The Weakest Step

May 7, 2017 § Leave a comment

I see her in the mountains.

I see her in every saguaro and palo verde and creosote bush.

I feel her in every breath of wind and in the sun on my face.

I hear her charging across the sky.

I look all around me and she is there, breathing life into my aching heart.

With every breath I take I miss my little girl.

And to be honest with you as I always try to be… part of me has wanted to quit all of this.

Run away so I could never feel this pain again. Choose another career that would never break me so intensely. Find another place to work that would never subject me to the cruelty of losing a beautiful, wild, happy, spirited angel with her whole life ahead of her to the horrors of laminitis.

But when I’m at my weakest I look around me and see Chianti peeking over her stall bars, hoping I’ll sneak her a treat or two.

I see Studley give a happy little nicker when he sees someone walking towards him with a halter.

I see my brother Chance, his eyes such a unique shade of light gold, looking at me with such understanding.

I see Sedona sneak a bite of alfalfa out of a passing food cart then try his best to look innocent.

I see Rain – an acute laminitis survivor – walk back in forth with such ease and contentment.

I see Guess happily splash the water out of her tub onto her chest (and part of Bella’s face) and on the ground.

I see Rusty standing patiently while some of our younger volunteers hang off of him.

I see Iron Man, dark coat shimmering in the sunlight, toss his magnificent head.

They still stand.

They still face tomorrow.

And just as I realized when I was 17 and meeting these horses for the first time, if they can live on despite all forces that tried to bring them down… so can I.

I meant to write about my last day with Sonora and how it mirrored our first. I meant to write about what she gave to our ranch and how she was so loved and how lucky we all were to get to love on her one last time.

I still can’t. Maybe someday.

For now, we all still recover. Because as selfish as I am for writing about *my* heartbreak, Nora was a part of everyone here.

She belonged to no one. She was untamed and free-willed and fiercely independent right till the end. But she gave everyone here her heart. Willingly and trustingly.

And she took a piece of each of us with her to the Great Herd last Thursday.

We are all – as always – forever grateful to each of you for your support. I write such a raw post in the hopes that it offers some insight into the reality of the horse rescue and sanctuary world. I write so that you may understand how powerful your place is in our battle.

Sometimes we get our hearts ripped out and torn apart. We face terror and doubt and devastation. We stand on the edge of the abyss. Sometimes we fall.

But with you at our backs, we also rise.

And we keep going.

“The weakest step toward the top of the hill, toward sunrise, toward hope, is stronger than the fiercest storm.” ~ Joseph Marshall

Liz Lee Studios

An Announcement: Sonora

May 4, 2017 § Leave a comment

She’s gone.

My little girl, my sister from the moment our eyes met, my beautiful, young, wild and spirited mare joined the Great Herd today at 12:30.

Liz Lee Studios

Her X-rays yesterday showed further rotation in both front feet and her coffin bones were actually starting to sink. She was losing weight, her poor legs shook with exhaustion, and every now and then she’d put her nose on the ground and stand still as she quietly, bravely powered through a wave of pain.

It was time. She knew it, too.

When she was first brought through the gates two and a half years ago I led her out of the trailer and she stepped forward eagerly, excited at what awaited her. Today, I walked her back up that lane and despite the level of pain she was in, she didn’t stop or struggle. She wanted to go. Everything was peaceful, the look in her eyes most of all.

Her spirit was strong till the end. It never broke, not once. But my heart has.

Rise: It’s Time To Talk About Anxiety

February 16, 2017 § 3 Comments

I won’t just survive 

Oh, you will see me thrive 

Can’t write my story 

I’m beyond the archetype 

[I heard Katy Perry’s song “Rise” around August of last year and it about blew my soul wide open. Every now and then, a song just gets under my skin and become self-defining. To me, “Rise” defines my battle with – and continuous defeat of – anxiety. I hope its lyrics speak to you, too.]

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This blogpost has gone through something close to six months of revising, editing, deleting, and rewriting as I figured out what I wanted to say.

The original title was “What No One Told Me About Getting Engaged.” I intended to write about how odd it was to be scared after getting a ring on my finger and contemplate the seemingly (hopefully?) normal pre-wedding jitters every bride-to-be experiences.

But over the days and weeks and months, I realized that my nerves were rooted in something far deeper than post-engagement flutters. The dizzying, uncontrollable trepidation that seeped into my head fueled negative feelings (mainly about my own self-worth) that I’d rejected before but wildly seemed completely legitimate.

Basically, this stark, sudden, and bizarre fear took control of every aspect of my life.

For several months after I got engaged, getting out of bed in the morning was a nightmare. Tasks I’d managed to do for months became overwhelmingly difficult. I couldn’t eat without throwing up, and I was constantly shaking, sweating, trying to swallow the dry lump out of my throat, or trying to reteach myself how to breathe.

I tried to cling to any bit of sanity or sense of understanding, like a drowning man clutching at a life raft.

Why on earth would I have any negative thoughts or feelings about marrying my best friend? Why would I have such a fearful reaction to marrying the person I’ve known all along was meant to be my husband?

Nothing seemed rational. Nothing made sense.

I won’t just conform

No matter how you shake my core

‘Cause my roots, they run deep

It took me no time at all to conclude that I was being pulled back into the depths of a deep, dark, out-of-control Something I had beaten down to a manageable Something several years ago.

It took me no time at all to conclude that t­he time at last had come for me to acknowledge that Something for what it was. And over the months it’s taken me to write this, I’ve unearthed a great deal that I want to share about anxiety and mental illness as a whole.

Well, no.

I’ll be honest.

I don’t necessarily want to share. My heart is beating as I write this, thinking of the idea of those I know and love reading these words.

But a few months ago, when I posted the link to a blogpost about anxiety on my Facebook timeline, I did so in the off chance that someone found it as powerful and relieving as I did.

The response I got astonished me.

Several of my friends called, messaged, texted, and told me in person how glad they were that I’d shared that post. They too were impacted by its message. They too dealt with anxiety. They dealt with other mental illnesses. They no longer felt alone. And speaking as someone who has felt alone in this battle against anxiety and silently struggled with deep depression and suicidal thoughts in the past… those words from my friends hit me harder than I could have imagined possible.

Then, last month, I stumbled upon End The Stigma, a Facebook group dedicated to opening dialogue about mental illness and other struggles that have often been stigmatized as shameful.

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People were sharing the badges to which they felt connected, writing their stories of abuse and survival or self-harm and recovery or medical challenges and overcoming obstacles in public for the world to see. Living their pasts. Sharing their stories. It overwhelmed me. It awed me. And as I sat connecting to people I’d never met, it made me realize how powerful dialogue can be.

How powerful it needs to be.

So, friends, it’s not that I have wanted to write and share all this.

I need to.

 Oh, ye of so little faith

Victory is in my veins

And I will not negotiate

I will transform….

I have anxiety. And it’s okay that I have it.

I don’t even know how long it has lived with me, a swelling, billowing and consuming force during some parts of my life and a shriveled, almost-forgotten speck during others.

Its roots probably began when I was 12, when my life fell apart for a time until I was 17, but this post isn’t about that. Through years of therapy and self-reflection, I understand why I have it. I understand why it reared its ugly head when I got engaged. Suffice it to say that such a monumental event – exciting but not necessarily threatening in perhaps any other person’s life – brought up a lot of suppressed memories of my teen years, the years my brain literally had been unable to process so it coped by making me forget all the trauma.

Now, that is my journey with anxiety. Understanding its source for me was part of finding my method of coping. But, it is important to understand that anxiety or depression or any other mental illness does not need to be justified with a reason. In other words, oftentimes it can exist for – seemingly – no reason at all.

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Every pathway is different.

For me, my anxiety had crawled out of the dark hole into which I had pushed it several years ago, and it gradually slipped its long, clawed fingers back around me before I could even comprehend what was happening.

But there was one big difference this time than from all the other times.

Like the time I was 14, and my stomach problems began because it was forever twisted in a knot of fear any time I was home.

Like the time I was 16, and I missed the first day of school because I couldn’t leave my room without having panic attacks.

