First the Pain, Then the Rising

Life scared me into being small. It pushed me to be fearful, to be quiet and obedient, to never be “too much,” too intelligent, too driven, too ambitious, or too much of a leader. To take what I earned and worked for and “just be grateful.” To only speak when asked, to only act when prompted, and to settle for mediocrity when excellence and brilliance were my signals of virtue.

Life scared me into believing that my purpose on this earth was merely to exist. It led me into thinking that I was a singular cog within the capitalist machine that trudges on and on. It engrained into my mind that insignificance and replaceability were facts of this life, and that in spite of the depth of my heart and my mind, I would never have the capacities to create, reach, and impact the way I wished to.

Life scared me into believing that I am too weak, alone, and unprepared to deal with pain. That I was incapable of braving the storm and it somehow taught me that because I felt things so deeply and thought so deliberately, the world and all of its pain would be too much for me to handle. It made me believe that the heart beating inside of my chest and the mind functioning in my head like clockwork were not sufficient, that all I desired would forever be unattainable, and that the anguish, heartache, torment, grief, and suffering that reveals itself in abundance would ultimately defeat me.

I’ve always had BIG thoughts. BIG feelings. BIG connections. BIG ambitions. BIG dreams. BIG opinions. BIG words. A BIG aliveness within me that was waiting to prevail and to break through the confines and the cages that society urged me to create for myself.

fullsizeoutput_7ef1

As I’ve grown, learned, and evolved, there is one truth that I have discovered and will forever cling to: that if I truly desire the things I believe myself to value and uphold, that I must not only be willing to face the storm, but that I embrace and move towards the pain it may bring. What I want most out of this life— fulfillment, love, vivacity, wholeness, compassion, impact, meaning— do not come to those who cower away from the pain. In fact, I’ve found that in the moments during which I felt most complete and human, pain has always been close by. I have learned to welcome the pain this life breeds for me and for those close to me, and I do my best every moment of everyday to inch closer and closer to the discomfort, for that is the source of growth. The deepest pains of my life have also been the ground from which I have evolved abundantly, loved most deeply, felt most wholly, and have succeeded in being most human. In spite of life’s relentless teachings that pain and sorrow may only beget more, boundless pain and sorrow, the end we reach after enduring such pain is anything but an end. Following the pain, learning how to navigate, cope, create, and feel our way through is the beginning of our journey towards becoming more human— of unraveling and untangling the cages and systems that have always inhibited us, the negating of the age-old teachings that push us into taming ourselves for the likeness of others and of society, the revolution and evolution into who we are truly meant to be.

I shied away from the BIG for longer than I care to admit. I believed my big feelings, big thoughts and insights, big wishes and dreams, big aspirations and intentions for inspiration, and big voice to be *too* big. I stayed in the cage that the world presented me with upon entering this life, and as I grew and began to better understand what womanhood and minoritization constitute in this nation, I enabled the tightening of my cage. As I came to understand the nature and function of a capitalist state, I felt the bars around me closing in more and more everyday. As I began to face pains and the inevitable tribulations of life and the human condition, I began to stiffen the bindings of the cages myself. I withdrew, scared of it all. I had tamed many of my big feelings, but the fear always remained, a haunting reminder that I could not shrink myself nearly enough to escape everything I so desperately wished to. I thought that avoidance would lead me to happiness or joy, or at the minimum, apathy. Perhaps the fear was so big that I would have rather felt nothing at all than the feelings I knew to be so powerful that they might kill me. I convinced myself that self-preservation was the highest virtue I could settle for, and I believed my survival to depend on my own withdrawal, my ability to anticipate the potential harms, pains, despairs, and anguish that life could have waiting for me right outside the confines of my own cages. So I withdrew. I settled for a small life, because the BIG seemed too much for me to cope with:

To feel nothing at all was less scary than feeling everything all at once.

How wrong was I?
As it turns out, the lessons that the world drilled into my mind were not, in fact, what I have found to be true. Not only that, but they were completely antithetical to what I actually want my life to be like— what I want ME to be like. But then again, how could I have ever expected the world that created and handed me the cages to be the same source of my freedom and wholeness? The past few years of this life for me have undoubtedly been the worst of my life. I’ve felt what I thought to be the greatest heartbreaks and griefs imaginable, I’ve lost more than I can properly put into words, I’ve failed miserably time and time again, and I’ve had my fair share of finding comfort in the darkness and anguish the harrowing realities of the world brought to me. What I didn’t expect, though, is that with the heartache came insight. With the loneliness came contemplation. With the loss came an emptiness now home to my most precious and beautiful memories. With the failure came reflection. With the grief came connection and humanness. And with the darkness ultimately came the arrival of a light breeding a transformation and strength I could have never seen, felt, or anticipated. If the lowest of my lows have taught me anything at all, it’s that no matter how fiercely I run away from pain and how extensively I try to shield myself from its impact, I will never run fast enough. I can never fully disappear. Pains and trials will always approach me faster than I can move away from them, and it will always find each of us, for it is what makes us most human.

 

 

It took me a long time to figure out that in this lifetime, trying so desperately to avoid the BIG-ness I knew deep down that I wanted was simply impossible to see or experience from within the confines of the cage I allowed myself to adopt and exist in. If I truly wished to seek the dreams I had conjured, speak with the strength I knew I had, write with the power and impact I wanted, and experience the fullest, most authentic and beautiful life I knew, pain was inevitable. It was the starting line, and a daunting one at that. But somewhere along the way, I got tired. I got tired of living a small life, having a small voice, settling for what the world told me I should be grateful for, and waiting for “the moment.” I had waited years and years for something extraordinary to wedge its way into the orbit of my restraints, and it never came. Because it never does. The moment that I was constantly waiting for would never come, because not only was I so conditioned to feel and see only the surface of everything this life offers, but I had not even granted myself the time, space, and freedom to grow into knowing exactly what moment I was actually waiting for. Much of my life has been spent waiting for these BIG moments that have never arrived, because I felt more comfortable in the waiting room of my cage than outside of it creating and existing in the moment I wanted to experience. Because all I allowed myself to feel and be was small, I was constantly anticipating the BIG to arrive— the euphoric joy, the greatest of tangible successes, the most brilliant of thoughts. The gift of time has provided me the necessary pain I needed not only in order to begin breaking free of my own bounds, but to begin being the BIG I had been impatiently waiting for.

Years ago, I never expected to be here. In grad school. Thinking these thoughts. Writing these words. Loving and losing. Growing with every step and breath I take, never knowing if the direction of my growth is in alignment with what I desire or value. What I do know is that now, having faced the pain and knowing that I will continue to walk towards it, is that my life is the most true, authentic, and beautiful it has ever been. I am here to keep becoming deeper, more true and real versions of myself time and time again. To be alive is to be in a perpetual state of revolution; some of it willful, some of it fateful.

The people I most admire in this life are many things, but resilient, courageous, intentional, empathetic, and human are my favorite things about them. I now know that no one gets to be those things without having first faced the storm, endured the pain, and learned to overcome. The overcoming, or rising, follows the conquering of the pain, and there is nothing more true and beautiful about this life or the human condition than this— that the same pain and deep suffering that makes us fall to our knees and falter more than we can imagine is what also grants us the freedom to evolve, to see the world through new eyes, to become all that we wish to be, and to grow into the people we are meant to be. You don’t get to be resilient, brave, courageous, insightful, or wise by shying away from the pain and avoiding all the heartbreak that comes your way. Only the brave are warriors, and that is the greatest sense of freedom I know.

img_7887

So now, whenever I sense the cage closing in on me and taunting me with its confines, I remember the pain, and then the rising. And as many wounds, aches, and troubles I may face in both embracing and being the BIG I always waited for, I remember how living a small life felt. I remember the roads and paths I could have taken that may have eased up my journey and made it more bearable. But then I remember the feelings; the ones that cannot be replaced, understood, or even felt inside such a small life. Untangling myself from the world’s expectations, definitions, and dividing lines will always be messy, and I know that it will inevitable leave me more open to harm and pain than if I were to choose the safety and preservation that accompanies societal boxes. But I’m tired of waiting for the big moments, and I refuse to allow this singular, ever-fleeting, precious life I have to shrink into anything less than magnificent. If I have one shot at this, I would rather risk feeling everything and living through it all than avoiding all I can and diminishing my human potential with every inhibition of freedom I procure. I would rather be “too much” than nothing at all. I would rather love so deeply and risk losing just as intensely. I would rather feel great joy and risk the great sorrow. I would rather feel inspired and enthusiastic and risk disappointments and frustrations just as large.

