How Are You Doing?

A very dear friend of mine asked me the other day, “How are you doing, really? With everything?” Knowing her and knowing that she had been facing similar struggles to mine, I understood what she meant and truly wanted to know: Are you fully recovered? Was it worth it? Are you still sick? Do you still have an eating disorder? Trying to answer these kinds of questions is always difficult, because there really is no one answer. Things change, time passes, and life throws more and more challenges at you in the wake of your attempted healing process. I began by explaining to her that I take things day-by-day and that my life and mentality look a little bit different with the rise of the sun each morning. And while I admitted to still experiencing a lot of complications and struggles with food, eating, and finding a “healthy” balance of it all, I also told her this:

I remember being so cold everyday that I feared my bones would break or crumble if I moved too quickly. I remember being so uncomfortable in my own skin that I would experience panic attacks while out in public because I knew that people would likely glance my direction. I remember wanting to do nothing but hide, being scared of crossing the street because that required calling some sort of attention to myself, dreading hanging out with even my best friends because I knew that in one way or another, food would be involved. I remember often having to stop in the midst of exercising out of fear that my heart would simply stop beating. I remember my hair thinning and how easily I would bruise, somehow finding pleasure in my own self-destruction. I remember lying about having “already eaten,” hiding food and refusing to communicate about what I was going through, and all of the secrets I allowed myself to keep in order to protect the identity I believed was serving and protecting me. I remember not even looking at any form of carbs (let alone eating them) and going vegan, something I was able to use to my advantage in cutting out more and more food groups masked as an ethical endeavor. I remember those 6 almonds and half of an apple I allowed myself to eat everyday that I believed was enough to keep me alive. I remember all of the exercise, all of the “running off the calories” that left me with nothing inside, all of the laxatives I took to feed my obsession with feeling empty, and how much I harmed myself through it all. I needed to feel weightless, frail, weak, and small. Because disappearing and shrinking myself meant that I could learn to feel less. It meant that I could fade away and ignore my own existence and the pain of reality.

I remember waking up everyday hating myself and my body so much that I couldn’t even manage to stop the tears from streaming down my face, let alone successfully complete all that I needed to throughout the day. I remember the thousands of cancelled plans, lies told about why I couldn’t make it to dinner, relationships lost, and dissociation from myself that I experienced, all of which have caused immense pain and have forced me to reconcile with people and things I have pushed away and perhaps even hurt along the way– including myself. I remember becoming so depressed while away at school after isolating myself so much that I lost the ability to reach out and ask for help, all of the classes I skipped and excuses I made for not being able to make it places when I was really just ashamed of how I looked, fainting in classrooms, enjoying being ill, and how often I would make myself sick just from looking into a mirror. Anorexia took so much from me, and working to reclaim all that I have lost over the past 2 years has been the most challenging journey of my life. I did not die, and yet I had lost all of life’s breath.

As life goes on and time continues to pass, I find myself being asked by more and more people about where I’m at currently, especially when it comes to ED recovery. I always start by telling them that I am better, and I am so much happier. I feel freer than I have in a very long time, and I often tend to forget how far I’ve come, because I know there is so much more work to be done. Still, I know that I owe it to myself to recognize the growth I’ve incurred and how far I have been able to push myself since leaving treatment last summer. I can now wake up in the morning with a variety of thoughts in my head, the majority of which are not surrounding food and exercise. I can now decide that if my body is exhausted, I don’t have to run or exercise as hard as I would normally without hating myself for the rest of the day and needing to punish my body for its inability to do what I asked of it. I can now ingest more than just coffee in the morning, and if I need more later, I can allow myself to have another cup. I can now eat a cookie without having to “make up for it” in the coming days. I can now have something other than a smoothie for dinner, and I can even allow myself to eat after dinner if I want to. I can now survive without intermittent fasting and don’t even think twice about what time I can and can’t have food, because I’m learning to trust my hunger cues again. I can now find it in myself to want to be strong and healthy, not frail and faint. I can now (mostly) go out to dinner with my family or friends without having major anxiety about what I would eat or how I would get out of having to eat. I can now say “yes” to my friends when they ask me if I want to go get a snack in the middle of the day just because, and I can even manage to have frozen yogurt with them on a hot summer day. I can now be out tanning and swimming with my friends without thinking about if I looked thin enough, changing my outfit 27 times, or worrying about what they might think of me. I can now travel across the world and eat gelato with my best friend on the trip of a lifetime and not miss out on part of the experience abroad. I can now make it through the day without measuring my waist or my wrists, trying on clothes to make sure they still fit the same or were slightly looser than the day before, feeling every bone on my body just to make sure that I still could, and even stepping on the scale. I no longer seek my own demise, for I know I am worth more than that, and life is a gift to be lived and enjoyed. I still remember that girl, but I am no longer her.

