Pity Party for One, Please

So today I threw myself a pity-party. I sat down on my bed, looked into the mirror, and sighed heavily. I sighed at the lifelessness of my hair, the tightness of my clothes, the lack of luster in my skin. I sighed at how mundane things seem to be right now. I sighed at the feeling of being under appreciated.

Then, when I was done noting all my faults, counting all the regrets, casting all the worthless wishes, I took a deep breath… and I realized I had just caught myself feeling like a victim.

Now you would think that after all my writing about responsibility and accountability, I would know when I was feeling victimized by someone or something, right? I would know that feeling victimized meant a lesson was right around the corner and I would willing embrace it, right? Well, let me level with you guys: about 99.9% of the time that I recognize the truth, I’m very unenthusiastic to find out what I’m meant to learn from the experience.

This is not one of the rare 0.01% situations. I am actually feeling very overloaded, overtired, and very resentful. Something is off and I know what it is…

Admittedly, it is natural for me to create a persona for myself that fully embodies a “good person.” I like to readily be available for anyone at anytime for whatever is needed. With this desire also comes a lot of baggage though; I tend to feel unappreciated more often than others around me. This is because I do not receive the sort of gratification from some people in my life who I openly give myself. I expect more, because I personally supply more. The giving and taking are unevenly balanced.

The problem is, if I keep trying to please everyone, I start to find myself becoming unhappy with myself. Rather than taking care of myself and doing things for me, I am only focusing on others. This creates those feelings of under appreciation because I am giving my all to everyone else while sometimes others aren’t doing the same for me.

I’m coming to find there is a name for my type of personality: an Over-Giver. And the issue with Over-Givers is that on top of eventually becoming overloaded, overtired, and resentful, we also go through stages of feeling burdened, irritable, grumpy, and vengeful.

Unfortunately, I have yet to master the awareness of when these “symptoms” of over-giving creep into my life. Also unfortunate, but when they show up, they tend to hijack my good mood.

So, instead of throwing myself a pity-party this evening, I am holding an intervention. I am making an active decision to recognize the cause and effect relationship between my self-deprecating feelings and the part I personally play in creating them. I want to connect the dots for future recognition (as I am sure I will feel this way again) and quicker recovery to my “normal” self.

My “normal” self tends to live in a set mood of gratitude. I am thankful for what God has given me in my life and I feel extremely blessed. This makes me a lot more pleasant for others to be around me, and for me to be around myself.

To reach that level of bliss, though, there seems to be a number of things I need in my life:

  • healthy dose of responsible self-care
  • distinguishing what is a priority in my life
  • asking for support when necessary
  • reevaluating stressful situations
  • forgiving myself
  • apologizing to those I hurt in my wake

Looking at my life these past few weeks, I can see where I’m lacking in these fundamental parts of my life:

  • I am not being healthy in my self-care. Yes, I workout every day. Yes, I focus on eating well. Yet I am still not happy with my results. I have been so incredibly hard on myself during the past six weeks of my fitness journey that it is no wonder my stress level has spiked. I need to take a step back, reevaluate my intentions, and regroup. Why am I working so hard? It’s not to increase my health, but rather to feel comfortable in my own skin. Or more vainly put, to look good. I do not enjoy my workouts or how hard I work because I am not seeing immediate results! It’s time to get my head back in the game (sorry for the HSM reference) and re-energize my fitness plans with tangible and reachable goals.
  • What is it that I want to prioritize in my life? Community involvement and volunteer work, making time for family and those friends I highly value, working on a better me, and spending time with God. Anything else can take a back seat for now.
  • Have I mentioned how hard I’ve been on myself lately? This is something I think I need help with overcoming, and it’s about time I reached out for assistance from some people in my life. This is not particularly easy for me because I hate to admit any type of weakness in myself. However, sometimes I get trapped in my own head and only the advice and direction from others can help me. It is time though.
  • I’m at war in my head over something I’ve fought before: letting go of a long-term friendship. It is a very one-sided friendship, and one that everyone in my life has advised me to give up, but it’s hard for me to do…
  • … but I know what truly is best for me and that is to let this friendship go. So I am mentally preparing myself for the stages of grief in an effort to forgive myself.
  • Yet, in all honesty, the most important and hardest necessity when I fall off the wagon of “blissful Ashley” is to apologize to anyone I may have offended or upset with my behavior or lack of communication. For those who know me well, they know I say “I’m sorry” a lot. This is because apologizing for me is more than just asking for forgiveness, it is my confirmation that I have taken responsibility for my actions. As an Over-Giver, this is my way of relieving others from believing they are at fault for my behavior towards them.