Like the time I was 18, and started therapy because I wanted to normal again.

Like the time I was 20, and went through a year of perpetual anxiety so aggressive I quit my job, took online classes, and was terrified to even venture out of my room or boyfriend’s apartment.

Like the time I was 22, and curled into a ball on my bed on my graduation day because I was so scared to leave my room and enter the adult world.

There was one difference this time around.

I didn’t hide it, like I’d tried to do before.

I didn’t deny it, like I’d always done in the past.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and told myself, my new fiancé, my family, my friends that I was suffering from anxiety.

When, when the fire’s at my feet again

And the vultures all start circling

They’re whispering

“You’re out of time.”

But still, I rise

That might sound super cool and brave to you, but it wasn’t. Part of talking about it wasn’t really my choice. Full disclosure: when my anxiety reaches full throttle, I throw up.

Kinda hard to explain to your fiancé – the day you get engaged – that you’re throwing up in the bathroom in the hotel room just because, you know, it’s all new and you’re really happy, you really are, you promise, it’s just a big change and you’re just excited. No big deal.

Kinda hard to tell your friends you’d rather not go to a restaurant to eat because the last, oh, 47 times you did this you were running to the bathroom to puke or else locking yourself in a stall until you could focus on the world past your own two shaking hands and rattled breath again.

Kinda hard to explain to your new volunteers on orientation day at your job that you’re sick because you couldn’t eat that morning, and your head is screaming at you to just quit and go home and count your losses.

No, the time had come for me to be open. The time had come for me to be honest with those around me and say those words.

I have anxiety.

And… that’s okay.

This is no mistake, no accident 

When you think the final nail is in

Think again

Don’t be surprised

I will still rise

These past few months, as I’ve been open with people about what I’ve been going through, I’ve mostly had wonderful and understanding responses. I’ve had several conversations with others who too struggle with anxiety or some form of mental illness, and they were so comforting and relieving. My world which had closed in on me in August started to open up again.

But there were a few comments from people that – while they were well-meaning – reflected a deep misunderstanding of anxiety and mental illness as a whole.

“Oh, yeah, I get stressed out, too! One time I was soooo nervous for a test! I totally understand!”

You?? I just can’t see you with anxiety, you’re so well put-together and accomplished!”

“Have you tried essential oils?”

“Do you do yoga? Definitely look into yoga. And be sure to meditate every day – that’ll kick your anxiety to the curb!”

“Just don’t think about it, there’s nothing to worry about!”

I get it. I really do. People care. They want to help. I got a lot of the same comments when I was 16 and suffering from depression.

“Just think positive thoughts!”

“Snap out of it!”

I think the problem is people don’t know. They don’t have anxiety, so they can’t relate to it.

That’s why I’m writing this. (Hi.)

I want people to understand. I want there to be dialogue. I want people to ask questions and receive answers and start to make connections. So this is just a little of what I want others to know and understand about anxiety as a whole:

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1. There is a huge difference between stress and anxiety.

Stress and I aren’t just old friends. We go way back. We’re old flames with one of those dumpster fire relationships in a Taylor Swift song that usually ends in us returning to one another. I think I can count on one hand the number of days I haven’t had stress in my life. But, we get coffee together. We hook up. We have a complicated relationship, but the point is that I can function reasonably well with it.

That’s the point, though. It doesn’t dominate my life.

Anxiety is another beast entirely.

Stress comes from an outside force. Anxiety is an internal force that pulsates through every part of your body without warning or reason.

Stress makes you irritable. Anxiety has the power strong and swift enough to make you feel like you’re about to die.

One night I was trying to describe an anxiety attack to my fiancé and could really only come up with a description of a Dementor from Harry Potter.

dementor

(I found this picture too after Googling

(I found this picture too after Googling “Dementor” and I mean, come on. I had to post it.)

Anxiety is a hooded, creepy figure that sucks the good thoughts from your mind and leaves you with terror.

Your vision blurs and you break out in a sweat that makes you feel as though you’re on fire but icy too, in a completely bizarre way.

Your heart doesn’t beat; it contracts. You feel every pulse, every nerve working rapidly, the blood tingling and buzzing as it works its way through your veins.

Your throat dries and you usually can’t speak for trying to swallow and remember how to breathe. Your lungs feel empty and filling them takes every ounce of strength you have.

Usually, you get tunnel vision after a while. Nausea is inevitable.

And for me, if things get really bad, you’ll throw up.

And the thoughts cloud your brain – thoughts you’d normally laugh at and push away without hesitation but, during an attack, you clutch at them and ponder them with desperation.

Even today, sometimes I wake up and the Something is there hissing and spitting in my ear.

Just stay in bed. You’re a failure. You’ll never be good enough for anybody.

“Shut up.” 

It’s like he always said. You’re worthless and nobody ever loved you.

“Knock it off.”

What if you can’t eat again? Then you’ll be dizzy and sick and you won’t do your job right and everyone will know you for what you are: a failure.

“I said SHUT UP!”

But stress? Stress is like Draco Malfoy, who can be fabulously silenced with a swift punch to the face.

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2. Anxiety prohibits you from exercising rational thought.

Let me say it louder for the people in the back.

ANXIETY PROHIBITS YOU FROM EXERCISING RATIONAL THOUGHT.

The best way to explain this is with a metaphor.

Imagine seeing a baseball enclosed in a glass cube just feet away from you. Somewhere far away, a voice tells you to reach out and pick up the ball.

So you reach out to grab the baseball, but your fingers can’t penetrate the glass.

“Just grab it,” your hear the voice say. “It’s right there.”

And all the while, you’re trying to move your fingers through the glass. “I’m trying,” you say.

The voice gets irritated.

“It’s literally RIGHT THERE!” the voice says. “Just grab the ball!”

You try. You push the glass.

And self-loathing rises inside of you.

You know how to grab that baseball. You know the motions your fingers need to make to pick up the ball enclosed in the glass. You know how to move your arm to raise your hand. You’re smart. You know this.

But you can’t. There’s a big fucking cube of glass in the way.

Trying to get your brain to understand that your fears are irrational is like trying to grab that enclosed ball.

“There’s nothing to worry about!” the terrified voice inside your head squeaks. “It’s all in your head!”

In other words? “It’s right THERE! The ball is right there! Just take it!”

You can recognize that your fears are unfounded. That doesn’t make them go away.

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3. The foundation of anxiety strikes at random times, for no apparent reason.

I must stay conscious

Through the madness and chaos 

So I call on my angels

When my anxiety is bad, I can only focus on one thing at a time.

I remember one day, while my future in-laws were visiting, they sat with my fiancé at the kitchen table and I was trying to make a ham sandwich to take with me to class.

There was nothing going on that would have warranted a panic attack. But I was having one anyway.

There was no hope whatsoever of me participating in the conversation. I could only focus on navigating my shaking hands while voices dominated my mind:

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Take a breath. Okay, good.

Grab the tinfoil. Put a slice of bread on top of it.

Steady your hands, Lex. 

Okay, get a piece of ham.

You’re not breathing. Take another breath.

Oh, God, that was too much of a breath. What if they heard at the table? What if they look over and realize I’m losing it?

Stop. Get another piece of ham.

Nod at something my fiancé said. Pray nobody wants me to speak.

Okay, take another breath. Exhale more slowly.

You can’t open the bag of cheese when your hands are shaking. Stop them.

I can’t.

I can’t do anything.

I don’t want to go to class. What if I get called on and I don’t have an answer?

Open the damn cheese.

I’m really going to throw up. Then they’ll know I’m a mess.

Maybe I should just go back to bed.

You can’t do anything.

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Attacks happen randomly.

Even now, before I go to class, sometimes I have to lock myself in a bathroom stall for a few minutes and put my shaking hands over my eyes and give myself a pep talk.

Even now, when I get out of bed in the morning, sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s okay to have a sudden oncoming of fear. Accepting it and facing it head on is more effective than denying its existence at all.

4. If we say no to any social outing or commitment, a) it took every ounce of our courage to do so; and b) we just really, really need to take care of ourselves.

