Dear Best Friend, This Is Why I’m Still Searching For Your Perfect Holiday Gift

Dear Best Friend,

I have a little problem this holiday season.

I don’t know what to get you.

We’ve been tagging each other in gift lists since Halloween (18 Glamorous Gifts for the Girl Who Loves Sparkle!  25 Purr-fect Stocking Stuffers Every Cat Lover Needs Right Meow!) We’ve been texting each other gift ideas for months now.  We’ve been so excited to find each other the perfect presents this year.

So, when you eagerly told me that you found me something amazing, something that I’d love, I started to freak out a little.  And when you casually mentioned that that perfect gift is currently en route to my house because you wanted to beat the holiday rush, I realized I need a Christmas miracle right now.

I’ve replayed every irritatingly catchy holiday carol in my mind for gift-giving inspiration.  What in the name of all that is holly should I send you to make your season bright?  Gay apparel?  No, too flashy.  Figgy pudding?  No way!  What even is figgy pudding?  Rudolph’s shiny, red nose? And leave poor Rudolph without a sense of smell or a way to guide Santa’s sleigh?  That’s a resounding “No!”  A winter wonderland?  In your sweltering hometown, it would melt!  My two front teeth?  Creepy!  Gold, frankincense, and myrrh?  No gold; I’m on a ramen-level budget.  Also, can some wise man tell me where people even buy myrrh?  Because I’m guessing it isn’t sold at Bath and Body Works.  Can I find some on eBay, maybe?  On the black market?  Or do I need a dealer for that sort of thing?

Obviously, the Christmas carol inspiration has been entirely unhelpful.  I skim every oddly specific gift list I can find, hoping to stumble upon the present that’s just right for you.  But that unicorn makeup bag is too cliché (Seriously, why is everyone obsessed with unicorns this year?), that high-end, glittery nail polish seems like it will chip too easily to give you the fabulous nails you deserve, and those chihuahua socks are cute, but they just seem too… blah.  I find myself listlessly placing items into an empty Amazon cart, then rejecting them faster than you can say “Happy Holidays.”  I’m starting to think I need a horde of elves to magically produce something amazing out of thin air.

The problem is you’re too good for all that stuff on those “stocking stuffer” lists.  You deserve something more special than some generic gift from the closest department store.  You’re the friend who’s never left my side, who stays up until 2 am listening to me vent about a pointless drama that we’ll both forget about within a week.  You’ve counseled me through panic and confidently coached me through “adulting,” even though you’re just as lost as I am.  You’re willing to drop everything to give me some much-needed advice, whether it’s a pressing work-related situation or an earth-shattering decision between two equally cute pairs of shoes.  You’re my sister, the family I’ve had the privilege of choosing, and our sisterhood is the greatest gift I’ve ever been blessed with.

The reason you’re still awaiting a package on your doorstep isn’t that your not-so-secret Santa forgot where you live.  It isn’t that she’s feeling lazy from scarfing down too many holiday cookies.  It’s that she can’t find a gift that accurately reflects just how incredible you are and how grateful she is for the joy and light you constantly bring into her life.

I hope an amazing gift will arrive at your house by Christmas, but it just might show up as you’re ringing in the New Year.  This year, Santa’s hopelessly lost; cursing online shopping and desperately searching for a one-of-a-kind present for a friend as irreplaceably wonderful as you.

 

Kelly is an avid writer and mental health and disability advocate with a focus on personal growth. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help others. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world — no matter how small. When she is not writing or educating others about life with disability and mental illness, Kelly can be found listening to music and cuddling her cat.

I’m Finally Ready to Stop Being the ‘Forever Single’ Girl

“Next year, I expect you to have a boyfriend.” The lyricism in her voice was still evident, but my typically jovial aunt was undeniably serious.

She had overheard my all-too-conspicuous laughter from the next room over, just as my sister and I were debating the attributes of the “perfect guy,” and she popped into my grandparents’ studio to inform me that my standards for my future partner (muscular, at least 6 feet tall, dark, handsome, kind, intelligent, caring, cat-loving, great cook, attorney) were — like every other expectation I’ve held for my life — impossibly high.

I soon realized, however, based on her expectation that I would kindle a relationship within a year, that she had hope for my nonexistent love life.

Hope that I lacked.

Despite my aunt’s fervent belief that I could find a relationship within a year, three years later, I still have never been in a relationship.  I’m 22 years old and undeniably single.

Over the years, excuse after excuse for my perpetual singlehood has escaped my lips.  “I’m too busy for a relationship.” “I need to focus on school.” “I haven’t found the right guy.” “I’m unemployed, for crying out loud!” “Where the heck am I supposed to meet a nice guy?” But the simple excuses defending my blissful, breezy, single-20-something life shroud the undeniable reality.

