23 Things I Learned Before Turning 23

  1. Enjoy the things you like loudly, proudly, and unapologetically. 

    Yes, for my college graduation gift, my mom took me to a Taylor Swift concert, and yes, I cried. I don’t care if this isn’t “cool.” I had an incredible time, and so did my mom. 


  2. Don’t buy underwear with someone in mind. 


  3. You can’t go wrong with splurging on a nice lipstick or blush.
    
Blush is crucial to looking like a real human being after applying liquid foundation. It replaces bronzer entirely, especially if you are as dedicated to the 80s aesthetic as I am. The product itself lasts a weirdly long time because how much blush can a singular human being go through if they’re not Boy George? In addition, I recently purchased a $30 Marc Jacobs lipstick after savoring a Sephora free sample of it for a full year. It doesn’t dry my lips out. It was worth every penny. 


  4. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. 

    Dating is weird. Millennials have a hard time with the “exclusivity” thing (Clarification: I don’t, but apparently that’s weird to the people I date) and that creates a bizarre dynamic in which you are required to put your metaphoric eggs in more than one basket or else you’ll end up with a disappointing omelette. Unless you’re cool with getting your feelings hurt, take your time and keep your options open until intentions have been honestly communicated. This isn’t cynicism; this is practicality. 


  5. Invest in a good pair of leather (or vegan leather) boots.
    It may cost you a good $300-$400 now, but you’ll never have to do it again. 


  6. Personalizing your space is crucial in enjoying yourself in that space.
    
Your headspace is inherently connected to your physical space. Cultivating a beautiful area in your home, in your cube, and even in your car makes life a little more comfortable. 


  7. Life is hard; stop beating yourself up. 

    On @manicpixiememequeen, a lot of my followers reach out to me asking about how to forgive themselves and moving on from the past. Life can be so trying, and you’re inevitably going to have some mistakes and rough times. Personally, I’ve never let a single thing go in my entire life, but I’d be a lot healthier if I did.

  8. What you initially may consider “mistakes” are probably crucial parts of your life-path.
    
In late May of 2018, I moved to New Jersey without a job or a plan. Feeling defeated and demoralized, I moved back to California in early October 2018. Were those four months a loss to me? No. They taught me infinite lessons I would never have learned if I had stayed in California. See “Dreams Deferred.” 


  9. Make your bed daily, and please, for the love of God, floss. 


  10. Keep your friends close and your enemies blocked.
    
Block your enemies/exes/ex-friends! Banish that negativity! In the world of social media, it’s so easy to stalk your ex-lovers or ex-friends, and it’s so tempting to do so! However, knowing what those shitty people are up to does nothing for you but create anger and anxiety. Even though it’s hard to block those people and even easier to stalk them, please try to block them. Honestly, they could give you the evil eye. Compromise: muting their profile. (Which, in fact, I do frequently. Unfollowing is another option but for some reason just feels petty. Either continue to follow and mute, or block entirely. I’m not an unfollow kind of person). 


  11. Find a signature haircut and a signature nail color and rock it.
    
For me, it’s a Stevie Nicks-esque long shag cut with curtain bangs and an obnoxious yellow nail polish. At least no one else can say it’s theirs. 


  12. Sometimes, things change that you never think will change. 

    Since my birth, I had a bizarre and inexplicable fear of dogs. All dogs. Even an adorable golden retriever puppy or something as small as a teacup Yorkshire terrier. I would immediately break out in a panic attack. I couldn’t go to friends’ houses if they had a dog or even go to public parks. Sophomore year of high school, I quit my soccer team because seeing dogs in distant fields was unbearable with my phobia. In 2016, I went on Zoloft for generalized anxiety, and it did not work. However, when I stopped taking Zoloft, I somehow did not have a dog phobia. Recently, a coworker brought his dog into the office and I was 100% fine; I looked back on my dog-phobic past, realizing that you never quite can predict what is possible, what will change, and why, but things do change, and sometimes that’s pretty rad. 


  13. Crying is cool.

    …pretending that you don’t have feelings is not! Our experiences are amazing because we feel horrible things and happy things, sometimes all at once. If we didn’t cry, there would be no recognition of the pain or the wonder of life. Owning when you are feeling shitty through a good old-fashioned Kim Kardashian ugly cry feels good, and so does owning a good ass happy cry. So, crying rocks. 


  14. When you’re intimidated by someone, just remember that they have had diarrhea before. 


  15. It’s okay to ask for help.
    You’re really not supposed to do it on your own. You’re a human, not some sort of weird lone wolf or Eric Carmen. During my most difficult time with anorexia, I told my mom and dad that I needed help, and they helped me find treatment (actually, many different treatment centers—massive shoutout to my thorough and incredible parents). Even though a lot of those options were not a fit, they eventually led me to a program that did not cure me, but did save my life, and for that, I’m eternally grateful. 


  16. You never know the full story.
    Your friends, siblings, parents, grandparents, coworkers—literally everyone—will never have time to fully give you their life-story. There are always stories and facts left out, sometimes incredibly crucial ones that give context for actions and behaviors. Take everything with a grain of salt, and give everyone an ounce of empathy, even if you think they don’t fully deserve it. 


  17. Seriously, drink more water. 


  18. I am privileged, and I have a responsibility to recognize it and use it for good.
    
As a white, middle/upper class, cis-gendered female, I have a responsibility to use my voice for my brothers, sisters, and siblings who face discrimination and systematic oppression. You’ll see me at the women’s march, transgender rights protests, LGBTQ+ pride, Black Lives Matter protests, and promoting universal comprehensive healthcare reform that includes mental healthcare. Not recognizing and using my privilege for good would just be an irresponsible abuse of it.


  19. You can love the Top 40 hits while jamming to a weird mix of grunge, indie, classic rock, country, jazz, and rap.
    My dad taught me this lesson early in life—his playlists are neurotic and amazing. They jump from Jim Croce to Milli Vanilli to U2 to Johnny Cash to Rihanna to Paul McCartney. My playlists are similar, ranging from Fleetwood Mac to Hole to Dolly Parton to Post Malone to Led Zeppelin to Lady Gaga to specifically “Stir Fry” by Migos, and I carry no shame about it. Life offers us so much variety; the things you enjoy shouldn’t be mutually exclusive or shameful. Guilty pleasures are a myth. See #1. 


  20. Staying in a hotel room entirely by yourself is liberating.

  21. Knowing lesser-known varietals of wine is beneficial to both the wallet and the palette.
    See: Lambrusco, Falanghina, Suave, Garganega. In addition, you can get a decent Chianti or Pinot Grigio at Trader Joe’s for under $10. The quality of a wine isn’t always about a price point.

  22. Bringing homemade bread to a potluck or dinner party will impress any person there.

    You may even make a friend or a significant other. Personally, I make these herbed rolls, which are easy AF to make and a crowd favorite. (This is not sponsored; I genuinely just love these rolls).

