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.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

I do not need your smallness, your timidity, your fear
I need your anger, your passion, your rage
I need your deep, round belly laugh that rumbles
through aches like epsom

Shed your sins like the skin they made you wear
Discard the armor against the fruit, the seeds
They threw at your feet
threw at your womb

You are a meteorite in a sea of diamonds
No one is made smaller by your shine
You are a goddess woven by time
You were born among the stars.

26, from me to you

I have never needed a birthday less, and I don’t mean that as a bad thing at all. The last year of my life was filled with unprecedented growth and change. I met so many new people and said yes to so many new opportunities. But most importantly as I sift through my stories and my birthday texts and messages, I finally realized the difference between the genuine feeling of being loved and just basking in the glow of any attention at all.

In my life I have made unbelievable mistakes. I have lost so much time to sadness and sickness and pain. I’ve said goodbye to friends I should’ve fought for. I’ve fought for friends I should have let go. I’ve drank too much and stayed out too late and procrastinated on the projects I wanted most. I have hurt people. I have hurt myself. The weight of all of my sins has been around my neck for so long I became accustomed to it in the way your body acclimates to a missing limb.

For so long, I couldn’t accept the genuine love of others because of those sins. I didn’t feel like I deserved even a speck of their affection. But yesterday as I read through the happy birthdays and the affection, I finally felt it deep in my bones. I finally let my friends and family’s words “rumble through my aches like epsom”.

Maybe the person I was a year ago didn’t deserve people’s trust. My actions were riddle with need instead of honesty. But the person I am now, she is good. She is strong and determined and beautiful. I cannot change who I was then; I can love who I am now. Maybe I needed the her of the past to become the me of now.

25 truly was both the best and the worst of times. I look around my life now though, and I see it filled in a way I never thought possible. Forgive yourself for who you were. You can’t change it. Then look in the mirror and give today your best. Who you are now deserves it.

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.

I’ll put the psycho in your psychosomatic

AFter six years of being sick, you would think it gets easier to hear a doctor tell me “I don’t know.” Or to hear them ask if I’ve been to a psychiatrist. The answer is yes – I’m one of the most therapied people I’ve ever met, but the relevance of that fact to the rest of my symptoms is minimal.

It’s a story you hear over and over again in the community of people who suffer from debilatating chronic illness. Go to doctor. Go to specialist. Go to another specialist. Be told that maybe what you’re feeling is a result of psychological and not physiological isses. Go to therapy. Try as hard as you can to make your body feel better with the power of positive thinking. Fail. Question your own ideas of reality. Lose trust in yourself. Spiral into helplessness. Still feel sick and now incapable of ever getting better. Fall out of medical and psychiatric care. Retreat from life because you’re tired of explaining yourself. The list goes on.

In a way, I’m glad my neurological symptoms flared up so extremely last month. Not being able to talk or walk and watching my body go through uncontrollable tremors actually has me feeling the sanest I’ve felt in so long. As I go through relapse and remissions and flare-ups over and over again, I start to ask myself if I’m making my symptoms happen. I wonder if there’s some part of me that needs that kind of attention. But I realize now that there is no part of me that wants to be ill. My life as a filmmaker and an influencer gives me plenty of attention – attention in recognition of my hard work and my abilities. Not pity for a body that won’t function.

So as I sat across from a neurologist who answered “I don’t know” to questions about my immobility, questions about my speech issues, questions about why my brain feels like it’s on fire so often finally didn’t hear him saying, “You’re making this up.” I heard the words of a quitter. I heard the words of someone lacking compassion and empathy in a job that decides how well someone lives or doesn’t. I heard the issue on the other side of the table instead of feeling inadequate again.

We grow up with this idea that doctors are infallible. We are taught to cater to their opinions and to accept whatever they say as gospel. If there is anything I can tell you from $75K in medical bills over six years and contact with a dozen or more specialists, it is that doctors are NOT infallible. They do NOT know your body better than you do. I can tell you that psychosomatic is most often a cop-out diagnosis from an overworked or unimaginative professional.

