Taking control over my eating disorder

Getting dressed has become such an ordeal lately.

I moved back to Guam with just one suitcase with all my belongings (clothes, shoes, and books included), but I’ve bought a few tops and bottoms over the past year.

Since last September, I’ve gained at least 10 pounds. I probably lost 10 pounds of muscle and gained 20 pounds of fat total, because I stopped working out and I used to be on a fairly strict workout regimen in 2016.

Now the clothes I brought over from California don’t even fit me anymore, and I’ve had to give away a few pairs of my favorite jeans because they can’t possibly button around my waist.

I feel bad every time I need to get dressed because almost nothing fits me right anymore. I end up changing clothes ten times before going anywhere, scrutinizing myself in the mirror. I often just give up and wear the same outfits repeatedly, usually the ones that hide my stomach most.

By no means am I the slightest bit overweight — I’m average for my height now, for the first time in my life.

But the problem I came to terms with four years ago has crept back into my life, this time stronger than I’ve felt it in years.

It’s no big secret that I had (and still have) body dysmorphic disorder, and am recovering from anorexia nervosa. I wrote a blog post about learning to love my body in 2013 after I realized I had a problem and I was underweight. I shared about my body dysmorphia on Instagram last year, while I was coming to terms with my changing body after college.

In 2013, I realized I had body dysmorphic disorder and had been starving myself for a year or so to stay thin. I was so scared to weigh over 100 pounds, so I checked the scale obsessively to make sure I was at 99 at the most. I weighed about 97 pounds and I’m about 5’4-5’5 in height.

What I considered a scary time in 2012.

I took pleasure in buying XXS clothes. I was so proud of myself when I bought a 00 pair of jean shorts at American Eagle (I’d be surprised if I could fit one thigh in it today). Some days, I’d work out at the gym and my only meal that day would be a couple of Hot Cheetos and Sour Patch Kids.

It’s weird because I’m never really aware of it or in control of it. It’s kind of like the voice in your head that tells you to do any task, like when to brush your teeth or when it’s time to go to bed.

It tells me not to eat because it knows I’m going to get “fat.”

When I look down at my stomach, it tells me I’m disgusting.

When I wash my body in the shower, it tells me my mid section is too big and soft.

When I look at myself in clothes that don’t fit right, it tells me to lose weight.

When I look in the mirror, it tells me I’m ugly.

And I listen. Every time.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better at telling myself it’s wrong. I don’t know why it’s there or how it came to be.

But it gets worse when I’m going through periods of high emotional stress — like difficult breakups in the past. Now I think it’s back because of work stress, anxiety, and other personal issues.

I let myself go a bit over the past year, eating whatever junk food I want, eating socially (because it’s Guam, and that’s what you do), and snacking like crazy at night.

Left: summer 2012; Right: summer 2017.

So now the voice has gotten meaner than ever.

I weighed myself at 119 last month. I couldn’t believe it.

I told myself it was fine. I mean I’m average now. Is that really so bad? I’m still skinnier than a lot of people my age, so it isn’t a big deal. And I’m getting older so my metabolism is slowing down. It’s normal.

Still, I found myself measuring my waist every day in the morning (since you’re supposed to be your thinnest when you wake up).

Almost 29 inches. You fucking fat bitch.

I pinch my rolls and feel devastated.

The following weeks:

Still too fat.

27 and three quarters of an inch. Better. But still too fat.

I’ll be happy when I’m at 26 again, I tell myself every morning.

I nod with affirmation at the mirror thinking, yes, then I’ll be happy.

But another voice in my head (damn I sound crazy with all these voices) says softly, but when you were a 25 waist, were you happy?

I pause to listen.

No, I wasn’t happy back then. I was hungry.

Not just for food, but for satisfaction with myself.

After staring at myself tonight in old clothes that are too tight, examining my belly profile from different angles, I finally told myself, fuck it.

Even if I did it the healthy way by eating right, cutting out snacking before bed (which I should still probably do because it’s a bad habit in general), and exercising, I would still be measuring myself. Even if I hit 26, hell 25, would I really be happy?

I know if I monitor myself thinking that being skinnier will make me happy, instead of dealing with the anxiety, stress, and insecurities I have internally, I will never be happy.

I need to throw out whatever unrealistic expectations I have for my body.

I’m 24 years old. I’m not 19 anymore.

I have belly rolls, stretch marks, and cellulite.  I feel my fat shake on my body when I walk. I feel my thighs rub together.

But is that all really so bad? And who said it was bad to begin with?

For the first time in my life, I’m finally able to wear my bras without a huge gaping hole at the top. I’m finally fuller. I’m not stick-thin and my teenage body wouldn’t be attainable even if I threw up every day and starved myself.

I finally look full and healthy.

I look the way Woman Chloe should be, and I need to stop hanging onto Teenage Chloe.

I need to let go because the only person standing in the way of me feeling beautiful and happy is me — and that tiny mean voice inside that tells me I’m not enough.

Left: 2011; Right: 2017.

Being a grownup

Despite going to one of the most highly-ranked party schools on virtually every list online, I was never much of a party animal in college.

My ‘going out’ phase hit me later, after I spent a year with no friends, living with my family after I graduated. Since I moved to Guam, I’ve spent almost every weekend out with my childhood friends.

I’ve also been eating way more than I used to in California — I can’t help it if all the food here is delicious and everyone offers food all the time!

Nine months into my new life back on Guam, my age is finally starting to hit me.

I’ve gained at least 6 lbs (and 3 or more inches on my waist), I look tired most of the time, I haven’t blogged at all, I don’t exercise nearly as much as I should, and I eat terribly (and eat way more than my fill).

I’m realizing I’m not 18 (or 22) anymore. I can’t eat cake for breakfast, candy and Hot Cheetos for lunch, and ramen for dinner like I used to in college.

I need to put in a lot more work to take care of my body, my health, my teeth, my skin, and my mental health. This is even more difficult working a high-stress full-time job (usually with a lot of overtime).

After battling a cold, a bout of terrible indigestion, and an even worse fit of vomiting and a hangover on my trip to Thailand this month, I’ve decided now is the time to finally get my life on track.

