Hi all. I have an announcement to make- I won’t be blogging anymore.
For a few months, before the start of 2021, I debated between two choices I gave myself in regards to the direction my blog would go in. The first was that I start being consistent with my work and content- to post every week and start gaining steadier traffic. After all, ever since I started my blog, many people had questions or comments about what I was doing with it, giving unsolicited advice on what I should do and how I could make $$$ because that’s what is done with many hobbies nowadays (i.e. how can I monetize this???). Part of me really wanted that, to be some sort of “influencer”, to have my words heard, to help people. I could be like my favorite youtubers or bloggers or influencers.
The second was that I let go of my blog completely. I’d been thinking about it for awhile because part of me always wanted to disappear. The thought of that was my sanctuary, but the feeling of writing and completing a post to share was satisfying as well.
There are so many ideas of what I could be. I’d spend so much time dreaming of them and note being them. In January, I chose the first option. And I tried it for a very short bit, but I quickly noticed my creativity suffering. My head went silent and stopped whispering ideas to me. I really struggle to follow the algorithm. And the last thing I’d ever want is for my writing to be a job or work. I am a storyteller, and a lot of what I write I don’t have to think about. It comes to me because it wants to be told. That is what makes writing and creation so magical.
I never started this blog for money. I never started it for any reason other than the fact that it gave me a voice. It was out of pure love for writing. It was a way to share! My pieces come sporadically, are not the length of an average blog post, can’t be forced, and are grown organically in my mind.
There’s a significant part about the writer in me that is reclusive. And to an extent, I honored that in the past few years by posting whenever I wanted. But I went against myself by following someone else’s notion of what’s right- how to write the right way. I’m not an influencer, not a blogger either- that label never felt right in the first place. And I will never be anyone other than me.
I no longer want to be anyone other than me and who I am becoming. I want to keep dreaming, but I also want to do and fully embody what it is that I want with the time that I am on this great Earth. I want rest. And I will create until the end of my days because it is part of why I came here. It’s a part of so many aspects of my life. Writing will always be a part of who I am and what I do- just not publicly anymore. Making this decision broke my heart, but at the same time opened it and what was really needed for my personal growth. Visionary Orchid is part of my identity, but it is time to part ways for now.
For those of you who supported me and read my art- thank you. I hope it touched you in some way and encourage you to keep creating in any way you can. Always do what is right for you in the moment and what feels good. Don’t settle for anything less than what YOU want.
Herbs to Calm, Balance, and Restore Your Nervous System
I’ve needed more than just lifestyle changes to make a dent in my health. Anxiety, stress, restlessness, and overwork honestly weren’t things I could change all by myself. My body needed help coming back to itself. It had to restore proper function but was all out of whack. There were days along the way I needed more encouragement, a push in the right direction, and days I needed to feel less alone. Sometimes I just needed a little something to quiet my thoughts, like Piper methysticum (Kava), or something to make me feel safe and held after a long day, like Avena sativa (Oats).
The plants have been great friends to me in many ways. When I’ve felt lost or in need, the plant world has lent a leaf, a root, or a petal. The trees have swayed my way when I needed a hug, and they’ve picked me up from the ground when I thought it might be time to return home. The flowers have laughed with me on the days where the sun was beaming brightly through my window, and at the same time, stood with me when my head hung low, mirroring their resilience into me.
When I’m in search of comfort or a confidant, I often turn to my apothecary. The plant world is filled with such mysticism, knowledge, wisdom, and truth, as well as radical love and care. As a studying herbalist, I often experiment with the plants that come my way- sometimes in hopes that I’ll feel a little better. And not to my surprise, they have shined.
Adaptogens are a class of herbs that work to keep our bodies in balance, operating non-specifically to help us adapt to changes within and without ourselves. They work on many different factors and help to regulate/normalize organ and system function. These herbs are generally labeled as ‘non-toxic’.
You may have heard the word ‘adaptogen’ before. This is likely because they’ve become increasingly popular in recent years. When I first heard of adaptogens, I was working in a café that carried Moon Juice– a fancy LA brand that makes herbal products. Adaptogen sounded exotic and intriguing, as I’m sure it does to you. It drew me in with the possibility of stress and anxiety regulation, improved memory, and better focus. I didn’t know much about herbs at the time, so I bought into it (mentally and financially!). And to be honest, I wasn’t disappointed.
Many herbs worked great for me. Unfortunately, most of the popular supplements on the market were pricey for an 18-year-old college student, so I eventually stopped using them. There was still a twinkle in my eye that I was in reach of being able to heal myself (affordably).
Nervines are a class of herbs that work on the nervous system (hence the name). These herbs promote calmness, support stress, and can act as sedatives. These are also commonly used herbs like Matricaria chamomilla (Chamomile) or Lavandula angustifolia (Lavender). They can help us deal with what we’re facing head-on or work overtime, whether that be winding down before bed or building our reserves back up. Nervines can be tonics (help strengthen and restore the nervous system), relaxants (put us at ease and relax), or stimulants (stimulate the nervous system or act as a pick-me-up).
Nervine tonics and relaxants are what I’ll be focusing on today because they act more to soothe stress/anxiety and help to restore the nervous system.
I believe plants are powerful ancient medicine. In this post, I steered away from some of the typical herbs you may hear about for stress and anxiety because I wanted to shed the spotlight on some of my personal favorites. These are herbs I’ve tried, worked with, and feel comfortable with- though your own experience with these herbs (if you decide to try them) will be entirely unique.
5 Plant Allies to Help You Balance Out & Experience More Peace
1. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha is a compelling nightshade, native to India and Africa, and goes by other common names such as Winter Cherry. It’s an adaptogen and nervine that can help improve sleep quality, rebalance the stress response, and address fatigue, exhaustion, and anxiety. And though it is fantastic as a nervine, it also helps stimulate thyroid function, has long been used as a sexual tonic, and is high in iron.
I find Ashwagandha to be especially helpful before bed. I’m a ‘wired but tired’ person who needs help winding down after a stimulating day. I often find it hard for me to just stop working because I feel like I need to get everything done in a day. Ashwagandha grounds me, keeps me present, and reminds me that I need to rest. Ashwagandha holds me in a loving grip, much like Mother Earth, and carries me back to where I should be.
How to Make: I like to make golden mylk with Ashwagandha, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Ginger, Black Pepper, and honey. Or sometimes I’ll make a hot cocoa with Cacao and Ashwagandha. It doesn’t combine well with water, so it’s best to do so in something ‘fatty’ like ghee, milk, or mylk. You can add it to your morning oats too! 2 tsp in 12oz of liquid (best simmered).
Valerian is a calming nervine that’s great for nervous tension, anxiety, and restlessness. It’s an amphoteric herb, which means it normalizes function (in this case, that would be functions of the nervous system). Valerian also works to help insomnia and reduce the number of times you awake throughout the night.
Valerian is a superstar for anxiety. I know someone who swears by it, even after being on prescription anti-anxiety medication for years, and remarks that if they knew of Valerian, they would’ve used that all along. Valerian has been a great ally to help me fall asleep and calm my anxiousness that prevents good sleep. I don’t take Valerian during the day because it makes me a little too sleepy.
How to Make: I often mix it with Chamomile and Lavender to help mask the very peculiar sticky/musky, but also sweet, smell and taste it has. I take about 1 tsp of each herb and add it to my mug, then steep for 20 minutes.
Where You Can Find It: I prefer Valerian in its tincture form if I have nothing else to mix it with because of its taste.Herb Pharm makes a good quality tincture of valerian. If you choose to purchase Valerian, you would want the root, and you can find that at your local herb shop. Starwest Botanicals also has valerian root in bulk. Pukka has some of the best tea I’ve ever tried and has a lovely night-time blend with valerian root in it.
3. Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
Also known as Tulsi, Holy Basil is a nootropic, nervine, and adaptogen. Nootropic refers to improving cognition or memory. Holy Basil helps enhance focus and concentration. And it is an uplifting herb that doesn’t stimulate, as well as a calming herb that doesn’t sedate. It’s a perfect balance. Holy Basil is also a tonic to the brain and nervous system.
Holy Basil is truly one of my most beloved herbs. I drink the tea throughout the day (every day) and have seen many improvements in my mental health, clarity, and mood- not to mention it smells and tastes beautiful. I used to really struggle with a foggy mind, waking up tired and staying tired throughout the day. Since I started drinking Tulsi tea, I feel rejuvenated, refreshed, and clear.
How to Make: 1 tbsp to 12oz of water, steep 20 minutes.
Milky Oat Tops are a wonderfully nourishing nervine- high in magnesium and gentle for anxiety. ‘Milky’ refers to the stage in which the oat tops are harvested. When harvested fresh and you press on the oat top, a white mucus emerges- thus milky.
Milky Oat Tops are for people who are overworked and depleted- people who have run themselves dry. This is for those of you who are burnt out and need long term support to build up your reserves. Oat tops help restore the nervous system.
Though the touch of Milky Oats is light and gentle, the medicine is potent. For me, drinking a tea of Milky Oats feels so supportive. I add them to pretty much every tea I make because they are such a lovely addition. They’re sweet and synergize with many other herbs.
Milky Oats are best for long term use in order to feel the effects. It’s a plant you have to get to know and sit with for a while. And time spent with this plant is never wasted because the benefits are unmatched.
How to Make: 1 tbsp of dried milky oat tops in 12oz of water, steep 20 minutes to overnight.
Where You Can Find It:Foster Farm Botanicals has good quality dried milky oat tops. If you’re looking for a tincture or the dried herb elsewhere, make sure it was harvested in the milky stage. Also for a tincture, the herb should be bottled fresh.
5. Kava (Piper methysticum)
Kava is a relaxing nervine originating in the Pacific Islands. It is best at relaxing tension- whether that be physical or emotional. Kava helps improve focus, concentration, soothes anxiety, and can help with insomnia. It’s also indicated for racing thoughts.
The first time I tried Kava, I was having trouble falling asleep because there were too many thoughts on my mind. It was late, but I just wasn’t tired. I laid there in the dark, mind wandering. I took the recommended dosage of a tincture, and it felt like something was lifted off my shoulders. Literally- the tension I was carrying in my shoulders was relieved. The overbearing chatter had disappeared, and suddenly, I was sleepy! Though Kava is not a sedative, it may make you think it is because it eliminates whatever’s keeping you up.
