New Year, Better Me

New Year, Better Me

I unintentionally took a few weeks off of writing because the holidays and wedding planning and life, in general, demanded more time than I could really give it. Something had to give, and unfortunately, it was this blog. But I am back and determined to continue writing and sharing experiences with whoever will listen.

As the first post of the year, I would like to explain what it means to me to live unapologetically. When I started this blog just a few months ago, my goal was to create a platform to express myself fully and without judgment. While there will always be negative people judging your every move, my goal is to stop concerning myself with their opinions. This blog is a personal journey that I want to share with the world in hopes of encouraging others to embrace and love who they really are.

The word “unapologetically” has been my favorite word for some time now. I have no idea where I first heard it or in what context, but I know it struck a chord with me and has been echoing in my mind ever since. By definition, “unapologetically” means to not acknowledge or express regret. Many confuse unapologetic behavior and mindset as someone who doesn’t take responsibility for their actions. This is absolutely not what I stand for. To me, being unapologetic means that you are wholly yourself without apologies or excuses. You love what you love, and you are not afraid to express that. You don’t change who you are to fit some unrealistic mold of who society thinks you should be. You are your own mold. You live your life for yourself and make the best decisions for your life based on your own knowledge and intuition, rather than the opinions of others.

Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, it’s not.

It has taken me years to be comfortable in my own skin, and I still have some work to do. I’ve always been a bit of a “fangirl.” Meaning, the stuff I like, I really like and get downright giddy about it. My biggest vice: anything and everything Disney. I have loved Disney movies since I was a child. My late grandmother used to always laugh about when I was about three years old I asked her to play The Lion King over, and over, and over all day long. When I was six years old, I went to Walt Disney World for the first time and thus began a love affair with Disney Parks. The rest is a magical history of yearly vacations to the happiest place on earth, and a lifetime of Disney trips with my soon-to-be husband.

But, it wasn’t always magical. When you’re in elementary school everyone loves Disney. When your peers find out your family vacations there often they are in awe and jealous of your privilege. It’s totally normal and acceptable to love Disney when you’re in elementary school, but something odd happens when you enter middle school. Suddenly, my peers weren’t eager to discuss the latest Disney/Pixar movie or appreciate my Mickey Mouse shirts. Everyone was “too cool” for the things they used to enjoy just the previous year. It was around this time that I began to struggle a lot with the way others perceived me. I loved Disney and that wasn’t going to change, but I no longer discussed it as freely as I once did.

This continued into high school. Only my close friends really knew about my “Disney side.” Too many people had patronized me or flat out made fun of me for loving Disney, and it became something I found myself apologizing about constantly. I even stopped telling people where I was going when I went to Disney. It was just a “family vacation.” I was constantly making excuses for why my family enjoyed vacationing there so often and explaining that no, we don’t get tired of it. Trust me, I’ve heard it all: “Don’t you ever want to vacation somewhere else?”, “Do your parents work for Disney or something?”, and my personal favorite “Isn’t that for kids?”

We did vacation other places, we just loved our yearly Disney trips. It was our family’s tradition.

No, my parents didn’t work for Disney. They were just really good at getting insane deals on hotels and park tickets.

And if you truly think Disney Parks are just for kids, you probably haven’t been there yourself.

These are just a few of the rebuttals I would use against people who questioned this thing that I liked. Most people would just politely smile and move on, which was and is extremely patronizing. Some would question more and insist we must be crazy or immature. Both reactions over time caused me to not share as much of my love for Disney with strangers.

It caused me to not share a vital part of who I am with others.

As I got older, I began to care less. Disney was something that made me happy. It was positive and didn’t hurt anyone, so why did it matter so much what others thought? In the past few years, I have begun actively embracing who I am, including my Disney side. I started to realize that the people I was trying to impress wasn’t actually the type of person I wanted to be. You shouldn’t have to change or suppress a single aspect of who you are for someone else to like you.

Going into 2019, I encourage everyone to wholly embrace themselves for who they really are. As many of you know, the end of last year was not easy for me personally. And I know last year was difficult for many people. As cliche as it sounds, a new year is a new opportunity. So why not use this new start as a chance to start loving yourself more?

I am determined to make the most of whatever 2019 has to offer me.

