Catcalls of NYC street art

CAT-CALLING IT OUT


Growing up in New York City, I’ve been dealing with catcalling for a long time. Even before I was 15, I remember men whispering at me and my friends in cars. I didn’t feel like there was a good way to respond to it. I felt silenced by these comments — I’d just keep walking. I forced myself to believe it was OK for someone to call out, “Hey, beautiful” on the streets even though I felt uncomfortable.

As a freshman in college, I was given an assignment to immerse myself in something and then document it in on social media. The project, Catcalls of NYC, gave me the opportunity to respond to catcalling in a different way.

I came up with the idea to actually chalk the words of catcallers on sidewalks and post them on Instagram, creating a collage of different catcalls. The most troubling part of catcalling is that people say they’re just words, or that it’s a compliment. I wanted to take those actual words and show people it’s not just words — they have a really big impact when you’re walking down the street.

At first I was writing about my own and my friends’ experiences. Slowly, people would find my account and message me their experiences to write down on the streets of NYC. Right after the #MeToo movement in December 2017, my account went viral and grew from 900 to 10,000 followers overnight. It’s then that I realized a lot of people care about this and a lot of people need to share their story.

Catcalls of NYC has become such a huge part of my identity. It’s made me grow to be really unapologetic in condemning all forms of harassment and discrimination in the public space. I found the power to say “I don’t feel OK with that.”

It’s unbelievable to see the plethora of stories people open up about. They are looking to be believed and to be heard. If you’re an empathetic person, you’re reading their stories and trying to respond in a way that makes them feel supported — but it’s hard to read more than one story at a time and set boundaries. I’ve learned to cope by taking breaks, as well as by assembling a team to build this community and continue the conversation online and offline.

I’ve found that a great place for dialogue, especially in NYC, is on the street. When you’re chalking, a lot of people stop to see what you’re writing and to talk to you. It’s something special because normally nobody ever stops for anything here. It’s important to build community, but it’s a rare thing since people in NYC don’t often talk to each other.

A few days ago, I talked to a guy who mentioned how he used to catcall with his friend. They were practicing how to flirt, and it was a way for them to bond. He thought seeing the words chalked on the street was disgusting, and never wanted people to go around saying those things.

Having conversation is such an important tool both on social media and also on our streets. If someone is genuinely asking, “Sorry, I don’t understand, I would’ve thought this was a compliment, but please explain,” that’s where the change can come from too. I’m learning how to engage allies who have room to change and grow. Before, I was so strong in believing, “Well this is harassment, you should understand it immediately.” But we don’t talk enough to those people who are maybe somewhere in the middle and learning. In the end, we are all learning.

The Handmaid's Musical actors on stage

IGNITING THE FIRE


I moved to New York from London in September 2016, where I witnessed how everything in America was changing politically. It was a scary reality to see the way women were treated in a different country. It didn’t necessarily have to translate into actions — it was the way women were being talked about, like they were objects and their bodies were under scrutiny. Everything was ultimately dictated by a man’s opinion.

At the time I came to the city, I was continuing my acting career and going from one audition to another. It was such a tough process. I finally decided that if it wasn’t going to happen, I was going to make it happen. A combination of being someone new in the city pursuing theater and the political climate inspired me to write.

Being a big fan of the book and the TV show The Handmaid’s Tale, I realized I wanted to adapt a musical parody of the story that paralleled with the reality of present day. Though the TV show is about a dystopian America, everything in the book is relevant to something happening at some point in some part of our world.

It almost makes sense to laugh it off, but also create a line of communication where people can be inspired to do something about it. That is why much of the show relies on dark humor and black comedy. In fact, the Little Mermaid’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls” song was the first piece that inspired me to create the show.

I hadn’t ever written a show, but I found comedy to be a way to deal with the most difficult situations. Stress is always handled in a flight or fight mode. I remember when I was growing up my mom told me that “when life throws you lemons, you gotta deal with it because it doesn’t stop.” I don’t know if it’s the healthiest approach, but you need to learn to make the time.

I have been juggling a lot — it came down to time management and priorities. The last three months, I needed to focus on renewing my visa and getting back into the country. The uncertainty of not knowing where I would be was stressful, and my mental being needed to cope with getting back to NYC. In the process, I learned how to delegate and the importance of having a team.

