Letting go of the label

I don’t have anything profound to say about the past year. I’m not even going to pretend like I do, because it was a mess. It was a special kind of mess. It was one of those years that forces you to change. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I hate change more than anything. I didn’t have much of a choice. I faked it till I made it and after a while I didn’t have to fake it anymore.

My close friend recently shared a quote with me when I was feeling a little lost about what direction to go this year. It’s a well-known line attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald but actually belongs to the screenwriter of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that you’ve probably heard before. It goes like this:

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

This past year made me stronger and more independent, but it also made me hurt and made me doubt myself. Relationships ended and mistakes were made. In the past week, I’ve made decisions to remove toxic people and habits from my life, danced around in my underwear to Taylor Swift’s reputation, noticed my tummy rolls while I was bent in humble warrior during daily yoga practice and I smiled and said ‘F*** it I LOVE you soft belly!’ This year, I am going to start all over again. 

My mom says that if you don’t see yourself as a good and worthy human then how can anyone else see you as such? I think that’s true. Proverb 31:10-31 is my favorite one and asks the question ‘Who can find a woman of worth?’ I can’t say that I have magically found my direction. I would like to find a job or fall in love, and I am ready to believe that I am a woman of worth, one that is worthy of good things.

A lot of that comes from my time at the Carriage House. The Clubhouse organization has surprised me and impressed me, and it is one that I want to advocate for until the day I die (dramatic, I know). It inspired a project that makes me especially excited for the year ahead.

I am working with a dear friend on the ‘I Am’ campaign, a project aimed at adapting people-first language for those living with mental illness. The purpose is to put ‘people first, illness second.’ While I was at the Carriage House, I knew that all the members had a diagnosed mental illness but I didn’t actually know what each individual member had. I never identified people as ‘Ah, Don with the schizophrenia’ or ‘bipolar Katie.’ It was ‘Don, who loves government and politics’ or ‘Katie who has the winning smile.’ For a place dedicated towards mental illness recovery and community, we rarely talked about mental illness.

Before I learned about the Clubhouse model, I needed my label. My diagnosis was an integral part of who I was, perhaps the most important part. Somewhere in a doctor’s office was a file that said ‘Susan Zhu: generalized anxiety disorder and moderate to major depressive.’ When I couldn’t get out of bed for a few days, it was because I was depressed. When I felt like I couldn’t breathe, it was because I had anxiety. It was easier to live my life under the guise of my label. I thought I was nothing without it. I dedicated my life to mental health awareness because I wanted to make sure people knew that mental illness was common and it could affect anyone.

I defined myself by my diagnosis. I thought that was the correct thing to do. But after meeting with members who grew their self-confidence and self-esteem and self-efficacy, my foundation began to crumble. Was I contributing to the prejudice and ‘othering’ of those with mental illness by emphasizing my own illness? I was smart, kind and thoughtful in spite of my illness. Could I be smart, kind, thoughtful and anxious or depressed? It was as if all of my good traits existed in the background of my illness instead of my illness existing in the background.

The point of the ‘I am’ campaign is to change the rhetoric from ‘I am mentally ill’ to ‘I have a mental illness.’ No longer should a diagnosis or label be the defining factor of a person. I no longer want to live in the shadow of my label, and I don’t think anyone else should either. 

I am hoping that the campaign will also adjust the stigma towards mental illness. People with mental illness are still people, and it pains me that I still have to say that because many people still struggle with accepting it.

On a lighter note, I am excited to announce the revamping of my blog Instagram. I will be posting about the ‘I am’ campaign as well as bits and pieces normally found on lifestyle blogs. You can follow me on @_thisisshe__ (there are two dashes at the end).

 

 

The light in me honors the light in you, 

Sus 

 

 

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Bouncing back

Three years ago, I sat on a grey chair at the University Counseling Center, waiting to meet with my counselor J for what would be the first time. I was extremely nervous; while I had known for a while that I should seek professional help, I was unwilling to. I had told my parents the previous spring that I was starting to lose it and over the next few months I assumed that by some grace of God I had healed myself.

