Today, I came across an article on Facebook that really resonated with me. It was by someone who didn’t believe in pressure and limitation of New Year’s Resolutions, and just wanted to be a happier individual that didn’t obsess over things that really don’t matter that much. So, instead of creating a bucket list, she created a “Fuck It” list; a list of worries, concerns, anxieties, drama, and nonsense she wanted to remove from her sphere of existence.

I used to be much, much better about managing stress and anxiety, which is also to say that I was much better about living life in a fairly irresponsible way and not freaking out about situations I couldn’t handle until they actually descended upon me. For instance, even during the most challenging time of my life, where I’d lost all of my friends and was being kicked out of my condo and didn’t know where I was going to live, I managed to not freak out. In fact, two days before having to leave my home of years thanks to a very spiteful acquaintance-turned-enemy, I hosted a goodbye party for anyone who still cared enough to show up. During that evening, I drank multiple bottles of wine, went skinny dipping in the pool, hooked up with a friend’s ex-something-or-other, and skipped through the rather fancy lobby in front of the security guards, who were also from the Atlanta PD. In the midst of the chaos of trying to find a place to stash my stuff and figuring out how not to live on the street, I was more focused on this rather senseless and crazy fling than on things that mattered.

And when things went even more wrong and I moved in with an ex-boyfriend, and had no sense of how to get my life together, I approached everything with a “one day at a time” attitude. Everything was falling apart, and I was still listening to my iPod and tanning by the pool and playing online poker. I was trying to figure out my future, but didn’t wake up with the sense of “If I don’t fix this today, I might as well die.” I was still happy when I woke up in the morning and saw the sunshine. It wasn’t that I wasn’t aware that I should probably be closer to suicidal than thinking I was Paris Hilton recovering from a little “oops”, but it was a coping mechanism I’d always employed. Concentrating on the moment always made me more appreciative of the little things. If you’re aware that next week, you can lose everything, small things like trips to Cracker Barrel or being able to watch TV in my PJs or going out in the sunshine become things that really make you happy. For most people, most days, the little things are remarkable and life seems boring if you don’t set the bar higher for “interesting things that can happen to you”. When your life is really falling apart and you have no sense of stability, you don’t want interesting. You don’t want adrenaline rushes. Everything you have, even time that is so free of stress that you can dance around your room with your earbuds in, seems so much more valuable. I think the time in my life where I most appreciated how many good things I had in my life immediately followed the shock and trauma of having everything taken away.

These days, I can’t cope that way anymore. When things are not good, I am terrified of the consequences; I lie awake at night thinking about what it’s like to die, or what if I didn’t wake up the next day, or if I became homeless or got arrested or something happened to someone I love. (not that I have any reason to believe these things will happen.) When things are good, I rarely remember how to live in the moment. Instead, I’m stressing about the next moment and the next.

My doctors tell me I’ve struggled with symptoms of anxiety most likely my entire life. However, I never had any idea. Nobody did, because my way of coping with life was to appreciate what you have today, and if tomorrow sucks, deal with it then. In fact, except for my health issues, my life today is about 1/10th as stressful or dramatic as it once was. I’m no longer getting myself into “situations” wherever I turn. I no longer think of the future as “planning for next week”. And when things make me unhappy, I do not remember how to push them aside and live in a way that’s even more fearless or even more appreciative, because they may be temporary. Instead, I cry for the possibility that the worst might happen, and I don’t appreciate the little things I do have so much as mourn for things I used to have but no longer do.

Somehow, my coping mechanisms disappeared, and it left me an anxious, worried, frightened person. The person who used to handle situations that would cause other people to break down for me is suddenly a person who does not routinely wake up feeling joy anymore. She is a person who feels like a failure, who is scared her health will limit her or kill her and doesn’t know which is worse, who can’t remember “Today is a good day simply because nothing bad happened.” Some people might say I simply grew up and started thinking like a responsible adult, but I don’t feel better for the change.

I kind of miss those days when the worst things in the world were happening, and I just kept on living and dealing and moving forward. I don’t miss the horrible things that seemed impossible to handle, but I miss how wonderful it felt just to appreciate one of life’s small pleasures without fear or anxiety. It would be the highlight of my day to walk down the road for a slice of pizza and a rum and Coke, just because I could. I remember once, after not only barricading myself inside in the suburbs for months but also not drinking alcohol at all, taking the train over to Decatur and having a martini at lunch at one of my old haunts. I wasn’t worried about being seen in public and having an egg thrown at me, and it felt like freedom. I remember thinking I was too young to feel so worried and so scared about the future, and it gave me the courage to move on. Moving on wasn’t easy. As soon as I started to take small steps and appreciate the little things, though, the more I rebuilt my life.