Living in our 20s is an interesting ride. There are always highs and lows, but that’s what makes it even more real. This experience has opened my eyes to the world. We can all get stuck in what we know and what we are comfortable with — it’s rejuvenating creating a space and a voice that can kickstart change.

There is a fire burning inside of me. Maybe it has always been there, but now it’s ignited.

A city road sunset

LOVING WITH NO BOUNDARIES


I’ve experienced both sides of being in a long-distance relationship living in and out of New York City. Leaving and returning to the city has definitely made me appreciate it in a different way, but it also taught me how to be more honest and communicative in my relationship.

When I first moved to Venice a year ago for a short-term job opportunity, my partner, Denise*, and I had been dating for almost four years and had just moved in together. We met during our last years in college in NYC and since Denise had been in investment banking for two years and two years in private equity, the time we’d always had together was limited. Typically, we chatted for half an hour before bed and hung out on the weekends. Realistically, she’d have to work on many projects during the weekend, so it was mostly Saturday night or part of Sundays.

When we started living together, it was really nice to see each other more. But, after a while, we realized we were no longer spending quality time together. We had to start scheduling dates to really catch up. I always thought when you start living with someone, you’d spend more personal time with them. Yet, it is easy to take the relationship for granted since that person is always present. Scheduling quality time for each other really helped us communicate and build the foundation for when we went long-distance. It’s not like we didn’t care for each other, but more so we needed to be open in managing realistic expectations given our different schedules.

We also learned that we needed to be open with our pet peeves. In the beginning of a relationship, you don’t want to bring certain things up. You try to be easy going. Over time, you either blow up or you learn to talk about. There are times we blew up and now we learn to talk about it before it gets to that point. We needed to come to a certain medium since we are both living in a shared space. Even if it’s small and random like “stop taking my pillows” or “don’t leave the toothbrush there!”

When I first moved to Italy a year ago, it was really sad. But, what made it easy was Denise visiting me the first month and then again the second. The times she stayed were also really long both during the holidays. Spending those long amounts of quality time never really made me feel like we were never apart. And when I returned back to NYC, we resumed the cadence of scheduling date nights and making time for each other.

Now, Denise has moved abroad for grad school and it has been tough. Yet, we still manage to keep in touch with Whatsapp and Google Voice. We try our best to be mindful of each other’s schedules given the six-hour time difference. Normally, I wake up at 6 AM and go to bed at 10 PM. So, I’ll do a half run in the morning, come home, shower, catch her on the phone, but then go to work. We occasionally message during the day but we understand it is hard since I’m working full-time and she’s settling in a new city.

Now being on the other side of the long-distance relationship, I can empathize more of how Denise felt when I first left NYC. I remember the first time I slept in our bed there was all this empty space and it felt odd. When I told her how I felt, she mentioned that’s how she felt the first night I wasn’t there. I never realized what she was experiencing when I moved to Italy since my first night there was a flood and all I could think about was how to carry my luggage in knee deep water when Venice flooded the first night I was there.

My mind was pre-occupied with a lot and it was a distraction to feeling lonely. Being back in New York has helped me be more thankful to my friend group and support system to get me through this period. Being able to count on a group of people who’ve known you for 7+ years is truly invaluable. I also realize what it takes to be communicative in a relationship being on both sides of the distance.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

A green neon heart with dollar bills inside

TALKING MONEY WITH LOVE


Going into the relationship, I think we both had a good idea of how the other person thought about money. My boyfriend and I went to middle school together, and both grew up in lower income backgrounds as first-generation students. We reconnected after college and have been seeing each other for almost three years now. When you’re going into a relationship with somebody, an explicit “values talk” may not necessarily come up, but you’re definitely on the lookout for what their values are and what they invest their money in. Coming from a similar background really set the tone for us, so from the very beginning I found we were compatible in our values.

Our relationship started off very slow and mindful, and we did not cut any corners. He and I previously discussed that we hadn’t learned how to communicate properly in past relationships, and we hadn’t had good examples. We knew that whatever we had been doing didn’t work. This is the healthiest, most vocal relationship I’ve had, and it definitely started out the hardest simply because we were so worried about doing everything right. Honestly at first, it did not feel natural to constantly be so open and vulnerable. But I think that’s what geared us up to have a very “unnatural” talk about finances.

