um…hi, 2018?

Lying flat on the floor in primal, adrenaline-laced horror and fear, holding each other’s trembling hands while telling each other “I love you” in hushed whispers – all while bullets raced through glass and drywall like paper and shells of both rifles and pistols clattered to the ground – is not a scene either my husband or I ever expected our lives to contain. Tuesday night, that all changed.

I left work for the day at lunch, taking sick time for crummy feelings that just got worse as morning turned to afternoon. We chilled out for a few hours, my mom came by to drop off a small care package, and we were by ourselves again after a time. We got back to sitting on the couch, watching whatever we decided on – then in an instant, everything switched from calm to chaos.

First, we heard the ‘pop! pop!’ of a pistol high above (later confirmed to be from the shooter who chose the top of the stairwell of OUR unit as his perch, so no wonder it sounded the way it did), and we shared a look that said everything. “That’s not fireworks – get down.” Instinct or being taught of gun safety in active shooter situations constantly ever since the 1999 Columbine school massacre, or a strange combination of both, kicked in and we hit the floor just before the spray of semi-automatic rifles punctured the air. It was so much louder than I could’ve imagined up close, rattling every last nerve in my body as adrenaline gripped me and kept my breathing shallow, bearing down on us like an unending explosion.

It went on for what felt like an eternity but was in reality about 20-30 seconds. That’s still horrifically impressive. My husband had gotten down and made it to the back room but I was stuck in front of the couch. As soon as I registered the slightest hesitation in the gunfire, I bolted to the back. As he yelled at me to get down, I practically slid in, grabbed his hand, we said we loved each other, and then – silence.

That was it.

We got up cautiously but survival mode kicked in for me, and I started going around the apartment taking note of what I saw. It wasn’t much: a bullethole in one of nine windowpanes in our unnecessarily huge window, a missing blind – fallen behind the couch from the force of the passing bullet – and a hole on the far wall. (I didn’t even notice the final exit and lodging place of the bullet, inside our hall closet, until a police officer came in to do a quick once-over of damage and possible evidence.)

After minutes of silence followed by people speaking quietly outside, we decided we could open the window blinds enough to look out. What we saw was unreal.

The police found over 100 shell casings, some lodged in the brick walls, some in residents’ apartments, and the rest littering the parking lot. Police weren’t yet on the scene so it looked like a war zone, or like someone had taken all the shells of spent ammo from the gun range and scattered them everywhere. Black-tinted glass glittered in giant chunks and shards, resting on the ground in a now-empty parking spot. Police arrived after what felt like hours but was probably only 10-15 minutes. We’ve gotten much more acquainted with our neighbors now, so at least that’s one good thing.

We were out there with officers for about two hours. It took them even longer to clean up, and it still isn’t done.

I want to continue this, but not tonight. I’m the weird combo of exhausted of talking about it, and compelled to talk about it. I’m trying to address and express my thoughts and feelings after this, because I know from experience that burying this or pushing it aside “to deal with later” never ends well. I have only cried a little, but I know more is on the horizon. I need to cut this short tonight because I’ve reached my limit for it for today – and okay, because it’s 1am too.

Ending part one… for more emotional fallout and juicy deets of the situation, stay tuned.

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obligatory 2017 review

When I’m driving, I always think of what I want to write and I feel compelled to write it.  Then I get home, or work, or wherever, and just…can’t.  I’ve already written about the changes 2017 brought.  I’ve reflected on some of them more than others, but a review can be nice.  I’m a researcher so of course I’m gonna bullet-outline that beast of a year.

In 2017, I…

  • signed my very first lease and moved out of my childhood/early adulthood home
    • with a boyfriend
    • not just any other person
    • boyfriend 
  • got hospitalized briefly for two seizures close together (at work!)
  • had a seizure while driving; not cool, but somehow not a single injury
  • got officially proposed to and married within a 24-hour period
    • followed in parents’ footsteps with courthouse wedding
    • ‘official’ family/close friends ceremony still to come but the most important part is done
    • that marriage certificate looks AWESOME hanging on the wall
  • moved into first apartment
  • learned to drive a manual transmission
  • new mayor, new councilman for my district, new U.S. senator
  • all city employees got a raise courtesy of this new mayor

The manual learning curve was steep, but stubbornness and the help of my very patient teacher of a husband prevailed and I got it.  It was nice to have an intellectual challenge when I feel my job doesn’t provide that anymore.  It gave me that sense of real, tangible accomplishment that I don’t get anymore at work.

