Your comfort zone is stifling you

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When doctors diagnosed my brother with obsessive-compulsive disorder, it made sense. His routines became a significant part of his daily life, and his behaviors defied normalcy.

As a child, every night before bed I completed my routine, my obsessions, and my compulsions. In order. Without fail. The colors of my walls changed dramatically, from pink to purple, to brown to pink, but my routine never changed.

After brushing my teeth, I peeked underneath the cloth draping the small circular table in the corner of my room.

Check.

I slid onto the floor, knees burning from rubbing against the white carpet. I lifted up the bed curtain.

Check.

I stepped into the bathroom linking my room to my brother’s and pulled back the shower curtain painted with brightly colored fish.

Check.

My obsessive and compulsive behaviors pale in comparison to others who suffer from the same disorder, but my consistent drive for peace and comfort resulting from a pattern or routine does not.

If I skipped a step or did something out of order, my adolescent mind raced with possibilities.

“There’s a murderer under your table. Waiting. The lights will turn out and he will jump out and kill you, then your family.” The obsession.

I crawled out of bed, blinking to adjust my eyes in the darkness and pushed my red-rimmed glasses over the bridge of my nose. I lifted the table cloth slightly, vision still adjusting to the darkness. Check. The compulsion.

For every routine I developed, in turn, I rewarded myself with a false sense of security. Like an equation, where y=mx+b, except where a mind-numbing and disillusioned routine equated to a perceived sense of safety.

I developed similar equations, except on a much grander scale, with my own life and effectively self-sabotaged anything and everything my mind found a “flaw” in.

I routinely pick everything in my life through with a fine-toothed comb, rather than living from a place of trust in myself to handle whatever situations might arise.

I imagine false scenarios based off of a maybe and act on them accordingly, and I live comfortably neither here nor there.

I live without risk, on many fronts. I focus on perfection rather than experience and fine-tune everything. I plan steps, actions, and moves months in advance to ensure absolute perfection on every front.

And everything that does not qualify as “perfect?” Well, buh-bye.

My comfort zone keeps me “safe,” and my comfort zone stifles learning experiences and life. My comfort zone creates unnecessary anxiety when things do not line up “perfectly” and my comfort zone keeps me hyper-focused on appearances and other’s opinions versus my own intuition and self-knowing.

BUT (because there’s always a but) I recognize when my comfort zone feels threatened. It’s easy to slip into the mindless behaviors I’ve developed, like initial anxieties, then subsequently distancing myself from a person or scenario (the obsession, then the compulsion, see?) and then repeating that process over and over again.

I know them, I see them, and guess what? I love them.

My comfort zone and anxiety and OCD and all the other coping mechanisms I’ve used served me once. And they created space for me to learn and discover myself outside of those limitations I once clung to.

Learning to recognize and accept the qualities you possess that are toxic to your self-development is crucial. Learning to love yourself exactly where you are, and love the parts of your journey that no longer serve you is just as crucial.

So from me, to me, with all the love, learn to step outside of your comfort zone. It’s stifling you.

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Building a foundation of self-love

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In the age of instant messaging, Instagram, and even instant food delivery services, we do not value processes that take time.

Taking things slow and enjoying the journey does not offer the instant gratification we thirst for every moment of our life, and often when things go slow, like relationships, jobs, friendships, and even simple things like traffic, we become flustered, bored and uninterested.

Realistically, for the entirety of my conscious life, I struggled with self-love.

I always weighed in 20 lbs. too heavy or chopped my hair the wrong way.

I participated in uncommon activities and enjoyed reading more than sports.

To adapt, I developed a coping mechanism based off of everyone else’s approval and carried these shaky roots throughout my teenage years and well into my young adult life.

I created my versions of happiness to coincide with friendships, relationships, or the “in thing.” Sure, I enjoyed hobbies and activities of my own, but everything I enjoyed took the back burner.

Quite frankly, my entire existence took the back burner until recently. Recently as in up until two years ago.

In February 2017 after the abrupt end to the most emotionally abusive and taxing relationship, I left without a drop of dignity, no sense of self, and absolutely no idea where to begin loving myself. I gave away everything I knew about myself in pursuit of a dead end.

