Be Better, Not Bitter

During my second to last year of college, I had the honor and privilege of attending a service trip to Alabama with the Center for Service in Action at my university. While on the service trip, I had the opportunity to serve the community of Selma, Alabama. I  helped to paint a local school and got to work with a class of adorable, little four-year-olds at a pre-kindergarten school, and boy did those kids steal my heart. I also got to do a training on Kingian non-violent conflict resolution, where we talked about the importance of community and connectedness with others to understand their plight. The service trip was most definitely an enlightening and deeply impactful experience.

While I was in Alabama with my service group, I also had the opportunity to visit some historical locations and museums to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement. After visiting the 16th Street Baptist Church, where in 1963 a bomb exploded and killed four young, African-American girls, we visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

The Civil Rights Institute showed the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement and was extremely heart-wrenching. I remember towards the end of the self-guided tour when I saw the actual belongings of the young kids who died in the church bombing, I could feel the tears well up in my eyes. One of the museum guides approached me and another girl in my service group and began to talk to us about our reactions to seeing everything in the museum. As soon as I started talking, I just lost it. The girl in my service group was crying as well. We told the guide that we couldn’t understand why people could do these heinous things to other people. It was heartbreaking.

The guide consoled us and told us that it was perfectly alright to feel these emotions. “My sweet girls,” she told us. “Sometimes people do bad things in ignorance. They don’t know any better, but we must teach them. We must teach them love, and that love overpowers everything.”

After hugging us for a while, and helping us move through the emotions, we thanked the guide for comforting and talking with us, and we proceeded to the exit to wait for the rest of our group to finish looking through the various exhibits.

We waited in the gift shop. It was there that I met the most miraculous and amazing woman whom I will never forget for the rest of my life. It was only with her remarkable wisdom that only comes with such age that she taught me the most valuable lesson of life.

We talked to her about what we took away from the museum. She told us how she had lived in Birmingham for nearly her entire life, and told us about her childhood in the city during the Civil Rights Movement.

“I remember sitting on the back of the bus,” she told us. “I remember the protests. I remember the church bombing.”

We had asked her how she coped with all of these horrible things that were happening to her, her family, and the community.

“You see, I learned to put those things behind me. If I dwelled on the horrible things, I could never move on. It would consume me,” she said. “Instead, I made an important choice in my life; I chose to be better, not bitter.”

We asked her what she meant by that, and she elaborated.

“I decided to not let it get to me. I decided to not let those things make me become consumed with hate. I decided that I would let it inform me on how to become a better person, and how to make my community a better place. I decided to rise above it, not stoop to that level.”

Her words just hit my heart with such a force. Be better, not bitter.

This woman had to endure things that no person should ever have to endure, and yet she did not let it make her full of anger and hate. She did not let it get the best of her.

She chose to be better, not bitter.

As we were leaving, I told her that her words impacted me more than she will ever know.

Recently, I had endured a very difficult situation in my life and had become consumed by it. The event evoked some very dark memories from my past that I had worked so hard to suppress, and when it brought on a sort of déjà vu, it really took a toll on me. It filled me with anger, frustration, sadness, and bitterness. I just couldn’t move past it. But then I remembered this wise woman’s words. Be better, not bitter.

So I decided to confront the problem head-on by talking to the person that had caused the hurt. ‘Be better, not bitter,’ I told myself. Through talking, I was able to find resolution and peace. decided that this event would not affect me anymore. I would not let it get the best of me. I would put it behind me, and remain positive moving forward. I would make sure that I only continued to be better, not bitter.

Emily Veith
Emily has her bachelor's degree in Political Science, and has always believed in helping and serving others. She wants to make the world a better place, and aspires to be a politician someday to do just that. She is an old soul who loves Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Glenn Miller. When she isn't writing about imperative news- and political-related, she can be found attempting new recipes, playing her guitar or reading a good mystery book.

