Problematic Perfectionism

I’ve lived with the presence of perfection for 21 years. “Perfect.” How do you define a word without concrete meaning? “To each his own,” the saying goes. So why push to attain an ideal state of being that no two random people will agree is where you want to be? Faultless. Finished. Incomparable. People can never be be these, and anyway, when did creating a flawless facade become a more vital goal than learning to love the person who lives inside your skin? The outside belongs to others. Only you should decide for you what is perfect. Or, even better, only you should decide what is enough.

In the recent years of my life, nothing has become more blatantly obvious to me than the fact that feeling like enough (in any aspect of our lives) is perhaps not the human default. It’s of great interest to me why it seems that we have to learn how to find comfort in ourselves, internally cultivate our confidence and contentment, and ultimately come to the conclusion that we need only be enough for ourselves, and that we are ALWAYS enough. I’ve thought long and hard about why I’ve spent my entire life having deep sentiments of inadequacy and never being good enough for things or people, and unfortunately, I think the perfectionistic mindset I’ve adopted is so much more nuanced and complex than I could have imagined. I genuinely cannot remember a time in my life where I felt fully and wholeheartedly “good” about myself, my achievements, where I stand in my life and in my relationships with others around me, etc. And while I think this internal desire I’ve always had to continue striving for better, higher, and more is an asset to an extent, I’ve also come to find that there is truly nothing more dangerous. Looking back on my growth over the years, I think one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made is thinking and convincing myself that my perfectionism was a positive character trait. I always understood it as being that innate essence within me that drove me to work as hard as I possibly could, continue setting higher and higher standards for myself, and never being okay with the complacency and satisfaction that could have accompanied any of my achievements or growth. My internal dialogue always told me, “you could have done better,” “it wasn’t perfect,” or “how could you screw that up?”, ultimately leading me to become absolutely obsessed with the idea of reaching that highest level of achievement of perfection I had idealized in my head. But that’s just the thing. My notion of perfection was (and still is) completely idealized, and it lacks any form of foundation or grounding. Nothing of meaning undergirds it, thus making the term itself somewhat insignificant and trivial. In other words, I found that for my entire life, I had conjured up my own understanding and significance for what I perceived perfection to be and even deemed it a virtue, hence giving it an entirely new import and power over my life. Though this process may have been subconscious and unintentional on my part, it set me up for a long road of discontent and dissatisfaction, beginning from a very young age.

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Looking back on my childhood, there is nothing I remember more about my personality than my extreme competitiveness. Whether that was a consequence of having two older sisters who I was constantly compared to and was expected to live up to (because they’re absolutely brilliant, strong and beautiful in every way) is definitely a thought that crosses my mind, but I know that the birth of my perfectionism came from more than just that. From the very beginning, it was a deeply-rooted internal desire that planted its seed in my mind as a child. I always wanted to be the absolute best at every single thing I ever did or tried, and that’s just the way it had to be. It was never enough for me to work hard and get an “A,” because it should have been a 100%. It was never enough to win a soccer tournament, because I probably could have connected more passes, taken more shots, or scored more goals. The insane amount of pressure I put on myself started very early on, and it definitely did not discriminate in how it manifested in every part of my life. In thinking about how my perfectionism and experience in striving to be this version of perfect I had created has impacted the course of my life, I try to be as gentle and forgiving as I can with myself. I know that, to some degree, I simply could not help the fact that my mind works in this way and that these thoughts are something so familiar and even natural for me. I also acknowledge that the structure of my life as a kid, young adult, and even now (simply a consequence of being a human being in this society) only worked to further encourage and harvest these dangerous seeds leading me to believe that I simply wasn’t good enough.

I don’t think I have to explain to anyone how our society works to endorse and promote some ideal of what is “perfect,” not to mention that there is a very distinct vision of what “success,” “health,” and “happiness” are as well. For me, I’ve found that in some of the most devious and insidious ways, the world constantly tells people that they aren’t enough. Right from the start, we’re groomed to believe that only those who go to college and obtain a good job will be successful, only those married and with children can understand the true nature and feeling of love, and only those who embody a very specific aesthetic can be considered beautiful. I grew up thinking that my joy and the contentment of my being as a person was completely dependent on my capacity to be “successful” (that is, wealthy). By the age of 5 and 6, I had already begun to believe that in order to be happy in this world, I had to have a good job and make a lot of money as an adult. And so my desire to one day become a lawyer was born. I didn’t know it then, but what I thought was a burning desire within me to become a lawyer and to help others through it was really just a mechanism through which I thought I could find joy and help MYSELF. I thought being successful in this way would make me happy. And what’s more perfect than being happy, having a successful career, and leading what seems to be an equally fulfilling and exciting life? Well, the fact that not only is perfection impossible, but that filling my life with empty promises to myself and believing that things like happiness and success were avenues by which I could somehow be perfect is the problem. Being career-oriented has always been part of who I am, and the perfectionism that took hold of me throughout my entire academic career (and still rears its head) proved to be extremely detrimental and problematic to my overall well-being, particularly in high school. I remember having long conversations with my mom prior to entering high school in which she advised me to push myself with the classes I chose, but not to overextend or overcommit, for she knew I would also be training, playing club and high school soccer, and involving myself in a multitude of other activities (because I also convinced myself that I needed to do it all and be “well-rounded”). Well, in classic Kamryn fashion, I told my mom I would think about just doing a few of the difficult classes but not pushing too hard, then ended up signing myself up for the full IB Diploma program. While there is nothing I appreciate more than the IB program, all of the growth it allowed me to have throughout those years, and the wonderful teachers I had who taught me more material and things about the world than I ever knew possible, those years were extraordinarily hard for me. I needed to be #1. So I was. I remember defining my entire value as a person by the number listed next to my name in the class rank section, and feeling like such a failure whenever I fluctuated in grades, status, etc. I had set goals for myself, and that was that. They just HAD to be achieved. I had the constant need to prove myself to everyone around me, to my family, and mostly to myself. I never felt good enough, so I relied on numbers and letter grades to give me the validation and worth that I had somehow lost (or never found) throughout the course of my life. Obviously, the way this story ends is that *spoiler alert* I ended up not being #1 in the end and falling down a rank, and my world came crashing down a little bit. This was the first time I was forced to face myself and realize that I had “failed,” and that I couldn’t be perfect. That moment changed a lot for me, but not everything. While I have worked on changing my thought patterns and (as cliché as it sounds) telling myself that working hard and doing my best will always be good enough and that my worth is not contingent upon how others perceiving me, my relationships/interactions or my success, unlearning all that I have been groomed to think about myself and learning how to engage with a healthy form of the natural competitiveness, drive, and passion within me is still brand new and a complete learning process. Still, I am learning and growing through this everyday, and my mere acknowledgement that I am not, nor will I ever be perfect is a start.

