No Regret, Only Joy

CW: body image, body dysmorphia

I am officially one week (and one day) post-op!

For those who didn’t read my last post, my insurance company gave me breast reduction surgery for Christmas! Recovery hasn’t been as tough as I expected, though it still has its ups and downs. Gravity is not my friend at the moment, but my bathroom mirror finally is!

First, I’m not going to gloss over the difficult moments. The first time I looked down at my new chest I cried. They still looked too big and they hurt like the devil. Yes, I could breathe easier (strange, but true) and my breasts were finally sitting where they were supposed to on my chest, but I still wasn’t excited yet. It wasn’t until yesterday—a full week post-op—that I looked at my bare chest in the mirror. And when I did, I couldn’t stop laughing.

I love my new boobs! They’re still swollen and bruised and taped up, and they will be for a while, but damn they look good. They finally match the image of myself in my head. It’s such a good feeling that I’ve felt high ever since. I already feel more confident, and more in love with my body.

That last part I didn’t expect. But I’m finally seeing my body in a brand new way. Some of my body dysmorphia has begun to fade, as well. When I look in the mirror, I can see a tall, thin girl. Before, I considered myself one of those “big-boned” tall girls. My breasts took up most of my abdomen and made me feel generally large. I don’t see that girl in the mirror as much anymore.

I was hesitant writing this down, but I’m gonna say it: my body is beautiful. I am so happy that I’m starting to see that.

If anyone has considered having this procedure done and has questions I might be able to answer, feel free to contact me. I couldn’t have done this without the r/Reduction subreddit, and I can’t imagine going through this alone.

I’m sure I’ll continue mentioning my recovery in the year to come, but for now I am just giddy and in love with my new boobs. I am ringing in the new year with a body I now enjoy looking at in the mirror. And that’s a big friggin’ deal.

Merry Christmas to Me!

I’m gonna get super real in this one. Are you ready?

Ever since puberty hit and my boobs just kept growing I’ve felt as though they didn’t belong to me. The image of myself in my mind didn’t match with what I saw in the mirror. For roughly 10 years, I’ve wanted a reduction. In fact, when I was in high school, I wrote my parents a letter that I left on their bed asking for surgery, too ashamed to even ask them face-to-face. (This followed my initial diagnosis of my autoimmune disease, so my parents rightly decided that surgery wasn’t the best option for me then.) I’ve always strived to be honest on my blog, plus it’s often where I do my processing. It felt important to write this post. So here goes:

My insurance company has approved my breast reduction surgery, and my surgeon is fitting me in next week. I’m about to have smaller boobs!

A lot of thought, time and energy went into this decision, but so did many years of feeling detached from a part of myself. For most of my life I’ve gotten the comments “I had no idea your boobs were so big!” and “I would kill for your rack!” and “If it’s any consolation, you hide them really well,” from roommates and friends and even some medical professionals. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to hide my boobs! I want to be proud of them, to wear clothes that make me feel sexy and confident and like me. And now I’m finally getting that chance.

No more needing to bind my breasts to access certain styles or comfort. Besides, binding my breasts has been SO uncomfortable and never gives me what I really want. I have multiple Pinterest boards full of clothes/styles I never thought I’d be able to wear because of my breasts. It feels incredible knowing that I’m actually going to have the chance to find a style that is truly authentic and fits who I am and how I want to express myself. Not only that, but this surgery will alleviate chronic pain I’ve dealt with my entire life, and hopefully improve my posture. But the biggest, most important part of all this is that I am getting the chance to feel like a part of my body that I’ve felt shame for my entire life actually belongs to me.

This feels scary to write here largely because it still feels too good to be true. I still have to take a COVID test and hope that my surgeon doesn’t get called into an emergency before my scheduled procedure. Plus, because of insurance, I can only make this work if I do it before the end of the year. So in a way, I don’t want to get my hopes up too high. But on the other end of that spectrum, I need to keep reminding myself of the positives in order to speak into the fear that I’m also feeling. My therapist had me make a list of reminders to post around my house to look at before surgery (while I’m still super anxious) and post-op (when pain or limited mobility might make things tough), and the list is already a full page long (and still growing!). I’m getting the chance to change so many things that I’ve been unhappy with for most of my life, and I am so grateful.

