On Decisions

I woke up this morning and shuffled to the bedroom door. What followed was a mess of decisions, routine, habit, emotion, and, like it or not, just plain humanness. What followed was a mess. A beautiful, powerful, ordinary, exhausting, comical mess. A regular day. A regular day where I made so many tiny decisions, each one influencing the next, and influencing the people around me. What a complex web we weave around ourselves!

MORNING
walked out of the bedroom door
thought about boiling water for coffee, but didn’t
thought about picking up my phone
gratitude for coffee
more gratitude for coffee
dragged my feet to the bathroom
while peeing, considered not working out
tried to justify not working out (“I’m sore from yesterday, I didn’t get enough sleep,” etc)
realized that was bullshit
brushed my teeth while dreading working out
realized I could drink coffee right before my work out
got considerably more excited to be alive
turned on the shower accidentally (that was my habit before I started working out in the mornings)
turned off the shower
felt sheepish
walked to the stove to put on the water to boil
went back to the bedroom to pull on my workout clothes
walked out of my bedroom, forgot why I walked out, then walked back in
thought about picking up my phone
resisted the phone addiction (I have a rule – no phone in the first hour of waking up)
grabbed my yoga mat and brought it outside to the deck
chose the YouTube workout I wanted to do
went back inside to pour the water over the coffee grounds
picked up my phone to text someone before I forgot
felt a bit guilty for breaking my “no phone in first waking hour” rule
breathed an audible sigh of relief as the coffee percolated (and my phone addiction was appeased)
poured milk into my mug like I always do
took the first, heavenly sip
walked outside to start the workout
thought about how terrible this feels
thought about how strong I’m becoming
gulped coffee like it was water and I was on a desert island
thought about how I still don’t have a “perfect body”
thought about how I definitely don’t want to do these fucking bridges
drank the last dregs of coffee
was amazed when the workout suddenly was over (I didn’t think I’d actually finish it)
stood up shakily
rolled up my yoga mat
thought about breakfast
thought about all the things I wanted to get done today
realized that the workout actually made me feel super energized
gratitude for my body
gratitude for a full day with “no plans”
almost immediately decided to go into town with my grandma to keep her company at the bank
thought “so much for a day with no plans”
thought “look at me, being helpful”
thought “oh shit, now I’m not gonna get as much done”
thought “fuck it”
tried wheat germ for the first time
discovered that wheat germ is pretty much a much blander nutritional yeast
got really excited about wheat germ
gratitude for wheat germ
had a fantastic conversation with my grandma about nothing and everything
gratitude for my grandma
showered and chose an outfit
decided I didn’t feel attractive enough in the first outfit
changed my shirt
got into the car to drive into town
realized I forgot my chapstick
went back inside
grabbed the shitty chapstick because I couldn’t find my good one
headed back to the car

AFTERNOON
called Chris while I waited for my grandma to finish at the bank
learned a lot from talking with him
decided I love being with him (I usually decide this 1-7 times a day, as if it’s a new revelation)
thought that I really want to trust him more
gratitude for Chris
thought about how I really really have to pee
talked about Christmas plans
felt stressed about buying Christmas gifts
received a text from my grandma which read “I’m going to scream soon”
felt panic rising in me, that old, familiar “I’ve been at the bank for almost an hour” panic
thought about how much I have to pee
went over to sit by my grandma, trying to be comforting
decided to go find a bathroom
wandered around the neighborhood for a few minutes, desperately searching
felt weird about going into any of the fancy hotel lobbies nearby, so just went back to the bank

EVENING
hid in bed watching Monk
felt incapable and anxious
forced myself to venture out of the bedroom for a family video call
thought about how far away we all were from each other
gratitude for family
tried to time things so our dinner would be delivered before we both got way too hungry
decided what I wanted for dinner from the Cuban restaurant
called to order
thought about how luxurious it was that we didn’t have to leave to pick up the food
shared a beer with my grandma – Blue Moon – her favorite kind
finally read a text sent that afternoon, from the parent of a piano student (S)
realized she’s asking if I could teach S this evening, instead of tomorrow evening
weighed all the factors: my crippling anxiety, my love for this student, my deep exhaustion, her dedication to the instrument, and her recital coming up in December
decided to let go of my “free night” and teach her an online piano lesson at 7:45pm
ate dinner with my grandma
thought about what I wanted to teach S
thought about how proud I was of her
thought about how I wasn’t making any sense
wondered why the hell I was talking so much
thought about how inadequate I was as a teacher
thought about how much awesome wisdom I was imparting
wondered if anything I’m saying is actually getting through
ended the lesson on a strong note

