The Divine Feminine

art by Sage Shakti

Lessons from Me, My Mama, and Other Wise Women in My Life


“Self care allows me to tap into my divine feminine energy. This energy is the force that connects mother nature and all souls. It is an interwoven essence that speaks to authentic power. Keyword; authentic power. As a woman, I am connected to Mother Nature. She is me and I am her. It’s the energy that is deep within me; surging. Becoming.

What does self care look like to me?

Speaking my truth. As a woman, we are told…don’t be so loud, don’t feel your feelings. Think without heart. My heart, my pain, is my power. I tap into the energy of all by allowing myself to be. To be. Repeat that, to be. Whatever that might be, I’m unapologetically myself. “

Sage Shakti


For so long, I felt uncomfortable in my body. Not exactly self-image wise, but I felt like being a girl, a woman, was a burden and that I should be something/someone else. I felt like I should hide or be ashamed for being this way. I was never taught what it meant to be a woman, or anything deeper than physically why our bodies were different from men. I was never explicitly taught how to take care of myself. I felt embarrassed to ask questions, to discuss anything out loud, and to talk about my body.

I always wondered why no one talked about anything. Why my friend group growing up never really discussed what we were going through until we were older. And why as women we are so hard on ourselves and despite belonging to that collective, we are hard on each other too. Was there a safe place I could go?

As I got more mature and more serious about myself and my body, I began searching more. Thank god for the internet because whenever I didn’t feel comfortable saying something out loud, I usually looked there in private. Beyond that, I was just learning through observation. Then I got past caring about what anyone thought and started to ask questions- talking openly with my mother and my friends about everything. I started to realize how incredibly awesome it is to be a woman and to share a space with other women. I also realized how much they had to share and how learning from them was the best way to do it. They understand because they are.

This is an ode to the village that raised me. There are parts of me that have wandered off (and still do), out of curiosity and thirst for knowledge and intellect. But there have been many who touched my soul so deeply, it’s impossible to deny. Each print on my spiritual body expanded my mind and thought process. I would not be the woman I am today without their gentle voices, their soft eyes who have lost, been disheartened, and silenced, but have chosen to share their stories and wisdom with me. It’s an ode to the knowledge I’ve picked up along my way. To all the women that taught me what taking care of myself meant beyond physical terms- I want to share their unfiltered voices with you. So all I ask is that you bask in that, open your mind to receiving the energy of these magical women.


photo by Brea Carlstrom

What is The Divine Feminine ?

Lessons from my mama;

The Divine Feminine (and feminine energy) are the heart’s love and all it encompasses; purity, nurturing, creation, allowance, compassion, caring, etc. They are the awareness and understanding that all life is sacred. And paired with The Divine Masculine, there is a powerful union and balance.

Therefore, self-care is not about cancelling out The Divine Masculine. It is not one or the other. It is both. Self-care is just accessing that feminine part of yourself and bringing it out. There may be masculinity in excess-due to the state of society or what you’re being told. The Divine Masculine is that of action and reason, but when we overdo that, we become overwhelmed because we’ve spent so much time suppressing our true nature. We neglect the part of ourselves that needs to relax and feel. Maybe because sometimes we’re told that being soft and vulnerable are bad traits. When in reality, that’s not true.

You support The Divine Feminine by being grateful (giving thanks) and expressing that- staying true to your heart. It is such an important part of us stepping into our power as women because it lives so strongly within our bodies. Love (feminine energy) reaches out its arms, embraces you, and shows you- you were born worthy. No one can confirm or give you that because it was yours all along. And that love is unlike any other. My mom compares it to that of the love from a mother to her child- that unconditional pure love. And that’s how it should be with yourself. You treat yourself with the same kind of care and gentleness that you would your own child.

“I find that regardless of what happened or what is happening at this moment, love’s purity, wisdom, protection, and power, are the simplest, easiest courses of action. Real love wants what is best for you and all that you deserve.” Love delivers peace of mind. You heal in that light. It keeps you youthful, joyous, and present. And remaining and channeling that is what can and will guide you. Self-care is inviting that kind of love in and letting it wipe away anything negative. When you’re living in the light of love, it’s hard to have anything penetrate that and knock it down. And it becomes much easier to quiet your mind’s chatter and really listen.

I have yet to come across anything stronger than the power of Divine Femininity. It’s the life force that exists the womb and surges through our veins. It’s what keeps us from breaking (even if we may feel like we are), while carrying generations and generations of weight. It’s what keeps us going when we are tired, why we continue to fight. It’s the quality of being resilient. It’s the flowers that sprout from our palms- a peace offering. It’s the healing vibration of laugher and touch. It’s the effortless beauty in every woman. It’s the reminder and knowing of the vast aptitude of our existence.

What is Self-Care ?

It’s more than just face masks and painting your nails. Although that can be where it starts- physically. I like to think that self-caring means nourishing and nurturing yourself through different means, in all aspects of your health. That being; physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. At the end of the day, it boils down to the journey of self-loving and being happy- meaning you don’t have to look outwards and nothing can change it. Self-caring is learning about yourself and practicing that.

Beth Killip: I love that question! I love it because self care is such a beautiful energy that equates to not only self love, but self knowing. And that to me, is the most important piece of self care right now. I care best for myself by knowing myself. Self care is knowing some days I remember, and some days I forget, but I ALWAYS have access to listen to her, my truest self.

I know myself more and more by taking time each day to question everything; to critically think, sift through the bombardment of information, and then the most important part…feel gratitude for my life, all of it 😉. To sit quietly and listen to my soul, my expanded self- that part of me that is connected forever to the big ole’ Universe.

It is not always easy to look at and release thoughts and beliefs I’ve been programmed with my entire life; the stories I’ve created in my mind based on these programs, the agenda driven, manipulated, and infiltrated information I hear in the world- the overly positive messages swirling around. But as I do, I get quiet and let in the part of me that holds wisdom and truth and love beyond this world. It is the most self caring thing I can do.

I get guidance, I hear messages, I feel love. I remember who I am and then I can live with more lightness, more purpose, more appreciation for this fantastically beautiful Earth (and my place in it), and a boatload more joy.

So my self care advice? Listen…to…yourself…the You that is connected to All. You got this! And also I’d like to mention getting massages and belly laughing with friends- those are ranked way high up on the self care list as well.

Sonal Madhok: Self care looks different for everyone and every day it could be different. There are days where my self care is a healthy meal or a workout or a long walk. I think the common denominator is that self care is rest. It’s a rest of the mind, body, and soul. And it’s necessary so that we can become even stronger and honor ourselves.

I usually shut everything off and listen to music. Journaling is always a go-to for me. It feels good to write down what I’m feeling and what triggered it because otherwise, I’ll feel tension. And overtime, I’ll forget how it came about, and I might release it onto others or myself. By addressing it, when I feel it and accept it, I make it easier for the emotion to pass. The more I spend trying to push it away instead of accepting it, the harder it comes back to remind me that I’m hurt. So journaling helps me alleviate that.

I also like to keep affirmations around me- whether that be in reminders on my phone or on notes around my room. Sometimes, I self-care by remembering the things and/or people I’m grateful for. Recently, when I feel like I’ve been in my head too much, I remember a loved one, and I write them a letter about how I appreciate them. Then I send it to them in the mail. This has been such a powerful way for me to rejuvenate, remember that I am loved, and ground myself. It feels good to make others feel good and especially, when they are words that you say in your head and are conveying them on a random day- not only on their birthday or a ‘special’ day.

It really is such a beautiful process. So I think keeping a gratitude journal, and/or writing letters to those you’re grateful for, does wonders for your own mental health.

Julia Forsyth and her mama, Marcie Forsyth: When you’re talking about mental health, it is so okay to be selfish. You have to do the best thing for yourself in that moment. I like to take the time to figure out what I need, and sometimes all that is, is water. I struggle with keeping things in now and again, so it’s very therapeutic to communicate and talk about how I feel. Overtime I’ve learned what I need. Thankfully, I have the emotional support to lean onto, which I couldn’t survive without. Sometimes all you need is a little push. And it’s okay to ask for it.

Along with that- having a schedule, eating good, and doing things you love every day has helped me tremendously. I would tell someone who has not found inner peace yet, to never stop because you are the only thing that can give yourself happiness. It’s worth the journey. (Julia)

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Keeping everything in perspective is so important. Since I teach kids everyday, I’m always thinking about the impact I have on other people. Listening to them, giving them confidence, and making them feel good about themselves is my #1 priority. Having a schedule helps me do any day-to-day tasks, such as waking up at a consistent time, taking a shower, getting dressed, and getting ready for work. Getting outside is also very important to me. I always feel so much better after I walk. (Marcie)

CJ Howley: Self care, for me, can seem to take on various forms; from certain actions to eating exceptional foods. Practices like yoga, which in Sanskrit means “union”, have helped me throughout the years in countless ways- rehabilitating my mind, body, and spirit. Meditation taught me that I’m able to find the stillness, the acceptance, the love, that is always present among the thoughts.

Buying, growing, preparing, and eating beautiful foods, free of chemicals and poisons, has been a commitment of mine now for two decades. I feel better- my body feels lighter, more healthy, ever stronger, and I’d like to think that my impact on the Earth is a positive one.

All of this is great and has contributed to my overall wellness, but still, each of these can be singulated to be put into categories for health, but for me- there’s a bigger picture. In my humble opinion, it all boils down to one practice- one monumental thing – the ultimate self care. For me, self care is self love.

Learning to hear, then to listen, trust and follow the knowing of your heart (spirit, soul) is perhaps our greatest quest on this Earth. I know it’s mine. The desire to want to feel good is not necessarily shelving the things that you may think feel bad- but rather it’s identifying what about it that brings misery and suffering and getting curious about that.

Perhaps if we look at the things- (feelings, people, places, actions) that “scare” us, “challenge” us, “dominate” us, etc..- if we face them, get curious about them, start to understand what is going on inside of us when we are feeling scared, lonely, rejected, abandoned- maybe then we can learn to feel the discomfort, recognize it, acknowledge it, and learn from it.

Maybe the more we do this, the louder the whisper of our heart, our spirit, our soul becomes. Maybe we start to differentiate our heart’s wisdom from the voices in our heads, the opinions of societal and cultural “norms” and we begin to navigate our life on our own terms regardless of what the outside world is saying. And maybe even demanding of us.

Yes, this takes practice.
Yes, this takes fastidiousness.
And yes, we may falter along the path at times.
But this, we can do it!

And the beauty about it is; the more we listen, the more courageous we grow. The more courageous we grow, the more we may open up to greater compassion, more softness. The more softness can be found for ourselves and then authentically, we can forward it towards others.

From this place we learn to love, to truly love, the voice of our heart- the wisdom of our soul. Self Care, therefore, is an inevitable byproduct of Self Love. And thus, Self Love is Self Care.


To the people in my life who continue to raise me up, keep me in check, and show me love- the women I’ve found home in, where I can be myself, where I don’t have to apologize for being me, but instead am celebrated. Thank you.

With Love,

Us.

