What Is “Normal” Anyway?

I was 19. Just one month into my first semester of college. With ombre hipster highlights and this oversized t-shirt with Greek sorority letters embroidered across the front.

I looked every inch the part.

But I wasn’t roaming a campus, textbooks nestled in the crook of my elbow, flaunting a Starbucks nonfat mocha like the stereotype I’d once hustled so hard to become.

Nope. I wasn’t exhilarated by the “newness” surrounding me. I was an entire world removed from it all.

As most of my peers doodled on the creases of their notebooks, feigning concentration on some 101 lecture, I perched in a rusted folding chair, knees clutched to my chest. A defensive posture that I figured might help me seem invisible.

The room was sparse. Light was scarce. And I was just one of eight other girls near the same age, seated in a circle and firmly avoiding eye contact. Our therapist had stationed herself in the center, presiding over the sullen group of teens which formed our motley crew.

Based on first impressions, we had nothing in common. And yet…for that singular moment, we had everything in common.

A rigid frame of reference that controlled each perception or opinion we held about ourselves. A shared experience through which we funneled our deepest insecurities and secret shames. We heard the white noise of inadequacy, the siren call of addiction—heard it loud and clear.

And we all had answered.

It brought us together in that austere, clinical room. Sequestered from our lives. Detached from the habitual. The expected. The routine. We didn’t know if “routine” was a place we even belonged anymore. We couldn’t decide what seemed real. So we became a unified “other.”

But as I watched the surreal scene materializing around me, there was a sense of abstract observance. No agency or active participation. And so the words just tumbled out…

I want to be normal.

Translation: I want to feel acceptance, approval, affirmation. But I’m different. I’m weird. I’m uninvited. I’m alone.

What does normal mean though? How did we reach this conclusion? What standard are we comparing against? Should we strive to attain that benchmark? And how can we know if we’ve gotten there? Is anyone normal—or is normal an illusion?

I’ve since realized that I don’t have a working definition of “normal.” It’s such an overused, ambiguous term. I can’t even articulate the draw of normalcy. But it’s there. A cultural fixation. A gauge for social inclusion. A mold we don’t understand but wedge ourselves into regardless.

So that’s how society perceives normal. But how does the dictionary interpret this word?

Conforming to a type, standard or regular pattern. Not deviating from a norm, rule or principle. Characterized by average intelligence or development.

That is…

Mediocre. Forgettable. Ordinary. Same.

Normal fades into the background. Dims around the edges. Blends into its environment. Normal isn’t human.

The scope and depth of normal are never enough to contain all our facets, dimensions or complexities. We’re not shrouded in sameness. We’re saturated in living color and sharpened focus.

If I could re-enter that room and crouch beside the 19-year-old aching for validation, I would urge her: Don’t conform. Don’t you dare. Because you’re not normal. No one is. And that’s our saving grace. We are diverse. We are luminous. We are quirky. We are intense. We are striking. We are fiery. We are original. We are the resident weirdos.

We’re humanity.

And normalcy has nothing on us.

don't be normal

To the Girl Who Didn’t Know then What I Do Know Now

Something I never imagined I would write. Here goes nothing…

This is an open letter to myself.

To the 21-year-old me who lost a piece of her spirit four years ago in a suburban hotel room where she didn’t belong.

It’s to all the women who relate, who’ve been there, who prefer not to remember but can never forget.

And to you. This is a letter to you.

The bedsheets were crisp, white and freshly cleaned—a stark irony considering the events that unfolded just 10 minutes later. That sense of instinctive dread, of violation, of wanting to be anywhere else—it was truer than she realized. I wish she had listened. But I would forgive her for staying. Even with the benefit of hindsight, who can guarantee that she’d react different now if given the chance?

So, I wouldn’t blame her. I wouldn’t demand she bear the weight of a consequence or expectation she was never meant to shoulder. I wouldn’t tattoo her scars with ink stains of guilt. I would expose them to light where she isn’t forced to hide the evidence.

I would grip her fragile hands in mine—strengthened from perspective, weathered from experience—until the trembling subsides. I would tilt her chin and urge those hollow, haunted eyes to meet my older gaze. Then I’d communicate our sameness, our solidarity—a message needing no words. I would silently perch beside her as time becomes irrelevant, and minutes fade to hours. However long it takes.

