On Driftwood

This morning my grandma and I woke up in the darkness at 6am to shoot a music video.

We wouldn’t have done this, except we were walking along a remote beach last week, and came across this abandoned homestead made of driftwood. There once was a community of people living here, my grandma said: I used to see them when I walked my dog down here years ago. In place of the colorful tents and long-haired men that once nestled into the sand, only a driftwood castle remained. They built this massive, angular structure, the center of their village, the gathering place. They tied emblems to the ends of the bone-dry branches: old Nikes, beautiful glass bottles, buoys, and strips of colorful ribbon. They painted a few branches with vibrant blues, yellows, and pinks, penning all-seeing eyes and names of past lovers. They put up a plaque for someone named “Red” who died there in 2009. There were clear outlines of different rooms, like the Aztec ruins in New Mexico.

When we first came across the driftwood complex, I felt like I was in Peter Pan’s wonderland. The place had magic. I felt so inspired. I casually mentioned how great it would be to shoot a music video there, and my grandma said, why not? We should do it.

I don’t think many people can say that their grandma was the videographer for their music video. I’m feeling really blessed to be in this position. My grandma happens to be a really masterful photographer, so she’s accustomed to being behind the camera, and was really excited about collaborating on this project with me. And I’m accustomed to being in front of it – it’s part of my job as a professional musician. I especially love shooting music videos where I’m interacting with nature – I shot one on an iPhone camera last fall, and made one with Lilac Milk last winter.

So this morning we drove out to the beach for sunrise and shot the first footage for the new music video for my song Meteor. In the castle on the sand.

On Gratitude

Today, I drove 27 min to the library, so I could stop being so desperately bored. I’ve know boredom is supposed to be good for your creativity, because if your brain has room to wander, it is more likely to wander into something interesting. That’s true. I’ve had a lot of great ideas and breakthroughs in the last couple of weeks. But the less romantic truth is that, 84% of the time, a wandering brain just….wanders around aimlessly into absolutely nothing.

So I’m at the library, piling books into my arms like a fiend, getting so excited about all the different topics. Cupcake baking? Yes please. Bob Marley’s journey while recording Exodus? Yup, piling that on. Novel by Elizabeth Gilbert? Yes please. Memoir by Ruth Reichl? Mmmm yes. I even grabbed a synonym dictionary. I’m not even kidding. I saw this huge, old-fashioned book full of synonyms and thought I’d grab it for some light reading. I was PUMPED. Then, I picked up a couple books that my grandma asked me to get for her, and headed towards the check-out desk, stumbling a bit under the huge pile. I couldn’t wait to get home and read all of these books!

At that moment, the place went completely dark. I looked around, thinking stupidly “is it nap time?” Of course it wasn’t. Unfortunately. Then I got kicked out of the library.

It turned out that the power went out in the whole island of Key West. Before I got my library books!!! And now I was stranded out on the street, longing for all those books I was forced to abandon on a table inside. It was madness. Luckily, I had 5 dollars in cash and I was only a five minute walk from the key lime pie shop. So I went and got a slice (dipped in chocolate, on a stick). It was fucking delicious. It made me smile. I ate it as I walked back to my car to drive home.

Gratitude is like that. I was still PISSED AF that I had to go back empty handed, but then this little sliver of joy presented itself to me. Gratitude is noticing the unexpected gifts in ordinary life. I know gratitude isn’t always a piece of key lime pie. It’s not always that obvious. But the key lime pie is such a great example of how gratitude shows up in my life. It’s unexpected, hard-won, beautiful, tasty, and it gets me through. I’m not at the point yet where I can be grateful for hard things, but I can be grateful for the tiny moments that get me through the hard things.

I think boredom is on the docket for me again tomorrow. And I’m okay with that.

On Food

We sit by the ocean, sunglasses on, blessed down to our toes in sun. Hibiscus beer gives off a rosy glow from our glasses. The waitress places two metal trays in front of us, covered in salty, greasy fries and grilled fish sandwiches. There’s nowhere on earth as joyful as my body when I take the first bite. Flaky white flesh, tomato dripping with ruby juice, tiny green morsels of lettuce, covered with delicate layer of tartar sauce, and drizzled with juice from a bright yellow lemon slice. It seems impossible, but it’s really happening. I’m here, with you, and I’m in my body. I exist. I love.

