Finding My New Normal

After the birth of each of my daughters, I took time off from teaching. They were so small and dependent on me, and I really wanted to focus on being the best mom to these beautiful little beings. I nursed them both, witnessed all of their major milestones in the first 10 months of their lives, and was able to drink up every single moment of mommyhood. I can honestly say that I loved it, but part of loving it was knowing that come August, I was going to go back to work. There was an end in sight.

I won’t lie to you and tell you it was all happiness, it wasn’t. It was hard, but I knew that eventually the time with just me and them would end, and so I focused on making memories, going on adventures, playing silly games, singing, reading, and just being the best mommy that I could. The first time I dropped off my oldest at daycare, I sobbed in the car. How could I leave her there? How could she have an entire day full of experiences that I would know nothing about? It was heartbreaking, but as we got into our new routine, and found our new normal, it became easier.

After having my second, I was able to admit to myself that I am a better mom when I am not home every single day with them. I have an entirely new respect for stay at home moms. They have a level of patience I can only aspire to have on most days. I have learned that the time apart actually brings me closer to them. I miss them, and in turn, they miss me. My oldest can tell me all about her day, and I don’t already know what she will say. It’s good for us.

That being said, I am also struggling with this new role. Finding a balance is tough, and I always feel like I’m not giving enough attention to something in my life. Teaching is draining, my girls need love and attention when I get home, dinner needs to be made, my husband and I need to connect, I have friends I haven’t talked with in days or seen in weeks, and the poor dog (my first “child”) doesn’t get nearly enough attention. I feel like I am just treading water, barely staying afloat, in all areas of my life. I so desperately want someone to just throw me a life ring.

This is my new normal, and I am slowly finding balances between different aspects of my life. I am also able to ask for help more now than I did in the past. It is still difficult for me, and at times I wish it wasn’t all on me to do the reaching out, but it’s getting better. I’m more focused on myself now, which strangely enough, makes me better for everyone else in my life as well. I am learning I can have it all, I just can’t have 100% of everything all at once, because there just isn’t enough of me to give. And that’s ok, I’m learning to just let that be ok.

To the Friends Who’ve Helped Me Through My Worst Moments With Anxiety

My Dear Friends,

Before I began sharing about my anxiety, I was terrified to open up to you.  I worried that disclosing my anxiety would darken the light, cheery nature of our friendships.  I wondered if “anxious” would gradually become my sole identity, overshadowing the many traits that comprise who I am.  My greatest hope was that you would understand that anxiety challenges me, but does not define me.  The moment I disclosed my anxiety, my fears dissipated.  I am incredibly thankful that choosing to be vulnerable about my anxiety has strengthened our friendships, created inextricable, deep connections and brought us closer than I could have ever imagined.  Moreover, I am extremely grateful for your presence in my life and for the numerous ways in which you have supported me through the most difficult times.

Thank you for understanding whenever I arrived late to meet you for coffee, my hair disheveled and my eyes wet from an onslaught of panic, my slight figure clad in an old, shapeless sweatshirt.  I appreciate that you never commented on my anxiety-ridden appearance and always took the time to listen to whatever was on my mind as we sipped our drinks.

Thank you for your willingness to learn what I need when I feel particularly anxious and to respect boundaries.  When we were roommates, you were always understanding of my need for space in times of anxiety, sending texts peppered with hearts, “I love you’s” and “It’s going to be okay’s” instead of entering my room.  You came to know that sometimes, all I need is to know that someone is there for me, even if they are not physically close, and more importantly, you always respected that.

Thank you for reminding me that the worries consuming me are unimportant in the grand scheme of life.  In college, you were always by my side to reassure me that an “A minus” midterm would not affect my ability to graduate college, Summa Cum Laude, obtain the job of my dreams, and attend law school.  Thanks for your encouragement and kind words, I now fully understand that small missteps cannot prevent me from achieving my goals.

