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Fame{ish}.

It’s been awhile, no?

I always said I never wanted to be “that” blogger — you know, the one who disappears, or just has random posts every few months. When I like a blog, it becomes part of my routine. And every single time the page loads to the same post from two weeks ago, I get disappointed. And sometimes, truthfully, irrationally angry.

C’mon, just write a new post already! It cannot be that difficult!

And now, on this side of it, it’s not difficult. It’s not for me, at least. But it’s strange.

This blog was built for me to chronicle this new adventure, and I love that. And now, I’ve been living it…really in the thick of this new life, and I’ve had a hard time thinking of something profound to share.

And this weekend, I found it.

This weekend Tom and I traveled to the first of many weightlifting meets. I guess technically it wasn’t his first meet, but it was his first meet since the move, and his first meet where he felt really confident in what he was lifting. To put it as humbly as I can, he’s becoming a big deal.

We arrived at this meet in a scene reminiscent of a movie. The door slammed behind us, and everyone’s eyes turned to look at us. {Well, more than likely, him.} As he lifted on the platform, I sat in the front row, phone in hand as I captured video for him. I heard murmurs behind me, and as I turned, I saw at least a dozen hands outstretched, equipped with phones or cameras, grabbing photos and videos of Tom. After a successful lift, the woman next to me turns and says, “He’ll be going to the Olympics.”

After the meet was over, I turned to walk toward him and spotted him against the back wall, medal around his neck and trophy in hand. There was a line forming around him, people posing for pictures and telling him how much they enjoyed watching him and his team train.

Over the past few months, we’ve both worked diligently to create an online presence for Tom…a website that showcases his talents as an athlete, and another that demonstrates the knowledge he has of the body, training, and honing athletic skills. If you build it, they will come…right?

And on Saturday, they did. And since that day, after being crowned North Carolina State Weightlifting Champion, computers, emails and phones have not stopped beeping. Not one to sugarcoat, I’ll say with blunt brutality that Tom’s performance wasn’t great {for Tom}. He didn’t do the best he has before, and he didn’t get the numbers he wanted {though he got the numbers he needed for some competition red tape.} But people are putting a name to a face, a performance to a faceless training log.

And it’s really, really exciting to watch. It’s a very, very tiny taste of what’s to come, that’s definite. But nonetheless, it’s humbling and gratifying to see that this leap of faith we took has manifested into something, even if it’s something small.

Bigger things on the horizon…always.

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Dear Thomas,

Much like today, that day was hot. Not just a wow, what a summer day kind of hot, but an oppressive, Chicago August day kind of hot. But I donned 5 lbs of ivory silk taffeta and you wore a black wool suit, and we survived the 100+ degree temperature. The sense of calm that enveloped my normally erratic mind was so welcome. Months of planning…and not just in a logistical sense, but in a much bigger life sense, culminated that sunny morning. And as I rounded the corner, arms linked with the two people who had given me life and taught me the values that you and I share at our very cores, I knew there was nowhere else I should have been. At that moment, I knew this thing we had fought for…this thing we had defended and sacrificed for…this thing that people thought we were crazy for keeping going…it was right. It has always been right.

One of my favorite movies…you know, the one you claim you hate watching but usually sit next to me for and alternate laughing at the dumb jokes and rolling your eyes at…that one? There’s a line in there that I love: “I’d rather fight with you than make love to anyone else.”

Is that cheesy? You bet.

But honestly…isn’t love?

But that line just strikes home for me. I’d rather live apart from you for 6 months than be with anyone else. I’d rather move thousands of miles away with you than be “home” with another.

This year has been, in spite of all the blessings, pure hell. You know what I’m talking about…the crap that doesn’t get blogged about, the petty stuff that nags at you and snowballs until it splits you open with a resentment you didn’t know existed, the little stuff that becomes the big stuff, the big stuff that is just big and major and scary, that makes you question everything you believe to be true. We’ve seen it all this year. And honestly, there were times when it was suffocating. When it felt easier to give in, give up, walk away.

But you pulled me back. Every single time.

The goofy grin you give when I need a laugh pulls me back. The squeeze that you give my hand, thinking you’re being gentle with your gorilla grip, pulls me back. Your loyalty, kind heart, and willingness to always do the right thing pulls me back. Your dogged determination and quiet force pulls me back. The shy intelligence you hide away pulls me back. Your willingness to admit your weaknesses pulls me back.

