A Brief Introduction to Life with PCOS

No matter how much you attempt to surround yourself with those things that make you feel comfortable, it can inevitably often feel as if the battles you fight are fought entirely on your own. This is how I have always felt when it comes to PCOS. Unlike many women who are diagnosed with PCOS in early adulthood, I have actually been aware of my condition since I was about 13 years old…almost 3 years before I ever had my first period.

PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and it refers to a disorder within the female reproductive system. It’s widely believed to be incurable, as well as the direct cause of a slew of hormonal imbalances which include irregular periods, hair loss, uncontrollable acne, dramatic mood swings, and fertility problems, (to name a few).

In addition to the entirety of that short list, I’ve experienced most every catalogued “symptom” related to PCOS. However, rather than a path of discovery through these issues, my journey in navigating my disorder has been a bit backwards.

Let me start by speaking a bit on how my experience has unfolded thus far:

How I Learned I Had PCOS:
Pretty simply, my mother has it. When I was “coming of age,” I complained of severe migraine headaches, and unbearable pain in my abdomen, coincidently around the same time every month. I hadn’t yet started bleeding, but my mom took me to see a gynecologist who confirmed her belief that I had inherited the curse of small cysts forming on my oversized ovaries, then bursting around the time of my menstrual cycle (the fluid causing the pain and discomfort). The doctor immediately prescribed me a low dose of synthetic birth control, and sent me on my way. I was 14.

The symptoms subsided within a couple of months, and I was honestly ecstatic. I was able to maintain an active lifestyle throughout high school, and rarely complained of any side effects. I loved my birth control regimen because as a young teen, it made everything so much easier. When I did get my period, it was consistent, and easy to navigate. I never shared with any of my girlfriends that I had a hormonal condition because I didn’t have to. Birth control masked my imbalances, and once I got used to it, made me feel “normal.”

What Happened Next:
I wasn’t only private about my hormonal condition in high school, I was also close-lipped on the little pills I was taking with my lunch every day. To me, I had an “issue” for which I was taking medication, and I would have felt embarrassed if all of my classmates knew I was “different.” Once I got to college, I quickly learned that A LOT of girls were taking birth control, but not for the same reasons I was. They were taking it to literally control whether or not they gave birth. This may seem like a stupid realization to have after I had been taking it for years at this point, but you have to remember, that was never why I started taking it. To me, it was a medicine I thought I needed to mitigate the side effects of my condition. It had nothing to do with having sex.

Once I learned that was not the primary motivation for most of those using an oral contraceptive, what happened next is kind of hard to explain – I just started to feel a little uncomfortable. Here I was, almost 20 years old, and I had been religiously taking a pill I knew little to nothing about every day, for almost a quarter of my life!

I wasn’t sexually active at the time, and I was more afraid of the risk of not knowing, so without really thinking about it, I decided to stop taking it. Just like that.

In what seemed like an overnight change – I immediately felt better than I ever remembered. Within just a few weeks, I lost nearly 15 pounds. Meanwhile, my appetite and energy levels dramatically increased to a healthy level. I was overall lighter and happier.

Fast Forward:
Of course, nothing good can last (without maintenance). After graduating, I experienced both a level of stress and a variety of emotions that I had never known before. More specifically, my physical health was struggling, and I had no idea what was wrong. I drank easily an entire pot of coffee a day, and quickly gained back all the weight I had lost in college. I was rarely active, and always anxious. I had hair growing in the most random of places, and acne showing up in places I had never experienced before! And they weren’t little bitty blackheads. It was cystic (hormonal) acne, always around my chin and jawline and it never went away! (More on this later).

I visited a psychologist to try to talk through my uncontrollable mood swings; I saw specialists who tested for food allergies like celiac disease, and lactose intolerance; I was even recommended to have multiple tests done to scan for rare cancers in my breasts and colon. Thankfully, none of these tests proved fruitful, but unfortunately, the mystery of my long-list of discomforts remained unsolved.