It started off with our income disparity. I come from a very prideful family — we don’t talk about money and we don’t take “handouts,” so I grew up not accepting big gifts or shows of money. In the beginning of our relationship, he was very honest about the fact that he was making more money than he’d basically ever seen in his life. It was very new to him, and he never bragged about it, but I most definitely watched what he did with that money. The first thing he ever did was pay off all of his college loans and then send money to his mother, so I knew his priorities were straight. When he moved into a sleek Nolita apartment — 2BR/2BA between him and his roommate, brand-new appliances, washer and dryer — I thought to myself, “I don’t even know if we’re ever gonna be able to live together if these are what your standards are.” But even still, he was attached to his values from before all of this and kept money-saving habits like meal prepping, so I was able to be a part of that with him.

I hit a really bad rough spot in my finances one year after my graduation when my second student loan was activated. I’d not signed up for electronic billing, so they were sending paper bills to my home in Virginia. Months later I came home to about $800 of bills. I knew that waiting would hurt my credit score with the amount of time that had already passed, so I wiped my bank account, including a lot of my savings. I was an anxious mess. The ever-present tension I felt with New York City lifestyle and my income and class started seeping into other places in my life.

My anxiety persisted until one day he asked me about my wellbeing. We’d agreed that when one of us asks if the other is okay, we owe it to our relationship to be very honest. I was so embarrassed, I was crying, but I told him I’d wiped my bank account and I honestly didn’t know how I was gonna eat that week. I had -$32 to my name because I’d overdrawn my account. He never asked me if he could send me money, because he knew I’d tell him no, but he Venmo’d me $200 for the month saying, “Pay me back when you can — I’ll never ask you to. This is just to make sure that you eat, and I would love to feed you too as much as possible.” I declined the request, and he kept sending it to me, until he eventually was like, “Will you please take this money? It would make me feel better.” So I did, and of course I eventually paid him back, because money comes and money goes.

We got more comfortable having explicit conversations. We started planning our very first trip together, which I think was a nice look into future planning as well. I really appreciated that he actually cared about getting the cheapest flight, but also making sure it wasn’t a red eye that would leave us dead; getting a nice AirBnB but making sure we were getting a wonderful experience for the amount of money that we paid, rather than just balling out. He’s always been able to see everything from every angle and keep a lot of his core values present. It eventually got to the point where I started asking about his thoughts on investing, cryptocurrency, and getting out of debt. I felt very comfortable having those conversations only because of how much I admired his values and the way he truly weighs every option. He gave me deep talks and great advice about all of that.

These honest insights into each other’s values are what lead up to deciding this is someone I’d like to live with — someone I like being teammates with. He wanted Manhattan and I wanted Brooklyn, so we settled on Williamsburg. We were honest about our max budgets and priorities. Once we found the perfect place, we roughly estimated equitable rent proportions based on our post-tax incomes and other bills, like my crushing student debt. Having these talks every step of the way has been such a worthwhile exercise, and we still do check-ins to make sure neither of us feel stretched too thin. We’re just starting our financial journey together, and it’s nice to see the mindfulness we practiced from the very beginning still be present in our relationship.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Grafitti of colorful hearts

GROWING OUT OF HEARTBREAK


I realized I was gay in middle/high school, but didn’t have the vocabulary or experience to define it. It wasn’t until my junior or senior year of college that I came out. Overall the journey has been incredible. I feel very fortunate that I live in a city where I can express myself openly and authentically. I’m surrounded by people who support and encourage that.

It wasn’t always like that, though. J* was the first woman I seriously dated after coming out. I had joined Her and Tinder when I first came out, because it was a way to kind of explore at a distance. I could match and talk with people without feeling overwhelmed or intimidated by approaching them in real life. I had met up with a few people, but it never really went past a few dates. After graduating college and moving back home, I downloaded OkCupid. J was my first and only OkCupid date up until that point. When we met I still had self-doubt and nervousness around my inexperience. To add onto that, I was living with my family in my hometown, so my dating life was nonexistent. She made me feel validated and safe — I felt that, as I was getting to know her, I was getting to know myself too. We spent a lot of time together in the beginning. Our personalities were similar, we had good chemistry, and she had a studio apartment, which made it easier. I was falling in love for the first time, and someone was falling in love with me! Before that it was hard to imagine that I was even capable of feeling this way. Looking back, I don’t think I would have done anything differently.

