The Front of the Flood

I was eating dinner with my parents the other night when my dad said he “had to show me something on YouTube.” If you know anything about my dad, you know that this usually means it’s a video he found on Reddit (yeah, he Reddits) or a cat video. Or both.

He showed me this video instead. I encourage you to watch it in its entirety, including the commentary at the beginning, but if you’d rather fast forward, start around the 1:10 mark.

So I was curious enough to see what a desert flash flood looked like. My dad and I have always had penchants for weird weather things, so I was loving every second of it. I might have even considered a career as a flash flood chaser for a second or two. But then, halfway through the video, it struck me–this is an incredibly apt depiction of my bouts of depression.

I should say now that depression is different for everyone. Everyone feels a unique pain, everyone feels a different numbness, everyone feels a distinctive, inexplicable, unsolvable melancholy.

I’m asked often enough, “what’s it like to be depressed?” To be frank, you don’t want to know. I don’t want you to know. Sadness and depression are two very different things, but this video visualizes my depression hauntingly well.

Let me pull it apart.

It rains pretty far away (in this video, 40 miles away). But then, without warning, a flash flood develops. I often dwell on things that happened years ago, 40 miles ago. My gene pool is a breeding ground for mental health issues. My subconscious holds on to things that I’ve tried to forget. Before I know it, the thoughts are creeping in from every direction and I try to stop them and

the rain wash, my thought process, is getting “clogged up with debris,” which tries to slow the front down. My debris is my everyday routine. Work. My friends. My family. My books. My yoga. My walks. My workouts. My writing. My drawing. My painting. My relaxing. My healthy diet. My endless coping mechanisms. My mania (as much as I hate to admit that). I try and I try and I try to stop the flood and it’s almost working until

the rain accumulates at the front of the wash. Is it too late? I have a chance. I can fight this. I can stop this from happening. I won’t let this happen again. I work furiously to stop the front and it’s almost working, but then

the water accumulates. It’s too late. The thoughts are there and they are unavoidable–spiraling little leeches that hold on and don’t let go. Depression doesn’t let anything go untouched in its wake. Friendships are destroyed with unanswered phone calls and text messages. Laundry goes undone for weeks. Food is eaten in disgusting quantities. Getting out of bed takes hours. My entire body (everything) hurts. I’m on the verge of tears (or just sobbing) for no reason. My mind deteriorates. All I can think about are the dark, deep down things…

and there it is. The rushing, flowing, dark, and even sometimes beautiful water (for there is always beauty, even in depression). It fills every hole and crack and crevice and void I didn’t know existed. The only thing worse than staying in depression is getting out.

But the flood always dries up. As much as I hate my ping-ponging moods, I try to hold on with everything I have, knowing that it will pass. It. Will. Pass.

After the flood has passed, I’m left looking at the carnage of what depression left behind. I think NOAA’s tips for after a flood say it all:

1. Wait until it is safe to return (I know it will come back, but I’ll know more next time).
2. Travel with care (I’ll avoid the people and things that trigger me).
3. Check for safety before entering a flooded building (don’t go back to those thoughts that started it all).
4. Take pictures of the damage (write about what happened; use it as a map).
5. Get professional help (yup, it’s time to go back to the doctor).
6. Your home is no longer a safe place (can I really trust myself? No. See step 5.)
7. When making repairs, protect your property from future flood damage (and this is what I’m working towards everyday).

Part One

But you really caught me, dear
At the bottom where I’d fallen. 

The last time I felt brave (and I mean really brave) was when I did the Extreme SkyFlyer ride at Kings Dominion during the summer of 2010.

It was one of those contraptions where they strap you into a harness, pull you up to some ridiculous height, and just drop you. It is supposed to simulate sky diving or something like it. It was terrifying, but also exhilirating.

I’ve done small acts of bravery between now and then, I’m sure, but that was the last time I walked away from a situation feeling courageous. Brave. Bold. Tenacious.

