Let’s cut straight to the chase: If you haven’t read part one of this three-part series, click here: Otherwise, we’re moving along to the second portion of my 20’s, from about 23-26.

Relationships

Keegan and I started dating on November 27th, 2011 after being friends for a year and a half. We met at Domino’s, and I was responsible for training him. I remember repeating myself the first time we talked. I started laughing and asked, “Do you understand what I’m saying?”. Keegan sheepishly admitted he wasn’t used to southern accents. I didn’t think I had one, so our initial communication struggles were amusing.

Our first few years together seemed like a roller coaster. I didn’t know how to act in a healthy relationship, so I pushed away from Keegan more often than not. You would think I’d embrace someone who treated me so well, but no. I was so accustomed to drama and lies and deception and pain, without any of this, we lacked the negative energy I assumed was a part of any normal relationship.

It took me years to adjust to dating a decent human being. You know this if you attended our wedding; I spoke in-depth about these struggles in my vows. I thank my lucky stars every day that Keegan randomly applied to be a driver at my store. I can’t imagine my life without him.

Stephanie was another friend I made thanks to Domino’s, but she started after I left. I can’t remember why I was at the store, but we met outside in the parking lot not long after she relocated from Mississippi. Stephanie became one of my music-loving, festival-going friends, and we had some great times together.

I met Erika at MTSU when we were earning our Social Work degrees together. We had an unfortunate falling out back when I was young and dumb. But then we reconnected by chance at JoZoara’s in the Boro. This opportunity made me realize a few things: 1, people change. 2, I’ve matured quite a bit and 3, the past is in the past. I’m so glad we rekindled our friendship and that I have someone to talk to about social work, politics and life in general.

My mid-20s marked the height of my social life. My expansive group of friends developed thanks to meeting other party-goers and combining forces: Specifically Keegan, Kooch, Clint and Chad. Between the five of us, we threw some huge parties.

The first major party I ever hosted was at Brittany and Justin’s, dubbed the Rubix Cube Party. I’ll let you figure out how that works. Brittany, Brett and I hosted while Justin was in Peru. Brittany and Caitlin Orr won the Rubix Cube challenge. By the end of the night, some friends had passed out on the kitchen floor. It was that kind of party.

One time I hosted a Pinterest Party and my girlfriends brought their favorite food from Pinterest. I want to do this again soon! It was quite the assortment of food.

For a year or so, I hosted monthly potlucks with my girlfriends unrelated to the Pinterest party. Sometimes we invited our significant others, but it was mainly an excuse for us to catch up and eat by ourselves. From Italian to Mexican and soup and sandwiches, we chose a different theme and location every month. Not to mention, Tika’s annual cookie swap was awesome, too!

Keegan and I hosted two house-warming parties; I felt all warm and fuzzy from the support of our friends. I appreciated so many people making an appearance to the first party especially, since this marked the first time both of us lived with a significant other.

The ornament party in the Boro was awesome–we all dressed up in tacky Christmas sweaters, drank spiked hot chocolate and decorated ornaments. Just goes to show, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a good time.

Halloween was the last huge party we hosted. Keegan passed out early, but I managed to hold down the fort. This also marked my first and last time hosting a house show. Three bands played sets in the basement, and if you weren’t into that, we had DJs playing upstairs. Or, you could check out our haunted house near the back of the property. From the backyard to our upstairs porch, that house in Nashville was great for hosting parties.

Parties don’t necessarily fall under relationships per se, but if wasn’t for our friends and family, these events would’ve never happened. This list does not include all the bonfires, birthday parties, bachelorette parties, weddings and countless trips to Arrington, nor does it include the toga party or Brittany and Justin’s pool party with an endless supply of tequila. Furthermore, I could only find one pic from our sewing party following the TEDx event in Nashville. Here’s a slideshow featuring a few parties through the years.

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Living Arrangements

Brittany, Justin, RJ and I parted ways when I decided to move in with Keegan. I wasn’t mad at Brittany and Justin whatsoever; we ended on good terms, and I was ready to move in with my boyfriend.

Keegan and I landed a modest bungalow-style home on the outskirts of Murfreesboro headed towards Woodbury. We lived a few miles past the Handlebar, one of our favorite dive bars with a damn good breakfast served 24/7. We stayed there for a year until we both landed jobs in Nashville.

In September of 2014, Keegan and I scored yet another adorable house. Two bedroom, one bath with wood floors, a large basement and sprawling backyard that backed up to the woods for dirt cheap. That house was such a steal.