Well, I hadn’t, so here I was. We talked about everything, from my fears of my family moving out of my childhood home to my serious thoughts about transferring. I didn’t leave that first appointment healed, but over the next three years I would find myself returning again and again to that chair, sometimes happy, sometimes extremely depressed, sometimes anxious and sometimes a little lost.

I was thinking about this today when I stopped into a small church to pray the rosary before I left for home. Out of everyone I have met during my time at Notre Dame, it is J who has seen me at my very worst and very best, who met me as a scared and exhausted freshman and will be saying goodbye to a very different senior.

One way that J measures my progress is how I respond to the stressors in my life. If I can respond a bit better each time, then that shows that I am growing stronger. I can tell you how I normally deal with external stress and that is poorly. I become what feels to me like a limp noodle who is so high-functioning that she can finish her assignments and smile at people but can accomplish little else. This gal has had her share of limp noodle days, I tell you, but with each time I try to be a little more al dente (ha!).

The past few weeks have been difficult, sometimes even hellish, to say the least. I felt like the minute I was knocked down and I was beginning to stand up, the ground would be pulled from under me again. I could hardly keep up with it, and the short reprieve from it all during Thanksgiving didn’t feel like enough. On what should have been an incredibly happy and blessed day, and it still was, for the most part, I found myself curled up in a ball in my room bawling. I have always struggled with my self-worth, and was shocked by events that afternoon that reminded me that people could still be needlessly cruel. I felt like everything I had precariously built back up had toppled, and it is something I am still grappling with weeks later. While it may be true that some need to tears others down and feel no remorse, I want to speak up for the people who get torn down and voice that there are ramifications. There is hopelessness, there is emptiness and there is heartbreak. There have been moments when I felt like I was a stranger in my own apartment. There have been moments when I woke up and knew that if I wasn’t careful that day then I may need to check myself into a hospital the next morning. There have been moments when I wished desperately that I had transferred a year ago when I still had the opportunity. My life is so different right now than what it was last year this time, and some days I really truly hated it. There were a lot of moments.

When you get into a spiral like that, it is extremely difficult to see good. It is during these moments that I am eternally grateful that three years ago I sat on a chair and introduced myself to J. Despite the fact that these things still happen, and I still hurt and struggle and fight, I have bounced back a little faster each time. One of my dear friends pointed out the same conclusion to me last week, saying that I am a stronger, more resilient and older person than I was last year, that while things set me back, they would have utterly destroyed me then.

I am proud and grateful that I still sit in that gray chair once a week three years later. I am grateful that although it really absolutely stinks sometimes, I know when to step in and intervene for myself. This past year has been a whirlwind of change, and anybody who knows me knows I hate change almost as much as I hate the fact that I can’t drink caffeinated coffee anymore. But every single time, with every single thing that has plowed into me and knocked me over, I have gotten up a little faster. I might not be indestructible, but who is? I no longer find myself bed-ridden as often as I did, and I find myself able to remind myself that damn, can I do this. I can do this. That’s half the battle, really, finding the strength in yourself.

As for those things that can act as band-aids, whether it be people or alcohol or drugs (please, if it’s alcohol or drugs, seek help), they will never be permanent. They will never be the thing you are truly looking for. You aren’t looking for happiness, like you should, you are looking for a fast cure for your loneliness, your sadness or your self-esteem. I promise you that this is true, and it’s been a hard lesson to learn this semester.

One day you’ll wake up, like I did, and remember that version of yourself that was tired and afraid. You’ll remember them and feel grateful for their willingness to keep trying, for their decision not to give up.  You’ll remember it on a snowy day in December running errands or even a sunny day in October, on the day you felt like you found your life’s work. I will always get knocked down. There will always be things that happen that are outside my control. But every time I get up a little faster, a little easier, and I bounce back.

I bounce back.