  23. Don’t compromise yourself for anyone.
    
I’ve been in too many relationships in which I compromised myself and my goals for another person. In one particular relationship, I adjusted my entire life-plan (at the time, it was to be in publishing in NYC—note: life-plans can change) in order to stay with him. I decided that I wouldn’t do the things that I had dreamt of doing for years, and all of my loved ones looked on saying, “Cori, is that you?” and I was like, “Well, yes, but I’m not entirely sure—I just need to stay with said person!” When we broke up, I realized my dreams had the ability to be resurrected, and I moved to the East Coast to pursue them. As Janis Joplin said, “Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.” All relationships are difficult, so compromise healthily, but you genuinely are all you have to count on, so never compromise yourself or your values.

This listicle was inspired by Taylor Swift’s article in Elle’s Magazine, “30 Things I Learned Before Turning 30.”

I turn 23 on June 4!

In Memory of Keith Hartwig

January 8, 2018, 8:55am: “Oh no! I hope this is the right phone number. I think it is you, Co. Anyway, listen, I wanted to see how you’re doing, and yeah…life is fun, ain’t it, at times? But you are too talented, you have so much going for you, and c’mon. You gotta kick ass. You, out of anyone, could kick ass. That’d be you. You’re a smart, talented, pretty lady. Anyway, I just want to tell you that I love you, and you’re always my biggest fan. I think you’re just so gifted, and I’m not just saying this, you have so much talent, you do, and um—I might have a little more. I’m Keith. *laughs* It don’t get better than that. Anyway, I love you, kid, and I’ll talk to you soon, and I just hope you’re doing well. And I love the fact that you’re, you know, doing what you gotta to do and all that. Alright? I love you, kid, hang in there, be tough, be strong—well, that’s what they told me too, but I’m there, and I ain’t being strong. So you gotta hang in there with me, kid, alright? I love you to death, Co. Hang in there. Love you. Bye.”

—Keith’s voicemail to me, the first of three.

***

Content warning: anorexia, suicide.

I am six years old. I don’t need glasses yet. It’s Thanksgiving. I still like holidays, not because they are vacations but because of the natural novelty of them. I sit on my twin bed and wait for my family to arrive, peering out of my window that looks down on the street. Earlier than called for, I see my uncle’s pickup truck roll by and park by the mailbox. I run outside barefoot.

“Hey, kid!” my uncle Keith says with a toothy grin. He has a styrofoam cup of coffee in one hand and greets me with the other. He has Timberland boots on (before they were considered fashionable) and cargo pants. He is the coolest person in the world. He lights a Marlboro and tells me to sit on the small retaining wall off of the side of the porch to shield me from the smoke. He tells me funny stories about nothing. Every time he goes out to smoke, I follow him. He tells me that I don’t have to follow him out. I tell him that I want to follow him out. He lets me.

I am fourteen years old. I have short hair, braces, glasses, and a horrendous level of insecurity corresponding to my awkward adolescence. Dad tells me Uncle Keith is coming to live with us for a while. I do not know why this is, but I do not ask questions. He sleeps in the loft upstairs. I like having him around.

“What did you do today?” my mom asks me and my younger brother at dinner.

“Not much. I just did some homework, then I wrote a song,” I reply.

“You wrote a song?!” Keith says. “Can we hear it?”

My insecurity flashes across my entire being, but somehow I end up bringing out my guitar and singing a tune called “Breathless” in the living room to my family. Keith cries. It is then that I realize that I can actually sing, after years of people telling me that I was tone-deaf.

Keith goes back to live in New Jersey on June 3, the day before my fifteenth birthday. It isn’t a memorable birthday at all.

I am twenty years old. It is a Tuesday that happens to be Valentine’s Day. It is my brother’s birthday. Two days pass. During a lecture, I receive a text, “I’m so sorry about your uncle” without knowing which uncle or what happened, but I know it is Keith and I know it is self-inflicted, now aware that the reason that he lived with us when I was fourteen was because of a suicide attempt. I am old enough to know that history repeats itself. I exit the classroom and go home. Keith is in the hospital. I cannot process this loss until he comes home to us in May. He is on crutches and has a scar across the top of his head like headphones. I give him my room at my parents’ house. I spend more time at my apartment near the university. He still wears Timberlands. He is still cool as hell. We sit outside in the backyard. We watch the birds and the sky’s gradient fade into different versions of itself. I tell him about school, friends, music, dates.

“Do you love him?” Keith asks me after I’ve told him about a date with someone I have been seeing for a while.

“I think so.”

Keith smiles. He has a preoccupation with love. He especially likes the songs I write during this time.

I am twenty-one years old. After six months and their challenges, fights, and outbursts, my parents and Keith have decided that it is time for him to move back to New Jersey. My dad says goodbye at the airport. It is Thanksgiving, but I do not run outside barefoot. We are a family of four again, but almost three. I do not eat Thanksgiving dinner beyond vegetables. By the beginning of January, I begin an outpatient treatment program at a hospital in Berkeley. Keith calls me the morning of orientation and leaves a voicemail to tell me that he is happy that I am going. I do not return the call. He calls again on January 10, twice. By then, I have already quit the program. I don’t return those calls either.

Three weeks later, I am Keith’s profile picture on Facebook. In that moment, I know. The photo is a close crop of me at a healthy weight, posted while I am going through intervention-esque treatment for anorexia. He captions it, “My gorgeous niece Cori Hartwig!” I comment and tell him that I love him. He replies, “You’re The Best Co! I Love You! Hope Everything’s going Great over there!” This is our last exchange.

Consumed with my own disappearance, I forget that other people have the ability to disappear as well. By the time I overcome my state of being snow-blind from the flurry of doctors and hospitals and skin and bones, he is lost to me.

I am twenty-one years old. History repeats itself. It is immortalized in police reports, filled and unused prescriptions, receipt paper, license plate numbers, anonymous news headlines, security footage in retail stores. We piece together timelines and stories. There is no note.

Hang in there, be tough, be strong—well, that’s what they told me too, but I’m there, and I ain’t being strong.

There is no note, but there are voicemails and calls left unreturned.

I am twenty-two years old. There is a spider on my wall. I watch it crawl like I watch the memories from the Pennsylvania split-level, from downtown Pleasanton at the coffeehouse (now closed), from our walk to the middle school, from the backyard, from the Pacifica shore, from the boat on Lake Del Valle two birthdays ago. I watch it crawl. It is two in the morning and my eyes grow heavy with sleep, my vision cloudy like cigarette smoke on the porch. I wish there was an easy way to tie everything up, to package it gracefully, to set it aside, and to indulge in these memories without feeling the grit and friction of grief against my consciousness. I wish there was an easy way to know that a soul is okay, an easy way to show a spirit a new song you’ve written, an easy way to share one last conversation, an easy way to return one last phone call, an easy way to turn back time and take away their pain before it could cause collateral suffering to those in their wake, an easy way to bring their presence back to you—even for a split second. Until then, I pray. I pray, I pray, I pray, and I remember.

keithsquirrel.JPG

Rest in peace Keith Hartwig

07/02/1968—02/28/2018

Redefining Recovery

Content warning: eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS).

Last Valentine’s Day, I sat alone in the waiting room of the eating disorder wing in UCSF’s children’s hospital—crying mid-morning on a Wednesday. It was about three weeks since my anorexia-induced heart scare. The sense of my own inescapable mortality hovered like fruit flies over browning bananas forgotten on a kitchen counter.

