Realizations: What I’ve Learned About Myself This Year

It’s exactly halfway through 2017, and I’m at an age at which I am in total denial about the passage of time. I’m 18, but I somehow feel both 12 and 35 at the same time. 2017 has not only been an incredibly tumultuous time for America and the world, but also for me personally. I’ve achieved more than I thought I could; I’ve failed enough that I’ve learned not to go so hard on myself; I’ve proven my own strength to myself and those around me.

As I get older, I’ve struggled a lot with self-love. But it’s not the act of loving myself that I find challenging (throughout my whole life, I’ve been an extrovert who’s been blessed with confidence to spare) – no, I struggle with the different ways in which self-love can manifest itself, and how I often need to support myself in different ways, depending on the day, the situation, or how I’m feeling.

As narcissistic/nihilistic as it may sound, I literally do not care about my body – at least in conventional ways. One of the most beneficial things I’ve ever done for myself is learn how to care about my body in the right ways. I care about the foods that fuel me and enable my body to do great things, like run and jump and lift weights. I care about the foods that fuel me and enable my body to do not-so-great things, like sit on the couch and hang out with friends and laugh. I’ve started looking in the mirror less and looking within myself more. This is not to say that there aren’t days when I feel fat or skinny or ugly or pretty or lazy or motivated, because I do. I, like anyone else, appreciate when the scale drops a few pounds or when I feel attractive in my own skin. But, again, to take a position of necessary nihilism, my body is just the place in which Nathalie, who is merely a collection of thoughts and opinions and memories, exists.

I don’t struggle with loving my body. It crosses my mind from time to time, but I’m not constantly worrying about the way I look compared to others, and I know I’m lucky that I have this sense of security.

I’ve always known about myself that I struggle with loving my personality the most. Especially in recent years, I’ve found myself almost constantly anxious that I am either being standoffish or annoying; that I am either trying too hard or being too cold; that I am either too reserved or I wear my heart on my sleeve. I overanalyze the way I feel, the way I act on my feelings, and the smallest social cues from everyone I meet.

I really often compare myself to others in terms of my personality traits – an entirely different, but equally as harmful beast. Why can’t I be as cool as her? Why can’t my sense of humor be as effortless as his? How do I become as uninhibited as them? Why am I not getting as much attention as I need to feel validated? When will this person get sick of having me in their life?

A helpful mechanism I picked up a while back is to have five adjectives on hand at all times to describe myself – it’s an exercise in mindfulness and feeling secure in my own brain. These adjectives all have their respective positive and negative connotations.

On the days when I feel Annoying, I remind myself that there are just as many days when I am Funny.

On the days when I feel like a Know-It-All, I remind myself that there are just as many days when I am Clever

On the days when I feel I am Bossy, I remind myself that there are just as many days when I am Ambitious

On the days when I feel Needy, I remind myself that there are just as many days when I am Attentive

On the days when I feel Cynical, I remind myself that there are just as many days when I am Realistic.

I love Nathalie the way you would love an annoying younger sister – you can be critical of her, you can have good days and bad days, but ultimately, she’s all I have at the end of the day.

 

My Nineteenth Year

Recently, I turned eighteen (thus, entering my nineteenth year) shortly before the Common Era of our Gregorian Calendar entered its 2,017th year. I’ve always been a huge supporter of New Year’s resolutions, but really just any resolutions in general – there is no bad time to try and improve yourself. Year after year, my resolutions have been mostly physical or superficial – eat healthy, exercise, get straight A’s, etcetera. However, this year was different. 

I’m entering my first year of full-fledged legal adulthood in perhaps one of the most tumultuous times in American history. Not only can I start contributing to society as an adult, but I will start feeling the repercussions of my society as an adult. So, I figured that my New Year’s resolutions deserved to be more thoughtful and purposeful than ever before. 

In 2017, I will read more for pleasure. 

When I was young, I was a huge reader; I could effortlessly get lost in a novel and finish it in one afternoon. Over the years, I’ve gotten a little lazy and started choosing Netflix over my own intellect. I’ve decided to forgo my usual habit of watching an episode of the X-Files in bed to lull me to sleep every night in favor of one chapter of a book before bed every night. My Amazon wishlist will remain full of a constantly rotating cast of whichever bestseller I set my sights on next.

In 2017, I will cook more. 

Having only completed one semester of college so far, I can attest to how monotonous and potentially unhealthy a constant schedule of dining hall-eating can be. And although I am proud to say that I didn’t fall victim to the Freshman Fifteen, I definitely could have been better about consciously choosing what food goes into my body. I genuinely enjoy cooking, and over time some friends and I have enjoyed a few nights of homemade meals and good conversation. This year, I plan on meal prepping and making a habit of packing my homemade lunches on the go. 