It’s so funny how everything we wanted last year is everything we don’t want this year. A year ago, we were talking about adoptions and mortgages, full-time teaching jobs and masters degrees, running 5ks and baseball games. And now we talk about ice baths and rent checks, Olympic dreams and Sinclair formulas, crossfit and beach camping.

I firmly believe we were meant to be here, be together, and be building this life together. This crazy, beautiful, messy thing is ours. And I know it’s only going to get crazier, more beautiful, and altogether messier.

You are my very favorite.

The Little Hot Glue Gun That Could.

Gosh, sorry again for the extended absence. I’m really not trying to make it a habit, I swear. Time just seems to escape me, and as hard as I try to bottle it up like fireflies in the summer, I just never catch it. I have the best of intentions, but I find myself buried under a million projects.

As CMS in our house {Chief Martha Stewart}, I’ve been busying myself with unpacking, cleaning, organizing, shopping, decorating, cooking, crafting, crying, whining, and more cleaning. {No insider trading, though. Ba-dum-ching!} As the CCO {Chief Creative Officer} of Tom Sroka Inc., I’ve also found myself pulling apart and redesigning his website, ensuring he gets in 8,000 calories a day {no typo, I promise}, and offering feedback for the next portion of the adventure. I also have this pesky thing called a full-time job. Yesterday, between work and the website, I was on the computer for over 16 hours. My apologies to my eye doctor.

What I’m trying to say is whether or not I’ve been legitimately busy or just trying to avoid writing this post, the thought of staring at this blank, white screen had me feeling nauseous. In 15 mere days as a Southerner, 5 of which were spent in Chicago, what could I possibly offer up about our new life? I mean, besides the obvious house and crafty-type projects I’ve chosen to busy myself with. {Navy chevron curtains, people. They’re going to change my life.} First off, I can admit that I was wrong. Totally, inherently, mark this day down because it’s never happening again kind of wrong. I really didn’t think I’d like the South. I thought, in all honestly, I was too…I don’t know…urban, yuppy, Gen Y to enjoy life down here. But I do.

I can’t really pinpoint exactly what I love so much. The heat is oppressive, the accents are thick, and the taxes are high. But despite that, I can see myself living here for a long time. {Sorry, Mom.} Life just seems slower, less hectic, and more savored here. I know that’s quite a blanket statement coming from such a green transplant, but everything, from the cashier at the grocery store to the cars behind you on the freeway just seem to not be rushed. For someone as fast-paced and urgent with no cause like me, it’s rather welcome. I feel like I’m on vacation. I’ve had sweet tea, grits with hot sauce every morning, local sweet, fresh peaches, and waffle fries from Chick-Fil-A. I’ve taken a long walk just because almost every day. I’ve sat out on my porch with my morning coffee, and read a book while laying in the hammock. It’s been unbelievable, yet so natural in one giant, messed up bundle. Some days, when I’m going on hour five of work and I’ve had no one to talk to except my dogs, I feel like I’m going to lose my mind. And other days, I feel like I’ve been waiting for this my whole life.

I’m still scared that the bottom is going to fall out, or that in ten years I’ll look back and wish I hadn’t moved. I guess that’s natural when you’ve uprooted yourself from everything and everyone you’ve ever known. But more and more every day, I feel like we were meant to be here. I don’t know where exactly I fall into this picture, or what the great Queen City has in store for me, but something is a-brewing. And until then, you’ll find me on the porch, armed with a can of spray paint, Tom’s power tools, and the determination to make this place pretty until I figure out something better to do.

The Secret Second Chance.

And so it begins…

Tom and his team are currently caravaning across the country, literally driving from coast to coast. From California to Carolina, the five-day, almost 3,000 mile trek has started. In a week, he will be in our apartment, and in another week, so will I.

My Farewell Tour, as I’ve taken to calling it, started on Friday with dinner with my godmother. Saturday was dinner and drinks with my good friends from college, and Sunday was dinner and the theater with my mother. This week, my birthday week, is already packed full of lunch and dinner engagements. My days are filled with a crazy work schedule, attempting to prepare for the move and a job role transition, while my evenings are packed with friends and family, visits to my Gram, cleaning, and re-packing and loading boxes.