Yeah, I’m terrified of having this surgery. And it’s a little scary writing about it here. But, as a dear friend reminded me, all of this is bringing me more in alignment with my authentic self and that can only bring positives. I’m choosing to do a scary and difficult thing in service of who I truly am. My outside will finally match my inside.

My job is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing myself. This (paraphrased) quote from Untamed has been helping me a lot through this process. Especially because I tend to care too much about what others think, so much so that I can derail my own life to make others feel more comfortable. But I’ve spent the last 10 years praying that this day would come. I’ve researched, talked to my doctors and surgeon, processed with my therapist, and even had conversations with my boobs in the mirror. It felt as though the universe handed me this gift just in time for Christmas. I know I’ve made the right decision.

I’m ready to feel more confident in my body, more aligned with my femininity, and be more expressive with the androgyny I’ve been waiting to fully explore. Let this post serve as my reminder, for when the fear tries to creep in or recovery gets tough, that I’m ready for this. I’ve always been ready.

What The Legend of Korra Taught Me About PTSD

CW: eating disorders, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder
This post discusses season 4 of The Legend of Korra; spoiler alert to those who care!

Quarantine has introduced me to both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, and I couldn’t believe I had gone so many years without seeing either of these hit shows!

Korra on her recovery journey in The Legend of Korra

While I’m completely obsessed with both shows (after taking many Buzzfeed and personality quizzes, it turns out I’m a Firebender!) and their complex characters (Katara, Asami, Zuko, Jinora, Uncle Iroh!!!! The list goes on and on…), what stood out to me was how Korra dealt with a significant trauma at the end of season 3 and into season 4 of The Legend of Korra. I’ve never seen a more realistic portrayal of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder on screen before, and I found myself relating to Korra more than I ever expected to. What I appreciated about this series is that season 4 doesn’t offer us a new villain for Korra to battle right off the bat. Instead, she battles with herself.

In the post I shared about my specific eating disorder, I mentioned a long period of nightly nausea spells as a child that morphed into a full-blown phobia of getting sick. In that post I wrote that my eating disorder is defined as an “aversion to eating due to a traumatic experience.” Trauma (as my therapist defines it) is a real or perceived threat of serious harm or death, with perception being the key word. While some may have dealt with chronic nausea and grown up without any fears around it, my experience was different. Real or not, as a child I continued to think “This is scary and keeps happening, and no one is explaining it to me.” What my current therapist has helped me understand is that due to the constant spells of nausea in my childhood that left me more and more terrified each night I spent on the bathroom floor, I now experience CPTSD, or complex post-traumatic stress disorder. (The difference between CPTSD and PTSD is that complex post-traumatic stress disorder results from repeated trauma over months or years, rather than from a single traumatic event.) I can feel intense, physical anxiety when it comes to certain food, smells, bodily sensations, and even some bathrooms.

At the end of season 3, Korra is tortured, suffocated, and poisoned by villain Zaheer and though she survives, the experience leaves her traumatized, physically and mentally. When season 4 begins, we see flashbacks of Korra’s early recovery period, with symptoms of PTSD leaving her unable to stand, eat, or sleep. When Korra goes to see Katara, a healing waterbender, for help in her recovery process, Katara says she can help guide her healing process, but whether she gets better or not is up to Korra. She proceeds to show Korra how involved her mind is in her recovery, eventually helping her to walk again.

During a particularly frustrating healing session, Katara tells Korra “the mind can be a powerful ally or your greatest enemy,” and assures her that she’s safe even though her body thinks she’s still in danger. I perked up when I heard this, as my therapist often tells me that my anxiety is responding to a false alarm in the body, trying to protect me from a threat that doesn’t actually exist.

Korra sees a hallucination of herself in the Avatar State in The Legend of Korra

This is something Korra continues to struggle with, particularly as she experiences flashbacks and hallucinations from her trauma. It’s difficult to think you’re safe when your body feels as though it’s reliving your traumatic experience over and over again. (I’ve been told I need to read the book The Body Keeps the Score, and I look forward to reflecting on this post once I’ve done so.)

Eventually, haunted by her trauma and feeling isolated and misunderstood, Korra disconnects from her loved ones and leaves to travel the world alone. Though everywhere she goes, she is followed by an eerie hallucination of herself bound in chains. This was a beautiful (albeit spooky) representation of how it feels to be bound to your trauma, particularly during the scene in which Korra’s projected Avatar-State-self uses the chains to start “dragging her down with her” into sinking mud during an intense hallucination.