There are such places called “Kava Bars” scattered across the country, where people go like they would a bar, but instead enjoy a cup of Kava (no alcohol involved). I have not been to one, but I’ve heard good things. Kava has a special quality about it that helps people in social or group settings connect better.
It’s important to note that this herb is not for long term use. It is best used occasionally. The FDA warns that Kava has been linked to rare, but serious liver injury.
How to Make: Kava tastes good on its own, but I like to mix it with Cacao to make Kava Cocoa. Sometimes before bed, I’ll mix it with Blue Lotus and Cacao to ease me into the dream world. 1-2 tsp simmered for 20 minutes should do the trick.
Where You Can Find It: I like the Kava tincture from Herb Pharm, but you can also purchase kava in bulk from Starwest Botanicals or your local herb shop.
I think it’s important to discuss that all of these herbs have been around long before you and I walked this Earth. They have been used, experienced, and cared for for centuries- way before they were ‘trendy’ and ‘cool’ to add to your iced coffee.
All these fancy/pretty/popular brands are actually quite expensive, but what is the true quality of their products? Where are they coming from?
Most of the time, herbs aren’t something you hear about unless it’s a fad- unless someone is promising you an overnight cure. Most of the time, these products, and the conversation itself, are out of reach to the general public and people who most need them. Herbs have become something to capitalize off of, instead of as a way to care for the community and build a relationship with the environment.
Let’s think about how trends affect the plants themselves and their communities. Sacred plants like Ayahuasca have been made so available, but at what cost? Trends can destroy the environment and local economies and also be harmful to traditional culture.
Think about who you choose to give your money to. When possible- choose the organic, sustainable, and local option. Ask yourself- is there another, more sustainably harvested and crafted plant, or plant that grows in your area that you can use instead? A plant being sold at your local farmer’s market or one that’s right in your backyard as opposed to that exotic plant everyone’s talking about? There may be something native to your area or even an ‘invasive weed’ that can do more justice to your specific needs. (Not to steer away from the possibility that a popular plant may actually be what you need!)
Herbs are not one-size-fits-all. They are unique. They have personalities, just like you! And you may find one that matches yours that will work twice as good.
To get the most out of the herbs you work with, I suggest having a consultation with an herbalist or visiting your local herb shop (if you have one) to chat with an herbalist. It may be best for you to take certain herbs under professional supervision. If you’re taking any medications or have any medical issues, it’s important to speak with your doctor before taking any herbs. And of course, always do your research.
She stands firm, her two bare feet, still, on a blue yoga mat. Slowly and elegantly, she begins to move in her flow, reaching her crane-like neck towards the starry, candlelit ceiling and stretching her arms as if they were feather-covered, beginning to take flight. She bows to herself, and in this safe feeling, she begins to let go- letting her body move itself. She notices how it feels to be moved by movement. Her naked belly swings in freedom. Her hands lovingly caress each limb. The left and right meet in the middle and do their own dance, entangling and breaking apart over and over, feeling the air as if it was a velvety fabric. Her hips sway in seduction of the mirror, of the moon, of herself. The room becomes a mirage of the deep purple sky, and the floor below is the cold, dark ground. She stands somewhere between Heaven and Earth- at the same time, in both places at once. She stands, calling back to her body, calling out to home. For once, her body is hers. No one watches. No hungry hands reach for grabbing. She is sexy and gross in movement, strong and delicate as she chooses to convey. She is the sole generator of the yin and yang within her- they twirl in sacred space. She rejoices and lifts the Earth with her, laughs with her whole being.
-the piece of love she gives back to herself after a long day.
I remember being so excited to get my first period when I was younger. And when I finally got it, I felt special (as I should). I was changing and so was my body. I felt like I was becoming a woman. I was finally experiencing my wonderful rite of passage.
Though I had my special moment, it slowly turned to humility. It rotted in my memory. I’d come to forget the magic of my first moments exploring my body- as it would soon turn into a weapon. And though I’d felt powerful and untamed in my skin, I would soon be told to cover up, to hide.
My public school education affirmed these beliefs. My 6th grade science teacher taught us how to hide our pads and tampons, so no one would know we were on our period. The world wasn’t supposed to know because bleeding was disgusting. And we should absolutely, never talk about what we were going through, unless it was in private. Over and over we would hear how we were bitches because we were on our period (“She must be on her period.”). We weren’t allowed to just feel things. We weren’t allowed to stand our ground or express how we felt. We weren’t allowed to be strong in our own right.
I sat with a textbook in my palms, written by a man, open to the page on the female reproductive system, and was taught that you bleed for one week of your cycle- and that’s that. Female body parts are for babies and male pleasure. I got no explanation of how my hormones orchestrated a symphony in my body throughout the month. No explanation as to why I was experiencing PMS- that was apparently normal. No explanation as to why I ended up developing debilitating period pain. They never even attempted to explain the parts of the vagina. The female orgasm was never talked about and thought of as unimportant. In fact, there was no complexity to the female body at all!
Who was I supposed to ask questions to when I felt too ashamed to speak up? When I didn’t have the right words to ask questions (though I’d think to myself, what does this do?)? Why is such important information kept from us? Objectified and sexualized, I was meant to be kept quiet and ignorant to my own body.
Knowledge is power, right? Learning about my body and body parts was a part of how I began reclaiming myself. I felt like something had been taken away from me, or at least hidden. It was belonging to someone else, and they had the control. Because of this, I struggled to connect to myself on what seems like such a simple level. What I knew was my mind, not my body.
Luckily, you can find almost anything on the internet. And in today’s climate, I see women everywhere reclaiming their power. I see female educators taking storm and teaching not just the youth, but all of us. I honestly didn’t learn the complete truth about my body and cycle until about a year (maybe more) ago. And I’m fortunate enough to have access to some awesome books and teachers who’ve educated me on the reproductive system, as well as the cycles it goes through.
THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE
The female body not only operates on the circadian rhythm (lasting 24 hours), but also the infradian rhythm. The infradian rhythm is a biological clock that lasts about a month. There are two phases overall, which can be split again in two. These are the proliferative phase (1st day of menstruation to ovulation) and the luteal phase (ovulation to next period). These can then be split into; menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal. Throughout this duration, your hormones shift, affecting your energy levels, cravings, moods, etc..
THE FOUR PHASES:
1. Menstrual Phase (Day 1-5)
Your uterine lining is being shed and pushed out of the body because there was no conception, thus no implantation. There’s a drop in progesterone. This phase is characterized by low hormones levels and a low basal body temperature (BBT), which will be reflected as less than 37 degrees celsius (<37).
This is the time to rest and reflect. Be honest with yourself, as you can see things clearly. Reevaluate aspects of your life. Notice how that makes you feel. Trust your intuition, and do what feels right to you. Engage in light activities like yoga or walking, and know it’s okay to feel vulnerable. I personally don’t feel very social when I’m menstruating, so it’s a good time to self-care and do things for me. I like to think of it as time to get to know myself (me-time).
Your body is losing key nutrients like iron and zinc. I remember my mom always telling me that I needed to eat food with protein during my menses. Mineral-rich veggies, like kale/seaweed/mushrooms, are a good choice to help replenish nutrients. Consume bone broths, which contain a lot of wonderful nutrients to nourish your body during this time.
Some kitchen herbs that I find are helpful for this time are black pepper, fenugreek, and cinnamon (warming herbs that promote circulation/movement of blood), as well as nettles (mineral-rich) and chamomile (stress-relieving and calming). I also swear by raspberry leaf tea for painful menses. You can pick it up at your supermarket.
2. Follicular Phase(Day 6-11)
Your ovary is beginning to prepare the egg. The uterine lining begins to build, and cervical fluid increases. Estrogen is rising, so your body can ovulate. Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) is released by the pituitary gland and tells the ovaries to mature the follicles. Your hormones are still at their lowest, and your basal body temperature is lower (<37 degrees celsius).
This is the best time in your cycle to brainstorm and get creative. It’s also the perfect phase for planning. Set intentions, write your to-do list, and fill up your calendar for the month ahead.
Because this is the “start fresh” phase (a new moon), eating light foods that can help match that nourish your body best. Think leafy greens, nuts, and avocados (bonus: fermented foods, which are great to incorporate into your regular diet as well!).
3. Ovulatory Phase(Day 14-17)
Luteinizing Hormone (LH) kicks in and tells the ovary to release the egg. Estrogen peaks in order for the uterine line to thicken in preparation of a fertilized egg. LH, FSH, and estrogen are all at their peaks. A day before your ovulate, BBT peaks, then drops (> or = 37 degrees celsius). It will build up consistently afterwards. (Fun Fact: the ovary you ovulate from often switches sides by month. If you feel where your ovaries are, you may be able to tell which one you’re ovulating from.)
Time to be social! You may find yourself having your highest energy levels at this time. Connect and collaborate. This is my favorite time to do cardio or exercises that require a lot out of me. Bask in the extrovert within!
To support your cycle, eat lightly steamed veggies, and have a nice raw juice. Ovulation can be a constipating time, so make sure you get enough fiber in your meals. You could make a warm oatmeal with blueberries, figs, and flax seeds to top! Maca can be a nice herb to incorporate in your meals to help support endurance, and dandelion as well to help your liver metabolize hormones.
4. Luteal Phase(Day 17-28/30)
This is the longest phase in the cycle. Progesterone levels are at their highest, and BBT is over 37 degrees celsius (>37) until it drops before menstruation. Estrogen declines, and FSH and LH level out. The uterine lining is still building.
Get things done! Check off your to-do list! In the first half of the luteal phase, it can be a breeze to complete tasks and projects. The second half is a time for nurturing and preparing for your moon.
The more I started eating root vegetables during this phase, the more I began to crave them. Sweet potato with eggs, sprinkled with black pepper, salt, and cayenne, for breakfast is an excellent choice. And instead of eating sugary snacks, curb your cravings with sweet fresh or dried fruit like dates! In the second half of the luteal phase, try to incorporate warming herbs, like ginger and cinnamon. Bone broths can be nice to warm the body up before bleeding. Stray away from cold and raw foods at this time. Have a hot cup of fennel tea to encourage optimal digestion. ❤
There’s a disconnect between many people and their bodies. I think the fact that we’re given a very impartial (and kinda false) story about them is a huge cause of this. How do we become closer to ourselves when we’re constantly being fed falsities and stereotypes? How can we work with our bodies and tend to our needs, if we don’t know how to? How can we listen? And frankly, how can we enjoy our cycles, when we’re in pain and taught that that’s NORMAL?
