Early Morning Workout

Got an early morning workout in! That’s what happens when you can’t sleep apparently. Kept it easy with some lower body work, specifically focused on stretches and reworking some muscles but threw some squats in there too. A little bit of cycling, a little bit of yoga – good way to start the morning! I even started working on my planner for next year and already have the 5th of May marked off. 👍🏻🏃🏻‍♀️🧘‍♀️

Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2019

I’m a huge book nerd. I guess it makes sense, I don’t know any writers who don’t also love reading. There is a tattoo of books on my arm. I actually credit Pizza Hut with my love of reading. I participated in Book-I when I was a kid and would get a free personal pan pizza depending on how much I read or whatever. I am pretty sure my first grade mind began to associate books with pizza, and pizza was good, so books must be good too. I’m not mad about it. But yeah, I read a lot. A tech nerd as well, I consider the e-reader, specifically the Kindle, the greatest invention and innovation. It allows me to hold a library in my hands. I have wanted to make a book club that meets at a bar. I read multiple books at once. All the books. Give me.

I have a “To be Read” list a mile and more long; and there is never enough time to read. But the one thing I want to start doing more is reading book reviews of new releases. It is a great way to combine the two things I love!

I very rarely read fiction anymore. Of course, I am a Harry Potter and The Hunger Games fan. Of course I read Star Wars books. But with the exception of the occasional thriller…I read nonfiction. There’s variety in that. I think a big part of me always reading nonfiction is the fact that I am a lifelong learner. I am always looking to know more. I really want to take the Jeopardy! test because I know a decent amount of random facts. Depending on the categories; I’ll either drown or I’ll nail the landing. Got nothing to lose, though. My point is, I love learning. All the knowledge. Give me. Notice a pattern?

I’ll read some self-help books; but those probably have the highest percentages of “Did Not Finish.” Usually they hook me in right away, or it is just not going to happen. There are some I’ve read that I was frustrated by their viewpoints concerning mental illness or how their opportunities allowed them to succeed in ways others just don’t have the fortune of being born into. Others, however, have been really helpful. Some helped me really start and commit to meditation. They’ve inspired and help me grow. I’m usually willing to try another.

I like biographies and autobiographies; probably autobiographies a little bit more. Currently, one of the books I’m reading is Michelle Obama’s Becoming (it’s taking longer than I expected, I want to review it. But we’ll see if that happens) and I love how she writes and her storytelling ability. It is very conversational, which can be hit or miss. In this case, it is a hit. Reading George W. Bush’s Decision Points as a young adult helped me understand him more and see what he was facing from the Oval Office. His book was probably the first time that I realized that no one has any clue of what the president goes through on a daily basis with the most mundane things, let alone when you face a terrorist attack like 9/11. In fact, a great book about that understanding (or lack thereof) is explored in The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. It’s over 700 pages long, but I can’t recommend it enough. It offers a fascinating perspective into the presidency and the relationships between those who hold the office.

Back to George W. Bush, I enjoyed his writing style very much as well, his book on his father, George H.W. Bush, rest his soul, 41: A Portrait of My Father is also on my To be Read list. I’m actually surprised I haven’t seen it climbing back into charts as a result of his death. I don’t think most people would expect George W. Bush to be a storyteller, but he really is. His eulogy for his father was one of the funniest, sincere, and loving I have ever heard.

Some books take longer than others. I’m looking at you, Ron Chenrow novels, specifically Hamilton (the book inspired the musical, and he gave plenty of props to Eliza by the way. I love Lin-Manuel Miranda, but he wasn’t the only one who told Eliza’s story. They just did differently) and Grant. Both are extremely detailed and interesting books. But the writing and depth of all the knowledge make me have to read the book in sections and take breaks. I’ve never had to do that, but it’s worth it. They are fascinating.

Oh – John Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin. They are awesome authors of American history.

You may have noticed a pattern here, as well. I like to read a lot of American history. Specifically, American political history. And even then, it gets more specific into a lot of presidential history. I have read a lot on that subject. I’ve learned so much. I actually give credit to a college course I took. I was in the Honors college, and we had to take Honors seminars. My sophomore year there was one on presidential leadership, so I took it. I believe we focused on four different presidencies, I don’t remember all the specifics. But I learned more about the presidents in that class than I had any other history class, and I was hooked. So, thank you Dr. Harold and Dr. McCarthy.

I actually really want to write a nonfiction historical novel one day and have a couple ideas. But while I will never stop reading my American history or political history books of any kind, I am looking to brand out maybe a little bit in 2019. I do read true crime, that has only started to happen more frequently with my listening to the podcast My Favorite Murder. But I am looking to add some more variety. So, I’d like to share some books I am looking forward to in 2019!

  • Queen of the World: Elizabeth II: Sovereign and Stateswoman: Coming out ready to roll on January 1, 2019, this plot is pretty self-explanatory. I have enjoyed many books on the history of the British monarchy, but I really haven’t read past the Queen Victoria era. She has been queen for 66 years. The queen, then a princess and heir to the throne, served during World War II. The then-Princess Elizabeth enrolled in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), similar to the American Women’s Army Corps. Her father wasn’t thrilled about the idea. And she was the heir to the throne, which was kind of a significant concern. Like the others, she served in  highly valuable support roles as a mechanic and driver. The queen is the only woman from the Royal Family to have served in the Armed Forces, and she is the only head of state to have served during World War II. That alone makes her a badass. But the queen has experienced many changes in this world during her life and reign. Prince Harry’s marriage to American actress and once-divorced Meghan Markle is almost ironic; it was her uncle the King’s intention to marry an American socialite who was previously married that led to his abdication which resulted in her father becoming King and Princess Elizabeth suddenly becoming the Princess of Wales and heir to the throne. She’s had an interesting life.

  • The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris:  Okay, yes, the second book on my list is a memoir by an American senator. I know, I know.  But she has been up-and-coming, and I want to learn about her journey. Her mother was a scientist, and her father was an economics professor who taught at Stanford. Her parents both emigrated to the U.S; her mother from Madras and her father from Jamaica. Her maternal grandfather, with whom she was very close, was an Indian diplomat. She had a lot to live up to and has carved out her own name and legacy. Harris was a prosecutor, then district attorney, then Attorney General of California, and now senator.  This comes out on January 8th.
  • An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen is out on January 8th too. This is a fictional read! And it is a thriller. This novel is about a young women who signs up for a psychological that ends up having a more sinister purpose and makes her paranoid and scared.

Let me know which books you are looking forward too and what else I should be keeping an eye out for!

Full Throttle for a Half Marathon

Growing up, I hated running. I detested running the mile in gym class. I think a good portion of us did. But, later, when I wasn’t forced to do it for a grade, I learned that I did not mind running as much.

My relationship with running hasn’t been as great as I had envisioned. You know those women they show in commercials, not a hair out of place in a high ponytail, comfortably running in a sports bra looking serene?

Yeah, that is the opposite of me of when I run. I will be grossly covered in sweat, often wearing a hat because my pixie cut gets weird and gross and my face will be a deep red.

That doesn’t mean I hate running though. There are definitely times where I hate running while I am running. But, man, afterwards, I just feel great. I may look exhausted and sweaty and whatever else, but I feel good.

Unfortunately, there have been things that have prevented me from running as often as I’d like. I have plantar fasciitis. While I would like to call it a pain in the ass, it is actually a pain in the foot. The heels, specifically. I have decent control over mine currently, but it was not smooth sailing. Every time I took a step, I felt like a knife was being driven through my foot. Exercises, steroid shots (these suck, they hurt like no other. Blah.), a night splint, a massage ball, and making sure to wear good shoes – all of these have helped me. Generally, I can only buy good shoe brands. Shoes really aren’t my favorite part of fashion, so paying anywhere between $150-200 for a pair of regular black flats is mind-boggling to me…especially when they do help. But for tennis shoes? I have four different pair. Two I alternate for regular activities, one for running, and one just for working out like strength training. It is nuts. But a better alternative to the foot pain.

Another problem that I’m still working on is I keep getting cramp-like feelings in my legs when I get about 30 seconds into a run, maybe a little less. I do intervals with run-walk usually, and it gets worse the more I run. I stretch, I warm up, I do some basic exercises or yoga poses to get my calves going. But they still want to cramp. Even with wearing a compression sleeve. Right now, this is my greatest hurdle towards running a half. I’m going to talk to my doctor in a couple weeks, but I’ll take any suggestions!

So, yeah, I don’t think that this is going to be the easiest accomplishment but there is a part of me that thinks I have a shot at this. So I signed up for the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon on May 5th, 2019. Signed up. Committed. Here we go.

You might be think what the hell? You might say, Tori, you haven’t even been running, what are you doing?

Well, I found a training plan that basically takes you from zero to hero (I hope that Hercules reference is appreciated). So that helps. It’s really just a couch to 5k, just add about ten miles to the 5k. I have until May, this is December, no biggie.

