I am home.
It's a simple sentence, only three words. But it says everything, doesn't it?
I spent this past weekend in Clear Lake, Iowa for the North Iowa Book Bash (NIBB). It was not my first time. I also spent the weekend with two of my best friends, Kati and Zack. Also not my first time.
I love author signings. The readers have always been amazing, and meeting and reconnecting with creative souls I don't get to see very often makes for a very fun weekend. But in the past there's always been a measure of stress.
Not small either.
I would chalk it up to being an introvert with anxiety issues.
Which, okay, that was true. Very true.
However it wasn't the whole truth.
Something began happening in my life about 5ish years ago. No. No. Further back than that. The dates hardly matter at this point except to create a timeline. The point is, things began happening. I'm not going to go into the details of a lot of it because, quite frankly, it's boring as hell. But I do want to touch on a few key things. Revealing personal things about myself makes me uncomfortable. But my own personal growth has been aided by the willingness of others to share. So if I can pass any kind of benefit onto to someone, I'm going to do it. Regardless of the discomfort.
I had been struggling with some personal emotions. Privately of course. Fear, suspicion, distrust, sadness, confusion, frustration, self-disgust). In fact, the longer I wrestled with these things in my mind, the lonelier I felt. And when I say wrestled, I mean that. It was a constant internal battle between how I was feeling and what my mind told me were actual facts. They didn't line up. Reality didn't balance with how I felt.
Or so I thought.
Okay, so some of you know about The Diagnosis. Brain tumor, broken thyroid, autoimmune crap, blah blah blah. Gained 100 pounds in a year before finally seeing a specialist who took me seriously, MRI, etc. And maybe two of you know about the personal things happening in my life around that time. Not getting into that because it's not my story to tell.
The part that IS my story is this: I was in a very unhealthy friendship. Not romantic. Cap is and always has been the real deal and better than even he knows. But the friendship I had been in (again, not romantic), dissolved. Which shouldn't have been as mind twisting as it was. People move on, people change. They grow apart.
But I had made an error.
I had allowed this person to become so influential in my life that when they were gone, those feelings of self-disgust, fear, sadness, confusion, etc. amplified.
I'm gonna repeat part of that.
I had allowed that person's influence on me.
And they weren't the first.
I had a pattern of allowing my self-worth to be dictated by people who would come into my life and tell me who I was. I'm not sure when it started, I can think of a handful of individuals I've allowed this kind of power over me. But each one left me a wreck. Twisted and broken and a little bit on fire.
The details are all different but the basic treatment of me was the same. Being told I'm wonderful, followed rapidly by advice on how to be better, followed closely by how I was the worst. Repeat cycle.
14 months ago I started therapy. For awhile I had to go weekly. Now I go every other week. The first thing I learned is that I'm an empath.
This was both a relief and a shocker.
I had been trying to ignore my emotions for so long that I had begun to believe maybe I just didn't care about anyone. But that never jived with how I felt when I would allow myself to relax with my child or Captain Awesome—literally the only two people I felt safe with.
As an abused empath, I had trained my emotions to only feel what my abuser wanted me to feel. This went for all the people in my life who've done that. Not one in particular. I have specific memories of expressing my own emotion about something and being punished until I returned to my "proper" place. I should have listened to my mama all those years ago when the first person inserted themselves into my life. She said, "Don't trust that girl, she's a psychopath." Turned out, mama was right.
I've had to learn to feel my own feelings and how to distinguish between mine and someone else's.
I also have intense fears of abandonment. These might be because of my hormone parade via the brain tumor. It hardly matters the cause, the part that matters is how I handle it. Which I'm learning as I go. But I have also learned that lack of self-love is huge contributor to fears of abandonment. In fact, saying goodbye to people has always made me cry. And ache. I treated every goodbye like a funeral.
It also meant I was reluctant to make new connections. Which often made others feel rejected when that had never been my intention.
I am also a chronic people pleaser. (Especially in regards to adult authority figures, but not exclusively.)
People pleasing is not what I always thought it was. For me it was wanting everyone around me to be happy. I wanted everyone to get along and not be upset. Anger scared me. I always believed anger was a bad thing to feel, therefore it must me avoided or fixed.
