This year was a time of hard, ugly change. 
The kind of change that doesn’t lead to an exciting list of accomplishments on new year’s eve, or any sort of physical evidence for that matter.
The kind of change that is born out of necessity, and desperation, and doubt.
But I truly don’t think I would still be here without it.

I don’t know how to talk about this year without talking about the darkness that swallowed me whole for the majority of it. 

2022 began with a tired emptiness that had become all too familiar and far too easy to conceal.
Despite doing everything I was “supposed to”: working, staying busy, exercising, eating healthy, socializing, etc. these feelings persisted. Loneliness and exhaustion and emptiness consumed me in a way I thought would never end.
It took acknowledging the deep, dark parts of myself to realize what a dire situation I was in.
There was great challenge in talking to the few most trusted people in my life, bringing the thoughts I had kept to myself out into the open. For so long, I couldn’t bring myself to burden them with my selfish negativity, the thoughts of no longer wanting to be here — but opening up was essential to healing.
What followed was the months of hard, ugly change.
Change that felt like hesitantly shedding a hard outer layer, built up from years of thinking I alone had to protect myself, keep myself safe.
Change that felt like sloughing off a protective goo underneath, that served as the mask for vulnerability, the layer I didn’t want to admit to myself was there.
Change that felt like raw exposure - looking at myself without the layers of protection, and examining what I thought I was protecting myself from and why.
This kind of change feels slow, and unending, and at times too much to bear, but I am trying so hard to be proud of it still.
The people who helped me through, and didn’t shy away from the ugliness, have shown me a love and care that I am so grateful for I can’t begin to express. 
When things started to take a turn for the better, my only thought was that it would only be a matter of time before I found myself in this dark place once again — but now I knew that I had a support system that would be there for me — I no longer had to hide.

Things are lighter now. And I haven’t found myself here by chance. There have been a lot of difficult conversations, challenging introspection, moments of honesty and vulnerability and change that a past version of me wouldn’t have been able to imagine.

With great losses in our family this year, I’ve found myself pulled to spend more time with those that I love. I’m worried less about professional pursuits, and superficial desires. I am trying to lean into knowing myself and feeling my feelings and owning my wants and needs shamelessly.
Feeling deeply is not a weakness, and being willing to care for other people is important and valuable, but I’ve learned to look out for myself in a way that at one time was reserved only for others, and welcome care and attention that I have always shied away from.
It is still in progress, in the way that self work always is, but I am grateful to still be here, seemingly on the other side. 

Now for the regularly scheduled programming: a chronicling of this years highlights, almost exclusively for me to look back on and recall when my memories fail me.

I welcomed the new year as usual: alone in my apartment, in sweatpants, tipsy off one bottle of prosecco and full of french fries.
I headed out to Jersey early on the 1st to surprise my sweet friend Leanna and take engagement photos of her and George, her wonderful fiancé. Despite the rain, and limited daylight, we managed to take some photos that capture their beautiful relationship and celebrate after with a surprise engagement party with their east coast pals. 

The rest of January was spent getting back into the work grind, puzzling, and training for the upcoming NYC half marathon, my reemergence into races after a two year hiatus. 

February was when I was at my lowest, I found myself isolating and retreating inward, but life kept moving, and so did I. I spontaneously flew to Chicago for my sister’s surprise proposal to Cass, and braved the chilly Chicago temps to capture their sweet moment on the lake. It was a bright moment in what felt like endless darkness.

March was spent working and in bed, besides the sister visit in the middle of the month. Megan flew out to cheer me on at the half and spend time exploring places on our growing list of must-sees. Watching her leave at the end of her visit was heartbreaking, but reminded me of how much I appreciate our relationship and her love and support.

In April I flew to NC to visit my grandparents. We spent time going to the beach, sitting on the patio chatting, and picking strawberries. I decided to extend my trip and drive up with them to see my parents in-progress lake house. Being around family felt so peaceful and I underestimated how valuable this trip would be.
At the end of April I flew back to Chicago for another surprise engagement shoot — this time my high school friend Mandi and her fiancé Matt (it was quite the year for engagements). 