I’ve always known I wanted to be a vegetarian, cook my own meals, do yoga or another form of exercise regularly, and write for myself — I just kept thinking Future Chloe would figure this all out (when she’s in her mid-20s and has her life put together).

So here I am at 24, finally ready to embrace the transition from reckless invincible youth to Responsible Adult™. And it feels really good.

These are a few changes I’ve made over past weeks. I’m trying to stick with them while staying flexible and treating myself with compassion when I mess up:

Staying in

I was notorious for canceling plans and staying home in college. I’d pick a night alone with Netflix over any party.

But when I got to Guam I wanted to take full advantage of my time here, so I made a point of pushing myself to go to everything anyone invited me to (also so as not to be rude to people who were nice enough to ask me to hang out) and I got used to it.

I still have a difficult time saying no now (which is largely driven by my overwhelming FOMO) but after a few times of turning down plans, I got more used to it.

Letting people down sucks, but most of the time they probably don’t care enough about whether you’re actually there or not.

Taking some time for rest and mental health is so important — even if it doesn’t make for a fun Snapchat story.

Although the Myers-Briggs test says I’m an extrovert, I still have introverted tendencies and need time to recharge alone in my room. Also I hate people when I’m around them too much, so spending a few nights in solitude is best for me and everyone around me.

Making time for my passion

As you can see on my blog, I haven’t posted anything since before I moved to Guam last year. I definitely have a lot of personal issues I could have posted about, but I find myself wanting to keep them private now that I’m older. I tried working through them by writing, but never felt like they were good enough to post.

I’ve decided I don’t care if it’s not good enough anymore.

My love for personal writing is too important to leave dormant.

If it means missing out on parties or hanging out with friends, this is the price I’ll have to pay for reviving a skill and a huge source of joy and satisfaction.

I’m usually too exhausted to write for myself because I write every day for work, but I’m determined not to let that stop me from keeping my own voice alive. I rarely get to write in the first person perspective as a reporter, which is my natural writing voice, so it’s difficult to maintain.

My writing voice isn’t the same now as it was in college when I first started Lovescrewed.

Maybe I’m a different person. Maybe I’m out of practice.

But I’m going to push through writer’s block and my uncertainties and create my new voice — even if I suck at first or it sounds unnatural. I’ll find her again eventually.

Not responding to everyone all the time

Every time someone messages me and I don’t respond, I feel terrible. Every single time. I carry that with me for days, but I just don’t have the time or energy to reconnect with every old college friend, family member, or acquaintance who reaches out to me through social media or texts (not to make myself sound like I’m oh so popular and turning away hundreds of messages).

I care about all of them, but I need to sacrifice some of these interactions and connections for my own mental health. I feel bad about it, but I hope they understand and I still wish them the best.

Eating healthier

This life change is twofold:

1. Actually going grocery shopping – Instead of eating out every meal, I started buying frozen vegetarian/organic dinners at the grocery store for every day of the week.
It’s this lazy girl’s way of avoiding cooking but still eating healthier than fast food or eating out at restaurants. I know eventually I’ll transition into cooking healthy food for myself when I’m ready, but das not today.

2. Not buying shitty food – This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s actually hard not to do this! Ever since I started buying food for myself in college, I filled up my cart with chips, candy, and those Totino pizzas that cost $1 each.
Now when I go to the grocery store, I buy more fruits and veggies, healthy juice and kombucha (which I still think tastes like carbonated ass), and real cheese. This way when I inevitably get the munchies, I have nothing but healthy food available.

Exercise

I still need to work on this. I’ve been swamped with work over the past few weeks and haven’t made time for exercise since I work early and come home late and exhausted. But my grandparents bought an exercise bike so I try to do a quick 5 miles, 10 if I have more time (and 12 for the first time today!).

Now that my work schedule has freed up a bit, I’m going to try to make time to go to the gym once or twice a week after work for cardio and light weights. I was dedicated to taking yoga classes every Friday from January to April this year, and I want to get back to it.

Drinking more water

This may be TMI, but when I came back from Thailand my pee was radioactive yellow for like two weeks. I think I drank too much juice and too little water (I hate paying for water and all they have available is bottled water there). It was pretty scary.

I try to drink two fills of my 32 oz Hydro Flask (I looked up how much water I need to drink every day to stay healthy). This isn’t always doable, mostly because I’m too lazy to get up and refill my bottle at the water cooler across the office space (hey, are most of my problems rooted in laziness?!), but I try to do it for the sake of clear skin and non-radioactive pee.

Skincare

I’m #blessed not to have too many blemishes, but living on a humid tropical island leaves me naturally much oilier than I was living in California so I have to try harder to get a glowing complexion.

Healthy liquids 

Drinking more water definitely helps. I also find my skin is better when I eat less sugary or fatty foods (what a revelation!), but those are the best!
When I have time, I drink a mix of 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, sprinkled cayenne powder, a squirt of calamansi (lemon/lime), a little less than a tablespoon of honey (I’m trying to cut this down, but ACV tastes like ass, much like kombucha) and water.

This is supposed to help improve skin, along with a bunch of other health benefits, and I *think* it works for me. Or it’s the placebo effect, in which case I’m still happy.

Facial skincare routine

I’ve been sticking to a routine of washing my face with a mild Dove face wash in the morning before work, then applying combination skin formula Neutrogena moisturizer. Then at night, I use an exfoliating St. Ives natural scrub, put on the moisturizer, and apply tea tree oil to acne spots with a q-tip. I’m still experimenting with tea tree oil, but so far it’s been useful with minimizing tiny pimples.

I have a Nordstrom gift card so I’m looking forward to treating myself to some Fresh face masks. I got the rose petal mask sample a couple years ago and absolutely loved the smell and effects on my skin.

Natural deodorant

I also started using natural deodorant, so I wouldn’t have to use one with aluminum or chemical ingredients anymore and clog up my pores. I bought Schmidt’s rose vanilla deodorant at Simply Food on Guam for about $10 (which isn’t much more than they sell for on Amazon) and it smells heavenly! It smells like some kind of pretty rose oil and stays on all day, even when I sweat and work out.