With these thoughts, I drive back the initial idea that every ebb in my personality is creating a deeper impression of the lesson I am to learn from each experience. My nature of being an Over-Giver is not one I can easily change, which means my falls cannot easily diminish either, but when I become more attuned to the “symptoms” I can attempt to neutralize myself more quickly.

I don’t think I’ll ever by free from defaulting to feelings of self-pity and irritability when I overload myself, but maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is to acknowledge those times when I start to throw myself a pity party and pop the balloons before they block my sight of the exit.

2015 in Reflection

I wrote a reflection on my year in 2014 (2014 in Reflection) and, looking back, to see when and where I was in my life at each month in the past is a very powerful experience. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly things can change and directions in Life can alter. This time last year I was preparing to begin a new career, was steadily becoming more infatuated with a new relationship, and the worst loss I had to cope with was that of a broken heart. 2015 brought about a whole new level of craziness that only reinstates Peonies ‘n Mint’s tagline: I am truly blessed to have loved, lost and gained so much.

While looking back at the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015, I have to laugh. I made a list of 15 Goals for 2015 and actually succeeded in quite a few of them throughout this year. How I was successful with each strike off the list may not have been completely planned, but it was a success nonetheless! My only “failures” were not running a timed race every month, not going Paleo for an entire month, not learning mixology, and not seeing Miranda in concert. Thankfully, these are options I can make goals for in 2016 if I choose; 2015 was not my only shot!

Overall 2015 was very eventful::

January: I began work at Heartland in a new career path of real estate. This path took me to enrolling in real estate classes and ultimately passing the state examination to receive my real estate agent license by mid-summer.

February: Referring to my goals list in 2015, I chose to continue working and volunteering with Susan G. Komen after leaving Shadowland and no longer being in the event planning business. I was asked to be head decorator at a gala called Pink Tie Ball held on Valentine’s Day where over $18,000 was earned for research and treatment of breast cancer. I also helped decorate for the Little Black Dress event at Shadowland in October 2015 and will be on the event committee for Pink Tie Ball 2016.

May: I lost four friends in 2015, and May marked the passing of the first. My best friend who has been my Harry Potter-premier partner and country concert comrade since kindergarten lost her mother unexpectedly. Jamie, whose home was like a second dwelling for me growing up, went to heaven following complications with a minor surgery. Jamie was a highly intelligent woman and one who gave me a lot of advice during my drama with X. I looked up to her fondly. And though the loss was painful enough, my heart hurt most for Granger, who is my best friend and daughter of Jamie. Every person handles grief differently, but it seemed as if Granger simply did not want to handle the grief at all. My heart still hurts for my friend as she and her family continue to struggle with the loss.

June: The second friend lost was Army. And though I might scoff at calling him a friend today, back in June that is exactly what I considered him. I never thought him and I had a future together; we were far too opposite in personality and beliefs. However, Army was someone I cared for and his family was some of the best people I have had the pleasure of meeting. The sudden and unexpected break up left me in tears for a few days, and then mad at anything male for a few months.

In retrospect, it was quite the blessing to lose Army. Not only did I come to the realization that my heart could continue to mend after another heartbreak, but I learned I could love people differently with every relationship I came in contact. I also broke out of a very gloomy and God-forsaken viewpoint after this break, something of which I can never fully thank Army for granting me the opportunity.

