My word for 2019 has undoubtedly been “healing.” It’s hard for me to think back on this year without crying tears of both pain and pride.
I put in the work this year. After spending a lot of time thinking about what I could be doing to address my internal world, I threw my hands up and took action. What did I have to lose? The answer to that question is baggage, in every sense of the word. Except for the literal baggage I use for travel. Didn’t lose that. I need that.
The year started out pretty rough. I shared in this blog post how I finally made the decision to start depression/anxiety medication and regularly see a counselor. I believe this was the biggest game changer for me. From the moment I got connected with the wonderful providers I see at Unity Point, things I continuously struggle with in my life really started to shift.
Putting my foot down to address my mental health was very empowering for me. Caring for a mental illness takes maintenance. Frequent doctor appointments and every other week appointments with a counselor. All during work hours. I have put off so many doctor appointments over the years because I didn’t want to miss work. That changed this year. I scheduled my doctor and counseling appointments in advance so I had a thorough list of dates and times to give my boss. I didn’t ask permission, I told her I would be out at these appointments and would make up the time. She trusts me, supports me, and all she keeps saying is that she’s there for me when I need her. I’m beyond grateful for that.
Alongside getting professional treatment, I was taking what I was learning from my doctors and diving deep internally on my own time trying to navigate the heavy feelings I carry with me. There are some specific feelings I’ve had for 10+ years, others for 20+ years. I knew just what they were and what caused them, but I didn’t know how to get through them. I knew deep down there had to be a way.
I will say that getting through the negative feelings I was having tied to certain experiences and events relied heavily on forgiving myself (more self-acceptance) and setting boundaries without carrying guilt about it. I’m such a people pleaser and needed to let go of the self-expectation that everyone needs to like me. I don’t have the capacity to please everyone. With many of the choices I make, I’ll be letting someone down. But, in turn, I won’t be letting myself down by putting myself into situations that aren’t good for me. It’s a self-respect thing. Something I’ve never had a lot of as a person who is constantly bending backwards trying to meet everyone’s expectations of me 100% of the time. Doing this made me tired. So putting in the work to avoid letting this drain me any more than it already has in the span of my lifetime was key.
In doing this, the interactions I have with others has changed a lot. I increased my time and effort with those who helped keep me grounded, build me up, and fill my heart with love. I decreased or changed the way my time and effort looked with those who have continuously torn me down, belittled me, or don’t value me. I had to get real about my relationships and prioritize who I give my energy to, again, without carrying guilt about it.
This alone has been very freeing for my spirit. I have felt so much better taking more control of the commitments I do or don’t make. If there has been a commitment that caused me a lot of strife and anxiety for many years, I’ve had to listen to myself, back up, and start asking, “How can I show support and express love for others in a way that is more comfortable for me?” Maybe it’s keeping in touch on social media, sending a text, mailing a card, meeting for coffee, or inviting others into my space where I craft the environment. It’s a little more work, but it’s worth it. I have felt a lot happier showing up in my own way. And accepting that that’s OK. I connect with others differently, but that doesn’t make me a bad person, a person who doesn’t love her people, or a person underserving of reciprocal love.
Of course, all isn’t perfect and there are weeks, especially during this holiday season, when my schedule has been insane. Running from commitment to commitment. Some welcomed. Some not so much. But in these times, I still keep my well-being at the forefront. As I transition from one event to another, I force myself sit down for five minutes for meditation. To get my head right. To get my heart right. To release whatever I’m holding on to so I can start the next thing as fresh and ready as possible. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND TRYING THIS. It’s just five minutes. Five minutes. We all have five minutes. Even if it makes you five minutes late, give that time to yourself. If you’ve got a little more time – MOVE. An hour on a treadmill puts me in a completely euphoric state-of-mind. Everything that happened before I stepped foot in the gym is yesterday’s news. What I’m getting at is – put your oxygen mask on first!
The change I’ve seen within myself is palpable. I feel it. I see it. I appreciate it. I’m proud of it. I feel very much healed. Because I finally gave myself permission to feel that way. I’m not the victim if I don’t allow myself to be. I can be the person certain traumas end with. I'm willing to do the work.
