Tried and True Natural Anxiety Remedies

“Here’s the deal: there are a number of processes in the body that, when compromised, broken, or otherwise dysfunctional can manifest as fatigue, worry, insomnia, low mood, poor concentration and attention, agitation, a trip to your psychiatrist, and a stop off at the pharmacy.” – Dr. Kelly Brogan, holistic psychiatrist

As emphasized by one of my favorite holistic psychiatrists above, there are certain chemicals our bodies need to function properly, nonetheless optimally. This BY NO MEANS is a post telling you to quit your antidepressant or get off anxiety meds. But getting certain chemical reactions in order might help, whether you’re currently taking pharmaceuticals or not. So here is a list of my tried and true natural anxiety remedies! None of these are prescription drugs, and have few to zero side effects, if taken correctly. Please let me know if you use any additional herbs/foods/vitamins/minerals, I’d love to hear! And WARNING! Some of these don’t do well coupled with a medication, so be sure to talk to your doctor if you’re combining prescription and non-prescription remedies.

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Magnesium Glycinate – Magnesium comes in many forms (citrate, taurate, glycinate, to name a few), but glycinate is the most easily used by the body. Magnesium used to be an abundant mineral found in many whole foods, but modern food processing practices have all but stripped it entirely from most diets, causing the majority of people to be magnesium deficient (womp). Magnesium plays a role in over 300 chemical reactions in the body, so you need this stuff to be, you know, like a functioning human being. Here’s the thing about magnesium — it doesn’t help anxiety, per se; the reason you have anxiety in the first place is because you are missing magnesium. So it doesn’t just help you not be anxious; being deficient in magnesium is causing you to be anxious in the first place. If you have ANY level of anxiety, you should be on at least 600mg (minimum! You CAN double this if you get panic attacks!) of magnesium per day. This is your baseline. Take it every morning with food, no questions asked. Just do it. Your brain and body will be like, holy shit, finally. Thank you. 

GABA – Gamma-aminobutyric acid is a neurotransmitter that helps send messages between the brain and nervous system (yep, pretty damn important). It plays an important role in behavior, cognition, and the body’s response to stress. Lower than normal levels of GABA in the brain have been linked to schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. I’m telling you, get your hands on some a dis.

L-Tryptophan – this is an amino acid that has been linked to calming the mind. It’s a precursor to the brain chemical serotonin (all hail serotonin! cue singing angels), which helps regulate mood and makes you feel safe. Anything that can get serotonin where it needs to go to do its thing is really, really needed, y’all.

Folate – also known as vitamin B9 (honestly your best bet is just taking a methylated B-complex multivitamin, but I mention the two Bs most targeted for anxiety here), folate helps synthesize and repair DNA, keeping your genes expressing themselves optimally (I’ll write more on this concept later).

HerbPharm Anxiety Soother – this little guy tastes horrible (like, truly horrible – kinda like dish soap :/) but is SO EFFECTIVE. Just add a full squirt to a little bit of water (a citrus drink also works well) and take it like a shot. Miracles. I use this one the most if I’m feeling a panic attack coming on; it manages to calm me down enough for me to think rationally again (#bless). 

Ashwagandha – this is an ayurvedic herb used for thousands of years across Asia to soothe the agitated mind that has recently been making waves in the West. It provides neuroprotection, has anti-cancer effects (bam!) and staves off anxiety. Ashwaganda is an adaptogen, meaning it helps us adapt to our environments, including stressful ones. Yes, please. Take this bad boy up to three times a day — I promise you’ll notice a difference.

Inositol – also known as vitamin B8 (those B vitamins though!), Inositol is something I only very recently heard about through Dr. Leslie Korn, a mental health nutritionist. I’m telling you now — this stuff is going to BLOW UP. It’s a remedy for rumination in the brain, and has been linked to mollify OCD and severe anxiety. It also has links to treating PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), an extremely painful condition in the ovaries. Inositol can be found in plants and animals, but can also be made in a lab (the human kidneys each produce about 2g a day, so 4g total). It is extremely helpful in treating bipolar disorder, panic disorder, depression, binge eating and other eating disorders, schizophrenia, and, as mentioned above, OCD, by helping to balance certain chemicals in the body and brain. This stuff has the power of prescription drugs, with literally no side effects (unless you were to take more than 16,000mg a day. Even then, you’d probably just get a little dizzy). It’s amazing.

