Reaching the Light

Note from Laura: This post was not written by me. It was written by a very close friend of mine, who is going through a hard time. In the interest of supporting her and supporting lessening the stigma surrounding talking about mental health, I’m sharing it here, with her permission, and actually at her request. She is a fellow writer and understands the power you feel in getting things like this off your chest and out into the world, whether spoken or written or drawn or whatever. I absolutely hate what she’s gone through, but I also completely get it. Depression and anxiety can be debilitating. But you don’t have to go through it alone. My friend’s hope – and mine – in sharing this with you is that if you feel this way, you are not alone. You are not broken. You are not beyond repair. You can come out the other side stronger and you have many who are willing to help you do so, usually many, many more than you know. Here’s my friend’s story.

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There’s a quote that I’ve always gravitated toward, attributed to the ancient philosopher Plato – “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This summer, this quote has been circling around in my head, and I think about it often as I interact with people daily. Because this summer, I have been living this quote.

Three months ago, I experienced a trauma that rocked me to my core and has left me scrambling to pick up the pieces ever since. There were a few minor events in the months leading up to the big one, like small tremors before the big earthquake, that weakened my body’s defenses and made me more susceptible to a chemical depressive episode, and when the big event happened, it was too much for me to handle alone. For the past three months, I have been treated for depression, anxiety, and acute stress as a result of this trauma.

Because of the nature of what happened, I was only able to share what happened with only my immediate family, a few close friends, and my work family. Most people in my daily life had no idea that I was struggling to function at the most basic level. I was fighting a hard battle that they knew nothing about. It’s estimated that one in four Americans will experience some sort of mental illness at some point in their life. Indeed, they fight a hard battle that we often know nothing about.

Depression takes many forms – sometimes contradicting forms – in different people. For me, it slowed my thinking and physical actions, making the most basic chores, like going to the grocery, clearing the dishes, or making a to-do list, overwhelming, frustrating, and exhausting. I lost a lot of weight. Sometimes people – who didn’t know about the battle I was fighting – would comment on my weight loss, making me angry and more frustrated. Although I didn’t really sleep for almost two months, it took everything I had just to get out of bed in the morning. And oftentimes when I did, I would shower and be so overwhelmed that I would just get right back in bed. I would wake up in the middle of the night with this feeling of dread that something horrible was going to happen and be unable to recover from it enough to fall back asleep. The smallest thing during my daily life might trigger a paralyzing flashback.

I found it difficult to be around people who didn’t know what had happened. I think this was because I was worried about seeming distant or quiet around them without them knowing why I was that way. I missed my college roommate’s son’s first birthday party. I didn’t feel up to attending my cousin’s wedding shower. Many times, I had to cancel plans with friends at the last minute because I was having a bad day and couldn’t get off the couch. On my birthday weekend my parents came in town to visit me, but I couldn’t even go to visit with them because I literally couldn’t pull myself off the floor.

I described my depression as feeling like I was in a black hole. It was pitch black, scary, and full of despair. I could see a light far in the distance, but it felt like that light was too far away for me to ever reach. At my absolute lowest, which thankfully only lasted a few days, I felt like I didn’t want to exist anymore. The pain was too great. I went to bed hoping that I wouldn’t wake up. I would never do anything that would put myself in harm’s way, but a part of me hoped that something happened to me that was beyond my control. I had all these people around me to lift me up and support me, but I felt completely alone.

For a long time, I thought that I must have done something to deserve what happened to me. It isn’t that I thought that I was immune to experiencing pain in my life. I volunteer with refugees, and I am reminded often that bad things happen to good people. I spend time with a family from the Congo who spent 20 years in a refugee camp in Tanzania and a Syrian family whose patriarch was blinded in an explosion in Aleppo. I look to these families as inspiration of the resilience of which the human spirit is capable.

I was lucky. I work in healthcare, so I have an above-average understanding of mental health issues. I was able to quickly connect to the resources that I needed to ensure my most speedy recovery. I have an amazing therapist who I see from time to time when I need help effectively dealing with stress in my personal and professional life, and I worked with her and my primary care physician to start an antidepressant that has helped boost my recovery and speed up the process. Weekly, I attend talk therapy sessions, and I always leave them feeling better and more empowered than when I walk in.

