Friday, November 20, 2015

The Extraordinary

About a year ago, I bought a book while out on a shopping excursion with my friend Jennifer. The book was called Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You and it was blank, full of opportunities to write the things I did. At the very front of the book was a page encouraging me to begin a running list of all the things that scared me. 

For some reason, before I even realized what I was doing or thinking, the very first thing I wrote on that page was

Falling in love again

The item, though I never added it to my official list later on, was surrounded by unwritten questions. Would it ever happen? Could it ever happen? When would it happen? And how? 

After Rick died, plenty of people said things such as, "Well, you're still young" or "And you're cute" as though to put to rest any fears I might have in regards to love. And while youth and cuteness (?) may have been on my side...no matter your age or your appearance, it takes a lot to let go of an old life and then hold your beaten, broken, fragile heart out to someone when there's no way to be quite sure yet and say, "Here - please be careful with this."

So while my unspoken questions swirling around that fear of loving again may have seemed irrelevant to those who were so sure I wouldn't be alone for long, I was still afraid. Because something poignant and precious and discouraging was lying like a heavy little stone inside my heart: At this point, I'm not an ordinary woman...so an ordinary love would never do.

I think in a way, that worried me.

Time marched on and sparks ignited in my heart when I absolutely least expected them.  Falling in love held a brand new meaning...because...

I wasn't just falling in love again with a man. It was so much more than that. Somehow, that man was helping me fall in love again with life.  

In some ways, I felt that I was living life for the first time, pure joy practically shooting out of my pores. Living life the way I always wanted to live it was like dragging myself through a desert parched and desperately thirsty, and finally diving headfirst into clear, cold water, gulping it down as I immersed myself in it. AWESOME.

I found myself at a baseball game, ecstatic.
I painted my living room, a grin plastered on my face the whole time.

All because I fell in love with a man who gives me reasons to fall in love with life. 

Every day occurrences are...fun. Memorable. Sweet. Comfortable. Special.


I sit in my living room on any given night, beaming with contentment and gratitude. I smile when I hear the sound of his key in the lock.

I feel a daily effortless communication with him. A high five, a playful fist pump, a hug, a kiss, a wave, a look, a squeeze of the hand...all so different, but all the same: a wordless connection. And that's fitting...because honestly, though I try, I can't seem to find the right words to explain that all of this life-love-connection stuff feels more serious the second time around. 

After the life I've lived, every single tiny thing has beautiful meaning. I never take for granted the look in his eyes when he greets me, the sound of his voice when he tells me a story or when I make him laugh, the feel of his touch...different at every time of day, the taste of his goodbye kisses (and all his great food!), and the scent of his sweatshirt while I'm wearing it. I go to bed every night feeling like the luckiest woman on earth...a cliche I actually really mean. My appreciation barometer is different than most people's. It's like a sense all its own and it's heightened now. 

It's not that I'm lovesick. I'm not sick at all. I've never been better! I'm finally at peace.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Holiday Redefined

Last year, I escaped Thanksgiving. I left Pennsylvania, flew halfway across the country, and didn't abide by the usual traditions. I didn't see my family, I didn't eat turkey, and I didn't have to sit at a table with an empty seat next to me that would have been for Rick.

Was I afraid of Thanksgiving? Not exactly. But I was definitely afraid of holidays alone. Thanksgiving signified the beginning of a new season...a new time of festivity...and it highlighted quite painfully that I was widowed and attempting to navigate through a bunch of "firsts." 

So at 6 months a widow, I needed an escape...a non-traditional Thanksgiving. I decided on a whim to go on an adventure alone. I leapt out of my comfort zone.


This year, I find myself thrilled to be anticipating the holidays...my heart is full, but it's a fullness that is light, never heavy. I am looking forward to so many things. A world has opened up to me and I feel as though I am constantly and consistently the recipient of everything I've dreamed about...even the things I dreamed about long before Rick died and left me a widow. My world is being filled with fun, laughter, joking, playing, meaningful conversation, appreciated downtime, rewarding busy-ness, love, excitement, wonder, and a million simple pleasures. 

A year or so ago, in my first year of grief, I remember writing my personal ad...a poem of sorts...