Phoenix Medicine

Moving Forward from The Past and Knowing Who You Are Now


You can come back from anything,
the Phoenix rises from its ashes,
burns its past in the wake and when
it turns its head in fury to peek,
nothing remains.

The Phoenix is the opposite of its past,
acknowledging the misfortunes and the blessings,
but no longer exists in that timeline.
Is reborn in spirit, soulful in blood-red fire,
no revenge, no uncertainty,
her grief peacefully departed.

The Phoenix does not fear,
instead lets go, to leave behind its shadow,
not to turn a cold cheek, but to offer peace.

Remember that pain is a feeling.
It is a gift to feel,
tears are a godly gift, sent to cleanse.
Become One with the holy, water element,
create ponds for yin and yang to bathe in.

The love in your heart never parts,
does not yield, no matter
how much you revisit your pain or
tear open your wounds.
A little glimmering light at the bottom
of the pool, choose to allow it to fill the voids,
let them mend and scar over,
choose to bask in the flame’s eternal glow.

Pull great strength from your ashes,
tear it from its ties to inferno,
dust it off with your wide Phoenix wings
and with the immensity you carry,
blow the ashes.

They will disappear
into thin air, back to their war ground,
where others may come for their own battles.

This no longer belongs to you,
it has served its purpose.
It must go.


When I cry, with it comes a storm. I unlock a whirlwind of emotions, tears that lift the veil on years of buried thoughts and memories. They just seemed to stick even when I tried prying them off. I feel the bad filling up my belly, marinating and rising slowly until it hits my heart and burns a hole. I suppose that’s how it creates a way to leak through. But is somehow always a surprise. I shudder at their entry, trapped in a neverending loop, but let them play back like I’m living through it- slipping on my old skin before bed, when the world is quiet and there are no distractions.

They appear in broad daylight too. A look in the mirror a certain way, a song playing in the wrong place, or an interaction that mirrors the past. And I can hear a voice lingering, repeated words of harm over and over. It leaks in the way I behave or something I say. Ways that don’t feel like me. Other times it’s just a weird, empty or eerie feeling. But I always question how it can so seamlessly slip back in.

I feel stupid because it’s almost out of my control. I feel completely haunted by them. It eats at you, the fact that you can’t go back and change any of it. It lies in the way I smother and overthink. In the feeling that I can’t receive the love and care I deserve. The way I fear certain situations or interactions. The reason I expect to mess up, to be pushed away. I fear the past even being brought up in conversation or being thought of in that way. How would I respond? I’m always thinking of what I could say. It’s the reason I spent so long entombing my voice and hiding my expressions from others, letting it all collect inside so I can unleash them when I’m alone. But at the same time, fear that same voice being stolen- when I haven’t even given it a chance to speak. Do I think I am too much?

I have given my past too much power. When you get used to it being a part of you and then try to tread through it or leave it behind, it fights back. How can you rip me from creator? I find trouble in differentiating the old me from the new me, although I’ve put so much hard work into myself. Every day I have to be reminded to let the real me decide how things are going to go, what they’ll be like.

What Starts Every Storm

It would be much easier to run away if there weren’t things that could pull us back in. Triggers can be anything that set off an emotional response within us. They can make you feel disconnected from your surroundings or people in your presence. It can make you all choked up. And you might result in dissociating to escape or feel more comfortable- going to a void place where these emotions can’t get you.

Our Bags

We carry our belongings for so long, we may forget we’re holding them. They brand themselves onto our skin, but there’s no means of treating the burn or fading the scar. And it’s strange when you’ve built a fortress so sturdy and a moat so deep, you thought nothing could pass or topple it over. Layers and layers of walls so thick even the ghosts get tired of floating through each one. But slowly you realize that your fortress can’t save you from yourself. Your ghost is deep inside and locking it away doesn’t get rid of it. Setting it free does.

We hold onto to our baggage or keep things around that drag us down because it’s what we know. And when we don’t know anything outside of that, it feels normal and safe. We may even be presented with something that’s good for us, but instead turn it away because we’re scared and it doesn’t seem right.

As we gain the ability to understand where we’re coming from and our emotions (as we grow older or through the things we learn), it’s OUR job to take care of it. We don’t grieve or allow ourselves to feel it fully because of the notion that going through it is much more painful than burying it, or putting it in a drawer to hide forever. But when you let one weed grow in your garden, or ivy grow on your tree, soon the entire garden is spoiled and the tree- strangled.

We have been through a lot. And whatever is staying with you may be something very heavy. It’s impossible to do all at once. We must be patient with ourselves.

Ego Speak

The ego comes into play when we’re trying to understand who we are right now and how that person is separate from the old self. Within it lies the past.

Your ego is the idea of yourself you pieced together. It is your self-image and you may overly identify with it to try to understand who you are. It is the mindset that ‘you are a product of our past’, hiding in the way you think and behave. It desires to keep you separated from the world, making you feel detached and alone. And you can stray so far that your ego becomes you, through your devotion, and you are unable to move past your physical bounds.

What’s behind your ego is your true self, the entity that exists without words or anything to make it up. It is completely raw. And that is who you are. It’s the part of you that’s free from the constraints of your mind. It’s not chained to old memories and only exists in the present. It flows swimmingly through you and cannot be tainted- only your ego can. Your soul exists in simplicity, while the ego is a complex. We can positively use our egos to aim for what we want to be or to build that loving image of ourselves. We can use it for definition, but not to get lost in.

Sweet Surrender

The bridge between the two is vulnerability. It’s how you get to the center and confront. Closing up (or preventing access to the bridge) closes us off from loved ones and from the future. But it all starts with you. Can you be vulnerable with yourself, shed your skin in front of your own eyes, and love what’s underneath? Because if not, how will you share that truth with someone else? Understand what lies beyond your walls so you are no longer afraid of it. We may be harboring things that are extremely painful to revisit. My dad once told me that if we practice enough times, we realize that the challenge at hand is not as scary as it once seemed. We will get there. We choose how our past defines us and have been told for so long that it’s a part of us, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s over and done with, so why does it trail behind? Because we haven’t been taught to let go.

Surrender to your entirety in the way a great waterfall surrenders to its drop into the unknown, but understanding it will enter into a new body of water. Or the sun descending every night into darkness, knowing it will come up on the other side. Feel it so it can fall away, so you can become again. Allow yourself to grieve and allow it to heal you. Acknowledge the misfortunes and the blessings that came from them. Offer peace to your past in exchange for a lesson- that’s what you take with you. Self-sovereign and no longer existing in that timeline. You’re only a product of your past indirectly. You make the choice of what you’ll take with you.

Allow your past self to leave. You’re allowed to leave behind what was toxic. Rise from it like the phoenix. Leave room for the fact that you change every day. Reborn every morning.


Getting to know yourself is like getting to know another. That definitely doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not ‘one day I’ll get there, but for now I’m like this’. It requires time, contemplation, attention and silence. Devote yourself to your self. Put in the effort to change the person you were before. Question everything- it’s a lot of, “why am I like this?”. Be picky and choosy about what you want apart of you. Let go of what no longer serves you or exists in the vibration of who you are becoming.

The complicated part is putting this into practice. The past is very sneaky. How do we draw the line? Can we cut it off completely?

This is what I have as an answer for the moment; we draw the line by stepping into our power. This means what we have control over what is our current self. I know we can divide both versions of ourselves. I can’t promise they won’t come into contact down the line. I know that visit is frightening and possibly disabling. Perhaps it’s a test of our strength. We can take precautions to prevent backtracking and help grow. It’s okay if we fall during that process.

Remind yourself who you are as you’re picking back up. You can let your past be a reminder of how far you’ve come. Be proud and find the light. Every second, every mile, and every effort is a step further away. And it is not shameful to ask for help. Our loved ones, healthcare professionals, and even strangers can be there to lead us to water.

Be conscious of yourself. Listen as best you can. Think before you speak and when you do, speak with your heart. React with care. Be real with yourself and everything around you. You don’t have to hold back or hide anymore. It’s safe to live in truth.


The great thing about individuality and freedom is that you get to choose. The possibilities can be a little intimidating. There’s so much I want to be and many different directions I’m pulled in. It makes me forget that I’m just me. I can absorb bits and pieces, but in the end I am me.

With Love,

Visionary Orchid

Let’s Talk About Wellness: Alternative Medicine

Mom’s Medicine Cabinet

How Alternative medicine changed my life

On a particularly ill-feeling day, my mother and I hopped on a train to New York City. We were to visit a Chinese herbalist on Canal Street. I’d never been to any type of Eastern doctor previously. Instead, I grew up on cold, stale waiting rooms and busy doctors- ones who were too busy to listen to me.

Prior to this endeavor, I was suffering from debilitating anxiety, migraines, and a raw stomach. It was hard to hold down food and even when I tried, I’d have this burning sensation run through my abdomen. The best I could do was apply pressure and stay still to help dull the pain. I was shaky and in knots- on edge and tired. It felt better to not put anything in my body at all to avoid what I was feeling. I spent months switching doctors to figure out what was wrong. They ran tests. Did blood work and gave me ultrasounds. I even visited a gastroenterologist, but left with the discovery that I had high blood pressure, which is strange for someone who’s ‘young and healthy’. I waited weeks for some kind of response, but there was never anything returned or that they could find. Still, I knew something was wrong, regardless of if I had something to base it off of.

It had taken some convincing. My mother has a strong distaste for the city, but I could tell that upon entering the building, there was an excitement between the both of us. A ray of light. Three flights above us held an office-like space with dull lighting. It was decorated generously with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) books, calendars, notebooks, and acupuncture tables- which at the time was a sight to marvel at. I didn’t even know what acupuncture was exactly and the sight of needles in people was a bit unnerving, but at the same time interesting.

Dr. Fu Zhang’s waiting room was warm and welcoming. Quiet with the permeating scent of herbs filling my senses. I vividly recall the soft face of his daughter waving us over from behind a wooden panel divider. I sat down, pulled up my sleeves, and laid my arm across his empty desk. He placed his steady fingers on my pulse and asked me to stick out my tongue. In my head, I sort of wondered why he needed to see my tongue to diagnose, but I was far beyond the point of questioning- I saved that for later. I didn’t have to say much, only answered a few questions. Before I could settle, his daughter was concocting a set of powdered herbs from the wall shelves.

A cold stomach, or an invasion of yin. Our bodies work on a balancing system of energies. They work tirelessly to keep everything equal, but not without our help and effort. It works in a balance between yin (cold) and yang (hot). When too much of one is present, it throws off the balance, overwhelming the other. This can lead to physical symptoms. And where it comes from just depends. Anxiety and worry happen to affect the stomach/spleen. The stomach is where your digestive fire lies. And those emotions weaken the corresponding organs and make them more susceptible to illness. What you consume also greatly affects your organ function- eating iced, cold, or raw food/drinks in excess can deplete your digestive fire and make it more difficult for your body to perform digestive function (more energy is used to digest those kinds of foods).

