"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



Monday, January 15, 2018

2017: The Year of Self-Discovery


Aka "The Year of  Not-Riding and Not-Blogging." 


I announced in late 2016 that the blog was not going to be revolving around mostly horses anymore; I wanted it to be more three-dimensional and more representative of my life and my other interests. I meant it and I kept my word. "Wait for the jump" was a phrase that started with my tendency to jump ahead over fences, but the phrase has applied to every other aspect of my life from the get-go. I wrote a whole post about that here.

I've been working on this post since November but had to stop writing during December with the visit of both my mom from PR and the in-laws from FL. I am finally able to publish it today! I'm sticking with what I did last year, where I posted a significant song for each month.

Enjoy the ride!



January


Banner's Start a Riot, the Thundatraxx remix
I think there were many of us at the beginning of the year that needed to hear this:
"I will march down an empty street like a ship into the storm
No surrender, no retreat
I will tear down every wall
Just to keep you warm
Just to bring you home
I will burn this city down for a diamond in the dust
I will keep you safe and sound when there's no one left to trust
Will you take my  hand?
We can make our stand.

If your world falls apart
I'd start a riot
If night falls on your heart
I'd light the fire
In the dark, when you sound the alarm
We'll find each other's arms
For your love, all you are
I'd start a riot."

I didn't want this year to begin. I had a horrible, horrible fear that the world as I knew it was about to come to an end. I was furious on many different levels: over politics both here and on the island, over lack of understanding and empathy over the situation from people that I considered close to me, and the fact that I had finally embraced who I am as a Latina living in the US in 2016, and I was livid over the idea of having to go back into "hiding" (having to blend into the background as a white person) in order to fit in under the new government administration. It made me feel like an animal trapped in a cage, and it was reflected in the blog: Carlos and I had conversations about returning to Puerto Rico, which seemed like a terrible idea given how little both of us would earn in our respective careers (definitely not enough to even make student loan payments, never mind rent an apartment over there) and the way the economy there was rapidly declining further. I was worried about my family but my former plea of, "Would you guys just move here?" was now full of false hope under the new administration.

Carlos and I also talked about potentially moving to Orlando, where there is an enormous Puerto Rican community that includes so many childhood friends of ours. We could just blend in. Cost of living in Orlando is less than here, but for whatever reason they are very limited when it comes to veterinary specialty hospitals for me to work at (and I have my reasons for not wanting to work in general practice. Not an option.) This had always been the limiting factor when moving to Orlando would come up: the fact that I would only have two places to choose from to work at. Nothing had changed in the 5 years since we had last considered this idea. It would be wonderful to be surrounded by our people, but the idea of returning to Florida period made my hackles rise. I hate that state.

We discussed it anyway, looked at apartment and barn choices again (I still had my lists from when we last considered this move while living in South FL), mapped jobs out, and...ultimately just decided to hang tight and wait and see what the Universe told us. Neither one of us was particularly excited about the idea of heading back south, especially not after the president was so well-received in Melbourne less than a month after beginning his reign. (For those of you unfamiliar with the Florida map, Melbourne is just south of Orlando.)

We started the year riding, because I still really wanted to do the Blackwater Swamp Stomp endurance ride at the 50 mile distance with Gracie in March, but by January 20, my head was officially not in the game anymore. While we had fun on our ride, I still wish I had gone to the Women's March on DC on 1/21/17, but at the time I was afraid of the fact that we had to sign up for the march and of potential retaliation from the government.

Photo from that ride
And yup, I'm going to keep right on talking about politics because they have been such a determining factor in how this year has played out for us.


-----------------------------------

February


Vance Joy's Riptide
"Lady, running down to the riptide
Taken away to the dark side
I wanna be your left hand man
I love you when you're singing that song and
I got a lump in my throat 'cause
You're gonna sing the words wrong."

This was another rough month. The main highlight was the Fire in Ice Festival the first weekend of February, where Dom and Mike came down to Maryland to hang out with us. We had a blast and she wrote about it  here.

A photo collage summarizing our day's adventure with some of my favorite people!
We got some good conditioning rides in, but then Carlos was laid off from his job and scrambled to find a new one. Because of that, the plans to attend the Blackwater Swamp Stomp were ditched this month, which was a good thing because my heart was not in riding. I was angry all the time: at the world, at 45, at feeling alone and afraid in a world where we were seen as "others." The news every day was terrifying. I was not in a good place mentally. And here is when my riding officially slowed down: I should not be on a horse when I'm in so much emotional and psychological turmoil.

Cats are awesome therapy.
So I hit the gym with a vengeance. In the gym, it was just the iron and me, and I didn't have to think about the reactions of another sentient creature to my emotions. In the gym, I didn't have to suppress the way I felt in order to function. In the gym, I was in full control, both of my body and whatever exercise I was doing at the time, and being able to control that allowed me to escape from my own mind. I would walk out of the gym afterwards tired, but energized because it felt like I had a handle on something in my life and so things couldn't quite be as bad as I thought they were. The gym made the outside world seem surreal.

Weird as it sounds, the gym gave me hope.
As mentioned in my first bodybuilding competition series posts, I had already been scheming to train for that July show for a few months by this point. The chaos in the world around us had made it seem like a crazy goal to have, but my plan B was endurance...and I really, really, really did NOT want to do endurance this year. Period. And so the focus that the gym was giving me only solidified my desire to compete even more. By February, I was on a countdown for beginning to work with a trainer that could take me to this end goal.



We had some unseasonably warm days this month, which allowed me to go run outside.


Running was my other source of relief during this time because it allowed me to feel like I could run away. While running outside, the Universe spoke and told us to stay put.

So we did.

And we danced under the bridge to celebrate.



-----------------------------------

March

Ed Sheeran's  I See Fire Kygo remix was a hallmark of this month.

I didn't even write this month. My constant anger at the world was still at an all-time high and our crazy psycho weather this particular month wasn't helping matters one bit.

Heavy fog shrouding the road on the way to work one morning this month seemed representative at the time of how I felt about my life. 
Without going into detail, a series of unfortunate events led to me snapping and deciding to take that ball of negativity I'd been carrying around with me and just...shove it.

I wrote this at the time:

Life is messy and unpredictable and you can plan every single moment or not plan anything at all, and it makes no difference whatsoever: sometimes it does what you want and sometimes it does what it wants, like the tides in the ocean. You can ride the wave or you can let it drown you, and sometimes you catch that wave the best you can and you still get somersaulted head over heels no matter how good your surfing skills are. And so sometimes life is beautiful and smooth and sometimes it is ugly and rough; sometimes it is glorious and sometimes it is absolutely awful and you just want it to end because you are tired of slogging through the Swamps of Sadness. That is Reality. That is part of being human. You can't just pick and choose the pretty parts and ignore the ugly parts. If you're living a perfect picture now, enjoy it while you can. Sometimes things go splat and sometimes when things go splat, it seems like it will never get better.