Our cycle is part of our vitality. It is beautiful and amazing, and it is even more so knowing all that our bodies are capable of- all the work they do. We are incredibly strong, yet vulnerable at the same time and own it so well. We’re divine, and I hope that you can see the divinity in yourself and continue to explore your body. It has been an immense gift for me to grow into myself. The more I learn, the more I understand, the better I feel, and the better I help myself…
Let’s Talk Perceptions, Interactions, and Relations to Food
How often do you ask yourself what your relationship with food is like? I can’t be the only one who stuffs their face in front of the computer screen or munches on a croissant while driving to work. I skip breakfast sometimes. I snack all day. My body is, sometimes, a way to measure whether I’m deserving of a meal or not. And on my best days, I eat full, wholesome meals, am completely present with my food, and feel awesome about that.
My relationship isn’t perfect. We’re on good terms, then we’re not. It fluctuates. And I want to interact with food guilt-free, but even when I’m eating healthy I can find myself wondering if I should even be eating at all.
Eating is how we provide energy for our daily activities and nurture our bodies. It is something we must do to keep ourselves alive, so how come eating rituals and mindful practices surrounding food have strayed away? How come eating is so simple, yet so complicated?How can we create a healthy relationship with food?
Where do our issues surrounding food and food consumption stem from?
It seems fairly recent that our Western society has begun to engage in certain eating habits such as mindless eating. We’ve let the dust collect on our traditional practices, our connections withering away, in many ways. We cling to a capitalist society that doesn’t have the time to sit down for a second and have quality time with their food.
The work, work, work mentality is harmful to our overall health. There’s an overwhelming feeling and/or habit of turning our hobbies into jobs, and on the other end of that, being as tired as we are, everyday activities like brushing your teeth begin to feel like work as well. These things shouldn’t be so taxing, and life should be enjoyable. Even the little things, like getting ready in the morning, could be made into pleasant practices.
It may not be often that you have the time to go grocery shopping and prepare meals from scratch. Taking the shortcut has become all too common in food preparation, ranging from in our homes to in the factories, bakeries, and farms our food comes from.
This is something that’s very alarming to me. As we’ve strayed away from the slow way of life, we’ve become more inclined to everything quickly, which is part in parcel to having a population that has dramatically increased. And this directly affects food preparation. Everything becomes go, go, go, or on-the-go. It’s quantity over quality. A lot of really important things have become more commercially motivated. It’s hard to have some sort of judgment over what’s right and wrong because we don’t know what goes on behind the counter, what exactly is put in our food, and how it’s prepared.
On the other hand, we can’t escape slimming tea ads and fast food commercials alike- not to mention the glorification of super-sized meals and allowance of this by government regulations. How we should and shouldn’t interact with food may not be explicitly said, but it is implied. For years, the media has pressed ideal body images. I acknowledge that the ideal body image has diversified, but there’s one thing that remains consistent, even as we charge forward with body positivity- the taboo of having fat.
We may deny that there is still a weight war going on behind the curtain, but losing weight is praised. No one ever congratulates you on gaining weight. Yet, when you’re finally super skinny, you need to “put some meat on your bones”. Growing up, I remember dieting program commercials were on the tv all the time. When you go to the supermarket, low-fat labels and I can’t believe it’s not butter! follow you through the aisles. Even social media, what was once a fun place to see what your friends were up to, has now become a sea of influencers sharing their “weight loss secret”, though behind closed doors they have consistently healthy diets and personal trainers. Bodies are everywhere, and comparison is too. How do we keep tabs of what’s actually healthy for our bodies in specific? Not someone through a screen or on the TV? How do we know this label is for us and not for someone else?
A peer of mine said something really relatable in class about how we perceive fat. We had been discussing the diets of traditional cultures- what they had in common and what kept them so healthy, even without the help of modern technology, doctors, dentists, and pharmaceuticals. Of course, there’s a list of things, but one thing we noticed was many of their high-fat diets (when I say high-fat, I mean naturally occurring healthy fats, like omega 3s- something that we don’t have much of in our modern diet!). Not only this, but when you look back in time, people’s perception of fat was completely different. Fat used to be a good sign- a sign of wealth. You were “eating good”.
In our modern society, low-fat is what you look to to lose weight. It’s what’s said to be healthy. And yes, that may be true according to your health concerns and in relation to unhealthy fats, but our ancestors used to cook in tallow and lard! And besides that point, our body fat is just what is leftover from what our body 1) didn’t use as nutrients, and 2) didn’t eliminate. My peer stopped and had to ask herself- why are we so quick to judge and demonize fat? Fats were important! And still are. It’s what our body turns to for energy, our protection, how we help preserve our health (acknowledging that anything in excess can affect our health as well). Why is it suddenly something unattractive? Why don’t we celebrate healthy bodies that have fat?
I see myself pick at my fat in the mirror before dinner, pulling at it as if it’s something that “must go!”. I watch my friends make comments about their weight almost every time I see them. And when I explicitly asked them where they think their own negative view and relationship with food comes from- they replied FAT!
Because of all this, food becomes our enemy. We must acknowledge that normal bodies exist, and they are beautiful. It’s so sad that so many people feel ashamed, are defined by this, and let it affect their relationship with food. It could be something that helps us heal, and what we should be doing is taking care of ourselves and listening to our bodies and what feels good. We need to stop shying away from changing our toxic lifestyles- that’s how we’ll change it for ourselves and for everyone around us.
Food can just as well be an emotional cushion. I know that when I’ve had a stressful or overly emotional day, I reach for sweet foods like chocolate. I’ll go for a giant, super-sized bowl of my favorite comfort food. Then chips. Then candy gummies. And I almost never feel good after I’ve stuffed myself past the brim.
Overeating can be just as harmful to our bodies as not eating at all. It puts stress on the body. And we end up making the connection to our brain that eating is the best way to pacify the emotions we’re feeling, instead of dealing with them. We turn to food when we’re looking for something.
We have to ask ourselves what we’re doing when consuming. Is it for our best and our optimal health? When I think about it, what I’m really looking for when I eat like that is a hug. That sensation of my belly feeling full makes me feel whole. I’m overcompensating for what I’m not receiving.
Where does our food come from?
For most of us, it’s the supermarket. But our food has a whole journey before it gets to us. The supermarket just gives us easy access and because of this, we’re disconnected from the land our food was grown on. If you’ve ever had your own garden, you probably know the elation of picking that fresh, red tomato off the vine from your own backyard. Close your eyes- can you remember what that smells like? Sweet, sunkissed Earth. Can you remember what the hairy leaves felt like in the palm of your hand, and how they tickled your cheeks as you reached down to pick the perfectly ripe fruit? Can you remember the beautiful bright red sparkling in contrast to the dark soil and green grass? Can you remember the gratitude you felt as you cut it to sprinkle over a salad or made into a sauce?
Without this connection, we have lost that gratitude to some extent. We’ve become senseless to the food on our plate- to the soil and water and sun that nurtured the potato you’re having for dinner. Imagine how much closer and more passionate we would be if we were the ones growing and picking our food. How much more we would savor those potent flavors in our mouths? How much slower we’d eat. Even just how much more we’d appreciate those who labor to bring our food to us, knowing how much work it is to tend to life. How much closer to mother nature we would be as we witness the miracle that is the creation of life. How much more we would advocate for organic, non-GMO food, and environmentally conscious farming practices.
How can you heal your relationship to food?
There are many unhealthy ways to interact with food (too many for me to name)- all for your own reasons and perhaps for one of the reasons above. There may be past trauma associated with eating or food. You may have a health concern that defines your relationship with food. Body image might be the battle you’re fighting at this moment. Or at the very least, what you eat might not matter to you at all. You might not care what you put in your body and don’t care how it affects you or makes you feel. But I promise that it does matter. Our relationship to food is important, and our bodies aren’t garbage disposals.
Being careful about my weight is a huge factor in my outlook on food. Eating itself is a subject that requires deep thought and careful interaction to keep myself from slipping into destructive habits. Self-punishment by denying myself food and being hard on myself after binge-eating are two things that I need to protect myself from and have struggled greatly with in the past. Because I had these two extremes, I catch myself thinking a certain way about myself and food, so subtly to the point where I almost miss it.
It’s easy to tell myself I can’t eat this or that and then feel bad about it. And harder to eat what my body is telling me to and to just feel good about that. But like most things, recognizing that is the first step, and from there, I’m able to constructively pick apart my thoughts and actions, so that I don’t have to feel that way anymore and finally have a healthy relationship with food.
Some Questions I Like to Ask Myself Are:
How/what do I think of food?
How do I feel when I think of eating and when I eat?
Am I present while I’m eating?
What does presence look like to me?
What negative thoughts or feelings do I have surrounding food and eating?
Why do I have these thoughts/feelings?
How do these thoughts affect my relationship with food?
Does my view about my body influence my relationship with food/eating?
Do my general emotions and mental state affect my relationship with food?
Do I have any restrictive habits or negative patterns I place on myself regarding food/eating?
What foods make me feel good?
What foods make me feel bad?
What do I want my relationship with food to look like?
How can I make that reality?
It could be good to keep a journal on hand to answer these questions and see how you feel as you go. You can log your habits/patterns, as well as the food you’re eating. You might just find the root cause of your problem. And this way, you can chart your different paths to see what works to get where you want to be.
Tips for Building a Healthy Relationship with Food
Explore yourself, and seek to release whatever guilt surrounds food and eating.
Practice mindful eating.
Sit with your food. Smell it. Notice it. Look at each bite as you eat it.
This might look to you like saying a prayer before each meal or simply just thanking the spirit of the food that’s on your plate and where it came from.
Practice mindful habits surrounding food.
This might look like scheduling time out of your day to really be present while grocery shopping, meal prepping at the beginning of the week if you’re too busy to do so throughout the week, or cooking meals from scratch.
Listen to your body and what it’s asking for!
Eat the foods that make you body feel the best.
Indulge in moderation.
Talk to people about how you’re feeling. A friend. A therapist. Your mom. Whoever you feel comfortable with. 🙂
Food is our sustenance. And past this, food can be our best medicine. You can have all the drugs or herbs or whatever in the world, and it still won’t work because the one thing you must change is your diet. There are no supplements out there that can match the pureness and quality assimilation with your body like real food. And we interact with it day in and day out, so why not take the extra time out to really care. Make it into a special little something, a ritual. It can make all the difference.