I was instructed to eat warm, cooked foods and to avoid any dairy, cold, and greasy foods. Then, I was given the set of herbs to boil into a tea every night for twenty minutes. Within weeks, I regained my strength and started slipping back into myself.

But that wasn’t without the internal work too. Before my visit to Dr. Fu Zhang, I wasn’t taking care of myself properly in any aspect of my life. I didn’t even know how. And for a while after that, even after getting better, I still struggled. I do now. Though, this did mark a major point in the way I looked at myself, my lifestyle, and health as a whole. It was just the beginning.

Around the same time my anxiety was at its worst, I started getting a rash on my face. It was mostly under my nose and around the sides of my mouth- red and irritated, only getting angrier the more I tried to cover it up or use over the counter remedies. So I decided to visit a dermatologist. The minute he saw me he knew what it was. Perioral Dermatitis. He handed me a pamphlet and said he’d have a prescription sent to my local pharmacy. No questions asked.

With a bit of time, it went away. And I thought I was good, but it came back with vengeance. I used the cream again. And it went away and came back. Again. And again. And again. This happened for years to come.

So I started to experiment. First, I tried just leaving it alone, which yielded no result. Then I started doing my own research on its causes/the root of the problem- beyond what I’d been told. I read other peoples blogs and experiences with this form of dermatitis. I tried different creams and essential oils. I dove into nutrition and gut function and explored different foods/their effect on my body and skin. I discovered how important what I was putting in my body was. And began taking internal supplements and herbs to help eliminate whatever was going on inside my body. Then realizing that even things like toothpaste and detergent had an effect on my skin- so I changed all the products I used previously. I started actually reading the labels of everything I use.

I then discovered the wonderful gift to this Earth that is acupuncture. I found someone I could talk to about what was going on with me, whether it was big or small, whatever I thought was relevant. And he listened and understood at a deeper level. He took everything into account when treating. In turn, I was able to learn from the knowledge of another. There’s only so much you can get from the internet and just plain reading. It helps to be able to discuss your findings, get some sort of validation, and learn further. It showed me that any type of physician or specialist should truly care about the wellness of their patient and also everything that goes into what caused the trauma/illness/disease and the healing process. It’s not all cut and dry.

Everything began to come together. I began to understand my body and that it needed certain things, attention and treatment, that it wasn’t getting before. And that other things I was doing hurt it. My emotional health carries so much weight. With a lot of patience and time, I eventually discovered a ‘No BS’ skincare brand specifically tailored to people with skin conditions like Perioral Dermatitis- that focuses on healing the skin/protecting it and nurturing it with the use of herbal salves. Within two weeks after using their products, my skin cleared up. And has stayed that way as I’ve focused more on identifying my emotions, switching products that are harmful to my skin, and paying attention to my diet.


Alternative Medicine is basically any method of healing Western medicine considers unconventional. But these practices are ancient. They’ve been around much longer than the modern world has. It includes Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Herbalism, Naturopathy, and much more. Their methods of healing recognize you are not just a hollow body. Everything is both physical and non-physical. It recognizes that there are different pathways to explanations and answers. The remedies work with your body’s natural rhythm to get the job done.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t born with a perfect body or perfect skin. I have to be very careful when it comes to most things because I don’t know how it’ll affect me. It’s frustrating to say the least. On a daily basis I ask myself what’s feeling off, what can I fix, and how. Everything I put in my body has a consequence sooner or later (positive or negative). Everything is so seemingly easy for everyone else. There are things I used to be able to do that I just can’t now. But I am still grateful because it has opened me up to this world.

I am so lucky to have been able to have access to this community. To have it revealed to me at a young age- through a mother who chose to use homeopathic remedies whenever she could, teaching me indirectly. And through the many, many people I’ve come across who share the same interests, who have also taught me. To have had the jobs I did that exposed me further to herbs and horticulture and nutrition. To have been open to the love they have to offer. And to be able to explore as I please at whatever pace I’ve chosen. I’m grateful to even have this interest and feel my heart grow every time I gather a piece of information. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. It gave me the opportunity to focus on my wellness and to know myself, to be in tune with my body and soul. It gave me hope. It was there for me when nothing else, or no one else, was, and taught me how to deal with my emotions in a healthy way- to build healthy habits and to dig deeper. Not everything lies on the surface. And I’m not saying I don’t slip up, I do. But I try.

I’ve learned that plant vessels are not silent. They do speak and each has its own beautiful, unique voice. So much is offered when being a part of these forms of medicine- whether it’s what you grew up on, if you’re a teacher, a student, or someone who receives this kind of care or are just discovering it. This knowledge is acquiring a greater understanding of everything encompassing you- to learn it is all intertwined and purposeful, flowing together. It’s learning the knowledge of eternity on this planet. Plants were here long before us, hold more information than even the most acknowledged scientific journals. All you have to do is listen and pay attention. Let them speak and show you. It would be a crime to discredit all that came before you were even a seed on this humble Earth. The one that gives and gives and gives until there is nothing left. The one that has everything you need to live and breathe.


What I’ve learned is there are things modern medicine cannot do. There are bounds it does not reach. But what I’ve ALSO learned is- there are things alternative medicine cannot do either. There isn’t supposed to be a constant battle between the two and neither should be invalidated. They are to work together for the sake of wellness and betterment of humanity.

While there have been more experiences since, and run-ins with Western medicine, where I was unable to figure out what was happening to my body- these two experiences jump-started my fascination with ancient medicine and native healing practices. Each moment has only left me hungry for more. It has even pushed me towards studying Western Herbalism. But if I wrote about each and every one this post would be endless. Perhaps I’ll share in the future. 🙂

With Love,

Visionary Orchid

Shelter in Place

Art by Clutch Cabin

Staying Positive During Quarantine

In high school, my global studies teacher would assign songs to his students. He’d play one of the tunes at the beginning of class and you’d have to guess if it was yours. On my day, there played a cheerful 90s jam from his computer speakers. I had a feeling it was mine, but was too embarrassed to proclaim so in fear of being wrong (even though it wasn’t that big of a deal). ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ by Deep Blue Something- a little tale of two people who are in a relationship, but aren’t really getting along. They have nothing in common…except for one thing. They both like the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And that’s enough.

I complained to my teacher for a while after that about why he chose it for me. And for a while he told me to figure it out- eventually caving and conveying his reasoning as his thought of me as a starry-eyed optimist. One thing isn’t actually enough to keep two people together. At first, I took it as a compliment. Being an optimist is a good thing. And starry-eyed is a pretty word, but I am neither naive nor foolish.

I make a conscious effort to pick out the good in most because I’ve seen the bad. I don’t want to carry that around with me. Good is glorious. Love is light- much lighter than that of the weight of dark. So I choose. I set out what I want to come back. And I manifest. For myself and for the world.


To say it plainly- things are hard right now. The world’s current predicament is stressful for almost all of us (the almost being 99%). People are falling ill. Millions have lost their jobs and hang at the mercy of the way society is structured. The media is practically spoon-feeding fear. You can see it when you go to the grocery store or even for a walk around the corner- everyone is on edge. And to top it off, 2020s plans were swept away so effortlessly, like the ocean reclaiming its last grain of sand. We are unsure of what’s to come- our lives at a standstill.

It kind of came out of nowhere and threw us way off balance, although we should’ve anticipated something of this nature happening sooner or later. We’ve been put in the corner while all is sorted out. If you aren’t on the front lines, it feels like there isn’t much you can do. There’s just a lot of time to overthink and pace around our rooms, waiting for the next New York Times article with the latest updates. The negatives are poised in our faces and feel like a massive loss for humanity. There’s no kind of reassurance out there, except whatever I conjure up in my thoughts.

I’d like to think there’s a silver lining to this. Just searching for it and basking in my discoveries give me something to do and help fuel positive energy. Regardless of the situation, everything will be alright. Whether the journey to that be long or short.

Times like these, though devastating, happen for a reason. We need to take a good look at the moment. It’s necessary for healing. To show us what we need and what we don’t. For us to realize what really matters. To be grateful for all that we have, even in simplicity; food on the table, a bed to sleep in. It’s funny, things that should normally be priority have now been given immediate importance. We’ve become more aware and compassionate than ever. We have the opportunity to care about our health, to be cautious and to rest– something so valuable to our mental and physical health, but what we practice the least of.

While we’re doing so, the planet is getting a bit of a break from us. The spotlight is on the faulty in what has been built up to now. It was always there, but is now amplified and is not for us to point fingers and blame. This is collective and as a collective, it is time for us to rise together. Right now we wait, but while we do, we prepare for the work of the future. We must lift each other up- doing what we can, supporting as much as we can. And emerge from this better than we came.

The introvert in me wants to say this has been relieving. I no longer feel an obligation to anything. All my ropes have been set loose. I run free in my alone time, and I’m not on overdrive. I do things by my own will and the options are endless creatively. I revisit what gives me joy.

But I know that it can be especially difficult to spend so much time alone in quarantine. Forced isolation and limited contact is lonely- and socializing is vital to some. Stripping that away can make them feel like they’re completely left in the dark and may fall into stressors or harmful thoughts. Without the outside, it makes it easier for past trauma to seep in. We may face the things we’ve been pushing away- which is good, but can also be too much at once. Our friends and family, even just strangers in passing, are life-savers. Technology has made it possible for us to just shoot out a text or be able to talk over the phone. And a phone call can mean and do a lot. It’s important to reach out to your loved ones as a reminder you’re there. Let them know you care and just because you’re not immediately together doesn’t mean you’re not there at all.

I also know that some of us tend to get “lost in the sauce” when there’s no structure or routine set in place to follow (including me). The good stuff came after days of laying around, oversleeping, overeating, and starring at a phone screen- feeling like garbage. You fall into this endless wash and dry cycle without question and kind of let yourself go. And suddenly, you’re having an existential crisis. Bottom line: Overindulging? Not so great. We overindulge out of boredom or avoidance. And try to fill the time with excess of everything.

