Today is my last “first day” of a new term in Graduate school.
Today I walked on to campus, one of the few places that has remained familiar to me throughout the hurricanes of change that life seems to enjoy throwing at me, and reflected on how different I am from the girl who walked on to this campus two years ago. Today I am strong, confident, and comfortable knowing exactly who I am – faults and all.
January of 2017 I sheepishly walked on to campus so quiet and insecure, unsure of myself. I was determined to be the perfect student. I had what I thought was a great support system with my husband nearing the end of his Masters program, I determined to use this program to make our life better. We were going to be an unstoppable force together, another version of the power couple I thought we had always been. I was so wrong.
Just 2 months later in March of 2017 (on my 30th birthday) my husband, and the foundation of my support system, told me he was done. While we had some struggles I was always willing to do whatever it took to work through them. I was unaware then how toxic and co-dependent our relationship was, I subconsciously refused to acknowledge the level of dysfunction we had lived with for most of our relationship. With those blinders on I was SO sure we could make it work, but our almost 10 year marriage seemed to crumble overnight.
I was left with apartment and car leases that were both about to expire, a decade of jointly accumulated possessions to sort through mostly on my own, grad school classes to attend, an assistant job that barely paid enough to make ends meet on my own, and a then 7 year old to parent while trying to hold it together myself. Happy 30th Birthday, right?
I continued to show up… to my classes, to my job, and for my daughter. Some days showing up was all I could do. I was so unprepared for this. For life. At 30 years old I had never found a place to live on my own, never bought my own car, never fully supported myself financially. I was so overwhelmed with the process of buying a car, finding a place to live, and figuring out how to make ends meet all while negotiating a divorce and custody agreement. The feeling of helplessness I had the first year of being alone was incredibly motivating. I became determined to make it on my own. I bought my own car, found my own place, and managed a budget largely on my own. I had help from some amazing people who were already in my life, made some amazing new friends that showed up for me when they didn’t have to, but largely – I was, scratch that… I am – scared to let people in, to let people help me. ….Because if I let them help me I’d get used to it and when they decided to leave…. I’d end up even more wounded. So I built up walls and insisted on doing almost everything for myself. Need a set of blinds replaced? Buy my own power tools and learn how to do it on my own. Need a babysitter? Don’t ask friends or loved ones close buy – hire your own sitter. People have asked how they can help and my answer is always “I’m fine, I’ll figure it out.” I refused to let people in. I was there for everyone but rarely let someone be there for me. Call it pride, ego, bitterness, fear… Whatever you call it – It was lonely.
Brene Brown is my career crush. She is a vulnerability and shame researcher. I have adored (ok… mildly obsessed) over all of her ted talks, books, podcasts. She is ultimate #careergoals. She insists that we were made for love and belonging, but that requires vulnerability. Again, something I preach to my clients and attempt to make it look like I’m living well. But I kept my walls high. Those who were inside my walls before they closed stayed there, but letting new people in… Nope, I couldn’t risk it. I’d maybe let people help here or there but never really let people in. I walked around in heavy, clunky armor determined to protect myself from pain or disappointment. But you can’t selectively numb feelings. I was blocking out the pain – but I was also losing out on the joy of connection, love, and belonging. It wasn’t until recently I was shown how ridiculous my inability to accept help was… it was a literal light bulb moment. I brushed off my boyfriend’s offer to help me change a lightbulb – something that takes a lot of effort for a girl with the nick name “Shortney” – and he got frustrated with my inability to accept even the smallest amount of help. And he called me out on it. He was right (yes, I said it). So, I (reluctantly) let him change my lightbulb.
I lost my job of almost 8 years in October. I’ve been on unemployment since then looking for a job that will allow me to finish grad school, including 20 hours a week of unpaid internship. I’m now 9 weeks away and filling up my free time with interviews for jobs that pay (like actual money, not just “experience”) but I’ve been cutting it close in a lot of ways – specifically financially. Along with losing my job I also racked up an outrageous amount of legal fees trying to fight for what I believe was best for my daughter, only to be disappointed by the system. I’ve hid the depth of the struggle even from those close to me for a long time, but the weight got too heavy to carry myself. Because we were made for community and connection. It truly does take a village – and I was doing myself and others a huge disservice by keeping my village locked outside my walls.
I made a status on facebook in passing today about yet another outrageous expense that popped up – a $335 licensure test that I have to apply for by Wednesday – and how crazy it was that they expected a last term grad student to just come up with that kind of money. It was just minutes after that I had people telling me how much they believed in me and how they would help where they could. One of my friends sent me some money through facebook messenger payments and said “you’ve got friends out there. they will step up” and I honestly cried. Others asked for my Cash App name or popped up on my venmo saying they believed in me and wanted to invest in making my dreams a reality. I have been overwhelmed with the magic that happens when you choose vulnerability over fear and shame… true love, connection, and community show up. And many of you showed up for me today. I know how much everyone struggles and to see them choose to invest in me is so incredibly humbling and inspiring.
it truly does take a village, and today I’m reminded that I have a wonderful village full of amazing people.