you should go and love yourself

you should go and love yourself

 

“And even when no one is looking, love yourself.” – Alex Elle

I shared this quote on my 21st birthday; I declared that being 21 was going to be about me and loving myself independently of anyone else. And I meant it. It’s difficult to love and care about yourself when you feel like other people don’t feel that way about you. It’s very easy to get caught up in this “why don’t they love me as much as I love them?” way of thinking, and thinking things like that makes it so, so hard to focus on yourself. I struggle because I crave external validation, and as often as I say this jokingly, it’s true. I want people to like me and I spend a lot of time concerned about that. I don’t spend nearly enough time trying to like myself.

Valentine’s Day was this past week, and I approached the day with trepidation: I expected to feel pretty crappy. I’d been feeling depressed the last few weeks as it is, and I really didn’t want a full day devoted to a subject I’m still feeling a bit bitter about. I expected to feel sad for what I’ve lost and jealous of what others have. But, surprisingly, that wasn’t the case. I was in a great mood and I felt genuinely happy and excited about all the love I was feeling: for my friends and family, and for myself.

It sounds like such a simple thing to do: love yourself. And yet, it is one of the most difficult goals I have set for myself this year. And it’s not because I hate myself or think myself a bad person. I just find myself slipping into this negative pattern of thinking where I assume fault for things I have no control over, or I ruminate on past events and try to think of a million different ways I could have handled a certain situation better. Or I focus so much on making sure other people like me that I don’t stop to take care of myself. I am very good at taking care of other people (this is one of my favorite qualities about myself), but I often use that as a distraction or an excuse to stop myself from taking care of me.

It’s a thin line: where does self-love become selfishness? And where does generosity become self-sacrifice? For me, it’s so hard to find that middle ground. And I would rather be perceived as a pushover than as self-absorbed, so I lean far too heavily on the self-sacrificing side of the scale. And I know I do this, I can tell when I am doing this, and I still struggle with stopping myself.

I think I’m learning a lot about myself and those around me as I contemplate these questions every day. I think I’m getting better at loving myself and loving others and balancing the two so that they can coexist without destroying each other. It isn’t easy, but I have really good days (like Valentine’s Day), and that gives me hope that I’ll figure it all out.

forgetfulness (forgiveness)

forgetfulness (forgiveness)

I’ve been writing a lot of poetry lately. I don’t think I’ve produced so much content since high school. A lot of it has been about Justin, which is to be expected. I’ve found myself thinking about the three years we spent together and trying to allow myself to view those years and how I felt during them honestly. In doing so, I’ve found myself reconsidering lots of old relationships and old wounds that I had considered closed over (if not healed), and I noticed a pattern. I tend to forget rather than forgive (and I very much disagree with the saying “forgive and forget”). I think forgiveness is good and healthy and necessary for one’s growth and sanity. But if you forget, then what point of reference do you have when you encounter a similar situation in the future? If you forgive and forget, then how can you learn? How can you stop yourself from repeating the same mistakes over and over?

Writing has always been an emotional outlet for me: a safe way for me to express my emotions honestly, without fear of consequence (which is why I have pages and pages and pages of writing that no one will ever read). But I’ve never really thought about writing as way to heal. It’s a way to express, which is an important first step in healing, but generally I write something and then abandon it in a notebook or word doc. I throw the emotions onto paper and consider myself done; I forget but I don’t forgive.

When I go back and read these old poems, I remember exactly what I was feeling. I can put myself right back into those unresolved emotions. The interesting and somewhat unique thing about my relationship with Justin is that we started dating at a time in my life when I was writing poetry left and right, spitting it out daily. He was the first person I ever wrote about in present tense; up until I met him all of my poetry was a reaction, a reflection on something that had ended. Justin arrived in my life just in time to become the subject of happy love poetry. As a result, you can clearly trace the path of our relationship through my poetry. I managed to capture every part; the nervous excitement at the beginning, the idealized perfection of the honeymoon phase, the warm comfortable feeling of being securely in love, the frustration and anger that came with long-distance, the doubt and fear of the future, and the devastating sadness that accompanied the loss of something I thought would always be there.

It hurts to read these things; it still hurts to remember what I’ve lost. This is true of many things, not just Justin. So I read my old poetry and steep myself in these old emotions that I thought I had dealt with, but had instead simply tucked away for later. And then I write; not just to throw words on paper and forget, but to forgive. And to remember. 

I organize my poetry into folders, each one labelled according to subject.

