Distance Makes the Heart Grow Stronger

We’ve all heard the saying “distance makes the heart grow fonder” and when I began a long distance relationship, I tried my best to believe it. When your normal involves spending so much time together, it’s hard to know how to be apart from your significant other for extended periods of time. After a few months of being in a long distance relationship, I realized distance was not making my heart grow fonder at all.

Distance caused many arguments, fed my insecurities (I had a lot), and made me so lonely. For me, the beginning was the most difficult. I felt so sad and it took a long time for me to be okay with not seeing my boyfriend all of the time. I struggled finding an identity outside my relationship; it was like I had to be with David to feel whole. As I look back on this, I can see clearly how unhealthy this was and see the negative effects it had on both my relationship and self-esteem.

David and I were eventually able to grow separately while still growing together. While this may not be important for some couples, I believe it was very important for us because we are both independent people with strong personalities. Because I met David right when I started college, I never really experienced a life where I was alone and had to fend for myself. When I was able to figure out how to do that, my relationship became more about wanting to be with him than “needing” to be with him, which I consider an integral part of our relationship. We both pursued additional degrees after our bachelor degrees that allowed us to chase our goals separately while still being there to support each other from afar. With this, we made our own friends through work or school that shared our interests and allowed for meaningful relationships outside of our romantic one, another extremely important element in our relationship. I learned how to be okay being lonely sometimes. Eventually, being alone went from something I wanted to avoid to something I needed. I now enjoy the silence of my own company (and Sophie’s) rather than suffering from severe FOMO because of it.

Although I sort of just made 3.5 years of long distance seem super great, it wasn’t always bright and shiny. We had many arguments, many misunderstandings because a majority of our communication was through text message (talking on the phone or facetiming often is a waste of time for people like us when there is the option of texting that allows for multitasking), and missed each other all of the time. It was far from ideal, took a lot of getting used to, and really tested both of us.

Two months ago, we moved into our first apartment together (yay!). We’re still adjusting a little bit because everyone comes with their not so desirable habits (I don’t do dishes and I leave my things all over the place, oops), but it’s great to have your bestie double as your roomie (even if he takes up space in your bed). We finally get to do normal couple things like hitting happy hours, working out together (I’m obviously not going to have the ambition to go alone), and sometimes just enjoying each others’ silent company when we’re both tired and don’t feel like talking. It’s actually cool to be able to appreciate these small things because it wasn’t something we had the option of doing before. My life feels simple now and I know it’s because I feel safe and secure when I’m with David. I’d be okay on my own (because I’m a strong, independent woman, duh), but I 100% prefer life with him. Also, I must mention that any man who puts up with my crazy for as many years as he has deserves a medal. He’s a freakin’ saint.

 

“When two hearts are made for each other, no distance is too far, no time is too long, and no other love can break them apart.”

Leaving People Behind is a New Part of Life

I was talking with my friend awhile ago about how, in this new modern world where people move away from home more, we are constantly making new friends and then eventually leaving them behind. It’s nearly impossible to keep in contact with everyone you meet. For people like Myranda and I, this is difficult because when we spend our time investing in people, it’s hard to let them go.

For me, long distance friendships are more difficult because I only have a few close friends. I like those friends to be updated on my life and I want to know about theirs. Sometimes if I am noticing we aren’t talking a lot, my feelings get hurt. I’ve gotten better at not feeling this way throughout the years because I have realized that people, including myself, get busy. This has nothing to do with how much we care about each other. As long as my friends reach out to me sometimes, I know they’re my real friends.

But what about the people we meet who we don’t get to keep in touch with? I have several friends that I know I will never see again. Thanks to Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, I’ll still get to see what they’re up to and wish them a happy birthday. But I won’t get to have late night drinks with them and just chat about whatever life has thrown at us that day, and that’s what gets me down. I get sad every time someone moves away or when I have to leave my friends behind.

As I’ve thought more about this, I am realizing how lucky I am to be sad to leave people behind. I have been fortunate enough to form meaningful relationships with so many different people who have made my life so much better. I really do believe that when you meet and get to know people, your eyes are opened a little bit wider. Because of the different people I have gotten to know over the years, I have become more tolerant of lifestyles different from my own, open to views that do not directly align with mine, and I’ve been humbled enough to realize how lucky I am to have the life I do. I’ve also had a lot more fun.

So although it is a sad part of life to have to move on and say goodbye to the people you have come to love, it’s truly a blessing. I am so thankful for all of the people that have ever made me sad to move on to a new place. After all, it’s the people you’re with and the relationships you have that make life meaningful.