In 2017, I will love without expectations

This goes for both myself and others! Conditional love isn’t love at all – it is the root of resentment, hurt feelings, and judgement. By practicing understanding and compassion with my friends, loved ones, and even strangers, I will be opening myself up to the endless possibilities of human experiences. By practicing understanding and compassion with myself, I’ll finally be able to take a break from being so hard on myself (as I usually am;) I need to get better at remembering that it’s okay if I don’t feel my best or most confident 100% of the time – nobody does. 

In 2017, I will save more

Now that I have a part-time job, working 20 hours a week, I have a lot of financial mobility. With very limited opportunities to spend money (on anything other than food) while on campus, 2017 will be a great opportunity for me to beef up my savings account and invest in my future.

In 2017, I will be more mindful.

My anxiety gets the best of me in overthinking plans that are weeks or months in the future. Travel plans, exams, scheduling conflicts, and even mundane commitments – I can’t help but think through every possible worst-case scenario until I drive myself mad with worry. This year, I will practice a c’est la vie mentality liberally until it becomes second nature.

New Year’s Resolutions only take hold if you’re constantly evaluating yourself and taking stock of the effectiveness of your goals. Always keep what you’re working toward in sight. I know I’m working toward growing and maturing as a person, no matter how difficult it may be. How about you?

Food for Thought – Dietary Privilege

 

 

Photo taken from my Instagram.

Please forgive the inevitable rambly-ness of this post – this has been on my mind for a while and I’ll try my best to try and verbalize everything I’m thinking about this issue.

The USDA defines a food desert as a low-income part of the country where healthy and fresh foods are either scarce or expensive. It should come as no surprise that the low-income neighborhood of Philadelphia in which my university is located falls under this category.

I live one block away from a grocery store chain (this in itself is a miracle – large grocery store chains usually see food deserts as a lost cause,) and food shopping has been one of the rudest awakenings I’ve experienced in my transition to college living. I value my healthy lifestyle, and I love cooking for myself and eating fresh. However, I’ve found that the price of fresh produce and other healthy favorites can be up to double or triple the cost they were at my local grocery store at home in Connecticut. This was annoying at first, but it wasn’t until I took a step back and took a look at the community as a whole to see how the issue of food scarcity affected us on a larger scale.

Finding yourself in new surroundings can be so eye-opening. Never before in my life have I considered myself lucky for being able to pay for my groceries with my debit card instead of food stamps. However, this is the reality for many of my neighbors. This also speaks a lot to the quality of the food that is consumed in low-income areas; when Hostess products are more readily available than fruits and vegetables, eating healthy seems like an unattainable chore. It’s no wonder obesity and other health issues are so often linked with poverty. In such a health-conscious world and society, it’s almost as if we are guaranteeing a better quality of life through food – but only to those who can afford it. This system is classist at best and racist at worst.

I’ve also done some thinking and seen how my privilege as a middle-class white person translates to what I eat. I am a vegetarian and I try to eat organic; needless to say, I am in the minority in my community. At times, I feel guilty for being able to be selective with what I eat. I have no right to complain about the convenience or cost of something as essential as my food, especially when there are people who are grateful that there are places to buy food within walking distance. A struggling parent from a single-income household can’t afford to worry about the greater ethical and environmental impacts of the food they feed their children, nor can the homeless man I pass outside of the 7-11 on my block every morning.

So how do I not let the guilt get to me? Obviously I’m nowhere near qualified to speak on how to make even the smallest of dents in inequality. But if I know one thing, it’s that acknowledging your own privilege is always a place to start. If you’re somebody who has been lucky enough to be selective in your diet – or even make the conscious choice to eat healthy, for that matter – just know that you are among the lucky few.

This is also an issue on which liberal elitism comes in to play. For most Americans who fall within the middle class and above, it can be hard to wrap your head around or even acknowledge the notion that you are more privileged than others. So, I recommend this to you: 

Don’t complain – be compassionate.

Hold Me Accountable

People of the internet, this is an open letter to you. Today, I ask you to hold me accountable.

Hold me accountable for the respect and love that I always preach so vehemently. I will continue to honor the electoral system that allows for the peaceful transfer of power. I will accept this bump in the road and remember that there is always tomorrow. I will remember that there is so much more to our everyday lives than the politics of our nation, and I will remember that unconditional love for my peers and fellow Americans can only enrich my experiences.

Hold me accountable for those who have been silenced by the actions of the American people. Too many of my loved ones will have to live in fear and shame until the clouds part. Too many people I don’t even know will have their lives forever altered by the hateful words of others. Too many people will be afraid to worship with families for fear of persecution; too many people will lose their faith altogether.