All at once, and all too quickly, it seems, the time has come for me to leave. I’ve spent almost six months apart from my husband, living with my parents and without all my worldly goods, and in mere days it’s all over. It’s such a strange sensation. In 11 short days, I will be on this journey {Olympics or Bust!}. Something that has been so abstract for so long is now here, tangible, and…real life.

We are so fortunate and lucky to be part of this movement. To say that my husband is part of the first professional team of Olympic lifters is unbelievable. We’ve never really had an opportunity to say no to any of this. How do you turn down the dream of a lifetime?

Ironically, we’ve done it once before. Correction: My husband turned it down once before. A few years ago, I was battling a health issue that was, and still is, pretty unbelievable to think of. I was slowly losing my vision, and my doctor, one of the best in the country, couldn’t figure out why. My case was written up and presented to the best doctors in our area, then in the nation, and then at a world conference, and no one had any answers. No one could say what is was, when it would stop, or if I’d be able to see when it was all over. And then my husband got a call from a two-time Olympic medalist, offering him an opportunity to train full-time at his gym in Arizona. He said no. He knew he needed to stay by my side, help me fight, and be my eyes when I didn’t have them.

This is why I can’t say no to any of this. California? Sure. Carolina? Let’s do it. Timbuktu? I’m sure I’d say yes. When someone gives up their dream for you, and they get a second chance, you take it. You grab it, you hug it, you hold it tight, and you make it happen.

Slowly, my condition stabilized. I no longer notice what I can’t see, and I have a new normal. But it’s not physical for me any more. However cloudy my daily life may look, my vision has never been more clear: the next 8 years of our life will be chasing down this dream, and along the way, I look forward to laughter, adventures, memories, and new friendships.

Here’s to second chances, starting over, and saying yes.

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Profuse Apologies.

Tap tap tap…is this thing on? Anyone out there?

If you’ve stayed with me this long, I owe you an apology. I’m sorry, readers. I’ve become that blogger. You know, the blogger that up and disappears, and then comes back and says “I have a personal situation going on and I can’t explain it right now.”

Well, I’ve been gone because I’ve had a lot going on, most of which I can’t talk about. Some of it will come out soon, some of it isn’t fit for public consumption, and, well, some of it I can explain now.

So for starters, let me finally confide in you what I can. I referenced it here, and a few other places, but the truth is that my sweet grandmother is dying of cancer. She’s been battling this for quite some time, and in the past two months, it’s become aggressive and she made the choice to go on hospice.

In spite of all that has been awful and emotionally draining about this situation, it has been so heartwarming to see my family come together in such a steadfast way. The tenderness that everyone has exhibited: the thoughtfulness of bringing over her favorite foods or making her her favorite drink, the way her children and grandchildren dote on her and make sure she never has a want for anything, collecting pictures of her to display for her loved ones, the dignity they have provided her in some very, very tough situations, the compassion and just plain wonderfulness of everyone who cares for her…

I hope when my time comes, I can carry myself with her quiet strength. And if or when I need to take care of my parents or my husbands’ parents the way my aunts, uncles and parents have taken care of my grandmother, I hope I have half the grace that they’ve shown.

In a word, it is all so humbling.

With her passing imminent and my move inching closer {21 days, officially!}, grief has been striking me when I least expect it. A professed non-crier, I sobbed in my husbands’ arms on Saturday, and again yesterday morning. I made the all-too-familiar drive home from the airport with an empty passenger seat, and cried for a five-mile stretch. It’s overwhelming to think about this move…something we’ve planned for, hoped for, been excited for…but it’s here all too quickly, and I don’t know if I’m ready.

A new chapter is beginning. Stay tuned, and I’ll explain more later…

Skydiving.

Fearlessness is an emotion, or as some believe, a personality trait, that I admire most in people. It’s something I’ve always longed for, pushed myself to have, yet failed miserably at demonstrating it.