Yes, I’m angry. I’m angry for myself and the psychological stress of second guessing every pain in my body and every bout of inability. I’m angry for the hundreds of women and men who every day walk into a doctor’s office and are dismissed out of hand. I’m angry that I’ve met maybe one or two doctors with the kind of time and moral center it takes to stick with a patient until they’re on their way to long-term wellness. I’m angry that so many people don’t understand how exhausting it is to have to put your life on hold while you wait six months for an appointment with a specialist who will listen.

Most of all, I’m grateful that I have advocates in my life who have helped me continue the unbelievably daunting task of getting a diagnosis. I think of the people I’ve met in chat rooms, in waiting rooms, in groups or online who are alone in this fight and outgunned by a health care system that encourages bandaids instead of lasting change. My mother, my husband and my family have never once questioned my desire to get better. They’ve never made me feel lazy for being sick. They understand that when I am well, I am a flourishing, busy person. They understand that more than anything I just want a chance to be that person for the majority of my days.

Please, if you have people in your life who suffer from illness, be an advocate for them. Sometimes that means calling the doctor when they’re too tired to make appointments themselves. It means keeping in contact when they’re too sick to initiate it on their end. It means accepting that they know their body better than you do. If they say they don’t feel good, or something is wrong, listen. When you can, make the medical professionals in their life listen, too. Little by little maybe we can all chip away at the walls the chronically ill are forced to hide behind. Thank you for reading. Share with the people in your life who need to hear they’re not alone or how they can take care of those who need someone.

Create a work life that acknowledges reality.

A note on living a full life in difficult circumstances.

Shortly after my last post, I had what turned out to be the worst episode of my chronic illness experience so far. It started with an episode of uncontrollable tremors and escalated to the point where I had difficulty walking and talking for most of the month of July. I had quite a few 18 hours of sleep days and doctors appointment and emergency room visits during this flare up. It’s not fun, but that’s not really what my point is today.

When I worked a corporate job, the early symptoms of my neurological disorder didn’t care that there was work to be done. I was tired or dizzy or naseous almost all of the time, but I rarely showed it and was terrified of taking days off of work. I thought if I gave myself the inch of having a health day, I would probably never go back. A year later, when the anxiety of pretending to be healthy compounded with all those other symptoms, I proved myself right. I stopped working nine to five, and have never gone back to that schedule.

For me, health is just the impotus to creating a life that functions on my own schedule and answers only to myself. I think from the beginning I was built for the kind of work I do, but I didn’t acknowledge that until I was forced to. I had a very rigid idea of what success looked like, and I pushed my mind and my body into that box until I broke. I didn’t understand that you cannot change the reality of who you are.

At the opening night for Ann, a ZACH theatre production I’ll be reviewing on the site.

That reality in my case is someone who suffers with a relapse/remission/flare-up illness that comes out of nowhere and makes “ordinary jobs” an impossibility. For other people that reality doesn’t have to be a health issue. It can also be your reality that you are a free spirit that will never be happy having to many constraints on your process. It can be your reality that you like the regularity of an office job and crave the structure it brings to your life. It can be your reality that remote work is too lonely for you and you need a communal space.

In all of these cases, the reality of who we are dictates the kind of work that will fufill us. I work in the entertainment industry because I need to know that when I’m sick I’m not letting anyone down by not showing up.

There is a difference between being lazy or hard to work with and not being built for something. I see people on set often that need way more structure than there can be when you’re working with so many variables. They’re irritable and often drag down the attitude of the whole crew. A free-lance life requires a certain tolerance for uncertainty and the ability to network. In the same way, the people who were the most fun when I worked in the corporate world were the ones who found joy in what they did. They liked getting dressed for work every day, having the stability of a company mission, and they created a family in their job because they genuinely wanted to be there.

I write this after digging my way out of hundreds of emails that had to go unanswered last month. To my complete unsurprise, none of the matters that wasted away in my inbox were life threatening or urgent. Thanks to my planning and the hard, painstaking work of building a career over the past two years, I have a career that is still there when I get back from taking care of myself.

I’m not saying it will be easy for you. It has been HARD work for me. There are and were huge periods of self-doubt and feeling like I was asking too much. But the relief of not having to pretend to be something I’m not anymore has completely transformed the way I look at making a living. Maybe it’s time for you to think about what your first steps will look like on the path toward a life that acknowledges your reality.