I’ll miss you, Texas Roadhouse

In May of 2013, I began my serving job at Texas Roadhouse. I almost didn’t get hired because the manager thought I was too quiet for the environment of the restaurant. I was shy and timid and a terrible interviewee, and came dressed in business attire which the hiring manager quickly commented was unnecessary. His habit of commenting on my work attire has never faltered in the four years I’ve been working for him.

I was intimidated when I first started the job. The place was crazy busy and all of the girls I worked with were beautiful. I watched hours of YouTube makeup tutorials to learn how to do my makeup for a serving job because of those girls. The managers were loud, crazy, and a little scary, so I just tried to stay away from them unless I really needed their help for something.

I don’t think I really even spoke much to anyone for the first three months of the job. I came to work, made some money, did my closing jobs, and went home. This changed eventually. Turns out all those outwardly beautiful girls were equally as pretty on the inside. I made true college friends for the first time in my life; I finally had a group I fit in with. My new friends showed me it’s okay to just be myself. Turns out there are people in this world who appreciate endless sarcastic sass and can dish it right back to me.

In the countless hours of working together and drinks after work, I made strong connections with some of my coworkers. There’s really nothing like work friends. They understand you on a level some people just can’t. I’ve lived with a few coworkers and have loved them all. Waitresses are the best roommates ever. They’ll wash your hair for you if you have a bad hangover and have to make it to your double by noon (yes, noon is early sometimes) or do your dishes when you forget to for the millionth time. I also met my best friend in the whole world at Texas Roadhouse and for that I am forever grateful.

As the years have gone by, my first roadie friends have moved on to bigger and better things. There have been new roadies, but none will compare to the originals. As the staff changes, so does the restaurant, and I often miss how it used to be. But there is one thing that doesn’t change about this restaurant. We are a big (somewhat cult-ish) family. We work together, complain together, laugh together, party together, and most importantly, we are always there for each other to lean on.

Somewhere in my four years as a roadie, I’ve transformed from the shy, timid little girl who could barely last in an interview into a confident young woman. I can’t even put into words how different I feel about myself now than I did four years ago.

My service manager told me once that when I first started, he didn’t think I would last. Joke’s on you, TK. Roadie 4 lyfe.

Nursing Homes: The Opposite of Boring

These past two weeks, I was given the opportunity to partake in a clinical experience at a nursing home. My first thought about this experience was that it would be boring and gross and thank God it was just my three week experience. I honestly do not think I have ever been more wrong in my entire life.

Anyone who thinks “old people” are boring hasn’t given them the time of day. In my short time at this nursing home, I have talked to WWII veterans, mothers of 8 children, little old ladies with hip replacements, patients with dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, those who have suffered severe strokes, people with cancer, people receiving dialysis three times each week, and one who passed after I had only known her for 1 week. I have come to love these patients as if I have known them forever and have been anything but bored.

There is something so special about a person with a less than mediocre prognosis who is willing to come to therapy for 3 hours every single day. That’s comparable to 3 hours at the gym on three separate occasions for a regular, healthy, young person. There is no way you could drag my lazy butt to the gym three separate times each day. These patients work so hard, and they let us push them until they are exhausted because they simply want to be able to go home to their loved ones.

Watching the Victoria’s Secret fashion show couldn’t motivate me to go to the gym more than these patients do every single day.

Aside from the obvious work ethic of this population, there is such a positive vibe coming from each of the patients. Despite whatever situation they might be dealing with, they’re okay. If they’re unhappy, I wouldn’t know it because they don’t project their negativity onto anyone. That is so beautiful to me. In a generation full of  nothing but complaining, being with people like this everyday has 100% made me feel more whole.

Working at the nursing home has given me the same feeling I get when I am volunteering at the animal shelter. You get attached to people and you love them so much, and then they get better and they get to go home. This means you won’t see them anymore, and a selfish little part of you wishes they were staying so you could continue to see them everyday. But they’re so excited to leave, and that makes you so happy. It’s so weird to be so sad and happy at the same time, but I want this feeling forever.

There are also the patients who are “long term”, meaning they probably won’t get to go home. My heart aches for them. I wonder if they get daily visitors, if they like their roommate, if they like daytime television shows, what they like to read, if they’re sad or lonely, if they get the snacks they like, or if they have found a friend they can talk to at the nursing home.