 

 

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Thank you letters to yourself

I’m sitting at a window seat and the sun is streaming in and it almost feels like I’m at the beach – almost because I wouldn’t normally wear a men’s flannel and socks out by the water. I’ve felt pretty ambivalent about going to college in my hometown, but this year I’ve grown more attached to this state and this city more than I thought I ever could. This place never fails to surprise me. Today I stepped into this sweet store that I’ve driven past several times and it was the coolest place. It’s called Just Goods and it specializes in environmentally friendly and fair trade products. You can find things like beautiful handcrafted mugs, Nepalese prayer flags, female empowerment mugs and dozens of other goodies there. I know I’ll be going back soon to get some of my Christmas shopping done. It wouldn’t be a Susan blog post if I didn’t endorse a local shop or restaurant, would it? Speaking of restaurants, I got to share my favorite spot, Jeannie’s House Diner, by Adams High School, with my best friend and confirmation sponsor, B, for brunch this morning. We both got a late start but the conversation and delicious food (and homemade jam!!) was a fantastic way to start the day. I can always count on B to put a smile on my face.

Okay, you’re probably getting curious about the title of this post and thinking, “Sus, get on with it!” I saw this banner in Just Goods which was made of small cards that said thank you to different things and people – teachers, nature, food, etc. I thought it was so simple but said a great deal. I wanted to take today’s post to talk about giving thanks and gratitude.

At the beginning of last week I was finding it very hard not to lose my mind, let alone be grateful for anything. I’m not sure if you ever feel like *just one thing* away from a complete nervous breakdown, but that was where I was at. My Google search history those few days were pretty odd, going from ‘the best calligraphy pens’ and ‘cats explaining physics’ to ‘symptoms of a nervous breakdown.’

I felt it was important to include this piece because I know I’m not the only one who feels this way at times, and I wanted to make you aware of the symptoms so that you know when to seek help. If you are feeling any of these, please try to utilize the walk-in services at the University Counseling Center. Although it cannot address any issues long-term, it can bring you (hopefully) to a relatively comfortable but more importantly safe place.

Symptoms of a Nervous Breakdown: 

  • Insomnia
  • Depressive symptoms, such as loss of hope and thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • Extreme mood swings or unexplained outbursts
  • Panic attacks, which include chest pain, detachment from reality and difficulty breathing (these can feel like you are having a heart attack)
  • Anxiety with high blood pressure, tense muscles, clammy hands, dizziness and trembling or shaking
  • Flashbacks of a traumatic event
  • Avoiding social functions or engagements
  • Eating poorly
  • Isolating yourself

I am doing much better now, but I am also blessed (cursed?) with being very emotionally aware and experienced with my typical levels of anxiety and depression. Please seek help if you feel like you need it, and especially do not burden yourself with the feeling that it is ‘just stress,’ because even stress can be, well, stressful and debilitating.

I always feel really grateful when I come out of a week like that. I lean on my incredible support system a good deal, and I am especially thankful for their unwavering patience, love and kindness during times when I don’t feel like I deserve it. I feel it more even today as we move into the holiday season and the season of gratitude.

I’m basing this blog post off the banner I saw in Just Goods, and I hope to develop it into an exercise that is a part of my daily prayer practice (another blog post on this to come later!). It is something I am trying and I encourage you to try it is as well. You can write out your thank you’s, as I do here, or actually say ‘Thank you’ to someone special, or include them silently in the comfort of your heart. It’s really up to you.

I’ll include the first ‘thank you’ before we get to the tough stuff.

Thank you to my friends, for meeting me with grace, for making me smile and laugh until my face hurts and I can’t stand it anymore, for letting me collapse, for raising me up when I do, for reminding me that I am beautiful, for being thoughtful, for doing things in the hopes that they could make my lives easier, for this selflessness honestly unprecedented in today’s society, for getting excited about Jesus and faith with me and for being silly even though we are expected to be adults.

The second thank-you should be one to yourself. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? I thought it was odd too, until my counselor walked me through it during a recent session. We get so caught up in being grateful for others, or for experiences and this life, that we can forget about being grateful for our own selves. It’s way easier to think of the ways we fail than of the ways we add value to this world – and trust me, you add incredible value! It was an uncomfortable exercise, having to list the things about myself that I enjoyed, was grateful for and that benefitted others, but in the end I had a physical reminder that I carry with me (every day!) in the moments I feel most insecure and a little lost.

I promise that while it will be really freaking weird to do it, I want you to write that thank you letter to yourself. It isn’t meant to be comfortable, otherwise why would we do it? I put the thank to you to friends first because it’s an easier exercise and it is also a way to illustrate things you like about yourself, because we typically spend the most time with people we admire, are similar to and try to emulate.