How you choose to pick yourself up from that is what will make or break you. Life is not about how well you are able to pretend that everything is perfect; we don't get an award for that at the end. Life isn't an art competition where the prettiest piece wins. You have to embrace the ugly too because without it, you would never be able to appreciate the beautiful. Without the rough and the yucky, life would actually be pretty boring.

Letting go of that negativity allowed me to heal, to move on, and to notice the good things happening around me during what was considered a time of turmoil for a majority in this country, not just for minorities, people of color, and members of the LGBT community. It allowed me to finally open my eyes again and see the beauty that was still there. The beauty that was, perhaps, even more achingly beautiful now because of all the ugly that seemed to want to permeate our environment.

Like The Resistance.
And this little girl in the T-Rex suit walking around DC making people smile.
And these adult women on a pedal boat with their cherry blossom tiaras.
And this gorgeous town we live in that celebrates diversity and eccentricity.
And so I chose the light.

At the time, I also made the conscious decision to continue to be passionate about everything in life. You can't know real heart-bursting love without passion. You can't know raging fury without passion. You can't know the bottomless depths of sadness without passion. You can't know overbearing joy without passion. You can't know any one of these emotions in their full spectrum if you can't appreciate any of the others in their full spectrum as well. Life is pretty bland and tasteless if there is no passion in it. If you don't feel, you're just numb. You can't enjoy anything if you're numb. If you're numb, you're as good as dead! Why would you want to be numb? I'll take my emotional extremes and my flowery feelings, thanks. Having the capacity to feel to the hilt is a part of living life at its fullest. I wouldn't be able to do my job or draw the way I do or ride my two very different mares with equal skill or perform in lifting sports the way I can nowadays if I didn't choose every single day to be passionate about every single thing I decide to focus on. I choose passion and I will continue to choose passion over indifference every. single. day. of my life for as long as I can breathe.

If you're numb, you can't appreciate sights like this one.
I embraced and accepted that part of myself in March and finally just attacked life with gusto, diving in headfirst into every little thing that excited me as if I would never get to experience that thing again. I feel this stronger with every year that passes: that "grab life by the horns" impulsiveness, because a part of me legit thinks, "Well, what if time runs out and you never got to do this?' It's not a fear of dying. It's not a fear, really...it's more choosing to live with no regrets. Yes, wait for the jump. But if the doors are open for you to do something now, why choose to wait for later? If the opportunity lies in front of you now, by golly take it!

Photo of the first time I dove headfirst into a river, taken on a trip to WV in 2013.
By choosing passion, I was able to let go of the all-consuming fear that had been eating me up alive.

Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias. A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.



I wrote this post in April but the events it describes all took place in March, and is a good summary of what a turning point this month was for me.





And I found that turning point on this day, surrounded by these people, among these gorgeous flowers.
Flowery feelings ftw!
March also marked the beginning of my time training with Coach, which I wouldn't write a peep about until much later!

-----------------------------------

April

Marian Hill's Down
"Didn't even really wanna go
But if you get me out, you get a show
There's so many bodies on the floor, so
Baby we should go and add some more
Are you down, d-d-down, d-d-down, d-d-down, down down?
Everywhere I look are people's hands
Thrown up in the air to help them dance
Come on baby, catch me if you can, I
Know you don't have any other plans
Are you down, d-d-down, d-d-down, d-d-down, down, down?"

In April I made some work-related decisions that took those that were closer to me by surprise: after two years kicking butt as an anesthesia veterinary technician, I decided that I wanted to return to critical care. Now, I need to make a distinction here: veterinary emergency and critical care go hand-in-hand. Normally when you do ER work, you're also doing ICU work. Overnight veterinary emergency clinics (open only at night during the week and both day and night over the weekends) focus on emergency work only: they stabilize and maybe keep your pet overnight if warranted, before referring it to the 24-hour specialty hospital if advanced care is required or back to your regular vet in the morning. Now, what makes a 24-hour specialty hospital a 24-hour hospital is its ICU or critical care unit: you have vets and techs that work around the clock to keep the sickest and most critical patients alive.

Public online photo from the startup hospital I worked at in South FL.
I started out my career working in the ICU of a busy 24-hour specialty hospital in Davie, FL, and pretty much never looked back. When we moved to Maryland, the hospital I applied at divided its ER and ICU into separate units with separate teams of people, which is brilliant: it allowed the critical care staff to focus on patient care, whereas the ER team could focus on incoming emergencies, stabilizing them and running diagnostics before transferring them into the care of the ICU techs and doctors (just like in the human medical field). Normally I would have chosen ICU over ER without giving it a second thought. But at the time, the ER schedule they were hiring for was better than the ICU schedule and so I chose ER. And that's how I spent the next 3 years working as an emergency room veterinary technician.

ER work is great for adrenaline junkies like me. But it can also be demoralizing when close to half of all patients die or are euthanized before transferring to the ICU (this is forever the nature of emergency work, regardless of hospital. An ER tech or vet will often see more euthanasias in a month than a general practitioner will deal with in an entire year.) You also don't get to establish relationships with the pets and owners: you're triaging them, taking x-rays, running bloodwork, and stabilizing them in a period that usually only takes a few hours before transferring them to the ICU, who are the people that will really get to know the patient and his family. I wrote about a day in the life of an emergency vet tech here. That relentless pace and the sheer volume of death and euthanasias, which I wrote about here, were what prompted me to seek the control I would have over my patients' lives as an anesthesia tech.

I loved anesthesia. But after a run of critical cases in the OR, I started to really miss ICU work for the first time in almost 6 years. Not ER work: specifically ICU work. I missed being assigned uber-sick patients of my own for me to see through their hospital stay and being the one to provide constant feedback to the doctor on the patients' status. I missed winning over patients that started out their hospital stays fractious, painful, scared and/or defensive, and have them wagging their tails or purring at the sound of my voice by the the end of their stay. I missed the happy ending of discharging these patients I had taken care of and seeing them go home to their owners for another day, another week, another month, another year. It doesn't matter how long they have left, just that, if their condition permits, they get to go home to the people that love them. At the end of the day, that is all that I ever ask for for my patients.

I adored anesthesia, but I also wanted to return to ICU, and at the time I wasn't sure how to do both things at once. My heart told me to return to ICU for now; I needed to return "home" to critical care. I wasn't sure why I needed this, it was just this relentless urge that nagged at me day in and day out once I realized what it was. So I obeyed, made a list of "wants" for the new job, and applied at only one hospital.

This sounds impulsive in writing but deciding to make this change was, in fact, a long, drawn-out soul-searching process. I even had dreams about it. And once I made the decision, it was eerie how the cards lined up so easily.

The day I walked into the one hospital for my working interview, my jaw dropped: I had never been in this hospital before. I had not even seen photos of its interior. But I recognized it clearly because, as it would turn out, I had dreamed about it too. There were parts of its layout that were very unique, and I had seen them in my dream. I had woken up from that dream thinking, "You never see that in an animal hospital. What the hell?" So seeing it now in person, I felt every hair on my body stand on end.

I had dreamed of this place. 

And in the dream, in this place I found a part of myself that I had lost.

Once again, the Universe spoke clearly: I had made the right choice.

