Let the kids be loud.

Kids, man. They’re kind of obnoxious, right? I mean, they are amazing little balls of energy and light, and if we let them, they teach us things about ourselves that crack us wide open. But some days, maybe even most days, they can bring us to our exhausted knees, begging for just a moment; a solitary moment of calm and quiet. 

Lately I’ve been thinking about noise. I recently spent an evening having dinner with a friend and our children — three in total. After dinner, my friend and I sat down at the table for a lovely game of Scrabble (pretty sure I won, by the way). We had wine. We had music. We had wordplay. It was delightful. We also had three sugared up children running around the table, playing tag and screaming at the top of their lungs. I’m talking ear piercing screams. They were having fun. They were being kids. And we let them. In that moment, I experienced a noise I understood to be missing from my life. I loved it. 

Being a single mom of one child, the house is mostly pretty quiet. We have dance parties. We also have meltdowns — both of us. Those moments invite noise, both wanted and unwanted. But usually, it’s more of a hush. Add some bodies to the mix and the volume increases exponentially. I long for that, strangely. 

I had this realization the other day, that kids spend the majority of their lives being hushed in some way. “Quiet down. Don’t say that. Don’t touch that. Don’t jump on that. Don’t act like that.” Can you imagine? What if, as adults, our lives were that micromanaged. We’d combust. 

I understand the urge to teach children what’s appropriate and when, but I’m also recognizing the value in just letting them be a little wild. 

You know how we reach a certain age when we start to feel old? Our energy is drained and we long for a time when we could just energizer bunny our way through the day — without the aid of caffeine or whatever gets us off. Kids don’t have that problem. Their minds aren’t saddled with fear or regret or stress or responsibility. And maybe, just maybe, we need to allow them to live exactly that way while they still can. 

I’m not talking about letting them belt out the lyrics to Let It Go in the middle of grandma’s funeral service, although, that could be kind of cathartic. I just mean silencing them less; and encouraging their wild. Life will catch up with them soon enough. You know it will. 

It’s easy to feel stressed and frustrated by their crazy tendencies. Kids lack impulse control. We have cognitively surpassed them, I suppose. Although sometimes I question that. I think the most critical thing we can do for our children, or other people’s children, is to teach them kindness, and compassion, and grace, and how to have a great time. Because life has enough shit, and they’ll feel it eventually. They need to know how to weather those storms. And giving them a foundation that enables them to feel comfortable in their skin, no matter the phase in life…that’s going to get them through the hard times. 

Parent or not, I suppose this is just a gentle reminder that we were there once. And it was likely frustrating to constantly be told how to conduct ourselves. So I say, let the kids be loud. Someday they’ll thank us for it, I think. It’s a bet I’m willing to gamble on. Bring on the noise!

But what’s so great about me?

I’ve written a lot about self love. And I wholly believe in its power. It’s a goal I’ve been clawing my way to for several years now. Mostly, I’ve thought about and worked toward loving my physical self. You can read all about that in previous blog posts if you so desire. But that ain’t where I’m going with this one. This day; this night; this moment has me awake with thoughts of “what do I have to give?”

See, some current enlightenment has enabled me to don a two piece bathing suit for the first time since my baby was born, not because my body is any different now than it was two years ago, but because I like the person inhabiting it more. Good stuff. But I have been saddled with doubt and questions about what makes me special otherwise. 

I meet people all the time, and I think, “that person is amazing! So funny, so genuine, so talented, whatever.” But it’s still a struggle for me to move past whatever bullshit narrative is in my head about being average. It’s endlessly frustrating, this battle I have with my inner self, that renders me unable to recognize my own offerings. 

Lately I’ve been wrestling with the idea of what would make me a desirable partner to someone. And my inner voice keeps coming up short; keeps going back to that college advisor who told me I was pretty good at a lot of things, but not great at anything. I spent my afternoon and evening with a small group of friends — each so dynamic in their own right. And I slipped into this gross comparison mode, maybe because my heart is a little tender today, but still. My head was saying “You’ll never be as confident as her, or as quick witted as him, or as alluring as her.” These are my friends, and these are the many reasons I love them. But then I thought, “they love me too though, like endlessly. So there’s got to be something I’m bringing to the table, yes?” 

The truth is, there are likely a lot of things I’m bringing to the table, I’m just failing to see them for myself, and how unfortunate is that? 

Friends, we are far too hard on ourselves. We fail to recognize what others see in us, and for whatever reason, we allow ourselves to be stifled by self doubt. I can’t sit and make a list of all my endearing attributes. I wish I could. Maybe someday. But I know this much — I am loved beyond measure by the coolest, smartest, most compassionate group of people, and if they love me as hard as they do, there’s got to be something to that. So I’m going to continue to work to silence the voice that tells me I’m not enough. I hope you will too. Because you’re a bad ass. Yes, you. And I reckon I probably am too. 