I would rather be vulnerable and leave myself open to the pain and suffering, for without it, the truth, authenticity, and beauty of this human life and in the rising would be lost.

 

 

Me Too.

IMG_9769

I was 16. He told me he loved me. I believed him.

I remember thinking in the moment that this wasn’t right, that this wasn’t how I should have felt. I remember thinking that the problem was me, who just didn’t want this and didn’t feel comfortable. Not in the slightest. I’ve never felt more unsafe or more uneasy than in that moment, for I knew what was coming. Had I done something to insinuate this was what I wanted? Did I give consent unknowingly?

No.

IMG_9762

He pushed me onto the floor and held me there, relentlessly telling me that this was what I wanted. More than that, he told me this is what he deserved. After all, he’d been waiting for three whole weeks since we began dating.

During those weeks, I found myself in agony, walking around school hand in hand, knowing the kinds of messages he would send after the final bell rang. I never anticipated how quickly things would change once we decided to move beyond a friendship, nor did I want things to turn out the way that they did. I now understand the patterns and signals of abuse more than I ever thought was necessary, and they scream at my past self everyday. How could I not predict it? How could I not understand the danger I was in? Those first weeks continue to haunt me all these years later.

I was only 16 when I found myself on an irreparable path of destruction and abuse, just like the ones I had always been warned about. I never thought it would be me. It couldn’t be. Growing up, you always hear stories about things like this and wonder if that could happen to you. Maybe if you’re careful enough, it won’t. Maybe if you’re smart enough, strong enough, confident enough, etc., it won’t happen to you. But the reality is, none of that matters. No measure of intelligence, strength, or confidence can serve as a proper shield against sexual assault or abuse, for it is so much deeper than that. It’s deeper than the movies you’re shown or the books you’re encouraged to read, it’s deeper than a manipulation of the physical body, and it’s far deeper than what my 16-year-old mind could understand and fathom at the time. I knew that I loved, but who knew how deeply that would complicate things?

He was my best friend, and I was his. I loved him, and that is what so heavily blinded me. We grew into what I believed to be a good relationship from the greatest friendship, something I never thought could go awry or cause such immense pain. From the start of our relationship, though, there was a great shift in dynamic. I remember feeling both confused and concerned that so early on, we were encountering frequent disagreements, many of which revolved around sex. I remember him asking me, not yet one full week into dating, if I was ready to take the “next step” of our relationship. I told him no, that I wasn’t comfortable and didn’t feel ready. I was young, and although I hadn’t yet begun to identify or address the ever-growing pit in my stomach upon having to say “no” and stand my ground, I was scared. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted, but I also knew that I loved.

In my heart and in my mind, I knew that I shouldn’t have had the concerns I did from the start, nor should I have ignored the red flags that were placed in the line of my vision time and time again. I understood that it wasn’t healthy or respectful for him to be asking me everyday whether or not I was ready, when I was finally going to consent and want that for our relationship, or attempting to guilt me into pleasing him by victimizing himself as he compared our relationship to those of our friends, many of which he claimed “had more fun” and “experimented more” than us. He told me that’s what he deserved, that he had done so much for me and always supported and loved me. So why, he asked, couldn’t I do this one thing for him? He would explain to me time and time again his position and would defend his aggression and persistence by self-aggrandizing, never failing to mention that he believed himself to always be the one who was forced to compromise, give up what he wanted, and put me first. He tried to persuade me every moment he could find, urging me to “just understand” what it was like to be him, a teenage boy in a 3-week sexless relationship. He pushed and pushed and pushed, always framing it as a transaction he was so justifiably owed. I owed him my body, and I owed him everything. He deserved it. Who was I to deny him?

Weeks later, when I found myself on the floor of his living room, arms pinned down, and clothes being torn off, it was all a blur. I felt everything and nothing all at once, somehow hoping the world could stop so that I could think straight. I told him no, but his hands continued to travel down my body, ultimately reaching the button on my jeans. He unbuttoned them, and again, I removed his hands. Twice. Thrice. My heart beat faster, and though I spent weeks convincing myself I wasn’t afraid of him, I was terrified. My blood ran cold, and I became paralyzed. I froze, and though I felt the tears welling behind my eyelids, I could not release them, nor could I speak. I held onto the guilt of freezing up for years. How could I have not been stronger? Spoken more? Fought back harder? Fighting or fleeing was not even an option in my mind. I couldn’t think, and thus I couldn’t move. The tears spilled down my cheeks as I lie there in silence, wondering how I had gotten here. What I had done to deserve this. What I could have been punished for. Why I was unable to even function.

It’s taken me 6 years to forgive the 16-year-old me in that moment, who found herself unable to even breathe, let alone continue to resist and fight after having done so consistently. I understand now that that was a trauma response, and both my body and mind were unable to do what I believed they should have. Still, it’s hard to swallow. I never imagined myself to be anything but a fighter, and it’s easy to assign roles and actions to yourself when the experience is yet to be lived. Should I ever find myself being sexually abused or assaulted, I would fight. Or I would run.

I did neither. I couldn’t.

I’ve found the grace to forgive myself for that moment, though I know I have nothing to apologize for or reconcile. I had neither abandoned what I knew and expressed were my feelings and intentions, nor did I fail to speak up and stand strong. And still. Years later, the lump is still in my throat. If not for that first time, for the remaining years of our relationship I allowed it to continue.

That may have been the first time I felt violated, but it certainly wasn’t the last. I never felt safe, and I never felt comfortable. I never felt whole, and I rarely felt appreciated, let alone loved and cherished. After initially pressuring and manipulating me into sex within the first weeks, the trend only worsened with time. He would push me to have sex with him everyday, and we would for months at a time, for he always threatened me with expectations and guilted me into believing I somehow needed to serve him and his insatiable desires. Everyday without fail, he would touch me without consent, in spite of my consistency in telling him “no.” He would continue, with an undeniable aggression and a look in his eyes that I will never forget. There I would end up–in his bed. As soon as he would finish, it was done and he never once cared to ask how I felt or if I was even okay. It became ostensibly clear to me that all he wanted was to get off, and that’s what he expected everyday. Soon enough, the problems moved far beyond solely unwanted sexual advances and assaults. He consistently held things that I had told him in confidence over my head and would threaten to blackmail me when things weren’t going the way he wanted or expected them to, and I was told from some of my close friends that he constantly reached out to them in order to complain about our sex life, my body, what I was or wasn’t giving him, etc. I never understood his behavior in general and the way in which he viewed our relationship and consequently treated me to be abusive at the time. I knew what he was doing during those years was not normal, but I couldn’t allow myself to believe I was a victim of abuse in the relationship, because somewhere along the way I had internalized his sick proposition that I did, in fact, owe him something. And that my love, companionship, encouragement, loyalty, and heart was not enough for him or any relationship I found myself in. I didn’t believe it to be possible for him to be abusing me because I had convinced myself that being in a relationship with him made that impossible. As a 16-year-old, I didn’t understand that being in a consensual relationship did not imply consensual sex. That being in a consensual relationship didn’t necessitate this kind of treatment, nor did it mean that I was so disposable that I owed him things. I thought that my love for him inherently counteracted and rectified the horrible things he said and did to me, and I thought and talked myself into believing that I could not have been mistreated, because I had decided to love him.