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On Memory

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For the second time today, I’ve left the pot of water boiling on the stove. It sat there, bubbling away, until the last drop of water sizzled out, the kitchen filled up with a concerning hot-chemical smell, and the inside of the pot turned a sickly white color. I discovered this scene when I casually ambled back into the kitchen, totally unaware that anything was amiss…until I sniffed the air and caught sight of the pot.

Aaaand cue the shame and amusement. Ashamed because I know it’s dangerous to leave the stove on, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve forgotten to turn it off this week. Amused because it’s pretty hilarious to forget something so simple. Turns out everything is gonna be okay, because my 82 year-old grandma is teaching me how to not forget.

Apparently electric stoves can cause electrical fires, which you can’t put out with water. I did not know this before sitting down to write this, so yeah, I’m glad I know now. I guess you’re supposed to use baking soda. Who would’ve known. Side note: I am absolutely floored by the number of uses baking soda has. Almost every time I ask Google how to do some daily activity, the answer is “use baking soda.” Get a grease stain out of a shirt? Throw baking soda on it. Cat pee in the carpet smelling up your hallway? Shake some baking soda on that shit. Rusty pan? Baking soda. Gunky sink? Baking soda. Clogged garbage disposal? Make a volcano by dumping baking soda and vinegar in there! (This is not even a joke – I actually looked this up once, tried it, and it worked). Pro tip.

Anyways.

So I keep leaving pots on the stove until they boil out. The irony of this is that I’m living with my grandmother, who does not leave pots boiling on the stove, and who is dealing with the lasting effects of a stroke. She is fascinated with the ways her mind has changed in old age: she mixes up opposite concepts (lemons with limes, hot with cold, dark with light) and sometimes will do the thing opposite to what she wanted to do. She says that since our memory of binary concepts lives in the same part of our brain, it’s difficult for her to separate them. It’s like you’re reaching into a single dark cupboard, feeling around for two identical cups. They might be different colors, but they feel exactly the same. At least that’s how I imagine it might feel like.

She also talks about how it’s often difficult to recall words (I imagine this like trying to draw water out of a deep well full of lily pads and cattails with a small bucket, but she’s the only one who knows what it’s actually like) and how her short-term memory is less powerful than it used to be, and more selective.

So just to recap: who is the one leaving pots on the stove? It’s me. Me, the 25-year-old whose frontal lobe JUUUUST BARELY firmed up into its full-fledged adult form. I have a newly-minted brain. So what’s going on here? I have no idea, but I find it intriguing, so here are some musings on memory.

Memory is a fickle thing. It turns out that most of us remember in stories, not in concrete accounts of exactly what happened. Each time we recall something, dredging it up from our well of past experiences, we handle it, shape it, and share it. We mix up the memory while fitting it into our current belief systems and habits. When we put it back, it’s more of a story than before. It’s a reflection of our identity.

In The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk invites us even deeper into the confusing world of memories and recollection. He describes a study in which veterans were interviewed directly after returning home from the Vietnam war, and then again years later, when they were in their 80s. In their old age, the healthy vets gave very different descriptions of the war than when they were young and fresh out of battle. Over the years, they had moulded their memories to fit nicely into their current identity. They had a core self, and their recollections had become fully transformed by it.

Conversely, the vets who developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder gave THE EXACT SAME descriptions of the war when they were 80 years old as when they were 20. They told the same story. Their memories (of the traumatic event) were frozen in time. Here’s the crucial difference between the vets with PTSD and the vets without: for vets with PTSD, memory was not transformed by identity. In fact, the memory itself, stuck forever in its original form, becomes a permanent part of their identity. Not the other way around.

People with PTSD don’t just have trouble integrating our memories with our current core self. We also have trouble with basic memory functions. Specifically, PTSD affects the first stage of memory function: initially acquiring and learning information. This is very crucial when we’re trying to remember something in the short-term. Like returning to the stove a few minutes after putting the water on to boil to pour our tea, for example.

All this memory gobbledegook may have something to do with why my grandma is the expert on memory in this household (besides the fact that she has a PhD in psychology from Columbia). She’s had many more years of practice not remembering things. She knows the secrets. The solution? Don’t use your memory at all. Just use your senses. Sensory memory comes before short-term memory on the path to storing information in our brains. Use a physical habit that takes the place of needing to remember. Stay in the room. Don’t let yourself leave while the pot is on the stove. Keep it within sight. And voila! No need to remember a thing.