For those of you that don’t know me, I am the ultimate self-effacer. I will put myself down before I put anyone else down, so perhaps that’s why I haven’t felt brave in a long time.

But that’s changing.

I haven’t talked much about it on here (or anywhere and to anyone, for that matter) because it’s not an easy thing to admit. I’m sick. And I’ve been sick for a long time.

I have bipolar disorder.

Part of me thinks that the more I say it out loud, the more I write it down, or the more I acknowledge the concept, I’ll start to believe it for myself. It’s a chemical, biological, genetic, physical, and medical disorder. Five (yes, five) mental health professionals have now diagnosed me with the disorder. Three psychiatrists and two psychologists. You think by now I’d start to catch on.

But who wants to be sick? Who wants to have a disease that follows you around the rest of your life? I mean, there are websites encouraging people with bipolar disorder not to procreate because the disease is often passed onto children. I guess some people enjoy political incorrectness with a side of eugenics.

I’ve been in denial for so long. This is the first time in my life that I’m forcing myself to face some very harsh realities about me, my past, my present situation, and my future prognosis.

It’s easy to let the mental cobwebs build up. It’s even easier to take your problems, issues, bad memories and compartmentalize them into some nice boxes and put them on a shelf so far back in your brain that you forget it exists.

When have I ever taken the easy way out? I am the person who drives ten miles out of my way to avoid paying a toll. I am the person who said “taking five classes is too easy, so I’m going to take seven and still get a 4.0 this semester” (I don’t suggest registering for classes while manic. The byproducts are a headache to deal with). I am the person who will stay at work until 11 o’clock at night to finish something, whether or not I want to. It’s just who I am.

So I’m not taking the easy route anymore. I will always have bipolar disorder–it’s just the brain I was given. It’s the brain I was blessed with.

The difference is that I am going to do the work. I am going to reach back into that really dark, locked, heavily guarded shelf in my brain and deal with the shit I’ve carried around for years.

And I think that’s the bravest thing I’ll ever do.

Endings.

“It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.”
-Paulo Coelho, The Zahir

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But isn’t there something just so exciting about an ending?

The end of a relationship nurses a shattered heart back to a stronger whole. I get an insane surge of excitement. The world is my oyster. I can be selfish. I can regard only my feelings, wishes, desires, wants, needs.

The end of a friendship shows me that after all the carnage, hurt feelings, and empty promises, what’s left over is love. You were my friend. You were my ally. That meant something.

The end of college showed me that I could find my way in the real world and make something stick. I could find some semblance of balance. I could find self love and adoration. All of this coming from the girl who didn’t know (and still doesn’t know, by the way) how to hold down a full-time job.

The end of tonight–a regular, summer, Saturday night–brought countless endings. Simply put, it was a weird, but perfect day. It was one of those days where you feel inexplicably full of bliss. Full of contentment. Full of honey, for absolutely no reason. Nothing special happened, but it was full of what should have been sad endings. The end of a journal I have filled with my deepest (read: weirdest, dumbest, shittiest, grossest, best, greatest, and most life changing) thoughts over the past year. The end of one of my favorite books. The end of one of my favorite beers. The end of the day, as I sat outside one of my favorite coffee shops.

Suddenly, it hit me in the face, the gut, the heart, the ass. Sometimes, I have really philosophical thoughts and they go like this:

Shit. Endings. They kind of rule. 

Endings are a free ride to freedom. Endings are, essentially, the universe handing you a release. I get this weird image of an old lady covered in tattoos and gauzy clothes handing me an address-less letter saying, “Mary Clare, here is a ticket. A ticket to the rest of your journey. So stop fighting me already, you dumbass, and let go.”

Maybe it’s just my nature to see things in black in white. Maybe my balance is that I’ll never be fully balanced.