Creating some kind of routine for yourself helps benefit the mind and body. Consistency is good, especially for forming better habits. Even if it’s just for the morning or night, it’s something to religiously follow each day. Parent yourself; set a bedtime and an alarm to wake you in the morning. Get in the flow of rising with the sun. It helps you get every second out of the day and clears the space for more. When you establish your space, you leave the room for things that make you feel whole- that leave you present and grounded. Because being mindful allows us to stay in the here and now, rather than wander off into the negative again. When you are fully engulfed in a task, it’s hard to go elsewhere. We’re fully in control of boosting our mood and learning things within/outside ourselves.

photo by Clutch Cabin

Below are some examples of To-Dos you can implement in your every day, plus an example of a daily routine. Enjoy 🙂

  • Nourish your body. Make a smoothie or juice. Cook full meals in place of snacking. Follow a new recipe or reach out to relatives to learn how to cook from your roots.
  • Get Outside. Go for daily walks. Do yoga on the grass. Explore a new way of moving your body and get your blood flowing. Moving your body helps ensure that your blood is getting the oxygen it needs to carry to all your organs. It helps them stay strong and improves circulation.
  • Educate Yourself. Take an online class. Explore something you’ve had interest in. Or learn something new. Set a time for it each day. Read a book and find yourself parading through a new world.
  • Make a vision board. On a big, flat surface, like a poster board, collect images/positive phrases that inspire what you want for yourself. Paint the board, place them on, and add affirmations. Then put it somewhere you can see when you wake up. A reminder.
  • Clean. Spring Cleaning! Do the laundry you’ve been putting off. Tidy up the house or your room. Go through your belongings and prepare bags to get rid of the clutter. What do you really need?
  • Create. Build something in your backyard. DIY. Get crafty.
  • Rearrange. When I’m feeling stuck, I rearrange my room. It helps to shift the energy around and give it a new look. What best suits you?
  • Dance. Sing along. Feel the note in each breath. Feel each movement you’re making and let the music take over.
  • Go Earthing. Go walk outside on the grass barefoot. It can help ground you. Feel the Earth’s vital energy flow.
  • Journal. About the thoughts in your head. Have discussions with yourself. Find prompts and write a story.
  • Garden. Tend to what you’ve planted.
  • Walk your dog. Or your cat. They like being outside too.
  • Self-Care. Treat yourself to a face mask. Dry brush or self-massage. Give yourself a mani/pedi. But also if you’re up for it- throughout the day, when you’re feeling a certain way, try to identify where the feeling is coming from or why it’s present. (Because self-care isn’t just physical.)
  • Connect. Say hi to your relatives. Have a facetime date. Virtually hangout with friends.
  • Write Letters to Loved Ones. A little old fashioned, but let them know you care a different way. Who doesn’t like getting mail?
  • Support a Local Business. Order out. Money is tight at the moment, but if you can, support a small business in your area.
  • Play Dress Up. Put on something that makes you feel beautiful.
  • Origami. It requires focus and yields a beautiful result. (If you make paper cranes, you can tie a string to them and hang them from the ceiling.)
  • Ask Questions. Make note of your thoughts and questions that pop up, then ask your friends or GOOGLE.
  • GAMES. Board games. Video games. Card games. Whatever floats your boat.
  • Start or Finish What You’ve Been Meaning to Get to.
  • And whatever you do…don’t cut or dye your hair, unless you know what you’re doing. It’s not worth it.

Remember it takes the job of all of us to help slow this down. Practice Social Distancing. Go out only when you have to. Not all of us are susceptible, but when we stay home, we help those who are.

With Love,
Visionary Orchid

First Impressions

Art by Clutch Cabin

Inside the creative mind

The drive that makes itself known at some point in life is not just a simple energy.
It is the surge of legacy rippling through and unintentionally changing.
Whatever path we were on yields a new direction.
We may try to neglect that part of ourselves or run away, but
the lust and power of it always becomes too loud to ignore.
We struggle less when we let go of the resistance and understand.
The metal bars that were bolted to our heads break off.
The nails dressed as old ideas tumble down cliff sides.

We are the raindrops that race down car windows,
falling into plentiful, but dark and undiscovered oceans without fear.
We burst bubbles of knowledge and literature,
music notes and paint strokes, multimedia and cinema.
Our voices are so heavy, they vibrate our fingertips
until the prints grow their own legs and
walk off into oblivion and madness,
leaving us with the space to conceive and create for ourselves-
no identity, soulless, and empty to fill with that of choice and free will.

Devotion and impulse take the place of fatigue.
We wear our scars like jewelry and turn them into a beautiful display.
Decorations! Details! Character!
Our eyes are kaleidoscopes when we focus.
The art pours out and spirals down like ballet dancers in our skin.
We entertain our own ideas and fill every page to the brim with the products of our hearts. We go far, far away, out of touch with impersonal reality.
In a home where we can be raw, we shut everything out and
manipulate the ribbons in our brains to express emotion in iridescence,
guided with or without a muse, mystifying everything
until it becomes so bizarre and distorted that it is completely anew.

And when the reader, the listener, the watcher, the speaker is engulfed…
they can feel the pleasure and sorcery behind the work too.
It is no longer a secret. It is no longer stuck inside.
Ask us how we can turn the ordinary, the bland, unfortunate, ugly and unpleasant
into the amusing, hypnotic, inspiring, and poetic.
Things that feel so close, they could’ve been your own.
Something you did not specifically ask for, but ended up falling in love with.
Ask us how we knew it was what you needed, although its origins were for
our sanity and enjoyment.

We are circus clowns, ringmasters, magicians, and acrobats.
We are shapeshifters. We are prophets.
Perhaps we are impractical and moonstruck, but we are serious.
We are artists that have chosen to accept their craft unconditionally.
And we are constantly humbled by each other and the world around us.


The reason I created Visionary Orchid was because I wanted to cultivate a space for understanding. I chose to start my own platform instead of following a path that was preconceived and generically generated. And ever since, I’ve been sharing my own stories, trying to be as clear-cut and raw as possible.

While I struggled a lot along the way- the more I let things happen, the more like-minded people came into my life. And for that, I am immensely grateful because every day, I’m presented with new perspectives and such a love for creative passion. There should be a safe, loving community for all of us (creative beans) to share our space and ideas.

This is Visionary Orchid’s first collaborative blog post- featuring interviews with the people I am about to introduce // co-written/edited by me. Please take the time to get to know each of these wonderful artists.
Welcome 🙂


Index
Page 2: Alejandro Santiuste // Seven Days
Page 3: Christian Gabriel // The God Disk
Page 4: Dylan McLarnon
Page 5: Hamza Chaudhry // Say No Omens
Page 6: Julia Forsyth // yourfriendjuls
Page 7: Kristin Middleton
Page 8: Lucas Feola
Page 9: Mackenzie Kean // Zi
Page 10: Robert Hillmann // Clutch Cabin
Page 11: Olivia Nash
Page 12: Steven Uribe // XVNDER BLANK
Page 13: Closing- Director Cary Murnion

Intro to: First Impressions

via @issosonal

Growth, culture, and creative fire


written by sonal madhok and cowritten/edited by visionary orchid

Sonal Madhok is an ethereal soul, bursting at the seams with light. I accredit her for opening me up to a greater healing world than the one I created on my own. She instills positivity and love into the people she meets. She is compelling and intelligent. And constructs a forgiving space for all, including her friends and family to grow- to speak about the past without guilt or anger. She has taught me so much and continues to; about dealing with the thoughts in my head, diffusing the negative ones, and self-love. And has been so generous to me in sharing her culture and life. There is so much she holds within…

Sonal is Hindu Punjabi and was born in America. Unlike her parents, who are immigrants from India. Her mother originated in New Delhi, and her father, from Janakpuri. “My culture that I was given is beautiful. We would paint Mehndi (henna) on each other for holidays and dress up in vibrant colors that would match the vibrancy of the food on our plates.” When I was over her house, her mother made a traditional meal (puri cholé) for me to enjoy with them. The kitchen filled with scents of spices and warm energy as she cooked. Puri is a delicate, air filled bread. And when it’s popped, hot steam rushes out. In the hollow center, you place the cholé, an Indian chickpea curry. A wonderfully memorable meal, but her mother’s hospitality was even more so- her unwavering sweetness and treatment as if I was one of her own.

While America is supposed to be a melting pot, a gorgeous and fascinating mix of cultures and people, there are still major culture shocks on both ends. Children grow up with their own ways of being at home, but in public, and in school, are exposed to each other and their differences. The majority of the time, these differences are not treated with the love they deserve and instead are met with hate. “Kids would call me ‘shit hands’ and I’d be made fun of for having dark hair on my arms and face.” And eventually, Sonal succumbed to their beliefs about it because it made it easier to fit in. “I went on the path of pretending and made fun of the other kids that were different too.”

The suppression of her culture eventually boiled over into bitterness and shame towards her family. And even in the inner realm, “There are so many norms that they had growing up that we don’t have here or vice versa.” And dating was one of the biggest shocks for them. They had come together from an arranged marriage, so the idea of ‘dating’ was hard to grasp. When her first relationship came around, she kept it hidden for a long time. Even when it was brought up, there was a lot of dismissal and refusing to even discuss the fact. But there always comes a point when you can’t hold it in anymore. “I was the first one in my family to speak out about it.” Although it was a tough process and took a lot of explanation, communication, and compassion on both sides, it ended up helping her whole family grow together.

It took years to undo all the thought processes and coping mechanisms she took on to adjust; blending not only what she knew in her household, but also what she experienced as a kid growing up in the United States. Subsequently, she spent more time celebrating her culture, instead of rejecting it. She began Indian Bollywood dancing again and learning Kathak, a classical style. And along with it came her deep affection for the arts. “I know that the instrumentals I heard while listening to the traditional Kathak music are the reason I was drawn towards classical music and eventually playing piano.” It inspires her to compose similar sounds that soothe her and the people around her. And lately she’s been working on a 200 hour yoga teacher training program that has only strengthened her love for her culture.

Sonal and her Mama (to the left)

As a student, she leaned more towards the arts and identified as a kid that could never be good at math. She loved creative writing. It was her dream to become a writer and have a publishing company. “Maybe to become a dancer on the side and have piano concerts as well.” And before high school began, she decided she should try a new type of writing- journalism. While there were many times she regretted ever having opened this door, because it meant getting uncomfortable, facing her social anxiety and thinking objectively, it was incredibly beneficial. She was able to work as the Editor-In-Chief at her community college’s newspaper, help revive it, and witness the growth it had on campus and in the community.

I even got to accompany her on one of her missions- a Gus Dapperton concert with an opening performance by Spencer., which ended up being an awakening moment for me. We were both going through some relationship “stuff” at the time and the crowd’s energy was beautiful. We danced- felt it reach through our bones and cleanse any pain we had inside. We barely knew who either performer was, but ended up vibing really well, discovering new artists, and being completely present with the music.

She thought she was going to be an English major, but found herself questioning why she couldn’t be good at math or science. So in her high school years, she took a computer graphics course, then a computer science course. “The way my mind was challenged in problem-solving skills, and also the frustration I had with myself on why I couldn’t understand it, motivated me to keep going.” And by the end of her senior year, she was determined to major in computer science.

“Impostor syndrome wore heavy on my shoulders every day, because I knew I wasn’t a kid that grew up having a passion for computers. I was an editor of the school newspaper. I still loved my arts, but I also loved programming.” She didn’t feel deserving of being in the same classroom with people whose passions had many more years than hers. She even entertained those thoughts to the point of almost dropping out of her major in the second to last semester. Ultimately, she realized that it didn’t matter where she came from or what she did before. What mattered was what she cared for and wanted to do now.

“What was an even bigger lesson was that it is okay to change- to have differences, adversities, obstacles… Change can lead to confusion of who we are and our identity, but the confusion is temporary and necessary, and it truly is the journey that counts. I think we would rather spend our time trying everything we love and failing, rather than to limit our minds (for anything) and only follow the path that we are most comfortable on. It’s funny to look back on it now- going from arts to an English major and then somehow ending up in STEM, but I think it’s exciting to watch the growth and change of thoughts I had. I love mathematics now and I often spend time trying to relate laws in science to philosophical ideas. It’s fun for me to bridge the gap between STEM and the humanities because they are two fields that benefit when they mesh. We can learn so much from each other, truly.”