An Adoption Story: Tito the Mexican

An Adoption Story: Tito the Mexican

2018 continues to challenge us in some of the most difficult ways. I had this post planned well before Tito’s unfortunate and unexpected passing on December 15th. Along with our cat Tater Tot, Tito’s adoption story is unique and one I feel should be told. Given recent circumstances, I feel like this post is more relevant now than ever before.

Tito was extremely shy at first. This was the most we could get him to do for the longest time!

Early 2017, I was itching for a new pet. We already had our cat, Teddy, but I was desperately wanting something smaller. I had become obsessed with hedgehogs and began researching them nonstop to determine if this type of animal would be a good addition to our family.

For anyone who is not familiar, hedgehogs are small spiny mammals in the Erinaceidae family. They have spikes all over their backs that are used as defense out in the wild. Unlike porcupines (which everyone confuses them with), hedgehogs cannot shoot out their spikes and they don’t come out and stick into predators that challenge them.

Another huge misconception, hedgehogs are NOT rodents! Rodents (like rabbits and mice) have teeth that continuously grow. They chew on hard surfaces to shave down their teeth. Hedgehogs are like humans, the teeth they get are the only set they’ll ever have. And ask my fiancé, their teeth are sharp!

Tito fresh out of the bath looking extra cute!

I learned a lot about hedgehogs before I decided to take the leap and get one. My fiancé and I talked about it for a while. He was originally opposed to the idea. He loved Teddy but wasn’t crazy about adding another responsibility to our life. After much discussing and convincing, on Valentine’s Day my fiancé gave me a card and inside it said: “Okay, let’s get a hedgehog.”

I was elated! I immediately began searching the internet for places I could get a hedgehog. There are several breeders in my area, but a lot of them had a waiting list. I then took it to Craigslist. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. Craigslist isn’t the best place to find a pet. Before you start, I already had a terrible experience with Craigslist pets’ pages before and will tell you all about that another day. Despite having bad experiences in the past, I can’t help but feel bad for the pets listed on Craigslist. Those animals need saving too!

After many weeks of scouring the internet for hedgehogs, I finally found an ad on Craigslist for 2 1/2-year-old hedgehog two hours away. I decided to take a chance on Craigslist and arrange to meet this person. My fiancé and I got in the car one day after work and drove two hours one way to where Tito was living.

To say that we were in the middle of nowhere is an understatement.

Fun fact: This little chair was made specifically for hedgehogs. I got it on Amazon!

We finally pulled up to the house and noticed several dogs running around kids playing in the front yard. I won’t lie to you, it was definitely sketchy. As we walked up to the door, we saw they had two horses in the worlds smallest pen in their backyard. It was sad.

We walked into their porch and Tito was in a small cage on the ground next to a cage full of baby ducks. He had a small plastic house, food bowl, and water feeder. My fiancé said before we walked into the house that if the hedgehog bit him more than five times, we shouldn’t get him. I have no idea why he decided on that particular stipulation, but that was it.

Tito’s original owner led me to his cage and let me hold him. He was very skittish. He balled himself up and did not want to come out. Eventually, he stuck his little nose out and started smelling my hands. Hedgehogs naturally have horrible vision and rely heavily on their sense of smell and taste. He licked and smelled my hands for a bit and then I passed him over to my fiancé. Almost immediately, he bit my fiancé. And then he bit him again, three more times. I took Tito back from my fiancé because I knew we needed to take him home with us. This environment wasn’t a good place to determine Tito’s personality. He was scared and there were several people around and animals. There was just too much going on for him to be comfortable.

We agreed to take Tito and loaded him up in our car. On our way out, Tito’s original owner asked us if we wanted their boa constrictor as well. We politely declined. We love animals, but I draw the line at snakes and spiders.

We began our two-hour ride back home with our new pet tucked away in the backseat. It took Tito a few days to warm up to us. If I’m being honest, I was a little disappointed at first. He was extremely cautious of us and hated being held. He would roll up into a ball and make a hissing noise any time anyone came near him. I worried for a while that he would never warm up to us.