Live Your Life Alive (copyright – Ruby Kelley) 

Last September during the Middle Waves music festival, my friend Matt Kelley’s young daughter, Ruby proclaimed, “live your life alive!” I wasn’t there to hear it, and maybe I’m sketchy on the details, but regardless, it’s become a sort of mantra for this year’s festival. And it’s brilliant. More on that in a minute. 

If you follow my blog, or if we’ve talked at length in the last year and a half, then you likely know I’ve waged a hell of a war with anxiety and depression, and that about 1.5 months ago I started cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) in an effort to win the damn war. 

I’ve been in traditional talk therapy for many years, and it really helped me get through the loss of my marriage, among other things. But the anxiety and panic attacks, well, it just wasn’t touching them, and they were owning me. I’m talking super compromised quality of life, friends. 

Most of my anxiety manifested itself in the form of a crippling fear of death, which I obsessed about on an almost daily basis. No kidding. I would be at the zoo with my kid or driving to work, and just freak the hell out, certain my heart would cease to beat at any moment. I was missing out on so much joy. I was hyper-focused on doom. I was paralyzed by fear. Several friends recommended CBT, and in a last ditch effort to work through the pain, I relented. I’m so glad I did. 

After just 6 weeks, I feel like a new human, reborn into this mind that is able to process what is actually happening and side step the downward spiral into complete and utter panic. It’s the most free I’ve felt in years. 

CBT is really about training the mind to be in the present; to embrace this moment, right now. It’s also about giving up control. Within the span of 12 hours, a new friend, who has been my probono therapist, and just an amazing support, and my actual therapist both taught me about the concept of radical acceptance. That is, that we can’t change what happened in the past, and we can’t totally control what comes next; that our fate is our fate; that all we have is now. And right now, my heart is beating, and my body is pumping blood, and my child is sleeping soundly in his bed while I sit on the porch of my lovely home sipping a cocktail and listening to the rain. This moment is everything. 

Of course there is so much more I’m learning and I have a long road ahead. The war isn’t over. But for the first time in years, I feel super alive. And I was thinking about sweet Ruby’s words the other day and they struck me so hard. “LIVE YOUR LIFE ALIVE!” I haven’t been. I’ve been living  like I’m barely breathing. And it’s time to be alive. From the mouths of babes, they say. And I’ll be damned if it isn’t true. 

What I would say to my 40 year old self — like eat the pizza, among other things.

I’ve read several blogs or Facebook threads asking (and sometimes answering) the question, “What would you say to your 15 year old, 25 year old, etc. self?” I get it. If I knew then what I know now, how differently would my life have played out? What would I appreciate about me that I took for granted at the time? What would I have ceased to worry about in that moment, if I was equipped with the knowledge and life lessons I’ve gained over the last 20 years? 

I dig the sentiment, but since I can’t actually talk to my 25 year old self and impart wisdom, I’d like to instead offer some advice to my 40 year old self — which is me, right now. Because really, past regrets are futile, and future anticipation unproductive. All we have is this moment. At least that’s the only guarantee. 

So to 40 year old Courtney, I would say the following:

  • You’re beautiful, just the way you are. And I’m not just talking physical beauty. All those mistakes you made, all the missed opportunities, those things that make you feel a failure, they are part of your DNA. Don’t regret them. Make them work for you. 
  • You’re a good enough mom, and absolutely the perfect mom for Zaxxon. No one will love him quite like you do. Not now. Not ever. Don’t doubt yourself. Teach him love. Show him compassion. Communicate with him as much as is possible. Let him know that kindness rules, and maybe even changes lives. That’s the important stuff. 
  • Jealousy is a waste of time. There is no shortage of love and adventure in this life. Just because someone else has something you want, doesn’t mean there isn’t enough for you. You too can have that love; can take that trip; can be that brave.
  • You are not your failed marriage; your anxiety; your depression. These things don’t define you. They are merely part of your story. Let them help shape you. 
  • Love yourself more. My god, you deserve it. 
  • This too shall pass. This feeling you’re feeling right now; this heartache, it’s not forever. You know this because you’ve survived it before. You will again. You’re a god damn warrior. Even if you’re not feeling it right now. You are. 
  • If at all possible, be friends with your exes. They will continue to teach you things about yourself you never would have discovered if not for them.
  • Take the risk. Cut the hair. Wear the jumpsuit. And fuck anyone who doesn’t think you are spectacular. 
  • Be ever so gentle with yourself. 
  • Eat all the pizza. Because you love it, and life is short. And no one ever dies saying, “I wish I ate less pizza.” 

