Oh wow! The words are flying out from under my fingers faster than I can process them. Which, is kinda like how fast my brain was whirring during my spin class tonight. Honestly endorphins and anxiety can do some kickin’ things in my head!
So, here are 45 thoughts I had in a 45 minute spin class.
Okay play it cool. Just walk in and pick a bike – I got this.
How the heck does this thing work? [tugging, pulling, and pushing buttons and knobs to adjust the bike settings] Everyone is probably looking at me.
Instructor: “Is anyone new?”[timid hand raise] Me: Keep playing it cool. Just nod and say things like awesome and cool.
Instructor: “Be kind to yourself tonight” Me: Right on. Okay. This could be okay. I can handle a bit of self-care.
I love this music. Maybe I’ll add it to my running playlist.
This is gonna be such great cross training!
I definitely don’t belong here. What was I thinking?! I’m a huge impostor.
Am I even doing this right?
I look like a fool.
Why is this bike moving so fast? My legs feel out of control. Oh, my legs feel like Jello. I’m definitely doing this wrong.
[Looks around the room] WOAH all these girls are so skinny.
[Looks in the mirror] I’m probably the fattest girl in this class.
They probably all think I’m too fat to be here.
Everyone in Boston is so FIT. What’s with all these fit people? It must be a city thing.
Hey wait. I run half marathons. I can handle a 45 minute spin class.
This shirt is too big. It puffs in all the wrong places. It makes me look bigger than really I am.
Okay just don’t look in the mirror.
Wow why am I so conceded that I can’t stop looking at myself in the mirror?
Why aren’t other people sweating?
[Looks around the room – again] Oh there are people who are struggling WAY more than me.
I got this.
Just keep breathing.
This music is great. Okay, just focus on the music.
Is it weird that I’m singing along to Katy Perry Eye of the Tiger?
Why isn’t there a clock in this room? Where is the clock?!?! How many minutes has it been?
What the heck is a moderate hill anyway? My thighs hurt more or less – that’s my measure of resistance.
I cant believe all these people are so skinny.
I wonder if they think I shouldn’t be here.
I bet you they aren’t thinking about me at all.
Okay just count the beats. Be present.
How many calories am I burning?
Oh, these bikes don’t have any tracking devices! How many miles did I go? How am I supposed to track this in my app later?
Why are my thighs so huge?
I said, I wouldn’t look in the mirror!
Wow only three more songs left. That wasn’t so bad!
I totally got this.
Make this count. I’m skipping my run for this.
How is this song not over yet?
I wonder if Grey’s Anatomy is going to be good.
How did I not realize that whenever I lean forward the instructor can see down my entire shirt?!
At least I’m wearing a matching sports bra.
If I have a snack when I get home will I ruin my workout?
Almost there. Don’t give up. Power through.
Made it. Phew! That wasn’t so bad. I’d do that again!
Content Warning: disordered eating, excessive exercise, and self-harm
I’ve been working on this post since December 30, 2016. It’s time to share this aspect of my story even if it’s making me shake as I write. There will be more time to unpack and reorganize my thoughts later. The beauty is in the imperfections. The beauty is in naming my lived experience even if I’m scared. Thank you for reading.
2016 was a remarkable year – literally.
As I was reflecting, I realized that for someone who isn’t very good at math, I did a whole lot of mental gymnastics and complex calculations in 2016. I measured nearly everything – even when I didn’t realize I was doing it.
So, in that spirit, to reflect on 2016, I’m asking, “how do you measure a year?”
Really though, what’s going to make a difference when you look back? What matters for days, weeks, months later? What’s memorable enough? What’s quantifiable? What’s not quantifiable that’s still important?
I could measure 2016 by the number of Tweets I posted, the number of good things that happened, the number of bad things that happened, the number of times I didn’t feel guilty about the food I was eating, the number of amazing conversations I had, the number of trips to the ER, the number of friends I lost, the number of friends I gained, the number of pounds I lost, the number of miles I ran, the number of times I dropped everything because someone needed me, the number of dollars I spent on therapy, the number of hours I spent in therapy, the number of articles I wrote, the number of “accomplishments” I earned, the number of days I over-scheduled to occupy my mind for every single waking minute, the number of fights I had, the number of moments I actually felt present, the list could go on, and on, and on, and on.
The truth is, it’s a miracle I made it through this year, and I’m not sure how I did it. I was crazed and compulsive, and my brain NEVER shut off! I mean it. I woke up exhausted from how many ideas and conversations my brain entertained while I was “sleeping”.
