My dad used to ask me, “If you could choose either the mountains or the ocean, which would it be?”
I knew his choice was you, ocean, but at first, mine was mountains. Mountains meant skiing, and as a ski racer, mountains were, and still are, a part of my identity, a chunk of who I am. But as I grew older and my fascination with you expanded, I found my answer coming in closer to a tie. When visiting you, it took me more and more time to say goodbye each time I left.
The more I get to know you, the more I wanted to spend my life getting to know you. I want to discover the secrets you hold, the life you breathe into this planet. I want to live out there, just you and me and the breeze filling my sails in a big, blue, endless world of our own.
I go to you when I lose myself in order to find my way. You sing me your song, again and again, crashing against the rocks, wave after wave, until your message is pounded into my head:
Let go of the negativity. Let go of the future. Let go of what you do not have control over. Let go of the weight you carry with you, and the duty you feel to appease others. Let go. Let go. Let go. You remind me that I am free. You remind me that I am alive.
There are days when you are calm and there are days when you are angry, but you are always beautiful. True beauty is not dependent on showing up the way others want you to, but showing up exactly as you are.
The mountains may be a part of who I am, but you remind me of who I am. You take me exactly as I am, in whatever state I go to you in. When I get too proud, you knock me down. You keep me honest and on my toes. It makes every one of my cells sing just looking at the power building beneath your churning depths, your muscles rippling under foamy crests as you curl the weight of the world.
And then you let it go, releasing your hold and need for control just as you are teaching me to do. Only you can enrapture me so intensely, the mystery that you are, the sorcery that you seem to conduct. Only you can be at once so dangerous and comforting.
You calm, lapping gently at my feet, caressing my ankles as you swallow my broken tears in the dark. When I dive into you, you accept me willingly, wrapping your arms around me and stealing my breath away. And for one weightless, shocking second, you are all that was, all that is, and all that will be.
I was raised on an athlete mentality. It was not driven by my family, but rather the activities I chose to take part in. It was ingrained in the coaches I had and the kids I surrounded myself with.
From a very young age, I was on the soccer field. You fall down and scrape your knee? Brush it off and keep playing!
I was also in the horse ring. Your horse dodges a jump and you go crashing down on top of it? You get back on, and do it again. Show that horse who’s boss!
As I got older, lacrosse and alpine ski racing soon joined my arsenal. If you wipe out in ski racing, you pop up as fast as you can and hike up the mountain, skis on, to the place you fell, in order to finish with a time.
As an athlete, I was taught to grit my teeth and push through. And I was good at it. No pain, no gain…right? But what happens when my body says no?
I was 13 when my body first said no. When I tried to brush off a concussion, to push through like I was always taught, my brain shut down.
When I was 18, as a senior in high school, a Prefect, a captain of the lacrosse team, a straight-A student, and a striving overachiever, my body once again said no. I was sent into a tailspin of chronic ailments, from heart rate dysregulation and POTS to debilitating joint pain and exhaustion.
I eventually realized that this was a wake-up call. My body was no longer asking me to listen to it, it was demanding. Where I was once able to stay on top of everything and continue powering through, I now found lights flashing in my peripheries. While I was once able to ignore physical ailments, my body now literally sent me to the ground, gasping for breath when I pushed too hard.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, this became an opportunity for me. An opportunity to learn how to truly take care of myself, something very few athletes let themselves do. It was an opportunity to learn the tune of my inner self and to listen to her. I had to choose to work with my body, not against it.
So I played sports on and off, day by day, season by season. Instead of ski racing, I coached. I captained my lacrosse team mostly from the sidelines. I let my body rest when it said it needed it. And it sucks that this lesson has to come from such pain, and every day it is a battle, but I show up, and I try.
Athletes take their bodies to incredible lengths. It is amazing what the human body can do, but it takes a toll. And that toll looks different for each individual. For me, that toll was too high. I committed with everything I had to the idea that the only way to get better was to push harder. And it nearly broke me.
This is not to say that all parts of an athlete mentality are bad. Mental toughness is one of the most important life skills one can learn. Because of athletics, I know my strength. I know leadership, teamwork, and perseverance. I know that it is never over until it is over. My athlete mentality is the reason I keep fighting for my body every single day.
This is also not to say that we should stay within our comfort zones. Life is not always comfortable. Athletics taught me how to push through that discomfort, to find a path forward through experiences of displeasure. Athletics taught me grit. But grit that gets you through hardships and grit that destroys your body are two different things. Discomfort is okay, until that little voice inside you rings a warning bell.
We need to change the way we view being an athlete. Being a hardcore athlete doesn’t need to mean never coming off the field. Being an inspiring athlete doesn’t need to mean playing through every adversity. Yes, there are times when we brush it off and we get back up. But there are times when your gut tells you something is wrong, and you ignore it because you were taught to pick yourself up, no matter what. If not for yourself, for your team, we are told. But your health matters. Your wellbeing matters. You are no good to your team incapacitated. We need to respect the boundaries that our body places for us. And we need to not cross those lines so clearly set for ourselves.
