the light

The darkness started in November. No, it was before that. But I made the first cut in November. And it took me 4 months to stop. And I really thought that I would be dead before I made it here. Because it hurt to wake up. And to get out of bed. And to go to work.

It hurt to smile. And to talk to people. To spend every second of every day lying.

It felt like my mind was drowning and treading water all the damn time. Never quite reaching the surface.

I didn’t think I would make it here.

It’s one thing to be alive. It’s another to live. I’ve felt joy in the past week. Real joy. Not the plastic smile I’ve worn across my face for the past eight months, crying in whatever private space I could find. But that bubbling feeling in my chest, the one that can’t be contained.

I didn’t even recognize it at first.

And I kept up the motions. Waking up at 5:30am to put in a 12 hour day because it took me twice as long to get everything done. Riding Ubers to the office because I didn’t trust myself behind the wheel. I didn’t know where I would go. Or what I would do. The temptations I had, I could never say out loud.

The only moments with relief were when I drew blood. And for a brief moment, I could feel again. Better yet, I couldn’t feel anything else.

I stopped cutting four months ago. And this week, for the first time, I was happy. It still feels surreal. I’m proud to have made it here. But I still feel like I got lucky, and I don’t know how to reconcile that. Because what if I don’t make it out one day?

Someone today told me “its nice to see you smile again”. I don’t know why it felt so good. But I think I was glad someone said it out loud.

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Taking the First Step

2016 is has been a doozy of a year. It started off okay, got really really good, took a minor turn for the worse, and ended up in the midst of a perfect storm clearing a massive path of destruction. So as I head into 2017, I am partially homeless, driving a car I probably shouldn’t be driving, and a $1,200 laptop out. That, and I’ve called about 15 therapists at this point and still have no appointment.

But to be fair, here are some things that went really well in 2016. I graduated college with a small group of friends that mean the world to me and have held my hand through some really tough times. I had a GPA that wasn’t superb but far better than what I would have imagined for myself a couple years ago. I spent the summer at home building a relationship with my family that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I moved across the country by myself, started a job that I’m actually pretty happy with, and found a supportive group of friends in a city where I expected to be very lonely. And I finished my first rotation in a place that I’m pretty proud of.

So even though 2016 ended up in the throes of a Shakespeare “comedy”, I don’t know if I can say that it was really a bad year, maybe just one of a lot of lessons learned. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

I do know that I have some changes to make going into the new year. Because I objectively haven’t been taking care of myself and that should always be my first priority. A lot of that comes from the fucked up perspective I have about money and spending. And while I know that most of these thoughts are incredibly unhealthy, I don’t talk about them because I feel like very few could comprehend the experiences that led to this. So these thoughts linger and suck me dry, and they guide me toward skewed decisions that put me in terrible situations.

My New Year’s resolution is to stop being so hard on myself and to treat myself well. To make the choices that take care of me mentally and physically. To splurge on me when I’m down and out. Because I’ve learned that in the long run, trying to skimp on these things costs me more in the long run. Because I wake up at 5am and work 65 hours a week and deserve nice things once in awhile.

Because I deserve to be happy.

I can see the light. I know that everything that has happened is fixable. Soon, I’ll have a home. I’ll sign my lease over. I’ll get my car and my laptop fixed. I can stop commuting 80 miles  a day. I’ll go see my family and we’ll spend a week in Taiwan together. Things will look up.

2017 is going to be a good one because I’m going to make it a good one.

The Final Stretch (i.e. goals, revised)

I’ve been pretty happy with 2015. I think life is meant to get better and happier as time goes on, and it’s a good sign when this happens. It means that you’ve learned from the past and incorporated it into the present. Of course, it’s impossible to be perfect, to be perfectly happy as things are… but in a way, that just makes the future more exciting. So I’ve set a few goals for myself to focus on as I enter senior year, not for the purpose of achieving them fully, but to give me something to strive toward. They center around a quote by one of the most random people on earth, the North Pond Hermit, who lived in solitude for 27 years. When asked about his reflections on the human condition (following arrest for burglary), he stated:

I did examine myself […] Solitude did increase my perception. But here’s the tricky thing – when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn’t even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free.

My goal is certainly not to become a hermit, but to live for myself, independent of performing for others, independent of the need for affirmation. As I’ve gotten distance from my internship, I’ve realized that these past few months have helped me to take a big step in this direction, but I’m still not quite where I want to be. So here is me solidifying my goals:

  1. Be happy, truly happy with what you have. With who you are. No matter what your physical conditions are.
  2. Take care of yourself wholeheartedly. Focus on doing things that you want to do, not things that you feel pressure to do.
  3. Be accepting of the happiness of others. Practice some metta.
  4. Feel as intensely as you can feel. Love as intensely as you can love. Don’t hold back and don’t be afraid to get hurt.
  5. Remember that you are dealing with something that does make your life a little more difficult than the lives of others. Understand what that means, and accept it. Know your limits and respect them. Be grateful.
  6. Don’t be deterred from your ultimate goal. It’s okay if it changes or evolves. Just remember to stride toward it as wholeheartedly as you can.
  7. Take ten minutes for yourself every single day, whatever that means.
  8. Don’t limit yourself or be afraid to take risks. That’s what life is about.
  9. Love love love yourself. Don’t apologize for being you. Work everyday to be the best version of yourself. And don’t look back at those who didn’t care enough to cast you a second glance.
  10. Celebrate failure.

