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.
Tips to Help Make Stress a Smaller Part of Your Life
Recent life events have left me feeling strained and tense. Though I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am now, to identify my stressors, incorporate things into my routine to keep peace, and talk myself through hard times, I never really know what life is going to throw at me- even when I think everything is stable and good. That doesn’t mean I should fear that something ‘bad’ or ‘inconvenient’ will happen because I like to think when things fall through, there’s something good coming on the other side. It’s all for a reason.
I work hard towards my healing because it’s what I’m passionate about (among many other things). And it will take a while to completely build back up from the physical damages stress has done over time, as it will for me to work through mental/emotional barriers and coping habits that come up when I feel stressed. It’s important that I stay grounded when tough situations come along and work through it, but I definitely struggle to not lose it sometimes.
Stress is a physical, mental, and emotional burden. It’s an intelligent response from our body to keep us safe, but it takes energy and life force out of us- especially when it’s triggered often. Our bodies have the ability to (and do) remember trauma and stress. It can be triggered by a sight, place, smell, etc. And whether or not it’s a big or small stress- our body perceives it all the same.
Creating little or big ways to “keep the peace” (i.e. keep yourself from always being in the stress response) can make your life all the more easy and enjoyable. You can start to flow through life effortlessly and not hold onto everything so tensely anymore. I even see it in myself, that when I start making the effort to change and to help myself, I have a better experience existing here.
So how can you reduce stress and its impacts in your everyday life?
Start with the Basics:
Sleep. Good quality sleep that is. It doesn’t have to be the standard eight hours. It can be more or less depending on what your body needs and asks for, but it’s important to make sure you’re getting restful sleep. It’s also best to go to bed 2-3 hours before midnight. And you can always take naps to get the rest you need in!
Eat. Not when you’re stressed, but having grounding meals can help set you up to be grounded (so you’re not running off your own stress hormones). Spend time with your food, and cook a nice meal. Fueling yourself with a proper, full breakfast is the perfect way to start the day.
Exercise. Sweat. Work your body. Doing some sort of physical activity when you’re stressed can help disperse and burn off that energy as well.
Build a routine. This can be creating morning and/or nighttime rituals to help set you up for a peaceful day/evening. Something to give you a reason to get up in the morning and to wind you down at night.
Make a to-do list. This can help organize your thoughts and tasks and also give yourself something to do if the reason you’re anxious is because you have an abundance of time to worry. The more time there is to be swimming in thoughts, the more lost in the stress sauce you can get. This doesn’t mean run away from what’s stressing you, but picking and choosing what consumes your time. You can give yourself the space in your list of to-dos to create something you’re passionate about.
Start each day with gratitude. Something as simple as thinking positive thoughts or reliving happy memories each morning can set the tone for the day.
Do things that give you joy. Nothing brings stress relief like something that makes you happy. Make time in your day for whatever it is that brings you joy.
Identify your stressors, as well as how you respond to them. This can give you insight on what’s giving you so much stress and keeping you from your peace. Is it your job? Is it someone in your life? Is a certain overwhelming thought? How can you shift things around, deal with this, or make the predicament you’re in better? And how can you find ways to deal with this in a balanced way?
Consider how social media and electronics are affecting your mental health. Social media and technology weren’t always a part of our lives. And in recent years, it has absolutely affected the health of the general population. Take into account how this might put strain on your mental well-being. What can you do to change that?
Build Up From There With (find what works for you):
Be your own best friend. I’ve found that journaling my hardships has been my best medicine. I’ve taught myself to go to myself when I need comfort or to come down from my whirlwind of thoughts. It also helps me explain how I’m feeling, so I can find the good in it.
Find time each day to go outside. Breathing fresh air can work wonders and even be the one thing you need to ultimately reduce your stress.
Forest Bathing. Go to the woods or the ocean nearest you and fully immerse yourself. Experience the warm sunlight, the rushing water, the tall trees and leaves, breathe clean air- all the little things.