Let’s Talk Accountability

A frank discussion on how answering to someone can help you get your shit together.

Look. Accountability is a big buzz word for me. I was a part of a few groups in my early twenties where the lines between helping each other and invading each other’s privacy were regularly blurred. It was like opening the wound only to be chastised for having the cut in the first place. Needless to say, that’s not what I want for myself anymore.

But I do understand better than ever that my choices built my future. I write often about self love and self care. I live a pretty laid back life because I am a lucky woman married to a sweet man who asks only that I do what my body needs and my soul desires. For a long time the body needed sleep. It needed silence. The soul was superceded by the physical. So when I became well enough to indulge in things like massages and pedicures and manicures and shopping, I took those as the self care route that I deserved. I’m not saying it’s wrong to do those things. They’re just not things you build a life on.

When I started thinking about the future, I saw myself as a successful person living a successful life. I could see that for myself but couldn’t figure out how to get there. I’ve talked about finding what you want to do most, but today I’m talking about the dedication it takes to build a life around that decision.

It’s easy to forget that nothing happens by accident. My role models are people who worked incredibly hard for the things they have. I’m only just realizing that hard work is made up of a million little choices every day. It’s getting out of bed in time to exercise. It’s deciding to write this post today instead of tomorrow. It’s going to that event even though you’d rather watch Netflix. (I’m not talking about ignoring what your body needs. If you need a day of rest because your brain or your body isn’t working the way it should be, then take it). I’m talking about the times when we have the ability and the choice to do something good for ourselves and we ignore that in favor of the easier path.

Working for yourself can make accountability hard. You don’t really answer to anyone. Your only measure is the growth or lack thereof that you’re experiencing. But I like to think of the me five years from now as being the person I’m accountable to. I’m taking care of her by working hard today. I’m building a life that she’ll want to live and that I can live with today. I’m accountable to her and I’m accountable to the people who read my content and trust me to give them advice. I’m accountable to my husband who’s made sacrifices to give me a chance to be what I am today. I may not answer for every choice, but I answer for the accumalation of those choices. Accountability has to be about the direction you’re headed in life based on the decisions you are making. It is not a judgment of your character, but a promise to live up to who you are.

So how am I building accountability into my life? I’m taking myself seriously. I’m going to those events and believing that I am force to be reckoned with. I made myself an office that accomodates all of my needs at my desk. I audition for the roles that maybe seem out of reach. I email people every week to ask them if they want to work together. I act out the belief that I am capable of building the life that I want. When I make good decisions to further my career and better myself as a person, I’m telling myself that I’m worth that investment of time and effort.

You can build accountability into your life, too. Think of the people who want what’s best for you (not the people who just want things from you), and decide what kinds of decision would make them proud. Think of the you five years from now that will be living with your decisions from today. Know the difference between needed rest and laziness. Give yourself tangible goals to work toward. Let me know what you’re working on and I’ll check in with you!

How do you think of accountability? Does any of this resonate? Let me know!

May is Mental Health Awareness Month!

I know it’s so hard to believe that this incredibly well put together human once couldn’t get out of bed in the mornings. But for two yeras of my life, the days where I lay in bed all day were much more frequent than the days I was able to go out and enjoy the world. I’ve suffered from major depressive disorder for years now, and once believed I’d never be able to live a happy healthy life of my own.

My depressive episodes and anxiety are tied to a chronic illness I’ve suffered with since I had mono as an eighteen year old. I’ve also had multiple head traumas that caused the chemicals in my brain to have a hard time adjusting to the world around me. Importantly, neither of those facts connected to my mental health have anything to do with who I am as a person. My depression and anxiety stems from medical, factual issues with my brain chemistry. They are NOT a result of any sort of personal failure on my part.

Use Mental Health Awareness Month as a chance to educate yourself on all of the reason that struggling with mental health is not your fault.

If I have any message at all to the people dealing with mental health issues this month, it’s this: Use May as a chance to educate yourself on all of the reasons that struggling with mental health is not your fault. There is so much stigma attached to struggling with mental health that many internalize this idea of weakness, or failure, or shame. I am here to say that the people I have known who struggled with mental health issues are some of the strongest, bravest men and women I know.

