Urbantravelista | Adulting: Getting through the things we never asked for

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While perusing one of my favorite social media outlets, a friend of mine posted the following question: “Honestly, does anyone REALLY feel you’re truly succeeding at this adult business?”. It didn’t take long for me to respond with all of the nopes I could find. I’m just 6 days shy of my 44th birthday. And, after much reflection and introspection, I can truly say that I’m failing miserably at adulting. And nothing supports my claim better than the last several months. Life is funny. After experiencing the most devastating loss ever (losing my mom), I thought the Universe would maybe reward me with a break. I mean, that’s what happens in the movies? The person goes through this horrendous challenge then life is gravy again, right? They find the love of their life, win the lottery, quit their job and travel the world? Yeah, in the “movies”. But in real life, NO! To shed some perspective, the last several months have felt like a game of kickball, with me being the ball. For starters, my grandmother has suffered a myriad of health challenges over the last few months. In my mother’s absence, I am now the matriarch of the family. I’m the listening ear, the conflict and problem solver, and the “go to” person. I could say the politically correct thing, like “it’s an honor to have this role and I’m so open to the task”. But I’m far from politically correct. So I’ll be transparent because that’s all I know how to be. This is a role I wanted no parts of, at least not for another 20 years. I’m still a kid myself. My routine work days have been replaced with sudden runs to the emergency room. My social life has been replaced with taking care of my grandmother. I cancel plans at the last minute. In fact, these days I rarely commit to anything at all because I don’t know what health emergency is gonna come up. The structure I once had in my life is gone. Every day is unpredictable. I launched a travel and apparel business with lackluster response. I don’t blog or write as often because my passion is slipping away. My laptop died this week (yeah, it was almost 10 years old, but still). And due to my own fault, I lost a 13 year friendship this week. AND, on top of all of that, I’m still dealing with my own grief. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. So no, I don’t feel like I’m succeeding at this adult business. Enduring maybe. But succeeding? Absolutely NOT.

When my mom passed away, I was often provided with the following platitude: “God never puts more on you than you can bear”. I guess this is supposed to comfort people in their time of confusion, heartache, and pain. But it really doesn’t. I know people have the best intentions when they attempt to comfort you with such phrases. I totally get it. But maybe people simply “bear it” because jumping from a bridge isn’t an option for them…yet? Who really wants to bear hardships, failure, and loss? Thanks God, but I don’t want to bear it. I want no parts of it. If I can’t bear prosperity, love, or even just one week when all hell doesn’t break loose, take it back or give to someone else. Now to clarify, this isn’t a “woe is me” or look at how terrible my life is piece. Because in spite of my challenges, I don’t view my life as being terrible. It has it’s rare high moments. Tough breaks come with the territory of living and life could always be worse. I know this. The intent of this piece is to let those of you that feel like you’re failing at adulting know that you are not alone and that there are solutions to help you through the storm.

So how do I stay grounded in the midst of chaos? I’m glad you asked:

Live in the moment

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Next week is my birthday and have some down time planned. The one thing about loss and challenges is that it makes you recognize what is truly important. My birthday plans have gone from planning an international trip to a spa day to now, a week of being home doing absolutely nothing. Life has been so chaotic for me lately, that all I want is a couple of days of uninterrupted quiet time. But with my grandmother’s unpredictable health status, I know that my birthday may be spent with trips to the emergency room and hospital. And if it happens, oh well. I will deal with it if it comes. I focus on the day and whatever task I have on my plate at the moment. Focusing on next week won’t hinder the bad that may come.

Practice gratitude

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At the beginning of the year, I began keeping a “gratitude jar”. Being that I was going into the new year without my mom, I thought this would be a challenge. But so far, I’ve been wrong. I bought a mason jar and fill it with at least one post it note of something good that happened or something I’m grateful for. At the end of the year, I will read each note and hopefully find that maybe I’m succeeding at adulting better than I thought I was. We’re only half way through the year, and my jar is 3/4 full!

Self-care

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This is paramount. If you don’t take care of yourself, you are totally useless to someone else. In order to accommodate everyone else, I found myself putting off much needed health screening and wellness appointments. I stopped going to the gym. I stopped eating clean. I stopped doing the things that I enjoy. I gained 10 pounds. I started slacking on my financial responsibilities and goals. None of this is helpful to me or the people in my life that need me. How can I help my grandmother if I’m in a hospital bed too? So, I’ve learned to try to carve out at least a few hours during the week to do something strictly for me. I treat myself to massage or a movie. I take myself out to dinner. I try to get in the gym at least one day a week. I take off from work when I have the time to do so and tell no one that I’m off. And I do all of this UNAPOLOGETICALLY. Because when those that we cared for are eventually gone, who will be here to take care of us? That harsh reality reinforced the need to stay in the best physical and mental state for as long as I can.

