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.