I struggled in 2013. I grew. I survived. I loved. I hated. I laughed and I cried. But I struggled and that’s what really made 2013, 2013 for me.
break down break it down.
2013 started and looking back, it was clear that I didn’t know how I was supposed to treat it. New Years Eve was spent with friends, and I desperately tried to relive the last New Years Eve I had in America but the friends I spent it with, had been a few years past that kind of things. They had moved on and I hadn’t realized it because I had been gone so long.
Shortly thereafter, I struggled with my friends growing up and moving on to the next stage of life. My roommate from college and one of my best friends, Joe, got married. I was his best man, and I couldn’t have been happier doing so. the problem was, I didn’t know how to be a best man. I didn’t know how to move on to the next stage of my life with him, or if I should even try. I struggled with the idea that I had wasted twenty-seven months of my life pursuing a dream which in the long run, set me behind the rest of my friends who had built their lives even stronger in my absence.
But that wedding changed the rest of the year for me for the better. It gave me a focus when I didn’t really know what I was doing with anything. I met a girl. I was the best man, she was the maid of honor. Usually I’m not the one of New Years resolutions, but I had made one last year and it was to not deny myself the things I truly wanted. When I saw Ellie, I knew I had to at least give it a shot. I got lucky that she accepted my invitation to dinner (via text, no less, which she doesn’t like me to forget). The rest of that story is still being written.
February rolled around, and I was still working at the job I had taken because it was a job. Each day, I desperately waited to hear something about the job that had so much potential for me and every bit I knew about it made me loathe what I drove to and from each day for the sake of a paycheck and unwanted stress. I lived at home with my parents, my cat, and the family dog. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I knew I had potential to be something great, but everything seemed to be holding me back.
It was late-February, early-March when my grandmother started to die. She had been dying for years, fighting off a rare case of leukemia, but she really started to fade quickly. She had beaten breast cancer years earlier, but in her old age, the leukemia was too much. Family came to visit and say their goodbyes to a woman who had been through a long and full life. I still can hear the sound of her breathing and I can see her weak frame grasping for air as I struggled to say my goodbye. It was short and simple, as it was all I could manage, but to me it was enough. We buried her in her plot, next to family, in Chicago.
It was in April that I decided I needed to move out. I had planned on living at home as long as I could so I could fuel as much money as possible into paying off my student loans as quickly as possible but the stress of driving to and from work each day (over an hour each way) coupled with living with my parents who didn’t remember how to live with their son anymore became too much for me to handle. This was a really hard time for me. I struggled with living with my parents because I have always had a good relationship with them and it was hard staying there when I felt unwelcome (which they said was because I had gone off and changed myself as a person and they didn’t know how to deal with the new me). It’s true. I changed, but somewhere, deep down, I wanted to be the old me. I wanted to go back to the way things were before. But I couldn’t, so I started to shop for apartments. I found one, and the move in wasn’t until the first of May.
It was also in April, that I visited Ellie in Minneapolis for the first time. She had been back a few times to see me and we had kept in touch via text. Once she gave me the okay, I planned a trip to go see her. It was also due to this trip that I decided cruise control in the Kia Rio was a must, if I wanted to survive another trip up to see her.
In May, I moved into my own apartment. It is the first place I’ve ever lived alone and that I paid for myself (Peace Corps paid for my apartment in Ukraine).
Surprisingly, me moving out didn’t really solve my problems with my parents. Those wouldn’t be brought out into the open until the summer and it’s hard to admit, but I’m still working on dealing with those things now.
I had also been spending the first part of the year training for a half marathon, which I ran in late May. I did rather well, better than I hoped to do. I also learned a valuable lesson; I don’t like running for that long. It’s hard.
In June, my apartment started to feel like a home. I had spent a good chunk of change getting the items I didn’t already have to furnish it and I was pleased with the results.
It was in June that Ellie studied abroad in France. Even though our relationship was already long distance, the longer distance was somehow harder for both of us. But we survived. It meant compromising on late-night or early-morning Skype calls and putting up with fussy internet. Fortunately, I had lived with that kind of thing already, so it didn’t throw me off too much.
After Ellie got back through, I got to spend some time with her before she went back up to school. We opted to explore Milwaukee. It’s a city neither of us are particularly fond of. I live here because of my current job. Ellie lives here because that’s where her parents live. Hopefully, it will someday just be a blip on the map of life where I paused for a moment or two. Even so, it can astound me from time to time with some of the views.
In June, I saw a double rainbow, I got a raise which made the job more tolerable, and I took part in eating a five-foot long pizza. But deep down, I really was in deep with whatever struggle I was having in life and I didn’t know how to pull myself out of it. That worried me because I took pride in being able to keep my head above the water and for the first time in my life, I was drowning. I was going to drown longer, but fortunately, not too long.