July: I ventured on a spontaneous road trip with Teeth in July and it ultimately ended our friendship. Though we are back on speaking terms, Teeth now lives in North Carolina and our conversations are very limited and usually spoken within group texts with the other two girls from the 2014 cruise, Saki and Toto.

August: June and July led me to the most pivotal change in 2015: my participation in House. While being disgusted with men and dealing with the after effects of a broken friendship, my life was a bit gloomy. I was questioning a lot of things and I felt as if the only way for me to break out of the darkness was to force myself into some light. And so one Tuesday evening I chose to branch out and join a Bible study group full of individuals I had never met and at a church I had never attended.

I have not looked back since.

House has become a firm foundation in many aspects of my life. Not only has it reignited my heart to be open to God, but it has provided me with some of the strongest friendships I’ve had to date.

September: Speaking of House, September is the month I attended a bonfire of a fellow “Houser”, roasted stale marshmallows, and met Wilbur. Wilbur has quickly become one of my best friends. My feelings for him grow stronger every single moment I spend with him and, at least right now, this is all I’m going to share about our relationship. I’ll keep you all updated in the future…

October: I moved in with M at the very beginning of October. We painted and pounded and were pleasantly surprised when the vintage apartment went from being “a place” to “our home.” Living on my own is not the same as going away to college and living in a dorm. It’s been an eye-opening experience, but one I am loving every minute! 2016 will be a great summer what with living only a minute from Lake Michigan and the beach, and living right downtown has been perfect with remaining active in the community and keeping up with friends.

November: The last loss of 2015 and one that continues to haunt me in my dreams sometimes: Saki’s cousin and a friend of mine, Brandi, lost her life tragically to Lake Michigan after being washed off a pier. Brandi was a strong supporter of the Right for Life, which her and I worked together with during college. Her loss hit a spot deep inside me; she was only 24 years old at her passing. It’s incredible how much losing someone can hurt, but death of a young friend is even more painful. I’m still working out why God decided to take her when He did, but I believe it was for the best reasons. I am proud to have called Brandi a friend, and I am happy to know I will see her sometime in the future.

December: December has been wonderfully uneventful thus far. There has been quite a bit of holiday joy: work holiday parties, Christmas light viewings with Wilbur, enjoying the Star Wars VII premier, gift shopping with friends, small game nights to enjoy Christmas movies and treats. I hosted a Christmas party for House on the 11th which was a hit. I made all the food myself and coordinated a White Elephant Gift Exchange — all of which I am happy to report was a success. I am enjoying the lead up to Christmas with those closest in my life, and I wouldn’t want things to be any different than they are right now.

As for Firsts in 2015, I had several:

  • First career shift
  • First full year with no school or homework
  • First time dating someone with no religious affiliation
  • First experience with the pain of death in my life
  • First venture away from my home church
  • First time joining a group I had no connection with (House)
  • First consideration of switching my church membership
  • First Ultimate team weekly activity
  • First trivia team weekly activity
  • First spin class
  • First time going to a movie alone
  • First friendship sparked via the blogosphere (Hillary)
  • First spontaneous road trip

Life is good and I am happy.

Next up for the end of 2015: Christmas Day celebrations, New Years Party, MSU taking on Alabama, and receiving a little Christmas bonus from work.

What I’m looking forward to in 2016: family vacation to Disney, new goals and aspirations, three weddings of some very close friends, lazy summer beach days, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, and everything else the New Year brings to me life!

Freshmen Year Advice

My Facebook Newsfeed is being infiltrated with collegiate move-in posts from sobbing mothers, well-wishing friends, and happy yet naive freshmen. Having stumbled through my undergrad years, I feel very well armed with both experience and confidence that I lacked most of my freshman (and sophomore and junior) year of college. So since I’m feeling generous and a state of superiority in my qualifications, I’m going to give those college freshmen out there a little advice which I wish I had known my first year of my college career:

(If the memes don’t make sense now, they will next year…)

The Art of Making Friends
The most essential part of the college experience, meeting new people and making new friends, is also the most frightening. I moved an hour away from home into a school where I did not know a single soul. Being the basic definition of an introvert at the time, I was terrified of this move for the sole reason that I had to go out and create friendships from scratch. I realized as soon as I walked onto campus that I was no longer in my high school environment where I had the same friends since preschool.