Over the next few months, we worked very hard to socialize Tito more. We got him a ball, so he could run around our house without getting stuck under anything. He loved roaming around our home. I now understand why Sonic the Hedgehog was so fast because real hedgehogs are surprisingly fast for how small they are! We also got him a bigger multi-level cage. The cage he had was small and rusty. His new cage was twice the size, big enough to hold his new running wheel we got him. And he loved running on his wheel. Every single night once the sun went down (hedgehogs are nocturnal), we would hear him start his nightly workout on the wheel. The clicking noise of his wheel could be heard all over our small little home. It was comforting to hear him being active.

Our sweet little family! This was shortly after we got Tito and he began to be more social.

Soon, Tito became the sweetest little pet I could have asked for. I strongly believe Tito just needed someone to love him and spend time with him to come out of his shell. He even got along well with our cat Teddy. In fact, Teddy adored little Tito! I used to joke that Teddy thought Tito was his pet. He would sit outside his cage and just watch him eating or running. And Tito never minded. Of all the things he feared when we first got him, he was never scared of Teddy. He would run right for him, leaving Teddy unaware of what to do. He knew he couldn’t “boop” him, he learned that very fast. So, he would just jump out of his way and then lay back down next to him.

The few weeks before Tito passed, I was bragging on him so much. He was acting so much more social than ever before. One night after work, I took him out of his cage and he just sat on my shoulder while I did a few things around the house. Not once did he roll into a ball. He let me pet him and rub his tummy. He licked my fingers and my face and was just so sweet.

Maybe he knew his time was limited and wanted to leave us with another great memory of him. Whatever the reason, I’m forever thankful that we had a few years with Tito. Believe it or not, he taught me a lot. His standoffish personality in the beginning (coupled with the obvious obstacle of his sharp spikes) caused me to question if I had made the right decision. However, I wouldn’t let myself give up on him. And I’m so glad I didn’t. His personality did a complete transformation while he lived with us and I could tell he was a much happier creature.

We’ve decided to not get another caged animal for the time being. Tito’s cage and wheel are still in great condition and I’ll be donating them to a small animal rescue along with his uneaten mealworms and dried fruit. I already miss him more than I really thought I would have. But I take comfort knowing that he’s with my grandma in heaven somewhere.

Like my mom said, “Grandma needed a pet, and Tito needed to rest.”

An Adoption Story: Tater Tot

I’m an animal person through and through. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for furry friends. I was constantly bringing home cats and dogs and begging my parents to let me keep them. No matter how many times my parents told me to stop bringing home strays, I just couldn’t say no to a creature in need.

As an adult, not much has changed. Instead of my parents telling me to stop bringing home strays, my fiance rolls his eyes and looks the other way until I can rehome my latest rescue. However, I do get to keep a few for myself. We have two cats and a hedgehog. They all have interesting adoption stories, but our newest addition is my favorite.

My fiance and I had been casually talking about getting another pet. He really wanted to adopt a dog, but I knew I wanted another cat. We live in a condo and we both agreed that we would rather have a dog when we have a house with a yard. But, if we fell in love with a dog during our search for a new family member we wouldn’t rule anything out.

I knew I wanted another cat. Our cat, Teddy, loved playing with my moms cat and other cats we had temporarily homed since we had him. My fiance wasn’t sold on the idea of another cat but agreed to keep all options open.

We spent most of the Saturday before Easter at various shelters and adoption fairs in town seeing if we connected with any animals. I knew that whatever pet we got next, I wanted to consider older or disabled options first. These animals don’t get adopted as easily and often spend much of their lives in shelters waiting for someone to give them a chance. I was in a place where I knew I could care for a pet with more specific needs and I was willing to take on that responsibility.

However, our newest addition needed to fit in with our existing pets, specifically Teddy. He tends to dislike animals significantly larger than himself, so we’d have to consider that in our decision. Most of the older and/or disabled animals needed to be the only pet or couldn’t be in a home with another cat. We met so many animals, but no one really stood out to us.

We saw a group of people crowded around a small cage. We walked over to see what all the fuss was about. Inside the cage was a small Australian Shepard puppy. She had beautiful blue eyes and brown freckles all over her coat. She would lick anyone’s fingers that came up to the cage and looked like she could bust out any minute to play. She was up for adoption and was getting a lot of attention for obvious reasons.

