A toast to 2016

Personal

By Heather Nelson

When they go low, we go high. — Michelle Obama


2016, you were quite a low. I’d hoped for better. I’d planned for better. I could complain about how much my year sucked and how many low points I went through, but I won’t. I learned incredibly tough life lessons. 

I was so sure that 2016 was going to be it for me — I’d find the job I wanted, my other half, and fulfill all of my life’s dreams. I’m far from checking off all of my list. 

Life tested me. I spent time on people (men), who weren’t worth my time. I lost friends, who I’d thought would be around forever. I thought therapy would “fix” me.  

I poured myself into a blog that I thought would eventually bring me success in my writing career. I moved (only three hours from home) to pursue it. Instead, the proverbial rug was pulled out from underneath me, and I parted ways with the blog. I’m glad I did.

I spent too much time worrying about how to please other people. It exhausted me. The people around me sucked energy out of me but never replenished it. It was a toxic environment. And I had convinced myself it wasn’t.

At first, I felt like a failure for picking up and moving back home. I realized, though, that the plans you make for yourself aren’t always the plans the Big Guy has for you. And while I have a tough time looking to Him for guidance, I believe everything happens for a reason. 
I’m still not working in the field I want to be. On my low days, I dwell on it. I wonder if my path in life is through writing. I wonder if I should give up and pursue other ventures. And when I’m feeling that low, I get little reminders to keep fighting.

Life’s tests, though, strengthened me.
I’m more confident in myself, more aware of my worth. I’ve met incredible people, who uplift me. (And my oldest friends continue to do so.) My family remains to be my biggest source of support. 

2016, you brought some really tough truths to the surface for me. You tested my will. You pushed me further than I thought I could handle sometimes. I’m not sad to see the year come to an end. …Because with each new year comes a restart, a refresh. What has the prospect of 2017 brought us? Hope. 

One year

Personal

By Heather Nelson

The yellow of the sun illuminated my room, awakening me from a restless slumber. The sunlight was a sign of a new day — a day removed from the comfort of my fuzzy blankets and my dogs, who would definitely come to snuggle with me. I looked at the clock on my iPhone: 9:15. Only two hours later than I meant to get up. I pulled my Red Sox blanket back over my head.

I wasn’t ready to get up. In fact, I didn’t know when I’d be ready. For the past three weeks, I rarely moved from bed. I didn’t have a fever. Or a sore throat. Or two broken limbs. I just didn’t have the will to move.

Each day became another obstacle. My body begged me to rest, but my mind raced 1,000 miles ahead. The overwhelming stress of adulthood hit — hard. I’d become nocturnal because of the sedentary life I’d created. But I couldn’t muster the energy to remove the blankets from my weak body.

I’d been neglecting my job during this time. I needed to fund-raise my entire salary by the second week in August. That time had come. I’d only raised $200 per month of support. The magic number? $3,200 per month. My head spun. I’d exhausted most, if not all, of my resources — my contact list — and still nothing came close. My next option? Quit.

Except that’s not something that I do well. I don’t like quitting. I’d never quit a job before. And this job wasn’t ordinary; we were supposed to decipher if it was God’s will for us to take this job… Almost all of my mentors said once you discern, God doesn’t choose a different path for you. (Plus, I believed I’d get to where I needed to be, if it was his plan. I never once considered quitting because I couldn’t raise the money.)

But God vanished from my life. I slipped into a place where I questioned — and still question — his existence. I was overwhelmed with extreme sadness, anxiety, insomnia and an overall loss of interest in life.

My phone rang for days, but I screened calls from higher-ups, unsure of what news to relay to them. I was supposed to be making progress, and I knew how the conversation would go:

“How many calls did you make today?” A made-up number. “How many appointments did you have today?” A made-up number. “How many people did you add to your list?” A made-up number.

I hated to lie, but I didn’t want to disappoint, and I figured that soon I’d have the strength to move again. This time, I spoke up.

“Evan, I’m not well.” I paused. I could feel tears welling; my throat closed. “I think about killing myself daily.”

IMG_0377

It’s weird, but a year ago, I was at Lake of the Ozarks with friends — but so miserable inside — that I didn’t fully enjoy myself. This year, I returned with family. I’m reminded how truly loved, lucky and thankful I am.

That was a year ago. Since then, I’ve been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I’ve started therapy and prescription treatment. I quit my job as a campus missionary, and I started working at a daycare. I put my passions (writing & sports) to work with a few different blogs. Most of all, I’ve found stability.

What I’ve learned in the past year goes far beyond anything I learned in school. I learned that I hate big change, — when I’m not prepared for it — but I know how to manage that, now.  I learned that life after college isn’t all that it seems. You live far away from your friends and have to make new ones. You don’t get your dream job right away.

