Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I Swear I Lived.

Tomorrow is my 28th Birthday. To prepare for this post, I looked at some of my old "birthday blog posts". It was fun to look back and read how much things have shifted over the years, and what my birthday has meant to me.

Here's what I wrote last year:

I'm going to make 27 amazing. It's my only chance to be this age. I have to make an impression. I can't let time waste around me. I have to live every day as if I do not have a tomorrow. I don't want to watch life pass me. I want to be part of it. And no one is going to stop me.

So, how did I do? How did I live my 27th year on this earth? If someone were to sit down and really ask me if I felt I lived up to the expectation I set at this time last year, I would have to say...

Yes.

I am certainly not perfect. I haven't lived EVERY single day as the best person I can be. But I certainly tried. Despite the crushing challenge of my dad's cancer, the ups and downs (and in between) of my weight loss journey, and everything else that came my way, I still feel better than I've ever felt before. I took a lot of chances at the age of 27- in life, in my career, with the weight loss... and all of those chances have turned out to serve me well. I didn't let time waste- although working out is a top priority and that has caused a bit of a downfall in my social life, I said "yes" this year to more than I ever have before.

Rereading that, it sounds like I'm pretty full of myself. I'm not. I'm just proud. And until recent years, I had never known what it felt like to be truly proud of myself. It's a pretty great feeling. It's a feeling I hope everyone has. Because guess what? Despite your challenges, despite everything that tries to break you, you're still here. You're still making it through every day. That is something to be proud of.

The biggest change in me is that I no longer view my birthday as a fun day where I get Facebook comments or texts. It's not about partying or presents or cards. My birthday is about celebrating the fact that I have been blessed with another year of life. Life is precious, at any given moment it could be taken away. But here I am, fully living, healthier than I've ever been, head over heels in love. And if I'm lucky, I'll get to do this for another year. And another. And many, many more to come.

I am ecstatic to be so lucky as to have another birthday. My 28th year is bound to be beautiful. Without a doubt, there will be more challenges, more hurdles. But Lucky for me, I've built up the strength, bravery, and confidence to overcome them.

Cheers to 28. Cheers to living and embracing life, no matter how hard it may be sometimes.





Monday, July 27, 2015

Now I Am Invincible.



When I was 15 years old, a little show called American Idol premiered. I was instantly hooked. I loved hearing about the contestants and watching them every week. Of course, I had a favorite. Her name? Kelly. She was goofy, bubbly, and down to earth. She seemed so-well- real. Like she could be my friend. Oh, and she could also sing the hell out of any song she chose. Do you need a reminder?


Spoiler alert: Kelly won the first season of American Idol. To follow, her career blew up. And I followed it closely. I distinctly remember watching her music video for "A Moment Like This" every morning on MTV while I waited for my ride to take me to school. I bought her first album eagerly. I do believe it was the first time I had listened to an album and really FELT something.

Kelly continued to grow as an artist. She dropped a second album, Breakaway, that included such hits as Behind These Hazel Eyes, Because of You, and, of course, Since U Been Gone. For as much as I loved her first album, I loved this one even more. It was always on in my car. I remember one day after school listening to the track Breakaway and writing down the lyrics in my notebook. Yes, the Internet was around and I could have easily found the lyrics online, but I think I was more impacted writing them out. "Take a risk, take a chance, make a change, and breakaway" became a mantra of mine. It would serve as such for many, many years to come.

Let's fast forward a little bit: college. I went through a really dark period. It's one of those things I don't like to think about...it's also one of those things that I'm sure everyone deals with at some point in their life. But I didn't know that then. I felt all alone. At the time, I couldn't define it. I just felt lonely, anxious, and down. I also didn't know how to deal with it, nor did I know how to talk to my friends about it, so I kept most of these feelings inside. I became a person I could barely recognize. In June of 2007, Kelly's third album, My December dropped. I have this vivid memory of walking into Target to buy the album, coming back to my car to listen to it, and breaking into tears. That album, while dark, was the first time I didn't feel alone. It described everything I was going through. To know that Kelly Clarkson, a Grammy winning superstar, was feeling these same things, made me feel normal again. This was also the major milestone where I began to write about my feelings. I had never really written before- but after listening to Kelly's heartfelt lyrics, I decided that if it worked for her, it may work for me, too.