Lavender etheric oil – nervousness, stress, heart palpitations, insomnia, and headaches can all be treated with lavender. A few little drops on your pillow at night often does the trick. Lavender tea is also really wonderful.

Passionflower extract – this herbal remedy is an old Polynesian antidote for high levels of anxiety, and is even known as an aphrodisiac in ancient Polynesian cultures (ooh la la!) It can be mildly sedative, so I suggest taking this one at night.

Chamomile – a more well-known herb that is proven to reduce stress and anxiety, and is most commonly used as tea. What many don’t know, though, is that this unassuming herb is actually a powerhouse at knocking out anxiety when used in larger doses, as it contains high levels of Glycine, a nerve relaxant.

Omega-3 Fish Oil – for the non-vegans. Essential (meaning our body does not make them, they have to be obtained from external sources) fatty-acids are huge for optimal brain health. These can be a little pricy, but are so worth it. Make SURE you get ones that are refrigerated (not from the shelf of a CVS or RiteAid or the like) – those are knock-off and can actually be really bad for you because the oil could be rancid. Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids are linked to a variety of mental health conditions, most notably ADHD, depression, and anxiety.

There you have it! My tried and true natural anxiety remedies. They are the greatest, I swear by them. Let me know what you think in the comments, and have an amazing week!

How to Maintain Integrity In A Movement That’s Being Capitalized ~or~ How to Keep Going Through the Bullshit

The health movement has taken off rapidly. All the nuances of healthy eating aren’t necessarily mainstream yet – people are still stuck on low-fat, for example – but it’s become more far-reaching than ever before to be conscious about your health. Which is great! It’s amazing! It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of!

But how do we keep it from becoming a capitalistic venture that companies use to solely make money off of, without really doing the work necessary to provide the things that are actually useful to people and that they can actually afford – for the right reasons?

How do you distance yourself from the people who say they’re in it for the health and wellness of everybody but shame bodies that are not the same as their own?

How do you separate yourself from the idea that health and wellness are exclusively about diet culture and restriction, when really there’s plenty of room for abundance and comfort once you learn what your body is really craving?

How do you make it YOUR OWN in a world that wants to shove their twisted knockoff version of the real thing TO YOU?

“How do you make it YOUR OWN in a world that wants to shove their twisted knockoff version of the real thing TO YOU?

Well, it’s pretty difficult, honestly.

But here’s the thing:

You have to remember why you started.

It’s sometimes discouraging to me, for example, to see all the Instagram heroes I love so much start to use all these fancy, expensive products in their photos and in the food they post. Those fancy, expensive products are probably really great for you, but the world population can’t afford them, which to me is like a mean trick. Let me just dangle this in front of your face, but not allow you to enjoy it like I’m about to. Same with the way some of them are focused only on the body-centered, weight loss aspect of it all, when in reality that has very little to do with the big picture of true health.

Thankfully, you don’t have to have all those fancy products to be healthy. You really don’t. Depending on how unhealthy you are, I suppose, it varies – some people need a serious lifeboat that just regular, good food can’t help with anymore. But that’s not everyone.

The reason you started – whatever it may be – is yours. It belongs to you. No amount of money, no fancy products, no supermodel who drinks from magical calorie free coconuts on the beach all day long can buy it from you or sell it to you.  It is and always will be (one of) the most valuable things you own.

We start because we want to feel better. We want to live vibrant, energetic, exciting lives, but are exhausted all the time, which makes it pretty difficult.

We start because we want better brains. We want to be less anxious. We want to be done with depression. We don’t want to have unexpected panic attacks that control our lives. We don’t want fear, or scattered thinking, or memory loss, or the worry of dementia and Alzheimer’s in the future to hold us back from living our one and only life. We want clarity and focus and calm and authentic self love.

