A year ago, this week, I wrote an incredibly vulnerable piece. I said, “There will be days of denial, avoidance, and anxiety. I will probably exhaust myself with many perpetual, problematic Google searches before I am satisfied. However, there will also be days of triumph and gains. I’m excited to feel liberated from being shackled to my 0% fat Greek yogurt and training plans.”
I won’t document all the gains I’ve made in the last year, but here are some of the highlights:
I agreed to work with a sports dietitian and slowly I am adding different foods to my day.
I went on vacation and tried lots of different and fun foods!
I became more aware of recognizing when my disordered part of my brain is talking to me and gained skills to override those thoughts.
I am training for a marathon and feeling stronger than ever!
My eating disorder didn’t start with me wanting to be skinnier. It evolved because I was attempting to ascertain control wherever I could. In a lot of ways, my ED narrative doesn’t feel “typical”, but as I’m learning there’s no single story about EDs and how they manifest. Mainstream culture has an image about what eating disorders “look like”, but they’re way more complex than that! I’m also learning that eating disorders are practically, never actually about the food or weight! In a lot of ways, my story is more mainstream than I realized. It’s not that interesting or unique.
If you’re a thin, white woman who doesn’t feel represented by the push for eating disorder advocacy to center more marginalized bodies, IMAGINE HOW EVERYONE ELSE HAS FELT FOR DECADES OMG.
Finally, the narrative about eating disorders is changing, and that is so necessary! However, in this space, I’m just finding my voice and my bravery to own this aspect of my story.
So, it’s #NEDAwareness week, and putting semantics aside (I personally dislike the phrases “eating disorder” and “recovery” for my own story), I can relate to the tweets and posts I’m seeing everywhere and I’m connecting with people’s stories.
In the spirit of this year’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week’s theme “Let’s Get Real” – whose goal is to “expand the conversation and highlight stories we don’t often hear” – I’m going to share a real, messy, depiction of my experience on this journey!
There’s not much about choosing to make a change that’s cute or insightful (yet!). I know there’s not one “right way” to jump into this journey. In fact, what works for someone won’t necessarily work for me!
Realizing. I realized that going to therapy and nutrition sessions was a good start, but it was not the real starting point. The real starting point was when I give in to the fear and vulnerability and committed to doing the work. This took a long time!
Talking. I talk about food and spend more mental energy thinking about food than practically anything else I do during a typical day. (Here’s a secret: this only got more intense when I started making changes) Also, talking to my friends about any of this is super hard. They don’t get it at all. It’s mutually exhausting because I don’t know what to say to them, and they don’t know what to say to me either.
Feeling. There are so many feelings! On an emotional awareness level, this work is exhausting! On a logical level, I am getting used to feeling okay with the fact that I often want to eat at times when other people aren’t eating.
Reasons. My reasons are everything. My reasons to eat should be elevated, reasons not to eat should be silenced. If I can find a reason, I can work through the next steps. So, I make lists.
Choices! Everything, all day, every day is a choice!
Huger. I wake up feeling hungry and go to bed feeling hungry. This is new. My body is starting to give me hunger signals again and that’s super confusing and overwhelming.
Learning. I am learning, mostly via social media , that lots of people are having these same experiences! (Psst. Joanna’s Instagram is @the.middle.ground! – follow her!) I’m also learning a lot about myself!
Planning. This is so obvious, it feels like I don’t even have to say it, but I can’t eat if there’s no food available. So, I have to plan to have enough food in my house or to go grocery shopping, pack food for the entire day, and anticipate challenges when I can so I can mentally prepare.
Acknowledging that most days, I want to quit, and never giving up!
Knowing. I know this will be worth it. I know this is important. I know I deserve this next phase of my journey!
Laptop stickers is a trend that is not peeling away. I am often struck by the fact that when people glance at the stickers on my laptop they’re making quick judgments or conclusions about who I am. For some time now, I’ve wanted to parse apart these stickers and discuss what each truly means for me. In 2017, I filled my computer with stickers that represent important aspects of my life. Each sticker has both its own individual story and is part of a compellation of stories and experiences that have been definitive for me. In this way, the stickers on my computer are like an autobiography of my life. They’re a snapshot of my values, identities, hobbies, and passions.
In 2017, I learned what I want more of and what I want less of. For example, I noticed I needed more music and more queerness in my life. I took deliberate steps to make this happen such as joining a Jewish a capella group! I realized I needed more mindfulness too and “me time” too. So, I started using a bullet journal and practicing mindful running. I needed to do more things that were motivated by joy than by obligation. I needed less rigidity and to spend less time with people who don’t make me feel worthy and respected. I identified areas in my life I needed to strengthen and aspects of my life I where I needed to let go. In 2017, I started to learn balance and privileged being fully present in my relationships and experiences. In 2018, I will keep searching for ways to balance rigidity and flexibility and obligation and desire.
IT’S ALL SUBJECTIVE
In 2017, I learned two important lessons related to subjectivity. First, I learned that every person’s perception of an event – every person’s understanding of an experience – is their reality. By this I mean, even if two people share an experience, their perception of that experience may be vastly different and whatever they took away from that moment is tangible and real for them. Put another way, meaning making is highly individualized and contextual, but it’s concrete and believable for that person. This is really cool! It’s also really challenging. Communication is one skill I improved on to help me to better understand someone’s experience. I learned that there’s not much use in challenging someone’s reality – what they know is their truth. Second, I learned that it’s possible to change your perspective, but it’s not always necessary. Staying true to your beliefs, but open to hearing new perspectives is important!
ASK ME ABOUT MY FEMINIST AGENDA
In 2017, feminism was important! I don’t really have to say more, do I? Also, this sticker is, apparently, not nearly as provocative as an avocado. So, there’s that! Although, if 2018 is the year of pitless avocados, I might need to get a sticker about it.