I had to drop out the first time I wanted to do the Pittsburgh Half a couple years ago because of the plantar fasciitis. But we’ve moved on from that. I also found a way to tape my heel to provide support when I run. It worked great when I did it! In high school, I considered becoming an athletic trainer and was a student athletic trainer; working primarily with football. I’m ten years removed from that which is weird to say, but those taping skills I learned still come in handy! I feel more confident about overcoming that particular hurdle this time.

The cramp thing – there’s got to be something out there. Not counting myself out yet.

I’m thinking about changing my gym membership and buying a basic treadmill. I prefer running outside, but it is Pittsburgh and Snow Miser likes to spend his winters here. It is going to get freaking cold.

That’s not to say that I haven’t thought about these same things and wondered what the hell do I think I’m doing? I’ll be honest, I am freaking terrified. I don’t know what I’m doing. It seemed like a good idea. I can also say I’ve said that about a few things before that ended up not being a good idea at all, but we’re going to be optimistic here.

Originally, when I was considering signing up for the half and trying again, I was thinking I wasn’t really going to tell anyone. I decided against this (obviously), and I’m already really glad I did. I already have a variety of people who said they’d go on runs with me, and I have gotten plenty of suggestions and tips. By having people who say they’ll run with me, this will make it harder to not train. I won’t want to let people down, so I’ll be there. I can’t say how well I’ll do at all, but I’ll be there.

I am also looking into joining a running group – I can use all the support and help I can get! It is also never bad to meet new people too, so that social aspect will be fun. Pittsburgh, it seems, has a good running scene. Kind of ironic when you consider the amount of hills.

You still might be wondering why I feel that I need to run this half. And yes, I will use need here. This is something I need to do. To me, it is more than a bucket list item. There are many benefits to running that I’m going to get into later, but it is more than that.

Running is great for your physical health. Duh. It is also great for your mental health. I will take a two-for-one any day.

I have various physical goals to meet with working out, but my cardiovascular endurance sucks. It really sucks. When I was younger (Like 18), I found out I had sports-induced asthma but I’ve gone at least five years without an asthma attack, likely longer. But sometimes I do wonder if it makes it more difficult for me to build up my endurance. I know intervals and HIIT help with this, but I’m also getting a good vibe about throwing some old-fashioned running in there. I’m thinking my run-walk gradual training plan could be really good for me in that aspect. The better my cardiovascular endurance becomes, the more it’ll help me with HIIT, boxing, and weight lifting – all things I love that can kick my ass right now. Especially these boxing classes that throw core and cardio into the mix. Great workout, really killer though.

I know I can get better when it comes to this.

The better I run, the more my potential will grow.

I don’t want to limit myself.

It will also make me a better firefighter. I have no plans to ever run a half in my turnout gear. But the better I get physically, the more effective I can be. I don’t think I need to emphasize how important this is to me.

Running is also good for mental health. I can believe that just based on how I feel after a run. Or even after a good workout. By committing to the half, I committed myself to working out regularly again. By working out on a regular basis, I get those good feelings that can help against the bad guys. That’s definitely a win. I know working out is good for treating my mental illness. But now, I really don’t have an excuse to not work out. I have a race I need to run. I really do like the idea of being able to run on the treadmill first thing in the morning at home. That would be really beneficial to me, I think.

I definitely can be my worst enemy. I need to prove to myself that I can do this.

And, yes, my mental illness is already starting to whisper to me that I can’t do this and that it is not going to work. I guess we’re going to see which part is stronger. This part isn’t fun.

I have gotten some great suggestions and tips so far on creating a running plan:

  • One of the most important ones I have heard would be to buy properly fitted shoes. I know there are places that also analyze your running stride, so I’m definitely going to check that out. It can be an investment, but I’m used to
  • Logging miles on an app – There are so many for this. Right now, I’m actually playing with three: RunKeeper, Strava, and Nike+. The one running club I’m looking into uses Strava. I’m also hoping to get an Apple Watch for the various Apple health benefits, but all three apps can integrate with the Apple Watch. So I’m going to see which one works best. I’m also not opposed to paying for premium on running apps.

 

  • Running Socks – My goal is to keep myself as warm as possible when I’m outside. I hate cold feet. But good running socks will also help with blisters which suck.
  • Good Playlist – I am ALL about this. I have followed a ton of workout-related playlists on Spotify, and I made two of my own workout playlists. One is specifically called “I am Training for a Half-Marathon.” Half of the Rocky soundtracks are on my playlists. I have no shame. Gonna Fly Now and Eye of the Tiger always help me during a workout. I have a variety of rap, rock, pop, country, and soundtrack – even a couple from Hamilton. I have told some people that I want to hear the music that plays when Rocky wins the match in Rocky II as I finish. Finishing my first half marathon will definitely be an “Yo, Adrian!” moment (As I write this, I just had a “Holy shit I’m trying to run a half marathon moment.” Craaaaap. Or another, more colorful word).
  • Run what you feel comfortable in – I keep seeing this one come up too. As in, do NOT try run in any new gear on race day. Personally, I’m going to keep it simple. Oddly enough, I already have my shirt picked. So I will run with that one underneath my hoodies and jackets at times throughout winter. Not sure what the best kind of yoga pants or running leggings would be. I also am looking into getting running specific gear, like a jacket or gloves especially to protect from the wind.
  • Hydrate and take nutrition into account before you think you need to – As I mentioned before, literally the last thing I want are cramps.  I’m pretty good at drinking water; I drink it the majority of the time now anyways. I am going to put together some type of diet to follow. I don’t want to call it diet, but plan to eat in the way I can get the most benefits. I am looking forward to carb loading the night before the race!
  • Experiment with what works and what doesn’t – I have a training plan. But it is more than just how long or how far I run. I think terrain and environment are both important to consider, as are social runs for solo. I’ve heard of running meditation, and I definitely think I’m going to look into that. I also plan on doing a variety of cross-trainings and yoga. I think that this is a big thing to experiment with and how it makes me feel. Feeling versus thinking is something I need to get better at when it comes to myself. Training for this half has a lot of potential for self-discovery, which wouldn’t be a bad thing for me after the last few months. Maybe it is something I need. This also goes to when you workout and why. For a long time, I was working in the mornings before work because I thought it would suck working out after work. I found out that both actually work for me, but the ideal would be in the morning before work at home which is why I’m considering a treadmill. Also, what is your motivation for this run and workout? Motivation is a huge component in training.
  • Make the mind run the body. When you’ve gotten to the point you feel you’ve hit the wall and out of gas, in reality you have about 60% left – Self-explanatory. This is great though. I wish I would have heard this a long time ago, actually. It goes back to the overthinking, I need to stop doing that. Make the mind run the body. That could help me with a lot of different aspects of my life. It is also where meditation and mindfulness come in, so that’s cool how that’s all lining up.
  • The runner’s high comes after you run not during – I hate running while I run, I love it when I’m done. Boom. Even when my runs suck. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who experiences this.
  • Help other runners, be supportive and thank volunteers on race day – Also self-explanatory. For an activity where technically all is you need is yourself and a pair of shoes, running can be really social which is good because it provides support. And, yes! The volunteers! So much would never get done in many areas if there weren’t volunteers. These people get up really early to watch you run and help you run and make everything run as smoothly as possible. Major props to that. Also, don’t forget about your first responders! I am really, really hoping not to have to utilize emergency medical services during the race but I appreciate them big time. I also have friends who work this event, and they’re awesome.
  • Resources – For Pittsburgh, there are training runs and running groups. Take advantage of it. When people say they’ll run with you, ask. I know I will have to because it will keep me on track. You also can get different perspectives. With the running group, I think the one I’m thinking about joining is too good to pass up. Like I said, I need all the help I can get.
  • It is literally a marathon and not a sprint – Pace yourself. As in, small steps and goals. This will be something I struggle with and I need to remember that all progress is good progress. And not to be too hard on myself. These are all important. (Thanks to everyone for the tips!)

 

But that doesn’t mean my spirit and drive won’t be at full throttle.

As per my usual, I’m going in a different direction with the post as I had originally planned. I blame Sylvester Stallone. I love the Rocky movies, and today I saw Creed II and loved it. There were some tidbits that hit a little close to home. I was actually surprised that I got emotional at some parts. The movie is about more than just boxing; it looks at identity, expectations, and legacy.

This is where it hit me kind of strong and made me do some self-reflection. At one point, Rocky tells Adonis Creed he needs to ask himself what he’s fighting for. That is a loaded question, and it takes Adonis some self-discovery and literal hits to figure it out. Adonis also talks about fighting for himself versus his father’s legacy, the expectations of being a Creed, and his father’s legacy. Through this, Adonis finds who he is. It might sound corny, but I get it. There is actually a quote by Adonis that perfectly sums up living to legacy and finding yourself in a few sentences, but I can’t find it and it is driving me insane.

I have struggled a lot over these last few years, including considering who I am as an individual. I am a self-imposed perfectionist and overachiever. I’m trying to get better at it, but it is still my nature. I also have felt distorted the last couple years because of dealing with depression and anxiety because I know that makes me view myself in ways that simply are not accurate.

