American love

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”-John Lennon

Happiness? I think it is simple to assume this is a goal for most of humanity. We find happiniess in different outlets of life whether it be through a family, a career or where I personally find it most: through the happiness of others. When people ask me the same question John Lennon’s teacher asked him my answer is similar. The older I grow, the more helping people becomes my career, my way of life, my goal. I want to help people. Currently I am studying Psychology in hopes of going to grad school for Drama Therapy, but if that plan does not unfold, I will find another way to help those around me.

We just elected a new president yesterday. In light of this I felt the urge to write to all of you and relay some advice. You clearly can take it with a grain of salt if you wish. I will not be offended if you call me a dreamer, an idealist, an optimist because I identify with all of those terms. I believe our county, in light of recent events needs to try something. Love: a word used in many contexts, a powerful word, a word that can inspire, a word we need right now as a country, as Americans. No matter your political opinions, right now is the time to respond to each other with love and respect. We need to start making an effort to be kind to all, help those less fortunate than oursleves and fight for equality for our fellow people. Love is important and in order to unite our country, it is necessary. You do not need to agree with every person and you will not share viewpoints with everyone, but we need to stop letting our hate block opportunities to help each other. I am fully aware of how idealistic this sounds, but for me at least, that does not make it less true. Love. Love everyone. We need each other now more than ever.

Things I meant to say…

Were you ever completely tongue-tied? Did you stand as though frozen solid and run through the list of topics on your mind only to find it now completely blank? I consider myself an outgoing and bubbly person. Normally, I have no trouble speaking endlessly about a vast amount of diverse subjects. But there are moments, however brief, that even I cannot speak my mind. When the entirety of my thoughts disappear into oblivion and I stand blank faced, awkwardly waiting for the other person to say something. The usual culprit of my sudden lack of ability to hold normal conversation? Fear. Now I am not afraid of meeting new people as anyone who knows me well can tell you. The fear stems from those who I know or better, have known. The people who left, the ones I “lost” who never really left, the people I used to call friends and the ones I never received the opportunity to call even an acquaintance.

I parted ways with many friends since childhood. Sometimes the separations was mutual, we grew apart. Occasionally, distance drifted us away from each other and lack of communication from both or either person caused us to fall out. The most common reasoning however, is one I cannot describe. I, myself have ended very few friendships purposefully due to various reasons, but many people have shut the door to our friendships without a second glance. For years, I blamed myself. After all, as a child and teenager I assumed the friends who left could not bear to close to the girl who was different. I admit I have never been a cookie-cutter stereotype. I was not very attractive growing up. This is not me feeling sorry for myself just that my physical features were easily teased by the other children. I rarely listened to “top 40” pop music. My face did not see makeup until high school and even then only for special occasions. Unfortunately in order to attempt making friendships, I hid some of the things others considered “flaws” and became a pushover and a people pleaser, until a few years ago. I became slightly more attractive as I grew up, as most of us do after leaving our awkward stage (which for me lasted longer than most), learned how to show my personality through the way I dress (I wore those cute little Catholic School uniforms until I was 18. Adorable, right?) and became more confident in the person I was inside. I swear the first date I was asked on shocked me (It was in college by the way and now I am asked out more often then I ever thought possible as a teen). Now I embrace those differences and I LOVE not being a stereotype. I am quirky, silly, a bookworm, a performer, a writer, a lover of all music (almost all genres), a Catholic, an Italian-Irish-Native American, a friend, a daughter, a sister, an individual. I no longer blame myself for all of the friendships I lost even though I have made many mistakes and sometimes it was indeed my fault. In the past, every rejection I viewed as personal failure. I disliked every person who ever left my life, until I learned something that changed me for the better.

God tells us to love all. I heard this countless times growing up and while I tried to be kind to everyone, I examined what it meant to truly love all. When I did, it transformed me. I will be honest with you, I desire a friendship with everyone. It is one of my major flaws and favorite parts of my personality and I am sure some of you do the same. But when a friendship ends, please do not cry. Do not shed tears for those hurt you, dislike you, wrong you, ridicule you, hate you, spread rumors about you, cheat you or tell you that you are less than a child of God because that is exactly what you are but here is the hard part, they are a child of God too. Not everyone has to like you or love you, but that does not mean that YOU cannot love everyone. It can be difficult but the best things are the most challenging. The rewarding part is that hate leaves your heart. Pride stops so many of us, me included, from truly giving our love to every person we meet and from forgiving those who have hurt us in the past. Grudges lead to regret and swamp us with feelings of disdain. they do not help us grow. Only love can transform all of us into the people we are intended to be by God.