You have to remember, it had been almost a decade at this point since I last even spoke of PCOS with a doctor, and almost four years since I had given up the pill, cold turkey. It truthfully never crossed my mind to tie anything I was feeling to my hormones. In hindsight, I didn’t really know enough about my condition to know all of the symptoms, and it wasn’t something I had ever consciously thought to allow to play a role in my life.

A Push, Then A Shove:
In late 2015, results from a routine pap came back as “irregular,” and “inconclusive.” I pretended not to panic, and reminded myself that I had never really been that convinced I’d ever have children, anyway.

“What should I do differently?” I asked my doctor.

“Nothing you can do,” she explained. And told me to make sure I get another check up in a year to make sure it’s nothing serious.

What?! Nothing I can do. The cells in my cervix were showing up “irregular,” and the results of whether or not I had cervical cancer were “inconclusive,” yet there was nothing I could do over the course of 12 months to ensure the next test was better?

For the first time, I shared with my doctor that I had a condition called PCOS, “they told me about it when I was young,” I explained, “but I haven’t taken birth control in a while. Do you think either of those things could be impacting my results?”

“I’m not sure,” she said, “but PCOS is incurable. I would strongly encourage you to reconsider birth control.”

I was floored. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it. This time was different than when I was a young teen because I felt as if I had more knowledge. I surely didn’t know all there was to know about my PCOS still, or even birth control, but faced with a hormonal issue, I certainly couldn’t believe the solution would be to chase it with synthetic hormones.

Womancode:
In the Summer of 2016, shortly after my move to NYC and starting a new life, I started researching more seriously the condition and came across a lot of great resources which helped me to feel more educated and empowered than I ever imagined. One book was especially interesting to me: Womancode, by Alisa Vitti. I skimmed it half-heartedly, but didn’t implement any of it’s recommended strategies until months later. What she suggested in the book seemed almost too simplistic, and so I was afraid of it not working for me. I was terrified that maybe what the doctors had told me my whole life was true: there was no hope; I am incurable, and I could never have children. I would always be defined by this condition.

As my symptoms worsened, and the fear for my fertility (and happiness) loomed, it became blaring that I could not continue to live my life this way. The day-to-day symptom I was affected by the worst? Mood swings. I felt as if I was losing my mind, literally, and it was making me miserable. I decided to take a stand of my own. I dove back into my research, determined to win this supposed would-be life-long battle. This would not be my story, I was sure of it.

I decided the following Spring to take a leap of faith. Everything kept pointing me toward Womancode. Armed with new knowledge and understanding I had gained from my research, I had already read Vitti’s book, but now it was time to study it like the Bible. I cried as I read through the testimonials she spoke of. “This is me,” I thought, “this is exactly how I feel.” My confidence was restored, even before taking action. I felt empowered through her words, and for the first time, as if I was not alone in this experience.

I learned so much about listening to my body, and giving in to my feminine energy to stay in tune with my cycles in order to optimize my abilities, but the journey was also a testament to a patience and perseverance I didn’t know I had.

How Did It All Happen?
The first task I challenged myself with was balancing my blood sugar. I learned a lot about what can cause sudden drops and spikes in blood sugar, which seemed to be a major culprit in my uncontrollable mood swings. Now, I try to eat every few hours, even if only a small snack, in order to maintain this balance.

Overall, aligning my diet with my hormones was the easiest part. Womancode includes a super-easy to follow list of cycle-friendly foods, so you know what is best for you during the different phases of your cycle, and what to avoid. What worked best for me was doing a 21-day elimination diet to determine where I might have food sensitivities, and then continuing to avoid those foods as mindfully as I can. I also got to try a lot of new foods I’d never otherwise think of incorporating into my recipes!