I’ve had to rebuild my life often. Different cities, different friends, different jobs, different relationships. Long-term doesn’t seem to work well for me, and living with a life of little stability is something that takes courage. Now that I am not living that way, there is so much more time to think, and everything is so much more difficult to handle. I think about the future, I think about my relationships, I take every failure, every heartbreak, every loss, every personal deficiency so much to heart.

So, honestly, there’s probably something to be said about completely not giving a fuck about most of the stuff that adults are supposed to spend time worrying over. What do I think about myself? What do other people think of me? Am I with the right person? Am I loved? Am I successful at anything? Am I on the right path in life?

Life used to be an adventure, and you accepted that you’d have to adapt and change as it went along. That’s just life. And in the meantime, a quiet day where you got to sit by the pool or go dancing with your friends or watch your favourite TV show with pizza could be a pretty good day. As we get older, our requirements for things that make us happy seem to get higher and higher, and the definition of things that will ruin our days become a much broader spectrum of things. For instance, the past few New Year’s Eve’s of my life have been spent with me crying, because of arguments over relatively small things, like silly string and forks…whereas horrible New Year’s Eve’s in my 20′s were defined by very dramatic, life-changing moments that said “This is an end to a chapter of your life; you have to change course now”.

I do not think that seriousness and responsibility is bad, but life isn’t necessarily something to be mapped out in an obsessive way just because you become an adult. And, if you spend most of the good times thinking about the future and most of the bad times crying about the past, and most of the unremarkable times worrying about everything and everyone, you miss out on a lot of appreciation of the present. You miss out on the little things that can create a feeling of security and freedom and peace in your life, and that feeling isn’t something that should only be reserved for the very young, for those still naive enough to feel hopeful.

There are people in my life—very few people, and not those I’m able to see as frequently as I’d like—who put me in this frame of being, and as a result, help me cope with some very trying times and still look forward to finding happiness in the small things. For instance, one of them is a friend who has made a very conscious decision to live life without caring about the minor drama, without having life ruined by small mishaps, without being affected by what people think or say about him, without being bothered by 85% of what most people are bothered by. He’s truly decided to adopt an attitude of “Life is too short to only give a fuck about the really important things”, and as a result, he puts other people at ease. His lack of emotional delicacy and unwillingness to sugarcoat things is something that actually comforts me, and puts life into perspective.

There are a few others, but for the most part, a majority of the people I know seems just as stressed and unhappy and anxious and worried and care about just as many irrelevant things as I do. People care so much about image, about prosperity, about the future, about what others say and think, about having enough, about being better than others, about judging others—and it’s so limiting, and so stressful.

There comes a point where you realise that you can de-clutter your emotional space the same way you clean up your living space. You put things away when you don’t need them. You throw away things you won’t ever need or only serve to make you feel negatively. You realise that tomorrow, something great might happen, or something horrible might happen…but it doesn’t matter, because now you’re perfectly fine. If you’re not, you will be.

Giving a fuck about everyone and everything can be toxic, as toxic as not caring about anyone or anything at all. Not every moment is worth treasuring, because, yep..it’s just a moment. But once in a while, you’ll feel a sense of freedom and like everything that weighs you down has been stored in the closet, and when that happens, that moment is a good one. It doesn’t matter if it happens when you’re travelling the world, or when you’re making Kraft Mac & Cheese.

Fearing the unknown and being paralyzed by mistakes of the past are two really simple ways to make sure you never go anywhere, do anything, appreciate a single moment, because you’re so hung up on yourself and stuff that doesn’t matter. All of life is uncertain and unknown. And every day will be a yesterday eventually, and there may have been a mistake that day. There will be more.

I wish I could remind my anxiety of what it used to be like when it wasn’t consumed by being afraid of everything that didn’t have an explanation, or controlling the future, and was just a little piece of baggage along for the ride.

I wish I could remind anxiety that there are things worth being excited about and adventures to be had, and even if my “mystery illness” turns out to be a fatal five-years-to-live thing, they can still be a really worthwhile 5 years. When I was outside of Atlanta traveling this summer, strangely, life seemed to take back a sense of perspective. A little sunshine and good company and time out appreciating the small things, and I actually woke up every day feeling 10 years younger and looking forward to life.

