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My Heart Almost Died.

I was always known to take chances, for following my dreams and being a free spirit. At times it was a little scary, but the thrill and pure joy of doing what I love outweighed that fear. It squashed the doubt inside too; all of those practical questions about money and the future didn’t matter. I was living in the moment, for “right now”, and I wasn’t going to grow up and let my “heart die” like Ally Sheedy claimed would happen in “The Breakfast Club”.

I spent my twenties finding myself, building my self-confidence and reaching for all of the exciting possibilities as a journalist and author. Money was not an obstacle; not because I had a ton of it, but because I could make almost anything work on very little.

I interviewed some of my favorite celebrities, could state I was the first person to interview Taylor Swift, made so many wonderful connections in the entertainment industry, and published 5 books all by the time I was 30. I even started seeing more money from book sales and actually got some paying gigs for articles.

I moved around a ton, leaving New York, my family, and some of my closest friends, always knowing they were there, cheering me on. To Nashville, back to New York, then to Anna Maria Island, and my 6 months of travel of the West Coast and New Orleans, and back to Nashville… something changed after that last move.

It wasn’t that money started to matter to me, but time did. I spent so much time running toward my next adventure. I gave so much of my time working as a barista even after it stopped supporting my free spirit lifestyle.

Suddenly, I was back in Nashville, where I had felt so alive just five years ago as I wrote “The Watch Dog”, but now I was stuck. Stuck being underpaid and overworked as a barista. Stuck doing digital marketing to create more income, and because I was trying to force myself to like it more since it was related to my chosen career path.

I always knew journalism wasn’t going to pay much, but times have really changed. With every high school and college kid blogging and writing articles, talent doesn’t mean as much as the time, energy and social media strategy you can bring to the table.

This past year, I have lacked in all of those departments. I’m fully aware I’m no longer 25. I don’t have the energy to run around behind an espresso bar for eight hours, write a chapter of my novel afterward, interview a singer-songwriter, write three articles, spend an hour on social media, cook dinner, and still have a social life.

Believe me, I used to do it all. I used to wake up at 4am and go to bed at midnight, and be at my best. I was bubbly about it all, too. Now, I’m a grumbly shift manager at one of the busiest Starbucks I’ve ever worked at, lucky if I write in my journal twice a week and my energy along with my spirit is depleted.

Ally Sheedy was right (or John Hughes rather)… I feel like my heart died a little. But I’m determined to get it beating again. What’s equally as bad as my dreams, or the energy to pursue those dreams, being on pause, is I miss home. I miss my brother, sisters, my niece and nephew. I hate watching them grow up so far away when I was there every day with them for so long.

It’s time to come home. I’ve spread my wings. I’ve left the nest. I soared. I fell. I got back up and soared again. And fell again. I’m tired now. Time is precious. I don’t want to waste that time working just to pay the bills. I am so drained and stagnant that I am not living.

When I move back to New York, I will be a nanny for my niece and nephew. There is nothing like being around children to awaken my creativity and remind me of all the excitement left in this crazy world. I will no longer have to waste all my energy at a job that underpays and overworks me. I will be making quality moments with people I care about, and when the little ones are off at school, I can focus on my writing.

I will encourage those kids to follow their dreams and that anything is possible. Along with their parents, I will try to help guide them with advice, but I know—and I hope—they won’t take all of it. Everyone needs to find their own way in life. There were tons of advice and warnings and discouragement thrown at me growing up.

Some of it was good advice, and maybe I should have taken it into consideration, but I wouldn’t have had this amazing journey with all of its ups, downs and wonderful surprises. My mother always said to me, “I don’t want you to get your hopes up”. To this day, I try to always get my hopes up. Sorry Mom, I know you didn’t want me to get hurt, but really, I’m fine!

Hope is one of the most important things. It’s our life line. Even if something didn’t work out, I never regretted the hope I felt beforehand. That feeling is magical; to allow yourself to get buzzed off of excitement and believe that anything can happen. I will always tell my niece and nephew to keep their hopes high. It’ll keep our hearts from dying.