Speaking of balance, I did yoga for the first time in five months the other night. I was overcome mid-pigeon-pose with an overwhelmingly beautiful thought. I should point out that this thought was amidst an extraordinary amount of pain, sweat, self-loathing, self-love, revelation, and did I mention PAIN?? I sat there, hating and loving how open I felt, and thought:

I’m here because there’s nowhere else for me to be.

Every stupid, petty, awesome, earth-shattering, yawn-inducing, and uniquely Mary Clare moment of my life has led me here. To my yoga mat. To my job. To that shitty relationship. To that great relationship. To my city. To this book I’m reading. To this yoga pose I’m holding (or trying to). To that dinner I ate last night. To that sixth beer I wish I hadn’t downed the other night. To my friends. To every place I’ve traveled. To every place I haven’t traveled. To this absolutely perfect, lazy, starry, sweet, languid moment in time.

And for that, I am so, so, so very (and tearfully) grateful.

I like traveling, long walks on the beach, and life revelations.

“Travel brings power and love back into your life.”
-Rumi

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I just got back from a much, much, much needed vacation. I spent four days existing. Existing goes far beyond relaxing in my lexicon.

I’ll be honest. Life has been way too much for me the past few months. I’ve been going a million miles per hour, barely stopping enough to collect my own thoughts, let alone carry out my every day functions like cooking, cleaning, sleeping, reading books, writing every day, exercising…you get the point. For someone like me, this is a horrible idea and a recipe for a visit to the loony bin, the funny farm, the crazy cave. I was one-way rattling towards pure destruction so I needed. a. break.

I bought plane tickets a few months ago to visit my uncles in Florida. I told them I needed a few days just to breathe, sleep as much as possible, read lots of books, drink lots and lots of wine, feed myself normally, have some deep conversations, not move, lie on a raft in their pool, and faceplant on the beach somewhere. Oh and go to the gay pride festival, of course.

I decided to grab a beer (or two or three), at the airport before my flight left. Since I was traveling solo (really, is there any other way to travel?), I was seated at a table with four random men. Simply put, we had the best time. Trading shitty airport stories, talking about how much flying sucks, what our favorite beers were, where we were from, what our families were like.

One of the guys ended up being on my flight–he was spending the weekend chartering an ocean fishing trip, so I wished him well, told him to wear sunscreen, and we headed to our seats.

As I boarded my return flight this morning, I looked over to my left and he was sitting across the aisle from me. We stared at each other for a second, laughed, and then started trading stories from our weekends.

It was a small moment. Not even coincidence (there are only so many flights out of Fort Lauderdale). But there was something so comforting about seeing this stranger. He was now some sort of pseudo-friend, even though we never even traded names or formally introduced ourselves. The world is a huge and scary place, and then you realize it’s actually pretty damn small.

As he fell asleep (7 AM flights are brutal), I sat there, mulling over my shitty airplane coffee, thinking back on my weekend, and was reminded of the above quote from Rumi. If you all didn’t know already, Rumi is one of my favorite poets/philosophers/writers/people. Go read him. Now.

Anyways, he is so right. So, so right. Travel does bring back power and love. Traveling in all of its forms. Domestically, internationally, intrinsically, extrinsically, laterally, perpendicularly, foolishly, methodically…

What I realized was that,

Traveling brought me to two people who love me more than anything in the world.
Traveling brought me back to place where I always feel like honey.
Traveling gave me realizations about where my life is right now.
Traveling made me realize that my need for independence is insatiable.
Traveling made me realize that flexibility in life is a beautiful thing.
Traveling made me realize that I need to stop telling my obnoxious inner voice to shut up.
Traveling made me realize that I should listen to said inner voice telling me (more like begging me) to go back to yoga.
Traveling made me realize that everyone has a story. You’re lucky if you get to hear someone else’s.
Traveling made me realize that everyone has baggage. You’re lucky if you get to help carry someone else’s.

We all lose our way, and I have a tendency to get lost more than most people.