It did. For the next several years, and still today, writing was my crutch, my escape. I firmly believe that most, if not all, of my recovery process from that dark period was thanks to writing.

I was supposed to go to the My December tour, but my tour stop was cancelled. My December as a whole did not do well with critics. People thought it was too dark. Most of her fans, though, adore that album...because it was real.

Fast forward again. Kelly dropped another album- All I Ever Wanted- in 2009. When she toured for that album, I knew I had to go. I wanted to try to meet her this time, to tell her what My December meant to me, I entered the Fan Club meet and greet contest, just as I had a dozen times before. This time, though, I won. I was going to meet Kelly.

So in October of 2009, I met her. In that conversation, I told her about My December, and how it sparked me to start writing. She told me those were the best kind of compliments. We hugged, we took two pictures, I left. I thought I would never get to meet her again.

Kelly dropped a fifth album, Stronger, in 2011. She had some hit songs come off of it, and it seemed like she was happier, stronger, than ever before. How was I doing at this time? Average, I would say. I was going through your typical 20 something dramas with friends, fear of the future, dating, etc. But  by Spring 2013, I was back in a dark place. I was just getting out of a rough relationship. I didn't care much for myself....I began to slip back into my old ways.  I didn't think I would ever be loved, and I started to believe that maybe I just didn't DESERVE to be loved. I lost all sense of self worth. To sum it up, I would have rather done anything then to have faced the world.

But then something in me changed. I decided I was not going to let some stupid guy, or anyone really, dictate my life or my self worth. I decided right then and there that I was going to get stronger. I was going to become the best version of myself.

You guys (unless you are new here!) know the rest of the story. I've spent every moment since the day I made that decision changing my habits, becoming a healthier person, and, most importantly, discovering my self worth.

So many times during my weight loss journey, Kelly's music has been there for me. When I initially started, Stronger was my theme song. I aimed it at my ex. He was trying so hard to bring me down- even after things ended with him, he continued to harass me and send me messages just to try to upset me. So these words spoke to me, and helped me to push him aside and focus on my goal:

Thanks to you I got a new thing started
Thanks to you I'm not the broken-hearted
Thanks to you I'm finally thinking about me
You know in the end the day you left was just my beginning

Some of the songs that have helped me are off her most recent album, Piece by Piece. That album is special for me, because, for the first time in a long time, Kelly is genuinely happy. How can I tell? There are no heartbreaking songs about feeling low/haunted/dark. There are a few sad songs, sure...but those sad songs are mostly about love (and one about a relationship with her dad), not self destruction. For the most part, the message in this album is "I'm so much better than I've ever been, I'm in love, I'm happy, and I am a warrior".  And that, my friends, is how I feel.

I want to specifically address the song Invincible. This song has become so powerful for me. Although Kelly has similar songs in her catalogue (think Stronger), the lyrics in Invincible really hit home. I can't think of any other song that describes, so perfectly, my weight loss story. Not just my weight loss story, my RECOVERY story. My story of going from someone who wanted to disappear to someone who is confident, strong, and empowered. Some of the Invincible lyrics that hit home are:

But now I am invincible
No, I ain't a scared little girl no more
Yeah, I am invincible
What was I running for
I was hiding from the world
I was so afraid, I felt so unsure
Now I am invincible
And I'm a perfect storm

Last night, I had my chance to meet Kelly again. Sam was chosen for a meet and greet through a social media contest. I was ELATED for Sam, as she has been a huge fan of Kelly for as long as I have, but has never met her. Sam also has her own reasons for relating to Kelly- and they are equally as special and deep as mine. So I was so excited that my best friend would get to meet her Idol.

We were both visibly nervous in line. We knew that we would not have much time. We both wanted a chance to tell Kelly "thank you". While in line, I encouraged Sam to speak first. Since I have met Kelly before, it was more important to me to ensure Sam said what she needed to say. We developed a plan...Sam would go first, I would stand by, I would say my thing, and THEN we would pose for the picture.We had to make the camera man wait for us. I didn't care if they tried to push us along.

Our plan worked. Sam very sweetly told Kelly what she wanted to tell her, and also gave her a letter that explained the rest. Then Kelly turned to me. There's a few things you should know about meeting Kelly Clarkson. For starters, she hugs you. Like, she doesn't wait for you to hug her. She reaches for you. The second thing is that she stares into your eyes as you talk. Which is awfully courteous of her, because you know she's paying attention. But it sort of takes you off guard. It's like she's a real friend, ready to listen to what you have to say.

