And as Frida Kahlo once said, “At the end of the day, we can endure so much more than we think we can,” and I can attest to this, we can.
I wrote this sentence on December 18th, 2015, concluding the first article of writing I ever penned about my struggles with mental health. The closing sentence to my first micro-moment of vulnerability and courage, I revisit this blog post now, two years later as a senior in college. My Frida Kahlo mod art mug next to me filled with golden milk, my heartbeat is rapid from my walk / jog / trudge home through the foot of snow I braved to go to this year’s TedX U of M. My hands physically itch to write as my head is so filled with inspiration that my being is vibrating at a higher frequency. This event sowed many seeds of thought and will be the cornerstone of many blog posts to come in the future, but first, I must revisit the past.
The saying exists that God put our eyes on the front of our head so we wouldn’t look back, and as a second-semester senior, it feels like everyone has ascribed to this mentality. Every conversation right now is flecked with questions about future plans and grad school and the big unknown after commencement. Like cars on an assembly line, we are ramming our way forward. With a job offer and a decent amount of certainty about my future, I would have been more than content to keep trodding on, shoving my silent fears about the future deeper and deeper. But this voice of uncertainty has grown louder and, finally, in the past two days, it has been ripped me off the ever forward-moving conveyor built and shaken me awake. Look how far we’ve come, the voice whispers. Before I move any farther forward, the universe is telling me that I need to look back.
I mention the blog post above not because it is a great literary feat by any means, but because it signifies the beginning point of an upward spiral. From that blog post on, I found my voice and began to use writing as a way to separate my internal narrative from my reality. Putting my thoughts on paper allowed me to acknowledge them and be curious about them, but also gave me the space to choose to not identify with them. My thoughts no longer consume me and writing has become an outlet of empowerment for me and those who connect with what I have to say.
But for a long time I never believed that I had anything worth saying. Two years ago, on a snowy night remarkably similar to this one, I lay unshowered, overstuffed from a long food binge, lethargic in my bed. Living in a constant state of despair, my depression was so suffocating that it was difficult for me to get out of bed. I had no will to do anything and hid from everyone. Curled in my comforter, I received the Facebook notification that Sava Farah was speaking at Hill Auditorium. See Sava’s (one of the many restaurants that Sava created) holds a very special place in my heart. That fall semester, when my anxiety was the worst it had ever been and my parents and I were scrambling to figure out what in the world was going on, Sava’s had become a place of solace. Every week, my mom and I would go out to lunch, sometimes 3 or 4 times. Sometimes I was so distraught that I couldn’t eat or talk. But my mom sat with me, and when we sat in Sava’s, things became a little more tolerable.
To this day, I don’t know how I mustered up the energy to get dressed up in winter clothes and trek across campus to see Sava speak at a time I could barely walk across the street to go to class, but something compelled me out of my bed. Slowly, I trudged through the snow to the auditorium, where I sat completely alone in the top row to see my hero speak.
From my blog post: My favorite takeaway was the idea that we need to have compassion for ourselves. “If you want to cry, cry!” she exclaimed, continuing that, “I feel that women lose compassion for themselves.” She told us not to skip moments to love and feed yourself, to be good to yourself. This was the first time I had considered the idea of wellness as something more than physical. There is undisputedly an emotional and mental component of wellness, an aspect of my health that I had been completely unaware of, that Sava brought to my attention.
Can you imagine how weird it is to read these words? As a now yoga teacher conducting her thesis research on self-compassion, who is holding a “Night for Self-Love” event this Sunday, it is surreal to read about the moment this spark was ignited. For in the light, it is so easy to forget the darkness.
Today at TedX U of M, I saw Sava speak again. Talk about surreal. Here I was in a new body and mind, hearing the story that transformed my life again, but through fresh ears. Sitting next to me was Maddie Ross, one of my best friends, who I ate dinner with at Sava’s earlier in the day. No matter how we try to forget our past, it seeps in to our present. Instead of ignoring it, I took a moment to look about myself and feel my chest swell with gratitude for the perspective that reliving this story gave me.
Yesterday I ate at an all-you-can-eat Indian food buffet by myself. Listening to the conversations swirl around me, transported me back to the last time I really enjoyed eating a meal alone. When I was abroad in Barcelona, at a particularly high point of self-love and joy, I took myself on a date with myself. Eating at La Sopa Boba, a restaurant I had been dying to try, I journaled and savored the tastes of my life. For the first time in months, at that meal, I ate bread. When the owner brought me dessert on the house, I enjoyed it. On that dinner date with myself, I realized how full I truly was. No longer hungry for someone else to fulfill me. My solo buffet excursion yesterday returned me to that moment in Barcelona. When I came home, I beelined to my bookcase and took my abroad journal from its resting position to read what I had written at that meal.
From my journal: “My walks, yoga, journal time fill and fuel me, and they are now to be treated as part of my life, as necessary as any life providing mechanism of my body. My self-care is to be treated as crucially, critically important as breathing itself.”
What a declaration- a commitment to self-compassion. Self-compassion, a term I didn’t know until Sava Farah taught me what it was two years ago.
Because I am a nerd and also a visual learner, I give you this graphic of the short and long-term debt cycles because I think can be an analogy for our short and long-term memory. Looking from time 0 to time T demonstrates how reflection can give us clarity to how far we have come. The short-term debt cycle, the little squiggles, can be thought of as our short-term memory. The recency effect says that individuals tend to be most influenced by what they have last seen or heard. This is why our short-term failures and success are often most salient. It is hard to celebrate your overall big victories, like the fact that you got into college four years ago, when you are focused on a more recent failure, like how you just failed your chem test.
We live in this forward-looking society that is hyper-aware of our current trajectories and short-term goals, and often we forget to look at the remarkable growth we have experienced by enduring these day-to-day fluctuations. The long-term growth is visualized by the long-term debt cycle, and can be charted when we look back to our beginnings. This is the growth I realized by re-reading my blog from two years ago, by remembering my lone meal in Barcelona. If we look back even farther, to my low points as an unhappy and agitated girl in high school to the joyful young woman I am today, the positive slope of the curve steepens.
In these past two days, the universe ripped me back into my past so that I could be given perspective for my future.The failures and fluctuations I feel today are just part of my greater story, being smoothed into the grand underlying curve that is being built each time I have the courage to show up in my life. The dark, messy parts of ourselves that we want to hide and store away in a neat little black box- they are important and vital. Every once in a while they need to be revisited and given air. Oxygenating these former narratives and lending them the light you now radiate, these dead tales are repurposed and given a second chance at life. For these stories are our cornerstones, born again through our rewriting of them, and become the structures on which we build the ever becoming, more magnificent versions of ourselves.