You are not responsible for mental health issues that you suffer with – you are only responsible with how you live your live in response. Throughout the month I will be resharing some of my former mental health posts, sharing accounts and resources for combatting things like social anxiety and depression, and emphasizing surrounding yourself with a community who understands where you are coming from.

There are so many people in this world who really care about you because of, and not in spite of who you are. And your mental health, good or bad is a part of who you are. Don’t shy away from that reality. Instead, honor who you are by giving yourself the best equipment you need to create a happy, healthy life. It’s no different than any other lifestyle change made to accomodate who a person is. Athletes eat different than most people. Cancer patients take medication to help them get better. If your leg is broken you wear a cast. If you struggle with mental health issues, you build a set of treatments and choices that boost those chemicals in your brain that need the help. You are valuable and worthy of making those choices for yourself.

Check out my other posts about living with depression and anxiety here and let me know what specific issues you’d like addressed this month!

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.

Your People Exist. Go Find Them.

About a year ago, I remember very clearly thinking to myself that I would be alone forever. I was married and had plenty of family, so I quickly added melodramatic to the list of things I hated about myself. I had just gone through a really terrible friendship breakup after a huge bout of depression. I tried apologizing for crying and for hating the world and for voicing all of that out loud, but it fell on deaf ears. I can’t say I blame her. I understood and sometimes still feel like I’m a lot to handle. To me, the split was just further evidence of my inability to do anything right. So I wallowed.

Isolation does weird things to us. When Zach would leave me at home for the day while he went off to work, I had no buffer for the terrible thoughts bouncing around my brain. Over and over again I would just remind myself of my own wrongness. Of my inability to fix anything or to be any better. Two months passed this way before I started asking myself if I could really survive this way. Looking at decades ahead of me of being surrounded by loneliness seemed unbearable. Since I had already promised Zach that I would never punch my own ticket early, I decided I needed to find people. Since most of the time I was still pretty sick and in general not great company, I decided online was the safest place.

My emergence back into the world came in slow bouts. I had developed crippling social anxiety, and the ability to just shut the phone or the computer off and walk away was appealing to me. Supernatural had just come into my life for the first time after an incredibly dense binge of 12 seasons in about a month. When I got caught up to current I ventured onto the Reddit live episode discussions to just mouth off about whatever was happening and mention things I noticed. I don’t know how to explain the change that wrought in me other than to say those upvotes were like a lifeline to a world I thought had forgotten about me. The external validation of people thinking I was funny just reminded me that once upon a time I truly believed I was delightful. 

Then came the Instagram thing. I say it like that because that’s definitely how I thought about it. I had written in the past about my mental health issues on another blog, so posting and being vulnerable about my life came naturally to me. So I started just journaling my life to people and finding connections. I was still mostly stuck at home, still mostly not doing much. But I was being connected to a few strangers who didn’t find me repulsive. It was more external validation speaking to my lovability and likeability. Hadn’t someone said once that I was charismatic? I started attaching better words like those to myself. I started writing this website with the hope that maybe what I said wasn’t pointless.

I started dropping Zach off at work and getting out of the house for a couple of hours at a time. The rolling hills in the west side of Austin became my driving route. I would roll the windows down and just let the sun and the wind connect with my skin. Soon the drives turned from aimless to coffee shop runs. I would write on my novel and not really interact with anyone, but I was talking to the people who wrung up my order and they seemed to find me just fine. A few of them even started to remember me as the routes became more cemented. I got a part time job for a little while, interacting with women in a boutique and talking about fashion with the buffer of employee and customer made it easier for me. “I have to talk to you, it’s my job and I’m sorry but I’ll try and make this painless for us.” The job didn’t work out. I was still me. I still had an immune and neurological disorder that made it pretty much impossible to keep a regular schedule. I’m not mad that I tried it though. I needed the reminder that it has never been a lack of will on my part keeping me out of the mainstream. 

