The Window Sill

I had been out of my intensive treatment program for almost 6 months. I was substantially better. Yet, after a night out, I ran home, up to the top level of my apartment building, kicked out the window screen, and perched myself on the window sill. As I sat there sobbing, trying to catch gulps of air through my tears, I tried to work up the courage. I was going to jump.

But I didn’t.

If I had, this would have been my second attempt. And while most people think this is so crazy, or focus on how detrimental suicide is to the people who love you (I know this, and ultimately this is the reason I stepped off the ledge), what they don’t realize is what it is like to be in such tremendous pain that you don’t feel anything anymore. And for me, as someone who self-harmed, it was about trying to feel something, anything.

I am still here today, but I can’t tell you that I don’t still have those days, that I don’t still have the thought cross my mind. And my rational mind can still tell me that I’m being irrational, while my illness stubbornly still sees suicide or self harm as an option.

An Epidemic

A recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO) says that one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds. This means that close to 800,000 people die by suicide every year. This is more than those lost to malaria, breast cancer, or war and homicide. Today, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for 15-29 year olds, after road accidents.

Just thinking about this overwhelms me. The sheer amount of pain this represents is immeasurable. WHO also finds that for every suicide, there are many more attempts of suicide. Further, suicide rates are higher for vulnerable groups who tend to experience discrimination. For example, refugees, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, indigenous peoples, and prisoners. This is a global public health issue, and is one that is having a disparate impact on the most vulnerable in our society. What frustrates me is that suicide is preventable. And there many low-cost interventions that can save lives.

I acknowledge the privilege that I have to be able to afford high-quality treatment and medications. I also acknowledge that as a white, middle-class, cis-gender, heterosexual women with a higher education, I am also privileged. Because of these things I do not face the level of discrimination that underrepresented groups do face. Because I am not isolated as a result of my identities, I experience a sense of connectedness – a major preventative factor against suicide. I am not othered by society, and I also know how to access helpful resources.

How Can We Help?

The majority of the conversation about World Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is often how to help a friend or loved one who is either displaying suicidal behavior or who has divulged suicidal thoughts. But this is a conversation of privilege. I was able to use my smart phone that night on the window sill to contact my therapist, I was able to take my emergency sedative that I could afford to pay for, I was able to seek safety in my apartment. I was able to seek support from other people who have an understanding and knowledge about mental health. And while my experience is important, as is every experience of someone with a mental illness, I know I am at an advantage.

This is why I have made the choice to highlight the groups that don’t normally get talked about when we discuss suicide prevention. And as weird as it sounds, I thought of these people when I decided to step off the ledge and close the window. I thought about how if I did not have all of those things I listed above, I probably would have taken my own life that night.

A part of my healing process has been using the energy and good days that I do have to help others. Whether this is by telling my story or attending mental health events in the community, I am able to make my pain have a purpose. And that makes me feel like I’m worth something. Like there is a reason for me to be here on this earth.

So I ask you to acknowledge your privilege. And understand that by doing so, you aren’t giving anything up. Instead you are recognizing that other people do not have the advantages that you have. It is accepting that any initiatives or programs to help these groups will only help to bring them to an equal position to that which you are standing in right now.

If you think you have nothing in common with these groups, think about the human brain. An organ thats structure is maintained in every person, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. An organ that can experience the same mental illness that you or a loved one may experience. That’s chemistry, anatomy, irrefutable scientific fact. Connect to their humanity. By supporting and giving back to these communities, we can help to alleviate many of the risk factors that contribute to their higher suicide rate. Equality isn’t just about laws, equal treatment, or financial wellness – it is also about deserving to live a life without pain. And personally, I think every human being deserves that.

General Resources

This Changes Everything X The Women’s Fund

Did you know that women made up the majority of film directors in the silent movie era? I didn’t until I saw the documentary This Changes Everything at a private screening hosted by The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio. Now, in 2018, over 80% of the top 100 grossing films were made by men. This film shines a critical light on gender parity in Hollywood. Like me, when you read that sentence you probably thought about equal pay and representation – but it is far more than that.

Let’s do an experiment. Think back to your childhood. What movie or TV show that you remember made you feel like you could do or being anything you wanted to be? For me, I can’t think of any. I don’t think I felt that way about any movie until the Tomb Raider and Charlie’s Angels, which didn’t come out until I was over ten years old. But that experience is different for men – and there are numbers to explain why.

Growing up invisible

A large part of This Changes Everything features research conducted by the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media. In talking about why she started the organization, Davis cites the effects media has on young children: ““we are teaching them that girls and women don’t take up half the space in the world.” In one study conducted of children’s media, they found that 72% of all speaking roles were male, and 4/5 narrators of animated characters were male. There were simply a lack of leading female characters. And when they were depicted, female characters are six times more likely than male characters to be shown in sexy, skin-tight attire. What is this telling little girls?

At age five, young boys and girls have the same ideas about what they want to be when they grow up. After that, it drastically changes. The documentary, supported by the research, attributes this to the lack of female stories being told. Former Chair of Dreamworks Animation, Mellody Hobson says, “I’ve been one of those little girls looking for myself. You start to believe that there’s something wrong with you.”

For Men by Men

In 1979 a group of six female directors in the Director’s Guild of America, or the “original six,” found that in the previous three decades only 0.5% of all directing assignments were given to women. And although they sued the studios for discriminatory hiring practices under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there was no lasting change. In 100 years, only one woman has ever won an Oscar for Best Director. In one of Geena Davis original studies in 2010, she found the following:

Further, a higher percentage of girls/women are shown on screen when one of more femles are involved in directing of writing films. In order to tell more female stories that aren’t stereotypical, inconsequential, or sexist we need more women in production. And the dollars show it. More and more, movies made by women gross more than movies made by men. Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, grossed $821 million. Man of Steel, another DC movie, directed by a man, only grossed $668 million.

What it comes down to can be summarized by a quote from director Maria Giese, “women’s creative input is not making it into our nation’s story-telling – into our narrative.” This is extremely problematic, because worldwide our media makes up 80% of the world’s media consumption.

How To Make Change

This Changes Everything does a great job explaining what needs to be done to create systemic change. Overall, the film was hard-hitting, shocking, and heartbreaking. But what President and CEO of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, Kelley Griesmer said at the beginning of the event, “this is not depressing, this is energizing.” The film made me want to do more. And being surrounded by a theatre of over seventy women (and one man), I could feel how palpable the desire for change was. There were audible gasps, and “wows,” and a few remarks of “really?!”