Release what you can’t control

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As I mentioned earlier, I lost a 13 year friendship this week. Although it was primarily my fault, I truly valued the person and the friendship. Without going into too much detail, I attempted make amends and owned my role in its demise. I really tried to make it right. But this person chose to write me out of their life, at least for now. I beat myself over this all week. But then I realized, I can only control my actions. I can’t force people to stay connected with me. Leaving is as much as their right as it is mine. I owned up to my mistake and tried to make it right. That’s all I can do. Release it and let it go. Because if it’s the Universe/God’s will for the friendship to be restored again, it will be.

Journal

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I’ve been journaling ever since I was in highs school. I use my journal to jot down my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and aspirations. It’s a great tool to write out your vision, goals, and affirmations. Journaling helps me vent and also helps my stay connected to my goals. It’s easy to lose sight of your dreams when you don’t write them down.

Therapy

Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts even our best isn’t good enough. If you’re barely holding life together with a safety pin, it might be time to talk to professional. I sought counseling a few years ago when I through my divorce and just after my mom passed away. After that, I thought I could handle all of the challenges coming my way alone. I’ve always prided myself on handling everything on my own. I wore it like a badge of honor. But this time around, it was crushing me. Life was literally crushing my soul. If you look forward to sleep because you’d rather not endure your waking hours or you find yourself and passion for life slipping away, reach out for help. There is no shame in self care and ensuring your mind is well. Your mind is just as important, if not more than your body. Again, what good am I to those that need me if I’m in a mental institution or worst, an early grave because I couldn’t hold on anymore.

In conclusion, I hope this helps someone. I may not have the family I always dreamed of, the house with the white picket fence, or a million dollars in the bank. I may very well be failing at adulting. But I will always summa cum laude the hell out trying and overcoming.

@urbantravelista

Not travel related but…April is Sarcoidosis Awareness Month

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I was all set to hit you all with a write up about my recent trip to Iceland. Yep, I went again. I told you when I wrote about it last year that I would be back. I don’t know what to say, I just can’t seem to get enough of Reykjavik. As much as I would love to recap and reminiscence about my most recent adventure, I must devote this blog entry to something more important. While the subject matter at hand isn’t travel related, it is very near and dear to my heart. It’s a subject that receives very little recognition, until it claims the life of someone very dear to us or someone with celebrity status. It has claimed the lives of notable figures like Bernie Mac (actor/comedian), Reggie White (NFL), Sean Levert (singer), and Michael Clark Duncan (actor). And on November 10th, 2016, sarcoidosis claimed the life of my mother, Belinda Arnett.  April is National Sarcoidosis Awareness Month. So let’s talk about it.

What is Sarcoidosis

My first introduction to sarcoidosis began sometime in 1993. My family and I had just relocated from Chicago to Kansas City. Prior to our move, aside from an occasional cold or a flu bug, my mom had always been generally healthy. She was in her late 30’s and never had any significant health issues. But shortly after our move, she started to develop these random symptoms. They were symptoms you really just couldn’t put a finger on. Initially, the disease presented itself as painless skin nodules. Over time, she developed a hacking cough and shortness of breath that would come and go. Later on, she developed visual disturbances. From the internist to the dermatologist to pulmonologist and ophthalmologist, the road to diagnosis was a tedious one. She was misdiagnosed many times before she ever received appropriate treatment. One physician even concluded that the skin nodules were due to a reaction from drinking too much grapefruit juice. Looking back, I certainly wish that were the case.

When we think of autoimmune diseases, we tend to immediately think of lupus. Auto-immune diseases are kind of low on the totem pole when it comes to knowledge and research, but lupus is the most well-known.  Sarcoidosis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and affects different systems of the body. It is characterized by the formation of tiny clumps of inflammatory cells (also called granulomas), in one or more organs of the body. When the immune system goes into overdrive and too many of these clumps form, they can interfere with an organ’s structure and function. If left untreated, chronic inflammation can lead to “fibrosis”, which is permanent thickening or scarring of organ tissue. Sarcoidosis can affect almost any organ in the body, including the heart, skin, liver, kidneys, brain, sinuses, eyes, muscles, bones, and other areas. Sarcoidosis most commonly targets the lungs and the lymph nodes, which are an important part of the immune system. When it affects the lungs, it is called pulmonary sarcoidosis.  As in my mother’s case, ninety percent or more of people diagnosed with the disease have lung involvement.