We want to say a big fuck you to a system that took our health – our universe-given right – away from us in the first place. That marketed addictive, disease-causing foods and invasive, toxic medications to us and made us think it’s our fault that we ever got messed up from it.

“We want to say a big fuck you to a system that took our health – our universe-given right – away from us in the first place. That marketed addictive, disease-causing foods and invasive, toxic medications to us and made us think it’s our fault that we ever got messed up from it.”

I’m here to tell you, that beautiful, innocent, powerful reason you started – whatever it is – is not too much to ask for. You deserve all of it, and more.

I know how hard it is to remember that something is yours when marketing companies are getting their grimy hands all over it. It sucks sometimes. But I promise you, TRYING will get you so much farther than you think it could. The days spent grappling with these issues are part of your journey – doing the work to make the movement meaningful to you specifically is just as important to your health as getting up ten minutes earlier to make a green smoothie that you maybe think is a little cliché and ridiculous but you do it anyway because you’ll be damned if someone takes it away from you.

And you remember that part of the beauty of this movement is that it is for everyone. And everyone’s reason for starting is wonderful and unique and THEIRS. That’s what a good movement is all about. Coming together around something important while maintaining your personal reasons for doing it is one of the greatest feelings that comes with being human. We’re strongest when we know ourselves and COULD stand alone, but choose to stand together.

Through all the bullshit, I beg you: Keep. Going. You deserve to know what will happen if you don’t give up.

Sending love,

Sarah

(above image courtesy of Huffington Post)

 

Panic Attack gone…right.

My mental health hasn’t always come first in my life. I’ve had more panic attacks in this lifetime than is fair for a young woman. I’ve put sleep, eating, my own happiness, and human connection last at a few points in my life. I’ve sat through things I should have left for, I’ve put up with things I should have spoken up about, and I’ve been through things I shouldn’t have been through.

I had a panic attack for the first time since moving to D.C. yesterday. It happened after Food Recovery Network’s 2nd Annual Dialogue and it was incredible.

But during the debrief after the event, I lost it. During the three hour block we had sectioned off, we were sitting in a tiny, hot  room and people and were just kind of popcorning the things they felt could have gone better with the event.

It escalated pretty quickly – one minute I was participating (kind of) and the next I was dead silent, trying not to make eye contact with anyone, and feeling like I was going to explode.

But there was something different this time. I wasn’t judging myself. I wasn’t saying, internally, “Sarah, why do you have to be like this? Why can’t you just put other people’s comfort first, say some nice-sounding things about what could have been improved, and move on. What’s wrong with you? Why are you like this.”

I’ve been making huge benchmarks recently in terms of my body and brain health. I don’t really have an eating disorder anymore, my anxiety isn’t life-altering anymore, and I’ve managed to get off my medications (NOT NOT NOT that medications are a bad thing – just that, for me, getting off of something that was ruining me was a big win.)

This time, I didn’t judge myself. I didn’t have that inner monologue that was, while I was falling apart, condemning myself FOR falling apart.

I’m learning that my healing is more important than other people’s comfort. SAY IT AGAIN FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK. 

Having a panic attack was my body’s way of getting me out of a situation that was uncomfortable and that no part of me wanted to be in. That’s pretty cool. It’s pretty amazing to be able to trust your body in that way.

I realized, Sarah. You’re working three jobs right now, you were the point person for an enormous conference last weekend, you led a breakout session on food insecurity on college campuses, you slept on the floor of a church to ensure that students attending NFRD would get free housing, and you literally changed the lives of countless young people. 

I also, for one of the first times in my life, felt deeply supported by the people surrounding me while it happened. Even though I wasn’t a fan of the situation I was being put in, I was able to leave once I felt like I couldn’t be there any longer. I know that sounds obvious, but if you’re having a panic attack in class, at a party, or wherever, you often don’t have the agency to “just leave.” You’re only thinking about survival.

I think another reason why I didn’t feel the need to judge myself was because I’m taking better care of my body and brain than, truly, ever before. I’ve cut out food groups that don’t serve my body and it has been…incredible. I don’t feel awful hardly ever. I don’t worry about whether mystery ingredients in processed foods are contributing to my mental health issues. It helps, a lot, to know that you’re doing everything you can to prevent this stuff from happening.

