Happy and Pretty; Pretty and Happy

It’s been a while since I looked at a picture of myself and liked what I saw.  Yes, it’s embarrassing to admit but, for the past couple years, I often cringed at my image.  I’d think: ‘oh goodness, I’m not pretty anymore.’  Now, this may sound like self-indulgence.  Let me clarify.

‘Prettiness’ is, for me and I believe many others, a multi-faceted idea.  It includes not only external perceived ‘beauty,’ but all the inner trappings of one’s Self.  The Quirks, Dreams, Passions, Humor, Loves, and, even, Losses.  ‘Prettiness’ is built on years of experience, on relationships, on overcome obstacles.  On strength.  And it’s something that shines from the inside out…it’s evidenced in a gums-exposed laugh-smile and in a crinkled eye sparkle and in a relaxed shoulder tilt .  ‘Prettiness’ is more symbolic of internal satisfaction, a satisfaction that is made manifest by the body.

And so, these past couple years, when I thought to myself: ‘Where did my prettiness go?’ I, rather, meant: ‘Where did my happiness go?’  I’ve been clear, both in my daily personal exchanges as well as on this blog, that I struggle with clinical depression.  It’s no secret nor does it make me ‘special,’ for I’m certainly not the only one who struggles.  It’s just a part of who I am and it is truly only a hamper when I allow it to be.

The strength to detain my depression, however, was a little feeble the past couple years.  Namely my time during graduate school.  Grad school was a period marked by questions: “Who am I?” “Is this what I want?” “Why am I so tired all the time?” “Why do I feel so alone?” I was confused, stressed, and a TERRIBLE birth control certainly didn’t help matters (SERIOUSLY- do not take Lessina, y’all.  Incredible that a tiny little pill could systematically ruin my life…Did not recognize myself for the 9 months I took it and, during this time, became a weeping broken sop of a human).

And so.  During this time, when I looked at pictures of myself, I saw Mariah, sure.  But her features were limned in grayness.  And she wasn’t pretty.  She was just sad.  My Quirks, Dreams, Passions, Humor, and Loves were, if not lost, at least fervently hiding.  And the losses, legitimate or otherwise, felt too large and oppressive.

I graduated with my master’s May 2019.  And, while I am incredibly proud of this accomplishment, as well as all the work required to achieve that degree, my most poignant emotion while crossing the stage was relief.  ‘Yes, it’s over.  And now I can be Mariah again.’  And, whether it was graduate school’s resolution or the fact that another new chapter in my life had now begun, my depression began to cede after graduation.  I fell into my work at OrangeTheory Fitness (Hey TriSquad, if you’re reading!!) and an ~almost metaphorical~ ocean of literature (need a book recommendation? Hit me up; it seems I’ve done nothing but read since walking :p) and I haven’t been this happy in years.

My birthday was yesterday and it was magnificent…so many people convened to make it a truly special day and I cannot express how blessed I am to know the individuals I do.  The celebration culminated with dinner at Opa!, a delicious Greek hotspot on South Lamar, and, surrounded by my parents, sister, boyfriend, and cousins, I snapped a flurry of pictures.  I went back to peruse these photos later in the evening and, upon a cursory examination, felt a tickle of pleasure in my chest.  In those snapshots my face was open, my shoulders relaxed, my smile unrestrained.  Happy and pretty.  Pretty and happy.  One and the same.

Perhaps happiness is a transient thing.  And yes, in truth, we simply can’t be happy all the time.  “Shit happens” and this is just a fact.  But we can cherish the moments we do feel that joy, that life, that love.  For, even when the moment passes (as it’s wont to do), we can rest assured another will arrive.  ‘Existence’ is peppered with dark and light and this life we have?  It’s just a glorious adventure during which we are destined to trek through both.

You, Me, We

Why don’t we talk openly about personal struggles? Why do we clench them so close to our being, held within our rib-cage?  There, so close to our center of self, they feed upon our warmth and drive…slowly stealing strength, growing and growing and growing until the ribs are no longer adequate containment.  And then those fears, doubts, regrets seep outward and flood our body…filling our entire self, rising above our eye-line.  Such that we become blinded.  We strike out right, left.  Forwards, backwards. We are overwhelmed, lost.