So what causes it? Well no one knows exactly what causes sarcoidosis, which is why diagnosis and management is so difficult. There is still so much unknown about this disease and there is no objective test which can easily diagnose it. Numerous exams and tests are required to confirm a diagnosis. However, experts theorize that one or more exposures in people who have a specific genetic makeup can cause cells in the body to react and start to recruit inflammatory cells to involved organs, basically an immune response. Some research also suggests that bacteria, viruses, or chemicals might trigger the disease. There are theories that the immune response may be overactive or in some cases inappropriate, and that this results in ongoing inflammation, the formation of granulomas, and in some cases, for scarring or fibrosis to occur.

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Credit: American College of Chest Physicians

 

What are the risk factors?

Sarcoidosis was once thought to be rare, but it is now known to be common and affects people worldwide.  The disease can affect people of any age, race and gender.  However, it is most common among adults between the ages of 20 and 40 and in certain ethnic groups. My mother was diagnosed at the age of 38. In regards to race and ethnicity, in the United States, sarcoidosis is most common in African Americans and people of European “particularly Scandinavian” descent. The disease is slightly more common in women than in men and manifests differently in different groups of people. While the lungs and lymph nodes are affected in almost everyone who has sarcoidosis, African Americans and people of Japanese descent are more likely to have eye involvement than Caucasians. On the other hand, skin lumps are most likely to affect people of Northern European descent, and those with a Japanese background seem prone to sarcoidosis-related heart problems. Research also shows that risk appears to be elevated to some extent if someone in his or her close family has sarcoidosis, although researchers have not yet found a gene or genes linked to the development of sarcoidosis.

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Credit: American College of Chest Physicians

 

Belinda’s course

Over the years, my mother learned to manage the disease and would go through bouts of remissions and relapses. Treatment initially began with steroids and other medications to suppress the immune response. Most times, the medications would work. And sometimes, the disease would go into remission on its own giving her months to years of relief. But during the last few years of her life, after each remission, the disease would return back worse than before. Because of its mystery, the course of sarcoidosis is unpredictable. My mom’s last battle came out of nowhere and we never expected it would be her last. In fact, we were under the impression that she was getting better. But that was further from the truth.

About two weeks before my mother’s death, she complained of a sudden severe headache. Then she experienced generalized weakness and loss of appetite. These were vague symptoms that even the healthiest of people can experience. We usually chalk it up to a flu bug or “maybe I ate something bad.” With no improvement in her symptoms, we made the decision (against her wishes) to take her to the emergency room.  My mother was stubborn and hated hospitals. After being examined, having lab work drawn, and a chest x-ray, the doctors discovered she had abnormally elevated calcium levels, a condition referred to as hypercalcium. Because this condition requires IV therapy and monitoring to resolve, she was going to be admitted for a couple of days. No biggie right? She’ll be home back in time to watch her favorite TV reality shows right? Wrong. While waiting in the ER for a bed assignment, my mother began to complain of the same severe headache she experienced a couple of days prior. Except this time, the headache returned with greater intensity. The nurse promptly came in to assess her and found her blood pressure to be in 200/120 range (yikes, NOT good). As I tried to comfort my mother, she whispered to me, “make it stop” as she touched her head. I said, “it’s going to be alright” and tried to comfort her. But it wasn’t alright. Seconds later, she went into a seizure. I promptly pressed the code button on the wall and yelled for the ER staff. The seizure never resolved so she was intubated (put on a breathing machine) and transferred to the Neuro Intensive Care Unit for further evaluation.

The first week of her course seemed promising. She was followed by an extensive team of doctors and kept in a medically induced coma. Initially we didn’t know what we were dealing with. Was this related to the sarcoidosis? Was this a new issue? After ruling out infectious diseases like meningitis, it was speculated that my mother had an reversible neurological syndrome that causes seizures in response to elevated blood calcium levels. The treatment plan involved keeping her sedated for a couple of days to give her brain a chance to “quiet down” while they corrected it. She would go on to receive a couple of rounds of dialysis. It didn’t work. The calcium levels remained elevated. After further evaluation by the endocrinology team, it was theorized that the sarcoidosis was more than likely the culprit. She was started on high doses of steroids to suppress her immune response, the process that was causing the elevated calcium levels. But, by the time that intervention came into place, my mother developed an entire new set of problems. While her calcium levels improved, she would go on to develop pneumonia, a blood infection (sepsis), and went into complete multi-organ failure. Each organ system shut down one by one. Even after stopping the meds that were used to induce the coma, she never regained consciousness. She had minimal brain activity. Because of her very poor prognosis and quality of life, we were forced to make the difficult decision to end any extreme life saving measures and allow her to pass peacefully. Mom didn’t come home this time. Sarcoidosis finally won.

What the hell happened?