Korra quite literally battles her own mind, despite standing up to her hallucinated self and stating “You’re just in my mind. You’re not real.” Even though anxiety does lie in our minds, it can manifest itself very physically, and for someone struggling with PTSD, it’s difficult to recognize anxiety for what it is.

It doesn’t matter that Korra recognizes that her hallucinations are only in her mind, her physical symptoms are very real. As someone who has grown up struggling with symptoms of fear and anxiety, constantly being told the symptoms were all in my head—that none of what I was experiencing and feeling was real—I could empathize strongly with Korra. It took me a long time to learn that while my anxiety came from my mind, I was still experiencing physical symptoms. I still struggle with validating my own feelings and experiences, but now I know how to soothe both my anxious mind and anxious body.

After Korra does a lot of work in her recovery, she still feels haunted by her trauma. She continues to relive the torture she endured, unable to find peace and live her life as she did before the events of season 3. She decides to face her fears and confront Zaheer (now in prison), hoping that if she sees him chained up she won’t see him as a threat in her mind anymore.

In a scene I initially opposed (why would Korra return to the man who did this to her?!), Korra faces Zaheer and confronts her fears, which turned the scene into one of my favorite of the entire show. It turns out that Zaheer is able to meditate into the Spirit World—something Korra has been unable to do due to her trauma—and offers to help guide her back there himself, to show her she has “all the power in the world and the freedom to use it.”

As she begins meditating with Zaheer, Korra is confronted yet again with a flashback of him torturing her. She begins to panic, her body feeling as though she’s in danger, but Zaheer encourages her to let the scene play out. She doesn’t think she can do it, saying she has no control, yet Zaheer continues to stay with her, telling her not to fear what might have been, but rather to accept what happened to her. Soon, she falls with him into the Spirit World.

Korra and Raava reconnect in The Legend of Korra

When Korra realizes that she’s made it through the most difficult part of her anxiety and landed safely in the Spirit World, she is reconnected with Raava, the spirit of light and peace who lives within the Avatar. After being poisoned by Zaheer, Korra feared her connection with Raava had been severed, but Raava immediately reminds her, “I have always been inside of you.”

When I took Eat Breathe Thrive’s “Yoga for Eating Disorder Recovery” course, I was reconnected to my own Raava. As I learned various skills to restore my connection between my mind and body, I learned that I had the ability to control my anxiety within me all along. With ujjayi breathing that activates my vagus nerve (the one responsible for the “rest and digest” part of my nervous system), and honoring the needs of my body through interoception, I could lower the effects of the CPTSD, if only by a little bit.

I’ve also learned, like Korra, that sitting in my discomfort and letting my fear and anxiety play out won’t kill me (even when it may feel like it will). My therapist taught me that our minds search for patterns, and when I was constantly trying to numb away the anxiety or distract myself from it entirely, I was actually making it worse. I was reinforcing that the anxiety was dangerous by not addressing it, building up the fear in my head more and more. When Zaheer tells Korra not to run from her fear, to sit in the discomfort of her PTSD and accept what happened to her, she finally experiences relief. She relinquishes control, does the uncomfy thing, and it starts a new neural pathway in her brain—a new pattern—that shows her that she is safe.

As my therapist reminds me, my anxiety will always be there, there’s no stopping it entirely. But I can make it more manageable, so it won’t interrupt my life so significantly. Korra reflects on this concept, as well, as she leaves Zaheer’s prison. She acknowledges that she won’t forget the awful experience of being tortured and poisoned, but she is able to accept what happened, and that’s what will make her stronger.

While I have done a lot of work around my fears and anxiety, I’m not at the acceptance stage yet. Honestly, until I saw The Legend of Korra (and talked to my therapist) I didn’t know acceptance was a stage I could reach in my CPTSD. There’s a lot of frustration around the trauma I endured over and over growing up. But I have learned how to manage the anxiety to be able to live my life, and I continue to build on these skills with every passing day, week, month, and year. What’s more, I’m finally at the stage where I can process the trauma itself because I am able to manage my triggers and anxiety. I’m proud of my strength, and how far I’ve come in the last few years.