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On Soulmates

Are we meant to find our soul mate? Do we have only one, or are there lots? Is this just another idea for us to gather around, warm our hands against, and use to make meaning out of our relatively meaningless lives?

Here’s what the internet has to say on the matter (you can read the full articles by clicking on the titles):

Wikipedia:In current usage, “soulmate” usually refers to a romantic or platonic partner, with the implication of an exclusive lifelong bond. It commonly holds the connotation of being the strongest bond with another person that one can achieve. It is commonly accepted that one will feel ‘complete’ once they have found their soulmate, as it is partially in the perceived definition that two souls are meant to unite. The term “soulmate” first appeared in the English language in a letter by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1822.”

Ooookay. There’s a lot to unpack here. The thing that sticks out the most to me is that this definition stresses an all-or-nothing type of partner. You’re gonna be with this person for all of your remaining breaths, and you are not whole without this person. This is the definition of “soul mate” I encounter the most. It makes me feel nervous and confined.

Merriam-Webster: “1) a person who is perfectly suited to another in temperament
2) a person who strongly resembles another in attitudes or beliefs”


This is a really funny one. The thing is, I would never, ever want to be with someone who resembles me in attitude. I just wouldn’t. So, by this definition, would I not want to hang out with my soul mate? I honestly don’t think I could make it one day hanging out with myself (what’s that? I live with myself every day? Oh yeah. Well, I don’t want any more of me around. That’s all I’m saying).

The Atlantic: “Take the idea of romantic destiny, or “soul mates”—the belief that two people are deliberately brought together by unseen forces…Believing in soul mates is functionally the same as believing that if you get a certain job, achieve financial independence, or move to a sunny place, you will have true and lasting satisfaction. Nothing is more human than this belief, which keeps us hopeful in spite of our negative experiences. But it is a recipe for unhappiness. We cannot attain permanent satisfaction—at least, not in this mortal coil—and waiting for it will leave us disappointed over and over again.”

This realist view really resonates with me. It makes me feel like I have power in my own trajectory. I get a calm, contented feeling, knowing that a relationship will be sustained not by a mysterious, ethereal force, but by my own decisions and response to challenges.

Seventeen: “Wondering if your bae is the perfect match? Here are 18 signs that will help you know if you’ve found your true connection.
1) You just know it. There is no test that will help you determine if you’ve found your soulmate or not. To figure it out, you just have to know it. You have to feel it in your gut, that this person is the right one for you.


Alright. You know what? I’m tired of hearing this bullshit over and over.

One time, when I was 15, I caught sight of a super cute guy at a traffic light one summer. I had been driving around like a hooligan with a group of friends. Egged on by loud whoops from everyone in the car, I leaned out of the open window and asked this guy if he would marry me. He said yes. Then we pulled over after the light turned green and had a little wedding ceremony. I knew he was The One – in that single, summer evening moment.

I know that’s an extreme example. But we aren’t living in some masterpiece painting, where we work on a single painting for our entire lives, always with the same color scheme, the same brush strokes, always keeping an image of the finished product in our minds. Our lives are more like leftovers soup. We’re pawing through the fridge, finding the old broccoli that nobody wanted to eat, chopping up celery, throwing some chicken in there, and stirring it around, shaking various spices in, just improvising our way through this lumpy bullshit. And then, in the end, it’s fucking delicious. Maybe not in the exact way we thought, but it is!

Brides.com: “You might be wondering if you met your soulmate on a vacation, subway stop, or that time in the rain when a stranger invited you to share an umbrella—but didn’t realize it at the time. According to Dr. Tobin, yes, this is possible. “Everything in life is about timing. I believe it’s a matter of self-knowledge. When you understand that a relationship is not about control or the simple need of fulfillment but is essential to our psychological and spiritual development, then you’re open to the possibility of meeting your soulmate.”’

YES. Yes to this. I never would have thought that I’d have a full fuck-yes to something written by Brides.com, but there we go.

Here’s what I think: I think we have lots of soulmates. Not just one. I think a soulmate can be a romantic partner, a friend, a pet, or even a stranger who you lock eyes with on the street for a split second. Sue me.