Looking back, I’m not sure what we could’ve done differently. My mother kept up with her doctor’s visits and treatment regimen as instructed. Sure, my mom was stubborn and sometimes frustrated, but she was never negligent. For myself, I often question if getting her to the hospital day sooner would’ve made a difference. I question if I should’ve been more involved in the treatment plan she had with her physician. Yes, I blame myself sometimes. But I guess its human nature to question if we could’ve prevented a loved one’s death. And, I carry the blame burden the heaviest because I’m a nurse.  I have a health care background; I should’ve been able to see this coming. But the reality is, we don’t know and will probably never know.  Sarcoidosis is a sneaky disease. We thought she was getting better and meanwhile, it was quietly destroying her organs, so much so that they couldn’t fight or bounce back once compromised.

How can you help?

Most you reading this will probably never be directly impacted by this sarcoidosis. But if you have this disease, the best advice I can give as a person who has been affected (and also a health care provider myself) is to be very proactive in your care and treatment plan.  Be very vocal and persistent with your physician(s) if it feels like your symptoms are not being managed well or dismissed all together.  If your needs are not being met, change you provider if possible. Everyone’s situation and circumstance are different, so I know this isn’t always easy or possible. And talk to your family. Keep them in the loop regarding your symptoms and treatment plan. If you have a loved one with sarcoidosis, try to educate yourself as much as possible (see resources below).  Be sensitive to your loved ones needs and symptoms. Auto-immune diseases present very differently than other common diseases. A person can feel completely miserable, even when they “look” very well.  And on the other hand, some people can look and present very well, but there are NOT well at all.

 

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Credit: American College of Chest Physicians

 

Resources

  • Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research: Based in Chicago and provides basic information about sarcoidosis, research information, patient information, patient support, and other resources.
  • National Sarcoidosis Resource Center: Based in New Jersey and provides links to other sites, videos and books for purchase, and microscopic images of sarcoidosis.
  • Sarcoidosis Network Foundation: Based in California and provides general information on sarcoidosis and related events and meetings.
  • Sarcoidosis Networking Association: Based in Oregon. Provides basic information on sarcoidosis, links to support groups and other sites, upcoming sarcoidosis meetings and events, and a newsletter.
  • FSR Physician Directory: A directory to help patients identify a specialist best equipped to develop and manage sarcoidosis.
  • Sarcoidosis | CHEST Foundation: Organization raise sarcoidosis awareness through clinical research, community service, and patient education.
  • The Bernie Mac Foundation: A nonprofit organization established by the late comedian and actor, Bernie Mac, to raise awareness and raise funds for sarcoidosis research.

Hopefully my personal story can help someone and raise awareness to bring this disease to the forefront. I implore you to also share your stories and experiences. Until we find a cure, be well.

My beautiful mother, Belinda Arnett (August 13th 1955 – November 10th, 2016). Until we meet again…rest well. #findacure

@urbantravelista

 

 

 

Don’t fear travel, fear NOT living

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A new year, new U.S .presidency, and new travel concerns.  It’s no secret 2017 has ushered in new and uncertain times.  A couple of weeks ago, when our president (yeah, I’m in still in shock too) issued the first travel ban against immigrants, many fellow travelers expressed concern and even panic.  With an upcoming trip to Cuba and Iceland, many people hit me up inquiring about my thoughts on traveling abroad.  Am I going to cancel?  Is it safe?  Am I afraid of experiencing any anti-American sentiment when traveling abroad?  Well, yes and no.  There will always be a fear that something could happen when I crossover into international territory, but it’s no greater than the fear I experience when I drive to work every day.  Looking at the data and statistics, I probably have a greater chance of being killed in a mass shooting at my local shopping mall or movie theater, than being killed in a terrorist attack abroad.  So what will I do?  How will I proceed?  I plan to do exactly what I’ve always done:  be aware, stay informed, and practice common sense.   While others are hesitant, I plan to continue to live. And there is absolutely no judgment towards those that choose to pull back on their travel experiences.  At the end of the day, you have to do what is best for you and your comfort level.  Hopefully, the following tips can help guide you in your decision making and ease your fears when it comes to traveling abroad.

1. Enroll in the STEP program

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The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service that allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  As a participant, you can receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, allowing you make informed decisions about your travel plans.  Participation can also help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency. And you can also help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.

2. Travel alerts/warnings

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The U.S. State Department issues travel warning and alerts and updates information on their website regularly.  This site is helpful in guiding your destination choices.  A travel warning is often long term and in place until the situation resolves itself. A travel warning can include unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks.  A travel alert is short term and usually related to an election season or a health alert, such as an influenza outbreak.

3. Turn off the Television

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Stay informed, but don’t become obsessed.  I am a firm believer that the very thing we focus on the most shapes our reality. Constantly watching the same negative news reports over and over again only reinforces the very thing you want to avoid.  It incites and fuels fear.   If I governed my life based on the news, I’d never leave my house…and I’m just talking about the “local” news.  Be aware of what’s going on around you, but don’t let it overwhelm you or take hostage of your life. There is always the risk that something can happen.  It can happen abroad or right in your own back yard. Life is risky, live anyway.

