Advertisements

Blog Archives

Summer Meltdown… to realness.

Pulled out the chambray jumpsuit.

Last night was yet another showcase for my Dance Austin Studio family. This was the Summer Meltdown, Take 2, which was a music video series. It was, of course, different from other showcases Dance Austin has hosted in the past – it was a four-week series followed by a video shoot, instead of a live performance.

The kicker was that no one (except maybe the choreographers) had seen the videos before last night’s premier – I think all of us dancers were a little anxious to see how all of our hard work turned out.

Naturally, all of the videos were awesome! Each of them had a funny twist, and it was cool to see the different personalities come out in each video.

I know that after each dance showcase I perform in, I write up all the feels from the day in what’s become my traditional showcase wrap-up. But, there wasn’t quite that same batch of feelings after last night.

Yes, it was really weird to show up at The North Door and not have to race to the “backstage” area and get ready for tech rehearsal, or find a spot with decent lighting to put on all of my show makeup. Instead, it was a little more leisurely, and there was a black carpet with a step and repeat #fancy

But I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t have enough emotions swirling around in my mind not to write some sort of something about the state of my life lately.

The truth is that, as I’ve alluded to some in recent weeks, I am struggling pretty hard in the mental health department. I’m chalking it up to grief, and although I’m still not entirely ready to put all of my chips on the table, I’ll offer up what I can thus far.

I’ve experienced loss several times in my life. I lost family members when I was a kid, and when I was in high school, it felt like I went to way too many funerals – those of my peers. It was surreal, and I started to form very small bits of dealing with grief and even just the taste of how short life can be.

In college, though, I suffered a loss that I still cannot talk about without tearing up. He was also my peer, the first person I met when I went to college orientation, we were each other’s dates to Greek functions… I felt a closeness to him unlike any other.

And he was killed while crossing the street.

A good friend told me the news as I was driving, and I pulled off the road to compose myself. I called my dad, and he talked me through it.

Several years later, I had natal reading where a professional looked over the stars during the time of my birth and during the years of my life.

“How does death fit in to your life?” she asked me.

I explained to her that I’d suffered several losses; one particularly difficult. We talked about the photo I have of him and I – framed on my desk at home with a candle beside it. She told me he was my soul mate, and it was likely that we’d met in a previous life, and that he was protecting me from the other side. I could keep his energy alive by lighting the candle and honoring his memory.

But little did I know that even a loss as tough as that one seems like a drop in the bucket compared to losing my dad.

I’ve talked enough on this blog about the relationship my dad and I had to get me in a shit-ton of trouble with most of my family. And even though my dad isn’t around to reprimand me or control the ship, I’ve kept quiet on the home front.

There’s something unsettling about all of it.

As horrible as it sounds, I felt some sort of relief in that my every day, physical life wouldn’t change after my dad died. After all, I hadn’t talked to him in years. We didn’t exchange texts, or cards, nothing.

But it’s been almost six months since his death, and I can tell you that I don’t even remember what it’s like to go a single day without crying; or thinking about it; or feeling guilty.

There have been times I’ve wondered why he had to be the one to go instead of someone else – and then I feel horrible because I know that no one deserves to go through what he did.

So many people have said to me, “Your dad must have been so proud of you.”

And while that’s an incredibly nice thing to say, I don’t know how true it is. My dad was TOUGH. He was quick to tell me all of the things I did wrong, and I can’t recall him ever saying he was proud of me.

At the beginning of this month, I felt so alone, so in the dark about how I was really supposed to get back to how things were – even just inside myself. I feel like I can’t pull myself out of this funk. I realized that my normal cures for bad days weren’t working.

Because this isn’t just a bad day. This isn’t a breakup. This isn’t a fight with a friend.

This is grappling with a major loss. It’s contemplating the meaning of life. Religion. Family.

It’s the realization that hindsight is a cruel bitch.

On the other side of this darkness, though, I’m also experiencing incredible success in my career. Not necessarily in my day job, but in my work as a blogger, editor, and digital strategist. I’ve had work literally fall into my lap almost every single day. I lived in Louisiana for 12 years and barely felt like I’d made a name for myself; been in Texas for less than three and I feel like so many people have reached out for my writing expertise, and I cannot explain how much that means to me. The fruits of my recent labor are allowing me to do things I’ve never thought I could do.

Part of me wonders if my dad is helping me from the other side – but then I feel guilty for even thinking that way. It’s a confusing place to be.