That’s my challenge for you this week and over Thanksgiving. I want you to write the easy ‘thank-you’s’, the ones that come naturally, and to also write the tough ones. Write the thank you to yourself. It will be unnatural and strange, but when you finish and read it over, you’ll feel something you may never have felt before. I can remind you every day that you are valuable piece to this gigantic universe and that your voice, personality and smile make it a little more beautiful, but it’s quite another thing when you realize that that’s how you’ve always felt about yourself.

“When I ask you about your first love I am always secretly hoping that you will say your own name. Now wouldn’t that be beautiful – to above else have a heart that was proud of itself.”

The light in me honors the light in you,

Sus 

 

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“Do good”

I’m still processing it all. I’m back at home at my favorite watering hole, The General. I drank coffee every day this week (several times a day, too!), which only added to the magic of it all.

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The Carriage House, Fort Wayne, IN

This past week I had the amazing privilege of sharing my time and heart with the staff and members of the Carriage House. The Carriage House is a Clubhouse in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Clubhouse model is a resource for people in a community who live with a mental illness and/or mental disability. It is a radical model that complements the traditional medical model but also challenges it. The Clubhouse is not your standard in-patient rehabilitation center – there is no coloring or aimless movie-watching here. There is only the work-order day – the entire house, its business and its tasks are carried out by members and staff alike, working side by side. The model builds strength and resilience, and gives members confidence, a safe space and a family. You can find the 37 Clubhouse standards and more information here.

My time here gave me immense joy and happiness that I have not felt in months. I was there for only four days and I still formed bonds with some of the members. A member who was shy on Monday sought me out today to hang out before I left. Seeing her smile and laughing together made my heart happy.

The amazing thing was that all the members at the Carriage House had a diagnosis but it didn’t matter. I didn’t know what the members had; they didn’t know what I had. It didn’t matter. For once, it didn’t matter. A person was a person, not a disease. We had all experienced hopelessness. We had felt helpless. We had all hit rock-bottom. We had all doubted our worth. But above those common understandings, we all had love, and kindness, and joy being with one another. We all worked together, we learned from each other and we spent time together. It was unreal. It was unbelievably special.

On Tuesday I took some me time for self-care and went on a walk around the beautiful Catholic cemetery across the street. I stumbled upon a small shrine for Mary in the rosary garden and sat there for twenty minutes. I closed my eyes and held my palms up, thanking God again and again for this day, this week, this moment and this life. There was a time in my life when I didn’t think I would be alive today. I honestly didn’t think my life would make it to this point. Some say that God paints straight with crooked lines. Somehow, my struggles and triumphs brought me to that moment, a moment where I still lived. He did not intend for my plan to end before I was twenty, and after this week I think I have a better idea of where He intends to bring me.

I felt for the first time an immense calling to serve. For the past few months I have been caught up in a career whirlwind in which I felt unfulfilled and empty. I know logistically that I need to work for a few years before I pursue a Master’s in social work or public health, but eventually I think I am supposed to end up at a place like the Carriage House.

It just felt right. It felt good. It had its tough moments – I really had to own up to my own mental illness. I wear a bracelet that has “I am a survivor” engraved on it to remind me of how precious my life is and how I am a survivor of suicidal thoughts and tendencies. On Tuesday, a member noticed it and asked me what it meant. I explained it to him and he looked at me very thoughtfully and said, “You could be a member here too.” I could. There was a time in my life where a place like the Clubhouse could have been very beneficial, and there may be a time in the future where I will need it. It took months to pick up the pieces of the darkest moments of my mental illness and to see a place that saves lives by building strength and hope – I can’t even say how that makes my heart feel.

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It was incredible to be with twelve other bright and insightful women who were all mad at how mental health is handled in society. After our last wrap-up session, Carriage House’s staff told us that the only thing they asked of us was to go out there and “do good.” We were passionate, empathetic, kind and bright gals, and it was our job to go out and use our abilities to bring good about in whatever we did.

I urge you to think about what makes you emotional – be it angry, happy, hopeful or sad. What can you do about it? It doesn’t have to be a big gesture, and this week showed me the amazing good that a small group of dedicated people can do. Do it. Go out and do good. 

