Meet my Mom!

Hello readers! Today’s post is one very close to my heart because I’m going to tell you all about my number one fan — my mom.

Now this isn’t your typical “my mom brought me into this world and has always believed in me” post. While my mom has of course always been there for me from the day I was a tiny newborn to that time a few years ago when my bathtub leaked through my ceiling, there’s something even more extraordinary about my mom that I feel needs to be shared with as many people as possible — the fact that I almost lost her quite a few times.

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me & mom, probably sometime 1985

When I was about six years old, my mom was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called Polyarteritis Nodosa (or PAN). In my mom’s case, the disease seriously damaged blood vessels in her kidneys. The doctors expected that she’d be forced to start dialysis within a few short years. But my mom didn’t like that prognosis, so she sought out other opinions, started taking extra care of herself, and somehow managed to set her mind to the utmost positive she could manage. I grew up never really thinking my mom was “sick” – she continued to work full-time until I was 18, cooked all our meals, read us bedtime stories, and went on vacations. During these years, she had her share of setbacks and complications, luckily none of them serious.
But right around the same time I graduated high school (and my Pap – her dad — passed away), Mom’s kidney function function started declining again. She was forced to quit her job, and two summers later, had no choice but to start going to dialysis three days a week.

From 2005 to early 2015, Mom drove herself to the dialysis clinic and sat patiently while a machine performed the duties her body no longer could. In these nine years, she had countless procedures and surgeries related to the dialysis itself, as well as all the other health issues that go along with PAN and kidney disease, like low and high blood pressure, thyroid problems, and neuropathy, which primarily affected her feet and made it difficult to walk. Still she insisted on driving herself as often as she could to maintain her independence.
Then in 2010, an infection of her peritoneal cavity spiraled out of control and landed her in the hospital for three months. We spent most of October through January at the hospital, including the ICU, wondering if this was the end and if Mom had finally had enough.
But like she had countless times before, Mom came back to us. She spent another several weeks in a rehabilitation facility considering she was so weak she could barely roll over in bed under her own strength, and finally came home mid-January 2011, just in time to see me get engaged.

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mom & me, summer 2002ish?

 

Somehow through nine difficult years, Mom maintained her positive thinking and trusted that she would one day get a transplant. Then one random night in January 2015, she got the call from her transplant coordinator that a kidney was on its way to Pittsburgh from California.
Mom underwent yet another long, complicated surgery, and we were thrilled when the surgeon and her regular doctors were overwhelmingly optimistic from the get go. Mom was dialysis-free within a few months, and nearly four years later, her kidney is still functioning properly.
While she still has some residual health problems, Mom is miles from where she used to be. And the best part is that she doesn’t have to rely on dialysis as a form of life support anymore.
That being said, Mom still has to take a slew of anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life. Even with insurance and Medicare, out-of-pocket expenses can be overwhelming — to the tune of around $1200 a month. At the bottom of this post, I’ll share a link to an amazing organization that helps patients like my mom cover these costs, so if you’d like to help, even a little bit, she would greatly appreciate it.

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me & mom dancing at my wedding in 2013

 

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Mom & Dad dancing to Brown Eyed Girl at my wedding, 2013

I don’t want this post to be one hundred percent about Mom’s health problems. While her medical issues are a big part of her life and our family’s life, they don’t define her as a person — unless you count the strength and resilience she’s showed time and time again. But Mom is so much more than her kidney disease. She loves traveling, especially to the beach, and loves all aspects of nature, namely bird-watching and anything to do with horses. She even took an equine massage certification a few years before her health took a turn for the worst. Mom is also a big reader, a good swimmer, and an awesome cook. When she was still working, she was a legal secretary, and a damn good one at that.

Her professional skills carried over into her personal life at times, like whenever she had to write strongly-worded letters to companies and doctors offices about unfair or downright wrong treatment. And I distinctly recall her encouraging me to write my own very first strongly-worded letter to Lisa Frank Company when I was about eight years old and my brightly-colored mid-nineties-style binder fell apart only a few weeks into the school year.