In 2016 I was out of control; even though the one thing I felt like I could count on was control.
Control for me is the ultimate goal. Perhaps it’s because I can recall so many times when I didn’t get to be in control of my life [read: abuse & chronic pain – although I can’t get into that right now]. I always fight my environment and circumstances to feel in control; it’s comforting, reliable, and trustworthy – except not really. It’s actually so deceptive. It’s a made up, abstract concept. Control reveals it’s malicious self when I’m not looking. When I feel like everything is finally manageable, the perception of control laughs in my face, and shows me how wrong I actually am [read: every excuse I ever had about compulsive exercise and not being hungry – more on that soon]. Control is a falsity. It’s a mirage. And, since I’m compulsive I literally get trapped in a vicious cycle of catching and chasing control. Striving for control manifested in a lot of ways for me in 2016. Since as early as I can recall needing control, I can identify how almost all of my attempts to ascertain control were various forms of self-harm. Most recently, it looks like excessive exercise and compensatory, disordered eating behaviors. Craving control isn’t glamorous, and any threat to that poses a likelihood for a compulsion to kick in – a false sense of manufactured control.
I started measuring 2016 by counting calories and miles – obsessively [Thank you Under Armour You Vs Year Challenge] . I ended the year the same way. I ended 2016 weighing myself twice a day, working out 6 days a week, eating one full meal a day, and purging when I felt too full or overwhelmed. I spent 2016 calculating how many miles I’d need to track to erase every indulgence, and every slip of self-control. I ended 2016 feeling “okay” if I ate the same thing every day, and being both proud and fearful every time I lost more weight. It was never about weight, size, or body image; it was always about control. I ended 2016 convinced that these behaviors were typical and not disordered.
In 2016 my identity was contingent on my accomplishments; my identity was consumed by how far I could push myself [read: attempting to run a half marathon while being malnourished and completing an intensive one year Master’s degree while working four jobs]. I tracked my the miles I ran (see below), and if you ask me I can tell you how my mileage totals correlates directly with the chaos in my life. When I felt most out of control, I ran more. It was so simple.
Side note: Melissa A. Fabello suggest it’s bests to “Never, Ever Use Numbers” when talking about fitness on social media. While I tend to agree and realize it can be triggering, I’m using numbers right now. I’m using numbers to illustrate and own my experience. I’m using numbers as literal data to tell my story.
I once described my feelings about running like this,
“pounding the pavement, counting each step, each throbbing step. Endure, push through, don’t stop. Determination. Thud, pound, pound, breath, keep going, don’t stop, sigh, sigh…”
I’ve also described running like this,
“I started running because it was the most brutal, ruthless, clearest way, aside from being a competitive gymnast, I could think of to tell my chronic pain that it isn’t in charge. Running is how I’m reclaiming my body. When I’m running I’m in charge. I’m strong, powerful, and triumphant.“
I channeled my mileage into training for two half marathons. The first race, I ended up in the hospital. I said I didn’t care, but I cared a lot! I was convinced I could push through anything but, my body had a different reality. If I was healthier, stronger, and had better intentions, I would have finished.There was a disconnect between my mind and my body. [Side note: There still is.]
So, the second time I trained for a half marathon, I trained smarter. I decided to think about food as fuel. The second time, I did finish! That was an accomplishment in 2016! In 2016 I ran more than 1000K! I ran nearly the distance of 24 marathons, and with each crazed, obsessive step I gained clarity, pain, agony, energy, and strength – depending on the day.
I ended 2016 both in denial and with a plan to tackle these perfectionist driven behaviors, and dangerous habits. I ended 2016 with a plan to be stronger – both physically and mentally.
I should mention here that living with OCD and overcoming compulsions or obsessions is not a linear process. I’ve had several bouts of compulsions in my life, and even if I’ve resolved one, it’s likely another will reveal itself or I’ll relapse – this is super context dependent (I learned this in 2016). Acknowledging this is a really important step.
In 2016 I graduated with my Master’s degree. Now I have two degrees – count that! I am among the nearly 9-12% (depending on the source) of people in the U.S. who hold an advanced degree. That’s pretty cool.
I also got a job! I love my job, and I love getting to say that I’m a researcher! My team is an amazing group of nerdy, collaborative, intelligent people. Each day my strengths are recognized. I’m trusted and respected. Our work is important. I feel productive and valuable. I feel empowered and supported. I’m appropriately challenged, and I’m always learning new skills. I feel happy at my job every day (even when it’s stressful)- that’s a relief. I am so lucky!