I don’t feel perfect today after the panic attack. I’m tired, I feel drained, I’m generally sleepy. And that’s okay. I’m practicing serious self-care. And I have two days off of work coming up, which will help.

If you’re reading this, thank you! Raising awareness about mental health, food, and women – and the intersection of those three – is an enormous part of my life’s work.

Speaking of which! I just started working for a charity/non-profit organization called Food for the Brain based in London, United Kingdom! Find the link here. It is a really amazing group of people working to raise awareness of the impact nutrition, or lackthereof, has on mental health. ADHD, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, dementia, bipolar disorder, dyslexia, autism, Parkinson’s disease, insomnia and chronic stress (including adrenal and thyroid fatigue!) and many, many more are often caused by a nutrient deficiency and/or overdose of the wrong foods and can be radically improved with a change in diet. 

No one likes talking about this. They’d rather run the marathon to raise money for research than support these small charities doing the real work. It’s such a conspiracy, infact, that the average American has no idea how much diet plays in their health, or what it would really mean to improve their diet.

I’m so excited for the future. I’m proud of myself for getting myself here. It’s been a long journey, but it’s all been worth it.

Me, Too.

Me too. It took me all week to be able to say this. Only a few people deserve to know my stories. But my life will always be tainted by them. I don’t have words to describe all that these instances took from me. College (the times on campus) was a time with far more fear and discomfort than is fair for an 18-21 year old young woman just trying to figure out who she is. It makes you shut down. Who knows how much talent, how many dreams, how much love has been lost to the world because women have shut down due to this shit. And, looking back, now that I’m not there anymore and in a healthier environment for me (one of the healthiest I’ve ever been in, in terms of lack of toxic masculinity, shoutout to my amazing job), what I’ve put up with in the past makes me furious. This kind of anger stays far past its welcome in a young woman’s mind.

I did not choose to have this anger, but, because it’s here to stay, I’ve started using it as extra fuel to continue to build an incredible life for myself: “a life not equal to men…men are not the standard of humanity. [A life] on my own terms, free from violence.” – @TheAfroLegalise

My body – and my tumultuous relationship with it – is my own to bear. Who I choose to share it with is my decision. Always and forever.

“The witches are coming, but not for your life. We’re coming for your legacy. The cost of being Harvey Weinstein is not getting to be Harvey Weinstein anymore. We don’t have the justice system on our side; we don’t have institutional power; we don’t have millions of dollars or the presidency; but we have our stories, and we’re going to keep telling them. Happy Halloween.” – Lindy West 

 

I’d also like to add an article by Vicki Rivard for Elephant Journal. It sums this all up really well too, especially the infuriating “threshold” that has been created as a way of rating different sexual assault/harassment experiences. Ew. Anything unwelcomed is not okay. Period.

“Does it count?

When she’s eight years old, in the bath, and an older male relative walks in and watches her bathe. And she says “please leave” and she says “stop looking at me like that.” And his mom—her aunt—walks in and the girl tells her, “I don’t like him being in here,” and the aunt nervously laughs and shoos him out of the room saying, “Oh, he was just being a boy.”

Does it count?

When she’s 12 years old, navigating that space space between childhood and adulthood, and the boys in her class have nicknames for her and all of her girlfriends based on the size of their developing breasts (“Dolly” for the really curvy ones). They spend their days snapping bra straps and leaving marks.

Does it count?

When she’s 16 years old, at one of her first parties, smoking a bit and drinking too much, and a boy she knows from school sits down next to her and tries to kiss her. She gets up to leave, but he reaches out and grabs her left arm and twists it so hard that her ears start to ring and tears spring to her eyes. And when he finally lets go, he is smiling.

Does it count?

When she’s 18 and watching a movie at a friend’s house, and a guy she barely knows follows her into the bathroom, locks the door, and starts kissing her neck. She tries to push him away, but she isn’t strong enough, and she says “no, no, no” while his hand makes its way up her shirt, and she doesn’t know what to do so she kisses him back a bit, while planning her escape, and then, by sheer luck, there is a knock at the door, and she is saved.