I was blindsided by the breakup. She never mentioned that she was unhappy, or that she wasn’t feeling as invested in the relationship. One night she just said she wasn’t physically attracted to me and she wanted to break up. Her reasons didn’t make sense and rather than talk about it, it felt like she’d made a decision without even talking to me.

Looking back, though, there were definitely signs that she wasn’t the person for me. I felt very self-conscious around her. She liked to tease me, but sometimes it was hard to see the line between playful banter and just downright being mean. I didn’t feel like I was myself and I didn’t feel like I could be myself. A lot of my effort wasn’t matched. While the circumstances of the breakup sucked, in hindsight it needed to happen. I think I was so caught up in it being my first serious relationship, and having that person I could always turn to. It was hard to look back after the fact and realize that I was unhappy, and that I wasn’t myself. But this realization is the main reason why I moved on.

For the first time in my life, I’m out, single, and out of my mom’s house. I feel more secure in myself and my identity than ever before. I have a lot to offer, and I know what I want — and, more importantly, what I deserve. I’m dating and looking forward to meeting new people again. I’m making more plans with friends, going out more, and just making myself open to new experiences. I even have a new album coming out this week!

Despite my heartbreak with J, I’m glad it happened because I learned so much about what I want and need in love. I definitely still have a lot to learn, but I’m at the best possible place with myself right now, and I can’t wait to see where that takes me.

Find Kaitlin’s music on Spotify, and follow the band on Twitter for updates!

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Young woman looking out to the ocean

SEEKING FANCY TROUBLE


The second summer when I was leaving my hometown for college in London, my grandfather, drove me to the airport. He’s quite a character and has a very unique way of speaking, but as we were walking out of the door with my suitcase he tells me to “stay away from fancy troubles.” This piece of advice really struck me.

My grandpa is a very simple man. I know when he says fancy, he doesn’t mean luxurious. He means anything unnecessary. He was telling me to stay away from anything that could take me down the wrong path or anything that would cause trouble.

But, living in London and traveling across Europe, I knew I needed just the right amount of trouble. Being abroad brought out my most unique self and dared me to explore what the world holds. I studied graphic design in college and created a magazine for my final school project which forced me to do some solo traveling and talk to people I otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to speak to.

It was ultimately in my travels that as a graphic designer I was inspired to see my designs come to life and eventually create sunglasses that truly embody the sense of possibility that we all desire. I had no particular goal to design sunglasses. It was random really. A lot of my designs were inspired from travels — whether it was looking at buildings or taking the Eurostar train from Paris to London and looking out the window. One day I was just doodling shades on Illustrator and practicing my skills when I had the urge for them to come to life.

Within 5 weeks, I made it to Italy and visited some factories. It happened very quickly. I finalized some of my designs at two factories in the North and South of Italy. Production took a very long time, but when I actually got the glasses they were very good quality and I got many compliments on the unique designs.

It made me realize that I wanted others to experience this product and the feeling to embrace their own “fancy troubles.” There’s something incredibly rewarding about seeing your designs in a real-life setting. Removed from your computer screen and actually utilized by real people in real life. Taking my sketches and turning them into a tangible, wearable accessory has been exciting and almost surreal, especially when other people wear them.

At first, the fear of the unknown was consuming. I was 22 at the time and I didn’t know what I was doing. I felt the pressure that I needed to be taken seriously. I was worried that my love and excitement for designing would vanish along with moving back to the States. With starting anything, there are always setbacks. There would be days when I would reach out to influencers and I hear nothing or a negative response. It was the faith in my designs and the inspiration that has kept me going.

It is scary to go into something new with no guarantee that someone will follow your story. For those who are drawn to Fancy Troubles and captivated by the designs and message, I want them to feel confident and ready to take on the world, whatever their path may be.

