Young Professional… Lost.

There is a part of this crazy journey that I haven’t acknowledged here yet.

Well, actually, that isn’t quite true.

There is a part of this journey that I’ve been too embarrassed to write about. Yes, embarrassed. Hard to believe coming from someone who has poured her heart into writing about anything and everything, no matter how humiliating, on a very public forum for the past two years, right? Well, this “thing” that I’m referring to is something that has always be a part of my self-concept, a key ingredient to my own perception of my self-worth. It has been a source of pride, of motivation, of identity. And now, in the last few months, that piece of me has vanished. So for the sake of the giant empty space in this Floridian room where an elephant should be, here it is…

My career.

Or current lack thereof.

I’m going to have a moment of self-pity. A giant, dramatic, cry-me-a-river-and-build-a-bridge, world’s-smallest-violin MOMENT and let it out: I’ve been struggling, I’ve been lost, and I’m not entirely sure what to do with myself.

I could say that I’ve made a lot of sacrifices for Bill and the unbelievable career move that brought us to Florida. I left my friends, my family, my beloved San Luis Obispo, my job that I loved and that loved me back. Not to mention my heart-of-hearts home state, for whom I cry grizzly bear-sized tears from the NorCal stars in my eyes and for whom I bleed In-N-Out special sauce through the map of my “5 to the 505 to the 80 to the 680 to the 101” veins. Oh yeah, and about whom no one in Florida really cares too much. I swear, I find myself wanting to go so SNL on everyone I meet that they know without a doubt I’m a “Californian”. 

I could say that I sacrificed all of that, but that wouldn’t be fair. Bill and I made the decision together, and this adventure is the bed we made. So I can either lie in it, tossing and turning all night, or I can put on my big girl pajamas and sleep well knowing there is nothing in this world I am lacking. I still have my family, I still have my friends. San Luis Obispo hasn’t moved, and neither has California.

However, there is still that pesky gnawing in my brain that just won’t quit. The unfortunate fact is that I cannot pick up the phone and call my career to tell it how much I miss it. It’s has been eating me alive.

So what’s been happening? First, a little back story. During undergrad, I had the privilege of studying what I loved. For me, that was Psychology and Theatre Arts, which in the real world is also known as Volunteering and Bartending. I’ve never known exactly what I wanted to do, per say, but I always knew that I would find it at the end of my passions. As a college student, I worked part-time at a local pet store, then Petsmart, followed by a brief stint at Victoria’s Secret, and lastly at the Children’s Center on my university’s campus while interning in the Gender Equity Center. Fast forward to right after graduation, and you’ll find me teaching kindergarten with some respite work on the side. The teaching job was on a 1000-hour contract, and when that ran out, well, I found myself right back to the drawing board. A random encounter with a former supervisor led me to a grad program, to which I applied. At the same time wanting to make a bit of money and explore my second major, I looked into jobs at our local news station and promptly landed a job in advertising sales. Right after starting, I found out that I got into grad school. In the scheme of things, I made a swift exit from sales and cracked the books again for my MA in Counseling and Guidance for Higher Education. During those two ragged, exhausting years, I interned with the sexual assault resource, the orientation program, the study abroad office, and Career Services, all on campus. Upon graduation, luck would have it that a counselor position opened up at the site of newfound passion, and I started my position as the Career Counselor for the College of Liberal Arts a few months after being hooded.

Best. Job. Ever. 

I had found a calling. I loved my job, I loved my students, I loved my coworkers, I loved my office, I loved my WORK. It was the first time this had ever really happened to me, this whole “do what you love, love what you do” thing. It felt great.

Now, I know you know how that story goes. A little over one year from my official full-time start date, I am now unemployed and in Florida – two of the very last things I ever expected to be. 

Making the decision to move was a very tough one, especially for me but also for Bill too. A lot was going to change so drastically, and although he had a new and exciting job, he had to live with watching his wife leave many things behind. Now, I haven’t experienced that myself, but I can see it in his eyes when I mention missing my friends or work through not contributing financially out loud or fighting being the one responsible for all the cleaning and maintenance and cooking and stocking of the fridge. But here we are, and I am missing my friends and working through a lack of contribution and fighting being responsible for our everyday lives, all while applying for jobs and networking like crazy.

You see, things are not quite going according to plan. At least for me.IMG_6403

When we first started dating, we had talked about the day that would come when we had to choose between San Luis Obispo (and all that it represents for me) and Bill’s career. At that time three years ago, in the car on the way to catch a flight at the Minneapolis airport, I stated that once I graduated from grad school, I wouldn’t be tied down to a job, and I would have my master’s degree in hand. I could get a job, easy, and this all sounded like an adventure that I couldn’t wait to go on. So Bill renewed his contract for two more years while I finished up. We got married a month after graduation.