My Post-Grad Experience: Abandoning the safety net of love

For months, I’ve been struggling to write a blog post about what I’ve learned since I graduated from college (15 months ago—I still can’t believe it). I came up with a draft about how I felt stagnant for months, worked in retail for half a year, and interned at a local newspaper (but didn’t get any experience with hard news; even if I did cover hard news, I live in a small college town where the most exciting event is the Farmer’s Market—but hey, the white peaches and freshly-popped kettle corn are amazing).

I realized I couldn’t produce any meaningful writing because I hadn’t really suffered or taken any risks—I didn’t get a low-paying entry-level job in my field, move out on my own and struggle to pay rent in a tiny apartment in San Francisco with 5 roommates, or spend a year teaching English in Thailand (all of which are paths that people I know took after graduating). I also hadn’t progressed much either. I didn’t even bother to apply to graduate school (let alone establish connections with my professors or try hard enough to get straight A’s) or apply to any jobs at all for months.

I settled into the uncertainty of post-grad life that had stressed me out all of senior year, but I got too comfortable. I lived in an upper middle class suburb with my parents, I lifted weights three times a week in our home gym, I binge-watched way too many new shows (I’m ashamed to admit I spent two weeks doing nothing but watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians), and my only friends were my kid siblings and my cats. It felt like college never happened at all. I looked through my old photos obsessively and posted them on Instagram, not ready to move on from the past (the #tbt sadness is real). I missed the freedom to be out at 2am without having to answer to anyone (but to be honest, I spent most of college in my room watching Netflix), I missed being able to hike alone to the beach, I missed having friends I could watch scary movies or dance in clubs with, I missed walking around campus and feeling like I belonged when I ran into people I knew. I missed going to meetings and having discourse and educational presentations about social justice issues, and believing that the non-profit organizing I did mattered. I missed having the drive and pain to write raw pieces about self-love and heartbreak for my blog. I missed having an identity outside of who I was when I was back home with my family.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m incredibly grateful for my parents for taking me back in after I graduated and allowing me the time to figure out my own path. I’m especially grateful for how much they supported my decision to quit my part-time job in retail to focus on writing a self-help e-book. I know I’m very privileged, and the fact that my biggest problem is that my life is too comfortable has held me back from writing anything at all. I almost feel as though I don’t deserve to share my voice because my lack of struggle makes me boring and whiny.

Maybe I’m a masochist, but I’ve always believed that pain creates the most meaningful art (my late grandfather, the artist Jose Babauta thought this too). I started Lovescrewed post-heartbreak and my most powerful pieces were about jealousy, breakups, and an abusive relationship. But since I got into a healthy long-term relationship (damn you Nate for making me so happy!) and moved back in with my parents, I’ve been fortunate enough not to have any hardships to write about, besides my long distance relationship (which isn’t that bad either—we only live an hour-long plane ride away and visit each other every couple weeks).

About a month ago, I decided to apply for a job at the newspaper on Guam where my great-grandfather, grandmother, and dad all have worked. Guam has always been like a security blanket for me—I know that if I absolutely can’t find work or can’t afford to live in California, I can always come back home and look for a job. My worst case scenario is to return to a beautiful tropical island where all my childhood friends, extended family, and goddaughter live, and I can get paid to write (yeah, my life sucks). After a few interviews and my first time negotiating salary (I’m a big girl now!), I landed my first adult job, as a fourth-generation legacy at the newspaper that brought my family to the island in the first place. My heart swells just thinking about spending time with my baby first cousins, living at my grandma’s house where her backyard is literally a waterfall, reconnecting with all my friends from growing up, and most importantly eating at Jamaican Grill and Capricciosa (the list of foods I want to eat on Guam is much longer than the ones of people I want to see and activities).

Despite all the awesome positives of moving back to the motherland, I’ve been staying up past 3am and sleeping in almost till noon—as I always do when I’m depressed or going through a big life change. Taking this reporter job and living in paradise for a while seems like a no-brainer, but all I can think about is saying goodbye to my four parents, my younger sisters and brothers, and my boyfriend of two and a half years. I know my family will be here when I come back (not knowing exactly when I’ll return makes me feel even more anxious) but I’ve never gone so far away from them for so long. It hurts just thinking that I could possibly lose a whole year of my little sister and brother’s lives, and they’ve already lost their baby voices and are catching up to me in shoe sizes. And it scares the shit out of me thinking that I could risk ruining a happy relationship with the love of my life for a job I don’t even know if I’ll enjoy yet.

The fear of change and loss is so crippling to me that when I first got my job offer to stay for a year, my first instinct was to say no and to just take my safer path and become a teacher. I could probably be happy getting my master’s degree, living in Southern California, and teaching middle school, but my dad asked me: which option excites you more? Undoubtedly, the idea of working in journalism and getting out of my comfort zone (admittedly, into another comfort zone, but without the safety of my immediate family with me) is more exciting to me. Settling into my backup plan, albeit a great one, feels like I’m lying to myself about what I really want. I told him that I felt selfish for choosing a job halfway around the world, especially while I’m in a relationship, but he told me that it hurts to feel like I’m not choosing my partner, but it would be even worse not to choose myself.

I don’t know if this job will make me happy. I don’t know if I’ll love living back on Guam as much as I’ve romanticized it in my head after being away for the past six years. I don’t know if my relationship will stay just as solid while we’re 17 time zones apart. But I do know that if I stay comfortable, if I let my parents take care of me forever, if I don’t take a chance on myself and do what scares me (but ultimately excites me), I won’t get back the drive to write like I had before. I’m afraid of losing the safety net of my parents and the security in my romantic relationship, but I’m even more terrified of how much of myself I’ve lost since college—the pieces of my individuality that keep me staring at old photos of myself from when I knew who I was—and how much more of myself I could lose if I don’t take action by pushing myself to grow more. Things could go wrong, but for the first time in over a year, I’m betting on myself.

How to Deal with Instagram-related Jealousy and Insecurities

Let me just start off by saying that in my logical, reasonable mind, I trust my partner with all my heart. He’s been perfect, never makes me feel worried about the possibility of him cheating, and reassures me that he cares about me by texting me constantly throughout the day and giving me his full attention when we’re together.