I decided to seek help from a professional (which is a chore in itself). So, I got a referral, and my mom helped me find a few options… and now it’s up to me to make the appointment. I’ve done therapy a few times before (for years), but this time, I’m considering medication.

But with medication comes all sorts of questions and worries. What will it be like? Will it change my personality? Will it make me less creative?

I’m still thinking on it.

In the meantime, I decided to focus on what I was putting into my body and how I was treating it. So, I stopped drinking entirely and am focusing on a plant-based diet. The no-drinking thing is a little more of a chore than I anticipated – I’ve been drinking lots of organic lemonade after realizing that non-alcoholic wine was not really a thing I’m going to do (ha!).

I’m doing more yoga (even if it makes me cry) and trying to get better sleep at night. And I’m still dancing.

Which brings me back to last night’s video premier. Our video shoot was 3.5 hours – beginning at 6:30 am, outside, in the Texas summer sun. And the resulting video was less than three minutes.

It was clever, and looked great, and it was funny to watch. But I couldn’t help but notice that we sure did put allllll of that time into just a few minutes – a highlight reel.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. But it’s a lot like life – you spend your whole life living it, no matter how long or short of a time you’ve got – and perhaps it takes you the entirety to realize one thing, or do that ONE thing.

And it all boils down to that highlight reel.

The same could be said for relationships or weddings or vacations. It’s those few moments that stand out.

Last night, one of my fellow dancers said, “You’ve been doing some road-tripping, right?”

I nodded, and explained to her that ever since my dad died, I am going for it, and I’m doing it without much of a second thought. I’m going to the places I’ve never been, eating new foods, facing my fears, and I’m doing it whether anyone is coming along or not.

I’ve already got two more trips planned this year, and I’m eyeing another one.

I don’t know what you dream of when your mind starts to wander, whether it’s dancing on a stage or being in a music video; maybe it’s seeing a Broadway play or getting published in a magazine.

Whatever it is – DO THAT.

At the end of our time here, you’re going to want certain things in that reel, and the time to accomplish them is now.

If I’ve learned anything about myself in the past six months, it’s that we are often our own blockade. So toss the fears aside. Just go for it.

To my dance family, thank you for providing such a supportive environment for me to even think these things. Some days, I struggle to show up to class. Other days, it’s all I want to do. But you’re there, and I hope I can return that favor to you whenever you need it.

END SCENE.

Advertisements

Stage Five: Acceptance.

Part five of a five part series.

Ah, here we are, the final stage: Acceptance. This stage can come across as a giant sigh of relief, but the truth of the matter is, acceptance does not equal joy or mean that life goes back to the way it was.

Instead, it simply means that we are accepting life without our person; and we’re figuring out a way to create a new normal. This may mean that different people fill different roles, or that a daily routine looks a little different.

As I mentioned yesterday, my dad wasn’t a part of my daily life so not much changes in that regard. But I certainly feel different.

When I went to Tennessee for his memorial, a majority of my family was there, and it certainly felt so weird without my dad there. He was always keeping in touch with everyone and it would be strange to have all of us in a room without him. When my friend drove me back to Indiana the next day, things just felt a little colder, a little more empty.

I am still trying to learn a lot about my dad and the life he lived. Of the things I’ve heard, I’m starting to realize just how full of a life he did have, and how many obstacles he overcame in such a short time and did so without hesitation.

My dad wasn’t a man looking for fame or fortune – ultimately, I think he was just trying to find a little bit of happiness, perhaps even a touch of adventure in each day. He loved stories, loved meeting people, and even in the confines of what appears to be a reclusive last few years, he found joy in hobbies: fixing fountain pens, attending garage sales, reading, and playing chess competitively.

I am never going to be okay with my dad being gone. But I know my dad would be okay knowing that we are all going to try and find a way to go on without him here, physically. I hope this brings my family together – they’re pretty cool – and I know he’d like seeing us lean on each other.

My dad was cremated, and I flew my portion (1/7th) of his ashes from Indiana to Texas. Right now, they sit on my bookshelf while I wait to decide what I actually want to do with them. I know I’m scattering some of them, and am lightly planning that now. I know my other family members have their own ideas for how to honor my dad, too.

I have no idea how long a journey like this lasts. In college, a close friend unexpectedly passed away and I felt like my heart was ripped to shreds. I remember pulling over and calling my dad when I got the news.