But while I wander around, pick up the pieces, and figure out what the hell I’m supposed to be doing, at least I’m still traveling.

A Visit from an Old Friend

I will always be there for you, the whisper was warm and comforting in my ear.
I’ll never leave you, the words kissed my cheek.
I’ll still be around when everyone else leaves, the promise was intoxicating.
Smitten. I was smitten. These were the words I always wanted to hear. These are the words everyone wants to hear.
The rational, logical part of my brain knew that these words were dangerous.
But they were familiar, comforting, a warm blanket; I had heard them so many times before.
You’re ugly.
You’re unlovable.
You’re fat.
Your thighs touch.
You’ve gained weight.
Stop pretending you could get rid of me.
Now the words stung and hissed and bit and gnawed. The walls started closing in on me. My heart started pounding. I felt lightheaded and crying was all I could do.
I had silenced my eating disorder for so long. But here, curled up in my bed, vulnerable and alone, it surfaced.
That’s the thing about eating disorders. They love you at your worst. They bring you down at your best.
It’s that old friend you keep bumping into.
It’s that ex that you keep going back to.
It’s the addiction that you just can’t shake.
I rolled over in bed, hugged a pillow, and whispered “shut up, shut up, shut up” over and over and over again until I didn’t understand what I was saying.
Eventually, I fell asleep for 13 uninterrupted hours. The sun suddenly seered my eyelids so I crawled out of bed, closed the blinds, and slept another two hours.
I slowly woke up. I lied and lazed around because getting out of bed was terrifying and overwhelming.
But after an hour or so, I got out of bed.
I took a shower. I made coffee. I put on my favorite dress. Combed out my hair. Put on makeup.
And then I stared at myself long and hard in the mirror–waiting? hoping? expecting? for the voice the return.
I stared at my eyes, admiring how green they looked in the morning light.
My hair had perfect, beachy waves, still a little wet from the shower.
My skin radiated and glowed.
Everything was eerie and still.
I almost turned away from the mirror to crawl back into bed and go to sleep when I heard myself, loud and clear.
I’m sorry for last night.
Today will be better.
You’re beautiful.
I am the most resilient person I know. After beating myself bloody and bruised all night, I wake up. I get up. I make up with myself.
I forgive and will keep forgiving myself.
I am not perfect, I am actually the most flawed person I know.
But every single flaw, every solitary slip-up, every devastating crash is a gift–a gentle reminder of how far I’ve come, how far I have to go, and how breathtaking I am.

An Open Letter

Dear friend,

I know you probably noticed I’m a little…well, crazy. By all societal standards, I am definitely crazy. In fact, 50 years ago, I would have been institutionalized. But you should still get to know me I promise that I’m worth the crap you might go through with me. Allow me to explain.

You should know that bipolar disorder is different for everyone. I have type two bipolar disorder which, good for both of us, means my highs aren’t quite as high as “regular,” or type one bipolar disorder. So if all goes according to plan, you won’t see me running down the street naked or blacking out or hearing voices.

In fact, you’ll probably like me a lot when I’m feeling really happy. I’m a ton of fun! I’ll be ready to party at a moment’s notice, will have incredible thoughts and ideas, will talk animatedly, and be full of life and energy. Sounds awesome, right? it definitely can be, I’ll be the first to tell you that.

But you should also know that that’s hypomanic Mary Clare. This is when I feel unstoppable. But a lot of scary things can happen to me when I’m feeling this way. If we’re out, I’ll often drink too much, which aggravates a lot of my symptoms. Or causes me to crash. I’ll feel entirely invincible. So keep a close eye on me. Often when I’m feeling high, I’ll make poor (okay, very poor) spending and sexual decisions. So don’t let me wander off with any random guys or buy drinks for the whole bar.

As fun and fantastic I am to be around when I’m hypomanic, don’t be afraid to tell me you think I’m headed down that path. Speak up. Tell me to shut up! Tell me if you think I’m acting off. I won’t get mad, I promise.