I wish I knew how to do that in the context of my actual life, because I think I’m missing out on a lot, not feeling that excited about life every day. I wish I knew how to be happy about my ordinary, every day life, rather than feeling crappy about all the ways in which it isn’t the life I want, I’m not the person I want to be, and I feel powerless.

I think it would change a lot, if home felt the way I do when I travel…or if home actually felt like a safe, comforting place and not a temporary stop haunted by a lot of negative memories. I wish I could remember that my life is still full of possibilities, and not obstacles that all say “No” forever.

Today, I woke up remembering that when I was 20, I ended up in New Orleans, waiting to meet a guy I’d never met but knew very well at the airport. I’m pretty sure I’d never been so nervous about meeting a person in my life. I remember that, always self-conscious about my almost translucently pale skin, I’d attempted to use sunless tanner. What looked like orange Ben Nye pancake makeup was all over everything and it took a very abrasive exfoliating wash and a loofah to remove most of it. Yet, for all my trying, I ended up showing up at the airport wearing a cute white and blue butterfly dress and had orange streaks on my legs. It was, of course, laughable later. Looking back, it was the unfortunate side effect of caring too much about how others might judge you, and it was ridiculous. It was also an illustration in what happens when you take risks. They don’t all work out, but sometimes, it doesn’t matter much. That particular person was so nervous about meeting me, he scarcely noticed my failed experiment in becoming a Jersey Shore cast member.

I’m not sure why I woke up thinking of that day, except maybe that last night, I wore a wig that I bought during that trip. Last night was full of heartbreak and tears, and discussion about ending a 5-year relationship that has meant the world to me, all prompted by silly string. And, there I was, thinking about a younger version of myself who literally dyed herself orange.

I’ve been relatively quiet over here lately, and my poor little blog has been feeling neglected. You see, although I managed to spend the majority of December stuck inside my apartment—something that has led even my most introverted friends to say they’d have gone stir-crazy— I also felt too unwell to write. It’s odd, the feeling that even the thought of picking up a computer (or a pen and journal) might make one feel completely exhausted. I didn’t do much work, to the chagrin of both my bank account and sense of accomplishment. I certainly didn’t do much on the creative front. I even left my Christmas cards until the very last minute, because they are like all of my correspondence, not simply a name scrawled on a card. I write long and often heartfelt messages to the people in my life on occasions that merit cards, and even some that do not.

This year, whether due to illness or some sense of heaviness in my heart, I simply have not wanted to write. For me, writing is, above all, a type of catharsis. It fills the same space in my life that music or performance or any other type of self-expression does for me. For whatever reason, I have not wanted to handle the overwhelming idea of self-expression. That, of course, means that I have been largely disinterested in confronting and examining my own feelings.

About what, I do not know. On the whole, 2013 has been kind of a roller-coaster of a year. For a majority of the year, I seemed much healthier and energetic than what I was used to. In my second year of dealing with what the doctors call a “chronic illness”, there were times I forgot I was ill. I was able to host social events, hang out at clubs and go drinking and dancing with my friends, and reclaim a bit of that adventurous spirit I used to have. I was able to spend over two weeks traveling the East Coast on a bus during the summer months, dealing with challenges such as a crazy heat wave and going back to the beach where my illness first began. I was able to push through the anxiety of dealing with the reality of what my family was going through, and I cried a lot because although my family hasn’t offered me anything resembling home or affection in a long time, the realisation that the shadows and comforts of your childhood are gone and you’re really, truly alone, it’s a hard one.

Through it all, I was also able to visit old friends I see rarely, but all of whom mean a tremendous amount to me. Although they all seemed to be going through something in their own lives, they were also all there for me in their own way, and remembering I have an extensive and varied support system out there– even in the form of old friends whose lives have taken a different path from mine, and others who imagine that might not always be the case— it made me a stronger person. Coming back to Atlanta also made me appreciate the love and support I have here, because family is not always determined by blood ties. I hadn’t been back two weeks before getting news that my mother had a stroke, either her fourth or fifth. This one was rather debilitating, and led the doctors to the conclusion that she should live out the rest of her life in a nursing home. It is difficult to speak to her, as both her speech and hearing are affected, but I try to remember to send letters, cards, packages, and photos, little things that cheer her up. I know that if I were facing illness and isolation for the rest of my life, it is those little things that would be a bright spot.