SORRY. I’M AWKWARD SORRY.
In 2017, I embraced being awkward. I contemplated the difference between “awkward’ and “vulnerable”. I leaned into vulnerable moments. I had so many uncomfortable conversations! “SORRY. I’M AWKWARD SORRY.” gave me so many laughs too. It was one sticker I saw and connected with immediately and, as it turns out, others did too! There is a certain level of intimacy and understanding among those of us who can relate to this statement. I’m looking forward to more awkward moments in 2018!
RUN THE MILE YOU ARE IN
In 2017 I started practicing mindful running! I got this sticker from Mackenzie Havey – the author of Mindful Running. This book impacted me so much! It was also the gateway to my freelance writing job with Women’s Running – another new development in 2017. Mindfulness and mindful running transformed my relationship with running. I learned two important things through running. The first is, I can trust myself and my body to achieve the goals I set for myself. Secondly, running shifted from an obligation to a need in my life. As this change happened the phrase “I have to run” too on a new meaning. I started identifying as a “runner”. I started realizing I feel my best when I’m making time to run and that there’s so much more to running than distance and pace. In 2018, I will run my first marathon with Dreamfar High School Marathon. I wish you many mindful miles in the upcoming year!
SPEAK THE TRUTH EVEN IF YOUR VOICE SHAKES
In 2017, I committed to telling my story. I asked, “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” Telling my story hasn’t been easy. At times, I’ve said too much and I’ve also said too little. I’ve conflated my words and twisted the truth to make it easier for other people to digest. This mantra was most important as a reminder for me! In 2017, I asked for help, sought resources when I needed them, and told people how I felt – even if it was the most difficult, unimaginable thing I could think of doing. I made my experiences real by speaking them aloud and by writing too! Yes, this was incredibly vulnerable, and it was also courageous, brave, and strong.
LIFE HAPPENS COFFEE HELPS
In 2017, I explored new coffee shops and had both amazing and difficult conversations over countless cups of coffee. I love coffee. It’s integral to my functioning and my social life. I expect more caffeinated conversations and endless hours in coffee shops in 2018. That’s for sure!
SHE WAS FIERCELY INDEPENDENT. BEAUTIFUL & BRILLIANT & BRAVE.
In 2017, these four adjectives were the most important descriptors I used to describe myself. I connected with my introverted self more in 2017 than any year before. I stopped pushing against the social stigma of being introverted and realized I really enjoy doing things independently. I tried a new relationship and struggled to let someone be my partner since I am fiercely independent and have trouble letting people get close to me. Subsequently, I contemplated the right balance between socializing and “me time”. I faced new and old challenges with bravery and determination. I applied to PhD programs. I grew into myself and practiced self-love and body-love. I will cling these adjectives in 2018 and call on them to guide my actions.
In 2017, I grappled with queerness extensively! I was in a hetero-passing relationship and struggled to feel seen and true to myself and my identities while I was dating this person. My queerness is the least interesting thing about me, but in spaces where those aspects of my identity were validated and elevated I felt complete. I noticed I needed to be in more spaces where queer people are prioritized and valued. I started being more open and honest about this aspect of my identity and in turn, I found friends and validation that was so necessary and gave me so much warmth. I identified with #QUEERENOUGH because as someone who is asexual and panromantic I don’t always see myself or my identities reflected in mainstream LGBTQ+ narratives. My identities don’t always fit neatly into the categories ascribed to non-straight people – hence #QUEERENOUGH.
SHE BELIEVED SHE COULD SO SHE DID 13.1
In 2017, my mom bought me a bracelet that said “She Believed She Could So She Did” after I completed my first half marathon. Coincidentally, I purchased this sticker for myself! This mantra is not only applicable to running. It’s a constant reminder that ambition can overwhelm self-doubt and is a quality that is essential for people who want to conquer, seemingly, unconquerable goals. Glennon Doyle Menton reminds me often “we can do tough things” and I think we accomplish these great feats by harnessing ambition and vulnerability. In 2017, I started believing in myself and my capacity for greatness. In 2018, I will harness this energy and continue to set and achieve high goals for myself.
ALPHA PHI OMEGA & UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT
On the inside of my laptop, I have two more stickers. One bears the Greek letters Alpha Phi Omega (APO). The other is a picture of Jonathan the Husky XVI and XIII with the words “University of Connecticut” (UConn). Alpha Phi Omega is a National, Co-educational service organization. Our mission is to prepare campus and community leaders through service. We strive to be the premier inclusive, campus-based leadership development organization through the provision of service to others and the creation of community. UConn is my alma mater. Connecting UConn and APO is our school’s mascot. The APO Chapter at UConn takes care of Jonathan the Husky! I am honored to be both a Brother and alumni volunteer of Alpha Phi Omega and so incredibly proud to be a UConn Husky! My story wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the profound impact of UConn and APO in my life.
There you have it! 2017 in stickers.
I’ll stick around (pun intended!) for questions or comments! What do your favorite stickers say about you?
Yom Kippur is threatening to smash open the Gates of Heaven and let them crash loudly behind us before we’re even ready. For many of us, there’s a lot of important work that we’ve done to get ready for this moment. Personally, I spent the month of Elul preparing for the High Holidays. I coordinated events and rituals for my community and did some really necessary self-work and reflection in anticipation of the Jewish new year – Rosh Hashana.
