The sign

I didn’t write about it when it had passed, probably because I was too consumed by its presence. But my grandma died right in front of my eyes a little over a year.

Death has always been a familiar thing.

I’ve known grief and I’ve known sorrow, and longing for those who have left me far too early. However I’ve also been lucky enough to receive signs that they’re still with me.

I’ve always believed that when someone dies they’re capable of showing you they’re still with you in certain ways. Like if you had a certain song you listened to together it might come on at a moment you really need it once that person is gone. It’s happened to my mom and I several times throughout our lives. It’s amazing really.

My grandma was the most recent immediate family member to pass. It’s been a really, really difficult grieving process for my family.

My grandma, the tiny, little Vietnamese woman she was, couldn’t read a single word in her language or ours, and yet she was one of the wisest women I’ve ever known. Always coming up with unique ways for me and my cousins to have fun on a hot, summer day. Or giving us some of the most simple, heart-warming advice you could imagine — for a break-up, moving away to college or losing a family pet.

She truly was amazing. She loved us all so well.

I can’t write a whole lot due to my overflow of emotions. But I want to touch on the sign she recently sent me.

I’m a couple months deep into my healing process. Healing from past traumas and what not. And for part of it I’ve felt like I needed her in order to completely heal. Maybe it’s just me grieving. But frankly I just miss her. Her smile and her funny comments. The way she understood everything you said to her like it was her own life.

This week was a bit revolutionary for my process in getting a grip on my life. So I decided to let go of some stressors for the week and focus on the here and now.

We’d gone to visit my grandpa and I’d not planned on this but when we were there I noticed a few of my grandma’s peonies had bloomed in the front garden. I decided to clip some before we left.

I couldn’t tell you the last time I’d felt that much simple joy. The weight of the large flowers in my lap on the way home gave me a feeling of accomplishment and comfort.

And it wasn’t until several days later — until I’d let them sit in my room in a cup of water, until I cut them down and pressed them — that it all came to me. The flowers were a sign.

I did need my grandma recently more than I have in a very long time. And she was there for me. This was clearly her way of reassuring me and letting me know she’s here.

Honestly this sign is an important part of my healing process.

I’d received signs right after she’d died. Quite a few actually. This one came to me because she knew I needed it.

unapologetic sketchbook

who said a sketchbook was intended to be a blank canvas

for perfect ink and pigment placement?

other sketchbooks are filled with all creations of the mind

and however the working hands lay that creation to paper

is how it remains.

at home.

in the pages of that sketchbook.

so why is it so difficult for me?

to allow something to have a home in my own sketchbook.

because I can’t help but pick at every one of its imperfections.

constantly covering up the work, violently scratching out what is unworthy.

I’m the one criticizing my work this hard.

deeming it unworthy.

my work, ideas, handwriting, skills and creativity.

a sketchbook should be a shelter for all creations.

Lemonade

*** This is what quarantine looked like from my own perspective, someone who had the ability to work from home. Frontline workers such as those in the medical field, the food industry, those working in grocery stores and so many more out there are risking everything. They not only risk their own lives to battle COVID-19, but their families at home are high risk as well. Please stay home unless it’s absolutely essential that you go out. The frontliners need this from us right now. We all do.

We’re really in some odd and unfair times right now. And I don’t want to spend this entry dwelling on the horrible things that are happening in the world, rather what good we can do for ourselves in the time of COVID-19.

Really, I’ve always been a believer in the law of attraction — what you think and feel will change how you experience something. I don’t think it just summons positive experiences into our lives by any means, but I think it changes a person’s mindset which can truly be a powerful thing.

If I were to be spending my entire quarantine dwelling on the dread and doom that is COVID-19, I would be in a constant state of anxiety. And believe me, I know this for a fact because I’ve spent a few of my days dwelling, anxious and angry at the world. I’m human. It happens. We’re going to have good days and bad days.

I want to highlight what I’ve been doing during my time at home to show that this experience, though I hope to never have to go through another pandemic again, doesn’t have to be all negative.

One thing that’s kept me sane is the routine I’ve kept in place. It’s not a super rigorous routine, but it’s something to keep me accountable and feeling productive in small ways. My routine allows me to be in control of things such as what time I go to sleep and wake up everyday, the food I’m eating and the exercise I’m doing.

I try not to think about what I could be doing outside of the apartment — that’s been crucial. If I’m thinking, “Oh, I wish I could go to the coffee shop and read or do some work,” then I’m robbing myself of enjoying my time at home. I’m already wasting that moment thinking about what I could be doing if COVID-19 had not intruded on my life.

In 10-15 years I don’t want to think of days where I was bored to shreds or so anxious I could barely do anything. Though these things have occurred — the anxiety, boredom, sense of impending doom — I want to create an experience for myself. I want to ensure I do more than just allow COVID-19 to intrude and take over my life.