I have a challenge for you. While maintaining your current friendships (which is VERY important) and remembering to tell everyone you care about just how crucial their presence is to your life, wish everyone happiness. Everyone included all of those who left you, who hurt you. Spend a few minutes every day praying for the happiness of those you may never see again, the ones you see everyday who do not acknowledge you, the ones who turn their nose up to you and make you feel like you are worthless. Why? Because we are here to love. Love is not easy nor should it be. When you truly love someone, (a friend, family member, whoever) you are understanding with them, you are never quick to judge them or become angry, you are patient and kind. Therefore, love may not be easy but it is essential and I personally feel so much happier choosing to love than to be upset that someone simply is not fond of me. Choose love. Love every day. Love God. Love each other. Fall in love with your life and your actions will speak for you.

A letter to you on a starry night…

This is a letter to a young girl who is very close to me. While this is a direct letter to her, please know that I pray this finds others who struggle with an eating order and can offer them even an ounce of hope.

Dear little sister,

     While we are not blood, but since your sister and I have been close for so long, I see you as my younger sister as well. Did your sister ever tell you that “Starry Night” is my favorite painting? Would you like to know why? I wish it was for a sophisticated and intelligent reason but here is the truth. When I was a small child, before you were born, I loved a show called Boy Meets World. In one episode, Topanga asks Cory what he sees in this painting. He responds “An attack. An attack from another world.” She continues by telling him “God is protecting the people in this little town! They live their lives and they come out of their houses, and they see this sky and they know God’s protection and love. And that everything will be all right.” This is why I feel so connected to this painting. It reminds me that even when we cannot see a light in the darkness, it is still there. We just need a little help to detect it. It reminds me of the beauty that the natural world has to offer and that if something that amazing can exist than the whole world cannot be bad even when it feels like it is crumbling upon us. The image offers peace and assists us in finding it. This is why I love this painting and why I think of it as a reminder that I am not alone in my journey and you are not either.

      Please understand I do not come here to judge you or pretend I know everything about recovery. Every person has a unique story. Each individual struggles differently and every case of an eating disorder stems from other issues whether they are family, friend, image, social, addiction or fear related. What I do know is that you are scared. I will not lie to you and say that getting through this will be easy. Some days you will feel like retreating back into your shell and never coming out again, but that is not an option. I have known you since you were a little girl and I have seen the beautiful young woman you are growing into and I must say I am proud to know you. Your family and friends are there to love and support you even when it feels like they are angry or upset, it is just their reaction to your disorder. They desire you to be healed as much as you do, if not more. They miss the smiling face that greeted them each day, the ambitious girl who was going to start her own business and could conquer the world. I have written this to tell you that the girl you think you lost to your eating disorder is still there. She never went away, but simply got lost in a storm and cannot see her way back right now. The storm will clear. The whipping winds and violent thunder will pass, but the only way that happens is with your drive to see the other side. You will be healthy again. You will be made stronger and more beautiful than before because of this time you spend recovering.

     When I talk about beauty, I hope you know that I refer to your caring spirit. Our society pressures us to feel beautiful in other ways with a pound of makeup and by weighing under what is healthy. Ignore society. Ignore social norms and pressures. Only wear as much makeup as you want and dress how you feel comfortable. These tools should not be used to make you fit in, rather to help you stand out. Show off the wonderful personality that I know you have and do not be afraid of it. I was teased as a child for everything from my looks to my hobbies to the music I enjoyed. I could not figure out why people were so cruel. I realized as I grew that once I stopped caring what they thought, I gained the ability to embrace my quirks and found people who love me for those qualities. You will find that too. I promise that despite what seems like a never-ending trail of judgmental faces, you will find those people who accept you for everything that you are and more.

       Now the difficult part; please seek treatment. This could mean nutritionists, therapists, psychiatrists, prayer, medicine, yoga, meditation, an eating disorder clinic, a hospital,  a doctor who specializes in eating disorders or a combination of these. I was afraid too. I thought I would never eat three meals a day and wake up smiling again. When I left my internship in Florida, I thought about just lying in bed and I did for a few weeks until I came to the realization that I wanted my life back. I needed to get help so I could find my way back to things I love like being on stage, dancing, hiking with your big sister, reading and meeting new people. You will get there. There are few things that I can promise in life, but this is one thing I know. If you seek help for your disorder, you will find more joy in the things that fill your heart and discover that girl lost in the storm, maybe even reveal new wonderful things about yourself along the way. Do not lose hope. Do not let go of your dreams. Use those dreams as motivation to be healthy. You can do this. We all believe in you. My prayers, thoughts and love are with you.

Your honorary big sis,

Lexi

Wake up

Anxiety. A panic attack strikes like a nightmare. You can’t wake up until it is over. All of your irrational fears become real and there is no escape. Your eyes forced to remain closed until it passes. 

