One half.

Well, my plan was to be more on top of things this year, and while I mostly am, I definitely neglected to recognize that half of this year is already down! My goal when I even began this blog was to chart my personal successes and attempts at living a happier, healthier, more fulfilled life. I promised to do one big thing a month that was just for me. In April, I recapped the first three months of the year and how it had been going so far. My plan was to do quarterly blog check-ins. Aaaaand here we are now, almost through July before I realized I had dropped the ball on my second check-in. Oh well, better late than never!

April

April was a really good month for me, creatively, personally, athletically, and professionally. The month began with me helping my old friend Theo out and shooting a short film with him. Theo is an amazing artist, and I was so excited to get to contribute a little bit to his work! We filmed over the course of one Thursday evening, and it was so fun to flex my acting muscles, particularly in film, where I have less experience. We created a really fun, creepy, exciting little piece, and I was really proud of it!

April also included a lot of time with two of my favorite people, Tom and Serena. These two attended a fundraiser for my school’s 8th graders to get to go on a graduation trip, something that would have been impossible without the generosity of strangers. The fundraiser was a huge success, and contributions from Tom, Serena, my friend Brett, my mom, Kurt, my coworkers and their friends and families ensured that the entire 8th grade class got to go to St. Louis. It was a really momentous occasion for my school, which is in no position to financially aid these students and their families on its own.

Tom and Serena also became our travel partners in April. First, we went to Milwaukee for a weekend. Kurt and I had tickets to see Jack White at The Rave/Eagles Club, and The Blondes decided to tag along. Here is a really cool pic I got of the Jack White show:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh. That’s right. Jack White does this thing where upon entering the venue, your phone gets locked inside a little pouch that cannot be opened until the end of his set. While this at first promoted a little bit of anxiety (like when I had to pee and had no clue where Kurt was when I re-entered the crowd), it was honestly such a cool little touch. Kurt and I could focus on the music and actually experience a live show without watching it through everyone else’s phone screens. Great concert, and he even came back for an unscheduled encore simply due to the Milwaukee crowd’s crazy demands.

Milwaukee is a great city, and I always enjoy it there. Serena and I had to fit in a training run on that Saturday morning, and we did a cool 5 miles along the lake front and through downtown, ending at Harp for Bloody Mary’s. The folks in Milwaukee are absolute party animals – every time I am in that city, I see a whole new form of drunkenness. However, spending Saturday afternoon and evening bar hopping, asking Random Questions, eating some of the greatest tacos ever, and just being with friends in such a laid back town was well worth the short trip up there.

Closing out April was the half marathon in Louisville. Kurt, Tom, Serena, and I drove down for a weekend trip, and Serena and I ran the Kentucky Derby Festival Half Marathon. My feelings and experiences of that weekend are laid out pretty extensively in my blog post about it, but finishing that race was a huge feat for me and was a very emotional victory. After my accident in February, I honestly thought my active lifestyle may have to change, and that’s not something I ever even want to consider. While I am still dealing with some residual pain and stiffness from my fall, and reconsidering new forms of treatment, I hold dearly to the fact that I finished that race in April. Be it from sheer will, or the kind and supportive nature of someone like Serena keeping me going, that race was a huge celebration for me, and I can safely say, will be one of the highlights of this year.

May

Ohhhhh highlights of the year…what about highlights of my LIFE? May brought about what will forever be one of the best evenings I’ve ever experienced: the night Kurt asked me to marry him. Again, I blogged all about this, but let me just say – I am so happily giddy about being engaged to Kurt that I don’t think I will ever come down off this high. Planning our wedding is so exciting, and I am so looking forward to sharing that day with the people we love. I love this man with all my heart, and the idea that I am sharing my life with him forever just makes me so beyond happy.

Okay, gushy gushy. May also included the end of my Chicago Run coaching season and year, which could potentially be my last due to some other professional promotions that will be taking up my after school time. I love that crazy team, and have loved getting closer to the middle schoolers, whom I really do not have much exposure to. Additionally, we had yet another successful school field trip to Maggie Daley Park, which is so good for our kids. My students often cannot play outside due to the crime in their neighborhood, and rarely get to see downtown Chicago at all, and so bringing them to a place where they can safely be kids without anxiety or fear of their surroundings is not something to be taken for granted. I am so thankful for our school and the administrators who recognize what our kiddos truly need: to feel young, playful, and innocent.