IMG_9764

I’ve never lost touch with the shame I felt throughout the entirety of the relationship, nor even now, years later, in telling all of this. I wasn’t able to get myself to tell a single soul until just last year when I explained my experiences to a few close friends, and I truly never thought I would be here, writing this post. Every word brings a kind of agony and pain so deeply-seeded in my experience, but simultaneously offers an odd release and catharsis. The truth really does set us free, and I’m only reminded of that more and more as I continue to lean into the discomfort and embrace the pains of the past in moving forward. Though (after years of studying and learning) I understand far more about what sexual and psychological abuse and assault look like, I continue to carry the burdens of guilt and to comprehend that the shame is not mine to bear. These moments and this time continues to appear in my mind as distant memories from time to time, and the anguish appears to be ever-present. Even so, I’ve never felt more in-touch with the things that happened to me as my mind continues to slowly unravel them, unpack things I had sown away for what I intended to be forever, and deepening my understanding of myself and what used to be. Accepting that these things happened to me was an internal war I waged for may years, and I used to feel ashamed for even pondering the thought. But the truth is that it did. Part of me thought that simply acknowledging the reality of what I’d been through would somehow make it impossible or more difficult to move beyond, or that it would delegate me as weak, a victim, or incapable in more ways than I could imagine. This was an unfair burden to place on myself, and I speak now in order to alleviate and prevent others in similar positions from doing the same. Remaining silent and postponing healing does not make you braver; it only deepens and intensifies the wounds that have been inflicted upon you and that you never deserved. Not speaking is not in itself an act of valiance or virtue; do not fall into believing that your protection of your abuser makes you more courageous than you have always been.

You are brave without protecting others. You are brave for protecting yourself. You are brave in speaking your truth. You are brave in living a life most authentic and beautiful to you. You are brave within your own mind and within your own life. You are brave all on your own.

You are brave.

You are brave.

You are brave.

This world and society has a way of indoctrinating into our minds that rape and sexual assault only happens in dark alleyways by a man with a weapon while walking alone at night, or that sexual abuse implies the weakness or ignorance on behalf of the victims. Realistically, abuse is everywhere. It is everywhere, and it is fervent and undeniable.

Every 73 seconds, a person is sexually assaulted. 1 out of every 6 women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed, 2.8% attempted), and 9 out of every 10 victims of rape are female. About 1 in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Furthermore, 55% of sexual assaults happen at or near the victim’s hime, 15% occur in an open public place, and 12% occur at or near a relative’s house. In addition to the falsified narratives perpetuated through our being taught only about aggravated assaults in alleyways, what they fail to teach us is that our love or care for somebody does not negate the abusive way in which they behave in a relationship. You can know somebody, love somebody, and even be in a relationship with them, and there is still a high potential for abuse to occur. Do not abandon yourself so deeply into believing your experience is impossible. The body remembers even what the mind does not, and the pain and trauma is undeniable and often long-lasted. I gaslit my own experiences and pain for many years, and I’m only just beginning to come to terms and understand all that happened to me.

Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 3.14.52 PM

“No” does not mean “convince me,” and neither does “I’m not sure,” “I don’t like that,” or “I’m not comfortable.” Only “yes” means “yes.” Endgame.

To anyone who has ever experienced this kind of pain or suffering, I am so deeply sorry. I hear you, I see you, I know your pain, and I believe you. Even if you never choose to speak, to write, or acknowledge the truth of what you have so bravely endured. You deserve to feel safe and validated, and if you struggle to find a space in which that is available to you, I will be that space. We will create it together.

All my love,

Kam ❤

 

Black Lives Matter

I came home last night to my find my sister picking up some of our old softball bats to bring back to her apartment “just in case.” That is, just in case she happens to get attacked on the street at any point. I looked at her, saw the immense, unwavering fear in her eyes, and felt my heart breaking into a million pieces, the same way it has many times in my life.

This is being black in America.

Following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, the world has truly been a terrifying place. The international outcry from the black community and the increasing worldwide recognition and opposition to police brutality has been unlike anything we’ve seen perhaps since the murder of Trayvon Martin or Sandra Bland, and the whirlwind of activism, protests, riots, and looting has culminated in and for this time. In this moment. THIS is the Civil Rights Movement of our generation. What are we going to do with it?

As these weeks continue to pass, I’m constantly hearing people comment on police brutality and specifically on George Floyd’s killing claiming that “this one’s different. This murder was the one to do it.” And while it may be true that Floyd’s murder was perhaps one of the most tragic, violent, and despicable crimes many of us have seen in the modern-day media, let us not ignore the fact that the killing of black people just like George Floyd is not a new phenomenon. The key that must be identified through his death is in the very essence of it— it was SEEN. The entire murder was caught on tape, and the entire world heard George Floyd’s final words, his desperate calling out to his mother, his telling the officer that he was innocent, that he didn’t commit any crimes, and that he couldn’t breathe. The warranted outrage and surge of activism, influence, and protest did not occur because Floyd’s death was somehow different than all of the other countless, senseless murders of black men in this country that have been committed at the hands of police. Rather, it happened and will continue to happen because these injustices continue to be caught on tape, thus incentivizing the world to hold the empowered accountable. Perhaps Floyd’s death will serve as the straw that broke the camel’s back for many. But for others, the camel’s back has always been broken. His murder by the four officers in Minnesota was not an anomaly. It was not an isolated event. The complete and utter brutality of Floyd’s death that continues to be shared and consumed so widely does its job in forcing the awareness and realities of the irresponsible, inhumane, and indefensible police brutality that continues to take people’s lives, destroy communities of color, and pose the greatest danger and threat to black people. At the same time, the mindless consumption of such videos and killings of black bodies may also increase the desensitization or even sensationalization that often occurs with media coverage surrounding the loss of black lives. My greatest hope is that this kind of numbness towards the taking of innocent black lives ends with George Floyd. May we not forget about the countless other murders we have also witnessed and watched happen on our phones, heard through the radio channels, or have even watched on live television. Additionally, may we never forget the ones we didn’t— the countless deaths and killings the media or people didn’t document for the world to see that have forever taken place, for this has ALWAYS infected our nation. Those that didn’t make the news, those that have been swept under the rug or hidden away for the sake of the assailant’s and accomplices’ protection. May we not forget the thousands of other black men and women who have been shot down by police, who have been brutally murdered on the streets, or whose homes have been broken into during the night where they would be shot with 8 bullets while asleep in their own beds. Rest in Peace, Breonna Taylor. Say all of their names.

What I also hope for this moment and for the people who have begun to awaken themselves to the absolute brutality at the hands of the police is that this fight is not just about police brutality. It is about so much more than the killing of innocent black people by men in uniform, hiding behind their identities as “protectors” of this country and its people. It’s about race and racism (overt and covert) as a whole, it’s about the systems and institutions so deeply engrained in the foundation of this country that perpetuate enslavement, discrimination, dehumanization and marginalization, it’s about the anti-black and pro-white rhetoric and behaviors adopted by many in this country, it’s about the systemic injustices that make simply existing an inherent challenge for people living in a black body, and it’s about the historical, cultural, and societal perpetuation of white supremacy and the pure ignorance of the immense privilege and power that grants them. It’s about this nation and the poisonous, unjust ideologies, systems, and institutions that undergird its consistent inability to create or promote equality, equity, or justice. It’s about the arrival of the first slaves on this soil in Jamestown in 1619, it’s about the centuries of slavery that followed, and it’s about the continued silencing and disenfranchisement of black people following the “abolition” of slavery in 1865. It’s about Jim Crow, it’s about literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and poll taxes, it’s about the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896, and it’s about segregation. It’s about the assassination of transformative, needful black leaders and activists since the beginning of time, it’s about the appropriation of black culture and the lack of any kind of awareness or rightful appreciation that typically accompanies it, it’s about non-black people using the “n-word” and having no clue or care what that entails or implies for the black community. It’s about white people revering the Confederate flag and statues of people like Robert E. Lee, it’s about misusing and misconstruing the origin of the word “ghetto,” it’s about the co-opting of black movements throughout history, and it’s about the microaggressions and forms of racism that society has chosen to both accept and protect for years upon years. Racism is a pandemic in itself.