NIGHT
felt proud of myself
gratitude for my student
gratitude for teaching
dreaded writing this blog post
said goodnight to my grandma
begrudgingly sat down to write this blog post
had zero clue what to write about
lay down and snuggled into my blankets, trying to feel more at peace
then decided what the topic would be: decisions


On Decay

Today I wandered into a cemetery filled with palm trees and cracked stone. I felt lighter than I had in weeks. Everywhere I turned, there was life demanding to be acknowledged. A baby palm tree pushing up from the grass. An iguana sunning itself on a grave. A bird alighting on a post. It didn’t seem like a place of death at all, especially not in the sunshine, with the grass shining greenly underfoot. I was reminded of Whitman, who wrote in Song of Myself that there is no death (I’ve included the full excerpt below). Later, I opened Rumi, searching for a response. I found it in this poem:

Dissolver of sugar, dissolve me,
if this is the time.

Do it gently with a touch of a hand, or a look.
Every morning I wait at dawn. That’s when
it’s happened before. Or do it suddenly
like an execution. How else
can I get ready for death?

You breathe without a body like a spark.
You grieve, and I begin to feel lighter.
You keep me away with your arm,
but the keeping away is pulling me in.


While Whitman asserts that death doesn’t exist, Rumi speaks of waiting at dawn for an execution. Both reflect the feeling I had today: that death is never permanent. Something will always disintegrate and decay, and something else will always grow from the nutrients/energy of the decayed thing. The graves today were filled with life. Grieving really does make us feel lighter, like Rumi writes in this near-perfect poem. Giving space to the darkness in us, being vulnerable and letting parts of ourselves die, can allow light to come in.

Full excerpt from Song of Myself (Leaves of Grass) by Whitman:
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the
vegetation.
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means,
Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff,
I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.


Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken soon
out of their mothers’ laps,
And here you are the mothers’ laps.


This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.
O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for
nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and
women,

And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken
soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the
end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,

And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

On Dreams

Last night, I’m immersed in The Sopranos Season 1, Episode 2, and all of a sudden, Tony starts describing this bizarre dream he had. The dream involves a vicious bird, a lost penis, and an auto mechanic, and the whole thing makes me chuckle to myself, especially after Tony says, “and I’m holding it (his penis) up, and this bird swoops down, and grabs it in his beak, and flies off with it.” You see Tony gesturing with his hand to demonstrate the scene, then the camera immediately switches back to the therapist’s forced-imperturbable face. It’s perfect. You have to laugh.

This scene also makes me think. Why are dreams so mysterious, and so varied? Sometimes they’re ludicrous to the point of being comical. But the ludicrous can turn out to be sad. Like Tony’s ducks. He loved those ducks. He truly loved them, and truly felt a loss when they were gone. It doesn’t make any sense, and that’s okay. Sometimes (most of the time) life doesn’t make any sense at all. I know dreams are proof that we work through shit while we sleep. I also think dreams are proof that hardly anything we do, or decide, is rational.

Sometimes I wake up, terrified that what I’ve dreamed has actually happened. The feeling of relief is so magnificent when I realize I still have “control” over my life, and the terrible dream-thing did not happen. But my body has adjusted to the dream, somehow. My body has, in those few moments or hours of dreaming, accepted that the dream is real. And it takes a few moments after I wake up to readjust. Recalibrate to reality.

Sometimes I wake up with the name of a past lover still on my lips, the feeling of losing them so present in my body that it feels like we just said goodbye the day before. It is real longing, conjured up by a dream. And not only longing, but clarity as well. As if, through the experience of that relationship from the dream perspective, I have actually developed a fresh sense of myself in relation to that other being. The dream is not just some fantasy that doesn’t affect me in real life. The dream has transformed my life.

And sometimes, I wake up remembering nothing at all from my dreams.

Dreams are also tied up in memory and identity for me. I remember some of my dreams, from my childhood and teen years, as if they were memories. Fully-formed, tangible memories. You know how we change and shape our memories into stories as we remember them over and over again? Some of my older dreams are like that. I know them now like stories. They’re stories of myself. These dream memories help to form my understanding of myself, my current self, in the current world. They’re important to my identity. They’re resources for me to use, lenses through which I can filter new information.