Over the course of the past 24 months, I discovered one thing: digging a foundation and building self-love from the ground up does not come easy or quick.

The foundation of self-love, of course, includes bubble baths and sheet masks, but it includes a lot more that does not get discussed.

It includes crying yourself to sleep on the floor of your bedroom, laying bare your own imperfections and learning through practice not to look at your mistakes as core wounds against your identity but rather a natural course of life.

It includes f@*king up. A lot. In a lot of different ways.

It includes knowingly letting people treat you bad, just because you believe in the good, which eventually helps you gain perspective on what you do and do not want from a friend or from a partner.

It includes solitude. And more of it than you think you need. It includes going to bed alone night after night, simply to give yourself the space to exist in your own world, in your own mind, and in your own body completely and totally alone. Disclaimer: in a culture that manipulates us to believe intimate relationships define our worth, solitude does not come easy.

It includes a shit ton of unlearning the patterns you grew into as defense mechanisms. Like self-sabotaging relationships with unrealistic expectations. Like numbing out with drugs, alcohol, sex, and food. Like overworking in order to avoid feeling emotions we deem “shitty” such as sadness, anger, guilt or loneliness.

But most of all, building a foundation for self-love includes unwavering bravery to show the f@*k up each and every day for yourself because you love yourself. It requires a level of commitment and courage that will knock you down time and time again.

The journey of self-love never ends, because each and every one of us contains layer after layer to keep working through, but planting the roots firmly allows you to develop and expand beyond your wildest dreams.

I sat journaling about a new (and exciting!) potential intimate relationship today. Mostly, I wanted to give thanks to myself for never backing down in pursuit of what sets my soul on fire in a romantic partner, but I also wanted to reflect on the closure of a two-year long journey I’ve traveled alone.

I realize today that regardless of the outcome of this relationship, that I am thankful. I am thankful I was able to exchange time with someone who values me and recognizes me as a person. I am thankful for the fact that today, I realized no matter the outcome of anything in my life, I will continue to be whole, grateful, and wildly in love with myself.

Be your own Valentine

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In high school, each of the surrounding private high schools sold candygrams (or some version of Valentine) to the students leading up to Valentine’s day.

On the 14th, the girls crowded around the plastic tables in our cafeteria, giggling and searching for their name amongst the paper hearts and envelopes distributed from the boy’s schools to see if they got lucky that year.

Some came with a sucker or a chocolate bar. Some with a crudely drawn stick figure couple holding hands. The epitome of romance.

Other girls boyfriends would show up in the parking lot with a bouquet of roses and a teddy bear after school and they would cry and cover their mouths, delighting in the thoughtfulness.

And I would sit on the far end of the cafeteria, putting all of my attention into nibbling on a cookie and pretending I wasn’t bitter. I would walk to my car alone, windshield absent of an enveloped love letter and a declaration of undying love.

Year in and year out, I scowled at the Valentine’s gifts and the heart-shaped chocolate boxes dominating entire aisles of the grocery store.

I went to bed lonely, no texts and no calls from a knight in shining armor, ready to rescue me from the Valentine’s day blues.

And now, year in and year out, the days leading up to Valentine’s day are a barrage of angry women, shit-posting about men and saying “f#ck love!” because they’re single, but being force fed the narrative that in order to participate in the love-fest on the 14th you must be in a committed relationship.

We’re conditioned to see Valentine’s day as a “one or the other,” meaning, either you celebrate with a significant other or you swim around in “forever alone” memes and cry softly while watching a rom-com and polishing off a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. And on a deeper note, it is an antiquated social structure that teaches women to only see themselves as worthy and loved if a male-partner is in their life.

Valentine’s is a GREAT day to celebrate committed relationships, but it’s also a great day to celebrate love in ALL forms, not just romantic love. You can celebrate platonic love, self-love, family love, friend love, love for the planet, love for life, love for literally anything you could love.

Buy yourself the big expensive bouquet of deep red roses. Eat the chocolate covered strawberries with your best friend, and tell her all the reasons you love her. Go see a movie with your mom. Plant some flowers. Write down all of the things you love and decorate it and hang it up.

From the #ForeverAlone girl who was a self-proclaimed third wheel extraordinaire, take it from me, if you begin by fully committing to loving yourself it will ooze into every facet of your love and turn it all rosy red.