These all appear to be the tiniest of successes and may even come off as insignificant to anybody who has never experienced the harrowing destruction an eating disorder causes, both physically and mentally. But for me, all of these things seemed more than impossible to me even a few months ago. I never thought I would again find myself in a position where I could manage to have thoughts in my head that didn’t revolve around food, compulsive exercising, restriction, etc., or that I could dedicate my time to people and things other than the size and appearance of my body. I truly thought I had reached the point of no return, but the acknowledgement of these small steps as progress towards a happier and healthier me help me realize that no place I find myself in in this life is permanent. A small step is still a step. I can always change, improve, better myself, and learn how to love and care for people, things, and myself each and everyday. And so is the case for everybody. In case nobody has told you lately, the small things you are doing in your life matter both to yourself and others. Your hard work and intentions don’t go unnoticed, and you deserve to be proud of yourself, your own story/journey, and how far you have managed to come.

I know that despite the progress I know I’ve made, I still have a long road to go. But, the road no longer scares me, and that’s the key. I’m no longer afraid to ask for support if I need it, I’m not terrified of returning to old habits if I have a bad day or even a bad week because I know I can get myself back on track, and I no longer feel trapped in my own body and in this life. That’s what keeps me going and allows me to continue expanding my horizons and pushing myself in spite of whatever setbacks may appear.

I knew that telling my friend all of this and having a conversation with her about my own experience as well as hers could have either tremendously helped her or not at all. Through it all, though, I reminded her that I was in no place to offer advice, nor do I think that my experience is equivalent to hers. I can only share what I have gone through and learned from, and hope for everyone to do the same with their own experiences. I often find it hard to talk about my own struggles with people or constructing posts like this one despite having lots of questions and suggestions to do so, because I know how difficult it can be to separate our own selves and experiences from those of others at times. However, I know that the messages I’ve received asking me to continue writing about it, answering questions, etc. are important and may have the potential to help someone, so I always try my best to articulate what I wish to tell. That being said, I remember our conversation ending with me offering a brief outline of the steps I took and even the logical reasoning and even apologetic behavior I had to practice in order to really begin healing myself.

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I told her that if hating myself could have made me happy, I would have gotten there already. So, I tried something different. I gave myself care when all I wanted was destruction, and that’s when my healing began. I convinced myself that I had spent enough time at war with myself, and that I had forced my body to engage in battles it never wanted to fight. I mentioned that I find it all to be unfair. The way I’ve treated myself, the way the world grooms us to believe that we’re never enough and projects this vision of idealism and perfection, the way capitalist corporations and a population of people profit from the insecurities of women (and men), and the way I see so many people struggling to be okay with themselves and find peace with existing in their own bodies. It’s all so wrong in so many ways, and I’m sorry that this is the world we live in. For me, recovery has never been about learning to love my body. Though that would be amazing, putting that kind of pressure on myself in aiming to be able to look at myself and know that my body is 100% beautiful all the time is just not something I’ve set as a goal/wanted for myself. Rather, I am learning how to give myself permission to fully exist in peace regardless of how my body looks. If that comes in the form of finding myself beautiful, then so be it. But, if it comes in the form of simply loving myself enough to not harm my body, work to change how it exists, and feeding it (no pun intended) only positivity and light that contribute to my overall well-being and the maintenance of my heart and soul, then that’s okay, too. I’ve taught myself to understand that “pretty” and “thin” is not the rent I must pay to exist in this world as a woman. I’ve had to apologize to my body and myself for all of the damage I caused and all of the falsities I enabled myself to believe, and for losing so much time. If I understand anything about the universe, it’s that it waits for no one. Life is short, and the inevitable passage of time only makes it harder for human beings to keep up. That’s the human condition. And as tragic as it is, it is equally as beautiful. Don’t waste time hating yourself. Or your body. You deserve better than that. Take a break. If it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it. Eat the freaking cookie. And the ice cream. I promise you that you won’t look back in 10, 20, or 50 years and regret the fact that you allowed yourself to enjoy the food, people, and experiences life had given you. You owe yourself that and so much more.