Dreams are a portal into another realm. We might think that we’re rational beings with free will, but we seem to be operating based on much more ancient, and much less linear, program than we imagine. We like to giggle incredulously at our dreams, at the weird, nonsensical situations we create in our sleeping minds, but is reality much different?

On People

Honestly, it was the most fun I’ve had in awhile. I sat on the porch of a cafe this afternoon, eating banana bread and sipping a café con leche, and writing about the people I saw. Here are some of the ‘characters’ that inspired me today.


Old guy with defined abs drives a golf cart down the middle of the road.

Middle-aged couple stop to discuss the construction site across the street. They are tan and comfortable with each other, as if they could be walking on the moon and still feel at home together.

Woman wearing a stoic look, a short bob cut, and an old 90s sweater strides past.

Man with wild, stylish white hair smokes a cigarette out of his car window, glancing at me in hopes of some attention.

Two very fat people hunched over on scooters ride by in lurid, pastel-colored shirts.

Trio of old guys stop on the sidewalk to check out a construction site across the street. They speculate. They shade their eyes with their palms. They wonder and exchange ideas. As they move on, a woman I hadn’t seen before falls in line and walks with them silently.

Teenager, lanky, with faded, oversized tie-dye shirt, carries a backpack and looks at their phone intently. Their long, blond hair hides their face as they walk.

Pink-in-the-face guy with cigar and light blue shirt bikes by, adjusting his baseball hat.

Woman with bright blue flowing skirt and skin-tight shirt carries herself like a festival queen.

Very prepared tourist couple come into view with freshly-purchased straw hats and gatorade. They each carry a bag, and stroll in an easy way that allows them to turn their heads in all directions to see the sights.

Two guys drive up in a white van, one driving, one delivering. The delivering one runs out with a single package of toilet paper, jogs the package into the cafe, then leaves. I hear laughter and Latino music as they drive away.

Stylish older couple float by. They both hold themselves with a lot of grace, and have grown their hair out long. The man has arm tats and the woman’s arm is in a sling. She carries a breathy white bag. I inhale and think about my future.

Little girl, about 10, rides in an open-air tour bus, wearing an oversized cream-colored tee shirt, looking off into the distance at nothing in particular. She looks tired. There are little wisps of hair all around her chubby face.

Guy in a white tee hunches over an exceedingly noisy scooter, which is probably about to fall apart.

Woman in black tee and a ponytail points to the cafe, saying “And that’s the coffee house my next-door neighbor used to own.” She’s riding a beach cruiser bike. Her friend, trailing behind on her own bike, looks at the cafe with interest.

A young couple walks by on the other side of the street. Their body language looks a bit dejected, like they’ve given up on something. The man walks slightly in front of the women. She keeps her body in really good shape, him not so much. He takes out his phone as they turn around, probably lost.

Young guy on a scooter holds a guitar in one hand, and steers with the other. He yell-sings “Hey! Come, come on!” as he zooms past me, blond hair flowing and waving wildly in the wind. I smile. How can you not, when someone is singing and scootering.


Once I started noticing all these things, it was impossible not to be interested in every single one of these people. I wanted them to succeed, whatever that meant to them. Once you start noticing, like Mary Oliver once said, you start loving. “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” Here’s the full excerpt, from her collection of essays, Upstream:

“Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones—inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones—rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.

Attention is the beginning of devotion.” -Mary Oliver, Upstream





On Joy

One time, my mom gave me a book called 14,000 Things to Be Happy About. It was awesomesauce. I’ve opened it so many times, read for a couple minutes, then closed it with a knowing smile on my face. It even inspired me to ask friends and family to write their own lists of what makes them happy. To this day, I still have the notebook where I collected these various “happiness lists.” Maybe someday I’ll do something with them. Who knows.