3 Things I Discovered While On Retreat

penuel ridge
Penuel Ridge Retreat Center Ashland City, Tennessee

With my 33rd birthday looming over me, along with my boss going out of the country for two weeks, I knew I needed a quick, cheap getaway.  After all of the travel, work, and chaos the past year has brought me, I didn’t want to travel far or sight-see.  I wanted peace, quiet, and writing time.  I found Penuel Ridge Retreat Center on AirBnB in nearby Ashland City, TN.  Just 30 minutes from where I lived… perfect!  I was set to stay in a private cabin on the property, but that kind of went to hell with the dropping temperatures.  The cabin is only heated by a space heater, and the coordinator warned me it would be too cold.  I was stubborn and wanted to stay in the adorable cabin.  I lasted all of 3 hours before the constant shivering was all I could take.

I moved into the main house, which I have to say is just as serene.  There are plenty of beds to accomodate groups and a large dining area, but my favorite room is the spring room–its energy is constantly flowing and evoking something new within me.  Downstairs was a small apartment, which was my space.  While I did sleep down there, I found upstairs to be much more open and inspirational during the day.  I practically had the entire property to myself aside from a volunteer who was in silence in the spring room on one of the days.

Here is what I learned in 3 days at Penuel Ridge.

1. Every being needs to stop and rest.

We live in a world that is always on the go.  We try to rush traffic to get to work.  We want work to fly by to get to happy hour.  We want the week to speed up to get to the weekend.  We’re always looking ahead; wanting more and never really shutting off.  How many of us wake in the middle of the night and automatically reach for our phones?  It has now become habitual.  Half the time, we don’t even care about the nonsense on our Facebook timelines, but it’s stimulation in some form.  While I did have use of WiFi at Penuel Ridge, I tried my hardest not to use it — only allowing myself to turn it on to check in at night and on my birthday.

It is quite liberating to pretend your phone doesn’t exist; you should try it some time!  Not only did I not use my phone much, but I had no T.V. or music playing.  It was just me, my journal, a couple of books and my laptop for novel-writing purposes.  There were moments I would just sit and let my mind do what it wanted, until it would just quiet down.  It takes some patience, but it’s like restarting an electronic device.  You come out more clear and quicker from it.

2. Boredom is just fear. Don’t always try to fill the spaces in your mind.

Seriously.  We fear having nothing to do or having no one to talk to.  We fear being alone.  We fear where our minds will go if we’re left alone with our thoughts.  Boredom hit a couple of times during my retreat, but they passed as soon as I wrote or read or napped or looked out the window and appreciated nature.  Maybe it sounds lame, but I no longer fear nothing to do.  In fact, I want to seek out moments of “nothing to do” more often — like meditation, prayer or just looking out a window for 10-15 minutes per day.

3. It’s okay to be angry at a book. (It usually reveals something about ourselves we don’t like.)

That doesn’t mean it was a bad book or a good book.  You don’t have to make that decision.  Some books were written to make you think.  I read “God Help The Child” by Toni Morrison at the hopes of seeing happy endings for abused children.  Instead, the book’s main theme was: history repeats itself.  The abused children grow up to be abusive parents — maybe not physically, but in some way.  The book reminded me of what I already know — no one escapes childhood unscathed.  This reality is hard for me to swallow.  I want there to be wonderful parents out there and children who are 100% happy and loved.  I know that is completely unrealistic.  No one is 100% happy.  There will always be pain, neglect and resentment.  While I was angry with Toni’s book, it was only because I am frustrated knowing if I ever do become a parent — I won’t be perfect and I will inflict some issue upon my child.  This torments me.

In 3 days on retreat, I expelled so many emotions that have been stuck inside of me, buried under the stress of work and confined due to cold, dreary winter.  I was able to spit some of those feelings out in such an unfiltered release with myself.  I journaled, prayed aloud in violent, angry sobs, napped, got rid of writer’s block in my novel and watched the cardinals outside the window at the bird feeder.  I saw all of the beauty in the world again and acknowledged the pain, and forgave myself for feeling all of the emotions I sometimes try hard to ignore.  Depression, anger, sadness, hate, love, fear — I felt them all, and finally, I felt peace and relief and hope. Mission: accomplished!

Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Any tips on how to quiet the mind?

Has there ever been a book that upset you this way?