Many people have asked me if I think that graduate school was worth it especially because I love my job and learned so much, and most often my response is overpowered by my own ambivalence. Usually I don’t even want to be entertaining such a question. However, if I’m being honest, I hated graduate school. I have been working through a lot of issues such as complex trauma, impostor syndrome, and anxiety because of it. I do not think that it was worth it. Merely surviving should never be the objective.Although, it’s always an accomplishment. As much as I try to convince myself it wasn’t “that bad” the more I listen to my friends and recall several of the worst nights of my life it’s tough to deny how severe it was. I wouldn’t say that struggling for a year, being suicidal at times, and acquiring an eating disorder as a result of my unrelenting OCD was worth it no matter how amazing my job is now. In 2016, I learned how academia doesn’t take mental health and self-care seriously, and that it’s too easy to pretend you’re “fine” even when you’re struggling immensely.
In 2016, I also found and joined feminist writing spaces. In first publication on Ravishly.com I came out as asexual. I recognized my values and my identities were reflected in the topics other people were writing about. These writers and activists exemplified for me how to elevate and insert my voice into important conversations. My queerness is not the most prominent aspect of my identity, but being queer and owning it afforded me both a sense of connection and exclusion. The connectedness was electrifying. The exclusion made me feel enraged and small. And so, I wrote!
I was enamored with the connection and the energy! I became addicted to saying things, and having them matter to someone. I wanted to be seen, and to belong. I wanted people to recognize my identities, relate to me, and engage with me! My feminism burst out of me once I gained knowledge and started writing, and allowed myself the privilege of being recognized for and confident about who I am, and how my life works. In 2016, I became a writer, and found my voice – which I still think is really cool!
Awareness, Acceptance, and Action – Next Steps
I measured 2016 in events, logistics, and numbers. I allowed my emotions to be in charge when they made sense and they were manageable. Otherwise I silenced them. I convinced myself most feelings were too big, and too intrusive. I learned to retreat instead of express myself. In 2016 I mostly felt complacent – which felt good. Conversely, I often felt out-of-control happy, out-of-control sad, out-of-control angry… and those feelings didn’t feel good. I learned that numbness can be an everyday, acceptable feeling, and that being numb can carry you for a really long time.
I’m still doing the work to recognize, respond to, and feel – literally – what emotions feel like. Sometimes that means getting on a soap box ranting about how frustrated I feel when women at my office complain about the actual, never-ending supply of candy, and the perpetual body shaming and food shaming. Sometimes that means saying when someone hurts me, and calling them out even if it’s uncomfortable. And sometimes that means, recognizing when I’m happy, and sharing that joy with others!
The point is, once I started allowing myself to feel, I allowed my opinions to be valid, and spent time cultivating self-awareness – including learning about myself and my opinions about feminism. I realized there were so many injustices that made me absolutely livid inside, and I charged toward advocating for justice and equity. I also gained some personal insight into what emotions mean for me – which is definitely a work in progress.
I rounded out 2016 by signing a lease for an apartment in Cambridge, MA. I found a wonderful, accepting community of social justice minded, Jewish, young professionals to share Shabbat with. I am in love with the intellectual capital and the culture of Cambridge. I’ve enjoyed sharing the camaraderie of running in this compact city! When I’m feeling really good, I’ll even admit there are a lot of incredible restaurants to try too! I’m excited for the opportunity to thrive in a new, invigorating space.
I could measure 2016 SO many ways. I did measure 2016 SO many ways. Now, in hindsight, I’m finding it most helpful and fulfilling to measure 2016 by recognizing all the opportunities for growth and all the potential for the coming years. I’m happy. Really. I’ve got a good thing going for me right now, and I have an incredible amount of hard, hard work ahead of me.
2017 will be about embracing being simultaneously a masterpiece and a work in progress! I’m ready!
I cannot make sense of the results of this election. I’m feeling so many mixed-up, irrational things – all of which are all valid. I can’t find peace.
The morning after the election, everything felt surreal and quiet, but also so loud it was inescapable. I watched the sunrise after a night of barely any sleep, and I thought, “how can the sun even rise after all of this?” I felt hopeless.
I can recover from losing one night of sleep; the implications of November 8, 2016 are permanent.
I am devastated, and afraid. I’m afraid as a Jew, a woman, as someone who identifies with the LGBTQIA+ community. I’m sad. I’m just so sad.
