Why I Choose To Celebrate Christmas Without My Family

Originally posted on Bustle on 12/24/2015

bcd95f70-8be4-0133-9fe4-0e7c926a42afListening to all the Christmas songs that were impossible to escape on the radio this past month, I realized something for the first time in my 26 years: about 95 percent of holiday songs focus on home. “Baby please come home,” “I’ll be home for Christmas,” “There’s no place like home for the holidays,” yada, yada yada. But what happens when there’s no longer a home to return to? How do you deal with that, during a holiday that is supposed to serve as a magnet for families to reunite?

The rented roof over my head is a sanctuary for me and my ginger tabby cat, Annie (who was a Christmas present from a friend two years ago). And about 30 minutes away from my rental, the brick twin-home where I spent my entire childhood still stands. My parents still live in it. But over the past two years, the walls and people inside them have continually become more foreign to me.

Physical and mental illness have turned the mother I grew up with into someone more unpredictable than a roulette wheel. When I return for a visit, acid reflux, rather than a sense of familiarity and peace, tends to be the main feeling I experience. However, it’s more painful to see the ways that the unhappiness and unhealthiness have taken a toll on my father, who never gets an opportunity to jump off my mother’s roller coaster.

For years, I felt that as their only child, it was my responsibility to drag my parents, kicking and screaming, towards happiness. But two years ago, after hitting my own breaking point, I made the conscious decision to stop trying. Doing this required setting new, healthier boundaries that pushed me to figure out new ways to approach many different situations and relationships — including the holiday season.

Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 6.31.36 PMLast year marked the first holiday season in 25 years that I spent without my parents. Though the logical part of me knew that I was better off spending Christmas away from two people who were completely miserable, the emotional side felt my heart strings tighten with every mention of family during the month of December. Truthfully, the entire ordeal felt as if I was wearing a new sweater that wasn’t yet worn in.

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Finding My New Christmas Season: Trees, Ugly Sweaters, Rockettes and of Course, Cats

It’s 5 days from Christmas Day and I’m smiling. And have been for the last week everywhere I go- work meetings, doctors appointments, the grocery store. Somehow I’ve found myself being in the total opposite place I assumed I would be a month ago- filled with holiday spirit.

Honestly, I was gearing up for a mental war fare with a range of emotions with an expected battle with emotions that would leave me upset, drained and defeated by the time Santa came. You can even read about it in the piece I had published on Elite Daily earlier this month.

However it seemed that the world nor Dr. R (my therapist) would let me fall for that old trap. Maybe it’s because I’m in a strong, stable place emotionally for the first time in almost 3 years for the holiday season. Or maybe it is because I’m finally gaining confidence to start new traditions and letting go of old ones. And honestly, I think it speaks volumes to the fact that all of the self-exploration, life changes, and relationship evaluations over the past 2 years is actually paying off for the best present of all=inner peace.

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Oh, and having a cat dressed up like a reindeer doesn’t hurt either. Here are a few of the Christmas traditions and fun I’ve filled my time with over the past month:

  • 12404176_10156247093540063_327223759_nPut up a damn Christmas Tree and plugged in every night- Living in a shared house can be lonely, despite having 3 other roommates. Opposite schedules make it so that sometimes I only see one of the roommates once every few months.  With limited space and time, decorating used to be a challenge. The first Christmas I moved in, I went without my own Christmas tree which was a bad idea. Last year, I picked up a 3ft Charlie Brown tree that’s pre-lit and fits perfect on my dresser. Each night when I get home after a 10 hour day of working, the first thing I do is plug in the tree. Instantly the lights help me relax. It really has helped me remind myself that this year is full of finding my own holiday season- including my own tree! And the best part is that it goes right back in the corner of my closet in January! And after the first 2 days, Annie tries stopping to eat the branches.