“Cori?” a nurse called me back down a fluorescent white corridor. I followed her into a sterile room decorated for someone at least a decade to a decade and a half younger than me—Curious George stickers on the walls. The nurse instructed for me to take off my shoes and leave them with my bag in the room while we went into the hall to measure my height for the third week in a row as if they expected it to change. She noted it onto a clipboard and motioned for me to come into another horribly lit room.

I took off my clothes (down to my bare ass) behind a curtain, as she instructed, and put on the hospital gown. Knowing the routine, I stepped backwards onto the scale and the nurse scribbled down my weight without informing me of my progress towards weight restoration. I redressed and made my way back to the room with my belongings.

“The doctor will be right with you,” the nurse said, after taking further vitals. She shut the door.

I laid on the lined table, thin paper crinkling beneath my still thinning hair—the long, lean light bulbs stinging my eyes. My skin still didn’t feel like mine. My clothes were beginning to fit differently. Under the instruction of professionals, my parents removed the scale from my apartment. All of my control was surrendered to further my life.

Curious George, that sick, happy creature, mocked me with balloons and joy and livelihood as I laid on the table, seemingly ready for dissection. Over the past few weeks, I had been struggling with the aggressive recovery meal-plan that forced me to eat essentially six meals a day (three regularly portioned meals, three Cheesecake Factory portioned meals) even though I had been starving myself for the past five months. My psychotherapist and I asked the doctors to adjust the meal-plan so I would gain approximately half a pound to a pound a week (instead of UCSF’s intended one to two pounds a week) because of the psychological implications of my body dysmorphia. The doctors did not listen, despite my requests backed by another mental healthcare professional. Over the course of my pseudo-recovery, I gained on average four pounds a week without any adjustment in my meal-plan, and I even received criticism from a doctor telling me that the rate in which my recovery was happening was “not fast enough” and that I “really needed to adhere to the meal-plan as directed.” This encouraged behaviors that led to me developing bulimia, which I had never struggled with before my weight restoration. Every night I curled up to a heating pad over a bloated belly, struggling with a compulsion to rid my body of the pain of its own nourishment. A lump in my throat. Crying into a damp pillow. Food up to the vocal cords. And there those sick stickers were, plastered on the walls with their monkeyish pleasantry despite the fact that I had been crying the night before, and the night before that, and the night before that, and even in the waiting room fifteen minutes prior. How dare they remind me of living when I had been in the process of dying!

Later, I asked my therapist what recovery looked like. She spoke of intuitive eating, body acceptance, self-love, eating without guilt, yada yada yada. I knew that.

“I’m sick, but I’m not an idiot,” I wanted to say. I didn’t.

Beyond weight restoration, I had no concept of what recovery looked like in reality, but I knew that this was not it. With the newfound bulimia (which felt like anorexia’s long-lost uglier sister), I knew that on the surface I looked healthier, but I was actually unhealthier, or maybe equally just as unhealthy. Every time I skipped a meal or purged or had a low-calorie food and passed it off as the regular calorie version I plunged into a senseless pit of guilt that overwhelmed every ounce of my being. I wanted to be better in the depths of my soul, but I did not know how, and I was tallying every mistake I made like a prisoner counting the days on the wall of his cell.

It was then that I realized that everyone around me had it completely wrong.

It was not about my weight, the numbers that corresponded to my body or medications, it was not about charts, putting labels to moods and feelings—it wasn’t about any of that at all.

In the urgency of treatment, everyone had forgotten that I was a human. Instead, anorexic had been scribed on my forehead, and I had been treated with the most prescribed, unpersonalized care that fit that brand of illness. They had sent me off with a healthier number but not a healthier mindset and pushed me off assuming I’d go floating away into the sunset like the end of Grease, when in reality, I felt like they had tied me down to a coal mining cart, pushed me down a darkened railway, and called the depths “recovery.”

With the distance between the present me and the me crying in the waiting room of the hospital, I’ve found that the failures of my so-called recovery are not on me as much as they are on the “perfect recovery” narrative. As much as I would love intuitive eating, self-love, eating without guilt, and body acceptance, I have been struggling with these issues since I was six years old—compulsively riding my bike around the block trying to burn off the one-hundred calories of the Oreo Thins or Cheez-Its in my lunchbox at school, packaged in conveniently marketed “100-Calorie-Packs.” How do you unlearn behaviors that grew with you like an identical twin?

Currently, our recovery narrative sets us up for failure. Instead of openly discussing relapses, comorbidity, concurrent treatment options, alternative treatment options, we focus on why we are not adhering to the linear, upward, positive recovery path. The narrative intoxicates us, creating imaginary sharp lines between wins and losses, and magnifying every blip in the process to leave us discouraged and ultimately more prone to give up completely.

The mental health professionals I have worked with have been trained to insist that full, long-term recovery is so possible and so accessible that my natural ups-and-downs in the process feel like personal failures. If they insist that it is so possible, then why can’t I achieve it?

Mental illnesses are chronic illnesses. Inherently, you do not recover from a chronic illness. If you told someone with diabetes or Hashimoto’s disease or epilepsy to do one phase of treatment and then recover fully, you’d be seen as a complete ignoramus. So why aren’t our mental healthcare professionals treating mental illnesses as chronic illnesses that need continual monitoring, management, and attention?

A year later, I am still struggling with eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and other mental illnesses. While I am grateful for the treatment that saved my life, I recognize its shortcomings in its perpetuation of the perfect recovery narrative that is completely incompatible with any chronic illness narrative. At a professional level, we have to make changes in treating mental illnesses by not portraying mental illness recovery, but by portraying sustainable mental health management. Management is not linear, clean, or perfect, but a process that you must go through with honesty, vulnerability, and strength, and professionals must respect patients’ humanity and dignity beyond the pathology of diagnoses. Without an empathetic, personalized, and realistic model, we continue to set ourselves up for so-called failure, when in reality, we need to be set up to forgive ourselves and better ourselves for an overall healthier future.

Cori Bradshaw: Should I KonMari My Love Life?

Last week, I met with my best friend at a local park to take a walk, catch up, and mainly discuss topics that did not pass the Bechdel Test. After intensely attempting to decode a text littered with mixed messages from a guy who I had been out with the week prior, my friend posed a valid question.

“Why don’t you just go back on Tinder? Or Bumble. Either. Or both.”

I stared at her realizing that in my mind, I had completely eradicated these apps as viable options to meet people. I thought about her and her boyfriend, my brother and his girlfriend, my friend and his boyfriend, and all of the Match.com commercials with upbeat music in the background and women twirling in really nice skirts.

“I just don’t like them,” I explained. “The conversations feel robotic until the guy slips up and says something inappropriate because he’s growing impatient to get in your pants.”

“You’re matching with bad people.”

Then I realized that I matched with bad people in real life too. That wasn’t Tinder’s fault. It was mine.

“I guess I could download them,” I said.

“I mean, they’re free.”

Consequently, I downloaded Tinder and Bumble. I’ve been widely absent from the online dating world for a while. When I did have dating apps, I would match with people and attempt to hold conversation with a complete stranger, and I’d quickly realize that the matches were never real matches at all, but just weird, forced digital interactions with the unspoken goal of an ultimately meaningless short-term fling.

