Juggling Balloons

Back in April, I had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. The first week of the month consisted of musical performances, lots of essays and assignment due dates, and a general feeling of anxiety the whole time. I spent the entire week on the verge of tears, and on the Friday afternoon I wound up in the office of my then Religion teacher/vice principal crying. 

Before I can get into the balloon part of this story, let's go through all that was going through my mind that week, shall we? My dad had just gotten married a couple weeks prior and my brother wasn't handling it well and I was worried about him. There had been hours of musical rehearsals and even though I was happy to be on stage, I was also not getting enough sleep. I was in the process of getting over a heartbreak and even though I'd been doing really well, a few things had happened that week that had caused me to step backwards a little bit. I had multiple assignments that were either due very soon or were a few days overdue. College was looming over me and I wasn't sure where to start with the enrollment process. My class had received multiple speeches about how some of us were in the red in terms of graduating, and I had taken all that stress and started panicking that I wouldn't graduate (even though there was no chance of that not happening). I hadn't had coffee that morning and even though it wasn't a big deal, it was the cherry on top of an awful ice-cream cone. And to sum it all up, I'd missed my therapy session that week. 

So there I was, crying into my sleeve while my teacher nudged the box of tissues towards me. I ignored the tissues as she looked at me in sympathy and said, "Have you ever heard of the balloon analogy?" I shook my head no. My teacher smiled softly and told me about an analogy that changed my entire outlook on the remaining weeks of the year: "Imagine you have a blown up balloon. You can hold it and deal with it just fine, and once it deflates you can move onto the next one without any problem. Now, imagine you're holding two blown up balloons. It will take you longer to deflate them both. It's doable, but a little harder.  You have so many, fully blown up balloons that you are trying to juggle. It's hard to take all of them and fix it by yourself, because you will inevitably drop a couple of them. Sometimes we need someone else to come around and take a couple of our balloons." 

"My problem is it feels like I need to keep all the balloons because I'm the only one who can deflate them."
"I know the feeling. Think about it this way: Some of these balloons belong to other people. You're trying to juggle all of your balloons while also trying to help everyone else juggle theirs. It's okay to let everyone deal with their own balloons until you've popped most of your own." 

I stayed in her office a little while longer, and after I left I felt much better than I had. When I went home I had some coffee and put the sunflowers my mom had got for me into some water. I did some work and then took a break. It had been a really long week, and taking a break felt really good. 

In my teacher's office that day, I learned two things. 1.) When you have too many of your own balloons, it's okay not to help everyone else with theirs, and 2.) Popping balloons is extremely therapeutic, whether figuratively or literally. In realizing that I didn't have to take care of everyone else's balloons, I was able to have a less stressful end to my school year. I didn't start avoiding my friends and I didn't turn into a apathetic friend, either, but I was able to listen to them talk to me without turning their problems into my balloons. 

I tell you this story because the balloon analogy was really helpful for me. It helped me put things into perspective, and that was something I really needed (and still need quite often). I have a feeling this analogy will stay with me for a long time, and I hope it was able to help someone reading this as well. 

A Hand Movement

In August of 2014, I was in church when someone started talking about the end of the world. That night, I had my first panic attack. I felt out of control, and I felt claustrophobic and paralyzed in fear. I couldn’t get myself out of that anxiety because I was certain I was going to die a terrible death simply for something that I believed. It took me three years before I could even hear the words “end of time” without feeling a tightening in my chest. This fear and anxiety isn’t as strong as it once was, but I still get nervous when I walk into a church and listen to a sermon/watch a video about Daniel, Revelation, or Matthew 24. 

In July of 2017, I was diagnosed with PMDD, which is a severe kind of PMS. This means I have about one week a month where I feel like myself, and the other three are covered in extra anxiety, extra insecurities, a sense of hopelessness, or all of the above. Because of this, I was on anti-depressants from July until December of 2017. I have failed two attempts at the written test for my driver’s license because of test anxiety. I had a panic attack on my last day of senior year because I felt out of control and couldn’t ground myself into logic. Sometimes I still get into anxiety spirals where it takes a while to get out.