My relationship status may be “forever single,” but as for my motivation to remain single, it’s complicated.

I’ve spent years awash in a plethora of self-esteem and identity issues — and consequently, have long felt unworthy of being in a loving relationship.  I’ve never perceived myself to be the “pretty” girl — the beautiful woman whose warm, outgoing personality can capture any man’s heart.  My fraught relationship with my body — my height, my weight, my body type, and especially my disability — has consumed me for years.  Internalized ableism nearly suffocated my hope of a fulfilling relationship — relationships are “supposed” to be for able-bodied people, not the girl with cerebral palsy, surgical scars, and uneven legs.

And the conundrum of my deeply-entrenched, faulty self-image and sparse self-esteem barely scrapes the surface of my crippling reluctance to enter a relationship.

There’s the bullying that occurred nearly every day for four years in junior high and high school — from a boy I’ve since tried but failed to forget, a boy who has etched deep scars on my heart.  In front of our entire physics class, he asked me to Winter Formal as a joke, valiantly attempting to suppress his own laughter while I fought back tears as my worst nightmare became my reality.  In that moment, I understood that, in the game of high school romance, I was little more than a pawn, a joker reduced to occupying a highly unfavorable position — the class laughingstock.

There’s the night that still haunts me nearly five years later.  The night that left me feeling objectified, violated, and ashamed.  The night a boy from another school began grinding on me without my consent, provoking a flood of self-accusation.  Was my skirt too short?  Had I inadvertently consented by not saying “no” before he danced away?  Was I complicit in his crime, a willing accomplice to his unforeseen touch?

My fractured image of boys has evolved into a shattered faith in men.  Consequently, I’m terrified of vulnerability, both emotionally and physically.  I’m afraid to tell a prospective partner that I write about heartache and loss, self-disclosure and self-love.  I agonize over the moment I reveal I have cerebral palsy — what if he accuses me of breaking his trust?  What if he no longer accepts me?  I’m terrified that innocent kisses will devolve into nonconsensual touches, gradually snatching away my sense of bodily autonomy.  I fear that once a potential partner has come to know me, truly know me, he will leave, or worse, I will become trapped in a cycle of abuse, too afraid to leave.  I have avoided seeking a relationship out of pure, unadulterated fear, the lifelong terror that a man will see me — pure, bare, raw, unfiltered — and, on account of my vulnerability, will unremorsefully break my heart.

I often wonder if I will ever truly be ready for a relationship — a healthy, loving relationship built on honesty, vulnerability, and trust.  But I am working to make peace with my difficult past.  I continually foster self-acceptance.  I no longer criticize my appearance.  I fully understand that, on that long-ago night, I wasn’t “asking for it” and that our patriarchal society, rather than the length of my skirt, is to blame for men’s pervasive sense of entitlement.  I don’t deserve what was said to me.  I don’t deserve what was done to me.  I deserve happiness.  I deserve fulfillment.  I deserve love.

I’m reluctant to open myself up to heartbreak.  I’m terrified of getting hurt.  But I’m finally ready to stop being the “forever single” girl.  I’m finally ready to mend my broken heart.  I’m finally ready to find love.

*Previously published on Thought Catalog at www.thoughtcatalog.com

Kelly is an avid writer and mental health and disability advocate with a focus on personal growth. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help others. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world — no matter how small. When she is not writing or educating others about life with disability and mental illness, Kelly can be found listening to music and cuddling her cat.

Scattered Petals

Far from home

Knowing no one

I stood, a pallid flower in the wind

Bent down

Knocked over

Until

In the distance

Appeared a flower

Bursting with color and vitality

Its petals scattered immediately

Like autumn leaves on a brisk day

Leaving it bare

Raw

Vulnerable to the weight of the world

My petals dropped one by one

As I stood in awe

And trembled at the weight of the moment

That left me bare

Raw

Vulnerable to the weight of the world

But for the first time

I felt

Lightness

Freedom

And belonging

The moment my petals scattered

I knew I could never turn back

I turned to face the sunlight

And embrace a new beginning

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kelly is an avid writer and mental health and disability advocate with a focus on personal growth. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help others. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world — no matter how small. When she is not writing or educating others about life with disability and mental illness, Kelly can be found listening to music and cuddling her cat.

Follow Your Own Path

In my dreams, I am enshrouded in a cap and gown, waiting for the instant my life will change forever.  I am gripping a dangling tassel, poised for the moment I can move it, the moment I can call myself a law school graduate.  I am successfully taking the Bar exam, conquering the grueling test with every tap on the keyboard.  I am obtaining the exam results, gasping at the news that at last, I am an attorney and preparing to pop the champagne.  In my dreams, I will have graduated law school and passed the Bar exam 4 years from now.