I’m finding peace in the quiet moments. I’m getting in all the family time I can get. I’m learning more about myself in this amount of time than I think I have in my entire life.

I’m hoping that every one of us will come out of this changed for the better. I know that while I’m taking advantage of this quarantine, I want it to be over just as soon as the next person. And once it is over with, I’m not sure I’ll take as much for granted as I did before this. Life is a beautiful thing and we’re blessed to have something so precious. I plan on coming out of this whole experience a more thankful and mindful individual. 

Not everyone’s quarantine is going to look the same. And not everyone has the ability to look at things from different angles in such uncertain times. I knew going into this that if I wanted to save my mental health from going down the drain, I needed to go into this whole thing with the right mindset.

There are many ways COVID-19 has affected me personally. My mom is in the healthcare industry. As is my soon-to-be stepdad. I also have family that works in grocery. I have a million things to worry about on a daily basis. Did I go into this pandemic absolutely scared of every horrible thing that could happen to me and my family? Of course. But I soon realized I needed to pull myself together mentally in order to not fall below the surface.

My suggestion to anyone, (not just someone who struggles with mental health) would be to take advantage of this slow down. Take a breather. Dive into an old hobby, watch the series on Netflix you told yourself you’d watch when you had the time, and get some fresh air everyday. Yeah it sucks we’re in this situation. But let’s make some lemonade with the lemons we’ve got.

My bridge moment

These past few weeks have been absolutely groundbreaking for my mental state — I have paved the way for a healing I didn’t even know possible. To understand what this piece is about you’ll need to know what mental health means to me and what my own personal experience is with it.

Last week I took a walk around Creve Coeur Lake. The three mile long pathway leads you right under a huge bridge (highway 364 to be exact). When I walked under the bridge several days prior I was terrified — coming up with escape routes in case it were to collapse, envisioning what the local (maybe even national) news would look like when it did.

A single therapy session, repeating the route over and over a few times, and some mindfulness was all it took to reach my mental revolution.

I’ve struggled with anxiety before I even knew it had a name. I was fearful of everything the world had to offer before I’d even had a chance to make it out there. At such a young age, I’d lost my dad to Leukemia and it took me years to finally understand what that meant — to be honest, I think I’m still trying to figure some of it out.

I’ve struggled with anxiety in every way, shape and form imaginable throughout my life thus far — it’s not been the most pleasant experience as you can probably imagine. In my college years I stumbled across a silver lining in what seemed like a life filled with nothing but fear.

I had a super difficult time in college, especially my freshman year. I didn’t even imagine attending a university whenever I was in high school, so the fact that I was even sharing a dorm with someone was a miracle in my eyes. I luckily (by random selection, too!) ended up with an amazing roommate. I opened up to her about my struggles with my mental health and she was completely open to understanding it all. And that changed a lot for me.

I came to realize there were people I was extremely close with who were benefiting from having open discussions about mental health. Some didn’t know they may have had anxiety. Others needed that outlet. While I was still struggling with my own issues, it felt really good to be able to be the shoulder to lean on for those who needed it.

I recently saw something online that said a lot of people wear self-diagnosed anxiety on their sleeves like a badge they’re proud to wear. I’m not going to speak on those who may feel proud to have a mental illness because I’m not even sure I’ve ever really encountered someone like this — not saying this type of person doesn’t exist. And I can tell you I sure as hell would love to know what life is like without anxiety. But what I will say is that the reason I believe mental health is a topic of discussion on every social media platform is because it needs to be. Anxiety, PTSD, depression, any and all mental health issues need to be talked about and normalized in everyday conversation — that is how people realize they need to heal!

Speaking of healing  — remember the aforementioned bridge?

Last week I was terrified, shaking like a leaf, speed-walking under it, all while thinking of the best direction to run if it were to collapse. Now, that bridge is a symbol of empowerment for me.

I had told my therapist about my survival-mode experience. She gave me some tips to utilize in the future, not expecting I would go out and attempt them in the coming days but in the coming months. She told me to be mindful of my feet on the ground — focus on each step, just paying attention to how it feels to take step after step. This would keep my mind occupied and at ease.

Her other piece of advice was to first keep my pace the same for the next time I went under the bridge but then to gradually decrease my speed each time. She even suggested stopping under the bridge for a minute. This tip made me cringe. I hated the thought of even slowing down under that monstrous development. Even though I’d walked that path a hundred times prior, (and not been terrified let me say) I was just plain irrationally scared it would somehow come down on me.

I left my session knowing I had to accomplish this task. I was determined. Logically I knew it was structurally sound and had been standing for years and years. The illogical side of me had just gotten the better of me. But I knew what I needed to do.

So I went back.

