I have no idea what I’m doing.

The Question

The day is Saturday, January 15, 2022.

I’m sitting in my desk chair, staring into the lifeless void of Zoom for yet another session.

I think about cancelling. Just like I always do.

“No,” I say to myself. I already rescheduled yesterday.

Maybe I could say I’ve come down with something. That’ll be sure to prevent any further questioning.

Then, a slow and methodical, “How was your week, Kamryn?”

The line I’ve heard a million times and yet still elicits no particular feeling inside. I must have experienced a lapse in judgment and logged on in the midst of my race to avert this meeting.

I never quite know how to answer this question, and I’ve always been unsure of what to tell her when she asks how I am. Since this all started, I think I’ve become accustomed to treating these sessions like some strange version of a coffee date with a friend. Though, I suppose, if that were the case and if I were really doing as well as I try to convince her when answering her opening question, I wouldn’t need to spend an hour staring at her into my computer screen every week.

I feel the sudden panic over what will come out of my mouth.

Which route shall I take today?

The “I’m good! My week was okay, just the usual. Glad it’s the weekend. How are you?”

or…

I decide to be honest.

The result of 3 seconds of bravery, I guess. Or stupidity. It’s impossible to tell the difference most days.

Now that I’ve made it through and am reflecting on the 45 minutes I just had, I think I’ll go with bravery.

The Answer

“My week was hard,” I say. “I’ve had a few panic attacks, and I’ve been more anxious than I’ve felt in a long time. Since I left school.” She asks me why I think this might be.

I hesitate once more.

I warn her about the length and depth of what it is I have racing through my mind.

She reassures me, and bravery leads to honesty once more.

I tell her that I feel I’ve become enveloped in waves of immense overwhelm, perhaps best explained by a sense that I am experiencing my past, present and future simultaneously. As I reflect on my past self/life, and project my goals and dreams into my future self/life, I am struggling to be my present self and to live this life— here and now.

I am honest with her about how saddening and frustrating this intense anxiety has been for me, because everything in my external world (beautiful friendships, a loving relationship, an amazing new job that I enjoy) points towards nothing but peace and contentment, while my inner world continues to lead me into tumult and disarray.

I explain to her that I have made soft, deliberate choices to get myself to this place here and now— one of peace, joy, and relentless, growing hope.

Still, as joyous and peaceful my soul feels, a strange anxious sadness has risen up in me. How can I be more at peace than I have ever been, and yet…

What part of it— this beautiful and evolving life I am working to create— doesn’t feel right?

I frame this as a question, though I intend to follow the paths of my own mind to lead me to something resembling an answer, for I know that only I can navigate these storms.

Time.

I continue on, telling her that I’ve spent so much of my life (all of it, perhaps) working tirelessly. Taking the most difficult roads, and consequently priding myself on them. Choosing the hard thing, scorning at anything that came easily or felt anywhere close to freeing. Feeling the need to push myself past my limits, to seek more intense challenges, and to complicate life.

Somewhere along the way, I learned to define myself by the difficulty of it all.

  • By the seemingly impossible goals I could set.
  • By those I could achieve and reset. And reset.
  • By the sports and hobbies I forced myself to excel in.
  • By academics.
  • By time.

At many points, I say, I even believed that if life wasn’t painful or I wasn’t being punished, that I thought myself to be inadequate; that that meant I was doing something wrong, for life was not designed to be easy.

“For years, I punished myself,” I admit to her.

I begin to cry.

I explain to her that for the first time, life has allowed for the necessary space and time for proper rest (and thereby) proper reflection. And it is now that I am beginning to realize just how harrowing things have been.

Through tears, I tell her that I feel as if my heart is growing heavy in the present with sadness and regret over my past. That I am thinking back to my old self and all those years I spent believing I deserved for things to be so very difficult. I tell her that I’ve only now come to realize how many years passed me by. Ones that I spent hating myself and pushing my mind and body far beyond any expectations I or anyone else could set.

