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what would the kid you think of you now?

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I've been working on a personal project that involves digging through my old notebooks and cracking open cabinets and boxes at my parents' house that I haven't looked into in years. In all those old journals and boxes, I'm finding bits and pieces of my childhood self—a self I, quite frankly, haven't thought too much about in years. It's hard to think back to the years of my childhood and not have tainted memories. Memories are always so subjective. I do, however, have the journals I kept back then and, paging through them, I found some interest tidbits to give me insight into what I was like back then. Take this entry for example: 

 

July 21, 1996

“I guess it was always my dream, even back [when I was five and wrote my first story], to be a writer. But who knows? I don’t like to dwell on the future too much. I prefer the past— and, of course, the present.” 

 

Clearly, some of my twelve-year-old interests (writing! the present!) aren't so far from what I focus on these days (and, truth be told, I'm still focusing more than I should on the past, something I'm constantly working on). Back when I was a kid, I don't think I would have been too surprised to hear I would grow up to be a writer. After all, it's the only thing I ever really wanted to be. The writer thing might not have surprised the kid me, but my younger self may have been surprised to see how much my 1996 New Year's Resolutions were mirrored by my 29 Things To Do Before I Turn 30 list (the bold text is from the list I made in August 2012): 

 

January 1, 1996

Here are some of my resolutions to create a new me this year:

  1. Spend at least 1 hour with [my dog, Pooky] a week.
    Enjoy my time with [my dog] Bella. 
  2. Write to each of my pen pals at least once a month.
    Send more snail mail. 
  3. Be more organized.
    Scan + file my old photos.
    Rid my life of useless items.
  4. Spend more time writing (maybe take a writing class).
    Publish + sell my books.

 

Reading those resolutions all these years later (and seeing how similar my current goals are) got me thinking: What would the kid version of me think of me now? Am I measuring up to what I thought I would become? 

Looking back, I'm surprised at how much I'm like the person I was back then. Looking around me, I'm startled to see so many remnants of my childhood self—a magnetic board beside my desk with clippings and photos that matter to me is so similar to the bulletin board I had as a kid; the bookshelves lined with Sweet Valley High and Mary Downing Hahn books could have been transported from the early '90s; the white Wii console encases the vintage Mario video games I still find myself indulging in from time to time; orange, a color that's always held my heart, can be found splashed about the room, most notably on the pumpkin-hued couch; and the Halloween-themed blanket I received in 1996 is draped across my bed, a constant reminder of the holiday I've loved for as long as I can recall. 

All around me, bits of my childhood have been sprinkled on my adult life. I wonder if my kid self would have expected this, or perhaps she would have expected a somewhat more grown-up existence by the time I was nearly thirty. It seems my generation is inexplicably drawn backward toward childhood. '80s and '90s clothing and memorabilia has had a resurgence in popularity in recent years. What's old is new again—and though that always seems to happen, it seems so powerful in this generation. It feels less like nostalgia and more like a desire to get back there to that carefree time of childhood. 

And it's no wonder that people want to go back to (what seemed like) a simpler time. But reading my old journals, I realize childhood wasn't quite as carefree as adults romanticize it to be. There was stress and strife. Yes, it was a different type of discomfort, but in the moment (and isn't that what matters most?), those childhood worries seem as monumental as the concerns weighing heavy on an adult mind. For me, being an adult is actually much easier than being a child. I craved autonomy and independence; I loved spending time within the confines of my own mind, something that's much more acceptable in the adult world. 

Being an adult might be easier for me, but my childhood clearly is still a big part of who I am—and I'm pretty sure it always will be. The books and activities and thoughts that shaped me into the person I am today cannot be let go of, even if I wanted to set them free. When I reflect more on the question What would the kid you think of you now? I like to think she'd be pleased. As an adult, I now spend my days doing what I love, surrounded by things that make me smile—a loving boyfriend, lovely canine pals, a few close and wonderful friends, rows and rows of books. My kid self might be surprised by some things—I don't live in a house as "grown ups" often do; I still read some of the same childhood books over and over again; I got rid of my LipSmackers collection, ha!—but overall I think she would be pleased by the person I've become. Adult life is far from perfect, but I think it's surprisingly close to what my kid self would have wanted. 