That was almost 10 years ago, and sometimes I still get choked up about that loss. But I am someone who believes in spirits and signs, and I have a connection to radio waves (I know, it’s super weird but I hear meaningful songs nearly everywhere I go), and I’ve already seen a few signs from my dad.

Even just last night, I went to a dance class and we danced to Demi Lovato and DJ Khalid’s “I Believe”, and the lyrics almost brought me to tears: “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do, As long as you’ve got hope, you’ll find your way.”

I know we’re all going to come out of this on the other side, and I have always believed that we aren’t given anything we can’t handle.

Don’t look back at this time as a time of heartbreak and distress, remember me.
…I don’t want you to cry and weep, I want you to go on, living your life.

-Hanson, “With You In Your Dreams”

Thank you so much for reading my grief series – I know it was not a cheerful read. There will be more on this, I’m sure, as I continue on.

If you knew my dad, and have anything you’d like to share with me, please do not hesitate to email me at: Holly@thebitterlemon.com – I would love to hear from you.

Stage Four: Depression.

Part four of a five part series.

Stage four isn’t that shocking – it’s depression. Why wouldn’t someone going through grief suffer from depression? I have been slogging through the darkness of depression and sadness since my dad’s surgery in late September.

Although depression can come in many forms for different people, for me, there was one telltale sign: things that normally made me happy, no longer did. That is why my blogging fell to the side, my Etsy shop (I stopped making jewelry), I stopped cooking and relied on meal delivery, and my sleep suffered.

Things are slowly getting better – and I know that it’s okay if I have a bad day – now is the time to go easy on myself.

Expectations when it comes to grief are really weird. I got cards in the mail from so many people, which was great, and I’m so thankful – I hung them all in my living room. But on the other hand, some people just expect me to go on and be normal, like nothing ever happened… And well, that’s just not how it’s going to be.

People respond differently to people who are grieving. They reach out. But depression is so very isolating. It’s hard to explain to anyone who has never been depressed how isolating it is. Grief comes and goes, but depression is unremitting.

-Key Redfield Johnson

Some days DO feel normal. After all, I didn’t talk to my dad on a regular basis. Before his surgery, I hadn’t talked to him in almost four years. But nothing can explain the finite feeling that is death. He is gone, and I can’t talk to him like I did before, no matter what I do.

Other days, I feel like I keep freaking seeing CANCER… BRAIN CANCER, everywhere. It’s in the books I read, it’s on TV, it’s online… and I just never want to see it again.

Right now, there are two 50-pound boxes of his things in my closet. I have dug out a few of the items – a wooden chess board and pieces that I’ve set up on my dresser, an antique fountain pen that’s on my home desk, a glass paperweight that’s on my desk at work, an LSU sweatshirt, an Atlanta baseball hat, and a half-used journal.

Some days, I wear the hat or sweatshirt – the last few nights, I’ve slept with the journal at the foot of my bed. Other days, I don’t want to even think about opening up the boxes to see what else is in there. I’m just not ready.

I’ve found that reading is a good escape – I’ve read three books in the last week. I’ve even cooked a few meals and am starting to gather materials to make a few pieces of jewelry for my Etsy shop.

I am someone who likes to DO things; I like to be productive. But even with the greatest intentions, sometimes I still end up laying in bed for long chunks of time. It is a slow process. Writing about my feelings – even at a surface level – has helped me this week. Planning for the future also helps, and gets me excited about things coming up this year.

I’m taking it day by day, as cliche as it sounds.

Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about the fifth and final stage of grief: Acceptance.

Stage Three: Bargaining.

Part three of a five-part series.

Stage three of grief is an interesting one. Bargaining refers to promises that may have been made before the person passed away. For example, praying and asking God to please spare your loved one; or perhaps making a promise that you’ll never do anything bad again if only this person can live longer.

These types of promises, or bargaining, may also occur after the person has passed, only now, they are imaginary. We may start to think back and wonder what if I’d done this, would the person have lived longer?

I’ll be honest, this really has not been a part of my grieving process, at least not yet. I know that there’s nothing I could have done to change the course of my dad’s life. I think many of us are probably in a position to think, well if we only took charge of our health or if we only exercised more, etc… but the truth is, our death is already planned. And it may not have anything to do with health or food or exercise.

I also know that my dad was given the best care possible once he entered Erlanger hospital, and I know he was grateful for all of his surgeons, doctors, and nurses along the way.