Does it count?

When she’s 19 and in mad love with a girl, and a guy she knows tells her that all he needs is one night “to make her straight again.”

Does it count?

When she’s 21, auditioning for a play, and the director asks her to sing and then to hike up her skirt a little, and then loudly proclaims, to everyone in the room, “Well, she can’t sing, but she’s got great legs.”

Does it count?

When she’s 22 walking home from class at dusk, and three guys start following her, whistling and cat-calling and saying things like, “Slow down hot stuff, where’s the fire?” She feels the fire in her legs, in her belly, in her head, and she starts walking faster, but they do too until one of them yells out “bitch!” so she drops her bag and starts to run.

Does it count?

When she’s 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24, dancing with friends at a bar, and a guy comes up and starts grinding her from behind and, at first, she goes along with it because, you know, “he’s just being a boy,” and it’s just for fun, right? But the song ends and she tries to get away but he won’t let her, he follows her, grabs her, and tries to grind again, so she says “stop it,” and he doesn’t, so she yells “stop it!” and he still doesn’t. Her friends notice that she’s in trouble so they rush to her side and all yell, “stop it!” and finally, finally, finally he backs off, and she is breathing hard and feels embarrassed and just wants to go home.

Does it count?

When she’s 25, posing for a group photograph with co-workers, and the one on her left—a man she barely knows —slowly lets his arm drop from her waist to her butt, and she says nothing because she’s not sure what to say. And when the photo has been taken, he gives her butt a squeeze and saunters away as though he owns her.

Does it count?

When she’s 26, opening a new store in a shopping mall and decides to treat herself to a facial, and the man giving her the facial—right there, in the middle of a crowded mall—starts rubbing himself on her leg, and she is so shocked that she freezes. She feels him getting harder and harder, and she just sits there, frozen in that chair, silently screaming while this man applies cream to her face and masturbates against her body.

Does it count?

When she’s 28 and engaged to a wonderful man, and another man—a casual acquaintance—sends her a text that reads: “I’ve been having dirty dreams about you.”

Does it count?

When she’s 30, taking a walk with her dog and her baby, and a construction worker yells at her from across the street, “Now, there’s a mom I’d like to fuck.”

Does it count? Does it count? Does it count? Does it count?

When does it start to count?

When she’s 31 and raped?

No.

It counts, when she’s eight.

It counts before she’s eight. It counts when she’s in her mother’s womb. It counts even before then, when she’s still a star in the sky and in her not-yet-mother’s eye.

It always counts, because she always counts.

She, you, me. We always count.

Let us remember this. Let us not be fooled into thinking we don’t, anymore. Let us not be shamed into silence, ever again.

We always count.

It always—always—counts.”

A Wave of Peace

Hi! It’s been a while. Some big life changes recently – I graduated college, and moved to Washington, D.C. for a job with Food Recovery Network, a non-profit organization I have been working with via the Lawrence University chapter since I was a freshman in college. It was the backbone of my college career – it was always my home base, it introduced me, either directly or indirectly, to some of my favorite people on the planet who radically impacted my life, and, yeah, it gave me a job that I love after college! Not bad. I moved here at the beginning of August.

An enormous wave of peace and a feeling of being truly grounded has come over me in the last month that is so incredibly exciting and wonderful that it’s hard to describe. I have found people who I can be entirely myself around, which has made me realize how many people in my past I thought I could be myself around but really they were contributing to my anxiety and I wasn’t at peace because of it. In college, I was extremely happy, but it was conditional, sort of. I needed to be constantly achieving something in order to feel happy and fulfilled. And, I achieved a lot. I don’t regret any of it – partly because the stuff I did was f*cking cool – I studied abroad in India for six months and fell in love with my host mom, my neighbor and a friend who is now one of my most cherished friends in the world, I interned in Brussels, Belgium at an amazing NGO working to make healthcare more environmentally friendly, I lived in the jungle as an intern for the most eco-friendly modern town in the world, and I wrote an incredibly meaningful senior thesis on the politics of climate refugees fleeing sinking atoll nations. Not too shabby. Despite all this coolness, I was constantly berating myself over the fact that I wasn’t really doing college: I wasn’t partying much, I wasn’t hooking up constantly, and I couldn’t seem to force myself to have a significant other even though eligible people were interested. Mind you, I didn’t actually want any of these things at the time; I just felt like I did because that’s what you’re supposed to do in college. What wanted was to set a foundation for the rest of my life, travel to amazing places and have incredible adventures, learn what I needed to learn to get where I wanted to go, and fall in love with myself.