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As many of you already know, though, these past few years have been anything but smooth-sailing for me. And constant waves of change sets the stage quite perfectly (no pun intended) for my perfectionism to creep back into my life. I’ve found that my default is acting on my perfectionistic tendencies, which has been increasingly dangerous for me in my college years. After losing my mom and going through a terrible breakup, I immediately fled to the toxic coping skill I had always known to make myself feel better— hyper-focusing on elements of my life to make “perfect.” This time, though, it was my body. I had to be perfect in every way, so I began engaging in horrible habits that led me to developing an eating disorder that continues to pose problems for me. My desire to essentially numb myself and succeed in morphing my body into what I looked towards as being perfect led me to employ a new project; one that allowed me to not only feel perfect, but even look it. I tirelessly tried to make myself as small as possible so as to not be forced to deal with the reality of my life, only to find that the voids within me could never be filled with the disgusting satisfaction and pride I felt when I perfectly executed starving myself and running myself to the ground. I still existed, and the pain persisted. I destroyed my body for a peace of mind I never got, and that has been one of the most difficult things to come to terms with. I’m still working on rewiring my brain to think differently about myself and my body and to teach myself that the way I am is absolutely enough for me and the world I live in. But man, it sure is a hard pill to swallow. Trying to devalue everything I’ve been taught (or have self-taught) to value is a long and strenuous process. But we try, and we continue on. Always.

Needless to say, my notion of what is perfect and the innate perfectionism that has poisoned my life & psyche has proven to create more complications, destruction, and hardships than any version of “success” of “happiness” I thought it could. If you take anything away from this blog post, just know this: you are not alive and present on this earth to be perfect. Nor will you be. And there is nothing better than knowing the truth of that. If hating yourself could have made you happy, you would have gotten there already. Try something different. And if you cannot beat the fear binding you to the perfectionism that brings you the comfort and security you don’t think you’ll ever find elsewhere, then just do it scared. I believe in you, and you are so brave. True strength and bravery come from knowing our own faults, limitations, and character flaws, yet never letting go of the knowledge that each of these is what makes us uniquely us and gives us the grace to be who and how we are in this world. Worth, value, and dignity are not derivatives of a socially constructed vision of what ought to be considered perfect. What a gift it is to not be perfect.

 

 

The Roller Coaster of Recovery

I am so not ready to write this. My anxiety level is completely through the roof, my palms are sweaty, and anything you can imagine an extraordinarily nervous human being to be doing is most definitely manifesting for me right now haha. I know I’ve written a bit about this before and I’ve been open about other difficult things in the past, but this one just strikes a very different chord with me. I’m not too sure why, but this has always been something I’ve been perhaps the most hesitant to discuss, partly because I find a lot of shame and embarrassment in it, and partly because I never knew if talking about it would be helpful to myself and others, or if it would prove more detrimental. And now, being where I am, I hesitate to talk about this for fear of being hypocritical or looking as if I am moving backwards. I have had very, very minimal moments of opening up about this in the past, but it’s something exceedingly difficult for me. It’s been a very long, often frustrating, difficult and ongoing journey, and although the primary reason for which I am so scared to write this post is because I’m not yet on the other side and can’t speak for overcoming this obstacle (at least in full), I also think it’s necessary and helpful to document steps as time goes by. Whether four steps forward or two back, a step is a step. And I think any movement or direction endured on a path is worth discussing, especially when it revolves around such a hard topic and road to be on. So today, because I’ve received a lot of comments on my single Facebook post about this and have gotten a lot of messages asking me to expand on my experience and how my life is going now in relation to this journey, I’ve decided to 1) take a HUGE breath and prepare for the overwhelming emotion that’s about to overwhelm me, 2) choose to open up my heart and pick my own brain so that I could grant myself the opportunity of helping or even inspiring others, and 3) go into depth about my journey with an eating disorder and the absolute roller coaster of recovery that I’ve been on.

Looking back, I think my relationship with food and exercise has always been a rocky one. As I’ve grown, I’ve come to understand this fact and the reasons for which I believe this to be true, but even still, overcoming such unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior has proven very difficult and seemingly insurmountable. It’s very difficult to look back and try to pinpoint what I think served as the main catalyst for my eating disorder(s), but the truth is, it is so endlessly multi-dimensional that doing so is nothing short of impossible. If I’ve learned anything over the past two years, it’s that eating disorders are complex. Complicated. Psychoanalytical and physical. Overwhelming. All-consuming. Mind-splitting. Powerful as all hell. And in my opinion, pure evil. Trying to constrain the manipulation and power that eating disorders have over both the mind and body is an unfulfilled feat, and speaking from my own experience, understanding so plainly the cause and effects they have had on me, the way I view myself, my relationships and my life is simply impossible.