We celebrated the day I received my job offer.

On the equine front, I rode the girls with Shanna, and updated you guys on them here.

Me on Lily
Shanna on Gracie
And fell ever more in love with downtown while hanging out with Shanna outside of the barn.

Out for Mexican, unintentionally dressed like matching twins!

I ran my first 5k race with Jess and wrote about it here.


And began working with Trainer at Tony's insistence. I didn't write about that until much later.

April was a good month.

-----------------------------------

May


I LOVE this song! It's Nevada's Return of the Mack. I had it on replay this month.
"So I'm back up in the game
Running things to keep my swing
Letting all the people know
That I'm back to run the show
'Cause what you did, you know, was wrong
And all the nasty things you've done
So baby, listen carefully
While I sing my come-back song"

May marked my full-time return to critical care. I got every. single. thing that I had asked for in that list of wants I typed up in April. I came home to a place that sang to me on every level. Annie, my shift leader and self-proclaimed "work wife", said much later that it felt like I had worked with her at this hospital for the last 10 years. I had to agree. It felt, and still feels, like I have always been there.

I shared my first ICU story on the blog since 2011 with you guys here.

I did have one concern with my return to critical care: ECC has been known to gradually heighten my anxiety in other aspects of my life. It is a very common side effect of working in this field for most people that choose it. I made a mental note that if I started to become anxious again in my daily life, I would have to re-evaluate the situation.

I don't bring work home; I walk out of the hospital and leave everything behind. I might talk about it that same day when I call Carlos on the way home to tell him about my day, but once I step through the door at home, work is not mentioned again, unless it's something that I decide to write about here.

But in writing this year-end review out, I've realized how much this year has been about my profession more than almost anything else. Most of my decisions this year have revolved around my career. In returning to the ICU, I feel like I recovered a part of myself that I lost when we left Florida and I stepped into emergency work only.

I used to be an artist. Now I am an ICU veterinary technician, first and foremost.

Bathroom selfie at work to mark my return to critical care vet med.
Training for the show was in full swing by May, and the changes were already dramatic. I continued to keep it a secret from y'all by not writing about it at the time. I actually kept it a secret from everyone: only Carlos, Karen and Shanna knew about my plans.


The other highlight of May was going to Hatteras for a second time...to meet Calm from Calm Forward Straight! I also did not write about it, so have some photo spam from our one trip of the year:

At Hatteras Sol for dinner our first night on the island.
Southern Rockefeller oysters. These were absolutely amazing!!!

We stayed at this adorable AirBnB.

Hanging out with Calm's sweet JRT named Q.
Kitty belonging to the AirBnB's owner. She was a calico so of course I loved her. She was very intrigued by us and would come up to us purring and seeming to want attention but always remain just out of reach. :)


Stormy seas early in the morning. 
Vacation mode did not = break time. I used the beach to my advantage to continue training during our 4-day stay on Hatteras.


HIIT drills



Sprints in the sand
Bulgarian split squats are a bitch.
I brought my dumbbells, kettlebells and resistance bands so I could continue training. We were still on a pretty loose format here, where Trainer was letting me choose the exercises for each strength training day.
We watched more gorgeous sunsets.


And went out to dinner together.
And went on long beach walks with this lady.


Carlos takes the best pictures, seriously.

And we got to meet the lovely Val.
Calm wanted my opinion on a few things, so I got to watch her and Val in action together.

And then it was my turn. I don't remember what I was explaining here, but I just like this photo.
Val chilling out while Calm and I discussed the things she wanted to work on with him. I loved that horse; he was quite the character and he had me laughing pretty much the entire time I was riding him. Calm chose a good one. <3
There were more mornings on the beach, with surfers and kite surfers riding the waves.

More beach walks with Calm.


It was funny how I felt like I had always known her.


Calm's gorgeous farmette. It was a very special privilege to get to see her world. It is a beautiful one.
Veggies from her garden with hummus. It is hard to eat grocery-bought carrots after trying the ones she grows at home!
Carlos gets his doggy fix with Q. As usual with animals, she adored him.

May was also a very good month.
I finished it off with a 5-mile bareback ride on Gracie, thanks to my new-found insane leg strength from training.

-----------------------------------

June

Kings of Summer by Ayokay
"Jumpin' off the porch like mom's not home (not home)
Tell me why the best things feel so wrong (so wrong)
Summer nights
Love 'em how they take so long (so long)
Run with the feeling
Of being alive while we're still young."

I updated you guys at the beginning of June. In that same post, I gave you the heads-up of what was going on behind the scenes training-wise regarding the competition goal, but I'm not sure people got that far reading: no one commented on that part of the post. That post was a pretty good summary of June so I'm not going to go into detail again here.

I updated you again in this post, this time focusing mostly on the competition goal and my general thoughts on it.

This photo was taken in June, and it was one of my favorites of the entire year.
There were so many other things I didn't write about. During the summer, downtown Frederick hosts a series of outdoor concerts featuring local bands every Thursday at 5:00 pm called Alive @ 5. We made it a habit of going.


Shanna and I went to the public pool...twice?

Me and my bestie making our 30's look pretty damn good. :D
And we walked all over town. Repeatedly.


And just had fun living life to the max.

Latin dance evening at Sky Stage in downtown

-----------------------------------

July


Rufus du Sol's Sundream was my song for the show. I love the imagery of the lyrics.
"I want to feel that you want it
I want to feel by the morning
I want to feel that you want it
Oh let me feel what you are.

Flashes on match heads
Splashes of ashes
Embers arising
Smoke fills the skies in

Wind blows then crashes
Waves over the ashes
Hills washed up in violet
Eyes close up to hide it.

I want to feel that you want it
I want to feel by the morning
I want to feel that you want it
Oh let me feel what you are..."

The highlight of July was the show. I had trained for over half a year for this event, and the first half of July was basically a countdown to July 15, which was both the show date and the day of my 38th birthday. This show defined my year because the experience of both training for it and standing up on that stage were one of the hardest things I've ever done to date, even more so than endurance, and it taught me so much about myself in the process. I never thought I would love it as much as I did...it had truly started as an experiment and turned instead into my be-all and end-all by the time all was said and done. I've never had so much unadulterated FUN while preparing for any type of competition prior, especially given how difficult the process was and how scared I was by the idea of stepping up on that stage.

Have some of my fave pics from the 24 hours before of and during the show:

That time that my abs were visible bricks without me doing anything.

The only pic of me flexing biceps during the entire prep, taken with Shanna during my last workout evening before the show.
With the crazy fake tan and a goofy attitude to match. 
Pre-judging done and relaxing with coffee, a kimono, and not much else underneath while waiting for finals.
Official show photo by Chris Nichols.
I turned 38 years old on that stage.
I had just stepped into the strangest world and completely surprised myself by how much I had liked it. So it is no surprise that the show was barely in the rearview mirror before I was already setting my next goal: the OCB Chesapeake Bay Classic in October.