Of course, there are two sides to every coin. And the other side isn’t fun, glamorous, or pretty at all. In fact, it’s pretty scary. I get really down. Really sad. I’ll probably seem quiet, overly calm and complacent, lethargic, and down. Some days it’s even hard for me to get out of bed. These are the days I’ll push you away. I’ll shut down. I won’t want to talk. I’ll avoid my phone. But these are the days, friend, I need you the most. I’ll look like I’m on the verge of tears all day because I am. I’ll look miserable and messy and sloppy and mopey because I am.

I should probably tell you now that I’ve been suicidal before. I planned (thought about) downing an entire bottle of Tylenol. This is called suicidal ideation. While my plan obviously never came to fruition, most people don’t think about suicide as seriously as I did. Or have in the past. This landed me in a hospitalization program. So keep an eye on me if I become too distant. I’ll need space, but not too much.

But here’s why none of this should make you not want to be my friend. All of that stuff up there? The nasty, gritty, dark, scary stuff? The fun, crazy, energetic, vivacious stuff? It’s made me who I am today. That person you thought “I’d like to get to know her” or “I’d like to be her friend” about. It’s the same me. I’m still me, the same Mary Clare.

I can’t promise it’ll always be easy being my friend. But I can promise that I’m worth it. I have a heart bigger than you could ever imagine. I will always take the time to listen to your thoughts and problems as if they were my own. I will empathize with you fiercely and care about you more than I care about myself. I’ll answer your calls in the middle of the night and make you cookies when you’re sad. I’ll always buy the first round and be the one to find you a ride home. My couch is your couch and you’ll always have a spot there.

More than anything, you’ll always have a spot in my heart. I’ll care about you and want the best for you, even if you decide you don’t want to be my friend. That’s just who I am.

So stay with me, love me, and care about me. Because I’m worth it.

Love,

Mary Clare

Recovery Is Pretty Cool.

ImageYours truly at Arcade Fire, summer of 2011. No, I don’t know the fine, young gentleman awkwardly standing next to me. No, I did not coordinate my nail polish and jewelry to match the nectar of the gods. 

I want to talk about this picture.

Let’s get the most important thing out of the way — Bud Light Lime is awesome and if you don’t agree with that, you’re really just wrong.

Moving on.

This was me at one of my lowest weights. If we want to talk numbers, I was 105 pounds here. It’s hard for me to even look at this picture now because it brings me back to a pretty scary summer, but this is good. This is cathartic for me. I digress.

My eyes are bulging out of my head.

No matter how much concealer I put on, I still had black, puffy circles under my eyes.

Everything on my face looks disproportional.

I (normally) have huge, voluminous hair that is a total pain in the ass to manage on a day-to-day basis. In this picture, I barely have hair. It fell out in clumps in the shower.

The bones in my neck and collarbone are sharp and pointy (I used to think this was attractive *sigh*).

I remember buying that bra because it actually made it appear that I had boobs even though I had dropped multiple bra sizes in the space of a few months.

You can’t see my lower half, but my shorts just kind of hung off my body. I was thrilled the day my pants didn’t touch the skin between my hip bones.

This photo was taken at a time in my life I thought I was the healthiest I had ever been.

I worked out like a crazy person and ate the same damn thing for every single one of my meals (breakfast: 100 calorie sandwich thin with exactly 1 tbsp. of peanut butter, snack: applesauce [unsweetened, of course], lunch: veggie burger with lettuce, dinner: plain chicken with steamed broccoli). And I actually mean that I ate the same thing every day. These were “safe foods.” I knew the caloric and nutritional info by heart, so I could safely eat them.

I remember looking up the nutritional info for a host of different beers before I went to the concert. I told myself Bud Light Lime was safe, if I skipped dinner.

I could go on forever.