By now, I'm sure you've pondered the question yourself—What would my kid self think of me now?—and perhaps it seems silly to spend so much time reflecting on a question that can never be answered, a question that doesn't seem to serve a real purpose. But the more I ponder it, the more I realize there's value in comparing our childhood selves to who we have become as adults. When we think back on what we loved then—and notice how much of it we still love now—we have a better understanding of what really inspires us, what makes us feel excited about life. 

When we think back on who we once were—and the ways we are still the same—we reconnect with our childhood selves. We reclaim a bit of our muchness. And when we do that, we bring a fresh perspective to the present moment. As kids, we're so lucky to have a lifetime of plans and dreams ahead of us. Anything could happen. We could be anything, do anything. We still can, of course, but as a kid the possibilities seem endless. When we reflect on what we once were, and on what we thought we would be, we reconnect with the part of ourselves that is endlessly hopeful, the part that believes we can create the life we want to live. Connecting with that part of yourself, however briefly, serves as a reminder that you are, in fact, in control of your destiny. Pondering what the younger you would think of you serves as a way to reconnect to the essense of who you truly are, to consider if the present is as positive as you once thought it would be. 


distraction: a positive or a negative?

 

 

When I was a kid, sitting nervously in the doctor's office awaiting a shot, a strep test, or some other dreaded procedure, my mom would always try to direct my attention away from worry by telling me a silly story or flipping through the tattered pages of a waiting room magazine. At the time, it drove me nuts. Can't she see I'm focused on being scared? I'd think to myself. I don't care about some story or magazine! What once seemed like an irritating trait of my ever-cheerful mom now makes a lot more sense now. She wasn't trying to annoy me; she was trying to distract me. And, quite often, despite my determined resistance, it often worked. 

As I got older (and, yes, still brought my mom with me to doctor's appointments), I was no longer annoyed by my mom's attempts at distraction. In fact, I can recall actually requesting a story on more than one occasion, urging her to take my mind off of whatever was going to happen with the nurse came to the waiting room door and called my name. Distraction, I'd discovered, worked. It made me feel less worried; it took me away from the future (what was waiting in that examination room) and into the moment (what was being said to me right then in the waiting room).

I have mixed feelings about distraction. On one hand, it's a great way to steer your mind toward a more positive place when it's veering toward negative territory. On the other hand, I'm well aware that avoiding negative emotions completely is usually a bad thing (they often crop back up in unexpected, often misdirected places). I'm realizing that distraction doesn't have to fall into a "positive" or a "negative" category. Distraction, in itself, isn't a bad thing (though I do believe avoidance is). And sometimes it can be vital for getting through a tough time. It certainly helped me from passing out from nervousness in the waiting room on more than one occasion! 

Lately, I've become the Queen of Distraction. After losing my beloved Bella, I knew I had two options: (1) wallow in my sadness, allowing myself to slip into a dark place in which life without her seemed pointless or (2) distraction the hell out of myself. I chose the latter. 

For the past three weeks, I've been spending time with friends, watching hours and hours of comedy shows and movies, racing through new books, and hunting for a new puppy. I've been sad, of course. At times, devastated. But I've been distracted. And it's helped quite a bit. Rather than wallowing in loss, I've been doing my best to keep living my life. I've recognized an all important truth: distraction doesn't mean dodging heartache. It means finding ways to ease the pain, to stay in the moment.  