Let’s talk sexuality

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At 12, I stood clad in my best bathing suit. A bright red bikini with a thick knot at the nape of my neck and snug black bottoms.

The sun warmed blacktop driveway held my shaky legs with unwavering support as I leaned in to wrap my dripping arms around my neighbor, on his 13th birthday.

We stood there, soaking bodies entangled in a mess of fresh sunburns and hyperactive hormones raging wildly throughout our young adult bodies.

I backed away, dizzyingly intoxicated on the simple touch, let alone the touch of the hottest boy in the seventh grade. 

We snuck a few more hidden hugs in the garage or on the front porch, cloaked in the crisp darkness of the nighttime accented only by the brash orange glow of the streetlights.

That night I sank into my bed, roused in an unfamiliar manner and decidedly more adult. After all, a real woman hugs men, and that must mean I grew up in the span of a few hours.

My first dip into interactions with the opposite sex left me hungry for more. I felt that stirring, that interest, that adolescent curiosity piqued by a long and tan boy with lean muscles and dirty blond hair highlighted by the late June sun.

But. There’s always a but.

A laundry list of restrictions worked their way into my mind, and quickly.

I couldn’t be promiscuous. Boys don’t want used girls.

I couldn’t give too much. Be the girl a man wants to marry.

I couldn’t “do anything” with a boy unless we were exclusive with the boyfriend-girlfriend title slapped across our social media pages.

If I came off as too easy, there’s no way that a boy would want me. They like the chase. Boys like this, boys like that.

Before I even understood my own sexuality, it was effectively roped, wrangled and tied down within an inch of its own life.

How do I begin to explain the magnitude of the female sexuality’s repression when we are actively creating a culture that stifles female sexual expression in any way shape or form unless its commodified, exploited and broadcasted?

How do I begin to explain the way my skin crawls when I overhear conversations that reduce an entire woman, a human with blood, flesh, hopes, and dreams to “a slut.”

How do I begin to explain that there is a prominent social media account devoted simply to exposing the mistreatment women suffer through day after day at the hands of intimate partners or someone they met on a dating app?

How do I begin to explain the deep-seated mistrust of female sexuality and sexual expression when I don’t even understand the depths in which it exists in my own consciousness.

Sexuality is arguably one of the most taboo topics of conversation, so much so that a wide majority of my peers on a university campus don’t even know that the health and wellness center offers free STD testing. A basic and crucial part of healthy sexuality.

Century, after century, after century women have experienced oppression in unspeakable ways, and still do. Everywhere. In your communities, in your churches, in your schools and offices. Women, young girls, are still being allowed into the United States as child-brides from abroad.

Female sexuality is MUCH more than the manufactured and male-centric pornography (notably a widely available resource where many young men “learn about sex,” if it could even be called that) that focuses solely on male pleasure and again, commodifies women.

Sexuality is also not just sex. That’s one manifestation of it, but sexual energy goes far deeper than penetration by a man and woman (which, by the way, isn’t the only way to have sex?)

Sexual energy manifests in conscious movements, like that blissful feeling you get dancing with your friends or that slow burn in your thighs after a challenging yoga class. It manifests itself in the realization that as a woman, you are a natural creator, literally.

Sexual energy is a life force, a driving push from in that space below your belly button. It is that first bite of dark chocolate, melting on the tip of your tongue. It is the bravery that comes from within your stomach, that moves straight into your heart creating the fire to move forward. It is the gentle sway of your hips and the way your lover’s kisses explode on your mouth.

Female sexuality is not a commodity, a marketing tool, or a means to diminish your spark.

It is an unbridled power, raw and hot, sensual and fluid. Female sexuality is a warm spring wind and the knowledge that you are a creatrix and an innate force of nature, waiting to be understood by you.

The weight of weight

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I shifted nervously on the cheap white paper covering the examination table in my family’s primary care doctor’s office.

My doctor, a short Latin American woman with eyes capable of boring into your soul quizzed me on my eating habits after clicking her tongue disapprovingly at both my blood pressure and my weight.

“How often do you drink?” Maybe once a week, I responded truthfully.

“Do you smoke?” No ma’m, I countered.