I guess with that, I head into the first day of my senior year of college.

Don’t Wait to be Happy

Not too long ago, I found myself a complete and utter failure down in the depths of despair. Being abroad had done a number on my body and my soul. And, as I began looking for internships to apply to, I realized that my once flawless transcript had become something that I was less than proud to call mine. I found myself on a college campus with no idea who I was and beyond that, I was more or less utterly alone. To summarize, I was a self-pitying, depressed pile of poop.

Now because I was still on a positivity kick blah blahblah. Here’s what I told myself. In fact, this is what I wrote on tumblr:

I keep thinking that because i’m a failure today, i’m going to continue being a failure for the rest of my life. but then i remember how much has changed over the past year. How much i’ve changed. And i have a little sliver of hope, that maybe if i start changing things little by little in the right direction, in a year or two from now, i’ll be a completely different person. but this time it’ll be for the better. Who i am now isn’t who i’m going to be forever.

So basically, its okay to feel negatively about myself because one day, I’m not going to be this person anymore. And that’s the problem. Why wait for the future? I feel like we do so much of that. I will be happy when I get into college. I will be happy when I graduate and get a job. I will be happy when I lose 10 pounds. I will be happy when I get married and have children. I will be happy when I retire and have all the time in the world.

Looking back, I have rarely ever been satisfied or happy with where I was. Sometimes for a brief moment or two. Like the day I returned from Japan, proud of what I had accomplished and delighted to finally have a bed and my own room and functional legs. But this satisfaction never lasts. I am always left wanting more.

But I have discovered that there can be positivity in every moment, but sometimes it is harder to find than others. Take right now for instance. I wouldn’t say my life is particularly in order. And if asked, I could list infinite things that I are horrible right now. I feel more alone now than I’ve ever been before, but its also hard to say for certain. It’s easy to be negative, to pinpoint things that you wish could improve even if you believe that they will. But that doesn’t really do any good. Instead, I choose to breathe, take my stress in stride, be proud who I am. It doesn’t mean I can’t look to the future. It just means that I can also look to the now and be happy with where I am on my journey.

I’m writing this because I often see posts where people talk about how their lives are going fantastically now: they are married, expecting their first child, and have their dream job, when only five years ago, they were severely depressed and self-harming. And these posts are wonderful no doubt, they give people hope, hope to keep living because of the prospect of such a future. But it doesn’t address the depression that people are in now. The depression that sucks someone in because their life actually is in shambles, because they feel alone and abandoned and like a complete failure. And I wish someone had told me that none of these things make you a failure. That everybody experiences these feelings no matter how complete they look on the outside. And that you don’t have to wait for things on the outside to get better in order to be happy on the inside. Because these things do not make a person a failure, it makes them human, a little too human.

I know this isn’t really a complete thought because I’m still learning myself how to be happy with who I am right now. But its just a thought. Yes, things will get better. But that doesn’t mean that things right now are bad. You are not a failure. You are a success for living and for being brave enough to keep going.

Where Am I?

This time last year, I never expected to be here. This time last year I was comfortable, things were good for the first time in a long time. Things were turning around in my family and the fights were stopping, I had a group of friends that I really really genuinely loved being around, and I had someone by my side who taught me what true happiness was. My health was a bit of a shitstorm, as it is every winter, but this was the one time I managed to smile through it. This time last year, I was in the middle of the meditation retreat that inspired me to start this blog and to love myself a little bit more.

But shit happens. Time isn’t meant to stand still.

Here I am now, on the other side of the world, blindly grasping for something, anything that will point me back to the right track. I feel like I’m just floating, wasting away the minutes until I find it, whatever it is.

This year is such a blur to me, it feels like a dream. I don’t think I’ve even processed everything that has happened. I don’t think I can. Makes the future really fucking scary.

I don’t know what i’m doing right now. I honestly don’t have a clue. It’s a scary thing for a planner like me. But I know that this is something that needed to happen. I’ve learned a lot about myself, some good, some bad. But I also know that it’s prepared me better for the future. and its brought my family closer than ever.

I know that I can do it, whatever it is. Doesn’t make living any easier. Sometimes I still want to bury myself under the covers and stay there forever. But it does makes me like myself and appreciate myself just a little bit more. And to be honest, I think that’s the goal I set at the beginning of this trip.

