It had been awhile since I found myself laughing. I don’t mean uttering a courtesy chuckle (we all know what those sound like). I mean genuinely belting out uninhibited laughter. The kind that comes from deep down in your gut and bubbles up so much so that you can’t hold it back, and you don’t want to.
They say laughter is the best medicine, and six months ago I found myself highly medicated, that is, I remembered how to laugh.
It was a chilly October weekend that I found myself truly relaxed for the first time in months, too many months to even try and count. This particular weekend I had no computer along for the ride, no tasks or to do lists staring me in the face. It was this particular weekend I laughed, and began to feel like myself again.
The laughter happened countless times throughout the weekend, but the one time that made me stop and take notice occurred Sunday afternoon while drinking cider with three dear friends atop the lawn of the Parthenon.
Yes, The Parthenon. No, we weren’t in Greece. We were in Nashville, Tennessee.
There we were on a blanket with no agenda other than enjoying one another’s company and basking in the warmth of the fall sunshine. That afternoon, we watched dogs running freely, tongues hanging out and tails wagging while their owners threw footballs back and forth across the soft grass. It was here I realized I had made a 180 degree turn from where I’d been when I returned home from my last weekend trek to Nashville, just seven weeks prior.
Labor Day weekend I had driven to Nashville hellbent that it would be just as I had romanticized it since my first visit three years prior. I was convinced that I would be met with affirming clarity that I should move there. Then the opposite happened. At some point during that trip, or two beers in on a Friday night to be exact, I felt as though a veil had been lifted. Suddenly I could see how confused with my life I had grown, how unhappy with myself I’d become, and how lost I felt.
All of my feelings surrounding the events of my adulthood thus far crept up, and exploded. I realized my idea of Nashville had always involved ending up there with another person, one person in particular. I realized just how alone I felt. I realized I’d grown so focused on telling the stories of others, I had ignored writing my own. And then perhaps the most difficult realization of them all set in, I realized I would take myself with me wherever I went. I realized if I was going to move to Nashville alone, or anywhere else for that matter, I had to face up to myself first.
I sobbed on the steering wheel the entire drive home from that weekend trip while listening to Lana Del Rey on repeat. And this was only the tipping point.
Immediately following the long mentally exhausting solo drive home, I felt as though life was beating me while I was already down. If it wasn’t mental stress it was emotional turmoil. When it wasn’t emotional turmoil, it was physical pain that knocked me off my feet, literally. The pain kept me from running, amplifying both the mental stress and emotional turmoil. A vicious cycle if you will.
The emotional turmoil extended deep down under the surface, all the way to the heart. Oh yes, that thing. The weight of the back and forth situation I’d spent the entirety of my 20s believing in and holding out hope for, suddenly felt like a burden that was too much to bear. I realized the ideal was far removed from the actual. And the actual was looking more and more like a derailed train that I needed to jump off of. I realized in the midst of staying on the train, trying to hold onto blind hope while carrying the hurt, I was growing resentful and shutting everything out instead of keeping my heart open. You can operate out of fear, or love, and I was swearing by the latter, while being consumed with the former.
After recognizing that it could be back and forth forever if I let it, I began the journey down my own road toward closure. I knew some abrupt changes had to happen to truly blaze a new trail. Ultimately I felt as though in order to regain strength and some form of sanity I had to overhaul my life.
I looked around my affordable downtown apartment I’d called home for the entirety of my adulthood and grown incredibly attached to, and felt so smothered by the idea of a life I created for myself that I didn’t know if I wanted anymore. I could no longer pretend I was happy with any of it. And so I packed my bags and moved back across town into my mom’s house.
Little did I know just how much I would feel like a fish out of water, leaving the house I had lived in for five solid years, since the age of 21, a foundation and four walls that I had subconsciously tied portions of my identity to. If I had known then and there that things were only going to get far more difficult before they got easier, as I walked down the stairs alone carrying box after box of my adulthood memories with me night after night, I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it.
Good thing it all happened so fast I couldn’t stop myself.
The move was step one, and then there were no immediate steps to follow. Instead, I felt like I was standing in cement. After unpacking at my mom’s, I let anxiety rear its ugly head, take over my entire being and paralyze me. I felt defeated. I felt like I was trapped in my own life, one that I couldn’t make work. I felt I had nothing left to show for myself or my life, and I wanted to give up.