The thing is… guilt is also a part of stage three. And I cannot say I’ll walk away from this without feeling guilt. I wanted so badly to repair the relationship I had with my dad so that we could enjoy his final days, months, years laughing as we once did.

It’s a hard thing to imagine how somebody copes with grief and at the same time has to build a new life. 

-Caitriona Balfe

But despite everything I did, there was still a barrier. And the truth is, I will die not knowing what really happened there. There is one thing I did that I feel wrecked with guilt for, and I obviously can’t take it back.

Because of the nature of my dad’s death, I was blessed to have the opportunity to say goodbye. He was not capable of responding to me, but he was breathing, and I said – albeit through hysterical tears – everything I could think to say. And I apologized.

And that’s all I could do; and I just have to know that he heard me, and that he died knowing I was sorry, and that we were at peace with our past.

At this point, and as I continue coping, I know that I’m going to have to forgive myself, and the only real thing I can change, is how I act in the future.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss Stage Four: Depression.

Stage Two: Anger.

Part two of a five-part series.

Already, anger has played a pretty big part in my grieving process. Actually, anger has had a role in the relationship I’ve had with my dad for many years.

As described by the experts, this stage of grief can be met with general feelings of anger, along with structured feelings of being angry at a specific person – maybe a doctor, or someone who wasn’t there during the time of loss.

I have had moments of being angry at a specific person, but I also do not want those feelings of anger over that person to overshadow my general sadness over my loss, if that makes any sense. I do not want my dad’s memory to be tarnished by one person is the best way I can put it.

I have also had incredible anger at the situation surrounding my dad, anger at work, and anger at the world for just not being an easy place for me right now. I’ve even gotten angry at Blanche!

At my dad’s memorial service, my great uncle said that memory is not something death can take from us. And for that I am so grateful. But, when it came time to share stories about my dad, many of the stories I have are of him being mad at me.

Of course, many of them are moments I can laugh about now; moments where he was just raising me, being tough on me, but they aren’t necessarily moments that describe him as a person. Or are they? My dad had a short fuse, and we butted heads countless times.

May love be what you remember most. 

-Darcie Sims

My feelings of anger are countered by my faith in destiny. I believe there are moments in our life that are planned – such as when and how we will die – but I also believe we choose our destinies. And my dad made choices that resulted in a situation that angered our family.

His death does not change those choices, and he was an adult, actively making those choices. To be completely angry is to deny that he made those choices.

My anger is also countered by the support I feel from my family and my friends – I have heard from so many of you, received so many hugs, and have shared tears with you. For that I am so grateful.

But yes, anger is still going to be there. Studies show that as a culture, we’re taught to suppress anger, even though it’s a very necessary, common feeling. Although I don’t consider myself an angry person, I’ve found anger to be a powerful part of this grief.

My anger has forced me to acknowledge a lot of things in my life that have otherwise floated by, and it’s given me the confidence to confront the people that are pissing me off! In a way it’s good, but of course, no one likes to get yelled at.

As I’ll continue to say, I’m coping. And it’s not really a pretty thing, but I’m just rolling with it.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about stage three: bargaining.

Stage One: Denial.

Part one of a five-part series.

My dad was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer in October of 2017. I know that typically, the five stages of grief are part of the healing process after loss; after death. But I have been coping with symptoms of grief since I heard the news about a mass in his brain.

I quickly learned that this blog was not a place for me to air my grievances – it was only adding to my stress as I received horrible messages from outsiders. No matter how many supportive messages I got, it only takes one dig to stick with us.

So, I quit.

I barely made an appearance here – a place I thought was mine. But that is sometimes what happens when you put yourself out there, in any form. There are always going to be haters.

For the most part, I have stuck to my journal and have let most of my other creative outlets fall to the side – including my Etsy shop (I am slowly starting to get back to it). But in general, I have been merely just trying to get by; just trying to get out of bed, look half-decent to get to work on time; do my tasks; and get some sleep at night.

At that, is stage one: Denial.

My dad passed away on February 3. It was not a surprise, and at first, I took a giant sigh of relief when I heard the news. And then I apologized for feeling relief. But I wanted so badly for my dad to be at peace, and to know that he would no longer be in pain.

After that sigh, I’ve felt a multitude of things, and each day – hell, each moment – feels different. So, I’m using this week to explore the healing process as I’ve come to know it. I’m still working on a larger project that will further detail my dad’s life and our relationship; so parts of this may be vague, as I’m still not ready to open those parts of my memory just yet.