I can’t emphasize this enough and honestly can’t think of too much else to add here.

Medicine for anxiety-sufferers will differ from person to person. This is important. For some – at least, for me – that medicine often means being alone to self-reflect. And in the day-today business of work, school, chores, wedding planning… any free time I have to spare I need to selfishly take for myself. (That’s why I love traveling so much. In exploring other places I explore my mind.)

Please, don’t be hard on those with mental illnesses for doing what they need to do to get by. And on that note….

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5. Give us time.

They say,

‘Oh, ye of so little faith

Victory is in your veins

And you will not negotiate 

And be transformed…

A few months went by after my first initial return of anxiety. With every day I survived, things started to get a little easier.

The more I got through difficult days and the more I talked about my anxiety to my friends and family, the better grip I got on it.

The Something, the huge, Dementor-esque figure in my life started to shrink again. I started to think more clearly most of the time.

The horses at my workplace, to whom I give credit for saving my life when I was 17, did wonders for me. My therapist started to help me get out of my own head, as did my boss who completely understands my struggle. My fiancé, who is the most patient and understanding man I’ve ever known, helped me work through some deeply personal fears which reduced my anxiety immensely.

Then, for whatever reason, I had a really bad day close to Christmastime. I could barely get through the day without having anxiety attack after anxiety attack.

And I forget if someone said this to me or if this was one of my own thoughts, but it came up nonetheless: “But I thought you were managing this really well!”

Well, I am managing this really well, came the other side of that statement. But it’s okay to have bad days.

It should be known that there’s no time frame on anxiety. It takes a long time to get to a place where you feel somewhat in control. And just as is the case with life… the journey will consist of good times and bad.

And I think the main takeaway is this: there are ways out.

Really.

There are ways out.

Deep down, we know this. We just need time to find those ways that work best for us.

How much time do we need? Well, it depends. A day. A week. A month. A year. Maybe even a lifetime.

Every day is a new battle. But, then again, even though this concept is sometimes impossible to grasp, every day is a new opportunity.

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Now.

All of the above are words that have sat on my heart for some time, words about anxiety I wish for others to know and understand and relate to.

Everything else I want to say? Well, they’re words that have sat on my heart for some time, words for those with anxiety I wish them to know and understand and relate to.

Words for anyone with a mental illness.

Words for anyone feeling lost or misunderstood.

I spoke of needing time to find ways to cope, and I won’t ever presume to say there’s a universal fix-all for everyone, nor would I dare to assume that everyone is in a position to be looking for ways to cope.

Asking someone to get help can sometimes be the equivalent of telling someone who is drowning to sing an opera.

So first let me just say this: If you feel like you are in a position where you might need help, but don’t have the ability to seek it or ask for it or even really want it… please call this number. 1-800-273-8255.

It is the number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the individual who answers the phone will pull you out of the water.

You will not be drowning anymore.

You will receive help.

And for those who are ready and willing to accept help, I thought I would share two of the things I personally have found incredibly helpful when things get really, really bad.

1. I talk to myself as though I’m a child.

I often talk myself out of my own head as though I’m a little girl. I imagine five-year-old me, with shoulder-length hair and big eyes, curiously looking around which clutching her favorite stuffed animal, a rabbit she named Rejoice. I have to do this, because only someone completely heartless would talk cruelly to a five-year-old little girl, and I tend to beat myself up a lot.

So, what are you a-scared of? Why are you scared of that? Well, take my hand and let’s explore it together. Let’s be a big, brave girl. Good job! Okay, now what else is scaring you? Oh, my goodness, yes, that’s very scary, isn’t it! And you have every right to be scared. What can you do to make yourself feel better?

2. I name things in a list. For me, it’s all the names of the horses at my ranch.

Don’t have horses? List fruits. List all the animals you know. List your relatives. Write them down on paper or say them out loud or go through them in your head.

The point in all this is to ground you. It’s to get you out of the prison that consists of anxiety-stricken thoughts. I have gone through a great deal in this life, and nothing compares to being trapped inside my own head. 

Everyone who struggles with some kind of disorder – be it medical or mental – has the ability to find a way to deal with their obstacles that works best for them. And here’s the really baffling and amazing thing: It can be done.

Against all odds, it can be done.

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When, when the fire’s at my feet again

And the vultures all start circling

They’re whispering

“You’re out of time.”

But still, I rise

I don’t have all the answers.

I don’t know you. You. You, who are capable of anything and who are the writer of your own story.

I just say this to you as someone who – many years ago – once seriously contemplated different ways to end her life, as someone who once sunk to the depths of rock bottom from the weights of depression and continues to sense anxiety resting on her shoulder:

You are not alone.

You are not alone.

You are NOT alone.

Rise.

Keep going.

Only you know what you need. Only you feels this way, the way you do. You have a right to take care of yourself.

You are doing the best you can, and that is more than enough.

You are you, and that is more than enough.

This is no mistake, no accident

When you think the final nail is in

Think again

Don’t be surprised

I will still rise

Days will be good and days will be bad. Without darkness, there cannot be light.

Rise.

Keep going.

Sometimes you’ll fall. Sometimes you’ll get knocked down.

But as spoken by the main character in one of my favorite books, “The weakest step toward the top of the hill, toward sunrise, toward hope, is stronger than the fiercest storm.”

Walk on, warrior.

And always

always

keep going.

Don’t be surprised

I will still rise

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FURTHER READING AND RESOURCES ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS

This article on anxiety offers some statistics on anxiety as well as a breakdown of the different types. It also discusses some of the physical side effects of anxiety and offers a list of ways individuals can cope.

One of my all-time favorite posts, What It’s Like to Have Anxiety Disorder Explained in 12 Self Portraits is a photo series by Katie Crawford that is incredibly eye-opening.

This comic explains the difficulty in fighting both anxiety and depression.

This blogpost covers eight things not to say to people with anxiety.

And perhaps the greatest comic of all time is Hyperbole and a Half’s Adventures in Depression.

Read more about mental illness at The National Alliance on Mental Illness website. Their helpline number is below:

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Things my boyfriend has done since downloading Pokemon Go

July 11, 2016 § Leave a comment

  • walked around our apartment complex at one in the morning
  • driven to trail heads to sit in his car while hunting Pokemon
  • asked me to download the app
  • mourned the fact that our old apartment complex apparently had more Pokestops in it (whatever the hell those are) than our current one does
  • left to get food then returned four hours later
  • walked around popular shopping malls for hours at a time
  • made a Facebook group dedicated to hunting Pokemon at Norterra
  • asked me to download the app
  • ordered a bike so he could ride his bike to hunt more Pokemon
  • asked me on dates specifically to places with Pokestops
  • got really excited over the prospect of walking around in LA (where he’ll be for a week starting tomorrow for work)
  • asked me to download the app
  • referred to our cats as Meowth and Persian
  • willingly volunteered to take the trash down so he could hunt for Pokemon then came back up two minutes later – with the trash still in hand – because the servers were down
  • hinted that he was aware of a Pokemon Go singles group meeting at the end of July
  • said the phrase “weak sauce” non ironically
  • shouted, “There’s Pinsir outside!” and ran out the door
  • asked me to download the app
  • currently driving me absolutely freaking insane

What It’s Like to Work Full Time While Getting a Master’s Degree

July 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

[TLDR version] It’s like this:

For those of you following the intriguing scattered random chronicles of my life, you’ll know I had the dumbass idea of starting a full time graduate program in January this year.

I finished three classes in May then picked up two more a week later. They were six week courses and they both covered the material of an entire semester. And they about finished me.

Those two classes ended nearly two weeks ago, and I’m now a week into two more six week courses that end in August. And then a week after those end I begin my fall semester, where I’ll be driving to ASU’s downtown campus for three hour night courses Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays until December.

Yesterday, I spent two hours staring at my MyASU blackboard page and at my textbook, not soaking in a word of anything, my brain trying to function like those bits of machinery you see in cartoons but can’t turn correctly because the hero wedged a wrench into the works. And the alarm is screeching and a red light is flashing and the heroes are running for it like a bat out of hell.