It is not weak to take a step back. It is not weak to listen to your body. It is not weak to take more time than expected to heal. You are not weak for taking care of yourself.
I crossed a line when I didn’t pull myself off the field that day I got my first concussion. I crossed a few more when I rode a horse and then played two different instruments the next day.
I am learning how to respect my body’s boundaries — the big ones, and the daily fluctuating ones. My body said no to college this year, so I listened. Last week I may have played in a full lacrosse game, but if my body says no to practice today, I sit out.
We must learn to read the tiny intricacies of ourselves, the little signals that are so vital to our health. To me, being an athlete was once pushing through the warning bells and achieving anyway, but my definition is changing.
Imagine what we as athletes could achieve if we respected our bodies and gave them what they truly need to succeed . . . what they ask for.
Every single day, millions of incredible things happen. Whether or not they happen to you, the world is filled with little miracles and beautiful moments that occur each second.
However, we often find ourselves so wrapped up in our lives and our worries that we neglect to see these things. It takes an awareness of the surrounding world to tune outside yourself and really see all that there is.
While at first it may be difficult, with time this practice will flow more and more easily. But even when we do notice these moments for a smile, it can be hard to remember them. The more we practice, the easier it comes. Writing down what we see not only tracks our progress, but helps us remember little beautiful memories over the days and years.
Inspired in part by the movie “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things,” I decided to track all of the tiny perfect things each day that I bear witness to. Each moment I see that brings me or someone else even the smallest spark of joy, I document it. Every pure, honest, beautiful, true moment that I witness, I flag it in my memory, and write it down before bed.
What began with a single journal, a fresh page, and three perfect things has become so much more. Slowly, I noticed that my little notebook page seemed to grow smaller and smaller as my list grew longer and longer. Not only was it becoming easier to recall perfect things throughout my day, but I was able to recall them so much more descriptively.
I try to recall not only the moment in its visual depiction, but also the feelings it evoked or the way it touched me. When I read what I wrote, I want it to make me feel the same way it did in the moment it occurred.
It is incredible the power that this exercise has had on my life. Even on the worst of days, I can often find at least three beautiful moments, even if none of them happened to me. It is the most reflective and invaluable way to end my night and completely change my perspective on a seemingly awful day.
It is no exaggeration to say that this practice has changed my outlook on life. When you begin to notice these beautiful moments, it seems as if they are drawn to you. I believe that they were always there, but merely veiled to most who do not pay attention.
Now that these instances are unveiled to me, I am able to draw on little moments of joy throughout my day. When I feel my worst, I can find moments of happiness wherever I look. I am able to live more in the present and notice my surrounding. I actively search out the beauty in life. I see beauty in others hearts and in nature and in the mundane tasks of day-to-day life. It is far easier said than done, but each day I grow better.
If I could offer one piece of advice, it would be this: just begin. We are all guilty of wanting things for ourselves but never committing, telling ourselves that we will just begin tomorrow. The only reason I am able to see all of the beauty in life is because, one day, I decided to change. I chose to begin. I resolved to open up a new journal to a new page and put pen to paper. And I do not regret it.
If you are unhappy with your life, it is within your power to change it. Your mindset it everything. And while it takes time and discipline to change your mind, it can be a relatively simple process. All you have to do is begin.
Hey there. Remember me? It’s the beginning of a new year. You moved to California a few short months ago, and are learning the ins and outs of how beautifully cruel the world can be. You reapplied to college recently. I’m not too attached to where you end up this time around. I hope you’re proud of your choice. I believe it will all work out the way it is meant to.
When it feels like the walls are closing in around me, I think of you. I think of all of the incredible things I know you are out there doing. You inspire me each and every day to keep pushing forward.
I know you have grown, but I hope you didn’t lose sight of who you are. I hope you made the choices you wanted instead of the ones that were expected of you. I hope the only person you are obsessed with pleasing is yourself. I hope you defied cultural standards and carved your own path. I hope you never let anyone tell you how to feel. I hope you let yourself feel — deeply and fully. I hope you trust yourself and your ability to make the most informed decisions. I hope that in the dark moments you remember your strengths, and in the light you celebrate them.
You have already come so far, and I can’t wait to see how far you go. You are my role model. While I believe no one can truly figure life out, I imagine that you are more confident in yourself and your choices. I picture you at ease in the world, at ease in your own skin, at ease with your thoughts. I dream of you smiling easily and laughing often and traveling the world.
