learning how to wait
Recently, I have spent a lot of time contemplating patience: What it means, the ways it is tested, and the ways it is improved. Very simply, patience is the ability to wait without complaint. And very honestly, that is not something at which I inherently excel. Objectively, I have a lot of patience when it comes to small things: I don’t mind getting stuck in long lines, I can remain at-ease in stand-still traffic (that’s actually when my best car-dance choreography makes an appearance), and I can stay calm while groups of toddlers scream and throw crayons at my head (side note: how is their aim always so good when their coordination is so terrible?).
But with the big things in life, my capacity for patience takes a steep nose-dive. I can wait, I just haven’t quite mastered the “without complaint” caveat. I am not yet where I want to be financially, emotionally, physically, or romantically, and I’m not very patient about the time that it’s taking to improve each situation. I complain about my job(s), I complain about my depression, I complain about my body, and even though I’m still not sure if and when I'll be ready for a relationship, I do complain about how damn hard adult relationships are. Therefore, going strictly by definition, I am most definitely not a patient person.
For me, patience is a veritable challenge: one I want to learn how to conquer. I have a strong desire to do better, so I started thinking about what exercising patience would look like in my life. I quickly understood that the opposite of complaining while waiting for what I don’t yet have would mean being grateful for what I currently do have.
I have a strained bank account, but I am grateful that what I have is enough to take care of my needs and self-finance new music. I have a brain that is pre-dispositioned towards depression and dark, but I am grateful that every day it still fights to find the joy, humor, and light in life. I have a body that jiggles in places I wish it didn’t, but I am grateful that it still gets me from point A to point B with relative ease, and that I am getting stronger every day. And I have a history of failed relationships, but that is because I have a deep resolve to never settle for less than what I deserve, and I am grateful to myself because I know, one day, it will pay off.
Practicing gratitude counters my tendency towards impatience by forcing me to live in the present moment, which is a concept I desperately need to internalize. Philosopher Lao Tzu once stated:
“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
As someone who suffers from both depression and anxiety, this is an important, and enlightening, lesson.
In addition to recognizing my own impatience, I have also gotten better at recognizing the root of my anxiety. It is always due to my mind shifting towards the future. I imagine things that have not yet taken place, and then I worry incessantly about them until I can’t sleep, or I can’t make a decision, or I can’t bring myself to go to the party, or I have a panic attack.
But the basis of that anxiety stems from an irrational fear of a future that hasn’t yet happened, and a fear of things not working out the way that I’ve planned (attn. self: things never do, and that’s ok). What’s not ok is letting that fear hold me back from pursuing the things I love, and the dreams that I know I’m capable of reaching. What’s not ok is letting that fear make me impatient rather than grateful.
I am determined to carry this lesson with me through the new year and through the next chapter of my music career. I have been trying to release music for about four years now and, in that time, I have doubted myself constantly. I have let the obstacles I’ve faced make me anxious, fearful, and impatient. Now, as I’m on the precipice of finally releasing new music to the world, and consequently putting myself out there, that anxiety and fear seems all-consuming at times. But when I focus on gratitude, rather than the uncertain future, it reminds me why I am a musician in the first place, and slowly the anxiety dissipates.
I don’t write or perform music for validation from others. If I really think about the reasons why I do it, I realize that I don’t actually need people to like my music at all (although it’s really nice when they do). When I come back to the present moment, I understand that the reason I continue to write, record, and (finally) release music is because it’s an extension of my personality, and it comes as natural to me as breathing. If I ever stopped, I would lose a huge part of myself, and I would lose my ability to make sense of the world. And that has nothing to do with anyone else’s opinion of me.
With that said, I know that fear and anxiety will still fill me in the moments before I send my song off to be released. I am going to be thinking about the people who will listen: Will they like it? Will they hate it? Will they share it? Will they post mean things about me online? Probably all of the above.
But, when my mind starts to wander to that 45-year-old man who never pursued his own dream and who now copes with the dissatisfaction in his life by posting mean comments to discourage those who actually are pursuing theirs, I am going to catch myself. I am going to breathe deeply and remind myself in that moment that I am not doing this for anyone else. I am doing it for me, because it is who I am and what I believe I am meant to do with my life and with my talent.
