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Young Voices

Guest Posts, Women are Enough, Young Voices

The Way I’m a Woman

November 2, 2016
feminine

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Caroline Hoenemeyer

I love the beat my feet make when I walk, not the high-pitched click clack of some dainty spikes, but the weighted thud of these boots I’ve broken in, blistered, bruised. I love the way the fat padded around my stomach peeks and prods out of my leggings, maybe too tight. I love the way my black bra shows through my sheer laundered-with-sweat white shirt, with breasts heavy because that’s how gravity works and I don’t like to say no to nature. I love to speak with the deep vibrations in my voice—not like a question, whisper, or squeal, not afraid of intimidating men. I love to do the things the Look Like a Lady books tell me not to do.

I love the way I’m a woman and right now that means I love to appear in a way that’s grotesque to The Patriarchy. I am a Virgin and a Madonna and a whore and a blossom. I am a bloody tampon and strawberry lips and the shits after really good pasta. I am dimples on both sets of cheeks and streaks of stretch and a smile like sunshine. I am stubbly pubic hair peeking out of my tight denim shorts peppering my perfect balloon thighs. I am grotesque just as I am a pure white light of feminine energy. I am neither and all and I get to be whichever whenever I want and I won’t bend or break for anyone.

And yet oh, I want a husband. Not now, not soon, but not never. I want a husband and I want to make babies with him; I want a family. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, Young Voices

An Innocence Buried

October 26, 2016
funeral

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Lauryn Polo

January 31, 2008

I stood in a room that smelled too strongly of flowers, with the same people I saw every day, but this time, we weren’t in our basketball clothes or sweats– we wore dark professional clothing that our moms’ helped us pick out. We didn’t smile, didn’t joke like we were accustomed to at practice. Our coach’s dad lied still—he was gone. And for the first time, my coach was human. Here was a woman we all had known for most of our lives; had shared most of our winter seasons with her, along with countless hours in the offseason—but we had never seen her like this.

But tomorrow, after the funeral, we would practice again. She would still yell, and stop her foot so hard into the floorboards we would swear she would create a hole. The world, as we knew it, would continue—and this was something I would have to learn the hard way. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, memories, Young Voices

I Miss The Bad Times

October 12, 2016
memories

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Alyssa Limperis

I said goodbye to one of my best friends from college today. He’s leaving NYC and moving west to go to Law School and be closer to his family. I feel sad. Maybe because I knew him when my dad was alive. Maybe because he’s one of the first people I go see when I have something to say. Maybe just because I want more late night, ice-cream-filled hangs. I’m sad to see him go. I’m sad that time keeps moving forward. After losing my dad, I want to hold tightly to everyone I love. I don’t want anyone to leave. Bryan represents my prior life. A life where I was scattered and free and waitressing and not quite sure where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do. He represents a time when I was depressed and lost. More than half of our hangs have been me crying to him. I spent so much time with Bryan worried about the future. Upset about the present. Hanging on to something from the past. I spent a lot of time on my phone. A lot of time in my head. I found out he was leaving a week ago and time slowed down. I instantly wanted to spend every minute with him. Digest all of his advice. Appreciate the profound comfort of sharing each other’s company. When time suddenly became limited, I wanted to freeze it and not let it escape. I wanted to go back and relive all of our times together. I suddenly yearned for feeling lost and uncomfortable and unsure. I wanted to be back to the time when I was deeply depressed. I wanted to go back to working doubles at a restaurant and slumping on his stoop in exhaustion on my way home. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving, Young Voices

The Aftermath Of Assault Leads To A Call For Help

October 4, 2016
assault

TW: This piece discusses sexual assault and its aftermath.

By Ashley N. Doonan 

I am a doctoral student in Rhetoric and Writing at Bowling Green State University. I teach Freshmen English as well as take courses within my program. I come from New England, and I have only been in the Midwest for about a month and a half. Unfortunately, my experience here has already been tarnished.

On September 1st, 2016 I was robbed of a vital piece of myself. The violation—the shrieks, the moans, the blood—all as I was forced down and pressed into the carpet rhythmically against my will for what seemed like hours. After that day, I resorted an old coping mechanism of mine—that is, not eating. That numbness, that lapse back into my eating disorder sucked me in almost instantaneously.