I used to look at this picture (even as recently as 10 months ago) and see it as a goal.

I have to get back to that body.

I know my story isn’t unique, but it is definitely mine.

So tonight, I’m relishing in the fact that I see a sick person when I look at this picture. I don’t see a happy person. A healthy person. A whole person. I see empty eyes and a sack of skin that was a burden to carry around.

I’m 20 pounds heavier today. I’m 20 beautiful, awesome, wholesome, healthy pounds heavier. My hair is shiny (and huge) again. My fingernails grow at a normal rate. I don’t have to wear makeup to cover up bags under my eyes. I laugh at the concept of calories. I drink and eat what I want. And exercise like a normal person (which lately, hasn’t been much).

Maybe it was immaturity or maybe it was me covering up for something that came out later (hello, October 2011).

But it got better.

I got better. And that, my friends, is pretty incredible.

I’m Ready.

“If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.”
-Lemony Snicket

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Running the risk of sounding like Lena Dunham, I want someone who wants to be around me all the time (or as much as I can stand being around said person).

I want someone who doesn’t want to hook up with anyone else.

I want someone who thinks I am the absolute be all and end all shit of the universe.

I want someone who thinks my weird habits are endearing (although I’m guessing putting in eye drops is never going to be attractive).

I want someone who can sit in a room with me and not talk to me.

I want someone who understands that I have to put myself first or I become a total asshole of a mess.

I want someone who appreciates the fact I look horrible when I go to work in the morning and understands that yes, I really do need all 5 of those bags of stuff with me.

I want someone to walk with me. Not ahead of me, not behind me, but with me.

I want someone who tells me my cooking is awesome and can feel the love I put into everything I make.

I want someone who understands that sometimes (okay, a lot of the time), I just need to be alone and that’s okay.

I deserve all of this and more. Since the age of 18, my dating life has been a series of assholes, bad timings, and miscommunications. I’m ready for someone who doesn’t believe in checking watches, pleasing everyone else first and me last, and running away from something that could be really great and real.

That’s what I’m ready for.

Pretty.

The woman sat down in a weathered, empty Metro seat, paying no attention to the people around her, absorbed in a book. She dropped her lunchbox and purse at her feet and unzipped her coat, settling in for the twenty-minute commute downtown. Just as she pulled the pencil holding her bun together from her hair, the man next to her smirked—
 
You gotta pay a dollar to sit in this seat. It’s the best seat on the train.”
 
Looking up, she saw he had a black eye and smelt like bourbon. His unkempt gray hair was tied back in a bun, not dissimilar to her own style.
 
“Excuse me?”
 
“I said, you gotta pay a dollar to sit in this seat.”
 
“Oh,” the woman turned to her book and inched away from him, counting how many stops were left before her stop. She felt his eyes staring at her chest as she breathed in and out.
Foggy Bottom.
 
“So what stop are you getting off at?”
 
“I work downtown.”
 
Farragut West.
 
His leg was pressing against hers now and she couldn’t move away from him anymore. There was nowhere left to squeeze her petite frame in the seat. She considered her options—the train was standing room only at this point, everyone lost in their newspapers and phones.
McPherson Square.
 
“Are you having a good day so far?”
 
She moved her book closer to her face, digging her nails into her palm.
 
Metro Center.
 
“Well, have a good day, sweetie.”
 
He picked up his backpack and wandered off the train, looking back and curling his lip at her before the door closed.
 
The scenario described above is one that I’m sure every woman has experienced at some point, in some way.
 
That’s what happened to me this morning at 7 AM on my way to work.
 
While it was obviously uncomfortable and creepy, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to some of the things I’ve seen and heard about on Metro. Or at Starbucks. Or at the gym. Or just walking on the sidewalk. Pretty much everywhere.
 
Here’s my hang-up— why should I assume he was a creep? Why should I assume he had unsavory intentions?
 
I don’t want to assume these things. But experience has shown me repeatedly that these assumptions are true and these guys are never just being friendly.
 
