What A Year For A(nother) New Year…

(Content Note: I mention struggles with PTSD/nonepileptic seizures, controlling messages from a abusive relationship I had in high school, and medical power and control).

Just around New Year’s Eve last year, I wrote the first blog post at this URL.

Ringing in 2014 {Two romantic partners drink beer during a selfie}

Ringing in 2014 {Two romantic partners drink some mead during a selfie. Selfie. 2013 or 2014- right on the line.}

I was so excited to be settling down in a new city with an amazing person, but this year itself started in a painful way. My cousin Craig lost his battle to brain cancer during the first few days of 2014. Right after I returned from his memorial services, I got news that a cousin from the other side, Nate, lost his life in a horrible car accident. Just one of these losses would be almost impossible to bear on its own, but the two together made it very hard for me to enjoy my first few months in DC. The stress of moving and the losses of my cousins caused my seizure disorder to relapse after a year seizure free, causing me to lose my driver’s license.

We lived in a somewhat cramped apartment with some wonderful people. Kelsey worked (and still works) mostly from home, while I sat around the house applying for any job that interested me remotely. When I needed a break, I would go on a “Date With DC“, to try to rekindle the spark that brought me to DC in the first place.

Things started to look up in April. I started a job that I really wanted. Kelsey and I decided to spend forever together, and with our respective parents’ blessings (Note: we didn’t ask the other’s parents, but our own), we got engaged.

{Photo: a man in a suit and top hat, down on one knee, placing a ring on a standing woman's hand. Woman is wearing an orange-pink dress with a matching flower in her hair}

{Photo: a man in a suit and top hat, down on one knee, placing a ring on a standing woman’s hand. Woman is wearing an orange-pink dress with a matching flower in her hair}

This was so, so exciting for us both!

Though I was in good spirits, my health problems caused by PTSD were getting worse and worse.  This summer was one of the roughest times of my life. I no longer found meaning in the work I decided to do when I was 15, so getting out of bed, eating, and all of the necessary “go be a human” tasks like dressing myself and taking a shower felt like asking me to hike Mt. Everest. I started almost every morning with a seizure. I had doctors treat me abusively in ways that my (awesome) primary care doctor would say that would be funny if it weren’t my health on the line.

My “saving grace” (get it?) during this time was getting more involved with church. Teaching youth group, protesting alongside other people of faith for racial justice, and volunteering when I can with the Reeb Project (<-guys I’m on Youtube!), which is working to restore voting rights after Shelby. It’s hard to explain to people outside my faith how one can find more in common with atheists than not and still self-identify as “incredibly religious” sometimes, but being a Unitarian Universalist is great.

Even with the amazing support of my church family, my situation got to the point where I didn’t have a choice- I couldn’t keep running on empty while confronting PTSD concerns that had been on the back-burner for years. Even Kim Kardashian: Hollywood couldn’t help me remember to take care of myself, so I took some time off to focus on mental health and started a day program in Baltimore to get me back on my feet. While I was in this program, I also attended the first ever US conference on Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures, and met Dr. Lorna Myers and so many wonderful people who also suffer from these seizures and their caregivers. I learned that this disease is as common as Multiple Sclerosis, yet I regularly have to explain the basic mechanisms to doctors, and they usually don’t believe me until Kelsey (the Man!) gets there with a copy of Dr. Myers’ book. Our community adopted teal and purple as awareness colors, and my almost-mother-in-law knit me teal and purple socks for Christmas.

During this time, I thought a lot about the opportunities that could have been. I wished I had studied harder in math and science growing up. I blamed myself for the fact that the college calculus and A&P classes I took in high school were so daunting to balance while dealing with an abusive relationship with someone who often said I wasn’t smart enough or emotionally mature enough for my med school plans. I felt lazy for dropping chemistry and biology when my seizures were completely out of control in early college. After a few weeks months of self-hatred, I stopped blaming myself and started thinking constructively.

I thought about the things that I type into Google Scholar when I can’t sleep that don’t actually put me to sleep because I want to keep learning. I started de-stressing by running diagnostics on my computer and the WiFi network to make sure we had optimal performance on my aging computer and iffy connection. I signed up for those Girls Who Code MeetUp groups. Maybe in 2015, I’ll go. I decided that Kelsey needed to know more trigonometry and precalculus, so I impulse-purchased my favorite textbook.