There were multiple reasons for this:
1. I wanted to try a natural show
2. I wanted to see what it was like to maintain the show look for an extended period
3. I was completely and 200% hooked on the challenge of show prep and wanted to do another STAT...but with enough downtime in between to notice a difference in my body between the first prep and the second one.

Trainer made me take some downtime in between the two shows to recover. I was still in heavy training, but we did a lot more playing with my superhuman fitness level during that "downtime." I wrote about it later, but  this post is specifically about some of that fitness play before starting the second prep.

I took my newfound fitness to the streets in downtown and ran and ran and ran for the sheer enjoyment of running. I wasn't running away from anything this time, I was revelling in the joy of being alive and whole and moving.

Photos during one of many 3-4 mile runs in downtown.
It was the first July in three years that I could actually enjoy, thanks to staying away from riding. I explained that here.

And enjoy it we did.

This girl was one of the most important people in my life this year. This photo got posted on social media for the sheer fun of pushing buttons: two adult women holding hands brings up questions.
My thing was: little kids hold hands with their friends regardless of gender. Why can't we do that as adults?
That time I rode Gracie bareback and in flip-flops. Just 'cuz.
From yet another gorgeous walk around downtown.
Bottle silhouettes in an illuminated window at dusk in downtown



My favorite weeping willow
On our way to Sky Stage for dancing.
-----------------------------------

August


Saint Wknd's Lost (Runaway)
"Daydreams underneath the palm trees never die
Losing sleep 'cause we're running out of time
Guess I'll deal with a broken heart
And let it mend along the way
Need you here right by my side
Hold me tight like yesterday."

My true downtime between shows ended mid-August. I had withdrawn into myself during June, prior to the July show simply because it took so much freaking determination to get myself through that prep. In mid-August I found myself withdrawing again, even though we were just beginning the new prep and it wasn't hard by any means compared to the prior one mainly because I already knew what to expect. I started writing a post about it during this time, which is my cue for writing this out.

I was in internal turmoil over a lot of things: the hurricane season was looking awful for Florida and the Caribbean, which are always at the back of my mind in the summer because so many people I love live in both the southernmost state and my island. I was also starting to deal with the very beginnings of increasing overall anxiety resulting from a more stressful work environment and kept catching myself in old behavior patterns or responses that I thought I had outgrown a long time ago. I had thought I could ride it out for at least two years...and it had barely been two months. At the same time, I loved my return to ICU: my patients usually loved me as much as I did them, and I had rapidly been declared one of the staff's cat whisperers.


Even my unruly canine patients listened to me and more often than not let me do their treatments completely unassisted because they decided to trust me. Bodybuilding and having to slow the eff down when working out made me slow the eff down in other aspects of my life too: I would stop to spend time with my patients, just petting and loving on them even when I wasn't working with them. I talked to them more. I was efficient with treatments but I took my time when I needed to, so the stress from me rushing wouldn't affect the animals in my care. Rushing can and will frighten them. Slowing down whenever possible completely changed my relationships with them. My patients' owners were a special treat for me this time around too: taking my patients into exam rooms to visit with their people and taking the time to sit down with the clients and tell them the little details about their pet's stay and any improvements (brighter attitude, purring, wagging their tail, what food they had decided they liked, little things I did to get them to take their meds without protest, etc, etc) were something that I used to be completely intimidated by as an introverted new tech just out of school...but it was something that I now thoroughly enjoyed. The doctor tells the client about the medical and diagnostic side of things. As the nurse, the tech tells the client about the everyday care since we are the ones directly interacting with the pet for 13 hours of the day.

I was discharging one of my favorite patients one specific weekend and answering the client's questions about medications. Both the owner and I were sitting in chairs across from one another in the exam room, and my patient kept coming back to me to interact, animatedly wagging his tail when I reached down to pet him each time. The owner was very impressed, as this particular little dog was not especially fond of attention in general and tended to be aloof even with people he loved. I had noticed that about him, but he had been quite willing to cooperate with me specifically throughout his hospital stay (not so much with other techs, even though everyone on our team is kind and highly skilled at what they do; some patients just choose their people). As he got ready to leave, the owner thanked me profusely for the care provided. I just grinned from ear to ear, and he said thoughtfully, "You really do love this, don't you?"

I couldn't help grinning even wider. Right at that moment, there was nothing that I loved more than the intricate, complicated, delicate art of veterinary critical care...and both getting to see my patients go home alive for their happy ending and knowing that my role in that ending had been as important as the doctor's.
"Yes, I do," I replied.

"It shows," he said, grinning back.

I was thanked again, and I spent the rest of the day grinning like an idiot. It feels really good when all of your hard work is both noticed and appreciated, not just by your coworkers and doctors who see it firsthand, but also by your clients who only really get to see glimpses of it and the end result.


I wrote a pet insurance post this month that I dedicated a lot of time to researching for so that I could provide as much information as possible on the subject. It brought about some FANTASTIC advice in the comments from fellow bloggers, but also offended a blogger whom I greatly respect. Her comment is still up because it was a different perspective, but her statement that pet insurance will drive up the cost of pet care is incorrect: the cost of pet care will continue to go up as the cost of human medicine goes up, which in turn is driven by your medical insurance for yourself. A lot of the medications we use for Fluffy are exactly the same ones your doctor would use on you: metronidazole, amoxicillin, morphine, Tramadol, ampicillin, enrofloxacin, famotidine, pantoprazole, phenobarbital, diazepam, ketamine, cephalexin, ciprofloxacin, doxycycline...it is an infinite list. A LOT is the same, from meds to equipment to IV fluids. If there is a national backorder on 0.9% sodium chloride (the most common of IV fluids in both human and vet med, and as of this writing it is on national backorder because of Hurricane Maria) and its price skyrockets because of it, you might not see the difference if you're hospitalized thanks to your medical insurance, but you sure will see the difference if your pet is hospitalized. So: contrary to popular belief, pet insurance is not going to contribute to driving up the price of veterinary care. It is YOUR medical insurance and our government's decisions on healthcare that are going to make Fluffy's care astronomical. Pet insurance simply helps protect you from having to go into debt to pay for specialized veterinary care. If you don't care about that, that's your decision. The post was meant to help people that might not know this is an option to make pet care more affordable.

I took the post down for a long time, and later re-published it because look: not everyone wants advanced care for their pets. I get it, but that's not the audience that post was written for. The truth is that the average pet owner won't need insurance during their pet's lifetime. But you have to understand my point of view here too: I work in advanced care, so every single day we encounter clients at work that WANT advanced care for their pets when faced with life-or-death decisions and who can't always afford it. I'm sorry, maybe out cold right now you can say that you wouldn't put your animal through x or y life-saving surgery if it comes down to that. But what if there is a 75% chance that that $4,000 procedure will give your beloved pet years (plural) to continue to live with you? This is the gray zone, the one that is hard for both the veterinary professionals and the pet owners: "Am I really going to euthanize Fluffy over a fractured leg?" And there are a lot of "if only's" involved, one of them being, "If only I'd insured Fluffy before this happened!" A lot of responsible pet owners have a separate savings account for their animals and don't need insurance. That's fantastic! That's how it should be. But after 10 years working in this specific branch of vet med both during the recession and after it, in 3 different states on the East Coast, I can tell you that a significant number of pet owners can't afford advanced care. You can't tell people, "Well, if you can't afford to set money aside for your pet, you shouldn't have one." If that was the case, there would be even more homeless pets out there being euthanized in shelters.