Her creative process usually starts with her feeling overwhelmed or needing time to be alone- that’s when her best work comes. Because she cares less about making things perfect and more about releasing stress. She’ll start with a small foundation of chords or a basic outline of what she wants to write. Then she’ll play around with notes or have a ‘stream of consciousness’ writing session. She has fallen in love with the progression of soft sounds that multiply and create something beautiful altogether.

Her writing is compiled of a release of the things she’s learned about herself and the morals she took from it. She journals regularly. Especially when she’s facing a problem, she’ll turn to her notebook to discuss it with herself and to look for consolation before reaching out for help. “Nine out of the ten times though, I mess up, and I’ll convince myself that I’ve ruined the whole piece, similar to what it feels like when you mess up a painting, but then I’ll work around it and eventually the one mess up usually becomes the best part of the piece.”


“I am so grateful for the past I was given and I am blessed to be at the point I am now with diverse friendships and diverse thoughts that have created a beautiful environment for me and my loved ones to blossom in. I still make a lot of mistakes, like most, and I will continue to make more, as we all will, because every day is an opportunity for us to learn and grow at any pace we feel ready to.”

With Love,

Us.

FIND HER ON-
Instagram: @sonalmadhok, @issosonal
Medium: @writecakei

222 Growth Lessons

It’s important that I let go of my fears in order to progress. I’m not sure if my worrying is just a side effect of anxiety or if it’s my brain’s general disposition, but it comes before everything. It’s over the fact that I’m getting nothing done in my creative life, although I write almost every day. Even if it’s just random thoughts in my notes- poetry floating by. Even when I write an entire blog and post it. Even when I share any of my creations. Nothing seems to be enough to satisfy my standards.

I stress that I’m not tending to my social life enough, especially when I’m reclusive and invested in my own little writing world. It’s not something I can be very social while doing. I worry that I’m not making my rounds to everyone and pleasing them, making them feel loved and cared for. There aren’t enough days in a week for work, creativity, and all relationships. And conflict happens when needs are not met. Or worse, they aren’t communicated. I can’t go MIA for too long before someone is wondering ‘what’s up with me’. I must answer texts and make sure everyone’s good. I must share a good amount of information about myself so people can be involved.

That also means sacrificing sacred self time. Time to sit and exist and do nothing- to just be, because it is, in fact, okay to do nothing sometimes. It is valuable. Our minds and bodies need to rest. I can’t give pieces of myself away and not be drained. When I do too much of that, I dissociate. It’s supposed to be give and take. I have to tend to my own garden of emotions and let pieces of me regrow. I have to let go of everyone else’s problems for the moment so I can deal with myself. Not letting everyone in all the time doesn’t mean they are uninvolved or that I don’t want them there. It just means that right now, I can’t get to it.

Both parts of my life are equally important. Creativity helps me discover parts of myself. And I find comfort in other peoples words, especially when I can’t find my own. Feeling their presence is healing and being able to share my space- in silliness or seriousness. I can relate. We help each other navigate. Each person ignites different parts of ourselves as we do in them. I shouldn’t have to let go of one aspect for there to be harmony.


Life is moving incredibly fast. It’s like watching a train pass by and everything is blurry and racing past you. It leaves you with this stolen feeling. Time passes quicker with age for whatever reason. We’re too in our heads or invested with work. We stop looking at the people we’re with and instead take our phones out to record them to watch at a later date. We stop running through the backyard and turn the TV on instead. I look down at my phone, it’s 3pm. I turn away for a second, look back, and it’s 8pm. It never stops. It’s fleeting no matter how much you try to wave down the conductor.

I’m so eager to change and learn and grow all the time. So much that in the time I’m supposed to be letting past lessons settle in, I’m overthinking and creating problems for the future. I’m busy over-analyzing. I fail to recognize sometimes that old growth must be put to the test. We are thrown challenges to see if those lessons have actually done their job. And they will keep reoccurring, whether it be in a new form or not, if we haven’t. If I end up in the same rut more than once, I should understand why.

I have to stop worrying about when and what if. It’s a waste of time- trying to anticipate and always waiting. I could be living. Everything has to come as it may. It can’t be done in one sitting. It’s really just too much.


It’s okay to get lost in the current of life’s enormity; to feel without guilt and insecurity, without need for validation.

With Love,

Aspen

Don’t Wake Me Up

The summer between eighth grade and freshman year of high school marked a point of great change in my life. My parents had just recently gotten divorced. My self esteem was extremely low and I struggled with self image- I obsessed over having a ‘thigh gap’ and being thin. I’d count my calories and started dieting at fourteen years old. I had trouble in school, not with grades, but with my acquaintances. Then I moved to a new state and begged to be homeschooled because it gave me too much anxiety to go. But that didn’t work out exactly as planned. Although I did make friends, I had many fallouts and spent a lot of time alone. Plenty of people didn’t like me. Most of them would openly degrade me to their friends, sometimes even make jokes to my face. The more I heard them, the more I believed them about myself and repeated them when I went home.

The cloud that appeared over me that summer carried through, on and off, to my senior year of high school. As more emotional weight appeared, I began to further empty myself. I pushed everything down and detached. A cavity grew inside me. And I became numb- acting recklessly and hurting people in my wake. Which made me feel like an awful person, someone who deserves bad things to happen to her. Then when it got so deep that the numbness was too much and started scaring me, I resorted to self harm. It became not only a source of punishment, but also a mode of release.

There were people who had an idea of what was going on, but I neglected to ever openly ask for help. Instead, I entertained the idea that someone would fall in love with me and rescue me. Or that something wonderful and life changing would happen and I’d forget I was ever sad. Maybe I could just run away and it would stay behind. I waited patiently for that day. It never came.

I felt so incredibly alone and regretful of the pain I caused. Everything was too much to handle. I decided I had two choices- end it or see this through and put the effort in to keep from slipping further away.

I did get better. I worked really hard on myself, to cultivate self love and a loving environment for myself. I searched for the joys of living and found them in the little things. I suffered through many, many setbacks. But I learned to stop criticizing myself over them because humans mess up. I can’t expect myself to be perfect all the time- that’s unrealistic. Nothing about it was easy and so much of it was ugly. But four summers later, this photo was taken. Whenever I look at it, it is a reminder of the happiness I felt. It was genuine. I had stopped self harming. I stopped judging myself and instead I forgave. My reality had turned light.

But very slowly, the shadows crept back in in 2019. I’ve been a morning person my whole life. I started feeling resentment towards each day ahead and sleeping in more. I didn’t see the point to getting up, especially if there wasn’t anything planned. When people asked about my future, I’d almost get offended. But only because I didn’t know. I couldn’t think of any goals. What was the point of having them anyway? I wouldn’t make it to next year. And even when I tried looking through the veil, the only thing in sight was a black void. Time disappeared and all the memories and moments ceased to exist past where I stood.

I waited for someone to kick the dirt in. I romanticized it because there are so many awful things happening in the world- what could I possibly do to help or make a difference? It wouldn’t be so bad if I just left. I gave up my creations and let all the stars burn out.


Depression is a real bitch because most of the time, you don’t even know what’s wrong. It’s hard to fix something when you don’t know what the problem is. There are days you’ll wake up and you don’t know what’s come over you, but you are empty. You become fearful of the next day because living is a pain. Keeping your eyes open in the morning is difficult, so you keep the blinds closed. And when you do finally work up the courage to go out, you can’t stop thinking about when you’ll be able to go home, shut the world out, and go to sleep again.

The fact that you have no control over when it’s going to act up is really disheartening. You just have to let it come through. Some days I can’t find it in me to clean my room, to throw out the water bottle that’s been laying on my floor for days. Everything becomes a challenge. You fight yourself to get out of bed. Then to shower. To get dressed. To eat. You start figuring out what the bare minimum is for doing things- not because you’re lazy. It just feels so mindlessly repetitive to do the same things over and over again each day.

There are days I’ll be out attempting to accomplish things and I’ll have to turn around and go home. I just can’t find it in me to do it. On Christmas Eve, I was about to leave to my grandparents house for dinner and one thing happened and I just burst. I had a full ‘episode’ and delayed everyone an hour. Then had to pull myself together to go out.

There’s a feeling I get in my throat that feels like something trying to crawl up. It starts at the pit of my stomach, heavy as a rock. And it scratches its way up my esophagus until I burst. Sometimes I’ll start feeling it when I’m out with friends and I’ll leave without giving a ‘good enough’ explanation as to why.

And when even the littlest bad thing happens, it feels like a monumental inconvenience. It sticks with you and you begin to fear that your future will be a repeat of the past. Your current experience is eternal and whatever happens to you stops mattering. You’ll slip out for days and stop answering everyone and then have to try to explain why.


Photo taken by Clutch Cabin

“I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow, just in order to become a child again and begin anew. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace.”

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Go into your healing knowing depression is going to be one of the most difficult battles you will ever face because when you’re fighting, the end is unforeseeable. You’re in conflict with your own mind and thought process- the shadows that follow you around and feed off your irritability and misery. Hold onto the mindset that life doesn’t throw you anything you can’t take. You are strong- as corny as it sounds. Be incredibly patient. Because the more you fight, the more light you let in. There are going to be ups and downs. Without the bad, there wouldn’t be any good. We need to be able to see the difference.

You can’t keep waiting for things to happen because when you do that, you end up disappointed. And if you’re going to be disappointed, you might as well know you at least tried. Work on yourself with little expectation and be consistent. Time alone is good. Baby steps because even the littlest amount of progress is still PROGRESS. Take it as it comes. You might not notice any big changes until you’re far down the road, but keep moving forward. Don’t stop. Only look back to sort through your baggage and to reflect.

Start small. Set a goal for the day; i.e., fixing your bed, brushing your hair. Practice switching your thoughts from negative to positive. Create a routine and switch it up a little bit so it doesn’t get boring. If you stop seeing the point behind it, change it. Stop doing things that feed your numbness. Trust your intuition and if something makes you feel icky when you do it, that’s a clear sign to not do it again.

When your foundation is based in self love, it becomes difficult for the bad to get in. Self love is a goal, but it isn’t something that when you reach, you can stop working on. It is a conscious choice you make at every moment in the day. It’s the way you treat yourself when something happens and it’s the way you project onto others. Take care of yourself. Yes- face masks, massages, and painting your nails are self care, but it’s about maintaining your mental health. It’s about prioritizing yourself and self respecting. Master your balance and happiness regardless of circumstance. It comes from within, nothing you buy or engage in can give you that.

Nurture your inner child. When I start feeling sad, I notice that doing really simple things help get me out of it. Think back to what made you happy as a kid, then think about what you can recreate. Be playful and don’t take life so seriously all the time. Things happen to us as we grow up. We hurt. No one is excluded from pain. We experience things that linger and carry them everywhere. Take a good look and don’t hold the emotions in. Allow them to get messy, then flow out. Spend time with those emotions and understand them. Try to forgive yourself and whoever hurt you. Let go.