Who am I?

What am I fighting for?

Some of these long runs might be a good time to work that shit out.

It isn’t like I have Olympians in my family, so yea, it’s not the same as Adonis versus Apollo. But I am definitely trying to prove something to myself in all of this. Deciding to do this is terrifying to me.

Can I do it?

People will tell me that I can, but can I, really? I don’t know what is holding me back, but I know there is a chance of failure. And I can’t “just not” think about that.

If I fail, who will I disappoint? How will I handle it? I know I’ll disappoint myself.

I have to look at the why. Why am I doing this?

Who am I fighting for?

There are a lot of things I want to gain from this. I know, I know how great of an antidepressant running is supposed to be. While I’m hoping for that, I can’t put all my hope in that. My treatment is more like a puzzle, and I’d be okay with running as a piece. But I can’t expect it to complete it.

I do turn to the wisdom of Rocky and Yoda during these times.

Judge me by my size do you?

It doesn’t matter how it looks to other people. If this is something you gotta do, then you do it. Fighters fight.

There are going to be a lot of Rocky and Star Wars quotes running through my head as motivators the next few months.

I don’t believe it. That is why you fail.

That is why you fail! We’ve talked about this before. Luke failed because he didn’t believe in himself. It took me 26 years of watching The Empire Strikes Back to realize this.

I am, hands down, my worst critic. The amount of times I don’t believe in myself probably is not good.

Why am I doing this? Who am I fighting for?

Right now, in this moment, I really don’t know if I can do this. I’m probably leaning more towards no right now. That doesn’t mean at all that I’m not going to try. It’s only December, the race is in May. I have time.

I don’t have concrete answers to those questions right now. But they are definitely ones I am going to work through. I think the more I work this stuff out, the better off I will be and it will probably help me prepare. I have gotten a lot better over the last few months with stuff, but it has also opened my eyes to how bad it was – worse than I thought. Maybe it is time to face all my demons.

I do have one motivator right now. I’m running to raise money. I’m running to raise money for my fire department, something very, very near and dear to my heart. I love being a firefighter and being part of that community. That brotherhood. I’m still working on getting the site up to donate. It is a cause that means a helluva lot to me.

I hope you all won’t mind more posts about my running journey. I think that it will be something. At least, I hope.

I’ll work on those motivators. I’ll work on learning more about myself. And I am going to just hope that on May 5th, I make those 13.1 miles my bitch (sorry, figure of speech).

Adrian Balboa actually said it best in Rocky II. It was pretty simple, too:

“Win.”
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Remembering Officer Michael Crawshaw

The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion. Proverb 28:1

Most likely, Officer Michael Crawshaw had no reason to believe that his shift as a Penn Hills (Pennsylvania) police officer would be any different on December 6th, 2009. Officer Michael Crawshaw was killed in an ambush during his shift on December 6th, 2009.

He was the first to respond to a call and parked a couple houses away while waiting for backup in his squad car. While waiting, the perpetrator exited the home where he had just murdered an individual over a drug debt and ambushed Officer Crawshaw in his vehicle. Officer Crawshaw died from his injuries at age 32. The perpetrator was later apprehended and ultimately found guilty of his crimes and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

I never met Officer Michael Crawshaw. I never heard his name until his death when it was all over the news. Soon, I learned that he had graduated from my high school. I was in my senior year at the time. I remember seeing one of the teachers at my school be interviewed by the news as she had also graduated from the school and knew Officer Crawshaw. In the last couple of years, it had seemed like the number of officers killed in the line of duty continued to climb and in its frequency. The city mourned. I was an EMT and junior firefighter at the time. I knew many police officers and considered some friends. This was the closest one to hit to home, and really it was only because he graduated from Shaler too.

Soon, life went back to how it was for most of us. This excludes, of course, the family and friends of Officer Crawshaw. In the weeks, months, and even years after they faced the task not only of learning to live without him, but also of coming to terms with his death and how he died; why they lost him so soon as he just tried to do his job to serve and protect others. They also wondered how they could honor his memory and make sure he was remembered.

The Penn Hills Police Department sold shirts and those rubber band bracelet things marking his loss and cementing his memory. This, unfortunately, was not uncommon. We were seeing too frequently line of duty deaths for police officers in the area and these were means to remember the fallen and at times, raise money for the family; for things such as funeral costs or the future of any children.

As I said, at the time, the Pittsburgh/Western Pennsylvania area was seeing far too many of these deaths in an alarmingly short amount of time. And at the time, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. At the time, I was considering a career as a lawyer.  Lord knows enough people told me I was good at arguing. But I didn’t want to just be a lawyer. I wanted to help first responders. I wanted to stop the senseless murders of police officers. I wanted to help protect first responders. I had no idea how I was going to accomplish any of this, least of all as a lawyer, but it seemed like a good idea to me.

We know that obviously I did not become a lawyer. Things change. Just stay with me though, 18-year-old Tori counting down to going to Robert Morris thinking she’s going to change the world. Got it?

I was also applying for scholarships left and right at that time. I had received a scholarship from the school, but I needed all the help I could get. Anything I thought I had a chance at, I applied.

Meanwhile, Michael Crawshaw’s friends and family decided to implement a scholarship to help a Shaler graduate planning to pursue a program related to law enforcement. I took a chance. I wrote my essay about how I wanted to help first responders. I didn’t really think I had a chance because I figured they were more focused on kids who wanted to become police officers. But a few months later, I went to an award ceremony recognizing graduating seniors on scholarships and awarding a few more. I had one a couple from the area, and so I went with my parents. It’s been eight years, I don’t remember it all perfectly. I know I had been award one additional scholarship by the time they got to the last few. I was already elated by that.

There was one guy who was announcing the awardees of of the first Michael Crawshaw Memorial scholarship. Four individuals were named. I did not expect Victoria Mikulan to be one, but I was. I was shocked.

Of the four of us, one other girl wanted to be a lawyer too. She graduated from Stanford Law. The two other guys who won wanted to be police officers. I know one didn’t become one, I have no idea about the other.

I, of course, did not become a lawyer for a variety of reasons. Eventually, I would learn that my written word could be just as powerful. But I would always feel some guilt for not becoming a lawyer and trying to change the world for police.

However, I gained something more than that scholarship. I don’t really remember how, but I ended up connecting with Joe, who had presented the scholarship and was one of Mike’s best friends. It turned out that he had graduated from RMU. Eventually, we both worked at the same company. But by connecting with Joe, I ended up being able to do more for the Crawshaw scholarship fund. When they had Cash Bash’s to try and raise money for the scholarship, I worked them. My mom did as well. At these events, I had the opportunity to meet more of Mike’s family including his mother. I met a local newscaster who was dating a Penn Hills police officer who had worked with Mike, and she told me what she learned about Mike from him. It turned out that a firefighter I knew whose son played baseball with my youngest brother was also one of Mike’s best friends.

I never knew him. But I began to get an idea of him. After the funeral when the media and cameras leave, it is just the family and friends and peers (who in public safety often consider each other family. It is a unique, strong bond) to pick up the pieces. Memorial scholarships are all over the place. How often do we consider the person behind the memorial? I began to consider Michael Crawshaw. Through his scholarship, I did feel connected to him. I don’t know how many people feel that way when they win a memorial scholarship. Getting to know his family and friends and helping work events to continue raising money for the scholarship – I really started to feel a connection to him and a duty to keep his memory alive.

I can’t tell you all the officers in the Pittsburgh area who have died in the line of duty since then. Far too many, I know that much. But it is important to me that Officer Michael Crawshaw and his sacrifice are remembered. I can at least make sure one officer continues to be remembered for his bravery and his sense of duty and to make it so his sacrifice is not in vain. Whenever I hear of another officer down, of a loss as they perform their duty of protecting the community, I think of Michael Crawshaw.

At a local baseball field and park nearby, there is a monument with his image etched in stone. They renamed the baseball field after him. I’ve gone there countless times throughout my life, growing up we would go there for Fourth of July fireworks. We still do on some years. I always make sure to go by.

Remember the rubber bracelet things? At some point, I got one and put it on the shield of my fire helmet. It is another way to remember him. I took it off once for a training because I didn’t want it to get ruined – and managed to burn a finger in a freak moment. After that, I decided I was never going to take it off again. It is almost like a guardian angel at my back now.

I know I’ve given you very little of Michael Crawshaw; how do you sum up a life in words? How do you paint the picture of someone you know through the conversation of others? I just hope that on today, the ninth anniversary of Officer Michael Crawshaw’s death, you will remember him. Remember Officer Michael Crawshaw. He was killed doing his job. As he was ambushed, he never had a chance. He knew the risk of his job. But he was willing to risk his life for people he would never meet. Keeping the memory of him alive helped me pay for my future. His future was stolen from him. The very minimum that I can do is keep his memory alive.

It is kind of hard to do so. I don’t know the best way to do so. If I had the opportunity to help out at fundraising events, I’d do anything in my power to do so. If I couldn’t be there, I’d still try to support it and definitely advertise.