“What’re your eating habits like?”

I described sharing food with my roommates, like chicken and broccoli for dinner. We share food, and we make dinners together, I told her.

“So, your roommates are obese then too?” she asked me, cocking her head to the side.

Suddenly, the room felt too bright. The plastic paper under my hips ripped as I readjusted my seat and the tearing sounded too loud. The blood rushed to my head and roared in my ears and I trained my eyes on a spot on the floor as the hot tears blurred my vision. I don’t remember responding to her or even leaving the office.

I stood in the elevator after the appointment, crowded with sick children and elderly patients. I clutched the suggested diet papers and a sickly green pamphlet in my hand cheerily advertising a weight loss medicine.

“Lose weight responsibly!” It advertised in bold white letters. Smaller font advertised side effects like increased depression, insomnia, confusion, anxiety, and constipation.

Growing up, I distinctly remember my “otherness.” I wasn’t quite here, but I also wasn’t quite there. I didn’t belong with the “popular” kids but I didn’t belong with the “dorky” kids either. I drifted somewhere in the middle, devouring books on the weekends and finding better company with horses than sports teams.

My otherness came primarily from the soft folds of skin blanketing my middle section and the “extra stretchy” pants with adjustable hooks my mom bought from Land’s End for me. She swore up and down it was just baby fat, even when I was in middle school, and promised that I would grow out of it someday.

I spent my adolescence worrying more about fitting into my own skin rather than intellectual pursuits or dreams and ambitions. When my 7th-grade boyfriend broke up with me, citing that I was “fat and weird,” it stung, but not any more than when the boys at my school gossiped about how I “only had big boobs because I was fat.”

I grew past the bullying, losing the baby fat by discovering a gym and joining a sports team. Feeling my feet slap against the treadmill made sense and I ran so hard my teeth buzzed in my head and my vision swam after I stepped off. I fit in, but only until an aggressive bout of seasonal depression returned the weight to the scale.

I never exercised or ate out of love for my body but rather as a punishment. I exercised to numb the feelings of inadequacy that crept up whenever a roll appeared on my tummy and I ate more/worse food to stifle the progress with a few moments of bliss.

At 21, when the doctor trained her brown eyes on my own, uttering the word “obese” I was that 13-year-old girl again. My entire existence, my thoughts, my ambitions, the experiences I lived through and the emotional trauma I suffered for countless years but overcame disappeared. My joys, my friends and family I loved, my schoolwork and my successes shrank into the background.

I was a word again, and societal expectations conditioned me to believe that word meant I was worthless. Diet programs, pyramid schemes, and gym advertisements constantly reinforce a culture that decries being fat and emphasizes only weight loss, not conscious exercise and eating for health.

The ads on social media focus on “losing weight fast” and “burning fat instantly” with detox teas, over-priced plastic wrap slathered with chemicals and unrealistic weight loss routines. It condones obsessive calorie counting, extreme dieting and ill-informed advice masquerading as medical facts.

Our feeds are doctored, filtered and perfected with good lighting and better angles. We’re spoon fed the idea that in order to be someone or something, we need to look like Kim K or any other fitness guru.

It convinced me, and many others like me that I am useless, worthless, undeserving of love and invaluable because of my number on a scale.

I sat in my car after the appointment with my eyes staring off into the distance. Tears and wickedly hot emotion lodged itself in my throat, but the tears wouldn’t come.

I love myself. I loved myself, I thought.

But there I stood, unable to even meet my own eyes in the mirror that night when I peeled my clothes off for a shower. The jagged red lines striped across my hips and belly mocked me, taunted me, and aggressively reminded me that all the weight I once lost came back with vengeance.

“But I’ve already been through this,” I cried, to no one in particular. I rested my head between my knees while I sat on the dirty shower floor and let the hot water scald my skin. “I figured it out. I love myself, I don’t need to feel this way anymore. I learned my lesson, it’s over,” I sobbed.

I resented my body. Her, the vessel that carried me through heartbreak time after time. The gracefully long fingers and the wheat-colored hair, curled to perfection, tumbling down my back. The green eyes with flecks of brown, gold, and blue that shined in unique glory in the different light.

