Thursday, December 31, 2015

Just Breathe

I used to half-joke that I considered every day I lived past 21 to be a miracle, given the circumstances surrounding my childhood. I’m a quarter century past that high water mark now and long stopped referring to my adulthood as the exception to the rule. Since today is New Year’s Eve, the conditions are ideal for some added reflection.

A few months ago, I would have written that 2015 was marked by loss: not only a job, but some friendships I treasured not because of where they stood at the time and where they were going, but because I couldn’t let go of what those relationships used to be. Many of the wounds were self-inflicted. Pema Chödrön wrote: “As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution.”

I demanded resolution and, in doing so, opened myself to more conflict. My efforts to build bridges burned more down instead, and I reached a low point I hadn’t felt in years. The last time I felt this shitty was when I was 30; similar extenuating circumstances combined to form the same critical mass. Then, I ignored it by saddling my bike, pedaling until I was past the point of exhaustion, insulting everyone in my path and living in a state of arrested development. Now, I’ve been able to face this honestly and identify it for what it was.

Depression isn’t a word that’s spoken in my family. Growing up, we took the “rub a little dirt on it” approach to dealing with problems—some of us still do. The thing about seeing a therapist and truly putting in the work to improve oneself is it forces you to be honest about the issues holding you back. For me, it was the first time in my life I faced issues like anger, insecurity, inferiority and loneliness without my standard shield of sarcasm to attack others. That’s hard enough to do when you’re younger; try doing it in your mid-40s. Surprise! Old dogs can learn new tricks.

It also helps to have a good therapist. Mine is excellent. In our first sessions we worked on basic behavioral modifications, like taking five-to-ten minute breaks during the workday for myself. Another one was to simply breathe whenever my anxieties or obsessive tendencies arose. One of the seeming simplest tasks, that’s been among the hardest to master. When my brain was a muddy stew over the summer, I forgot to do that. During the summer sessions where I regaled my doc about my shitty weeks, her first question was always, "Did you take the time to breathe?" I allowed that I hadn't. She arched her eyebrows and didn't say anything; we both knew.

Eventually, I returned to the business of living again. I gave my new job an honest try and discovered the same instincts and lessons I learned at Chicagoist serve me well at Bisnow. This time, however, I know when enough is enough and when to walk away. I can shut down the laptop at any time. I stopped stewing in my funk and reached out to friends old and new, who were there all along with open arms.

All I had to do was breathe.

I make the same New Year’s resolution every year: I resolve to not make any resolutions. My rationale is that’s one resolution I can honestly keep. I’ve added another for 2016. I resolve to take steps back to breathe; to take the time to assess my surroundings. That will open me to new opportunities, interests, friends, romantic interests and overall growth.

I’m also hopeful there will be opportunities to repair some of the friendships that ended this year. This time, that isn’t tied with resolution or rose-colored memories of what was. Sometimes you just need space to heal. There’s an old military tradition where friends who have not seen or heard from each other for long periods of time never question their friendship. These friendships resume at the same time they left off regardless of distance, time and what transpired between them.

We call these friends "family."

PS I’m kicking off 2016 telling tales out of class with my pal Andrew Huff at his monthly “Tuesday Funk” 7:30 p.m. Jan. 5 at Hopleaf. If you’re free, y’all should show up. I’ve been spending some free time finally getting back to the task of writing more personal stories and looking for outlets for them. This will be a great way to dip my toes back into that pool. 

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