Most of all, I learned that it’s OK to ask for help. You can be self-sufficient but still need assistance sometimes. You can choose to bottle up your problems or deal with them accordingly.

I spent years overwhelmed by anxiety and in between waves of depression. Because of the stigma, I was too afraid to ask for help. I thought that going to talk to a therapist meant I needed a laundry list of problems — crazy being at the top of that list. This is far from true. In fact, I’ve learned so much about how our minds work and how emotions are evoked since I started therapy.

The tools that my therapist gave me work far better than guzzling pain pills or avoiding the problem all together, which I did quite often. Instead, in the past year, I’ve gained confidence to take control of my life. I can ask for help when I need it. I light a candle and read or go outside to exercise when I’m stressed. I make lists. I created a vision board. I read self-help books. I write.

I’m not cured, and I won’t be, but that doesn’t mean I can’t live happily. Depression comes in ebbs and flows. But that’s life. I choose to be happy, and I’m thankful for the support system I have. Because without their help I might still be in bed with uncombed hair wearing yesterday’s clothes.

Celebrate we will. Because life is short but sweet for certain. — Dave Matthews Band

 

 

 

Bye 2015, hello 2016

Personal

By Heather Nelson

IMG_5315

Celebrating four years of friendship at our favorite place, The Sandbar.

Blogging about the year end makes me feel like a little piece of me has withered away. In a sense it has — I (could be) one year closer to dying.  (Or I could die in five minutes.) Regardless, I’m one of those people who hangs on to bits of the past. If you took a peek at my closet, you’d find my favorite Barbie doll from when I was three, an accordion folder of treasured schoolwork, and old issues of Sports Illustrated I can’t seem to throw away. It’s funny, though, because I don’t look back at 2015 with much endearment.

2015 kicked my ass.

I relate it to this: I fantasized that when I graduated from college, I would have all the answers. I’d have the dream job, the dream life that I’d long imagined as a child. I’m sitting in a coffee shop (writing this) six months later, and I have none of these things. 2015 got me on that one. I didn’t know what 2015 had in store — the possibilities were wide open. That’s the rest of adulthood.

IMG_7139

Pledge class 2011 in initiation order for the pub crawl.

Life threw me quite a few curve balls. The first: I failed a journalism class, which left me three credits short of receiving my degree from the University of Kansas. The second: I quit my full-time job as a campus missionary to take care of myself, which leads me to…. The third: I was “diagnosed” with depression and general anxiety — I started seeing a therapist (major humility for me). The fourth: I spent two months in unemployment limbo.

Through all of these things, I’ve learned the art of vulnerability and humility. It’s important to share experiences that you’ve learned from so that others don’t feel alone. If 2015 taught me anything, it’s that. I’ve spent hours, days, weeks, thinking, “I must be the only miserable person on the planet.” (Really, what percent of 23-year-olds are working at their dream job?) It’s hard to exit the black hole in your mind.

So, here’s my suggestion for 2016: share life with one another. Worry less about closing yourself off from people who might hurt you. (Be less of a robot.) Pain is part of life. (Trust me, I’ve experienced plenty of this.) Listen to your gut. (*Shia LaBeouf voice* just do it.) If you feel that tug to share an experience, advice, a hug, a hand… Do it. The world needs extraordinary humans to spread love.

It’s too late to say sorry, 2015, but we’re gonna have an adventure of a lifetime, 2016.

IMG_1633

Nelson family Christmas 2015.

 

My voice will be heard

Personal

By Heather Nelson

To all female sports lovers, to my fellow female sports reporters, this is for you:

For so long, I’ve been a part of the problem. I’ve added to the mix of bad blood. I’ve thought that to make it in sports I had to be the only woman, so that I stood out. Or I thought I had to be the only woman who knew everything about sports in her social circle.

It started while I was growing up: I envied boys. It seemed boys had this innate knowledge of sports I didn’t have. I was jealous. In fifth grade I had a male teacher, who used sports in our activities. I picked up baseball; I started playing soccer; I asked my dad a million questions while watching sports with him. By sixth grade, I felt confident enough to talk trash with the Yankees fan in my class. (Thankfully the Red Sox won the World Series that year, because I could’ve looked pretty dumb. I even skipped school to watch the Duck Boat parade on TV.)

I became more confident with my sports knowledge  — my guy friends even started sharing their Sports Illustrated for Kids magazines with me. (I later subscribed to the magazine through my freshman year of high school.) I started collecting trading cards: WBNA players, first — I added baseball players to my mix later. I felt a strong connection toward women in sports; I was inspired by their tenacity. Posters of Sue Bird and Becky Hammon hung in my room. I donned a Diana Taurasi t-shirt occasionally. I wanted to be Mia Hamm. And then I grew up.