Mom has always encouraged reading, writing, and imagination for as long I can remember. She read me and my sister countless stories when we were growing up, and was always in awe of our imaginations whenever we played as kids.  When I started writing short little stories around age 9 or 11, she made sure I knew how cool it was and encouraged me to keep at it. Now, she’s the first one to offer to proofread and edit anything I write, and the first to post all over Facebook anytime I get any sort of recognition for said writing.

The fact that my mom has been encouraging me to pursue my writing dreams for as long as I can remember means the world to me. But maybe the only thing that overshadows her unending support is the fact that she’s also a huge inspiration for how to live life in general — to always get up one more time than you’ve fallen, and never let anything break your spirit.

Mom’s 60th birthday is on December 18th, and I’m excited to see what she does her with new lease on life over the next few decades. If you’re inspired by this amazing woman like I am and have some cash to spare, please consider donating to help pay for her lifesaving anti-rejection drugs so she can continue to live life to its fullest. And thank you, from the bottom of my family’s hearts!

https://helphopelive.org/campaign/6356/

 

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Quirky, Confused, & Clumsy??

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When I first started this blog, I toyed with the idea of including the word “clumsy” in its title. I wanted the site to reflect my most obvious traits, and clumsiness is definitely something I come by honestly. And quite frequently. But being clumsy can be rather embarrassing, and curvy sounded better, so Quirky, Confused, & Curvy I became. Still, I assure you that clumsiness is still very much a part of my almost daily life, so I wanted to share a hilarious story from many years ago that still makes people laugh today.

Back in December 2007, I was working as a receptionist at my first full-time job. I had been employed by the forklift dealership for about six months and was feeling quite comfortable and proud of myself for securing my place in the “real world.” One day I was filing documents in a narrow “L” shaped hallway towards the back of the building. I filed one folder in the lowest drawer of the end cabinet and thought I closed said drawer all the way. But a few minutes later, when I returned to the same cabinet and opened the top drawer, the thing tipped over and knocked the nearby fire extinguisher off the wall.

Now. It would have been bad enough if the cabinet had just spilled hundreds of documents all over the floor in a pile of unorganized miscellany. But when the fire extinguisher was knocked over, it hit the tile floor and went off. Considering the forklift dealership was chock full of diesel engines and such on the other side of the very wall where I stood, the extinguisher was not full of the typical white foamy stuff, but instead a yellow powdery substance. In a matter of seconds, the entire hallway was engulfed in a cloud of yellow dust. It quickly spread to every cubicle and every surface in that wing of the office. Since I was standing so close to where it had happened, my clothes, hair, and face were coated in yellow. I even breathed some of it in, which tasted like chemical saw dust. Yum.

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Once HR confirmed that no one was hurt, they sent me home so I could shower, change, and lick my wounds. While I was wallowing on my couch in embarrassment and wondering if I was going to get fired for destroying a facility that had been standing since the mid-forties, I got a call from the president of the company asking if I was okay and telling me all that mattered was that I didn’t get hurt. He affectionately called me “Crash,” then told me to take it easy for the rest of the day and that he’d see me tomorrow.

Going to work the next day was mortifying. It was a relief to know that I wasn’t in any trouble, but at least six of my co-workers had to temporarily relocate their offices and a disaster-clean up team had to be called in to extract the yellow powder from the carpets and the air vents.

A few months later, I ended up being promoted to the sales department secretary, and spent four years working for the dealership. I made plenty of good friends at the company and learned lots of valuable life and workplace lessons, but no one ever let me forget my infamous incident with the fire extinguisher.

Feeling Blue[berries]

This morning I read this short, sweet, and beautiful post by Shayleene MacReynolds on her blog, The Wild Heart of Life, and wanted to share it.

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At the grocery store this week, a woman dropped a box of blueberries.  They went everywhere.  She was too old to pick them up, and people up and down the aisles just stopped and stared.  I just stopped and stared.  Her trembling voice, shouting “Cleanup—I need a cleanup!”  Embarrassed.  Close to tears.  Fucking blueberries.  All of us staring at blueberries.  A two minute pick up job.  Less if others help.  But we don’t.  We just stare, and argue with ourselves.