  • The late nights into early morning hours I spent every day of my grade school years staying up completing homework, sure that I would never make it anywhere if I didn’t find a way to maintain the #1 spot.
  • The many years of my childhood I spent overtraining for my athletics, certain that my potential and talent rested solely on the performances my body could muster.
  • The years I spent throughout college (and even now) restricting my food and counting every calorie, weighing myself 6x a day and measuring my wrists, believing that my beauty and capacity to be in control of my life depended on the presentation and desirability of my body.

I tell her that I am realizing that the expansion of my life and self has, in many ways, forced me to grow into newer and realer versions of myself. That I am discovering things I never knew about myself whilst reimagining familiar things that have never left me.

And yet, I find myself grappling with the truth that even amidst the mountains of positive change, that change is never unaccompanied by valleys of loss; deaths of the past deserving of mourning, movements away from that which is known, and wandering amongst blurry visions of who and what used to be.

“I wonder if I’ve lost the parts of myself I used to love. Even amongst all the layers I have been so happy to see fall away.”

Is life too easy now?

Surely, something is bound to come up and complicate it all.

Do I deserve this joy?

Surely, I’m underserving somehow.

Am I still a hard worker?

I must wonder— who am I without the hardship?

Time.

I fear I’ve wasted so much of it.

I explain to her that I’ve spent much of my life embedded in works of literature and enmeshed in the world of characters, those which I most deeply identify defined by a type of nostalgic reminiscence— those who spent so much of their lives preparing themselves for their futures, worrying about making the right choices, and living their lives “correctly” (whatever that may mean), only to reach a point of deepened reflection and come to find that in the midst of oscillating between memories of the past and visions of the future, that their present had been lost.

That even though they vowed to live with intention and to live an examined life, that the pressure and constance of the examination had taken away from life.

“I’m worried I’ve become them,” I tell her.

I strive, I achieve, I reflect, and I hope against hope everyday that the choices I’ve made will lead me to flourishing and that the reflections I ultimately come to do not illuminate my deepest, most sincere fear— that I have done it all wrong.

The Lesson

This period of my life is, above all, defined by space. I refrain from calling it emptiness, for I feel anything but. I am perhaps happier than I’ve ever been, and yet, the peace I am experiencing is not without a bit of uneasiness.

I fear I may be aimlessly wandering.

I have no idea what I’m doing.

I know that I am not alone in this, and I also know that such is the truth of life: no one knows what they’re doing, and we all do our best with what we have to make the life we believe ourselves to desire.

We build castles out of things that are important to us, and the paths our hearts lead us through bring us the meaning we’re searching for.

The hard part? Sometimes we don’t know what we’re searching for. And other times, the aim of our insatiable searches change along the course.

I’ve come to find that we change as life changes. And as difficult as this truth is to grapple with (for it consequently means that who and what matters to us changes), there is beauty there.

That we get to make choices about things and people and lives that matter to us. Everyday.

And though we may arrive at these thresholds of reflection and realize that we have made mistakes, that we have built castles out of the wrong things, and that we have outgrown what was once meaningful to us, our corrigibility allows us to make tomorrow different.

We have the opportunity to say, “Maybe now.”

The gift of hindsight has granted me the perspective I once needed, and it has illuminated the holes that lacked the grace and kindness I always wanted.

That I will never fully figure it out, and that maybe it’s all going to be okay anyway.

That perhaps will be nothing more than a cycle of action, evaluation, and reflection, and that at the beginning and end of each cycle, I may very well be a different person than I imagined myself to be.

That I will continue to make choices in accordance with what I find meaningful and beautiful, here and now, with the knowledge that there is no guaranteeing these same sources of meaning and beauty forever.

That there is no telling what change will come, for I will evolve alongside the world.

And that the risk of life is choosing to believe in it all anyways.

To believe in the things that matter to me, here and now.

To believe that I deserve the love, joy, and peace I am experiencing.

To believe in the love that those who surround me are offering me so limitlessly.

To believe in both today and in tomorrow, whatever change may come.

On Grief: A Lost Love

I don’t talk about my mother’s death much because it makes people uncomfortable to hear about grief—particularly young people’s parent loss. It it a topic most people avoid in any and every way possible. And I get it. If I had the choice, I would avoid it, too.