Let go of toxic people who feed your negative thoughts. Having people around who you can be vulnerable with and who are positive/encouraging are so important. Surround yourself with people who awaken the joy inside you and make you laugh. Friends are meant to be uplifting. We need those good memories to awaken the liveliness within us.

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was not reaching out when I just needed someone to listen. To have someone to tell me things were going to get better or simply have compassion. Even if it’s only to one person, speak up. We all have hard times and there’s someone out there that can understand at least one thing you’re going through. It’s honorable to ask for help and want to fix yourself. We can’t do it on our own all the time. We recognize our pain, but another eye can help us recognize our patterns and help prevent us from falling too far in the future.

I’m not going to lie, life is unbearable sometimes…but get crafty. When you find an outlet, when you focus on it and let it bring you bliss- life goes from gray and fuzzy to full color in HD. It can be anything; drawing, writing, biking, hiking, reading, working, gardening, etc. When everything seems useless, give yourself a purpose. We can create our paradise. The human experience is not supposed to be suffering. And whoever made you think that was terribly mistaken. We are to enjoy life.


I’ve never felt like I belonged here. And that can be unmistakably lonely- feeling like I’m on another plane, being uncomfortable living. I try really hard not to focus on what’s sad or evil in the world. It makes me happy to think of all the good things and I shouldn’t be condemned to my pain. When I thought I was getting bad again, I made a promise to myself to try different ways to get out of the depression hole and stay out.

I began creating goals and giving myself things to look forward to. What do I want? What makes me happy? Then I wrote it all down on colorful post it notes and put it on a goal board. Then I made a list of the little things I could do to help me feel okay:

  • Putting reminders on the mirror and repeating them to yourself every morning-“My heart is good.”, “I am worthy.”, “Everything takes time.”, “Be Patient.”, “I am beautiful.”, etc.
  • Journaling every day and looking back every month to track progress
  • Talking things through- in your journal or with loved ones
  • Practicing turning negative thoughts into positive ones- “I’m terrible at rock climbing.” to “This is my first time trying it. I will get better. I am learning.”
  • Allowing time for self reflection
  • Creating goals for yourself- short term and long term
  • Going for long walks and getting fresh air
  • Planning activities or events to give yourself something to look forward to
  • Practicing Optimism
  • Breathing- slowly, in for 5 seconds, out for 5 seconds
  • Naming things you are grateful for
  • Trusting yourself and your cycles
  • Finding hobbies
  • Setting alarms so you wake up earlier and not sleep too late in the day
  • Practicing being present and not thinking about anything other than engaging in the current moment
  • Listening to podcasts to help you feel less lonely- one of my favorites is Ologies by Alie Ward
  • A mentor of mine I had in high school once told me that when she’s sad on the inside, she’d sit in front of the mirror and smile really hard until she felt so stupid, it made her laugh. So if else fails, give it a try.

One last thing that has always helped me combat not wanting to get up in the morning is leaving the blinds open. Let the sun in. I overheard the little girl I care for tell her older brother, “All you need is a warm sun, not a volcano.”. And she’s right. The power and healing nature of the warm sun is often underestimated. What you need isn’t something gigantic or fantastical. It is simple.

If you live near the ocean, go sit in front of the salt water. Feel it run over your hands and cleanse. Feel it hit your bones. If you live near the mountains, walk to the top of one. Look how big the world is and find the comfort in being small. Walk barefoot through the grass. Run down your block and feel the wind hit your face. Remind yourself what it’s like to be living.

I’ll say it a thousand times over- YOU MATTER. Everything you do has an effect. When you’re happy, the feeling tends to radiate outward and make other people happy too. And when we all put in the effort, the world becomes a better place. Know that everything you’re feeling is valid and I hear you. Things are going to be okay.

With love,

LA.

Crying Over Spilled Milk

photo by Clutch Cabin

In September, I got into my first car accident. I wasn’t distracted when it happened, but it was my fault. I was coming out of a jughandle, looking into oncoming traffic, and smacked the bumper of the car in front of me. I tried to approach the owner of the vehicle, but it seemed she was uninterested in my apologies. So, I went back to my car and hysterically cried until the police came. 

No one had died. No one was even injured. There was little damage to either car and that woman wasn’t angry or upset at me, just shaken up. She ended up hugging me before she left too. But despite the big picture, I treated it like I had taken a sledgehammer to someone’s life. I sat there going over all the possibilities, thinking my license was going to get taken away. I warped reality in my mind while I buried my head into my mother’s living room couch until I fell asleep and forgot about the whole thing. When I look back, I can see how silly I looked freaking out over something so underwhelming. I thought my world was coming down over a scratch in a bumper. 

Now now, none of that was a big deal. In fact, many people have been in the same predicament. That moment doesn’t even come close to putting a dent in the things I’ve done in the past. It wasn’t the first fuck up and definitely wasn’t the last. As much as I try to prevent these things from happening, they never stop. A secret will slip out of my mouth and I’ll break someone’s trust or I’ll do something against my own morals. A lot of the time I feel like I’m just barely holding my head above water, trying to propel myself to the next destination without getting my own feelings hurt or hurting someone in my wake. Even when I feel like I’m doing well and acting right, I slip up and am back underwater again. 

Art and Photograph by Clutch Cabin

So you’re in a pickle. You broke a glass. You broke someone’s heart. You touched something you weren’t supposed to. You have a big mouth. You lied, everyone found out, and now you’re in trouble. And on top of that, you’re disappointed, upset, hopeless, troubled, stressed, etc. What now? 

It’s hard in the moment, but the first thing you need to do is take a giant step back. Freak out a little bit. Have your moment to scream or cry. Feel it. When you’re done, take a long, deep breath. The inside of your head probably looks like a mushroom cloud of smoke. You can’t think clearly or see everything for what it is when your view is blurred. You might be angry or upset and say something you don’t mean. It’s a bad time to speak and start assembling broken pieces. You’ll hurt yourself trying. And hovering over the situation will only fuel the fire.

The first few days are always the worst. When you’re not feeling so good, especially if you’re alone, it’s hard to get out of your head. Let yourself grieve, but be gentle. Sometimes when I feel confused or powerless about a problem at hand, I tell myself that my tomorrow self, my future self, can handle it and fix it. This way I can feel what I must in the moment without worrying too much.  A little distraction can help stop you from overthinking too. Do something pleasurable. Get a hobby and turn it into your safe space. When you come back, you can reflect.  You’re not the only one in the world to have messed up. There is no sense in hating yourself over something that is going to be very minor in due time. Know that better days ALWAYS come. 

Try talking to someone who doesn’t hold judgement. They could be an acquaintance, a best friend, a teacher, a parent. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone running back to my mother for advice or because I needed someone to hear me out. Or just to have her tuck my hair behind my ear while I go through it. It’s nice to have a shoulder to cry on. The comfort is healing. A fresh pair of eyes can provide insight. And the person you turn to might end up saying something you really need to hear.

There have been many instances where I’ve messed up and I’ve had no one to turn to. Maybe because I didn’t want to tell anyone about what was going on. I felt embarrassed. These ended up being the best lessons because I not only had to single-handedly conquer the situation, but also my fear of isolation and the pain of being alone. I learned to find comfort and solace in my own company. I looked for advice from myself because I had to trust I knew what was best. I tried to see things in a more positive way. These trials are difficult, but they are for the benefit of us, as well as the other party. Life has a funny way of removing what doesn’t belong and isolating you, so you can take a good look at yourself. Ask yourself how you can be a better person, where you went wrong, and how the future can be different. Maybe it’s simple and you just need to start loving yourself. 

It’s time to own whatever you did. Let go of the fear of consequence and what will happen when you are honest. It will be worse if you aren’t. Forgive and make peace with yourself first. Don’t let anyone else’s perception of you get in the way. There may be an image of you existing right now, maybe it’s not your own, but every second you are changing. You are not the same person you were yesterday. And you always have the option to change, to rise, and to learn. 

This may take a really long time, but when you’ve collected yourself and the matter has cooled down, it’s okay to approach or speak to whoever you hurt. Come from a loving place, but understand that no one in this life owes you anything. Try to see it from their perspective too and offer understanding, as should they. You might not be able to get back into that friendship or relationship. People are allowed to feel the way they do. They are allowed to leave you in the past. You cannot expect immediate forgiveness or sympathy, but you may find harmony in knowing you gave yourself a voice and communicated. Don’t hold onto it anymore. Let go for your own good. Move forward. 


A lot of the time, when we think of fucking up, we think of it in a way where we have messed up something with someone else. But sometimes it can be in a way where we mess up with ourselves and it is solely in our own world.

A few weeks ago, I did something that hurt my own feelings. I got lost with an image of someone I had in my head. After months of not feeling like me, I realized I was living in the past. All that time, I was consumed with creating this whole other reality…somewhere else. I chose not to realize the truth because my creation was much more ideal. I let myself down because I made an old mistake, even embarrassing myself by thinking my delusion was real. I was upset because I hold my growth so highly. I was mad because I went back on my own word and broke a promise to myself. And how could I ever be an example, how could anyone take my word for advice, when I can’t take my own? I felt my heart sink until my chest was empty. Being half on Earth and half in the clouds is uncomfortable.

I kind of beat myself up over it. I felt stupid, but shortly after that realization, I had a talk with a good friend. I wasn’t looking for anything out of her, but I felt like if I said it out loud I would feel more honest with myself about it. I told her I felt like I hadn’t grown or changed at all, like I was just the same person I’d always been.

She looked at me very calmly and said, “Don’t ever say that to me again. You’ve come a long way from where you were. You have learned and that’s why you can speak of it right now and recognize it. That’s why you’re not letting yourself continue down this path. That’s why you’re stopping it in its course. And besides that, you honored what your heart was feeling. You were true to yourself and your word at every moment. You were honest with your emotions, even if you stepped out of bounds for a bit.”


We overthink. Yes, we have to look inside ourselves to change and grow, but we also need to come out of our shells to actually live. Some of us live in fear of heartbreak and of change, so we avoid being vulnerable and stay in our comfort zone. The armadillo tells us that there are different paths with different trials. There are endless opportunities to move forward. 

There is no question, you will fail dozens of times. Life gets the best of us now and then. But we have to plan ahead. Be smart and know you will fuck up and get hurt. That’s out of your control. But it is in your power to choose and minimize the damage. Don’t fixate your growth on never failing because you’ll end up in the same spot where you started, trying to protect your heart, but never exercising your feet. The only way to get stronger is to face it. We cannot roll up and run away to protect ourselves all the time because if we do, we will never get ahead of the obstacles. If you stand behind the mountain, if you never summit, you won’t ever get to see the view. 

With Love,

LA.

New Heights: Hiking the Alps

Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is an extensive collection of trails through the French, Italian, and Swiss Alps. It runs around the base of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe. In July of this past year, I thru-hiked 130 miles of rugged terrain, which included 30,000 feet in ascent.