I managed to handle DragonCon, marching in the parade in incredible heat, going to the SIEGE conference for the weekend, helping The Guy I Am Currently Dating with his annual fundraiser, and throwing a huge party for him where I sang in public in Atlanta for the first time in a few years. I managed to help my brother try to get help dealing with all the responsibility on his shoulders, and to be someone who is there for him. I managed to make it through fun Halloween celebrations, and even attending a concert with loud music and flashing lights. All signs pointed to the idea that I’d be better. A check-up with the doctor yielded good results; my blood pressure was so low, it might soon be time for me to come off medication, and possibly have energy, vitality, and the ability to lose weight again.

Then, in early November, I seemed to have a relapse. Driving in the car would cause an out-of-control sensation near my kidneys that would move to my heart, my lungs, and eventually my brain. I had panic attacks and blood sugar crashes that my normal medications could not control. Thanksgiving, although a lovely holiday tradition of visiting my former roommate and her family (including two beautiful little girls, two dogs, a cat, and a husband) for turkey and Black Friday shopping, left me physically exhausted in a way that is not normal for someone my age. Nevertheless, I kept on going, singing karaoke, playing trivia, and wandering around the Botanical Gardens for four hours in the freezing cold to look at Christmas tree lights.

After the first week of December, I contracted a really bad cold/flu, which turned into an infection that kept me in bed for almost three weeks. As of today, I am still coughing up a lung, as my body’s immune system seems to have no defence against this particular germ. The illness affected my ear, which meant return of panic attacks and migraines, and the prolonged inability to go back out in the world meant a return of the social anxiety symptoms. I was afraid that every time I went out, I’d have a panic attack–which often happened–not as a result of people, but riding in the car. For a month and a half, the feeling of depression returned, which happens every time I get better and then I get worse. I feel like I will never have my life back, never be the person I used to be. I look at photos of a girl who was young and vivacious and desirable and had a certain spark about her, and I do not remember her. I cry because I feel too young to have lost her, and because it is unfair that the doctors have never been able to tell me why. I cry because I want answers; even if I only have a year, or three, or five left to hang out on this earth, I want to know what to do to make them the best possible. I cry because feeling helpless and not in control of anything, not even your own body, is terrifying and lonely.

During this time, I found out that my uncle—one of the only people who helps in the care of my family—was diagnosed with metastatic osteosarcoma. It is the same disease that attacked an ex of mine, so I unfortunately know more about it than I should to believe, “It’s not a big deal; it’s most treatable”. The long-term odds of survival are a dice throw, and my uncle is only in his late 50′s. After that, my friend’s cat passed away. I started to see things as signs; signs that validated my theory that the next year of my life needs to be a “bucket list” year.

I had a wonderful Christmas and birthday weekend, surrounded by people who matter to me, and really just having fun in the kind of way that–for just a little while–reminded me of what it felt like to be me ten years ago. I barely remember that naive, life-loving person who would wake up in the morning and feel genuinely excited about the world and the anything and everything that was possible. But, once in a while, there is a glimpse and a memory—and when that happens, I am honestly happy.

I expected New Year’s Eve to be a fabulous night, and planned dinner with friends, followed by a trip to a club that I’d visited every month I was in town over the past year or so. Ironically, the only place to get dinner reservations for 10 people on short notice was a restaurant that is personally memorable to me because I’ve been there on the “break-up dinner” with people in my past. Twice. I even joked about the bad karma that seemed to be associated with that place, but I wasn’t seriously concerned.

Fast forward to 2014, and everyone has toasted with champagne, done shots, and cans of silly string are being passed around. In order to celebrate all the good memories, we sprayed each other with silly string and danced. It wasn’t until 15 minutes later that I went to see why The Guy I Am (Or Was) Currently Dating wouldn’t dance, which isn’t out of the ordinary. He told me in a very cold voice that I had hurt his feelings (by spraying him with silly string), and a fight ensued. Fast forward, and he is leaving the club and my friend, who was sweet enough to not want to leave me, is consoling me while I cried a LOT and getting another friend to come pick us up. Fast forward again, and The Guy I Am (Or Was) Currently Dating has returned and closing out the tab, and my friend is angry that she called for a ride for us and I’m going home with the guy that made me cry on New Year’s Eve. But it is almost physically impossible for me to just let things go and forget them; I need closure on everything. Fast forward again, and I am home, and we are talking about how different we are and how, after 5 years, there is not necessarily any sign of moving forward in the relationship. I tell him he deserves more than to settle for someone who isn’t right for him and doesn’t make him happy. He says I make him happy, but for the second year in a row, we’ve rung in the New Year crying and barely speaking, so I disagree.

