A Year Called Nora

I’m sitting here, watching the clock creep closer and closer to midnight, and I have no idea where the year went. It flashed by in a few blinks and with some of the biggest changes in my life so far.

Every year that I write down my reflections, or my summation of the year, the theme is always the same: growth and rollercoasters. But every year, it happens again: unbelievable highs and lows and growth that I didn’t think was possible.

The year started off so optimistic with being a newlywed and exploring an exciting new city. My marriage was great, Charleston was great, life was great…and then I got the positive double line on a pregnancy test.

I feel so ungrateful writing about this because I know that pregnancy is a painful topic for so many people, but my stomach sank. Babies weren’t in my life plan for several years. I still wanted a few more years to enjoy marriage before a baby came along. Most importantly, my closest friend had been trying to conceive for years without hope, and this felt like I was stealing any of her happiness and replacing it with unspeakable hurt. Most of February and March passed by in a very guilty blur.

Of course, family was thrilled. My other friends were over the moon. Having to finally tell that friend the news about a baby was gut wrenching. I started off the conversation apologizing and crying, asking for forgiveness and that she wouldn’t hate me. I repeated “please don’t hate me” over and over again…and the response was just a little more than a click on the other side of the phone. I’m not going to act like this amazingly forgiving and generous person and say that I handled it in the most perfect way. I’m also not trying to act like a victim. It was one of the most defining moments of this year- and for sure the  single most painful one- but it happened, I’ve given her space, and any friendship we can salvage from this will contain hurt on both sides.

March also included my official bipolar diagnosis. I was already scared about being a parent before reaching a point in my life where I “felt ready”, and this added to my list of reasons why parenting worried me so much. What if the ups and downs continued to grow more extreme? What if I became too unstable to be a safe influence for my child? What if I broke and wasn’t able to recover? I started medication and regular psychiatry visits and held on to the comfort that I had a supportive core group that would fight with me through the mess.

Then Nora happened. She rushed into the world, heedless of the stress and fears that had been consuming me for the past nine months, and things changed. They weren’t completely healed or better, but I had now entered into the next phase of life that didn’t have a do-over option.

The first month felt like I was in hell. She screamed constantly, I couldn’t breastfeed her, and there was a little voice in the back of my head telling me that I was failing. I was trying to live with very little sleep, an extreme change in hormones, and attempting to regulate my meds. At one point, my panic attacks got so bad that my husband almost had to take me to the hospital. The sleep deprivation kept me so foggy that I don’t really remember much of that month, but I think that’s for the best.

I hope this doesn’t seem like a long list of complaints, but instead like an open window into this year void of all of those life filters. It was hard. It was painful. It was also full of growth (surprise). I now know that I have a really good support system all over the world. I know that I can figure out the cause of a problem and figure out a solution. I know that my body can do incredible things, even when it’s not at peak physical condition. I know that I have a husband who can lighten the darkest parts of my moods and calm my brain when it races too quickly. I know that I can keep a baby alive and happy all by myself on those days where my husband is working a twenty-four hour duty day and I have nobody around to really call on for help. I know that I can hang on to reality, even though it’s an ugly fight to do so.

I lived through this year. Many of the moments that are the most vivid were the difficult ones, but there were some really bright moments as well. Holding Nora for the first time. Starting our breastfeed journey with the support of women who have turned out to be amazing and supportive friends. Seeing the first sparks of recognition followed by the most precious smile when I walk into Nora’s room in the mornings. Feeling her head get heavier and heavier on my shoulder as she finally calms down and falls asleep. My life has completely changed thanks to one tiny person who has already taught me so much. I lived to survive another year, and I know I’ve come out on the other side with a little more confidence, wisdom, and strength.

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photo by Lindsey Tuscany Photography
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Questing

I’ve been on this quest to discover who I am for quite some time.

I think it started with my move to Germany. There I was in a brand new country with absolutely nobody who knew anything about me. That type of situation is just ripe for a new start, to begin again and truly start learning what makes up a person.

In that time, I learned that I can be bold when I need to be. When put into a situation when I really needed to start making friends and meeting people, I practically invited myself to this restaurant/bar-hopping event that led me to this wonderful group of people I’m still so lucky to get to call friends. Similarly, I had to navigate through train stations and countries that I had never been in before, knowing almost nobody. I was going to meet friends in both Paris and Switzerland, but much of my time in France was spent by myself. I learned that I can figure out solutions to almost any problem, which is an incredible feeling after thinking for years that I was just some hopeless waste of a person.