I would reach her in the stillness that’s often trampled in the chaos. We’d reclaim it together. And those emotions coursing through her—shock, anger, disbelief, regret—I’d whisper: Feel them all. There’s closure and cleansing on the other side.

I would remember she is young, impressionable, naive. She is prone to wander from her own best judgment. Her mistakes will cost us dearly. But we are still human, wired to endure. So, I would extend compassion to drown out the shame and connection to soothe the numbness, penetrate the solitude, nudge her onto higher ground.

And when the earth feels safe, secure, stable again, I would utter four words that she doesn’t want to hear, can’t seem to admit, but needs to understand: It’s not your fault. It never was. I hope she would believe me, that she can finally accept the truth. Because this girl—whether dazed, detached and desensitized in a hotel room, or here in this moment reliving the memories, undressing the wounds—she’s not just a survivor.

She is a warrior. We all are.

…I can promise you that.

 

love yourself

Rawness Is My Jam.

rawness

I can’t resist a person who exposes the jagged edges, broken fragments, delicate trimmings and fiery sparks of their own chaotic soul.

Rawness is my jam.

I’m drawn to the eight-year-old who’s emotive eyes aren’t afraid to shed tears, who’s expressive smile is on the constant verge of laughter.

Rawness is my jam.

I’m enchanted by the teenager in monochromatic clothing and a mane of wild dreadlocks who’s razor blade scars are inked over in art.

Rawness is my jam.

I’m enamored with the girl persisting under the weight of social stigmas, feminine ideals and media labels, who’s inner voice refuses to accept that she’s other…unequal…subpar.

Rawness is my jam.

I’m wonderstruck from the coffee shop romantic who’s suffocated words become poetry, who’s suppressed pain is funneled into creativity.

Rawness is my jam.

I notice them. I stare. They are fearlessly authentic. I watch them reclaim the windswept debris of their spirits. Undaunted. Unshaken. Making sense of the rubble, affirming beauty in the fallout.

Rawness is my jam.

I hear them testing out their vocal chords, tuning up their heartstrings, rehearsing for the anthem to rouse our weary culture.

Rawness is my jam.

I feel them pressing into the secret, sacred fissures they’ve been warned to squelch inside, peeling off the artifice to reveal a human underneath.

Rawness is my jam.

I observe. I listen. I fall true…mad…deep in love with the quiet strength, fierce honesty, unabashed resolve and soft intensity mirrored on their faces, etched upon their hearts.

Rawness is my jam.

I learn from the example and derive meaning from the narrative. I muse over the artless candor, the radical abandon. And feel my own sidelined passion stir within.

Rawness is my jam.

I abruptly grasp the message now. In a sudden burst, I know. It’s more real than anything I’ve touched before. It’s bold and loud and new. I sense their heads all nodding. There is no place for shame. Together, we march forward into truth…and mess…and free.

Rawness is our jam.

10 Lessons Recovery Is Teaching Me.

First, notice the choice of words. That was intentional. There’s a reason I said is teaching instead of has taught. Because recovering from addiction is a process.

It’s gradual, continuous, deliberate, repetitive. It’s step-by-step, moment-to-moment. It’s a daily decision not a final destination. But for those who endure the climb, there’s learning and growing and thriving to experience on the freefall.

Sometimes people question if I regret those stolen years marked by an eating disorder—if this life came with do-overs, would I make different choices or walk another path? The short answer is nope. Which might confuse whoever reads this.

Admitting that I wouldn’t change or erase the toughest circumstance I’ve encountered almost borders on masochistic, right?  Shouldn’t I jump at the chance to rewrite history, gloss over the past and sidestep the heartache? Also nope.

This eating disorder is not a stigma I can pretend doesn’t exist or a label I can never escape. It’s harrowing and frightening and dehumanizing and isolating. But this eating disorder is the story of where I’ve been, where I am, where I’m going. I wouldn’t revise a story like that for the greatest publishing deal on earth.

Choosing recovery hasn’t been straightforward. It goes against my instincts. It’s uncomfortable—painful even. Sometimes I despise recovery. But still I forge ahead. This crossroad leads to affirmation, acceptance, self-awareness. It’s worth the scrapes and scars.

How do I know? Because of all I’m learning…

10-lessons-from-recovery

Yep. It really truly is.

