Favorite Snapshots of 2016

A few days past 2016, but some of my favorite shots from a year that kept me forcing to find the bright spots in the middle of struggle. 

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Redefining a Mother’s Love

Originally published on Huffington Post

Happy-Mothers-Day-716527Mother’s Day is a punch in the gut for anyone not celebrating with their mother. The ache doesn’t discriminate against the reason of absence. The social media feeds that will be saturated with Mother’s Day tributes will be downright painful for all of us coping with a void.

The feeling of motherlessness is overwhelming countless times throughout the year, but near Mother’s Day its intensity can be downright suffocating. As the days creep closer to that Sunday, my anxiety level continues to steadily increase to an agitated state. This will be the first Mother’s Day without my mom, since making the decision to cut off contact with her for my own sanity earlier this year. Conflicting feelings are battling inside my heart- dread of the actual day and anticipation of its passing until the next year. While traditional holidays celebrated on my own have been developed over the past several years, the awkwardness of establishing a new way to get through the day is fresh.

Not surprisingly, my past several weekly therapy sessions with Dr. R have centered on making sense of the emotional tornado brewing. While working through this, Dr. R has repeatedly encouraged me to really figure out what I needed in order to comfort myself. Pulling the covers over my head with the companionship of pinot noir and Grey’s Anatomy reruns was my first instinct. Or to abandon my smartphone for the weekend and seclude myself at a hotel. To not be reminded of what I am missing on Mother’s Day was the answer I continuously kept arriving at.

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Severing The Ties That Bind

Originally published on Huffington Post

Without a doubt, I am currently fumbling through the complicated, messy and overwhelming grieving process over the loss of my mother. The past three months have been filled with unexpected waves of emotions that continue to catapult both my heart and head in a million directions. Moments of denial, fueled by longing, sometimes try to creep into defuse logical with false hope that things will go back to normal, or at least as normal as my family could muster. That her voice would be able to be heard over the phone, rambling on about the characters encountered at the food store trip with my father and the latest antics of the family dog that only will eat dinner if someone sits on the floor beside her.

 

detail-of-left-mirror-car-while-driving-on-a-rainy-day-highway_e126zjuh__S0011Driving through the streets of Philadelphia, I sobbed alone in the car navigating rush hour on my way home from work last week, smearing mascara all over my sweater while navigating rush hour traffic as ‘Knock Three Times’ blared through the car. The song was one of her 70s favorites like Joy to the World and Bad Boy Leroy Brown that served as the soundtrack to summers of my childhood. To happier times spent floating in our above ground pool, playing gin rummy with Mickey Mouse playing cards and drinking our matching margaritas, mine sans tequila. Those summers took place so long ago, before either of us had the terms bypass surgery, stents, blood thinners, disability, cognitive impairments and brain damage in our vernacular.

 

At times, thoughts tangled in unfairness and pain tend to raise my blood pressure. I try to be mindful not to venture too far down the path where there are unturned stones of unproductive feelings that will only cause me to mentally stumble. Why didn’t she fight harder to mend herself physically and mentally? How can someone who has a daughter and a husband not care enough to be there for them- in all capacities. If these questions had logical resolutions that brought any comfort, then myself and others dealing with complex emotional wounds would be all over it faster than flies on a garbage heap. But questions that tend to haunt us in the middle of the night, when there are no distractions for the grief, are more elusive than Bigfoot.

 

51Zu5zbzWDLWithout a doubt there are ebbs and flows of peacefulness that accompanies not having to anticipate the illogical but certain chaos associated with my mother. No longer does my stomach churn while driving up the street I grew up on, because I longer go there. I removed myself from participating in the emotional version of Russian Roulette-not knowing what version of my mother would be waiting for me when walking into the door or picking up the phone. And the role that guilt has played through this experiences tends to flair up when coming across stories or posts on social media. Stories focused around the heartache losing someone who was actively participating in life until fate decided to be an asshole and cut their time short, impacting their loved ones. Because their grief is accompanied by literally burying a body into the ground. Exactly where my current journey with loss and grieving differs.

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5th Grade, Filming & Fancy Footwork

 

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A few hours each month I find myself transported back to a time warp, where the chairs are smaller, the voices squeaker and the smell much sweatier. The 5th grade has not changed much since I was in during the 1999-2000 school year. Except none of the kids are blasting Nsync, trading Pokemon card or watching As Told By Ginger.

12783571_10153937280828698_7589761860778496392_oThey may have iPads and texting- but never will they be able to bask in perfecting the ultimate AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) Away Message and profile.