But I don’t. And I want to talk about something.

I want to talk about how frequent and acute the waves of grief have been since beginning to feel the lightness and joy return to my life in recent months. How I have fallen in love, felt more myself, and have welcomed back large parts of my heart that I never thought could return to me, but how there never comes a day where these times and feelings are not tainted by pangs of loss; aches reminding me that there was once more to the story, and holes in my life and in my heart widening to remind me of the space that will forever be vacant.

This juxtaposition —that of tremendous joy and utter grief— has led to several otherwise wonderful days and nights ending in tears. Including tonight.

When I delivered my mom’s eulogy 5 years ago, I alluded to an abstract, anticipatory sadness about her absence at my future wedding; at my graduations, job promotions, and even births. But it is not just the big moments where her absence sears through my heart. It’s also the collection of small, beautiful experiences everyday that I will never share with her.

It’s finally saying “I love you” and wishing I could call her and let her know.

It’s introducing my boyfriend to my friends and family, and wishing more than anything that my mom could meet the person who makes my everyday bright and full of joy.

It’s knowing that she would love him almost as much as I do.

It’s facing tremendously hard seasons of life, and only wishing there was a way for me to seek her advice— the kind that always allowed my world to continue spinning.

It’s failing time and time again, and hoping each time to see an encouraging text message appear on my phone.

It’s needing a hug, but knowing that no one’s embrace is quite as warm and inviting as hers.

It’s making difficult decisions that feel life-changing, and making them without the person who provided you the gift of life.

It’s having a birthday come and go, and realizing that another year has passed in which she didn’t sing to your phone’s voicemail.

It’s receiving good news and not quite knowing who to share it with, because the first person on your list can’t receive your calls.

It’s learning and growing every moment of everyday, all without a significant piece of your heart and who you are.

Now I know that the sadness I once spoke of is not abstract. It is here, and it is so very real. On the heaviest of days, I can feel it entering my body demanding to be felt, desperately looking for a home within me.

The tragedy of it all is this: that my happiness cannot come without simultaneous sadness. That everything I experience is felt through the realities of loss; a grief that only reflects a deep, undying love with nowhere to go.

A lost love that knows it can never fully return home or be felt in the way it once did.

I am reminded with every moment of joy, that as life grows fuller and more beautiful, my yearning grows ever deeper.

I am growing into more and more parts of who I am, without the presence or guidance of the one who made me. The challenges of this never fade. This is forever.

I wish we prepared young, bereaved women for the reality of motherless life. I wish we had a language to speak about these experiences without shame or guilt, or without the fear that others would be made uncomfortable. I wish we had a better network of motherless daughters to hold one another’s pain.

If you are here, I am here.

I am holding your pain with mine.

Your grief beats alongside mine; it is home here.

Never lost.

Where Am I Now? Eating Disorder Recovery and Reclaiming My Spot at the (Dinner) Table

CW:// eating disorders

Hey.

Long time, no write.

It’s good to see you again. I’ve missed you.

It’s funny. I sat down at my computer this afternoon and had no plans of writing or publishing anything today, but I quickly found myself navigating the searchbar, locating my blog site, and opening up a blank page. I wasn’t aware that I felt I had any thoughts to share today (especially with it having been so long). But I suppose I came here for a reason, and I now know what I’m meant to write and share.

I’ve begun writing this post a few times now, desperately seeking some alternate topic, higher theme, or interesting story I could tell here today, mainly to distract from what it is I’m feeling. But, as we’re aware of, feelings *know.* I can’t seem to shake what my mind is enduring and fixating on lately, and I know that my own inability to allow escapism to suffice is indicative of a greater need to share openly, to write with transparency, and to live honestly.

I think we owe that to one another.

I imagined that my first blog post of 2021 would be a reflection of my first year of graduate school— an honest depiction of my experience, a vulnerable expression of the wide-ranging feelings I’ve yet to feel dissipate, and a reflection on the many challenges, growing pains, and ultimate triumphs and successes I bore witness to throughout my first year in a PhD program. I still long to write this post, and I know that I will. But right now, I’m not yet ready.