I have found that working in a nursing home may not challenge my skills as a clinician in the ways I originally thought I wanted to be challenged. I will not need to think of high level exercises, because standing up and sitting down five times in a row will exhaust my patients. I can, however, be challenged in different ways. I can think of creative ways to gain compliance in patients with Alzheimer’s who are confused or being silly. I can think of ways to keep my patient with CHF awake and engaged during stretches that need to be done but put him right to sleep because he is constantly exhausted. I can really listen to what my patients are saying so I have something besides myself and the weather to talk about each day they come into therapy. I can think of ways to challenge reluctant patients so they don’t realize they’re being challenged. As long as I don’t become complacent, I won’t be bored a single day in my life.

At the end of my clinical rotations, I will only be a PTA. I won’t be able to do everything I want to be able to do for every single patient, but I can assure you that I will do my best every single day to help these people feel whole, happy, and as independent as they can be.

 

“The closest thing to being cared for is to care for someone else.”

Home: Where My Heart Is, But Not Where I Belong

Returning to my hometown is always bittersweet for me. Whenever I come home, I instantly become nostalgic. It really is something to be able to have memories all over a town so no matter where you’re driving, something from the past comes to mind. I love it and I also hate it. I love my little town, but it is suffocating at times.

One aspect of home I will never tire of is my friends and their families. I have a few truly amazing friends that I can go months without talking to and we can pick up right where we left off. Their parents still treat me like I’m their child too; I have a town full of moms and dads. I care about all of these people as much as I did when I saw them everyday, and love hearing how their lives have grown since we parted ways. I wish more than anything that I could have them around forever. They’re my lifelong friends who I know want nothing but the best for me, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

Of course my own family is something I miss more than anything on a daily basis. I wish I could live closer to my sister; she truly is my very best friend. I can see my parents and grandparents aging faster than I ever expected, and I long for more years with them. These few people are the gravity pulling me back home.

Every time I have to leave, I want to turn around and go back. I turn on country music for my entire three hour drive back to my new home and think about all of the people I am leaving behind, with my thoughts frequently accompanied by tears. The home-sickness usually lasts for a few days, then I can return my mind to reality. I often think about how this feeling is likely the reason I avoid returning often; I hate the sadness that surrounds me when I return to my apartment alone.

As much as I often wish I could move back and live the rest of my life there, I know I can’t. At home, everyone knows me as I used to be, and I feel like if I were to stay there forever, no one would be able to know the person I’ve become without the old me in the back of their minds. I can sometimes even feel myself becoming the girl I used to be when I am at home instead of the woman I have grown into, which is not something I want for myself.

I no longer feel myself in a small town, and I thrive in new places with new beginnings. I have a love for the ocean and sandy beaches that could not be satisfied by small town Minnesota. While my love for my home is immense, my love for adventure is larger. I know I cannot go back if I want to reach my full potential, even though the pull is so strong sometimes. So while a huge part of my heart will always be back in Chisago Lakes, MN, I won’t ever be able to be.

 

“You’re off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.” – Dr. Seuss

Failure: My Greatest Blessing

In September 2013, I got the happiest news of my life. I had been accepted to the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. It was, by far, the biggest accomplishment of my entire life. In May 2014, I began classes. I was tested, stressed beyond belief, and hit with the reality check that I just might not be able to do this. After summer classes, I was put on “academic probation”, which simply means I didn’t have the minimum 3.0 GPA required to continue in the program. I couldn’t believe myself; I had never received less than a “B” on anything in my entire life until this point. After midterms of fall semester, it was clear that while I was trying my hardest, there was no way I was going to get my GPA up to where it needed to be. In January 2015, I was dismissed from the program for not meeting the academic standards required. Although I knew it was coming, I still don’t even have the words to describe how I felt that day.

Two days later, I met a woman who is now one of my biggest role models, and my first words to her were, “Hi, I’m Shannon and I just got dismissed from PT school,” with a shaky voice and tear-filled eyes. I was embarrassed and ashamed of myself, yet she was somehow still able to make me feel comfortable and assured me that everything would be okay. That’s when I decided I wanted to be just like her someday.

Because of this woman, I was able to come into the PTA program as a transfer student in September 2015. After my first day of classes, I went home and cried because the material was so easy. I felt like I was wasting everything I had worked for. Again, I found myself disappointed because I had let myself down.

My classes are in the same building, on the same floor, as my old classes. I walk by my old professors, the ones who deemed me incompetent as a future physical therapist, and my old classmates on a daily basis. In the beginning, it was hard to look them in the eye.

But things got better. Material got harder, and my professors challenged me. The difference from grad school was, if I was wrong or had forgotten something, I wasn’t embarrassed. I just went home and studied more. I learned the material thoroughly, which is a skill I realized I had never learned until this point. In grad school, I was so afraid to make mistakes that I wasn’t even willing to try certain things. Now, I’m different. I’m more comfortable with myself and more importantly, I am confident in my abilities as a care provider. And I don’t care who I have to walk past in the hallway anymore.

