Book review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

This is a NON-SPOILER review of Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

I was very hesitant to pick up this book, but a few trusted reviewers enjoyed it and I found it at a library book sale so I figured I would keep it on my shelf and maybe someday read it.  Then someone told me they read it at the start of last year and it was their favorite book of the whole year, so I figured I’d give it a try.

I cannot express how happy I am that I did so.  I laughed, I (ugly) cried.  I feel in love with the characters and felt their highs and lows along with them.  Jojo Moyes has such a beautiful writing style that the book flew by for me, and I found myself not reading at times because I wasn’t ready to let go of the story.  So many times a book falls flat because I just can’t get into the world, but with Me Before You I felt like I was there, everything – from people to scenery to feelings – was so beautifully described that it felt real.

If you are looking for a typical love story – this isn’t it.  In fact, I hesitate to call this a love story for reasons that once you read it, I think you will plainly see as well.  What this is, however, is a beautiful story of two people thrown into situations they never would have imagined themselves in, and within those situations they learn more about themselves and the world around them than they ever thought possible.  Even the supporting characters were believable (even if not always likable).

This book resonated with me, in a way not many books have as of late and for that I am so very thankful.  This is my third book of 2016 and I have a feeling I have found one of my top five of the year.

This review, as well as star rating and other bookish info about me can be found over at Goodreads.

2016 Reading Goals

Alright, if you read my last post this title may seem counter productive since I mentioned that I was not planning on having a set number of books to read in 2016.  The reasons for this are many.

Namely, grad school has taken up quite a bit of my free time, and when I had a number goal -especially early on last year, I felt like I *had* to read in order to try to achieve my goal.  Sometimes, I just wanna binge watch Netflix a few days on end in my free time and NOT read. I shouldn’t feel guilty about that, but yet I was feeling like every free second should be spent with my nose in a book.  I think that’s why I was feeling so slumpy all year.

So, if I am not setting a number goal what’s the point of this post?  Well, there are other goals reading and book wise that I can achieve, or at least try to.  These are things that have no bearing on how many books or pages I read.  If I don’t hit them, then I don’t… but it’s just an idea of what I would like to do with my reading time this year.

The first thing is my book buying habits.  Two years ago I was buying everything I could get my hands on.  I had lists of popular, mostly YA, books and series I needed.  Most of those have since been passed on or sold off.  I need to stick with what I am feeling at the time.  This past year I did better, with the exception of one library bag sale that led me to buy nearly 100 books (well between my husband and I).  I still love buying books and I still strive to have an amazing personal library.  With that said, it needs to be made up of what I (and my husband) enjoy and not just what’s popular.  I want to continue to buy physical books (duh) – but I want to do so by visiting charity shops, small local stores, and library sales more than purchasing from Amazon and other big book sellers.

With that said, what good is a personal library if you never use it?!  I have so many books on my physical TBR shelves that I have intentions to read but I never do for whatever reason.    I need to start going through those books and reading them.  If I enjoy it, back on the shelf it goes.  If I don’t into the sell pile it goes.

Using my Kindle more – both for buying books and reading them.

Finally, the books I read.  I want to have a good variety and quality this year.  I feel like last year was lacking and that makes me sad.  By tackling some of my physical TBR this will help.  I need to stop being intimidated by size of a book and just read it – even if it takes months and I am breaking it up with other books.  If I am enjoying it that’s all that matters.

One thing I am leaving off this year is my promise to review every book.  I did very very few reviews last year.  I do want to do more, I would love to get into reviewing everything I read.. and maybe I will try to do better but if I don’t… whatever.

I am hoping to get a best of/worst of post up soon for the books I have read in 2015.

Til next time…

 

Authentic.

So about a year ago I chose the word “Be.” as my word for 2015.  A one word mantra, if you will.  I did my best to stick to that.  I worked hard to be present in the moment, I did my very best to keep myself calm even in times where I wanted to lose my shit (I wasn’t always perfect, but I did try).

In that post I also mentioned things such as:  blogging a review on each book I read, womp womp.  Sticking with this blog, well… not updating often, but I do still use it.  I mentioned my hopes of becoming a mother in 2015, which sadly wasn’t meant to be.  But, through it all I realized how freeing it was to just be present in my life.  Some things haven’t changed much… my iPhone is still an attachment to my hand in any situation that I am even remotely anxious in – it’s a coping mechanism, and I know I’m not alone in that.  I still much prefer to be home and binge watch something on Netflix or Amazon Prime rather than going out – and I am absolutely awful at making and keeping plans.  My anxiety issues have grown slightly, and I have some thoughts on that topic that I will, hopefully, remember to share soon.