As a Person With a Disability, I Am Never ‘Sitting Alone’

I was seated at a circular table in a banquet hall — clad in a dress and a pair of heels, resting my throbbing leg.  My gaze was transfixed behind me, on the throng of partygoers darting around the room, eagerly snapping pictures, clamoring for the best shot of the guest of honor and calling out instructions to various family members.  As I waited to be called up for a picture with the guest of honor, my own eagerness manifested not in my movements, but in my twinkling eyes, my smile and my laugh.

I glanced back at the table — the immaculately-placed floral centerpiece, the cups of nuts and candies adorning each place setting, the smattering of soda cans and pale pink cloth napkins strewn across the off-white tablecloth.

Suddenly, my eyes fell on the seven empty chairs surrounding me.

In that moment, it occurred to me that an outsider’s perception of the situation would likely be flawed.  A stranger would see a slightly aloof, able-bodied young woman sitting alone, and a large family excitedly preoccupied with taking the perfect picture, not a tired, physically disabled young woman with a family who not only understands and respects her but also never questions her need to rest.

It was then that a stark realization struck me: In appearance, I was sitting alone, but as a person with a disability, I am never sitting alone.

I am the only person with a physical disability in my family, but I have been blessed with a family that takes the time to understand and responds to my physical limitations.  My family does not sweep my disability under the rug, denying its existence.  They do not insist on weaving my disability into every conversation, relating it to anything I cannot do well.  My family has developed a firm “middle ground” — acknowledging my disability in a subtle, unobtrusive manner, then helping me if assistance is warranted.  This particular instance was no exception.  My family’s perceived indifference not only demonstrated an understanding of my needs but also illustrated the utmost respect for my personhood.  By proceeding with their vigorous photography and allowing me to rest in the interim, my family quietly acknowledged my disability without allowing it to consume my identity and impede the celebration at hand.

My eyes wandered to the neighboring tables.  A few guests, all at least 50 years my senior, sat scattered around the room, quietly chatting among themselves.  I felt a strange sense of kinship with them; in that moment, my body felt far older than its 21 years of age, and I, like many of them, could not expend any extra energy.

Upon scanning the room, I was immediately reminded of all of the writers and bloggers with cerebral palsy who have candidly expressed that their bodies feel far older than their chronological ages.  I smiled, thankful for the connections I have forged with others in similar situations.  In that moment, I knew that so many others — in my town, in the nation, and throughout the world — would see the absurdity of the situation and laugh with me over the nuances of living with a disability.  Prior to discovering the vast reach of the disability community, I felt a profound sense of isolation, but in engaging with others in the disability community, I have found an unceasing sense of connection and belonging — a lifeline.

As a person with a disability, I am never sitting alone.

Living with a disability can often feel lonely and isolating.  It is easy to wonder if there is anyone in the world who can truly understand the distinct worldview it provides. However, by developing a strong support system of people who understand the disability experience and those who are willing to learn about the challenges those in the disability community face, I have come to realize that none of us is ever sitting alone.  There is always someone sitting with us — listening to us, validating our experiences and working to understand our perspective.  Even when we appear to be sitting alone, there invariably is someone silently helping us, guiding us, and providing us unconditional support and undying love.

I am never sitting alone.

You are never sitting alone.

We are never sitting alone.

We are all at this table together.

 

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.

Resilience

Another act of senseless violence.

Watching the devastation brings sadness. In addition to the natural disasters, once again we have senseless violence from guns and trucks by deranged people, pure evil. My heart aches for the victims and families involved.

When will it end?

How do we continue to cope with the daily chaos?

Those affected have extraordinary struggles however I think everyone has circumstances where they struggle, some incidences worse than others.

It’s all about who we are on this journey. The person we are, in spite of life’s battles, whether it’s divorce, illness or loss of a loved one or any other thing that can tear a person down, and there are plenty!

