13 Reasons Why this Life Thing Still Matters

13 reasons why

Hi. My name is “Sucker for Netflix.”

Sure, I can admit that. Why fork over $10 per month and never use the subscription, right? I get my money’s worth. And like most Millennials, I have binge-watching down to a science.

My evening workouts rarely occur without a Friends marathon streaming in the background. My hubs and I finished Stranger Things over the course of just one weekend. And my little heart did somersaults when the Gilmore Girls reunion dropped a few months ago.

Yeah…I know. Said almost everyone in my generation ever.

But there’s one Netflix series I can’t bring myself to get behind. And unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past several weeks, I think you can piece together where this diatribe is headed.

Three words.

13 Reasons Why.

The show that launched a thousand controversies—and even more opinions. The latest buzzword trending on social media, dominating water-cooler debates, and sparking Facebook rant after Facebook rant after Facebook rant. 13 Reasons Why has everyone talking. But it’s the people watching who I’m concerned about.

Because I watched it too. The entire season. Binged all 13 episodes in under a week. And that’s a decision I regret.

First, lemme preface that I’m not persuading you to agree. Nor will I condemn you for grabbing the remote and hitting “play.” I’m just adding my voice to an important conversation because people are going to watch—and their reactions could be visceral, painful, irrational, even detrimental.

Bottom line: these triggers are no joke. And they’re igniting aftershocks of despair in a world that struggles to find the hope.

This plot is fiction. The characters exist on-screen. But their episodic drama is the inescapable truth for actual names and faces. Human beings who’s experiences, narratives or traumas are being slashed open and torn apart by “fabricated” events with fatal implications.

It’s not just a show. It’s the current of our culture. It’s reality. But it’s not prompting change. It’s breeding conflict and cynicism.

And pain. So. Much. Pain.

I recognize what the producers were aiming to accomplish, and I maintain their intentions were positive. 13 Reasons Why does cast a fierce, urgent limelight on rampant social issues which often don’t get the emphasis or attention they deserve.

Rumors. Bullying. Self-Harm. Depression. Sexual Assault. Drug Abuse. Suicide. Real adversities with tragic endings. These need to be addressed—but where’s the redemption, the endurance, the courage to survive, the intensity to overcome?

The show’s theme of retribution turns death into a mode for seeking vengeance. For wounding those who caused your wounds in the first place. A corrupted form of justice without the vindication.

Life’s fragility. Death’s finality.

The heart breaks. The spirit crumbles. You oust yourself. It’s over. The end.

But…wait. No. There should be more to a story than just one chapter interrupted mid-sentence. What about the resolution—the conquest, the triumph—on the last page? That’s our motivation to keep reading. Persisting. Living.

Because we all can pinpoint 13 reasons to quit now and peace out from the wreckage of this world. But we have a million reasons to press forward, to confront the mess with a wink and a smirk, to focus on what’s good. 

So I propose a different message. 13 reasons you’re needed on this earth. Whoever you are. Whatever you’ve been through.

1. You’re a unique, multifaceted, extraordinary individual.

2. Your words and actions convey a poignant message.

3. Your influence or significance could never be replaced.

4. You’re creative, imaginative and brimming with talent.

5. Your idiosyncrasies fascinate and attract other people.

6. Your spirit of compassion enriches deep connections. 

7. You’re light and love in a dark, jaded, cruel society.

8. Your resilience today becomes redemption tomorrow.  

9. Your merit isn’t based on size 0 jeans or 100 Instagram likes.

10. You’re here to fulfill a purpose designed for nobody else.

11. Your temporary struggles make you permanently stronger.

12. Your story will empower and encourage other broken hearts. 

13. You’re not a victim who succumbed but a victor who continued.

Life is our platform. Our testimony.

Ours.

And what’s ours is worth fighting for.

13 reasons why 2

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

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.

On Being Tough. Or Not.

fearless

“You’re the toughest person I know.”

It’s a sentiment I hear often. People commend me on this, and their intentions are sincere. I believe that. They leverage these words as grandiose reminders of the crossroads I’ve traversed. Barricades I’ve thrust aside. Mountains I’ve trekked to an unfamiliar precipice.

They applaud my supposed strength as though I’ve earned some bragging right—“Look what I overcame. No coup de grâce will finish me off.”

Except for one caveat. I don’t feel strong. Not even remotely. Under that impenetrable bravado I’ve fought to maintain, I sometimes feel damaged beyond recourse. Wary of exposing those chinks in my armor but desperate for someone to glimpse the truth…

It’s no bragging right to possess insider knowledge of how a psychiatric ward operates. To detect the muffled yet deafening click of a deadbolt for which you have no key. To forfeit both dignity and independence upon stepping inside.

To hear medical professionals issue warning after warning that your actions have fatal consequences, while not caring one iota. To curse a body that you’ll never escape. To pine after an identity which doesn’t compute as your own. To just keep existing—but without purpose or vitality. Or…to flirt with the temptation of not existing altogether.

Those are the memories swarming my consciousness when I’m labeled “tough.” Because the fact is, I’m not.

Today’s cultural climate demands I revoke this confession before it can materialize further. Don’t admit your frailties or vulnerabilities. That’s the accepted mantra. Disguise your battle scars. Force a confident smirk to repress the emotion. And never concede that you can’t survive this alone. That maybe—just maybe—you need another lifeline.