It took me almost three months to fully churn my bathroom cabinets, but eliminating harsh products was the next step I took. Harsh toxins can disrupt the endocrine system, and that can lead to hormone imbalances, as well. I studied which parabens specifically tend to appear in which types of products, and used helpful apps like ThinkDirty to determine if what I was already using would make the cut. This was sometimes sad, because I had to say goodbye to a lot of products I loved, but also exciting because I was able to try new things. After a few months of getting used to my new products, I found I love them just as much and it’s great knowing they’re better for me!

A few other key strategies I try to implement into my lifestyle as much as possible include:

  • As much stress-relieving activities as possible – journaling, herbal tea, long walks/runs when I am feeling overwhelmed, using essential oils (I love clary sage), yoga, meditation, using hormonal complementing herbs (I love ashwagandha), self-care splurges like a pedicure or massage every once in a while. I also have recently adapted some special mantras that I like to speak to myself when I am feeling especially stressed, or as if I am losing control of my mood.
  • Limiting sugar – this has been a more recent discovery, but I’ve always known sugar sensitivity is common in those with PCOS. At the beginning of the year I did a 31-day sugar detox in which I consumed absolutely no sugar. This helped to “reset” the way my brain thinks about sugar, and as I slowly reintroduced different types, I’ve been able to keep my intake at a minimum.
  • Cutting out coffee – yep. from a pot-to-myself a day to no coffee at all. I recently reintroduced coffee after my elimination diet this year and confirmed the subtle theory that this too was contributing heavily to my mood swings, and hormone imbalances. I plan to stick to matcha (if necessary, but not every day), and avoid coffee as much as I can!
  • Cycle-syncing my workouts – you read that right – and no, I’m not making this stuff up. There is a whole section in Womancode which talks about the different physical exercises that are better during different phases of your cycle. To me, this mostly just means listening to my body. If I’m in my menstrual phase and don’t feel like going to the gym, I don’t go. I also try to push myself out of my comfort zone and try new things during my Follicular phase, when I know I am in a good position to discover something new I might love!
  • Limiting carbohydrates – ok, if you’re reading this and I’ve ever spoken to you about carbs before, you know how much I value them as a source of energy for our bodies. However, consuming carbohydrates in moderation is important for everyone, not just those with PCOS. I try to avoid ingesting more than one complex carb per meal, (for example, at Chipotle I might order beans, but no rice). I also try to avoid carbs entirely for dinner. If I can’t avoid a carb heavy dinner, I at least try to complement it with plenty of protein and fat to balance it out, and then opt for more protein and fat the next day. Another great couple of books I’ve read which speak more to diet as it relates to the brain and hormones include Grain Brain by Dr. David Pearlmutter, and Unleash the Power of the Female Brain by Daniel Amen.
  • Maintaining a consistent morning routine – arguably one of the most impactful things I done to improve my health has been drinking at least 32 ounces of water as soon as I wake up (before anything else), then making sure to eat breakfast or at least protein/collagen within the first 90 minutes of being awake. This helps to ensure you’re blood sugar is off to a proper start, and provides you with stable energy to positively impact your mood first thing in the morning which can set the stage for your day as a whole!

It is safe for me to say that following the Womancode Protocol has changed my life dramatically, as well as has continuing to learn from other authors. Within 2 months of becoming more mindful about my diet alone – that means none of the other stuff I mentioned, just eating food recommended for each of my cycles – I experienced the first regular period I had since stopping birth control…my first regular period in over 7 years! I also noticed differences in my mood and overall happiness after only a month of cleaning out 90% of my products (not even all of them, because I was using most of them until they ran out).

What’s Next?
Ever since learning more about PCOS and my hormones, I feel excited talking about the topic, and I want to share with others that there are ways to take control of your body. You can change the way you feel. It all starts by working with your hormones, rather than against them.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s definitely still a journey, but that to me is exciting. I am still battling some skin purging, and sometimes I still struggle with my mood swings…but I am able to look at these now as “flare ups,” which I can tie to specific causes. KNOWLEDGE is powerful, and it helps me to feel in control – something I never felt I had before.