{Photo: Textbook. "Who Is Fourier? A Mathematical Adventure" by the Transnational College of LEX. Has some illustrations of some old white dudes, you know, as college textbooks do. But it's really good!!}

{Photo: Textbook. “Who Is Fourier? A Mathematical Adventure” by the Transnational College of LEX. Has some illustrations of some old white dudes, you know, as college textbooks do. But it’s really good!! Oh and there is a woman on there in the corner. Feminism!}

Maybe in 2015, we’ll actually use it.

While this was all going on, we were, as a nation, really trying to process Michael Brown’s murder (this was before the not-indictment), and all of these horrific stories of violence police have shown, especially towards the black community. I thought about who should be the leaders of the feminist movement, and the fact that there’s a lot of white, cis, college-educated women running feminist organizations, and I present able-bodied. I thought that I would affect more positive feminist change as a woman in tech who carries a gender studies lens with her than I would in a so-called feminist job.

I thought about good ways to get my feet wet in tech, and decided to apply for my current job. It was the right call and also came at a time where I could no longer balance my allyship to other oppressed groups and the job I had at the time. So I left that job, had a week off, and started at my new gig, part-time, leaving lots of room for getting back on my feet.

I am much happier learning exciting things and adapting at my new work place. Today marks 2 months since my first day, and I can’t decide if that’s way longer or shorter than it feels. And this workplace seems to treat workers with dignity in ways I never dreamed. All I could hear in my head for weeks was Jerry Garcia’s voice singing, “every once in a while you get shown in the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right,” which was a nice change from the usual, “I was walking round Grosvenor Square” every time a Red Line-Grosvenor train would come. Fun fact: DC says it wrong if you were raised by Deadheads (here’s a nice 25-min, live version of “Scarlet Begonias/Fire on the Mountain” from New Year’s Eve, 1978. Figured it’s nice and festive). Though the holidays were very hectic, once I found a comfortable work place, everything else fell into place and I didn’t really notice that much.

Though I wouldn’t say that I am without medical challenges, my seizures are (finally!) in control again. I found medications that work well for me as I process through the PTSD (and newly diagnosed ADHD) that has reeked havoc on my body for years- but most of the positive change has been environmental.

And I feel like I’ve grown so, so much.

Next year, I want to grow even more. I’ll go to those “learn to code” free/affordable events you see around DC all of the time. I’ll cruise Coursera and local classes to do math for school for the first time in (yikes!) eight years. I got a beautiful sewing machine for Christmas, and after I finish the owl snuggie I promised Kelsey (his idea!), I want to make lots of comfy dresses with pockets. For feminism. Also because they’re cute. I want to keep staying involved in my faith community. While I want to live in the moment, I need to respect that things from my past will find their way out if I don’t address them.

Also I want to marry this guy in 2015. July sounds nice.

{Photo: a couple poses for a selfie with red clown noses on. One is wearing a pin that says Thunder Thighs}

{Photo: a couple poses for a selfie with red clown noses on. One is wearing a pin that says Thunder Thighs. Selfie. 2014.}

Shout out- Kelsey has been the most supportive human in the universe, and I am so, so grateful for every minute I get to spend with him. Which is a lot, because he works at home and I work part time, and we go most places together.

He even takes me along when he goes on international TV.

{Screenshot: Kelsey on the BBC, talking about why he's skeptical of Call of Duty predicting the future of war. Like a boss.}

{Screenshot: Kelsey on the BBC, talking about why he’s skeptical of Call of Duty predicting the future of war. Like a boss.}

Getting out of this year on top was also made possible by support from both of our families and our dear friends far and near. Special shout-out to Liz because she moved here and it was the best thing.

{Photo: A woman dressed as Rosie the Riveter and another dressed as Ms. Frizzle: underwater edition. Selfie, 2014}.

{Photo: A woman dressed as Rosie the Riveter and another dressed as Ms. Frizzle: underwater edition. Selfie, 2014}.

Anyways. Thanks, 2014. You had so many ups and downs, and really made me grow in ways that I hadn’t imagined. Let’s see what 2015 will bring, but I will just focus on today.

