Struggle with Joy

If my title had a picture this is it - my hair is STUGGLING  haha
If my title had a picture this is it – my hair is STUGGLING haha


There is a disturbing trend going around.

It’s out of control.

I dare say, it is possibly the most threatening event of the first few days of 2016.

That’s right, folks … I am talking about the use of “spirit animal” getting out of hand.

I have recently heard on a TV program and read three different articles where the term was used and what they were calling their spirit animal wasn’t even an ANIMAL – one was a person, one an inanimate object, and the other was food.

What is the world coming to if Janis Joplin, leather couches, and Oreos are your spirit animal??

On second thought – – – – Oreos can stay as a spirit animal. I love Oreos.


On third thought – – – – Oreos can’t be a spirit animal, we have to stand strong together; if we don’t, next thing you know someone is gonna think string cheese or Lauren Graham is their spirit animal.

On fourth thought – Lauren Graham is awesome and is my spirit animal, so humans stay acceptable because, as human beings, technically and otherwise, we are animals; but out goes inanimate objects and food!

Well, all food except Oreos.

Now that we got that pesky matter out of the way we can move on to more pressing and important topics, like the fact that it’s a new year.

Listen, I love a new year. I love the fresh start feeling it brings. I love that it’s filled with hope, promise, light, and love. I love that people see a blank slate – 365 days to make with what you will.

What I struggle with is that soon enough the feeling dies down, soon enough two weeks or two months have gone by and reality sets in. The reality of how hard it is to change sometimes. The reality that comes as pressure builds when expectations of others or self are not being met, that goals are slipping through our fingers like water.

Reality isn’t what we see on social media, it isn’t what we see on T.V., sometimes it isn’t even what we see or read in blogs like my own. I seek for the real, I seek to portray what is really happening but so much of that can’t be conveyed.

Whenever I think about the difference between what is sometimes portrayed as reality on TV and what is real, I think back to a horrible moment I had when I was nineteen, when I watched my dear aunt Norma, who I love and has since pass away, have a heart attack in a hospital.

(***I pause now to place a trigger warning out there for anyone that might have experienced a trauma related to hospitals or serious medical conditions – I try to portray this story as real as I remember and as such some words and parts could be triggering***)

I went with my other aunt, Margie, and my father to visit Norma in the hospital, where she was recovering from a very severe infection in her foot. We had a hard time finding her because she had moved floors due to over crowding, going from a general care floor to the cardiac unit – after reading this story, some people might call that move coincidence or luck, I see as the hand of God. Norma had never had heart trouble and was doing well when we got there. She was sitting up in bed and we were all talking and laughing. At some point, my dad left to go somewhere and my aunt Marge helped Norma walk into the bathroom.

I was standing by the door, killing time and looking out at the nurses station, which had this huge bay of TV’s that seemed to be monitoring heart activity for every room. I was fascinated by all that stuff given that my favorite show for basically all of the 90’s was E.R.

I was watching those monitors as my aunt got back into bed and slowly, then rather quickly, something began to happen. The nurse was focusing on my aunt’s screen and lines started moving in that screen in odd and crazy directions and before I could even really know what was happening, the nurse was on the loud speaker – lights were flashing above the door – people were running into the room – a nurse was yelling at my aunt, “Norma! Norma! Do you hear me?!”.

I stood in the corner, frozen.

The veracity with which they threw the head of her bed down and started trying to revive her was shocking. The chest compressions were nothing like what T.V. tried to portray as reality – a male nurse was on top of the bed pushing down on her chest with such force I thought he was crushing her, breaking her. I think I was crying at that point but not sure.  I remember them bringing out paddles and shocking her and her body practically leaping off of the bed. I wanted them to stop. My perfectly fine aunt was laughing with me minutes before – what was happening couldn’t be happening.

They got some sign that she was back, at least for the moment, because the next second, they were wheeling her out of the room and down the hall.  I was left standing by the door, with my aunt Margie, as I watched my father come walking, almost running, down the hall towards us from the opposite direction with a pale, worried expression on his face. Someone had paged him and I’m pretty sure I had been the one to ask someone to page him but I couldn’t remember then and I still can’t remember now how that all happened.  What I do know is that experience was traumatic, real, and shocking. So much more than words here could ever express and certainly more than what T.V. had always tried to show.

My aunt survived that night and lived for a few more years and I know that it was because she had been given a miracle – been placed on a cardiac unit that was equipped to respond to her heart attack and her actual dying for a few seconds, with speed and a deeper knowledge than maybe she would have had on a floor not equipped to monitor even the slightest change in heart rhythms.

Why would I bring this up here, now? Why would I bring this up when I’m talking about a New Year and hope and light?

I bring this up because it always comes to my mind when I think about what I’m told is real versus what I experience as real. What I see on TV is sometimes called reality, but what I experience, in both the good and bad parts of my life, is filled with so much more than can be conveyed in the media.

I bring this up because I hate resolutions. I hate the idea of fixing all these things that are seemingly wrong with me and failing two weeks into a new year, or two hours into a new day.

I bring this up because I hate resolutions but I do want to believe in change, in growth, in hope. I want to believe that I can find a way to improve without judging my imperfections and lack of progress too quickly. I want to believe that I can be real about the good and the bad in myself and that I can learn that just because dark times or moments or moods or emotions enter my heart doesn’t mean that light can’t come with them.

I used to believe that joy was an emotion that came only after I finally cleared the darkness out of my life and heart; that it only came when I finally was free of my pain, trauma, weakness, and shortcomings.

I was wrong and if you believe that you are wrong! Joy can come now! Even if it’s only 30 seconds or 30 hours or 30 days – it still can come. Pain is a part of life. It comes, in hundreds of forms … but so does joy.

I felt alone in my pain for so long. I felt unseen in my pain for so long that when I finally turned towards it and let myself look at it all, I believed that turning away from it and into the joyful moments of my life meant the pain and trauma went back to being unseen and if unseen then unreal and if unreal then I was nothing.

So instead of resolutions I want a theme for the year, I want something that can allow me to be all of me – the good, the bad, the funny, the serious, the survivor, the victim. I want something that can let me cry with deep pain when I feel alone, when the hole in my heart that is there because I am not a wife and mother can be felt in it’s entirety, but also something that can fill me with laughter and joy when I take stock of my family, my friends, my job, and the richness that is my life.  To me, that can only be one theme:


So, that will be me this year. I will allow my struggle to be as real as it is but I will know that struggle can be done with joy – pain is part of life, part of the journey, but suffering doesn’t have to be.

I hope that in whatever you seek to do this year, you do so with compassion for yourself, for others, and with the knowledge that you are more than a sum of your worst parts – you are life, you are joy, you are goodness, you are perseverance ….

You, my friend, can be your own spirit animal.

Happy 2016 – let us all struggle with joy this year.

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