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Where it all began

Ever since I was little, I’ve been terrified of dying. Now I know most people are, but this went beyond normal. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, crying from nightmares, and they only got worse when my mother, Allison, was diagnosed with stage four melanoma in 2000.

On November 9, 2011, I dreamt that my mother died. It was so powerful it woke me up and I ran into my parent’s bedroom to check on her. I felt silly and went back to bed, without checking on her. The next morning I woke up and went to check on her. Her stomach was inflated, stopped forever mid breath intake, hard as stone. There was an orange line where her teeth met her lips, already showing death working its magic. Even her hair seemed to have lost its life. My crying woke my father up. I was 11, and my fear of dying only intensified.

For an 11 year old daughter, her mother is her everything. I felt lost when she was no longer here.  There’d be no picnics in the park with Coffee Pot sandwiches. No one was there to play piano with me or to help me read the Torah. A mother is supposed to be there to meet her daughter’s first boyfriend; she is supposed to share the wisdom of being a woman when that first period comes, and how relationships work when her daughter is kissed for the very first time; she is supposed to be crying in the audience when her daughter graduates from high school and overjoyed when that acceptance letter arrives. She is supposed to watch her daughter graduate from college, be in the first row at her daughter’s wedding, and hold her grandchild. A mother is supposed to grow old and be taken care of by her daughter.

My mother is now only memories. Part of the reason I started this blog was so there is something behind whenever I die, whether it’s from old age, illness, or an accident. I want my future children to know who I was and what I did with my life. I only have second-hand stories about my mother’s to fuel my memories of her.

What it created

Her death is something I still struggle to accept. I used to tell myself I kept busy because I was worried I’d let my mother down, but for the last ten years, I’ve thrown myself into my school and work just to avoid thinking about the longing I have for her. This is where my workaholic tendencies started and for years, I stayed up late and didn’t talk to people about what was going on. I ran on autopilot.  I couldn’t really tell you specific memories, just that I slept, didn’t eat properly, and got sick. I wanted that feeling of emptiness to never leave because I thought if I felt happy, if I felt whole, it was as if my mother’s death didn’t matter. This coping mechanism was something I got used to and any problem I have, any confrontational issue, avoidance has been my solution. If I throw myself into my work, I don’t have to think about it because when I think, I overthink. I start to analyze certain thoughts. I break them down and scrutinize them until I’m convinced the scenario will always end negatively. I guess you could call it obsessive thinking.

The brain is a powerful tool and the avoidance of my problems only led to bad habits, and my obsessive thinking only fueled my depression. There have been months where I convinced myself I’m not worth anything, that I won’t amount to anything, that I drove my friends away on purpose because I didn’t want any kind of relationship. I would look in the mirror and only see flaws. I would see the bags under my eyes, hollowed cheeks, and hair that lost its shine. No matter what I wore or how much makeup I put on, I felt unworthy to go out in public.

I got fed up with being sad and started to rely more heavily on making lists. I used to make to-do lists so my autopilot ran smoothly. Now my to-do lists are small goals that I try to achieve each day. It might sound silly crossing off “take vitamins,” or “call home,” but they are things I am actively trying to do. I want to be able to rely on others and feel supported; I want to be at a healthier state, both physically and mentally, and although vitamins are small, they help.

How I’m fighting it

There were other lists I used to write. I used to write a “resolutions” list three times a year, typically revolving around school. These would include reading a certain amount of books over the summer, or getting straight A’s. They were life motivators, and I’ve thrown myself back in to these slightly bigger life goals.

The final list is bucket lists. I started creating a bucket list shortly after my mom died. I borrowed my grandmother’s 1,000 Things to See Before you Die, and wrote down all the ones that sounded intriguing. I wanted to find places I thought my mother would have wanted to see, and I wanted to create memories and stories I could share with others.

These three lists had purposes that I never really considered. I just did them in the past, assuming it was because of my need for control and structure in my life. When I created Chasing Dream Balloons, I realized that these lists, these resolutions and goals, served a higher purpose in my life. They were my tools to finding happiness, and for the last year and a half, I’ve been relying on these tools to get better. Just in the last year, I’ve started taking time for myself, to read a book, to relax. I was able to go to Jordan, where I rode a camel and got a Turkish massage; I saw Petra and climbed around a Crusader castle like it was my playground. I tried learning how to snowboard and I’ve gotten pretty good at making applesauce. I got lost in Cambridge trying to find Boyden Valley Winery, and spent more time with friends this semester. Setting aside time for myself was a foreign concept, and Chasing Dream Balloons has shown me that I can’t just work all the time. By actively creating me time, I’ve started to let go of my workaholic tendencies, bit by bit.

From the beginning, I wanted to be honest with my readers, and the more followers I gained, the more I felt that I was becoming a role model. I was trying to show people that a bucket list is one way to work towards happiness, and that it can apply to anyone. I know I’m not completely happy yet, but the community I’ve been building around Chasing Dream Balloons has made my depression more bearable, and I hope I’m helping others in the process.

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