Before starting this blog series, I thought that denial was literally denying that a person was sick or had died. And I certainly have never felt that way. I took my dad’s condition very seriously.

In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her co-author, a grief expert, David Kessler, identified the five stages of grief that we’ve come to understand as a necessary part of the healing process.

Instead, denial is us just trying to get through each day. We may question why we should go on or HOW we should go on, and I have been feeling this SO hard. During this stage, life may seem meaningless, or things that once seemed like a big deal just don’t matter as much.

The latter explains my feelings about work. I hate admitting that, but ever since my dad’s surgery, getting stressed over trivial things at work seemed beneath me. And they still do.

But grief is a walk alone. 
Others can be there, and listen. But you will walk alone down your own path, at your own pace, with your sheared-off pain, your raw wounds, your denial, anger, and bitter loss. You’ll come to your own peace, hopefully… But it will be on your own, in your own time.
-Cathy Lamb

My dad’s memorial service was a week after his passing, but I knew that upon getting back into town, I had to refocus quickly and jump into dance rehearsals. I was in the middle of prepping for the showcase and I had two weeks to learn two routines and get my costumes together. It was a much-needed distraction.

But the day after the showcase, I felt so lost. I didn’t really know what to do with myself even though between work and dance and just general life, my days are pretty much laid out for me.

Since then, it’s gotten a little better – I know I must go on, and I know I have to continue to live the life I’ve dreamt of, especially now. None of us know just how much time we have, and I don’t want to ever be in my final days wishing I’d done more.

As you probably know, the stages of grief are not linear. They can come and go at any time – sometimes they last a minute, sometimes they may last months. Everyone deals differently.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss stage two: Anger.

The Love Hangover: Bring painkillers.

The full cast of the “Love Hangover”

Last night, I put performances in my 5th showcase with Dance Austin Studio to bed. After our showcase in November, I said I was coming for you, Love Hangover, and that’s exactly what happened.

In the fall, my life took a turn when my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer. When I found out, we were in the thick of rehearsals and I remember just how difficult it was to retain choreography. But with lots of practice and support from fellow dancers, I did it.

This time around was similar. My dad passed away on February 3rd, and although it’s still very difficult for me to talk about publicly, I will say that my dance family has been incredibly supportive this month.

So many of my fellow dancers and instructors, and even the owner of the studio, reached out to me to offer their condolences and support. I got so many hugs before rehearsals, and even last night, dancers I don’t see often made sure I was okay to go on stage. I am so, so thankful for that.

Before my dad passed, I signed up to perform in two pieces at the showcase: broadway jazz and lyrical hip hop. The two pieces were some of the more difficult routines I’ve ever learned – continuing with my goal to keep pushing myself each time the opportunity arises.

I had to miss one rehearsal to attend my dad’s memorial, and even though I got total support and love from my choreographer/instructor, I returned ready to NAIL. THIS. I needed the distraction and I knew more than ever that it’s simply my time to live my life.

I’ve felt like my mind, heart, and all of myself had been taken over by my dad’s disease and all of the trappings that accompany a heartbroken family. Sure, I am grieving, and will continue to do so. But after six months of finding very little that brought me out of my funk, I was ready to just DO this, and do it with all I had.

So, I did. I spent hours reviewing videos from class, dancing in my kitchen, listening to the music in my car, getting help from other dancers, and scouring multiple Goodwills for the perfect costumes.

There were times I wondered if I’d made a giant mistake; if I’d picked pieces that were too difficult for me. But that’s the thing about growth – it’s not easy, sometimes it hurts, but you come out a better person because of it.

And you know what? I got to dance beside people that I’ve looked up to since showcase #1. I’m talking to you, Kim and Charlene. I will NEVER forget when I saw Kim perform a unique routine to a Backstreet Boys’ song – I immediately wondered, “Who is that girl?!” I wanted to know her, and I’m so glad I got to rehearse with her and perform on stage beside her.

Charlene is a beautiful dancer in class, on stage, wherever, and she has this amazing ability to put everything on stage no matter what she may be feeling on the inside. I know I am not alone when I say that my eyes are often drawn to her no matter how many people are performing.

There’s also Chase and Mendy – I saw you guys freaking ROCK the last lyrical hip hop performance, and I thought, “That’s it, I’m taking that class.” And I did – and then we were all in rehearsal together and I remain so inspired by both of you – you have a performance quality that is so amazing.