But then he didn’t get a job right away, and opportunities in California opened up right before my eyes. Opportunities that I wanted to grab but didn’t know if I should since we might be leaving, but that I grabbed anyway because we might be leaving and couldn’t know for sure. So I applied for that dream job and ultimately got it. Once I did, I worried about accepting it. What if I accept and Bill gets a call next month? It was stressing me out. I did accept, and I had an amazing, amazing year there. A year of experience added to my resume that, with that same master’s degree, meant that I was set. 

Or so I thought.

I resigned from that position on June 30th. It is now a week into September, and I’ve been job hunting since May. No job. It’s all been a mystery, really. I have been targeting all the higher education institutions in the area with major emphasis on two in particular. Of course, there weren’t any career counselor positions, knowing that of course I wouldn’t be lucky enough to continue with my passion after 26 years of searching, but there are some great schools around here. As long as I’m working with students, I’m happy. The jobs I first started applying for were the ones that I read the job descriptions and the minimum requirements and thought, “I just might be able to get this.” In other words, they were at the top of my reach with the qualifications I was bringing with me, and testing out the job market, I thought that Florida couldn’t be any harder to break into than Cal Poly. But then I kept getting emails stating that I didn’t make it through HR – the first step in the application process in the higher education. They look at your degrees and your experience, and everyone who meets those minimum requirements gets through to the selection committee, regardless of how good your materials are. You meet it, you make it. I could have written my experience out in crayon, and as long as I meet the basic criteria, I make it through the first round. So back to getting the rejection email, nobody read all that work I put into my many custom resumes, my cover letters, my awesome letters of recommendation… In fact, nobody even looked at them.

Well, I took those first couple hits as a reality check, and maybe the market is more competitive than I thought. Time to step up my game even more. So I didn’t get a director position? At least I tried. As other jobs started popping up, I began climbing down the ladder. Surely I’ll get this assistant director position. Or that one. Or this job at this obscure school over there. Or maybe at that one? What is going on here? Can I please have a job?!?!

Now, I don’t want to sound pompous here, but I’m a career counselor. My area of expertise is to help people clarify their life purpose, define their career goals, work through the job search, and much more – the very basic of which is composing a compelling resume and cover letter. I know how to do these things, and do them well. I spend hours crafting targeted resumes, rearranging my experiences in terms of relevance and scouring the job description for ways to substitute their language for mine. I have countless files on my computer labeled by institution/department/job title, each containing a separate document for every piece of the application. My cover letters are the stuff of which dreams are made. So with all of these pulled up, I’ve called HR many times for feedback. “Hello, I recently applied for ______ position and didn’t make it through HR. I was under the impression that I met the minimum requirements. Do you have any feedback for me?” Then we nitpick each part of my application and why I didn’t meet the easy-peasy minimum requirements, and then there is nothing left I can do so I hang up the phone and sulk for a minute before throwing hellfire and brimstone into the next application, practically burning a hole through my computer with fury as I compose that next magnificent cover letter. 

IMG_6404The last straw came a few weeks ago. I applied for a job at one of the aforementioned university that required a bachelor’s and two years of experience. Well, I have two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree, and four years of related experience. Sounds promising, right? Despite the meticulousness I put in to yet another set of materials, I got that dreaded rejection letter AGAIN, and this time I’d had it. I emailed the head of the hiring committee, who I had just shaken hands with the week before, and got no response. I called HR yet again, and I tried everything I could think of before the sweet, sweet lady on the other end of the phone lowered her voice and said, “Well, we actually don’t count master’s degrees or graduate internships as experience here.” I’m sorry… WHAT?!?!? 

I just about blew a gasket. Had an aneurysm. Broke out in hives. Exploded into a million tiny little pieces due to internal pressure.

You have GOT to be kidding me. She basically had just told me that instead of spending two years running in a goddamn hamster wheel of stress, exhaustion, and mental Iron Man competitions – you know, those two years where I gave up my social life and cried more than I didn’t cry and forgot what sleeping was and yelled at Bill for no reason and missed out on amazing things so I could sit at home in sweats and write endless research papers on waitforit HIGHER EDUCATION – and instead of busting my ass working 40 hours a week at the university where they can only pay you close to minimum wage for only half those hours and INSTEAD OF SPENDING THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS ON A PIECE OF PAPER THAT WOULD ENSURE ME PROFESSIONAL SECURITY… Well, I should have just gone to work. Welcome to the last few years of my life, invalidated. 

And then to make matters worse, she added, “You should start applying for positions that require less experience.” Wait, less than those positions that according to your website I should technically be overqualified for? I’m confused. 

