Tuesday, May 23, 2017

15for25 // Stephanie

I met Stephanie while vacationing in Lake George with my family. Her daughters were playing with my littlest cousin, and as we started talking, about life, about dreams, about being a woman, I recognized (and deeply admired) a strength in her that seemed to be just so deep in her being. 
That was nearly two years ago. I still admire her, and after reading this list of hers, I realize meeting her wasn't a coincidence, but a happening that would lead me to answers I didn't even know I had questions about. 

Please, please take the time to read this. If you have ever felt sad, hurting, or helpless. If you are a woman or a man. Read this and hold it close. Thank you times a million for sharing, Stephanie. 

15 for 25, by Stephanie Cosentino 

I wasn't always depressed, but I have spent almost 20 years of my life barely living, but...alive; I WAS breathing after all, even though sometimes I needed help to do even that. The years passed and life continued to happen around me and to me, but I stayed stuck in a very dark place. I fell at the age of 23.  I went from five glorious and golden years to hell, where I was no longer who I thought I was and nothing was what it once seemed. When I write, there's little I can write about that doesn't in some way pertain to this depression. There are few, if any, memories that exist that don't, in some way, remind me of my depression, even if it's to say they happened "before I became depressed".
Without a doubt, I am currently no longer depressed. It took years of very hard work, focusing very introspectively, living in a my own world and finally, in this very year, the help of medication, to come out of my depression. But I did it. And here are the 15 things my suddenly depressed, despondent, and scared 25 year-old self desperately needed to hear.  

1- Enjoy the destruction. I'm surprised I didn't get this concept then. I used to do one massive weekly housecleaning and on cleaning day, I'd thoroughly enjoy being a little destructive and not caring about being in a mess. A messy house is one thing, but a messy life was scary. Going from a 4-semester-Dean's-List-student at university, to failing the entire 5th semester scared me. Going from 5-day-a-week gymrat to a 5-night-a-week cokefiend scared me. Going from happy and optimistic to crying and miserable scared me. For years, I held on to my Golden Years, looking backwards and stuck, unable to accept they were over. So, yea, enjoy the destruction, really get into not giving a f*ck. These miserable, introspective years will end up being the source of your future strength. Enjoy the moment, whatever moment you're in. Even if you hate it, be present, because...

2- It's a phase. It will end. The good and the bad. Nothing lasts. Let things go gracefully. Let people go gracefully. I learned this with age, but mostly, I learned this from motherhood. Babies' overall growth is fast and furious in their first 3 years. Phases are everything. Transition is hard, but understanding that nothing stays the same will make it easier to keep from getting stuck. Change is the only constant, so it would be wise to stay in the middle of the wheel without getting attached to the ups and downs of the life cycle.  

3- It's ok to be superficial. There is a time to have fun, let loose, be silly, be light. For too many years, I focused only on all the "bad" things going on. 9/11. The Bush Era. The Kardashian freak show. Poison in our food. Disease knocking people out of my life. The climate changing. Poverty versus extreme wealth. Wars. I carried a cross and never let myself remember there were also good things to celebrate. I cried constantly. I felt hopeless. And one day, I realized that my misery and gravity weren't making the world a better place, only taking me deeper into a downward spiral, killing my light, the only thing that was worth anything. Laughter makes the world better, so laugh. If you find a pretty lipstick shade, it's ok to enjoy it. Don't be so serious. 
4- You can only change the world by changing your world first. I can't feed the multitudes of starving humans or bring peace to the Middle East and focusing on that cut off any power I potentially had. I can visit my sick friend. I can forgive my sister-in-law for hurting me and ask to be forgiven for hurting her back. I can mediate my brothers' feud. I can try understanding my boyfriend's point of view instead of just my own. I can donate to the local food pantry. I can run for local office and make my community a better place. It all starts with Me exactly where I am today.

4- You are so f*cking strong. You may be broken, but you continue to wake up every day to be better, to right your wrongs, to face the mirror and acknowledge your flaws. Not everyone can handle deconstructing their illusions. You're stronger than you know.   

5- Go slow. Focus on the flow. I spent years struggling AGAINST depression. Until one day, I realized I could sometimes stop and just be where I am and be a witness to my life instead of an actor. When you stop, you learn how to breathe, you gather your bearings and realize you can actually touch the ground. Life can be a struggle, but it doesn't have to be. Life can be chaotic, but you can always always find peace IN the chaos. In fact, finding peace in the chaos is the point of life. Nothing can break you when you're in peace. Not wars. Not cranky children. Not asshole bosses. Not unprepared presidents. Not ungrateful friends. Life is a journey, so go slow and focus on the flow.