30 years young with playful blue eyes;
Single and hard-working;
Will take you by surprise.
Embracing the natural, hair's usually in curls;
Pretty much an open book;
Not like other girls.
Looking for adventure; looking to live -
Never into wasting time;
Always likes to give.
Needs to have coffee, needs touch and affection;
Friends are so important;
Needs laughter and connection.
Writer at heart, with an old soul;
Pretty damn relentless;
Happy with a goal.
One day at a time, will not be outdone;
30 years young with playful blue eyes
Seeking a life of fun.

I'm more thankful this Thanksgiving than any other Thanksgiving I've ever experienced. Life has a funny way of leading you to joy.

Monday, November 9, 2015

When Leaving Means Arriving

On June 18th, 2015 I was able to look at The List and cross off

quit my job

because a month or so before that, I was able to cross off

apply to a job somewhere else.

One led to the other, because as it turns out, I got offered the new job I wanted.

Leaving my last place of employment was one of the scariest things I've ever done, because the leaving was bittersweet.

My last job as Social Work Director of a senior living community, even with all its annoyances and typical daily problems, was a warm blanket that kept me snug and comfortable. I enjoyed my job. I enjoyed the residents I served. I enjoyed the coworkers I befriended. I enjoyed the successes. I always, even despite some random complaining, enjoyed the challenges. I was happy there. I was confident there.

When Rick died, I wouldn't have wanted to be working anywhere else and that's the honest truth. In retrospect, I can't imagine being anywhere else during the months that followed. It was the perfect job for me at the perfect time.

Then life did its usual plot twist and showed me a new path.

My decision to quit my previous job began with resolve and a simple statement. "The best thing to do is for me to get a new job, so I will get a new job." I said I would, and then I did. And then...

I did the scary thing and quit my job...leaving on my last day with tears and a nervous feeling that I was going to be "homesick." But my last job gave me 5 very important things: valuable experience, security during a tumultuous time in my life, lasting friendships, confidence, and new love.

It felt right to leave. It felt right to move on.


It was a necessary chapter in my story. It will always be important in a multitude of ways. Even though I'm so glad to be 4 months into my new job, a job that presented itself almost magically at exactly the right time, I will never be anything but grateful for my previous job.

For several reasons, both connected and unconnected, it took a lot of courage to say good bye.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Biggest Fear that Ever Was

All day long, I drive around in my car from home to home, sometimes more than an hour from where I live. It's the nature of working for a hospice. Most people want to die at home, so that's where you go. My car is my office. My trunk holds what I cannot carry. And as I drive, I often say to myself: "This is amazing."

I don't say that because of the people I meet, though they are amazing. I don't say it because the work I do is rewarding, even though it is. I don't say it because I get to see the sun all day long, listen to my own music, and pass seasonal scenery, even though all of those things are great.

I say, "This is amazing," because once upon a time, I was afraid of driving.

It's a fact.

Rewind to 12 years ago. I was 19. I drove to Ithaca, NY to visit my then boyfriend at Cornell University. It was 4 hours away and my first time making a trip alone. In the days when most people had no GPS and cell phones were not equipped with maps, I relied on my trusty Mapquest directions printed from the internet to get me there.  At a toll booth a couple hours into my travels, I couldn't reach the bin to throw in my money, so I had to open my car door and undo my seatbelt in order to make the deposit. Only after driving away and continuing down the the highway did I realize my directions had fallen from my lap and out of the car. They were gone. I had no idea how to proceed.


My problem solving skills at 19 were very different than they are at 31. In a panic, I did what I thought I remembered of the journey and succeeded in getting lost. As I pulled into a restaurant parking lot in middle-of-nowhere New York, I began to cry. This is back when cell phones were little flip phones with tiny screens and most people had a delegated number of minutes and no texting plans. Staying on my cell phone with someone while driving would have seemed unsafe (ha! those were the days!) and having a conversation longer than 10 minutes would have been just a little too long. Even so, what I was most worried about was my then boyfriend thinking I was stupid for a) losing the directions at a toll booth, b) being late to arrive, and c) not being able to figure out how to get there on my own.