And on that note, I will not be afraid anymore to call myself talented. I will not be afraid to call myself brave. I will be grateful for that talent and for that courage. And then, I will click the mouse and release my song. It will all be very anti-climactic. Yet, it will be one of my most internally powerful moments.
In my mind, impatience, fear, and anxiety go hand-in-hand. Patience means trusting that things will eventually work out in the right way and in the right time, even if obstacles appear and the finish line is not yet visible. Anxiety means that fear has crept in and I no longer trust that things will turn out alright in the end. Living in the present moment by practicing gratitude is the antidote.
So, here’s to 2018: the year of being afraid but doing it anyway. I hope you take a chance on yourself this year and that when you start to feel anxious or afraid of the future, you instead think about how much in your present life you have to be grateful for. And I hope that thought makes you brave.
Don’t forget to love yourself,
trovare la gioia (or, how to train your brain to be happy)
People are often surprised to find out I have tattoos. I’m not sure what makes it so surprising, but I have some theories. It might have something to do with the fact that:
a.) I look like I’m seventeen
b.) I dress like a modest kindergarten teacher
c.) I tend to spontaneously burst out in song and dance, like a child
d.) Due to factors a, b, and c, I give off a “sweet and innocent” vibe, which I tenderly refer to as “the polka-dots and glitter” phenomenon.
To exemplify this point, a few weeks after we first met, one of my friends told me that she assumed I spent all of my free time chasing butterflies and picking flowers. I don’t, I promise. Although I guess it proves that I tend to strike people as the skipping through fields type (ok, I do actually do that sometimes), and not the tattoo type. But hey, I am a millennial after all. And Generation Y tends to express itself by permanently scarring its bodies with ink.
But this blog post is not about tattoos per se, rather the meaning behind the tattoo on my left wrist. In a fancy-ish script, it reads “Trovare la Gioia,” which in Italian translates to “Find the Joy.” And when people ask about it, that’s usually the extent of the explanation I give.
But that’s not the extent of its meaning. Because if I’m going to mark my body with something that will never come off, it sure as heck better be something that resonates so deeply within my soul that at age 83, when it’s all wrinkly and hard to read, I’m still glad I chose to get it.
Needless to say, “Trovare la Gioia” has that power. And because I’m a writer by nature, I of course have a long-winded story to explain why.
At age sixteen, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I don’t typically tell this to someone I've just met who just happened to ask about my tattoo because if someone has never experienced depression first hand, it is extremely difficult to understand exactly what it is or does. And trust me, I cannot over-exaggerate that statement.
There is such a stigma surrounding depression and so many unfair stereotypes that if I’m not careful I will end up writing a 20 page rant. So, I’ll save that for another post and just simply say this: depression sucks. 24/7.
Back to the story:
Depression defined my late teens and very early twenties, and like a hole that you cannot crawl out of, I honestly thought I would never be free.
When you are clinically (as opposed to situationally) depressed, you can’t see light or hope in anything. You become so haunted by the depression that life becomes this huge daunting picture in which you get lost in shades of grey.
Life is overwhelming. Life is terrifying. Life is exhausting.
And so to cope with all of this, your brain numbs everything until you cease feeling at all. No highs. No lows. No joy.
Luckily, my father is a wise man. Even though he couldn’t wholeheartedly understand what I was feeling, he wholeheartedly wanted me to feel. He knew I couldn’t find joy if I kept looking at the big picture. He knew I needed to start smaller. And so he used to tell me to take one day at a time. Then, each day, find one small minuscule thing that I could find joy in.
Now, I am an extremely stubborn creature and I therefore do not heed my parents’ advice often, but places of desperation tend to make you try things you normally wouldn’t. And so each day, I would force myself to be happy about one small thing. And then something strange happened.
One small thing turned into two. Two turned into four. And before I knew it, I was finding happiness in more and more things. I was by no means out of the hole, but at least I was climbing. I was feeling. I was finding the joy.
