I’ve been afraid of changing cause I’ve built my life around you.

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Last night I took my guitar out for the first time in awhile. I have a black folk sized acoustic guitar that I wanted to name after Johnny Cash but found myself calling Stevie after Stevie Nicks. Like most nights, I started with “Landslide”. It’s fast and all finger picking, which I’m not great at. But I really want to master the song.

When my guitar teacher passed the song out last year, I was so excited. Earlier that year, during a rock bottom, “Landslide” make a surprise appearance into my life and became the song that defined where I was and where I wanted to go.

Like every 90’s baby, I though “Landslide” was originally sung by the Dixie Chicks. I knew every word and pretended to relate to how deep the lyrics were while watching the Dixie Chicks float around in clouds during their music video. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that it really struck my soul.

I was on medical leave and on month two of being in a wheelchair. Cabin fever would be a light way to describe how I felt in those months. It was more like deep depression meeting existential crisis. I played the Sims and watched old reality TV all day. I couldn’t get myself to write & I wouldn’t watch anything scripted on TV because it reminded me of the comedy world I took myself out of. So, with seasons 4-16 of the Amazing Race done, I turned to The Voice.

Some woman in an influencer hat appeared on my TV screen to talk about how much “Landslide” meant to her. She went into this explanation on how she spent all of her career moving around with her band, doing everything dependent on what they wanted to do, and how this show is her breaking away from that. She then sang this beautiful rendition of “Landslide” and it broke me. I had been numbed in my depression for weeks and weeks and weeks and some chick from Team Miley singing a song I’ve known my entire life is what broke me.

I sobbed. SOBBED. I got that hungry feeling in my stomach I usually only get on my last day of visits home where you miss something so much it starts to make your stomach turn. I associate it with homesickness – like I know this moment is so good but tomorrow I’ll have to say goodbye to everyone. It’s my absolute least favorite feeling in the world. And I got it that night because everything that was hurting was just articulated and I felt naked and exposed. And now that I understood what was wrong, I couldn’t just throw it back into some compartmentalized box and pretend it’s not there.

Well I’ve been afraid of changing cause I’ve built my life around you. Well, time makes you bolder, children get older & I’m getting older too.

I’ve built my life around you.

That’s what I had been doing. I built a life that was leaning so hard on other people that the second something shifts & I’m left alone with my raw self, I have no fucking idea who I am.

My comedy was never me. It was never without a strong dependence on someone else. When forced to create something authentic, I could stylize the shit out of something, I could write jokes and make it funny, I could direct it, package it, make it so damn interesting and consumable that I didn’t even get nervous about whether or not audiences would eat it up because I knew they would. But that was never without constant affirmation. From my director, from my writing partner, from close friends who went to everything. I never wrote something alone & then turned around to present it. I didn’t do stand-up. I found people who were aligned with me and ran with them. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – I consider myself so damn lucky to have both my writing partner & director, and to this day they are two of the most important people in my life – but I was unable to do my own thing. While we could create literal magic as a trio, I couldn’t do anything alone. They could — both of them constantly churned out supplemental, solo, stuff. But I never did. I didn’t know what the fuck my voice was without depending on someone else.

The root of that, I found, was an extreme lack of self-worth. I did not think I was good enough or worthy enough of being heard. I thought the best part of my voice was how it sang in harmony with my writing partner’s. I thought I was boring and basic alone. I didn’t think the things I had to say were worth paying for. Everyone struggles with self-worth issues, but mine were crippling enough to lead me in the direction of creating absolutely nothing in fear of losing the reputation I built with my partner because of my own solo stuff.

When I broke my knee, and my ability to work with them vanished & both (rightfully and with my full support) moved on without me, I didn’t know how to be creative anymore. Everything for the past few years was so heavily dependent on following their cues that I had no idea how to move forward alone. So I just stopped. And I distanced myself from that world more and more and more because all it did was remind me of how much I missed it and how much one wrong step I made during rehearsal took that from me.

It wasn’t just happening in my creative life, but my personal life as well.

I always had one foot in and one foot out of Chicago. I never expected to stay here longer than college. But here I am, 11 years later, still living in this city. I think I was so afraid to admit to myself that I genuinely love my life, and am the best version of myself, here. I thought admitting that would be some sort of middle finger to my family and close friends. Like my love for them wasn’t enough to keep me home. I’ve struggled with that since the day I moved here. So I’ve been jumping back and forth in a capacity that is just making everyone dizzy.

In college, I wouldn’t commit to relationships because I thought I was moving home after graduation. Right out of college, I didn’t enter any because of the same reason. Professionally, I take jobs I don’t actually enjoy out of fear that if I found a good job I love, it’d only be harder for me to move. Everything is decided with that fear. If I fall in love out here, I can’t imagine raising a family away from my mom. If I find an apartment that feels like home, I’ll feel comfortable and consider Chicago home. Everything had the constant echo of: If I admit to myself that I love living here more than I’d love living back home, it means I don’t love my family.

Here is where I am crystal clear about the fact my family NEVER, EVER, made me feel guilty about moving far from home. They were in the trenches with me. They saw how I was before I moved & the person I became by leaving. It never had anything to do with them. If they wanted to relocate to the apartment next to me, I’d be through the moon. But I had just been through so much in my city and needed to move away from the trauma I suffered so I could find myself. So my family never once asked me to move back, no matter how much they may want me to.

When Nora was born, I thought I would move home. I even said I would. But here’s where Landslide comes back in. I had this realization one day that she can’t be the reason I move home. If I want to move back home, it has to be because it’s the right move for me. For my everyday happiness. Not because I miss my niece. That’s my brother’s family unit, not mine. And I can’t continue to make decisions off the life someone else already set up.

So last year, I told myself to live the next year like I’m never going to leave Chicago. Where will that bring me? What sort of professional & personal success may that bring? Believe me when I tell you it was one of the best years yet. Not only did I thrive here, but I went home to visit a lot more. I learned that I could live far from home but still be around for the smaller memories like bedtime stories, first baseball games and boardwalk weekends. It’s a little more difficult to plan, but it’s possible. And for the first time in a long time, I can envision how it may work out.

All because I decided to stop trying to build a life around someone else and instead figure out what my own life may look like.

So, with two feet in Chicago (for now…), I spent the last year learning who I am without being so heavily influenced by the people in my life. I started being unafraid in making my needs and opinions known, even if they differ from someone I love’s. I’m no longer afraid of changing and living an authentic life because it may not coincide with the individual lives my family members are building. And slowly, I’m finding my voice again. It took time, but it’s strong and unwavering.

Time made me bolder.

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