I’m so grateful to have seen myself in Korra, and I hope that we continue seeing PTSD and anxiety represented realistically on screen.

Taming: Part I

The other night, I was watching the episode of Friends where Rachel goes out on the town for the first time since giving birth. She’s wearing a dress that shows off her (frankly amazing) cleavage, and Ross (of course) takes issue with it. When she’s at the bar and a couple of guys come up to her to chat and eventually ask her for her number, she says she didn’t go out to meet guys, she just wanted to go hang out with her friend and get a drink. I found myself thinking Why did you dress like that if you didn’t want guys’ attention? That is my taming.

Taming is something Glennon Doyle defines in Untamed as the conditioning we receive starting in childhood to make us more acceptable in the eyes of society. She points out that at one point, when we were kids, we were wild, and dreamt of uninhibited futures and expressed emotions freely. But then, society began feeding us its messages that tamed us and put us in cages, and we learned that we were not supposed to be wild. Glennon (yeah, I’m using her first name, because I see her as part of my sisterhood more so than an untouchable author) has opened millions of readers’ eyes by calling bullshit on capitalism and the patriarchy, and teaches us in Untamed how to return to our wild.

I remember one of my first tamings. It involved the school dress code. Girls were not allowed to dress too “provocatively” (how can we dress provocatively at six fucking years old, I ask you?!) because it was too distracting to our male peers. And with no similar rules warning boys not to distract the girls in their class, us girls grew into women who were taught that men can’t help but objectify us. This leads to the body-shaming and blaming of women that I found myself (a 26 year old female feminist) doing to a television character.

This doesn’t mean I’m a bad feminist. This means that I’m still learning how to fight the toxic training and taming I’ve received for most of my life. When that training starts in childhood, unlearning it as an adult is hard work! What’s exciting is that I immediately recognized my Rachel-shaming thought as my taming. A year ago, I think I would have noticed myself making such a comment, but not been curious about it.

I’m equal parts excited and scared to rekindle the wild inside me. But I’m insanely curious what my life can look like outside of the cage I’ve been tamed into.

Some days can feel like I’ve abandoned my cage entirely, when the next feels like I’m right back inside with the door firmly closed. Other days I’m sitting on the edge, questioning whether to leave the cage that’s been my home for ~20 years, or leap into the wild unknown. Being wild is scary, especially in a world that does not accept or appreciate wilderness. But I do know that I’m curious about the wilderness enough to explore.

New Moon, New Mindset

I’m still not sure if I’m one of those people who believes in astrology or the spirituality of lunar cycles, but I decided to use today’s new moon as an opportunity for change.

I need to reset. A depressive episode a couple of weeks ago left me in some bad habits, and shame has lingered enough to wreak some havoc on my thoughts and behaviors. I want to set some new intentions. I thought it was pretty exciting that I had these thoughts on the same day of a new moon…for those who don’t know, new moons symbolize new beginnings.

I figured I could use the blog as a means of accountability, to hopefully manifest new intentions and habits. So, here we go…

Intentions
~Self-love
~Communication
~Mindfulness
~Inner strength
~Gratitude

Affirmations
~I love you
~I am not my feelings
~My breath is my anchor, my anchor is my breath
~I am capable

Goals/Habits
~Regular sleep schedule; get up/go to bed earlier
~Daily walks
~Regular yoga practice; same time every other day
~Daily meditation practice

I’m ready for this change, I’m welcoming it. We’ve got a President-elect who gives me hope, and I have professional and personal opportunities on the horizon. Let’s go, New Moon. I’m ready.

Shame, That Cunning Bastard

Earlier today, after frustration over a search for socks snowballed into anger and I sent clothes flying all over our bedroom, my partner came to check on me. I was balled up on the floor, sandwiched between the bed and the wall, and my head was tucked below my knees. Anger, not being something I’m particularly used to yet, had left me feeling humiliated. As my kind and compassionate partner sat next to me rubbing my back, I didn’t want to admit to allowing socks (or lack thereof) to cause such a tidal wave of ferocity in me.

In the past, I wouldn’t have said anything. I would have remained silent and let my emotions consume me, driving away the person I desperately wanted to stay by my side. But see, I had made a promise. A promise to my partner not to shut him out. Not to make him think that my anger or moodiness is directed at him, or the result of anything he did or didn’t do. A promise to communicate.