My professors don’t know this, but they’re a huge reason I have succeeded in the program. They knew where I came from, and didn’t judge me because of it. They believe in my abilities, which is something I unfortunately didn’t have when I was in grad school. My classmates are also a huge part of my growth. I’m now in a program with people who aren’t even remotely alike. I’ve learned how to work with different people, and also that I actually really like people that are different from me. I am also fortunate enough to be in the program with my best friend, who I absolutely could not have gone through this without.

The most hurtful thing that happens often to me is people asking, “How are you doing…?” with evident pity in their eyes and/or voice. It’s as if I shouldn’t be happy where I am now.

Something I would like everyone to know is that while I will always be disappointed that I was unable to complete my doctorate degree because I expect better of myself, I am in no way unhappy with the way my life has turned out. I needed this experience to grow as an individual and I will be so much happier as a PTA than a PT, regardless of my salary or letters behind my name. I’ll still get to do what I love. I’ll get to work with people who were hopeless like I used to be and help them regain confidence in themselves again like someone did for me, and I don’t care what degree gets me there.

A year from now, I will be graduating from a technical college with an Associate’s degree after receiving my Bachelor’s degree three years earlier. The thing is, I will be so much more proud of myself for this degree than I was for the first one. And honestly, that’s really all that matters.

 

“Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.” – Sumner Redstone

Happy Birthday: Gone But Never Forgotten

Today marks the first birthday of a very important person in my life since her passing. It’s a special day, as February 29th only comes around once every four years. In a way, the day of her birth seems to me to be a symbol of her. This day is rare, as she was. Today is an extra blessing of the year, as she was in my life.

It is outside my literary capacity to explain how extraordinary this woman was. She was graceful, kind, full of laughter, understanding, and one of the best role models I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Her love for her family and children was insurmountable, and I can only hope to be half the mother and wife she was.

While my relationship with my own mother struggled, I always had her to talk to. We didn’t have a mother-daughter relationship, but we had one that was unique to just us and that made me feel safe. I trusted her. This is a big deal for me as I am unable to truly open up to many people. She always asked me how I was doing, and followed up on things she knew I had been struggling with. She actually listened, which I am finding to be a rare trait in people. When she passed, I felt like I lost one of my best friends.

The trait that struck me the most about this woman was her never-ending patience. While my time spent with her was limited, I never saw her show anger or annoyance toward anybody. As someone who struggles with this, I think of her often. Even in her absence, she helps shape me into a better woman.

Angie was seen as the glue that held her family together. I see her more as a foundation on which her family was built, as she helped make them stronger. They learned how to care for each other by watching her, and although she is no longer physically present, it is obvious she is with each member of her family every day. She facilitated strong bonds between the members of her family that continue to be just as strong as they were before her passing. I hope they all know that they do a wonderful job of letting her shine through them. It’s hard to see when you’re part of the family, but as an outsider I can see parts of her in each of them.

I think the hardest part about any death is the feeling that you didn’t get enough time with your loved one. That’s how I feel about her; I just didn’t have enough time to learn from her. I wanted to learn how to garden, how to cook, how to be gracious to children, how to be a strong woman, how to love the Lord above all else, and so much more. I wanted my children to have an amazing grandma like I do. I wanted to know more about her, but there just wasn’t enough time.

“When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.”

 

I had a really hard time writing this entry. It was hard for me to find the right words to get my message across and I am still not completely satisfied with the outcome. I hope I have done her some justice up in heaven. Love you, Angie.

Wanderlust: Not all those who wander are lost

It’s hard to explain to people why you sometimes feel like you need to just get away. Whether you’re running from something or simply need a break from reality, sometimes you just need to go. Whether it’s to a big city to get lost in the crowd or just your bedroom where you can find solitude, you need to be anywhere but where you feel stuck right now.

When I was 18 and believed I had my life together, I shook my head at people like the current me. How could they not know who they’re going to marry, where they are going to live, or what their career is going to be? How are they still in school? Why are they taking so many vacations when they should be saving money?

I have come to realize that life rarely goes according to plan, and I am very slowly accepting this fact. Before 2014, my life went pretty much exactly as I had planned it, with some minor road blocks here and there. In just two years, I was humbled and hit with a giant reality check, as my life had been one unexpected event after another.