401 years later. Here we are.

fullsizeoutput_6b03

This fight is everything, and it is about everyone.

In my lifetime, my black father has been the one who allowed me to see what living in a black body meant for people like us. But my white mother was the one who taught me how to be an activist. I watched my father be consistently discriminated against in the world and in his workforce, and I watched my mom take active, conscious steps with him everyday to combat and challenge those systems and the people who create and bolster/eternalize them, in spite of how similar to her they looked. I saw the deep sadness in my father’s eyes whenever people questioned his relation to us, his children who happened to have skin a few shades lighter than his own. I heard the conversations in our home, the discussions and often difficult discoveries that the oppressive, coercive, and unjust systems were internalized even by people we call family and friends. I felt the anxiety and the fear whilst walking in public or even around a grocery store, for there is no guarantee of security or safety when you look like my father. And simultaneously, I saw the fire in my mother’s eyes every time she chose to speak up, to defend the goodness and virtue my father possesses and that is in constant danger of being overlooked merely because of the color of his skin. I heard my mother’s thoughtful, empathetic, and passionate words, never failing to challenge the institution and the unequal valuing systems that continue to empower whites and disempower people of color. I felt her anger, her frustration and confusion, and her fear for my father and her children’s lives as we went off to work and school (respectively) each day. I understood why, when I was in the third grade and wanted to complete my hero report on J.K. Rowling, my mother urged me to instead check out books and biographies about Ruby Bridges and complete the project about her wonderful life as a young advocate and barrier-breaker in the world of school integration at just the age of 6. I knew that her voice was the strongest I knew, and I knew that she often served as the protector, for she understood her great privilege and never went a day succumbing to the luxury of silence that whiteness offered her. To be silent, unmoving, and absent in times of injustice is an immense privilege, and I’m so lucky to have had a mother (and now wonderful friends) who refused to reap this benefit for the sake of her husband and children, and for the world.

My mother taught me how to speak. She taught me how to fight, and she taught me what it means to be brave and courageous. She also taught me, as she exemplified everyday, that seeking justice and participating in advocacy often means being willing to disagree with people in your own home or to stray from the bubble in which you are raised, engaging in the most difficult of conversations, and daring to defy what has been so deeply engrained and sown in the soil by which we have always been surrounded. She taught me that these things start in our own circles, that accountability and willingness to fight or even engage in discourse is a virtue in itself, and that shying away from the most important of conversations such as justice and equity was not to be modeled or accepted. So, in light of her fire and light, I urge you to be active. Call out people who don’t seem to understand that racism goes beyond white people overtly saying “I hate black people.” Racism and the racist, white supremacist ideological groundings and behaviors are deeply-rooted in this nation and in people. Check your non-black friends who like to say the “n word” and joke about fried chicken, refuse to stand for even the seemingly harmless comments that many others allow to pass through, and protest anybody and anything that attempt to immortalize the institutional injustice that composes the entire history of America. Demand justice for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for Ahmaud Arbery, and the thousands and thousands of other innocent black lives that have been taken. Call your local governors, state senators, and even federal government representatives. Go out and protest. Post the black square on Instagram for assumed solidarity, and follow it up with extraordinary action and allyship that make the post meaningful. And if you find yourself wishing that things could “just go back to normal,” or that you can resume posting what you ate for lunch today on your Facebook feed, please check your privilege. To have the mental capacity to think of anything beyond racial injustice right now is truly a luxury.

To turn a blind eye is to side with the oppressor. To exist in a black body in this world is a predetermined threat— the systemic supremacy and abuse at the hands of whites in power makes it so. Failure to acknowledge, to feel, to defend, to become angry, and to speak is merely a perpetuation of the injustice defining what this country has enabled. This is heavy, and it feels personal because it IS. It is about ALL of us. We are ALL complicit. We are ALL responsible. And we must ALL become aware of our privileges and fight for those who have not and cannot ever reap the benefits that come with the immense privilege of power and whiteness. Deny the normalization of abuse, halt the numbness to racism and microaggressions, and demolish the structures that harm and kill people of color. This is our America. This is murder. As a white-passing biracial woman whose black father was also in law enforcement, I’m truly at a loss for words. Every single day, I have to think of the horror surrounding the possibility that it could have been my father, my uncles, my friends, my cousins, or any person of color whose life is inherently undervalued and less meaningful according to the state and the abysmal sources of power that poison any potential for freedom. My complicity and my privilege need to be examined, as do the world’s. It can no longer be the work of the most oppressed to challenge the systemic injustice and abuses of power that have forever tainted this country. We are all responsible for the infringed liberty and life experienced by the most marginalized, and turning a cheek is no longer an option. Face the fire, even if you’re scared. Speak up, even if you don’t know what to say. Say the wrong things, make the mistakes, and challenge people and the system everyday. There is a grace that comes with learning what to say and what not to say, what to do and what not to do. For so long many have been taught to not talk about race. To be colorblind was to be on the side of equality, and to not take note of the vast differences in color and experience across the nation, individuals, and communities was a signal of moral superiority. The time was never right to be silent. The world needs you to speak. There is no more space for fear. Be an ally. Be an activist. Do not succumb to the silence that surrounds you; it will not protect you. Whatever you do, act. Enough is ENOUGH.

In spite of how proud of, inspired by, and grateful I have been for my circle and their ability to take a stand and bravely challenge the system and those who created it these past weeks, my heart remains extremely heavy in this time. It is impossible for me to look past the hatred and injustices overwhelming the world and this country, the complete lack of willingness to fight by many— for the black community, for justice, for equality and equity— and the silence of the masses. The despair, frustration, and anxiety runs deep, and I am often horrified at the state of this nation and the direction it continues to be headed. This life and this time is full of fear, and I feel it everyday. I feel it for all those who have skin a few beautiful shades darker than my own, who will continue to be marginalized, wrongly prosecuted, illegally and wrongly attacked and imprisoned, or viewed as a “thug.” I feel it for women of color, who will continue to feel unsafe and devalued in this society and by this administration. I feel it for young people of color, the ones who will be forced to deal with the fallout of these tragic and terrifying times brought on by the most privileged and irresponsible, and who will (unfairly) be largely responsible for educating generations past and people who simply cannot be reached. And most of all, I feel it for anyone living in a black body, who cannot afford the privilege or the luxury of staying silent, for the weight and severity of racism and evil surround them everyday. The most oppressed and powerless continue to be burdened with the weight of dismantling and challenging their oppressors and the system that was never meant to serve them, and this cannot remain true any longer. We carry this weight everyday. We live it through. Our lives are not a hashtag, we are not a trend. Posting and claiming solidarity does not suffice. Speak and ACT for those who need it most. Read. Listen. Donate. Educate. Sign the petitions. Make the calls. Advocate. Understand and empathize. We cannot do this on our own. Fear, discomfort, or uncertainty are no longer excuses for complacency and conscious complicity. Fight against it everyday. Resist.

Black lives matter, and they always have. Even despite what our history and the “leaders” of this nation tell us.

I will be publishing more posts that I hope will inform and assist in some way or another within the next few days, including what BLM means and entails, ways that non-black people can be allies, book/podcast/tv recommendations, things we can all be doing and learning, and how we can continue to support and bolster the movements and campaigns that are so needful in this time. But for now, the link provided below is a great resource to start with getting involved and better understanding/participating in what our world is seeing today:

 

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

On Loneliness & Yearning

When I was young, I often felt lonely. To be frank, most days I still do.

I remember always wondering if I’d feel this way forever. You know, like home to the deep kind of loneliness that just takes your breath away. In trying to explain how my heart felt, I would always write off the deep ache within as nostalgia, a force I’m anything but a stranger to. I’ve always been aware of how nostalgic and past-centered of a heart I have (I mean, I used to sob on New Year’s Eve as a child because I didn’t want the year to end and for a chapter of life to close). In addition to that, though, there was always a steadfast, lingering feeling of aloneness I had. Not in the surface-level, simplistic sense that I needed more friends or felt unsupported/under-encouraged in any way, but in a massive, profound way that tied into what felt like the depths of the entire universe. From a very young age, I became fascinated by the seemingly endlessness of the world, the grandiose and mysterious ways in which people inhabited it, each finding their direction and their people to make it through. I found it extremely overwhelming to think about the world in such a vast and limitless way, for it inherently had an ability to make me feel small. It’s taken me many years to realize that the vastness and capaciousness the world entails does not intrinsically make me any less significant; that the world can be limitless, striking, and magnificent, and so can I.