Meditation. Doing some sort of meditation at some point (or multiple points) throughout your day can help give you perspective. It brings you to a neutral and blissful place where you can find what truly matters. It also has been proven to lower stress and anxiety levels across the board. I like to put on ambient music and drift off to a place that I feel happiest (visualization meditation).
Breathwork. There are different forms of breathwork, but learning to do this as a mode of calming down at any point in your day can keep you from being locked into the stress response. It tells your brain you can relax and feels good.
Create a space that gives you peace. Wherever you spend most of your time, make a space for yourself that gives you joy and makes you feel safe. When you’re feeling uncomfortable, anxious, sad, or stressed- go there and breathe.
Work on coming from a balanced place. Train yourself to come from a neutral place when you’re faced with a stressful situation. You don’t have to hold your emotions in (feel them), but know not everything is a big deal. Life is too short to stress over every little thing.
Community. Whether it be good friends or family, a loving partner, or nice coworkers, having a support system can bring security, a sense of purpose, and a feeling of being at home. Having loving relationships with the people around you is so important for your mental and emotional well-being. And working to create community or seek one out can make you feel less alone in your feelings and give you a place to go to safely speak of them.
***BONUS: Work with Plant Friends (herbs) to help combat stress!
So many things in life cause stress. Something I learned that was really big for me was what was really worth being stressed out over. I have to ask myself this every time a situation comes up- is it worth my time, energy, and worry? I have the power to give my stressor power. And though I may relinquish my thoughts or time to pestilent moments on occasion, I am my own ruler.
I ask myself- how will I choose to see this? Some things are just completely out of my control. And as my teacher said, the only things we have control of are 1) how we react to things, and 2) our actions and what we put out into the world. I need to let go of the fact that shit happens and sometimes there’s nothing I could’ve or can do to change that. And that’s OKAY.
Why Chronic Stress Causes Great Harm to Your Health
Stress is something I’m all too familiar with. Me being just 20 years old you’d think, “What could she possibly have to stress over?”. But let me tell you, I can name many things. Whether they’re worth being stressed out over is the question you should be asking. A daily challenge of mine is sorting the things I should be worrying about from what I shouldn’t be worried about. Since stress was how I always knew how to deal with difficult situations and trauma, I learned how to live with it. And in reality, that’s the case for many people my age, as well as those younger and older than I.
When I’m chatting with friends or just people in general about their health concerns, the number one thing that comes up is either stress or anxiety. Though many struggle day-to-day, many don’t realize how deep their emotions truly go.
I see how stress manifests in my physical body, even though it’s something I experience mentally. I go through cycles of feeling really bad then really great then back to bad. And it takes so much out of me when I’m in a bad streak of it, which can last for months.
Continually experiencing stress and not knowing how to dial down, or literally having a body that doesn’t know how to shut that alert off, has left me feeling unable to focus, ungrounded, and just plain exhausted. Stress has affected my digestive function, blood pressure, and skin health, as well as my sleep. Overthinking and worry leaves more than just your mind burnt out! And it’s important to take a deeper look into why and how chronic stress can affect the rest of your body so intensely.
What happens to your body when you’re under stress?
Our bodies have two different states that branch off of our Autonomic (or involuntary) nervous system; parasympathetic (PNS) and sympathetic (SNS). Parasympathetic state is “Rest and Digest” mode. This is where healing takes place. It’s the calmer, more neutral, of the two. The sympathetic state is the “Fight or Flight” or stress response. It’s the adrenally active response, but also happens when you’re excited (for example). It’s not exactly as black and white as survival mode.
We need both. You slide the scale as needed, but don’t want to get stuck in one place. Either one when out of balance can cause disharmony in the body.
When you become stressed, your body goes into sympathetic dominance. Whether it’s just being worried about being out of control over a situation or finding yourself face-to-face with a bear, it’s all stress to the body (and different people have different versions of what might be serious to them). Your body begins to shelve certain functions in order to deliver your body what it needs to keep you alive in that moment.