I was officially diagnosed with both anorexia and orthorexia in June 2018, but I was well aware of the fact that I had an eating disorder far before then. The road I had been on prior to last summer had brought me to this conclusion very early on, and I knew that the mindset and behaviors that I had adopted were anything but healthy. And I knew that. For me, I think that’s the absolute WORST part of living with an eating disorder— being completely aware and conscious of the harm you’re causing yourself and the amount of pain you’re inducing in both your mind and body, yet finding yourself unable to stop and do otherwise. Or worse, not caring enough to stop, change, or do otherwise. I have found myself in this position time and time again, caught in the horribly toxic cycle of self-sabotage and harm and failing to find a way out of it. Even now, it continues to be a constant struggle for me, and it’s hard to realize that despite the amount of work and effort I’ve put into my own recovery from this, it continues to present many conflicts and both internal and external conflicts. It continues to be a roller coaster, something I didn’t expect.

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I began to look at food as an enemy. THE enemy. I began to experience episodes of anxiety upon thinking about or having to be in a setting surrounded by food. I could no longer go to a restaurant without panicking and often wanting to cry throughout the entire meal. I cut out carbs and fats completely, simply because I had grown so terrified of them. I would wake up at 6 am every morning to run at least ten miles, go straight to the gym to do more cardio, go for another 5-mile run, and ensure that I walked at the fastest pace possible at all times, so as to burn the highest number of calories. The calorie-counting I adopted was completely obsessive— I know for a fact that I still have memorized the nutrition facts of every single box of granola bars, crackers, cereal, fruit, vegetable, and every food item imaginable, something that still haunts me everyday. I would weigh myself at least 6 times a day, somehow expecting a large shift to occur within mere hours of the day. I would body check to no end, feeling the structure of my face and even measuring my wrists to ensure that I hadn’t gained any weight from the day before. I restricted myself so much that I would reach the point of faintness everyday, then be overcome with a sickening sense of pride, for I had convinced myself that I had “done well” or succeeded” that day. I began to base my entire self-worth off of my size, outward appearance, and what I looked like (despite the fact that what I continued to see in the mirror was complete dysmorphic). Each day, I chose a number of calories that I just COULD NOT surpass, and if I did, I remember feeling as if the entire world was crumbling on top of me and like I was the greatest failure that there had ever been. What I hated the most of all, though, were the ways in which the eating disorder was able to completely control me, dictate my mind, and manipulate the way I conducted myself and treated my own body and my relationships with others. I became so deceitful and dishonest with my friends and family, doing everything I could to protect this new identity I had acquired, for it was the most important thing to me. I suddenly became aware of how much I depended on the eating disorder to cope with whatever I was going through and to remind me of who I am, for I had lost all sense of myself along the way. I became nothing more than an empty shadow, desperately seeking to re-find myself while simultaneously fighting to the death to preserve what I thought I needed most. I lied countless times to everyone around me, especially those who tried most to help. Because the truth was, I didn’t want help. I wanted to be this way, and I wanted to hurt myself. I was unsure why, but I did. And so, I continued.

These behaviors I embodied and practiced did not come on suddenly, however. I remember turning to exercise shortly after my mom passed away, in the hopes of it serving as somewhat of a distraction from the unbearable fate that had become my reality. It began innocently, running just a few short miles a day to escape, the perfect form of therapy. I used the time when I was running to be in my own head and process her death, what it meant for my family and me, and how I could possibly move forward, and I remember feeling euphoric in doing so. Growing up a soccer player, I was also, by default, a natural runner. I had always looked at exercise as a necessity, for it allowed me to stay in shape, to thrive as an athlete, and it fed my internal perfectionism in the realm of athletics. After my mom passed, running was my natural instinct pointing me to a coping skill. Like a machine, I reflected back on my time training for soccer and the constant need to be strong, fit, and muscular. I began running to feel these things again, so as to remind myself of a time where I thought I was truly fulfilled and doing what I succeeded at. As time went on, though, I no longer wanted to be strong. There was a very clear and significant shift in my mind that led me to hate feeling muscular and strong. I didn’t want to be strong, I wanted to be thin. The feeling of euphoria and release I consistently felt in exercising so compulsively only brought me to rely more heavily on exercise for security and comfort, and the toxicity began as soon as I realized I was addicted to exercise. I remember starting to notice how enthralled I was by exercise and the way in which it impacted my life, seeing that I only felt fulfilled after running at least 15 miles a day (not even exaggerating, it was seriously 15), doing hard cardio for at least another hour, and fulfilling my “calorie burn goal” for the day. While I don’t find it at all necessary or helpful to mention numbers of calories or weight statistics because that is NEVER helpful for someone in recovery or anyone else involved in the process, I will say that the physical changes my body underwent and continues to struggle through are major and what ultimately led those in my life to become involved and try to step in.swirls clipart underlines #947I’ll never forget the intervention my roommate and the rest of my friends at school staged for me in the spring of last year. Despite my secrecy, lies, and promises that I was “getting better” and that there was nothing to worry about, they worried. They worried because they care and they love me, and although I may have been agitated then, I know that their love and companionship drove them to want to help me, and that is the most I could ask of any friends. To this day, I haven’t found the words to thank them enough for caring so relentlessly. After my friends had confronted me and asked me to begin attempting to help myself, the concern of my family members cascaded. I remember coming home one weekend to visit my dad and the rest of my family, dodging any comments anyone made about the weight I had lost, how “sick” I looked, and how concerned everyone was getting. One moment I’ll never forget happened right before I entered treatment over the summer, when I broke down in front of my dad and just cried, “I just want to be normal. Why can’t I be normal?”, to which my Dad replied, “Kamryn, what do you think normal is? You think this is normal?” That conversation still runs through my mind today, and the response my dad gave me is what I remind myself of every time I’m struggling or am feeling particularly low.