Oh wait, that’s a scene in Chicken Run.

That’s a good movie.

I should watch that again soon.

Like next May after I graduate.

My point is, after six months of doing grad school full time while working full time, I’m not entirely sure if this is working out or if I’ve gone absolutely batshit crazy.

And I really have no point to this blogpost other than to find a bunch of gifs that accurately sum up my life right now.

Because crazy = fun = gifs = nonsense = what is this = what have I done.

But instead of going completely off the rails here (is it too late for that?), let’s focus on some inspiring things, shall we?

Whenever I get free time, I’m either a) sleeping; b) putting food in my face; c) chasing my cats away from leftover food; d) yelling at my boyfriend for drinking monsters and making sure he eats at least once decent meal a day; or e) watching Britain’s Got Talent clips on YouTube. I have no idea how that last one started. I blame my obsession with London and anything English. But there’s something about watching people just blow an audience away with their talent that I really, really love. That, and I adore Simon Cowell and I’ve just recently become obsessed with one of the judges, Alesha Dixon. Her music is so uplifting!

So whenever I get completely discouraged, I just pull up YouTube and watch clips from that show. My favorite contestants are those who walk onto a stage and no one expects them to have any talent whatsoever, then they end up making the audience lose their minds because they’re so brilliant. It’s so inspiring to watch their dreams come true. I don’t even care if it’s staged. Those people have some serious talent.

My most recent favorites are Lettice (yes, that’s her name!):

and Calum:

and the dancing Stormtroopers, Boogie Storm:

But let’s be honest, watching the ones who are terrible but think they’re amazing can be just as good.

(That last one’s from the X Factor, but who cares?)

Someone told me once that the 20s are for working, working, working…. for establishing a career and jobs and bill paying and work and work again and taxes and adult. Maybe they were right.

Because I’m pretty sure I blinked and now I’m halfway through my 20s. I turn 25 in September and I’m not entirely sure how that happened.

And someday, when I look back on this blogpost, I’ll be in my 60s and wondering how I got there, too.

I suppose I should just take one day at a time. That’s all anyone can really do, right?

And if I survive this crazy period in my life by posting gifs about it and watching Britain’s Got Talent, well, so be it.

What do you guys do to survive your insane times in life? How about you moms out there with your tiny humans? I bet you’re reading this post and laughing hysterically. Teach me your ways.

Putting on the Hazards

April 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

Yesterday evening I was sitting in my car in the ASU Cronkite lot, putting food in my face, when a guy came up to my window and indicated I should roll it down.

“Hi,” he said, “do you know you’re getting a flat tire?”

I’m pretty sure it took me something like twenty seconds to respond. It was Monday night, I was about to walk into my last in-person class of the semester, I was still recovering from a huge fundraiser my work had all day Saturday, I had about ninety seven end-of-the-semester assignments on my mind, I had just finished checking my email to discover I had at least twenty of them needing a reply and…

“Well, my light came on yesterday night,” I said vaguely. “Um, the pressure light. The light on my dash saying I need to fill the tires.”

The guy nodded. “Cool. Just wanted to be sure you knew.” And he walked away while I stared out my window, my bite of salad halfway to my mouth, wondering for the fortieth time in the last few weeks what I was doing, juggling a billion different things at the same time, doing nothing but school and work as evidenced by the fact that I was sitting eating dinner with my textbook propped open next to me in my car that was apparently getting a flat tire.

To ease my mind, I got out of my car and looked at the two tires on the driver’s side of the car. Somehow, within my completely fried brain, I made the connection that if those two tires were fine then all four of my tires were okay, albeit a little low on air. I figured that’s what the guy meant. My tires were just low on air. No problem. I’d fill them up tomorrow, at a gas station that was not in downtown Phoenix at night where I’m pretty sure not knowing how to fill tires would be the least of my problems. 

I got back in my car, finished my food, checked my makeup in the rearview mirror to confirm I didn’t completely look like a zombie, gathered my books, and got out of my car again to go to class.

And looked at my other two tires.

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Oh.

Yeah.

Getting a flat tire, alright.

When I’m in my final stage of exhaustion before I completely break down, everything becomes funny to me. I think it’s a defense mechanism. Laugh so you don’t scream and bang your head into a wall cry. That sort of thing.

So I started laughing, thinking that my car had decided to show me what my brain was going to look like in a week or so, when all my classes are done and I completely forget the material I’d learned. I jokingly texted my boyfriend the picture of my tire with the caption “Wat do.” I figured dang, I needed to fill them, stat, especially the back right.

And long story short, because I didn’t want to go fill the tire at a gas station in downtown Phoenix at night by myself and he didn’t want me driving on a deflated tire, my boyfriend drove downtown so he could go with me.

Some knights don’t come riding up in shining armor. Sometimes they come driving beat up ’97 Saturns.

When I got out of class he was already at my car, investigating. When I’d texted him the picture, there was still a significant amount of air in the tire. At the point he arrived in the parking lot and I got out of class, it was completely flat. Crap.

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We got out the spare and the jack, couldn’t figure it out, said screw it, and called AAA.

“Okay, so we’ll be there between now and 8:47pm.”

It was 7:20pm. Double crap.

Luckily, a very nice police officer nonchalantly rode up to us on his bike (there are cops that roam around campus during the day and the evening) and offered to help. At one point my boyfriend said that he thought we could handle it. The cop said, “I’m bored. This’ll give me something to do for a few minutes.”

Turned out he changed tires all the time and he changed mine in about twelve seconds. Alex called AAA to tell them not to come while the cop and I chatted about drunk students and drunk homeless people he’s had to deal with. Poor guy. Being a police officer can’t be a fun job.

Before I got in my car to drive home, he and my boyfriend both warned me not to drive fast on the freeway since the spare wouldn’t be able to handle it. “Be sure you go to somewhere like Discount Tires tomorrow – don’t go to a gas station to just get the others filled,” the cop said. My boyfriend and I thanked him profusely and he left.

It’s a slow drive through downtown Phoenix to the freeway, so I was fine driving reeeeeally slowly on the service streets. But once I got onto the freeway and started needing to go fast, people behind me started getting seriously pissed. I didn’t want to drive over 40-45, so when I was only going 45 in the acceleration lane everyone stuck behind my car wanted my blood.

So I did something that changed everything. I put on my hazards.

Now, I’m not entirely sure that driving with your hazard lights on is legal. Several cop cars blew past me and no one stopped me, so it must have been somewhat acceptable. Either way, I didn’t care.

Because once I put those hazards on, once I put out the message to my fellow drivers that hey, I need to drive slowly right now, dammit, so get off my freaking back, boy did those people change their tunes. People stopped tailgating and honking. They politely went around me and gave me distance and just let me and my car do our thing as we went clunkity clunk up the I17.

And in my state of utter exhaustion, there I was laughing the whole way. Somehow, it was just so appropriate. I couldn’t get over the fact that the minute I simply let the world know that my car was falling apart (sort of) and to back off while it was down, everyone went out of their way to make my life easier. Once they saw the hazards, they knew the situation was escalated and not to try and mess with me.

I imagined what some of the other drivers might have been thinking as they swerved around my car.

“CRAZY BITCH GET OFF THE ROAD YOU PIECE OF—Oh, hazards. How sad, she must be falling apart.” -swerve-

“Oh look, she’s about to go kaboom. Alright, I’ll give her some space.” -swerve-

It was simply amazing. I didn’t have to worry at all. Everybody just left me alone.

And I got to thinking about how this is where I’m at right now. Finishing up my semester, struggling to keep up with work without an administrative assistant, everybody needing something from me all at once, recovering from a 60 hour workweek last week, and very close to absolutely losing my mind. Falling apart. Trying to keep moving down the road with a flat tire.

So what do I need to do between now and May 9th, the start of my first glorious vacation since December, when I took three days off of work to go to Vegas?

I need to put on my hazards.

Do I want everyone to leave me alone? Of course not. And besides, I can’t stop working, because I’ve got an organization to run. I can’t stop doing school, because I refuse to let my grades take a hit.