I’m learning that I default to shutting people out, or shutting down entirely, when I feel intense emotions because of the unawareness my family and I had around my high sensitivity and my emotional needs as a highly sensitive person growing up. So, now that I know that my nervous system feels things much more deeply than the average person, I have to work hard at communicating when I’m feeling big things.

I’m not saying that I’m great at communicating now that I’ve learned all of this and have made this promise to my partner. In fact, I’m generally pretty bad at it. Sometimes, it’s so hard to say what it is I’m thinking or experiencing that it feels like I’m prying my mouth open with a crowbar and reaching down my throat to physically pull the words out. Often I’m speaking so softly that my partner has to ask me to repeat myself.

Today, though, I recognized that I have made some progress. This past week was particularly stressful, and I recalled the moments where I managed to use my words. At first, I wanted to celebrate this. I remembered how often I had kept my mouth shut in my relationships with my parents, friends, and partners in the past, and knew that any step in communicating was a step in the right direction. But quickly, shame piped in (that relentless bastard) and reminded me how far I still have to go. Shame said “How dare you celebrate this skill that you’re only less than mediocre at? You have way too far to go before you can pat yourself on the back.”

At first, I believed it. Shame is cunning, and uses small truths to create big lies. While it’s true that I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of what healthy communication looks like in my relationship, it is false that I have to wait until I’ve mastered the skill to acknowledge and celebrate my progress.

And, just because I’m not negating or discounting my success thus far, that doesn’t mean I can let up on the gas pedal. The fact is, I do have a long way to go before my communication is easy and open in those moments of moodiness or anger. But the more I practice it, the easier it will get, and I can celebrate the wins along the way.

Allowing Anger

Content Warning: self-harm

At the beginning of this global pandemic I noticed an uncomfortable feeling starting to grow within me. As my friends continued going to work or to the grocery store while I remained at home, petrified of catching this largely-unknown coronavirus, the feeling grew from a small flame into a roaring fire, until I could no longer ignore it. I was angry.

Since I was diagnosed with my autoimmune disease roughly 8 years ago—which was more than likely the result of the birth control pills I was taking at the time—I haven’t thought much about how different my life has become. Sure, I have to take daily medication for the rest of my life and I can’t unwind every night with a glass of wine, but generally things aren’t too different for me. It wasn’t until my life was threatened because of my compromised immune system that I began to think “Why the hell did this have to happen to me?!”

As I was wracked with fears of illness and death for weeks on end, this question grew louder and louder in my head. It suddenly didn’t seem fair that the pills I had been using to help regulate my menstrual cycle as a teenager had turned my immune system against me. And the longer I was stuck at home, the more anger I felt when I swallowed the meds that were lowering my immune system in order to keep my body safe.

Now, anger is not something I’m particularly familiar with. I’ve certainly experienced anger before, but, not knowing what to do with the feeling, it was often expressed through moodiness, passive aggression, or even self-harm. Or, like many other women who aren’t sure what to do when they feel anger starting to bubble under their skin, I suppressed it. Without knowing how to healthily let it out, or even that I can express it in healthy, safe ways, I stuff it down and close the lid as tight as I can.

This time around, however, I was having a hard time keeping it contained, and it certainly wasn’t going away. My anger was fierce, and desperately wanted out of the jar I had kept it stored in for all those years.

At first, the anger built into rage that exploded out of me in the form of self-harm. I didn’t know where to direct my anger, and I had enough shame lighting me up like a neon sign that I became an easy target. So when pacing and hand-flapping gave way, I released the pent-up energy the only way I knew how, at the only person in the room: me.

Of course, shortly after the energy had been expelled and the shame set in, I realized that this method of expression was not sustainable. Which is when I realized that I didn’t have a single solitary clue of how to safely express my anger. Nor could I recall any female role models who expressed their anger in healthy ways.

I started talking with a friend lately about this, and when I asked how she expressed anger, she had a hard time finding an answer, as well. She made the excellent point that systemically men are taught to be angry, but to stifle sadness because it’s a sign of weakness, and that women are taught to stifle anger because it’s not feminine. While I sat there wondering how I’ve managed to stifle anger all this time, she mentioned that these beliefs are so ingrained in us that we don’t even realize we do it.