My journey in entering treatment and becoming a partial hospitalization patient at an Eating Disorder Treatment Center over the summer is something I never once anticipated or expected for myself, nor was it something I wanted. I went in so incredibly angry, for it wasn’t on my own accord, nor was it something I had properly planned for (which is basically my worst nightmare). My entrance into treatment was a result of my dad becoming aware of my reliance on laxatives, which for him was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So I went into treatment, unsure of what I was to do or what would come of it, and I was angry. Angry because I could no longer work to manipulate and so intensely control the one aspect of my life that I had worked so hard to convince myself was completely under my control— my diet and exercise. I went from exercising at least three times a day and skipping every meal, only snacking on a few things to keep myself going, to being forced to eat 2 meals in front of an entire table of people and being prevented from exercising. And though I hated it at the beginning, I will say that my journey in treatment was something I will never forget. Not only have I come to realize how needful it was, but it also allowed me to meet a variety of wonderful, admirable people, most of whom I now consider lifelong friends. Those 6 weeks were some of the longest and most difficult for me, for it forced me to tap into the emotionality I had so long suppressed and refused to acknowledge. But I regret no part of my journey there, and there is so much to say about my time, what I learned, how I adjusted, etc., that I will most likely make a whole separate post about that. But for now, reflecting on my time in treatment and realizing how worthwhile, valuable, and teachable it was is something that I cherish and try to remember every time I find myself turning to unhealthy or past habits of mine.

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Now, I have completed another semester of school and have only one left of college. It has been about 6 months since I left treatment, and boy, the road has been anything but smooth, easy and encouraging. I wish I could say that things are easy for me now and that I’m doing better and I no longer participate in any of the toxic outward behaviors or harmful patterns of thought I worked so long and hard to come out of. But the truth it, things are still hard. Maybe now more than ever. I still feel as if I’m at war with myself everyday, and my mind is constantly taking on two different personas— one that pushes me to care for myself, my goals, and who I truly am. and one that antagonistically pushes me to continue feeding the eating disorder and all of the behaviors that have destroyed me. Even so, I refuse to be destroyed. I will continue to keep fighting, no matter how difficult this journey continues to be. I’ve never been one to quit, and now is no the time for me to begin doing so. So, I will continue to push on, despite the fact that most days I still find myself sifting through hateful self-talk, exercising compulsively, and restricting my food as my greatest coping mechanism. I’m not here to say that I’m all better and that with the snap of my fingers all of my problems magically went away. Rather, I’m here to share the sometimes agonizing journey I have experienced and continue to be on, for I know that the strength, wisdom, and hope that I have inside of me will eventually lift me out of this darkness, as it has countless timed before. I forget how to love myself most days, but I am trying with every rise of the sun. And right now, that is enough. I’m trying, and that is all that I can ask of myself. Being such a perfectionist has forced me to be irrationally and unequivocally hard on myself my entire life, and though it is one of the hardest feats of my life trying to unlearn the pattern of setting unrealistic standards/expectations on myself and building my self-worth off of numbers, grades, trophies, and achievements of any sort, I am trying everyday to dissolve this wall I’ve built. Being gentle and kind to myself has never been easy, but I realize now that these things are absolutely necessary in order to live a life full of love and joy. And that is what I both want for myself and know is true of what I deserve on this earth. I forgive myself for all of the years I’ve lost to hating myself and my body, and pushing myself to unhealthy and unattainable limits in ALL aspects of my life. I am me and that is enough. I ask for nothing more. My pursuit of perfection has been nothing but toxic and detrimental for every part of me, so I now choose to strive for progress (more on this to come). I know that I am so much more than my body, than my weight, than the manipulative and destructive thoughts that constantly force me to doubt myself and question my worth, and more than any oppositional force that has worked so hard to use my very own strengths in a malicious way to bring me down. I am so much more, and I deserve so much more. I’m better than subtly succumbing to things that work to destroy me and granting these things the absolute power to control MY mind and presence on this earth. Right? So, I will continue on. And that alone is a victory, at least for today.

More on this roller coaster to come. Thank you all for the continued love & support. It means more that I can say.

Farewell, 2018.

2018 has been quite the year. Looking back on all that I have gone through in the course of these twelve months, all the waves of change that have taken rise in my life, all of the unforgettable experiences I was lucky enough to create, and all of the memories and moments (both wondrous and painful) I have endured, it is truly hard to put into words. This year has been nothing like I anticipated and, at times, nothing like I ever wanted. But still, 2018 has been everything I needed. This year was equally as eye-opening as destructive, as insightful as disillusioned, as productive as damaging, and as fulfilling as completely heartbreaking. All of this is to say that 2018, whether I wanted it to be or not, has been nothing short of transformative. And for that, I am now so very thankful.

I remember heading into the new year at this time one year ago and thinking to myself, “There’s no way 2018 is going to be as tough as 2017. It can only go up from here.” I naively believed that the pain, loss, and grief I felt throughout 2017 after losing my mom would forever go unparalleled. For me, 2017 was the epitome of heartbreak and agony, and a real manifestation of the “rock bottom” that is so commonly referred to. Heading into 2018, I worked tirelessly trying to convince myself that the coming year just HAD TO be better. I mean, how much harder could things get, right? And while I think I was right to believe that 2018 would be better, this was only true in very selective ways. While 2017 caused me the greatest heartbreak of my life (in more ways than one) and left me weakened on my knees time and time again in some ways, 2018 also did so, just in very different ways. I was so very wrong to assume that the hardest obstacles had already been planted before me in 2017 and that every hardship that came my way would be less heavy and less impossible to overcome. If 2018 has taught me anything, it’s that the pain, heartache, brokenness, and adversities that present themselves in our lives will never disappear. They will never cease to arrive just when you thought you were on a good track and felt as if your life was properly ordered, like a ticking time-bomb. Hard times will ALWAYS come; but, that also means that they will always GO. And the constant fluidity and nuance of joy and heartbreak, of pleasure and pain, is what makes life on this earth so beautiful and worthwhile. This year truly has taught me more than I can say. But most of all, I’ve come to realize that life’s hardships and things that try us don’t wait for us to be ready or well-equipped enough to face and conquer them. They never will. The universe can see you get knocked on your knees and do everything it can to keep you there. But despite it all, no matter how seemingly impossible it appears, love can always be found. And with love comes hope, light, and joy. That is what gets me through, and that is what I will carry with me forever.