My fiance and I stopped at the cage to admire the puppy. He instantly fell in love. We sat and played with the puppy for a few minutes and discussed adoption. We decided to take the plunge and apply to adopt the puppy. When I asked the foster parent about the puppy, she said we were welcome to apply but eight people had already applied and applications would be reviewed first come first serve. My heart sank a little but we applied anyways, just in case.

My fiance and I decided to continue looking the next day. After Easter brunch, we stopped by our local Petsmart. We walked over to where the cats were for adoption and started playing with them.

Tater Tot’s bio was featured in a local pet adoption magazine!

In the bottom cage closest to the wall was a small white and black kitten. I stooped down to get a better look and realized he had just one eye. The kitten realized someone was trying to get his attention and he attempted to get down off of the platform he was laying on. It was then I realized he had a problem with his front right leg as well. He hobbled over to me and started aggressively rubbing himself against the cage where my fingers were. This kitten just wanted to be petted! There was a larger cat in the cage that we determined was his mother. She laid there watching while her baby played with the new strangers.

At this point, I knew I wanted this kitten. He was so sweet and playful and I just felt like he would make a perfect addition to our little family. The adoption team wouldn’t be there for another hour, so we decided to run a few errands and come back.

When we came back we went straight to the cat room. There was a little girl, maybe twelve, in the room playing with cats in another cage. I had been messaging the adoption team to make sure that they would be coming today with it being a holiday. They said they would be so we decided to wait. I sat on the floor and continued to play with the little black and white kitten.

The girl’s mom came into the room and I could hear them having a heated discussion. “Why did you move? You should have just sat there next to the kitten until the people came.” The little girl was panicking and just kept saying, “I don’t know. I’m sorry!”

I tuned into this conversation because I knew what they were talking about. The mom asked me, “Are you trying to adopt that kitten? The one with just one eye?” I said yes. She explained to me that they had been waiting since eleven o’clock this morning to adopt the kitten. They had a cart full of new kitten supplies.

My heart really sank this time.

I got up off the floor and told the family that I didn’t mind if they adopted the kitten. I already had a cat, and I wasn’t going to ruin this little girls day. The mother and little girl thanked me several times, and I tried to get out of there as fast as possible.

I knew I had done the right thing, but I was so disappointed.

I was crying before I even reached our car. I’m an emotional person, and sometimes I just need to let it out so I can feel better. My fiance tried to comfort me by telling me I had done the right thing and that little girl was going to be so happy with her new kitten. I knew that, of course. But I needed some time to just be sad about it. I had my heart set on that kitten so quickly, I couldn’t believe this had happened. I knew everything would be okay.

I messaged the adoption team to let them know that if for some reason that family couldn’t adopt the kitten that I was very interested. Two hours later I got a reply. They wanted to know if I had any other pets. I told them I had a cat and a hedgehog. They told me that the family was unable to adopt the kitten because they had a young dog. This kitten needed to be in a home with another cat, at least until he was older and could fend for himself.

We jumped in the car and raced back to Petsmart. As we were walking up to the cat adoptions I noticed that family was still there. I was immediately anxious. How would this family react? They were so set on this kitten and now they can’t have him. I did NOT want to make a little girl cry over a kitten on Easter.

“OH MY GOSH, YAY!” The mother flung herself on me. She was practically in tears. “When they told us we couldn’t adopt him I immediately thought of you and felt so bad! I can’t believe you came back! I’m so happy!”

I explained to her that I had been messaging the adoption team all morning about him and when they told me her family wasn’t eligible for adoption, I rushed back over. Turns out, one of the adoption volunteers that came to work that shift brought in a few kittens she was fostering. The little girl ended up adopting one of those kittens and I ended up with the small black and white kitten.

We brought him home and decided to name him Tater Tot. And boy, am I glad we ended up with him! Tater Tot is exactly what our little family needed. It only took Tater and Teddy a few days to warm up to each other and now they are practically inseparable. Tater is the most affectionate cat I have ever met. It’s almost like he’s thanking us every day for adopting him with his still aggressive rubs and headbutts.

My pets truly are my family and I enjoy sharing these little stories about them. But that’s probably obvious at this point. I mean, my cats have an Instagram. Please share with me your fur babies adoption stories or any other fun story you might have!

Anxiety Doesn’t Discriminate

I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. Though, I’ve only recognized and taken a proactive approach to deal with it within the past five years.

