Life update No. 152 (approx.)

Hello, lovelies!

It’s been awhile. The last couple of months have been an intense period of decision-making, introspection, experimentation, and self-discovery, and I’ve been so engaged with the zigs and zags of daily life that it’s been difficult to push an idea through the requisite layers of edits into publishable form— it seems that my life, or at least my attitude toward life, has been changing more quickly than the time it takes to finish a draft.

I’ve been told that’s how your early 20’s are supposed to be, and in a bizarre paradoxical twist it seems it’s taken leaving the city for a quiet life in the country for me to finally feel properly young. Medication is helping, for sure, but it’s really the sense of community that does it— feeling like a valued member of my household, town, and local arts community reifies my sense of accountability and lends meaning to my daily actions on good days and less-good-ones alike. In the city, I felt a bit homeless; a sense of fundamental restiveness and perpetual difficulty in feeling like I belonged in the world distanced me from the goings-on at Columbia and around my neighborhood. Some people feel suffocated by small-town life, but here, with the support of close friends and family nearby, I feel less unmoored and more free. I know, bittersweetly, that I must eventually outgrow this phase, that I have further things to do and places to go in my life, that I want a degree or three and a performance career and a relationship and who knows what else, but I also feel a new and wonderful sense of belonging. Returning to my hometown as one of not so many young single adults in a community of new families, deeply rooted local artisans, and aging farmers, I sense that I am not an anomaly or a failure but an integral part of a centuries-old cultural ecosystem, a fundamental structure for teaching and learning and passing on traditions, and I can learn from and teach those around me who are in different stages of life just as I learned from and taught my older and younger peers in the multi-age classrooms of my Montessori school.

All this being said, my formal education is currently on hold, though I’m learning more than ever. I am technically on a semester-long leave of absence from Columbia, though I have little desire to return— I hate to give up on anything, especially my vestigial-yet-romantic dream of the Ivy League, after just a year, but GS too expensive to continue attending unless it’s truly the right fit for who I am now, and it isn’t.

Columbia is an excellent place for those who enter college already knowing exactly what they want to pursue. Nearly all courses there require previous knowledge in the subject area, if not actual course prerequisites, and the extensive list of core requirements plus an even longer list of major-track courses leaves very little room for academic experimentation. I returned to academia after four years away, and I’ve just begun to think about what a career that isn’t only dance might look like; I’m not in a place where I can commit to a major without trying out a whole lot of classes first. Also, and perhaps most importantly, I sincerely doubt that a single-subject major supplemented by a standardized core curriculum is the best possible structure for my education. My love of learning is fundamentally interdisciplinary; no matter what I choose to do with my degree, it will draw from the humanities, arts, and sciences. I can’t imagine picking just one discipline; it’s entirely contrary to the primary value I see in the disciplines as a whole, which is the ability to use them against and within each other as triggers for new modes of thinking, breaking out of unproductive thought patterns and cycles, and providing contrasting yet symbiotic systems of metaphor and comparison by which to inform the worldview perpetuated by each. I believe that interdisciplinary knowledge makes for success in any chosen field; the poet Mary Oliver has a biologist’s eye for the natural world, bringing a scientific lens to her artful verse; today’s jazz musicians interact with fMRI technology to lend science new insight into the neurobiology of creativity; and recent performances by Pilobolus and other prominent dance groups at TED conferences have demonstrated the glorious aesthetic beauty and insight that comes from the union of art and science as a teaching tool and catalyst for progressive thought.