But I sure can make it clear to the rest of the world that I need just a little bit of understanding. I need just a little more time to get where I’m expected to go. I need just a little bit of swerving around my slow-moving car at the moment.

So, other drivers? My hazards are on, and while the car isn’t stopping any time soon, for now it’s not going to go as fast until it gets that tire replaced.

Time and Energy

April 15, 2016 § Leave a comment

I have started, stopped, restarted, erased, started again, and temporarily given up on about twelve blog posts over the past few months. I’ll get the idea for a post based off life observations, random epiphanies, or stories from my life that hold some kind of personal meaning (all of which stick to the theme of this blog)… and then I just can’t finish them.

Why? It comes down to a lack of time and energy.

And there are some good posts in the making, if that counts for anything. Just a few that I’m really trying to finish are “Fair,” which is about the realities of adulting, namely spending all earned money on bills; “Punishment by Kisses,” which is about my discipline tactic for Theon, our absolutely insane kitten-almost-grown-cat, and “The Weirdest Thing I’ve Ever Wanted,” which is about…well, I’ll get around to writing about that level of crazy soon.

That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway – that I’ll get around to writing down all my ideas eventually.

And I’ll also get around to vacuuming my apartment, and scrubbing my showers, and deep-cleaning my car, and maybe trying out a new recipe, and actually reading all the pages in my textbooks, and answering all the texts I get when I receive them and not putting off replying for two days, and meeting up for dinner or coffee with my friends to assure them I’m still alive, and going through my closet to throw out things I never wear and and and –

Honestly, I think that the reasons prohibiting a steady stream of posts on this blog can describe my life right now.

No time.

No energy.

Only work and school. And eating occasionally. Though to be fair, I very rarely sacrifice sleep. I go to bed and wake up at the same time most days in order to get my eight hours.

So, okay. Work, school, and sleep.

I’m sitting here at my kitchen table on a Friday night, which is my Sunday because my workweek starts on Saturday. I have laundry in the dryer, dirty dishes in the sink, and about 47 million homework assignments in my head quite literally giving me panic attacks if I think about them too much.

I went to a Carrie Underwood concert last night (which was AMAZING), and the only downside to it was that I didn’t get to bed until 1 in the morning, which is about five hours past my bedtime. And I can’t sleep in to save my life (see above), hence why this whole day has gone by in a haze of exhaustion.

So naturally I’m writing this post rather than doing my homework. After, oh, eight hours of trying to study, I’ve given up. For tonight, anyway. But now more than ever I just want to give up forever.

No time.

No energy.

Even with sleep.

My apartment needs to be cleaned. I haven’t gone grocery shopping in over a week. Gypsy – our six-year-old calico kitty – peed on the couch cushions for two consecutive nights now so the couch is taken apart and the covers are sitting on top of the washer. She has an appointment to see her vet on Sunday since peeing on the couches in the past always meant that she came down with a UTI.

And as I sit and look around I realize that I haven’t had the time or energy to do anything besides work or school since January. Sooner later, I figured, I would start to feel the strain, but that I’d be able to handle it when it came. But after several months of a balancing act… something eventually has to give. I fear that thing is my sanity. Or my health. This past week I’ve just felt awful – nauseous and weak all around. Stress does wonders to the human body.

Where am I going with this post, other than to shamelessly and selfishly complain about first world problems on social media? I have no idea.

I guess all I intended to say is that I knew I would break down eventually.

No time.

No energy.

I am taking a week off (an entire week!) in May, during which I will have no work and no school. At long last, I’m going to Monument Valley for one or two of those days, and my boyfriend will probably tag along. We are both in desperate need of a vacation – or at least a date. This vacation is going to be what gets me through.

Until then, I have a huge work event to help run (which, to be fair, is going to be incredible – details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/521077841398233/) and two classes worth of final papers, assignments, research article summaries, discussion board posts, and textbook analyses due in the next few weeks.

One other blog post I’ve attempted to work on is “Adulting Definitions,” in which I give my own definitions to words or terms. One of my terms is grad school, and it is currently defined as “two years of making bad decisions and justifying them.”

Guys, this is hard.

I thought undergraduate work was difficult. And it was. Undergraduate degrees are brutal.

But it was all just a sample of the daily hell that is grad school. For the first time since I started my program in January, I am truly beginning to question why I started.

Luckily for me, the reason I started is the reason that will keep me going. All 32 reasons will keep me going.

To all of my ranch friends and coworkers reading this….please let this blogpost serve as an explanation as to why I haven’t answered your emails or texts yet or sent donation receipts or planned meetings or completed my part of a group task.

No time, no energy might be the theme of this blogpost, but I know that life is a battle of finding both for the things that are important.

Life, you haven’t won this round yet.

Yet.

 

My 100th Post, Some Recaps, and A Farewell to Sanity

January 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

This post jumps all over the place, but then again so do I. So maybe it works out, somehow.

Today I looked back a bit over this blog, which I started in April 2012. 100 posts later, I am marveling at the life journey I’ve had since I started Shorts and Snippets, particularly over this past year and a half.

A year and a half ago I was suffering from post-graduation anxiety depression. I wrote about how turned around I was after graduation, how nothing seemed to make sense anymore and how I worried I wasn’t ever going to get a job.

I wrote about the helplessness, confusion, and frustration I was going through, how the real world was nothing like college and that I didn’t expect my sadness to go away any time soon.

I wrote about one of my life’s greatest disappointments (which, naturally, turned out to be a blessing in disguise). I tried to make sense of failing an exam I’d studied for for months and failed by one question. I tried to reevaluate the reasoning behind my degree and my interests. I tried to adjust my plan.

Then I started working at my current job, a nonprofit organization called Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary at which I’d volunteered for over five years (and written a book about). Still somewhat lost and unsure of what it was I wanted to do, however, I started my M.Ed six months after I graduated college, and promptly quit after one semester. And when I quit that program, I realized that it was okay to have absolutely no clue where my life was going.

I stopped having a plan.

And that was maybe the best thing I ever did.

Somewhere along the journey to quitting a life plan, it occurred to me that I no longer had to search for my calling. I didn’t need to keep looking for what it was I loved to do. I didn’t need to find my field, I finally realized, because I was already in it.

I realized that I had fallen head over heels in love with my job. I learned what it took to be a rancher. To be the caretaker of 33 horses. To be the leader of a nonprofit organization.

And the more I worked, the more I realized I still didn’t know.

I was thrown/willingly jumped into the task of running a nonprofit, and while went by instinct, I also learned by doing (mostly by failing at tasks miserably then learning from my mistakes). I begrudgingly accepted the fact that there was a lot of practical information behind running a nonprofit that I couldn’t learn at a horse ranch.

So, for kicks, I looked at nonprofit management graduate programs. I only applied for one: Arizona State University’s Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program. For some reason, they let me in.

And tomorrow, my first semester begins. Hence my farewell to sanity.

I warned you this post jumped all over the place. I’m not sure of what else I want to say other than to offer an explanation as to why I’m probably going to drop off the face of the Earth for a while. I attempted full time school and full time work a year ago with my M.Ed., and it wasn’t easy. I’m not sure what this semester has in store for me, but I know that juggling school and a job and family and friends and oh, maybe sleep every now and then is going to be one wild ride.

Will I finish this program? Or drop out after a semester, like with my M.Ed.? I’ll be honest: I’m not planning on either. I’m not planning on anything.

I’m just going to take it one day at a time.

Because the more I jump and fall and skid and dance through life, the more I realize that nothing can ever be set in stone. Passions burn and die and burn again, interests come and go, hopes and dreams are forever evolving. And even though the music changes, to keep on moving you still have to dance.

Starting tomorrow, dance I shall.

The music will be fast-paced for quite some time. But I’m not worried. I’ll make up the dance as I go along.

Just Go With It: My Day Trip to the Grand Canyon

December 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

I make pilgrimages to Sedona at least every few months. I am almost always under stress (mostly because I’m still not very good with dealing with it), and Sedona is a great place for me to go rid my head of unnecessary clutter. And yesterday morning, I woke up and initially decided that since all kinds of holiday hell are going to break loose soon, it might be a good time for me to go again.