Kelsey and I. Today. {A romantic couple poses for a selfie}.

Kelsey and I. Today. {A romantic couple poses for a selfie. Selfie. 2014}.

Date With DC: Virtual Reality Edition.

Yesterday, my dear Twitter friend StarlightGeek and I met up for the first time since she moved to DC. As a fellow former Bostonian, we had met once before, but it was so nice to be exploring our new city together. Though I’ve been here for about 9 months now, I still feel very, very new here. And lately, I’ll be honest- DC had lost some of its luster. I was frustrated with the lack of medical support, and that trickled down to other aspects of DC life. I am going to be here for at least another 18 months by lease alone, so I might as well fall in love with DC again. It was one of my treatment goals for my last two days of medical leave (more on that in another blog post later).

Our original plan involved seeing if we could get Washington Monument tickets and then hitting a museum, but they were sold out and the weather was perfect for walking, so we thought we’d do monuments. Stopping for our obligatory coffee, StarlightGeek asked, “hey, do you play Ingress?” I look over at her phone. “Oh, Kelsey plays that sometimes, but not really. Why, is it fun?” She explained that you join a faction (either blue or green) and try to gain control of “portals”, which are really important sites in real life (monuments, cool art, local institutions of culture, community meeting places, etc). The thing is that you have to be within 40 meters of this important site in order to interact with it (“hacking” it allows you to find supplies, deploying resonators helped defend the portal if it is in your color, and you can also “Fire” at an enemy portal to try to make it your faction’s). StarlightGeek is a proud member of the Green faction (“The Enlightenment”), so I joined hers, only to find out later that Kelsey is a member of the Blue faction (“The Resistance”). “A House Divided” was joked by all involved.

{Screenshot: a map of portals in an area. There is a long stretch of blue (read: enemy) portals  around the bottom and a few green (read: correct) portals in the top left corner}.

{Screenshot: a map of portals in an area near the Dept. of Agriculture. There is a long stretch of blue (read: enemy) portals around the bottom and a few green (read: correct) portals in the top left corner}.

We played Ingress as we walked down the mall, to the Jefferson Memorial, to the FDR memorial, and then in Adams Morgan later that evening. You know all of those little place-markers that are all over the place in a city like DC? They’re all portals in Ingress. DC has so many historical landmarks all around us that we sometimes tone them out. Ingress allowed us to embrace them all, like this beautiful Dogwood tree.

{photo: an historical marker}

{photo: an historical marker for a Flowering Dogwood }

{Photo: A Flowering Dogwood tree}

{Photo: A Flowering Dogwood tree}

{Photo: a selfie with StarlightGeek and our newfound Flowering Dogwood}

{Photo: a selfie with StarlightGeek and our newfound Flowering Dogwood}

This game facilitated a way for us to explore so many different landmarks, monuments, and cool art that we never knew existed, and as we found them and put resources into them, we now have an interest to go back and up our defenses (or attack further). The best part about this game is you can look at it, find the next portal you want to go to, and then turn it off and enjoy the walk and take out your phone again when you get to the portal you’re looking for. It allowed me to see a beauty in DC I hadn’t felt in a really long time.

For instance, we knew that there was a George Mason memorial, but we had never found this place before. But, we saw there were a lot of portals to tap into nearby, so we made our way towards it.

{Photo: a statue of George Mason with a book in his hand, looking off into the distance contemplatively, and me next to him, imitating his pose}

{Photo: a statue of George Mason with a book in his hand, looking off into the distance contemplatively, and me next to him, imitating his pose}

We then ran into a lot of “enemy territory” by the FDR Memorial (which just so happens to be my favorite part of the Tidal Basin walk):

{Screenshot: A map with a lot of blue  (enemy) portals in one area}

{Screenshot: A map with a lot of blue (enemy) portals in one area}

But, this gave us a chance to take a look at every aspect of that intricate memorial (and even added artwork by Baskin that was previously unaccounted for in the game!). Now that we are expecting foliage soon, and have portals we care about around the Tidal Basin, we hope to do another walk later in the fall.

We ended up going to AdMo after our Tidal Basin walk (we had taken a lot of steps, we needed some diner food!). We didn’t have time to get to every interesting portal we saw, so I took screenshots of their page so I can find them later. This mural is uncaptured still, so I might need to claim it soon.