A great deal has been written lately about how distracted we have all become -- always checking our email and thinking about what's next -- and I do believe that kind of distraction can be a bad thing, taking us away from the moment instead of pushing us into it. But when it comes to heartache, worry, and stress, distraction can be a godsend. Here are some of the benefits of distraction: 

 

1. It keeps the moment in focus. Choosing to direct your attention to positive distractions (positive being the key word here!) helps to keep your mind away from negative thinking and centers your attention on what's happening in the moment. Particularly if distraction is an activity (such as spending time with friends), it serves as such as great reminder to stay in the now. 

 

2. It eases worry and strife. When faced with difficult emotions (especially those associated with something beyond your control, like death), distraction is a great way to ease worry and strife. Instead of focusing on what will happen in the future or what could happen in the past, distraction allows you to have an outlet for the moment, taking away the worry that comes with focusing on what could be (or what was). 

 

3. It provides comfort. If you choose the right distractions, you'll find yourself comforted in spite of any negative emotions you might be experiencing. For example, spending time with friends is an extremely comforting distraction, as is indulging in a favorite movie or beloved book. In times of great sadness, finding comfort is essential for making it through a difficult time and sometimes distractions can provide the most comfort. 

 

4. It rejuvenates the body + mind. Wallowing in pain provides a stagnant environment in which it's hard to move forward. Distraction, on the other hand, provides new outlets (especially if distraction includes new activities) for creativity and rejuvenation. Doing something that distractions you from pain and heartbreak gives your mind and body a rest, freeing you (even for a brief period) from discomfort and sadness.  

 

Distracting yourself doesn't mean you don't feel pain, sadness, or worry. It means giving yourself a break from the pain; it means finding a way to explore life outside of your sadness. Since I lost my dog, I've been distracted, but that doesn't mean I haven't been mourning. I've spent the past three weeks pained by the thought of never seeing Bella again. I've spent nights crying myself to sleep and mornings waking with disbelief when I realized she wasn't curled up beside me in bed. But distraction has helped me a lot. It's given me a chance to take a terrible situation and make the most of it -- something that's necessary for living positively in the present. 


mourning sickness: 6 steps for coping with loss

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For the past two weeks, I've been mourning the loss of my dog, Bella. It's been a very difficult time, attempting to stay positive when my mind has been filled with thoughts of her and my heart has been heavy with missing her. Usually I'm able to put my emotions into words—in fact, that's one of the ways I'm able to cope with loss and difficult situations—but it's been harder than usual for me to define how I feel. When I read this passage in The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, in which one of the major characters lost her best friend, I felt as if someone had taken the words right from my heart and printed them on paper:

 

For the first time in my life I understood the meaning of the word never. And it's really awful. You say the word a hundred times a day but you don't really know what you're saying until you're faced with a real "never again." Ultimately you always have the illusion that you've in control of what's happening; nothing seems definitive . . . And I think that even a few seconds before dying, "never again" would still just be empty words. But when someone you love dies. . . well, I can tell you that you really feel what it means and it really really hurts. It's like fireworks suddenly burning out in the sky and everything going black. I feel alone, and sick, and my heart aches and every movement seems to require a colossal effort.

 

Reading those words, I felt less alone—and more certain that the "never again" I was so devestated by was a pain that others had also experienced. Losing Bella was a heart-wrenching ordeal—one that left me not only feeling emotionally drained, but physically sick as well—and staying positive and present was incredibly challenging, but, surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly, I should say, being such an advocate of positivity!), it was the efforts to stay positive and present that led me to the place in which I now find myself two weeks after Bella's death: still extremely sad (I still cry at least once a day, though the all-out sobfests are becoming less frequent) but able to feel happiness and look forward to the future. 