The way we live our lives is completely up to us. And as I know I’ve said before – as long as we lead with love and kindness without malicious intent – that way of thinking is OK. Putting yourself first is not selfishness if it saves your sanity!
Good golly, we’ve done SO MUCH since February of this year, which I recapped quickly in the beginning of my last post.
We took an awesome family vacation with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and niece to Arizona in February, right when it was terribly cold and snowy here in Iowa. It was good to be removed from it enough to laugh at everyone who was stuck with it while we soaked in the sun! But, you better believe we were paid back upon arriving home.
Every day was a new adventure. We went to so many fun places! Here are a few pictures. If you are interested in anything you see us doing, let me know and I can give you more specific details.
One of the things we really enjoyed was riding horses out in the desert! It was so beautiful. Just Joel and I went, and it was a great time. He’s officially a true cowboy in my eyes because his horse tripped on the way up a rocky hill and Joel just somersaulted right off him like a PRO! He popped up, totally OK. It was scary/amazing/funny, all at the same time. Here we are (as you can tell, Joel's horse was crazy to begin with):
While we were away in Arizona, it got even better. We got a call from our realtor that after being on the market for less than a week, our first home (turned rental property after we moved to the acreage) had an offer! We were thrilled, especially because we went over 12 months the first time around with not one single offer.
From there it was full steam ahead getting the house fixed up and cleaned out for the next owner! The new owner was so excited to get into the house and we couldn’t be happier that someone who truly loves the home is making it their own. We are also very relieved we don’t have this expense hanging over our heads anymore.
It was emotional to let go. I had a pretty tough time, trying to spend as much time there before closing as I could. Appreciating every corner, finish, and flaw for everything it had given us in over 10 years of living there and owning it. First homes are special for so many different reasons, but that house was especially good to us.
Two weeks to the day after closing on the house, I was on a plane to Washington, D.C. for the second time in my role at the nonprofit clinic I work for. We go every year to advocate for community health centers because we depend on federal funding to keep our doors open. There is a “Day on the Hill” portion where we meet with legislators followed by a day or two of conference sessions.
In between the work, we do get to sight see a tiny bit. This year I got to go to Arlington National Cemetery, ride the Metro for the first time, eat lunch in the art museum, and visit the zoo. Arlington was especially moving. You have to see it in person to believe it. It’s an overwhelming experience to physically see the true cost of war. Lives. So many lives. I felt privileged and humbled to be there, wishing I could personally thank each and every one of the people buried there for their commitment and service to our country.
March rolled into April which brought some nasty storms and damage to our acreage. We lost a good chunk of shingles on our roof and a large tree uprooted, falling on the corner of our shed. Definitely could have been worse, but I’m glad it wasn’t. Very thankful for my husband and brother-in-law for busting out some hard tasks to get everything patched and cleaned up. Stuff like this can be fun if you’re in good company, which I was.
In April I also flew a kite with my amazing cousins, did some DIY projects, got our yard set-up for a summer of fires, and had our garden tilled. Although I don’t have any pictures to share yet, we became an aunt and uncle again as well. Welcome, baby Will!
The best highlight for me from April was Joel’s solo show in Des Moines. My heart just burst from pride seeing him shine so bright. He is so, SO talented. A gifted songwriter, guitarist, singer, and more. The attention was all on him. The kind words people shared with me afterwards were beyond complimentary. I felt happy to be surrounded by people who saw his musical talents in the same light I get to see them every day in our living room. I never take for granted the front row seat I have to his musical genius.
We kicked off May in the best way – at the cabin in Lansing! Was so nice to spend a short but sweet weekend there with Joel and the dogs. We’re hoping to get up there as much as possible this summer. It is truly our happy place outside of the acreage.
Although it’s been a whirlwind, I feel super grateful for all of the good and bad things that have happened so far this year. I’m trying harder and harder to be present for it all. Closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, and opening them to the sights and sounds of the people and places I love.
