him) listing all the ways in which he thinks he’s a failure. I dislike this for two reasons. Number one: If you were really that dysfunctional I wouldn’t have married you. Number two: I now have to spend equal or greater time telling you how you’re none of those things, and in fact are the exact opposite in every way. This is exhausting to me.

Additionally, I don’t have a secret unrequited passion, and if I did I would be highly unlikely to expose it on the internet. Even if I wasn’t married.

My husband is the “person I love”, in as much as he would inherit my life insurance money if I died, and that we have a mortgage together. This differentiates him from all of the other people I love, like my friends, family, co-workers, pets, celebrities, fictional characters. Etc. I have a big heart, capable of a LOT of love. But clearly, the fact I married this person when I was a (ridiculously young) twenty three years old is a testament to the fact that I love him. And that’s before you consider that I had to move 3000 miles from home and start my career and social life from scratch.

I’m not complaining. Okay, maybe I’m complaining a little bit. Marriage gives back for the most part, it’s a pretty uncomplaining and easy to life most of the time. But it can also be the single hardest thing in the world. Sometimes. There are those days that I don’t want to go home and play with the dog, do laundry, mop floors, or talk to his friends. There are those days when everything seems like too much.

Yes, it’s a taboo to talk about it, especially as hubs and I really do have a great marriage most of the time. But being married can be hard, especially when most marriages include so many more people than husband and wife. It’s a process, and there have been weeks, even months at a time, when I have had to work hard at just being here every waking minute. That’s not to say I didn’t want to be here, or wasn’t happy, it was just that every thing I did was so foreign to me. Now we’ve been married for close to four years, those moments are fewer and more far between.

But some mornings I wake up, head full of fog, and it seems as though I’m probably the worst wife in the world. The bathroom needs cleaning, my work clothes are creased, the dog keeps whining, and there is nothing edible in the fridge for breakfast. Hubs will get up, equally frustrated, and it’s easy to feel at fault, that he is judging my abilities. Sometimes, as I’m sure a lot of married minds might wonder, it seems as though it would be easier to leave than to stay; I say this not because I’m unhappy, but because this constant pressure to perform in insanely overwhelming.

But when those days come around now, I approach them with a clearer head, knowing that there is nothing I can do except wait them out. I’ve started to realise that part of being married is enduring these days of self doubt, pain, and crippling self-consciousness. But it’s worth it for the good days (which most of them are), and because I love my husband, and this is what I have to do for it.