From there the things just started adding on a little at a time. I booked a few short films and met more people. My instagram was picking up in popularity so I could talk to more people. I took a couple of acting classes. More and more often I soaked in the warm and fuzzy feelings of making someone laugh or connecting to someone about something you thought was a shameful secret. One day a girl name Alana messaged me and we went to get breakfast. Now we pretty much stay in constant contact and hang out a couple of times a week. There were more women I met after that. And a few gay boys, too. You know I love you Caleb and Colby. There were more gigs and classes and hip hop dancing. I opened up to the world a little at a time, allowing myself to accept the reality of my own worthiness. As I let more people in with a policy of 100% honesty, I felt free of the shame that hangs around illness and restarting your life. I don’t want to hide from this city or these people anymore. I’m not afraid of them the way I was when all I knew were rejection and the confines of our old apartment.

Now I seek people and places and events out. I am finding more artists and jewelers and stylists and creatives to be part of my world. I’m letting all of those dormant interests have free reign in a life that is curated around one idea: You deserve to be happy. I’m crying right now as I feel that truth reverberate within me. We can’t let people in until and unless we feel we deserve them. They’ll never know us if there are parts we insist on hiding away. My people now are totally in on the messier parts of my life. All of the judgment I was afraid of never appeared. The right people don’t need you to be anyone but who you are. I wish I had known that earlier than at twenty-five years old, but at the same time I’m not sure I was ready for this kind of contentment even a year ago. 

My point is in all of this, that you have people out there who will find you brilliant and worthy. I don’t know if you’ll find them on Reddit or at a hockey rink or on your Instagram. But I know without a doubt that they exist. The hard truth is that they can’t find you if you don’t take the risk of being known. Vulnerability is scary. But isn’t the idea of spending the rest of your life alone much more terrifying? Maybe you don’t need plans every night of the week like I like to have. But you need people. One person or two or twenty or fifty. I don’t know- in the volumes we’re all different. However, our need for community is universal. My challenge to you today is to take the first step toward finding your people. Join a group. Go to a networking event. Comment on someone’s post. Your people exist. Now go find them.

Decide for Yourself Who You Will Be

Self determination is a pretty daunting task for a former Calvinist. It’s a joke, but I’m also very serious. I grew up with a road map for my life that while murky in the every day, felt set in concrete somewhere. I had this unwavering faith that every choice I made as long as it was made from a place of prayer would lead me to the right road. When I left the church, I said goodbye to that road. To those highways. To those rules and those speed limits. Have I worn the metaphor out, yet?

Three years ago my life fell apart. Everything I had built around myself no longer felt safe or even made sense to me. The pieces of myself left over after the collapse of a carefully crafted corporate life were parts I had buried beneath years of repressed sexuality and emotions and dreams. Recognizing those yearnings as whispers from my soul took time. Allowing them to be considered valid took longer. Acting on them at all took longer than that.

I had taken the easy way out for the big questions in my life. Who did I want to be? Well, easy. Whoever God created me to be. Read Proverbs 31 and that’s it. That’s who I’m going to be. I was going to work for the church because I liked people and helping them to heal. It didn’t matter that the work itself didn’t fulfill me. The end was the good. The results outweighed the consequences of giving parts of myself away to anyone who walked in the door. More often than not, I was a raw nerve carrying the weight of literal souls I needed to save from the pits of Hell. Evangelism meant my failures were damned. The crushing weight of a broken world made it hard to get out of bed in the morning, sure, but it also made life make sense. My happiness was secondary to the mission. Who I am did not merit deviation from the cause.

Through a complicated breakup that involved untangling decades of theological idealism and a reality created from philosophical naivete, I left the Southern Baptist Church incapable of recognizing things that brought me genuine joy instead of theoretical joy. I remember very clearly sitting in group one Wednesday morning and being asked what my hobbies were. I didn’t have any. I hadn’t played piano seriously in years outside of worship groups. I didn’t draw or paint. Working out was a function and not a release. When a therapist suggested I just do something for fun, it took me months to figure out how to do something that didn’t benefit anyone in any way (It ended up being a plant phase – it passed pretty quickly because I was a fair weather plant mom).