Mission accomplished.

Anyway, none of these strong society-induced feelings ever truly impinged on my overall experience, even though they did make the whole thing slightly less enjoyable because it sometimes felt like a big rain cloud was constantly looming over me. College was everything I wanted it to be and so, so much more. I graduated with an enormous network of people all around the world and strong connections in my field. And for a girl whose main goal in life is to follow her dreams and make a difference, I’m pretty (extremely) elated about that.

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During a trip with two of my three best friends in the world to Sanibel Island, Florida over Labor Day weekend

I’m the happiest that I’ve ever been right now, and I’m trying to just ride the wave and bask in all the glory that is life. I have people who make me feel alive, I work really hard at my job and yet am laughing throughout the entire day with my team, I am off of the medications whose side effects were extremely intrusive and harmful to my life (NOT that medications are inherently bad – the particular one I was on just happened to be for me at that time)I’m not stressed over tests and exams in areas of study that I don’t care about and won’t use, I’m at peace with the shape and size of my body which I’ve (finally) realized is f*cking gorgeous, and I’ve conquered my destructive eating disorder habits and learned what to eat to feel my best and have learned to really live – in all my vulnerable glory. And it’s really beautiful. I wish I could tell my college self that this was coming. It would have saved her doing some of the dumb stuff she felt like she should do but didn’t really enjoy because she was brainwashed to believe that college is the best time of your life, when really, it’s just the beginning – if you play your cards right.

But here’s the thing: every single thing I’ve ever done (and didn’t do) helped get me here. To my happiest. Yep, happiest is now a noun in my life.

So there’s my life update. Pretty exciting stuff. Also, I have a full year with these people; I’m so used to leaving the people I meet in my adventures after a few months, and now I get to stay. So that’s also very healing and beautiful .

A lot of what’s working in my life right now is food and how I feel about it. I have learned what makes my body agitated food-wise, and I finally have the self respect to STOP EATING IT. I’ve eliminated a lot of things from my diet, and I feel better than I ever have. Weight, looks, etc. have nothing to do with this. It’s purely about how I feel. I have the power now to tell the person I’m going out to dinner with that I can’t eat at a particular place because everything has gluten in it, and I don’t care anymore if they think I’m an annoying hippie fad-follower for not eating gluten. Because I know I feel better. And that’s all that matters.

The power of being able to reject certain foods that I know my body doesn’t want has infiltrated into my whole life. I stand up for myself more. I see my opinion as just as important as everyone else’s. I don’t think of myself as a submissive, scared, shy person anymore. I believe in myself. I know my abilities. I know I can make it through tough shit. I know I can do hard things.

I’ve done them.

It’s a beautiful life. And I’m so excited to live the rest of it as this new, updated, enhanced version of myself.

 

To grow into my future self by honoring my past one.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Stop Wanting to be Thin

One of my favorite writers of all time, Brianna Weist, puts what I’m feeling into words like no one else. She has this amazing ability to just capture these big, bold truths and put them into beautiful writing.

I’ve read almost every article she’s ever written, but I came across a crucial one that I somehow missed before this the other day. It’s called How To Stop Wanting To Be Thin and it is one incredible piece of writing. It brought me tears nearly immediately.

Here it is. Enjoy, share, think. ❤

“A few years ago during some holiday gathering or another, I sat with my family and we played one of those charade games where you ask questions to get people to say words and those words combine into a phrase and your team only has a fixed amount of time to get it right. One of the questions someone used to get us to say the word “weight,” was: “What’s something that everybody wants to lose?” Every person in the room answered simultaneously, without missing a beat. Weight.

The thing about the wars against ourselves is that winning isn’t succeeding, but surrendering. The paradox is that what life is really about is un-growth. It’s about un-learning to do, and re-learning to be.