I believe that the spirit of embarking on adventure and the thrill of excitement is what your 20s are about. The Fancy Troubles wearer doesn’t fit into one box, but the common factor they do share is the love and openness for new experiences — to see the world with not fear, but excitement and bravery through the lenses of stylish sunglasses of course!

Check out Fancy Troubles’ pop-up shop in Nolita from July 17-21 😎 Don’t miss out on exclusive giveaways and the chance to purchase your own pair of shades!

Person reading newspaper

WRITING AWARD-WINNING ‘FAKE NEWS’


Fake News Writer is a YouTube series about a recent college grad, Ethan, who moves to LA in the hopes of being a screenwriter — but the only job he can find is writing Pro-Trump conservative propaganda for a fake news website. Ethan has to hide his work from his extreme liberal roommate who hacks and publicly shames fake news writers.

I wrote this series based on my own experience moving to LA after graduating in screenwriting. While in school, they drill into your head that hardly any of us will actually make it as screenwriters. Or that we will be working as an assistant for years, just for the opportunity for someone to maybe read your script and maybe like it enough to give you a job. Or that won’t happen and it’ll just be a waste of years of your life. It was discouraging. When I graduated I started taking small copywriting jobs that I was able to get with my major. These would pay $5 for 4 hours of work. Then eventually I moved up the ladder and got paid $12 for 4 hours of work. It wasn’t a sustainable way to live.

Then, one day as I was searching on Indeed, I found a posting for a political news writer where you needed to write with whatever biases the company gave you. I thought I could do that. I grew up with both intelligent liberals and conservatives and thought I had the ability to channel both perspectives as needed.

During my job interview, my boss explained to me how he runs a pro-Trump conservative page and the readers are old, fragile people whose emotions I needed to cater to. It was a company that didn’t want to influence politics at all — they ran both liberal and conservation websites and were just profit-driven. They wanted me to study what people clicked on, and write more of that. And so, after I got hired, I would just read a bunch of conservative articles, rewrite them in my own words, and come up with click-driven headlines. I was ashamed of myself the whole time I was working there, but I really wanted to be financially independent. I didn’t want to be dependent on my parents. This job gave me the financial security to live in LA.

From the start, I realized I wanted to write a script from this experience. I thought it was very topical and I had a unique first-hand perspective on how it all worked. I originally began writing it as a movie as I was starting the job — yet I didn’t know what was going to happen next and what my character arc was going to be. Eventually, I realized I could turn the acts into 7-10 minute episodes to capture the character’s day-to-day happenings.

Most of the show was an accurate reality of my job. My boss was a cynical, monotone guy who was just about the business. I never met him in person and don’t think I even knew his real name. When I wrote this show my goal was to make fun of liberals and conservatives evenly; this two-sidedness is something I miss from television and I think it’s what made South Park so successful. In my comedy, I don’t mean to mock specific viewpoints. With liberals, I’m making fun of the overuse of shaming tactics and people who believe that any form of disagreement with them is racism, sexism, bigotry, etc. People feel they can’t express their opinions or even entertain opposing opinions without being shamed. So instead of having conversations, they look for content that agrees with their point of view, fake news writers capitalize on this, and we all get more divided. With conservatives, “With conservatives, I’m making fun of how easy-to-write and disingenuous a lot of their news sources are and the types of people who point out bias in the mainstream media but don’t notice the obvious bias on their own side.

I also wanted to explore the themes of a millennial trying to find their place in the world. Ethan’s journey in the series is about self-worth. For example, before he gets the job, he feels like he can’t talk to women, because he’s a loser who can’t get a job and relies on his parents. He thinks that by taking a job that makes him financially independent, he will be proud of himself and feel like he has value and this will give him confidence. However, when he gets his job writing fake news, this doesn’t work out because he’s so ashamed of what he does.

If you’re looking for some fun, dark humor, check out Fake News Writer on YouTube — they’ve just won the Webby Awards and will be coming out with a Season 2!

Desk with computer

SPEAKING UP THE LADDER


When I graduated three years ago, I think I just didn’t know what kind of roles I really wanted as my first steps.