So, I had to ask myself what I want out of 2016.  What word could I use this year to keep tucked away as a mantra to help me grow and learn.  This year I am choosing “Authentic”.  This is because in the last year I have become more un-apologetically myself than I have ever dared to be before.  I have always relied so heavily on what people think, and I am starting to let go of that.  For nearly my whole life I would consult my mom on things – ideas I had, a new bedspread or shoes.  I never felt confident in my choices without someone close to me backing me up.  And this past year, I realized I can be confident without someone’s explicit consent.

In order to be the authentic me, I need to do what I feel is best.  Go with what I like/enjoy and not worry what someone else might think, especially if they may not like it.  That’s not to say this is in everything, because I am a happily married woman so my husband’s thoughts do come into play on some things.

I will continue on in school and do my best- it has been so good for me in a lot of ways, even when I am feeling burned out and too exhausted to think.
I will, hopefully, get more ink – getting my first two tattoos helped me feel complete in a way that I didn’t realize I craved.  Putting my story onto my skin isn’t a testament to the world, but rather a way to honor myself for myself.
I will be working on getting our home set more to what WE want- It doesn’t matter who else likes it, as long as we do.  Time to get that in gear.
Along with that, working to find organization and routines that work for us to keep things looking good around here because chaos makes my brain fuzzy.

I will be working on my physical self – eating better, sleeping better, and getting into better shape.  It will only benefit me on several levels.
I will NOT be setting a reading challenge this year – I think part of my issue with reading the past few years has been that I was so concerned with meeting a certain number of books.  I started and never finished so many books, and wouldn’t even attempt longer books.  My hope is that by not setting a specific goal, I will read and enjoy more.

Here’s hoping for a beautiful 2016.  I hope a year from tonight I can look back and smile at how things have changed.

My Sorority Experience

Well… this one has been bouncing around in my head for a bit, and it’s not entirely easy to write – for a few reasons.  But, to start, I will say this:  No, I will not be saying what sorority I was involved with.  A few of you may know, but please keep that information quiet, because I know my sisters are lovely people – in their own way.  I know my own issues with anxiety and depression played a role in how I feel about things today.

A lot of people are surprised to find out I was a “sorority girl’ in college.  One regret is that I never went through what my school called “Formal Recruitment”.  That even takes place at the start of the fall semester every year, where girls go to each and every house to visit… from there it’s pref parties and bid day, yadda yadda.  I went through what we called “Informal Recruitment” – which generally takes place in the spring semester.  The houses who are looking for girls would post invites in the paper, you show up to the house, if they like you then you get a bid.  I’m making it simple for the sake of time.

I went to one house with a good friend of mine.  I knew a few girls in the chapter casually – and I enjoyed my time.  I got an invite back for the next night.  Unfortunately I couldn’t attend due to work, so I called to let them know.  There was an informal bid day a few days later and I went to see if I had a bid with my hopes high.  I felt confident… but I didn’t receive a bid.  I was pretty crushed, to be honest.  Later I found out that it was likely because I didn’t meet enough of the girls for them to properly “vote” on me – it wasn’t that they disliked me… but I just wasn’t able to do what they required to get a bid.
Anyway…  I believe that same night, or within the next week, I was talking to a girl on a committee I was on about Greek life and she invited me to join her at her sorority house for an informal recruitment event.  I accepted… and from the moment I walked in I felt at “home”.  Everything from the colors to the girls wearing Chucks on their feet made me feel comfortable.  I got invited back, and I went back the next night to meet more girls.  A group walked me back to my residence hall, we laughed and chatted the whole way.  I got home with a smile on my face and realized that even if I didn’t get a bid I likely had new friends on campus (this was pre-Facebook).  I had just finished getting ready for bed when there was a knock on my door – and when I opened it there stood a huge group of girls that I had met that night, one holding an envelope in her hand.  They were extending to me a formal bid – meaning I was being asked to join their ranks.  The next day I went and signed my bid and was officially a preliminary member

Honestly, that night is still one of my favorite college memories.

My pledge class was small.  I think there were six of us… I was the Vice President of the pledge class.  We had weekly meetings.  We were allowed to wear our letters from the day we signed our bid (some sororities don’t allow that).  And let me be VERY clear – we were never, in any way, hazed.  We had fun.  Fun signs showed up on my dorm door.  Random gifts here and there.  Girls nights at the house.  We had our ribbon ceremony, we learned our history and significant parts of things. We had big/little week ending in a beautiful reveal.  We got initiated that spring.  I had sisters, and for an only child that was a BIG deal.