What hit me the hardest was that throughout the film, they showed young girls watching media, with sound bites from existing films out there. Snippets filled with stereotypic, derogatory, and sexualized comments directed towards female characters. It made me think back to those movies I watched as a young girl. Movies that made me so painfully aware of my body and my looks. One interviewee in the film, who I cannot remember said that the thing she had learned early on as an actor, was that “the way your body is shaped means more to the world that what you’re thinking about.”

my ticket to the film

That sentiment, and watching all the misogynitic movie and television clips made me feel vulnerable and exposed. The film successful created the effect that I believe it wanted to. And the biggest takeaway for me about how I can personally help this issue, is to take my power back as the consumer. More and more we talk about voting with our dollars – not buying from companies that are corrupt, discriminatory, or bad for the environment. The same has to be true for movies. We can make the choice for ourselves and our children, no not see movies that depict women in sexist ways. To instead pay to see films with central, complex female characters and more importantly, films directed and produced by women.

The last thing that struck me was that the documentary was directed by a man. It seemed a little weird when that was the first thing to pop up after a documentary about female representation in the film industry. While the movie discusses the importance of male allies – this still seemed strange to me.

The Women’s Fund

President and CEO of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, Kelley Griesmer address the audience

If you haven’t heard of the Women’s Fund, you’re missing out. Right here in Central Ohio, this organization is focused on igniting social change for gender equality. They host numerous events that spark conversation and raise awareness, and also conduct invaluable research into related topics. What I love about this organization is that it also takes on a very intersectional approach – taking the time to also address the experiences of women of color.

Their work doesn’t only address today’s women, but also today’s girls. Not only are they focused on disrupting social norms, but they work to “empower all women and girls to reach their full potential.” From advocacy to education, they are committed to giving us our voice back. Their decision to screen this film only further proved their fierce dedication to addressing gender equity in all spaces of our culture and society. If you are interested in learning more about the Women’s Fund visit their website, or shoot me a message. We can’t fight this fight on our own. As said in the film, “misogyny is an invisible sport,” and the more of us standing together to shine a light on what’s lurking in the darkness, the greater the impact.


So I got a wake up call this weekend, all thanks to a quote that I saw posted on Instagram. It read, “you gotta start being sick and tired of your own shit, sis. That’s when you’ll start making the changes that need to be made in your life.” 

And it hit me. I find myself again and again in dating situations where I am not treated with respect, or ultimately am used. And while that is not entirely my fault, I also know the following about myself: 

  • I’m a giver, and I will do almost anything for people that I care about, even if I just care a little
  • I often take responsibility for things that are not my fault
  • I care what people think of me, even when that person is disrespectful to me

What’s worse, is when I express my frustration, I find myself gas-lighted… and then somehow I end up being the one to apologize, and made to feel as if I did something wrong. A.K.A I get gaslighted.

A recent example

I recently started talking to someone. At the outset, it felt so different. He said that he wanted to get to know me, and when I asked how we’d do that since he lived in another state – he said he wanted to talk to me every day. Woah, every day! In my last relationship I was criticized for wanting to talk even every other day. Imagine my surprise. Someone who is interested in my daily life. 

It was great. And I was comfortable talking to him right off the bat. I usually describe myself as shy, but this time that wasn’t the case. That made me feel excited. And I felt even more excited when he told me he was coming to Ohio and wanted to come see me. Me? You want to come see me? Hell it’s usually like pulling teeth to get a guy to make a plan. 

Here’s where I started to misstep. Out of my excitement, I made a dinner reservation for the night he was coming because it was Pride weekend in Columbus, and I knew it would be hard to find a place to eat. I cleaned my apartment, and I got all done up. And then I sat. Hours passed, the reservation passed. And then I found out he was finally in Columbus by seeing from his social media that he was at a party. I was upset, and this first time he was apologetic. I let it go because he had been at a friend’s birthday party, and I was just some new girl. 

Red Flags

Did it register as a red flag for me? No not at all. Instead I blamed myself for having high expectations. 

He’d be in Cleveland for a month, and though not for a good reason, serendipitously I would be in Cleveland the next couple of weekends to take care of my mom. We hung out that first weekend. I got ready to go out, and was dressed and ready to go by 10 PM. It was 12:30 AM before I heard from him. But nonetheless, I ubered downtown and we had a fun night. But,, here’s a list of things that I’ve apologized for since: 

  • Being upset he wasn’t replying to me the following weekend, and didn’t make an effort to make plans even though he said he wanted to see me
  • Driving to his neighborhood because we were going to meet up, but then sitting there for hours and finally hearing from him that he forgot
  • Picking him up at 4 AM to go get his car, being promised breakfast / hanging out that day, and then being upset because that didn’t happen and I was ignored 
  • Being sarcastic, him not understanding my sarcasm and thus accusing me of it not being sarcasm

Self Reflection

Why was I apologizing for my feelings in reaction to his mess-ups? Should I be apologizing for asking to have my time respected and for there to be open and clear communication? Why am I feeling bad about myself right now after he posted that when he sees one “flaw,” he backs away from a person. Am I really flawed for wanting those things? 

I had a total flashback to my past relationships at that moment. I was letting myself get walked all over, and I was seeing that as a reflection of me and not as a reflection of that person. 

My number one issue is the gaslighting. So let me tell you a bit more about what gaslighting is, and how you can deal with it. 

Gaslighting 101

Gaslighting occurs when a person engages in certain behaviors or says certain things that make you question your reality – ultimately allowing them to maintain control. Here are a couple of examples: 

  • Denying that they’ve said something or done something even though you have tangible proof otherwise
  • Their actions don’t match their words
  • They tell you or others that you’re crazy 
  • They project. For example they’re a cheater, but they constantly accuse you of cheating
  • They tell blatant lies, so that your constantly forced to question whether something is true or not
  • They tell you that everyone else is a liar, and that they’re the only one with correct information
  • Even though they constantly tell you that you don’t add value, they randomly throw in a compliment. And what they normally compliment you on is something that serves them. 
  • They will advantageously forget any of their past negative behavior
  • They will disengage from listening to you and claim that they don’t understand what you are trying to say 

These are just a few examples. Some common things that gaslighters will say to you are: 

  • “You’re just over-sensitive”
  • “You always jump to the wrong conclusion”
  • “Stop taking everything I say so seriously”
  • “You’re reading too much into this”
  • “Why would you think that? What does that say about you?”
  • “You are just paranoid”


So how do you know if you’re being gaslighted? Besides some of these behaviors and phrases, a big part of it is how that person makes you feel as a consequence. Consider the following: 

  • Do you often ask yourself if you’re being too sensitive?
  • Do you make a lot of excuses for that person’s behavior?
  • Are you always apologizing?
  • Are you often made to feel like you’re crazy in the relationship?
  • Do you always wonder if you are good enough for them?

