Two-thousand-eighteen. Man, what a year.
I realize that we’re already quite a ways into 2019, but it’s taken me a while to reflect back on this past year and pull together the most important lessons learned, because just so much happened. 2018 began with my final semester of college, and the most significant parts of the first half of the year were my senior thesis gallery show (if you missed it before, see it here) and going to therapy every week. (Seriously, GO GET THERAPY. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. I wish there wasn’t such a stigma attached to therapy, because the truth is that we’re all broken and could all use some help in working through that brokenness. It’s true that therapy doesn’t always work for everybody, but for me it was profoundly helpful and I learned and grew so much through it.)
Then I graduated and “real life” (whatever that means) began…with a trip to the U.K. with my family. But for real, after the vacation was over, I started working part-time and trying to figure out what the heck I’m doing with my life. That’s 2018 in a nutshell, but there was a whole lot more to it than that. Perhaps more than any other year, I learned some significant lessons that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I’m going to break them up into three posts because there was so much and it would be kind of overwhelming to have it all in one long post. So, here's part 1.
The most important lesson I learned this year is the truth that it’s okay to feel. I am an emotionally sensitive and compassionate person, but after my family adopted my special-needs sister in 2012, I felt so much pain that I gradually shut all my feelings down. It hurt too much. This year, I learned how to feel again. I learned that actually, it’s okay to feel all the emotions, especially the ones I label as “negative”: sadness, grief, anger, shame, fear, etc. I learned that I need to make space for feeling, and that I need to feel honestly—allowing myself to feel whatever emotion I have at the moment, acknowledging and accepting it instead of denying, ignoring, or stuffing it down. Thanks to the help of my therapist, I uncovered a boatload of ungrieved grief this year and was forced to literally break down and weep, again and again, until that grief was felt for what it was—I had no idea how deep that pain went until she started digging at it. If there’s anything I learned this year, it’s that grief demands to be felt, and if it’s pushed down (even for years and years), eventually it will find a way to make itself known.
Grief has been a defining factor of this year. At the beginning of the year, it centered around the pain and brokenness in my family. Since graduation, there has been a less potent (but still significant) season of grief as I have wrestled with the huge transition of leaving the safety and support of the community I’ve been surrounded with for four years, living at home again, and figuring out what to do next. But as much as I wish I didn’t have to deal with all of this at once, I’ve also realized that grief is a gift. One of my professors, a dear friend and mentor, comforted me with the reminder that feeling all these messy emotions is actually a sign of growth. It’s an indication that God trusts me enough to handle it now, because it probably would have been too much for me even a year ago. He decided that now was the right time to kick that door open, as much as the timing seems strange to me. So as much as this year has hurt, it’s been one of the best years yet because I’ve been able to feel that pain honestly and with hope. Even so, on a lot of days it’s hard and just plain sucky. I’m trying to remember that this won’t last forever, and that there are still good things to come. I hope that if you’re in this place too, you can find comfort in that as well.
In September last year, I created a project for myself to write a poem every day that month (I wrote about that project and posted some of my poems here). I enjoyed the challenge of doing something every day and decided to try it again in October, but with photography instead of poetry. That lasted a total of about three days. I just wasn’t excited about the pictures I was taking, so I decided to go back to writing more poems. So I did another poem-a-day-for-a-month in October, except that it was more like writing five poems all at once, once a week, and finishing them all a week or so into November. I meant to post the best ones after I finished, but I never did. I’m adding them here because a consistent theme throughout all of them was this weird grieving process I’m going through. It kind of surprised me to read through all my poems at the end of the month and realize that almost all of them were about grief, pain, and making space for feeling. Chances are, you’re going through a season of sadness, pain, or change as well, and if that’s you, I hope these poems can meet you there.