I get nervous easily. When I’m driving with my mom and I see a car start to pull into our lane, my breath catches in my throat for a second. Worst case scenario is my default. Flying is scary to me because I feel out of control. 

During the last few months, all my emotions turned off. I didn’t let myself think of anything except the work that I had to do so I could finish the school year worry-free. What I didn’t expect was the lack of a return from my emotions. It took me until Friday night of graduation to finally let myself feel what was going on. Sure, I was sad and feeling nostalgic but I wasn’t really feeling those things. I just knew they were there. I was so preoccupied with taking control over something that I didn’t let myself focus on anything else, even if that something else was simply taking care of my own mental health. 

Still, I am very lucky. I have access to therapy, I have a very supportive family, and I have friends who understand these parts of me. I can count on one hand the amount of panic attacks that I’ve had, and I am able to move through spirals of anxiety after a while. I have coping mechanisms, and I’m working on doing those things regularly. I am generally a happy person. I laugh at things and smile every day. I don’t feel enveloped in sadness very often. But I know that the bad things are still there, because if I pay attention to them for even a couple minutes it can take a few days for the thoughts to go away again. 

Because of these things, I throw myself in writing. I write for this website, I write poetry, and I journal almost every day. I used to write songs, too. I act, I listen to music, and I go into stages of running a lot. I may get anxious in church sometimes, but I am able to separate God from the building, and that’s something that I have had lots of help with over the years. I may feel like I’m going crazy most of the time, but I have gotten to the point where I can recognize it and work through it. I may feel out of control sometimes, but I have a family who can ground me in logic. I may be afraid of flying, but I have been able to make my love for traveling greater than my fear. 

Lastly, we need to be more open about mental health. Everyone gets worried, scared, lonely, and unhappy sometimes. Some people have things worse than others, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it. Lend your ears to someone who needs to talk, and your shoulder to someone who needs to cry. Give space when they need it and be there when they can’t handle any more space. Be there for yourself. Do the things that you know are good for you. Don't sacrifice your own mental health to take care of someone else's. Don't let your fears get in the way of your living. I know that you have something to offer this world. I know that you will work through all of this. To quote Christopher Robin, "Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."

Madisen Kuhn, one of my favorite poets, recently started #AHandMovement. This is a project used to open up candid conversations about mental health. This piece was my reaction to that project. 

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When I Was Seven Years Old...

When I was seven years old, I went to Rome. We were there on some of the hottest days the city had seen in a very long time, but we still ventured out of the hotel room and into some of the popular sites. One such site was the Colosseum. My mom wanted to see it, and although I had very limited knowledge of what it was, my religious upbringing had taught me enough to know that Christians hadn't always been very welcome in Italy. That knowledge hung in the back of my mind as we stood in one of the lines leading into what was now a popular tourist attraction.

At some point, someone sent me, my brother, and my dad to one line and my mom into another. Instantly, I felt panic set in. You see, I'd learned what the Colosseum used to be, but no one had told me that wasn't what it was anymore.  And without that critical piece of information, I fully believed I was never going to see my mom again after watching her change lines. Tears filled my eyes and I felt myself begin to panic.  Somehow, at some point, everything was resolved and someone explained to me what had happened. I don't remember the reasoning, but I remember the feeling of knowing that I wasn't separated from my mom anymore. She was okay. I was okay. Everything was okay. 

Last year, I got political a lot on this blog. During the 2016 election, I cried, I wrote essays, I yelled into a void trying to find answers to questions I didn't think I'd ever have to ask. Sometime in the last year, I stopped writing about my opinions on politics and stuck to simper things. Lately I've been writing about my graduation and nostalgia, and books and places and poetry and other good things. But in the past week I have once again been greeted with a stark reality. 

There are children in this country who are being separated from their families. They are in a country they don't know very well, and they are in a country where they are not always welcomed with open arms. I'm sure some of them know this. There are children in this country who are being separated from their mothers. There is probably a line involved, whether literal or metaphorical. They are going one way and their mothers are going another. There is one major difference between my story and the one they are living right now: No one is telling them everything is going to be okay. Their mothers are not returning in a few minutes to give them a hug and a kiss and say it's okay, they are right here. Their mothers are not able to say they are okay, that their children are okay. They can't say that everything is okay. 

