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.

One of the conundrums I’ve always faced as a blogger whose primary subject of interest is me is exactly how much of my life to put out there, and what’s better left unsaid. When I first started blogging, frankly, one of the things that set my blog apart from others was that I had a level of openness in my writing most people weren’t willing to exhibit to strangers on the Internet.

While this gained me a number of fans and I’d receive letters from strangers commending me on my honesty, I also received a disturbing amount of hate mail. Being the oversensitive type, it was difficult to deal with being someone whom others would trash on their blogs after reading my blog. I wasn’t prepared for people to use my vulnerability against me, and I should have been, as people certainly do that in real life.

I also wasn’t prepared for the fact that my willingness to open up to the world would win me admirers, and even stalkers..and also people determine to use this medium as a way to attack me in a manner that really affected my normal day-to-day life. At some point, I had to learn to put some walls up to protect myself, and to stop writing to the Internet as if I were writing to my diary. Although “Jaded Elegance: The Uninhibited Adventures Of A Chic Web Geek” tends to get more personal than most, it’s a much less personally revealing site than it was.

I attempted to counteract these issues by starting a friends-only blog that only a handful of real-life friends were able to access. Twice, someone I trusted enough to allow access to that blog printed out those entries to use against me in ways that were hurtful and destructive. Fool me three times, I’m a freaking idiot, so now I keep a paper journal and write letters in addition to blogging.

One of the issues I’ve always had is dealing with blogs, close friendships, and relationships. Those who matter the most to you are very likely to become a subject of your blog, but you don’t want to be that person who passive-aggressively uses a public blog to discuss a private issue. You don’t want to go on a date and blog about it the next morning, unless something momentous happened. You don’t want to use it as a forum to trash your ex, your boss, your parents, whoever—but at the same time, you want to fulfill the purpose of having this type of blog in the first place–authentic self-expression.

An interesting verbal-sparring partner (we don’t seem to see eye to eye on much, especially when it comes to relationships and gender issues and the like, yet we seem to discuss really complex ideas in a very intelligent fashion without personally insulting one another—something that’s rare to come by!) and long-time fellow blogger Bill Cammack has what I hope is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek guide to dating those who have some level of internet presence or are “microcelebrities”. While he discusses things on a whole different plane than some of the conundrums I’ve encountered as a blogger— he’s discussing what to do when you’re always going to end up on social media with someone, but you’re dating multiple people, and I’m more concerned with how much of your relationship is appropriate to share with an audience—there is some truth and some overlap. At some point, anyone with a noticeable social media presence will have to deal with this issue.

I used to blog about everything when it came to my relationships, especially if things weren’t going well. It didn’t occur to me that this was making things worse, and even if I don’t name names, people KNOW who I’m talking about. In fact, because I can share my thoughts and feelings far more rationally in writing than via uncomfortable conversation (which may often end up in me walking away at some point because I’m too upset to deal.), I thought putting it all out there in an honest way was helpful. After all, you want your partner to know what you’re thinking and feeling, right?

It wasn’t until 2005, when I was dating someone who said, “Look, it’s either this blog or me, because I think you thrive on the drama and like me better as a character than a person”, that I took a step back. At one point, I was actually offline (except for my “secret” blog) for a bit over a year.

Obviously, I’m back, and I still write about my personal life. It turns out, that guy wasn’t worth taking the blog down for, in any sense, and it’s not a mistake I’ll repeat. Anyone who loves me should love my blog. In fact, I actually take it as a slight and a sign of utter disinterest that I have one or two people in my life I consider important to me, and they flatly refuse to read this blog. It’s hard not to think, “Really? You can log in to check your e-mail and surf pictures of Grumpy Cat, but my blog isn’t worth reading?”

This evening, I realised I felt very minimalised when I asked The Guy I Am Currently Dating over dinner whether he read my latest author interview. He said “Well, I looked at it, but no. It seemed the same as the others.”. I pointed out that many of the questions were different, and he said, “Well, it didn’t look that way, so I didn’t check it out. Sorry.”

Maybe it’s just me and my co-dependent, easily-infatuated-for-a-certain-period-of-time type of personality, but when I’m really into someone, I read everything they write. I read everything that’s out there about them (and given some of the people in my past, that’s not always been a small feat! :P . I look at the pictures they post and listen to that random song they shared because they listened to it 12 times. I’m not that crazy stalker kind of girl, but many years of dating have augmented my liberal arts education. My horizons have been broadened through the people I know, and the fact that me taking an interest in a person means taking an interest in whatever that person is up to. I won’t pretend to like it or understand it if I don’t—I could never end up with a guy completely devote to, say, baseball—but when I care about someone, I’m really invested in learning more about them and their life and their thoughts and feelings.

To have someone who won’t read my blog, or a different someone who doesn’t read interviews where I talk about random stuff, or someone who never checks out anything on my Facebook page….I can’t help but read, “I like you, but I’m just not that into you.” And, in some of the aforementioned cases, that’s exactly true. But when it comes from the person I’ve been with for years, it’s a little less acceptable.