Instead, I’m ready to talk about another hard thing: eating disorder recovery.

It’s always difficult for me to know where to begin. In my experience, I’ve found that things move so quickly in recovery (or in relapse) that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of what’s going right, what’s going wrong, or even what feels the hardest in the mundane everydayness of it all. Even now, as I sit here writing, I’m wondering if I have my thoughts ordered well enough to compose a post most reflective of how I find myself doing these days.

It’s no secret that recovery is hard. There’s not a single aspect of healing from an eating disorder that is easy, nor is it a journey that I feel ever truly ends. There’s an undeniable discomfort in the re-feeding process (for restrictive EDs), and weight restoration is something I’ve found to be particularly difficult in my own recovery, both physically and mentally. Nobody prepares you for tackling the harrowing kind of fear, guilt, and shame that accompanies the consistent and active watch of your changing body, perhaps into the body (or level of health) you vowed to abandon forever. Beyond the weight, though, challenges I never anticipated have arisen in my pathway towards recovery throughout the years, many of which I never really talk about.

Maybe it’s because I’m afraid that vocalizing them will make them real.

Maybe it’s because I think I can overcome my own obstacles without any enlistment of help or support.

Maybe it’s because I don’t like the possibility that I could be failing at my own recovery— a signal of that loss of *control* I so deeply despise.

Or maybe it’s because there’s a part of me that still remains; one that fails to care for my well-being and chases my own destruction.

But now, a little over three years into my recovery journey, I am beginning to understand the importance of radical honesty. The kind of vulnerability and openness that holds a key to unlocking the same in others, thereby making the world a safer, more honest, and true place. The courageous kind of acknowledgment of mistakes, hardships, and shortcomings, no matter how difficult, for it is only then that we can begin to imagine a culture in which leaning on one another and carrying each other through the darkest of times is the beating heart of all that we do.

That is the world I yearn for, so that is the world I must work to create.

Still, honesty is hard. Even after all these years.

When I first left treatment, I didn’t feel ready. I knew that I wasn’t, but in light of the circle of honest vulnerability I’m advocating for here, I didn’t care. I entered a partial hospitalization program involuntarily, and though I quickly accepted my lack of a choice in the matter, I promised myself that once I got through the summer months of program that I could abandon this whole “recovery” thing forever. In other words, the consolation prize I conjured up for myself was, in fact, the rapid and graceful return of the eating disorder that had almost taken my life and had landed me in the state I was in.

Promising myself the safe return of my eating disorder is what fueled me throughout my stay in treatment. I arrived everyday at 8am, cried my way through three meals and two snacks, and quietly sat my way through individual and group therapy sessions, only subconsciously focused on the gift of my eventual exit. I remember days where I maintained attempts to be present, to work my way through the underlying pains that helped cultivate my eating disorder voice, and to attach a greater value to my recovery as opposed to my disorder, but these days were few and far between and the attempts futile. Sure, I made it through the days okay with no observable breakdowns. But, the moment I returned to my car, there I was; on the road again, fighting the urge to rid my body of the nourishment I had just given it, sobbing my way through motivational podcasts, wondering if I would ever be able to have a life again.

The truth is that I had no intentions of “getting better,” that I possessed no will to recover, and that everyday, I still faced overwhelming, all-encompassing desires to pursue my own invisibility and disappearance. I so badly wanted to escape the pains and perceivable chaos of my life that I convinced myself it would be easier to give up and give into the deadly symptoms of my condition, for at least that would gift me with a sense of control and esteem.

I was experiencing deep pain, and I was chasing it. And, I was good at it.

The summer went by, I gained the weight I needed to in order to leave treatment and return to school in the fall, and, just like I had promised, I abandoned my own recovery immediately upon my return. The relief I felt no longer having to weigh out my portions of food in front of a dietician, no longer having to check in with a therapist about the heaviness of the mental disorder, or sitting in rooms desperately willing the clock to move at a faster speed was unlike any I had ever felt before.