But no matter how much I love and trust him, the less rational part of my mind still worries occasionally (which I think is natural for everyone). When I look through my Instagram newsfeed when I’m bored, I’m afraid I’ll see that he liked a hot girl’s picture and I’ll discover that the happiness I had was all temporary. It’s like I’m just waiting for him to prove that my worst fears are true: that love doesn’t work out and that I shouldn’t trust anyone. I feel incredibly petty worrying about something so superficial as a “like” on Instagram—I know deep down that it’s 100% harmless. And I can’t really get mad at him because I follow way more pretty girls and models than he does, and he never says anything about it (but in my defense, I follow them 50% for inspiration and self-love by seeing more beautiful brown women who make me feel better about myself by extension… 50% because they’re hot as hell and I like to admire them).

When I see he “likes” some girls’ photos, I get this painful feeling in my gut. I imagine him fantasizing about how much happier he would be if they were his girlfriends instead of me. I worry that he is comparing me, with the mole on my face, the rolls on my stomach when I bend over, my meager B cups, to this image of a girl with a perfectly contoured face and a push-up bra.

I know none of this is true. Anyone who uses Instagram scrolls through basically mindlessly, “liking” pictures in a second, then instantly forgetting the previous post once it leaves the reach of their thumb. These worries are part of a story I’ve made up in my head that is a manifestation of all my insecurities and trust issues I’ve developed from past relationships, with exes who had wandering eyes. Seeing the person you love give validation and attention (even in the smallest form, a “like” on social media) feels like a betrayal, in a world where a large part of the construction of self-worth relies on how many “likes” you get and who gives them to you—as much as we’d like to think we’re disconnected from social media, it affects everyone.

When I stop and think about it, my worries have nothing to do with my partner. He could tell me he loves me every day, never hang out with any other girls, do literally everything right, and I still would feel this way (and it makes me feel terrible that I do).

At our very core, when we feel jealousy, it’s not about our partners being disloyal about something so small—it’s about our deep need to be loved and to be given attention and loyalty from the person we love. The jealousy stems from the small child in each of us who needs love and worries that the flaws we see in ourselves will prevent other people from loving us (sorry, I know I sound Zen-y like my dad here, but it’s true).

The best solution when you’re feeling insecure about your partner “liking” other people’s posts is to realize and remind yourself that your relationship with a person is much more than what goes on in social media, and shouldn’t be defined by “likes,” especially if it’s with someone you have a deep connection with personally. You shouldn’t compare one “like” on a picture to the weeks/months/years of getting to know each other that you’ve had with your partner (and if he/she really wanted to be with that other person instead of you, don’t you think they would?).

Don’t compare yourself to others, especially not you in real life, right now, vs a staged photo. I feel like shit when I compare myself to a picture of a girl with her makeup done, while I’m lying in bed wearing my oversized “I [heart] gays” t-shirt and no bra. Your partner doesn’t love you because you look on point all the time, they love you because you have a real connection and because of your personality. Plus there’s no way those girls online look like that 24/7. Instagram is performance (repeat that to yourself 100x every day and you might turn out okay).

Some steps to take when you get into a negative mindset with these insecurities:

Get off Instagram! Be productive, take a walk and enjoy nature and keep your phone on “do not disturb” if you use it to listen to music, interact with the people who are around you in real life, work on a project. Create, don’t get into a negative spiral.

Do something that makes you feel good about yourself. Don’t base your self-worth off of whether a person double taps on an image of you. Remind yourself why you are a good person, why you are beautiful, and why you are attractive and worthy of love—most of all, your own love.

What I do:

    • lift weights (makes me feel strong and proud of myself)
    • go for a walk (sunshine makes me happy, gets my sun-kissed skin back)
    • put on a little makeup or curl my hair (doesn’t take that much effort and ends up making me really happy and feel pretty)
    • wear something I wouldn’t normally wear (anything besides work/bum clothes)
    • write (makes me feel smart and capable)
    • tidy my room (makes my living situation more comfortable)

Also, it’s hard to be in a happy relationship with someone who is insecure and doesn’t see their own self-worth (me at times, in this case). You need to remind yourself why you are valuable as an individual and as a partner, both for your own mental health and for the sake of your relationship.

Talk to someone (or at least write it out to yourself). Saying your fears out loud makes them sound a lot less real and will show you they aren’t actual reasons to worry. It helps a lot to get out of your own negative self-talk and train of thought if you have to explain it to someone else, and they can tell you you have nothing to worry about.

Make a list of things to be grateful for in your life. You have more going on for yourself than just one person, anyway!

Make a list of ways your partner has shown they love you. If you’re in a good relationship, these will outweigh the minor slight of Instagram “likes” by far. After I write my lists, I feel so much happier, more in love with my partner, and appreciative of what a good person he is.

Overall, the best thing you can do is to just not look at the feed.

The urge to prevent your partner from looking at anyone else but you (which is impossible) is possessive, and makes me feel small for being controlling in that way. If you want to keep your relationship healthy, you need to just trust that your partner is a good person who does not want to hurt you.

Even more importantly, you need to trust that you are a good person who deserves to be with someone who loves you and will be loyal to you (even if you don’t always believe it, it’s true). The stress of stalking your partner online constantly is bad for the skin anyway, so don’t detract from your physical beauty, and in turn the source of your value as a person (just kidding! internal beauty all the way! *smirking emoji*).

Rituals of Self-Care in My Post-Grad Life

If it wasn’t already apparent in my other posts or depressing Facebook statuses, I haven’t been having the best time in my post-grad life. Though I am fortunate enough to have my parents support me and let me live with them while I figure out what the next phase of my life will look like, it’s a struggle every day for me to be happy. I often have anxiety attacks and breakdowns worrying about how I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life, for the first time in my life. It’s difficult, but I’ve been trying to be patient and gentle with myself as I’m going through this confusing in-between stage. I’m trying to focus on taking care of my physical and mental health while struggling with post-grad depression.

Diet

When I lived in an apartment with my friends and had to take care of my own meals for the first time, I spent most of my grocery money on sour patch kids and party-sized bags of hot cheetos. I ate at McDonald’s or Costco at least a few times a week because they were a 5-minute walk from my place. Eventually, I got sick often and couldn’t get the taste of salt out of my mouth for days.

