depression wears bright lipstick
I was fascinated with a lot of things as a child: caterpillars, Barney, coloring on walls. But one of the things that fascinated me most, seemingly incongruous with my tomboy persona, was lipstick. My mother didn’t wear it often, but whenever she did, I would make her kiss me right before she left the house so that I could pretend I was wearing it, too. I thought it was beautiful and exotic and, of course, it made me feel like a princess.
On Christmas mornings, I would squeal if I discovered that Santa left me yet another makeup kit alongside new soccer cleats under the tree. And when I got Milky Gel Pens one year for my birthday (I grew up in the ‘90s, these things were essential), I immediately ran to my room, closed the door, and proceeded to give my American Girl doll, Samantha, a Gel Pen makeover. My heart raced with excitement as I held Samantha’s vinyl face and proceeded to run the baby blue Gel Pen across her plastic eyelids and then finished her look off with bright pink ink swept across her little lips. My mother was furious, but I thought Samantha looked perfect.
Now as an adult who realizes how expensive American Girl dolls are, I appreciate that my mother would have been fully vindicated in grounding me for life for this horrific defacement. But back then, I was delighted at my ability to change Sam’s look in minutes. A burgeoning Anglophile, I had previously given Samantha a British accent (which makes sense for an American Girl doll to have - insert face palm emoji here), and I wanted her to have a look that matched her idiosyncratic adoption of the Queen’s English. To me, lipstick was sophisticated and posh and regal, and in my childhood head, Sam now looked (and sounded) like she was all of those things. (Editor’s note: in reality, she looked like a circus freak– and she (I) had an atrocious British accent).
My love for makeup only intensified when my father finally deemed me old enough to wear it outside of the house. And when I started performing as a songwriter, most of my pre-show routine consisted of playful trial and error attempts at creating the perfect on-stage look. Admittedly mostly error for the first few years, I cycled through cringe-worthy experimental phases of too much eye liner, then too much blush, then too much eye shadow, before finally adhering to the “less is more” adage.
But it wasn’t until my early twenties that I rediscovered the item that had gotten me hooked on makeup in the first place: lipstick. I fell in love with how “put together” it made me feel. I felt polished. I felt confident. I felt badass. And during my college bar scene phase, I found and solidified my signature “look.” Instead of the subtle nude or classic red, my trademark lipstick became a bright fuchsia pink.
“It matches your personality,” I would get a lot from friends and from new acquaintances I’d drunkenly bonded with while waiting in line for the bar’s only bathroom. As a color, fuchsia is bright, fun, bold, and a little off center from the norm, and I loved how wearing it on my lips made me feel. I still do. Aside from the instant mood boost that the simple act of applying it can offer, bold lipstick also externally gives off a certain perception to others: “That girl has her sh*t together. She’s confident. She can handle anything.”
But perceptions are only part of the story, and sometimes carefully applied fuchsia lipstick can mask entrenched inner feelings that are more akin to a botched Gel Pen makeover. I was reminded of this polarity the other weekend when one of my best and oldest friends came to visit.
We were catching up on life and while I was telling her about a recent confusing situation, I started trying to analyze the intentions of the other person involved when she jumped in: “Yes, but you have to remember that you come across as completely poised and confident and sure of yourself, so sometimes people don’t know what you’re thinking or feeling on the inside.”
I immediately looked down at the giraffe mug in my hands and, catching a glimpse of my reflection in what was left of the black coffee it held, I concededly nodded. I had no rebuttal because I knew she was right: For those who don’t know me well, there is often a vast difference between what they perceive about me based on the external and what I am feeling internally.
I come across as the things she mentioned because I have spent a lot of time challenging myself to improve in those areas, and I’ve successfully been able to evolve from a cripplingly shy child into a woman who can sing, public speak, and crack jokes in front of large crowds without batting an eye. I am now poised because I worked hard to discover my own values and truths, and I hold to them even when others don’t understand. I have spent years working on myself and, in doing so, I have ultimately learned how to expertly apply lipstick to the metaphorical face of my life. So, when people see the exterior and the perception I give off, it’s hard to imagine the inside being any different.
It’s difficult for people who aren’t in my inner circle, who haven’t sat with me in my fears and insecurities and self-doubts and pain, to believe that underneath my confident and poised exterior, there’s a whole lot of mess and anxiety.
Illustratively, towards the beginning of quarantine, I received an out-of-the-blue message from an old teammate. She wrote to say how strong she thought I was and how much she admired that I’m comfortable with myself and don’t need validation from others. She mentioned that she looked up to the fact that I don’t need to be with someone to feel good about myself.
Ironically, earlier that same day, I had been crying because of how alone I felt. I had been doubting my own self-worth and questioning if I was deserving of love. She couldn’t have known that underneath the “lipstick” and the external perception, there was an insecure girl desperately craving connection.
A few weeks later, still in quarantine, I was headed back to my front door after walking my dog when my neighbor and his wife started walking out of their house with theirs. We hadn’t seen each other much because we were both abiding by the social distance recommendations and so, from six feet away, he asked how I was doing and if I needed anything. His wife immediately chimed in and said “Of course she’s ok, she’s always ok! She’s always good!” and she gave me a huge smile. I forcibly laughed and said, “That’s true, I’m good, thank you.” I then unlocked my door, walked inside, shut the door behind me, and cried.
I cried because I am the teammate who is always strong. Because I am the neighbor who is always ok. Because I am the friend who is always good. Except I’m not.
Under the lipstick, I am the teammate who has been battling depression since I was fifteen years old. I am the neighbor who has been suicidal. I am the friend who has questioned her own worth and purpose and deservedness of life. I am also the friend who has refused to reach out in my darkest moments, because I am the one who is always strong. But there’s an inherent problem with that statement: the fact that I associate being strong with hiding pain.
So why do I equate strength with solitude? With suppression of emotion? With masking my brokenness? With bright bold lipstick? Why can’t I can be the one who is strong and vulnerable enough to admit that at times my depression gets the upper-hand?
The thought that strength and vulnerability are mutually exclusive is what keeps a lot of people silent about their struggles, and it especially exacerbates mental health issues for men: The notion that if you admit to feeling pain, then you are weak. Although it’s getting better, our culture still perpetuates the ideology that “strong” means “always ok,” and that you are therefore not strong if you do admit to feeling anxious or depressed, or if you do talk openly about your mental health.
This belief system has been deeply ingrained in society and, most of the time, it’s passed on in subtly innocuous ways. It’s only in looking back that I recognized some of the moments in my own life that led me to unhealthily embrace the “strong means always ok” principle.
For example, when I was still pretty young, there was a day when I tripped down our front porch steps as my family was leaving the house. Landing on our stone walkway, I scraped up my knees and hands pretty badly and we had to go back inside to clean up the blood. My oldest brother (7 years my senior - a big enough age gap to make him an idol in my eyes throughout my childhood) told me how proud he was that I didn’t cry. Thrilled with his approval and rare high praise, I internalized the ability to suppress tears as a symbol of strength.
A few years later, I broke my hand in the middle of a soccer game, but I didn’t let anyone know how severe the injury was. I told my coach I was fine and that I didn’t need to come off the field, and then I battled back tears and finished the game in blinding pain. It wasn’t until I got into my dad’s car after the final whistle that I told him I needed to go to the hospital, and my brother bragged incessantly to his friends about it. He equated my ability to conceal pain and emotion with toughness, and he boasted it as one of the superior qualities of my character.
As a kid, it made me beam with pride every time I was verbally rewarded for successfully hiding pain. As an adult, that’s been a hard lesson to un-learn. However, I don’t and can’t blame my brother for passing on this ideology because it’s the same one that, as a male, he had no choice but to be indoctrinated with from birth.
While I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be an adult man struggling with mental health who has been told his whole life that strength means hiding pain, I did have a front-seat view into one of the environments that fosters this damaging lie.
I often trained with boys’ soccer teams growing up, and I learned quickly how absolutely vital it is to survival in a male athletic atmosphere to hide any and all perceived signs of “weakness.” Whenever I was hit hard (which was pretty often in the beginning because, until they warmed up to the idea, they hated having a girl there), I learned to pretend it didn’t hurt. I earned their respect each time I immediately got up from the ground without complaining and hit back harder on the next play.
Training with them undoubtedly made me a better soccer player, but it also fused the impermeable line my brain was connecting between strength and suppression. Even back then, I knew that fitting in with the boys meant never showing pain, be it physical or emotional. It meant always being ok and “acting tough” no matter how I actually felt.
But my participation in their world, and this cultural custom, was voluntary. While I was expected to adapt to the environment, the fact that I was a girl meant I wouldn’t have been ostracized if I didn’t. But for young boys, not adapting is not an option. Showing pain is not an option. There is an unwritten clause in the “how to survive boyhood” manual that you will “suck it up” and carry on as though nothing is wrong, and that you will never show pain lest you be labeled weak.
It’s no wonder men grow up and struggle to express their emotions, or to even understand them. It’s also no wonder that while more women are diagnosed with depression than men, more men die by suicide than women: because men don’t talk about their struggles out of fear of seeming weak. This makes it hard for them to admit when they do need help, and many men don’t feel like they even have the option of saying when they’re not ok.
It’s not easy to dismantle an entire unconscious societal philosophy. It’s not easy to one day wake up and say “hey, I’m going to be vulnerable today and not worry about the social ramifications or how others view me!” But instead of associating strength with suppressed emotions, it’s strength and vulnerability that the world should view as synonymous because, in reality, ultimate strength lies in letting people see the truth. It takes an abundant amount of courage to take a deep breath, open up, and let others see you in your humanity. And that’s something I’m resolved to do more of myself.
Paradoxically, one of the cruelest and yet simultaneously healing aspects of quarantine for me has been the solitude. It has forced me to do a lot of self-reflection, culminating in the realization that as soon as I start feeling stressed, or “not ok,” I self-isolate on purpose and make myself more alone than I have to be. I keep friends at arm’s distance, and I especially keep romantic interests at arm’s distance. After a lifetime of learning how to act like I’m ok when I’m not, it’s hard to even think about letting people see me transparently when I’m struggling.
But I don’t always want to be the “strong” one. There are times when I want to be the one who gets to cry on someone else’s shoulder, but instead I push away any shoulder that isn’t my own. I’ve convinced myself that I have to be the one to dry my own tears and that if anyone does sees me cry, they will think I’m weak. So, I desperately attempt to hide my mess. My pain. My darkness.
I attempt to conceal when the lipstick on my life comes off. When the dishes in my sink are overflowing. And clothes are all over my bedroom floor. And takeout containers are on my counter because I couldn’t bring myself to cook or take out the trash. When I haven’t felt like vacuuming the dog hair off the couch. When I haven’t felt like making my bed. When I’ve cried on my bedroom floor convinced that no one loves me. When I’ve questioned why God made me. When I’ve wondered if life would be better for others if I weren’t here.
I hide the unattractive aspects of my reality because I’m afraid of what people will think of me if they see me fitting the classic stereotypical image of depression: a messy house, unwashed hair, ignored responsibilities, poor nutrition, lethargy, tears, and surrendered accepting of incessant oppressive self-sabotaging thoughts. I’m afraid of being considered weak, so I mask the symptoms I’m ashamed of, which makes it hard for even those closest to me to realize that the illness is still there even when they see a polished exterior.
But depression doesn’t always fit a stereotype, and mine is still present even when those symptoms aren’t. It still exists even when I’m fully functioning.