I also made sure that the people closest to me knew what I was going through so that they could help me in the ways that I needed, as stubborn and fiercely independent as I am. Relying on others in a time of need is a sign of strength, not weakness. It is easier to withdraw, shut people out, and hide behind depression. It’s easier to try to get better on your own and not be vulnerable. It takes you out of your comfort zone to let people in, to ask for help where you need some. But it speeds up the process tremendously and makes you stronger. I don’t remember a lot from the first month or so. Friends and family would show up with food, giving me one less thing to stress about. Friends were OK with me showing up randomly at their doorsteps crying. They would take me in, give me my favorite snacks, and hold me as I sobbed so hard that I couldn’t speak. My work family helped me lead my meetings and encouraged me to take time off as needed. I owe all of them more than I could ever repay. These few sentences don’t begin to comprehensively list the ways that my loved ones were there for me.

Again, I’m lucky. I knew exactly what I needed to do – and who I needed to turn to – when I needed help. Most people with depression don’t seek help for years, either because of the stigma attached to mental health issues or because of a lack of knowledge about how to get started. That’s why I am sharing my story, to hopefully create purpose for my pain. If someone is struggling with depression, anxiety, or stress, there is no reason to treat it any differently than if it was kidney infection, a broken arm, or diabetes. Mental health is physical health, and it is time we start treating it as such. By not sharing some of my health issues, I only contribute to that stigma.

I wish I could write this solely in the past tense. I wish that I could say that I am past the depression and everything is perfect now. I’m past the worst of it, and things continue to get better. But it’s not a linear process. Which is particularly frustrating to someone as goal-oriented as I am. It’s frustrating to feel like I’ve reached a milestone, only to slip backwards a moment later. Some days I take a step forward. Some days I take two steps back. Still others I leap 10 steps forward. Ultimately, it takes time, diligence, and trust in the process.

I still struggle to trust happiness. I now realize how quickly it can be taken away, without warning. There are moments when I’m unguardedly happy, and then I realize that I’m happy and instinctively pull back, so that I’m never again blindsided when it is taken away. And then I have to force myself to let myself experience the happiness. But I will get there. I am resilient. This battle will be won.

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On breaking up with church…

Church. As in the building. Not religion, which is completely different.

However, before I go ANY further, a disclaimer: Everything in this post – like in any others I write – is completely my own opinion and experience. I don’t claim to know everything, especially on this topic, but I know what I feel in my heart, and that’s really what this is about. All of this came about not because of one person or one thing, but a multitude of stuff at once. That said, I don’t want anyone to feel anything is their fault or problem, I just wanna express my feelings on something that’s been an important part of my life, and, for the last couple years, a really challenging part of my life.

I have written and re-written this post in my head about 6 times in the past few months. It never felt right, and I still had all of this guilt wrapped up in it and I couldn’t write it from a place that wasn’t just hurt. Now? I’m a little tiny bit removed from it and need to write. So. Here goes. (Also it’s a long one, so get a cup of coffee or something.)

For 20 years, I went to the same church. We joined when I was about 13, after a few years drifting from where we were previously. I was in the youth group the entire time I was of age to be. I got confirmed in that church and it helped to build on the spiritual foundation that got me where I am today.

I have so many great memories from that church. I met people without whom my life would not be the same. I don’t have many memories of elementary school in terms of church, so I consider SPC to be where I grew up.

It was through this church I got to learn how to serve others. I learned how to practice what was preached. Literally. I was able to expand my view of the world, and more importantly, my heart, into Jamaica and make some lasting relationships I’m so grateful for. This church family got my family through some very hard times, in losing three of my grandparents. I never doubted for once that they were all there for me and for my family.

When I was in college, I didn’t go to church when I was at school. Any breaks or trips home, however, I was at my home church. It felt weird going anywhere else, so I didn’t. When I graduated and moved out of town, I didn’t go to any church in the city where I was living either (well, I did once, and it was nuts so that ended that). It was the same thing. It felt weird going anywhere else. I didn’t belong there. I belonged at SPC.

In 2008, when I moved back to Louisville for a job, my youngest sister was in youth group. I noticed that several of the younger adults who had been youth leaders when I was in had moved on…they had kids of their own now, and couldn’t devote the time they once had. A couple of my friends who had gone through youth group with me were also moving home at that time, having just graduated from college. I floated the idea that maybe we could be youth leaders, and try and give the youth the experiences we’d had at their age, and the friendships we’d had with our leaders.

After a few years, the reins were handed to us when the youth pastor left the church. And the rest – as they say – is history.