I’m tired AF tonight, need to feel a little joy in my body, and don’t want to write anything truly coherent, so here’s my own happiness list, in no particular order:

pot roast slow-baked with beer
a new gel pen
playing a song at a show that makes someone cry
making my own stickers using colored pencils
sharing a meaningful look with a stranger as I walk by them on the sidewalk
waffles with strawberry jam
kids creating their own compositions in piano lessons
a big, clean dining room table
beautiful tea towels
using cash to buy cheap coffee
using coins from my piggybank to buy expensive ice cream
Vans sneakers
biking with someone I love
asking trees for advice
eating raw green beans
my cat’s almost obscene obsession with chasing and eating green beans
getting into bed with clean sheets
biscuits and grits
snuggling on the couch watching a movie, eating popcorn with my partner
mid-solo realizing that this shit actually sounds dope
walking along a river
flourless chocolate cake
holding hands in public
giving someone a gift I’m super excited for them to have
ice-cold lemonade
putting $40 into my retirement account
practicing piano in the morning sunlight
sweet tea
watching a really good Netflix food documentary
seeing a flower I’ve never seen before
Bananas Foster
listening to the birds
moss
eating at a fucking amazing restaurant on my birthday
dessert wine
leather jackets
long dinners with family
walking in cold weather drinking a hot drink
laughing so hard that tears stream down my face
showering after a workout
my cat’s hilarious habit of eating popcorn when I throw it for him
really, really, really, really warm socks
first snow
hugging my mom
getting paid to play music
the moment when the food arrives at the restaurant
snuggling
seeing a butterfly
walking barefoot
going to sleep after a long day of working
swimming in a lake
giving myself a hug
greenhouses
blackberries
cats in laundry baskets
the little moment when my partner joins me in bed after a long rehearsal and whispers “I love you so much” into my hair
homemade tie die shirts
Steinway pianos
balling out and choosing the whole bottle of wine at a restaurant

I could literally do this forever, so I’m gonna cut myself off there and call it a night. Make your own list! Try not to judge what comes out. It’s honestly so fun. I feel better already.

















On Body Image

I’m a female musician. That means that in addition to being an incredible musician, I have to be beautiful and toned to be respected. When male hosts introduce me before I come onstage, they often say “the beautiful and talented Siena,” as if somehow saying that I’m beautiful is an adequate introduction to my music. The fact that I’m beautiful actually has nothing at all to do with my music, yet it’s an unspoken requirement that I must stay beautiful to get noticed.

My male counterparts can go out with scruffy hair, unshaven faces, potbellies, and outfits that look like they’ve been slept in. I’ve seen it. Too many times. They can look as ridiculous as they want, and people just focus on the quality of the music they’re playing. But if a female musician goes out with even the hint of a muffin-top, people wonder if she’s really serious about her craft. People start to give unsolicited advice about her weight, about her work ethic, about how much time she’s spending with her family, and about her character. They talk about these things instead of the music she’s creating and putting out into the world.

Yes, there are female artists like Billie Eilish, Lizzo, and Kelly Clarkson who are actively pushing back against the scrutiny that female performers are under about our bodies. Is it enough to make me relax and “let my body go?” No. Plus, I’m speaking as a white woman: I can’t even begin to speak to the much harsher scrutiny of Black female musicians.

So why is it like this? Where does this pressure come from? Let’s take Women’s Health Magazine as just a small example of the cultural prevalence of scrutinizing women’s bodies. First of all, “health” is in the title, but this publication focuses mostly on diet and weight loss. It equates health with being super thin and toned. This is bullshit. Health is not the perfect body. Health is not obese, either. Health is somewhere in between. Health has nothing whatsoever to do with how we appear, past a certain threshhold (obviously someone with a grey and clammy complexion isn’t doing too well).

In an article about Lady Gaga’s body in her 2017 Super Bowl HalfTime performance, Women’s Health Mag tried to claim that people shouldn’t (and generally don’t) scrutinize the bodies of female performers. The magazine paints a utopian portrait of a world that doesn’t care how a woman looks. This is just simply false. You can read Fox’s report on the actual comments made on Twitter about Gaga’s body. Everyone, including women, scrutinize women’s bodies. I do it, you do it. We all do it. Some see an imperfect female body and say “it’s too bad she let herself go.” Some just subconsciously respect her a little less. They think she doesn’t deserve their respect because she doesn’t respect herself enough to starve herself and work out for hours each day.

