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.

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.

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.

My Anti-Resolutions Resolutions

Why I’m a Bit Against Resolutions

I used to be very very pro-resolutions. A new year, a new start, a chance to correct some mistakes from the last year. But, I think the idea that we need to need to fundamentally change something about ourselves every year is a little bit ridiculous. “I need to be more adventurous,” “I need to exercise more,” “I need to eat better,” etc.

I think goal-oriented resolutions are often steeped in some form of self-hate or a societal ideal of what an adventurous, fit or healthy person does. Instead, this year I’ve decided to reflect and evaluate some of my relationships with the world around me that started changing in 2018 and I’d like to think about more in 2019.

This mud run was a great team building exercise at work and a really fun goal to work toward. An example of healthy exercise habits in my life.

My Relationship with food and exercise

I’m pretty sure my first ever magazine subscription was to Shape magazine when I was about 13 years old. Thirteen! At the time I was much chubbier than all of my friends, bullied and lonely. I remember thinking that their social behaviors were punishment for my inability to lose weight and look like them. So I started counting calories (again, at thirteen), doing Mauro Pilates for sixty minutes a day, and trying really hard to fit in with the other kids around me. I actually ended up losing about thirty pounds. And wouldn’t you know, by my eighth grade year I ended up getting voted the class’s Princess at our formal. In my mind, the weight loss was the reason people liked me – not the confidence that I had gained from the weight loss.

Now, eating healthy and exercising in and of themselves are amazing things to do for our bodies. They really are. But when the actions themselves are steeped in shame and punishment/reward mentalities, they become more harmful than good. The diet culture wants us to look a certain way to feel validated, and they use food and exercise as weapons in that war. Having been a fairly visible person my whole life (as an actor, model, youth leader, etc.) – I was very much of the mindset that being a leader meant looking a certain way and setting a certain example about discipline with food and exercise. So instead of saying that I’m going to eat healthier and exercise this year, I’m going to continue to build on the work I did last year in disassociating food and exercise from forms of self regulation.

An account I love to follow on Insta that discusses this is @annamaried.rd , who focuses on intuitive eating and listening to your body, and is run by a certified dietician. I think when we listen to what our body wants we can come naturally to a place where weight loss and healthy weight happen. We know when foods make us sick, or make us feel sluggish, or make us feel energized and ready for the day. When we listen to those cues, we can usually figure out what our body is craving from us.

A healthier idea about exercising is a natural extension of a healthier idea about food. If food is not something we use as punishment/reward, then exercising isn’t something we use to “make up for” our eating habits. It’s just something we do to feel stronger, get to know ourselves better, enhance our life and get more energy. For me personally, it’s something I do to have a place to watch my own progress as a healthier person and to stimulate the endorphins that make my depression more manageable daily.

My relationship with creativity

As a creative person who makes money off of being creative, it’s really easy to get into the mentality that I must be an expert at all times. Due to some negative messaging I received growing up, I have a really hard time showing anybody anything but perfection – especially in areas of my life where I want to succeed the most. As an actor, photographer, musician and writer being vulnerable enough to ask questions is something I find incredibly taxing. My hope for this year is to evaluate that reluctancy in the creative space because I think it prevents me from releasing the creativity in me.

For example, with acting I have a hard time just sitting in classes and absorbing because I’m usually surrounded by people who have been doing this longer than I have. I want to seem like I’m just naturally great at the job – which is a totally normal instinct. But for me, acting is only fun if it’s a place where I can funnel emotions and stories into something an audience can connect with and learn from. If I’m not allowing myself the freedom to experiment in how that gets done, then I’m not allowing my creativity to really grow. I’m just showing up to a class to check a box on a resume instead of letting myself play and have fun. I don’t want to set the goal of “I want to be a better actor” – I want to set the goal of “I want to have a relationship with acting that’s focused on the process and not the outcome.”

Especially in a creative setting, the lack of quantifiable outcomes makes resolutions murky at best and incredibly stifling at worst. My hopes in just taking a reflective attitude on my thoughts around creating is to allow a space not ruled by anxiety, but by freedom and choice. I personally need to be free from pressure to do my best work – otherwise I hide from the things I enjoy.

So what does all of this mean?

My main point here today is that resolutions aren’t the only way to approach your new year. Resolution mentality is often based on the idea that you need to fundamentally change something about yourself every year. I just don’t agree. I think you’re awesome, and that evaluating the things in your life that are holding you back and are bringing you stress is much more important than adding another to-do to your hectic life.

If you have areas of life where you’d like to learn and grow but experience anxiety when you take steps in that direction, examine those anxieties. Are you dealing with a fear of rejection, fear of failure? Are you doing this because you think it’s what you’re “supposed” to do or because it’s an area of your life you are passionate about? Honor yourself this year. That’s my goal for you. What do you think about that?

