High Hopes For Living

 
   Embracing my freedom and trying to forget my problems roughly one year ago.

Embracing my freedom and trying to forget my problems roughly one year ago.

 

On this exact day last year, I was dog-sitting for a friend of mine and admiring her amazing eye for interior design. I had a running list in my head of all the little touches she had around her home that made it so inviting - plants, vintage furniture, artwork on the walls - and was dreaming up ways to add them to my own apartment once I got home. Her space was so inviting and had such good energy, whereas mine had been feeling a little dull and depressing lately. I thought if I could bring some of that to my place, some of the fog I'd been feeling caught in would lift.

Two nights later, my relationship ended, and my entire life was uprooted. Forget a new design aesthetic, I needed a new apartment! I needed a new job! I needed a new life! 

 
   Remember this Anna? She was having a rough time of it.

Remember this Anna? She was having a rough time of it.

 

I haven't been particularly good at keeping up with writing over the past year - not on my blog, in my personal journal, or on any of my creative projects. It's the one thing I've really been beating myself up for, but as I keep having to remind myself, I've accomplished a lot in other areas of my life. It's understandable that creative pursuits get put on hold when you're trying to figure out how to completely rebuild yourself and the life you want to be living, no matter how much you want to be able to do everything all at once. 

And that's really what this last year has been for me - a chance to rebuild. A journey to rediscover who I am, to heal from wounds both recent and buried deep in my past, an opportunity to become the person I'm meant to be instead of the person I fell into becoming. It's been equal parts terrifying, disheartening, exhilarating, joyous, and heartbreaking, but overall it has been incredibly rewarding in ways I couldn't have begun to imagine when I first started out.

A huge part of that is due to going back to therapy. About 3 weeks into my newfound singledom, I had a pretty huge breakdown. The breakup was lacking so much of the respect I'd thought our relationship was built on, and I realized this wasn't something I could process myself. I didn't feel like the person I was during our relationship, someone I couldn't quite comprehend I'd become in the first place, but I didn't feel like the person I was before either. I felt like a shell of a human being and didn't know how to move past that, so at the urging of my mom and several of my friends I tracked down a therapist who seemed like she would be a good fit. This was probably one of the best decisions I've made in a long time.

   A message from the city and a lesson I worked hard to learn this year.

A message from the city and a lesson I worked hard to learn this year.

In addition to helping me work through my recent relationship and coming to the realization of how unhappy I'd been during it, my therapist helped me trace a path back from the present to my childhood trauma, which has cast an ever-present shadow over my life and informed how I connect with others. Together we sorted through the confusing jumble of my memories, disentangled my automatic responses to others' actions, and rewired my self-image. It was often subtle, and sometimes I wondered if any of it was truly helping, but eventually I was able to not only find some closure from my recent heartache but also finally speak my truth and close the book on an extremely toxic relationship that has held me in sway for as long as I can remember. It was invigorating, empowering, and a little bittersweet because I knew it meant losing my connection to people who felt caught in the middle and may decide to take sides. More than anything, it was liberating.

I walked into my therapist's office the week after I'd spoken up and severed ties with the people who had caused me so much pain, and she immediately knew something had changed. I was lighter, happier, and far more assertive. I felt like I was glowing, like the clouds had finally parted, and I could be fully and completely me. For the first time in my life, I didn't feel like I had to prove my worth to people who had no interest in seeing my value. 

Throughout all of this deep emotional exploration, I was also making changes in my physical life. I needed a new job, and so I'd taken a part-time position at a non-profit that I thought would be a good temporary landing pad until I figured out what I truly wanted to do. I was completely shocked to discover that I loved it there and didn't want to leave anytime soon. I was making new friends, contributing to a cause that felt fulfilling, spending time around other artists, getting recognition for the hard work I was putting in every day, and still finding time to go home and work on my own personal responsibilities (and walk my favorite pups). 

   You can't beat a welcoming sanctuary!

You can't beat a welcoming sanctuary!

I'd also moved into a new apartment with my sister, our (then) three cats, and a fantastic new roommate. Somehow we'd lucked out and gotten a dream apartment - huge, affordable, perfect location with a view of the park, and (most importantly to me) with a ton of natural light for growing plants. It was a blank canvas, something we could put our stamp on and turn into a beautiful home. Instead of retooling my old space into something more personal and inviting, I got to build my aesthetic from the ground up. It was slow going, and my impatient nature didn't make it any easier, but I finally have a bedroom that reflects me and all the plants my little heart could desire (that's a lie...you can never have enough plants).

In the last year I've traveled across the country (and to Canada!) to attend weddings for people near and dear to my heart, gone apple picking and hiking with friends from work, met Mr. Clause at Macy's Santa Land, stayed out at decadent parties until 4 am, said goodbye to my beloved Esme, made new friends, reconnected with old friends, done magic, read tarot cards, enjoyed a lot of puppy time, spent two weeks exploring both NYC and my hometown of Madison, WI with my parents, gone to concerts, discovered new music, spent time with my best friend and her adorable daughter, laughed a lot, cried a lot, and remembered what it's like to feel alive. 

   A collection of happy memories from the past year.

A collection of happy memories from the past year.

I've never loved the 4th of July, as much as I enjoy fireworks, because the overwhelming nationalism of the holiday has always left a bad taste in my mouth. But in a way it's fitting that this year it's my own personal Independence Day, a chance to celebrate one full year of liberation and all the incredible experiences that year has brought me. I still have my ups and downs, but who doesn't? And most days I feel an overwhelming sense of hope and possibility (existential and political terror notwithstanding). I'm not where I want to be yet, I may not always know where that even is, but I'm a hell of a lot closer than I've ever been and that feels pretty fucking fantastic. 

   One year(ish) later. Stay up on that rise and never come down!

One year(ish) later. Stay up on that rise and never come down!