Now, not even 48 hours after the election, I’m somewhere between wondering how we’re supposed to just go about our normal business, and thinking that we have to keep moving forward. I’m somewhere between wanting to check-in with my friends and loved ones who are clearly hurting too, and being so exhausted by even just the premise of one more conversation about this damn election. For three days, I’ve been vacillating between all the feels, and sometimes experiencing them all at once – sadness, rage, and fear, panic, numbness, resentment, and disbelief. I’m trying to decide what our “new normal” will look like, and how it’s possible that this can all be okay. Everything feels unfulfilling, and subdued.
The way I see it, the whole election season can be likened to a story plot:
Exposition and Inciting Incident – Primary Elections
Rising Action – Debate Season, and the Campaigns
Climax – Election Day
Falling Action – The Immediate Aftermath
Resolution – The Future (if we’re being hopeful)
Election seasons retell and predict the ongoing story of our country, and our democracy. We are forced, through this process, to remember what we’ve accomplished, set grandiose goals and plans, and yearn for possibility, and the triumphs ahead. Living through this experience unscathed is practically impossible. Living through this story unaffected is unforgivable.
I’m not even going to try to write a monumental, millennial values inspired post about white supremacy, the patriarchy, and our not-so-post-racial America because I cannot process any of this coherently enough, yet, to write anything ineligible. All I want to say right now is, “No. Hell No.”
I don’t feel like listening to anyone’s remarks about giving him a chance, or how as a country we needed something radically different, and she wasn’t it. I don’t care about WHY it happened, whose votes we “missed”, and who we didn’t “predict” would vote (Ahem… white people everywhere). I don’t care if it seems like I’m being immature. I just need a way to process this; I need to figure out how we move forward, and what to do next.
So, instead, right now, I’m going to turn my energy to music, and the voices and stories that have already so beautifully and precisely articulated many of the feelings I’m experiencing – Broadway musicals. I’m finding solace, validation, authenticity, and explanation in this music, and these plots. Both the lyrics and the musical composition intimately portray feelings such as excitement, disappointment, loss, dread, hope, and optimism. I’m searching for clarity in a space I have reliably found to be filled with love and truth. I need to warm my soul; I’ll use the energy and beauty of Broadway to illuminate a path forward.
Here’s my best attempting at processing, at mapping, my emotions throughout the trajectory of this election story in Broadway songs. [You can access the full playlist here]
Popular – Wicked – “It’s not about aptitude/ It’s the way you’re viewed / So it’s very shrewd to be/ Very very popular/ Like me!”
Anything You Can Do – Annie Get Your Gun – Anything you can do, I can do better!/ I can do anything better than you! [Frank:] No you can’t! [Annie:] Yes, I can! [Frank:] No, you can’t! [Annie:] Yes, I can! [Frank:] No, you can’t! [Annie:] Yes, I can, Yes, I can!”
I’m Here – The Color Purple – “I’m gonna take a breath/ Gonna hold my head up/ Gonna put my shoulders back/ And look you straight in the eye…And I’m thankful for every day that I’m given/ Both the easy and hard ones I’m livin'”
Light – Next to Normal – “Day after day (day after day)/ We’ll find the will to find our way/ Knowing that the darkest skies will someday see the sun.”
The list could go on and on, and I could select other lyrics that evoke similar or different emotions from these same songs. The fact is, I cannot silence my feelings, and I won’t apologize for being melodramatic or overreacting. This is serious, and I don’t know how else to grieve. Thankfully, there’s music.
Want to share your thoughts? In the comments feel free to contribute to this list! Which songs do you associate with the tumultuous journey we’re all on?
During the Jewish month of Elul, the month preceding the Jewish New Year, we’re asked to welcome introspection. We’re invited to identify what unfinished business, what distractions, are keeping us from living in the moment. This practice compels us to have conversations with our self, grappling with feelings which are unsettled, uncomfortable, unfocused, and uncertain. So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting!
This reflective practice, prepares us for teshuvah. The practice of teshuvah, literally translated to mean “return”, and conventionally translated as “repentance”, helps shape how we experience the challenging truths of ourselves and our lives. After Elul, after identifying our missteps, and realizing where there is room for improvement, the practice of teshuvah compels us to turn outward. We look toward our community, our friends, and our family for their forgiveness and insight about how they experience us. Only then can we come full circle, return to ourselves, and identify how to put our best selves forward in the next year. By doing teshuvah, we make a choice to focus on our flaws, and find the strength, direction, energy, and support from those who are most important to us so we can grow and improve – so we can reunite out body, mind, and soul.