For me. This comes up as me always apologizing. Always. And then making excuses for that person. It was never their fault, somehow it was always mine. 

how to deal with it

Personally, I will say that if you feel like something isn’t right. It probably isn’t. In a past relationship I continually made excuses for why I wasn’t allowed to see my significant other consecutive days in a week, or for them being extremely late, or blowing me off. In that relationship, it turned out that I was being cheated on. Now it isn’t always that severe of a reality, but at the end of the day, being gaslighted is extremely bad for your mental health. Here’s what you can do. 

  1. Identify that there is a problem. Trust your gut. Answer those questions above for yourself. Just by doing that, you’re taking a huge step. 
  2. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings. You cannot control what you feel, and your emotions should always be respected by another individual. Their actions have an effect that they are responsible for, even if they didn’t intend them to have that effect. 
  3. Sort out the truth. One thing that is helpful for me is to replay or even rewrite a discussion I have had with a gaslighter, and the discussion that got us there. Where do you start to abandon your own perceptions and begin to take on theirs? How did you feel during the conversation? 
  4. Take a minute to visualize the situation. How would it have gone ideally? Do you feel like it is possible with that person? If not, envision yourself without the relationship, feeling positively and having a strong support system. 
  5. Talk to your close friends. Ask them for an objective, brutally honest opinion on the gaslighter, and if being in that relationship has changed you. 
  6. Give yourself the permission to let go, or stop interacting with that person in your life. Identify all the other people that you would consider as a part of your support system. 
  7. Abandon trying to decipher who was right and who was wrong. Focus instead on how you feel. Emotional well-being is always more important. 
  8. Remind yourself that even if you are right, you can’t control anyone’s opinion of you or of the situation. The only opinion you can control is your own. Do you like the person that the gaslighter makes you become?
  9. Consider what you would tell a friend in this situation. Write it out, but address the letter to yourself, and read it back when you’re finished. 
  10. Make a list of all the totally awesome things about you. 

Their GASLIGHTING ISN’T about you

One thing that is important is that there is a distinction between a real disagreement and gaslighting. What makes gaslighting distinct is that only one of you is actually listening and considering what the other person is saying and the other is simply insisting you are wrong and calling you crazy. Conflict is important in relationships. But this sort of conflict is unhealthy. 

I’m never going to make this guy understand that he did anything wrong. But that doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with me. Remember that how someone treats you is more reflective of them, than it is of you. 

You’re Thinking About Me

I know exactly what you’re thinking about me – and it’s nothing good. Yep, you’re looking at me that definitely means you and your friends are talking about me – and it’s nothing good. 

This is what my brain continually tells me when I interact with or even just come near people. The mechanism behind this is a cognitive distortion called mindreading. First let me tell you about cognitive distortions


Often described as irrational thought patterns, while they can be experienced by anyone, cognitive distortions are especially prevalent in individuals who have anxiety or depression. Crack the champagne, I check both of those boxes. Cognitive distortions can have really negative affects on our mood, and sometimes even lead to unhealthy behavior. 

There is an array of different distortions, but my brain is most guilty of mind-reading. Those who mind-read assume that they know what others are thinking of them. Now a certain degree of this is helpful to us as social creatures. It is a large part of emotional intelligence – which comes in handy when we need to take cues from a person’s facial expression or body language. 


Too much of this behavior can be miserable though. Let me give you a few examples of common mind-reading distortions that I have:

  • Say I’m tardy for work. I think that everyone is thinking about my tardiness for the whole entire day, and that they are thinking I lack commitment or am a bad employee.
  • From my other blogs, you know that I am working on body positivity. Related to that work, I am constantly thinking people are having negative thoughts about my body and how I look. I sometimes assume someone may not want to be in a relationship with me because of my body. 
  • I have a group of friends that I met because of an ex-boyfriend. After the break up I always thought people were thinking negatively about me. I also then would tell myself that they didn’t want me around anymore. 
  • If I have a mild disagreement with a friend, or have to cancel plans I think that the person doesn’t want to be my friend anymore. 

Now, when I write it all out, I can see how it is irrational. But in the moment, by brain can’t distinguish that. Now you might say, “everything isn’t about you.” Believe me, I know that. For me, this distortion is more about my deep loyalty to the people in my life. 

I think what compounds my distortion is the fact that I am highly emotionally intelligent, and am a total empath. I pick up on the emotions of others constantly. So sometimes it can be confusing as to whether what I am picking up on in a mind-reading situation is completely irrational or not. 


Here are some techniques to combat this cognitive distortion. 

  • First, identify what you predict the person/people are thinking
  • Ask yourself what evidence you have to support that thought
  • Look for other possibilities, if your friend doesn’t text back after that disagreement they could just be preoccupied or cooling down before they continue the conversation. 
  • Imagine that the thought is true, then ask yourself would it mean more about you or more about the other person? 
  • Ask yourself if it is realistic to expect everyone to like you
  • Act counter to the thought 

That last one can be scary. For example, with that group of friends I mentioned, I initially would leave get-togethers early because of the mind-reading I was doing. I convinced myself that I wasn’t welcome there. After awhile, and some positive reinforcement from a friend, I started to fight that urge to leave. I would stay even if my urge was to grab my purse and go. 

What else can this look like? Say you’re in an unfamiliar social setting, and you’re thinking that the people there don’t like you or think you’re awkward. Instead of avoiding eye contact and babysitting the snacks, approach people and introduce yourself. Focus on the conversation and really listen to what that person is saying. It will distract you from the thoughts you were having, and also probably disprove them. 

What about thinking about your body? Recognize that the majority of people have insecurities about their own bodies. And because they are focused on theirs, they don’t have the time to pay attention to yours. Also remind yourself that people don’t like you for how you look, they like you for how you make them feel. List out qualities that make you, you. Remind yourself of your value. 

I will say this. Don’t just let these thoughts drift away. Distressing thoughts like these tend to recur, especially if you do live with a mental illness. By taking the time to think about them, or even write them out, you give yourself the opportunity to prove them wrong by finding the inconsistencies. Maybe you even work on a list of rational statements that you can use to reply to yourself in the future. By leaving these sorts of thoughts unresolved you are just leaving the door open for them to be disruptive again in the future. 



You can also use mindfulness after you’ve taken the time to do this work. Having come out of a cognitive behavioral therapy program, I went through the above exercises to challenge my distortions. Since I’ve done that, I now use a visualization technique to keep them at bay. It’s going to sound really cheesy, but it works for me. 

As the disruptive thought comes up, I imagine it spelled out in the sand. After recognizing it, I imagine a wave coming up onto the sand and erasing it. In that visualization, I acknowledge the thought, but then allow it to pass without judgement. You can generate your own visualization to do the same, but I urge you to first do the work to address and disprove your most common distortions. Take your power back, and then focus on how to maintain it. 



