You’re not broken; you’re just unhappy.

Starting my own business has been a surreal finish to a years long journey toward happiness. It started after I graduated from UT in 2014 and got an unbelievably coveted internship at Southwest Airlines.

Working on their corporate communications team, I got kudos and gained experience working for executives whose names casually dotted Forbes on the regular. There were events, there was a steady paycheck. I made friends. People called me a cruise director because I organized happy hours and events for the other communication interns. And still I was miserable.

So I left the big company and went to a small one. I loved my boss. I was needed and important enough to merit three raises and promotions inside of a year. The paycheck was growing and I actually loved working hard. But still I was miserable.

Being an adult meant I had to push through though. When I stopped being able to get out of bed, when I started eating my way through bouts of unbelievable sadness, when I felt suicidal for the first time in years, I told myself: you SHOULD be able to do this. Other people your age would kill for what you have. Push through.

And then I ended up on disability, in an outpatient group for extreme depression and my whole life fell apart around me. I was in the middle of paying for a wedding and I was the sole income for Zach and myself. I had to destroy my credit just to keep food in the fridge ( and yes that credit journey has made it super hard to start a business ).

Would admitting my unhappiness been easier than beating myself into the person that could love that life? Yes. But at the time I thought the fact that I was unhappy meant there was fundamentally something wrong with me. Because I was living the “ideal life” of a successful corporate job at 22, getting married to my college sweetheart and achieving some financial stability, I thought there was no way I could be unhappy. I felt like there was something broken inside of me that meant I would never be happy. A little of, “well if this isn’t enough, then nothing ever will be.”

Me doing a promo for my business here in Austin. I love everything about it!

Coming up on four years from that time of my life, I understand now that the only thing that was broken was the way I saw myself. I refused to validate my experience and instead wrote my own emotions off. I took sadness and called it laziness. I took the fact that a set schedule is hard on someone with chronic illness and called it ingratitude. I took my real, very honest needs in the workplace and called them a problem.

Now, I’ve built a live around those very real needs and I see now that my soul was begging me to see myself clearly and love myself well. I love working hard, but I rarely know for sure what kind of day I’ll have health wise, so I need flexibility in my schedule. I need complicated projects that teach me new things every day. I need external feedback. I need to know that the work I’m doing means something. None of these are flaws – they’re just very real reasons why that life didn’t work for me.

If you need to hear it today: you’re not broken. You’re just unhappy. And unhappy usual means forcing yourself into someone else’s idea of your perfect life. Whether it’s your parents, your bosses, your friends or just that voice inside of you – ignore the person or people telling you that you “should” be happy. If you aren’t, that’s real and deserves to be looked at. Read some of my posts on starting over and understand that it’s tough but it’s possible. You are capable of feeling something better and of loving the life you’re living.

Why not me, why not now?

I was a teenager during this weird time where magazines were still something the youths read and social media wasn’t really the dominant force of how we intake information. I grew up in a small town, relatively isolated from mainstream cares. The women around me were kind, but almost uniformly looked down on ambition. I honestly never remember hearing a woman being admired for anything but her beauty or her kindness.

The combination of these factors and the reality that there weren’t really outlets questioning the images we put into young girl’s psyche led to a sort of idolism of perfection that rears its ugly head often for me still. I thought the ONLY successful people in life were size twos, established, came from money, had money, had fame, had a beautiful partner. Don’t even get me started on the heteronormative ideals on femininity I ingested in gulps from the first step I took into youth group.

Black and white thinking ordered my life for a long time. Either you are successful or you are not. Either you are a failure or you are not. Either you are skinny or you are fat. Either you are white or you are Hispanic. Either you are smart or you are not. Either there is a God or there is not. I steadfastly avoided gray areas. I think many of my own struggles with religion came from the inability to find a theological framework that answered every question I had succinctly. The same type of thinking bled over into my ideas about myself.

The leading thought that kept me out of acting for over a year was, “Once I lose sixty pounds, then I will be ready to be an actor.” In my mind, if I wasn’t willing to starve myself for that goal then I wasn’t willing to make the commitment necessary to be a “real” filmmaker. When I finally made myself go out for auditions, I blamed every failure uniformly on my inability to play a thin, quirky girl (which is still an obstacle because of breakdowns written by casting directors blind to social realities). When I got cast for my first short film that would later be selected for SXSW 2019, I was at the heaviest I’d ever been. Walking onto set, I was certain that everyone would be disappointed in my existence. It was that same thought over and over again, either you are perfect or you don’t deserve this opportunity.