So, very quickly, I said something like "I met you in 2009, back then I thanked you for helping me discover writing as my crutch for what I was going through, and I just want to tell you that your music has sense helped me overcome so many things, become empowered, and lose 120 lbs. This letter explains more".

Kelly's jaw dropped and she let out a very loud "DAMN!"

I don't really remember what happened next. I think she said damn another time. She gave me another hug and told me that was awesome. And then as we were taking our picture, she said "Dude i wish my music would help ME lose weight!".

Kelly gave us both another hug before we were swooshed away.

We both walked away shaking, smiling, and uttering "oh my God". I'm not sure if I got out what I wanted to say exactly how I wanted it to come across, but at least I can say I've made Kelly Clarkson say Damn. Twice.

The concert was incredible. Because she has six albums out, Kelly could sing all night long. Instead, she had a packed 1.5 hour show. She did an excellent job mixing in classic hits (Breakaway, Behind These Hazel Eyes, Because of You, Since U Been Gone, Walk Away, Miss Independent) with songs from her new album (Dance With Me, Take You High, Nostalgic, Invincible, Piece by Piece, Heartbeat Song, Tightrope). She also did a cover of Bang Bang, Uptown Funk (mashed with Walk Away) and Habits by Tove Lo. A huge highlight of my night was when she performed "Low", a track off her first album. It's one of her very best songs. I had never heard it love, and she totally ROCKED IT. I had the time of my life dancing to every single song. I shed a few tears- I was a MESS during Stronger. It was one of those moments, well, hours I guess, where I felt totally free. I didn't care who was watching me, I was going to dance and celebrate.

If you couldn't tell by reading this post, I love Kelly. I will always love Kelly. She's been part of my life since I was 15 years old. In my opinion, she has one of the best, if not the best, voices in pop music. I wish every person I knew could hear her sing live. It's incredible. Her music has been a soundtrack of my life through the good and the bad.

So thank you to Sam for bringing me as your +1, to Cricket Wireless for giving us this opportunity, and to Kelly- for everything.

PS: My VERY Favorite song from Piece by Piece is called Second Wind. Excellent workout song :)


















Tuesday, July 21, 2015

On The Edge.

Around this time last year, my dad went through his first "complication" since being diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer with mets to the brain. My parents were just getting back from a vacation in Pennsylvania to visit my mom's family. On the way home, my mom couldn't help but notice how tired my dad was. He slept for the majority of the trip.

When they came back, he continued to sleep. With that, came confusion. One night, on the way to our family softball game, my dad got lost driving to the field. Keep in mind, we've been playing at the same two fields for over 10 years. Panic then set in when none of us could find him. His phone was going straight to voicemail and he wasn't at the house. I then received a strange voicemail from him telling me that he was safe at Hogans, a restaurant on the opposite side of town. My mom called Hogan's, but it was too late. Even though he was visibly confused, and he threw up at the table, the restaurant let him drive off. (We're still not happy about that). Thankfully, he made it home safely. When he walked through the door I burst into tears- I had never seen him look so confused. I told him that we were taking him to the hospital.

At first, we weren't sure if this was the cause of brain tumor growth. That's what my gut told me. As it turned out, it was radiation necrosis, which is basically radiation induced swelling around the tumor. With the help of steroids, the swelling went down, and Dad came back around.

But that didn't last long. Weeks later, after the sudden death of my Uncle Mike, my dad began to act strange again. He was confused- at a routine doctor's appointment, he did not recognize his oncologist. Nor did he even know why he was there. Cue the panic.

We took him in again, and this time we were in the hospital for a solid month. I can easily say that it was the worst month of all of our lives. This time, my dad would have days of being comatose, he was having hallucinations, and he couldn't speak or eat. I can't go into too many more details because the pain of those memories is still very real for me. I will just say: My dad became a totally unrecognizable person. And we weren't sure if he would EVER snap out of it. I didn't know if I would ever have my dad back.

The cause for that turned out to be steroid psychosis, a pretty rare thing. When my dad finally came back around, he had to spend a few weeks in a rehab facility. By late October, things finally settled down.