I am not sure what form my future career will take, but I imagine that my professional self will reflect this intrinsic part of who I am as a learner, drawing from disparate fields to generate unique ways of helping others. If I am to develop this blog, which is essentially a creative project that I hope can be used as a therapeutic resource, I need to know more about creative writing, psychology, marketing, and programming; to develop as a dance teacher I would like to deepen my knowledge of anatomy and physiology; to work as a professor-researcher in the humanities and become a “militant intellectual” in the style of Foucault (a more serious goal than you might think) I must develop my knowledge of history, philosophy, and foreign languages. I am recreationally intrigued by German literature, quantum mechanics, Japanese, and computational linguistics; equally by choreography, sustainable agriculture and design, and fine art. This semester I have been incredibly lucky to be able to pursue some of my interests informally, taking an online course in Pre-Calculus to get my math foundation securely under me, auditing an Intro to Computer Science course at Bennington College, and being tutored in written and spoken Japanese by a friend in preparation for a six-week-long trip to Japan this winter. I am also in conversation with the coordinators of the Justice in Education program at Columbia, which I was involved with as one of two non-incarcerated students in a joint Humanities seminar integrating formerly incarcerated and non-incarcerated Columbia students, about developing an iPad-based coding education program for inmates at Rikers using Apple’s new Playgrounds app. I hope to continue my performance career in dance as well.

I know that I am a serious paradox; learning and anxiety, the two guiding elements of my life, are often mutually-exclusive opposites, from the ideological all the way down to the chemical level, Fight-Or-Flight vs DHEA. Panic shuts down the higher learning processes of the brain, while taking in knowledge is a fundamental part of feeling safe in one’s environment. Paralyzing fear of failure, which I have suffered from all too often (especially in high school math), is learning’s greatest inhibitor; when I feel too stressed by my environment, my affective filter kicks in, and my mind goes summarily blank. This, of course, leads to a vicious cycle of intimidation when presented with new material, hence my belief that I am fundamentally incapable of higher math when in reality I was only fundamentally terrified of it. The last couple of months have taught me that, if I surmount the fear, comprehension and command do follow— I have an A in pre-calc at the moment, a course I nearly failed in high school, and I intend to move into Calculus next semester, either online or at school.

My one goal in life used to be overcoming anxiety; I worked on this by putting myself in anxiety-inducing situations and attempting to stick it out without fleeing. This form of exposure therapy is effective on a small scale, but spending all day every day fighting anxiety was anxiety-inducing in and of itself, and made other aspects of my life feel meaningless. Daily existence was an endurance mission and left me emotionally depleted, with little energy reserve to channel toward social activities or facing challenging subject areas in the classroom. Thus I stuck to courses in fields— humanities, dance, art— with which I was already comfortable, dropping math and science courses for which I was emotionally and practically under-qualified. I lasted exactly one day in Columbia’s Intro- level Computer Science course, a massive lecture-hall of 400-plus students, before deciding that CS wasn’t going to happen for me.

This fall I tried a different approach, fighting anxiety not with grim determination but by placing myself in situations where my values could outweigh my fears. I am now nearly halfway through my Intro to CS class at Bennington, a small course of 16 students and one TA which allows for extremely high levels of student-teacher interaction. I am happy to say that I am now seriously considering using CS in some capacity in my future career. Classroom culture is an incredibly important factor in my success here— far more than so-called talent or aptitude. I would likely not have returned to CS if I hadn’t had a friend strongly suggest that I enroll in this course, and it’s now a huge part of my life and a major interest of mine.

I now know that I need school to be above all a safe space to explore the subjects that feel frighteningly — intriguingly — beyond me. I loved my Columbia classes, but they played essentially to my strengths, and the feeling of imbalance I’d suffered from when I was solely dancing lingered despite my return to academia. Moving forward, I hope to study somewhere where I am limited only by my own creativity and the amount of energy I am willing to invest. I am ready to fight fear not with brute endurance but with learning, to replace the isolation of extreme anxiety with the intellectual and social connections engendered by a self-made, interdisciplinary plan of study. At least, that’s my hope!

As always, I love to read your reactions in the comments!

(Sorry this got so long!!)