So there I sat in a strange parking lot, an insecure teenager crying her eyes out. That was when a car pulled into the spot next to me. An elderly woman and her husband got out, on their way to an early dinner at the restaurant behind me, both immediately noticing me in the car crying. They asked if I was all right. I tried to tell them I was, but through my long hair and tears all I managed to say was, "I'm lost!" Taking note of my Pennsylvania license plate and childlike appearance, they asked where I was headed. When I told them "Cornell University," the look they exchanged with each other told me I was nowhere near my destination.

The older gentleman began to tell me how to get there, pointing at the road and citing highway routes and exits. Having no concept of where I was and a very poor sense of direction, his attempt to help only panicked me more and I started to cry a little harder. Nothing like losing control in front of perfect strangers in a strange place, all alone.

During that moment, his wife nudged him gently and said, "Help her, honey." She looked at me and explained that they were going to have me follow them to a particular highway, to a particular exit, and that once I got off that exit, I would be able to look for signs for Cornell University and follow them to my destination. Then, instead of going to dinner, they got back in their car and I followed this kind couple for about 15 or 20 minutes to the aforementioned exit, where I waved them a tearful and thankful good bye from my car window as I continued on my way.

On a new highway, I saw the promised Cornell signs. I followed them. I arrived.

But I never felt secure driving alone ever again...and several weeks after that incident, driving home from Cornell in the early hours of the morning alone, I slid in oil or rain on a highway near Scranton, PA and totaled my car when I slammed head first into a guard rail. More kindness of strangers ensued, I was relatively uninjured, and I made it safely to an unfamiliar hospital via ambulance. But my driving insecurity grew.


I wasn't afraid of getting hurt...I wasn't afraid of getting in an accident...I was afraid of looking stupid in the eyes of others.

Eventually, I got another car. I drove. Locally. Far away. But every time I did, unless my destination was very close and very well known to me, I panicked. Anxiety consumed me. I had sweats, trouble breathing, upset stomach, became overheated, and my legs and arms would shake involuntarily. I gave myself pep talks as I'd embark on journeys alone to Connecticut, Philadelphia, Delaware, New Jersey...anywhere I had friends to visit. I didn't let my fear of driving hold me back from living, but I dreaded it. I dreaded it completely.

Though I was good at logically explaining to myself why my fear of driving was irrational, I couldn't shake it. Though I was good at walking myself through the worst that could happen (which was really nothing so terrible), I couldn't get rid of my fear. I often considered making up excuses not to drive somewhere, especially somewhere far from home, just because the anxiety symptoms were so intense. I never acted on the excuses I came up with, but I'd get sick before leaving my house, talk to God in the car on my way to wherever I was going, and breathe the breath of having survived a war every time I arrived safely and without getting lost.

This went on for years. GPS became a way of life, but never allayed my fear a bit. If you had told me by 2015 I'd have a job that consisted of spending every day in a car, driving all around the Lehigh Valley and beyond, using a GPS to to navigate my way to unknown destinations, I'd have laughed at you.

When I drove to job interviews or meetings, I'd give myself an extra hour, both to make sure I'd still be on time if I got lost (lack of confidence) and to pull myself together after arriving with hives, labored breathing, and the shakes. If a road I normally took was closed and I had to re-route, I'd call Rick or my my parents (even as an adult) panicked and nervous, even with a GPS in front of me.

In 2012, frustrated with the driving fear that just didn't fit with the rest of my take-charge life, I started immersion therapy with a psychologist in Allentown. He actually got in my car with me and made me drive on the highway, facing my fear of making the wrong choices, facing my fear of getting lost, facing my fear of looking stupid. It helped, he was awesome, and my fear of driving lessened.

I could do it at last, but I still hated it. In other words, I did it without panic attacks...I tolerated it...but I didn't like it.

After Rick died in May of 2014, widowhood changed me as it changes many women. At the core, I'm still the same, but I noticed little elements of my personality were being altered...preferences that changed and presented themselves. I slept with my phone in bed with me, something I never used to do. I became a morning person, whereas before I had aways been a night owl. And most surprisingly, I began to enjoy driving.


Quite frankly, after going through something as horrific and tragic as the suicide of your husband, fear of driving seems like no big deal. In a nutshell, if I could get through that, I could certainly survive driving. On the unfamiliar roads of grief, both figuratively and literally, I was making my way without a personalized map.