Because depression is also showing up for work early and completing tasks on time. It’s going to social functions and being the life of the party. It’s a spotless apartment. It’s meal prepping. It’s a perfectly organized closet. It’s showering and pampering and face masks and nail polish. It’s seeing friends and going on dates. It’s bright fuchsia lipstick.
It’s Robin Williams making people laugh.
It’s Kate Spade accessorizing the world with bright colors.
It’s then being shocked by their deaths because there was no indication that anything was wrong.
But the lively features of their personalities were not fake: They were merely the light side of a coin, and the flip side was the darkness that they faced alone and in secret. The dark was always there, even when their light was showcased to and celebrated by the world.
In daily life, I smile and laugh a lot. I dance and joke and feel easy to be around. I wear bright lipstick. This lightness of my personality isn’t fake: I genuinely love laughing, and making people laugh, more than anything, and at one point in my on-again-off-again relationship with dating apps, my bio merely stated the Buddy the Elf quote that perfectly sums up my nature: “I love smiling, smiling’s my favorite.” I love being goofy and enjoying life like a little kid, but there are two sides to the coin of my personality. My yang has its yin, and my light has an equal and opposite dark.
I’ve been so afraid that people who love me when I’m light, bubbly, and funny will suddenly stop loving me if they see me when I’m dark, numb, and hurting, so I’ve hidden when I’ve been in pain and chalked it up to being “strong.” But I don’t want to be so concerned with being seen as strong that I forget what true strength is: vulnerability.
Being strong doesn’t mean carrying everything by myself. It means being able to admit when I need help with the weight.
If you’re familiar at all with biblical stores, you may remember the account of Jesus as he carried his cross. (footnote: I’m not mentioning this to promote a certain belief system, but rather to draw insight from a pertinent story; many non-Christian spiritual leaders throughout history still found and taught the seeds of wisdom interspersed in the chronicles of Jesus).
As Jesus carried the cross, He collapsed three different times from exhaustion. After the third fall, when it was clear He couldn’t continue walking alone, someone from the crowd helped Him carry the weight of the wood the rest of the way.
Taking into account the fact that Christians believe Jesus is God Himself, and that His life was an example for humanity to follow, there are a few conclusions that can be ascertained from the passage:
The final implication of the story is one that hit me fairly hard: Jesus wasn’t too proud to accept help in his most vulnerable moment, which means I shouldn’t be either.
We’re all struggling a little more than usual right now. Mental health concerns are rising. Depression and anxiety levels are rising. Suicide rates are rising. The world feels especially heavy. If you are typically known as the strong one, it’s ok to admit that sometimes you need help carrying the load.
And if you happen to see the popular phrase that circles around social media any time someone unexpectedly dies by suicide, “check on your strong friends,” I’m going to humbly implore that you read it a little differently. While it’s an extremely important message to share, if you do check in on your strong friends, they’re going to lie to you.
They will thank you for checking in, tell you that they’re fine, make you laugh, and then change the subject. It’s only when you’ve stopped looking that they will close their door and continue to hurt in private. I know this because it’s been my M.O. when my friends have checked in on me in the past, and it’s only recently that I’ve begun being more open about my mental health during a struggle, not only after.
So instead of asking “how are you doing with everything?” or “are you ok?” I think it would be more effective to say something along the lines of:
“Hey, I know how strong you are and that you are capable of handling so much. But just in case you ever do want to talk about things, or even if you don’t, I want you to know that I love you and that I’m always here for you if things feel hectic. You don’t have to get dressed or clean your house or cook or even shower. You don’t even have to smile. We can even just sit and do nothing. I just want to be around you because I love you and you are important to me.”
With a message like that, there is no pressure for the person to admit anything. There’s no pressure for them to appear perfect. There’s the simple reminder that your love for the person is not conditionally based on the cleanliness of their home or the bubbliness of their personality. It’s a safe message to send and a safer message to receive.
I also think the “check on your strong friends” mantra misses the mark because it implies that some of your friends aren’t strong, and that’s total B.S. because life is hard and everyone handles what gets thrown at them the best they can. There’s no one-size-fits-all definition of strength. All of my friends are strong in their own ways. So instead of “check on your strong friends,” I believe it should be “check on everyone who grew up internalizing that hiding pain is strength.”
Because strong people struggle. Bubbly and funny people experience darkness. Bold and confident people feel insecure. People who are ok being alone still get lonely. And people who wear bright lipstick can have depression.
I am a strong person and I have depression. Sometimes, I need help carrying the weight of my own mind. Sometimes I need to be reminded that I am loved. Admitting that, not carrying it alone, is true strength.
So to every strong person out there (which is all of you), I wish for you what I wish for myself: the courage to let other people see the mess.
I’m slowly learning that it’s ok to be both light and dark. And that I am still worth loving even when the metaphorical lipstick comes off.
And so are you.
What almost dying taught me about living
“I’ve been runnin’ round in circles till I’m dizzy, I can’t lie
But every night I go to sleep’s a day that I survive
I’m not afraid of getting older, I’m one less day from dying young”
Around 9 years ago, my best friend and I plotted out our lives together and cemented a nonbinding albeit completely legitimate verbal contract to remain wild and crazy as we age and to one day purchase neighboring condos in a senior living community somewhere tropical. There we will spend each day of our golden years day-drinking by the pool while flirting with (and making slightly objectifying sexual innuendoes at) the twenty-something year old pool boy who we have decided will look like Johnny Depp.
I feel it necessary to reveal this life plan merely to showcase that when I’ve previously thought about my life, I’ve imagined myself living a lot of it. Logically, I have always been acutely aware that anything can happen, especially in this day and age. But naively, I have stubbornly held to the notion that I will live to be a hot old lady who sips piña coladas and does water aerobics with my bestie while sending out major Mrs. Robinson vibes to the minimum wage college workers who don’t mind because I give great tips and let them borrow my Porsche from time to time. All this to say, I have imagined living life beyond my current age.
However, June 4, 2019 was a very big wake-up call. It was almost the last day of my life.
I woke up that morning the same as every day prior, going through my morning routine in the usual unenthused fashion. I caffeinated. I ate. I Instagramed. I went for a run.
Towards the last mile of my run, I started feeling as though something was wrong. More than simple exhaustion or muscle fatigue, my body felt off so I stopped the run short and began walking home. While walking, I broke out into severe hives and, by the time I reached my front door, my entire body was covered and I could barely move because of the pain and stinging.
I walked inside feeling nauseous and immediately laid down on the floor as my chest grew tight. I was wheezing with each breath and had no clue what was happening to my body, but I did know I was about to get sick, so I tried standing up. Disoriented and dizzy, I collapsed back down to the floor. Somehow I managed to army-crawl my way across the room to the bathroom.
I remember making it through the bathroom door. I remember sweating profusely. I remember getting sick. I then remember things getting dark and my head getting heavy. And then I lost consciousness.
The next thing I remember was my dad standing over me, screaming and sounding terrified. Steadfastly obedient to the Third Commandment, my father has never been one to use the Lord’s name in vain, but that day he made up for lost time: “OH MY GOD! GOD! GOD! OH MY GOD, WAKE UP!” And if he hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have.
He wasn’t supposed to be at my place, but timing (or fate or God or whatever you want to call it) brought him there. Had the timing been any different, even by minutes, I would have died. And that thought has not escaped my mind a single day since June 4th.
I’ve heard it said that people only change if they want to or if a serious life event gives them no other option. I’d categorize near-death as a serious life event. I’d also categorize June 4thas a day that changed me, and my perspective on almost every aspect of life, forever:
On Physical Health:
I saw more doctors in the months following June 4th than in the previous few years combined. I sat through multiple tests, some comically expensive, only to have the results come back as inconclusive. No doctor could pinpoint exactly what happened that day. The best guess was that my body, due to the autoimmune disease that I’ve battled for years, was already in a state of chronic inflammation. Something I ate caused those inflammation levels to rise, and this in conjunction with the exercise caused my body to have an anaphylactic reaction.
I consequently became obsessed (and I mean obsessed) with learning about the correlation between food and autoimmune conditions. Any spare moment I had, I was researching. I scoured scientific articles for information and perused blogs for tips on putting that information into practice. I soon became a walking encyclopedia on all things inflammation and gut.
I am now of the mindset that most disease in our society occurs because of two things:
1) Modern eating habits
2) The state of our food industry
When you study how the human digestive system works, you immediately see the powerful way it affects every other function of the body. The insane amount of sugar, processed food, and chemicals that most Americans consume daily wreaks havoc on such an intricate system and the body slowly breaks down.
I now focus on using food as medicine, and I am careful to eat in a way that promotes remission of my autoimmune disease and prevention of developing concurrent ones. I personally take nutrition seriously because I have to. If I don’t, it literally may kill me.
But I also believe everyone should have at least a basic understanding of nutrition’s role in preventing and managing disease. After all, like Hippocrates said, “all disease begins in the gut.”
On Mental Health:
The aftermath of June 4th sent me into a deep wave of depression. I perceived my body’s breakdown as a form of betrayal, and holding onto this mindset left me teetering uncomfortably close to the border of self-loathing. I couldn’t understand why my body kept deteriorating in spite of my efforts to treat it well. Feeling hopeless and helpless became standard.
Mental health and physical health are so intimately intertwined, and I’ve realized I will never be able to completely heal physically if I do not also focus on healing mentally. As such, I’ve started making decisions based off of what will best serve my body and mind rather than what others expect of me. This has taken different forms, from saying no to social engagements, to enforcing boundaries with toxic individuals, to being honest with my bosses when I know I need to slow down.
I’ve also meditated a lot more in the past few months, practicing mindfulness and doing my best to live in the present moment. June 4th serves as a constant reminder that any day could be my last. That morning, there was no warning that anything out of the ordinary would happen, and realistically, I probably won’t get a warning when my time does come. It’s sobering to think that way, but it’s also a gift. The only guarantee we have is the moment we’re currently in, so that’s where I’ve been trying to stay mentally. Honestly, it’s increased my joy exponentially and has significantly improved my symptoms of anxiety and depression.
June 4th forced me to take stock of the relationships in my life and I quickly realized two very important things.
First, I realized that there are many relationships I want to give more of my attention to. For the past several years, I’ve been extremely short on time while juggling school and work, but I allowed that to become an excuse for becoming complacent in friendships. With my inner circle of friends, I am notoriously terrible at responding to text messages. I am also known to cancel plans, or not schedule plans to begin with, because of my health.
It’s hard for me to fully let people in, especially when I’m vulnerable, so I often don’t want my friends to see me when my autoimmune disorder flares. A deeply conditioned inner voice tells me that they’ll think I’m a burden, or boring, and they’ll ultimately leave. But I’m working on healing the source of these issues because, the truth is, I have incredible friends who have proven time and time again they will never leave me no matter how ugly life (or their chronically ill friend) gets.
I don’t want to die with the people in my life not knowing how deeply I care about them. You make time for the people and things that you want to make time for, and so I am committed to being more open with my friends even when my body relapses. I’ve also made a cognizant effort to put down my phone when I am with family and friends so I can truly enjoy being in the moment with the people I care about, and so I can give them the best of me in return.
In contrast, the second thing I realized is that there are some relationships I need to distance myself from. I have spent too long working on my own personal growth to surround myself with toxic people who refuse to grow themselves. You become similar to the people you surround yourself with, and I don’t want my behavior influenced by someone who lacks the emotional maturity to self-reflect and self-analyze.