In my life, I’ve only been on two online dates, one from Tinder and one from my Instagram direct messages (which honestly, I’m not even sure if it was a date), so I’m not very well-acquainted to the online dating scene. I’ve had brief moments in which I thought that dating apps were the answer: Wow! There are so many people around! It’s so easy to meet people! So many fish in the sea! which quickly turns into, Oh. This is actually dreadfully unnatural. Most of the fish are weird. And then I delete them.

Then, I keep counterintuitively coming back to them—downloading, deleting, and re-downloading, enjoying the immediate satisfaction of an instant match when I swipe right.

But then I think to myself, are dating apps the fast fashion of love and dating? Are these matches the quick and easy ($7.99) blouse that looked really good on me while I was in the dressing room at H&M, then I bought it, wore it once, it didn’t look quite the same in natural lighting, then I was disappointed, then I washed it, then the fabric got all weird, and I emotionlessly sent it away to Goodwill?

I picked up a book that I manically bought and then never touched since its purchase in 2015: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Ironically, I purchased it at a bookstore in Berkeley that looked like a hoarder’s home, which included a resident cat. However, the book itself looked spick-and-span—small, hardcover, tranquil color scheme, a font agreeable to the eye. Since its resurgence in popularity due to Netflix, I took it off of my bookshelf. I placed it on my dresser, directly next to my phone that contained those horribly untidy dating apps.

I opened Tinder and found several unread messages that I had no desire to reply to. The clutter in my inbox overwhelmed me but also bored me. I threw my phone aside, picked up Marie Kondo’s book (the poor thing untouched for years!), wrapped myself in my comforter, and sat in bed.

My closet, my junk drawer, and my pajama drawer need some attention, I thought to myself as I started the book. Okay, Maybe my shoes too.

I got to page forty-one where a sentence stared at me in bold.

“Take each item in one’s hand and ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.”

Goddamnit, Marie Kondo! I thought. I got up out of the warmth of the comforter and walked to my closet. I stared at my shoes, some with a box, some without, some casual, some dressy. They were a mess. I kneeled down and examined every pair.

It was easy to say which of my shoes sparked joy. All of them. Literally every pair. They all had a specific purpose, a time and place to wear them, and I had broken all of them in to fit like a glove, and with multiple pairs of Doc Martens, that breaking-in process is painful. Those shoes are invaluable. They spark undoubted joy.

My phone buzzed. The notification did not spark joy. A week into this online dating madness and I was already exhausted with conversations that I really didn’t want to have.

Does he spark joy?

No, Marie Kondo, he doesn’t, but I don’t necessarily want to delete the match either.

I looked at all of my matches and insignificant conversations. Why don’t I want to delete them? Am I hoarding validation? Would Marie Kondo want me to delete my Tinder? Should I KonMari my love life?

I went back to my closet, looking at seasons old Forever 21 sweaters that I never will wear again, vintage coats that never fit me right to begin with, maxi-skirts that made me look like an elderly English literature professor—those were all easy to part with. I tossed them in a bag that I’d donate or bring to a fabric recycling center.

But with dating, it wasn’t so simple. Sometimes, you have to have things that don’t spark joy to know what does spark joy. Sometimes you have to experience bad things to recognize how good things are. The bad things never spark joy, but you gain something from it regardless. Then I remember my best friend and her boyfriend, my brother and his girlfriend, my friend and his boyfriend—they had all gone through many people who did not spark joy before finding a person who did, in fact, spark joy.

Whether or not I should Marie Kondo my love life is up for debate. I’m also the person who hasn’t tackled my junk drawer. However, maybe relationships (of all kinds, not just romantic, but platonic too) are a little too complex to hit with a singular basic question of, “Does it spark joy?” and act in response to that singular question. Relationships are dynamic and complicated. Even a text with mixed messages (like the one that sparked an entire walk around a park with my best friend) require more than just one followup question. If that’s the case, then why can’t we sit with the uncertainty and lack of joy that occasionally happens in the search for a romantic partner?

Mental Health and Social Media Panel at Stanford University (Transcription)

Note: This is a transcription of the presentation given on February 1, 2019 at Stanford University on the Mental Health and Social Media Panel/Discussion.

My name is Cori Amato Hartwig, also known as @manicpixiememequeen on Instagram. I make memes about lighthearted topics like mental illness, the patriarchy, capitalism, relationship issues, and the increasingly complicated navigation of modern society. I started the account in March of 2017. At the time, I was a junior at San Francisco State, and I had just been through a yearlong rollercoaster ride of trial-and-error psychiatric treatment in an attempt to find a medication that worked for me, and the month before starting the account, my uncle attempted suicide. Sitting in my bed sporting my new trademarked Mental Breakdown Haircut, I created a new Instagram profile called @manicpixiememequeen, partially out of boredom and partially out of my desperation to channel my personal turmoil into something that felt productive.

Originally, the account was anonymous and existed more as a “finsta” rather than a cohesive meme account, but as the account became popular and went viral, I took ownership of the account and I personally came into the character of @manicpixiememequeen as a public persona. Over time, I wove a narrative around my own mental health issues and personal life through creating memes, and I shared my content with an audience who shockingly, understood my narrative in their own personal ways.

Currently, I have over 97,000 followers on Instagram, which is absolutely wild. Clearly, I’m not the only person in the world struggling with mental health issues or having some difficulty navigating our weird and absurd world. While my brain loves to tell me that no one else really understands and then I perceive isolation, the evidence against this is in the numbers—my audience, the engagement on the posts, the hundreds of messages I receive from people across the globe telling me that they relate so much to my page and they’re grateful for the content I make.

@manicpixiememequeen subverts the mainstream Instagram narrative. On our personal Instagram accounts, we curate the perfect pictures with perfect captions, highlight our most impressive achievements, share our most FOMO-inducing adventures on our stories, post pictures with the right filter at the right angle at the right moment. We present very tactfully constructed versions of ourselves; these illusions are just as hyperbolic as the persona of @manicpixiememequeen. It’s just swung the other way. Instead of presenting myself as perfect, happy, and successful, I present myself as a chronically neurotic, anxious, and unhappy character. In turn, people relate to the point that they feel comfortable enough to openly discuss aspects of society or their life that aren't so perfect or picturesque, and they have the opportunity to connect with others on my page who are going through similar issues.

Ironically, social media was intended to connect us and then it brought about this pervading sense of isolation, toxic comparison, and competition. But as I’ve seen with my experiences running @manicpixiememequeen, there’s plenty of opportunity to use social media for authentic community and connection. I can actually witness it in the comment sections on my posts—people relating to each other and reaching out, asking questions about mental health management that they may not have had the opportunity or the confidence to ask if the post didn’t make them understood or safe enough to do so.

Last September, I was interviewed for NYLON Magazine about the benefits of mental illness memes and the effects of social media on mental health. The journalist asked me multiple times if I thought mental illness memes were actually detrimental, and I consistently wrote back saying no. If anything, using humor as a vehicle is helping generate some conversation and awareness. Then I made the comment that what actually is detrimental is silence and stigma surrounding mental illness and the widespread lack of access to comprehensive and affordable mental healthcare. Unsurprisingly, that comment was not included in the published interview.