Doing these things helped me become closer to the food I consume and the act of eating it. Even though I’ve felt so many ways about food, and it affects my body in constantly changing ways, at the end of the day- I’m truly a foodie. It’s something I want to enjoy, always.
I’ve begun to realize that when I consume food without guilt and with happiness, love, and gratitude- my body recognizes that. My entire physical being feels better. I digest better. And that all ties in and makes me a happier person who doesn’t have to worry too much!
This year was different, but not because I didn’t cry- I did. It was that the tears I was shedding were different. The meaning behind them all along came to the surface. A shedding of the past. A whole year comprised of so many memories, happiness and heartbreak, all coming to an end. This was my way of saying goodbye and starting anew.
At the same time, I also realized the expectations I set on myself to have a “good birthday”. Yet again I was seeking some sort of validation to give me peace of mind. It must be extravagant. I must be doing something interesting- even when all I wanted was to relax.
A switch turned on inside me. I had a delicious breakfast that filled my belly with warmth and joy. I was full with love. I treated myself to a sweater I really wanted. I had one of my favorite desserts- creme brulee. And took a good nap, followed by a trip to visit the plants in a garden nearby. In that same place, I sat by a koi pond and just watched them swim to and fro, so elegantly. Simple, but that is what I wanted for myself. To do the things I loved and spend it with people close to my heart.
Over the years I’ve seen myself shed and grow and transform. But 2020 is special. 2020 is the year of unveiling everything, of letting go and learning, of growing and ultimately transforming- both on small and large scales.
I find myself having to completely trust the universe because, to be honest, I’m not sure of anything anymore. Things come and go. The pendulum swings back and forth and knocks whatever it wants out of the way. I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but I do know that I need to stay positive.
Although I have not been on this planet for a super long time (20 years; a little baby in the grand scheme of things), there are lessons I’ve picked up along the way that I deem to be extremely helpful. So with that, here is the wisdom I carry in my pocket.
20 Life Lessons
Go SLOW. Savor every second of your day. Take the time to be present with everything, and soak it in. There’s no rush. You don’t need to move so fast. Plus, I guarantee that the faster you move, the less you’re taking in, and the less you’re getting out of whatever you’re doing.
Discover What Matters Most. And once you do that, don’t waste any time. Make space for it. Do it. Embrace it.
Say, I love you. Tell the people you love that you love them. Over and over again.
Don’t hold onto fear. When you let fear overcome you, you give away your power. I know it’s a scary time. I know there’s a lot to worry about. But it’s important that you don’t give in.
“Be the Light”. Share good things. No more fighting. Inspire a bright light and cast it out into the world to see positive change.
The Universe Works Around You. Through your decisions, actions, and thoughts. You are constantly creating. What you put out, you will receive, and what you believe is what you will get.
Don’t Make Judgements. Making assumptions about people, or about yourself, will never be good for you. Keep an open heart.
Be Honest. In any way, shape, or form you can- be honest. You will feel better and lighter.
Make the Plan as You Go. There’s no telling what tomorrow might bring. Just be here today. Set goals, but don’t set yourself up for disappointment.
Set Intentions, Not Wishes. When we set wishes, we are hoping for something else to grant it. In truth, we don’t know if those wishes will ever come true because we’re placing the ability in someone else’s hands. When we set intentions, we are planting seeds. We care for these seeds until they’re fully grown. Yes, it may take quite a bit of time, but you can be assured that it will happen.
Work Hard. If you want it, it will come, but you also have to work for it. The outcome of what is thoughtfully put together is much greater than the outcome of what is half-assed and done through a shortcut.
The Way People Act is a Reflection of Them, Not You. This is not an excuse for being shitty to people then wondering why they’re upset. This is saying we need to stop blaming ourselves and feeling bad (and making assumptions) when it’s not our fault. Sometimes people place judgments when they feel some way about themselves. And although it hurts, it has nothing to do with you! Sometimes someone is having a rough day, and they come home upset, and you wonder what you did wrong. But guess what! It’s not you!
Don’t Hang Around People Who Don’t Make You Feel Good. It’s not worth it. You could be taking this time to make new friends or immersing yourself in a hobby you really love.
Stand in Your Power. Standing in your truth is something no one can take away from you. Stand firmly in your decisions. Know in your heart what’s right.
Take a Hike. Align yourself with nature. She will help you heal. She will lift you up. Listen to her, and look for signs. And in reciprocation, protect her. Tend to her. Love her back.
Explore as much as You Can. Within yourself and the world. Take that adventure, big or small. The time is now.
Value Silence. Where there is “silence”, a gift awaits.
Overthinking Won’t Change the Past and Won’t Affect the Future. Your worry only burdens you. It can’t go fix a past mistake. It can’t change what’s already happening. The only thing your thoughts can do is change your perception.
Eat Good. Eat whole foods that were responsibly harvested and produced. Your body and the Earth will thank you. This is another way we can nourish ourselves. (P.S. Cook at home!)
Laugh It Off. Something my friends taught me was to not take things so seriously. Life was not meant to be so harsh. And it’s really not worth your energy to constantly stress or be upset. Just laugh. Laugh hard. Laugh good. Let it out.
***Bonus*** Be Open-Minded. The world needs more people who are willing to listen rather than emit mindless chatter. Being open may help you to understand someone else’s way of thinking and being.
Cutting My Hair, Severing My Ties to Beauty Standards, and Recreating My Notion of Self-Love
I’ve always prided myself in unwavering self-confidence, a tightly woven, unbreakable love for the vessel that holds my spirit close. I’ve reveled in my ability to bounce back from the darkest depths of my life. A resilient young woman who never lost sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. I never thought there was anything that could take that away from me. I thought I was doing everything right.
But those were just expressions of my ego, not my soul. These were images and ideals I created for myself in order to feel accomplished and safe, to feel like I’d pushed much farther than I actually had.
Cutting my hair and being forced to embody someone that didn’t feel like me shattered the image I created for myself. Everything I claimed to be had fallen away, and there I stood, staring blankly into an empty mirror.
How do you measure the love for your own soul? How do you get comfortable in this body that is so foreign, that just barely scrapes the surface of what and who I truly am?
I’ve been dyeing my hair since (about) eighth grade. I was always experimenting and that filled me with excitement. I didn’t see it as expressing myself, perhaps I was, but what I was really trying to do was copy someone I thought was my version of pretty. I wanted to be them, and I thought that if I changed my hair, I could change myself.
It started with pink streaks (I apologize in advance for the cringiness you will soon read). Then electric blue hair like Katy Perry. Then orange hair and bangs like Bella Thorne. Then black hair with blue ends like Kylie Jenner.
Once I stopped obsessing over celebrities, I branched out to whatever I thought would look better than what I already had. Auburn. Red. Magenta. Black. Golden Blonde. Bleach Blonde. Ombre. Highlights. Balayage. Dark Brown. Black. Bobs, bangs, layers, extensions. I may have looked ridiculous, but I loved it. I loved feeling like a different person, like I was wearing a disguise. Doing my hair began to feel like therapy. My hair held my pain, and if I cut it off, it’d go away. If I changed the color, I was no longer the me that hurt.
With my many great dye jobs also came some really sucky ones too. I’ve endured blotchy bleach jobs, accidental green hair, frayed ends, uneven cuts, you name it. The more I changed my hair, the more of a compulsive perfectionist I became. The mirror was my worst enemy, fostering my obsession and hypercriticism. If my hair was, in the slightest bit, messed up, I’d fall apart.
After years of being a hair chameleon, I realized there was one thing I hadn’t tried- being myself or at least looking like her. I got tired of messing with it and let it grow.
About a year after that, my hair had fully grown in, and I began experimenting again…just with hair glazes (temporary hair color that lasts about 2-4 weeks) though. I liked the way it made my hair shinier and a touch darker. Then, after a few washes, it’d be back to normal.
Where It All Went Wrong
One day, I picked up a glaze from a local beauty store and didn’t see it had an auburn tint in it. I lobbed it on my head, then quickly realized my hair was turning orange. I scrubbed my head ferociously, but the damage was already done.
This was unacceptable. I had worked so, so hard to grow my hair out. It was so beautiful, and I wanted it back. I called around looking for a hair appointment on very short notice. Maybe they could reverse it?
They said they couldn’t. There was no way to take that red out, so the only way to go was darker. It seemed there wasn’t anything else to do, so I let them dye it. Maybe it’ll just be a little darker than my natural color.
Nope. It turned out dark brown like cherry coke. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was fine for the moment.
The more I stared at it, the more I didn’t like it. I had messed up a good thing. You can’t really come back from a really dark color either, and the thought of my hair growing into some kind of opposite ombre drove me nuts, so I scheduled another appointment at a different salon to go blonde.
They balayaged it, but it still wasn’t good enough- it was blotchy! In the same weekend, I scheduled another appointment at a different salon for a double-process (which basically means going full blonde in one shot).
It was what I asked for, but I was left with super dark roots.
A few days later, I had it glazed to smooth the harsh lines.
The glaze faded within a month’s time. I didn’t want to deal with the maintenance and unevenness. Enough money had been spent. Now, all I wanted was to be full blonde- root to tip.
The Hair Horror Story
By the end of the month, I had another appointment set. I asked the hairdresser to make it all even- to make me as blonde as I could possibly go. I had bleached my hair many times before, so I wasn’t concerned about the damage or how fast I had transitioned between all these colors. I trusted her. After all, she had gorgeous, long, platinum blonde hair. She covered my hair in bleach, then covered my head with a plastic cap and placed me under a hot steamer.
While I sat there, her assistant began pouring boiling hot water into the steamer and accidentally spilled some on my neck. It hurt, but I didn’t think it was too bad. I couldn’t see it. They gasped and asked if I was okay. “Yes, I’m fine“, I said.
I sat there for about half an hour maybe, then she rinsed me out. As I sat up in the wash chair, she told me she didn’t think we should blow it out today. “Let’s leave it in a hair mask.” Weird, but okay, she knew best.
Then she showed me the brush. My heart sank. There were clumps of white hair in it. She brought me in front of the mirror, boasting about how light we had gotten my hair. My once shoulder-length hair was now dangling just beyond my chin in strands. The thickest part was just below my ear. The back was in shambles. Whenever I tried to brush it, more clumps would come out. I was speechless.