3. Communicate/Check-In

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Communicate your travel plans to your family.  Provide them with a copy of your itinerary, flight/lodging information, excursion information, and copy of your passport.  While I’m a proponent of remaining unplugged and disconnected when traveling, it’s a good a do to check-ins, through social media.  If something happens, your loved ones will have a time line and information on your last known location.

4. Roadtrips/Domestic travel

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If you’ve decided that traveling abroad isn’t for you right now, it doesn’t mean you have to stay grounded. There are a plethora of things you can do right here on U.S. soil.  Take a road trip and visit some of those landmarks that remain unchecked on your bucket list.  Spend a weekend in New York and catch a Broadway play. Consider catching a flight deal and attending a music or film festival in a city you’ve never been visited before.  The possibilities really are endless.  Last summer, I launched the Tourist in My Town campaign.  This campaign provides tips on how to take advantage of the tourism opportunities right in your own backyard. If you didn’t participate last summer, this is the perfect time to put it into practice.

Safe travels and wishing you the best in 2017!

 

@urbantravelista 

Urbantravelista | Experiences over things: Changing Christmas tradition

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My Christmas morning looks vastly different than it did years ago. From childhood through my young adult years,  I’d wake up at my parents’ house anticipating this day. After exchanging gifts, we would put on our best and head over to my grandmother’s house. When it came to cooking, she hosted most of the big holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.  My family and I would arrive greeted by a host of other family elders and close family friends. There would be so many people that you couldn’t find a place to sit. But fast forward to today, that picture is only memory. It doesn’t exist anymore.

Over the years, my family has gotten smaller. Those family elders that would reach into their pocket to give me a dollar or a peppermint complete with the tightest embrace have passed on. And, unfortunately, I never had a family of my own to extend those traditions. Each year, the gathering is smaller. And this year, we lost a significant part of our tradition, my mother. On a brighter note, my nephew joined our family in 2009 and we’ve been able to keep the childhood aspect Christmas alive through him. But I know he won’t experience that same traditions my brother and I experienced growing up. My grandmother was significant part of Christmas. But, his grandmother is no longer here. This led me to ponder if we should continue it at all. Maybe it’s time to let go of what was and try something new. Maybe we should consider traveling during the holidays?

It seems like more of my friends are choosing to travel with their children and loved ones instead of celebrating Christmas the usual way. One friend of mine opted not to buy presents at all. Instead, she packed up her kids to spend the holidays at Disney. Another friend of mine opted to surprise her middle age son with a trip to an unknown destination out of the country. Growing up, I would never fathom spending Christmas this way. Run me my Guess jeans and Sony CD walkman LOL. But with our family becoming significantly smaller, I think about providing these alternatives for my nephew. Would he value spending Christmas on foreign land learning about other cultures over a new pair of Jordan’s and set of Pokeman cards? Probably not LOL. But who knows, he might surprise us. I guess we’ll find out once we try.

Wishing you and yours a Happy Holiday season. Regardless of how to choose to honor your traditions, cherish them and your time with your loved ones. Traditions may change or fade away, but your memories will never die.

@urbantravelista

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Urbantravelista: 2016 Year in Review

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Twenty years from now, if someone ask me about the year 2016 , I won’t know where to begin. This has certainly been a tumultuous year for many.  There’s been birth, growth, and a lot of loss. No one was exempt.  I mean, we lost Prince. That alone was enough to send many of us over the cliff.  But for me, the first half of the year actually started off on a good note. Exactly this time last year, I was scouting my favorite shopping malls and boutiques in search of THE perfect dress to celebrate NYE in Dallas with one of my besties. I brought in the new year surrounded by good friends, good people, and positive energy. We spent the first day of 2016 enjoying a fabulous champagne brunch at a friend’s home. We fellowshipped, prayed, and spoke our goals for 2016. The following day, I boarded my flight back to Chicago feeling inspired, empowered, and ready to smash every goal and intention I set for myself. And things went well in the beginning. They really did. But by July, 2016 turned on me like a rabid pit bull. But such is life, right? Sometimes, a year will give you everything you hope for and more. And other times, it will leave you wondering how you survived it at all. In spite of 2016’s tragedies and having to put some of my adventuring on pause, I did have a few great moments in travel and adventure.