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A Legacy of Life: The Miracle on 34th Street Remembered

Originally published on Huffpost Impact on 12/8/15

2015-12-06-1449371218-1875698-325717_2615726525313_1133717942_o-thumbThe staples that mark the essence of the holiday season occur like clockwork on an annual basis-and are not dependent on any particular person. Despite any aversion to the holiday season, it will take place all around you just like every single year of your life. However there never is a guarantee on how it will feel from year-to-year. This Christmas season, the thought of taking part in any merriment may be intolerable if you’re in the middle of grief. Or perhaps because of a recent life event such as a new baby or relationship, Christmas has taken a new feeling. The holiday season never changes, for it is truly tried and true. Our receptiveness and experience are the triggers that impact how the holidays are acknowledged throughout the years. Loss, change, acceptance, additions- all are moving parts in how we experience life, which includes the holiday season and all things associated with it.

Exactly two years ago this week, a pair of families underwent a life-changing event that forever alter their perception of the holiday season. On the same day in 2013, both families faced unexpected uncertainty, and desperately hoped for miracles that would put their lives back together. Two sets of parents kissed their babies outside of an operating room. Two children took their last breaths with the heart and lungs that brought them into the world. Two sets of surgical teams performed procedures that changed Christmas for everyone involved. Continue reading

101 Things That Happened in the Last 365 Days

Facebook now has a new app that will create a short video clip about the highlights of 2014. To be frank, 2014 can kick rocks. Most of the year was spent dealing with stress, unhappiness and grief. But somewhere in the middle of the emotional roller coaster of the year, I managed to do a whole bunch of cool things. 2014 can only be summed in one cliche, corny phrase- Life Goes On. 

Here’s a 101 memorable things that I did this year. Thank you for reading my ramblings, commenting on my essays, and/or being in my life this year.  I’m still wrapping my mind over some of the shit that went down over the past 365 days, so I won’t even try to guess what 2015 will hold. 

101 Things That Happened in the Last 365 Days

 Participated in a vegan chicken wing eating contest- This was a disaster, no one warned me that seitan expands once it’s wet. But it benefited Philly Roller Girls, so it was for a good cause!

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Participated in a cupcake eating contest.It was my first large amount of sugar after clean eating for 40 days, let’s just say that night I wanted to die

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Went on an upside roller coaster- I actually tried frantically to get off the Batman Coaster but the attendant didn’t hear me so I was stuck going through with it

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Went to Six Flags- We meant to go to Belmont Beach, but the signs for the safari seemed more exciting

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Had an article go viral- I was annoyed about how much online dating sucked, and wrote an article about it one night after work. Apparently people like that kind of thing.

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Got published on Bustle

Got published on Literally Darling

Found out I was a social introvert

Took photos on Citizen Bank Park’s field before a Phillies Game 

Missed a plane transfer

Had my article and face appear on Yahoo.com

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Flew to California

Put my feet in the Pacific Ocean

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Went in a hot tub under the stars at night in California

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Had my face appear on a HuffPo email 

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Snapshots of 2014- Part II

I take a lot of photos. And I mean thousands, each year. Before getting a point and shoot in 2004, I always had a disposable camera around. Now with cell phones, and my DSLR, my photo obsession as grown even more. Here are a few of my favorite personal shots from 2014. Even though it was a tough year, there were many memorable moments!

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Happy Birthday to the Highly Intelligent Cat

A year ago today I woke up after spending all of Christmas Day crying because of how awful I felt. It also was the same day I was surprised with a little fur ball. Annie became my cat at the right time in my life because most of 2014 was hell- but she did more for me than any pill, therapist or liquor could. Now she’s my faithful photobomber and is slowly becoming a viral sensation! A year later she has caused controversy as the highly intelligent cat in my dating profile and has made it onto xoJane and HuffPo! Happy birthday Annie Cat! 

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The Christmas Cat That Worked Better Than Xanax

Originally Published on Huffington Post on 12/24/2014 and xoJane on 12/25/2014

2014 can be labeled as ‘the year of…’ many things. The year I turned 25.The year I spent recovering from a super-shitty depressive episode . The year I successfully ate a clean diet for 40 days, and ran my first 5K. The year I wrote about my online dating failures and had several articles go viral . The year my best friend’s son suddenly died. But most importantly 2014 will be the year I got a kitten. The year of the highly intelligent cat. Technically I was given to her for Christmas 2013, but didn’t bring her home on December 28, which is practically 2014.