People should know. Of course we all know this happens. But this is different. It is different when you put a face to a name, when you meet the family and friends. The officer is no longer faceless. The image is no longer blurred, they begin to come into focus. He’s just like your brother. Your friend. Your softball buddy. The guy who sits across from you at the bar. Anyone. He can be anyone just like you.

I am thankful for the police who protect us. I am thankful for my friends who serve as police and pray for their protection.

Take a moment today and remember Officer Michael Crawshaw. I keep his name on my helmet; I know it is there every time I grab it to put it on. You can’t miss it on there. I keep it and hope his memory continues to live on.

I wish that my thoughts would be a little bit more eloquent. But, I do have a speech from Harry Potter and the Goblet of FIre by JK Rowling I would like to share.

“Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right, and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory.”

I think that it applies pretty well. He might have not met an evil wizard, but he was just trying to do his job. And we’re most likely not to meet evil wizards (I guess it’s a possibility?) or anyone truly evil, but by doing the right thing we can honor the memory of Officer Crawshaw and the other fallen officers alongside him.

Remember him. And may Officer Crawshaw continue to rest in peace.

25 Things I’m Thankful for

While the history and origin of the Thanksgiving holiday is distorted and ignores uncomfortable truths, I believe that it is still an important time to reflect on what you have and what you have to be thankful for. We should practice gratitude year round, but since it is the holiday, I would like to highlight some things I am thankful for.

  1. We have the opportunity to make things right America has a really complicated history. The majority of people who came to this country were looking for a better life. But, depending on who they were, we didn’t always welcome them with open arms. For a country that’s first settlers came here looking for religious freedom, we weren’t always so open-minded ourselves. And, you can’t forget how horrendously we treated the indigenous people who were already living here when we began to settle America. Or how whites enslaved an entire race of people simply for their difference in race and when they received freedom, we didn’t exactly set them up for success. Our country committed a lot of wrongs, and that is putting it mildly. I don’t believe we should live in the past, but we can’t just ignore it either. There are some wrongs we can’t right. But we need to learn from our mistakes. We are lucky to have that kind of opportunity. We can do better, and do right by the people we hurt.

 

  1. Access to education I was lucky enough to grow up in a society that values education for everyone. I know that many people hated school, and there were plenty of aspects I did not enjoy but this basic thing that everyone in America does is a dream opportunity to others. The last couple of years I have realized I am a lifelong learner and love to learn. The opportunities I had education-wise might not have been possible in other times or other countries. There are definitely flaws with the American education system – all you need to do is look at my student debt load. But I will always be grateful that I had such a wide range of opportunity to learn. While I would be very glad to never deal with math again, my education allowed me to hone my writing skills and develop a love of reading that I have never lost. Those seeds started to plant when I was in first grade. I remember being told I was reading at a fifth grade level in first grade. The love of writing began in elementary school, too. And it kept. For life.  Even now, I tend to read for learning. I read a lot of nonfiction. I want to learn. I am grateful that I was born where it was possible for me to learn.

 

  1. Freedom There are some circumstances in life we cannot change. Where you are born is one of them. Being born an American is pretty much hitting the jackpot. I just talked about receiving an education in America. But being an American provides me with so many basic freedoms that are foreign concepts to others. The freedom of speech; I can criticize our government without fear of being arrested. I have the right to vote. I don’t understand why people don’t vote. Your vote is a say in who is running your country and managing your laws. Elsewhere in the world, some people will never have the chance to vote for anything in their life. Yes, voting is a responsibility and you need to educate yourself with it, but in the grand scheme of things that is really minor. You have a voice. As an American, you have the opportunity to create change. As a woman, I am even more grateful because in some countries, women have no voice on anything. Some people will use that as an argument against feminism or other equality arguments, but I actually think the opposite. Discrimination based upon gender and race are unfortunately too prevalent still today. But as Americans, we have the voice and opportunity to speak up about it. Freedom allows us to fight for what is right (within legal means).

 

22. Access to healthcare Healthcare in America is really flawed. There are problems that need fixed. I could write an entire blog post on that. But I still recognize that I am lucky to have healthcare. Mental health care is even more complex. Being able to receive treatment for it, despite all the hoops I had to jump through, is life-changing. Life saving. And generally, it helps improve my physical health too.

On the flip side, I am also really grateful for CVS Minute-clinics and other types of urgent care. I am prone to accidents and illness. Being able to go to CVS for an ear infection or bronchitis is much more convenient. And I’ve had more X-rays at urgent cares than I care to admit, although one time my foot did actually end up being broken.

  1. Technology Technology is a blessing and a curse. But I think it is so cool! How far technology has come in my lifetime is amazing. I don’t need a key to start or open my car. From my phone, barely bigger than my hand, I can search anything in the world. Knowledge is at my fingertips. Technology allows me to be connected to friends and loved ones I don’t always see. It allows me to connect with others from anywhere in the world. You can collaborate with anyone who has an Internet connection. For better or worse, it has changed how society interacts with each other. Definitely pros and cons to it, but we can do a lot of good with it. It also taught us just how small of a world it is.  I did my entire Master’s program online. I think if you had told me that I would complete a Master’s completely online when I was in high school – and I only graduated eight years ago – I would have laughed. Online education was still developing, and I didn’t think I’d ever do anything like that. I don’t have to leave my house to do a workout class; I can find one through an app or or YouTube with seemingly endless choices. We have the potential to do so much with technology. I am utterly fascinated by it.

 

  1.  Music and movies Sometimes you need an escape. Music and movies can provide this. Any emotion you want to try and feel, there is probably a song or at minimum a movie scene to help you get there. There’s those country songs that make you feel some type of way. Songs from musicals that make you want to join along and fill you with joy. Throughout college, grad school, and now anytime I need to focus, listening to Bone Thugs N Harmony oddly enough keeps me on track. Or, the Rocky soundtrack which always makes my workout better because it motivates me to go a little bit harder. Movies like the Muppets that are wholesome but still can make you laugh. Mamma Mia (particularly the second one) which may be a ridiculous premise and not perfect plot wise but boy does it make you laugh. Blazing Saddles and really anything Mel Brooks does because how does he think of this stuff? Major League, giving me hope for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the realization we could be worse. Movies like Million Dollar Baby which I have seen exactly once because of how it made me cry. Or Apollo 13 where I know how it’ll end but still feel relief at the end, and then the wonder at the fact this actually happened. Superhero movies which make you believe you can do so much more. And so, so many more.

 

  1. Sweaters and hoodies This one is really simple. I like to be comfortable. Sweaters and hoodies are generally really comfortable. It does not take much to please me at times. As much as I love spending my summers in tank tops and shorts and sundresses, I am so ready for sweaters and hoodies when the time comes.

 

  1.  The seasons Although I can do without winter, or perhaps just not as long or without the possibility of falling on ice, I love the seasons. It really shows the wonders of world and what nature can do. I love fall the most, I love watching the leaves change color. I also like the beginning of spring when leaves and flowers just begin to bud and the cycle starts again. I will say that the snow can be very, very pretty. But it is better when I am not out in it. And summer, who doesn’t love summer? The worst thing about summer is the humidity. But we all have flaws.

 

  1. Bonfires and fireplaces There is just something comforting about sitting by a fire on a cool night with friends or warming up next to the fireplace. Also, s’mores.
  2. Swimming pools I was lucky enough to grow up with a swimming pool. The refreshing feeling of going into the pool on a hot day is a comfort like no other. It is relaxing. And I love floating on a raft enjoying the sun while being able to stay cool.

 

  1.  Ice Cream and Chocolate I love food. Who doesn’t? But I really love food and sweets. Nothing better than chocolate soft serve ice cream. I don’t think anything else needs said here.

 

  1. Kindle This is my favorite invention. People argue about e-readers versus physical books all the time. I still read some books in physical form. But it comes down to this: With the Kindle, I have a library in the palm of my hand. Books can be heavy and awkward to hold. My Kindle isn’t much bigger than my phone and is smaller than my iPad mini. One hand. Boom. I don’t have to worry about ripped pages, bent covers, or losing my place. And on the Kindle store, the e-books tend to be cheaper. I read Chenrow’s Hamilton a couple years ago. That book is over a thousand pages. That is heavy. Not with my Kindle. Game changer. For someone like me who is always reading, it is amazing.

 

  1. Sunsets and sunrises It is a pretty basic thing. But there are sunrises and sunsets that will never cease to amaze me. Again, it is just so cool to see nature at work and how the world works. I will always take a picture of a pretty sunrise or sunset without a doubt. Life can throw some ugly things at ya. Appreciating the beautiful things, no matter how simple or ordinary they seem, can make things that much better.

 

  1. The Christmas season Tomorrow starts the beginning of my favorite time of year. I don’t start Christmas until Thanksgiving is over. I don’t want to oversaturate it if that makes sense. I want to fully enjoy my five-ish weeks of Christmas. I love everything about Christmas. There are just so many pretty things! The decorated houses! The trees! All the decorations! Watching Christmas movies especially my absolute favorite, A Muppet Christmas Carol. The ugly Christmas sweaters are also fun and creative. There’s plenty of crafting opportunities with Christmas. Christmas cookies. And I love buying people presents! I love thinking of what someone will enjoy and then seeing their reaction. Christmas is a time to spread love, kindness, and peace. How can you not enjoy that?