I was offered to live in the sorority house (it wasn’t a requirement) for the next year and I would be rooming with my “twin” (my Big’s other Little).  I was so excited to be living in the hub of things.  However at the end of that summer I was offered a resident adviser position.  I had applied prior to even joining the sorority but my GPA was, literally, .25 too low to get the job.  My GPA went way up in the spring and when a position opened, I was offered it.  At my school being an RA was a BIG deal.  There were, let’s say, 150 spots… and around 400 people every year applied.  So to be offered it was HUGE.  It was free room and board.  I had to quit my current on campus job, but I was fine with it.  I also, however, had to back out of living in the house.

I got some shit for it… we had to have the house full.  Girls were mad at me, we could be fined or have an independent (a lady NOT a part of the sorority) put in the house to fill the space.  Honestly, I think that’s where it all started to fall apart.

I went through my first formal recruitment as a member of the chapter.  My boyfriend got really hurt and had to go home – so I missed a weekend to be with him.  Another strike against me to some, even though it was okayed by our president.

I felt left out of the loop… the girls I had gotten close to were all living in the house or in apartments together.  One of my sisters was an RA with me, but she had done her time in the house, so while we were friendly we weren’t close.  I debated leaving the sorority.  I was closer with my RA co-workers anyway.  But I decided to stick it out and put more into it the following school year.

Except, I never went back for that school year.  At the end of the second semester something else pretty major happened to me.  I won’t get into it here… but suffice it to say that it wrecked me when it came to the anxiety and depression.  REALLY long story short, I left school for a while.

In 2005 I decided I wanted to go back to college, and go back to the school I was at.  So in January of 2006 I went back there.  I tried contacting the sorority but never heard back- and because of my anxiety I never just dropped by even though “once a sister always a sister”.  Summer 2006 I did some poking around, contacted nationals and they put me in touch with our current chapter president.  She was super nice via email and welcomed me back.  Until I was actually back.

I felt odd being back.  I wasn’t the oldest, but I was one of the oldest.  Girls weren’t really being kind.  I was ready to stop and just drop out, and the night I made up my mind that was what I was going to do, a few girls invited me to sit with them.  I stayed.  They were my saving grace over the next year.  They also told me that apparently another girl had left and come back, but she did it only for the resume boost being Greek can get you… that’s why others were so mean and rude.  They thought I was like her.  I really had come back for the sisterhood and friendships, but they would continue to believe what they wanted.

I made it through formal recruitment again, knowing it would be my last one.  I went to gatherings at the house to watch Grey’s Anatomy every week.  I made it to Chapter meetings and was becoming more comfortable.  I intended on being back for a full year and doing my internship in summer 2007 and then graduating that summer as well.  I found out last minute I could intern in the spring of 2007 – letting me graduate in May.  The caveat was that I had to drive to and from home – two hours each way – twice a week. This just made those that though I came back for a resume boost believe it even more.  I couldn’t leave on the terms that were considered ‘okay’ so I had to still pay dues but I was excused from any activities since our secretary and president weren’t complete assholes.

I went to a handful things that semester and felt like a complete loner.  When I needed support the most I didn’t get much.  I never went back.

I am currently Facebook friends with, I think, two girls from my chapter.  One is someone I consider a good friend.  That’s it.  No real lasting bonds of friendship and sisterhood.  They never even formed when I was active.  Some of this is my fault – I’m awkward and shy… I have anxiety and struggle with depression.  It makes it hard for me to open up.  But it also makes it hard for people to get to know the ‘real’ me.

I wanted a sorority experience that was full of friendship and bonds.  I didn’t get that.  I felt that once I was an initiated member I didn’t count as much.  I felt that when I achieved something – like becoming an RA – no one shared in my joy.  I felt that when I came back to school I would have a place that felt like “home” and instead was met with a house full of ladies who didn’t embody the chapter that I started with.  It wasn’t welcoming and the girls were mean.. it wasn’t what I signed up for a few years prior.

I know most girls don’t have a negative experience.  Most form bonds for life.  Unfortunately, Greek life wasn’t for me – no matter how hard I tried.  I don’t regret it, not one bit… but I do wish it had turned out differently.

Tattoos and grad school

I can’t believe that on Tuesday it will be September.  As in, the first of my four favorite months – the ones I affectionately call the “-er” months: September, October, November, December.  Best part of they ear is these four months, y’all.