I used to think I was just shy or even “the weird kid.” I would watch my peers playing, communicating, and making friends and wondered why it wasn’t as easy for me as it appeared to be for them. Why did I have such a hard time doing normal things?

The thing was, I didn’t consider myself a shy person. In fact, I considered (and still do) myself an extrovert and close friends and family would agree. I loved being out and about; seeing and experiencing new things. I’ve always had a curious mind, appreciate healthy discussions, and learning new things. I had a lot of questions and thoughts, but I had a hard time voicing them.

My mom always tells the story of when I was about five years old and had an absolute meltdown because I colored outside the lines. Mom tried calming me down by saying, “It’s okay, Morgan. Nobody’s perfect.” I became more hysterical and responded, “but I am perfect! Grandma and Grandpa said so!”

I believe this could have been my first anxiety attack.

A few years later, I quietly locked myself in a hotel bathroom because I suddenly became overwhelmed with the uncertainty of death. My parents were watching the news or some crime show that was discussing someone who had died. I began wondering what happened to us after we died. Was it just eternal darkness? Were we aware that we were dead? Did our minds still work, but our bodies no longer did? The idea of a body being six feet underground enclosed in a casket filled me with palpable dread.

The thing was, I strongly believed in heaven. My family went to church, I believed in God. I knew death wasn’t something to be afraid of. I knew it was a natural part of life that happens to everyone at some point. But I couldn’t rationalize this with myself. I didn’t know then, but that is exactly what anxiety does. It blocks out your rational thoughts and leaves you worrying about ridiculous things beyond your control.

My mom eventually came into the bathroom to console me. I couldn’t have been much more than 10 years old. I was on vacation with my family. I was a child. I shouldn’t have anything to worry about, right?

Within the next few years, I would continue to have bouts of anxiety that I attributed to puberty. And maybe that did have a huge effect on the preexisting anxiety I felt on average. I grew up Catholic and in high school, I was confirmed. Confirmation is the process of committing yourself to your faith and declaring yourself an adult in the eyes of the church. Before confirmation, your faith is the responsibility of your parents. After confirmation, your faith is your own responsibility.

The entire process of my confirmation was a highly stressful situation. There were all kinds of classes I was required to take, papers to write, and an entire ceremony to participate in at the end. It was a huge deal for my family. There was a lot of commotion the evening before my confirmation. I was with my entire family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc) and they were all obsessing over the details of my confirmation. Was I prepared? What was I going to wear? How was I getting there? Did I know what I had to say? How many other people were going to be confirmed at the same time? The questions just wouldn’t stop.

Eventually, anxiety took over and I had a breakdown. I remember excusing myself and going to my room to sit on the floor and sob. I was overwhelmed. I was nervous. I felt extremely pressured.

Around that time I started recognizing my anxiety for what it was. After I graduated high school, I sought professional help. My anxiety had turned physical. Aside from the typical increased heart rate and inability to focus, I was getting terrible stomach aches. I would go weeks without eating full meals. I would panic at the thought of being by myself, but when I had company all I wanted was to be alone. I found it impossible to sit still, but anxiety is exhausting, so all I wanted to do was to lay down.

I began paying closer attention to the things that were triggering my anxiety. I hated feeling this way and wanted to do something about it. I quickly realized that like a lot of people, new social situations caused me a lot of anxiety. This made college extremely difficult. Just as I had begun to feel comfortable in a class, the semester was over and I was meeting an entirely new group of people in a new class. This also caused me to be terrible at making new friends. (Sorry to anyone who genuinely tried being my friend and I blew off. Anxiety makes you look like an asshole sometimes.)

Conflict of any kind also wreaks havoc on my nerves. It doesn’t even have to be a conflict that I am involved in. If I am anywhere where conflict arises, even between two strangers, it immediately triggers my “flight” reaction. Seriously, I’ll do anything to get out of there.

Anxiety doesn’t discriminate.

Anxiety doesn’t care that you’re a child that can’t understand why they are feeling this way. Anxiety doesn’t care that you have things to do. Anxiety doesn’t care that today is an important day. Anxiety doesn’t care that you have responsibilities or a job. It doesn’t care how you really feel.

