A few weeks ago, I decided it was time to start gathering my favorite photos from the past 12 months to build my annual “Best of the Year” Facebook album. OK, so I’ve only done this “tradition” once, in 2016, but my intention was the same: When I was sick and sad for the last few months of 2016, I wanted to reflect on the good times I’d had before Crohn’s took over, and it worked.
And so, one very sick year later, I set out with the same goal — only this time, it didn’t work.
This time around, I flipped through months of photos, only to stop scrolling and somehow feel worse. It seemed all I had to show for 2017 was a lot of [admittedly adorable] puppy photos, and a few [admittedly too many] victorious jumping shots from the few runs I was able to go on throughout this seemingly endless Crohn’s flare. Even four of my “Best 9” photos on Instagram were #TBTs from years gone by: my first New York City Marathon, getting engaged, getting married, getting Ellie.
I was discouraged enough at my lack of happy memories to carpe the diem and book what turned out to be a life-changing solo trip to California.
I needed that trip. That experience (booking it, taking it, enjoying every single second of it) ultimately defined my year in a way that feels both complicated and over-simplifiable. That trip reaffirmed things I always knew about myself, and taught me things I needed to see, embrace, and accept. It was, in the super simplest terms, the ultimate game-changer.
Yesterday, fresh off my journey down the California coast and a trip to New Hampshire to celebrate the holidays with my family, I pulled up the “Best of 2017” folder on my computer. I flipped through nearly 200 photos, and this time, instead of feeling angry, disappointed, or sad, I was beaming. This time, I saw all the good. I saw all the victories. I saw the sunrises I did make it out of bed for, the kisses Ellie gave me no matter how my stomach felt, and the six finish lines I ran through.
I saw the happiest highlights from what was a hard year being married to a kickass entrepreneur, and I saw the many times I was healthy and able to run with friends in Central Park.
I saw the launch of the Ali on the Run Show, and the 53 awesome episodes that followed.
I saw the trip to Utah with my best friend, the trip to Las Vegas to see Celine Dion, and the trip to Texas for my cousin’s wedding, where my 94-year-old grandmother beamed with happiness from having seen all six of her grandchildren on their wedding days.
I spent most of 2017 thinking this year was total garbage. I was so sick for so long, and I spent more hours in the bathroom than I did on the run.
But now, having come out on the other side — at least for now and however long it lasts — I see so much to be grateful for. I feel happier, healthier, and stronger, and I am filled with gratitude not just for the people (and internet people!) in my life, but also for myself. For finding my own strength when it felt nonexistent, for taking care of myself, and for finally — finally — putting my wants first, if only for seven days behind the beautiful wheel of a fast car.
This year helped me realize how I want to define success — and how it’s OK that my definition now is very different from the way it was ingrained in me from a young age, intentionally or not. It helped me realize that it’s OK to sometimes just feel my feelings and not criticize myself for feeling the way I feel (whether, in the moment, my feelings are totally rational or not).
At one point during my California trip, I had this moment of clarity (on top of a mountain, of course) where I realized I was doing exactly what made me happy — not what I thought would make me happy or what I hoped, wanted, or expected to make me happy. I felt so fulfilled, so content. I love waking up really early, being super active, and going to bed at 8 PM. I don’t really like naps. I also realized I hardly ever actually live that way. I realized that I get to define myself and who I want to be, and that no one else gets to have that power.
I’ll never be “the cool girl.” I’ll probably never like drinking beer, doing shots, watching sports on TV (I like going to games, though, because I like stadium snacks!), or wearing much makeup. I will always choose Pinot Grigio or champagne over tequila or whisky. I prefer staying in over going out, and the last time I did go out with girlfriends, I literally Googled, “How to dress cool + 32 years old.” (The results were not particularly helpful.) I can follow all the fashion influencers in the world (though I don’t) and I’ll still never quite know how best to dress “to flatter my body type.” I’m never going to be effortlessly sexy and I’ll never know how to pose for a casual photo without jumping or doing jazz hands — both of which come very naturally to me, clearly.
When I was in 10th grade, I fell in love for the first time. (Aw! First loves!) A few months later, that guy broke up with me because I was “too silly.” And while I’ve long long long since moved on from that first young love, I’ve never quite forgotten those words. Too silly.
But now, at a much more OK-with-myself point in my life, I hope I never stop being silly, especially as life seems to get more serious. I hope I never stop having fun and giggling, especially not in the hopes of impressing someone or trying to be someone’s definition of a cool girl. I will never stop expressing my feelings, and I have so many feelings. For all the ways I’m not high-maintenance — I pretty much live in sweatpants, I don’t get manicures, and I still don’t know what BB creams and CC creams are or if I should be using them — I am intense in that I seem to feel, and want to express, every emotion that exists.
I will always skew more Claire Dunphy than Gloria Pritchett, more Miranda with a bit of Carrie than any part Samantha or Charlotte (except that Charlotte had dogs!), more Miley Stuart than Hannah Montana. (In college, I was so “I’m a Carrie! I’m a writer and we are the same!” But please. These women can all be pretty terrible, but once I turned 30, I absolutely accepted my Miranda status.)
I may get sick again tomorrow. I may get sick for a month, and I may get sick for another year. The reality of having a disease like Crohn’s — a chronic one without a cure — is that I probably will get sick again. I don’t know when and I don’t know for how long, which can be really scary. The tough times crush me, but I always bounce back. Some comebacks are quick and others take a while, but I always end up back on my feet thanks to my own sheer will and determination.
For all those tough times 2017 dealt me, I’m ending the year on such a high. This year taught me how to authentically be myself, on my best, highest jumping days and on my lowest, can’t-get-out-of-the-bathroom days. I have never necessarily lacked confidence or been particularly insecure, but I’ve also never really said, “This is who I am, and it’s who I want to be.” So here we are.
And here’s to 2018. May it be bright, shiny, big, scary, happy, healthy, exciting, adventurous, and completely unapologetic.
THANK YOU, AS ALWAYS, FOR BEING A PART OF MY LIFE. Thank you for reading this blog, listening to the Ali on the Run Show, sharing, supporting, and following along. I feel lucky and loved every day of my life, so THANK YOU.