“The thing about the wars against ourselves is that winning isn’t succeeding, but surrendering.”

As much as it is about becoming who you are, it’s about peeling off the layers that you’re not. Pain is just resistance, and it’s born of attachments and needs and ideas and a fixed concept of what’s good and bad. In this context, it’s adopting elements of other people as ourselves because it’s easier than the reality. But discomfort is a privilege in that it means you already know something better to be true. In the misery we experience trying to become everything we’re not, we are, in contrast, tapping into everything we are.

When I was in 6th grade, my best friend and I used to weigh ourselves together. I was four pounds heavier than her. The year before, my school teacher told us that if we wanted to clip off one of our school pictures and give it to him, he would put them all on his desk and never forget us. I gave him one. Mine was placed next to a girl in my class, Cara. She was beautiful, and I was not. And it was so obvious to me. I don’t even know if it was social conditioning at that point, as much as it was just understanding how looking at beautiful made me feel and how much I was not like that. Four years before that, I stood next to my mom at the sink of the bathroom while she got ready for work and played in her makeup bag. I put on mascara and blush and my eyes got wide and I remember thinking: “oh my god, I fixed it. This is what I need.” I just looked so much better and it was as though I had unveiled some magic, and finally understood why women did what they did each day. I told my mom about my epiphany, and she told me to stop.

The first assertions we make about things tend to become unconsciously adopted as our baseline “truth,” and we keep operating on them, even when the logic no longer applies. Even when we know better.

I talk about that series of instances because those were the genesis of my wanting to be thin. And beautiful. And charming. And a host of other things I felt, in my heart, were objectively “good.”

It didn’t dawn on me to question this until my early 20s. A friend’s friend from a college in New York was visiting my dorm, and he happened to be friends with some girls I went to school with. He told them he was coming to see his friend and I and the girls I once knew said to him: “ew, she’s a lesbian.” He told me, and I’m glad he did. At first, I flushed and tried to deny it. But before I could cycle back into that tired old song and dance, these words, for the first time, came to my brain: “so what the fuck if I am?” How crazy it was to me, the amount of time I spent feeling as though I was being accused of something “wrong” when the people using a sexuality as an insult were the ones that actually were.

I’ve been thinner and I’ve been bigger, and neither made me happier. I had a better life when I changed how I thought, and I changed how I thought the day I asked myself: “What if you didn’t want to be thin?” That’s where it started, a few years ago.

And what if I didn’t want a bunch of other things either? What if I chose to be grateful for the 30 pounds I gained from a medication that saved my life? What if a life well lived for me ended with a stretched out, scarred up belly because I have the kids I’ve always dreamed of and didn’t spend their first years missing a sleeping head on my shoulder or temper tantrum or music class to be at the gym? What if I thought about nourishing my body and brain and heart and soul?

I know I’m talking about weight, but I’m really alluding to something more, and it’s that what if our lives never evolve to the magnitude we’re told to dream them up to be, and what if that’s okay? What if we gave up on the idea of a big life and found solace and beauty and love in the little moments we already have? What if we didn’t accept our bodies in spite of them being imperfect, but we rejected the idea that such a categorical space for a body even exists in the first place?

What if this is all there is, and it turns out to be more than enough? What if we realized we don’t need to win the wars we didn’t start?

“What if we realized we don’t need to win the wars we didn’t start?

What if we gave up on the idea of a big life and found solace and beauty and love in the little moments we already have? What if I did the most liberating thing there is, and freed myself from other people’s minds? What if my opinions were no longer the average of those around me? What if I stopped worshipping other people’s Gods, and stopped mimicking other people’s actions and stopped listening to other people’s thoughts and did the one thing that everybody is afraid of in this world: sat with myself. In the present. In the moment. In the nothingness that binds us to our ideas of other people’s standards and an endless cycle of worry and existential angst. This is why we turn away from ourselves, beat our bodies and minds into submission: we can’t face who we really are, so we need to make ourselves into something that we’re not.

So what if I did that, and what if you did too? And what if the silence spoke to us in a way that our minds couldn’t, and what if we completely allowed ourselves as we are and realized that it was what we were seeking all along?