Things started to decline quickly, and there’s no doubt that one cannot maintain an eating disorder while simultaneously succeeding in a Ph.D. program. Therefore, I have sought out a dietician who is highly supportive and specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. However, she does not accept insurance and the standing rate for the comprehensive six-month package costs $3,250. “Begin WELL” was the program suggested to me based on my assessment (more information on that can be found here).

As a graduate student, I simply don’t have that type of money nor do I have any financial support from my family. As of today, I have a second job, however, my university limits the amount of hours that graduate students can work. I am extremely uncomfortable asking others for assistance but I know how much I need to be seeing this dietician in order to stay in school and avoid a higher level of care. My dietician is willing to work with me via monthly payments versus paying for the entire package at once.

During my eating disorder in past (you can read more about that here) I found that hunger stole my voice. The year wherein I was too afraid to go to class, when I’d come up with any and every excuse not to go out with friends—I refer to that period of time as “the silent years.” Little did I know, my sexual assault and subsequent relapse into my eating disorder would pull me back into the realm of silence. The work that I do currently involves discussing the rhetoric of mental health—a topic that will likely become my dissertation. I believe that advocacy for mental health issues is one of the most vital things one can do; for me at the current moment, that means vocalizing my story because I know that I need assistance to make it through this. Moreover, I hope to reclaim my voice because I refuse to let my trauma and eating disorder rid me of it.

Even the smallest of donations would be appreciated, as I am doing everything that I can to stay out of the hospital. My GoFundMe page can be found here.

Warmest wishes,
Ashley N. Doonan

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen Pastiloff at her Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human in Dallas Oct 22. Click the link above to book. No yoga experience needed- just be a human being! Bring a journal and a sense of humor. See why People Magazine did a whole feature on Jen.

 

Check out Jen Pastiloff in People Magazine!

Check out Jen in People Magazine!

Forgiveness, Guest Posts, Young Voices

How to Make Peace with a Dead Woman

September 21, 2016
peace

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Jessica Domer

How to make a peace with a dead woman. Step One: Have a psychic medium give you messages from your dead mother and grandmother. Step Two: Go to a really good therapist. Step Three: Do a lot of yoga and meditative chi running. Step Four: Write an essay.

When I was five years old, I saw my mother for the last time. She walked out the door, leaving my father, brother, sister and I in her wake. When I say my mother walked out on me, I mean she quite literally shut the door as I was looking in her eyes, pleading her to stay. She said nothing. And I knew, in that moment, that I would never see my mother again. It turned out that, although I was a young girl, my intuition was correct. My mother died several years later without ever returning to visit. She died as we were planning a trip to come see her on her deathbed. She died the day before her birthday, which I always felt was an irony that was suited to be the last scene of her very unfulfilled life. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, Young Voices

From the Ground I Burn

September 8, 2016
suicide

TW: This essay discusses suicide.

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This week is Suicide Prevention week and this remarkable essay is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. Together we can help erase the stigma of mental illness and there is nothing to be ashamed of about depression. I believe even the messy parts of being human are beautiful. If you need to talk, there are good resources available including To Write Love On Her Arms and 1-800-273-TALK. We are stronger together, helping each other. The Manifest-Station is always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here. And remember: You ARE enough.

By Leah Juliett

Death threw me a bridal shower last summer. It sat at the crook of my neck in the shape of the cold belt that no longer fit around my contorted waist. I exhaled and my cracked heels exited cold ground. My voice ripped out of my larynx and I have not seen it since.

Mental illness is a cold turkey my family always forgets to serve- never spoken of; sitting in an oven that demands repair. White-skinned relatives always militantly ready to snap the steel gate closed before the smell gets out. Last fall my mother forgot to take out the trash for three weeks and maggots spilled out onto the garage floor. The smell of bone dust lasted in the car port until December, but has stayed on my body. I emote bleeding sockets and rug burned back. I reek of a decaying brain.

My childhood bedroom has become both gravedigger and priest- mourning me and calling me holy. Pouring dirt on naked body. My skin begs to have more stiffness than elasticity. I do not want to recover from what haunts me. I want to be drenched in it; wet thighs, bleached lips. I want to remember all the times I slept underground.