I’d come to college to study Communications and thought that I was going to work in PR even though I had no idea what that meant. I did an internship in the PR world and that’s when I realized I really couldn’t do PR. I’d also interned in network television and had felt like the TV industry was a little bit too slow-paced for me and more importantly, there just wasn’t the diversity I wanted to see in the industry I chose to work in. I wanted to go into tech — though I’d done internships in the industry, it was hard to break into. I was looking at anything from Sales Coordinator, Marketing Coordinator, to Recruiting Coordinator, and trying to cast a wide net.

It was definitely a hard summer for myself because throughout college, I always made sure that I was working very hard to be at the top no matter what I was doing, whether it was in student activities or at an internship. To be hit with endless rejections throughout summer right after graduation was just a huge reality check for myself, and it honestly forced me to start from square one and reevaluate what I really wanted to do.

Ironically, an opportunity came through NYU by August. An office was looking for marketing and social media help, and so… I don’t want to call it an act of desperation because I was really levelheaded going into it, but I needed to start making an income. I ended up accepting the role and I absolutely did not like my experience there. It was primarily due to a toxic work culture, not being as fast-paced as I wanted it to be, and not feeling challenged in my day-to-day responsibilities. I immediately felt like it wasn’t a good fit, but instead of quitting or not giving them a shot, I did decide to stick around for a whole year. I decided to look at the positives and think about the things that did make me happy in the role.

Despite my negative experiences over that year, I left feeling like I’d learned so much more about myself. I clearly know what I like and don’t like about my work environments and ultimately, it helped me as I interviewed at other places. Even though it was a marketing role, I did find little hidden gems here and there that would help me as I decided to pivot into recruiting.

I always wanted to stay in touch with my university in some capacity. My experience at NYU was incredible, and despite the student loans, to this day I am grateful for the opportunities I was afforded because of my education. That was one of the reasons why I had taken the role at NYU — because I was curious about higher education and wanted to see if that could be a career for myself. I love working with students and with universities.

As I was researching roles for myself, I realized that campus and university recruiting are roles that exist within the greater recruiting umbrella. I realized some of the largest tech companies I’d even interviewed right after graduation had university recruiting roles.

I used my work at NYU to get me to where I am today. I said that I was still responsible for interviewing and hiring interns for the office and that experience made me hungry for a formal recruiting environment.

Two weeks after I finished up at NYU, in August 2017, I started at my current company as a Recruiting Coordinator. In my second time interviewing for these tech companies, I was very laser focused on getting a recruiting coordinator role. That was the biggest difference between 2016 and 2017, that I actually had an idea of what I wanted and where I wanted to be. I interviewed at all the same places, if not more. Ultimately, I chose an opportunity in a mid-sized tech company that aligned best with my interests.

Recruiting coordinator is more of a general role. I wasn’t working directly with university or campus recruiting, but I felt that it was a great role for me to understand the ins and outs of recruiting in a coordinator and support capacity. I was in that role for 10-11 months. Before my one year at my current company, I was given the opportunity to interview for a new role, and I was promoted to University Recruiter.

I laid the groundwork early. Two weeks into my coordinator role, I already had an idea of where I ultimately wanted to be, which was on the campus team. And for context, while I was interviewing for recruiting coordinator roles, I was also interviewing for campus recruiting coordinator roles, because some tech companies will separate those organizations. Obviously, I just took the regular recruiting coordinator position, but during training, I already got coffee with the campus recruiting manager and told her that this was an area of interest to me. I let her know that even though I was so new, I was just so interested and eager to know more, and once I fully ramped up, I wanted to see if there were ways to support the team or assist with side projects here or there. I definitely sounded over eager at the time, because the manager told me to sort of chill and take a step back, and master my day-to-day responsibilities first. Then she told me to reach out after and see what I could do. So listened to her, and I mastered my role in a month — I really owned it, and I loved the position, and I enjoyed the team. I was able to show that I not only mastered the show that I had, but I was hungry for something more. I always made it clear not only to my manager, but to other leads as well, that I was ultimately interested in becoming a campus recruiter. I think that’s why I am where I am today.

Be loud is my best advice. In my internship period, at Zumper, I was working on a small team of 7. Up to working on a team of 7 for a company of thousands. Despite the drastic differences in company size, the most important thing I had to do was to not be afraid to speak up when appropriate, especially when it includes advocating, both for yourself and for other people. I think being loud is a really important thing and it’s helped me to be where I am today.