The HPA Axis is activated. Your hypothalamus gland sends a hormone to the pituitary gland, which then sends a hormone to your adrenal cortex to start pushing out cortisol. Your blood pressure increases, your blood sugar increases, and blood begins to flow to your limbs. At a certain point, when cortisol reaches sufficient levels in the blood, it sends messages back to stop producing cortisol (otherwise there could be serious damage done to the body by high levels of cortisol). Then, after the stressor is dealt with, you calm down.
So why is Chronic Stress harmful to your health?
Mind and body are indefinitely connected. You may have noticed that when you become anxious, you start sweating, your palms become clammy, or your heart starts racing. These are all signs your body is saying it’s under some sort of stress, but deeper than this, long-term stress can affect even the most simple and vital functions. Your symptoms may even be so vague that you can’t tie them to a specific problem.
Nervous System/Endocrine Dysfunction. Quite obviously, the nervous system has a direct role in your stress response. Overactivation of the HPA Axis can lead to adrenal fatigue and eventually adrenal exhaustion.
When a stressful situation is over, your body returns to parasympathetic mode. However, the longer and more frequently you’re in sympathetic dominant mode, the harder it will be to come back down from a sympathetic state. More and more cortisol is being made. Eventually, your body tries to protect itself by no longer responding to signals that cortisol needs to be made due to the dangerous outcomes of having too much in your bloodstream. This can result in too low cortisol levels, which manifests as fatigue, mood changes, poor memory, difficultly sleeping, and bone and muscle loss. Constantly stressing the body contributes to depleting your overall reservoir of vitality.
Heart and Blood Issues. The cardiovascular system is one that is greatly affected by stress. Blood pressure (BP) increases as part of the stress response to help carry more oxygen and glucose to the parts of your body that need it faster. Your heart begins to beat faster and harder, and blood vessels dilate. Being in the stress response longer with elevated blood pressure can turn into hypertension. Stress can also affect the breaking down of sugar in the blood. If levels of blood sugar are too high, it may result in hyperglycemia or Type II Diabetes.
Fluid Production. The parasympathetic mode is when your body is readily secreting fluids, which means that when you’re in sympathetic mode, your body isn’t concerned with that. There’s less blood flow to areas like your skin or hair, resulting in dryness all around. Dry mouth, dandruff, and vaginal dryness can all be signs of stress.
Digestive Issues. Digestion is a background function of the body, and it happens in parasympathetic mode. This means you need to be calm and grounded to properly digest a meal. When you’re in sympathetic dominance, your body isn’t concerned with digestion, which could be the reason you’re not hungry when you’re stressed. And if you’re someone who stress eats, it could be an overload on your stomach at the moment.
It’s important to remember that when you’re stressed, your stomach isn’t producing the enzymes it needs to break down the food in your stomach (low HCL), which can be an initial problem in poor digestion. Not being able to properly digest food, or even just holding emotions in, can lead to bloating, gas, pain, or constipation.
Your gut listens. Stress directly affects your gut health and has been linked to poor absorption, intestinal permeability, and inflammation. “The heightened inflammation that frequently accompanies stress and depression triggers blooms of pathogenic bacteria that encourage dysbiosis and a leaky gut”(Madison and Kiecolt-Glaser, 2019). This can lead to bigger problems like Leaky Gut or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). In fact, stress triggers IBS!
Brain Function. Being stressed can make it very difficult to stay in a balanced headspace. You may find yourself to be angrier and more irritable, almost out of control of your emotions. You’re more likely to snap over little things because you’re already on edge. Stress can also make it harder to remember things and for your brain to perform properly. Your judgment, decision-making, and memory are all thrown off.
Pain Sensitivity. Stress can make you more reactive to pain and even more sensitive. It makes you just as physically tense as you are mentally. Because your body is on guard, bracing for impact or injury, your muscles tense up. You’re likely to have tight shoulder and/or neck muscles. You may even experience chronic migraines.