The first girl that I fucked with was made of fire. Her hair was dipped in raven ink. When she slipped her head beneath my hollow stomach, I cooed. I was dawned in trauma, bones cracking under heavy weight of my skin suit. Trauma too pretty to be spelled into post-traumatic stress. My body not a war veteran. When I told her I loved her, she left a flower at the head of my grave and departed like the weary admire the death of someone they wished they’d known better.

When my family eats dinner, I like to believe they chew the meat of my Adam’s apple. My throat throbs. Small hands clutch voice box. Birds cough out of asthmatic chest. The oxygen that steams from my inhaler is cold and milky, the color of male ejaculation that drenched my early teens. When I press it to my lips I wonder if this is how they try resurrect a corpse. My breath is some form of witchcraft, my inhaler a magic spoon. No matter how often I want to die, I always press the red plastic wagon that floods a surge of air back into my charred lungs.

The bridal shower was quaint. I drank a glass of water and took two Lexapro cookies that crumbled and tasted sweet under my teeth. Gifts sat under a large oak tree outside of my window, wrapped in shiny paper I’d seen at the local drugstore. I imagined all of the thank you notes I’d have to write. Mother. Father. Sister. Grandmother. Grandfather. Childhood pool. Plant on my bedside table that I’d named after Sylvia Plath. Blood. Answering machine. Suddenly it seemed like an undoable task. I cannot write a letter that does not sound like a obituary. My fingernails carved words into the hard wood of my desk. There is no erasure of what is written in stone, but wood can be burned. This quiet body can still be burned. From ash, I can fit into the cells of my old skin like plant seeds and I can build myself into a new man.

There is a burial ground at the pit of my stomach where my body allows poison people to continue to live. The rotting, the asthma, the constant churning of broken shells under wrists that beg to be cut open. The undead dance on my clavicle, etch foreign words into my pelvis. I cannot feel sexual attraction without a ceremony of grief- my vagina only wet when my eyes can no longer produce tears. This is the birthday party I never had.

The problem with mental illness is that it does not sit cold in the oven. It marinates the whole house. It’s the maggots, the turkey, the bones left under the bed. The quiet throb when you read newspaper obituaries for people you never met, only, all of the people are you. It is the sliver in your thumb that always seems to find it’s way into your nervous system. It pokes floats in your cardiovascular system until your chest ruptures. I wasn’t born for small things. My body, my coffin, my illness is so large I cannot hold it in my hand. It wasn’t being gay, or hating my body. It wasn’t being naked or touched or exposed or cut open. If I were clean of impurities, there would still be a sickness. The alien graveyard still living under new city. I cannot dig up what is too deep to see.

Death approached me after all the guests had left. It handed me the belt from the top shelf of my closet. It stretched around my neck like the pearls I’d imagined would go nicely with my bridal shower dress. I wanted to turn my body into a cross, hanging like Jesus from my bedframe. I wanted to relive my mother’s church.

Death looked at me with eager eyes, a handsome fiancé-to-be begging me to accept such a grandiose proposal. My chest sat heavy beneath all the lives I had not lived.

I do not know if I will ever marry. I do not know if I could stomach a diamond.

When I handed back the belt I did not deny death. My voice is too strong for this caracas. When suicide strangled me, my throat strangled back. Words beneath my ribcage pushed upwards until unholy screams pierced the room I slept in. I am a banshee body. I am a watery grave. I am uncomfortable, I am unearthly, but I am here. I will live here until the Earth turns over and the graves spill out. I will dance among decaying bodies falling backwards from the sky like a haunting snowstorm. My voice will not die. I will not die.

When Death threw me a bridal shower, I burned down the building. I grabbed my voice from His melting hands and ran before the noose pulled me back into the bad place. I have not seen Him since.

Leah Juliett is a nineteen year old poet, actress, LGBTQ+ activist and intersectional feminist from Connecticut. She is the author of “Orange Peels and Other Things that Burn” (2015, Amazon Publishing), and has competed nationally at the Brave New Voices Slam Poetry Competition. She has been featured in Seventeen Magazine, Teen Vogue, Buzzfeed LGBT, Attitude Magazine, and The Huffington Post. Additional work has been published on The Clit List and The Odyssey Online.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen Pastiloff at her Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human in London Oct 1st and Dallas Oct 22. Click the links above to book. No yoga experience needed- just be a human being! Bring a journal and a sense of humor. See why People Magazine did a whole feature on Jen.