I understand having a gut feeling about someone and following that. You make decisions based on your gut feeling, and you just keep doing the next right thing. I’m doing that right now with my partner, who I love deeply. What I don’t understand, and don’t accept as true, is the other part of Seventeen’s claim: that you just know it. Life is so complicated as it is. Sometimes I don’t know what to eat for breakfast. Sometimes it takes a little bit of recalibrating, rest, or space to be able to come back to my “knowing.” I don’t “just know” anything. And I don’t want to. I’m just here improvising.

Here’s one more article, in case you really want to delve deeper into the soulmate idea.

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On Empathy & Secondary Traumatic Stress

Empathy is all at once a loaded word and a cliched idea in 2021. I want to explore the shadow side of this omnipresent buzzword. What is empathy, really? The Berkeley definition is “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” This seems doable. Imagining what someone else is feeling could be as simple as procuring an image of a raincloud in your head when someone says they’re feeling gloomy.

However, Google Dictionary’s definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” The ability to share the feelings of another. This is all well and good when you’re empathetic towards someone because they’re feeling grief or joy: these sentiments are breeding grounds for connection and vulnerability.

But what happens when the other person’s feelings consist of self-hate, suicidal urges, and severe disdain for other people? Where does that leave you, after you’ve employed consistent empathy for that person? Filled with a desire to not be alive anymore, and an acute loathing of basic humanity? Is that helpful to anyone? Is that good?

These questions are important to me because empathy used to be one of my strengths. I had an uncanny ability to feel into what others were feeling, so much so that when I watched TV with my best friend, she would catch me mirroring the exact facial expressions of the actors on the screen. She’d call me out on it, and I would be startled, not even realizing I was contorting my face to match the ones on the screen. I’d come back into consciousness to find my mouth had formed a deep frown, or my eyebrows knit together in an angry face. I was doing it completely subconsciously. I wasn’t able to control my empathy.

And then, it wasn’t a strength anymore. It was a window, a soft gap where other people’s brutal feelings could infiltrate and settle into my body.

Brené Brown asserts that “empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable choice. In order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.” But what if empathy isn’t a choice at all? What if you’ve been in a state of empathy for so long that it’s a simple habit, a continuous way of being? Then it could be very dangerous.

At what point does empathy become stupidity? And are there people who are carrying too much pain inside of them, trauma that they are unwilling to face, who pose a real threat to the people who care about them?

I know this is a controversial thing to suggest, because the “good” thing to do would be to empathize with somebody who is in pain. Right? Someone who is in pain needs outside help. Pain is not meant to be dealt with alone. And I know the word “threat” is extremely charged. I don’t mean that the person in pain intentionally hurts others. But unchecked pain is catching.

When I was 18, I met a sociopath. I disliked him when I met him. My gut reaction was to crinkle my nose and ignore his impish quips. I could see that he was terrified and small, underneath his contempt for others and boyish bravado. But something about his quick, bird-like movements and strange, old-fashioned speech intrigued me. He was attractive, in a disconcerting, “I want to put you under my wing and keep you there” sort of way. He was carrying immense trauma; he had been regularly beaten as a child, and only knew how to give and receive love through violence. He made me uncomfortable, and I thought that was an indication that he would challenge me: that I was about to learn a lot about myself and the world. I was a free-spirited, confident young woman, ready to take on anything.

Flash forward 2 years. All that time, I’d been engaging with this person, being fully empathetic to his experience, seeing things through his eyes, reveling in the entirely different way he saw the world (as a cold, loveless place where one had to be aggressive and hateful to exist as an individual). I had surrendered to empathy, because that was how I knew how to love and attend to someone. By the end of those two years, I was suicidal, had developed debilitating anxiety, woke up nightly with sheets drenched in sweat, no longer felt desire for anything, was insecure to the point of hating myself constantly, and felt shock/surprise if someone touched me in a loving way. The joy had vacated my body – all that was left was over-arousal, despair, and a torturous memory of the person I’d been before.

Years later, partially healed, I started teaching music at a charter school, a job I was extremely ill-prepared for. The principal had me read up on Secondary Traumatic Stress. The National Education Association writes that “educators can begin exhibiting symptoms similar to those of their students – withdrawal, anxiety, depression, and chronic fatigue” even if they haven’t experienced trauma themselves. This is a well-researched, fully-fledged fact: that educators develop what’s called “compassion fatigue” when faced with their students’ trauma every day in the classroom.