Sleep Quality. It’s so important to get good sleep. It’s a time where your mind gets a rest, and your body can do necessary detoxification. Deep sleep lets your body know to stop producing stress hormones. When sleep is disrupted or of poor quality, your body is not able to properly do these things. Not getting enough sleep triggers your body to send out more stress hormones. The more stress hormones going out leads to, once again, poor sleep, waking up throughout the night, and getting less sleep. You wake up feeling tired and groggy. It’s an endless cycle.
Hormones and Reproductive Function. If the way the hypothalamus and pituitary gland are responding changes, this can affect your hormones. Stress on the endocrine system can disrupt its function, and hormones released by the hypothalamus can directly affect the female reproductive system. “Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) inhibits hypothalamic gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) secretion, and glucocorticoids inhibit pituitary luteinizing hormone and ovarian estrogen and progesterone secretion”, which can result in amenorrhea (or missing periods) (Kalantaridou SN; Makrigiannakis A; Zoumakis E; Chrousos, 2004). The length of menstrual cycles can change, and it can also be harder to conceive when you’re stressed. Thyroid dysfunctions are also known to be affected by stress.
Immune Health. When we’re stressed, our body is not able to fight off toxins and intruders as effectively. Stress hormones suppress immune function making our body more susceptible to infection.
Taking care of your mind is taking care of your body. Making sure you come down from any stress you experience benefits and protects you in the long term. Even just finding time to journal or talk to someone about what you’re feeling can help.
Most of everyone nowadays is experiencing it in some form, and many are looking for a solution. Pharmaceutical companies are still making big bucks off anti-anxiety meds, and at the same time, adaptogenic herbs have become increasingly popular in mainstream culture. Headlines of magazines read, “How to Manage Your Stress”. Wellness catalogs rave about the new ways to deal with stress and anxiety. We don’t have to talk about why we’re all stressed out in the mainstream media because we all know why. And what isn’t being talked about is how we can change society and our culture to lower stress levels across the board.
So with that, I leave you with a few questions to ask yourself:
Why is being stressed out normal, and why is it something we should have to live with? Why is not being stressed out in some way, shape, or form shocking to hear now?
Stay tuned for tips on how to make stress a lesser part of your life later this week.
A Reflection of 2020; the Year of Change, and Coming Home to the Self
“Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut you more deep. Let it ferment and season you as few humans and even divine ingredients can. Something in my heart tonight has made my eyes so soft, my voice so tender, my need for God absolutely clear.”
I don’t necessarily believe in God. I guess my perspective on the subject is a bit complicated. The universe and the universe within us, as simple as being a human may sound, is what I believe in. I’ve not birthed life into everything- it has shown itself to me one way or another, and so, I see God in each of those things. We are the rulers of our own worlds, lives, and experiences in my book. I see myself and you and the next human all as Creator- Creators.
Regardless of what I think, this quote is still relevant. This year has shown me a vast loneliness within myself and spread across the planet. I saw the space between my physical body and soul, the pain and hurt, the memories, all floating around in stillness.
This year threw me into everything I’d been hiding from. It made me revisit all that I thought I’d run away from or solved. It made me feel it so vividly that they broke my heart all over again.
My emotions were so potent that I couldn’t turn away. And I felt so alone in that- like the only person in the world whose life was closing in on them, crumbling. I stood intimately with my own emotions and deeply scarred memories and began to feel the world’s as well. It’s funny- though we were all kept away from one another, it seemed as though we could feel each other’s emotions as if we were standing together. This pain slashed whatever I was feeling and delivered the bigger picture. And when I was faced with that, I wept like the sky on her darkest day.
I sat with more problems than I knew what to do with. Problems that are deeply rooted in our society, ones that affect not just humans, but all living beings on the planet too. It’s not that any of these weren’t there before. It’s that I’d been too preoccupied to pay any mind to them. But all at once, they fell onto me, clear as day, overwhelming me to points that I could not handle. I felt like I was trapped in this endless cycle of darkness, finally coming to the conclusion that the world was messed up, and there was no saving left to do. There was just doom.