 Then, reality sets in.  I know that 4 years from now, I will not be receiving my Bar exam results.  I will not have graduated law school.  In the depths of my heart, I know it is the wrong time for me to apply to law school.  I have to delay law school further if I truly care about my well-being.

My college graduation cap read “She turned her dreams into plans” in large, silver, sparkly letters.  I am a firm believer in 5-year plans, 10-year plans, all types of plans… and always following through. Why would I make a decision that would completely derail my plans?

One day, I was jolted awake from the pervasive dream I had been chasing for years.  In a single day, I was forced to confront a harsh truth: I could choose to work tirelessly on law school applications and study for the LSAT for hours, but I am not ready for law school.  The process of applying to and preparing for law school had been causing me undue stress.  Additionally, I am a still-reforming perfectionist, and I realized that the cutthroat, competitive nature of law school could reignite my perfectionistic tendencies and prove detrimental to my health.  If I truly cared about myself, I would apply only when I felt ready, when the time felt right.

The realization hit me starkly, sharply, piercing my soul, leaving me breathless.  I was left shaking and sobbing; my entire body wracked with internal pain over an uncertain future, the loss of my plan.  I was drowning in my thoughts; attempting to draw myself back into the unshattered world I had inhabited just moments before, failing to restore peace with my decision.  Why do I have to sacrifice another year of my life?  What if I can never become an attorney?  Why me?  I was angry at myself for not being able to achieve the goal I had held for years in the timeframe I had planned.  I was convinced the soul-crushing, defeating pain I felt would never subside.  I was positive that as long as I followed this new, unpaved path, I would continue to wallow in misery.

Day by day, week by week, I began to view the new path I was treading with a renewed sense of purpose.  Self-hatred slowly turned to quiet resignation, which blossomed into acceptance of my circumstances, my capabilities, and myself.  Occasionally, a flicker of sadness would wash over me as sudden thoughts of my friends preparing to enter graduate school, medical school, and law school entered my mind, but my mourning became celebration as I realized that I had the freedom to accomplish anything during my wait for law school.  I now know that I am amorphous, with nearly unlimited possibilities and infinite potential to achieve my dreams.  In deciding to eschew the beaten path and traverse my own, I am stepping into a future of hope and happiness.

At some point in your life, the plans you painstakingly laid out may not come to fruition.  You may need to make decisions that will defy convention or disrupt the path for your life, but as long as you act in your own best interest, the decision to change your plans will leave you fulfilled.  At times, you will feel tempted by flashier, more alluring plans for your future, which may not suit you. At times, you will wonder if changing direction, following the sharp twists, turns, and bends in your life journey will be worth it in the end.  At times, you will mourn the loss of your plans, wistfully wondering what could have been had you not strayed from your original path.  However, as long as you are willing to seek out the positive aspects of your new plans, you will arrive at a place of acceptance.  By remaining at the forefront of your decisions and prioritizing your overall well-being over your immediate desires, you will gain an open mind, a deepened sense of self, and a renewed hope for the future.  You will transcend your fear of the unknown and enter the future with confidence.  You will flourish.  Following your own path can pose significant challenges, but it will provide you with invaluable insight, clarity, and a renewed sense of purpose in life.  Always listen to yourself first and remain open to changing your plans.  Follow your own path; today, tomorrow, and forever.

*Previously published by Thought Catalog at www.thoughtcatalog.com

Kelly is an avid writer and mental health and disability advocate with a focus on personal growth. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help others. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world — no matter how small. When she is not writing or educating others about life with disability and mental illness, Kelly can be found listening to music and cuddling her cat.

A Day in the Life of a College Student With Anxiety and Cerebral Palsy

7:25: I awaken and shower, pondering my future as the warm water rushes over me.  Do I take a service year or go into advertising as I’ve been planning?  Will I be employed when I graduate?  Why did I decide to leave college so early?  I’ll be leaving my friends behind.  I’ll be leaving the life I know behind, all as a third year.  What do other third-year college students muse about in the shower?  Certainly not graduation.  I’m defying convention, but is that the best choice I could have made for myself?

7:54: I scan through all of my available clothing options, finally settling on a navy blue floral dress and white flip-flops.  I discard possible choices based on a myriad of factors that make sense only to me.  My mind is a perpetual pro-con list.  I am analytical to a fault.  I search for my favorite necklace — silver with a heart — to wear with the dress and worry that I accidentally threw it away.  Calm down, you have much bigger fish to fry, I think.  I give up looking.  This outfit will suffice.