That lack of accomplishment isn’t great when this is my intended career field and I feel this stagnant.  I’m making more than one move to change that in multiple ways, but I still get a feeling of hopelessness most days.  Sometimes it feels we’re shouting into the void, like all those talks in library school of helping patrons with reference questions or exploring cool subjects you might not learn about otherwise were just empty promises.

I felt energized in library school when writing my research interests.  The representation of marginalized groups’ – and/or the LGBTQ community’s – lifestyle, culture, material in library collections, archiving and coming up with metadata for special online collections, building websites from the bottom up – these are the things that I’m passionate about in the library.

Helping people is great when it goes well, and I’ve met astounding people who come in both regularly and only once in their lives.  But overall, my social anxiety keeps me from desiring conversation – and forget about not being drained at the end of the day, I don’t even know what it’s like to have energy after work most days.  I would rather be a behind-the-scenes librarian, or something else totally.  This job has been wonderful in that it gave me a window into something I now know I don’t want to do forever, both administratively and in the inner-workings of the system.

Working in 2018 to change my situation, atmosphere, and tardiness will help those opportunities open up even more.

2017 was a mess for most of the world, but in my little bubble of a universe it was pretty good once the major bumps were out of the way.  Up until May, things were way too chaotic, but when they settled down, everything felt good.

So, bye 2017.

27: or, the Wildest Ride Ever

bride’s bouquet, volume 1

Love and marriage

My 27th year continues to be the biggest and most significant yet. A little over seven months from meeting him, I married the love of my life. I can’t believe the whirlwind we’ve survived, and certainly never thought the friend’s boyfriend’s cousin I met at a hippie festival would end up becoming my husband when we started on this journey. 

I never thought I’d be one of Those People, the “when you know, you know” people, but I’ve certainly learned you can’t judge someone else’s relationship on time. The minister who performed the courthouse wedding asked how long we’d been together; when we replied, he said he and his husband married after eight months…and that was four years ago.

When you know, you know. 

Trials and hardships truly forged the relationship in fire, and we’ve learned volumes about each other in a matter of months – and in some cases, weeks. The official proposal was no photographed event by some professional photographer, was no on-one-knee occasion – but it was absolutely and 100% perfect. And now, I’m so proud to call this man my husband. 

So much seems it was “meant to be,” that the events of our respective lives were leading us to this crash into each other’s existence, unavoidable and scary – but welcome. 

I didn’t realize how much I’d given up on romance and love until all this happened and I was forced to reevaluate my beliefs. I’ve never been so glad to be proven wrong. 

Medical fun

March 30, I suffered the most serious seizure I’ve had to date. It opened my eyes enough to finally take seriously the Alabama law that forbids driving for six months after a seizure, and I’m now 3.5 months into that period, seizure-free. This has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging times of my life in a city as devoid of good, readily available public transit in Birmingham, but the help and support of friends, my mom, and my husband have all made it that much easier. 

Just two and a half more months to go…

More importantly, it forced me to reevaluate life. I still get depressed and anxious, still fight through the darker urges and desires to be out of this mind of mine, but overall I’ve come to appreciate everything I have and the fact that I’m still alive after such a terrifying experience. 

Lessons well learned

I’ll certainly never forget the significance of being 27 and all it brought to me. Most of it still feels surreal. Signing or writing my new last name is still so awesomely new and awesomely bizarre. I’ve grown so much, experienced so much, been through more than I ever imagined for myself at this age. 

I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

Here’s to you, 28 (on July 27). Let’s see what you got. 

remember how vast the ocean’s boundaries are

I came across a Facebook post I wanted to share here.

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Artwork © Jolene Lai
“Some people survive and talk about it. Some people survive and go silent. Some people survive and create. Everyone deals with unimaginable pain in their own way, and everyone is entitled to that, without judgement. So the next time you look at someone’s life covetously, remember… you may not want to endure what they are enduring right now, at this moment, whilst they sit so quietly before you, looking like a calm ocean on a sunny day. Remember how vast the ocean’s boundaries are. Whilst somewhere the water is calm, in another place in the very same ocean, there is a colossal storm.” —Nikita Gill, People Survive in Different Ways

When you’re depressed, you feel like you’re the only one in the world who can possibly feel so bad at that moment in time.  I’ve lived with some form of depression as far back as I can remember, but it hit like a bolt of lightning when I turned 10.  Ever since then, I’ve been on pill after pill to try and control it — but some days, nothing works.