At the end of the day, no matter how badly I want someone else to mend from their own emotional trauma and baggage, I can’t do it for them. Their healing is not my responsibility, and if they refuse to acknowledge their own issues and take the steps necessary to heal, I refuse to stick around just to be an outlet for their pain. And so, I’ve given myself permission to be stronger in enforcing boundaries and to feel less guilty about backing away from toxicity.
After June 4th, I did a lot of self-reflecting, and I realized my fear of commitment is really the fear of being in a relationship with the wrong person. I am an extremely ambitious individual, and the vision and dreams I have for my life require constant attention. I am terrified of being in a relationship where those ambitions are feared rather than celebrated, which has happened, and where the time I spend tending to my dreams is perceived as lack of interest in the relationship, which has also happened.
While I have always had high standards, something happens when you almost die: your tolerance for B.S. takes a steep nose dive. Formerly the queen of ignoring red flags, I now have no patience for games or for behavior that implies emotional immaturity.
I know what I’m looking for in a potential partner, and it’s just that: a partner. Someone whose ambition both matches and inspires my own. If I am interested in a man, I will become his biggest fan, most enthusiastic cheerleader, and most invested partner in helping him reach his goals. However, I refuse to waste my time investing in someone who wants to reap the benefits of my attention without being willing to reciprocate.
Because the nature of my personality is to make other people feel good about themselves, some men are drawn to me not because they want to be with me, but because they want their ego fed. I have consequently gotten good at recognizing when I’m being used for this reason, and I’ve also gotten stronger at calling it out when it happens. June 4th has improved my ability to accept when “he’s just not that into you” and to confidently walk away.
At this point in my life, I have no interest in wasting my time. I know that I’m an awesome person, and I want to be with someone who recognizes that. Frustratingly, I’ve been in a super fun cycle where the men who have been absolutely enthralled by me, I’m just not interested in, and the men I’ve been absolutely enthralled by, don’t feel the same towards me.
But I’m optimistic that someday, it will click: mutual enthrallment and dream chasing. And until then, I’m good on my own. I’ve got a great dog and some big plans to be the fun aunt who travels the world and never settles down.
When I regained consciousness on June 4th and realized that I was still here, my first thoughts weren’t about buying a house, or getting married, or having a kid, or any of the other milestones society uses to measure your worth. I thought about my purpose, about the meaning of life, and about my role in this world.
Part of the reason my body broke down is because I was pushing it so hard. We live in a society that tells us to constantly be “on our grind” and to continually push forward. That we have to reach certain points by certain ages, and if we don’t, we’ve failed. But the most prominent and important steps in my life have always happened when I’ve slowed down, and I’ve realized that things often start to fall into place when I stop trying to push them into place.
I’m not as obsessed with age as I used to be. I am about to enter the 29th year of my life, so I’m not quite sure I qualify as young anymore. But I’m also not afraid of getting older. I refuse to let my age be a determiner of what milestones I should have reached.
I still don’t fully understand what happened on June 4th, but I am grateful for it. It caused me to re-think a lot of things and readjust my life accordingly. Ultimately, I believe I’m better for it. I also believe everyone could benefit from living as though tomorrow may not come.
As Tim McGraw sings, “Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.”
learning how to wait
Recently, I have spent a lot of time contemplating patience: What it means, the ways it is tested, and the ways it is improved. Very simply, patience is the ability to wait without complaint. And very honestly, that is not something at which I inherently excel. Objectively, I have a lot of patience when it comes to small things: I don’t mind getting stuck in long lines, I can remain at-ease in stand-still traffic (that’s actually when my best car-dance choreography makes an appearance), and I can stay calm while groups of toddlers scream and throw crayons at my head (side note: how is their aim always so good when their coordination is so terrible?).
But with the big things in life, my capacity for patience takes a steep nose-dive. I can wait, I just haven’t quite mastered the “without complaint” caveat. I am not yet where I want to be financially, emotionally, physically, or romantically, and I’m not very patient about the time that it’s taking to improve each situation. I complain about my job(s), I complain about my depression, I complain about my body, and even though I’m still not sure if and when I'll be ready for a relationship, I do complain about how damn hard adult relationships are. Therefore, going strictly by definition, I am most definitely not a patient person.
For me, patience is a veritable challenge: one I want to learn how to conquer. I have a strong desire to do better, so I started thinking about what exercising patience would look like in my life. I quickly understood that the opposite of complaining while waiting for what I don’t yet have would mean being grateful for what I currently do have.
I have a strained bank account, but I am grateful that what I have is enough to take care of my needs and self-finance new music. I have a brain that is pre-dispositioned towards depression and dark, but I am grateful that every day it still fights to find the joy, humor, and light in life. I have a body that jiggles in places I wish it didn’t, but I am grateful that it still gets me from point A to point B with relative ease, and that I am getting stronger every day. And I have a history of failed relationships, but that is because I have a deep resolve to never settle for less than what I deserve, and I am grateful to myself because I know, one day, it will pay off.
Practicing gratitude counters my tendency towards impatience by forcing me to live in the present moment, which is a concept I desperately need to internalize. Philosopher Lao Tzu once stated:
“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
As someone who suffers from both depression and anxiety, this is an important, and enlightening, lesson.
In addition to recognizing my own impatience, I have also gotten better at recognizing the root of my anxiety. It is always due to my mind shifting towards the future. I imagine things that have not yet taken place, and then I worry incessantly about them until I can’t sleep, or I can’t make a decision, or I can’t bring myself to go to the party, or I have a panic attack.
But the basis of that anxiety stems from an irrational fear of a future that hasn’t yet happened, and a fear of things not working out the way that I’ve planned (attn. self: things never do, and that’s ok). What’s not ok is letting that fear hold me back from pursuing the things I love, and the dreams that I know I’m capable of reaching. What’s not ok is letting that fear make me impatient rather than grateful.
I am determined to carry this lesson with me through the new year and through the next chapter of my music career. I have been trying to release music for about four years now and, in that time, I have doubted myself constantly. I have let the obstacles I’ve faced make me anxious, fearful, and impatient. Now, as I’m on the precipice of finally releasing new music to the world, and consequently putting myself out there, that anxiety and fear seems all-consuming at times. But when I focus on gratitude, rather than the uncertain future, it reminds me why I am a musician in the first place, and slowly the anxiety dissipates.
I don’t write or perform music for validation from others. If I really think about the reasons why I do it, I realize that I don’t actually need people to like my music at all (although it’s really nice when they do). When I come back to the present moment, I understand that the reason I continue to write, record, and (finally) release music is because it’s an extension of my personality, and it comes as natural to me as breathing. If I ever stopped, I would lose a huge part of myself, and I would lose my ability to make sense of the world. And that has nothing to do with anyone else’s opinion of me.
With that said, I know that fear and anxiety will still fill me in the moments before I send my song off to be released. I am going to be thinking about the people who will listen: Will they like it? Will they hate it? Will they share it? Will they post mean things about me online? Probably all of the above.
But, when my mind starts to wander to that 45-year-old man who never pursued his own dream and who now copes with the dissatisfaction in his life by posting mean comments to discourage those who actually are pursuing theirs, I am going to catch myself. I am going to breathe deeply and remind myself in that moment that I am not doing this for anyone else. I am doing it for me, because it is who I am and what I believe I am meant to do with my life and with my talent.
And on that note, I will not be afraid anymore to call myself talented. I will not be afraid to call myself brave. I will be grateful for that talent and for that courage. And then, I will click the mouse and release my song. It will all be very anti-climactic. Yet, it will be one of my most internally powerful moments.
In my mind, impatience, fear, and anxiety go hand-in-hand. Patience means trusting that things will eventually work out in the right way and in the right time, even if obstacles appear and the finish line is not yet visible. Anxiety means that fear has crept in and I no longer trust that things will turn out alright in the end. Living in the present moment by practicing gratitude is the antidote.
So, here’s to 2018: the year of being afraid but doing it anyway. I hope you take a chance on yourself this year and that when you start to feel anxious or afraid of the future, you instead think about how much in your present life you have to be grateful for. And I hope that thought makes you brave.
Don’t forget to love yourself,
a beauty revolution - (guest blogger: Michelle Reeves)
There are so many reasons this world gives us for why we should constantly find ways to “fix” or change ourselves to become the ideal beautiful. I always equated beautiful with thinness: a tiny number on the scale, or a much smaller number on a tag in my ultra skinny jeans.
Since I have pin straight hair, I thought beauty meant having effortless beach waves or the kind of curls that only seem to be attainable on Oscars night. I spent so much money in the seventh grade on hair products, including beach spray for that “Yeah, I just went for a swim in the ocean even though we have a quiz in Pre-Algebra 6th period” look, only for those waves to fall out by homeroom.
We get so many mixed messages these days. We are supposed to have the lips of Kylie Jenner, the butt of Kim Kardashian, the waist of Blake Lively, all while eating whatever we want and having the confidence of Jennifer Lawrence.
Then, there are other people telling us there is nothing wrong with being confident and we should participate in #NoMakeupMonday and #FreshFacedFridays . . . thanks Demi Lovato!
If it seems a little bit impossible to be this “perfect” person that the world is trying to tell us to be, you’re right. It’s impossible to feel beautiful, happy, and downright peaceful if you are constantly spending all of your time trying to be what your mind thinks is beautiful. So I challenge you to look around and look inside yourself.
It took me a little while to feel peaceful with the fact that I do not need to have the body of Blake Lively or Kylie Jenner’s full lips. It might have even taken me a little longer to come to terms with the fact that I will never have curly hair. But while I am finally confident with who I am on the outside, I would never have found peace if I did not realize what it is that actually makes me beautiful.
I think there are certain physical characteristics that do add to my beauty, but they do not define my worth. My faith in God, my love for others, my big heart, my ability to never give up, my intellect, my JOY . . . those things are what make me beautiful.
I believe beauty radiates outward. Our worth absolutely does not equate to beauty, but I think since our society focuses so much on what beauty is, it is up to us to redefine it, starting a revolution.
So I challenge you today to think about what beauty is to YOU? What kind of beauty do you see around you in your family, friends, and in everyday life? There is beauty in the big and small. There is most definitely beauty inside of you. Keep your eyes open and experience it!
And at the end of it all, Don’t Forget to Love Yourself!
the art of loving the single life
In my life, I have been single more often than not. And in my long-term relationship with Singledom, there are a few things I’ve learned that have helped me embrace and enjoy the solitude. They are things that I wish I could share with every teenager, or twenty-something girl, who finds herself feeling a little “less than” just because she has no one to tell her she’s beautiful every day or to call her every night before bed. So, for starters, let me be the one to remind you today: you are beautiful. With or without a hand to hold.
The first myth I need to debunk about single life is that just because I am alone means I am lonely. And immediately following, the second myth I need to debunk is the notion that I never get lonely.
While I am extremely comfortable being independent and on my own, occasionally I get caught up in wanting what others have: someone to stand by my side when it feels like the world is against me, someone to laugh at my jokes when no one else thinks they're funny, someone to play with my hair while cuddling and binge watching episodes of Parks and Rec . . . you get the idea.
So, what happens when you want to embrace your single status, but the loneliness starts to creep in? I have implemented a few tricks that I came up with after a heart-wrenching breakup, and they’ve helped me become a master at celebrating my singleness.
This particular breakup was down-to-the-soul crushing, and I had to find ways to encourage myself daily to focus on other aspects of my life. The aspects of my life that would be there for me regardless of my relationship status.