Even WHILE Women’s Health Mag describes this fantasy world where society is beyond criticizing women’s bodies, they display other shit that reveals quite the opposite. Literally on the same page. Here’s a smattering of other stuff you’ll encounter as you scroll through this article:
1) a video explaining “Grocery Shopping for a Healthy Lifestyle,” which dictates how to to avoid tempting bakery items that are sure to “derail your diet” by carefully planning your route in a grocery store, all while depicting extremely thin women picking up fruits, vegetables and, of course, Grape Nuts
2) the “Workout Advice” section at the bottom of the page, which boasts results like “visibly toned abs” and “sculpted arms”
3) the “Must-Have Fall Athleisure Styles” section, showing a sporty woman looking alluringly at the camera

Clearly, Women’s Health Mag knows that women are CONSTANTLY under the scrutiny of the public. They not only know it, but they are actually making a shit-ton of money off of that reality. Despite reporting in another article that “when people (feel) bad about their bodies, they (are) more likely to experience…a cluster of health issues,” the magazine proceeds to make women feel bad about their bodies throughout their website. Here’s the cherry on top: down at the bottom of the screen in small letters, you can click a link that reads “PEOPLE WITH THIS TRAIT HAVE SMALLER HIPS AND BELLIES.” This ‘enticing’ (and shaming) headline leads to a page that displays an ad for “Belly Rehab” and plenty of “How to Lose Weight” articles. So much for us living in a world where shaming Lady Gaga for having stomach flab is outrageous, blasphemous, and “unheard of.” The haters are here to stay, folks.

I’m not sure how to navigate this world. I’m not ready yet to give up the patriarchal idea I’ve been brainwashed with: that I have to look “good” (aka not flabby) to be taken seriously in the music world as a female musician.

On Plant Babies

I’ve been writing about some heavy shit recently, so tonight I want to talk about something more joyful: house plants. I’m obsessed. I feel like a lot of people got super into house plants over the past two years. We were stuck inside in quarantine for so much of 2020: forced to face our own inner worlds for months at a time, as well as our dreary apartments that we hadn’t quite gotten around to fixing up. We needed relief.

We needed something to care about, other than the global pandemic and the presidential election. We needed something that was our own, something we didn’t have to do in tandem with our housemates, who were ALWAYS AROUND (why were they always popping up in the room we wanted to be alone in?). We needed some friggen house plants.

I harbor real love for my plants. They’re like little babies, except they don’t wake up screaming in the middle of the night, or suck up all of your hard-earned cash as soon as you put it in the bank. They’re the perfect progeny: demanding just enough attention that you feel accomplished, even benevolent, for nurturing them, but not so needy that you feel overwhelmed and desperate for a break. Plus, I’ve been learning so much. Now I know that you can propagate almost any plant, as long as you have time and a lot of patience.

When I graduated from the University of Rochester in 2019, a close friend gave me his Pothos babies that he had been rooting in plastic water-bottles. I planted them in hanging baskets that were WAY too big for their tiny little roots. Not knowing that at the time, I just patiently waited for them to grow, keeping them in a sunny spot on our porch in the summer, and by a window upstairs in the winter. Now, they’re huge, healthy vines that cascade down into my home studio.

Plants are amazing for sharing love, and passing down traditions. I’ve propagated more Pothos babies from those original plants than I can count, and gifted a precious Pothos baby to a close friend. I also gave a Pilea pup to my mom to bring back to her farmhouse in Vermont. For awhile, she sent me daily updates on how the plant was doing. It was so cute. My grandmother has a 30-year old jade tree, with a thick trunk, that I absolutely love. When I was there last, I collected a jade pup from this primordial mother, a small, dark-green baby that’s now growing happily on my windowsill in Rochester.

It feels really lovely to know that the plants you’re growing can actually make other people’s lives brighter, not just your own. Sharing plants is a huge reason I love growing them.

For more propagating madness, I picked up a couple of Arrowhead cuttings from my neighbors, which I rooted in water. Most of them didn’t make it, since I was pretty inexperienced and had no idea how much to water anything, but one plant survived. I’ve had that little one for over a year now. Once, she was down to a single leaf, and I valiantly nursed her back to health. Now, she’s healthy and happy with lots of leaves, sitting on my piano in front of a south-facing window.

I find it hilarious, and touching, that word is getting out that I’m obsessed with plants. One friend moved away from Rochester for a year-long graduate program in Spain and left her house plants with me to “babysit.” I happily welcomed her Cat Palm and Zebra succulent into my growing indoor jungle. It’s a bit more pressure taking care of someone else’s plants, but I like the challenge.

My mom, seeing how excited I was about all of my house plants, brought me a Prayer plant as a gift. She said it was my grandmother’s favorite plant. It made me feel more connected to my family. Now, whenever I water my Prayer plant or trim yellowing leaves, I feel like I’m with my mother and grandmother.