Rabbi Alan Lew, in his book “This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared”, reminds us that “everything we do is an expression of the entire truth of our lives.” He goes on to say that, “The present moment is the only place we experience ourselves as being alive, the only place we experience our lives at all”. In a very literal interpretation, I take this to mean that we must be present without any competing distractions to fully experience ourselves – our constantly, continuously becoming selves. Glennon Doyle Melton describes it this way; she says, “to be human is to be incomplete and constantly yearning for reunion.” I understand this concept to imply that we’re always yearning for reunification with ourselves, and that very often the representation of ourselves that we share with others is not our true, flawed, and imperfect selves.
And so this return, this reunification of body, mind, and soul, is incredibly difficult to achieve especially when I find myself battling so many unsettled, unfinished thoughts. The type of thoughts that creep up on me when I least expect it, and that push into my consciousness no matter what I do to avoid them. It’s much more comfortable to maintain some distance from myself. In fact, Rabbi Lew explains that, “we spend a great deal of time and energy… living at some distance from ourselves” typically because of fear of what we may learn, or perhaps because then the hard work of improvement and self-realization will be looming right in front of us – and that’s daunting. We maintain stories that are no longer relevant because we are terrified of acknowledging the truth of our lives – of our existence. Brene Brown also explains this idea in her work. She says, “There is a narrative that all of us hold on to that we have to retire at some point because it no longer serves our lives or our stories.” This choice, the challenge to either move forward and grow, or remain trapped in the fears and narratives that have limited us in the past, is the cornerstone of the Jewish High Holidays.
And so, I’ve spent the month of Elul, a Jewish month of introspection considering, yet again, the importance of stories. I’ve asked myself “which stories are holding me back?”, “which stories, which truths, have impacted me in ways that, maybe, haven’t even fully revealed themselves yet?” I’ve considered, “what unfinished business is tearing [my] focus away from the present tense reality of our experience? From the present moment, the only place where we can really live our lives?” And, I’ve participated in Do You 10Q to help me discover more about myself, and make this gigantic task a bit more manageable.
Here are my answers to all 10 questions, in 3 sentences or less:
Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you?
A year ago, I would have told you that I had to exclusively find and sustain strength inside myself, and be strong for my friends – even if it meant pretending (also see this). Then, I experienced the incredible power of friendship when I was struggling and needed help. Now, I’d tell you I can’t be my best without the support my friends and family; they’re the ones who give me strength and energy – especially in the areas where I still have room to grow.
Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year?
I wish I didn’t think I needed to go through all of life’s challenges on my own. I wish I understood the power in admitting I needed help earlier. I wish I didn’t waste so much energy pretending things were fine, and instead I put energy into doing everything I could to find strength, safety, and calm.
Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?
This year, I earned my Master’s degree in Urban Education Policy. My education, passion, and experiences prepared me to step into my role as a Research Coordinator at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. I learned an incredible amount this year, and now I have a job that I absolutely love!
Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?
One world: Orlando. Earlier this year I started writing about asexuality (among other things) on Ravishly. However, it wasn’t until Orlando that my identity within the queer community felt both salient and threatened; this event made me simultaneously want to be out, and reject any and all queer identities at the same time. [Side note: interestingly this year Yom Kippur coincides with National Coming Out Day!]
Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year?
Read here. And here. I’m constantly craving spaces where the energy is contagious, and where I can be so present, confident, and welcomed that everything else fades away – for me this is often Shabbat.
Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?
I want to be less fixated on food, and weight by this time next year. I realized this is really just a way to feign control when other things feel too hectic. It’s easy to let this line of thinking become an obsession, and get out of control.
How would you like to improve yourself, your life, next year? Any advice you received that could help?
I want to work on being more emotionally intelligent, and giving more attention to how things make me feel. I’ve discovered that if I can identify how I’m feeling in a situation, and allow myself to authentically feel the entirety of my emotions in their context, right when they’re happening, I can be in charge of deciding how to react, and what steps I should take to alleviate the feeling or perpetuate it. My friends have reminded me that my feelings don’t have to feel out of control, and that other things will fall into place when I allow myself to feel whatever emotions are associated with anything I’m experiencing.
Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully next year?
Since I’m a huge research nerd, I want to learn more about research methods, and what approaches resonate with me so I can make an informed choice when I pursue a PhD in a few years. I also want to learn multilevel modeling and longitudinal analysis techniques!
What is a fear that you have & how has it limited you? How do you plan on overcoming it this year?