Anyhow, this post had a point before it got sidetracked, as I so often do. The point is, I’m never sure what to do at times when there’s so much going on in my life and I’d love to be able to write about it and process it here, but it’s all of an intensely personal nature, but I can’t.

This week, before all the chaos unfolded in Boston (I have family who lives up in the Cambridge area, near the MIT campus, and they are fortunately all well, if a bit skittish these days.), I had some situations pop up in my life that threw me for a loop. I’d been feeling blindsided by people in my life, people I was willing to wear my heart on my sleeve for…and there were three separate and meaningful incidents with people I care for that made me feel hurt, angry, neglected, or betrayed. For some time, I felt the need for drastic change. It’s tough to look at the people you care about more than anything and say, “I know you’re nicer to me than you are to most people, but the way you’ve treated me in this situation, I can’t ignore. I deserve so much better, and if you don’t know that, I *really* deserve so much better.”

It’s been hard for me to internalise these feelings and these situations, and to generally feel lost. I sometimes feel like an idiot for caring too much, for investing in all the wrong people, for falling for people who will always have limitations on our relationship and developing friendships with people who view such things as far more disposable and replaceable than I do. And when you’re hurt in a way you don’t see coming, or suddenly abandoned and you don’t know exactly why you’re so easy to toss aside, you start to re-evaluate everything and everyone in your life.

This week, it’s been a very lonely place to be—and with the shock of national tragedies thrown in the middle, dwelling on my personal problems seems self-indulgent at best—but I do rather miss those days where this blog was the place I was allowed to be self-indulgent as I pleased.

With age and experience may come wisdom, but wisdom doesn’t always lead to greater happiness.

That being said, one thing I do not do is blog about political issues. My doctor actually advised me to refrain from discussions on political topics or watching shows that were likely to make me irate, because some of the things people say contribute greatly to my anxiety and sense of anger and injustice towards the world. If you know me, you know what my politics are, and for a socialist hippie type of girl, they’re actually more moderate than you might think. I’m not into blame, I’m not into stereotypes, I’m not into vengeance and wishing people would die and name calling and battling one another because being right is more important than being happy. I often see multiple sides to an issue, and while I have firm convictions on some subjects, I understand and respect why others do as well. I’m all about finding commonality, compromise, working together for the common good, and understanding the human psyche.

As a result, I dislike politics, and I even more greatly dislike those who use any platform or national incident to call attention away from those suffering and toward and political agenda. I dislike the media, which has become more about sensationalism and less about facts or empathy. I think that, in a way, our current President and I are similar types of people…and I’ve always said “I don’t know if emotionally invested idealists can ever really make the best politicians.” I’m sure that if I were President, my focus would largely be on compromise and working together and taking down the political boundaries that divide people. I’m also sure people wouldn’t care for me much, because so many people don’t want that. It’s more of a world with winners and losers, rather than a place where there are complex issues to handle on a daily basis, and I can’t agree with that.

I’ve had to ignore a lot of social media, and even actual media, since the Boston Marathon attacks. Some of what I read is ignorant, divisive, infuriating, discriminatory, and makes me so disappointed in my fellow human beings. So much of what I read is just false. So, I’ve not been commenting on the tragedy on my Facebook page and I didn’t blog about it here.

This should not be mistaken for apathy. My heart goes out to everyone in Boston, and the families of the victims, and the families of those who perpetrated these acts. (everyone always forgets that behind every person who does something unthinkable, there are grieving loved ones who suffer all the more for the shame of not feeling entitled to grieve.) I do care, a great deal. I just don’t find it a time for politics, which I dislike, or opinions, which everyone has. It is a time for humanity and empathy, and sometimes, the best response to loss is silence and introspection.

(An interesting side note, for those who are amused about all the little ways in which I say I am somewhat “psychic”, the day of the Boston Marathon, I woke up early. I never do this, but I couldn’t sit still. I decided it was the day I had to conquer my fear of walking in wide-open public spaces and getting my heart rate up, without having a panic attack. I haven’t been able to walk the area outside my apartment complex for two years. The day of the marathon, I walked about 2.7 miles…again, the longest distance I’ve been able to cover since getting ill. When I returned, the bombs had just gone off and the tragedy all over the television. I was so happy and elated about being able to conquer a huge fear/obstacle and take a step forward in my recovery, and then immediately crashed into a state of shock and sadness. I don’t know why that was the day I felt compelled to walk and overcome a fear that has been daunting for me for such a long time—I wasn’t even aware it was the day of the marathon. But I do believe there was energy in the air that day that told me “This is the day to appreciate life and push yourself forward.”. )

I hope all my readers out there, and their loved ones, have been safe and well this past week. I know events have taken a toll on so many, and I hope we can now start to return to a time of greater peace and even more appreciation for all that matters.