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More Than: Caitlin of 25th Year

March 1, 2010

If you think about it, “healthy living” is probably instilled  – if not forced – into our lives from a young age. Spend a day in an elementary school and you can hear it bouncing off the walls.

“Finish your vegetables”
“Don’t run with gum in your mouth.”
“Walk down the hall. I SAID WALK!”

Fast forward to middle and high school and the conversation turns more serious to risks like peer pressure, sex, drugs and alcohol.

By the time a young adult gets to college, they’ve heard it all. And chances are, they may have to suffer the consequences of turning a blind eye to what they know to be healthy living.

My upbringing was that of a normal kid. I was told “no” when I should have been and obeyed the rules (for the most part). I partook in the typical college activities (Pitt frats I’m sorry and I love you) but in all, my biggest healthy living challenges were ones I faced post-grad. The first 18 months that followed cap and gown were the ones that shaped me like no other.

The search for my first “real job” began long before Christmas my senior year. It took nearly seven months and a stack of resumes to land a job in the field I’d spent the last four years preparing for. Even so, everything seemed to come together. I had a contact with the person who was leaving the position to put in a good word, a kick-ass portfolio and internship experience, a place outside Philadelphia (where the job was located) to stay on the cheap and the gumption to be the best damn reporter I could be.

reporter

To say I “settled” into my position would be a downright cruel play on words. That oh-so-convenient place to live on the cheap? Well, it was also mighty far away. From the moment I locked the deadbolt at the apartment to the minute I stepped into my office, the clock had ticked through two hours. To break it down, I drove 20-25 minutes to the train station, parked, waited at – or most mornings bolted to – the station, rode for 40 minutes, got off in Center City, made a bee line for Starbucks, waited for the bus, rode it for another 20 minutes and finally – finally! – arrived at my office. For the trip home, repeat. Sometimes it was longer if I got stuck in a meeting or missed a bus or train by seconds. (I did a lot of chasing in those days.) I loved the challenge of each new day, but there was more than one occasion I rode some mode of transportation with tears in my eyes or streaming down my face.

Many mornings, I liked my routine. I caught up on a daily phone call with my now roommate on the drive, sipped coffee number one and listened to my iPod on the train (OK and scoped out cute boys in ties), smiled at the same cute barista, made more calls and read lots of books. Often being the first one to arrive in my department, I’d have coffee with my publisher and get a head start on my day.

Out of desperation to make friends and extra cash, I went and got a second job in a restaurant about a mile from the apartment. This meant I was now working seven days a week. I busted my butt and it was never anything glamorous – anyone in the business will tell you that – but I accomplished my goals: I could afford my life and I met some incredible people I still call friends to this day.

I tried my best to adopt some healthy habits. This was the time that I started reading healthy living blogs. I was into the big ones many of us first flock to – Healthy Tipping Point, Eat, Live, Run and Kath Eats Real Food. I was inspired by these women – no older than me – who worked, went to school, maintained relationships, trained for races, took good care of themselves and blogged with so much success.

With the help of my fitness guru cousin Michael, I started working out four days a week. I shopped at Trader Joe’s and knocked back on the Starbucks (bye bye cute barista). In a month, I lost 10 pounds, but more importantly I felt great.

caitlinm

Despite this, sometime around my year anniversary, things started to fall apart. The toll of 60-70 hour work weeks and at least one late night of partying like a rock star were really getting to me. Never mind trying to make a relationship happen. I stopped frequenting the gym and took less and less time for myself. I felt like I was twisted so tight around what I had to do and where I had to be and how I was supposed to act that I didn’t know who I had become. My anxiety over “What’s next?” and “How can I make this work?” was building so high and fast I felt like I was up to my neck in quick sand. I was taking on a lot at my writing job – I had my own column and was picking up work in the advertising department in addition to the 160 inches I normally wrote a week.

I started getting panic attacks. Only at first, I didn’t know that was what they were. I’d get the sensation that something was wrong, really wrong. Heart pounding, dizzy, chills, I felt like I was either going to pass out or I’d get so worked up I thought I was dying. Numerous times I’d call my Mum whose only advice from hundreds of miles away was, “Please go to the doctor. Go to the ER. Do something!” I couldn’t control when I’d get these attacks, but they were always at night or on my days off. They scared the crap out of anyone around me, but most of all they completely wiped me out and wore me down. “Enough is enough,” I told myself. “Something has got to change.”

My mind began an inner tug of war. Do I stay and work at a job where I love what I do but hate how I live? Will I find another writing job? Where would I move? What if I don’t write? What will everyone think? What would my professors say? What if I leave writing and I can’t get back into it? What if I make the biggest mistake of my life?

Truth be told, I applied to a lot of jobs the whole time I was working in Philly. I wanted to move into a bigger market or a better title. I got turned down for every position along the way, most of the time it was chalked up to “not having enough experience.” The recession was at its hardest hitting point and I knew it would be extremely tough to find something within a reasonable period of time that matched my criteria.

So, I worried. My anxiety deepened and it began to take a toll on my mental state.  I dipped in and out of depression. My thoughts were dark. I wondered what the hell I was doing here, anyway.

After bouts of tears, lengthy heart-to-hearts and a lot of self-doubt I stopped asking myself questions and gave myself answers.

Yes. I will find another job. It’s OK if it’s not one where I’ll be writing. It doesn’t matter what others may think and say about my decision, it’s for me. I’m choosing to love myself enough to do what is necessary to be healthy. Not just physically. But emotionally and mentally. I don’t deserve to be in that dark place where I want to shut the world out from exhaustion and frustration. What I deserve is a fulfilling life.

I found a job back in Pittsburgh that wasn’t a writing job but it utilized other skills I had. I packed up my car and headed back to the other side of the state. I reunited with my friends and family, moved into a fabulous house and felt like I could breathe again. I’ve been back for just over a year and I knew the second I merged onto the Turnpike I had made the right decision. It hasn’t been an easy trek out of that dark place. It’s been more of an uphill climb. But I’m to the point now where I can run. And man, does it ever feel good.

steelers

You can learn more about the brilliantly entertaining and fun-loving Caitlin by visiting her blog. [especially this page and this post. ]  You can also read Caitlin’s 140-character or less thoughts [usually witty & welcoming] by following her twitter feed.

A few of Heather’s favorite posts by Caitlin can be found here, here, here, here and here.  ENJOY.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2010 11:25 am

    What a wonderful story. You are so brave to have changed your life for the better. Not very long ago, I was enduring panic attacks, too, but they are more the beginnings of panic attacks. I get them when I am overwhelmed by circumstances in my life that I don’t want anymore, but I feel I have no power to change. I know that I can change them, but I keep convincing myself that I push through them and most days I am happy with this choice.
    You made an amazing decision to choose to make your life fulfilling. I just applied to an amazing sounding fellowship that may open my eyes to a more fulfilling path, too!
    Thanks for such an awesome story.

  2. March 4, 2010 7:01 am

    I really enjoyed reading your story, Caitlin! Your road has not been easy, but you’ve moved forward with such flexibility and aplomb. 🙂

  3. March 4, 2010 1:27 pm

    This line:

    After bouts of tears, lengthy heart-to-hearts and a lot of self-doubt I stopped asking myself questions and gave myself answers.

    stuck out at me today like a sore thumb. Story of my life right now. I should follow your advice!

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