i found myself wide awake at 2 am last night, so i decided to write.
i look at 2013 as a year of growth, learning, change, and acceptance.
sixteen days into 2013, my life was changed forever. a coworker and friend whom i had worked with and shared a work space with every day for just over a year committed suicide.
wow. even writing it now feels hard to swallow.
for those of you who know me and are close to me: you know that i have struggled with what i call, feeling-unlike-myself-in-the-wintertime-disorder, better known as seasonal affective disorder. not only was i just recovering from post break-in trauma, i was now sent reeling. what did it mean for one of the nicest, most intelligent and kind hearted people i had ever met to have passed away unexpectedly. what did it mean that i saw him, every single day, and had no idea what he was going through and experiencing.
in those following days and weeks, my coworkers were my rock. the only people i wanted to be around and the only people who seemed to fully understand what i was feeling in my chest. there were days when i couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t show my face in that space, much less sit at my desk and pretend to work. but slowly, it got better. we rearranged our workspace, i focused on only spending time with people who made me feel better, and learning from what had happened.
i left town the following weekend to visit my grandparents in texas. i got to see my gramps, who was struggling with dementia, for what would be the last time. it was one of the most wonderful trips of my life. i got away, i was with my family, and again, i was reminded of the fragile and beautiful nature of life. i took two rolls of film and captured those days so that i would never forget them. i captured the way my grandpas hands looked and the way my grandma had decorated and rearranged her living room. i looked at the way my grandparents loved each other and would kiss each other twice before bed every night. i danced with my grandpa to ray charles records in the living room. i held his hand and let him forget who i was. i realized how even in his confused state, he knew that i loved him and that he was safe.
in the following months, i did my best to find inner peace. i spent time with my parents. i had sunday evening pitch-ins with friends. and i slowed down. again, taking time to look at and embrace life’s fragile and beautiful nature.
two months later, my work place experienced staff cuts. eleven percent of my friends and colleagues laid off. another shift, another change, more loss.
that same month, my grandpa passed away.
in april, i went to a doctor. i went to get a physical and get a baseline for my health. i was worried about what the stress and anxiety had done to my body. i told my doctor everything with a straight face. she looked at me in shock and then asked if i was okay. i told her i couldn’t have gotten through it without the help and support of my friends and family. i’m looking at you. all of you.
i could not have done it.
she didn’t suggest that i get on medicine, instead, she asked what i had been doing. i said i’d been doing yoga, eating well, sleeping, listening to good music, reading and trying to focus on my mental health. she looked at me and said rita: you’re doing all the right things.
it was in that moment that i EXHALED. i realized that i was going to get through it. and if the go ahead from a medical professional wasn’t enough, i didn’t know what was.
when the sun came back out in the spring, i knew i had made it. i knew that i had gotten through the worst of it. on one of the first days of spring, my coworker and i went outside and i laid in the grass shouting “I CAN SMELL THE EARTH!” for those of you who have grown up in a climate with a somewhat harsh winter, you know exactly what this feels like.
in the coming summer months: i learned to look up. i learned to look around my city. to look at all of its beautiful color, whether that be in its people or its landscape. i learned to accept where i am today. and to not apologize for being myself. i tried new food, i met new people, i applied for grants that i didn’t think i could win. i pushed myself outside of my comfort zone and basked in the power of vulnerability.
i developed a new awareness of the world around me and a new form of compassion for the friends, neighbors, and strangers in my life. i started making an effort to stop and ask how that stranger making me coffee was doing today. i made an effort to make eye contact, to smile, and to even fill the empty seat next to strangers.
in may, my sister and family welcomed a sweet baby girl, Kennedy, to our family. “New life makes losing life easier to understand” seems to be the most fitting sentiment here. after arriving to the hospital a mere fifteen minutes after my sister gave birth, i don’t think i can fully describe what the emotion in that room was like. the whole day feels like a slow motion capture in my mind. a sweet, precious, fragile new life.
i spent the rest of my summer continuing what i knew best: eating well, sleeping well, BREATHING. i visited a dear friend in san francisco for 11 days of blissful vacation and had one of the best trips of my life. i hosted barbecues, i went camping, i went for almost daily walks. i spent weekends ditching my car and hopping on my bike. i explored new neighborhoods. i danced like an idiot. i laughed, i mean truly laughed. i felt community. i felt a sense of place.
i learned to fall in love with my city and other cities around the world. in november, i went on another incredible trip to montreal where i met one of my design superheros and spent two days staying with complete strangers in their lovely home.
this year, i got involved in more of what i believe in. i worked on new and exciting projects that pushed my creative limits. i put myself out there for risky, new projects. i succeeded and sometimes failed. most importantly: i learned.
i learned how to say no and mean it. how to say yes and mean it. i learned to appreciate life for what it is and to stop looking at what it is not. i learned what it means to be happy and fulfilled and to feel a sense of true purpose and meaning backed by good people who support and love me.
most importantly: i learned to take my mental health seriously. for myself and for the loss of a friend. I learned to get outside and to breathe.
i learned that at the end of the day, it is all about human connectedness. we are all in this together and we are stronger together. no one has it figured out and we are all growing and evolving people. how beautiful is that?
this christmas, i’ll head home to a house full of family. my grandma will be home from texas, my sisters, their partners, and babies and my incredible parents….my best friends…my truly, truly incredible parents.
as 2013 comes to an end, my heart is filled with the most overwhelming sense of gratitude.
i write this as a thank you. for your support, for your love and for your compassion. without it, i wouldn’t be here feeling as truly happy and fulfilled as i am.
the only way we really create change is to enter any situation with the humility to listen and to recognize the world as it is, and then the audacity to dream what it could be, to have the patience to start and let the work teach you, to be willing to lead when you need to lead, and to listen. to have a sense of generosity and empathy, but not over-empathy, because accountability is so critical to building solutions that work. if there’s one value that is immutable, it’s integrity or respect, for others and for yourself.
“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it will be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”—
I just returned from yet another inspiring museum technology conference…my inbox is full of reminders of how amazing the folks working in my field are. Items include: the quote above, a jazz album, youtube videos, and photos from our karaoke night. Love you, #musetech.