When my father first proposed the idea of doing this, I agreed, but never actually thought I’d follow through. I even told him I wasn’t going a week before the trip. I wasn’t anywhere near being ready to put my body through something like that. Then a few days before the scheduled flight, while hiking in Bear Mountain NY, I discovered how good hiking made me feel and how it affected my mentality. And on a whim, I decided to go.

At the end of each hiking day, I journaled about my experience. And because I went without expectations, I had so many more opportunities to discover. A strength and mental focus presented itself that I never knew and I accomplished something I never dreamt of. I began to understand what authentic love and happiness feel like. I laughed a whole lot. I ate slow. I enjoyed myself and each moment. I felt every emotion and cried without restraint when I needed to. I walked through my thoughts and evaluated the life I am living. I forgot about technology and immersed myself in the life I sought. I conquered myself.

Although there are truly no words to show the majestic beauty expressed in the Alps (not only through the landscape, but also its inhabitants and visitors), I am going to try my best to replay the experience, so that you too may get a taste.


Day 1
Les Houches to Les Contamines-Montjoie

13.2 miles / 3,400 feet elevation gain

Last night we slept in a charming hotel in Argentière, France. One with a beautiful breakfast buffet- and an espresso machine. We woke when our bodies allowed, in no rush because our plan wasn’t to start today. But since our first destination wasn’t too far from where we were, we hopped on a bus to Les Houches and began our journey.

For the first two hours, the path was steep, up dirt road and pavement. It was hot in the valley, the wind suspended. The sunlight reflecting off the asphalt didn’t help. It only contributed to burning my skin. The horse flies took advantage of my bare legs- and I suppose everyone else’s too.

Four and a half miles ahead was the first refuge- a place where people stop for; food, water, to use the bathroom, and to sleep. We sat for awhile, watching the children play, laugh, and dance. The surrounding tables seated people from all over the world. Each of my ears were entertained by the different languages.

We trekked through the forest before emerging and wandering through the quiet, French villages of Bionnassay and Le Champel. And when I say quiet, I mean there was not a single soul. It was like walking through a pristine, Sims neighborhood. Most homes had white concrete walls with brown roofs and pink and red flowers spilling over the windowsills. This is with the exception of the ancient homes built from white and gray stones and the classic Alps chalets, built with chestnut-colored wood. The lawns were trim, a standard in France, and pleasing to the eye. And not a single piece of garbage. Glacial water fountains waited for us as we passed, more places to fill up or perhaps stick our heads into.

Back into the trees, we entered through a bridge that had vines tangling on either side. The sun peeked into the leaves just perfectly so that the waterfall ahead sparkled as it fell. The water rushed under us. Captivated, I was hesitant to move on from here, but I was assured there would be “more where this came from”.

I lost track of time easily. The day progressed leisurely. The signs measuring distance don’t mean much. Ten minutes to the destination really means an hour. And everything looks close, but is a lot further. I put away my trekking poles and fought my legs to get up the last hill into Les Contamines, pulling myself up the guardrail.

When I got to the top, I threw my pack on the ground and laid in the grass. My legs couldn’t walk another mile, so we waited to see if there was a room available anywhere.

There was. And that bed felt like home.

Day 2
Les Contamines-Montjoie to Les Chapieux

15.5 miles / 4,300 feet elevation gain

Movement the day after a difficult hike is rough. My hips ached from my pack pressing hard against them. My feet sore from carrying my body weight, and some, for eight hours.

We left around eight a.m., passing along the white glacier river that wound itself around the perimeter of the village. Runners hurried by us in practice for the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, a race that occurs in August. On average, one hundred and ten miles are completed in under thirty hours. As I trudged forward up the hill covered by trees, I was met by a waterfall cascading down into what seemed like an endless abyss.

We were exposed to the open fields, walking alongside other hikers headed towards Col du Bonhomme. I was less prepared for today than yesterday. The route became vertical and challenging fast. The closer we got to the top, the less my legs wanted to lift off the ground. So wasted in my own movement, I would’ve missed the three Canadian boys sliding down a glacier if it wasn’t for their laughs and ‘WOO HOO!’s.

At the Col, I came face to face with the snowy peak. We climbed across the jagged, dark ridge. I couldn’t look up or down or sideways or anywhere other than at my feet to keep balance. Even then, I ended up falling over. Above that snow was cold, slippery rock and I struggled to find crevices to place myself. I was afraid to step- what if it couldn’t hold me. We broke through the halfway point here and tried to stop for food at a refuge, but the kitchen was closed. We were a second too late and hadn’t packed any meals in anticipation of this, but the views held my hunger off.

We spent the rest of the day gliding down the beautiful, but tortuous switchbacks into the valley below. Not only did we hike fifteen miles, but it took us ten grueling hours to get through. Day two outdid itself.

We arrived at a sweet campground adjacent to a river. There was a small sandwich shop with generous amounts of candy and pastries. And a refuge where we ate a three-course dinner at the only lopsided table. Before bed, I soaked my achy feet in the torrent- something about the frigid water of the Alps is instantly healing.

Day 3
Les Chapieux to Rifugio Elisabetta
10.7 miles / 3,650 feet elevation gain

I think I’ve only just realized how much I love never having service. I love waking up to bliss, a space without worries or anxiety. Waking up to cool, clean air and mountains and my bare feet running across the grass. Everything is enhanced, colors more spectacular, especially when I don’t have a digital screen to compare to. I think a lot about the little things and feel extremely grateful. I move slowly and consciously, planning out every move, but at the same time, going with the flow and ready for whichever direction today might go.

Last night, a thunderstorm shook the valley furiously. The sky cracked and broke open, releasing its tears. I was clammy from the tent being set up improperly. But to our luck as we were leaving, we just missed a second storm coming around.

The majority of the route today was on a beaten path through meadows, steady and easy on the legs. Before long, we stumbled upon a lake that we had seen from the peak yesterday. It was the brightest shade of blue, glistening and surrounded by wildflowers.

This is unreal. Everything is so divine. I have no choice, but to be present. The more I am, the more I feel at home between peaks and stone and hay, somehow more connected to the Earth than to any person I’ve ever befriended. And when I really think about it, nothing matters except this, right now. Hiking makes me feel like a child again.

A white horse greeted us at the entrance of Refuge Des Mottets, where we had crepes. Beyond here was the French/Italian border and I could feel the landscape changing as we moved along. There, I stood with the sun and clouds. I viewed the mountains on all sides, spying into each valley, and imagining entire worlds below. I can’t believe we’re already in Italy- I walked here.

When we arrived at Rifugio Elisabetta, we were only hoping for food and somewhere to hangout for a bit. (Usually refuges are completely booked.) But the owner overheard us talking and offered us to stay there. We did not refuse- hot showers, food, and bed all sounded AMAZING.

Tonight, I had the privilege of holding a napkin to some girl’s profusely bleeding pimple in the bathroom, while simultaneously trying to steer clear of a conversation with a nearly naked, older man. Dinner was communal and we sat with a lovely Australian couple. We spoke about the places they’d previously been and the journey it took to get here. They had gone three hours in the wrong direction today. It’s nice to know that we aren’t alone in everything we’re thinking and having the same trials. They too never know what they’re eating, but agree it is very exciting.

Day 4
Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur
10.9 miles / 1,700 feet elevation gain

I barely slept. We were all lined up like sardines under the slanted ceiling. The air was congested and I was in a pool of sweat. Sleeping in a refuge is not as luxurious as it may sound.

We followed crystal and green pools out, meeting waterfalls that laid low in the valley and trailing up hills that looked like they could be homes to hobbits. Stunning views. The pastures were HD, green like artificial grass, complemented by the charcoal background and clear sky.

Italy is much drier than France. Every drop of moisture is consumed by the Earth at the chance, which makes walking downhill harder. Dust makes the ground loose. The descent into Courmayeur was unrelenting, but every step I took, took my breath away. Dozens of grasshoppers would hop over my feet as they rose and came down again. The varying insect voices fit together harmoniously and create music. I’m in a fairytale.

Day 5- Rest Day
Courmayeur, Italy

Ahh, sweet Courmayeur. An Italian town that sits at the foot of Monte Bianco and spends its time enamoring people. Almost everyone speaks a little English or is at least willing to bear with broken Italian. The town is crawling with hikers, climbers, and tourists in general. Each store is thoughtfully placed and a large, open theater lies in the center of town. Italian women, dressed in all black to complement their olive skin, spend each morning and each night sweeping the outside of their storefronts.

Everything is in walking distance from our hotel, which a slightly spicy woman let us into- a room with two full bathrooms and a balcony overlooking the town. In the morning, she served freshly baked croissants, yogurts, jams, and coffee upon request. All of which I took advantage of.

Mid-day, I napped, catching up from past nights. It felt so good to just lay there- mind blank. My body drifts through long, long hours, only recognizing the light of day or the dark of night.

Day 6
Courmayeur to Val Ferret (Tronchey Campground)

8.5 miles / 2,900 feet elevation gain

Early morning, we walked through town one last time. I powered up our “only” hill of the day and happened to run into someone from a town I used to live in. He had broken a trekking pole and was making his way up with just one. I can’t imagine losing or breaking either of mine- they’re my lifeline.

We took an alternate route- a shorter hike to a campground somewhere in the Aosta Valley. The views were much duller than the previous days. But I suppose I’m spoiled for saying something like that while I’m here because even the dullest places can’t be compared to. Watching the metallic blue beetles and butterflies land in front of me was entertaining.

We spotted a restaurant on our way passing through a town and received some pretty interesting stares. It was probably unavoidable because 1)we smelled bad, 2) were sweaty, and 3) carrying massive backpacks. And when I tried to order two dishes, the waitress stopped me, insisting I would not finish both. But as it turns out, she was right. I could barely even stomach one.

Our campground was small and peaceful. We arrived very early. It was just us and the gorgeous, unsaddled horses that belonged to the farm on site. I spent a lot of time staring out into space, wondering what they were thinking and how it must feel to live in such freedom.

When dinner came around, a white haired woman waited on us at her family’s restaurant. Children in muddy boots and men with unkempt hair, drinking beers, gathered at the entrance. There was a lot of pointing at things and smiling, trying to win her over. She was reluctant to bother with foreigners. But by the end of the night, she was smiling and laughing too and even brought out the chef- a Cuban man, who had moved to Italy to marry his love (her daughter).

I don’t think I’ve ever seen my father this happy. As an immigrant, nothing in America compared to the Ukrainian country quite like this. At dinner, he began to tell us about how the meals used to be cooked similarly, how the hills and energy reminded him of childhood and home and how he could stay here forever. I suppose this little valley brought him way back. The quiet air. The slow life. This woman and her meals embedded with love had my grandmother’s name written all over.

Day 7
Val Ferret to La Fouly

19.8 miles / 5,013 feet elevation gain

On our way out, we grabbed apple cakes and cappuccinos. We passed a glossy river and met a fence that was blocking the way. Others followed behind and we all, collectively, couldn’t figure out how to get through. A construction worker nodded to us, as if he was saying “just open the gate”. The one thing about trekking with other hikers, especially if they’re with a guide, is you will be caught behind them for miles if you don’t pass and move quickly. They are inconsistent, running up and stopping every ten minutes.