You are not alive to pay bills and lose weight. Your body is not your masterpiece. Your life is. Remind yourself of this everyday.

 

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?  (;

Let’s Talk Race! Growing up Biracial

Hi, beautiful people! I hope you are all having a wonderful week and are getting so excited in the days preceding Thanksgiving. I know I am! Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, and I cannot wait to take a trip home to spend time with my family, share in the season of giving, and graciously embrace all that this fall season has brought me. Only a few short days away!

In this week’s blog, I thought I would write about a topic that has been much-requested on Instagram, Facebook, and in my past blog comments: what it has been like to grow up racially mixed and how it has impacted my personhood and the course of my life. I thought this topic suggestion was really interesting and I was instantly drawn to it, because after looking back on how my life has been shaped thus far, it was never something that I have so openly discussed (apart from the plentiful political science papers that I’ve written on the basis of race) . So naturally, I wanted to dive right into uncharted territory and talk about race and being mixed in the context of my own life, my family’s life, and how the distinct dynamics I have experienced have contributed to my growth. Alright, let’s talk race!!

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Obviously, first thing’s first. My dad is African American, and my mom was 100% Caucasian, so my sisters and I are full-fledged mixtures of them both, and I identify as both black and white. Doing so has been important to me for as long as I can remember (I suppose as long as I have understood what race implies & entails), and I have grown up learning to embrace both parts of who I am. Even within my mixed family, the children that my parents produced are extremely diverse. My oldest sister, for one, is the fairest of the three of us and perhaps most resembles my mom with her mostly straight hair and blue eyes. My middle sister has the most bronzed skin of us and has tight, curly hair and brown eyes, and I am somewhere in the middle in terms of both pigmentation and hair texture. My eyes are also blue (which is crazy, I know. Those recessive genes really came in clutch for our family lol), and while I am often told that I look most like my oldest sister, I can also see similarities between my middle sister and me. That is to say, we are all so unique, anomalous and special in our own distinct ways, and the way we appear to one another and to the world is only a beautiful manifestation of the diverse, loving background from which we come. Looking back, I really do appreciate the way my parents raised my sisters and I— always being honest with us, teaching us the ways of the world, and never trying to hide the adversities or difficulties that could arise throughout the course of our lives. I remember from a very young age my parents describing what it means to be biracial in this world, how it manifests itself in both the public and private spheres, and the way it is perceived by others. They never shied away from being honest with us about human nature and the fact that there were and will always be people who look at us differently, don’t appreciate our coming from a mixed background, or hold us to the same standard or regard as those who identify as full white (or even full black). I distinctly remember my dad telling us many stories in my childhood in which he would give accounts of his own experiences dealing with race and forms of discrimination, including the intolerance he and my mom encountered resulting from their interracial relationship and marriage. Like so many other African Americans, my dad faced endless critique, inequities, and acts of bigotry all throughout his life (and still does), from the supermarket to the workplace. His “blackness” has been an element of his being that others have targeted and exploited in many ways, and he always told us that in his workplace, he had to work at least twice as hard just to be considered on similar footing to his white colleagues. Hearing this come from my dad at a very young age undoubtedly struck a cord with me, and I never forgot all that he told us regarding the impact that race and appearance play in the unfolding of social and political life.