You may have seen on this very blog posts from my time as a youth leader. Those relationships with Jamaica I mentioned? I got to go back three more times after that initial trip, all three as a youth leader. And our Jamaican friends came here. And I watched as our respective groups solidified friendships that stretched across the ocean that separates us.

Some of the most redeeming moments in my life – and especially in my faith – came from my time as a youth leader. I am beyond grateful for my time with those youth I was able to lead, and with whom I am lucky enough to still have relationships with. They are some of the very best humans I know.

I did the youth leader thing for 8 years. Eight. Eiiiiiiiiiight. 5+ of which where I was basically in charge of the whole shebang. I hosted fundraisers. I planned lock-ins. I lead games and helped with youth-led worship and variety show-type skits. (One of those friends that started the youth leader thing was with me through it all. And she got her husband involved, and we gradually got other young adult couples in our church to help out as well. I was not a lone wolf here. Just clarifying.)

I knew everyone’s allergies. Food preferences. How to de-escalate the situation if they got mad or upset at something or someone. Who would speak up and who was terrified of any kind of attention. I knew everyone’s moods and tempers and drama like they were my own. When a new young person came to church, I was usually dispatched to go talk to them and tell them to come to youth group, because somehow I was doing something right. I did not take a vacation that wasn’t youth-related for three or so years.

All of this was awesome. Fine. Good. It was what I somehow felt called to do. I hadn’t gone to seminary, I hadn’t studied religion, I was just good with teenagers. They liked me (or at least one of the youth leaders) and kept coming back…to the point where that group grew to the biggest numbers I’d seen since my own days in youth group.

What it also was, was exhausting. Keep in mind that I was doing this in my free time – I had a full-time job (and in more recent years, one I was MISERABLE at), and somewhat of a social life. My vacation time and some weekends were going to youth retreats, ski trips, mission trips, etc.

For a lot of years, this was fine. Until it wasn’t. It became a full-time job. And with having a full-time job already, and a bit of a life, it was a lot. And I unfortunately stopped getting as much out of the experience as I had before.

I was losing God in it all. I was doing all these things for Church. At least, that’s what it felt like. The youth were all still awesome. People were constantly telling me how awesome they were and how awesome I was doing with them, but something had changed.

A little over a year ago, I realized what was happening. It wasn’t about God for me anymore. It was about Church. I was doing a lot for a lot of other people – which is fine, to me that’s what Christianity is about – but it also had stopped making me as happy as it once had. I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons anymore. I was doing it because I had been for so long, and if I didn’t, who would? I was doing it because I wanted to see these kids through graduation and make sure they had a good experience and relationship with the church and their spirituality. But I sat in church on Sundays and didn’t pay attention.

Physically, I was there a lot. Mentally? Rarely. Couldn’t tell you a message that stuck out to me during that time, because I wasn’t paying attention to them. I couldn’t. My mind was racing – and sometimes stressing – about things with the youth: Which ones are here today? Are they staying for PYC? Did the person assigned to make lunch remember to make lunch? Do they remember we have vegetarians and one with a tree nut allergy? What if they order pizza again for like the third week in a row? Will the youth pay attention to the lesson I prepared? Or like the games we came up with? Oh, there’s a new kid in the back – should I go invite them to youth? Should I have a youth invite them to youth? Which one? Has everybody paid for the trip next month? Who still needs to get a passport so they can go to Jamaica?

It was nonstop. And it was stress. Constantly. So I decided to take a break. I stepped back considerably on my responsibilities with the youth and tried to get back to where I used to be – get back to that feeling I’d had before, that I was where I belonged and doing the right things and working on my relationship with God.

I gave it time, and gave myself time. I attended on Sundays as just another worshipper, putting youth-related anxieties out of my mind and trying to focus on the Word and its meaning in my life.

And… um. I couldn’t do it. As time went on, it became more apparent. Whether it was because of the previous 8 years or in spite of it, I no longer felt I had a place in that church. Not Church. Or Religion. But that specific church. 20 years there, and I felt like it wasn’t mine anymore. I felt like there wasn’t anything there for me. And that thought? That was pretty devastating.

Where was I supposed to go? Am I just done with church now? Do I just continue to live in my beliefs and leave that community of faith? That community in general?

The good news is – we had something to talk about in therapy again, as I had started a new job that I loved so no longer had to talk about my old boss and why I thought she hated me and all things good in this world.