I am what my financial advisor calls risk-averse. I don’t like jumping out of planes, making risky investments, or moving across the country without knowing a soul {ahem.}. Much to the chagrin of my staunchly religious parents, I’ll admit that sometimes I do the right thing because I’m afraid of getting caught, not really because I have a stellar code of morals. {Sorry, Mom.} I am terrified of “stretching the truth” when I do my taxes, frightened at the possibility of getting sued {for anything, guilty or not}, and I nearly threw up when I received a red-light ticket.

I wish there was a switch I could turn on to become more carefree, to ditch the worries and the dread that I’m perpetually saddled with; a class I could take: How to Be More Adventurous Without Wanting to Pee in Your Pants. I’d pay for that class.

At times, the thought of leaving Chicago terrifies me, and without exaggeration, makes me want to vomit. Yet at others, I find myself sending desperate messages to my husband: “Is it May yet?” or “Oh my gosh, I can not wait to get out of this state.” It’s doubtful I’m bi-polar. In reality, I think so much of me really is ready to shed the worrisome, fearful version of myself and become the stereotypical laid back Californian. But breaking a pattern, leaving your worried roots is hard.

I can’t really ever think of a time when I wasn’t overthinking or worrying about something. I can’t really even think of what triggered this in me…I had a relatively quiet childhood where I was well-provided for and deeply loved. It’s exhausting to live this way, though. I find myself combatting every thought and idea with a worst-case scenario, playing out courtroom trials a la Atticus Finch in my head or picturing myself living in a cardboard box near the Golden Gate Bridge. And yet, I identify as an optimist. I’m hopeful for situations, but fear the worst. I long for moments of joy, happiness and wealth, yet plan for sadness, sorrow, and struggles.

This move really is proving to be the perfect microcosm of my life. I want to approach it with fearlessness and bravery, but find myself pulled back by the heavy bands of worry. I want to jump and take the leap of faith that I’ve always desperately wanted to take, yet my feet feel heavy with dread.

What if it doesn’t work out?

What if I am absolutely miserable when I get there?

Is this the stupidest decision of my life?

Some days, I really don’t know the answer to these questions. I doubt my intuition, which has been slowly pushing me to pack my bags and sell my possessions. Today is one of those days. Today I’m finding myself calculating the risk, sliding the beads to the other side of the abacus, hoping that I can find some logical reason to call the whole thing off. I won’t, of course. Deep in my soul resides the knowledge that this is where I’m meant to be, that this path has been set for me and I need to conquer it, enjoying and exploring every square inch.

But still, there are days like today when I stumble upon a list of goals, filled with big dreams and deadlines, that I know I’ll never hit. And it scares me. I couldn’t bear to delete it, to erase that former hopeful list from my life. I’m abandoning those goals, those sweet nuggets of hope that I clung to not even six months ago. But scared or not, I forge onward, pushing myself out of my comfort zone and hoping that one of these days I will find myself leaping before looking, jumping from the proverbial plane with my arms outstretched and a smile on my face.

Horseshoes.

Aren’t you lucky?

My, what good luck you’re having.

Boy, you are so lucky!

I love cataloguing the reactions I’m receiving from so many when I share our latest endeavor. So many exclaim, “My, aren’t you two lucky?”

To a certain extent, absolutely, we are. I firmly believe that an elaborate, delicate sequence of events had to occur in order for us to be where we are now. It’s exhausting to trace back the catalyst for this chain reaction, but here’s an over-simplified journey.

My husband experienced a very, very nasty injury at track practice in college, requiring an ambulance, emergency surgery, and months of extensive rehab. As a part of rehab, his athletic trainer and good friend suggested he join a fringe sport, Highland Games {the big guys in the skirts kilts who throw telephone poles cabers}. He did, and he fell in love with the community, the sport, the potential. There, he met an athlete who had just returned from competing as a professional weightlifter {sound familiar yet?} who was opening a personal training studio in the city where my husband already worked, and was looking for more trainers. A few months later her coach called, seeking leads on any young men who had a throwing background, the ability to personal train, and most importantly, the physical and mental attributes of a professional weightlifter. Did she know anyone who fit that description? You bet she did.

Sure, this opportunity could have found him a different way, but who knows? Without the injury, would he have focused on improving his overall strength and not relying on his {broken} legs? Maybe. Would he have honed and sharpened his mental edge, enabling him to compete successfully on a national level? Possibly.