Now, we’re talking about the details of ending the relationship and changing Facebook statuses, and it’s almost absurd to think a 5-year connection can be broken because of silly string. But, that’s precisely what happened, and today, I have barely moved out of bed.

2014 was supposed to be a really awesome year, and frankly, it’s not looking that way for me.

The reality is, I call this my “bucket list” year because at the end of 2014, I really still hope to be both alive and healthy. If I manage to accomplish that, I’ll have made it to a “milestone birthday”, one of those where you realise that whether you like it or not, you’re the grown-up now. It sometimes still seems hard for me to wrap my head around that. Inside, I still feel like that little girl in the blue and white butterfly dress who wanted so badly to be sophisticated and impressive, and thought she knew everything about everything at the age of 20.

When you are ill, and you’re not sure why, and you’re not sure about either the quality or quantity of your life, milestones matter. New Year’s Eve celebrations matter, and not spending them with tears and heartbreak matters. I have had a good life. I’ve also had a hard life, an adventurous life, a life that some judge and others secretly envy. I’ve loved often and lost often, and my heart and my body have enough scars for someone twice my age. I have packed a lot of living into what many might consider not that many years. In some ways, it seems like it’s been 70. Some days, when everything inside my body seems out of control and all I can do is cry and beg someone to help me and find the answers, I do not know that I am going to be there with my friends or loved ones to celebrate a brand new year. You only get so many chances, so many clean slates. If something should happen to me, I know that nobody will be quite certain why, or they’ll find they didn’t do the test for the right thing, and it’s simply too late. I know that part of my “bucket list year” is being a responsible adult, and planning for that day when I won’t be here anymore.

I am the type of person for whom no amount of time would be enough time. I try to be as vibrant and enthusiastic about life as I can. I am growing more comfortable with being alone, but not for too long. It isn’t something I like in too great a quantity. I am trying to become the kind of person I want to be, regardless of whether or not other people like her. I am no longer willing to dye myself orange to impress anyone.

I feel sometimes like I am working against a clock, and I do not want to spend the years I have left being afraid. If there is anything that would be the most meaningful thing to me to accomplish in 2014, it’s learning to find whatever strength I have deep down inside that allows me to be less afraid. If I am less afraid, I can actually make a difference in the world. More than anything else, I cry when I imagine that I will be forgotten, that I will have left nothing of value behind, that I will have touched no one for being here.

I want to live the next year of my life with all the health and energy I can come up with, so that if somehow it is my last, I will be filled with love and memories and feelings of accomplishment and having mattered to the world. I need 2014 to be full of life and experience and emotion and vitality and challenging myself to be that person I always thought I could become. I want all the moments to matter, no matter how small. I know that’s a tall order to ask from a new year, but I am going to try, because it means a lot to me.

One thing that has changed about me is that when I was younger, I was much stupider, but far more fearless. I took a lot of risks. They didn’t all pay off and they weren’t all intelligent, but in some ways, it is much better than never trying. I wasn’t about to wait around and let life happen to me; I went after it. It didn’t always lead me to the best places, but it didn’t keep me standing still, fearful of choosing the wrong thing or suffering painful repercussions.

If I could have just a little of that back, I think I’d feel like the old Alayna again. That person is just this flighty little redhead who doesn’t see an adult when she looks in the mirror, because even though there are now tiny lines and crow’s feet, she will never reach 5 feet tall or have that “serious face” that comes with a lot of responsibility. She will never be beautiful, or delicate, or understated, or made of the same stardust that most people seem to be made of, and she will not be the one in any social situation that everyone misses when she is gone. But she is intelligent, and imaginative, and lively, and believes in soulmates and impulsive adventures and being overdressed and sparkly, even if others dislike it. I try to keep in mind that girl is the kind who is crazy and determined enough to be certain she’s going to be here to see 40…even if she doesn’t have any more stability or certainty in her life than the day she showed up in New Orleans with a blue and white butterfly dress and orange streaks on her legs. It never occurred to that girl that she would not be loved by many, that she would not be successful, or that she would not be strong enough to grow old. It didn’t occur to her to be afraid or feel inferior—she needed the harsh judgment and actions of other people to teach her that—-and I envy her for being that unencumbered, in a way only the really young are. I would like just a little bit of that back in my life.