If you or someone you know is dealing with PCOS, or maybe has some of the symptoms I discussed but doesn’t understand why, you are not alone. PMS, hormonal acne, mood swings, irregular, painful periods, and difficulty conceiving are not normal. We were not designed to struggle as women, we were designed to thrive. Be open and honest about how you’re feeling, and seek support for attacking these issues. If you’re willing to face them and make a change, I promise you, it’s possible to overcome.

 

Shopping List, Recipes, and All Things Elimination Prep, OH MY!

If you’ve ever found yourself feeling lost or confused as to what could be ailing you…maybe you have stomach issues that never seem to go away, experience skin flare ups or breakouts randomly, or have a digestive system that barely allows you to sleep through the night – it’s possible that an elimination experience is right for you.

An elimination diet is a short-term eating plan designed to eliminate potential “trigger” foods that could be causing allergies or other uncomfortable reactions. After a short period of cleansing your body’s system, these triggers are then reintroduced slowly, one at a time in order to determine which could be not as well tolerated.

The first time I went through an elimination experience was almost a year ago, and the more I’ve thought about it over the past year, I think my reasoning for submitting to such a challenge was simple: I was curious. In my opinion, curious is always an okay place to be…as long as you are open to what your curiously may uncover.

So I took a large step toward better understanding my own body and health and it turned out to be so eye-opening, I decided to do it again.

Fast forward through a whole year of learning and growing and developing, and I’m more excited than ever for round 2! There are a lot of posts about my first experience, and what I ate, or didn’t eat, and how I felt from last year’s posts, so I will just cut to the chase here and start with what you probably want to know:

Which foods are removed during an elimination diet, and for how long?

There are 6-8 foods which most professionals consider to be “common allergens,” so these are always a good place to start if you’re not sure what to eliminate: milk, eggs, peanuts, nuts, wheat/gluten, soy, fish, and shellfish.

However, elimination diets can and should vary depending on what you personally want to identify about yourself. Here is what I plan to eliminate this year:

• Gluten
• Dairy
• Soy
• Eggs
• Peanuts
• Corn
• Alcohol
• Caffeine
• Processed food/preservatives
• Refined/added sugar/sweeteners

I also have a hunch that even small carbohydrates in certain foods could be the culprit to some lingering digestive discomfort, so I will be sticking primarily to low FODMAP foods, excluding the above list. You can learn more about the Low FODMAP Diet plan here, an article shared by one of my sweet friends, Lauren Palm.

Most elimination experiences last a total of about 4-6 weeks, as it takes at least a few weeks for your body to rid itself of any antibodies which could be lingering due to a negative reaction (you read that right – so if you choose to never identify what your body could be negatively reacting to, you essentially run the potential of having perpetual antibodies just hanging out on your insides…ugh!). After this initial few week healing process, the next part of the experience is reintroduction.

How to do an elimination diet:

It’s really quite simple, and more than anything else I will mention, simply takes a little bit of extra focus and attention.

First, stop eating whatever foods you choose to eliminate. Maintain an otherwise healthy and fulfilling diet for 3 weeks, absent of these foods.

During this time, carefully read food labels to ensure you are avoiding even trace amounts of your triggers. It might seem like now, more than ever, is a good time for a cheat day but trust me on this one – you’d only be cheating yourself. The elimination diet WILL NOT WORK if you cheat even a small seemingly insignificant amount. The first step is allowing your body to heal, let it.

After three weeks, begin to slowly reintroduce one food group at a time. Don’t go wild and crazy, here. It might seem fun on the first day of reintroduction to make pancakes or go to a fancy Italian restaurant, but the point is actually to be pretty conservative through the reintroduction phase, introducing a single serving amount (1 cup or less, typically) of the food group in as simplistic and pure a form as possible. You want to introduce one food for 1-2 days before moving onto the next one.