I remember the morning of the accident as if it was yesterday. Senior year, and I was surprisingly awake and in attendance at an 8 am class. Two missed phone calls from his mother? Something’s wrong. I knew it without even listening to the voicemail. My stomach plummeted to my feet and I could feel my breakfast churning. I don’t remember a single inch of that 200 mile drive, but god bless my friend for having the instincts to go with me. I’m still in disbelief I wasn’t pulled over anywhere along I-88, my car edging close to 90 miles per hour when I remembered that boy lying underneath a scalpel. I arrived just as he was wheeled back from surgery, a total success, the doctor had remarked. I remember holding his gym shoe, bloody and sliced open from the paramedic’s scissors, sitting right in front of his bed for us all to gawk at. In the twilight of anesthesia, he was more upset about his shoe than he was at almost losing a body part.

We laid in that hospital bed and cried, my salty tears falling onto his hospital gown, his falling into my hair. We cried for what was lost, for the terror we felt that morning, for the fear of the unknown. What would the future bring? Would he ever run again, or was the doctor wrong? Would he ever get those All-Americans he had worked so hard for? Did he really have to say farewell to football, his first athletic love?

Who knew that one day that ambulance ride would bring him to the edge of the Olympics? That an eight-inch scar would introduce him to those five gloriously interlocked rings?

Lucky, indeed.

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Laboring.

When I set out to write, whether it’s here on this blog, in the novels I’ve written {but not finished, so no, you can’t read them. Yet.}, or at my fancy-dancy corporate copywriting job, it’s very rare that I know what I’m going to write. It’s always amazed me how differently my brain functions when talking versus writing; even thinking versus typing. Some people have commented on my “gift” or “talent,” and it’s funny, because I’ve never quite thought of myself as a gifted or talented writer.

Instead, I’ve found solace in putting words to a page, extracting my thoughts and placing them where I can see them, rearrange them, decode their hidden meanings. To me, writing isn’t a hobby or a job, it’s just something that makes sense. Writing sends me back to the days when I could play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata with my eyes shut, my fingers gliding over the ivory and black keys, the music surging through my hands, my wrists, up my arms, and into my chest. The notes would flow through me and back out, pulling my body and soul with it, my shoulders and head swaying and slumping as crescendos rose and fell.

Words fall from my fingertips, dripping with honeyed profundity, a collection of thoughts I could never eloquently express with my voice. While my brain tries to think of the next sentence, my index finger instinctively reaches for a key, the others following in suit. Another sentence born, birthed with love and instinct. I imagine that this is what a session with a therapist feels like: emotions and words tumbling with reckless abandon, a stream of conscious monologue where neither the patient nor the expert knows the destination. Hazy recollections and blurry snapshots come into focus, seemingly unrelated to the acute pain attempting to be assuaged. Slowly the visuals and stories begin to line up, strung together with a common thread, adorned with crystal realizations and metallic insight. And even though a catharsis has been reached, dusty emotions have been stirred and refuse to settle. More thoughts, more memories, more words that need to be delivered.

For me, writing begets writing. The black and white of my words is addictive, the high prolonged and relived as I reread every sentence. I close the computer, more words flash in my brain. I turn the lights off, another spark ignites, illuminating another truth that needs to be written. Nagging thoughts win the war against physical exhaustion, often compelling me to pull the computer back into my lap and give into the urge, the craving to let my fingers fly across the flat keys.

Thank you for indulging these cravings; for embracing my words, my thoughts, and the wild adventure I’m beginning. I am beyond flattered by everyone’s encouragement and compliments, and hope that my fingertips continue to lead me towards observations that resonate throughout us all.

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Sometime.

The connections we make in life are amazing.

Some people come into your life briefly, while others remain a steadfast presence. And when we lose one of these connections, we feel as if we’ve been punched in the gut.

When one of these people, who without knowing it helped to shape your life, even in the most minor of ways, disappears permanently, shock is met with pain, an ache that is sharp and dull, existent but invisible, raw and unrefined. The memories, distant and slowly fading, start to reappear one by one. Her laugh in the hallway outside of Mrs. Cunningham’s chemistry room. The glittery eyeshadow that she wore for performances, that just never seemed to disappear completely from her eyelids. The speed in which she zoomed through the high school hallways, even when we weren’t in a rush for class. Celebrating my 16th birthday after finishing our last final sophomore year, complete with cake in the chem lab.