Since I moved back home, I made a few changes to my diet. I stopped letting myself eat so much dairy because I became lactose intolerant, and tried to just push through the pain whenever I had a milkshake before. I created a ritual of drinking tea in the morning, which makes me happy by doing this small act of self-care. I started switching out sugary cereals for oatmeal for breakfast. If I add some walnuts, cinnamon, and banana slices to it, it’s a lot more filling and tastier than cheap cereal. I also eat a lot less junk food, which is a luxury because now I have my parents to either cook or provide food for me, and don’t have to fend for myself like I did while I was in college.

Exercise

This is what made me feel the best about myself as a person since I graduated. For my whole life I felt like I was weak and couldn’t lift anything heavy or protect myself. I saw myself as frail and clumsy. And while I am still a bit of a klutz, I no longer see myself as a weak person. Lifting weights and seeing how much I can handle makes me realize how strong I truly am, and gives me confidence in other areas of my life. I started getting scheduled to work shifts in the back room at my retail part-time job, and before working out, I wouldn’t have thought I could hold my own in there and would have been really nervous. But since I know I can lift 100 lbs, I’m not afraid to carry heavy boxes, although I still ask for help when I need it.

Beauty

I wear less makeup now that I don’t go to school—I used to wear lipstick, mascara, and do my eyebrows almost every day last school year. Living in Davis, where—let’s be real—people don’t really care about their appearance and walk around wearing spandex and North Face jackets, it’s much easier for me to let go and not keep up my appearance. I go for days now where I stay in gray thermal pajamas (much like a tribute from The Hunger Games) and don’t put effort into my looks.

However, I try to make a point every now and then (at least once or a few times a week) to do the bare minimum of curling my lashes, swishing on some mascara, and fixing my eyebrows. Taking just 10 minutes of my time makes me feel better about myself for the rest of the day.

Social

Before I left Santa Barbara, I was worried about how I wasn’t going to have any friends when I graduated. It was scary to think that I would go from having all my closest friends live within walking distance of me, to having nobody to hang out with when I moved back home with my parents. When I moved to Davis in 2010, I came to a new high school during my senior year not knowing anyone, and spent the year eating lunch alone and reading Harry Potter or studying for the SAT. I dreaded coming back to this, especially since my new skill for making so many friends in college had become one of the qualities I liked best about myself.

While I enjoyed the fact that I couldn’t walk through campus without seeing at least 5 friendly faces, I did miss my family terribly sometimes. Moving back home gave me the opportunity to spend time with my kid siblings, who are now my best friends since I graduated. Driving my 17 year old brother home from cross country practice, we got to talk about his feelings about going to college and growing up, which I’m grateful for because we barely spoke when I was in college (besides a few short texts now and then about Game of Thrones). Helping my 9 year old sister write her blog posts, watching Tangled with her, and cuddling makes me happy and fulfilled with my social life in a different way from hanging out with my college friends did. Being back home gives me the chance to reconnect with my brothers and sisters and with my identity as an older sister and mentor.

Post-grad fears vs dreams

I’m sitting in bed next to my boyfriend while he studies for his finals in his second year of law school. I scroll through my Facebook feed on my laptop, seeing updates of my friends’ post-grad successes, like a form of voyeurism that will only make me hate myself in comparison. Jody is attending another law school mixer. Angelica will be free to talk to me on Wednesday when she has a day off from her grad school classes at USC. Nikki just posted a picture of the Christmas tree in her apartment in New York City. Every day I see another person from my graduating class adding their new job to their Facebook profile, or Instagram a picture of their freshly-printed business cards tagged at the company they’re working for (usually something hip like a startup in San Francisco—yeah, we know you have a fun job, thanks for rubbing it in everyone’s faces).

Meanwhile, I procrastinate and read every article about race or feminism that pops up on my feed, or hell, even watch a video recapping the latest episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. I instant message chat with my nine-year-old sister. I go through the photos on my Google Drive to free up more storage space. I’ll do anything I possibly can to avoid facing my fears and actually revive the blogs I’ve built (and gradually abandoned) over the past two years, like I told everyone I would after I finished college.

It’ll be better when I won’t have to focus on school and I’ll have so much time to write.

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I’d have more time to write if I didn’t have to wake up at 5am for a part time job that makes me exhausted and miserable.

I’ve been making up these excuses for months about why I can’t write and how life gets in the way, and I see myself slipping into a 9 to 5 job that doesn’t suit me—and in turn, to mediocrity—because I’m afraid that if I actually try to make it as a professional writer, I will fail.

Trying to make a living off of my creative skill is a privilege, yet incredibly terrifying.
Don’t get me wrong—I know I’m not an utter failure (yet). I graduated from college in four years, which is probably more than most people my age can say for themselves, and I’m fortunate enough not be in debt either (loved ones remind me of this repeatedly when I break down about how unhappy I am with my life, and this is my mantra to keep myself from spiraling into depression). I’m grateful to have the luxury of pursuing my passion even though I don’t know if I’ll make any money.

But the stakes are still high. I’m scared that nobody will care about what I have to say—or worse, that they’ll think I’m either too shallow or too radical based on my content, and I freeze up, too anxious to write at all. I’m scared that I’ll become the broken link in a chain of four generations of journalists, the end of a legacy. I’m scared that I don’t have what it takes to follow in my dad’s footsteps, that I don’t have the drive to work for myself. I’m scared that I’ll fall so far behind and watch everyone else in my life excel professionally while I chase a dream that may never come true.

But what scares me even more is regret—that I’ll let my excuses and fears control me, and that I’ll wake up one day stuck at a job I hate, wondering how my life would have turned out if I’d only taken a few hours a day to push myself into writing again, instead of comparing myself to the appearance of success my friends had online.

I often have to remind myself that no matter what people post about on social media, or what path they take professionally, nobody really knows what they’re doing at 22. We’re all just trying to figure out who we are, and I owe it to myself to listen to my gut and take advantage of the opportunity I’ve been given to take the risk of following my dreams, to be brave and at least try.

How I Survived 10 Days Without Instagram

In some ways, summer is my least favorite time of the year. Most people love the freedom to do whatever they want, but when I have too much free time I get bored. And when I get bored, I get stalker-y.