The birth of my brand

In April, I gave birth to my lifestyle/travel blog, Urbantravelista™. I created it as an outlet to share my personal life and travel experiences. I debuted my blog recounting my first international solo vacation experience. BTW, if you missed it, no worries. You can read it here: Solo Travel: Tips for a first time “Urbantravelista” . This is my second run at blogging and it’s the longest I’ve ever stuck with a writing project. Truthfully, running this project and growing Urbantravelista has kept me sane and grounded in the midst of 2016’s insanity.  I guess I finally found my niche.  I look forward to seeing it’s growth and evolution in the forthcoming year.  My goal is to encourage others to create their own fulfilling experiences by embracing the unknown and stepping outside of their comfort zone. I want to inspire others to live their truth (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and to make lemonade in the midst of life challenges…and be fabulous while doing it.  Life is imperfect.  Therefore, we don’t have to be perfect.  But we do have to LIVE.

 The Iceland Blackout

Also in April, I had the opportunity to join a meet-up experience in Reykjavik. We dubbed this event “The Iceland Blackout” as we collectively represented a group of over 70 black likeminded travelers from all over the world.  You can read about it here: Don’t sleep on Iceland . This adventure was special to me, because I had NEVER travelled this far away from home alone. Iceland was a destination that I never fathomed I’d ever visit or even have the desire to visit. Well, I completely underestimated it’s DOPENESS. I basked in the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon, rode the Reykjavik bus system by myself, danced with Icelanders in a Reykjavik hip hop club, toured the Golden Circle, felt the chilling magnificence of Gullfoss Waterfall, learned about Icelandic culture, walked the path between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and danced in the middle of nowhere under the Reykjavik stars while chasing the Northern Lights. I’m looking so forward to my return in March of 2017.  Stay tuned!

 

Golfing

When spring opened up, one of my best friends introduced me to the game of golf. It started with drink and appetizer outings at Top Golf. To my surprise, the more I practiced, the more I wanted to experience going out on a real course. So we did just that and after a few outings, I got to be pretty good at it. I do have a long way to go before I become proficient at it, but my performance and interest motivated me enough to invest in a set of clubs of my own.

 

Being Bobby Brown

He may not be significant to you, but he’s very much important to those of us that grew up during the New Edition era. My mom found out he was in town for a book signing in my neighborhood. Because she was a bigger fan than I was, I braved to two hour wait in line and got an autographed copy of his new book for the both of us. It was a couple of days for before my birthday and he was the first person to give me a hug and wish me Happy Birthday. How cool is that? Thanks Bobby!

 

TouristInMyTown Summer Challenge

 Over the summer, I launched a “TouristInMyTown Summer Challenge” campaign to encourage people to take advantage of the culture and tourism in their own backyard. I promoted this campaign by patronizing the various festivals, events, and tourist attractions in my city and challenging others to do the same in their respective cities. I kicked off the challenge at the Wells Street Art Festival held in historic Old Town. This festival featured over 225 artists from across the continent. Next, I attended the Taste of Randolph, a food and music festival similar to the Taste of Chicago, but on a much smaller scale. As summer progressed, I took the challenge to the south side where I attended house music’s signature summer event, The Chosen Few Old School Picnic.  This event is held in Hayes Park and takes place during the Fourth of July holiday. This was my third time in attendance and it gets bigger and better every year. Next, I headed back to the western suburbs and attended Naperville’s Rib Fest. This event is also held during the Fourth of July holiday and expands over four days. My final festival of the summer took place at Lincoln Park’s Hot Dog Fest. I stepped far outside of my comfort zone by trying a hot dog for the first time in 30 years. Yeah I know, pretty groundbreaking.  And in between my summer “festivaling”, I reacquainted myself with Oak Street beach, a Chicago attraction I haven’t enjoyed since my childhood. Sunbathing on the beach with my city’s beautiful skyline as the back drop was everything.

Saying Goodbye

After experiencing one of the best summers I’ve had in years, travel and adventure came to a screeching halt when I experienced my biggest heartbreak ever, saying goodbye to my beautiful mother. Death is an event that you never see coming. It doesn’t send an invitation for you to prepare or RSVP. It just shows up on your doorstep completely uninvited and gives zero f*cks. My fall and winter itinerary suddenly became replaced by profound grief and sadness. Discovering my “new” normal and picking up the broken pieces of my heart has become my newest adventure. It’s all a very unwelcomed adventure, but still an adventure that most of us will face some day nonetheless. Looking back, I came into 2016 feeling empowered and inspired. Although my year took a tragic turn, I still find joy in the goals I was able to accomplish. I find solace in the positive experiences I was able to create and the possibility of inspiring at least one person to create some positive experiences of their own. I’m not sure what’s in store for 2017, but the only thing that keeps me optimistic is my desire to continue living the way my mother wanted. She lived vicariously through my adventures and I look forward to honoring her memory by creating more awesome experiences in 2017.  Sure, it’s dark now, but joy comes in the morning. Let’s hope the sun shines brightly in 2017 with more travel and adventure.