I hope you adventure. I hope you meet like-minded people. I hope you are challenged by people with differing perspectives. I hope you surround yourself with people that lift you up. I hope you slow down and watch the sunset. I hope you wake up to be blessed by the sunrise. I hope you climb mountains. I hope you surf often. I hope you continue to push yourself. I hope you’ve been to Europe. I hope you try new and exciting things. I hope your days are filled with childlike wonder at the daily miracles of the world.
There are so many things that I want you to have done and be doing and dream of doing, but I trust that you will grow and adapt and make the best decisions for yourself. I know that may mean that your dreams change, and I want you to know that I’m okay with that. As long as you are following your heart and chasing your joy, the possibilities are endless, and the dreams are limitless.
I hope you’ve grown, but I hope you remember me. I hope you explore your passions and chase what you love. I hope you learn something new every day. I hope you hold compassion in your heart for everyone you meet. I hope you give yourself grace. I hope you are proud of how far you’ve come. I hope you are open and loving and brilliant and glowing. I hope you cry and I hope you laugh, both with abandon. I hope you feel alive. I hope you let your experiences fuel you, but not define you.
I hope you are out there, doing what you love, making the most of every moment. And I hope you find peace along the way. I hope you made your dreams a reality. But most of all, more than anything else, I hope you are unapologetically yourself.
We, as humans, like things that have names. We do not like the indescribable. Things that have names have a nice little box that fits in its nice little slot in the universe. With undiagnosed chronic illness, I am free floating in space with no niche for me to cozy into. Living a life without a diagnosis is living a life untethered.
The thing about our medical system is that they won’t treat what they can not name. No matter the debilitating symptoms that hold you back from living your life, without a name, you are adrift, alone in the fight.
The needle has become a familiar friend as doctors run test after test until there aren’t any more and they circle back to the basics. I find myself hoping that my numbers will leap out of the normal range, alerting my doctors that no, this is not in my head. As my blood sugar crashes and my heart rate spikes I demand through a haze of pain, No. There is something wrong. You just don’t know what.
There is no test to measure the shards of glass beneath my feet that everyone else seems to dodge, no test to determine the level of fatigue in my muscles that tire so much faster than they once did, no test to quantify the debilitating exhaustion that binds me to my bed. I know how I feel. But no doctor, no matter how qualified or compassionate, can feel what I feel.
And so I drift. I find myself suspended in an in-between space. The space between the sick and the actively recovering. I wait for a wave of relief when someone finally gives me a name. That name holds so much power. I wait for the relief because with that name, there is a plan. A plan of how to move forward, how to anchor myself back down to the land of the truly living.
But while a diagnosis will show me the path to physical wellness, I have spent enough time in the in-between space to know that I can begin to reclaim my power without a name. There are other avenues of wellness. I can listen to my body, and not push farther than it allows. And while I may not be able to heal my body, I can heal my brain. I can take care of my mental health, and send my body love. Through mindfulness, I can get rid of the thoughts that do not serve me, and learn to find joy. This, in itself, is healing.
Sure, I don’t have a diagnosis, and maybe that means I don’t get the medical attention I need just yet, but I am still growing. I may be adrift, but I am collecting pieces of driftwood, and soon I may just have a raft.
We are a combination of what we define ourselves as and what the world sees us as. In our world today, young people tend to put a lot more value on crafting a persona the world will fall in love with instead of prioritizing self-worth and acceptance.
However, both sides of my claim hold equal importance. How we define ourselves holds just as much weight as how we present ourselves to the world.
For me, the world always saw me as the person I aspired to be. I was driven, hard-working, talented, athletic, quick-witted. I was the “perfect” student, the “perfect” friend, the “perfect” daughter. I was a role model.
But being “perfect” is not sustainable. Something has to give. For me, it was my health: a “mild” concussion I never healed from, and an ever-growing list of chronic illness symptoms.
And yet I fought to maintain the persona I worked so hard to create. I kept pushing my mind and body harder, faster, farther, and eventually, it couldn’t sustain itself anymore. While the world may still have seen me as the overachiever and perfectionist, I defined myself by injury, pain, fear, and loss.
Over time, I came to see that the way I defined myself was not fact, and the way the world saw me wasn’t entirely true either. I am not defined by the pain I endure or the loss I grieve. They are a valid part of my experience, but I choose to define myself by the gifts they have given me: the grit, the perseverance, the strength.
These characteristics were hidden from the world when I chose to hide my story. The more I go through, the more I feel ready to share my experience. I am ready to show the world the full picture of who I am.
At times, it may make me feel weak to share the more vulnerable parts of myself, but that is just the human in me. We are all scared of being accepted when we show who we truly are. I hope that by sharing my vulnerability, I will encourage others to share their most open, honest selves, and show that we all have a voice to be heard.
I am still driven, hard-working, talented, athletic, and quick-witted. But I am also so much more.
I get back up no matter how many times the world knocks me down.