Shortly after removing the insurance post from the blog, I also took the blog itself entirely off of the internet for close to a month. I had already done this in July after the bodybuilding posts, and I did it again because I needed to regroup in general. I wanted to continue writing but with my posts becoming increasingly more detailed and personal and less horsey, I wasn't sure I wanted to keep the blog a public thing floating around on the world wide web for anyone to read.

I eventually decided that if I was going to truly be as ballsy as I thought I was, I needed to say fuck it all and leave the blog public.

So I did. And decided in the process that I would continue writing about subjects that interest me even if those subjects make people uncomfortable, be it fitness or politics or pet insurance or death or stories about one of the last remaining colonies owned by the great US of A. I write this for myself after all, and that was what I was going to continue to do, in whatever tone of voice I felt like writing.

August was supposed to be the month I returned to riding full time but my first ride back on Lily did not go well and it brought back all of my PTSD. PTSD that I had not even realized I had when it came to riding her.


And while in the past I have forced myself to get through it...only to have some other horrible incident happen to her or me or both of us later on down the line...this time I just didn't feel like it. I didn't want to work through this in order to continue in a sport that I wasn't sure I wanted to continue to participate in to begin with, when the risk of me getting hurt yet again because of it was so high. I'm too old for that shit.

I finally accepted that the trails were continuing to disappear at the barn and, while it was technically a deal breaker (one of the reasons why we chose this barn was the trails!), I liked the herd management enough that I didn't really want to go looking for a new barn to board at just yet. This barn was comfortably affordable, close to home and the herd sizes were kept small, which were all of my other requirements. I had the option of the arena, but it was very small and 50% of the time when I showed up to ride, there were other people using it. So I resolved all of this by...not riding. So then I felt guilt over not riding, and continued to be determined to sell Lily...but I never did get around to writing the ad or even taking the conformation shots for it. I just didn't want to deal with it. I was willing to give her away so long as she went to someone I knew and trusted, but there was no such person on the horizon able to take her right then. I wrote about all of that much later, when I was finally able to put all of this into words. The post was meant both as an explanation for the readers that follow because of the horses and also as a venting outlet.

Ultimately, my gut or the Universe or the Goddess or whatever you wanna call it, told me to wait on that decision. So I did.

She stays. We have a move-out date for this barn. Lily and I will be sticking with the sandbox until further notice, with Gracie taking on the role as exclusive trail horse.
-----------------------------------


September

Save Me by Listenbee
"You caused the rain, I brought you pain
But you're the only one that could save me
You caused the rain, I brought you pain
But you're the only one that could save me
Oh save me, please save me
You caused the rain, I brought you pain
But you're the only one that could save me
Oh save me"

September was the month when my island was hit by Hurricane Maria, which has had unprecedented personal repercussions for me. I wrote this post about it, which ended up being the post with the most hits in the shortest period of time in the entire 7-year history of the blog, thanks to readers sharing and re-sharing. <3 It was epic. I still believe that that post was the single best thing I wrote all year.

As of this writing, my uncle in Puerto Rico STILL HAS NO ELECTRICITY.

September was also the month in which I cancelled my plans for the October show, for obvious reasons.


-----------------------------------

October

Selena Gomez's Wolves
I freaking love this song, and it perfectly describes the helplessness constantly at the back of my mind this month.
"I've been running through the jungle
I've been running with the wolves
To get to you, to get to you
I've been down the darkest alleys
Saw the dark side of the moon
To get to you, to get to you
I've looked for love in every stranger
Took too much to ease the anger
All for you, yeah all for you
I've been running through the jungle
I've been crying with the wolves
To get to you, to get to you (oh to get to you.)"

October was a trying month, as I worried constantly about my family stuck on the island and dealt with the complete inability of being able to do anything to help, while also grieving for the loss of a place. No one can understand that unless they've lost a place too. Losing everything we used to know about the island tied all of us Puerto Ricans closer together: Josie, also a Puerto Rican, is my uncle's lifelong friend from college who lives in DC and she reached out to me shortly after the storm. We bonded through Messenger over our mutual love for my uncle and cats, and over our shared feeling of helplessness. I also became close friends with my uncle's wife Sari across the distance, who turned into the main spokesperson for the family as she fought to keep everyone in touch with one another. I joined a Facebook group of Puerto Ricans living in Frederick, which in turn led me to the house of a woman that made pasteles. Pasteles are the Puerto Rican version of tamales, though the flavor profile is completely different, and they were going to be impossible to find on the island thanks to the storm: the storm destroyed the plantain trees, whose leaves and fruit are necessary for the preparation of this food. They are a traditional Christmas dish on the island, and I had not had them in two years...and now the Universe presented me with this gift.

And so I found myself in the house of this lovely stranger, talking with her in our own language with our own accent and our own slang about this land that we had all lost...for what ended up being hours. And I thought in awe that I never would have gotten to meet this person had it not been for the storm.

But I grieved. I grieved hard. You can't take a leave of absence to grieve for the loss of your home, so I continued to pretend to function in my daily life. Working out was the single thing that kept me sane.

Killing it with the battle ropes. Photos by Carlos, of course.
I had originally intended to write the bodybuilding post series and not touch on that subject again. So many people had been excited about this series of posts and had requested that I write more about the journey during the process itself in the future, that I went ahead and typed out another series about the second show prep. I finally wrote about it this month.

I keep a workout journal, which is what allows me to type up the fitness posts in so much detail. I didn't want to write about the whole entire process again because I was just going to repeat myself, so I wrote about the things that were different, which boiled down to events that happened in individual training sessions that were significant. I strung the more relevant sessions together into what I thought was a cohesive story about how my fitness was continuing to evolve. I found the entire process of becoming fitter and stronger than I ever thought possible utterly fascinating, and was hoping that by sharing it, it would motivate others.

The response to these posts was lackluster at best, and my theories about why were that:
a) I gave away in the beginning of the series that I would cancel the show plans.
b) I'm guessing the posts were too long, too detailed, and readers got bored reading, even though I found writing the posts extremely entertaining.
c) While I made every effort to not sound like I was bragging because I was, in fact, just amazed that I could do the things that I was doing, I'm pretty sure it could still be taken as bragging. Well, whatever. It's the same as you talking about how well your horse did at x show thanks to the work you put into training him. Exactly the same thing.
d) My target audience is all wrong: why would equestrians even be interested in this subject? (Though they should be!) I don't know how to fix this. I keep searching the internet and it is near impossible to find active, current blogs about personal fitness journeys to follow, whose writers I can interact with.
e) Fitness, as observed above, is a subject that makes people uncomfortable: it is impossible to tell anyone about your fitness achievements without them somehow feeling guilty about not doing enough or not having the time or not having the discipline or the drive or the whatever. Fitness is a decision you make, like anything else in life. You don't have to make the same decisions I do. I'm just telling a story because I'm still like, "Holy shit guys! If you'd told me 15 years ago I'd be doing these things, I would have laughed in your face!...And if I can do it, so can you!"