While Keegan and I were engaged, our friend Greg roomed with us for a few months, and Caitlin did the same after him. Having roommates wasn’t terrible, but I don’t know how Brittany and Justin did it for so long.

School

I took a break from school from 2010-2014 and didn’t re-enroll until I was 26 years old. I don’t regret this lapse whatsoever. It allowed me to gain some real-world experience as a case manager and to party with friends before getting serious about school. I loved the freedom I had before grad school, but I knew if I didn’t want to do case management forever, I’d have to get my master’s degree or change industries all together. Entry level social work positions top out at such a low wage; may as well get my masters while I’m young and kid-free.

My coworker Jill encouraged me to look to UT Martin and their online program. I followed her lead and was accepted into graduate school. I was elated but unaware of how challenging it would be down the road. The first two years were easy. But working full-time, interning full-time, and keeping up with homework, discussion posts, tests and group assignments was stressful as fuck the last year. Not to mention, I got engaged, married and moved while enrolled in school. I never took a break besides the summer my adviser worked out for me, which did not require me to drop out or un-enroll in any classes. In hindsight, I can’t believe I did it. I’m still proud of how I juggled everything in 2015 and 2016. And I’m beyond grateful to Jill for recommending such an excellent program.

The most important thing I gained from UTM was clinical expertise. Now that I understand how to interview clients and how to lead a session appropriately, these skills have carried over into my personal life, and I couldn’t be more appreciative. Clinical judgement takes time to harness, and in a few years, I ought to be even better at making clinical decisions. Between my program and real-life experiences, I’m a better employee and overall a better person.

Career

I left the Guidance Center on a slightly sour, burnout note. But I didn’t even realize I was burning out until it was too late.

I began to experience aura migraines which were absolutely awful. My first one set in as I was leaving a client’s house in the sticks. My vision escaped me, and I felt super nauseous, but I didn’t throw up that time.

My second migraine happened the same day we were going to Rocky Horror at the Bellcourt. My Mom came by to check on me, because what I was saying on the phone wasn’t making any sense. I was crying, suffering temporary vision loss, and my thoughts weren’t matching my words. I vomited several times and had to lay down before we went out.

I suffered several more migraines before I realized enough is enough. When I was owed a bonus that I did not receive due to agency policies, I told myself, “Today’s the day I stop caring as much”. This doesn’t mean I treated my clients any differently, but did I care about productivity anymore? Not really.

I grew tired of working myself to death. Sure, the monthly bonuses were great. For over a year and a half, I bonused every month. I once broke the bonus record and was applauded for my unyielding efforts to meet with as many people as possible. But the quality of my services needed attention. Instead of focusing on the numbers, I should’ve focused on delivering higher quality services.

I helped so many people accomplish their goals, so that’s not to say I didn’t do anything for anyone. But from a clinical perspective, I should’ve asked more questions and dug deeper with some of my folks. You live and you learn. My case management position did not offer much in the way of clinical learning opportunities or trainings.

In a nutshell, this job took a toll on me mentally and physically. I loved my position, but something had to give. The day I stopped working for bonuses was the day my migraines disappeared.

I went from the Guidance Center to Urban Housing Solutions in Nashville, and it was such a different feel from day one. I never really thought about how different services would be from my former suburban and rural setting to the nitty gritty city. I adjusted my style as a social worker, and I had to be more….street smart. UHS was a much more dangerous position, and we dealt with more life and death situations in the city than I ever did in rural Woodbury.

UHS introduced me to pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and bedbugs. I was out of my league and hit the ground running. With only one week of training from my predecessor, I had to learn how to manage a housing list on my own.

On the plus side, I loved introducing formerly homeless individuals to their apartments. I shared in their joy vicariously; it was a humbling reminder not to take for granted the roof over my heads.

This agency taught me the value of coworkers. We didn’t have a clinical supervisor for 6 months, and at times, it felt like we were floundering. Luckily we had each other to turn to for advice. Some of the closest friendships I’ve formed in this field were with my coworkers at UHS, because all we had was each other.

Hobbies and Interests

By my mid-20s, my cooking skills had improved tremendously. One proud moment I’ll never forget was when I made Keegan this fancy dessert bread for Valentine’s Day with red velvet hearts in the middle. It was glorious.

I loved my summer gardens so much, I started purchasing indoor plants, growing fall veggies and helping others with their gardens. I also led a community gardening project at UHS that our residents seemed to enjoy.