This might look like a cup of whole wheat pasta on the gluten reintroduction day, or a glass of cow’s milk on the dairy reintroduction day. Pay attention to how you feel within about 20 minutes of consuming the trigger food, and be sure to record any symptoms or differences. If you calculate that one food or another left you with a negative experience upon reintroduction, you can confirm this food as a trigger food by eliminating it again. Essentially, the entire process is simple trial and error. The most important task throughout the experience will be to take notes, and listen to your body. If this is something you’ve never done before, you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn by pairing mindfulness with consumption.

 What foods can I include?

So as mentioned earlier, I plan to follow (as closely as I can) the low FODMAP directory of foods, additionally eliminating any low FODMAP foods which are captured by my essential elimination list.

Previously, I ate about 70% vegetables, and 30% lean meat, with the occasional and unintentional sprinkle of healthy fats. Since last year, I’ve been on a mission to learn more about what other potential eating habits could be affecting my gut health, and leading to uncomfortable digestive issues. At a high level, foods that are considered high FODMAP foods mean they contain high levels of sugars and sugar alcohols, which if poorly digested, can ferment in the lower part of your bowel causing the intestine to stretch and expand. The result? Pain, bloating, and other related digestive issues.

With this added knowledge, this time around the goal will be to aim for about 30% fresh vegetables, 30% clean protein, and about 40% healthy fats. Notice this leaves no intentional room for grains or carbohydrates…lending to another topic I’ve been continually researching as of late, but I won’t go into that too much now…

Vegetables, especially leafy greens, cruciferous veggies like Brussel sprouts and broccoli, mushrooms, squash, radishes, and sprouts are all good for healing your body! In addition to avocados, some other healthy fat sources include coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.

If you can’t imagine going without any source of grains, try to keep them at bay by only including them as about 10% of your food intake, and stick to gluten-free lighter grains like quinoa, buckwheat, and gluten-free oatmeal.

What else can I eat, and how about some recipes? 

So the real juicy inside info I know many of you have been waiting for – my shopping list, and recipe book to meal prep for the diet.

To preface, I’ve always imagined this could be a bit of a letdown if your expectations thirst for flare and excitement. The honest truth: this experience is very plain when it comes to ingredients. I mean, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong – that does NOT by any means lead to tasteless, boring, or repetitive meals. I just mean to be upfront that what you see is very literally what you get, and you’ll notice the recipes are just as simplistic as the ingredients. Surely you can hit up some other spaces on the internet to find more shazam for your kitchen, if that’s what you’re into. For me, however, I find it easier to stay motivated as long as my food taste good, and minimal work is involved.

So without further ado – my shopping list:

Some other staples include plenty of spices, herbs and other flavor adders such as Salt, Pepper, Turmeric, Coconut Aminos (taste exactly like soy sauce), Avocado Oil, Red Chili Flakes, Everything Bagel Seasoning (from Trader Joes), plus I drink pretty much allll the herbal tea – just make sure to read the ingredients and especially watch out for soy letchin.

So what do you plan to eat?

Like I said – to me, simple is key. I plan to stick to a protein smoothie for breakfast, using vanilla Garden of Life plant-based protein. The ingredients might look something like this:

Breakfast Smoothie
1-2 scoops vanilla protein
10 frozen berries
bunch of spinach, kale, or other green
1/2 – 1 cup almond milk or water
handful of seeds, if desired

I typically will pack snacks for at least the first few days, in case I find myself hungry between meals. I will plan to share some fat-ball recipes later this week! In my experience, however, this lingering hunger between meals will go away as my body starts to heal, so snacks will become less necessary overtime.