What’s it like to live with major depressive disorder

Despite my very best efforts, i.e. running and exercising every day, eating healthy, journaling, writing and trying to make friends – my body has slipped into another depression. I had been off of medication for about five months this time, so I honestly feel like this was the most of “real life” I got to taste in years. I don’t know if the little taste makes it easier or harder when the rug gets pulled out from under my feet. But this is life with a chronic illness. It’s tenuous and sometimes unfair and oftentimes lacking in hope. My mom suggested I write about the experience to help me process through the onslaught of emotions that comes with a major depression. So here you are, this is my life:

It’s lonely.
Living with major depression means that there are significant periods of your life (months for me usually, up to a year at times) where you don’t want people in your life and people don’t want you. The crippling sadness, the tears, the withdrawal – those aren’t exactly super great benefits that new people coming into your life want to deal with.

And I don’t blame them at all. “I’m not usually like this” is the oldest cliche in the book. Making friends as an adult is basically dating. And most people don’t want to dig through rubble to get to the person underneath. I have my family and my husband and one or two friends that I’ve known for years and don’t live here and that’s it. Five months isn’t really enough time to seal somebody into your life forever. And I always feel like I’m on a clock for the next dip.

And don’t even get me started about working. Would you like to hire an employee who needs to work on their own schedule, mostly from home with a little bit of in office time so that I get some of that socializing in? No, I wouldn’t want to hire that person either. So instead I’m left trying to find odd jobs or trick people into hiring me for a few months before the next depression hits and I can’t get out of bed.

It’s exhausting.
Everyone is always telling me how strong I am. It’s their favorite thing to say about me. Because all I really want to do is sleep and not have to fight through the heavy weight on my chest telling me that nothing matters. And this weight that’s more like a hole in my soul constantly leaking goodness at a rate that can’t be patched, it shows up at the front of every single decision of every single day during a depression.

Should I eat? Eh, why bother – my life is unimportant and doesn’t really matter. Should I go for a run? Same answer. Should I get out of bed? Same answer. Should I shower? Same answer. It is unbelievably oppressive and it makes every single day hard. And I have people in my life to live for, so I don’t give up. I just keep going for those runs even though I would rather just stop existing. I shower. I do the things that normal people do because I know that some day, months from now I will not feel this way anymore and I do not want depression to have stolen more time and more years from me.

It can feel hopeless. 
Imagine building a castle, the most beautiful castle you’ve ever seen, and watching this unstoppable force of nature come in and destroy it. So you rebuild. And the castle starts to come back into focus. Maybe you live inside of it for awhile, but then that same storm comes and destroys it again. And your left standing outside asking, “Why bother building?”

That’s kind of how life with this illness is for me. I do absolutely everything I can when I’m on the upswing of things. I want to be an actress and writer. So when I feel good, I go to every single audition that I can. I write as many pages as I can feasibly put out. I start looking for more opportunities and try and develop myself as a trade worker who can be trusted so that I’ll get something closer to that ever illusive dream schedule for me. On top of that, I workout every day, I journal, I use all of the essential oils in existence basically. And just as things are starting to really turn around, I stop sleeping. Nothing matters to me anymore.

And in case anybody reading this doesn’t know, there is no quick fix to getting up out of a depression. I’ve written extensively about things that can help with overall mental health, but the addition and subtraction of medication in treatment of depression is menacing. Even if the medication being prescribed to you is the exact right chemical dosage to help balance your brain, it takes about six weeks to kick in. Think about living in the dark for six weeks if you’re unsure what that waiting game feels like. There are tons of doctors appointments and experimenting and usually months of emotional roller coasters before thing even out.

As I’ve gotten older the difference in my life is that I keep going through the motions because again, I refuse to let depression steal my dreams from me. But the truth is that going through the motions is just a stop gap. It’s not what gets me to the next stage in my career. It’s not the kind of passion people need to be successful. So I stall out. And I build a world of paint-by-numbers and books and TV shows because those are the only things that distract me enough from my sadness to get me through the day most days.

It’s faith.
I used to be an incredibly religious person. I had faith in a grand plan for my life and in a purpose and a mission to the world in general. Call it a chick and an egg thing that when major depressive disorder took over my life in my early twenties that faith went out the window. The first couple of depressions, I legitimately believed that there was a crack in the fundamental building blocks of my soul that would always keep me from being happy. I was so mired in sadness that I didn’t believe in anything anymore.

But if there is anything I can say about living with this for so many years now, it’s that I have an unwavering faith in myself. I now know that these feelings are not an issue with me but a result of my body not producing the chemicals it’s supposed to produce. I have faith that if I keep doing the things that my best self wants out of life, that when the medicine does start working and the hopelessness begins to fade, I will be happy.

Because even though it’s harder and painful and filled with tears, my life doesn’t stop because I’m sick. And I refuse to wake up a few months from now in someone else’s life. I’ve been there, done that. I’ve given the depression what it wanted and fed all the lies that circle around in my head when the storm descends. That life is not one I will ever want. It’s filled with other people’s expectations and hopes. Let me tell you, you do NOT go to as much therapy as I have and not come out as one of the most self-aware son of a bitches you’ve ever met in your life. I know the difference between what I want and what the sadness wants. And I have faith in my ability to overcome another set of obstacles.


I write this today as a therapy for myself, yes, but also to tell people what it’s really like so that maybe the world will start to look at mental health issues with more compassion and honesty. I write because hopefully if you’re struggling you’ll find solidarity in knowing you aren’t alone. I write because it’s the truth, and the truth deserves to be told.