A lot of the excitement was gone, though. It almost felt like I was going out of some obligation. But I love to drive, and I wanted to drive somewhere, anywhere. Anything to get me out of the apartment so I didn’t have to be an adult clean or do laundry or pay bills.

So I bundled up, got in my car, filled the tank, and drove north.

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Sunset Point rest area

I’ve memorized the entire drive to Sedona. Every tree, every rock, every rest stop, every mountain pass and little forest… I’ve got them down. And halfway through the drive it occurred to me that I didn’t have to go to Sedona if I wasn’t feeling it. In fact, I could just keep driving north. Who would stop me?

Where else can I go? I wondered. Immediately I thought of Monument Valley. I’ve never been there, and I’ve been dying to see it for a long time. But one quick maps search quickly cut that choice out when I saw it was four hours away (and I was halfway to Sedona!). Just a little too far for a day trip.

Then I thought of the Grand Canyon. As is typical for most native Arizonans, I had still never seen it. Well, I probably did when I was really little, since I think my parents took me up there with my grandparents long ago. But I didn’t actually remember it.

I looked up the distance from where I was on the I17 at that point: Under three hours from where I was. Okay, so there would be a lot of driving. But I was tired of the same old trips to Sedona.

And besides, I got a new phone on Wednesday, the iPhone 6. I had to test out the GPS and the better-quality camera, right? Right?

So I found myself passing the Sedona exit and continuing my drive on the I17. And while everything up to that point had been safe and familiar, the road and the surroundings suddenly became unknown territory.

I drove through so. many. trees. The Sonoran Desert doesn’t stretch all the way through Arizona.

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Then came this weird white stuff on the ground.

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I was so tempted to pull over and play in the snow, but I kept driving.

And driving.

I got onto the I40 West and kept driving.

And driving.

Seriously, after a while I started to question what I was doing. Who goes to the Grand Canyon on a whim? Me, apparently. I laughed about it as I turned up Kenny Loggins and kept driving.

When I got to the end of my drive on the I40 and saw I had another interstate to drive (AZ64) that would take another hour at least, I made a pit stop in the tiny town of Williams for food.

Now, I don’t like to think of myself as completely paranoid, but whenever I go anywhere unfamiliar, I am always constantly, incredibly aware of the fact that I am a young woman traveling alone. It comes from working with horses, too. I am constantly using all of my senses to stay out of danger. I carry mace in my car at all times, and I usually bring my knife with me wherever I go too, but yesterday I forgot it on my night stand.

My first thought as I entered this town was that it was a great place to get abducted.

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My second thought was that it looked an awful lot like Radiator Springs, the little town in Disney Pixar’s Cars (my favorite Pixar movie). And it was no wonder – as I kept driving I was pleasantly surprised to remember that the town sits on Route 66! (In the movie Cars, Radiator Springs is a town that sits on Route 66 but was bypassed after the construction of the interstate.)

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Looking back, I wish I’d explored a little bit. Or that I’d brought someone with me so I would feel safe exploring. There were old train cars and buildings that looked like they’d seen Civil War days. I relaxed a bit when I saw families and couples wandering around the old buildings, since Williams is a tourist town above all.

I got food from a Safeway then it was back on the road. More driving.

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And more driving.

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There was a stretch somewhere in there where I was the only one on the road for miles around. The area was flat (I thought I could see the drop off where the canyon started waaaaaay up ahead, but it was probably my imagination) except for small trees scattered here and there, and I had a couple of worrying thoughts about what I’d do if my car broke down or if I blew a tire.

Keep going, the little voice in my head said. And I did.

I passed cows, the Planes of Fame Museum, Bedrock City, and only one or two gas stations, one of which I stopped in to get my Grand Canyon park pass.

More driving.

I finally got to Tusayan, where the entrance to the Grand Canyon is.

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Then – yep, you guessed it – more driving. But at least now I was close, with a bunch of tourists driving along with me.

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Finally I parked around the visitor center, put on every coat I’d brought with me (it was cold!), and went on my merry way up the little walkway. It was a little after 1pm at this point, and it occurred to me that I was probably going to be home much later than I’d originally told my boyfriend. So I shot him a text: “So um, I accidentally drove past Sedona.” (Later, in explanation, I sent him a selfie of me with the Grand Canyon behind me to the response of, “Wha….?”)

I kept walking, happy to be up and out of the car after driving for so many hours. There was a cool engraving in the walkway up to Mather Point (the lookout for the South Rim) that paid tribute to the Native American tribes that lived in the canyon. Whether or not they’re still there, I don’t know. I hope so.

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Then, at the end of the walkway, came this. At last.

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All that driving became worth it. My spur-of-the-moment decision to go on past Sedona made sense. I was meant all along to see this indescribable wonder.

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Selfies, because why not?

Selfies, because why not?

I wish I had thought to take off my hat!

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When I was walking along the rim I overheard an elderly couple talking to their kids and grandkids about their incredulity over the canyon. Someone said it looked more like a painting than it did real. The grandpa said, “It really puts into perspective how insignificant we are.”

Oh, it really, really does.

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I walked along the edge a bit and read some of the fact bulletins.

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I can’t even fathom how I barely saw any of it, compared to how huge it actually is.

It goes on for miles. Ages. Forever.

Looking down was insane. I didn’t even feel any fear. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how deep the canyon is, how many millions of years it must have taken for the Colorado River to slowly work its way through the rock.

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After I had done all my picture taking I just stood and looked at the Grand Canyon for a long time.

I kept trying to think of one word to describe it. I finally settled on vast, not just because of the canyon itself, but because the words there are to describe it are endless.

How must it have been, to be walking or riding and running along hundreds and thousands of years ago, to suddenly stop short and feast your eyes on this? How must it have been to have no idea about this only to stumble upon it unawares?

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When I finally made my way back down the pathway, I grabbed a coffee from the visitor center then got back on the road. When I had cell service I called my boyfriend and reassure him I was still alive and that I hadn’t completely lost my mind.

I made another fast decision later on when I randomly decided to take the 89A south rather than the I17 right away. It would be different than just coming back all the way I came, and I knew that it went through Sedona.

What I didn’t know was that parts of the road consisted of winding, twisting turns all the way down huge cliffs.
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I had a blast all the way down.

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At one point a car behind me started tailgating even though I was going over the speed limit, but not too much over since, you know, I was winding my way down cliffs on a narrow road. My typical response to that kind of behavior, in true Arizona driver fashion, is to do a break check. Yesterday, I just ignored him. Other people’s anxiety or anger has nothing to do with me, and I had a right to drive the speed I wanted.

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Asshole (silver car) eventually passed me and tailgated my Jeep friend who I’d followed all the way down the cliffs until Jeep got pissed off and pulled over just so Asshole could blaze in front of him.

In the end, I did end up going to Sedona.

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I only made one stop, though, to a place I’d never been before. I’ve always been vaguely aware that my parents were married in Sedona, but it wasn’t until recently that I asked my mom where.

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Unity of Sedona is such a cool little place. I didn’t go inside nor did I wander very much – it was just cool to be there.

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I took away a few things from this little day trip:

People are nicer than they seem. As I mentioned earlier, I tend to err on the deep side of caution whenever I am traveling alone. I passed by several potential bathroom stops or gas stations based purely on how many men were gathered outside of them, preferring to enter places that seemed to be serving couples or families with children. (That’s pretty messed up that our minds work that way as women, but that’s a whole other post for another day.) But while it’s a good thing to be cautious, so is letting friendly people in. Everyone I spoke with at gas stations or stores and even the guy who made me my coffee at the visitor center in the Grand Canyon was incredibly kind and well-meaning (and I most certainly did not get abducted).

And finally, I think – no, I know it’s easy to go through life with a plan. As I talked about in another post, I’ve lately started to live without a set-in-stone plan. And don’t get me wrong – it’s good to have an outline of sorts, so there is something for which you are striving. But sometimes the plan needs to be adjusted or thrown out all together. And sometimes when you just go with it and keep pushing the edges of your comfort zone and journeying on, you make some pretty incredible discoveries along the way.

