I'm really bad at journaling. I have a vast collection of journals from throughout my life, some halfway filled, some with only a few pages of writing. Only a select few have actually been completed through the very last page. This is mostly because I usually only journal in times of dire need - times when my already full brain is overflowing to the point of insanity, when talking to other people just isn't enough, or when I don't feel like I can talk to anyone at all. 

I go back and flip through these journals from time to time, especially when I'm struggling, and I'm repeatedly surprised to discover that they are chock full of wisdom. Not because I myself am wise, but because they tend to remind me of the things I already know, the feelings I've already had that I've been able to work through. The truths that continue to be applicable, especially when I'm repeating mistakes I've made in the past. To be able to view situations and feelings in retrospect and apply them to the present day is something I have found to be endlessly valuable.

I've been going through some stuff lately. If you're someone like me, who thrives on expressing herself, and slowly dies inside when she can't, then you know that it's hard to go through stuff, good or bad, and not being able to talk (or write) about it. But I've learned the importance of entrusting important information with only those who have earned it - those whose empathy and non-judgmental-ness I have already experienced, who are willing to listen and then hold my words within themselves, instead of scattering them far and wide.  The general public is not deserving of intimate details about anyone's personal woes (thank god we're not all celebrities, eh?). 

That being said, I do think it's equally as important that we not shut ourselves off from one another. It is so easy to feel isolated in this seemingly over-connected world, especially when everyone's best selves are usually what are on display. As my therapist often reminds me, "Don't compare someone else's highlight reel to your behind the scenes". Easy enough advice, right? And something we all struggle to do. It is these highlight reels that make us feel inadequate, even as we're adding more content to our own. It's become so easy to feel like we're the only ones with money problems, or mental illness; the only ones grieving, or feeling unsure of what we want to do with our life. The only ones who are sick, or afraid, or paralyzed by indecision. So we burrow these things away even more deeply, which causes everyone else to feel more alone, and then they burrow, and on and on in a constant cycle of pretending we're all okay, all the time.

So what's to be done about all of this? How does one express herself in a way that promotes connection and vulnerability without exposing all of the bare bones of her life? I've tussled with this question a lot lately. The fine line is real. On one hand, it'd be great if we could all be Cheryl Strayed: confess our heroin use, multiple extramarital flings, and abortion to whole world, and be done with it. But the more I've thought about it, the more I've realized that sometimes, context doesn't matter. It's not a requirement to spell out specific details or events in order to acknowledge the universality of genuine emotions and shared experiences. The most important thing is to connect, to find the relateability in all parts of life. To go from thinking, "I thought it was just me", to "Me too". 

A couple of weeks ago, I saw this pop up on my Instagram feed:

 
 

Beyond this being incredibly relevant to my life right now, I'm a sucker for a good quote, so I immediately screen-shotted it, and then I noticed one of the first comments below: "sigh. I know, I know. AFGO, upon AFGO, upon AFGO. And then the happy. And then probably another AFGO." Intrigued, I googled "AFGO", and Urban Dictionary told me that it stands for "Another Fucking Growth Opportunity" (you can also replace "Fucking" with "Fabulous"...but I'm not really sure why you would do something like that). Which, frankly, is one of the most amazing acronyms I've ever seen.

For some reason, the Universe has decided that my thirty-first year of life is going to be extra full of AFGOs. It sucks. I could spend this season of my life burrowing (which I've already done plenty of) and trying to make it through on my own, but instead, I'm going to try my damnedest to do the opposite. So I sat down and thought about some of the lessons I've learned from particularly memorable AFGOs throughout my life, both recently and from those once-angsty, now-wise journal entries from years ago. There are a lot. And I already wrote about a lot of them when I turned 30. But life keeps happening, and the AFGOs keep on coming. So here are some more. The lessons never end.

:: I have learned that people are capable of so much more love, and so much more destruction than we give each other credit for. That it is possible for anyone to cross lines, make monumental mistakes, to hurt people and continue to make bad decisions over and over again. That it is easy to use the labels "good" or "bad" without addressing the gray area in between; to point fingers and judge others for their actions until you suddenly find yourself standing in their shoes, and realize you are no different than the rest of humanity. I have learned that those moments are the truest moments of growth, the ones that will expand your empathy and your mind. And I have learned that through it all, it is still possible to receive grace and forgiveness from the people who love you.  

:: I have learned that love is full of paradoxes. That it is possible for a man to wholeheartedly declare you to be the love of his life, and still end up choosing his image over his happiness; what "should" be done over how he actually feels. It is possible for deep, true love to be conditional, and for it to be taken away as easily as it was given. It is possible for someone who loves you to abandon you and dispose of you, to hurt you at the deepest level. It is possible for them to apologize and swear they'll never treat you that way again, only to turn around and repeat their actions just a few days later. It is possible for epic love stories to be AFGOs in disguise.

:: I have learned that change is impossible to avoid. Some things can last for a long time, but nothing lasts forever. Even the things that do stick around for a long time do some shape shifting. Best friends and lovers can become strangers, sometimes overnight. Reality can do a 180. And it can seem like the end of the world, but chances are, it'll be okay. Sometimes it won't. But it probably will.

:: I have learned that reality is what you make it. The stories we tell ourselves can be our strongest ally, or our biggest enemy. But either way, we and we alone are in charge of those stories. 

:: I have learned that it is possible for liars to get away with their lies. For manipulators to manipulate their way out of anything; to bend and twist the truth based on what benefits them the most in that moment. And it is possible to believe lies, and be manipulated, even if you know the warning signs. Sometimes the bad guy wins. It is possible for life to truly not be fair. I have learned that it is possible to accept that, and keep on believing in and fighting for the good in humanity anyway. 

:: I have learned that grief is applicable to more than just death. It is possible to lose a person, and for them to go on living. It is possible to lose dreams, and hopes, and expectations. It is possible to have the rug pulled out from under your life, and to grieve what used to be. And most importantly, I have learned that grief is okay. It is not something to rush through, but something to experience with your whole heart. 

:: I have learned that everyone has the capability to be strong and resilient. I have seen it in myself, and I have seen it in countless others. It is possible to become strong in the broken places, for the scar tissue to be tougher than what was there before.  Cowardice and fear are real, and they keep a lot of people from happiness, but they're not as strong as courage. And that courage is a muscle - the more you use it the stronger it gets. Not necessarily easier. But stronger. 

As I've been slogging along lately, some days not sure how I'm going to make it through, I've seen so many people from all over the world posting quotes, writing poetry, and having conversations that I can completely relate to, and the extent to which that relating has helped me is indescribable. I am in awe of people who put their hearts out there, reach out to others, and tell the stories that need to be told to help us feel like we're all making our way through this weird fever dream of life together. To connect is to be human. I plan to continue to connect as much as possible by opening up, and hopefully by doing so, allowing others to feel that they can do the same. Allowing others a peek at what's going on behind the scenes is one of the best ways I can think of to break the cycle of the highlight reel. And let's be honest, we all need a break. 

And someday, hopefully years from now, when I'm going through more AFGOs, I can come back to this particular public journal entry and smile at how I'm still learning these same lessons, over and over again, just in different ways. And I'll be glad I took the time to write it all down, no matter how painful. Here's to being open and loving and patient with each other. We're only human, after all.