Overall, social media can and does have effects on mental health. However, we have to consider the ways in which we’re using social media, interacting with others, and understanding the messages that we’re being presented with. As we grow increasingly digital, media literacy needs to be prioritized as something we teach people, especially young people during their formative years. We need to make sure that everyone understands that the images and content you see online is no accident. It did not come from a vacuum. Digital media is constructed, purposeful, and generally trying to sell you something that you don’t need. Most of us were thrown into the digital age without a roadmap for understanding or even the concept of media literacy, and I think if we were given more tools to understand at an earlier age, we’d see less of those negative effects that Baby Boomers love to read about, ironically, on websites constructing their own content and media.

Dear Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Me Too.

Trigger warning: sexual assault and violence.

“But nothing actually happened to her. It was just an attempt.”

I stood in front of the television in the living room, hearing my eight-four-year-old grandfather speak these words with such impersonality. The screen blurred. The rest of his speech hit my eardrums and registered as the muffled dialogue of an audience awaiting the movie to begin at the theater. The film began.

Standing projected on the screen of my mind: an image of me, nineteen years old, commuting over an hour to my community college. Tired after an hour and a half commute and a three hour night class, I stand waiting at the Downtown Berkeley BART station. The black display in neon red letters reads: “DUBLN/PLSTN…13 MIN” and I slouch over slightly, defeated at the anticipated wait time. The commute home—including the wait, the train ride, and the car ride home—equates to approximately an hour and a half, door to door.

I decide to stand despite the weight of my schoolbooks in my backpack, insisting on standing instead of sitting next to strangers on a concrete bench that has likely been pissed on more than once. I remember reading an article somewhere about BART seats having trace amounts of feces and cocaine on every seat, no matter the efforts of the maintenance employees. I do not sit on the benches.

A man approaches me. He is asking me a question, I presume. I take a singular headphone out, prepared to give him directions, let him know which train to catch. The Downtown Berkeley stop has a characteristically disorienting way about it, as both sides are insufficiently labelled and look nearly identical in seemingly endless brick. I prepare to tell him which way to Richmond, which way to San Francisco. The San Francisco trains do not run at this time of night.

“You’re beautiful,” he says.

“Thank you.” I try to put my headphone back in. Take the compliment as a compliment and leave the compliment there. If I am nice, he cannot be angry. If I am nice, he cannot be angry. He cannot be angry. He cannot be angry, right?

“What’s your name?”

I reply with a name that is not mine. I fidget with the neckline of my T-shirt and zip up my coat to the collar to hide the nameplate necklace that reads, “CORI” in script. He makes a canned response that’s supposed to impress me about how beautiful my fake name is. I am not impressed, but rather, increasingly anxious. I immediately forget what fake name I am using, and consider the fact that I am trapped in an underground tunnel with a strange man who is definitely not asking for directions. I do not know what he is asking for, but then again, I do. I just want to go home.

A glance up at the screen, neon blood lettering, informing me that the train is nine minutes away. My options quickly whittle themselves down to, “Just be pleasant with him and make sure people can see you.” I actually walk and take a seat in between a man and a woman who are seated at opposite corners on the concrete bench. I do not consider the urine, the traces of cocaine, or human feces. I sit between the two people. This man continues speaking to me. He sits between me and the woman.

I do not remember the conversation. I recall glancing at red lettering, seeing numbers, praying that the train would appear faster than numbers dictate and that I would slip into the train-car gracefully, anonymously with the name that is not mine, and be on my way home.

The conversation was like dismantling a bomb, but time moved in the opposite fashion. When you’re dismantling a bomb, you pray for more time and less wires, but in this case I needed more wires, more routes of conversation, more lies, and infinitely less time than the lettering scrolling down the digital boards. His eyes were red like an animal photographed in the dark. Bloodshot. The lettering mimicked it. I do not remember his face, but his look is burned into my mind—a look not belonging to a person. A desecrate expression set out make graves, but not to kill.

Hold your breath. Hold your breath. Hold your breath. Hold your breath. I remember a self-defense class in high school, mandatory only for the sophomore girls. Something about the palm of your hand, their nose, a bone lodging itself into their brain, leaving them defenseless or dead—allowing for your escape. I examine the woman seated on his other side. She is on the phone, but I see that she is not actually on the phone. She is speaking into a dead receiver. She makes conversation with herself, mumbling small-talk too quickly for an actual person to reply. A defense mechanism I am all too familiar with. Talk to yourself on the phone and pretend it’s another—pretend it’s a man. The presence of man, imaginary or not, is still more powerful than the actual presence of a woman. They do not teach these things in self-defense classes.

The train is two minutes away, which means it is perfectly reasonable to stand up and wait for the train at the designated yellow platforms, according to BART etiquette. I am relieved. The train is approaching—safety is coming.

“Where are you going?” he asks as the sound of the Dublin/Pleasanton train echoes through the tunnel. I am familiar with the echo and anticipate its arrival in approximately ninety seconds.

“Castro Valley,” I lie about my stop.

“No.” He mutters a name that is not mine, whatever fake name I had given before.

He grabs me. I feel his nails in my forearm through my long-sleeve shirt and coat. He moves his grip down to my wrist and presses tightly, beginning to dislocate my wrist. I hear the train approaching and assume someone will notice this man grabbing me—but people begin boarding the train without questioning him. I begin to yell.

At this point—the memory becomes a dream—a nightmare. A nightmare in which you yell and yell and yell and no one can hear you. It is hazy and foggy and I can only see open doors of the train leading back to safety and my home. I turn back to the man, faceless in memory, and continue yelling and dragging his large body in the threshold of the train-car as he tried to drag me out. No one does anything, despite my yelling, my clear physical struggle of my post-anorexia body pulling a large grown man away from me. I cross the threshold, his grip still firm, higher and tighter around my arm as he attempts to pull me back into the the station. The sound for the door closing dings and he jumps in, solidifying my fears, and I immediately gain a sense of absolute terror that drives me to push him on the chest using my opposite forearm back into the station while keeping most of my body inside the train-car. The door closes on my palm. I slip it out quickly and he is trapped behind the glass and metal of the car. I take a seat and no one asks any questions, despite the many seated passengers who witnessed me shoving a strange man off of me with all of my might while yelling for help.

Because “nothing actually happened,” I never reported it. Even though he had approached me, made advances at me without consent, grabbed me without consent, and began to use physical violence—I considered my experience so much less serious than what other people had gone through, so I told absolutely no one. And then I “forgot about it.”

What I thought that I had forgotten about turned into a period of agoraphobia that sent me to a psychiatrist’s office for almost two years. It turned into skipping seventeen out of thirty-two lectures in a semester for a single class. It turned into me contemplating how I could use a vintage metal lunchbox and a Hydroflask as a self-defense weapon if necessary. It turned into not listening to music so I could stay aware of my surroundings but keeping my headphones in my ears to avoid unwanted advances. It turned into silence. A dark, brewing silence—tea left to steep for too long on the counter. Bitter and cold. Silence.

“But nothing actually happened to her. It was just an attempt.”