And so the “Trovare la Gioia” written in bold on my left wrist is a permanent reminder that no matter how bad things seem, no matter how dark things get, there is always something to find joy in, even if that something seems small and insignificant.
The reason I bring all of this up (other than I really wanted to get a second blog post in for January and this is the last day of the month, oh hey procrastination, we meet again) is because depression is as stubborn as I am. It is something that, while you can slowly crawl out of and learn to function with and beat down again and again and again, will never completely go away.
I would estimate that around four years ago is when I first started feeling like I had depression under control. But I have good days and I have bad days, and it’s going to be something I battle for the rest of my life. Luckily, I’m surrounded (mostly) by people who understand that. And I have never been as low or as far down as I was in those first few years of the diagnoses. Until now.
This is not meant to be a pity-seeking post. This is meant to be a reality post. Because depression is a reality for a lot of people, and those people are misunderstood and name-called constantly. So no, I am not seeking attention. I am seeking to educate.
My brain does not work the way a “normal” (I hate that word) brain does. It will always be leaning towards depression, and if I’m not actively working against the gravitational pull, it will inevitably suck me back in. These past two months have proved that.
But while I am in a mental place similar to that of my sixteen year old self, I am lucky enough to have a little more maturity, wisdom, and life experience than she. I can look at things, including my mental state, more objectively.
Which brings me back to my left wrist and the message I paid someone to scar me with: It is now a precious tool that I am re-learning how to use. I am re-training my brain to find happiness.
Happiness cannot be situational. It has to start from inside, where life circumstances can never touch or mar it. It’s not something you attain, rather something you grow.
So that is what I am doing: growing happiness by training my brain to find the joy in the smallest things.
Life Circumstance: crutches are really annoying and incredibly painful and extremely frustrating and just overall very time-consuming.
Trovare la Gioia: with crutches, I always know what to do with my hands (anyone who knows me knows that this is a really big pro).
I found the joy in something small. And tomorrow, I’ll find some more.
For anyone who’s going through a rough time, I empathize. And I truly hope you can find the joy in something small today and every day.
Because sometimes the small things can end up making the biggest impact.
Trovare la gioia (and DFTLY),
how a smile changed the world
To claim that one smile can change the world is a pretty sanguine statement. I mean, really? One smile? The whole world? For as small as social media has made it seem, geographically the world is still a pretty large place. So the thought of one single smile changing all 196.9 million square miles of our planet seems like a bit of a stretch.
But what if it that idea isn’t crazy? What if one smile really can change the world? Before you roll your eyes and write me off as an unrealistic optimist, let me explain why I've suddenly been reevaluating the legitimacy of that idea.
It all started last Friday:
I was having a pretty bad day, and I was extremely grumpy. I was annoyed, frustrated, sleep deprived, a little hungry, a lot emotionally drained, and my bad mood was written all over my face. I was in the car driving, completely tuned out from the world. I wasn’t even singing along to the radio, which for me is my biggest tell that something is wrong. I always sing in the car. Always. But not that day. That day I was pissed and it showed.
I pulled into Wawa to get a few things for a long drive I was about to take out of state. I walked in and avoided eye contact with everyone. Why smile? It doesn’t matter. People don’t notice, and they don’t care. And they never smile back.
So, I made up my mind: I wasn’t going to smile. I was going to stay in my little dark bubble and pretend no one else was there.
And so, when the guy at the coffee station made a joke about the hot chocolate I was putting in my coffee, I refused to engage him in conversation like I normally would have. Instead, I gave a slight nod, a bare minimum acknowledgment of his existence, and walked away.
I was feeling bratty, and I wanted the world to know it. I wanted the world to know what it had done to me. And I wanted the world to know that I had officially given up on it.
But then something happened. A light happened. A light in the form of a short, middle-aged woman with a green winter parka and a beautiful, contagious spirit. This woman was two people ahead of me in the line at the check-out counter.