I hope you are doing the same. Sending lots of love to you.
The Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season has become a time of year I dread. This year I am having an especially hard time. I literally feel like the Grinch – which is so unlike me! Unfortunately, my mental illnesses have a grip on me this time around that no amount of meditation, yoga, baths, water, or wine has been able to remedy.
With so many commitments, the days fly by. Personally, this makes the time we spend with others feel less authentic and more like we’re just going through the motions in a valiant attempt to make everyone happy. Always watching the clock for the next place we need to be. Small talk. Eat. Small talk. Games. Next event. Repeat. Sound familiar? Not necessarily my style. Certainly not a series of events that is good for my mental health when I’m running on empty.
Some years I have the strength for this routine with a genuine smile on my face and in my heart. But to be candidly honest, this year is not one of them. My Advent Calendar is counting down the days until all of this is OVER, versus a countdown in anticipation of the magic of Christmas. With so many large group interactions on the calendar (my worst nightmare) paired with an already depressed outlook over the next few weeks I can feel my brain joyously preparing to overanalyze and vilify each moment, making me the bad guy in every situation. If this doesn’t happen to you, trust me, it’s the absolute worst and is only amplified by the weight of the holidays.
For me, getting through this period will require taking one day, one event, at a time. Attempting to be kind to myself following interactions that I have major anxiety about and reminding myself to be realistic about them along the way. I’m holding on to the hope that if I continue to come from a place of kindness with no intentional malice (it’s none of my business if someone reads it that way), no matter what I say or do should be OK. I’ll just have to show up as I can and give what I can. Which doesn’t feel like a lot at this point!
I wanted to share my experience with you before the holidays because I hope that it encourages a sense of empathy within you towards those in your life who have a known mental illness or are simply acting a little “off” this holiday season. We all carry a certain level of stress during this season, but for someone with a mental illness, that stress can trigger feelings that send them spiraling into a blinding black hole. <Slowly raises hand.>
Sometimes you can seemingly “have everything to be thankful for,” but when you are dealing with mental illness, gratitude for what you have can be hard to feel and express. Being surrounded by lots of family can be suffocating. Simple interactions can feel too heavy. A lot going on, in general and in the moment, can completely drain someone.
Here are a few things I’d love for you to keep in mind this holiday season as you spend time with family and friends who may have a mental illness:
Although my view of the holidays may be through tainted lenses right now, believe me when I say I do truly hope you all have a wonderful holiday season that fills your heart with happiness and joy!
Joel and I recently celebrated our NINTH wedding anniversary! We’ve been together almost thirteen years total. I have repeated this fact to myself over and over again the past few days. It seems surreal. Especially since I never thought I’d get married in the first place! But goodness, am I glad I did.
We always take time around our anniversary to stop and reflect. Escaping for a few days to explore, our favorite thing to do together.
This year was one of the best anniversary trips we’ve taken! We traveled around Iowa and Wisconsin over five days, our primary home base being my family’s cabin in Lansing, Iowa.
Before I dive into what we did, I want to tell you how the morning of our vacation started before we left because I think it’s important that some real life gets thrown into this shiny, happy post! We got water in our basement. A LOT of water. The dogs lost their minds at the vet, Madison had to get muzzled. I had a nail in my tire that needed to be fixed before we left. The dogs lost their minds again at home and pushed a glass platter down the stairs, breaking it. Something come up at work that they needed to contact me about. All before noon. After some big breaths and an undying will to continue on as planned, we made it out of the house!
We started out in Madison, Wisconsin. We both love Madison. Great city. College town. Pretty hip. Lots to do. We didn’t have much time to wander around this time because we were in town to see Jeff Tweedy from Wilco perform at an art museum. I had been to a Wilco show before and Joel is constantly listening to them so I had a good idea of what we were getting into. But wow. What a show. I was in tears several times. Jeff is a king lyricist. And for as serious as his lyrics are, he’s actually a pretty funny guy. Time flew and neither of us wanted it to end!