June

June was an awesome month. It just was. Everything went really well and I had so many fun, good experiences. June began with my show opening, and I cannot even express what a blast I had performing with Chicago Red Line. This group is full of fantastic, sweet people who have welcomed me and allowed me to grow and play as a performer. They met me with support from the beginning, and performing “You Can’t Sit With Us,” our musical parody of Mean Girls, was so fun. Being back on stage, singing and dancing, was so empowering for me, and so much more full of heart than any of the last times I performed. I needed the hiatus, I suppose, to reconnect to who I truly am as a performer outside of just boobs in a corset (the majority of the roles I landed).

Kurt and I went to Louisville to look at wedding venues, and SURPRISE! His mom and my mom schemed up an in-law meeting without telling us. They knew we would have been nervous wrecks, and so they cooked up a plan to have Kurt’s parents arrive a few hours before us. Imagine my surprise when we got into my parents’ house and Kurt’s parents were sitting on the back porch! In any case, we had an awesome weekend showing them around Louisville, and even booked our venue! I feel incredibly lucky that my family is so supportive, and that I am also marrying into a family that puts time with each other first.

June ended with Serena and I going back to Louisville to see Taylor Swift. Honestly, I was a pretty mild T. Swift fan before, and yet now find myself absolutely obsessed. Whatever she is selling, I am buying it. The Reputation Arena tour is absolutely spectacular, and I have never had so much fun at a show. Find a way to see this show and go. And you know what? I realized exactly why I like Taylor Swift so much. This is a girl who gets incessantly dumped on. Maybe she does bring it on herself, I don’t know, but it’s just always something for her – some drama, some pain, some bullshit. And I do believe she handles it as classily as she can in the public eye. I think she writes her pain and her frustrations but gets pigeonholed as the girl who writes songs about her exes. What about all the bops about crappy ex-friends, betrayal, misunderstanding situations, and being in love? She is a survivor, and a fighter, and I play right into her world-domination game, okay???

Oh, also I bought my wedding dress. It’s stunning and beautiful, and I love it, but we are still working on the whole “loving myself in it” thing. Man, 20+ years of body image issues does not make wedding dress shopping fun, but it’s all about remembering that it isn’t about the dress, or the hair, or the venue. It’s that I am marrying Kurt, and all the incredible people I love, the people who are making this year so very good, will be there celebrating with us.

This year is halfway over, and I am absolutely stoked to see what the next 6 (okay, 5, I am late posting this) months brings!

An Eye for an Eyelet.

It is still fairly crazy to me how far I have come over the past couple of years. I said to my friend recently that I am enjoying being engaged so much, I do not want to miss a minute of this time, expedited though it is. However, it isn’t just our engagement that has made this particular time in my life so happy. A lot of changes had to occur to get here, and I am thankful every day these changes happened, whether by chance or by my own doing.

I’ve been super into capsule wardrobes lately and the simplicity they offer, and when I was designing mine recently, I uncovered this adorable, white eyelet lace wrap dress I picked up from Ann Taylor Loft roughly five years ago. (Luckily, white appeared within my capsule color palette, and so this dress made it into the “keep” pile.) I remember trying this dress on at the store, something I rarely take the time to do, and feeling like I looked amazing. I bought it, but never found the right time to wear it. It always seemed too “bridal” to me to wear a white dress, and so I just decided to save it until I was engaged and could wear it to a shower or rehearsal dinner or something.

The time is nigh, right? Wrong. When I pulled the dress out of the inner crevices of my closet, I saw that it was covered in black and brown stains, from the collar all the way down to its cutesy little midi bell skirt. This discovery stopped me right in my tracks.

On June 1st, 2014, my apartment burned down.

Alright, alright, if you know me, you know this story. You may even be a little sick of this story. So, CliffsNotes version: I broke up with my partner of 6 years in February of 2014. I found an apartment I absolutely loved in Bucktown. I felt safe, complete, and happy there. It changed my whole perspective and outlook living there. On May 31st, after Do Division Fest and watching Wet Hot American Summer, I went to sleep, and just a few hours later, at 4am on June 1st, 2014, I found myself desperately escaping a building that was burning down around me.

My boyfriend at the time woke me to an apartment filled with smoke and my poor dog crying for us to awaken. My windows broke before me, as firefighters, already in the building above my garden unit, tried desperately to ax in the glass to ventilate. I heard crash after crash of furniture and roof tiles falling and being thrown out of the apartment above me. Glass rained down everywhere as we ran through it all, sparkling like diamonds and sharply pinching into my bare shoulders.

By 9 am the building was gone.

By 2 pm, I realized my home was gone.