Naturally, what would our performance be without our choreographer and instructor, Caitlin? I’m so lucky to be able to take her classes and learn from her – technique, style, performance WOW – she’s got it all and she’s so approachable and funny to boot.

I have been thinking so much lately about dance, and how many times I’ve prepped for shows, performances, and competitions in my life. Over the last six months, various memories have bubbled to the surface and I remembered specific instances from being on my high school dance squad.

The summer before my junior year, we went to a UDA Dance Camp for the first time. It was at a state college, we got to stay in the dorms (so cool), and we were going to learn all sorts of new routines that we could perform during basketball season.

Little did we know that UDA Dance Camp was, like, a THING, and other squads were incredibly serious, technically great, and focused. All of the other teams showed up in matching workout gear for each day of camp, including hair bows and the like, and we… well we brought sleep boxers and loose t-shirts.

Our assistant coach, who accompanied us to camp, did not back down. She encouraged us to go, go do our best, we deserved the ribbons and routines just as much as anyone else. She recorded us in our various practices and when we went back to the dorms each night, she helped us drill the routines until we had them.

And we got first place ribbons – mismatched outfits and all. Because dance is universal – it doesn’t matter how much money you have, what you’re wearing, where you come from – it’s about a willingness to try.

That same year, our head coach unexpectedly passed away mid-season. To this day, I still can’t believe it happened, and I can’t really calculate how we got through it, other than to say that we had each other and we had dance. I still remember performing a dedication to her on that basketball court. It felt like our whole city was mourning with us.

At the end of last night’s show, Chi Chi – the owner of Dance Austin Studio – said she’d experienced loss in the last week, and it’s often in those times we realize how importance it is to just move the mental road block and live our lives, no matter what that means to you. Dance is healing.

That’s the truth! I’m so thankful I have a place to help me heal, a place to go when times are good, and when they’re bad. It wouldn’t be that way without the people there, and know that you all mean so much to me.

Goodbye, to you.

The pier at Folly Beach, South Carolina.

The pier at Folly Beach, South Carolina.

On Tuesday, my mom delivered the news to me that a dear family friend of ours had less than a 10 percent chance of surviving.

I wept behind the closed door of my office. This was not just any person – it was Cheryl, my mom’s best friend, a woman she’d known for 34 years, and someone who had influenced my life in many great ways. I wept for my mom, for Cheryl’s daughter, for her husband, for her family, her coworkers, and for anyone who’d ever knew her – even if just for a short moment.

Cheryl was a ray of light in the darkness – she always found a way to laugh at pretty much any situation, which is a trait I’ve always admired. I can recall so many fun times with Cheryl and her daughter, Sarah – times I will cherish for the rest of my life.

I know Cheryl meant so much to my mom, and to her family. To me, Cheryl was South Carolina sweet grass. She took her daughter and I on a rode trip one summer, from the middle of Indiana to the shores of South Carolina, where we stayed, for what seemed like a month.

It was my first time really discovering a new culture – we went to the market, bought handmade jewelry, tried homemade ice cream, walked cobblestone streets leading to plantation homes, and chased crabs in the sands of Folly Beach. It was heaven.

I’d nearly forgotten that Cheryl and Sarah had also joined my mom, dad, and I for a trip to Disney World when I was 10. Sarah and I met as many of the Disney characters as possible, having them all autograph pages in little journals we kept.

Although Cheryl divorced from Sarah’s father when we were very young, later she rekindled with a high school sweetheart whom she married and he became an integral part of the family. I always admired their love story – it was a fairytale.

But the entire time, Cheryl was battling Crohn’s Disease, which affects the digestive tract. The cause of Crohn’s is unknown, and even determining if you have it can be a complicated process. There is also no cure.

Personally, I know very little about Crohn’s, and have only known two people who’ve had it, including Cheryl. I know it affects each person differently, and I know I often forgot that Cheryl was fighting the symptoms of her illness.

But Crohn’s is eventually what took her body from this earth too soon – a move I know she didn’t let happen without a hard fight.

Yesterday, her body was laid to rest in its final place, and my mom was able to say her goodbyes to her dear friend. I couldn’t make it to Indiana for the funeral, which I feel terrible about, but I’ve already had a few talks with Cheryl’s spirit and I hope she understands.