It’s hard to confess, and perhaps the reason I avoided blogging for so long, but this past year was extremely difficult.  I started my master’s degree fall 2017 and, though I was relieved to start grad school earlier than envisioned and proud to continue at UT, I was immediately beset by doubt.  The program, Health Education and Health Behavior, was vastly different from my undergrad (English); I was suddenly dropped into a world of research grants, academic journal submissions and publications, hands-on lab work, data scoring, TA responsibilities, and major end-of semester research papers with accompanying class presentations.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I felt scared.  I felt alone.  I felt insignificant and incompetent and sad.

Rather than rise to the challenge, I am embarrassed to admit I crumpled.  I began to dress myself down, like a child, perhaps because this was the age I felt.  I avoided friends.  I succumbed to swells of depression, great terrifying waves that extinguished my confidence…leaving me breathless and miserable.  I folded deeper and deeper into myself and, resultantly, completely lost my drive.  My motivation.  I forgot why I had even pursued grad school in the first place.  Snowball effect.

This is not, however, intended to be an entirely sad tale: I am doing better.  As of the last week, I started making moves toward my future again.  I began contacting friends.  I cut all my hair off (!!! What is it about personal dilemma that inevitably generates hair change?).  I returned to the Dawg Pound (Dano Anoran’s super motivational (and grueling!!) spin class at Gold’s Gym- Westlake) after about half a year off.  I am once more seeing my amazing, zany, and uplifting therapist.  I am staying active, productive.  And it feels good.

So, I’ll ask again: Why do we too often suffer our difficulties alone? Why don’t we talk about depression and anxiety and fear and loneliness?  Do we think our personal battles make us less than?  That others will judge us?  That we are the only one in pain?

My only answer to these questions, as I am still puzzling through it, is this: Let’s be brave.  Let’s talk, open the discussion floor.  Hug our struggling friends, family members, coworkers, and even those unfamiliar to us.  Listen, support, and encourage (while still understanding change can only be self-generated).  And let’s be kind to ourselves; everyone faces times of trouble.  It’s okay.  You’re okay, I’m okay, we’re okay.  Breathe in, breath out and know help is there, whatever form ‘help’ takes for you.  You are not alone.  I am not alone.  We are not alone.

 

 

 

A Soft, Balmy, Sugar Sweet Feeling

Status: perched in UT’s student activity center, counting my multitudinous blessings.

I’m happy.  Really, truly, thoroughly happy.  It’s a nice feeling; a soft, balmy, sugar sweet feeling.  A feeling of “rightness,” of belonging, of conviction.  And quite unlike anything I’ve experienced in recent memory.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a skeptical individual: apprehensive where it concerns decisions, choices, expectations, etc.  For those who know me well, it comes as no surprise that, historically, rumination (a.k.a. “over-thinking”) has defined my mental machinations and, resultantly, certitude has not come easy.  “Do I really want this?” “Am I happy?” “What am I passionate about?” “What do I want out of life?”  I’d craft answers to these, amongst many other, queries but I was never sure.  Was I basing my goals, dreams, convictions upon those of society?  My parents?  My friends?  My role models?

It was only during these last couple years I finally began to weave between those answers and weed, clip, prune them…until I became more convinced they vibrated with my own voice’s tenor.  Even so, there was hesitancy.  And why not?  Life is, after all, a very, very long journey to ultimate self-discovery.  Answers change.  Dream, goals, convictions change.

However, today that “rightness” feels, to put it meticulously simply, right.  Pardon the sentimentality, but, as I roam campus and walk through DKR’s halls (my new home for the next couple years!!), and plot my fall course schedule, I can’t keep myself from happily humming.  I’m here.  I fought for this.  This is mine.  There’s something beautiful about “figuring it out.”  Especially after a long period of blind confusion, arms outstretched…Face-first collisions with struggle after struggle after struggle…the slowly developing fear that, maybe, ‘dreams’ weren’t for me.