 

  1. Photography I am one of those people who wants to take photos of everything. A photo captures a moment that becomes a memory. I have so many photos that I can look at and automatically feel better about everything. Photos immortalizes those moments.

 

  1. Robert Morris University I liked to joke that Robert Morris University was my Hogwarts. In October 2009, I chose RMU. Never would have guessed how much I would love that school. It might not be the biggest D1 school, but there is a charm to RMU that I believe is unique to it. It is its own community with a huge heart. Obviously, it still has flaws  and does weird things – like when they literally sent out slabs of wood from our old arena without any context as to what it was like a nameplate or something. But, everywhere is going to have its quirks. I have many great memories there and met people who changed my life. I changed. I don’t think I could have gone to any other school and have been happier. I learned a lot, both in and out of the classroom. I had experiences I wouldn’t have had anywhere else. And I had some pretty cool accomplishments. I remember walking back to my apartment during my senior year one day and looking at the campus, thinking how much I was going to miss of all this when I graduated. And I was right. Luckily, I’ve still gotten to do things with Robert Morris as an alumna.

 

  1. Star Wars I know that it is no secret that I am pretty much obsessed with Star Wars. I have a tattoo that says “May the Force be with You.” But other than absolutely loving the movies, I am in awe that George Lucas created this entire new galaxy all from within his mind. Of course, there were other influences. But he took us on an adventure that soared beyond the Milky Way galaxy. It turns out he started in the middle of the story, which is kind of weird and makes things complicated, but whatever. The original Star Wars released in 1977 began a culture phenomenon. His story changed pop culture. Forever. Irreversible. It is just mind-blowing to me. There are so many aspects of Star Wars I love that it is not really worth naming them all. People always talk about how the newer movies which introduced characters like Padme Amidala and Rey and Jyn Erso as strong female characters that isn’t as easily found in other movies. Growing up, I never had a doubt of strong female characters because I grew up with the original – Princess Leia Organa. I think because of her in part, I never doubted what I could do. Because Leia didn’t give a crap. She took over her own rescue when she realized there wasn’t actually a plan. And then in the later movies, she was a general. A princess promoted to general. That is cool. As a writer, the storytelling element and creation of the Star Wars galaxy is just so cool to me.

 

  1. Pittsburgh I love Pittsburgh. It is my home and it will always be my home. I don’t think there is anywhere else like it. We have our own dialect with words that are absolute gibberish to others and we replace other words for some reason. We are extremely passionate about our sport teams and sometimes forget how lucky we are when it comes to the Steelers and Penguins. The Pirates are another story. Someone successfully created a company, products, and brand from our area code. Three numbers represent Pittsburgh. Has anyone else done that in another city? We are the home of Mr. Rogers and Michael Keaton AKA Batman. We have Batman. We also were Gotham, briefly. There is so much more. Yinz have a good time here, n’at.

 

  1. My pets I have a cat and a dog. They don’t get along. But because my cat is afraid of everything and my dog loves everything and gets excited about everything. So their personalities haven’t meshed yet. It’s been two years, but the dog will randomly go ape-shit excited when he sees the cat and other times not care at all. I wish they did get along because Ranger (the dog) and Gonzo (the cat) are both really weird, love cuddling with anyone, and love looking outside windows all day. They both provide entertainment day in and day out. Honestly, there are not many more things comforting than a dog or cat lying with it. When they try to use my as a bed, it is a little bit different.

 

  1.  My mentors I have been lucky to have many mentors throughout all aspects of my life. They have provided me with knowledge, opinions, and opportunity. None of them had any obligation to take me under their wing, and some continue to mentor when the job might have been considered done. It is always nice to know you have people in your life that you can go to for advice on a plethora of topics. Some of them believed in me when I didn’t or no one else did, worked with me, and got me to believe in myself. Sometimes, another perspective can frame situations in ways you couldn’t see. And I’m grateful.

 

  1. My fire department I grew up at a fire station. My dad was chief of our volunteer fire company when I was a kid. I was there a lot. At 14, I joined. That was twelve years ago. It is a challenge mentally and physically. I wouldn’t want anyone else to work with. The fire department and its members have impacted my life in a variety of ways, and I am grateful. Peers, teachers, friends. People like to say it is a brotherhood. I agree. I just say that I’m a sister in the brotherhood. I have had some of the most fun times of my life with these guys. The support is real, both in and out of our firehouse lives. It is a pretty cool thing.

 

  1. My sorority Delta Phi Epsilon came to me at the most prime opportunity. When I joined, it was exactly what I needed at that time of my life. I joined during my first bout of depression. Needless to say, things weren’t going well, and I was struggling. DPhiE offered me more. It kept me busy, when previously my free time was spent staring at a wall. DPhiE changed and saved my life. Some of the sisters I gained I would have never met otherwise, and they became my very best friends. My life would be so different without them! I can’t imagine life without some of them. It is always great to reunite with sisters I don’t get to see as often and to meet new sisters and see what the chapter continues to accomplish. I will forever completely love DPhiE and be obsessed with unicorns. Some of my sisterhood friendships have grown stronger since I graduated. It was, and continues to be, a truly wonderful experience.

Also, fun fact, Delta Phi Epsilon organization at the international level offers scholarships, and I got one for my first semester of graduate school. So that was pretty cool.

Another tidbit, my sorority was founded by five Jewish women because they couldn’t join any other sorority due to their religion. So they started their own and swore not to discriminate. They created something amazing as a result of a negative.

 

  1. My friends and family A good bit of my friends fall under the sorority or fire department categories. But this is just general, encompassing all of them.  I have some seriously quality friends that I am so blessed to have. Some friends from as long ago as kindergarten and some who live as far as California or Ireland! I see some almost weekly, I might go years without seeing another and just pick up where we left off. I do have a high number of nursing and actuary friends, which is kind of random. Some friends I knew in high school but really didn’t talk to until after. My family is pretty awesome too. I don’t see some of my cousins and aunts and uncles nearly as much as I would like, but I love being able to keep up with them through social media. And when I do see them, it is always a great time to get together. It is definitely entertaining. There is nothing like family.

 

  1. My brothers Three brothers. I’m the second oldest. I wanted a sister at some point. Never got one, got these three knuckleheads instead. My brothers who are far more alike than they ever will admit can also be so different, and that is what makes it fun. Sometimes, I have no idea what to expect from them. Other times, I’m able to guess exactly what they are going to do. I am truly grateful to have each of them. I like that I have a different relationship with each brother because I am glad I can enjoy different things with them individually. I can say, it really is never a dull moment with any of them.

I know one of them will definitely read this post. I’m curious as to if the other two will. I also wonder if they’ll read this sentence and wonder which one I meant for what.

 

  1. My parents I mean, duh. They gave me life. I exist because of them. I have doubted many things in my life. I can say 100% that I have never doubted if my parents had my back or would support me. Like, that concept just does not compute to me with them. They’ve been through a lot throughout their 31 year marriage. I feel like I caused more, not exactly trouble but challenges I guess after I graduated high school than as a teenager. Overall, I think as a teenager I didn’t do much to concern them. Other than taking AP classes and losing my mind. There’s a trend there. But over the last few years, I have faced many challenges, and, there they are! I know how lucky I am. They’ve been there for the serious stuff, but also have amused me when it comes to other things. Such as, watching Star Wars a lot. Or taking me to a midnight release of Harry Potter and we didn’t know how it worked so we ended up not leaving until like 2 AM. The next time I went to a midnight release, it was my dad and I because my youngest brother had been born just a few weeks before. This time, we knew better and got our number in the morning and were out a few minutes after midnight. That one stands out. Going to find the Nittany Lion during a rain/snow storm because I really wanted a picture since i was there for graduation and it was supposed to get worse out as the day goes on. I know I have more examples, but you get the point. I wouldn’t be who I am without them. I think overall, I’m doing okay so I’m pretty glad for that. Thankful for them.

 

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends!

Split Into Good People and Death Eaters

“Besides, the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters.” – Sirius Black, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling, 2003)

For a few weeks now, I have had many thoughts and wanted to write but at the same time, I didn’t know what to say. I am still not entirely sure on what to say.

On October 27th, a gunman entered a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh and started firing. Eleven individuals were killed, with six others included. Police officers were among the injured. The gunman’s (who was injured in a firefight with police and detained) motive was that he hated Jewish people. He went to a place of worship and brutally murdered individuals simply practicing their faith – as is their right, in this country – all because of their religion.

We’re talking about 2018 Pittsburgh, not 1940 Germany.