Look, it’s not that I should have gotten those jobs. It’s not that I think I’m entitled and some sort of super-professional. A lot of them are now filled, and probably with people who could be a much better fit than me. I know this. But at least give me a chance to show you why I think I could be a great asset. At least read those PDFs that I poured my occupational heart and soul into. But no, I am being held at the gate while I watch everyone else walk proudly through to their new positions, paychecks, and health benefits.

So what now? Well, I’m at a crossroads, but not really, because none of those paths seem to be going anywhere. I did a phone interview that went well, and I’m waiting to hear back. I’m working on my real estate license again, which I’ve wanted to do for years. I’ve been hunting for the perfect fixer house to throw myself into, which proves difficult when you don’t know your area. I’ve been hanging out with some new friends, and I just went to brunch on a Monday. I’ve been reading all the books that have been piling up, decorating and redecorating, cooking (affordable) gourmet meals, and laying on the floor face-up staring at the ceiling.

IMG_6411Doesn’t that all sound great?

Well, it should. However, it seems I haven’t been able smack myself into accepting it. I’ve had this time to distress and relax and catch up, but instead I’ve been digging my heels into the ground and resisting what is. I’ve been worried about the gap on my resume and concerned for the leaps we aren’t making in our savings and buying into all the outsider comments of how this may be the perfect opportunity to start a family when we are not quite there yet. If I could just let go of all it – the anxiety, the guilt, the confusion, the embarrassment – this could actually be a very productive time. The most productive, even. I could get healthy again and accomplish cool things. I could keep educating myself and become a Pinterest rockstar. (Fishtail braids and gallery wall domination have already taken place.) And I could just keep trying and do the best that I can and enjoy life as it is.

But it’s just so hard.

If I’m being honest, though, the hardest part hasn’t been everything I’ve been ranting about for the last five pages. The hardest part has been looking in the mirror this morning and having to face who I really am. It’s been figuring out how to deal with the thoughts in my head and the feelings in my heart without having a deadline to throw myself into or a button-up and heels to hide behind. It’s been about defining myself by my personality, my intellect, and my spirit instead of my profession. Nowadays we really do identify our worth through what it is that we do instead of who it is that we are. I’m mean, think about it. The first question we ask when introducing ourselves or making small talk is “What do you do?” Shouldn’t it be “Who are you?”

So who am I, if not my job? Well, I suppose I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a lover, a giver, a caretaker, an artist, a storyteller, an athlete, a big heart, a listening ear, and a kind smile. I am me.

So I guess in the meantime, while waiting for this whole job thing to work itself out, maybe it’s time to shift my focus. Maybe this is a great time to concern myself instead with all those things that I am, instead of all of those things I am currently not. That, it seems, may just be the real secret to getting ahead – and the best kept one, indeed.

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Weekending: Run or Dye!

I am a child at heart. And not just a child, but an awestruck puppy-hugging, rainbow-chasing, bubble-blowing, anything-with-sprinkles-loving small child. So imagine the squealing that was going on inside the composed grown-up shell we call my outward appearance when THIS happened:

Are you kidding me?! A giant party with dancing and loud music and everyone throwing COLORS at each other??? And these people are SOBER?! (Well, for the most part anyway.)

Basically, what I’m trying to say – but my giddiness won’t let me – is that last weekend, Run or Dye came to San Luis Obispo. This is a huge deal. Years ago, I stumbled across the Holi Festival, a Hindu religious festival of color and love, and since then I haven’t been able to get the gorgeous images out of mind. Witnessing this in person was bucket-listed immediately. So as you can imagine, while I am dying to attend the actual Holi Festival in India, the rising popularity of color runs in our culture is definitely something I’ve gotten on board with. However, for some incredibly frustrating reason, I have missed any and all of the sort that have come remotely near my current location, which has resulted in fairly intense depressive episodes any time color run pictures bombard me through Instagram or Facebook. To make sure that this never happened to me again, I took matters into my own hand by Google searching any and all organizations that travel with these events, even sending in my own request to the Color Run to set up shop at the Madonna Inn at some point (no such luck). But I put my name on every list that would give me alerts on when one was coming around, and lo and behold, earlier this year I got my first announcement from Run or Dye. They got my name, they got my number, and they got my money – all in less than two minutes. I’ve never been faster, cheaper, or easier in my entire life.

After so many painful years of waiting, wanting, and anticipating, my dream finally came true.

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Of course, no color run could be complete without asking yourself, “Which of my amazing friends would be most likely to lose her shit to the same extreme that I will?” and then recruiting said friend to experience wonderland with you. Meet the fabulous Katie, who is by far the closest thing to a small-child-at-heart as I am.

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Here we are, temporarily clean. Please note the sweetness that is my leggings, courtesy of Forever 21.

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Oh, the anticipation.

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The funniest thing about this race is that we were so preoccupied by the “color” part that we almost forgot about the “we-are-running” part. Check out the beautiful El Chorro Regional Park, right off Highway 1 between here and Morro Bay. I will be back here, mutt in tow.