This second series was published at my audience's request. Despite the response, I had so much fun writing them that I will continue to post about this subject in the same measure that I post about everything else now, and just accept that the current blog audience will most likely dwindle because of it. If that makes my blog "a boring fitness blog," so be it. It's my life and my story. I don't live my life for others' entertainment, and I blog for myself first: I have rarely selected subjects for the blog based solely on how popular they might be or how many followers I'll pick up or how many comments I'll get or how many hits the post will receive. I look at those things out of curiosity, but they are not deciding factors in how or what I write. I also don't go around commenting on every single post of every single blog I read on the internet because a) I don't have time for that and b) I don't comment for the sake of commenting just to get more followers on my own blog. It's just not my style. I get excited when a post I enjoyed writing or that I'm proud of creates an impact I can see in the form of comments, which in turn motivates me to continue writing, but I will just have to accept that this will not be the case anymore.

The second fitness series culminated with my adventure with The 100, which was my favorite post in this series and my third personal favorite post of the whole year, whether my audience agrees or not.


Alice came to visit Maryland for the first time, with the plan to potentially move here. We gave her the tour, she made the first round of job interviews, and we celebrated Halloween with her.

Two Puerto Ricans boogying down at our favorite Irish bar.
This Halloween marked Carlos's and my 13th anniversary together.



-----------------------------------

November

J. Balvin's Mi Gente.
The translated lyrics are in the post I write about below.

The main post of this month took the entire month to write, which is probably telling in the back-and-forth of the writing, the incredibly varied tone of voice throughout the post, and the sheer length of the post itself. It is the longest post I wrote all year. I edited it multiple times to try to both shorten it and soften the tone, but there were things that I wanted to say, especially when it comes to the repercussions of mainland political decisions on my island and my people. So I said those things, because they are things that make me positively livid and that continue to make me furious, and having been judged in the recent past for those opinions by people who simply don't have a clue still makes me want to scream. My anger comes out in that post.

I debated splitting the post into multiple shorter ones, but I didn't want to draw it out in that manner and people don't always read continuous posts. So I edited and edited and edited, trying to shorten it and make it more direct, stringing the stories together in a way that made sense so I could send the message that I was trying to give, with an ending that I think made reading the entire thing worthwhile. It also coincided with the holiday that had rolled up by then: Thanksgiving, which is when I finally decided that if I continued picking at the post, I would never stop, and finally just shrugged and hit "publish." But I don't think many people made it through to the end of the post, and I honestly don't blame them. Thank you to those of you that read all the way through and commented!

The post in question is this one. It was an update on the island's and my family's status three months after Hurricane Maria, where I also told the story of Alice's visit to the mainland post-storm, the story of my uncle's visit to get a reprieve from the lack of electricity, and my own perspective as a member of the Puerto Rican diaspora living in the US. I know I repeat some of what I had already said in my Surviving an Apocalypse post, but I did so on purpose because I have stopped assuming that my readers both read and remember everything I write; it's unrealistic to expect that. Part of my perspective presented in the Post Apocalypse post is harsh, yes, but the truth is that the brunt of my perspective living here comes from spectacularly beautiful experiences that have positively changed the way I used to see this country. And that is what I explain at the end of the post.

That's Josie, my uncle's friend, on the right. I finally got to meet her in person when he flew in to visit for a week. I adored her. And I never would have gotten to meet her had it not been for the storm.
With my uncle's wife Sari, on the left in this photo, whom I also got to finally meet thanks to the storm.
I would not be who I am today if I had not chosen to leave the island to begin with.

Trainer moved out of his gym on November 1st, and we all started training with him at a public gym in downtown. The group sessions that I had enjoyed so much were cancelled, so these were now all individual or paired sessions. I had really enjoyed the social aspect of the group sessions and missed it. Carlos had wanted to go back to training himself but Tony's and his schedule were not lining up, so CrossFit was discussed as an option after Shanna mentioned that a good work friend of hers trained at a local box and loved it. We could try it out for free for a week, so we did: I had read enough about the sport and knew enough about what to expect that I wanted to make sure this would be a safe box for Carlos to work out at, since he requires more supervision when it comes to correct lifting.

It was awesome. Carlos loved the environment, I loved the training style. Of course I fell in love with it too and we both signed up!

It was weird to say that my cardio was CrossFit, but that's what it became for the month of November. I'd strength train with Trainer or at my regular gym, and then swing by the box for the WOD mid-morning. This got me out and around other people this month, which was awesome because I spent a huge chunk of November completely alone: Shanna had a lot of stuff going on in her personal life so she was unavailable, and Carlos was sent to Richmond (it's a little over 3 hours away in Virginia) on a work mission for 3 consecutive weeks: I spent a significant amount of time alone. While I am an introvert at heart, I do crave daily interactions with people whose company I enjoy, but other than training sessions and CrossFit, I was pretty much in total seclusion. I had initially thought I would get depressed and lonely...and was surprised to discover that I did not feel either of those things. Not at all. I actually enjoyed all of the time to myself, and used my spare time to type up the Post Apocalypse post, take naps, cook, and hang out with the cats at home when I wasn't at the gym. I kept saying I was going to ride...and I didn't. I was incredibly selfish about not sharing this time with anyone, not even the horses, and loved every second of it. I firmly believe that this reprieve came about because it was something that I had needed badly, and had not realized how much I needed it until it was given to me.


In November I also returned to working surgery part-time.

Back in October, I had walked into the Surgery department at my current job looking for a specific instrument for a procedure and had been hit hard by a pang of longing for this world that I had left 6 months prior. It just flooded over me: the quiet peace of the OR, knowing exactly where the instruments were located in the cabinets behind me so I could instantly fetch them for my surgeon, the ability to play whatever music I wanted to change the ambiance in the room, the absolute control over my patients' lives.

Once the idea was in my head, I couldn't let it go. The catch: I still wanted to keep one foot in critical care at my current hospital. But I wanted to return to Surgeryland too. And not just any Surgeryland: I wanted to go back to the hospital I had left. They had given me the option of returning on a part-time basis when I had given notice, and I had accepted the offer but told them I had to figure out my new ICU schedule before I could get back to them.

It had taken longer than expected because I couldn't figure out the logistics of working both jobs, one full time and one part time, while maintaining on-call duties for ICU and still having a semblance of a personal life outside of work. One day I came up with the answer, though. I reached out to my former manager, talked to my ICU supervisor, and suddenly everything fell into place seamlessly, effortlessly, in a way that worked out beautifully to everyone's advantage: mine, and both hospitals that I would now be working at.

Again guys: when something is meant for you, the Universe speaks loud and clear.


-----------------------------------

December


Serious by Kygo, featuring Matt Corby
"We are too serious
We're letting the money take control
Of the love that's in our soul
And the music's mysterious
Bringing together you and me
Taking in that frequency, yeah."