My best friend Brett and my ex-boyfriend moved what we could salvage out the front door while I stood in the rubble and stared. Stared at the life I had only just started to build, the safety and comfort I had only just established, the home I had only just lived in for three months. I was fully in shock, and still was deeply disturbed and devastated by the loss. Brett instructed me to see what I could take from my bedroom closet, mostly to give me a concrete task to focus on. I stuffed tattered, smokey clothing into garbage bags. I pulled dresses and jeans from hangers, each of them wet and stained with the ashy, sooty, water from the high-powered hoses that ended the fire. The white dress was among what was salvaged.

That fire marked the lowest period in my life. That fire caused almost two months of homelessness and displacement. That fire caused extreme anxiety and PTSD symptoms in me that led me to therapy and medication to help me cope. That fire took years to rebuild from, emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, and socially. But rebuild I did, to become better than I was, and lead a life better than I’d had ever before. That’s not to say, though, that I don’t still have my fearful moments.

My fiance has watched me crumble and have trouble focusing at the slightest smell of burning. He has watched me check that the burners are off 11 times before leaving to go to a bar. He has held me as I watched a building in our neighborhood burn on the 3 year anniversary of my own fire. He even watched an episode of This Is Us with me when I realized that Jack’s death was a result of a house fire.

I believe I am healed, but I am fragile.

And when I found that dress and those stains last week, my gut instinct was to crumble. BUT – I did not.

I am living happier and fuller than I ever have, but I could not and would not be here without the pains and struggles of my past. Can you truly appreciate the good times if you do not know suffering? I appreciate every minute of my time and the people I know, because I also know what life was like on the flip side, before I knew what I know now.

So, no. I did not crumble. I grabbed my OxiClean stain stick and scrubbed the living shit out of those stains. Scrubbed what I had neglected to truly try to get rid of over the last four years. I threw those stains in my washer on high heat. I tumbled dry on low. And at long last, those stains are GONE. And that dress WILL be worn to a shower or rehearsal dinner or something.

That dress was bought and intended for a happy ending, and much like I have worked hard to give myself one, I should give it the very same respect.

Dear Tinder.

This is a story of Tinder Boy Meets Tinder Girl.

Dear Tinder,

It was the late Spring of 2015. The air was warm, and you could feel summer creeping into the lazy breezes and sun-stretched afternoons. I was at my highest and lowest. Highest, for I had been accepted into a prestigious and competitive education graduate program and teacher training residency, had quit my job of 5 years that brought me considerable frustrations, and was in a new apartment. Lowest, because I was in that apartment after almost 10 months of displacement and discomfort following a house fire where I lost everything, was just reeling from a 6 year relationship ending, and had just been dumped by my rebound.

And there you were, Tinder. Right when I needed you, the very idea of you spread through my brain and allowed me to come to you for the services you offer. I was lonely, but not brazen enough to take myself out to a bar and hit on strangers. I wanted connection, but all of my friends lacked single male friends. I needed reassurance and attention, and was just downright ready to flirt. I downloaded you, clicked the little white flame, and created my profile.

I am shocked, Tinder, that I did not have callouses on my thumbs from the constant, addictive swiping. Sure, people can say that you’re shallow, or materialistic, but guess what? Humans are visual, and we DO judge who were are attracted to based on looks even before we get to know them. So, you allowed me to shuffle through pictures of men in Chicago and be a shallow, animalistic, single, 28-year-old woman. It was right what I needed right when I needed it.

Baby’s first Tinder profile pic. Hide the eyes, get the guys?

I encountered men that ranged from kind of sad (shout out to you, Recently Divorced Dad who still lived with his ex-wife and wanted to make her jealous with me), to desperate (shout out to YOU, Scottish Dude on a travel Visa who needed to get married to stay in America) to pretty gross (shout out to YOU, Guy From Las Vegas on a layover at O’Hare). I went on one date with a guy who I talked to via text for about a week. His name was Eric, and I was impressed because he called me and actually talked to me on the phone. There were immediate red flags on our date, such as him telling me he was colorblind but then identifying many colors of objects around the bar, or stating that if I were his, he would make me sell all my possessions so I had no memories associated with anyone but him. The red flags quickly turned black and essentially went up in flames when he continuously bought me drinks and said he “just wanted to get me drunk enough to fuck him.” Bye, Eric.

Had I turned my back on you then, Tinder, I would have lost out on meeting the love of my life. And this is why, Tinder, I must thank you. You are not merely a vapid, silly, hook-up site. You somehow, by some chance, by some mystic coincidental swiping on both sides, led me to meeting Kurt.