I am inexplicably afraid of stopping because I’m afraid of what I’ll learn about myself, and I’m afraid that the flooding will be too intense. This “go, go, go”, do all the things mentality has been both an adaptive coping strategy, and has stifled my personal growth. As overwhelming as it may seem, I’m working to create space to learn more about myself, and let myself know it’s okay to stop.
When you get your answers to your 10Q questions next year, what do you hope will be different about you?
I hope I am able to be more honest with myself both about my strengths, and the areas where I can improve. I hope I’m still relentlessly passionate and aggressive in my pursuit of my goals, but that I’m able to supplement my professional life with a healthy balance of socializing and other activities that bring me joy.
Those are my answers! What are yours?
גמר חתימה טובה – May you be sealed (in the book of life) for good.
I mean, I’ve been writing over on ravishly.com living the dream as a contributing writer! Here’s my contributor page: YAY!!!! And, I’ve been over on themighty.com (here) writing about chronic pain. Yet the personal stuff, the things I actually want to work on and write on, has been disappointingly neglected.
I’ve said it before, but when I’m writing, I can be myself and share my thoughts. It actually feels really vulnerable, exposed, and terrifying! Sometimes I get “stage-fright” and want to swallow my words back up or not claim them as my own. In those moments, I take the the Shonda Rhimes “yes” approach – even though it scares me. I have to own this!
Earlier this year, I couldn’t think. In those months, I felt like an essential part of my identity was missing. It enraged me! During that time writing, editing, and revising helped me make sense of the chaos.
In so many ways, I’m back now, and I can think again! And so, what follows is literally something kinda meta. It’s just I’ve been thinking a lot, and need to reconcile those thoughts into something relatively cohesive.
They say the best writers are well read. I envy the craftsmanship of writers whose talent makes ideas and images explode off the page. I admire people who are so fervently dedicated to this art.
I walk around the world narrating to myself. I arrange the words in my mind as if they’re puzzle pieces. When I get stuck, I move on to another part, or I backtrack and approach the challenge from a different angle. For example, I could see a bee pollinating a flower – sucking the nectar from its colorful, robust center, and wonder, to myself: How would I describe this? What imagery would I call upon to depict the experience of quenching one’s innate desire by entering the succulent, tight center of a bright, open flower? How could I detail the onomatopoeia I’m searching for to describe the sucking sound escaping from the bee’s mouth as it nurses the flower, caring deeply to attend to every last drop of think, sweet nectar like a baby coveting, adoring even, its mother’s breast? Is it a puck sound? More of a slurp?
As I hear conversations, I consciously insert the unspoken aspects of dialogue – sigh, beat. Soon, the percussive nature of a gripping exchange becomes inexplicably compelling. An oration that is disciplined by rhythm embodies a pace, a tempo, that’s nearly impossible to ignore. It’s the type of pentameter that’s so relentlessly captivating the words practically don’t matter at all. And, when I zoom up close to the rhythm of life and embrace the interconnectedness of each person’s story the words, the narrations, become illuminated for me.
These words, they practically beg for engagement and acknowledgement. They strive for consumption and understanding. Yet, the beauty lies in the ability to appreciate both the clarity of shared meaning, and the messiness of each individual’s experiences clouding a shared conceptualization of a story. If we’re attentive, intentional, and skilled, we can generate stories that completely relay how we’re feeling, and what we want others to understand about our lived experience. Idealistically, we can use words as vehicles to move ideas forward.
And so, here I am; I’m relentlessly trying to narrate my world. I walk around composing paragraphs, envisioning the sentences, rearranging their structure – all the while tirelessly wondering, “how will I explain my play, my script, of the world?”, and “how will I tell my story?”
I’m a completely different person than I was a year ago.
I guess you could say, I’ve matured. You could say that I grew up. You could say that I’ve entered full-fledged adulthood – whatever that means…
I’ve overcome challenges. I’ve become more introspective. I’ve whatever… this boils down to: I’ve learned an incredible amount!
I’ve always been a “process over product” girl. I thrive off of the opportunity to learn! I appreciate most the experiences that garner ripples of knowledge, and layers of impact that, in some cases, I’m still realizing the effects. My mental endurance and, exemplified, agility drive me to crave knowledge and information. I want to uncover the “why” and the “reasons”. My refusal to quit and inability to stop fuels me each day! Naturally, to me, the journey toward clarity from chaos is exhilarating. In fact, in hindsight, all the experiences that have been the most influential for me were also the most challenging; those experiences taught an inexplicable amount.