I’ll tell one last plant story, and then I have to go to sleep. My dad, who is a real estate agent in Vermont, was showing a house that had been abandoned for a few years. It belonged to an old couple, both deceased now, and the family was finally selling it. Sitting on a small stool by the front door, forgotten in its terra cotta pot, was an ancient aloe plant struggling to survive. This thing was huge. It mostly consisted of dry, yellow stalks. Just the tips of the plant were green, juicy aloe leaves. He saw it, and immediately knew what he had to do. He brought it to Rochester as a gift for me.

I was ecstatic. I can’t even tell you how excited I was to have this nearly-dead aloe plant. I immediately went to work digging out individual roots, cutting off excess dried leaves, replanting the big old plants in their own individual pots, potting the healthier pups, and composting the parts that were too far gone to save. I now have an entire guest room FULL of aloe plants. Some are large, some are tiny, some have long yellow stalks, and I love them all. A lot of them have started growing pups, and I can’t wait until I have pots overflowing with green, healthy aloe. I have no idea what I’m going to do with all of it, but I don’t really care.

Now that I’m in Florida, I genuinely miss all my plant babies. They bring me so much joy. When I’m feeling really anxious, angry, or lonely, watering and pruning my plants is one of the only things that can bring me out of my funk. Or at least make me feel less alone.

Here are the house plants I’m taking care of right now:
-Laurentii Snake plant
-Whale’s Fin Snake plant
-Golden Pothos
-Jade plant
-Vittatum Spider plant
-Pilea (Chinese money plant)
-Cat Palm
-Sword Fern
-Dragon Tree
-Zebra plant
-Elephant Bush
-Alice evans succulent
-Arrowhead plant
-Peace plant
-Aloe Vera

Succulent Bush Senecio

Here are the house plants I’ve managed to kill so far:
-Mexican Snow Ball
-Ruby peperomia
-Echeveria ‘Perle von Nurnberg’
-Lavender (I’ve actually killed two different lavender plants….)

-English Ivy
-Strawberry Begonia

-probably more I’m forgetting

On the Cost of Healing

I can’t start at the very beginning of this story, because that would overcrowd the format I’m working with – the blog post. Instead, I’m going to start in the middle, and it won’t have a proper ending. Make of it what you will.

I have carried my trauma with me, in my body, belief-system, and behaviors, since I was 6 years old and was molested for the first time. What is the actual cost of that trauma? What is the cost of healing? Spoiler alert: it’s $94,090. You’ll see how I arrived at that number soon.

As a high school sophomore, I was already resigned to give my power over to other people. That’s how I learned to be in relationship with someone else. When I was 6, a family friend molested me. When I was 14, a boy I was romantically involved with sexually assaulted me. These were my first sexual experiences. I assumed that this was how it worked: I was trained not to focus on myself, but rather to focus all my energy on somebody else’s desire. I knew that their will would prevail no matter what.

So it’s not surprising that, as a 16-year old sophomore, convinced I had no power in a relationship, I got romantically involved with an older boy who abused me. The boy was in college already, while I was still chugging through high school, so the power-dynamic was already skewed in his favor. Out of the nine behaviors Rainn.org lists as warning signs of intimate partner abuse, this person consistently practiced six of them.

Finally, at age 19, I entered into my worst, and last, abusive relationship. This person was physically violent. He tore apart my self-confidence every day, until I eventually didn’t believe my own sense of reality and couldn’t escape.

Until recently, I carried these abuses in my body and belief-system as “normal” and “okay.” Until recently, I blamed myself for having intense reactions to the abuse. I was too flaky, too emotional, too sad, too dark, too intense, too obsessive, too empathetic, too involved, and too messy.

What has it cost to face this trauma, and start healing from it?

$12,000 (therapy 2019-2021, 50 weeks/yr, $80/session)
$5,000 (therapy 2018, 50 weeks/yr, $100/session)
$4,000 (therapy 2013, 50 weeks/yr, $80/session)
$1,050 (psychiatry, $175/session)
$1,000 (dance & somatic classes, $5-$20/class)
$640 (body work sessions, $80/session)
$200 (gas for travel to and from appointments)
$150 (Qi Gong classes 2016, 10 weeks, $15/class)
$50 (medication)

So that’s $24,090 in expenses. Now let’s examine how trauma/healing work has affected my earning power in the workforce over the past 5 years.