Who wouldn’t swipe right for this handsome mug? (Kurt, circa 2015.)

Kurt and I texted for weeks before meeting face to face. We would ask each other Random Questions, RQ’s, we called them, and slowly got to know each other well enough to know we would enjoy meeting face to face. We eventually went on a first date at Lost Lake, a tiki bar in our neighborhood. Taking a gamble and figuring “why not?” after my bad experience with Eric, I brought along some firecracker poppers in my purse. When the time felt right, I whipped them out and told him I was “really feeling some sparks between us.” He didn’t run. He laughed. Be it out of pity or genuine humor, who cares? He was nice. I went into the bathroom and texted my friend Brett that he was “too good looking for me, and far too nice and normal.” But still, we stayed. We stayed for hours, talking, laughing, drinking tropical cocktails out of ceramic parrots. He walked me back to my apartment in the rain, and I asked him if he wanted to listen to a record. We put on Arcade Fire’s “Funeral.”

That night changed everything. Kurt was in portfolio school and I was starting grad school, but we decided we would continue talking and spending what little free time we had over that next year around one another. We weren’t “official,” and school had to come first, but we spent Fridays and Saturdays together. I met his friends, which was also life changing, and within mere weeks found myself surrounded by much more positive, funny, kind, fun people than I had previously known. You see, Tinder, you led me to not only find the love of my life and my now closest friends, but you allowed me to see what and who I was worthy of surrounding myself with. I deserved far better than I had, and was suddenly able to swipe right into that better life.

At a wedding in the middle of nowhere in Michigan, three months after we met face to face, Kurt asked me to be his girlfriend. A year and 9 months after that, we moved in together. And 13 months after that, last Friday evening, listening to that very same Arcade Fire album, asking the same sorts of Random Questions we had built a connection on three years earlier, he posed the ultimate RQ: he asked me to marry him.

I’ve been learning to drive
My whole life

And so, Tinder, I am writing this letter to you to thank you. You get a bad rap sometimes, but you were there for me when I needed you, you led me away from bad people, helped me wade through some other random crazies, and eventually led me here, to this most beautiful time I have ever experienced: preparing to marry my best friend. I wouldn’t be here without you, Tinder.

IMG_1716.jpg

Love, Julia

Runner.

At some point within the last 24 hours, I began to consider myself a runner.

I think others have possibly considered me to be one prior to this time – my mom said recently she sees me as a natural runner and athlete. The thing is, though, it is a title I have not (and couldn’t) readily give myself. It could be my perpetual low self-esteem, the fact that I am a perfectionist, the fact that I know people who are actually professional runners, or just the fact that my frequency of training and racing has decreased over the past few years, but regardless the reason, “runner” is not exactly how I describe myself to people.

I have never run a full marathon. My speed isn’t anything to brag about. I don’t necessarily LOVE running every single day. But I DO do it. I lace up, I sweat, I push, I try to convince myself I’m not cramping up and my breathing will get more comfortable within the next mile. And though I could downplay it and act like I am perpetually terrible, the fact remains that my hard work and dedication to this mind-game sport that I love, hate, and love to hate, has paid off in improvement. Want to know a big reason why?

This Chick!

Let me tell you about a girl I know named Serena. She cool. Actually, she’s way more than that. She is incredibly loyal, enthusiastic, and empathetic. When I injured myself in February, the day before I was supposed to start training for a half marathon that I convinced her to run with me, she did not let me give up. Even before I got the actual diagnosis and recovery plan from my doctor, Serena was supportive. She was equal parts cheerleader and nurse: counting down the days until I could get back on my feet and start running and also violently demanding I do not cheat on my recovery plan and start trying to run just because my pain wasn’t excruciating. I took two very boring, very sedentary weeks off, and I got an update every day from her of how many more days until I could run again. Honestly, that unwavering belief in my recovery really aided me in believing in it myself.

And so we went to Louisville. I had trained as much as I could: Serena dragged my slow, corpse body all over Logan Square in one 10 mile run in the rain. In Milwaukee the weekend before the race, we crushed a 5 miler along the lakefront and River Walk. And come race day, I was nervous, but undeniably supported. I do not generally like running with people. I make some strange faces and noises and I really despise looking weak. And yet, having Serena run every step of the way with me, assuring me my pace wasn’t too slow, promising me we were almost done and there were beers at the finish line, allowing me a weak moment when I got a charlie horse in my calf from dehydration, allowed me to keep going, and ultimately pull of a PR on a half marathon.