Anticipatory Anxiety

I’ve always been what my mother calls a “pre-worrier”. Even before I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I would plan meticulously for new events and stay up worrying about them the night before, turning possible outcomes over in my mind. After my first panic attacks, this habit of anticipatory anxiety became debilitating. Now, I didn’t just fear frightening future events– I was effectively terrified of the power of my own fear as well. My symptoms became physical as well as mental: a lightheaded, vertiginous feeling; an inability to focus; constriction in my chest. I constantly defaulted to an overwhelming and highly imaginative stream of “what-if?” thoughts, crafting and predicting a literally dizzying array of dangerous, unpleasant, disappointing, and otherwise negative outcomes.

I’ve recently started taking anxiety medication on a trial basis, so I’ve been attempting to direct mindful (nonjudgmental!!) attention toward noticing what parts of my anxiety have or haven’t changed as the daily pills take effect. Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed that, while my ability to stay physically calm and mentally rational in previously anxiety-inducing situations is improving, my anticipatory anxiety hasn’t gotten the message yet. As a result, I’m somewhat back to my pre-panic-disorder version of anxiety: spending a disproportionate amount of time mentally fearing/attempting to prepare for/trying to find all the ways I can theoretically control negative outcomes of future events that, when they finally arrive, are both a) not in my control and b) not such a big deal.

I imagine that noticing this tendency toward anxious anticipation is the first small step toward turning it around. I can feel my reluctance to let go of the habit of anticipatory anxiety: what if I stop worrying, and then something does go wrong that I haven’t mentally prepared for? (Of course, this is the anxiety talking. My rational self understands that worrying about the future doesn’t actually give me more control over what will transpire– it only sets me up to be more worried as whatever happens, happens). My guess is that, because I’m so habituated to preparing for the worst, it will take several rounds of positive experiences in each of my various fear categories (solitude, driving, etc) before my expectations for those situations recalibrate accordingly.

I’m interested to hear all of your experiences with anticipatory anxiety. Is this something you experience often? What is the relationship between your anticipatory anxiety and the situational anxiety that occurs when actually doing something you fear? Please share in the comments!




Buspirone, to be precise. It’s a mild anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) drug in the azapirone class, meaning it works on the neurotransmitter serotonin, but in a slightly different way from standard SSRIs like Prozac and Lexapro. I really thought I was done with medication, but two weeks ago, after meeting with my doctor, I agreed– after much hesitation– to give it a try.

Saying yes to medication wasn’t easy for me this time around. I’d tried a few different anxiety medications as a pre-teen when my panic attacks first hit, with little success, and had been essentially med-free since (excepting the first few weeks of a particularly dark time four months after my dad’s death, when my doctor prescribed as-needed Xanax to help release me from a seemingly endless cycle of panic attacks). Shortly before I left New York in May, I finally had the courage to throw the last of those pills away. Though I hadn’t taken one in nearly four years, just having the bottle around felt like a crutch I no longer wanted to rely on. I promised myself I was done with drugs; though I was still definitely struggling, I wanted to stick to healing myself through physical activity, diet, mindfulness, and formal meditation. I was proud of this decision, and felt like any extra discomfort on my part would be made worthwhile by the knowledge that I was living by my values.

By the end of the summer I was feeling pretty good, emotionally speaking, but was still having problems with dizziness and vertigo, which I’ve dealt with for several years. It’s a chicken-egg conundrum; Neither my doctor nor I can really tell if my dizziness is causing anxiety or being caused by it. I went to see a neurologist, who pronounced me fine, and thought that I should try treating my anxiety more aggressively before looking into other options like migraine drugs or allergy shots. At the time, I didn’t really think about the fact that her suggestion meant giving medication another try, so it came as rather a surprise when I got a call from my primary care doctor asking where she should call in a prescription. My initial reaction was to call off the whole thing, but– having spent the last year working on mindfulness– I decided it might be prudent to schedule a meeting with my doctor to discuss my options. Following this, I conferred with my mom and sister, and a couple of trusted friends.