8:10: I blow-dry my hair, return to my bedroom and eat breakfast, checking Facebook while I eat.  A sudden jolt of worry rushes through me.  Where are my glasses?  What if they’re crushed somewhere?  I decide that they’re probably just fine, and I keep eating.  I find my glasses after I eat.  Good.

9:05: I print out my résumé for my Leadership class because today is the day we learn about résumé formatting.  My computer isn’t printing my document, and an unfamiliar notice lingers on my screen.  I call my family in desperation for any type of help, but I can’t reach them, which frustrates me further.  “Why can’t you pick up your phone?” I cry rhetorically.  “I can’t do this! I need this printed!”  My roommate hears me and asks if I’m okay, and I immediately feel guilt wash over me.  My anxiety is challenging for everyone.  I wish I had control, but I never feel in control at all.  Anxiety runs my life.  We print the résumé out with a different printer, but I can’t help but think that my roommate doesn’t deserve anything I put her through.  My anxiety isolates me.  My anxiety harms others.  My anxiety makes me feel like a monster.  When I leave for class thirty-five minutes later, I still have tears in my eyes.

10:05: I arrive at my Memory and Cognition class and sit down in the second row.  Today, we are learning about attention theories.  The class fascinates me, and I take quick, furious notes throughout.  An hour in, we have a ten-minute break, and my professor chats with me about my internship because I’m one of his research interns this quarter.  When we return to the material, he states that some actions we take are unconscious, like walking.  “I guess I’m doing heel-toe right now, but we don’t have to think about things like walking and talking,” he says.  I realize that he is speaking from a place of incredible privilege.  Some people can’t walk heel-toe without having to focus on their gait.  They’re not wired that way.  People like me.  I doubt any of us intend to reveal our unconscious biases, whether they’re racist, sexist, or ableist, but we need to be cognizant of them in order to change.  I realize that I’ve taken my own abilities for granted on numerous occasions, and I walk out understanding not only attention but the power that our unconscious holds over our schematic biases.

11:45: I arrive at my Leadership class early.  We spend the entire class learning how to properly format our résumés.  I realize that mine is out of order, and I worry about finding time to reformat it.  As to my future employment prospects, I hold a mixture of hope and self-doubt inside of me.  I hope that someday soon, my résumé will be the golden key to unlocking my dream job.  All of my senior classmates are interviewing, and many are so close to becoming employed.  I feel insecure in comparison.

1:15: I arrive at my apartment, quickly heat up food, and eat.  Twenty-five minutes later, I rush off to the psychology lab, hoping I can arrive before my first participant is slated to be there.

2:00: I arrive at the lab, let my participant into the room, and run through the informed consent and study procedures.  I study for my Food Science midterm while I wait for the participant to finish and debrief them afterward.  The study runs like clockwork.  It has to be methodologically sound, I think because I don’t want to ruin my professor’s study.  My eyes fall on the corkboard in the room above my head.  Thumbtacked to the board is a slip of paper with the words “You are important” written out.  I don’t feel important.  I don’t even feel happy today, but the words make me smile.  We all have a piece of us to share with the world that will make the world a better place.  We are all important, whether we recognize it or not.  I greet my next participant with a smile on my face and a renewed sense of faith in myself.

4:00: I stop at a small store in my apartment complex to pick up a snack.  I arrive at my apartment and study for tomorrow’s Food Science midterm for the next three hours.  I feel a wave of exhaustion run over me.

7:00: I rest my head on my notes, and fall into a dreamless sleep.  Maybe I should rethink studying on my bed!

10:00: I jolt awake, feeling completely disoriented.  I worry about the three hours of my life I could have spent studying for the midterm, and I decide to make myself a very late dinner.  I eat ravenously.

11:00: I decide to take out the trash, but my roommate’s in the kitchen, and we chat for a while.  I still feel guilty about making her worry about me earlier.  I hate the guilt and I hate the anxiety, but I feel powerless to stop them.  I take out the trash, shower, and prepare for bed.

12:05: I listen to music before falling asleep.  Seemingly out of the blue, three words stick in my mind: I’m an overcomer.  I fall asleep with a renewed sense of hope in tomorrow.  I know that I am naïve to assume that there will be a tomorrow, as so many people do not have that luxury, but I understand that I can overcome the difficulties of today if I strive to use the tomorrow I’m fortunate to have to better myself.

Kelly is an avid writer and mental health and disability advocate with a focus on personal growth. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help others. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world — no matter how small. When she is not writing or educating others about life with disability and mental illness, Kelly can be found listening to music and cuddling her cat.