{Screenshot: a portal page for a mural of President Obama walking dogs, near the main stretch of AdMo}

{Screenshot: a portal page for a mural of President Obama walking dogs, near the main stretch of AdMo}

When I got home, I explored the many (at the time…) uncaptured portals in my neighborhood and planned an evening competitive walk with Kelsey. We were pretty civil this time (I let him capture the embassies of countries he cared about, he let me capture the cool art), but I can imagine these evening walks getting competitive as we nurture our portals and attack each other. Seeing we also recently added Mario Kart to our home, it sounds like we are going to be playing lots of competitive games together.

Overall yesterday, between my long walk with StarlightGeek and my neighborhood walk with Kelsey, I took about 19,000 steps, nearly twice my daily wellness goal. Though I won’t have time to take long walks like that every day as I return to work, I can imagine spending some lunch breaks wandering my work neighborhood, capturing portals, and some “romantic” evening walks exploring the portals in every direction of our apartment.

I also noticed when I got home and did more research that there are portals in so many places- even the tiny New England town where I grew up. It kind of reminded me of geocaching in that way- more portals existed than you would ever know until you looked it up. It’s a great way to explore the landmarks in your neighborhood, strengthen your connection to the community, and get some exercise. I can tell you that I feel much more connected to the rich history of this city, and my legs hurt this morning in the good way. Yesterday was a great date with DC.

Dating DC on Valentine’s Day

I am super blessed to have a live-in relationship with my amazing partner. He’s the kind of guy that you can spend 10 minutes talking sarcastically like y’all actually agree with anything said in this article, knowing that he agrees it’s a load of baloney. That’s love. We spend our days and nights together, as I apply jobs while he writes from home, switching from work to fun mode at 6 or 7 PM every day, which is really too late to do a lot of things outside in the winter.

Because I’ve been in job-search frenzy mode until it’s dark outside, I haven’t gotten as many chances to explore this beautiful city as I would like. I decided that I deserve breaks sometimes, and I want to start going on a series of dates with DC, while I’m still in flexible “funemployment” mode. The first was yesterday. I started down the street from our apartment- at the zoo!

Naturally, I started with the Giant Pandas. Though Bao Bao was in a special room not viewable to the public, I got to hang out with mom, Mei Xiang.

{photo: giant panda curled up in a corner, looking adorable}

{photo: giant panda curled up in a corner}

Then, I visited the elephant house. I was the only person in the room for a while, so maybe I got to talk to the elephants without alarming other guests. I made sure to tell them that I loved them and I was sad that a political party I widely disagree with has used them as a mascot.

{photo: two elephants standing in gigantic doorways to the outside, facing the same direction.}

{photo: two elephants in profile standing in gigantic doorways to the outside, facing the same direction}

Perhaps the most special moment for me was getting up close with a burrowing owl, which was super adorable (with a glass wall between us, of course).

I had some feelings…

and they confused some of my friends…

I cleared up that it was actually a live owl that was behind a glass wall and being adorable.

They also have some barnyard animals at the zoo.

{photo: a black and white cow drinking from a bucket}

{photo: a black and white cow drinking from a bucket}

So cute. After an overpriced snack at the  Mane Grill, I ventured to say hi to some tigers.

{photo:

{photo: a Sumatran tiger cub sits in profile near a tree, you can see a larger tiger  in the back of the photo, and can just barely see the other cub}

After my zoo adventure, I decided to see something I hadn’t seen since moving to Washington, DC- 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, The White House.

On the walk over on G Street, I saw some great plaques memorializing people who went “The Extra Mile”. Rachel Carson has always been a hero of mine, so I snapped a photo.

{photo: a plaque on the ground memorializing Rachel Carson}

{photo: a plaque on the ground recognizing Rachel Carson’s work}

And the White House looked gorgeous as ever after our snow day on Thursday.

{Photo: the back of the White House in snow}

{Photo: the back of the White House with snow on the ground}

Someone was even there to wish President Obama a happy valentine’s day.