I resented my mind, thinking of her as too weak to withstand even a little pressure. I resented her for believing she loved herself only to an extent. I resented myself for believing I figured it out, the battle with self-love only to discover that on a deeper level, I had not figured it out.

But most of all, I resented myself for my weight.

I obsessed over my appearance, but not outwardly. I didn’t hit the gym again to start the brutal cycle all over again, but rather I avoided it at all costs. I ate anything and everything I wanted, knowing I would gain weight in all the wrong places and grow to despise myself again, but not quite caring. I became so numb to the hatred for myself that I let it die. I let it shrink into the smallest corner of my psyche and exist there, unheard and unseen.

In September, I woke up with a revelation. I do love myself. And because I love myself, I will take care of myself.

Not because a fitness blogger told me to, but because I want to. Not because I wanted a boy to like me so I should be skinnier, but because it makes me feel better. Not because my pants hugged my hips too tight, but because my sweet body craved the gentle and conscious movement I could give it.

I started slow. I went back to yoga, even if it was only once a week. I worked on my poses outside of class, and even began running again. I kept working slow, only running a few steps before walking the rest. I treated myself to whatever movement felt best in that moment whether my only activity that day was a light stretch before bed or a 2-mile run on the track.

In the end, all it took was silence. Listening to my body and saying F*CK YOU to the idea that every time I go to the gym, I have to go so hard that my head rings and my heart fumbles wildly in my chest.

I said F*CK YOU to over-eating only to fill the void I did or didn’t feel.

I said F*CK YOU to the diets, the starvation, the binging, the disordered eating and the unhealthy exercise patterns.

I said F*CK YOU to the guilt I felt every time I ate a “bad” food that made me feel like I needed to exercise right then and there to avoid the consequences. I said F*CK YOU to the endless cycle I trapped myself in, fluctuating up and down on the scale only to despise myself either way.

Every day, I still challenge myself to look into the mirror and not pick apart my body. Somedays, when I see the small pool of fat bubbling over my jeans or the extra width on my hips, I am reminded of the feelings I’ve harbored for so long simply out of familiarity with the self-loathing, and often, those days outnumber the “good ones.”

But the days when I look at myself and see not only milky white flesh freckled with tattoos and scars but bravery, vulnerability and humanity, I am reminded of my worthiness not because I look or act a certain way, but because I am deserving of the best day of my life EVERY DAY simply because I am.

The year of the growth

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It’s commonplace around each and every new year to lament the struggles of the previous 12 months.

The clocks start ticking faster, and we “didn’t have enough time to accomplish what we wanted,” or “this year kicked my ass, next year will be better!” and with every post on social media, our outlooks moving forward turn dimmer and dimmer. We rarely focus on the successes, the accomplishments and the growth and change we undergo in a year.

We often negate the noteworthy aspects of our years in order to reaffirm that we’re not worthy and deserving of good things and we’re “constantly broken” and in need of fixing (i.e. new years resolutions) instead of celebrating yet another solar return and creating do-able goals and affirmative changes in our lives.

In 2018, I discovered life-altering truths and began putting them into motion. I’ve clarified boundaries, come to terms with taking my personal and mental health seriously, and I’ve come immensely far professionally, academically, socially and personally.

While the growth I experienced wasn’t comfortable by any means, I learned this: I am worthy.

I am worthy of creating positive change in my life, not because I am inherently broken or wrong, but because I deserve the best experiences possible.

I am worthy of consistency. Whether the consistency is in friendships, platonic relationships or intimate relationships, I am worthy of commitment, consistency and someone who shows up to participate in my life actively.

I am worthy of health. Not just because I “need to lose weight” but because treating my body, mind and spirit with healthy respect is the ultimate form of self-love.

I am worthy of success. The doors opening for me and the opportunities rushing in are not simply bouts of extreme luck but the result of hard work and dedication.

I am worthy of being the creator of my best life yet, and that will not change because of the numbers on the calendar.

We are all deserving and worthy of our best lives no matter what cultural norms might dictate. Every day, whether it’s the new year or halfway through the year, we are still deserving and worthy simply because we exist as “divinity, made of flesh and bones” (from the song Todo by Tona, seriously one of my 2018 top 10s!).