Significance and brilliance do not have to be exclusive, and I don’t find it to be.

As a child, it was nearly impossible for me to grapple with the innate philosophic nature of my mind that has always been present and simultaneously find ways to suppress how lonely this kind of thought often made me feel. I don’t remember a time ever feeling full or “complete,” for the mere knowledge that such a grand world existed and I was so bound by the time, space, and life I had was crippling. Maybe it was a severe case of FOMO, or maybe it was something much deeper. It has always been difficult for me to properly express or explain what this feeling was like, but what I do have are vivid memories of telling my mom that I just felt out of place sometimes. More that that, I think I even felt as if I was in the completely wrong time and place. These kinds of thoughts and sentiments I had were always accompanied by a great deal of guilt, for I couldn’t fathom the truth of having many friends, feeling great love, having every bit of encouragement and reassurance one could need, and yet still feeling so incredibly alone when I lied in bed at night. I felt guilty for having so much and somehow not putting together how exactly to reap what others had sown for me. What more could I need in order to feel complete? How could I teach myself to just be fulfilled and whole like everyone around me was?

This internal dialogue never silenced in my mind or in my heart. I carried it with me for years, always convinced that I must have been missing something. I knew I was happy, content, and even inspired. But still, a part of me remained that wondered if every space and vacancy inside of me could ever be filled. I never let go of the loneliness or of the guilt that followed its lead, wherever it went. I spent a lot of my time observing others, questioning what the ability or sense they had inside was that enabled them to feel fulfilled and not alone on this vast planet. Now, a lot has changed for me in the ways I observe and engage with others. The ebbs and flows of this life have taught me this: a human being’s understanding and expression of fulfillment is one of the things most unique to them. A sense of wholeness is not only something to be sought after, but something to be felt and learned through the many evolutions we experience in this life. I’ve come to accept that the aloneness I experience is not emblematic of my inability to experience fulfillment. Rather, perhaps my loneliness is a subconscious recognition of the idea that people aren’t born complete. Nobody comes into this world at the height of their being, having felt and embraced complete and full humanness. That is something we must learn. What greater purpose could we have as human beings than to pursue ourselves (in the form of our passions, lifestyles, loves, failures, successes, etc.) in an even greater attempt to feel whole? I find no deeper or more profound meaning to this life of this existence, so maybe feeling incomplete is the gift that allows us to continue living beautifully and with great heart. Maybe feeling alone is what most binds us all together, makes us all understand & sense one another’s hearts in their most open and vulnerable of forms, and serves to remind us that none of us are ever truly alone at all.

Homesickness. Longing. YEARNING.

That’s the best way I’ve come to describe the feeling that often stops me in my tracks, forces me to be still, and pushes me to examine every ounce of who I am and what I wish to be in this world. It’s the constant, debilitating pressure I feel every minute of everyday to be somewhere, to do something, and to grow into someone of importance. The aloneness reminds me everyday that the universe is grand, mysterious, and often relentless in the ways it creates paths for all of us here. The endlessness of it all can be alluring in the most beautiful and magical of ways, but it can also be equally paralyzing. That’s the part of it that consistently creates and reinforces the loneliness inside of me sometimes, for the awareness of infinite possibility only heightens the innate sense of insignificance or smallness I often feel inside. In some ways, I find that having such a gracious world home to limitless opportunity is a kind of hindrance in itself, for its lack of barriers somehow enhance the ones I have within. The unknown has always been a source of great strife for me, for I enjoy having plans, expectations, goals, deadlines, and a life of obligations and checked-off lists. The funny thing I’ve come to realize though, is that the things I once believed to help complete and ennoble me were actually the things that made me feel most alone. In other words, everything I’ve always thought to be the end goal and what I wanted most is anything but; what I really needed was something I neglected for years upon years— stillness. To just be.

Contrary to what I once believed, there is a kind of power to be embraced in stillness; to simply exist and do/expect nothing more. I always thought that the more time I spent in my own head, sorting out my internal monologue and discovering my own emotionality, the more lonely I would be. I mean, it’s only logical to assume that spending time alone and in introspective analysis would be especially isolating. For me, though, places and situations that allow me this type of freedom and creative space are actually where I feel most myself and at home. As I’ve grown and evolved with time and with experience, I’ve found that I tend to feel most alone when I’m surrounded by lots of people. This isn’t always true, but it is when the space I occupy is simultaneously being occupied by people with which I go unseen or unheard. Feeling known is something I’ve discovered to be really important to me. Not liked, just known. Heard. Understood. The solitude I’ve heeded throughout the years has allowed me to see this in myself, and that has made the world of a difference in my heart’s loneliness.

I’m surrounded by the greatest of friends, the most loving, wonderful family, and a world of opportunity and experience just outside the door. But still, my heart often aches with nostalgia and pangs with reminders of how incomplete I sometimes feel. I still don’t feel complete, nor am I fully satisfied with the life I’ve lived thus far. I’m not always fulfilled, and my breath is often taken away by how intensely I feel that I’m walking alone on this earth, for no one is me, therefore no one could fully understand me. The awareness that only I am myself, that my heart cannot be held or seen in its completeness, and that my thoughts & words may not ever be expressed or understood in the way I intend to articulate them remains a great fear of mine. I feel as if I’m reminded of the individual and lonely existence we all have here more than anything else, and it frequently saddens me and fogs my ability to embrace the beauty of this world and this life as the moments continue to pass. But the isolation within my heart and the lack of fulfillment I experience is more encouraging than disheartening, more hopeful than discouraging, and does not oppress or bind me in the ways I once believed it to.

Feeling alone is merely a part of the human condition. It is a fraction of my existence and my personhood and, though at times it feels overwhelming in the most intense of ways, it is not consuming. It does not entrap my mind or my heart, and it no longer has the power to. Maybe we’re all a little bit empty, a little bit unfulfilled, a little bit lonely, and a little bit incomplete. And maybe that’s okay. Because we’ll figure it out. We have to. That’s the point of all this, isn’t it?

That’s who we are and what we’re made to do: to yearn, to long, and to search— for meaning, life, love, value, wholeness, and fulfillment. We will one day discover it all, if not in people and in things, then in our hearts and our souls. Perhaps that will be the last place we think to look, but that’s where the deepest and most significant findings will occur.

All within.

All alone.

 

On the Heart and Being an Empath

I used to think the impassable shields I carried were what saved me. That the walls and burrows I intricately constructed were the foundation that I needed to survive.

I so deeply believed that suffering in silence was the highest pillar of strength and that feeling things through were for those who could not persist. Something taught me, from a very young age, that sensitivity was not to be taken seriously, nor was it a signal of anything but weakness in many forms. In hindsight, I think that being a woman has a lot to do with the trepidation and hesitation I often feel in expressing my heart and embracing the depth of what I feel, because this world has made it clear that, for a woman or a girl, being outwardly emotional or vulnerable is synonymous with hysteria and an inability to behave rationally or thoughtfully. I know better now, and that thoughtfulness breeds from the heart; there is no thought or purposeful engagement with the workings of this world without the heart’s input. Still, early on, I had engrained into my mind that I could not both feel things deeply AND be intelligent/successful, for these were mutually exclusive. Human beings couldn’t possibly be exemplars of both simultaneously, for the execution of one wholly and completely discounted the other. This is the narrative that I told myself, and this is the narrative that both enabled me to survive and was ultimately harmful and non-serving to the life I wish to lead.