Family

Friendship

Home

Love

Me

The ‘Me’ folder is suspiciously lighter than the others. But I’m working on that. I’ve heard this said several times: “You’ve got to love yourself before you can love someone else.” That’s probably true. But right now, for me at least, I think this is more accurate: you’ve got to forgive yourself before you can forgive someone else. And you certainly can’t love yourself if you can’t forgive yourself.

I recently found an old, unfinished poem I started my first year at Yale; it was about my dad. I was clearly very angry when I wrote it, but I’m not so angry with him now (not angry at all, really). I finished it, and when I did, I moved it the ‘Me’ folder, because I realized it wasn’t about my dad at all. Here’s the last few lines:

I haven’t spoken to you since the last time it rained.

I blamed you, I blamed you for everything.

But I cannot blame you for the rain anymore

than I can blame you for the drought.

I dreamed of you, too, while you were gone.

And clear skies or storm clouds, I hurt all the same.

I’m sorry it took me so long to see: the storm was never you.

The storm was always me.

anniversaries

anniversaries

Today is the fifth anniversary of the release of Taylor Swift’s album Red, an album that is very very important to me. And up until yesterday, I had planned to devote this blog post to explaining why. But then yesterday, another anniversary crept up on me and punched me in the gut. And for the sake of transparency, something I have attempted to maintain on this blog in all of my posts, I am going to talk about that anniversary instead.

October 21st, 2017: what would have been my and Justin’s 3-year anniversary. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite make it. Back at the end of August, right as I was leaving for school, we decided to take a break. It was my idea. We had a rough summer; we argued a lot, I was angry and irritated with him for most of the time. Sometimes it was irrational, other times it was justified. I felt like he was not thinking about the future enough (or at all, really) and that he didn’t take anything I said seriously. So I thought that some space would be good for both of us. I wouldn’t be breathing down his neck, constantly anxious/frustrated with him. And we would both have some time to think about what we wanted for our future and start moving in that direction. For me, it was a temporary situation for us while we worked on some of the problems in our relationship.

I was not expecting for it to suck so much. Here’s the thing about being in a serious relationship with someone for almost three years: you talk to them all of the time. And suddenly, I got back to school and I couldn’t talk to Justin anymore. Every day, I had to stop myself from texting him or snapchatting him when I saw something that reminded me of him or that I thought he would find funny. I knew I would miss him, but I didn’t realize how overwhelmingly much I would miss him. I didn’t think about that, I just thought about how our relationship was souring and we needed to do something to fix it. Maybe it wasn’t the best way to go about fixing things, but it was all I could think of to do.

And so, for almost two months, we didn’t speak at all. I was miserable, and I  didn’t really have a way of knowing how or what he was doing. But even when we were fighting and our relationship was strained, Justin and I really loved each other and we made each other happy. So I got tired of making myself miserable and I called him. We talked for a long time; it was a hard conversation and it lacked the usual comfort and familiarity we usually have with each other. But I swallowed my pride and laid everything out for him: I missed him and I hated not talking to him and I needed to know how he was feeling about everything. I needed to know what we were going to do; we’d never really talked about our relationship post-break. I told him I wanted for us to work on the relationship and make it better. He didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear; he told me he didn’t know what he wanted and that he needed some time to think. So I gave him some time.

A few days later, when we talked again, he told me he thought we shouldn’t get back together; he didn’t want me to have to think about him when making decisions about my future and we fought too much and nothing ever changed. And as much as I wish I could have, I couldn’t change his mind. So, just like that, in one hour-long phone call, our days-away-from-being-a-3-year-long relationship was over. And now, I’m struggling to come to terms with losing someone that was so important to me. I don’t foresee that happening any time soon, though. I can only distract myself for so long before I remember that I’ve lost someone who I thought would always be around.

I hate change, and this is a huge change, so it’s understandable that I’m upset. But it’s not just that. I’ve been missing Justin for months, and now it’s only worse because there’s no end in sight. For me, out break was always temporary. But this is permanent, and I’m having a hard time accepting the fact that Justin is not a major part of my life anymore. As dumb as this sounds, I really like Justin. Obviously I love him, but he was my best friend too and I’m not just upset that my life is changing as a result of his absence. I’m upset because he’s going to be absent. I miss him.