This is the face of relief. I would have been fine being done about three miles earlier.

I have run seven half marathons now, and the only time I have even come close to this pace was when I was 23 and followed a professional training and diet plan to a T. I feel incredibly fortunate to have pulled off this time, injury or no. It is also just different. The last time I ran a half marathon, my house had burned down three weeks prior, and I was homeless, wearing borrowed shoes, and running with something to prove (survival?). The last time I ran the Derby Festival Mini, I was miserably stuck in a relationship, had no friends I was allowed to see, trusted no one, and was at odds with my family. I think I crossed the finish line and made me way through to the after party by myself. So, despite feeling terrible for the last third of the race this time, running with someone who supported me, meeting my amazing parents and the love of my life at the finish line, it just reemphasized what I have thought of so much lately:

I am so lucky and happily surrounded by good people at this time.

Not too shabby!

The best part of this PR? I was not all that sore after! I got an amazing bath and nap in, and managed to hit up the best parts of Louisville with my friends! We even went to the bar where my parents met: Gerstle’s. It was…it was a shit show. But we still had fun.

Not visible: the fact that Tom and Kurt are ghosts here.

And so, flash forward to the week after this momentous weekend for this “non”- runner: I got in three training runs and ran a 5k in Wrigleyville back here in Chicago. I learned some valuable tidbits at the Race to Wrigley:

1.) Courses with more turns are far more interesting and go by faster. This course was boring.

2.) Do NOT think that just because you ran a half marathon a week before that you can enjoy libations at the Derby party you chose to throw the night before. A mile and a half in, I had to wave Serena on so she didn’t see the unseeable: me tossing my cookies out on Irving Park. (I ended up only dry heaving…still embarrassing. How old am I? Be responsible, Julia.)

3.) If you are physically miserable, however, you WILL run faster to get it over with. And so, I finished with my best split miles ever recorded in a race, despite being a little, well, hungover.

Still had my cheerleader, despite my weak stomach and lack of willpower in the face of tequila.

And so, I guess I am a runner. And though it is a painful, exhausting, challenging sport, I love it. In fact, I love it more than ever. I don’t want to stop anytime soon.

One Fourth.

I am currently in shock that it is April. Not only just because we have an inch of snow on the ground and my teaching-stamina seems exceptionally low for having almost three more months of school, but also because so far, 2018 has flown by. To think we are already a quarter of the way through the year is just bonkers to me. It feels like time has sped up, and I am worried about all the things I am probably missing.

On Friday night, I stayed in, and in between eating Stromboli in bed and watching a Casey Anthony true crime documentary, I reflected on everything I have done so far this year. I started this blog in January and set out all these lofty goals about living a healthier, more fulfilled life, where my priority is me and my own self-care. Though it has not felt like it at times, and I’ve been downright cranky over some of the year’s setbacks, I realized that I have totally been keeping up with my goals this year so far. It feels really wonderful to sit down and think about everything that has happened so far this year. Let’s recap:

January

In January, I went to the Wisconsin Dells with Kurt’s family for a belated Christmas celebration. I am fairly obsessed with Kurt’s family: some of the nicest people I have ever encountered. It is also incredibly healing and reparative to spend time with his newest nephew, who was four months old at the time of the trip. Since the loss of my own nephew, I have been wary around babies. Yet, spending time with O has made me feel calmer, more comfortable, and more confident about the idea of babies again. It’s given me hope.

Now, Wisconsin Dells DID offer my own personal hell when I was weighed in a bathing suit in front of a line of people (including Kurt’s family). However, that instance also inspired me to change my eating habits and become healthier. Through that evil, evil water slide scale, I discovered Keto and am already down 8 pounds. So, yes. Water slide scales might be from the devil himself, but also inspired me.

Capping off January was my trip to Orlando with my best friend and his fiance. I cannot even begin to describe the joy I felt on this trip. I got to be a kid again, let my imagination explore, and just laugh with two wonderful people all weekend. Disney has upped its game, and the latest rides and attractions were so wonderful. We went to Universal Studios as well (Casey Anthony’s former employer…guys, that documentary was good…) and I had never visited that park before. I loved it, to put it simply, and want to spend way more time there next time I am in Orlando.

