Over the last few years, this blog has served as an asylum for my fears, insecurities, and regrets. I have written during periods of distress and confusion, often as a means of connecting with others and quelling my anxieties. I have written during periods of pain and sorrow, translating my heart’s weariness into words absorbed on pages just like this one. I have written during periods of joy and triumph, using this space as a vehicle by which my own momentary contentment could be capsuled and held as memories forever. And I have written during periods of apathy and irreverence, not quite knowing what the purpose was at all– perhaps hoping to stumble into one along the way.
Writing has served as a strategy for processing my grief, for understanding and working through my eating disorder, for sitting with my loneliness, for sitting with the trials of graduate school, and for meditating on the mountains and valleys of life. It has been a few months since I officially left my PhD program and now, after what has felt like an endless loop of reflection and reformation, I find myself compelled to articulate my thoughts once again. This time (and perhaps for the very first time), however, I am not motivated by a frantic, desperate desire to have my experiences validated. Nor am I inclined to choose my words so perfectly and eloquently that my every thought is understood and shared by those who choose to read them. Rather, I write this piece from a place of joy, fulfillment, and excitement for the future.
Most of all, I write this from a place of peace.
Over the recent months, I have felt the most profound shifts in my mind and in my life– ones that I truthfully never knew to be possible. I have allowed myself to scale back on my insatiable pursuits of academic (and other) achievements, I have chosen to value slowness and rest in a world that pushes us to be and do anything but, and I have attempted to seek and hold joy however possible.
All things I didn’t believe were meant to be a part of my life.
It has taken me almost an entire year to grapple with the simultaneous newness and staggering redirections I have seen since reorienting my life towards something freer, more open, and hopeful. I had to grow accustomed to living a life that wasn’t full of stress, anxiety, or fear, and I had to learn how to be a person who was okay with taking it slow.
For awhile, I resented it. Though I never went as far as to regret my decision, I spent countless days and nights wondering how I had convinced myself to give up– questioning why I ever thought it was okay to quit. As time passed and the distance between myself and the academic world I once called home (and work, and passion, and life) deepened, I found myself growing agitated. The newfound slowness and ease of my life upon leaving academia and entering the workforce started to become a source of immense discomfort for me.
I hated myself for slowing down. I didn’t know how to cope with the rising self-resentment I felt.
Had I become lazy? Did life become too easy? Shouldn’t I be working harder? Is this really what I wanted? How could it all be so simple?
I realize now, as I approach one year of choosing this redirection, that I had never known myself without chronic stress. That I had never known myself to be liberated, rested, or hopeful. Joyous.
I felt as if I had lost my entire identity because, in many ways, I DID. Life, alongside my own choices, had never given me the opportunity to discover who I was without it all– the anxiety, the plans, the to-do lists, the goals, the striving. I had never considered who I might be or what I was truly like apart from all of the things I thought made me excellent (that really only inhibited me).
Here is what I have learned so far. These are the gifts of slowness and grace:
- Ease and contentment are not shortcomings or dispositions calling for improvements to be made or speed to be increased– they are simply feelings to be enjoyed. Let them be enjoyed.
- Freedom and time are not innate attacks on drive, passion, or achievement. They only create space for creativity and joy in places they are needed.
- Rest is not lazy, nor is it a relinquishing of any goal. Rest is a service– to myself and to those around me.
I thought I was giving up, when really I was giving myself a chance.
I thought I was choosing wrong, when really I was choosing for the first time.
I thought I was sacrificing my joy, when really I was committing myself to chasing it eternally.
I thought I was building my own cage, when really I was setting myself free.
Life is not at all how I anticipated, and I’m hardly the person I expected to become. But maybe it’s okay that I’m not doing what I always expected of myself.
Above all, following the overwhelming shame + guilt I’ve carried since choosing to step away from where and who I thought I was meant to be, I have never felt more courageous.
I am learning to be proud of myself.
Because I am happy, and that can be the simple, final truth today. How ridiculous to poke and prod at such joy until it grays, until I feel unsettled. How about instead, I just feel it? How about instead, I share my happiness without disclaiming?
My tendency to explain, self-analyze and guilt myself into unhappiness still lingers. When will this joy end? This calm? I do not deserve it. I’m not doing enough.
All of this, these mental reframes, and lots of gratitude. Consciously, every day. For the fact that I *get* to do this, for the people I’ve surrounded myself with that continue to encourage my joy, creativity, and excitement. Gratitude for my health. For time. For my life, the beauty that surrounds me, the giddy feeling that is genuine passion, and for the family and friends who make my everyday feel like a deep breath.
For a long time I stopped believing a mind or life like this was possible for me. One where I’m not contemplating my mental health incessantly. One where I naturally crave connection over isolation, joy over pain. One where I’m not yearning to improve or change. One where eating, body image, and my recovery is not the central focus of my life, but an underlying force that allows me to explore it wholeheartedly.
It all feels foreign to me still. I’ve been recovering from my eating disorder for almost 5 years. It’s been such a slow roll. And even at the strongest points of my recovery in the past, I still held on so tightly to it, identifying with it completely.
I feared that if I let go I would break. But I finally did when I couldn’t hold on any longer, stepping away from a life dedicated to academic pursuits, goal-setting & simultaneous mental health treatment and stepping into what I truly love. And I’ve discovered the opposite to be true. I am not broken, I am not my disorders or my hardest days, and I am not my recovery. I am *me.*
I’m trusting this and myself despite how different it seems, how wrong it feels at times. Remembering what once served me so fiercely, mourning the fact that it no longer does, and settling into change. Honoring instead of living in my past. Discovering and embracing who I am, how I feel, and what I love outside of it all.
These days, I am thinking of Mary Oliver, who said, “To pay attention– this is our endless and proper work.”
I am working to become more like Mary. To be a woman who, in spite of the world, stands in a meadow and chooses to open her eyes, to feel the sunlight, to speak every truth, and to find artistry in every thing.
Knowing that I am paying attention.
Knowing that I am here.
And knowing that that is enough.