Saturday, October 25, 2014

You Gotta Do You

I have this really fantastic friend from high school. Well, I have several. This story is about one in particular. I cannot tell you when we first met… I think it might have been when I helped her and two mutual friends with a play skit or maybe we were in classes together, but it is hazy.  We always had mutual friends. That I know. Junior year of high school we were in classes together – that I remember – and that is when we really rocked that school. We painted murals together, made funny faces endlessly, and ran along beaches in the cold of spring, naming shells “Squishy” along our way. (If you got that Finding Nemo reference, you get an A+ in Awesome.)
Me and Lauren this summer.  ♥ Mom took
this just before we went to see the
musical version of Legally Blonde.
Theater lovers!

She is my Glorious. (You know how I love to nickname friends whenever the opportunity arises.)

She is one of the most excitable, sweetest, kindest, non-judgmental, most love-filled people I have ever met. At the same time, she is one of the most opinionated, stand-her-ground, tell-you-the-truth-that-needs-to-be-told kind of person. She is a tough cookie! And boy, do I love that about her. All of it.

At the first school dance I ever went to she ran up to me, noticing I was a bit awkward and stiff, and started dancing with me. As we danced she yelled over the music, “Shake what your momma gave you, Katie!” Whenever I realize I’m being tense and awkward, I think of my Glorious. I whisper to myself, ‘Shake it out, Katie, shake-it out.’

Metaphorically, of course. No booty shaking in the hallways!

The fun-tastic Summary of Our Friendship collage
I made for Lauren's birthday this year.

Lauren is a 4-foot-something firecracker. I couldn’t imagine my high school life without her friendship. I couldn’t imagine my current life without her friendship. Her friendship has been a gem in my life.  I spoke very briefly earlier this year about my struggle with illness; this took a huge toll on friendships. (It still continues to.) I spent months out of high school. When I was in school, I rarely had time to hang out with friends. It can be hard to make connections with people that way. And, understandably, it is hard for people who have never been ill or haven’t had a close family member ill, to truly understand what that is like and know how to deal with it, for them to know I wasn’t just blowing them off, not caring, or ignoring anyone. Lauren never had that problem. Somehow she always knew and understood. It is the old soul in her, I guess. She always loved me regardless. Even now, the older we get, any-and-all of my quirks, she has embraced with open arms.

She truly tries to love everyone for who they are. I admire that about her, because I try the same, but I know I fail at it – a lot. (Oh, heck, who am I kidding? I admire a lot about her. That girl is FAB.)

Whenever I am apologizing for something…For having to miss a get-together, for not responding to a text, for being a giant squid of anger when I am normally as gentle as a bunny, she is the first one to hold up the imaginary Neon Flashing Sign: “WHOA GIRL.” She is my gentle Gibbs Slap. (Keeping with the media references, a NCIS reference for you!)

“Katie, girl,” She will tell me, speaking in a Russian accent that’s slipping into in German; after all, she is an actor at heart. Her hand goes on my shoulder, as friends do. “Girl, you have got to do you.”

You gotta do you.


Those are some of the wisest words I could ever hear. And some of the most needed ones.

If ever there were a year in which I needed Glorious’ wise words, it has been this one. 

Some beautiful, flowering trees a took pictures of
at my former college.


I have always struggled with ‘doing me’. I am a perfectionist, which means I obsess and worry and have anxiety attacks trying to make everything perfect – and be perfect. By definition, I am a people-pleaser. Giving everything to other people, that is my style. Whatever they want, I go with. Whatever is demanded of me, I rise to the occasion. Better yet, whatever I perceive that needs to be done or that is expected and required of me, I plow on to get it done. Man, do you know how exhaustive that is? How about a “hell yeah!” for stressful?

It is walking around with an obligation to hold the world up with only your two shoulders, an obligation you put on yourself. ‘Forget about the other several billion people on the planet,’ says your brain, ‘it is all on YOU. Better yet, that other several billion? Yeah, that’s why you have got to shake ass. I mean, you need to stand out, right?’

As if I have to, in the words of
BrenĂ© Brown, hustle for my worth - to prove something.

