Sleepless Beauty

I woke up this morning feeling like I’d been slowly smashed by a steam roller. And my face looked it – swollen, puffy and multi-colored. It had been a long night with frequent interruptions to my REM cycle, but there was more to it than that.

On top of the allergic reaction causing itchy welts all over my poor puppy, the week of backyard construction and TV filming, and a weekend full of friends (and booze), I was suffering from a severely punctured ego. An unfortunate interaction earlier in the day had shattered my carefully (and slowly) built confidence and I feared the worst – that I might forever retreat back to my cave of pacifism where I spent so many years simply doing as I was told.

After surviving the confrontation and sucking in any tears that threatened my big girl face for the rest of the day, I pushed forward. I worked out, I helped cook dinner, I even meditated and convinced myself that I had moved on. But, it only took about 15 minutes of relaxing on the couch with Mr. Rathroy for me to lose my shit.

At that moment, I needed an insane amount of positive reinforcement and affection, which of course I opted not to communicate (because sometimes I can be ridiculous). I sat on the couch, watching water levels rise in my eyes and anger levels rise in my brain because he wasn’t fixing it. And we hit meltdown Mach 3. By the time I realized it was going to externalize, it was too late to wrangle. I did my best to compose a sentence as my face squished into ugly cry and my voice disappeared into a squeak.

“Sometimes I’m afraid that you’ll decide you don’t like me anymore.”

Holy abandonment issues, Batman.

batman onomatopoeia

The wounding interaction that I thought I had survived was only burrowing deeper. Like a porcupine quill in my subconscious, it dug all the way down to the center of my insecurities and my only choice now was to pull it out the other side.

Like the superhero he is, Mr. Rathroy sprang into action – genuinely listening and intently comforting. He let all the contents of my bottled up fears spill out as I tugged, painfully at the barb that had punctured the facade of “fine” that I’d created without even realizing it. I traced my fears of imperfection all the way back to the 5th grade when I had lost my homework and received a pink slip warning that nearly killed me. Nearly my entire life, I’ve been convinced that any mis-step, any imperfection, any mistake would render me worthless. And despite intensive investment in healthy and healing practices, I realize now that I may never be rid of that fear.

But, while that evening devolved into sleepless hysterics, the lessons I’m choosing to learn are much more beautiful. I can feel my fear. I feel it ping my heart like a hot needle. Lately, I’ve been choosing to ignore the ping or even tell it to go away. I force it out of my mind and muddle through the task at hand. But, this sleepless night, this Mach 3 meltdown, this confidence crushing confrontation, has reminded me that only I can control how I feel. No one else made me feel bad or made me feel better, not even Mr. Rathroy. That’s my job. When I’m honest with myself and acknowledge my feelings, even my fears, I stand a far better chance of staying stable, even after a jolting experience.

Don’t get me wrong. It is terrifying to face your demons. Why do you think so many people are walking around with them? But, the better you know yourself, the better you can build a happy and healthy life.  And that sounds like a pretty sweet kind of life to me. So, tonight’s blissful sleep will be thanks to my fears being realized and my courage to face them. I always thought that being brave would manifest externally, but the bravest I’ve ever been was when I chose to look inward, and never turn back.

Unavoidable Angst

Ever since my angsty tween years of journaling, I’ve knows that it’s harder for me to write when I’m happy. Contentment is just not as entertaining as awkwardness, anger, or apathy (the miseries of growing up, really). It’s much more interesting to watch Lena Dunham play out the romantic and professional woes of a twenty-something on HBO than it is to follow around a happily married young professional with a healthy savings account.

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Where’s the drama? Where’s the hyperbole of hysteria over the bad dates and binge eating and credit card debt? Where is that black hole that I wished for so long would just open up and swallow me to end the existential suffering? I filled journal after journal with words dowsed in despair over my youthful heartbreaks, self hate, and unrequited love for Nick Carter.