Now that I am older and have widened my experience, array of knowledge and understanding for how race is conceptualized in our contemporary society, I definitely have come to better learn what my race and background mean both to me and to the world. Race is something that I’ve often found to be considered a “taboo” subject by so many people, and I think the stigmatization around it is, in itself, damaging and supererogatory. Race is something that 100% should be able to be discussed, for it is unquestionably something that has most worked to shape our culture, institutions, and even modes of thinking (for better or for worse). My being both black and white growing up has definitely come with its challenges, most of which I have never thought to talk about before. I remember the first introduction I had into the notion of race came with my first encounter in which I realized that I was a little different. My sisters were a little bit different. We didn’t have the super straight, blonde hair that so many other kids at our schools did, nor did we have two white parents that was the norm of the suburbs. Additionally, I had an entire half of my family with darker skin who resembled my dad, while the other half was full white and resembled my mom. Little by little, noticing these minute differences between the way my family looked as compared to the ones that surrounded us at school, out in public, on TV and in the media all led to my eventual realization that my sisters and I were not like everybody else. However, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s beautiful.

Admittedly, it is difficult for me to speak to the conflicts and obstacles that a lot of African American people face, because I don’t feel as if I can completely relate to the black experience, considering only half of my identity is fulfilled there. And yet, I also can’t fully claim the white experience, for I did not grow up just being white and playing to my whiteness. I don’t think I understood then exactly what I was feeling, but I recall very early in my childhood feeling this sense of aloofness and lack of complete belonging, especially when it came to social interactions that involved stratification of some sort, or even at family holidays. I remember struggling to understand what it was that was so different between the times I spent with my mom’s family and those I spent with my dad’s side, never grazing underneath the surface to find the source of my internal discomfort. For some reason, I always felt like I was being pulled in one direction or the other, depending on the people who surrounded me or the environment I was temporarily a part of. While I know my family or friends never did so intentionally, I did, at times, feel as if I did not belong. It didn’t matter how many things we had in common, the fact that I had the same abilities as others around me, or even that I was interacting with my own family. I still felt this inexplicable guilt and tension within myself when I was called upon to be in certain settings, for I almost felt as if I had to reject one half of myself while simultaneously fully assimilating/accepting the other half of my identity. Often times, I think people have this conception that biracial people have “the best of both worlds” in this way. But what they refuse to acknowledge is that along with the ability to somewhat blend cultures and embrace diverse modes of life derived from both races they incur, this “blend” can also lead to a kind of detachment, reclusion, and even oblivion as to what we are meant to be seen and understood as, as well as how we are supposed to be in this world.

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This marginality that has characterized my entire life is something that I’ve only come to fully understand in my college years, but it is something I find essential to indicating what my experience being mixed has been like. Because my parents come from such vastly different backgrounds and their ancestries occur on very separate continuums, my experience growing up was nothing if not multidimensional. I definitely had the “biracial experience” in attempting to exhibit both sides of my identity, and that did not come without cost. Although I was raised in a diverse and mixed household, my experience growing up was not one that I would consider an evenly distributed cultural experience. I grew up in a household that culturally reflected whiteness, and I never saw that as a problem until I started to get a little bit older and hear comments like, “You’re so whitewashed,” “You’re not black enough for this,” and even questions asking, “Are you SURE you’re black? You look, sound, and act full white.” Now, the whole notion of “sounding” and “acting” black is a whole other conversation that I can create a whole separate post about at a later time. But hearing people express these kind of judgments and doubts about my own race and experience was not something that I ever took lightly. I began to wonder why people were so inclined to feel as if they knew more about my race than me, what it should look like manifested in the world, and how they were so quick to judge me based on my appearance and the way that I present myself. Getting comments about being “whitewashed” is still not uncommon for me (or even my family), and although I do, in part, agree with the fact that my environment and upbringing does not fit into what could be coined as African culture, the complete rejection of half of my identity that is implied in these kinds of statements still aggravates me. I like to think that although my household (my sisters and I, specifically) was primarily culturally white, we in no way attempted to forget or deny the presence of our African heritage and the fact that it composes a large percentage of who we are as people and as women. We have never been naïve in believing that life would be easy for us, for our mom and dad explained to us very early on that the world was not structured to benefit or protect women NOR people of color, and that being both would inevitably pose great and lasting challenges. Still, I am very, very proud to be both African American and Caucasian, and my race is something that I am inclined to think of as an asset to my character. My race does not define me, but it does hold great importance in shaping who I am and how I choose to interact with the world I live in. And most of all, looking, being, and feeling different (even on the smallest scale) is not a problem, and I am not a problem. My differences make me who I am, and who am I to say they aren’t wonderful differences?