Just Say NO

No, this isn’t a post about drugs or sex or any other kind of frequently associated topics relating to saying “No” firmly.  All my life, I’ve been a “yes” person.  I learned as a child that saying “no” upset people; it made my parents mad if I didn’t want to do something; if I defied them.  If I was being yelled at by my dad, he would ask things like, “Do you understand?” I would say, “Yes”, even though I did not understand.  I didn’t get why he would get so mad; why he would scream, curse, hit, leave, etc.  “No” was bad and I was bad if I said it.  That’s what was embedded into my brain.

That mentality carried over with my friends.  “Do you want to go to the mall, Sandy?” No, I rather go to the movies.  But I didn’t say that.  I said, “yes” because I knew that’s what everyone else wanted to do.  I pushed my opinions and my wants or needs aside just to please people.  If I didn’t say “yes”, what would everyone think of me?  Would they like me anymore?  I never really found out.

As an adult, I still struggle with when to say “no”.  I’ve made progress in my personal life; often taking lead on where to go to dinner or what to do on a night out, or I will tell my friends when I don’t feel like going out at all, too. However, professionally, I’m still very much a “yes” girl.  I never can say no to a new opportunity, afraid I’ll regret it.  I keep saying yes to new projects, clients, and giving up days off to cover a shift for someone when I really didn’t want to.  I’ve been suffering from it, physically, emotionally, and my writing has definitely suffered from it.  I didn’t have time for the novel I want so much to finish and was so quickly writing over the summer…

There is this little, nagging, person in my brain that says things to me like:

What if this could lead to a big break career-wise?

If you don’t cover this person’s shift, they won’t do it for you if you need it.  OR  They’ll hate me if I don’t have a good reason not to take their shift, other than I want to sleep or work on my novel.

It’s more money.  Don’t turn down money.

If you don’t do it, your boss will hold it against you.

Yes, sadly, these are the things that go on in my brain.  Since I moved back to Nashville four months ago, I’ve been saying yes to every career opportunity that has fallen into my lap.  I figured this is what I was waiting for; to be able to have clients with digital marketing; to have more and more opportunities in my field–journalism, public relations, entertainment…

ALL of these opportunities presented themselves to me recently.  New magazines, new blogs, new clients, and even a possibility of getting involved with T.V./movie casting.  I felt overwhelmed.  I felt stretched extremely thin with all of my work, plus, meetings to discuss possibilities of all this future work.

I had to stop and take a step back.  I had made the decision to cut digital marketing from my life, and not only was I attracting more of it, but I was attracting many other jobs in my “field”.  I thought these were little blessings; signs everything was falling into place, that all of those years of not making money in journalism have now come to fruition.

Then I realized most of what was coming to me was not what I wanted… at all.  I’m not enjoying what I do.  I’m spending less time doing the aspects of things I loved about my jobs, and have become nothing more than a salesman, who is just in it for the money.  That is just not who I am.

It became clear that these opportunities were not gifts; they’re tests, and I was failing them… until now.

Finally, I realized what I wanted.  It definitely wasn’t digital marketing.  I also realized I don’t want to work for other blogs, but my own.  I don’t want to get involved in the movie/T.V. business other than writing screenplays.

At this point in my life, all I want to do is work a “regular” job that excites me on some level and to write.  That’s it.  Simple.  Creative freedom where I can escape at the end of the day into my characters and make magic, hopefully.  I don’t want to waste my creative energy on other people’s social media campaigns. No. No. No.

Working at Atmalogy provides a steady paycheck, creating in the kitchen and as a barista, and interacting with the Nashville community and events — perfect.  Yes. Yes. Yes.  This is in tune with where I am and who I am.

After I took a deep breath, I told myself I had to do it.  I had to contact all of these people handing me these new projects, opportunities, clients, etc, and tell them a big, fat NO.  Not for more money.  Not to start up again next month or in the new year.  But to stop right now, for me and my sanity, and the quest and passion of my own art; I had to say no to everyone in order to say yes to myself.

And you know what happened?  Freedom.

You know what else happened?  No one hates me!  Some are disappointed because they were looking forward to working with me, which is much appreciated, but to know that I have not burned those bridges by trying to work with them on something half-heartedly, and without much time to dedicate, makes me feel good about my decision.

There are times when you have to do things you don’t want to do, but that doesn’t mean you always have to be a “yes” person.  Sometimes when you say “no”, you earn more respect, if not from anyone but yourself.

It’s OK to be Mad.