My therapist, again, who I love a lot (hi i know you’re reading!), said something during this time that stuck with me. She talked about how I was kind of going through a breakup. I was breaking up with Church. And getting back together with God. I’d done so much work in the past couple of years to get myself mentally and emotionally to a really really good place. It was OK to want to take care of myself in this situation too.

So I did. Started to, anyway. I started 2017 off attending a different church. I went fairly regularly, but gave myself permission to skip when I felt like it. And I was just Laura. Regular ol’ worshipper there in the pew, to listen to the message and take it out into the world and apply it to my life and be reminded why I believe and why my faith is what it is.

I started looking forward to Sundays again, and to being in church and singing and listening to the prayers and the preaching. I came home re-energized and unstressed, and I had nothing to worry about church-related except showing up on time for the service again the next Sunday.

This new church I was attending never pressured me to join, which was good, because the thought of that scared me. Because if I joined over here, it meant that it was really over with the other one. And that’s kinda heavy. There was guilt and more stress and “who am i letting down” by being here instead of there.

Until 2 weeks ago.

The message was part of a series about the book of John. The pastor was saying how a lot of times there’s a word in John that people have translated to mean “believe.” But, in fact, an actual translation of that word really was “trust.” And that changes everything.

He talked about trusting in what’s ahead. Trusting in God and not worrying about it all because he’s there, and he will be no matter what. You just have to let go of what’s holding you down or back and just trust that it’s going to be OK.

And then he finished the sermon and we sang a song and all of the sudden I was crying.

I hadn’t cried this whole time about the church thing. I’d been stressed and anxious, but I hadn’t cried. And now I was. Because I was finally letting go, and trusting all would be OK. I trusted that everyone around me  – and most importantly God – wanted me to be where I felt I belonged, where my faith felt strongest. It would be fine. I would be fine.

I joined that afternoon, and have sense felt a peace about my decisions that lead me there. I still mourn the 20 years I had at SPC. And am still so grateful for all it gave me. It was where I belonged, and needed to be, for a very, very long time.

And now that I’ve gotten this all written out I feel even better – because my heart comes out best through my fingers. In writing.

Whether you go to a church building or have your “church” experience in your own way, or whether you believe in God or not, I hope that you have a chance to find the peace that comes with knowing you’re where you need to be.

#tbt: Tales of a second-grade Laura

Just when you thought the well might be running dry… I found my second grade journals. I had the same teacher in second and third grade so we had the same kind of daily writing prompt thing both years and I’m real glad I kept them all because there are some real gems in there, so this feature on the ol’ blog can go on for quite a while longer.

The story below omits several key details that don’t make me look like the bad guy I actually was in this story. (Meaning the part where we wouldn’t help her into the truck so she stood on the bike in gravel and it slipped out from under her and she had to get stitches).

*BONUS – I wrote about it again in third grade. Still only half the story. Still not taking responsibility for her hospital trip.. still obviously working through some shit.

A Book on Dating

I’ve tossed around a couple book ideas off and on in the past couple of years, and I really want to write one of essays just about my life because I’m funny and interesting shit occasionally happens to me. The other one is most definitely going to be about dating. I mentioned it in a post last week.

In the last year or so, especially, a couple of my friends and I have realized we have plenty of material for that one with our varied experiences.

That said, here is a sampling of our chapter titles for the book we will get around to co-authoring… I’ll let you know when the preorder is available on Amazon.

– Why long distance relationships are often a bad idea OR the time I got that tattoo

– So you’ve been cheated on OR I’m going to burn your house down, (redacted)

– Don’t date your coworkers or if you do, make sure they’re not idiots and on prescription drugs

– Things you do not ask/say on a first date (LIST)

– Does that approach actually work for you?

– No I do not like dragons

– Those we’ve and lost (and by loved we mean just used for sex)

– When you just dont give AF (making out with people you haven’t spoken to at the bar)

– An open letter to all the guys I’ve made out with who’ve since come out as gay

– Why I should have destroyed the bike and other regrets from an almost marriage

– Why not to study abroad with your ex

I’m sorry about the time I was talking shit and didn’t realize I had called you and you heard everything.

– M&Ms with your face on them and other signs you should call the police

– No I will not fuck you with a strap-on on and other dealbreakers

– 50 Shades of Grey’s popularity does not mean we are all into BDSM and other myths

– “Are you my mother?” “No, I’m Fucking Not”

And people wonder why it’s so hard to find love these days

Seriously, Dad, I warned you. Don’t read this one. Skip it.