It was the same thought over and over again: Either you are perfect or you don’t deserve this opportunity.

Little by little as I got one gig that led to the next, I started to maybe believe that I needn’t reach perfection to continue doing this thing I was obviously good at. I went to classes to improve myself, continued to workout and struggle with my weight. I got used to the constant rejection inherent to acting. SXSW 2019 happened and I got to be a “real” filmmaker for the week – I had a badge and everything to prove it. I wrote and directed and produced my own short. The momentum of success was enough to silence the doubts that plagued me in between projects.

Then I got sick. The momentum was gone. I left my agent when the audition requests stopped coming altogether. I found myself at this same point of needing to believe in myself again, and I felt like I just didn’t quite have the juice for it anymore. My imperfection was a barrier to entry back into the game. It didn’t matter how good I felt, I felt like I had to convince myself and everyone else all over again that I was worth the invest of time and belief. Time passed. I hadn’t applied to any new agents. Hadn’t had any new projects. The weight I had put on during the sedentary lifestyle of illness made me feel like I had fallen backwards.

During our trip to Cancun, I began to ask myself who my role models are now. Unlike the teenage girl I was a decade ago, I have quite a few. Misha Collins is a philanthropist and actor I respect. I love Jamila Al Jamil and iWeigh has honestly changed the way I think about my body. Bryce Dallas Howard is this badass director who is strong and powerful and feminine. So I cleaned up my Instagram feed and let it be filled with people (both celebrities and friends) whose lives looked like what I wanted. Not perfection, but fulfillment. Commitment. Passion.

Universally only one thing was true of all of these people I admire: they weren’t perfect. Some even actively pointed out their flaws in an effort to humanize the idea of celebrity. I hate the idea of “Celebrities, they’re just like us!” (because they aren’t – their personal trainers, chefs, assistants and housekeepers will tell you so). But I finally had found in work and online people who were in the throws of building their life into something meaningful. I wasn’t left with the hollow image of the “final result.” The thought finally hit me, “Why not me?” If I work as hard as these people have at something I’m innately talented at and absolutely love to do, why can’t I build my life again. Whose opinion am I afraid of? Is my fear of failure so powerful I will let it dictate my life?

Failure is such a loaded word anyways. Is it not attaining perfection like I fantasized about as a teen? If so, we are all failures. None of us exist in that perfect state outside of Photoshopped and sanitized essays. Maybe what failure really meant was not even trying. When I asked myself what I was more afraid of, never having an agent again or never getting off of this couch again? – I realized that if I didn’t try, I’d never forgive myself.

So I’ve applied to agents. I’ve applied to some roles. I’ve reached out to a director I’m working on a project with. I’ve started writing the essay for my friend that sounded too important for someone like me. I have as of yet received no gold stars. But I’m trying. I’m giving every day my best, no matter what my best looks like that day. When I ask the question: Why not now, why not me? At least I know the answer will never be because I stopped trying.

Dear Austin: Where are the women who look like me?

High school body Madie

I’ve existed in a lot of different versions of my body in Austin, TX. I’ve lived in high school Madie’s body, toned by hours of tennis practice and a tendency to overthink my eating habits. I’ve lived in mono Madie’s body, aesthetically about the same but much weaker. I’ve lived in Austin Fit Magazine Madie’s body, carved out by living gluten free and hours at the gym every week. Depressed Madie’s body was the largest version, and mostly dealt with by putting on sweats and denying my inches gained. Most frequently, I’ve lived in chronically ill Madie’s body, soft from frequent weeks of bed rest. Now I live in my body that is strong from workouts a few times a week but not chiseled because my days of counting calories are over.

AFM body Madie

Depressed body Madie

What all of these versions of my body have in common? Not a single one of them looked like the “Austin woman” I see on the cover of our magazines, on our billboards or on our commercials. Hell, scrolling through our most popular Instagram influencers there are only a few noticeable exceptions in beauties like @flashesofstyle. As America’s “fittest city” we have this obsession with thinness that we conflate with health and happiness over and over again. Women who do not fit into this one very narrow body category are pretty uniformly overlooked.

I, myself, may never have noticed the unseen gorgeous women of different sizes if I hadn’t worked in a boutique. In my to-be-nameless store, we only carried up to a size 28 inch waist in most pants and a large in tops. One of the most absolutely devastating experiences for me was watching a GORGEOUS girl come in excited about a date she had with a cute new partner, and knowing that none of our clothes would fit or flatter her body.