I denied my being an empath for as long as I could. I longed to not be a feeler, one whose heart is so moved by everyone and everything that it often bears an impossible weight. I concluded in my own mind that I valued my mind and what I knew it offered me more than my heart and any speculations of what it could potentially give me. I trusted that my mind could lead me to the places I belonged, the things I needed to know, and the life I wanted to have. It hurts me now to know that I discounted and disparaged the power of my heart for so long, and for no reason other than to avoid pain and all kinds of feeling that stemmed from the cracks leading to my own brokenness. The heart, I now understand, only brings more meaning and fulfillment to life in every form, and the mind’s limits illuminate the endlessness of the heart’s affections and what the brain deems unreachable. I allowed years of my life to be spent in the darkness, forcing a lack of feeling in my own heart and body, because I feared it would lead me away from truth and splendor. With time, I have found that the heart is the creator of this truth and splendor I so desperately sought, and to diminish its sovereignty was only to diminish the meaning and size of my life.

IMG_3239

Everyday, I’m actively working to dismantle the theory I have accepted and embodied over the years that stoicism was the highest virtue achievable in human life, to be apathetic and uninterested was an overt display of fortitude and courage, and to lean into how deeply and fully I felt things in this world would only lessen my capacity to be competent and worthy. I understood emotionality to minimize the ways in which I could interact with the world rather than seeing it as an optimizer of connectivity, community, friendship, and love (arguably the most important things this life can offer us). I can vividly recall countless times in my life that I’ve forcefully shut down feelings I may have been experiencing, because I held onto the false truth that the expression of sentiments was unattractive and chaotic. Although my awareness now allows me to see the danger and shortcomings of beliefs like this one, I cannot deny how very real it felt to me for so many years, for women are undeniably set up to find scrutiny and judgment on the other side of emotional freedom. Even today, I must deal with the daily debate I have in my own mind: can I have a heart like the one I do and also find success in the career, professional, and intellectual world? Can I be everything all at once?

Life is messy, confusing, heartbreaking, uplifting, ugly, and so very beautiful, all at once. So why can’t we be everything all at once? To deny our malleability, capacity for evolvement, imperfection, and corrigibility is to deny the significance and unique experience of our humanness. Compassion and empathy is what people DO. There is value and meaning in what is uniquely human, and that is reason enough to lean into what I have been most afraid of my whole life. I find it unforgivable to allow myself to restrict my own capacity for flourishing any more than I already have, and I hope more than anything in this world that you will not do yourself the same disservice that I did or embrace the wholly incorrect idea that feeling equates to weakness. To feel is to be human, and to feel deeply is a gift. Life is surely more difficult and harrowing upon allowing oneself to acknowledge and accept every passing sentiment the heart incurs, but awaiting us at the other side of feeling is understanding, truth, and beauty, all of which are extraordinarily subdued if the potential of the heart is kept in the dark. I found comfort in the darkness for longer than I care to admit, and I expected the discovery of light to be found solely within the capacities of my mind. What I never anticipated to be the truth, though, is that the true source of light for most people, and surely for us “feelers,” lies in the chambers of the heart. I always knew the depth of my feeling and any level of emotionality I experienced to be a dark mark on my strength, demerits on what I thought was what made me special or great. I created capes of perfectionism and stoicism to make me stronger and braver. But maybe feeling is a superpower, and that’s the cape we really need to soar.

IMG_3242

Although part of me wishes I could have arrived at the gratitude and fullness I now feel upon hearing and acting with the heart I was given, I’m appreciative of the perspective I was able to gain from how fearful I used to be. I wish I could go back to being that little girl who read books, became so deeply attached and invested in every character I saw love and goodness in, and cried over their trials and tribulations that had no impact on the unfolding of my life whatsoever and tell her that she isn’t abnormal. Nor was she wrong. I was never a broken person who failed to see the line between reality and fantasy— I just felt so much and so profoundly. The intensity of my reactions and sentiments connected to people I’ve never meant, their struggles and suffering that kept me up at night, and how badly I wished to carry their pain and wear their burdens on my own shoulders was not something I should have been so fearful or suspicious of. Rather, I should have nurtured and cared for that part of me, for acting on it is what has brought me the most joy and fulfillment of all things in my life. It is also where I most see and feel my mom closest to me, for she remains the most heartfelt and empathetic human I’ve ever known. I thank her and the beautiful, compassionate, and courageous friends who hold such a special place in my life and in my heart, for they have taught me more than any book or exercise of the mind ever could. They have allowed me to see that vulnerability IS power, that emotion is to be felt, and that expression is a gift. That life is a conversation, and sometimes being brave means listening to the scared and childlike voice in your head that just wants to feel seen and protected. I think I’m finally starting to see that the meaning of life isn’t to make yourself as small as possible. It’s not my life’s work to make my voice, my feelings, my opinions and intentions, my beliefs and strengths, my mind, my body, or my life as insignificant and non-threatening as I can in order to make others comfortable, for their satisfaction and approval is not what I’m fighting for— mine is. The questions I (and maybe all of us) should be asking myself are: “Am I satisfied and fulfilled with the life I’m living?” and “Do I approve of my choices and the way in which I consciously carry out my days?”

As of today, here is what I know to be true:

I feel best when I write.

I feel best when I read.

I feel best when I create.

I feel best when I find beauty.

I feel best when art surrounds me.

I feel best when I love.

I feel best when I can hear and be heard.

I feel best when I understand.

I feel best when I see and embrace love.

I feel best when I feel.

Being and embracing the empath deep inside my heart and my soul has not been simple, but experiencing the gift that is feeling deeply and wholly is not one I would have willingly abandoned. I’ve come to appreciate my desperate need to help people through their trials, my insatiable desire for a career in which I continually learn while being available to others and their journeys, my irrational connection to fictional characters, the tears that fill my eyes while watching TEDTalks and quite literally every movie ever made, my crying over global issues and suffering that I simply cannot solve on my own, and how often I ponder the meaning and substance of what comprises my life. I don’t think I’ll ever be fully comfortable with feeling everything all at once, but it’s okay when I do. I’ll never be able to do it all, but what I choose to do, I wish to be purposeful and fulfilling while I have the time on this earth.

“I don’t think that I’m broken at all. I no longer think that I’m a mess. I just think that I’m a deeply feeling person in a messy world.” -Glennon Doyle

Why Strength Isn’t What We Think It Is

I used to think that strength was defined a certain level of immutability— the ability to remain unchanging, whether it be regarding things I love, ideas I believed in, things I preferred or didn’t, or lives I wished I’d had. I embraced that a sense of authority, initiative, power, and confidence equated to strength, and things that I KNEW I never went back on. I withstood this ideology for many, many years, always wholeheartedly believing that my understanding of words as simple as “strength,” “love,” “goodness,” or even “compassion” were not only logical, but were unsusceptible to any form of doubt or questioning. With time, I’ve been lucky enough to experience things I never imagined, learn concepts that were once foreign, have met people who have lifted and held my heart, and have felt things I once deemed unfathomable. My life has been anything but ordinary and nothing like I expected. It has been both wholly fulfilling and quite empty, full of success and equally full of failure, drawn to the highest of mountaintops and the deepest of valleys, and has been tainted with equitable amounts of both light and darkness. Life on this earth has led me in directions I never expected, and I’ve changed with every strike of the ticking clock as I’ve seen myself through. But I’ve found that keeping myself open to new things and new people across time, embracing the unpredictable ebbs and flows this life brings, and even changing my perspective as I continue to learn and grow from those around me is what I truly desire. I don’t desire to be rigid in my beliefs, unwavering, or unmovable in any part of life, for true growth and meaning I believe to come from a certain evolution of the heart. I’ve been a witness to my own change and constantly-altering mindset my entire life, but I’ve only recently begun to view this characteristic of mine as a form of strength, as opposed to a problematic and shameful form of meekness and in inability to remain resolute. You can be strong and you can also be quiet. Strength and volume do not have to coexist, just as strength and reservedness/quietude are not mutually exclusive. You can be everything all at once —strong, quiet, vulnerable, emotional, courageous, loud, and empathetic— and that is a beautiful gift.

img_7887

I’ve had to do a lot of thinking about why I had embraced and engrained these understandings about myself and what I once deemed to be flaws in my character, and with time and intention, I’ve realized that my life thus far (like everyone’s) has led me to believe certain falsities about human nature, who I am, and what I’m meant to be in this world. I’ve allowed my deepest insecurity of being perceived as incompetent, incapable, weak, reliant, and codependent to have dominion over any kind of freedom I had in actually pursuing, choosing, and becoming who I wanted to be. In some strange way, the inexplicable fear I had surrounding these kinds of visions of me forced me to develop traits, feelings, and elements of character that succeeded in being the antitheses of what I’d abhorred, but failed in liberating me to become someone I admired and wanted to be. In other words, my fears bode well in steering me away from the dislikable character traits I saw in myself and others, but they did not grant me any liberty or vision to see what I may have found to be likable. In orienting my life in a such a way that mirrors Negative Politics (i.e. formulating your beliefs around what you don’t like/wish to avoid as opposed to what you do like and wish to pursue), I unknowingly embarked on a journey that led me to a complete lack of confidence and fulfillment. Having given no real consideration to the things and kind of person I did want to be, how I wanted to be embraced, and what I wanted to do to love others, I found myself living a life defined by oppositions.