So, hello.  I am feeling rather bored and random this evening so I thought I’d throw some random brainings out there just for something to do.

I got another (!!) tattoo.  I knew I wanted this second one before I even got my first one and I knew both would happen this summer.  I was lucky enough that things fell into place enough to allow me to get both.  Tattoo number two is a Semi Colon and is inspired by Project Semi Colon.  I got this in tribute to the friends who have lost their battle with depression via suicide.  I got this as a reminder to myself of how far I have come since I was in a place that dark.  I got this to do a small part in breaking the stigma of mental illness.

semitat[image is of my tattoo an hour after it was done]

I love it.  It’s perfect.  I do want more ink, desperately.  But I have to find the right way to tell my story on my body.

I finished my third grad school class – Professional Ethics for Psychologists, this past Sunday.  I had a massive paper to write as a final and going into it I knew what I needed to pass (well, realistically I could have not turned in the paper and still passed, even on the graduate school grading scale).  I got another ‘A’ – solidifying my 4.0 gpa once again.

There’s this whole thing with me not believing my own smarts and doubting myself even though I am getting good grades and great feedback.  It’s really annoying and I wish my brain would shut up.

That’s really about all I have tonight.  There’s plenty more to say and rant about but my focus is absolute shit so… for now, good night :)

Depression, anxiety, and Disney/Pixar

My husband and I can rarely agree on a movie to go see, which I suppose is alright since movies are so damn expensive!
Anyway, my birthday was this past Friday and I took a long weekend off of work.  I mainly took today (Monday) since husband’s and my work schedules are so different that a real ‘date day’ hasn’t happened in a few months.  I used the leverage that it was my birthday to get him to go see Inside Out with me.

This movie… guys.  THIS MOVIE.

I make no secret out of the fact that I struggle with depression and anxiety.  The ebb and flow of it all can vary, but it’s a part of who I am and it’s something I have learned to deal with to the best of my abilities.  The worst part of it, for me, is trying to tell other people or explain to them what it is like to live with mental illness.  Because they can’t see it and I ‘don’t look sick’ I must be fine.  Because I smile, I must not be “that” depressed.  Because I go out to work every day and sometimes go out with friends there is “no way” I have severe anxiety.  I wish it was that easy.  But the fact is there are times where the depression and/or anxiety is so crippling that I can’t get out of bed.  If it’s a day I have to work I literally wish that I would drop dead on the spot so I didn’t have to endure the day.  Thankfully, days that are like that are few and far between – but they do happen.

I am lucky in that the people in my life that I trust the most know my struggle.  Many of them get it.  I have a support system that is amazing.  But all of that still doesn’t change the fact that what I deal with on a daily basis is often blown off by others because they don’t get it and/or can’t see it.

Cue the film Inside Out.
Eleven year old Riley was just moved from her hometown to another state with her family.  At first she handles it just fine but quickly that ‘fine’ veneer starts to crack and she starts to crumble.  The exceptional part of this film?  It’s told from the main emotions in the ‘headquarters’ of Riley’s brain.  I won’t go into much detail to avoid spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen it but wants to… but for most of Riley’s life Joy has held the reins.  Anger, Disgust, Fear, and Sadness are there as well but in smaller portions as Joy wants to keep Riley happy.  However Sadness accidentally touches some core memories and turns them from joy to sad… and thus begins an adventure that brought tears not only to my eyes, but to my husband’s as well.

For those of us who struggle with mental illness the idea that sadness is important to the self is a no brainier… but the character of Joy doesn’t see that.  She thinks that all sadness does is mess things up… and it’s heartbreaking to watch how rude she can be in the name of keeping Riley “happy”.  By the end it is realized that all the emotions have a place and are needed and that sadness doesn’t have to be a negative emotion.

As I watched the movie I realized quickly that we were watching Riley fall into a deep depression.  Each of us who struggle have our own story of how it started, and for me it had nothing to do with being moved from my hometown… but the descent was the same.

The idea of the personality islands and what happens to them as Riley descends into depression was spot on for what happens in our lives when depression sets in.  The idea of how memories are stored and how the emotions work was beautifully done.  This movie captures what it is to be depressed in a way that is accessible to everyone – children to adults and all done in a family friendly PG-rated format.

I cannot say enough good things about this film, especially when looked at from a mental health standpoint.

The childless friend.

This is something that has been weighing on my heart lately, so what better thing to do than to get it out.