And this present state of contentment could not, would not, have manifested without my social circle’s immutable support.  I am who I am now because my nearest and dearest believed this Mariah, my current self, was possible…Perhaps that she existed already, patiently waiting to emerge from the wreckage and rubbish of ED Mariah’s reign.  And so, as I charge into my life’s next adventure, I would like to say only this to those nearest and dearest: thank you.  It’s not enough, but I love you all and I will make you proud: Mom, Dad, Mikaela, Opa, Oma, Inge & co., Petra and co., the HS crew, my 404 roomies (and especially the B320 roomie <3), TXLA, TOPPS, Lassos, and everyone in between ❤

 

 

The Most Lovely, Epic String of Fairy Lights

Given I have not blogged in for-freaking-ever, I suppose this piece can serve as an update of sorts :p

I’ve started to forget my “dark days”…Those seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years during which I receded quietly, hesitantly, and then faster and faster and faster yet to my psyche’s furthest recesses…Those seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years during which I tattooed upon my face a brilliant, glowing smile and repeated “I’m fine” until the words numbed my lips and lost literal meaning: “I’m FiNe…i’M fInE…I’mmm fiiiiine”…Those seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years during which it felt as though there were a perpetually waiting scream crouched low in my throat; a sleek smooth serpentine creature coiled, tail lashing, and primed to rip from my chest: “NO!  No, I’m not fine!  I’m falling apart bit by bit and I can’t catch the pieces fast enough.  I’m losing me; I’m losing Mariah!”

The “dark days” used to shine so bright in my mind’s eye.  Together, they massed into a bizarrely effulgent mire of memories.  A cesspool brimming over with regrets, perceived mistakes, and insecurities and shining so bright I couldn’t help but feel lured to its shores.  And watch those regrets, mistakes, and insecurities swirl beneath the surface…breaching to snag at my ankles…calling out: “Do you remember, Mariah? Do you remember when this happened? Or this? Or even, wait for it, this?”  For the longest time, I couldn’t resist those siren-like banks.  Call it guilt, masochism, what have you…even after I entered recovery, I’d return again and again and again.  I knew then, as I know now, my struggles were inevitable.  That I emerged from them a wholly better person.  And yet…still I returned.

This past year was tough.  I’ll be honest, y’all, 24 has been hard.  I’ve laughed I’ve cried I’ve screamed.  And then done all three about a million times more.  I think, truly and more so even than my ED period, this is the epoch in which I “grew up.”  Sloughed my innocently smooth childhood innocence and transformed from Mariah-Who-Was into Mariah-Who-Will-Be.  Absolutely, this shedding of past-selves is continual, never-ending as we attempt to craft the most pure “me” possible.  But, this year, I got closer to that distilled “me” than ever before and, as I went about learning and growing and fortifying (AND GETTING MYSELF INTO GRAD SCHOOL!!!), something slipped my attention.

That mire isn’t glowing so brightly anymore.  The whistling, taunting memories have quieted.  And, right now, as I attempt to move towards the shoreline, the dimness is remarkable.  I see a fritz of color here, catch a remembered conversation there.  But it’s muted.  Faded.  It would seem finally, finally, the regrets, mistakes, and insecurities have been outshone by the past three years of recovery.  Outshone by the cement-strong friendships I’ve made.  By the meaningful conversations I’ve shared.  By the milestones I’ve passed.  The new struggles I’ve overcome.  The travel I’ve enjoyed.  Laughter.  Shared smiles.  Love.  Moments of blissful, unmitigated happiness.  Peace.

And the memories made during those years are strung high in my mind’s eye: looped, twizzled, flipped, and curlicued here-there-everywhere like the most lovely, epic string of fairy lights.  Blinking.  Winking.  Spilling their warmth such that, now when I face challenges, I’m reminded: I did it.  I found those falling bits of Mariah and I stitched them back together and made her better than before.  I did it once, and I can do it again.