Anxiety might be something that I deal with every day, but it in no way defines me. It’s not something I am ashamed of or refuse to talk about. It’s not a crutch or something that I allow to hold me back anymore. It is simply something that I am learning to deal with. I encourage anyone with anxiety to really get to know yourself. Pay attention to the things that might cause you anxiety and learn how to manage these situations.

Recently, I tried going out with my fiance and friends after my grandmother’s wake. I thought It would be nice to have a few drinks and blow off some steam after an incredibly emotional few days. We walked into the bar and it hit me like a brick wall. My heart started racing and I began scanning the room. For some reason, I felt like everyone was staring at us. We were still in our funeral clothes, so we stuck out a bit from the rest of the crowd. I began to get very self-conscious of this and was on the verge of a full-blown attack. I rushed out of the bar, and my fiance and best friend followed behind. I was able to explain to them that I just couldn’t be there, I needed to go home.

Anxiety is always something that will affect me. As good as I have gotten at recognizing when and why I am feeling anxious, I still have moments where it creeps up on me.

However, it is possible to still live the life you want. You don’t have to limit yourself or miss out on life because of anxiety. If necessary, seek professional help. The stigma around mental health is changing. Ultimately, you owe it to yourself to live the best life possible regardless of your limitations.

My Very Real College Experience

My Very Real College Experience

Going to high school with a bunch of wealthy, smart kids meant that my senior year was spent learning about the fabulous universities my classmates would be attending the following year. I was born and raised in a college town, so I always just assumed I would stay home and attend the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. It is a beautiful and highly accredited university that thousands of students from all around the country apply to attend. I could continue living with my parents while getting a great education right down the street. It seemed like a perfect idea, right?

However, there were a few hiccups in this plan that five-year-old me had never considered. I didn’t quite have the grades for UNCW. It’s not that I made bad grades. I was smart, but not highly motivated. High school didn’t interest me. The only classes I was interested in were my art classes, and I knew I wasn’t talented enough to pursue a career in art.

I got my first job at the beginning of junior year and quickly realized I enjoyed working! It felt good to get a paycheck every other week of money I had earned by myself. Maybe I permanently smelled of fryer grease and minimum wage, but I had my own money! The biggest issue was that I literally had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I loved animals, but I wasn’t dedicated enough to spend that much time in school to become a veterinarian. At one point, I thought I would make a good elementary school teacher. My senior project included me working with a group of elementary school students, teaching them about art therapy. I really enjoyed teaching those youngsters. But, I live in North Carolina, where teachers are paid some of the lowest wages in the entire country. Most of my own teachers at the time had second jobs just to make ends meet. I knew I wasn’t cut out for that lifestyle.

Logic led me to the medical field. Everyone kept telling me as long as there were humans, there would be a need for health care. It was a good industry to get into because it wasn’t going anywhere and could provide a comfortable living. UNCW had a great nursing program, but there again, I didn’t have the grades. So, I did what a lot of my peers were doing and applied to East Carolina University. Their admissions process wasn’t as selective as other universities and they were just as good of a school.

I applied to ECU and a few weeks later received my acceptance letter. I was ecstatic! My parents were so proud of me, we toasted with champagne that night. That feeling lasted for a few months, until reality quickly set in. I had no idea how I was going to pay for this. I didn’t qualify for any significant scholarships and the idea of student loans terrified me. My parents had a small college fund for me, but It would barely cover my first year at ECU. I began to experience frequent anxiety attacks concerning my future.

Like I said before, I went to school with a lot of smart students. Every other day someone was earning a scholarship or admissions into ivy league schools. It was extremely intimidating. Not to mention the many adults in my life telling me if I didn’t get a four year degree I’d never be successful. No pressure!

It’s not hard to see why things got so difficult during this time. After many long talks with my extremely supportive parents, I decided I needed some time to figure out what I wanted to do. I declined my acceptance to ECU and applied to my local community college. My plan was to enroll in the two year college transfer program and then decide if I wanted to go on to ECU or stay local at UNCW. I almost made it through my first year.

Toward the end of my second semester, I was struggling with severe anxiety. I skipped a lot of classes because I was too anxious to leave my house. The days I did make it to school, I spent about thirty minutes in my car convincing myself to get out and walk to class. Eventually, I just stopped going. I took a year off to get a hold of myself. During that time, I quit my restaurant job and began working in my family’s business. I liked having a set schedule and realized I was pretty good at my job there. I also got help for my anxiety. I began seeing my doctor regularly and got on medication that helped “level me out,” if you will.