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In all honesty, I wanted to punch some people because 1) they were walking, and 2) I WANT TO RUN THROUGH THAT. (I didn’t punch anyone.)

Check out this quick video, and be sure to listen for Katie revealing her real age at the end.

BEYOND ADORABLE.

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Can’t wait for the blue!

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3.1 mile domination.

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As it turns out, the run itself was not the greatest deliverer of color, but it was sure as hell so fun to run through it all. The after party, however…

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…was delightfully out of control, even at 9 a.m. We finally joined up with some of my favorite people – Courtney, Emily, and Ryan – and I’m definitely winning in the “Must Have Rubbed My Face In It” category at this point.

In fact, it got laid on so thick at one point that…

Yes, that was necessary.

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So there you have it. It has been a LONG time since I have had that much fun or that much permission to let loose. We all agreed afterward that we are all hoping to find one in a bigger city and do it all over again. I mean, who wouldn’t want to relive that?

Now, what is the obvious thing to do after a morning like this? Well, go to brunch of course. In public. At a place that serve mimosas (i.e. classy).

Looking. Like. This.

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Peace.

 

The Flowers At Your Feet

All we have is this moment.

That is what I keep telling myself these days. Bill and I are staring down the barrels of two vastly different paths, and each requires some major life changes in the form of a hard, massive, aneurysm-inducing decision. With every day that passes, we are feeling our fingers squeezing slightly harder on the trigger, knowing we are speeding toward something world-altering. All we can do is attempt to prepare for the unknown, but really, how do you prepare for uncertainty? How do you prepare when you don’t know what, exactly, it is you are preparing for?

Well, let me tell you, this girl can prepare. And prepare. And PREPARE.

And beyond the practical tasks and to-dos that we generally associate with this type of precautionary activity, I have found through trial and error that some of my favorite ways to quote-unquote “prepare” for major changes include things like:

  • Worrying.
  • Being concerned.
  • Stressing out.
  • Imagining worst possible outcomes.
  • Throwing myself down on the couch/bed/ground like a small child.
  • Engaging in an overall sense of extreme panic.
  • And so on.

When I’ve done a sufficient amount of all THAT, I go straight into doing every possible thing I can think of to avoid imminent failure and head in the basic direction of certifiable insanity. I become manic, even. I begin tackling anything and everything that will give me any sense of control, and I tackle them to the nines. The obsessive, compulsive, Type A nines.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately.

Yeah. I don’t like it. While all of that general hysteria has been my default reaction – my coping BFF, if you will – in the past, I have found myself with a new fight on my plate. I’ve been working hard at gathering a new arsenal to carry me through life, consisting of patience, love, joy, and above all, mindfulness. Being in the present. Concerning myself with the immediate. Realizing, as Eckhart Tolle himself would say, the power of NOW.

These major decisions, these defining moments, these life-altering times… They are going to change a lot of things for us. And if you know us personally, they could potentially change our relationship with you in a heart-wrenching way. They are simultaneously exciting and terrifying, two qualities that I find very distracting. In fact, it’s been hard not to constantly dwell on the sacrifices that may be made in the very near future of things we love, cherish, and have worked incredibly hard for. It’s also nearly impossible to get off this goddamn emotional roller coaster of up and down, up and down, wired and exhausted, energized and petrified. I’m getting tired just WRITING about it.

So I’m going to stop writing about it and start writing about something else, like the realization I have had in the last few months that if I keep letting my mind dictate my minutes instead of my heart, I’m going to miss out on the very things I’m so nervous about losing. If I let fear and anxiety run the show, I simply cannot enjoy the wonderful world around me. The changes are coming, yes. But they have not happened yet. The future doesn’t exist. I can’t see how things are going to play out, and there is nothing to be done about it right this moment, so worrying and panicking and imagining and throwing myself on the floor in exasperation are merely wasted energy. I should be savoring the way my world is now, so that when the time comes I do not regret an instant of how I have lived and loved and cherished. So that is my new plan: to live, to love, to cherish… right now. This is harder than it seems, but well worth the effort.

Because lately I’ve found that if you look too far ahead, you miss the flowers at your feet.

The Flowers At Your Feet

I apologize for the vague details. Rest assured, darling, that all will be revealed soon.

xo

This Is Your Wake-Up Call

I got a wake-up call not too long ago.

At first it came in hints. Panic attack here, panic attack there. Anxiety at work here, tear and tears there. And then the big one: “Would you like your prescription faxed over, or do you want to carry it out?”

Paxil.