Here is what I realized:

Often, when I don’t want to do something, my hesitation is based on fear; deciding whether or not my fear is legitimate, or at least worth paying attention to, is a big part of my mindful decision making process. I’m not against medication in general; I know it does great things for some people, and I completely respect those who choose to use anxiety medication and would love nothing more than to help eliminate the ridiculous stigma it still sometimes carries. Given that I have never had a problem with other people using medication, I wondered why I was so frustrated and angered by the prospect of ingesting it myself. After a bit of thought, I realized my anti-medication stance might be less of an evolved intellectual position, and more of a gut-level reflexive fear. It’s amazing how some of our highest ‘values’ are really driven, at their core, by simple, base instincts!

After attempting to think hard and honestly about my real reasons for not wanting to take medication, I came up with quite a mixed list. Some, ultimately, were legitimate and pretty well-founded: the research around anxiolytic drugs is mixed, I don’t really trust pharmaceutical companies, and the long-term effects of many of these medications is pretty unknown; some can be quite addictive. Yet some of my fears were uglier, trickier to articulate, and these were really the issues forming the core of my resistance: I was afraid of social stigma, of uncomfortable side-effects, afraid of feeling undefinably weird, afraid of ceding control of some part of my brain to a chemical I didn’t fully understand. Partially, it was an issue of control: taking a pill felt like a very passive solution to a problem that I felt I should solve with hard work and education. I didn’t want to hand over the reins. I really thought that taking a pill would turn me from an empowered individual working  to make a better life for myself into a helpless victim.

These, I realized, were childhood fears, vestigial remnants of the mentality I had had when, as a terrified pre-adolescent new to anxiety, I was handed medication for the first time. It turns out, oddly enough, that I am not that scared child anymore. Taking a pill doesn’t mean I have to be passive, or that I need to drop everything else I’ve learned and cling to medication as my lifeline: I can use the years of self-discovery, of meditation and breathing exercises and research, to create a mindset conducive to allowing the medication to work for me in tandem with tools I’ve already learned. I realized that not giving medication a shot would be a decision coming from a closed-off place of fear as opposed to one of openness and strength. In my case, saying no to medication without trying it first would be just another way of succumbing to anxiety, allowing my mind to be closed by fear. Thus I decided to give this Buspirone a try.


I’m still not totally comfortable with the idea of being on medication. I’m not a fan of Big Pharma, I don’t love that modern medicine still doesn’t really know how these drugs work (when they do, which isn’t always), and I still believe in the power of self-healing through other means. Also, quite honestly, taking a pill for anxiety makes me remember some pretty tough times in my life when I’ve really felt like I needed medication, and that mentality is one I’ve expended considerable time and effort moving beyond. However I’ve decided that, while I’m not 100% comfortable with medication, it has the potential to drastically improve my life, and to ease the burden on those around me. Also, I get to decide what kind of a medication-taker I’m going to be. I’m going into this with as much  information as I can: I’ve done my research on Buspirone and am continuously learning as much as I can about what it’s theoretically up to inside my head. As a result of this, I haven’t fallen back into the kind of passive victim mentality I was afraid of. My best friend gave me a great metaphor when he asked me to consider thinking about medication as a dance partner: yes, it can assist me in doing things that I couldn’t otherwise accomplish, but have to do my part as well, or nothing will happen. I take a pill every day, but I don’t spend my life passively waiting to see if it helps. On the flip side, I try not to be hyper vigilant, falling into the trap of constant self-monitoring for symptoms or improvements. If it works, it works; if it doesn’t, I can (under my doctor’s supervision) stop using it. In an effort to feel more engaged in my treatment plan, I’ve also set up a system of charts, based on my research into various anxiety scales and accompanied by a daily journal, so I can more objectively gauge the medication’s effect over a six week period. I still meditate and work out and dance and write and do yoga and try to eat mindfully and learn about alternative forms of treatment, and I think it’s possible that one day those things may be enough to give me the full and dimensional life I want. For now, I’m borrowing an Oliver Sacks-ian philosophy of life as a series of experiments and adventures.