At the end of that year, I enrolled in online classes back at my community college. I was ready to begin working toward my degree, but I wasn’t ready to be back in the classroom just yet. I began my schools Business Administration program. I took all the classes I could online, but toward the end of my program some courses were only available on campus. This was a moment I had been dreading; the return to the classroom. But, I had changed a lot since the last time I had been in a classroom. I purchased a home and a new car at just 21 years old. I was proud of myself! I finally felt like I had accomplished something that had nothing to do with school! And you know what? I found when I returned to campus, I enjoyed my classes. The students in the Business Administration program were almost all at least a few years older than me, but they were very serious about their education. They valued healthy classroom debates and genuinely wanted to do well. These students had more at risk than my high school or college transfer classmates. Most of them had their own homes and full time jobs on top of school, sometimes two! They had families, and children, and responsibilities beyond school. Despite all this, they still showed up every week and visibly tried their hardest.

It was inspiring.

They weren’t getting their degree because anyone was telling them. They weren’t pressured by society because they graduated high school with a class of five hundred students who almost all were moving on to large universities. They made the decision to be there because they wanted to better themselves, and they took it seriously. I thrived among these peers. I was actually paying attention in school and learning and enjoying it. I even made friends with some of my classmates, something I never had the courage or desire to do when I first began college. I found things in common with people who were so different than myself. I had conversations with people I might otherwise never had spoken to. And I felt so welcomed. I felt like everyone was welcomed. It was like we were all there to achieve the same goal and we genuinely wanted everyone to succeed.

In May of 2018, I graduated with two Associate degrees from Cape Fear Community College. I was, and still am, so proud of myself. My fiance and I have a wall at the end of our hallway where we hang up all our degrees and certifications. It’s a simple reminder every morning as we leave for work that we can accomplish anything if we put our minds to it.

There was a time where I considered giving up entirely on school. I honestly never saw myself walking across that stage. But, I’m so glad I did. I’m glad I went back to school and earned my degrees. And, my educational career isn’t over! I plan on getting my Bachelors degree at some point in the future. One of the most important things I learned in college, is that there is no wrong time to get your degree. I had many classes with a disabled military veteran who was in his late fifties, and he was going to school for the same reason I was. He wanted to better himself. Your life is not a checklist of things you need to accomplish at any certain point. Whether it takes you two years, four years, or twenty years, at the end of the day you should just be proud you went to school and got your degree. You should always be proud of yourself, no matter how long it takes for you to achieve your goals.

In Loving Memory of Ruth Daniels

In Loving Memory of Ruth Daniels

When I started this blog, I challenged myself to be the most honest version of myself. I challenged myself to live unapologetically. To stop worrying so much about what other people think and be the real me. To stop apologizing for my feelings because they’re too intense for some, or not intense enough for others. To embrace the things that excite me and understand the things that unnerve me. For that reason, I feel that one of my first posts should be very personal and honest. In order to truly live by this principle, I feel I should share a recent experience that has inspired this journey.

I had all four of my grandparents until I was twenty-three years old. I lived within a few miles from both for almost all my life. I spent a lot of time with both sets of grandparents. We went out to eat together, I stayed at their homes, we went on trips together. I am very thankful for those times.

When I got older, I realized that as fortunate as I was, someday it was all going to end. Someday I wouldn’t have both sets of grandparents. Just as I was, they were only getting older. I hated that I sometimes thought about what would happen when that day came. I had never lost anyone of real significance in my life, so I had nothing to base these feelings on. There was no residual memory of this feeling to convince me to block it out. I had never experienced something like this, and my subconscious was secretly dreading it.

My maternal grandparents moved to our city when I was about eight years old. Before that, they lived an hour and a half away in the small town my mother had grown up in. I’d go visit them for a week or so at a time during school breaks. After they moved closer, I spent a lot more time with them. I went to their house every single day after school and continued to spend most of my breaks at their house. I won’t lie to you, I got very bored at their house. My grandparents didn’t go out much, so most of our time was spent at their house. We watched a lot of television during that time. However, I also learned a lot of valuable life skills that I still use today. My grandmother taught me how to sew. She gave me scraps of old clothes or sheets and let me poke and weave threads through the fibers until I figured it out. My grandfather taught me how to bake. He was a chef in the military during Vietnam, and still enjoys cooking to this day. I would bake brownies, cakes, cookies, whatever I wanted as long as he knew how to make it (and he usually did.)