Thank you for laughing with me when I make light of my overly-neurotic, irrational, anxiety-addled mind.  In the worst moments, humor is my most effective coping mechanism.  Your willingness to laugh at my self-deprecating remarks instead of shying away means the world to me.

Thank you for understanding whenever I am unable to do something.  You have never treated me any less respectfully when I am overwhelmed and overloaded, and I love that you recognize and accept that I have limitations, just like everyone else in the world.

Thank you for pulling me away from my stressors for pure, unadulterated fun.  Legally Blonde movie nights, lunches out, beach days, shopping trips and Hamilton sing-along sessions have all provided a welcome diversion from the anxieties that are prone to creeping into my mind. I am grateful that you have taught me the importance of taking breaks to refresh and refocus my mind and body.

Thank you for supporting me through the most difficult night of my life, for comforting me when panic completely overtook my mind, for treating me as compassionately as you always have and for encouraging me to prioritize my mental health.  To this day, my health is a top priority and I am willing to slow down when I feel overwhelmed.

Thank you for reassuring me when anxiety causes me to doubt myself.  When I worry that I will never be gainfully employed, second-guess a piece of writing I sent out, or wonder if I am “the annoying friend,” you never fail to remind me that I am strong, capable, and loved, dispelling the pervasive “what-ifs”.

Thank you for reminding me that I am never as alone as I feel.  The stories you have shared about your experiences are a powerful reminder that there are a vast number of people in the world who share the same challenges.  I have learned that if we support each other, stand together and share our stories and experiences with one another, not only will we become stronger and more resilient in the face of adversity, but we will also feel less alone.

Thank you for showing me how loved I am.  Whether through your words or your actions, you never fail to express your love and support.  Although you understand that anxiety is only one piece of me, you are always supportive when my anxiety challenges me, and you accept me exactly as I am, which is the greatest demonstration of love. I promise to stay by your side in your darkest moments, loving and supporting you just as you love and support me.  I love you immeasurably.  You mean the world to me.

With Love,

Your Friend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Falling Forward Following Failure

During the moments of our tender youth, with wide-eyes and eager mouths, we yearn to experience—experience laughter, experience joy, and experience success. Our minds work in a rhythmic tandem with our hearts. Each beat promotes each movement and each thought, and each thought originates from a place of wonder without logic.

Our world is a blank canvas and the environment around us becomes a colorful pallet from which to paint our stories.

But as we get older, something happens. We begin to deliberately brush timid strokes into our world, blended together from hues of uncertainty and inexperience. And while these strokes contain fragments of beauty, each particle is a bleak representation of the genius within us. Instead, those strokes—the most genius ones—are the unapologetic, bold strokes that come from a place of wonder without regret, wonder without logic.

A few years ago, I decided to make a bold decision—to switch career paths—despite a fearsome battle between my mind and my heart. My heart felt full as I stepped forward into new territory, eager to create new successes. Just one year after having made that decision, I lost my job. It took every ounce of faith I had within my heart to convince myself that I had not failed the most important person in my life: myself.

We all experience these moments, whether at school, work, or home, when a decision does not yield the result we originally expected to occur. We also often view these results as mistakes—which is actually our biggest mistake of all.

Last week, I had the incredible opportunity to be surrounded by an empowering group of women—along with several men—at the PA Conference for Women in Philadelphia, PA. Shonda Rhimes, writer and creator of Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and one of the keynote speakers at the event, said something that resonated within my soul:

“How we name something dictates how we deal with it, and we often let our fear dictate what those names will be.”

This brings me back to the word “mistake.” In its proper context, it simply means a misstep. But in society, we are unconsciously trained to believe that mistakes are much more than a misstep. We are led to believe that a mistake is a representation of a larger fault—a fault within ourselves, within our character. This is what often causes us to make those timid brushstrokes, creating safe and sometimes lengthy pathways to success.

I vividly remember the moments after I had lost my job. Shortly after walking through the door and having been greeted with a hug from my significant other, I stepped away from that moment to state to him—and really to myself—that I did not want pity. I wanted to move forward. I wanted to decide on my next bold move—wherever that might be or might take us. This experience would not define me. I would not allow it, no matter the perception or stigma associated with it.