I plan to honor Cheryl in a few ways, aside from just daily “What’s ups” and singing along to some John Mellencamp (she LOVED him). I have registered as a team to do the “Take Steps for Crohn’s” event in Austin at the end of May, so if you’re in the area and would like to join my team – Cheryl’s Southern Belles – or donate to my personal goal of $500, I would really love that.

I have also set up a GoFundMe campaign for Cheryl’s immediate family, as they are stressed about covering the costs of her funeral and her remaining medical bills. Although she had insurance, we all know that isn’t going to cover everything.

I am offering homemade baked goods and free blogging and Twitter courses for the higher donors, but if you would like to donate any amount, or share the link, it would be greatly appreciated.

I know the next few months will be emotional, and that we all deal with loss in our own ways. I wish my mom peace, and I hope everyone that loved Cheryl finds comfort in the fact that she touched so many lives and that we are all better people because of her.

Life goes on, long after the thrill of livin’ is gone.” -John Mellencamp, Jack and Diane

Ditching disappointment.

Always under a rain cloud.

Always under a rain cloud.

I’ve been thinking a lot about disappointment lately. I mean, do you ever get to that point where you’re just not even feeling mad, more just let down?

Disappointment can come from anywhere. Speaking from experience, I’d say recently I felt disappointment when I couldn’t make it to Indianapolis to see the Dave Matthews concert; or when a guy I liked admitted he was only interested in hooking up; or when I discovered a TYPO in my cover letter, or when a wedding date stopped talking to me; or when the last person I slept with actually UNLIKED every single picture of mine on Instagram, as if he wished the memories would disappear.

I mean… come on.

Disappoint happens when your expectations exceed reality. And that is not a good feeling. The best way I can really describe it, is that scene in “500 Days of Summer”…

These are all moments where I just felt like throwing my hands up and doing a lil, “Whatever”. So, how can we handle disappointment in any remotely positive way? Well, I found some great advice on the Tiny Buddha website:

For starters, you’ve got to let yourself feel the emotions. I’ve had so many conversations with friends where they want to do everything they can in order to make the bad feelings go away; and trust me, I’ve been there. But sometimes, you’ve got to just feel all the feels in order to get it out of the way.

Once you give yourself some time to let it all out, it will be easier to look at the situation with more clarity, and you’ll be able to gain some perspective on it. But know that this will ONLY happen if you give yourself that time.

Next, you’ve got to remind yourself who you really are. Don’t let this disappointment take over your personality, or your life. This will help you cope with situations that don’t align with who you are.

And finally, find acceptance. Know that disappointment is a part of life, and you will experience ups as well as downs. And sometimes… guys are just assholes.

But seriously, I was reading another article that said to start by keeping your expectations in check, because then you won’t be as let down. And I get that – how many times have we heard that if we go in with no expectations, then we won’t have anything to lose. But sometimes it’s just too easy to get excited!

And as always, it’s important to learn from your defeats. Maybe the person disappointing you has made it a pattern and it’s something that needs to be resolved further. Or perhaps its a personal issue. Whatever it is, if we continue to learn from our ups and downs, maybe we’ll experience less of the “downs” in the future.

But can we talk about something that has NOT been disappointing lately? Drake lyrics. I mean, I was really loving me some “Hotline Bling,” and I also love “One Dance”, but how about some “Too Good”? I am loving this song!

Years go by too fast, I can’t keep track. How long did we last? I feel bad for asking; it can’t end like this. We gotta take time with this…

How to Cope: One Direction.

Is 1D splitting?

Is 1D splitting?

The following is a guest piece by my bestie Sheena Hall, who is also madly in love with Harry Styles. She is currently mourning the One Direction split, but wiped away the tears to share the message below. 

  *     *     *

The news of the One Direction “break” came to us early Monday morning via the tabloids, or rags as they call them in England. The specifics varied depending on the source, but they all basically said the same thing: the members of One Direction are taking an extended break of at least one year, possibly longer, to work on solo projects. Within hours it was just like the time Harry Styles threw up on the side of an LA freeway after a night of partying; shrines were built, friendships were ruined, crimes were committed, the World was just in complete pandemonium.