Next trip? Monument Valley, for sure. And this time, I’ll be leaving at dawn.

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How Writing a Book Helped Me Stand Up to My Bullies

November 19, 2015 § 1 Comment

I have always loved to write. As a child, I always seemed to use my computer time typing up stories, each one growing longer and more elaborate than the next.

By the time I was 13, I’d written five actual books. I still have copies of each one. My fifth was a novel called It All Started With Five Horses, which I finished when I was 12. It’s a story about five horses that escape a cruel master and find a wild horse herd, the leader of which is searching for his long-lost daughter. The recurring theme of the book is never giving up. The main character, after all, is a paint mare named Faith.

On my 13th birthday, my mom and then-stepdad presented to me three large boxes, all wrapped together as one. When I unwrapped the paper and opened the box on top, I discovered a hundred paperback copies of my book.

And eleven years ago today, our local newspaper released an article about my book and me. In honor of its anniversary, I wanted to take the time to tell the story of my book’s creation.

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It All Started With Five Horses will forever have a special place in my heart. Not necessarily because it was my first one to be printed, not even necessarily because of the story itself, but because of the circumstances I was in when I was writing it.

To give some necessary backstory to this post, when I was 12, my family and I moved from Cave Creek, Arizona (where I’d lived most of my life up until then) to Discovery Bay, California. After a year, we moved an hour away to Danville, and just under a year after that we moved a short drive away to San Ramon. Then, a few months before I turned 15, we moved to Bradenton, Florida, which began the absolute worst part of my life.

Someday I will have the courage to revisit those years. They are still surprisingly painful to think about. And nevertheless, those stories are for other times.

Within those three years or so, however, there were gems: Wonderful experiences lived, amazing friends found, and many a battle overcame. The story behind my book It All Started With Five Horses is one of those gems that I will always treasure.

My then-stepdad, my mom, my baby sister who entered our lives halfway through our time there, my little brother and I lived in Discovery Bay, California for a year, from February 2004 to February 2005. In our home, we referred to it as Disgusting Bay.

To us, it was truly an awful town. We were fortunate enough to live in a gated community in a nice area, we would venture outside of it to Byron which contained rundown buildings, graffiti, gross homes with, well, interesting people living in them, and lots of vast cropland. Each day always seemed to bring an ugly gray sky.

And my new school that I joined more than halfway through the year was absolutely horrible.

In Arizona, many of the elementary schools are K-6th grade. In California, they only run through 5th grade. Because we moved hallway through my year in 6th grade, in February 2004, I became a middle schooler literally over the weekend.

On that cold day in February 2004, I walked into that middle school knowing no one. I was a foot taller than everyone in my classes, including the boys, skinny and scrawny as a beanpole, wearing my tomboy elementary school clothes and topped off with thick glasses, acne, bushy eyebrows, and my adult teeth still struggling to grow in (to this day I still have too-small incisors).

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Rocking that look at 13.

For the pretty middle school girls, products of their environments with their cute clothes, makeup, perfect hair, and high interest in boys, I was a walking target.

Many faces, names, and details have been lost to me over the years. For the sake of telling this story, they’re not important. All that needs to be explained is that the majority of those girls in that school were clever and sought not to necessarily make fun of me right from the start, but to befriend me first as to make the bullying – when it eventually came – much more painful and bewildering.

I truly believe that some of those girls had good intentions. They seemed nice enough. I’m sure they caved into peer pressure along the way, as is so easy to do in middle school. They wanted to give me a chance, give me a place at their lunch tables, and please their teachers who asked them nicely to show the new girl around.

But most of the girls didn’t. And the meanest of them – a tight-knit group of five girls – somehow became my closest friends.

For several weeks we hung out at school and at each other’s houses. They met my mom and adored her. The six of us swapped stories and secrets and exchanged numbers and went to birthday and slumber parties together as a big group. Even though I missed my friends in Arizona, I was happy. I had middle school friends, and the one with whom I seemed especially close was the group’s leader. I won’t repeat her name here but I’ll never forget it as long as I live. I’ll call her Regina, after Regina George from Mean Girls.

Then one night at a sleepover party in April (I think), somehow everything changed. Four of the five girls (one pretended to sleep so she wouldn’t have to participate) spent the entire night twisting my words, screaming and shouting at me, and accusing me of things I’d never did or said. My confusion only mounted throughout the night as I tried to defend myself, tried to figure out what I’d done or why they were so angry. Regina fueled everything, cutting across my stutters of apology and explanation with harsh accusations. Her sheep friends followed suit for hours.

Finally at 2am I called my mom and begged her to rescue me. Turns out – with her instinct – she’d been up and waiting for that phone call. She came and got me without question. I cried in her arms the rest of the night.

The next Monday, Regina and her friends spread rumors about me throughout the entire school. They were popular, so their words were final. And when everyone ran out of rumors, the bullying started.

I can’t even remember a lot of what was all said and done. Stupid middle school things. “I heard Alexis called so-and-so a fruitcake.” [The go-to insult in that school was ‘fruitcake’ for some reason.] “The ugly new girl said the dumbest thing in class today.” “Should someone get her a jacket? The weather has to be colder up there where she is.”

I’d hear the comments in the hallways, at my locker, in class behind the teachers’ backs, and – eventually – to my face. Sometimes it was just one girl – usually someone close to Regina or Regina herself – coming up to me for a showdown. Other times one of the older 7th or 8th grade girls sitting with a large group of people would call out to me and sweetly ask me to join them. Good old public humiliation was guaranteed if I got one of those calls. It usually resulted in me either running to the bathroom to cry, gulping back tears as I rushed to my next class, or trying to find a spot to eat my lunch on campus where no one could find me.

What hurt the most was that I’d been friends with Regina’s group – and on relatively good terms with the rest of my classmates – for some time. And because I’d been friends with them, each of them knew that it was my dearest ambition to become an author. I’d told them about my story that I was writing. It was about horses, I’d told them excitedly. It’s really long now. Maybe someday I can mail it to New York and get it published.

To give you, reader, some understanding, in that school, among the crowd of girls I had fallen into, it was almost a requirement for the girls to want to be models or actresses or something equally glamorous and flashy. For me to want to be an author was unheard of, at least to that group of girls. And once they’d turned on me, that become one other thing for them to laugh about, Regina in particular.

Oh, the comments that came. “It’s a good thing she wants to be an author, because she’s too ugly to be a model.” “Of course she wants to write, she’s nerdy enough for it!” “Like she’ll get published. Yeah right!”

Honestly, the exact words that were said over and over have left me. But I know what each of those girls in that middle school meant to do. My mom would explain it to me every morning in the car on the way to school. “Those girls,” she would say, “don’t have any kindness to give away. They feel badly about themselves. And they make fun of you and pick on you because you let them take away your power.”

I tried to figure out what she meant when she told me to not let them take away my power. Every time I saw Regina, my stomach turned over and all my happiness left my body. For weeks – months – that was something I couldn’t control.

Lest you all think Poor Alexis! it has to be mentioned that I had one friend through all of this who was oblivious to the rumors and bullying and a bit of a bullied outcast herself: Alysha. She and I are friends to this day. Towards the end of the year, we began a tentative friendship that blossomed during that summer of 2004. Alysha, if you’re reading this, you cannot possibly know what your friendship meant to me during that time.

That summer saved me. I didn’t have to go to school where I was bullied. Alysha and I hung out all the time. That summer, my sister Riley was born. We traveled to Arizona for the birth (insurance issues) and I got to see my dad, my older two siblings, and my friends. And sometime towards the beginning of that summer, I finished my book, It All Started With Five Horses.

I nearly gave up on it. During the school year, after my homework was done for the day and I’d sit down at the computer, it was too painful to open. Sometimes when I looked at it I would remember all the nasty bullying that day and want to delete it all.

Somehow, I kept writing.