For example, I wrote several kavanot, intentions, for myself and my community this past month as I reflected on where I’ve been and what I need. When I started writing, I used the phrase “May you…” as the stem for each line. I tried to separate the “you” from “me” (I felt a little preachy honestly) and then, about halfway through the “you” felt more like I was writing to myself rather than writing to create distance from myself. I started feeling “May you…” a lot during these reflective days both in the imperative sense and in the sense of allowing myself to do what’s best for me. Through daily writing, I discovered themes in my own ways of being that are holding me back in or advancing my personal growth and relationships. I agreed to let go of things that were weighing me down and make space for moments or experiences where I can be fully present. It was a pretty palpable area of growth!
Even so, as we get closer and closer to Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe dwindle, it undoubtedly feels like there’s never enough time to reconcile all I’ve done that’s been misguided and all the self-work I wanted to accomplish in the last several weeks.
Speaking of which, in some communities that I’m a part of we’re having one specific conversation related to teshuva, repentance, and self-work. Many folks are asking, “What do you do when your grievances with yourself (the things you cast away during Tashlich) are around disordered eating and exercise?” This is because on Yom Kippur, one of the customary rituals for the holiest day of the year, the act of fasting often conceptualized as your last chance to repent, may be misaligned with the important self-work folks who are recovering from eating disorders prioritize daily.
If you Google “Yom Kippur and eating disorders” you will come up with 43,100 results in 0.52 seconds. You can read a lot of interesting articles and personal narratives about how fasting isn’t teshuva when you have an eating disorder, the strange correlation between Orthodox Jewish women and the prevalence of eating disorders, and how you cannot fast (even for religious reasons) if it will threaten your life. One widely-referenced article says, ” For individuals who suffer, or are in recovery from, an eating disorder, eating on Yom Kippur is a holy act. Rather than finding “purity” or “spiritual growth” through denying themselves food, the act of eating itself is an act of teshuva.” And regardless of Google’s consensus or what a rabbi tells you, every person needs to make their own decision about what’s best for their body and their recovery – ideally, with the help of a team of medical and mental health professionals.
I will be fasting this year. One thing that I found that was particularly helpful for me in making this decision was intention setting. Many articles suggest that people who have a history of disordered eating might find it helpful to ask themselves, “What is my intention with fasting on Yom Kippur and can it be achieved some other way?” You could also ask, “What part of me is making the decision if I’m choosing to fast?” Examining your intentions is a good way to judge if it’s a responsible idea to fast and if your rationale is guided by spiritual motivation or disordered eating.
If you’re struggling with food I encourage you to take some time to revisit and evaluate your intentions around fasting on Yom Kippur. For some people “because it’s what we do” isn’t safe or enough of a justification to condone fasting on Yom Kippur.
This year, I’ve done this work for myself and I’d like to offer two intentions that I am holding with me as I anticipate and participate in the Yom Kippur Fast:
Tisha B’Av is one of the saddest days of the year. It’s the day that we mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Babylonian Talmud tells us,
“To not mourn at all is impossible, as the decree was already issued and the Temple has been destroyed. But to mourn excessively as you are doing is also impossible, as the Sages do not issue a decree upon the public unless a majority of the public is able to abide by it.” (Tractate Bava Batra 60b).
I’m interpreting this to mean that we mourn the destruction of the Temple at certain time periods that are designated for mourning, such as Tisha B’Av. The sorrow we feel on Tisha B’av must necessarily be time-limited – temporary. However, if we don’t make space to feel the weight of this sadness, our persistent, always present joy risks feeling false or inauthentic. Similarly, an article from Aish mentions, “The point of the [Tisha B’Av] is not to wallow in pointless grief or melancholy. Judaism guides us to always live with a sense of purpose. Take the sadness and use it as a catalyst to rebuild. Replace destructive emotions with constructive actions. Resolve that today will bring us [the] opportunity to realize our spiritual potential.”
Just as we cannot bear the weight of immense sorrow every day, so too we cannot sustain ourselves by fasting interminably. The spiritual intention of fasting on Yom Kippur is time-limited and can be used as a tool to guide our choices in the year ahead. And, since one day of atonement doesn’t feel like nearly enough to rectify all our wrongdoings, we make time each day (e.g., through daily prayer or though apologizing) to be aware of our actions and how others experience us. This one day, Yom Kippur, is symbolic. This one practice, fasting, isn’t meant to be interminable just as the sadness we feel on Tisha B’Av isn’t always weighing us down.
Fully inhabiting your body:
I recently learned with Rabbi Jane Kanarek, PhD at a Sleichot service. Her teaching followed a series of Jewish texts which narrated all the ways (financial and otherwise) that our bodies matter and have worth. With this sentiment at the forefront, she proposed that we reimagine fasting on Yom Kippur in this way: fasting allows us to, momentarily, fully inhabit our body and experience all that it can do in its most depleted state and all that it needs to be its strongest. Only when we’ve understood the full worth of our bodies and realized that we can do so much more if we are dedicated to taking care of them can we do the work of teshuva. She implied that you must mentally inhabit your empty (uninhabited) body to bring enlightenment and awareness to all that you need to feel strong and whole. This theme of wholeness and returning inward is essential to the High Holidays rhetoric, but in terms of fasting, the wholeness comes from when the fast is broken and you do what’s essential, replenish and fill yourself, to put your best self forward in the year ahead. Your intimate awareness with yourself and your needs demonstrates why this fast is time-limited and why the real teshuva occurs when we move beyond the symbolism of fasting and emerge from behind the Gates of Heaven prepared for whatever our bodies encounter next.
I wonder if any of you can relate to the difficulty of prioritizing this necessary self-work and awareness during the High Holidays when there’s so much to hold and coordinate on behalf of your community, work, family, and friends too. This tension, or rather sentiment, has me thinking a lot about Pirkei Avot 2:16, “you are not expected to complete the work, but neither are you free to avoid it.” That’s how I’m approaching teshuva this year. That’s how I’m facing the seemingly insurmountable task of introspection and yearning for wholeness. It’s also how I’m approaching the necessity to do both community and self-work. They’re inextricably linked and neither can be completed or thrive in isolation – we need our whole self and our whole community now, through the High Holidays, and beyond to be our strongest and to even have a shot at achieving our goals. In fact, the responsibilities are too big for one person to expect to complete on their own. What do you think?
