2016. Oh, where do I start?
I’ve seen dozens of think pieces, of Facebook posts from friends and strangers, telling me how I should feel about myself and my outlook on this year. I should feel lucky, I should take a good hard look at myself and realize that it’s all my damn fault that I’m not happy (forget about the fact that we have no control over some very serious shit that can happen like death and poverty and mental illness and abuse and it’s a very victim-blaming way to think about it to tell us we can just snap out of it.)
Personally, I’ll admit that 2015 was the bigger dumpster fire for me. That was when my depression had gotten its worst ever, and shit hit the fan with my marriage. 2016 has been a year of growth and rebuilding my life.
But for this country, 2016 has thrust me into a huge amount of worry. But that’s out of my control in many ways.
So what are my take-aways for 2016? What have I learned? How have I changed?
Ohhh, buddy. If you only knew.
Maybe going month by month would work the best.
JANUARY 2016: How Three Brothers From West Virginia Helped Me Out of My Funk
I have been super into podcasts for years, but I will confess it took me several tries to get into My Brother, My Brother and Me, a comedy advice podcast hosted by three brothers in their late 20s to early 30s. (It’s a favorite of Lin-Manuel Miranda and he has even included a couple MBMBAM references in his hit musical Hamilton! Take a listen to his guest appearance from a couple years ago on their show. Be aware: they swear a lot!)
They have been doing this podcast for 6+ years now, and have a back catalogue of 300+ hour long episodes, and while I was trying my hardest to keep from wallowing in the darkness that followed my divorce, I threw myself into mainlining this show. The warmth, intelligence, ridiculousness, generosity and a willingness to learn and grow endeared me to these three guys, and I went on a spiral of listening and watching everything they’ve pretty much ever done. And of course, their weird medical history show hosted by Justin McElroy, the oldest brother, and his doctor wife Sydnee called Sawbones is right down my alley.
And since I’ve spent what must be THOUSANDS of hours now with these guys by listening to their podcasts and youtube videos, they really feel like family. Coupling that with their amazing fanbase and active Facebook groups, I feel like I’ve found a support system of wonderful people all around the world who have also been helped by these three guys and their tertiary family members.
It’s not hyperbole to say that MBMBAM has helped get me through this year.
FEBRUARY 2016: How A Dumpstercat Saved Me
Also at the beginning of the year, I was finally able to bring Winchester “Chet” the Dumpstercat to live with me.
My ex wife and I adopted him in March of 2016, but I only spent a couple months with him before I left for my summer job for three months. When I returned in August, I learned that my marriage was over and within a month, I had moved out of Chicago and had no idea where I was going to end up next. So Chet went to live with my parents from September through December 2015. This cat that I had inherited through my separation (my ex got our cat DoomKitty who we had adopted the previous year) was pretty much a stranger to me.
But, as I got to know him, I learned what a cool dude he was. Super chill, even when I accidentally dropped a measuring cup still sticky with honey on his head. Very friendly to any human he came in contact with, and purveyor of fine sessions of KittyTummyTime™ cuddles, his love and snuggles helped me heal. He also forced me to get out of bed to take care of him, even when I didn’t feel like doing anything but wallowing in bed all day.
I’m pretty sure some people are a bit concerned with my obsession with this kid (I refer to him as my kid all the time…don’t judge me…) but the truth is, he’s saved me.
MARCH 2016: How I Began To Live My Authentic Self Again
March was when I really turned the corner as far as my mental health was concerned. I had been fiddling with the correct dosage for my new antidepressant for months, and I thought I finally found out the right amount.
I had begun to make some friends at my new job and we took a little weekend vacation together.
I had my first makeout session with a guy in YEARS AND YEARS and realized I still enjoyed it.
And I realized, after trying yet again to grow out my hair a bit, that it just isn’t me. I’m not really supposed to have hair. My shaved head makes me feel like I’m my most authentic self, and my depression grows as my hair does. So I vowed that I would keep up shaving my head regularly because it made me feel my best. I found my groove and swagger again. Began smiling at strangers. Stopped hiding within myself.
Put on some makeup and felt cute for the first time in years.
Oh, and also, my divorce became legalized this month, exactly two months before I turned 30. That left me feeling so much lighter.
APRIL 2016: I Rediscover Writing and Start This Blog
March kicked off my rampant period of self-discovery and growth, and I was brimming with thoughts and a need to write them all down. I had loved writing when I was younger, but hadn’t done so in ages. It felt a bit masturbatory, but I’ve gone through a lot of things that I was certain others could identify with. And also, I knew that a lot of people had questions about the downfall of my marriage. While it isn’t necessarily anyone’s business, I felt the need to explain things. A great many of even my closest friends assumed I was the one who had chosen to end it, and it hurt that people thought that.