Up until this point, everyone in the store had just been going through the motions: the cashier with her monotonous and disinterested “Hi, how are you, will this be all?” followed by the hurried reply from the anxious customer trying to rush her along, the mother standing in front of me engrossed in a vapid conversation with her teenage son about gum flavors, and then me, with my own self-consumed demeanor, just adding to the dismal environment. I was leaning against the counter, staring at my phone and doing my best to block out everything around me.
But then . . . the woman in the green parka stepped up for her turn to check out.
“A box of Marlboro Lights, please.”
Just an average woman making a simple request for a common brand of cigarettes. It was completely unassuming and yet it changed everything.
There was something very different about the sound of her request. The entire sentence she spoke sounded different because each word she used had been carefully formed through an authentic smile. I looked up.
This wasn’t your normal, polite, run-of-the-mill, fake, friendly smile. This was a SMILE. A genuine, full-of-feeling smile that she was giving for no reason at all. It was the kind you can’t help but stare at, completely entranced. The kind that makes even the hardest of hearts smile in return because it’s too amazing to leave hanging on its own. You want to join in. You want to smile. And smile we did.
Every single one of us got hit by it. All of a sudden, the cashier was full of energy and became engaged in conversation with the customers. She made eye contact and laughed, joked, and smiled for the first time since I had been in the store. The people ahead of me smiled and laughed. And then, most surprising of all given my own determination to make the world know how pissed off I was, I smiled and laughed.
I smiled the kind of smile that I secretly hate because it makes my face look all weird and contorted: full faced, eyes all crinkled up, cheeks stretched to the limit. But this time, I loved it.
I was happy because there is no possible way to smile that big and not be happy. And the reason I smiled that big is because the woman in the green parka’s smile had flooded me with the urge to choose happiness, the same way she had chosen happiness.
I am convinced this woman has a lot of trials in her life. We all do. But the difference is in how she chose to react to those trials. She was probably just as anxious, overwhelmed, and worried about life as the rest of us, and she seemed like she may have been struggling financially. She could have easily joined us in our miserable self-pity and no one would have blamed her. But instead, she chose the harder path. She chose to be a source of light rather than another source of darkness.
She understood that happiness is a daily, sometimes even moment to moment, decision, and somewhere along the lines she decided she was going to be happy despite her circumstances. She didn’t let all of the negative attitudes in the store bring her down and, because of her strength and light, she was actually able to lift the rest of us up. She chose to smile and what happened? It made other people happy.
That smile changed my entire day. I got in the car and was grinning ear to ear. I turned the radio up and sang every song. I looked at other people in the cars next to me at red lights and I smiled at them. I danced and drummed the dashboard and then laughed out loud at myself. I enjoyed the day.
I got stuck in Philly traffic for an hour which made my trip an hour longer than it should have been, and I didn’t care. I was laughing and dancing and singing and smiling and happy the whole time. All because of that woman’s decision.
I am so grateful to her for reminding me who I want to be: I want to be a spreader of light and love, even on the days and in the moments when it’s the hardest and when I don’t really feel like it. I want to smile anyway and do for other people what she did for me.
There were about five of us in line at Wawa whose days were completely turned around by that one smile. Suppose the five of us then smiled for the rest of the day and we each changed the days of five more people . . . That’s 25 happy people.
And then suppose us 25 happy individuals then smiled for the rest of the day and changed the days of five more people each . . . That’s 125 happy people. And what if it didn’t stop there?
What if one smile sparks another smile which sparks another, which starts a ripple effect of smiles until everyone in the world has experienced the true beauty and freedom that comes with choosing to be happy despite negative situations? What if we can in fact create a world full of smiles, and those smiles bring happiness, and that happiness brings love?
And all it took to start that love was a courageous woman who decided to believe and act on the crazy notion that one smile really can change the world.
I know it changed mine.
I spend my Mondays through Fridays taking care of my niece (3) and nephew (2), and it never ceases to amaze me how much I learn from them. Every day they provide me with some new insight on how to live a better life and be a better person. Lately it seems their lessons have been getting bigger and better, and the following are just a few of the many they’ve been schooling me in as of late:
Lesson One: Little kids have the right idea when it comes to approaching everyday life.