(An aside: I like being liked, but more importantly I like seeing other people happy. I genuinely don’t like hurting people. I love helping them. Seeing joy alight in a person’s eyes makes my heart soar.  It isn’t like I do everything with this hustling-for-my-worth mentality in the forefront of my mind, but, listen, I’ve gotten to the point where I am trying not to BS with myself anymore. Humans do act and interact based upon a reward system. Dopamine release in the brain tells us when something feels good and is safe; if it feels good, we want to do it more. Hence addictions develop. Doing our best and getting praised, doing our best and feeling accomplished, and helping others all make us feel good.  Once we get a taste we want to keep doing it, to feel that again. It doesn’t mean the action of helping someone doesn’t come in sincerity from the deepest part of your heart. It does. There is just something egging it on. That feel-good feeling becomes an addiction; feeling anything else is terrifying.  Sometimes it is helpful, sometimes that addiction becomes detrimental to yourself.  We’re talking about the latter here.)

"I'm a Hobbit!"
Library study session adventures at my last college.


When you aim to Do It All and Be It All, eventually the world is going to flush down the drain. It is impossible.  Either everything is going to crumble, you’ll lose your mind, or both. We are just not made to try to be Wonder Women and Supermen!

College has brought its own share of illusion-shattering for me. My I Can Be Superwoman mentality has been torn through on several occasions. At the end of my freshman year of college I made a very hard decision to leave behind my friends and amazing teachers to transfer to another college. It ended up being the best decision I could have made for myself. At the time, it was very difficult. I knew the place could not work for me for a variety of reasons; but I loved the teachers, the smallness and closed-knit atmosphere of the campus, the beauty of the landscape, the convenience of living on campus, and, of course, my friends. Transferring meant graduating without them. It was also a high end school that would look good on my transcript. No one was pressuring me to stay, but I felt expected to stay, obligated.

In the end, I had to leave – for my own sanity and health.

Earlier that year I had been signed up for Biology, Calculus I, Chemistry, and another course. Within the first two weeks I found myself having mental break downs. I was tired. My anxiety was through the roof. There was so much work I was overwhelmed because I didn’t have the time I needed to understand the concepts that were being thrown at me. But I was on a Pre-Med track. If I couldn’t do that, what did that say about graduate school? Besides, dropping courses meant extending my graduation date. It also meant leaving behind hopes of the Dean’s List because there was a certain credit requirement for it. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I didn’t want to ruin my chances at graduate school. I didn’t want to let myself down.

Eventually, I had to Do Me. I dropped chemistry and changed Calculus I to pre-calculus. I transferred my first college with a solid 4.0 for both semesters. To this day I still remember biology concepts, sociological concepts, and historical events from the classes I took that year. Hardest decision = best decision.

Those were little testing grounds. This year…this year the Universe is throwing in the true testers.  I am really getting to see, for the first time, just what I grip on to.

Just a few, recent examples (there are more, trust me):

Thursday, I stayed home from school. Gasp! The horror!  I have, maybe, if I am lucky, missed five days of college – maybe a week, if we get crazy – in my college years. This is pretty remarkable considering how much I struggle with my health and how much going to-and-from class, sitting in class, and still managing to do homework is often an impossible task. (There is too much to do, too little energy and too much muscle pain to do it.) Yet, I do it. Why? I am so driven to do well, to get that A, otherwise grad schools won’t take me. Regardless of what it takes: I go to class.

On Thursday, I had an ocular migraine. A regular migraine, light sensitivity and all, coupled with vision abnormalities. The idea of missing class grated on me. Miss class, me? No! Something important will be discussed. Besides, I have a group I’m part of. I can’t let them down. The stress of resisting what my body needed only made the migraine worse.

Today I only had plans for class, homework, and studying. With midterms coming up and events this weekend, there is no time for fun or play! It is nose-to-the-grindstone for this gal. Yet, when I sat down after dinner for my second wind, I was hit with a series of flashbacks over the past year. I became restless as I tried to shove down the urge for writing that has been building for the past month and a half. (Because I do not allow myself to write during the school year, since my first focus is always school work and other obligations.) Inspiration and desire bubbled up from my core until BAM – explosion!  Here I am, writing to you.

This year, for a lot of hard, personal reasons, I have had to let a lot of people go from my life, for my own well-being. I resisted this with claws dug deep into the ground. I clung on to what I wanted to still be true of the relationship and what could have been. Fear and worry of coming off looking like the “bad one” to people who don’t understand and the fear and pain of hurting others has made it even more difficult, as a truly care about them. It bruised my heart. I have also had to be very honest with what I do and don’t enjoy, where my morals and my level of comfortability come to into play, and allow myself to realize that those who truly care for me will love and accept me as I am. Those who don’t, I have to learn to accept, weren’t truly my friends to begin with.  (It is scary! But standing up for myself has really worked.)