We had to venture home after staying the night in Madison because Twins had a show in Des Moines. So on our way back we hit up Chris Farley’s childhood home in Madison and then the Field of Dreams in Dyersville! I had never been to either, so it was pretty neat.
The following day we traveled to La Crosse, Wisconsin – our favorite Wisconsin city hands down. We hit up our regular haunts, napped in the park (beyond relaxing), and then ended the day taking a walk with “Mark Twain” as he told us about the Mississippi River. This one man, outdoor play was wonderful. I never realized that Mark Twain was a humorist. For a humorist, he was quite an insightful man. Some of the lines spoken were extremely moving and very relevant in our current political state.
We finished the trek where three different rivers intersect at the end of the La Crosse river walk. Mark Twain said this is a sign of a sacred space according to Native Americans. We were in a hidden garden. The sun was setting over the water. Ducks were peacefully swimming nearby. I was with Joel. Mark Twain was standing in front of us. A sacred space indeed.
On our last day before packing up to go home, we went south into Wisconsin. We checked out some spots just outside of and in Prairie du Chien. We stopped by an apple orchard/pumpkin patch, walking away without any fresh fruit, but with a bag of fresh bakery items instead! Then we ventured into an area that we hadn’t been before, off the beaten path. I’ll let the pictures do the talking but essentially we found a large equipment graveyard. I may have broken a couple of rules and committed a minor crime while we were there, but I made it out without being arrested!
We were also excited to find an antique shop we hadn’t seen before. If you are in that area and like reasonably priced antiques, check out Checkers Antiques! Nice people, amazing selection, open for 50 years – so they know what’s up.
Overall, it was a very relaxing trip. In between adventures we made sure to reaffirm our commitment to one another, celebrate victories, learn from challenges (like the five in a row we experienced before leaving!), and look into the future.
I’m lucky for this man and all he brings to my life. We seem to feel happier each year we are together, which I am immensely grateful for. Being by his side is my favorite part of living. We’ve built a simple yet incredible life together that only keeps getting better. Here’s to staying aligned and in love for many more years, J! Glad you’re on my team.
If you haven’t seen The Greatest Showman yet, you need to. I’m completely consumed with it right now. The soundtrack is on replay at work, in my car, and at home. I feel swept away. And I like the places my mind is being taken.
There’s one song in particular that I can’t get enough of: A Million Dreams.
I can’t get through it without crying. It speaks to me on the deepest level.
I’ve always been a person that goes my own way. My mom never misses a chance to profess that I never listen(ed). I have to do things on my own. Experience life my own way. See everything with my own eyes. Even if the outcome would have been better if I had listened to those around me.
I take pride in this characteristic. What fun is there in living a life based on the experiences others have had? I need the lows to appreciate the highs. My mistakes have brought some of the best learning experiences. I’m a better and wiser person because of what I’ve been through. There’s more to me because of it.
A lot of why I am this way can be attributed to my dreamer mentality. My head is in the clouds a majority of the time. Huge portions of my days are filled with daydreaming. I have list after list, sketch after sketch of the plans and projects I want to accomplish. I have my own agenda laid out. Always have, always will. If what you’re telling me doesn’t jive with how I have things aligned in my mind, it’s probably not making the cut.
Some may call this being stubborn. And I suppose I’d agree with that to a certain point. I mostly look at it as being an independent person. Someone who knows themselves, what they want, and the direction they’re going in. We shouldn’t be apologetic about that.
When we “veer off the beaten path,” follow our instincts in spite of others’ opinions, experience things on our own with open eyes, hearts, and arms – people sometimes think that is crazy. Because what we’re doing doesn’t match up with the agenda they have laid out. And that’s something we should rarely concern ourselves with. Which is hard to do. So that’s why we should strive to create and nurture our own “world” to retreat to. A world that fills us up, reaffirms our heart’s desires, and allows us to get lost in our own joy.
What’s even better is if we can find someone to build that world with. A spouse, a friend, a family member, a child - even a pet. You choose who and what is allowed in your world. People who share your dreams, or are inspired by them. Hobbies and projects that make you feel capable and unstoppable. A place that only you can see and feel.