After a good minute or two of arguing, I deduce that I’m a complete and utter asshole, and put down my basket.  Pick up the blueberries.  Feel like an absolute idiot as my left palm fills and I have no space for all the rest.

Now it’s my trembling voice, weakly shouting “Anyone have a bag?”

People stare.  They keep staring.  The line six carts deep.  Everyone watching.  No one…

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When A Writer has No Words

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If I’m being honest, I’m a little hesitant to post this blog. Part of me worries that people will see it as using someone else’s misfortune for my own benefit.  But something happened this past Saturday that’s been weighing heavily on my mind and in my heart and I just have to get it out.

A couple I’ve known for over 20 years lost their house, everything they own, and their 2 fur babies in a house fire. I was very close friends with L since sixth grade and we were in each other’s weddings. I’ve known her husband J since ninth grade, and our group of friends had some great times in high school and in our early twenties. Though we’ve drifted apart over the last couple of years, L&J are kind, giving people who I love and I cannot imagine what they must be going through right now.

People keep asking me if I’ve spoken to them since it happened, but I haven’t, mainly because I have no idea what I’d say. What do you say to someone you haven’t spoken to in years and literally lost everything they own except the clothes they happened to be wearing that horrible night?

My parents, sister, a mutual friend, and I pulled some money together and sent them a card, and I did my best to convey my sympathy and assure them they could still reach out to me at any time for any reason. Still, the feeling of helplessness and the overwhelming sense of not knowing what to say or do has stayed with me these last few days.

A friend of the family has started a GoFundMe campaign to help, so I’m going to share the link here in case anyone is able to help.

Maybe no one will read this. Maybe no one will donate. But I had to get something out, regardless of the results or the fact that I still can’t think of anything meaningful or important to say or do.

 

 

A Lesson from Tobey

A few weeks ago, I had a bit of an eye-opening experience that allowed me to put some things into perspective. While two posts back I was lamenting about “spinning my wheels” and feeling quite stuck and dissatisfied with my apparent “plateau” in multiple aspects of life, right around the same time I was taught a valuable lesson by an unlikely source — my car.

You should know that many people scoff or laugh when I tell them what kind of car I drive or point it out in a parking lot. For one thing, it’s tiny, and for another, it’s a bright, eye-catching blue. It’s not the fanciest thing in the world, but it gets me where I need to go. The car I’ve been driving around for the last ten years is a 2006 Chevy Aveo who I have affectionately named Tobey.

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Tobey! (I was taking a picture here because I was very proud of the fact that I parallel parked).

I’ve been with Tobey longer than I’ve been with my husband. I purchased him (Tobey, not J) in January 2008, and I met J about three months later. So just like my husband and I have been through many ups and downs, so have me and Tobey. He was the first “big girl” car I purchased and made monthly payments on. He was the first car I ever bought that came with a warranty, and one of his most appealing selling points was his excellent MPG data, a huge plus considering I was working an hour from home. Tobey listened patiently while I spent hours venting to my friends on my cell phone in my early twenties (NOTE: Please please PLEASE do not use your cell phone and drive. It took me working at a salvage yard to realize how dangerous this truly is), and never minded when I pounded the steering wheel because of gridlock traffic or a fight with my parents. Tobey got me safely home from work during “snow-magedden” in 2010 when 3 feet of snow fell in less than 24 hours, and he helped me move my belongings when J and I bought our first house.

That being said, Tobey is twelve years old. His gas door is broken and his drivers side interior door handle came off in my hand a few months back. The shifter is finicky, the windows are the old fashioned type you have to manually roll up or down, and there is an orange juice stain on the back carpet that may never come out. So for all intents and purposes, Tobey is a junker. A hooptie. A beater. Maybe even a POS. And for the last few years, I admit that I stopped taking great care of him because he was getting old. Sure, I got my oil changed, had my inspections done, and ran him through the car wash every so often, but I also hit a few curbs, never vacuumed the floor mats, and stuffed more crap in the glove box than I believed was physically possible.