2018 granted me a lot of amazing opportunities, the capacity to experience things I never thought I would, brought wonderful people into my life, and was unforgettable in so many ways. I laughed until I couldn’t breathe, cried both sad and happy tears, looked deep inside myself and pushed for my own growth in ways that terrified me, and overcame (and am still working on overcoming) some obstacles I never, ever thought I would encounter. This year, much like the last, did cause me a lot of pain. That I cannot deny. But I am also appreciative of the journey I have been on and continue to be on, for it has made me who I am. Somewhere along the way, I learned that it is completely okay to lean on those who love & surround you when the going gets tough. Doing so does NOT make you weak (as I had come to believe). If anything, seeking help, asking for support, and looking for solace in any and every place is a symbol of true strength. We are not meant to face the pain and burdens of this world alone, and relying on those who you can depend on when you need it is nothing short of what humankind is made to do— to lift up, encourage, and love one another. 2017 made me believe that there are some storms I cannot weather in this life, but 2018 taught me that every storm will eventually die away. I have learned that I have all that I need inside of me to embrace these hardships with strength and grace, and I am so much more than what happens to me. I’ve grown to believe and understand that I have the power to create what I want to see in this world, and I can make things happen; life does not just happen to me. I am the storm.

You know, everyone always says that the end of the year is the most essential and valuable time to reflect. It’s a time to look back on the past twelve months of our lives, look deep within ourselves, the relationships we’ve worked so hard to create, forgive those that have been lost, re-discover what values we wish to hold onto, and set intentions for the next twelve months of our lives. And while I do appreciate that that’s what dominates discussions at the very end of each year because I think reflection paired with just introspection is one of the most needful elements of human life, I also think the extraordinary emphasis and insistence that people put on the coming of the new year is filled with immense loads of pressure, something I find even unbearable at times. I try my very hardest to avoid all the talk about what huge life changes, behavioral tendencies, toxic diet talk, and unhealthy provocations of what the start of a new year means to society and our culture, because I find it extremely damaging and anxiety-inducing. To me, the start of a new year is something to be celebrated, not feared. Simply because the last digit of the year changes does not signify that humongous life changes are to be made, nor should it be a signal to force unwanted or unhealthy change in your life, no matter what benefits it may reap. The pressure that comes with the new year is something I have always felt inside of me— it’s a constant push to be better, to change yourself and your ways, to be thinner, to achieve more, to gain more, to succeed. While all of these “goals” may be warranted, I think that for most people, these are merely things we are told to desire. We should want to earn more money, to have more things, to look our best, and to constantly be “better.” But what I think most people lose sight of is what “better” truly means to them. Each year I fear getting lost in all of the pressure-filled and anxiety-driven talk of the new year and failing to recognize what I truly need, desire, and deserve for myself and my own values. That’s why I reflect often, daily even. Not just on New Year’s Eve. Because I think it’s important to consistently reinforce my goals, intentions, relationships, and what I want to see manifest in my life. For that I am responsible. I have learned that keeping myself in check and on track in this way helps me to stay centered and focused on what I believe to be important, and I am grateful for the gift of introspection and reflection, both of self and of the world.

While making lengthy resolutions isn’t my ideal way to enter the new year because putting impossible standards and pressure on myself NEVER goes well for me, I do like to head into every new year with a few words that I would like to see manifested in one way or another throughout the new year. For 2019, the words I have chosen are “be” and “know,” a constant reminder to be who I am meant to be in this world, acting and presenting myself as such, and knowing my value, worth, and power as a human being. I wish you all the very same. There’s so much beauty to be felt, seen, and embraced in this world, if only we have the courage and capacity to find it.

With all of that being said, I am SO READY to leave 2018 behind me. There are many things I want to, and definitely will be, discussing in great detail about this year in the future, because I learned countless lessons that deserve some level of discussion, especially if there’s a chance they can aid someone else on their journey. But for now, I am kissing 2018 goodbye, and leaving it behind me. This door is closing, and I couldn’t be happier. New opportunities, experiences, lots of big changes, and more growth are bound to come my way in 2019, and I couldn’t be more excited or anticipatory. I’ve never felt more ready to embrace the coming change in my life, and I am thrilled to enter this new year with everything I could ever need to continue on. I am equipped with all of the love I could ever ask for from all of the wonderful friends and family that surround me, an undying hope for the future, and an inner recognition and understanding that I am wise, strong, and worthy enough to overcome.

Here’s to 2019. I am so ready for you. Bring it.

 

Holding On and Letting Go

The funny thing about grief is that it forces you to constantly be stuck between trying to hold on— to all of the memories, the good times, the special moments, wonderful time shared and the unforgettable laughs— while simultaneously urging you to find a way to move forward. Not move on. Just forward. And so, you agonize day in and day out, desperately trying to find the PERFECT balance of both honoring and keeping your lost loved one close, while plunging yourself forward into new, terrifying lands undoubtedly vexed by some type of void you now have in your heart.  I don’t think there’s ever a right way to do this. In fact, I know there isn’t. That’s all people will tell you after you lose someone: “It’s okay to cry,” “Everyone grieves differently,” “Be grateful for the time you had,” etc., as if anyone could truly understand. The list goes on and on. The truth is that it’s incredibly difficult. For me, even impossible at times. I’ve spent the past year and a half trying to navigate through my own grieving process whilst entering my final year of undergrad, attempting to plan my future career, working to get back on a healthy track (mentally and physically), and dealing with all of the obstacles life continues to place right under my nose. Yet still, I know that my life is unfolding just as it needs to be. Although it’s damn hard to accept that the universe gives you what you need in this life and that the journey beset upon us are what we’re meant to embark on, I try everyday. I know in my heart that this world was not created merely to instill pain on the human beings who inhabit it, and that alone offers me some solace each day. I’ve always believed that life is nothing but an extensive test-run, perhaps meant to lead us somewhere greater. The pain and pleasure this world brings to us is not something to be discarded. I’ve learned to pay close attention to the things that occur in my life, the experiences and opportunities I have, and the ways in which they impact the course of my life. The good, the bad, and the ugly. We need it all. I truly believe we are all a conglomeration and mixture of every aspect of our life and experience. The communities we work to build, the lessons we learn, the people who make us smile a little brighter and forget the pain in our hearts and on our minds, the families we trust, and the love we work so hard to create and share. It’s all needful. It’s all we have, and it is everything that is promised.