So recently I reached a tipping point. I got fed up, and I realized I didn’t want to feel how I was feeling anymore. I was tired of my constant awareness of how my body looked. Was the way I was sitting showing my stomach rolls? Is my arm pressed too firmly against my side making it look wider than it really is? Could my butt showing in these shorts? 

I was tired of feeling like if I ate a cookie or skipped the gym that I was doing something morally wrong. Tired of associating living a successful life with working out everyday and eating different variations of salads for 2 out of 3 meals, 7 days a week. 

I was tired of thinking that I couldn’t go to the beach or fall in love until my body was smaller. Tired of thinking that I could wear certain clothes, even though I love fashion. Tired of not having pictures of certain memories because I didn’t like I how I looked in photos. 

Some background

Now let me tell you about that tipping point and how I got there. 

In the winter of 2017, I had already been in a major depressive state for about a year. Exasperated by a breakup and the fallout from that relationship, and dealing with health issues and family problems I had hit rock bottom. As I have written about before, after self-harming I realized that I needed help. I took a medical leave from work and entered treatment. 

During that time I also found out that I needed my now third knee surgery and that it was going to be the most intense yet. Complications during that surgery made my recovery time even longer than it was going to be at the outset. 

Over three months later, I finally returned to work and life – still with more recovery to go. But when I got back, everyone started telling me how great I looked. Asking if I lost weight. I honestly didn’t know the answer to that question. I had been basically bedridden for three months. I didn’t have the energy to get up, or let alone weigh myself. 

Size does not equal health

It took stepping on a scale after those comments for me to realize that I had lost 30 pounds. I felt great. Like i had accomplished something while I was away. Like that was my biggest accomplishment. Not that I had gotten through a major surgery or started to come out of my depression, but that I lost weight. 

But it didn’t last long. Nine months later, I gained it back and then some. I was so frustrated with myself that I criticized and insulted myself almost everyday. What had I done wrong? I was working out, I always had a well-rounded diet…

Panic set in. In a frantic call with my mom, I was brought back to reality. She listened to my cry and talk myself down for a minute, and then interrupted me… “sweetie, you were really sick. You were depressed and not eating. You were on pain medication with no appetite.”

She was right. That weightloss was during a time I wasn’t healthy. Now, I was mentally stable and able to talk again. I was enjoying food again and taking care of my body. Now I was healthy. 

The dress fitting

Despite that realization, I was still upset. Still felt like that failed. And that all came to head at a dress fitting for a bridesmaid’s dress. 

I had had the dress hanging for a while in my closet. Unconcerned. I scooped it up one Saturday a month before the wedding and headed to Macy’s with my Spanx and strapless bra in my purse. 

I got into the dressing room, stepped into the dress, put my arms through the sleeves and proceeded to reach for the zipper. It wouldn’t zip. At that moment, with the bride in the dressing room with me, my heart dropped into my stomach faster than I let out my next breath. Then, I noticed the dress was tight around my thighs and that the lining wouldn’ t go all the way past my butt. 

“Do you expect that she’ll lose the weight?”

We walked out to the tailor and I stood up onto the pedestal in front of all the mirrors. The tailor came out and went straight for the zipper. He tried to zip me up, yanking at the dress as if no one was inside of it. “It doesn’t fit,” he said. He turned to the bride, and said as if I wasn’t right there, “do you expect that she’ll lose the weight.” 

I could feel my chest tighten and my eyes begin to fill with tears. He began to say that they usually don’t hem dresses unless they fit. Still — not talking to me. I snapped, “we’ve established that it doesn’t fit, let’s hem the dress.” 

He huffed and puffed, but got to work. I felt like I was standing there in front of the mirror for ages. Crying quietly and trying to avoid my own reflection right there in front of me. When he was done I walked as quickly as I could back into the dressing room and closed the door. I felt like I was suffocating. 

When I doubt call your MOM

I took the dress off and immediately texted my mom. After that, I emailed the bridal shop where the dress was from and inquired about ordering a new dress. I was not about to ruin one of my best friend’s wedding — the people in my life are the most important thing to me. I didn’t care about how much money I would have to spend, I just wanted it fixed and I wanted it fixed yesterday. 

It was all I could think about the next few days. And when I found out the bride was also contacting the shop I panicked. I had become a problem. An added stress. 

For the next week I cried myself to sleep. I was exhausted. I was confused how this happened. But I knew that I didn’t want to feel this way anymore. 

Freedom from Shame

The SnapChat memory

Then I had a SnapChat memory from a year ago pop up. A mirror selfie at that 30+ pounds lighter time. And then I remembered. I hated my body then when I was thin, and I hated it now. It wasn’t all about the weight. 

And it wasn’t my fault. I, just like you, have grown up in a society and culture that glorifies certain bodies and demonizes others. Now I may have a larger body, but my body at my size, and my skin color still put me in a place of privilege when it comes to the most marginalized bodies. 

Regardless, I want to be free of the constant shame I have of my body. I want to walk around not focused on how I look and eat food without thinking people are watching me. I want to take a photo and not hate how I look. 

Making new meaning

Personally, I knew I could not accomplish this all on my own. So because I have the means, I made the decision to work with a body image and intuitive eating coach. 

Julie helped me to turn that negative bridesmaids dress experience into a story in which I decided to take the power back. For me, it is no longer a story about failure or sadness. It’s a story about me deciding that enough is enough. 

I can tell you that I’ve begun to notice small changes. The day of the wedding, after alterations that cost more than the dress itself, I fit into it like a glove. I was comfortable, I got my hair done, my nails done, and I did my makeup. And not once did I have anxiety about that dress. Not once did I think about how I looked. I strut my stuff with my head high, and I was present. I ate the absolutely delicious dinner and dessert without shame. I enjoyed every moment of two of my dearest friends getting married. For one night I was free. And I hope to share the rest of this journey to freedom with you. 

I’ve Been Stuck

So I’ve been stuck. Call it writer’s block, call it a depressive episode, call it what you want. I can’t describe how I feel more accurately than the word “stuck.”

But what I’ve realized is that feeling stuck, or like you’ve reached a plateau, doesn’t mean that you aren’t still making progress. I think that these days, with the presence of social media, there exists this pressure to always be doing something. You have to have something “interesting” to add to your Instagram story – and binge watching bad superhero shows on Netflix in your underwear doesn’t always cut it. The things that you do just to get by each day doesn’t cut it.

But isn’t that sort of messed up? Everyday of our lives should cut it. The nitty, the gritty, the seemingly boring and uneventful.

On a Personal note

I’ve been on this road of self-improvement and self-care for a little over a year-and-a-half now. There have been marked ups and downs. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the times of neutrality. The times where there’s nothing remarkably good happening and nothing disappointingly bad. Everything seems to have gone into slow motion. And that’s felt frustrating. Frustrating because I can’t identify the progress that I am making as easily as I would like to.