“The more you summon the courage to do the thing you fear,” Shonda said, “the more you belong.” I would be lying if I told you that I had no fear as I pressed forward. Interview after interview, I began to believe in myself again. I solidified confidence in my ability to make a positive difference, and interviewers felt that confidence as something tangible. When I was faced with decisions about what I could do next in my career, I dreamt big, I dreamt unapologetically, and I dreamt bold. I went against the grain and chose job opportunities that best matched who I am and the impact I want to make in the world. The result? Happiness and, therefore, success.

As you read this article, take a second to reflect on a moment when you made a decision based on fear. What was the result? Did you feel fully satisfied with your decision?

Now, reflect on those moments when you made a decision in spite of fear.

I guarantee you that your decisions made in spite of fear have created the most beautiful environments for success in your life. And if they have not, dream bigger and dream unapologetically. You are the artist of your life. Paint with bold strokes of genius from a place of wonder without logic. Create and embrace your own definition of success and you will simultaneously be creating happiness.

Nicole is a professional hybrid who works within the social work and entrepreneurial fields. She believes in the binary importance of self-awareness and the growth mindset. Her main goal in life is to make a positive, lasting impact in at least one person's day, every day. In her spare time, you can find her practicing her sarcasm and Italian hand gestures for the next conversational comedian opportunity.

That Time I Valiantly Fought With a Letter Opener

The letter opener.

A humble, but truly magical office staple.

One swipe against an unruly letter, and presto — your letter is open and you’re forever hailed as the resident entry-level administrative goddess.

Okay, maybe not.

But when you start a new administrative job with a boss who proclaims “You don’t need any special skills for this,” it’s practically a given that you’d at least be able to use a letter opener.

Unless, of course, your fine-motor skills are not-so-fine.  Which makes people who can actually open a letter with a letter opener look downright magical to you.

I have cerebral palsy, which messes with my body’s ability to follow my brain’s instructions and, you know — move.  Basically, the left side of my body’s like that angsty teenage rebel who cuts class to smoke cigarettes in the school bathroom.  Or something like that.

Which makes using a letter opener seem like Mission Impossible.

So when I walked into the office for my first day — an office that, I should note, seemed pleasantly devoid of letter openers — I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief.

Until my perpetually-smiling supervisor uttered a single sentence that made me groan (internally, of course; this was, after all, my first day on the job!)

“First, we’re going to have you sort and open mail.”

Noooooooooo…

What a way for me to make a lasting impression.  In an office-themed version of “The Bachelor,” I knew I wouldn’t be snagging the “First Impression Rose” anytime soon.

Still, once my supervisor was out of sight, I dutifully swiped the edges of the stubborn letters with my nemesis — the letter opener.

It went… better than I had anticipated, actually.  My letter opener was — surprisingly — vaguely useful.  But I eventually gave up on the letter opener and went back to opening letters the old-fashioned way — with my slightly stiff, shaky hands.

And the most miraculous, shocking development in the dramedy that was my first day of a new office job?

I was okay with not doing my job in a “typical” way.  

My inability to wield a letter opener was actually kind of funny.

As I accidentally created jagged edges on all the envelopes and smiled at my perceived lack of administrative prowess, I thought back to my very first post-college job — a ballot processor at my county’s Elections Office, at the tail end of the election season.  We were supposed to open the ballot envelopes carefully, creating nice, clean, straight openings all the way across.  But, despite my valiant attempts to handle those envelopes with all the care devoted to a newborn baby or a cuddly kitten, I inadvertently committed the worst office offense, manhandling the envelopes with my legendary lack of motor skills.

I remembered my co-workers looking absolutely flummoxed by my envelope-mangling tendencies.  “A college graduate who can’t even open a measly envelope?  What the heck is wrong with her?” I imagined them thinking as they stared across the table at me.  