I realized quickly that, just as John Mayer sings about in “Dreaming With A Broken Heart,” the waking up truly is the hardest part. So I made a plan to help get myself out of bed and start each day with much needed positive energy.
On an index card, I wrote down three of my goals, with the one caveat being that those goals could have nothing to do with another person. These were things that I, and only I, could control. My goals for my life. Then, on the other side of the card, I wrote three things that I like about myself that have nothing to do with being in a relationship.
Every night I would place this index card on my cell phone. When my alarm went off in the morning, I had to look at it in order to turn off the alarm. It was a daily reminder that I have things I am working towards, and that I have a worth that is not contingent on another person being able to see it. I have a future ahead of me and if I want to bring that future into fruition, I had better drag my butt out of bed.
It got me through the hardest part of the breakup, and it’s something I still occasionally use today (usually when yet another friend asks to set me up on a blind date, or another family member asks if I’m seeing anyone special). Yes, I am actually. It’s me. I’m the someone special. See, it’s even written on this index card as proof: an insurance policy for my own happiness and a reminder of my own significance, despite my lack of a significant other.
Another key that I’ve found to loving the single life is surrounding myself with copious amounts of non-romantic love. I may not currently be in love, but I never feel void of it. I spent Valentine’s weekend with two of my closest girl friends, as well as my family. I got to squeeze my niece and nephew, and I got to be around people who love me unconditionally. I felt loved, and I loved in return. I may not have gotten chocolates, but that’s actually a good thing because I gave up candy for Lent anyway. (There is always a silver lining, even in the life of a Singleton).
And then there is what I consider the most important thing on my list of why it’s OK to be single and loving it: an absolute refusal to settle. I’m gonna repeat that statement for dramatic effect:
Refusal. To. Settle.
I have a lot of goals and dreams, and I am terrified that a relationship will deter me from the path to those goals. I have an intense fear of distraction, but maybe that’s just because I haven’t found the right person yet.
I believe a healthy relationship will help you achieve your goals and will inspire you to be the best version of yourself. So until I find the person who truly makes me better, it’s just me and my guitars forever and ever, amen.
I am obsessed with the idea of bettering myself, which means I need to be with someone who is as into self-improvement as I am. I despise complacency, both in myself and in a potential partner.
I was in a past relationship where me being myself made the guy feel bad about himself, and it took me way too long to realize that that wasn’t my problem. I had tried to make myself smaller (not physically, although he did comment on my weight more than once) in order to try and help him feel better about himself, but I only ended up losing myself in the process. It also led to my resenting the relationship and ceasing to pursue my own goals. At the end of the day, he needed to work on his own self worth, and I needed to stop feeling bad about myself just because he couldn’t appreciate all of who I am.
There are a lot of aspects to my person that men find intimidating, but I can’t change who I am in order to appease someone else’s ego. I want to be with someone who is proud of me, not someone who feels the need to cut and tear me down in order to make himself feel better. I will continue to try and become better in every aspect of my life, and I need to be with someone who admires that rather than fears it. I also need to be with someone who is simultaneously trying to be the best version of himself.
So, until I find that mythical person, I am bound to a life of having no “plus one” at weddings. But the things I’ve mentioned in this post help me daily to enjoy my single status, and I’ve officially ceased fearing Spinsterhood. I very well may be single for an inordinately long time, but I don’t think that makes me less of an awesome person.
Being single doesn’t make me feel unworthy of love. It doesn’t make me feel unattractive or unwanted. In contrast, it makes me feel empowered because I am focusing on my future. A future that will eventually include the right person and be reflective of two individuals with adequate self worth and individual paths who have chosen to walk through life hand in hand as true partners. Him helping me achieve my goals, and me helping him achieve his in return. Mutual respect, mutual support, and neither party’s accomplishments detracting from the other’s sense of self pride or worth.
There is a song called “Stand Beside Me” by Jo Dee Messina (one of the female vocal powerhouses that I grew up listening to), and when this song was released, I was just a seven year old kid with curly hair belting it out in my dad’s red Jeep Grand Cherokee, completely unaware that 18 years later, the chorus to that song would become my motto in love: “I want a man to stand beside me; not in front of or behind me.” That’s what I want. And I am content to wait as long as it takes to find him.
So, my advice to anyone who finds themselves perpetually labelled “the single friend” is this: don’t worry about it. Focus on you. Love you. Because you are the longest term relationship you will ever have. Do. Not. Settle. One day you will find someone who accepts and loves all parts of your being and inspires you to be better. Wait for that person.
In the meantime, love yourself fiercely and unconditionally. Because you are beautiful, smart, funny, talented, and worthy of love. Especially your own. And there is nothing wrong with admitting that.
PS – here’s the link for “Stand Beside Me” if you’re interested in giving it a listen: Stand Beside Me by Jo Dee Messina
trovare la gioia (or, how to train your brain to be happy)
People are often surprised to find out I have tattoos. I’m not sure what makes it so surprising, but I have some theories. It might have something to do with the fact that:
a.) I look like I’m seventeen
b.) I dress like a modest kindergarten teacher
c.) I tend to spontaneously burst out in song and dance, like a child
d.) Due to factors a, b, and c, I give off a “sweet and innocent” vibe, which I tenderly refer to as “the polka-dots and glitter” phenomenon.
To exemplify this point, a few weeks after we first met, one of my friends told me that she assumed I spent all of my free time chasing butterflies and picking flowers. I don’t, I promise. Although I guess it proves that I tend to strike people as the skipping through fields type (ok, I do actually do that sometimes), and not the tattoo type. But hey, I am a millennial after all. And Generation Y tends to express itself by permanently scarring its bodies with ink.
But this blog post is not about tattoos per se, rather the meaning behind the tattoo on my left wrist. In a fancy-ish script, it reads “Trovare la Gioia,” which in Italian translates to “Find the Joy.” And when people ask about it, that’s usually the extent of the explanation I give.
But that’s not the extent of its meaning. Because if I’m going to mark my body with something that will never come off, it sure as heck better be something that resonates so deeply within my soul that at age 83, when it’s all wrinkly and hard to read, I’m still glad I chose to get it.
Needless to say, “Trovare la Gioia” has that power. And because I’m a writer by nature, I of course have a long-winded story to explain why.
At age sixteen, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I don’t typically tell this to someone I've just met who just happened to ask about my tattoo because if someone has never experienced depression first hand, it is extremely difficult to understand exactly what it is or does. And trust me, I cannot over-exaggerate that statement.
There is such a stigma surrounding depression and so many unfair stereotypes that if I’m not careful I will end up writing a 20 page rant. So, I’ll save that for another post and just simply say this: depression sucks. 24/7.
Back to the story:
Depression defined my late teens and very early twenties, and like a hole that you cannot crawl out of, I honestly thought I would never be free.
When you are clinically (as opposed to situationally) depressed, you can’t see light or hope in anything. You become so haunted by the depression that life becomes this huge daunting picture in which you get lost in shades of grey.
Life is overwhelming. Life is terrifying. Life is exhausting.
And so to cope with all of this, your brain numbs everything until you cease feeling at all. No highs. No lows. No joy.
Luckily, my father is a wise man. Even though he couldn’t wholeheartedly understand what I was feeling, he wholeheartedly wanted me to feel. He knew I couldn’t find joy if I kept looking at the big picture. He knew I needed to start smaller. And so he used to tell me to take one day at a time. Then, each day, find one small minuscule thing that I could find joy in.
Now, I am an extremely stubborn creature and I therefore do not heed my parents’ advice often, but places of desperation tend to make you try things you normally wouldn’t. And so each day, I would force myself to be happy about one small thing. And then something strange happened.
One small thing turned into two. Two turned into four. And before I knew it, I was finding happiness in more and more things. I was by no means out of the hole, but at least I was climbing. I was feeling. I was finding the joy.
And so the “Trovare la Gioia” written in bold on my left wrist is a permanent reminder that no matter how bad things seem, no matter how dark things get, there is always something to find joy in, even if that something seems small and insignificant.
The reason I bring all of this up (other than I really wanted to get a second blog post in for January and this is the last day of the month, oh hey procrastination, we meet again) is because depression is as stubborn as I am. It is something that, while you can slowly crawl out of and learn to function with and beat down again and again and again, will never completely go away.
I would estimate that around four years ago is when I first started feeling like I had depression under control. But I have good days and I have bad days, and it’s going to be something I battle for the rest of my life. Luckily, I’m surrounded (mostly) by people who understand that. And I have never been as low or as far down as I was in those first few years of the diagnoses. Until now.
This is not meant to be a pity-seeking post. This is meant to be a reality post. Because depression is a reality for a lot of people, and those people are misunderstood and name-called constantly. So no, I am not seeking attention. I am seeking to educate.
My brain does not work the way a “normal” (I hate that word) brain does. It will always be leaning towards depression, and if I’m not actively working against the gravitational pull, it will inevitably suck me back in. These past two months have proved that.
But while I am in a mental place similar to that of my sixteen year old self, I am lucky enough to have a little more maturity, wisdom, and life experience than she. I can look at things, including my mental state, more objectively.
Which brings me back to my left wrist and the message I paid someone to scar me with: It is now a precious tool that I am re-learning how to use. I am re-training my brain to find happiness.
Happiness cannot be situational. It has to start from inside, where life circumstances can never touch or mar it. It’s not something you attain, rather something you grow.
So that is what I am doing: growing happiness by training my brain to find the joy in the smallest things.
Life Circumstance: crutches are really annoying and incredibly painful and extremely frustrating and just overall very time-consuming.
Trovare la Gioia: with crutches, I always know what to do with my hands (anyone who knows me knows that this is a really big pro).
I found the joy in something small. And tomorrow, I’ll find some more.
For anyone who’s going through a rough time, I empathize. And I truly hope you can find the joy in something small today and every day.
Because sometimes the small things can end up making the biggest impact.
Trovare la gioia (and DFTLY),
what i learned from the worst new year's eve of my life
“Never have I ever been high.”
It’s my go-to statement whenever I find myself caught in a game of “Never Have I Ever.” It’s always bound to get the majority of people to lower a finger, and it’s also true. Or at least it had been until now. I had basically been high as a kite since coming home from the hospital on December 28 (I had surgery done to fix a torn ligament in my right foot) and, while the percocets were knocking out some of the pain, they were also knocking out my ability to think.
Apparently my body hated it as much as my mind did because my relationship with narcotics came to a violent end on December 31, 2015. New Year’s Eve.
I woke up to my alarm at 4am, the time I was supposed to take my next dose of Oxycodone. My head was pounding with a fierce, sharp pain that I wasn’t used to, but I was so concerned with doing every single thing right post-op that I ignored the pain, took the pill, and closed my eyes, ready to sleep until my next dose in 4 hours.
However, when I woke up again at 8, the pain in my head was excruciating. I’ve had migraines before, but this was ten times worse than anything I’d experienced. Forget the pain in my foot, I could barely see because of the intensity of the headache. I figured I’d just “wait it out” and see if skipping the next dose would help: not really.
My dad, who’s been taking care of me while I’m on bed-rest and whose house I’ve been overtaking, came downstairs and could tell right away something was wrong. He suggested I eat something, but nothing sounded like a worse idea at that moment. He brought me a banana anyway. I took a tiny, minuscule bite (like the kind of bite a toddler takes when you tell him he has to finish his vegetables before dessert), and that was it. I grabbed the bowl next to me and, not to be graphic, but . . . it was graphic. I lost everything I had consumed since coming home from the hospital three days earlier.