The first month back home was a dark blur I can barely remember.
At the end of the blur, came Nashville, yet again.
Going back to Nashville at the end of October, I was scared that it would be a similar scenario. I was so anxious about it that I succeeded in making myself sick before even going. But I made it. And this time it was different.
After we left The Parthenon Sunday we went to my favorite bar in East Nashville and sat outside and sipped on some craft beers enjoying the fall weather. There I was sitting at the bar in torn leggings, vans and a sweater and not worrying about my appearance, some bullshit image, or what was going to happen next. Instead I sat around with three dear friends talking about life and everything under the sun and was profoundly present in that moment. It was a moment during which I wish I could have pushed pause. It was a moment of awakening. In that moment it hit me that I was going to be okay, no matter what happened. No matter if I ended up in Nashville, or elsewhere for the next chapter of my life.
I held down the table while the rest went inside to grab us more beers. I stared up at the night sky and felt a sense of peace overcome me. I’ve always been a lone wolf. And I’ve grown so accustomed to being by myself, I’m not sure why I let it terrify me to the point I wanted to give up the fight. Maybe it’s part of growing up and realizing that when you find yourself carrying on alone as you ease into your late twenties, it feels like there is more at stake than there was a few years ago. At some point it becomes far too easy to start letting yourself feel like damaged goods, instead of a force to be reckoned with.
I realized while sitting out on that very patio, although I didn’t ask to be where I was right then, I was there for a reason. Just like I am here now and I can either make something of it and be the best version of myself every single day, or I can wave a white flag and shut down. This is a choice that must be made daily. And I’ve never been one to want to back down from a fight.
Ultimately I want to make a difference in the world, even in one person’s life through my writing. Not through telling the story of the outcome that I want to tell. Not idealizing or romanticizing what my life should be like, but by actually being honest with what my life looks like, and just how messy feelings can be when you let them take over.
Coming home from Nashville this second time, I became inspired to start telling the stories only I can tell. And not only that, refocusing on writing a story that I can live with, rather than living a life I could live without. More than anything, since October, I’ve recommitted myself to living a life that includes smiling until my cheeks hurt, and never again forgetting how to laugh.
Now, six months later, the darkness of the fall season seems so far behind. I was recently asked by someone when I mentioned the fall, if I consider it to be one of the lowest seasons of my life. At one point, when I was in the throes of it and couldn’t see past the circumstances closing in on me, I would have most certainly answered, yes. Now I say with much reassurance, no. There is beauty to be found in the breakdown after all. And beyond that, it was darkness that I believe I had to stumble and scrape myself up the entire way through, to be able to come out on top. I had to face my own demons to be able to see the light.
The light of the new year has looked a lot like quitting my full time job to merge out into the freelance freeway in an effort to build my career around my lifestyle instead of the other way around, being able to run again, starting a blog dedicated to my passion for a plant-based diet and renewed dedication to an active lifestyle, and perhaps most notably, putting in hours on hours to train for my first full marathon.
Speaking of the marathon, did I mention it’s in Nashville?
That’s right. In just a couple of days I will return to Nashville yet again, this time for the race. The city that I once thought I would move to now holds bittersweet sentiments, and has been moved to a different place in my heart. And for these very reasons, running this marathon in the city seems nothing short of fitting.
The training journey to get here hasn’t been easy. Despite being able to move away from the darkness of the fall season, it’s been a constant uphill battle with challenge upon challenge. There’s been injury, sickness, and overwhelming waves of self-doubt that have at times led me to fall back into the fear blanket I wrapped myself in so tightly just months ago. I know that race day will be no exception to any of this. On the surface I am scared shitless. But deep down, I know I will make it. I will remember that I’ve climbed much bigger hills in my life than those of this Nashville marathon.
Come Saturday, when I don’t think I can take another step, I will keep going, and I will remember to smile. And mixed in with the flood of tears I will cry, assuming I’m not too dehydrated to do so, I will remember to laugh about the leaps, bounds, and even the many missteps I’ve taken over the course of my lifetime, and especially over the course of this past year, my marathon year (26), that have brought me to this point.
Crossing that finish line will not only be the biggest accomplishment of my life, it will mark the start of the next chapter in the Sarah story. Pages that are ready to be filled with uncertain adventure, and unceasing laughter.