I start graduate school at my undergrad alma mater and favorite place (HOOOOOK THEM FREAKING HORNS) this fall and that’s incredible.  This time last year I had a ~plan~ but I was still very much unsure and nervous (a.k.a. losing my cool on a daily basis- my internship supervisor can attest to this :p) about the masters application process…fast forward to now and I’m actually fine.  Really, truly, emphatically fine and ready to help, to coax others from their own psyches’ hidden corners.

And thus, in summation: YAY recovery! YAY second chances! YAY!

(During this blog’s construction I listened to: In a Tidal Wave of Mystery by Capital Cities and a bunch of Elvis.  Holla.)

El Capitan
Shot from my climb up Guadalupe Peak this summer- amazing climb with amazing views ❤

 

 

 

Battles in Progress (are no less valiant)

Depression is an odd thing.  Because it’s invasive.  It’s insidious and serpentine and, even when times seem good, it can materialize from the mists of nothingness.  And often without provocation.

I’m extremely wary of my “good times.”  I always have been.  For you see, when I’m happiest, so happy, in fact, my very feet seem to skim the ground, I’m also the most terrified.  Behind my smile, my laugh, my hop-skip-step walk, there cohabits a desperate fear.  A fear that scribble-scrabble scritches me inside out because what if it doesn’t last?  What if the joy is fleeting?  What then?  Well, then I face the potential threat of depression’s whispering, terrible “blankness.”  A sad, moist, clinging cloud that blankets my shoulders and, with mammoth weight, pull pull pulls my body closer to the earth.  Until eventually I’m simply crawling through my days, fingers scrabbling amongst the dirt for purchase and arms so, so tired.  Hoping, praying, that new “good times” will blossom up like the most coveted of saviors.

I am extremely vocal about my eating disorder.  I have posted blogs and I have championed particularly poignant articles and I have held an open door to friends also struggling.  And this is because, in my opinion, mental health remains a mystic “other.”  Exotic but appalling zoo animals, mental illnesses are viewed from afar and with tremendous trepidation.  Don’t get too close!  They might bite!  I thought that, by lending mental illness a face, a voice, a name, others might feel less alone in their own battles.  That those on the outside might begin to “get it” (for it is difficult, after all, to understand that which we do not experience personally).

Despite this vociferous championship of eating disorder awareness, I have remained rather silent regarding my other challenges.  I cannot say why, but, for whatever reason, it has been easier to talk about the eating disorder than my depression and anxiety.  Is it because I want to be viewed as the joyous, happy bubble version of myself 24/7 and these “issues” run contrary to such a persona?  Is it because, while my ED is in check, depression at times still reigns supreme?  Keeping me closeted on weekends, huddled under covers and so frightened of everything, just everything, I can’t bear to even move an inch?  Is it because to this day, without warning, anxiety might launch assault?  Razing my nerves into a frayed, frizzle-frazzled mess of insecurity so strong I’m unable to make eye contact with those around me?

My eating disorder is certainly not decimated, but it is under control.  And so, in a way, I consider my recovery a success story.  The depression, though, is a battle far, far, from won.  And so.  I’ve kept it to myself.  I don’t like failure.  I don’t like weakness.  I don’t like admitting I “still have problems.”

Yet, as I’m sitting here, I can’t help but think ‘so what.’  So freaking what.  I have problems.  We all have problems.  Every single one of us.  The issues range…they’re vast, they’re various.  But nobody’s struggles are more or less taxing than anyone else’s.  And what’s more- silence is lonely.  Silence is sad.  Silence is dangerous.  Silence keeps mental illnesses locked in their exotic animal cages, skirted with as much vehemence as possible.

Battles in progress are no less valiant or admirable for their lack of denouement.  Because a battle in progress is still a demonstration of will.  Strength.  Belief.  Belief that, one day, an end will come.  And the sad, moist, clinging cloud will evaporate.  And we will push ourselves from the earth.  And begin again.  Because, baby, the “good times” have arrived once more.

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Here’s a smilin’ me, personal battles and all!