I was getting pale and sweating profusely with my foot still propped up on my dad’s reclining chair, right next to his Christmas tree which was full of bright ornaments wishing me a season of “Joy” and “Peace,” and for the rest of the morning I got miserably and violently sick.
The pressure from getting sick was causing my head to throb even more and I went back and forth between leaning over the bowl, to leaning back and grasping at my head desperate for the pain to stop, to crying, to sobbing, to coughing, to gasping, to getting sick some more. Then it would subside for a half-hour or so and I would find a position that was semi-comfortable and wait there until the process started all over again. My poor father had to witness (and clean) it all.
Finally the nausea decreased, or maybe I had just finally emptied everything out of my system, and I was able to sit up again. I was able to slowly take sips of water, then try a bite of bread, and then some brown rice. Everything was staying down. My headache was still present but nowhere near what it had been. At least I could function again. At least now I could remember why I was in this situation in the first place: my foot. And at least now I knew for a fact that I really never should do drugs.
When I was finally able to think clearly again, I started thinking a little too much. So . . . this is how I was saying goodbye to 2015: crying, throwing up, withdrawing from narcotics, in pain, confused, sad, lonely, and insanely bored from just sitting around all day. This was not the end to 2015 I had envisioned. And yet somehow, it fit. It was the culmination of a kind of not-so-great year. I thought the twelve months previous were rough, but this definitely took the new year’s eve cake.
Everything in my life changed in a split-second during an insignificant play in an early-December college basketball game. I went from being an athlete, and defining myself as such, to being sidelined and reminded 24/7 of my life-long struggle with body image issues and the issues I have with controlling food, counting calories, hating myself, and treating my body and mind unhealthily.
It took that one brief moment, three minutes into the second half, for all of my trust issues to resurface, anxiety issues to resurface, and the depression that I thought I had beaten to resurface. This was the hardest thing I had faced in 2015, and it was coming in right at the buzzer. So close to the new year in fact that it was, inevitably, going to transfer over into 2016.
But did it have to transfer? I mean, obviously my foot was still going to be a bummer in the new year. Obviously I was still going to be on bed-rest for at least another week and a half in January. And obviously I wouldn’t be able to run or participate in sports for months. But, the depression? The obsession with counting calories? The negative body image, the fixation with control, the self-loathing, the anxiety? Did that all really have to transfer?
When you’re forced to sit in a chair all day, there’s really not a whole lot to do other than think. Eventually you get tired of scrolling through Instagram and Facebook and Twitter, so you log off. You put away the electronics and you’re left with . . . your own thoughts. Terrifying.
When I flashback to new year’s eve 2014, I think about the optimism I had. I had just broken up with “the love of my life” (spoiler: turns out, not actually the love of my life) and I was devastated, but I was hopeful. Damn, was I hopeful. Although a little nervous about it, I was excited about being single and learning to love myself again after a relationship that had left me insecure and lost.
I was getting asked to speak and sing for middle and high schoolers about mental health issues, and I was excited about that, too. It was everything I had ever wanted to do with music: help others heal.
And musically, I was on cloud nine. I was set to go into the studio the first week of January with a producer I admired, a band I was excited to work with, and songs I was so ready to release. Music was going great, and I was elated.
Flash-forward a year later and I’ve never been so confused about music or its role in my life. The new songs are still out there somewhere, wherever unfinished songs go to rest. Maybe an unfinished song limbo of sorts, probably providing the soundtrack for all the socks that go missing when you do laundry. Who knows if they’ll ever be seen again, and honestly I’m not even sure at this point if I want to see them again.
My identity as a musician has dwindled to the point that I don’t even consider myself a musician anymore. Once wildly in love with music and how it made me feel, I’ve found that in 365 days music turned drastically from being my biggest outlet and source of comfort to being my greatest source of anxiety, and I’m ending 2015 on the lowest musical note (not really trying to make a pun, but I’ll go with it) in recent memory.
I am still single 365 days later, although I’m incredibly happy about it and much healthier (emotionally) this year. I’ve re-learned how to love myself and have stopped searching for romance. I have become maybe a little too independent (another life lesson I’m learning from this whole foot thing) and I’ve adopted the infamous Taylor Swift attitude circa 2014 when she was all “I’m never dating again and I’m done with men and it’s just gonna be me and my cats in NYC forevs.” Except I’m allergic to cats. And NYC drives me crazy. But other than that, basically the same thing.
A year later, and I’ve lost my identity as an athlete. I won’t be able to participate in sports until after months of rehab. But then again, as I’m sitting here having my little new year’s eve pity party, I realize that maybe I missed the key word in that statement . . . “until.” I can’t participate in sports until . . . Until. The word itself inspires hope.
It means that this is not forever. It means that I am lucky. This was not a career-ending injury. I will be able to run again. I will be able to play soccer again. I will be able to shower standing up again (although to be real for a sec, seated showers are kind of amazing and why aren’t they more of a thing?).
So, there I have it. Temporary. This situation is temporary. 2015, although kind of shitty, was temporary. And a lot of good did happen in the year. I met a lot of amazing people that I want to be in my life for a very long time.
I learned to let go of dreams, and people, that maybe were not meant to be in my life at all. I learned that some people may say they believe in you, but that’s only because it sounds nice in the moment. I learned that words and actions are two magnificently different things, and that I’m tired of people who say one thing and do another. And I consequently learned to stand up for myself, and for others, and to walk away when necessary from the people who are unable to support their words with appropriate actions.
Maybe this is all a gift, then. One big ugly beautiful gift. Because while I might be sitting here in pain, isn’t it the most painful moments that inspire the most healing? I could have opted to avoid getting the surgery, but it would have left me with a semi-functioning, highly arthritic foot, and in my twenties I would have been done with athletics forever.
So it turns out the pain, although highly inconvenient, is also highly necessary. Maybe in the same way, the lows of 2015, though highly inconvenient, were necessary. Maybe they were necessary to get me to 2016. To make me appreciate what’s coming next.
Because if 2015 started with an optimistic high and ended with a slow, steady, downward spiral that landed me in my dad’s chair on December 31, to the lowest point of the entire year (so melodramatic, I know, but cut me a break I’ve been trapped inside by myself for days), then why can’t the opposite happen? Maybe 2016 has no where to go but up.
When the clock strikes midnight and it becomes January 1, I will still be in this freaking chair. I will still be in a crap-load of pain. I will still be lonely. And I will still be confused, sad, and a little (OK, a lot) depressed. But, what if the lowest point of my 2015 is also the lowest point of my entire 2016? What if instead of a downward trajectory, I spin upwards towards the highest I’ve ever been?
What if on December 31, 2016, one year from now, I’m sitting somewhere thinking about how fan-freaking-tastic 2016 was and how grateful I am that I started it at the very bottom? What if each day of 2016 I only get stronger, healthier, happier, and more of myself than ever before? If that’s the case, then I’m glad this happened. I accept the low in pursuit of the high. Just not the drug kind of high . . . dude, that was horrible.
So then, here’s to new beginnings. Or a beginning that looks a whole lot like the end, but really is a gateway to something bigger, better, and more wonderful. 2015, I can honestly say you really were not that great. But nonetheless, I am grateful for you. Thanks for everything.
hope - and why we should talk about difficult topics
Hope is a powerful, powerful thing. From individual hopes for the future to idealistic hopes for humanity, people often talk about the things that they hope will happen. It’s easy to talk about hope because it represents the possibility of change. It is a spark of light that can illuminate even the dimmest of places.
But no one likes to talk about what happens when that hope seemingly disappears. Because, if hope is light, then the absence of that light is darkness. It is depression. And talking about depression makes people uncomfortable.
My child psychology class last semester covered depression for exactly one half of one class period. Comparatively, we discussed a newborn baby’s sleep cycle and crying patterns for two weeks. Now, I’m not trying to take anything away from the legitimacy of learning about neonatal care, but the topic isn’t exactly pertinent to my life at the moment.
Needless to say, I was frustrated when, as we got to the topics I was truly interested in, the ones I really, really wanted to talk about, they were rushed through and brushed over in about twenty five minutes.
Eating disorders, self-harm, depression, and suicide; Devoting such a short amount of time to the discussion of these issues does nothing to combat the innumerable fallacies and misinformation that surround them. And unfortunately, a lack of discussion leads to the development of false stereotypes, misguided judgements, and unfair labeling. For example, the notion that a person who struggles with an aforementioned disorder is “weird”.
During our brief class discussion about self-harm, a girl in the back of the class, who had a habit of commenting on everything the professor said, raised her hand and proceeded to tell the rest of us about a girl she knew in high school who, as she put it, “did that cutting thing and it was so weird”.
My classmate talked about the girl as if she were a circus attraction, one that the whole school treated as a pariah. I was boiling.
Self-injury is not “weird,” it is a mental disorder. Had my classmate understood the depth of the disorder, or the emotional pain and shame that goes with it, she would have chosen different words to describe it.
She also would not have assumed that the girl she knew in high school was the only one suffering with/from the desire to self-mutilate. In fact, I would be willing to bet that there were multiple students at her school who struggled with self-destructive thoughts, patterns, and behaviors.
That’s because self-harming, eating disorders, and depression are unfortunately so prevalent among adolescents. Yet, because there is a sense of shame that surrounds them, they’re rarely discussed. Consequently, their prevalence is grossly underestimated.
Keeping quiet about them just feeds the behaviors, but no one wants to talk because they don’t want to be judged. They don’t want to be ostracized or labeled as weird. They don’t want to be the subject of gossip.
It personally took me a long time to learn how to talk about my own struggles. I spent so long feeling alone, like no one would understand what I was thinking or feeling, and so I bottled up everything. But as I began to be more open, I found more and more people who were dealing with similar things. The realization that I wasn't alone became a source of hope.
But so many people don’t have that reassurance and, as a result, they keep everything inside until they can’t handle it any more. Until the darkness consumes them and blocks out all the hope that they’re not alone, that others have been where they are, that others have faced the same things they are facing and have healed.
My Facebook newsfeed has been blowing up recently with articles about suicide. All of the victims have been so young and all seemingly had so much going for them. But they all lost hope that things would get better.
I can’t pretend to know the circumstances or motivations behind each of these victim’s deaths, but I do know that even the littlest bit of hope can help someone hold on. That’s why we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about our struggles. Because if no one ever shared their story, there would be no hope for healing.
I hope someday soon there will be more educated discussions about these kinds of difficult topics, and I hope that those suffering with these disorders will feel less shame and more acceptance. Especially more self-acceptance.
The other night, I found myself on a school bus at one am surrounded by drunk rock music fans. It wasn’t a dream. We were on our way back to Philadelphia from seeing a band play in New York City. It was late and everyone had been drinking since the bus left for the show earlier that night, around 6:30. I was pretty optimistic that everyone would pass out and sleep on the way home. Unfortunately though, I made a really poor seating choice.
Instead of sleeping, I stayed awake for the two hour drive listening to the drunk guys directly behind me. They were partaking in some pretty cliché drunken activities: the inevitable singing/yelling/butchering of classic songs, the stupid sex jokes, and the slurred spontaneous professions of bro-love for one another. Then there was the beer spilled on my skirt and the guy who kept forgetting that my head was not his own personal arm rest.
But, as annoying as those moments were, there was one point in the night where I became absolutely fixated on their conversation. I would call it eavesdropping, but I don’t think it counts as eavesdropping if the people are talking loud enough to be heard in a different state.
