I struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life growing up. I was shy and had trouble making friends. I felt insecure about my appearance because of the hair on my body, my crooked teeth, and my bloated belly. I sat around and played video games or watched television the whole day. If I wasn’t laying on the couch I was in the kitchen, debating what I would snack on next. Cheese-Itz? Fruit Loops? Frozen dinosaur nuggets and mozzarella sticks?
The most fruit I ate was gummy snacks. The closest thing to a vegetable I would eat was french fries. I always had trouble using the restroom growing up. I remember going to the doctor once when I was younger and seeing the concern on his face when I told him I didn’t remember the last time I pooped.
Luckily, my mom got me started young on the organic, hormone-free, cage-free, etc… so for most of my life I’ve had a slight interest in the purity of what it was I was putting in my mouth.
In middle school I had my first try at being vegetarian. I was and still am an animal lover, so naturally that led me to not wanting to eat animals. It didn’t last for long; My mother supported me with some hesitation, but regardless. My dad, however, showed little support and made me eat a philly cheesesteak the day I told him.
I never had a very tight relationship with my parents. Everyone in my family had the tendency to keep to themselves, so I never quite learned how to interact with others and speak my mind. I also became quite the loner in my teenage years. I spent most days in front of a t.v. or computer playing video games and trying to make friends online. I wasn’t allowed to have friends over because my dad worked nights and wanted to sleep during the day. I had trouble reaching out, and when I did I would often explode after holding in my emotions for so long. This led me to fear reaching out even more. I didn’t want to be mean to people and figured it was my nature, so I avoided interacting as much as possible. On the bright side, through these experiences and isolation I had learned to be self-reliant and independent. I dreamed big and wanted an amazing future for myself, I knew I wanted to help others and I wanted to make a lasting impact on the world around me; For the environment, the animals, and fellow human beings. The only problem was that something was still missing from my life. I would constantly search to fill a void I could not pinpoint. I developed unhealthy eating habits with overeating, then eating less or skipping meals when I felt “fat” or gained too much weight for my liking. My mother was always worried about her weight and talked about how “fat” she looked, so I felt I should be doing the same. I was told, as a 145 lb, 5’8” teenager that I was overweight and needed to watch it. As a child I didn’t know what that meant. How do I watch my weight? What do I do to fix what everyone is telling me is broken? My whole world was what I grew up on; the Standard American Diet, staying indoors because there is sunburn and bugs outside, and keeping to myself because I couldn’t spend time with friends until after my parents divorced while I was in middle school.
This began the cycle of binge eating on foods I thought were healthy because they were organic, starving myself when I started gaining, and then wasting away summers on the couch not eating or drinking anything. I slept and played video games because nothing else was working, so why do anything?
It wasn’t until my senior year of high school when I decided something needed to change. I was still in a cycle of binging and starving, but I started picking healthier options to binge on. I swapped my cheese-itz for popcorn and traded the pb&j sandwich for a turkey wrap with spinach. I was never a soda drinker, but I did make sure I always had water with me. I was still depressed and anxious, spending most of high school in a state of dissociation to make it through the day. I felt like a ghost, going through the motions, numb, and observing from the outside.
By the end of my senior year I had met my best friend Erin who happened to be a vegetarian. She taught me to trade in meat for boca patties and morningstar sausages. Though still not the healthiest way of eating, I was already starting to feel better physically and mentally by eliminating animals from my diet. This opened a door to the realization that how I feel physically has a correlation with what I put into my body.
Summer came along and my depression got worse. I immediately moved out of my hometown to a house an hour away. I had no license, only a couple of my few friends had licenses, and I spent the majority of the summer alone in my bedroom, journaling about how lonely I was.
When I went off to college I shared a dorm with two dear friends; my cousin Olivia and her high school friend Sam. We all kept each other sane through our first semester at University. The piles of homework had us depressed, stressed, and for them, missing home. I didn’t mind being away at college. I was enjoying my time there with Sam and Olivia more than I was at home all alone. The college experience itself, however, had me ready to kill myself. It was drastically different than what I experienced in high school where all you have to do is show up to pass. I dreamed of being an art major until taking an advanced class in high school and deeming myself not good enough. This led me to go the complete opposite route in college where I tried majoring in business. I couldn’t even last half a semester in my math course. I was completely lost. I had no vision of a future for myself. I was amazed I even made it into college at all, thinking I’d have offed myself by the time I graduated high school.
This was a very introspective time for me. When I wasn’t doing my school work and listening to depressing music, I was journaling. I was and still am very big on writing down my emotions and what I’m going through.
“If this is what life is like, then what’s the … point? I feel like I’m going through some kind of self torture.”
“Life is just stress, anxiety, and depression with rare good moments that convince me it’s worth it. Either way I’ll end up in a … job I don’t want but need to survive, I’ll go through a midlife crisis with debt and more stress, and then I’ll die. I might as well just die right now and save myself the trouble.”
“I wasn’t made out to go to school and get a dead end job purely for the ability to keep living in this hell, but it seems to be the only option. I’m really trying. I’m trying so hard and I feel like it just won’t be enough.”
“I can’t live in this world and be happy.”
This is what was going through my mind day in and day out. This is what I was manifesting every moment of every hour. I was constantly living inside a dense and heavy cloud of negativity towards myself and this life I felt cursed into.