Sometimes we feel ashamed to admit when we’re depressed or struggling.  For me, personally, I feel pressure to always be happy.  This pressure not only comes from those who have known me to be the girl who is always smiling, always laughing, even when she’s crying, and the one who always looks at the positives more than the negatives; but this pressure is even more so self-inflicted.  I want to be that person 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  That Sandy has a ton of friends.  She interviews cool celebrities.  She travels the country by herself like a boss.  That Sandy wrote 8 novels that she hopes will inspire others to be happy.

The truth is… Happiness is not easy.  It is a feeling, and like most feelings, it can also be fleeting.  No single feeling can last every minute of every day.  We need balance.  Without fear, anger, pain, passion, sadness and exhaustion, how can we even appreciate happiness?  I have tried my hardest to reject negative feelings most of my life.  I thought it was simple: I’ll choose to be happy.  You can choose many things in life: what to wear, where you go, who your friends are, but you can’t always choose which types of emotions you feel.

While I do support things like gratitude journals and thinking positively along with incorporating small things that make you happy daily, you can’t just turn off your other emotions.  Just because you ignore them doesn’t mean they’re not there; building inside of you, bringing you down as much as you try and fight it, and paint the portrait of happiness to the outside world.

Believe me, I’ve tried.  At 32, I still try to be that agreeable bubbly ball of sunshine everyone loved.  For those friends who knew my back story of growing up in an abusive home in the projects, they commended me on my attitude toward life.  As for my extended family members, we all laughed off any kind of abusive behavior in the family.  Maybe that was the only way we knew how to deal with it.  “Your father is ridiculous,” one of us would say.  “So was mine,” the other would agree.  That was that.  We turned out just “fine”.  Every family has issues.  And yes, they do.  Bypassing abuse though is harmful as is bypassing your emotions.

My approach was simple: keep looking ahead.  That was why I always had a list of goals.  That was why I’ve remained so determined in life, accomplishing many of my goals early on.  It kept me focused; it kept me moving forward instead of looking back.  That’s all great.  I have achieved plenty with that mindset.  I am proud of the strength, will, and positive reinforcement I provided myself.  I am grateful that I was able to love myself enough to believe I wouldn’t be deterred from things I wanted, even when so many people told me I was just a dreamer.

However, not dwelling and avoidance catches up to you.  Is it normal to not be able to express anger?  I literally do not know how to be mad.  I feel pain instead or I move on quickly.  Forgiveness is wonderful, but to not give anyone any consequences out of fear of them losing their temper or worse, me losing mine, will leave me open to swallowing emotions and being used.  I’ve been victim to it, but thankfully, I keep pretty good company these days.  One thing I have learned is to weed out the people who purposely hurt me, or even unknowingly hurt me.

Still, I am so afraid to lose my temper because of what I witnessed growing up.  Lost tempers lead to things broken, Moms yelled at, kids hit, and sometimes even the dog gets an a beating–if you know me, you know those are 3 groups of lifeforms you NEVER mess with.  Lost tempers lead to shame, guilt, betrayal and horrific insults.  I do not know how to lose my temper.  I have trained myself to hide anger behind a smile.  I’ve trained myself so well that sometimes I can’t even tell when I’m truly angry.  It’s somewhat funny when I’m outraged.  I will literally shout, “I’m so angry right now!” But it is usually followed with a laugh or smile, that no one even believes the words I say.  Sometimes I don’t even believe me.  I used to think this was a wonderful quality, but now, I know I am suppressing so much.

Anger is not the only emotion I can’t handle.  Depression/sadness that lasts longer than fifteen minutes is unacceptable.  I fight it by trying to give myself goals, ie: go to the gym, write, cook a healthy meal, etc.  I try to encourage myself with things that will make me “happy”.  When I either don’t have the energy or even want to do those “happy” things and rather fall asleep and dwell on the numbness, that isn’t “normal” to me.  I actually hate myself in those moments.  I hate what I’m feeling.  I hate that I wasted time laying in bed.  I wonder what is wrong with me, and I think these thoughts are the closest I come to expressing anger.  And of course, that anger is toward myself.  I berate myself.  I think I’m lazy.  I think I’m unmotivated and unsocial.  I’m not “normal”.