OK. So. It’s been a while, but you know I’ve gotten on and then off and then on Bumble like 4 times since I last told you about it. Anymore, it’s almost solely for blog content. Other options are funny stories either for my eventual career in stand-up comedy or one of the books I’m going to write. (Stay tuned for next week’s blog featuring the chapter titles for that book. I’m pretty proud of them and hope nobody steals ’em before I get around to writing the thing — and Dad, don’t read that one either).

Two of those times I re-downloaded Bumble were because I was drunk. I’ll admit it. I was drunk and feeling slightly sorry for myself and lonely. One was because I hadn’t had any good blog content in a while. And the last one was simply because “Fuck it, why not?”

I still am not ready to pay for a site. I know you get what you pay for and all that but last time I paid I got a bunch of middle-aged rednecks and a former magistrate from the county I used to work in interested in me. Not my target demographic… And guess what, even if you’ve been single as long as I have, you still get to have some standards. At least that’s what my therapist says. And some magazine articles.

In all seriousness though – I am for reals, 100 percent the happiest I have been since maybe ever. I have a great life. Like, real great. It’s just that sometimes, randomly, I would like to maybe have somebody to watch shows, go to events and also makeout with. I have or have had some combination of those recently, but they’re not all coming from the same person.

So yeah. What now? Do I pay anyway? Do I settle? Do I wait? How much do I care?

It depends on the day for that last one.

I’m writing this blog post fresh off a conversation with a local cop on the app who within 4 minutes of us messaging let me know he would like to bury his face in my underwear drawer.

I wish that was the craziest thing I’ve ever heard on one of those sites, but alas… have we forgotten the dragon thing?

When I asked Officer Douchebag if he always talked to girls he’d just met that way, he unmatched me. Therefore, we are a dream that can never be and he will have to find someone else’s underwear to mess with. Good luck to that girl. I’m sure she’s out there.

Bless these apps though for giving people the balls to be able to say whatever the fuck they want right up front. From my understanding, saying what they want varies wildly between the sexes. For women that seems to mean more saying what they want out of like, the future, and for men it seems to be what they want in bed. It is efficient though at least. Thanks for only wasting 5 minutes of my time (how long it took before you told me you wanted to choke me during sex) before one or both of us was able to realize it wasn’t gonna work…

I have collected some screenshots that make me wonder what these guys’ angle is and how successful they are with it. Because, damn. And others I would have screenshotted but I swiped left too quickly because they either looked like a murderer, or their name was Gary, and I can’t date a Gary, I’m sorry Garies of the world…

(Also have bad luck with anyone’s name starting with J – there have been several – so I should probably skip those too, but I’m trying to stay open-minded.)

Is paranormal investigator a legit thing besides for the guys that do TV shows on it? How much money is in that line of work?

George, nobody believes that’s a picture of you.

Michael, I’m open to learning about your personality but when your only photo is an X-ray I can’t.

This one sneaks in his sexual preferences. Oh, I’m shy and like UofL and want to DOMINATE YOU IN BED.

This one too. “I enjoy bourbon, hiking, hanging out with my dog, and I WANT TO HAVE ALL THE THREESOMES”

Speaking of, there are also always the couples looking for a third and good luck to them. That’s a no thank you from me. And also who cheated? Because you share a Facebook account so someone did.

The second I don’t have a sense of humor about it all, I’ll sign off all the sites and apps for good. But for now, they’re at least goldmines in the story department. And that book won’t write itself.

Get it right, get it tight

So. The running thing? It’s not really happening anymore. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind a little, shall we?

A few months ago I’d hit a bit of a rut at the gym. I had gotten to a point where I dreaded going because it was the same old stuff every time. Walk and run for a bit on the treadmill, do a couple arm and leg machines and go home. Repetition works, right?

But here’s the third reason why I love Planet Fitness.

(First two reasons are 1) because there are only like 5 mirrors in the whole place so I don’t have to watch myself looking gross and 2) because if you act like a douchebag at the gym, they literally RING AN ALARM to call you out in front of everyone and that is my kind of gym.)

OK, so the third reason. They realize that some people don’t make the amount of money required to pay to see a personal trainer on the reg. For example, me. I got expenses. And I like the occasional avocado.

They do this thing where you can meet with the trainer they have on staff, the trainer sets you up with a plan, teaches you all the parts of the plan and then sets you free to spread your little wings and fly. Oh, they check in with you, too. And for those that can make it happen, they also set certain dates to actually spot your workout and stuff.

