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.

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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!

Escaping the Fear Jail

Today, I walked my dog all by myself. For a lot of people, that happens every day – sometimes more than once. But for me, it’s been about 3 years. I’ve walked lots of dogs before – everything from family pets to shelter dogs. And it wasn’t until Piper came to live with us that I stopped wielding a leash.

I adopted Piper before I had space in my home for her (but there was endless space in my heart). So, she lived with my parents and their dog for about a year until their collars got tangled together when no one was home and they nearly killed each other.

Maggie & Piper

Piper post-surgery

It was $1,400 to stitch and staple her back together but I had no idea how costly the situation had been on my mental state. The vet told us very sternly that the two dogs should be separated forever and so Piper came to live with us. She came on hikes and camping trips and played fetch in the yard, but never really spent time with other dogs again. In fact, whenever another dog was present, she usually yelped and hid or tried to bolt away from the situation.

Piper Adventures

Between her fearful reactions and the trauma that I never really dealt with after being confronted with her possible death, my brain created a jail. What if an off leash dog rushes up to us? What if she reacts poorly? What if people think I have a mean dog and I’m ordered to put her down?

It was a non-stop rush of terror every time I thought of stepping outside with my dog. I had created a fake situation in my mind that doomed us both and I refused to let it become a reality. Nope. We would just play fetch in the backyard and she would never come in contact with the outside world again.

It’s obviously been unfair. Especially to Piper but also to Mr. Rathroy as he drags me, oftentimes in tears, out the door with Piper in tow to prove that it’s okay. And even though he proves it time and time again, I can’t get past my crippling fears that it won’t be okay next time. I’ve worked on it in therapy. I’ve worked on it with Reiki. I’ve meditated and medicated. And still, I feel my heart quicken and my breath seize when Mr. Rathroy suggests a walk around the block. I simply cannot face the possible confirmation of the outcome that I’ve fabricated.

I’m not completely sure what changed today. I don’t know exactly what made me charge through that brick wall of fear and grab the leash. But I would bet it had something to do with the weekend we just spent running around on an empty beach.

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This was Piper’s third time at the beach house and she was no stranger to a mouthful of sand and the smell of crab skeletons. Even though it’s not allowed (don’t tell on me), we walk down to the beach, make sure no one else is breaking the rules with their dogs too and let her run. She ignores everything but the ball. At this point, I’m confident that a pack of wolves couldn’t distract Piper from playing fetch. But on Sunday, we didn’t bring the ball. We just unclipped her and let her frolic (much to my terror).

California dog.

She ran by our sides and then zoomed ahead. She stopped when we asked her to and then ran some more. She was the happiest and most free I had ever seen her. Those moments on the beach helped me realize what an incredible dog we have. It proved that we trust each other and don’t need a physical tether to control the situation – that she is a really good dog and that she deserves more opportunities to show us just how good she can be.

When I came home to let her out of the crate at lunch today, I knew she deserved some time to stretch her legs and I knew that I deserved, finally, to overcome my fear. So, we walked out the door without hesitation, ignored the three years I had spent convinced that something terrible would happen, and enjoyed every single step. We made it down the street and back without incident or trauma, and I’ve never felt so satisfied to be proven wrong.

With this unexpected victory kicking off 2014, I’m vibrating with excitement over what I will conquer next. I know a walk down the street with my dog won’t seem like much to most people, but it’s one less brick in the wall of fear and anxiety that has been holding me back.

So, listen up, Wall! I’m in charge now and it’s high time that I grabbed the leash to my own life too. No limits. No fear. Just life, however I choose to live it.

Piper kiss

The Resolution Revolt

I’m not much for resolutions. Don’t get me wrong, I spent a fair amount of New Year’s Eves dreaming up the perfect resolution to make the following year, “the best year yet!” But over the years, as the motivation wained and the results stayed consistently unchanged, the word “resolution” has mostly lost it’s meaning to me. It’s a tradition. A mental ritual. An emotional trick in an attempt to float hope through the rest of the winter. But not a strategy to actually better my life.