When I got older, I didn’t see my grandparents as much. Soon, my parents trusted me to stay home alone after school and before I knew it, I had my license and a job. I didn’t go to their house every day anymore, and to be honest, I didn’t make much of an effort to see them. Don’t get me wrong, I still saw them often. We were together every single holiday and throughout the year for dinner at my parent’s house. I work in my family’s business, and they would stop by my office every so often just to visit.

My grandmother turned seventy-five in June of this year. A few months before her birthday, she sat me and my mom down and told us she wanted to have a big party for her birthday. We laughed and agreed to do what we could to make sure she had the birthday party she wanted. In the months leading up to her party, she called both of us regularly to remind us about it and tell us her ideas. She was so excited about her party! I found it endearing, albeit unusual for her. My grandmother

didn’t get very many moments that were specifically ‘hers’. She was always very quiet and humble. She didn’t want anyone to make a fuss over her. Which is why her excitement about her birthday party was so entertaining. She was determined to have a big party where all of her family was there, and they were celebrating her.

A few weeks later, my grandmother had a heart attack in the middle of the night. She was rushed to the hospital where she stayed recovering for almost a month. She was very sick, more so than anyone really imagined. She was always very proactive with her health. She went to the doctor regularly, tried to eat healthy and stay active. She still got around very well for her age. But the heart attack really set her back. I went and visited her a few days a week in the hospital. Some days were good, some days were bad. The entire experience was a nightmare, to be perfectly honest. At some point during this time, I realized that she might not be coming home. And she realized it too. One day when I visited her, she held my hand and told me how proud of me she was, and that she had always been proud of me. She told me that she loved me, and she looked forward to what life had in store for me. It felt like she was saying goodbye, and I wasn’t ready. Fortunately, that was not the last time I saw her. I still had several good days with her, talking and spending time together.

The last time I saw my grandmother I was with my mother. Three generations of women sitting together in one room. It is one of my favorite memories. We talked about our cats (I like to think we are three generations of crazy cat ladies) and laughed about something silly my grandfather did. My grandmother told me how much better she was feeling, and that she was making her own goals to move around more to get better faster. I had so much hope. For the first time in the longest month of my life, I felt like I had my grandmother back.

My grandmother passed away two days later.

Suddenly, I was living in the moment I had been dreading for so long. After twenty-three years of having both sets of grandparents just a stone’s throw away, I have now lost one. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I still don’t. It’s been almost three months since she passed away, and I now have an entire new list of bittersweet moments I am silently dreading. I am dreading the holidays this year, knowing that an important person in the background of all those memories will be missing. I am dreading the idea of my grandmother not being at my wedding in March. I am dreading the idea that she won’t get to be a great-grandmother to my future children. But the hardest part about all of this, is knowing that no matter what I do, I will never be able to see her again. This is a feeling I have never felt before, and I’m not sure what to do with it. For the first time in my life, I have no control over a situation. Nothing I can do will bring her back. This is the first time I have ever really, truly felt helpless.

Before you start, I already know she’s still with me in spirit. I feel her every single day. It’s not the same, but it’s comforting. And, it doesn’t quite make these feelings go away. Grief is a long process, and one I am still learning about. Every day is spent learning how to adapt to this new normal I am living in. There is one thing that truly comforts me, though. I believe my grandmother would have been very interested in my writing. She was always extremely supportive of all things creative. She still has my crayon scribbles hung around her house and hideous pottery I made in high school on display. She was happy with everything her grandchildren did. My grandmother bragged about her grandchildren to anyone who would listen to her. Any time I visited her church, her friends already knew who I was and whatever latest achievement I had made. They knew all about my cousin and my younger brother. She was extremely proud of us and loved us so much she wanted everyone to know. And as I sit here, crying in one of her old sweatshirts, I can’t help but smile. These are the moments I will reflect on when I miss her the most. It’s the knowledge that one day I will only reflect on her with happy, loving memories.

This is a moment I do not dread, but look forward to.