It’s that time again.
For those of you who just started reading my blog, these annual birthday posts are a tradition that started when I turned 30. I originally intended for them to help me meditate on and find meaning in each year, but the posts are usually more inquisitive than expository.
How to talk about this year? It has been a strange one. In many ways, the last twelve months have afforded me more stability than any other year I’ve written about in a birthday post so far. First I was in DC, slogging through my post-bacc and anxiously waiting to learn whether or not I’d go to medical school. My 32nd birthday was all about grappling with the end of my post-bacc chapter and reformulating my vision for the road ahead. Last year, I was settling into life with Steven back home in New York, and I had just committed to my RD program at Columbia.
This year I started grad school, all the while working to grow this blog, my nutrition counseling, and my work as a recipe developer. In the fall, I finally changed my blog title, which was an important symbolic step for me and a sign of how my relationship with food has evolved in the years since The Full Helping (formerly Choosing Raw) began. I knew that the name change would feel significant, but I wasn’t prepared for how much creative space it would open up.
Since letting go of the raw foods orientation–not merely in my personal life, as an eater, but also in my branding, my message, and my language–I’ve felt such a sense of freedom and inspiration. It’s amazing how words–something so simple as a blog name–can serve either to constrict or nourish our identities. I didn’t realize how choked I felt by maintaining identification with raw food; I figured that since my approach had always been flexible, it was no big deal. But it was a big deal, because it was the linguistic remnant of a time in my life where I approached food very differently than I do today. My vision of good nutrition was far less holistic back then, my definition of “healthy” so much narrower. In some ways, vocalizing this shift was every bit as important as experiencing it.
This has been a year of tremendous professional excitement and growth on all fronts: academic, culinary, creative. Throughout it all, my heart remains firmly tethered to blogging. Recently a friend of mine remarked that she’s surprised I’ve been blogging for so long, as so many blogs are short-lived. But in spite of the fact that I’ve gone through ups and downs with blogging–periods of greater or less investment–not blogging has never crossed my mind. During my post-bacc, I started to feel disconnected from blogging, in part because of stress, and in part because I was so uncertain of myself that it was hard to show up publicly and speak out loud. In the last year, I’ve regained the capacity–or the courage, maybe–to share my words, my voice, and my food. It feels good.
In the spirit of sharing, though, it’s important for me to come clean about the fact that outside of the blog, this was not always an easy year.
In February, for NEDA week, I wrote about the odd realities of leaving an eating disorder behind. Yes, there’s a lot of freedom to be gained. But there is also the unsettling process of having one’s favorite armor stripped away. I’m further removed from anorexia than I ever have been, but I’ve also become poignantly aware of how many seemingly unbearable feelings my eating disorder protected me from. Without it, I am so much more susceptible to loneliness, anxiety, and fear. My eating disorder imprisoned me, but it also made me feel safe, and it gave me a layer of remove from thoughts and emotions that were far more threatening to me than the pain of self-denial.
In the fall of this year, I started to feel anxious. At first it was easy to dismiss this as the inevitable result of juggling graduate school with work, but the anxiety didn’t seem to improve during my winter break, and it never ebbed or flowed with professional stress. It clung to me no matter how busy I was or how hard I tried to shake it off. By the late winter, it was so acute that tiny, insignificant things could make me unravel in the blink of an eye. I felt as though I was losing my capacity to differentiate between what was meaningful and what wasn’t, and it scared me. That sense of brittleness, of feeling as though I was perched someplace precarious and constantly at risk of falling, reminded me a lot of my eating disorder.
There were other things, too. In spite of having finally found myself in a graduate program that’s a perfect fit for me, in spite of living in the city I adore, and in spite of sharing my life with a wonderful and loving partner, I was often unhappy. Or rather, I felt as though I was looking at happiness through a pane of glass: I always felt so close to it, so ready to partake, but somehow I couldn’t shatter the glass. That so many things were going well made me feel even worse about this sense of distance and remove. There was so much abundance in my life; why couldn’t I inhabit it fully? Did this make me ungrateful and rotten? And since I had no reason to be sad, anxious, or fearful, why did I so often feel those things?
In February, I finally gathered up the courage to return to therapy. I haven’t been in therapy since my last ED relapse in my early and mid twenties, but it was a vital tool for me back then, and I hoped that it could help me again. It has been very different this time around: uglier, messier, and not nearly as comforting. My last experience of therapy was a relief: after all of those years of secrecy, it was so good to speak and be heard. And because nearly all of the “work” was focused on managing my recovery, there’s a lot that I was able to avoid.
Therapy in my thirties has been anything but a relief. It has been by turns exhausting and humbling, a process of self-exposure that leaves me wishing for my old defenses. I started the process hoping to find quick answers, and instead I’ve been presented with more and more questions about who I am and how I want to be. More than anything, being in therapy has made me aware of the ways in which I tend to hide, and it has given me insight into the things I’m hiding from. In that sense I know it’s doing its job, but to have the curtain pulled back is painful, and I often wish I could close it up again.
But along with all of the exposure and vulnerability, therapy is helping me to find my voice. I don’t tend to think of myself as someone who is muffled; I write about personal things in a public space, after all, and I tend to express my emotions freely. But I also spend a lot of time apologizing for and doubting myself. When conflict arises, I lose sight of my own perspective. And, in spite of how hard I’ve worked to wrestle down anorexia, I’m still often paralyzed by perfectionism, by trying to craft a life that is oh-so neat and tidy and carefully maintained.
Since life itself is rarely tidy, I need to start exploring what it means to incorporate messiness into my world view, to embrace a way of being that’s freer and bolder than the one I cling to now. I don’t know how I’ll do that or what the end result will be, but I do know that I want to feel less confined and more resilient. I want to take more risks. And this is the first step in that direction.
Late this spring, things happened in my personal life that brought up a lot of my stuff. Deep stuff, painful stuff, stuff I’ve worked long and hard to avoid–usually with great success. It was a difficult experience, but I didn’t hide, and I was able to make some choices that amounted to what is for me a radical form of self-care. It was a sign that, no matter how turbulent and weird these past few months have been, they’ve served a purpose. They’ve helped me to live more authentically, which hasn’t always meant living more wisely or more benevolently or with greater equanimity. It’s so hard for me to open the doors of my life to conflict, struggle, or anger. But I’m trying, because the consequences of avoiding these things feel scarier to me right now than the things themselves.
So, that’s 34. If nothing I just shared makes sense to you, that’s OK. It doesn’t make much sense to me, either. But in the spirit of allowing confusion and disorder to be a part of my life–along with the beauty and meaning that I work so hard to find–I’ll let this post be the tangle of words that I knew it would be.
I say this nearly every year, but it always merits saying, so I’ll do so this year, too: Thank you for reading, and thank you for making this blog a space that I cherish and value so deeply. The best part of every birthday is finding a way to communicate a year’s worth of experience to you. Onwards into the 35th year.