My world includes my little family. Joel, our pups, our home. In our world we forgive quickly, strive to make each other smile - even better, laugh - daily, support each other's goals, work as hard as we play, hug big, breathe together, and take moments to feel grateful for all of it. We create, we dance while we clean, we find treasures that make us smile, we look for contentment in the things we are fortunate to have.
By starting to think about my life as the world I create for myself has changed the way I see everything. It makes life feel more manageable somehow. Maybe because it takes the time limit out of the equation. Breaking my experience on this Earth down to the bubble I create, the experience I choose live, makes me feel more ownership over the small corner of the big world we inhabit. It makes each decision I make feel personal and purposeful.
How is your world taking shape? Who do you want to share your dreams with? Let them in. What makes you feel like you're in a world all your own? Do more of that. Let's build the best worlds for ourselves. In the end, it's all we have.
We had a pretty nice holiday at the Sires' household. We soaked in the glow of our Christmas tree, watched lots of holiday movies, snuggled in with our pups, and indulged in too many treats!
To balance out the peaceful calm, we threw some chaos of our own making into the mix. As usual, we were the people out shopping for ALL of our gifts the week before (up to the day before) Christmas. Never fails. We never mean to wait so long and we're not unthoughtful people, it has truly just become a laughable tradition of ours. At least we're experiencing the madness together!
This year was a little different for us because some of our normal traditions with family shifted slightly. The shift meant that we had Christmas Eve completely open, no commitments. (!!!) We tried to be intentional about what we chose to do in hopes of creating one or two new traditions that we could carry into the future.
It was a pretty laid back day. We slept in, rose slowly, had brunch, wrapped the last of our gifts, napped, took a walk, and went to church in the evening. The pace was dreamy. It felt so strange to have such a leisurely day in the middle of the busiest few days of our year, but I think we both welcomed and needed it.
My absolute favorite part of our Christmas Eve together was our walk. We took a walk around our property, taking time to stop, look around, and breathe in the crisp air. We fell in love with our acreage in the winter, so winter always feels an extra kind of special around here. Our dreams for this place took shape in the quiet, cold, and snowy months before we made it our home.
This type of reflection as a couple is undoubtedly the best new tradition that sprouted from our extra eight hours together during the holidays. My love for him, who we've become as individuals and as a couple, and the life we've built together has never felt stronger than in those stolen hours.
I hope you embraced new traditions along with the old this holiday season and were able to be present in both. Wishing you a wonderful holiday and happy new year!
Here are some “family photos” we attempted on Christmas Eve! Attempted being the key word. No amount of treats can persuade our dogs to take a photo!
Our family has grown by one member! Meet Homer:
Homer is a one-year-old Australian Terrier that we adopted from the Cedar Bend Humane Society on Friday, August 4. We originally went in intending to get another German Shepherd, Tango, who was a male version of our current shepherd and favorite girl, Madison. But after seeing Homer (previously known as Joker) and taking him outside for a walk, we were immediately smitten! The good news is, Tango got adopted the same exact night so we got to see him going to a new home as we walked out with Homer in our arms.
All I can say is we got LUCKY. So lucky. Madison was our first adoption nine years ago and she was an angel. We feel just as spoiled with Homer. House trained, social, quiet, playful - and get this - he doesn't need to be on a leash. He sticks right by us at all times. He's our new little buddy that we love very much. A little ray of sunshine that we didn't know was missing from our family.
Here's a few more photos of his cuteness since I can't seem to stop taking them...also pictured in a couple shots is our beauty girl, Madison. She's slowly taking to her little brother. Some things just take time!
We love when we get to spend one-on-one time with our nephew, Max. He makes us so happy just being himself. Energetic, talkative, smart, musical, loving and quite the cutie (as evident in the photos below).
Recently, we took Max to Adventureland in Altoona, Iowa. Joel and I hadn't been to Adventureland since we were younger and were looking forward to seeing the park through Max's eyes.