The family I have been babysitting for for 7 years or so happened to be in Orlando at the same time I was, and we got to meet up while at Universal Studios. The older boy just started reading Harry Potter, and I had been reading it out loud to both of the boys in the weeks leading up to the trip. It was incredibly special to share my love for the wizarding world with them, and also to experience the park with them for the first time. The older boy even went on his first roller coaster with me! I have a LOT of love for this family, and was so glad they got to be a part of my trip.

All in all, January was a pretty baller month.

February

February did not start off so great. I was very pumped at the start of the month. I was starting the Keto diet, had started taking Collagen Peptides for my skin, and was on the cusp of starting my half marathon training and rehearsals for The Chicago Red Line, a cabaret group I had been invited to join. Some new socks and a wooden staircase later, I ended up in the ER with a sprained back. I could not put any weight on my right side for almost four days, which led to Kurt dragging me around and waiting on me hand and foot.

It was frustrating as hell, but thank goodness I know so many kind people. Coworkers who drove me to school and offered to move my kids around the building. Friends who offered me kind words and kept me patient while I was laid out resting. Then I got impatient and started running again…which led to further injury. Mid-February found me with not only the sprained back, but also a sprained quad. This stress injury almost killed my spirit, as I then had doctor’s orders to take an additional two weeks off from any physical activity at all.

I am incredibly lucky to have such amazing people in my life who kept me going. Serena offered to run the half marathon with me no matter what pace I had to do it at. She sent me daily texts counting down how many more days til I could run again. My mom bolstered my confidence by saying she thinks of me as a runner, and knows I will succeed even without perfect training. Kurt packed me down with ice and heat every night, and took on all the household chores.

February could have been a total downer, but it just wasn’t. February proved to me how many incredible people I know, and how lucky I am for their support. Also, I finally did get to start rehearsals with Red Line, and it has been such a positive addition to my week. This group has invited me in with no questions asked, and is accepting of my quirks and talents. There is so much room for creativity and personality, and the show we are creating is the exact kind of artistic outlet I had been sorely missing over the past couple of years. It’s been truly an uplifting experience working with them.

March

March was an incredibly positive month. In March, I received clearance to run again once my quad sprain had properly healed. Despite the cold, it has been awesome running pain free. I have to make sure I take two days off between runs, and ice fairly regularly, but I seem to be (knock on wood) officially back on the mend. I am still doing physical therapy twice a week for my back, but it’s getting stronger and stronger!

The biggest event of March was getting Lasik done on my eyes. I have been legally blind since first or second grade, and had always assumed my astigmatism was so severe that my eyes were inoperable. Not so, said LasikPlus in Lincoln Park. Let me start by saying I was extremely nervous morning-of, and had zero sedatives. They did offer me Tylonel PM, which I took, but I was not NEARLY as relaxed as the guy in front of me who was high as a kite on Valium.

The procedure took less than 10 minutes (Kurt timed it) and then I was on my merry way. Though I did not feel any pain, the overall experience is a little alarming. You can feel pressure, there is a lot of noise, and it smells. There are a dozen people in the room, rushing about, muttering to each other, ushering you to different tables with different lasers, taking professional photos of you (??? see above), and it can feel overwhelming. An hour after we left, I wanted to be put out of my misery. My eyes burned so badly, and I couldn’t touch them or do anything to make myself comfortable. I mostly just cried until I eventually slept. Once I woke up though, I could see. I could just see. It’s pretty incredible.

“Make it a habit to tell people thank you. To express your appreciation, sincerely and without the expectation of anything in return. Truly appreciate those around you, and you’ll soon find many others around you. Truly appreciate life, and you’ll find that you have more of it.” – Ralph Marston

So, the first quarter of the year is down, and I am feeling pretty accomplished. Obviously, I don’t always share the day to day on here, but let me just say, my job is still amazing. Spring Break was necessary, but I am feeling very positive about my kids and their growth right now. I love my school, and am just feeling like a strong team member right now at work.

I had a thought this morning: I have known some truly shitty people, and now I do not. And now, after a long reflection, allow me to add: I have known some truly shitty times, and now I do not. Things are just good right now. It frightens me to type that out, because historically, when things go well for me, they get taken away in some kind of large, traumatic fashion. However, living in fear of acknowledging what I have is disrespectful, for I want the world to know how thankful and content I am. So, with a deep exhale and crossed fingers, let me just say: 2018 is my year.

Perfection.

I am a perfectionist. Tried and true. Everything I take on, I do with 100% of my attention, intelligence, energy, integrity, and emotions.

This is my worst quality.

The thing about perfectionists is that we tend to put an exorbitant amount of pressure on ourselves, pressure that does not match what others even expect of us. We push ourselves to our limits, and then, when things do not go perfectly, we break.