For most of this summer (truthfully, for most of the time since I downloaded the app in 2012), I used Instagram as a constant distraction. I idly refreshed my feed every few minutes, looking through the pictures my friends liked to see if anything caught my eye. More recently, I began a mini mission at the back of my head to find quality indie models and follow them, and hopefully get inspired enough to somehow become as beautiful as they were. I also thought that if I found models who looked enough like me, I could feel better about myself because I looked kind of like them.

I must have spent hours a week absorbing pictures of beautiful long-limbed girls with perfect waist-to-hip ratios, flowing ombre hair, and breasts uncannily generous for their weight. How could I ever compare?

I’m not sure how I started this obsession in the first place. Maybe it stemmed from when my ex used to follow dozens of beautiful girls on Instagram like the ones I began to like. When I came out as bisexual, I realized I had nothing to lose by shamelessly following as many gorgeous models as I liked. Maybe this act was some kind of a “f*ck you” to my exes who indirectly made me hate my own body whenever I saw they were checking out other women who I thought were more attractive than I was.

In any case, this obsession began to slowly chip away at my already fragile self-esteem. Spending hours a day looking at models with ‘perfect’ bodies does something to a person’s mind. I carried the weight of feeling imperfect on my shoulders—I spent a lot of time looking at my body in the mirror and criticizing myself for what I perceived as flaws, always comparing myself to the models I could never completely imitate.

In addition to comparing myself to other girls on Instagram, I often compared my life in general to what I saw other people doing through their pictures. This made me feel emptier inside and increased my FOMO—which is the fear of missing out on something or someone more interesting, exciting, or better than what we’re currently doing. This fear leads us to feel like we’re not doing anything productive or special with our lives because we’re comparing it with what we see other people doing on social media sites.  I never felt like I was having enough fun at the moment because everyone else seemed to be out living their lives to the fullest, while I was half-watching episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on my couch while scrolling through Instagram on my phone. I’d see one of my friends post a picture of herself lounging on a beach in Rio, a picture of another friend skydiving, or a selfie of a friend posing in front of the Eiffel Tower, and every other imaginable activity that looked more fun than what I was doing at the moment. (By the way, these are all real life examples. I hate my friends and their awesome lives sometimes.)

I sat on the floor of my room one night wondering how I could get myself out of this problem. The solution was easy: get rid of it. I needed to get rid of the toxicity that this stupid app was causing me, and it was literally as easy as pressing a button. I decided right then that I would go a week without it and see how I felt about myself and my life.

The first day was the hardest, but even then it wasn’t too bad. I deleted the app from my phone the night before and signed out on my laptop, which helped me out a lot that day. The impulse to check Instagram came up so many times throughout the day by habit, but instead of feeling mad at myself or desperate to get back on, I found it funny and interesting to see how often the urge resurfaced. Staying away from the app was a small change, but I didn’t feel noticeably displeased with my body at all that day, since I didn’t have the venue to compare myself to anyone. I did notice myself thinking about different models and girls I followed that day, though, and thought it would be a good idea to unfollow all of them if I decided to use the app again.

Around day three, I started bargaining with myself. The mind is a tricky thing, and it tries to reason its way around what you resolve not to do, so it can get back into its comfort zone. I came up with weak reasons to go back on Instagram, like I thought my friend was going to tag me in a picture, and I told myself it would be rude of me not to go on and like it. But really, Instagram etiquette is trivial and I had to be strong against my own mind tricks. This was a small change in my life, but it was actually a big change in my behavior and daily habits, so it was interesting to find out what I’m capable of and how much self-control I could exercise.

By the fourth day, I started to really think about why I was doing this challenge and how bad I felt about my body. I talked through my self-esteem issues with my cousin and a couple of close friends and resolved to do more things with my life that made me happy internally so that I could feel better about how I looked externally too. I decided to do things that empowered me, like writing, exercising for my health more than my looks, and eating better. After this day, it was easier to finish the challenge without the fear of relapsing.

On the last day, I made up a few rules on how I wanted to use Instagram after the challenge so that I wouldn’t get back into my old habits of comparing my body and life to others:

  1. No “stalking.” No looking at who’s following whom, no looking at the Activity page to see what pictures my friends are liking. It’s none of my business and it doesn’t feel good to think about insignificant things like these.

  2. Unfollow all people I don’t know in real life. I just want to use the app to keep up with my family and friends.

  3. Only use the app at far apart intervals, maybe once or twice a week at most. This way I won’t use it as a constant distraction all day and can focus on what’s going on in the present, in real life.

I unfollowed everyone I didn’t know in person (at least 30 people) besides my favorite celebrities, even my super-fave-crush-models (I paused for a second to consider if I really wanted to remove two of them in particular from my life). I felt good. I avoided logging in all day because I was afraid of what it would be like, or if I would reverse all the progress I’d made. But going without something that was such a part of my daily routine taught me that as much as I think I need something in my life, or if I think I have a problem I can’t get rid of, it’s always possible to take small steps to get better. Getting rid of bad habits is a process that takes time, and most especially compassion for yourself. It’s not easy to change something about your life right away, so go easy on yourself if you mess up at first.

Post-challenge, Instagram is a lot less of a problem than it was for me before. I don’t use the app habitually anymore and delete it from my phone sometimes because it’s actually kind of uninteresting for me now. But now, I realize that Instagram wasn’t a problem I needed to work on as much as low self-esteem and jealousy were. Instagram was only a venue for me to compare myself to other people. I could take Instagram out of my life, but I can’t take away the comparisons in real life. Jealousy and insecurities are problems I know I need to work on, and I plan to explore them eventually.

I wrote this post initially as motivation for me to follow through with this mini challenge, but it was difficult for me to publish it because this problem is embarrassing for me. Why would I want all my friends (and strangers who might read my blog) to know how much I let a stupid app affect my life and self-esteem? As embarrassing as it is to admit I have this problem, I know it’s something other people probably struggle with too (to some degree—maybe not as intensely as I experienced it). If you’re going through some kind of emotional stress because of social media, know that you’re not alone. We’re going through uncharted territory by letting social media sites into our lives and their effects on our minds can be troublesome. It’s important to step back from these sites occasionally to make sure we don’t get sucked into them—to put our phones down, and remind ourselves of what we have in real life that makes our lives awesome, without having to share it with everyone online for it to be real.