Although we’re continuously bombarded with rhetoric suggestions we’re not enough and not yet worthy and deserving of the best life has to offer, it’s rebellious to believe otherwise and even more rebellious to create a life around it.

2019 will inevitably bring struggles, but as does every year. To be cliche, the struggles are only as great as what you make of them and although growth is uncomfortable its the greatest catalyst for unbelievable change.

What if it worked out?

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What if I don’t find a job when I graduate? 

What if I never find someone to love? 

What if I’m not happy with my career path?

What if something happens to the people I love, the friends I cherish and the world I’ve created so carefully for myself? 

What if it doesn’t work out in the end? 

In my brief 22 years, I’ve had a lot of unhappy endings. Things that didn’t work out and doors that slammed in my face, and through the course of those unhappy endings, I’ve taught myself repeatedly to choose pessimism over optimism and negativity over positivity. I’ve discovered the lessons in these unhappy endings, but I’ve never felt truly satisfied. My life is a constant search for something more because what if what I already have doesn’t work out? What if my current situation isn’t good enough now, or later?

And to be honest, why wouldn’t I feel this way? There’s a certain comfortability in believing that nothing will work out. There’s a strange transfer of ownership for your own life and your own actions when you commit to believing that nothing could ever possibly go the way you want it to. There’s a bizarre pressure (FROM SOCIAL MEDIA) to function in exactly the same way as our peers. There’s an invisible timeline hanging over each and every one of our heads that expects unrealistic tally marks to be checked at each and every “milestone.”

But what if it worked out? 

What if you do get a job when you graduate, but it’s not the same one you would’ve chosen for yourself, it’s something even better? Or what if you do get the job you want, in the location you want, with great pay and an even better work environment?

What if you do find love, but it’s not in the same month or year as everyone else? What if your love is growing and changing and finding themselves, only so that they can be the best version of themselves when you do finally meet? Or what if your love is sitting right in front of you, simply waiting for you to believe that things will work out?

What if your career path takes one turn after another and suddenly, you’re doing something you would’ve never imagined in your wildest dreams? Or what if you chose the right career path and you find fulfillment in the choices you made, regardless of what it looks like on the outside?

What if? 

We spend more time focusing on what isn’t working vs. what is working, and it makes sense. Our society is driven by results-based performance and hinges on the belief that we are inherently broken and in constant need of “fixing,” so why wouldn’t we apply the same belief system to our lives? We’re under consistent pressure to look, act, think and behave in a uniform manner in order to achieve happiness or perfection. 

The reality is that we are creating our own reality every step of the way and that as long as you’re putting your best effort forth to create a life you love, you’re not “doing it wrong.”

If its taken you five, six or seven years to graduate instead of four: you’re still doing it. 

If you’re the only one in your social circle without a significant other: you’re still deserving of love. 

If your job isn’t salaried when everyone else’s is: you’re still getting up everyday and working on building a future. 

If something happens that disrupts your comfortability: you’re still in charge of you, how you feel and how you react. Do the work and create a better world for yourself. 

We’re conditioned not to trust ourselves to do what’s in our own best interest no matter the circumstance. We’re conditioned to believe that if your life doesn’t live up to the expectations imposed by external factors, that somehow you’re not worthy. We’re conditioned to believe that life is about the end game, not the journey. 

So, what if it does work out? What if everything, even now, is just as it should be? And if it doesn’t work out, what’s coming down the road that’s even better? 

I’m learning how to be “mean,” please be nice.

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“You could literally punch me in the face, and I probably wouldn’t care!” is the line I’ve told countless people over the course of my life.

I say it more to over-exaggerate the intensity of my chill demeanor, but somewhere along the way, I adopted that attitude.

As a young girl, I breathed fire and stomped out negativity. I called people on their shit, I took names and collected debts. But blind rage gave way to age and maturity and suddenly I lost all sense of boundaries, and the same courage to demand respect for myself. I became complacent, as many women do, in order to be seen but not heard by men.

So what do you do when you have no boundaries? Well, you overexert yourself under the pretense of “nice” and you let your own feelings take the backseat. I lived to serve the emotions of others as a comfortable way to ignore the things I felt, that I didn’t want to feel.