In the weeks that have followed – less than a month – there have been two more mass shootings. One was at a country music bar in California, and the other one, only yesterday, was at a hospital in Chicago. Frankly, and terrifyingly, nowhere in America is safe anymore. We shouldn’t be living in fear of crowds due to the potential for a mass shooting, but so many different types of public places have been marred by mass shootings. So many people came to America for freedom of religion, a right guaranteed to our citizens, and some are suggesting we need armed guards at places of worship. How free are we if we know we are targets simply because of our religion? For having faith? The idea is incredulous to me. I couldn’t care less about the religion of strangers to be honest. It is not my business, and it really doesn’t have an impact on me. I’ll do my thing and you do yours.

But, I want to talk about more than the monstrosity of these shootings and their frequency. I want to talk about hate and how people treat each other.

In the days that followed the Squirrel Hill shooting, the city began to grieve, repair, and heal. It was a rollercoaster of emotions. Although, logically, we know that these things can happen anywhere, the reality of it happening in your hometown is a punch to the gut. It is horrifying. But, there were many actions of goodness and kindness as a response to the shooting. The support for Squirrel Hill had no limits. Logos appeared with the Star of David incorporated into the Steelers logo, and local clothing lines made their own designs with proceeds benefiting the Tree of Life synagogue. We declared Pittsburgh stronger than hate. Always a sports town, emotions were high when it came to those first Steelers and Penguins games.  Teams held a moment of silence across both leagues. Rivals like the Baltimore Ravens declared they stood with Pittsburgh, and the Washington Capitals donated their proceeds from a 50/50 in a game versus the Pens to the Tree of Life – and the winner ultimately donated his half too. Donations were pouring in from everywhere. The funerals were paid for. Locally, various organizations dove into to helping the Jewish community including other religious organizations. There was so much goodwill in response to this tragedy. I don’t want to discount this at all. Pittsburgh really did come together.

But it shouldn’t take the tragedy of a Synagogue shooting for people to come together and do good.

I’ve talked about how much kindness means to me and how important I think it is before. And I really didn’t receive any response to that. But I think now it is more important than ever before.

Hate is a powerful emotion. I was raised to use it very, very rarely and never towards a person. Now that I’ve grown, it amazes me how much energy people waste towards applying hate. This is especially so if it is something that doesn’t impact them at all, like aspects of how someone else lives their life. I don’t understand it. I really don’t care about how other people live their lives, their religion, politics, sexual orientation, or whatever. I’m just going to try to be polite until someone gives me a reason not to be (i.e., I’m going to be polite but I am not going to let people walk over me either).

I was also raised that if I didn’t have anything nice to say to not say anything at all. And honestly, rudeness accomplishes nothing. Hate breeds more hate. And that just continues to accomplish nothing, and it is more likely to cause problems than solve them. Kindness can go for miles. Look at when people pay it forward! It can go on for hours.

Social media is the worst for hate. For lack of a better word, people can be nasty. Sometimes I wonder what people would type if they had to say it that person’s face or if their mother were to here what they said or if someone said it to their mother. What really blows my mind is that these insults are often over really dumb things. Insults are no way to win or validate an argument. It isn’t going to have a positive result. The one that really gets me every time is “libtard.” To me, it is not about being “politically correct.” That is just downright rude and insulting. And we know why. It really bothers me how some people refer to others and make judgements, and it is uncomfortable to talk about. But I want to try to talk about it more. All insults like that do is breed more hate. You aren’t going to convince someone of your position through insults.

The other thing is that social media shows such a small part of who we are and of most stories. I’m not super religious, but I do believe that only God has the right to judge. We have no idea what is going on in someone else’s life. To judge someone especially on an Internet comment is ridiculous. I have noticed that a lot of people want things to be “this or that” or “I’m right and nothing else is.” Life isn’t that simple. People aren’t that simple. It is like we forget how complex we are and how such a variety of beliefs, decisions, and experiences make up a person. Many of life’s events and choices have more than one “right” choice. This is probably going to be one of my stranger pop culture references, but Shrek got it right. He says how ogres are like onions because they have layers to peel back to get to know them. People (human people) are pretty much the same. And people will judge and insult others, often strangers, based upon a two sentence comment from an article that probably doesn’t give the full picture or someone is commenting based upon the headline and caption rather than reading the article. And generalized assumptions – like all conservatives are racist and all liberals want a handout – aren’t productive either. Generalizations and assumptions can result in touchy conclusions. We need to start looking more at the individual and how we can work with them. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I feel like more often than not, people can come to a compromise if they work together and listen to one another.

“It’s very dramatic when two people come together to work something out. It’s easy to take a gun and annihilate your opposition, but what is really exciting to me is to see people with differing views come together and finally respect each other.”  Fred Rogers

This is where the Harry Potter quote comes in. I swear I have a point in all of this. The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. Or, rather, in our reality, good and evil. It is a lot more complicated than that. Without a doubt, there are truly evil people in this world. I don’t think that is something that we could ever fully eradicate. But I also think there are more good people than we sometimes realize. There are people who change their ways and become good people. People can grow beyond their past choices. Differing viewpoints doesn’t always mean that one is right over the other. Sometimes, there are multiple right answers. Other times, there is no right answer. This might be an unpopular opinion, but even in terms of crime – not every convicted criminal is a bad person. Unfortunately, there are many who are and do not care about the consequences of their actions or who they will hurt. But there are those who make mistakes. Or people who regret their actions and atone for it. People can change.

Again, maybe I am overly optimistic or jaded but I do think most people are good. We just need to be better to each other. Those little things like insulting strangers on a Facebook comment might not seem like much. But I do believe that those are the things that add up. We also teach our children these “golden rules,” like “keep your hands to yourself” or “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” but then we don’t practice them ourselves. And kids learn a lot by what they see the grown-ups doing. We need to do better.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard people say they are concerned for the world we are leaving to our children. I totally see why. But it doesn’t have to be like that. I really, really, really believe that if we all do a little bit more good and spread a little bit more kindness, it is going to be a chain reaction. More people will take part. The little things add up! Anyone can make a difference. It can use up a lot less energy than hate. We need more compassion in this world. It is up to us as individuals to be compassionate.

To the surprise of no one, I am going to throw in some Star Wars quotes. First, Yoda. I think many people will, perhaps uncomfortably, find it relatable, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (The Phantom Menace) People sometimes fear what they don’t understand. It can kind of spiral out of control. Different doesn’t mean wrong. Our differences are what makes the world keep going. Although, in some ways, we are more alike than we realize. We need to get better at keeping an open mind and really listening about the differences. A lot of the time, we’ll find that our goals are the same.

This other quote I thought about a lot after the synagogue shooting, when people’s sympathy began to turn into defending their position and everyone else was wrong online, especially where certain political figures were concerned. Politics, unsurprisingly, is a huge breeding ground for insults, hate, and no effective or positive results. That is where people began insulting each other online again. It amazed that that quickly people forgot. People forgot the “stronger than hate” and started blasting each other on opinions again. This one is from Obi-Wan Kenobi, “Luke, don’t give into hate. That leads to the Dark Side.” (The Empire Strikes Back)

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world of Jedi and (more like fortunately) Sith. The Dark and Light Side aren’t so apparent. Or, really applicable at all since there isn’t the Force to keep us in check. But hopefully you get my point. Giving into hate isn’t going to lead you anywhere good. It isn’t good for you. Giving into hate can start a slippery slope. We can accomplish so much more with positivity and…not hate. Against hate. And I know that many of the people I do see participating in these stupid social media arguments are good people. Again, most people are much more than the comments they make online. Many of these people do a lot of good things. Maybe I’m a fool for thinking we can do more good.

Don’t give into hate! I believe that the small acts of kindness really do add up. Those acts can result in change. I don’t have children yet. But I want to build a better world and future for them. And I want to teach them to be better and do good. We are the creators of their future. They will learn from us. The example we lead is what they will follow.

So why do we treat each other like crap? Yeah, many of these interactions may be with strangers we will never see again but what is the purpose of being rude to them? Why can’t we just treat them the way we want to be treated, another golden rule? What benefit is there to being rude? For God’s sake, it amazes me how many people are so appreciative when you use a please and thank you because they hear it so rarely. That is literally the basics of manners. It is an extra two words at most.

I don’t expect kindness to solve all the world’s problems and have us all around the campfire singing “Kumbaya.” But, dammit, I think it can make a difference. Yeah, we’re going to have disagreements and frustrations. But so many people day in and day out choose rudeness over decency because its easier. The easy thing doesn’t always reap the benefits of the right thing in the long-term. And just because someone is rude to you doesn’t mean you have to be rude to them. That’s not an excuse. If anything, I think it’s best to ignore them. Don’t give them the satisfaction.

We all have to share this world together. We might as well work together on making living together as enjoyable as possible.

After the synagogue shooting, many people were quoting Mr. Rogers. Some of these I’ve shared before.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”

I feel like we have collectively let Mr. Rogers down.

I wish we still had his guidance through this strange, new reality of a constant, unrelenting threat of violence. I saw so many people quoting Mr. Rogers, but so many of us aren’t living his beliefs. I really think the little extra effort in day to day life instead of only in times of tragedy will make a greater difference in the long run.