My list of things to write about is filled with topics that seem simultaneously too immense to tackle and too irrelevant to warrant attention. I want to write about counting – what counts, who counts, what do we count up, what do we count down? I want to write a passive aggressive piece about the biggest occupational hazard of being a writer – exposure. I want to write about the relationship between trust and vulnerability. Let’s see if I can do it all by answering a question inspired by Brene Brown, “Who has earned the right to hear my story?”.
Brene Brown said, “Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, or small group of friends, or family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredibly lucky.”
I can count on one hand the number of people to whom I’ve spoken my story aloud. Those are the people in my life who “count”. They’re the ones I’ve learned to let in and have earned the right to hear my story. They are the ones who “mesh with my messy” and keep hanging in there and hanging on – no matter what. I have learned to count on these people. I count down until I can see them. I count up the memories we have together and the anniversaries of our friendships. Earning a place in my life where you “count” doesn’t come naturally or even easily. It comes with time spent, loyalties exchanged, and a whole lot of patience. I’m a tough one to crack – a slow burn as one friend describes it. However, once someone “counts” and I count on them, my fierce loyalty and dependability means they’re in it for the long haul.
So if you want to “count”, you have to be willing to hang and hold on tight.
The Occupational Hazard of Being a Writer
Practically daily, Brene Brown reminds me of about the power of vulnerability and choosing authenticity. Her work reminds me that being seen and owning my story is courageous. In fact, she says, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” This sentiment is one of the reasons I write. However, the hazard of being vulnerable is so unbearable to consider and the consequences feel multifaceted. It can lead to misconception and immense exposure. As a writer, certain aspects of my life are more public than private. I feel like sometimes when people read my writing think they know me better than they actually do. What’s challenging is that my writing is often editorialized to make money (or generate web traffic) and the choices I make regarding how to convey emotion, which phrases or formatting are more attractive to readers, and which examples to expand on based on what may be salient to or resonate with readers are only relatively representative of my lived experience. I cannot control the fact that people make inferences with the information they have (hey – we don’t know what we don’t know) and that’s hard for me to tolerate. Conversely, I don’t have the energy or obligation to “explain” myself to everyone in my life whom I feel has misunderstood my story by only learning of certain aspects of my life by reading my writing.
However, the hazard of being vulnerable is so unbearable to consider and the consequences feel multifaceted. It can lead to misconception and immense exposure. As a writer, certain aspects of my life are more public than private. Consequently, I feel like sometimes when people read my writing think they know me better than they actually do. What’s challenging is that my writing is often editorialized to make money (or generate web traffic) and the choices I make regarding how to convey emotion, which phrases or formatting are more attractive to readers, and which examples to expand on based on what may be salient to or resonate with readers are only relatively representative of my lived experience. I cannot control the fact that people make inferences with the information they have (hey – we don’t know what we don’t know) and that’s hard for me to tolerate. Conversely, I don’t have the energy or obligation to “explain” myself to everyone in my life whom I feel has misunderstood my story by only learning of certain aspects of my life by reading my writing.
So there’s a tension. I want to be understood and yet I’m hesitant to share about my life. At the same time, I’m anxious about the anticipation of being misperceived (something I cannot control – I realize) because the representation of myself via my writing feels raw and heavy.
The thing is for every 1200 words in a post, there are thousands more I decide not to share. The things I don’t share via writing are the details in my story, the nuances, that explain “me”. They are things like how I communicate, that I’m an introvert, that I hate being taken care of, and that when people push too hard, too fast I pull away. They’re the fact that sometimes my life is scary and sometimes I want to run, but I can’t escape it. And it’s the idea that regardless of all I’ve experienced, I don’t live my life from a place of being a victim. In fact, most people who know me don’t learn about all the things I’ve experienced – my story- for a long long time.
Except, via my writing, I do share parts of my story with the world. Here’s why:
Brene says, “We’re all grateful for people who write and speak in ways that help us remember that we’re not alone.” After I press “publish” my writing is left in the heads, hands, and hearts of whoever stumbles upon my words. Being a writer helps me own my experiences and when I put my words out there my truth radiates. I learn I’m not alone. Which is terrifying and exciting.
The Relationship Between Trust and Vulnerability is Linear
Brene Brown argues that “Trust is a product of vulnerability that grows over time and requires work, attention, and full engagement.” I tend to agree, yet I believe that as trust grows so too does the inclination to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary and painful. It’s the kind of unwelcome discomfort that sits right on top of the fence wavering relentlessly between I need this and I cannot tolerate this. However, when you trust someone and you know they’re not going anywhere it’s easier to be vulnerable. Conversely, as trust decreases, so too does the inclination to be vulnerable. As a result disengagement and disconnection emerge. Two qualities that hinder the capacity to be open to receiving my story. The presence of enduring trust answers the question, “who has earned the right to hear my story”. Sharing my story is one way I can be vulnerable, and if I do not have a foundation of trust, then the privilege of learning my story isn’t accessible.
Conversely, as trust decreases, so too does the inclination to be vulnerable. As a result disengagement and disconnection emerge. Two qualities that hinder the capacity to be open to receiving my story. The presence of enduring trust answers the question, “who has earned the right to hear my story”. Sharing my story is one way I can be vulnerable, and if I do not have a foundation of trust, then the privilege of learning my story isn’t accessible.