6- Feel the pain. When my daughter was 2, she cried incessantly. Like 6-8 hours a day. I couldn't handle it after a while and I took her to a Dr. While, of course, I wanted her to be the happy baby she once was, the Dr. told me it wasn't my job to make her happy. It was my job to keep her safe, fed, clothed and healthy. Happy came after, maybe. Happy came if she wanted it to. So I created a safe place for her to feel her pain, a neat little corner in her room with crayons and paper and play-dough and paint. Now, my still somewhat anxious 8 year-old looks to her art as a release as well as a pleasure. So, learn to feel the pain because there will always be pain. If you run, it will catch up to you. If you self-medicate, the pain will still be there, underneath, waiting to reappear when you're least expecting it. Cry in your car, yell at the winter ocean, beat a pillow, fall onto the floor and surrender to it. Meet it face to face. It just wants to be acknowledged and then it goes away. It may be replaced for a while with other emotions. It will return. Feel. Release. Repeat.

7- Never, ever chase someone who is walking away from you. The most important relationship is with yourself. When that is solid, everything else in your life falls into line. Love yourself. Forgive yourself. Respect yourself. Your life matters. Don't be selfish but don't be selfless. It took me 20 years to truly understand that my life matters. I count. Not more than anyone else, but certainly not less than anyone else.

8- Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Then, breathe again. There are different ways to breathe for different reasons. Learn them. Use them. Stop and Breathe.

9- Look in the mirror. Say your name. Own your life. Take responsibility for your entire life. Did I fuck up? I did. Am I perfect? I am not. Can I do better? Yes, always. While it's easy to own our good deeds and characteristics, it's essential to own our dark side, because no matter how good you are, you have a bad side. You will hurt people, sometimes accidentally, sometimes on purpose. When you own it, you can fully apologize, you can fully forgive yourself, you can fully accept your consequences and you can fully move on. When you own your life, the control is in your hands. Your happiness is in your hands, as is your sadness. Your decisions are yours. Even if you decide to let someone else decide, that's your decision. When you let someone hurt you, that's your decision. Own your life. Say your name. Remember who you are. POWER. 

10- Don't procrastinate. Do it. Do it now. Do what scares you. Do what makes you smile. Do your obligations. Do what you say. Do what fuels you. Do it today.

11- Respect money, but don't worship it and don't hate it. I'll write it again. Do not hate money. Money is not evil, though it seems that way. Make money. Make lots of money even, but don't do work FOR the money. Being poor doesn't make you happy and neither does being rich. Spend more money on experiences than on things. Be smart with money. Educate yourself about money. Use money as an extension of yourself. Pay your bills on time. Don't abuse credit.

12- Pray. Pray hard. Pray often. Pray in the morning. Pray in the night. Pray for your enemies. Pray. And don't forget that when you stop praying, you must sit in silence, so you can hear your prayers being answered. 

13- Respect your femininity and exalt your womanhood. Growing up surrounded by 3 brothers and 3 very close boy cousins, all their friends and my old-fashioned patriarchal, misogynistic father I rarely considered females to be as strong or important. I thought I'd prefer to be a man in my next life, or even in this life. Then I became a mother. To 3 girls. Oh shit. The world needs women to be women. We have everything it takes to make this world a better place and it's our time to turn things right side up. My mother exuded a strength that didn't come from her protests, while I, even until I marched on Washington this past January, protested until I lost my voice. No need for that. We must simply accept our inalienable God-given rights with our God-given strengths. Watch out world. It's our turn now. Time for the Divine Feminine to take her place.

14- It's ok to go on medication. By 25, my depression had taken hold and I felt the shift in my brain. There were moments through the years when I actually felt my brain changing and I wished I could see what was happening. I wished I could map and see what parts of my brain were lighting up and sadly, which parts were shutting down because I knew something was happening. I knew a few of my friends were on medication, Happy Pills, they called them, but I didn't ask for anything. In order to deal with the changes in my behavior, I retreated and dealt with them mostly on my own. It wasn't until this year, at 40, that I knew without a shadow of a doubt that my brain chemistry has been altered and no matter the amount of yoga or meditation or therapy or exercise or proper nutrition or sleep or awareness could make that final shift for me, to be ok enough to go back out into the world. So, Me at 25, it's ok to go on medication. Just don't forget to keep working through the issues with the same tenacity. Don't decide to skip the hard work because you feel better.

