Prepare Yourself, This Might Get Sappy.

There were a few things I was going to write about this week. One was a response to an article that’s gone viral about why Generation Y is so unhappy. I almost wholeheartedly disagree with it, but I couldn’t finish. The second post was a “Breakup Playlist” that was really just a list of happy songs I composited that get me excited and I can’t help but dance to when they come on. And sadly, yes, a lot of the dancing I do these days is alone. But I enjoy it so lay off! The third was an observational piece about how impersonal life can be in the digital age of social media, where so many things are taken at face value and how someone’s online presence can be so far from the person they actually are yada yada yada. I began writing on all of these topics as my scattered mind couldn’t focus on just one, but there was something more important that kept nagging at me while I worked. Finally, I pulled the plug on these ideas. I’ll work on those later (unless they end up terrible which right now they are), because this post is for you, the reader. Because even though I sometimes have these grand ideas I I can’t wait to unleash, sometimes something else comes knocking and demands to be written. At that point there’s not a lot I can do except listen; type out the words and let my heart do the talking. There’s plenty of time for break-up playlists. This was something I needed to say now.

I’ll be honest, having a chronic illness, especially when it’s at its worst like it was for me most of last year, can be terribly lonely. As much as I love my friendships and romances and strong family bonds, it’s nearly impossible to keep them all up when you’re sick. One but more likely all of them will suffer. Last year the relationship I was in ended and as my health steadily declined, so did my social life. I remember just not answering the phone when it rang. I felt like I didn’t even have the energy to explain my mood, my condition, or apologize yet again for being a crappy friend or sister or whathaveyou. One of the hardest parts of the illness has always been what it’s done to me and the outside world. Last year was a dark one, but I was lucky enough to have family who took me in, and friends who were understanding when we went months without talking. I always liked that definition of a friend- someone who knows you but loves you anyway. :) I’ll say that being sick sort of dwindles down who the key people in your life are. Some survive the storm and some don’t, and it’s not really anything personal. Some people have needs you’re not able to meet with a condition like this, and truly you can’t blame them. I am an admitted flake, terrible at keeping up and correspondence, and I cancel at least half of the plans I make. This is mostly the fault of the illness, and it’s understandable why not many friendships are upheld through it. My circle is small, but I love everyone in it dearly, and they certainly love me back considering what they tolerate.

I think last Fall was one of the hardest times in my life. I was living in my sisters house in California. Home away from home away from home. I initially planned to go there for a month, but when my crash worsened and things like walking became hard, I ended up staying until Christmas, and everything felt out of control. Because it was. I was a difficult person then, and I feel a little bad for my behavior. My sister would always ask me to go eat dinner with her at my brother-in-law’s restaurant, but the thought of small talk with people I didn’t know was overwhelming. Sometimes it put me in a bad mood just thinking about it! I actually preferred being alone. I often felt more alone when surrounded by people but completely isolated on the inside. I hated who I had become–such a solitary hermit. But I truly just didn’t have the energy to even be polite. It was easier, and better I think, for me to just stay home. Which sounds terrible and depressing. Healthy people won’t get it. But truthfully relationships of any kind take work, they are two-sided, and I just didn’t have enough to give at that point. But the real reason I’m writing about this is because, beyond all the crappy days and reclusive tendencies, there was this community built on the blog. People reading it and commenting, people sending emails of gratitude or support or encouragement or all of the above, and it was truly remarkable to receive feedback like that, especially at a time where I felt really alone. I knew there were others like me and I wasn’t suffering alone. And although I didn’t know any of you truly, I knew of you because you reached out and were honest, and I read every word. It meant the world to have complete strangers rooting for me, some in other countries. It felt incredible not purely for personal reasons, but because I saw just how much positivity and love and support could be garnered by so many people who didn’t even know each other. It still gives me chills to this day; it shows what can happen when human beings come together for something good and optimistic. I think we’re all looking for a reason to be good. And while no, it didn’t cure me or fix all the problems, it did give me a real sense of hope that I could get better, that it wouldn’t always be like this, and even at times that if I never got better, this wonderful energy was still created and circling around the world. I didn’t do it, we did it. We put that out into the universe, and there’s something kind of magical about that. We’ve created some good together, and I think it’s something to be proud of.

Last week I posted about a promise I had made to myself years ago: that I would celebrate my 30th birthday in Paris. When I read people’s responses and support and encouragement for me to do something purely because it would make me happy and in turn, them happy, I felt the most love I ever have laying in bed and looking at a computer screen. Strangers telling me to go for it, that they’d donate money for me to do it, and insisting I go regardless of circumstance, was truly inspiring to me. I felt connected and after such a crappy year last year and feeling so far on the outside, watching everyone else live their lives while I felt like I was crumbling internally, that was such a powerful thing for me to feel. And needed to feel I should say. It’s easy to get stuck on your story, to live life from the outside looking in, to let things pass you by. But after seeing such a positive reaction from people, and seeing how me going after my dream and living with purpose was encouraging others too was simply unreal. But mostly, it was an inspiring and and abundant source of love to feel on my end. And that’s stuff you just can’t buy or put an amount on. It is truly priceless.  So for that I want to say thank you. THANK YOU. THANK YOU A LOT. I felt a very long time ago that this blog wasn’t really just about or for me. It was for something greater. And I know that now more than ever. It’s about all of us.