Love and peace and mighty, mighty strength to you, dear friends. 

I’m going where there’s no depression.

If you read my blog you likely know that I struggle with anxiety, and that sometimes manifests itself in the form of panic attacks. Panic attacks so intense they’ve even landed me in the emergency room. Mostly though, moments of panic result in me on the phone with my mom or dad, or a trusted friend. Several of you have been on the receiving end of those calls, and I can never thank you enough for the ways in which you’ve talked me off the figurative ledge. 

I have come to terms with anxiety as an illness from which I suffer, and one that seriously effects my quality of life. But I want to overcome it. So I’ve tried many things – therapy, support groups, breathing techniques, podcasts, even Tetris (Thanks, Jay!). All of those things have helped, but the suffering lingers on. A few weeks ago I decided it was time to try something new. 

During one of many sleepless nights, I googled cognitive behavior therapy. My therapist and several friends with similar afflictions had mentioned it before, so I thought I’d give it a try. I started CBT two weeks ago, and it’s been helpful so far. But I wasn’t prepared for what I would learn, or rather come to accept. 

After a lengthy evaluation and an initial session with the therapist, I received a diagnosis. I’m not accustomed to therapists giving a diagnosis, since I’ve only done talk therapy. But CBT is the retaining of the brain, and in order to move forward in a way that is productive, one must know what one is working with. To my surprise, the diagnosis wasn’t generalized anxiety disorder, but rather major depressive disorder. Wait. What? I’m depressed? 

I’m depressed. 

Tough pill to swallow. Depression comes with some major stigmas, and what’s more, I’ve done so much work trying to pull myself up by my bootstraps and rebuild my life. How can I be depressed when I’m so rich in blessings? But I am. I’m learning that I am, and it’s ok. 

The diagnosis got me thinking. I’m pretty sure I’ve been depressed since giving birth to my son. It’s quite possible I suffered some postpartum depression that went untreated, and then add colicky baby, failing marriage, single parenting to the mix, and it makes sense I never really had (or took) the time to pull myself out of it. Not really. 

So this is what I’m dealing with now. I have depression, and I’m working very hard to understand why, and to try to manage it so I can be the best mother/friend/daughter/sister/employee I can be. I’m trying with all of me. 

It’s a hard thing to admit, but I’m saying it here because I think the more we talk about depression, the more we shatter the stigma. I go to work. I spend time with friends. I parent and love on my kid like crazy. My house doesn’t look like an episode of Hoarders. I function. But I struggle to make it through these daily tasks and responsibilities. It’s hard to do it all on my own. My god, I miss having a partner to share the load, and just to share my days with. But I can do it. I am doing it. I just need a little extra help right now in the form of healing and acceptance. I’m hopeful CBT will help me get to the root of things. And I’d be lying if I said it’s not a little fun digging in and learning more about things I’ve buried deep, deep down. 

I have this dream. I walked out of my therapy session this week with a sunray overhead. I thought, “How excellent will it be when I get to the point that everything I have now is enough? When I’m enough.” And for the first time in a very long time, that feels attainable. Onward. 

Give me that grand gesture, or a bag of beans.

I have a problem, you guys. It’s a problem, I’m afraid, which renders me undateable. See, I’m a pretty simple gal, but since I was about seven or so, I’ve made up stories — mostly in my mind, but sometimes I have these conversations with phantoms. It’s not exactly an imaginary friend type of thing, but sort of.  These scenarios play out in my head, and often they involve me and whatever guy I’m interested in at the time. And let me tell you, they’re epic. Nothing in real life ever happens the way it does in my made up life, and frankly, reality is a little disappointing. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that these romantic notions that I envision, are just not realistic. I imagine grand gestures. And grand gestures just don’t happen. Maybe it’s a side effect from growing up watching too many John Hughes and Cameron Crowe flicks or something, but dammit, I want a guy outside my window, boombox over his head, blaring Peter Gabriel. I want “the one that got away” to show up at my door unannounced, wild flowers in hand, and pick me up (like, literally off my feet), kiss me hard, and say, “it was always you!” I want him to stand in my driveway and scream “Stella” at the top of his lungs. Okay, maybe that last one is a little misguided, but you get the idea. 

I’m not sure we live in a grand gestures type of world anymore (if we ever really did), but my heart does, and that makes it difficult for me to buy into the casual, undefined era of “hey, let’s grab a drink sometime.” Like, a date drink? A “let’s be bros” drink? What does it all mean? The thing is, that’s the dating culture in which we live. Or from what I’ve experienced it is. And don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to bro down with you, but can we just be straight? Can we call a spade a spade? 