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poor Tobey after “snow-mageddon” in 2010 (date on my camera was clearly wrong)

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But then I took Tobey to get inspected in early November, and the shop not only failed him for inspection, but gave me a laundry list of expensive items that needed fixed. While I have had to put some maintenance-related money into my car over the last few years, no one ever gave me quite the heart attack this visit did. Considering I now only drive about 14 miles round trip for work every day, Tobey’s usage is way down from his younger days. To make a long story short, I became suspicious of the shop’s suggestions after they told me Tobey’s horn was broken and it, quite obviously, was not. So I sought a second opinion at a trusted shop closer to home, and was delighted to find out that Tobey passed!

I wasted no time in writing a strongly-worded letter to the first shop about their attempt to take advantage of a young female with an older vehicle, but once I had calmed down I realized something — even though Tobey is an old car with 118,000 miles on his odometer, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve to be taken care of. The goal is for me to buy a new(er) car sometime in 2019, and while it is something that needs to happen, for now Tobey works just fine. He’s safe, he gets me where I need to go, and he’s cute and quirky, which I’d like to think is a reflection of my personality. Once I realized how thankful I was that Tobey didn’t need hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of work, I began feeling guilty about how I’d been neglecting him. So I spent one evening vacuuming the carpet and floor mats, shining up the dashboard, and throwing away junk. I even hung a new cinnamon-scented air freshener from his rear view mirror.

Tobey is still a 2006 Chevy Aveo. He’s not in perfect condition my any means. But he’s my car. I need to take care of him and take pride in him. I worked hard to purchase him and pay him off. And I need to be car-payment free for another 6-8 months. So although he has his quirks, I realized that I still love my car very much. And realizing this made me think about all the other things in my life I was complaining about 2 posts ago — my house, my job, my writing, and the seemingly scant traveling I’ve done. Sure, each of those areas have room for improvement. But I’ve worked hard to accomplish what I’ve done so far and I’ve fought tooth and nail for every thing I have.

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Even though my house is old and small and in a neighborhood with plenty of annoyances, it’s mine and J’s. We fought like hell to buy our own house after years of financial setbacks. So while it’s still a goal of ours to buy a bigger, nicer house in a better neighborhood someday, that doesn’t mean we can’t spruce up our current residence and be proud of it too.

I may not have traveled to Japan, Italy, Hawaii, or the Himalayas. But I have been to plenty of other amazing places including London, Grand Turk, and Aruba, just to name a few. And I like to consider myself an unofficial know-it-all when it comes to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It may not be the most luxurious beach town in the world, but I know that my soul is at home there.

I’m glad I finally found a physical activity I enjoy and am good at, regardless of whether or not I’ve lost any weight. I’m not a CEO or even a supervisor, but I like my job well enough and am good at it. And while my name isn’t plastered all over a bestseller in the window at Barnes and Noble, I’ve spent the last two years writing more than I have in almost a decade.

So I may not drive a brand new Mercedes or even a brand new Hyundai. My life may not be perfect — sometimes it feels like a total disaster. I’ve still got a long way to go. But that doesn’t negate how far I’ve come.

There are some people who live their lives insisting on never being satisfied. They’re always striving for something bigger, better, more expensive. And there are other people who are content with the bare minimum. I think I have to learn to find my happy place somewhere in between.

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Winter Blues

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This time of year, there seem to be two types of people in the world — those who love the holiday season obnoxiously to the point of obsession, and those who are a Scrooge, a Grinch, a Bah-Humbug.

Sadly, over the years, I’ve become the latter.

I used to love the holiday season. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners meant twenty or thirty people gathered around my grandparents’ elaborately-set dining room table with mountains of food piled on antique china. Christmas Eve boasted dozens of presents, board games, laughter, and popcorn popped in a cast iron skillet over the fireplace in the basement. A genuine fir stood proudly in the living rooms of each of my family members, and my cousins and I spent hours playing in the snow and riding the toboggan down the giant hill in the backyard.

When my grandfather passed away in 2003, the same year I graduated high school, that all changed. Holidays became a scaled-down affair that continued to shrink in size and grandeur until they only included 4-6 people and minimum traditions. When I met my husband, I expected the holidays to become fun again. After all, I had someone new to love to celebrate with.