I covered my head on my way into the house. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I ran into my room and immediately went to the mirror to check myself. I pulled away my shirt and unveiled a second-degree burn on my neck. Yellow pieces of tangled hair stuck out from my head in all different directions. Some were matted patches of gummy fur. I looked like Cynthia Pickles (Amanda’s doll from Rugrats).
I turned away and started to cry. What do I do? How do I go back? I pulled at each end, feeling the dry, stretchy hair rub against my fingertips. I examined and assessed the damage- it was ruined beyond belief. I then drowned my hair in coconut oil and laid in bed, shaking. There wasn’t a sound or cry that could express the pain I was feeling.
The next day, I sat in front of the mirror and had one of those movie moments where the main character takes a pair of scissors and just chops their hair off. I held back, but when I look back, I see that it would’ve been a great opportunity to shave it all off.
I eventually made an appointment at a new hair salon to clean up the cut and fix the color a bit. I felt super embarrassed walking in looking all silly and disheveled. I sat down and explained what happened to my hairdresser. I told him I wasn’t looking for anything crazy. I just wanted to look alright. He toned my hair and tried not to make me look too much like a middle-aged white lady.
I left with a platinum-blonde pixie cut.
It definitely wasn’t a terrible look. It was actually really cute, but at the time, I was already demoralized, so I absolutely hated it. It was shocking to me how bright and unmissable this blonde was.
Everywhere I went, I felt like people were staring at me. I could no longer blend in. I felt like a hermit crab out of her shell. Like a big neon sign in a world of gray.
Stage One: Losing Myself
I know it’s just hair, but my hair had been a greater extension of myself. Like my hands, it felt and touched and held. I was sewn into the idea that my looks were a big deal and defined me, then was unexpectedly thrown from that.
The moment my hair was cut, I felt my femininity be swept away with the tide. And there went my personality too. In a society where long hair equates to being beautiful and girly and sexy, I was now boyish. I should change to fit that persona until I can grow back into being a girl again. What should I wear? How should I act?
It was undeniable that people looked at me differently now. I got looks in passing in my small town and comments about how “interesting” it looked- like I was doing something no woman would dare to do. And on the other end, I was no longer romantically appealing. Some thought it was cool, others were horrified at the drastic change, and some thought it looked more like a Karen haircut. I was ashamed. I remember I was working one day (in a big t-shirt, shorts, and no makeup on), and I was waiting on a table of two young girls. While I was walking away, I heard one of them ask the other if I was a girl. That hurt, but I understood.
For the first month or two, I felt like I needed to warn everyone before I saw them. I’m no longer the old Lia, so don’t expect that. I actually didn’t know who I was. But I knew I wanted to avoid the shocked face they’d have. It was just another reminder, but even with a forewarning, there was still a curiosity about it in them. I explained over and over what happened. I didn’t mean for this to happen. It was an accident.
When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize the person staring back at me. It left me with such confusion about this body that was no longer mine. Something had been taken from me. A part had died, and I was suddenly far, far away from everything.
I’d spend hours in front of the mirror analyzing myself until I started taking photos of each of my profiles to further scan over the parts of my face that I disapproved of. It made me even more insecure about going out because if I could see it, that meant the world could too.
I stopped giving myself compliments. I began relying on boosts from others to affirm and reassure me of my beauty. And only in those moments did I feel good. I had stopped loving myself- but did I ever even love myself in the first place if it was only skin deep? Why did I suddenly feel uneasy about the person I was going to bed with now? How was she different from the person she was before?
Short hair exposes your features. I couldn’t hide myself anymore. I had to look. Not only could I no longer conceal my physical features and feel protected by my mane, but I was also exposed to what was going on inside. In a way, my hair had muffled my ability to hear- I didn’t know what was going on in my heart. And there was something that needed to be tended to. It was ugly, rotting and spreading terminally, and it was time to clean up.
Stage Two: Cleaning Up and Rebuilding
I purposefully subjected myself to loneliness. And because of this, I found myself clinging to social media. What I was looking for was similarity and closeness, but I was only to be lost in the sea of comparison, swimming in insecurity. Everywhere I looked were these perfect women, and I didn’t look like them.
That is what I chose to see- a variety of facades on the Internet. People put out what they want us to see. I realized how threatening that was to my mental health- what I had done to myself by engaging in all these different activities. Instead of helping myself through this and being my own friend, I was self-sabotaging. I could try a little harder. There was no more time to waste away. There was no changing the circumstance, only a way to move forward with it. This was an opportunity to learn about myself and to love myself again, to care- for real this time.
I started unfollowing anything that made me feel bad about the way I looked. That was a standard of beauty that didn’t need to apply to me, and I could leave it behind. I replaced these people with accounts that empowered and inspired me.
I freed myself from my self-built cage. And that’s how my self-esteem started building back up. I learned how to own it. I didn’t have to self-isolate. And if it weren’t for a really awesome, nurturing community of women in my life that made me feel so beautiful and whole- I would’ve completely lost it. I grew more comfortable with myself. And after a few months, I decided to shave the back up.
I left on various trips over the course of that summer. It helped to take me out of my head because I was engaging with the scenery and staying quiet as the observer. My typical surroundings had made me feel like that was all there was. Once I was out of that, I was shown a world that was, well, not so small after all. There were so many different people out there. Everyone looked different, and it rocked.
During one of those trips (in Europe), I had noticed that there were so many women who had short hair. And they seldom wore any makeup. Their beauty was carried in their strength and their smiles- that wholesome loveliness that not even editing can replicate. These were the things I admired in the women around me. That is what I wanted.
When I got home, I trained myself to spend less time in front of the mirror and on my phone. There was much more important work to be done- inner work. I covered the mirrors with sheets throughout my room.I swapped it for being outside and hanging out with me, getting to know myself and all the things I loved about me. These qualities weren’t new, but I hadn’t taken the time to see and appreciate them. I was finally breaking the surface. And I was never wrong about being strong. I am strong, and that’s beautiful. The pieces of me that left, returned to assemble the girl in the mirror. I wrote love notes to her.
Stage Three: Returning to Myself and Owning It
For the first time, I felt kind of…cool, more badass than ever. I had always felt kind of cowardly and at the same time, stand-offish in my zone, like I had something to prove. But I’d grown to understand my soul. And while I was, and am, still growing into my physical self, I felt us reconnect. I felt powerful in owning me.
The idea of beauty I was carrying wasn’t my own. Confidence, intelligence, and strength are sexy. When I realized these things, it’s almost like something locked back into place. I saw how the adoption of this ideal for myself was not only detrimental to my own reality, but also the present and future reality of women in general. I had not only done myself a disservice, but also the women around me- the women that I love and want to protect. I saw how society picked women apart, how we are supposed to abide by some sort of rulebook; how to dress, how to do your hair, how to act, how to speak. I saw how unfair it is and has been.
Cutting your hair doesn’t mean you’re having a breakdown (though it may result in one). It may mean you’re changing, shedding, or turning a new leaf. It could be a symbol of rebellion. But perhaps it is just what you wanted to do or ended up with- simple as that. No question about it. And maybe the reason I ended up feeling badass was because I felt like it was something against the grain according to society. It was how I ended up mastering myself in a society that gives you chips for being all the same.
When I was insecure about the way I looked, I was so focused on what people thought of me, how I’d be perceived in the eyes of others. It wouldn’t matter how accepting I was of myself because I was still subject to public opinion. But now I realize that regardless of how I put myself together, what’s most important to me as an individual is that I feel like ME. I don’t want to pretend anymore.
Your navigation through your own story is probably different. That’s the cool thing about being an individual- you pave your own way and figure it out somehow. The ultimate choice in whether you decide to let these things bother and affect you is yours. I didn’t have control of the initial situation, but I did have control over where I’d take it from there. I held that power. You hold that power. Looks are not the be-all-end-all (hair really is just hair!). They are simply the way we express ourselves. And truthfully, those whose glow is most prominent are those who have tended to what is on the inside.
I think it’s safe to say I’ve learned my lesson. The biggest part of that was to appreciate what I’ve been given. My hair grew and grew and grew. I praised every centimeter, and suddenly, I’m here. I’ll probably chop it off again sometime. This time on my own terms.
I used to wonder when I’d be done picking up the pieces, when renaming and reclaiming would come to a halt. But then I realized, creation takes a lifetime. It may not even be complete by the end. There are many steps. I might have to go back and redo a few. It won’t be perfect, and I definitely won’t be. But that’s okay. Abstract art isn’t supposed to be perfect. It takes different shapes, moves in twists and turns, explores in all different colors, and is perceived differently according to the individual. And after all, you can’t erase paint. You can only keep adding to your canvas.
Our bodies are our homes while we’re on this Earth. And we want to feel good and comfortable in our own skin.
My skin definitely isn’t perfect, but it has come a really long way from where it’s been. I’ve always had acne. It usually clears up during the summer time and resurfaces during the change of seasons (at its worst during winter). But over the course of the last year, I started getting cystic acne on my cheeks and forehead. These spots would stick around for months at a time. I got back and chest acne as well. My pores were enlarged like crazy. And on top of all this, I was breaking out in rashes, and on occasion, burns from trying a billion different products. As the acne itself went away, it would leave behind scars that I thought would never leave.
I didn’t know where to turn when it came to skincare. Everything I used either didn’t work or made it worse. I got a few products from my dermatologist at first, but they take three months to kick in and work steadily. Truly, I was impatient, and I also didn’t want to have to rely on these to keep my acne away for good.
I was really embarrassed of my skin. I told myself I could only wear certain clothes, so people couldn’t see my back, and I scrambled to find a good foundation to cover up my face. I didn’t want anyone to see me. Growing up in the age of social media makes it really hard to be confident in your own skin, when you’re constantly seeing these seemingly perfect people. There’s a lot of room for comparison. I used to edit my face on some of my pictures because I didn’t want anyone to know what was really there.
I had to learn to love myself throughout all of this, despite what my skin looked like and know that there is so much beneath all of that. Having acne is not an “ugly” thing. It’s a normal human thing that most people struggle with. There was nothing wrong with me when my skin was awry- it just needed a little more TLC. It was my body’s way of telling me something was up that I needed to deal with. Acne didn’t make me any less. I didn’t, and don’t, have to hide.
I wish someone could’ve flat out given me a solution when I was desperately searching for one. This was my journey though, and everyone’s solution is going to be different. What’s listed below is what helped me, and hopefully it’ll help lead one of you to yours.
Secrets to Getting Clear Skin
Treat from the inside-out.