After dropping my math class, I had a lot of time on my hands. Erin regularly enjoyed documentaries and shared interesting ones she found with me. I mainly watched ones on nature, but one day I noticed a documentary called “Vegucated.” I started watching it thinking it would teach me how to incorporate more vegetables into my life, but instead it dove me into the world of Veganism. I was thrown onto a rollercoaster of emotions over the planet, the animals, every individual impacted by what I chose to eat, and how I was fueling my own body.
Halfway through the documentary I was in tears. This was the push I needed. I texted my mom before I even finished watching to tell her that I was vegan from that day forward, though it took me a few more months to fully transition.
I replaced my cheese with daiya and started eating more whole grains, bean, and vegetables. I watched as my life slowly started working its way up out of the heavy cloud I created. I felt infinitely better now that my lifestyle was beginning to match up with my beliefs. My bloating was going away and my bathroom visits became regular for the first time since childhood. I started dropping excess weight effortlessly.
By the time the next summer came around I was 30 lbs lighter. I began exploring my personal beliefs and spirituality. I dropped out of college after that first semester to reconnect with myself, get involved in a regular yoga and meditation practice, and learn how to cook healthy plant-based meals. I was so excited over this world of health and wellness I discovered that it didn’t take long before I was obsessed.
The sunshine and rainbows didn’t last long. My stress over not being or doing enough followed me. I was doing a lot more now, living for myself, living the healthy lifestyle, but something was missing. I was doing everything I read about online! I was following all of the new fads, doing what the nutritionists do, shouldn’t I be happy and stress free?
Not necessarily. I was doing all of these things out of the wrong place. I was doing it because I felt like it was what I should be doing. I wasn’t doing it because I believed it was what’s best for me. Sure, I wanted to save the world, be healthy, slim, peaceful, successful, you name it- but I wasn’t doing it out of love for myself. I was doing it because I felt like I needed fixing. I was doing it because I was lost. I needed something to follow, to encourage me to keep going. I needed something to give me the power I didn’t see within myself.
The next summer rolled around and I found myself in an unhealthy “relationship.” He was everything I looked for in a partner: vegan, big on cleansing, exercise, and spiritual practices. What took awhile to realize was that he was also obsessed with perfection. He had a large ego searching to consume all innocence and replace it with what his idea of perfection was. I was lacking in self-confidence during this time, still didn’t speak up and aimed to please others. I was self-conscious, constantly wondered if what I was doing was enough and what he would think of me if I didn’t do what he thought was best.
He wanted me to be a raw vegan, and he was personally aiming towards breatharian. I developed an eating disorder around the purity of what I was eating, and if I was eating enough to get the nutrition I needed or too much to be connected with the universe. Eating became a coping mechanism, to distract myself from what was really going on. I put my passions on hold until one day, I found a school called The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN).
I finally remembered why it is I do what I do. This school combined my passions of making a difference in the world around me, others lives, and my own. IIN taught me to go back to the basics, remember who I am, what it is that I really want for myself, and helped me find what I had to do to get to where I want to be.
Instead of shaming myself after a large meal or eating something “unhealthy,” I began listening to my body. I learned how to fuel it with what it’s asking for and listen to the natural signals of when to start and stop eating. I became mindful of my dietary habits and how they reflect what’s going on in my life. Before noshing down on that candy bar, I’ll take a step back and ask myself what’s happening inside myself and in my environment to make me crave the sweets.
I began tearing down my walls, uncovering layers of dust that have been thrown onto my canvas through the years. I built up a new foundation for myself, based on what I believe and know is best for me. I began living from a place of compassion rather than fear.
My time with the boy soon ended as I learned more and more about what it means to love myself. I knew I had a lot of work to do inside before I could know what I truly want for myself, especially in the realm of relationships.
How I see others and how I interact with others is a direct reflection of my beliefs and how I feel about myself. Any judgements that rise about other people are really what I judge about myself, and what I perceive to be a certain way. What I admire in other people is what I would strive to manifest within myself. If they could be that empowered, why couldn’t I?
I began looking at the world from a different perspective. I now see life less as a destination, and instead as a journey that is always growing, shifting, evolving, and bringing me along with it. I released expectation to outcome and began manifesting dreams into reality one moment at a time. I use stress as a tool, found ways to keep myself grounded, and balance time between work, play, and rest.
You may be wondering, why am I telling you all of this? What interest is my story to you?
Everyone has a different background, different struggles, different way of handling emotions. However, we are all capable of getting to where we want to be. When we let go of expectation and start living for ourselves from a place of love, then we can achieve anything we put our minds too.
Do I want everyone to suddenly drop out of high school, do yoga and become vegan? Not necessarily. I want to encourage you to experiment. Listen to what your body and intuition are telling you and find what works best for you.
Through personal experience, I have learned to rise from a place of hopelessness to one of endless possibility! I was able to release baggage I had no idea I was carrying and build a new platform to stand upon. One that is flexible, sturdy, and treats life as a dance, rather than a battle.
I was able to tune into myself, my body, and my dreams. Now I know it is my journey to help others do the same. What I experienced is not entirely unique to me. Each individual has the power within themselves to cultivate their dreams into reality. Everyone has the power to overcome fears and negativity, and start living gracefully while chasing the burning passion within. You have the power and the right to know and live the lifestyle that is best for you! Together, we have the tools to build you a new foundation and rise out of the ashes. Why not start now?