How do you feel about medication? Do you currently take anything that you find to be particularly helpful? Share your story in the comments!


(Portrait of the bucolic bliss that is Marlboro, VT by yours truly. I am taking a semester off from Columbia to live with friends in Westminster, VT. I am incredibly grateful to live in such a beautiful place.)

Strike a [Power] Pose

Years of dance training have taught me that the shapes we make with our bodies can have a profound influence on our moods and emotions. Perhaps nowhere has the mind-body connection more been more evident to me than in the dance studio; the way a student feels about a step, a correction, or a part of their body is almost always so apparent in the way they physically approach the challenges of codified movement. Science is beginning to support this notion as well: Amy Cuddy, a former professional ballet dancer, traumatic brain injury survivor, and current behavioral psychologist, has explored the notion that body positions can affect mood in people as they prepare for stressful events, and while her study– as all scientific studies should be– is a topic of heated debate, testimonials have been pouring in from people whose lives have changed for the better. “Power poses”, as the media has dubbed them, are brief postures that just about anyone can learn. They’re free, accessible, and have no side effects other than people looking at you strangely if you choose to execute them in public… So in my opinion, they’re absolutely worth a try.

Here are the poses, as demonstrated by study participants:


To learn more, listen to Amy Cuddy talk about power posing on this episode of the (wonderful) podcast 10% Happier:

And here’s her wildly popular TED talk:


…As Dr. Cuddy says:

Fake it until you become it.


(image credit:,




Returning, with a Wrinkle

This post isn’t an essay on the dangers of sun exposure, though (as the daughter of a melanoma murder victim) I always encourage SPF. Instead, it’s an assembled collection of thoughts on the meaning of home, personal growth, and the pitfalls and privileges of having a home and a town to return to every once in a while. It’s not as romantic [cheesy] as it sounds– this article was inspired by that most elusive of muses, Netflix and a pretzel binge. If you read on, I’ll keep it brief🙂 Bargain?

One of my professors at Columbia particularly likes to point out moments in a text where the author has chosen to repeat something, either verbatim or paraphrased. Even if it’s the exact same set of words, he explains, it can never just be the same thing twice. Whether a word has changed, or because you’re seeing it again, in a new context, or even just because of the inevitable passing of time since the first instance, repetition is always “repetition with a wrinkle”. You can never say, or do, the same thing again without adding a new dimension of meaning to the utterance.

In life, this feels similar to me to the old adage “there’s no going back”. I think about this a lot when I return to a place– because, spatially speaking, I have “gone back” a lot in my life, bouncing back and forth between my first home in NH, my second home in NJ, and various adopted homes in New York for vacations, jobs, and in-between-times. I’m home now, just for a couple of days, heading back to the city tomorrow to finish out the semester, but even this brief little respite has brought latent doubts and fears crawling back into the light. How can I return, “go back”, and still feel like I’m progressing as a human? What does it mean to leave and return and leave and return again?

Mindfulness has made this process easier than it once was. Sleeping in my childhood bedroom once felt strange, even dangerous– when it was comfortable, I freaked out that I was regressing, and when it felt weird I freaked out that I was losing the concept of home I’d always relied on to ground me. I’ve found that these fears are both untrue and, in fact, nothing to be afraid of. I can be aware when I start to revert to old habits, slipping into behavioral and emotional patterns that no longer serve me. I felt this on my first night home, as I mindlessly grazed on foods that I would never normally eat, stayed up late watching Netflix, and forgot to meditate. Now, as ocular proof of my own self-awareness, I’m writing about it. With these words, I remind myself that I can inhabit this old, familiar place as a new, evolved me and still feel at home. The memories are all still here, but I don’t have to become them– I can feel gratitude for the wonderful childhood I had in this house while returning to it as an adult. Like the decor, the appliances, and the handmade art on the walls, home has grown with me. As I return once more this summer to teach dance, practice yoga, and reconnect with this community, I can reach into the familiar world of my childhood with new skills, new eyes, and renewed curiosity; as a young adult, who has gone out into the world to learn and grow and who will continue that venture, pausing every-so-often along the way to return here, to give back to the place and community that gave me my start in life, and to remind myself how far I’ve come.