We must work from the inside-out. Doing this helps you clear the root of the problem, so it doesn’t resurface again. The goal is to nourish and nurture your overall health.
Your inner work and work that is done from the inside is where the bulk of the effort lies.
Mental/Emotional Health. When I look back at the times I had a lot of acne, I was most often not happy, stressed, anxious, or depressed. I wasn’t doing well mentally, and my skin was a reflection of that. It sucked because my skin breaking out put an even bigger damper on my self-esteem, but those were times when I really needed to take care of myself.
Me-Time. Make time for yourself and things that make you happy. Go for a walk. Make some art. Make sure there’s always at least a day a week that’s just for you. Don’t be afraid to be selfish.
De-stress. Stress can play a HUGE role in acne. It’s important to de-stress throughout the day. Meditate. Do some breathwork. Write in your journal, and identify your feelings. It’s important to come back down to the ground and realign yourself.
Happiness. When I’m happy, I have the best skin. It’s almost like it glows. The key (for me) to being happy is what’s said above. I lean towards being anxious, so I’m constantly having to identify what’s going on inside of me, debunk stressful situations, and re-ground myself. I do things to set myself up for success. P.S. Being grateful brings joy into your heart.
Cleanse. While looking for solutions online, I discovered Organic Olivia’s blog about how she cleared her acne. She swore by doing a parasite cleanse. I was familiar with the subject because I’d done a few before, but I’d never thought about how parasites can relate to cystic acne. (Yes, we all have parasites. And no, they don’t have to be causing life-threatening illness.) Parasites can also cause a slew of mental health issues like anxiety. It all lined up for me. I went to Whole Foods and picked up a two week microbial cleanse. I did the two weeks, waited one week, and repeated it. Not only did my entire body feel like I was getting rid of all the junk, but my face acne was significantly reduced in size, and my body acne was disappearing.
A Good Diet. A good diet doesn’t mean dieting. It means clean-eating and drinking lots of water for the most part. It’s not about being super strict with yourself either. Treat yourself, but understand it’s everything in moderation. I don’t hold back when I want something because I don’t want my relationship to food to be negative. I want to enjoy the food I eat. For the most part, I try to stick to eating a plethora of veggies, lean proteins, and I cook at home. I also try to stay away from most processed foods and sugary drinks. Kombucha is my favorite alternative because it has probiotics and is also fizzy like soda.
Listen to your body. Only eat when you’re hungry. Overeating can put stress on your body because it’s overloaded. Be conscious of what feels good.
Less Coffee. Coffee dehydrates the body. This is my biggest vice because I love coffee, but it also causes major anxiety. Staying away from it, and choosing to drink herbal tea instead, improves my skin health tenfold. It also helps bring my stress levels down :).
Vitamins- A good probiotic can go a long way. Imbalances in the body, especially in the gut, can lead to acne. I took a Skin Probiotic for a while, when my skin was at its worst. Now, I stick to a Bio-K probiotic for my overall gut health.
Treating the surface layer.
A Good Skincare Routine. There are lots of super fancy acne fighting products on the market. There are many things people will try to sell you because it’s “revolutionary”, but 1) why would I spend that kind of money if I don’t know if it’ll work, and 2) they’re usually out of my budget. I needed things that actually do something and are reasonably priced. I tried pretty much everything and read a bunch of articles before I found the one. The first thing that worked for me was the SLMD Acne System Kit. I opted out of using the cleanser because of a sulfate it contained, but everything else was great. After using it for a few months, I began to branch out.
My skincare routine consists of:
Cleanser– I use this once a day, usually at night. If I’m breaking out more, I use it twice a day. Otherwise, in the morning, I just rinse my face with warm water, massage with an exfoliating glove, then rinse with cold water. I like to have a cleanser with salicylic acid in it to help fight breakouts, so the Aveeno Clear Complexion Cream Cleanser is ideal and also cheap. There’s another awesome exfoliating cleanser by Skin Medica with AHA and BHA. It’s a little more pricey.
Toner– I use this morning and night. As an astringent, it helps tighten your pores back up after washing. Just regular witch hazel works, or the Thayers Witch Hazel (rose petal).
Exfoliant– AHA and BHA work wonders on acne, ESPECIALLY if you get those little skin colored bumps that don’t ever leave. It helps peel away the dead skin and reveal a new layer. I like the BHA Liquid Exfoliant from Paula’s Choice. I only use it at night because if used too much, it makes my skin dry.
Retinol– This is only used at night. It helps bring collagen to the surface of your skin, helps smooth skin texture, and get rid of dark spots/acne marks. I still use the SLMD Retinol Serum.
Treatment– This is basically a spot treatment. I use drugstore brand benzoyl peroxide whenever I get a stubborn pimple. Other times, I use tea tree oil- ONLY when there’s nothing else but lotion on my face. (CAUTION: Always dilute tea tree oil. Never ever mix it with chemical treatments. And test to see if you’re allergic first.)
Moisturizer– Used morning and night. It’s always, always oil-free. (Oil clogs pores, so I try to make sure all my products are oil-free.) I like it to have vitamin C to help reduce hyperpigmentation. The Avalon Organics Intense Defense Oil-Free moisturizer is my favorite.
Sunscreen– I really only use this in the summer time or when my skin is oily. My sunscreen contains niacinamide, which helps balance oil production. I like the EltaMD sunscreen.
Check the Ingredients in Everything. I can’t stress this enough. Because Perioral Dermatitis is triggered by certain things, and because my skin is so sensitive, I have to be careful with what I’m using. Everything I buy, I READ THE LABEL first. Most products contain SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate), which is a really big no-no for PD. Sulfates can clog pores and also cause skin irritation. Check your detergent, dish soap, foamy hand soap, shampoo, and conditioner. Look for things without sulfates, parabens, fragrance, etc.
It’s hard to find products without all these chemicals in them, I know. But there are brands out there that strive to put conscious products out. Some examples are; Shea Moisture, Whole Foods Organic Detergent, Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap, and Lyonsleaf.
Know everything you put on your skin goes into your body. It all has an effect and swings back around. Here are some quick little facts for you about things to avoid (from @plateful.health on Instagram):
Makeup. The thought of this at first made me nervous because I didn’t want to expose my skin, but wearing less face makeup helped reduce my problem of clogged pores. Instead of covering my face in foundation, I just use concealer under my eyes or as a spot cover up. Primer helps the product not seep in either. Remember to properly remove makeup- exfoliating with gloves help here. Also CLEAN YOUR MAKEUP BRUSHES. I’d get acne wherever I was swiping that brush because bacteria was collecting all over it. It’s important to wash them periodically.
Exercise. Get your blood flowing! Exercise helps improve circulation and move the blood to where it needs to go. Sweating also helps expel toxins. I don’t love exercising, but it makes me feel good and improves the way my skin looks. Even just getting out for a walk every day makes a huge difference.
Ever since doing all of this consistently, I haven’t broken out much. Sometimes I’ll break out because of something I ate (like dairy, sugar, or gluten), other times for hormonal reasons (my cycle). My pores stay clear, and I keep an eye on my mental health, which helps keep my skin glowy. I also make sure to get enough sleep, so my body has time to heal itself.
These are some photos of what my skin looks like now. Healed :).
Take this all with a grain of salt. Know that you are beautiful, and you don’t have to be ashamed of your skin. I understand that now more than ever and have to fully accept myself as I am.
I lay beside Rines Hill, a rock climbing spot that’s nestled in the woods about half a mile from the battered dirt road, somewhere in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. I’ve found my balance on a slanted rock, underneath a canopy of trees. I’m definitely not wearing enough clothes for this weather, so the only thing between me and the decaying pine needles is my used, red flannel. I thought it was summer, but it’s actually really brisk out. There’s a chill about the wind that hits right in the chest. In that way, it’s different from a summer breeze. A summer breeze is gentle and caresses you, lifting you up and cooling you down.
There are busy insects, scurrying to and fro, beneath me. I’m a little eerie of them crawling under me. I don’t want them on me. But after a bit, those thoughts stop pestering me, and I become curious. I wonder what their mission is- what their life purpose is. So restless.
As I watch the trees breathe, I notice they move much like my diaphragm. The trunk inhales with strength, and a tenderness that understands what that breath will do to nourish, and exhales with steadiness, pulling the branches and leaves with them. They move so smoothly, in unison and formation. Have I been mimicking them, or are they mimicking me? Well, they’re the reason I’m breathing in the first place, right? I must’ve learned from watching them.
The sun is so kind, shining brightly on my bare skin. I could take a good nap right here. I appreciate his presence. The remembrance of his existence and the gift of light are what gives me the motivation to push through when things are tough. The other day, I decided to sit by the river. It was a beautiful day, barely any clouds. The river rushed over the rocks without hesitation- something I envy about it. Letting go and flowing like that would take a lot of practice for me.
While it was beautiful, watching it gush through the Earth like that reminded me that it has so much unforgiving power. I felt safe, but I was still careful. There was no one else there besides me. I came here because I wanted to tell the water all the things that hurt me to release them. And when I spoke of these things, I felt a deep wound open up. The murk of these memories began to surround me, enveloping me in dust. But as soon as I remembered all that was around me, the sun began beaming harder. It beamed through the dark and through the water until I could see it all clear. And then I came out of it. I was here right now- nothing to worry about. All I had to remember was that light. I’m not alone.
Everything here is quiet. There are no sounds of trucks rustling over the loose rock on the road and no chatter of tourists, just the clatter of carabiners and leaves brushing against each other- but only when the wind blows. I don’t get this kind of silence too often. Although I’ve struggled to connect with myself in the past weeks, this quietness has delivered me back to my body. I imagine my sole existence in the forest without any concerns, no one calling my name in the background. I’m noticing everything for the first time, all over again. The stillness brings me back to being, and I breathe with clarity, instead of fog. Feeling grounded now, I search for the poetry that’s hidden in the back of my throat. The poetry that I’ve stuffed down because I was “too busy” or something. I scrape at it from the bottom of my belly, from where the sun rays have thawed it out. I cough it up onto this page.
We all wait long months for you, Summer. Some of sorrow, some of patience, some of daydreams- others of anticipation and excitement. The sprout that hides under a blanket of snow has popped out of the ground in spring’s uncertainty, only knowing that this is what it’s supposed to do. But all of the sudden, when that first day comes where the temperature has risen enough for a dip in the Atlantic, everything bursts and runs carelessly into the ocean. The sprout is now fully grown, joining the world in its glory, shamelessly. The red squirrels and chipmunks chase each other until they realize they’re tumbling down the hill, out of control of where they will land.