They started talking about what they wanted to do with their lives. The younger ones, probably just a few years younger than myself, were talking about how they wanted to drop out of college. All of them. They all wanted to do the things that they were passionate about and were lamenting the fact that they had to wait four years to do it.
Then, the older and “wiser” ones (I put wiser in quotations because, for the life of me, I can’t call someone who pees in the back of a school bus wise and mean it) chimed in. They were out of college, in the real world, and hating every minute of it. All they wanted to do was follow their dreams, but they felt trapped in their current situations.
One of the drunk guys loudly proclaimed “I have hated every single thing I’ve done since high school.” There may have been a few expletives in there, too. Everyone else mumbled in drunken agreement, and then they sang Build Me Up Buttercup and an arm landed on my head for the umpteenth time.
I was staring out the window during this conversation and, as I watched the car lights fly by on the other side of the Jersey Turnpike, I started reflecting on my own life. By the time they hit the chorus of Build Me Up Buttercup, I had come to a pretty profound realization: I have loved every single thing that I’ve done since high school.
In June of 2008, when I walked out of my high school for the very last time, I remember feeling completely free. At 17, I had chosen to defer my admissions to my top choice school and in the process turned down a scholarship and an opportunity to play soccer. Unsurprisingly, I was met with a lot of different reactions to this decision, and most of them were negative. Many people at the time had no qualms about exclaiming straight to my face that I was “throwing away my future”.
Even within the confines of my immediate family, there were mixed reactions. My brothers were annoyed that I wasn’t being forced to go to school, and my mom, despite her unconditional love and support, found it hard to hide the disappointment that she wouldn’t realize her dream of seeing each of her kids earn a college degree.
Some of my friends’ parents tried to convince me that if I didn’t go to school I would end up on the street as a drug dealer or a prostitute. And kids my own age thought that “pursuing music” was just a grand scheme to cover up the fact that I couldn’t get into college. This one annoyed me the most and it took a long time to stop being super defensive about it. For the record, just because someone is not pursuing higher education, it is not a definitive reflection of their intelligence. (I may still be slightly defensive).
Because of these reactions, I spent a lot of time agonizing over the legitimacy of my decision. Instead of enjoying what I was doing at the time, every move I made was laced with a back-of-the-mind thought that asked: should I really be doing this? Should I be in college right now? Should I be doing something more practical? Should I be hating my life more?
I wish that I could go back and have a frank conversation with that younger version of myself. First, I’d probably tell her to never ever get blonde highlights again. And then, after giving her some dating advice and a complete wardrobe overhaul, I would confidently and persistently assure her that she is exactly where she should be.
Had I chosen to listen to everyone else, to do what they wanted me to do, to pursue the path they wanted me to take, I may have ended up with a degree and a “real” job, but I am 99.9% certain that I would be miserable. I would be a drunk guy sitting in the back of a school bus complaining about life. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Now, I’m not hating on college. I actually think it’s really important and in most cases pretty necessary. But I just get frustrated when people complain about their lives and then do nothing to change it. And I get even more frustrated when they start to blame other people for their present circumstances. And I get the most frustrated when people look at me and tell me that I’m lucky because I’m not in those same circumstances.
I truly appreciate my blessings and all of the opportunities I’ve been given, and I am extremely grateful for them. But I also acknowledge the fact that my circumstances have not been contingent on luck. I wasn’t handed some winning lottery ticket that said “Hey, you can go do what you want now! Congratulations!” I was faced with the same choice that every single senior in high school has to make. I chose differently. And I think that chalking it up to luck depreciates just how difficult of a decision it can be to actually chase your dreams.
Jim Carrey recently gave an incredible commencement speech at Maharishi University, and I highly recommend watching it on Youtube if you haven’t seen it already. The whole thing is pretty inspirational and of course highly entertaining, but there was one quote in particular that has stuck with me.
He talks about fear and how we each get to choose how much of a role it plays in our lives. He goes on to state that “so many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.” Fear disguised as practicality. I love that.
When people tell me that I’m lucky, some even joking that they hate me because of what I’m doing with my life, they don’t realize that they have the option of being just as “lucky”. They have dreams that they consider to be impractical, and so they have made a conscious choice to pursue something safer. Something more widely accepted by society. But they can choose differently.
I believe that it is an act of loving yourself to be confident enough in your own voice to use it, and to be confident enough to choose your own path, even if it strays from the one that others have drawn out for you. But too many people don’t use their voice. They speak, but it is someone else who is talking for them. They choose to let someone else dictate their life path, and they do it out of fear.
Chasing a dream is a choice made by someone who chose to overcome that fear of failure and the fear of rejection. To overcome the fear of others’ disapproval. Honestly, there is always going to be someone who disapproves of what you’re doing. And I just think the greatest injustice is having the person who disapproves of what you’re doing . . . be you.
cattiness & competition
There are few things I find more intimidating than a group of girls standing together talking. And although I’m pretty sure I share this fear with every twelve year old boy in America, mine is for a very different reason.
I am not afraid because I am at my first middle school dance trying to figure out how to ask my crush if she wants to awkwardly sway back and forth with me while standing ten inches apart and barely touching (the sixth grade version of slow dancing). Rather, I am a grown woman, anxious because I know what we all know: that unfortunately, women are harshest to their own gender.
It is universally known that girls can be catty, which is why so many women have their guard up the first time they meet another woman. I know I am extremely guilty of this. I have a natural wall that comes up when meeting another female. Upon reflection, I can trace the cause to years of being bullied, followed by a history of betrayals and falling-outs from and with close female friends.
Though I’ve since met and maintained strong friendships with beautiful, strong, incredible women, those scars are still there. And they still cause me to be instinctively suspicious around new female acquaintances. Whether it be instant or gradual, my wall only dissipates when I feel safe and can sense a mutual connection.
But I know I am not the only one who experiences this meeting-new-women-phobia. I recently met someone who, in her late thirties, had to leave a job she loved and had worked at for years. The reason she left? Because six female co-workers were bullying her day in and day out. Those are grown women, ganging up on another grown woman. She is now, quite understandably, nervous around females.
And it’s almost unavoidable when you think about how society shapes us. We are taught from a young age that, as women, we are in a constant on-going competition with one another. We are compared to, and pegged against, each other in almost every circumstance, and it ultimately affects how we see other women . . . and ourselves.
For some reason, we see another woman’s beauty and we start to feel ugly. We hear of another woman’s intelligence and we immediately feel stupid. Or we witness another woman’s humor and we feel boring in comparison. We start to feel like we’re losing the competition and so, in order to compensate and gain a competitive edge, we tear apart the other woman in an effort to elevate our own status.
But putting down another isn’t actually a sign of superiority. It is really just a way of covering up subconscious feelings about one’s own self. We cast all of the hidden hatred we have towards our own flaws onto others, trying to use other people as scapegoats for our insecurities. We have this twisted hope that if we point out another woman’s imperfections, it will somehow make people forget that we, too, have imperfections.
In the moment we think it will make us feel better, but it actually does the opposite. The whole reason we are speaking negatively about another girl is because we feel negatively about ourselves. Then, the more we speak negatively about her, the worse we end up feeling about ourselves. So not only do we hurt the other person, but we also hurt ourselves and start a horrible self-destructive cycle.
Instead of trying to be happy with who we are, and allowing others the freedom to be happy the way they are, we don’t feel like we’re good enough. So, we try to find ways to prove that others aren’t good enough either.
But true self-acceptance comes from acknowledging and embracing the fact that we are all flawed, and it comes from realizing that having flaws does not make us, or anyone else, less worthy of love. It comes from being able to see other people’s flaws and not point them out, but rather understand how they make the person even more beautiful.
And most importantly, self-acceptance comes from the ability to say and believe: “I am human. I am flawed. But, I am still good. I am no better and no worse than anyone else.”
We don’t get to choose our deck of cards, but we do get to choose how we view them. There will always be someone who seems to be “better off”: pretty, athletic, smart, whatever the trait. They have some, or several, characteristics that you want for yourself.
But, that’s their deck. Instead of trying to take cards away from them, we need to start looking at our own hand and seeing the unique beauty that lies within the cards we hold.
Maybe then women wouldn’t be so afraid of each other. And maybe then the fear of girls standing together in a group will only exist in the hearts of those twelve year old boys, anxiously pacing back and forth in their poorly decorated middle school gymnasium.
it's a journey, not a destination
I have been exceptionally naive about a lot of things in my life. For example, I used to wholeheartedly believe that swallowing a watermelon seed would result in an entire watermelon growing in my stomach. Similarly, I believed an apple seed would result in the growth of an apple in my stomach, and an orange seed the growth of an orange. Basically, I was terrified of fruit for the majority of my adolescence.
Then there was the time that I broke my wrist and, in order to play in soccer games, I had to wrap my cast in bubble wrap to make it softer. I naively believed my older brother when he told me that the only way I could test to see if the cast would pass referee inspection was to hit myself in the face with it as hard as I could. To this day, I still remember his laughter and my pounding head, not to mention my wounded pride.
Recently, I discovered that though I may have outgrown my fear of fruit, and the willingness to believe everything my brother tells me, I have not outgrown naivety altogether. This realization came after acknowledging the time, not so long ago, that I started a self-love journey under the false assumption that it would only have to be a one time thing: a start-then-finish, once-then-done, think-about-it-for-a-little-then-get-on-with-life type of adventure. Naive, indeed.
The past few months have been an extreme mental and emotional struggle, but it took me a while to actually accept that fact. I was so hesitant to admit to feeling lost because I knew how far I had grown in positivity and healthy self image, and I didn’t like the idea that I may have fallen from that peak. After all, I knew how hard I had worked to get there, and no one wants their work to be in vain.
But what happened? Why did I keep slipping back into old, negative habits?
Well, after months of working hard and challenging myself to grow, I got to a place emotionally where I felt good. Really good. I felt healthy, which was a big deal.
But then I developed a lackadaisical attitude, thinking I had reached a point in my journey where active and forward movement was no longer necessary and I could simply float by based on the work that I had already done. I ceased pursuing self-love at all, believing I could maintain positivity without effort. But the foundation wasn’t strong enough to stand on it’s own.
After painstakingly learning to rewire my brain and accept only positive thoughts, the opposite was now happening. I started gaining unhealthy habits back, no longer rejecting negative thoughts or ideas. Eventually, I was swimming in negative feelings and emotions until, inevitably, I started turning those negative feelings inward towards myself.
I wasn’t in a place where I was ready to address what was happening, but the lightbulb finally came on when I was confronted with strong negativity coming at me from someone else.
I’ve learned that two things happen when someone verbally tears you down: your unconscious either disagrees with them and starts to build you back up, or it agrees with them and uses it as ammo to bring you down even more.
I had succumb to negativity to the point that, when I heard someone else speak a negative comment about me, I could no longer disagree with it. When I turned to my inner self for truth, I had nothing. Instead of refuting the outside voice, my inner voice agreed with it, and that was my wakeup call.
That person was wrong about me, and so were the thoughts that my mind was now accepting as truth, I just needed to find a way to start believing in myself once again. In other words, I needed to re-rewire my brain.
As frustrating as it is to feel like i’m starting over, I at least know what I have to do. I know myself well, and I understand what works for me and what doesn’t. I am confident that by continuing to challenge myself to try new things, while paying close attention to my thought process, I can get back to where I once was. And then, most importantly, after I’m there, I will keep going.