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That day as I drove through the streets of North Philly with a plastic cat carrier with the tags still on it, anyone who passed by me would think that I was insane. “We’re almost to place Cat, just stop making noises” I screamed trying to match the volume of the ear-piecing wails my new pet was making. Within a span of 72 hours, I had agreed to accept the Christmas present from a friend, a 4-month old marmalade colored kitten that a friend of a friend had found wandering around his apartment building. “This is the thing you need. It will provide such comfort,” my well meaning friend when she introduced me to my very much alive and active gift. As the cat and I eyed each other up for the first time, we were both skeptical of each other.

When we finally got to my apartment, I let her out to get a lay of the new land. She scurried to the drawer underneath my bed, where Cat stayed for several days. (Yes, originally the cat’s name was Cat because she looked identical to the one in Breakfast at Tiffanys. Eventually I named her Annie because she was an orphan , and Cat became to annoying to explain to non Audrey Hepburn fans.)

Great. The cat that is supposed to make me feel less alone wants nothing to do with me. Initially I was certain becoming a cat owner was a mistake, and had begun looking for places to drop her off. I was such a hot mess myself, and this cat doesn’t even like me. Continue reading

Meet the Furriest Reindeer!

Merry Christmas from The Highly Intelligent Cat! 

It’s my first Christmas as a pet owner. Annie was actually a Christmas present in 2013! I found out I was getting her the day after Christmas and brought her home December 28th. More about how this cat, along with 2014 in a whole changed my life. But for now, I leave you with Catmas photos! 

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The Miracle On 34th Street- 1 Year Later

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Originally Published on Huffington Post on 12/09/2014 

Oh what a difference 365 days can make. Apologies for the starting this story with such an overused cliché, but it’s the only phrase that captures the event that have happened since the publication of the original ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ story. This was not the follow up piece I had intended to be writing a year later, but realistically I hadnever thought I would befriend a little boy from Tennessee and his family.

This time last year, a gravely ill little boy named Weston Keeton occupied the corner room of the 6th floor in the CICU at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Despite being tethered to literal lifelines in a hospital room, an unparalleled energy radiated from his room which was perpetually occupied with the chatter of his seven siblings and visitors from all over the region as he battled pediatric pulmonary hypertension.

His parents, Julie and Adam, and world-renown medical staff were facing an uncertain future. The only thing certain was that a heart and double lung transplant was the sole way Weston would see another year. After three years of agonizing waiting, the phone call that was prayed for each night was received by Julie in the early morning of December 12, 2013. Thus began my experience in witnessing of the events that unfolded in the original Miracle on 34th Street article, just two weeks before Christmas.

During hours after transplant, my mind wandered about what 2014 would be like for Weston and his family. Everyone who WestonEditedBV-1rooted for this little boy during his long journey on the transplant waiting list was anticipating seeing the promise of new life. That was the miracle, wasn’t it? The opportunity to regain a normal life for a 7 year old boy and his family.

And in a blink of an eye, the expectations for the upcoming year were deflated. Instead of 2014 being the year of Weston’s recovery, it became the year of heartache. As the weeks passed in the new year, complications arose that no one was able to foresee during a time of promise.

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Oh There’s Other Places Than Home for the Holidays

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Originally Published on Huffington Post on 12/01/2014

The holiday season and I have not been getting alone in recent years. In fact we’ve been on the outs since junior high. A week before Christmas, my mother had a major heart attack and underwent an emergency quadruple bypass when I was 12. Three years later she suffered another heart attack, followed by a stroke right before Thanksgiving.

In the years that followed, the holiday magic dwindled dramatically as my parents did the bare minimum of celebration. The real Douglas fur that was so large it needed to be cut so that it would fit in the doorway was replaced with a 4 foot artificial tree that sat on our coffee table. With other tensions running deep throughout my family tree, there were no longer gatherings with extended family that once filled up December. The stark contrast of ‘new’ holiday season, usually celebrated amongst my parents and I, made the void of seasons past more noticeable. Continue reading