I turn into my father lecturing me and picking me apart.  I can hear myself trying to argue with him.  “But I work a lot; I deserve a day doing nothing.  I’m definitely not lazy.  I need a day of rest.  It’s okay.  I don’t have to do anything if I don’t want to.”  I don’t usually hear myself–the one who is trying to come at me with love, and who will listen to all of my feelings, whether they’re good or bad.

I sometimes fall victim to that inner child, trying to please everyone else and hoping I don’t get in trouble.  I want to allow the adult in me to stick up for myself more; to get mad; to be sad; to allow myself to feel everything and not simply “get over it”, but accept the feelings and my reactions toward them.  I want to understand that I’m not supposed to be happy 24/7 and that there is no normalcy.  I’m weird and I’m fun.  I’m driven and passionate.  I’m strong and loved, but there will always be someone who doesn’t love me, and that’s okay too.  I experience fear, pain, love, hate, loneliness, anger, and ALL the things at any given moment.  It doesn’t mean I am a miserable sack of poop that no one wants to be around!  I’m human and happiness will always be lurking around the corner, and it might just come out after I have a good argument with someone.  I’m giving myself permission to get mad or sad or tired or silly or so happy it might make others sick!

I will work on expressing all of my feelings.  That is the only goal on my list right now.

Sometimes Balls Drop.

You ever have one of those days when everything goes swimmingly well?  You know, you’re feeling great, you think you look great, and you think you can take on the world with your pinky?

That’s how yesterday began for me.  I scheduled a job interview for this position that feels perfect for me.  I looked in the mirror and thought, “Man, I’ve come a long way physically and mentally.”  It seemed things were going well and it was only Monday.  I figured what a piece of cake kind of day!

Well, you know how the saying goes.  You can’t have your cake and eat it too, even if it is vegan!  Grr.  My schedule has been a bit crazy.  I’m maxed out on hours at Starbucks and took on multiple digital marketing clients the past couple of weeks, plus have to worry about my novel coming out, and trying to make time for friends I haven’t seen in forever.  Oh, and there is that little thing that I’m still getting my new place in Nashville set up.

I usually work well under pressure.  I figured I’d suffer through this adjustment period and eventually reduce my hours at Starbucks to keep my sanity.

Too late… my sanity slipped away over the weekend I guess.  Turns out that awesome job interview I have was scheduled when I’m working at Starbucks!  I totally switched up my days.  In my defense, my manager has been switching my schedule to accommodate our store and another store’s needs.  And now, the few hours I need free to try and better my life and actually work a job that is in tune with who I am might not be accommodated for me.

That’s what gets me… I’m willing to help whenever I can, but it seems when I really need the help, no one can seem to get it together.  I’m hoping my manager comes through for me and can find a solution.  Or else I have to re-schedule this interview and I hate doing that.  One, it seems flaky.  Two, what if someone else interviews before me and they hire him/her before I even get a fair shot?

Anyway, my take-on-the-world mood went downhill quickly after realizing what a bonehead move I made by double-booking myself.  The rest of my shift I was trying to work out a solution in my head, which I felt terribly guilty for plotting a way to get out of work for a job interview, by the way.  But as you know, I have a love/hate relationship with Starbucks these days.  When my shift ended, I had a million emails from the digital marketing job about things I need to take care of, plus texts from my boss saying there was a terrible typo on a social media post I had created.

Ugh.

I felt awful.  I felt like I couldn’t hack it.  I felt like I just wanted to run and hide until I could force my brain to function properly again.

After my roommate made me a veggie-ful dinner, I decided to turn off for a bit by working out on the elliptical while watching a cheesy Hallmark movie.  That helped.

Things didn’t seem quite as bad and I didn’t feel quite as guilty/dramatic.  But I know something has to give.  I can’t expect to be my best if I’m not being fair to myself.  Balance is key in life, and I’m completely off kilter with the amount of work/pressure I’ve been putting on myself.

Balls drop all the time in life, whether you’ve got your crap together or not.  I have to accept that.  But they’d drop less if I said no sometimes when I wasn’t able to do something… like work an extra shift or promise to write features on several music artists for no reason other than being nice and helpful.

In the long run, I was thinking about making extra money to catch up from the move.  But sometimes extra money is not worth losing your mind and taking care of what’s important to making you function.

I forgive myself and now it’s time to take on Tuesday.