Anyway- there is a reason I’m back in the classroom besides nostalgia. I have partnered with Dancing Classrooms Philly to create original video content to showcase the impact their programs has on middle school students.

As a non-profit organization, Dancing Classroom Philly brings dancing lessons into 5th and 8th grade classrooms through in-school residency programs twice a week for a duration of 2 1/2 months. And the students getting more great workout learning dances ranging from the waltz to the rumba. Social interactions including eye contact, emotional intelligence, body contact and teamwork are all part of the program’s educational experiencE. 

12768130_10153917210298698_4055273941892517245_o Through the grant funded by The Philadelphia Foundation, I have been able to capture the spring residencies of the students at four Philadelphia area schools. By creating exciting video projects, my goal is to show how Dancing Classrooms Philly helps build confidence and break down social barriers in our schools and communities- while spreading the word why #ArtEdWorks!

This has been such fun freelance project and really allows me to use a medium of storytelling that I haven’t been using lately. Here is a sneak peak of a bit of the footage I captured during the 1st week of lessons back in February!

 

 

Quarter Life Evolution

12837576_10156558722655063_725832271_oEverything has changed but nothing has changed.

That’s how my best friend, now roommate, has chosen to sum up all of the shifting variables in both of our lives over the past month.

Initially those string of words felt on target, but the more I adopted the phrase during my explanation to others, a particular word kept tripping me up: change.


12422356_10156558722690063_919887838_oLooking around at each aspect of my life, change is bluntly apparent. The new apartment that I now call home, although only .6 miles from my former place, is a change that comes with a new roommate, although rather instead of three Craigslist strangers, it is my best friend since preschool.  

Annie the cat now has more room to roam, despite of her main priorities still being a prime seat on a windowsill for bird watching and the foot of my bed.

My roommate and I still send each other politically incorrect memes via Facebook Messenger throughout the day, but rather than coming home to watch Jeopardy solo after work there is now someone else there to yell criticism at the contestants through the screen.

12596592_10156558718450063_1844387073_o (1)Monday through Friday still consists of me spending most of my days managing digital marketing for a healthcare system, but will soon be doing so in an office space around the corner from the space that had been my dwelling since starting nearly a year and a half ago.

With it, a new title now sits under my email signature which has brought a bit a welcomed padding to the bi-weekly paycheck that has thankfully be consistently deposited into my bank account since late 2011.

12422356_10156558722690063_919887838_oDad still calls daily each morning during his commute to work, but when we talk about health ailments his newly developed symptoms  are the ones that take center stage rather than the chronic decline of my mother.

Still sitting on the same couch of my childhood home, my mother’s routine has not varied from fighting with dog over the blanket, becoming preoccupied with morning talk shows and smoking True Blue cigarettes like they are going out of style. Of course this is all speculation- because for the last several weeks I have removed her from my own routine.

The actual definition of change, according to Google ,is ‘to make or become different’. Despite all of moving the parts that have been settling into my life this month- I believe all of them (minus my father’s debacle) have stemmed from the foundation of finding myself that began almost 2 years ago.


12837301_10156558718410063_116564018_oEvolution.
The definition, according to Google, reads ‘
the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form’.

Am I more complex form of myself? Perhaps if that includes finally implementing consistent practices of self-care, respecting self-imposed boundaries and strengthening an overall sense of self-awareness in everyday life. 

Maybe evolution is why after almost 27 years on this Earth, I finally feel comfortable in my own skin, no longer searching for some sense of relief.

Evolution may just be the relief of no longer being a stranger to myself.

Untangling Myself from an Emotional Rock Bottom

Originally published on Elephant Journal on 1/28/2016.

 

RG-Mermaid-2Not being able to see instant gratification from a newly-incorporated healthier lifestyle can snuff out any enthusiasm for sticking with it.

But sometimes we find ourselves in situations where there is no other choice but to stick it out for the long haul, clinging to the promise of an elusive “one day.” The alternative is to continue down a path of self destruction, whether it be emotional, physical or often times both.

A person does not suddenly wake up one morning and find themselves unexpectedly at rock bottom. The trail is paved by half-hearted attempts to integrate new routines that always seem to be sidelined by discouragement, before being forgotten for tried and true habits. The cycle repeats itself indefinitely until the build up of poor choices leads to a derailment of everyday life, serving as a gut-punching S.O.S.

