Wednesday, October 19, 2016

#hakeemthedreamyear

The summer before sixth grade, I fell in love. I don't honestly remember the details of how it all happened, but the Houston Rockets swept me away as they defeated the New York Knicks in seven games to win a NBA Championship. As my sixth grade year began, I was head over heels for NBA Basketball. Somewhere along the way, I was even able to talk my parents into buying me a Hakeem Olajuwon jersey. As I think back to my sixth grade days, the best days were the days I rocked that jersey to school. With my new love also came my full immersion into the game. I meticulously monitored stats, watched games and memorized rosters. The NBA was my jam (#seewhatididthere), and even though it was an unlikely and solo infatuation for me in the small town of Auburn, Kansas, it was my thing. 

Along the way, my love dissipated. I moved, there was middle school, high school etc. I still took time each summer to write the picks of the NBA Draft in my Grant Hill notebook, as well as final conference standings and playoff results (and in fact to this day, I still name the NBA teams alphabetically when I can't fall asleep), but I didn't feel as comfortable sharing my love with everyone anymore. 

(Keep this story in mind. This transition will make no sense, but I promise, it's connected.)

Truth be told, when I started blogging, I knew this was the post I would always write, but I just didn't know when I would be ready. I think I'm ready now.

The last four years have been really, really awesome in so many, many ways. I could go on and on and on about this. However, they've also been really tough, particularly the last two. 

I've come to realize and know I've had anxiety my whole life. I never called it that. I just thought that my reactions and worries were what everyone had. Doesn't everyone worst case scenario and disaster plan oftentimes to the point of tears and panic? Doesn't everyone think of every possible outcome to have total control and preparation? Doesn't everyone just spend their days controlling all they can to avoid surprises? Doesn't everyone have a crippling fear of failure that leads to overworking and often unreachable standards for success? I do, I do, I do. . . For me, I can check ALL. OF. THE. ABOVE.

Two years ago, with the aid of my then fiance (now husband), I started to realize my emotional "stuff" wasn't the healthiest. This had been exposed by some professional "funk," and after some reflection, I realized the time had come to maybe get some help.

So, I got the name of a therapist. I had the name in my planner for weeks before I finally worked with my fiance to make the first appointment. And then work got busy, and I had to cancel. I never rescheduled.

Fast forward to a year and a half later, and I knew I needed help that was beyond me. For all my love of having things under my own control, I was also my own worst enemy. However, I couldn't find the courage to make the call. I traded chores with my husband (he scheduled for me, while I ran some errands), and I got the therapist on the calendar.

Nine months ago, I went to my therapist for the first time. It was utterly terrifying. I had to own and name all my struggles. I had to talk about my weaknesses, my failures, and all the stuff I just didn't have figured out. Y'all, it was hard, but I committed to getting better for myself and all those I love.

And there have been some dark days. In touching this anxious beast that has always been my comfort, I've opened up some wounds. I've had to learn how to rewire my own brain. I've had to reset my defaults and power through the pain of the mistakes I've made along the way. I've had to come to terms with a lot of regret and when I didn't live as fully and happy as I could. Taking on myself has been the hardest, scariest thing I've done, but it's also been the bravest and best.

Last week, I walked into my therapist's office and told her for the first time in nine months, "You know what I realized? I'm actually good at what I do." Self-doubt and Imposter Syndrome has so consumed me the last four years that I've forgotten how to feel and say that to myself. I've craved external validation, said "Yes" to everything in a quest for fulfillment, and never quite felt like I was enough. As I finally said these words, she smiled because she knew this all along, but she also knew that I had to go on my journey to get there.

I can't tell you that I'll ever be "cured" because I know anxiety will always be there. Yesterday was an off day, as my sternum (where my anxiety rents space in my chest) was inflamed, but I've come to know that these days happen, but they don't have to be the norm. Today I'll try again and see if I can get it right.

So much of my thirty third year was working on me. I started at a really rough place, and I had to claw through this year to get back to where I knew I could be. As the year has gone on, I've become more comfortable naming how I'm feeling. And I've been so fortunate to have family and friends who have affirmed my experience and loved and supported me all the same. If you are one of those people who's done that, thank you a million times over.

As I thought about my thirty fourth year, I realized I wanted it to be something special. I didn't want to make myself a list of goals I couldn't reach (#classicandrea), but rather I wanted a theme to signal my forward progress. 

As I reflected and thought about what that could be, I thought about that Hakeem Olajuwon jersey. When I think back on where I'm at and where I've been, NBA lovin' 12 Year Old Andrea was one of the most authentic versions of myself. I didn't care what other people thought, rather I only cared what made me happy. And that's the version of me I want to be again.

So, my present to myself for my 34th year? A #34 Hakeem Olajuwon jersey. I found it on eBay (at a price I'm quite sure was lower than what my parents paid 20+ years ago - owe you for that one, Mom and Dad), and when it came in the mail this week, I squealed with excitement. Putting that jersey on felt as awesome as I hoped it would be, and it felt good to be comfortable in my own skin again.

The hashtag and accompanying theme for this year is #hakeemthedreamyear. I don't know what that means, or what this year holds. But what I do know and believe is I have the tools, resources and community to manage whatever comes next. Hakeem had the power to take down the Knicks (and the Magic in 1995), and I have the power to take on whatever comes my way.

So, #34, let's do this. For once, I just can't wait to find out what might be next.

  

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