I don't know how to make everything okay. I don't even understand how we got here in the first place. This is callous. It's shameful. It's disgusting. In fairytales, whenever a child is taken away from their home, we all know it's the monster who did it. The story continues and the monster is defeated. I don't know how to defeat this monster. I don't think any one person can defeat this monster. So I am leaving links at the bottom of this piece. Please do what you can. I'm a spiritual person, but thoughts and prayers alone cannot fix this anymore. The hole is too deep. We are all stuck in it. 

Until we find a solution, please do me a favor. If you have children, hug them a little tighter today. If you have parents around, first remember a time when you thought you'd been separated from them, and then go give them a hug too. Be empathetic. Put yourself in the shoes of those children. We need to do what we can so soon someone can tell them everything is going to be okay. Soon, their mothers need to be able to give them a hug and a kiss and say that they're right there. We need to put these families back together. 

 My mom and me in Rome

My mom and me in Rome

1,391 Days Later

My time in high school was anything but extraordinary. For the first two years, I went to a school in the bay area, surrounded by creative, technology-oriented people. I lived with my mom, brother, grandparents, giant golden retriever, and guinea pig, Bugsy. My Freshman year was spent trying to catch myself up on all the stuff I seemingly missed in elementary school, learning lines for drama class, and generally trying to get a handle on the whole "high school" thing. I asked a boy to a banquet and then couldn't go because I asked too late, went to Utah for the second time, and avoided my Religion teacher due to many differences of opinion. I spent a couple weeks the summer after the school year ended in England, Wales, and Scotland. That trip remains one of my favorites to this day. 

My Sophomore year wasn't that different, except I quit drama, replaced it with yearbook, and spent most of my time writing songs in my bedroom for no one but myself (and, as I learned later, my grandparents. The walls were thin). My life was filled with Troye Sivan lyrics, origami dragons, and crumpled paper filled with ideas I'd decided weren't good enough. I won a writing contest and got a scholarship to a college I'm not going to attend. Bugsy died towards the end of my Sophomore year, and after a summer of heartbreak, Scout became a dear companion. I took piano lessons for a while, got calluses on my fingertips from guitar, and drove to school with one of my best friends while sipping Earl Grey tea. Looking back, I was happier than I realized in the moment. I wasn't in the best place geographically, but I was in a good place mentally. 

By my Junior year I was living in Sacramento and had somehow ended up taking two English classes, both with more Seniors than Juniors. I befriended many of those Seniors, and some are still close friends of mine now. I spent Saturdays at my grandparent's house, started writing for this website, and practiced for a Les Mis audition that didn't go to plan. I still worked hard for the musical, and that experience is one I will hold close for a long time. My time was spent reading up on Romantic Era poets, learning music for The Messiah, and developing a strong addiction to coffee. Scout died in March, I had my heartbroken in April, and some of my best friends graduated in June. I spent time in Seattle the following summer, which turned out to be one of the best parts of my 2017. My Junior year had a rough beginning and ending, but a beautiful middle. Looking back, I'd consider it to be the best of all four years. 

My Senior year was about as busy as they come. I was the Religious Vice President for SA, had a job with a retired teacher from the summer before until the end of January when I eventually quit. I participated in Pirates of Penzance as one of the General's daughters, and spent lots of time working up the courage to participate in a poetry open mic at a nearby library. Speaking of poetry, I wrote mountains of it. I took film and photography, wrote some articles for Journalism, and went to the fall banquet as Alice (as in Wonderland) where I got to wear a giant black bow headband. I went to England in March where I spent hours with four of my five cousins and then spoke in front of my entire school two days after returning home. I went kayaking and running and spent the majority of my time being very content with where I was. I was stressed and cried a lot, but I was still very happy. 