However, what I didn’t grasp until much later in the year was that every single student walking onto campus was experiencing the same emotions as me. Even if they knew one or two other people prior to beginning classes, there were 25,000 other people wandering around them who they had no clue who they were!

Here’s a secret I didn’t learn until after this revelation though: everyone’s door is open! So even if you meet a group of people and befriend them, never stop looking to expand your circle. Friendships don’t always last. People come and go in life. And by sophomore year, it’s harder to make friends as people are now in a routine and the freshmen dorm’s “open-door policy” may no longer be carried out. So expand your horizons, meet a number of intriguing and unique people, and be open to as many friends as possible!

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Roommates Are Not A Fool-Safe Bet
Roommates should never be assumed as built-in friends for your college career. For me, my freshman roommate and I had very different beliefs in life. Living together was an awful experience for both of us. However, there are those rare occasions when your roommate and you are meant to be; my senior roommates became my best friends within only weeks of living together and I think of them as my family.

As I walked into my new dorm room freshman year, I thought I had a friend waiting for me. Unfortunately, just because you expect something doesn’t mean it’ll pan out that way. I definitely recommend going into a roommate situation with confidence that a friendship could blossom, but don’t be heartbroken if plans fall through. Not everyone is meant to be friends, let alone live together.

Speaking of living together, one way to try to improve relations with your roommate: don’t treat them like your parent. You moved to college and are no longer at your parents’ house, remember? So it’s time to man-up and pick up after yourself. And always make sure to ask before you borrow something of your roommate’s, even if it’s a tissue. This is not a person you’ve known all your life, so respect their space and they’ll respect you.

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Homesickness: Don’t Stress About It
I’m not sure if this was a purely Ashley phenomenon, but the month leading up to my move-in date, I became obsessively nostalgic. I hung out with my high school friends daily, I skimmed yearbooks and family photo albums, and I posted on many a Facebook wall about how much I was going to miss my family and home. As I said above, going to a new place with no one you know is a very horrifying experience.

In reality, though, that fear lasted a whole five minutes after my parents walked out of my dorm room. I began jumping around the floor, walking into open rooms, and introducing myself to all the new girls around me. My persona of being a self-proclaimed introvert ended right away. And as I began to explore my new environment with new people, the independence of being “alone” had a strong, sweet taste of freedom.

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The Peer Pressure Effect
I lived on a dry campus my freshman year, but when I transferred to Western (lovingly nicknamed Wastern by many), I was worried that I would begin being peer pressured into activities I really had no interest in, namely drinking and drugs.

It was quite the surprise to me, though, when I ventured to my first party that when I shook my head to a bottle of beer, no one cared. College is kind of amazing like that; there are a lot of “no judgment” zones. Just remember it’s also your responsibility to not judge anyone else’s life preferences either; the world needs all kinds and no one type of person is better than another.

Another piece of advice: if you ever feel that you’re in a “judgment” zone, then get out! You have every right to say no to anything passed your way. A crowd wanting to pressure you is not the type you want to be around. Just pick up your things, make any excuse (early class or studying for a test is always a good go-to), and leave.

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Speaking Of Studying…
Do it. College is a fine time to learn the different between procrastination and time management. (Hint: employers like great time managers.) And even though freshman year brings the excitement of optional class attendance, I would recommend attending the majority. Why pay $20,000 a year for a degree you won’t ever reach if you keep failing classes? Prove to yourself and the world that you’re ready for that thing called Adulthood.