Paxil is considered a bit of a wonder drug of sorts. Its uses have been studied across the board, and it has been found to be effective in a variety of conditions and circumstances. The reason I was getting it was two-fold. First, it has been known to help with stomach and digestive issues, so GREAT. Help me out there, please. But also, it’s one of the most common anti-anxiety drugs on the market, and although we were using is as an experiment to see if it helped my stomach aches, my doctor made sure to emphasize that it will “help with all that anxiety and stress as well”.

Oh.

I’ve always been aware that I am a high-stress person. An overachiever. A perfectionist. I push myself to the limit, and I do what I need to do to get it done and get it done WELL. It used to be a strength, but I’ve slowly become aware that I may have surpassed that point.  Once my doctor’s words hit my ears, a cacophony of voices from the past came surging in. I heard my nutritionist saying, “And I want you to take a magnesium supplement to help you relax a little bit.” Counselors asking me if stress has always been such a problem. (Answer: yes.) And in the past, a few of those closest to me have warned me in the best way they know how that I may, in fact, embody these qualities to a fault. I heard them, but often these comments came in less of a supportive fashion and more of a “you-are-ridiculous-you’re-killing-yourself-STOP-NOW” package. And then there’s my favorite of all time, of course: “You’re too sensitive/high-sturng/uptight/whatever.” I’ll admit, I don’t respond well to all of this. In fact, that last one REALLY does it. I get defensive, I get hurt, I get confused, and I get angry. It makes everything harder.

Why is that? Looking back now, I’m starting to realize that these comments bothered me so much for a few reasons. For one, all of those descriptions – including my own – are labels, and they sound permanent. It feels like there was something wrong with me and will always be wrong with me, and I was the one to blame. Ironically, in direct contrast, I feel out of control of my anxiety, but I didn’t understand that. Whenever someone told me to “stop”, I wanted to scream (and did on one or two occasions), “STOP? DON’T YOU THINK IF I COULD I WOULD HAVE DONE THAT ALREADY?!?!”. Not constructive in any way shape or form in nurturing your relationships and support system. Yet, despite the lack of control I had, the dichotomy charged on, and I truly believed it WAS my fault, that I WAS doing this to myself. I’ve been in counseling for this for quite some time. I have tried self-talking my way through everyday, telling my mind to quit going a hundred miles an hour, and this isn’t life or death, and I was ruining my life worrying so much about it. However, it didn’t matter how many times I would recite these mantras, that tightness in my chest would continue to squeeze and that tension in my jaw would cause me to clench even harder. If I couldn’t stop the stress myself, the only conclusion was that I was making my bed and I will just have to lie in it. I should be able to relax, to let go, to chill the f*** out – and all on my own.

But apparently I can’t. And so that first dose of Paxil really threw me for a loop. I finally had someone who wasn’t a parent (sorry, Dad), a friend (sorry, Jen and JJ and Danae), or a husband (oh Bill, I’m SO sorry… I don’t mean to put you through hell) tell me that this may, in fact, be a REAL problem. Maybe I couldn’t do this on my own. Maybe, instead of just a public service announcement on the state of my affairs, what I needed from everyone else was actual help.

So enter my therapist, who is amazing, and Paxil, which I am not too thrilled about. Picking up my prescription was strange, as I have never seen myself as someone who needed something like medication to deal with something like anxiety. I have always been told I am so composed, so put together, so with it. But that comment itself implies such a widespread and problematic belief permeating our society in the form of stigma. I’m really starting to understand what it means to need assistance, and I can see where that compulsion I have to tell everyone that Paxil is supposed to help my stomach issues first – and then oh yeah, it’s for anxiety too – actually comes from. We’re bombarded with ideas that this type of help makes you weak, and we should all be embarrassed. Not only is something wrong with me, but something is even more wrong with me because I can’t fix it on my own. With that in mind, and zero ill judgement on anyone taking prescription medications for similar issues, I am hoping to not rely on Paxil for long. I was given the lowest manufactured dose and instructed to cut it in half, but I personally would rather work through things naturally with nutrition and meditation and exercise and talk therapy. However, I have to admit, it’s working.

And in more ways than one. That conversation with my doctor really gave me the push I needed to realize that it’s time to take care of myself. It’s time to take some pressure off. Read more. Be present. Shift my perspective. Go outside. Turn down an invitation when I feel like it. Unplug. Say no to adding to my plate. Love myself more.

And so, last Saturday, instead of feeling obligated to make THE BEST plans and drink LOTS of alcohol and dance and laugh SO MUCH and post pictures about the SO GREAT AND AMAZING time I was having all over social media, I thought about what I really needed. And that was some peace and quiet, a long walk, the ocean, and time with my dog. So that’s what I did. And instead of powering through that walk to burn more calories, clock more time, and cover more distance, I was pleasantly surprised at the things I saw when I fully applied that same intentionality to being present. It wasn’t easy, but it happened. And so I come to “Things You Learn When You Slow Down On Purpose”, in order of revelation:

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First, I live here.