 

Check out Jen Pastiloff in People Magazine!

Check out Jen in People Magazine!

Guest Posts, Surviving, Young Voices

Broken Hospital Bracelets

August 17, 2016
trauma

TW: This essay discusses rape and trauma.

By Ashley Doonan

“It has been a pleasure working with you,” Dr. Leslie says as he hands me a cab vouch to North Station, “we’re here if you need us.” The taxi drives down McLean hill and I gently loosen my hospital bracelet. “This is it,” I think to myself, “this is learning to walk again.” I breathe deeply and stare into the sun.

Three weeks prior, it was raining. I stood in the Clinical Evaluation Center, second-guessing why I was there. A nurse spoke gently, “we’re sending you to the Trauma Unit.” The semester prior, I had finished my Master’s thesis on a subject matter related to trauma—I knew all of the signs and the symptoms, the causes and the effects. Still, identifying myself as a sufferer remained alien to me. It couldn’t possible be me, I thought that day, how did I become this fragile? I often find myself wondering what are the evolutionary mechanisms that cause intrusive thoughts after a traumatic event occurs? Perhaps it is for safety, but the pain that is produces emotionally seems utterly unproductive. Even the trauma specialists lack the answer to this underlying question. Thus, we sit with these thoughts day after day, desperate for a means of escape. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, Young Voices

Losing the Grandmother I Didn’t Know I Loved

August 10, 2016
grandmother

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Reyann Shah

We have always called her “Moti Mummy” and for as long as I can remember I’ve known exactly why. “Moti” is the feminine word in our language for “big” or old”.

Hearing my grandmother referred to as “Moti Mummy” always did well to remind me that she was the eldest woman in our family’s house in India. It garnered a certain amount of respect in that way. But it also had a way of making me giggle when I heard it. It’s the dumb humor that comes with alliteration. It was fun to say and it made me smile.

Hearing it from Mama today didn’t have the same funny effect that it usually did.

At 10:48 AM:

“Moti Mummy is very sick right now. She wants to leave and not go on anymore.”

At 5:20 PM:

“Moti Mummy passed away.”

As terrible as the initial news was, I had what at the time I thought was the benefit of simply reading the former in a text message. I didn’t have to bear the pain of seeing Mama’s crying face as the horrible news sank into both of our hearts. But it’s interesting. Upon getting home from work, I endured the latter in person with no keyboard or smartphone screen to protect me from seeing the pain in Mama’s eyes, and yet I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The reason was simple. With seeing Mama’s crying face, it was the opportunity to hold her in my arms that followed.

It was the opportunity to let her emotions pour out onto me without a shield or a boundary in sight. It was one of the very first truly authentic moments between us.

“I never got to be as close to her as I wanted to be,” I told others-through my tears- about my grandmother for most of today. Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, Young Voices

Eight Years Later And I’m Still Not Better

July 27, 2016
healing

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Alyssa Limperis

I can still remember coming home from the doctor and hearing my mom ask, “Did he say you were better?” She was referencing my 9-month old eating disorder of anorexia. At about month 8, I’d decided that I wanted to start getting help. I wanted to start getting better. I’d decided I wanted to stop blacking out every weekend, to stop being freezing in the summer, to stop waking up at 5am to work out for 2 hours, to stop only sleeping for 3, and to stop dreading daylight because it meant the beginning of starvation.

I didn’t want to be possessed by a nasty dictator. I wanted to be free. I longed to take a bite into an apple without feeling disgusted with my weak self. I wanted to undo the damage I had done to my decaying bones. I wanted to be normal again. And so I went to get help. And a month later my mom asked if I was better. And in that month, I knew what that answer would be for a long time. I
quickly realized this wasn’t a cold. I couldn’t get a Z-pack and be ready for work on Monday. I had learned ugly truths. I had memorized specific details. I had lived in a frail body. Those are not strands of mucus that get blown into a tissue and
disappear. Those are pieces of knowledge that got lodged into my brain. My underfed, misguided brain. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, Young Voices

That Is Enough – Living With Grief

June 15, 2016
grief

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Anna Schoener

My hands were frozen in what can only be described as claws, my face contorted in an expression I didn’t know possible, and my body, from the hips down, had gone completely numb.