Deep in the throes of one of many therapy sessions I’ve sat through, I learned that I’ve used “nice” as a defense mechanism to being hurt. If I’m over-the-top almost disingenuously nice 24/7, then how could anyone in their right mind be “mean” to me, let alone hurt me substantially?

Spoiler alert: it didn’t work like that.

Initially, when I started down the path of self-discovery, I resonated with the “good vibes only” movement heavily because it defocused negative emotions and excused me from being accountable for the icky emotions I did feel.

Good vibes only was a convenient band-aid to cover up the wounds I refused to recognize. Good vibes only justified coasting on auto-pilot with “nice” as the default setting in any and every situation, no matter the circumstance.

Here’s the truth: being “nice” and “positive” all the time is overrated. Don’t get me wrong, I would never intentionally wake up one day and look to rain on someone’s parade, that’s just not my style. My default will always be nice, but I am learning to walk two paths at once and give myself healthy boundaries.

An essential element of healthy boundaries is recognizing the circumstances that demand a different attitude from you, and unfortunately, that attitude is not always nice. Sometimes, you have to be “mean,” which for women, is often just stern, blunt or assertive. Words that would be used to describe men’s attitudes, but not women’s.

Sometimes, you need to demand that your needs be met, you need to fight to keep yourself front and center in your own life, and you need to advocate for yourself in the face of disrespect.

Sometimes, you need to understand that “nice” will not always be the better option and that the human experience doesn’t allow for good vibes only.

Sometimes, you need to rage and cry and scream in the face of injustices and sometimes you need to look someone directly in the eye and tell them to get lost.

Sometimes you need to unlearn that which you’ve been taught, so please, while I’m learning to be “mean,” be nice.

Consent on the internet

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Last week, I had a conversation with a woman who shoots boudoir photography and about the “creepy” people that come with it.

The conversation went much the same as the many that I’ve had with other women throughout my years as a young adult.

She had a man that repeatedly called her and he wanted to talk about a descript sexual fetish. Instead of dismissing his sexual fetish and desire for sexual attention, she noted that while his wants and needs are perfectly normal, what’s not normal is that she did not consent to participating in his fetish.

There’s a lot of conversation surrounding consent today. Those conversations touch on consent in a potential sexual encounter, but what those conversations rarely touch on is consent on the internet, via social media or texting.

When I was barely a teenager, I frequently received text messages from boys or men containing either explicit pictures or “what is your bra size?” From an early age, I learned to brush them off. To laugh and roll my eyes, not to rock the boat. To respond with something off-topic or to say something sarcastic because when I rocked the boat, I was called a bitch or a prude and immediately shunned.

As I got older, it never changed. Only it turned into “send me a picture” or “let me tell you about my sexual fantasies.” The unsolicited pictures of genitals and the inappropriate memes sent to me at all hours of the day continue to pile up, and in most scenarios, I ignore them because it happens so frequently. I literally cannot be bothered to say something because it HAPPENS SO OFTEN. 

This is not just a “once in a while” problem. This is a weekly and sometimes daily occurrence that happens to women whether they’re in a relationship or not.

Over the past week, I started a conversation with a man who seemed to have a lot in common with me. We chatted about hockey and exchanged numbers on a dating app. The polite questions quickly turned into “so what’re you looking for?” and without a response from me, turned into “I want someone to have hot kinky fun with.” It continued, still, without a response from me to “what are you doing tonight?” and more sexually explicit messages.

And for the first time since the world conditioned me to be soft, I was mad. Like red hot mad.

If someone tried to describe their sexual fantasies to me without my active participation or consent in person, the experience would transpire much differently, so why do I continue to be friendly and polite towards these men who are sexually harassing me on the internet? Why do I, and many other women, continue to turn the other cheek and not call out this behavior?

We’re conditioned to quell our rage and stifle our anger. We’re conditioned, partly for our own safety, not to react the way we should. If we react in any way other than submission we might be subject to emotional or physical violence, so we quietly tuck away the uncomfortable feelings and continue with our days.

I am not advocating for violence and aggression, but rather for directive anger and assertive confidence. I am advocating for women to advocate for themselves and set their boundaries with hard and firm lines. It’s weird, it’s uncomfortable and it doesn’t feel right to call out someone’s shitty behavior, especially when you don’t know them. But, it’s disrespectful and no one is entitled to share their sexual thoughts with me or anyone else without their permission.