Here’s a daily log I kept during the experiment, if anyone’s interested in seeing my process.

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Why I Stayed: Because Nobody Told Me It Was Abuse

I’m coming a week or so late to this conversation, but I still think my story needs to be shared. When I first started reading the #WhyIStayed tweets, I was moved by the bravery those women had to share such intimate details about the trauma they’d been through. I thought I was lucky to have never been in a relationship in which my partner was physically violent towards me, especially considering how many women I knew in real life who weren’t as fortunate.

But it wasn’t until I started reading my own friends’ “Why I Stayed” stories that I realized–much to my surprise and horror–that I was a survivor too.

Recently, a few of my friends wrote posts on Facebook about how they had previously been stuck in emotionally abusive relationships. They wrote all the painful details about how their former partners had controlled them, manipulated them, and isolated them from their other friends.Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 11.56.21 PM

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The more I read, the deeper my heart sank–I realized that I had gone through the exact same experience a few years ago, only I didn’t know it could be considered abuse. I never thought about it that way; I thought my ex was just a jerk and a compulsive liar–he never hit me, but there were times in the relationship when I was really scared. I didn’t know that even if your partner doesn’t physically harm you, it can still be abuse; psychological and emotional harm can be just as damaging.

When I realized that I was a survivor of an abusive relationship, I almost couldn’t believe it. But at the same time, it felt so true, and I felt foolish for not realizing it earlier. It makes me feel better knowing now that my trauma with him is validated, that what I went through was horrible and that it wasn’t my fault. How he treated me was not okay.

So, why did I stay?

Because he kept telling me that we were soul mates.

Because he insisted he would take care of me and be there for me forever.

Because he said it was “us against the world,” and that my family and friends just couldn’t understand why we wanted to get married so young and quickly, because they couldn’t feel the love we felt for each other.

Because everyone else in my family got divorced and I wanted to beat the statistics.

Because he needed me to be there for him while he was in basic training.

Because he made me feel like I owed it to him to be better to him than he was to me because I was the only girl he’d ever been with, and he made me feel guilty for having been with someone else before our relationship.

Because he gave me his Facebook password “to show how much he trusted me” (but he also told me that if I didn’t give him my password and let him read my messages, I didn’t trust him back).

Because I made a big deal about us being in love and engaged on Facebook and I didn’t want everyone to know how wrong I had been.

Because he isolated me from my best friend (because he was jealous of how much I loved her) so I had nobody to turn to when things went badly with him.

Because he convinced me that my dreams of becoming a screenwriter were stupid and that I would be a better wife and mother than I would be at writing.

Because when he punched the hood of his truck when he was jealous about another man flirting with me, he told me it was because he just loved me too much.

Because he told me that he yelled and cussed at me because he was so in love with me that he couldn’t think straight; he told me it was my fault because I drove him crazy.

Because after he yelled at me on the phone and made me cry in the hallway of my freshman dorm every night, he would apologize and tell me that he loved me and he needed me.

Because Disney movies and romantic comedies (and society in general) taught me that true love was more important that anything, and that I needed to stick to my man no matter what (even if it meant battling constant anxiety and painful stress hives all over my body).

I stayed because nobody ever told me that it could be abuse, even if he never hit me.

I was scared to leave him. It’s still scary to think about what it what my life would have been like if I hadn’t. He made it incredibly difficult for me to cut him out of my life, but I slowly brought my close friends back into my life and made a bigger support system for myself. I blocked him on all my social media websites and ignored his calls, but I was constantly afraid of running into him again even though he lived on the other side of the world. I’m still afraid I’ll run into him when I visit family back home. It gets easier, but I’m not sure if the fear or pain will ever go away completely.

It still hurts. And this is most likely the most personal, triggering piece I’ve ever written. But my story is one that needs to be shared so that other women (or anyone, really) can see what I went through and know that it’s not okay, and if you are going through something similar, it is not okay. I’d like to think that people see me as a strong person who doesn’t take shit from men, but it took the process of fighting my way out of this relationship for me to become the person I am today. This can happen to anybody, even the people you’d least suspect. So if you are going through this too, know that it gets better. And if anyone you know is a survivor of an abusive relationship, show some compassion. It’s easy to say that you’d never stay in an abusive relationship, but you never know how hard it is to leave until you’re the one living through it. Especially when you have no idea that you’re going through it.

Related: How to Get Out of a Toxic Relationship, Lovescrewed

How I Survived 6 Months Without Shopping

Seven months ago, I had to pack all my clothes before I made the trip from San Francisco back to Santa Barbara for the beginning of the school year. I spent several hours sorting my clothes into piles, packing them into my suitcase, and trying to fit everything in. After re-packing my suitcase several times, I looked around at my living room, clothing awry, and realized how many items of clothing I actually owned.

I knew I spent way too much money on retail shopping, especially considering how I have inconsistent sources of income, but it didn’t hit me until I realized that I could go for a few months with only the clothes in my suitcase; I ended up leaving 3-4 large boxes of clothes back home.

As my bank account balance got so low that I was afraid to check it, I decided I needed to make a change. I was tired of spending my hard-earned cash on things I didn’t even need and only wanted impulsively. I could tell myself repeatedly that I didn’t want to shop, but when I hit the malls or saw a sale on the Urban Outfitters website, I felt helpless. I knew I needed to take action and go cold turkey on my bad spending habits.

I spent a few months working for my dad and reading his blog posts about quitting bad habits, so I turned to him for help. We came to an agreement about a reasonably difficult challenge. I promised to go 6 months without shopping, with the stipulation that for every piece of clothing I bought during this 6 month period, I would have to go a whole week without watching TV (which is an effective punishment for me; I wrote a post every single day for this blog for weeks because my punishment for not writing was no TV for 3 days). I announced the terms of this challenge to my Facebook friends to keep accountability, and agreed that I’d have to announce every slip-up in the challenge on Facebook too.