Glennon Dyole Melton reminds us in Love Warrior, that “we can do hard things”. I interpret that to mean we can choose our adventures, make mistakes, acquire accolades and achievements, and overcome life’s challenges. Writing allows me to be the author and narrator of my “hard things”. I write because it helps me make sense of my story. When I’m writing, I choose how the chapter ends and what the message is. This – writing – is hard. It takes courage to confront hard things and be seen.
I love Pride month! Really I do. I think it’s fun. I think it’s necessary. I think it is reaffirming. I think it’s challenging. I think often it’s not really a space for everyone. I think it’s deeply-seated in whiteness. I think there’s nothing that says every person who identifies with the ‘LGBTQQIP2SAA’ community needs to be “gung-ho” pride. I have a lot of thoughts on pride.
That being said, I also really enjoyed the unbelievable opportunity to march in the Boston Pride Parade on June 10, 2017, with Keshet – a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life. I didn’t plan to march in the parade, but I can truly say, this experience (was overwhelming) was wonderful. [Side note: Soon I’ll write more about being Jewish and being queer.] Connecting these two important, and individually significant, identities at Boston Pride was really unbelievable! At some points, I was uncomfortable with all the attention but I also experienced moments of true pride and comfort – I could tell because my head was held high and I felt calm. In “Daring Greatly”, Brene Brown says, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” As I was marching in the Boston Pride Parade I felt courageous. It was a lot, but it was also kind of the best!
Pride was very timely for me this year. It was really amazing and also exactly when I didn’t need it to be – hence, this “in the middle” feeling!
Here’s why: I often don’t tell people I’m queer when I first meet them.
I don’t tell people because more often than not it shouldn’t matter. Unless we’re dating, my sexual preferences and what is attractive to me isn’t really important. It’s just that often my queerness doesn’t mesh with my new relationships. In fact, I keep my queerness a significant, safe distance from most of the important people in my life. I can’t figure out how to make room for my queerness. Instead, I straddle my “real life” and my “queer life” very intentionally deciding when to allow aspects of either to seep into the other side – again this “in the middle” feeling.
I feel like I’m best at “doing queerness” with other queer people. Often on the outside, my romantic relationships look as “typical” as can be. Lately, I have been grappling with the authenticity of my queer identities because of this tension. I often feel I’m not “queer enough” and also like I’m stumbling hardcore at navigating the nuances of dating mostly straight, cisgender, males. Most days, I agree to throw the social script out the window and just figure out what works for us, but sometimes it’s hard to shut out all the social pressure and expectations.
Then, I see tweets like this:
For some reason, when I read this tweet, I felt as if there was a misalignment with my actions, beliefs, and identities. I started judging and shaming myself. I was disappointed that I was spending (any) energy questioning my queerness when I absolutely know better. I was also disappointed that I was spending energy suppressing my queerness to fit into a more traditional role (i.e., separating my queer identities and my involvement in the queer community from my relationships). I just felt really torn.
Externally, in my personal life, my queerness is not the most prominent aspect of my identity and from the outside looking in, most other queer people wouldn’t immediately or easily catch me with their “gaydar”. However, as a writer, this niche has awarded me a space on various platforms to publically discuss my identities, the challenges I’m encountering, and educate people about asexuality. For that, I am so very thankful.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on queerness lately. I’ve even asked if this statement, ‘If I have to use labels, I identify as asexual and panromantic, but I can’t stop talking about my “Future Jewish Husband” and children”, makes me a “bad queer“. I’ve spent the majority of the last two years writing about asexuality and why it’s important for people who are asexual to come out (if they feel safe). And, I believe this wholeheartedly.
Yet, I can’t help but feel like as a queer person at best I’m an outsider and at worst I’m an impostor.
I know, I know, I know that “queerness” isn’t exclusively about actions. I have even written about how behavior does not have to dictate orientation, as asexuality is about how someone feels not what someone does. I’ve said that, “The bottom line for me is this: asexuality is real, and rather than questioning and quizzing someone about their sexual identity or recollecting all their past actions to try and make sense of their life, from your perspective, when they come out, the best thing you can do is believe them and support them. ” I still believe this!
It’s just that it’s getting harder and harder for me to feel like I belong anywhere.
A friend asked us to reflect today on the one-year anniversary of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting. She said, “Are we making space to listen to LGBTQIA+ folks? Really listen? Like, not just go to the parade and party with us, but listen to our fears, hopes, vulnerabilities, struggles, pain, joy, and all the other things that make us truly human? Are we only supporting white LGBTQIA+ folks, or are we actively including queer folks of color? Religious and non-religious? Able-bodied and those living with disabilities? Genderqueer/fluid/non-binary? Folks who don’t give a damn about marriage? It’s essential that we recognize the FULL spectrum of our fabulous community and get real about who we are. Join me in reflection, and then join me in action. ❤️💛💚💙💜” This really resonated with me.
The first time I wrote this post, a year ago, I was grappling with my identities as both a fervent ally and a member of the queer community. I felt like I was stuck in the middle; I wanted to be a part of the queer community and in so many ways I felt like I was, yet my identities were not immediately reflected in the queer spaces I was frequenting so allyship felt safer.
I’m still in the middle. I’m in the middle of wanting my identities to be recognized yet not sharing them, figuring out how to “fit in” in the queer community yet keeping the community separate from my other important relationships and identities, and deciding when it’s safe and matters to be out. I’m in the middle of feeling both “too queer” and “not queer enough” all the while fully acknowledging I would never judge someone else’s belonging the same way I’m scrutinizing over mine.
