by Erin Byrne
Over the past six months, I haven’t been myself. I find it difficult to get through a book (my favorite pasttime -- I usually read a book a week), I stopped experimenting in the kitchen (something I used to do almost every night), and I find myself cancelling plans with friends (constantly). I was exhausted all the time, even though I’m sleeping nine or more hours a night. I’ve dealt with a lot of loss and sadness this year. It’s difficult for me to share this, but I am depressed.
I am blessed with an incredible support system of family and friends who understand this difficult season I’m experiencing. Many have given suggestions to help me. One friend told me to focus on one personal goal daily, like finally organizing that closet or replacing the old bathroom shelf that has seen better days. This is very helpful to me. Making measurable goals and seeing them through has helped me through some of my hardest moments. An especially wise friend offered this advice a few months ago: Try taking risks. Even small ones. I was discouraged when she told me this. How was I supposed to take risks when I could barely get out of bed to get to work? She told me getting out of my comfort zone, forcing myself to be “bold” would help. I doubted it. I felt lost, further away from the self that I knew than I ever had before.
When we were asked to write about the things that are shaping us right now, I thought about what’s actually “keeping me together.” And, funnily enough, it’s the new things I’ve tried in the past few months and the people I've surrounded myself with that have really kept me going and brought some positivity into my life.
For the past year, I’ve participated in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I share with the Long Island City CSA, who defines the program as a “link [for] people in our community to local farmers. Our mission is to make inexpensive, fresh, organic, and locally-grown vegetables available to everyone in our community and to support local agriculture. The farmer benefits because we provide a direct market for his goods.” Every week, I get a random selection of vegetables. I call it my “mystery box” (for you Masterchef fans).
Having my mystery box pick-up every week, filled to the brim with delicious, often new-to-me produce has encouraged me to cook more. After all, it’s already in my fridge. At first, I balked at these strange vegetables. But gradually, I looked at them as an opportunity to take a relatively low-stakes risk for myself. And figuring out what to do with kohlrabi or researching how to make kimchi radishes reinvigorated my sense of wonder and creativity in the kitchen. Sometimes I can’t bring myself to make anything more than a salad, but on my better days, I’ve learned what to do when you have too much kale (pesto!) or tomatoes (heirloom gazpacho with country bread!). I still don’t cook as much as I have in the past, but I’m on the road back to the adventurous girl who once tried a dozen different roast chicken recipes in two weeks to figure out the best one.
Taking Improv 101 at Upright Citizen’s Brigade was one of the most challenging, exhilarating, intimidating, rewarding experiences of my life. Improv is a form of theater where the scene(s) are created in the moment by two or more people. These people collaborate with each other to create dialogue, character, setting, and (hopefully) comedic situations! The UCB motto is “Don’t Think.” As someone who suffers from “analysis paralysis,” this was a daunting task for me. However, after the first couple of classes, I started getting out of my head. I started listening better and participating in the moment with my scene partner. It helped me stay present and focus. It’s hard to feel truly sad when you’re forced to remain so mentally active. I’m so thankful for the friends in my life who coaxed me into taking the class. It reminded me the importance of saying “Yes! And…”
THE FOREFRONT STAFF
I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t have trouble getting out of bed if I worked for a less awesome staff. The team at Forefront is encouraging, supportive, loving, and every other overwhelming, effusive adjective I can’t remember. I’m lucky every day that I take the train in from Queens and open the door to these people. I am definitely out of my comfort zone here, working in a new capacity, learning new aspects of my job every day.
The most important thing about working with this staff is they never let me settle. They have helped me really look at where I want to be, what my passions are, and encourage me to pursue those things. They’re more than a staff to me; they’re my extended family.
I thought my friend who told me to take risks was asking too much of me. In truth, she was giving me what I needed. I know getting back to the person I know I can be will be a long road, but I’m not as discouraged as I once was.
(Many thanks to Jonathan and Ryan for asking us to participate in this series. It was incredibly cathartic for me to open up about this time in my life. Thanks again for not letting me settle.)