I still find myself struggling with this concept today, because I think society has forced us to believe from such an early age that being different is not okay under any circumstances, and differences in race, appearance, character, etc. are equally susceptible to judgment and criticism. Though I definitely continue to feel waves of isolation and separation from people around me at times stemming from my inability to FULLY be a part of or accepted by one side or the other (whether it be black or white), I have come to learn that, as cliché as it is, being different is freaking amazing. It’s a gift, and I deserve to cherish it. So what if I don’t look like people who are full white? So what if I also don’t look black and people constantly question my racial assuredness? I know what and who I am, and that is what matters. Being mixed gives me a diverse and unique experience, and that is something to be celebrated and grateful for, not ashamed of. I love who I am, where I come from, and how my identity has shaped me, and I am grateful everyday for my parents and their creating this beautiful, diverse and exciting life for my sisters and I.

My body is not an apology, and the complex and deep-rooted dynamics that undergird my identity all coalesce in order to make me who I am. That is not something I will ever apologize for, nor is it something that requires an explanation. I don’t have to feel obligated to reply to people who shockingly comment about how “white” I look and those who claim I’m lying when I describe myself as being racially mixed. The way I look to others does not shape the way that I identify myself; that power lies within me and only me, and being black AND was is not something that I am (or have ever been) ashamed of. In fact, it is the source of some of the greatest pride I feel for my identity, because it connects my life and being to those of my parents, for whom I have boundless respect and admiration for. For me, embodying the races of both my mom and dad has always been something I have found joy in, and I will always feel immense honor and have dignity in discussing my race and its effects on me. I’m proud of my identity, and I know there will never come a time in which I feel differently.

My Very First Blog: An Introduction to Me!

Wow! This is a whole lot more nerve-wracking than I anticipated…I’ve had a thought in my mind for so long about wanting to start my own blog, but I never got around to it until now. I know part of that was out of fear, but I also wanted to ensure that I would be able to give my site the time, commitment, and effort I wanted to in order to really make it something I can take pride in. I needed to know that if I did it, I would go all-in and give my whole heart and mind to it (something I try to do in every part of my life). To start out, I guess it would make sense to tell you all a little bit about myself, who I am, where I’m from, how I was brought up, etc. I assume an introduction to my blog calls for an introduction to ME, so here we go!

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My name is Kamryn Gooden, I am 20 years old, and I am currently a third year college student at the University of San Diego (though I plan on graduating this May). I am originally from a small suburban town Glendora, CA, just outside of Pasadena and other more well-known cities. I grew up in the same home in Glendora my whole life, and my dad still resides there today. Although at times I wished I lived in a bigger and more exciting city, I now look back and am so grateful to have grown up in such a wonderful town and community. Still, I am absolutely LOVING everything about San Diego and am so grateful everyday that this is the decision I made.

I have two older sisters, Courtney and McKenna, who are 9 and 6 years older than me, respectively. Despite our immense age gaps, however, there was never a moment in time throughout my childhood where I didn’t consider both of them my built-in best friends. I can’t explain how wonderful and dreamlike my childhood really was. I hesitate in saying that anything is perfect, because I know that that’s a far-fetched and often unattainable standard for anything in life. Still, my childhood was pretty close to that, at least in my eyes. Some of my very first memories revolve around my childhood home, spending time with my family and creating memories that were to be cherished forever. One of the very first memories I have in my mind is going to preschool when I was just three years old. I remember distinctly how much I hated going, and how difficult it was for me everyday to be away from my mom. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and she took great pride in raising all three of her girls. Not only had she dreamt of simply being a mother and raising kids her whole life, but she loved being with us so very much and always wanted to be close. She was successful in doing so, and in creating a relationship with each of us that was very special, enabling her to watch us grow everyday and never miss a single step. The extent to which my mom valued closeness surely impacted my family as a whole, for everything I remember about my very early childhood involves nothing more than all of us being together and being happy. Family holidays, birthdays, and events were always something to be looked forward to in my family, and although w didn’t necessarily have the biggest family or see our extended relatives very often, the five of us were always more than happy to spend quality time together and make unforgettable memories. And although holidays and marked calendar events were much anticipated and a cue for excitement, it was the normal and subtle simplicity of our day-to-day lives that was most special to me.