Each morning, they wake up excited to get the day started. Not only are they excited to see you, but they’re also just excited about life in general. Everything that happened in their lives the day before is long forgotten, and everything to come in the day ahead is a mystery that they don’t bother themselves with trying to figure out. They just live right there in the present moment, and are excited about that moment.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that little kids aren’t exactly happy about every single thing that happens to them. The claw mark on my face, an unfortunate result of my nephew’s opposition to nap time, is a very clear indicator of that. I’m just saying that they don’t let the negative keep them down for long. Give it time and they will be right back to their cheerful, happy, over-zealous selves, ready to laugh, play, and jump on top of you. (And fully willing to forgive you for making them take the nap in the first place.)
Why can’t I be more like that? I’m never going to be happy about every single detail in my life, but so often I let the negative parts of life rob me from fully experiencing or enjoying the positive. Even in my happiest moments, there’s always that dark corner in the way, way back of my mind reminding me that there is some task left unfinished, some relationship unresolved, or some situation un-figured out.
Even when I’m not consciously thinking about it, those nagging problems are always there, keeping at least a small percentage of my brain tuned in on them at all times. I spend so much of my time either living in the past or looking towards the future that I forget to just stop and focus on the present moment as it is. I forget to be excited about life.
I want to wake up in the morning excited, not for what the day will bring, but just excited for no reason at all. I want to wake up smiling, simply because I like life and am grateful for another day to live it. I want to embrace each moment as it comes and fully take it in. And, if that moment happens to be horrible, I want the attention span of a two year old and the uncanny ability to sincerely forget about the incident 10 minutes later.
Lesson Two: Little kids have the right idea when it comes to being themselves.
I’m presently sitting in the living room with the kids. We’re watching Elmo sing about snowmen and we’re having a pretty fantastic day. My niece is wearing a Cinderella dress with a USA soccer jersey on top, flower shoes on the wrong feet, and broken, bright green Mardi Gras beads around her neck. She’s holding a half eaten banana in one hand and a half eaten waffle in the other. She doesn’t care that she looks kind of ridiculous (although very, very adorable). She’s just dancing around the room and laughing like a hyena with golden curls that are covering her eyes and a smile that is literally taking up her whole face. She is completely herself.
If for some reason we had to leave the house, she wouldn’t even think twice about stepping out in her mis-matched ensemble. She wouldn’t want to change and, honestly, why should she have to? Her outfit makes her happy. It is unique, funny and silly – just like her – and would tell people that she’s comfortable being herself in any situation. Her actions are not controlled by the thoughts of other people, and her outfit isn’t either (although sometimes it would be nice if she kept on the outfit her aunt picked out for her).
There are very few people in my life that I can honestly say have seen me be 100% myself. It generally takes two or three times of me meeting a person before I feel like I can start letting my guard down, but even with most of my close friends, that guard is still partially up. Not even everyone in my immediate family truly knows me completely freed from inhibitions.
I used to hate this about myself and think of it as some weird personality defect that I would always have and never fully understand. But this year I’ve been learning a lot about myself and have been digging down to some pretty deep places and uncovering demons I forgot even existed.
I’ve gotten to know myself pretty well and have finally understood why I am so guarded around so many people and, remarkably, I’ve stopped hating myself for it. I’ve taken a lot of steps towards breaking those walls down, but I know I still have a long way to go – which is why watching my niece dance around today has been so refreshing to me.
Not many people have the courage to be completely themselves in every single situation, but those people are inspirational.
When you live life afraid of the judgment from others, you end up letting those people control your life. It’s none of my business what other people are thinking about me and, honestly, if I want to walk outside in a Cinderella dress with a soccer jersey and flower shoes on, why shouldn’t I? Other people would probably stare, but then again, maybe it would give them the courage to do the same.
I’m so lucky to get to spend so much time with these kids and so blessed to be their student in the art of living.
Now I’m going to go learn some more and dance like a crazy person with my niece.
Oh, and one more thing:
Don’t Forget To Love Yourself.