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I made candles one year for Christmas, and a few accidentally exploded. That marked my first and last attempt at making soy candles.

My first camping trip post-Josh was with my Mom at Rock Island. We had such a good time, I begged Keegan to do the same with me, and he was on board.

At some point, Keegan and I decided to camp at Fall Creek Falls before we had Buddy. We enjoyed our solitutde so much, I ironically organized a few events for our friends to join us. We split the cost of the camp sites and meals for the weekend. We rotated these responsibilities, and every weekend ran so smoothly. I believe we held 5 of these events. Keegan couldn’t make one, because he had to work. And our last camp trip at Fall Creek Falls was right before we moved to Colorado.

My friends and I would drink, eat, swim and hike to our heart’s content. Late-night hikes to the “bridge of darkness” were my favorite. It was peaceful and relaxing to gaze at the stars and to meditate laying face-up on a swaying suspension bridge. These were some of the best nights of my life.

There was another time Keegan and I camped at Montgomery Bell State Park, and it was absolutely beautiful. Our scenic spot by the river was awesome. The hail did not deter us from sleeping in the tent, although I woke up alarmed and somewhat terrified.

And last but not least, day-trips to state parks were fun, too. Jessica and I once took our dogs to Rock Island. Dad, Chris and I went to Fall Creeks Falls, and it was worth the lengthy drive. Means a lot to me that I got to share those views with my family.

Overall, I grew to love the outdoors in my mid-20s, whereas before, I couldn’t care less.

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Happy Vibes introduced me to all sorts of people. What began as a positive outlet for myself and my friends turned into a massive support group. We hosted several events at our house, meditated downtown at the Buddhist temple and collected trash at the greenway. I loved putting this group together and would like to do the same out here in Colorado one day!

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First Happy Vibes event was at Brittany and Justin’s, but this night was awesome, too. Big thanks to Matthew for the poster!

And last but not least, I started blogging in 2013! I purchased this book called the Happiness Project which encouraged readers to start blogging, so I did. My blog turns 5 this year, and God forbid if I ever die young or unexpectedly, at least my blog would represent a written record of my life.

Music/Festivals

Refer to my previous post for information about Bonnaroo. I went to ‘roo a few more times in my mid-20s.

Counterpoint took partying to a whole nother level. I only went once in 2012, but it was the most energetic festival I’ve ever been to.

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Hangout felt a little bro-y. I liked it, and I was grateful for the beach, but I honestly would not ever go again. It’s expensive and ends too early. Regardless, Stephanie, Matthew and Stephanie’s friends made it fun.

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My mid-20s led to more EDM and punk shows thanks to Kooch and Keegan. Keegan’s involvement in three different bands introduced me to local talent from Murfreesboro to Nashville. In addition, Tour de Fun in the Boro was awesome before Tyler relocated the event to Nashville.

I strongly believe Tour de Fun could’ve evolved into a huge music festival with the right leadership, but no, Tour de Fun in the Boro changed its name to Boro Fondo, and the first year was okay, but after that it kinda sucked. I attended the day-long event to support my friends, but once it turned into a three-day festival, it just wasn’t as fun with the acts spread all over town on different days. This took away from the house-show-DIY-venues, which was made me fall in love with the scene to begin with.

I don’t really have time to hunt down pics from all the shows through the years (especially the EDM shows), but here’s a few from the punk scene and LOTG in Nashville:

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Birthdays

My mid-20s represent the best birthdays I’ve had, although that could change this weekend 🙂

My favorite party I ever hosted was the ABC party, Anything But Clothes. It was such a fun and unique theme! Everyone dressed up, and things got wild. This also marked the one time I did a keg stand. I hate beer with a passion, so this was symbolic af.

The following weekend, Kooch and I visited Denver for the first time. This trip was the first step in me wanting to move to Colorado.

For my next birthday party, we hosted a universe themed event. It was awesome from what I heard, but I got so drunk in the first hour and a half, I honestly don’t remember much.

I visited Ponder again, along with my friend Caitlin in Texas. This extended vacation with friends encouraged me to travel more.

For my 26th birthday, I hosted a PJ DJ party at our house in the Boro. We had about 30 people show up, so it was more low-key than the last two parties. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. After hosting such large events, I wasn’t so much interested ragers anymore.