Sexual harassment is sexual harassment whether its face to face or on the internet. If I am not consenting to pictures, details or any other unsolicited form of a sexual approach, it is sexual harassment.

Advocating for yourself and demanding respect in all spheres of your life is difficult and uncomfortable but an absolute necessity.

Physical health and me

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My life revolves around routines.

In the morning, I wake up and go to the bathroom. I stumble sleepily upstairs and make my coffee. Green mountain breakfast blend in the Keurig. I add a generous portion of almond milk.

In the evening, I do the same, except with other activities. I shower. I put on my moisturizer. I brush my teeth. Take out my contacts. Put on chapstick. Put on lotion. Get in bed.

It’s no surprise that my life centers around routines with the pipeline of genetic OCD running rampant in my family.

So to add something new to my routine takes time and effort. It takes consideration, planning, a few more weeks of planning on top of that and then deliberation before execution. All of these specifics made it oh so deliciously easy to excuse not working out and taking care of my physical self.

As the self-proclaimed self-love guru, I don’t want to admit something. My physical health resembles a dumpster fire. Maybe a dumpster fire in an affluent neighborhood with only old bottles of scented soaps burning, but a burning fire nonetheless.

The last few months, I’ve sat in a rut. Not a deep one, but I know I’m in one. The constant thoughts flooded back into my head: why am I not pretty enough? Why do I look like this? And the anxiety-inducing thought of: have I been lying to myself this whole time? Do I really not love myself?

It made me upset because, well… who am I if I’m not in love with myself? I’m the shepherd of a really tiny flock of women (and maybe men?) who often tell me how courageous my self-love is and how “they wish they were me,” because I own my shit and I know my worth.

Still, with the constant reassurance of my friends that I am loved and that I am beautiful the words just didn’t resonate. The normal things I do to remind myself that I am worthy just weren’t working. No matter how many warm baths I took and despite the never-ending flow of face masks, naps and hot tea, I still felt off.

I’m almost finished with Rachel Hollis’ book Girl, wash your face when I happened upon the chapter “The Lie: I am defined by my weight.” I cringed. I almost put the book down and never picked it up again. After therapy, years of unlearning the shit I’ve been conditioned and some valuable alone time, the topic of weight CONTINUES to haunt me and continues to be my biggest vulnerability.

Long story short, I had a revelation after reading this chapter: I’m not fully loving myself, because I’m not taking care of ALL of myself.

I’ve made excuse after boring excuse as to why I can’t work out. Why I can’t eat well and drink my water. Why I sleep too long in the mornings when I don’t have class and why I say “not today” when the yoga class up the street is calling my name.

I quite literally used the excuse of “self-care” nights to deny myself MORE LOVE.

My life has been an uphill battle with self-love. I spent year after year, my weight rising and falling with my moods. I’d get “skinny” and still hate myself. I’d gain all the weight back, then continue to hate myself. Then, I’d lose all the weight and the cycle would continue to repeat like that.

When I finally put my foot down and refused to continue that vicious cycle, I never picked up the aspect of physical self-love again. Partly because I actually loathe traditional forms of exercise but also because to me, working out never meant being healthy. It meant running from my problems and using the intense exercise to cope with my “unwanted feelings,” and I needed to learn how to love myself mentally before I committed physically.

Repeating things like “I will love myself for the skin I’m in” was a comfortable barrier from the reality: I’m not doing the best I can with my circumstances and I’m not prioritizing ALL aspects of my health.

I woke up Saturday morning feeling better than I have in months. I went for a light jog, choked on my own air and threw in the towel half a mile in but damnit I did it. I went home and did YouTube yoga in my living room and had an absolute blast.

I prioritized myself, and when I prioritized myself even my strict OCD mandated routines allowed it to happen. I didn’t explode, nor did it ruin my day.

And I felt great because for the first time, I exercised because I love myself. Not in spite of myself or because a doctor or a friend or a lover told me to. I did it because all those times I felt “down” on myself in the past month, it wasn’t that I didn’t love myself, it was that I loved myself enough to recognize that something wasn’t meshing and to make the difference, even if it took a lot of courage and self-realizations.