High school for me wasn't anything extraordinary. I traveled a little, met some cool people, and wrote some things I'm proud of. I have lots of great stories that you'll inevitably hear about in the years to come, but it's not like I did anything extraordinary. If anything, my life is shaping up to be crazier now that I've graduated. I'm spending the summer in three countries, and this month has will be spent interning for a nearby theatre, and I'll continue doing that through much of July as well. 

I don't think your life needs to be extraordinary to be amazing. I have been blessed enough to be surrounded by extraordinary people in some of the most ordinary of places, and I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world. In 1,391 days I traveled the world, had my heart broken and then mended it, and wrote lots of poetry. I started this website, made friendships that will last a lifetime, and read tons of good books. Although anything but extraordinary, those 1,391 were some of the best of my lifetime. If that's what ordinary looks like, I'd love to spend the rest of my life as ordinary as possible. 

 August 12th, 2014 

August 12th, 2014 

 June 03rd, 2018

June 03rd, 2018

Not So Scary Anymore

At the end of season 3 of Gilmore Girls, Rory Gilmore graduates from high school. In the last scene of the episode, she and Lorelai are running through the grand entry way of Chilton, when all of a sudden, at the top of the stairs, Lorelai turns Rory around and says "See? Not so scary anymore." When I watched this episode at the beginning of this school year, I almost started to cry because it hit me right where it needed to. I watched the episode again last week, and it hit me in the exact same way. 

I graduated on Sunday, and by the time you read this I will officially be a high school graduate, which is something I was starting to doubt would happen by the middle of April (senioritis is real, guys. Too. Real.) In watching that episode of Gilmore Girls I was reminded of my first day at the school I graduated (!!!) from. I've told this story before, but bear with me because I'm definitely nostalgic right now: 

August 18th, 2016 - I wake up and look at myself in the mirror for a longer amount of time than I probably should. I turn on a playlist of songs that I hope will make me feel more excited but then quickly realize that it's not working. I get dressed in a gray skirt and a red sweater because I read once that by wearing red you can make people like you more. I spend the drive to the school telling myself that it'll all be okay, but when my mom pulls into the parking lot I slump down in my seat and hope for that cloak of invisibility to show up. My mom forces me out of the car after a few minutes and I walk carefully towards the playground, the whole time thinking that this is the scariest thing I'll ever have to do. I go to the wrong playground and am escorted to the flagpole by some eighth graders. I stand in the back by the gate while I wait for someone to talk to me. The gate is high and a dark black, looking strong and scary, and seems to symbolize all I am afraid of in that moment. 

I spend my morning following the girl who had talked to me first to all the classes we had together. She introduces me to a few people, and I start to wonder if this won't actually be as bad as I thought it would be. 

Then I realize I'm late to my first English class. 

I come back from that class more nervous then ever. It had gone fine, but being late didn't help my nerves any, plus I can't find that girl and I don't know where to go next. I look up to the gazebo, where I see a few groups of people sitting and eating their lunches. I walk over to a couple of nice looking students, one who I recognize as being in my class. I ask if I can sit with them and the girl says yes. I sit there and listen to them talk for a couple minutes. They don't say anything to me, and I realize I am too afraid to say anything to them, so I get up and walk to the bathroom. It's empty, and I stand in the farthest stall and start to cry. 

When I get home, I look at my calendar and count the days left until I graduate. "Only two years," I tell myself. I take a shower and think that no day could possibly be worse than the one I just had, and I tell myself that at least I never have to do my first day again. I go to sleep and can't help but say again, quietly, "Only two more years." 

June 03rd, 2018 - I wake up and look at myself in the mirror for a longer amount of time than I probably should. I listen to music that makes me happy and a little nostalgic, and feel the excitement start to bubble. I put on my white dress with blue flowers, because I saw it online once and thought it was really pretty and got it specifically for my graduation. I drive with my mom to the school and look around, trying to take in the drive as much as I possibly can while being ridiculously happy and distracted by all the good things that are about to happen. 

We pull into the parking lot, and my mom parks in a familiar spot. She turns to me with tears in her eyes, and I feel my eyes begin to do the same. She reminds me of that moment two years ago, when I wouldn't get out of the car. When I was afraid of the unknown, afraid that I would fall, and afraid that I would never find my place. I remember that day in August when I refused to step out into the unknown, and when I step out of the car on this June day I walk towards the gate without any fear, like I've done a couple hundred times since. 