The middle is a hard place to be. The beauty is that within the hardship is where you get to make the important choice to lean into discomfort, pain, and difficulty and embrace vulnerability or give in to disconnection and disengagement and abandon your authentic self. Which is scary! So, I’ll waiver in the middle grappling and overthinking until a gust of wind sways me or something…
I never identified as a “runner” until someone else named it for me. I described my weekly mileage, the feeling of invincibility, the restlessness I feel when I’m not running, and they named it – “you’re a runner.”
Over a year later, I still wasn’t convinced. My friend even explained to me, “You’re a runner. I’m just someone who runs.” The differentiation wasn’t clear to me. One seemed affiliated with an identity whereas the other was associated with a series of actions or behaviors. I’ve been grappling with being a runner (tossing around the hashtag (#runner) and seeing how I “stack up” among other people whom I consider to be “runners”) for the last fourteen weeks. I’ve lamented over long runs, skipped out on social plans to get up early and run, thrown tantrums during taper week, and logged several hundred miles.
I told a friend who asked me about the race the following:
Well, it was perfect. I felt amazing. I was so strong and confident. I didn’t psych myself out at all! My mindset this time was so different for the training and everything – 3rd time’s a charm I guess! Hard to explain, but I learned a lot this time around. I am overall so much healthier than any other time. I like that feeling – it took a lot of work. I am really proud. I’m just excited to feel so great. It’s refreshing!
I never thought I’d talk about running like that! These days I rely on expected consequences of running like “runner’s highs” and the sense of camaraderie I feel when another runner nods at me when I’m out on my course. I talk about my workouts and training goals using lingo like “negative splits” and “form drills” because I know what those things mean! Settling into running as a hobby as opposed to a compulsion or as an act of punishment/retaliation has been a long, difficult journey. I’m so proud of where this journey has taken me!
It’s never easy to train for a race when you’re prone to compulsions, have a chronic physical illness, and have a history of regimented behaviors around food and exercise. This type of training took a special amount of conscientiousness. Trust me, intentional focus on my behaviors and my motivation, and a healthy relationship with food and exercise were essential to my success.
As I was reflecting on the past fourteen weeks of training and mental preparation, objectively there are several things that made a difference for me.
Here’s my recipe for success:
High Protein and Healthy Fats; No Carbo Load
3X Every Day
12 oz.; 3X Every Day – Or More!
Coffee w/ Truvia and Milk
No More Than 2 Per Day; Not After 11 AM
White Noise Machine
Allocate 8 Hours Per Night
Use When Sleeping
No Tracking, No Timing. Just Run!
Once a Week
Amazing Grass Supergreens and Fiber
Before Food or Coffee
1X Every Day
None 2 Weeks Prior to Race
[ Note – Inevitably, different strategies will help others feel successful. This approach worked for me. Find what works for you and stick with it!]
Primarily I believe I was successful because I stayed committed to my training plan, forgave and forgot missed or bad workouts, and celebrated the small victories as well as the big ones. And also because… cross-training. I can’t stress this enough. Cross-training made ALL THE DIFFERENCE.
A lot changed for me during this training season. For example, rather than simply thinking of food as a necessity after a long run to replenish lost calories, I started relying on a consistent strategy for meals so that I could feel nourished and energized for my workouts during the week. The mentalities, “calories in, calories out” and, ” I run so I can eat” were both replaced by the simple, yet sometimes hard to digest (pun intended), concept that food is fuel. I ate food that made my body feel good and strong. I used my bullet journal to keep track of my meals and sleeping patterns; this mindfulness strategy helped me stay accountable to my training goals.
While there were several concrete ingredients to my success, on a subjective level there were also critical connections, realizations, and mindset changes that helped me feel successful.
For example, during one of my more difficult runs rather than struggling through, trudging along, and wondering “Will I finish?”, somewhere along the way, I started to think, “I will finish!”. This epiphany hit me like a breath of fresh air; it felt light, crisp, and perfectly necessary. I can’t quite explain it, but this realization empowered my mind and my body. I finally knew I could do it; there was no doubt in my mind that I would finish the run even if it was incredibly challenging. From that moment on, my training felt lighter and less burdensome. A heavy hunch that I might fail was lifted from my mind, and I felt like I could trust myself and my body in a way I never experienced before.
In that moment, running no longer felt like an obligation. It felt like it was a part of me – like a feeling rather than a task. In that moment, mileage or minutes didn’t matter anymore. I learned that I don’t have to race every run and often I’ll be better in the long run (pun again) if I listen to my body and respect all the cues it’s giving me about how to feel and be my best.
That was the moment I became a “runner”.
Changing my thinking during that run granted me confidence. Moving forward, I knew I was capable of accomplishing whatever I set my mind to – as long as I was consistent and intentional. The plan mattered that’s undeniable, but it didn’t matter just and only because it was “the plan”. It mattered because it was the right combination of training, self-care, and confidence – it was my recipe for success.
I did not experience that kind of freedom when I prepared for or ran my other races. Now, rather than running to grasp a sense of control, or running out of compulsion, I run because I want to and because I believe in my own strength! I run because I can.
I no longer see running as just a test of endurance. It is also a test of my preparation and self-care, and I am always going to be up for that challenge!
For the past four days I’ve felt practically excellent! I ran farther and faster than I’m used to, my pain is tolerable, I feel nourished and well rested, and my anxiety is relatively quiet!
Today, someone asked me how I was doing. I excitedly said, “I’m good!”
They looked shocked. My typical response is “Okay [sigh]” or “I’m good, but tired.” So, they asked me, “What’s going on?” I replied that I’m just good and followed with, “it must be a surge”.
A surge for me is when everything falls into place. I am catapulted up just a bit higher than usual. My disposition is literally sunny and optimistic. I basically feel unstoppable, and I do ALL the things. I’m super productive, high energy, attentive, and efficient. I’m like a bolt of electricity [yep – I went there!].