For a lot of Directioners this news really didn’t come as a shock.  After their discovery almost exactly 5 years ago on The X Factor, One Direction has released 4 albums (the 5th to be released in November), gone on 4 World tours, and filmed one movie.  I think it’s clear to everyone that they must be exhausted and deserve a break (FYI, that doesn’t mean we’re okay with it.)  After Zayn announced he would not be returning to the band after a 2 month hiatus in the spring due to “stress” or “his fiancé caught him cheating and pulled a Yoko” in American terms, fans expected that the rest of the members of the band would follow his departure after the conclusion of their current World tour, On the Road Again.  Expecting a split and having it actually happen are two totally different realities. Even though this is just a “break” I think everyone with a pulse knows that taking a “break” is really saying “we’re breaking up” in a nice way.  Speaking from my own personal experience with this split, it feels like you’re inside out and the World will never be right again.  One Direction isn’t just breaking up, they are breaking up with us. Luckily, I have put together a list of ways we can all try and cope with this tragedy.

  1. Purchase a 4 disc CD player. Then play all 4 One Direction albums on a loop in said CD player while lying in bed ugly girl crying with the lights off and blinds drawn. Bonus points for eating ice cream and carb loading while you do it. Food is your only friend right now.
  2. Reach out to your fellow Directioners, misery loves company after all.  It will help to reminisce together about all the times Harry has tripped over nothing on stage.
  3. Console each other as you cry about how you’ll never get to see Harry trip over nothing on stage again.
  4. Obsessively think about the concert you went to where you definitely made eye contact with Harry and had a moment. Then realize that will never happen again and cry some more.
  5. Take it to Twitter. Sometimes you just need to get the rage out publicly.  Blame Zayn because he did start this whole thing and blaming someone else always helps.
  6. Be in total denial. Believe that everything they are saying is true and that this really is only for one year and they will come back and be better (and more tattooed) than ever.
  7. Convince your friend that currently has access to their hotel rooms in Chicago to steal their clothes so you can put them on pillows to cuddle with have a piece of them forever.
  8. Purchase all of the BOP and Tiger Beat magazines you can get your hands on, then wall paper your bedroom in One Direction posters to feel closer to them.
  9. Realize that if they are broken up people will forget about them and you’ll have a better chance of meeting and eventually marrying one of them.
  10. Get real. Accept that none of these things are actually going to help cope with this horrifying reality and you will never ever get over this because it is literally the end of the World.

Editor’s note:

WYSK: Alexandra Penney.

Author, photographer Alexandra Penney.

Author, photographer Alexandra Penney.

A few years ago, I read a book called “The Bag Lady Papers,” by Alexandra Penney. Penney, a visual artist, lost her entire fortune in Bernie Madoff’s infamous Ponzi scheme in 2008.

The book begins when Penney hears the news of Madoff’s confession. She rifles through all of her paper statements, sent monthly by Madoff’s staff. The story continues in the months after her financial loss, as she sells her properties and looks for work.

I read the book years ago because I was fascinated how Madoff could pull off such an elaborate stunt. But I thought of it the other day, as I can relate (on a small level) to how Penney felt.

Penney was no doubt luckier than most would be in a situation like that. She was formerly the editor-in-chief of Self magazine, so she got a job right away blogging about her Madoff experience for The Daily Beast (which, I’ll admit was probably chump change compared to what she had invested with Madoff).

Because of this, her blog wasn’t loved as perhaps you’d think — readers couldn’t relate to the fact that she’d never ridden a subway, or eaten fast food, and she never gave up certain luxuries, such as her maid.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about this type of thing over the last few months. And you know what? Loss is loss. Sure, someone like Penney is better off than half the world, but she’d built a life for herself that she’d grown accustomed to.

It was a life that she’d worked all her life for. She even talked in the book about how she’d purchased her fine china one piece at a time over years and years, because it’s the only way she could afford it. But then, her money was taken from her by someone greedy, for no reason.

The best part about the book? The way Penney forged on. The day following the bad news, she got up early, and marched down to his office. And then? She looked for jobs. She put her homes up for sale.

Over the course of these six months (can you believe it’s been six months since my career change), many of the people I knew (even friends) put me in that box of “the girl who lost her job.” When in reality, that’s never who I’ve been, nor is it who I’ve become.

Every day since then, I have worked. Even on Christmas Day, I worked. I have gone days without sleep. But I’ve never missed a bill. I’ve never been late on a payment. I still go out to eat. I still live the same lifestyle. I’m still planning beach trips (!).

The truth is, if you’re quick to put someone in a box, that’s where they’ll stay. And the real loss of that belongs to the one who judges.

Today, Penney is still a successful photographer and a writer for The Daily Beast. Go girl!