But then J’s father had a massive heart attack on Christmas night 2008 and passed away ten days later.  And in 2010, my mom spent several weeks of November (including Thanksgiving) in the ICU. I honestly thought that I was going to lose her at that point. Though she eventually recovered, we spent that Christmas in a rehabilitation center surrounded by people who weren’t as lucky as my mom. The overwhelming feeling of the place was incredibly depressing. To say the holidays have been a struggle for me ever since would be an understatement.

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Even though the initial shock and grief of my pap’s and father-in-law’s (and grandmother’s eventual) passing has healed a bit, the magic that used to surround this time of year is all but gone.

It’s not just the lack of the huge family or the elaborate meals or expensive gifts. It’s not just the fact that it never snows on Christmas anymore and we only get one scrawny day off of work.

It’s just that since I’ve been a full-blown adult, the holidays have held more stress than joy for me, and it’s gotten to the point where I honestly just wish I could avoid them.

Anyone with my recent history of negativity-laced holidays would be understandably weary of this time of year. But even if there were no holidays to be had in the next two months, I’d be stressed out anyway.

For one, I always have an absurd amount of bills due at the end of the year — my car registration, my AAA membership, and my car inspection all expire on December 31st. Add these bills to the high cost of heating a house with no insulation with a thirty-year old, zero efficiency furnace PLUS the cost of Christmas gifts AND two birthdays (Mom and husband) and I have myself quite the anxiety-packed November and December.

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I know there are people out there who start (and finish) their holiday shopping before the end of summer. I know there are people out there who don’t celebrate holidays at all and those who can’t afford to eat. I know it could always be worse. I know I could choose not to celebrate at all and just hole myself up in my bedroom until the last of the snow and ice melts sometime in goddamn late April.

But as much as I wish I could do those things, sometimes I feel like the guilt of hiding away would be worse than the stress that comes with participating in holiday activities.

Some people would be relentless with their questioning — why are you such a Grinch? Why are you so miserable? Why are you so stressed? It’s all in good fun! I bought you this lotion and bubble bath you’ll never use, why can’t you spend $10 on a pair of slippers I’ll never wear?

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Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate the whole concept of giving and receiving around the holidays. Although I’m nowhere near traditionally religious, I still maintain that exchanging gifts with loved ones as a show of appreciation for their companionship and support is a great idea — in theory. But everyone goes totally insane. I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that there are people out there who buy cars for their wives and $5000 massage chairs for their husbands and $50 bottles of booze for every co-worker, mail carrier, and hairstylist they’ve ever met.

And if all of this STILL weren’t enough to stress out the most easygoing person, you of course can’t forget the ongoing laundry list of holiday-associated controversies. The somehow always offensive Starbucks cup. The argument over whether or not it’s appropriate to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” to a stranger. The retail stores who insist on staying open 24/7 and working their employees to death for peanuts and robbing them of the chance to spend time with their families. The charity you want to donate to but aren’t sure if your funds are going into the CEO’s pocket or the needy single mother who can’t provide food or pajamas for her three children.

Look. I know there’s negativity all over the world at any given time of the year. I know that the holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy and hope and love and full of opportunities to help your fellow human. I know it’s a time to be thankful for everything and everyone you have and things you’ve accomplished throughout the last twelve months. But for me, it’s all just become rather over and underwhelming all at the same time. And to be honest, it seems like the harder I try to have a stress-free holiday, the more stress-filled it becomes.

I know part of my problem is my ongoing fight with anxiety and depression. I’m still seeing my therapist, I’ve been using my diffuser more often, and I still use my happy light religiously. But right now it just doesn’t seem like enough to keep the holiday demons at bay.

Sigh.

Who knows. Maybe my heart will grow three sizes by Christmas Day.

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Setbacks

So there’s a funny thing about making leaps and bounds with anxiety …

Setbacks seem like even more of a big deal.

I’ve spent the last two years tackling some huge issues with EMDR therapy and making pretty big changes in my personal life to try and focus on myself and be happier in general. And while I’m thrilled at how far I’ve come — to the point where I was giving advice to other people dealing with anxiety and trying new things left and right — I’ve recently realized that I still have very far to go. And I’m having trouble coping with that.