So, a little while ago (a couple months ago, I guess) I met with a trainer. His name is Antonio because of course it fucking is. And he’s fairly attractive and kind of built and I worried that I might be distracted by his cuteness but then I noticed he had longer fingernails than most girls I know, including me, so that fixed that right up.

And we talked about my goals and what I’d done before and how I really needed to keep the Anxiety Monster quiet and the Depression Monster tamed, so whatever he thought was best I’d do it.

First question? How many days a week can you work out? I said probably 4. He said 5 would be good. But 4 was OK. Cool. Off to a grreeeeeeeat start.

I feel like I’m a good judge of people, and can read them pretty well. And Antonio? I still have not figured him out, y’all.

The first few times we met up he forgot we had set a meeting (perhaps why this service is free?) or forgot my name or both. Oh and looked literally anywhere but at me the whole time he spoke to me. And he also kicked my ass.

He showed me some other options for cardio – better ones than the treadmill I’d gotten so tired of – including the arc trainer, which makes me feel like a cross-country skier and I may or may not be addicted to.

And he took me through what’s called the 30-Minute Circuit at Planet Fitness. 20 steps (machines and literal step exercises), 30 minutes. You use a machine the whole time the light is green, when it turns red you go to the next one and repeat until you’ve done all 20 steps. The first day doing that was rough. Bless him for thinking my poor little jelly arms were strong and putting all the arm machines at 40 pounds for a starting point. And also, fuck that.

Aside: I am writing this after a 30-Minute Circuit Day and the arm machines are my new Everest. And I think I’ve messed up my elbow joints. Or maybe it’s the Bone Islands. Click on that link but don’t look up Bone Island yourself because there’s a 97 percent chance that’s probably the name of one or more porns.

We did a full-body workout day and that was a real treat. Because we used the free weights. And I realized that 5-pound free weights in each hand feel like I’m lifting a car when made to do certain exercises. Oh. Also, that day marked the second time I made Antonio feel awkward because he had to hold my elbows in place for one exercise because my boobs are too big and they pushed my arms further out to the side and I couldn’t make it work on my own. (The first time was when I asked him machines would be best to fix my flat butt.)

Anyway. It has since gotten a lot easier. Antonio knows my name, tells me I’m awesome every time I see him (I’m sure he says that to all his non-paying clients) and usually remembers when we’re supposed to meet now. And I can say I am officially at the point where I can tell a major difference in how I feel. I’m by no means a gym rat these days, but that shit does wonders for people like me with this weird-ass brain chemistry. When I haven’t been able to get to the gym for a few days I mentally feel crappier, not to mention physically. Oh, and there was those times when it did wonders for my self esteem, specifically after a picture of me was posted (not by me) on Facebook, and I got texts from a couple different people commenting on how good they thought I looked.

I wish I could say I have completely overhauled my routine and can now get up and go workout before work in the morning all the time like someone who has their shit together, but I like sleep too much. And late bedtimes. But I do go 3-4 times a week every week (haven’t quite made it to 5 yet because yo girl has a vibrant social life).

I don’t say this to get congratulations or anything like that. I am putting this out there solely for accountability. When you post that you’ve been working out and then someone asks you about it out in the world, it’s embarrassing to say “Oh yeah, that’s over.” So this helps me keep at it.

And all the extra dopamine ain’t too bad either.

Conquering Everest

I have climbed a mountain before. A few of ‘em, in fact. Some Smokies and Pine and some others here and there that were either pretty decent or gave me what I dubbed “Climbing Asthma” before I started going to the gym more often.

And then there was Rocky Mountain National Park last year where Sami made us climb a mountain and there was like 8 feet of snow but we were in T-shirts and I couldn’t breathe because of altitude but it was worth it because the views at the end and on the way up were so beautiful.

Anyway. I can climb shit. Especially if it doesn’t involve my arms (I’m working on the upper body strength at the gym, too, so…someday). But one thing has always intimidated me when it comes to climbing.

Seriously. I’ve always been nervous to try that machine. I’ve tried almost every other one at the gym (except a couple of the ab ones because I literally can’t contort my body in the necessary way to use it) but that one has eluded me, even as I got braver and further out of my comfort zone when it came to working out and stuff this year.

I equate it to the furnace in the basement in Home Alone that Kevin is scared of and avoids most of the movie because it looms there, big and frightening.

It wasn’t that I thought I like, couldn’t climb stairs… I can do that just fine.