On top of that baggage I carried around an immune system issue that made me sick pretty much all of the time. I saw nine specialists in three years and once had thirteen vials of blood taken in the same day. I took the easy way out again and hid behind that illness for so long. I couldn’t make plans if I didn’t know what the future would look like. What if tomorrow was the day I found out I have cancer? What if I only have ten years to live? These were ony a couple of many serious questions I asked. It took me years of uncertainty to finally tell myself I was tired of being a half person. Who knows the future? No one. Yet people live passionately every day in the face of the unknown. I finally accepted that my circumstances didn’t give me an opt out ticket for being human. To be human is to create a life based only on faith in one thing or another. This time around the faith was just in myself.

These days I still don’t know what makes me sick so often. I may go to a pulmonary specialist next. I may just decide that I just have what I deem Jane Austen syndrome. I’m one of those less mentioned, waifish sisters with a delicate constitution as women are wont to have. Whatever way I choose to go with that aspect of my daily life, it’s secondary to the essential question. Who do I want to be? Doesn’t having faith in yourself mean knowing thyself? How do we order our lives if we don’t know what we want from them?

So lately I’ve been writing down the things I want to be. I want to be strong. I want to be the kind of person people see the best of themselves in. I want to be an actress. I want to be a creator. I want to be compassionate. I want to be an advocate for those who need a voice. I want to be present in my life and in charge of its trajectory (as much as any of us can be in a chaotic world). No one told me they wanted these things from me. They are just the parts of myself I love the most, the traits in others I admire the most and the paths that give me joy. True, experienced joy and satisfaction.

Maybe my path isn’t as concrete as it once felt. But knowing who I want to be and building my life around gives me guideposts I yearned for when the world felt too chaotic. Is this making me stronger? Am I learning what I need to be an advocate? Did I apply to any auditions last week? How am I practicing being in the moment? They aren’t questions to badger myself with or bring myself down. They’re just markers to hold myself accountable for a life that makes me happy when I slip into old habits or let other’s expectations dictate my actions.

So what about you? What or who have you let dictate who you are? Is it making you happy? Decide for yourself who you want to be. And then be that person with faith and dedication. We only get the one life and the one person to be.

Mindfulness for Beginners

In their most essential form, practices of mindfulness all come down to the same idea: presence. The idea of being mindful is similar to being intentional. Every action you take has a reason because you’re aware of your actions. But for brains capable of somewhat predicting the future, cataloging decades worth of information and processing multiple conversations at once – settling down enough to be grounded in the moment is not a natural setting. We’ve been conditioned to get the most out of our minds by making them work as hard as they can. The three practices I’ve listed below are just simple ways to help retrain your brain to focus on the present moment.


I feel like I’m always talking about exercise for one reason or another on the site – but it’s because there are so many more benefits to exercise than weight loss. The diet culture that runs rampant in our media and our lives has hi-jacked exercise for its own purposes. But mindfulness and exercise have existed in harmony since the beginning.

For me, running is the most mindful exercise because I’m not very good at it. I have literally no arches in my feet. I have to wear special inserts and expensive shoes just to get them to be able to do what they’re supposed to during a run. Concentrating on running on the balls of my feet and not pronating out to the sides (making my feet go in funky directions), requires at least a surface level awareness of what my body is doing. Forty minutes of that kind of concentration, as well as the extra steps of focusing on the muscles in my thighs and calves that get me up hills, focus on my breathing and what my hands are doing, focus on the trail itself – all hold me in the present moment. Rarely do my thoughts run away to something else, and if they do they are usually quickly pulled back to the task at hand.

Many people find this kind of awareness through yoga, through dancing, through things like crossfit. Exercise doesn’t have to feel like a punishment for a body you might not treat right all of the time. It can be a great time to bridge the connection between your body and mind in the present moment.

Crafts and Coloring

As a kid I was obsessed with paint by numbers. I used to have them around all of the time. As a I grew up there was a shame involved in not being able to create work that great on my own. When I got sick and needed a ton of activities I could do in bed, my husband found these really complicated paint-by-numbers that required a delicate hand and concentration. They aren’t necessarily a creative endeavour – most of the time mindfulness activities aren’t really geared around creativity. Instead it is an activity that brings me to focus on the numbers, the paint brush, the textures of the paint.