Before I proceed, I’m going to briefly recap this past year both to give context to this piece, and to own it for myself.
I graduated, and left a school where I was thriving. I spent nearly every day for four years feeling on top of the world. It was amazing. I felt unstoppable. I left everything I knew, and everything I loved. I left what felt safe, and supportive, and leapt, basically unwillingly, into something that was incredibly risky, ambiguous, and into something that I wasn’t sure I would be any better for doing. I left my mentors and friends for a glamorous name, and what I expected would be the next best step for my personal and professional development.
I had such high hopes too! I wrote, “it’s okay to be scared. I hope this fear will actually fuel me to make the most of this opportunity rather than cripple me. And, if my past experiences could inform my next steps, I’d say that based on those outcomes, and how influential they were for me, Brown can have just as big of an impact.”
AND, it had a huge impact. AND, I was miserable. I was absolutely miserable.
After months of struggling silently I found respite, and strength in writing, some amazing friends, and a hefty dose of much needed therapy. I jumped into my own uncharted space. I started to connect with myself, and others in a really vulnerable, and public way. It’s been hugely influential to my personal growth, and exploration. The outcome of this past year far surpassed the simple, although not so simple, accomplishment of getting to May 29, 2016, earning my Master’s degree, and being done with school. I longed for that commencement day; I yearned for this year to be over fast, and for time to travel by at warped speed.
And then it was over. As I anticipated, and wished for, it was as if I was traveling too quickly down a hill in my car, and I pulled up on the emergency brake right before my car flipped. It was just over. The danger was gone, and in front of me possibility glistened. If I could do this, I could do anything. There is no doubt in my mind that this year was one of the most difficult in my life.
This year, I struggled with claiming my sexuality, achieving my professional aspirations, abandoning and admitting to several variations of self-harm, losing friendships, and family feuds – to name a few. I wouldn’t listen to my friends; I lost so many friends. Yet, I had no idea how to even begin to navigate these challenges. It was scary, dark, dangerous, and lonely. I didn’t crave the solution, I craved the end.
It’s only been a short time, and I’m already noticing that I’m in such a different place. Some days, I can’t believe I ever experienced that depression. [Side note: crazed journal entries don’t lie – it happened. It all happened]
At the end of it all, I, now, stand corrected. Leaving UConn was the best thing I could have done! I had to leave to learn how strong and capable I really am!
I’ve regained my feeling of invincibility. I truly feel like there’s nothing I can’t do. I learned that it’s okay to be terrified because we grow most from the experience that evoke vulnerability and uncertainty.
I wrote my graduate school personal statement based on this mantra:
“Do Three Squishy Things a Day You know you are truly leading when you do at least three things a day that make you uncomfortable” (City Year)
I learned to live up to the words that pierced my mind for so many years, and in so many moments. Those words continue to propel me to serve, lead, and learn each day!
I wrote previously, “there’s something to be learned from every experience… We are truly influenced by everything around us and by all of our experiences.” I grew to strive to live by the principles that ground me and, ultimately, in the face of this cascade of challenges, I learned to thrive own my own.
I learned to love, and use the phrase “what I heard you say is…” I practiced actively and reflectively listening. I found value in really listening. LIKE really, really listening.
A good friend once told me that, in her opinion, good conversations are what college is about. I realized that I don’t need to be the person occupying the most space in a conversation for it to be a good a conversation. With time, even in this new space, I had several more invigorating, thoughful conversations, and continued to fortify existing relationships. I had to be really intentional about it, but it was worth it!
To that note, I learned that my relationships, and the people that I was afraid to leave would stand by me (most of them anyway…). I discovered that relationships are like the tools in a toolbox. They’re necessary to build us up! I realized a good friendship is rewarding and special – it’s a privilege.
Most importantly, I learned the importance, and value of reciprocity and vulnerability. Like a pendulum swinging, I swiftly wavered between not letting anyone in, to burdening my friends with my suffering yet not knowing how to accept their support. Finally, I resided in the middle both valuing my friends’ contributions and conversation, and being valued for my insight and influence too.
I also discovered that if I can identify how I’m feeling in a situation, and allow myself to authentically feel the entirety of my emotions in their context, right when they’re happening, I can be in charge of deciding how to react, and what steps I should take to alleviate the feeling or perpetuate it. I gained emotional intelligence, critical awareness, and intuition. Feeling didn’t have to mean feeling out of control. I found “calm and content”. [Just so you know, it’s WAY different than complacent.]