I do this in work: I want total control and predictability in my job. I want everything to go smoothly. I want to be the best educator possible, with students who grow and learn and feel emotionally and academically supported at all times. I bend over backwards and work long hours to make sure I do things first, best, and most thoroughly. And then I feel lonely and like I’m not good enough when I’m not recognized for that. Kind of stupid, but it’s how I operate.

I do this socially: To put it simply, I have had issues with friends. I have put all of my faith and trust into people who have ultimately betrayed me and taken advantage of my kindness in ways I cannot forgive. I know my standards, and I know when someone’s behavior does not come close to meeting what I find to be acceptable. I have deeply analyzed my own faults and flaws, and decided a few years ago to make sure I am being as kind, patient, and level-headed as possible with other people. Unfortunately, people do not always take on relationships with the same mentality. I bend over backwards trying to make people like me and respect me who just never will. And then, the Perfectionist inside me beats me up for failing.

I do this to myself: Cue Radiohead.

Image result for radiohead just gif

When I decide on a goal I’d like to meet, I want to do it and do it the best. So this leads to me, say, running seven painful miles on a sprained quad and thinking to myself “shake it off. Don’t be weak.” And that nagging, shitty, perfectionist voice leads me to having to take two frustrating weeks off from all physical activity, my muscles’ aggravated “I told you so” to my brain. This may be a personal example. Maybe.

Being a perfectionist is a curse, really. I constantly let no one down but myself, and only because I will never be able to please myself. The pressures I put upon myself are unfair.

And so, post-injury, post-heartbreak, post-professional-frustration, I sit here and think, very seriously, how do I break the cycle of perfectionism? I don’t want to be like this. I want to be able to fail and feel joy in it.

And I have plenty of failures to choose from. The irony is that I am not perfect. I am far from it, and I know that. I just need to learn to let things go a bit. Not over-analyze the past, not push the current, and not imagine all possible scenarios of the future. I cannot control the world. Why would I even want to? That sounds stressful. As I decided a few years ago, my focus needs to be not on the “perfect” me, but on the me that is kind, open, level-heading, and aware. It will not be perfect, but it will be better. I will be better.

In the beginning…

Can one begin at 31 years of age?

I have spent the past 17 days – New Years and now over two weeks into January – determining that, no. Not exactly. I began when I began. Duh. Game over.

But, I have also determined that one CAN begin again. So, that’s why we are here.

I am 31 years old. I am beautiful, and I am flawed. I am a bundle of good and bad. Most importantly, I am constantly driven to be better than I am. It may be the perfectionist in me, or it may be the diagnosed Social Anxiety and Situational OCD in me, but I am someone who spend loads of my time and mental energy thinking about what more I can do, what more I can be, and what more I should do and be. So, instead of torturing myself with low-self-esteemy thoughts or nitpicking my every move, I am led to…blogging. Blogging. Yes, blogging. This feels a little 2004. And I have lousy luck with blogs. However, a wise friend has pointed out, I will want to remember these times and who I am. The good and the bad.

So, allow me to outline where I am and what positive changes I want to commit to this year.

Physical

I am committed to losing weight in a healthy way, and knowing my body better. I am in no way, shape, or form fat, and this will not be a “poor me” blog consisting of me whining about that. However, as I have aged, my body has changed. My metabolism, what I had so long considered to be my personal “Old Faithful,” has slowed down. And slowly, over the course of two years, I have gained about 20 pounds. I honestly don’t think I look it, but scales tend to be a fail-safe manner of proof. I want to lose that weight not for vain reasons, so much as health. For my frame and body type, I should not weigh what I currently do. I’d like to shed the fat as well so my running can improve. Finally, I want to make sure I am setting myself up for future health. If I do not hit this head-on, before I have a family and other commitments taking up my free time, I worry that it will get away from me.

My method for losing the weight is to slowly track my diet and eat whole, real, healthy foods. Despite considering myself a healthy individual, I do tend toward a lot of processed foods. The added sugar and preservatives just isn’t good. I am going to go for a high protein diet, and am currently researching Keto. I gave up all soda last summer, so I am good there, and have limited my dairy intake over the past three months. (Save for the holidays. Cuz…cheese.) I am already a highly active person, who works out with integrity 5-6 days a week. I alternate between running, yoga, cycling, and strength training. I am excited for my races I am currently dedicated to (yay Kentucky Derby Festival Half! Yay Rock n’ Roll Half!), but also excited to try some new activities. I am interested in rock climbing, and more aerial work, maybe even a trapeze class.