I quickly discovered how cathartic and therapeutic it was to write down my experiences, and was really touched to receive many messages from my friends, many of whom I hadn’t spoken to in over a decade. I was touched to hear their stories and how my experiences closely paralleled their own in ways they hadn’t told anyone else.
And, as I wrote, I began to unravel my mind. I knew myself, and why I reacted the way I did. I realized where I had gone wrong, and where I needed to go from there.
This was where the healing really began.
MAY 2016: Heading Back To My Happy Place and Turning 30
For my seventh summer in a row, I returned back to my summer gig at Glimmerglass Festival, where I had just received a promotion. This was the place that had nurtured me through my broken heart the previous summer as I learned about the demise of my marriage. The place where I feel happiest and most fulfilled both personally and professionally.
Before leaving my school year job, we attended a 16 hour workshop of self-exploration and I pinpointed where my lifelong feelings of inadequacy had come from, and how to go about dealing with these feelings. I had really experienced a breakthrough, and starting in this new higher up position in which I felt vaguely (though incorrectly) unqualified for, it was a great opportunity for me to tell myself to just stop those feelings of inadequacy. And it mostly worked!
At the end of the month, I turned 30. A nice round number that doesn’t really mean anything, but to me, symbolized so much. It was a rebirth. I reflected a great deal about this milestone, and where I would go from here.
JUNE 2016: When I Started Dating Again
I had finally reached a point where I felt emotionally ready to start dating again. I was doing really well, and it had been a full eight months since I left Chicago, with minimal contact from my ex wife. I felt like I was healed enough to start dating without it being unfair to any partners I may meet. Of course, I was in a location that I only lived in 2-3 months every summer, so I realized that nothing much could come of it. But I wasn’t looking to settling down at all. I was looking for some much-deserved fun. And I accidentally found it on Tinder.
It’s a pretty ridiculous story that I’ve told here (though be warned, this is one of those “Family Members And Friends, Please Read At Your Own Risk Because There Is Definitely Some TMI Stuff Up In Here” posts.)
So yeah. That happened. And it was pretty damn fun. And I realized I was still super into dudes, and had kind of had enough of women for a while (in spite of only ever dating one…and marrying her and divorcing her and stuff…)
JULY 2016: Spending Time With My Family
I’m not who I used to be. At all. So every time I would spend time with my family over the past few years, I’ve felt some sort of self-inflicted anxiety about how I must be such a disappointment to them.
I spent nearly two weeks with my parents after my summer job ended, most of which was spent driving around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This was something we hadn’t done as a family in twenty years, and something that I had been wanting to do again for quite some time.
And as I spent time with them, I realized that they weren’t busy passing judgment on who I was now as a grown-ass woman. I was still their little Amanda the Panda. And they were my Mommy and Daddy.
AUGUST 2016: Keeping Myself Busy By Going On A Dating Rampage
August 16th, 2016 would have been my 2nd wedding anniversary, and was also the 1st anniversary of my wife telling me she wanted a divorce. Needless to say, that was a time of reflection.
I also had nearly a month off before my school year job started up again, and was living in a town where I still knew basically no one.
But I had recently broken out into the Big World of Online Dating again, so I thought I would try that again to occupy my time.
And boy howdy, did I.
I reflected upon the concept of soulmates.
I thought I’d dip my toe into “ethical non-monogamy.” (Spoiler alert: I don’t think I’m capable as soon as feelings get involved.)
He NAILS IT.
I learned that dating 3+ guys a week is exhausting AF. Amusing for a while, but exhausting.
SEPTEMBER 2016: Settling Into My New Life and Cooking
Things were beginning to return to “normal.”
I had begun cooking in my little joke of a kitchen in my studio apartment (hot plate, microwave, mini fridge and toaster oven.)
And I’ve found some pretty awesome meat-free meals and healthy-ish treats that I try to make on the reg now.
My life began to find a sense of balance. Things were going well at work, I was beginning to bond more with my coworkers. At this point, I was dating a few great guys. I was feeling emotionally healthy and regulated.
This was life now, and it was pretty cool.
OCTOBER 2016: Settling Back Into Monogamy
I had begun to do a lot of soul-searching about what I wanted out of a romantic partnership at this point in my life. Earlier this year, I was talking big about ethical non-monogamy, being scared of getting too close to anyone, and wanting to “play the field.”
I quickly found out that “playing the field” was exhausting and ultimately kind of left me empty and unfulfilled.
I had learned that I was fine on my own, but I also really appreciate having some sort of stability in a partner. But I definitely wasn’t willing to settle at this point in my life. It’s way too difficult to extricate oneself from a dis-satisfactory situation, and I didn’t want to go down that road again.
I had learned and discovered a great deal about myself over the past year, and had a much firmer grasp of what I wanted and needed in a romantic partner. And sure, I had dated a lot of fun people, and a lot of wonderful guys, but they weren’t anyone I felt that I had any sort of future with.