I transported back into the moment with my grandfather. Suddenly something burst within me. That man’s face was still fuzzy but the pressure on my wrist was palpable. I yelled. I screamed an experience to my grandfather that I had never uttered before—an event that was so extremely repressed and blurred into the edges of my psyche that I did not even believe that it belonged to me. He asked why I never reported it. I said I was afraid. I ran up the stairs.

I did not feel valid enough in that attempted violence to report it, so I never did. And now, as I sit with these testimonies fresh in my mind, and the numerous allegations now coming out against brett kavanaugh, I wonder if that blurred face of a man had gone from grabbing me at that Downtown Berkeley BART station and had gone to some other place to grab another girl—

And then it wasn’t an attempt anymore.

Just because “nothing actually happened” doesn’t mean that the intention of violence was not there. And then, there was probably a future manifestation of violence that met some sick and twisted patriarchal criteria of validity.

And statistically, that girl still wouldn’t have reported it.

Without Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony today, this memory would have remained repressed in the depths of my subconscious forever, unless something even more threatening had brought it out. Without Dr. Blasey, I do not think I would have felt valid in my own experience with intended sexual violence. Without Dr. Blasey, we would probably have a second supreme court justice who does not stand for justice at all. (I’m looking at you, clarence thomas).

I am jealous of the men who can comfortably fall asleep on public transportation. I am jealous of the men who do not have to look into compact mirrors or selfie cameras or car mirrors or reflections or shadows to make sure no one is following them home. I am jealous of the men who can listen to music instead of a creeping, threatening silence to make sure that no one is breathing down their neck or making kissy noises or audibly obscene gestures at them. I am jealous of the men who can walk down a street in basic clothes and not have words thrown at them like bullets from a sawed-off shotgun. I am jealous of the men who consider safety a given.

If the unhonorable brett kavanaugh gets his seat on the supreme court, you can catch me and every other single woman who has been giving fake names chaining themselves to white house fences like Alice Paul in 1917, because after one-hundred-one years, we’re still in gendered purgatory.

Fordham University Mental Health Speak Out Speech (Transcription)

Note: This is a transcription of the speech given on September 20, 2018 at Fordham University.

Thanks for coming out tonight to Fordham’s Psych Club’s first ever Mental Health Speak Out and Open Mic Night. I’m super stoked to be here and help be apart of providing a safe space for people to talk about their mental health experiences, raise awareness, and break down stigma.

My name is Cori Amato Hartwig and I’m a writer, musician, editor, and mental health activist. Along with my impressive resume of being an unemployed recent grad—I run the weirdly viral mental illness meme account on Instagram, @manicpixiememequeen. I started the account started in March 2017 after I had the worst manic episode of my life to date, and I was overwhelmed pretty much every aspect of my life. So naturally, I started making memes and posting them for strangers on the Internet to see. Originally, it was just a place for me to shout my feelings and experiences into a void, but the account started gaining traction, and then I realized: “Holy shit. Other people get this too. It’s not just me.” And now the account has 70,000 followers or something absurd. My previously perceived sense of isolation because of my mental illness has completely dissolved in this community built around finding solace in humor and through sharing my experiences openly.

Recently, I was featured in NYLON Magazine; they wanted to interview me about mental illness memes and their potential benefits and pitfalls, and to me, I really could not name a pitfall. The interviewer asked me if memes are “normalizing the negative behaviors and mindsets that come along with having a mental illness,” and I told her that memes are not the problem. Silence is the problem. Silence is not strength and it never will be. Silence is poison. We need to normalize mental illness and the experiences that come along with it. We also need to normalize treatment for mental illness.

Of course, that part of the interview was not published—along with comments I made about the accessibility of treatment and healthcare for mental illnesses.

The day that I sent that interview off to NYLON, Lizz contacted me on Instagram asking if I would come to Fordham and be a guest speaker. Honestly, I am totally honored that she’d even extend the invitation. Then I realized that this is so much bigger than just me making memes about mental illness. It’s not about the memes at all, actually. It’s simply about having a public platform—whether that be comedy, writing, music, or art—it’s about having a public platform to safely express and share experiences and create a dialogue, because the mainstream media isn’t doing it. So it falls on us to start talking and keep talking.

We’re all here tonight despite the stigma, despite the guilt, despite the lack of dialogue, despite the pain—despite it all, we are here tonight.

Unfortunately, there are people who are not here tonight.

In January, I was in the hospital at risk for a cardiac arrest due to anorexia. Luckily I had access to professional care, even though my parents had to pay up the ass in copays and medical bills in order to save my life. Without them and without treatment, I would be dead, and I would not be here tonight.

A month after my own brush with death relating to mental illness, my uncle killed himself. It was not his first attempt, and Keith was not my first uncle lost to suicide. In June 2014, right after I graduated high school, my uncle Todd took his own life.

My family is incredibly open and we’re all clearly afflicted by mental health issues to some degree or another. We have bipolar, depression, anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction, eating disorders. We’re like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in the form of a family. Growing up in this large, vocal, and mentally ill family helped me realize where the shame part of mental illness fits in. The answer is it doesn’t. I’ve excluded shame from my personal narrative; I refuse to carry it. I have enough shit to carry otherwise. But we’re subjected to silence so frequently that we start thinking that we should be hiding and that we should be quiet and that we should carry shame.

So tonight, we’re going to do the opposite of that. We are not going hide, we’re not going to be quiet, and tonight—there is no shame in this room. We’re going to leave the stigma at the door, and we’re going to have the most fun and supportive session of group therapy that you’ve ever been to.

If you feel safe and able to do so, share your story, share your experiences, share your art. Tonight this space is ours, and I want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable and no one feels pressured. So, whether you are here because you want to share or if you’re here just to listen, all I ask is that we keep this space respectful, unassuming, compassionate, and supportive. I also want to make sure that what is shared here is respected with the confidentiality that everyone deserves.

Dreams Deferred

Yesterday would have been my move-in day into the second floor of a two-family house in Hackensack that bent my dreams a bit. It wasn’t that the apartment wasn’t livable or even beautiful. I had no tangible complaints. It had French doors! Wall to wall windows with limitless natural light! Hardwood floors! Cute old-school crystal doorknobs! An updated kitchen with granite countertops! Antiquity meets functionality and cleanliness! Character!

But as we went through the motions to get the lease signed, something felt off. An inexplicable unease that spoiled the process of moving into my first independent living space. I was a few signatures away from a move that would defer my dreams of living in New York City for the foreseeable future—at least a year.

Sleepless for a few days, I sat up in my bed wondering what was wrong with me. Here I was, privileged to have an opportunity to live on my own in a quaint house (it even had a little garden in the front yard with colorful and well-maintained landscaping) in a nice part of town, and yet I was having an unnamed crisis. I called the realtor and backed out of the lease, fearing the commitment of the move to the suburbs while my dreams lived across the river.

Thinking back to three months prior, I remembered graduation, packing my bags, and immediately ditching California to move in with my grandparents in Jersey in hopes of finding a job in New York and then moving to the city. Since moving to California in 2008, I always knew I’d come back to the East Coast—I just needed an opportunity. What better an opportunity than right after college? A fresh start, a new life, a chance to leave some things behind. Honestly, a change of scenery could be prescribed like a medication.

