Have you ever had a moment in your life when you realize, I mean deeply and terrifyingly realize, that you’ve gone way off track? You knew who you were at one point in your life, but the person inhabiting your body now is foreign to you. Mama always said to not talk to strangers and yet, somehow, you’re that stranger.
I would look at my hands and think, “Yes, these are Taylor’s hands.” I would hear myself speak and think, “Yes, this is Taylor’s voice.” But I examined the life I was living and thought, “Who the hell is this woman?”
This important, yet freaky realization typically comes at rock bottom. The end of your rope. Fortunately, that’s the same spot where inspiration typically comes knocking. For me, inspiration peaked its head around the corner in the form of a Facebook photo quote a couple years ago. This exact one:
Arrow. Focus. Launch. Aim. These words resonated with me, so I latched on to them. There was something there for me in the midst of the muck. I was backward, and I was being dragged by difficulties. So the thought of being launched into something great was fine by me!!
Enter Kasey Musgraves. About the same time as my “Who Am I?” meltdown, the country singer published this tune called “Follow Your Arrow.” It goes like this:
If you save yourself for marriage
You’re a bore
If you don’t save yourself for marriage
You’re a whore-able person
If you won’t have a drink
Then you’re a prude
But they’ll call you a drunk
As soon as you down the first one
If you can’t lose the weight
Then you’re just fat
But if you lose too much
Then you’re on crack
You’re damned if you do
And you’re damned if you don’t
So you might as well just do
Whatever you want
(Chorus) Make lots of noise
Kiss lots of boys
Or kiss lots of girls
If that’s something you’re into
When the straight and narrow
Gets a little too straight
Roll up a joint, or don’t
Just follow your arrow
Wherever it points
If you don’t go to church
You’ll go to hell
If you’re the first one
On the front row
Son of a-
Can’t win for losing
You’ll just disappoint ’em
Just ’cause you can’t beat ’em
Don’t mean you should join ’em
Say what you think
Love who you love
‘Cause you just get
So many trips ’round the sun
Yeah, you only
Only live once
(Chorus) And follow your arrow Wherever it points
The song is clever and comical, but it makes an important point. People want lots of conflicting things from us. We need to be good, but not too good. Skinny, but not too skinny. Educated, but only in the “right” fields. When we play into that, we start pretending. Before we know it, we get to that point where we don’t even know who we are.
There is so much talk about going out and FINDING yourself. But I think sometimes we’ve already been found. Our natural tendencies and desires, the things that make our eyes light up and our hearts beat a little more quickly – we know those things deep down, or at least we have an inkling. Maybe it’s not only about finding the pieces of who we are; maybe we also need to drop the pieces of who we are not. What’s left is your arrow.
My “Arrow” came to represent the real, deep, nitty-gritty Taylor and all my dreams and plans – minus the pretending and role-playing. Lo and behold, once I started following that arrow, I found out that my life was really interesting TO ME, and I genuinely loved it.
It is THIS concept that has urged me on to create The Interesting Project. I’m getting close to launching a workbook that helps young women (18-30ish) follow their own arrows by pursuing interesting lives that THEY love. As part of this project, I will also offer free goodies, some blog posts, and newsletters to aid in the process.
I know what it’s like to forget about your arrow. I know what it’s like to be pulled backward from life’s difficulties. But I also know what it’s like when you follow that arrow and really start pursuing an interesting life you love. THAT is what I want for my fellow ladies.
If you are a young woman wanting to move from thinking about your dreams into LIVING your dreams, The Interesting Project will be for you. Please subscribe to my new newsletter right here, and you will be updated as soon as The Interesting Project Workbook and all the other cool stuff is available.
Remember, my friends, your arrow is there. Follow it wherever it points!
I used to think that to be a strong woman, I always had to be strong. And I thought being strong meant pushing aside any emotion that is conventionally considered weak – like sadness, hurt, or anger.
But pretending nothing ever gets to you is only a defense mechanism for somebody not willing to do the hard work of dealing with these difficult emotions. Brushing your emotions aside is a weak cop-out; showing and dealing with them is brave.
You see, for the past few weeks I have been working endlessly on something called “The Interesting Project” which I will be launching soon. I’ve created a workbook that will help 18-28 year old women figure out how to get unstuck and how to pursue interesting lives they love.