And with the blink of an eye, we are sinking into the empty fields of Goldenrod and tall grass at the tail end of August, pointing out the shapes of the clouds and asking them if they’d tell us the story of the land they’ve crossed. Which lake or stream or ocean or puddle did you emerge from?
I know these moments are fleeting, so I immerse myself fully in the smiles of the people I love. I sip from the bee’s sweet honey and breathe deeply, engulfing myself in the true scent of pine and cedar. I bury my feet in the dirt as if I’m trying to become one of the ferns. Or maybe a mushroom. I look up for as long as I can before my neck starts to hurt, so I can see the silhouette of the mountain in front of its brilliant halo. I listen closely to the crickets before bed, orchestrating their most magnificent pieces. It’s the best music to search for the milky way to. And even if the grass isn’t the greenest, I’ll roll in it anyway and learn plant language well enough to giggle the way the wildflowers do.
The sunset has the same effect as biting into my favorite chocolate bar. Over the beloved ocean, it paints in the same way fireworks do. Violet and baby pink and burnt orange sparks make love to the sky. The waves crash over in pale blue light, mourning the day, but prepared to greet its true love- the moon. Finally, they can be together in undisturbed harmony.
Dawn pours over like molasses over the valley and in through the windows of my bedroom. It gently nudges at the dandelions and whispers to the bees. Wake up. Life begins again. A promise kept, as I wake with my face still stuck to the cotton pillowcase, clinging to the last bit of a dream that felt so very real. I feel the excitement of another warm day, another opportunity to experience something new.
Whether it be a spontaneous adventure or precisely planned trip, I know there will be heartbreak by the end of it. I’ll have to part ways with my wandering feet, settle down for something a little more stable. All the soft tender kisses on my forehead by the butterfly of change will be wasted, or I won’t get to the top of the mountain before the berries rot. But things bloom at the edge of heartbreak too. This is the cycle of life.
I thoughtfully create a collage of memories in my head. These ninety days fly past- are only a fragment of my life, yet so significant and so precious. They are the paradise I fly to and the fuel for my soul.
I stand in front of summer, guarding it from the fangs of fall, who stalks its prey like a hungry mountain lion, and beg for just a little more time. One more dive in the lake before it freezes over, before I watch the hands of the trees fall off. Because I know that by my next breath, the first flake of snow will be falling onto a desolate earth.
And so I leave this here, the leaves fluttering like twinkling stars in the moonlight, as I walk away from the edge of this wall. Grateful and thankful, my feet confess their last words to the moist dirt and auburn and sunflower-yellow leaves. I gift one last joke to the spider and beetle and toss an acorn to the chipmunk. I make notes to myself of all the things I’ll do when I return- how fast I’ll climb. And maybe I’ll build up the courage to speak to the great peregrine falcon. I imagine myself running back to the hill and giving this rock the biggest hug (acknowledging an old friend). I think of how special this all was and how it feels good to enjoy life and truly bask in it. To take the most sultry bites out of this cake while I’m still here.
I was driving around one day and noticed the car in front of me had a sticker on it that read, “Change? How’s that working out for you?”
I don’t know about you, but I think that statement is terrifying. Yes, they are “just words,” but there is truth in that among all the people that fight for change and care so deeply, there are still many who refuse it- who are more than comfortable with the way things are in the world and would prefer them to remain the same for their sake.
My mother is the sweetest lady you’ll ever meet. She’s smart and funny and kind. All she ever does it go out of her way to make sure everyone is happy and feels cared for. She meets every person with so much love and gives away more than enough without any need for reciprocation. She deserves the world.
I’d assume that most of you, reading this, feel the same way about your mother or at least someone you love. But despite my mother being a human being like the rest of yours, her Puerto Rican complexion means something different to the world.
While there have been a lot of kind people along the way, there have also been a lot of people who are not so kind…
My mom has been parking on the opposite side of our street for the past year we’ve lived here. There has never been a problem, but a few weeks ago, she found a note on her car saying that that was illegal, and that they would call the police if she didn’t move. There were no signs or indicators noting that this was unlawful. In confusion, she called the local police department to check and see if it was okay for her to park there. She kept them on the phone and made them double-check. To which they replied, it was entirely legal for her to do so. She continued to park there.
The next night, at 10 pm, there was a knock on our door. It was the Chief of Police. He ordered her to move her car because it was illegal, and she was blocking the intersection. When she replied that she had called the previous day, he said it was a “new rule” and proceeded to place police orders specifically in the area she was parked.
My mom minds her own business, so I wonder a lot about why her “improperly placed” vehicle bothered our neighbor and why he sat in bed at 10 o’clock in the evening, dialing the police to have them come over here.
Aside from this, there have been many other instances on our block, and in my mother’s life, where this behavior has occurred and where she has felt uncomfortable, unsafe, and frustrated. For example, yesterday, my mother was walking our dog past a construction area nearby, where a police officer was posted up. As she passed, he proceeded to follow her as she walked until she got back home. Then, later that day, another police officer passed by, watching as she cleaned her car.
Regardless of if you think any of this behavior was racially motivated. Regardless of if you think it’s not a big deal. This is NOT okay. And frankly, it’s fucking scary.
What’s most painful about these situations is the fact that it’s so simple that nothing can really be said about it. “How can you prove that she really didn’t do something wrong?” “Are you sure they were following her?”
If you have ever loved someone or something, then you know the feeling that when they’re hurting, it hurts you. You just want to protect them, but you never have control over fate. Everyone has to go out in the world, but not everyone has a nice, white bubble to float around in- and that’s not discrediting the problems of others. I sometimes worry when I leave the house that something bad will happen, and I won’t get home in time. Or that the weird looks she gets when she goes for a walk will turn into something more grim. Although my mom doesn’t do things that would get her in some kind of trouble, I fear that she will be.
I didn’t always recognize how different my mother’s reality was from mine because I have white skin- how I benefit from the white supremacist society we live in. Hell, I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood. Not only was it rare to see diversity in my friend group, in my school, or in my town, but I don’t even remember conversations about racism coming up unless it was a topic of the past. I didn’t want to believe that people could be subtly racist, especially to my own mother.
There is an unfair, disgusting, and horrifying abuse of power within our system. It was built long before our generation opened its eyes to this planet. Not only is it deeply embedded in the police force and the government, but also the people. Whether or not you want to believe it and as ugly and painful as it is, it’s in all of us. This is your battle. I know that these instances don’t happen in most people’s lives. And I know that because of this, it makes it really hard to think about, believe, and to stick with the change. You may have never seen it or realized it or even thought that maybe your own words or actions carry enough weight to really hurt someone else.
When I began to have this conversation with myself, it wasn’t easy. I was uncomfortable because I didn’t understand a lot of the feelings I had buried inside, some of which didn’t even belong to me, but were ingrained. I had to ask myself questions I never did before. So much comes at you at once, and you’re overwhelmed because, by nature, you want to fix it all at once. You can’t. There are things you and I won’t ever be able to comprehend. We can’t tackle everything. But it means something to be conscious and walk through life without rose-colored glasses.
Earlier this year, a chilling video surfaced the internet of a police officer kneeling on a black man’s neck for nine minutes, until he was unresponsive. That man was George Floyd. And that police officer was Derek Chauvin. Seeing that video should’ve shook you hard into your humanity, your mortality and your community. George Floyd was not only a husband, but a father- a human being that deserved just as many rights as the next one, just as many opportunities and respect. And the fact that, even after being murdered by law enforcement on video, there was hesitation to arrest and convict his killer is infuriating. There were many, many others before him. And even more after. How many more lives until something changes?
It’s heartbreaking to think of the people who don’t care enough or who simply just don’t believe it, when this is a reality for so many others. There are people who go out of their way to put the lives of others in danger, who live to see fear in those people’s eyes because it makes them feel high and mighty.
This happens every day. This behavior is everywhere. It’s not new, and it’s not a secret.
Everything that once hid in the shadows is coming to the surface right now. These things are changing right before our eyes, and everything we thought was, really wasn’t. You can feel it when you step outside your door- something is different, off balance, shifting.
The world is bending and breaking and bleeding. It would be a lie to say you don’t see it. We will all carry the weight of hatred on our backs as long as it is still very much running rampant through our country and our world. It lives in the way we participate, our inclusion of certain people and exclusion of others, our gossipping, our choice to support larger corporations while the smaller ones suffer, our pollution, our plastic, our self-denial, our abuse, our lies- everything we give our energy to that is not for the betterment, but instead feeds the negativity and allows it to grow even bigger. I know it hurts to think of these things, but it will always come full circle. No one is off the hook.
We’re all so caught up in our own lives and busyness that somehow there’s “no time” to learn and change. Or maybe there’s no time because it doesn’t immediately affect you. But none of your busyness actually matters- all of this running around and freedom you hold is meaningless, unless we can all live together like that. As Nelson Mandela once said, “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” This not only goes for the people, but the animals, the land and ocean too. We have gone on too long without a sense of community, appreciation, and care.
What I’m asking of you is to just take a second of every day to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Plainly, don’t be an asshole. And I’m not saying you are one, but always check yourself. Keep checking yourself. Check your family members and loved ones. Check your friends and coworkers. Educate yourself.
Don’t be complacent with the system because you don’t have negative experiences. Stop saying you don’t give a shit about anything at all. That’s not cool. No, you don’t have to constantly repost things on your Instagram- I’d hope that’s not the only thing you’re doing anyway. Have these conversations with your family and friends and everyone in between.
Acknowledge what came before you and the truth in everything. Make some room for the truth of others. Begin to see the world and her inhabitants as an extension of yourself. And treat everyone with the same respect, kindness, and immense love that you also deserve.
Hold so much love inside you that it bursts out of the seams. Spread it everywhere you go. Use it to heal. See the light it reaps.
Take the time to learn how to change and to make the world a better place for ALL (and there are no borders or limits or exceptions to that). Your love for humanity is going to have to be much greater than your love solely for your inner circle and yourself to overthrow this. Let go of your ego and your selfishness. Give it up for the bigger picture.
Awakening on a grand and global scale was coming. It’s long overdue. Nothing will live in the dark anymore.