Justin told me he didn’t want me to have to consider him when making decision about my future. But he didn’t consider that I’ve already been doing that for a long time. I’m a smart, fairly logical person, and I know it’s naive to think that I will spend the rest of my life with the boy I dated in high school. And I’m too young to think about that right now anyway, and I should be focused on school, and in the grand scheme of things, 3 years is just a short portion of my life. But I was so in love with Justin (still am) that I couldn’t help but assume he would always be a part of my life Any time I envisioned the far off, abstract future, Justin was there. I was never going to let that stop me from pursuing my education or my career. I guess I just (naively) assumed that we would figure it out together. A lot of people have tried to console me by telling me we’re on different paths, and that this was inevitable. Maybe they’re right. It doesn’t make me feel any better. Part of me still believes that it doesn’t matter what “paths” we’re on; that if we wanted to, we could make it work. But I guess we don’t want to.

So that’s where I am today, the day after what would’ve been our 3-year anniversary: pretty lost and pretty confused and kind of angry and kind of guilty and very sad. I know I’ll survive; I always do. I’m nothing if not resilient. But being resilient is hard and exhausting and I’m already so tired. This wound is still so fresh, and I am not looking forward to the healing process. I know it will take a lot time and healing is by no means linear. So I guess I’ll celebrate the 5 year anniversary of Taylor Swift’s Red and mourn the loss of my relationship at the same time by listening to the sad breakup songs on the album and eating chocolate and crying. I don’t know what else to do at the moment.

 

 

 

dealing with loss

dealing with loss

In September of 2012, my mom died. I was 15 years old, and I cannot begin to describe how hard it is to lose someone who means so much when you still have so much life ahead of you. In the days and weeks following her death, I became painfully aware of one thing: I’m never going to wake up and have a mom again. Ever. At 15 years old, that’s a pretty bleak thing to have to look forward to every single day. It’s been five years, and I’m still devastated, I’m still confused, I’m still angry. My mom never saw me turn 16, she never saw me get my driver’s license, she never saw me go to prom,  she never met my first serious boyfriend, she never saw me graduate high school, she never saw me get into Yale, she never saw me leave for college. She will never see me graduate from college, she’ll never see me get my first “real” job, she’ll never see me get married, she’ll never meet my children. My mom has missed so much already and she’s going to miss everything else.

Most people don’t ask me what’s it like, which I’m grateful for because I don’t think I can answer that question. I just know that personally, losing my mom felt like the worst possible thing that could have happened to me. I was very close to my mom, and some people don’t really understand what that means. My mom was my best friend. I told her everything, and I rarely went a day without talking to her. Most days, I called her on my way home from school, despite the fact that I would walk into the apartment in fifteen minutes and see her. So, for me, losing my mom was like losing a huge part of myself. Something is always missing and nothing or no one can ever fill that empty space. Every day, I have the urge to tell her something, but I can’t. I can call Linda, I can talk to my friends, I can close my eyes and pretend I’m talking to her, but I still feel like I have this weight on my chest that I just can’t get rid of.

I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. I always do when fall rolls around. September-December is a particularly rough time for me. The beginning of September brings the anniversary of her death. Her birthday comes on November 1st, then there’s Thanksgiving, which hasn’t felt like a real holiday since she died. Then my birthday arrives in December and I want to enjoy it, but there always comes a moment in the day when I remember that this is yet another birthday she is missing, and I am continuing to get older without her here to see it. Christmas is much like Thanksgiving, a family holiday that doesn’t feel real because my family doesn’t really feel like a whole family without her. That first fall/winter without her was awful, and it’s gotten better each year since, but the truth is that I still feel like an old wound is being ripped open every year.

I keep thinking that one day, I’m going to wake up and be 30 years old, and I will have lived half of my life without my mama. And then more years will pass, and eventually I will have lived the majority of my life without her. I’ve already lived a fourth of my life without her. And that’s just not fair. I spend a lot of time (probably too much) thinking about how my life would be different if she had never died. Sometimes I think I probably wouldn’t be at Yale; I would’ve missed out on a lot of amazing experiences that I was able to have just because I’m here and I would have never met my friends, some of the best people I know. I would have never wasted so much time being angry at my dad. Maybe I wouldn’t struggle with depression. Maybe I would. I don’t know. Usually, I try to look at all the things I do have, and not all the things I don’t. And I’m usually able to look at my life and realize that all the things I’ve been through have made me a stronger, better person, and have led me to all the good things I have now. Most days, I feel lucky. But some days, I’m not that strong. Some days, I would give up anything to be able to curl up in the bed with my mama, or to sit on the back porch and tell her all the mundane details about my day, or to just listen to her sing one of those old country songs she loved so much.

uncertainty

uncertainty

So, here’s the thing: being an adult sucks. But, here’s the other thing: you gotta do it. Being an adult is hard for so many reasons, but what I struggle with the most is adapting to change. Which really sucks given that I’m in such transitional period in life. Almost everything in my life is temporary: school, my jobs, my living arrangements. My summer paints this picture perfectly. I was never in one place for longer than four weeks, and usually for a shorter period of time than that. Two years ago, I graduated high school and my life changed dramatically; in two years I will graduate from college and my entire life will be uprooted yet again. Each time this happens, I cling desperately to what I’m leaving while also trying to accommodate all the newness.  And I’m really bad at accommodating the newness.