Fast forward to 2015. I drove to a friend's wedding in Virginia Beach alone, without a single shred of anxiety. It was so out of character from the last decade of my life that it was shocking. And in July of 2015, ready for change and opportunity, I took a job as a Hospice Social Worker, putting hundreds of miles on my car in a week's time without batting an eye. The biggest fear that ever was is no more than a piece of history.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Progress

I added The List as a tab that will always stay on the top header of my blog, that way it can always be easily viewed no matter how many posts I write after that first one. It's a good way to check progress.

Speaking of progress, I think I've come a long way in the category of fear. Fear doesn't have to be a raging darkness that immobilizes us. It can be a tickle at the back of the neck that keeps us from feeling comfortable...or a pesky feeling of dread that follows us around. Fear has many faces.



Being fearless, for me, is mostly about being happy with myself and being unashamed. I realized with a chuckle this morning, after viewing Facebook comments related to my new blog, that I must be pretty comfortable with myself if I know the chaplain at my former job is reading my words (and liking them!). I won't lie - I mentally ran through the items on The List, trying to imagine what a Pastor might think of them. And I smiled. It's not that I'm embarrassed by anything I write. If I put it here, it's authentic and that's the point. Adventures Uncensored.

We censor ourselves too much. I want the raw, the real, the serious, the funny. Even if it means laughing at myself, I want to tell the stories.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Introduction to The List

Sometime in late 2014, about 6 months after my husband died, I compiled a list titled simply: THINGS THAT SCARE ME

It wasn't meant to be a complete list of things I fear. It was intended to be, more accurately, a list of THINGS I'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO DO BUT FEAR STOPPED ME.

It wasn't a list, for example, of things like "bungee jumping" or "sitting in a vat of spiders," because even though those things scare me, I had no desire to do them. Some of the things on my list were just nudges out of my comfort zone. Some of them were big. Some of them were small. Some of them probably wouldn't seem scary to other people at all. But to me, the list stated clearly the things I'd like to do, but something had always held me back. That something was fear.



Some of the things on my list I did quietly, crossing them off on a typed list I had saved on my iPhone. Some of the things on my list I did with gusto, sharing them with others if the circumstances felt right.

I don't call this list terrifying. I call it Day to Day Bravery. 


Apply to a job somewhere else
Ask for a raise
Call a realtor
Drive across country
Drive somewhere new without directions
Drive to CT in the dark
Eat at a restaurant alone
Enter a contest
Fly somewhere alone
Get a Brazilian wax
Get my belly button pierced
Give birth
Go far out into the ocean
Go skinny dipping
Go somewhere alone in the middle of the night
Go somewhere without my phone
Go through all the papers from after Rick’s death
Go to a meetup group for writing
Go to a rap concert
Go to a yoga class alone
Go to church alone
Go to NYC alone
Go to work without makeup
Go topless on a beach (legally)
Go up in a hot air balloon
Go zip lining
Have a dinner party
Have dinner with a homeless person
Host Thanksgiving dinner
Jump off a cliff into water
Let a spider live instead of killing it
Make a really hard recipe
Publish a book
Purchase something at an adult store alone
Put a creative notice/ad in the paper
Put my house on the market
Quit my job
Read my poetry at an open mic night
Run a 10K
Run a 5K
Run a Half Marathon
See a medium
See a psychic
Sell my house
Sing Karaoke
Spend time in the basement
Start a private practice
Swim with underwater animals
Throw a dart on a map and go there
Try on something really expensive
Volunteer in India
Watch a horror movie
Watch the sunrise outside alone somewhere other than home
Wear a really sexy outfit
Write to a famous person


Sometimes I add to my list. Sometimes I actually remove items, not because I've accomplished them, but because they no longer scare me. The braver I am, the braver I become.

In just the last year...since last November, I've done 22 of the things on The List. (Really, it was a bit more, but I can't safely list ALL of them.) This blog begins with a list. The List. But every post won't pertain to a crossed-off item. Each item already crossed off has a pretty good story to go along with it. Some I can tell and some I can't! I'd like to go back and tell here the stories of many of the items I've been able to cross off. I'd also like to tell the day to day stories of what I continue to conquer. But this blog is not about fear alone. It's about happiness...about living life to the fullest...about firsts (like my first baseball game ever, which was never a fear). So these are my adventures uncensored...