My final physical goal is to continue taking care of my complexion. I have battled acne much of my adult life. In fact, at my theatre school’s senior showcase, the only callback I had booked was for a national Proactiv commercial. I didn’t book it, because I am not Olivia Munn, and also, because my acne, while persistent, isn’t all that bad. It does bug me though, and I have taken a lot of positive steps toward improvement! Through limiting my dairy intake and using good, wholesome products, I am seeing some awesome results already. I want to keep on this path to better my complexion!

My current favorite products I am using on my skin are:

  • Beautycounter Cleansing Balm: an actual miracle product. This balm removes make up, serves as a gentle cleaner, a moisturizer, and a salve for any cuts, abrasions, blemishes, or dry spots. It reduces the appearance of dark spots and any redness, and you will literally see results within a night’s sleep. I could not recommend this stuff enough. I have used it on everything from my face, to cuts, to chapped lips. ($80)
  • Beautycounter Charcoal Cleansing Bar: I use this once a day to remove impurities. It isn’t too drying, and really sucks all the junk out of my pores and blackheads. I had raised, flesh colored bumps on my forehead for YEARS I could not remove, despite exfoliation, masks, and a horrible picking habit. Through using this bar, they are all but gone. ($24)
  • Curology Customized Skincare Superbottle: a close friend turned me onto this company, that essentially is an online dermatologist. All you have to do is create an account, send some INCREDIBLY unflattering pictures of your skin from all angles, and answer some questions from your assigned derm. They mix you up a personalized bottle, and voila! My dermatologist rules, and checks in regularly via email and live chat to see how I am doing. I love this company, and their formula for me is really wonderful! (Pricing varies depending on plan, but starts as low as $19.95/month).

Those are my main three products right now. I stand behind them and recommend thoroughly. A few times a week, I also use Beautycounter’s No. 3 Balancing Facial Mask ($48) and in a hurry to remove make-up at the gym, I use Garnier’s Micellar Cleansing Water ($8.99). I am happy with these products’ results so far, working in conjunction with limited dairy.

As for my make-up, I will bore you with that another day. Onto other commitments for the year!

Mental

I was not in a great place emotionally in December. I felt taken advantage of within my job, held to unfair standards comparatively. I am a proud teacher, but this is a job that is physically, emotionally, and mentally draining enough within the classroom. Add in icky feelings outside of the classroom, and you’re done for.

I worked my ass off to get through grad school and earn my Masters (and was the granny of my program!). I am incredibly passionate about teaching in a low-income, urban area. I have an amazing community at my school, with teachers and administrators who teach with love and logic and put everything into their work for their students every single day. We teach in an area of Chicago that is crime-ridden and full of gang activity. Last year, I had someone open fire while my students were playing on the playground for recess. Sure, they weren’t aiming for us, but who they were aiming for was by us, and so 25 six-year-olds had to run in terror to the nearest door we could find and hope it was unlocked.

Gunfire is a norm. A murder in our parking lot, or the house across the street? Part of the job. Our students are from impoverished homes, many are homeless. They’re hungry, and do not receive proper care. Many are abused physically, emotionally, mentally, sexually. We are a team of fighters, and we fight for our students every day. It does, however, take a toll. Surprise. I am not a robot. I am incredibly empathetic, and I take on the pains and frustrations of those around me far easier than I even recognize or deal with my own. I am a strong person, and I will continue to be strong for my students.

BUT.

When all I did was sleep, come to school for 12+ hours, go home, walk my dog, and sleep…I was not feeding my soul. I am fiercely passionate about my job and my students, but no person is just one thing. It took me a year and a half of teaching to realize, I am not just a teacher. I can be more. I am allowed to work my 9 hour day and then go to concerts, or see my friends, or reintroduce theatre into my life. I am at a point where I have spent too long not feeding my soul, and it is time for me to prioritize myself. I can assure anyone that I will be a better teacher when I am balanced and feeding my sense of self in multiple ways.

As I said, I am 31 years old. I am beautiful, and I am flawed. I am a bundle of good and bad. Most importantly, I am constantly driven to be better than I am. I am not just a teacher. I was not just an actor. I will spend this year being who I am: teacher. Actor. Friend. Girlfriend. Sister. Daughter. Clown. Athlete. Adventurer. Risk-taker. Nerd. Patient. Colleague. Teammate. Me.

Julia Gordon.

Jewel-ee-uh Gourd-on.