15- Depression is not the end. It really is the beginning and you're lucky it's happening in your twenties. You will come through it, stronger, better, more aware, more compassionate, more Lit from inside when it's over. You're young and arrogant. Beautiful and smart...on the outside. Your depression will humble you and you'll come out beautiful and wise from the inside. And one day it will be over. Look forward and move forward. First it will be inching, then it will be crawling, then one day you will stand up, wobbly, but you'll be standing. And then you'll walk and before you know it you'll be running. Depression is hard and it sounds bad, but it will be the best thing to ever have happened to you.    

This is an ongoing series on my blog, if you would like to read more, click here.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Graduation, here's to the next beginning

I didn't know if I would have time to write something before I graduated, but right now, as I sit in my room and listen to the dryer tumble and my breath soften and the stillness of this present moment, I realize it would be a disservice not to write how big and beautiful this part of my life feels.

Tomorrow, I receive my Bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in Professional Writing.

I get asked all the time what I will do with an English degree. Despite how silly I feel the question is, I have never felt the need to defend getting a Liberal Arts degree. I have felt the need to warn people- a degree in the arts reveals truths and depths that are often hidden at life’s surface. The choice to dive in is one for those who are a little daring, a little curious. I’ve learned more about what it means to be kind, compassionate, and human in these last five years than I ever expected. Reading and writing does more than improve your spelling and comprehension, it reminds you that these lives of ours are complex and complicated and never a singular suffering. I’ve learned some of the most difficult things to say are the things we write and read about. I’ve learned that pages can be bound with hope and we can clench words to our chest, knowing that they are our guide to freedom. I’ve learned years and years can pass but we read the same things because we have the same questions. I've learned we never, ever have to stop listening to the voice in us that begs to create something. If anything, your calling turns into a screaming when you step into the place you are meant to be.

Studying English Literature revealed that six-year-old me wasn’t aimlessly writing from her top bunk when her family was asleep on lazy Sundays- she was writing her story. She wrote because she had to. Writing is what I’ve done when I’m my most happy and my most not-so-happy. Writing has got me into the habit of erasing and editing what doesn’t fit. Making big, breathy room for what does. Letting things go. Believing in a beginning. Beginning again.

That’s the beauty of this whole life of ours, isn’t it? That we get to begin again. Whenever feels fit. The beauty is that there is a place and a space for all of us and whether it takes five years or fifty years to discover and pursue what we love, we get there.

The “getting there” has been my favorite part of college. Getting to freshmen year and studying the wrong things when all I could do was write. Getting to sophomore year and discovering there was a whole department that felt the weight of words and loved them like I did. Taking a trip to Bali, Indonesia (alone, like any good melodramatic 19-year-old does) and feeling so proud that I was the soul I get to care for. Getting to junior year and beginning an internship at the Las Vegas Sun, and then taking a semester abroad, learning to love and forgive myself in Pau, France (while eating my weight in baguettes and patisseries). Getting to junior year 2.0 and having the most influential academic year of my career. I can’t even sum up the magic that each of my professors brought into each lecture. And now I’ve gotten here, year five, and I realize what maybe I’ve always known: everything has been as it should. The missteps, the wrong turns, the questioning, the longing, the hurting, all of it. Because how else would I be here? It took all these years and all the compassion, inspiration, hope, and a whole lot of beautiful books and people to read them with. Every day I thought was just a mundane happening was magic lighting my whole life, and I am endlessly grateful.

I am in this place now where I realize I never uncovered my path, I simply unraveled it. Like a spool undoing itself but this one from my very core- the path I am on today has always innately been apart of me. Without all my incredible professors, friends, family, and roughly three cups of coffee every day, I don’t think I would have had the courage to walk it.

Thank you to all those who have supported me. Thank you specifically to my mom for carrying what was too heavy for my own shoulders, and reminding me I’d never have to bear the weight alone. She has always told me, “education is the one thing no one can take away from you.”

And here I am, year five, with my own suitcase full of knowledge and the overwhelmingly wonderful feeling that I have everything I need to go anywhere I please.

Here’s to the next beginning.

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