I tried to tell her that none of the clothes in the store fit me, either. I tried to explain that it was a place with exactly one type of person in mind (ie. wealthy white women with enough disposable income for a personal dietician, trainer and medical spa membership). I tried to find something in my store that would make her feel the way I saw her. But I could see the same messages I’ve walked away with all over her face: I don’t belong here. My body isn’t built to be pretty. There’s something wrong with me.

Women like me and that customer are ALL over Austin. I know because I see them running the trails with me. I see them sweating their asses off in dance class with me. I see them in Sephora with me and out on Saturday nights with me. Where I don’t see them: in boutiques with me. In photoshoots. In music videos. In casting calls.

Chronically ill body Madie

P For example, among other communities that exist here, I love our acceptance of all genders and sexualities. The queer community is so strong in Austin that I often forget what a safe haven it is until I go out of our city limits. But where are the curvy queers on our signage? Where are the queer men and women who can’t fit into the clothes in our local shops? Why are we telling them to love themselves but not letting them see themselves in our city’s media?

My argument is this: We cannot be America’s #1 city to live in if we use our media to perpetuate the idea that proudly living here requires a thin body. At my very healthiest and happiest I am nowhere near the lean frames of yoga instructors and triathletes and fitness models consuming every square inch of signage we have for our beautiful running trails and lakes and hiking spots. I am tired of feeling like I don’t belong with all of the people outside working out with me because I don’t have that body type. I am tired of feeling like I need to tell people how much weight I’ve lost to validate the fact that I’m exercising. I am tired of going into a casting call and knowing I won’t be chosen because I am a pear and not and hourglass or straight line.

Today’s body Madie

My message to the women like me is this: we are here and we are beautiful. Keep finding clothes outside of local Austin shops that make you feel like a goddess. Post more pictures of yourself outside doing your thing. Don’t hide away from the world because you feel like you need to hit a certain number on the scale before you deserve to be seen. No matter where you are on your journey to health and happiness, you are stunning just as you were created.

When you show the gift of your body to our city, you’re showing more women and girls that your shape has nothing to do with your shine. When we adorn ourselves with brands that honor real women, we show shop owners all the income they’re missing out on by not offering realistic stocks. When we shamelessly exist as real women with real curves and scars and stories, we slowly tear away at the idea that only one type of beautiful is right.

How can you help change the image of beauty in Austin? Post pictures of yourself using the hashtag #realaustinwomen . If you’re naturally thin, use the hashtag! If you’re pear shaped, use the hashtag! If you’re literally a green alien woman with three arms, use the hashtag! We need more women to see women who look like them! If you’re a shop owner, think about your stock and what you’re saying by only catering to one body type. Use models of all shapes and sizes in your ad campaigns. If you’re an influencer: don’t airbrush your images. I know, it’s so tempting. But let those dimples on your thighs and that little belly button dent in your shirt have their moment in the sun. I’m not asking you to post unflattering photos. I’m asking for honest photos.

We can change how women feel about themselves in our city, and I hope we take the chance to do so. I hope the next generation of #realaustinwomen grow up with images of women who look like them. I hope they know they are beautiful.

The Depressed Girl’s Guide to Contentment

Look, I’ll be honest here. Sadness, angst, restlessness, those are easy emotions for me. Not to deal with. But to understand. I lived a lot of years trying to balance the meds and lifestyle habits that would eventually help me to stabilize my major depressive disorder. These days, things are going really right and THAT is actually what feels wrong.

Last week I found out that my very first short film was selected for screening at SXSW Film Festival (a big deal for those of you who are in other industries). I also found out I get to attend the entire week for free. This little unpaid role I took after months of applying and not hearing back has actually become the most lucrative of my career so far. I am walking around in a cloud of pride and hope. Getting to do what I really want and being acknowledged and rewarded for it is something I thought I could never have for myself. So here are the things I’ve been telling my brain over and over:

Don’t invent problems where there aren’t any. There has been so much chaos in my life that I feel like anytime the storm is calm that must mean there’s a fire I’m just not seeing. It’s usually anxiety and not reality that are telling me those things.

You are allowed to be happy. When you spend so long being unhappy and living a life that feels like someone else’s, you eventually convince yourself that this is what you deserve. I have clawed my way from that mentality for so long. Now I just have to dig my heels in when my brain starts freaking out about contentment.

