Fitting in or feeling alone, which would you choose?
The world around us is always telling us what we should do, eat, buy, look, live, celebrate, exercise (and more) to fit in. (Whatever "in" is.) However, when we try so hard to fit into the world around us and listen to external "advice", we learn to silence the voice within. We shut her down, ignore her messaging and stray from our own personal path. This is a disconnect, a huge disconnect, and I've learned this the hard way.
Feeling disconnected from yourself isn't freedom.
Eating “healthy” isn’t always “healthy”. From my own personal journey in my early twenties, my holistic wellness training, and connecting with and coaching a lot of women in health and wellness over the years, and also observing others, I’ve learned and experienced that living in “health” is truly an individual journey. (We know this, but hang in with me...)
It’s filled with a lot of dot-connecting life experiences and digging into the WHY we do the things we do, looking at and creating healthy relationships with food, reconnecting with the self, leading a fulfilling life, and many other areas; it’s all very much connected, but oh so different for each and every person. Yet, at the same time, a lot of similarities or parallels can be seen.
To share an example, I want to share a small part of my own personal journey and something I haven’t really shared much of outside of my own head, but at the same time it's something I’ve wanted to share for a long time. I never know what to share or how to share it, so when it comes up, I’m honoring that nudge to share. So, here it goes...
When I knew my overly restrictive “healthy habits” were out of control, I sought out help.
When I knew my overly restrictive “healthy habits” were out of control, I sought out help. At first, my plan of action was to do it on my own by researching online in my apartment using my slow dial up internet connection, on personal breaks while at work, and seeking out resources at the good old library.
I checked out library books trying to find out if I had an “eating disorder” and how to “fix” it. (Was I being too healthy? Is that a thing? Yes, obsession, even over healthy things, is not necessarily always healthy.)
Interestingly enough, when I was ready to make a change (or knew everything was totally out of control), I didn’t really care about what the librarian thought, what my internet search “cookies” would say, or what people would think. My desire to make a change was greater than my desire to stay the same.
My desire to make a change was greater than my desire to stay the same.
My obsession with being healthy was truly an obsession with changing my physical body to love myself more and to also be loved more by my boyfriend (at the time), be respected more at my job, be and feel “pretty”, as well as hopefully be liked more by my friends and/or meet new friends.
I was in midst of an awkward life transition; I had just graduated college, was in a new job, living in a new city, and far away from family and close friends (most of my closest friends were still in college).
I didn’t feel as if I was enough.
I didn’t feel as if I was enough. Feeling like I wasn’t enough started the obsession with creating a life that would make me feel enough; I did this by creating a deeper awareness about what the world around me wanted from me. (Looking back this was obviously NOT the right focus, but this is what I realized after the fact.)
The world around me was also searching for external recognition, wanting to be skinnier, healthier, eat less, loved more, get attention, workout more, as well as talking badly about themselves, their bodies and others - not just those I would connect with on a daily basis, but online in the “healthy” articles and headlines I would read, the “healthy” magazines I would subscribe to and pretty much everything around me in my little world was telling me I wasn’t enough. (So, I thought at the time.) Not directly, never directly, but in it’s subliminal messaging.
So, I (at first, unknowingly) sought to change myself because I thought that's what the world wanted, that’s how others would like me more. Looking back, I had no idea what I was doing at the time, but I was trying to fit in and find my own way in a world that was telling me to go another way, be another person, do something different, be stronger, tougher, skinnier, healthier, lighter, sexier, and basically to BE anything but myself.
Struggling in silence felt comforting in an odd way.
Struggling in silence felt comforting in an odd way. Why would the world want to help me find myself when they were portraying the “right way” to be? Who am I? Who should I be? Those were pretty confusing questions that I had no idea how to answer from within, like deep within, without getting distracted by the apparent desires of the outside world.
I fought within, which at the time was struggling in silence. It developed into disordered eating, counting calories and over exercising. Some would call it an “eating disorder”; I also called it that for a while, but looking back it was more a total life disorder and disconnection from my true self. I didn’t know how to be myself in a world that wanted me to be someone else.
Exercise was a way for me to release stress, to numb my thoughts, guilt and the demons inside my head. Counting calories and being overly obsessed with eating “healthy” was a way for me to take control in a world where everything was, in my opinion, uncontrollable.
Truth is, looking back it all makes total sense, not in a practical and excusable way, but in a way that I was a girl trying to reach out and yet dig deeper within, but I wasn’t sure how. I was trying to make a change, trying to break out, and trying to set myself free, but I was stuck and digging myself deeper in a direction I didn’t want to go.
I felt sick, it was never my goal to lose weight...
