Ballerina Dancing in the Sand

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Heartbreak Is the New Black

Everyone experiences heartbreak.  It’s the common thread in the tapestry of life.  It’s the reason why we form friendships and create support systems, an excuse to be selfish and even reckless.  It can be the motivation to step outside of your comfort zone because, when your heart has been broken, you no longer have a comfort zone.  It’s an opportunity to try to relate to other people.  It’s the reason why we all spent the past year being obsessed with Adele.

So, at least there’s that.

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My So Called Better Life

I read an article yesterday about the creator of the It Gets Better campaign.  While I understand the purpose of targeting this campaign towards the LGBT community, it struck me that this is a message that could have an impact on teenagers from all backgrounds, races, and sexual orientations.  I think that, at times, almost all teenagers need assurance that life does get better, perhaps some more than others.  I know that I did and, to be honest, even in my 30’s I still need that assurance more often than I like to admit.  There’s a reason why some of the best movies of all times revolve around teen angst.  It’s a topic that almost everyone can relate to because we’ve all been there.

A couple of months ago, I rewatched all nineteen episodes of My So Called Life.  What drew me to this show seventeen years ago was that the main character, Angela Chase, was me…and I was her.  I wasn’t Kelly Taylor or Brenda Walsh or even Donna Martin.  I was Angela Chase.  I was the slightly awkward teenager who felt 1000 times more awkward than I actually was.  I was surrounded by friends and family who wanted the best for me but I refused to believe that I was good enough to deserve their love and support.  I was the girl who played the under the radar sidekick to her drama queen best friends.  I even rocked the oversized flannel shirts, just like Angela.

Rewatching Angela Chase in all of her glory - uncomfortably interacting with her family, trying to establish herself within the pecking order of her circle of friends, and pining after the unattainable Jordan Catalano, made me wish that I could jump into a time machine to 1994, knock on the door of Patty and Graham’s rancher and just tell Angela that she’s so much better than she realizes and that life does get better.

"But when does it get better?" she will ask.  The tricky thing is, it’s all about perception.  It gets better when your own outlook changes.  Fifteen plus years after Angela Chase, there are still times when I feel like an awkward teenager.  A lot.  The difference now is that I love that about myself.  I think that everyone feels that way more than they would like to admit and that’s what makes a person relateable.  Nobody wants to be around someone who is flawless or who thinks they’re flawless.  There are people who you meet who come across as intimidatingly confident.  You have to realize that even they have insecurities.  I’m not talking about supermodels who claim that they were awkward dorks with no friends growing up and now look at them.  I’m talking about the people who you meet in every day life and think to yourself, "My life would be so much better if I had his or her confidence."  I can almost promise that nobody is really as confident as you think they are.  No human being lives without insecurities.

So maybe life never gets to it’s “best” point, but it does get better.  There comes a point when you learn to accept and be comfortable with who you really are.  You learn to surround yourself with people who encourage you to be yourself and who bring out the best in you.  As you become an adult, you are no longer friends with someone just because your parents are friends with their parents or because you wait together for the school bus.  As you move through life, your friends become the people with whom you choose to surround yourself.  They are the people who understand you, who care about you, who help you through life, and who make the awkward teenager inside of you feel like she couldn’t be more perfect.  They’re your comfort zone.  Life gets better when you learn how to weed out the people who make you cry and rely on the people who make you laugh.  In the end, that is what’s going to make it better.  If I had the opportunity to go back to 1994 and give Angela Chase one piece of advice, that’s what I would tell her.  Then I would tell her to jump on the Brian Krakow train now because, in fifteen years, he’ll be the millionaire internet tycoon with the flock of girls chasing after him and you already sent that ship sailing.


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Best of Times/Worst of Times

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  I’m super emotional about this day and not just because it’s the one day during the year when it’s socially acceptable to drink too much tequila and wear   Dylan McKay style bajas.  Today my mom went through her first round of chemotherapy.  Coincidentally, today also marks the one year anniversary of the night that I told my parents and best friends that I had cancer.  It’s not often that I find myself in agreement with my mom on an emotional level (or on any other level, for that matter) but, even in the midst of what she is going through, she and I are pretty much on the same page when reflecting on the past year.  Not to turn this into any kind of pity party, but my family has gone through a lot of shit over the past twelve months.  Today my mom told me that, despite everything that we have gone through, this was probably the best year of her life because she discovered a side and strength in me and a side and strength in herself that she never knew existed.

The biggest lesson that I learned this year is that there is really nothing better than the feeling that you get when you surprise yourself.  When you’re put in a situation that forces you to use more strength than you think you have, you’ll probably end up finding it somewhere.  Before last year, I never thought that I could be the type of person who could survive a year of cancer.  That sort of thing was reserved for the Lance Armstrongs of the world and I was just a girl who was too scared to even get on a bike (still am).  Here’s something that you maybe don’t realize about dealing with cancer (or any horrible disease, for that matter) until you’re thrown up against it - you are going to do whatever you need to do to get through it because you don’t really have a choice.  

Something else I learned - sometimes you’ll be surprised by others and it can be better than surprising yourself.  For me, I was forced to put my guard down and face the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to get through this on my own.  I was going to have to trust my friends to love me enough to not think of me as a burden and I had to trust my family to not treat me like I was defective.  What I got to take away from this year is that nothing is more important than having people in your life who genuinely care for you.  I’m not talking about the kind of person who is going to ask how you’re doing.  I’m talking about the kind of person who is going to help you get to a place where you can be happy with the answer to that question.  Those are the people who should really matter in your life. 

I learned a lot this year, more than I could ever put into words.   I learned how to be vulnerable.  I learned how to be strong and I learned how to pretend to be strong.  I learned that your body doesn’t owe you anything.  I learned that we worry over a lot of stupid shit but that everybody has the right to their own worries, as long as you keep things in perspective.  I’m also learning that, after denying it for 33 years, maybe my mom and I are more alike than I’ve ever admitted.  

So I guess I get it when my mom says that this year that nobody would ever wish on anyone has probably been the best year of her life.  Learning to understand yourself and what’s important in your life can be absolutely euphoric.  Like I said, I’m just feeling really mushy tonight and it has nothing to do with drinking too much tequila or any latent 90210 nostalgia.