Nick Carter_Backstreet Boys

As I grew up, looking back on those thoughts and experiences became almost embarrassing (who’s not embarrassed by their 14 year old self?), but I could never get rid of the journals. Every time I tried, my fingers just flipped through the worn pages – that familiar angst – and I would end up clutching them even closer. They still live with me. And with Mr. Rathroy, I guess, though he’s too much of a gentleman to admit it if she’s peeked inside any of them…

“The pain returns with such eager delight. So quick to remind you of your expendable existence in another’s heart. Your body, rendered undesirable, wilts. Your mind, proven unnecessary, deteriorates. And your heart, mercilessly rejected, explodes.”

I seriously wrote that when I was a teenager. I mean, yikes.

The words that teenage Kelly wrote, oftentimes in despair, have served so many purposes. They were an outlet for a tortured heart, a creative exercise to mix my tragic words with those of Shakespeare, a voice for a girl that just sought to stay anonymous. But scanning through those words now provides an entirely different perspective – an acknowledgement of what it took to become who I am. Yes, it would be really boring to follow me around with a camera today. I’ll admit that I am entirely too happy to be entertaining. But that angst, that awkward phase, that rebellious streak, that desire to have a black hole open up and swallow you – that’s our common thread. For some of us, those feelings and phases mercifully fade when you graduate high school. For others, it might seem like there’s still no end in sight. But those are shared struggles – something that almost everyone can relate to.

I’m thankful for the Carrie Bradshaws and the Hannah Horvaths and the Liz Lemons because they make it seem not so uncommon to stumble and even be miserable at times along your life path. They give legitimacy to periods in life that most people hide in journals or in the depths of their own hearts. Falling down is how we learn to get back up, and there should be no shame in that, especially when it’s a universal experience.

Fourteen-year-old Kelly couldn’t have known the impact that her words would have in the future. All I wanted at the time was to pour out my feelings and in doing that, I gave myself concrete proof of how far I would go. It’s really easy to forget the pain once it dissipates, but anytime I question my journey, question my progress, or question my writing skills, I can look back on those worn pages, filled with that familiar angst, and know that I’m heading in the right direction.

Priorities 101

Welcome to your crash course in adult priorities. The class is Pass/Fail and there will be a test every single day. Some days, you won’t even know it’s a test, and on those days you can rest assured that you are failing.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been on a parkour course between the workplace and the home place – trying to keep a handle on the revolving door of adult life. You mean I have to do laundry again this week? And why are people still sending work e-mails at 8:00pm? Nothing ever settles or stays clean or is laid to rest and I’m left with an ever increasing list of tasks that need tending. And on the opposite team are my beloved Mr. Rathroy, our dogchild, my new favorite workout routine, and the oh so anticipated drama of House of Cards. Not to mention quiet time that a person might use for some light reading or blog writing…

Despite the juggle routine, I had been feeling pretty smug about my pass to fail ratio these last few weeks. Sure, I haven’t blogged in a while, and our house is a tad less tidy than I would prefer, but I was killing it at work, finding time to exercise, and everyone had clean underwear. That sounds like winning to me. That is, until a particularly rough Monday landed me and Mr. Rathroy on the couch with beers and a couple House of Cards episodes. Normally, I would allocate that time in my mind as a deserved break or fun bonding time with my husband, until I realized the next morning that there was no food in the house.

Mr. Rathroy would have Carl’s Jr. for lunch the next day (not that he minded), and I would spiral into guilt-town for spending an entire evening on my ass instead of taking care of something, anything productive. Where were my priorities? And from there, the snowball grew. It chased me down my mountain of to-dos like a bad Indiana Jones dream until I found myself on the floor of our bedroom, huddled in the corner next to the outlet so that my phone could charge while I held it to my ear to discuss a work emergency at 9:30pm. Smug doesn’t last long in the corner…

I’ve been hearing a lot about the rule of thirds lately. It’s been applied to everything from social media posts to personal finances, and it might be time that it applies to my own priorities. I still feel like I’m being chased by the insatiable snowball at times, but I’m hoping that setting goals and standards for task hierarchy will help me stop running and start accomplishing.

