First the Pain, Then the Rising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

 

 

The Roller Coaster of Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holding On and Letting Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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