Thoughts for the Future: Unexpected Success

I wasn’t planning on applying to Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet Training Program in San Francisco, but after not being invited to the trainee program I was planning to attend in the fall, I decided to apply– on the day of the deadline. I already had an audition video put together, but it didn’t fulfill all of the audition requirements, and while I was pretty proud of the ballet footage, it had just earned me a ‘maybe’ from a program I’d been accepted to last year. I hastily wrote to my ballet teacher and asked her to send along a letter of recommendation (thank you, Cynthia!), filled out the online forms to the best of my ability, and thought I was good to send the whole thing off into cyberspace. I scrolled down and realized, with a slightly sick feeling, that written work was required as well– an artistic Letter of Intent discussing my goals as an artist. My goals as an artist? I thought. The whole point of attending Columbia this year is that I’m not so sure what my goals as an artist are, that on most days I have no idea what I want my future in dance to look like, and now I have a couple of hours to make up and eloquently describe some kind of convincing future for myself that will magically convince this program (which I’ve been rejected from before) to take me?

Well, to make a long and egotistical story shorter, I buckled down and wrote the thing. But I didn’t make anything up. I didn’t sugar-coat my struggles, gloss over the vagueness of my plans, or add false goals for rhetorical impact– I just gave the prompt serious thought, and tried to be as absolutely open and honest as I could possibly be, imagining what attending this program might allow me to do with my life that would bring me toward my goal of being artistically fulfilled while helping others in a truly meaningful way.

A few days ago, I got an email congratulating me on my acceptance to the program! I know it must have been largely due to my writing. It just goes to show: sometimes an unwelcome writing assignment can be an unexpected gift, and clarity can spring from the unlikeliest of situations. I’ve included a copy of my letter below, so you can see what I mean; this document is, without a doubt, the most coherent articulation of a possible future in dance that I have undertaken, and were it not for this last-minute application, I would never have written it.

Read the letter here:

LINES letter of intent

(Photo Credit: Serena Ingram Photography)

Rash Decisions

I’ve kicked off the spring season with another allergic reaction. At least, I think that’s what it was; over the course of three days or so before my birthday (April 3, if you’re interested) I developed an itchy, bumpy rash on my arms and legs, a wheezy, sore feeling in my lungs, and increased sinus pressure in my head. It wasn’t as bad as the reactions I’ve had to antibiotics, but it’s been an itchy and largely unexplained presence in my life for two-and-a-half weeks now (campus health diagnosed it as ‘heat rash’ and sent me on my way), and it was enough to tip me completely out of my daily rhythm of school and dance to which I had acclimated and into an oatmeal-bath-filled, Benadryl-fogged pit of despair.

I’m a bit better now, and trying to get back into a semblance of daily routine that actually involves me leaving my apartment, but working through physical and emotional problems concurrently is tough! As I’ve said to my mother, if I was dealing just with anxiety or just with allergies, I could probably have pushed through and done the two dance performances that I dropped out of last-minute, feeling shaky and unprepared for new performance venues, the physical demands of choreography, and the feel of unfamiliar costumes against my misbehaving skin.

It’s amazing how a small thing like a rash can completely alter one’s daily life so quickly. I stopped dancing, one of the mainstays of my existence– refrained from all physical activity, in fact, fearing it would make the rash flare up into an itchy nightmare once more. I dropped out of my dance classes (I would have failed them because of the absence policy otherwise) and stopped going to even my academic classes for several days. I just wanted to hide in the safe, predictable comfort of my apartment until it was over and the mystery trigger found.