The light in me honors the light in you,
Sus

 

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Unfinished products

I’m currently sitting at a shared round table at the General Deli and Cafe in downtown South Bend. I’m actually not sure if this qualifies as “downtown,” but it’s a right on Jefferson off Eddy Street and about a five minute drive from my apartment. It’s a lovely space. The sweet cafes of my summer are a two-hour drive away now but this is a happy second. It was important to note that this table is shared because the nice man across from me is frantically shaking his legs and making the table vibrate. I feel like I’m at an academic hipster rave.

I just had lunch so it’s only a black tea for me today. I’m starting to think that there is a link from my caffeine intake and my anxiety skyrocketing on a near daily basis, so I am taking a break from my hugs in mugs to see if it helps.

Today has been a beautiful day. 

Normally, Sundays start with morning mass at the Basilica. It is a busy crowd but an incredible space. I am so lucky to go to a school with such gorgeous architecture. This particular Sunday started a big step in my faith journey. What’s even more beautiful about this journey is that one of my best friends, B, is my official partner in crime! Campus Ministry at Notre Dame is one-of-a-kind, and it’s led by a fantastic man named Brett. I have never met anyone so full of joy, life and love towards others. Brett helps run my new Sunday meetings, and even though I was quite sleepy today, I still left with a full heart and a mind crammed with thoughts and ideas. My arms, on the other hand, were filled with books; once again, I put my weekend reading off until the night before it was due.

Brett said something today that has been stuck in my head. That’s the main reason I’m finally updating the blog instead of starting in on my reading. I’ll read when I’m dead – that’s how it works, right?

Brett was speaking about his own personal experience with Catholicism and admitted, “I am not a finished product.” 

I thought it was a beautiful statement, and an important one that goes beyond faith and one’s developing relationship with God. These past few weeks have introduced what I like to refer to as “Career Hell.” For a few days I was swimming in its depths not because I really needed to, but because I felt this immense pressure to. Everyone else was talking consulting, case studies, interviews, networking and pantsuits and I felt like I had to be a part of it. Never mind that most of the companies recruiting now were for jobs and fields I was a not part of nor interested in. It took a few days and calls home to feel calmer, remember that I had plenty of time and know that the timelines for my industries were different from the craziness on campus.

I don’t have a problem trying to “sell myself,” and I know it’s a necessary part of the job hunt. However, I was putting an insane amount of stress on myself to present the “perfect product” – a bright, curious college senior with lots of questions and a hefty resume. I was finding that my efforts to create this person was chipping away at my sanity.

Like Brett, I am an unfinished product. These past three weeks back at school have not been perfect, but there have been perfect moments. There have also been happy moments, confusing moments and moments when I couldn’t find any energy to leave my bed. I missed Notre Dame while I was away, first for study abroad and then for the summer, but one thing I didn’t miss was the feeling that I had to once again have it all together. Not to mention that this year I had to have it all together AND figure out what I’m doing after graduation. With the way some people talk about it, I might as well be graduating next week.

I’m mostly writing this because I know that I’m not alone in the ways I’ve been feeling. I know without a doubt that I (and all my incredible, hardworking friends) will find great places to live life and grow next year. Until then, however, it can be grueling and disheartening.

We are all unfinished products. As much as we desire to be perfect and composed humans without a care in the world and with only the best opportunities, we just aren’t. I’m sorry if I’m bursting your bubble here. Trying times do not define you, but neither do triumphant ones. Life comes in seasons, and like most things in nature, we change with them. Science says you stop growing in your twenties, but I don’t think you ever really stop. The person I am today is very different from the one I was a year ago today. It was a strange thing to think about, and to remember everything that happened to get me to this point, but I’m grateful for all of it. I’m grateful that a year ago I didn’t say, “Alright, this is good. I don’t need anything to change from here. I’m good.” I may never be completely satisfied with the person I am, but I know that she is trying, working hard and willing to be patient. For now, I am happy to acknowledge that I am no where close to being finished.