Learning to navigate through grief, trauma, and the lowest of lows I have ever experienced has taught me many things, about myself and about the world. The most important, though, has been my realization that I am not defined by what happens to me. Rather, I define myself in spite of what happens to me. I create my own life, love, happiness, and empowerment, despite what cards the universe hands me at any particular moment. I refuse to simply let my life happen to me. That’s not what she would want, and I owe it to her to live out what she couldn’t. This one’s for mom and all that she brought to my life. Here’s the story of how I lost my mom, best friend, and soulmate in the matter of an instant.

I’ll never forget that date. Sunday, April 9, 2017. Goes down in history as the absolute worst day of my life, let me tell ya. It began when I received a phone call from my brother-in-law at 9:28 am, something that was already out of the ordinary. I answered the phone worriedly, half expecting him to tell me something had happened to Adeline, my niece. I remember hearing through the phone how insanely fast he and my sister were driving down the freeway. Much to my surprise, he broke the news to me that my mom had gone into cardiac arrest and wasn’t doing well. I distinctly remember the last thing he told me being, “Just try to get here as fast as you can. Take the train, do whatever. I just really think you should come. I think you should be there.” After hanging up, I froze in my tracks, but somehow formulated a coherent (enough) sentence quickly telling my roommate what had happened. She ended up borrowing another friend’s car to drive me up to the hospital. I don’t remember much at all from that car ride except for my constant internal dialogue trying to convince myself not to throw up in my friend’s car and how often my sister Courtney & I were exchanging texts. When she suddenly stopped replying so quickly, I knew she had gotten some kind of news, and it was either really good or the worst thing imaginable. I remember weighing the options in my head in that moment, knowing too well that my life could look very different in a matter of moments. Indeed, my life did change. My sister called me to tell me that my mom didn’t make it before I had even made it halfway to the hospital, and my world was rocked. I can’t remember anything of what I replied back to my sister or what happened next apart from my best friend sobbing in the driver’s seat next to me while I just stared blankly ahead. I was the last one to arrive at the hospital, and much to my dismay, there was my entire family, extended and all, grouped standing and waiting just outside the hospital doors, unsure of what to do with themselves. Just like the movies. “So this is real life,” I thought to myself. I remember feeling like I was floating through those doors and into the room where my mom lay to see her one last time before saying goodbye. I sat with her for awhile and just talked to her, somehow hoping that the sound of my voice and my begging would bring her back. I didn’t cry for the entirety of that day or the day of her funeral, and I know that’s because she wouldn’t have wanted me to. She wanted nothing more than for us all to be happy, so I’ve always found it a little bit easier to try celebrating her life than mourning her death. Needless to say, my heart shattered into a million pieces that day, and though I still feel her presence, hear her voice, and smell her perfume, life proves itself to be incredibly tough without her each and everyday.

I’ve always been somewhat afraid of the reality of the world and how it works, particularly how very fleeting everything and everyone seem to be. Because of this, I’ve often had trouble being open and letting people get too close to me for fear that they would leave, something would be done to them, or that I would be so incredibly hurt that I would once again feel my heart breaking and be left with an overwhelming feeling of emptiness and loneliness. My mom’s passing was only a reminder of this immense fear of mine, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, the trauma that her death brought me only magnified those feelings of isolation and fear of dependency on anyone or anything in this world. It’s no secret to anyone that knows me personally that emotionality has never been a strong suit of mine, but I had never experiences detachment and such extreme dissociation than in the year and a half following losing my mom. The day she died, I physically felt my heart breaking into a thousand irreparable pieces, and I swear I could literally feel myself forgetting who I was and everything I had grown to become. I instantly shut down completely and refused to ever let anyone in, which only perpetuated how incredibly lonely and isolated I felt. At the time, I remember consciously telling myself to just not feel so that I could continue moving forward. I thought that if I simply didn’t acknowledge the horrible trauma and pain that I had endured, then maybe it would hurt a little bit less. Not only was I wrong, but choosing to cope in this way was only a detriment to my own healing process. I soon found myself becoming so accustomed to the solitude that I had taken refuge in at school that I became both emotionally and physically detached from my family and friends, struggled to decipher what was reality and what I was imagining, and even losing the desire to connect with others. I have so many wonderful friends at school and the best support system I could ever ask for. But I remember not even wanting their support, no matter how much it was offered and how much my wise mind knew I needed it. I felt and watched myself slowly deteriorate with each passing day, and waking up trying to be as functional and “normal” as possible become more and more impossible.

I ultimately moved back home the following summer (after somehow making it through the semester and finals season with straight As), which was one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever gone through. Although there were countless things that made coming back home so difficult that summer, I remember dreading the quietness of the house most of all. I thought back to my childhood and how fun, loud, and constant the hustle and bustle of my family and our obligations had been, and I was in no way ready for that to all have suddenly changed. Sure enough, I came home to the same house that used to be filled with 5 people, music playing, memories of soccer and softball tournaments, laughter, and endless conversation, but everything was different. The house was now filled with only 2 people, no noise filled the air, and the stillness of the space was perhaps the most haunting realization that I have ever encountered. Needless to say, being home that summer was incredibly painful. I quickly fell into a deep depression upon coming home, something I had tried my best to avoid at all costs up until that point. Once I was back home, though, my ability to find distractions and detach myself from my painstaking reality had become severely limited, and I struggled to find a way out. I can distinctly remember how much pain I was in, how it felt, and how deeply it affected me. I would wake up in the morning so incredibly angry that I had woken up, for I said a silent prayer every night hoping that maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have to wake up and do it all over again. I remember struggling everyday to even find the will to live, because all that flooded my mind was how much I had lost in such little time. I now knew how quickly everything can change, and that terrified me. My entire life had been turned upside-down overnight, and I struggled for the longest time trying to accept the sad reality that sometimes inexplicable and horrible tragedies happen, and there’s nothing I or anyone could ever do to prepare for or change that. After going through endless waves of completely destructive and unhealthy strategies that I believed to be helping me grieve and move forward for an entire year (that’s a whole different story coming soon haha), I eventually found my way out of the darkness and allowed myself to embrace the love and support I always knew I needed in my darkest of days.

