Ah. What can I say about post-grad life? It’s treating me pretty well! The last couple months it has been incredibly strange not being in school for the first Fall of my life. Going from seeing everyone I love every day to maybe grabbing a drink with them when we can squeeze it in our schedules has admittedly been a very hard transition for me. My final year of college was the most rewarding, being surrounded by the most amazing people who became a family I cherish to no end. I wish I could still be around that everyday, but now I can sit back and see all of the things I’ve learned about life and about myself and all of the beneficial ways in which I’ve changed. I can seep them in, and embody them, and take note of the different things that have stuck with me.

One such teaching that has stuck with me the most, that keeps popping up in my life, is something my Feldenkrais teacher said at the beginning of the semester: “Don’t leave yourself behind.”

We have such a tendency to get caught up in what we’re doing and where we’re going that we forget to cater to our innermost needs. We are all so incredibly busy. We have jobs to pay rent, we have jobs to further our careers, we have school or this or that to help us in our trade, we have chores and errands, social functions we want to attend…the list goes on and on. It’s no surprise we don’t take enough time for ourselves. And even if all of those things are fulfilling your innermost needs, we often lose sight of what those are.

I can honestly say that I haven’t been this happy in a long time. Just pure, untouched elation, smile-at-everyone-I-pass-on-the-streets joy. I can’t remember when this sensation was last a part of my being. Of course there are still dark spells, we all have them, but even underneath all of that is a sort of peace and contentment. Not necessarily mentally or emotionally, but someplace deeper – someplace we can’t quite touch. But it’s there. And it’s all just this last year.

The choices and discoveries I’ve made about myself and life and the people I have around me have all led to this place, where i’m exactly where I want and need to be. My career is before me, and I’m so excited about the future. I feel motivated and inspired and I’m not worrying so much about what’s to come and that feels so good. I don’t hold a lot of anger or hate towards anything, which has always been a toxic state of being for me.

And the beautiful thing is that I didn’t even seek happiness. I mean sure, ultimately that’s what we all want, but I was focused on bettering myself as a person, finding myself, seeking understanding, honing my crafts, discovering what it is I love most to do, surrounding myself with those amazing people who inspire me and lift me up, cutting all of that toxic out of my life, choosing to only do things that I’m 100% “Hell yes” about instead of wasting my life on “meh sure.” I focused on enriching and nourishing my empathy and compassion and continue to do so.

I can’t give you the secret to happiness. I think everyone finds the secret in their own special way, but I will say this:

I think a fragment of the answer lies in those words – “Don’t leave yourself behind.”

I would even venture to say that happiness comes and goes in the moment, that it’s that inner peace that comes with knowing who you are and what you want that’s so beautiful, and the fun part is figuring out how you’re gonna get there! I used to hate this reality because I thought it was too mundane. I wanted magic and adventures and battles and heroism. Don’t get me wrong, I still dream of going to Hogwarts, Narnia, and Middle Earth, but until I get there I have plenty of mountains to climb and battles to fight.

Everything happens for a reason. There is a silver lining. These things I believe to my very core. All of the bad I have lived through led to this last fateful year. Life would be incredibly different without it. But I didn’t just let life float me to where I am. I took the bad and used it to fuel my actions toward something better. I took a moment to be self-oriented and think about where I wanted to be and how I needed to get there. Even if it’s a vague, abstract state of being, it was something to latch on to and point my focus toward. It’s also about who you surround yourself with. They say you’re like the 5 people you spend the most time with. I used to laugh at that until I got here and looked behind me and saw my own evolution and the truth in those words. I would never have come as far as I have without my stage combat family. They played an invaluable and integral part in who I am. But if I had made different choices, and if all of that bad hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have been a combat TA and I wouldn’t be able to call them family, and I would be in a very different place.

If you leave yourself behind, if you get lost and forget who you are and what you’re fighting or living for, you will get stuck. You have to take care of yourself.

Listen to your body. So often we overwork ourselves and we make obligations that will suck us dry. We forget to take care of our bodies and our minds and we won’t get very far if that’s the case. I do think that mental and physical breakdowns can be very cleansing, I look at them as a sort of reset button, and if that’s what you need I understand, I’ve been there! But you don’t want to spend half of your life lying in bed, recuperating from the last overload. Where’s the adventure in that?

Also very important: Heed your inner self. I can’t express this enough. This may be where mental health comes in. I’m an ambivert, I love being around people and making plans, but I also love alone time and need to not see people for days at a time to recharge. The two weeks after graduation I made plans for every night after rehearsal. They were all different people I wanted to see and things I wanted to do and when I got to that last Sunday I had no facial expressions. I was brain dead and I almost collapsed walking down my four flights of stairs (after having literally crawled up them earlier that day). I went to a movie night that Sunday and while I watched the movies, ate the food, and did enjoy myself, I had officially imploded. I was a zombie and might as well have not been there. Needless to say, I did not heed my inner self. The signs were there, the voices were screaming, but I kept saying “Just one more night, just keep going, just one more night,” and I learned my lesson the hard way! Sometimes that’s what we need to get it in our heads, but I don’t recommend it.

It’s important to take time for what you need. It’s important to take the time to figure out what you need. If you try to go forward while leaving yourself behind, you won’t get very far and life will be much harder than it needs to be. Harder to enjoy, harder to experience, all around harder to live. Happiness is freedom, even if it’s just in the little things. Just those little moments and glimpses of it can make all the difference. I wish for everyone to experience it, because now that I’ve had a taste of that freedom I have no intention of letting it go.