Recently some amazing events have blessed my life: I just finished a show and met truly beautiful and amazing people in the process, I finally chose a career path where I get to help people doing what I love and I received great news about people in my life who are suffering. All of these components make me happy, extremely happy. I wish I could say they come without anxiety. I have found that as these great events occur, things that boost my anxiety counteract them, such as: eating (always my biggest trigger), missing out on career opportunities and mainly wanting to be healthy and independent so badly it hurts. What do I do? How? Where? When? Questions constantly flood my mind amidst the anxiety. I need hope.
Cue prayer, my great stress reliever. God constantly reminds me that He has a plan for me and I need to open my eyes and my heart to that plan. All of these things I see as anxiety triggers can be used as motivation to be healthy and help others who struggle with eating and anxiety disorders.
I recently decided to return to school. Long story short: I prayed, God answered. I was staring at my phone after church one day and started crying. NYU’s “Drama Therapy” program was just there, on my phone. I don’t remember searching for it. My mom saw me crying, immediately asked what was wrong. I said “I know. I know what I want to do with my life.” I went on to read her a description of drama therapy from NYU’s website. According to which the program offers “opportunities for clinical internships in hospitals and shelters, drug rehabilitation centers, prisons, and special facilities for the homeless, elderly, developmentally disabled, and the terminally ill, among others.”
This was it. The answer I had been waiting for. I needed to follow this path. I have been focusing on how to proceed with this new dream, His plan. I decided to finish my undergraduate (which will take 2-3 years) at Penn State Harrisburg in Psychology with hopes of moving on to my graduate degree at NYU or another Drama Therapy accredited university.
God is pretty amazing. Trust is one of those MAJOR issues that accompanies anxiety, trusting friends, family, romantic relationships and mostly God. But I needed to allow God to help me by giving him my fears (and there are quite a few). I experienced too many rough days by being a trusting person in the past so building up that ability to open up to others and let them in scares me.  However, I know God wants me to try, now that I have let Him in. I truly believe we all need each other. God wants us to seek His good in every person. I hope I can help someone stuck in the same nightmare. Opening our eyes is scary. Letting go- letting God take care of the rest. 
(For more information on Drama Therapy, visit: NADTA )

One Of Those Posts…

I’ve seen a lot of post about anxiety trending lately. My only complaint is that most of these posts lump everyone with anxiety together. I appreciate the sentiment of those writing but only some feel applicable to my situation. So, I will make this clear now. I cannot speak for each individual with anxiety. I cannot speak for every person struggling with an eating disorder. What I CAN do is hope that as I heal, my story helps even one person. I struggled on whether or not to share my journey through this battle with anxiety. I pray that whoever is reading this gains perspective about what is like living with these disorders, gains the courage to seek treatment (therapy, medicine, meditation, any kind of treatment) and let others know about about your struggles, realizes they are not alone in this battle, and/or receives an ounce of hope that this is not a never-ending road to recovery.

I’ve talked a lot in my last two anxiety-related posts about my personal experience but not much about the daily life of having panic attacks and an eating disorder. So here is my “list”: the way I feel living with anxiety and an eating disorder and how I believe many others feel…

1.) Living with anxiety is so much more than being stressed. So many people misconstrue anxiety as a load of stress. It is stressful but anxiety feels like a constant waiting game, a ticking clock. Will I be okay today? Can I function normally today? What about tomorrow? How will other people react to me panicking? And when stress comes into play, it snowballs these thoughts and makes them more intense like being suffocated. Essentially it sucks.

2.) I do have good days. I am not full of anxious thoughts 24/7. While there may be days where I cry nonstop and can’t leave my couch snuggling with dogs (who are huge amounts of therapy for me), that is not me, I am not this ball of anxiety. I have some amazing days, full of giggles and spent with friends and family. Those days will happen more often and they are by far my favorite days. I love the days where I wake up singing showtunes, walk my dogs, go to yoga with friends, call my best friend and talk for hours; I want to live like that EVERYDAY and cannot wait until that is a possibility.

3.) I am not angry at you. I AM angry at my anxiety, my eating disorder and most importantly myself. I absolutely HATE HATE HATE my that my disorders hold me back from the things I want so badly in life. Not just my larger life goals like moving to New York to pursue theatre, but the small things. Fear stands in the way of so much of my life. I would love to go out to eat. I would love to spend the weekend in Salt Lake City or Boston with my two best friends. I want to travel. I want to be able to eat in front of people. I want to be the happy, bubbly, funny, amusing, slightly sarcastic girl I used to be and deep down I still am that girl. For right now this detour has prevented me from achieving my goals. Things that seem normal others scare me. I don’t want to have panic attacks in front of people. I don’t want them to see me as weak because I’m not weak, if I was I would not be able to fight as hard as I am right now. I am angry at myself. I want to be okay and I want to really live my life.