This month started with Alice's follow-up visit to Maryland for more working interviews. I did not write about it but I did post a few pics on my IG. We had an amazing time with her once again. She received job offers from every gym she applied at, and while she is still considering moving to the US mainland, she ultimately chose to stay in Puerto Rico for the time being.

Shanna and Alice laughing over some preposterous story of Carlos's over Mexican at Cacique.

Don't ask. 
Photo by Carlos, aka Carli in our house. Fun fact: "Carli" = "Charlie"in Spanish.
We showed up at Meggan's and Jess's house with Alice and Shanna's whiskey in tow so they could all meet.
Shown in picture: Carli's Angels (as I've dubbed us) in their full glamorous splendor.
*snorts with laughter*
Like I was saying...
This girl. <3
And this guy! <3
He was studying that whiskey bottle very closely.
These two were like long-lost sisters.
Waiting for our food at Paladar. Still giggling.
Sometimes we sit at a bar and do imaginary shots, mmkay?
Less than a week later, my mom arrived, making 2017 the year when I was visited the most by island friends and family since moving to the US thirteen years ago...all thanks to the ripple effect of one giant storm.

My mom in her element. I inherited my love of books from her.
There will be a separate post about her visit.
Hurricane Maria was life-changing  in so many ways for me this year. It brought to the surface my alternate reality, the alternate reality that I live every day here as an "other," that you are not familiar with unless you are also an "other." But the storm, and also the man that we currently call president, both brought out so much good in people around me. There is a touch of rebellion in every person I hear speak out against the changes that continue to take place at the government level, and it is a continuous relief to see people in my neck of the woods making more and more open comments about it as time goes on. I know not all of you have had the opportunity of experiencing this in the places you live in. Some of you have seen the complete opposite: how the president and his beliefs, specifically, have negatively impacted the community you live in, and you live a different alternate reality that is just as valid as mine.

My second favorite post of the year was written in December and it was my Powerlifting post. The focus during my 6-month off season has been to simply get a helluva lot stronger, which meant less cardio, more rest, more carbs, some fluff, and lifting super crazy heavy things. This was an experiment that Trainer decided to do based simply on the results of this type of training with men: he has never tried this before with a female bodybuilding client. He has never had a female client interested in powerlifting, period, and it was a door that he opened for me because of his own experience with the sport. I would most likely not have been exposed to this sport if I had been working with a regular trainer. The first time I squatted 225 lbs to me meant, well, squatting 225 lbs. I had no scale of comparison. It was tough to do but not impossible, and I figured this feat was something any fit woman could do. It was Trainer that opened my eyes and translated what it meant: this was no ordinary achievement, especially for one who had not practiced intensely to get to that goal. And so powerlifting was brought to the table to lay the groundwork for an experimental hybrid training method. I was super excited to be the guinea pig for this experiment, especially given what I read about this type of training and the sport of powerlifting while researching the subject for the purposes of the Powerlifting blog post.

With training becoming more specialized for powerlifting, I stepped into this sport full-force...and fell madly head-over-heels in love with it. I have not loved anything this hard nor this much since the jumpers. Jumpers was my undying love for over half of my life until the day I resolutely decided I was done with it. This is the only thing that has ever compared to it. Not endurance, not dressage, not trail riding, not running. Powerlifting.

Proof that I deadlift. 155 lbs on the bar. This was a practice session immediately after a Trainer session where I had worked up to a 225 lb one-rep max, despite epic frustrations with my setup and form. Carlos had accompanied me to the gym afterwards to video me so I could both practice the corrections and see what the hell I was doing. This is a still from the video. I have off-season fluff in the pic, and my goofy leopard-print Chuck Taylors (reserved for Deadlift Day because they are so flat) but it is the only photo of me in that Zen space that I go to when lifting and the power that is manifested when that happens. 
The blog post explains what I found in powerlifting, and I'm not going to repeat it here. If you want to know, go read it. :) It has an incredibly empowering message at the end that applies to any woman participating in any sport.

There is one other formerly equestrian blogger out there that is participating in powerlifting and I wish so badly that she would write about it too! For now, I just follow her IG. Monica, if you're reading, I'm looking at you. :) <3

With my training diving into specifically powerlifting, I had to drop CrossFit: given that increased rest was a necessity, Trainer's concern was that the sometimes extreme demands of CrossFit would affect my lifts. He was right, so I stopped my visits to the box for the time being while Carlos continued. It's been fun for him to hear my training stories and read about my lifting on the blog and then compare to what he's doing during his own sessions.

December was my first full month working consistently in both Surgery and ICU. I dropped one work day in the ICU so I could pick up an additional day in the OR at my previous job, dividing the two positions 50/50 so I could work two days at each job. One month and a half in as of this writing, and I am absolutely loving the balance that doing both provides me: I get the quiet control of anesthesia and the unpredictable intricacy of critical care. It is awesome!!!! 

I ended the year with one last veterinary post that I thought was worth sharing. Holidays are tough to work in both the veterinary and medical fields, and this year's December 24th was no exception. I wanted to publish Jerry's story regardless, but those veterinary stories are hard to write and the only reason why I continue to write them is because they used to be so well-liked. It's the one remaining blog subject I was touching on purely for my readers' enjoyment. Due to the nature of my job, these posts take time and thought to write because I have to change so many details of the stories to maintain patient privacy while still preserving the essence of the story I want to tell you guys. Given that there were all of two comments, I am assuming that these posts are not enjoyed anymore and thus the decision is easy: Jerry's story will be my last veterinary post. The Tales From The Trenches series is over.

New Year's Eve was celebrated with the gang, who managed to come together at the last minute. It was icy cold that night, so we just hid at the White Rabbit Gastropub for dinner and drinks until just past midnight.

These two just feed off of each other. It is hysterical.
There is something unusual about this elk. Do you see it?
This pub is so awesomely quirky and full of character.
Jess looking beautiful. And mystified by whatever Carlos was doing/saying.
It is so rare to find a guy that not only enjoys hanging out with your friends, but whose presence is also enjoyed by said friends. He treats Jess like his little sister...and she responds appropriately. Lol!
Don't ask. *insert laughing emoji*
And so we said good-bye to 2017, laughing, warm, and surrounded by the same wonderful people with whom we rang it in.

-----------------------------------

The People that Made My Year

Shanna
She took center stage this year, accompanying me in all my crazy adventures. She is my sidekick, my Ride or Die bitch, my best friend.













She was there with me pretty much every step of the way this year, illuminating every moment with her light and laughter that shine so bright. This year would not have been the same by any means without her.



Trainer
Duh. He was important as a gateway into this whole other world that I didn't know I could belong to so thoroughly, that I never would have dreamed of exploring at length the way I have, had I not been led there by someone who saw the potential and whom I trusted.