I liked boys. Cliché , yes, but by middle school, I’d gone boy crazy. I liked to pick out the most attractive men on the sports teams I liked. I enjoyed watching sports, but the attractive men gave me more incentive. So, I left my female role models behind. I entered the male-dominated world and never looked back.

I also struggled with this odd fact that I liked boys, but boys only saw me as a friend — one of the guys. I spent so much time in between worlds. Who am I today? Sporty Heather or girly Heather? I put on a different hat everyday.  I could never be myself because I was too worried about what others saw in my personality. I was just a weird girl, who knew some stuff about sports. I shouldn’t have had to feel this way.

Women are allowed to have the same sports knowledge that men do. And it doesn’t have to make us more or less girly. Last week, I wanted to jokingly tweet that I was painting my nails and watching baseball. Then I realized that there’s nothing weird about that. It’s normal. I like my nails painted, and I like baseball. Same thing: I was born a girl, and I was also born a sports fan. Neither of those will change.

It doesn’t make me less girly and more of a “bro” because I like sports. My sex/gender shouldn’t determine how much respect I get in the industry. And it shouldn’t determine my qualifications. I’ve often felt “lesser” because of who I am. I shouldn’t feel this way. I should be an equal among my male colleagues. But I’m not.

Only a week ago, a radio host bashed Jessica Mendoza for being a female analyst. Yet, she’s qualified and great at her job. Curt Schilling has even praised her. She’s become the first female voice on Sunday Night baseball and postseason baseball. She’s breaking barriers where sexism threatens to persist. I hope that this trend continues.

Katie Nolan spoke out last week about Greg Hardy’s return to the NFL after being suspended for domestic abuse. His comments about women (among other things) just reaffirm the idea that women are not taken seriously. This needs to change. (I should also note that some male colleagues aren’t helping much either by asking worthless questions. That’s a tangent, though.) And yet, I still saw tweets following Katie’s commentary that tried to pit female journalists against each other. It shouldn’t be this way.

I will not rest until my voice is heard and until women feel comfortable covering sports. I hope that one day when my career is long over — hopefully it’s a successful, enduring one — young girls growing up won’t fear going into sports journalism like I did.

I love writing and will never put down my pen, or rather, close my computer, until all my questions are answered, and all the stories in my head are written. Until that day, I’ll keep fighting, hoping that my voice is heard.

**This post doesn’t even mention the fact that women are completely forgotten, but integral, to fan bases. Just know, that I recognize you. Let’s continue to stand together. Let’s continue to let our voices be heard. Because we do exist.**

Reflecting on 2013

Personal

I spent 2013 re-shaping myself as a writer. I perfected each style of writing. I enrolled in an assortment of classes that tested each skill. I acquired some new skills. I edited. I developed relationships with professors and other students in the journalism school. I worked at an unsuccessful student-led publication. I worked at a successful student-led publication. I earned awards and scholarships for my work in journalism. I interned at a publication. I made mistakes. Still, I find myself with a passion to write.

The most important trial of 2013? Finding what style of writing I enjoy best.

It wasn’t until these past four months that I started to realize the beauty of feature writing. I was forced to write features over the summer. I was forced to write features for classwork. And I had been forced to write features in high school when I was part of the yearbook staff.

So, as my journey begins — and by journey, I mean soul-searching — I reflect on my influences, and tip my hat to 2013. I’m thankful for the countless stories I’ve read this year that may have influenced my writing. I’m thankful for the opportunity to write.

Here’s a recap of my favorite reads from 2013 (with links):

This story about Johnny Manziel shaped my views about him: he’s crazy, but he’s also similar to a large population of the college student body. He’s struggling to balance fame and a quiet life. My professor had Wright Thompson in class at the University of Missouri.

http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/9521439/heisman-winner-johnny-manziel-celebrity-derail-texas-aggies-season-espn-magazine

 

After balling at my computer screen for five to 10 minutes at Billy Baker’s Twitter timeline, I continued on to read his story from a few years ago. It’s a great read, and it makes me want to become a journalist even more.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/2011/12/18/bus-brothers/cih5tdmtC5Wl65rXXpXb2L/story.html?s_campaign=sm_tw

 

One of the long-form stories I read. Fantastic… It is part of the Best American Sports Writing 2013.

http://www.gq.com/news-politics/newsmakers/201210/one-eyed-matador

 

Update: the fact that I can only find three bookmarks on my computer is sad because I read so many great stories this year. Cheers to a more organized 2014.

The playoff Red Sox have returned

Personal

The Red Sox clinched a playoff spot on Sept. 19 after a win against the Orioles.