I knew two things: I didn’t want to keep going, to keep breathing. And I knew that the only way to survive, was to continue doing so.

Ÿ ***

When I was five years old, my mom was attacked and killed by a mountain lion. She was out on the running trails and never came home.

As a five-year-old, this was my first experience of death. My parents hadn’t needed to explain death to me before that point, so I knew virtually nothing about it. When we received the news, I cried and then I wanted to play a game. I went, almost immediately, back to my five-year-old self. It wasn’t until a couple years later, lying in bed one night; I realized for the first time that I would never see my mom again.

It took another twelve years or so before I found it in me to grieve for her. It started during a Reiki session, where for the briefest of moments, I found myself in the forest where her ashes were spread, completely at peace. It was the first time my soul felt that kind of solace since I was a small child, and as I left the Reiki session that day, I knew my life was about to change, I knew I was about to change.

I dove in. I did everything you’re supposed to do when grieving; I meditated, practiced yoga, wrote, cried, felt. But it wasn’t enough. The wounds I held had been left untreated for so long, it was like they’d been infected. Infected with sorrow, hopelessness, and self-hatred.

So I left. I left behind my hometown, my friends, and family and I went to New Zealand. For no reason at all, except that it was very far away. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape, Surviving, Young Voices

From One Survivor To Another

June 11, 2016
writing

By Courtney Cook.

When I think about being raped, I think of mosquitos. I think of the sound of a buzzing street lamp. I think of sweat, of sand, of silence. And I think of the women on the tennis court nearby, blissfully unaware of my presence a mere fifty feet away.

There are no bicyclists in my story; there is just me, a girl barely 15, and him, not much older. I am so grateful there are heroes in your story. You never deserved what happened to you, but you did deserve all the kindness in the world that those men gave to you in your most vulnerable moment. I wish they’d never had to extend such kindness, but if something so horrific had to happen, I am glad good men found you. I am so thankful for all of the good men.

 

Two weeks before I was raped, my future rapist was pulling me away from a party. It was Halloween; I was dressed as a sailor. I can’t remember what he was dressed up as, but I can tell you the way his arms felt wrapped around my wrists as he drug me away from the party. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love, Young Voices

Born To Be Bald

June 8, 2016
acceptance

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Addie Newcombe

Many people have never heard of Alopecia Areata. It means you don’t have any hair. So the obvious million-dollar question comes up over and over again: if you could have your hair back, would you?

Many women answer yes, and that’s fine. But I offer a resounding NO! I do not want my hair back. Ever!

Yes, this puts me at odds with a lot of bald women, including the four profiled for a piece in the “Fashion and Style” section of the New York Times. They all wish they had their hair back because the emotional discomfort of being bald has not yet subsided—washing their insecurities clean.

Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disease that attacks the hair follicles. It made me completely bald at the ripe old age of…six. That was fifteen years ago. Out of the 6.6 million people in the United States who have the disease, I have only met two people without hair—well, three including myself, but I’m still meeting parts of who I am. Not experiencing others with the disease has been extremely alienating. In a country with over 6.6 million people with my similarity, how have I only met TWO? Maybe I am wildly unaware of other people’s baldness or they are wearing hairpieces that are so life-like that I just don’t notice. I don’t think that is a bad thing, though. Anonymity is so hard to come by when you’re so physically different. Continue Reading…

Adoption, Guest Posts, Young Voices

A Reflection on a Second Birthday

June 3, 2016
adoption

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Lucy Sears

It is February 23, and I am staring at a picture I have taken on my phone of a photo that sits in an album eight hundred miles away. In it, my mother hugs me close to her chest. There are tears in her eyes, but her face speaks a volume of joy that has been incredibly captured in a single shot. My father stands behind her, with a similar look.

This is the first photo that was taken of us, as a family. The date is February 23, 1998. It is not the day that I was born, but rather, it is the day I like to say my life began. Continue Reading…

Eating/Food, Guest Posts, Young Voices

The Sweet, The Bitter, and The Wise

May 25, 2016
eating

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Raisa Imogen

For a long time, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be happy. This seemed like a distant and shimmering answer, and something people couldn’t question. If I said I wanted to be a writer, people would ask me, rapid fire: What kind of writing? Do you want to go to grad school? That’s nice, but I meant what are you going to do for money? Saying I wanted to be happy could mean writing, or it could mean a white picket fence in the suburbs, or traveling the world, or eating granola in my bed. Whatever was underneath “happy,” it remained mine, and no one could question it.