I believe our outlook on life is what we choose. Personally, I choose to be a survivor vs. victim. Part of that is learning resilience. You know there are people who are fighters. They fight for life, to beat an illness, equality, and for the lives of others. Then there’s the opposite… that person who cries the sky is falling over a hangnail or a bad hair day and give up without trying. Of course, we cannot control what life throws at us but we can choose how we react to it. My situation is far less horrific than natural disasters or senseless violence but I think we all have our share of problems to deal with and we can’t let those problems or situations break us.

For example, today was a bad day, struggling with my lupus. I’m sitting here with ice packs on my hip and ankle after getting cortisone injections since the 6-month steroid regime didn’t work. I’m in pain, a lot of pain. Instead of crying, I choose to write. My writing is a bit of an escape, so is reading. Helping others will always get my mind off of my own problems. They’re many different useful distractions for instance hobbies, friends, family and a multitude of other healthy choices. Sometimes those distractions can even help someone else.

We can learn to become stronger from our challenges. Hopefully, we can use the trials and pain to become a better person.
A favorite Ernest Hemingway quote comes to mind,”The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are stronger in the broken places.”No one has a perfect life, we all have trials and tribulations. Right now I’m not a happy camper but I know tomorrow will be better. I know eventually the pain will end and I will be up and moving again.

In the meantime, I’ve learned some coping skills I’d like to share:
Everyone has good days and bad. It’s how we learn to cope that sets us apart from others. I’ve learned to accept consequences. Let go of what once was and embrace what is. When my mind says go but my body says no – I must adjust accordingly to survive. I have good days, bad days and sometimes a mixture all in one day.

I’ve stopped comparing my life to what it used to be.
Whether it’s illness or loss, let go of whatever isn’t useful!

Manage Stress, it’s a killer for everyone. For lupus patients, stress can provoke a lupus flare to cause increased inflammation. I’m including emotions in with stress because I feel they go hand in hand. Emotions, you’re entitled to feel however you feel so let yourself feel, otherwise there’s a numbness that can swallow you up. That numbness can carry over into the rest of your life affecting your family and friends, not something anyone wants to share.

I have found ways be happy and feel useful by volunteering and simple acts of kindness. I pray, have faith, meditate and find peace wherever and whenever I can. Yes, my lupus condition carries some baggage not only is there a traveling circus of inflammation but at times an emotional roller coaster that goes along for the ride.

Stay Positive.
Everyone has something to offer so look for the good in yourself as well as others.

Do your best to cut out drama! You know the old saying don’t cry until it hurts? I tend to overthink the endless possibilities. When I start going there stop that thought process by staying in the present. Focus on what is actually happening at that moment and try not to anticipate anything else.

I connect with nature by going for a short walk in the forest preserve as often as possible to connect with nature. It settles me and brings peace.

Limitations… the sooner you accept them the better you will feel. You can learn to compensate any disability. There are many groups of disabled people out in the world, from wounded warriors to Down’s syndrome. Living with limitations is all about knowing who you are and what you are capable of. And, for goodness sake, accept that everyone has baggage!

Last but not least, don’t let anyone stop you from living the life you want, especially terrorists. Go to the store, the concert, and live the life you deserve. Don’t give into fear or grief. The only thing anyone can do is to do the best you can with what we have. I know I’ve said this before but what’s the alternative?

The way I see it is everyone struggles from time to time. We all have scars from this battle called life and no one is getting out alive! Life goes on whether we are ready to deal with it or not, so pick yourself up, let go of what needs it and make good choices. And that includes learning from past experiences. Every storm must come to an end, let’s hope to find a rainbow.

There’s a Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with gold called Kintsugi. I love this as an analogy to life and resilience… our lives are the bowl pieced together with gold by overcoming our challenges. Yes, it’s a scar but it’s not unsightly, it’s molded us into who we are today.

Michele Palermo
Michele is a retired registered nurse who spent 15 years in Emergency Medicine. That's where she learned there's a fragility to life. Diagnosed with lupus after going through a divorce has taught her to be a survivor instead of a victim. With her career shortened by illness she turned to books. She fell in love with the written word as a young child. To her, words convey emotion. Her new passion is writing. As an aspiring author, she hopes to inspire others on this roller coaster called life.