Coping with loss—especially the definitive and irreversible loss of death—is never easy, but over the past two weeks I've learned a variety of ways to make the most of this unfortunate situation. Prior to Bella's death, I wasn't sure if I would have the strength to stay positive and present after I lost her. I pictured myself spending weeks in bed, unable to do anything but sob. And while I won't deny that there's been a significant amount of sobbing over here, it's now been two weeks and I've spent a total of zero days in bed. Here are some of the things I did to manage the loss: 

 

1. Spend time with friends. I cannot tell you how valuable my friends and family have been during this difficult time. Since losing Bella, I've spent hours and hours with friends, both reflecting on my little Bella and distracting myself with new topics of conversation. Initially I thought I'd want a lot of alone time to deal with my sadness, but I quickly found that spending time with friends was absolutely essential. I felt a million times better when I was surrounded by love and support. 

 

2. Appreciate what was. I'm not one for looking backward, but when it comes to loss, I do think it can be helpful to look back and appreciate the good times. Though it was incredibly difficult with Bella being sick for nearly a year before she died, I was fortunate to be able to work from home and spend tons of quality time with her. I'm thankful for every single moment I had with her and I wouldn't trade them for anything. Even though remembering her can be painful, it's also helpful to recall all of the positive experiences we shared. 

 

3. Find distractions. It's rarely a good idea to avoid emotions, but over the past few weeks I've come to realize that sometimes distraction is necessary. The more I ruminated on the loss, the sadder I became. But when I distracted myself—with movies, books, friends, work, and even a short getaway—I felt so much better. At first, I didn't want distraction, feeling it devalued the emotions that I deserved to feel, but I soon realized that focusing on the good things didn't detract from how much Bella meant to me—and it made me feel a lot better. 

 

4. Switch things up. One of the toughest things about losing Bella is coping with all the routines in my life that had been dictated by her. For months, I'd been caring for this sick pup and without her I almost didn't know what to do with myself—so I decided to go on a quick vacation of sorts, tagging along on my boyfriend's business trip. The change of scenery (good ol' Princeton, NJ!) did me a world of good and helped me to switch up my routines a bit when I returned. 

 

5. Take care of you. For days after I lost Bella, I was physically sick. I had a stomach ache that would not quit and it was awful (not to meant the swollen eyes I had from crying so much—always a cute look!). I knew that both on a emotional and physical levels, I needed a lot of self-care and I made sure to take it easy for a few days after I lost my dear sweet pup. In between visits with friends, I rested a lot. I treated myself to a lot of great magazines and comedic movies—and all that care resulted in a fairly quick physical recovery. 

 

6. Look forward. Though staying present (even with the hard stuff) really helps me make the most of life, in some situations I feel as though looking forward can be really beneficial. I knew a new puppy would never replace my Bella, but I couldn't hide the fact that the thought of a new dog put a smile on my face. I didn't know when it would happen, but I knew at some point I would get a new dog and fall head-over-heels again. Facing the hopelessness of loss, keeping the idea of a future puppy in mind gave me something to hope for.

 

Should Bella's death have occurred years ago, I don't think I would would be doing as well as I am now, a mere two weeks after the loss. As tempting as it was to give into the waves of sadness that threatened to overwhelm me, I realized that I had a lot more tools for coping than I realized. I'm back at work—working on an exciting new project, in fact!—and I'm looking forward to the future. Is it still incredibly difficult without Bella? Yes. Does my heart still feel like it's crumbling with the loss of her? Yes. But I'm making the most of what cannot be changed.

In The Elegance of the Hedgehog, the character I mentioned earlier had an interesting experience immediately following the loss of her dear friend. She was walking through her apartment building when she heard beautiful music coming from within one of the apartment units. Later, she reflects on the beautiful music she heard:  

 

Maybe that's what life is about: there's a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It's as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never. Yes, that's it, an always within never. Because, from now on, for you, I'll be searching for those moments of always with never. 

 

Over the past few weeks, I've learned just how true these words are. Despite the sadness and pain, the true despair of losing a best friend, there is still beauty in life. The beauty of now doesn't override from the pain of remembering what was, but it helps. Loss will never be painless, but we have some control over how much we suffer. When you focus on the beauty, the positivity—those moments of always within never—some of the suffering is eased and every day, bit by bit, things will start to look better and brighter.