Other crafts I’ve used before and would recommend to those looking for mindful activities are cross stitching and coloring in adult color books. I have some really nice colored pencils that I use for my more intricate designs. The act of coloring itself takes me back to a time when I was younger and didn’t have as many thoughts crowding my head. I can just sit and be while the pencil meets paper. In the same way, cross stitching is a guide-based activity. It requires your hands to be busy and creating, but there is less pressure because you’re following somebody else’s instructions. The end game of mindfulness in these types of activities is just the activity itself. If you find that you’re concentrating on making it look perfect or what other people think of you doing the activity, then this is probably not a mindful activity that will work for you. The point is the practice of presence.

Use the Five Senses

Earlier this week I shared the sentiment, “Notice the things that give your life texture.” How often do we ask ourselves, “What makes today objectively different from yesterday?” Compare the feeling of the air on your skin. Notice if it’s humid or cold. Notice if you feel the suns rays. That’s touch. Sight is another sense we can use for comparison. Remember those old Find the Difference games you played in Highlights? Play that in your room. Play it on the street. Concentrating on what you see every day in a way that allows you to catalog and store the information requires a huge amount of presence. Even if you don’t carry that over into the next day, the act of noticing is mindfulness.

Using taste and mindfulness as a combination has been a huge help in the way that I experience food. Before, I was very often disconnected to the act of eating. I ate past the point of being full because I was more concerned about whatever else was going on or just finishing my plate as a habit. Really taking the time to savor food, to examine what you like and don’t like about your meal, can help you to think of food as fuel and detach the ideas of it being a negative or positive. It’s just food. Mindfulness in eating helps us to simply enjoy the food in front of us without attaching all of the other thoughts we surround food with.

Scent is the most visceral of the senses in connecting us with the past, so using it as a practice in mindfulness might seem counter-intuitive. However, while scents can take us back to a memory, they have a very present reaction on our body. Whether it’s in reaction to the scent itself or the memory invoked by the scent, our bodies go through emotions and feelings in reaction. For me, the scent of vanilla gives me a sense of calm and lightness in my limbs. When I close my eyes I can feel peace in my chest. Next time you catch a smell, notice what your body is doing in reaction.

Hearing for me is the easiest way to bring me into the present. Music and I have an incredible connection to each other. I feel the sound of good music as much as I hear the notes themselves. But music doesn’t have to be the only way that we experience sound in the present. Next time you’re on your own, listen to your breath. Listen to the sound of the room. Of the air conditioner running, of the insects outside and the cars passing by. Again, the point of the exercise isn’t really to achieve any particular sort of epiphany. It’s simply just to notice the present in all of its fullness.

Next Week

These beginning steps are just ways for us to get started on the idea of the present. Just thinking about mindfulness more often can show us when our thoughts are straying from our present moment. Next week, we’ll talk about meditation and mindfulness and how the practice can change our experience of our daily lives.

Sexuality is Fluid; Love Your Unicorn

I was in my twenties the first time I ever allowed myself to look at a woman. Like really, really look at a woman and see what happened. I don’t remember what she looked like these days. I just remember the very distinct sensation of , “Yep I’m here for that.” Followed quickly by, “Well what the fuck am I supposed to do with that information?”

The Roots of Dismissal

I met my husband at 19. Started dating him at 20. Got engaged to him at 21. Married him at 22. In my mind, I was for all intents and purposes, locked into heterosexuality. He and I had met at a Southern Baptist Church of which I was a member and even worked for all throughout my teenage years and my first couple of years of college. I left the church about a year into our relationship (which is an entirely separate post I’m willing to write). Hence, the whole giving my permission to look at women as anything but potential disciples or good fits for some of my guy friends.

Because even when I was still on the inside of the church I didn’t really have any desire for female friends. Those that I did keep were mostly formed by proximity and their insistence. I preferred the company of men – a trait that often got me scolded by church elders or looked down upon by my peers. All of this was running through my head as I thought about aforementioned random chick from some random club in Dallas, TX.