I’m in love with the notion that I might someday find love again. Bleak as that possibility seems most days, I haven’t given up on it entirely. And though difficult at times, I’m having some fun exploring life as a single woman of a certain age. It’s honestly more fun now than it was at 22. But I might be undateable because when it comes, I want my love story to feel like a 1980s coming of age film, and that’s probably not very grounded. 

So can we compromise? I mean, if there’s not going to be a grand gesture, could he maybe just unexpectedly drop off a bag of really good coffee beans or something? That would be cool too. I mean, probably not screenplay worthy, but pretty cool nonetheless. 

10 things I learned about myself in 5 days in Arizona. 

Travel is wonderful, right? Seeing new places; meeting new people, it opens your soul to parts of the world, and really, to your own self that you might not have cracked open otherwise. There’s something so magical about that, even in an age of shrinking mystery and total access because social media. 

I’ve had the opportunity to travel some the last few months – first for work and more recently, pleasure. I’m ever astounded by what travel teaches us. My most recent trip to Arizona was a bit of a departure for me. I’m typically an urban or beach traveler. Having grown up in Pennsylvania, I’ve always loved the mountains, but never had much interest in vacationing in mountainous regions. 

But this vacation out west, suggested by a friend, felt like the right time to buck the system and experience part of the country yet unseen by my east coast/Midwest eyes. I just celebrated a milestone birthday after all, so why not stretch myself a bit? I’m glad I did, and here are 10 essential truths I learned about me in 5 short days.

  1. Packing light ain’t my thing. As much as I want to be that girl who shows up at the airport with just a backpack and a thirst for adventure, I’m gonna pack enough clothes and accessories to accommodate hiking + fancy dinner + sunbathing + snowpocolapse + trendy club + gritty dive bar. And I’m going to actually utilize about 10% of the contents in my 100 pound suitcase. 
  2. I like nature. This is big for me. I’m not an outdoorsy gal, but damn if it doesn’t make you feel small to stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon, sun on your super white midwestern face, taking it all in. We’re a tiny speck. The tiniest really. 
  3. Coffee reigns supreme. We stayed at an airbnb in Flagstaff which provided a generous amount of Folgers to accompany the morning air, but good god, no. It wasn’t an option. And I’m sorry, but shitty coffee never will be. 
  4. I’m not an amazing mom. And yet I am. I love my kid more than anything in this world really, but the amount of times I realized I was better off for enjoying this experience without him made me seriously question my devotion to that little man. That said, he’s 4; and I dreamed of a time when he’s 14 and we can experience a vacation like this together — just the two of us, gawking at and drooling over the freaking splendor that is the earth on which we live. Amazing.
  5. I’m afraid of many things, but I’m not afraid of skin cancer, which is really, really stupid.
  6. I’m pretty good at day drinking. Perhaps this isn’t a skill I should brag on, but vacation is the perfect time to test one’s ability to imbibe and maintain. Got this one locked.
  7. I like sleeping next to someone. I’ve mostly been going it alone for the last few years, and although I’m not romantically involved with my travel partner, warm body + soft skin + smallish bed + morning hellos is something I very much miss. Who knew?
  8. I still think too much about my body in a swimsuit. Damn if I haven’t been agonizing over it since I was way too young and fit to be doing so. I preach self love, but I’ve got work to do. 
  9. Science is pretty alright. I saw a meteor crater, and I thought it was cool — maybe one of the coolest parts of the trip. I’m sorry dinosaurs. I love you.
  10. I’m neither mudita or schadenfreude. Schadenfreude being of course, deriving pleasure from someone else’s pain, and mudita being pure joy unadulterated by self interest. This was perhaps my biggest lesson learned thanks to a book given to me by a dear friend, prior to the trip. I’ve never been one to rejoice in another’s suffering. That’s pretty fucking twisted, but realizing that it’s challenging for me to rejoice in someone else’s success; joy; good fortune, that’s a hell of a wake up call, and one that I will surely spend some time with on my therapist’s couch over the next several months. Maybe I would have realized this while reading this book at home, but something about the crisp mountain air gave me pause. I’m envious of people who have what I desire — companionship; love; a home; freedom from anxiety and depression. And realizing this isn’t a good feeling. Envy serves no one. I’m going to work on this one, guys, if it freaking kills me. 

So here’s to travel, and self discovery, and new experiences. We can’t know; we can never really know what they’ll bring unless we’re all in. And I was. I am. Onto the next.