I wonder often what Dr. King would think about today. He also preached against hate and promoted peaceful protests instead. Even still, many disagreed with his stance and believed he was out of line. Yet, look at how we remember him now.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.  Dr. King

The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. There is dark and light in all of us.

I hope I’m not sounding preachy. Maybe you think I’m a hippie. Maybe I am. But I really hope people can take something from this. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. We have so much to be thankful for in this world. Let us spread that positivity. We can work together for a better tomorrow.

 

Some Nature Photos

Fall is my favorite season. And I have a fantastic view in Pittsburgh. From my backyard, I can see out Route 28, Lawrenceville, Oakland, and more.

Photography is something that I’ve wanted to get into, but I really haven’t done it as much as I’d like. For whatever reason, I really like taking photos of nature. So I took some time this afternoon to take some photos of the changing leaves and everything around me. The lighting and sky wasn’t cooperating, so I played around with some editing too.  Hopefully, I’ll have more opportunities to get photos of the fall foliage.

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Short-Term

I didn’t want to write this. I never thought that I would be writing this. I can’t believe it got to this. I debated if I would, and ultimately I decided that the point of writing a mental health blog is being honest. I really haven’t received any negative feedback thus far, and honestly if I do, I really don’t give a crap. This is supposed to raise awareness and educate others. Negativity rarely results in anything positive, so I just kind of try to look ahead of it. Too much effort otherwise.

So, things started to get really bad for me. I knew I wasn’t doing well. I felt like the past couple years, I had been on an endless roller coaster with too many loops. But then it was just going downhill, steeper and steeper. From there I got on the crazy train. I’ll stop with the metaphors.

I felt like I was losing myself again. I was definitely slipping away. It is crazy how some habits can change when the depression really hits. For awhile, I was reading like I hadn’t in years; i.e., constantly. And I loved it. I love reading. But for so long I couldn’t bring myself to. I don’t know why. I just didn’t. So I was pretty happy about my reading again. Then it just dropped off. Too much work.

Soon, I didn’t want to do anything. My gym bag has sat on my work cabinet for three weeks. Haven’t gone once after work. Granted, I’ve been staying late at work, but there were times I still could have gone. The motivation and drive isn’t there. I have gotten TWO emails now from my gym about offering a free personal training session as a means to draw me back in. What does that tell you about my working out progress? Hint: Right now, it doesn’t exist.

Then it was going beyond apathy. I felt like my brain was going to explode from the overflow of thoughts. And that was just what was in my head on its own. There definitely have been some external reasons that contributed to this downward spiral. Throwing that into the mix didn’t help much either.

Even as I sit here, writing this, I feel like I’m just existing. I’m sad and I don’t know why. It is an exhausting process.

But over the last couple weeks, I cannot deny how bad it has gotten. I went almost a year without cutting. A year. That’s a long freaking time. And the one day, I don’t even remember what brought it on, I did it again. Same arm. Not far from that daisy tattoo. I did it a couple times after too. And now I’m stuck looking at another damn scar.

Maybe I should just get flowers all over that part of my arm. Half sleeve, elbow down. Flowers. That’s a conversation for another day.

I wasn’t sleeping well. I was sleeping all the time again, which I absolutely hate. It was never enough. I didn’t have much of an appetite either, and I didn’t care what I ate let alone being healthy. I ate because that’s what you’re supposed to do three times a day.

I am a mixture of feeling numb and being overcome with sadness. I just felt like shit. I didn’t have any drive for anything. I didn’t care about anything. Close to tears all the time. I have cried a lot recently, often without reason. I’m just there.

It was really started to impact me in many different ways. Work was one of them. I knew I wasn’t doing my best as much as I wanted to do my best. I was still trying but I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I knew I could do better. So I started to feel stress from that. And the anxiety kept building. It was damn near constant. Where before I wasn’t sleeping well, I was now sleeping deeper than I can ever remember. Sleep was the only time my overrun brain would shut off. But I was still tired.

And it kept getting worse. I was getting headaches and would sleep all day when I wasn’t working. I couldn’t think straight. My thoughts kept getting jumbled. I felt like my thoughts were a tangled mess. I just exist. I can’t fully explain how horrible I feel. I would fight against the urges to cut, and it was exhausting. Often, when I was both very anxious and upset these urges would pop up. It was like I was feeling too much, too intensely. Cutting was like I was releasing those emotions; it was almost calming when I couldn’t make sense of anything. Of course, there were times I would use it as punishment to myself too…for being me pretty much. When I didn’t reach the goals or standards I set for myself. I wasn’t meeting much of anything, so there were lots of failure thoughts going through my mind.

Then it came to a point where I was crying everyday at work and having anxiety attacks close to everyday. I think I hid it pretty well from the most part in my cube. I at least tried not to draw attention to myself.

One day, I had a full on panic attack at work. I felt like I had lost all control. I had reached a low point. I don’t know if it was my lowest point, but it was pretty freaking low. I had known for awhile I had to get back to therapy, but in a combination of just the busyness of life and dreading going back through the process of therapy, I hadn’t started that at all yet. I felt like I wanted to cry all the time (if I wasn’t already) or just felt like shit in general.

But that moment felt like the point of no return. I couldn’t do this on my own. I at least was able to recognize that I was going down a path that would get increasingly harder to come back from. I couldn’t control anything during that attack. Everything was going faster than I could process – my crying, breathing, heart rate, thoughts. It was all out of control. But in that moment, I recognized that it was beyond my control.

I started looking through our benefits. I needed something. Something had to change. A friend of mine recommended the employee assistance program, and I was lucky enough to get an appointment that day. I looked through other benefits. It did feel good to talk some of this out. I had kept a lot in. Even when I talked to my friends, it took me awhile to even bring it up. I was so afraid. I am always so afraid to confide anything specific to my mental illness. Once, I was told by a friend I cut for attention. To hear that from someone I considered family more than friend cut more than anything I had done to myself. It definitely made me wary.

We discussed different options. The next step was going to see my PCP, and I was lucky enough to schedule that for the next day.

After speaking with my PCP, we set up another set of next steps. We decided that I was going to take some time off from work. I was going to go on short term disability. I was going to find a therapist and a psychiatrist. I was going to take time to really work on myself and where I am and what I’m doing with life and where I’m going. This isn’t a way I want to live; chained by depression while simultaneously being pulled in every direction by anxiety.

I had held out hope for so long that I had really beaten this, and that wasn’t the case. I was just keeping afloat. And now I was struggling to keep my head above the water. Something needed to change. So that’s where I am now.

I feel really, really weird about the whole going on disability thing. I feel like every time I go out and do something fun, like going to a Halloween party with my friends or a Penn State football game, that I am going to feel guilty for not working. I think it is kind of hard because it is an invisible disability. You can’t see this injury. You can’t see the thoughts I struggle with or feel the weight of anxiety or the chest pain it causes. Although, some people have noticed that something is off with me lately. But to others, there doesn’t appear to be a damn thing wrong with me. I feel guilty for leaving my team at work. There’s definitely a lot of guilt in what I’m feeling. Does feeling happy and doing fun things mean I’m cured? Granted, I don’t even go out that much because it can overwhelm me. But should I feel guilty for going out? Do I turn into a recluse? I mean being a full recluse might be counterproductive. But there is a lot of guilt.

Then there is the question of why. Not so much why me? But why couldn’t I handle it? Why did I break? I felt like I mentally snapped in half. Definitely picking up the pieces right now. Weak. I fight with myself over that. There’s people going through the same, there’s people going through more, and they don’t break. Why did I break? It is very frustrating. I know that that’s not the case. But I mean, the depression and anxiety speak fairly negatively to me anyways so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that its telling me that I am weak. It is just very hard to tune out.

I am sure this will develop more once I start seeing my therapist, but I am tentatively putting together a plan of self care. One good thing is that my dad is home during the day – so I can’t just wallow. Some of those external issues won’t be factors when I’m not working, so my mind should be a little bit clearer to do things.

I am thinking about trying to find a regular yoga class once a week or so during the days. I am also thinking about setting aside some running time, most likely just once a week. I shouldn’t even say this but it is one of my goals to run a half marathon. Plantar fasciitis has ruined this plan before but I’m hoping maybe now I can prepare.

One of my problem is that I like to go all in at once. As in, when I start working out again, I need to five days a week. I need to start setting smaller goals for myself, something I talked about with employee assistance and will probably come up again with my therapist. So I am going to focus on slowly building up a routine of yoga and running. Good for the body and brain.

I am also, finally, going to freaking sit down and learn meditation. Again, my brain should be clearer and I will have time, so this is the opportunity to take it. Recently, I bought a couple of journals; one specifically for mindfulness/self-reflection and the other is writing prompts but there were a lot of self-related questions. I also want to just kind of start journaling for self care. Kind of in the vein of bullet journaling, but not as structured. Just kind of what is in my head. Some of that needs to come out and not stay in my head.