At first, the challenge wasn’t particularly difficult. I was fine with the clothes I brought with me to school. But after a while, it got worse. Urban Outfitters (which was my favorite store at the beginning of the challenge) had a 50% off sale on the first week of my challenge; I wanted to die. I started having anxiety dreams about breaking the challenge. For several nights, I dreamt that I was at a department store and was tempted to buy something, even though I knew I shouldn’t. Once I even woke up stressed out because I thought I actually slipped up and bought clothes.

For me, shopping is less of a necessity than an impulse. I know I don’t actually need the clothes I buy, but I see something in the clothes that I think I need. At the onset of the challenge, I had insecurities about my appearance, and I subconsciously thought that the clothes I bought would somehow make me magically prettier. As I went further into this challenge, I began to look more critically at these insecurities. I don’t have the all trendiest clothes and I repeat outfits often. Without new clothes as a crutch, I have to depend on my personality and the way I carry myself to make me feel attractive. It’s a difficult process, but it’s working.

Unfortunately, I broke down a couple times during the challenge and bought a few items of clothing. I felt ashamed when I announced my failure on Facebook, or when my dad sent me sad-faced Snapchats in disappointment. Sometimes I kept the slip-ups to myself and wallowed in self-hate.

But what the failure taught me was that it’s okay to mess up. I saw what I did wrong and I experienced the guilt and humiliation when I had to tell all my friends and family that I messed up. Making these mistakes turned out to be a good learning experience: I know how horrible I felt to fail and do not want to relive it during the rest of the challenge.

A few things that helped me in particular were removing my triggers and having lots of support from others. I made sure to unsubscribe to email offers from my favorite brands (there will always be sales and they’ll always email you about the enticing offers). I also made sure not to follow any clothing brand accounts on Instagram to avoid temptation. I would have slipped up even more on this challenge, despite removing my triggers, if it weren’t for the support I gained from members of my dad’s Sea Change Program, who created a forum where they joined in on my challenge and looked up to me for sticking with it.

This challenge was probably one of the most difficult ones I’ve taken on in my life (and I know how much of a shopaholic that makes me look like). It’s hard to stop shopping, especially in a society that focuses so much on consumerism. If you don’t shop, you aren’t cool, you aren’t successful, and you aren’t like everyone else. If you take on a challenge like this, people will inevitably think you’re crazy. But what’s even crazier is being a slave to the system of consumerism. People refer to shopping as “retail therapy” — think about what that really means. As a society, we shop as a form of catharsis, but when I shop, it only makes me feel like a robot who needs to spend hard-earned money on useless, overpriced pieces of cloth.

Before you shop again, stop and ask yourself: do I really want to spend hours of my life working to make money to buy things I don’t even need? Instead, we can spend our money on what we do need and what will make us happy: going out to eat with friends, traveling, experiences with our families. So let’s put a break on the impulsive shopping, because we’re better than our urges and we’re better than the system.

Seasons of Love: The Effects of Anti-Feminist TV Characters on Self-Image

Over the past month or so, I’ve gotten into re-watching Gilmore Girls. I went through puberty and adolescence watching this series. As a dorky 13 year old, I identified personally with the show’s protagonist Rory Gilmore–a beautiful, smart, nerdy, charismatic teenager who loved reading and was hopelessly awkward with boys. I looked to her in my teens (and still have up to this day) as my role model while I formed my opinions about romance and dating.

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Each season of Gilmore Girls is characterized by the boy Rory is dating. We all know season 1 as Dean’s era, season 2 as Jess’s introduction, season 3 as Rory + bad boy Jess, season 4 as Dean’s era pt. 2, and the last few seasons as Logan’s stint with our heroine. This article debates about which boyfriend was best for Rory–obviously Rory was nothing without her love interests.

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Source: Wetpaint

Many other TV shows do this with female lead characters–Buffy the Vampire Slayer switches from vampire to human to vampire love interests each season, Mindy Lahiri has an endless slew of boyfriends in The Mindy Project, and even the feminist Tina Fey’s 30 Rock seasons can be categorized by Liz Lemon’s boyfriends. With very few exceptions (if there are any exceptions at all), TV shows with female leads center on the lead’s romantic life.

I often mentally categorize my life in similar yearly “seasons” too, because of how much TV has influenced me personally. I look back on the past few years of my life as the “casual dating season,” “the yearlong dramatic/long distance/engagement season,” the “shitty long distance season,” the “high school sweethearts season” and so on. My life in seasons categorized by relationships goes all the way back to my early childhood: the “preschool first crush season” was probably my first.

I’ve categorized the stages of my life in terms of my romantic interests for as long as I can remember. I’ve been coming to consciousness with how much importance I put on romance and men in my life, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how deeply rooted this mindset was for me.

This makes me scared and unnerved to no end. How could I have lost myself so much in my pursuit of other people? Have I ever really had a true self if my sense of self has always been anchored by impermanent relationships?

Looking back on the TV shows that have influenced my romantic beliefs and behavior so strongly, I feel jaded. I spent my whole life strongly believing that I needed a boyfriend for my life to be interesting. All my female heroes’ lives seemed to revolve around a man; so logically, my life should do the same.

As an avid watcher of quality television (although I’m questioning the “quality” of my shows in terms of progressiveness now), it’s frustrating to know that it’s almost unavoidable to escape gender stereotypes or gender role perpetuation while watching TV. Do we really need to take breaks from being feminists to watch TV, as this article by the Onion pokes fun at?

I know TV shows are getting more progressive–Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation is one of my favorite feminist characters, but Parks isn’t without its problems (besides feminist issues, their portrayal of Native Americans is pretty bad). Ann Perkins, beautiful tropical fish, tries to date herself after realizing how much she changes for men, then ends up having the gorgeous Chris Traeger’s baby; we say goodbye to Ann as she settles into her life of perfect (although unmarried) domesticity. Also, can we mention white feminism here?

One of the reasons why I chose to major in Film/Media Studies at my university is that my greatest aspiration in life is to create my own (obviously very feminist) TV show with a strong womxn of color lead character. I plan to get there eventually, maybe after I’ve worked as a journalist for a while and have come to believe in myself enough to do something great with my life. I can sit with the frustration of the lack of feminist television options all I want, but who is actually going to do it? As Toni Morrison said, “if there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” If there is something lacking in television and the media, I believe it’s my duty to create it.