As we go through the morning, I stop and talk with the people around me who I have become friends with over the past two years. A few of us reminisce about our time together. We talk about how weird it feels to be standing in the courtyard wearing caps and gowns when just nine months ago we were correcting ourselves from saying we were Juniors. We say how this feels almost fake, like we're just practicing and it still isn't real. 

Before I march, I give my economics teacher a quick hug. I walk through the sea of people and everything automatically becomes a blur. A happy blur, but a blur nonetheless. After it's all over, as I walk outside to leave the parking lot for the last time as a student, I stop and look at the gate. I take a deep breath, smile to myself, and say quietly "not so scary anymore." 

 Me, feeling not so scared anymore. 

Me, feeling not so scared anymore. 

Thoughts from the Top of St. Paul's Cathedral

Two and a half years ago, I visited St. Paul's Cathedral for the first time. I climbed up to the Whisper Gallery, but because I have a slight fear of heights (or so I thought), I told myself that one day I'd return to go up the rest of the way. Back in March, I did it. Even though I wanted to stop once we got to the Stone Gallery, my aunt convinced me to keep going (like a good aunt does), and I'm really happy I did. Throughout the climb, thoughts circulated through my head, and this post is how I'm organizing all of them. 

Whispering Gallery - Do the thing that scares you because it scares you. 
Anyone who has climbed up St. Paul's cathedral, or even up the 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery will know that it isn't an easy thing to do. When my aunt and I got to the Whispering Gallery, we stopped and looked up the ceiling for a while. It's a beautiful ceiling, full of intricate paintings done by someone brave enough to go up to a great height without all the safety measures of the 21st century. I'm a little bit scared of heights and tight spaces, so even though I wanted to get to the top, I was nervous about it. That's when I told myself what I've been telling my friends for years: Do the thing that scares you because it scares you. 

Doing things that scare you isn't always a bad thing. Sure, doing something dangerous just because it scares you would be stupid, but when there's something safe that still scares you, doing it is good. Climbing up to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral was safe, but is still scared me so much. The fact that I was scared just made the whole experience even better, and it's a cool to story to tell now. 

Stone Gallery - Change is a good thing. 
Over the course of my life, I have consistently been very resistant to change. For as long as I can remember, I've been happiest when nothing has changed. When everything stayed the same, I felt secure and happy. But, as with everyone else, as I've gotten older more and more has changed. When walking up the stairs to the Stone Gallery, I remembered that two years earlier, I never would have climbed that far, let alone any higher. I realized that in the time I'd been spending being afraid of change, I'd been changing anyway, only in good ways. I've become far braver, more able, and more sure of myself in the last few years, and none of those are bad changes. 

Change is a good thing, even when it seems bad at first. Everything has a way of working out the way its supposed to. All the bad stuff figures itself out, and all the good stuff stays around as long as it is needed. 

Golden Gallery - Be like the brave artists. 
While sitting in the Whispering Gallery, my aunt mentioned that the process of painting the ceiling would have been insane. I then started thinking about how scary it must have been to paint your art that in that high of a place, without the safety measures we'd have today. They were brave artists. When I was walking up from the Stone Gallery to the Golden Gallery, I felt the anxieties of being in a tight space while going up steep steps. As I went back down to begin the descen back to the first floor, I again felt that fear. But I kept reminding myself of those brave artists, the ones who put their love of art above whatever fear they may have felt. 

The job I want is not something that will come easily. I've read book and listened to talks and if I've learned one thing from those, it's that sometimes it isn't about talent but rather about who you know and when you know them. That's a scary thought to me, because I don't want to worry about missing opportunities so much that I end up miss them anyway. I strive to be like the brave artists, who don't let fear get in their way.*

*but I am definitely not painting the ceiling of a cathedral. That's too much for me. 

 A picture I took after climbing up. An odd angle, maybe, but I still kind of love it. 

A picture I took after climbing up. An odd angle, maybe, but I still kind of love it.