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 One Who Says I’m Too Good at Goodbyes

As we were in the middle of the calculated dance of a heated argument, strategizing our premeditated words to hurt the other, you told me that all I know how to do is say goodbye. That I don’t really give others a second chance. You had mentioned several instances in my life in which you thought that I had clearly turned people away and said goodbye. You told me how you thought that was cruel and heartless.

I’m too good at goodbyes. 

You brought up a time when I was in high school. How a dear friend had hurt me very deeply, and how, two years after going our separate ways, that old friend had came up to me one day and apologized. You claimed that when that old friend apologized to me, I still couldn’t forgive her because I would rather just “cut people off” from my life. While you got most of the story correct, I did not tell that old friend that I did not forgive her; instead, I told her that I did forgive her but would need time to get over all of the hurt and lost trust.

After our intense exchange, your words haunted me. I thought about it more and more.

I’m too good at goodbyes.

Was I really the type of person that just walked away from everything? Was that really the only thing that I know how to do? Did I just let go of every relationship when I thought it wasn’t going to work?

As I thought about it and analyzed the various events from my life, I thought that, perhaps, there might be some truth to what you said. Looking at my life under a microscope, I had realized that there were several people that I did say goodbye too. But I think the most enlightening thing for me was that I realized, more than anything else,  that it was a defense mechanism.

Not to excuse the behavior, if I really truly am too good at goodbyes. I have seen a lot of heartbreak and sadness in my life. There have been many people that have left my life. From losing my aunt and my grandpa, and my sister walking away from my life. To the group of friends that turned on me in my first year of high school and told everyone that they “kicked me out of the group,” and the friends who turned against me after I stood up against a teacher in high school and they all began to bully me, to the several people that hurt me in college, to the (negatively) changing relationship with a very close relative and the numerous hurtful things that have been said against me. While I in no way want to just jump to saying that I was just an innocent victim in all of this, I just know that I have seen a lot of this hurt before, and each time I just stop the hurt before it gets to be too much.

In fact, just recently, a favorite artist of mine, Sam Smith, released a song that deals specifically with this topic. He talks about how he is “too good at goodbyes.” In his song, Smith talks about how he doesn’t get too close to people, even when they mean a lot to him, just in case they “leave [him] in the dirt.” And just like me — who had a person tell me that they thought that I was being cruel and heartless — Smith replies to the individual who thinks he’s being “heartless” and “cold” that he’s just “protecting [his] innocence” and “[his] soul.”

When I listened to Smith’s words, I realized how completely true they are. Just like Smith, I, too, want to be able to be close to people and have meaningful relationships, but am too hesitant about the potential hurt. When that hurt comes, I quickly try to dispel it before I ultimately become too hurt, so like Smith, it’ll lead to fewer tears and, perhaps, the “quicker [those] tears [will] dry.”

So if this person is right, if I am too good at goodbyes, then I don’t ever mean it to hurt the person; I think it’s just me trying to save myself from another heartbreak. Because while I put up a strong exterior, inside I am easily hurt. I think it’s just my heart kicking into a flight response because it doesn’t know if it can handle it; and if I remove myself from the situation sooner rather than later, it allows my heart to take care of damage control quickly.

And I realize that this is no way to live. I shouldn’t be afraid of getting too close to people just because I’m afraid of getting hurt, or letting go of a relationship too quickly because, again, I am afraid of getting hurt. It’s merely the defense mechanism my heart has adopted so it can prevent any hurt.

But I don’t want to be like this. And I know that I will have to try to find a way to reverse this natural response that my heart always turns to. So, to the one who says that I am too good at goodbyes, maybe you are right. Maybe it’s time to change.

Emily Veith
Emily has her bachelor's degree in Political Science, and has always believed in helping and serving others. She wants to make the world a better place, and aspires to be a politician someday to do just that. She is an old soul who loves Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Glenn Miller. When she isn't writing about imperative news- and political-related, she can be found attempting new recipes, playing her guitar or reading a good mystery book.