I moved to the East Coast like I was going into the witness protection program. Anorexia who? Bipolar who? What’s a depressive episode? Anxiety attacks? Never heard of her. I thought that maybe if I pretended enough, I’d actually convince myself that my physical location was the root of my problems.

A change in physical place would undoubtedly make for a change in headspace, right?

After telling myself this over and over, I halfheartedly began to believe it. So when I started feeling horrible, I started feeling guilty for it. C’mon! You moved three-thousand miles away from all of this! You made the change, now feel like you changed. Why are you feeling like this?

When you run from your problems, your problems follow you. Having dreams of moving to New York City and having a job that I actually liked that paid a livable wage did not negate the necessity of all of the steps in between—all of which I had skipped. I didn’t know how to recover from anorexia and I still don’t. I still have anxiety that leaves me debilitated. When my mood is bad, it’s bad. And when it’s good, I just think it’s good, but it’s actually still bad. Plus, the memories that marred the state of California actually just marred my brain. Trauma doesn’t latch itself onto a space; it attaches to your psyche in a way that requires for it to be addressed.

Clanking together glasses of prosecco with my friends toasting to my new beginnings a few days before my move, I took the first sip and uttered something about how glad I was to leave everything behind, but then I ended the comment with, “I hope United doesn’t charge me for the baggage!” referring to the emotional baggage that I was one-hundred-percent conscious of bringing to the East Coast with me.

So if I knew that I wasn’t ready to take on New York, why did I make the move?

Because at the time, it was easier to run three-thousand miles away from my problems than to confront them head-on.

Recently, I started having these dreams about holes the size of pencils in my palms, falling into sink-holes, refusing to get into hot air balloons. I started freaking out over eating a singular piece of dry toast, exactly like the panic I felt on the kitchen floor in San Francisco. Anxiety attacks in the aisles of Shop-Rite. Sleeping for two hours or fourteen hours and nothing in between. Trying to not cry at church. Crying on the subway. Crying on the bus. Panic attacks at dinner over pasta and a comment about plate sizes. Stepping on the scale and hitting the lowest weight since quitting the anorexia recovery program in March.

Sensing my unspoken turmoil, my incredibly intuitive mother urged me to book a one-way ticket again, this time back to California. Initially, booking that ticket back felt like a personal failure—a dream too big for the mouth, spit out like chewed food into a napkin.

Announcing the move with little explanation, sinking into my self-prescribed defeat, I considered how close I got to my dreams, but the distance I still maintained from them. Moving back to California inserted infinitely more space between me and my goals. Drunk on my own impatience, I declared New York City an impossible goal, a playground for the rich, an unattainable and emotionally unavailable love interest. The four months I spent here were a miserable waste of time, and I did it to myself.

But then I realized that these past four months taught me more about life and about myself than any therapy session, sermon, or self-help book could have.

Over the past four months, I had the privilege to sit down at nightly dinners with my eighty-year-old grandparents and tell my grandmother that the eggplant was perfect and the tomatoes were sweet and the gravy hearty but light, and she glowed with the pride of providing sustenance in more ways than one. I attended church with my grandfather every Sunday and held his hand during the Lord’s Prayer. I sang hymns I have never heard before. Together we patiently sat in the waiting room until my grandmother’s hip replacement was complete and I visited her in the recovery room. Poppi and I sat for a total of ten hours (including a lunch break at a local pub serving corned beef and beer) until she was moved to a non-ICU room, which had a view of the Harlem River. I had the opportunity to work at a bizarrely upscale event company and sneak into a world that did not belong to me. I dressed in head-to-toe black and lounged on rooftops in Lower Manhattan, dreaming of the Hudson and towers that no longer exist. A trip up to the Catskills enchanted me when I met a dying artist named Erin in a dark hospital room, smelling of medical-grade cleanliness and month-old bouquets given out of premature grief. While eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drinking wine from a mug as the motel TV droned, I pieced together pieces of Erin’s life through her art with Carol, Erin’s good friend—now a source of infinite wisdom, empathy, and friendship for me. I watched as workers from a hospice care company moved Erin from the hospital into her artist’s studio—a transition from black-and-white to Technicolor only rivaled by Dorothy. July 31 marked Erin’s passing and she signaled her departure with two cardinals on the porch of her studio. After twelve years and two suicides in the family, I visited the campgrounds in Pennsylvania that I had first slept on at one month old—a place that my late uncle visited me in a dream after his passing. We sat around campfires detailing stories that built us and broke us and scarred us and rebuilt us. We spoke of Todd and Keith in ways that resurrected memories from graves and placed them in the blue of the fire to dance and glow. Removing all physical distance between me and my older cousin (a role model throughout my life), we were able to remove the previous emotional distance. We sat at coffeeshops and sang pop songs at midnight and laughed in the aisles of markets and called each other sisters and meant it. When she picked out her wedding dress, I sucked down a celebratory glass of champagne to avoid crying in public. It worked. I walked the streets of New York City with the benefit of not paying its rent. I drank wine in Central Park. I went to museums by myself and never once felt rushed. I learned that I am a person afflicted by an illness and not an illness afflicted by a person. I learned that two steps forward and three steps back is actually still forward because math doesn’t always apply. I learned that a dream deferred is not a dream dead and a trial is never an error—it is simply a trial.

And if I all I gained from this failure of a move is all of that, then I never failed at all.

When the plane lands on the SFO runway on October 3, I will still be midair—suspended in the grace of memory and lessons that come with it.

On Life-Path Reevaluation: Flowers Grow in Shit and Dirt

On Valentine’s Day of 2018, I had a doctor’s appointment with the eating disorder specialists at UCSF. It wasn’t my first visit to these doctors; it was my third week of an intensive, ultra-monitored recovery program. I had been forced to start it in late January, after I went for a routine physical, and my primary care doctor found that I was at risk for cardiac arrest due to a relapse of my anorexia. 

I took a Lyft to UCSF from my South San Francisco apartment, somewhat embarrassed to tell the driver that my drop-off was the hospital. I stepped out of the car, walked into the lobby, and took the elevator up to the second floor. Looking up into the mirrored ceiling of the elevator, I saw my drawn face, the circles under my sinking eyes, and I remembered when I was allowed to take the stairs up to the second floor of buildings, instead of being forced by a group of doctors to take the elevator because my heart had grown so weak. A short elevator ride, but by the time the doors opened and spat me out, I started crying, thinking to myself: How did I get here? 

A brief moment of clarity—crying in an elevator of a hospital. 

I thought about the progression from the previous July to that February: how many times a day I’d weigh myself; how many times I’d debate eating a piece of dry toast; how many times I’d measure out carrots by the gram; how many times I’d pinched my arms, legs, and stomach during a lecture, eventually tuning out the professor because I had been thinking about how much I regretted that half-portion of low-fat vegetable soup three nights before. 

Who am I, when did I lose sight of who am I, and how did this happen?

During recovery, I dove into my art to attempt to rid myself of the deep-seated pain in my gut (both emotional and physical pain)—writing songs, personal essays, fiction, prose poems—and I remembered that this is what I live for. I do not live to look beautiful. (And I do not live to look sick). I do not live to count calories. I do not live to obsess over being in control. I do not live to stand and shrink until I disappear while everyone watches. 