I’ve never felt like this in my life. And it sounds crazy to say — but I feel stable. Sure, there are days or spans of days where I can sink into a dark, depressive hole… But more often than not, I’ve just been floating in calm waters.

But what is important that I’ve realized is that that progress has not stopped. I’m just in a period where the changes are more incremental. And maybe that means I need to put in more work — but it could also mean that I need to be truly present in the person I am at this moment.

Socially Prescribed perfectionism

A study by a writer and activist from Inc. found that 67% of millennials feel extreme pressure to succeed, compared to 40% of GenXers and 23% of Baby Boomers. Millennials have this profound feeling that they “haven’t done enough yet,” and that time is running out.

I can definitely relate to that. With social media, you see so many more examples of young people accomplishing amazing things as artists, entrepreneurs, and even CEOs. Meanwhile, I struggle to pay my bills every month and make just enough to stay afloat.

A recent American Psychological Association (APA) study found that in comparison to prior generations, millennials are harder on themselves, and report higher levels of social pressure to be perfect. This has reached the point where the desire for perfection has become unhealthy. I often feel like I’m stuck in some sort of rat race. I couldn’t put it better than a writer from The Cut:

“And yet there is obvious risk to feeling trapped in an endless cycle of unreachable expectations and overly critical self-evaluation. Tying one’s sense of self-worth to achievement can make a person unable to hold on to the sense of satisfaction that comes with success, and has been associated with clinical depression, anorexia, and early death.”

don’t get distracted

Sorry – don’t mean to scare anyone with the “early death” part — but we all need to take a collective deep breath. And also we need to pause to recognize that we’ve already done some pretty great things in our life — even if there isn’t a trending BuzzFeed article out there about us.

That same APA study showed that this pressure can be even more damaging when we feel like that pressure to be perfect is coming from others. We’ve all become the victims of self-comparison. We live in a meritocracy that places huge importance on self-success – and then we’ve gone and made matters worse by comparing where we are in life to the highlight reels that everyone else is sharing to their social media. And heaven-forbid we have a day that isn’t worthy of sharing to our feeds. Because to us that means we haven’t accomplished anything that day.

So remember this. Progress is slow and life moves fast. Don’t waste the days you have worrying about if you’ve done enough, if you’ve accomplished enough, if you’ve made enough money, or lost enough weight. Be here now, even if that feels uncomfortable. Take that weight off your shoulders, and have a goddamn drink or a piece of chocolate. True progress is made through experience and interaction, and I think you’re doing pretty fucking great already.

My Body isn’t Your News Story

I have a simple request. Can we please stop using women’s bodies as topics of news? My body isn’t your news story.

This past week, I had been traveling in Dubai for work. When I travel, in the mornings while I get ready I like to watch the news. Usually CNN or BBC. To my dismay, those channels were not available. The only channels available in English were National Geographic, Discovery, and E! Network.

As I prepared to hit the pool one early morning, and pulled on my one-piece I suddenly tuned into my chosen background chatter. The subject: Beyoncé’s post-baby diet. When I looked up to the visual, it was an extremely grainy, zoomed in paparazzi shot of Bey’s half-eaten apple. I’m guessing Golden Delicious. 

Yes. What you just heard is correct. A zoomed in shot of the apple carcass left over from the Queen B’s afternoon snack. The anchors proclaimed that Bey had revealed the secret to her weight-loss. Zero carbs, zero sugar, zero red meat, zero, zero, zero. 

INDIO, CA – APRIL 14: Beyonce Knowles performs onstage during 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival Weekend 1 at the Empire Polo Field on April 14, 2018 in Indio, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

I shook my head and proceeded to order waffles to my room. But then I heard one of the hosts question if it was, “too much too fast?” Now, I missed exactly what it was referencing, but whatever it was… it shouldn’t have been something that the public needs to weigh in on. Were they saying she had she returned to work too fast after having her baby? In that case, we should not be promoting mommy guilt, or judging mothers for their choice to or to not go back to work.

If they were talking about her weight-loss… again, this shouldn’t be up for discussion. Nor are these hosts certified medical professionals who get to have an opinion. 

Using Women’s Bodies as News Subjects

This is definitely not the first instance of women’s bodies or appearance being the subject of media coverage and attention. Half of most awards shows are just about how “well-dressed,” actors are, and if they have “pulled off” their look. And let’s not even begin to talk about how female politicians and nobility have their outfits discussed instead of their accolades. Then there’s the history of makeover and weight loss shows that “right wrongs,” or “unhealthy behavior.” And I’ll give a final shout out to shows like America’s Next Top Model. 

Then there’s the countless editorial content in magazines and online news media about the weight-loss or gain of celebrities, the diets that they’ve used, or spreads that pit women against each other to see who “wore it best.” 

I often wonder how those in the media can talk about women’s bodies so much, when I can guess that most would not want to undergo the same scrutiny. Yet, this practice seems to be tireless.  To be perfectly honest, though I don’t often watch E! Network, I had hoped that this is something that they had grown past. E! News, I challenge you to find other things to talk about besides women’s bodies. 

Affects of Observing Anti-Fat Behavior

Recently, a group of psychologists at McGill University found that celebrity fat shaming is associated with an increase in women’s implicit negative weight-related attitudes. UK Magazine, Stylist, says the following, “Implicit attitudes are people’s split-second, instinctive reactions as to whether something – such as fatness or weight gain – is inherently good or bad. Explicit attitudes, in contrast, are those beliefs that people consciously and openly endorse. In other words, we might never say out loud that we think bigger bodies are bad. But thanks in part to celebrity fat-shaming in the media, we may also find it hard to internally shake off negative ideas about weight gain.”

Specifically, researchers found that after witnessing a celebrity fat shaming, women experience a dramatic increase in anti-fat attitudes. Further, the more notorious or critical the fat shaming, the higher the increase. 

I’m going to take you back to some research that I’ve discussed before in my blog. The Girls’ Index, a report from Columbus non-profit Ruling Our Experiences (ROX), found that by ninth grade the percentage of young girls who wish to change their appearance dramatically increases. Simultaneously, the percentage of girls who say they are confident declines sharply. 

Today, women’s bodies are not only criticized and made the topic of conversation by Magazines and TV hosts, but by everyday people through social media. The same anti-fat attitudes are translated through social media as they are through TV and print. ROX found that the more time that young girls spend on social media, they are up to 24% more likelyto want to change their appearance. They don’t think that they’re good enough or beautiful enough. And 27% will delete an Instagram post if they feel like it didn’t get enough likes.