I needed that- that moment of being naked in the center of the ring with the truth staring fiercely at me. No more veil. No more hiding behind the curtain. No more lies. I was afraid, but I needed to feel that so I could move past it. From the world’s loneliness, darkness emerged and told us what we needed to hear. It was enough to call out to a greater power to save us. That would make it easy though- to just hand over your problem to the next person and the next and the next. To make it so far out of reach and to disassociate yourself from it, so you don’t feel like fate is in your hands. But honestly, who we need right now is us. We must call to ourselves and to each other. We must build community.
We need to be vulnerable. We need to be open for change to ensue- to heal. We can no longer run away if we want the world to get better and if we want to get better. The reason I was faced with loneliness was because I needed to see what I was made of. There needed to be nothing. Everything needed to be torn down to its core so that I could finally rebuild. I needed to break open so that I could receive and so I could come home to myself. And I suppose the real test there was to see if I could do it.
As we exit this year, we are not beginning with a blank slate. Our slate is overflowing and a mess, and wiping it clean is backbreaking work. I know that I’ve been given the knowledge I needed to excite change, a revolution of the self. And boy is it ugly. Still, I feel that it’s beautiful just like life is. I stand at the brink of a new day, and I get to choose how that will unfold.
This year has been a lot of unlearning and relearning, mostly how to be human. I used to dread life. I used to hate waking up. I rejected the idea that life could be something magical, and I didn’t see the purpose in me. But second chances were thrown at me like they were candy. I thought that I had been hardened by my sadness. And though my outside shell may have been closed off, there’s something about all of it that softened me. I found something in nothingness and empty space. And I decided that it didn’t matter if my life amounted to nothing because it isn’t nothing in my eyes. What matters to me is living. It doesn’t even have to be exciting. The joy in the space between sweet moments. The sun lighting my room golden each morning and the moon staining the Earth blue every evening. My cup of coffee. The gently falling snow. How kindly my bed holds me after a long day. Following my dreams. All of these things I’ve fallen in love with. All of these things valuable pieces of life.
In the midst of the fear, I saw and cried more tears of happiness and fearlessness than I ever have. There was something about this year that tied me back to me. It made me care, even about the little things. I see the importance in the smallest beings and the soul in inanimate objects.
The great return home– I found joy in myself, in my entire being, in the fact that my body can move, that my lungs work harmoniously with the trees so I can breathe. I stop for a second, close my eyes, and try to capture moments with my mind. To feel emotions as if I were touching them, falling from my palm to fingertips. It’s ten times better than a photo. I’m kind of worried that I might miss something so I just have to pause. If you thought you may never see someone again or experience something, you’d hold on. You might treat every moment just like that.
Isn’t there something more we could all hold onto? Someone or something we have a profound enough love for? To pull up from the mud as a collective? Can life be enough?
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!
I find myself missing old hugs- old sweaters and old blankets and creaky wooden floors. I miss the stained glass window at the front of my Victorian childhood home. I hope the people who moved in have left it and appreciate it just as much. I miss playing under the trees and hiding away from the world. I crave old friends and laughs that sound like home.
These memories have aged so sweetly, like candied fruit or apple pie. And I suddenly find myself having a harder time saying goodbye.
As I take my evening drive to the supermarket, my nostalgic and melancholy feelings are quelled by the quiet road. I have the world to myself- no distractions or urgency. I admire the trees that are left with just a bit of shine. They’re changing- following and working to complete their cycle. Yellow are their leaves in commemoration of the sun. I imagine them sending their amber syrup (energy) down into their roots.
You may not notice it in the midst of your scarf blowing over your face or if you’re in a hurry, but if you stop for just a second, you could witness one of the most magical parts of the season. Every so often, star-shaped rain comes down on the earth, creating one big blanket for the ground. It’s sprinkled so effortlessly, carried gently by the wind.