I think that part of my non-monogamous plan was to have an easy escape. I wasn’t finding anyone that I felt I could be happy and satisfied with without supplementing with someone else. It was a strings-free way to date a lot of guys, see what was out there, and “keep” the ones I liked and “discarded” the ones I didn’t.
But there was that “monkey wrench” I mentioned in a post a few months ago. I mentioned The Androgynous Guy in this post a few months back, and, in this post at the end of October, I was beginning to have my doubts about my non-monogamous “experiment.” Yes, this situation was complicated, but I had found that I had lost interest in anyone else. That he was the only one I wanted to be with. And it fucking terrified me.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. It wasn’t supposed to be this easy. I wasn’t supposed to meet someone I had this sort of connection with this soon out of my marriage…and even more, for his sake. I’m the first woman he dated after his separation. I didn’t want to keep him from anything, hinder his growth and self-discovery.
We talked about “taking it slow” but who even knows what that means. Part of the reason I kept my second guy around as long as I did was to be some sort of distraction, to keep me from getting even more attached, but I realized it wasn’t working. That it just felt wrong being with anyone else.
There’s this strange phenomenon that happens when you’re newly single in your 30s, starting fresh.
There are things you know you want in a partner and aren’t willing to sacrifice. Heavy, big, lofty conversations come up quickly because they have to be addressed before you head down a path that can only end in heartache.
Our whole situation is definitely not ideal. It’s messy and we are in different places in our healing process. And yes, we have had some of those heavy, big, lofty conversations because we have to know up front.
Over the past few months, so many things I thought I knew about myself and thought I wanted for my life and in a partner have been shifting. It terrifies me.
Because we’re taking things slow, I’m able to stand back and keep observing things with as level-headed an eye as I can, and I keep asking myself “is this where I want to be? Is this what I want right now?”
In spite of the intricacies and the struggles, I keep coming back with the same answer, “hell yeah.”
So here we go.
NOVEMBER 2016: The Election
I, like more than half of the country, am devastated by the outcome of the presidential election. I spent most of the day after election day crying at work. I felt utterly betrayed by my country, and legitimately scared for my own safety.
But in the aftermath of these unfathomable results, in spite of the terrifying rise of hate crimes and a nightmarish appointment of heinous people into powerful positions, I have seen such beauty in the world.
I feel such pride in the fact that even my most conservative family members have spoken out against Trump and his hatred. I’m so incredibly happy to witness my parents’ morphing into quite politically progressive individuals, calling out their friends who voted for Trump, demanding an answer for how he could possibly be the “godly man” they claim.
I witness an army of warriors who will stand up against the marginalized, forming a protective barrier against any who may come against them with threats of harm and oppression.
And I am beginning to have some hope that this will be an amazing time of change and vibrant radicalism in the face of the most awful rise of power I have witnessed in my life.
DECEMBER 2016: Regrouping
Over the years, I have not always been the best at keeping in touch with dear friends. I have a group of women I have known for over twenty years I still visit whenever I’m back in my hometown, and we have experienced times of absence and reuniting. Some of them have children, some of them don’t, and one of them just had a baby a couple days ago. We are all in very different positions in our life as far as family, marriage, jobs, and education are concerned, but we all meet again as friends with so much history.
While visiting my hometown over Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I feel like I have reconnected with them more than I have in years. I finally feel like I know deeply what’s going on in their lives, and try to stay more actively involved.
I want their children to know who “Aunt Amanda” is and be there for them when they need me, even if I can only be around physically a few times a year nowadays.
I saw my sister for the first time in a year. I still annoy my little sister more than she ever annoyed me.
I had a three hour coffee date with my only female cousin/relative closest in age to me. She was 16 when I was born and was my role model growing up, and now we can go out and talk like adults. It had been far too long.
And her 22 year old son comes to me for advice, which is pretty damn cool, even if I am what many would call the “black sheep” of my family.
This end of the year has centered me. While I have no idea what will happen to our country and world after the inauguration of our new president, I have my priorities. They’re not “resolutions”, perse. I don’t really do “resolutions.” More like “lifestyle suggestions.”
- Be there for people even when it may be”inconvenient”
- Love everyone. Hard.
- Check in with friends and family regularly
- Work hard, but at the end of the day, realize it’s only work
- Keep my mind and body active and fueled with good, real food that I try to cook myself as much as possible
- Be the best daughter/partner/sister/friend I can be
- Practice selflessnes, but also be my own best advocate
- Self-care is super important
- Keep an eye on my mental health and take action if things change at all
- Drink more water
- ALL THE KITTY CUDDLES
- Allow myself to do nothing and not feel guilty about it
Let’s do this, 2017.