At all.

And it’s usually the days I actually feel like doing something.  Whether it’s hosting friends at our new place (or just seeing somebody, not necessarily playing hostess), or going somewhere I’m invited and loved and among people whom I love, or trying to play video games  — or trying to write, my unarguably number one passion…it’s impossible for me.  I’m already having a tough time trying to get back into writing — art, crochet, and painting seem to be more my things lately — but days like lately make it almost impossible.

Depression is like an eddy you can’t quite escape from, pulling and sucking you in until your lungs fill with water and you sink to the bottom.  Sometimes it takes a lot to pull me out from the depths, but sometimes it disappears, leaving me drained but revitalized.  Every time somebody bashes pharmaceuticals, it leaves me wondering: “would I still be alive if it weren’t for some form of them?”  I’ve been on my share of ineffective ones and ones that made me feel like a zombie, and ones that (so far) seem to be working (mostly).

But I’ve noticed a pattern of behavior with my depression: it always seems to set in around the time of my seizures.  And unfortunately that’s been a defining part of the last five months, so it isn’t a mystery as to why my depression has set in a little deeper this time.

I’ve met a lot of wonderful people over the last five months especially, and I only hope to meet more.  I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of Birmingham, and I’ve lived here my entire life.  That’s my challenge for the upcoming months: explore, expand my worldview, and enjoy the life I was given and am living.

Because it’s the only one I’ll get.

Settled (or settling in)

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I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I’ve written here.  February came and went, and I’m finally in our house.

Our house.  Not “our” as in my mother’s and mine, but “our” as in my boyfriend’s and mine.  The house I left never felt like mine, even after Dad passed.  It was always “Mom’s house” or “the house”; rarely did I use the term “my” house.  And now I’m in a place to say “our” house and it’s been incredible.  Things are turning out well, and I finally feel like I’m in a relatively stable place in my life.  Living with someone who cares about me and whom I care about immensely has definitely been fun so far – even when we have our small tiffs (as all couples do).

We were stressed to the max trying to get the money up for it in time, but caught a lucky break.  And soon taxes will be coming in, so that will help immensely.  But it’s been a journey complete with thieves, reports of crazy neighborhood folks, and struggling to leave even earlier for work in the morning (spoilers: it’s not going so well).  We didn’t have heat for the first 2-3 weeks of being in there, but finally got that turned on and it’s been even cozier since.

Since October, I’ve had six seizures.  Usually the cause is medication withdrawal because of missed doctor’s appointments and yadda yadda blah blah my fault, I know.  But seizures…man, lemme tell ya.  They suck.  Not just for me, but for everyone involved.  I’m pretty sure everyone at East Lake Library is well versed in seizure first aid by now.  Definitely not my intent, but honestly, seizure first aid should be something covered way more often.  According to epilepsy.org,

  • About 1 in 100 people in the U.S. has had a single unprovoked seizure or has been diagnosed with epilepsy.
  • 1 in 26 people will develop epilepsy (which is the tendency to recurring seizures) in their lifetime.

Time to get more educated.

Anyway, these increased seizures have put a lot into perspective.  It’s been a long journey of self-love and I still have a long way to go in that area.  It’s helped me realize what’s important, what I shouldn’t keep to myself when I feel something coming on, and who’s there for me in these times, who cares enough to stick around and make sure I’m okay.

It feels so strange to call somewhere aside from the place I lived in for almost 28 years “home.”  It’s definitely a process I’m still transitioning into, and probably will for a while.  But stepping inside fills me with a peace I haven’t felt in years, if ever.  It really has become home, and I have zero regrets about flapping my wings and leaving the nest.

My 27th year has been such a year of growth and change, which is unsurprising as one of my “numbers” is 27.  I’m so happy for this phase of my life; it really is what I make of it, and I’m determined to make it the best ever.  28 won’t disappoint either – I guarantee it.

the universe unfolding as it should

(Both. Both is good. But this is essential. You only get one life with yourself.)