But this week, I felt really really sad and hurt. I wasn’t feeling unstuck and interesting, I was feeling weak. People close to me said horrible things based on no facts. My gut reaction was to be “strong” by pretending I wasn’t hurt and trying to be badass. But really, I was just pretending. The sting was too fresh for me to truly feel anything but sadness, hurt, and anger.
I felt like a fraud – who am I to tell women how to have interesting lives they love? Look at me! I’m bawling in self-pity and can’t even be badass! But then I remembered that ALLOWING myself to really feel painful emotions is the brave and interesting thing, because it demands actually doing the hard work of dealing with them.
So I decided to just roll with it the next day. These emotions were real, so I was going to feel them. The Bible says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. A time to be badass. And a time to say ‘Screw It!” Okay, maybe the Bible doesn’t put it EXACTLY like that, but you get the gist.
So I said, “Screw it!” and gave up this need to SHOW my badass. I turned to life’s best cure for all that ails: salt water. First, I cried. Lots. And then I went to a walk to the ocean and touched the salt water with my feet!
There is an estuary off the beach in Tamarindo that you’re not supposed to swim in. Supposedly, there can be crocodiles. Lo and behold, we walked by that estuary on our salt-water walk, AND THERE WAS A CROCODILE! I stood about 90 feet away. The Boyfriend went a tad closer. It was just sunbathing on the beach with its jaw wide open.
Oh it was quite the sight! I’d never seen such a perilous wild animal outside of a zoo. It was incredible, and I was in awe! We stood there for a few minutes and marveled. And I realized in the presence of such a majestic creature: I AM BADASS! Somebody really hurt me yesterday, but here I am today standing by a freaking CROCODILE!
The whole “never smile at a crocodile” took on a brand new meaning. “Oh hello, Mr. Crocodile, I’m currently wallowing in my own difficult emotions. Don’t worry, I won’t smile.”
As most of you know my motto is: Feel the fear, do it anyway.
My 2nd motto is now: Feel all the feels, and go see the crocodiles!
If I had been too busy trying to LOOK like I had it all together and going on as if I hadn’t been hurt, I would have missed out on this beautiful, interesting moment to heal up a bit. Or if I had simply wallowed in bed refusing to get up, I’d have missed it too. We can’t hide our emotions, and we can’t let them hide us either – We have to let the process work.
I was 21 and set to go on a Mexican cruise when my mom went to a mental hospital. If during the first two decades of my life you mentioned that MY mother would detox at a mental institution, I would have laughed in your face. That detail didn’t fit inside my family’s narrative. We were the ideal, God-fearing, all-American, one son, one daughter, one dog, vacations to Disneyland, public servant father, and stay-at-home mother sort of family.
But mental illness doesn’t just come to those on the fringes. It doesn’t care what car you drive or which church you go to. It finds all kinds of people, even the best mothers in the world, the lovely ones. For my mom, anxiety and depression found her. And a dose of chronic pain. This mental hospital would be a safe place for this woman I love to withdraw from Hydrocodone and Xanax.
I went on that cruise while she detoxed and spent time with other struggling women. It was an odd, helpless moment in my life. When I got back, she had been released, but the effects of withdrawal hadn’t freed their grip on her small body. She was in torment. No words will ever describe the terror my mom went through. We sat on the couch together during this time and watched Something’s Gotta Give with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton on repeat because it was the only thing that would offer brief moments of relief from the pain and intense mental assault she was experiencing. I call this time: Please God, Something’s Gotta Give.
When the withdrawals started doing horrible things to her body, she couldn’t take it anymore and went back to a medical hospital. Desperate. I sat there with her for hours day after day. A nurse offered her a new medication for the intense nausea. Terrified of putting anything addictive into her body again, she looked to me to make the decision. Suddenly, our roles reversed. The woman who took such good care of me when I was sick, taught me how to tie my shoes and read works of literature, and guided me through my angsty teen years needed my help.
It wasn’t that she wasn’t strong. In fact, she was at her strongest. Xanax is the strongest, fastest acting Benzodiazepine there is – and Benzos are one of only two drugs with a withdrawal that can kill you. She was fighting for her life. Bravely. Choosing to stay alive and alert each minute instead of fading away. She went through hell and chose to keep walking.