{photo: a woman wearing a red scarf and red gloves holds a large sign written in red on a white board with a red heart,  which says, "Happy Valentine's Day Mr. President, We <3 You"}

{photo: a woman wearing a red scarf and red gloves holds a large sign written in red on a white board with a red heart, which says, “Happy Valentine’s Day Mr. President, We  ❤ You.”}

Next, I headed to the Capitol Building so I could see the dome before the scheduled reconstruction.

{photo: the back of the US Capitol Building, with snow on the ground}

{photo: the back of the US Capitol Building, with snow on the ground}

At this point, my legs were pretty tired, so I headed back to our place, right when my partner was getting off work. We decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day in style with champagne (from New Mexico, of course) on our roof deck. He even wore a top hat.

{photo: a selfie of a woman in a badger hat leaning on a man in a top hat, both smiling at the camera}

{photo: a selfie of a woman in a badger hat leaning on a man in a top hat, both smiling at the camera}

It was a beautiful date with DC indeed. I’m taking suggestions for my next date with DC! Leave a comment if you have a good one.

❤ ams

Taking the Time to Mourn

Note: this post was written soon after I received news of the death of my cousin Nate that was not public yet. It was delayed a day in publishing to respect that some hadn’t heard this news. When condolences and eulogies showed up on Facebook, I figured anyone who was family must know already. I deeply apologize if this is the bringer of bad news to anyone who knew either Craig or Nate. 

2014 started in a big way for me- I moved to Washington, DC. I have been in love with this city for a really long time…

{photo: two women pose playfully in front of the Capitol Building of the United States}

A dear friend and I in front of the Capitol Building, circa 2011. {photo: two women pose playfully in front of the Capitol Building of the United States}

but moving 400 miles away is a major step.

Unfortunately, the biggest thing to happen to me in 2014 so far have had nothing to do with my move to DC at all.

On January 2nd, my cousin Craig from my dad’s side passed away at the age of 32 after a three-and-a-half year battle with brain cancer. I traveled to North Carolina to pay my respects and say goodbye last week, and met my family there. It’s a beautiful coincidence that his service was held on The Epiphany. Craig brought so many gifts to the world.  I was just in North Carolina for about 24 hours, and while I got to spend some valuable time with family, I didn’t get to process much until I got home to DC.

This Sunday at church, there was a moment for us to say the name of someone in our thoughts in prayers, and I said Craig’s and broke down crying. Luckily, I had my partner and a good friend on either side of me to comfort me as we heard our sermon on living deliberately– absolutely worth a listen. Rev. Hardies talked a lot about Walden Pond and even mentioned the commuter rail line that took me to my job in Boston, making me feel comfort in my family back in Massachusetts. Craig lived very deliberately- he deeply enjoyed life and believed in the worth of every person. Reflecting on Craig’s passing reminded me to take the time to appreciate those close to me and that life is short and is meant to be enjoyed.

This morning, I got a teary phone call from my mother. Another first cousin (this one, from my mom’s side) passed away in a car accident. Nate was 26- the closest cousin in age to me. Nate also lived deliberately- he was the kind of family member that would love you no matter what, and we shared a lot with each other. Every Christmas in adulthood we found time for a private “what’s really going on with you?” chat. On more than one occasion, he told me that he thought of my more like a little sister than a cousin.

Like Craig, I am sure many stories and memories about Nate will be coming back over the next few days. My partner and I are spending the day listening to music- a special mix of soothing and jazz funeral songs that Unitarian Universalists who met in New Orleans could concoct.

{video: Kerwin James’ jazz funeral in New Orleans, 2007.}

Tomorrow morning (or late tonight? 3 AM is a weird time for millennials) we’ll be taking the train to Boston to say goodbye and pay our respects. Right now, we are taking a break from packing and burning two votive candles- one for each of my cousins. I may try to go to the Grotto, my favorite prayer spot in Lowell this week, or find another meditative spot. I’m sure other grief coping skills will be in play over the next few days.

Saying goodbye is important. Funerals are for the living- they help us cope with our loss, reflect on the lessons of those who have passed, and let our minds process. I happened to find this video posted on someone’s Facebook today, and it’s been tremendously helpful.

{video: a reading of a poem called “Instructions for a Bad Day” by Shane Koyczan}

You may not hear from me over the next few days, but know I will be thinking deeply about these lives in my family cut tragically short and how they would want me to move on from here.

<3ams