It’s funny, because as I’ve learned more about the damage done by the patriarchy and capitalism in the last few classes I’ve taken in quarantine, the angrier I’ve become. How ironic that the notion of suppressed anger in women has caused me to become so angry that I don’t know how to express it because I’ve been taught to suppress it!

Naturally, I turned to my therapist for guidance. I knew there had to be ways of expressing anger that didn’t end up hurting myself or others, otherwise we’d all explode! She encouraged me that I can feel anger while controlling my behavior. In all those cases where anger has led to self-harm, there was always a moment where I could have chosen another option. I allowed those neuropathways to stay ingrained in my brain, until my therapist showed me how to flip that switch.

Now, I know to use my pillow at a punching bag, or throw some balled up socks or water balloons at the wall when I feel that anger grow into a big ball of energy that just wants to be uncaged. Even more important to remember: I’m allowed to be angry. It is a natural emotion, just like happiness, sadness, and even fear.

My anger has helped me clarify my values and beliefs. If I didn’t get so angry about the corporations who are making billions off of our insecurities, I wouldn’t know how much I cared about righting that wrong, of undoing the thoughts that they have implanted.

Anger can be liberating if we allow it. I’m not nearly done learning how to express it, or unlearning how not to suppress it. But I’d say it’s about time we free these gendered shackles of how women (or anyone!) are “supposed” to feel, look, or act, and use our anger as a compass to guide us towards empowerment, equality, and freedom.

Female Power

Content Warning: sexual assault (briefly mentioned, no details given)

I’ve told myself for a long time that I wasn’t cut out for female friendships. I never thought I’d have a Cristina Yang or a Lane Kim. I didn’t have the best track record with many of my relationships with women, so I didn’t see the point in trying to form new ones.

When I was in middle school I was bullied by other girls. My “best” [girl] friends turned on me, I don’t even remember why. In high school I was told I was selfish by a close girl friend. I felt as though I was competing or comparing myself with many of my female peers. In college I was raped by a woman, a friend of mine. I was called a liar when I asked for support from another close female friend. As an adult I had many female friendships end epically, awfully. I didn’t think I could maintain another close, healthy, happy friendship with another woman.

Recently I met a woman who changed that narrative for me. She allowed my vulnerability, and it brought us closer together, despite being an ocean apart. We became fast friends. I opened up to her about my history with women, and she recognized and acknowledged my fear. She saw me.

When I started feeling this fire in my belly about capitalism and the twisted narrative it feeds women in order to maintain its profits, I expressed my rage to this new friend. It unlocked something within me; sharing my frustration and anger about being a woman in 2020 with another woman was the key to embracing the female power within me, and feeling kinship and recognition in others. I suddenly saw all that I was missing by avoiding close relationships with women.

Don’t get me wrong, I love all of the friends in my life, regardless of gender. My partner and one of my closest friends are both men. And there is something to be said about sharing anger about an experience that is specifically female with another woman. My bestie and my partner both can empathize—and they do, quite well—but they will never truly understand my experiences without being a woman themselves.

I think I’ve subconsciously ignored aspects of my femininity for a long time. I spent most of my time with men, and never felt drawn to the interests of other women. I didn’t want to be like the women who hurt me. I didn’t want the feminine parts of myself that were judged or objectified to be seen by anyone, including myself.

I’m beginning to understand that hiding myself, any part of myself, is a disservice. Women have a history of being strong and powerful, and I am a contributor to that lineage. Now, instead of shying away from my feminine identity, I am choosing to step up and join hands with other strong and powerful women.

It’s time I step into my female power. It’s time I allow myself to share and listen and lean on women who are also aligned with my values and experiences. It’s time I channel my frustration and anger about the patriarchy and capitalism into passion, to enthusiastically lift up other powerful women and emphasize the strengths of being a woman that many in our dominant, patriarchal culture have ignored or dismissed for so long.

I’m proud to be a part of an amazing sisterhood of strong, beautiful, powerful women.


As I wrote this piece, I remembered a poem I once wrote about the women on staff at my eating disorder treatment center. Read it here.

I also want to recognize the amazing women I’ve met through Eat Breathe Thrive in the last few months. You all contributed to the inspiration for this post.