The light in me honors the light in you,
Sus
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Last days with some gratitude

Me currently: nursing an iced mocha and a hurting knee at one of my favorite spots in Chicago. It’s not quite time for my Chicago cafe crawl article, but I’ll give a bit of a sneak peek with Bru. It’s a coffee shop/cafe/co-working space in Wicker Park, and easily accessible through the blue line. It has everything you could ask for: sandwiches, spacious tables, window seats (where I can usually be found), protein shakes, coffee, pastries and free Wifi. Not to mention it’s located right next door to Myopic Books, which is a giant and incredible secondhand book shop. If you live in or around the Loop, there should be no reason you go to Barnes & Noble when Myopic is so close-by. I’m all for supporting small businesses even if that means bringing down Big Books.

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It’s my last lazy Sunday in the city and I don’t know where the time went. If anyone is the queen of rising out of bed at 1 PM, it’s me. In my defense, it was a full weekend of friends and laughter. Yesterday I went to Lollapalooza and it was INCREDIBLE. I would actually say one of the top 10 days of my life. I saw one of my favorite bands (The Head and the Heart!! Go check them out), and a few other great artists and the weather was great and the company was greater. I went with one of my best friends from college, Kim, and we spent most of the day running around, napping, dancing, eating and saying we were old women now.

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The past two weeks have been a whirlwind. I also just spilled coffee on myself. It’s a typical Sunday. I don’t think I own a single article of clothing that hasn’t been spilled on. My mother finds that hysterical considering the amount of white clothes I own. Thank goodness for bleach pens, am I right? I may love spring and summer, but I am wishing for fall right now so I can start drinking hot coffee again. There is really nothing like the feeling of a warm mug cradled in my hands, it’s like a hug in a cup. Also, I think I single-handedly keep the Dunkin’ off Lake in business with my daily purchase of a medium iced coffee with almond milk and sweet hazelnut. Don’t make me calculate how much money I’ve spent on coffee this summer, it will only make me sad. This also goes for how much money was spent at Zara or lunch takeout from Catch 35. These topics are unspeakable.

Last weekend my dear friend Brad came to visit, and it was his first time in Chicago since high school so I had to make sure we covered all the bases. It was a terrific Saturday. We started with brunch at Homeslice in Lincoln Park (one of my favorite places now), followed by Wrigleyville, drinks with a view at Londonhouse (I have never felt so adult or poor), Grant Park/the Bean, stumbling upon a street fest in Wicker Park and a quick trip to Target. My heart was so happy to show Brad around, and we walked 10 miles that day. The rumors are true – you really do make some of your best friends abroad. I know he can’t wait for me to torture him all year since we will be neighbors.

After Brad left, I saw more lovely friends that evening and finished off the weekend with the fastest 13 miles I have ever run. I’ve done three half marathons now, and the high after that kind of distance is unbeatable. I wish I could say I wasn’t mildly addicted but I think I am. The high wore off pretty quickly when I woke up Monday to some of the worst knee pain I had experienced in months. The pain dissipated through the week, but one knee is still sore. It’s put me a week back in my marathon training, which is disheartening and stressful, but I know it’s better to ease off than risk a harsher injury. I’ve scheduled yoga twice this week, and I’ll also be going home this Friday (wow!), where I’ll have my second pair of running shoes and I’ll be able to switch between the two like the ladies at my running store told me to – and, of course, my sweet Stray Dog yoga!!! I cannot WAIT to get back to my favorite yoga studio in the whole world.

I can’t believe it’s my last week at HDMZ. HDMZ is an ad agency that specializes in life science marketing. I was lucky enough to spend 11 weeks this summer as their intern, learning the ins and outs of healthcare marketing, brewing the perfect cup of coffee and even some web design. I went in with basically no marketing experience, save for my design work, and will be leaving with a greater understanding and appreciation for the advertising world. It’s a world I hope to return to post-graduation, and I’m thrilled to know there are good fit careers for me outside the lab and law school. I worked with passionate, kind and incredibly smart people who inspired me each day and kept me laughing and learning.