In May I resumed my summer habit of bike trips to the beach, dyed my hair bright orange, and saw one of my favorite artists, Billie Marten, in my new favorite venue. The month ended with another trip down south for my cousin Grayson’s graduation, and some more time spent on the lake, anticipating next summer when my parents’ house will be finished. 

At the beginning of June, our friends Luisa and Fran came down from Boston to visit and we took a trip out to the beach to celebrate my birthday early. We all had a bit too much to drink, but it was one of the happiest days of this year. After, I traveled home to Illinois for my birthday to visit my mom and sister. It was a quiet weekend of wedding dress shopping, small town dinners, a quick visit with Sabrina, and what may have been one of my last trips calling Illinois “home”.

July was ushered in with the seemingly annual roof-pool day, and a nyc visit from Cass. Vada and I headed up to Rochester for the fourth of July, to once again spend time with family and spend final moments with my grandmother.
I came back to the city and we welcomed Fran and Luisa back for another weekend of shenanigans. The darkness I thought I’d expelled found its way back and the rest of the month was a blur.

August brought news of my grandfather’s declining health and sent us all back to the south to spend time with him and support each other in grief. 
After returning to the city, and one of the busiest work weeks yet, I flew out to Vermont to celebrate Megan’s graduation from her master’s program. The trip was so beautiful and had me thinking I needed to move to a small town in Vermont on a lake and work at a bakery for the rest of my life.

A labor day trip back to Rochester with my mom became another trip of goodbyes as we spent nights in hospice with my grandmother. She passed with my mom and uncle by her side, and I hope that she’s at peace now with my grandfather.
The rest of the month I leaned into new found energy for social interaction. I went to free shows with Brittany, took trips to the farmers market with Andrea, and went out dancing with Jourdon — ending the month with spontaneous purple hair, and Andrea’s birthday celebration (complete with a surprise visit from her whole family).

October felt like a bit of a rebirth as the weather started to cool and I realized I felt more like myself than I had all year. Andrea, Vada, and I danced on the roof, and planned a collaborative photoshoot that reminded me how much I love our friendship and how wonderful it is to create all together.
I discovered a new hobby of long bike rides and made a trip up to Sleepy Hollow via a 37 mile ride, complete with changing leaves and cool fall air. 
As I sat on the train platform waiting to head back to the city, I got the call from my mom that my grandfather had passed away. I headed straight to Russell’s apartment and we spent the next 24 hours together, finding flights to NC and holding space for the loss. 
We met the rest of our family in Wilmington and said our last goodbye to our grandpa. He will be so dearly missed, and the hole he has left is still felt. 
As I returned to the city (once again) the desire to run away led me on another bike trip, this time 50 miles, and much less enjoyable. I’ve found the distraction of movement only keeps the pain at bay — like digging your nail into a mosquito bite to distract you from the itch. 

The beginning of November was marathon week, and this year I caught Andrea in the running fever with me. We decided to sign up for a 10k in February and start in on our training right away. Our plans were slightly delayed by my grisly bike accident, but luckily nothing was broken and we were back on our feet in a week.
I dyed my hair back to my roots after 4 years of blonde, and after celebrating Vada’s birthday in the city, Andrea and I flew back to SC to see my parents newly completed lake house. We spent the weekend reveling in the beautiful weather, peaceful boat rides, and delicious food. I couldn’t wait to return in  a month.

December’s first trip was to Savannah where we met Luisa and Fran for our yearly “Fransgiving”, in our old college stomping ground. After years of separation the city felt small, and while memories flooded back, it all felt eerily unfamiliar and different. When we left, we all agreed that we had moved beyond our time there — it was a pleasant, but perhaps final, sav trip. 
We rounded out the month with more running, holiday get togethers with friends, and the final week of work before the holidays. 
I headed back down to my parent’s house for Christmas, meeting Megan there for our usual Christmas eating extravaganza. I feel so grateful for the time I’ve spent with family this year and the closeness we’ve established.

Once again, new year’s eve was spent alone in my sweats, but this year, I don’t feel the empty longing I did a year ago. I can recognize how far I’ve come and it feels good. 

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