During that year, I also really started to cultivate my love for the written word. I started journaling almost daily and began to realize that when I actually tried, I had just enough natural talent to make an impact on others with my writing. I got several very encouraging emails from friends I hadn’t personally seen in years, and that support meant everything.

When I moved back to Texas, things were a little different. Looking through last year though, I’ve learned a few more things about myself. I’ve learned that I’m resilient. Being around people who actually knew about my marriage and who learned about all the actions that lead up to the divorce helped me see that I’m much stronger than I give myself credit. I can defeat those monsters and still have the ability to continue believing there is more for me out there.

I’ve also been a lot more emotional this past year than in the several years prior. I used to think of emotions, especially expressing them, as a sign of weakness. Even in the last twelve months, I’ve been so embarrassed when crying in front of someone. As a very wise friend told me once, after I apologized to him for losing it during a very difficult night and bawling my eyes out, that it was a real moment and I should never be ashamed of that. I was in tune with my emotions and trusted him enough to show how I was actually feeling. Learning my emotions has also made it possible for me to read other people’s emotions easier as well, which in turn allows me to help them through an uncomfortable situation or just to provide comfort.

So here I am, a bold, impactful, resilient, sensitive, and introspective person. I’m proud of those adjectives. They aren’t words I would have ever used to describe myself a few years ago, but I’m trying to be more confident, to be more invested in learning to appreciate who I am. People constantly preach “love yourself!”, which has always seemed like a selfish act, but I’m realizing that nothing can truly fall into place, nobody can really see the person that you are, if you aren’t willing to do that for yourself.

I typically don’t address any readers in my posts, because I like to think of this as a way to just get all of my thoughts out on a page, but if you are reading this, I encourage you to really sit down and practice this: get out a piece of paper, think through any hardships you’ve had in the past few years, act like they happened to somebody else, and choose words to describe that person after they’ve made it through to the other side. We often encourage others far much more than we encourage ourselves. Try to encourage yourself. It works wonders.

Israeli West Bank barrier - March 2014
Israeli West Bank barrier – March 2014

listening to: Tame Impala

In the Same Town

Sometimes I think I was crazy to move back to Fayetteville.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this town. I feel more at home here than most other places I’ve lived. It has most things I want in a place to live: support of the local community, a diverse art and music scene, all four seasons, exquisite views of the outdoors, and a good base of people.

There are also a plethora of ghosts here. This has always been a place where 90% of the people I run into know who my ex-husband is. He is still very prevalent in the community, and Saturday night, I had to run into him.

On the surface, we can stay friendly. Most of my friends up here are still mutual friends of his as well, so there’s no escaping him. On the surface, everything is fine. Underneath that though is still the hurt, the anger, the sickness that hits when I least expect it. Insomnia has again become a familiar companion at night because not sleeping is still better than night terrors.

I didn’t expect it to still be this difficult. I’ve been nightmare-free for so long. I’ve survived so many things that I thought this would be the same- it would just take time, and that part of my past would no longer be able to reach me. I had a plan. I’ve been through so much healing, and I believed that moving back here would be me saying “I don’t hurt anymore. I’ve taken that pain and turned it into something that made me strong.”

I’ve spent the past two days trying to convince myself that I didn’t make a huge mistake in coming up here. I’ve spent 48 hours thinking of all the good that’s coming from being up here again: I get to be around those friends who are in my same stage of life, who are some of the most supportive women I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. I get the terrifying privilege of attempting to live on my own for the first time and stretch those wings of independence. I get to have a space that isn’t shared by anyone, which allows me to finally have some peace and quiet after two years of being constantly surrounded by others. There are so many good things that have come from me leaving Texas.

I suppose I just didn’t realize how many ghosts were still haunting me when I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t notice how strong of a hold someone’s actions still had over me. I wanted to be able to say that I was over it and his behavior, his attitude, his voice no longer made me want to curl up in an attempt to not feel so sick. I can’t say that yet, as evidenced by my past few days. It’s far better than it was, which is a welcome improvement. It isn’t good yet, but I’m still holding out hope that there is some sort of healing that will come in time from being back in the same town.