But eventually I do, because I know I have no choice. The world goes on with or without me, and if I waste my time resisting change, I become a passive player in my own life. And if there’s one thing that scares me more than change, it’s not being in control. Yes, growing up and watching everything change is terrifying, but sitting back and just watching these changes happen without any of my own input is ten times more terrifying. I may be indecisive and I may be miles away from any concrete plans for after graduation, but I know what I want my life to look like. I just haven’t decided what path to take to get there. I refuse to just settle for whatever happens to me, though.

Don’t be mistaken and think I have my life together, because I don’t. But I know what I need to do to get to a place where I can figure things out, and I know that I’m doing what I need to do. I would say that things always have a way of falling into place for me–but that’s not quite true. I think it would be more accurate to say that I always have a way of putting things into place for myself (with help from many generous people, of course). I know I’ll get things right in the end, even if I stumble and make stupid mistakes along the way. I’m speaking from experience here.

So after a summer of begging for everyone’s advice and trying to make hard decisions using all of that advice, I came to the conclusion that I should just trust myself. After all, I haven’t ruined my own life yet. Even so, I still struggled. How could something be the right thing for me if it hurt? And that’s where the whole “being an adult sucks” thing comes back. The right decisions aren’t always the easy decisions (usually aren’t, actually) and what’s good right now isn’t always good for later. Being an adult means seeing that, acknowledging it, and doing something to fix it.

One more time, for those in the back: being an adult sucks. But I started growing up earlier than most, and I think that made me a little tougher than most as well. I’ve always felt like an old soul, which sometimes makes me weary, but also makes me feel like I have the advantage of experience that most people my age do not. I don’t know, maybe I’m just crazy. I do know that despite feeling confident in my decisions, I haven’t felt quite this unhappy in a while. Things are changing, and I am resisting as usual. Here’s hoping good changes come that I can not only accept with grace, but also look forward to. As usual, I am sad but hopeful; too busy wondering if there is in fact a glass with water in it to question whether it’s half full or half empty.

stanford, round 2

stanford, round 2

Sitting in the lounge of Theta, my home for the last two weeks, I am entirely unprepared to pull the all-nighter ahead of me. But, as with most things in life, it is happening whether I’m ready or not.

Two weeks ago, I arrived on Stanford’s campus, unprepared for the job ahead of me. A quick day of training helped, but it did not allay all of my fears. Being responsible for a group of 46 international teenagers is no small task. Luckily, I had friendly coworkers who ended up being super capable and super cool. And I had a group of really nice, funny kids who made my job fun and relatively easy. Two weeks is not a long time to get to know anyone, but I’m glad I got to spend time with these people regardless.

My house had a mix of Colombians, Chileans, Canadians, and Japanese kids. And I was shocked and impressed to watch these kids warm up to and make friends with each other so quickly, despite their cultural differences. I also had the privilege to learn about their countries and see their love and pride in their respective cultures. While handing out their superlatives at our last house meeting, I found myself grinning like an idiot as I watched them laugh and shout out their guesses for who won what award.

It reminds me of a similar night a few years ago, when I was again on Stanford’s campus, and sitting in the same seats as my students. My experience as a student in Stanford’s Pre-collegiate summer institutes was a formative moment for me, and was ultimately what made me so passionate about writing and what inspired me to apply to out of state schools such as Stanford and Yale. And look where that landed me. My three weeks at Stanford the summer before my senior set the stage for all the great things that followed. I changed during my time here; I learned to be brave enough to want things that seemed impossible; I learned to be brave enough to pursue dreams, no matter how unrealistic.

I think that’s a hard lesson to learn and an even harder lesson to retain. It is so easy to forget, to settle, to give up. Watching these kids come out of their shells and hearing them tell me how this experience was the most amazing thing to happen to them is a sweet reminder of that excited, hopeful outlook I had as a 17 year old. Such an outlook is hard to maintain as I grow older and adulthood rears its ugly head. But thankfully, I have opportunities like this to remind me.