Hitting rock-bottom is similar to sitting on the bottom of a swimming pool and looking straight up to the surface. At the bottom of the swimming pool, there is an awareness of sound and movement whirling above, but nothing is clear enough to be understood. Although a person may be able to avoid the wave-making commotion and chaos transpiring above, it comes at the price of never being able to experience the direct warmth of the sun.

Two years ago, I had realized that years of unresolved feelings and continuous unhealthy choices had navigated me to an emotional rock-bottom. Continue reading

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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How I’ve Spent My Summer Vacation- or Lack There Of

anigif_enhanced-12676-1424726950-5It’s mid-summer, more than halfway through 2016, and my perception of time has gone out the window. Within three months of the new year, I found myself being called to rise to the occasion at my new job. An unexpected life lesson and experience allowed me to foster a whole new level of professional abilities, however it completely abandoned my path to achieve the goal of a better work/life/personal project balance.

I began to feel a self-imposed sense of guilt for shafting my own writings , despite publishing three pieces for HuffPo, xoJane, and Bustle during that 4 month period. Like a AA member who has fallen off the bandwagon, I’m back to committing to the twelve steps of life balance- which includes:

  • Being mindful to not work from 7 am-6pm every night. 
  • 2gxofvoMaking an effort to spend time doing creative writing during the week.
  • Feeding myself with healthy meals instead of ingesting food that’s convenient and liquid. 
  • Stop holding myself to self-imposed schedules and rigid to-do lists that are only upsetting to me when their not achieved.

Between dealing with the aftermath of my mom’s latest stroke, turning 26 and trying to continue to acclimate myself with my job of less than a year, other fun stuff has been happening including: Continue reading

New Publication: Skirt Collective

SC-icon-5I’m thrilled to have my first essay published on Skirt Collective!  Per their website ‘Skirt Collective aims to be the modern woman’s compass for navigating culture, fashion, and the real world. Nestled between street smarts and book smarts, SC connects readers with practical information and opinions from a diverse array of voices in an honest, virtual space.’

You can read my latest article on their website. 

Hopefully this will be the first of many pieces that will be shared on their website! Make sure to follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook.

Generations Of Dysfunctional Body Image Ends With Me

Originally Published on Bustle in 2/2015

When you think of the phrase “eating disorder,” who do you picture? Young girls with visible ribs poking out of their barely-there pubescent bodies? Teenagers with their heads dangling in a toilet bowl?

Most likely, you don’t picture someone who looks like me. From a young age, I was praised for being a “good eater,” meaning I was open to all different types of foods, and my weight was always “healthy”.

Eating was a popular pastime in my family growing up, but cooking was left out of the equation. My mother’s goal each night was to serve a meal without using the oven, because she thought it made the house too hot. We ate packaged food covered in butter or cheese. Our proteins consisted of any meat my father could put on the grill, which oscillated between cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and pork loin.

At some point during my childhood, food became the reward. When my parents would have a major fight, or when my mom was sick in the hospital, my dad would bring me to a fast food place to eat. Over a Taco Bell Mexican pizza, he would promise me that things would get better, and that we would be a happy family one day. For a brief moment over that cheesy meal, I felt safe.

My mom had her first heart attack when I was twelve years old, and required an emergency quadruple bypass at age 43. That was the catalyst for other health issues, including several strokes, severe depression, and anxiety. It was a rare moment when my parents weren’t fighting over her health, the inability to pay bills, or even how I was being raised.

My self-image, like most young girls, became skewed around the fifth grade. Not only did I want to look like the models on my WB shows or in my CosmoGirl magazine —  I wanted to look good enough for my family to be happy. During fall semester of my junior year, I began restricting myself to eating only kidney beans. My college roommates would beg me to eat something else. When I called home to lament to my mother about their negative overreactions, she only fueled the fire. “They’re just bitter you’re losing weight. Keep it up,” she reassured me over the phone.

My mother’s weight yo-yo’ed throughout my childhood, and my father would belittle her for not being the size 8 she had once been. At night, I would sit at the kitchen table, watching her pop diet pills; each month, she’d try try a different brand that promised even better results. Sometimes, she would skip meals, but then, late at night, I would come down to find her binge-eating a container of cookies.

My mother never talked about exercise or eating in moderation. She never once considered signing up for a gym, or even walking around our neighborhood. After she became chronically ill when I was entering my teen years, she pushed her own looks to the side — and began to zone in on my appearance instead.

“We need to get you thinner, without that horrible stomach,” she’d say to me as a 17-year old. “You’re just not that kind of thin girl like [insert skinny friend’s name],” she’d point out.

For years, every time I left the house, I would ask her, ”Do I look pretty, do I look skinny?”

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