I went back to San Diego, jaded but unhealed, only with the intention to revert to my old ways. I couldn’t wait to restrict again, to get back to exercising compulsively, and to watch my body shrink once again, along with the size of my life.

The cycle continued for the remainder of my third/final year of undergrad, but I was somehow able to make it through. Amidst all of the self-sabotage, I had still managed to return to campus and graduate a year early; an accomplishment that, looking back, I largely attributed to the level of “control” I believed to have in my life and my capacity to manage everything, in spite of the relentless turmoil I felt inside my head and with my body.

My real recovery didn’t begin until the summer following graduation in May 2019. They say that there is nothing like traveling to open your eyes, widen your horizons, and remind you of the vast and beautiful intricacies of life like seeing the world, and I felt every bit of this cliché. It was in Paris that I began to feel the first waves of freedom, perhaps most apparent in the shape of croissants, lattes, and macarons. I remember the visceral feeling of the guilt falling off of my shoulders more and more everyday, and even though I couldn’t understand why, I was happy.

These waves of freedom were accompanied by the welcome arrival of new and beautiful perspectives, more reflective of such vastness, limitlessness, and wonder of the world, and less so of the binding and inescapable cage of shame I had constructed so deliberately.

I felt myself longing for more freedom. To hold onto the feeling. To chase that freedom and wonder, rather than the control and smallness that had defined my recent years.

Still, I kept waiting for that wistfulness to leave me. I wondered if it might leave me when I returned home. If I would be able to silence the voices in my head pushing only for my own destruction should they arise again. I feared that my brain might be able to conjure up a spell that trapped my “free self” back into the web of my disorder the moment I stepped off the plane.

Maybe brains can do that, but mine didn’t.

After that trip, the eating disorder voices never returned. And if they did, I was unaware, for I was so deeply cherishing the freedom and life I had just gained back. That trip marked the beginning stages of my recovery, undoubtedly defined by small steps forward and large leaps back. Still, I no longer felt the everlasting pang in my chest, urging me to do all I could to become small and insignificant. To make my body as small and weak as possible, so that my life may ultimately mirror its model. I wanted to recover, and I wanted to chase that kind of freedom that I now knew to be possible forever.

Since then, my recovery has bore witness to the highest of mountain tops and the steepest of valleys. There have been some good days, but there have been many more hard ones. The discomfort of relinquishing control in return for freedom is a transaction I am continually working on and one that never seems to subside, and I endure raging body dysmorphia more days than others. I still often cry at the end of long days, particularly when I have tried to challenge myself and indulge in a fear food, have fought the urge to over-exercise, or refrain from compensating my caloric intake with laxative abuse. And most of the time, I don’t feel happy about or proud of my attempts to leave ED behind and to recover instead.

This lack of joy and pride might seem trivial, but it is not. In fact, it has been precisely these feelings (or lack of) that have brought on practical complications in my recovery and have prompted lapses and relapses time and time again. Once proud of wearing my badge of “recovering anorexic,” I have also known myself to spend weeks, even months at a time, beckoning the re-entrance of my disorder back into my life. Though difficult to admit, restricting food, pushing my body to exercise compulsively, and sustaining my life at the size of my self-imposed cage is still one of the greater comforts I constantly seek. Anorexia has convinced me that this cage of control is safe and protective, that it serves me in deepening my will and preserving my ethic, and that it will never leave me.

COVID has not been kind to those of us in eating disorder recovery. I have found myself falling back into comfortable patterns to keep my symptoms manageable, desperately clinging onto things I know are at best inhibiting and at worst wholly sabotaging.

Alone and bombarded by media messaging about diet and exercise, I resented my nourished body. With my social routines so wildly disrupted, I struggled to know how to move and eat intuitively. I would spend hours looking at my body in the mirror— pinching, checking, weighing, obsessing— wondering if it was the glass or my brain that was warped. I am currently facing the weight of these challenges still.

It remains an active choice for me to make everyday whether or not I want to value my recovery. Right now, things are hard. Truthfully, I’ve doubted my ability to continue on and to face the relentless, seemingly insurmountable challenges my own mind presents me with, looking out for my moments of vulnerability. I feel fragile, and I don’t think people understand that much. I wake up everyday hoping that it will be an easier one— that I will be able to consume what I need in order to sustain myself and bolster my recovery; that I will be able to maintain the will to do so.