She hadn’t wanted to be an addict. She didn’t nonchalantly plan for addiction while reading a novel one boring Tuesday afternoon. My mother was a fun lady who made our family casseroles, went to Bible studies, drank tea, and did crossword puzzles while watching Jeopardy.
But she also had chronic, debilitating migraines. I’m puzzled when I see people out and about complaining they currently have a “migraine.” I grew up with a woman whose migraines meant she had to hide in a pitch-black silent room with ice packs surrounding her head for hours. She needed pain relief, so doctors prescribed Hydrocodone. It only took the edge off.
Then she was really brave one day, a few years before the detox. She admitted to a doctor that she loved her life and her family, but felt anxious and depressed. That was probably an understatement. My mother suffered from untreated anxiety and depression through much of her life. Once we all understood that fact, it was easy to see how long she had been suffering. Her doctor gave her an anti-depressant and Xanax. My mom obeyed. Doctors always know best right?
I didn’t know my mom had anxiety when I was a little girl. To me, she was just the lady who played Seals and Croft’s “Summer Breeze” for living room dance parties. But as a woman looking back on my childhood, it is clear in a simple way. She was gripped by anxiety, saddened by depression. She wasn’t free to be herself. Each day that went by untreated, it got worse.
Some will argue, but I believe wholeheartedly that fear and shame-based faulty theologies of a demanding God only fed her anxiety and depression. When you think God is mad, you panic and do anything to please him. When women’s Bible studies teach you that good wives have to live THIS way or good moms have to be THAT way, anxiety builds. In the end, these teachings had more to do with fearful social expectations than they had to do with God, and they fed my mom’s chemical imbalances. All while she was trying to do the right thing.
This dogmatic teaching never told my mother that she was beloved as she was. They taught her she must be better and hide all the rusty parts. Only show the shiny parts. I think I like her rusty parts best.
She visited therapists who just wanted to sit on a couch and regurgitate her childhood again and again. It wasn’t helping. They weren’t teaching her how to cope today. The doctors gave her more Xanax. They were feeding her a drug that can kill you. (All while Marijuana was still illegal. I never understood that.) The medicine helped reduce physical and emotional pain. But she began having withdrawal symptoms while on still on the medication. Her body had become dependent on the amount she was taking and required more.
Of course, she didn’t realize that while it was happening. She only knew she had hit rock bottom and thought she was going to die. That’s when she asked my dad to drive her to the detox facility. The medication, pain, anxiety, and depression were overtaking her body. She was done: mentally, emotionally, spiritually done. But she refused to call it quits. I’m so glad she was brave enough to refuse to check out of our lives.
Eventually, the withdrawals eased. Months felt like decades. As the Hydrocodone left her body, she was shocked to discover that her migraines decreased each month. Without the Xanax, she was able to think clearly and find a therapist who gave her tools to help her function day-to-day. This therapist used Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)and taught her emotional regulation and mindfulness – how to be fully aware and present in each moment – and acceptance – of herself, her illness, her emotions. This woman taught my mother how to not just survive anxiety and depression, but how to thrive by owning her story and owning all the parts of herself. The DBT even helped her cope with the pain more effectively.
I don’t think that medicine is the root of all evil by any means. I am not a doctor or therapist, but I do know some people need medication. In fact, my mom stayed on one safe antidepressant. But I think we can do better in supporting those with mental illness beyond medication:
1. Most importantly, we can support those with mental illness by not denying that they have a real medical condition. If one more person says, “You don’t have depression, you just need to find your joy,” or “You don’t have anxiety, you’re just wound up,” I may lose my shit. Nobody denies that cancer patients have cancer or that diabetics need insulin. Why do we treat people with mental illness like they just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and deal with it?
Lesson #1: Mental illness is real. Educate yourself. Also, the archaic narrative of “People with mental illness are weak” is old and ignorant. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Show compassion. Learn and grow.
2. Almost as importantly, we need to know the difference between feeling depressed or anxious and having depression and anxiety. People will tell my mom things like, “I felt depressed a few years back and started a workout regimen. Worked like a charm,” or “I’ve only felt anxious once or twice in my life. I really try to relax.” As if the person with anxiety hadn’t thought about “just relaxing” before!