$25,000 forced rest year: (due to untreated clinical depression, anxiety, and PTSD, I needed to take the entire year to rest/heal/process from 2016-2017. For that year, I was unable to work towards a BA degree, work at a paying job for more than 15 hours a week, or network in my field.)
$45,000 reduced earning power since graduating with a BA in 2019 ($15,000 a year, due to PTSD symptoms – I’ll write more about this later)

That’s $70,000 of lost income due to the effects of my trauma.

If I add that loss to my expenses, the total cost of trauma and healing for me and my family has been $94,090. That’s a shit-ton of money.

These costs are STILL ADDING UP. I’m still healing. I’m still not able to work as many hours per day, or with the same focus, as I could before developing PTSD. That’s income I’m missing out on every single day. I’m still putting all I’ve got into trying to live the way I want to live. Trying to grow out of this trauma, instead of letting it slowly destroy me. And I haven’t even STARTED to discuss how privileged I am that I have a family who has been willing to financially support my healing process.

Healing from trauma is expensive. I didn’t have a choice in whether or not to be traumatized. But unlike cancer, or the flu, which occur without human consent, a person made a choice to abuse me. Multiple people, actually. Those people made decisions, and I am paying for those decisions.

I’m just putting it out there: maybe there’s a way that the people who inflict trauma can pay, financially, for the healing process. Any ideas?



On Settling

I was born in 1995. I’m smack-dab in the middle of the “Millennial” generation. I grew up on VHS tapes, landlines, and tucked-in turtlenecks, but never used a payphone or a record player. I was taught that I was special, that my unique capabilities and personality made me perfectly suited for…something. Whatever that ‘thing’ was, be it a person, a job, or a lifestyle, I was meant to find it, pursue it, and never settle for anything less.

This ‘thing’ wasn’t supposed to pay my rent, or provide a stable life. Nope. Instead, it would supposedly make me happy. It would fulfill my potential. That was the ultimate goal: to fulfill my potential for joy, for being fully human. This ‘thing’ would make me fully myself.

Settling was supposed to feel like boredom, stagnation, or mundanity. Notice a small lack of passion for your partner? You’re settling. Don’t feel quite right all the time in your job? You’re settling. Doing mundane work that doesn’t seem to have a higher purpose other than putting food on the table? You’re settling.

So yeah. It turns out that “not settling” can be pretty confusing. The “not settling” mentality can keep you from actually living fully. It’s making us more anxious, less happy, and just generally less OKAY. It’s as if we owe it to the world, to the universe, to never settle. Because to do that would be to rob everyone else of our gifts. This messaging is constantly pushed down our throats in ads, Instagram posts, and media, generally aimed at us “snowflake” Millennials:

“Don’t stay in a boring job.”

“Follow your bliss.”

“Find your purpose.”

“Be uniquely you.”

“Never compromise yourself.”

“Your perfect person is out there, you just have to make room for them in your life.”

This shit doesn’t lead to happiness or fulfillment. Because we’re never gonna get there. “There” is always changing. We’re always searching, striving for the next best thing, and we’re never gonna feel present. Not only are we never sure if we’re doing the right thing, because we’re terrified of settling, but we’re also just not attending to the miraculous, ordinary shit that’s happening in our lives.

Then, there’s the constant questioning. It takes a toll. It’s exhausting. It’s anxiety-inducing. As my partner Chris wisely said when I mentioned I was writing this piece, “If you don’t settle for something, you never get to enjoy anything.”

Then, there’s the issue where “not settling” can trick you into thinking that you’re moving on to bigger and better things, when really, there you still are. The same ‘you’ that you’ve been dealing with this whole time. You don’t all of a sudden grow wings and a halo because you move to a different house, or meet somebody new, or create a new online business where you print inspirational quotes on stuff.

And, the more I think about it, the more “not settling” feels like avoiding real connection and growth. If you don’t settle into something, you don’t ever have to compromise. You never grow in relation to another person, or in the context of a challenge. You’re an island. You’re holding out for your “best” self, in the form of the “best” thing outside of yourself. You’re a self-perpetuating carousel.

The real question is not, “Am I settling?”

The question is, “Is there something hurting in me that I need to attend to?”