When we stopped to use the bathroom, the women’s restroom was taken, so I thought it would be okay to use the mens. After all, both had the same utilities and they looked the same. But when I was walking out, a man shouted at me in another language with his hands up. I shrugged and swiftly made my way out.

Standing in the valley, we were in perfect view of the breakneck mound in front of us. The ground was sandy and baking. I put all my weight on my poles to boost myself up. Concentrating on the dirt, I minded the caterpillars rolling down, getting caked in dirt, then trying to get back up again.

Atop the mound was a gray stone building- Rifugio Elena. I had regained a bit of energy, but it still wasn’t over. The Italian/Swiss border was waiting around the cliffs edge. And the dark clouds were rolling in and it even began to drizzle.

The border was brilliant. On one side, the rolling Swiss hills nestled together like couples in the honeymoon phase. Lush mountains met by snow banks. On the other side, the crisp Italian landscape and the depression we came from. I felt as though I overcame a massive feat. Two French boys and a Spaniard stood at the crown. They spoke of a glacier in ten minutes distance that was safe enough to walk across without proper gear and dazzling views. My father couldn’t resist.

When a half an hour passed and he still wasn’t back, I got worried. I went to check expecting a dead body or worse, nothing at all. But he had been walking back up and said he couldn’t really cross its entirety.

From there, we continued on. Marmots danced across the meadows, chasing each other and tumbling somewhat gracefully. And sometimes even disappearing into the land that stretched down and down into infinity. The sun was already setting when we decided to take a different route to La Fouly, instead of the original TMB one. It was, in exchange for being shorter, more trying. My mind and body were tired, but I had to ground myself once again. Switzerland doesn’t leave room for mistakes. You have to be careful.

Twenty miles and twelve hours is what it took us. The roads were long and winding and every inch of me twinged. The village had turned blue upon arrival. We tried to find somewhere indoors to stay, but there was no vacancy. So we made our beds at yet another crowded campground and drifted off.

Day 8
La Fouly (Ferret) to Champex

12 miles / 1,778 feet elevation gain

We had WiFi, which led me to sleep poorly. Everyone at home was still awake and I was eager to chat- fearing I was missing out on something (better?). As per usual, I woke up sore, disinterested in walking another ten miles to the next village.

Outside the campground was a playground, complete with a zipline. Even hikers had stopped to play on it. This part of the forest in Switzerland looks a lot like home. Thick roots and moist soil cover the ground, pine trees in every direction. And I didn’t have to adjust my feet amongst the stones to gain footing anymore.

Along one of the cliffs was a thoughtfully placed chain, just in case. Halfway through, we stopped to have lunch. The town seemed empty, homes resembled barns. Old, dark, wooden buildings, tall and wide, reaching to kiss the sky. But a few houses with white stone bases had painted hues of orange and coral on them. Gnomes ornamented the gardens and whatever risen ground was open occupied hungry hikers.

From the town, you could spot a tall structure between the trees at the very top. That was our destination and in total took us twelve miles to get to reach. We wandered up and against the hillsides, peering back into where we were and the other Swiss cities below. I felt powerful- one of the first times I was unphased by thoughts or exhaustion. My twenty-five pound bag had lost its weight.

We prayed for a rest day ahead. In the case we couldn’t find a place to sleep, we’d have to keep moving. And while there wasn’t much available, we landed in the upstairs apartment of the village boulangerie, bushes of crimson flowers spilling over the perimeter porches.

Day 9 — Rest Day
Lac de Champex

The smell of bread baking crept its way into my room around dawn. I cruised down the stairs and into the bakery to have breakfast. The boiled egg shells were colored pink- strange considering it’s nowhere near Easter, but it’s the norm for everyone here.

A Czech couple also found their way into the bakery’s apartment. They decided to do TMB on a whim, driving a days worth to get here. “An extended weekend trip”, they called it.

Once again, I spent the day catching up on the sleep I’d missed, with the exception of the few times I went out to walk around the lake. I watched the ducks and coots float past, children teetering at the edge of the grass trying to feed them. I dipped my feet into the water, so cold it hit my bones.

Although I have found myself to not be very fond of Switzerland for a number of reasons, it is still so gentle. It has energy that is caring and loving. The fog always moves out by noon and the sun comes to shine on the lake, warming it up for everyone to paddleboard or kayak. There are even a few brave souls who choose to swim. Everything is done with taste. And people are generally hospitable, aside from the store clerks who get frustrated with us for forgetting to weigh the fruit before we bring it to the register. Did I mention they don’t use plastic bags here?

Day 10
Lac de Champex to Col de la Forclaz

10.5 miles / 2,700 feet elevation gain

We left an hour or two earlier than normal ready to hit the trail. The excitement of completing the tour was growing.

Light beamed down on the river so hard that its reflection made it hard to see where I was stepping. The forest onward was carved with a winding trail- I could tell it was going to be one of the steeper ones. Little neon backpacks exposed the way. The man behind us was following notably close and when asked if he wanted to pass, he replied, “That’s okay. I’m using your tailwind. I’m only as weak as you.” What an empowering thing to say!

After the last push up, we ended up in a safe area plotted against the hill. Cows were scattered throughout and each of their bells participated in a symphony. A refuge with a dozen picnic tables overlooked what was most likely Chamonix below. It’s funny how you can see where you’re going, but have to understand it’s going to take a few days to reach.

The campsite was a few miles past here, set aside a fancy hotel on a main road. They were unconcerned with hikers. And it was far from quiet or private, I suppose a tourist attraction. Col de la Forclaz is about a mile above sea level and has attractive views of the layers of mountains in the distance.

Day 11
Col de la Forclaz to Tre-le-Champ

13.3 miles / 3,900 feet elevation gain

At dawn everything was wet, the sky opaque and it didn’t seem to be passing through. I dressed in full rain gear and organized my things in the small hut provided for eating/charging electronics. It was one of those days where you move extra, extra slow because you never know when the trail is going to decide to take you out.

I saw yaks for the first time. They made their home in the pasture below the hotel, grazing peacefully, but cautious. We hadn’t seen any particularly spectacular views for a minute. But coming out of that valley, I was shocked by how the damp weather complimented the Earth’s shades, moistening the terrain until it turned deep evergreen with hints of turquoise. As the clouds peeled off the peaks, I discovered the bare rocks standing firmly atop and the chicory flowers waiting patiently for warmth and light. Still, the closer to Col de Balme we got, the harder the wind blew. My hands couldn’t escape the chill. The refuge at the Col was packed with people hiding from the weather.

Although the rest of the trail wasn’t anything I haven’t done before, climbing up the rocks made my feet pound. Everytime I thought I was going back down, there was a new turn, returning upwards. The hill was formed into what looked a lot like steppes, where hikers stopped to eat their lunch or to just admire the land, one of the last views they’d get to see before completing TMB.

To the right, the mountain fell back into itself creating a narrow canyon. And to the left, the slopes met each other, unfolding miles and miles. Flowers sprouted out of rocks and their pink complimented the dark contour. I had missed seeing such magic.

We landed around the same area we slept the first night. The French homes were just as I’d left them. Our campground was kind, against a stream and with a more welcoming shelter beside it. Around seven p.m., the site filled in. Dinner was communal. Tables were assigned and we sat to chat with strangers.

Mistakenly, a Welsh father and son, as well as Kiwi, sat with us. We had finally run into people whose company we honestly enjoyed. We talked and laughed and made jokes about the journey here, connecting on the fact that we didn’t want this to be over.

But eventually, when they discovered they were at the wrong table, they were switched out for a Korean family- a twenty year old boy and his parents, who had previously trekked through the Himalayas. His mother and father did not speak English, but he made a great effort to translate. They were wonderful- she had looked at me and told me I was strong. Coming from her, that sat with me as a tremendous compliment. Strong feels important. Strong feels beautiful.

Day 12
Tre-le-Champ to Chamonix

9.5 miles / 2,835 feet elevation gain

I didn’t need to wake up nearly as early as I did, but there was a cat running through the tent. An orange tabby wandered in without regard and was interested in the blow up mattresses. Or maybe he was hungry. We filled up on juice, bread, and cereal, then began our very last day. It was blistering hot, much like day one. And the trail was easy until we reached the side of a rocky cliff and I questioned how we were supposed to get up. I couldn’t see far enough ahead to recognize a trail.

The answer to my inquiry was LADDERS nailed to the side without any type of harnessing and a solid drop down. My hands gripped the wooden planks and I moved up, paying careful attention to if they were going to fall through. My legs shook uncontrollably. Almost the entire way was ladders, but it was worth it. There was a perfect view of Mont Blanc from here.

This was our concluding look from a neighboring peak before descending into Chamonix. The refuge nearby was CLOSED for the summer and we had relied on it for water. The trail down was well beaten, but there were fallen trees and parts where you could tell an avalanche had come crashing through. Many spaces were constricted and ironically placed next to a slope. I climbed, shoving my hands into dirt when there wasn’t a rock to hold me and twisted myself whenever I thought my backpack might knock me over. I was drained empty from the past two weeks, but I put everything aside, every thought, and held my breath to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. NEVER in my life have I used such determination.

The campground we had planned to sleep at in town had also been closed down and turned into townhouses. So we migrated a few blocks to a more popular one, where we ran into the same people from last night and paraded through town.


So what did I actually learn from thru-hiking for the first time? Sure, I learned that there aren’t really words to what the Earth offers. She is not only beautiful, but a teacher and speaks in a language that can’t be heard, only felt. And that’s why I enjoy hiking so much. Because I let the lessons come to me and I can become more familiar with her voice.

There were so many times during this trip where I wanted to quit. But those were only times when I let the day or my thoughts get the best of me, when I told myself I couldn’t do it anymore. I wasn’t used to the physical toll this takes, but it wasn’t about that. It was about finding ways to get around the obstacles I set for myself- ways I had learned to self sabotage. My father says never quit on a bad day.

Sometimes before you’re going to do something difficult, something you’ve never done or something you’re afraid of, you just need to breathe. Deep belly breaths until you’re ready to move again. We don’t always have a choice in what we’re thrown, but the only bridge between can and can’t is a movement. And it’s okay to take your time. Seriously. Take your f*cking time doing everything because moments don’t last forever.

You’ll probably never know what you’re doing, but give your decisions the night because you might feel different in the morning. Keeping three points in the dirt at all times means keeping yourself grounded. Don’t take action until you feel steady and balanced. And while you’re down with the Earth, feel your feet against it and put them in the river too. Lay in the grass, the bugs won’t bother you. We need to carry weight with us, but we have to remember what it feels like to take it off- to shed.

And when you’re feeling alone, remember that this planet is filled with living creatures, even if they’re not human. Sometimes we need to connect with something greater than ourselves. The things out there are boundless and can be difficult to perceive. Give everything a try and you’ll be a little closer to understanding.

Long Time, No See.

LA.