Aside: In middle school once, on a band field trip, a group of friends and I rode the elevator up to the top floor of the Galt House Hotel (there’s about 25 or so) and decided to run back down the entirety of those floors via the staircase in the 4 minutes we had to get to our bus. (Middle schoolers – they ain’t the brightest…) They need a machine where you can walk down lots of stairs too. Basically an up escalator you walk down the whole time. Is that a thing? I don’t know. The gym is big. They may have it. If not – I’ll email Planet Fitness.

Back to our story – I was afraid that I’d fall off the thing. Isn’t that ridiculous? I realize it now but for so long I was like, “Yeah, my coordination isn’t good enough for me to get on and off that thing without busting my ass.”

Speaking of my ass, though, that’s what ultimately ended up getting me on that machine and over my fear.

You see, this is the general shape of my butt.

So you can see where it leaves something to be desired, no? I need to do more machines that help fix that.

I’ve been in a routine with the gym where I do a couple miles run/walking on the treadmill and then a few machines (usually for my arms because of the aforementioned lack of upper body strength). I don’t know why, but I haven’t done the arc trainer or the elliptical in a long time either, but the other day, the treadmill didn’t seem as appealing as usual. I didn’t give myself too much time to think about it, and walked straight over to the stair machine.

I don’t know what had come over me. The need for change? The second cup of coffee I’d had that afternoon? The months of watching Kourtney and Khloe’s workouts on Snapchat that often included this machine? (Aside. I need to hire a trainer probably. One who I can pay in like, hugs – and maybe my HBO/Netflix password.)

Whatever it was, I put on a brave face and climbed aboard. Luckily when I got on, there was nobody on the other two next to it so I didn’t have to feel like I was already behind. I set all the things and got started.

You can see the whole gym from the top of that thing. Which brought about another fear for a minute – everyone in the gym could see me. Cool.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned though about the gym, and Planet Fitness in particular. Nobody’s paying attention to you. They’re worried about themselves. And how good/bad/silly they look at any given moment.

33 “flights” later, I was done. And not dead. And hadn’t fallen off. All that worry, for nothin’.

I felt good, and accomplished, and basically like this:

I’m adding it into the rotation now when I visit the gym. Fear = conquered.

Just don’t ask me to conquer any others – clowns and heights are the ones I have left and I have no interest in dealing with either one yet. Baby steps.

Things that make me irrationally angry/annoyed (a list)

I watch a lot of television, as you know, and with that unfortunately comes a lot of commercials. The other day in particular (may have been related to other things but still) I noticed that there is one specific television commercial that drives me absolutely nuts.

Spoiler alert, I am not talking about Tony Malito’s commercials. Or the Charmin bears. Those make me feel borderline violent with their awfulness. I change the channel immediately.

No, the one(s) I’m talking about that make me irrationally angry are the teeth whitening commercials. And here’s why. They’re ALWAYS about women. Women sitting at lunch talking about how their teeth aren’t the same color as Kleenex and how it’s ruining pictures of them (keep in mind these are models, basically, with nowhere close to gross color teeth) and their date may not like them tonight because of it.

So many problems with this. One – women aren’t the only ones who have discolored teeth. Two – I have never sat there and worried about my teeth being the problem on a date. I worry more about my general awkwardness and anxiety ruining things. And if my eyeliner looks like shit or not. Three – there is nothing wrong at all with these women in the commercials’ teeth. Show normal, regular humans who haven’t been put through makeup and have better dental care options than most people I know (or at least enough money for it), and then maybe I’ll buy into it some. But damn. Stop.

Some other things that bother me more than they should (and probably more than they bother most people):

– The sound of people eating in an otherwise quiet room. With their mouths open, especially.

– The words “breaks silence” or “speaks out” in a headline. Get a thesaurus.

– What passes for “news” these days – aka news stories about tweets.

– Speaking in unison. Like when they have twins do it in movies or on TV to be funny or cute or something, it physically hurts me.

– When people say “He’s 79 years young.” We get it. He’s 79 but doesn’t act old so if we say this you’ll realize how young he feels. I don’t care. Stop saying it. I say I’m 32. No clarification is needed. Age is a number, not a segue into a discussion about your lifestyle.

– Madonna. Why is she still a thing?

– When people do that thing with their eyelids – flip them inside out? VOMIT.

– Interviewers on most TV news. Come up with better questions. And ones with less obvious answers.