When I jumped on the scale in the workout room of my apartment building one evening before a run, I saw that I weighed just under 100 pounds, 98 to be exact (I'm 5'6", if that helps). I felt sick, it was never my goal to lose weight; I didn’t think I was fat. I just wanted to be happy, be enough, feel like I was enough and be loved.
You see, I didn’t really weigh myself a lot even then (I don’t weigh myself now) and seeing a lower number on the scale freaked me out. To release that feeling, I still went on a run. I didn’t run to burn calories, I ran to ease the pain, the pain of the unknown, the pain that was buried deep inside of me. I really wasn’t sure why that “pain” was there. But I still ran and running felt like a way to get unstuck and move the emotions somewhere else or make them disappear.
I’m pretty sure I was running away from my feelings, numbing them in a way, as this little lost girl just didn’t know what to do. She didn’t trust the world around her, but yet she was relying on it to tell her what to do and show her who she was. (I can finally see this now, but at the time, it was sooo blurry.)
One day I started to wake up...
In short, one day I started to wake up. I’m not sure what specifically caused this moment of waking or what told me I was “ready”, but something inside of me shifted. My next action step was to seek out help by going to see a doctor. I wasn’t sure if this was the right step or what type of doctor to see, but the books and articles I was using for “guidance” weren’t really helping and I was tired of feeling constricted, controlled and like I was living each day on repeat with no freedom to be myself.
That was a pretty embarrassing and humbling experience, but I did it. I asked to get help; I decided I didn’t want to feel this way anymore and, at the time, I didn’t really trust to share with friends and family. It’s all still pretty hazy on what actually went down. But, I do remember asking the doctor about it versus waiting for her to suggest it. I wanted to let out the elephant in the room. I was aware I needed to move into another direction, I just needed some supportive resources to forge ahead. I decided to admit myself to an outpatient eating disorder clinic.
After my initial admission, they classified my situation as “eating disorder, non-specified”. Which, at the time, I guess was fitting. Basically they couldn’t label me as anorexic within their medical standards. In all honesty, I would have labeled myself as “total life disorder” but that was a not part of what they did their testing or questioning around, nor was “disordered eating” a title, and “orthorexia” probably wasn’t a known term or condition at the time. But since I don’t like labels or titles, I knew I would never “own” this title or let it own me.
Getting help was my secret.
I would leave work on my lunch breaks to go to the clinic for my weigh ins, check ins, and nutritionist appointments or I would go after work, without really telling anyone what was going on (this was way before texting, frequent email communication and definitely social media, thankfully).
Visiting the clinic, while odd at times, opened my eyes to see other girls that were struggling and totally in the trenches of their eating disorder (or their “total life disorder”). It taught me to connect with the world around me in a different way.
Instead of crying, because I was taking on their emotions, or being angry at myself, I would try to get eye contact and share a love-filled smile. A lot of the times it didn’t work, but when it did, it felt great.
I wanted to let this girl know: “I see you, I see you are struggling...you don't have to hide anymore.” and tell her through my eyes and my heart “you can do this, lovely, you can do this”. I would also tell myself that; I honored that I was struggling, too.
Overall, I disliked going to the office to check in as I felt the anger of the young girls (many so much younger than me as I was in my early twenties) sitting in the waiting room with their parents, pissed off at their parents for taking them there.
I would feel the worry and hurt...
I would feel the worry and hurt of the parents seeing their daughters struggling. The girls were disconnected from the love that their parents had for them; the parents felt the conflict of loving their daughters and yet forcing them to do something they didn’t want to do. I knew they did this out of love, anger, hurt and pain. They didn’t want to see their young children die. I understood the disconnection, as I, too, felt disconnected from everything.
Sitting in the office solo, alone, self-admitted, and wanting to make a change, but being around others that I could see and feel didn’t want to make a change because they were being forced was conflicting. However, I could see and feel that deep down, so deep down, these girls knew they also needed to make the change. But, they weren’t yet able to distinguish from making a positive change to make their parents happy versus truly doing it to make themselves happy.
I could also tell they were uncertain of what “happy” truly was, because I wasn’t quite certain either. However, I was bound and determined to keep moving in that direction, wherever it would take me.
Looking back it’s easier to see and feel this, when at the time, I did feel it, but I tried so hard to block their feelings as I was struggling with my own. Thankfully, this part of my journey helped catapult me in my own direction. I loved my Nutritionist at the clinic, she was younger (in her early twenties, about my age at the time) and very relatable. She seemed like a friend; she was my guide and my mentor.