For fear of being perceived as incompetent, I valued intellect and intelligence almost above all else. For fear of being weak and vulnerable, I adopted confidence (often a false one) to remind myself and others that I have authority. For fear of being reliant, I revered solitude and lonesomeness as a virtue, for it meant that I could survive, should everyone choose to abandon me. For fear of being meaningless of labeled Other, I tirelessly sought control and power over my own life and everything I engaged with. For fear of being incapable, I prided myself on an insatiable appetite to be perfect in as many ways as possible, leaving no room for people to stare or criticize.

cropped-fullsizeoutput_b24.jpeg

But, this isn’t living. Orienting my entire life and being around what I feared most surely didn’t lead me to the discovery of any true virtues, as I so thought it would. I expected that living my life in complete inversion to what I hated most about the world (and myself) would light my path and somehow lead me to joy and fulfillment. If I didn’t like A, then I could just figure out what the opposite of A was (ex: B) and pursue that in order to be happy…right? No. The problem, I’ve found, is that things like true happiness, virtue, fulfillment, or flourishing (“eudaimonia” in Greek philosophy) cannot be intellectualized⁠— they are to be experienced and felt. Just as one cannot see love, empathy, kindness, or even goodness, the greatest things human life has to offer us cannot be seen or perceived. What most makes us human is the emotionality, mutability and individualistic way in which we move through this world, and the corrigibility of our minds and hearts. And perhaps our inability to fully comprehend exactly what makes it meaningful is the most beautiful part of it all. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defines a virtue as being “a mean between two vices.” That is to say, if cowardice and recklessness are both vices, Aristotle’s perceived virtue would be courage. The same conclusion can be made in reference to temperance serving as the virtue between overindulgence and insensitivity. Through finding the midpoint between what Aristotle deemed to be “two extremes” as mentioned, he claimed to have found the nature of virtuosity. Although I definitely don’t agree with Aristotelian Virtue as a whole, in hindsight, I do think he may have drawn some important conclusions that I find visible in the trajectory of my own life.

Considering what Aristotle has to say, it’s no secret to me that in my attempt to avoid one vice or trait that I did not desire for myself, I barreled forward and landed upon things that may also be considered vices. In my forceful, shame and fear-driven path I paved for myself, I completely failed to recognize that seeking the antithesis of what I understood to be a vice may not necessarily lead me to landing upon a virtue. In fact, moving so jadedly and blindly through life only led me to find and experience a field of oppositions that I now understand to only serve as that: oppositions. They didn’t fulfill me, give me meaning, or make my life any more worthy of joy than living in fear did, and that’s how I know it wasn’t right. So, maybe Aristotle was right. Maybe I was moving too fast all along and I flew right past the virtue I was seeking all along, because I had my sights set on something I knew would contradict every fear I had. But what kind of life is one lived only out of fear? I don’t want to know myself as someone who consistently flees from what I’m afraid of being, only to land upon other things I’m equally un-proud of. So, you reflect, you learn, and you keep going. After spending years and years studying politics, philosophy, and literature of all kinds, I think the real secret of life is that no one really knows what we’re doing. That’s the tragedy of the human condition, isn’t it? We spend our entire existence trying to decipher what is meaningful, who the people are we’re meant to spend time with, finding the things that “spark joy” (thanks Marie Condo), and racing the clock, only to find that the clock will always win. But, that doesn’t mean that this life isn’t worth it. Maybe, in an odd way, Aristotle was trying to teach us something about the essentiality of the journey, the “in-between.” The spaces between lines, the words left unspoken, and the feelings never shown or even understood— it all matters deeply. And perhaps it’s a conscious choice of our own to stop for a while and acknowledge the spaces, the everything that’s exist within and amongst the nothingness.

IMG_0917

I’m not sure where I am now, whether I’ve found anything of impact, or if I have come remotely close to reaching what I hope to be my purpose in this world. But I am sure of one thing: I’m learning to embrace the everyday, the mundane, the things I once despised about my character or the world around me, for there’s meaning in all of it. I’ve felt victim to the fleetingness of life and the weight of endings for as long as I can remember, so much so that I’ve forced myself to miss some beautiful things that ARE happening and ARE here. We only get one go-around on this earth, and what a remorseful thing it would be to only remember the fear, pain, agony, and emptiness at the end of it all. Nothing hurts more than a heart left to mourn the possibilities that weren’t given a life or weren’t worthy of embrace, and I don’t want to let go of the wonder this life brings.

There are a million moments waiting for me, and I don’t want to miss a thing. You shouldn’t either. (:

Farewell, 2019. Goodbye, decade.

fullsizeoutput_b24

2019, you have 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 be a part of, and all of the memories/moments (both wondrous and painful) I have both created and 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, 2019 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 2019, 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 2019 is going to be as tough as the past two years. 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 the following years, 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 2019 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, 2019 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 2019 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.

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.

img_7728

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 2020, 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 2019 and this decade 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 2019 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 2020, 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 2020– to love, to hope, and to life. I am so ready for you. Bring it.

When Holidays Just Don’t Feel The Same

For everyone who’s feeling the weight of loss or the tides of change a little bit extra during this holiday season:

I see you. I share your pain. I am here. You are not alone.

cropped-fullsizeoutput_b24.jpeg

This time of year pays no mercy to those of us carrying the heaviness of grief. The holidays never fail to approach more rapidly than anyone could ever expect, and the onset of the season is always an intense and all-consuming one. While the fall and winter seasons and the holidays that accompany them have the capacity to breed inexplicable joy, gratitude, love, and laughter, for many people, even a passing thought of the holidays is enough to induce great anxieties, sadness, and feelings of emptiness. The holiday season has a way of reminding us all of the past, and despite how very different each of our experiences have been and continue to be, the nostalgia and sentimentality we all experience towards our childhoods and our pasts seems to be a universal phenomenon. That alone should serve as a reminder that, in spite of how alone we all may feel on our unique paths and in the potential pain or longing that we feel, we are never in isolation. Easy as it is to forget that, it is absolutely essential to acknowledge the commonalities in shared human experiences and emotion, for empathy and compassion for one another is more powerful than any feeling of loneliness could ever prove. Still, the difficulties and adversities that the holiday season bring to many of us cannot be neglected, nor should they be deemed unimportant or any less real than the moments of joy and hope we often feel during these times. In particularly painful or onerous times (even more so that usual), we must all try our very best to give whatever we feel the time of day and the allowance to simply exist. Moreover, the sentiments that arise and the ways in which we begin to think about ourselves, our lives past, present, and future, no matter how deep or weighted, deserve to be dealt with as they come. Over the past few years, I have found this to be both the most difficult and rewarding aspect of the holiday season. On one end, the pain of the process forces you into acknowledging and sorting through your internal turmoil as it comes, something that is never comfortable or easy for any human being. Having to sit with and find comfort in the discomfort undergirding all of what you are feeling or experiencing is often the most arduous, complex part of healing, for it asks us to push back against the negative emotions we so frequently try to avoid. Not only that, but it asks us to do so in some of the more treacherous times in our lives, as well. On the other end, however, validating your own thoughts, feelings, reactions, and behaviors in this fashion may not only offer the most genuine and helpful kind of solace in these times, but it will heal your heart and soul more than any form of ignorance or dissonance ever could. Learning how to acknowledge certain sentiments is one thing, and learning how best to cope with it all is another. Just a little reminder to give yourself grace in times of need— this life is a lot harder than many of us warranted, and is often unfair. Blaming ourselves for the trials, adversities, losses, or shortcomings we observe only begets shame, and shame breeds guilt and an incompleteness of heart that no one deserves. The last thing anyone needs is shame for being human. So offer yourself & everyone you love more than that. 