1/3 Work

1/3 Home

1/3 Fun

This is, so far, just a theory. I am currently not the leading expert on setting appropriate priorities as indicated by my muddling through these words after an 11 hour work day on a laptop in bed with a snoring husband next to me. There are a lot of things about this current picture that would change according to the Rule of Thirds, and that’s exactly what I’m hoping for. Whether it stands the test of time as the greatest Priorities 101 lesson remains to be seen. But it will be a shift toward balance, and I think all of the thirds in my life will appreciate that.

Life Among the Trees

In the 4th grade, we did a huge rainforest project. Each student selected one flower, one animal, one fungus, and one bug that lived in the rainforest and researched it extensively (as extensively as a 4th grader could research before the internet was invented). Our finished product was a life size rainforest display in our school cafeteria for open house. Complete with a rainforest sound track, water misters, and 3D artistic renditions of each researched critter, this project was the peak of my elementary school career. It was the reason that I traveled alone to the jungles of Costa Rica and one of many motivations for my two trips to Africa. It’s the reason that Madagascar is still on my bucket list and why I appreciate decomposers like the dung beetle.  But it’s not the only experience that pushed me to be a professional in the environmental field.

From being told to go play outside when I was bored to camping trips with my family, I was repeatedly exposed to the outdoor world and how much bigger it was than me. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I started thinking the world revolved around me (my parents might contest that based on some of my teen years). As a kid, I understood that I was a small part of something really big. Something worth having around. Something that made me feel magical and calm and happy.

Tree Planting

After a stint working with ducks that taught me how to do tick checks and made me face my fear of fish (seriously), good timing and a solid reference got me a job with trees. I knew that I was passionate enough about broad environmental issues that I could peddle trees no problem, even if I didn’t have specific arboricultural experience. It was expected to be a 6 month, grant funded position so I tried not to get too attached. Two years later, I’m still peddling trees and it’s given me similar feelings of magic, calm and happiness that I felt when I was a kid. It’s been obtuse and difficult to pinpoint, so I just enjoy the dirt under my nails and the smile in my heart.

Tree planting hands

I talk about trees all day, every day. I notice trees no matter where I am. I judge entire cities based on their trees. Mr. Rathroy is sick to death of trees. Because it’s my job. But, while I couldn’t articulate the driving force behind it for a long time, I really REALLY care about trees above and beyond my job duties. And yesterday, I finally learned why.

I attended a 9 hour workshop about trees yesterday. Yeah, we talked about trees for 9 hours. I met people doing research on the economics of wildfire (an issue near and dear to my drought-ridden Californian heart), people that have received national awards for their work in climate change, people that cared even more about trees than me. I learned about research that links faster rates of recovery from stress to a view of trees. I learned that life expectancy can be predicted based on the amount of available green space and tree canopy in your zip code. I learned that trees can improve your focus, prevent asthma, reduce crime, and benefit your psychological and physical well-being. I saw numbers and graphs and references and scientific proof of how important trees are to our communities.

Staking a young tree

And after the 9 hour science based workshop, I went to a 3 hour dinner with speakers, board members, and executive committees to debrief on the day. After we settled around the table with wine and ravioli, we were asked to individually share our “tree story.” Having worked in the tree world for a couple years, of course I knew my tree story – a peach tree that my parents planted where I sat for many afternoons reading aloud and sharing stories with its leaves. But as we went around the table, I was amazed at the breadth and depth of others’ stories – trees connected people at this table to their marriages, their parents that passed away, their childhood home, their favorite memories. And after all of the science and all of the logic behind the importance of trees, the most important fact of the day was that trees make you feel. Whether it’s magic or calm or happy or any other emotion, trees are deeply rooted in our hearts.

Not everyone is interested in the facts and figures, but everyone has a tree story. Maybe it’s a tree from your youth. Maybe it’s a tree that you have yet to meet. Whatever it is, honor the memory and the emotion that it brings you. Plant a tree. Hug a tree. Read aloud to a tree. I bet that if you reconnect with trees, you’ll feel that magic all over again.

What’s your tree story?

California redwoods

For extra inspiration, check out this video from one of the tree organizations that I work for. I even have a cameo in it!