February 26–March 4 is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and this year’s theme is “time to talk about it.” Don’t give into silence, shame or secrecy—join the conversation. And if you need support, call the NEDA helpline at      1-800-931-2237.

Everyday Advice for the Working Millennial {Guest Post}

The professional lifestyles of today are more different and unconventional than ever before. Especially among millennials, career paths often involve non-traditional working environments and responsibilities, compared to the older, more established generations.

But while most millennials understand the importance of a work-life balance, that temptation to become consumed with our careers often takes priority over well-being. We tend to stick our own health on the backburner—not realizing the immense value of staying both physically and mentally fit in the long-term.

If this sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. Fortunately, there are numerous strategies for balancing work and wellness, so here are some easy-to-implement solutions to keep that mind and body going strong!

work-and-wellness

Exercise Your Way to Happiness.

After a tiring workday, the first instinct is often to turn on Netflix rather than hitting the gym, but making time for exercise is a habit anyone can develop with conscious effort and persistence—even with a hectic schedule. If you’re not sure how to begin a workout regimen, just aim for completing 10,000 steps on a daily basis which promotes cardio strength and stamina. In addition to the physical benefits, exercise releases endorphins that alleviate stress or burnout too.

Meditate for Inner Peace.

Engaging in a mindfulness practice is among the most effective tools for stabilizing your emotions. Ancient forms of meditation, like pranayama or SuperBrain yoga (Thoppukaranam), keep the mind both alert and active. Not to mention, this deep conscious breathing ritual promotes balanced hormone levels and gives you an outlet for much-needed “me time.”

Eat Well and Eat Often.

Long work hours often lead to grabbing a quick bite at random intervals, choosing the convenient “fast food” option or skipping meals altogether. While a nutritious lunch might require more time and effort, consuming small portions of healthy foods on a frequent basis keeps the body satiated and the mind focused—without hunger pangs distracting you or processed ingredients draining your energy.

Don’t Be Penny-Wise and Pound-Foolish.

Poor money management is a leading cause of stress, so it’s vital to maintain “financial health.” Spend at least 5 minutes each day tracking your expenses to make sure the bills are paid on time, the savings account is secure, the budget is still intact, and there’s enough cashflow remaining for an emergency fund too. When you aren’t worried about living paycheck to paycheck, that sense of freedom translates into a less anxious, more productive mind.

Do What Your Love.

Ultimately, it’s important to evaluate if your chosen career path brings happiness. You’ll spend about three-fourths of each day working, so you might as well pursue a job that gives you satisfaction. While it’s unrealistic to assume that professional success can guarantee 100% contentment, make sure you’re self-aware enough to recognize when a job starts compromising your quality of life. Offset this “occupational hazard” by dedicating time each week to non-work related passions and hobbies that create a sense of purpose you just won’t find in punching a clock.

Implementing these habits into your routine can dramatically enhance that work-life balance we should all be striving for. It’s a common pitfall to focus just on career ambitions—especially if you’re new to the workforce—but don’t allow this to become a long-term trend. Give yourself the time, space and permission to manage other aspects of life too. Your physical, mental and emotional wellness depends on it, after all.


Akshata Mehta has a passion for traveling and exploring the world. She loves to write, and is especially interested in sustainability for everyday life. Being a foodie, she also enjoys cooking up healthy concoctions in her kitchen, recording these recipes and more on her blog With Love From Akshata.

 

 

When Striving Isn’t Thriving Anymore.

Terminal uniqueness.

It’s an expression I heard often in the initial stages of eating disorder recovery—and in most cases, directed at me. Because I’m that person. The girl who passionately, stubbornly, dogmatically assumes that she’s different from all other humans in the grand continuum of space and time.

I know…I know. Arrogant much?

But I digress—that staunch conviction is rooted in a lifetime of protecting an identity and individuality I don’t even understand. Proclaiming to the masses that I’m a nonconformist who tosses back her windswept hair and throws adversity a conspiratorial wink. The unapolgetic embodiment of my deepest, wildest urges…

Fierceness. 

Empowerment. 

Counterculturalism. 

Strength

and Moxie.

I’ve dedicated energy, time, resources, my sheer existence to forcing this persona into the limelight. Proving. Performing. Projecting. Consumed with others accepting me for that renegade I yearned to become. But here’s the kicker—people don’t subscribe to a counterfeit. They squint through the bravado to glimpse the insecurities underneath.