I feel nurtured by these trees and comforted by their resilience through the colder times. Their branches are what I hold onto to keep from sinking. But sometimes I’m too busy to see them. Instead, I see right past them. It makes me feel disconnected from everything, lost in my own race.
I struggle to feel part of where I am. The resentment I feel towards the place I grew up probably stems from it never making sense to me. I suppose it did at one point- when my friend and I would meet up at the edge of the gate that separated our family’s property to convene about our fairy house building operations and makeshift realities. I assume that gate is still there, but I haven’t seen it in over five years. The streets I travel now are foreign, though I know them like the back of my hand. The forgiving nature of mom and pop shops are diminishing, and the unforgivingness of busy, seasonal shore, and city people claims its place more each year.
Everywhere I look is changing. “It’s not what it used to be.” I feel old. No longer does my home look like the lichens growing on the old pear tree or picking ripe cherries while standing in between chipping paint and overgrown rose bushes. We’ve traded homemade quilts and messy living rooms for modern home magazine covers and spotless kitchen tables. We have fences now as borders. We close ourselves off because of computer-generated fear. The puzzle piece gets a little more misshapen.
So I just watch people leave. I’ve watched myself leave more than anyone else. I see the uprooting of family- we all need more water and sunlight now. What’s home without any friends?
The urge to escape grows and grows with vicious desire. And it’s not so bad if you can outrun the everlasting wave of emotion. Each season I find a new way to replace old feelings, to nourish what’s missing.
These desires are pacified by breaking away. Last summer, I traveled all the way across the country to New Mexico with my mother. You could say it was in search of a home that we belong to.
The mysteriousness of desert life called. I had a dream, a few months before, of being in the White Sands, and so the peacefulness of the wind picking up each gypsum crystal echoed through my mind. The allure and charm filled me with promise.
When I arrived, darkling beetles scurried across the sand. Each carried its own message in a tiny glass bottle. I put my feet onto pillowy ground and chased them across the hills. The tangerine sky lit my skin up like autumn’s glowing pumpkins, and the clouds painted my hair lavender. The sun set quickly, and I struggled to say my goodbyes, but right before I left, a darkling beetle stopped to hand me over a bottle. Inside I found a piece of myself (a piece of home). I took it with thankfulness and carried on.
I was left with was a valuable piece of wisdom. As I passed out of Southern New Mexico, through the Texas plains, and back into the sweet Louisiana air, I searched for my reflection in the muddy, stirring water of the Mississippi River with no luck, but found it in the window of the fast racing car against the greenery. My face was made up by a bunch of blurred foliage.
We passed many states on our way back, but none provided the same comfort of the Northeast. Of course, that’s what I’ve come to know, but as I looked down at my darkling beetle bottle, I saw I had roots. There wasn’t a reflection of any other land that could fill the hole in my heart from the separation of me to mine- pieces I’d denied myself.
My heart lies in my chest, but also in the dense forest, something I will always miss when I leave.
On this drive, I begin to recognize my surroundings like never before. I fit back into my shoes, my place. I’ve been running for long enough in ways to cope with my bitterness and depression as a result of my distaste for this place I’ve grown no roots. But truthfully, it is just as much home as all the other places. It’s just as much home as my friends’ faces and my parents embrace, my favorite sweater and a warm cup of tea. I’m home too, and the feathers I dropped to fade into seeds have sprouted as well. I carry these pieces everywhere I go.
Autumn brings back all my souvenirs. All my feelings resurface with vengence. Bygone polaroids scatter along the path, and I pick them up to skip like rocks. I find myself at meeting ends of the whirlpool. Life changes like seasons do.
I was never separate from home. My roots never shriveled. It was just an illusion I bought into. And besides the point, where the birch grows, the oaks stand tall, and the maples sing, is my home.
The bridge between a noisy summer, gatherings and burnt skin, and a cozy and quite lonely winter. Fall is a good time to reflect, to build your reservoir back up like the mighty maples.
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.