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Travel

Keegan and I spent our first new years together as a couple in Oklahoma for a two-night performance by the Flaming Lips. Neon Indian and Phantogram sealed the deal. This was the furthest west I’d been at the time, so the flat landscape was interesting, and by interesting I mean, boring.

We also went to the Womb in OKC. I was almost more excited about the Flaming Lips art installations than I was their live sets. This quirky, spontaneous trip was one of the best I’ve had with Keegan.

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The following Christmas, Keegan and I went to the beach with my family. I hadn’t seen my cousins in years; Ryan’s personality is more similar to mine than I imagined. We clicked immediately and had a good time. I loved seeing my Grandma happy and spending time with my aunt and uncle.

Hilton Head moves at a slower pace; it’s like a beach for old folks, and I can get behind that. My favorite moment was spending time on the beach with Keegan Christmas night. We had it to ourselves for over an hour, and the stars were shining bright.

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As mentioned previously, I went to Denver for my birthday two years in a row. I returned from the first trip thinking, “I’d like to go back someday.” By the second trip, I knew I wanted to live here, but I couldn’t do it alone. I just don’t have it in me to relocate by myself.

By contrary, that second trip enhanced my confidence a lot. Not only did I travel to Denver, I stopped by Texas to see Caitlin, as well. Traveling alone can be invigorating, exhilarating and relaxing all at once. You come and go as you please. You run on your own time. I recall that trip so fondly, because I could feel myself growing up and spreading my wings. Spending time by myself in Boulder was exactly what I needed to begin planning some major life decisions.

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Other trips I took weren’t quite as far but included Brittany and Nichole’s bachelorette parties, Keegan’s birthday trip to the tree house in Crossville, the cabin with Chris in Gatlinburg and another trip to Gatlinburg with Keegan’s friends. Keegan and I spent weekends together in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Louisville and Memphis. Furthermore, my friends and I took a trip past Knoxville once for a meditative retreat. But my favorite trip of all was to Atlanta to see Oprah.

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My last major trip of my mid-20s was going to meet Keegan’s family in South Dakota. It’s rare that the entire nuclear family can all get together in the same place at the same time; I recognized the significance of the holiday season that year. Everyone was kind to me, which I appreciated, being “the new guy” in the fam. My favorite activity was glass-blowing in Deadwood. I’m just glad we didn’t burn ourselves!

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Goals and Growth

I never cared too much for goals until I reached my mid-20s. I believe I read The Happiness Project in 2013, and that was the point in which self-improvement became a top priority. Never before had I given my personal growth much thought. This easy read was so inspiring, and I still find myself living by Gretchen Rubin’s advice, such as leaving three things unsaid each day and using all my bath products and samples before jumping to purchase more.

Oprah’s Life You Want Weekend Tour (which I lovingly refer to as Oprah Weekend) changed my life and boosted my motivation. I spent the weekend in Atlanta meeting other Oprah-obsessed individuals, some of whom I still keep in touch with. We listened to seminars, meditated with Deepak Chopra, tried our hand at soul-cycling and learned all about how to live your best life. This was hands-down the most inspiring weekend I’ve ever had. I was an emotional wreck; as soon as I heard Oprah’s voice echo throughout the auditorium and she walked on stage, I lost it. But I didn’t feel bad, because everyone around me was losing their minds, too.

On top of everything else, I got to meet Carla Hall from the Chew! What an honor. She’s so nice and sweet and humble. And her food tastes amazing. I felt so fortunate to be among like-minded people, to be in the same room as Oprah, Elizabeth Gilbert and others. I wasn’t so much star stuck as I was inspired and amazed. Overall, it was a wonderful weekend.

My mid-20s also ushered in my interests regarding the chakras, reiki and meditation techniques. I learned that guided meditations work best for me to help maintain my focus and while I enjoy someone practicing reiki on me, I have no desire to become a reiki master.

I also started collecting gemstones from Stonekeepers in the Boro. I don’t think they literally do anything for you, but I imagine carrying around a stone in my bra has the same effect as a WWJD bracelet. It’s a reminder, an affirmation and a mantra to stick to your goals.

Part of what got me into all this was the annual Galactic Expo in Nashville. Tika and I went a few years together, and learning all about that new age stuff was fascinating.

To recap, my mid-20s were awesome. I try to keep these posts short, but it’s difficult when there’s so much that happened.

Stay tuned for part 3, all about my late-20s. I can’t wait to turn 30 tomorrow. I’m ready to embrace a new decade. To quote my idol, Oprah, I’m ready to live my best life.