Person doing yoga on a mountain

BENDING TOWARDS IMPERFECTION


For six years, I’ve suffered from living with the confines of an anorexic and alcoholic mind. What I learned most recently from my recovery through addiction is that it’s only through long time periods that we fall closer and closer to our most authentic self.

Since being 18, I’ve had many rock bottoms and many instances where I’ve bent over backwards to people please that it has broken me. When I graduated high school, I took a year off to devote to mental health and pursue an intensive yoga teacher training. Through this experience, I learned a lot about the sutras and the history of yoga. The main premise I took away is that the relationship to our yoga mats is a microcosm to our relationship to life. Our body stores all our trauma, emotion, fear and the inner manifests to our physical. For me, I was very flexible physically, especially in my back since I was a dancer growing up. But, it also reflected my constant need to bend over backwards to people please. I didn’t even know who I was anymore since I tried to feel validated and approved by pleasing others. I always tried to make people happy, which could come off to be inauthentic.

On the surface I seemed fine. I was going out, doing well in school, and had many friends. But, I was really struggling with alcoholism. I was having debilitating panic attacks, anxiety, and this turned into suicidality. Living just felt unbearable knowing I always had to please people. I just remember one night blacking out and waking up in a psych ward. I had nothing except being surrounded by four empty white walls. I was alone with myself for a week. My priorities were shifted to recognizing I’m worthy just because I’m alive. I don’t need any external forces to prove my worth. I’m worthy since I have a beating heart.

At my first recovery meeting, I met my sponsor who was seven years older than me and 5 years more somber. New York is such an over-stimulating city, but I’m learning how to surrender to the thoughts of being a perfectionist or comparison. Through my sobriety, gradually over time, the attachment to grades and perfection has lessened and my anxiety is slowly gone. As part of my daily practice, I regularly go to yoga and focus on meditation and prayer. I also make it a point to see my friends and build out concrete social time, whether it is to get a meal or just hang out. Building connections and creating a strong support system is important to my mental health. My relationships are my biggest priority and I’m constantly checking in with how can I practice more acts of kindness to the people I care about.

Being in service of love has grounded me and constantly reminds me to come back to my truest self. The other night I was feeling down after studying in the library for hours. I decided to go to a recovery meeting where I made such beautiful connections. I then went on a date with myself to a little Thai restaurant, wrote in my journal, and ordered Pad Thai. At one point, the waitress came over and told me she never saw someone with such radiant energy. To hear someone say that reminds me to continue accessing the inner light within, knowing all battles are worth it.

*Name changed to protect her privacy.

Person on a street corner underneath aboveground subway tracks

NEW YORK MY WAY


Last year, I found myself crying over missing out on the cherry blossoms at the Botanic Garden. By the time I found the opportunity to go, they weren’t blooming anymore. It seemed silly, but it wasn’t about the flowers — it was my whole relationship with New York City.

I had never been to New York until I moved here for college. Everything was so fresh and new and dazzling. I wanted to experience everything I couldn’t in my home country: world-famous attractions like the Met, smaller wonders like 24-hour dollar pizza, and absolutely everything in between. The idea of nonstop entertainment was dizzying — at any moment, I could be doing something new, something exciting, something life-changing.

Which meant that every moment I didn’t do something life-changing felt like a waste.I started stressing out at my own downtime, whether or not I needed it. Taking a nap in between classes, scrolling through social media before bed, watching Netflix on weekends — all I could think was I could be doing something greater. When friends and family would visit, they’d make comments like, “It must be amazing to just be able to go to Central Park every day.” I’d feel so guilty for not taking advantage of that.

Today, I haven’t been to Central Park in probably two years, and I’ve accepted that that’s okay. I can’t live my life in New York as if I’m a tourist all the time. I have a full-time job to do, an apartment to clean, errands to run, just like anyone living anywhere else. I thought I was taking New York for granted by not running around checking off items on a bucket list — but really, I’m showing my love to this city every day by sticking around and building a life in it.

I still feel anxious sometimes, late on Sunday nights when I’ve spent most of the weekend at home. But I try to put that energy into something positive — instead of beating myself up over it, I plan something new for the next week. The cherry blossoms will be here next year, and so will I.