I now know that this is going to be a life-long journey, not just a trip with an end destination. But I fully accept the challenge and am ready to work as before. I know from experience that it can only lead to good things. And that is what makes it so exciting . . . and so very worth it.
If you are on your own journey, I hope you keep finding the inspiration you need to move forward daily. You will always have my unending support!
overcoming the expectations and disappointments of Valentine's Day
The first time I ever remember feeling uncomfortable on Valentine’s Day was in the 5th grade. A boy in my class had developed a crush on me and decided to reveal his love by baking me a chocolate chip cookie in the shape of a heart. He handed it to me before school started that day and I remember staring at it feeling really confused.
To give you some perspective as to why I was overwhelmed with confusion, I should probably describe my 5th grade self:
A huge tomboy, I was always dressed in giant baggy jeans and large hand-me-down t-shirts I had received from one of my older brothers. My hair was in a ponytail every single day and I don’t think I even owned a pair of shoes that weren’t sneakers. At that age there were many things I prided myself on being good at: sports, belching on command, arm-wrestling and spitting contests. I think it goes without saying that being considered desirable by the opposite sex was not something I ever would have thought deserved a spot on the list.
So, when I was handed that heart shaped cookie, I simply did not know how to react. Partly due to the confusion I felt, but mostly due to the sheer embarrassment of our classmates staring at us, I awkwardly told him that the feelings weren’t mutual. And then I ate the cookie.
Up until that point, Valentine’s Day had always been a fun day where you got to eat a lot of candy and wear red. You’d come home from school with a bag full of cardboard Power Rangers Valentines from classmates asking you to “Be Mine,” and a slight sugar high.
But sitting there at my desk in my 5th grade classroom on the morning of February 14th, eating a cookie made for me by a boy whose ten year old heart I had just broken, everything changed. All of a sudden Valentine’s Day was no longer an innocent day of friends exchanging cards and candy, but rather one centered around romance and its pursuit. This was all brand new territory for me, and I didn’t like it one bit.
The only actual thing I remember learning in school that day was a life-lesson on expectations and disappointment: Namely, that where there is expectation, there is inevitably always going to be disappointment. The boy in my class had expected that in return for the cookie I would agree to be his girlfriend. Instead, I disappointed him by taking the cookie and turning him down. His level of disappointment was directly related to the height of the expectations he had placed on the day.
I think that’s why so many people end up hating Valentine’s Day. It’s not so much the pressure to spend the day with someone, and it’s not even the over-commercialization of love. It’s the unfulfilled expectations.
Boys are expected to invest in some kind of gift and girls are expected to be the recipient of that gift. If you have no one to buy something for or receive something from, you are made to feel like there’s something wrong with you. And because no one likes feeling that way, the disappointed feelings are then channeled as anger towards the day itself. Down with love and down with Valentine’s Day!
But why do we have to hate the day? Why do we feel this ridiculous pressure on and around the fourteenth of February? It’s because we have all of these crazy expectations.
As women, we need to stop placing so many unrealistic expectations on men. As much as we wish they could, men can’t read minds. If you want your significant other to get you something and he doesn’t, don’t be angry or hold it against him. Maybe he just honestly didn’t know you wanted anything. Men and women operate so differently, so just tell him what you want instead of being disappointed when he doesn’t surprise you with what he never even knew you wanted in the first place.
And men, you need to stop placing unfair expectations on women. I know a girl whose boyfriend one year bought her a box of condoms for Valentine’s Day. It’s a really good thing that didn’t happen to me because I probably would have broken the guy’s nose. Newsflash, men: girls are not obligated to sleep with you just because you’ve bought them a box of chocolates. Actually, girls are not obligated to sleep with you ever. Start appreciating the woman in front of you for her heart, not her body. The purpose of the day should be about celebrating love, not getting laid.
Every person is unique, which means every relationship is unique. As a couple, you shouldn’t make your plans based on what the couples around you are doing because what works for them might not for you. Decide amongst yourselves what kind of celebration matches your personalities and where you are at in your relationship.
And now, moving on to those who always have, and always will, maintain a special place in my heart: the ones who are single on Valentine’s Day. I have spent the majority of my Valentine’s Days single, and I have loved them all. There’s something about witnessing other people being in love that gives me a sense of hope and warmth. It should never lead to resentment.
If seeing another woman receive flowers from her boyfriend makes you jealous, that’s a pretty strong indicator that you’re not emotionally ready for a relationship, as being jealous essentially means you’re not content with your life.
But there’s no reason that you should let being alone make you unhappy! Learn to embrace your situation and use the day to make yourself feel special. You can’t receive from someone else what you don’t give to yourself, which means no mortal person is going to be able to make you happy until you can learn to be happy on your own.
No matter who you are or what your status is, Valentine’s Day should be seen for what it is: a day of love. But it shouldn’t be limited to romantic love.
Take time during the day to reflect on all of your loved ones: family, friends and all of the people you can’t imagine your life without. If you’re really ambitious you can even write them little notes telling them how much you love them and why. It’s hard to be sad on Valentine’s Day, or any day really, when you start counting your blessings instead of focussing on what you wish you had.
Having no outside expectations to live up to gives you the freedom to actually enjoy the day. You should never let February 14th make you feel pressured, inferior or unwanted.
You are wanted, and you don’t need another person, a box of chocolates or a rose to prove it. Prove it to yourself by choosing to think positively and keeping the negative emotions in check. Treat yourself to a day that’s devoted to love and all of the ways it is reflected in your life. And don’t resent anyone else’s situation.
Love other people, love the day, and love yourself.
I hope you have a very happy, very expectation-free, Valentine’s Day!
how a smile changed the world
To claim that one smile can change the world is a pretty sanguine statement. I mean, really? One smile? The whole world? For as small as social media has made it seem, geographically the world is still a pretty large place. So the thought of one single smile changing all 196.9 million square miles of our planet seems like a bit of a stretch.
But what if it that idea isn’t crazy? What if one smile really can change the world? Before you roll your eyes and write me off as an unrealistic optimist, let me explain why I've suddenly been reevaluating the legitimacy of that idea.
It all started last Friday:
I was having a pretty bad day, and I was extremely grumpy. I was annoyed, frustrated, sleep deprived, a little hungry, a lot emotionally drained, and my bad mood was written all over my face. I was in the car driving, completely tuned out from the world. I wasn’t even singing along to the radio, which for me is my biggest tell that something is wrong. I always sing in the car. Always. But not that day. That day I was pissed and it showed.
I pulled into Wawa to get a few things for a long drive I was about to take out of state. I walked in and avoided eye contact with everyone. Why smile? It doesn’t matter. People don’t notice, and they don’t care. And they never smile back.
So, I made up my mind: I wasn’t going to smile. I was going to stay in my little dark bubble and pretend no one else was there.
And so, when the guy at the coffee station made a joke about the hot chocolate I was putting in my coffee, I refused to engage him in conversation like I normally would have. Instead, I gave a slight nod, a bare minimum acknowledgment of his existence, and walked away.
I was feeling bratty, and I wanted the world to know it. I wanted the world to know what it had done to me. And I wanted the world to know that I had officially given up on it.
But then something happened. A light happened. A light in the form of a short, middle-aged woman with a green winter parka and a beautiful, contagious spirit. This woman was two people ahead of me in the line at the check-out counter.
Up until this point, everyone in the store had just been going through the motions: the cashier with her monotonous and disinterested “Hi, how are you, will this be all?” followed by the hurried reply from the anxious customer trying to rush her along, the mother standing in front of me engrossed in a vapid conversation with her teenage son about gum flavors, and then me, with my own self-consumed demeanor, just adding to the dismal environment. I was leaning against the counter, staring at my phone and doing my best to block out everything around me.
But then . . . the woman in the green parka stepped up for her turn to check out.
“A box of Marlboro Lights, please.”
Just an average woman making a simple request for a common brand of cigarettes. It was completely unassuming and yet it changed everything.
There was something very different about the sound of her request. The entire sentence she spoke sounded different because each word she used had been carefully formed through an authentic smile. I looked up.
This wasn’t your normal, polite, run-of-the-mill, fake, friendly smile. This was a SMILE. A genuine, full-of-feeling smile that she was giving for no reason at all. It was the kind you can’t help but stare at, completely entranced. The kind that makes even the hardest of hearts smile in return because it’s too amazing to leave hanging on its own. You want to join in. You want to smile. And smile we did.
Every single one of us got hit by it. All of a sudden, the cashier was full of energy and became engaged in conversation with the customers. She made eye contact and laughed, joked, and smiled for the first time since I had been in the store. The people ahead of me smiled and laughed. And then, most surprising of all given my own determination to make the world know how pissed off I was, I smiled and laughed.
I smiled the kind of smile that I secretly hate because it makes my face look all weird and contorted: full faced, eyes all crinkled up, cheeks stretched to the limit. But this time, I loved it.
I was happy because there is no possible way to smile that big and not be happy. And the reason I smiled that big is because the woman in the green parka’s smile had flooded me with the urge to choose happiness, the same way she had chosen happiness.
I am convinced this woman has a lot of trials in her life. We all do. But the difference is in how she chose to react to those trials. She was probably just as anxious, overwhelmed, and worried about life as the rest of us, and she seemed like she may have been struggling financially. She could have easily joined us in our miserable self-pity and no one would have blamed her. But instead, she chose the harder path. She chose to be a source of light rather than another source of darkness.
She understood that happiness is a daily, sometimes even moment to moment, decision, and somewhere along the lines she decided she was going to be happy despite her circumstances. She didn’t let all of the negative attitudes in the store bring her down and, because of her strength and light, she was actually able to lift the rest of us up. She chose to smile and what happened? It made other people happy.
That smile changed my entire day. I got in the car and was grinning ear to ear. I turned the radio up and sang every song. I looked at other people in the cars next to me at red lights and I smiled at them. I danced and drummed the dashboard and then laughed out loud at myself. I enjoyed the day.
I got stuck in Philly traffic for an hour which made my trip an hour longer than it should have been, and I didn’t care. I was laughing and dancing and singing and smiling and happy the whole time. All because of that woman’s decision.
I am so grateful to her for reminding me who I want to be: I want to be a spreader of light and love, even on the days and in the moments when it’s the hardest and when I don’t really feel like it. I want to smile anyway and do for other people what she did for me.
There were about five of us in line at Wawa whose days were completely turned around by that one smile. Suppose the five of us then smiled for the rest of the day and we each changed the days of five more people . . . That’s 25 happy people.
And then suppose us 25 happy individuals then smiled for the rest of the day and changed the days of five more people each . . . That’s 125 happy people. And what if it didn’t stop there?
What if one smile sparks another smile which sparks another, which starts a ripple effect of smiles until everyone in the world has experienced the true beauty and freedom that comes with choosing to be happy despite negative situations? What if we can in fact create a world full of smiles, and those smiles bring happiness, and that happiness brings love?
And all it took to start that love was a courageous woman who decided to believe and act on the crazy notion that one smile really can change the world.
I know it changed mine.
you are worthy
I’ve spent the majority of my life living in subjection to a very intense fear of vulnerability. Paralyzed under the strength of it’s reign, I would let it affect every aspect of my life, often going to great lengths to avoid all forms of emotional intimacy. I kept others an arm’s length away at all times and built up ironclad walls around the core of myself. I was always on alert: if someone happened to threaten the security of one of those walls, I would immediately become defensive and push away.