The nurses at the clinic were also helpful and supportive; they knew I wanted to gain weight, make a positive change, and stop going there. They allowed me to see my weight go up during my weigh ins (it wasn’t really allowed for patients to see the scale) and celebrate with me. They listened to my questions and concerns and answered them openly and honestly, without judgement. They treated me like a human being with feelings, not as a broken, lost girl.
I was able to gain some healthy weight (over 10 pounds) with my team of wellness support. This was exciting and a huge movement forward on my own personal journey. It wasn’t always comfortable, but somehow even then I knew I was worth it.
I was finally ready to take flexible control in a healthy way.
Being at this point in my journey, I was finally ready to take flexible control in a healthy way. As soon as I left the clinic, I left a relationship that wasn’t serving me. I left a job where I wasn’t feeling inspired or appreciated. I bought a new townhouse in the suburbs (on my own when I was 23). I found and accepted a new job and I started reconnecting with some friends with whom I had distanced myself.
After that, a quite unplanned, yet pivotal moment, I decided to renew my passport on a whim. I wanted to travel, but I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. I don’t know what inspired me to travel again as it had been years since I had left the country, but I knew I wanted to travel and my passport was expired. Next step? Renew it and follow that heart filled feeling to explore.
I was finally listening to my heart and quieting the world around me.
An opportunity to go to Panama (the country) came up. I met a friend who was going there for work and I jokingly (but sincerely curious) asked if I could come and visit him in Panama City while he was working. Surprisingly, he said yes.
Naturally I booked a flight there with no real plans of what I would do. I didn’t ask anyone for permission or what they thought about it, I just did it. I took freedom filled control of my life. I gave myself permission and I didn’t care what the external world thought of it.
It felt good to release old emotions, release control, start new and fresh opportunities, experiences, friendships and relationships. I had no real plan; I was trusting my path and living in the present without controlling every little step upon the way. The only person I had to check in with was myself. The world around me seemed so quiet.
Freedom was calling my name and travel was part of my route to getting there.
On that trip, I did whatever felt good and trusted the process that everything would work out. My main desire was to explore and have fun. I wanted to release all of what wasn’t serving me and step into being myself, being ME, Nicole Marie… and that’s where a new shift in my personal journey started.
(Weird but interesting fact is that while I was at the airport heading to Panama, I oh so randomly ran into my ex-boyfriend traveling to see his “new girlfriend”. Awkward much? Yes. I did NOT want to see him ever again at that point. Best part? I released the initial icky emotions that came up pretty quickly and I believe it helped me release more shit that wasn’t serving me. When you get to a point where you’re ready to release shit, the Universe will bring things into your life to test you. I felt I passed that test - even though at the time I had no idea I was being tested.)
Thinking back to that trip, the moments, memories and everything was light, bright and joy filled. It was Panama and I was starting my new journey, a new chapter in my life - that wasn’t what I was thinking about at the time, but looking back that’s what it truly was.
We’re always on a journey, whether we know it or not.
My heart was full. While at that time I still had a lot of internal and external transformation to go through, I knew I needed to honor the true me that was coming out to shine in her own unique way.
I liked her, I liked how she felt, I loved how she released control, loved to explore and lead with her heart and trusted the process. I wanted to get to know her more...I was accepting of her as me.
Life is such a gift and the more I reflect back on certain experiences and memories, the more I honestly learn about myself. In moments when I feel stuck, I listen in to my intuition and reflect back on my journey and honor how far I’ve come. I find it quite lovely to connect the little experience filled moments and own that I’m exactly where I need to be (even/especially when I feel behind or lost).
You are exactly where you need to be, too.
Can you reflect back on a personal struggle or experience in your life?
How can you honor that part of your journey?
How does it connect to your experience and life today?
Life is a zig and a zag, a tunnel, a mountain, a landslide, earthquake, tornado and everything in between. It’s imperfectly lovely and bumpy, and while some circles within your life may have closed, we can still learn and grow from them (but don’t get stuck within them) and continue to create new ones.
For me, the feeling of being free with a deep focus within and the desire to keep pursuing my version of me and a "healthy life" (in all areas of life), is what has kept me moving forward on my Naturalita (natural-little) journey.
Freedom is within you, commit to listening in to your own desires and silencing the expectations of the world around you. You don't have to choose between fitting in or feeling alone.
My journey didn't stop here, it's ongoing.
So is yours. You have permission to seek your desired freedom, too.
Freedom is a word, along with health, that has so many different meanings to so many people; it looks different to everyone. As a part of my own journey and in working with many freedom + health seeking women, it's been a part of my own mission to help others find their own personal freedom in life.
If you are looking to create a positive change in your life, let's chat. I would love to give you the space to share your desires and also create an inspired path for you to follow. You can set up a time to chat with me here.