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No seriously. I LIVE HERE.

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Things like flowers exist and are pretty.

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They also come in more than one color.

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Stopping is nice, especially when just for your own viewing pleasure.

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And that activity where you put your dog on a leash and take her outside is called a “walk” because dogs actually enjoying walking, as opposed to what I used to call a “walk” but was actually more of a “dragging”. Indy knew the flowers were there all along, and she likes to smell them too.

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This little guy is adorable. He also sings.

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Awe is a cool feeling, especially when followed by day dreaming sans pressure to meet society’s ideals and get ahead and own that immediately. Simply appreciating is just as much, if not more, fun.

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And did I mention I live here?

I’ll admit that this was a difficult post to write, and it took me a while to gather up the courage to post it. But that Saturday evening walk and this post are first steps. And first steps may be small steps, and days come one at a time… But seriously. The world is already looking brighter.

 

A Milestone Birthday

Last Tuesday, I had a birthday. A coworker held the door open for me upon arriving at my place of work. While walking together down the hall to our offices, she asked if it was a milestone birthday.

Without hesitation, I answered, “Yup! 27. The best year ever.”

She laughed, and I did too, because laughing is great. But it was the absolute truth. I do fully intend to make 27 the best one yet. So with that, I am kicking off a year of living simply, loving to the fullest, and being present. Also known as… The Best Year Ever. So here are the highlights from the day that’s the start of one for the books!

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I’m not one to post selfies, but when another fabulous coworker exclaimed, “You’re one of those people who dresses up for your birthday!” upon first seeing me at 8:30 a.m., I realized, why yes. I am. So here is the outfit I chose for the (professional) occasion, including my new favorite skirt from The Limited.

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My favorite accent piece of the day? The gift from my brother and sister-in-law – the Kate Spade Skinny Mini Bow Bracelet. (Similar here.)

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One of our new traditions at work: Bringing in treats on your birthday, just like back in elementary school. With not much of a sweet tooth and a massive savory one, I opted for bagels (gluten-full and gluten-free) and cream cheese (dairy-full and dairy-free) for my morning front-office celebration. In true high style, I even brought the toaster.

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Pink. Sprinkles. Office door surprise. They know me well.

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I don’t know which was better: the beautiful white calla lilies one of my colleagues brought me or the hilarious story of her traipsing through her garden before dawn to retrieve them (complete with enthusiastic reenactment).

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I stayed at work until exactly noon, then headed home to shed the office attire and slip into my laid-back uniform of my most comfortable of maxi dresses. I wasn’t the only one eager to begin the festivities – Indy wanted in too, as you can probably tell by the look on her face searching for any possibility for a W-A-L-K.

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The first stop was an escape to the gorgeous Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards for a picnic, peacocks, and their amazing apple wines. Danae and her husband Matt disappeared with us, guaranteeing great company in the 75 degree weather of the beautiful Central Coast.

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And what could possibly be my #1 most coveted birthday lunch? A salad from New Frontiers‘ salad bar, which fell from the salad bar gods in salad bar heaven to bless even the most blaspheming of salad-bar-non-believers with salvation from their evil ways. Converts you all will be, I swear on all that is green and holy.

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The big man himself was able to finagle his way out of work for the occasion, and we actually got to wine taste together! Small victories, everyone.

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My greatest wish for this day was to park it next to the ocean, surrounded by friends and margarita in hand. One of the best places to do this is happy hour at Marisol at the Cliffs Resort in Shell Beach. In the background you see Robert, Jeff and Jessica, as well as the nose of my most loved one in the top right corner. In the back-background, you see open sky, open ocean, and palm trees. In the foreground you see the remains of a slowly sipped shot of reposado and a strawberry margarita, planted firmly on the table directly in front of me. Read: HAPPINESS.

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Genuine relaxation is my greatest wish for any of my friends, but especially for Danae and Matt who work so hard owning their own wedding styling/coordinating business and restaurant, respectively.

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Sunshine and salt water are the best medicine.

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And so the sun set on another wonderful first day of the rest of my life. However, the sun has not set – and will not if I have anything to do with it – on my intentions to live fully for the next 51 weeks.

“And she believed that she could so she did.”

Small Steps, Big Dreams!

Today is a big day.

Want to know why?

Of course you do.

I’m happy to announce that…

It’s official! I pulled the trigger, and my blog is now

http://www.dohotmessticated.com

Because I have often heard that…

Dream A Little Bigger Darling{Image from mycrazy-beautifulife.tumblr.com via Pinterest}

And I tend to listen to very good advice.