But a propensity to self-inflict emotional alienation is not exactly healthy, and I think I knew it, even before beginning this journey. I was aware that I was subconsciously sabotaging every relationship in my life, but I didn’t understand myself well enough at the time to know why I was doing it or how I could stop repeating the behavior. The funny thing about those metaphorical walls is that they didn’t just keep others from accessing my emotions, they kept me from accessing them as well.
I couldn’t understand what I was feeling because I wasn’t allowing myself to go that deep within my own heart. Through this journey, I was able to slowly break down the walls and, in doing so, finally see why I had built them in the first place.
It turns out my fear of vulnerability stemmed from an even deeper fear: rejection. And that fear stemmed from the belief that rejection was all I deserved or would ever earn. So, in the name of self-preservation, I became determined to always be the one to leave first. I was truly convinced that if anyone did stay and got to know me too well, they’d eventually realize that I wasn’t good enough to love. That something was wrong with me. That I was broken.
Well, obviously something was broken, but it wasn’t me. It was the way I felt about me. It was a life-changing moment when I finally understood the magnitude of the difference between the two and realized the reason I thought no one could ever love me was because I didn’t love me.
I wasn’t unworthy and I wasn’t broken, I only felt unworthy and felt broken, which made me constantly doubt myself and my own existence. But that’s such a warped and unhealthy view of life!
We are all created with a great capacity to love and accept love in return. Our very existence is based on Love (I capitalize “Love” here for a reason: the english language only has one word to describe the many different forms of love, so I use a capital “L” to represent the all-consuming, all-forgiving, unconditional form of love that we were each designed to know, give and receive).
The questioning of our existence happens when that idea of Love gets thwarted, which it so often unfortunately does.
Maybe it’s been distorted due to a childhood where there was no true example of capital “L” Love. No example of a Love that is willing to sacrifice or humble itself for the sake of another. Maybe there was only an example of love that was prideful, maybe even spiteful, and contingent on reciprocation. Maybe there was a lack of attention, a lack of warmth, or even a history of abuse.
As a result of these flawed examples of love, we end up feeling broken and damaged. We start to believe that the reason we never received capital “L” Love is because we just weren’t worth it.
Then, as we grow older, we believe that if we weren’t good enough for Love back then, we’ll never be good enough for Love, ever. We start placing conditions on ourself and our worth, saying: “When I achieve this goal, maybe then i’ll finally be worthy of love. Then, I’ll be happy. Then, my life will mean something.”
But your life means something now.
You are worthy of love now. The very fact that you are breathing means you are being held up in love, even if you don’t yet feel its presence. You have the ability to become its presence, you just have to start believing in the power you have to change your own story. And you do hold the power here.
You have the power to choose happiness and you have the power to give yourself what no one else did: forgiveness, attention, Love.
It starts with acknowledging everything you’ve felt and are currently feeling. If you were never validated as a child, you can start validating yourself now and giving yourself permission to feel your own emotions. If you were abused in the past, you can be the one to start treating yourself with the dignity and respect you’ve always deserved, instead of self-continuing the abuse.
You can be an example to yourself now of the Love you’ve always wanted, but never felt worthy of. You are not broken and you are not unworthy. You only feel unworthy.
By changing your mind, you can change yourself and become a living example of unconditional Love. Once you start to give yourself and others that Love, you will stop falling for the lies that call you undeserving.
Uppercase or lowercase love: We all have to decide which one we’re going to accept and which one we’re going to give. Once you choose capital “L” Love, your life will never be the same. You will never be the same. You won’t feel broken anymore, you’ll just feel Loved.
Loved. With a capital “L”.
the self-love stigma (and why it's wrong)
It wasn’t until I started being open and honest about my own journey that I realized just how misconstrued the term “self-love” is. At first, I was really thrown off by some of the reactions I encountered, to the point where I even started to second guess myself and my decisions.
But eventually, I learned to stop taking offense. I came to the conclusion that any benighted response I faced was just a lack of understanding on the person’s part, and I have since done my best to educate, whenever necessary, on the true motivations behind a self-love journey.
To this day, I get a lot of comments like “What does that even mean?” and “I don’t really get what you’re trying to do here” and “Are you just tired of dating or something?” (Um, yeah, but that’s not the point).
My personal favorite though, and the one that I’m faced with most, is the one that I believe is the absolute culmination of all ignorant thoughts and attitudes towards the self-love movement: “Isn’t that the world’s problem, that people love themselves too much and others too little? It just seems really selfish to me.”
Now, because I have personally grown a lot on this journey, it’s much easier today than it was in the beginning to control the intense eruption of emotions that I would feel at this accusation. The accusation that I am, and that anyone else who pursues self-love is, in fact selfish for taking the time to heal.
All of the things that I would want to say in reply to this notion, some less eloquent and less gracious than others, can be sum up simply by saying: False. So false.
This infuriating stigma stems from those who confuse, quite inaccurately, selfish love with self-love. And let me be clear, the two are completely, totally, indubitably different.
Selfish love comes from the need to take from others. It says “What I have isn’t enough, so I need to take from you in order to fill this need in me.” A lack of self-love is in actuality the very thing that births, breeds, and encourages selfish behaviors.
When you are completely content with yourself and fully appreciate who you are, you don’t feel a need to take from others because you no longer have a void to fill. Instead, you can say confidently and honestly “I am full. I am complete. I have no desire to take from you because I have all that I need. Instead, here, let me give.”
But, in order for anything to be given, there must first be a source from which to give. Love is no different.
In order to love (truly love in an unselfish and unconditional way), there needs to be a wealth of love on the inside that you have and feel constantly and can reach in at any time to share. The problem occurs when there is a lack of self-love and self-worth. You reach in but there’s nothing there. There is no source of love, so there is nothing to give.
That is why there is such an overwhelming amount of selfishness in the world. Instead of having a wealth of love in the depth of us, and being able to share that love, we have only an emptiness that we try desperately to fill.
We start reaching and searching for who and what we can take from in order to feel complete. Then, even after taking, we still don’t feel whole. The void is still there because the only thing that can fill it is a love that stems from the inside and then grows outward, not the shallow love that we try to take from the outside and shove inward to keep for ourselves.
So, is an individual on a self-love journey in fact selfish? Maybe. The answer depends on where they are at on their journey. The truth is, if they are just starting out on the journey, they probably are selfish. But that’s only because they haven’t yet learned to truly love themselves and therefore have no way of loving others.
That’s the point: the self-love journey derives from the recognition that in order to love anything or anyone, you must first learn to love yourself.
That they are starting out on the journey at all means they acknowledge the fact that there’s something wrong with their current behaviors and they are trying to change. They see that they are not only hurting themselves but possibly and probably others, and they are trying to change. They recognize that selfishness comes from a deep need for love and they are on this journey to learn to develop that love.
They desire more for their lives: to be more, grow more, love more.
We should be encouraging their journey, not giving them one more reason to doubt themselves. Because honestly, if someone you know is starting out on their own journey, it means that soon they are going to be able to love so much better and so much truer.
And the world needs more people like that: people who have enough love on the inside that they can stop taking and start giving and spreading unconditional love to others.
So please, please let’s stop discouraging those who want to heal. Let’s stop discouraging those who actually want to stop being selfish and want to learn to give.
Let’s stop discouraging love.
I spend my Mondays through Fridays taking care of my niece (3) and nephew (2), and it never ceases to amaze me how much I learn from them. Every day they provide me with some new insight on how to live a better life and be a better person. Lately it seems their lessons have been getting bigger and better, and the following are just a few of the many they’ve been schooling me in as of late:
Lesson One: Little kids have the right idea when it comes to approaching everyday life.
Each morning, they wake up excited to get the day started. Not only are they excited to see you, but they’re also just excited about life in general. Everything that happened in their lives the day before is long forgotten, and everything to come in the day ahead is a mystery that they don’t bother themselves with trying to figure out. They just live right there in the present moment, and are excited about that moment.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that little kids aren’t exactly happy about every single thing that happens to them. The claw mark on my face, an unfortunate result of my nephew’s opposition to nap time, is a very clear indicator of that. I’m just saying that they don’t let the negative keep them down for long. Give it time and they will be right back to their cheerful, happy, over-zealous selves, ready to laugh, play, and jump on top of you. (And fully willing to forgive you for making them take the nap in the first place.)
Why can’t I be more like that? I’m never going to be happy about every single detail in my life, but so often I let the negative parts of life rob me from fully experiencing or enjoying the positive. Even in my happiest moments, there’s always that dark corner in the way, way back of my mind reminding me that there is some task left unfinished, some relationship unresolved, or some situation un-figured out.
Even when I’m not consciously thinking about it, those nagging problems are always there, keeping at least a small percentage of my brain tuned in on them at all times. I spend so much of my time either living in the past or looking towards the future that I forget to just stop and focus on the present moment as it is. I forget to be excited about life.
I want to wake up in the morning excited, not for what the day will bring, but just excited for no reason at all. I want to wake up smiling, simply because I like life and am grateful for another day to live it. I want to embrace each moment as it comes and fully take it in. And, if that moment happens to be horrible, I want the attention span of a two year old and the uncanny ability to sincerely forget about the incident 10 minutes later.
Lesson Two: Little kids have the right idea when it comes to being themselves.
I’m presently sitting in the living room with the kids. We’re watching Elmo sing about snowmen and we’re having a pretty fantastic day. My niece is wearing a Cinderella dress with a USA soccer jersey on top, flower shoes on the wrong feet, and broken, bright green Mardi Gras beads around her neck. She’s holding a half eaten banana in one hand and a half eaten waffle in the other. She doesn’t care that she looks kind of ridiculous (although very, very adorable). She’s just dancing around the room and laughing like a hyena with golden curls that are covering her eyes and a smile that is literally taking up her whole face. She is completely herself.
If for some reason we had to leave the house, she wouldn’t even think twice about stepping out in her mis-matched ensemble. She wouldn’t want to change and, honestly, why should she have to? Her outfit makes her happy. It is unique, funny and silly – just like her – and would tell people that she’s comfortable being herself in any situation. Her actions are not controlled by the thoughts of other people, and her outfit isn’t either (although sometimes it would be nice if she kept on the outfit her aunt picked out for her).
There are very few people in my life that I can honestly say have seen me be 100% myself. It generally takes two or three times of me meeting a person before I feel like I can start letting my guard down, but even with most of my close friends, that guard is still partially up. Not even everyone in my immediate family truly knows me completely freed from inhibitions.
I used to hate this about myself and think of it as some weird personality defect that I would always have and never fully understand. But this year I’ve been learning a lot about myself and have been digging down to some pretty deep places and uncovering demons I forgot even existed.
I’ve gotten to know myself pretty well and have finally understood why I am so guarded around so many people and, remarkably, I’ve stopped hating myself for it. I’ve taken a lot of steps towards breaking those walls down, but I know I still have a long way to go – which is why watching my niece dance around today has been so refreshing to me.
Not many people have the courage to be completely themselves in every single situation, but those people are inspirational.
When you live life afraid of the judgment from others, you end up letting those people control your life. It’s none of my business what other people are thinking about me and, honestly, if I want to walk outside in a Cinderella dress with a soccer jersey and flower shoes on, why shouldn’t I? Other people would probably stare, but then again, maybe it would give them the courage to do the same.
I’m so lucky to get to spend so much time with these kids and so blessed to be their student in the art of living.
Now I’m going to go learn some more and dance like a crazy person with my niece.
Oh, and one more thing:
Don’t Forget To Love Yourself.