“Wow, I didn’t know you lived so close. Let’s meet for coffee.”

“Congratulations on getting married! When you’re free, we should get together.”

“How do you like the local dog park? Maybe we should bring the pups and meet up sometime.”

And now sometime is gone, buried in the past among our pictures in the yearbooks and the lab reports we could never quite keep clean.

Rest in peace, Kristyn. I hope you knew how many people would miss you. My thoughts and prayers are with your husband, your family, and your friends.

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Body Armor.

Fear is such a funny emotion. It can ebb and flow, it can surge suddenly, or it can build slowly, creeping up on you like ivy, quietly choking you off before you realize what is happening. Fear can motivate or paralyze, it can spur anger or kindness, it can masquerade as happiness, love, worry or denial.

Whether it’s provoked from the jarring 2 am phone call or sudden heavy footsteps behind you in the dark, fear cloaks you, physiologically manifesting in your veins before your brain can begin to process and decode the danger.

Last night, fear found me. I don’t like to poke at these demons, because I know that despite valiant efforts, I can’t outrun the worry that befriends danger. I was doing a pretty good job camouflaging myself, wrapped up in a quilt, insulated and protected from the chill in the air. Then the words found me…”I blacked out during practice, holding 400 lbs.” His good nature and decidedly positive outlook helped me battle the fear for twelve hours, offering me respite in the sweet shelter of denial.

And then I saw the video.

And I watched it again. And again. And again.

After staring for the fifth time as 400 lbs pressed up against his windpipe, my throat hurt. As he fell backwards onto his elbows, mine burned. My stomach absorbed those 400 lbs, feeling heavy with worry and fear.

“It’s not a big deal. It happens occasionally.”

The knowledgable and respected veterans agreed, enjoying the video like they would any good episode of Jackass. But the wife? The wife worried. Yes, the wife is green and raw, new to the experience and disrespectful of the process. But the wife is also powerless and ripe for a revolution, ready to declare Martial Law. {Martial/Marital – not a coincidence!}

“If it happens again, you’re going to the doctor.”

I watched it again. I watched his body sway, the five feet, eleven and three-quarters inches looking like a twenty story skyscraper. His head tilts back, his eyes, I imagine, are rolling the same direction. The loss of grip comes next and the bar slides down his massive arms. Arms that could deadlift 700 lbs now look like limp noodles as they fall to his side. One last awkward, unconscious attempt to brace for impact is made by his elbows before the camera cuts.

“I told you, it’s not a big deal. My coach says…”

I replay it again. Quick, powerful…cheers from the crowd encouraging his feat of strength. And then I’m taken by surprise again when he starts to sway. I watch it intently, mesmerized as the iron giant’s tight form slackens and falls. The onlookers’ shouts turn to bellows as they rush towards him, the image going black again.

“I don’t care if God himself told you it was fine. One more time and I will fly to California and personally escort you to the hospital.”

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Probably.

Has it happened to others in the sport before, and will it happen again? I’m sure of it.

But there is something so terrifying about watching the video that it makes me want to hop on a plane, grab his sweaty, chalky hand and bring him home with me. No, you can’t play with that toy anymore, it’s dangerous.

I am not his mother, I am not his god, I am not him. I cannot tell him what to do any more than I can tell him what to wear, who to be friends with, or how to drive {though I do try on that last one!}. Tucked away in the wrinkles of my brain is the recognition that he knows it IS a big deal, and he would probably be at the doctor without my goading if a repeat episode happens. But I need to feel the power behind delivering a rule. I need the safety net of his promise, the assurance that his common sense wasn’t knocked out when his head hit the wall.

I need the nightlight to protect me from the dark of fear, from the boogeyman who steals Olympic dreams and ends careers too soon.

I need to be able to add another tool to my kit, because fear will return. And it might even bring more friends. And maybe I won’t be completely prepared, but I’ll battle it anyway. Maybe I’ll use the shield of nagging again, or whip out the sword of ultimatums. It’s an ongoing battle against fear, and while I might be temporarily wounded, there’s a lot of fight left in me.

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