And this is why I love working with kids. They aren’t jaded (usually) and they are so excited about the future. And after the multitude of adults who had a positive impact on me and my life, I want to return that positive energy. Also, there’s nothing more rewarding than the round of hugs I got tonight, each one accompanied by a “Thank you”. Kids are crazy, and they will push your limits and get on your nerves and make you want to pull your hair out or scream; but ultimately, they’re just trying to figure everything out (just like us old folk). So no matter how annoying or loud or frustrating they may be, I will always be grateful to be part of their journey. I’m gonna miss these kids; in fact, I already do.

hygge

hygge

I’ve been neglecting by blog. If you can believe it, it isn’t because of writer’s block or laziness this time: I’ve honestly just been too busy to stop and write.

I am currently sitting in a dorm room at Stanford, listening to a house full of international teenagers through my window. But, that’s not the story I want to tell right now. I never finished the story about Denmark, and I can’t leave such an important four weeks of my life as unfinished business (although I hope that this is not the close of a chapter).

The last time I wrote, I was in my room in Copenhagen. Copenhagen: what a beautiful city that gave me so many stories to tell. I ate, I drank, I sprained my knee (again). I spent too much money. Some things never change. And although all I brought through customs with me were two thimbles and some rocks from the Baltic Sea, I know I brought back so much more.

To put some perspective on things: I’m just a poor kid who grew up in a small city no one’s ever heard of in the middle of the Bible Belt. Up the last few years, I hadn’t visited more than 4 states. Travelling was a foreign concept to me, and I never really thought much about it, except in that distant, fairy tale dream way. Then one of those crazy dreams came true: I went to California to study creative writing at Stanford. Then something even crazier happened: I got into Yale. And there I met the the coolest people; people I never would have imagined would be my best friends. And then I was accepted into a study abroad program, and before I could even blink, I was on a plane to Copenhagen.

I would say I’m the luckiest girl in the world, but we all know that’s not quite true. And besides, to chalk all the good things in my life up to luck would diminish my achievements; and I’ve worked too damn hard to get to where I am to not take some of the credit.

But, back to the point, I keep finding myself in situations that younger me was too afraid to really dream about. And I don’t know how to express how overwhelming it is to experience theses things with that knowledge in the back of my mind. Even now, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that I just spent four weeks in Europe and and am currently spending two weeks at Stanford; just like I still have these moments of absolute shock that I am a student at Yale University. It’s mind-blowing. So I put a lot of pressure on myself to get a lot out of these experiences. I want to be constantly learning something.

What did I learn while I was studying abroad? Well, I learned a lot about Danish and Finnish education systems and child care (as that is what I was studying). I could (and did) write a lengthy academic paper about that topic, but I won’t do that here. I learned a lot more than that though. Talking to people never gets any easier, but forcing yourself to do so is rewarding (and nothing worth doing is easy anyway). I love chickpeas and hummus and pistachios (pistachio ice cream omg) and salmon: I guess you could say I learned to not knock it ’til I try it. You can become great friends with people in a very short amount of time. You can communicate with anyone regardless of language barriers. Sometimes getting lost is just a part of the adventure, and you can having fun doing anything, if you’re doing it with the right people.

More than anything, I was reminded of a lesson that I’ve been learning for years now: growth only comes when you step out of your comfort zone.

So I played with Danish kids who didn’t speak a word of English. I ate things I didn’t think I’d like. I went to bars and clubs and danced and met new people. I got on trains and hoped I was going in the right direction. I sat in a sauna and then jumped into a freezing cold Finnish lake. I spoke up in class. I got a tattoo!

I made friends. And it’s crazy to think that I only spent four weeks with some of the people I met, because it honestly feels like I’ve known them for years. More than anything, when I think of my time in Europe, I will remember dancing down the street, singing, gathering evidence that Pekka is a vampire, laughing over tinder messages, screaming along to High School Musical in a Finnish karaoke bar, running through the rain to get pizza, sitting in a cozy spot and feeling warm and comfortable and happy to be with friends. I will remember hygge.

Hygge. If I could use one word to sum up my experience abroad, it would be hygge. Hygge (pronounced like ‘who-guh’) is a quality of coziness that one gets when very comfortable in their surroundings; it leads to a feeling of warmth and contentment. This is a defining characteristic of Danish culture, and I felt it, surrounded by friends, talking and laughing. I love the concept so much that I got the word tattooed on my arm.

So, there it is. A fraction of what I how I feel about my trip to Europe and all of the wonderful things I experienced there.

unnamed