Here’s the heart of it for me: “not settling” means running away from the mundane. But the mundane moments in my life are what make it all worth it for me. My cat jumping up onto my lap while I practice piano. My partner making us egg sandwiches for breakfast. Drinking a cup of coffee in the morning. Finding a great radio station on a road trip. Listening to a particularly poignant podcast. Looking out into the trees through the big window in my office, forgetting about my to-do list for a second. This is it. And I’m not selling myself short because I actively love, notice, and cherish those things.

From now on, I want to stop avoiding settling. Fuck it. I’m rebelling against all the messaging. I want to be present. I want to be bored. I want to revel in the absolute miracle that we’re here, on this earth, together, and alive. And I don’t want to do it in Bali. I want to do it in my fucking living room.

On Overwhelm

When I was little, the holidays were always a time of extreme giggling and waking up way too early with my cousins. I remember laughing so intensely that my small body felt like it was bursting apart. It felt delicious and fun, but at times the sensation got too big for me to handle. Sometimes, after rolling around in pure merriment for too long, I would start to feel out of control. I’d feel overwhelmed.

I had a natural solution to this feeling of overwhelm. I remember this clearly. I’d pick up a soft blanket. I’d pull it over my head for a few seconds, letting it fall down gently around my face. I’d close my eyes, breathe, and silently tell myself it was alright to calm down. My cousins and sister would be screeching and bouncing all around me, but I had this one small moment of solitude in the dark. I’d feel my body come home to itself, like a houseplant responding to water. Then I’d lift the blanket up and start playing again, refreshed and regulated, ready to dive back into those large sensations.

This response to overwhelm was automatic when I was a kid. I didn’t have to think about it, or strategize in any way. I wasn’t dissecting theories about the nervous system’s response to stimulation. I hadn’t read “The Body Keeps The Score,” by Bessel Van der Kolk, or “Unbound,” by Tarana Burke. The only resource I had in that moment was my own body. And I knew what I needed. Not only that, but I was able to provide it for myself.

Let me say that again: I knew what I needed, and I was able to provide exactly that. With no outside help. In the moment. Without hesitation. Without inhibition. Without ANY THOUGHT WHATSOEVER.

Here’s my question: where, in the crevices of my childhood, (let’s include upbringing, personality, socialization, traumatization, and formal education in the “childhood” category), did I lose my ability to soothe my own overwhelm? Was it a mere forgetting, or rather a more sinister, slow unlearning? And, will it ever feel automatic again?

Overwhelm* happens frequently for me. It used to happen when I was laughing and playing a little too hard. It happens now when I’m in a really crowded public space, when I’ve been taking care of other people all day, or when too many things are demanding my attention at once. Overwhelm feels like someone suddenly opened an umbrella inside my chest (one that’s way too big to fit behind my ribs) and it’s pressing pressing pressing against my bones, my skin, my throat, my heart, threatening to take away the life inside me if I don’t do something quickly.

Overwhelm often leads to panic, and because that sensation feels so urgent, it’s almost impossible to interact with the world until I’m able to regulate again. As an adult stuck in a state of overwhelm, do I use the blanket method? The automatic childhood response to overwhelm?

No.

Instead, I hide from my overwhelm.

I go into dorsal vagal mode, which is the shut-down method our body uses when it’s in a state of hyperarousal. I feel trapped inside of myself. My body feels numb. I start bumping into doorframes, dropping things I would normally be able hold on to, and, finally, lying in bed watching Netflix out of desperation. It takes conscious thought to invite myself out of dorsal vagal (the feeling of “I can’t”) and into sympathetic (the feeling of “I can”). Then, with a lot of effort and focus, I can spend a few minutes experiencing and “being with” that sense of panic, using non-judgmental awareness, and pull myself up into ventral vagal (the feeling of “safety”).

Through body work, therapy, close relationships with people I love, mindfulness, and dance, I’ve slowly learned that I do have the ability to self-regulate, take care of myself, and attend to my “overwhelmed-ness” when I need to. I’m developing the habit of gently delivering myself out of shut-down and into safety. But it has taken years, and will take many more years, for this sense of security and trust in myself to return.

I don’t have answers, but that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here for the questions – that’s what keeps me going. If overwhelm always existed, and so did my natural self-healing response to overwhelm, where did that instinctive response get suppressed along the way?



*My “overwhelm” in adulthood may show up differently from other people’s, as I have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as anxiety and depression that stem from the PTSD.