As summer turns into Fall, (unless you’re in New Orleans in which case it’s still 90 degrees and there’s a tropical storm headed our way) I am reflecting on where I was last year at this time. I had no idea that some of the hardest months of my life were about to unfold. And in the darkest of times, moments where I couldn’t find myself in the world, I would always come across the words in a comment or an email from a reader that reminded me of something very simple but very important– I wasn’t alone. And if you’re reading this now, going through a hard time caused by anything- health, heartache, loneliness, insecurity, whatever- I hope you’ll know that you aren’t alone either. It was in those very dark but small moments, that the tiniest crack of light would shine in and let me know, we truly are all in this together. We’ve all got our battles, and we all experience things that make us question who we are and where we’re going and if we’ll ever get out of the hard time we face. I’m here to tell you, you do. I did. Many times actually. And the hard parts aren’t over. I am relatively young and life won’t stop throwing boulders or pebbles across my path. (If you’re listening God, I prefer pebbles. But, you know, do what you gotta do.) I just feel that one of the most important things that could ever so slightly drag me out of the dark, was this interconnectedness I’d feel with humanity, even though I had no social life…at all. Granted my sister tried, but I was mostly a grumpy curmudgeon. Sorry Amelie! Anyway, things have gotten better. My health, while still a major hurdle, is not nearly as bad as it was this time last year. I’ve reunited with friends. I wear pants a lot more now. ;) But it feels good to know that while last Fall was let’s face it, a shit show, I re-emerged. As we all do and will, if we can only hang on, remember that nothing is forever, and as lonely as it can feel, we are never truly alone. I mean it. And I’m alone a lot!

So, that’s it. Among all my other ideas, this one wouldn’t leave me alone. And I want to tell anyone reading, I read every comment on this blog and every email regarding it. I don’t always respond (I told you I’m a flakey friend and terrible with correspondence!) but I honestly take time and read all the feedback sent my way. And I LOVE hearing from everyone. The funny thing is how many emails begin with “I’m sure you get thousands of these but…” I assure you that’s not even close to the case. A few a week at best!! All of you have your own battles and wonderful, sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious, stories of tragedy and triumph, and I relish in reading them. I wish there was a scientific or spiritual way for me to prove or convey this, but all of that positive and loving energy sent my way goes right back into this project and the world at large. It’s such a cool community we’ve set up here. Remember this all started with two followers: my sister and my aunt Amy. And look at us now! :) Thank you for reading, writing, laughing, and crying with me. The community we’ve built is invaluable, and I always turn to it when I feel myself leaning towards seclusion or sadness. I hope you do the same. Because half of writing anything is having someone to read it. I think we’ve done well. Again, a million times over, thank you.

momo
Monty was very excited to take this photo.

Health, Happiness, Merci.

*P.S. On September 26th, this blog turned two years old. Yaaay.

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The Paris Promise.

Have you ever promised yourself a gift? Something unnecessary, something perhaps even excessive, but something just for you, from you?

When I was 22, I left America to study a spring semester in France. I had always been drawn to Paris– the French, the language, the lifestyle–but I could never pinpoint why. I just felt I needed to go one day. I became so philosophical about wanting to go there and not understanding what was fueling my desire that finally I called my brother Nick in a strange self-induced panic. “I want to study a semester in France.” “Great!” he responded. “But I have no idea why!” A pause. “Who cares?”

It was my freshman year, and I often called Nick with my college-born troubles. I remember him telling me with such sincerity, “Mary, don’t think to hard about it. You want to study in France, so study in France! You’ll know why once you get there.” He was correct. Three and a half years and a crap-ton of paperwork later, I packed two ridiculously sized suitcases and prepared for life abroad.

Technically, the timing couldn’t have been worse. I felt very troubled leaving. It had been one of the hardest years of my mom and I’s life. Just less than a year earlier my step-dad died suddenly, and everything sort of stopped. None of us were prepared for that. As if that wasn’t hard enough, a few months later my black lab Brusky, who had just turned one year old, developed an infection and also died suddenly. Brusky was one of the only positive things my mom and I could count on that year. When things became intense or overwhelming or sad, he’d always do something to make us laugh. He was truly a wonderful dog. He was my sunshine. And when he died that morning, I really felt forgotten. There was an empty feeling of chaos inside. I watched the world spin on but I felt stuck standing still. I was jealous of happy people. I was doubtful for our future. And I was losing faith that we could ever be happy again. It was partially the reason I went to France. At that point it felt like I didn’t have a lot to lose.