Ignite the fire of change. Let your heart unfold. Meet everyone with the means to clean out a deep wound- lend an open and gentle ear. Please don’t ever be afraid to use your voice. You have one for a reason and I promise it matters. The call to become more conscious asks you to become compassionate, do the work, and listen. Notice. Feel. Discuss. Release. Repeat.
Grieve and rebirth. We will no longer live in a way that is not conducive to everyone’s wellbeing. No more blood will be shed. No more tears when there doesn’t have to be. It will take time. Know you are not responsible for everything, but you are responsible for yourself. You hold the dice and are deciding at every moment which direction this is going to go. Let it be forward.
I’m sitting in the car, watching the trees blend together like a bunch of blurry pixels as the speed increases. The soft light of dawn is spilling in, stealing the remainder of the night, and coating everything in its golden hue. This is the only time you can look right at the sun and not get blinded. Mornings have stolen my heart. Everything has such beauty before the sun rises to the center of the sky, acquiring the ability to turn my skin bright red like a geranium (the color before it cools to a tan). And how everything is quiet and all the bodies that rush past me on the sidewalk in the afternoon are still asleep. And all the streets and valleys are stained grey and blue.
My father is driving, blasting his sometimes strange, alternative music right through the windows and letting the wind blow around the overgrown locks that he’s very proud of. It’s early, maybe around five-thirty or six in the morning. And I’m still sleepy, struggling to keep my eyes open after a late night, but I won’t give in- I have my headphones on the amp me up. He insists we be up super early so we can make it to the trailhead before it fills up. Ever since COVID, they’ve been blocking the streets from parking to limit the amount of people entering. We won’t miss our chance to be there on time and grab a spot.
My boots are tied on tight, as tight as I could get them. If they aren’t snug enough, your ankle will be more unstable. I can tell, he’s excited, but I’m still a little anxious as always. We arrive at the trailhead at seven a.m. sharp, and I hop out of the car to prepare my trekking poles for impact. My boots touch the soil, and the energy surges through my body, marking every cell until it lights up my brain. The nerves are gone- it’s time to get moving.
The outdoors haven’t always been my “thing.” Even growing up on the shore, and making any place by the ocean, my home, I didn’t have that connection to nature. I was never good at sports, and I definitely didn’t enjoy anything we did in gym. I sat out a lot. And the friends I had usually did some kind of activity. Or had a club to go to. I always wanted some kind of hobby to call my own. Perhaps it was because I longed to have a team, but maybe not- I don’t exactly enjoy being watched by a crowd and I never felt comfortable speaking out loud at club meetings. I’d rather just be alone.
My dad, on the other hand, has been doing some kind of outdoor activity since forever. I wouldn’t exactly call him a “team player” either, but he eats, sleeps, and breathes the outdoors. Mountain biking, road cycling, hiking, climbing- you name it. We didn’t have many shared interests. I was kind of artsy, and he’s more techy- me, more easygoing, and he, more rigid. He pushes himself to the absolute limit and that’s always been a bit much for me. I like the safe side.
Just a few years ago, he asked me to come hiking for the first time. I agreed. Near where I live, there are a lot of brisk hikes and walking trails, but there isn’t anything within an hour radius that’s too long and/or challenging (I know this is my opinion). So there aren’t a ton of places to get decent practice and work your way up, unless you’re trail running for endurance or training at the gym. Both of which I had/have trouble being consistent with.
We started in Bear Mountain, New York, working our way up from four to seven to ten to thirteen-mile hikes, routinely getting Mexican food afterward- I suppose that’s what reeled me in. Months and months passed. I hiked on again, off again- mostly staying in New York, but touching Vermont, New Hampshire, and some parts of North Jersey. We would rise early and throw on our packs. Or we’d camp- falling asleep to the smell of a dying fire, the fireflies acting as a string of lights hanging outside the tent and the crickets chirping away.
After I proved myself to be worthy and committed, I acquired hiking gear and was very excited about it. I had my own stuff finally…and a few more pounds to carry on my back. I became an adventurer who was ready to set foot on land I’d never seen before. I may have looked and acted absolutely miserable in the moment. But I seldom came off the trail feeling unaccomplished and weak. It wasn’t until recently that I started feeling ready for the challenges thrown at me- eager to do it again.
Of course, everyone hikes for the views: the breathtaking peaks and the valleys below them. You’re on top of the world. Pine trees tower over you as you watch the beetles and daddy long legs crawl over the rocks. You have the opportunity to see all the lakes, ponds, and waterfalls the world as the offer- you might even run into some wildlife. You observe how each ecosystem thrives. You feel freedom. And your heart starts to grow bigger for the wild. Each inhale is an opportunity to receive, and each exhale, an opportunity to give.
I was in a lost place in my life when I started, and hiking/nature gave me a sense of belonging. I struggled a lot and held it in because, perhaps, I have too much pride to speak about when I’m in pain. Mentally, I was struggling to keep myself all the way there and to talk myself through it. Eventually, hiking becomes less about the physical and more if you’re mentally able to handle it. Your body is on autopilot, but can you get yourself to keep moving? Emotionally, I felt many feelings coming up I had to deal with and sort through. And I wasn’t in proper physical shape, but nothing my young body couldn’t get used to. I just kept pushing myself. All the way through those swollen feet, blisters, and achy joints.
The more experience I gained, the more I began to realize what this activity really meant- that it isn’t just an “activity.” It is a practice. A ritual.
My feet touch the ground. I feel it pumping beneath me as if it’s propelling me. Each step is an exploration of the floor and what’s underneath it. Every joint in my body lifts and extends. It becomes a gentle flow of movement. And suddenly I’m not trying, my body knows exactly what to do, and my brain is the commander in chief. My thoughts come in and out at their own will. I’m in a meditative state. I release my soul while my body is treading forward. It dances freely in the space around me- jumping from tree to tree, kissing me on the forehead, then returning to the heavens before it has to come back to its temporary home. Happy.
While the above is taking place, this is also- the droplets of sweat running down my cheeks transform into waterfalls. The villages built over my skin are being flooded over. I’m struggling now, but I can’t turn back, especially after I’ve walked a few miles already. You got this- nothing you haven’t done before. I ate breakfast, a hearty bowl of oatmeal, but my stomach has emptied itself again. My belly is grumbling. I long for my bed. My knees and hips ache. Mosquitos are sucking all my blood out and leaving me dry. Weird insects are getting lodged in my ear, even as I swat at the air. But I tame myself, learn to be content and accept discomfort. Let it be. No, I’m not always the most graceful hiker (if that even exists). I’ve fallen hard and eaten shit a few times (not literally, if I must say).
I used to be afraid of what was hidden behind the trees and under rocks. But hiking taught me to just let go of the fear. How will I ever learn, or see, if something is in the way? All those bears and snakes, that you fear crossing paths with, want to protect themselves just as you do. They are living their own lives, basking in their beautiful homes. There’s no reason to afraid, just be smart and respectful- this goes for the plants too. Nature is unpredictable and can be as harsh as it is beautiful. I began to connect with the world around me and ground myself. Then I learned how to do it over and over each time I returned. The fleshy barrier separating the two of us disintegrates. I am the air and the dirt and the sky. I am the light on every passing stranger’s face and they are the light on mine. I am infinite in my movement and space.
And although it has made me feel eternal, it has also shown me my humanness. I’m not invincible. I’m in no control of boulders slipping out from under me, or a sudden thunderstorm coming over in the alpine zone, or a rattlesnake that I didn’t hear warning me. I have to be careful. I have to focus. I can’t be in la la land all the time, floating through this emerald dream. I’m not the only one on the planet and I am not immortal. I’ve been shown my time here is fleeting, going by just about as fast as my car passing the street signs, scenic views, and ambitious bikers.
Hiking is how I passionately explore myself. It has allowed me to connect to myself in a way I never even knew existed- who I am really, beyond my barriers, why I do the things I do and think the ways I do. I don’t know if I was taking care of myself properly before, but it taught me how to do that too- how to fully rely on myself, especially for protection. It taught me how to push myself without hurting myself. It gave me no choice but to nurture myself when I needed it and to love myself as if no one else in the world exists or has the capability to do so. I have everything I need inside, and it unlocks and explodes with the simple caress of my own fingertips. Sometimes the person I need a hug from most is me.
And it has gifted me the chance to connect with my father. It has become a place where there is neutral ground, where it’s safe. I speak and communicate the best when I’m there. I’ve gotten to learn about him and his life, and he to learn about mine. And even though, it is my father with whom I share this with, I feel my mother’s spirit running through me so strongly. It is her fortitude that I bear with me. And her heart that I hold. When I’m having a difficult time, it is her courage and his security surrounding me. I feel like I can consciously heal both of them through my movement.
My experiences have let in new ideas and showed me that a lot of what I think matters in my life, actually doesn’t. Everything I learned from the “civilized” world and media is minuscule and superficial and unimportant (mostly). It doesn’t matter what I look like. It doesn’t matter if my legs are shaved, or if my armpit hair is so long I could probably tie it, or if I smell like I’ve slept in a garbage can for the past week and made friends with all the creatures that come out after dark. Who cares if I’m skinny if I am strong? And the length of my hair doesn’t measure my femininity in the woods. My skincare products and hairbrush and outfits are just material items that can be taken away at any moment. What do I need all of it for anyway?
There is nothing in this entire world more comforting than the thought and the embrace of the wilderness. As UNCOMFORTABLE, as UNHAPPY, as BREATHLESS, as FRUSTRATED, as SCARED as I have been, I would return over and over. I would give it all up to go be an untraceable, insignificant speck in the forest. There are no walls there. The Earth, and the privilege of hiking, have torn down every wall I had, then made me look me right in the face. Naked and bare and raw I am in the face of mother- there is nothing she cannot see past. And still in that state of unadulterated vulnerability, I have felt more whole and accepted than I ever have in my life. Braver. And more connected to all that is. And all I had to do was walk. I didn’t have to be a writer or a daughter or a student. I didn’t have to be happy or sad or angry. I was just me and that was enough.
The physical pain I’ve experienced, although I have a limit, is no match for the gift I’ve received of being mentally determined. I have been given a strength that no one can ever take away from me because it burns so brilliantly inside me. That same strength has faded every scar and cured every sickness plaguing my heart. Birds whistling and the clicking of cicadas are the sweetest sounds. And I know that if I ever feel lost, I have somewhere I can return to. A home. And this home I will righteously protect until the day I am no longer here. I have learned to let in something so much greater than myself and then love it unconditionally. To give back the same it has given me.