I don’t hide the fact that I struggle with infertility.  It’s been a rough road, especially since we have been without decent insurance so getting more than just my yearly check up wasn’t really affordable (thankfully that should change at the end of August).  Aside from my husband, my closest friends have been my rock throughout a lot of the rough days.  The thing to note:  most of my closest friends have children.  Of the women who I trust the most only one does not have a child and she has no interest in having one… so that leaves me as the lone childless woman, the one who desperately wants a baby.

My lady friends try hard to be sensitive to my feelings.  I’ve had two come to me after finding out they were pregnant, to tell me so I could prepare myself for the big Facebook announcements and so that I wouldn’t inadvertently hear from others.  They never make me choke down that news in a room full of people.  They respect that my reaction of joy is genuine, but so is the stab of pain in my heart and they let me deal with that without a bunch of people around. It makes it easier to take that news.  I’m always happy for my friends when they fall pregnant… but there’s that piece of me that gets horrifically sad, because… when will it be my turn?  Will it ever be my turn?

Being childless in a group of mommy friends can be a challenge… and likely not for the reasons most would think.  In my case, I completely understand them not having the time to come by to say hello or to meet up for a drink.  I get it when they don’t want to leave their new babies to go out, or on the other side, bring their kids to stuff.   It makes sense to me, because motherhood is something I crave so deeply that I know if that were me with the new baby or adorable toddler, I wouldn’t want to leave their side either.  I don’t think I am such a special snowflake being the only childless one that no kids should ever be allowed to any function I host or attend – that’s insane.  My friends children are just as special to me as my friends are.

The challenge in being the childless friend in a group of mommy friends is feeling left out and ignored – and trying your damnedest to not take it personally.  Play dates where everyone sees each other are things I’m not a part of, and that’s fine… because, I obviously don’t have a kid to introduce to the other kids.  It’s kind of creepy when you’re the childless adult at a children’s play time.  But, it does kind of suck to not see my friends often.  When it comes to kids birthdays or big events – more often than not I don’t get an invite.  Someone once asked me about how I feel about it… and I didn’t lie to her.  It hurts.  Sure, it breaks my heart a bit to attend a child’s birthday party but more than anything it gives me hope to see the world through a child’s eyes for a few hours.  The simplicity of their joy knows no bounds when it’s a party for them.  It can make any adult appreciate the little things in life.  I know people try to spare feelings by not inviting because it’ll all be mommies and their kiddos and then just me and they don’t want me to dissolve into a puddle of tears.  The truth?  I’d love to be invited to things.  If I feel I can’t handle it, I’ll be honest.  But more often than not… I’d be there and be very happy to be there.  Then there’s the last situation and it’s the one that honestly hurts the most.  Everyone gets together with their kids at someone’s house or a general location like a park.  There’s a cook out or a few drinks… the kids play happily elsewhere while all the ladies chat.  It doesn’t happen as often now, but it does still happen, that I am not a part of those days.  And, usually, it seems it’s because it started off as a kiddo play date and more and more people just added to it with their kids.  No one really remembers the one without kids at that point.  These are the times it sucks the absolute worst and I struggle the most.  It’s almost like being back in grade school and not being invited to a party everyone else is going to (yep, that happened to me more than once…) you put on a brave face and pretend to not care but deep down it’s gutting your heart because you don’t know how to make it so you’re accepted.  It sounds so silly to type it like that – but in those moments that’s what it feels like.

There are days I literally can barely drag myself out of bed because I hate that my body doesn’t do what it is naturally supposed to do.  There are days I am so very angry at the world because I feel so left out of this club that I have wanted to be a part of since I was a young girl.  It’s a club every woman should be able to join, and yet some of us, somehow, are lacking and we can never break down that barrier between those who can do it and the rest of us.  It’s an isolating feeling, especially when everyone around you seems to so easily be able to achieve what I cannot.

My friends are pretty fantastic, though.  I know they don’t do things to hurt me or see me cry.  They do what they think will be easiest on me.  I have two friends in particular who are always very straightforward with their questions about my feelings on things like this and other things that pertain to struggling with infertility, and I am forever thankful to them for allowing me to be candid with them and for them being honest enough to ask the hard questions.

For anyone who has a friend struggling with infertility, please remember them.  They won’t always join you for the parties or plays… but my guess is more often than not, they will.  And even when they don’t, they will be touched that you thought to include them in something so special.  On days when she feels like she’s sinking, that invite could be the life preserver that convinces her to not give up hope and to keep trying and that maybe someday she can achieve motherhood as well.

It just plain sucks to be lacking in this way.  I can only hope every woman who is dealing with infertility has a group of friends as supportive as mine.