In this time, I took any opportunity I had to grow as a person or experience life in a way I hadn’t before. I wandered, often not sure where I was going. I took trips I never would have before because, “I needed to save money.” I went out for two different college sports that I “didn’t have time for” when I was in school for my bachelor’s degree. I went downtown with people I wasn’t very close with and allowed myself to cultivate relationships that I was too self-conscious to explore before due to a fear of being disliked. When I took on these experiences, I had no idea what I was doing for myself. I was simply running, throwing myself at every opportunity I had because I didn’t know what else to do.

The most important lesson I have taken from this crazy chapter of my life is that although life hasn’t gone according to plan, I am not a failure. It took me a really long time to realize this, and it’s something I still struggle with. I might not be getting my doctorate degree, married with children, or in the exact job I want by the time I’m 30, but I can assure you that I am in no way unhappy with my life.

Wandering has allowed me to find parts of myself that have been missing. In the time I was “lost”, I asked myself many important questions that often went overlooked and was eventually able to be honest with myself and answer them. I think wandering may begin for someone because they feel lost, but it will ultimately lead to self-discovery, a feeling of peace, and a new sense of purpose. I’m still wandering through life, but I don’t feel lost anymore.

“The greatest challenge in life is discovering who you are. The second greatest is being happy with what you find.”

 

Friend: A simple word for one of the greatest necessities of life

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about all of the different friends I’ve had throughout the years, specifically my “best friends”, and how they have changed as my life has changed. Some have stayed through several stages of my life, I’ve lost some to unfortunate fall outs, and some friendships have just simply faded over time due to distance or differing lifestyles. Whatever the case, I fully believe that these people were placed in my life for me at that time because I needed them to help me grow, teach me a lesson, or provide support to me when I needed it.

Like everyone else, I had my first best friends. These are the people you meet in kindergarten that you’re friends with because your moms know each other and you’re allowed to go play at their house. They were people that I considered friends up until I graduated from high school, and even now I would consider them friends although we no longer keep in touch. Our lives just simply drifted apart. These friends were important because they helped me learn how to socialize so I didn’t become a weirdo and gave me someone to discuss my first crushes with so I could make sure they were cute enough to “like”.

My second best friends were those I made when I began playing sports. These girls shared my humor and my hobbies so it makes sense they were my besties all through high school. They stuck with me through that awkward stage in middle school where everyone is pimply, has boyfriends they never speak to (I lived in the pre-cell phone middle school era), and has serious FOMO. A few of these girls remained my best friends even into college (my current stage in life). These friends taught me how to be comfortable being my weird, often awkward self, were my constant therapists when I was acting emotionally unstable (don’t act like you’ve never been there), and helped me become a better friend and person. It’s impossible to even begin describing how important these girls were in my life.

Also throughout high school, I had several different “best” friends, my “ride or die”, if you will. What I am describing here is the person I spent almost all of my time with. We needed to talk every single day, likely throughout the entire day; we knew everything about each other. There was never a weekend I didn’t see them or a social event I went to without them. These friends changed somewhat often for me depending on sports, class associations in school, if our boyfriends hung out often, etc. This was the person I would attend Friday night football games with, call Saturday afternoon to see what we were doing that night, and spend Sundays laying in bed watching marathons of TV shows/napping with because we were both too hungover to do anything else. No matter what the case for our best-friendship, these girls provided me with a confidant, allowed me to be one for them, and provided me with a house to hang out at to avoid my own family when they were annoying.

When I got to college, the criteria for friendship changed some. It was harder to find people with similar interests, so those in close proximity became my go-to friends. After settling into my new home, getting a job, and becoming involved in my actual major, I was eventually able to find friends that suited me better. I have found that as I grow and mature, my friendships are formed with people who, while having similar personalities to mine, are also completely different. That is a hard concept to explain, but we balance each other out and ultimately share the same core values. I am drawn to people who can tell me like it is and truly understand where I’m coming from. And while I knew that some of my best friends in high school would not remain my best friends forever, I know these girls will.

I have seen many things on social media lately (memes mostly) about people becoming territorial when someone refers to their best friend as theirs too. I also know of people who get upset if their best friend has another best friend. To me, this is ridiculous. The friendships I have with all of the women I refer to as my “best friend” are very different, and each friendship provides me with a quality that benefits my individual growth (and mental health if I’m being completely honest). I think it’s okay to have as many best friends as you want, for as long or short of a time period as you want, because you need different people for different things.

I would like to say thank you to all of my best friends throughout the years: Hannah, Kelsey, Jaime, Crystal, Amanda, Carly, Mallory, Mackenzie, Sarah, Sam, Courtney, Annalisa, Chelsea, Bree, Lori, Tess, and Elle. I wouldn’t be the same without any of you.