Cheers to 2013

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons
2013 was one of the hardest years of my entire life. It was also one of the best.

When I look back now, I can absolutely see the strength that was forged inside me when I first decided to start my life over in the summer of 2012. Changes that seemed so glacial and inconsequential at the time have now stacked up to create a reality that is 180 degrees different from my life one year ago today.

I have felt things. I have succeeded and failed and laughed and cried. I have fought panic attacks and poverty, fear and uncertainty, and you know what? I didn't die. I didn't quit. I didn't surrender.

I kept trucking on, because that's what we do. We survive. We are strong and passionate and resilient creatures, and the realities we create for ourselves are the direct results of our decisions not to give up and let ourselves be defined by our setbacks.

I will be honest with you. I struggled a bit with bitterness in 2013. I felt entitled on many occasions, and I thought I shouldn't have to struggle the way I was struggling. What about the life I had planned for myself? What about the milestones everyone around me seemed to be reaching--the ones that perpetually seemed just out of my reach?

I tried to talk myself out of this. I tried to remind myself that things could always be worse. But are you really supposed to celebrate the fact that your life could always be worse, when it could always be a million times better, too?

This made sense to me, and I clung to it. For several months. But you know what? Things seemed pretty bleak when I let them seem bleak. And I felt pretty overwhelmed when I let myself feel overwhelmed.

(Special shout-outs to my friends and family for dealing with me during this time--particularly my poor mother and father, who had to convince me on more than one occasion that I didn't, in fact, need anti-anxiety medicine, nor was I becoming schizophrenic, nor was I so poor that my dog and I would have to someday survive by "eating hotdogs off the floor." I'm particularly tickled I came up with this one.)

I think my depression was part of the process, and I don't think I could be in the place I am in today if I hadn't allowed myself to experience it. Part of the problem of our society, I think, is that we are encouraged to repress almost everything and be "okay" all the time. Grief and depression and anxiety and fear are taboo. If you feel any of these things, you better be pretty good at hiding them.

I decided to go against this line of reasoning and embrace my struggles (as if I could have hidden them if I wanted to). Instead, I made some incredible friends, and I also spent a lot of time alone. I bought my paddleboard and went for long drives. I sporadically wrote in a journal, and I listened to certain songs over and over and over, feeling the words and emotions deep in the depths of my soul.

I also started talking to God again.

I hesitate to even write that word, because everyone gets polarized the moment they hear it. But--to demonstrate my inherent non-religiousness and let you know I'm just as surprised as you are to see it there--let me quote someone brilliant (and random), Ben Haggerty: "Whatever God you believe in, we come from the same one."

Mine's pretty awesome. He doesn't camp out in any particular branch of organized religion. Instead, he creates the energy we all feel when we feel something indescribable. It's the energy that inspires us to build religions and create doctrines and try to understand something that is beyond our humanly grasp. Even when we foul it up (as we always do), he's still here in the perfection of nature and the every day miracles that define our lives.

I needed him in 2013. And the second I started paying attention, I started seeing him everywhere.

With this in mind, I offer you my 2014 New Year's Resolution: "Be gentle with myself, and have faith in the process."

My life doesn't look the way I thought it would when I graduated college nine years ago, but it's exactly the life I am supposed to lead. All these challenges have just made me stronger, so I begin 2014 with an open heart and the realization that I can't compare my milestones to anyone else's. We are all on different journeys, and my milestones are tailored specifically to me--and pretty fantastic in their own right.

I have an incredible support system, and there is so much love in my life that I'm never really alone. Everyone in my family is healthy, and I live less than 30 minutes from my parents and my sister. I have soul mate friends scattered all around the world, and many of them live right here in Tampa Bay. Some of them even share my zip code--or my office.

I have a gorgeous dog whose entire world revolves around me, and I make just enough money to keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. I was even able to successfully trade in my very sentimental (and quickly aging) SUV for a more fuel-efficient compact car a few days ago, so I know we will be safe wherever we go.

I have my first novel coming out in June 2014 and another one following in June 2015. I have a literary agent who encourages me to explore and always become a better writer, and I have a wonderfully supportive and uplifting network of writer friends who have taught me this business can be anything but cut-throat. Instead, I feel like I am part of something, and I absolutely cannot wait to see what the future holds for all of us.

To say this is one of the most exciting times of my life would be an incredible understatement.

I am one lucky girl.