Lemme be real: I’m probably gonna blog the same stuff a lot and that’s because I’m honestly too lazy to go back and check. Y’know, this ain’t an essay.

Good memories. I just wanna say that I’m glad the parts of the brain responsible for memory and smell are close together. The other day I needed something I thought might be in my dad’s top toolbox so I opened it, and out came rushing how he used to smell — sawdust, traces of old varnish…that sort of thing, being a patternmaker/woodworker. It was comforting, like he was there again after 9 years, just somewhere in the house. It made him feel tangible again.

Career (in)adequacy. I make a difference, sure, but I always feel like I could be doing more. There’s nothing more I love about my job than seeing genuine smiles on people’s faces when they leave satisfied, and I need to hang onto that when I’m stressed at work. 

We had a patron, a guy just a few years younger, ask me for help on his job application one day because the wording was really weird in one section of questions. I tried to help him reason it out, but felt bad because I had no idea either. About a week later he returned with a huge smile on his face, and told me he got the job. That was one of the moments that made me remember part of why I’m a librarian.

One thing I’ve learned over the last few weeks is how much I need to put myself into more training, to really throw myself on the librarian track instead of being so passive. I signed up for an online seminar available through work and am going to seek out some of those certificates you can receive online for learning different coding skills, etc. Anything to get myself serious about being the best version of me at work too.

Personal life. I’d quote The Big Lebowski and say “new shit has come to light,” but this isn’t new, it’s just been thrown into stark (yo who else can’t wait for GoT?) lighting lately. The way I communicate with people I care about can use a lot of work but as I said, this isn’t new. I just need to finally get my shit together about it. Keeping it real is fine, but a cooler head would be nice. A more diplomatic way of expressing things has been my goal. I’m strong and have inner patience I know I just have to tap into, and I try to give myself time before I answer something I might get volatile about real fast now.

Keeping my mental illnesses in check has been the ongoing struggle it’s been especially since I was 10. I’ve been making baby steps though, ever since Friday. So far, things have been okay. Learning how to adult is a frakkin’ rollercoaster.

Everyday, I try to tell myself: 

Whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding as it should.

And…

I will change the things I cannot accept.

learning to love myself

I know I’ve got more to write on my epilepsy, but I wanted to take a break from that.  It’s already exhausting to live with; even after years, you think I’d be able to handle it.

Anyway.  I wanted to talk about body image, and my journey with learning to love myself and love my body.  Because it has been a grueling journey with so many lessons along the way, and I want to document it somewhere.

I don’t remember when it started.  Probably as with most young people, I assume pre-puberty or puberty is when I started noticing my body.  As it changed, so did my self-esteem.  Where I once gave no real thought to how I looked other than insecurities about my glasses (had ’em since I was 7), I couldn’t stop noticing myself.

Ballet was somewhat of a nightmare after that moment that I started paying attention.  I compared myself to the other girls — ridiculous, given they were all the typical ballerina body standard and I was still more muscular and stronger than they were — and this process went on until I quit when I was 14.

Even then, my body was all I could think about.  I felt like I would never become as thin as I wanted, and my body dysmorphic disorder controlled my life.  Even when my then-boyfriend told me I was beautiful, I never believed it.  I felt like I didn’t deserve compliments, and that I would never be happy with myself.

After college, I gained a lot of weight.  I got comments on it, and even after I lost all the weight again thanks to my thyroid issues, I still have trouble with the comment “you look so good now!”  I don’t like the way it implies that I didn’t look good before, because now I know that’s bullshit.

It took me 25 years to love my thighs.  I don’t know what caused it (much like I don’t remember when my body dysphoria began) but I remember thinking “why the hell am I so worried?”  Body standards are ridiculous anyway, and I felt myself and my worldview change when I realized I am worth loving and that nobody who matters is gonna give any damn about my thigh size.

It took me 26 years to love myself.  I still have trouble, of course, but for the most part I’ve given myself due credit.  I think, think, my good characteristics outweigh the bad, and even if they don’t, life is about learning every day.

That’s a thought that’s helped me too.  You aren’t who you were even ten minutes ago, much less a week or years ago.  Everyday is an opportunity for change, for understanding yourself and how you can better the decisions you make or the way in which you live your life.

It’s certainly a process, but I’m on the right track.