Snacks
5-10 Sprouted and roasted almonds
1-2 Small kiwi, peeled and sliced
1 Medium clementine, mandarin, or orange
Couple slices of pickled beets
1 Cup fresh grapes

In my opinion, lunch should be especially easy since it typically has to be prepared ahead of time. I tend to stick to salads, or take leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. My first week lunches will probably be something like the following:

Chicken Salad
1 Cup of chopped romaine
Unlimited amount of kale, if more greens desired
1/4 – 1/2 Medium avocado, chopped
1/2 Lb plain boiled chicken, shredded or cubed (I love the Simple Truth chicken selection from Kroger)
1 Slice cooked bacon, crumbled
1-2 Anchovies, if desired (excellent added low carb source of protein!)
Avocado oil + balsamic vinegar
Everything Bagel Seasoning, if desired

I also like adding pickled beets to my salad, and you can pretty much add any vegetables you want! Carrots, celery, bell peppers? Salads are an easy way to easily and quickly experiment while you food prep. Just be careful to stick to clean dressing options, like a fat-based oil, and natural herbs or spices to add flavors.

Egg Roll in a Bowl (Recipe makes 3-4 servings)
1 Lb ground pork
16 Oz bag of coleslaw, cabbage and carrot mix (avoid preservatives and artificials!)
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1/3 Cup Coconut Aminos
2 Tbsp Sesame Oil
Green onions, for garnish/topping

In a small bowl, combine the ginger, coconut aminos, and oil – set aside. Brown the pork in a large skillet, then add in the cabbage/coleslaw. Add the sauce mixture to the meat and veggies and stir to combine, cooking for about 3-5 minutes until the veggies are wilted. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and chopped green onions.

When it comes to dinner, we tend to stick to just simple meat and veggies. This week we will likely enjoy salmon and cooked Brussel sprouts or carrots a couple of nights, then maybe make a soup to last the next couple of days. Brenen has been talking about curry a lot lately, so here is what my soup recipe may look like:

Chicken Curry Soup
14 Oz Chicken Broth (Pacific, found at Kroger, is a great brand!)
14 Oz unsweetened full fat coconut milk
1/2 Tbsp Curry powder
1 Jalapeno chili, seeded, minced
4 boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/4-3/4 inch pieces
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 Cup chopped green onion
1/4 Cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a medium saucepan, combine chicken broth, coconut milk, curry powder, and chili and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add in the chicken and simmer until the chicken is cooked through (5-10 minutes), stirring occasionally. Mix in the lime juice, and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Add in the lime wedge, green onion and cilantro as a topping right before eating. This soup is also excellent with cooked white rice, but we will be avoiding rice, personally!

I know this was a longer read, but I hope you find the information and recipe/shopping ideas helpful. I am so excited to begin this journey (again) with some awesome friends joining along, so please feel free to share any other ideas you might have, questions I can answer, or just general thoughts on how things are going along the way. 🙂

I will be back with more updates soon! Good luck, and have fun!

A note on expectations.

What does it mean to have expectations? Especially in the health and wellness community, we hear the idea of casting aside expectations thrown around a lot. How can you omit such an abstract concept? How can you proceed with most anything in life without setting up a certain expectancy?

One of my favorite rituals I’ve picked up over the last year is that of truly “being.” Being present, and being in the moment. Simply existing without over-thinking too much about it. I learned this practice through meditation, which even after years of practicing yoga, I admittedly only first started habitually committing to earlier this year. While I enjoy meditation in itself as a relaxing and energizing part of my day, the outcome of this present mindset is the reason I keep coming back. Through the challenge associated with living in as crazy of a city as New York, plus the added difficulty of trying to find my place in the world, writing + mediation were largely impactful tools that assisted me in reaching this state.

Like anything else, a certain mindset is a practice, and to master it will continue to take a lot of time. But when it comes to being present, I’ve noticed through my practice that there is really only a short list of obstacles which prevent this from being a natural part of our existence as humans. Imagine how you view change for a moment. Any kind of change – big or small – is typically exciting to some extent, however this excitement can often be joined if not completely clouded by worry, stigmas, and preconceptions. Now imagine how you could view these situations differently if you cast aside those negative feelings. Or more specifically, the ROOT cause of those negative feelings: expectations.