I don’t usually wonder why a surge happens, – it could be the weather, a good conversation, a restful night’s sleep – but especially after a few days I always worry about when it’s going to end, and how hard the crash will be.
You see, if I ride a surge for too long, there are consequences.
Usually these consequences are the result of me pushing my body too far. When things feel good, I feel like I could literally burst through a brick wall without even a scrape or a bruise. I almost always challenge myself too much on good days. I almost always forget to respect my body’s limitations and needs. It always feels good in the moment – I like to feel invincible.
At certain turning point, usually at the climax and right before I start my descent toward an inevitable crash, the idea of how badly my actions are going to hurt comes into my cognitive awareness. A mental space once occupied by the joy of feeling light and energized turns to a cyclical sludge-like head fog. My anticipation of the “crash” [which sounds something like, “It’s going to be so bad I’m going to have to call out of work. Ugh. Whatever. It’s not going to be that bad; I’ll just power through and be “fine”. I’m always fine.” on a loop] is almost always an accurate prediction of how badly I’m actually going to feel. It usually feels like a Mac truck ran over me – twice. That’s how I often describe how much it hurts when I finally find the ground again.
After a while, my mind starts to play its own twisted version of self-sabotage. It plays a game of second guessing and trying to precisely identify when the tides will change and the calm will become the storm. During these moments, I think things like, “do I feel as good as I think I feel?”, “This is the peak; it’s all downhill from here.”, or even “I don’t deserve to feel this good.”
When you’re a spoonie, you have to simultaneously think, “how can something that feels so thrilling also be foreshadowing something so bad?”, “I can’t fully enjoy this because I’ll pay for it later”, and, “I can’t just sit around impatiently waiting for the pain to come back. I need to capitalize on this opportunity and do all the things because I feel so good!” Sometimes on a good day I don’t even remember those seemingly interminable stretches of pain – the ones I thought would never end. Other times, I’m sure the good day won’t last, but also I definitely don’t want to be miserable.
I’m not asking for my pain to come back! I’m just sure that it will.
How do I reconcile the ping-pong-like thoughts in my mind? It is literally mind boggling.
If left unaddressed, these thoughts can spark some anxiety. Anxiety sparks a need for control. A need for control sparks compulsions. Compulsions, right now, look like increased exercise and attention to food. Increased exercise and attention to food result in exhaustion and pain. Exhaustion and pain cause a need for more sleep. Sleeping while anxious and in pain is an incredible challenge. Which, ultimately means that I’ll be perpetually anxious and exhausted, and possibly risk a flare up until the next time I catch a surge. Which could be weeks or months, and that ambiguity, that yearning, causes me more anxiety.
But, in the meantime, I’m going to soar for as long as I can! Today I feel good! We’ll see what tomorrow brings!
If you think thin privilege doesn’t exist read this and this. If you think thin privilege doesn’t exist try losing 50 pounds, putting on a tight skirt, and becoming an automatic magnet for guys in the club to grind up on you – unless there are skinnier girls around you. If you think thin privilege doesn’t exist, look around. Also, the bar tender called me tiny. That NEVER happened before.
2. How did we get in without paying a cover?
The trick is to stand in the doorway and be incredibly indecisive until the bouncer loses their patience and lets you in for free. Also, A) Thin privilege B) We’re girls – my feminism is cringing at this right now.
3. If you go out and you didn’t get someone to buy you a shot, you didn’t try hard enough
Again, my feminism is cringing, but also such #LifeGoals. Also, why did we drink Fireball?!?!
Next up: how to tell if a guy is worth it by the type of drink he buys you.
4. Domino’s Pizza at 2 AM is the only proven way to avoid a hangover
10/10 would do it again. But actually the results of my personal, non-biased, scientific study suggest that Domino’s Pizza at 2 AM after a night of drinking significantly reduces the risk and severity of a hangover by at least 95%.
5. Does dancing burn calories?
Everything hurts. Literally everything. The tips of my toes hurt! I feel like I worked out for HOURS! Everything hurt while I was dancing – until I was drunk. When I was drunk, it didn’t hurt anymore. And so, I danced more. Now, everything hurts. Was it worth it? Probably.
6. I need to go to more queer bars
Getting drunk, dancing, and making out with guys is basically the standard fare for a night out at a straight club. Which is a totally fun set of activities, but also it gets old fast. Queer clubbing is WAY more fun – there’s so much more to anticipate! There’s more diversity. There are less guys just trying to get a quick hookup. There’s more color! Also, the music is better.
Also, I learned a lesson last night: The key to life is patience. Don’t guzzle, just sip.
And, here’s one more thought: Is it “girls night” or “girls’ night”? – It’s girls because we were a group of girls going out; we (the girls) don’t own the night. Except we did, and we always do. The verdict is undecided.
Once a week, I have the privilege of being completely present. Once a week, I’m exactly where I need to be. Once a week I allow myself to notice my body, my breath, and my voice. Once a week I listen, and actually hear.
It’s Shabbat again. Thank G-d!
A week ago, it was January 20, 2017. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. I didn’t want to think about the inauguration. I wanted to deny its reality like I had been since November 9, 2016. I couldn’t hide from it even if I tried. I felt like someone was sitting on my chest. It was all I could think of and the exact, only thing I didn’t want to be thinking about. The terror was boiling up inside of me, and I wanted to cry. The mood was somber and quiet all around me, but I wanted to scream! I wanted to shout until everyone, until anyone, heard me say, “I feel scared. I feel alone.”
And then, the sun set and the horrible day faded into a somber, ominous night. It still felt quiet, except now, it was Shabbat. Regardless of the chaos or impending legislation, all around the world, Jewish people stopped their daily routines and gathered to sing psalms of joy and praise – to mark the ritual and literal separation from the work of our daily lives and the commandment of rest. It never ceases to amaze me how Shabbat connects us all! No matter where you are in the world or what tune you’re singing, when you’re celebrating Shabbat you’re home.