I’m lost right now. Really fucking lost, but I think I’ve got the puzzle pieces in my hand. I just have to put them together.

When you feel like giving up

When the world seems like its crushing you into tiny bits and bits. When you don’t have the will to get up in the morning. When everything hurts. When you’re alone. When you forget what it feels like to not feel like this. When its too hard just to exist. When you feel like giving up…

Remember how strong you are. How hard you’ve fought to get to where you are now. Remember that each challenge you’ve overcome makes you that much stronger. Smile because you’ve made it through another day. Remember that it won’t always be this way. Know that there is happiness waiting in your future.

Think about how great it is to feel the sunlight on your face. To close your eyes and listen to your favorite song. To have a heartfelt conversation with someone who understands you. To be given a tight warm hug. To lie naked in bed snuggled under the sheets. To sit at home and listen to the rain patter on the window. To go on a long walk to nowhere. To remember that you’ve made it through another day.

Smile. Breathe. Know that everything is okay. Because you’re here right now. This is your life. The possibilities are endless.

When you feel like giving up.

Don’t.

Searching for Happy

On Monday, we arrived back in Kyoto after a six day monastic retreat at the Toshoji Soto Zen Monastery in Okayama. It was an incredible experience but also one of the most challenging weeks I have ever had. Here are some tidbits from my experience.

On our first full day at the monastery, I was sitting in our first zazen of the day (at 4:30 in the morning). It had been a bit of a rough night and my anxiety levels were fairly high. Suddenly, I felt this cramp in my side and here are the thoughts that took place probably within the span of three minutes: My side really hurts. I must have appendicitis. We’re going to be in zazen for the next hour and a half. I’m in a monastery on a mountain in the middle of nowhere. I’m probably going to die before this is over. (In case you haven’t picked up on it, I’m a very paranoid person)

Anyway, I realized that what I really wanted at that very moment was to be back at home in my room snuggled up by myself. I wanted to be at home with my parents cooking downstairs, so I could hear the sizzle of the stove and smell the food and hear the chatter of my mom trying to talk over the commotion in kitchen.

So there you have it. My apparent dying wish.

After a while I actually managed to calm down and although I didn’t exactly meditate for that zazen period, I did a lot of thinking and it came to me that this was a really surprising desire. I’ve spent a long time trying to get as far away from my family as possible. There was a point in my life when I had started to associate being at home with stress, tears, and anxiety. But it’s also the place that has always been there for me to come back to no matter what and that’s something that I hadn’t fully realized.

A lot of my blog posts have revolved around my search for happiness, something that I’ve always found to be quite elusive. And over the past year, I’ve searched high and low for this, but I haven’t quite found it. And I’m starting to think that maybe I didn’t have to look so hard.

And that’s a thought that kept coming back to me over and over this past week.

Let me tell you something about eating in a zen monastery. It is probably most stressful meal you will ever have in your entire life. Oryoki is no joke. Here is a website with some instructions, but because it will probably take an hour to read all of them, here’s a summary. You are given a set of four bowls and a bunch of cloths and utensils. The meal begins with chanting, laying out your set in a very specific order, more chanting, a very complicated serving process, and more chanting. Then you are given what I’m guessing is about eight minutes to eat before everyone else is done and you have thirty people very intimidating faces and an abbott staring you down (I’m fairly certain monks inhale their food). Seconds are served and then eating resumes for about another five minutes. Depending on the meal your bowls are cleaned a slightly different way, but typically, tea is served in your bowls and you drink it to wash down the food. Then the boiling water is poured and you use a utensil called a setsu to wash down the rest of the bowls. You drink everything that is in your bowls and then put your set away in yet another complicated ritual.

I bring this up mostly because the eating process caused me a lot of grief at the monaster,y and I need to complain about it (If you are a slow eater you basically end up starving). But the first night we returned to Kyoto, we ended up going to a restaurant that we had previously frequented quite regularly. This time though, we ended up sitting there for an hour and a half, taking our time and savoring every bite. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a wonderful meal.

If I wanted to wrap this post up with a bow, I could conclude that while at the monastery, I also reached enlightenment. But to be quite honest, I spent half of our zazens not meditating. The experience did mean something though. Being out of your comfort zone isn’t just to help you grow. It’s also to help you gain perspective. Even helping you see what is literally in front of you. Maybe my happy is sitting right in front me, but I just can’t see it.

Being so far from home, especially right now, is really hard for a whole host of reasons. Over the past few weeks I’ve had some really ugly thoughts bubble up that I haven’t even seen since high school. But now I think I’m on the path to getting grounded again. I’ve caught a glimpse of the happy and even just knowing its out there is good enough for me.

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My throne of enlightenment

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So ready for oryoki dinner