But that's just stupid. Anger is an emotion just like any other. It's what we do with it that matters.
And I can't keep everyone happy. I spent years trying and it only gave me severe anxiety and an eating disorder. I've learned that there are some people who will still be upset even if you've done everything they want. I can't fix their issues. I can only fix mine. That realization alone is liberating. I need to be okay with Heidi. And I don't mean I need to be comfortable. I mean I need to know I'm making the healthiest decisions for me, because in the big picture, I'm with myself the most. I need to be cool with my own head and heart.
And, turns out, I really like people. And they like me. Another shocker.
Which brings me back to this weekend.
In the past, getting ready for an author signing meant that I would be terrified leading up to the event. I would spend the entirety of the weekend worried that I was screwing everything up and everyone hated me.
Not this time.
It didn't hit me until I was loading the car with the food I had cooked and packed so diligently because I've made my health a priority. I stopped and let myself feel the moment. I was happy with anticipation. That was all.
Because I know Kati and Zack are my friends. Real friends. They let me feel how I feel. They love my weird and they call me out on my shit without being dicks about it.
The trip across the state was the best one of my life. It reminded me of when I went on a road trip with Cap and two of the guys who inspired the creation of Double Blind Study. That was another epic weekend filled with silliness and freedom.
Multiple times this weekend I stopped and took stock of what I was feeling. Practicing mindfulness has been a huge contributor to my emotional progress. A couple of times I felt insecurity and panic lurking in the back of my mind. Healing is a deliberate action that I choose daily. So I would just take the long way to the next location. Usually outside. Deep, slow breaths, a moment alone, and I'd center myself again.
I was able to have the kind of conversations I adore having. Readers are the most remarkable people. Especially mine. I know that sounds like bullshit but I am serious. I believe my readers have higher EQs than the average person. They know when they pick up one of my books they're going to feel big things and they are ready for it.
When I recognize people from online before they've introduced themselves they get this special sparkle. Like I've given them a gift. And if I hadn't been taking care of myself, I wouldn't be able to give them that gift. And they so deserve it.
Taking care of myself, learning how to heal those broken pieces, those things have allowed me to be more engaged and genuine with everyone else. I feel closer to who I've always longed to be. The real Heidi. I no longer feel like a burden.
In fact, I was given the greatest compliment on Saturday. A friend of mine I hadn't seen in seven months said, "You look great. But more than that, you look like you feel great."
I do. I feel like me. I've always been this person in private. But I'm that person allll the time now. Goofy, weird, kind of dramatic. I've shown up for my life.
It was about time.
We got tattoos on Saturday. It seems it's tradition at this point. When the three of us get together, we get inked.
I chose to get my Captain America tattoo on my right thigh. "I can do this all day." It's my reminder to me to keep going. Fight when I might not win. Believe in myself even when no one else gets it. Always get back up. And I really don't like bullies.
We dressed up at the Breakfast Club for the 80s After Party. It was an idea I had a couple months ago and instead of blowing it off, I ran with it. I am so happy I did. It was one of those magical moments you never forget. Everyone committed to their character. I had to focus so hard to look serious in all the photos (I was representing John Bender, after all) because outside of that I was smiling so big it hurt.
The people in my life, the ones I've deliberately chosen and have chosen me back... They're so much more than I ever thought I deserved. Even as I type that I hear my therapist's voice in my head: You're too hard on yourself. Give yourself the credit you deserve.
But these friendships, these people, they're so much a part of my heart and soul that it is at times a little unbelievable.
I still apologize too much. It's annoying even to me. But I'm aware of it and I'm working on it.
When the weekend was over and I had to leave Zack at the airport, I was appropriately sad. Bummed our time was up, but excited for the next time we can all get together. Because these things don't feel like goodbye anymore. Returning to one another is only a matter of time. That's what happens when you find your people. Distance is just a detail. It's not a definition.
And it was on the drive back home, with Kati riding shotgun and Taylor Swift blasting through the speakers, that I realized something new...
I'm a little bit in love with my life.