Was I a lesbian who’d been convinced that those didn’t exist by a church that refused to acknowledge homosexuality as a possibility outside of sin? I honestly don’t even remember lesbians being talked about in the negative or positive growing up. Maybe if they had been this gay crisis would’ve happened earlier on in my life. In youth groups and college groups led by men the idea of talking about lesbians at all was considered taboo and more often dismissed offhand. Instead the church focused on brotherhood, masculinity, protecting and providing and definitely, definitely not acknowledging that some of the things the guys did were at least a little bit gay.

I was the teenage girl who passionately said to my friends, “You can’t live in sin and still claim to love God” in response to a question from my friend (who later came out) asking me if you could be gay and a Christian. Just the thought of that table talk makes my heart hurt. Makes me want to throttle the girl who back then hadn’t even thought to question the confines in which she was shackled so obediently.

When I realized I might be a little bit gay, I started doing clandestine research on the most holy of sources, Google. “How do you know if you’re attracted to women?” “Do I need to leave my husband if I’m attracted to other women?” The questions were all of a similar curious and heartbroken and confused nature. Then I stumbled upon the Kinsey scale (pictured below) – and started down the rabbit hole of fluid sexuality.

Courtesy of IDR Labs

The idea of this clashed so deeply against my internalized homophobia (Watch Hannah Gadsby’s standup set if you want a truly amazing talk on what that means). As in most things the church was very black and white on this. You couldn’t be a little bit gay or a little bit straight. You were a sinner or not a sinner. The more conservative sects of the church deny the science of homosexuality being an innate trait instead of a chosen one. I haven’t seen any literature from the TSBC on fluid sexuality (they have other problems right now), but I’m guessing that they wouldn’t even dignify the idea with a response.

The dismissal of my desires and of my feelings that ran contrary to church doctrine wove itself into me throughout my childhood. The internalized homophobia of “wrong,” “gross,” “deviant,” “imagined,” was a part of that dismissal. In a space where acknowledging reality often led to arguments and even excommunication, I had learned to repress my truth and accept my place.

Redefining the Love of Right Now

As a part of the copious amounts of therapy I went through in my early twenties, I actively worked to see the world was not as rigidly confined as I had trained myself to believe. I started to state two truths that once couldn’t exist in harmony for me. “I’m attracted to women.” “I’m attracted to my husband.”; “I prefer the company of men as friends.” “My friendships do not detract from my attraction to my husband.” Then I would just sit with those truths and let them sit together until I saw them both as valid. In times when I panicked that I had married Zach simply because that was what was expected of me, I made lists that evaluated my feelings for him in the present. It didn’t matter how we came to be. The non-gendered things I love about him as a person still apply.

Kind to a fault. Intelligent. Loving. Endlessly curious. Attentive. Accepting. Willing to learn and grow. Willing to fill up the gas for me even though I’m perfectly capable of doing so. An incredible chef – you get the idea. I think my husband is the greatest person on the planet.

This internal freak out erupted in me not because my reality had changed. I still loved my husband. I found women more than aesthetically pleasing. The panic was quelled as I stopped assigning the negative value the church had associated with queerness to myself. I hadn’t changed. Our relationship had only changed in that I acknowledge that Zach is an incredible person. He’s my unicorn because I think he’s the only person I could willingly allow to tie me down for the rest of my life. I trust he’ll make all the commitment worth it. He trusts the same of me.

Be with Your Unicorn

We all have truths that define us. We have traits that make us who we are. I’m just asking you to consider that sexuality isn’t really one of those things. Sure, it shapes the way we see the world at any given time. But it’s allowed to change just as we are allowed to change. Choose your partner based on the things that don’t change. Let yourself be happy based on the unicorn magic of knowing no one else could understand you like they do.

It’s a process, but if you’re still dealing with the internalized messages about gender and sexuality and marriage of your childhood really take the time to assess them. Do they match with the reality you live in now? If not, how do they disagree? Are those old ideas holding you back from embracing your whole self out of fear or misplaced judgment? You are allowed to weigh these foundational beliefs about yourself and realize they do not change who you are as a person – only how you see yourself.

I hope my own story helps you to see that not every sexuality crisis ends in broken homes or lives or tears. Sometimes it’s just as easy as saying, “Yep that’s a thing” – and then talking with your husband one Saturday morning and realizing you have completely different taste in women. He laughed, I laughed and then we turned back to the television. I love life with my unicorn.