“This is why we turn away from ourselves, beat our bodies and minds into submission: we can’t face who we really are, so we need to make ourselves into something that we’re not.

What I’m trying to say is, what if I didn’t want to be thin? And what if I didn’t want a big life? Or an heir-worthy savings account or a lot of people who know my name or a ton of material belongings or a wide and fascinating social circle or a perfectly curated physical beauty or a life that even makes sense?

What if you didn’t, either?

What if we got past our suffering not by triumphing over an illusion but surrendering to the truth that we already know is there?”

 

 

The Difference Between Self-Esteem And Self-Compassion

I recently read an article called Self-Compassion Trumps Self-Esteem by Kristin Neff on Uplift.com, which you should definitely check out if you don’t already know it. This article changed some things for me, and I’m still deciding how exactly to integrate it into my life.

Everyone can’t stop talking about self-esteem, confidence, pushing yourself to the limit, the go-big-or-go-home mindset, and being the best.

And all that is great. There really isn’t anything wrong with this new movement. It’s showing people, especially womyn, that they can reach for the stars, and make it. And we can!

But can we do it all the time? 

No. Of course not.

And yet, we want to feel special all the time. We want to feel different, better, stronger, more capable. More worthy of love. 

But how do we cope when we don’t? When we didn’t get the grade, nail the performance, kill the job interview, get the fellowship, score the goal, lose the weight, gain the weight, get the text back, get accepted, whatever it is. What about when we’re not enough for these high standards that are placed on us and expected of us all the time?

“We want to feel special all the time, but how do we cope when we don’t?”

There are a lot of subtle nuances between self-esteem and self-compassion. When we are always telling ourselves we are great because we accomplished this, are dating/sleeping with/whatever this person, have this GPA, got into this school, we’re essentially hardwiring our brains to only love ourselves when we get that accomplishment. That surge of dopamine. That rush.

And while there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious – hell, I am an enormous advocate for womyn ambition – I think it can’t be the thing we ride on. That gives us our entire self worth.

“And the result is often devastating. Most of us are incredibly hard on ourselves when we finally admit some flaw or shortcoming: “I’m not good enough. I’m worthless.””

As we keep striving for better, farther, greater, bigger, thinner, whatever it is, “the goalposts for what counts as ‘good enough’ seem always to remain out of reach.” (I love that line).

“The goalposts for what counts as ‘good enough’ seem always to remain out of reach.”

“Millions of people need to take pharmaceuticals every day just to cope with daily life. Insecurity, anxiety and depression are incredibly common in our society, and much of this is due to self-judgment, to beating ourselves up when we feel we aren’t winning in the game of life.”

So you can see how the misogynistic diet culture comes into play here. Eating too much at dinner because you worked out a lot that day and your body needs fuel. Having a piece of cake you weren’t “supposed” to have. Skipping your workout because you were too damn tired that day. The list goes on and on and on.

“So what’s the answer? To stop judging and evaluating ourselves altogether. To stop trying to label ourselves as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and simply accept ourselves with an open heart. To treat ourselves with the same kindness, caring, and compassion we would show to a good friend — or even a stranger, for that matter.”

“You can’t build joy on a feeling of self-loathing” – Ram Das

I bet you’re thinking that’s not possible – and you’d kind of be right. It’s really, really hard to do this after years and years and years of being told otherwise.

Womyn, now, are told they have to do it all, in order to be deemed worthy. As if the fact that the womyn who came before us, who had far, far less opportunities than we do, means that we need to do it ALL. We have to be beautiful, in great shape always, get great grades, do all the internships/great jobs, be a great mom, do amazingly at work, all to just be considered. That shit gets heavy. 

I don’t have the answer. But I do know that self-compassion is a better route. We live once, ya’ll. Would you rather spend it at war with yourself or at peace?

To practice self-compassion, start slow. Remember, you’re changing the hardwiring of your brain that’s been in the making since your were born. Accomplishments are great, but they’re not everything. Strive for the stuff you love. Leave the rest behind.

Much love, spoonfuls. ❤