I ask again, why is this still happening today. A common practice in the 40s to the early 60s was listing a women’s weight and physical characteristics in newspapers. This was done even when the information was totally irrelevant to the story. History professor Michelle Moravec says, “The practice of including women’s weight — or any other physical observations — in the news has been a way, consciously or not, of “putting women into their proper place,” by giving more value to their appearances. For men, on the other hand, with the exception of athletes, characteristics like weight or attractiveness weren’t important, “Nobody’s describing like, ‘The male candidate in the gray suit got up to deliver a powerful speech,’” she adds. “That’s how you know it’s a gender dynamic: It sounds absurd when you apply it to men.”

Hell, we learned Condoleezza Rice wore a dress size between a 6 and an 8 before we could actually get into the article that talked about her security expertise in a 2000s New York Times article. What does this teach women about their worth? Why aren’t we applauding Beyoncé for her athletic prowess and commitment to her artistry? Would you want your dress size to be the headline of a story about you and your life’s work? 

I sure don’t, but to get it out of the way. I’m between a size 10 and 12, and if that changes how you feel about anything I just said, thank you for your time but kindly leave my page. 

Mindfulness Practice

I recently posted on Instagram about my mindfulness practice, and have had a couple of followers ask that I talk more about it. What better way than a blog post?

I should start this off by saying that I am not a licensed health-care professional. I do identify as a mental health advocate, though, based on my own personal experiences with my own and loved ones’ mental health.

After hitting the lowest of lows of my major depressive episode a little over a year ago, I started intensive therapy that involved meeting three times a week in a group therapy setting. The curriculum of these sessions was based on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). The goal of this form of therapy is to provide individuals with concrete skills to manage painful emotions and conflict in relationships. There are four overarching components of DBT: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.

But what really is DBT?

Four components of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy - mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness.

DBT is a cognitive-behavioral treatment that was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan in the 1980s to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder. It is now become an effective treatment for depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. As Psychology Today states, “DBT is influenced by the philosophical perspective of dialectics: balancing opposites. The therapist consistently works with the individual to find ways to hold two seemingly opposite perspectives at once, promoting balance and avoiding black and white—the all-or-nothing styles of thinking. In service of this balance, DBT promotes a both-and rather than an either-or outlook. The dialectic at the heart of DBT is acceptance and change.”

The way that I would explain this is that I can have an emotion driven, “irrational thought,” but also can identify it as such. Think about how sometimes you can give your friend advice that you can’t give yourself. Even though I know the thought is irrational, it still causes me emotional distress.

Today I’m going to talk about mindfulness, and in the coming weeks will explore the other components of DBT. So – here we go!

What is mindfulness?

Diana sitting looking over a cliff!

At its core, mindfulness is about being present and self-aware. To take it a step further, it is doing those things without being judgemental, without overthinking, and without invalidating your own experience in any way. Mindfulness is acceptance.

In the world we live in today, we really don’t spend a lot of time being mindfully present. We tend to disconnect from our actual experience to either live through someone vicariously on instagram, or just engage with our own thoughts rather than reality. Now, according to DBT theory, there are three states of mind that are in at varying times: emotional mind, logical mind, and lastly wise mind being the ideal state of mind. Wise mind is the combination of emotional and logical mind.

We use logical mind when we are doing concrete tasks, like math or putting together furniture from Ikea. Emotional mind, unsurprisingly, is the state of mind in which we feel our emotions and act from our emotional state. So things like acting out of anger or just plainly being impulsive.

Wise mind is somewhere in the middle. In wise mind, we are aware of our feelings in a non-judgemental way (mindfulness) and act in a way that is cognizant of our emotions and goals.

Chart of wise mind!

So what are the core skills of mindfulness?


Observe your thoughts, emotions and feelings without trying to change them. Recognize how you are responding to an event, and allow yourself to feel what you are feeling.


journal with pen

Whether just to yourself in your head, or using pen to paper – describe your experience. What physical manifestations did you experience? Rapid heart rate, crying, chest tightness? Where were you when this happened? What was the prompting thought? How did that thought make you feel? By describing in great detail your experience, you are able to show yourself a bit of empathy as well as later have a more firm grasp on your emotional response. Remind yourself here that feelings and thoughts are not facts (wise mind).

You might feel alone for example, but if you sit down and truly think about it there are people and support services that you can reach out to.


Be present. Experience things with all five of your senses. All the emotions to pass, and then engage with the present moment. This sounds easier than it really is, but that’s where a couple of techniques come into play.

Being more mindful

Being mindful involves being non-judgemental, practicing one-mindfulness, and being effective. Below are a couple of specific exercises to strengthen your practice of these things.

Body Scan

This is one of my personal favorites as it is very meditative, and engages your whole body. A typical body scan runs through each part of the body starting with the toes and working upwards. You pay attention to how each part of the body feels, focus your breathing to that area, and imagine the muscles of that area relaxing. Just search “body scan meditation” on YouTube and you will find many options. Below is one of my favorites. A body scan can be done at any time of day, but as it is really relaxing – it is most commonly practiced before sleep. This practice has really helped me with my insomnia.

One Mindfully

Identify situations in your life where you are trying to do multiple things at one time. For me, my biggest problem area is mornings. I try to do my hair and makeup, pick out an outfit, maybe change the load of my laundry, make my lunch and make my breakfast all at the same time. Doing so is usually chaotic and just anxiety-provoking.

You may find that you also do this after work. Many times I come home and look at my apartment and realize all the things I need to do: make dinner, empty the dishwasher, fold my laundry, take the trash out… And I enter a fury of doing all things at once.

Another situation you may do this is when hanging out with loved ones. Now that most of us have smartphones, we feel the need to constantly to attend to the information that we have access to.

One mindfully means concentrating on one thing at a time, and completely experience it by engaging all of your senses. When you are eating, eat. When you are walking, walk. When you are worrying, worry. When you are remembering, remember. Observe and listen quietly, and then reflect on your experience afterwards. Below are a couple of things that you can do one mindfully. One of my favorites is making coffee. My therapist taught me to approach it like it’s a scientific experiment – which really helped me to think of how to approach one-mindfulness. I really honed in on my observation skills.

  • watch rain falling
  • watch a campfire
  • listen to music
  • fold your laundry
  • make your dinner
  • make your coffee 🙂
  • listen to a loud clock
  • listen to the sound of the wind
  • pick a place in your home, or a chair that will be your “worry space,” when ever you are worried about something, sit there and worry. Observe how you feel for 30 minutes, then allow yourself to go about the rest of your day.
  • go for a walk to a park. sit, close your eyes, and try to identify 3-4 sounds you can hear. Can you identify from what direction they came from? Try to make out 2-3 smells from the air. Do those smells remind you of anything? Reflect.

Mindful Creating

Remember play-doh? Well go get you some play-doh. It is one of my favorite mindfulness mediums. Sit and play, create. Focus on how it feels and what it reminds you of. You can also practice mindful creating doing any sort of activity or craft that you like. I find crocheting to also be a super mindful activity.