As I reflect today on my experience and journey thus far, I know that I have experienced the heaviest of losses and pain that is seemingly endless at times, but I also have hope and faith in myself to overcome. I miss my mom every single day more than anyone could ever imagine. Losing my best friend, confidante, adventure buddy, and soulmate will never be easier, and I will never be over it. I know I’ll always have half of my heart missing and the irreparable void that she left inside me, but I am learning everyday to embrace what she left me, even when it feels like emptiness. I will always be a little bit empty, but I’d like to think that emptiness is merely a special keepsake of the memories and time I got to share with her. My mom was always able to wake up with a smile on her face and focus her energy on the beauty and greatness of the world she lived in. Her appreciation for life surpasses any I have ever experienced before. She was the strongest, wisest, most loving and nurturing woman on earth, who also had the capacity to be powerful and unafraid. She was unafraid of being silly and making funny faces, for she knew that they would make someone else smile. She was unafraid of risking her own life and personal goals, for she always put others’ needs before her own. And she was unafraid of making mistakes, because she knew that we would always be there to help her out. My mom was completely fearless in all that she did, and that is what gave her the tenacity, ferocity and pure power that she beheld in all situations. Still, she was so much more than a strong leader. She was also the most selfless and giving human being I have ever known, and I can only hope to be half the woman she was someday.

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Words fail to explain how much I miss hearing her voice, picking up the phone to call or text her, going to Disneyland with her, singing in the car with her, hearing her say, “I’m so proud of you,” “Be happy,” or “I love you,” calling me her angel, and everything about her. I still feel her presence with every step I take and in my every breath, but the constant pit in my stomach that comes with the realization that I’ll never have the chance to see or speak to her again never subsides or hurts any less. There are so many things I wish I could have had the opportunity to tell her, but I never did. Now, I just have to trust that she knew how much I loved, appreciated and admired everything she did and all that she was, and hopefully that will suffice in giving me the strength to carry on. I know it will. Because I have everything I need already inside of me, and I am more than a silhouette. I am everything she raised me to be and more, and I owe it to her know just how worthy and capable I am of this life and all of the hope, joy, love, laughter and fulfillment it can bring. Learning to accept the things I cannot change and move with the winds this world creates for my life. Ebbing and flowing with every breath, overcoming each day. Holding on and letting go.

“So What’s Your Next Step?” : My Post-College Plans!

Ooof. Just writing that title gave me a bit of anxiety. It’s so interesting how the connotation of “the future” has changed over time. I used to hear people ask, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?”, “What are your next steps?”, or “How are you going to reach that goal?” and instantly feel a spark of inspiration and exhilaration within me, surely deriving from my naive ambition and pure zest for life and all I thought I could offer the world. I’ve always been one to constantly plan and orient my life around strict schedules, never really allowing myself time to question what it is I’m meant to do or be. I think that in itself is the key- I’ve always planned out my life based on what I think I’m SUPPOSED to do, not necessarily what is best or most desirable for me. From a very young age, I knew what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, and identified and laid out paths that would enable me to reach the high (and undeniably ambitious) goals I constantly set for myself. I remember being as young as 7 years old telling my mom that I wanted to be a lawyer, which I think was in part inspired by my dad’s extensive experience and history working with the law, as well as a deep love I have for American History and the development of our political system across time. I had a great admiration for the inner workings of the government, the law, and policymaking procedures from a very young age (though I could not have known that’s what I was interested in), and I found myself becoming fixated on constitutional law in particular, not because that’s what my heart was most inclined to, but because that’s what the world told me was acceptable and would bring me the most success. I know that my “dream” to study law and be a renowned attorney throughout the world was a self-imposed goal I set for myself and the course of my life at a very young age. But now that I am older (and hopefully wiser haha), I can also recognize that that deeply held ambition and plan I had for my life was, in great part, a result of my environment and what others fed to me.

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It wasn’t until the past few yeas of my life upon entering and being in college that I was forced to truly defend, actively pursue, and believe in these “dreams” that I had given so much power to in dictating the course of my life that I realized how difficult it was to do so. It shouldn’t be nearly impossible to defend your dreams, or at least have a list of reasons as to why they’re worth dreaming about…right? I remember the exact moment in my first year of college in which my thought process about my life began to switch and I began to question why it was that I was so incredibly dedicated to this life goal I had held onto for so long. I remember beginning to ask myself whether my desire to continue on this path I had created for myself was because I truly desired it and knew that studying law would bring me the greatest sense of fulfillment, or whether I had begun to treat my life as nothing more than the pursuit of a faraway prophecy, one that I had no particular passion or deliberateness in moving towards. That is, I began to wonder if my dream of studying politics, attending law school, and becoming a lawyer was grounded by any intentionality of my own accord. And the answer, not to anyone’s surprise based on the course of this story, was no.