As I continued to (completely accidentally, of course!) rip envelopes at my newest office job, I laughed at how ridiculous I was just 10 months before at the Elections Office.  At that point, I pretty much thought my cerebral palsy, however mild, was The Worst Thing Ever (Me?  Melodramatic?  Never!), and, on that November day, I left the Elections Office close to tears.  I easily could have blamed my propensity to cry on the recent election results (and the fact that a solid portion of America was probably crying with me), but I wouldn’t let myself go there.

The truth?  I was embarrassed by my disability.

Which is why, in a very different, emphatically casual office, 10 months later, as I slid around on a swivel chair and laughably (but laudably) attempted to use a letter opener, I smiled at how far I had come.  The girl who swore she would never, ever tell anyone about her cerebral palsy is now practically a walking billboard for CP awareness.  Who still can’t really use a letter opener.  And is 100% okay with it.

Thankfully, I survived my time opening mail without a single peep from my supervisor about the interesting quality of my opened envelopes and promptly moved on to some other equally administrative task that didn’t require much in the way of fine-motor skills.  I aced my first day.  Well, maybe not aced, but I guess they liked me enough to let me keep working there!  (As a matter of fact, I’m still employed by that company, despite my dubious ability to use a letter opener!)

That day, I left the building laughing.  It turns out laughter really is the best medicine.

 

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.

Hello there! You look like a bad decision

Destiny is shaped after the winner of the battle between indecisions and our inner voice overcomes the feeling of mixed signals.

Can we peek into the future and avoid regretting the outcome of making bad decisions? Can we follow a standard to address our decision-making process? Legacy is written everyday based on our wisdom, based on our acquired knowledge of life. The voice inside us has learned from our experiences to encourage us to take chances and risks. We need to be willing to be afraid and be aware of the beauty of making mistakes.

Our journey is the running path through time. The past is our training during our morning runs. The present is our current feeling of body and mind, the stage that is preparing us to our scheduled race. If we have done our homework and trained properly, we will be winners at making difficult decisions and we would deserve a medal for our courage of running thousand miles of pain.

Trying our hardest in life is the balance of facing decisions that feed our soul and living without apologies after closing doors leading to nowhere. We are always one decision away from submerging into the waters of fear, waters leading us to a future of uncertainty. Life-change decisions dictate the outcome of career choices and relationships. Our very optimistic brain recognizes bad situations by running scenarios, analyzing them and thinking about the positive outcomes. In the other hand, we listen and trust the decisions from our heart because very deep inside, it makes perfect sense.

Let’s embrace our opportunities because we may only have one shot at experiencing the best partners in life and the best jobs in life.

Life-change decisions come and go, and there are moments when we will never be ready for. We need to walk through dark alleys and scary places in our mind because right conditions are never aligned. Finding love is a good example of perfect alignment. I placed all the pieces together, I made the right moves, I followed my heart, I changed directions, and I gambled my hopes because there is no order for reaching a fixed destination.

Playing with fire may get us burnt. I wish I knew then what I know now. Can I just reset all my actions, undo the consequences and avoid the impact? Heart lessons hurt, forgetting hurts, but not knowing is the worst. If we are not willing to move on and walk away with victory and our heart at peace, we repeat and try harder.

Someday, everything will make perfect sense. For now, laugh at the confusion, smile through the tears, and remember that everything happens for a reason and the universe conspires, so bad decisions are very appealing to our eyes.

I am from Colombia and I am very proud to be from that beautiful country. One of my great passions is life because I have walked this path by sharing it with amazing people. People that have taught me to see the world in a very different way. Extraordinary individuals have showed me what I have never could discover by myself. I am an eager reader of science, poetry, politics, and music (yes, the meaning and composition of song lyrics). I have a great appreciation for art, languages, and the expression of everyone's perspective seen from the lens of a camera. I love Astronomy and one day I will be in space. I am a Research Scientist in Corrosion Engineering and writing is a great way for me to tell the world how I feel.