I was trying to help myself, but between sleep deprivation and anxiety I ended up making myself feel more weak and isolated than healed. When you have anxiety, it can be so hard to distinguish rational avoidance (I’m going to stay home from class today because I might have a contagious illness) from anxiety-induced avoidance (what if I’m too itchy to sit through all of class?). For me, the wires of logic and fear simply got a little crossed, and figuring out my motivations was really tough, even in hindsight. While my mother was visiting, it was briefly easier– having the accountability and rationality of an outside person to bounce my experiences off of was helpful, not to mention comforting. When she left, though, the unknowns and self-doubts insidiously reinstated themselves, and I started leaving the apartment less often than I probably should have. This, of course, brought on a disempowering cycle of anxiety and self-doubt, which I trapped myself in even though I was self-aware enough to know the ramifications of what I was doing. The less I did, the less I felt I was capable of– and the more I berated myself for avoiding things that just a few days ago had been perfectly manageable, the more unhappy and disengaged from my routine I became.

It took a long, tearful phone call to my mother, the advice of a dear friend, and a fair bit of journalling to realize that, actually, I did a lot of things right in this situation as well. The reality is that my allergy symptoms aren’t and weren’t a figment of my imagination; the rash and its accompanying symptoms represent a real situation that anyone might have found uncomfortable, physically and psychologically. Not knowing the cause of my symptoms is legitimately challenging, though I now have few good guesses, which helps. Being far from my home community is tough; I don’t have a lot of friends and mentors here, but instead of just freaking out and feeling alone I’ve employed such wonderful modern inventions as the telephone and the internet to create a long-distance network of supporters, and I’ve used this time to remember that creating a community around myself is a goal for me for next year. Most importantly, while I did make some less-than-ideal decisions in terms of avoidance, I have finally broken out of a major pattern that I created for myself in the past: when faced with an anxiety-inducing situation, I didn’t immediately run for home. I came close, twice: minutes before my mother left to catch her train home, I tearfully asked if she thought I should come with her and see my doctor; she encouraged me to try to stick it out for a few more days at least, and I did. When a friend came to visit, a week of very itchy, uncomfortable nights later, he offered to take me home if I felt I needed it, and once again I ultimately decided to stay here and stick it out for at least a few extra days. I’m now getting close to three weeks out from the day the rash started, and while I don’t really have answers, I’ve been managing my symptoms in accordance with my home doctor’s telephoned advice and lots of guided meditations, and I’ve managed to continue to take care of myself, at least getting my basic physical needs met, here in New York. I’m now working on improving my mental state as well; I’ve started going to the park again, despite my pollen allergies, because I know that being outside helps me feel better. I started practicing daily yoga, first in my apartment from videos found on YouTube, then at a wonderful studio in my neighborhood– a healing step toward getting myself back into the world. I’ve kept up with my schoolwork, stayed in touch with my professors, openly and honestly, about my physical and mental situation, and have continued my daily practice of mindfulness, both in formal meditation and in my life beyond it. I have used this as an opportunity to connect more deeply with family members and to feel increased empathy for others’ suffering. I’m recognizing how high the standards are that I set for myself, and am trying to work on developing an attitude of ‘compassionate curiosity’ toward my own mind, to be nonjudgmentally self-aware in the present moment. Writing this, I realize, more and more, that I am not a failure. Perfect? Certainly not. A work in progress? Definitely. There will always be room for improvement, but I have a willingness to grow, and I think that’s kind of the point. I don’t know what choices I’m going to make beyond this moment, and it’s possible I will still feel the need to go home early to be closer to the support systems I have established at home. But no matter what I do with the next two weeks before the end of the school year, I’ve made progress toward learning about who I am, what my values are, and how to take care of myself when the going gets tough– and that’s undeniably significant. When I dedicated Year 22 of my life to resilience and growth, I didn’t think I’d be tested quite so soon, but it seems I’m on my way to passing this test, as my dad would say (I miss him!), with flying colors. Baby steps add up to survival, and survival builds strength.

Here’s to being a work in progress!

Love and gratitude,


(Photo credit: Serena Ingram Photography)