Play a mindfulness game

I have an excellent support system, and sometimes when I’m in a bad place I just really need to be around people. There are a couple of games that we used in play in my group session that are really fun. They are mindfulness games because they require a lot of attention. Here are some examples:

  • Categories – pick a category and list as many items from that category as possible.
  • The alphabet game – pick a category and go around circle (or back and forth) listing items from that category starting with A-Z. So for fruit it would go, Apple, Banana, Cantaloupe…etc.
  • Play catch! You can also integrate playing catch to either of the games above. Throw a ball back and forth while you name items.
  • Play 20 questions with a friend
  • Play Jenga or complete a puzzle


This exercise can feel a bit weird, but it has been shown to improve mood. But basically, sit in a chair or somewhere comfortable. Take a couple of deep breaths. Close your eyes if you wish. As you continue to breathe, make a small smile with your lips. Then relax your face. Continue to alternate and notice whether your emotions begin to change as you communicate feelings of acceptance to your brain.

Go forth, and live mindfully!

Dog practicing mindfulness

I hope that this post has been moderately helpful. I would love to hear about your experiences with some of these exercises. Lookout for future posts on DBT techniques.

Setting Boundaries in Toxic Relationships

I’m going to get straight to the point today. Let’s talk about setting boundaries in toxic relationships.

Whether it is at work, in your dating life, or with family and friends – we’ve all had to set boundaries before. I think that this is one of the hardest things to do in any sort of a relationship, because there is no exact way to do it. And, not to mention, nine times out of ten these aren’t physical, visible boundaries. They’re abstract, and the bounds tend to change day to day – or as our moods fluctuate.

But, some are easier to set than others.  We tend to feel more obligated to maintaining certain kinds of relationships than others. It is a lot harder to deal with a toxic family member, than it is to deal with a toxic friend. We feel as greater sense of responsibility and commitment to certain roles. And family in particular, has been defined by society as something that is always going to be a constant. Whether tied by blood or family history, these relationships seem more permanent. And when you decide that you need to distance yourself from a family member, you are often met with criticism for doing so.

One thing needs to be made clear. Disrespect and harmful behavior does not discriminate based on what kind of relationship it is. You can be mistreated and abused by a family member – and in fact are more likely to be in a familial relationship than in any other kind of relationship. But we put up with the abuse because, “they’re family.”

This is incredibly unhealthy, and only serves, in some instances, to continue the cycle of abuse. As a society we have interjected a degree of power dynamics into the structure and institution of family. We weight these relationships much heavier than those between friends. This can make it all the more hard to establish boundaries when you need to.

My Experience with Boundaries

A year ago I had to establish a firm boundary with a family member. In fact, my mental health depended on it. But I will not pretend that it has been easy. I still struggle with it today. I feel a sense of obligation to this person, and because of the norms and values of our society I often feel like I am being a bad daughter, or just plainly, a bad person for establishing a boundary between myself and my father.

But the fact of the matter is, I have been vastly more mentally stable and happy since I have created that line. I continually have the conversation with my therapist where I debate tearing that wall down, and using the concept of wise-mind, come to the conclusion that that would be extremely unhealthy for me. I have to work everyday to love myself despite that decision.

Now, this does not mean that I do not love my father. It means that because I love him, I too often allow his mistreatment and poor behavior to affect me at a really deep, and harmful level. And for a long time I justified that for him. I allowed the relationship to continue because I thought that I had to. But after I tried to confront the behavior to no avail or understanding, I eventually reached a limit that I did not know that I had.

I had gotten to a point in my mental health journey where I was a lot stronger than I had been in over a decade – and I saw that if I put my emotion mind aside, and considered some of what my rational mind was telling me – I needed to set a boundary. Here are some things to consider if you think that you may need to do something similar.

How are the person’s behaviors affecting you?

A landmark study found that there is a very real link between toxic relationships, stress, and your health. In fact, those in unhealthy relationships were at greater risk of developing heart problems, including dying from strokes or heart attacks, than those who weren’t in negative relationships. Our brains have a gene expression called conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA), that is associated with inflammation and low immunity. Originally a part of our flight-or-fight response, CTRA provides short-term benefits such as increased healing, physical recovery and the increased likelihood of survival. But, long-term activation of CTRA can cause chronic inflammation, which increases our risk for a multitude of health problems.

Outside of the biological effects of toxic relationships, how else are they affecting you? Do they constantly make you feel bad about yourself? Do you feel like there is an unequal amount of give and take? Are you constantly drained from interacting with this person? Do you feel emotionally or physically unsafe?

If so, there are a couple of options: (1) feel hopeless and drained constantly,  (2) accept the relationship for what it is, (3) create boundaries, or (4) end the relationship.


Shoes of two people with a line separating them.

Step One

I suggest that you sit down and define for yourself what you want your relationship NOT to be. This will help you to identify what behaviors are of issue for you, as well as how the toxic person is making you feel. By knowing what you will not tolerate, you are priming your brain to recognize and avoid those behaviors and situations in the future.

Step Two

Envision what the ideal relationship with this person would be. When I say ideal, I mean imagine what it would be like if it was perfect and healthy. Then take that image and identify the stuck points – the things that the individual does not seem to be able or want to change. This really helped me to see that it was rational to set a boundary with my dad. I had tried many times to express what I needed from him and what made me upset, but he refused to take responsibility, made abusive comments, and continually lied to and gas-lighted me. Unfortunately, I knew that he didn’t have the desire to stop those things. But that made setting the boundary justifiable. I was able to define what a healthy, respectful relationship should look like, and I knew that this relationship wasn’t that.

Step Three

Decide the bounds. This is where there is a plethora of options, that truly depends on the individual situation. For me, I had to completely cut off communication. I had to engage the “block” function. Every interaction disappointed and drained me. And my mental health took a severe blow when it came to anything that had to do with him.

But this can look like many different things. Maybe you just can’t hang out with this person alone, or you need to decrease the frequency. Maybe you need to make it clear that you cannot constantly be available over phone or text. This could also take the form of setting ground rules about topics that you are not willing to discuss. At a recent event I attended, a woman spoke about how she had to tell her family that her body and weight were not to be topics of discussion, and nor did she want to talk about other people’s bodies. Instead she challenged them to have different conversations.

Step Four

Decide if you need to communicate to the other person what the boundary is. In some situations, cutting off communication is the boundary that needs to be formed. If that is the case, you may not want to communicate what the boundary is going to be. I knew that my dad would not understand, respect, or agree with the boundary I was setting, and I knew that that conversation would not be a healthy one.