But I was the last kid left in Louisiana. Most weekends I drove home from school to be with my mom. There are so many logistical things to tend to after someone dies. Just cancelling his cell phone with AT&T took months and months. My mom always told me to stay at school. That I didn’t need to come home and that she’d be fine. But when you see a parent lose someone they love, you see a piece of them go too. She’s tough, and she rarely reaches out for help. And that was mostly the reason I went– so she wouldn’t have to. When I received the acceptance letter to a university in a small town in France called Besançon, I was immediately excited and then immediately distraught. How could I leave my mom at such a pivotal time? She insisted I go. Insisted she’d be fine. The last thing she wanted was for Roger’s death to hinder us. I grappled with the idea of staying and the idea of going.  Finally it felt like I had to go. If I stopped exploring, learning, living, loving, trying, then I’d have let fear and doubt and melancholy take over. We had to keep living, both of us, and maybe while I was gone, something wonderful could happen to her too. It didn’t make our goodbye at the airport any less sad. I held it together as best as I could, but still I felt the fear and the doubt and sadness right there on the surface. We hugged goodbye and I prayed all the way to Paris. It was the only thing I could do to keep my confidence alive in a decision that I wasn’t outwardly sure about.

Once in France, my brothers words rang true. Meeting amazing people who are still incredibly close friends. Watching the first snow fall. Cafe au lait and croissants and vin chaud and ridiculous business hours and cafes and little French children. It was perfect. All of it. I fell in love. With the country, with a boy, with my friends, and my life there. “This is why,” I thought. I’d found my answer. Something in my soul must have known I’d find happiness there, at a time where I’d forgotten what happiness even looked like. I lived in a space maybe half the size of my bedroom now with a twin bed and a desk, and I have never been happier. Best of all, I felt vibrantly alive for the first time in a long time.

Happy, oui.
Happy, oui.

Not only that, but while I was gone, my mom said yes to a coffee date, with extreme hesitance.  A friend convinced her it was only coffee and so she went. The coffee date turned into a dinner date. Which turned into an every meal date, and falling in love and happily ever after. Would that have happened if I would’ve stayed? We’ll never know, but I’ll always wonder.

When leaving after an adventure like that, you make a lot of promises. You think you’ll go back. You think you’ll stay in touch with everyone. You’ll carry on traditions. But these are more optimistic than realistic. The real world resumes on when you return. (It’s awful!) Although I made two best friends there, one of which is My Stupid Friend Jess, very few of us stay in real touch. We reminisce. We get sad when we think about the fact that if we all went back now, it wouldn’t be the same. Our experience was wonderful, carefree, spontaneous– but impossible to repeat. It was five and a half months of not living in the real world as we know it. School was very easy, teachers were lax. They encouraged you to immerse yourself in any and everything, and if that meant missing class, pas de probleme! I loved it. It was truly perfect.

But I did make one promise that I have always intended to keep. I promised myself that I’d return to Paris and celebrate my 30th birthday there. I’ve thought about this promise throughout the years, and I think over the last two years I’d sort of lost hope and resorted to the idea that Paris wouldn’t happen. But when I turned 29 this year, that promise seemed to reignite inside me. I realized it’s only impossible if I say it is. I have a year to make this wish come true. I have no idea why I made the promise for my 30th birthday. I probably assumed I’d be wealthy and successful by then. Hahaha!!! Life is funny.

So I’m not exactly wealthy and successful (yet) but I still have 10 1/2 months until my 30th. A lot can happen in that amount of time. I know that work is required of me. I know there is a way for me to have this illness but still contribute in a meaningful way and support myself and Monty and pay back all the debts I’ve incurred along the way! I truly think it’s possible. I constantly see items on TV or in magazines and think ah, when I’m a millionaire, I’ll totally have a temperpedic mattress and my own jet for travel so I’m not subjected to modern commercial air travel. They are fantasies, sure, but something tells me they could really happen. It’s not like this type of success doesn’t exist. It’s not impossible! It’s just going to require getting creative. Most people don’t make millions from bed, but it’s not that far off the radar. I mean the Kardashians did it!

Anyway, I don’t have the money yet but I haven’t aggressively tried to get it. I’ll need to strategize. And maybe I won’t be in great health, and it will be different than last time and I won’t be able to walk the city as freely. But I’m going to turn 30 no matter what. Here or there. And if I’m sick here, why not be sick there? I don’t mind being sick in Paris! And if it’s just me, alone on a terrace, watching the Eiffel from afar, that’s great too. As long as I am choosing life, and honoring my passions and keeping my dreams alive and not stifled, I don’t think I can really go wrong. I don’t know how this is all going to fall in place, but somewhere deep, someplace where I once felt that initial drive to go and didn’t know why, I feel that it will happen. And if I keep letting the illness infringe on every dream, I’ll never get anywhere. Things will stay the same. And  once you stop dreaming, what is the point really? This was a promise I made to myself. Not for a boy, not to prove anything, just a gift I promised to my soul. Last time I left, it was a troubling time and I was uncertain, but once I arrived it all made sense. It appears to be that way again.

The only question left to ask? WHO’S WITH ME?!   :)

La Santé, Le Bonheur, et La Promesse