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The Mandatory Dining Plan
Freshman year means freshmen dorms, and freshmen dorms mean mandatory dining plan. We all know it and we all grow to hate it. That beautiful pasta bar at Davis may look appetizing the first month, but come October and even a plate of mac n cheese might make you queasy.

Be prepared that the cafeteria food will get old. Expand your palate. Listen to the little voice in your head that sounds oddly like Mom telling you to have a salad. Change it up and try not to get bored.

Fun fact: college is where my addiction to sushi began. I wouldn’t touch the stuff prior to my schooling, but one day the usual pizza, chicken wrap, or all-day waffle maker just wasn’t cutting it… so I tried something new!

We all have had "that kid" in a class...
We all have had “that kid” in a class…

Be Involved In Everything
This is the best advice I can give you. College is the time to not only meet new people and learn new things, but it’s where you find your passions and build upon them to grow into a career and lifestyle. Join that skydiving group, enroll in that 1 credit Tai Chi course,  pick up a sign and protest at the center of campus.

I had never volunteered prior to college. Then my sophomore year I mistaken walked into a Habitat for Humanity meeting. Not wanting to be rude or be embarrassed by admitting my mistake, I stayed — and I was hooked. It’s moments like those, when you might have no idea what is going on, that make you look back years later and smile over your college years. I made some great friends at Habitat and even decided to pursue a minor in nonprofit business due to the mission behind the organization.

So don’t be afraid of what you can do on campus, and don’t be afraid that you’ll do too much. Most clubs do not require mandatory meetings, so you can pick and choose when you attend and still keep an active lifeline. Partying will only get you so far in life; it’s the deep-rooted experiences we make that mold the person we become.

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Now take a breath, unpack the essentials, and get out there and start living some of the best years of your life!

And never forget what you’re actually in college for…

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There Is No “Lost Cause”

I toured my first house today. The first house I have ever considered purchasing. On my own. Just me, alone. The thought of this huge step in my life is one that both terrifies and intrigues me; I am ready to move forward, to take on a new piece of life, but I am also hesitant as the fears of debt, moving out, and being on my own circle through my vision.

Nonetheless, I swatted the fears away and positioned myself to ponder the thought of becoming a homeowner. All in all, the property appeared very agreeable. The lot was adorable, the barn was magnificent, and the location was unbeatable. And even though the house had a Walking-Dead-feel to it, there was a prospect of renovation when looking from the outside.

Unfortunately, yet thankfully, the home was decidedly more uninhabitable than first perceived. It was not until I ventured through the front door that I knew the prospect on living there was futile. The floor literally sank as I stepped into the kitchen. An inch of dead flies hung by webs in the windows, the house reeked of mildew coming from the flooded basement, and the upstairs bedrooms sloped in a Funhouse sort of fashion. The outside held promise, but the inside held despair; some things are just not meant to be fixed.

It has become a common belief in society that no matter how smart, kind, and caring as you or I may be, we can’t fix everything or everyone. Broken trust, broken hearts, life-altering decisions, split second tragedies, all are unfortunate circumstances in life that happen on a day-to-day basis. Some can happen in an instant while others build slowly over years of hard effort. But one thing is certain: sometimes the best we give is just not enough.

And so we are taught to think, “There are things that simply cannot be fixed.” Consider a broken mirror. No matter how much effort is put into gluing the pieces back together, the mirror will continue to be distorted. It is the same with life. When someone is hurt or loses trust, there will always be an edge of doubt in their mind. When a couple breaks up, they usually go their separate ways. When someone dies they remain dead. History cannot be changed. However, a person’s future outlook, behaviors, and environment can change.

But what do we do when we believe we’ve found a lost cause?

To some, giving up may seem the likely option. Why try when everything seems to be pushing against you? There is almost a sense of relief when you accept what you believe is inevitable. Just feel the pain that is meant to be experienced. Don’t fix it. Don’t avoid it. Just suffer until the pain is over. Leave the broken pieces behind and move on.