And here’s what they found…

not Fierceness, but Abrasiveness.

not Empowerment, but Restraint.

not Counterculturalism, but Defeatism.

not Strength, but Fragility.

not Moxie, but Self-Doubt.

In this ironic turn of events, my own benchmarks and expectations of how a “free-spirit” should behave were undermining that freedom I relentlessly pursued. This “nonconformist” who opposed mediocrity and passivity was teetering on the edge of both.  This “renegade” had gone static and compliant because just being wasn’t enough. I needed more.

I needed the world to affirm my uniqueness. The alternative—sameness—was unacceptable. But that demand rings hollow if I continue striving toward a cheap imitation of the individual creation I was meant to authenticate. Because that girl doesn’t need to enforce or defend her own eccentricities. She’s not unique based on some impassioned declaration cross-examined amongst a jury of her peers. She’s just terminally herself. 

That. Is. All.

And her assignment is to live.

Despite whose recognition (or lack thereof) she gains in the process.

live-to-express-not-to-impress

Because I’m Feeling Poetic And Stuff…

…this one’s called

Release My Rambling Soul.


When everything hurts

And this life stops making sense

When the demon flirts

And you’ve grown weak from the pretense.

***

When calling it quits

No longer sounds too extreme

You’re stuck on the fritz

 And finished with rose-colored daydreams.

***

The purpose you crave

Has never seemed to break through

It ebbs like a wave

That fierce passion your heart once knew.

***

Your doubts and distrust

Always demand the last word

And hope turns to dust

Until your perceptions are blurred.

***

But there’s a faint spark

You’ve been repressing too long

Which lights up the dark

And hums the rhythm to a new song.

***

You’ll wander too far

And you’ll question each crossroad

It’s just who you are

A free-spirit aching to explode.

***

Feisty, brazen, tough

That mask you’re scared to remove

But call your own bluff

Because there’s nothing left to prove.

***

Love, honesty, trust

They’ll complicate your whole world

But feel them, you must

So a heart of flesh can unfurl.

***

When the cleansing tears

Mend that brokenness inside

 Just shake off those fears

And spread your rambling soul open wide.

That Time I Realized There’s Stuff I Don’t Know.

I need answers. To everything in life. And even when I don’t know, I feign the knowledge anyway because that’s a safer option than just conceding ignorance. It’s a Millennial mindset for sure, but it’s also enmeshed in the human condition.

Despite our fragilities and fallibilities, we take extreme measures to convince others—and ourselves—that we’re superior…smarter…self-sufficient…terminally unique.

That’s me on the outside. Or rather, what I aim to project. Always right. Always in control. Always prepared with a rapid-fire solution, justification or explanation. On the inside though, I know better.

Concealed beneath an I-got-this exterior, I’m fighting a current of unanswered questions, unresolved what ifs and unshakable insecurities. They ebb just below the surface of my impassive facade, but they’re more tangible—more real—than any plastered-on pretense I could offer the world. That’s an intimidating admission. But it’s also redeeming.

more-questions-than-answers

I used to assume that logic and intellect were all I ever needed to survive. That if I could outsmart another person or outmaneuver a situation, I’d remain a step ahead of the wounds they might inflict. I’d be secure in my own detachment.

There’s one tactical error in this approach though—because outmaneuvering turns into overthinking. Which clouds judgment, aggravates stress and impedes taking action. Turns out, this negative cycle doesn’t make you a guru at life. Nope, it leaves you passive, anxious and still drowning in uncertainty.

So how does redemption fit into this equation? Well, there’s freedom in confessing  “I don’t know.” Acknowledging that perhaps there’s no formula, guidemap or eureka moment to make sense of the complexities which define our existence. That perhaps it’s acceptable—or…gasp…normal—to have no idea what we’re doing.

And perhaps the most we can require of ourselves is to navigate each crossroad one learning experience at a time.

Because answers are overrated.

But inquiring and investigating—now that’s the adventure.

not-everything-can-be-understood

I Want to Feel Effective

Throughout my entire life, one recurring theme has dominated the choices I’ve made, detours I’ve taken and convictions I’ve latched onto—the need for efficacy. I crave that sense of influence, achievement, validation, agency. To feel command over setbacks. Invincibility over hardships. An upper-hand over karma.