Authenticity over Approval

I’ve been experiencing a personal awakening lately. Some of which you read about in my Grey’s Anatomy post, and some you’ll read in future posts about emotions and activism. For now, however, I want to talk about authenticity.

I spent most of my life trying to be anyone but myself. In school, when I was bullied for the clothes I wore or the people I sat with at lunch, I spent years trying to fit into a more acceptable mold. I spent money I didn’t have on clothes that I thought would make me look cooler or more like “everyone else.” I spent time with people who didn’t share my values so that, if they accepted me, I could use them as a metric of my success or popularity. I posted content on social media that I told myself was authentic, but was really just a way to gain more likes, followers, or friends. I valued authenticity and independence above all else, but was too scared to actually live in accordance with those values. I was scared that if people saw the real me, they’d reject me.

After all those years of shoving myself into someone else’s ideal of what I “should” look, think, or act like, I still don’t have the things I craved since I was young. I could never find happiness in the clothes I bought, or friends in the amount of views I got on an Instagram story I had so carefully curated. Yet, I’ve discovered happiness and beautiful relationships despite those things…so I had to ask myself: Why do I waste precious time in my life trying to be someone else?! I will never fit into any mainstream ideal of what a woman should be, and I’m sick and tired of making myself smaller for anyone else’s benefit or comfort.

Being immunocompromised in this pandemic has forced me to spend a lot of uninterrupted time with myself. I’ve been blowing through journals, usually filling one within 3-4 weeks, which basically represents the amount of self-reflection and growth I’ve experienced in the last six months. The more I’ve gotten to know myself in quarantine, the more I’ve realized I want to become the person I want to be rather than the person I thought I should be.

After all of the self-reflection and journals I’ve gone through, I’ve decided to challenge myself to run towards the things that scare me. If I don’t, I will never truly know what I am capable of. Authenticity scares me. Showing people who I really am—including the parts of myself I want to hide away in deep, dark caves—absolutely terrifies me. But I’m done seeking approval from others, because their approval doesn’t matter. I matter. I choose me.

Caught in Black and White

Last night, a friend of mine sent me a folder of photos from a portrait shoot we did last week. I needed a new headshot for LinkedIn and asked my good friend, who happens to be a great photographer, to take them for me. Normally I hate being on the other side of the camera, but my previous LinkedIn photo was taken back in 2016 and I looked quite a bit different then. I let myself have fun during the shoot; I focused on my friend and allowed my weirdness to take over.

When I saw the photos last night, I cringed. Not because the photos themselves were bad—they were beautiful, in fact—but because I immediately saw the flaws in myself. I couldn’t even look at them longer than a few seconds because I didn’t see myself as a whole, I saw myself as small pieces to be picked apart.

I immediately began judging myself for judging myself. All I kept thinking was that I had made so much progress in the realm of body positivity, yet had failed epically in a crucial opportunity for self-love. Suddenly, I saw this small struggle as the demise of my capability to love myself. Yikes!

Not long after, I was able to pull away from the situation and look at it from a different angle. Not even a week ago, my therapist and I discussed my penchant for All or Nothing thinking. This mindset, also known as Black and White thinking, falls under the “Cognitive Distortion” category, and can trap you into feeling like things are either staunchly one way or the other, without anything existing in between. Examples include, but are not limited to, “If I don’t finish this task by tonight, I am a failure,” “I tried something new and made a mistake, so I will never be good at it,” and “I’m feeling frustrated with the people I work with, but they did a task correctly today, so everything is fine.” Double yikes!

Aha, but this is when dialectics come into play!

Thinking dialectically means acknowledging two things being true at the same time. For people who struggle with mental illness and/or eating disorders, this can be difficult. It’s easy to think that if you relapse it hurtles you backwards in your recovery, or even worse, it negates any and all of your progress. Let me set things straight: hiccups in recovery do not erase the progress you’ve made.

I’ll say it again, just to drive it home…You can struggle and be making progress. These two things can (and will) exist at the same time.

Last night, I experienced struggle. I looked at my 2-D face on the screen and couldn’t see the amazing qualities I’ve been discovering about myself lately. Picking apart my looks is my default mode right now. But I know now that it won’t always be. I am learning and growing and coming into my power. And part of that growth and stepping into who I was always meant to be means that I will stumble now and again.

I can stumble and be strong.