Then July happened, and this is when I had my big breakdown. It started so many months before as anger towards my parents because it felt like they were pushing me not only out of their house but also out of their lives. We didn’t know how to connect with each other since I got back from Ukraine and that wore me down. It really took a toll on who I was for a long time. I didn’t seem to know anymore and neither did anyone else. I just needed a reminder, and it never came. I had a big fight with my parents. During the fight, I felt bullied and cornered and that no one was really hearing what I was trying to say. I needed people to hear me and to notice me and to treat me, for once in the past six months, as though I didn’t just get up and leave everyone’s lives. It wasn’t until the end of the fight that I really realized what was getting me down. Up until that moment, I hadn’t realized it because I hadn’t said it out loud. It wasn’t just my parents who made me feel like I wasn’t wanted, it was everyone. No one knew what to do with me and no one took the time to find out, at least that’s how I felt. By going away, I had given up any place I had held anywhere and I desperately needed to have at least one of those places back. I needed to feel needed. I wanted people to care about what I had done. Upon realizing this, I was able to start working on ways of making myself feel better about things. It was the beginning of the end of my struggle. But more on that later.
In July, I had good moments too. Ellie met my family for the first time. I saw Sir Paul McCartney in concert. And I went up to see Ellie a few more times.
In August, Ellie and I spent more time together. She came back to her parents for most of the month as she was in between apartments at school. I liked that. We took a weekend trip to Chicago and went to Navy Pier, a first for both of us. We stayed in a hostel, a first for her. Then we went to my cousin’s wedding, a first for him. Ellie was pretty sick the whole time but she powered through like a champ. Then I got sick and it crippled me for two weeks. I even broke down to go see the doctor about it. Some where in the middle of my illness, Ellie and I went to a charity prom in Madison. We wore fancy clothes and in the morning, I fainted shortly after waking up. As much as I’ve tried to figure out why it happened, I really have no answer. Then Ellie went back up to school, and once again I was alone. Not completely, but alone enough that I noticed.
In September, I challenged myself to open up online–to write more often than not and to be honest with myself in public. It wasn’t always easy but for the most part, the responses I received were positive. I talked about my fears, my body image, things that bother me, things I’m bad at, and things that are just important to me in general. I loved that month of writing and I wish I could force myself to commit to it more often. I have my 642 Things to Write About book, so maybe I can set up some goal for myself and once again I can be honest with everyone, myself included.
Then October, after a month of writing, I fell off the map a bit. I don’t remember why but I’m sure I had my reasons. The best part of October was that I fulfilled a recent dream of mine to be a dungeon master. I finally convinced some friends to play with me and it was a great success. I just need to convince them again, and again and we’ll have a lot more fun again.
I also visited Ellie again. We went to the Mall of America and a corn maze and petted a bunch of animals I never really expected to pet. It was a lot of fun, as always.
November was a big month. A busy month. I went up to visit Ellie the last time for the year. I helped her escape her roommates for a weekend and we both had fun. But there was more fun on the horizon. I had talked to a couple of my friends from Peace Corps about me visiting them or them visiting me. Since I still hadn’t gotten my vacation time at work, and they lived just too far to for me to visit on a weekend, they decided to come see me and I’m infinitely grateful for it. I had started to wonder if the Peace Corps thing really happened. No one talked about it ever with me. It seemed like it was easier to pretend it never happened, as if I had offended everyone and they thought it more polite to shrug it off. But my friends came to see me, and that brought it all home for me. It turns out, those same friends struggled with a lot of the same things I did over the past year. They felt lost and left behind and didn’t really know how to move past Peace Corps without feeling like we were betraying the experience. It really helped me with my year-long struggles to hear a simple, “Me too.”
While they were here, I showed them as much of Wisconsin as we could in a weekend. We did three tours in the Milwaukee area one day (Frank Lloyd Wright House, a distillery, and a creamery). The next day we went to the art museum, ate Ian’s pizza, and I showed them Madison. It was a very busy weekend, but it was more relaxing than tiring and I cherished every moment of it, even if no one really talked about it ever happening.
I also turned 26 in November. My birthday was enjoyable, but a bit of a disappointment. I’m not really ready to talk specifics about it but the odds are is that it wasn’t your fault. I grabbed a cigar and had some drinks with close friends. It was exactly what I wanted. Then, when Ellie was back for Thanksgiving, she took me painting for my birthday and it was exactly what I didn’t know I actually wanted. I loved it.
December was spent sneaking off to my parents house as much as I could to work on Ellie’s Christmas gift. I’ll post about it later, but I’m really happy with how it turned out. I liked making something with my hands and I felt like I put a lot of thought and effort into making it something I would want to receive as well.
December was also the holidays, and it was the first Christmas that I brought a guest. So did my sister. The house wasn’t packed though, because family decided this was the year to not show up. We were missing three cousins, one aunt, one uncle, one great-uncle, and a grandma. Most of those, we suspect, weren’t there because grandma wasn’t there. It’s a sad realization to come to, that the only reason you see family is because they want to see one mutual family member and not you. Without all of them, we still managed to have a good time. It felt more like a beginning of future Christmases than the old, bickering Christmases past. And I like that.
You see, I had a lot of things to struggle with throughout the year. A lot of them were personal and some of them were shared. I’m not looking for pity because everyone has a bad year here and there and we all survive. I’m glad that I did. I survived. More importantly, I worked on getting past things and taking the first step. It was all a part of my goal to not deny myself things starting last year, and one of those things was happiness. I don’t wish I could go back and redo 2013 nor do I wish I could change anything about 2013. It is what it was, and it brought me to here.
I hope 2014 is as fulfilling for me as 2013 was. The same for you!