Alright, now that I’m done going through my last days (sorry if this makes me sound like I’m dying in five days), I’ll end today’s post with some gratitude. I am an infrequent journaler, but something that my journal has a lot of are “I am” affirmations. It was a technique suggested to me by my counselor of three years, for whom I am eternally grateful. She is an extraordinary soul that has seen me at my very worst and laughed with me at my very best. For the days I feel down or unsure of myself, I write a page of “I am” affirmations. I am patient. I am kind. I am beautiful. I am strong. I have pages littered with these statements, and re-reading them is something that brings me a good deal of strength and peace. I wrote a lot of them when I first moved to the city and was unhappy. I was unhappy with the noise, the hustle and bustle, the fact that it wasn’t Dublin, that I was going it alone for the first time in two years. I wrote more of them when I settled in, found places I loved, met people I loved, and started running long distance again. I looked over them this morning and all I can say is how grateful I am for the people I met this summer and the experiences I had these past ten weeks in the city. I couldn’t have predicted the friends I met and the ones I hope to keep when we get back to school. I really recommend trying “I am” affirmations if you are struggling. They may sound kitschy and silly but I really do believe in their effectiveness.

And you know what? I’m grateful for the ones I met this summer who made me doubt my self-worth, who tore me down and who played with my emotions like I was a doll. In those moments, I hated that I wore my heart on my sleeve, but looking back, it says nothing about me and everything about them. Ladies and gents, if someone treats you like trash, remember that you’re not trash. You are far from it. You are worthy, brilliant and good. Your existence brings a lot of value to the world. I love you and I cheer for you every day, and you are in my prayers.

I’m pretty damn proud of myself for staying soft in a world that grows harsher each day, and for the compassion that drives me every day, in my career and in my education. I can thank Notre Dame and the humans I’ve met at school for deepening that compassion and my desire to do good.

How big of a sap am I? I can’t help it, not when I sit and think of how much good still exists. It exists through smiles from strangers, random acts of kindness, living with intention, beautiful homilies at mass, laughing until you cry, purposeful vinyasa at power flow, great cups of coffee, fantastic coworkers, friends who lift you up at any hour of the day, family that checks in every morning and night (and who send emails when McDonald’s shows up too often on credit card statements), running without injury, good books and soft blankets, big mugs of tea, dancing into the night, the feel of a newly pressed white shirt (just me?), tearing up listening to favorite bands live and breathing and sharing the same air and space as other incredible humans.

I am not always well. I will admit that. I struggle like any other person. I do not live a perfect life, even if my social media suggests it. There are still days when I cannot get out of bed, when it takes all my energy to keep smiling through work when I am really counting down the minutes until I can safely retreat back to bed, when I cry myself to sleep because I am so exhausted from the fight. All I can say is, the fight is worth it. I hate that there are still days, weeks even, when it hurts to breathe easy, but I honestly wouldn’t choose to live my life any other way. I know struggle and I know darkness, but damn does my heart know light and joy and love as well.

Keep going.

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The light in me honors the light in you,
xo Sus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Running late

Today I’m going to write about running. But before then, some updates:

I realized this past Saturday while I was journaling how bad I am at keeping up with things. I suppose this isn’t much of a realization considering I would go weeks or months without blogging while I was abroad, but it’s a bit unsettling to think back about how much time has passed without much thought.

Working this summer has put me on autopilot. I wake up at 7:30, drag myself out of bed, make breakfast oats for the road and run (sometimes literally run) out of the door to make it to the office in time to get coffee ready for everyone. The next nine hours fly by as I work on projects, and next thing I know it’s time to go home, get my running shoes on for my daily run and make a late dinner afterwards.

It’s like that movie Groundhog Day where he keeps living the same day over and over. Each day may be different for me but for the most part it’s become pretty monotonous. Some days are a little spicier because of instead of a run, I go to yoga after work instead (how *exciting* is that).

It’s the start of my 9th week in Chicago and I’m incredulous at how that even happened. Wasn’t it yesterday I was still drinking tea with 5 sugars at Clement & Pekoe? Or moving through vinyasa at Stray Dog? Or hugging my parents hello at the airport before the Fourth?