Within one week I walked that same path THREE times. Each time I slowed my pace down more and more. I even stopped and took a photo of myself under the bridge as proof that I can do anything I put my mind to. Each time on that path I became more and more thankful for my ability to overcome this anxiety. I know it may seem silly to some people, but this was a big deal to me at one point. I was literally envisioning my family being told that I was crushed under a bridge. And after this week of practicing mindfulness, I look forward to walking under the bridge! It’s like my happy place, my safe place. My place to go when I’m feeling any kind of anxiety or stress because if I can walk under the bridge and feel OK then I can do pretty much anything.

I think everyone needs to have their bridge moment. I hope you have it sooner rather than later, because I’m telling you, I feel stronger than ever before in my healing process.

pls read until the very end, it’s important

I’ve written and deleted what I want to write a handful of times because there’s so many ways I could go about this topic. But I think I’ve finally settled on this. I don’t want to be sappy, or sad — this week’s news has given us enough of those feelings. This post, (and quite honestly the revival of my writing,) was inspired by the horrific helicopter crash that took the lives of nine people including basketball legend and humanitarian Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant.

I’d like to start off by saying that I have known for quite some time that grief is the strangest thing. It runs its course whether you want it to or not. There’s disbelief, anger, sadness, the uncontrollable thoughts that question why it even happened. And everyone deals with death differently.

I lost my dad when I was just 3 years-old. I have no recollection of what daily life was like with him here. His presence was sorely missed at both my high school and college graduations. He didn’t get to teach me how to drive when I turned 15. He didn’t get to see my first day of kindergarten, or any of my first days for that matter. I don’t even know what his voice sounded like.

As a toddler who’d lost a parent, I didn’t even know what death was at the time — life went on for me. The next day I was asking my mom, who was most likely just numb to everything at that time, to play with me, asking her where Daddy was. I had no concept of what was going on in our lives.

I can remember the exact moment I began to actually grieve my dad’s death. It wasn’t until I was in middle school, believe it or not. I was walking down the hallway and all of a sudden it just hit me: my dad wouldn’t be there to walk me down the aisle. There would be no father/daughter dance at my wedding — at least not with him. I can remember this gut-wrenching feeling in my stomach because for the first time in my life, I’d realized how actually permanent death was.

I’d realized it meant forever. It meant when the person’s gone, they’re gone. They miss out on everything. And if they died young, it especially sucks.

My sixth grade-self was changed forever.

I started asking more questions about my dad. Learning about his life, his humor. I learned that we are so similar even though he wasn’t able to be here to help raise me. We both love the same music and artists, and have similar philosophies about it — doesn’t matter the genre, if it’s good, it’s good. Both of us are big fans of stupid comedy. The stuff that doesn’t even really make sense sometimes. It gave me comfort in knowing I turned out similar to my dad in my personality. That can’t be genetic. Can it? I don’t know what to call it other than a blessing.

It was around this time in my life I also developed separation anxiety from my mom. I feared I would lose her, too, considering I’d already lost one parent.

I’m being so open and sharing all of this because quite honestly I want to help anyone who might struggle with anxiety, depression or trauma. It can all be related and I know it can all be so difficult to deal with. I know firsthand how difficult it is to grieve a traumatic thing like losing a parent and I know the damage it can cause. It’s not easy. I’ve always kind of been open with my mental health because I want people to learn from it. I want to be able to assist in any way I can and I want to learn from others, as well. We all desperately need each other and mental health is so important.

This week has been troubling for me, especially because Kobe was so young and he died with his daughter. He died doing what he loved, though, according to ESPN anchor Elle Duncan: “being a girl dad.” Due to the fact that Kobe was only 41 years-old, nearly all of his peers are alive to grieve for him, and due to their celebrity status, some of them are doing it publically.

It absolutely tears my heart up to see so many people who cared for Kobe and Gianna making tributes, telling stories and breaking down while doing it. Grief is one thing, but it makes me sad to see people like Ellen DeGeneres, LeBron James, Jimmy Fallon and Shaquille O’Neal show how awfully heartbroken they are by their loss. These are just some of the people that have stood out to me, but I could go on, and on with names of those who have shown their love for the basketball legend.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t want this to be a sad, heavy piece. I want it to serve as a thing of inspiration, because I’m feeling very much so. We don’t have all the time in the world to say we’re going to do something tomorrow or next week — tomorrow or next week isn’t guaranteed! If you want to do something then do it! Life is precious. It’s an absolute gift.

I’m so guilty of spending too much time worrying about what could go wrong. I need to enjoy the now! That is what life is about! It’s about this moment, right now. It’s about going on the hike you’ve been wanting to go on just for the view. It’s about starting to write again because it feels good. It’s about calling up your old roommate because you haven’t talked in a while. It’s about spending time with family and loving who they are! Or accomplishing your goals because life is too short to let your goals come to you. We make the mistake time and time again of thinking that we’ve got time. Do we really?

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