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.
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