If I have to be honest, I was wishing the summer away when it started. I hated the transition back into reality and how I had hardly a minute to breathe between flying home from Dublin, catching up on sleep and moving into my apartment in the city. I hadn’t seen my school friends in nearly five months (or a year for some) and I was more than ready to get back to South Bend. Hell, I had never even been away from Granger for more than five weeks since I was 8 years old, and here I was, away for eight months. It’s something I’ve been coming to terms with lately with this being my final year at Notre Dame. When my family moved, I was comforted by the fact that I at least would be back in northern Indiana for school, but graduating will mean finally leaving my hometown. If you had asked me in high school if I would be sad to be leaving Indiana and driving by cornfields on the way to school every day, I would have laughed till I cried. But alas, the end of an era is approaching, and after 14 years, I’ll be saying good-bye.

Have I ever said on here that I hate change? I’m kidding. I hate change, but I can’t say I haven’t fallen a little bit in love with this city. I wrote at the beginning of the summer that I hated it, and there are still some things I hate. I do hate living in the loop, but I’m grateful it makes getting to work an easy 15 minute walk (or run, depending on the morning). I think I may actually have fallen in love with Lincoln Park, though. I like to escape out there on the weekend days to look at fresh flowers and have a cup of coffee at a window seat. I’ve always loved watching the world go by like that, and god knows I need love caffeine. My long runs take me up into that area as well, and it’s close to the Lakefront Trail which would make training for future races easier. It’s the sweetest residential neighborhood with a good handful of brunch places, so could I ask for more? The prospect of living outside the loop in a lovely walk-up in a neighborhood where I can find fresh flowers every day makes my heart happy, and is now a part of my motivation to return to the city. Well, that and it’ll be quite difficult to say bye to everyone at work and think I’ll never see them again. It’s turned out to be a sweet summer, and I’ve been blessed with some great friends to goof around with. Oh, and I chopped all my hair off, even though mum wasn’t as thrilled with that one.

Running!

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that running and I have a mixed history. When I picked it up freshman year, it was only because 1. I didn’t want to gain the freshman 15 and 2. I had spontaneously signed up for a half marathon. When I abused it the summer after sophomore year, I used it as a way to quickly cut weight. When I did it sporadically last spring, it was because I didn’t want to die during my third half. For all the parts in between, it was one of the things that saved my life. Training for races gave me structure and goals every day, and for the days when getting out of bed was going to be the greatest accomplishment I felt like I had achieved a giant feat if I added a run.

I have always entertained the idea of running a full marathon. I’ve wanted to do one in college because I wasn’t sure if I would have the energy or motivation to train for one while I was working full-time. Well, I’ve been working full-time and I just finished my second week of marathon training. So people, it can be done!!

I’m not sure what cracked up 12-week marathon training plan I found but it had me starting the first week at 8 miles, meaning this upcoming Sunday long run will be a half marathon. Pro tip: if you want to run a marathon and aren’t quite there in running shape, I would start much earlier than 12 weeks, preferably around 16.

Two weeks in, and 53 miles down – I may not be great at sticking with things (like budgets, yikes), but I know I don’t have much choice in sticking to this running plan. If I miss one day, I know the next day’s run will be hell. Running in Midwest humidity is one of my least favorite things, and yesterday my sweat actually burned my eyeballs. I didn’t even know that was possible. I cried the last two miles from said burning eyeballs and got a lot of weird looks. I’m praying to the body parts god that my old lady knees carry me to the finish.

Time is a funny thing. Change is a funny thing. Me sweating buckets while trying not to die during my long run is a funny thing (to look at). Last summer may have made me hate running, but I’m beyond happy to have pulled my shoes out of retirement.

Realistically, next time y’all hear from me will be when I move into my apartment to start senior year, which is in only 4 WEEKS!!!! I cannot contain my excitement to be living off campus with my best friends. I’m serious – the amount of times Kelly and I have planned to order pizza you would think I was magically no longer lactose intolerant. Speaking of best friends, I finally get to hug Kimmy today for the first time in seven months!! While she’s been wandering around New Zealand I have been in Dublin and also joined corporate America (which would never guess given the lax dress code). *And* Bradley is coming this Saturday. That boy has never visited Chicago and I’m honestly shocked he wants to spend a whole day with me after traveling to 5 countries together already. What a great week it will be – full of runs, pizza, tacos, gin and tonics, yoga (finally!) and Jesus (of course Bradley will want to go to church together Sunday).

The light in me honors the light in you,
Sus

 

 

 

 

 

 

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