Frankfurter Dom, Frankfurt, Germany - September 2014
Frankfurter Dom, Frankfurt, Germany – September 2014

listening to: Sleigh Bells

The Month of Change

For me, October has always been a month of change and growth. I’ve experienced my first heartache, the beginning of my marriage, the loss of a child, the reality of my parents’ mortality during my mom’s battle with cancer, the exquisite pain of the end of my marriage, and the adjustment of moving back to the states from Germany all in the month of October over the years.

It’s a transformative time for me, and this year is no different. As I’ve written about before, my move back to Arkansas is coming up very quickly, and my mind is racing to catch up with the plans I’ve made for myself. I’m ready for the change. Despite the nervousness connected to the knowledge that I’ll be completely on my own for the first time in my life, it’s time. It’s time to prove to myself that I can survive, that I can be the independent person I’ve always embraced the idea of.

Almost exactly a year ago, I was leaving Germany. More than any other time in my life, 2014 was the year that I really began to discover who I was and what I was made of. I feel like I’m equal parts older and younger than my age. Older because I’ve already been through so many experiences, but younger because until last year, I had no inkling of how I saw my future. In my marriage, I had given up my identity and lost some of the most important years of self-discovery, so I’ve learned to turn my mid-twenties into those experimental years.

Germany changed me. It was the initial push that caused me to really start enjoying writing for the sake of recording thoughts and allowing my emotions a place to rest. I began to embrace the parts about me that I previously viewed as weak things to be ashamed of. It was a pivotal moment in my life, a realization that sharing my true story, struggles and all, was the only way to truly heal. So I shared. I made friends with people with whom I knew would be loving toward me no matter what mistakes I made, no matter the battles I still had waging within me. I truly believe that last year in Germany saved me.

Coming back, I wasn’t prepared for the culture shock. I wasn’t ready to be surrounded by the world that wants so hard to be vulnerable and open, but hides their real weaknesses in order to look strong and put together. I wasn’t expecting to relapse into the emotional tug-of-war, the sense that people are only willing to help when it satisfies their own needs first. That’s not the way that everyone is here, it’s just a generalization based primarily on experiences I’ve had over and over again in this small town I live in.

Perhaps it’s just a feeling that comes with the knowledge that it’s time for me to move on to the next thing. Perhaps my negative feelings of this place come from situations I’ve only got myself to blame for. Perhaps it’s just knowing that with October comes change. With the autumn comes the end of a chapter. When the leaves start changing and the world is covered in a blanket of reds and oranges, it’s a beautiful symbol of saying goodbye to everything I’ve known from the year, of preparing myself for the birth of something new and exciting.

Kelsterbach, Germany - October 2014
Kelsterbach, Germany – October 2014

listening to: Bear’s Den

Here Comes the Sun

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here

Five years ago, I was in the last stages of preparing for my wedding. I was excited and nervous, but ready for the next step. I was marrying someone that my family actually liked, that I had fun with, and that I believed in.

Five years ago, I was also a wreck.

For the couple days leading up to my wedding day, any little word or action was strong enough to cause tears and panic. I remember in the hours before the ceremony began, my eyes were in a constant state of overflowing.

As most brides will tell you, most of the actual wedding was a blur. For the most part, everything went smoothly, and we were surrounded by people that we loved dearly. Everything I had pictured during the months of planning worked out, and the setting was gorgeous. At the end of the ceremony, we walked out of the church to The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” because I wanted to really capture the hopeful feeling we had for the future.

We made it three years.

Many people who have to deal with the pain of divorce find it difficult to remember the good times during their marriage, myself included. Far too often, I focus on the bad: losing who I was and the activities that made me feel alive, the emotional detachment, his inability to understand hurting me in the worst of ways. I write terrible poems about those times (poetry is definitely not one of my strengths) because there has to be a way to express that pain without hurting others. Despite all of that, I’ve been trying to reflect on the good this week: the smiles, the laughter, the ability to relax, just having someone around all the time. Because despite all of the ugly and sometimes nightmarish memories, no relationship is without sparks of good.

I never saw myself as someone getting married, let alone divorced. Yet here I am, 26 and almost two years divorced. Most of the time, I try to just forget that part of my life, but it was the majority of my early 20s. It shaped me and still haunts me. It taught me what to look for and what to avoid. I learned how to protect and stand up for myself, even when 90% of the people in my life wanted me to go in an opposite direction. It forced me to become far more independent and to stop settling.

So now, I think I’m finally able to embrace my past as a married woman, my present as a divorcee trying to take on life completely independent, and my unpredictable and unknown future.

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes

Caribbean Sea- March 2015
Caribbean Sea- March 2015