I think a combination of things kept me going: My friends and family in Arizona, my new friend Alysha… even the characters in my story were encouraging to me, especially the main character Faith. When I was writing, I could escape. I could be as strong and as fearless as my characters, who didn’t get tongue-tied when trying to confront their bullies.

But I truly think my mom was the one who inspired me to keep writing. Every day she had words for advice for me. Every day she lifted me up after each of those girls had ripped me apart and torn me down. Without her I would have never finished my book. On the day I finished the book entirely, she asked me to email her the final copy so she could read it. I did so happily.

I thought all she would ever do was read it.

When school started up again towards the end of August, I wasn’t as much of a target. I was still there for the bullying, but the girls – wise old 7th graders now, with fresh 6th graders to play with – mostly looked elsewhere for entertainment. I settled into a routine, found some new friends with Alysha, and the terrified fist that would grasp my stomach whenever I’d see Regina or any of her group started to lessen day by day.

I turned 13 at the end of September. And on my birthday, a Friday, I came home from school to find a huge box wrapped up in front of the fireplace. And there in those boxes were 100 copies of my book. I cried when I saw them. Not only was it my dream brought to life, it seemed to be a validation of everything I’d gone through over the past months. Somehow, my struggle to keep on writing had all been worth it.

The following Monday, I brought one of the copies of my book to school with me. The first class of the day was homeroom, and as it happened, Regina sat right next to me.

We sat at a table, so across from us were two guys who fell into the popular crowd, thus Regina was close with them. As we all sat at our table waiting for the bell to ring to begin the day, the three of them sat chatting, or rather Regina sat complaining about something or other while the two guys playfully poked fun at her.

I was so oblivious to them. I was oblivious to everything. I was staring at my book on my desk. I kept flipping through the pages then closing them to see my name on the cover. I loved the picture my mom had chosen for the cover, of the five horse silhouettes at sunset. I loved that my book looked like a real book. At that moment, I loved everything.

“…because life is complete shit.” Regina’s words cut through my daydreaming.

Without thinking, I interjected quietly and happily. “Life is perfect.”

All three of my peers looked at me like I’d just grown another head. “Why?” spat Regina. “What makes you say something like that?”

“This,” I said sweetly, and I pushed my book towards her.

The two guys looked at the book and started chortling. Regina herself snorted as she grabbed it and pulled it across the table so she could see. “Wow….oh-KAY,” she said, faking a sarcastic, awe-struck expression as she looked at it. “A book. What’s so great about that?”

I smiled, a true, honest-to-God happy smile. I don’t think I’d smiled in her presence since before that night she and her friends ganged up on me. Out of habit, nervous butterflies still danced inside me, but I remember realizing in that moment that it was all over. “Regina,” I said quietly. “Look at the author.”

She did.

It’s been eleven years and I can still remember the look of horrified astonishment on her face.

One of the two guys at our table grabbed the book and looked at it. “You wrote this?” he yelled, loud enough for half the class to hear. He and our other classmate started exclaiming. They pulled my teacher over to our table and thrust it in her hands.

My teacher stared at my book for a solid minute, during which the bell rang and everyone settled down in their seats. After everyone started to looked questioningly at her to see why she wasn’t speaking yet, my teacher looked down at me and said in wonder, “Alexis. Explain this to me.”

I did. All my classmates – several of whom had spent the months before bullying me to tears – listened with rapt attention. Meanwhile, Regina sat in stony, angry silence. After I’d finished saying that the books were a present for my birthday after I’d worked on writing the book for nine months, my teacher opened it and said, “May I read some of this aloud to the class?”

Stunned, I squeaked out a happy, “Sure!” She read not a paragraph, but the first few pages. Everyone listened in silence. I couldn’t look at anyone. I looked down at my desk, hot all over, too happy to say a word.

The rest of the day, there were new rumors floating around the school. And at lunchtime, two of Regina’s group came up to me, Alysha, and a few other girls I had surrounded myself with since the beginning of the school year.

I don’t remember the entire conversation, but I do remember the beginning and the end of it. The two girls demanded to see my book. I gave it to them. As they looked at the cover, the rest of Regina’s group – along with every other girl in our grade who had told me I was stupid for wanting to be an author months before – looked over at them, waiting for a sign of confirmation.

“So,” one of the girls finally told me after giving me my book back, “why aren’t you sitting with us?”

It took all my courage to answer them. Swallowing with nerves, I told them, “Because we’re not friends anymore.”

The girls put on their best hurt expressions. “That’s a really rude thing to say,” one of them told me. “I thought we were friends.”

We hadn’t been for some time, but that wasn’t the point. They’d seen my name on the cover of my book. They needed to come at me with something.

“Well, we’re not,” I said, or something similar, and I stood up. I had always towered over all of Regina’s group and that time I was glad I did. I looked at them, waiting for some comeback. When none came, I turned to my new friends and said, “Come on, you guys.”

And my new friends followed me from the table so we could all eat lunch somewhere else.

The two members of Regina’s little gang went back to their table to the rest of the popular girls. When I looked over my shoulder briefly as we all walked away, I saw them all chatting viciously.

For the first time since I came to that middle school, not only was what everyone said behind my back the truth, it was something of which I was immensely, unspeakably proud.

And from that day on until the day in February 2005 when my family and I moved away from Discovery Bay and I started yet another new school, not one of those girls ever bullied me again.

~

“It All Started” with talent and generosity, by Juli Mijares, published in the Discovery Bay Press on November 19, 2004

Some kids have had their picture in the paper, others have had an essay or even a story printed. But one local girl has had a book printed and is selling copies to raise funds for an international charitable organization.

Alexis Roeckner, 13, has written “It all Started with Five Horses,” a 279-page novel for ages 10 to 15. The story revolves around five horses that are inspired by a falcon to escape a cruel master and meet up with a herd of wild horses searching for the dominant stallion’s daughter. 

But the falcon is not all he appears to be. His cruelty to one of the main characters, Faith, causes arguments to escalate among members of the herd. Questions arise such as can they find the stallion’s daughter? Will Faith be able to prove the falcon doesn’t have the herd’s best interests in mind? There are many adventures for the horses and a plot twist at the end. 

One of Alexis’ former teachers had been encouraging her parents to get Alexis published. “She said she’s never seen a writer like Alexis,” the writer’s mother Lisa Schelthoff recalled.

The book is the fifth the seventh grader has written, but the first to be published. [AUTHOR NOTE: The book was printed but never published.] It took her nine months to write. Her mom and stepdad, Steve, had 100 copies printed up by Iconix.biz and presented them to Alexis for her birthday in September.

Three boxes were wrapped, containing the books. Alexis said she started crying in disbelief when she saw them for the first time. 

“Hang on a second, is that mine?” Alexis said when she opened her present. “It was a dream come true.” 

So far, Alexis has sold about 50 of her books. A donation of $5 or more is requested to purchase a paperback signed by the young author.

Teacher Laurel Sarmento found the book to be a good read.

“It is very impressive,” she said via email. “Wow, what a kid!”

Fifty percent of the proceeds are donated to Heifer International, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to ending world hunger and saving the earth.

By providing trees, livestock, training and other resources, Heifer International has helped millions of families in more than 125 countries around the world lift themselves out of poverty and into self-reliance since 1944.

Her family’s motto is “You make a living from what you get, you make a life from what you give.”

The organization was chosen because of its mission and that the people who are helped are given the opportunity to help themselves.

“What a small thing we could do, to make such a big difference,” Lisa said. “It is important to give back and make the world a better place.”

The other half will be used to help Alexis publish her next book, “The Neighborhood Pack,” a story about a pack of dogs that must save a small town in Minnesota from a pack of wolves, while trying to learn to cooperate with each other.

This aspiring author has been writing since she was five years old and says she loves to write. She likes that “anything can happen in a book. It’s all imagination.” Her inspiration is J.K. Rowling, author of the popular Harry Potter series. Alexis is also grateful to her family and friends for their support and encouragement.

“I wouldn’t be the author I am without them,” she said.  

To learn more about or purchase a copy of Alexis’ book, call 516-3525 and leave a message. For more information about Heifer International, log on to www.heifer.org 

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