I do not live to stand and shrink until I disappear while everyone watches. 

Silence, shrinking, fragility, conformity, fear—these are things I openly reject. And as I created my art and shared with my peers, regaining that sense of intrinsic purpose, I realized that the life I was living was a life that was inherently intertwined with values that I reject. In turn, my very actions were contradictory to everything about my identity. Then, over the course of the past six months, came an equally difficult and equally easy reevaluation that inspired me to begin writing a memoir, share my mental health journey with others, get in touch with my spiritual side, and move back to the east coast to pursue my passions and be with my family. 

Growth often comes from pain. Flowers grow in shit and dirt. Reevaluation of your actions and the life that you are living is necessary for growth. 

Remember your passions. Keep a list of them. What grounds you? What makes you feel intrinsically motivated (try not to consider money, fame, recognition, etc.)? What makes you feel like you put meaning into your life and into others’ lives? These passions can be as “small” as writing letters to your loved ones, or as big as fighting for universal accessibility for people with disabilities. 

From that list, look at what you value. Is it justice, family, spirituality, honesty, communication? Values are completely based on the individual and nearly limitless. Write this list below the list of your passions. 

Now, take a look at these lists collectively. Why are you passionate about painting? Why are you passionate about gardening? Why are you passionate about education? Why do you value family? Why do you value authenticity? These answers are your intentions. 

This next step is often the hardest and the most painful, but remember the physical growing pains you felt in your shins during middle school. The same thing happens mentally and emotionally when you reevaluate. Think about the life you are currently living. Where are you passions and values in your life right now? Are they fully apparent, sort of hinted at, or have they shrunken down and disappeared completely? Are you intentionally living your life? 

Upon those answers, you can make informed decisions to make changes that you need in order to feel fulfilled and avoid mental/emotional/physical/spiritual exhaustion. With this exercise, you can restore your sense of agency and can feel grounded and validated in any further actions you make to keep you on your true, meaningful life-path. 


To request a topic or ask a question for me to write about in a blog post, please comment or contact me via coriamatohartwig.com/contact!

No, I Don’t Want to Go to Yoga: The Problem with Mental Health Advice from Neurotypicals

My mother, a neurotypical, swears by her weekly yin yoga classes to preserve her sanity. She drives to the yoga studio, a cute remodeled two-story home on a sweet little side-street downtown, and climbs a flight of stairs to an airy room with large wood-paneled floors and flow-y white curtains that Stevie Nicks would alter into a dress during the Belladonna era. She comes home weekly smiling, claiming she feels like she “just got a massage—so relaxed!” 

After months of constant “Try Yoga” propaganda from my mother and my brother (another neurotypical who is a proponent of daily meditation), I acquiesced and joined my mother for an hour long yoga class. 

I arrived, sat down in a circle with a bunch of white people who chanted words in a language I was willing to bet they could not identify, and realized–I am having a panic attack at yoga. 

Attending yoga felt like going to the dentist. I stared up at the blank white ceiling, unsure of what to do with my eyes (I become anxious when I close them in public), and I imagined the ceiling cracking from the ceiling, falling on me, thus killing me. A man with a bun strolled around the circle, playing a cover of an Ed Sheeran song on an acoustic guitar. I fantasized about an unfortunate, untimely death throughout the class. 

I couldn’t do some of the moves. Uncoordinated and in a panic, I squinted at the teacher in the middle of the circle, moving gracefully, and too quickly for me to imitate. I knew that the poses would be difficult for me—it was my first class after all—but once the teacher came up to me and touched me without permission (a total of three times), I realized once and for all that maybe yoga wasn’t for me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the state of my body, my fat legs, my unshaved armpits. I couldn’t close my eyes. The teacher put an aromatherapy sack of some bead-shaped foam on my eyes. Claustrophobic, I fantasized about my death again. 

I struggle with a multitude of mental illnesses, including but not limited to bipolar disorder ii, generalized anxiety disorder, anorexia, and borderline personality disorder. Sometimes I feel like I am the personification of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I have gone to therapy for over half a decade with three separate therapists, tried EMDR therapy for my phobias and anxiety, tried SSRIs and mood-stabilizers and beta-blockers and benzodiazepines, received treatment from a specialized hospital for eating disorders (where I experienced a gross level of misogyny and stigma in the professional medical field firsthand)–and I am still mentally ill.

I don’t expect to be cured. Like any chronic illness, it’s about management and coping. 

Professional mental health treatment feels like a shot in the dark. The patient—basically a guinea pig—tries nearly any method suggested by their medical professional to feel better, frequently resulting in the patient feeling disappointed and exhausted from the lengthy trial-and-error process. The management of any chronic illness is a long journey. It is difficult to feel better. Sometimes I wake up and I’m not in the mood to interact with other people or even go outside—let alone go to a yoga class (where I’m touched without consent and forced to close my eyes and feel insecure about my body, its shape, and its movements).

The problem does not lie in the suggestion of yoga itself. It lies in the way that yoga, meditation, and other zen-like activities are suggested by neurotypicals who do not acknowledge other options for people who struggle with mental health, like therapy or psychiatry. These forms of mental illness management are rarely suggested by people who do not personally experience mental illnesses themselves. 

Why don’t neurotypicals recommend therapy or psychiatry, but recommend yoga, mediation, exercise, fermented foods, taking allergy tests, cutting out gluten, cutting out diary, cutting out red meat, etc., etc.? Why don’t we talk about receiving professional help for mental illness? 

When someone suggests yoga, meditation, changing diet, etc., it reduces the mental illness into a brief mood of sadness, a fleeting feeling of worry, a moment of insecurity. My mental illnesses are more than just feeling “unhappy” or “worried” or “insecure.” They’re overwhelming, chronic, systemic states of being—often with mental, emotional, and physical symptoms—that make me feel like I’m actually dying. Chest tightening, shortness of breath, heaviness of limbs, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, muscle tension and discomfort, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite—these symptoms have to be managed, and it takes much more than yoga classes to do so. 

Maybe we’re talking about yoga because we’re uncomfortable talking about mental health. But our discomfort is destructive. Because we’re not talking about professional help and/or medical help, many people feel ashamed to receive it or even ask for it. Some people don’t even know their options, as so many healthcare programs in the United States do not cover therapy, psychiatry, etc. 

This past winter, I looked for months to find a program to get into for my eating disorder. I looked throughout the entire Bay Area (an extremely populated and relatively wealthy area) for outpatient programs, medical specialists, nutritionists, specialized therapists, and specialized psychiatrists. Programs were either not covered by insurance, or there were waitlists, or I had to travel over an hour to get to the program. Eventually, I gave up, and a few weeks after giving up on the search, my heart rate hit a dangerously low level that required medical monitoring, which opened the door for me to receive help. 

But does it have to get to a life-threatening level before help becomes accessible? 

Neurotypicals—if you want to be an ally and a mental health advocate, stop talking about yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. As positive as your intentions are, it’s more than yoga. Start talking about professional and medical help, accessibility, affordability, and better healthcare. Start having conversations that make some people uncomfortable. Vote for government officials that support more comprehensive, more affordable, and more accessible healthcare that encompasses mental health. It’s more than yoga. Start advocating.