But I won’t conform to those standards anymore. This arbitrary rulebook on how to feel—how to live—I reject its merciless constraints. I’m no hero archetype whose staunch self-reliance is more than enough for whatever crises loom ahead. Nor should I feign this performance. I’m a fragile, breakable human being. That’s my truth.

Flawed but redeemed.

Wounded but healing.

Uncertain but learning.

Weakened but sustaining.

Fragmented but still breathing.

Emotionally stunted but growing.

I’ll take those attributes over “tough” every time because they manifest something emphatically more worthwhile—courage. And even if nobody declares me “the bravest person they know,” choosing to view myself through that lens is enough. More than enough, in fact.

In the (Start-Up) Business of Loving Myself

self-love

Self-Love is a buzzword I hear often. Even social media hashtags proliferate the concept. Yep. #SelfLoveSunday. It’s a thing.  So are those barefaced “I woke up like this” selfies. Of course you did. After 10 minutes of choosing a filter.

But regardless, the implication is clear. We should accept, embrace, even flaunt our own uniqueness. And the haters can just shove their criticism. Well…umm…brownie points for that empowering mantra, but one issue still remains.

Social media is not an accurate depiction of reality. Which makes me wonder: How many of these self-love posts crowding my Instagram feed represent women who really do love themselves?  

Do they feel as confident, poised and vivacious as their expressions would suggest? Or is there a secret shame cowering behind that camera lens?  A brokenness hidden beneath a brazen facade?

I’d guess the latter.

Not because I’m a cynic, but because we live amidst a contradictory culture that heaps emphasis on airbrushed physical standards, while encouraging women to appreciate their idiosyncrasies.

These two messages can’t coexist. When society demands perfection, where does that leave the imperfect? Scrutinizing every inch of their bodies, chasing self-love but coming up short.

I’m no stranger to this cycle.

In fact, the first conscious realization of my own “subpar” physique came at 8 years old. This perception (however irrational) spiraled into a decade long struggle with distorted body image, restrictive behaviors and obsessive hyper-criticism. A.K.A. the antithesis of self-love.

No hashtag is gonna convince me to change that perspective though. No social media campaign will reverse these beliefs entrenched in my psyche. No superficial impetus can undo the damage within. Healing comes from a much higher pursuit.

When you recognize that vulnerability isn’t weakness.

That admission of flaws isn’t acceptance of defeat.

That relying just on yourself isn’t a buffer from pain. 

That drawing strength from others isn’t disempowerment.  

So, why is self-love an elusive concept? Because we’re conditioned to skepticize and overanalyze these simple truths instead of affirming them at face-value. But when we move past the barricades, we experience more than self-love.

We discover identity.

body-positive-quotations

 

 

 

Breaking Vegan: a Relatable Read for Real Life

First things first: gonna start this post with a disclaimer—I’m not vegan. Aside from a vegetarian experiment back in college, I’ve always felt comfortable eating fish, poultry and certain animal by-products.

This is worth mentioning because I know several members of the vegan community have reacted forcefully to the memoir I’m about to discuss. So, for the record, my thoughts on Breaking Vegan are less concerned with this titular label and geared instead toward the author’s portrayal of disordered eating.

Alrighty. We’ve established I don’t follow the diet in question (although my love for fruits, veggies and plant-based proteins is real!), so why have I dedicated an entire post to this book?

Breaking Vegan book cover

Well…because it’s not just about veganism. It’s about being human.

Which sometimes means taking our passions to harmful extremes. Ignoring any smidgeon of logic that might contradict our single-minded intent. Forcing ourselves to believe whatever dogma, justification or outright lie supports our lifestyle choices. Rolling our eyes at those who voice concern. And disregarding our basic need to feel.

But this book is also about redemption. Healing both physical weakness and emotional wounds. Surrendering that insatiable urge for control. Embracing life’s hairpin turns, breakneck speeds and unpredictable thrills. Filling those empty spaces with a mindful center. Swapping out numbness for self-awareness. Affirming—even [gasp!] loving—every little quirk. And choosing balance over reckless abandon.

Basically, this book is about me.

Well…if you wanna get technical, it’s about Jordan Younger (a.k.a. The Balanced Blonde) and her relatably raw transition from orthorexia to personal acceptance.

But yeah, also me. And anyone else who’s lost their identity through the pursuit of perfection. That’s why Breaking Vegan is an important read. Not because Jordan bashes veganism (FYI: she doesn’t), but because she validates our right as individuals to live without labels.

While entrenched in my eating disorder, I used the “wellness” facade to rationalize my irrational behavior. I tossed that buzzword around like a humble brag and considered it my benchmark for success. Yet relentlessly pining after “health” made me unhealthier than I’d ever been. Gotta love irony, right?

Like Jordan points out from her own experience, I couldn’t even contemplate—let alone, begin—the recovery process until those identifiers no longer defined me.

I’ll always gravitate toward “wellness,” but there’s more to life than caloric counts, ingredient lists or sugar grams.

Passion often turns into obsession. I know this firsthand. The challenge, therefore, lies in restoring equilibrium—an elusive concept yet vital component. Sometimes my grasp on this feels superficial, but here’s one takeaway from Jordan’s story: healing can happen. Her message of sustainable, centered and [of course!] balanced health is exactly how I wanna approach this thing we call living.

So…Challenge. Accepted.

And since some messages are most impactful straight from their source, I’ll leave you with an excerpt of my favorite Breaking Vegan quotes:

Word.