Not long ago I decided to take a certification course. It was a weekend training session, 9-5, during the school year. I almost passed up the opportunity because of that. How could I take so much time away from my studies? But I really, secretly wanted to do the course. The idea excited me. I tried to stifle the excitement, but I couldn't contain it for long. So I took a plunge;  I signed up for the course. And, you know what? It was one of the most uplifting, relaxing, exciting, and fun weekends I have had all semester.

Earlier this semester, I made one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make: drop a vital course. This time I didn’t drop chemistry itself (believe me, I’ve really wanted to a few times as I sit working through problems), but, rather, its lab. It was a decision that would push me back even further in my graduation date.  The work load was intense, though. I might as well have been taking a 4 credit course instead of a one credit one.  While trying to practice all of my chemistry from lecture, practicing statistics, and working group projects in my other courses, it was all too much. And I hadn’t even added in lab yet! Once I added in lab work, I was up until 3am doing homework, trying to make sure I had concepts down, practice in, and assigned work completed. (Me without enough sleep is not a pretty sight. I am irritable and whiny. I toss my textbooks across my bed and throw little temper tantrums because all I want is sleep. The day after, my body wages war as if I am Middle Earth and Sauron is trying to fight the Free People all over me. Illness no likey no sleepy.) My anxiety was through the roof. I was restless. I was suffocating. I was having a break down Every. Other. Day. Tears, depression, feeling like I was trapped inside a cage, feeling like I was going out of my mind, and anxious all of the time - the whole shebang. I hated making the decision. The entire time I just wanted someone to make it for me. Just tell me: “drop the class.” Gosh, isn’t it easier when someone gives you the permission by freeing you of obligation?  No one told me that. My parents told me it was my decision, and that they supported me in whatever I chose. They were supportive, they did help me, and in the end I came to the decision I needed most: you gotta do you. No one could bring that realization to me. I had to reach it on my own. It is a tough lesson I have to work through.

There is a running theme here: all of the pressure put upon me was in my mind. Yes, there were some external incentives. Attendance is graded in my classes, I only have three graduate schools in the country to choose from for the degree I want, and my graduation date keeps moving further out of grasp (meaning I keep acquiring more and more in undergraduate loans), for instance. But at the crux of it all, I am the one deciding that all of these things deserve a weight strong enough to hold me hostage. I was the one bullying myself into a corner.

Life is a river.

You have two options: be a leaf, drop into the current and follow where it leads, or be a rock, with everything life brings to you crashing and beating against you.

At first glance a rock is safe, right? It is sturdy, steady. It knows where it is going and is comfortable with that, resisting everything that tries to move it from that path.  A leaf is uncertain – who knows where the current may lead?

Normally, I’m a rock.

Being a rock means migraines, misery, teeth-clenching, anxiety, and every unpleasant feeling and emotion. These are the body’s manifestation of our resistance.

The leaf, the leaf is the way to go.
 
Staying home from school was the best decision I could’ve made this week. My migraine went away, for good. I caught up on sleep I needed. I de-stressed, which I severely needed. And I got a lot done. I feel much, much better than had I gone into class, even if I could’ve gone.  As the semester goes on, I realize there is NO way I would have had the time to take Chem Lab and even consider sleeping. And I like sleep. And my sanity.  I have learned that I will get where I am meant to go in life at my own pace, not the pace I force myself to go at, but the past I need to go at. I cannot force a timeline. Life will meet me where I am at. I just have to listen to myself. And even though my heart truly aches and misses those who I have had to let go over this past year, I had to let them go, for my own good. Every day it gets a bit easier, every day I realize that, without a doubt, I made the right decision.
I feel lighter because of it. Happier.
Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Sometimes it is the hardest thing you have to do. Especially when that right thing is being done by you for you and not for someone else; after all, courage isn’t about absence of fear or discomfort, it is about having the vulnerability to face that fear and discomfort.

I promise you’ll be happier having done it. You’ll be a better person, more able to constructively help others and yourself. You cannot help anyone if you don’t take care of yourself First and Foremost. That includes standing up for yourself.

Girl, you Gotta Do You.

When was the last time you had the courage to Do You?



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