The best way I can describe the difference is this: If you get bronchitis one winter and have trouble breathing for a few days, you cannot compare yourself to an asthmatic who has had a life of breathing treatments and scary trips to the hospital because their lungs don’t function properly. Lesson #2: Everybody experiences feeling depressed or anxious, but that IN NO WAY means you know what it’s like to have Major Depressive Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder or other mental illnesses.
Possibly the thing that scares me the most about my mother’s anxiety and depression is the fact that I see traces of it in myself. I feel the overwhelming panic crawl into my chest; I feel the lack of motivation hit me at the oddest moments. We are intimately connected, my mother and I. Her blood runs through my veins. See, I’ve been telling you a part of her story (and it is only a part of a complex, beautiful story), but it’s my story too. Maybe I’m a little rusty too. I think I like the rusty parts best.
But my mother gave me a gift: she walked through hell already. She taught me how to be courageous when all you want to do is give up. She taught me how to express my emotions even when I want to hide. She taught me that you could have mental illness and still THRIVE, not merely survive.
The road has been long for my precious mother. She is the healthiest she’s been in her entire life. Of course there are still rough patches. That’s life. When we look back we will see splotches of blood, puddles of tears, and hills we barely got over. There’s no perfect ending with a pretty little bow on top. This isn’t “5 Ways to Kick Depression and Anxiety to the Curb.” This is “Life is so hard, but we get through it together.”
What is it like to have a parent with mental illness? Hard sometimes, and scary. But beautiful too. I’ve received the rare opportunity to see my mother as a human being, not simply a mom. “Mother” is her role, not her identity. The person she really is – well, she’s a mixture of rusty and shiny.
But I think I like her rusty parts best.
Perfectly shiny is TOTALLY overrated.
Please share my mother’s story on social media to help bring awareness of mental illness, not as some idea that we like to analyze, but as a story. A common story that touches the lives of at least 1 in 5 adults in the US. Let’s work together to de-stigmatize mental illness and lock arms in support of those we love and those we too often forget about. Or, perhaps, her story will help somebody not feel so alone.
Trigger Warning: I discuss rape culture in this article. This is sensitive material.
I’ve heard people say that women have achieved equality in the United States, so women’s rights activists need to back off. They say there’s no space for feminism (even positive feminism) anymore. Personally, I’ve had comments from those asking me for proof that women still struggle. I thought it was self-evident, but apparently not.
So here’s some proof:
There are hundreds of metrics you can still use to “prove” that women are still fighting to be viewed as human beings. One of these metrics, and arguably one of the most important, is the fact that rape culture still permeates our “developed” nation.
Some statistics tell you that 1 out of 6 women have been raped. Others say 1 in 5. While that seems bad enough, remember most women are too frightened or ashamed to report rape. If all women were able to speak freely without repercussion, the stats would be altered to a terrifyingly high percentage. Let’s be holistic in our approach – men get raped too. But the stats are significantly lower. Approximately 9% of rape incidents happen to males. That doesn’t lessen the fact that this is horrendous for them too. It’s an issue that crosses gender lines, but women are being terrorized FAR more often.
Don’t be fooled, rape culture seeps much further than the violent act of rape. Rape culture is found in a woman walking down a street. She is sexually harassed by a man and has to make a decision. Do I stand up for myself? Or do I smile it off and not upset him? This is an extremely difficult and degrading decision.
I was walking down Fremont Street in Las Vegas by myself during the day. Two men walked up to me and started talking about my “sweet ass.” This was no genuine and respectful comment. This was harassment, and it scared me. My gut reaction was to tell them to “f*ck off” – but my fear said, “Be polite, Taylor, be polite and stay safe.” I sheepishly smiled at the men who were harassing me. I HATE THAT. That is rape culture too.
Thinking two steps ahead about where to park, figuring out how to get to safety before the sun goes down or how to make other men think your boyfriend is at home when he’s gone, being forced to stay inside until a potential predator walks away – These are things children must do. When women are being forced to act like fragile children in this world, there is still a problem.
Lady Gaga recently wrote and released a disturbing and extremely important video about the mass occurrence of women being raped in college. I’ll post it here and highly recommend that you watch it. But know it is graphic and uncomfortable, and rape is depicted:
“Til it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels. Until it happens to you, you won’t know, it won’t be real.”