I recently told Trainer that he is just like George Morris. It was half joke, half compliment. He looked at me blankly: of course he didn't get it. So I explained who George is in the h/j world and pulled up a few George Morris memes, including this one and one of him with a megaphone shouting "I DON'T CARE." Trainer roared with laughter. When it comes to lifting, Trainer is as big of a "purist" as George is with riding, and there are some pretty serious similarities in their personality types as well! It is these parallels that remind me so much of my trainer Ron back in the day: he too had a lot in common with George.
Latin culture rejects muscular women and this was something I struggled with every time I lifted a dumbbell in my early twenties. I wanted to be muscular but my entire family was against it. (I want to write about how my mom reacted when she finally saw me in person during her visit...it was pretty freaking awesome. But that will be in another post.) So I did the cardio and the moderate weight lifting, and I wish now that I had followed my gut instinct back then: I was born for this as much as I was for riding, and my body sings as much when I'm maneuvering that barbell as it does when I am synced into the horse underneath me. There is an unparalleled personal joy for me in lifting that barbell all by myself that you can only understand if powerlifting calls to you too. Riding is mine, but it involves another sentient being and her reactions to our surroundings. Powerlifting is mine, and it is all about me and the inanimate barbell.


The truth is that the paths we choose and that choose us are always for a reason, and while I would most certainly be a completely different person if I had pursued serious lifting in college, I'm still happy with the person I've become at this point in my life and a lot of people don't get to say that.

I had missed having a trainer in my riding, but with endurance and what I was doing for cross training, I just felt like I didn't really need one. Unless I have specific goals that I want to work towards, like reaching 2nd level dressage or aiming for a 3' jumpers competition or if I need an outside perspective to guide me through a specific riding issue, I don't resort to riding instructors just for the sake of having one. For competitive riding, absolutely. For recreational riding? Nah.

Trainer was solidly put in my life for a completely different competitive goal that ultimately has taught me so much about myself, my mental resilience and my capabilities as an athlete. Carlos says that even the way I carry myself has changed: I walk with more confidence, my shoulders straighter, my head higher. And that same Zen-like quality that I still admire so much in Trainer, that ability to reach an absolute stillness of self at will, is something that I have now found in myself too. I can fall back into that peaceful place inside of myself when facing a difficult situation with increasing ease, whether it's a 245 lb barbell on the squat rack or a crashing patient at work or my mother's sickness.

All of that, this whole entire world, opened up because of one "Yes," when Tony insisted that I meet Trainer back in April.




Carlos

I always save the best for last.

He has been the absolute most important person in my life this year (and every year, for that matter. I shouldn't have to say that), even though he has been in the background in both photos (social media) and on the blog, because our work schedules were so different for most of 2017. He worked crazy hours and schedules with two part-time jobs for seven months from January to July in order to help keep us afloat while he fought to find a full-time job. If you think the threats of healthcare reform hadn't already affected the entire human medical field at the beginning of the year, think again. We experienced the repercussions firsthand throughout the first half of this year. He is a highly qualified, experienced nurse that is loved by both his patients and the staff that has the privilege of working with him...and he still struggled.

Dancing to Despacito on the Fourth of July.
Photos by Shanna.
For the first seven months of the year we barely saw one another. Which was okay, because I had cocooned myself into this place deep inside that made me withdraw from pretty much everyone. Carlos is the only one that truly experienced it because he lives with me. But I spoke on the phone less, limiting phone calls to only my mom, and with nowhere near the frequency I used to call her. I was slower to respond to texts. I had a much harder time being the one to reach out to people first. The second I felt like I was having to chase after anyone, I would pull away. I didn't talk much in social situations, including work. I barely posted about my personal life on Facebook. I posted tons on IG instead because I didn't have to explain anything: it's all pictorial, and it allowed me to focus on beautiful things vs all the ugly and politics and people whose morals I questioned every day on FB.

Shanna and Trainer drew me out in their own ways, one with her friendship and the other by working me so hard I couldn't think, and distracted me from this...intense silent soul searching I was doing. Shanna offered warmth & emotion and Trainer offered strict discipline. Carlos experienced the stillness, the wall. And he did the best thing that he could have possibly done: he let me be. He let me know he was there, and he proved he was there over and over and over again with his actions, but he did not poke nor prod nor try to break through this cocoon I was hiding in. He just sat back and observed, waiting. He has always had this uncanny ability for getting me, for knowing exactly what I need at exactly the right time.

Another photo by Shanna.
It takes a very, very special kind of person to do that, to just hang in there and wait indefinitely, when you see your life partner pull away the way I did. It takes a very special type of patience. And I can't say I would have been able to be anywhere near as patient as he has been this year if the roles had been reversed and I had been as scared as I know he was in the beginning. He is, and has always been, the man that I admire the most, the one person that I aspire to be more like the most. He is woven so tightly into who and what I am that I don't outwardly give him enough credit for his presence and for everything that he means to me because he is so much a part of me. This whole adventure would have never happened, none of it, none of what this blog is and this life we have together, my career, the horses, the cats, the dancing under the bridge, these things that I write about and share with you guys, if it weren't for him. If it weren't for one singular moment 13 years ago when we were curled up together in bed for the first time and he asked me out of the blue to move in with him. And I said "Yes." It was an insane proposition at the time that required a total upheaval of both of our lives in order to make it work. But we did it, and as always happens with things that are meant to be, the cards fell into place effortlessly.

Photo by Liz Stout. (<- That's her pro photo website. If you live in the region, you should absolutely hire her.)


"Yes." It's just one syllable. But that one word can be so incredibly powerful. It can be life-altering.

He is absolutely everything I ever asked for in a significant other, and he is this way without even trying. And he proved it yet again this year by just hanging in there and waiting for me to come back around, to come out from behind this wall I had built around myself while trying to figure out who I really was while exploring this new dimension of self, and debating whether I was ready to fully be that person.





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Conclusion 

2017 was a beautiful, meaningful year. Going back and looking through old posts and IG, it is a little crazy to me how tightly I managed to wound myself into a knot at the beginning of this year, only to suddenly release that knot by choice to turn both the year and myself into something completely different out of sheer determination. The show was basically the visual representation of a transformation that also occurred on the inside.


I think my blog has become less appealing to read as a result. The comments have decreased significantly over the course of the year, I'm guessing because of the general infrequency of my writing, the number of fitness posts and the deviation from the original subject matter of horses. It seems like most equestrian blogs that go the life blog route end up losing their audience, which is sad, because once the audience is lost, those blogs usually tend to go silent right when they were starting to gain the most depth.

My current goal with the blog is to maintain its depth and dimension, regardless of reader response, with posts being more like short stories relevant to whatever is happening in the moment than just a linear account of horse-related subjects. My life is so much more than just the horses. A blogger friend had once said that I should take time to do things other than horses...I had been so confused at the time, and then realized that because all I wrote about was horses, she was assuming that that's all I did with my life.

It's not.

In 2016 I accepted the things about myself that I couldn't change, like my cultural heritage and my crazy unstoppable drive, and decided to embrace them. In 2017 I took those same qualities I had embraced and pushed forward with them to further explore them and turn myself into something else entirely, something that I am proud to be:

Myself
And everything that that entails. 


#choosepassion