Celebrate with me, please!

xo

Flippin’ the Kitchen

Last Wednesday, I found myself very lost. Wandering aimlessly through row after row after row in the brightly lit space, I was unable to communicate or comprehend the overwhelming confusion that clouded my brain. Searching up and down the towering stacks, I would reach out to touch something only to recoil in the unfamiliarity of it. At one point, a kind soul approached me to ask if I needed help, which I must have – quite obviously – looked as if I did. I jumped and swung around, stuttering and feeling inept in my apology. “I’m sorry, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.” I could see the startled strangeness in his eyes as he wracked his brain for what must be going on with this unsettled girl. Upon my blank-expressioned explanation and gesturing at the paper in my hand, however, his eyes softened and he said, “Let me help you.” But after the brief interaction, he abandoned me, leaving me again alone and adrift in the vast emptiness of the… whole foods market.

I had just learned I am dairy and wheat intolerant. And apparently, I had lost my ability to navigate every day activities and common social situations along with a lifetime of cheese and carbs. And milk. And ice cream. And spontaneity. And indulgence. And BEER.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had issues with my stomach. Growing up, I would find myself laid out on the couch every night at 7 p.m. like clockwork. Since then, not a day has gone by without some incidence of a stomachache in varying magnitudes. Toward the end of college, all through grad school, and the year I took off between, I started feeling progressively worse, adding symptom after symptom to the long list of problems I was seeing in my health and wellness. At least once a week, I would have such an ache in my stomach that I could barely stand up straight, and just as in my elementary years, I would find myself laid out on the couch, the bed, the stairs, any flat surface in close proximity on which I could curl up in a ball and pout. Beyond that, I was always tired. And freezing cold. I had sinus infections and facial tension and a clenched jaw more than frequently. I would unexpectedly get waves of nausea. (No, I’m NOT pregnant!) Calf, shin, ankle and foot cramps would wake me up most nights or cause me to bolt off the couch to “walk it off” during movies. And beyond a variety of persistent skin concerns, my once beautiful, complement-inspiring hair has become dry and brittle with the ends constantly split and breaking off easily between my fingers.

Recently, a few of my loved ones informed me that not everyone lives this way.

Oh.

So begins the journey to figuring out what the heck is going on with my renegade body. With fantastic benefits from my new job, this epiphany could not have come at a more opportune and grateful time. At first, thinking it was purely stress, I practiced yoga, relaxation, and meditation regularly and found a great therapist close to home. She happened to rent her space from a sort-of natural healing and integrative medicine community consisting of a birthing center, a registered dietician, a chiropractor, and more. Also among their ranks was an acupuncturist/integrative health specialist, who I decided to give a try. She was also insanely fantastic, with great suggestions on adding and subtracting food from my daily diet along with sticking needles all over the place.  (More on this later!) And while my anxiety started to subside and my jaw unclenched noticeably, I was still feeling many of my other symptoms. That’s when my mom informed me that both she and my maternal grandmother have hypothyroidism, which can be inherited genetically and the symptoms of which matched up perfectly with many of those of which I was complaining. Hours and hours of calling offices around the county finally turned fruitful with an appointment with a physician’s assistant, who drew up the paperwork for a blood test. In his office again a week later for the test interpretation, nothing abnormal turned up except for a slightly lower that ideal white blood cell count. He assured me there was nothing to worry about. Thankful for the news but frustrated in a continued lack of a solution, I decided to call the husband and wife team of Longevity Healthcare with offices in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Newport Beach to see what they could offer. Their operation sounded like just what I needed, with his M.D. degree and her PhD in Holistic Nutrition. I waited a month to see them, but it was well-worth the wait. Upon arrival, the first 15 minutes were spent with Dr. Peter Muran, who took one look at my concerns and my blood test results and informed me I may indeed have a thyroid problem and more tests needed to be completed. The next hour and a half were spent in an appointment with Sandy, which soon became a whirlwind of information that left me light-headed and dizzy. Finally, two hours later, I emerged from their office – stacks of reading materials, extensive supplement lists, and protein powder samples in hand. 

There it was, ladies and gentlemen. Wheat and dairy were the culprits all along. But let’s not stop there. I need more protein and magnesium, am currently incapable of making my own B-vitamins, and have a candida overgrowth in my stomach. I had been looking for a zebra when the herd of horses was the problem. No wonder I felt like shit.

Fast forward one 20-minute in driver’s seat conversation – during which I fell even more in love with Bill with his outpouring of husbandly support – and you will again find me where our story began roaming the aisles of New Frontiers, our massive local whole foods marketplace. I have been there a hundred times in the past for their salad bar and smoothies, but this time was different. With a wealth of products I’ve never seen before, labels I don’t yet understand, and astronomical prices, I became easily overwhelmed at the life overhaul which I am about to implement.

