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Although with the weather we’ve had recently, it hasn’t seemed like it, but I think it’s safe to say spring has officially arrived. As far as seasons go, this has always been one of my favorites; I seem to enjoy it more every year (especially now, after the ridiculous winter we’ve had!). As much as I appreciate how beautiful the world is when blanketed in snow, those subzero temperatures were enough to make someone seriously consider moving to a warmer climate. But Minnesota is home; I do want to explore more of the world, but no matter where I go, I know I’ll be back.

This winter has been going on for, what…a year now? Two? That’s what it has felt like, and it’s had this girl impatiently waiting for brighter skies, warmer temperatures, and absolutely no more snow. So as the temperature slowly rises and the world is released from winter’s grasp, I can’t help but feel optimistic, motivated, and restless to start doing more with my life.

Honestly, I’ve been pretty disappointed in myself lately and my lack of progress with all the things I want to do – school, moving out (again), etc. But in perspective, it’s incredible how far I’ve come since this time last year. Despite not being exactly where I thought I would at this age, I’m so much better than I have been.

I have been dealt some pretty tough hands in life; if you’ve read any of my former columns, you know about some of them. From  2010 to 2013, I’ve had to attend the funeral of someone I love: Grandma Millie, 8/22/10; Grandpa Rodney, 7/22/11; Billy Rosas, 6/23/12; and Alex Reeves, 10/25/13. My grandma passed away the day before my 17th birthday; it was a few weeks before my junior year, which was by far the worst year I ever had academically – I went from straight-As and a 4.0 high school GPA to rapidly declining grades and missing an obscene amount of school, and essentially throwing away years of hard work; I regret it and probably always will.

My senior year was no better. Since elementary school, my goal was to be valedictorian of my class, and for a long time it seemed attainable. Until those last two years. The fire that kept me motivated to succeed for so long was gone, and I didn’t know how to get it back. I felt hopeless, insufficient, like I had failed everyone who had come to expect so much more from me. I felt like I already ruined any plans for my future, and I couldn’t see a reason to try any more, so I stopped caring.

Less than a month after graduation, I lost Billy. As much as I loved and missed my grandma, this was one of my best friends and favorite people in the world, and the pain felt unbearable. I couldn’t understand how God could take away such a young, amazing person that I (and many others) loved so much — all I wanted in the world was not to have to feel my heart break whenever I realized I could never see him again. It felt like too much for one person to handle; if I could describe what being broken feels like, that was it.

After that, I spent a long time detached from the world, indulging in self-destructive behaviors, doing whatever I could to run from the world that seemed so cruel and unfair. I didn’t know how to deal with any of it, so I tried to avoid it as long as I possibly could.

Last spring was my turning point; I won’t go into detail, but I will say this: I found out in a very harsh way that you can try and run from your problems, or emotions, or any unpleasant thing in life, but they all catch up to you eventually. We don’t get to control everything in life, but we do have the ability to choose how we deal with things that happen to us; it’s such a simple concept, yet so easily forgotten. After far too long I saw very clearly that I was not coping properly, and it was ruining my life. I didn’t recognize the person I had become; I hated that person, and I finally realized that it wasn’t the world that was making me miserable, it was me, the choices I made. After years of trying to do everything on my own, I finally reached out for help and made some serious, overdue, and necessary changes. And when I lost Alex last October, it didn’t send me into another toxic cycle. I’ve gotten much better at dealing with pain instead of avoiding it and letting it build up. I try to remember that now I’ve got another guardian angel watching over me, and we’ll meet again someday.

Since last year, I’ve worked and learned to become myself again, and I’m starting to realize how strong I really am and what those experiences provided me: proof that I am capable of handling whatever life decides to throw at me.

I wish I could talk to the naïve 16-19-year-old I used to be, with the constant “poor me” attitude and tell her, “Yeah, life sucks. Some people’s lives more than others. But that doesn’t mean that you get to give up and stop trying. You suck it up and keep going, because the world isn’t going to stop just because you’re going through a rough time. It will pass, because it always does, and you’ll become such a stronger person. Stop wasting your time being miserable and use the blows life’s thrown at you as fuel. Go at life with everything you have, because even though it has and often will knock you down, you need to stop letting it keep you down. This is not forever unless you make it that way.”

So instead of feeling bad for myself, and focusing on what I don’t have, I feel gratitude for all that I do have, and I don’t take people or moments for granted; you literally never know when you might lose someone, and trust me, you don’t want to feel the regret of those unspoken words that turn into words you’ll never be able to say.

No matter what I’ve been through, there will always be someone who’s had it worse. And even though the bad times can seem never-ending and unbearable, they pass. Like the world comes back to life after the dead of winter — brown grass changes to bright green, trees bud and grow leaves, flowers bloom, lakes melt, the air is once again filled with birds’ songs and everything is alive with activity – I finally feel like I’ve come back from the slump I was in for far too long. I may not be in school at the moment, and I may not have my own place, but I’ve come so far from where I was a year ago. I can’t wait to chase my dreams, to learn and experience all that life has to offer. I want to make a difference in the world, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to accomplish that.

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