Before this year, my life was a hectic, hot mess – to be frank.
Imagine the pieces of a package scattered across the floor: the box, the gift wrap, the bow for the top, and the contents – a myriad of shapes and sizes. This year, step-by-step, that package was assembled, wrapped, and tied together with a bow on top! A complete, confident me emerged – looking pretty spiffy, and ready to face my next adventures!
I can’t precisely put my finger on it, but I’m definitely different. And, when I stop to think about my life, I simply feel happy and confident. I also feel proud.
Now, I say things like “there are no counterfactuals in life”, and “relationships are not bound by geography”. I remind people that the biggest regrets stem from the opportunities we didn’t take. I share that the incessant wondering quickly spirals into an interminable game of “what if”. That type of wondering will wear you down to the core of your weaknesses. Some of my weaknesses are vulnerability, change, and ambiguity – I learned this too!
Can you give voice to the areas where your strengths can be capitalized to cultivate your personal growth? Can you recognize how empowering, and exciting that feels to give voice to all the ways you can direct your own positive energy and strength to bolster your personal journey and self-exploration?
“Does your experience of sexuality come with a particular identity or label?”, my friend asks. Delicately pulsing toward “personal stuff”, and gently reminding me “you obviously don’t have to answer.”
And then later she asks more directly, “what are you?”
I immediately respond, “I don’t like labels… am I allowed to just be a person?”
Side note: When I recollect this story to a friend, he says, “resist the urge to conform to labels” to which I respond with a hearty “YASSSS!”
Anyway… she replies, “Yes of course, but are you one of us? Are you part of the family?”
My first thought is to say “yep” with a confident nod, and then recognize the warmth spreading throughout me as I am validated and welcomed. Instead, more timidly, I reply, “I’m still figuring it out.”-purposely distancing myself.
In my mind, I simultaneously acknowledge an “in the middle feeling” that I can’t shake.Queer, kinda? Belonging, mostly?
Here’s the deal, if you need labels, I am Jewish, a young professional, an asexual person, a woman, an athlete, a person living with chronic pain and OCD. The list could go on and on! The fact is, I hold so many marginalized identities, and I hate labels. My worth cannot be equated to the sum of my minority statuses, and, idealistically, I wish for a world where belonging isn’t contingent on our labels or identities.
I’ve been mulling over this for a while; I’ve been thinking (and writing) a lot about belonging, labels, and identity. So, this conversation with my friend only propelled my thinking – more aptly, my ruminating. I didn’t have an answer that I was comfortable vocalizing, but I did have an answer to my friend’s question. I did.
And then two days later Orlando happened.
For my entire life, stories about the Holocaust, about my community, have been the most visceral examples of the repercussions of hate and war.
When the Boston Marathon bombing happened, that was my community.
When Sandy Hood happened, that was my community.
When Orlando happened, that was my community.
I woke up on Sunday June 12th, and without any hesitation I thought, “Yes – I’m part of the “family”.” Because it felt personal.
Among other things, one of my first thoughts was “I didn’t speak up soon enough.” I didn’t feel compelled to offer the empty “thoughts and prayers” kind of sympathy. Instead my thoughts raced to just a few weekends prior dancing downtown at a gay night club in Providence. I had the time of my life that night, and felt inexplicably confident!
I realized quickly, if they weren’t safe, I’m not either. That was daunting. I felt like I wanted to scream, yet I also felt like I wanted to be silent.
Initially, I didn’t know how to process Orlando, and my feelings; so I ignored it all. Not identifying publicly, and simply using phrases like “our stories” or “our communities” (plural) rather than being explicit, I followed the Twitter trending hashtags, and checked on my loved ones. And then, I didn’t talk about it again.
Yet, nearly a week later, I found myself eagerly taking shots of tequila to “being queer as fuck”, and wanting so badly to find solace in the celebration of Pride. I wrote, “I went to a poetry slam dedicated to elevating the voices of queer people of color. I don’t know what “out” means, but I felt safe and proud!” Later, I danced the night away at another gay club, and it didn’t dawn on me until much later the next morning that my feeling of safety, exploration, and undeniable fun was such a gift.
Orlando scared me into accessing my queer community. It made me think twice about my hesitations. Orlando did touch my community. It touched me – not directly of course, but I felt it. That’s for sure! Recognizing this is important!
And so now, I’m holding on steadfast to my feeling of pride, the rambunctious, unfiltered fun, and a firm sense of belonging.