To those needing PROOF that women are not equal in America – I could feed you statistics all day long, but that’s a drop in the bucket. Statistics pale in comparison to the stories of women everywhere. “What’s truer than truth? A story.” I’ve sat next to countless women who share their stories of harassment and sexual assault. That’s where rape culture kills: in the stories, in the lives it crushes, in the individual woman who can’t breathe anymore. When we look outside America, the stories only grow in number with fewer options for hope. It’s desperate.
When women are treated like objects, they’re stripped of humanity. Crying for help isn’t about bashing men or saying that women should be better than men. Women’s stories are wrecked by rape culture; demanding an end to the violence isn’t being a “Femi-Nazi” – it’s a cry for our humanity!
So feel free to wave your “You don’t need feminism. Women are already equal.” banner. Instead, I’ll be waving the banner for the brave people and organizations that get their hands dirty to do something about this atrocity. THE HOPE BRINGERS!!!They are the people who don’t need statistics to prove what they heard from their sister or mother or cousin or friend. They are the people saying: “I’m going to be a solution of hope.” They are the people creating beautiful and brave art from a terrible global monstrosity – like my friend Kelly did with this incredible, raw, and enlightening poem “An Ode to the Rapist” (FOUND HERE). I love and admire these people.
I’m older than you. But I’m not too old. Old enough to know a few things, young enough for you to still think I’m cool (you do think I’m cool, right? Say yes). So let me tell you a few important things about life:
Mirrors are made of liquid metal and glass. That’s it. Don’t give them any power. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think “Oh no, I look fat!” or “Why can’t my hair look like her hair?” or “Damn you, large pimple!” But that’s giving the mirror way too much credit. The mirror can’t see that I’m really funny or smart or kind. Don’t let a mirror convince you that you’re not amazing, because you totally are.
Boys must be good. Boys are weird, but you probably already know that because you each have brothers and fathers, and I personally know they’re weird. But they’re also pretty amazing, right? I know your dads and brothers love you like precious treasures. Not every boy will love you like that. Don’t give those boys the time of day! If they make you feel small or stupid or worthless, they are not allowed in your life.
Be brave. Life takes guts. You’re gonna need to put on some courage each day. Being brave doesn’t mean you can’t show your emotions or have bad days or get scared. Being brave means doing the right thing even when you have a bad day or you are scared. Many people will tell you to be hard and toughen up, I think you should stay soft and lovely and open-hearted. But do all of these things while being brave. Stand up for what’s right, stand up for yourself, and do it with kindness. Always.
Learn how to say NO. If somebody asks you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, say “no.” If somebody pressures you to do something that will not serve you, say “no.” If a guy wants you to do things that you don’t want to do, say “no.” If a girlfriend encourages you to be mean to somebody else in order to be cool, say “no.” You are a strong human being, and you have the right to say NO!
Do what you love. Be the type of person who does awesome things. Don’t turn down opportunities to do the things you love, and never feel like the things you love to do are stupid. You only get one life, and I know it feels like you have SO MUCH TIME. And, in a way, you do. But in another way, it goes by so quickly. Don’t waste that time. Fill up your days with things that make you smile on your face and in your heart.
Interesting is better than cool; in fact, interesting is the real cool. When I was a teenager, I thought being like everybody else was cool. Listening to the music everyone liked, dressing how everyone else dressed, buying things just because other people buy those things. I wanted to be cool. But if everyone else is doing it, it’s really not all that interesting, is it? It’s the same ol’ story. Be an original instead of a copy.
No matter what, I love you. You are going to screw up. You are going to fail. You’ll probably fall in love with somebody who is all wrong for you. You’ll say rude things you don’t mean, and you’ll say rude things you do mean. You’re a person, and nobody can do it perfectly. But you will always have a friend in me. I will always love you no matter what. Luckily for all of us, we have a family that will always love us too. Not everybody else has family like that. So be that same source of love for other people.
With hugs and love,
Your big cousin xo
An Open Letter is part of a series to share positive, uplifting letters to the people of this world. Open letters on blogs have a reputation for being biting and judgmental. An Open Letter strives to bring hope and life and kindness back to the art of writing letters.