So what the hell does that have to do with the word “pretty?”
 
I forget where I originally read it, but something like 85% of women polled first felt like a woman when a man made them feel that way. Meaning, a man blatantly ogled her in a grocery store. Yelled “NICE ASS!” out of a car window. Noticed in fifth grade that she had boobs. You get the point.
 
How depressing is that? How wrong is that?
 
I want to talk about the first time I felt like a woman.
 
I was a junior in high school. For my readers that knew me in high school, I’m sure you remember how much I (physically) changed from freshman year to senior year. Freshman year I was overweight, had glasses, braces, bad skin. It was the extension of my already three-year-old awkward phase. But by junior year, I had developed a really fun eating disorder and lost forty pounds. It was sometime in the spring of junior year when I noticed that guys looked at me differently. The rumors and whispers were in the halls. Mary Clare is hot now. Dude, have you seen Mary Clare? Damn. Mary Clare is really pretty now.
 
This is when I felt like a woman. When I realized the male gaze was now upon me. That sounds dramatic, but it’s true. When you go from the background to the spotlight of the male gaze, you change.
 
I didn’t know what to do with this new information. I had consistently been told since second grade that I was fat and ugly. Those were everyone’s favorite words to describe me (c’mon, you couldn’t have been more creative?).  
 
It’s psychology 101: I, Mary Clare, was hot because I had lost weight (no matter the cost) and was now pretty. The end. I was a woman.
 
I wish I could have a different “aha! I am a woman!” moment.
 
But that’s what I am doing each day of my life now. I am reclaiming my identity as a woman, regardless of what you, your mother, your father, your cousin, your dog, your barista, your boss, and the random guy on Metro this morning thinks.
 
I’m putting an end to pretty.
 
Do you think I’m pretty? That’s wonderful. I think I am pretty too. I also think I’m beautiful, stunning, witty, intelligent, amazing, weird, incredible, sexy, independent, interesting, lovely, vivacious, crazy, messy, strong, imperfect, and pretty fucking great.

Identity.

I’m not really sure how one can sum up a life-changing road trip with your best friend in a blog entry, so I’m not even going to try.
 
But I can offer a reflection on change.
 
As C.S. Lewis so eloquently demonstrates in the quote above, changes tend to creep up on you. One second you’re in second grade and then you’re married. I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately. Let’s blame it on the 30+ hours I spent in the car the past week. Maybe it was the extra hour of daylight, maybe it was the extreme exhaustion, maybe it was the great music, maybe it was driving on 29 during golden hour with the windows down. Maybe it was just me. But something changed and has been changing in me for a long time. I realized that I am obsessed with (intrigued by? curious about?) identity.
 
I’ve always had weird qualms with identity, stemming from my name. When you have to spend the first thirty seconds meeting someone explaining your name, the very core of your identity, you start to question your identity. When someone says, “can I just call you Mary?” or “Mary is close enough to Mary Clare so I’m just going to call you that,” you start to wonder who the hell you even are.
 
Enter college. The overwhelming majority of classes I took, paintings I slaved over, and papers I wrote questioned identity. Pushed the idea of identity. Looked for meaning in identity. I saw myself in the pages of so many books I read and blobs of paint I pushed around on a palette. Little did I know this was the groundwork of my identity formation.
I hope I never stop thinking about identity and honing my own. Today I can say with complete honesty that I have stopped fighting with myself. I don’t wake up every morning waging war against my own brain. Talk about change.
 
A few weeks ago a friend I hadn’t talked to in a while asked me if I was dating anyone. I word-vomitted: “yeah, I’m dating myself.” And that’s actually true. I have been in a relationship with myself since October 2011 and guys, it’s serious. I’m the best life-companion I could have. I love myself more every day and I think that’s kind of great.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop growing and changing.
 
But I am Mary Clare and I’m more than my name.