I personally experienced Secondary Traumatic Stress after only a couple of months of working with about 100 kids as their music teacher. Kids accused me of physically harming them when I didn’t. They touched me inappropriately and called me names. They were constantly terrified that everyone, including me, was out to get them. Most of them didn’t feel safe anywhere. Some told me that they were worried every second of every day that their parents would be killed.

I, still carrying my own traumas inside of me while trying to take care of these traumatized kids, crumpled. I started having panic attacks almost daily: loud, urgent affairs where I screamed and screamed, desperate for some relief or catharsis that wouldn’t come. I couldn’t greet my partner upon arriving home after the work day, because even the slightest touch or word directed at me felt explosive. Loud noises made me feel like I was being beaten over the head with a baseball bat. I was a shell of a human.

Could I empathize with these kids (share these kids’ terror) without wasting away into this fragile humanoid creature? No. Could I genuinely teach them without being empathetic to their experiences? No. So I left the job.

I think it’s interesting that, as the use of the word “empathy” has increased over the years since the 1940s, so has the use of the words “anxiety,” “trauma,” and “relationship.” There seems to be a correlation between the prevalence of “empathy” and “anxiety” in the English language. I don’t think this is a coincidence. I think, based on my experience, this parallel upwards trajectory of anxiety and empathy in our culture makes a lot of sense.

Is empathy inherently dangerous? No. Does trauma always breed trauma? No. But I think it’s important to talk about how empathy isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. If we sacrifice our own experience of the world in favor of being empathetic, we risk being worn down. In that state, we can’t help anyone at all. Empathy should never be all-encompassing, as tempting as it may be to surrender to someone else’s experience. It has to be done with regard for the Self, and the Self’s desires. This might be obvious to most people, but for most of my life, it wasn’t obvious to me. So I’m writing about it.

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 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 Desire

I’m lying in a hotel bed, halfway between New York and Florida. I’m escaping, in a sense. From what, I’m not entirely sure. I could be slithering away from my relationship, which looms around me, a dark mass of supportive, attentive love. Sometimes it disgusts me, how such a broken, oozing creature like myself could be immersed in this golden affection. Or maybe I’m sneaking out of my roomy upstate New York house, so secure, so stifling, like someone is ever so slowly smothering my breath away with a goose-down pillow.

Or, if I’m lucky, I am escaping expectations: my own urgent hope that I will fulfill my potential (whatever the fuck that means), my partner’s hope that I will be kind, my students’ hope that I will be inspiring, my fans’ hope that I will be entertaining, Instagram’s hope that I will be beautiful and toned, and my community’s hope that I will “leverage my privilege.” Other people’s dreams lodge in between my ribs like congealed Mod Podge. I’m not sure if this dripping, monstrous glob is concealing my desire, or if it’s gradually forcing desire out of me forever.

Or, maybe, I’m escaping myself. If I’m being really honest, I might be running away from my own stubborn refusal to allow my desire to take up space. Sometimes (often) I am disgusted by my own light. It threatens to burst out, innocent, enthusiastic, from tiny cracks in the thick fortress I’ve built around my Self. How dare this light come out. How dare any light get in at all. How dare I want my light to be seen. How dare I inspire light in someone else. How dare I desire. How dare I desire.

What is desire, anyway?

To me, desire is fear. Desire is the stealthy siren, leading my body to the sharp crags and unrelenting surf beating down on the shore. Desire knows that I am both the shore and the body, and it resolves to take full advantage of that. Desire doesn’t care about consequences, doesn’t delight in hierarchies or flowcharts.

Desire is wild, and wild is fear.

Wild is disintegration. Loss of self. Loss of control. Loss of power. Loss of everything. Desire doesn’t take with cautious fingertips. It takes and takes and takes, scooping great mounds into its calloused hands.

Is it possible to draw a line between joyful attraction, bubbling over in rainbow colors, and dangerous obsession? Could I pinpoint the moment when something pleasant suddenly turns rank and insidious? Would I even realize that anything had shifted at all? Would I notice that I was disappearing before the last wisp of me fell away?

“But,”

you might ask,

“if the desire is yours, yours alone,

can’t you trust it?”

That remains to be seen.