The only photo we managed to take on New Year's Eve.

The only photo we managed to take on New Year’s Eve.

Lately, instead of resolutions, I’ve been trying to perform periodic self-evaluations. Anytime something is not quite right or I get a ping of discontent in my life, I try to adjust. Sometimes that means a new workout routine. Or trying something like Reiki. Or planning an adventure vacation. Whatever the adjustment, it tends to be a short term project in the beginning and often times becomes ingrained in my daily life as a healthy habit.

Going to Patagonia was one of the crazier adjustments.

Going to Patagonia was one of the crazier adjustments.

After an insightful co-worker read my post about successful friends, she asked if I had recently set any goals for myself. I quickly (and almost proudly) answered, “Nope.” I was feeling comfortable in life and was taking the opportunity to glide through the latest resolution round-up.

Strongly, she stated, “You should,” and explained that as she read my post, all she could hear in her mind was the song, “Is That All There Is?” playing.

Oh. My. God. I had written, edited, and published a pity party for myself and passed it off in my mind as being “comfortable” in life. The truth is, I am incredibly satisfied in all realms right now, and that has never happened before. I genuinely feel pure happiness every single day. So, maybe I’m scared to shake that up and risk breaking it. Maybe I’m exhausted from the whirlwind of fixing an old house and planning a wedding. Maybe I’m just getting lazy and allowing contentment to take the place of fulfillment. Maybe it’s the fact that 2013 was the best year of all time and what if it can never be beat? Whatever it is, it sounds like I need to re-evaluate my plans for this year.

Sometimes I can't believe it's possible to be this happy.

Sometimes I can’t believe it’s possible to be this happy.

I’m really proud of the work I’ve done on myself over the past year – mentally and physically. But I’ve used that hard work as an excuse to take a break from my evaluation process. So, fine. You got me, 2014. I officially submit my New Year’s Resolution for your records.

I, Mrs. Rathroy, resolve in the year two thousand fourteen to plan my next big adventure.

I have no idea what form it will take (fingers crossed for a trip to Southeast Asia), but I resolve to keep up those periodic self-evaluations, pinpoint and plan the next big adventure in my life (with Mr. Rathroy, of course), and experience it fully.

Now, does anyone have any suggestions?

Family Matters

As I’ve aged matured, I’ve been shocked by the shifting dynamics in my family. Have people always been this crazy? Has tension always existed? I’m still not sure if the dynamics are actually changing as we get older, or if my perceptions are just broadening now that I’m an adult.

Remember when you watched Dumbo as a kid and the pink elephants were silly and you danced along to their song? But now, when you watch Dumbo you realize that someone was on drugs when they wrote that scene and you think, “Has this movie always been like this?”

When you’re young, you take things at face value. Relationships are simple. Even though you wrestle and scream at your siblings, you still have to sit at the dinner table with them whether you’re angry or not. Life was simple. Money didn’t mean much to you and things like clean laundry and dinner just magically appeared. But as time goes on, those simple things start to get convoluted. You can actually choose whether or not you’re going to sit at a table with your siblings. You realize that money is the most frustrating, exhausting thing in the world. And on more than one occasion you’ve eaten a plain tortilla for dinner because cooking is hard.

I can tell that there are places in my life where I’ve grown. I understand the work that goes into being a friend, being a sister, being a functioning member of society. And I’m slowly beginning to understand the work that goes into being a spouse. So, if I try really hard, I can look back into my life as a kid and realize that some of these things that seem shockingly different in my family have actually been there all along. I just thought they were silly and danced along to their song. And now that the details of life are within my adult perceptual world, sometimes I FELL LIKE I’M TAKING CRAZY PILLS.

It can be a tumultuous ride into adulthood as you learn that you now have to create your own boundaries, your own relationships, your own requirements for friendship and forgiveness and love. There’s no one that can force you to eat your green beans or make your bed or be nice to your sister. You have to decide to do all of those things yourself. And usually, those things end up being really good for you.