Did you know that of all the animals in the world, human beings are the only species that create their own stress specifically by worrying about the future? No matter how much we plan or how hard we work, often it seems inevitable that something could (and probably will) go not according to plan. And the crazy thing is, even knowing this and often preparing for it, rather than just awaiting the outcome of a situation and dealing with it when it actually happens, we stress about it now, and we stress about it later. Double stress.

Believe me – I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I have grown to believe that a certain level of uncertainty can be powerful, and freeing. In our society, change has been delivered as a scary, typically negative “thing,” but in reality, change can be the most beautiful experience we are privileged to know. Synonymous with “NEW,” experiencing a change means you have the ability to start fresh – whether you’re starting a new job, moving to a new city, entering into a new relationship, or even just taking a new route to work this morning – embrace the changes around you. Every single day is an opportunity for change. Every single day we are privileged with the opportunity to do something new. I’m grateful for New York State of Mindfulness for comforting me just enough to step out of my comfort zone over and over again throughout the past year, but I know my relationship with change will only continue to be tested moving forward.

Just some food for thought, and something I am going to challenge myself to continue to be mindful of through my upcoming transition: Are you enabling your existence with expectations and worry, or are you embracing your opportunity to lean into change, and take advantage of your ability to be free? Welcome to the world, TenikaTime.com – I can’t wait to see what all changes come from this new space.

The Best Laid Plans

A lot has happened in a year, but more importantly for me, a lot has happened in 26. In all the attention I try to give being mindful, it wasn’t until a few days ago, realizing my birthday was approaching, that I really took a moment to reflect on turning another year older. And let me take a moment to speak about reflection: whether you regularly keep a journal, or regularly force yourself to “snap out of it” anytime you notice your mind losing focus on a task at hand, you should always make time to reflect. I would never encourage “dwelling” on the past, but rather, I truly believe the best way to grow in our present is through analytical and respectful acknowledgement of the experiences from which we’ve come.

I digress.

As I reflected this past weekend, and as my thoughts really started to marinade, I was able to remember so many pivotal moments from over the past several years. Despite seeming so small and insignificant then, these moments have contributed majorly to so much of my surroundings today: loving who I am as a person, taking pride in being 100% my own biggest fan, and overall just being happy, healthy, and strong. But just over a couple years ago, I didn’t feel this way. I was depressed, pretending to be content with complacency, and I was as chalk full of fears as I was of excuses. I was trapped on a cliff, considering staying there forever instead of jumping into the unknown water below.
One of my favorite quotes, I’ll always say, is Ghandi suggesting that, “not everything you do in this life will be significant, but you must do it anyway.” The beauty about real life is that usually the cliff is just a metaphor, and hopefully you’re jumping in the direction toward something that’ll make you happier. I’ve had some pretty specific instances in life where I’ve had no other choice but to go with the flow, and when the opportunity to make a decision presented itself, I tried to run backward, or at least jog in place for a really long time. I disguised myself with avoidance because even though the water seemed inevitably deep, the threats it potentially contained were too great a risk. Plus, even if I did survive, why should I believe in myself enough to safely swim ashore?

I think I’ve discovered that in actuality, the most difficult position to be is on that cliff, staring down below. Some of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make have turned out to be some of the best. I owe so much to where I’m from, especially because of the sentiment it carries in this journey. There were many cliffs I’ve turned my back to over the years – I certainly didn’t face them all. In fact, I’ve probably faced very few at this point. But that’s exciting to me because it means there are even more to come. More learning to happen, and more growing to take place.

My advice to anyone staring down their fears, unsure of what could happen if they took the leap: a little faith goes a long way. Believe in yourself. Give yourself a chance. Then acknowledge that feeling – I mean really feel that feeing of being afraid. Feeling afraid means you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and at the absolute very least, you’ll learn something new about yourself. So own it, and be proud of it, and then, “do it anyway.”

Jump off the damn cliff.