 

 

 

@urbantravelista

 

Random truthism: It’s okay not to be okay

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It took pretty much most of life to drop my mask and be myself. You know, the mask many of us put on before stepping out into the world each morning.  For years, I worked to stay on the path to perfection. And, if it didn’t appear perfect, I would just fake it until it became perfect.  Never show emotions, people will use them against you.  Always portray yourself as having it together, even when your life is really falling apart.  Don’t ask for help or ever need anyone, people have ulterior motives and will think you’re weak.  It wasn’t until a several years ago, that a major life challenge forced me to drop those facades. It’s exhausting pretending you’re okay and life is grand, when it’s not.  We live in a society where only the beautiful and positive is accepted and everything outside of that superficial bubble is rejected and discarded. But the reality is this: I’m not perfect. NO ONE is perfect. I can’t parallel park. I’m socially awkward. I suck at math.  I can’t dance on beat. I burn rice every time I cook it. And I seldom read articles on Facebook before commenting on them.  Hey, it is what it is…this is me. But, over the years, I’ve learned to accept most of my shortcomings and I’m perfectly okay with them. I know, shocking right?

Since my mom’s unexpected death, I can notice the self-acceptance I’ve worked so hard to attain slowly becoming undone. I’ve always taken pride in being myself around people. This is me, this is how I feel…take it or leave it. But now, I just want to retreat and suppress everything. I try to avoid talking about my mom’s death or experience, because I don’t want to seem negative to other people. I try to pull back on expressing my disgust for this year, because I don’t want to appear ungrateful for the few good things that did happen for me this year. But it’s really not working.  The reality is, I’m angry at the world. I’m jealous of people that had an amazing year. Damn it why not me?? I’m a good person. I envy those that will have their moms for the remainder of the holidays. Why my mom? I’m pissed that my Dad is spending their 43rd wedding anniversary week picking up her ashes from a funeral home. Who knew God could be so cruel?   I’ve tried to do all of the new age Louise Hay and Wayne Dyer positive affirmation talk, but it’s failing me miserably.   Sorry but, “yeah, even though I watched my mom slowly suffocate to death on her own fluids for two weeks and watched her entire body swell up 3 times its normal size, I did take a pretty dope trip to Iceland in April #grateful #byehaters #blessingsonblessings” just doesn’t resonate with me.  I mean, it sounds all warm and fuzzy, but the truth is, my 2016 sucked. It is what it is.  And, I will not put on fake façade and pretend to have the resilience of Superman to make you comfortable.  If my authenticity disrupts your happy, then keep it moving.  No love lost.  I totally understand.  Just like Marilyn Monroe, if you can’t accept me at my worst, then you don’t deserve me at my best.  BTW, I really hate that quote, it’s so corny. I mean, did she even really say it?

Anyway, the take away is this: it’s really okay not to be okay.  If someone ask how you’re doing and you say “life sucks, but I’m dealing with it” and they don’t like it, then they shouldn’t have asked. You might lose a few people, and if you do that’s okay…they weren’t for you to begin with. When people really care about you and your well-being, they help you through the bad (especially, if you’re helping yourself), they don’t just show up when all is well within your world. In the interest of clarification, this doesn’t mean you have to treat random strangers and casual acquaintances as if they’re your personal therapist and pour out your heart.  And, this doesn’t mean that you should keep yourself in a negative space. It is possible to motivate yourself while remaining true to your real feelings. It’s detrimental to your healing and recovery.  Pretending to be okay when you’re not and trying to please everyone else’s comfort level will eventually give you a mental breakdown.  Some of the biggest pretenders who seem like they have it all together are just one Instagram click and post from seeing the inside of a room with white padded walls. As much as we don’t want to accept it, we’re human. We hurt. We cry.  We get disappointed. We get jealous. We fail. We lose.  And through it all, with work, dedication, the love and support of those close to us, we eventually get over it and get up again.  Anyone who believes otherwise either just won the lottery or is medicated on heavy does of benzodiazepines.  Life is composed of duality and we can’t embrace the light without acknowledging and respecting the dark.

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I promise to get back to travel blogging.  Until then, here’s a really dope selfie of me in front of Gullfoss Waterfall.  #socute

 

 

 

My take on grief: I didn’t ask for this, who do I return it to?

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It’s been just shy of a month since my mom’s passing.  And I’m doing…well okay…at least I’d like to think so.  I do what everyone else does.   I go to work  (often late, but I still go).  I sleep and eat.  And, I’ve even been able to make it to the gym a couple of times, catch a movie (BTW, Moonlight was pure awesomeness), and have a couple of dinner outings. I mean, life goes on right? That’s what happens in the movies? How I wish it were that easy.