Needless to say, the last week has had its ups and downs. After the $94 New Frontiers escapade, I floated over to Target to find great gluten-and dairy-free options for MUCH cheaper. One disheartened metaphoric “d’oh” later, I was happy to find that something I love – but had not purchased at a much higher price point – was not only cheaper but also on sale at Target, and I loaded up on enough Amy’s frozen entrees and EVOL burritos to get me through more than a week of work. Now I know that this is not necessarily the best way to go, what with sodium counts being under intense scrutiny lately, but I knew that what’s up ahead is more than just a “Can Eat/Can’t Eat” challenge. It is a lifestyle change. Not only do I need to relearn what is available to me and read nearly every nutrition label and ingredient list along the way, but I also need to find more time to plan for meals, prep food, and actually cook. We all know how difficult that can be with full-time jobs, gym memberships, households to upkeep, and most importantly, relationships to maintain. Beyond that, my milk guzzling, PB&J scarfing husband and I are going to have to keep many of our foods separate. I don’t want him to have to change his eating habits just for me, but now I also need to learn how to make things we both can enjoy. All of this adds together up to an overwhelming mess of intimidation, of which I am simultaneously feeling excited for the challenge and terrified of the effort involved.

The following days have been interesting, and I’m learning new coping strategies as I go.  Thursday was awesome. I ate lunch with my vegetarian friend Courtney at a local vegan restaurant, Bliss Cafe, which made for easy choices on my new diet. With the kitchen at home not adequately stocked with supplies, I gave myself a break and ordered two meals, which served as dinner that night and two more meals over the weekend. Friday, however, was a challenge. Still not feeling awesome from the two-week flu incident preceding the ordeal, I decided to follow my sleep-in pre-work schedule upon waking. Too bad I ended up late for work because I couldn’t figure out what the hell to eat for breakfast. Next up, mid-morning a plate of my favorite favorite gluten-free cookies from campus catering showed up in the front office at work, and it took me two bites to realize that the chocolate chips in their peanut-buttery goodness most likely had some form of milk product in them. My stomach soon agreed, and I threw a perfectly beautiful cookie straight into the trash. Then, as part of an initiative to bring our staff together socially, we had our first monthly lunch planned. At a Mexican restaurant. Full of cheese and flour and who knows what else. Thank goodness I brought my vegan leftovers, because I just sat there and sipped water while all my coworkers splurged on gorgeous enchiladas. By the time I got back to my leftovers, the lunch hour was over and my attention was pulled every which way, leaving no continuous period for much needed sustenance. The tipping point was that afternoon when I realized that I can’t have my dad’s waffles, my stepmom’s french toast, my mom’s quiche, or my family’s Christmas cookies anymore. (People seem to jump at the chance to point out that there are many ways to make these with all the options out on the market today, but they completely miss the point that it’s the recipes from my childhood that make these things so special to me and changing the ingredients completely nullifies that concept.) My anxiety was riding high by the time I got in the car to go home at the end of my tumultuous Friday, and then I realized that Bill and I had planned a rare Friday date night at Que Pasa… with more Mexican food. I collapsed in a sobbing pile in his arms upon arriving home. Once I quit crying, I realized I had given myself a stomachache, but this time from anxiety.

The weekend went more smoothly once I had time to really sit and think through everything. My beautiful friend Danae sent me home from our yard sale with her husband’s homemade quinoa salad (which by the way, is AMAZING… They’re the owners of Old San Luis BBQ Co. in Downtown SLO, and you MUST GO). I found Trader Joe’s Gluten Free and Vegan Lists online, which after the complicating cross-checking that someone with both allergies needs to do, made my shopping trip much more enjoyable. And lastly, this girl made me feel much less alone. Even though my big plans this weekend were a Wine-and-Cheese Party turned Just-A-Wine Party for me, followed by a dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town where I starved through the 90-minute long bread and butter and caeser salad extravaganza my friends enjoyed before something I could eat finally landed in front of my face, I’m slowly getting more and more confident in this new chapter.

The refrigerator has been divided.

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I’ve begun domination of New Frontiers, Vons, Trader Joe’s and the Target food section.

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I’m getting the hang of this “bring your smoothie in a mason jar” thing.

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New cookbooks have been added to the Amazon Wishlist. Pinterest has been raided. All is slowly becoming right in the world, and I’m already seeing a few results.

What it all comes down to is that this will be one hell of a journey, but I know I’ll come out healthier, happier, and stomach-ache free on the other side. I have found I have a lot of support, and it’s not hard to remember that there are worse problems to have. Bill and I have even set a date in the future to celebrate new behaviors becoming habits, and I’m planning to “graduate” to my new lifestyle at that time. Until then, I ask that my family and friends please ask questions and be patient with me, because I’m still learning too (and currently have very little idea of what I’m doing). So here’s to a new crop of treats and luxuries! Because as Rae Smith said…

Never Be Afraid To Fall Apart

{Beautiful artwork by Shannon of the blog The Shannonicle found via Pinterest}