I do not believe in a lost cause, though. I believe everything and everyone has the power to become better, no matter how broken it or they appear to be. I believe everything has the potential of changing. Whether you must bend, twist, or start from scratch; anything that is broken has the potential of being better.

And how do you push for this better when all else seems lost?

Do the best you can! Accept that some things are not meant to be completely and wholly fixed, and do what you can to piece the problem back together. The result might be completely altered from the original form, but that doesn’t mean its worthless.

Offer love and friendship to a friend or family member who is hurting. Show them that there is positivity in every situation, even if they can only see the darkness right now. Be understanding of the pain they are experiencing, and stay persistent as that hurt will probably hang around for a bit.

There is no need to be perfect. Even the broken mirror can still be used to see yourself smile. Even the falling down farmhouse can be leveled and built into a beautiful structure. Nothing is lost, only waiting for some creativity to piece it into something better.

Is there something you’re struggling with that seemingly can’t be fixed? Is there any relief in the idea that you cannot fix it, or do you push forward and do the best you can?

Calling Out Toxic Relationships

Certain behaviors are incompatible with a healthy relationship, be it a friendship or romantic. Relationships that are the most debilitating and unhealthy give you the feeling that you’re not being taken care of spiritually, mentally, or physically. At least, not in the ways you should.

I think we’ve probably all been in those relationships where we just don’t feel like ourselves. It’s almost like your authentic self is withering away while you try to appease the other person with a faux version of you. We give away our power to other people sometimes, and becoming someone another person wants us to be rather than the person we are is giving them ALL the power.

The word “toxic” means something drains the life and energy from someone. When you’re in a toxic relationship, you grow weaker and more feeble as you subject yourself to the whim of the person you’ve given your power. That desire to be agreeable is actually suffocating the real you!

All relationships can open our eyes to new perspectives and expand our awareness of society, but some relationships simply shut you in and hinder your development. Certain people are not assets in your life; some are liabilities. Your intuition tells you this, but we don’t always listen, do we? Sometimes the voice inside our head saying change and growth is good can be stifled by self-judgment and fear instilled by those in our lives. It is when you realize this voice is a good thing, however, that you also recognize that you cannot develop healthy relationships before first cutting off these unhealthy ones.

Now there are a few signs to decide whether or not your relationship with another person is toxic. The obvious signs are physical, emotional, or verbal abuse, cheating, lying, and stealing. However, a toxic relationship is any one which causes you to feel isolated, sad, trapped, criticized, or afraid.

Sometimes this means that you feel you can never do anything right. Your friend or partner constantly put you down as not good enough. This sort of treatment might even lead you to begin acting the judging person and acting in ways not true to your character. Or you may simply go into a shell and try to hide the personality traits being mocked and become only part of the person you truly are.

Another sign is when you feel uncomfortable simply being yourself around the other person. You can’t speak your mind, you can’t participate in the things you love, you can’t go to the places you love, you can’t chew the type of gum you like, etc. When you have to put on a different face just to be accepted by this person, then something in the relationship is wrong.

The biggest sign to me is when everything is about the other person, and never about you. Have you ever heard the song “I Wanna Talk About Me” by Toby Keith? Yeah, it’s great to talk about other people and learn what’s going on in their lives, but you have feelings too! Listen to the conversations you have with this person. If the conversation is completely one-sided — meaning your opinions are not being heard, considered, or respected — then the other person does not care about your side. If they don’t inquire about you and your life, then why keep caring about theirs? This behavior just leaves you feeling isolated.

The reason a toxic relationship is not ideal for anyone is because it does not allow you to grow or change. Is the other person encouraging and supporting your efforts to grow and improve yourself? Evaluate the relationship and be honest — what is the worth of this relationship to you?

Embrace the answers that come from your intuition. Your own conscience is going to want what’s best for you, unlike the friend or partner of your toxic relationship. Don’t sit in an uncomfortable or unsettling relationship until the effects of isolation and sadness push you into a depression. Take deliberate action according to your gut feeling.  You won’t be sorry.