But if you are in a situation that you need to make the boundary verbally clear – stay clear, calm and consistent. Don’t feel the need to over-explain yourself, don’t place blame, and don’t become defensive. Be a broken record, and stick up for yourself. If you know that you can’t easily do that in person, send a text or a letter. You are in charge here.

Step Five

Surround yourself with people that make you feel good. People that support you and respect you. Keep close the people that make you feel safe, and that help you to grow. In the past year, I learned that even family can be toxic, and even family can make their love for you conditional. But I also learned that I could find family in other people. By surrounding myself with positive and healthy relationships, I have been able to maintain my mental health and overall grow as a person.

You Are Worthy

Now I want to be clear, this isn’t an expansive step-by-step process – and I’m not a licensed, health-care professional. This is just a brief overview of how I set boundaries. Be aware that there may be situations where the individual doesn’t respect those boundaries, and at that time you may need to consider other options. If you, or a loved one, is in any sort of abusive relationship and need help, reach out to a local women’s organization or utilize the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (1-800-787-3224).

If you take anything away from this, remember that anyone can be a toxic person: a parent, a sibling, a boss, coworker, or friend. Know that you have choices, and that there are people who will support you – whether that support comes from close friends or community organizations. You are worthy of healthy, respectful, positive relationships.

Grief is a Sticky Feeling

I’ve been thinking a lot about grief the past two weeks. Grief is a sticky feeling. You can try and try to shake it off, but it usually is still stuck in some crevice in your skin, or under your fingernails. In some place that is hard to reach – making it all the more frustrating. To me grief isn’t one feeling. Grief is many competing feelings that send a person into a whirlwind of cognitive dissonance.

I’ve always been a highly empathic person. I’m what a therapist would describe as an, “emotional sponge.” I can easily sense the feelings of those around me. But I take it one step further – absorbing them to such a degree that I feel them as my own. Sometimes I feel so connected to an individual’s emotive state that I am psychologically affected by it. It’s like yawning. I can’t help but feel the emotion that I am confronted with in another person.

Last week, two humans that are close to me experienced loss in various forms. One experienced the death of a loved one, the other lost all of their belongings and their pet cat in a house fire. I struggled a lot with finding the appropriate way to support them. Like I said, grief is complicated and nuanced in a way that is both easy and difficult to empathize with. We can metaphorically put ourselves in their “shoes,” but we also can’t claim to know exactly what they are feeling. There are many things that can elicit grief, and no one person grieves the same.

Grief for Grief

Any sort of loss can cause one to enter what we call grief. This can include divorce, the end of a relationship, declining health, a loved one’s illness, or the loss of belongings or safety. Loss is personal to the individual, and there is no comparing apples to oranges. I have heard the opinion that grief is only something that you experience after someone you love dies. But, the same neuro-chemical pathways are activated across a multitude of situations. Though, bereavement of a loved one usually elicits the most severe grief response.

That brings me to my friend’s loss of her mother to cancer. Even just that sentence sends a blow to the gut that can leave you with the need to gasp for a little more air. To grab onto yourself or something around you to steady yourself. Hours before she told myself and our friends, she had posted an image of herself as a child with her mother to Instagram. It’s eerie, and gut-wrenching to say but when I saw that picture I felt a profound sense of loss.

I had this flashing montage of my life with my own mother pass before my eyes, and could feel what it felt like to have my small little hand within hers. I had a sudden fear of not feeling that hand anymore. And I had a deep urge to run somewhere, and not stop running because of this burning rage within my chest.

What do you say when someone tells you that they’ve lost someone so monumental in their life? Another human whose life led up to the creation of their own. A life that you love and are grateful for.

We all have this pre-written script of what you “should” say. And we say it, we say it because we know no words can suffice – but we cannot bear saying nothing. Similarly, living practically paycheck to paycheck there was no money I could offer to my friend who lost his belongings, but I offered the clothes off my back and blankets and essentials from my own things to him. I didn’t know what else to do, what else to say. I was so grateful that he and his partner were unharmed, but I couldn’t imagine the feeling of losing all the artifacts of one’s life. The things that we use to make meaning and keep record of our memories. Or the faithful companion that offered us unconditional love when everything in life is terribly conditional.

I thought for a moment about what I would grab from my apartment if I found myself in the situation of a house-fire. What I would try to save. Just the thought of having to prioritize the things that bring me joy or that mean something was difficult. It felt like either way I would lose some part of myself that I would never get back.

And though now in reflection I am thinking about what these kinds of losses would mean to me, what I am really affected by is a feeling of paralysis. Of not knowing how I can ease the pain of people that I care about. This feeling of helplessness is only exacerbated by my natural tendency to be a more “emotional” person. And all of this only serves to make me wonder if it is appropriate for me to feel this sad at all? But nevertheless, I know that I need to be supportive in any way that I can.

Emotional Acceptance

That is why some part of me is always nervous when it comes to funerals. Not out of fear or discomfort, but out of that absorption of the emotions of those around me. It can be overwhelming, and even if I did not know the deceased very well – I have a hard time containing my emotions. I cry. And sometimes I feel inappropriate doing so, as if I don’t have a right to. So I try to swallow the emotion that bubbles up the back of my throat, and instead just let my body shake ever so slightly.

And it’s not in that moment that I am thinking, what if it were my own mother. It is instead feeling that place of home that I feel when I am with my friend. We all find that piece of a person that is just what home means to us, and we place a stake there. We invest in that part of a person, and we love them for it and everything else.  That feeling of connection that is so powerful that in that moment, I feel her feelings for her because I wish that I could alleviate the pain if even just a little. Even though I know that there isn’t many a tangible thing that I can do to help.

And so I’ve realized that in those moments, the best thing that I can do is remind the person that the stake I placed to claim them as my person has never left. That I will protect and care for all my pieces of home, as they are pieces of myself.

That may sound terribly abstract, but what I’m saying is just be. Be and feel. Follow your loved one’s lead, and continue to be exactly who you are – because that is what they need. And remember that you don’t need to ask for permission to feel any sort of way. Feelings are natural, and for the most part out of our control. And through allowing yourself to feel what you need to, when you need to, you are displaying a healthy form of processing. And just by doing that, you are being strong for the ones that you love.

What I learned in my own mental health journey is that you can’t selectively numb emotions. Emotions will come and go like waves in the ocean (cheesy? yes), and if you try to avoid one you end up avoiding more than that. You need to experience the less positive emotions to truly appreciate the feelings of happiness and joy.

Sanibel Island Florida beach at dusk

Don’t be judgemental of your feelings. Our emotions provide us with signals. They give us the heads up that something is important and that we need to pay attention to it. Be an observer of your emotions. Notice them, sit with them, and then let them leave when they’re ready.

Finally, speak to yourself as you would speak to a loved one or friend who is struggling. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling sad or anxious. Be kind to yourself – processing emotion is just another part of having a full and healthy life.