When I entered the sanctuary, the energy was hovering timidly above us instead of within us, but soon and easily we all fell gracefully into the familiar melody of Kabbalat Shabbat – the service that welcomes the Sabbath. It was the first experience that day that felt natural. The familiarity was like warmth from the sun shining on my face – something I didn’t know I was missing or needed until I felt it. During one prayer, the Shema, I realized that for the first time all day I could actually hear. I could hear the beauty of our voices rising together proclaiming G-d’s oneness. I could hear the dynamic clashes and cascades of our prayers. I realized that I was exhausted because I’d spent the entire day attempting to not hear, or, better yet, to hear only what I wanted to hear. The act of being fully present, and the ability to acknowledge what that type of inner peace felt like was a blessing in and of itself. I smiled inwardly and committed to hold in my mind that it is necessary to hear – to really hear. The Kabbalat Shabbat service was restorative; it had to be because I knew this was only the beginning!
Around this time in the Jewish year, I find myself reflecting on and finding guidance in Parsha Bo. This section of the Torah narrates the story of the Exodus – when the Jews were freed from Egypt and received G-d’s commandment from Moses to “remember, this day you were freed from Egypt by G-d to go to the land of milk and honey. Remember, this day, for all generations and honor Me…”
In my remarks at my Bat-Mitzvah, over 10 years ago, I examined this portion of Torah. I talked about how the Israelites followed Moses from Egypt to the wilderness without necessarily knowing their fate. They followed with a sense urgency, trust, and purpose – they marched toward liberation. I commented that their march from Egypt was the first of many historical marches to leave a lasting impression. Then, considering that my Bat-Mitzvah was on MLK Jr. Day weekend, I recollected the inspiration I personally derived from two tremendously courageous leaders from the Civil Rights Movement: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. These visionaries marched together in Selma in 1965. They reminded everyone that justice is at the center of G-d’s plans for the world. I explained that when reflecting on the experience in Selma, Rabbi Heschel proclaimed his, now iconic, statement, “I prayed with my feet.” He demonstrated that marching – protesting – is one of the greatest prayers of all. Rabbi Heschel’s sentiment about mobilizing and impacting change through prayer and action resonates with me deeply.
It’s important that I’m writing this nearly two weeks after MLK Jr. Day, and a week after the largest one-day protest in U.S. history – the Women’s Marches. It’s also International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the Jewish people’s liberation at Auschwitz, and the day the U.S. President (#NotMyPresident) signed an executive order that indefinitely suspends admissions for Syrian refugees and limits the flow of other refugees into the United States by instituting what the President has called “extreme vetting” of immigrants. Our history is filled with these stories of discrimination and vile hatred. These events remind us both of our past and our very near, unclear future. Consequently, our Jewish tradition tells us that we are obliged to recall each year these stories of our past, and retell these narratives from generation to generation (L’dor Vador) so we do not forget. This responsibility is as important now as it ever was! We cannot forget the massive blemishes of our past. We must use these lessons and our retellings to cultivate strength and energy so we can promote justice and fight to live in a world where “Never Again” truly means “Never Again” – for all people no matter what.
The fight for equity and justice will be absolutely exhausting. And, while our goals are clear, our journey is certainly unpredictable. Regardless, the necessity to show up however and as best you can is beyond evident!
I felt this recently during the Boston Women’s March. However just like Shabbat and amidst the exhaustion and various actions, I was overcome by an awesome feeling. I realized that in that moment, across the world, we were all marching together. I was surrounded by people! The forward momentum in my feet was propelled by the desire to advocate for equal rights, and the strength and support of those behind me and beside me corralling me forward. Our marching was fueled by energy and love. I could feel the urgency in my body, in my spirit, and in my soul. I marched, and sang, chanted, and stayed quiet because I believe that now and forever equality is worth it!
The Torah commands us “You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18)” because in Judaism, we believe that all people are created in the image of G-d. One of the most important ways we show respect for G-d is by respecting ourselves. Conversely, when we disrespect each other, we’re showing disrespect for G-d. I know what it feels like to feel threatened. I know what it feels like to feel safe. Embodying v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha (loving your neighbor as yourself) requires the adoption of the mentality that we are ALL worth it. We, the Jews, were worth it when others came to our side and marched with us toward freedom. Now we must reciprocate that generosity. Across our various lived experiences and diverse identities, values, and choices, we must remember that it’s our obligation to walk beside folks who are different from us. As a queer, Jewish, woman I have to believe that our uniqueness, beauty, and strength makes each and every one of us worth fighting for. We must continue to fortify and rebuild our world with love for one another. I believe it’s the only material that’s strong enough to nourish and sustain our uncertain, fractured world.
It’s Shabbat again. Thank G-d!
And, just like last week, the blessings of Shabbat delivered me an absolutely necessary quiet and feeling of peace. Shabbat reminds me that “tonight we pause to catch our breath” and allows me to bask in this truth: “how wise is our tradition to command us to seek rest on Shabbat, and what joy it is for our souls to be refreshed.”
When I reached Shabbat, I felt calm. I was excited to join the crowd of new and old friends and to pray with all my energy for the hope of a better world. I prayed for healing and strength. I appreciated my community nearby and all over the world. I allowed myself do the work of my heart rather than attending to the fretting in my mind. With my whole body, I thrust myself into the service of Kabbalat Shabbat, and, for just a moment, I sensed what peace feels like.
P.s. I’ve been finding incredible peace and warmth trough music and community these past few days. Here are some of the tunes that have carried me through the last week:
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!