I’ve spent this year studying abroad in Italy. It’s been a whirlwind of churches, fruit stands, and little old women dressed to the nines. I’ve lit a paper lantern and let it go across the Adriatic Sea. I’ve been invited in for coffee by a nun. I’ve walked through the underground city of Naples.

I was also in Paris during the terrorist attacks. I got bed bugs in Rome. I went through a breakup. I do not mean to present the highs and the lows as a balanced equation (I am well aware it would be a very, very privileged equation). I mean only to point to a few moments to say I have experienced extremes.

A year ago in my university’s newspaper, I wrote, “I conquered an eating disorder.” What I meant was that I didn’t use the margins of my notebooks to tally calories anymore. I could live with myself on the days I didn’t run six miles. I could eat an entire slice of cake on my birthday without wincing.

What I should have said was: I conquered an eating disorder once.

After Paris, I was anxious, all the time. I ate cartons of cereal instead of actually feeling sad. When I went grocery shopping, I bounced back and forth between milk brands and brightly stacked vegetables, disoriented, as if on a scavenger hunt without any clues. In between all of this, I was drinking espresso in Venice, watching sunsets, and coasting through the hills of Bologna on a Vespa.

I had little to no patience with myself- if I wasn’t happy now, in Italy, when would I be? How could I be re-facing an eating disorder when I had so many days here where I was not just happy but ecstatic, and overcome with gratitude?

You’d think re-facing something means that it would be a little easier to look in the eye. But this version of an eating disorder is different from the one I experienced at sixteen. It is both deeply familiar and also completely foreign. I have had to re-learn it. I have had to carve a new space.

Shame is what pulls you under. When my mom came to visit me in Italy, I said, I’m still struggling. Sometimes I’m scared. It was strange to be having this conversation in a hotel in Italy, a better version of the conversation we’d had four years ago in our living room in Chicago.

At the end of it, my mother said: I just want you to be happy. The sentiment was beautiful! Who doesn’t want to be happy? Who doesn’t want their parents to want that for them? For the record, my mother is incredible. But I was mad as hell. There is something unsatisfying and hollow about the word happiness. It’s impossible to pin down. It doesn’t capture much.

And yet, a big part of me wanted to say, “But I am happy.” It wasn’t a lie. Overall, I didn’t not feel happy, even while during the conversation I was crying and my face was covered in snot.

My mother wasn’t wrong in perhaps referencing the fact that I didn’t seem at peace. But why did I feel shame at admitting things were sometimes not so easy? Why was it so hard to admit that yes, I wasn’t always happy?

I think we are taught that happy means good and sad means bad. But in the Welsh language, the word “happy” first meant “wise.” “Satisfaction” comes from the same Indo-European root that gives us “sad.” Disorder, of whatever type, can co-exist with “goodness,” and illness can co-exist with health. Maybe some difficult things never go away, but we learn how to re-greet them, to pay attention, to maybe be a little bit more compassionate towards ourselves. Contradictions don’t equate to lies or hypocrisies. We can be kickass students, amazing friends, artists, athletes, parents, and partners, and within the context of being those things, we can struggle with what is painful, dark and difficult.

As the Italians say, Non ha il dolce a caro, chi provato non ha l’amaro. To taste the sweet, sometimes you must try the bitter. Meaning, you can have moments of light in a year of suffering, or moments of suffering in a year of light. You can wake up in Italy, or Spain, or Senegal or Chicago (or wherever you are) and see something painful rise within you, something you thought you left behind many places ago. Hardship, in however it manifests, can be a part of well-being.

We can be in awe of the world around us (and active participants) while also deeply in pain. Bearing witness to ourselves and all of our contradictions, learning to greet (often more than once) our struggles with compassion, and allowing room for pain is, sometimes, a lot of work. A lot of hard work, and often excruciatingly difficult. But it is worthwhile, and important, and worth stopping in the midst of our very busy lives to make space for and observe.

Raisa Imogen was born in Portland, Oregon, grew up in Chicago, and is currently studying at the University of Bologna in Italy. Her poetry can be found at www.raisaimogen.net and at The Kenyon Review.

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Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.