The playoff berth comes one year after a mediocre performance by the Red Sox in the 2012 season. They finished 69-93 — a complete flip of this year’s record.

What is the difference between the two seasons?

I see two: the managerial change and beards. Lots of beards.

Last September, when the Red Sox management fired Bobby Valentine, I threw a party. For one, I was still bitter that Terry Francona had called it quits on the Red Sox. I couldn’t think of anyone better to lead the team. Then, Bobby V was announced as skip. People tried to convince me that he would lead the team to success. Ahem, 69-93? No.

Although a year isn’t a good indicator of what a manager can do with a team, I will never believe Valentine was a good fit for the Sox clubhouse. Thankfully, the Red Sox hired former pitching coach, John Farrell.

I had a strong feeling that the Red Sox needed Farrell; it’d only be a matter of time before the Sox would start winning again. Most importantly, the Red Sox needed a serious attitude adjustment.

The 2013 Red Sox possess the child-like essence that was missing the past few years. Francona’s final (and controversial) season lacked the quirky-ness the team had in years before. The Valentine-era reeked of tension and distrust. He called out his own players, which created problems.

Along with Farrell, the Red Sox added players to their roster who fit the clubhouse mould. Ben Cherington (thankfully) did a good job of adding veteran guys to the roster. Enter Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster.

The Idiot-esque beards returned. And thankfully, so did the wins. The Red Sox had the best record through the first month of baseball. This success continued for most of the season. I turned on a Red Sox game expecting a win.

Now, they’ve entered the playoffs. The next thing on their checklist? Winning the American League East.

The Red Sox beards set the team apart from any other in the league. The personalities of the players in the clubhouse make them fun to watch. (Photo from Jim Davis of Boston Globe).

The Red Sox beards set the team apart from any other in the league. The personalities of the players in the clubhouse make them fun to watch. (Photo from Jim Davis of Boston Globe).

After a spirit night like “Dollar Beard Night,” I think it’s apparent the Red Sox separated themselves from the pack.

Think about 2004. A team of oddballs. Who would’ve thought they’d kill the curse. This year, I’m hoping for no different.

Who cares if George Steinbrenner wouldn’t approve?

Go beard or go home.

Journalism a field of learning and growth

Personal
A typical day in the life of a journalist intern. My pen   and notebook go with me everywhere — you never know where a story idea might be.

A typical day in the life of a journalist intern. My pen and notebook go with me everywhere — you never know where a story idea might be.

By Heather Nelson

I pulled the MoJo mobile up the gravel driveway, not knowing exactly what I was getting into. The little blue house that was situated off a busy street seemed out of place. I walked up the short path to the front door, and was greeted by a kind old man, who looked to be in his 80s.

At the sight of my smiling face, and journalist’s notebook, he smiled, “When you said your name was Heather on the phone, I thought you were my ex-daughter-in-law,” the Ed Annon said.

He waved his hand in the direction of the air-conditioning, something I was thankful for after standing in the 100-degree heat. We slowly walked inside where there were several recliners. His wife, about the same age as him, was in the kitchen preparing lunch.

I took seat in one of the recliners and proceeded to interview the Vietnam veteran about his stolen handcrafted eagle statue. The man was heartbroken and baffled by the theft. Who would do such a thing?

“I don’t know if it was pranksters or people who don’t believe in stuff like this,” Ed said of his eagle statue.

Three weeks later I returned to the Annon’s home. I received an email notifying me a couple found the eagle statue and wished to return it.

Ed welcomed me back into his home. In fact, I think he was happy to see me. He thanked for me helping to return his statue. I am humbled by his appreciation.

****

I’ve learned that my writing has had an effect on people; people can relate to it. But, what I didn’t realize was how much my subjects would teach me or affect me.

Some stories make your heart ache. Some give you hope. Some teach you a lesson. And some give you the privilege of reuniting an 83-year-old veteran with his beloved eagle statue.

I thought all I would do this summer was improve my writing, work on a faster deadline, and challenge myself with a new location. None of these are bad resolutions but I never imagined how much more I still had to learn. I apply everything from the classroom to my assignments.

I’ve misspelled names — thankfully I caught the errors before print. I’ve used cliche. I’ve “held” an event, which I am told is not actually possible.

“You hold babies, not events,” my boss always says.

I’m still learning, but the great thing about this internship is that I’m growing and gaining experience at the same time. And I confirmed that this is what I want to do with my life.

****

I snapped a quick photo of Ed and his statue, thanked him again for his time, and wished him better luck keeping his statue safe.

“Thank you very much, Heather,” Ed said as he leaned in for a hug.

Turns out the hardened veteran was a sweetheart after all. I sure do love my job.