Acknowledging your success doesn’t take away from other people’s successes. Ah, the comparison game. I might be doing this, but so and so is doing this and isn’t that so much cooler. Nah. 1) it’s probably not that much cooler 2) you’re trying to belittle your own worth and success. Accept that you can both be doing well and that there is enough happiness around for everyone.

Contentment is not the same as complacency. Giving yourself kudos for a win isn’t you backsliding into your old lazy habits. It’s just fuel for the continued work your doing and encouragement to keep on keeping on. Just because you are not a finished product does not mean that you need to wait to celebrate yourself and find contentment in the journey. Life IS the journey.

For those of you who maybe don’t do so well with just letting yourself be okay, I hope this list helps! Let me know what you think you would add or how reading has helped you.

Getting Past the Woo: How to Check In with your Body, Mind and Soul

What does it mean to check in with your body, mind and soul?

I woke up in the middle of the night to a realization that I wasn’t getting back to sleep any time soon. It happens pretty frequently to me. So I decided to a meditative practice where I check in on myself a little at a time. That’s really all it is when we ask ourselves what we need. It’s just a question and answer game. How are my ankles feeling? How are my calves?… How are my hips? How is my stomach? Etc… I like to work my way from toe to head, bringing each part of my body into focus a little bit at a time.

The same can be done for our minds. What kind of thoughts am I having? Is it easy for me to stay focused? Do I have a headache or feeling fuzzy at the edges of my thoughts? Asking our brain for these answers can give us a peak into how our mind is operating.

The soul is maybe the place where I lose a lot of the more pragmatic people reading this post. But please don’t write off your feelings and your core values so quickly. The soul can mean different things to different people. Whatever you’d like to think of it as – spiritual, functional, ethereal, separated – there are ways for you to ask questions that get to the bottom of the stirrings in your being.

The Body

I’ve described the way that I take stock of my body. I go muscle group by muscle group, almost like a body scan. Most of the time we get back the answer, “fine” (or hopefully we do). When we get back an answer that’s off, the exercise evolves into asking our body what it needs to repair. Here are my examples for you to think about.

My thighs and hip flexors are really tight – tomorrow I’ll stretch better before I go for my run.

My stomach feels heavy and uncomfortable – I’ve been eating a lot of complex carbs, sugars and dairy. Tomorrow I’ll give my body more nutrients and avoid the foods that cause inflammation for me. (These are different for everybody – don’t get stuck on “good or bad” foods).

My neck and spine feel immobile and uncomfortable – I have an appointment with my chiropractor tomorrow.

These are just examples to get you started on your own check in. I like to do this during meditation in corpse pose, just because it gives me a lot of freedom to wiggle and concentrate on each individual part of the body.

The Mind

I’ve given some sample questions above, but what do we do about the answers when it comes to our mind? As helpless as it can feel, if there is anything I’ve learned in my own mental health journey it is that we have power over our brains. We can’t change the chemical imbalances through strength of will, but we can help our brain functions better. Here are some examples:

My thoughts feel cluttered and it’s hard to concentrate on one – tomorrow I’ll journal to help get some of them out on the page, and I’ll clean our room because it’s cluttered. (Other options include talking to someone to externally process or making a to-do list).

My head aches and feels a little fuzzy – tomorrow I’ll use a combination of essential oils and clearing my diet of inflammatory foods to help my brain function a little more clearly. I’ll also take my antidepressants to help boost the chemicals that fight sluggishness.

Clearly identifying what’s going on with our mind helps us understand how we can exercise control despite our limitations. To me, that’s really empowering.

The Soul

Our soul, the place where our feelings and desires are generated (again, I reiterate that this can be envisioned in any way that makes sense for your world view), is another part of our life that dictates how well we function in the world. Identifying feelings that keep popping up like hopelessness, anxiety, contentment, anger, etc. is a way for us to check in with how well we are managing those feelings. Here are some examples for me:

I’ve been feeling restless – tomorrow I will edit pictures and follow a bit more of a routine to help me feel grounded in my life.

I’ve been feeling a lot of anxiety – tomorow I will do as many things from my to-do list as I can so that I feel more control over my life.

These questions and solutions step past the hokey idea of our soul and give practical solutions for affecting our moods and feelings.

The Bottom Line

There will always be things in our life that we cannot control. Jobs, family emergencies and other outside influences shape our lives. These questions and this exercise just helps us to get a grip on the positive steps we can take to help our body, mind and soul find harmony with each other and function at our best. Check in with yourself and ask what you can do. Do these ideas help you start down a path to healing?

The photograph

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The first dance

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Inspirations quote

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