Max was eagerly awaiting us when we arrived to pick him up. Bags packed, he was ready to go! He's a good road-tripper as long as you have good music, drumsticks and snacks on hand.
We got checked into Adventureland Inn (which was very nice, highly recommend) and hopped on "Molly the Trolly" to head to the park. Max's excitement was contagious and we both felt childlike anticipation for what the day had in store. Holding each of our hands, Max led the way, taking in everything as we entered.
Max is four, so I had a little concern that there wouldn't be a lot for him to do. I was completely wrong! On most of the rides, if an adult is along, little ones can hop on. We didn't do any crazy roller coasters or anything like that, but there were a few rides that freaked us out while Max was beside us laughing hysterically! Like the two pictured below:
The thing Max was looking forward to the most was the Adventureland Bay waterpark. It was pretty impressive and Max had a blast! He wore a little life jacket so Joel and I showed him how to kick his feet to swim back and forth between us. He also learned a valuable lesson about closing your mouth before jumping in the water!
When we were done at the waterpark, we were all pretty beat. We finished up on some rides he mentioned he wanted to try on the road trip down, had some treats and enjoyed a juggling show before we headed back to the hotel.
Our hotel room was poolside so we took one last dip to end the day. When we asked Max what his favorite part of the trip was he replied, "Two pools!" And the first thing he said upon waking up the next day was, "That was a really fun day." My heart swelled up to about 10 times its regular size!
Needless to say, it was a fantastic little weekend getaway with our favorite little guy! Joel and I actually want to go back again soon because although there is a lot to do with kids, there's much fun to be had by adults as well!
I've been thinking a lot lately about memories. The legacies we leave. The things we remember about those that have touched our lives. The things they remember about us.
I tend to remember the little things. Character traits or quirky actions that are probably missed by most, but to me, are things I look back on and tear up about. Because they are the things that help me remember why that person is special to me and how much I love them.
One of the smallest yet significant examples I will share is about the sound of my grandpa's shuffle. I would eat dinner with my grandparents once a week, and today, still eat dinner each week with my grandma. One night after dinner was done and my grandpa left the table to refill his iced tea, I heard the shuffle of his feet and pants dragging on the ground. His pants were a little too long and he was in his socks. In the moment, I thought it was so cute, and realized it's a sound I had heard so many times before, but never really listened to. It's a sound I can still hear. And it makes me miss him so much, but reminds me in a million different ways how much I love him.
My sister's laugh. My mom's voice when she's happy. My dad's scent. My grandma's graceful demeanor. My husband's warmth. The way my uncle wraps his extension cords. These are just a few of the countless number of small things that make my heart swell.
We're lucky to exist side-by-side on this Earth. Human connection is so beautiful, especially when every inch of it is appreciated - including its flaws. Here's to noticing not only the big things, but the little things, too. I truly believe the little things are keys to knowing and remembering what real love feels like.
The image above captures me transitioning. Preparing. Taking stock. As the Thanksgiving holiday closes and the Christmas holiday approaches, time seems to disappear. Our lives become a blur. So much to do, so little time.
We have lists of lists. Overlapping events on the calendar. Food dishes to prepare. Presents to wrap. Cards to send. Joy to bring.
Because I've taken time to think about what's to come, my hope is this: I'll forgive myself if everything doesn't get done. I'll slow down long enough to savor the moments I am able to squeeze in with my family and friends. And I'll let the warm feelings of knowing 'I am loved, I am taken care of, and I have so many good things to be happy for' wash over me.
Aside from food and gifts and stuff, I want to bring the best version of myself to every gathering I'm blessed enough to attend throughout the holiday season. Because it's the memories that last. That means digging my heels in if I need a moment. That means self love and deep breaths every day. That means letting things go that I don't have time for, and being OK with that.
I hope you're preparing yourself for the flurry of events to come over the next month like I am. Let's make a pact to make room for the good stuff and let go of the things we can't get to or are distracting us from the joyful feelings this season brings. Namaste and Happy Holidays my friends!