Even when the feeling is tenuous or contrived, I want to believe it’s there.

Why this desperation for control? I have a few guesses, but one sticks out—fear that my contributions don’t matter. That my existence lacks purpose. That I’m destined for mediocrity when this heart of mine clamors for passion and inspiration. That I’m just not effective.

Call it a “futility phobia,” but I often wonder if that desire for impact will ever come to fruition. After all, I can’t dictate the course of social justice. I can’t force another person to embrace the potential I know lives inside them. I can’t transform our culture.

True. But I can shift my own attitudes and perceptions.

Instead of being a defeatist who second guesses where my life is headed and what significance it could possibly have, I gotta do some major mental rewiring. Exchange the hesitance for confidence. The cynicism for enthusiasm. The anxiety for vitality.

Perhaps in the future, these words flowing from my spirit won’t get trapped in the obscurity of time and space. They won’t seem like a rambling stream-of-consciousness without focus, intent or direction. Maybe this urge to write—to express, to create meaning—will change the world someday.

Or not. I can’t predict an outcome. Nor can I control it. But to become more effective, I don’t need all the answers. I just need faith.

Faith that adversity forges empowerment.

Faith that mistakes build wisdom and character.

Faith that dedication reaps accomplishment.

Faith that each story—even mine, even yours—is worthwhile.

change-yourself-effectively

6 Uplifting Activities to Boost Your Mood Naturally {Guest Post}

Ever experienced one of those days where you just feel crappy for no apparent reason? Yep, we’ve all been there. And if this mood describes your current situation, then read on because the following activities are proven to turn that frown upside down!

6-uplifting-activities-to-boost-your-mood-naturally

1.   Dance To the Groove.

Crank some upbeat music, sing those lungs out and dance around your bedroom. Even if this seems ridiculous, loosening up that body and embracing the freedom of movement can dissipate physical, mental or emotional tension. So, express yourself without inhibitions and reduce underlying stress in the process.

2.   Enjoy a Massage.

This healing modality dates back to prehistoric times as a method for relaxation and rejuvenation. In fact, the earliest text on massage Cong-Fu of the Toa-Tse was written in China around 3000 BC. Since then, massage has been used to soothe muscle discomfort, combat mental strain, and even relieve symptoms of arthritis or Parkinson’s disease. Not to mention, the calming atmosphere and invigorating smells awaken your senses for whole-body rejuvenation.

3.   Read In the Sun.

The benefits of Vitamin D are manifold, but did you know that frequent exposure can actually increase your serotonin levels? This chemical is the body’s “feel good” hormone, and spending time in the sunshine can trigger a serotonin release to make you feel both happier and healthier—with no extra effort on your part. Combine that with an enticing book, and you’ve got a recipe for optimism.

4.   Take Yourself On a Date.

Quality time with just “number one” might sound awkward or foreign, but it can work wonders for your mood. So, treat yourself to a lavish meal at a restaurant you’ve been wanting to check out, and maybe even purchase an outfit for the occasion. If the prospect of  new clothes, a gourmet dinner and free-flowing wine doesn’t make you smile, then bigger issues might need some addressing!

5.   Learn to Meditate.

This mindfulness practice is ideal for refocusing on the present and calming your distracted thoughts. The purpose of meditation is to direct your attention on deep, conscious breathing which generates inner peace. Numerous studies show that meditating for at least 20 minutes each day can reduce blood pressure, anxiety and depression. If you’ve never tried meditation, this guide covers all the basics.

6.   Get Your Body Moving.

Although exercise might be your least concern in stressful situations, physical activity is a surefire mood booster. Movement releases endorphins which most people credit for that post-workout energy and gratification. In fact, endorphins create the same “high” experienced by certain drugs—but in a more natural and healthier way, of course! Plus, consistent exercise helps that body function at peak level.

Hopefully, these suggestions are just what you need to shake off the funk and get back to your own life. Because a positive mindset can make ALL the difference!


Akshata Mehta has a passion for traveling and exploring the world. She loves to write, and is especially interested in sustainability for everyday life. Being a foodie, she also enjoys cooking up healthy concoctions in her kitchen, recording these recipes and more on her blog With Love From Akshata.