See, now that I know what I can achieve when my anxiety is under control, I now have even bigger goals and ambitions. I’ve set my sights and expectations higher than they’ve ever been. It’s like living your whole life never tasting chocolate, then BAM — one day, you sample that sweet, rich, melty goodness and it’s all you want to eat.

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I couldn’t resist the unforgettable image of Bruce Bogtrotter from Matilda. Photo courtesy of Google Images

 

But you can’t, of course, and accepting this and being patient while things come together is driving me nuts.

For example, I’ve finally gotten over the fear of submitting my writing to contests, open calls for submissions, and book publishers. I’m thrilled with the teeniest bit of success I’ve had with my blog and love interacting with readers and writers online. But now I want to WIN those contests and get published in those magazines and journals. I want more followers and more compliments and I want people to reach out to me and invite me to write for their site or blog. I want recognition from strangers, however small. And I want to be (GASP) paid for my work, at least some of the time.
The fact that I haven’t gotten there yet is heartbreaking and incredibly frustrating. I know it’s all part of the process, but it’s a very shitty stage to be in.

I also made some progress at my 9-5  — I had a great review last spring and was impressed with some stats and numbers my GM showed me, and even started taking the initiative towards expanding my knowledge and asserting myself with customers and co-workers. But the prospect of any sort of promotion, while exciting, is also still terrifying. I don’t want to be stuck in one spot for the rest of my life, but the thought of leaving something I know I’m good at to pursue another position is enough to send my anxiety spiraling towards fear and self-doubt.

In my personal life, I took the plunge and spent a year and a half volunteering for the first time ever. It was nerve-wracking for sure, but felt really good and helped me get over my fear of getting my hands dirty in an effort to fight the patriarchy and all things associated with the Orange Lord.  But even though I only volunteered once or twice a month, it did put a strain on my writing time and social life, and started to become more of another stressor than anything. I do hope to get back into volunteering at some point, probably with a different organization just to change things up a bit, but with all the other stress and anxiety rooted in my busy schedule, I’m not sure when I’ll have the emotional and mental capacity to do it again.

The same goes for another activity I started doing just for me – swimming. I LOVED swimming so much, and I still do. I would hit the pool every damn day if I could. But a membership is another chunk out of my budget and their hours don’t really jive with my schedule too often. Like with volunteering, getting to the pool as often as possible became a stressor, even if the actual act of swimming was refreshing and relaxing.

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As far as future goals go, I have a lot more now than ever. I want to finish my novel and submit it to publishers, attend another conference, and get SOMETHING published. I’d like to purchase a new car in the near future, and my husband and I have recently started talking about moving to a new house in the next few years. I want to go back to visit my favorite place in the world, the Outer Banks, and I also have a long list of new places I want to visit since I took the plunge and tackled London.

So what’s the problem? Well, everything mentioned above takes time. And money. I’m already short on time as it is, and adding any of the aforementioned goals to my radar is enough to send even the most even-minded, organized person into overdrive. And somewhere in the middle of all of these fantastic things I want to do with my life, I still have to work my 9-5 (and my PT job), clean my house, walk my dog, acknowledge my husband, friends, and family, go to doctors appointments, pay bills, get my car inspected, cut my hair, shop for clothes, and bathe for God’s sake.

I mean, really. There are only so many hours in day. Or week. Or month.

For the most part, I think I manage my time relatively well. But sometimes I get really carried away and overbook myself and prop my eyelids open with toothpicks just to get in 30 minutes of writing one night even though I feel like I’m going to fall asleep at my keyboard. I need to be better about balancing self-care with working my ass off. But that’s hard for me because I’m incredibly impatient. And my anxiety constantly has me thinking “what if I never get to …”

So to be honest, I feel like I’ve been spinning my wheels a lot recently. It’s frustrating and depressing and I’m not dealing with it too well. It’s effecting my writing and my relationships and maybe even my health in the form of bad skin and a state of permanent exhaustion.

I don’t want to end on a down note, but I’ve always been honest in my writing, especially because I know there’s gotta be someone out there who feels the same. And if it’s you reading this right now, give me a shout out. Misery loves company!

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