The goal of this time off is to build up self care habits. I am open to recommendations. I honestly wish I could take a couple days and go away or just go hiking or something. It is time to take time for me. I have a disease. Or two. But unfortunately mental illnesses are still severely misunderstood. And I’m sure there will be people who roll their eyes that I’m taking time off. But I have to believe that this is the best for me.

I don’t want to become a statistic. Mental health is not easy to treat. It is not easy to talk about. But you know what? No one knows my brain better than me. And pretty much I know that I need help and I can’t put it off any longer. I cannot get worse.

I really hate that I’m going to be on disability and taking time off from work. But I’m pretty sure deep down, in my heart (which I don’t believe is mentally ill), I know that this is what I have to do. I have to make this change.

There are days I am tired and continuing to fight seems impossible. But there is still part of me that is still fighting and will go down kicking and screaming. And that is the part that got me to get help. It’s just something I have to do I guess.

I see people say how they cured their mental illness without medication and it just takes good, hard work. I rank that up there with “why don’t you just relax?”/”you don’t have it that bad”/”be positive.” That’s not how it works. I’m passed that. I don’t even know if I was ever there.

For me, I know that my treatment and my way for beating this is a combination attack. I need medication. I hate it. Probably for no reason other than the stigma attached; I was never bothered about taking my inhaler when I was younger and had problems with asthma because that kept me breathing correctly and alive. Well, I know that the medication is the difference between me functioning or not. I also know that exercise is another component. Therapy. Writing. Meditation (most likely). Interaction and not isolating myself. Some of us aren’t lucky to have a magic bullet in our arsenal that gets the job done at once.

So, yeah, that’s where I am. A few more days of work and then I have some time off to get better. I hope I’m doing what is best for me and that this, well, works. If anyone else has some self-care suggestions, I’d love to hear. Thanks for listening.

 

17 Years Later

The thing I remember most is that it was a beautiful day.

I wasn’t there, but it was beautiful here in Pittsburgh. I remember that blue sky. I’ve never been to New York City. As the footage and photos rolled in, the sky was blue there too. It looked like a beautiful September day. Until you saw the clouds of dust dominating through the streets, and the dark, black smoke that filled the skyline.

September 10th, 2001 was the last normal day.

We didn’t know what was coming.

There wasn’t an American not impacted that day. There isn’t an American alive today whose life has not been affected by the events of that September day.

I was nine when the attacks happened. I never appreciated the normal that we lived in.

My brother was born in 2005. This post-9/11 world is all he has ever known. To him, and all the generations that follow, this has always been the normal.

I was in fourth grade. We were coming back from gym, and the teachers seemed upset. We were all brought into one classroom where we watched the second plane hit the tower as it happened.

I freaked out and ended up going home that day. My dad was a volunteer fire chief at the time, and for some reason, I thought he was going to have to go to New York City and fight the fire. Bear in mind, I live in Pittsburgh. I also thought he could be drafted. I didn’t realize that there wasn’t a draft anymore. I also worried that my older brother would be too once he turned 18 (he was still a couple years away from that). So…they let me go home.

My brothers stayed at school as my parents felt the school was the safest place they could be. And honestly, my school was nothing significant. It was a typical suburban district. My parents were most likely right.

You can’t say that about schools today. Nowhere is safe now.

Directly from the attacks, 2,996 people died. More have died since from causes such as 9/11 related illness, like cancer.

We went to war after the attacks. Seventeen years later, we are still there. It’s crazy. You don’t hear much at all about Afghanistan these days. But we still have troops there. That war hasn’t ended. More sacrifices made, as our soldiers fought for our country.

Three separate attacks; the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City; the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and a crash into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The terrorists hadn’t planned for United Flight 93 to crash into some field. Once they hijacked the plane, the passengers tried to take it back. It is believed that plane was meant to crash into the White House. The terrorists had claimed that they were returning to an airport. However, some passengers had already heard about the attacks in New York and Washington D.C. and put together that wasn’t their plan.

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Some onboard were able to make final phone calls to loved ones and filled them in. A flight attendant told her husband she was filling pitchers with boiling water. Another passenger, Todd Beamer, was overheard saying, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll,” now a hauntingly, defining statement of the day and showcases the courage of the passengers.

They attacked the cockpit, possibly with a fire extinguisher. In the scuffle, the plane crashed. All 44 people onboard died. Many, if not all of the passengers, knew that they were going to die. But by attacking the terrorists, the passengers and crew committed a significant, selfless act of bravery. How many lives did they save? Ordinary people whose lives are defined by an extraordinary act of courage.

The 9/11 attack was the deadliest day in the history of the FDNY; 343 people died. Entire crews gone. I read a book that I highly recommend, “Bagpipe Brothers: The FDNY Band’s True Story of Tragedy, Mourning, and Recovery” by Kerry Sheridan. It provides history of the bagpipes in the FDNY, but also the dealing with 9/11 – alternating between playing at funerals for their fallen brothers and sisters and digging through the rubble for those still missing. It took firefighter 100 days to extinguish all the flames from ignited by the New York City attacks.

Additionally, 23 NYPD died and and 37 Port Authority officers died. Many of them were trying to evacuate the building and lead workers to safety, as others tried to rescue those located on the higher levels of the towers.

The youngest victim from the attack was two, while the oldest was 85.

As of July 2018, 60% of remains have been positively identified.

There were 3,051 children left without a parent as a result of the 9/11 attacks. Additionally, seventeen babies born following the attacks would never meet their fathers as they had perished in the attacks.

There were loved ones who had to wait a year before anything was found from their deceased – Lisa Ann Frost was a passenger on the plane that hit the South Tower. Her parents waited a year until anything belonging to their daughter was found. Workers sifted through over a million tons of debris to find personal effects of the victims. Some 65,000 items were found; including 437 watches and 144 wedding rings.

9/11 became the defining moment of George W. Bush’s presidency. Three days after the attacks, the president went to Ground Zero and spoke to a crowd. One individual yells that he can’t hear him. In response, the president famously says, I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people – and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

In response to the attacks, the Department of Homeland Security was formed. This was the result of the merger of 22 governmental agencies.

The 9/11 Commission Report was released July 2004. It is almost 600 pages. I had to read parts of it for some of my MPA classes several times. It is not an easy read. Some transcripts were included as it was realized what was happening. Factors that were ignored are included. Criticism included that not all of the warnings that were received prior to the attack were included. There is a lot to take in.

There are defining photos; such as the firefighters raising the flag in the midst of the rubble, the silhouettes of those who jumped to their death, people covered head to toe in dust as they try to escape, the black smoke contrasted against and taking over the blue sky as the towers burn, the rubble of Ground Zero and the Pentagon, and the countless photos of memorials and people together, mourning.

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And here we are now. The One World Trade Center, also called the Freedom Tower, stands tall. There is the 9/11 Memorial in New York, with the names of the victims included near the waterfall. We’ve changed. Society has changed. Boarding an airplane is different with new restrictions. The War on Terror continues. Osama bin Laden, who took responsibility for the attacks, was killed by US Navy Seals after a nearly ten year search.

The suffering hasn’t ended. Some who survived the initial attack are facing a new fight caused by 9/11. More than 150 firefighters and paramedics have died from 9/11 related illnesses. Asbesto related cancers can take twenty years for symptoms to show. We are almost at that twenty year mark. The 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund is beginning to feel strain, and not all the victims may get the assistance they need. There was $7.3 billion dedicated to the fund. Comedian Jon Stewart has become an activist to the cause of 9/11 first responders and survivors. Since leaving “The Daily Show,” Stewart has dedicated his career to this cause and has helped get vital bills passed.

In the days and weeks following, the country was united in a way that I had never experienced nor have experienced since. If I had to guess, the last time Americans were so united was probably during the World War II effort. So many of the things we see today, political differences, race, religion, whatever else separates us – didn’t matter. We were all Americans. The nation grieved together. We supported each other. We rose up together. It is sad that it took a tragedy of such immense proportions for the country to come together.

We could, and should, learn from 9/11. Learn from the helpers. Like Mr. Rogers said, “To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” From the enormous amount of courage the passengers, first responders, and workers showed, as many knew that they were facing death.  From the acts of kindness that strangers offered one another. From the determination to find out who did this to us. The attack was meant to break us. Instead, Americans linked arms and showed that we are stronger together. That such an attack was an attack on all of us. On this one day each year, briefly, we come back together. We looked past our differences and instead focused on what was best for the nation.

I don’t know how to get that unity back. Right now, we are so divided. We attack each other instead of listening. It seems like we have turned our back on anyone who doesn’t share our beliefs. These differences is what make America great. The variety in our society is what America was built from. A melting pot, remember? Freedom of religion? Freedom of speech?  This fighting within is going to get us absolutely nowhere. If anything, it makes us more vulnerable. Perhaps if we would listen more, we would accomplish more. Those differences didn’t matter that September day. We lost so much that day. But the American spirit was not lost. We can leave a better world for our children.

I believe in America. I believe the strength and courage shown those days are still alive in all of us. It is ours to grab onto.

But most importantly, we will never forget the strength and courage of the responders and victims.

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We will never forget 9/11.