When I first announced my mom’s transition (yes, on Facebook…because that’s the most comprehensive way to communicate both good and bad news), a friend of mine responded with following words of comfort: “you’ve just given birth to grief”.   I wasn’t sure how to process that statement.  I mean, I’ve experienced “loss” before.  You can’t live 43 years in this life without losing something.  Over the years, I’ve lost distant loved ones.  I’ve lost a couple of pets before.   And like most people in my age group, I’ve even lost a job, marriage, and home before. But none of those losses ever compared to this. Pets have a short life expectancy.  I knew my parakeet and goldfish wouldn’t be with me throughout my golden years.  My distant loved ones?  They were elderly and it was the appropriate time for their departure.  The job, marriage, and home?  Like most people, I can recoup those losses again.  Money comes and goes; it’s the circle of life.  I can always get remarried again. I mean Liz Taylor was married 9 times. But I will never have my mother again. I will never talk to her again.  I will never get to listen to her vent or share celebrity gossip with me again.  I will never get to take that mother/daughter trip with her that I had been planning.  So many nevers…it’s all final. She’s gone.

As my friend referenced on the most horrible day of my life, birth is defined as “the emergence of new individual from the body of its parent”.   I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can certainly attest that grief has changed me.  I’m not the same person I was before November 10th, 2016.  You see, the old me was kind of happy go lucky…in a dark comedic kind of way (if that makes sense).  I always saw the positive in everything.  I always encouraged other people. My bounce back game was strong. And I had a resilience that defied statistics.  But the new me?   My daily positive talk and words of affirmation have been replaced with talk about my loss.  I bring up my mother every chance I get.  I mean, just look at me writing another blog about it right now?

One thing I’ve come to learn about grief is that in addition to transforming you, it also reveals things about other people.  During this birthing process, I’ve learned that people will use your grief as an opportunity to gain something from you.  There will be opportunists.  That ex you haven’t seen in over 10 years will catch wind of your loss and will invite to fly you in because they want to “help” and be your source of “comfort”.  I’ve learned that my faith will be tested.  I now have a love/hate relationship with God. I love Him because I’m supposed to love Him, but hate Him for taking away my Mom.  I find no resolve in cliches like, “God knows best…she’s in a better place…and God will bring you through it.”  Why couldn’t He just save her?  I’ve learned that even the most well-intention people will try to interfere  and take over the home going services you’ve planned for your loved one to appease “their” wishes instead of those of the departed.   I’ve learned that people want you to grieve, but not too much and for not too long.  People will ask you how you’re doing, but sometimes, they really don’t want to know the truth.  They want responses like, “I’m doing okay, I’m hanging in there” because your truth and painful reality is a damper on the parade that’s going on in their own life.  Keep those negative vibes over there to yourself.  Grieve, but remember…no one likes a Negative Nelly or Debbie Downer.  No one wants to be that person.  Things happen in life and you should eventually suck it up and get over it.  I’ve learned that people will knowingly and unknowingly minimize your loss.  You lost a parent?  So what, their car got repossessed last winter.   You lost your active parent at 61? So what, they lost their 99 year old great-grandmother when she passed peacefully in her sleep. Life isn’t fair, so deal with it.  But on the flip side, I’ve also learned that people will show up and show out in ways you could never imagine during this unpredictable birthing process. And sometimes, it will be the people you least expect.  The person you least expect will send you a card, offer you words of encouragement, and accept your grief and how you choose to cope no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient it may present to them, usually because they’ve been where you are. This is a club that no one ever wants to join.  But if you live long enough, you will inevitably gain membership. The tables will turn and you will birth a grief baby of your own.  I’ve learned that people that understand this won’t be so bothered by your process, because they understand they will too experience it someday.

But in spite of the above, the most important thing I’ve learned is this: grief is a very convoluted and unique process.  Just like childbirth, no two experiences are the same. It’s your process and journey. Each day will be different.  Some days, you will be the ocean easily riding the waves.  And other days, you will drown in it.  There is no way to get around grief.  You can’t go over it, underneath it, or around it.  You have to go/GROW through it. There is no easy button or pill to make it go away.  It’s your experience and your timetable.  It’s your TRUTH.  And, the people around you can simply take it or leave it.

As I complete this very painful birthing process, I hope to be able to “positive think” my way back to my former self.  I hope to get back to posting about positive, warm and fuzzy stuff on my social media networks.  I hope to get back to blogging about all tings concerning traveling, because grieving is for the birds and I’d rather be blogging about my hike to Patagonia.  I hope to be able to think of my mom and my first Christmas without her without bursting into tears. I hope to be able to live my truth and deal with my grief authentically without making others feel uncomfortable about it. I hope to get to a point to where grief is something that just kind of lives here, but doesn’t consume me…it just has a few things over here and visits every me once and awhile, like that old boyfriend that will always have your heart.

 

@urbantravelista