4.) Seeking help does not mean you are too weak to handle this. I thought that for the longest time. I didn’t want help because I thought I could do it by myself, when the truth was I needed help. I am brave because I asked for help. I put dreams aside to search for a way to get better so that when I am presented with another chance to live one of my dreams, I will be healthy and ready. My personal treatment includes various doctors’ appointments with an eating disorder specialist and nutritionist, therapy, yoga, going to church, spending quality time with the people and puppies I love and performing. Therapy comes in many different forms and finding the right method is important for each person.

5.) Lastly…I want the people in my life to know how much they mean to me. I love you all: every single person who is part of my support team, every friend who lets me call them no matter what time and vent, every family member who unconditionally loves me, my dogs who make me smile, the people who make me laugh and God for helping me through every moment of this. Every single one of you helps me become that girl I once was and please don’t feel like when I cancel plans or need to be alone that it has anything to do with you. I hate disappointing all of you and I never want to hurt you. So please never feel like it is your fault, but it isn’t mine either which is something I’ve only recently discovered. It’s anxiety. It’s my eating disorder. It’s the evil that is panic attacks and not eating for hours, sometimes days. It’s the fear. I choose you over the fear, all of you, but sometimes it still wins. Just know I’m still fighting for me and for you.

Light Switch

Currently the power is out in my neighborhood. Weird how seemingly insignificant events like these make us more aware, alert even. I have discussed my anxiety here before. When it was almost “healed” (the only term that seems to fit), I thought I was better, I was “brave”. Turns out stopping treatment for my issues was premature. I went to Florida to participate in the Disney College Program (which by the way is a wonderful experience). It turns out I was only “healed” enough to function at home, in a safe controlled environment, but when my structured life was thrown a curve ball, I was thrown into the dark much like I’m sitting in now. I lost control.
For those of you who do not know me well, my anxiety forces me to want control in all aspects of my life. Clearly that task proves impossible, but I still try. My eating disorder returned, not anorexia or bulimia but a disorder called “AFRID” which stands for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, simply put a fear of eating. My fear stems from my food allergies which as I stated, I’ve discussed before. I feel like I’m allergic to everything. Even though I’ve been tested for other allergies, the fear persists. I proceeded in my last few weeks in Orlando to eat only toast, rice and occasionally broccoli. My water intake narrowed to one very forced cup a day. I refused eating in public. I feared people finding out and not understanding. Depression kicked in because as my doctor explained “malnourishment leads to lack of energy, sleep and ability to function properly”. I began feeling lost, like I would never beat this. There were days I would hide in my room and cry. I was failing at my dream of working in Disney. I was failing, not a concept I deal well with. I loved Disney World since childhood. I met wonderful people during my program. I had five amazing roommates whom I miss terribly and honestly I would not have made it as long as I did without their kindness. I really owe them more than they know. I made the choice to come home, probably the hardest choice I’ve made thus far.
Since I’ve been home, I attend an average of 3 doctors appointments every week. I eat about 2 meals a day and even though I know that is not enough, I am slowly gaining back my strength and my mental function. It is difficult. I thought that I was better and starting back at square one scares me, but I force myself to wake up every day and try. Try to eat. Try to live. I thank God every day that I don’t have a reaction, every day that I can eat, every day that I have an amazing support team of family, friends and two puppies who make me smile. Thank you to those people who remind to choose living in the light even when it is easier to stay in the dark. Hopefully the power is back on soon. As Dumbledore said, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light”.

Happy Birthday Alan Menken

Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Enchanted, Newsies, Little Shop of Horrors and the list goes on to show the marvelous achievements of an amazing man, Alan Menken. I wanted to write this post because I feel that I owe my love of Disney music and musical theatre to this inspiring person.

As a child, and occasionally as an adult, I would walk around my house with a book in my hand and my hair tied back in a bow singing to my dog ” Oh isn’t this amazing? Its my favorite part because you’ll see” (I bet you sang the words) , from the song “Belle”. Beauty and the Beast will forever and always be my favorite story of “far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince in disguise”, but songs like “Under the Sea” from the Little Mermaid, “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin (and performed by my favorite actor, Robin Williams), and “Just Around the Riverbend” from Pocahontas were all in my repertoire at age seven of songs I could act out while singing with my little baby soprano voice. This music molded me, taught me lessons about connecting with nature (thank you “Colors of the Wind”), allowed me to see people for their heart rather than their appearance (a la what Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Potts told us in “Beauty and the Beast”) and of course let me have a dream (pretty much all of his music but let’s go with “Go The Distance” and “I Have a Dream”).

So this post is to thank you, Alan Menken, wherever you are and even though you will more than likely never read this post. I am just sending my love of your work out into the universe, thanking you for continuing to inspire me to “have a dream” like Rapunzel, “sing a happy working song” like Giselle and as Katherine Plumber says “watch what happens”.

Happy Birthday Alan Menken!

More reading:

Alan Menken Official Site

Entertainment Weekly Article