It’s around this time every year that I begin to think about my mom, even more so than usual. And well, if there’s anyone that understands the feeling of harrowing, painful nostalgia…you’re talking to her. I often joke that my life is a constant struggle in trying to decipher whether the nostalgia I feel is the warm, joyful kind, or the deeply painful and existential kind. I’m never quite sure which one I feel more often, but I do know that nostalgia is something that I feel every single day and often have to fight through, for it often only reminds me of the inevitable passage of time and the possibility that there are some moments in this life that I will be insufficient in cherishing until they become memories. I’ve dealt with a deep, deep internal feeling of nostalgia for as long as I can remember, and it seems to only become more and more intense as I grow older and have more memories to reflect on, people to cherish as they come and go, and experiences that simultaneously bring me happiness, sorrow, pain, and pleasure. It is all very much a journey, and part of the wonder of nostalgia is the mystery it always embodies. Over the years, I have learned how to navigate through feeling both happy and sad at the same time, for that is not only a possibility, but it is common for me and so many others in this life. I’ve put to rest my bad habit of discounting my own ability to feel such strong, contradicting emotions at the same time, and I have since found beauty and peace in being capable of feeling things so deeply. I am 100% an empath and a feeler, something I tried for SO LONG to change about myself by pretending like I couldn’t feel the way that I knew I did deep down, building up walls to protect myself, or even dissociating from my own mind and the pain I felt in a particular moment in order to escape and appear stone-cold. I used to be completely unreachable, and I was wrongly proud of that. I thrived on presenting myself as emotionless and unmoving, when in reality, the ability to be moved is such a wonderful gift. Now, I try my hardest to remind myself of this everyday, even when I feel weak. Because in the moments where we feel our weakest, we often find the greatest strength, heart, and will within us. So everyday, and especially this time of year, I urge everyone to grant yourself the grace to feel what you need to feel when you need to feel it, the hope that enables you to continue finding the light and love in life and in one another, and the knowledge that every obstacle, no matter how insurmountable it may seem, can be overcome. May the lessons of impermanence teach you this: loss constitutes an odd kind of fullness; despair empties out into an unquenchable appetite for life.

If this year or any recent year, you have experienced a loss or change that feels relentless and indomitable, know this: I completely understand the place you’re in right now, and although I would never claim to fully understand exactly how you’re feeling, I do know what it feels like to consistently grieve the loss of what you knew to be your life. Learning how to maintain an awareness and appreciation of the past, the people, and the things that used to define us while synchronously navigating through new phases and modes of life is perhaps one of the greatest strifes of the human condition. In addition to the complexities that come with loss in general, the onset of the holiday season never fails to remind us of what “used to be,” who (if anyone) is missing, how traditions have changed, and how time has passed, bringing good or bad fortune. The weight of the season constantly highlights, more than any other time, how the missing or grieved puzzle piece has impacted the family in its entirety, the execution of traditions, and everything else, especially when is comes to the holidays themselves. It’s always around this time of year that I suddenly become overwhelmed with longing for my mom and all that she always offered to our family and the way we went about celebrations, and it’s most clear in these times that there is and always will be a significant hole in family gatherings, the traditions we continue to uphold, and in all of our hearts. Everything about the holidays reminds me of her— from the smells, to all of the lights, to the weekly festivities, to the plethora of decorations that she always loved putting up so much, to the holiday music and movies. Whether I am wrapping gifts and trying desperately to remember how she made those beautiful, extravagant ribbons for them all, or am watching some of our family favorite Christmas movies, or am sifting through old photos at Disneyland and Christmas Tree Lane, I feel my mom with me in every step. For me, there is no escaping the spirit of my mom in my home and in the spirit of the season, for she was and continues to be the heart of it all. And although that is heavy and often painful from moment to moment, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The lasting impact and presence that she continues to have in all that I do and how such important times in our lives are shaped reassures me that she is never forever lost, just seeing it all differently now. What a gift that is. Painful as it is to acknowledge the change (even undesired) that has inevitably come with time and the things and people we have lost, this same acknowledgement can and will also bring peace. Memories of the past are gifts in and of themselves, and the capacity to sustain an ongoing love and recognition for those we have lost is an even greater one. I have found that giving myself permission to miss my mom every single day, especially on the most special ones, is absolutely okay, for it helps me get through the times where I look around and all I can see is the space that she used to fill or the ways her smile and laughter lit up every room she entered. Further, I’ve learned that sometimes, it’s okay to wish that things were different and to mourn what my life used to look like and how it used to be. At the same time, I also have to be strong enough to propel myself forward and look towards new, different things, for I owe that to myself and to my mom for all of the years she was cut short. Besides, new and different might be just that— new and different. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be just as beautiful. There may have been other, perhaps even more special times. But this one is ours, and that is to be cherished.

IMG_7986

The holiday season really is the hardest time of year for a reason, so don’t blame yourself for feeling every bit of sadness, grief, loss, or loneliness extra right now. It’s okay to feel heavy and to sit with it all, so long as you recognize that a lot of the burdens you feel during and throughout this time are not yours to carry. On one end, it’s more than okay to feel however you need to in order to make it through each day. But it’s simultaneously not your job to ensure that the world keeps spinning . That is a responsibility of its own, and its okay to let go. You will undoubtedly find strength in those who surround and love you as time passes and you all find new and beautiful ways to celebrate what used to be while also cherishing what’s new. But you also have strength standing on your own. Don’t discount that. Still, I know how hard it is to mourn things and people who are lost, and there truly are no words to console that kind of pain. Just know that I understand it all so well, and that no matter how isolated and alone you may feel, you never are. I get it. It’s a strange feeling, and nothing makes you more aware of the passage of time than landmark life events and seeing the people you love experience them right there with you, even if it’s just through the onset of the holidays year after year. This season also often pushes us to (whether consciously or subconsciously) consider the fact that change is constantly occurring in a variety of ways, and that the only constant this life has to offer is change itself. But change doesn’t have to be painful, nor does it have to be a bad thing. New waves of life can be just as beautiful, as unfamiliar as they are. The knowledge that the love shared amongst you and everyone who surrounds you will never change is the foundation you can always rely on. Time changes a lot of things, but never the important things. Trust that. The holidays WILL feel like the holidays again.

On the days where you’re feeling like you can’t take another step, can’t breathe fully, or cannot find the strength to move forward, this is your reminder: you have survived every difficult day and every loss in your life thus far. You have surpassed every hardship you once believed to be hindering or faulting you. You have healed every heartbreak, even when you were unaware of your own healing and ability to become whole again, even when your faith was most hard to find. Nothing that has ever tried to break you has succeeded, and none of the trials you have faced were ever the end of you. You have ALWAYS moved forward, picking yourself up and courageously piecing yourself back together as you go. You have never failed to turn your losses and grievances into lessons, and you have saved yourself time and time again. In times where you feel as if you cannot continue or feel your way through anymore, remind yourself of all the times you already have. Remember the wounds you thought would never mend, the voids you believed to be permanent, and look how you have endured. Life is always going to be a balancing act, a journey that asks more of you than you think you can give. But life will never defeat you. You have always fought your way out of the darkness. Have no doubt that you always will. Just take one step, and do the next right thing.