I gave you that whole backstory to lead to this: I can't help but feel anxious at this time of year that something like this is going to happen again. I can't speak for my entire family, but I know my mom feels it too, and I'm sure the others do.

When I tell people I'm scared that something is going to happen again, I usually get told to stay positive. Or they easily dismiss my fears by saying "It won't happen!". Here's the deal, you guys. Just because I'm scared doesn't mean I'm not positive. Also, I appreciate your confidence that this won't happen again, or that everything is going to be fine, but the reality is it MIGHT happen again, and things won't always be fine. We will deal with it as we always do, but it doesn't mean we can go ignore the fact that there WILL be other bumps in the road.

I have nightmares about once a week where my dad is back in the confused state, or even worse, the comatose state. Just last night I had a dream that he couldn't remember my sister. I wake up from those dreams crying, terrified that it is some sort of sign that things are about to go downhill again.

The entire situation means that making plans gets touchy. I haven't said this to my friends, but with every outing we plan, I am tempted to add the addendum : But if my dad gets sick, I won't be there. 

I'm really not sure what has inspired me to share this. Maybe it's because I want to explain why I (or someone else in my family) is iffy about making plans. Maybe it''s to explain why I may be on edge, as the memories of last July/August/September creep in. Or maybe, I just needed to tell someone about it. I don't expect everyone to understand, or to "fix" anything (unless you have a cure for cancer, because that would fix a lot of things). I guess I am just putting this out there as an ask for patience, for prayers, and to remind you all that we never really know what's around the corner.

Think of it like this: Imagine being on a roller coaster, but in the pitch black darkness. You're about on the middle of the ride. So far, you've had some twists and turns. One drop was really scary, you held on as tight as you could and felt immense relief when it was over. But now you are feeling anxious again, because you can't see what's coming and there may be another big drop. You're trying to tell yourself to stay calm, and that if there is another drop you'll be fine, you survived the first one. But that doesn't make the fear vanish. You're just slowly coasting, your feet dangling, anticipating another drop.

Thank you all for reading, for being patient with us, and for the prayers.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Be Gentle With Yourself.

If your social media newsfeeds are anything like mine, this will probably one of the many posts you see on "body acceptance" today. I see them everywhere- Facebook, Instagram, Youtube....I see articles on websites like HelloGiggles, Buzzfeed, Thought Catalog, etc.

But I don't care if you've read it a million times. I don't care if you think body acceptance is a fad. There are not enough reminders out there. There are not enough people preaching this message. There are not enough people telling you what you need to hear : You. Are. Good. Enough.

This post is inspired by a conversation that I had with one of my best friends this morning. Without spilling her words that were shared in a private conversation, I will just tell you the just of our convo: That none of us, not one, are ever really truly happy with ourselves. And I'm not sure if we ever will be. I don't think I, or any of the other posts/articles, can change that. Because we are human, and we are programmed to strive for "better".

So I won't try to change that.

All I will do, is reach out and say, that if today is one of your bad days, that you are not alone. Maybe today you are beating yourself up about your looks, or a slip up at work, or a bad grade you got. Maybe today you were let down by the speed of your run, or you are angry at yourself for eating that piece of chocolate.

Darling, let it go.

The harsh reality is that you are never going to be perfect. You may never look yourself in the mirror and love every single feature on your body. You may never be okay with your performance at work, your relationships, your mood.

But the good news, is that no one on this earth, not even Beyonce, is 100% content with the person that they are. Maybe that's a let down for you, but I believe it to be the truth.

What we can do instead, is quit beating ourselves up, quit putting the intense pressure on ourselves to be "perfect" and to just say "I'm not perfect, and that's okay".

What you may not realize is that for every "flaw" you see in yourself, there are about a thousand qualities that make you a unique, beautiful, special person. Things that you may not even see because you are too busy tearing yourself down. I think we should all get the chance to see ourselves the way our closest friends and family do. Because I think we may change our minds about ourselves. Your friends and family love, admire, and respect you. You should do the same for yourself. They see something outstanding in you. They are drawn to you. And when they look at you, they do not see your flaws, they see the person they love. It would be great if we could see that in ourselves, too.

So whatever it is tonight that you are unhappy with, let it go. Know that it's okay to feel that way, but also know that you are not doing yourself any favors by bullying yourself over it. Instead, pick out something that you love about yourself, whether it be your body shape, your confidence, your ability to make friends- anything- and flaunt it.