Apart from the time spent with my family standing out in my memories of growing up, sports were also such a HUGE part of my7 life and how I came to be the ultra-competitive, perfectionistic, athletically-inclined person that I am. I began playing soccer (or rather, kicking the ball around with my dad on the sidelines) when I was just two years old, mainly as a result of being around it so often. Both of my sisters played soccer all throughout their childhood, and sure enough, being tagged along and dragged to every soccer field in California at such a young age to watch them play was enough to make me fall in love with the sport, too. My oldest sister Courtney played for only a few short years before choosing to fully commit herself to dancing, something she greatly excelled at. McKenna, though, continued playing soccer all the way through high school, and she became the sports figure I most looked up to and pushed myself to be like. Both of my sisters have always been amazing at everything they did or tried to do, and although I didn’t really consider it or think much of it at the time, this is probably one aspect of what so deeply ingrained my desire to be the best and achieve perfection in every area of my life at such a young age. I recall my household being very competitive, but not to the point where we didn’t honor one another or celebrate each other’s excellence. Looking back, I think my parents did a great job of allowing us all to find our passion, dedicate ourselves to it fully, and pushed us appropriately to be better versions of ourselves in every way possible. I’ve always been extremely competitive, and I think seeing my sisters constantly win at things they did and continue to strive for better definitely struck a chord with me. I wanted to be able to do the same, so I did. I’ll stop here in talking about soccer because I really could go on FOREVER. (Maybe I will make a whole separate post about that!)

Although most of my childhood and time as a young kid and teenager revolved around sports, with my parents having to maneuver around three kids to different places, somehow getting us all to where we needed to be and never missing a single game, I also remember most of my earliest years as a kid being extremely fun and creative at home. My sisters and I would make home videos on my dad’s giant camcorder, where we would film super quirky and weird things like fake news reports, interviews with each other, and different types of segments that required little direction or preparation. And man, are these a riot to watch now! We still make fun of ourselves every single day for those things lol. We just liked to create things together (as strange as they might have been), and I’m forever appreciative of both of my sisters, our wonderful relationships with one another, and all of the memories we’ve created. I just love them so very much. Our time together has always been special to each of us, and nothing has changed. Despite them being so much older (and arguably wiser haha) than me, my sisters never made me feel excluded and I always felt just as important and worthy as they did. I can’t really put into words how much they both mean to me and how much their beauty, grace, strength, and kindness has helped shape me and make me into the person I am today, but the least I could do is show them my endless love, support, and gratitude for them as often as possible. And this I find completely doable.

All in all, my early childhood and into my adolescence was amazing and wonderful in every way, and I don’t think that I would change a single thing about it if given the chance. Of course nothing is perfect and my family hit definite bumps in the road. We fought one another, went on completely dysfunctional family vacations, shared a few screams, and disagreed a number of times. But there was nothing we couldn’t endure or overcome together as a unit, and the high value my parents instilled of togetherness, connection, and love for one another is what carried us through everything that came our way. To this day, I can’t imagine there ever coming a time where we don’t communicate, assist, or cherish each other just as the human beings we are, and that is what most gives me strength even at my worst.

I think I’m going to cut myself off here, otherwise I’d end up digressing into my whole life story and boy is it too early for that! Hahaha. Anyways, I hope you enjoyed reading a bit about who me, my family, and got a little glimpse into what my childhood and early life consisted of. Let me know if there is anything in this blog post you’d like me to go deeper into— whether it’s family, soccer, my transition into high school, my faith, friendships, academics, etc! There is so, so much to talk about and so many directions to go, but I think this is a good place to start. If you’ve read this far, thank you so much! Be sure to leave a comment telling me what you want to see next. I hope you all have a wonderful week.

 

xoxo, kam