My “dream” of attending law school and being an attorney was not an ambition of mine that encompassed great amounts of my heart and mind, and I began to understand how much I was lacking in terms of meaningful manifestations. My dream of going to law school was not founded on what I now deem necessary to achieve goals I set for myself— passion, relentless drive, heart, determination, and intentionality. Rather, it was undergirded by this immense obligation I felt to do something great. To be something wonderful. For as long as I can remember, I have always pushed myself to set the most difficult goals, have the most outrageous ambitions, and even forced myself to embark on the most strenuous and burdensome paths possible, just to say I could do it. There has always been a part of me that needed to be the absolute best, and the knowledge that I never would be was what kept me going. The perfectionism I adopted at a very young age has had overwhelming effects on the way I have lived my life and how I have grown to become who I am (which can be an entirely separate blog), and I am well aware of just how much my desire to be “perfect” has paradoxically set me back over the years, not to mention how much physical and psychological harm it has produced.

As I look back, I know there is a definite correlation between this deep desire within me to achieve, strive, and attain perfection and my goal of being a lawyer, because I remember the descriptions and characteristics I used to attach to attorneys and those who successfully practice law. I remember categorizing them as highly intelligent (even comparable to doctors), very well-paid, prestigiously educated, regal, stoic, respectable, and a reflection of what it truly means to be a professional in the working world. I thought of lawyers as perfect (at least intellectually), and THAT is what most drove me to want to be one. I spent so much time idolizing what I thought I needed to be in order to fit, replicate, and be a model of what perfection can be manifested as in the world that I completely neglected my heart and its inclinations. I treated my ambitions and true aspirations I felt within as mere disposable and insubstantial parts of myself, though they were the things I most longed for and were the very most important parts of myself. These past few years have led and allowed me to embark on a long road of introspection and inner reflection, and for that I am so grateful. Without being forced to analyze the way in which I have chosen to organize my life, prioritize my goals and essentially order my soul, I don’t know if I would have found what I am truly passionate about, nor if I would have been courageous enough to choose it over what I had so long perceived to be perfect. That being said, I am so glad that I have found a newfound comfort and confidence in what I really want for my future and in the new goals I have decided to set for myself that are NOT aimed at perfection.

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As I have mentioned previously, I am deeply, deeply interested in American History, the ways in which the law and its execution has changed over time, and the nature of politics in general. While I am aware that my former ambitions were erroneously set on positions and goals that I didn’t necessary desire, I also know that my passion and positive disposition towards politics is not something to be discounted. In this way, I think the ends I was aimed at may have been good and justifiable, but the means by which I went about reaching them were far from correct. My interest and appetite for learning and growing in this realm of academia is something that I’ve found to be unwavering over time, and has even grown exponentially upon entering college and being able to discover ways in which I can further specialize my studies. However, in the same light, I have found that I also have a great love for philosophy, literature, and writing. Actually, this wasn’t a find at all. I knew this literally my entire life, but I progressively forced myself to silence these desires and loves I had for the sake of pursuing what I thought to be necessary and “right.” The past two years in particular have really pushed me to re-acknowledge everything I love and appreciate about philosophy and writing, and I am so lucky that I was able to successfully incorporate them into my studies in a multitude of ways. I have been given the opportunity to learn so much about politics, government, and everything in between. I have also been able to read more Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Montaigne than I EVER thought possible, and I have loved every second of analyzing the works of many brilliant thinkers. That being said, I am looking forward to all of the different possibilities that my future may hold, whether they be based on my degree in Political Science or the minors I will have acquired in Philosophy and Spanish. Right now, I am looking at taking at least a semester off and taking a gap before I head to grad school or even think about applying, because 1) I definitely need a mental break and some time off to recenter myself and get my sh*t together, prioritizing my mental and physical health and allowing my heart and spirit to find one another again, and 2) BECAUSE I FREAKING DESERVE IT, OKAY? Hahaha. But really, I’m very much looking forward to having a little bot of a break sometime soon. Directly following graduation, I intend to embark on many travels and see all of Europe with my very best friend, something we’ve been looking forward to for years now. I could not be more excited to venture out, immerse myself in various beautiful cultures completely new to me, and see the world in all of its glory, for I know there is no learning like that which comes from lived experience and opportunity. However, I know that taking a full year off of school would probably drive me insane because I love learning and the academic environment so much, so I will most likely be applying to enter grad school in the Spring of 2020 following all of our amazing European adventures.

In terms of what I will be studying, as of right now I would like to continue on the political and philosophical path and study Political Theory, which I’ve found to be a perfect mixture of the two things I love most. I am looking forward to being able to further examine the ins and out of politics, examine aspects of international relations and offer critiques of regime types. But I am also excited to continue learning more about human nature, the needs of the soul, and examine the deeper questions of the world. From there, I’m completely unsure of where that will lead me. Maybe I’ll end up being a Political Theory professor (something I NEVER considered a possibility for me and would have definitely scoffed at a year ago), a philosopher of some sort, or even a journalist closely following the politics of Washington, D.C. Heck, who knows, maybe I will end up going to law school for the RIGHT reasons someday and I’ll run for Congress! I guess time will tell.

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All this is to say, for the first time in my life, I am not exactly sure what the next year, five years, ten years, or twenty will hold. I never knew in the first place. But for the first time, I am admitting to my inability to tell the future and can honestly say that I am okay with it. I am learning everyday to be okay with the unknown and to not be so fearful of what may come my way or what may even throw me off the set path I have worked so hard to pave for myself. I don’t have my life planned out as of this moment, and I don’t know what the next few years will bring following my undergraduate graduation in May. I have chosen to no longer strictly regiment my life and orient my entire being around schedules, achievements, and goals that cause me to divulge into an unhealthy, perfectionist frenzy aimed at a prophecy that will never be fulfilled. I refuse to let my goals divert my attention away from what I believe to be truly important in this world— life, love, joy, beauty, integrity, family, friends, and hope. The way I now choose to construct my life has these things as the Sun center, and that is what makes every outside goal I set worth achieving. I have found peace in the unpredictability of my life and the outplay of the universe, and I am working on finding it in myself each day. And that is enough. I am enough. Rinse, repeat. Though unexpected, everything has meaning. Significance. A reason.

It’s all intentional. After all, it’s all about intentionality, isn’t it?  (;