The exhaustion has set in deeply lately, and I am once again fighting the urge to give in. In many ways, I feel as if I am back to square one and that I have completely failed myself. My recovery was going well, until it wasn’t.

And so things go.

As the world reopens, new challenges have emerged. It still feels like being stabbed in the heart when people comment on my body, or when people compare my body to other women’s. I mean that literally— I feel a physical pain in my chest when I am reduced to my bodily appearance; the body I am still working on tolerating. I am self-conscious about eating and exercise in front of others.

My social recovery muscles are quite atrophied from prolonged disuse. And all of a sudden, I feel that my body is on display again. There is social pressure to share photos online, stroll the beaches in bikinis, and wear short skirts to parties. But participating in these activities opens me up to commentary from others, and I run the risk of feeling like I am being punched in the chest repeatedly. Even comments that are positively valenced or complimentary in nature often result in me feeling like an object, rather than a person with a kind heart, a tough backbone, and a creative mind.

As we start reuniting with loved ones, I hope you will consider the ways that those of us navigating ED recovery have struggled over the last few months. I hope you will consider the unique challenges we are facing as we reenter the world. I hope you will remember the visceral pain of being objectified. I hope you will be conscious of the ways that you talk about bodies, food, eating, and dieting.

It is possible that someone with an eating disorder, or someone who may develop an eating disorder, is listening.

Today, though, I am choosing to reflect and think of how much I lost in the deepest valleys of my eating disorder and remind myself that healing can look like a million little things. It can look like eating a croissant on a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower, or it can look like getting milk in your coffee. It can look like getting lost in thought and reading a book in solitude, or it can look like phoning a friend for support in a time of need. It can look like going out to a restaurant you once feared and challenging yourself as best you can, or it can look like sitting in the safeness of comfort for awhile, so long as the comfort is looking out for you. That’s the beautiful thing about healing— like so much else in this life, there’s no guidebook or manuscript telling us what to do. So we can do anything and everything.

Looking back, I lost so much more than the weight I so desperately wanted to lose so that I could *finally* be happy. Feel successful. Be in control.

I lost friendships. Relationships. The ability to develop meaningful connections and communicate effectively. To be honest and to not hide away for fear of being found out. The will to show up for those I love and to be the friend, sister, and daughter they all deserve.

I lost the capacity to think without a clouded mind. The ability to concentrate. The energy to tend to the thoughts and ideas I love contemplating. Mental clarity.

I lost any ounce of space I once had to allow my brain to think about anything outside of food and my body— everything but the obsessive thoughts that inhibited my everyday.

I lost memories and moments that should have been cherished. Experiences I wasn’t present for. Conversations I couldn’t participate in. I lost time.

I lost my peace. An understanding of myself and who I was, what I wanted for my life, and what my ambitions allowed me to dream up.

I lost my joy, the simple pleasures I once found, and my love for life. I lost my smile and any ability to see beyond the destructive and harmful cage I so carefully constructed for myself.

I lost the weight, but I lost so, so much more than that.

The most insidious thing about eating disorders is that they have a way of manipulating your brain into believing that you’re in control. That you can handle it. That you’re doing something good for you and your body, your esteem and your soul. That you’re behaving in such a way that will enhance your life and make you “better” in one way or another.

It’s far simpler in hindsight to understand how deeply I was entrenched in my illness and how everything I once thought to protect and serve me was only slowly killing me. Still, how much I missed out on is not lost on me.

Somewhere along the way, I believed that my disorder protected me. That it was what made me strong. I lost sight of what really did, and I’m working towards forgiving myself for that everyday.

Here’s your sign to forgive yourself, too.

I will reclaim my seat at the dinner table, and I will regain momentum in my recovery, no matter how difficult it feels or how long the years. We can do hard things. One step and one day at a time. 🤍

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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.

 

Problematic Perfectionism

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

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

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

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

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

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