– Hearing someone talk about their obviously horrible habits like it’s endearing – mainly this one is brought to mind because of something that happened when I was shopping at Old Navy the other day. This woman in front of us in line was talking to the people in front of her about God knows what but the part we came in on was her talking about how her dentist has told her countless times to “Lay off the Mountain Dew. And the Skittles.” And then proceeded to talk about how much she drinks Mountain Dew (basically all day every day) and how she follows it up with the Skittles and my teeth hurt for her. And I was confused as to how this woman was also not morbidly obese or wearing dentures.

– Most anything Andy Samberg says or does.

Lost and found

Five years ago this week, I signed up as a volunteer for the Special Olympics Kentucky State Basketball Tournament.

Next weekend, I’m going to be watching a team I coach participate in that tournament.

Four years ago, I was starting to get more involved with the organization – but hadn’t yet found my place. I also jumped in the freezing Ohio River that year for these guys and girls. Brrr.

It wasn’t long after that I met an athlete that got me where I am today with SOKY.

This is Dallas. He’s the first athlete I met/saw numerous times as I got more and more involved at Special Olympics events. He was/is EVERYWHERE. He’s kind of a big deal, you guys. Everyone knows him, everyone loves him.

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It was through Dallas I then met his mom, Cathy, the head of the Louisville Royals sports delegation – who heard me mention an interest in softball and brought me on to help coach the summer of the 2015 (which you all may remember as that time in my life that everything fell apart but fell perfectly together).

And the rest, as they say, is history.

I’ve said this before about Special Olympics, but it bears repeating: Have you ever found something you didn’t know you were looking for? Something you didn’t know you needed? That’s this, for me.

In the Spring of 2015, I was the unhappiest I’ve ever been. The highlight of my week was Thursday nights spent keeping the scorebook for SOKY’s basketball leagues at Fern Creek High School. It’s where I ended up talking more to Dallas, and to Cathy, and it’s because of them I am where I am today.

I quit my job that year on June 1 of 2015. Two weeks later, I became a coach for the Royals softball team. Not only was I getting to work with some amazing people, but it took me back to all those summers spent as a kid with my family at the ballpark – playing, umpiring, watching my younger sisters play… it also distracted my from my anxiety about unemployment, which was much-needed. (The distraction. And the unemployment was much-needed, actually. Not the anxiety, though. Never the anxiety).

After that I was talked into coaching football (which is hilarious because I don’t know enough about it to do anything but watch and also I suck at throwing a football). Luckily, the two guys I coached with had that covered so my job was being the sideline mom. I bandaged scrapes, gave hugs and occasionally chased/cuddled our littlest player, Griffin, who was determined to run off in the middle of the game. My presence was very important, obviously.

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Then there was basketball. Friends, if I shoot 10 baskets I’m lucky to make 2 of them. So I’m a natural choice to help coach, right? Right. Something worked, though, because our team made it to the state tournament and won gold medals.

Last year was my first time as head coach of anything. I started with softball. And just FYI, head coach can simply mean you get the practice space and do the paperwork. And get dibs on making the lineup if you want. Apparently last year it meant piss off a man who was assisting you by doing nothing more than just existing, but that’s a story for another time. Over a beer.

So many positive things have come out of my time as a coach, though. Almost too many to mention. I’ve made some great friendships with those I’ve coached with – Cathy has become an invaluable part of my life, Gus has been so awesome to coach alongside (the two of us are old pros at this point) and then I’ve also been able to spend more time with my cousin, Aaron, who lived out of town for a long time, but who has joined all of us as a Royals coach.

One of the guys in my youth group helped out during softball season and will be back as a coach this year. Several members of my youth group have volunteered at the state tournaments for basketball and bowling for a few years now. My best friend’s son, who is 13, heard about what I do with SOKY and thought it sounded like a cool way to get Beta Club service hours, and who has since come to a game and three practices and loved it as much as I do.

And that’s just the coach stuff.

I’ve also seen enough athlete moments to make my heart explode.

– Athletes scoring their first basket, run, touchdown.

– Athletes helping each other out – passing a ball to someone younger/who doesn’t always get to score so they can get a chance.

– At skills for softball last year, the entire team cheering for each other as they took turns running the bases as fast as they can.

– The smiles and hugs during and after games win or lose, because they just love to play.

– The encouragement of athletes on other teams.

Special Olympics and those involved – athletes, parents, coaches – have given me so much. More than they’ll ever know. And I cannot imagine life without any of it.

Now please enjoy some pictures. Warning: Your heart might explode.