Hold me accountable for the fire that has been lit beneath me. I refuse to sit idly by and watch the America that I cherish so dearly become a laughingstock. I refuse to let fear be the only catalyst for change in the greatest nation in the world. I refuse to have another election where millions of voters are coerced into choosing “the lesser of two evils.” I refuse to allow the definition of democracy to be changed at its very core.

But, most importantly, hold me accountable for the power that I still have. When I am given new educational opportunities, I will accept them with open arms and open mind. When I graduate college, I will not let that be the end of my education as I know it. When I decide what I want to do with the rest of my life, I know it will be for the betterment of the lives of the American people.

In a time of so much fear and uncertainty, one thing is crystal clear to me now: my future is in public policy and servitude. My hope is that the glass ceiling will be shattered long before I even come close to approaching it. My purpose is now to fight for a better future for EVERYONE, but especially those who have been made to feel that they have already lost the fight. I won’t rest until things are better.

So, hold me accountable.

Always Look Ahead

In the words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast.” I often wish I could be as fearless as Ferris, but my own anxiety usually relegates me to my role as Cameron.

At this very moment six months ago, I was a high school senior, staring at my ceiling, trying to fall asleep, my mind reeling with college decision letters from the highs of acceptances to the lows of rejections.

At this very moment one month ago, I was a college freshman, staring at my ceiling, trying to fall asleep, probably crying after a long and blubbery phone call with my mother, wondering why I didn’t have friends yet (among infinite other college-related insecurities.)

At this very moment, however, I am a college freshman, staring at my laptop, struck with a wave of creativity, feeling productive and caffeinated and excited for what’s to come.

The anxiety and fear I felt one month ago was foreign to me – I had been on a delusional high for the last four years of my life. I had a beautiful, close-knit, and supportive network of female friendships. I was in the beginning stages of what was (and currently is) my first ever loving relationship that made me feel beautiful from the inside out. I sought and gained personal, academic, and extracurricular success in high school. Frankly, I was the center of attention in every aspect of my own life. And it made me feel like hot shit (in the good way.)

But now, five hours away from home and seemingly lost in a sea of 37,000 students with varying degrees of like-mindedness, I felt that I had lost myself. I was no longer the natural-born leader who never failed to make a crowd laugh. I had gone from a big fish in a small sea to a baby gosling floating in the BP oil spill.

The only way to describe my outlook on life one month ago was “unfair.” Why did I have to put so much effort into the things that once came naturally to me? Why were people no longer drawn to the personality that I had finally felt so comfortable in? However, my biggest mistake was wondering why I was the only one feeling this way.

Little did I know that my peers and friends all around the country were struggling with the exact same doubts and fears, however they had manifested themselves. I look back at my sadness and frustration and consider it a blessing – I had a life at home that was worth missing. For the minority of my peers who were having the time of their lives in college, it was most likely because they had a less than stellar high school experience and couldn’t wait to move out and move on. (These were the same kids who needed alcohol and drugs to have a good time, when I’d rather use pizza and good company.)

Visiting home for the first time since moving into school was difficult. The time I had with my loved ones was precious and fleeting, and going back to my new and awkward life in Philadelphia after peering back into the snowglobe of a happier time for just one weekend felt like torture. But it kicked me into gear and recharged me in order to realize that I had a life worth living both at school and at home.

The best decision I made during my difficult transition into independent adulthood was to focus on myself. This wasn’t a huge leap for an admittedly solipsistic extrovert like myself, but it was reassuring knowing that in a time of such uncertainty, I could use my newfound independence to better myself as a person.

I had experienced at least two panic attacks since school had started, so it was safe to say that my physical AND mental health needed some TLC. I started being stricter and more health-conscious when it came to my dining-hall-dependent diet. I read good books, watched good movies, and listened to good music in my down time. I spent time every day being active in body and mind, from weightlifting to running to yoga. I focused on comfort and confidence in my everyday appearance. And, sooner or later, the rest just fell into place.

I now have a part-time job at the world’s cutest Vietnamese pho cafe, exposing myself to good food and new cultures while making money at the same time. I have a small group of friends with whom I connect and trust more than I ever thought possible at the beginning of the school year, when my number one fear was eating every meal alone. I find myself easily and casually connecting with acquaintances in my classes and clubs. I even reignited one of my dearest passions from high school, Model United Nations (sorry for the implicit nerdiness,) and have gained a leadership position as the chair of a committee for our upcoming conference.

I eagerly look forward to the coming weeks, when I will be visited by family, immersing myself into my hobbies, on adventures with friends, and growing as a person. This isn’t to say that I’m not homesick at all anymore – I still talk to my friends, family, and boyfriend every day and am counting down the days till I come home for fall break. But, if I could give one piece of advice to incoming college freshman (or really anyone going through an equally monumental change in their life) it’s that setting goals and planning milestones to look forward to does make it easier. And trust me, it does get easier.

Peace,

Nathalie