 

 

The Ides of May (Death of an ED)

Well, ladies and gents.  I made it.

Tomorrow marks TWO WHOLE YEARS of sustained eating disorder recovery and, while such a day certainly warrants a literary and grandiloquent honorary blog, I’ll settle for something less verbose.  Below is an excerpt from my personal journal, dated 5.13.16.

As I see it, prior to May 15th 2014, I was literally hanging on Death’s precipice by one pinky finger.  One tired, strained pinky finger.  Each day I continued with my eating disorder, my body became heavier and heavier.  And it was infinitely more grueling, more impossible, to hang fast.

May 15th I finally harvested the last shreds of strength hiding within my withered wasted body and willed myself over that ledge.  I turned to the sun, my ED’s sulfurous fiery fingers all the while raking at my shoulders.

And then I started to run.  As fast as possible and as determinedly as possible.  I haven’t stopped running since and, though I may occasionally trip or lose track of my path, my legs have grown powerful.  My breath has returned.  And each day that passes takes me further from that crumbling precipice.  That cold, dank abyss waiting below with smug self-satisfaction.

So, you see, this day means everything to me.  Everything feels so even-keeled and…well…normal now that I sometimes forget just how bad it was back then.  How close I really was to falling, a couple occasions in particular.

May 15th is a celebration of life.  A celebration of the body.  A celebration of forgiveness.  A celebration of future dreams.  And an appreciation of all that happened to foment ‘today’.  Because, though everything is not perfect, I love who I am today.  I love sitting here this Friday morning, pen gripped in my hand and Coldplay humming on my laptop nearby.

Bliss.

Happy Ides of May everyone.  Let’s take today, and every other day, to cherish this so very immense and limitless gift called Life.

“Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart: a humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor.” -Marianne Williamson

 

Curlicues and Arabesques

I don’t think it’s necessary to be 100% happy 100% of your days.  Or 100% productive and 100% successful.  Or 100% perfect.  Or 100% anything.

Because Life, existence, isn’t 100%; it isn’t 0%.  It isn’t black; it isn’t white.  I like to think of Life as a great wavering canvas, sprayed and splattered and saturated in every color imaginable.  Memories, events, and significant moments each have their own intimate tint and these hues swirl, spin, and dance into one another.  Creating a tango of colors.  New colors.  Curlicues.  Rainbows.  Arabesques.  And certainly, also, dark dirty shades.

It’s often difficult to pick apart those pigments because they’re no longer singular.  Rather, they’ve become combinations of so many recollections and consequences and life lessons; they’ve coalesced into a handsome albeit imperfect history.  Such a life is a gradient of percentages: 65%s and 13%s and 93%s.  Those numbers pipe up and down depending on the day, our mood, the mood of others around us.  That’s just the way it is.

May has become a rather momentous period for me.  My eating disorder recovery date falls directly mid-month (ALMOST TWO WHOLE YEARS!!) and, while this milestone is wonderful and worthy of celebration, it’s also a reminder of the very very dark place in which I once floundered.  I’m too incredibly proud of my accomplishments.  Too too proud.  But my heart still hurts for pre-May 15th 2014 Mariah; she didn’t know what starburst-brilliant opportunities lay ahead.  She didn’t know there was, in fact, an end to the pain.

May is also difficult because it marks my friend Vanessa’s passing.  Until last year, I had not yet fully contemplated the tragedy of young lives lost.  Had not yet internalized that someone’s canvas, rippling and resiliently bearing all those colors, could be sheared straight through…destroyed in an eye-blink.  Vanessa’s absence is a bruise that hasn’t quite yet healed.  It may not heal.  RIP sweet girl.

And I think, for me, these are two reasons why I choose, day by day, to forgive.  Forgive myself for my range of percentages and shortcomings and hold-ups; forgive others for their range of percentages and shortcomings and hold-ups.  It’s okay.  It’s okay to be okay.  It’s okay to just be here and doing one’s best, adding more and more and more dappled frescos to that Life canvas.

“We are all broken.  That’s how the light gets in.” -Ernest Hemingway